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Review - iFi Audio NEO iDSD 2

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TLDR version on YouTube: TDLR - iFi Audio NEO iDSD 2

The NEO iDSD 2 has been sent to me on loan directly by iFi Audio for me to try it out and to share my opinions in this review. As always, iFi have not made any requests and I will do be very best to be as unbiased as I can.

The official page for the NEO iDSD can be found here: https://ifi-audio.com/products/neo-idsd-2/

The above is a non-affiliate link as usual.


Intro…

I reviewed the original NEO iDSD back in January of 2021 and thought it was a great all in one device. In late 2022, I then reviewed the NEO Stream, a very similar device from the same line up, that also added streaming functionality into the already complete package of the NEO.

This newest model, which I am going to refer to as the NEO 2 throughout the review for brevity, is based upon the original all-in-one, not the streamer, but with some new tricks up its sleeve. There is also a NEO iDSD Performance Edition, which already featured some upgrades over the original, but I have not had a chance to try that one out and, as far as I am aware, the NEO 2 is the model with the most updates and upgrades of the 3.

A few of the new tricks that we can find on the NEO 2 are things like lossless Bluetooth (the worlds first DAC/Amp with this capability according to iFi), 5x times more power than the previous model (up to 5.5W @32 Ohms according to specs), XSpace, XBass II and the possibility of adding an external clock, amongst other things.

I will try to cover everything without rambling on forever, so let’s get started with the packaging and presentation.


Presentation…

I can keep this section short and sweet, as there is no difference between the packaging of the NEO 2 and the original, or basically 90% of iFi Audio’s other devices. They are always simple in their packaging but well thought out and well protected.

As far as contents in the NEO 2 box, at least in the demo unit I have received, we get the device, the iPower power supply with changeable connector types, a USB 3.0 cable, an RCA to RCA cable, a remote control, the stand and the usual user manual etc. One thing missing that I know was in there at some point is the iFi sticker, as it is always in there 😉

No complaints as far as contents from me. Yes, there are always things that we could “wish to see”, but there is nothing I would consider missing (except the sticker of course).


Build and Aesthetics…

The NEO 2 is very similar in both build and aesthetics to the earlier models, in fact, as far as build quality, it is identical, which is to say very good. The whole device is machined aluminium, except in this case, there is an opaque plastic corner at the top back corner (if the device is vertical) which is what I believe to be for the Bluetooth connectivity. This saves the need for a BT antenna on the back but, to be honest, I did expect that corner to glow but that is not the case and is also irrelevant.

As with the previous models also, the screen automatically rotates depending the orientation of it, as you can either lay it horizontal or stand it up vertically (with the included stand).

On the front panel, in horizontal mode, from left to right, we get the screen, the large rotating and push button volume knob, the LED that illuminates the strip at the side of the knob, 5 buttons in a cross style layout with the centre button being round, the 4.4mm balanced headphone output and the 6.35mm unbalanced headphone output.

Spinning around to the back, again in horizontal mode and from left to right, we get the 2x XLR balanced outputs, with the unbalanced RCA outputs between them, a 3.5mm analogue input, an input for an external clock, a digital coax input, an optical input, the USB input and the DC power input, which will accept between 9V (1.5A) and 15V (0.9A) supplies.

While the aesthetics of this device are nothing new, they are the same as the previous models, I am still a fan of them and feel that it is a device that looks both modern and elegant at the same time. It doesn’t look out of place in my office or in my house.


Functionality…

While I didn’t mention it under build, the screen on the NEO 2 has also received a bit of an upgrade in comparison to the previous NEO iDSD OG and PE models. I may be remembering incorrectly but this seems to make better use of the space on the screen and it also adds some colour to the settings that are reflected on the screen.

The 5 buttons that I mentioned a moment ago have the following functionality:

Center - Power on / off

Top - Input selection and BT Pairing

Bottom - Gain selection

Left - XSpace

Right - XBass II


In addition to those 5 buttons, we also get the centre knob that works as a mute button if pressed or also brings up the menu when held for 3 seconds.

Before talking about the menu, let me mention the functionality from the buttons.

The power button is pretty self-explanatory, whereas the input and gain buttons cycle through them with each press. The input changes are brought up on screen, showing an image and text briefly with each change, with the gain level always being shown on screen in the form of a small icon.

Now, we would expect the gain levels to be shown as low/medium/high, or something along these lines, but as is many times the case with iFi, the give their own names to the gain levels and in this case, they even have their own little icons.

“iEMatch” is the lowest level, which is represented on the screen with a small set of IEMs in green. This setting is aimed at working well with the more sensitive IEMs. The level is noticeably lower than the next level but it does work well to reduce the hiss that is present when using sensitive IEMs.

“Normal” is the next level, which is represented on screen with a drop of water. Now, I have absolutely no idea where the reference of a water drop with normal gain comes from, but I did find it to be the icon that was shown on the screen the most with my use 🙂

“Turbo” is the next level, which is represented with a flame on screen. We have seen “Turbo” mode on other iFi devices in the past, again referring to high gain, but in those cases it has usually been the highest gain level. In this case we have another additional gain mode above “Turbo”

“Nitro” is a case of iFi going to eleven, as any Nigel Tufnel fan will appreciate. I really can’t say that I have found any need for this gain level with any of the headphones I have here, and certainly not IEMs, but it is there for those who need it. I will say that, when cycling through “Nitro” with IEMs in (not playing of course), the hiss made me nervous, feeling that any accidental noise of my PC would cause pain 🙂

The XSpace button turns on or off the XSpace feature. Now XSpace is nothing new on an iFi device either, it is featured on many of their devices, and is aimed at adding a spacial feeling to the sound when using headphones. I found that it works especially well with certain IEMs. In the case of XSpace on the NEO 2, I have found it to be the iFi device that it makes the most noticeable difference on. While I found it to be subtle on many of their other devices, here it is quite a notable function.

The XBass II button does the same but for the XBass function, although here we have three different modes: XBass > Presence > XBass + Presence. This is again something that I have discussed in the past (the Gryphon that I use almost daily has these same three modes) and it is basically to enable a bit of a boost in the upper mids (Presence) which can be used independently or together with the XBass function. As with the XSpace function, I find the XBass modes to be more noticeable on the NEO 2 than on other previous devices.

Ok, so now let’s get on to the menu which is accessed by a 3 second press of the knob. Inside the menu we find:

Filter Selection - This allows us to choose between 4 different digital filter: Bit Perfect, Standard, Minimum Phase and GTO. 

Gain Selection - This gives us the same gain options as the gain button but in this case we use the wheel to turn up or down and the select, which saves us having to cycle through all of them (good for my fear of “Nitro” mode!).

Volume Sync - This is so it can sync with the volume of the device it is connected to and can be turned on or off.

BT Voice Prompt - Decide whether you want the nice lady to tell you the BT status.

External Clock Sync - If you connect an external clock to the NEO 2 (which I haven’t done because I don’t have one), you can activate it here.

Line Out Volume Control - Choose if the line outs should be fixed volume or controlled by the volume knob of the device.

Factory Reset - Make coffee. Just kidding, it does what it says on the tin.

About - Shows us the name and firmware version of the device.


That is it as far as functionality. As far as connectivity, well, put the connectors in the corresponding holes and away you go.

For a device that does have so many options, it is all easy to control but there is one last thing that I haven’t mentioned and gives us that extra little bit of functionality, the remote control.

The remote control features the same functionality as the drive itself, but it has the addition of three extra buttons, which are play/pause, next track and previous track.

When the device is connected via USB or Bluetooth, this allows control of the source from the iFi remote. This is a great feature and while it isn’t anything new, I find that it is usually limited to BT connected devices. As the iFi works with USB connected devices also, that is great for my desktop set ups.



Sound…

Starting off with power, I don’t have anything in my collection that comes close to needing all of the power that the NEO 2 offers. As I mentioned in the intro, the specs say that it will deliver up to 5.5W @32 Ohms and I cannot confirm or deny as I haven’t measured it but I can say that it has way more than I need for anything that I have on hand. I found myself mostly in Normal gain mode, with some adventure into the Turbo gain mode to try it out, but I didn’t find myself touching Nitro mode at all.

I can’t say how it will do with some of the more demanding headphones out there, such as the Susvara, but for anything within normal parameters, I think that the headphone output section of the NEO 2 will be more than enough for anyone who has decent hearing (and wants to maintain it 😉 )

As far as the general sound of the device, without any of the XBass or XSpace modes activated, then there is no doubt that this is an iFi Audio device. There is that hint of warmth to the sound that those who know and love the iFi house sound will appreciate. I am a fan of this sound, as I have mentioned many times in the past, and my enjoyment of the NEO 2 has obviously reflected this.

This “house sound” does seem to come more from the DAC in this case than the amplifier section, as using the DAC outputs to feed various speaker set ups and also other headphone amplifiers did give me that same hint of iFi warmth. When feeding from other DACs into the NEO 2 amplifier stage, which is limited to unbalance by the way, I felt that the amplifier was more neutral than when fed with the onboard DAC. That is not to say that the onboard DAC is not neutral, just that it has that touch of rounded warmth to it.

I enjoyed going through most of the headphones I have available, making the most of it not being summer yet, and did not find that I disliked any of them paired with the NEO 2 DSD. That doesn’t mean that it fixed inherent issues to the headphones themselves but I did find it to be a pleasurable pairing with my preferred sets.

I also had both the AR5000 and the Liric 2 here for testing while using the NEO and it worked very well for them both. The pairing with the Liric 2 is great and I think that they really compliment each other. I also found a lot of enjoyment from various Hifiman planar models.

As far as IEMs, again I found it to work well. Yes, there is some hiss with more sensative pairs (and that scary Nitro mode hiss with all IEMs!), but IEMatch fixes the issue with the sensitive ones and Normal mode works fine for those that are not too sensitive. 

As I mentioned under functionality, I get the sensation that both XBass and XSpace are more noticeable on the NEO 2 than on other devices from the brand. They both work well and I think that the XBass 2 on the NEO 2 is probably my favourite implementation of XBass yet. I don’t use it all the time but when certain headphones or tracks call for it, it is there and makes a world of difference.

I could probably ramble on a lot more about smoothness, warmth and a smooth chocolate taste beside an open fire but I will save you, and me, all of that and just say that the sound of the NEO 2 does not disappoint.

One thing I have not mentioned is Bluetooth. As I said earlier in the review, this is the first DAC/Amp to feature the new lossless Bluetooth connectivity, unfortunately I do not have a device that transmits via lossless Bluetooth, so I cannot say how it works. The LDAC functionality works fine though, with plenty of range inside my office and a very stable connection, providing a sound quality that will be more than enough for the majority of listeners out there that use Bluetooth. I guess lossless can only improve on that.


Conclusion…

The iFi Audio NEO iDSD 2 has received a bit of a price increase since the original version but at the same time it has received some upgrades that really make this an even better all in one device. Priced at just under 900€, it is certainly not a cheap device, yet the features and performance are by no means cheap either.

It has ample power for everything I currently have on hand, I am a big fan of the sound and it is packed in an enclosure that may not be anything new, we have seen the design before, but sill looks elegant and inspires confidence in the quality of the product.

So, with positive results from everything I have thrown at the NEO 2, I guess the deciding factor for many would be the price, is it worth the price tag? Well, I am sure you could put together a system that has much of the same functionality (except for the lossless Bluetooth) and a comparable sound performance, but you would be missing the iFi build and that iFi house sound. We also need to consider that this is from the brand that brought us the 500€ dongle, so putting it into perspective, while I would obviously love a lower price point, I don’t think it is as expensive as it may seem at first.


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