Great review bud! Thanks for sharing it here.
p.s. that iFi Xbass+ button really is EVERYTHING.
Sorry not sorry.
No need to apologize ! It really is amazing.
It was awesome to hear people at CanJam talk about how they’d use iFi portable products in their car. I thought I was the only one bumping my tunes through the xDSD Gryphon or GO Bar, but turns out the setup isn’t uncommon! That’s what I get for ‘assuming’ I’m the only one, right? Lol.
I have a dedicated Gryphon for my car - perfect for something that would be normally underpowered by a phone.
Did you mean the Go Blu?
I’ll check it out when I get home either way to see. Thanks for the call out.
My mistake, thanks for pointing out! There is new BT firmware for xDSD Gryphon but just general new firmware (not BT) for GO Bar. I deleted the erroneous post to avoid further miscommunication.
New GO Bar firmware (not BT) can be found here: Download Hub | Software and firmware for your iFi audio devices (ifi-audio.com)
My review: iFi Go Bar - Full Review
Several months ago, I did a Dongle Discourse Shoot-Out and I crowned the Cayin RU-6 my champion at the time. While, I still consider it my favorite dongle of that batch, I wanted to re-visit some of these dongles a bit more, and today I will take a deeper look at the iFi Go Bar, a very popular and pricey $349 USB-C portable DAC/Amp that is full of features, and my opinion of it has changed a bit since then.
The iFi Go Bar I am reviewing is actually from Headphones.com and was sent to me from Precogvision of their team many months ago, but I still have it here for now.
For this premium dongle, iFi included a very nice leather case that can carry both the unit and the USB cable(s). The unit comes with both a USB-C to USB-C cable, as well as a USB-C to Lightning cable, along with a USB-C to USB-A adapter. This should fit most use cases for digital transports, whether that be a computer, laptop, tablets, an Android phone or an iPhone.
The iFi Go Bar has a couple features that are controlled with 3 side buttons. First off, you can control volume with the two volume controls, and the third button switches between X-Space, X-Bass+, both of them on, or both of them off. The default is off.
Holding the third button, and then using the volume controls will toggle through the various filters iFi has put into the Go Bar. This is a nice feature that was lacking on some of the other iFi products, and required firmware rolling to change digital filters, if that was even an option.
I also prefer this option because I haven’t been a fan of iFi’s preferred Gibbs Transient Optimized Digital Filter, aka the GTO Filter. The GTO filter reduces the taps in total, making it a short filter, and minimizes the pre and post-ringing, while also being asymmetrical. Typically, most DACs default to a symmetric filter with both pre- and post-ringing with a steep cut-off. What is best is sort of up to the user to decide.
While the features are abundant for a small little dongle DAC, I am not a big fan of how to determine what settings you are on. Over time, you can memorize or just remember what things once you get the hang of it, but the tiny LED dots, and the tiny text is already likely hard to read, but then you add in the fact that they chose a light grayish-blue (periwinkle?) text color on top of a dark gunmetal gray shell design, makes it exponentially harder to read, no matter how much light, what angle its coming from, or how much you squint. It’s barely legible, if at all for me, as someone who doesn’t require eyeglasses for anything.
In addition to the main buttons, there is also a toggle switch that enables the iFi IEMatch, which attenuates the sound and adds a small impedance gain to the circuit to help reduce noise from the amp. I am going to go on a quick soapbox here, because iFi could, you know, just make their default circuitry less noisy, but they choose not to. At least in this case, they added IEMatch to the setup, instead of making you buy their rather overpriced standalone attenuators. But, if you use output impedance-sensitive IEMs, typically ones with multi-BA setups and high sensitivity, you may run into problems with the tonality of your IEM changing with the extra impedance added. For many IEMs, it could be nothing or minimal, but some products from Vision Ears or Campfire can be rather drastic changes in either bass, treble, or both.
For sound, I primarily used this product attached to my laptop and used Roon as the software source, playing both local files and music streamed from Qobuz and Tidal via Roon. For IEMs, I used a variety of different products like the Empire Ears Odin, Hidition Viento, Xenns Mangird Top, UM Mest, and the 7th Acoustics Supernova, among others. I also used it with the Sennheiser HD600 headphones. For all cases, I stuck to 4.4mm balanced for output.
Quickly going back to the IEMatch and amp noise. Yes, the Go Bar can be noisy. There was audible hiss on many of my IEMs when I had audio active, and in quieter parts of music or general playback. It was a bit annoying, but this wasn’t a problem with the Sennheiser HD600. I tried to stray away from using IEMatch because some of my IEMs may be sensitive to changes in impedance.
Using the iFi GTO filter (white LED), I found the sound rather bright and a bit digitized when listening to Mipso’s self-titled release. Switching filters while playing music was rather simple, and quick, and surprisingly, I felt going to any of the other filters provided gave a more warm and enjoyable listen - whether that be the standard linear filter, the minimum phase filter, or the “bit-perfect” filter (no digital filtering).
I stuck with the linear filter, as that’s the most standard for the rest of my listening along with the HD600 headphone, since using IEMs gave an audible hissing noise.
For the most part, the Go Bar doesn’t do anything wrong. It’s quite neutral sounding to my ears, with no real emphasis in any part of the spectrum, unless you enable one of the digital processing effects. XBass+ gives a big boost to the bass region, with what I believe is a +10dB down-sloping curve through the bass region.
The XSpace plays with phase and cross-feed to give a more 3D-ish holographic sound, but does make the overall sound much more lean and seemingly strange. Adding both effects enabled provides a better tonal balance and gives a slightly larger soundstage, and is what I’d recommend using for brighter headphones.
With that said, I preferred sticking it out without the effects on. And with that I found the iFi Go Bar to provide a clean, and resolving playback presentation, and perhaps the best iFi portable presentation I heard yet – all from memory of course. While soundstage wasn’t large and more intimate without XSpace enabled, I didn’t find it glaring or too forward that it became a claustrophobic mess. Technically, it handles busy passages and simple ones quite well, and outside of the noise issues and preference of filters, I don’t have any negatives to say about its sound.
The Go Bar is every bit iFi in my opinion. It packs a lot of features and is built pretty well. Unfortunately, as many iFi portable products have, it makes a lot of amp noise that is audible in higher sensitive products like many IEMs, which can be a killer. Luckily, this product does include the attenuating IEMatch feature, although it can also change the frequency response of some IEMs when enabled.
With that in mind, it does work well, and has enough features that sets it apart from the crowded dongle space, but it is also the most expensive that I am aware of on the market, making it a bit hard to recommend overall.
Thanks for going so in depth as always Ant, appreciate it!
I found the sound to be pretty good, but the user interface with buttons and lights kind of reminds me of the Mojo, which I finally abandoned out of frustration with the colored balls. Instead, I prefer a dongle with an LED screen. I don’t think I am alone in preferring a simple, screen-based interface.