ifi iPhono 3 "Black Label" Anyone?


Curious to hear your early impressions of the new iPhono3 Black Label.

A review sample arrived here Friday (6/12/2020) and I'm still getting some hours on the unit before doing any critical listening, but first impressions are of a real punchy, dynamic unit that will hopefully bloom as I get more miles on the clock.
For $995 it already sounds like it's going to be competitive with units a couple of rungs up the ladder. I just got done with an initial review and a quickly thrown together youtube vid, if anyone's interested. - 
https://audioresurgence.com/2020/06/ifi-iphono-3-black-label-phono-review-first-look.html
https://youtu.be/3ONQLwf9zVk

I owned the iPhono2 for a while and it was pretty good. It'll be interesting to hear how good the "Black Label" sounds at the 400-hour mark and also what other folks think of it.

Speak up!

Rooze
682fca9a ca04 4e9d 81eb 6cce9922b0d5rooze
Both the iPhono 2 and 3 use wall-warts for power. Do you think upgraded power is needed?
Haven't checked out the review yet.

Hey Lowrider,

The new 3 comes standard with  iPower X, I don't know what that contributes to the sound at this point but it looks like a walwart on steroids!
Yes, it does look like it's been working out.
I was seriously eyeing the iPhono 2, looking forward to your impression of the 3.

another "made in china" model ?
I have the iPhono 3. First let me say that most people who have read my posts know that I absolutely hate SMPS. I hated the power supply in my Technics SL 1200 GAE so much I was having a bespoke linear supply designed and built for that table. I sold the GAE as my custom SP 10 mk3 NGS can now hold 4 arms. I never believed that SMPS could work in highend audio as they are inherently noisy and good for things like airplanes where weight is of most importance. Having relayed all of that, I will say that the iPower X has changed my mind. That supply works and actually made my system sound better. The active noise cancellation seems to work to very good effect. It is the ONLY SMPS I will allow to work in my system. I’ve mentioned before that nearly every piece of gear near my system that uses a SMPS is connected to a foot switch so that I can do a hard disconnect from the wall. Even my Mac mini music server has a linear power supply from Uptone Audio,

Now having said all that I will tell you that I compared the iPhono directly to an ARC Ref 10 in the same system. AMG Viella Forte with Koetsu Onyx Platinum with an ARC 160 Ref S power amplifier and a McIntosh preamp. I just performed this comparison after putting 7 days of 24 hour run-in on the iP3.

Let me say this right now; I could not care less about all the side chair comments this is sure to elicit. I was there. The iP3 was every bit the equal of that $33k stage! It actually revealed more information than the ARC. This is what I wrote a buddy after the comparison:

//////////
So today with 7 days (24 hours a day) of run-in on the iP3 using my tuner and a reverse RIAA attenuating cable, I finally listened to it connected to a turntable. The table was the AMG Viella Forte with the Turbo arm and a Koetsu Onyx Platinum cartridge. The amplifier was the ARC Reference 160 S along with a McIntosh tubed preamp and an ARC Ref 10 phonostage. I can’t recall the model of the McIntosh tubed preamplifier but it costs about $7.5k and is an outgoing model. The speakers were the Wilson Alexias.

I played Enya, one of my Westminster albums and Jacintha.

First I Listened to the ARC Ref 10. It is a decent sounding unit, not seeming to do anything inherently wrong. The Ref 10 phonostage is relatively full sounding and the bass is very nice. The shock came when I put the iP3 in and literally heard things in the track that had escaped me with the $29,000 more Ref 10. The breathing of the Cellist during Pietro Locatelli’s playing of Sonata in D Major Allegro literally made me feel as if I were watching a master at work. You could feel his intensity as he played the piece. With the iP3 the bass was every bit as strong as the Ref 10 but the overall event was more lively and engaging. When the Ref 10 was reinserted things became more chocolate-ee. It sounded more like a stereo playing a recording whereas the iP3 released the music.

Surely I can see some preferring the more gooey sound of the Ref 10, it certainly is not bad. The iP3 without question renders more information than the Ref 10 seemed capable of :)

Even the owner of the Ref 10 paused, listened to the iP3 and then asked what it costs. When I told him, he said that’ll be hard to beat for that money.

It is eye-brow raising good!

I did find that using the $100 iFi DC iPurifier definitely helped and made the iP3 sound fuller, richer and simply more grounded. I would say you would definitely want to use them together.
Now that is simply the truth of what I heard and experienced. It is freakishly good!
Hi audiofun . Does the Iphono 3 run cooler then the 2  ? 
Enginedr1960:

I would say yes it runs cooler. It’s slightly above warm to the palm over the main part of the units body. I actually, just for you :) broke out my DMM with its digital temp gauge and measured 91 degrees F at the center of the (top) of the unit. This is with the unit connected to a tuner (via attenuation cables) for 24/7  further break-in. I will be breaking it in for about 700 hours. I think this is the number of hours I noted the iP2 took to fully run-in.
Thank you audiofun . I have one on order . I will like to see how it compares to my BMC MCCI current injection phono stage . 
enginedr1960:

It will be interesting to read your findings. 
enginedr1960:

I’ve wanted to hear that unit you have for some time now. 
Update on the iPhono3 - 

I'm at around the 100-hour mark with the unit and sat down again last night for a serious listen.
The sound has certainly evolved since my last listening session a week or so ago. The soundstage has deepened significantly, and there's a far more 3-dimensional aspect to the sound that's verging on the best I've had in my system to date.
There's abundant detail retrieval. Microdynamics are up there with the Zesto Andros 1.2. 
Both frequency extremes are very good. Low bass is excellent and has more solidity than the Allnic H-1202 and there's more airiness in the HF than the Allnic but less so than the Zesto.
It's missing out in the areas of midrange purity and 'flesh on bones.' The Allnic H-1202 has a great midrange (tone and texture) and a pure and unforced presentation, where the ifi Phono3 is a little forward, edgy, and slightly aggressive. 
The Allnic envelopes you with lush sound where the iPhono3 has you squirreling in your seat a little, kind of like a sonic onslaught of information.
I'm assuming things will settle down with more burn-in and the sound will (hopefully) become less forced.
But I have to say this is one nice little unit for the money, far, far more agile than its predecessor the iPhono2. It's a completely different animal than the 2, in my experience so far. 
More to come.

@rooze 

I did find that using the $100 iFi DC iPurifier definitely helped and made the iP3 sound fuller, richer and simply more grounded.

Are you considering adding the above?

@totem395 yes, I have one on order from Audio Advisor.
Based on the classic geometric proof, "things equal to the same thing are equal to each other", can we infer that you like the Allnic H1202 better than the ARC Ref 10 and the Zesto best of all, so far?
@lewm Hi, not sure if your question is aimed toward me (the OP) or Audiofun, but I've never heard the ARC Ref 10 and I favor the Allnic H-1202 over the Zesto Andros.

Rooze
lewm:

Hi lewm :) Hope all is well. I think you’ve combined my review and rooze’s comments. I have heard the Ref 10 on multiple occasions but I’ve never heard the Allnic or the Zesto gear thus I can’t intelligently comment on their respective sound qualities.
Thx guys. My conflation of your separate opinions is a product of reading on my cell phone.
Ok, so I first reported my thoughts on the IPhono3 BL a few months back with approximately 168 hours on the unit in a rather ambitious and costly setup. I found it competitive with the ARC Ref 10 phonostage at that point. I believe I mentioned the ARC as having a more chocolate sound while the IPhono3 BL (henceforth referred to as the ‘3’) was an information monster. When I think back on the experience, I agree with the poster rooze that there was a bit of aggressiveness to the overall sound. The 3 was certainly not etched or sterile at all but it was a bit like a racing stallion let loose if you take my meaning. Even at that point it was easily one of the best SS phono stages I’d yet experienced. The other being the Sim Audio 810LP, the SPL Phonos, the PS Audio Stellar and of course the VDH Grail SB. I have listened to the Dan D’agostino Momentum phono stage but I reserve judgment because the system was unknown to me and I’m not sure what caused the very soulless very hard SS sound I experienced.

After that initial listening and impression session, I put the 3 back in my burn in rig and didn’t touch for nearly another 1200 hours. I now have ~1370 hours on the unit and it has transformed. The information retrieval is still their but the aggressiveness is nowhere to be found. Please don’t take the previous statement to mean dynamics have retreated, it is dynamic as all get out. One of my favorite test tracks for phono stages I may be considering is Prokofieff’s Battle on the Ice (Living Stereo Red Seal LSC-2395). Lesser stages leave the climactic scenes a hot mess, the 3 sailed through this with ease and clarity and no hints of dynamic compression or stridency. 
The overall character of the 3 is that of a reference level tubed phono stage. Not tubes in the (colored fat round molasses) pejorative. Rather, it sounds like what well designed tube gear seems (in my opinion) to nearly always do better than SS, that is, three dimensionality, breathing and overall ease (life). In this regard, it edges out the Stellar which I absolutely found no fault in, the PS Audio is an uh-hmm stellar unit (see what I did there ;). The Stellar as I mentioned in my review of the unit sounds very much like my Luxman EQ500 minus the tube magic, the 3 is even closer. Can I hear the difference? Yes. The 3 can’t quite pull off that sound-expanding experience that my Lux and AMR PH 77 possess but it is so good and gets so close its nearly unbelievable. For instance when I listen to Eva Cassidy’s Imagine, the 3 does a simply beautiful job replete with emotion, timing and all those ineffable traits that lets you know this is superlative gear.  The Lux, yeah it did it better but again it’s more than seven times (with better tubes, etc) the cost of the 3. How they can get this sound out of this little half pound rectangle is nigh beyond belief, witchcraft?

Previously I mentioned the sound of the 3 was enhanced with the addition of iFi’s DC iPurifier. That was at 168 hours, I now find it better without the aide of the iPurifier after full run-in. 
My final thoughts are that this unit is and is not reference level. It is because I have heard many so-called reference level stages that this would beat like a young Tyson did to nearly every opponent he faced. It is not reference level because units like the Lux, Ypsilon, AMR PH77 (it’s big brother) will outperform it, albeit at many many thousands of dollars more.

I would not hesitate to team this unit with any TT at any price, that is how good this stage sounds to my ears. Seriously if someone were running a Feickert Firebird or Avid Acutus and had the 3 as there main stage I would not be shocked in the least. 
iFi through down the gauntlet for affordable (always relative:) phono stages. The original iPhono was very good and super quiet for very little scratch. The iPhono 2 was better in that it was more musical. The 3 possesses capabilities far beyond the 2. It’s a keeper for sure!
errata

Hey guys please forgive some of my missed commas and typos, i.e. “there instead of their”, “through instead of threw”, etc. “It is because I have heard many so-called reference level stages that” should have been: “It is reference level in the sense that I have heard many so-called reference level stages that”.  blah blah blah as my old girlfriend used to say :)
Listening to the iPhono 3 BL tonight, I can say confidently this may be the best solid state phono stage I’ve yet to experience. I say may because I have listened to the Grail SB and REALLY liked that unit but I don’t have one for direct comparison. Fortunately my audiophile buddy does own the Grail SB and lives near me. I am taking it to his home for a direct comparison soon as the current plague situation eases. Of course the Grail costs more than 15 times as much :) 

I am finding this unit to possibly be more dynamic than the SPL Phonos. The lack of capacitors in the signal path is really eye-opening in the way it delivers information, musical flow and naturalness. Sometimes I still have a hard time believing this unit is producing the results I’m hearing.
I literally just saw and read the Analogplanet review of this unit. Check it out.
What does the iFi DC iPurifier do? Is it essentially adding more capacitance to the filter stage of the PS?  Fremer loved the iFi2, so I am guessing he will have even more love for the iFi3.
Never mind on the DC iPurifier.  I see that it is to be placed between the SMPS and the device itself, in line. A noise filter.
lewm:

yeah Fremer loved the 3 even comparing it to his $50k CH P1/X1 combo at one point. He was expecting to be let down via the juxtaposition of the two stages but that didn’t happen. His experience was similar to mine when I compared it to the ARC REF 10 Phonostage. Now that my unit is fully run-in I have no doubt I would choose it over the Ref 10, whereas with 100 hours on the unit, it held its own with the Ref 10 (while still resolving far more information as read by the stylus). Now that this unit has over 1300 play time hours on the clock what little it may have seeded to the ARC as it relates to musical flow has evaporated. Transient speed and information retrieval abilities of the 3 are far beyond the capabilities of the ARC Ref 10.
After extended listening I’ll go on record and call this thing reference caliber. Yes my tube based units do some things better (the things tubes do) such as interstitial continuity in the overall gestalt but then the IPhono3 counters (in the case of the Luxman EQ 500) with a more precise transient attack (faster slew rate) while still managing to sound like there is a very refined tube circuit hidden in there somewhere. 
It’s become difficult to translate everything I am hearing into words, I’m trying :)

I think this unit could live in any system regardless of the cost, now, the owners ego? That’s a problem for some, and I’ve known people who have passed on a clearly superior product for one that cost more and was Bling-EEE!
@audiofun 
What are your thoughts on how the 3 fairs in extended listening sessions? My views on it concur mostly with yours (it's excellent) but my listening sessions seem to be shorter when using the 3, over say the Allnic H-1202 that I have here. The 3 is full of energy and drama, where the Allnic just breathes out beautiful music. 
If I were showing off the rig to someone who hadn't been here before I'd use the 3, but for my own listening enjoyment, I prefer the Allnic.
But for the money, the ifi iPhono3 BL is an absolute steal.
Rooze:

Hi, I do listen to the 3 for extended periods with no issues. I’m not sure what you mean by “drama” as it plays my slow melodic smoky female jazz albums as well as my bombastic albums. I find that the 3 does in fact breathe like the best of tube stages. I can totally see someone preferring a different stage for different types of music (I do myself). I understand that you love the Allnic and to you it may do some things better than the 3. I think my EQ 500 does some things better than the 3 as well. I have decided to make the 3 a permanent part of my system. So I will be running the AMR, Luxman and 3 on my 4 arm table. The London Ref is going to play via the 3 as they compliment each other in the areas of transient response and dynamic range.

Its a remarkable sounding stage. I still look at it sometimes and can’t believe the sound I’m experiencing is coming out of that tiny box. I once owned the Graaf GM 70 phono stage and had about $1.3k worth of NOS tubes, the 3 destroys that unit in all areas.
Just found this thread I have a Ortofon MC A95 on a Thales Simplicity II arm on a Dr Feickert Blackbird that I have tried multiple stages with and it is a frustrating cartridge to get a good match I recently got the M2Tech Nash because of the high gain it offers and frankly it is a little to much gain at the lowest setting and also is kind of bright. I am going to order one of these to try. I have a Sbooster with the upgraded  that puts out 15 volts which is a linear power supply, I was using it on the Blackbird but just got the dedicated Feickert supply. @Audiofun what do you think if this stage does not work well I am selling the cartridge.
I also have a Modwright PH9.0 with Bobs Sky30 and in my system it has too much hum. Also have a Sutherland Little Loco and it is not that good of a match either though I have not tried the higher gain setting it just not that musical. I should just go back to mt Air Tight pC7 which works well with the PH9.0 tubed unit

jtsnead:

Hi, I’m not sure of the question you’re asking me. If it’s about gain, I can tell you that my MC Anna (0.2mv) works fantastic with the iPhono3 at 60dB of gain and it is DEAD quiet as in digital-like quiet.

I have owned the SBooster before and I can also tell you from experience that the iPower X that comes with the iP3 will easily beat the SBooster by quite a bit.

Nice table and arm by the way :)
Thanks that is what i was hoping, you have a Anna would love to hear that cartridge. The iFi power a is better than the Sbooster wow that's something, the general thought is that linear power supply is better than smps? All though I do think the Feickert power supply does seem better on my table, I guess I will have to compare them, Thanks again @audiofun 
I am not a fan of SMPS’s as I’m sure many on this forum are aware. I generally believe they are a scourge to anything hi-end audio related and I have made this point many times on this forum :)

I found the SBooster to be better than every other SMPS I have heard but the iPower X is something special. The X is the only SMPS I have found to not cause problems (shrillness, sterility, roughness in the mids and removal of life) with my sound.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I went so far as to replace the sound killing SMPS that shipped with my super cool articulated TT L.E.D. lamp. I found a 24v regulated linear brick, sourced from Mouser (at least I think it was Mouser :) to power the lamp.

I am actually planning to order another X to power the external radiator to my KLAUDIO rcm so I don’t have to disconnect it from the wall between cleanings. The KLAudio cleaner itself has a linear supply thank goodness.
Just got the Zen Phono. I’m not going to say too much until I have about 250 hours on it (it’s breaking in 24/7 as I type) but I will say it surprised me quite a bit right out of the box. I’ve never heard a stage so low in cost sound anything like this unit. This is the one Thorsten designed with John Curl onboard as a consultant, and it’s internally balanced.
Phono 3 black label sounding good the first few days
this is a review from member Pedrooboe on youtube of the IFI ZEN, btw he has  also a review of  the ifi black 3 https://youtu.be/pBAdLY3Upbo
jtsnead:

Glad you’re enjoying the unit, it’s going to get better with usage.

cardani:

I agree with everything in the very well done review. I don’t know how many hours he had on his unit. My unit has 75 hours at this point and I’m not listening again until it has 250hrs. iFi engineers are exceptional.
I've had mine for a few weeks, and I am really enjoying it.  Just sounds like music, not solid state or tubes.
smrex:

It has become my favorite SS phono stage and I agree it really does just sound like great music.
The Zen is crazy good! I have 232 hours on it and I purchased another iPhono X.  I mean seriously $250.00 for the stage and the far better iPower X.., smh. 

I’m thinking of putting together a TT package with the Zen as a Christmas gift to my brother.  This nearly defies belief. The included power supply does a decent job but the iPower X pushes it a little further on down the road. I can honestly say if I didn’t know I was listening to a stage that costs a buck fifty one could tell me it was a $5K stage and I’d have no real argument. I’ll write more in a separate thread.
I decided that in the context of my system, I didn't really need to spend $1000 on a phono stage. So, I returned the Black Label and got a Zen with an iPower X.  I does everything I want - can't stop listening to it!