My experience with iFi Audio started some time ago while searching for USB interface. I came across great reviews of the link USB and decided to give it try.
I am glad I did because it introduced me to world of iFi Audio. iFi brand is sister company of AMR a renown ultra high- end audio brand. AMR created iFi Audio to bring all its technology and philosophy to more affordable market. Now don’t be fooled by word affordable, with iFi audio, its all about quality and performance. Their products having AMR R&D to its disposal and bringing high-end to mere mortals 😉 and I’m very thankful for it.
Since my first introduction to iFi Audio. I have acquired few of their creations namely iDSD micro (silver) , iPurifier1 and 2, iLink USB, iTube. How I come to own iDSD is special to me.
Before my adventure with iFi Audio begun, I inspired my friend Wojtek (Polish audio genius) to slowly build our own brand of tube audio gear. Wojtek was all about tube so our first creation was pure class A tube DAC. Two years in the making, all was going in right direction but unfortunately Wojtek was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within months. I lost a great friend and great audio visionary. I was devastated.
It was then when I heard about crowd design of Micro iDSD and decided to honour Wojtek ideas and suggest to iFi Audio few of Wojtek ideas.
To my surprise I was one of the first to receive brand new iDSD and Octa adapter. I was hooked.
I would like to share with you my latest iFI Audio product iTube 2 which in contrast to previous model is full blown tube preamplifier, buffer, impedance matching device and much much more.
As for iFI Audio standards iTube2 is a high quality unit, aluminium made with nice space grey touch of colour. For all technical specs, have a look at iFi Audio’s website. Worth mentioning that the unit only resemble original iTube in its outside appearance and tube inside, the rest is a whole new beast.
I owned first iTube right after its release and it has been essential to my humble system based on iMac mini with Audirvana plus 2, iDSD, Parasound amplifier custom build speaker based on Tannoy “Dual Concentric” driver . Since than I got couple different DAC which I will mention here. Korg ds 100 and SW1X design NOS tube DAC with zero feedback (classic design).
Original iTube proved to be a welcome addition to both iDSD and Korg DAC allowing volume control with Parasound power amp and bringing smoothness of tube to solid state set up. I was very pleased with the results. 3Dfunction has brought additional bonus to the table.
Addition of SW1X DAC show me what tube has to offering terms of sound. This DAC in the system was fare surpassing any DAC come before him and it should considering price, size and meticulous design.
Even with SW1X DAC in the chain first edition iTube show that it belongs in the system but let’s get back to ITube2.
Have to mention first edition of iTube so that it will be easier to see how different those units are. Put it this way first edition iTube was transparent and served well as Preamp (you will have go well north of $1000 to get better).
iTube2 is whole another story as iFi Audio mention it is close to its Pro cousin and it definitely shows.
After unit arrived I left it to burn in using various tracks from Purist Audio design.
After few days of burn in process when I sat down to listen I was in for a big surprise. iTube2 might be small in size but there is nothing small about its sound. In connection with iDSD sound it produced reminded me of my full blown tube DAC and this is no small achievement. I was taken aback how lush and full the sound was, depth of soundstage was much greater as well as height. It does not take anything from iDSD alone but that combination was astonishingly good. I removed few times iTube2 from a chain just to verify and undoubtedly iTube2 brought tremendous positive effect on sound, you swear you are listening to a tube amplifier and good one too. iDSD performance was enriched by sense of space around instruments and on very good recordings you could hear venue in which recording was done. Little details and nuances of music suddenly were very evident and delivered with big spoon 😉 Everything was presented with better structure and scale. What I got here is whole new experience and new life for iDSD as well as my other DACS.
Before we move on, I have to tell you that at the beginning of review I used Mac mini but since I discovered some trouble with OSX SIERRA namely I was not able to use up- sampling and DSD conversion doing so degraded sound quite a bit. I exchange emails with Audirvana but was unable to solve the problem. I decided to use my Mac Air instead with OSX EL CAPTAIN. EL CAPTAIN worked flawlessly and in process discover that sound is much better than Mac Mini maybe due to Mac Air being powered by battery, well it sounds better. All digital analog converters show signs of improvement no question here.
With Korg DS 100 which I found more hum forward (not bright, just bit more in your face. Hahahahaha) iTube2 brought smoothness and added body to the sound. Pushed Korg to a new level.
Now with SW1X for a lot of people would be contra intuitive to use Itube2 with already hi-end DAC with full class A tube output stage with zero negative feedback but you would be wrong. Don’t assume anything in audio just listen for yourself, listen with ears open and eyes closed.
What I got here is something special iTube2 was very transparent. It did not hold back SW1X DAC already beautiful sound but added few extra ingredients. Just to note that all comments about extra features of iTtube2 apply to all DACS.
Three flavours of tube: single ended triode (S.E.T) , classical tube amp, push-pull amplifier prove to be great addition to music presentation. Please think of it as different flavourings depend on type of music you listen. Great thing here that iFi Audio did not use phoney dsp. It is all done in analog stage (ASP) of a highest grade. Put it this way for me S.E.T setting goes well with relaxing jazz providing smooth euphoric presentation while PUSH-PULL setting will go well in music with lots of drums providing bit more kick to a flavour. Classic tube setting is to my ears some what in between. There is no right or wrong here just experiment for yourselves.
Love new XBass settings which are much more dialled in. My speakers benefited quite a bit from 6db setting giving great support to frequencies below 40hz with out any loss to bass quality and clarity. Well done!!!!!
Same goes for new 3D enchantment much easier to pick up what is happening I would compare it to focus on a hi res camera lens … puts everything in sharper more define view. One thing to remember of all this will depend not only on quality of elements of your system but also room your system is in. I experimented in two different locations and definitely see that room can effect sound in total (elements of a system like speaker wires or interconnect can make or break your system and room itself can act as filter so try to do your best to address as much as you can and experiment).
I am really impressed with iTube2 almost wish it had his own designation because it is a whole new product not merely upgrade from original.
It is fantastic new Hi End preamplifier with great features and no gimmicks. Design team at iFi Audio love and understand music and have to its disposal ultra hi end audio gear from AMR to get its inspiration and to test its products. A lot of heart goes in the design I believe.
Is iTube2 perfect? Of course no such a thing in audio. iFi Audio does not pretend what it is. Is key to high end world. It opens a main gate and believe me when those gates are open, beautiful music is pouring in.
Thank you iFi Audio for letting us in 😉
Oh, one more thing to be very careful, iFi Audio is like HEROIN. Highly addictive you might find yourself wanting more! Hahahahahaha
Until next time, Enjoy The Music.
I would like to thank customer service here in China as well as the UK for stellar service. You should teach other companies how to run a business.