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While there’s a lot to like about the way the iFi GO Bar Kensei goes about things, it’s by no means the complete article – the price, the feral treble response and the odd operational instability all count against it to a lesser or greater extent


  • Open, organised and properly detailed sound
  • Excellent digital audio file compatibility
  • Upmarket look and feel


  • Unforgiving treble reproduction
  • Moments of electrical interference
  • Quite heavy by USB DAC standards

Key Features

  • DesignJapanese stainless steel
  • File compatibility32-bit/384kHz, DSD256 and MQA
  • ConnectivityBalanced and unbalanced outputs


iFi isn’t just a word that’s annoying to type – it’s a company that’s created a very cosy little niche for itself where headphone amplification and digital-to-analogue conversion is concerned. It competes at every price-point, and generally it competes hard.

But while it’s no stranger to the hefty price-tag, with this new Kensei version of its GO Bar USB DAC/headphone amp it’s pushing the envelope more than somewhat. Can it possible justify the price premium over any number of extremely well-regarded alternatives? Even with the visual and tactile allure of Japanese stainless steel? Let’s find out…


The iFi GO Bar Kensei is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it’s available for £449. It costs $449 in the United States, and it’s around AU$769 in Australia. This, it hardly needs saying, makes it one of the most expensive USB-style headphone amp/DACs around – which means expectations are high even before it’s out of its packaging… 


  • 65 x 22 x 13mm (HWD)
  • Japanese stainless steel
  • 65.5g

It’s not especially big, the GO Bar Kensei (an unremarkable 65 x 22 x 13mm, HWD), but thanks in large part to the fact it’s made from Japanese stainless steel, it’s (a definitely remarkable) 65.5g. A robust pocket would seem to be in order.

iFi GO bar KENSEI packaging
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The back of the luxuriously tactile GO Bar Kensei is where you’ll find some extremely small engraving and some smaller still LEDs – these indicate the type and size of the digital audio file the iFi is dealing with, as well as letting you know which (if any) of the filters and /or processors are engaged. On the front, meanwhile, the company logo sits above a couple of Japanese characters meaning Kensei or sword saint. A Kensei is someone whose mastery of swordplay eclipses even acknowledged swordmasters, you see… 

On one side of the iFi there are three buttons and a sliding switch. The switch is a three-position affair, and engages (or disengages) the IEMatch feature – settings are off, 3.5 and 4.4, and you’ll find you need it if your headphones are of a particularly unhelpful sensitivity. Those numbers relate to the 3.5mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced outputs at one end of the GO Bar Kensei. 

iFi GO bar KENSEI operation
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The buttons, meanwhile, cover volume up and volume down with a multifunction button taking care of cycling through digital filters and/or analogue processing modes. And at the bottom end of the iFi there’s a USB-C input, through which all digital audio information must enter.  


  • 32-bit Cirrus Logic DAC
  • Balanced and unbalanced outputs
  • K2HD audio processing technology

It’s safe to say iFi has left little to chance when it comes to converting incoming digital audio information to outgoing analogue audio information where the GO Bar Kensei is concerned. It’s specified to within an inch of its life.

When digital audio information is received at the USB-C input, it’s processed by a 16-core XMOS microcontroller before it’s passed to a 32-bit Cirrus Logic DAC. This chipset is a) supported by capacitors sourced from brands as reputable as muRata, Panasonic and TDK, and b) able to fully decode MQA and is compatible with resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256.

iFi GO bar KENSEI what is in the box
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

The data stream is also attended to by JVCKenwood-developed technology called K2. The originators intended K2 for sound quality correction (for which read ‘attempting to make digital audio information sound less chilly and dispassionate’), and in iFi’s hands it is (according to JVCKenwood, who really ought to know) closer than ever to “the original ideal K2 sound”. In its GO Bar Kensei implementation it’s called K2HD. 

On top of this, iFi has deployed those digital filters and analogue processing modes that will be familiar to anyone who’s paid attention to the company over the past few years. There are four selectable filters here: Standard, Bit-Perfect, Minimum Phase and GTO (which, as we all know, stands for Gibbs Transient Optimised), and if the iFi website is to be believed then the appropriate filter can take the appropriate genre of music and make it, well, even more appropriate. Both XBass+ and XSpace analogue processing modes are also available.

And after all that, the analogue information is available via 3.5mm unbalanced or 4.4mm balanced outputs. 

iFi GO bar KENSEI connections
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Sound Quality

  • Expansive, organised and detailed sound
  • Confident and dynamic presentation
  • Overconfident, in fact, where treble information is concerned

In almost every respect, the iFi GO Bar Kensei is a strong and enjoyable performer – certainly it helps your smartphone sound several orders of magnitude better than it otherwise might. But ‘almost every’ is not what anyone wants to read about a very expensive example of a very common product, is it?

Play a 24-bit/192kHz TIDAL-derived file of ZZ Top’s La Grange and the difference the iFi makes to a smartphone’s sound is profound. It’s a wide-open yet tightly unified performance, with a soundstage plenty big enough to let every element of the recording express itself fully without being impacted on by any other element. Despite the spacious nature of the sound, the GO Bar Kensei ties everything together into a palpable whole, rather than offering up a collection of individual occurrences that don’t relate to each other.

iFi GO bar KENSEI file support
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

Low-frequency presence is considerable, and the control the iFi exerts over bass information means that rhythmic expression is convincing even though it’s hitting hard and with authentic depth. And here as in every other part of the frequency range, detail levels are very high indeed – no facet of tone or texture escapes the Kensei’s attention.

This is even more apparent in the midrange, where the iFi allows vocalists of all kinds to express themselves with real articulacy. The big, well-defined soundstage allows a singer to stretch their wings a little, and the detail levels mean you’re never in any doubt as to the attitude or character of the singer in question, let alone their technique. 

Dynamic headroom is considerable, so the shifts in volume or intensity in a recording are tracked faithfully. And the lower-key harmonic variations that only become apparent in the quieter moments of a recording are paid just as much attention. 

iFi GO bar KENSEI playing music
Image Credit (Trusted Reviews)

At the top of the frequency range, though, the GO Bar Kensei overplays its hand somewhat. Treble sounds are hard and unforgiving, lacking in substance and attack with altogether too much ferocity. The top end is splashy and thin as a result, and doesn’t share all that much tonality in common with everything that’s going on beneath them. Increases in volume, it hardly needs saying, only make this unwelcome trait more obvious.

Even less welcome, though, is the sudden bolt of electrical noise that sometimes accompanies the start of a new digital audio file. It doesn’t happen every time by any means – but it happens, and it’s unpleasant. I find the USB-C/Lightning cable iFi supplies seems more likely to provoke it than the USB-C/USB-C cable – but it may have nothing to do with the cable at all. I’m just speculating. In any event, no one’s expecting their relatively expensive DAC to indulge in some unsolicited white noise when it’s supposed to be playing music, even if it doesn’t happen all that often.

Latest deals

Should you buy it?

You’re deadly serious about mobile listening

You have proper headphones, right? You have a subscription to a top-tier music-streaming service? Your smartphone contract includes plenty of data? Then the GO Bar Kensei could be just what you need to maximise all those elements…

You’re sensitive to high-frequency sound

The iFi handles the top of the frequency range in the most assertive, direct and frankly unsettling manner. ‘Toppy’ doesn’t even start to describe it.

Final Thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve had to concern myself with anything other than sound quality when writing the ‘sound quality’ section of a review – and the fact that the iFi GO Bar Kensei doesn’t indulge in these bouts of noise all that often doesn’t make them any easier to live with. And let’s face it: one rogue sample is enough to give any prospective customer the fear…

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Tested for several days

Tested with real world use


Does the iFi Go Bar Kensei support Bluetooth streaming?

There’s no Bluetooth support for this model, with wired connectivity the only option.

Full specs

Size (Dimensions)
Release Date
Audio Formats

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