iFi NEO Stream Review

iFi NEO Stream Review


iFi NEO Stream Review

iFi NEO Stream Review

The iFi brand is quite hard to miss in the hi-fi market. First, the unusual and recognizable design of their desktop and portable components attracts attention. Secondly, the very fact that the English brand does not produce anything larger than desktop Hi-Fi is also quite surprising: after all, the compact format is originally the patrimony of Asian manufacturers.

Thirdly, iFi offers a rich set of additional and very useful devices for sound: filters, power supplies, cables and adapters that are suitable not only for branded, but also for any other components.

A network player called NEO Stream stands out from the overall picture thanks to a completely new design and form factor, but, as it turns out, this device does not change the essence and spirit of the brand in any way.


Network players nowadays have very diverse implementations. A device that only reads files from a NAS or connects via UPnP already meets the definition. But most often there are devices that combine reading files from media or over the network and have built-in applications for streaming services.

iFi NEO Stream Review

In other words, manufacturers rely on their own software or ready-made hardware and software solutions. Bluesound, NAD, Denon, Marantz, Naim, Yamaha and many other manufacturers do this. iFi developers took a different route.

The player has its own application, as well as a web interface - through them you can make settings and listen to files from your home server, but the main emphasis is on external protocols. First of all, these are Roon, NAA, which allow you to achieve maximum sound quality when listening to music over the network. In addition, the more accessible and common protocols AirPlay and DLNA/UPnP are supported.

Instead of built-in applications for listening to streaming services, external protocols are also used: Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect. In other words, the manufacturer has done everything possible so that the maximum can be squeezed out of its streaming platform by integrating it into the ready-made infrastructure as a player or renderer.

In addition, this approach eliminates the need for the user to get used to a new application. When listening using Roon or Tidal Connect and other protocols, a new iFi NEO Stream device will simply appear in the already familiar interface, to which you can redirect music for listening.


In order to evaluate the functionality of NEO Stream in its entirety, it is necessary to immediately move on from the streaming capabilities to an overview of the interfaces - and it is this part that greatly distinguishes it from most of its competitors. Let's start, however, with the most familiar.

Digital outputs are presented in full: there is optics, coaxial on the RCA connector, AES|EBU and I2S on the HDMI connector. Two USB-A ports on the rear panel and a USB-C port on the front can be used to connect both storage devices and external DACs. Moreover, USB interfaces are implemented using proprietary ANC II technology. ANC stands for “active noise cancellation,” but we are, of course, talking about electrical noise. And the SPDIF outputs use another noise reduction technology, called iPurifier.

Analog outputs are represented by unbalanced RCA and balanced, implemented on a compact 4.4 mm connector - however, the NEO Stream kit includes only a proprietary 2xRCA cable. An adapter for a balanced output or a balanced cable would, of course, be more appropriate, especially since such a cable is available in the iFi range.

The choice of ways to connect to the network is surprisingly varied: in addition to the traditional LAN port and dual-band Wi-Fi, there is another Ethernet port interface on an industrial M12 connector, but most importantly, an optical port. It is known that a regular LAN port is a source of interference, and in top streamers it is connected to the circuit through additional filters. The transition to optics seems more effective, because instead of suppressing interference coming “via copper”, we get one hundred percent galvanic isolation.

iFi NEO Stream Review

However, in houses and apartments, optics are found only at the input of the router, after which the network is built either on LAN cables or via Wi-Fi. To ensure that everyone has the opportunity to realize the potential of optical network switching, the NEO Stream kit includes a proprietary OptiBox converter, which not only reformats a regular LAN into an optical form, but also restores and reclocks the signal, increasing the stability of data transmission and allowing you to play an audio stream over the network in Bit-perfect mode.

An optical patch cord and even a network adapter with a USB-C cable required to power the OptiBox are also included in the kit, so there will be no connection problems - everything is ready to use out of the box.


The sound quality of a digital player depends on several factors, but the whole point comes down to minimizing jitter. The above-mentioned technologies used on digital outputs, USB ports and network connections rid the circuit of noise coming from outside, but any device has one more connection - power.

And on this side, NEO Stream also received protection in the form of a proprietary network adapter. It has a pulse operating principle and is equipped with a powerful filtration system, making it superior in purity even to linear power supplies. And, of course, no less important is what is inside the streamer itself.

The iFi website has a solid list of component suppliers, including TDK, Panasonic, MuRata, Texas Instruments and others, since the quality of resistors, capacitors, stabilizers and other circuit components is directly related to the stability and accuracy of digital circuits.

To suppress jitter inside the device, a precision femtosecond clock generator is used, covering the entire circuit, which received the very symbolic name of Global Master Timing. In addition, a special technology of “smart” data buffering is used to prevent delays during playback.

iFi NEO Stream Review

The USB output uses a new 16-core XMOS processor with increased performance and original firmware from iFi, and on-board digital-to-analog conversion is provided by a four-channel Burr-Brown chipset, included in the circuit in such a way that two different pairs are used for decoding PCM and DSD channels, so both formats can be played back in bit-perfect mode. And finally, the analog part of NEO Stream has a fully balanced circuit.

Possible options

The variety of connection methods and the large number of settings available in NEO Stream make the initial installation stage quite lengthy, because you need to understand what effect different switching methods have. To eliminate unnecessary variables, I took an external DAC with a familiar sound signature to a USB port and began comparing the available options for connecting to my home network.

Wi-Fi and LAN turned out to be close in the degree of influence on sound, with some superiority of the latter. But the use of an optical converter and the corresponding input changes the situation radically. Without it, NEO Stream gives approximately the same sound quality that a digital transport of this price should provide - a good average level with good resolution, natural timbre development and a spacious stage. The sound does not raise any questions or complaints, unless you have the opportunity to compare it with devices that cost several times more.

With the transition to optics, there is a qualitative leap to the next level. From a good average Hi-Fi NEO Stream moves into the top Hi-Fi and is only inferior to High End transports. The transformation itself looks extremely interesting. The formal features seem to have remained in place, but the audiophile recording, which seemed too dry and mechanical, suddenly reveals additional colors - more timbres and volume appear in the bass guitar, vocals become more expressive, guitars and saxophones do not brighten and do not hurt the ear during loud passages , the ringing of cymbals becomes clearer, a feeling of holographic and transparent recording appears, all music sounds more comfortable, natural.

Attention is immediately switched from analytical perception to mood, text, artistic images. You turn the LAN back on and the magic is gone. It seems that the resolution has not dropped, and the sounds are all in place, and no coloration has appeared, but everything has become a little more conventional, boring and rough.

iFi NEO Stream Review

In a word, it’s not for nothing that the optical converter was added to the kit - it gives NEO Stream a very significant advantage over its competitors. At one time I compared it in one High End system with an Esoteric player, using both devices as digital transport. The difference in price between the two devices was almost an order of magnitude, but the difference in sound was far from so great. These were rather shades and nuances that did not appear on all recordings. In a top-class Hi-Fi system, using transport with a quality class higher than that provided by NEO Stream with optical isolation, in my opinion, makes no sense.

Analog or digital

Now that you’ve figured out how to connect to the network, it’s time to understand what this device is basically capable of. NEO Stream performs best as a digital transport, but let’s not forget that it can also act as a full-fledged source: both a regular single-ended and a balanced analog signal.

The built-in BurrBrown DAC, carefully prepared by iFi engineers, sounds detailed, melodic and expressive, with a recognizable English character. The listener's attention is focused on the energetic midbass and transparent high frequencies. The stage is small, dense, with good volume transmission, while all of it fits within the stereo acoustics and does not extend far beyond the ears when listening with headphones.

The detail is quite high, but the solidity of the sound canvas clearly dominates the attention to detail. Additional possibilities for customizing sound are provided by built-in digital filters, and the set of them in NEO Stream is different from the usual. The BP (Bit-Perfect) filter provides the most detailed and somewhat analytical reproduction with the least coloration of the sound. It allows you to easily distinguish CD quality from HiRes, allowing you to fully experience what an increase in the carrier frequency and signal bit depth gives.

The STD (standard) filter is generally similar to the VR, but sounds more comfortable and melodic - a good balance between musicality and analyticity, it can be called universal. The MIN filter (with minimum phase and slow roll-off) is best suited for dynamic music, handles sharp and fast signal bursts well, and best controls the bass. Optimal setting for listening to metal, rock and electronic music.

And finally, the filter with the most mysterious name GTO (Gibbs Transient-Optimised) turned out to be an upsampler that works with minimal filtering. It gives the most soft, melodic and “analog” sound, well suited for jazz, classical, vocals and acoustic recordings.

In short, NEO Stream as a complete turntable with adjustable output is perfect for creating a compact audiophile setup. He cheerfully plays rock and electronic music, presents jazz and classical music quite subtly, and interestingly reproduces vocals and recordings of live instruments.


The iFi NEO Stream streamer turned out to be a very interesting design from a purely technical point of view. Typically, network transport of the top Hi-Fi and High End class is a bulky box, inside of which are hidden a high-quality power supply, the same optical isolation of the LAN port and other components that directly affect the sound and determine the quality class of the device as a whole.

In this case, the optical isolation and power supply are moved outside, the developers abandoned the advanced volume control, and you can maximize the potential of the device by using it as a renderer. Thanks to all these tricks, we get an affordable, ultra-compact device with a wide range of possible application scenarios: from using it as the basis of a laconic mid-class desktop Hi-Fi system to the role of digital transport in a serious setup, perhaps even a high-end one.

flexibility in configuration, variety of use scenarios, high-quality power supply and optical isolation included, possibility of vertical installation

there is no support for an external clock generator, an unpopular connector on the balanced output

iFi NEO Stream

Supported formats: PCM up to 32bit/768kHz, DSD up to 512 (22.6 MHz), MQA full decoding

Streaming ecosystems: Roon, NAA, AirPlay, DLNA/UPnP, Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect

Network interfaces: LAN (RJ45), M12, optical

USB interfaces: 2 USB-A 3.0, USB-C

Audio outputs: balanced 4.4 mm, 2x RCA, coaxial, optical, i2s (HDMI)

Signal to noise ratio: -106 dB

Distortion: less than -0.0025%

Dimensions: 214x151x41 mm

Weight: 1 kg

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