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iFi Audio micro iDSD

Posted

Pros: Crystal clear, lifelike audiophile sound, with a touch a warmth that is great for long listening sessions. TONS of power to drive any headphone.

Cons: some switches are a 'set em and forget em' variety

It was around February of 2014 when I first read of iFi while skimming the Head-fi forums. I was looking for a DSD capable DAC in the sub $500 range to replace the first generation Audioquest Dragonfly serving my desktop listening needs. There was only a handful of options at the time, and my interest in DSP free DSD playback further limited the choice. Actually, my choice was made for me. The iFi iDSD nano was the only DAC I could find that fulfilled this requirement in my price bracket. The only problem was I knew nothing about iFi, and I was concerned by the incredibly low price. Surely the raw sound quality would be compromised at this price point. Then again, at a mere $189 there was little risk, so with a 'What the heck?' attitude I ordered one. And wow. Wow. Wow again.

 

I am glad I took the risk of a blind buy. In addition to being impressed with the sound quality, I became equally impressed with the crew at iFi/ AMR. Their customer interaction and support is superb. And they are truly committed to their vision of Hi-Fi, which is unapologetically different than the hi-fi norm. In the end, they are committed to providing the best sound and most useful feature set for the dollar.

 

 

It should come as no surprise, then, that I followed closely the crowd design of the iDSD Micro, and am among the first 512 owners. An 'Octa-Adopter.'

 

 

OCTA-WHAT???

 

 

'Octa' as in 8x DSD, or DSD512. Yes, this DAC will playback DSD rates up to 24.6 Mhz! This is the first example of such support in a consumer level product. It also supports PCM up to 768khz. Although I know of no content currently available at these high rates, upsampling to DSD512 is possible in software, and PCM 768 allows for DSD256 playback via DoP, which means ASIO is not required for playback at that rate. Although I am not as familiar with the state of Mac computer audio, I believe this may be the first time DSD256 is available on the Mac without a need for special driver software.

 

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF HI-FI

 

 

I mentioned earlier that iFi doesn't follow the hi-fi norm. What does that mean? iFi believes in minimal DSP, and believes that one should be listening to as close to the source audio as possible. DSP's such as upsampling, volume control, format conversion, etc. create unavoidable mathematical losses. The more conversions, the greater the losses. The more changes to the source signal, the more likely the changes become audible. This may especially be the case with DSD. DSP such as filtering, sample rate conversion and volume control require conversion of the 1-bit bitstream to a multibit intermediary, and remodulation back to 1 bit.

 

Therefore, the iDSD Micro uses a chipset that converts DSD to analog natively with no extra digital conversion or DSP. The 1 bit DSD signal is sent to an analog FIR filter for conversion. That's it! Also, the iDSD micro has a 'BitPerfect' filter option for PCM. This eliminates the oversampling reconstruction filter used in PCM conversion.

 

So in a DAC loaded with features, simplicity characterizes the nature of the actual audio conversion. This matches my personal audio values.

 

 

THE iFi EXPERIENCE

 

 

Unboxing an iFi product is a treat! Packaging is reminiscent of that other "i" company.

 

In the box you will find a plethora (hyperbole, of course) of quality adapters and cables. Which calls attention to the unique 'OTG' USB port on the back of the Micro. It is a unique port engineered for mobile convenience. To use it with a standard desktop USB cable, an adapter is required. Two versions of the adapter are included. The adapter I chose to use is cable-less. The other adapter has a very short cable between terminations. I chose the first adapter presuming higher quality, but the cabled version may be more convenient when space behind the DAC is a concern. The 'hard' adapter combined with my iFi Gemini cable requires several inches of clearance.  It is also an interesting little detail that the 'hard' adapter comes packed in an anti-static bag, like what you would expect to find enclosing delicate computer components.  Also, I think it is important to add that the included USB cables are OTG cables, so if you don't already have an expensive USB cable like the Gemini, I would suggest forgetting about the adapters and going with one of the included cables.

 

This is all I will have to say about the adapters, mobile uses, battery, etc. I will leave that to others, as I use this iDSD exclusively in a desktop environment, and cannot adequately review mobile functionality.

 

Build quality and appearance is typical iFi. The iDSD micro is well built but take care with the switches. They feel a little fragile, and as a matter of fact, I had some trouble with a sticky switch.  My over aggressive tugging, attempting to 'un-stick' it, caused the red 'Turbo' switch that controls amp output level to go flying off into the floor!! Fortunately it easily reattached, and works properly now.

 

 

THE SOUND

 

 

Now on to the good stuff! The sound! Crisp detailed highs, smooth upper mids, slightly warm lower mids and upper bass. Clean extension into the lows. Not too much bass; just about right. Does it deviate from neutral? That is something I am not sure I can answer. Tonal balance is the product of an entire system, and all I can tell you is how it sounds in mine, which is a custom built AMD PC running the latest Jriver Media Center software, iDSD micro, iFi iUSB power, iFi Gemini 'split' USB cable, and a modded USB cable eliminating the 5v line pre iUSB Power. The review headphones are Grado RS1i's.

 

In comparison to the iDSD nano, the sound is the same tonally, but there is a notable increase in detail and dimensionality. On the Nano, audio images are wide, but slightly flat in comparison. The Micro has greater depth of soundstage. Never is the extra detail harsh, though. The micro is always delightfully smooth and listenable.

 

DSD was the strong suit of the iDSD nano, and is improved in the Micro. I feel the greatest improvement, though, is with PCM material, especially using the BitPerfect filter. The promise of the Burr Brown DSD1793 segment DAC is realized more fully here. PCM sounds both silky smooth AND extremely detailed, like a hybrid of true PCM and Delta Sigma conversion, which is EXACTLY what the segment DAC is.

 

For headphone use, which is how I exclusively use the iDSD, power is abundant and flexible. There are three settings, from Eco mode to 'Turbo' mode, which will tear paint off the walls with my Grados!!! Eco mode is already stronger than the headphone amp in the iDSD Nano, but I have settled on the middle 'Standard' mode for all my listening.

 

The headroom it provides for the dynamic orchestral recordings that dominate my listening is welcome. This addresses the only other weakness of the iDSD Nano. The iDSD Micro has plenty of power, dynamic swing and driver control to keep up when the music gets loud and complex.

 

I enjoy the 3D and XBass 'Analog Signal Processing'. The effect of both is subtle but notable. They never get in the way, and depending on soundtrack can really enhance the experience. For instance, the bass drum on orchestra recordings has deep authority with XBass turned on, and 3D mode really does widen the soundstage nicely, and puts the center image more 'out in front.' But I did notice that with 3D mode engaged, images on recordings I know well were placed too far to the edges for my liking, and overall imaging suffered. Instruments gain a greater sense of space, but lose their precise placement 'in space', so I do the majority of my listening with 3D mode disengaged.  XBass seems ESPECIALLY useful at lower to moderate listening levels, filling in the low end nicely.  At higher levels, or with music recorded with little dynamic range, the bass emphasis may be a bit much.  But as most of my listening is to very dynamic music with moderate average levels, I leave XBass engaged most of the time and do enjoy the effect.  Ultimately, results vary from soundtrack to soundtrack, though.

 

 

IN CONCLUSION

 

 

There are many more features included in this incredible product that I have not mentioned, but I believe I have covered everything that stands out to me after two days of listening. This is a special product, both in feature set and sound quality. Designed by a renowned audio engineer, with customized software and extreme functionality. Oh, and it sounds in a word, amazing. If you are looking to spend in the $500 to $1000 range, and maybe even more, you owe it to yourself to hear the iDSD micro.

 

Highly recommended.  

Posted

Pros: Superbly clean output , Lots of Power , Dynamic , Practical , Features ( 3D Holographic & XBass) , Battery Life , Construction , Design , Value .

Cons: Cable length provided

The iDSD Micro. 
Bought at S$699. 

Intro 
This company, AMR iFi, is remarkable to start with. They have made so many amplifiers and dacs with different functions, size and price points, all to their signature minimalist aluminum block design. All of their products have performance which far exceeds their price point, making every purchase, worth it. iFi did not pay me to review their products, but i do own many of them, and i am very much impressed with every single one of them. I will now proceed with the review. 

Box Contents
When you first open the box, like every other of their product, it feels like your are unraveling something of very high quality, which turns out to be true. Inside the box you will first see the product itself, underneath, you will get 2 purple RCA cables, a 3.5 to 3.5 short cable, a Long blue usb cable, pair of rubber bands for DAPs, the rubber feets and the Luxurious velvet-alcantara black pouch for the iDSD. The long blue usb cable, which connects the iDSD to the PC, seems alittle long for my preference, and it isnt like the one found in the iFi iDSD Nano, the Nano one was a light blue translucent cable with silver-coloured braiding, which was shorter and had a different connector. Due to the number of switches on this little machine, there is also a usefull guide for each and every switch, explaining what it does briefly and telling you how to start off safety without damaging your iems with too much power.Rubber caps are even provided for those RCA and SPDIF inputs/outputs which i seldom use.   Everything required is present and it felt like it was all geared up to go.

User-Friendliness
First thing i immediately noticed when i got the iDSD Micro as compared to the Nano, is the convenience, surprisingly even when the Micro was double in length. The reason i said that is mainly because this has a male USB input, which was amazing, i could simply hook it to my android phone by OTG direct. Unlike the Nano, where i have to hook the given blue cable, and then add my own OTG cable, which made it really long and clumsy. Of course, the size may be a problem for those truly on-the- go users. Even though i pair it with the IE800, UmPro50, i usually only use them when i am settled down in an undisturbed area, like a library, cafe or at home to use it. They do come along with a 3.5mm input, which i did not know how it work and have not tried it, but it's output is a 6.3mm jack which you could just insert an adapter for 3.5mm inears. You can Also output by RCA or SPDIF. The iDSD Micro also acts as a portable charger for your mobile devices from it's usb port at the side. 

Features & Performance
Everyone would notice a few rubber switches around the iDSD, Let us first take a look at what everyone with an iDSD Micro would notice first.

The red switch. The red switch at the side of the iDSD directly facing you has 3 settings, This is the Power mode settings, it does eco, normal or turbo, as claimed, the eco is for iems, normal for moderate impedance headphones and turbo for high impedance headphones. Always start with the Eco mode, then move up if more power is required, speaking of power, the battery life is very very good. it comes with a 4800mah battery which could power portable use for a week or two, depending on duration of use. However, when at home, i could use my laptop's USB power to charge and use the iDSD at the same time, i find this method of power management superbly intelligent and reliable, as the duration i used it on battery is usually shorter than the duration i use it from my laptop, i have found myself to never have charged the battery a single time after the first initial 24 hour charge.

Moving on the the next switch beside it, Polarity + -, i have not tried the negative one and left it on the positive default, some people enjoy the other, but its all based on preference.

And the one beside the Polarity switch, the Filters, For PCM which i listen to, it has 3 stages, the Standard Filter, Minimum Phase & Bit Perfect, i leave that to Bit Perfect, because it stated that it was perfect hahaha ! They are different filters to play around with, you'll just have to try each one and see how each one fits you, its once again a preferential thing. 

At the underside right corner, you'll find the IEMatch Switch. This is for you to select 3 stages of Sensitivity, Naming, Off, High Sensitivity and Ultra Sensitivity, of course, you should leave this off if you are using normal or turbo mode, This is just meant for the InEars, in which you should have already set the power mode to eco. if the off setting is producing a little hiss, you might consider moving up the switch to the next one or the other, it cleans out the little hisses you get if your IEMs are alittle sensitive, however i've realized that when you go up sensitivity line, you realize that the 3D Holographic & XBass effect were also reduced slightly, i know it was intended to be made that way, so there's another preferential option for you to choose. 

And there's the last rubber switch, on the left of the underside, you will see another switch, linked to the RCA output, which there is an option of having Preamplifier or Direct. I've not found myself using it. 

Now... for the metal switches, 

The famous iFi 3D Holographic, it widens the sound-stage of your music beautifully, it is one of the main reason why i upgraded my iCAN Nano & iDSD Nano into this iDSD Micro, it becomes an all in one and whole lot more. The effects are made in the analogue channel, in which iFi mentioned that it holds true to the original source and it is not a digital software kind of effect. It really brings your music to life, makes it more tangible and believable, even for headphones. As the user guide included with the iDSD, it mentioned also that if the 6.3mm jack has been plugged in, the 3D holographic would be their headphones 3D holographic setting, if they do not detect the 6.3mm jack plug in, they would output it as a speaker setting 3D holographic, which is slightly different ; from my experience with the iTUBE Micro. 

And their other one, the XBass, increases the depth and body of your bass and sub bass, this really brings bass shy headphones or IEM to life, giving them alittle more volume and warmth. 

All these features are already good enough to be sold on their own ! However there's more !
iDSD Micro is mainly made as a Digital Analogue Converter + Amp, it reduces the noise of your noisy source input, like from your laptop or PC, all digital-electric noise will be eliminated as this brings your on board DAC, outside. Connected by a USB cable which leads to the already on board iPurifier (another of iFi's invention) to clean up all noise which have made it that far. The Dac chip is a dual Octa BurrBrown DSD Chip, which it can play not most, but every single file you throw at it. The result of all these, Exceptionally clean output, needless to say, its really beautiful and at this price point, it certainly beats many 1-2k desktop DACs and amps already. 

As you can see the number of switches i have mentioned from above, you can truly customize the sound of your output to your preference, i have never seen a DAC or an AMP deliver so much features into something so small and reasonably priced. Not even the Woo 7 Fireflies come close to price-performance ratios. This iDSD Micro is amazing, it's the "Meaty Monster", it is a show piece. which brings me to my next discussion.

Build Quality
A show piece indeed, take a look at that beautifully finished aluminium brick, as minimalist as design can get, sticking true to the rest of their iFi series of products, this one blends in perfect. It is as durable as it seems, knobs and switches feels like they are of quality. The overall product has a very nice quality weight to it, which made it feel really premium, unlike other amps which uses plastic to "reduce weight" which simply made it feels and look cheap. I love the metal, and i don't mind the added weight, it feels expensive, and it should feel that way. 

Conclusion
Until now, iFi has never made a product that disappoint, they are a truly remarkable company which makes remarkable products, The iDSD Micro design features was brainstormed with the community in mind, seeking suggestions from the fellow users here in head-fi, which i think is a really beautiful thing to see, the company putting the users first and listening to what the user wants, and includes them in their design, all companies should learn from this. The iDSD certainly is a monster packed full of features, made with quality and made to impress.

The iDSD Micro has an easily distinguishable house sound signature which carries a little warmth and smoothness to the music with the switches turned off , 
so that's something you should expect and will come to enjoy over time . The 3D holographic switch not only widen the soundstage ,
and improves imaging , but also extends a little of the treble and increases it's presence . 

I would strongly recommend this to my friends.
For the price, you get the iCAN, 2 iDSD Nano, iPurifier, Portable Charger & New Features.

There is really nothing not to love about it. 

I hope that iFi continues to make excellent quality products as such, and i look forward to your next product in the iFi line ! 

Posted

Pros: able to drive the most demanding phones; "3d" crossfeed a strong feature; inputs can be coax, toslink or line-in

Cons: disappointing burr brown dac

i won't repeat the details available in the review that's already been posted.

 

i got the ifi micro idsd for several reasons: one was that i wasn't sure my dx90 had a strong enough amp to drive the planar alpha primes that i recently bought.  the ifi micro has a very strong amp, capable of 4w output.  another reason i got it was that i was curious about how a different dac would sound- i have a dx90 with its dual sabre dac, and a gungnir on my home system with its akm chips.  the ifi micro idsd comes with a burr brown dac.

 

bottom line:  my dx90 could in fact drive the alpha primes pretty well, but they sound even better when i use the dx90 line-out to the micro's line-in, i.e. use the dx90's dac and the ifi micro's amp.  the greater power of the ifi's amp, plus its very impressive "3d" crossfeed feature produces a bigger and cleaner soundstage.  the ifi's dac was a disappointment, at least compared to the dx90's dac.  the dx90's dual sabres produce cleaner, clearer sound.  in comparison, the ifi's burr browns sound muddy.  i don't want to overstate this- if i had just listened to the ifi micro and not had the dx90 to compare with the very same source files run out through the very same amp [the ifi's via line-out-in], the burr browns would have sounded fine, perfectly acceptable  

 

the ifi micro is not a portable "on-the-go" device, it's too big and heavy for that.  i would call it "transportable," rather than "portable."  the heaviness of the micro is in part a function of its very large 4800mah battery - a trade-off desirable in some circumstances, not others.  

 

in sum, the ifi micro is a very capable, multi-featured, transportable device.  it will accept inputs via coax or toslink to run through its dac stage, or line-in to skip its dac and just use its powerful amp.  there are a multitude of adjustments that can be made depending on the power demands of your phones, as well as a choice of filters controlling how it samples.  [i only use pcm flac files and so used the bit-perfect filter.]

iFi Audio micro iDSD
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Description:

There is nothing like the micro iDSD. It is literally, out of this world. It is the only DAC in the world (at any price) to play True Native Octa-DSD512/PCM768/Double DXD. Its Perfect-Match means it can be fine-tuned to any headgear from IEMs all the way through to large headphones. Its 8v/4000mW output makes it one of the most powerful headamps to drive even the most hungry of headphones with ease.

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