(Review) iFi Audio Go Bar Kensei – The Most Portable Hifi Just Got Better

go bar kensai

The latest product from iFi Audio that we have had in for review is the Go Bar Kensei, an upgrade to the previous Go Bar in the power delivery and clock, and a few other upgrades. Kensei, meaning sword saint, is a title for those who have mastered swordsmanship. Reserved for the elite in their field, does the Go Bar live up to its name, is it the elite of its field? We intend to find that out by putting it to the test. The Go Bar shares some features of other iFi devices such as their XSpace and XBass offering you some tuning options to tailor your listening experience. It also has support for Hi-Res playback as well as MQA. The Go Bar Kensei (just Kensei from here on) retails for $449.00 (U.S) which is about 200.00 more than the original Go Bar (depending on the retailer) so is it worth it, well let’s find that out.

Unboxing and Setup

As per usual, the Kensei is well packaged in a nice double box with a product sleeve holding them together. But once you pull the top box off you are greeted with another box, a beautiful engraved wood box. The lid is slotted into the box with a small recess to use to slide it out revealing the Kensei. The engraved wood box is an incredibly nice touch, it fits with the premium nature of the Kensei as well as compliments the reference to craftsmanship that the name represents. If you pull out the white box inside the wood box you will find all the accessories in the back, which includes your assortment of cables to connect the Kensei to various devices, as well as a little protective case to keep it looking its best.

ifi go bar kensei

The Kensei has three ports on it, the USB C being your input and power source, then on the opposite end, you have a balanced and single-ended output, 4.4mm and 3.5mm respectively. Along the side are three buttons and a switch, the first button is your mode selector, to change between the available filters, then you have your volume up and down buttons, and finally the IEM Match switch which controls the volume levels to match with your preferred headphones. You have to connect the Kensei to your device via a cable, as there is no Bluetooth or internal power, which I prefer. I don’t like having another device I have to remember to charge as well I prefer wired connections. It may be my age showing a bit but I will always choose wired over Bluetooth when the option exists.

There are no screens on the Kensei, instead, it has a series of LED lights on the back that will tell you which settings you have selected as well as what type of media you are listening to. Each one is self-explanatory as it has a label next to it, which is nice as you don’t have to try to memorize what they each mean. The lack of a screen may be off-putting to some, but it’s one less thing to break in your pocket or bag, and in this form factor probably wouldn’t really offer much benefit. The Kensei’s simple design also likely lends to it not sucking down your phone battery while listening as each additional feature such as a screen means more power demand from the host device.

ifi go bar kensei


The Kenei sounds wonderful overall, it provides plenty of power while not being a drain on your phone and offers precise control over the music. To compare it to the built-in DAC and Amp in the iPhone 14 Pro isn’t really fair as this is a dedicated device that doesn’t have to compete for PCB space with a bunch of other devices. That said I much prefer it to listening directly out of my iPhone, there is more power available as well as being more detailed. I also used it with my Fiio M9 DAP and it is more comparable in sound quality, though the K2 DAC in the Kensei sounds richer and more lifelike. While the M9 is a dedicated music device and does have a pretty good onboard DAC and amp, the K2 plus having the XBass and XSpace filters did offer an additional level of sound tuning so there is certainly something additive to use the Kensei with the M9. I also prefer using the Kensei with my Macbook Air M2. While the Air does sound good for a laptop, having the option to use again the Kensei’s tuning as well as having a balanced output was a big deal to me. I much prefer my 99 Classics with the balanced cable to the single-ended cable, and can not use it in that configuration with the Air’s single 3.5mm output meaning even if the sound was not noticeably better, there is still a benefit to using the Kensei, however there is a pretty clear difference in sound quality.

ifi go bar kensei

With Meze Rai Solo

I used the Kensei mostly with my Rai Solos as these are what I use in the office when listening to music. I listened to loads of different music switching between my iPhone using the Apple dongle, my M9, and then both with the Kensai. As I mentioned there is no comparison to the iPhone, it’s just better in every way. The more interesting comparison was with the M9. I played mostly FLAC files but also streamed some from both Spotify and Qobuz. I didn’t use the balanced output for this comparison as I only have a balanced cable on the 99’s so it is a little more direct with the iPhone in the mix. The Kensai offers a bit over the M9 in terms of sound, most noticeably when you play with the XBass and XSpace as the M9 doesn’t have anything comparable built-in. The Rai Solo is a bit thin, though not more so than many IEMs, so adding in some additional bass was a welcome feature making electronic music and hip-hop more exciting. The XSpace is also a great way to help get the sound out of your head, which with IEMs is another inherent “issue”. The Kensei had a wider sound stage and better 3D imaging than the M9 in no small part due to the XSpace. The Dac section of the Kensei isn’t necessarily better than the M9, and I think the subtle sound differences would really come down to personal preference more than sound quality.

ifi go bar kensei

One of the tracks that stood out for me showcasing the differences was “Code Blue” off of RKS’s new Album Love Hate Music Box. Perhaps it’s because I have been listening to it on repeat since its release but the open atmosphere of the song as well as the soft touch of the instruments and vocals really showcased the delicacy with which the Kensei handled the music. The Rai Solo sounded more open and eased with the Kensai than the M9 and much more so than with the iPhone. The depth of the sound stage was tantalizing and unlike anything I had heard with the Rai Solos before outside of the Diablo or Gryphon from iFi. But to get that type of sound from a tiny ultra-portable dongle was impressive, to say the least.

With Meze 99 Classics

As the iPhone and Macbook Air don’t have a balanced output I stuck to comparing the Kensei and the M9. When you compare the balanced output the differences are more apparent than with the 3.5mm output. The 99 Classics don’t need much help in the bass department as they are fairly warm headphones as it is but being closed back they do benefit from the XSpace setting, again widening the sound stage and improving the imaging. The Kensei also has more punch and drive increasing the dynamics of the 99 Classics quite a bit, M9 really starts to fall off when compared with the 99 Classics. I listened to primarily Qobuz out of my Macbook using the Fiio and Kensei as the DAC and Amps. The M9 is noticeably more closed in and sounds smaller with more of that in-your-head sound. The music sounds flatter, not in frequency response but in dimension, like the stage has been compressed into a 2d space.

ifi go bar kensei

With the 99 Classics the track that stood out was “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” by Taylor Swift off her newest Album The Tortured Poets Department. The sound has a lot of layering and dimension, especially when you get the recording of her IEM from the Eras Tour that has been mixed in, as well as some of the recordings of the crowd. The M9 squishes it down, whereas with the Kensie you get the sense of the scale of the crowd and the “1 2 3 4” feels too close. The difference in overall detail is not as great as the staging and imaging, though transients are not as pronounced on the M9. It’s in the small easy-to-miss details that give the music its soul and life that seem to be more present when listening to the Kensei Taylor’s voice is airier and smoother on the Kensei as well, giving a more lifelike performance.

With Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro

The DT990s do require a decent amount of power to get the most out of them being 250Ω headphones. They will play straight out of a phone or laptop but they will be thin and lose their edge. If you want to truly enjoy a high ohm headphone you will want a good amp and the Kensei is up to the task. DT990 Pros is an open-back design so they won’t benefit from the XSpace as much as a closed-back, but they are fairly flat headphones so if you like the bump in low-end like I do, the XBass is a more than welcome addition. I will say the XSpace does make the DT990 Pro even more open than it already is, but it’s not as dramatic a change as it is with IEMs or Closed-back headphones.

ifi go bar kensei

I have been enjoying Joe Hisaishi’s Viola Movement 1 lately and it being an orchestral piece takes full advantage of the Open-Back nature of the DT990s. Having a large stage and the space for all of the various instruments improves the listening experience so again having the XSpace on is only helping. I was also more than able to get the volumes well into the uncomfortable range, though the M9 does have enough oomph to do this as well, it doesn’t seem to do it with as much precision and clarity as the Kensei does. The Viola Movement 1 is an exciting piece with rapid changes in tempo and volume requiring an audio chain that is capable of keeping up and having the dynamics to present this in a realistic way. As far as headphone listening goes, the combination of the DT990 Pro and Kensei is the best way I have heard this piece, while it doesn’t compare to a full 2-channel system, it is a compelling argument for personal listening with headphones.

Pros and Cons


  • Small size
  • Premium build quality
  • Exlecelt Sound quality
  • No internal battery
  • Tunable
  • Balanced output


  • No Wireless Connectivity
ifi go bar kensei


MQAFull Decoder
DACBit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by Cirrus Logic
Headphone OutputBAL 4.4mm/S-BAL 3.5mm
Output Power (RMS)Balanced477mW@32Ω; 7.2V@600Ω
S-Bal300mW@32Ω; 3.8V@600Ω
Output Impedance≤1Ω (≤3.6 Ω with iEMatch engaged)
SNR132dB(A) / 121dB(A) (BAL/S-BAL)*
114dB(A) / 114dB(A) (BAL/S-BAL)
DNR108dB(A) / 109dB(A) (BAL/S-BAL)
THD+NBalanced≤0.0025% (600Ω 2V) @ (20-20KHz)
S-Bal≤0.009% (16Ω 1.27V) @ (20-20KHz)
Frequency Response20Hz – 70kHz (-3dB)
Power Consumption<4W max.
Dimensions65 x 22 x 13.2 mm (2.6″ x 0.9″ x 0.5”)
Weight65.5g (2.3 oz)
Warranty Period12 months

Associated Equipment

  • Meze Rai Solo
  • Meze 99 Classics (Balanced Silver Meze Cable)
  • Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro 250Ω
  • Fio M9 (FLAC Files)
  • iPhone 14 Pro (Spotify and Qobuz)
  • Macbook Air M2


  • MSRP: $449.00 (U.S)


The Kensei is a Master in the world of wired portable Dongles, it is my favorite one I have played with so far. To me, it is worth the extra money over the original, especially if you are using more resolving headphones, or even with your home Hifi. There is no reason you can’t use the Kensei exclusively at home to connect your phone or computer to your preamp and get better sound. The only criticism I can think of is the lack of wireless connectivity, granted as I mentioned I don’t miss it as I prefer wired connections but I know plenty of people like having the ability to be untethered. iFi does offer the Go Blu for people looking for that type of device. The Kensei sounds as good as it looks, and for the price is an affordable way to upgrade your sound on the go and at home. The simple design language offers a sleek device that doesn’t require the biggest pockets to contain it. If you are looking to upgrade your mobile sound quality and are good with a wired connection the Go Bar Kensei is well worth trying out.

For more info and where to buy click the link below


iFi Audio Provided Hifi Chicken with a Demo Sample of the Kensei Go Bar for the purpose of this review. iFi Audio, nor any affiliate paid in part or full in exchange for this review.

Leave a Reply