Not everyone knows about digital-to-analogue converters (DACs), but every device that acts as a source of digital sound has one. Smartphones, computers, TVs, and music systems – they all need a DAC to convert digital data into an analogue signal, which is amplified to drive speaker (or headphone) diaphragms and generate sound waves.

The Uno, by iFi, is a first-rung audio product – 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 Apple Music, Tidal to YouTube.

Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, the Uno’s cute, 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 like smartphones. Its USB-C input connects to Windows PCs, Apple Macs, and all manner of 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.

IFI

DAC’s magic!

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 clock circuitry utilizing a specialized crystal oscillator, to deliver ultra-low distortion, excellent clarity and impressive dynamic range.

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.

Awesome analogue

The Uno’s analogue audio circuitry is just as critical to the elevated sonic quality it provides. The headphone amp, which feeds a 3.5mm socket at the front, 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 widely praised ability to deliver high-grade audio circuitry in remarkably affordable devices. All the analogue outputs are gold-plated to resist tarnishing and maintain conductivity over time.

A volume knob sits front and center, delivering high-quality analogue adjustment in the DAC itself rather than relying on the software-driven volume controls in connected digital devices. Alongside is a button labelled ‘PowerMatch’, which adjusts gain by 6dB to optimally match the connected headphones or earphones – choose the higher setting for more current-hungry loads from over-ear headphones, and the lower setting for more sensitive types like ear buds.

Another proprietary circuit provides three specially tuned EQ modes – one for music, another for movies, and the third for video games. These are analogue processing modes as opposed to DSP (Digital Signal Processing), engineered to maintain sonic fidelity whilst precisely adjusting the frequency balance. A button at the front cycles through these three settings, with illuminated logos on top of the Uno indicating which mode is currently engaged.

Those familiar with iFi’s audio devices will know that the company utilizes discrete, high-grade components in its circuit designs, and the same is true of the Uno despite its exceptionally affordable price. Devices such as TDK C0G multilayer ceramic capacitors and inductors from Taiyo Yuden and Murata are more costly than commonly used equivalents, but class-leading qualities such as low ESR (Equivalent Series Resistance) and high linearity pay great dividends in terms of sound quality.

Key features

  • Unlock bigger, bolder, more detailed sounds to enhance your digital entertainment experience
  • USB-C input: connect Windows PCs, Apple Macs and all manner of tablets and smartphones
  • Sophisticated D/A conversion and amplification elevates audio to a thrilling new level
  • 3.5mm headphone output, plus stereo RCA to connect to an amp or powered speakers
  • 32-bit ES9219 Sabre DAC chip with Quad DAC+ technology
  • Supports hi-res audio up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256 and MQA
  • High-quality volume control and switchable gain to match your headphones
  • Music, Movie and Game modes – adjust the sound to suit your choice of entertainment
  • Mineral-filled polymer shell with aluminium front plate
  • Dimensions: 3.5x1x3”,  (WxHxD)