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iFi GO Link Review: A Second Opinion

Power, neutrality, and a very affordable price. The iFi Audio GO Link gets a second listen and we think it’s even better than we thought.

iFi Go Link Dongle DAC connected to Meze 99 Classic headphones walnut

EIC Ian White already spent some time with the iFi GO Link and for the most part, I agree with his conclusion. Neither one of us listens to the same type of IEMs or headphones so I decided to add some additional commentary based on my own experience with this exceptionally well made Dongle DAC that is only $59 USD right now on Amazon.

For a more detailed technical description, please read our original review that was published in March 2023.

We also use different types of smartphones and this proved to be a beneficial second listen because my experience was slightly different from an operational perspective.

My experience with an iPhone was similar to his, but I have a real complaint about its operation with my Samsung smartphone. Because the housing on the USB connector is rather wide, I had to remove my case because it was not stepped to allow it to fit with the case on.

It is also worth noting that one should never plug the adapter into the source with the IEMs or headphones already on your head or inserted into your ear canal; we discovered that when you connect the iFi GO Link, the unit might set the volume to 100% on Android devices, potentially damaging your hearing in the process.

iFi Go Link Dongle DAC USB and Lightning Adapters

Enough Power?

Output power is 70mW into a 32 ohms or up to 2.05V into 600 ohms allowing the GO Link to work equally well with both IEMs and over-ear headphones including some of the less power hungry planar models.  

When taking a closer look at the internal photography of the design, we noticed that the clocking and USB input are not handled by the SoC (System on a Chip). It is also interesting to see iFi finally make the switch over to ESS Sabre DACs in some of their portable units; the company has been using Burr Brown DACs produced by Texas Instruments and relying on XMOS chips to handle MQA and DSD processing before handing off the data to the DAC. This switch is rather significant and it will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend.

iFi Go Link Dongle DAC headphone input

Sound

Starting with the aforementioned Samsung S22 smartphone, I used TIDAL and Qobuz to stream music through the iFi GO Link; my Campfire Andromeda IEMs were the natural place to start because of their sensitivity which would allow me to hear any hiss/noise issues.

That proved to be a wise choice because I discovered an issue when using Android; current versions of Android use a 25-step volume ladder which makes steps too large once you pass 70 dB.

Using a player like USB Audio Player Pro that bypasses the built-in volume control in Android and lets the user leverage the native volume control of the dongle allows for much finer adjustments and made it easier to reach optimal listening levels without some noticeable noise and volume issues.

Once I was able to figure the volume issue out, the Campfire Andromeda performed well with the GO Link; dynamics and detail were well presented and there was only a small degree of hiss which is entirely normal with these IEMs.

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iFi Go Link Dongle DAC USB-C

Switching over to the Empire Ears Wraith confirmed my initial impressions of the GO Link. The Wraith is not as a noisy and there was a slight decrease in the amount of discernible hiss.

Moving up to something a bit less sensitive but still easy to drive I opted for the Beyerdynamic T5 (Generation 2) headphones; the GO Link had no difficulty powering the T5 and the tonal balance was extremely neutral sounding with sufficient control and impact across the board.

For a $60 Dongle DAC, the iFi GO Link was rather free of coloration in the upper bass through the midrange; which one might not expect at this price point.

The HiFiMAN Arya Stealth felt like a bridge too far with the GO Link, and it was reasonable to expect that the tiny dongle would struggle to drive these headphones.

Guess again. Not only did the iFi GO Link not struggle with these headphones, but the sound was clear, crisp, and with very good detail retrieval.

Feeling emboldened, I connected my pair of HiFiMAN HE6 and this proved to be a terrible combination; the GO Link could barely get these headphones going and the sound was thin and rather lifeless sounding. I should have known better because it takes a really powerful amplifier or DAP to drive these properly and the GO Link was struggling from the very first note.

iFi Go Link Dongle DAC Back

Switching to the Sennheiser HD800 to test a harder to drive dynamic headphone was more successful with the GO Link having no issues with headroom and the great soundstage of the HD800 on full display.  

The iFi/Sennheiser combination highlighted one of the strengths of the Dongle DAC; the ability to stretch the dimensions of the soundstage in all directions and combined with a pair of headphones that already excels in that category made for a rather intriguing combination.

Across the board, the GO Link was free of coloration with every IEM and headphone that we tried; detail retrieval and overall clarity is excellent at its price point.

Switching to an iPhone 14 showed similar results as did using a Windows 11 PC with the USB-A adapter. iFi aimed for razor sharp neutrality with the GO Link and succeeded. The treble range is clean and extended and there was no softening or roll-off at the top with darker sounding headphones.

iFi Go Link Dongle DAC Top

Conclusion

With so many Dongle DACs on the market, it has become extremely difficult to find huge differences between the various models. It’s usually at the top end of the market where the better models from FiiO and Questyle have demonstrated superior dynamic capabilities, higher levels of resolution, exceptional clarity and detail retrieval, and greater power reserves.

That level of performance comes with a much higher price tag.

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So where does that place the $59 iFi GO Link?

With the exception of the volume issue with Android, this tiny dongle elevates the sound quality of the iPhone and Android-powered smartphones by a considerable margin and at a price that has to be considered a huge bargain.

This one easily makes our “Best of 2023” list in December for its overall performance below $100.

Where to buy: $59 at Amazon

Related video: DAP, Dongle DAC or DAC-AMP: Which should you choose?

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Michael

    August 28, 2023 at 5:15 pm

    Love my iFiGo. I have been using it on my Android phone, Amazon HiRes streaming and high res ear monitors for about six months now. Prior to this, I had forgotten what music was supposed to sound like. The price of $59 makes this purchase a no brainer.

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