I have come to embrace “desk-fi,” as my desk is simply the place where I consume the most music. As such, I was thrilled to test the new iFi NEO iDSD 2—an ideal device for work station listening sessions. Although, I’m sure you’ll find it quite capable no matter where you listen.
The new iFi NEO iDSD 2 is another iFi product that forces you to confront the law of diminishing returns in our beloved HiFi hobby. At $899 this DAC/Headphone Amp/Preamp has the features and performance to rival components at 2-3 times its price—not the first HiFi product to make the “punches above its weight” statement. But rest assured, the iDSD 2 is a legitimate heavy hitter.
HiFi Swiss-Army Knife
With iFi Audio’s overall brand mission to empower music listening at every price point they are often perceived as a value brand with desktop and on the go solutions starting around $100.
So what does a company focused on value do when you start to move up the price ladder? They bring out serious engineering and parts to deliver even more value. In fact, I would argue the NEO iDSD 2 at $899 provides the highest value in their entire line.
Functioning as an ultra clean DAC, only outputting to a dedicated preamp, this compact device allows for 4 different source inputs—asynchronous USB-B, optical and coaxial digital inputs, plus a 3.5mm analogue input.
After that input signal is processed, the iFi NEO iDSD 2 offers balanced analog output in either a fixed or variable level for connecting to either a pre-amp or powered monitors. Of course, if you want a more personal experience there is also a highly capable headphone amp that now delivers 5 times the power at 5,550mW into 32 ohms from its 4.4mm balanced output.
The iFi NEO iDSD 2 boasts a DAC stage that integrates a Burr-Brown chip, a cornerstone technology extensively employed by iFi for its remarkable 'musicality' and True Native design. iFi's extensive familiarity with this integrated circuit enables them to harness its capabilities to the fullest. However, crafting an exceptional digital stage involves more than just selecting a particular DAC chip.
One pivotal element in this process is the employment of the XMOS chip, which iFi utilizes to process incoming audio data from digital inputs. Inside the NEO iDSD 2, you'll find a 32-bit, 16-core XMOS Cortex microcontroller, harnessed by iFi to enhance sound quality and unleash the full potential inherent in the Burr-Brown DAC chip. In addition to this, a range of advanced jitter-reduction technologies is employed, including the latest iteration of iFi's GMT (Global Master Timing) femtosecond-precision clock and intelligent storage cache. The Neo iDSD 2 incorporates advanced clocking technology effectively reducing jitter in the digital signal and delivering pristine sound. Furthermore, it offers an external clock input, a rarity in this price range, enabling synchronization with other devices for enhanced clock signal accuracy.
The digital stage is only half the story on a device like this, however. How the analog circuitry is handled is the other half. This is where many “value” manufacturers are forced to cut corners to keep costs down. But not with the NEO iDSD 2.
The original NEO iDSD featured a new twin-mono topology, fully balanced from input to output – iFi calls this level of circuit design ‘PureWave’, referring to the sonic purity it achieves thanks to exceptional linearity and infinitesimally low levels of noise and distortion.
PureWave circuits have a sophisticated design and implementation that iFi reserves for the upper tiers of its DAC and amplifier range. The NEO iDSD 2 features the latest generation of iFi’s PureWave design, delivering high fidelity and a big jump in power output.
High-quality components are used throughout, including custom-made ultra-low-distortion op-amps, multilayer ceramic TDK C0G capacitors, MELF thin-film resistors and inductors from Murata and Taiyo Yuden. These are more costly than common equivalents, but class-leading qualities such as low ESR (Equivalent Series Resistance), high linearity and low noise pay great dividends in terms of sound quality.
The World's First Lossless Bluetooth DAC/Amp
The NEO iDSD 2 is your gateway to a world of lossless Bluetooth audio. It champions the new aptX Lossless codec, a remarkable breakthrough in wireless audio, with a jaw-dropping maximum bitrate of 1,200kbps. AptX Lossless is the lone Bluetooth codec capable of streaming pristine CD-quality audio. You get to cut the cords and possible USB jitter and still relish in hearing your favorite tracks in full CD quality.
In stark contrast to other Bluetooth codecs, even those touting support for CD-quality and hi-res audio, the Neo iDSD 2 side steps lossy compression during transmission, ensuring an unadulterated audio experience. It employs Qualcomm's QCC518x Bluetooth audio chip, ensuring compatibility with an array of Bluetooth formats, including aptX Lossless, aptX Adaptive, aptX, LDAC, LHDC/HWA, AAC, and SBC.
Unleash Unprecedented Headphone Power
The NEO iDSD 2 brings a 5x leap in power to your headphones. With a staggering 5,551mW (@ 32Ω), it outpaces its predecessor by a factor of five. This means it can drive even the most demanding headphones with ease, making this all-in-one device highly competitive with some monster dedicated headphone amplifiers. The Neo iDSD 2 offers Auto iEMatch, which eliminates hiss for high-sensitivity headphones without compromising dynamic range. Additionally, it boasts four gain settings to cater to a wide range of headphones and in-ear monitors (IEMs).
Craft a Unique Sound Experience
Beyond raw power, the NEO iDSD 2 empowers you to customize your audio experience. It introduces analog processing modes, XSpace, and XBass II, along with four digital filters, enabling you to fine-tune the soundstage and low-frequency response to match your headphones. Whether you crave a more expansive soundstage or augmented bass, this DAC/Amp grants you the freedom to sculpt your audio experience.
A Gear Auditioner’s Dream
I’m always auditioning gear. Not just because it’s part of my job, but because as a HiFi hobbyist it’s just what you do. As such, I’ve come to appreciate components that make this process less of a chore. The iFi NEO definitely checks the gear audition box. You can try out different products and do more true back to back evaluations with ease. Want to evaluate headphones? Grab 3 pairs and easily compare them back-to-back-to-back by simply changing out one connection with zero lost to poor aural memory. Rarely, has a benefit like this been brought up when evaluating gear, but it was such a joy to perform with the iFi NEO, it had to be mentioned.
So after 10 days of listening to the iFi NEO iDSD 2 daily at my desk, sometimes for hours on end, I feel that the brand has peeled off their silk-white glove and slapped me across the face with it, completely changing my perception of performance at accessible price points.. Instead of wondering if a device like this is worth $899, I’m now wondering if top-tier products like RME, Chord, Questyle, and Burson are worth it.
Do some of these products at 2-6x the price do some things better? Yes they do, but none of them are as complete of a package and deliver such amazing sound regardless of price. I for one am putting aside some of my reverence for said products and keeping the iFi NEO iDSD 2 on my desk for the foreseeable future.
We're currently giving away a Limited Edition Gold iFi Go Bar. Enter to win the gold ultraportable DAC/headphone amp here. To learn more chat with one of our experts or visit our iFi page. You can also visit a ListenUp Showroom near you.