Discussion in 'Product Announcements' started by iFi audio, Oct 23, 2020.
thanks to the iFi Club folks, my loaner Neo iDSD and iDSD Signature have arrived and getting warmed up.
a XLR to 4.4 adapter won't be arriving for a few days, so listening SE with ZMF Blackwood Auteur initially.
going to borrow a Focal Clear this weekend. Planars not around for this go round.
the size of Neo is about 1" less in width and depth from the Bifrost2.
very svelte looking, OLED screen is sharp despite the phone photo:
A reminder that these are impressions and not a formal review of the iFi Neo iDSD, which was graciously loaned via a nice iFi Club rep.
wasn’t expecting much from built in amp on unit that may be “primarily” a DAC, yet walked away throughly impressed and satisfied with the presentations, especially via 4.4mm BAL output. For anyone with easier to drive, dynamic headphones wanting a high quality all-in-one DAC+Amp, or need a SS amp as backup to a big boy tube amp, the iFi Neo iDSD should be on peoples short list.
are the Neo iDSD headphone outs going to surpass a $3K dedicated SS amp with boutique parts assembled from the artisans of this sport? likely not. But the good sound presented is on par, or better than other low/mid fi options.
Source komputer: Mac mini 2018 with Roon, ALAC files, 24/96 and 24/192 AIFF.
USB out (yes) into the Neo iDSD.
Headphones: ZMF Blackwood Auteur and Focal Clear.
I applaud iFi for assembling what appears to be many of the solid aspects of the iDSD Pro, into a streamlined package with an emphasis on quality, lower price even with fewer features. Gotta draw the line somewhere between product levels.
There are a bunch of great sonic traits of the Neo iDSD from @Bloom (link above), thus I shall not attempt to recreate them all here, just expand.
with the Neo iDSD all warmed up, this first post may describe it's relative performance as an All In One, including the quality of the headphone outputs.
With the iFi foregoing any USB cleanup inside of this case, I put an iFi iPurifier3 between the Mac mini and the Neo iDSD. believe it provides a bit cleaner imaging. let’s leave the USB nervosa there since I have no iFi iUSB 3.0, nor the time or $ or patience for other source tweaks any longer. hm maybe should try the Eitr.
Neo iDSD SE headphone output:
For two days, listened to the SE outputs and was not disappointed with either the Auteur nor Focal Clear. Despite no highest order expectations, there was not a single moment of “yuck” or rip this off my head! no deadness, no flat nor boring moments. wow! Nothing dry, sterile or rigid was heard.
the on-loan Clear headphone has a bit more mid/vocal forward and narrower presentation than Auteur, a smaller room where the music bounces around. The Neo iDSD still stretched out the soundstage width as Bloom has described, which is usually something that I notice and miss in budget SS amps. There’s not a ton of depth like an EC tube amp, hey- whaddya expect.
Yet even via SE, there is air around instruments, spatial location and tone good, with a touch of warmth that Bloom indicated also. micro plankton is still easy to detect, no sonic aspects seem smeared nor pronounced.
Neo iDSD 4.4mm BAL headphone output:
amazon delivers a XLR to 4.4mm cable adapter and
ah yes! moar power certainly helps the Auteurs. the bass goes a tad lower and has more punch. very welcomed! the power opening up Auteur seems to put some meat on the bones of the mids. Focal Clear presentation aspects were not boosted, nothing sounded “more forward” or too-fast. to me, the bass of Clear is more rounded with less impact than Blackwood Auteur, but that is consistent across other amps and not from the Neo iDSD itself.
Guitar string decay was clean, no shrill shrieks in treble, nor bloat in bass, no steely sounding instruments or glare on cymbals. WTF is going on here?
Just good sounding music.
(see additional post on recommended pairing possibilities)
Neo iDSD SE outputs to EC Black Widow 2 amp:
well of course the BW2 widens the stage a step, adds a more immersive 3D experience where drum kit elements have more placement in space, and easier separation. Cymbals on the BW2 have a more solid body and metallic ringing.
the BW2 delivers aspects of staging out in front, whereas the Neo iDSD headphone outputs keeps it all closer, or between the ears.
I would not call the Neo iDSD DAC (SE outs) to BW2 overly warm, nor stifling, nor bright, nor limiting. It seems to pair very well.
From vague memory on other recent amps:
weeks ago had Bifrost2 hooked to a magni3+, and could not get past the limiting soundstage and space that the little amp put out. The SS tone may be similar, but the Neo iDSD easily throws a bigger stage with nice tight bass as well.
only other transportable AIO recently owned was WA8 Eclipse, which was warmer and had spatial tube qualities with headphones and IEMs alike. the WA8 Eclipse presented more bloom in the bass, and a bit more softness around the edges than Neo iDSD.
Have never heard a schiit AIO with the USB DAC cards installed in either Lyr3 nor Jotunheim. Nor iFi Zen products.
better comparisons to the iDSD Signature may happen soon, but at first compare the Neo iDSD amp has a tad more wetness and staging than the Signature portable sibling.
Wishes: yes, there IS a small black remote in the box.
a remote control for volume adjustment would have been a superb feature on Neo iDSD.
without a shred of evidence or single word of rumor discussion, can only guess than a Neo iCan could one day appear to create a more high powered amplifier stack for planars with additional features (Xbass, etc) omitted from the Neo iDSD.
Will get the Neo iDSD XLR outs cabled to the EC Aficionado later in the week, and try to DAC compare more directly to Bifrost 2 w/ Unison USB.
Hope to get eventually connect Solaris 2020 with IEMatch into the SE outputs of Neo as @Bloom reports good sounds with other CA IEMs, even though it’s not my use-at-home case.
Haven’t tested the feeding of bluetooth to Neo iDSD yet, mainly because anything coming from macOS or IOS will be lossy and likely not as great as the above.
back to Real Life:
watching the Domincana Republica beisbol games on DRSports IOS/Apple TV apps!
Great write up!
I think the neo iCan boasting all the missing features would be a much better differentiation from the Pro line-up, where the iDSD didn't quite make sense as a pure DAC since it had so many redundant features with the iCan...
Wish granted? My unit came with a remote with volume, mute and input features. Tiny little black plastic guy.
is there a neo ican in the plan?
Simple usability question, but does this mute the line-outs on the back when headphones are inserted, or is there another way to control whether the line-outs are muted or active?
I could not find a definitive answer in the product support docs, linked here for reference:
User Manual (version 1.1)
The manual mentions that a "short press" of the multi-function knob (or pressing the mute) button will mute the unit, but when using it as a headphone amp / control unit for powered monitors it's important to know what I asked above. The Focal Arche outputs for example are always active, even with headphones plugged in, which is nonsensical.
not that i know of.
re-read my statement, it was purely based on imagination and hope.
bingo! thanks for the tip to "look inside all the mini boxes inside the large Neo box". duh.
Pressing the center knob once mutes the Neo headphone outputs, and the RCA outputs (where Black Widow 2 is connected).
and it mutes the XLR outputs (where the EC Af is connected).
Thanks for the impressions.
Have you compared the DAC on the Neo to the Signature? May not really matter if it compares favourably to the BF2. This may be a serious consideration for me as an all in one bedside unit. I must admit I was sceptical of the NEO when it was first announced as I was wondering if this was just a desktop version of the BL or Signature with BT added. First impressions seem to suggest its a step up. I was thinking about running my Black Label through something like a Lyr3 for a bedside station but this may be a more practical option if the sonics are there.
So either all outputs are muted or all are active? I guess inserting headphones doesn’t mute the RCA/XLR outputs either?
Very cool, thanks a ton!
yes all outputs are muted, or active simultaneously.
inserting headphones into either Neo 4.4mm or 1/4" has no effect on the rear RCA nor XLR outputs.
Neo iDSD DAC and Bifrost2
This is a not a two week soliloquy with each DAC on a long journey to 6moons, instead a few nights through various tracks at various times, with the two DACs having common elements to the good (tone and accuracy) yet with presentation deltas.
Primary perceived differences after back and forth across the EC amps:
Neo delivers incisive edges, the more neutral side of a sonic delivery.
Neo with good decay and detail, slightly easier to hear micro plankton in treble and acoustics.
Bifrost2 better heft, body to vocals and certainly slam. albeit minor at DAC levels compared to the deltas an amp or transducer may bring.
Bifrost2 presents more music out in front with a step wider L to R. layering better.
Bifrost2 has the ability to “hear the room”. dimensionality more 3D, Neo more 2D Left to Right.
If both DACs existed on my shelf- prefer Bifrost2 with the Af, and the Neo iDSD with the warmer Black Widow 2.
choosing one as a “pure DAC unit”, the Bifrost2 for $700 is my pref over the Neo at $800 due to increased physical heft and delivering a more realistic (analog?) soundscape.
Bifrost2 + Vali 2 may have synergy at $850 for folks that prefer separate components and a tube (hybrid) amp with ability for tube rolling.
Yet, Neo iDSD $800 exists as a great all in one with a refined form factor, ability to accept bluetooth streams, a remote control, and quality SS outputs which to me have preferable sonic presentation traits compared to an external magni 3+.
Choose the features that match the use case.
Note: at the vol setting of 0dB, seems the Neo iDSD SE outputs are a bit hotter than Bifrost2. needed to turn EC amp volume up just a bit when switching to the Bifrost2.
Please note limitations for the above: only having 1 pair of headphones, no speakers, a variety of weird music that sounds slightly better on one chain, different song slightly better on another. Not able to connect multi sources to all inputs using every cable material known to elves.
IMO boiling down a DAC comparison evaporates towards personal preference when there is nothing “off putting” nor magnitudes of differences like doubling down warmpoo instead of balancing The Force. If these factors are onerous please filter the above impressions accordingly.
after more time with the 4.4Bal output of Neo iDSD, would offer that it's best suited for sensitive headphones and IEMs with use of IEMatch if needed to reduce noise floor.
it's more obvious that higher power from a dedicated amp brings out better dynamics and authority of Blackwood Auteur, when connected to the 4.4Bal Neo there is some loss is liveliness and energy engagement.
what also surprised is the Neo 4.4Bal is a bit more laid back than BW2, actually a step or two back from stage instead of right-up-close. this can be a good thing on tracks where I don't want a vocalist breathing on my nose.
The Clear seemed a much better pairing for the Neo 4.4Bal amp, could see folks choosing a Neo as a great all in one for the office setup (does anyone go there to work anymore?) or second listening room.
Thanks again @jexby
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iFi iDSD Diablo Mobile DAC/amp leaked:
I'm surprised at same form factor than the micro/micro signature; plus the recent Neo addition to the product line-up, starting to become hard to differentiate
Although it might seem confusing now considering Neo iDSD and micro iDSD Signature, our Diablo is a very different beast
As much as I'd like to tell a bit more about it now, I still have to wait. We're not too far off though
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