iFi’s acclaimed DAC/headphone amps have formed a cornerstone of the company’s product range since its formation in 2012, delivering brilliant sound from smartphones, tablets, PCs, Macs, and more. Some of these devices include rechargeable batteries and are sized to make them conveniently portable. None, however, are as eminently pocketable as the GO blu – iFi’s most diminutive DAC/headphone amp yet. But, while it may be delightfully small (55x34x13mm, similar in size to a matchbox or Zippo lighter) and weigh just 26g (less than an AA battery), this pocket rocket delivers a performance that is remarkably mighty.
To maximize mobile convenience, the GO blu pairs wirelessly with the user’s source device via Bluetooth. No more messing around with restrictive USB cables and dongles, worrying about whether you’ve got the right OTG cable for your Android device, or Lightning to USB Camera Adapter for your Apple iOS device. Just pair… and GO!
But while the GO blu majors on convenience, there’s not a hint of compromise when it comes to sound quality. Most pocket-size Bluetooth DAC/headphone amps incorporate all-in-one ‘system on a chip’ solutions to deliver input processing, digital-to-analog signal conversion and amplification. These are simple to implement, compact and cost-effective, but they cannot compare with expertly designed, individually optimized circuit stages when it comes to sound quality. Uniquely for a device of this type and size, the GO blu’s clever design packs in separate Bluetooth, DAC, and amp stages, each engineered in distinct blocks to deliver the ideal combination of cutting-edge specification and superb sound.
Bluetooth and DAC stages
The way iFi implements Bluetooth is anything but ‘run of the mill’ and despite its diminutive size the GO blu is no exception. Making full use of Qualcomm’s latest four-core QCC5100 Bluetooth processing chip, every current high-definition Bluetooth audio format is supported, including aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, LDAC, and HWA/LHDC. Other codecs covered include regular aptX and aptX Low Latency, AAC, and SBC (the ‘plain vanilla’ Bluetooth codec).
This means that every possible source device is handled at the highest audio resolution its Bluetooth specification allows – no other pocket-size DAC/amp delivers such comprehensive codec support or such high-quality sound over Bluetooth. The GO blu is Bluetooth v5.1-compliant, ensuring the best possible range, stability, and performance, and its ‘Bluetooth engine’ can be updated over the air.
The Bluetooth stage feeds the DAC stage, with a Cirrus Logic 32-bit DAC chip at its heart. This is coupled with a customized digital filter to minimize pre-echoes and ringing artifacts, and a precision clock system to ensure ultra-low jitter, thus reducing errors and distortion in the digital audio signal.
The analog circuitry in many of iFi’s recently launched audio devices has focused on balanced design, traditionally a high-end concept; remarkably, the GO blu is no exception, despite its diminutive size. The amp circuitry benefits from symmetrical twin-mono signal paths and utilizes iFi’s Direct Drive design concept – direct-coupled to ensure a clean signal path without distortion-inducing output coupling capacitors.
In true iFi fashion, the GO blu incorporates circuit components of a quality not commonly found in a device of this kind, including TDK C0G multilayer ceramic capacitors and inductors from Taiyo Yuden and Murata. The net result is ultra-low distortion across the entire signal bandwidth, delivering sound that is purer, clearer, and more naturally expressive.
The amp stage delivers up to 5.6V – considerably more power than other similarly sized devices – handling even relatively tough headphone loads with ease. To ensure signal strength suits the sensitivity of the connected headphones or earphones, auto-gain adjusts output up or down by 6dB.
Further sonic tailoring is provided by two user-selectable features familiar to users of other portable headphone amps from iFi. The first is XBass, a sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange, particularly useful with earphones and open-back headphones that may lack deep bass. The second is XSpace, a setting designed to compensate for the ‘in-head localization’ effect that can occur when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed using a pair of speakers, effectively widening the headphone soundstage to deliver a more spacious and speaker-like experience. Both these optional settings operate entirely in the analog domain rather than messing with the digital signal via DSP (Digital Signal Processing) and may be switched in or out of the signal path.
A pair of headphone outputs are provided – a 3.5mm socket for headphones with a single-ended cable/connector, and a gold-plated 4.4mm Pentaconn output enabling headphones equipped with balanced connectivity to take full advantage of the GO blu’s balanced amp design. In addition, the 3.5mm output benefits from iFi’s S-Balanced circuitry, cutting crosstalk and related distortion in half when used with regular, single-ended headphone connections.
- Advanced Bluetooth module with QCC5100 handles every HD format
- Supported codecs include: aptX, aptX HD, aptX LL, aptX Adaptive, LDAC, HWA/LHDC, AAC, SBC
- Hi-res DAC stage with ultra-low jitter and customized digital filter
- Amp stage with twin-mono signal paths and Direct Drive technology ensures ultra-low distortion
- Precision rotary volume control with auto-gain – adjusts output to match your headphones
- Delivers up to 5.6V of power – drives even tough headphone loads with ease
- Two headphone outputs: 4.4mm Pentaconn fully balanced and 3.5mm S-Balanced
- S-Balanced output cuts distortion by 50% with single-ended headphone connections
- XBass and XSpace – tailor sound to suit your headphones and personal sonic taste
- Built-in mic for hands-free calls when paired with your smartphone
- Can also be used as a Bluetooth receiver in a speaker-based audio system (via the 3.5mm output) or as a USB DAC/headphone amp (via the USB-C charging port)
- Battery life – approximately eight hours (varies according to volume level and the power demands of the connected headphones/earphones)
Check out the iFi Go blue on their website here.
Pre Order for $199 at Audio46.