In our listening tests, we found the Pro iDSD to be something of a desktop revelation
Standalone. Streamer. DacAmp.
The term ‘music heaven’ is overused. But being a Streamer/Standalone/DacAmp with the highest-spec playback and resolution to date, the Pro iDSD is big enough to live up to the title.
You’ve found it.
Up stream. Next gen.
The Pro iDSD with four DAC chipsets is the only ‘Interleaved Quad-Stack’ DAC of its kind. With Crysopia FPGA for remastering to DSD1024. But what really sets it apart is that it functions as a:
- Standalone source. Connect HDD with music
- Streamer. Wireless/wired playback on Tidal, Spotify…
- DacAmp. DAC direct/DAC Headamp/DAC Pre-amp
Ground-breaking technology at its finest. Nothing else like it exists.
The Pro iDSD is a God amongst DACs creating heavenly audio and casting out the audio demons that ruin your musical enjoyment.
All hail the Pro iDSD.
The tech spec.
The Pro iDSD is unique because it includes our:
- Crysopeia FPGA Digital Engine
Which upsamples your music to DSD1024 – that’s double the audio clarity supplied by all other DACs.
The 'fab four.' Quad 'stack' of Bit-Perfect DSD and DXD DACs by Burr-Brown.
The 'interleaved' configuration means up to eight pairs of differential signals can be used and mixed, equal to four pairs of signals per channel.
All this is not an easy concept to grasp and even more difficult to implement.
The new XMOS XU216 X-Core 200 Series 16-Core processor has a maximum of 2,000 MIPS (two billion instructions per second) calculation power in dual-issue mode as a USB interface.
All-digital processing is Bit-Perfect, without employing ASRC or up-sampling unless digital filters are explicitly selected.
It can decode signals from all Inputs, from USB (up to 768kHz/DSD512), AES/EBU or S/PDIF (up to 192kHz/24Bit) and Wifi/Network/Mass-storage (up to 192kHz/32Bit).
A first! The Pro iDSD brings Studio Grade DSD1024 to a wider audience.
For the DSD1024, if the MultiBit DAC is one half of the ‘heart’ of the Pro iDSD’s digital engine, then the other half is surely the Crysopeia FPGA.
This is where we believe FPGA excels, by handling the remastering duties to attain the DSD1024 audio format.
In fact, the Pro iDSD can handle all audio formats to to DSD1024 or DSD512 or PCM 768kHz with user-selectable digital filters.
For all inputs data is sent to the Memory Buffer.
Here it is de-jittered to eliminate any transmission of source jitter to the DAC output.
The data from the Memory Buffer is further re-clocked by the low-jitter Global Master Timing® clock, which also drives the X-Core 200 and FPGA.
The Pro iDSD can link directly link to a router for online music playback.
With LINKPLAY™ WiFi/network playback, built-in Spotify and Tidal, and wide protocol support for 32-Bit/192kHz and DSD64, the Pro iDSD can be also used without a computer to stream audio.
This is one of the ‘holy grails’ of computer audio.
All inputs are galvanically-isolated (including USB). This is the same level of execution as found in the AMR DP-777 Digital Processor.
The USB input section has its own separate power management system with multiple regulators and filtering operating from the galvanically-isolated voltage generated to power this section.
First, we use one of the best and unknown tubes - General Electric 5670.
Second and just as important is the circuit design.
Unlike other amplifiers that have the same circuit and just switch in/out the tube section, the Pro iDSD (along with Pro iCAN) is the very first of its kind that has two individual input circuits; one tube and one Solid-State.
This results in the 'best sonics of both worlds' because the signal path is the shortest and there is no compromise to ‘shoe horn’ the tubes into an already existing solid-state circuit.
We haven’t stopped there.
We are tube lovers and we appreciate sometimes there is a need for an even more tube-like sound, so there are two tube settings: Tube and Tube+.
The Tube+ position reduces overall loop-gain and thus negative feedback to the minimum.
This gives a different sonic perspective between the tube’s natural harmonics and transient performance.
The amplifer audio circuit is fully discrete, fully-balanced with either tube or J-FET input switchable, bipolar second stage and MOSFET-buffered bipolar Class A Power stage.
The resulting circuit may be best described as a ‘tri-brid’ where each device is used to greatest sonic advantage while minimising any drawbacks.
Furthermore, the circuit is pure DC coupled to avoid using any sonically-degrading coupling capacitors.
The Pro iDSD has a premium Japan Alps motorised rotary volume potentiometer.
This is the ‘6-Track’ version with 4 tracks used for a true balanced volume control.
This is the litmus test for any amplifier to see if it is truly balanced or operates internally in single-ended mode.
Those using ‘2-Track’ volume controls may offer balanced in and out but are not true balanced designs. The Pro iDSD however is fully-balanced from beginning to end.
Just like its sibling the Pro iCAN.
To maximise dynamic performance, especially with bass, the analogue stage is backed by audio-grade ELNA Silmic Capacitors located within a few millimetres of the audio circuitry supplied.
Elna Silmics are used in the final stages of the main DC bus which is filtered using multiple stages of inductor/capacitor filters.
While other consider them 'boutique' components, we consider them 'must haves' to achieve the best sound quality.
The digital section is powered by a bank of Elna Dynacaps ‘super capacitors’ totaling 6.6 Farad (6,600,000uF).
iFi uses Elna Dynacap DZ (TM) super capacitors because they have 400 times lower internal impedance than common grades of super capacitors.
This exceptional low impedance means they release energy much faster than other super capacitors
All incoming DC is converted to a high-frequency waveform then rectified and filtered by a choke input capacitor filter. This produces a first-level DC bus from which all further voltages are derived. The circuit also generates a galvanically-isolated power supply voltage for the USB input circuitry.
The digital section is powered by a bank of 'Super Capacitors' totaling 6.6 Farad (6,600,000uF). Individual low-noise TI LDO Regulators with local LC filtering provide the final low-noise power for all individual digital sections; a total of six individual regulators cover Clock, S/PDIF Input and the DAC’s digital section. For the analogue stage (especially the tubes) higher voltages are needed.
The whole stage effectively operates on a 60V rail offering massive potential dynamic range.
PCM up to 768kHz
DSD up to 49.152MHz (DSD 1024)
DXD and double-speed DXD (2xDXD)
USB (required for DSD, DXD and sample rates above 192KHz)
AES3 (XLR – single link)
S/PDIF (coaxial/optical combo)
BNC multifunction (S/PDIF in or sync input)
Balanced XLR at 4.6V (+15.5dBu – HiFi) or 10V (+22dBu – Pro)
Single-Ended RCA at 2.3V (HiFi) or 5V (Pro)
Headphones 6.3mm & SE 3.5mm Jack at 0.55V/2.1V/5V
Headphones BAL 2.5mm Jack at 1.13V/4.6V/10V
Headphones out 1,500mW RMS X 2 @ 64 ohm, 4,000mW max. 2 X @ 16 Ohm
Balanced (6-gang) Alps potentiometer, motorised with IR remote control
XLR/RCA outputs can be selected as fixed level or adjusted
6.3mm headphone jack is always adjusted
|Other Functions:||Various digital and analogue filters can be selected for DSD and PCM up to 384KHz|
Bitperfect 44.1 – 192kHz, always used for 352.8 – 768kHz
Bitperfect + 44.1 – 96kHz
Gibbs Transient Optimised 44.1 – 384kHz
Apodising 44.1 – 384kHz
Transient Aligned 44.1 – 384kHz
|DSD filters:||fixed 3rd order analogue filter @ 80kHz with correction for DSD’s -6dB gain|
|Gain (headphone section):||user-selectable: 0dB, 9dB and 18dB|
|Dynamic range:||119dBA (solid-state, PCM, -60dBFS)|
|Output power||(16Ω, balanced/single-ended): >4000mW /1>1,500mW|
|Output voltage||(600Ω, balanced/single-ended): >11.2V / >5.6V|
|Input voltage (Pro iDSD):||DC 9V/6.7A – 18V/3.35A|
|Input voltage (iPower+):||AC 85 – 265V, 50/60Hz|
|Power consumption:||< 22W idle, 50W max.|
|Dimensions:||213 (l) x 220 (w) x 63 (h) mm|
|Weight:||1980g (4.37 Ibs)|
IFi’s Pro IDSD Is The Total Package
The Pro iDSD is as good as it gets at this price point. I know $2499 isn’t exactly cheap, but honestly, the price is fair. Its vast array of inputs and outputs makes the Pro extremely versatile and easy to integrate into any serious playback chain. Moreover, despite suffering from a bit of feature creep, at its core is still an end-game DAC that took the basic architecture out of the micro line and put it on steroids. The net result is a dynamic and fluid sonic profile that can also be fine-tuned and tailored to your particular tastes through the use of advanced filtering technology and smart amperage design – an iFi staple.
ifi Pro iDSD
As this DAC has DSD in its name I thought I should try that format and gave La Foliaa spin (Gregorio Paniagua, Atrium Musicae De Madrid, Harmonia Mundi) this changed the display from the 44kHz it had been showing for most of the tracks to 2.8MHz and had the wide open sound that you expect from the format. It proved a better match to the tube output because of the all acoustic instrumentation and sounded extremely good, the timbre of the instruments coming on strong and the whole ensemble being presented in highly coherent synchrony. The Pro iDSD does a lovely job with whatever format you present it with and reveals the quality of the source with ease. Everything was going smoothly until I put on Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, an old favourite that I rarely play on digital because the vinyl is so good (especially the Classic Records pressing from a few years ago). Next thing I knew I was off the sofa and in the band, at least in my head, this proved a truly transcendent experience and the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on for some time.
This sort of thing doesn’t happen very often with digital audio systems, especially those that are fairly affordable. The source is important but it was ever thus, no DAC can turn a noisy signal into beautiful sound although some do better than others. Ultimately you want transparency to detail, imaging and timing and the Pro iDSD is exceptionally good at all three with or without the charm of a glowing valve. I don’t think there are many DACs that have the feature list that the Pro iDSD offers at any price, but that would be meaningless if it didn’t make you want to listen. Fortunately that’s all you want to do when it’s in the system, I highly recommend you risk falling for it yourself.
To describe the deck’s abilities, there is its positioning as iFi’s flagship D/A converter. But it’s also a full-fledged network streamer and more than capable headphone amplifier all stuffed into an enclosure many would consider very compact. But there’s more. D/A conversion of course is the most significant and as such comes before all else. This can process music from an external self-powered HDD/SSD/pen drive, a microSDHC card or NAS in wired or wireless mode. Once connected to a network, the MÜZO app is the software to operate all of it. It’s compliant with DLNA, AirPlay and allows streaming from Tidal or Spotify, a list likely to expand in the future. Even though not my first choice, the network component worked as intended, covering my fairly limited streaming needs. The takeaway is that when multiple filters, headphone outs, analog modes, digital inputs, studio readiness and compact size are taken into account, the Pro iDSD offers a feature set my eyes haven’t seen before; not just in this price range but in general.
Pro iDSD Review
The Pro iDSD hearing offers what great DAC’s are expected to do (especially in Tube +): a large soundstage, extending the instruments sound in depth, with space and air, a lot of air among them, leaving an easily differentiation in timbres and contrasts, many sonic details that make hearing more truthful and forthcoming, a very large frequency range, accuracy in attack of the instruments and, of course, music. This both as a streamer attached to my home network or connected through SPDIF, replacing the DAC of my Arcam CD player. And the same on- the headphone outputs -a wonder in conjunction with Hi-FiMan 560 (although I had to maximize the gain). Clearly, an amazing DAC almost in the League of a Chord Dave or the Aqua La Scala MKII (at a fraction of price).
(Translated from Portuguese)
My Quest for a New DAC, Part 4 – iFi Pro iDSD (and friends)
Considered as a standalone DAC, with no upgrades, the Pro iDSD is a standout value at its price point. This would be true based on its impressive feature set alone, but once you add in its outstanding sonics, I’m hard pressed to think of a DAC that can match it at $2495
But wait, there’s more. The Pro iDSD’s ability to scale up PSUs and clocks gives a buyer an upgrade path to better sound quality without needing to trade in anything.
The Pro iDSD was able to accept PSUs of increasing quality all the way up to a Paul Hynes SR-7, and produce commensurate increases in sound quality.
Further, the addition of a reference clock like the Mutec Ref-10 yielded another dramatic gain in sound quality, albeit at an increased price.
While these upgrades represent an increase in overall cost, the resulting combos matched up to comparable standalone DACs. The Pro iDSD/SR-7/Ref-10 combo stood head-to-head with the Ayre QX-8, which is no mean feat, given how outstanding the latter is.