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iFi GO Bar Kensei

British audio brand iFi has been a staple of the DAC market for the past decade, but it really started to turn heads three years ago when it made the move into portable DACs with the iFi Blu. The iFi GO Bar, a portable USB DAC/headphone amp, soon followed - and now, two years on, the brand has unveiled the iFi GO Bar Kensei. 

At first glance this looks very similar to the earlier iFi GO Bar. It shares the same sleek design and extremely compact footprint, along with a USB input, unbalanced 3.5mm and balanced 4.4mm outputs, and a ‘turbo’ mode for power-hungry headphones. But while the two may look like twins, there are some clear differences.  

The iFi GO Bar Kensei incorporates Japanese audio processing technology, known as K2HD, which sets out to upscale digital music files in order to revive the rich, natural harmonics in a track that are often lost in digitisation. It also boasts a better power supply and precision clock system, which ensures (in iFi’s words) “ultra-low jitter”.

It’s also crafted from stainless steel instead of alloy, in a nod to Japanese swordsmanship - this not only highlights the angular aesthetic of the portable DAC, but also offers a feeling of quality. 

Sound Quality 

The iFi GO Bar Kensei certainly seems exciting, but does it live up to the hype? In a word, yes - it makes listening to digital music a real pleasure. Tracks streamed from both Spotify and from MP3 files stored on my iPhone sound rich and clean. The vocals are clear, while the top end sounds bright. Instruments, such as the harp in Brandy and Monica’s The Boy is Mine, are distinct rather than getting lost in the thumping bass – which so often happens when listening to digital files.

The DAC adds real warmth to tracks, as well. Karma’s a Bitch by Brit Smith on Spotify lacks sparkle when listening without the DAC connected, but add the iFi GO Bar Kensei and the track takes on a new lease of life – the electronic tones have depth, the vocals really shine, and the subtle bass is clearly audible. 

The DAC ensures bass tones are full and well-defined without sacrificing any detail, and the ‘XBass+’ feature, which brings an analogue boost to the low tones, adds just that little extra bit of oomph. Abracadabra from Majestic and Wes Nelson featuring Craig David, sounds good, but switch ‘XBass+’ on and it becomes sublime, with even more depth to the bass and a well-rounded finish.   

As you’d expect with a device focused on providing a better audio experience, it supports the playback of Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) files, which can be accessed through a range of sources including streaming service TIDAL. There’s also an ‘XSpace’ feature, which tweaks the sound so it’s more akin to listening to tracks on speakers and helps mitigate that ‘in the head’ feeling when using headphones. 

Living with

With the same dimensions as the iFi GO Bar, although a little heavier at 64g as opposed to only 24g, the iFi Go Bar Kensei is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand - and as I’ve already mentioned, the stainless steel enclosure provides a feeling of quality and substance.

This sense of quality is enhanced by the inclusion of a leather pouch to store the DAC when it’s not in use, along with two cables (USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to Lightning for those with an older iPhone) and a USB-A to USB-C converter for those with older laptops. The DAC and its gubbins come in a wooden box with an intricate pattern on the sliding lid, in another nod to its Japanese emphasis. 

Simplicity is the key to controlling this DAC. Volume ’up’ and ‘down’ buttons adjust the sound, and you can also sync the volume to your phone (or any other device the DAC is connected to). A short press on the ‘Settings’ button turns on ‘XBass+’ and ‘XSpace’, while longer presses apply one of four digital filters geared to different genres (including soul and jazz, which creates a warmer sound), to more tightly controlled highs that suit pop music. LEDs on the back of the DAC indicate the filter currently applied, as well as the current sampling frequency and audio format being played. 


The iFi GO Bar Kensei does an excellent job of reviving digital music files and ensures that every detail from the original can be heard even when using a smartphone, tablet or laptop. It’s simple to use and is extremely portable, so it’s no hardship to slip into a bag - but such sound quality and convenience doesn’t come cheap.

Listening Notes

Palo Nutini Last Request

Nutini’s throaty vocals are the star of the show when listening to this early 2000s track through the iFi GO Bar Kensei - but in a way that doesn’t overpower the subtle drum beat or gentle strum of the guitar. The iFi creates a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. 

Jennifer Lopez featuring Sean Paul Can’t Get Enough (Dutty Remix)

The reggae vibes in this track, which samples I'm Still In Love With You Boy by Marcia Aitken, sound fresh with plenty of sparkle. Jennifer Lopez’s soulful vocals are given as much gravitas as the bass and rhythmic guitars. 

James Arthur and Kelly Clarkson From the Jump

The iFi GO Bar Kensei takes this track from ‘pleasant’ to ‘perfection’, placing Clarkson’s and Arthur’s melodic vocals front and centre, while still ensuring the gentle strum of the guitar is audible as the track reaches its crescendo.

What the press say

Why you should buy it

The iFi GO Bar Kensei will appeal to anyone who wants to elevate the listening experience from their smartphone, tablet, or laptop with wired headphones. It sits squarely in the premium end of the market, but those who want cutting-edge technology in a truly portable device that screams quality will understand and take this hefty price tag in their stride. 

Video review

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