Big shoutout to Lawrance and iFi for sending this unit and for their continued support of the blog and channel! I’m not being compensated for this review. Just giving my thoughts about the unit.
- 1/1/21. Article posted.
- 1/12/21. Article cleanup.
- 2/21/22. Article revisit.
What is the Neo iDSD, who is it for, and how does it sound? Is it worth your hard-earned dollar?
Let’s dive in and find out.
What’s up bass head, Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music, all over again so… don’t want to read?!
Don’t forget to leave me some love and subscribe! <3
What is the iFi Neo iDSD and who is it for?
This Burr Brown combo Amp/DAC targets the gamer/audiophile/producer/casual listener demographic with its coaxial input, optical input, USB 3.0 Type-B, as well as balanced XLR outputs, and unbalanced RCA outputs. iFi supplies a 5V power brick as well.
It has a single-ended 3.5mm and iFi’s usual 4.4mm balanced connection, it supports all Hi-Res including DSD512, PCM768, MQA 384k, and Bluetooth 96k. Bluetooth support includes: aptX, aptXHD, aptX adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA/LHDC, AAC, and SBC up to 24/96k.
Press the analog volume dial in once to pause, and hold it for 3 seconds to adjust brightness on the display. Press the button to the left of the power button to cycle through input/output options as well as enable Bluetooth.
With the unit off, hold the knob and then press the power button to enter variable/fixed mode selection. Turn the knob to cycle between them, and press the button once more to accept.
This is the first Amp/DAC I’ve come across that’s completely feasible with a pair of dedicated studio monitors like the LSR305s, Yamaha HS7s, as well as any monitor with a balanced TRS or XLR connection.
Say whaaaaat?! Yeah, that’s right you heard me correctly.
I can game with it on my PS4 via its optical input, and pretty much connect it to anything in a home theater that outputs coax. Add to that you can use it on your desktop via USB, connect it to any set of speakers you want, and hook it up to a separate amp later on down the road if need be (more on that later).
It’s got an OLED display and built-in MQA decoding for easy connection to Tidal. Just set the DAC to exclusive mode to see the formats change depending on the track in question. Related: Tidal vs. Spotify [Definitive Guide]
These are just some of the formats possible. Always make sure to disable exclusive mode when you’re listening outside of Tidal (i.e. with Spotify) or you won’t hear anything as Tidal will still have control of the audio.
To enable MQA Exclusive mode:
- Click on the 3 bars in the upper left corner inside Tidal.
- File > Settings > Streaming.
- Scroll down to where it says “Sound” and “Sound Output”.
- Click (More settings) to the right.
- Now just tick the button to exclusive mode and the formats will change according to the file.
On the front, there’s a power button and Bluetooth pairing mode button, both of which you’ll appreciate if you’re tired of Amp/DACS not having an On/Off feature. For Bluetooth, press and hold the button next to it to enter pairing mode, find the unit on your phone, and you’re good to go.
How does it sound though?
- Headphones used: AKG K702, K612, HIFIMAN DEVA, Koss KPH30i and KSC75, AKG K240M, Sennheiser HD600, Philips SHP9500, and 9600.
- Source(s): Tidal Hi-Fi, Spotify Premium (FLAC, Master)
- Playlist here!
In a word, Stu-pendous. See what I did there?
Marko made fun of me for being a synergy nerd this time around, but I was telling him on Instagram how I truly felt like I was hearing more going on during the intro music in Fallout 4 on console.
I’ve heard the song hundreds of times, but I felt like there was a deeper layer to the track that was uncovered with my K702, something I never in my life thought I would experience.
Another perfect example is the movie Reservoir Dogs. I was freaking out during the entirety of the film because I kept hearing all sorts of stuff in the background that I never could have imagined was there. This is astounding to me considering I’ve seen the film dozens of times.
I’m specifically referring to the rendezvous point – the garage where they all meet up after things go awry. The sounds and noises you’ll hear are truly eerie and give new life to the film. You’ll be completely immersed, paying attention to even the most minuscule of details.
“WHY DON’T YOU TELL ME WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?!”
I mostly used the K702 for gaming and film and alternated between the rest of them for music.
I also did some PC gaming playing Fallout New Vegas. Related: Fallout 3 vs. New Vegas vs. Fallout 4 Everything was incredibly crisp and clear, with directional cues and sounds on point.
This DAC is the real deal. Hearing these sounds that I was previously unaware of had me smiling from ear to ear, and with music, it’s more of the same.
Its less than 1 Ohm output impedance gives it a smidgen of warmth, and I really do love the way it portrays sound. Everything seems more fleshed out and detailed, and if you’ve been with me for a while, you’ll know my growing disdain for Amps & DACS. The Neo iDSD is surely an exception.
At about $700 is it worth your hard-earned money?
Let’s consider the price to performance, as well as everything you’re getting in the package.
- It sounds phenomenal and you can play any hi-res file you want with it.
- You can game with it on console and it’s incredibly detailed. Great FPS rig and great for film.
- You can hook it up to any speaker or studio monitor, balanced or unbalanced. Perfect desktop rig.
- You can hook it up to a separate amp via the RCA outs.
- It supports hi-res Bluetooth.
- It has a remote. You’ll never have to move ever again.
- You can situate it horizontally or vertically with the supplied holster.
What about some downsides?
- The USB cable is way too short. Please iFi, for the hundredth time, supply a longer cable.
- No batteries included with the remote. This is a $600 product and you can’t include a simple 3V lithium battery? Most people including myself don’t have one of those lying around.
- Power output unbalanced is a bit disappointing for a unit of this price. I’m turning the volume up most of the way with a DEVA, K702, and HD600, with roughly 14dB headroom. That’s fine if you don’t plan on running anything more demanding, but 300 Ohm is pretty much the ceiling for this one single-ended. I was expecting it to drive a DEVA a bit easier and that just wasn’t the case.
Final Word & 2022 Update
This is a bit of an interesting conundrum. Back when the Neo came out, I thought it was of great value and still mostly is. If you know me, you’ll know I mostly recommend Amps & DACS based on versatility and the Neo certainly has most bases covered.
As much as I liked it, if you’re in the market for a do-all Amp/DAC combo, I think FiiO’s flagship K9 Pro is worth the purchase over the Neo. Is it close? Absolutely.
Both are priced similarly as it seems FiiO decided to try and compete with iFi in this segment of the market.
Both have XLR and RCA outputs, both have coaxial input, optical input, 4.4mm/6.35mm headphone outs, and Bluetooth capability. Both support DSD, but the Neo boasts up to DSD512 while the K9 Pro maxes out at 256. The Neo also supports PCM 768. Those 2 things don’t really matter much to me, but your mileage may vary.
The K9 Pro edges the Neo slightly by also including a USB-C input on the side, XLR headphone output on the front, RCA inputs on the back, and a 4.4mm input on the back. It also feels more durable while providing multiple gain stages and isn’t as hard to get headphones pumping.
Because of all that, I think it’s a better value than Neo and will likely be my mainstay do all Amp/DAC for quite a long time – hopefully forever.
Interested in learning more?
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi Neo iDSD Review and came away with some valuable insight.
If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
Is Neo the one or do you think the K9 Pro Is The Better Solution?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,