We recently reviewed the iFi Audio Nano iOne DAC which, while it may be an entry-level model, is nonetheless generously equipped.
Offered at an attractive price, the iFi Audio iOne doesn’t really have any direct competitors, since DACs equipped with USB and S/PDIF inputs are extremely rare in this price range. Also rare are models equipped a Bluetooth receiver, as is the case for the iOne. And even rarer are DACs benefiting from advanced noise cancellation and jitter correction technology.
What does this device do?
The iFi Audio Nano iOne is a digital-to-analog audio converter designed to transform digital data into audible sound. Its USB and coaxial inputs enable it to be used with a computer, playback device (CD, DVD, Blu-ray) or network player, for example.
iFi Audio has fitted the iFi Audio Nano iOne with its favorite converter: the Texas Instruments Burr Brown DSD1793, one of the only models in Burr Brown’s catalog to be made in Japan. This chip is the flagship of its range and can handle stereo PCM audio streams up to 32-bit/384 kHz and DSD up to 11.2 MHz. The Nano iOne can thus handle absolutely all audio files.
Even better, PCM and DSD audio stream is handled via the DAC?s USB input (type-B, serves to power the device) or coaxial S/PDIF input. When the USB input is used, the S/PDIF RCA connector switches to output mode. As a result, the iFi Audio Nano iOne can be connected to the analog inputs of an amplifier, to its digital input, or to another external DAC.
Integrated USB filter
The weak point of DACs powered via their USB port is linked to the computer which transfers electric current and digital audio data simultaneously. The computer generates a lot of interference (processor, hard drive, 12V power supply, etc.) and the resulting audio often seems harsh and cold. iFi Audio proposes a USB filter (the iFi Audio iSilencer 3.0), which it has integrated into the iFi Audio Nano iOne. Noise is thus automatically filtered out and jitter is reduced. In addition, the iOne is equipped with a processor designed to oversee data exchanges with the sources via its digital inputs, which brings jitter (timing errors in the transmission of data packets) down to practically unmeasurable levels. Let us point out that the digital audio connection between a computer and an external DAC is not protected by any error correction system, as opposed to data copying. To this end, the DAC?s USB controller sets the transmission speed.
The iFi Audio Nano iOne is worth a try, if only for its integrated wireless Bluetooth receiver. Bluetooth receivers equipped with a DAC and a highly efficient analog output are rare. The iOne can wirelessly receive and decode audio files from a smartphone, tablet or computer, for example. All three Bluetooth compression modes are handled: basic SBC, AAC (used by iPhones) and the superior AptX codec.
A selection of digital filters
The fact that a switch allows the user to choose between two digital filters, one with a steep slope and one with a more progressive one, is the icing on the cake. For a bright listening experience, the steep-slope filter is the way to go.
The iFi Audio Nano iOne comes with a high-quality USB cable, a stereo RCA-to-RCA cable, an optical-to-Toslink mini-jack converter and a low-noise power supply (5V/0,5A). The latter mainly serves to connect S/PDIF sources. However, it can also be used with the iFi Audio iDefender 3.0 adapter, which we tested and found to offer noteworthy advantages for all self-powered DACs.
We listened to the iFi Audio Nano iOne via each of its inputs, with a Macbook (USB, FLAC files and DSD), with a Sonos Connect (coaxial S/PDIF) and via Bluetooth (SBC). We used a Marantz M-CR611 amplifier connected to Focal Aria 906 speakers.
Let?s not beat around the bush, iFi Audio knows its business. The audio quality is impressively natural and relaxed, regardless of the input selected. The sense of detail is unwavering, the soundstage serenely presented and remarkably wide. With the iDefender, these characteristics are enhanced and gain enough dynamism to make much more expensive DACs green with envy. Pure rhythmic delight! In Bluetooth mode, a lot is lost due to compression, but this option remains practical. With very expressive speakers, the ability to adjust the digital filter is a big plus.
What we liked:
- The spacious, relaxed listening experience
- The integrated USB filter
- The two digital filters
- The coaxial S/PDIF input and output
- The Bluetooth SBC/AAC/AptX receiver
- The included USB power supply
What we would have liked:
- To have discovered it sooner
Add the iFi Audio iDefender to the l’iFi Audio Nano iOne and you?ll have a winning ticket for an audiophile-grade listening experience. Unbeatable in its category, as much in terms of musicality as in functionality.