25 November, 2012

Audition: iFi Audio iPhono

Audition: iFi Audio iPhono
The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記 : 24-11-2012

Note: The full review is belatedly published in October 2013 (link here).

New Kid on the Block
iFi Audio, a spin-off of UK's AMR, has been making waves all over at hifi shows, thanks to its comprehensive range of affordable, attractive and rather ingenious "Micro" components (the Micro range).

The ironic thing is parent company AMR is still rather unknown in the US, and certainly now eclipsed by its offspring!

In Hong Kong, the dealer is Avantgarde, and you may recall that that was where I first encountered AMR's top Reference components (link here). As I wrote in that article, I was delighted that the man behind AMR is none but Thorsten Loesch, an old internet friend (I have yet to meet him) whom I respect immensely. My delight was further heightened when I found this Interview with iFi/Thorsten Loesch when I was researching (yes, I research extensively before I write anything)!

iFi iPhono
The iFi Micro range comprises several components, some of which, like the iUSBPower has garnered much attention, but the one that by far arouses me most is the phonoamp, the iPhono (Detailed Official Info), which boasts Decca and Columbia equalization curves (trickled down from AMR flagship), and that is revolutionary at this price! Think about this, a specific equalization curve card from hi-end Boulder or FM Acoustics would cost you many many times the price of this phonoamp! The handsome unit is powered by a switch-mode universal power supply, with regulation built in.

Audition at the Dealer
After the day's yumcha, I listened to the iFi Phono at the dealer, and here I thank the impeccable professionalism and service of sales manager Tony. It was used in a smaller room, partnered by components that cost way way more. :-)

Analog: TW Acustics Raven One - SME V - Benz Micro Ruby
Phonoamp: iFi iPhono
Amp: AMR AM-777
Speakers: YG Acoustics Carmel

A brief comment on the setup Now, this is NOT a cheap setup! Aside from the iPhono, the "cheapest" thing is AMR's integrated amp, from its Premiere series (one rung down from Reference series). The turntable is of known quality, and the use of the warm Benz Micro I think is a cunning move to balance the "whiter" sound of the YG loudspeaker and perhaps even the solid state AMR electronics. You may be interested in a review of the AMR amp. This is not necessarily a setup for a tube aficionado like me, but it has its merits.

I have to say the sound was a just a trifle "white" for me, but I know that is the sound here, from previous experience. The important thing is, the system is able to tell what is what. From the start, it was clear the sound was clean and detailed. Although a trifle "white", in no way was the sound cutting or offensive, and the whole of the recordings were laid out before us. The coveted Muddy Waters (an Original Master pressing) was ultra clean and bass was tight and well defined, though some swagger (very important) was missing. Oistrakh's EMI re-issue is often a challenge on the ears, but here it was quite acceptable. Like Waters, Jennifer Warnes' voice was on the spot, though, again, a bit cool.

Tony's Contraption: Symposium devices under and magazines on top!

Tony effused over the iFi gears, and started to tweak them for us. First, he installed Symposium isolation devices under the iPhono, then put some magazines on top. Surely, the sound benefited, resulting in a sturdier and more textured sound.

At this point, after some extrapolation I became convinced of the device's merit, and promptly ordered one (eh...to be honest, I had decided to buy one before I walked in! :-)). When I take shipment, I shall have it tested by two friends and then myself, and of course report further.


  1. and, have you had a chance to test the i-Phono?

  2. I just posted the full review: