The iFi Audio GO blu is a new portable Bluetooth LDAC and aptX LL capable DAC and balanced output headphone amplifier. It is priced at $199.
Disclaimer: The iFi Audio GO blu sent to us for the purposes of this review is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. Thank you to iFi Audio for giving us this opportunity.
You can read more about iFi Audio products we reviewed on Headfonics by clicking here.
Note, this 2-page review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2021 which you can read up on here.
iFi Audio GO blu
First-time audiophile buyers and old-timers alike will enjoy the iFi Audio GO blu for certain. I personally like this little guy for more than one reason, not just versatility and good sound but for its hefty construction also and it's appropriately named a pocket rocket because that’s what it is.
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I have to admit, the first time I laid my eyes on this next up for review piece of gear I was somewhat amused because iFi Audio makes plenty of portable gear but none to me are considered what I call truly pocket friendly with the exception of perhaps the Hip-dac.
But even the Hip-DAC has a chassis much larger in size compared to this new device iFi Audio calls the GO blu. Another factoid that does not fit the norm here is that iFi Audio never made portable Bluetooth devices until very recently and this is their first and most certainly their smallest device up to date.
One of the interesting features of the iFi Audio GO blu is in fact the DAC section. Most would expect the usual suspects, the Burr-Brown chips and XMOS right? Well, not this time around.
This time around iFi Audio decided to go with a Cirrus Logic CS 43131 Master HIFI chip which is rumored to be one heck of a competitor to, well, their competitors.
This chip seems to have a large fan base out there apparently. It also has some pretty good specs like a 130dB dynamic range, 32BIT resolution, 115 THD+N, and a max sample rate of 384 kHz and with just a 1.8v DC input.
These Cirrus Logic chips have built-in amplifiers but they only seem capable of a 32mW max output so iFi Audio paired the chip together with their direct drive circuitry and their own dual-mono amplification circuitry.
They also employed their custom OV series OP amplifiers with more wattage and a wider bandwidth which specs out at 0.0001% distortion plus they have a much higher output voltage.
The addition to the OV series OP amp section allowed this small device to have a conservatively rated output of 165mW on the single-ended side and 245mW on the balanced side. I say conservative because it seems the power rating is underrated compared to my other devices with similar power output ratings.
The GO blu far as codec or decoding capabilities are concerned should really be broken down into two parts because it receives Bluetooth 5.1 through its Qualcomm QCC5100 four-core processor and it could also receive raw USB data alike to then send it down the DAC section for analog conversion.
On the Bluetooth side, this device is capable of receiving every type I know of codec all the way up to LDAC and LDHC/HWA. Of course, aptX HD, aptX plus, and aptX adaptive the usual AAC, and SBC are also open for decoding.
The DAC section specifications are scarce but I managed to find some information off the chip manufacturer specifications sheet about what formats playback and supposedly this particular Cirrus chip is capable of a 32BIT 384k PCM data rate plus it can do up to DSD256.
I did manage to verify the 24 bit 96 kHz format capability off the USB side on my PC which is the listed spec by iFi. There’s no mention of MQA and honestly, I did not test it in that capacity or with DSD since neither format is mentioned on the iFi Audio website. However, DSD capability is listed as a capable format in the chips manufacturers spec sheet.
The GO blu to me is unlike any piece of gear appearance-wise iFi Audio has produced up to date. Up to now it’s definitely their smallest at 27 grams and measuring a small 54 x 34 x 13 mm but still managed to cram this little guy with a lot of goodies along with some unique build characteristics.
The body has a rectangular shape and the unit is constructed out of some kind of resin and decorated with a metallic brushed Brass fascia with the iFi Audio logo displayed in black. The other side just has a couple of stickers, one with the serial number and the other is a Hi-Res sticker.
The top has two headphone connections, one is a balanced 4.4mm and the other a 3.5mm with the iFi Audio S balanced circuitry. The bottom has a USB-C connector for charging and data connection to access the DAC. There are also two pinholes.
There is a subtle design intricacy that worries me which is the position of the two pinholes. One is the microphone and the other is a reset button. They look very similar so I beg of you to use caution and don’t go sticking something sharp into the microphone if you need to hard reset the GO blu.
The Microphone itself is a CMOS/MEMS microphone system and in my tests, I got compliments on how loud and clear my voice was on the other end. The microphone system can also access voice assist services lie SIRI and Google Assist.
If you like buttons intricate buttons and knobs then this particular one you will really like. Solid Brass construction, spring-loaded with a secondary push button in the center with the iFi Audio logo etched in the center, nice indeed.
This button which iFi Audio calls a ChronoDial has multifunction capabilities and can adjust volume, change tracks, pause and play and it also interacts with your phone either through Bluetooth or USB.
There are also two pushbuttons also made of Brass. One button is to turn the unit on and off, activate pairing mode and the other button activates the Xbass and the XSpace features.
There’s not much else except for a power LED which indicates charging and pairing status and another multicolored LED which indicates if Xbass and XSpace are on or off.
Being familiar with iFi Audio circuitry design I bet the Lithium Polymer 450mAh battery serves a dual purpose here. One is to act as the main power source in order to bypass noisy voltage converting circuitry. The second of course is for portability capability.
Battery power is a somewhat touchy area because people assume battery ratings are with the circuitry at full tilt. That will drain any battery quickly. However iFi Audio rated this battery to have a max 10 hour run time and specifies time depending on what headphone and volume level you use.
I got about 4 hours from planar headphones using a moderate volume level and did get very close to 9 hours using very efficient IEMs at low to moderate volume so it seems close enough to what is specified by iFi.
Charging is done via USB-C V1.2 compliant and the port can take up to a 1amp 6.3V input. I mostly charged the unit with one of my iFi Audio iPower adapters but a phone charger will do the job just fine. It takes about an hour total plus perhaps a few additional minutes more to fully charge which is not bad. I wished my phone would charge that quickly.
The GO blu relies on a software program called Gaia Control to install present and future firmware upgrades and initially, the firmware update procedure can only be done on an Android phone.
However, iFi Audio has told me that Apple users can download Apple Gaia and it will detect your GP blu so it looks as if though compatibility is improving.
The GO blu firmware according to iFi Audio will get future revisions to further enhance stability and with the possibility of adding more formats and possibly more features so I’m looking forward to that.
Packaging & Accessories
Packaging is plain and simple mostly made with white printed cardboard. The packaging is what I call simple but effective. You get an instruction manual plus a warranty card and a couple of other goodies.
The accessories list is rather short. You get a carrying pouch made of suede with the iFi Audio logo printed in black. I like the bag but I do feel this device needs a belt clip or something similar.
You also get one wire inside the box and it’s a full male USB to USB C. One wire is missing in my opinion and that is a USB-C to USB-C because that way you could use the GO blu as a micro dongle DAC amp with your phone straight out of the box.
Click on page 2 below for sound impressions and select comparisons