iFi Audio NEO Stream Network-Attached DAC Page 2

Similarly, certain settings can only be adjusted via the screen and the rotary dial, which is not particularly handy if you're listening to music while laid out on the sofa. But to be honest, these are minor gripes. The information shown on the NEO Stream's display can be easily viewed on a mobile device, and the settings which are only accessible via the front panel – the four DAC filters and exclusive modes – are by nature things you'll probably 'set and forget'.

sqnote Moving On Up
Listening to the NEO Stream as a complete package – digital in/analogue out – it's clear that iFi Audio has engineered a very capable, natural and 'musically complete' product. The technical and subjective performance of the NEO Stream is illustrative of the brand's onward progress, perchance helped along by feedback from specialist reviews... In fact, as a purist outboard DAC, the NEO Stream to my mind performed better than all previous efforts from this brand, and that includes the flagship Pro iDSD Signature [HFN Jan '22].

As for switching between the four digital filters when using the NEO Stream as a DAC, this was quite cumbersome, and I quickly settled on GTO (Gibbs Transient Optimised). Standing up, walking over to the unit and diving into the front panel menu system to change a filter... it's just too much hassle. On the other hand, if I could have changed the filters via the app, I would undoubtedly have played around with this feature more. The same is true with the exclusive modes. Most people would not be interested in comparing, say, Roon in the everyman all-in-one (AIO) mode to the exclusive Roon mode, but a slicker method of switching between them would be appreciated.

Old Dog, New Tricks
Bearing in mind that the NEO Stream could be an effective solution to upgrading older hi-fi kit, I hooked it up to my venerable and purely analogue Sony TA-A1ES [HFN Mar '14] – probably the last real hi-fi stereo amplifier the Japanese brand built. Playing through B&W 703 S3s, the DAC made a memorable first impression while streaming the 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the Palomine album from indie band Bettie Serveert [Matador OLE1928 44.1kHz/16-bit]. While the vocals of Carol van Dijk capture the attention, it's in the details and pacing of the ensemble where the NEO Stream shows off its strengths. This commemorative re-issue features extra live versions, and it was with a more intimate but still very grungy performance of 'Leg' that I noted the delicate and honest touch iFi Audio's DAC was applying.


Wireless BT 5.0, wired (RJ45, M12 and optical) Ethernet and USB-A (for HDD) inputs feed coaxial, optical, AES/EBU, I2S (HDMI) and USB-A digital outputs. Analogue outputs are offered on single-ended RCAs and a balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn socket

 Playing the 1970s-inspired soul/funk/jazz of Menahan Street Band's The Exciting Sounds Of... album [Daptone Records DAP-063; 88.2kHz/24-bit], via Qobuz through the third-party BubbleUPnP app, further strengthened this impression. There was no bloat or sense of dynamic compression noticeable when the band, perhaps best known for supporting soul singer Charles Bradley, grooved through these atmospheric, purely instrumental tracks.

In its inviting delivery of the slow, melancholic 'Rainy Day Lady', the NEO Stream outshone many competing DACs at this price point. And that was even more the case when portraying the swinging, funky rhythms – and shining a spotlight on backing instruments, such as the obligatory congas – on 'The Starchaser' or 'Cabin Fever'. These pieces could be the soundtrack to a '70s Blaxploitation flick or gritty crime thriller, and iFi Audio's DAC captured the vibe perfectly.

Easy Listening
Switching to a more contemporary amplifier in the shape of a Primare I15 [HFN Oct '18], but keeping the 703 S3s in tow and replaying the same Menahan Street Band album, made it even easier to discern which qualities the NEO Stream brought to the table – detail, precision and sparkling musicality. Furthermore, next to the sonic improvement on offer, shifting from one amplifier to another is easily done. Indeed, the NEO Stream caters well to those who like to 'tune' their sound by swapping devices in and out of the playback chain. I connected the unit via its USB-A output to a Musical Fidelity M6x DAC [HFN Jul '22], added in between the NEO Stream and Primare amplifier, and hopping from analogue to digital out was no effort at all. Just pop into the app settings and select the outboard DAC as the main output.

Used in this set-up, the NEO Stream proved to be a very able driver of the M6x DAC. A digital transport might not have the biggest impact on sound quality, but there was no faulting the scale, timing and dynamics with Philippe Herreweghe and the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra performing Schubert's Symphony No. 1, 3 & 4 [PHI LPH 019; 44.1kHz/16-bit ALAC].

While experimenting I also discovered the NEO Stream can actually handle two connected DACs, one via the rear USB-A, one via the USB-C port on the front. It won't stream to both simultaneously, of course, but maybe the rule is: if you can think of a reason why you would want to hook up two DACs at the same time – a comparison listening test, for example – you're smack bang in the target group of iFi Audio's well-featured device.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The NEO Stream is very versatile, making it irresistible to restless hi-fi tinkerers chasing the definitive network technology, system integration or streaming option that potentially offers a sound quality advantage. Look past the acronyms and marketing spin, and don't be distracted by minor software or design shortcomings, for this capable package outsmarts more than a few full-sized hi-fi separates.

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