iFi GO Blu Wireless DAC/ Headphone Amp Review
Jay Garrett says this wireless portable DAC/amplifier is a miniature mobile music marvel…
GO Blu Wireless DAC/ Headphone Amplifier
'Ultraportable' is a term that sums up the modern world, where we expect the latest gadgets to be more powerful than the previous versions and yet be thinner, lighter and ever more user-friendly. However, as fans of high-fidelity audio, we know that our hobby doesn't always follow the path of higher convenience, as any lover of analogue playback would have to agree.
Those who prefer their passion to be portable have been treated to all manner of modern wonders, however; from true wireless earbuds to DAC/amps in pebble-sized dongles. When I first saw the press images of iFi's GO Blu, I understood it to be small – just not this small. It's around the same height and depth as a Zippo lighter but about two-thirds of the width – that's 55x34x13mm for the non-smokers in the audience.
This ultra-light £200 DAC/amp's selling point is that it removes the wire between source and amp using the power of Bluetooth 5.1. This means that you can continue to use your favourite wired headphones or IEMs while enjoying the taste of freedom you get from wireless head-fi – albeit with a cable from your cans to the DAC, but at least you'll be able to check your phone without getting in a tangle.
Further convenience comes in the lack of fiddly buttons to navigate. Instead, you get one for power and a multifunctional button that takes on pairing duties and activates XBass and XSpace, indicated by an LED near the headphone ports. Your main interaction with the iFi GO Blu will be via the neat rotary volume dial that, whilst looking almost comedically tiny, does a great job and is much nicer to use than a rocker or more buttons would be. The iFi-logo'd button in the centre of the dial controls playback through a series of short presses. Meanwhile, a long press activates your device's voice assistant, which uses the GO Blu's integrated microphone, which is also for hands-free calls.
Cabled connectivity is handled by a 3.5mm TRS headphone jack and another catering for the 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced variety. Finally, on the bottom plane is a USB C port for recharging or for connecting the GO Blu to a laptop or suchlike.
Beneath its smart rubberised black and copper-tone brushed aluminium casement beats the latest four-core Qualcomm QCC5100 Bluetooth chip. Said chip endows the diminutive device the ability to support aptX, aptX HD, aptX adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA and LHDC alongside the expected AAC and SBC codecs. That translates to streaming 24-bit files up to 48kHz in aptX HD and up to 96kHz in LDAC/LHDC. Further number-crunching is dealt with by a Cirrus Logic CS43131 32-bit DAC chip with a customised digital filter to minimise pre-echoes and ringing artefacts, according to iFi. Additionally, a precision clock system is onboard to ensure ultra-low jitter, thus reducing errors and distortion in the digital audio signal.
The spec sheet said that the amp stage delivers up to 5.6V, and it coped effortlessly with my Noble Savanna IEMs via a balanced cable and Ultrasone Edition 15 Veritas closed-back cans, to name but a couple. I found that the GO Blu gave a slightly warmer presentation than dongles such as the THX Onyx or Earmen Sparrow. However, this tonal richness isn't woolly or veiled and is more welcoming and unfatiguing. The overall clarity and evenhandedness through the frequency range were particularly noteworthy.
Cueing up Old Man (Live at Massey Hall) and the dialogue before the song presented Neil Young's natural charm, character and expressiveness. However, it was the guitar, vibrant with harmonics, counterpointing Young's effortless yet poignant delivery that caught my ears thanks to the live tonal quality and dynamics being delivered by the tiny unit.
Yello's The Vanishing of Peter Strong displayed the GO Blu's talent for separation and soundstaging, and it wasn't heavy-handed down in the bass. Granted, the latter can be provoked a little by engaging XBass, but even that is more subtle than a de facto bass boost. While XSpace does expand the vista, I found the GO Blu's stage width and depth plenty enjoyable.
Aside from a slight tendency to get peaky in the highs with my choice of IEMs, iFi's GO Blu has plenty to shout about. Boasting two flavours of output, a raft of wireless codecs and eight hours of battery stamina in something the size of a matchbox is impressive. However, the headline here is its capable sound quality and the power to drive pretty much any set of ear-pleasers. Add in its faff-free controls, and it looks like iFi has an ultraportable winner on its hands that is strides ahead of its peers, even the M-DAC Nano.
StereoNET UK’s Editor, bass player, and resident rock star! Jay’s passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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