When they released the original hip-dac in 2020, iFi struck a real chord in the portable audio market. Since then they’ve continued rolling out hits in the more budget friendly end of the HiFi market with products like the GO blu and the hip-dac2. GO bar is their latest entry and delivers a diminutive, yet feature packed, ultra-portable DAC/amp. With iFi’s pedigree and a strong spec sheet, can it raise the bar for portable DACs?
Build, Design, and Accessories
GO bar follows iFi’s general design standards, and looks almost like someone hit a micro iDSD Signature with a shrink-ray. The device features volume control buttons, a toggle for XBass and XSpace, and a switch for iEMatch. The input is USB-C and the output is either 3.5mm SE or 4.4mm balanced. Information on the volume, XBass/XSpace status and bitrate are displayed via LED light on the unit. While the volume is pretty self explanatory, the printing on the unit is very low contrast and may be hard to read in low light conditions, or if there’s any glare.
The package comes with just about everything you need to connect with your laptop or mobile device. There’s OTG cables for Lightning and USB and an adapter for use with USB-A devices. GO bar also includes a handy case that can protect the device in your pocket, or clip onto your belt. GO bar receives both power and signal over the same connection, and doesn’t have a battery, so it will only be on when it is connected to a computer or mobile device. Connecting the GO bar to a device disables that device’s volume control, so all volume is controlled on the GO bar – with the exception of some apps that have dedicated volume control outside of the operating system’s volume.
GO bar gives you a surprisingly clean, crisp sound, with just a touch of that signature iFi analog flavor. Overall, it has a sense of transparency and clarity that really wows at this price point. There’s a very natural, organic feel to GO bar’s sound that hints at a lush sound, but never strays too far from a reference signature. Compared to iFi’s other “GO” product, the GO blue, GO bar is more neutral, and provides a higher level of detail and overall sound quality. XBass warms things up a bit, and adds that extra low end extension as well.
The soundstage is surprisingly wide for a device of this size – particularly with the XSpace active – and the imaging is impressive as well. It’s not going to make you forget about the Mojo 2, but it will give you a spacious presentation, and good positioning of instruments in the space. The stereo image puts you about 10 rows back in the theater, with a big space, but can make the vocals a little distant.
There’s a pretty hard limit on the amount of power you can deliver from an ultra-portable that can be directly powered by a phone, and GO bar pushes right up against that limit. It’s able to give decent power to more sensitive over-ear headphones and even does well with top of the line options like the Focal Stellia and Meze Elite. XBass is also useful for covering up some of the small deficiencies you might experience with headphones that need just a little more power. And while I found GO bar had a low noise floor and didn’t provide background noise with any IEMs that I tested, you can use the built in iEMatch to ensure a completely black background on the most sensitive IEMs.
Comparison: Questyle M15 ($249), AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt ($329)
The “dongle” style DAC market has been getting more and more crowded, and, along with GO bar, the Questyle M15 has been a clear standout. Of course, all of these new products also need to be able to stand up to the reigning champ of this space – the Audioquest DragonFly Cobalt.
In terms of the device design and package, GO bar gives you the most options out of the box, and is the only one with a Lightning cable for iOS devices. M15 has cables for USB-A and USB-C, but you’ll need to get a Lightning cable separately. DragonFly Cobalt has the distinction of being the only one of the three that has the USB male connection built right into the device – of course, it’s only USB-A (with an USB-A to USB-C OTG cable included), so that only helps with computers and not mobile devices.
GO bar also has the most configurability of the three. Cobalt has no switches of any kind and simply detects the output impedance to adjust the power. M15 has high/low gain modes. GO bar has a built in iEMatch, XBass, and XSpace, as well as its own volume control. The volume control may be somewhat mixed, as I would personally prefer to adjust the volume with my phone, not the DAC, but it also solves problems with volume mismatches that have plagued other devices.
In terms of convenience and ease of use, all three worked perfectly with the Android and iOS based smartphones we tested. For iOS, I used the GO bar’s Lightning cable with the M15, and used an Apple Camera Kit adapter with the Cobalt (I also tested the Questyle with the Camera Kit). On my laptop, M15 was a bit more challenging for volume control as it was very loud even at low system volume levels. Using Qobuz for volume control, DragonFly Cobalt was nearly impossible to use on my Mac, as the slider needed to be near zero to not be ear-splittingly loud.
All three devices were largely in the same wheelhouse sonically. M15 was the most transparent and neutral of the three, and provided the strongest sense of imaging and separation between instruments. GO bar was slightly warmer than M15, particularly notable in the highs, which feel slightly veiled by comparison. Cobalt has a slightly boosted bass, but didn’t feel warm, and more fell into the category of “bass-boosted neutral.”
For ease of use with a laptop or desktop computer or just in terms of features, GO bar is a real leader in this space. M15 would be the pick if reference level sound quality is the number one concern, and while the DragonFly Cobalt does have GO bar’s features or M15’s level of detail, its low end performance is sure to have a lot of fans.
The Bottom Line
It’s been 10 years since AudioQuest launched the original DragonFly, and the portable audio world has come a long way since then. Between the evolution in portable devices, improvements in DAC technology, and the proliferation of HiFi brands, it’s a whole new world out there. Launching with dozens of competitive devices currently on the market, the combination of features like XBass, solid performance with a variety of headphones, and a great tuning makes GO bar a top contender in a very crowded field.