iFi Pro iDSD Review

iFi Pro iDSD Review

Brand new from iFi, the Pro iDSD is a potent new addition to a lineup that includes the venerable Micro iDSD Black Label and the brand spankin’ new xDSD.  But the Pro iDSD will undoubtedly rank as iFi’s best product yet – and not just in relation to it’s less expensive siblings.  This $2499 hybrid tube-and-solid-state amp/DAC combo delivers one helluva performance, while looking good and offering an impressive level of connectivity.

You know what?  Don’t even read this review right now.  If you have that kind of money lying around, go snap this thing up right now (it’s just been released, so stocks may be low), then come back and read this review.

iFi Pro iDSD Review

iFi Pro iDSD Review

Ifi packages the Pro iDSD in a big, beefy box.  It comes with all the accessories you’ll need to get this baby up and running, including a USB cable, RCA cables, a wifi antenna, and neat little handheld remote.

Design-wise, the Pro shares some superficial resemblance to the iFi Pro iCAN.  Under the hood, this unit sports a hybrid setup, with the ability to use it in three different modes – solid state, tube, and tube plus – a direct carryover from the Pro iCAN amp.  This ability to switch between solid state and tube in real time translates to one heady listening experience; while I was a fan of this feature on the iCAN, I like it more on the iDSD.

There’s five different filters to select from, too: Bit Perfect, Bit Perfect Plus, Minimum Phase, Apodising, and Gibbs Transient Optimised.

Output pretty much runs the gamut, from 3.5 mm single-ended to 1/4” stereo, to 2.5 mm balanced.  There’s also left and right XLR outputs and RCA outputs for speakers.  Outputs can be selected as fixed or variable by adjusting a dial at the back of the unit.

For input, you can choose from USB Device, USB Host, coaxial optical, or XLR.  There’s also the option to insert music stored on a micro-sd card, or to stream wirelessly to the Pro iDSD via wifi connection.

Specifications

Specifications
Sample rates: PCM up to 768kHz
DSD up to 49.152MHz (DSD 1024)
DXD and double-speed DXD (2xDXD)
Inputs: USB (required for DSD, DXD and sample rates above 192KHz)
AES3 (XLR – single link)
S/PDIF (coaxial/optical combo)
BNC multifunction (S/PDIF in or sync input)
Outputs: Balanced XLR at 4.6V (+15.5dBu – HiFi) or 10V (+22dBu – Pro)
Single-Ended RCA at 2.3V (HiFi) or 5V (Pro)
Headphones 6.3mm & SE 3.5mm Jack at 0.55V/2.1V/5V
Headphones BAL 2.5mm Jack at 1.13V/4.6V/10V
Headphones out 1,500mW RMS X 2 @ 64 ohm, 4,000mW max. 2 X @ 16 Ohm
Volume control: Balanced (6-gang) Alps potentiometer, motorised with IR remote control
XLR/RCA outputs can be selected as fixed level or adjusted
6.3mm headphone jack is always adjusted
Other Functions: Various digital and analogue filters can be selected for DSD and PCM up to 384KHz
PPCM Filters: Bitperfect 44.1 – 192kHz, always used for 352.8 – 768kHz
Bitperfect + 44.1 – 96kHz
Gibbs Transient Optimised 44.1 – 384kHz
Apodising 44.1 – 384kHz
Transient Aligned 44.1 – 384kHz
DSD filters: fixed 3rd order analogue filter @ 80kHz with correction for DSD’s -6dB gain
Gain (headphone section): user-selectable: 0dB, 9dB and 18dB
Dynamic range: 119dBA (solid-state, PCM, -60dBFS)
Output power (16Ω, balanced/single-ended): >4000mW /1>1,500mW
Output voltage (600Ω, balanced/single-ended): >11.2V / >5.6V
Input voltage (Pro iDSD): DC 9V/6.7A – 18V/3.35A
Input voltage (iPower+): AC 85 – 265V, 50/60Hz
Power consumption: < 22W idle, 50W max.
Dimensions: 213 (l) x220 (w) x 63.3 (h) mm
Weight: 1980g (4.37 Ibs)

 

Look at them specs.  I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice to say the technology is intricate and sophisticated.  The Pro iDSD remains more than capable no matter what you throw at it. The Wifi connection eliminates the need for copious amounts of cables, but I personally could care less…hooked up with a standard USB connection to my computer, the performance is phenomenal.

iFi Pro iDSD Review

Sound

Ah, the meat and potatoes of any audio review, right?  How does the unit sound?  Amazing.  I’ve been a fan of iFi for a long, long time – a love affair that was solidified the moment I tested the Micro Black Label.

And while that minuscule DAC/amp does a fairly impressive job, it still can’t measure up to the sonic bliss I feel when using the Pro iDSD.

There’s a lot of filter presets to choose from.  And you can listen to this beast as a solid state, or a tube amp.  But underneath all these nifty features, there sleeps a clean, exacting level of detail.  It shines through in any track I play, and I can’t help but feel mesmerized by the sound.

The longer I listen, too, the less steep the price seems.  $3000 might seem like a lot of loot, but that might be the price of a used car or a fancy digital camera.  The price of a top-of-the-line computer might slightly exceed that amount.  Or if you’re Tommy Wiseau, you could finance a movie with that kind of scratch.

But that’s also the price of the new Final Sonorous VIII, or a solid pair of Audeze cans.

And when you actually hear the Pro iDSD – and when you realize just what it does for the quality of sound you’re working with – you begin to care less about the price as a number and begin to consider it more of a slight inconvenience for attaining this kind of technology.

I ran some basic MP3s and ALAC files through the iDSD, and the music sounded better than with my current setup, sure.  But I also threw Tidal Master (MQA) files at it.  And, holy hell, if you’re already bumping MQA tracks, you need the Pro iDSD.  According to iFi, the unit is actually tailored to this kind of hi-res audio, taking full advantage of whatever can be taken advantage of – and perhaps at the expense of lower-quality files.  According to an iFi insider, the whole point of this unit is MQA magic – and if people are not into MQA they should look elsewhere.

That being said, as a DAC/amp, it’s still a well-made heck of a machine.  But for MQA music, the Pro iDSD seems more like a vital necessity than a convenient accessory.

iFi Pro iDSD Review

Other Observations

The sleek feel of this gadget is to die for.  While some people seem to have waxed impatient in their anticipation for such a product, iFi doesn’t disappoint at all.  It’s the best-looking DAC/amp desktop piece I’ve seen, but it also handles like a dream – with one important caveat.

Once during my extended listening sessions, I noticed that I lost sound in the right channel of my headphones.  After powering the unit off and then allowing it to sit for a period of maybe 30 or 40 minutes, I powered it back on to find no sound in my right-side earcup.  A simple twist of the filter dial will rectify the issue, but is it a deal breaker?

I guess a lot of people plunking down $3000 on an amp/DAC combo will want perfect performance.  For this kind of listener, character is bad, and cold, calculating machinery is best when trying to get lost in his or her favorite tunes.  I tend to think of this as the Pro iDSD’s only quirk –  a little odd, sure, but it doesn’t really hamper performance and the sound is still freaking amazing.  If I occasionally have to twist a little metal knob to hear the voice of God, screw it, I’m twisting a knob.  And try as I might, I couldn’t reproduce this issue again after the first and only time it happened.  Opening a help ticket with the good folks at iFi resulted in a quick, professional response, but the fact that this only occurred once even after spending 8 hours trying to re-create the issue makes me believe I experienced a crazy fluke in some otherwise-impeccable architecture.

Should you buy the Pro iDSD if you’re not rocking MQA?  Probably.  I wasn’t listening to tons of MQA stuff before I tested this unit.  Now I don’t want to turn it off and go back to my worthless ALAC or WAV files.  MQA makes my life complete – and everything looks a little rosier and sounds a lot better when the Pro iDSD is plugged in and turned up.  But I am also an audio addict whose built up a tolerance for the weaker stuff.  And Lavinia Meijer’s Passaggio actually brought me to tears, so there’s that.

Recommendations

Buy it.  Don’t have the money?  Get the money, then buy it.

I guess there’s cheaper stuff out there.  The Micro iDSD Black Label might come close.  I’ll sell you my old unit right now.  Gotta start saving up.

Final Analysis

Mad scientists and dark wizards over at iFi have released a killer DAC/amp combo with tons of nifty features – and one truly impressive sound.  It’s a top-end piece of equipment for top-end audio.  If you want to hear crystal-clear audio, in all its gut-wrenching, heart-breaking beauty, look no further.  Seriously, folks, demo this dime.

 

Find it for the best price here:

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