iFi GO Link ($59): Does iFi make a bad product? Me thinks not.
Can handle 3.5mm se (TRS) or 3.5mm bal (TRRS)
MQA cool magenta color
snobs will scoff
Known Android/Tidal issues
Volume issues w/ PC/MBP use (I experienced it as well)
iFi GO Link ($59): Does iFi make a bad product? Me thinks not.
Intro: I am a fan of iFi. That is well documented in my reviews. I own several of their products, and consider the iCAN/iDSD Pro duo to be my totl DAC/Amp. Yes, it is a few years old, but it satiates my tastes completely. Dongle/DAC’s are quite common now. Will and I carried a small truck-full to T.H.E. Show last year and at T.H.E. Headphonium, we had more questions on that then anything else. So much so, that a run was had on a specific Dongle/DAC from another manufacturer (a direct competitor) and it sold out. iFi is no newbie to this segment, and their legendary Black Label headphone amp is still considered the Holy Grail by many involved. I sold mine so some others could enjoy it, and it get the use it deserves.
This is iFi’s latest entry into the Dongle/DAC market and comes at an extraordinarily affordable price. That said, unlike some reviews, I still consider DAP’s a viable alternative and own several. That said, Dongle/DAC’s are a HUGE market and alternative for those looking for a quick fix to raise the audio game on their Smartphone. It is worth it.
|Formats||DSD 256 / 11.3MHz|
|DAC||Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by ESS|
|Output Power||≥1.5V/70mW @ 32Ω; 2V/14mW @ 300Ω|
|DNR||≥122dB(A) @ 0dBFS|
|THD+N||≤0.004% (1.27V @ 32Ω)|
|Power consumption||No Signal ~0.2W|
Max Signal ~1W
|Dimensions||135 x 12.6 x 7.6 mm (5.3″ x 0.5″ x 0.3”)|
|Cable length||60mm (2.8″)|
|Net weight||11g (0.4oz)|
|Limited Warranty||12 months*|
|*12 months typical or as permitted/required by local reseller laws.|
|**Specifications are subject to change without notice.|
In The Box:
iPhone 13 Pro Max
DDHiFi Janus 2 (Air Ocean, 3.5mm cable)
Everything from Jazz to Blues to Pop
Coming in a typically iFi small package, the GO Link is well protected, and pretty much like a fine jigsaw puzzle. I always have a hard time putting the items back into the box for photos, so with iFi I usually show the “after” photos. A 6cm long braided cable connects the connecting end and business end where you hook up your 3.5mm headphones. The ability to hook into both Android & iOS is a nice inclusion, although some have had issues with Android & MQA connectivity (I did not).
The point of the GO Link is to allow those who’s smartphones do not have headphone jacks to be able to use their wired headphones, since most still agree that while wireless has caught up a good deal; wired headphones still produce the better overall sound quality in most cases. I do worry about the cable associated with devices such as this, but since the manufacturer’s continue this way, I put more faith in their engineering.
Running a “discrete ESS Sabre Hyperstream DAC chipset with time domain jitter eliminator, discrete oscillator and 112dB dynamic range for discerning listeners,” the ESS chip can stream digital music files up to 32-bit/384kHz, plus DSD to 11.2MHz (DSD256) and MQA. The ES9219MQ/Q benefits from 32-bit HyperStream III architecture, for the latest in tech.
iFi has taken full advantage of the DAC chip’s advanced specs, to unlock some high-end features such as DRE (Dynamic Range Enhancement), along with technologies that minimize 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 does not use a software-based volume control which the company states 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. I will state that when hooked to my MBP & Tidal, the volume was extremely loud, to the point that I could use it with only the minimum volume setting on Tidal. System volume control was locked out. I had no such problem on my iPhone.
The typical colored LED represents the streaming quality, as on iFi’s other products. Again, some have mentioned issues with MQA on Tidal & their Android device. My iOS devices had no such problem. The GO link’s headphone amp has a gold-plated 3.5mm socket that incorporates iFi’s noise-reducing S-Balanced configuration. iFi says uses this to better those from other manufactuer’s, providing a better connection to the music according to iFi. It also delivers a power output of 70mW/1.5V into 32 ohms, rising to 2V with higher impedance headphones. Not spectacular, but it works well.
This is a hard one to judge, since it is a small device meant to hide away in your pocket. That said, as per other iFi products, the build is exceptional. I have yet to encounter a poor build on any iFi product.
Use was straightforward for both my MBP & iPhone. I found out the wrong way that volume was limited on my MBP, and I jumped like Freddy Kruger was coming at me. Both devices immediately recognized the device, and I only had to switch control on the MBP & Tidal, to allow for the GO Link to run the show. Needless to say, when hooking to my iPhone, I turned the volume completely down. Connectivity can include use as a pre-amp for devices as well, giving you full benefit of that Sabre chip when used elsewhere.
To me, these critters are the hardest to judge. Either they color sound or they do not. Either they provide adequate power or they do not. Either they improve the sound quality, or I cannot tell. To me, a good Dongle/DAC provides the sound necessary to interpret the original mastered recording as the artist meant. Tailoring that sound should be up to the individual user in other ways, not the device. That said, my current favorite Dongle/DAC provides a rich, warm signature, which I prefer. The GO Link does not. And that is good. The iFi presents the music with a refreshing crispness and detail, that allows the music to flower through in full color.
The beneficial aspects of the GO Link are that it fails to color the sound emanating from within. It presents what is sent through it, without judging or changing the sound. I respect this, for if I want to change anything, I will do it myself. Clear, crisp details emerge from my iPhone, usually only derived from using expensive headphones/IEM’s or my current favorite, the Klipsch/Earmicro T10 Bespoke. That of course costs a heckuva lot more.
The ability of the GO Link to show through the sound with better detail and clarity than the music coming straight from my iPhone (or MBP for that matter), shows the GO Link is doing its job. Many smartphones have very, very good music abilities. Some only think they do. The GO Link allows those who are posing to shine with those who do present good quality music.
Bass reaches deep, like Tidal Masters should. Midrange tonality is pushed ever so slightly forward, but to be honest it could be Tidal or the song doing so. Treble notes have the right amount of sparkle to provide excellent detail and air between the notes, doing so without becoming dry or thin. Good weight of notes carries from the bass to the top, but I do sense a smidge of too much for my tastes in the upper mids. Mind you, I am sitting for hours listening to this currently, and that is the only fault I can find in it. Better weight is had in my favorite competitor, the excellent DDHiFi TC44C. The DDHiFi provides a darker, richer signature, which is my preference, but the iFi holds its own with regard to clarity and detail.
Where the iFi is clean and crisp, the DDHiFi is darker and richer, which again is my preferred signature. If you want a crisp, unbothered addition to your portable system, the iFi would be the better choice. But if you like a darker signature, the DDHiFi is a fabulous choice, with slightly better weight to the notes.
I will also note that the GO Link also drains your smartphone battery more than without. I found that after two hours of listening with the Link attached, my battery drained by about 15%. When using only TWS buds, the drain was about 5% in the same time span. Most Dongle/DAC’s do this and many are much worse than the GO Link.
I like iFi products. I like them a lot. I own a lot. I have reviewed a lot. I have recommended a lot. I do so for two reasons: 1. The products are really, really good; and 2. The products are hard to beat in whatever category they occupy. Trendsetters at the early part of the portable rebirth; iFi continues to innovate and come up with products, which fit the users’ goals: top quality sound, and now include affordability to many of their products as well. The GO Link is no different. It provides a quality build and sound to what we hear at an extremely affordable price, which is hard to beat.
If you are looking for an affordable Dongle/DAC with which to start your journey, or simply need an affordable one, which can take the abuse; you could do much worse than the GO Link. Audio quality, it is not meant to compete with the much more expensive offerings around, but makes no posit to do so. Only presenting the user with a top-quality build sound and price. And it succeeds.