Ifi Audio is known for making remarkable yet affordable DAC/Headphone Amps, but today we’re looking at their first Portable Bluetooth DAC/Amp, the $199 iFi GO blu.
Unlike many portable Bluetooth DACs, the GO blu has separate Amp, DAC, and Bluetooth circuits which enable it to provide double the output power of competitors. iFi also promises superior sound quality compared to devices with integrated Amp, Bluetooth, and/or DAC chips.
Go blu is also smaller and lighter than other options, so, all in all, it’s an attractive package.
So, is the iFi GO blu the Bluetooth headphone amplifier you should pick? Does it offer “superior sound” as promised? Well read on, and I’ll give you the scoop!
Disclaimer: The iFi GO blu was sent to us by iFi Audio in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. It will be returned to them once our evaluation is complete.
The first thing I noticed upon pulling the iFi GO blu out of the box, was how compact it was. It’s no bigger than a matchbox and at 26g, it’s lighter than a AA battery. With its minuscule size and weight, I do wish there was a clip of some sort to attach it to your clothing, but you can buy a case separately to hang it around your neck.
Secondly, I noticed its upscale design. The soft-touch polymer enclosure, copper-colored trim, copper buttons, and “ChronoDial” watch-style control are simply well-executed, and they make the GO blu look a touch more premium than the competition.
Speaking of the ChronoDial, it’s a pleasure to use, turning smoothly and controlling the volume on the Bluetooth-connected device precisely. In the middle of the dial, there’s a multi-function button that presses in nicely with a satisfying click.
That button controls playback in Bluetooth mode, letting you play/pause music, plus skip tracks forward and back. It will also call up your phone’s native voice assistant with a long press.
Below that knob is a button for Bluetooth pairing and sound mode settings, where you can activate iFi’s built-in sound effects. You can pick between “XSpace” for a wider soundstage, “XBass” for a gentle mid-bass boost, or a combination of both.
As usual, iFi does an excellent job of applying sound effects without too much harm to the signal. Both XSpace and XBass sound good, with XBass providing some added warmth without overdoing it, and XSpace opening up the soundstage without the echo you get from a lot of DSP effects. Both are nice to listen to if you’re into that sort of thing.
On the opposite side of the Go blu from the volume knob is the power button. On the bottom is a reset button, USB-C charging/input jack, a battery status LED, and a mic for taking phone calls, which worked very well when I used it.
On the top of the Go blu is an LED for Bluetooth/Sound effect status, along with the 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended headphone jacks. Those jacks supply up to 245mW (@ 32Ω) Balanced, and up to 165mW (@ 32Ω) single-ended which is double what most Bluetooth Amps of this type produce.
Ifi attributes that substantial power to their twin-mono amp section, which is more substantial than what you usually see in a device like this. It’s much like the setup you see in a device like iFi’s hip-dac 2, which is about five or six times the size of the Go blu.
The Go blu is also the first device to use Qualcomm’s QCC 5100 chip which brings along Bluetooth 5.1 for stronger, more stable connections. That also opens the door for all the high-quality Bluetooth codecs like AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, and LHDC/HWA.
Bluetooth 5.1 also allows the Go blu to have excellent battery life. You can get an average of 10 hours of playback on a charge, which should get you thru a whole day of work or a cross-country flight.
All audio is processed via a 32-bit capable Cirrus Logic CS43131 based DAC section, which can be engaged both wirelessly and wired via the USB-C jack (up to 24/96 PCM). Unfortunately, you can’t decode DSD or MQA via USB, that would’ve been a really nice feature to have.
If you do use the GO blu as a USB-C DAC amp, the USB jack will charge the unit as you listen to music which is a good thing. Another bonus is the ability to connect to your phone and play music from your laptop at the same time. I used this to take phone calls while working and playing music on my computer.
Listening to the iFi Audio GO blu
For my listening tests, I plugged in a pair of Hifiman SUNDARA headphones and paired the iFi GO blu to my FiiO M11 Plus LTD Digital Audio Player. I started off using the aptX audio codec and played some music from the TIDAL app.
The GO blu was able to power the SUNDARA on either the single-ended or balanced output or with no issue. I was able to turn the volume up to levels higher than it had any business going.
If I had to sum up the GO blu’s sound in one word, it would be “smooth”. This Bluetooth amp has a laid-back tuning that makes it non-fatiguing. It’s a warm sound with the treble rolled off significantly, mids a bit forward, and a slight bump in the midbass.
Listening to “Stay Gold” by the Black Pumas, I found the GO blu to be fairly detailed, but not quite as detailed as you get from iFi’s wired offerings. It also didn’t quite have the depth and separation I’m used to getting from something like the iFi hip dac 2 or ZEN Dac.
On the other hand, there was still a good amount of detail in the vocals and strings, plus some good articulation in the bass. I just felt like I was missing a little of the top-end detail.
When I switched over to the aptX HD codec on the Fiio player, there was a little more detail and transparency, and there was even more when I switched over to LDAC on the highest setting (optimized for audio quality).
The sound then got a bit better when I used the GO blu as a USB DAC. The overall sound didn’t change that much, but there was just a little more definition on the instruments and vocals. It worked well as a wired DAC, I just wish there was a way to see the Bit depth or Sample Rate.
All in all, as a Bluetooth DAC, the Go blu was warm and natural sounding. It was enjoyable to listen to, especially when you consider you’re listening to a wireless connection. Bluetooth has come a long way since the first Bluetooth headphones and adapters came out.
The Wrap Up
With the iFi Go blu, iFi has come up with another well-built, nicely featured device. It has remarkable power to feed power-hungry headphones and a smooth sound that’s very easy to listen to for long listening sessions.
It could use just a touch more transparency, especially in the midrange, but there’s still enough detail and warmth to provide some nice musicality. If you need a wireless DAC, especially one with huge power output, you need to check out the Go blu.
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.