If you haven’t heard of iFi Audio yet, then you’re probably fairly new to the world of personal audio. Either that or you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years. There’s nothing wrong with that though; I’m just alluding to the large presence the company has fostered within the community over the last couple of years. In today’s review, we’ll be taking a look at the nano iOne DAC to see and hear what it’s all about. Let dive in.
iFi’s products usually pack loads of features into a fairly small form factor (hence the ‘micro’ & ‘nano’ monikers). The nano iOne DAC is no different. This little Bluetooth DAC can add a breath of fresh modernity into an existing home system or computer rig and is a great way to upgrade a basic audio setup.
This product was provided for the purpose of an honest review. I’m not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions here are my own.
- Versatile & easy to use
- Solid Bluetooth connection
- Tiny footprint
- Detailed, lively sound
- No headphone out
What exactly is the iOne?
First and foremost it’s a DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter). How the nano iOne differentiates itself is with the addition of aptX Bluetooth, making it quite versatile. Now, it’s not the only Bluetooth DAC out there; there are a few others and some have been around for quite some time. However, the iOne makes itself unique with its very small physical footprint plus some little touches, which we’ll get to in a bit.
Package & accessories
Similar to what we saw with the nano iDSD Black Label DAC, the nano iOne comes in a white box, covered in a white, cardboard sleeve with the usual iFi styling. There’s an image of the DAC on the front and some technical information on the back.
Beneath the outer sleeve is the white box, which is bare except for the ifi branding. Inside this box is the nano iOne DAC, a USB cable, 5V power adapter, an optical SPDIF adaptor, an RCA interconnect cable and some little silicone feet.
Build & functionality
The nano iOne DAC is presented in classic iFi styling; a brick-shaped chassis with a topside that tapers towards the edges. It’s a sort of gunmetal grey colour, with ivory white, plastic front and back plates. This thing is really small and will literally fit in the palm of your hand.
On the faceplate are (from left to right):
- Bluetooth pairing button
- Input switch (Bluetooth/USB/SPDIF)
- Filter switch (Listen/Measure)
The switches feel sturdy and have a really nice tactile click when changing the selection. Similar to other devices in iFi’s lineup, the iOne offers two filter settings: Listen and Measure. The Listen setting adds a little shaping to the sound to make it more engaging, while Measure gives a flatter response.
When it comes to the input switch, I think that’s pretty self-explanatory. You can quickly and easily flick between input methods this way.
One feature I really enjoy is the little backlit iFi logo on the front panel. It changes colours depending on the source selected and file format being played. The Audinst HUD-MX2 has a similar feature but iFi took it a step further by making the display large and personalized while the Audinst DAC has a regular LED indicator.
On the rear panel are (from left to right):
- RCA outputs
- SPDIF In/Out
- USB input
That might not look like much but it opens up a lot of options for connectivity.
“Whether you use Nvidia Shield, Google Chromecast or a 4K television, hook your system up to a gaming console such as the XBox One, Playstation 4 or simple enjoy music through your smartphone, tablet or computer, the iOne is the one for you. Add it to your audiophile rig to push the boundaries of high-quality sound to a whole new level.”
So, as you can see, the iOne can act as a catalyst to upgrade your existing products, or simply make them easier to use, especially when employing the Bluetooth function.
How I used the nano iOne DA converter
Audioengine HD3 desktop speakers: First of all, I hooked up the iOne to my computer via the USB connection and then to the HD3 speakers. But the HD3 already has USB and Bluetooth?! So why would I do this? The answer is simple really: Because I can!
In all seriousness though, the HD3’s onboard DAC only supports up to 16-bit native audio, then it upsamples the digital signal to 24-bit. Not only that, but the iOne has native DSD playback in its arsenal. Due to the nature of the little HD3 speakers, the difference in sound was minimal but it was an interesting experiment nonetheless.
Wharfedale Diamond Active A1: Next, I paired up the iOne with the Wharfedale Diamond Active A1 via the RCA output. These are some pretty serious speakers and it was interesting to hear them being driven by the iOne. iFi’s little pocket rocket did a fine job of feeding a good quality audio signal to the A1’s wireless HUB.
Arcam irDAC-II: For the next test, the iOne was hooked up to the Arcam irDAC-II via a coaxial cable so I was able to use the irDAC-II’s excellent headphone amplifier. This was quite amusing as the two devices have a lot in common but they also vary greatly overall.
What these have in common are Bluetooth connectivity and SPDIF input but the irDAC-II has a host of other input and output options, plus a built-in headphone amplifier. It’s also much larger and more expensive. While the iOne can’t quite match the sound quality of the Arcam it is still a very capable DAC.
Smarphone: Lastly, I tested the Bluetooth with my Android phone. Pairing is a breeze and happens very quickly. This is a great way to play tracks from your phone into your home system, without the hassle of hooking it up with wires.
At the heart of the iOne is a Burr-Brown chipset:
“The Burr-Brown True Native chipset is a MultiBit DAC which represents the ‘best of the best’ chipset design. This chipset handles PCM and DSD natively, so the music signal stays in its original format all the way through.”
The iOne’s overall sound is one of neutrality and transparency. If anything it’s a touch on the lean side. While it might lack warmth and subtlety, it has oodles of bursting at the seams energy and comes across as very lively.
One of the real strengths of the iOne is its excellent sense of timing, thanks to its Femto precision clock system which stomps out any jitter from the source by “creating a new stable clock de-linked from the source clock.” This is really great for albums like GoGo Penguin’s A Humdrum Star and in particular the more upbeat tracks like Bardot where the iOne shows its mastery of rhythm.
Detail retrieval is excellent and the soundstage is none too shabby either. The nano iOne doesn’t try to win you over with elegance but instead, it’s more like jumping up on the table and shouting “Let’s get it on mutha f*****!” Having said that, however, the iOne has no issues at all with slowing things down, and in tracks like Window, it again surpasses our expectations with its ability to shift with ease from the melodic downbeats to the busy crescendo.
iFi’s nano iOne DAC is a technical marvel. There’s a lot of sophisticated engineering packed into this tiny device and while most people probably won’t be aware of that, they will surely enjoy the resulting sound.
It may not be able to go toe-to-toe with higher end DACs but at $199 you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that sounds better. The iOnes strengths lie in its versatility and ease of use, especially the inclusion of aptX Bluetooth. Support for high-resolution files (32-bit/DSD/DXD) is icing on the cake at this point.
So, if you’re looking to upgrade your existing system or simply want to add the convenience of high-quality Bluetooth, then the nano iOne would be an excellent choice.