ifi Audio has been on a roll for a while now. The lifestyle arm of Abbingdon Music Research has continued to expand and improve its exciting lineup of price/performance audio champions. The company’s booth at CanJam at RMAF last year was overflowing with quality gear of seemingly endless variety and application. As a happy owner of iFi’s portable Micro iDSD DAC/Amp, I was drawn to the booth to see what was new. The Micro iDSD is a constant Hi-Res companion on the road for business travel and can drive any headphone I plug into it. However, I was particularly interested in the new Micro iDAC2 being showcased for the first time. The Micro iDAC2 is not specifically a portable unit. It does not have its own battery and so is going to require a USB supplied power source such as a laptop. It will likely spend most of its time on a desktop perhaps among other iFi devices on the company’s very well imagined (if, perhaps, unfortunately named) iRack, as the processing powerhouse of a compact two-channel system.
Darren Censullo of Avatar Acoustics, the US importer for iFi Audio, gave me an overview of the unit. Darren is a Top Gun former F-16 fighter pilot and he is as direct and on target as his former craft when explaining the benefits of his selected lines. Darren walked me through the AMR derived DNA found throughout this compact and affordable marvel. The Micro iDAC2 is a complete overhaul of the original and highly regarded iDAC. Gone is the Sabre DAC chip, DSD/DXD was added in a big way, PCM resolution was doubled, and the headphone output power was increased from 150mW to a very healthy 350mW.
Taking inventory of the upgrades, I found a Burr Brown True Native chipset, bit perfect to DSD256 and PCM 384kHz. The company even incorporated a ‘lite’ version of AMR’s Zero Jitter technology. This is a full Class A amp delivering 350mW that uses the power from the USB connection to fuel ELNA Silmic silk fibre capacitors to its line stage power supply. These are the same used in the mothership AMR units. Darren pointed out that the unit had no coupling capacitors. The iDAC2 is directly coupled to the line outs (RCA L/R or S/PDIF) and to the headphone output for the purest possible signal, a process they call DirectDrive™. Speaking of outputs, the unit does a direct conversion from USB to S/PDIF for streaming if required. It all comes in a gorgeous extruded aluminum chassis measuring only 158x68x28mm, complete with directions silk screened onto the bottom for quick review.
Hi-Fi+ Publisher Chris Martens forwarded his own iDAC2 to me with the admonition that he wanted it back, and soon! Opening the box, I went through the contents. The iDAC2, The instruction sheet, the small stick-on rubber feet, a USB cable and a L/R RCA cable. I decided to forgo the basic USB cable and hook the iDAC2 up to my MacBook Pro Retina with my iFi Mercury USB cable. The MacBook Pro immediately recognized the iDAC2 as an available sound output device. I then opened up Audirvana Plus and queued up some Steely Dan from the external LaCie Thunderbolt drive.
My first headphone to try was the outstanding AudioQuest NightHawk. The NightHawk is an easy to drive semi-open headphone with terrific bass and a sweet midrange delivery. Queueing up ‘Babylon Sisters’ from Steely Dan’s Gaucho [MCA, AIFF 24/96 HDTracks] I was rewarded with the solid bass foundation I expect from this well-recorded song. The iDAC2 offered great clarity to the instruments. I enjoy dimensionality and space because I want the sense of scale they afford and the iDAC2 provided these qualities with the NightHawk. The shimmer of the cymbals decaying properly created a satisfying top end to the ensemble. Background singers were properly positioned at the back and sides. This was a fine way to begin a listening session.