iFi Audio Unveils its NEO iDSD DAC/ Headphone Amp
iFi's NEO iDSD Desktop DAC/ headphone amplifier packs top-flight tech in a new and attractive design
iFi Audio's NEO iDSD sits between the brand's flagship Pro series and the more cost-conscious but excellent ZEN range. Designed for maximum flexibility, the NEO iDSD's sleek aluminium casework that can be positioned horizontally or vertically with its OLED display rotating automatically to suit the unit's orientation. A multifunction rotary control ensures the NEO iDSD is simple to use, despite its sophistication and versatility, says iFi.
The NEO iDSD has three operational modes. Firstly, it can be used as a pure DAC with a fixed-level analogue output to connect to a separate integrated amp or preamp in an audio system. Alternatively, it can operate as a DAC/preamp with a variable output, ideal for connecting directly to a power amp or active speakers. Finally, it can, of course, be used as a self-contained head-fi system.
The NEO iDSD provides three digital inputs – asynchronous USB Type B, as well as both optical and coaxial flavours of S/PDIF. Three devices may be connected simultaneously via these inputs, plus a fourth via Bluetooth.
Balanced outputs are supplied, to make the most of the NEO iDSD's fully balanced circuitry. At the front, alongside a standard 6.3mm single-ended headphone socket, resides a 4.4mm Pentaconn output for headphones offering balanced connection.
Around the back, to connect the NEO iDSD to an amp and speakers (or active speakers), single-ended RCA outputs are accompanied by a pair of XLR sockets.
iFi NEO iDSD Digital Engine
It will come as no surprise to see that the NEO iDSD is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chipset, which iFi has put to use extensively and has plenty of experience of how to get the most out of this particular IC.
Additionally, the XMOS chip that processes the audio data received via the USB and S/PDIF digital inputs uses a new low-latency XMOS microcontroller. Boasting greatly enhanced processing power when compared to the current generation of eight-core chips, this new 16-core IC delivers double the clock speed (2000MIPS) and four times the memory (512KB), as well as the latest SuperSpeed USB standard, we're told. The XMOS firmware has been programmed but iFi's in-house digital development team for optimal sound quality and perfect integration with the Burr-Brown DAC.
The NEO iDSD can handle PCM data to 32-bit/768kHz, all levels of DSD up to DSD512, and single- and double-speed DXD. As with iFi's latest designs, PCM and DSD take separate pathways enabling DSD, as well as PCM, to remain 'bit-perfect' in its native form right through to analogue conversion. Additionally, MQA is also supported through the USB, and S/PDIF inputs, with full 'three-unfold' of MQA files up to 384kHz.
Thanks to Qualcomm's QCC5100 Bluetooth processing IC, Bluetooth 5 is on-board with the NEO iDSD's DAC stage easily able to cope with the sampling rates of the current crop of 24-bit-capable codecs - aptX Adaptive and aptX HD support up to 48kHz, while LDAC and LHDC reach 96kHz. AAC, aptX Low Latency, and SBC (the standard Bluetooth codec) are also catered for. The NEO iDSD 'remembers' up to seven paired Bluetooth source devices, making it easy to switch from one device to another.
PureWave Balanced Dual-Mono Analogue
Balanced, differential analogue circuit design has long been championed for its ability to reduce noise and cross-talk within the signal path by fully separating the left and right channels. iFi has gradually introduced fully balanced circuit design across its range – first in the flagship Pro Series components, then in the entry-level ZEN Series devices.
Dubbed 'PureWave', the NEO iDSD features a new, balanced, symmetrical dual-mono topology with short, direct signal paths, developed for this model.
High-quality components are used throughout, including custom ultra-low-distortion op-amps, multilayer ceramic TDK C0G capacitors, MELF thin-film resistors and inductors from Murata and Taiyo Yuden.
The headphone amp stage promises to play nice with high-sensitivity in-ear monitors to current-hungry planar headphones – with a continuous power output of more than 1000mW into 32ohms available through the balanced headphone socket. To retain maximum resolution, volume is adjusted in the analogue domain via a resistor ladder, under precise microprocessor control.
Whether connected to source devices via cable or high-definition Bluetooth, the NEO iDSD's next-level digital engine and fully balanced analogue circuits promise to deliver a captivating sound.
With an RRP of £699 | SGD $988, the iFi NEO iDSD is available end November 2020.
StereoNET’s resident rock star, bass player, and gadget junkie. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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