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Country of Origin
This review first appeared in August 2018 on HifiKnights.com. By request of the manufacturer and permission of the author, it is hereby syndicated to reach a broader audience. All images contained in this piece are the property of Dawid Grzyb or iFi Audio – Ed. As to the country of origin, the company's Luke Vincent explains how it would really need a split flag to be accurate. "It's a known fact that AMR/iFi are a British company. It's also true that our Pro iDSD and every other iFi/AMR product are made in China where we’re fortunate to own our own factory. Our circuit boards, chassis, software design, manufacturing/production are all handled in-house and divided between the UK and China. We use no OEM manufacturing in the assembly/testing process. We even have programmers in the USA and China who write our own XMOS code. Our staff and management team is from the UK and Germany and with more recent designs, the industrial design is French. AMR/iFi’s key crew is located in Southport, near Liverpool in the UK." So instead of a split flag, we show two…
Reviewer: Dawid Grzyb
Sources: Lampizator Pacific (KR Audio T-100 DHTs + KR Audio 5U4G Ltd. Ed.), Asus UX305LA
Integrated amplifier: Trilogy 925
Speakers: Boenicke Audio W8
Headphones: HiFiMan HE-1000v2
Interconnects: Forza AudioWorks Noir, Audiomica Laboratory Erys Excellence
Speaker cables: Forza AudioWorks Noir Concept, Audiomica Laboratory Celes Excellence
Power delivery: Gigawatt PF-2 + Gigawatt LC-2 MK2 + Forza AudioWorks Noir Concept/Audiomica Laboratory Ness Excellence
Rack: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Rack
Retail price of reviewed component in EU (ex VAT): €2'999
Affordable products—compact, often unusual—have been iFi Audio's bread and butter for years. But with the emergence of their Pro range, things grew pricier, bigger and bolder. This desktop family is meant to throw even higher faster punches. Let's meet its most ambitious member to date, the Pro iDSD. Spun off Abbingdon Music Research, iFi audio are clearly into the long game. Their people take proper R&D time, are always are up to something new and have surprised the industry many times already. Their products might seem casual on the surface but are far more complex underneath, even tricky. Models like the micro iDSD Black Label, micro iCAN SE, nano iOne or recently released xDSD target a broad audience with self-explanatory applications. The iGalvanic3.0, AC iPurifier, micro iUSB3.0 or iEMatch are designed to combat specific issues or up the performance on more non-mainstream counts.
There's undoubtedly a lot of iFi hardware to play with which fits all manner of needs. Over the years, this brand's at first minimalist portfolio has expanded significantly. These days it's very crowded and affordable pricing across the board implied that the most feasible direction to still expand was finally up. That's presumably one of the reasons why the Pro family was born. For the company to grow, 'up' had to emerge eventually and the preceding hardware had laid the groundwork to do so. It's no secret that cost-effective boxes accommodate a given brand's market penetration far quicker than expensive hardware. Needless to say, the Brits figured this out years ago
Now the Pro iDSD is their most ambitious product for a reason. The very first hint of it occurred as early as January 2014. The prototype showcased during CES then was still a far cry from today's production. Digital gets obsolete rather fast, thus the Pro iDSD presumably involved more than one return to the drawing board along the road to the final feature set and a major revamp or two probably followed accordingly. It's possible too that more than once this ambitious project landed on the back burner to make room for products like the nano iGalvanic3.0 (another time-consuming affair) or the Pro iCAN. Hence iFi's flagship DAC not only underwent significant changes over time, it also leverages proprietary tech which this company released separately to already have field-tested. The outcome is nothing shy of a monster whose combination of things seems uniquely capable.
It arrived in the typical white box reserved for the Pro range. Its top floor loaded with dense foam was occupied by the machine itself. One of two small boxes inside hid iFi's iPower Plus switching PSU whereas a WiFi antenna, flat-headed screwdriver, Toslink adapter, short RCA cable and USB3.0 harness were all found in the other. Once all of the Pro iDSD's options and features are taken into account, getting most familiar with the very useful manual included is a very good idea. Lastly, a small plastic remote with four membrane buttons emerged. It's for volume only.
To describe the deck's abilities, there is its positioning as iFi's flagship D/A converter. But it's also a full-fledged network streamer and more than capable headphone amplifier all stuffed into an enclosure many would consider very compact. But there's more. D/A conversion of course is the most significant and as such comes before all else. This can process music from an external self-powered HDD/SSD/pen drive, a microSDHC card or NAS in wired or wireless mode. Once connected to a network, the MÜZO app is the software to operate all of it. It's compliant with DLNA, AirPlay and allows streaming from Tidal or Spotify, a list likely to expand in the future. Even though not my first choice, the network component worked as intended, covering my fairly limited streaming needs. The takeaway is that when multiple filters, headphone outs, analog modes, digital inputs, studio readiness and compact size are taken into account, the Pro iDSD offers a feature set my eyes haven't seen before; not just in this price range but in general.
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