ifi iPhono3 Black Label Review – Unboxing / Setup / First Impressions

The iPhono3 Black Label is the latest phonostage from AMR owned ifi Audio, a company with HQ and development center based in Southport UK.

The iPhono3 is similar in outside appearance to the earlier iPhono2, with the exception of its color, a handsome black finish, which, in my opinion, gives it more of a classy appearance than its older sibling. With a starkly contrasting color change comes a stark hike in price, the iPhono3 retails for $995.00 including the iPower X, “the very latest in ifi power supply technology”, which comes with the iPhono3 as standard.

As far as one can tell, the iPhono3 Black Label is a replacement for the iPhono2 and not an addition to the product line, since the 2 model no longer appears on the ifi Audio website. That’s a pretty gutsy move, given that the iPhono2 was a popular and well-regarded unit, and retailed for around half that of the new 3.

As stated, other than color, it doesn’t appear to have changed much on the outside. Its long, slender aluminum can sports on one end, the 15v DC input socket, a pair of RCA phono outputs, and a 3 position toggle for selecting either Columbia, RIAA, or Decca LP equalization. On the other end of the can, two pairs of RCA inputs, one MM and one MC, and an earth binding post. Atop the unit are LEDs for the following –

iphono3 review

 

 

The real fun begins when you flip the unit over and you’re faced with the DIP switch arrays: settings for gain, impedance, EQ types with options for MM and MC. I have to say that being an elderly fellow my eyes and brain have a hard time getting everything set up in a way that leaves me confident that I haven’t botched anything. A quick email to Lawrance Lee of ifi Audio and I was informed of the presence of this useful tool https://ifi-audio.com/home/iphono-calculator/

I’d recommend using the above tool even if you can still see fairly well, which I obviously can’t (yeah, even with reading glasses). 

There’s nothing new in comparison to the iPhono2 up to this point, and nothing really remarkable, other than the cluster of DIP’s, and everything is simple and intuitive until you get the unit to try and sit flat on whatever platform or isolation device you are using. It is so light (just over a half-pound) that the interconnects cause it to lift up off its feet on whichever side you have the more rigid ICs. It was a pain getting the thing to sit flat, and I ended up sitting a large brass cone atop the box to add some weight. 

I used the remarkable little Isolpad 6 for an isolation base and after about 30 minutes I was ready to roll.

 

Listening Notes – Stage 1

I let the unit cook for around 2 hours with the preamp volume down and just flipping over an old album to get signal through the iPhono3.

I had to take a listen at some point to make sure I had things set properly with the mind-numbing DIP switches, so I popped open the throttle on the volume control and settled-in to get some very early sonic impressions courtesy of Moving Pictures, Rush.

At this point, the unit was pleasantly dynamic and not terrible to listen to. But clearly it was far from ready for prime time.

Using an RIAA CD burn-in CD, I set the CD player up on repeat, switched the rest of the system off and called it a night.

Listening Notes – Stage 2

After a solid 18 hours of burn-in from the RIAA CD I sat down for another listen. Wow. A total transformation had unfolded. As before, the first impression was of the unit’s dynamic ability. But now there was more solidity, more flesh on the bones, and a clearer/cleaner sound overall. My impressions at this point were mostly very positive and I was looking forward to getting a good 40 hours of burn-in via the CD, which I figure is equivalent to perhaps 200 hours of regular playtime via vinyl.

The iPhono2 was notorious for taking well beyond the 400-hour mark to fully bloom, and I expect this will be no different.

Check back in a couple of days and I’ll update this review with ongoing impressions. I’ll also describe some of the technical differences between the 2 and 3, and how I think those differences might be impacting the sound.

Basically, even at this early stage of burn-in, I’m confident this little fellow is going to knock the spots off its elderly sibling, the iPhono2.

Listening Notes – Stage 3

At around the 100-hour mark, I sat down again for another serious listen.
The sound has certainly evolved since my last listening session a week or so ago, here are the bulleted observations:

  • The soundstage has deepened significantly
  • There’s a far more 3-dimensional aspect to the sound, verging on the best I’ve had in my system to date.
  • There’s abundant detail retrieval.
  • Microdynamics are excellent, up there with the Zesto Andros 1.2.
  • Low bass is excellent and has more solidity than the Allnic H-1202
  • There’s more airiness in the HF than the Allnic but less so than the Zesto.
  • It’s missing out in the areas of midrange purity and ‘flesh on bones.’
  • The Allnic H-1202 has a great midrange (tone and texture) and a pure and unforced presentation, where the ifi Phono3 is a little forward, edgy, and slightly aggressive.
  • The Allnic envelopes you with lush sound where the iPhono3 has you squirreling in your seat a little, kind of like a sonic onslaught of information.
  • The iPhono3 is far more agile than its predecessor the iPhono2

I’m assuming things will settle down with more burn-in and the sound will (hopefully) become less forward. I’ve ordered the ifi DC purifier which is said to provide some additional benefit over the x power supply.

But I have to say this is a nice little unit for the money. If it gets any better with more burn-in then there’s going to be some mighty worried manufacturers out there, primarily those selling phonostages in the $4K and up range.

ifi iPhono3 - Unboxing
ifi iPhono3 - reviews
ifi iPhono3 - Power Supply
ifi iPhono3 - Unboxing
Allnic Audio H-1202 Reviews

Components Used For this review

Origin Live Resolution IV / Origin Live Illustrious IV/ ZYX Ultimate 100

Allnic Audio H-1202 Phono preamp

Allnic Audio L-5000 DHT preamp

Thor TPA 60 Monoblock KT77

Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor M

ESP The Reference PC’s

Interconnects from Harmonic Technology / Bogden Audio

Speaker Cables from Tara Labs / Anti-Cables.

Platforms And Isolation from Symposium / Audio Points / Mapleshade Heavy Brass Footers / Custom Platforms and Racks / IsoPad 6

Thor-TP-60 Monoblock amps

Listening Notes

We have a pair of Thor Audio TPA-60 Monoblocks and a Thor TA-1000 MKII linestage in the house!. Watch out for an upcoming review of these mind-blowing amps!

Allnic H-1202 Phonostage Preamp

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Our review of the Allnic Audio H-1202 phono preamp – did this litte unit live up to expectation or not? Find Out!

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