The pursuit of better sound in Bluetooth headphones seems to be all the craze for audio manufactures lately. With all the new TWS releases and the multitude of wearable DAC/AMPS made in the past year, it’s a fun and exciting time to try various products that look to provide listeners with the best possible Bluetooth sound quality. While iFi is no stranger in the audiophile space - best known for their extremely popular DACs and AMPs, like iCAN Pro Signature, xDSD Gryphon, and NEO Stream - iFi does have experience with a highly portable Bluetooth DAC/AMP in the GO blu, but an IEM TWS adapter is certainly a first for them. Did iFi create something truly superb, or is GO pod’s $399 price tag – one of the highest in its class – too big of a hill to climb?
Build and Design
“There's a first for everything…” And iFi is the first to bring new standards to the TWS and wearable DAC/AMP world. They jam packed the GO pod with impressive tech, the most eye-catching being the support of LDAC and LHDC (HWA) at its highest specifications of 32-bit/96kHz. aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX Low Latency, regular aptX, AAC and SBC codecs are all supported, ensuring that whatever device you use - GO pod will offer the best bluetooth experience possible. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound platform and Bluetooth 5.2 come together for reliable connection capabilities, and I was able to move around the office, away from my phone, without signal interruptions. iFi also packed the GO pod with juice. Each output signal is balanced and puts out up to 120mW into 32 ohms, giving highly sensitive IEMs a black background, and more power demanding IEMs the ability to shine.
GO pod makes a statement immediately upon arrival, with the rather large, chiseled, black case being the first thing that catches your eye. The case measures in at 4.6 x 3 x 1.5 inches, making it a less viable option when you have to put it in your pocket. Size aside, the case holds a battery life of 35 hours, and can be charged via USB-C. The pods carry 7 hours of charge, making these ideal for travel or fitness. The inside of the case is a red carpet experience: you're greeted by two lights that shine down on the GO pod, making the 60 seconds that they stay on very cinematic. With a velvet material interior lining keeping the GO pod cozy, the quality of the case is extremely premium, and adds to the overall package.
As for the pods themselves, the sleek, minimalist design offers a low profile. The textured hard leather-like plastic makes for a simple, but classy design that pairs nicely with the glossy, aluminum touch sensor on the adapters. The touch sensors do a great job of offering multiple functions, like play/pause, skip back/forward, volume up/down, and more. Answering calls can be done through the touch sensor as well, and what was surprising to me was the clarity of the microphone.
iFi included both 2-pin and MMCX connectors for easy swapping between most IEMs. The outside of these connectors is a semi-hard shell rubber. The fit takes a bit of adjusting, but once you get them resting on your ears, the weight distribution is excellent, and they’re extremely comfortable. I would never hesitate to take these with me on a hike, run, or to the gym as they do a great job of staying fastened to my ears.
In theory, the sound of the GO pod should be mostly dependent on the IEMs you’re pairing with them, right? Technically speaking, yes, but that simply is not feasible yet with the current bluetooth landscape. However, iFi got pretty darn close. With a very clean and transparent sound, GO pod adds a small elevated bass shelf to the sound signature, a touch of warmth to the midrange, and a bit of smoothness to the treble. Although GO pod somewhat infiltrates the sound signature of your IEMs, it does it in a manner without diminishing the strongest characteristics of the paired IEMs similarly to the way a good DAC/amp would. Let's dive a bit deeper into what I thought the GO pod portrayed the best in each IEM I tested.
Noble Ronin showed off the transparency of GO pod best, with supreme technical capabilities that trump any TWS I’ve listened to in the past. While Ronin is a highly detailed IEM already, it’s simply a marvel to hear it produce that highly resolving treble in a wireless form factor. The timbre is natural, however the roll off of some instruments can feel artificial, and sometimes the deep extension of a long winded trumpet blow can get a tad metallic. With that said, Buddy Defranco’s “In the Mod (In the Mood)” is an excellent portrayal of the brilliance that is GO pod’s ability to exhibit such clarity in the high end frequencies.
In the same way that GO pod can demonstrate a highly resolving treble, it can bring the subwoofer right next to your ears. When teamed up with the 64 Audio Nio, the two travel deep into the depths of the low end frequencies that no other TWS has traveled before. Best demonstrated in Martin Garrix’s record “Pressure,” the sub bass is powerful, and the impact hits hard. The eventual rumble that comes after Martin's craftful buildup is riveting, and certainly one to get your head moving.
With quite the all around display, but most notably in the midrange, the HiFiMAN Svanar and GO pod create a special synergy that captures great weight and body to instruments in the mids. “Nottingham Lace” by Buckethead puts his creative and off the wall guitar ability front and center, giving great definition and detail to the upper frequencies of the midrange. Everything is concise and clear, creating strong cohesion to the different sounds and bodies of music in this track, and others.
Comparison - FiiO UTWS5
Let's preface this comparison with the obvious, the FiiO UTWS5 is $260 dollars cheaper than the iFi GO pod, coming in at $139. But it’s still worth comparing them to understand what you’re getting at the higher price.
The build and comfort of UTWS5 is a bit shorter and bulkier than the GO pod. UTWS5 ear hooks are looser and don't hug my ears as tight, making me feel less confident taking them on a hike or through an intense gym session, especially when paired with more expensive IEMs. The textured finish on the GO pod also makes them less susceptible to fingerprints and sweat marks, whereas FiiO’s smooth black finish will attract both much more.
As for the tech inside, FiiO’s are a bit dated at this point, and due for a refresh. Although, there is a big advantage for FiiO in the fact that they have an app. While sometimes glitchy, it works and allows for much more user control than the GO pod has. Considering the price, a dedicated app would have been expected for GO pod. However, while discussing strictly internals, iFi’s biggest advantage is its power output and LDAC support. UTWS5 has a QCC5141 Bluetooth chip, and I often found only one side would pair, and I’d have to put them back in the case again, then put them back on to get both sides connected.
As for sound, I was pleasantly surprised at how these bluetooth adapters differed. GO pod presents greater punch and power, more detail in both the low and high end frequencies, and an overall better representation of the music as a whole. However, keeping the price in mind, UTWS5 puts up a good fight with a neutral tuning that highlights key characteristics in each IEM you pair it with. The bass was a bit thin for my taste, but especially in the midrange, UTWS5 gives good weight for instruments like guitars and violins, and vocals has good presence. When A/B testing against GO pod, UTWS5 clearly loses, but it is certainly impressive for FiiO to stay in the race as well as they do.For a budget friendly option, the UTWS5 is a great option, but if you simply want the best of the best, the bell of the ball, GO pod is it. The UTWS5 walked, so the GO pod could run.
With its $399 price tag, skepticism had to come for the GO pod. While it may not be as easy on your wallet as other options out there like UTWS5, their comfort, excellent sound, and class leading wireless tech will certainly be easy on your ears. If you’re looking for an upgrade over your previous bluetooth adapters, or are just in the market for a top of the line TWS adaptation, the iFi GO pod makes for an excellent choice.