iFi GO blu Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Oct 13, 2021.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    As readers may know, I don't focus too much in the portable audio space unless I have a good use case for one. So when iFi offered me a chance to review the Go Blu, I almost passed That is until I realized the GO blu wasn't any AIO DAC/headamp dongle, but that it was a Bluetooth dongle. Bluetooth you might say? Yuck, bad sound quality. Actually, that's not true with today's codecs. So I went ahead to iFi's Go blu product spiel page (which I know annoys the heck out of more than a few members here) and did a ctrl-F find on "LDAC". Yup, the Go blu supports LDAC (as does my Android phone.)

    Before I say more, I should mention that the iFi GO blu sounds fricking great as long as we are using efficient IEMs and headphones. I tried a Sennheiser HD600 via the balanced out but presentation was one the soft side. However, I would expect the HD660S, HD560S, HD558 do do well. Personally, I been using Grados with the F pads and the Oriolus Isabellae IEMs for the past few days, obtaining excellent results.

    5F4A0051.JPG
    Yes, the iFi Go blu is tiny.

    The sound of the iFi GO reminds me of the first A&K players which used the Wolfson DA chips. This was before A&K went to Cirrus which IMO were more boring sounding in units at x4-10 the price. Despite Wolfson based DACs having the most varied sound signature compared to DAC using other chips, I've always liked the Wolfson. I've owned the AMB Gamma 2 and PS Audio Perfectwave 1 and 2. Except here's the problem: the Go blu uses a Cirrus logic. This left me puzzled, until I realized that Cirrus had purchased Wolfson many years ago. I'm betting the Cirrus chip used in this thing is based on a older Wolfson design if not recycled outright. I'll leave the rest of you to do the investigation. I have no idea what part is used in the GO blu.

    Back to the use case: The issue I've been having is that I don't sit around all day in one spot. I get calls, people ask my questions, I need to move audio gear for testing from one place to another, my wife comes by to ask me to do random stuff. In other words, a static desktop rig isn't doing me any favors because I have to walk away from my desk no matter if I'm at home, at a workplace, or at the local coffee shop. I was kind of looking at other folks who had wireless headphones like the Audio Technica M50 series portable, the Sony W1000xm3/4, Apple Air Pods Maximus, etc. The thing is, I really didn't want to use these headphones. I wanted to use what I wanted to use, in particular the Grados. This is because of their open design so I can hear when other people want to get my attention (including incoming dings and calls in Microsoft Teams). This is really where the iFi GO Blu comes into play.
     
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  2. YMO

    YMO Friend

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    I wonder how the GO Blu is different from the Shanling UP4 that I'm using. I found the UP4 to be in the Warm-Neutral land. LDAC works on it too. There is now an UP5, but honestly @shotgunshane and I are happy with the UP4 Price/Performance ratio.

    I do miss the old WM8741 sound.
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    The iFi GO blu was a breeze to use. This is where I tremble with fear that I will explode out of frustration (think of what a disaster this could have been if the physical UI was designed by the guys who designed the UI for the Soncoz DAC) Here we see what is an obvious volume dial with inset button, a power button (other side), and a multi-function button (shown here). Two outputs, one 4.4mm balanced and one 1/4 jack.

    5F4A0054.JPG
    Skull Pyrate Approves! (Even though measurements have not been taken yet).

    Setting up Bluetooth was brainless. Hold down that button for 2 seconds to pair with the phone. I think this same button does other fancy stuff like bass boost and surround sound, indicated by a different LED color, but I didn't bother with these features. Bluetooth range was about 25 feet before the signal starting breaking up. This can vary by environment. The inset button pauses the music. A double click next song. Triple click prior song. Brainless as it should be. The buttons are all nicely inset so there no accidental clicks.

    BTW, the GO blu also acts as a USB DAC. Just plug and play. Windows 10 picked it up instantly. I didn't know if it would do this because Bluetooth was on my mine. The DAC also charges this way too.
    upload_2021-10-13_14-2-55.png

    I would characterize the tonal signature as warm-neutral. It's not bassy dark like the AMD Gamma 2. The highs are evident, but not raspy like PWD2, quite smooth along the lines of the Gamma 2, but more of it, not as muted.

    Yes, there's definitely that lively WM8741 sound going on as long as we are using an easy to drive IEM or headphone. I would be super surprised if this chip was based on the CS4398 family. I wished more DACs were based on the WM8740/41.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
  4. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Acquaintance

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    Thanks for sharing your review. Could you comment on how large the steps in volume are with the volume knob on this unit? Especially with iems?

    My only complaint with the FiiO BTR5k is the large steps up in volume when using the unit's volume adjustment buttons. Basically end up with 'that's a bit too quiet', click up 'that's too dang loud'. It works to reduce the system volume via your phone, but you lose some resolution.
     
  5. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    The volume knob does have distinct clicks with small changes in level with each click. When paired with a phone, the the volume slider of the phone tracks with with volume knob. As for granularity, you know how the volume slider on the phone display goes up or down one notch with each press of the up and down volume buttons on the phoned?

    With the iFi GO Blu, this granularity is further improved from the buttons on the phone. It takes three clicks of the dial to move the volume slider on the screen one notch. Each click changes the volume a small bit. I actually find that I need to flick the dial up about six times, each time going through about four to five clicks, to bring the Grados up from a low background listening volume to moderate-high volume. iFi definitely got this part right.

    Well, if anything too much turning of the knob to crank up the volume. IMO, it's better this way than the other way.

    5F4A0055.JPG

    I will take measurements of this to confirm and report back.
     
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  6. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Looks like each click of the volume knob is about 0.75db
    upload_2021-10-13_15-6-23.png
     
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  7. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Acquaintance

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    Epic reply! We don't deserve this level of detail. Thanks again purr1n. I would much prefer this implementation over fiio's.
     
  8. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I'd be curious to see if the volume also works that way on iOS. I suspect it's stuck using Apple's far too broad volume steps.
     
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  9. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    Related: using OSX (not iOS) you can do 3x (err, i guess that'd be 1/3?) volume steps pressing Shift+Option+Vol up/Vol down. But I agree I wish there was a way to set vol min, vol max, and a button press for a determined step increase. Better yet would be to hack iFi's volume override of the Midi for a physical rotary knob.
     
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  10. Baten

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    Looks like it's based on the modern/latest CS family btw, Cirrus Logic CS43131. Same thing used in devices like the Creative Sound Blaster G6, Luxury&Precision W1/W2, or dongles like the meizu usb-c that I use with my phone.
     
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  11. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Interesting. The G6 as an AIO sounds like ass though. As a DAC, it's pretty decent.
     
  12. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Measurements for 300-ohm loads (e.g. Sennheiser HD6**)

    ~0dBu (actually 800mVrms) into 300-ohms
    upload_2021-10-14_18-8-27.png

    -10dBu into 300-ohms
    upload_2021-10-14_18-10-53.png

    Note distortion on one channel is higher than the other. (Did I get a bum unit?) Still measurements are decent at the lower levels. As I mentioned, I didn't think the GO blu performed well with the full sized 300-ohm HD600.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 14, 2021
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    -10dBu (0.225Vrms) into 32-ohms (less efficient "hard to drive" DD IEMs)
    upload_2021-10-14_18-12-16.png

    ~-20dBU (0.79Vrms) into 32-ohms (Grado or more efficient IEMs)
    upload_2021-10-14_18-13-42.png

    This worked well with Grados and IEMs. Measurements show much less strain from the GO blu with the loads and sensitivities of IEM efficient headphones.

    BTW all measurements are via adjustment via volume knob, not with volume maxxed and using digital attenuation. Also, USB dongle attached - being used as a USB AIO.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 14, 2021
  14. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Yes you do. This took me no more than 30 seconds to do. I'm at your service. Please ask. I cannot guarantee an answer because I am super busy these days, but call me out @purrin. I will always try. I depend upon you guys to ask me good stuff. I'm not Amir.


    --

    Using model above efficient headphone / IEM use case:

    25mVrms (adjust ed via volume in 32-ohms)
    0dbFS = 0.225Vrms or -10dBu
    upload_2021-10-14_18-29-30.png

    7.9mVrms (adjusted via volume in 32-ohms)
    0dbFS = 0.225Vrms or -10dBu
    upload_2021-10-14_18-32-42.png
     
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    Last edited: Oct 14, 2021
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    Below is volume maxxed, but using digital attenuation (sort of like measured as a DAC).

    iFi GO blu
    THD+N vs Output Level
    32-ohm load, 90kHz bandwidth
    upload_2021-10-14_18-33-56.png

    Sweet spot for SINAD / THD+N is at about 300mVrms for a 32-ohm load.
    NOTE: It doesn't get higher than this. The voltage output is capped.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 15, 2021
  16. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    I've been lax on this iFi G Blu product, having a demo unit for the last week. so thanks to @purr1n for kicking it off with great graphs which are beyond my equipment skills or ability.

    First off, I can not call this product by it's full "GO" name, because the term is used by a morally corrupt university in fichigan which I loathe beyond words. I may never own this product outright due to that fact alone. yes, petty. yes, engrained.

    Second, I don't have sensitive full sized cans for this iFi G Blu- which I suspect is where the sweet spot lies.
    With sensitive IEMs such as CA Solaris 2020 there is a significant amount of hiss with 4.4mm Balanced, and even significant air using 3.5mm SE, to the point of being distracting IMO.
    Even with Vega 2020 there's hiss present with no music playing when using the 4.4m balanced jack, one can debate if that matters when using in public (do people still go out?) vs. in use around a quiet indoor living space.
    Luckily with Vega 2020 in the 3.5mm SE connection, there's barely any air and likely not noticeable beyond picky OCD comparisons of blackness.

    Not going to try (maybe even can't, due to lack of cabling) hooking up the Verite Closed to the iFi G Blu.

    Will try to type up some deltas compared to the UP4 as time allows with less sensitive IEMs such as Vega 2020 and JVC-FDX1. yet at first blush over a lossy (Apple AAC) bluetooth connection with an iPhone (my use case for these tiny dongles) there isn't a boatload of inequalities. Not like one shines over the other in any major category after a bit of back and forth, unless one uses the iFi XBoost or XSpace features which are not present on UP4.

    in terms of build quality, iFi G Blu is top notch, is weirdly feather light and the button functionality spot on.
    Battery life great (as advertised) so far, with seeming a good idle down state with no music playing to extend battery life.
    it's quite mind boggling the mobile quality (and value!) you can get in portable units with a well paired transducer.
     
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  17. zerodeefex

    zerodeefex SBAF's Imelda Marcos

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    Wait, WTF grado is that? It's not the HF2 or the HF1?

    Oh crap, just looked up that they did an HF3, hah.

    So, does the Go Blu charge well from USB-C PD chargers? The Shanling doesn't do well with actual PD chargers and requires me to use regular ol USB-A 5V chargers to juice it up.
     
  18. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    paging @iFi audio
    I'll grab an Anker with USB-C PD and give it a try soon, but the battery is so tiny in the G Blu that I don't know why a huge V fast-charge PD port is necessary, although I understand single charging station convenience.
     
  19. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    How does it do with the FDX1?

    My smallest Shanling player can sound a bit strained with it sometimes due to low power.
     
  20. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    I'll ask internally, but I think that charging output shouldn't exceed 6.3V.
     
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