don't need much in the way introduction now as they are well established as an
off-shoot of AMR. Some of their diminutive and very affordable products use
technology trickled down from their AMR big brother. This time the technology
inside the iTube is very much all iFi. The iTube uses the now familiar iFi
designed plug-top power supply and iFi extruded aluminum casework.
iFi position the iTUBE as a Swiss Army knife of
HiFi and it is so. It can be configured:
As a buffer with zero or 6dB gain
It would be all too easy to dismiss the iTube as a gimmick; seriously, do not be tempted to do this. The iTube is a very well-conceived piece of kit. I must confess that when I was told what the iTUBE does I was a little skeptical about it; had it been April 1st would have been thinking I smell a rat. There is no rat; instead it's something every music buff should consider buying. Was asked to ensure I ran the iTube for a full week 24/7 and duly complied... and then some; I grabbed an occasional listen and can confirm the sound does improve with burn-in.
The iTube has a warm heart; the heart is a miniature NOS tube,
a GE 5670. This conservatively run tube endows the iTube with a pleasing warmth
to the touch. The dot on the iFi logo is a hole above the tube providing
ventilation and red glow confirming operation. Neat.
Looking at the underside of the extruded enclosure reveals a set of DIP switches for you to set some of the iTube modes. It comes with a tool for you to use to flick the switches, a set of interconnects and power lead adapter you may find useful should you not want the power lead firing a long way out of the side of the iTube. The functions you'll need in daily use are accessed via two switches on the front panel and there's also the volume control which only operates in preamp mode. Most of my listening was done with my system setup with the following:
Trans-Fi Salvation record deck, Transfiguration Spirit
cartridge, iFi iPhono
My first aim was to check how well the iTube performed as a
buffer, was it transparent? I found that insertion loss due to introducing the
iTube into my system is frankly very hard to detect. I'm not confident I could
reliably tell you whether or not the iTube configured as buffer was in my system
or not, except perhaps with the very best recordings. The very best
recordings are just ever so slightly less open and airy with the buffer; the
difference though is incredibly small indeed. You might think this renders the
iTube buffer redundant; it does as a buffer in my system because I don't need a
buffer but a lot of people with passive preamps will benefit from using the
iTube as a buffer. The key point for me is that the buffer is as near
transparent as is possible so I'm comfortable that by using the 3D
HolographicSound and Digital Antidote Plus functions I'm not compromising my
system with a worryingly degrading buffer. Should you need a buffer to better
match your sources to a passive preamp and power amp then I foresee very
worthwhile sonic benefits simply by using the iTube as a buffer.
– this simply operates as a buffer, switching out the 3D Holographic Sound.
Hi-Fi – with this setting bass is supposed to be better located by the listener. Using a modern recording with a bouncy bass, in this case Caro Emerald / Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor, the drums became more distinct. There was less of a simple thump and more of a bass sound with shape and texture, it sounded more realistic. Moving onto Annie Lennox / Diva I found the bass guitar notes to be cleaner, the best way I can put this is that the bass notes were better described. I could not locate bass any better but it was time now to move onto analogue recordings to investigate further. With Sonny Rollins / Saxophone Colossus I could be sure real (i.e. nothing synthesized) instruments were being played so this should be a good test. Playing Moritat first of all I had to find a way to get myself to ignore Sonny's sax, which was a challenge. In HiFi mode the double bass sounded less thrumy, I could better hear the double bass strings vibrating; I could better locate Doug Watkins on double bass. A side effect of this more detailed and cleaner sound was that the double bass shrank back into the mix a tad. I simply turned my bass amps a little to compensate and all was good. In more typical systems it may be necessary to move the speakers a few inches closer to the rear wall to re-balance the bass.
Desktop – used on my main system, the soundstage became a little wider and now left and right seem to bend around towards the listing position almost like a control bridge on ship or a major computer installation but this is not how this mode is intended to be used, nonetheless it was interesting. I tried the desktop mode with my desktop/holiday system which is a laptop running Foobar2000/ASIO4ALL into a USB DAC and Creative Labs active T40 speakers. The whole soundstage expanded, switching 3D Holographic Sound out of the system resulted in a shut-in sound. 3D Holographic Sound works really well, the improvement in Desktop mode was dramatic.
1) The iTube operates as a very useful buffer, assisting sources with a less than ideal ability to drive tricky loads, quite likely via a passive preamp.
2) The iTube preamp capabilities are surprisingly good, as a
single input preamp it holds its own in my reference system in terms of sound
3) The iTube spatial effects due to 3D Holographic Sound are of long-lasting interest,
4) The iTube Digital Antidote Plus does a surprisingly useful
job in reducing "digititis".
You can place the iTube between pre and power amps, though in my case this wasn't viable long-term as I require two outputs from a preamp. For me it's not a question of whether I need an iFi Audio iTube; rather it's how many do I need? I could do with one iTube for my DAC, another for my phono stage and a third one for my desktop system.