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The iDSD Black Label is a more matured performer in every aspect

A Review On: iFi Audio micro iDSD

iFi Audio micro iDSD

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aftercrasher
Posted · 820 Views · 7 Comments

Pros: Smooth delivery of orgasmic sound. Powerful enough to drive a planar, whilst gentle enough for sensitive IEM.

Cons: xBass+ can get a tad bit too heavy.

I will be comparing both the iDSD and the iDSD Black Label (called BL for short) with the XBass turned on as default as that is what I am used to listen. Each unit will be given a rating and at the end, the highest score wins. For a consistent result, I will be using my Hifiman HE-560 and 64 Audio U10 UIEM with Effect Audio Ares cable. I will not be swapping too many gears in order to not create too many variations. An ABX tester will be used so I can switch between the unit easily. All songs are ripped as AIFF from cd's. I will leave my thoughts on the stack integration and other headphones at the end. Do note that with your gear YMMV.

 

  1. Counting Crows - Big Yellow Taxi
    • Immediately, with the harder and punchier bass of the iDSD BL, I thought this song had a clear winner. Vocals were thicker, more musical, and by the mid of the song, I was tapping my feet and bobbing my head. Further switching between the 2 units made me realise that although the bass on the iDSD was not as punchy, the guitar strum just before the chorus sent chills down my spine thanks to its brighter treble. A thing to note is that while the HE560 liked the bass boost, but the low end got a bit too boomy for the U10 IEM.
    • iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 4/5
  2. Eagles - Life in the fast lane
    • My gripes previously was that the bass is too light on the track with the iDSD. Now though, the iDSD BL presents a harder bass kicks in the opening, overall enhacing the imaging and musicality of the song. XBass and 3D is an appropriate option to use as it carries the song up to another level - closer to the live experience.
    • iDSD - 3/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5
  3. Norah Jones - Crazy
    • The iDSD BL brought Norah Jones directly to my room. The darker Black Label makes her voice sound as smooth as honey. Her voice just tickled my ears bringing me to a huge grin. The notes from the double bass and piano was well rounded and punchy which added some depth to the sound.
    • iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5
  4. Babyface - Change the World (w Eric Clapton)
    • The leaner iDSD takes the cake here due to the airy presentation. It brings out the details in the choir, hi hats, the electric piano and the bongo. I had to turn off the XBass on the BL as it was covering the detail in the song passage. Marks to the brighter iDSD.
    • iDSD - 5/5 | iDSD BL - 3/5
  5. Joe Hisaishi - My Neighbour Totoro Opening theme
    • Again the airier iDSD beats the iDSD BL in this song. You can hear every instrument clearly thanks once again to the more neutral presentation. I tried adding in the 3D setting, while better, it could not sound as clear as the iDSD.
    • iDSD - 5/5 | iDSD BL - 3/5
  6. The Blue Hearts - Linda Linda (J Punk Rock)
    • the iDSD can make the treble slightly splashy but more detailed. The iDSD BL controls the song better but could be duller in presentation.
    • iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5 
  7. Aerosmith (ft Carrie Underwood) - Can't stop loving you.
    • The brighter iDSD emphasises the guitar strums but it can get a bit fatiguing if you are sensitive to high frequencies. the iDSD BL tames the highs and adds more depth to the song. However, Carrie Underwood's voice seem to be very slightly muffled due to the darker sound signature. the iDSD projects her voice and overall instruments better.
    • iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 4/5
  8. Scars - James Bay
    • The iDSD projects James Bay's voice better, but lacks the depth that the iDSD BL provides. The bass kicks can get slightly boomy with the xbass turned on. The level of detail for both units remain excellent however.
    • iDSD - 5/5 | iDSD - 5/5
  9. AC/DC - Hard Times
    • iDSD BL has got this song in its grip. The darker signature gives depth and really brings out the hard rock genre of this song. Hi-hats are well controlled but still remaining detailed. That Gibson electric guitar just sounds so rich with the iDSD BL.
    • iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5
  10. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Downtown (feat. Nally)
    • I love this song due to the quirky nature, and more importantly a mixture of a lot of instruments and styles. The iDSD BL sent a massively (good) deep bass into my head thanks to the xBass boost (Although with the bass can get too messy with the U10). It is a toss between the 2 as the iDSD has more detail and sounds more forward. But in the end I had to give it to the iDSD BL for making me enjoy the song tremendously.
    • iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5


Final thoughts between the iDSD and iDSD Black Label.
I would call this unit a more matured iDSD with minor refinements that makes it great. I rated the Black Label 44/50 (compared to 42/50 for the iDSD). With my gear, the Black Label is darker overall with a slightly higher low end, and very ever so slightly recessed treble. Although I reckon that they may have added a touch too much boost to the XBass+. It would be nice if it came with a 2 step selector like on the iCan. Compared to the iDSD, the iDSD is a little more airy and detailed, but somewhat sterile and boring. The 3D+ setting is better implemented but I do not use them most of the time. Toggling it on certain songs (unplguged/live) can certainly complement the song, but use it wisely. All that said, if you are looking for an all-in-one solution, you cannot go wrong with both. The iDSD BL would be more polite to most songs, and also able to satisfy your inner bass-head, but could be too much for cans like the Beyerdynamic DT770, Fostex TH900 and Shure SE846.

 

Things that I would like to see on future revisions

2-step Bass toggle (found in the iCan), USB to Lightning cable for instant connection for iDevices.

 

 

7 Comments:

very useful observations! thank you!
Nice review...thanks!
thanks!  I am way down the list in the loaner program.  Can't wait to get my hands on this to review.  (What I REALLY am hoping for, though, is being the lucky person that wins the 6 month loan of the iDSD Pro!! haha... I think that excites me more than actually winning one of the BL DAC's ;)
@MLGrado dont we all wish for that? lol
Can anyone provide a first-hand comparison of this device with vs the Chord Hugo? I've owned the Hugo for quite some time and love it. But the iFi is affordable enough that I would consider buying it if really lives up to the hype. Bottom line: besides marginal comparative compactness, would would I be getting vs the Hugo vis-a-vis sound?
Unfortunately I cannot comment on the Hugo. However I could comment on the small mojo.
No prob. I have the mojo as well, though I'm more interested in how it compares to the Hugo. Tx.
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