iFi Audio NEO Stream Network-Attached DAC

hfnoutstandingBuilt into the same chassis as the NEO iDSD, with the same DAC onboard, this new version loses the headphone amp in favour of a bespoke, app-driven streaming platform

To say iFi Audio is an industrious producer of compact hi-fi solutions would be an understatement. More recently the brand has been on a steep upward path of technical evolution, employing designers as accomplished as the marketing department is imaginative. The result? IFi Audio is successful because it has identified new hi-fi hotspots that appeal to both younger and older music lovers alike.

Which brings us to the NEO Stream, the second product in its non-mobile NEO range. Defining what this multifunctional unit does isn't easy – it's probably easier to say what it doesn't. As the name implies, the NEO Stream is a connectivity-rich streaming device featuring both a capable on-board DAC and digital outputs.

Balancing Act
Broadly speaking you can use the £1299 NEO Stream as an outboard DAC delivering analogue audio to, say, an amplifier or powered speakers. To do this you can choose between single-ended RCA or balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn connections, the latter fast becoming the dominant high-end head-fi standard [see EarMen's CH-Amp, HFN Oct '22]. If you want to use the NEO Stream with balanced hi-fi separates, you'll have to pick up a Pentaconn-to-dual XLR adaptor cable.

Equally, iFi Audio's NEO Stream can function as a digital transport, feeding the digital input of an external DAC or digitally equipped amplifier or active loudspeaker. Its optical, coaxial and AES/EBU outputs allow for legacy set-ups, but outboard DACs with HDMI I2S and USB inputs are also catered for if you're playing digital audio above 192kHz or DSD streams (up to DSD512) – the other digital outs are limited to 192kHz PCM.

Packed as the NEO Stream is with outputs, there's still sufficient real estate for iFi Audio to shoehorn in three physical LAN connections – a conventional RJ45, 'industrial' M12 socket and optical SC port. Even if you have no optical networking at home, iFi Audio includes a galvanically isolated 'OptiBox' Ethernet-to-optical transceiver and 1.5m optical cable in the box. Meanwhile, the built-in Wi-Fi performed very well during my testing too.


PCB topside [left pic] has filtering and regulation for the 1.2MHz switchmode PSU [bottom] feeding the Quad-core ARM Cortex processor [top] and... [right pic] XMOS 16-Core USB/MQA processor [top] and Texas Instruments' DSD1793 DAC [top right]

A La Mode
True to the device's concept, digital inputs are absent so you can forget about connecting a TV or CD transport. Streaming is where the music comes from and, like the more affordable digital-out only ZEN Stream, the NEO Stream runs its own software (based on Volumio), with Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay and DLNA on board. It is also Roon Ready and one of the few devices capable of running as a Network Audio Adapter (NAA) for the upsampling HQPlayer software.

Interesting stuff, especially as you can elect to run the NEO Stream in a general mode (enabling all streaming options) or in one of four exclusive modes (Roon, Tidal, NAA or DLNA only). If you prefer playing your own files locally, just connect your USB storage to the second USB port on the rear where the NEO Stream boasts good format support, including the hi-res variants of AIFF, ALAC, FLAC and WAV.

Otherwise, the industrial design of the NEO Stream is clearly culled from the earlier NEO iDSD [HFN Mar '21], featuring a large, centrally positioned dial and a colourful TFT screen off to one side. The recessed multifunctional knob is visually emphasised by a curvy depression in the fascia while a large LED sits to the right. A thin line splits the front panel, hiding a few small buttons and a USB-C port. All this either makes the NEO Stream a bit 'showy' or genuinely original, depending on your take.

Build quality appears excellent and, also true to form, iFi Audio's 'why stop at one function when you can add a few more?' design philosophy is equally evident. Even that red LED is not purely a power indicator; it also signals the quality of your network connection. Brand mainstays including 'Active Noise Cancellation' (ANC II) on the USB port, and an iPower X plug-top PSU, which costs about £100 when bought on its own, are present.

Like its iDSD sibling you can park the NEO Stream in a horizontal orientation or upright with the aid of the supplied stand. The display will rotate correspondingly, ensuring you can always read the metadata of the tracks in play. You might, however, need a pair of binoculars if the unit is sat a few metres away because the device's screen really is quite tiny, reinforcing the feeling that the NEO Stream design is pitched somewhere between a desktop unit and a 'proper' hi-fi separate.

iFi Audio
Supplied by: AMR/iFi Audio (Abbingdon Global Ltd), Southport
01704 543 858