Introducing the iFi xDSD – next-generation mobile audio

Review - iFi Audio xDSD

iFi Audio xDSD

Introducing the iFi xDSD – next-generation mobile audio
T he iFi xDSD is a portable h-res headphone amp and DAC that replaces the iDSD (and competes directly with the Chord Mojo) at £399.

■ Product summary

• Uniquely specified and supremely musical hi-res DAC tech – studio-quality sound in your pocket

• Connect your phone, tablet, PC, Mac, DAP, TV, games console or any other digital audio device via cable, or stream wirelessly via Bluetooth

• Brilliant sound with all forms of digital music, from streaming platforms such as Spotfify, Apple Music and Tidal to the highest-resolution PCM and DSD audio files

• ‘Cyberdrive’ microprocessor-controlled analogue amp stage delivers fully optimised performance with all headphone/earphone types

• RRP: £399 inc. VAT

■ Key features of the xDSD are -


iFi’s uniquely specified and supremely musical digital-to-analogue conversion system supports PCM and DXD audio data up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD up to 22.57MHz (DSD512). A customised ‘True Native’ Burr-Brown DAC chip handles PCM and DSD natively – unlike other portable DACs, the music signal stays in its original format throughout to maintain purity.


Performance is optimised by high-end digital audio technologies trickled down from iFi’s sister company Abbingdon Music Research, such as the Global Master Timing (GMT) femto-precision clock and intelligent memory buffer that eradicate jitter. Two digital filter setting are offered: ‘Listen’ (minimum-phase, optimised for musicality) and ‘Measure’ (linear-phase, optimised for accuracy).


Simple, universal wireless connectivity via Bluetooth untethers the xDSD from your playback device. Support for the sonically superior aptX and AAC codecs over Bluetooth enables enhanced-quality streaming from both Android and Apple devices, while the GMT clock system further improves performance to ensure sound quality far in excess of standard Bluetooth transmission systems. The xDSD remembers up to eight devices once paired.


The xDSD comes loaded with iFi’s latest firmware v5.3, including playback of MQA – the hi-res streaming codec, as used by Tidal’s ‘Masters’ tier. iFi’s in-house software development programme allows features to be added or optimised via firmware updates, enabling the xDSD to be tailored to the user’s playback priorities and ensuring it stays cutting-edge over time.


iFi’s proprietary ‘3D+ Matrix’ and ‘XBass+’ circuits may be switched in or out as preferred, enabling a degree of personal ‘tuning’ to suit your headphones and the music. Most recordings are made for (and mastered on) loudspeakers, which can result in an effect known as ‘in-head localisation’ when listening through headphones. The 3D+ Matrix setting counters this by delivering a more expansive soundstage, while the XBass+ setting enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange – particularly useful with some open-back headphones that lack low bass. These circuits operate entirely in the analogue domain, without messing with the digital signal via DSP.


iFi’s new ‘Cyberdrive’ headphone amp stage combines the sonic purity of analogue circuitry with the convenience and precision of digital control. Proprietary low-noise op-amps and dual-mono headphone drivers supply sufficient power to drive high-impedance headphones with ease, whilst also delivering ultra-low-noise performance with high-sensitivity headphones (including premium in-ear monitors) to ensure the music stands out against a silent, ‘inky black’ background.


Although digitally controlled, volume attenuation occurs entirely in the analogue domain, ensuring every ‘bit’ of resolution is retained at all volume levels (many competing products use digital volume controls, which lose resolution at lower listening levels). Power mode switching and volume adjustment are combined in one rotary control, seamlessly adapting to suit the connected headphones as the volume is altered.


iFi’s ‘S-Balanced’ headphone output unlocks the performance benefits of high-end headphones with balanced wiring, whilst also cutting crosstalk and related distortion in half with regular single-ended headphone designs.


The xDSD’s microprocessor-controlled Cyberdrive system optimises power drain and battery life, automatically switching between ‘portable’ and ‘desktop’ modes. The fast-charge-compatible internal battery is charged via a dedicated micro USB input and supplies up to 10 hours playback time, depending on usage. Unlike some mobile DACs, the self-powered xDSD places no strain on the battery of the connected device.


Asynchronous USB input is provided by a Type A interface, preferred for its greater reliability and ease of connection to multiple devices (Android via USB OTG; iOS via Apple CCK). Coaxial and optical S/PDIF connections are enabled via a combined 3.5mm/mini-TOSLINK input (a full-size TOSLINK adapter is also supplied). The xDSD’s output can be switched between headphone and line-level mode, the latter delivering a fixed 2V output that bypasses the volume control, 3D+ Matrix and X-Bass+ circuits for integration into a home audio system (the last-used settings are retained at switch-on).


The xDSD is the first product in iFi’s new ‘x series’. Fresh industrial design marks the start of this new portable range, encased in a tactile, ridged housing made from strong yet lightweight magnesium-aluminium alloy, ion-plated with a dark titanium finish. The radio-frequency-transparent endcap permits extended Bluetooth range and a smart, logical control scheme adds to the xDSD’s slick, pocketable appeal.


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