dpd delivery was quick across the Irish sea, iFI's engineered packaging very pro indeed, the inclusion of five adaptors plus a polarity inversion plug for the 15V/3.5A iPower Elite the epitome of opposite. That references an earlier outboard 'universal' power supply. Its maker hadn't included any umbilical. Their excuse was that DC port sizes are far too varied so they didn't want to pack a cable with the wrong plug. Rather than dump this procurer's burden into the client's lap—good luck figuring out what your DC port size is—iFi include the lot to guarantee seven different matches. You're up and running not in arms and cussing. Another unexpected detail was the rubbery mat. It's bonded to the DAC's belly in lieu of typical mini bumpers pretending to be proper footers. Whilst photos barely follow the waves, both chassis cheeks and the cover undulate in very shallow ripples. They aren't the customary flat-sheet fare. Compact this kit may be but from an accôutrement and finishing perspective, it's quite loaded and finessed. Even the back-lit logo changes color depending on status and the display has four brightness states plus off. Billy Bob the sophisticated rich American uncle in the Ozarks you never knew about? Unfortunately for me, he also seemed to broadcast WiFi/Bluetooth radiation the moment he turned on. I instantly felt the telltale leech on my brain. Off went an SOS to Victoria asking about an easy lead inside I might unplug; or even snip if I wished to buy the machine. I rather expected an embedded circuit trace. That'd be out of reach. Or might I unseat the entire WiFi chip set without affecting other functionality? I'd noted the same brain buzz on their otherwise fabulous Aurora. It only returned to Blighty because of its microwave radiance. Most folks of course are impervious. Yet sensitivity is a thing. I wish more designers acknowledged it by making WiFi/Bluetooth defeatable; and very clearly advertised this feature or its absence. Why need sufferers find out after the fact that they just brought an ultrasonic transmitter into their house? "Undefeatable WiFi inside" should become a mandatory declaration like "may contain traces of peanuts" and other food-related stipulations conscious of consumer allergies.
Then my ears turned bright red when Billy Bob outed me as a clear lover of smut. That's shorthand for sonic muttance so not 'pure-bred' mode but hybrid; and not triodes but DSD1'024 resampling. Old fox, new chicken coop? This held true for both Raal SR1a ribbon headfi rig and sound|kaos Vox3awf speaker system. For my tastes the military-style mounted tubes were a bit too soft, bloomy and loose. That held even without shifting into '+' gear. Meanwhile upconverting 16 or 24-bit 44.1kHz PCM to octa DSD made textures just slightly more velvety, generous and pliable without taking any bite out of timing, directness and propulsion. To go hick, Billy Bob was belting out no Soggy Bottom Blues. He beat out tautly clattering rhythms like Irish street buskers do with spoon percussion
I started to get why iFi named this deck iDSD, not iPCM. Having done lower-rate DSD conversion on Lindemann and Métronome kit before, I'd preferred pure PCM. From that and earlier experiments, I'd assumed that sweeter fluffier DSD wasn't for me though I could see why for the exact same reasons someone else could love it. Now this iFi offered a subtler more refined take on the idea. Suddenly I was 'in'. My ears were still red for being busted but I also felt rather foxy. In both upstairs listening stations this Signature demonstrated clearly higher low-level resolution than the Denafrips and Kinki DACs do so crossed off that personal curiosity. DSD conversion then kicked in that extra tad of color saturation as though to look back at its fellow Sino decks which it had just overtaken by a clear lead.
Those were my first impressions. Meanwhile my noggin felt like a wet noodle since in headfi mode, I'd sat within a meter of this strong WiFi source. Then Dawid Grzyb's email arrived. "Just read about your small issue. You can easily open up the product and remove its internal WiFi module connected via pins to the digital board. Come to think of it, the product might even sound better without it." Aha? I followed his instructions. He'd reviewed then bought the precursor. I loosened all the nine back panel screws and removed the back plate. Then I tried to slide out the board forward with the front panel attached. It wouldn't budge. Giving way reluctantly by ~4mm, I feared something would break if I carried on. So I put it back together. Already that had put the maloik on it. On power-up, the deck ran auto diagnostics, progress shown by advancing line. Upon completion it was stuck in the last-used setting, all controls disabled. Had I crashed the control logic? A child sitter had to tell the returning parents that he'd broken their kid. It's the bane of all reviewers. I repacked the lot to return to the UK. If their tech could unseat the network chip or otherwise disable the transmitter, I'd complete the assignment and buy the unit. Sonically I was already sold and for PCM pure on Thorsten's GTO filter. If iFi couldn't kill the transmitter, I'd just pay for the repair and wrap this review. My brain couldn't hack the microwave exposure. Then my hunt for a highly resolving but still organic converter that I could afford would continue. Being lazy I rather hoped that it wouldn't. The Pro iDSD Signature ticked off all my other boxes. Fingers crossed.
In the event that laziness wouldn't get its way to need an alternate option, I asked a good friend what DAC he enjoys these days. I've heard his first-rate system [above and below] multiple times. It makes my kind of sound. It also includes components I've reviewed and/or own to add personal relevance. "In hifi I find the DAC subject one of the three essentials together with speakers and environment (room, electricity, listener's brain). As I no longer believe in an absolute sound but subjective perception, I managed to do what I can about room and speakers by adding some male steroids at the bottom with a Voxativ sub and feminine hormones at the top with the Frank Tchang omni super tweeters. That left me with analog, PCM and DSD (I don't know much about MQA). I occasionally enjoy high-quality recent vinyl, my SD card collection (PCM .wav files) and Qobuz, Tidal and Spotify almost daily. I felt that DSD was too soft in the past but with this iFi Pro Signature I must admit that for the time being it's the best I can hear in my room. I'm not trying to explain or justify it, I'm just enjoying it like never before. Pál's passive preamp/filter and Berning's VT52 ZOTL are a big help of course. In my case WiFi isn't a big problem and I discovered that some magnesium and flavonoid supplements one hour before listening alleviate any side effects. That way I can control everything with an iPad for streaming and a simple remote for SD cards."
That unexpected endorsement really elevated my lazy mood. My friend had worked his way through a plethora of converters over the years. Most had priced seriously higher. Yet he'd ended up with the very same piece. Synchronicity. I found a few more fingers to cross. Hopeful hifi mudra.