Stereocheck Reviews:

iFi Neo iDSD 2: A superior choice for audiophiles

As time progresses and audio technology swiftly evolves, iFi not only rides the crest of innovation but also proactively engages with feedback from its enthusiasts. Transitioning from iDSD to iDSD 2,...

iFi Neo iDSD 2
iFi Neo iDSD 2
iFi Neo iDSD 2
9.5

As time progresses and audio technology swiftly evolves, iFi not only rides the crest of innovation but also proactively engages with feedback from its enthusiasts. Transitioning from iDSD to iDSD 2, the company implements significant updates, addressing past limitations and refining each aspect to satisfy contemporary demands. In this review, we’ll delve into this “audio comeback” in detail.

Packaging and assembly

Upon unboxing the iFi NEO iDSD2, there’s an immediate sense of investment in a premium product. The packaging is impressive, featuring an outer sleeve and a main box, distinctively more presentable than Shanling’s approach of using plain gray cardboard boxes. Inside, the device is securely positioned alongside its corresponding accessories, indicating meticulous attention to detail and care for the unboxing experience.

  • iFi Neo iDSD2
  • Control panel
  • Battery for remote control
  • RCA cable
  • Power Supply
  • Vertical stand
  • USB cable
  • Headphone adapter 6.35
  • Rubber feet

 

Features

The NEO iDSD 2 is outfitted with cutting-edge Bluetooth 5.4 technology, incorporating the new aptX Lossless codec for a supreme bitrate of 1200 Kbps.

This stands in contrast to the aptX Adaptive’s 420kbps and the LDAC TM’s 990kbps. It employs the Qualcomm QCC518x Bluetooth audio chip, certified for Bluetooth 5.4, and supports an extensive array of Bluetooth formats, including aptX Lossless, aptX Adaptive, aptX, LDAC TM, LHDC/HWA, AAC, and SBC.

The device boasts remarkable power, with a headphone output maximum of 5551 mW at 32 ohms, surpassing even some specialized headphone amplifiers in performance.

Designed for versatility, the iDSD 2 can be positioned either horizontally or vertically, adapting its 2-inch color display automatically to the orientation. Vertically, it conserves desk space effectively and, when linked to powered speakers through its robust balanced 19.5V output, it demonstrates formidable capability. The preference for analog volume control enhances its superiority over digital alternatives.

In a horizontal setup, the iDSD 2 serves as a pure DAC, capable of playing high-resolution audio files from PCM 32-bit/768 kHz to DSD512, and fully decodes MQA files. Its direct connectivity to a power amplifier, facilitated by analog volume control, positions it as an excellent option for audiophiles.

The device features an internal GMT clock, forming an advanced jitter reduction system that minimizes digital signal jitter for a cleaner, more precise audio output. It incorporates a balanced differential analog circuit to diminish noise and crosstalk, ensuring complete separation of left and right channels.

Utilizing TDK C0G capacitors known for their high stability and low loss in resonant circuits, the iDSD 2 achieves near-ideal capacitance consistency at constant frequencies, significantly reducing distortion.

Design and functionality

The initial aspect to highlight is the NEO iDSD 2’s size. Contrary to expectations set by photographs, it presents itself as notably smaller—approximately 1.5 times less than anticipated—and impressively lightweight. Its chassis, crafted from polished aluminum, provides a tactile satisfaction. A notable design feature is the translucent window beneath which lies the Bluetooth antenna, showcasing a thoughtful level of design detail. This is further exemplified by the rubber feet, each embossed with the manufacturer’s logo, indicating a commitment to both function and form.

Despite some opinions labeling its exterior as mundane, the device maintains a compact, sleek, and appealing aesthetic. The vertical stand deserves special mention for its practical and aesthetic contribution. The insertion of the device into the stand, safeguarded by rubber protectors within the metal holder, ensures the exterior remains unscathed. This vertical arrangement not only offers a space-saving solution on the desk but also achieves a look of elegance and coherence.

The NEO iDSD 2’s design, marked by its user-friendly interface and accessible connectivity options, reflects a thoughtful balance between elegance and utility.

Inputs

  • USB
  • 3.5 mm analog line input
  • Optical
  • Coaxial

Outputs

  • Balanced XLR
  • Balanced 4.4 mm
  • 6.3 mm
  • RCA

By the way, the included USB and RCA are quite short, so you may have to replace them with your own.

Management and user experience

From the description, it’s clear that the NEO iDSD 2 packs an impressive array of features into its design, resulting in a product that offers significant value for its price. The device is designed with a user-friendly interface, featuring a screen that automatically rotates when the device’s position in space changes, making it adaptable to how it’s being used. This intuitive design extends to the controls, which can be navigated without the need for a manual, allowing for immediate and straightforward operation.

The volume wheel provides tactile feedback reminiscent of a fishing reel being wound, a detail that adds a unique and satisfying aspect to the user experience. Positioned nearby are various buttons arranged in a manner akin to a joystick, facilitating ease of access and use. These include the Gain, XSpace, XBass II, Bluetooth and other connection options, and the central On/Off switch.

The Gain button offers four presets for different listening scenarios, each represented by an icon on the display, simplifying the adjustment of gain levels according to the user’s needs. XSpace and XBass II serve as analog equalizers, enhancing the audio output with detailed modifications to the sound profile, which will be elaborated upon in the “Sound” section.

The connection button enables selection of the audio input source, with an “Auto” preset that automatically selects the input based on the signal type being broadcasted. The On/Off switch not only powers the device on and off but also adjusts the screen’s brightness with a quick press, adding to the device’s convenience and ease of use.

Beyond the physical controls, the NEO iDSD 2 can be operated via a remote control or a companion app, offering an alternative method of interaction. The app mirrors the device’s core functions and provides access to firmware updates, detailed digital parameters, and more. Despite these digital conveniences, there’s a preference for the tactile responsiveness of physical switches, highlighting a blend of traditional and modern control mechanisms.

Sound

The iFi Neo iDSD 2 is meticulously engineered to deliver unparalleled and precise audio fidelity. It incorporates a suite of features designed to cater to audiophiles and music enthusiasts alike. The Auto iEMatch function is a standout feature, adept at mitigating hiss from high-sensitivity headphones without sacrificing dynamic range. This, coupled with an ultra-precise clock, state-of-the-art circuitry, ceramic capacitors, and support for aptX Lossless, ensures high-power output and flawless sound reproduction.

With an impressive output of 5551 mW at 32 Ohms, the iFi Neo iDSD 2 confidently assures users that power will never be a concern, regardless of the headphones or earphones they choose to pair with the device. This level of amplification is more than capable of driving high-impedance dynamic headphones as well as demanding planar magnetic models, offering a versatile solution for all types of audio gear.

Additionally, the device features XSpace and XBass II analog processing modes, which are specifically designed to enhance the soundstage and low-frequency response based on the unique characteristics of the user’s setup. These modes, particularly when XSpace is activated and the first XBass II preset is chosen (notably differentiated by color on the display), significantly improve the audio quality, rendering a more immersive listening experience.

The sound signature of the Neo iDSD 2 can be described as natural, melodious, accurate, and well-balanced, straying from a clinical, monitor-like quality to deliver a pleasurable auditory experience. The bass response is robust and clear, mid-frequencies are articulate and polished, and the highs are vibrant and luminous, without any harshness. The expansive, layered soundstage further enriches the listening experience, adding depth and dimension to the music.

iFi has made it a point to focus on spatial quality and sensory experience with this model, harking back to its signature sound that emphasizes texture and harmony. Another noteworthy aspect is the device’s operational efficiency; unlike competitors such as the Shanling EA5 Plus, the Neo iDSD 2 does not overheat, remaining cool to the touch even after extended use. This is a stark contrast to the EA5 Plus, which notably warms up after just 30 minutes of operation. In terms of technical performance and user experience, the Neo iDSD 2 stands out as superior to the EA5 Plus.

Conclusion

The iFi Neo iDSD 2 presents a compelling audio experience, free from distortions across specific frequency ranges. Technically and aesthetically unmatched, it boasts user-friendly controls and comes with high-quality accessories, making it a superior choice for audiophiles seeking both performance and elegance in their audio equipment.

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iFi Neo iDSD 2
iFi Neo iDSD 2
9.5