In North West Englands sits the seaside town of Southport. Where the tide goes out so far you think it’s never coming back. It’s also home to audio company iFi, purveyor of DACs, phono stages and associated electronics. Including the ZEN DAC V2 that we liked when we reviewed it. So when the press-release for the new Go bar ultra-portable USB DAC hit our inbox we paid attention.
Ultra-portable means the Go bar is small – only marginally bigger than an AudioQuest Dragonfly – so it’s eminently pocketable. A leather travel case is included in the price meaning you’re less likely to lose it.
It’s well specified, handling 32bit/384kHz PCM, native DSD and full MQA decoding. iFi also claims it’s the most powerful device of its size – 7.5V into a 600 Ohms load means hard-to-drive headphones should be handled with ease. And note the two power modes – IEMatch and Turbo – that adjust the output to suit your headphones (in-ear monitors tend not to need as much power).
As is iFi’s wont there are many features. To wit, four digital filters – standard, bit-perfect, minimum phase or Gibbs Transient Optimised. Plus iFi’s two analogue processing modes, XBass+ and XSpace. The former is a sophisticated loudness control, boosting bass without messing up the sound elsewhere. It worked well on other iFi devices I’ve reviewed. XSpace processes the signal to give the illusion of a bigger soundstage. Again it can be useful. The only issue with so many options is knowing when to stop fiddling tailoring and just listen to music.
Two buttons on the side of the Go bar adjust volume – handy on ultra-portable devices that often resort to software volume control. Further controls switch the various options on and off. And a gaggle of LEDs on the front of the Go bar indicate the rates, formats and features being used. Again useful.
Finally to connections. A USB-C connector adorns one end, two headphone outputs the other. One of those is a 3.5mm socket that uses iFi’s pseudo-balanced circuitry to reduce noise. The other is a fully-balanced output on a 4.4mm Pentaconn connector for those whose headphones can run balanced (if yes try it, sound quality usually benefits).
The Go bar costs £329 and is available now. £499 bags you a blingy (iFi’s word) gold-plated version that ups bragging rights and is said to improve SQ via better power-supply filtering. Be quick, only 1000 of those are being made.
What does HiFi Starters Club think?
Well £329 is high for a ‘dongle DAC’. Even Audioquest’s top-end Dragonfly Cobalt costs less (£269). The iFi appears better specc’d and certainly has more features. Even if you don’t use them the iFi’s higher power could still be useful. Besides, the iFi devices I’ve reviewed so far have focused just as much on core sound quality as adjustability. A case of nice cake and nice icing. If that holds true here then the Go bar could be an interesting proposition. We hope to find out; a review sample has been requested. Now where did I put those balanced headphone cables?…..