The iFi xDSD Portable AMP/DAC – AXPONA 2018

iFi has a ton of personal audio and digital products. From the Micro to the Nano line, in-line power conditioning, USB cables, the list goes on and on. While most of their initial introductions landed on the budget side, even more recently the company released two reference headphone amplifiers in their PRO line – the iCan ($1.8k) and now the electrostatic iESL ($1.5k). The big news from AXPONA 2018 was back to the basics with a new Amp/DAC called the xDSD ($399) and is one of the first products for their X series which puts the focus back on portable.

In the grand scheme of products for iFi, the new xDSD lands on the middle line between the Micro and the Nano Black Label (BL). Specs and feature sets fly as recklessly as naming syntax does on the company site, but there is clear messaging to the design. If it might matter to consumers on a technological level, iFi will try to include it. This is even more evident with the recent addition of MQA encoding via firmware updates, a benefit that reaches to every product the company still maintains going back to 2013.

Here’s where it gets interesting with the xDSD, due to some internal restrictions, you can either load MQA/Tidal compatibility or X4 DSD. Like a few similar portables that launched this year, the chromed out X from iFi incorporates the mobile-friendly bluetooth, including the must have (for non-iDevice users) aptX protocol. Of course wired options are still a must have as well. From the company site:

“Wired, the USB type A OTG/CCK connector offers the ultimate High-Res audio performance for smartphones, laptops and USB enabled DAPs with 22.57MHz* DSD and 768kHz/32Bit* PCM. The 3.5mm coaxial/TOSLINK combo S/PDIF input gives older DAPs and disk players a new lease of life as a transport to serve the xDSD with 192kHz/24Bit* full High-Resolution Audio.”

Cosmetically the xDSD looks slightly sleeker with its “dark titanium vacuum ion plated metal enclosure” than the anodized aluminum boxy look of either the Nano or Micro BL. One huge bonus feature that always seems to impress (but is also surprisingly rare) is a color changing LED light that lets you know what level you are at just by the hue displayed. Its a fun departure from the time weathered knob-and-line that relays information just as quickly, but with far less flair. And who doesn’t love pieces of flair?

The biggest “and the kitchen-sink” feature of the whole presentation is without a doubt the tiny little digital filter switch found on the back of the unit. Its intent? To allow for accurate measurements to prove the amps worthiness to forum posters. This appeal to such a microscopic niche within a niche is awesome. How many people possibly own the gear necessary to conduct such a test? It certainly doesn’t hurt the product and this appeal to such select influencers is truly a testament to a designer who is listening to a very specific audience. And then the idea that those design elements made it all the way to the final product? That’s a swift and direct line, straight to the boss. That type of focus in product development would have never been feasible 30 years ago – interesting times we live in.