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Review and Measurements of ifi nano iONE DAC

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of ifi nano iONE DAC. It is on kind loan from a member and it retails for USD $199 including Prime shipping from Amazon in US.

The unit is quite "cute" in a small and portable configuration (although somewhat chunky):

ifi nano iONE review.jpg

As you see from the front panel, beside the usual digital audio inputs of USB and S/PDIF coax, it also has a Bluetooth module/input. I will test that feature later. For now, my focus is on the DAC portion.

In addition to analog output, the iONE also outputs S/PDIF over the same digital input connector. It is a trademark of ifi to overload connectors this way, saving space but also creating confusion at times as to how to get the connector to act as one or the other function. As with Bluetooth, I did not test S/PDIF output for this review.

Let's get into measurements and see how she did.

Measurements
As usual, I start with my Dashboard view of a full amplitude ("0 dBFS") at 44.1 kHz:

ifi nano iONE DAC full amplitude dashboard measurement.png


We see a spray of harmonics in the FFT spectrum on the right. This indicates some kind of overload/clipping.

Reducing the digital signal level by 1 dB remedies that:
ifi nano iONE DAC -1 dBFS dashboard measurement.png


Distortion is substantially reduced, gaining us as much as 11 dB improvement in SINAD.

This is an issue given the "loudness wars" where music produces routinely push the signal level to 0 dBFS.

I changed the filter setting switch but it had no effect on this so likely it is an overload of the analog section.

Looking at the ifi specifications, it says that it produces 0.0015% distortion at full amplitude. I am getting something close to it with -1 dB, but clearly not at 0 dBFS.

I played with the level reduction and looks like -0.5 dBFS also resolves the issue although it doesn't change the distortion measurements much.

Using the more favorable -1 dBFS SINAD number, here is how it ranks among the recently reviewed DACs:
sinad.png


Dividing this table into four classes, the iONE falls into the third rank.

Running linearity test, we see a similar performance:

ifi nano iONE DAC linearity dashboard measurement.png


Error becomes large as we go below 16 bits of resolution (-96 dBFS).

Between these two measurements, I think we have a good picture of where this DAC lands so I didn't run more tests. If the owner wishes, I can add others.

Conclusions
As a pure desktop DAC, the ifi nano iONE does not have competitive performance. Much cheaper products like Topping D30 and Schiit Modi 3 have far better performance. They lack the Bluetooth functionality though so perhaps the target market is different.

Output clipping is also bothersome and given the frequency of music at full amplitude should not be there. ifi could have dialed the output a bit lower and still be compliant with 2 volt nominal output and not have this issue.

As it is, I can't recommend the iONE unless you need its unique combination of features or its looks.

-----
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amirm

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#3
This isn't another ASIO4ALL incompatibility, is it?
No, it produces levels below -90 dB. Here is Roon playing the test file:

1538366392655.png
 
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#4
Hmm... I remember they talked about how they choosing parts and design for their products in other online community. They get measurements after making prototype. But they give priority to subjective hearing.(they said it is blind test)
 

Ron Texas

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#7
IMO reviews of low to moderately priced and easily available DAC's are the most relevant and valuable reviews. I almost bought one of these but opted for the D30 because of its measured performance and lack of issues. I am not looking back. I have a feeling the iDSD nano black could have the same performance issues, but until it is actually measured I will have to withhold judgment.
 

amirm

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#8
I wonder how the nano iDSD BL compares :):)
I bought it back in March Amazon says. :) So I better review it soon before it gets obsoleted....
 

Jimster480

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#9
You should review the Topping Bluetooth DAC thing too and see how well that does. They have one that matches the D30/A30.
 
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#10
You should review the Topping Bluetooth DAC thing too and see how well that does. They have one that matches the D30/A30.
Does the EarStudio ES100 overlap enough here to participate in the potentially-upcoming BT comparison? Notably, they recently updated their firmware to reduce preamp gain to avoid clipping, which sounds like a potential fix for the iONE.
 

amirm

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#11
Does the EarStudio ES100 overlap enough here to participate in the potentially-upcoming BT comparison? Notably, they recently updated their firmware to reduce preamp gain to avoid clipping, which sounds like a potential fix for the iONE.
I plan to test the earstudio soon. The issue with that is that it only supports 16 bit on Windows so a bit limited in my automated tests. But yes, I plan to compare its Bluetooth against iOne.
 
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#13
Btw, there is a newer firmward 5.3c with different filter (downloadable from iFi website) which you can also try.
 

amirm

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#14
Can you test it as an usb -> coaxial adapter? Thx.
I tried but no luck. Spent an hour on it, upgrading firmware, using their driver, etc. Nothing makes it output anything on the S/PDIF. I am using their special RCA to BNC adapter that came from another iFi DAC. Maybe something has changed. But I just can't get it to output anything on the digital port.
 
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#15
I tried but no luck. Spent an hour on it, upgrading firmware, using their driver, etc. Nothing makes it output anything on the S/PDIF. I am using their special RCA to BNC adapter that came from another iFi DAC. Maybe something has changed. But I just can't get it to output anything on the digital port.
You need to use the 5.20 firmware. The 5.3x firmware which supports MQA disable spdif.
 

amirm

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#16
You need to use the 5.20 firmware. The 5.3x firmware which supports MQA disable spdif.
Unbelievable. I realize MQA licensing may have forced them to do that but disabling it for other content makes no sense. Was ready to throw the darn thing out the window if the unit was not on loan....

It is working now so let me measure it.
 
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#17
I think you were using the 5.30 firmware because I see your photo has the green LED.
They have a newer 5.30C firmware which has a new filter & forced PCM oversampling and the LED is yellow no matter of your setting.

To recap:
5.20 - pre-MQA and supports spdif out
5.30 - 1st MQA firmware & removed spdif out support (think you are using this for the test)
5.30C - 2nd MQA firmware
  • Adds Gibbs Transient Optimised Digital (GTO) Filter
    (This replaces the Minimum Phase Filter.)
  • The MQA Renderer on all iFi DAC’s except Pro performs unfolding to 8x rates. When using the MQA filter engine with our GTO filter coefficients, all PCM audio is oversampled to 8x Rate. Thus the sample rate indication is always for 8X, whatever the specific unit has for 8x. GTO overrides ALL PCM filters. At this point we feel that the GTO Filter is superior to all previous filter choices, including non-oversampling/Bit Perfect PCM.
    However, firmware versions 5.30 and 5.2X remain available for those preferring the original behaviour and for future firmware releases we will retain the 5.X0 fork which keeps the original filters for the foreseeable future.
 

amirm

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#18

RayDunzl

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#20
What's the scale on the left above?
 
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