I must be slow as I could not find a link to place this as a review.
So, I have written about the 1st gen iPhono in
the past, comparing it to the very fine Coincident phonostage which I believe
is about $6k. I preferred the iPhono but
I could just as easily imagine someone else going for the Coincident unit. In
that review I thought the Coincident had a better sustain, decay and bloom
while the iPhono was hands down the winner in the prat department. The iPhono
made my feet move, the Coincident, not so much.
Later on I added the iPower to the fray and the iPhono shored
up the areas it lacked. As a former owner of the very very nice Graaf GM70 I
was a bit surprised and dismayed when I finally received the iPhono and heard
it once fully run-in. I would not have shelled out the thousands of dollars I
paid for the GM70 and the vintage NOS tubs I purchased to make it sing, oh and
the $1600 I had to spend on the Ortofon ST-80SE SUT to use with the MM inputs
of the Graaf as I could not get it quiet enough to tolerate with the MC inputs.
The very small $400 iPhono basically did everything the Graaf did (with the
iPower that is).
My reference phonostage for the last few years (and probably
many more to come) is the fabulous AMR PH77 and I’m running it with a set of
Bendix 6900 tubes which elevates its performance even more than the already stellar
stock configurations performance. In comparison to my PH77, I found the 1st
gen iPhono to be a bit thin and during crescendos it could become a little
ragged. Still, it remained in my arsenal as a handy and trusty back-up. The
PH77 is of course tubed and as we tube owners know all too well, sometimes they
fail and you are down for a while.
Compared to most phonostages I have heard, some of them
costing up to $9k I found the 1st gen iPhono to be able to hold its
own in some cases crazy as it may sound it was just plain better. I believe AMR
intended the iPhono/iTube to be used in conjunction as a sort of baby AMR PH77
and I ran it that way for some time and yes, it does share that familial DNA
when it comes to sonic signature.
Move forward some years and I have in my possession the
iPhono2 and the iTube 2. To say that the iPhono 2 is better than its
predecessor is far too simple a statement. Mr. Fremer thought it to be at least
twice as good as the original. I would agree with his assessment. Out of the
box with the included iPower is shows far more prowess in the areas of bass but
otherwise is pretty close to the original. After about 20 hours a bit more
fluidity begins to appear. Again at the 100 and about the 340 hour mark big
jumps occur in the areas of fluidity and continuousness. When you get to 480
hours forget about it!
This thing sounds like it has a tube in it, and I don’t mean
in that classic overly warm soft rose colored sound that I found so fantastic
when I was new to high end audio. No, I am referring to a pellucid but meaty embodiment
and rendering of the music. A sound one would immediately associate with MUCH
Most of my listening has been done with my second turntable
system which is composed of a Technics SL-1200 GAE with a fully broken in Denon
103R on a LP Zupreme 15 gram headshell and my London Reference. The phono stage
then feeds the iCan Pro (best pre I have heard and I have owned 2 MFA Ref
units, the baby Ref and the full Ref), the Tube Research Labs GTP 2, and many
more. I have had in my system for evaluation the Veloce (battery powered) the Allnic
L3000 and many others. From the pre it goes to the custom active crossover and
then to a Graaf Modena for the mids, a Harmonix Reimyo PAT777 for the Raal
Ribbons and a pair of Acoustic Reality Thaumaturges ($25K when available) for
the woofers. The speaker is called the Encore and is my own design. I simply
got tired of paying for passive boxes made of MDF with wood screws going
directly into the glued wood dust and sold for tens of thousands of dollars but
I digress :)
The sound is at once flowing and dynamic. It grabs and holds
my attention and really gets my foot tapping. The sound is MUCH more refined
and fuller than the original iPhono with no hint of raggedness during large
scale bombastic music. For instance it scales far more convincingly on some of
the more challenging passages in Hans Zimmers wonderful soundtrack to
Gladiator. The original could sound a bit blocky if you take my meaning. It did
not have the ability to gracefully scale the mountain so to speak. The iPhono 2
does it with much more ease and refinement.
Here is where it gets interesting. As good as the iPhono 2
is out of the box and it is very very good (and especially after 340 hours or
more) in fact far far better than the DS Audio optical cartridge system that I
auditioned, it can be made to sound a
good deal better. Now this is my own thing, the iFi line of SMPS’s are admittedly
super quiet and much better than most SMPS
such as the ones inside my apple gear, but I hate them ALL.
I do not like green eggs and.., ahem. Sorry, just flashed
back to Dr. Seuss when I thought of my aversion to SMPS’s.
I mean I understand why they are used, efficient, cheaper to ship and inherently regulated. But
they still hurt the sound of my system. As an aside I am actually having a
custom linear PS built for my SL-1200 GAE to replace the awful SMPS that
Technics installed. So to the point, I replaced the iPower with a linear regulated
lab grade power supply. I don’t like hyperbole so I offer none but the result
was nothing short of breath taking. There is a great deal more that can be had
from that little silver box with a good (and I do mean good) linear supply.
Next I added the iTube 2 to the fray. As I mentioned before
AMR always sorta intended this combo to be a baby PH77 as was or may still be
mentioned on the iFi site. How to put this; everything I have said about the
iPhono 2 up to this point; multiply it by 2 times again. Now you have that
sorta living presence that the performers are in your vicinity. Things are rounder,
more palpable and it breathes much easier. Again I powered the iTube 2 with a
linear supply along with the iCan Pro. Please don’t misunderstand me, I lived
with these units powered via there very good SMPS’s for quite a while and they
made beautiful music BUT I knew there was much more to be had.
Like Mr. Fremer (paraphrased) stated, to get better than the
iPhono 2 you are going to have spend much more and you still may not surpass
this unit. I auditioned a $16K current phono stage that people rave over and my
ears tell me that it cannot compete with iPhono 2/ iTube 2 combination. I will not call this a reference phono stage.
It is great and I listen to it daily but I reserve titles like reference for
the likes of Ypsilon, VDH Grail SB and my AMR PH77. The little combo does far
more than I could have imagined. It capable of truly astounding musical
reproduction on a grand scale.
Remember to let it run in for at least 100 (and I suggest
300) hours before you really start to judge it but my guess is it won’t take
most people that long to know that this is special gear designed by some super gifted
engineers who also happen to actually be able to HEAR. Thanks for reading and I
hope this helps someone make a decision one way or the other. Happy listening.
Audiofun - Thanks a lot for the review. Another member here picked one up recently and I've been hoping that someone on this forum would post more details about it.
I've been on the fence about this unit, not based on the reviews (which are excellent) but I'm struggling with the form factor - I know that its design is in keeping with their overall design language, but it is quite polarizing you must admit.
I think that I'm probably going to end up getting one of these and gut it straight out of the box and build it into a more "rack-friendly" chassis with all the I/O on the rear. If I go that route, I'll also try to pack in a LPS at the same time. I know this will void my warranty, but hey, that's just me.
Where are you getting your LPS? I bought one for my current Pre from Swagman Labs in Hong Kong, at it's a really nice unit for the price. Even with the custom chassis, necessary part and LPS, I still think it will be well under $1K which is totally reasonable for the level of performance that you describe.
Greg:You are welcome. I really appreciate it when people take time to earnestly review pieces that I may be interested in purchasing. For instance, I have been scouring the web for any reviews of the Audio Technica ART1000 MC direct power cartridge to help me make an informed decision. Finally found a personal blog in which the gentleman did an excellent job describing the properties and sonic signature of the cartridge. His information has helped me immensely in my decision making process.
Concerning the form factor, yeah its not ideal but it is very functional and allows iFi to maintain the same casing thus saving us money as they don't have to tool up for a different design. I just simply place my unit behind other gear on the rack. I don't need to see it :)
Audiofun, Thank you for the well written and "intelligent" review. While I was already aware of the iPhono2 and have recommended it to others on a budget, because of Fremer's praise for it, I was not aware of the iTube2. Just now, I Googled it, and I find that it is a small box designed to add various sorts of "tube-i-ness" to systems largely composed of solid state devices. It's a veritable audio Swiss Army knife. So, how are you using it? I am always suspicious of such devices and the ideas behind them.
Also, is there some connection between iFi products and AMR? Thanks, again.
Thank you for the compliment :) I have been using the iTube in various ways since the first generation. When used as a true tube buffer, i.e. no gain, analog volume control disengaged no XBass or 3D all of which both work very well, the unit is truly transparent. With version 2 you can choose a SET, Classic or Push-Pull sound. I use the Classic. It does that weird thing where the tubes bring in the fluidity and continuousness as tubes can do so well. It does not (at least in Classic mode) give a tube-ee signature unless you want that, then one simply selects SET or PP mode.
It is akin to the finest tube gear where you lack all hardness which can be associated with some SS gear while not crossing over into that false lush tube sound. It is strange and hard to put in words but I am a stickler for neutrality NOT dryness or sterility or thinness. The iTube2 and the iPhono2 trip the night Fandango together :)
Thanks for your response. So, I take it that you install the iTube downstream from the iPhono(?) Whatever works is fine, but I would choose/do choose to use good tube equipment in the first place. I reckon that if I plug the iPhono2 into the AUX input of my full-function tube preamplifier, I would end up with a nice sounding device that has in effect two phono sections (one built-in plus the iPhono2), sans the iTube. In reading the Fremer review, I got the distinct impression that he was trying hard not to say that he liked the iPhono2 as much as his reference.
I also checked out the PS you use. What voltage goes into the iPhono2? Do you know whether there is voltage regulation built into the iPhono2 box, or is the regulation normally contained in the SMPS? Sorry for all the questions.
No problem with the questions. Obvious what may work in one system may not be right for another. I do have some great tube gear but the iPhono and iTube were both designed to be simpatico. I would at least try it. One fellow here took my advice and tried it and the email he sent me went something like "hooked iPhono 2 up to the iTube 2, mind #$%#$ blown".
Can't comment if Mr. Fremer likes it as much as his reference but I do recall he placed the 1st gen iPhono in his system and allowed some of his audiophile buddies to listen while thinking the reference stage was playing. He stated that not one of them discerned anything was amiss and thought the sound was great as always. Well the iTube 2 is far superior to the 1st gen. I would suggest you try the iTube 2 with it, you have 60 days to play with it if ordered from Music Direct.
The iPhono 2 is a 15v device so you never have to worry about over-voltage as 15v is the limit of the supply I use/recommend. Switch Mode Power Supplies are inherently self regulating. So the iPower power supply is regulated itself. the linear supply I suggested is also regulated.
You are welcome, I am glad it was of help to you :) One other thing I failed to mention is that the iPhone 2 responds extremely well to vibrational treatments. I don't understand how something so low in weight can be so affected by what it sits on but I can easily hear it.
I'm the fellow whose mind was #$%#$ blown! I purchased the iPhono2 as a back up (as I've been auditioning phono stages and wanted a solid baseline and something to use in between auditions) and out of curiosity as I'd read Audiofun's review of the original iPhono and Fremer's recent review of the iPhono2.
At first I thought it was a pleasant sounding unit with decent dynamics and nice clarity. Definitely a step above others in its price range. Fortunately, I had been warned that it took a long time to break in, so I didn't jump to conclusions. I used a phono burn-in CD every night for about a week, and each day seemed to reveal a bit more clarity, depth, smoothness. At some point about 10 days in I realized that I was just lost in the music and had completely forgotten about the equipment. A very good sign.
I added the iTube2 about a week ago, and it seemed to expand the bass depth and sound stage while not obscuring any detail. It's fun to experiment with all the different settings, but right now I'm just letting the unit burn in. I thought I might be disappointed in returning to the iPhono2 without the iTube2, but I just tried at the iPhono2 seems to have evolved even further - smoother, more engaging, deep soundstage. Really a wonderful sound. And I haven't even explored linear power supplies yet!
I should mention that I don't have experience with the reference-level gear that Audiofun uses, but in comparison to the few tubed phono stages in the $2500 range I've heard, the iPhono2 is a true standout.
Again, just my 2 cents, YMMV, take with a grain of salt, my system/my ears, etc. :)
I have owned the ifi Phono2 since last July. I live in a 2 bedroom condo and I am space challenged. I have a fairly expensive system although I have been using the Phono stage in my preamp for years. Having been very impressed by the original ifi this one offers much more robust power output plus 72db gain and more sub 100 ohms of loading both of which work beautifully with my cartridge. Put it behind your components out of sight and everyone visiting you will think you are running a $5k Phono preamp. Not an exaggeration particularly if you use expensive ICs with it. You just have to lose the nagging concept that you are listening to a $500 piece of gear and once broken in and used with correct gain and loading options won't be hard to do.
Ok, first and foremost your moniker is the name of an awesome car and if I could get past my obsession with air cooled 911's and my very special custom 944 Turbo I'd own that mustang :)
You are correct about people getting past the price. It is an exceptional device. Thoersten Loesche is no joke and thanks to Darren Conseulo of Avatar Acoustics for bringing this gear to the colonies. Darren has the best ear of any distributor/dealer I've ever met.., no joke.
So what happens is that the coolness (like a type sterility) that SMPS's impart on the overall sound of systems is removed. I don't care how quiet (low ripple voltage) a SMPS may be, they always always dump high frequency hash back on the line. This has is shared aross the grounds(chassis) of your devices and infects them like a pathogen. Once you remove it, you will always be able to identify that sound. I remeber when I really wanted the Halcro DM10 or DM8, the minute I found out that thing had a SMPS, I was out.
When you start removing these supplies from your system or at the very least use a very long extension cord (which defeats the purpose of a high end PC) this high frequency garbage is removed. The power supply in your geat is NOT designed to be a ubiquitous flter. It does a good job but it is designed to pass a 60hz signal, not clean up higgh freq hash. If you have a toroidal transformer in your gear it is even worse becaus of the tighter coupling between primary and secondary/secondary's. I.E. transformer do a better job filtering out this noise due to the air gap in their construction.
I would say this, everything you hear right now.., multiply the goodness by 2 and you are starting to get a good idea of what the linear supply will do for you.
The sound becomes more relaxed and purer while simultaneous gaining impact. SMPS's are not in keeping with the best that high end audio has to off.
Years ago(say 1999) I was speaking with John Ulrich of Spectron (used to own the Spectron 1KW) about power supplies and he asked me what I thought about him placing a SMPS in his amps (it would save weight) and I told him it would kill the sound of amp. I sggested he not go that route. I am not saying I am the reason he chose to stick with a linear supply, just relaying a conversation I had :)
That will work. It may use a LM317 regulator which is not the best as it relates to noise. I am not sure if it uses that part but the description referred to a chip for the regualtion (if I recall the ad correctly) and the LM317 is ubquitous.
Right now I'm just using the iPhono2 while I let the iTube2 burn in w/my CD player, and the iPhono2 just keeps getting better. Just tonight I noticed some light symbol work deep on the background on "Monk Straight, No Chaser." It was so perfectly rendered and deep in the soundstage that it was startling.
To all, thank you for the info. I do have a trial Ifi iTube 2 coming for audition. I'll hold off on the PS for now but will lean towards the Pyramid since it's not that much (adjustable too) plus it is the exact one Audiofun is commenting on. A lot of these supplies can get pretty stupid cost wise quickly. The SBooster is only out of Canada no US Offering and the Swagman is out of China anyway. Again all not that costly. Keep it coming because as is I'm hearing all kinds of info from the iFI Phono2 I have not heard from any Phono Pre's I have had here.
Just dropped the SBooster into my rig a few minutes ago, and the difference is immediately apparent. Instruments sound more real, bass has more impact, and there is a whole layer of electronic haze that's gone. Really a huge improvement.
With the wallwart plugged in, I could turn my integrated up to about halfway and hear a pretty pronounced high pitched buzz. Now it's totally silent. This is gonna be fun!
Well, at the risk of being late to the party, mark me down as another VERY happy user. I got an iPhono2 about 3 weeks ago and was enjoying it very much. It was installed with a Basis 2001, Vector 2 tonearm and Ortofon 2M Black. Definitely great value for money, plus.
I was so impressed with the iPhone2 that I started looking at iFi's micro series as a whole and the iTube2 caught my eye. My system has been, till now, an all-solid state affair. With every increase in resolution as I've slowly upgraded my system, the characteristic SS "sheen" was becoming more evident, and less tolerable. So the iTube2 seemed like it might be a nice solution. Boy, did I get more than I bargained for! Not only is the sheen gone, with sound "rounder" and more "mellifluous," but the versatility of the iTube2 makes it just an amazing piece, and lots of fun to play with. As another poster said, a Swiss army knife. The 3D and xBass circuits are very well executed. The tube sound selection switch is awesome. I settled on the middle "tube characteristic" sound. In my system, better than the SET or push/pull settings. If you're at all curious, don't hesitate to give it a trial. Musicdirect and Amazon make that so easy.
As others have said, the form factor is a bit odd. While it's well built, it's hard to love. Best to hide the iPhono2 once dialed in, but the iTube2 does have to sit out if you're going to use the switches with regularity. Of course, there's always the . . . . iRack. (No joke, but pricey for what it is.)
The only slight drawback I've come across is the MM gain of 36 or 48db. I find that a traditional 40-42db is ideal in my system. 48 can be a bit much on some of the most dynamic music while 36 leans just so slightly to the soft side because I'm using a MI Zephyr 3 that has a lowish (for MM) 2.12 output. Not a huge issue, just haven't quite hit the sweet spot yet.
It is really impossible to evaluate any of the optional aftermarket LPSs mentioned above, because all we can know about them is the size of the box and its net weight. Plus in some cases we are told the part number of an internal voltage regulator. (I agree with Audiofun; the LM317 is no great shakes, but the LM317 may be used as a current source more often than not. I don't much care for it in that capacity, either.) But there is much more to a PS than merely the regulator. Weight is usually proportional to the size of the power transformer, where bigger is usually better, so to some extent knowing the shipping weight is helpful. For sure, any or all of them will be superior to the supplied SMPS, IMO.
What you want to know is the size of the transformer in terms of its VA rating (higher is usually better and toroidals are good in this application) and the nature of the rectifiers and filtering. Schottky diodes are the best for rectification. For filtering, in these types of supplies very typically the filtering is done by capacitors, only. (No inductors or resistors, usually.) The more capacitance, the better.
I'm glad people are finding out how good the ifi combination really is. I'm a seriously hard guy to impress when it comes to audio be it digital, LP or even reel to reel which is not the pancea some would have us to believe.
hglaser: I used the tube switch on the iTube 2 in classic mode as well.
Totem, I have no direct experience with the UA723, but here's what I found on the internet: "The ua723/lm723 Voltage regulator IC inner circuit using discreet elements. As u can see the output is astonishingly stable at 63W with a ripple of less than 10mV and this goes up to 90W with external pass transistor. As for the ic itself it provides 150mA at 1-37V and there are dozens of circuits involving this particular ic and they include adjustable current limiting capabilities floating regulator switching regulator and many others. Using this chip only and a few external parts one might make a professional power supply unit for under 10$. The ic also provides short circuit protection and many other cool features like overload protection etc if the correct outer circuit is used. I find this little chip very handy because it does not require any particular skills to use end exploit. the only downside is that if any external transistor should fail just dont bother looking for the problem and go buy a new ua723 and a new transistor. Another downside is that it has a gazilion pins and they can be easily mistaken and again the ic fails. So my advice if you are going to use this ic get a few of them (i blew 2 already)be careful with the pin numbers or just use the simpler still quite good for low power applications LM317 :)"
You obviously are not going to DIY, so you need not be concerned about a "gazillion pins". Sounds like a great part. I am most familiar with the LM317 as a current source. Allen Wright used to use it in his SuperRegulator (as a current source). AW himself advised me to remove the LM317, a few years after I built the kit, and it was good advice. His regulator sounded better without the LM317, even though it then lacked a constant current source.
I have to write that tonight while listening I was myself surprised that at a little over 500 hours this combination has taken another step towards better sound. I've noticed a more sonorous and substantive sound even more akin to my PH77, I'm not kidding when I say I'm a more than a little shocked that this thing is sounding even better.
i listened to the 45 of Jacintha Autumn Leaves, Tango Extreme, Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition Stravinsky the Firebird Suite The Philadelphia Orchestra - Riccardo Muti and currently as I type this I'm listening to My Funny Valentine - Ted Rosenthal Trio. All of this music is distinctly being rendered in a more convincing matter.
I'm surprised, that's the best I can put it right now.
I have the S Booster in now I also have the iTube 2 in on iPhono2 The Booster PS alone is superb and as mentioned everything becomes so "relaxed and purer" tone and low end detail is just really on. Extreme pleasure in listening. I'm impressed. The SBooster is supposed to need 100 hours to break in further.
I'll have to wait to comment further on the iTube 2. Too much to mess with in a couple hours. This is the tour piece from the kind iFI folks on Audio Circle board.
@bacobits1 glad to hear that the Booster is working well off the bat. How's it sounding now?
@audiofun Do you find that the LPS helps the sound of the iTube2 as well? I am finding that I prefer the iPhono without the iTube2, as it is clearer and more realistic sounding. However, I'm using the iPower with the iTube2, and it does introduce some low-level noise into the system.
In any event, I'm still really enjoying it, and now and then it surprises me with subtle increases in performance as it runs in. This is the first solid state phono stage I've had in a while. I'm interested to compare it to other SS stages to see if I'm just a SS phono guy, or if this is just damn good. Or maybe it's both :)
Smrex, funny you mentioned that you prefer the iPhono 2 without the iTube2 and sounds better. I agree totally. You described what I am hearing with the iTube 2. The sBooster was the better upgrade. I expect a bit more changes. I don't need to "flavor" either the Yiggy or the iPhono2 or my system. I basically wrote it up that way in my review of the iTube2 on AC Others will hear it different.
smrex13: I am using a linear with the iTube 2 and it does make a big difference for the better. Much of the same benefits you get when a linear is used on the iPhono 2. I use my iTube in classic mode as a pure buffer, no gain, no 3D and no XBass.
PS68: Yes, I have been using my London Reference with the iPhono 2. It sounds great. The Denon 103R also sounds awesome with the iPhono 2. For the Denon I have it set 330ohms and 60dB gain.
Audiofun based on your review I ordered a I Phono 2 and a LPS .
The phono stage that was in my system is a fine Audio Note R02
I run a SUT for my LOMC cartridges and am using the 36 DB setting with my Denon DL301mk2 after break in I will compare the AN to the IFI . I am @ about 100 hrs and feel the IFI will win . The main reason for giving this a try was the extra gain @ 48db I have a .04 mv output Jewel tone Ribbon cartridge that needs the extra gain. Thank you for the good recommendation .