Review: iFi Audio xDSD – iPocket

iFi xDSD

SOUND

iFi does not disappoint at the sound department as you probably know, and this version of course looked very promising for sound when it was announced. iFi takes the component and circuit design side of things seriously, to give the audiophiles the best sound quality they could offer.

I used my PEARS SH-3 custom monitor and my Sennheiser HD660S headphone for listening. I didn’t use xBass and 3D features at all, since I don’t like those artificial effects.

The xDSD is a very clean sounding device overall. That’s the first striking impression. After that I can say it’s quite neutral and doesn’t have coloring, and it also doesn’t have any huge emphasis on one single part of the spectrum. It’s balanced, resolving and crystal clear. The technicalities are good for the price and the bluetooth audio quality is absolutely great, which was the most surprising part for me. It’s also very coherent, consistent and natural. Especially the mids are enjoyable but let’s get into more detail.

BASS

xDSD’s bass response is not huge and it stays linear and doesn’t bleed into mid range. It’s a natural, effortless and “how it should be” type of bass in terms of quantity. Overall quality of the bass is also very nice and satisfying. Hits are not very deep and it’s not tremendously layered, but it’s still very good for its own price bracket. Rumble is not extreme, but good for this kind of signature, and the speed & decay are also very competitive.

The bass is under control and this definitely helps to have this clean sound. But the mid bass part is more emphasized than sub bass, and with the wrong pair the mid bass region can become a hump in the spectrum. That is the case with the USB mode, as the device gets a little warmer with more mid bass and overall bass compared to wireless mode. So be careful to pair this one with IEMs / headphones which don’t have a mid bass focus.

iFi xDSD

iFi xDSD

MIDS

Mids are a notch forward in the xDSD, sounding close and enjoyable as well. The mids are musical and they’re mostly organic depending on the recording, not getting too digital. Harmony and richness is good enough for this price, although the transparency is not very very high. But mids have good body, good resolution with a very nice tonality. Note size is more than acceptable levels, as well as the natural performance of vocals and instruments. So the mid region is quite well for pure performance, resolution, quantity and definition for this price level. This is the best part of the xDSD in my opinion, and you’ll love to hear those details and musical presentation across the mids. It definitely shines and excels on mids, like its shiny magnesium alloy.

TREBLE

The xDSD is a clean sounding device but it’s not bright or aggressive. Treble region is successful, having good enough extension and transparency, as well as the overall separation from mids. The articulation could’ve been better like the general transparency level but it’s still good. Of course don’t expect a great performance like much more expensive DAPs or DAC/AMPs here, but do expect a sound that is very coherent, controlled and quantity-wise adequate. Not too much, not too laid back. Trebles are sufficient, respectful for the slight dominance of mids and they don’t get in the way. They don’t stand out in relief compared to the rest of the spectrum.

TECHNICAL PERFORMANCE

Sound stage is not where the xDSD impresses, for both width and depth. Sometimes it feels congested with my SH-3. I did not expect a vast staging either, but particularly a little more width would’ve been very nice. It doesn’t feel that way with a open headphone like the HD660S though, but still you can find better sound stage with some DAPs out there. But to xDSD’s credit, you will probably need a bigger budget to have those staging performances.

iFi xDSD

iFi xDSD

Other than staging, the resolution is very nice but transparency is not on a very high level, which is not unexpected. For the price though, it’s absolutely fine and I can’t complain. Especially on the mid region things get really enjoyable in terms of details and resolution. Separation is strong, even though the stage is somewhat congested sometimes. It manages to put the right elements to their right places and for that stereo imaging is good. The dynamics are good and the speed and attack is impressive for this kind of a device. Background is mostly black but I’ve of course heard blacker backgrounds. Is it good for 400$? Yes, it’s very good indeed, and with the good resolution level it excels on imaging.

The power output is quite strong and it drives my HD660S easily. Surely this is not the best setup for a headphone like that, but in terms of mere volume it’s more than sufficient, especially indoors. So the amp stage is impressive for power. Noise floor is not dead silent but you’ll need to use very sensitive IEMs to notice that. Totally fine for me.

WIRED – WIRELESS

As I indicated, the wireless sound performance was jaw dropping in my tests. I didn’t expect this to happen to be honest, because there’s not a substantial difference between wired / bluetooth inputs. It has more body and bass with USB mode compared to more flat signature with bluetooth. Transparency is just a little more successful with the USB mode as well. This might sound shocking, but I liked the presentation with the wireless mode more. Mid bass is flatter, and it sounds more relaxed and effortless that way. Sure, this can play differently in your case with different headphones and their synergies with this device, but to hear this success with bluetooth, I can only appreciate and congratulate iFi Audio.

CONCLUSION

A feature packed, sturdy and a perfectly pocketable device, iFi xDSD is once again a great device from iFi. I especially loved the wireless feature. It’s very flexible to use it that way, and I would’ve bought it merely for this feature if I was a customer. It just works beautifully. It almost has the same size like a cigarette box, but packs a great amount of driving power and most importantly, it sounds very good.

I recommend the xDSD to anyone who look for this kind of a flexible device for their smartphones and computers. Yes, iFi’s done it again. See you around.

iFi xDSD

iFi xDSD

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A lover of personal audio from Turkey, Berkhan always seeks the perfection. He chooses a simplistic expression of sound at all times, and tries to keep his photography enthusiasm at the same level with audio. Sometimes photography wins, and sometimes his love for music takes him over and he puts that camera aside.

17 Comments

  • Reply June 7, 2018

    Dilpal

    I believe it has Aptx-HD compatible chip but it is not implemented yet on xDSD.

    • Reply June 7, 2018

      dale thorn

      “….And the bluetooth audio quality is off the charts….”

      So that would seem to indicate the Aptx-HD really is implemented in this review unit, even if not officially.

  • Reply June 7, 2018

    dale thorn

    “….the resolution is very nice but transparency is not on a very high level….”

    It’s things like this that worry me. Granted it may be good for the money, but I still wonder about the not on a high level. Is there a way to compare that to the iFi iDSD BL? I know they’re very different from each other, but say I was just going for absolute best sound quality and ignoring features…

    • Reply June 11, 2018

      Berkhan

      Hi Dale,

      High level means close to TOTL DAPs in that expression. So I think it’s understandable for this device. I haven’T listened to the iDSD BL, so I can’t compare. If you mean the Nano iDSD BL, it sounds close, Nano being darker and warmer. Transparency-wise they’re head to head.

      İf you want to go with the absolute best this is not the device though. This is for flexibility, usability and portability.

      • Reply June 12, 2018

        Dave

        How does the xDSD compare to the Chord Mojo. Is the Mojo better?

        • Reply June 13, 2018

          Berkhan

          It’s been a very long time since I’ve listened to Mojo, but I think they sound similar regarding presentation.

  • Reply August 13, 2018

    jumper

    ”I didn’t use xBass and 3D features at all, since I don’t like those artificial effects.”

    It’s supposed to be a review for us readers so why not tell us how much bass it added, etc?

    That would be a review!

    • Reply August 16, 2018

      Berkhan

      They add bass and staging artificially and that’s it. There’s not much to talk about those things in terms of sound evaluation.

  • Reply August 28, 2018

    Jobbing

    How’s the iFi handling hiss/noisefloor when using this one with Empire Ears?

    And have you been able to stack the iFi up with the Xduoo X10T Lieven is still keeping under his pillow?

    • Reply August 29, 2018

      Berkhan

      No, different writers on different countries 🙂

  • Reply August 30, 2018

    jobbing

    Thanks Berkan. How about hiss when using sensitive IEMs like EE and would you be able to rate the hiss/noisefloor compared to Chord Mojo?

  • Reply August 30, 2018

    jobbing

    @Berkan: In addition,
    “İf you want to go with the absolute best this is not the device though. This is for flexibility, usability and portability.”

    If you don’t mind me asking in this iFi thread, from a portability point of view which portable DAC+amp would you consider the best in terms of transparency, soundstage, neutral, in let’s say <$1,000 price bracket? I don't mind a subjective opinion here. My intention is to stack it with a transport and use it mainly with IEMs.

    • Reply August 30, 2018

      Berkhan

      To be honest I don’t have much knowledge about these kind of devices. By saying it’s not the best, I was saying it from the SQ standpoint, compared to Digital Audio Players.

  • Reply August 30, 2018

    Jobbing

    Preferably balanced output….

  • Reply August 30, 2018

    Jobbing

    @Berkhan:
    Thank you for your honest reply. Will do some digging into nowadays overcrowded market of amp/dacs

  • Reply September 26, 2018

    Andi132

    Very good dac, but mojo is still my favourite

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