iFi Neo iDSD Impressions

adie

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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 (15? 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 didn?t 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 that?s 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 it?s supposed shortcomings as a headphone amp- single ended output is swak. I guess that?s 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 there?s that. The soundstage is nicely wide and extends beyond the speakers. It?s 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 he?d take the Ares every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Well, the Ares doesn?t serve as a digital preamp- and I had an inkling that it?s 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 Audiolab?s shortcomings. Don?t get me wrong, it?s a great value proposition ? a musical Swiss army knife, and one could say the same of the Lindemann. The Audiolab?s DAC was not wonderful, though it does present a wide, spacious soundstage with good placement. It falls down in terms of ?life?, 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) don?t think I would be as chuffed as I am.

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

The Neo is in a fiercely competitive price bracket. I haven?t 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 don?t have audiophile grade headphones (PSB M24U) and some studio cans, but will try them out at some stage- maybe borrow something more high- falutin? to compare with, and compare with the EarMen Sparrow DAC too. Don?t hold your breath?



 

Music_Lover

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Adie, thanks for the review.

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

adie

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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

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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

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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.
 

Music_Lover

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Look what you made me do.

Whats-App-Image-2021-12-16-at-15-19-36.jpg
 

Music_Lover

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I acquired a Neo DSD today courtesy of a most wonderful forumite who embodies the spirit of this forum. I'm still gobsmacked at his generosity.

I've wanted to simplify the audio chain in my system for a while now and the DAC/Pre/Bluetooth Neo looked on paper to be the answer with all the features I wanted including MQA over SPDIF. The chain looks like this now Zen Stream -> Neo DSD (DAC/Pre) -> Hypex UCD700HG -> Eminent Technology LFT8b. The Hypex and some luck in speaker positioning negate the need for a sub.

My regular DAC is the Audio-gd R2R 11 which I've had for 4+ years and more recently a little AK4493  chipped Topping E30, both of which are far from neutral and lean heavily to the warm side. I like that warm sound and the NEO took a little while to get used to. The sound is pretty much as adie describes it. Extremely neutral with no colouration apparent. The LFT8bs, being planar speakers, are naturally open and airy. The Neo added a little more sparkle to the tops but it was the bass that stood out as there was non of the bloat I was used to. It was tight and controlled. It felt like it started and stopped quickly.

I managed to get MQA 192kHz on the display a few times and I'm looking forward to testing MQA vs non-MQA, different resolutions etc.

I am using the included power supply and I would like to try some of iFi's more exotic offerings in the future which might lay to rest my power supply scepticism.

I have the ES9068AS chipped Topping E50 MQA DAC on the way to me and it's going to be interesting to compare all these DAC offerings.
 

adie

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I had the LFT8bs playing into my Hypex NCore amps (although I had Vandersteen subs that cost more tan the speakers and which made a huge difference- and a nice valve pre). I was wondering how the Neo would have sounded with the LFT8bs. Glad it's not too bright and that the bass presence is good. The 8bs do go down to 25hz, though they seemed rolled off before that.
PS: if you're handy with solder etc., the 8bs are very tweakable (not that I tried).
 

Music_Lover

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adie said:
I had the LFT8bs playing into my Hypex NCore amps (although I had Vandersteen subs that cost more tan the speakers and which made a huge difference- and a nice valve pre). I was wondering how the Neo would have sounded with the LFT8bs. Glad it's not too bright and that the bass presence is good. The 8bs do go down to 25hz, though they seemed rolled off before that.
PS: if you're handy with solder etc., the 8bs are very tweakable (not that I tried).

I wouldn't trust myself with a soldering iron  :nono: but please do let us know about the tweaks.
The tweeter on the 8b is slightly configurable allowing a choice of wiring it to Low, Mid, or High.
 

AlleyCat

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adie said:
I had the LFT8bs playing into my Hypex NCore amps (although I had Vandersteen subs that cost more tan the speakers and which made a huge difference- and a nice valve pre). I was wondering how the Neo would have sounded with the LFT8bs. Glad it's not too bright and that the bass presence is good. The 8bs do go down to 25hz, though they seemed rolled off before that.
PS: if you're handy with solder etc., the 8bs are very tweakable (not that I tried).

I actually liked those LFT8Bs. With a decent subwoofer and time taken with placement, they surely sing. A beefy amp also helped.

[You need to make sure that all the drivers are in order, especially the tweeters, [member=1067]Nirvana[/member] can relate. I remember the service levels of the manufacturer was impeccable].
 

adie

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Music_Lover said:
I wouldn't trust myself with a soldering iron  :nono: but please do let us know about the tweaks.
The tweeter on the 8b is slightly configurable allowing a choice of wiring it to Low, Mid, or High.

There are some modifications in this thread: https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/eminent-technology-lft-8b-in-harry-s-system
I have seen others elsewhere in the past.
You could contact Bruce Thigpen directly- [email protected]
Bruce is very helpful.

Worth noting that the later woofers are significantly better than older versions- and do not, AFAIK, fit the older speakers.
Also, the fact that Eminent Technology are selling well these days in the USA, coupled with the exchange rate, means that The Listening Room no longer imports them (can't get the same dealer discount as before as ET are busy enough at home, thank you).
 

Nirvana

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Yes, like Adie, I loved the 8b's! Ironically I ended up selling them when they sounded best - well into my current 5 x 7 room that's semi treated.
Driven by a Predator, they had lovely tonality and sounded quite effortless and emotionally involving!

I have to say my Brazza open baffles on a Exclame 150 aren't far off - faster, more articulate bass in fact, whilst not quite the same organic tone or pace in the mids, and slightly more rolled off in highs. But seperation and imaging/field depth are all there, and then some.

But, I digress Adie - glad you found a dac you really enjoy!  :dop:
 

Nirvana

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And also happy for Vis (Music_Lover), whom I know has had his ET's for some time too!  :dop:

Francois on a good roll with the iFi goodies...  :2thumbs:
 

Music_Lover

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I see that the Neo iDSD now comes as a Performance Edition which has a bundled iPurifier3 and S/PDIF iPurifier2. I guess if you're using the Zen Stream as a source, there would be no need for the 2 iPurifier products because they're built into the Stream?

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