The GO bar by iFi (buy at Amazon) is a $329, ultra-portable USB-based audiophile DAC and headphone amplifier. If you want to know what I mean by ultra-portable, it is approximately the size of my index finger (15/16 inch wide, 1/2 inch high x 2-5/8 inch deep), while weighing just one ounce. While extremely small, it is still capable of putting out 475 mW into 32 ohms, which makes it capable of driving most headphones. And if that wasn’t enough, the16-core XMOS micro controller partnered with a 32-bit Cirrus Logic DAC chipset offers decoding of PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz, DSD256, and full MQA decoding. Last but not least, you get your pick of four reconstruction filters (Bit Perfect, Standard, Minimum Phase, and Gibbs Transient Optimized), two analogue processing modes (XBass+ and XSpace), a row of LED lights to help you understand the audio format being decoded, along with a 4.4mm fully balanced output, and a 3.5mm S-Balanced output. That is a lot of features in such a small package, especially at $329.
What Makes the iFi GO bar DAC/Headphone Amp Special?
- It’s amazing that a device this small can handle so many different file formats. No matter the device you’re using to listen to the music or the service you use to get your music, the iFi GO bar can almost certainly decode it.
- If you’re someone who goes for walks and likes to enjoy music during said walk, this component is ideal. It is small enough to fit into your pocket with your phone without taking up too much space or adding appreciable heft.
- The processing modes provide variety and add different flavors to the sound. I found that the XSpace was valuable in adding some of the soundstage that can be lost with headphones and the XBass+ was effective in adding more weight to the music.
Why Should You Care About the iFi GO bar DAC/Headphone Amp?
If you’re someone who wants to enjoy hi-res music while you’re on the go, having a device like this is ideal. That isn’t to say that you can’t use the iFi GO bar while you sit at your desk or in your favorite seat in the house. Its portability accommodates those listening styles too, and because it doesn’t require a battery of its own (it draws power from the device you have it plugged into) you can enjoy listening for hours on end with no worries of needing to stop to charge anything or needing a long cord for your headphones to reach your preamp or headphone amplifier. I can hear the wired headphone fans cheering already.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the GO bar
- With the black lettering on the black case, I had trouble reading the information at times as to what the sound quality was. If the lettering was in white or a color that wasn’t as dark, it would make reading the information a lot easier for the end user.
- I wish the GO bar could remember my last set volume level and my preferred reconstruction filter. For the most part, if the quality of the digital content isn’t changing, I don’t need to increase or decrease the volume too much, but every time you plug the device in, you need to adjust the volume as it resets itself to a default volume. I also respect that to get the form factor to this small some sacrifices need to be made.
- The digital filters can be tricky to access. One of the problems you have with a device this size with so many options is that you only have so much space to make a usable design. Once you get used to how it works, it’s simple enough, but I would make sure you keep the quick reference card iFi provides in the package.
Listening to the iFi GO bar DAC/Headphone Amp…
I’ve been spending some time recently getting acquainted with modern jazz, and this track from Mary Halverson, titled “Night Shift” (Streaming PCM 96kHz) (buy at Amazon), really stood out to me while listening with the iFi Go Bar. The DAC section was able to provide delightful clarity to the variety of sounds of this recording, from the horn section to the ambient guitars and vibraphone. That is no small feat, as this track features many layers, with a sextet and a lot of different effects in play, which can make it a challenge to have everything come through with clarity.
I also listened to “Florescent Adolescent” by the Artic Monkeys (Streaming PCM 44.1kHz) (buy at Amazon). This 2007 track from their Favorite Worst Nightmare album provides a real ska vibe, with a very forward groove thanks to the bass guitar of Andy Nicholson. The iFi GO bar was adept at providing a great amount of clarity, making it easy to separate the bass guitar from the keyboard, guitar, drums, and even the layered vocals.
Does the iFi GO bar DAC/Headphone Amp Have Any Resale Value?
I was able to find lots of the iFi GO bar’s being sold on eBay, generally at around $200, which is two-thirds of the retail price. That is a pretty solid return if you have gotten some use out of this device and decided you would prefer a more stationary headphone amp/DAC or you find that you want to upgrade to something different. Also, as a portable device, wear factors into long-term value. If your keys have been scaping up your GO bar, it will be worth a lot less more over time. Then again, it isn’t too pricey to start with, so there isn’t too much money to be lost here.
Who Is the Competition for the iFi GO bar DAC/Headphone Amp?
If you don’t like the Cirrus Logic DAC chip used in the iFi for whatever reason, then maybe you want to check out the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt ($349.95) (buy at Amazon). This is a very competitive product to the GO bar, as it is the size of a USB Thumb drive, but it uses the ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M chip instead. The primary difference I can see between the DragonFly and the iFi GO Bar is that the DragonFly doesn’t seem to have user-selectable reconstruction filters, so if you’re averse to minimum-phase slow roll-off filters, you might have a problem with that. And if you’re an iPhone user, it also doesn’t include a Lighting-to-USB adaptor.
If you’re looking for portability but at a lower price, the THX Onyx ($199.99) (buy at Amazon) is a product worth looking at. This headphone amp/DAC combo uses the ESS ES9281PRO DAC and is compatible with all devices, as it comes with a USB-A and a USB-C converter (Sorry iPhone users, the Lighting-to-USB converter is also not included in this product). If you’re into MQA, you will want to know that while this product will play MQA files it only renders the MQA format, it doesn’t actually decode it, so you won’t get the full quality of the format. But otherwise, the THX Onyx is a very comparable product.
If you primarily use your headphones at your desk, then you might want to consider the Topping DX1 ($99) (buy at Amazon). This is a headphone amp/DAC that comes in a more traditional form factor and a much lower price. The other advantage this product has is that it also has RCA in if you are looking to use something that isn’t your phone or personal computer.
Final Thoughts on the iFi GO bar DAC/Headphone Amp
I have personally spent many hours both sitting at my desk and walking around town while using the iFi GO bar, and while it certainly has its flaws, they are all minor, as you will quickly get used to increasing the volume or adjusting the filters to get the sound just the way you like it. Also, if you’re looking to use wireless headphones, iFi has now released the iFi GO blu for $199 (buy at Amazon), which supports Bluetooth audio as well.
If you love the sound of wired headphones like I do, then this is product that is worth adding to your listening portfolio, as its size, weight, and capabilities allow you to truly use it anywhere, and while there are certainly cheaper products on the market, it is hard to argue with the $329 price tag when you consider all of the features you are getting here.