i-Fi iDac test review


THE LITTLE BIG DAC

We came to the point where digital audio penetrated our daily lives so deeply, that we automatically forget about it. It's already a part of society and culture. From computers, mobile phones, tablets, digital audio player etc. It's clear, that digital audio computer playback took the role of primal player for the 21st century. This movement evokes the vast number of digital to analog converters (DAC'S) performing as heavy duty converters of bits into the music.

Do you remember how Redbook CD was "capped" at 44 kHz 16 bits? We came a long way from early 80's to the what is seems to be now an industry standard with DAC's, namely 192 kHz at 24 bits. While massive computer storage seemed like utopia back in the days, with the fall of hard disk prices, these utopian dreams become a reality and a backbone of personal digital audio library.



STEP INTO THE 21ST CENTURY AFFORDABLE HIGH PERFORMANCE AUDIO


High performance audio has never been so affordable. This goes especially for a digital audio. With the rise of DAC phenomena each year become an avid race for better specs, performance and consequently better enjoyment of the music.

A long path from 80's to present with many things happening along the way. We've seen the continuous change of digital audio formats and expenditure of the bits and sampling frequencies. Along that as in video industry the sizes of data (audio) files increased dramatically.

With a rise of digital download services futures seems to blend with present. Almost instant (depends on you IP speeds) operating and handling of purchased digital audio files opened up the doors to many more people being exposed to high-end audio; most importantly a younger generation. With their IT and computer skills there are no obstacles of handling digital playback paraphernalia for them. They are witty, quick and fierce when it comes to what they demand in the terms of price/performance factor. Their hourly watch of what's new and "in" seems to be to fast forward for many of older generation music lovers. They felt trapped in time.

But facts are facts. We already live in the tomorrow world. Present is (by the words of William Gibson) bizarre enough to be a thing of future. Our lives become a matter of lifestyle and of quick demands. Right here, right now!



Audio is no different. With fast pace people want to enjoy their music at once. And with effects of globalization striking in the price/performance become a number one priority. For me this is a best attribute rising from the impact of contemporary industry "madness". We finally catch up to the other branches of industry like mobile phones and computers. Finally industrialization of high-end is starting to make sense and working on the side of high-end audio consumers.

i-Fi


Meet the i-Fi again. There is no better representative of affordable high tech high-end audio devices then this company at present times. For more background kindly check my reviews here and here and interview here.

CONNECTING


In this day and age the most important things is the easiness and the speed of the connectivity. We all pass the era of more cables means better. Just look at Devialet!

With the advancement of SMD technology and miniaturization we can actually achieve shorter paths, faster signal flows and compact devices with crazy little loss in quality and signal flow.

i-Fi iDac comes in a similar (or the same) enclosure as iPhono, iTube and it's straightforward as it gets. One USB port to connect to computer, RCA audio outputs getting your signal to preamplifier or integrated amplifier (or inserting i-Tube which I highly recommend with an digital antidote switch on as a must) and for care free instant headphone listening with the volume potentiometer and headphone jack. iDac headphone amplifier is of course not on the level of iCans or other bigger meaner boxes, but it's still a capable one with plenty of the drive to enjoy your music. It's a decent Headphone amp for use while travelling, office or school brakes :). You are only in need of a iDAC, Headphones and laptop for instant fix of music :)!.

iDAC is among few if not only low costing USB DAC that does full HD support. It was clearly designed to make and entry into PC Audio easy and with sound, that goes above average or expected based on the size of it. As AMR subsidiary, some of i-Fi technology being used is derived directly from the AMR's products. All the critical passive parts also have the same standards as employed in upper echelon AMR Gear. So not only trickle down technology, but actually some of the same takes. Not bad, if you ask me.

MATTING


Connecting iDac to my MacBook Air and iMac was without a glitch. You simply choose the AMR usb driver from the sound menu and you're ready to go. We've come a long way with true plug & play. I still remember the times of chasing the right USB drivers and with the compatibility. Windows as operating system still needs some of the "fun" with drivers in general, but on the "Mac" side things are instant in 99.9 percents of the USB DAC's dealings. 


I tried iDac with few different digital software programs and as usually they do sound and perform 
different. It's interesting how on one hand we came so far with trouble free set-ups, but now we have to deal with software side of flavors and other variables like hard drives, USB cables etc. In a basic principle setting up a contemporary USB DAC is as easy and straightforward as connecting a computer mouse of keyboard, but to fine tune the actual digital performance it can take you to the complexity of turntable setup or even above.

iDac always locked without the problem and my listening hours were floating with more then fair amount of digital "bliss". In combination with iTube and active Digital Antidote, it was pleasure to use without typical hubris of digits. I recommend highly iTube to any vinyl or analog fan trying to getting most joy out of digital audio side. It won't bring you the exact vinyl feeling, but a sure and prolonged "digital stress" free listening with the touch of a NOS tube warmth. A listening, that matters!

I experimented with few simple audiophile "tricks" to the various degree of success. Resonances and micro vibrations are know for their influence on the performance with any gear. High priced or affordable. I strongly suggest you to try it yourself and experiment. This topic can too quickly become an esoteric issue especially with the DAC of this price range so threw an anchor point. Try graphite and woods like ebony or lithium vitae. Then draw your conclusions. You might get surprised.

THE MUSIC


How far can this little silver box takes you into musical enjoyment? Quite far. I've used some of my standard testing digital audio files, that combine different genres and productions. From high-resolution digital masters converted from original analog tapes to a modern direct digital recordings like Norwegian 2L.

John Coltrane and Miles Davis recordings from the late 50' era proved to be airy and involving. It might not take you to the blissful highs of some more expensive high performance bigger meaner machines, but it will run quite few DAC's with the price few times of iDac for their money.

There is something right about iDac, that I felt already with iPhono and iTube. It's hard to pinpoint it to a certain thing, but the ability to move and bring the music with pace and ability to recall emotions is remarkable.

Donald Fagen outstanding Morph The Cat is a prime example of impressive knowledge of using digital recording gear and technics. Clear, present and vibrant sound takes you to utopian world of Mr. Fagen with ease. Song That's what I do is a hard test for any DAC and quickly shows if it'll struggle or "survive". iDac showed its boldness quite firmly.

Sam Cooke I'm Lost and Looking is another stand out recording in both analog or digital format. Recording quality of this album is exemplary and a standard for anyone to look up. The sense of presence, involvement and clarity gives an direct impact and interact with the sound, performance and emotional level on joint combined plane. iDac seemed to squeeze the last hidden reserves in pulling out the performance. But it did it and with a projection that you'll hard to find in this price range and above. You'll have to dig very deeply in your pocket few years ago for such and impact and iDac still chases the competition eyebrows lifted calmly.

Intimacy of Sam's voice was as evident as delicacy or Cowboy Junkies live remake of The Crossroads. The liquidity and the emotional hankering was no stranger. Not with those two songs and not with repeated listening of similar musical repertoire.

SOUND, HEADROOM AND ATMOSPHERE


Everything comes down to musical performance as the ultimate test. Yet, without the proper sound rendering and without enough "headroom" there is no way to palette the atmosphere of the music. Let it be live performance or studio made album, there is always an energy flow and a story being told. Translated into a transparent energy with the clear goal to touch and interact with us its THE MUSIC that we demand...

In past, at least for me it was quite hard being moved by the performance of digital audio. Of course there are few of advantages that might always being on front, but especially the headroom (that I enjoy so much with analog) was always pulling back the horses of enjoyment. 


With the introduction of modern DAC's lots of things changed. Intermodulations, time phases, higher bits and frequencies and non the last a milage of doing thing with digital.

I'll say that the most obvious thing, which got me involved with the iDac, was headroom. In past this is the thing that always kept me away for enjoying the digital for a longer time.

iDac might not have the ability to drive the road as firmly as the giants, but the sense of headroom is a move forward that stands out.

There was no slows stops and lacking of timing. How one hears this? With the pace of musical progression. It moves you or move you not. Simple!

CONCLUSION


i-Fi iDac is another fine example of high-end audio "gadget" that defines it purpose in much large way then it's presented. It's light, portable, with full 192/24 support and packed in a fashion Apple like style.

This is on the hand DAC for audiophiles and music lovers. On the go or at home iDac acts as a potent entrance into computer digital audio and a tool of trade for those being longer.

A decade ago you'll have to pay few K's to get the sound this little box is capable. All that in a miniature case that would seems science fiction back then. Time really flies.

As quoted above; future is actually here in it's bizarre form. We might be smacked with the punch of industrialization and globalization on each steps our lives, but we're also blessed with the benefits of high-tech being at the reach of our hands.

And i-Fi iDac is a little big messenger of these times.

Highly recommended.

Specifications:

Signal to Noise Ratio: >111dB(A)
Dynamic Range(-60dBFs): >111dB(A)
Crosstalk: <-102db br="" z="">Total Harmonic Distortion(THD): <0 .005="" br="">Jitter: Below measurement limit
Frequency Response: 3Hz to 33KHz + 0.1dB/0.3dB
Headphone section:
Output Power: >150mW (15Ω)
Output Voltage: >3.3V (>100Ω)
Signal to Noise Ratio: >97dB(A) (400mV/300R)
Total Harmonic Distortion: <0 .003="" br="" mv="">Output Impedance:(Zout): <1 br="">Power Consumption: < 2.5W
Dimensions: 158(l)x68(w)x28(h)mm
Weight: 193g(0.43lbs)




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! ::..