Editor's Note:The following is a guest editorial from long time CA member @sdolezalek
iFi Audio might be referred to as the “millennial division” of the more mature and highly regarded Abingdon Music Research (AMR). Where most of the audio world builds highly expensive “State of the Art” products and then hopes that sales of those products will lead to trickle down products at more affordable prices, iFi have adopted the opposite approach, selling a dizzying array of affordable and innovative but very specialized solutions.
Trickle-down theory has been with us for a long time. It has even served highly innovative companies like Tesla well. But, it may be less relevant in an audio market now dominated by younger, more mobile consumers, living in smaller rented spaces and spending less than hundreds of thousands on their audio systems. By comparison, the group of well heeled, in their 50s+ “audiophiles” who do spend $50k on speakers, $25k on electronics and $45k on cables just isn’t the leading edge of the market in the same way that buyers of Tesla Model S cars are. Building products for rich old men doesn’t trickle down well to the products the millennial consumer wants.
IFi is getting out a variety of products at millennial price points. It has separated several formerly one-box solutions into smaller more modular components that can be easily upgraded one component at a time. That means iFi is in constant dialog with its customer base – something it is also explicitly doing by engaging directly with those customers here on Computer Audiophile or on Head-Fi. They can get a new product on the market quickly, test it with its core audience and see how it performs. If it performs well then you are likely to see “Nano,” “Micro” and “Pro” versions of that product come out over the successive periods. If it doesn’t, it is easy to move on to other components that will do better in the market.
We as consumers play an important role in helping iFi fine-tune product offerings, assisting their R&D process through our live feedback, and helping to define long-term product direction not only for iFi, but ultimately for AMR.
Since the time that AMR released its highly regarded AMR DP-777 SE DAC, iFi has introduced: the Nano iDSD BL, iGalvanic3.0, iONE, iDSD LE, iUSB 3.0; the Micro iTUBE2, iDSD BL, iPHONO2, iCAN SE, iUSB3.0, iDAC2; the Retro Stero50 and LS3.5 and the PRO iESL and iCAN, and earlier generations of these products. While many of us have long waited for the about to be released PRO iDSD DAC, it is clear that product is benefiting not only from AMR DP-777 “trickle down” but more so from Nano and Micro “trickle-up.”
iFi also benefits from the continuing improvement of third-party software products that work with their hardware products. I have previously written about just how much using the combination of Tidal/HQPlayer/Roon to upsample all Tidal content to DSD512 can improve the sound (and ability to fine tune the sound) of the iDSD Micro BL. But all of these products work well in a compuer-centric world that also chooses among Roon, HQPlayer, Audirvana, Amarra, Jriver, etc. and among Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Qobuz, etc.
In the “old world” of consumer audio, people walking into brick-and-mortar stores would have been looking for an affordable one-box-that-does-it-all solution. In the world of Amazon and other on-line retailers and rapidly moving technology-following sites like CA, customers seem much more willing to buy iFi products like they buy mobile phones and accessories – upgrading annually to the latest and greatest.
This approach also plays better into the millenial attitude of buying that $200 or $500 upgrade now, rather than previous generations’ wait 12-24 months to save for the $1,000 new product patience. That pricing/upgrading sweet spot is one that the mobile phone makers and flat-screen TV manufacturers seem to have honed in on. Perhaps it is something more of the audiophile hardware industry should also think about?
Rapid, continuous innovation of modular products is where the future is for audio right now. In the more distant future, there will come a time where the ability to eke out the next higher level of performance gets harder and harder (we are already there with computers and digital cameras and getting close with smartphones and TVs, but digital audio still has years to run). When we get there, products will return to a more comprehensive solution we hold on to for 3-5 years or longer, but that isn’t where the action in audio is today.
It will be interesting to see where that balance works out with another popular and innovative audio product – the KEF LS50 Wireless; a product that at $2,000 is still too expensive to be upgraded every couple of years, but one where the technology is likely to continue to get meaningfully better every couple of years for a decade longer. Should KEF have adopted a more modular approach that might allow us to upgrade the innards of our LS50 Wireless speakers every couple of years for ~$500?
I don’t know, but for the moment, I believe that iFi are on very solid ground in their approach to designing and selling audiophile products for and to a millennial customer base and I suspect other manufacturers would do well to more carefully think about the iFi approach.
iFi is a brand new line of electronics with trickle-down technology licensed from AMR and aimed primarily at the future, Computer Audio generation. All iFi products boast Class A analogue circuitry with no DSP and the signal stays ‘Bit Perfect’ throughout.
How a product looks and performs matters, but so does its impact on the environment. That’s why nearly every iFi product and its packaging are made from highly recyclable materials like aluminum, paper, recycled plastic and why we refuse to use harmful toxins in our components. We do this to ensure that every product we release meets our environmental standards.
iFi has a sponsored forum here on CA -> AMR / iFi Forum
iFi's website -> https://ifi-audio.com
Abbingdon Music Reasearch -> http://www.amr-audio.co.uk/