iFi audio GO Bar - Portable DAC/AMP

iFi’s acclaimed DAC/headphone amps have formed a cornerstone of the company’s product range since its formation in 2012, delivering brilliant sound from smartphones, tablets, PCs, Macs and more. Last year, iFi introduced the GO blu, first in a new line of ultraportable, pocketsize DAC/amps called the GO Series; now it’s joined by the GO bar, taking the ‘big sound in a small package’ concept to a whole new level.

Like to GO blu, the GO bar is eminently pocketable, with a robust yet lightweight alloy enclosure that measures 65x22x13mm and weighs 28.5g. But, while the GO blu majors on the convenience of Bluetooth connectivity to devices like smartphones when you’re on the go, the GO bar connects to source devices via USB and focuses on pure performance. Whether you’re commuting, working remotely or at your desk, or simply travelling for pleasure, the GO bar is the perfectly portable way to make headphones sound heavenly when connected to desktop PCs, laptops, phones, tablets or any other digital source device with a USB port.

The GO bar is not the first USB DAC/headphone amp of such diminutive size, but its specification is unrivalled. Its hi-res format compatibility and sonic tuning facilities are second to none, and its amp stage is the most powerful in the world for a headphone amp of this size. Small yet mighty, indeed.

What’s up DAC?

The GO bar’s digital audio circuitry is based around a 32-bit Cirrus Logic DAC chipset with advanced multi-bit modulation. This is coupled with a customised digital filter to minimise pre-echoes and ringing artefacts, and iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) precision clock system to ensure ultra-low jitter, thus reducing errors and distortion in the digital audio signal.
The DAC is fed by a powerful 16-core XMOS microcontroller, which processes the audio data received at the USB input. iFi’s in-house digital development team has programmed the XMOS firmware to optimise sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the Cirrus Logic DAC. Hi-res PCM is supported to 32-bit/384kHz, alongside DSD64, 128 and 256, and single- and double-speed DXD. The DAC’s architecture maintains DSD data in true native form, unlike other DACs that convert DSD to PCM.

The GO bar also delivers full decoding of MQA, the hi-res streaming technology. This means that the complete ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’, which makes the GO bar an excellent choice for subscribers to Tidal’s ‘HiFi Plus’ tier where Tidal Masters (MQA) content can be found.

Balance of power

Remarkably given its diminutive size, the GO bar’s analogue circuitry features a balanced design with asymmetrical twin-channel output stage. This topology, usually reserved for larger and more expensive amplifiers owing to its cost and complexity, reduces noise and crosstalk in the signal path by fully separating the left and right channels.

Rather than resort to space- and cost-saving integrated circuit solutions which compromise sonic quality, the GO bar’s circuitry packs in high-quality discrete components such as TDK C0G ceramic capacitors, Panasonic OS-CON aluminium polymer capacitors, and high-density tantalum capacitors, plus Taiyo Yuden and Murata inductors, all with excellent characteristics for high-quality audio applications. Special attention has also been paid to power supply filtering, dramatically reducing signal noise introduced though the USB input.

The amp’s design combines sonic purity with exceptional power. In fact, with an output of 550mW (into 64 ohms) and 7.5V (into 600 ohms), no headphone amp of such diminutive size can match its impressive ability to drive even tricky headphone loads – that’s enough current drive for 16-ohm headphones and sufficient voltage drive for 600-ohm headphones. Combining serious muscle with beguiling finesse, the GO bar sounds wonderful with a wider range of headphone and earphone types than any other ultraportable USB DAC/amplifier.

Adding to this versatility, the GO bar incorporates two power-tuning technologies, enabling adjustment of its output to suit specific requirements. IEMatch attenuates power to suit high-sensitivity headphones and in-ear monitors, removing potential background noise and increasing the usable volume range. Conversely, Turbo mode ramps up the gain by 6dB to satisfy more power-hungry headphone types.

Suits you, sir

Further user-adjustable sonic tuning is provided in both digital and analogue domains. Four bespoke digital filter options – Standard, Bit-Perfect (non-oversampling), Minimum Phase, and GTO (Gibbs Transient Optimised) – can be selected according to preference, while iFi’s familiar analogue processing modes, XBass+ and XSpace, can also be switched in or out of the signal path according to taste.

X Bass+ is a sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange, useful with earphones and open-back headphones that may lack deep bass. XSpace is designed to compensate for the ‘in-head localisation’ effect that can occur when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed using a pair of speakers, effectively widening the headphone soundstage to deliver a more spacious and speaker-like experience.

With such a variety of digital streaming platforms, file types, headphones and earphones to choose from, not to mention music styles and recording qualities, this suite of sonic tuning options is valuable to ensure optimal sound – and unique in a DAC/headphone amp of this type and size.

External affairs

Most ultraportable USB DAC/headphone amps offer little or no control via the device itself, with volume adjustable only via software running on the connected source device. The GO bar is different, its smart alloy case sporting physical buttons for precise volume adjustment – which can be synchronised with the volume controls on the source device – together with controls to select between the various sonic tuning options. A column of coloured LEDs provides a handy guide to the format and sample rate of the digital audio currently playing, and whether XBass+ and/or XSpace are engaged.

At one end of the GO bar is an asynchronous USB-C input, at the other resides a pair of headphone outputs. One of these is a fully balanced 4.4mm output, enabling headphones equipped with a balanced cable/connector to make the most of the GO bar’s balanced audio circuitry. The other is a 3.5mm output utilising iFi’s ‘S-Balanced’ technology – this cuts noise and crosstalk by 50 per cent with regular single-ended headphone connectors. Both outputs are gold plated to maintain contact quality over time.

Birthday bling

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, iFi has also created an eye-catching special edition of the GO bar. Limited to 1000 pieces, the GO bar Anniversary Edition – or ‘GOld bar’, if you will – replaces the standard version’s alloy enclosure with a copper chassis, further enhancing build quality and electrical shielding, and smothers it in 18ct gold plate. Power supply filtering is also further enhanced, ensuring the Anniversary Edition – which, at 64g, is more than twice the weight of the standard GO bar – is truly the ‘gold standard’ among ultraportable USB DAC/headphone amps.

Ready for anything

Both the standard GO bar and the Anniversary Edition come with a generous accessories pack to get the tunes flowing right off the bat. Apple users will love the bespoke Lightning to USB-C cable, engineered by iFi so you don’t need to add Apple’s Camera Adapter dongle to use the GO bar with iOS devices, as you do with other USB DACs – thus reducing bulk and cost. Android users, meanwhile, will appreciate the USB-C OTG cable, which can also be used with USB-C-equipped PCs and Macs; a USB-C to USB-A adapter is also included, thus covering most bases straight out of the box. And there’s a leather travel case too, ensuring your GO bar is well-protected wherever you choose to take it.

[B]The GO bar is available from selected retailers from 20th May, at an RRP of £329, €329 and US$329. The GO bar Anniversary Edition follows in June, at an RRP of £499, €499 and US$499. Both will debut at the HIGH END 2022 show in Munich, 19th-22nd May.

https://ifi-audio.com/products/go-bar/

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Does it have the same DAC chip as the GoBLU?

Why would they price the Anniversary Edition at $499? That’s only $100 less than a micro DSD Black Label.

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Unfortunately, I don’t have any information to share on that at this time.

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Here are my thoughts and impressions of the Go Bar from my latest video review of it.

Both the Blu and Bar are keeper products to me…but I’ll probably keep just one. I’m leaning towards the Bar since it does have more power and will get me future proofed a bit better when I step into more sensitive IEM’s. If I did more traveling or running (yeah runner I am not) I could definitely see the Blu being a better pick.

I read somewhere else that someone wasn’t happy that you could not skip or play/pause tracks on the Go Bar. I honestly didn’t even bring it up in my review as it was an after thought if that says anything. I look at it just as I do my desktop setup, its there to power my devices and give me the flexibility of using things that require more power. Since it’s a portable dac/amp and not a streaming device, I wouldn’t expect those features to begin with.

The Go Blu makes sense as that is intended to be carried around solo without your phone, so the play/pause skip feature is a must.

Just my 2 cents and my 13 minutes of thoughts below!

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The iFi Audio Go Bar has been loaned to me directly by iFi for me to be able to test it, share my opinions and publish this review. iFi have not requested anything specific and I will do my usual best to stay unbiased during this review but you should probably consider the fact that it hasn’t cost me anything to try out the Go Bar.

I will of course leave a non-affiliate link to the Go Bar official page, even though they have not requested it, as this is something that I feel is only fair.

Go Bar official page: GO bar by iFi audio - The GO bar ultraportable DAC/headphone amp is the world's most powerful for its size.


Intro…

I should probably start off with a disclaimer that I am quite a fan of iFi. I have had the chance to test a number of their products and I own a couple. The Go Blu is my bluetooth and pocketable set up of choice, whereas the Gryphon is my main portable listening device, as well as being my usual test device for reviewing IEMs. Both of these units are items that I have liked enough to actually go out and spend my own money on them.

Saying that, I still do not feel that iFi makes perfect products, just that they make products that fit my needs and preferences much better than the competition. The negative side to this is usually the price and the Go Bar is no exception, in fact, although I expected the price to be on the high side, I wasn’t quite expecting the 329€ price tag (and that is for the regular version I have here, if you opt for the limited edition “Gold Bar”, you are closer to the 500€ mark).

That is a lot of money for a dongle style device, so it had better be not only good, it had better be amazing!

So, with that price in mind, let’s go through my usual categories and see if it really is something that would bring me to drop 60% more than on the Go Blu and almost 60% of the cost of the Gryphon.


Presentation…

I have reviewed enough iFi products to not have to go into detail about their presentation, as all of them follow the same packaging layout.

A simple white box with an image of the product and specifications on the outside, simply but well done, inside of which we find…

The Go Bar itself, two cables (lightning to USB-C and USB-C to USB-C), a storage/carrying pouch that fits on a belt, a basic instruction card, an iFi sticker and the usual warranty cards etc.

Not a huge amount of content but what can we really ask for with a dongle DAC device?

The storage/transport pouch is a nice touch and is well made, reminiscent of something you would get with a Leatherman multitool or similar. You can’t actually use the Go Bar while it is in the case, as there are no holes for connectors or buttons, but it is large enough to hold the Bar and the necessary USB cable. I am not someone who would actually put this on my belt (my Leatherman lives in my bag) but it does protect the device when carrying it in a bag etc.

All in all, I will say basically the same as I always say about presentation from iFi, simple but effective with the needed contents included.


Build and Aesthetics…

As we are talking about a dongle device, it would be normal to expect it to be very simple but at the same time well built, due to it being from iFi. It is actually not that simple, something that I will get to in a moment under “Functionality”, but it certainly is well built.

It is on the large side of the dongle world, being thinner but longer than the Go Blu, with approximately the same thickness. It is also quite a heavy little device, well, heavy in the dongle world, as it is completely made of metal. This does mean that it is also quite robust and gives me the impression of withstanding daily abuse without any real worries.

As far as aesthetics, it is a dark grey colour that is quite nondescript. It is not ugly by any means but it doesn’t really stand out either. I actually like the overall shape and finish of the Go Bar, it matches my laptop quite nicely (the device I have mostly been using to test it out) and I have absolutely no complaints.

While at a simple glance, it doesn’t look like a device with its price tag, comparing it to other models, such as something like the S9 Pro, does show that it is of a much higher build quality.


Functionality…

Usually the functionality of a dongle DAC is pretty straightforward, you plug it in to your device, attach your headphones/IEMs, and away you go. With the Go Bar it is still that simple but in this case you have a lot more functions available, in fact, it has much more going on than one would think by looking at it.

Starting with the top of the device, there is a USB-C connector which is to connect to your source device. Using the included USB-C to USB-C cable, sorry but I don’t have an Apple device to try the lightning cable, I have had absolutely no issues connecting the Go Bar to multiple laptops, phones and my Shanling DAPs. All of these worked flawlessly with the Go Bar and the only issues I experienced were when trying to connect the Go Bar via a docking station I use in the office. For some reason this did not work (the Go Bar wasn’t recognized) but I did not do any further investigation on the subject.

Moving to the bottom of the device, here we find 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs, the first being unbalanced but using the iFi “S-Balanced” technology, with the second being balanced. The little device (according to iFi spec), is capable of putting out 475mW@32Ω / 7.2V@600Ω in balanced mode and 300mW@32Ω / 3.8V@600Ω in unbalanced mode. These are quite impressive specs when compared to dongles that are already known for being powerful, such as the S9 Pro which “only” puts out 100mW@32Ω via unbalanced and 200mW@32Ω from its balanced output.

Along the right hand side of the device there is nothing but on the left side we get the controls that offer the additional functionality that I mentioned. Starting from the top to the bottom, we have:

Settings button

A short press of this button cycles through the usual XBass and XSpace options that are common on iFi devices. As always, these preset EQ functions are done in the analog realm, avoiding digital manipulation of the signal. Another thing that is common with iFi devices is that the XBass and XSpace are not always the same on all their products, with slight differences in how the FR is affected, in the case of the Go Bar, it is labelled as being XBass+.

I am going to mention a little more about the XSPace in a moment but let’s carry on with the functionality.

The same settings button, by means of a long press, will enter the filter selection menu, where the MQA light will flash to show (via means of colour) which filter is in use. To change the filter, once in the filter selection mode, use the + and - buttons to choose between Bit Perfect, Standard, Minimum Phase and GTO.

+ Button

Apart from the changing of filters that I just mentioned, the + button is also used to increase volume. The volume of the Go Bar is independent from the source volume, meaning that using these buttons has no effect on the output volume of your phone, tablet, etc.

As volume is changed, the LED lights on the back (which I will get to in a moment) show the current volume level, by means of illuminating more or less LEDs.

- Button

Does exactly the same as the + Button but the other way around :slight_smile:

IEMatch slider

This little slider is to activate the IEMatch functionality of the Go Bar. As with the Gryphon, iFi have included both 3.5mm and 4.4mm options, something that is appreciated, at least by me. I have found myself using the IEMatch more on the Go Bar than I do on the Gryphon, but I will mention that more in “Sound”.

Finally, on the back of the unit, we get a row of LED lights that show the current settings, volume level, format etc.

As I just said, these briefly show the level when volume is changed, however, after a few seconds these revert back to showing the settings which are labelled at the side of each LED.

The top 7 LEDs show the format while the bottom 2 show XBass+ and XSpace status.

I like the functionality of these, however, I must say that the dark grey text on a dark grey background is not the best option for legibility. In order to read the text, you need to tilt the device to reflect the light just right and show the text, otherwise it is impossible to read. Once you have got used to the device, then you will probably know what the LEDs mean without needing to read the text, but I can’t see why they couldn’t have used a different colour text (such as white) that would contrast better with the background and make it much easier to read. It is not as though they would damage the aesthetics of the device, as these are on the back of the unit.

As far as functionality, that is all but is far more than one would expect from a dongle style device. Yes, it is true that there are other devices that allow EQ presets to be loaded also but, as usual with iFi, they have kept away from digital sound enhancements and stuck to the usual analog realm that they are known for. The IEMatch is something that is exclusive to this device and while filter selection is also available on other dongle style devices, I don’t know of any that allow this to be done without the need for an app (I am not saying that they don’t exist, maybe they do, just that I don’t know of them).


Sound…

Even if the functionality of the device is great, the sound needs to be just as good, or better, if we are going to drop this kind of cash on a dongle DAC. I find it very difficult to make claims about the sound of these kinds of devices, well DACs and Amps in general, as I am always struggling to decide what I am really hearing and what is just placebo based on my expectations from the device.

Well, placebo or not, I found that the iFi Go Bar really does sound great! In fact, it might just be the best sounding portable device I have heard with certain IEMs. Now, that is a big claim, seeing how much I like both the Go Blu and the Gryphon even more so, but the Go Bar just seems to bring these IEMs to life and make me forget that I am using such a (relatively) small portable device.

Paired with the Dunu Vulkan, I hit play on a random album, which just so happened to be Joe Bonamassa “Live from the Royal Albert Hall” and I just sat and enjoyed the whole album. The instruments, vocals and crowd just all sounded correct. I must say that it is the most I have enjoyed this album on anything that has not been over-ear headphones while connected to my main system.

Using just this combination for a few days, I can’t say that I came across any of my favourite music that I didn’t really enjoy. There is an overall smoothness to the sound, far away from the harshness I have found with certain other dongles, that just makes everything sound pleasurable. I already rated the Vulkan highly when I reviewed them, paired with the Go Bar I would have rated them even higher. I found that the treble just came across a little smoother, although I am sure this is placebo and not a measurable difference, but who cares when you are enjoying it!

I did find that I needed to use the IEMatch with the Vulkan while paired with the Go Bar, something that I didn’t find necessary when using the Gryphon. However, the IEMatch works, as has been proven in the past, and it is so easy to turn on and off that I have no issues in doing so.

Moving on to one of my favourite sets of IEMs for daily use, the Letshuoer S12, again I found that the Go Bar drove them wonderfully. The S12 are a set of IEMs that I really enjoy as a daily driver and paired with the Go Bar, I would happily use these all day. I mostly used them without any of the additional EQ but I did add XBass on occasions, finding that the XBass of the Go Bar isn’t quite as pronounced as the XBass on the other two iFi devices in my possession. It seems to be much more subtle and I did find myself using it now and again on certain tracks (whereas I usually keep it off with the S12 on the Go Blu and Gryphon).

However, now is probably a good time to mentione XSpace, or rather the lack of it, at least to my ears. WIth other iFi devices, I have always found the XSpace function to be quite pronounced and noticeable, working really well for certain genres ans certain IEMs (although I don’t use it all of the time). With the Go Bar, I really couldn’t tell the difference with it on or off, not noticing any changes. So, I decided to put it on the measurement rig and see how sublte the change is:


Yes, on the above graph there are actually 2 lines, the Dunu Vulkan via the Go Bar with XSpace off and the same with XSpace on. As you can see, there is absolutely no change in frequency response. I repeated the measurements with various other sets of IEMs and always got the same results.

As on other iFi devices, there is a change in FR in the higher regions when XSpace is on or off, I reached out to iFi to enquire as to whether the above is normal for the Go Bar or if maybe I have a defective unit. I mean, I would expect at least a slight change in frequency response but maybe they are doing some other kind of iFi magic that does something else to the signal that I just can’t hear?

Unfortunately, iFi didn’t reply to my enquiry, even though I reached out a couple of times. Therefore, all I can do is share my own findings without any input from the brand themselves as to whether this is normal behaviour.

Moving on…

Another set of earphones I use almost daily are the Koss KPH40i, with Yaxi Pads. Usually I have these connected to a JDS Labs Atom fed by a Modi 3+, using them as my headphones for long conference calls and basic listening between calls (or sometimes even BGM while on a call). With the Go Bar I did actually find that I was missing a little sparkle with this combination. I am not saying they sounded bad, just that they reminded me more of the PortaPro than the KPH40i in this case. That smoothness to the treble that I mentioned with the Vulkan didn’t actually work in favour of these headphones, making them come across a little less “alive” than I am used to.

Although I didn’t actually spend a huge amount of time using the Go Bar to drive full size headphones, I think it deserves a quick mention at least. The reason I didn’t spend much time with over-ear options is because I really don’t use headphones outside of my home except in the office and now, due to the heat of the summer, I only really use IEMs and the Koss at the office.

I tried a few of the Hifiman planars with the Go Bar and although it does a good job, better than other dongles I have tried, they just seem to not quite have the performance that I have come to expect from them. They still sound good but do lack a little when things get a bit busy, but this is to be expected, especially as I am used to driving them from powerful desktop alternatives. With other dynamic driver headphones, the performance is better, driving things like the DT1990 (which is quite a high impedance load) well, even the HD6XX is very listenable from the Go Bar, even if it is not something I would suggest as a great pairing.

I did find that driving these over ear headphones made my battery consumption very high (I was using my phone for these tests), but again, this is to be expected when using something as powerful as the Go Bar from a phone.


Conclusion…

There is no doubt that the Go Bar is yet another iFi product that I really like, giving plenty of functionality and great sound from a tiny package. There is also no doubt that it performs excellently and I have no complaints about the performance for a device of this size.

I have enjoyed using it with all the IEMs I have been trying out while I have had the device in my possession and found that it works excellently with my IEMs of choice for music listening while at the office (when I am not testing other things for review purposes).

Would I pay 329€ for the Go Bar? I am sorry but the answer to that question is no.

Notice that the question is “would I pay?” and not “is it worth?”. This is because I feel that a product is worth different amounts to different people, depending on their own use case. For example, I may feel that my roadster is worth every penny I paid for it, yet my brother wouldn’t buy if it was a quarter of the cost, due to him enjoying and needing different things.

In my case, my portable set up is (usually) the Go Blu paired with either a DAP or a phone, which I use when I want something small and pocketable. In these cases I am not looking for perfect sound, I am looking for enjoyable sound while I am doing other things. When I am looking for “perfect” sound away from home, then I am happy with a “trans”portable device, for which I have the Gryphon, a device that is capable of driving almost anything I would ever need to and does a very good job in those cases.

I am still someone who prefers cables over BT wherever possible, and yes I do feel that the Go Bar is a step up from the Go Blu via cable, but the difference is something that I do not feel is worth (to me) an extra 60% in price while losing the possibility of a wireless connection in those cases where I want it.

If I had tried the Go Bar before the Go Blu, and possibly even the Gryphon, then I would probably have purchased it and maybe wouldn’t have ended up with the other two devices, but that is something I guess I will never know.

Yes, it is by far the best dongle device I have tried and probably the best portable device I have tried (portable as in pocketable, not transportable, where the Diablo and Gryphon still reign supreme in my preferences) but I am not in a position where I need the quality it gives for an occasional use at the price it sits at.

Again, all this is my own personal preference and situation. I do the majority of my listening at a desk. If you are someone who does move around a lot and wants the portability of the Go Bar, then I do not think you will be disappointed with the performance you get. The same goes for someone who uses a DAP a lot while moving around (maybe to and from the office, class, etc.) and is looking to get better quality than their current DAP provides, add the Go Bar to it via USB and your set up with rival DAPs costing way more than the cost of this iFi product (although the battery duration will drop).

So, I guess my final wrap up is that the Go Bar is excellent and if it suits your needs, then it is a great buy. However, I do feel that the price is something that will make it a difficult purchase for many.

(as always, this review is available in Spanish both on www.achoreviews.com and on www.youtube.com/achoreviews)

8 Likes

Great review. Like you, I have the Go Blu for pocketable listening and Gryphon for other situations. I know the Go Bar is expensive, but it still sounds like a bargain if someone doesn’t want to buy 2 devices, and is willing to compromise a little on the sound compared to a Gryphon.

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Thanks, guys! Appreciate your feedback!

The Go Bar is included in @Precogvision’s dongle shootout!

I recently purchased the Go Bar to use with my iPhone 13 Pro Max and Apple Music. It sounds quite nice and works flawlessly on my MacBook Pro and also on my iPhone, as long as it is fully charged. When the iPhone charge drops below about 70%, however, the music won’t play. Nothing at all. If I stop and recharge my phone everything is fine until the charge once again drops below 70%. Any idea what’s going on here?

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I don’t have an iphone, however I have heard of this problem from others. I’d search through google or other forums and I think you will find similar things. I’d also reach out to iFi to see if they have any suggestions. I know it’s said if your phone goes under 30% that it could stop working due to the battery drain. Also depends on how power hungry your headphone/iem is and the gain amount you are trying to output I believe…but don’t quote me on that.

Use an adapter that allows charging at the same time. Yes that can be a pain but not that difficult. You can be very mobile with an auxiliary battery and a Scott-e-vest shirt (or boxers) to handle your personal network.

Only said partly in fun. The iFi isn’t the only DAC/AMP that can draw down iPhone batteries and it IS easy to use the extra pockets and wire guides. Really helpful at concerts and when you know you will work that battery.

Not interested in the complexity of going that route. I would more likely just use my computer or return the go bar. Thanks for the suggestion, however!

Tried the google route and didn’t really come up with any useful information. My headphones are Focal Clears and Grado 325x. Neither are power hungry. I have contacted headphones.com and iFi. Waiting now to see what they have to say. Thanks!

Might take your iPhone into the Apple store for a diagnostic on the battery. Just sayin’

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Off the top of my head, I haven’t seen any Go Bars with this particular issue. I recommend getting a swap and getting your phone’s battery checked to ensure there are no abnormalities.

I have a 13 Pro, and a Go Bar and the battery drain is nominal in comparison.

Please do keep us posted on how things work out!

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I recently picked up one of these and love it. It has as much power as you’ll ever need for any headphone short of Susvara, and its tonality is full bodied, three dimensional, and detailed.

Con: I use it primarily with my phone, and it sucks power from your phone more than any other dongle I’ve ever used. The way it works, you turn your phone’s volume all the way up and then attenuate the signal with the dongle’s volume buttons. I think this is why it drinks more power than most other dongles that rely on the phone’s volume control exclusively.

That said, I can’t think of a single other con to this little miracle of audio engineering. The Go Bar sounds very nearly as good as my desktop dac+amp combo. Add in the X-Bass and X-Space features and you really have a device that is head and shoulders above anything else in its class. And I haven’t even begun to play with the digital filters yet.

It’s pricey and it’s probably overkill for 99% of use cases, but if you want a pocketable portable solution that is every bit as powerful and full-featured as a mid-range desktop chain I really don’t think anything is going to supplant this as the leader in the category for a long long time.

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Thanks very much :slight_smile: appreciate the love!

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Hi Guys,

Today we are taking a look at what is probably the smallest piece of gear I have ever reviewed, the iFi Audio GObar. The GObar is what typically gets called a USB Dongle DAC/Amp nowadays. I’ve spent time with a few of these types of devices over the years, but it seems that in the last two years or so the availability of options on the market has absolutely exploded. It seems to be the case nowadays, especially from so called “Chi-Fi” companies, that they all have at least one product of this type in their line up. This type of product and its form factor does seem to have advanced rapidly in its capabilities, the GObar being one example of this. iFi is a fairly consistent example of pushing the amount of features available in a device in its given market space and form factor, and the GObar does seem to continue this trend.

I remember back in a 2015 I bought an LH Labs Geek Out V2, which was a disaster in terms of usability and design, but sounded great for its size and the market at that time. I never would have expected devices of this type to have come so far in such a short period of time, but compared to that GOV2, and the original AudioQuest Dragonfly, the GOBar is a revelation. However, it has very stiff competition from the vast array of similar devices on the market, so let’s check out how it sounds and performs.

In terms of overall tonal balance, the GObar reminds me of the time I spent with the HipDacV2 from iFi. Its has that slight warmth to its mid range, but does seem slightly different from the traditional iFi “house sound” I have come to know very well. It’s a bit brighter and sharper than I am used to from iFi. This does work well with some headphones, but if you are perhaps using a bright pair of IEM’s for example, it may not be the best choice. The bass seems mostly neutral to me, not being bloated and sluggish in any way, but also not lean or cold. The mids, especially the lower mids, are again slightly warmer than neutral. The highs are slightly tipped up as I mentioned, but this does help things sound a bit lively and helps details in the top end come across easily.

In terms of things like detail and technical performance, it’s pretty remarkable compared to the dongle market in 2015. The GObar is genuinely an engaging device to listen with. Is it comparable to the Pro iDSD from iFi? No, not really, and yet, you have to keep in mind the size and MSRP of this little device whilst you are using it. I was listening with my T+A Solitaire P at one point, and really didn’t find myself wanting for much. I was just enjoying my tunes, and wasn’t thinking I was missing out on anything or being annoyed by something in particular. The overall detail levels for the price range are totally in line with what they should be, and the sound staging etc…are slightly wider than neutral.

In terms of filter options, the GObar has 4. Bit perfect, Standard, Minimum Phase, and the same GTO filter that is featured on the Pro iDSD. I ended up preferring the GTO filter, similar to my time with the Pro iDSD. My second favourite was the “Standard” filter. Also in keeping with iFi’s other equipment, the GObar includes the XBass+ and XSpace options. I really enjoy the XBass+ with most headphones, but do find the Xspace works better with some recordings than others. Thankfully, both options are easily switched on and off with a single button on the side of the unit, so you can try them out and see what works best for you and your ears.

Also included is iFi’s “IEMatch” technology for use with sensitive IEM’s. This is a very handy option if you are experiencing a bit hiss with your easy to drive IEMs. I ended up not needing it personally (my IEMs are not sensitive at all,) but it is there should you have a sensitive pair.

There is only one input into the GObar and that is done via USB-C. I am so happy iFi went with USB-C and not with Micro-USB. USB-C is a better, more reliable, and overall better connector type with better longevity. In terms of output there is a 4.4mm Pentaconn fully balanced output, and right beside it iFi 3.5mm “S-Balanced” connector, which aims to bring the benefits of a balanced circuit to single ended devices. The GObar does a rock solid 475mw into 32 ohms from the balanced output, and 300mw from the SE output. This is somewhat higher than the power output of similar “Chi-Fi” devices on the market. One thing I would have liked to see on the GOBar is slightly easier to read lettering on its rear. I found myself having to hold it in the light at a certain angle to read what options I had on or off. It’s not a big thing, and I suppose it would spoil the “clean” look of the GObar, but it would make it slightly easier to use.

Now, this is the difficult question. The GObar retails at $329USD. This is higher than the other aforementioned “Chi-Fi” dongle options on the market. If you are in the market for a USB Dongle DAC/Amp and it is simply going to be for totally casual listening, or maybe to serve as a backup for your backup of your desktop setup, then I would seek out one of the cheaper “Chi-Fi” options. A lot of those will do a decent enough job and have enough power for IEMs and easier to drive headphones etc….BUT, the GObar from iFi would 100% be my recommendation for other uses. Perhaps this is going to be your only DAC/Amp, if you are a beginner or need something small and transportable. Maybe you have decently difficult headphones to power as well as IEMs, for those people, I would unquestionably recommend the GOBar. The extra $100 or so USD is worth it in those cases. As with everything in this life, it all depends on you and your own personal use case.

The iFi GOBar, whilst being slightly more expensive than its competition, does bring some new features to the USB Dongle DAC/Amp market, as well as higher power output. It seems to have a lot of the features I have enjoyed about iFi Audio gear, yet it is this tiny little portable dongle. The amount of sound quality, and features in such a tiny package is pretty remarkable. If the GOBar fits your use case, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. If you happen to just need a back up of your backup gear, there are other cheaper options on the market that might suit you better, but if you need a USB Dongle that is more “all out” in its capabilities, then the GOBar is the way to go.

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Thanks for the review! Glad to hear about your experience in such a well-articulated manner.

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