Pros: Very smooth and natural sound, inmense versatility
To begin with, I would like to thank iFi for making this great tour and allowing some of us to test this product.
I've been enjoying my original micro iDSD since January 2015 and it is really a piece to love. Its spacious natural sound, so efortless and delivering confindently in the serious Hi-Fi range... It scaled up as my setup did, unleashing deeper layers of detail by lowering it's USB noise (data and power wise) with a micro iUSB3.0, providing better dynamics and even better stereo presentation.
To be honest, up to date, I am very happy with it. I tweaked my source (laptop) for lower latency thus outputing lower USB packet jitter, I adjusted the polarity of the components of my system for even better dynamics and so far everything pays for the efforts.
Having said that, my system isn't complete yet, my speaker amp is kind of a bottleneck in here. I measured its noise and it doesn't even reach a S/N ratio of 70dB (Whereas iUSB3.0 offers an S/N ratio of almost 154dB). However, it can prove many points using it as a differential tool for both units, iDSD and iDSD BL.
With no further adue, let's get into the review :D.
For those of you who already know iFi, there's some key differences in this package over old products:
-Rubber feet are smaller and have an iFi logo on it (Cool addition)
-All accessories are now separed in two white mate carton boxes with satin iFi logo on it. I like it, cleaner and easier to pack.
-The blue USB cable seems kind-of darker now. And slightly sturdier.
And for those of you who happen to be first meeting iFi products, let me just say this: They give an Apple-like experience for the unboxing, simple and elegant.
But for the fortune of us, they give a ton more of accessories, and to be honest, not bad at all.
*Fun fact: Their blue USB cable is the second best USB cable I have at home and I assure you it provides a nice smooth sound. Excellent considering it's built in!*
Here I leave you some photos of the whole unboxing experience.
WARNING: Staring too much at the unit will seduce your mind with its attractiveness
Oh, here we are, look at that. Ain't that sexy? Sure this smokey black brother is catching your attention. (Yep, smokey as Johny Walker's Black Label, no coincidence)
Labeled with orange and dark grey silk-screen print, it seems iFi is playing elegant once more, but better refined. No coincidence whatsoever, it reminds me to this Black Label whiskey. I see a clear evolution throughout their products, specially in the design department this time, no detail has passed unnoticed, carefully improved from the bottom to the top.
Now, getting into the hardware, there are a lot of major changes, so let's recap:
-Digital engine upgraded - Op-Amp OV2028
-Analog section upgraded - Op-Amp OV2627
-Zero Jitter/Femto clock system upgraded for lower phase-noise/jitter
-3D+ and XBass+
-Ultra-low impedance OS-CON polymer capacitors and Panasonic audio-grade ECPU film capacitors.
I think it's going to be hard to discern where the improvements come from in each different scenario, but I'll do my best to find out what role plays each of these improvements in the final product. Let's call it reverse engineering :D
I could give you some technical details from their webpage, but that would it give this review any value, would it? So, instead of that, I'll sign to iFi philosophy, and let the ears do the talking.
How does it perform solely as a DAC?
First, comparing it to the original iDSD, I sat both units in Direct mode (Fixed Line-Out at 2V) and swapped my Oyaide neo d+ Class S USB cable connected to a micro iUSB3.0 after each test. The results proved this new unit instantly superior to the old one, giving far better texture, a better detailed bass, smoother sound and a better defined stereo image. However, I found soundstage better on the original iDSD, but maybe it is just a matter of time, to burn-in the new BL unit. I suspect improvements mainly come from improved capacitors, lower jitter and due to its improved analog section.
By its own, without comparison, I would say it's one of the easiest DACs to listen I have tested. I listened to hours of music without noticing any disturbance in the sound. Which, by the way, happened to me sometimes with my original iDSD, sounding a little bit uncontrolled at highs.
How dows it perform as a DAC-Amp?
Well, I did some comparisons to original iDSD with the same source and the same blue cable and found out some interesting results. I used my micro iUSB3.0 as power supply and USB hub for both units:
At first I equated the volume using a sonometer app and a 1kHz test tone and Black Label required more volume to reach same decibels. Which are great news, we have better gain control now!
*NOTE: I haven't used the Oyaide cable because when swapping, I would have to turn off the DAC, turn it on again and readjust the volume to get it powered via USB, where the micro iUSB3.0 helps with its 0.1uV noise floor*
Taking into account the headphone amp, there's a major leap forward. A very significant difference, fixing a lack of bass texture and micro detail. I noticed a smoother sound, slightly better tone wise,
with much better controlled highs, providing a solid image. It sounds more natural, with better texture and dynamics. Overall, very cohesive. But I would say original iDSD has a bigger soundstage.
What about digital filtering?
I perceived a lesser degree of improvement when comparing straight to USB port with iUSB3.0 as source. It seems this overhauled version has lower jitter and better filtering. A very good job!
And now, talking about XBass+, there is also a very clear improvement. Bass boost is much more noticeable and fits quite nicely with many tracks. 3D Holographic + on the counterpart sounds slightly
more unrealistic, a very nice addition nonetheless.
Sincerely I would love to keep this unit with me. It sounds so great I don't wan't to stop music. It sounds so great I don't even have to worry about audio.
Thanks for reading me, I hope you liked the review!