FROM AMR TO I-FI
AMR Audio from UK is more then well known in the audiophile circles across the globe. With their high-end, high tech and serious approach they won over quite some hearts and minds of most demanding audiophiles and music lovers. Now, the story continues and reveals in different form. Take a look at my exclusive interview with main designer Thorsten Loesch regarding the iPhono to get fresh start here.
Now enter the new era. When Vincent and Thorsten announced the I-fi there was no doubt, that something special was being born. Looking into customer and industry feedback the idea and execution already proved more then right.
If you knew Thorsten Loesch good enough, then this is no surprise. Man really knows what he’s doing, how and why. Actually Mr. Loesch is among dozen of people on this planet, that carries or should the true artisan fame. He’s a modern audio wizard or better to put an audio alchemist that embodies all the virtues of not only highly skilled technician but also a philosopher with true content. As with some of the legendary Japanese artisan his vision and internal attitude is not exactly what one calls typical European. Not only him, but both AMR and i-FI carries the spirit of fair trade for the know how and technology being used. They’re offering elaborated products to a wider audience at down to earth pricing. We all know that there are no complete free rides in the business, but with both these companies you’ll get the best ride for the money and a feeling of something special. Like a seat in a plane that goes few classes above the paid ticket with all the upgrades and benefits.
We exchanged quite some thoughts in our correspondence with Thorsten over the time and its great to see his dream is finally coming through. One of them, to be exact :).
iFi product line is unique and the size of micro line might makes you wonder if this is serious gear at all. Have no worries. Even a brief connection to your system is needed to shout out the mind and naysayers. David beats the Goliath in an instance with i-Fi’s.
By the clever engineering and use of strictly chosen SMD (discrete) parts they managed to squeeze so much potency into these little boxes that will make you scratch you head continuously. Joined by the iUSBPower psu, iCan headphone amplifier and iDac, the iPhono represent the embodiment of the same virtues of AMR line. Musicality, performance and value, that is simply unbeatable by today competitive standards. Hard start.
To sum it up iPhono offers 6 x stereo EQ curves, adjustable MC load, dedicated ultra-low noise MC stage, adjustable MM load, adjustable gain and Class A circuitry with an ultra-wide dynamic frequency range.
i-Fi unique Class A TubeState tri-brid amplification stands for a natural and real sound and mimic the behavior of tubes by using few clever ‘tricks’ from the sleeve of mastermind Thorsten.
So called i-Fi Tri-brid circuit secret is in the use of Bi-Polar devices, J-Fets and Advanced Discrete components.
JACK OF ALL TRADES, MASTER OF ALL
The iPhono’s silver anodized non-magnetic aluminum chassis feels sturdy and elegant. Form follows function clearly here, but with understated catchy contemporary design that fit’s your pocket.
On one side of iPhono you connect either MC or MM signal (+ ground) and choose between RIAA, COLUMBIA and DECCA EQ. On the other side RCA outputs and power connector share the space. Upper plate is reserved for large i-Fi logo and three small LED’s, that lets you know everything is operating as supposed to and that machine is turned on.
Now at the bottom plate real magic begins to reveal. iPhono offers 40-66dB gain and is practically suitable for all MM and MC cartridges. Both types of cartridges loading can be adjusted via DIP switches that mirrors left and right channels. Like on bigger AMR ‘brother’ there are plenty of options to play with. The iPhono offers a choice of 6 EQ curves to adjust and as mentioned above loadings that will cover just about every cartridge on the market.
At first EQ Compensation settings might seems wicked to adjust, but after a bit of contemplation and looking at manual I found them logical and easy to use. With three basic EQ’s namely Decca, Columbia and RIAA you can matched the specific era or companies take on compensation. This might be a thing for true connoisseurs, but even beginners can learn about what was being used on the record with a bit of ‘Googling’ homework.
With backside switches you can additionally set Standard RIAA, IEC (same as previeous setting with addition of Subsonic Filter), eRIAA, that stands for enhanced RIAA and covers the albums after 80’s era and eRIAA + IEC that's goes for RIAA with Subsonic Filter combined. Do note, that when Decca/Columbia EQ is being used the upper settings are in absence.
I-fi offers 40dB/46dB gain via MM from 100pF to 500pF and 60dB/66dB (with +6dB switch) gain for MC cartridges from 22ohms to 47kohms with setting for 22, 33, 75, 100, 250, 330, 1K and 47K.
Mind-boggling? I would rather love to call it tools of trade for any vinyl fan and connoisseur.
The “entry” level or affordable products rarely overexcite me, but iPhono redefines the bang for the buck. If we could measure our audiophile bucks in some objective matter, then iPhono for sure wins the contest and thrones of analogue battle.
With my trusty collection of vinyl and new additions coming in on a weekly scale my job of testing i-Fi was a pure pleasure. I don't hide my passion and love for vinyl replay. It’s one that brings most joy and satisfaction easily. For me it’s not only a matter of listening behavior, but also a cultural thing. In the age of digital revolution where we all to quickly fall into the easiest handling of music and even forget to pay for it :) vinyl brings physical presence, great large artworks and often a complete different sound. Wholeness. It’s not ritual only, but about music and the way our perception of it it’s sought. Somehow vinyl offers to many of us that feeling of concert going and special event like feeling.
Harry Belafonte, Rimsky Kosarkov, Toscanini, Blade Runner Soundtrack, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, Pat Metheny, Roxy Music, 2L impressive vinyl catalogue etc. iPhono never failed to deliver the share and pure energy of music. It might not had the last word like those 10k + boxes, but at least 80 % if not more of the impact. Yes, impressive.
These days, I’m all about conveying the music and not in the popular spec haunting. Yes, there is a must of down to earth electronic measurement. When those checked, I’m all for going beyond counting numbers and letting my ears being the judges. No matter what tricks audio designer of a certain product pulls off, what it matters in the end is sound coming out of his creation. Big box, small box, jewelry enclosure, shinny bling chassis… Whatever’s the taste, but please THE MUSIC.
I can tell the capability of a certain component under my rules and conditions more or less instantly. There is some basic compatibly charts to meet like gain and impedance match, but beyond that there is no much voodoo to deal with. It either clicks or not with subtle details revealing later in due late night listening’s.
Harry Belafonte voice and performance on Harry Belafonte Sings The Blues is one of my regular reference LP’s to ‘measure’ a performance and capability of certain product. Like with Muddy Waters Folk Singer those guys really produce lion like ‘roars.’ The crescendo of constant changing from the quietest sibyls to the thunder like emotional burst of blues the high-performance phono preamplifier needs both the speed and transparency to reproduce those vocal extremes in their true form.
i-Fi iPhono carries the spirit of both singers with enough mojo to enjoy the music without ever overthinking about the sound and performance. It drags you in and let you forget about tech. I cannot give a better compliment to such a ‘budget’ device. What I’m trying to say is that this little box plays music without restrains often find in the phono preamplifiers looking up and above 2k price range. In the era of globalization price stickers seems to loosing it’s value by each year and iPhono is and avid pusher of industry standards.
In the world where borderless economy made it’s pace and it’s changing our daily lives with the technology impact i-Fi carries an interesting aura (and mission). The Companys almost altruistic quest for brining the music to the masses is finally becoming what I would call a high-end audio reply to the mobile phone and computer industry. We’ve seen the amazing rise, miniaturizations and price cuts of GSM’s and personal computers. The similar effect seems to never catch on within high-end high performance audio. With i-Fi products these trends are coming in and making a strong stand. I know we all wish these would happen decade or two ago, but let us rejoice and embraced it now.
For the quality of reproduction, that i-Fi iPhono brings, one would need to shell deep in the pocket just a year ago. I have had a pleasure to hear and test numerous phono preamplifiers from all price ranges over the years. This certainly helps me to really appreciate what iPhono can offer. For this kind of performance you’ll have to start counting your greens from 400$ up to the 2k and above in some cases. i-Fi puts so many phono preamps to shame that is quite ridiculous. In my recent dealings with high-end industry, few of the companies told me openly that they stopped the developing their phono preamp projects when seen where i-Fi have gone with their iPhono preamplifier. That’s surely an interesting sign. I know that Thorsten loves to be challenged, so here is a public request to still out and fight the battle and drive his gray cells to work J.
Liquidity, noise floor, musicality, choices of fine-tune the loadings and EQ curves makes i-Fi a potent analog beast. As said before, it clearly performs on the level few times above it’s given price and challenges us to rethink what truly high-end audio is. High-end is about high performance and not high prices. i-Fi quest is not to rival the big boxes in bringing every phono preamplifier to the knee, but to offer that highest performance to more audiophiles and music lovers. In the upper echelon of phono preamplifiers things go more complex and size of iPhono enclosure simply cannot compete in some design choices. Vincent and Thorsten are wit and they positioned iPhono exactly where it belongs.
As said before i-Fi is dead quiet fellow. This is rare even among solid-state phono preamplifiers.The benefit of this clearly shows also with the transparency, speed of instrument attacks, better sense of space and musicality. This all benefit at large for the lovers of classical recordings where ‘blacker backgrounds’ and silence stops are treasured at top most. With quality, quiet pressings you’ll find yourself transported inside of performance with i-Phono. Tested and confirmed!
There cannot be an easier recommendation for a phono preamplifier for your system let it be on budget or above the budget. Taking i-Fi as an only entry-level phono preamplifier would be a deadly audiophile mistake. It can carry the duties of amplifying the signals of your belloved black disk with so much self-confidence, that you might never even need another phono preamplifier. Yes, it’s that convincing.
- If you’re a seasoned vinyl and analogue fan than this machine should be also on your short list.
- If you’re rediscovering your LP’s catalogue then do not passed this mighty box.
- If you’re entering the wonderful world of vinyl i-Fi will bring so much affect at the start, that will rivals not only most of competition of phono preamps around and above its price, but what I repeat constantly, the most digital setups.
With no audible hiss, hum or noise (tested through the headphones also) i-Fi brings the natural tone without the use of the tubes. Perhaps some might miss a bit of the valve ‘euphony’ or that specific hint of three-dimensional portrait like presentation, but there is really little to hanker for.
This is the phono preamplifier you wouldn’t be embarrassed to play with even upper echelon cartridges. I did it and can report without constraints that that i-Fi can swing, funk and syncopate. Translating it to earthly language; frequency range feels spot on and it can be ‘speedy’ when needed. For all of you wondering about the lower range performance, just try out the Blade Runner’ sound track. This little musical aluminum preamp will shake your room the way down toward 25 hz if your speakers allow it. It might not be the last word, but it for sure a loud and competent word. And it doesn’t get in a way of music.
Imagine putting i-Fi guts into a bigger case and visualize all of those DIP switches morphed into a potentiometers or large switches. You’ll have a full one rack sized preamplifier that only by looking most of companies would instantly be exhibiting some sort of envy or distress J. Perhaps is a God send for some that i-Fi kept this device at this size … and price …
i-Fi iPhono clearly received first Mono & Stereo Analog award for best performance and price valued phono preamplifier. I only wish more companies would follow such a route as clearly taken by i-Fi.
Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine. All rights reserved. 2006-2013. www.monoandstereo.com. ..:: None of the original text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-printed or used in any way without prior permission! ::..