Not everyone knows about DACs, but every device that acts as a source of digital sound has one. Smartphones, computers, TVs, music systems – they all need DAC circuitry to convert digital audio data into an analogue signal, which is amplified to drive speaker (or headphone) diaphragms and generate sound waves.
The Uno, by iFi, is described as a first-rung audio upgrade – a DAC/headphone amp for people who may not know what a DAC is, but know they want better sound quality when they listen to music, stream movies and TV shows, play games and enjoy other forms of audio and AV content, from podcasts to YouTube.
Small enough to fit in the palm of the hand, the Uno’s curvy case is made from tough, mineral-filled polymer and contains sophisticated DAC and headphone amp circuitry to upgrade the basic audio tech in all sorts of digital devices. Its USB-C input connects to Windows PCs, Apple Macs, and smartphones and tablets. It doesn’t require its own power source, receiving both power and audio data from the device to which it’s connected. And it delivers a perfectly processed, optimally amplified analogue audio signal to headphones, powered speakers, or an amp and separate speakers, says its creator.
With an RRP of just £79, Uno’s maker says it provides a very competitively priced way to unlock bigger, bolder, more detailed sound, elevating digital entertainment experience to a thrilling new level. 2
DAC’s the ticket
The Uno draws from the experience iFi has gained in developing a range of multi-award-winning DACs at a wide spread of prices, from under £200 to over £3000. At its heart lies a power-efficient, high-performance DAC chip from ESS Technology’s Sabre HiFi series – the ES9219MQ/Q – benefiting from 32-bit HyperStream III architecture. This combines with Quad DAC+ and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator technologies, plus iFi’s dedicated clock circuitry utilising a specialised crystal oscillator, to deliver ultra-low distortion, excellent clarity and impressive dynamic range.
iFi has taken full advantage of the DAC chip’s advanced specification, unlocking rarely implemented high-end features such as adjustable analogue gain with DRE (Dynamic Range Enhancement), plus technologies to minimise THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) and crosstalk. A choice of digital filters is accessible via the front-panel buttons, enabling users to fine-tune the DAC’s sound according to taste.
iFi says the Uno’s hi-res audio credentials are highly impressive given its diminutive price. PCM audio data is supported to 32-bit/384kHz, alongside DSD up to 11.2MHz (DSD256), and MQA – the hi-res streaming technology used by Tidal’s ‘HiFi Plus’ tier. An illuminated ring behind the volume control changes colour to indicate the format and sample rate of the incoming digital signal.
The Uno’s analogue circuitry is just as vital to the supercharged sound quality it provides as its digital tech. The headphone amp feeds a 3.5mm socket at the front, incorporating iFi’s S-Balanced configuration to reduce noise and crosstalk. This delivers 211mW into 32 ohms, and 3.5V into 600 ohms, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of headphone and earphone types. The stereo RCA output at the rear is equally well served, benefiting from iFi’s ability to deliver high-grade audio circuitry in remarkably affordable devices. All the analogue outputs are gold plated to resist corrosion and maintain conductivity over time.
A volume knob sits front and centre, delivering high-quality analogue adjustment in the DAC itself rather than relying on the software-driven volume controls in connected digital devices. Next to this is the PowerMatch button, which adjusts gain by 6dB to match the connected headphones – choose the higher setting for more current-hungry loads, and the lower setting for more sensitive types.
Another proprietary circuit provides three specially tuned EQ modes – one for music, another for movies, and the third for games. These are analogue processing modes rather than DSP (Digital Signal Processing), engineered to maintain sonic fidelity whilst precisely adjusting the frequency balance.
Music mode delivers a detailed and engaging sound with all types of music; Movie mode enhances dialogue clarity with films, TV shows and other audio/video content; and Game mode makes low-level sound effects crystal-clear, so you always hear your enemies coming. A button at the front cycles through the three settings, with illuminated logos on top of the Uno indicating the current mode. The Uno will be available from the end of November.