iFi Go Link DAC/AMP

Portable DAC/AMPs — The iFi Go Link and Go Bar Are Super Portable Gear for Making Your Headphones Sing

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The magical interplay between music files, the devices they are stored on, and the equipment they pass through to get into your ears is an arcane art that can confound many people. But the first time someone who has always listened to low-resolution audio on earbuds hears high-res music through good gear, it’s like watching your kids realize they can read. That’s why people become audiophiles.

The downside is that there’s a lot of gear out there, some of it very expensive, and it can be hard to figure out exactly what you need.

What I have for you today are a few portable DAC/Amp (digital audio converter/amplifier) units from iFi to help you take good audio with you wherever you go.

iFi Go Link DAC/AMP
iFi Go Link DAC/Amp

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The iFi Go Link is a small and portable DAC/Amp that serves as a powerful replacement for the Lightening headphone adapter for your iPhone and a superior audio interface for other USB-C devices. Remember, any device with a microphone port has, by definition, both a DAC—the circuitry that converts the bits from your audio files into the analog electrical impulses driving the diaphragms in your headphones—and an amp, which provides the power for those impulses. But the iFi Go Link does it better.

Indeed, a key requirement of good headphones is that they often require more power to drive them (the amplifier part of the DAC/Amp combo). This is generally measured by their impedance, in Ohms (Ω). Most smartphones will have difficulty in adequately driving headphones with an impedance higher than 100Ω. The iFi Go Link can easily handle headphones up to 600Ω.

As for the digital conversion, the iFi Go Link walks the audiophile walk and, more importantly, talks the audiophile talk. The ground floor of high-quality audio files are MP3 files at high bitrates (256kbps), but the Go Link goes much, much further with support for DSD256, PCM384, and DXD384 files. On top of that, the circuitry built into the DAC unit matches that included in some significantly larger and more expensive devices, ensuring that every link in your audio chain, from file quality to DAC to amp to headphones, is excellent.

So, if you want to take a step up with your portable audio and drive a good pair of headphones without spending much more than typical OEM adapter costs, the iFi Go Link is an excellent choice at just $59 on Amazon.

iFi Go Bar DAC/Amp

Now, if you want to get REALLY fancy with your music, while still maintaining amazing portability, here is the iFi Go Bar, which takes the excellent features of the Go Link and builds upon them significantly.

First, let’s talk about control, as in on-board controls. Where the Go Link requires you to control the volume with the device it is attached to, the Go Bar has onboard volume controls. On top of that, it has an analog bass boost feature (XBass+) that adds oomph to your tunes in the purest way possible—after they’ve been converted to analog signals. And then there’s the XSpace holographic sound space feature that turns any listening session into a concert hall experience. The lights that run up the unit will let you keep track of the volume and the quality of the music files it’s converting.

The Go Bar DAC can natively handle even more high-res file types for even the most dedicated audiophiles, including Ultra-res PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz via USB, native playback up to DSD256​, 2x DXD​, and full MQA decoding. And to do with those super-high rest files, the Go Bar will deliver the power needed for even the most challenging headphones. Indeed, the Go Bar provides more than 3x the power to 600Ω headphones than the Go Link, which already beat most normal audio jacks. However, the Go Bar also has the delicacy to handle low-impedance IEMs (in-ear-monitors or, you know, earbuds) with its iEMatch feature that “attenuates power to suit high-sensitivity headphones and IEMs, it removes background noise and increases usable volume range.”

Speaking of audio jacks, the Go Bar even steps up in that department. Not only does it have the typical 3.5mm “small” headphone jack we’re all familiar with, but it also adds a 4.4mm fully-balanced connector that audiophiles will delight to take advantage of (for example, these excellent Sennheiser 660Ses come with a 4.4mm cable).

In many ways, the iFi Go Bar lets you bring nearly all the features you’d get from desktop DACs and amps with you everywhere you go and makes utilizing excellent headphones easy and seamless with laptops and smartphones alike. Indeed, I’m currently testing out a pair of these Audeze LCD-XC headphones, which are some of the most robust you’ll find, and the Go Bar makes them sing! You can get the iFi Go Bar from Amazon for $329.

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