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iFi Audio micro iDSD

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #5 in Amp/DACs

Posted

Pros: Plenty of Features with Excellent Performance

Cons: Size. Not the best standalone amp for the price.

At this point of time, iFi Audio shouldn’t need much introduction at all. The British company is the more budget oriented sister brand of the prestige Abbingdon Music Research and have made a name for able to punch above its weight when it comes to price/performance ratio. If anything, the micro iDSD that is going to be reviewed here has set a new bar on what it means to be an overachiever in the world of portable audio gear. Never have we seen so many features being packed into one portable USB DAC + amp while still having such level of performance.

 

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Spec

DAC:

Dual Burr Brown DAC, custom interleaving for maximum SNR

Clock: Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock (RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds)

Selectable Filter:    

            PCM (digital): Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard    

            DSD (analog): Extreme/Extended/Standard Range    

            DXD (analog): Bit-Perfect Processing

Full Native Decoding:    

            DSD 512/256/128/64 (24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8Mhz)    

            DXD 2x/1x (768/705.6/384/352.8kHz)    

            PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz

Dynamic Range (Line): over 117db(A)    

THD & N (0dBFS Line): under 0.003%      

Output Voltage (Line): over 2V 

Output Impedance (Zout): under 240Ω 

Jitter (correlated): Below AP2 test set limit         

 

Headphone-out:

Selectable:

            Power mode: Eco, Normal and Turbo

            Polarity: Normal / Inverted

            Filters: see DAC spec

            iEMatch: Off / High Sensitivity / Ultra Sensitivity

Power (max) / (continuous.)

- Turbo mode: (10.0V max) 4000 mW @ 16 Ohm / over 1560 mW @ 64 Ohm

- Normal mode: (5.5V max) 1900 mW @ 16 Ohm / over 950 mW @ 32 Ohm

- Eco mode: (2.0V max) 500 mW @ 8 Ohm / over 250 mW @ 16 Ohm

Dynamic Range: over 115dB(A) (Eco Mode, 2V Out)

THD &N (500mW/16R): under 0.008%

Output Voltage: over 8V (Turbo Mode)

Output Impedance (Zout): under 1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)

 

Input:

USB 2.0 type A

            Built-in iPurifier, all major OS (*MacOSX, Windows, Linux) support. OTG supports: Apple portable devices with iOS 7+ and camera connection kit and selected Android devices with USB OTG cable.

S/PDIF

            Coax and optical in, PCM up to 192kHz.

Analog in

            3.5mm stereo jack

 

Output:

S/PDIF

            Coax-out, PCM up to 192kHz

RCA

            User selectable line (direct) or variable (preamp, with 9dB gain) output

Headphone out

            6.4mm stereo jack

 

SmartPower® Socket: For recharging USB device (BC1.2 supported, 5V @ 1.5A)

 

EQ: X-Bass and 3D Holographic Sound, separated output for speaker (RCA preamp mode) and headphone-out.

 

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Accessories and Build Quality

Just about everything you need are included with the micro iDSD. You will get two rubber bands (for strapping a portable source to the iDSD), a short RCA-to-RCA cable, a short 3.5mm interconnecting cable, 4 stick-on rubber feet, an 1m USB 3.0 cable, a 1 foot USB cable with right angled plug (presumably for the SmartPower socket), a 6.4mm-to-3.5mm stereo adapter, a TOSlink adapter, a soft pouch, a small silicone mat (for cushioning between iDSD and your portable source), plug two USB type A female to type B female adapter (just in case you don’t want to use the included USB 3.0 cable but instead opt for your own USB type B cable, which is commonly known as the USB cable for printer and desktop USB device). Perhaps the only thing missing is either an OTG cable or camera connection kit, depends on whether you are an Android or Apple user. But those should be sourced by your own.

 

As with all iFi’s gears, build quality is quite excellent, though I do have some very minor complaints. The first is the more obvious – the housing is not exactly portable friendly, even though it is consistent with the micro series. You will want to put micro iDSD (along with its source) inside a small messenger bag or backpack rather than inside your pocket. The second is the tiny switches on the iDSD isn’t extremely firm and can be moved accidentally if it is in a very tight place (which makes it even less idea to put inside a pocket). It isn’t really that much of an issue as long as it is not in tight places though it is something to pay attention to. You won’t want to get caught off guarded when the gain switch is pushed from Eco to Turbo without you knowing it, for an example. A good practice is just not to store your micro iDSD with a lot of other stuff together. Having the rubber band on the body also help to keep things away. Last but not least, and I am just nit-picking here, is to have a less protruding 6.4mm-to-3.5mm adapter. The included adapter works just fine, but I do think a lower profiled adapter really works better.

 

One of the true genius on micro iDSD’s design is the use of a recessed USB type A male connector. This makes using either a camera connection kit for Apple iOS devices or an USB OTG cable for Android devices much easier. Gone is the need of multiple cable connecting to each other or special cable. It is streamlined and it is beautiful – makes me wonder why no other has thought about it before.

 

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Front

 

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Back

 

Battery Life

Battery life is estimated to be just around 6 hours with Turbo mode, 9 hours for Normal mode and 12 hours with Eco mode, plus or minus an hours or so depends on different condition and load of course. The battery life isn’t exactly long per se, but it is price you have to pay for having such a huge amount of output power for portable use.

 

Another thing about the battery is that it has its own smart circuit to control the charging. To speed up the charging, you need to plug the micro iDSD into a BC1.2 complied USB port. A regular USB port will work just as well, as long as the iDSD is turned off and you don’t mind a bit longer charging time. If the iDSD remains on, a regular USB port might not output enough current to both charge and power iDSD at the same time, so it might drain off the battery slowly. Whether it will drain or charge really depends on how much power your USB port can pump out. Again, a BC1.2 complied USB port (or hub) is your best bet. Last but not least, the smart circuit also turns micro iDSD into a USB power bank when (and only when) it is turned off. Just plug any USB device on to the USB port on the side of micro iDSD and it will charge it up. Needless to say, this will eat into micro iDSD’s play time.

 

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SmartPower Socket on the side

 

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Gain, Polarity and Filters selection on the side.

 

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iEMatch and RCA-out selection on the bottom.

 

Gain, Hiss and EMI

There are two way of adjusting gain on micro iDSD: the power mode and the iEMatch. According to my own measurement, the Eco mode is just under 1dB of gain, Normal mode is around 9~10dB of gain where Turbo mode gives you around 15~16dB gain – and this is the same whether you are using micro iDSD as DAC+amp or as pure amp. iEMatch on the other hand is doing just the opposite by lowering gain: the Off setting doesn’t do anything, where High Sensitivity setting is about -11.4dB and Ultra Sensitivity setting is about -24dB. The recommended way of adjusting gain is that you start with the power mode first. If you still find Eco mode too loud, then you adjust the iEMatch. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to use Turbo mode with Ultra Sensitivity since you will end up getting roughly the same gain as Normal mode without iEMatch, yet wasting a lot of battery power in the process. Last but not least, there is also the pre-amp mode which you can set for the RCA output and it has a 9dB gain (roughly equal to Normal mode). That is mainly for using iDSD as a preamp feeding into a power amp, and you get to use the loudspeaker version of XBass and 3D Holographic Sound effect as well (which we will discuss more on the next section).

 

Hiss is not an issue for micro iDSD at all as I can’t even detect any obvious hiss on Turbo mode with my most hiss prone IEM. EMI is very mild too and hardly a concern at all. Even with Turbo mode, it is about as loud as someone whispering next to your ear.

 

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Sony Xperia Z2 feeds into micro iDSD via USB OTG cable

 

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Sony NWZ-A15 feeding into micro iDSD via WMC-NWH10 cable

 

Sound Quality and EQ

As usual, we start with some basic measurement. RMAA reveals no problem as far as frequency response, noise and distortion go. In fact, the measured difference between Eco, Normal and Turbo mode is pretty small as well, which is a very good thing as higher gain doesn’t seem to degrade SQ much. Line-out voltage is about 1.95Vrms or so, where max voltage on headphone-out goes from just a little above 2Vrms in Eco mode to over 11Vrms in Turbo mode (*no load, and it might go lower with load, as indicated by iFi). Measurement over current output shows that it has plenty of power regardless of which gain mode it is in. With iEMatch sets to off, output impedance is under 1 ohm. On High Sensitivity, it is around 4 ohm or so. With Ultra Sensitivity, it goes back down under 1 ohm again. Also, High Sensitivity roughly cuts the output power by half with the same volume as the Off setting, though Ultra Sensitivity only cuts about 1/5. The main reason for more loss of power on High Sensitivity probably has to do with its higher output impedance, if anything else. Regardless, both High and Ultra Sensitivity still maintain more than adequate amount of power to drive IEM with good authority.

 

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The Three PCM filters @ 16/44.1

 

Another user selectable option on the micro iDSD that will affect SQ is the filter selection. Filter is needed because the DAC’s sampling process will produce high frequency noise above the audible range. Even though it is mainly on the inaudible range, its effect will still reach under 20kHz and therefore we need filter to cut them off. With PCM decoding, the filter switch changes between three different digital filters setting: Standard, Minimum Phase and Bit Perfect. Standard filter is also known as ‘fast roll-off’ sometime, which has a shaper cut –off frequency, offer a flatter FR curve and nicer measurement. But it is often also regarded as being harsher and grainier sounding. Minimum Phase is what known as ‘slow roll-off’ by some, and usually offer a smoother sound but comes with a slight -3dB roll off between 14kHz to 20kHz. It is probably one of the most common filter found on higher end DAC because it is regarded as the best compromise between measurement and human perception. Bit Perfect on the other hand is actually not a filter at all. It is more commonly known as Non-OverSampling, or NOS for short. As the name implies, it is where the DAC doesn’t oversample the signal and doesn’t use any digital filter. The resulted FR curve has a rather big -3dB roll-off going from upper midrange all the way to 20kHz. NOS is in itself too complex a topic for us to cover here - but the basic idea is not to oversample the signal as would be done on normal DAC. Instead, the sampling is carried out where the focus is to restore the musicality back to the signal rather than to achieve the highest accuracy on frequency response. The result is often being described as a sound that is more analog and natural, though doesn’t measure nearly as good as the other two filters and can sound slightly hissy with sensitive headphone due to the lack of filter. To put it short, you can think of the three filters as going from what measured best to what perceived best. With DSD decoding, the same filter switch change to three analog filter selection: Standard, Extended, and Extreme. Due to its 1 bit nature, DSD can’t employ any digital filter (which we will discuss further in the next section on native decoding). Therefore it can only use analog filter after the decoding. The three settings are mainly to determine where to set the cut-off point along the frequency response. Last but not least, DXD only gets one setting and it is Bit Perfect / NOS, therefore it doesn’t matter which position the switch is in. So, you might start to wonder which filter sounds best? Well, the whole point of having a filter selection is so that you can find out the answer for yourself. It isn’t about right or wrong but about your own preference. However, for the purpose of the review, I have used the Standard filter for most of the measurement as well as majority of the subjective listening. Of course, this doesn’t actually mean I prefer the Standard filter more.

 

Last but not least on the user selectable switch that affects the SQ is the polarity. The short story it is that someone once found out that his music has been recorded in reversed polarity (which most human are not very sensitive of), then reversing the polarity will restore back what the music should have sounded like. In the ‘+’ position, the music will pass through iDSD as it is; in ‘-’ position however, the polarity will be reversed. I can’t really tell the difference myself, but don’t let me stop you from trying it out for yourself. If you are like me, just leave it at ‘+’ should be fine.

 

Now let start with the subjective listening – and let get this out of the way first: while micro iDSD can be used as a pure amp, it is not really the best portable amp you can buy for the price. While the amp section is excessively powerful and can drive even fairly inefficient planar magnetic headphone to quite a good level, it has a noticeably drier and brighter sound signature with some of the texture over lower mid to bass range missing. However, micro iDSD isn’t a bad sounding amp either. I would think the amp section alone is good enough to match any upper second tier portable amp or even lower top tier portable amp. It is just not enough to truly being referred as a top tier portable amp on its own.

 

As I have written on my review on nano iDSD, I often find portable DAC+amp combo either has a good amp but an only a decent DAC, or the other way around with a good DAC but just an okay amp section. On the micro iDSD however, I really don’t find the amp section to be the limiting factor at all – yes, it isn’t the best amp section ever. But it does have really good synergy with the DAC section, where the slightly drier amp is compensated by the slightly warmer DAC and they end up being smooth and fairly neutral sounding, if not just a bit on the richer and fuller side of the presentation. In other words, the sonic characteristics of the famous Burr Brown sound that is supposed to be warm and thick are not lost in the process, but tuned down a little and become more adaptive as a whole when it comes to synergy and headphone pairing. Of course, you are really craving for the full Burr Brown treatment, the RCA-out still offers a chance for you to feed micro iDSD to an amp of your own choice. That being said, the line-out from micro iDSD is indeed excellent. It rivals just about every USB DAC I have heard before, desktop or portable. Though I do want to point out I really haven’t heard any of the multi-thousands DAC that I can’t afford anyway, so it is not to say micro iDSD is the be-all-end-all of DAC.

 

One other thing I really love about the micro iDSD is that it is optimized for OTG usage. In my case, it works with both my Sony Xperia Z2 as well as Sony NWZ-A15 DAP without any problem. Sony already has a special USB driver implemented on their latest Android flagship smartphone, which upsamples everything to 24/192, and it works flawlessly with micro iDSD without the need of any extra app. Of course, if you have either USB Audio Player Pro, Onkyo HD Player or Hiby Music player, you can also play DSD files on iDSD as well using DoP protocol. The A15 player however isn’t Android based. But it does support USB OTG with a special cable (Sony WMC-NWH10) and has no problem working with micro iDSD to create probably one of the best sounding portable ‘stack’ in the market, rivaling high end audiophile digital audio players like HiFiman and Astell & Kern. I was, on two occasions, also able to compare micro iDSD to the much more expensive and very well regarded Chord Hugo (both fed by the same digital source). While Hugo carries a much more euphonic presentation, I don’t actually find it to be technically better than iDSD. One might like the flavour Hugo adds to the music, but it is really more of a flavour to me rather than a true rendition of what is intended, not to say that it isn’t an absolute great flavour on its own right. I personally thought that this is a good indication on micro iDSD’s ability to play on a much higher level of playfield than what its price tag would have otherwise suggested.

 

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XBass

 

Micro iDSD, like micro iCAN, comes with both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound. Unlike iCAN’s two level selection however, they only have one setting on iDSD – on or off. The effect is somewhat in between iCAN’s two levels. iFi’s reasoning is that they don’t want to have too big or small an effect as people might find it either too much or too little. Thus they opted for the middle ground. To me, the effect on XBass is indeed a little too subtle. It seems to work fine on some of my IEM but less noticeable on other. 3D Holographic Sound on the other hand has a bit more noticeable impact, which the IEM user in me does like it quite a lot (*given most IEM never really have good soundstage to begin with). Last thing to note is that both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound also work on variable RCA-out (*preamp mode), but they are tuned differently from the XBass and 3D Holographic Sound on headphone-out as they are intended to be fed to power amp and eventually loudspeaker. So if you are feeding the variable RCA-out to a headphone amp (then to a headphone of course), the EQ might not sound right, especially with 3D Holographic Sound.

 

Extra: Native vs Non-Native Decoding

When it comes to DSD playback, the words ‘native decoding’ has been threw around fairly casually by many manufacturer. The fact is however, many of them isn’t as ‘native’ as you will like to believe and often some form of internal conversion has been employed. To really understand whether a DAC really is natively decoding DSD or PCM, often you need to look beyond words but inside the circuit design on the chip’s level. Unfortunately for most of us, that’s just impossible as manufacturer would rather not share with everyone their trade secret. I won’t try to cover the whole topic here as it is such complex an issue that it will probably take an expert a lot more inks than what this review is intended for, and I am no expert on this topic either. But luckily Mr. Thorsten Loesch, the designer of micro iDSD, has already written such an article. While it is about nano iDSD, the same blood is in the vein of micro iDSD as well. Therefore what has been said on that article is just as true for micro iDSD as it is for nano iDSD. Read it here: http://www.audiostream.com/content/qa-thorsten-loesch-amrifi

 

The take-away point is - with the complexity and uncertainty in recording and mastering of the music before it reaches our ears, it is best to keep thing as ‘native’ and as non-invasive as possible when it comes to converting the 1 and 0 back to analog sound. That’s perhaps the reason why iFi has insisted on using the Burr Brown DAC rather than opts for something new and shiny with a more ‘marketable’ nametag. In that sense, I think they have done a tremendous job on optimizing the Burr Brown DAC to make it just as relevant as any top-of-the-line DAC chip in the market right now.

 

Sum-up

Is micro iDSD the perfect portable DAC+amp? No. If I can have a wish list, I’ll like it to be smaller, lightly, slimmer, shorter and perhaps, a true top tier amp as well. But the one thing that can’t be denied, nor would I wish to change, is the fact the micro iDSD is packed full of value and performance.  If you ever need a portable USB DAC + amp that can just about do it all, do it well, and do it without costing a limb, I reckon this is /it/.

 

A thanks to iFi Audio for the review sample.

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: Incredible detail and clarity with more power than any portable has a right to put out.

Cons: No actual on/off switch (It would be nice to leave the volume knob where it is when you turn it off), Larger size is pushing the portable envelope

I will leave the technical speak and unboxing play-by-play to the reviews that are already here, done by people who do a much better job than I can currently manage.  Just know that the iDSD Micro comes with EVERYTHING that I could ask for to get started in terms of connectivity and accessories already in the box. 

 

First:  When I bought my iDSD Micro, it was $499.  It has gone up since then, but if I was to buy it all over again, I'd still do so as I've heard nothing that touches it in the sub-$2,400 portable DAC/Amp market.

 

I completely lucked-into finding this device simply because I wanted a device that would make my iBASSO DX90 work with my Sennheiser HD-650s in hotel rooms. 

(No, I'm not one of those people who would blast my fellow plane passengers with whatever I'm listening to with open back headphones....)

At first I had a FIIO e17 that I had intended to use with my iPhones (4S & 5) and iPad Air, but learned the hard way that there is no simple way to make that combo work.  So I looked for another solution that would provide a better DAC and enough power to make my HD-650s sound "full" rather than anemic.  The iDSD Micro connects to new-style "Lightning" i-devices simply through a Camera Connection Kit (C.C.K.) cable.  Nice and neat! (Though the old 30-pin apple devices will need a short USB cable to attach the C.C.K. to the iDSD Micro)

 

Boy did I get more than I bargained for.  The iDSD Micro's brightness really brought some crispness to the HD-650s which some have called "veiled".  They do not sound veiled to me at all with this combo.  If I were listening to the GRADO 225Es that I had tried, the highs were far too "sparkly" and I didn't care for them.  Nothing against the headphones, they just didn't fit my tastes with this combo.  Now there is another "DARK SIDE" that I learned that the iDSD Micro excels at;  BASSHEAD HEADPHONES!  I'm a part-time Basshead, and sometimes just want some jaw-rattling "THUMP" to my music.  Enter the JVC HA-SZ2000 (Kings!),  JVC HA-M55x, and Photive PH-BTX6. In order of Bass capability.  One of the first comments about each of these headphones is that they have recessed mids that you'll have to EQ heavily for.  Not so with the iDSD Micro!  Add some 3D to make them feel less closed-in, but retain their bass slam.  Then flip the XBASS switch and EQ your songs to your tastes.  The iDSD never falls short for pushing power through your phones, and the DAC/amp combo works nicely to tighten-up the bass on all three, but especially the PH-BTX6 as it is the most bloated.  The SZ2000s just keep pulling more and more sub-bass out if the source song has it.  Some songs just THUMP, but never get loose and sloppy with the SZ2000s.  This is not the case with other amp/DAC combos I've tried. like the FIIO e17.  It makes all 3 of them louder, but doesn't do much to help keep the dynamics of the music "civilized" once the BASS gets raised beyond moderate levels.  Likewise with my tabletop SCHIIT Audio ASGARD 2 amp.  It does an AWESOME job with making classical, rock, pop, or jazz/Blues sound like new discoveries with the HD-650s, but there is just more loudness when you try to blow up the bass without any or much control over it's presentation.

 

I don't use IEMs often, but when I plug up my UE Super-Fi3s (90% of what I listen to) or VMODA Bass Freqs (For the occasional "in-ear" bass-heavy listening) I set the iDSD micro to "NORMAL" mode for most rock/pop/BASS-heavy listening, and down further to "ECO" mode for classical/lyrical music; all set to "Hi Sensitivity" on IE match settings.  (I've never had to use the "Ultra Sensitivity" setting for super-sensitive IEMs, but it is nice to know that it is there if I ever needed it.)

 

So in summary:  Portable DAC/Amp that rivals some desktop/rack solutions for power output and performance.  Does a great job with High-end music formats (DSD, DXD, FLAC, etc..) making old favorites sound like I've heard them for the first time.  If your headphones are slightly claustrophobic when it comes to soundstage, the 3D feature can help quite a bit without sounding "artificial".  And lastly, if you are a TRUE basshead, I've never heard a portable amp that causes your music to actual bring home the slam as powerfully and neatly as the iDSD Micro does.

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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