iFi Audio xDSD

ifi-audio

#1

It came. Very first impressions-

Someone needs to make the instruction text larger. It was more legible than some, but still minimal and of a point size suitable for the vision of birds of prey. The online manual can at least be enlarged, but you need to do tricks to print it in a larger type size.

The device it self seems very well made, and is small, a bit larger than a deck of cards. Operation is straightforward. I’ve only tried it with two headphones so far - it drives the Grados easily, and does a respectable job with the Hifiman HE-560s, powering them to a loud but not thundering volume as you enter the red zone on the volume control.

I have not tried the wireless connectivity yet. I can see that it would be a convenience forte. Given the onboard battery, I used it with the iPhone 6+ and the older, smaller Camera Card 2, rather than the 3. No problems at all. The iPhone volume control is disabled, and the volume control on the xDSD works well. I ran Tidal streaming and Tidal through Roon. Sound is at least the equal of the Dragonfly Black with Jitterbug. I have not tried putting the Jitterbug into the train to see if there is any audible difference.

This is very preliminary. I hope to get to know this beast over the weekend.


#2

@pennstac

Thanks for the first impression. It seem it would make a good portable in a small package.

My bad. I knew it was impression, but I said review. My comment of “Oh come on it’s just about getting older” was meant to be a little humor, which is why I put the wink after the comment.


#3

That isn’t a review - it’s a first impression. And it isn’t part of getting older about tiny text in manuals. It’s foolish economizing by manufacturers, in particular overseas ones. When I was in publishing, there was a whole school of design or at least an aesthetic in southeast Asia that made websites with far too little contrast. Small, light grey text.

Before they EXPECTED you would log in and read the manual on a computer where you can control the size of the text yourself, point size of text manuals was larger. Now I get products where you literally need a magnifying glass to read the text. I bought some Testor’s paint for plastic models last year, and none of the sales people could read the labels either, and I doubt they were out of high school.

It is a very reasonable size for a portable. Smaller than some of the older headphone amps like the Headroom Airhead, but much more solidly built. Doesn’t come close to the convenient tiny size of the Dragonfly, but it does have it’s own 2200 mah battery.


#4

My first impression of the xDSD was that it is an unbelievable fingerprint magnet!

Looks great when it’s clean.

Which, like a black car on a dirt road, is a state of affairs that pretty much starts and ends when it first comes out of the package.

Looking forward to hearing about your experiences with it in more detail as you get more time with it!


#5

I am trying to learn “HOW” to get TRUE DSD. I have SACD’s(Super Audio CD’S0 which use DSD. However,my understanding is that most(like 90% plus) systems don’t give you true DSD. There is also the question of the multi-channel question. I will say this. I have a multi-channel system set up and I really do believe it sounds better than “stereo.” This is a generic statement and there are all types of “ands,buts and ifs.”


#6

There are a couple of niggles that I have with it so far, but fingerprints aren’t one of them. I expect that many who use the USB connection will lose the rubber USB port cover, which comes off, but is in no way attached.

The other item I may find is just my initial wireless pairing, but it shows up on my iPhone with iDSD aptX as a name. iPhone supports AAC and not aptX as the high quality codec, and I haven’t (yet) determined if the legend is just a name, if there is an explicit iDSD AAC mode and appropriate name, or if it automatically uses AAC with the iPhone. These are the sorts of useful things that when I do a review, I hope to answer. RIght now it’s just a journey of finding out.


#7

No harm, no foul. Yes, younger isn’t what I’m getting any. Tiny text is a pet peeve. Apple was very aware of the science of human interface design and was incredibly intentional in how it addressed it. More than one volume of Inside Macintosh was dedicated to the art. While Apple adopted Adobe Garamond as their official typeface, they were aware that it’s elegance was in part due to the low X-height ratio, where lower case letters were of a smaller relative height to the upper case (unlike the default typeface for this forum). Which is why, when you look at an Apple manual and set a type gauge over it, you see at least 11 point type. (this has gotten worse in some recent packaging, such as the Apple Pen for the iPad Pro. Where are you Steve Jobs?)


#8

I will explain why this is a feature and not a defect when I write a review. I feel one coming on. I even expect to write a second review, on or about April first.

One thing I will say about the xDSD. It’s damn convenient. I can see it replacing my Headroom Standard amp.


#9

DSD is, indeed, the encoding scheme used for SACD. Sony (etc.) decided, in their infinite wisdom, to prevent most SACD players from outputting the high-resolution DSD content in any form except via the analog outputs.

So, unless you’ve ripped the SACD DSD layer to a file, in the right format, you can’t use an external DAC to get native DSD conversion from a physical disc-based DSD source. If you have a hybrid SACD, those will generally let you output the standard Redbook PCM layer via conventional digital outputs.


#10

I would think it is a potential theft deterrent.

Fortunately it’s a rather nice sounding, and well performing, little box, even if it is a bit “shiny”.

Look forward to reading your review!


#11

Several online sources, including HD Tracks sell DSD content. I looked on their website, and found Thriller, several Hi-Fi test albums, and a number of other albums in 2.8 MHz DSD.


#12

They do … I was simply referring to what was necessary to get native DSD replay from SACDs with an external DAC.

That said, pay close attention when buying DSD files from online vendors. Unless it is end-to-end native DSD (there are about 1,500 such albums available, total), then it’s is content that has been through at least one PCM conversion stage - and that largely kills the purported benefits of DSD (see below).

Also, some vendors are simply taking “high-resolution” PCM masters, which themselves may just be up-sampled 16/44.1 or 24/48 content, and then converting that to DSD. Which, similarly, does not yield the same end result as a native, end-to-end DSD file. In these cases, you may as well just use your software player to do on-the-fly transcoding and save your money.

It’s worth bearing in mind that DSD->PCM and PCM->DSD conversions are not bit-perfect. They should be audibly transparent, in most cases, but you cannot get back to a bit-perfect copy of the original from a converted version! Doing PCM->DSD->PCM will not give you the same PCM file back (same for DSD->PCM->DSD).

Finally, bear in mind that while DSD files are comparatively huge vs. an “equivalent” PCM file, most of the additional space is ultrasonic noise. And because it’s noise, it’s essentially random - which makes it functionally impossible to usefully compress - hence file-sizes are disproportionately bigger than PCM.


#13

Michael Jackson’s Thriller is one example of an album that is available as “native” DSD. It’s a 1x DSD (sometimes called DSD64) recording, transferred form the original SACD DSD master.

1x DSD/DSD64 is roughly equivalent to a 24-bit/88.2 kHz PCM file.

Which, on reflection, makes me wonder what the source was for the 24-bit/176.4 kHz PCM version that HD Tracks also sells. Unless Sony did side-by-side recordings in both PCM and DSD formats (possible, but unlikely), one of them is a conversion from the other.

And if that is the case - then either the DSD version is necessarily lower resolution than the best PCM version available (and no-longer end-to-end native DSD), OR the PCM version has been up-sampled from a lower bit-depth/sampling rate.

I mention this only as an illustration of the minefield that is high-resolution audio (not just DSD) … as it is often unnecessarily hard/opaque to understand what you’re really buying.


#14

Yeah, this is the first and only DSD download I’ve purchased because its provenance seems reasonably clear. From AcousticSounds:

DSD file created by Gus Skinas from the original Sony Super Audio CD cutting masters.

Sort of a perfunctory description, but sadly better than what I see on many releases.


#15

Thanks to all. The entire question of buying 100% DSD either through physical form or download form still remains a mystery. I have read that the online digital DSD purchases may not necessarily be “what you think you were purchasing.” There is a huge question of playback equipment. Let me say. Sony( the “owner” and “overlord” of DSD has just done an awful job with DSD technology). If there was a way,Sony should be arrested.


#16

This is true.

It’s not just a DSD issue - it affects other high-resolution formats as well. There have been a number of cases where the “high-resolution” copy of an album has turned out to simply be the CD version that has been run through a software up-sampler (which most players can do on the fly - so there’s no reason to pay for someone else to do it - nor to store the file in the larger format). Another issue has been “high resolution” copies being rips from LP-versions of the album, and then heavily processed.

In the case of the LP-rips, they often sound different to the pure-digital versions, even though the LP was originally mixed/master in the digital domain, simply because the cutting-master for an LP will typically be different (due to different needs/capabilities of the media in question) than the simple digital conversion used to take high-resolution digital masters and convert them to 16/44.1 for CD mastering.

Indeed!

I did a bit of digging on the production of “Thriller” (had to do something while letting the Elegia run). It turns out that the original recording and mixing was done in the analog world (tape, mixing desk). From there the Redbook, high-resolution PCM and DSD masters were created directly from those tapes, with no interim conversions.

So it appears that Thriller is one of the few contemporary rock/pop albums that exists as a genuine native DSD product.


#17

IMHO… I don’t think we really know about direct DSD “sound” unless Sony makes it official.


#18

Back on topic, anyone have impressions of this little device? How about with campfire IEMs? thanks!


#19

I used it’s little brother the NiBL and really enjoyed it with the my CA Andromeda, and seeing as this is just a slightly more powerful version of that I can’t imagine it not sounding as good! In fact I’m still trying to decide between the NiBL, and this as a travel/bedside option…probably go with the NiBL. Mostly because it has a built in IE match port which is great with sensitive IEMs like the Andromeda.

EDIT: NiBL is Nano iDSD Black Label


#20

I plan on doing a review of the xDSD. So far, I like it very much. I’ve always liked the Burr-Brown family of op-amps and DACs. Of the 3 stand-alone DACs I own, this is my favorite. (The others are a TEAC-HD01 and the Dragonfly Black).

I’ve found the bluetooth connection to be reliable; I’ve seen reports of a few who did not. It will be at least another week or two before I do a review. I’m waiting on a custom cable so I can check the TRRS dual-mono and see if there is any audible difference.

I like the battery life also. Message me if you have specifics - I don’t want to write too much before I sit down to think about it.