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iFi-audio Micro Series – iTube/Pre-amplifier Review: Part I

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iFi-audio, aka AMR’s pint size little brother

Abbingdon Music Research, or AMR as audio hipsters like to say while sipping their double mocha macchiato, is a British manufacturer of high quality (both sound and build) audio components. AMR, the company-okay, I’m an older hipster who loves drinking latte macchiato- started in 2001, and in 2006 launched its first product, the CD-77 digital processor. The company recently moved from its London location to Southport, on the west coast of England, where design, research and development take place. AMR components are manufactured in the company’s facility in China, while parts are sourced globally. I have listened to several AMR digital processors and DACs at various audio shows in the past six years, and have always been impressed with the sound reproduction, no matter what associated equipment were paired with them.

IFi-audio was launched at the 2012 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and is an AMR subsidiary, a shorter and younger branch from the same audio tree. AMR’s founders conceived iFi-audio as a direct response to the changes inherent in the younger generation’s more mobile lifestyle. Instant response and gratification seem to be major factors in purchasing portable electronic devices that cater to this attitude. Apple, Inc. being an initial and major purveyor in accommodating the mobile lifestyle, has shown by its revenue and stock growth that it is no longer a trend but is now firmly embedded in our society. As this lifestyle has taken a firm grip on society, no longer are only the younger crowd enamored with portable devices but individuals of all ages have climbed on the band wagon. I cannot begin to count the number of times while riding on the NYC subway system where I see the majority of riders, whether young, middling, or older busily using their devices or listening to music through headphones or ear buds.

Besides the portability factor, who doesn’t use a computer of some sort nowadays? Well, I can name two: my sister and my brother-in-law. I’m sure there are some others who have techno-phobia but the vast majority of people are drawn to computers like flies to you-know-what. Many of these users also play music through computers while performing other tasks, like answering email or surfing the internet. Knowing this, iFi-audio has carpe diem by designing small components that fit and stack nicely on a desk. And by providing better sound quality than the big brand electronic giants it just adds more cream to the coffee.

Fantastic Voyage

I have before me a plethora of tiny boxes from iFi-audio. I love saying the word plethora. It’s a funny sounding word. So is kumquat. Come on, say it with me: plethora and kumquat. I always get a smile on my face when I say these words. Now back to our regular broadcast. What did I get for review, and how many? Well, from the new nano series I have the iDSD, and from the micro series the iTube, iDAC, iUSBPower, iPurifier, as well as the Mercury and Gemini USB cables. Darren and Bonnie Censullo of Avatar Acoustics, the US distributor, generously supplied all review samples except the iDAC 24/192, which was loaned by an audiophile friend. All the iFi-audio components have a similar look to them and some were specifically designed to work with each other, thus making them like audio Lego building blocks.

So, how did iFi get all those parts in such a minuscule box? I have a few capacitors that are almost as big as the nano chassis. Ah, the wonders of miniaturization. Perhaps somehow I can shrink myself and borrow the itsy bitsy submarine Proteus from the 1966 science fiction movie, Fantastic Voyage. I can then maneuver Proteus and dive inside for a closer look. But since I can’t I won’t. I know I can remove the cover and pull out the innards but then I have to change the clever subtitle.

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7 Responses to iFi-audio Micro Series – iTube/Pre-amplifier Review: Part I


  1. Tom says:

    An incredible improvement with the Itube, is to hook up a 9v Astron power supply with a Reality Cable power cord. This improvement will blow you away.

  2. Paul Mah says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I’m actually using an Astron PS to power my Virtue Sensation amp.

    Paul

  3. Fred says:

    I thought that I was done buying stuff for a while and then I read this review. Sounds like a great deal. I want one.

  4. Niv says:

    Thanks for the excellent review Paul. I’m thinking of getting an iTube and have read many reviews of it. Only your review mentions “Preamp and buffer on”, which according to the review sounds the best. But none of the other reviews or the instruction manual talks about this configuration, I was wondering could you kindly clarify what you meant by “Pream and buffer on”, as I thought it could be one or the other, but not both at the same time.

    Thanks a lot!

  5. Paul Mah says:

    Hi Niv,

    Glad you enjoyed my review. On the underside of the iTube there is a dip or micro switch which allows the user to select direct mode (iTube circuit only), thus bypassing the unit’s analogue volume control, or tube preamp mode, thus utilizing tube buffer and volume control. Of course, if you select the direct mode, you will need a separate volume control, either from a preamp or source (e.g. CD player with volume feature), because then the unit is a pure DAC.

    If you do get the iTube and desire a warmer sound, I recommend either a Western Electric-or, its Canadian subsidiary, Northern Electric-396a, or Tung-Sol 2C51. Note that doing so may void the warranty. Hope this helps.

    Paul

  6. Stanley Wahr says:

    Hi,

    Great review and thanks a lot.

    I have the same question Niv asked you and after your answer about the direct mode selection using the micro switch(es) i still can’t figure it out. I’m unfortunatly not that smart. Is it possible you provide a picture from the setting where the buffer and the preamp are both enabled so that I’m 100% sure what I have to do the get it right? I hope I don’t ask to much of your time.

    Thanks a lot!!!

    Stanley Wahr

    • Paul Mah says:

      Hi Stanley,

      The iTube was sent back to the distributor after my review. All you have to do is make sure the dipswitch is set on the preamp position and not on the direct position. Once done, both preamp and tube buffer is on. That’s it! Happy New Year!

      Paul

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