How can you extract the best possible music quality from a smartphone? A great pair of headphones is one way, but if they’re too good, they’ll make compressed phone music sound mushy and flat. Or there’s the over-ear/in-ear-hybrid Nuraphones I featured here a year ago, which, digitally, will conjure up a huge and pretty magnificent sound – but are cumbersome if you’re travelling and can be uncomfortable.
Now there’s another way, thanks to a Merseyside audio company with a growing reputation. Ifi’s creations are audiophile, verging on geeky. Its new, multi-award-winning xDSD wireless headphone amplifier was one of those occasional products that sit unopened on my samples shelf because, to be honest, I couldn’t quite get my head around it. A while after it arrived, I actually rang the company in Southport to run through just what it does, because the box wasn’t quite clear.
I’m glad I pursued it, because this gizmo is nothing less than an audio turbocharger for a smartphone, tablet, laptop and more. You can use it wired, like other DAC/headphone amps, but the fabulous USP is that the xDSD works via Bluetooth. Here’s the scenario: you connect it wirelessly to your music source; you plug your headphones into the xDSD; you can then roam around most of your office or home (or plane or train) with just the xDSD in your pocket, listening to music not only with the last molecule of quality squeezed out of it, but amplified as loud and as bold as you like.
It will drive big, studio-quality headphones that a phone can’t. And the quality it produces, especially if the source is better than the smartphone average, is not far off what you get from a high-definition Astell & Kern-type player. Sure, with the xDSD it’s a two-device setup. And, no, you can’t skip tracks or repeat from the xDSD. But it’s a remarkable machine. It’s also a beautiful bit of industrial design in its magnesium-alloy casing.