IFi’s New Go Bar Has A Golden Sound And Power To Spare
I love pocket DACs/headphone amps that can plug into a smartphone and turn it into an audiophile-quality device. British audio company iFi makes a range of acclaimed DAC/headphone amps and the brand has been in business since 2012, getting brilliant sound from smartphones, tablets, PCs, Macs and more.
Last year, iFi introduced the GO blu, the first in a new line of ultraportable and pocket-sized DAC/amps. The latest model to join the range is the new GO bar, offering a big sound in a compact package.
Like the GO blu, the new GO bar is pocketable with a robust and lightweight alloy enclosure about the size of a pack of chewing gum and weighing just 28.5g. While the iFi GO blu majors on the convenience of Bluetooth connectivity with devices like smartphones, the GO bar connects via USB and focuses on pure audio performance.
Whether you’re commuting, working remotely or simply traveling for pleasure, the GO bar is designed to be the perfectly portable way to make headphones sound great whether they are connected to a desktop PC, laptop, phone, tablet or any other digital source that has a USB port.
The GO bar is not the first USB DAC/headphone amp with a compact size, but its specification is is pretty impressive. It’s capable of playing most hi-res audio formats and has sonic tuning facilities that iFi claims are second to none. Meanwhile, the iFi GO bar’s amplifier stage is the most powerful for its size.
Inside the GO Bar there is a 32-bit Cirrus Logic DAC chipset with advanced multi-bit modulation. The DAC is coupled with a customized digital filter that minimizes pre-echoes and ringing artifacts. The iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) precision clock system ensures ultra-low jitter, reducing errors and distortion.
The DAC is fed by a 16-core XMOS microcontroller. This processes the audio data received at the USB input stage. iFi’s in-house digital development team programmed the XMOS firmware to optimize the sound quality so that it works perfectly with the Cirrus Logic DAC. Hi-res PCM files are supported up to 32-bit/384kHz, alongside DSD64, 128 and 256, and single- and double-speed DXD. The DAC’s architecture maintains DSD data in true native form, unlike other DACs that convert DSD files to PCM.
The GO bar can also fully decode hi-res MQA files as used by Tidal. This means that the complete ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’. This makes the GO bar a great choice for subscribers to Tidal’s ‘HiFi Plus’ tier where the Tidal Masters (MQA) music can be found.
Despite its small size, the GO bar’s analog circuitry has a balanced design with symmetrical twin-channel output stage. This kind of topology is usually seen in larger and more expensive amplifiers because it’s complex and costs more. It’s advantage is that it reduces noise and crosstalk in the signal path by completely separating the left and right channels.
Rather than resort to space- and cost-saving integrated circuits which can reduce sonic quality, the GO bar’s uses high-quality discrete components such as TDK C0G ceramic capacitors, Panasonic OS-CON aluminum polymer capacitors, plus high-density tantalum capacitors, as well as Taiyo Yuden and Murata inductors. All these components have excellent characteristics for high-quality audio applications. Special attention has also been paid to the filtering on the power supply to reduce any signal noise that could be introduced through the USB input.
The amplifier design combines sonic purity with a lot of power. With an output of 550mW (into 64Ω) and 7.5V (into 600Ω), iFi claims that no other headphone amp of such small size can match its impressive ability to drive the trickiest of headphones – that’s enough current drive for 16Ω headphones and sufficient voltage to drive 600Ω headphones.
iFi says the GO bar sounds wonderful with a wide range of headphone and earphone types and incorporates two power-tuning technologies, enabling adjustment of the output. IEMatch attenuates the power to suit high-sensitivity headphones and in-ear monitors, removing potential background noise and increasing the volume range available. Conversely, Turbo mode ramps up the gain by 6dB to satisfy power-hungry headphones.
Further user-adjustable sonic tuning is provided in both digital and analog domains. There are four bespoke digital filter options: Standard, Bit-Perfect (non-oversampling), Minimum Phase, and GTO (Gibbs Transient Optimised). These can be selected according to preference, while iFi’s familiar analog processing modes, XBass+ and XSpace, can also be switched in or out of the signal path according to taste.
X Bass+ is a sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange. It’s useful for use with earphones and open-back headphones that may lack deep bass. XSpace is designed to compensate for the ‘in-head localization’ effect that can occur when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed using a pair of speakers, effectively widening the headphone soundstage to create a more spacious and speaker-like experience.
With such a variety of digital streaming platforms, file types, headphones and earphones to choose from, not to mention music styles and recording qualities, the GO bar’s suite of sonic tuning options is useful for ensuring optimal sound and iFi claims it is unique in a DAC/headphone amp of this type and size.
Most ultraportable USB DAC/headphone amps offer little or no control on the actual device, with volume adjustable only via software running on the connected source device. The GO bar is different. Its alloy case has physical buttons for precise volume adjustment which can be synchronized with the volume controls on the source device – together with controls to select between the various sonic tuning options. A column of colored LEDs provides a handy guide to the format and sample rate of the digital audio currently playing, plus whether XBass+ and/or XSpace are engaged.
At one end of the GO bar is an asynchronous USB-C input, at the other is a pair of headphone outputs. One of these is a fully balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn output, enabling headphones equipped with a balanced cable/connector to make the most of the GO bar’s balanced audio circuitry. The other is a 3.5mm output utilizing iFi’s ‘S-Balanced’ technology to cut noise and crosstalk by 50% with regular single-ended headphone connectors. Both outputs are gold plated.
To celebrate iFi’s 10th anniversary, the company has created an eye-catching special edition of the GO bar. Limited to 1,000 pieces, the GO bar Anniversary Edition – or ‘GOld bar’ – replaces the standard version’s alloy enclosure with a copper chassis, further enhancing build quality and electrical shielding. This is then covered with 18ct gold plate. Power supply filtering is also further enhanced, ensuring the Anniversary Edition – which weighs 64g – sets the ‘gold standard’ among ultraportable USB DAC/headphone amps.
Both the standard GO bar and the Anniversary Edition come with accessories to get the tunes flowing. Apple users will appreciate the bespoke Lightning-to-USB-C cable, engineered by iFi so you don’t need to use Apple’s bulky Camera Adapter dongle to use the GO bar with iOS devices. Android users will appreciate the USB-C OTG cable, which can also be used with USB-C-equipped PCs and Macs. A USB-C to USB-A adapter is also included, covering most bases straight out of the box. And there’s a leather travel case too, ensuring the GO bar is protected wherever it goes.
Visitors to the High End 2022 show in Munich this week can check out the regular alloy and gold-plated Anniversary Edition GO bars by calling in at Atrium 4.1 – Room E109.
Pricing & Availability: The iFi GO bar is available from selected retailers from 20th May for £329. The GO bar Anniversary Edition will be released in June for £499. Both will debut at the High End 2022 show in Munich, 19th-22nd May.
More info: www.ifi-audio.com