Tyson’s iFi iDSD Review – Truth or Beauty?

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Tyson

Tyson’s iFi iDSD Review – Truth or Beauty?
« on: 28 Mar 2019, 12:04 am »
Preamble

As many of you know, I’m a fan of the iFi ‘house sound’.  I ran an iFi Micro iDSD for a couple of years in my system as my main DAC and it worked and sounded great.  Of course I eventually moved to a more expensive DAC because I’m an audiophile and that’s what we do.  Two years ago, the best DAC I’d heard under $5k was the Auralic Vega so that’s what I bought.  It’s been my reference ever since then.  Now I have an iDSD Pro in my system and it’s been fascinating to compare 2 DACs that are both at a very elevated level of performance. 

System

I only use the iDSD Pro as a DAC so I won’t comment on it’s headphone capabilities, particularly since I have a custom-built tube amp that was optimized for my Beyer T1s and that’s what I use exclusively for them. 

Digital Source – Windows Server running Jriver
DAC – Auralic Vega or iFi iDSD Pro
Preamp – Galusha Audio SET 6SN7 driving 6BL7 outputs
Amp – TAL Korneff Type 45 or First Watt BA3 or Denis Had Inspire Single Ended Pentode monoblocks
Speakers – Serenity Acoustic Super 7s

You’ve never heard of the Super 7s no doubt, but after 14 years of going to RMAF and also hearing a ton of local high end systems, they are the best speakers I’ve ever heard (except for a couple of really crazy line array speakers).  They retailed for $20k with stock parts.  I’ve updated them with even better parts.  Like about $4k in crossover parts upgrades alone.  Here’s a couple pics so you can see what I mean.  Planar magnetic mids/tweeters and actively powered, servo controlled open baffle subs.  Two 12” powered subs per speaker.  Yeah, they do monster bass.  Really they’re pretty much best-in-class for every area I care about (bass, detail, transparency, pace, dynamics, soundstage, smoothness, speed, coherence, etc...):





And the crazy crossover:





Dennis Had Inspire Monoblocks (I run 2 of these bad boys):





Enter the iDSD Pro





Since I use the iDSD Pro as only a DAC, it simplifies my review enormously.  My main concern is “How does this unit sound on an absolute scale”.  I’ve been running a reference level Auralic Vega DAC in my system for the past 2 years, so that’s what I’ll be comparing the iDSD Pro to (stiff competition!!).

I tried all the filters (there’s a lot!) and settled on 2 as my favorites:  BitPerfect+ and Gibbs Transient Optimized (GTO).  GTO was a bit more laid back and airy, BitPerfect+ is a bit more forward and punchy.  IMO you should try all the filters yourself, it really does come down to personal preference. 

Sound

OK, brass tacks time.  How does it sound.  Very good.  Very, very good.  Definitely on par with the Vega but each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.  The iDSD Pro is smoother and more beautiful sounding.  The Vega is more focused and precise sounding.  Otherwise it’s a toss up.  Now I hav-

We Interrupt the Review to Bring You Breaking News!

A friend of mine gave me an awesome birthday present this year.  A power supply for the iDSD! (Thanks PEZ!)





Oh boy, this thing brings the iDSD to a whole other level.  It lets you keep the smoothness and beauty I mentioned before, but gives a big boost to things like focus, soundstaging, dynamics and punch.  Now, with the over the top linear power supply, the iDSD has scored a clear knockout over the Vega.  OK, Vega is now sold and I’m now the new proud owner of my very own iDSD!  Hehe.

A Truth Switch, and a Beauty Switch





One bit of functionality that I LOVE about the iDSD Pro.  It has a Truth switch.  I bet your DAC doesn’t have one of those ;)  I’m referring to the tubed or Solid State output switch on the front panel.  I love it because when I’m watching a movie on my giant home theater, I can flip it to “Solid State” and have the unvarnished truth with hyper clarity.  On the other hand, if I’m listening to 2 channel music, I can flip it to the “Tube” setting and have unparalleled beauty.  Most DACs force you to choose, either Truth or Beauty.  The iDSD Pro is awesome because it lets you have both. 

Carping

OK, nothings ever perfect, what IMO could be improved here?  Since I use the iDSD as my digital hub (ie, all my digital sources are plugged into it), it would be nice I could select the source via a remote control.  As it is, I have to get up, walk across the room and manually spin the input dial to switch from Blu Ray to Music Server.  A minor annoyance to be sure, but I got spoiled with the Vega. 

The End

That’s all, folks!

RoadTripper

Re: Tyson’s iFi iDSD Review – Truth or Beauty?
« Reply #1 on: 28 Mar 2019, 03:22 pm »
I have a question about the external LPS.  Did you try the AccuBasston LPS with your Auralic Vega? I'm guessing the answer is no. And probably because such an add-on device can't be "added on" to the Auralic. If that is true, then what is it about the iDSD that allows that added LPS?

Tyson

Re: Tyson’s iFi iDSD Review – Truth or Beauty?
« Reply #2 on: 28 Mar 2019, 03:50 pm »
I have a question about the external LPS.  Did you try the AccuBasston LPS with your Auralic Vega? I'm guessing the answer is no. And probably because such an add-on device can't be "added on" to the Auralic. If that is true, then what is it about the iDSD that allows that added LPS?

Mostly because the Vega power supply was internal and the iDSD Pro power supply is external.  So for the iDSD Pro it's a simple matter of swapping the stock (very good) SMPS brick to the linear PS. 

RoadTripper

Re: Tyson’s iFi iDSD Review – Truth or Beauty?
« Reply #3 on: 28 Mar 2019, 04:04 pm »
Is it uncommon for a DACs power supply to be external? Is that AccuBasston LPS supposed to be a pedestrian level LPS? Its price is pretty low.

Tyson

Re: Tyson’s iFi iDSD Review – Truth or Beauty?
« Reply #4 on: 28 Mar 2019, 04:48 pm »
Is it uncommon for a DACs power supply to be external? Is that AccuBasston LPS supposed to be a pedestrian level LPS? Its price is pretty low.

Moderately uncommon but more common than things like preamps or amps. 

The AccuBasston is actually pretty good quality.  It's not super expensive, but it's well made and a quality design.  And, IMO, it doesn't really need to be "the best LPS ever", just has to be better than the SMPS (which it is, IME). 

Speaking of the SMPS, I'm actually surprised how good it really is.  If you look in my review, you can see that the iDSD Pro was equal to the Vega, while using the SMPS.  That's impressive, IMO.  The Vega is an incredibly good DAC.  But, for $120 more, the AccuBasston brings the iDSD to a higher level, making the iDSD Pro a clearly higher performer than the Vega.