What Hi Fi Sound and Vision Thu, 3 Nov 2011, 5:35pm

Firestone Audio iLove TW

Tested at £300
60100
3

Name and design mean it stands out, but it needs to do more in performance terms

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For

  • Compact
  • hi-res over USB thanks to asynchronous function
  • detail and dynamics

Against

  • Low on design and spec frills
  • sound lacks warmth and finesse

Do you love Taiwan? Then we have just the DAC for you. It comes courtesy of Firestone Audio – not totally surprisingly a Taiwanese company, and clearly very proud of the fact.

The model name of your electronics need not be at the forefront of your mind when you’re sat listening to it in action, of course… though, in this case, the map of Taiwan on top of the unit that lights up when it’s in use does its level best to remind you.

It’s all lit up
And there’s plenty more light action where that comes from: a series of LEDs on the front of the box will tell you the quality of the format, from 16bit 44kHz right up to 24bit 192kHz.

In order to send hi-res audio files you will need to activate the asynchronous mode, which, in simple terms, puts the DAC in control of the flow of information, and allows hi-res audio to be sent over USB.

As well as the USB input, there’s an i2S input – not the most common connection – and of course a stereo analogue output.

The benefit of this paucity of connections is that this is a cutely dinky box, the size of a typical headphone amp or phono stage. That means it doesn’t look like a great deal of box for your £300, but of course those compact dimensions make it easy to tuck away somewhere.

Switch to asynchronous
Listening to standard uncompressed WAV files (and anything lower) worked fine, but results were mixed, with the DAC delivering a sound that lacked warmth and hardened up with certain treble sounds at loud volume. Rivals simply uncover more detail, too.

We had trouble getting it working in asynchronous mode on our first laptop (Windows) but a second laptop (a Mac, conversely) thankfully worked.

And there was a jump in quality – though don’t get too excited. A 24-bit 176kHz version of Rolling Stones’s Beggars Banquet did reveal a little more detail, but it’s a small increment.

There’s not much to this Firestone DAC – and we’re not sure it justifies the outlay. There are more versatile, better sounding DACs on the market.

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