In this review our “new guy” Matty takes a close look at the Pro iDSD DAC from iFi Audio! Let’s check out this swiss army knife of a DAC.
Disclaimer: iFi have lent me the Pro iDSD for the purposes of the review. All thoughts and experiences with the product are naturally my own. Headfonia and iFi are not related in any way but iFi is a site advertiser.
Note: This is Matty’s very first review for Headfonia. Let’s give him a warm welcome!
First-up – a big “hello” from me, as I’m publishing my first review since joining the Headfonia team. It’s awesome to have the opportunity to share my thoughts, insights and experience with a range of upcoming personal audio gear that I hope you’ll find useful. To kick things off, I’ll be reviewing the Pro iDSD from Southport UK manufacturer iFi Audio. I’ve spent some time living with it as my primary digital source + desktop headphone amplifier.
iFi Audio produce a (somewhat confusingly-named) prolific range of audiophile products and accessories, including headphone amplifiers, cables/connectivity peripherals, and power and digital-related accessories. But they are perhaps best known for their series of DACs – ranging from the $199 USD nano iOne; to the highly-regarded $599 USD micro iDSD BL portable DAC + headphone amplifier; right up to their flagship Pro iDSD – which we’ll be covering today – weighing-in at a not-inconsiderable $2,499 USD.
So what exactly is it?
According to the manufacturer, the iFi Audio Pro iDSD is “a standalone unit, a streamer and a DAC/amp”. In fact, it has a pretty boggling set of features and applications that might seem daunting for the average audio punter, and perhaps even for the seasoned digital audio veteran. First and foremost, it’s bread and butter proposition or raison d’être is to perform as a high-end digital-to-analogue converter.
The Pro iDSD is designed to live at the heart of an audio chain and handle any kind of file-type thrown at it, be it MP3, FLAC, DSD, and even MQA. It’s also a pre-amp – able to act as the “brain” in a two-channel digital audio system, managing and switching sources, as well as changing volume upstream of other products such as a power amplifier. The Pro iDSD can also function as a playback device or ’source’. It’s able to play digital audio files either on-board via a Micro-SD card (and controlled remotely via a mobile app), streaming via wifi/DLNA, or as a Roon endpoint.
It features an all class-A solid-state amplification-stage, but the Pro iDSD also packs a NOS General Electric 5670 tube. This allows you to add the option of tube harmonics (as well as a nice ‘glow’) to your listening experience in ‘tube’ or ‘tube+’ mode. Lastly (but not least), it also boasts a capable on-board headphone amplifier, rated at 4000mW at 16 ohms (balanced).
So, a bit to chew-off for a first review, right? Well, having such an impressive list of capabilities, I’ll be looking at the Pro iDSD through the lens of how it performs as an all-in-one unit for headphone listening.
I’ll be also asking a few hard question of it:
Can this be the the only DAC/amp you’ll ever need?
Will it “future-proof” all your amplification and digital-to-analogue decoding needs?
Does it offer “end-game” performance to match its price-tag?
And does it offer a great user-experience and ‘liveability-factor’ to match its impressive spec-sheet?
Let’s dive-in and take a look.
Build and form-factor
The Pro iDSD is a pretty sleek-looking and altogether well-built, all-metal affair that certainly oozes “high-end”. It’s futuristic look with a hint of design flair gives an indication of the talents that live inside, as well as the craft that’s gone into it. The Pro iDSD ships inside fittingly-premium but not ostentatious packaging, along with a simple up/down volume remote (critical for pre-amp duties); a set of RCA cables; a simple plastic tool for changing the rear switch settings; a USB cable; an optical to 3.5mm TOSLINK adapter; and a comprehensive user manual.
At a whisker under 2kg, and measuring 21cm x 22cm x 6.3cm, it’s a strictly desktop or hifi-rack affair (unless you’re dedicated enough to lump it around in a Pelican-case!). Outwardly, it presents the user with a bewildering array of knobs, switches, and outputs. The focal-point of the front of the unit is a circular LED window that displays digital input selection, digital sampling-rate, as well as filter and upsampling information. It looks pretty cool, and does its job of telling you what’s going-on inside. On top it gives the Pro iDSD a ‘face’.
The nicest aesthetic-touch is the ‘porthole’ that displays the NOS GE 5670 tube. It’s surrounded by a swirl of vent-holes that reveal an impressive glow when the tube input is engaged. Flip-around to the back, and you’re presented with perhaps the largest series of inputs, outputs, and switches ever packed-into a compact desktop device.
Left-to-right, we have (deep breath…):
Analogue outputs: XLR Balanced + RCA single-ended outputs; plus a switch for toggling-between fixed (line-out), variable (pre-out) output, as well as the option for “Hi-fi” setting (4.6V fixed, balanced-out), or “Pro” (11.2V fixed, balanced).
Digital inputs / connectivity: Host/device USB; Coaxial/Optical; Micro SDHC slot; XLR Digital; BNC; and WIFI antenna.
And to round things-out, there’s a toggle switch for various clock sync modes; a clock sync output; DC loop-out supply; and DC power supply connection. Power is supplied via a 15V / 4A power-brick.
(You’ll notice a trend when it comes to describing the Pro iDSD: it gets exhausting to list its features!)
Let’s spin it back-around to the front to go-over the controls and user-interface. I want to cover perhaps my only gripe with the physical-build of the Pro iDSD. Rather than having rubberised ‘feet’ like most desktop hifi gear, instead it has a single foam ‘pad’ that covers the entire bottom-side of the unit. Given you’ll likely have several cables and headphones plugged into the Pro iDSD at any point, this presents a problem. It likes to spin-around on its axis with a light “tug” on anything that’s joined to it, or when brushed or bumped. It’s not a huge quibble, but for a $2,499 unit, I’d want to make sure it stays firmly-put.
More about the Pro iDSD on page two!