The iFi NEO iDSD (£699) is designed for maximum flexibility, with sleek aluminium casework that can be positioned horizontally or vertically. It can be used as a pure DAC with a fixed-level analogue output to connect to a separate integrated amp or preamp in an audio system. Or, it can operate as a DAC/preamp with a variable output, for connecting directly to a power amp or active speakers. And, of course, headphone users can make use of its amp stage.
The NEO iDSD’s ‘digital engine’ is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chipset that iFi uses extensively, selected for its natural-sounding ‘musicality’ and True Native architecture. It uses a new low-latency XMOS microcontroller with greatly enhanced processing power – compared to the current generation of eight-core chips, this new 16-core IC delivers double the clock speed (2000MIPS) and four times the memory (512KB), as well as the latest SuperSpeed USB standard. iFi’s in-house digital development team has programmed the XMOS firmware to optimise sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the Burr-Brown DAC. Extensive jitter-eradication technologies are applied to the digital stage, including iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) femto-precision clock and intelligent memory buffer. The NEO iDSD also comes with iFi’s GTO (Gibbs Transient Optimised) digital filter installed; alternative digital filters can be loaded as firmware updates if preferred.
Hi-res audio support is state-of-the-art, handling PCM data to 32-bit/768kHz, all levels of DSD up to DSD512, and single- and double-speed DXD. PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables DSD, as well as PCM, to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in its native form right through to analogue conversion. MQA, as used by Tidal’s ‘Masters’ tier, is also supported through the USB and S/PDIF inputs, with full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz thanks to the processing power of the new 16-core XMOS chip. This means that the full ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally.
As well as digital cable inputs, the NEO iDSD offers the convenience of wireless Bluetooth reception. iFi was the first audio brand to deliver products using Qualcomm’s new QCC5100 Bluetooth processing IC when it launched the ZEN Blue and Aurora, combining this chip with proprietary circuits. While Bluetooth’s convenience and wide device compatibility is well recognised, many people don’t realise how good Bluetooth can sound because they’ve only experienced it at base-level quality using basic and outdated implementations.