iFi micro iDSD Signature vs iFi Neo iDSD comparison review

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iFi micro iDSD Signature vs iFi Neo iDSD comparison review

The iFi micro iDSD Signature, and the iFi iDSD Neo are two top notch amp/dacs that have a lot in common, but also some key differences. 

What’s in the Box?

These units both have very similar packaging, featuring a white box with a simple photo sleeve over the top. 

Starting off with the Signature, on top you will see the unit itself as well as a tri panel starter guide. The rest of the materials are located underneath in two small boxes. 

The first contains your USB C charging cable, a mini type b adapter and an attachable 3.5mm to quarter inch jack. The second box has an RCA cable, a Toslink mini plug adapter and a very soft velour storage pouch.

As for the Neo, it is laid out the same with the unit on top, and there are three boxes underneath. These contain a USB cable, RCA cable, a remote control, your power supply, the all important quarter inch adapter and an antenna. 


Design

Design wise, these units are very different from one another, and the first thing to notice is that the Signature is quite a bit smaller. It’s not exactly handheld, but it fits very comfortably in the palm of the hand, even if it's a bit too long, and the weight feels nice and solid. 

The chassis is solid aluminum all the way around, and the deep blue color is really nice, especially with the gold accents on the inputs/outputs and lettering.

The Neo is obviously much larger, but retains a lot of the same qualities. The chassis here is also aluminum, and feels just as strong and sturdy. The look is overall very simple and a bit more futuristic with the silver color. It also has an OLED to display your output gain, decoding quality, sample rate and the output it is currently using. You can toggle through three different brightness levels. There are also a couple buttons to power on, as well as to pair and switch outputs.

This also comes with a stand, since you can place this unit either vertically or horizontally.


Ins and Outs

For your ins and outs, the front of the Signature features a quarter inch unbalanced jack which can be used with the included adapter, and a balanced 4.4m jack (no adapter provided). Next to these are your switches for 3d more, xbass (which give you some low end boost), and the volume knob. This doubles as the power button. Finally, there is also an LED light which will change color to reflect sampling quality.

On the backside is a 3.5mm coaxial input for the Toslink mini plug connection. Also located here is your RCA, and a USB type A input for those who opt to go with digital. It is possible to connect via USB to a lightning adapter or USB otg for smartphones or similar devices. This is also an MQA compatible unit, so you could plug right into your phone or desktop to get the full effect of something like Tidal’s master quality.

The Neo is a lot simpler and more streamlined in this regard.  On the front you have two inputs - one a quarter inch unbalanced, the other a 4.4m balanced.

On the back there are few output options, starting with left and right xlr, and RCA There are also a few digital options including coaxial, USB and optical.

You may also find our video comparison review useful. See it below.

 

Functionality

The Signature is an extremely versatile unit, with lots of different ways to filter your sound through the different slide controls.

The first is this red power mode switch that allows you to toggle between normal, turbo and eco modes depending on the sensitivity of the gear you are using to listen. Turbo will work well with headphones, while eco is delegated toward IEMs. The normal mode will drive units that have a more medium sensitivity.

Next, in the middle you have your digital filtering switch. This switches between modes demarcated as standard, minimum phase, and bit-perfect. Thanks to the True Native design of the 4 channel Burr Brown dac chip, PCM and DSD format information travels through different pathways, allowing it to remain uncorrupted in its native form all the way through analogue conversion when using this mode

Finally, the last slide control switch on the unit is your IEM match, which functions as a control for your IEMs when in eco mode. This allows you to match the output voltage of high sensitivity and ultra high sensitivity IEMs to the ifi signature, which gives your IEMs a gain boost before you go maxing out the volume.

The Neo is a much purer unit, not supporting any kind of digital filtering or processing, so this could be something to keep in mind if you are comparing the two. Beyond using it as a headphone amp. The Neo can be used as a pure dac or dac preamp depending on how you want to connect it in your system chain.


Under the Hood

The interior technology of these units is quite similar, and they both utilize the Burr Brown dual dac chip to retain pristine integrity to the digital information in your high res tracks. They also both support full MQA decoding for Tidal masters.

For power, the Neo is capable of generating up to 4100 miliwatts. The Neo has a continuous power output of over 1000mW into 32 ohms available through the balanced headphone jack. Furthermore, the Neo employs what iFi is calling PureWave circuitry, which involves ultra high end building materials for interior components. For more on this, you can click on the link to aduio46.com below which goes over this in exacting detail.

Another difference here is that the Neo offers cutting edge Bluetooth technology thanks to its use of Qualcomm’s QCC5100 bluetooth processing IC. This makes it one of the most sophisticated Bluetooth engines in any currently available unit, and it supports all major bluetooth formats and codecs.

If you’re primarily interested in streaming and going hands free, the Neo might be where you want to go. It will  remember up to 7 different devices and has a solid range thanks to the use of Bluetooth 5.0.

 

Sound

For my listening, I chose the Beyerdynamic T5 3rd gen closed back headphone and the Campfire Vega 2020. These are both units that I like a lot, but that have some areas in which I find them to lack a little punch.

For the T5, the sound profile has a warmth and roundness that is a bit rolled off at the high end. When paired with the Neo, the warmth was retained, but there was a bit more extension on the high frequencies which allowed for more crispness. 

The experience was very similar with the Signature, with high end gaining a bit more definition and resonance. The 3d mode gave everything a bit of a lift and even widened out the stage of these already impressively expansive cans. The x bass also added even more thump to an already fairly bassy headphone, but it didn’t lose any control or smoothness.

With the Campfire Vega, the Signature pushed the mids somewhat more forward, but not in a huge kind of way - however, this still did make for an overall improvement, and the high sensitivity did improve the stage a good deal in my opinion. The xbass was also less successful here, as it tended to make certain types of tracks a little muddier in the low end.

The Neo also elevated the Campfire Vega, providing a nice sharpening and focusing of the image and giving all the frequencies just a bit more depth and room to expand.


Summary

These are both fantastic amp/dacs that are going to provide excellent quality. To try to separate them in this area is a bit of a tossup. However, in terms of their functions and uses they are quite a bit different. The Signature’s compact size and wealth of power/sound processing modes make it an ideal headphone amp for anyone who wants to be able to take it on the go. The Neo is much more practical in a home set up due to its larger size, pure sound focus and wide array of outputs and sources.

You can order them below:

micro iDSD Signature by iFi audio

Neo iDSD by iFi Audio

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