In the past, I have loved the iFi Audio gear for my computer audio playback system. Everything I have tried has worked well and, maybe best of all, the individual pieces are usually just a couple of hundred bucks and are well built. Their designer – Thorsten Loesch – has done really good work too, staying ahead of the curve with USB power conditioners, galvanic isolation and other devices that seem to minimize the many power and EMI/RFI gremlins that seem to pop up frequently in computer audio. As I have added things like the USB conditioner, the “two-headed” Gemini cords and various filters, the sound has improved on the DACs I played with including the iFi Micro iDSD DAC which at the time offered killer sound for the money.
Well, iFi has not been resting. USB 3.0 is now out and iFi has adapted their suite of products to that specification and introduced some new ones, including:
- iGalvanic3.0 ($349 USD) – this device offer full galvanic isolation for computer audio. This is a design technique which offers isolation from electrical noise gremlins. For instance, breaks ground loops and avoids noise-coupling in applications that require hi-speed USB transfers. This device also re-clocks the signal and conditions the USB power. This is something I hope to try soon.
- Gemini 3.0 ($379 USD) – the double-headed cable has one cable for audio and one for power and is designed for USB3.0. This also offers RF filtering with a new composite ferrite filter.
- Micro iUSB3.0 ($399 USD) – This is iFi’s latest power conditioner which seeks to clean the dirty power that travels down the USB line. It said to correct signal balance, suppress frame noise, suppress packet noise, cleans the power like a line conditioner of sorts, eliminates jitter, and kills ground noise.
- A wide variety of cheap filters and tweaks like the iSilencer ($49 USD) which caught my eye (no pun intended). This device is said to lower noise/RFI/EMI by 40db. iDefender ($45 USD) breaks ground loops. There are also filters for cleaning up SPDIF interfaces and “Purifiers” for cleaning up the ends of USB cables.
- Micro iDSD “Black Label” ($549 USD) – this is the latest DAC from the well-regarded Micro line. It’s a black case with orange lettering and a sound that I fell in love with. This is a big improvement over my non Black Label version. and the case is small enough to be portable, although more likely used for a desktop system given the length. The sound is very detailed and the impression is that of a more expensive DAC, not too far off from $2,000 USD converters. Premium parts such as the Sanyo OsCon capacitors are used. The DAC used is a Burr-Brown DSD512/PCM768/2xDXD True Native® DAC. Like the Micro iDSD, the BL has the convenient features such as IEM matching to get the right output on your headphones or IEMs. Power modes that include a power saving ‘Economy Mode’ to ‘Normal’ to a ‘Turbo’ mode that offers up more power. With IEM match and Power modes, iFi states it can drive everything from a super-sensitive Sennheiser IE-800 to a power-hungry HiFi Man HE-6. A smaller “Nano” version is available for $199 USD.
- Also on hand were the top of the line iFi Pro series gear of Pro iESL ($1,399 USD), iFi’s electrostatic amplifier, and Pro iCan ($1,699 USD), their top of the line headphone amplifier. These also sounded excellent. They feature wide bandwidth hand-wound transformers and capacitive battery supplies. The iCan has a pretty nifty feature whereby one can select between tube (GE 5670 tubes) and solid state. There is even a switch to add even more tube sound if you want some extra warmth.
It was a lot to take in frankly, but the sound quality was worth the stop. I continue to be impressed by what Thorsten, Vince and the iFi team can do for very reasonable money.