Audio and Video Talk > Digital

iFi Neo iDSD Impressions

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adie:
Neo acquired mid-afternoon and, having read https://www.avforums.co.za/index.php/topic,97323.0.html and consulted with Francois, I also acquired the upgraded iPower X power supply.

My user case scenario is: Intel NUC with JRiver and TIDAL > DAC and digital preamp> XLR/balanced out to Hypex Ncore monoblocks > Altec Lansing Milestone 950 speakers (15Ē fullrange drivers), RCA (single ended) output to a REL Q100 sub filling in the lower octave. My room is nicely treated with large acoustic panels and high, slanted ceiling. 6x 4.6m, with the rig against the long wall.

It didnít start particularly well. XLR. Plug everything in, play without a hiccup- until I wanted to try MQA. For that I needed the teeny tiny barcode on the back of the Neo. Unplug, tale pics (too small too see with my naked eye), plug it all in, fiddle fiddle with TIDAL and then, voila!

A mitigated voila, because I was aware of some ringing and realised I had no recourse to filters with the Neo. There must be a settling in, because the ringing soon disappeared. I listened at an average of about 85db, with peaks of 95db. Normally thatís pushing it for me, but it was kinda addictive (out came 1812 Overture and other nuggets for fun).

In JRiver I experimented with upsampling all music- 192, DSD (some issues on higher DSD rates) and not oversampling. In TIDAL I streamed some MQA tracks but, in the main I just delved into my hard drive, dug out some of the grittiest tracks and dug in for the night.

I had read/watched pretty much every review on the Neo. I was aware of itís supposed shortcomings as a headphone amp- single ended output is swak. I guess thatís true. I had to turn the subwoofer up more than I thought I would have to.

I had also gleaned that the Neo may be a little light in the pants (not that solid in the bass department), that the soundstage is shallow. I find the bass pretty fulsome, though the soundstage is not the deepest. The same is said of the Ncore amps, so thereís that. The soundstage is nicely wide and extends beyond the speakers. Itís also sometime wraparound holographic. Imaging is better than I am used to. In the centre Mr Venter!

I had conferred with a YouTube reviewer, comparing the Denafrips Ares II with the Neo, and he said heíd take the Ares every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Well, the Ares doesnít serve as a digital preamp- and I had an inkling that itís dark sound signature (I checked out all the Ares reviews too) would not suit my setup. The Altecs are a little laidback and reviews indicated that the Neo placed the action a bit more forward- and that it had a bit of top end sparkle, while remaining smooth and musical.

I concur- in spades. My speakers already just let music flow in a lovely, effortless manner. The Neo adds to the organic flavour (organic is used in a few reviews) and introduced some pep across the frequency range and clarity in the treble. It's not forward if you think forward equates to in-your-face. Not at all. And listener fatigue isn't in the Neo dictionary. I am a happy chappie.

What am I comparing it to? Not the Ares, which I have not heard. I have had an Audiolab CD8200 for a while and, before that, a Lindemann Musicbook and a Cary Audio DAC100t.

I was always aware of the Audiolabís shortcomings. Donít get me wrong, itís a great value proposition Ė a musical Swiss army knife, and one could say the same of the Lindemann. The Audiolabís DAC was not wonderful, though it does present a wide, spacious soundstage with good placement. It falls down in terms of ďlifeĒ, being relatively dull/flat and closed in on either end of the frequency range. The Lindemann Germanically etches out every detail, perhaps dryly, but I enjoyed it. The Dac100t was a lemon (the solid state version is better) That was in a very different setup, however, and none did MQA which, like it or loathe it, I wanted to at least play with.

I could have bought the Audiolab CD8300 I spose- and not still be looking for a transport with coaxial output, but I (having, once again, trawled reviews) donít think I would be as chuffed as I am.

The Neo ticks every box I hoped it would. Itís detailed enough, but not surgically. Almost every DAC these days can do detail- and itís the calling card of many cheapies. They arenít as flowingly musical and easy to listen to, I propose. In fact, Iím probably overlooking what detail there is as sometimes my ears prick up and I go, ďOh! Never noticed that.Ē I just enjoy.

The Neo is in a fiercely competitive price bracket. I havenít tried anything else. Francois; service played a large part. Call me Goldilocks (I once had those!), having found just the right porridge. For now (nice to know I can always trade up with Francois).

I donít have audiophile grade headphones (PSB M24U) and some studio cans, but will try them out at some stage- maybe borrow something more high- falutiní to compare with, and compare with the EarMen Sparrow DAC too. Donít hold your breathÖ



Music_Lover:
Adie, thanks for the review.

Do you notice any discernible difference between the standard power supply and the iPower X?

adie:
I didn't compare- didn't try the standard PS.
Warren D commented in the thread I linked: I have both the Zen Signature and the NEO DSD. I had a similar experience however I bought the Neo after experiencing how good the Zen Signature was and was expecting everything that the Zen was but a step up. I similarly disappointed, however its not the DAC but the power supply IFI include with the NEO that's the problem. Even the Zen comes with IFI Xpower which is better than the NEO's standard Ipower. I tried the Xpower on the NEO and already heard an improvement,  I then purchased the Elite Power which is IFI's linear power supply and the NEO became a wonderfully different DAC and in my opinion significantly better than the Zen.

I was happy to be guided by Francois, who felt that the Elite PS was overkill (it supplies more than the Neo needs./can use).

WarrenD:
Getting the best out of audio gear is all about "overkill", consider the really high end DAC and you typically see one or even two toroidal or O-ring transformers.

Music is all about modulation of your electrical power supply. Better cleaner power = better musical sound.

I was ready to get rid of the NEO after having it for about two months. After adding the elite power supply to the chain, I'm certainly keeping it.

The changes again are small but noticeable, darker background, great resolution and deeper soundstage upgrading from the Xpower to the elite power.

adie:
I hear you WarrenD. I've had nice Nordost power cables and plugs and and, but the Neo is not end-game for me. It is temporary. I won't say stop-gap as I am really happy with it but, if I am to shell out more money (the Excel is $300), I'll upgrade the DAC, PS (solar power is a possibility) and maybe be looking at Pierre Watts' switches, etc. A Brinkmann Nyquist would be nice!

It suits my severely Covid-depleted pocket and my system well- and the Hypex amps have a deeeply black background and great transparency on their own.
Horses for courses.

For me, it's great that value for money offerings nowadays rival some traditionally esoteric/exotic and costly gear. I hope to be able to get a friend to swap out his Cary Audio DMC-600SE for a comparison sometime.

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