Review - Blon Z200

Review - iFi Audio Go Blu

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Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 

The iFi Audio Go Blu was sent to me by the seller in exchange for money. The seller did not ask for anything other than payment, therefore, although I will do my best to be unbiased and sincere as always, you may want to consider that this product didn't cost me any less than it will you.


Intro…

The title of this review on YouTube, in Spanish, is "ok, they were right". This title is actually a response to all of those that have been praising this little iFi device for quite some time. I suppose the title could also reflect some of the negatives of the device pointed out by others as well. This device is not perfect (what device is?), but I'll get on to the good and bad parts in a second.

First I just wanted to state the obvious. The iFi Go Blu is not a product that I know nothing about, as is the case with quite a few of the things I review. I have been paying attention to the Go Blu since it was announced and have been procrastinating the purchase ever since.

My main reason for putting off the purchase was that, as I have said plenty of times in the past, I am not a huge user of Bluetooth. I do use Bluetooth, I have nothing against it, I just always prefer wires when possible and only choose BT for convenience. So, I kept telling myself that I would just send up putting the Blu in a drawer and not use it.

I did keep following the threads and discussions though, and finally decided that I had to give it a try. This means that I already knew the positives and negatives opinions of others and had a preconceived expectation when I received the device. Whether this has any influence on my opinions that I am about to post? Maybe. As I said, I always try to remain unbiased but I am only human ;)

Anyway, less rambling and more reviewing!


Presentation…

As with all iFi products, the packaging is fairly simple but well done. There is nothing special about the presentation or packaging but it never feels like it has been thrown together. 

Inside a simple white box with an image of the GB on the front, we receive the Go Blu, a USB to USB-C cable, a drawstring bag for transport, a simple instruction card and the usual warranty card.

Nothing extraordinary or unexpected (except maybe for the bag).


Build and aesthetics…

Both the build and the aesthetics are excellent in my opinion. 

The device has an elegant look to it, while breaking away from the typical blackness that is commonly found on so many other devices. The copper coloured plate that decorates the front along with the matching volume wheel really makes this look like something special. If we took away those two elements it would just be another black plastic box but 2 simple touches make all the difference.

Although the device is plastic in its majority, it seems to be well built while staying very light. The wheels and buttons have a good feel to them and work without flaw, with no noticeable looseness or rattling.

All I can say is that the Go Blu looks and feels great.


Functionality…

Let me preface this by saying that as soon as I received the Go Blu, the first thing I did was upgrade to the latest firmware, currently v3.05 I believe, which has some features that may not be available on earlier firmware releases. As far as I am aware, there is no way to update this via windows, however, I do believe that it can now be updated via iOS (but don't quote me on that as I don't have an iOS device, I just seem to remember reading that it could now be done).

The Go Blu is a unit that is very simple to operate with one hand and the various buttons are well laid out for easy access. Looking at the front we have a single button on the left (centered) and a wheel with a push button center, along with another button just below it on the right hand side. On the top we have the 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm Balanced outputs, along with an indicator LED, with a USB-C connector in the bottom of the device and a charging indicator LED.

The single button on the left is for power. Holding it down for a couple of seconds turns the unit on and off. While powered on, pressing the power button twice will trigger the voice of a lovely British lady, who informs you of current codec and sample rate. The same lady informs you of the codec in use each time you connect to your device.

Three clicks of the button enters filter choice mode, which can be cycled through standard and minimum phase by pressing the right hand button of the device. These are identified by the colour of the led on the top of the device, green for standard and pink for minimum phase. Once selected, confirm choice by pressing the power button again, three times.

The dial on the right hand side of the unit is the volume wheel, with a center button for play/pause etc.

The wheel is very sturdy and has points that it clicks to. This volume wheel actually controls the Android volume (when connected to an Android device of course) but it does it in much smaller steps. For each increase by the androids slider (in the case of a phone), you get three clicks of the wheel. That makes finer adjustments easier and much more precise.

In the case of none Android devices, I am not actually sure how the volume control works. I have used it connected to my non-android DAP via USB, with the USB output set to "fixed", and the Go Blu has controlled the volume fine without any changes reflecting on the DAP. I also found that when I used it via USB with my DAP and connected via BT to my phone, the volume level of the phone is controlled at the same time as the music playing. In other words, listening to music via USB, when I increase or lower the volume of the music, my phone also increases or decreases at the same time. So it is somehow controlling both volume levels together, even though the DAP is set to fixed. As I said, I have no idea.

The button that is in the center if the volume wheel uses a multiple click set up. One press plays or pauses the music, two clicks next track, three clicks previous track and long press for activating the assistant. I don't know about other devices but these commands dont work when connected to my DAP via USB and when connected to my phone via USB (without BT), 2 clicks lowers volume and 3 clicks increases it. I also found that Android volume can react a little strangely when connected only via USB, something that works fine on windows and my DAPs.

The final button, on the right hand side below the volume wheel, is to turn XBass and XSpace on or off (along with the filter cycle like I just mentioned). From Off, one press will activate XBass (indicator LED turns yellow), another press activates XSpace (LED goes blue), one more press activates high (along with a white LED) and pressing once again will take us back to all off (including the LED).

That's it. Rather simple but includes quite a few features and manages to do so without having to rely on 20 presses of a single button or an obligatory app (although you do need an app for the firmware upgrades).


My use case scenario…

While this is probably the least useful part of the review, as you are not me, I find that sharing my use case of the device and the pros and cons I have found may help someone who is looking at a similar scenario.

As I said earlier, I held off buying the Go Blu for so long because I didn't think I would use it for what it is good at. I don't hate Bluetooth, I use it in many circumstances, but I always find that, if I have a choice and it doesn't hinder me, I would much rather hook up a cable. There are plenty of times when BT is more than good enough, most of my manual tasks are done while using a BT neckband and Spotify. I don't need to search for perfection while I have my head in an engine or something. BT is good enough, especially now, that I am happy to use it to listen to music as BGM and am happy with the neckband set up.

As a USB DAC/Amp, I felt like there were better options out there (which there are) that are dedicated to that function, whereas the Go Blu is focused on BT with USB as a secondary thing.

Well, let me just say that the Go Blu is the first BT device that has actually attracted me to listen to music with it. For the first time, I have found myself choosing it over wired set ups even when spending extended periods at my desk.

During the past 2 weeks or so, I have found that I have been content with just using the Go Blu. It has even made me get lazy and not even bother turning on my main station when getting home, just crashing directly on the sofa with the Go Blu.

But not everything is perfect and I must mention the things that could be better when speaking about a product from a manufacturer with the pedigree of iFi (especially in the portable realm) and at a price of 200€ which is not exactly cheap for a small Bluetooth dongle when comparing to other contenders with far more options.

The first negative that I am going to mention is a clip. I don't think the lack of clip bothers me as much as many others who have expressed their opinions in forums, but I do agree that some way of connecting this to your clothing would be a big benefit. The best part of BT is the lack of cables and if I am still running a cable from my head to my pocket, it doesn't really matter what I connect it to in my pocket.

The next is the limitation of 24bit 96kHz. I really couldn't care less about MQA or DSD, so then not being supported does not bother me at all. The 24/96 also is not a deal breaker but it would be nice for it to be supported when playing via USB, again, especially when the competition can do it, and cheaper.

The BT range is also not exactly the best. It will work ok with my phone on my desk if I enter the bathroom (about 5 meters away), but any more than that results in drops. This is something that is common with many LDAC devices, I have gotten used to it after using Shanling DAPs, but could be much better.

I will say that the quality of the microphone was a very pleasant surprise. I expected much worse quality and to have to hold the device to my mouth but, at least in my quiet office, I can make calls with the device on the desk with no complaints from anyone.

I am also very happy with the fact that I can use it via USB while still being connected to the telephone via BT. It would be nice to be able to pair it with multiple devices via BT but USB+BT works well for me personally. One thing to note though is that each time you unlock the screen of your phone, or use it in any other way, the music will pause.

That has actually been my main use for the Go Blu. I have had it connected either to my DAP or PC via USB, with my phone connected via BT. This allowed me to use the Go Blu for calls on both PC and the phone without any changing over. However, for some reason, I did find that certain apps (for example Zoom and Skype) needed me to manually set the Go Blu as the device in their app settings, the “use predetermined device” didn’t work.

Finally, before I move on to sound, I want to mention one thing that is probably the negative that most affects me. The background noise with sensitive IEMs. Ok, this is not present on the SE output, nor on less sensitive IEMs and headphones, but with the balanced output and sensitive headphones/IEMs, it is certainly noticeable to say the least.

This is not such a big issue for me as it would be on another device as I prefer the SE output (more about that under “sound” in just a moment) and when I am using something that really needs the balanced output, well they usually aren’t that sensitive for it to be an issue. I know that iFi sells the perfect solution to this, the IEM Match, but when purchasing one of the most expensive BT dongles (again, from a company with the pedigree of iFi), a gain setting would have been a very nice touch.

So, these are just my random musings after using the Go Blu (almost exclusively) for the past two weeks or so. Now, let’s get on with the sound.


Sound…

Where to start?

I have reviewed other iFi devices in the past and I have found that they have a bit of a colour to their sound that is representative of iFi. I might be crazy and I might be imagining it, but that is what my brain has told me I hear. A lot of that is supposedly due to the use of Burr Brown DAC chips, other things may be they way that iFi amplify the signal or even the parts involved, but ignoring the fact that maybe I am just making things up, I do feel that iFi really does have a “house sound” that is slightly warmer than other options.

In the case of the Go Blu, there is no Burr Brown chip and there is nowhere near as much room as in any of the other iFi products to use the same parts, so there is no reason for it to have that iFi warmth to it. But it does. At least to some extent and on the single ended output.

Ok, so I may have gone totally crazy and I may be hearing this just because I have read about som many other people hearing it, but I really do find (or at least my brain says it does) that the SE output is warmer and less harsh than the balanced output.

There is probably no reason for me to hear one be warmer than the other, although I haven't seen measurements, but my brain tells me it is. Using the same IEMs, with the same cable (terminated in 2.5 balanced), just swapping the adapter and from SE to Balanced, I feel that the IEMs sound harsher from the Balanced output.

Obviously the balanced output is louder until we reduce the volume level and performing a perfectly volume matched test is rather difficult with just one device (without quite a gap between listening to one port and the other), so it may be just my perception due to the volume differences, but I also feel the balanced output to be far more fatiguing over longer listening sessions. 

Again, different music choices, different moods, different times of day, everything can be an influence, but as an example, I found that using the Yuan Li from from the balanced output made me feel like taking a break every hour or so, whereas from the the SE I could listen all morning (4 hours).

The XBass is great (isn’t iFi XBass always great?) although I don’t really use it that much. I have used it on a few occasions but not really too much, more for specific albums than anything else.

The XSpace is ok but unfortunately (for me at least) it is not the same as the XSpace on the iFi HFM Signature CAN. On the HFM Sig I found that the XSpace worked really well to give IEMs a bit more room to breathe up top, with the Go Blu I don’t get that same sensation of openness. It is more like a subtle treble boost (which I guess the CAN was also) that doesn’t quite give the same result.

Here is a graph of the changes in frequency response between the 4 modes (off, XBass, XSpace, XBass + XSpace):


I guess that the last thing to mention is how the Go Blu performs and sounds with more demanding headphones. To be honest, as most of my listening is done at low levels and a lot of it is quite simple acoustic based music, I probably don’t suffer as much as someone who listens loudly to Metal. I don’t personally need the speed or the volume levels that others may need.

Saying that, here are a few brief opinions on things I have tried with the Go Blu.

IEMs (in General): I have found that the Go Blu can drive any of my IEMs from the SE output without any issues. I have tried multiple IEMs and I did find that balanced opened up some of the darker sounding IEMs a little, my favourite IEMs have been things like the Jasper and the Yuan Li, running from the SE output. 

Beyerdynamic Custom Studio (80 Ohms / 96dB/mW): These were actually the first over ear headphones I tried with the Go Blu, as they live in a drawer of my desk in the office. Running them from the SE output I didn’t find that I had any issues with volume or performance in general. I was actually surprised to find that I really like the combo and they make a great BT headset.

Hifiman Arya w/ Stealth Magnets (32 Ohms / 94dB/mW): I enjoyed these headphones powered by the Go Blu, from both the SE and Balanced outputs. With the majority of music I listen to, there were no issues but when listening to some heavy paced electronic music, I did feel that they weren’t performing to their capabilities. They lacked some technical performance more than actual sound issues.

Hifiman Ananda (25 Ohms / 103dB/mW): I enjoyed this combination very much. I did not find that the Ananda seemed to be lacking in any way and seemed to be as detailed as always. I actually preferred these from the SE output.

Hifiman HE400se (25 Ohms / 91dB/mW): These sounded ok with the Go Blu but somehow seemed to be lacking a bit of life. Where the Arya was lacking in technicalities, the HE400se just seemed to be a little dull in general.

Sennheiser HD6XX (300 Ohms / 103dB/mW): These headphones actually sound fairly decent on the Go Blu, at least at low listening levels. I didn’t really push these while trying them out as I had people at the side of me but I enjoyed the while I spent with them (it’s always random whether I enjoy these headphones or not anyway).

Beyerdynamic DT1990 Pro: Guess what? They sounded like DT1990 Pro’s, as they always do ;) 

That is about all I have tried out with the Go Blu, except for the Titan S that I tried out briefly today, but I will certainly be trying out new stuff I receive with it and I’m sure it will be mentioned in more reviews over time.


Conclusion…

iFi Audio seems to have a vibe with their products that invite you to listen to music. I know I haven’t had the pleasure of trying all their stuff but the ones I have, all give off this same vibe, except maybe for the Diablo. The Diablo still has that iFi flavour but is more of a “look what I can do!” kind of source than others that are more “just sit back and enjoy!”. I had that sensation with the NEO and with the HFM stack, and now I get it with the Go Blu, even though it is not using the same hardware at all.

I avoided the Go Blu for so long because I thought I would not use the BT functionality except on occasions and that there were better wired options, so it would just sit in a drawer. I have been proven wrong. Not in the fact that there are better products out there, everyone will have their own needs and things will suit them better or worse, but in the fact that I wouldn’t use it.

As I said earlier in the review, it is the first BT device that actually inspires me to pick it up even when I have wired alternatives on hand. In comparison to other things that I have been using recently, such as the Hidizs S9 Pro and the Aune BU2, it is different to both of them. 

The harshness I find in the higher ranges of the S9 Pro is present in a similar way but to a more reduced extent on the balanced output of the Blu. As with the S9 Pro, I find the balanced output of the Blu to be more tiring over time. However, everything else about the Blu (except for the 24/96 limit) is superior by a mile. The build, the looks, the functionality and the fact that it inspires me to relax and enjoy the music where the S9 Pro is more of an attention seeker.

In comparison to the BU2, they are again different. I feel that the BU2 focuses on USB with BT as an extra, whereas the Go Blu is the other way around. If using Bluetooth I would no doubt go for the Blu, but when competing on wired terms, the Aune is more detailed in my opinion. Maybe more detailed is the wrong term, it is clearer with its details, whereas the Go Blu is more relaxed. The balanced output of the BU2 also avoids that harshness I mentioned, sounding exactly like the unbalanced output (in my opinion), just with more power.

I have to say that the iFi Go Blu really is a great little product. It is a perfect companion to always have on hand as it fits in an IEM case along with a set of IEMs, a couple of adapters and a USB-C to USB-C cable.

There are a couple of things that could be improved on and I would love to see more case options for it (even if they are just simple transparent cases with a clip like on the S9 Pro) but other than that, I really can’t complain.

And the final thing that matches the rest of the iFi products is that my review of them turns into a long wall of text!

 

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