iFi seems to be on a roll these days, with new products being developed at a fast pace, followed by positive user and professional reviews.
Due to some recent changes in my front end (switched from Auralic Aries streamer to Bluesound Node 2, in order to get Spotify streaming for my significant other), I decided to try the iFi SPDIF iPurifier as the digital output from the Bluesound Node 2 is SPDIF coax only.
Before I dive in, a bit about me and my system - I wouldn’t call my system “warm” per se, but it definitely falls on the musical side of the spectrum vs. analytical. I like detail just as much as the next person, but I’m definitely not a fan of detail just for the sake of it or “in your face” levels of detail. My goal is to enjoy my system for hours, without fatigue creeping in. Having said that, psychoacoustic trickery or not, I am a fan of soundstaging, being able to hear into the recording, separating performers and instruments from each other, and the illusion of being able to “see” the performers. The trick is to wrap those wants into a musical, coherent whole, which is more important to me than the squeak of an individual chair. In terms of music, I listen mostly to classic rock, jazz and folk, with a smattering of other stuff thrown in. Content was either streamed from Tidal or played back from my NAS – all streamed over a dedicated wireless network. For the purposes of this review, my system consisted of the following:
Bluesound Node 2>Black Cat Silverstar 75 or Blue Jeans Cable Coax>iFi SPDIF iPurifier>Mojo Audio Mystique v2+ NOS DAC>Mojo Audio Lucent Ribbon Interconnect>Karan KA-I180 Mk2 Integrated Amp>Zu Event Speaker Cable>Fritzspeakers Morel 6 or Harbeth P3ESR
Power cables are a mix of VH Audio and Mojo Audio. I haven’t found power conditioning to make a huge difference in my enjoyment, so all components are plugged into a Wiremold 9-outlet strip – the one originally recommended by Naim (I used to have some Naim gear way back when). I have a Cablepro NANA as well, but didn’t use it during this review.
So how did the SPDIF iPurifier perform? In my system the differences are individually subtle, but collectively very meaningful, and once you’ve heard them, you don’t want to go back to being without it.
Interestingly enough, the first and most obvious thing to me was in the lower registers. Often when you have a kick drum playing in time with a bass, it can be challenging on some recordings to separate the thwack of the kick drum from the note being played on the bass – these sounds can sometimes homogenize into one note. With the SPDIF iPurifier in place, it was much easier to separate these two instruments, not just in terms of sound, but in terms of location in the soundstage. The skin and volume of the drum was easier to hear as a discrete sound, separate from the bass. In addition, the texture of bass notes was improved – more of the unique sound of a specific instrument came through (a Fender Precision bass has a different kind of growl than a Fender Jazz bass, etc.). It’s not that these things weren’t coming through before – they were simply more present and easier to discern with the iPurifier in place.
The next thing that hit me was a difference in the overall sound of the system. I wouldn’t have said this before, but without the iPurifier, there was a bit of stuffiness to the overall sound – just a bit of a wooly character. I can’t believe I just used those words as I sometimes scoff at writers who use them, but I get it now. With the iPurifier in place, the window into the sound was cleaner – that stuffy, wooly feeling I never realized was there had been removed and overall clarity improved. This was especially evident in hearing the sound of the recording space (or reverb added by the engineer) – it was easier to hear the acoustic space and to hear reverb tails that I never noticed before. Part and parcel with this was better intelligibility of vocals. On a couple of recordings where the vocal is deep in the mix, I realized I had the wrong word in certain spots (think “thing” vs. “fling”). Additionally, a bit of hash had been removed from vocalists who have a raspy quality to their voice – it was much clearer that I was now hearing that rasp more cleanly vs. a tiny bit of added hash.
There was no spotlighting of instruments, forced detail, thinning of timbre or anything else negative related to this greater clarity. In fact, the improved clarity and definition enhanced the timbre and texture of instruments, as well as the illusion of performers vs. hearing a hi-fi. A win-win.
Are any of these individual things “hit you over the head” moments? Taken in isolation, I would say no, but collectively these small nuances add up to better fidelity, a more enjoyable listening experience and more time spent listening to music – exactly what this insane hobby is all about. It’s entirely possible these differences would be more pronounced on a more detail oriented system. In any event, there are many tweaks that do virtually nothing and then there are some that do something worthwhile for a very modest price – the SPDIF iPurifier falls into the latter category. If you use a SPDIF connection in your digital chain, I’d recommend trying out the iPurifier – I think you’ll be happy you did – I know I am.