Ifi Go Bar Kensei Review

It’s pretty impressive the audio quality that you can get from portable DACs in the $400+ price range. Not too long ago, you’d have a hard time finding any sort of portable device that could bring you close to what you get from a bigger desktop DAC or amp. Today, we’re getting DACs with fidelity that are on par with midfi devices from a decade ago. Ifi is a brand that is no stranger to bringing innovations in the budget field. Their new Go Bar Kensei (MSRP $449) however begins to compete with popular options like the Chord Mojo 2 and IBasso DC-Elite. Let’s see how this DAC is able to stand up against the competition in the Ifi Go Bar Kensei review.

What’s in the Box?

  • GO bar Kensei
  • Lightning to USB-C Cable
  • USB-C OTG Cable
  • USB-C to USB-A Adapter
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Instruction Card
  • Leather Travel Case


The styling of this DAC clearly expands on the Go bar platform with added touches. I reached out to the ifi marketing team to get a better idea of what’s different on here. They told me that the design attempted to recreate the increased quality and looks of the limited edition GOld Bar 10th Anniversary DAC. Because consumers have been asking for a standard release of the same unit, iFi has decided to bring out the Kensei.

The most apparent difference is the Japanese stainless steel construction. It has a signaficantly sturdier weight to it, but it’s not outrageously heavy. There’s a 3.5mm single ended and 4.4mm balanced output. The IEmatch setting allows you to use ultra-sensitive IEMs with both outputs. “X-bass” and “X-space” allow for boosted bass and wider sound respectively. MQA and K2HD compatibility allows users with lossless streaming to get the most from their services.


From first sight, it’s not easy discerning the difference between this unit and the regular ifi Go Bar priced at $329. Aside from the increased weight, it takes a persistent consumer to understand the difference. The ifi Go Bar Kensai’s important important improvements are the GMT clock, K2HD capabilities, and some enhanced circuitry. You won’t be able to get more power from this unit meaning that it’s going to drive the same headphones to the same levels as the Go Bar. Improved clocking will allow users to get ultra-low jitter from this device. K2 technology developed by JVC-Kenwood aims to process digital signals as close to master quality as possible.

I know this isn’t a sexy topic but the enhanced circuitry and aluminum housing with better EMI shielding really make the most obvious difference. Unless you’re an electrical engineer, you’re most likely not going to be that excited about op-amps and transistors. Nevertheless, these are the components of an amp and improving upon this is the most effective way to improve an amp or DAC. I personally noticed less background noise, no jitter, and increased audio quality from the ifi Go bar Kensei.

Soundstage – ifi Go Bar Kensei Review

I’m not sure if I’m missing something while listening but the regular soundstage of the Kensei literally fell a little flat for me. The X-Space setting absolutely enhances staging, but at it’s regular level I was left wanting more. With the X-Space setting on, I got the width of headphones like the Hifiman Arya Organic, but the height of sounds felt shorter than it did on other DACs. The panning of mixes still accurately comes through each driver. I’m able to get the localization that I want when listening without sounds bleeding through each ear.

What I experienced when listening to a sound staging test was that the height of recordings had a sonic ceiling. It felt like sounds rose until a certain point, and then stayed at that stage despite changes in relation to where the audio source was being recorded. The more you pay attention the more unnatural it feels. The Kensai’s saving grace is the X-Space setting which unilaterally pushes everything away in the sonic image. It’s wider than most budget DACs, but at this price point I’m expecting a little more height.

Listening Impressions – ifi Go Bar Kensei

I wanted to use a variety of headphones with different characteristics and price points in order to get the full picture of the DAC. I used the Sennheiser HD600, Fostex TH-808 and T-X0 II, Hifiman Arya Organic, and Final D8000 Pro.

The Sennheiser is a perfectly neutral headphone. I think for the price it’s the best value out of anything you can buy. That being said, the iFi Go Bar Kensei brought up some of the bass and low mid frequencies in them. It’s subtly warmer, but gives sounds enough grit to push the headphones a little bit. These aren’t the most sensitive headphones, but I was able to get them to drive to where I wanted them to be. If you really want these to dance, I’d still look at getting a more powerful DAC.

Both the Fostex are the bassiest headphones in this list to me. With this in mind, I noticed that the same sound shaping happening. I personally feel that the new TH-808 is too warm and booming for me at times. By themselves, the sound was very warm to the point where jazz tracks without too much definition became muddy. What I did to combat this was swap out the 1/4in single-ended cable for a balanced 4.4mm cable. This DAC absolutely brings out more low frequencies. With the balanced cable, I got enough of an increase in the treble side to support those lower sounds. The bass volume increased as well, but not enough to make them sound muddy like they did before. These were much easier to drive than the others.

The Arya Organic from Hifiman is not only the widest, but also the brightest headphone to me out of the bunch. Here, the personality of the DAC really enhances the sibilant headphone. I listened to “All the Things Your Are (Live)” with Louie Bellson, Barney Kessel, and Hank Jones. The masterful playing in this live recording gets brought to the next level with how much more bass you get out of the Arya. This is tangential but if you’re a jazz fan, please check this record out. These solos are filled with quotes from great tunes, and would be a joy to transcribe for any student. Regardless, the added warmth did a great job of balancing these headphones.

Because of the character of the amp, I didn’t bother turning “X-Bass” on for any of these except for the Final D8000 Pro. These headphones have such a flat and and even response, that bringing out the bass just a touch more gave these a very nice adjustment. I wouldn’t always do this with every pair of cans, but the option for it is really nice. Nevertheless, the transparency and singing mids were retained in this awesome pair of headphones. They just got a little more bass extension to really bring out a lot of nice warmness.


The Ifi Go Bar Kensei is an great improvement on one of the most popular options for portable DACs on the market. Increased clocking capabilities and an improved circuit board makes these a great option for audiophiles looking at portability. The warmness that’s provided by this DAC makes it great for bassheads or those who have any trouble listening to low frequencies. I think that some work could be done to the sound staging, but for the price it’s going to give you some great results on the go. For all these reasons, I’m giving this DAC the Major Hifi Silver Award.

Get the ifi Go Bar Kensei and all the other products I mentioned at Audio 46

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