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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !
BLACK LABEL REVISIT REVIEW
This review is written based on my comparison of the iFi iDSD Micro Black Label with the iFi iDSD Micro that I have used over the past 2 years .Let us start by calling the Black label as “B” and the normal , silver item , “S”. The review is in no way sponsored by iFi as they simply sent a unit for me to demo for a week before I’ll have to hand it over to the next reviewer . Whatever you are about to read would be blunt , honest review regarding the fore-mentioned products .
On first look , the iDSD Micro Black Label and iDSD Micro have identical packaging , simple white box , accessories and contents similar too . For those who do not know , the accessories were well decked out, most of the quality cables you require to get it running is provided . The instruction manual is a must-read for first timers , as the iDSD is a powerful amplifier with adjustable gain , so make sure you set things up right before you plug anything into your ears . I will save you on the box introduction as the photo would do a good job explaining it .
You would immediately notice that the finish on the both products are vastly different , the B being black and the S in silver . Both feels like they were made out of the same solid aluminium body that comes with all iFi amplifiers and dacs . Switches feels tactile, the way I remember how all my new iFi would . The B is detailed in orange letters to make reading of the text easier in an all black body . Everything else feels familiar to a S owner .
I will be comparing them with my daily drivers , the RHA MA750i , which have been burnt in for over 800 hours , in which it now plays smooth and forgiving sound , leaning towards the warmer end of the spectrum . Interesting choice for a daily driver for someone who has owned the IE800 , Noble Savant , Beyer T90 ? I think so too , but I find them really reliable , and they never fail to impress on their scalability with power .
The audio files used consists of 44.1 FLAC , PCM , Binaural and 192 FLACs .
The thing I love about the iDSD is the versatility of sound customizations , unlike all other decamps , the iDSD has 3 different power modes , turbo to drive high impedance headphones , down to the eco mode which drives sensitive IEMs . If eco is still too powerful , you could adjust the IEMatch at the bottom of the iDSD , which allows you to make micro adjustments of the supplied power , so even a 16 ohm IEM would not be left out . Leave your filter at bit perfect for the most musical experience . Polarity can be set at any you desire , I cannot seem to hear any audible difference with it being + or - . So , of all the previously mentioned settings , most of them could be left untouched if you plan to use the same IEM or headphone to pair with it . However , like our taste , our cravings change time to time , so the 3D Holographic switch and the XBass switch would meet just that . All in all , you would notice that you have 4 options to play with . both switch on , both switch off , only 3d on , only xbass on . iFi mentioned that they have changed not just the chips , but the switches have been improved as well , however , we’ll just be testing them with both switches on or both switches off on both units .
With both settings switched off (3D Holographic & XBass)
S – Provides a slight V shaped signature with nice moderate sized room soundstage , leaning towards the analytical sound , has more emphasis on treble , but still comfortable to listen to over extended period of time .
B – Warmer, smoother overall sound, however, it is also more intimate due to the tighter soundstage, has less emphasis on the treble , and mids more apparent over the S version .
With both settings switched on (3D Holographic & XBass)
S- Beautifully open , instrumental separation becomes clear , treble is further emphasised and sub bass is recovered .
B- Warmer , smoother , relaxed sounding . Treble not as emphasised .
S PRO : Suitable for more analytical listening or with pairing with an iem or headphone that lacks In the treble department , S would greatly complement it and balance the spectrum .
S CON : is slightly less pleasurable when compared to listening with B , Treble may be too bright when paired with bright IEMs .
B PRO : Suitable for more pleasure listening , great for balancing with bright sounding , warm lacking IEMs .
B CON : Sometimes too warm for bassy IEMs .
I wouldn’t say which is better than another , as I feel they both are very different decamps to fill different needs , i think it would be a silly decision to discontinue S , as I feel that some people would be needing an S more than the B , vice versa .
So , for people who already own the S , is it worth selling S to go for B ?
Well you’ll need to see if majority of your headphones and IEMs becomes overly bright when paired with S , if so , I would strongly recommend you to give the B a try , and you’ll most probably like it from the way that it is tuned . It sounds almost like adding a valve tube.
Would it be reasonable to own both?
Yes of course , because they act as 2 completely polar decamp , they product almost different sound , owning both of them while you are still familiarlize with their features and buttons would come to great use when switching from one unit to another , based on the pairing of the headphones .
If you do not own any of them and do not know which to get ?
The answer for this would be to personally try them out if possible , head down to your local distributor and check if they have demo units for you to try out to see if it suits you . I am pretty sure at least one would suit your liking! If ordering online is your only option , you would have to ask yourself what does your IEM or headphone lacks . as S would bump the treble and B would bump the warmth .
Why do you think they call it the black label ?
Personally , I think that the name clashes with a whiskey , and coincidentally , it has a warm and relaxed sound , which is comfortable and pleasing at the same time . The word black may also infer that it is the darker sounding twin of the S series , which is brighter physically and sonically .
Thus far , I have tried B with a few new IEMs which I find interesting , such as the Audiotechica Live Sound series , which I feel only the LS200 is worth the money (your mileage may differ) , and the Audeze iSIne 20 which sounded wonderful with them . Over the remaining week I have to spend time with B , I’ll most probably bring it out to get plugged by jacks of different size and colour as much as possible :P
And will update my pairing findings here .
If there are any particular pairings you would like me to try it on your behalf , do comment down below and I will try my best to get them paired up in the days to come . As Singapore is such a small country , majority of IEMs and headphones are easily within reach , yes , even the JH Angels .
BLACK LABEL REVISIT REVIEW