This time of year seems to be the ideal time for launching new headphone DACs for people who want top-quality audio when they are on the go. I’ve seen three press releases this week alone heralding these neat little widgets that turn smartphones into hi-fi systems.
The latest DAC/Amp to make it to market comes from iFi. The GO link uses innovative and sophisticated technology that the company claims outstrips other USB-C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapters at an affordable price.
This new headphone dongle can connect to smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs via a USB port. The iFi GO link has two functions; the first is to enable corded headphones and earphones to be used with digital devices that don’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack. The second use is to deliver a significant sonic upgrade to phones and computers thanks to a sophisticated DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) and headphone amplifier circuitry that performs much better than the ones built into most phones and other mobile devices.
The technology sounds good, but the most startling thing about the GO link is its price. At just $59/£59, I think it’s the most affordable DAC/headphone amp iFi has ever made. However, don’t let the low price put you off. This is one sophisticated DAC/Amp.
At one end of the GO link, there’s a USB-C connector for connecting to the host device. At the other end, an enclosure houses the DAC and headphone amp circuitry. Both housings are made of a lightweight magnesium alloy. Connecting the two housings is 6cm of flexible cable, enabling the DAC/Amp to be angled towards the listener and, more importantly, reducing stress on the USB port of the host device.
iFi hasn’t skimped on the quality of the cable, either. The company has used silver-plated copper conductors with individual polymer insulation of each cable in a ‘twisted pair’ configuration. This rotational twist helps to optimize inductance and capacitance and helps to reject noise, ensuring the GO link isn’t affected by electromagnetic interference
At the heart of the GO link is a power-efficient and high-performance DAC chip from ESS Technology’s Sabre HiFi series. The ES9219MQ/Q benefits from 32-bit HyperStream III architecture. This technology combines with Quad DAC+ and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, plus iFi’s dedicated clock circuitry that uses a specialized crystal oscillator to deliver ultra-low distortion, clarity and dynamic range.
iFi says it has taken full advantage of the DAC chip’s advanced specification, unlocking some high-end features like DRE (Dynamic Range Enhancement), plus technologies that minimize THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) and crosstalk. Users can even select different digital filters via downloadable firmware to tailor the sound to suit their taste.
Unlike other headphone dongles, the GO link doesn’t use a software-based volume control which can adversely affect audio resolution. The volume on the connected device controls the volume level in the GO link’s DAC via a hardware-based analog volume control.
The GO link can handle digital music files up to 32-bit/384kHz, plus DSD to 11.2MHz (DSD256) and MQA, the compact and high-end streaming technology used by Tidal’s HiFi Plus tier. An LED on the GO link changes color to show the decoded audio format – PCM, DSD or MQA – and the PCM/DSD sample rate.
The GO link’s headphone amp has a gold-plated 3.5mm socket that incorporates iFi’s noise-reducing S-Balanced configuration. The company says this outclasses the headphone outputs built into phones, tablets and computers. It also delivers a power output of 70mW/1.5V into 32 ohms, rising to 2V with higher impedance headphones.
With its flexible cable linking the USB-C connector to the DAC/headphone amp, the GO link can drive corded headphones with higher impedance ratings and it has more than enough power to work with most kinds of headphones and earphones that the GO link is likely to be partnered with while minimizing the drain on the connected device’s battery. As well as powering headphones, the 3.5mm analog output can connect to a preamp, integrated amp, or powered speakers.
As with other iFi audio devices, the GO link contains high-grade components in its circuits, such as TDK C0G multilayer ceramic capacitors and inductors from Taiyo Yuden and Murata. These deliver low ESR (Equivalent Series Resistance) and high linearity. The result is a hearable boost to sound quality.
I can see that the new iFi GO link could represent a price and performance breakthrough for DAC/Amps. The only thing that appears to be missing is the ability to plug in a headset for taking phone calls or joining in with video meetings. If it had that, I think it would be perfect. Even so, can’t wait to try it out to see if it lives up to its billing.
Pricing & Availability: The iFi GO link will be available from 5th December. Adapters are included to convert the GO link’s USB-C connector to fit USB-A and Apple Lightning ports. Everything needed is supplied in the box. The price of the GO link is $59 / £59 / €59.
More info: www.ifi-audio.com