Ever hear of iFi Audio? Me neither. But at the 2012 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, there was a quartet of miniature products bearing the iFi logo in the Avatar Acoustics room. Darren Censullo, head honcho at Avatar, was very excited about his role as U.S. distributor for iFi. He claimed that at their price its products were not merely outstanding values, but offered performance that would compete with any component with similar functions. He went on to tell me that one particular iFi product, the iPower, offered an entirely new and better- performing solution for devices that use USB power as their power source. Obviously I took his comments with a grain of salt. But I was intrigued enough to request the iDAC, iCAN, and iUSBPower for review (the fourth iFi product, the iPhono, was outside my primary area of expertise, so I passed on it).
After several months of putting this trio through its paces, I understand why Darren was so enthusiastic. All three devices offer a level of performance and ergonomics that a scant few years ago would have been impossible from a similar device, regardless of price. And even in today’s highly competitive audio marketplace the iFi devices deliver an exceptional combination of performance, features, and value. That’s not too shabby for a company’s first efforts.
Three for the Road
A big reason for the iFi trio’s exceedingly high level of performance is due to “trickle-down” technology. All of iFi’s designs were created by Abbingdon Music Research, a U.K.-based high-end audio firm that’s been making high-end components since 2000. AMR doesn’t directly manufacture iFi products; instead AMR licenses the technology to iFi, which assembles the units at its own facility in China.
All three iFi devices share the same-sized silver-toned chassis which is approximately 158mm x 68mm x 28mm. Obviously iFi realizes substantial economies of scale with these components since they share one of the most expensive parts in most audio gear. Other shared parts are the external power supplies and the volume knobs. These volume knobs were nicely machined, but they do have one flaw—they are a pressure-fitted and can easily be pushed back too far so that their back edge touches (and scrapes) the chassis when you turn the knobs. Yes, you can eliminate the problem by pulling the knob out slightly, but chances are, the next time you use the iFi device, you will push them back in and the scraping begins again. Sure, this is a minor annoyance, but it diminishes the overall quality of the iFi products.
Given their size and weight (the heaviest is under 0.43 pounds), the iFi devices were created with the traveling audiophile in mind. Although not designed to be completely portable, since all but the iDAC require an external power source, they are aimed at “road warriors” and other frequent travelers who wish to have a compact, yet high-quality audio in their hotel rooms or vacation condos. The iDAC can be used with any device that has a powered USB-compatible output, including an iPad or laptop.