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iFi Audio GO blu - Another Perspective

03-01-2022 | By Francisco Duran | Issue 120

Did you ever see an audio product that you thought you didn't need but once you looked into it you just had to have it? Such is the case with the iFi GO blu. As of late I have been rethinking my headphone/amp set up, and leaning more to adding an amp than a DAC. Besides, aren't the DACs in our phones and DAP's quite capable? Admittedly I have a number of headphones in my stable that are pretty easy to drive, with the Grado RS-1 being the big daddy of the bunch. Still, experience has taught me in the audio world, there is nothing like a good, solid, and powerful amp to drive even very efficient speakers. In the headphone world, I would be considered a casual listener, and my headphone collection modest. But still, if you are going to listen, you want quality sound. And as fate would have it, I received an iFi GO blu for review. What timing!

The GO blu is an interesting product to say the least. It is a small, no make that a diminutive and very well built Dac/amplifier that is designed to be hooked up to your headphones via the headphone cables and then wirelessly to your source, whatever that may be, as long as said source has Bluetooth built into it. And therein lies the rub. I first thought to myself, why would you need that? I soon found out.

For being such a small product, this thing is built to quite high standards. It is also packed with so many features that it would make a Swiss Army Knife blush. I won't list them all here. For a lot more info I encourage you to visit the very fun and informative iFi website, but here are the essentials. First is the multi-function knob on the side of the unit. It controls the volume, play/pause, skip forward/skip backward, and wake up voice assistant. Below that is the settings and Bluetooth paring button. This button cycles between Off, XBass, XSpace, XBass+XSpace with a short click to these functions. A long click will get you to the Bluetooth paring. Each setting has a corresponding color of light. A Qualcomm QCC 5100 Series chip along with a Cirrus Logic 32-bit DAC providing processing duties. Qualcomm QCC 5011 inputs include: USB C Bluetooth 5.0, AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LHDC/HWA Codec. Anymore? BT options covered indeed!

For this review I pulled out all stops in regard to the headphones I had in house. Grado RS-1, which have an spl 1mw, 99.8 dB, and impedance of 38 ohms. The Audio Technica M50X, with its sensitivity of 99 dB, the JVC HA-RX700's with its 105 Db sensitivity, and the little but mighty Koss KPH-30i with 101 dB sensitivity. All of these as we can see easy are to drive for the small GO blu. My sources were my trusty Samsung Galaxy S10+, Fiio Model FX1221, and  iPod Nano. I also briefly used my pair of HiFi Man RE00 I bought off of Massdrop, but since I can't stand the sound of those things they didn't stay long in the rotation. They worked is about all I can say for them.

The sound of this little gutsy amp/DAC is neutral with a slight dash of warmth, rich but not overly so in regard to timbre and full tonality. From the upper mids to the treble there is appropriate sharpness when the recording calls for it, but always sounds natural and in control. I would rather hear this kind of realistic performance in the treble than a false softening in the upper registers just to make the sound more appealing. Bass sounded taut, in control, and balanced no matter what setting. Midrange sounded even handed. But the creme de la creme of this unit has to be the X-Space setting. It expands the soundstage outside of your head. Wow. Nice! I of course loved the X-Bass+ X-Space setting for most of the music I listened to, so that is where it stayed. I am no stranger to tone controls and use them from time to time on my amps.

The GoBlu has a smooth and clean sound, but it also has more than enough resolving power to easily differentiate the different sounds of my individual headphones. For instance, playing Tears For Fears, "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" from Spotify with my Samsung phone without the GoBlu, the sound from my JVC HA-RX700's was slightly thin and brighter than the other headphones in my stable. The soundstage was noticeably narrower and flatter. Inserting the GoBlu, the sound immediately took on more solidity, the brightness was tuned down, and the sound was clear and clean without sounding bright. Most importantly, the soundstage opened up with depth, width, and moved away from the middle of my head. Again switching in the X-Bass+ X-Space was icing on the audio cake.

With the Grado RS-1 without the GoBlu it was definitely resolution city. The top end was definitely more lit up. The bass was okay, and the sound was slightly flat. Plugging in the GoBlu, the sound immediately got slightly smoother and more dimensional. Turning on the XBass+XSpace added more heft to the bass, smoothed out the top end a tad more, and gave these hi-rez cans a bit of fullness and dimension. I mean, how could you not live without a Grado in your collection? Even though they are a stable in my collection, I really like what the GoBlu added to the sound of these classic cans. Suddenly Tears For Fears, or whatever I played, went down a lot easier with these and all of my cans.

I got similar results with my son's Audio Technica M50X and my lowly but cool Koss KPH30i. Each time the GoBlu would tame the top end to various degrees, add more spaciousness and depth to the sound field, the sound was not as congested, and the music was more cleanly separated out. And the bass was turned up a notch or two. Who would not want that? In fact the combination of the GoBlu and the AT M50X was my favorite.

Wanting to take the sound quality up a bit I switched from Spotify on my phone to my Fiio Model FX1221. Now I have always felt this unit to be better sounding than my phone, but a bit quirky, and this time proved to be no exception. Everything I Bluetoothed, (Bluetoothed?) to the GoBlu connected quickly and flawlessly except the Fiio. The Fiio proved to be a bit of a pain to connect to Bluetooth. In fact I never did get the BT connection to the Fiio. I blame the Fiio.

So on to my wife's trusty iPod Nano. We kind of share this player since both of our favorite music is loaded on this thing. It easily hooked up to the GoBlu. Thanks Apple! In seconds I was listening to the Bagdad Café Soundtrack (also one of the best movies ever made). My notes on the sound read: Slightly brighter, thinner. Less space on the stage. Narrower too. Vocals and instruments not as natural sounding sans the GoBlu. But as soon as I hooked up the GoBlu everything snapped back into a natural focus. There was more air around instruments, better timbre of instruments and vocals. There was a more spacious soundstage. There was now a more relaxed feeling listening to music. And what was also nice was that there was no blooming wire hanging off of my DAP.  

 Although my sources and headphones can be categorized as modest by most high-end headphone standards, and my headphone listening as casual, the iFi GoBlu proved to be an excellent product. It definitely raised the level of performance with my headphone listening. Its sound quality, freedom from a wire to your source, and the way it solidly and easily connects Bluetooth to a source cannot be overemphasized. I would very much like to make this unit a permanent part of my collection, and look forward to having a listen to more iFi products in the future.

 iFi GO blu Amp/DAC

Retail: $199

AMR/iFi audio (Abbingdon Global Ltd – no 061901300)

Guildford, 79 Scarisbrick New Road

Southport, PR8 6LJ

+44 (0) 1704 543 858

AMR/iFi audio (USA)

105 Professional Pkwy, Ste 1502, Yorktown, VA 23693

1211 Park Ave, Ste 102, San Jose, CA 95126

+1 (800) 799-IFIA (4342)