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iFi Audio xDSD: Qobuzism for this DAC whose sound performances seemed to us even better than those, already excellent, of its predecessors!

Latest of the nomadic DACs from the British manufacturer iFi Audio, the xDSD is quite different from its predecessors, and is indeed much more attractive to people who like flashy objects. But while the aspect of this new DAC has been updated, it kept the excellent musical genes from its elders and even seems to have improved on them, leading to it being awarded with a Qobuzism.

By Philippe Daussin | Testing Ground | June 19, 2018
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Qobuz

Rares are the nomadic DACs from the British brand iFi Audio that didn’t get one of the Qobuz testing grounds coupled with our Qobuzism award.

However, recently, we felt like the manufacturer was somewhat running out of steam with the release of its two latest special series, the micro iDSD Black Label Edition, a black box version of the iDSD equipped with more Hi-Fi passive components, and more recently the nano iDSD Black Label following the same formula, then the nano iOne that seemed to want to launch new aesthetics for the brand’s nomadic devices, but without it being really revolutionary.

This is not at all the case for the latest nomadic DAC from the manufacturer, the xDSD which will be the object of this testing ground, and which we wouldn’t at first glance associate with the iFi audio brand such its aesthetics have been revamped, somewhat successfully one might say, but without being met with general approval, like any aesthetic change by the way.

As for technical specifications and sound performances, this is hard-line iFi Audio, and maybe even better than that, and this is what we encourage you to discover hereafter in this article.


Presentation

Second phase of aesthetic change at iFi Audio after their nano iOne as the xDSD, for its part, adopts an appearance that represents a radical break with those of the previous nomadic devices.

The box, whose top and bottom sides display a “corrugated iron”-type profile (that’s its name), is made, aside from part of the rear section built in plastic resin to let Bluetooth signals pass, in an aluminum and magnesium alloy that has a titanium-colored shiny metallic aspect. This is a very modern look, a bit bling but very pleasant, and it really retains fingerprints, but its very shiny character won’t allow you to take a snapshot on the go! It has to strike a pose, in good lighting conditions, just like a movie star.


To the left of the front panel, you’ll find the 3.5mm Jack accepting standard three-pin Jack plugs as well as four-pin ones that equip some models running in symmetrical mode, and two small multicolored LEDs indicating, for the top one, the sampling frequency depending on its color, and for the bottom one ,if it’s switched on.

The volume button, located in the middle, possesses a translucent area that lets see the logo of the brand and whose backlighting color indicates theattenuation zone in which the volume is. You can also, thanks to a key combination, set the volume to the maximum and neutralize all sound adjustments, so that the xDSD can work as a source DAC if you will, by using the headphone output which therefore acts as a line output (Line output mode).

At the rear of the box, starting from the left, a 3.5mm Jack analog-optical socket will allow you to plug an analog source or a digital source via an optical male Jack cord, the analog or optical detection being automatic.


The USB input is a male type A, which enables the use of this xDSD DAC directly with an OTG cord on an Android smartphone or tablet or with the Apple Camera Kit with an iPhone or an iPad. The manufacturer also provides a female USB A-female USB B adapter to use with a standard cord equipped with a male USB B socket, as well as a male-female USB A version 3 extension cord which can also be used with a computer. The latter cord could be also used as an extension cord with an OTG interface or with the Apple Camera Kit.

A small slider switch will allow you to choose between two filters, one adapted for measurement, the other for playback, while the micro USB socket will be used to charge the internal battery, with a multicolored LED indicating the charging status.

Manufacturing

For once, we are going to use the beautiful visuals provided by the manufacturer to describe the main electronic components that constitute the iFi Audio xDSD DAC.

As always with this manufacturer, the electronics is carefully designed and the double-sided circuit systematically receives a nice red varnish with a very readable white silkscreen printing for the components, and some inscriptions, such as the brand and the reference of the device, are engraved in the copper and gilded like the tracks and the weld areas (on the less component-heavy side).

On the picture below, you can see the bottom side, where most of the high-integration components are located. It is really not hard to identify them thanks to the great quality of the shot taken by the manufacturer.

First, the USB processor, an XMOS 8U6C5 model in charge of extracting the I2S bus from the USB flow coming from a computer, a smartphone or a tablet. Slightly above and on the left is located a STC micro-controller.


The circuit just above, marked 8V51N107, is the Femto GMT precision clock made by the manufacturer and coming from its high-end devices from the ARM brand, the circuits U2002 to U204 directing the good frequency to the conversion chip depending on the sampling frequency of the digital signals, knowing that those coming from the optical S/PDIF Jack plug are also handled by the XMOS processor, as well as the analog signals coming from this same plug, as a digital-to-analog converter is integrated to this processor.

The aptX Bluetooth card provides analog signals that are directed towards the volume control circuit, a W990VST (U401) attenuator designed by iFi Audio, through a HT4053 (U403) analog switch. If you are in USB mode, or on an analog or optical input, it is the decoded signals coming from the digital-to-analog convert, a Burr-Brown Japan DSD1793 model (compatible with PCM up to 32-Bit/768 kHz and with DSD512) that is present in all the nomadic DACs from the iFi Audio brand, that will be directed toward the attenuator by the HT4053.


On the left of the DSD1793 are located two 74HCT595 circuits, two shift registers which will drive the LEDs on the front panel as well as the backlighting of the volume button, depending on the data provided by the STC micro-controller.

The signals sent by the W990VST attenuator are amplified in voltage by a low-noise quad operational amplifier OV4627 (U400) specific to iFi Audio and are then entrusted to two Maxim MAX9723 double buffers (gain of 1 in voltage and high gain in power) and are then directed toward the four-pin Jack output. It can therefore power a pair of headphones equipped with a standard three-pin Jack plug, so with common return of the signals from the ground wire, as well as a symmetrical-type pair of headphones equipped with a four-pin Jack plug, separately powering the two transducers.


The detection of either type of headphones is automatic and this is probably the HT4053 circuit (U501, an analog switch) that directs the signals adequately.

On the other side of the circuit, you’ll find many quality passive components, as well as the oscillators for the USB processor (X1) and the Femto precision clock (Y200). The battery plug is located near the micro USB plug that is only used for its charge, thanks to the Cyber Drive charge manager integrated circuit (U901), located on the other side next to the Bluetooth receiver.


Spotting and captioning of the key pieces of the bottom side
Spotting and captioning of the key pieces of the top side
(iFi Audio summary pictures)

Sound

Let’s start with what needs to be said first, and if our auditory memories are not betraying us, the sound results seem to us even better than those, already excellent, provided by the DACs from the brand that we have had the opportunity to review.

Listened on our Oppo-PM3 headphones, l’Allegro con fuoco from Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by Oleg Caetani is an erupting volcano, and the amplifier of the xDSD is powerful enough to reach sound pressures that, far from hurting your ears, reveal in its entirety and without limits the dynamic potential of such tracks. It’s a real pleasure! But to this is obviously added a quick and responsive restitution quality, delivering a large bandwidth going from the deepest sounds to the most acute ones without favoring any, something that earns our approbation.

With our reference system composed of a pair of Triangle Antal Anniversary speakers and of a Sony UDA-1 amplifier, and after setting up the xDSD DAC as a source (Line output mode), which will allow us to only gauge the decoding, we have launched the Carl Orff’s cantata Carmina Burana performed by the London Philharmonic Choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Graf (24-Bit/44.1 kHz Hi-Res version).

And we were somewhat astounded by the feeling of ease and natural provided by the reproduction, by the transitions from stand to stand, by the meticulousness and the definition that enable the smallest melodic lines, whether orchestral, choral or even from the intervention of a soloist, to draw our ears’ attention, to captivate it and to make it shut down, like during a concert, which isn’t often the case with a piece of audio equipment. Ifi Audio explains that in the Line output mode, the sound effects that are available during headphone playback are deactivated while the volume control is bypassed and that the output stage is specially configured to provide the best results in line output, and they were right about that.

However, since we were quite astounded, we have listened with our reference system to l'Allegro con fuoco from Manfred, already heard on headphones, and we found on our speakers all the feelings procured by the headphone playback, to which were added the elements we talked about in the previous paragraph. This finale of Manfred, that we love so much, was a great moment of musical restitution.

We went back to headphones with Pink Floyd’s album The Wall to review the Xbass+ and 3D+ effects. Their effect seemed somewhat subtle to us, but maybe the music style chosen wasn’t the best suited for it. In any case, it is better for it to do a bit underwhelming rather than overwhelming!

In aptX Bluetooth connection, the restitution benefits from the excellent sound performances of the electronics and the playback of several extracts from Vivaldi’s Vespri per l'Assunzione di Maria Vergine performed by the Concerto Italiano conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini proves itself to be more than convincing about the musical results of the aptX codec. Incidentally, we went from the aptX Bluetooth connection to the OTG connection, and the transition was such that we heard no difference in the sound reproduction, and the xDSD synchronized itself back on the USB port without interrupting the music.

To conclude, the iFi Audio xDSD DAC is a device that you have to listen to if you plan to purchase a nomadic DAC in this price range. Its sound performances are at least excellent, its connectivity very smart and its use relatively easy. So many qualities more than warrant it a Qobuzism.

Specifications
User Manual (in English)
iFi Audio’s Website
Elite Diffusion’s Website (importer)
Contact

Playback capabilities iFi Audio xDSD

Inputs

Sampling USB A Coaxial S/PDIF Optical S/PDIF iOS Lightning USB Android Sony Xperia 16bits @ 44kHz ✓ - ✓ ✓ ✓ 24bits @ 44 kHz ✓ - ✓ ✓ ✓ 24bits @ 48kHz ✓ - ✓ ✓ ✓ 24bits @ 88kHz ✓ - ✓ ✓ ✓ 24bits @ 96kHz ✓ - ✓ ✓ ✓ 24bits @ 176kHz ✓ - ✓ ✓ ✓ 24bits @ 192kHz ✓ - ✓ ✓ ✓ 24bits @ 353kHz ✓

✓ 24bits @ 384kHz ✓

✓ DSD64 (2.8 MHz) ✓

✓ DSD128 (5.6 MHz) ✓

✓ DSD256 (11.2 MHz) ✓

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