REVIEW: iFi Professional iDSD Signature. Dac, Streamer, HeadAmp.
By Steve Huff
I used to be fairly excited when iFi contacted me to evaluate their professional stage prime finish DAC. It’s known as the Professional iDSD Signature and it’s iFi’s prime tier flagship DAC with a Streamer, Pre-Amp and Head Amp included. It’s even accessible at Amazon, by way of PRIME.
I’ve had the pleasure of listening to many DAC’s over the previous couple of months. I’ve heard some very superb items that vary from the $500 worth level all the best way to the attention watering $15,000 worth level. I did a bunch of DAC auditions as I used to be looking for one of the best match for my reference system. On the finish of the day I selected the Weiss DAC 501 as my reference DAC. It’s not new, however it provided one of the best sound I’ve heard from digital, no matter price or model identify.
Whereas it’s simple to listen to the adjustments as we climb the worth ladder in HiFi, there are some decrease price choices that basically do punch above their worth level. One which involves thoughts is from iFi and I reviewed it HERE.
I can say with confidence that the Professional Signature iDSD DAC is way more refined and excessive finish sounding than the $700 Neo model linked to above. No query there. Actually, and this can be a little bit of a spoiler….I’ll inform you now that the iFi Professional iDSD Signature is my decide for greatest DAC on the $3500 and below worth level.
I’ll clarify within the evaluate under why I really feel this manner in regards to the superb piece of HiFi. It’s like a Swiss military knife in your audio system and one which means that you can “lock in” the fitting sound in your system.
ALL IN ONE
The iDSD Signature is actually a one cease store for individuals who need small dimension, much less packing containers and gorgeous sound and high quality. This isn’t an inexpensive buy my mates. The iDSD Professional Signature is available in at $3499 however bear in mind what iFi is offering right here. A one cease store in your digital entrance finish that features all one wants for prime quality streaming and decoding of your digital music.
That is additionally a Headphone amp however I’ll solely be reviewing it as a DAC as that’s how I used it.
I’ve been listening to the iFi for a a few months now, and evaluating it to some fairly mighty DAC’s. The Weiss DAC501, the Chord Dave, the Nagra Traditional DAC and the Denafrips Terminator II are DAC’s in that higher echelon of audio. They create a few of the greatest digital I’ve ever heard.
The decrease price iFi sounds a bit totally different from all of those, however does certainly supply up a refined excessive finish sound that will get considerably near these dacs listed above. In some instances, scary shut.
At $3500, this DAC can and does get near the large boys that price extra.
Hook Ups. Wi-fi or Wired.
When the iDSD Professional Signature is taken out of the field you’ll be greeted with a small silver field that has many inputs and choices for setup. You may go wired, by plugging in your ethernet cable on to the unit. This may can help you stream with out lag, drop outs or points. For those who don’t have an ethernet cable close to your system, you possibly can go wi-fi. This little man can hook as much as your WiFi as nicely, so no drawback setting it up because it presents each choices.
I examined the iDSD Professional Signature with a wired connection, wi-fi, utilizing it as a streamer and DAC and only a DAC with my Lumin U1 mini streaming the tunes to the DAC.
Irrespective of how I set it up I had no points in any respect. No drop outs, no bizarre audio glitches. This was good ; )
You may see the 2 NOS GE tubes in place…
To Tube or To not Tube?
The fantastic thing about this iDSD Signature is that it has a number of methods to tweak the sound. It’s nearly overwhelming out of the field and can take a while to dial in in your sound preferences.
You may run it with out the 2 NOS GE tubes or flick a swap to allow the “tube glow” and activate the tube goodness. I name it that as whenever you allow the tubes the sound does carry extra heat and glow together with a barely fuller sound. It’s fairly cool to have the ability to change the sound of the DAC on the fly.
This lets you tune it somewhat bit to your system.
Want some tube magic? Flick a swap. Need the extra expansive strong state presentation? Depart the tubes off. Easy. I like the truth that each setting is completed with a swap or button push. I like tactile items of substances over these the place you will need to change settings by way of a menu. The Professional Signature permits us to make these adjustments, all on the fly, by way of bodily switches and dials.
Any enter you could want…
There are additionally filters which you can allow with a flick of the dial. Whereas there are a lot of choices to select from I often most popular the Bit Good choice. It simply sounded greatest to me however there have been instances after I did take pleasure in and like the opposite filters that did upsample to DSD. After we upsample to DSD the sound does get smoother and extra refined.
The Filter Choices
The iFi Professional DSD Signature presents up a plethora of filter and upsample choices.
The filters do change the sound and are nicely value experimenting with. I lived with one setting for 2 days at a time. This allowed me to listen to the variations simply. After we swap forwards and backwards inside seconds, it may be powerful to determine what one of the best setting is. I loved dwelling with every setting for 2 day’s at a time. That is how I used to be in a position to dial it in completely for my tastes.
The Seems to be, Construct and Sound
I’ll admit, I’m not a giant fan of the fashion of the iFi. It’s gold trim over the silver is a bit a lot for me, however it’s nonetheless a good-looking unit. It’s additionally a private desire and your tastes could differ. I bear in mind I as soon as cherished a Shanling CD participant that had silver and gold highlights. It was blingy and totally different which is why I loved it on the time. Right now not a lot. Even so, the iFi is just not ugly by any stretch of the creativeness. It’s simply totally different from what I’ve been used to putting in my system.
The iFi DAC is available in a small squat field that has respectable weight to it. Its a darkish silver, nearly like a metal gray. It has a small round show that lets us see what is going on.
There may be the swap to allow one tube, or two. There’s a swap for headphone amp acquire. There’s a dial for choosing the filter modes, and upsampling modes. Flip to decide on filter, push in to pick out upsampling modes. There may be additionally a giant quantity dial. For listening to audio system, inside a HiFi system there may be additionally a setting within the again that means that you can set the output of the DAC. I set I to the HiFi mode, and I let my preamp management the system quantity.
The iFi has numerous inputs. You may plug in your ethernet cable and use it as a streamer and DAC. This enables us to stream proper from our cellphone by way of Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, and so on. I’ve examined this with my Lumin U1 Mini streamer by way of USB and I could barely want utilizing the iFi as a streamer. The sound is barely higher to my ears. I’ll say although, as a streamer this isn’t ROON READY. It’s with my Lumin getting used because the streamer.
There are single ended RCA outputs and XLR balanced outputs.
Being a streamer, a DAC, a headphone amp and having the choice of tubes and numerous upsampling or bit excellent modes makes this a real multi functional piece for a digital entrance finish. It’s fairly unimaginable what we get for the cash right here. No, it doesn’t have a giant fancy show however it’s additionally not $6,000.
I really feel iFi created a bit right here that enables these of us with out large system budgets to expertise an enormous heaping serving to portion of that prime finish sound we get from these DAC’s within the $8-10k vary.
Every part that comes within the field
After I first plugged within the iFi I had simply come off of a listening session utilizing the Chord DAVE. The DAVE is a world class DAC, top-of-the-line on the planet even at present in 2022. I discovered the iFi to sound overly clean compared at first energy up. It took me a few weeks of experimenting with the settings which helped me mate it to my techniques audio signature. It was then that your entire sound signature modified (for the higher, large time).
This isn’t a plug in and neglect it DAC. It’s going to require a while so that you can get it dialed in however when you do, it’s a really particular piece.
As soon as I did this, and tweaked it to my system I completely fell in love with this superb piece of know-how. I began to take pleasure in it greater than a few of these pricer DAC’s, which was unimaginable because the worth distinction was so drastic between them. Whereas the Weiss 501 is my reference and the iDSD doesn’t beat it for these ears, the little DSD Professional Signature delivered some killer sounds from my reference system that will please 99.8% of music lovers.
Actually I really feel going greater up the chain than this DAC right here is strictly for individuals who are the choosy “by no means happy” audiophiles (like me, I’m HARD to please with regards to cameras and audio gear). I can say with confidence that should you purchase this DAC you’ll not be lacking out on an excessive amount of when in comparison with the uber $10k and up DAC’s.
Chances are you’ll lose somewhat depth, refinement, dynamics and three Dimensionality when in comparison with one of the best of one of the best however as we all know diminishing returns could be very actual. Spending $10k on a DAC doesn’t get you $6500 extra efficiency than what you’d get from the iFi.
Whereas the practically $10k Weiss 501 delivered “within the studio” efficiency that has but to be bettered by any DAC I’ve heard, the little iDSD was nearer to the $15k Nagra Traditional in the best way it introduced the soundstage width and three dimensionality. I imply…very shut.
For vocals, Jazz, simple listening sort of stuff I cherished the iDSD set to the “Gibbs Transient Optimized Digital Filter” and upsampled to DSD resolutions. What a sound this delivered to my room. It was very alive, very 3D and really WIDE OPEN. The sound expanded to the partitions and I may discover no faults AT ALL with the sound. I used to be simply having fun with the tunes.
With a tad much less meat on the bones than the Weiss 501, I used to be having fun with superb transparency from my Fleetwood Deville audio system. These audio system reply very nicely to gear adjustments, and the iFi was bringing lovely music to them that was ethereal, large and nearly as lifelike as one of the best I’ve heard.
Curiously sufficient, the iDSD presents up a wider soundstage than my reference Weiss. It has a few of that holographic magic as nicely that brings artists to the room with you.
After I switched to some arduous rock and steel I loved the sound most with one of many tubes engaged together with bit excellent mode engaged (no upsampling). I flicked that tube interact swap and waited for the tube to warmth up (about 20 seconds). With the tube activated the sound will get somewhat extra beefy which is ideal for rock and steel. It does add an ever so slight tube taste to the sound, which is cool. This can be a true Swiss Military Knife in your system as a result of you possibly can tailor the sound to your setup.
With the tube engaged the vocals had a bigger presence as nicely. Extra ahead and massive fairly than slimmed down and pushed again.
I couldn’t imagine the sound I used to be getting for rock and steel as on this tube mode it was large, daring, beefy and nonetheless retained a magic about it. I stored saying to myself “WOW, that is superb for this type of cash”. Sure I really feel $3500 is loads of money and this isn’t a “low-cost” DAC to amass. With that stated most DAC’s below this one which I’ve heard don’t match the flexibility of this one. Nicely, none do. That means, most DAC’s at this worth or below don’t can help you customise the sound to your system.
The iFi subsequent to the AMAZING END GAME worthy Cary SLP05 Pre Amp (with the last word improve).
For instance, the Denafrips Pontus II is a loopy good DAC and at $1800 direct from Singapore is an insanely good purchase. For those who simply need a set it and neglect it DAC for below $3500, the Pontus II is a “MUST LOOK INTO” sort of DAC. The place the iFi beats the Pontus is in the best way it permits us to decide on filters on the fly, activate one or two tubes on the fly, and even use it as a streamer. It permits us to barely change the sound and this will make an enormous distinction for some techniques. It’s extra alive and rather less relaxed than the Pontus as nicely.
Constructing an audio system is about synergy. Generally one piece could make or break your system. I benefit from the iFi as a result of it allowed me to go from pondering it was too clean to delivering sounds I by no means knew may come from this little field. It allowed me to set the DAC up so it created a pleasant synergy inside my system.
Take note these variations usually are not large, however delicate. For instance, with out the tube engaged I get an airier sound with a much bigger soundstage width. After I click on the tubes on, the soundstage shrinks a bit however the midrange vocals get greater, and I get a sense of extra “oomph” within the sound. It’s fairly good to have and is sort of like having two DAC’s in a single, each strong state and tube.
The iDSD additionally comes with a singular energy conditioner of kinds. Within the field is their iFi Energy Elite Low Noise Energy Provide Adapter. That is usually $300 on Amazon all by itself however it was contained in the field, included.
This helps preserve noise to a minimal and is like having an influence conditioner for the DAC. That is exceptional and I’ve by no means seen a DAC include something like this. I can say that this DAC was 100% silent in my reference system.
I’m a giant fan of the $1800 Chord Qutest DAC however the iDSD beats it for my preferences resulting from that versatility it brings. It’s a tad hotter than the Chord, not as textured within the particulars but in addition presents up a sound that is a bit more musical and one which flows completely. This can be a excessive finish DAC my mates, and iFi did a tremendous job creating this multi functional with regards to BANG FOR THE BUCK.
I used to assume “Bang for the Buck” actually meant a less expensive product was in a position to get near a way more costly one. Within the case of the iFi, I say this which means it isn’t an inexpensive product in any manner, however fairly is a real excessive finish piece that delivers the efficiency extra according to these DAC’s that break the bank. It’s “low-cost” in worth for what it’s.
I’m not saying it bests these uber fi items, however it does get shut. Some could even want the iFi to a few of these $10k and up DAC’s as it’s all about private desire and irrespective of the price of a HiFi piece, there isn’t any “higher” simply “totally different”.
Who is that this for?
You probably have a system that you simply arrange for essential listening, resembling a “candy spot” listening house the place you possibly can expertise that holographic magic and emotion from music then a DAC is a vital piece in your system. It’s some of the necessary in my view. You probably have a system setup like this, or need to set one up then by no means skimp on the DAC.
I’ve seen many lay our a fortune on audio system and amp however go low-cost on the DAC, Streamer and Cables. That is like shopping for a Ferrari and placing cement blocks on it for tires. An audio system designed for an emotional listening expertise wants high quality all through from begin to end. It depends upon your objectives. You probably have a “get together system” that you simply blast for gatherings then any DAC will do, even a $20 DAC ; )
You probably have had reservations about investing in a top quality DAC, the iFi is one you possibly can leap into with out going loopy on a $10k DAC. In my case, it introduced 85%-90% of what the $15k Nagra Traditional DAC did as soon as I had it arrange for my system. This can be a DAC I may reside with for the long run and whereas my Weiss DAC501 brings me extra enjoyment and WOW issue, as soon as the iFi was in my system for weeks, my reminiscence forgot in regards to the Weiss, and I used to be simply having fun with the attractive music from the iDSD.
This DAC kicks my mates. It’s all one wants for a lot lower than these large ticket large identify items of audio gear. I want it to any DAC I’ve heard below it’s worth level. Interval. It additionally presents a lot greater than every other DAC I’ve had by means of right here in the best way of customizations.
THE ONE NEGATIVE: This isn’t Roon Prepared. I really feel it must be as iFi presents SO MUCH right here. If Roon was applied then it could actually have IT ALL in a single small field. I can use ROON with the iFi, if I exploit my Lumin U1 mini because the streamer into the DAC. However when used as a streamer itself, you can’t join with ROON. So should you use ROON, concentrate on this one destructive.
If I gave worth awards this might win the highest prize because it presents a lot for the cash.