i-Fi iTube preamplifier test review


How to combine a geek nature of endless seeking for the ultimate tweak along with the passion for music? You'll need the medium that can transparently sets it pace and transcend any reservations of typical overused technology and deja vu's. Combining all mentioned with the affordable price seems like some utopian distant future dream, where technology is finally a servant of humanity and not the other way around.

It feels great not being in a 'must' stress scheme that demands for a total reset of values and acquiring funds in the most primal barbarian way to get the greatest and the latest’. 

In the age where digital audio is becoming a lifestyle and not just a luxury, iTube finds it's spot in the universe of Mobile Phones, iPads, Laptops, PC's, DAC's, portable players, turntables and nonetheless in high-end audio rig. Diverse nature of this new i-Fi offerings combine such a large appeal, that their pocket size almost demands a dedicated socket for constant take around. Its urges you to use and contemplate not only why, but where and how to be implemented.


I'm a analog and vinyl fan by heart. Not because I hate digital. I actually love it and being a part of it's revolution from 80's, but I simply cannot stand to listen to it for prolonged time. Digitalis or digititis kicks in in the interval of 2-15 minutes and my perception of music became a thing of hubris nature. It's not like I'm on the electric chair or something, but my nerves start to unsettle and my mind/inner feeling gets disturbed quite easy and quickly. 


We all remember the digital antidote from years back. It shook some ground when it appeared. Now in it's third revival Thorsten managed to bring it up to the the 21st century and more important in the package, that won't stress either out your wallet or mind. This translates to easy to use and affordable. 

At it's current refinement Digital Antidote is ready for DSD, DXD and high-rez PCM files. So no quirky frequency limits or so called mellow "tube traps." Its ready to be used now and with it's analog nature it feels future proof. 

As I written many times, in the present age a skilled electronic audio designer can make both solid state or tube circuit sound transparent. Going further and deeper... Combining transparency with the musicality demands quite an effort and know how. Let me put it in this way. Almost anyone can "create" a reasonably good sounding tube preamplifier, but when it comes to the speed, transparency and especially to unrestrained musicality things becomes complicated and complex. Like the difference between operational phono preamplifier and state of the art one. The difference is in soul of the music and in it's musical life energy. 

Connected with vinyl replay there is always that natural like feel of space; the atmosphere. Along with the harshness of hit hats, rides, cymbals and squeaking harshness of upper frequency the sibilance’s of womanly and man voices really makes all the differences when played by vinyl or in general analog domain. The harshness produced by the digital audio can quickly come to the point of unbearable. 

There are ways of dealing with hubrises of digital audio. It can be done ITB (in the box). This means, that you treat your digital audio signal with some sort of AU, VST or other software plugins. Results can range from not worthy of mentioning to impressive. But, you'll have to know what to do and use at some point a digital EQ that models the analog one etc. While relatively easily easy to implement, you deal with another DSP (digital sound processing). This adds additional set of complications and modifying of audio signal. It adds unwanted things.

I prefer to deal with these things in analog domain if possible. One of the best devices I had pleasure to use of such nature was FM Acoustics Linearizer. You can read about it here. Its not cheap device by any means, but the results were really instant and in true service of music. No squashing of frequency band, no narrowing of sound stage and no killing of the music. 

While i-Fi iTube operate in a different way, the effect is as mesmerising as 12.000 EUR golden FM rather small box. Thanks to the efforts of Thorsten and i-Fi team, we've being blessed with another device that rivals anything out there. 


i-Fi might give impression, that the product line represents is of budget nature and operation. Let me assure you again. There is nothing budget about iPhono iDac and iTube, but the mindsets of certain people. If some large corporation or luxury high-end audio brand name company would produce such a device such, there would be a crazy sticker price on them without a doubt. 

Trust me, these i-Fi devices are so different and so specially effective. Thanks to the broadminded and good hearted nature of i-Fi crew, we have the luxury of what is seem an constant and evolving output, that would mind boggle audio generations a decade or two ago. Packing true NOS GE tube with both 3D Holographic sound and Digital Antidote along with DIP switched for additional 6 dB of gain is stunner itself for what it represent. Performance and price wise!  

Having quite some mobile music devices on hand including Ipad, Iphone, Ipod Touch 5th generation, Blackberry Bold (that still hold my vote for stand out sound output), world emerging Droid "smarty" without nothing seems to be possible in last two years, interesting simple Hisound player and just arrived Colorly C4 Audiophile player it was interesting to put iTube under the mob(ile) pressure.

With my array of cables that sure make me feel like doctor first and reviewer last it was nice to pair the latest with greatest. It's a fact and mandatory that most (let us say all) mobile devices lack the proper gain output. As written above this not only hold back the performance, but handicap the music.

Without the matching gain you're missing the most of music and more importantly the soul impact of it. Music is not just an audio message, but an complex universe of little nuances, that relate to our sensible system in most profund way.

If you're even half serious about mobile listening you'll need a proper gain structure. All head-fier's know it and youngsters are picking up their acknowledge fast forwarding as the times demands.

Boys, girls, yuppies and elders. i-Fi iTube not only add need volume for a proper playback, but glazes the harshness of the digital audio making all the train, bus and plane rides a long lasting happier musical experience.

Thorsten turned around enough DIY and commercial projects that knows exactly what to expect and to what point. Audio designers like Vladimir Lamm, Thorsten Loesch etc. work within realms of unique mindsets and mileage, that can predict the sound outcome even prior to physical prototype. This is something that even audio CAD programs cannot simulate.

There is nothing magical or mystical above it. A straight high point knowledge and a talent combining all the dots and anchor points in a workable and best sounding circuits. Of course there are no virtual listening methods. As much as one can be able to predict results with his given talents and skills, there are always and end listening tests as a must that determines objectivity in absence of subjective speculations. 

Yet, is the iTube only for the new Generation iPod and mobile devices?


i-Fi iTube is not only a Class A Pure Tube Buffer, but fully fledged analog preamplifier. Digital volume controls that come build into numerous DAC and mobile devices are often of not high quality and lessen the impact of sound and music. iTube not only adds the preamp section, but an+ 6 dB gain boost when needed. In most cases mobile phones and digital music players offers a lower volume/gain output. This holds back a lot of sound impact and performance. With the lack of proper gain music can quickly become dull and the involvement is not as desired as it can be. This neat feature of iTube adds a mighty gain boost that raise the mentioned front ends to another performing level. 

i-Fi iTube is not a toy preamplifier or budget performer. It packs the enriched substantial quality to the sound and it's gain stage acts as a embodiment of a fuller more stand out sound. The performance clearly do not relate to iTube 'budget' nature. For the similar output, you could easily swing your wallet to a 1k + range. 

i-Fi iTube packs enough bread and butter to keep you mind and heart occupied and satisfied. Gershwin Porgy's BESS (Decca Sterero Set 609-11) vinyl carries so much sublime poetry of music, that it's hard not to get draw in. It also quickly shows the ins and outs for any system of component ability to portrait this classic record. 

iTube pack surprising energy while carrying the duties of preamplifier. The pace, the flow and the drama of record is unveiled with enough impact to make it interactive. 

I liked the subtle involvement that this machine could bring. i-Fi is again not chasing the giants, but provide the musical experience that matter for the wider spectrum audience. i-Tube performance is enough involving to call it a stand out. What better compliment one can have with it's given size and price?

So how far one can expect to push the iTube, when compared to the world above. I would say the purity is the word. Keeping it simple and true to the nature of the tube the basic unrestrained ability to draw you in the music is there more then avidly present. Now often people asked me how far does the upper echelon of ultra high end have come. It's always a bit tricky to answer this, but let me use iTube as an example of ability to engage when the right strings are being pulled in electronics.

The Thrax Audio Dionysos (15,000 Euro) is a clear representer of things refined and true ultra high end product. Once you step over the entrance of ultra performance is not easy. All things starting to count. Suddenly esoteric solutions don't fell overrated and weird. Like in F2 you squeeze the last possible nuances out gear and everything connected to a system.

i-Fi iTube (< 400 Euro) kicks some serious metering up to a 100 % full mark. Let me say if upper echelon starts to show their teeth at 93 %, iTube role as preamplifier hold the impressive spot of 80 to 83 %. This should give you a clear indication of how serious and well done things are inside of this small musical box.


You want to be a part of tube history? The part of heritage? Entering the NOS domain, that everybody talks about?

"The iTube uses a New Old Stock General Electric 5670 valve, which is second only to the famous Western Electric WE396A". 

Yes, this small wonder packs the mighty NOS tube fun into it. And not only for cosmetics, but for actual benefit. 5670 tube is not there only to look warm and muffle your sound with that unmistakable tube warmness. It adds the needed punch and transparency to the sound. Called it a contemporary take on the historical attributes of tubes advantages. Tubes are know to breathe the sign of life to the music, add three dimensionality and unmistakable natural impact to the music when they implemented in right way. No doubt that Thorsten and i-Fi team did they homework in elaborate way as with all i-Fi and AMR devices so far. Sonic results speak for themselves.


It depends. I do think I need a shot of this audible vaccine. Perhaps even more then others. With the material well recorded you might even want to skip the on selector. But I urge you to give it a more subtle and sublime listening and some time for your perception and sub conciseness to kick in. 

So where's the need of Digital Antidote. It feels and seems, that the higher one goes in the price range of the DAC's and even CD players the less the need of this circuit. Intriguingly from what I could spot the DXD, SACD and DSD files seems to benefit even more then high resolution PCM files.

Digital Antidote clearly finds it's place with more entry-level digital devices, but I wouldn’t limit their usage to them. I would leave it up to the experimentation, as my listening notes clearly pointed to the effective use even with bigger and meaner separated box. 

As said, Digital Antidote is of subtler nature, but effect is working. I wouldn't call it earth shaking, but I could prolong my listening with the less "nervous" attitude. You won't experience the exact vinyl nirvana, but do expect a noticeable improvement. 

i-Fi Digital Antidote is an actual evolution of digital audio playback. It make sense and an audible difference. Or better to call it a changed perception.


While with Digital Antidote affect noticing you might need to go on the subtle route 3D Holographic works in an instant way. On the fly changing brings at once effectiveness. With the rise of the dedicated tabletop monitoring products quality of the sound didn't really benefit as it should. One of the things that was pushed into the second row is for sure a wider soundstage. Usual close positioning of tabletop speakers cannot produce a wide soundstage and a feeling of illusion and rendering of larger space in live atmosphere. This is were 3D Holographic kicks in! 

For above mentioned situation where beloved small speakers are placed near the computer LCD monitor the most effective operational mode is three dots selector. When used with bigger/meaner speakers one dot selector offers the best fit.  

It was interesting to hear i-Fi iTube with both Ologe Acoustic ONE and FIVE speakers. With similar nature and same company DNA, they are a reference tools for comparing small sized monitor performance with a larger speaker of the same nature. Both position selectors fit the speakers as expected. The benefit was not only clearly noticed, but it didn't distort the music or any certain frequency range. No bumps so to speak. With software plugins, that deals with widening of soundstage one can spot the digital aliasing quite easily even with higher bits and kHz. Making the effective tool in analog domain is trickier, costlier and  more time consuming to implement. This is where i-Fi open up the new arrays of the tools outside of DSP. 

As mentioned above the affect was not small or subtle. Even a non trained ear will spot the difference instantly. And no worries. The absence of modus operandi won't slow anything down. It means serious business at once. 

I loved the result for both tabletop and stand alone larger speakers. In the modern times where our living environments are narrowing down the dedicated listening room or space is of limited size. iTube offers an effective tool that helps in the presentation of actual sound portraits and work especially with lower frequency spectrum in mind. 

In practical way with listening to many times we're having a hard time in pin pointing the instruments of lower registers. Let it be the kick drums, bass guitar, double bass etc. If you're into a critical listening like me your to often into a constant movement in a radar like way for a specific point of their positioning. With 3D Holographic in use the position of their actual anchor points moves from virtual middle points more toward the right and left speakers. It adds a substantial feeling of recognizing more precise source of their existence. I wouldn't call it revolutionizing, but very effective. 

Along the benefits of more exact and natural positioning of instruments there was one additional thing that capture my attention and went into the late night listening notes. I repeatedly noted the feeling of space and atmosphere being more pronounced or being there to simplify.  

Like the benefits of headphone crossfeed function 3D Holographic circuit acts in the same way for speakers. This works to a great extend and adds the practical way of use not only a mere feature pack.


Like with iPhono I cannot sit around still without raving when device as such in in my hands. Call me passionate or biased yet i-Fi iTube brings another set of Swiss Knife like tools, that defies the audio consumer logic and define the affordable high-end audio. Forget your DIY or small scale operations. iTube comes in the elegancy of Apple packaging with the appeal of the Linux like nature. Slick, easy to gasp, down earth simple to use with the top most high-tech feeling. 

Calling the iTube a simple gadget or accessory would not only be a sin but an act of narrow mindedness. With the hidden complexity and down to earth hands on operational nature presented in stylish way, this silver anodized box brings again stand out features and it's another highlight of the high-end audio God given year of 2013. What a great feeling an marriage of technology and science for the sake of listening pleasure. Thumbs up!

This is where the art of industrial design meets the technology ready for the people at the reach of a value of a mobile phone. There is no more excuses need and no jokers to cash in. In hankering for how cruel and unhuman globalization is here is a great chance to find and use its positives. 

iTube is another 'child' of i-Fi effectiveness. Digital music need not to be hidden with iTube. It's packed for the future and the past right NOW!

Although it seems that  i-Fi team designed iTube to be used for devices below 1k range, I found the performance and ability to move the right things to be of an universal use. Like said before. Don't be fooled by the size of the device. It might be packed into the pocket fit slim size, but don't forget we live in the 21st century, where things already operate on miniaturisation of the nano level. 

As with i-Fi iPhono I feel that iTube deserves the stand out recognition for what it offers and represents. There is no single device in the market that comes even close to iTube array of features and performance. For Pure Class A preamp section + tube buffer, Digital Antidote, 3D Holographic sound and adjustable gain levels iTube deserved to be praised. All that without even going into a pricing scheme. 

iTube without second guessing deserves another Mono & Stereo award for what it represent. The future of affordable audio with pure audiophile DNA and tons of features. It sends out the clear message of i-Fi: “We are making the difference and we're here to stay.” 

i-Fi products acts as an audiophile Swiss army knifes and for many represent and affordable dream come through. I have no doubts that iTube will sells in tons. And I don't envy a dime earned in this way. 

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! ::..