Quad Dong Bong Impressions: RU6 + UA5 + GO Bar + GOld Bar

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by YMO, Aug 11, 2022.

  1. YMO

    YMO Scatologically ribald obsessive

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    This post is for four dongles:
    • Shanling UA5
    • Cayin RU6
    • iFI GO Bar
    • iFI GOld Bar
    I only used the Moondrop Kato DD IEM for impressions from an iPhone 13. I didn't use any other IEM or any other sources. 3.5mm output only.

    I used the Cayin USBC to Lightning Cable that came with my personal RU6 except for the GOld Bar, which I had to use its included USBC to Lightning Cable since the Cayin cable won't work with it.

    Shanling UA5: Out of the four dongles, the UA5 is my least favorite sounding wise, but my favorite on I/O and smart features. I really like the knob for volume control and to control different settings on the UA5. It is smart to have a battery setting (since UA5 has a built in battery) where you can have the UA5 run only via its battery (and not taking power from your iPhone. If you had other Shanling devices you can control DAC output to Single/Dual, Gain, SPDIF out and screen settings.

    For the sound, it sounds like my other Shanling devices I have in my bedroom (UP4 Bluetooth Amp and M3X DAC), it's neutral with minor signs of warmth. Lows are Highs are sufficient but not class leading, but the mids are solid with minor hints of brightness. Music itself has liveness but when comparing to other devices it ain't special. With that being said, it isn't a POS device and I think for most people they will be fine with the sound. It just doesn't have any "special sauce" to take it to the next level, even if I was listening to it for hours with no real major complaints. Average is most likely the word I would use as a sound summary. Still worth it if you get it for a good price but I would be careful if using neutral/bright/AZN vocal fetish BA IEMs since it might be too bright. Bright DD IEMs it might be ok but I wouldn't count on it.

    Cayin RU6: I didn't use the loaner RU6 since I got my own RU6 unit, and thus I used my own RU6 for this. I got the RU6 for its killer OG R2R sound for a good price, and I haven't been disappointed with it since. On the IO the button clicking does get a little annoying on the volume control but then again it is a R2R dongle, so it is needed for step-by-step volume control. See this post from mine for more details on the RU6 sound. Still love it after trying the loaners.

    iFi Go Bar + GOld Bar: Both Dongles will be similar in IO and sound signature, but differences if you read below. Lets get the IO out of the way, it's fully button based with no OLED/LED screen. To see what is turn on/off, the bottom of the unit uses LED lights to tell you bitrate and options on/off. I'm not a fan of this at all, but since both units don't use a screen then in theory the units will last longer since on the other units you need the screen to see what options you are adjusting. So if the screen dies out, you are semi-screwed. On the side of the unit it has buttons plus iFiMatch switch. Another button is to turn on xSpace and xBass DSP stuff, which I didn't use at all. Hold both volume buttons and you can turn on/off Turbo Mode. Turbo Mode makes a good difference on sound quality and it made the DD drivers in my Kato preform better. With that being said, it might be best to not use Turbo Mode on really sensitive IEMs.

    So the differences: Build Quality on Go Bar is standard dongle hard plastic thingy (dunno the build quality) that is better for outdoor use (but still use the included case), while the GOld Bar is in its stupid gold that get marks on it super easy is terrible to look at it. It isn't an OAFAS product, but it looks like one. Really hate the look of the GOld Bar and I would personally never get it since it looks dumb.

    Sound differences: Both have a similar sound signature: Warm-Neutralish that at least goes up a few levels above the UA5 to me, more highs info than the RU6 and more defined lows also than the RU6. The mids to me on both dongles aren't tasty to me like the RU6 (since I prefer how the OG R2R sound handles mids), but they won't lie to you and is very defined with vocals and not sounding too upfront. GOld Bar however is the better unit than the regular Go Bar, it is at least two levels up IMO than the Go Bar and I see why people really like to get their hands on the GOld Bar. I think the GOld Bar is for the serious music listener who want the best a dongle can perform without lying to you if the recording is good or bad. The RU6 on the other hand has the OG R2R sound that messes together, and I prefer that if I had to be honest. Oh yes, RU6 has more sound staging over the Bar units but not a lot more.

    Final Thoughts: None of the units sounds like shit. UA5 while being the weakest of the bunch is still a solid listen. End of the day it will come down to what type of music you are going to listen to from your source. I listen to non-audiophile type recordings on my iPhone 13 for casual listening, so the OG R2R sound of the RU6 is the better choice for me (since I am very bias). If you demand something that is more honest and can almost punch with desk setups, GOld Bar can be a good choice if you are do enough serious listening from your phone devices.





     
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    Last edited: Aug 11, 2022
  2. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    (Shitpost) Didn't read it, just rated for the photo.
     
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  3. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    I will put my final thoughts first and if you want more details, read further below:

    ifi Gold Bar- refined and smooth. slightly darker sound.
    iFi Go Bar - a little boomy, but still very nice
    Cayin RU6 - best all arounder, but maybe not quite as detailed. Very dynamic and wide.
    Shandling UA5 - Wall of sound

    Certainly my favorite is the Gold Bar, but I did not like the lower output from a phone, nor the attraction to fingerprints it has. But as far as SQ, it certainly was the highest of these. The Go Bar is a close second, just watch the boomyness on that one and somewhat softer presentation. Both the Gold and Go bar sounds so much more natural and smooth in the highs and the mids that is certainly more pleasant that the other two.

    Although the RU6 has very few sins of commission and probably more sins of omission. It does so many things well for such a simple device. However, the ifi devices are refined in every way and really show how rough around the edges this device is and probably given the price of these, the likely only actual one I would own. Solid device.




    iFi Gold Bar

    First off, I got more out of these from a computer. The volume was a bit limited from a phone.

    They have IEM Match, but on both headphones and IEM’s, I preferred just the straight out as the IEM Match felt kind of limiting and less dynamic, maybe even a bit muted.

    Not quite as liquid and big and bold as the iFi Diablo, but it is certainly warm with some upper end clarity. Lows come through quite powerful, even without XBass, and top end is clean and harsh free. Very authoritative dynamic sound and very reminiscent of the Diablo, but on a smaller scale. It certainly is warm leaning and almost scooped in the mids like many PCM DAC’s, and the top end has a certain kind of sweetness. Very low fatigue, but still plenty of details.

    This is one powerful little device. I did not know dongles could sound this good.


    iFi Go Bar

    This one is slightly softer and not quite as controlled on the low end nor as sharp and detailed as the Gold Bar. Lows are certainly a bit more overpowering. You can tell this one is slightly more congested than the Gold Bar as well and even more U-shaped than the Gold Bar.

    The biggest difference between the Go and Gold bars is that the Gold bar sounded less congested during complicated passages and everything keeps its place and shape.The Go bar seems like it is working too hard and gets things start to fight each other. Not to mention that the Go bar is a bit more “boomy” in the low end and less overall controlled and refined. The top end also was slightly hazier and did not have quite the clarity of the Gold Bar.

    On both the Xwide did not seem to be doing much. Maybe a slight enhancement, but it is still a parlor trick. If anything, it sounds like it adds just a tick of glassiness on top. The Xbass was actually kind of nice and added some nice liquid low end that was not at all overdone. This can be useful if you have tracks that might be bass shy, or maybe you want to listen at low volume and having a “loudness” kind of sound to help reduce fatigue. Neither one are big changes and you might even have one or both accidentally on and not even realize it. Very small “enhancements” to the sound.


    Cayin RU6

    Note: this was the only one of the four that would not work with the iFi supplied Apple Lightning to USB-C. The sound would go out on the speaker on the phone, but there would be no volume on the RU6. Only the little black Lightning to USB-C would work with RU6. And yes, all of them worked with the black cable with my iphone. Go figure.

    I had to look at my previous notes on this to see if I still agree. And yes I do agree that it is a quite powerful dongle with a great and musical sound and wide soundstage, but maybe not the most detailed.

    I do like how simple this device is AND the fact it remembers your last volume (something the other three don’t do). I also love the simplicity of this device. Mostly volume and a Mode button to change gain from low to high, change from OS to NOS, and change the screen timeout settings.

    As far as sound, coming from the iFi devices makes this one kind of sound neutral or even mid-centric, which I know is slightly warm. I also now hear a bit of harshness or grain in the mids, even in NOS mode. I still prefer NOS mode for sure. But the grain is still kind of there, which I think is a testament to how smooth and clean the iFi devices are.


    Shandling UA5

    The high end butane lighter design. Interesting side volume control, lol.

    Certainly the more “pasticy” sounding out of the bunch. More closed off and all the instruments seem to be made out of plastic with this kind of low end puch going on. It is also the hazyiest of all 4 of these.

    It was also the only one out of the four that responded to the volume control on the iPhone. For whatever that is worth. The other three, it did not matter.

    The sound is the flattest and least obtrusive, but also very flat and front row. The gray haze never goes away, no matter if single or dual DAC or filter chosen. I found linear sharp/fast the best (no surprise there).

    I just did not feel like I was getting enough detail or dynamics. If I had to sum up this DAC, it would be “Apple Dongle, but louder.” If you need volume, this can get loud.
     
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  4. Garns

    Garns Friend

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    Question for @YMO:

    The mids are less "tasty" on the iFi than the RU6. Is that a matter of tonality, or colouration/richness, or microdynamic nuance? I.e., are the iFi relatively "flat" by comparison or is there still plenty of microdynamic interest but just a cooler tonality or whatever?
     
  5. YMO

    YMO Scatologically ribald obsessive

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    For me due to the OG R2R sound the mids on the RU6 is more richer/holographic/comforting but you have to live with details being mix in everything like an oil painting. iFi to me is less rich/holographic + more honest to source but the painting is more sharper where you can tell that yes that is a guitar playing in the far left of the stage.

    iFi wins on Microdynamics and being more honest to the sound without being dark. RU6 is for those who like the darker OG R2R sound on the go.
     
  6. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    I will weigh in as well. I agree with @YMO and say the mids are just richer on the RU6. The iFi devices sound a bit scooped, so I think it is more colouration. The lows and highs are just more macrodynamic on the iFi devices were on the RU6 everything is fairly even.
     
  7. Qildail

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    I intentionally avoided looking up technical specifications or price points on any of the products before listening; so all value/price/spec evaluation was after I had wrapped up the listening session notes.

    I'm not an IEM guy, so I basically ran through the headphone stands against all four units at least for a few minutes before settling into evaluation mode. Obviously throwing every headphone I had into a detailed accounting would have taken way longer than my allotment, but all four units seemed to manage everything I threw at them: HD280, HD558, HD650, HE5XX, OG Clear, even Atrium. Eventually I landed on the HD280 (v2016) for testing, as it's probably the most flat headphone in my kit right now.

    Cayin RU6
    I didn't hear the hot mess that Marv did with his unit, at least. However, I did hear the mid details warming and smoothing referenced above. I've not been a fan of R2Rs in the low-to-mid price ranges (I've yet to hear the high-tier stuff), and the RU6 did nothing to change that opinion, for good or ill. There was nothing offensive here, but there also wasn't any real wow factor that made it stand out as the clear winner among the four to me. It did its job competently, which sounds like a backhanded compliment, but in this case is high praise given how some things here get flayed.

    With the UI/interface I wish the screen would have stayed active for a few more seconds after setting an option. It seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to turn the display back off. I'm assuming this is to preserve battery power as much as possible, but it did make for some clunky interactions when I didn't click the options fast enough to keep up. If there is an option to modify this timing, I overlooked it.

    Shandling UA5
    This one was probably the most frustrating for me, on a couple of fronts.

    This was the unit that I had the most trouble with on my iPhone 12. The phone was just not having it for some reason, regardless of cable, and I ended up back on a PC for most of this listening over USB. Eventually I got the iPhone to cooperate via an Apple USB dongle just to make sure it hadn't completely malfunctioned. That just adds one more thing to carry around to make it work, which is a strike against the concept to me.

    The sound had a cookie cutter feel to it. Part A meets Spec B, without any real promise of nuance. The very top may be a bit too sharp if your headphones run bright. I noticed it with HD280, and that is very much a "not bright" headphone sub-8Khz.

    The interface was just not intuitive to me at all. I spent a lot of time fumbling through click and roll mechanics. Given enough time I probably would have picked this up, but in the testing process it lead to a lot of mis-clicks and unintentional setting changes.

    The frustration points doubled up because I actually liked the sound overall. I came away more disappointed than anything; like a good idea or two got lost along the way somewhere and were left behind.

    iFi Go/Gold Bar
    The Gold was definitely the clearer of the two iFis. Complicated passages that went a little hazy on the Go were noticeably more detailed on the Gold. Bass was better controlled on the Gold; whereas it started to go one-note on some fast passages with the Go, especially in modern-produced rock-blues or EDM tracks with multiple bass lines.

    I was not able to find DAC specs on either unit easily. One retailer had some info about a CL implementation, but nothing in the box or on the website confirmed the technical specification. In and of itself this isn't a nefarious omission, but it's certainly a curious one.

    Despite the interface being the easiest to manage, the display label contrast on the iFi Go was poor. I kept having to go off-angle lighting to see what setting I was activating or deactivating. On the Gold, it was flat out unreadable stamped into the metal.

    I rather enjoyed the Gold from an overall listening experience, although after seeing pricing I'm not sure it is above and beyond better enough to justify its price being 50% more than the Go, and the metal stamping bit pretty much seals the deal for me. This was one instance I was glad I took notes prior to seeing the dollar amounts though.

    Final Thoughts
    It wasn't a straight up double-blind A/B-switch test setup, but spread out across the table for a few hours, this was overall a fun experiment and I enjoyed the time spent. It was also interesting to take notes on the items BEFORE seeing price or specs -- the inherent biases that I know I have get taken out of play.

    The struggle I have after reviewing the pricing and feature sets is I'm not sure I have a use case for these types of dongles at this relative value. For secondary desktop, Fulla 2/E does the job almost as well with less connectivity and interface frustrations; and for mobile aptX Bluetooth might just be "good enough" for my purposes. Maybe if I was invested in good IEMs I would have a different perspective; in which case I would lean toward the iFi Go on a balanced value-performance ratio, with an extra couple bucks thrown in for a label maker; and the RU6 as a close but distinct second.

    In the end, I got to hear some gear that I normally wouldn't consider or blind purchase, and for that I'm quite grateful. Thank you to the mods for allowing me to participate. Extra thanks to @yotacowboy for putting his own personal RU6 on the tour.
     
  8. sheldaze

    sheldaze Friend

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    I will be editing, but this is what I have thus far... sorry for the literal cut-and-paste from my "edit" space.

    I got a little stuck writing this review. I’m obviously sad to see the changes that occurred to SBAF during the time I had these on loan. I’m eternally grateful to the loaner staff, before, during, and currently supporting continued loaners. I appreciate and wish SBAF success going forward. I also read about the RU6 debacle, and considered the memory of what I heard before I finished writing my review below. In the end, I don’t think it changed my perspective. Last, I needed to do some adjustment of my own home setups. I think there is great merit to using dongles as a baseline for what can be, or what should be against some of the improvements of a higher end system. Some gains and some losses in these headphone systems caused me to re-evaluate and change these relative to what I heard and enjoyed on dongles.

    The original start of my review was to ask, is it worth it to take a “better” pair of headphones on travel along with accessories (basically the dongle and any additional cables I would need to keep track of). You must understand that when I tested and first learned that my work laptop could accept USB-C for power, and thus I could leave the heavy, bulky original power brick at work, my travel pack became that much lighter and simpler. I carry, and could potentially forget, a lot of crap. Was this added stuff worth it to carry along with multiple laptops, a tablet, phones, and all the required accessories. Goldfinger is such an appropriate name for the gold bar. The first negative for the Goldfinger was I would definitely want to pack a microfiber cloth in addition to whatever accessories I needed for sound to keep fingerprints away. I know it’s a small thing, but I started with a negative feeling towards Goldfinger.

    Wanting to dislike it, I started with Goldfinger. Unfortunately what I heard was good! First, it feels solid in hand. I’m sure we are not talking about the difference between a Gungnir and a Yggdrasil, where the internal parts contribute to weight of the product. But it feels more desktop stable than the other dongles. Second, there was a subtle but audible difference between it and the other iFi. It had less of the etch, this-is-mobile sound. More of the original recorded sound comes through with less penalty, the bad audible crud that makes me turn-it-down and lessens my immersion into the music. Truth be told, I did not have time during my trip to listen - so all listening was done in just a few hours before and the weekend after travel. But the point at the end of long work days on travel is to forget the work and chill, and to recover for the next day. This one hit the mark.

    Deltas - switching to the Black Bar also by iFi - as described above, it has more of that “mobile” sound to it. It has the same base sound. But it also just leaves more behind. Cymbals are more splashy, less shimmery. Bass plucks are ever so slightly less weighty. The neat musical accents in the background are lost in comparison. The sound overall was starting from the same point, the same “house” sound, but also sounded loud by the end of the first song. I felt fatigued and annoyed, and definitely wanted to turn-it-down. I try to explain to people, who come over and listen to speakers - and who haven’t heard multibit digital sources and tubes, that the speakers are actually pretty loud. You can get a sense of how loud as you walk away from the room, and realize how much you can still hear. The Black Bar is not this experience. Relative to Goldfinger, it is just loud. There is a much larger delta between the two than I would have expected.

    Before I talk about the RU6, I have to label myself as an honest Moffat fanboy. There are few oversampling filters I enjoy beyond the Schiit “house” sound, which I first heard on a Gungnir followed by Yggdrasil and Bifrost. I also enjoy the filter on Massdrop x Airist and Soekris (only wishing for a little more dynamic range, a more impactful sound). I only tolerate the filter on Wavelight because the sound loses too much when I switch to NOS. Reverse this, I far preferred NOS on the RU6 to get more of the unique character of the sound of the dongle. That said, the common penalties for NOS definitely apply - there is less focus to the sound and an overall more relaxed sound. In addition, it did not sound as refined as Goldfinger. Perhaps offset by the softer NOS sound, I did not hear this to be as fatiguing as Black Bar. And after listening to D/S, it is kind of a cool option - yes, this is certainly multi-bit. Other than that “the sound is neat”, I prefer one of the less harsh D/S options for transport.

    Lastly, and definitely most brief, I did not hate the UA5. It has the most obvious digital sound of all the dongles, that Sabre sharp, accuracy at all costs, antiseptic sound. To be blunt, it’s not for me! However, I think it is an okay implementation. I watched a few movie trailers and had no problems. When I switched to something with an analog foundation - like basically any music, it left me digitally cold. It was a constant reminder that this is not real music, I had no desire to dig any deeper to listen. However, I did not hear any analog anomalies.

    Back to the fundamental question - should I bring a better pair of headphones for travel instead of using the Bose that I use for conference calls? Simply, yes. Should I bring a dongle? Note that both my laptop and personal phone still have headphone jacks. I saw my phone (Google Pixel 3A) discussed recently and admittedly it does some things better than my primary dongle (Helm Bolt). When I first switched over to the laptop headphone output, after listening to each of the dongles from the tour, I heard a digital sound that was okay. I heard an analog that, during the initial quiet passage and initial solo guitar section of the song, sounded bigger - built up some anticipation for the song soon to follow. Then the sound stage completely fell apart during the main music passage. Guitar was okay, but cymbals and drum/bass were splash city and plop. The Helm Bolt when played through my ESX at home is still outstanding. The Helm Bolt played through my darker travel cans is well - darker. Let’s call Goldfinger somewhat middle-road. The laptop definitely has uncontrolled, unrefined power, and the Bolt was a better DAC with a controlled if not a heavy impact amplifier. Goldfinger does a better job pushing through the headphones.

    In the end, there was no free lunch - just gratefulness to be immersed in some unique sound for a few hours. Hopefully highlighting some deltas is all I can try here. I know for myself, Goldfinger had me reaching for the next song on play (and having been gone a week as I first wrote this, was a sound I would miss):

    H/W: Lenovo Yoga 920 > Apple iPad USB-C charging cable > Dongle > NAD VISO HP50
    S/W: Fedora > Google Chrome > YouTube or YouTube Music
     
  9. Tchoupitoulas

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    Donglethon

    Thank you, Shanling, iFi, and yotacowboy for kindly making this loaner tour possible, and to rhythmdevils, shotgunshane, and jexby for organizing it. I count myself as fortunate to be able to participate in these loaners, not least because I’ve now found a nice new dongle.

    I tested the dongles out of a MacBook Air and an iPhone 13 Mini, using Qobuz, and with the original Campfire Solaris (3.5 mm SE), the Letshuoer S12 with RD tape mod (4.4 bal), and the ESX900 headphones (3.5 mm SE).

    I compared all four dongles against each other and, for common frames of reference, my Sony ZX2 DAP and my Lotoo Paw S1.


    Physical qualities
    RU6:
    this is a nice, attractive unit, it has a decent little screen, and is easy to use.

    UA5: the screen’s good enough, and it benefits from the brightness being adjustable; I love the volume wheel, it’s a pleasure to use, and convenient if you want to adjust the volume when the dongle’s in your pocket (beware of making it look like you’re playing pocket billiards in public, though). The UA5 doesn’t override the volume controls of my iPhone, so the phone’s volume had to be cranked all the way up.

    Go Bars: they both have ridiculously illegible markings on the underside, although both are easy enough to use and figure out. I like how I don’t need to mess about with gain settings; volume increments are a perfect compromise between having small-scale adjustments and being able to crank the volume up quickly with more demanding transducers. The Gold Go bar, alas, is far too heavy. I’d be scared of going out in public in case the krugerrand dongle were to pull down my stretchy pants. I like that each of the iFi dongles comes with the two cables and a leather case. It makes their value proposition more appealing.


    Sound
    RU6

    I’ve posted impressions elsewhere from a previous loaner tour, and my ambivalent feelings about this dongle haven’t really changed, which is why I didn’t buy one. I prefer the tonality of NOS but find it constrained, closed in, and dull; OS, by contrast, is less congested and constrained but has a thinner and weedier tonality. It’s still somewhat lifeless and flat.


    Shanling UA5
    From the MacBook Air
    I much prefer this dongle to the RU6 and my Paw S1. Its timbre is poorer than that of the RU6 but it doesn’t have that dongle’s congestion or muddiness or other problems. Instead, it has a lighter, airier, and brighter presentation, one that’s also more spacious in terms of headstage. The greater treble emphasis makes for some strong bite to electric guitars and string instruments although the overall sound becomes a bit sharp, at times, and more fatiguing and edgy or brittle than the RU6. Vocals are also too forward, for my taste. The transient attack is also snappier than the RU6’s. Resolution is decent. The staging, while spacious, suffers somewhat from the music being panned hard to the left and right, without there being a strong enough center image. Another problem is the bass: it can be a bit too boomy and loose with the S12 IEMs, although the bass was nice and authoritative from the ESX900.

    From the iPhone
    Compared with the Apple dongle and using my Solaris, the UA5 is much better: it sounds more natural, softer, and less brittle. It has a lively, energetic quality, thanks in part to the treble emphasis, although because the bass is also emphasized (but not overdone, as with the Apple dongle). The overall tuning is reasonably balanced. String and brass instruments have better tonality than from the Apple dongle, but not the complexity or refinement I heard from the iFi dongles. The UA5 could do with a bit more richness and warmth.


    GO bar with Solaris and S12 (comments on the ESX900 pairing can be found below)
    From the MacBook
    As with the ZX2, there’s a quick surge of hiss when you first engage the dongle. My limited understanding is that this might have something to do with the capacitors on the ZX2; I wonder if the same’s going on here with the Go bar? In any case, the hiss fades soon enough and almost completely ceases to be apparent once music’s playing - but not quite, on quieter tracks like piano sonatas. Alas, the hiss returns when you advance to the next track. This gets annoying. Alas, as always, IEMatch is deadening.

    The GO bar’s overall sound is richer than the UA5 and without being too thick or constrained like the RU6. It imparts a decent timbre to acoustic instruments. There’s some nice bite to strings, although they could be quite sharp at times. There’s also a decent amount of sparkle with acoustic guitars. The Go bar doesn’t have the best top-end extension, though (as far as I can tell, and my hearing only goes up to the 14 kHz range). WIth that said, the GO bar has the best treble extension of any of the dongles thus far.

    The GO bar also has best staging of any of the dongles: its imaging is precise enough; layering and separation are excellent, and the headstage is spacious, although it can lack depth. Better yet, the GO bar sounds the fastest of the dongles and is the most resolving. In fact, I think the GO bar is equal to the ZX2 when it comes not only to resolution but also to staging, imaging, bass presentation, and treble extension. And, for overall engagement and enjoyment, the GO bar is right up there with the ZX2. This is high praise given that the ZX2 has great synergy with the Solaris (and let’s not forget the ZX2 was a $1.2k device when it came out). The ZX2 offers better timbre, with its more textured and resonant sound, and the ZX2 is slightly warmer and more analogue-sounding than the GO bar. The latter, though, has deeper, stronger bass, and a lighter, more energetic and cleaner sound. It’s less colored than the ZX2, although it is still quite rich and slightly warm, even when used out of an iPhone. I’m not sure the ZX2 really beats the Go Bar; it’s more a matter of matching sonic flavors and tastes.

    From the iPhone
    The Go bar suffers slightly from the lower power of the phone vs. the laptop. But the pairing with the Solaris is really quite wonderful.

    The two together sound warm and rich but not overly so, and they have a lovely tonality. In fact, the added warmth and intimacy is quite welcome; the Solaris sounds more filled out, more akin to a Senn HD 6X0 than an 800 (this is not to say that the Solaris sounds like the Senns; I’m just offering an analogy). While the presentation could do with a bit more air, the treble’s not rolled off, and there’s a decent amount of treble extension. There’s also great bass richness and emphasis, with awesome, great rumble into the excellent sub-bass. Pianos and woodwind and string instruments sound really good. The timbre of brass instruments is mixed: they come across as nicely textured, with lovely tone, and excellent crackle, but could do with a bit more bite. The trumpet is a bit too sweet and clean and needs more of an edge to it, i.e. to be a bit more piercing to be convincing. For woodwind, the alto sax is a bit fruity (i.e. too warm) but it’s sufficiently reedy. Overall, the timbre of acoustic instruments is much better than the UA5.

    The pairing also makes for a lively, energetic, and percussive sound. There’s nice macrodynamic contrast and plenty of oomph to drums. Imaging and staging are very good, and layering is perfectly adequate. The pairing doesn’t make for the most spacious staging - given the Solaris’s remarkable abilities here - but it’s coherent and open and airy enough. Surprisingly, at least to me, I could get a sense of room acoustics in small ensemble jazz recordings. There’s no congestion whatsoever, unlike the RU6. Transients are snappy in the attack; the decay is okay. And, finally, the pairing makes for an impressively resolving sound, for the price.


    GO bar Blingy McBling Bling
    From the MacBook Air
    With the Solaris, the Go bar Gold makes for a sound that’s bassier than its counterpart and better textured and with better pitch differentiation. The Gold dongle is also more impactful and offers a larger, more epic sound, one that’s more bombastic. It’s also cleaner- and clearer-sounding, without sacrificing engagement or the other qualities of the regular version. It’s more resolving, offers a greater sense of tactility, and textures, generally, are richer. Brass instruments have some real edge and grit to them (these are good things). The Go bar Gold is a significant step up from the other iFi one. These improvements are also discernible on the S12, which becomes more refined and richer, but also sounds a bit thinner and brighter. The ESX900 combinations is outstanding and good enough to rival some desktop systems.

    From the iPhone
    The improvements of the Gold over the regular version are less apparent out of the phone. The sound’s not quite as warm but it’s still tonally rich with an analogue quality to it. Everything’s just a bit tighter, cleaner, more precise, and better delineated than the regular version. There’s more bite to the treble, more oomph to the bass, and the Go bar Goldilocks offers a lovely sense of space and air and room acoustics, with nice reverb and echo, too, on small ensemble jazz pieces and albums like Jeff Buckley’s Grace. The Gold is clearly better than regular version, although I’m not sure the step up in price is worth it if you’re just using a phone.


    Conclusion
    RU6:
    by comparison, it’s pretty much pants, especially when the iFi one is only $75 more.

    UA5: meh, better in some respects than the RU6, but not treble and timbre, but also easily outgunned by the iFis. If this were a $150 dongle, it’d be decent enough, and it thoroughly spanks my Lotoo Paw S1.

    GO bar gold: it’s almost pointless offering impressions of the dongle because, for one thing, it’s impossible to buy, for another, it’s expensive and heavy enough that I’d be more inclined to look at the Gryphon, and, well, it’s ridiculously heavy for a dongle.

    The regular Go bar: this is a very good dongle. While its MSRP is at the outer limits of what I’d be prepared to spend on a dongle, it does sound really very good with sensitive IEMs and headphones. It’s far from perfect. But it’s a dongle. It has one major flaw, though, and that’s the whoosh of hiss when you first start playing music. The hiss lingers somewhat with the Solaris, but more annoyingly, every time you skip forward to the next track, the hiss comes roaring back. Still, that the Go bar sounds almost as good as my ZX2, which does its own whooshy hissy thing, makes it highly appealing, and makes me wonder if I’d need to buy a better DAP in the future. I reckon this dongle and a cheap, used Solaris, all for under a grand, is probably one of the best deals in portable audio. I didn’t like it so much with the S12, so synergies do matter, of course, and there aren’t necessarily universal benefits to be had with this dongle.


    Coda: iPhone + Go bar + ESX900 (with darker tuning)
    At the end of a day spent auditioning the dongles, the last combination I wanted to try was this one. Please bear in mind that I was a bit tired and my concentration not as good as it could have been. I was also fairly fatigued from a few hours’ of listening critically. But, holy cow, this was a truly amazing setup.

    The combination made for a warm and sweet sound. Strings were lovely and rich. Brass instruments sounded amazing, rich and crackly and bitey, with great blare. Miles Davis’s trumpet sounded superb, not too squeaky, with lots of texture, and it was a bit piercing, as it should be. The double bass sounded deep, rich, and with that gorgeous boomy, hollow quality. The alto sax was outstanding, too. Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah came across beautifully: the guitar was sweet, had a clear chime to it, and had nice, lingering decay. His vocals were forward, clear, and highly detailed, with some sibilance - as there should be - and the overall sound had a lovely echoey, atmospheric quality to it. This is among the best presentations I’ve heard for this song, even from far more expensive gear. Female vocals, as with the Mamas and the Papas’ Dream a Little Dream of Me were wonderfully expressive, with lots of detail, and again, with some gorgeous sweetness.

    If all this sounds like I'm gushing, I am. I'm sure I could have found some flaws. But I was simply having too much fun, and at some point, I think it's reasonable to say that a setup sounds good enough for me.

    This was one of the best listening experiences I’ve had, and I’ve been auditioning a bunch of high-end gear recently. So good was this pairing that I immediately snagged a Go bar going for $250 second-hand. (Now, alas, I have to wait for Xmas as my wife said she'd like to get it for me as a gift.)
     
  10. caute

    caute Facebook Friend

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    Sorry for the open-ended question, but if anyone has experience, how do these more modern dongles compare to the old Geek Out v2?
     

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