Pros: Compact, transportable, powerful, beautiful sound, tube-like warmth
Cons: Buttons, volume knobs, no balanced connections
Please allow me a moment to express my appreciation toward IFI for this opportunity to demo the Micro IDSD for reviewing purposes and return. The unit itself is a DAC/AMP combo which plays DSD natively, and sport Burrbrown DAC, so any fan of BurrBrown will be happy.
Upon receiving the unit, it arrived in a nice and neat box, and literally comes with a lot of supportive cables and adapter, a carrying pouch as well.
At first I couldn't figure out how to charge the unit because the confusion between the "smart charging" port on the side and the "digital input". Took me about 15 minutes to figure out that the unit charging port is the digital input with male USB and provided blue USB cables. I had to look for the manual to discovered that the smart charging port on the side is to charge your devices as an external battery pack only! So, please do not get confused
The device itself is like a chunk of aluminum with ports ! But it magically about the size length of the Note 4. Hah! Perfect stack up! Though, it would be nice and neat if IFI with all of their supplied cables would add in a short Female USB to OTG micro USB cable. There is only 1/4" out for headphones, and if you have 3.5mm style plug, you can use the adapter inside the box. I like the RCA stereo out for pre-amp to large stereo systems. This is excellent feature for people who also love large stereo system. It can be pre-amplified (controllable output volume), or direct (max output)
The knobs and switches, it would be nice to have the volume knob and switches more covered, recessed, or a button to lock it, because it is so easy to knock it out of the setting and damage your own hearings. It is best to set it and sit still to enjoy it. Therefore, I agree with people calling the IDSD the "transportable" unit. Beside, the rubber bands once strapped on to stack, it could easily hit and move the gain switch....which may again damage your hearing, I stacked it up higher to avoid hitting it. I rarely move mine, and more than a couple occasions I almost yank out my headphones due to the sudden loudness...this 4000 mW is not a joke ! So, it is good to set and sit to enjoy, and not recommended to pocket it on the go.
Battery longevity: I listen to my collections for about 2-3 hours a day, and it keeps up just fine, with both Zx2/note 4 and IDSD stacking, it last an average of 6-5 hours. It digital input actually will draw and charge itself whenever possible, and I observed that it charged from The IPad Pro, because they both went through their battery faster and the blue light will lit up even though the unit is turned to off. Therefore, on supportive device, the USB in port can be used to feed digital and charge at the same time. Interferences and noises are no issues here when stacking on a phone or getting too close to the computer. I do hear hums and such on PHA-3 when paired with smartphone being on top. So, interferences isolated = 1 more credit toward micro IDSD. However, IDSD micro doesn't have secondary self charge port while the main digital/charge port is being used, and that means you just can not stack another additional battery on top, this is where PHA-3 get the credit, but then PHA-3 takes a longer time to charge up than Micro IDSD. So, you get to pick your poison.
Battery recharge: it charges around 4 hours on average by using the Apple 12W charger and its blue digital cables.
Also to note, the adapter of 3.5mm to 1/4" that comes in the box will work with any 3.5mm TRRS hi-fi man style or Zx2 style.
It took me a few tries to get the Zx2 to work with Micro IDSD. I figured both Zx2 and IDSD has to be off , connected, then turned on IDSD (wait on the green light), then turn the ZX2 screen on in order for them to pair up ? Strange, but whatever as long as it works.
Now, then I tried to pair it with Note 4 and Onkyo Hf player, it worked just in a snap of a fingers.
Pairing with Windows 10 laptop requires manual download of the driver from IFI, and connecting to IPad or IPhone with IOS only needs Apple Lightning to Camera USB cables. I tried watching movies and gaming are both simply superb. It is so far the best Single Ended device that I have come across so far.
Summed up: It is Warmth but sweet mid range, beautiful micro energies variations, every micro movements of the tonal body from the inner fidelity can be observed . That is why I call it beautiful and sweet, especially string instruments and drum plays. Yeah, tube-like, impact, darker, warmer, but controlled, detailed, great 2D soundstage, and musical are the summed up of Micro IDSD perfectly. So, I guess, if they hit your spot ? Please read on.
The sound signature: warm tone on low and mid spectrum while the vocal is with great transparency, airy but darker trebles and very good separations. Very good soundstage, and this soundstage is the typical soundstage that I like a lot, the spherical soundstage. I would say it is even a bit more emphasized toward Lower mid bass and bass energies (the impacts, oh my...). This sound signature will grab "bass lovers" and "audiophiles" all alike at the heart on the first impression. I love (quality only) type of bass, and it really did grab my attentions. Please don't be mistaken this bass for the kind of bass that you hear on cheap gears and or low quality. I have to say it again, (it is the energies, the fidelity, the impact ) that is emphasized. For example, in the song that is well known to me, I feel the percussionist applied more power into his beats and plays but they are all so magically controlled, detailed, textured. The best enjoyment comes from both Xbass and 3D off. Beautiful dynamic energies.
The next thing I found out is that it uses Femto clock to totally eliminate Jitters ? I think this is the cheapest device to have built in the Femto clock at the price $499 on Amazon and authorized dealers.
Soundscape: surrounding and holographical
Soundstage: spherical, good width and depth. But with more attention and I would say this soundstage is with more width than depth, also the 3rd dimension Presentation is surprisingly good for a device with single ended and at this price range. Now, there is 3D function, and it seems that IFI reserved the extra 3rd dimensional depth and height for this feature. There is a noticeable improvement on this 3rd dimension senses when turned on. It also improves the width and depth of 2nd dimensional and the separations of each instrument spaces as well. Most importantly, it doesn't feel artificial.... Actually to really look into nit picking it, the mid is a bit sharper , and there are more reverbs, but not to the noticeable level to call it artificial. Some smoothness in the lower energy of upper mid and lower trebles play may be a tad harsher.
Bass: Very detailed , clean and full of energies while retaining the warmth but very clear and transparent. I love how deep, powerful the sub-bass goes and still detailed/controlled without being muddy, the separations of different plays are well presented, and the power applied onto each beats on different instruments are very well presented. Then there is X-Bass function, which don't really noticeably bring out "Bass" as I would think, it actually turned the mid-bass to be warmer and with deeper sub-bass. Bass is very enjoyable and addictive on this device with big body and defined dept whether you turn on X-bass or not because it doesn't really bring the kind of EQ like noticeable bass bump, but more like a different kind of sound signature bass. Keep it off for tighter and more controlled bass, or on for a tad warmer and deeper bass. I observed much deeper bass and slams on SA5000 VS TH900. It probably scales with the headphones and the headphones sound signature itself as well. The best thing about the bass here is the Percussion of the play, whether it is projected further away or closer to me, I always feel that Slam and Bang in full body (always full of energies and impactful).
Mid: Mid is warmth, with excellent separations, every details are well presented even some nuances details are playing out very good. Vocal is forward and clean with the transparency and smoothness. Mid spectrum is full of energy that one would expect coming from a powerful amp of 4000mw as advertised + some more, and not only that the variations of the micro details energies are very well perceived, and that means beautiful strings play, brass, and wind instruments. I would say Mid spectrum is one of this IDSD forte, it is just so good, sweet, fluid, warmth+smooth, linear, detailed and full of energies. Oh, and that electric guitar crazy plays, it is always full of energies. Excellent variations of micro energies, and kind of following it give me the total satisfactions, the feeling of hearing the guitarists right in front of my eyes, if I focused on to it, and never miss any micro-details.
Trebles: very detailed, warmth but detailed, splashy but soft, and well extended but Super smooth and thick, also a bit darker but energetic. It helps to observe detailed play without introducing fatigue. There is this beautiful blend of upper mid and lower trebles spectrum for a very detailed fidelity and sparkles without the harshness and hot coming trebles. It is so well received that the extensions of vocal tone is more "air like" rather than harsh "S,X,Z". I rarely enjoy Rock and Metal, but I tried it here "the veer Union-Decade", and it was awesome. I never liked Rock and Metal much because the music domain too much into upper mid and high spectrums, if not done right it could easily be lacking the bass thumb, energized and detailed trebles but harsh and hot trebles which had always makes these genres less enjoyable for me. However as stated here, I love this trebles and the sound overall from Micro IDSD
Conclusions: I have yet to hear a better (bass quality and musicality with the warmth+detail+transparency sound like this especially mid spectrum, vocal and wide soundstage) from a single ended sonically performance like this Micro IDSD. For the moment, I couldn't help but wondered "what if" there was balanced connection due to Dual DAC in this unit ? My experiences with Balanced vs SE had always been very favorable toward a good Balanced design. Even though my Demo unit had some flaws here and there, whether defective or bugs, it is still a too good with price to performance ratio. I enjoy it a lot due to the warmth tonal body, big and powerful bass but too well controlled, the transparency mid, the clear vocal, and the smooth transitional between upper mid and lower spectrums and then the airy trebles with flying details but still relax and musical. It makes me recall the 80ish hi-fi systems with tube and such, and back then I was only a kid....so....memory won't be that good for sound quality
The love-hate Story:
Ok, I give up. How come it sounds so good with SE connection ? The tonal balances, details, and musicality is even better than Zx2. For my personal taste and preferences, I love instrumentals, pop, EDM, ballads, therefore I love what I am hearing here, full of energy, dynamic, beautiful strings plays. One could even call this being a bit colored like i mentioned above, more toward the warmth and tonal body thickness, so it is all about musicality, enjoyment and not for picking your music a part in the while of not missing any beats and micro details. Also don't forget that vocal, very addictive. If I thought Zx2 had that unique tonal body and musicality, this IDSD micro brings it to another level, an improvement, at a cheaper price, and single ended connection! I can totally justify buying it for my Zx2. By this, I can enjoy Zx2 alone, or pair it up to IDSD micro for enjoyment, and I can even use it to iPad, laptop, iPhones, a function that Zx2 lack.
I had never been aware of IFI and it products line up, until I got offered a chance for this demo unit for audition and return. I was a bit skeptical because I am slowly losing faith of "affordable and quality" audio to be in any new products anymore. Then I wasn't even excited about the unit when it arrived. I even had a hard time with it on the first day. The confusion of smart charge port and digital and charging ports, the pairing with Zx2. But then, after everything was figured out and listened to it. I changed my mind, and I just want to buy it. Therefore, I went digging into it real hardware components and it explained everything: high quality components, and Femto clock, dual DAC, Quality Capacitors. It is so lovely, beside the unique sonical quality, I think it build is unique for this price range as well. I am glad to have the chance to audition this unit. The design within the device is all dual like (Dual DAC, Dual Mono Pre-amplification).....and the end output is only Single ended....god...so frustrated regardless of IFI explanations, I still think there will be a huge market for this type of Warmer, darker, more musical sound signature and balanced connection for an even better quality.
Comparison VS Mojo: form and build factors, Mojo win straight out. Sound performances ? I prefer IDSD micro with it beautiful warmth tonal body and transient micro energies, and I also prefer the more spherical soundstage. But keep in mind, Mojo can totally be Portable, with better clarity and transparency, more neutral, but only a little less spherical in soundstage, where as IDSD Micro is only Transportable....as in do not put in the pocket moving and jamming. All of these buttons will get messy and blow out your ears drums.
The potential of RCA pre-amplifier output. It is actually more powerful than I imagined. I tried on to connect o my large stereo system, and it actually is pumping pretty good impact, dynamic, and the soundstage is very very good for a device of it size. It carries on with the above sound signature from headphones, but most noticeable will the bass, depth, impact, and the soundstage. Me and my wife are both surprised by it. Therefore, I have nothing to say beside the good thing for this micro IDSD being a quality pre-amplifier.