Today we are taking a look at what is probably the smallest piece of gear I have ever reviewed, the iFi Audio GObar. The GObar is what typically gets called a USB Dongle DAC/Amp nowadays. I’ve spent time with a few of these types of devices over the years, but it seems that in the last two years or so the availability of options on the market has absolutely exploded. It seems to be the case nowadays, especially from so called “Chi-Fi” companies, that they all have at least one product of this type in their line up. This type of product and its form factor does seem to have advanced rapidly in its capabilities, the GObar being one example of this. iFi is a fairly consistent example of pushing the amount of features available in a device in its given market space and form factor, and the GObar does seem to continue this trend.
I remember back in a 2015 I bought an LH Labs Geek Out V2, which was a disaster in terms of usability and design, but sounded great for its size and the market at that time. I never would have expected devices of this type to have come so far in such a short period of time, but compared to that GOV2, and the original AudioQuest Dragonfly, the GOBar is a revelation. However, it has very stiff competition from the vast array of similar devices on the market, so let’s check out how it sounds and performs.
In terms of overall tonal balance, the GObar reminds me of the time I spent with the HipDacV2 from iFi. Its has that slight warmth to its mid range, but does seem slightly different from the traditional iFi “house sound” I have come to know very well. It’s a bit brighter and sharper than I am used to from iFi. This does work well with some headphones, but if you are perhaps using a bright pair of IEM’s for example, it may not be the best choice. The bass seems mostly neutral to me, not being bloated and sluggish in any way, but also not lean or cold. The mids, especially the lower mids, are again slightly warmer than neutral. The highs are slightly tipped up as I mentioned, but this does help things sound a bit lively and helps details in the top end come across easily.
In terms of things like detail and technical performance, it’s pretty remarkable compared to the dongle market in 2015. The GObar is genuinely an engaging device to listen with. Is it comparable to the Pro iDSD from iFi? No, not really, and yet, you have to keep in mind the size and MSRP of this little device whilst you are using it. I was listening with my T+A Solitaire P at one point, and really didn’t find myself wanting for much. I was just enjoying my tunes, and wasn’t thinking I was missing out on anything or being annoyed by something in particular. The overall detail levels for the price range are totally in line with what they should be, and the sound staging etc…are slightly wider than neutral.
In terms of filter options, the GObar has 4. Bit perfect, Standard, Minimum Phase, and the same GTO filter that is featured on the Pro iDSD. I ended up preferring the GTO filter, similar to my time with the Pro iDSD. My second favourite was the “Standard” filter. Also in keeping with iFi’s other equipment, the GObar includes the XBass+ and XSpace options. I really enjoy the XBass+ with most headphones, but do find the Xspace works better with some recordings than others. Thankfully, both options are easily switched on and off with a single button on the side of the unit, so you can try them out and see what works best for you and your ears.
Also included is iFi’s “IEMatch” technology for use with sensitive IEM’s. This is a very handy option if you are experiencing a bit hiss with your easy to drive IEMs. I ended up not needing it personally (my IEMs are not sensitive at all,) but it is there should you have a sensitive pair.
There is only one input into the GObar and that is done via USB-C. I am so happy iFi went with USB-C and not with Micro-USB. USB-C is a better, more reliable, and overall better connector type with better longevity. In terms of output there is a 4.4mm Pentaconn fully balanced output, and right beside it iFi 3.5mm “S-Balanced” connector, which aims to bring the benefits of a balanced circuit to single ended devices. The GObar does a rock solid 475mw into 32 ohms from the balanced output, and 300mw from the SE output. This is somewhat higher than the power output of similar “Chi-Fi” devices on the market. One thing I would have liked to see on the GOBar is slightly easier to read lettering on its rear. I found myself having to hold it in the light at a certain angle to read what options I had on or off. It’s not a big thing, and I suppose it would spoil the “clean” look of the GObar, but it would make it slightly easier to use.
Now, this is the difficult question. The GObar retails at $329USD. This is higher than the other aforementioned “Chi-Fi” dongle options on the market. If you are in the market for a USB Dongle DAC/Amp and it is simply going to be for totally casual listening, or maybe to serve as a backup for your backup of your desktop setup, then I would seek out one of the cheaper “Chi-Fi” options. A lot of those will do a decent enough job and have enough power for IEMs and easier to drive headphones etc….BUT, the GObar from iFi would 100% be my recommendation for other uses. Perhaps this is going to be your only DAC/Amp, if you are a beginner or need something small and transportable. Maybe you have decently difficult headphones to power as well as IEMs, for those people, I would unquestionably recommend the GOBar. The extra $100 or so USD is worth it in those cases. As with everything in this life, it all depends on you and your own personal use case.
The iFi GOBar, whilst being slightly more expensive than its competition, does bring some new features to the USB Dongle DAC/Amp market, as well as higher power output. It seems to have a lot of the features I have enjoyed about iFi Audio gear, yet it is this tiny little portable dongle. The amount of sound quality, and features in such a tiny package is pretty remarkable. If the GOBar fits your use case, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. If you happen to just need a back up of your backup gear, there are other cheaper options on the market that might suit you better, but if you need a USB Dongle that is more “all out” in its capabilities, then the GOBar is the way to go.