Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphone Amplifiers › Amp/DACs › iFi Audio micro iDSD › Reviews › Tobias89's Review

Fantastic jack of all trades, and master of quite a few!

A Review On: iFi Audio micro iDSD

iFi Audio micro iDSD

Rated # 1 in Amp/DACs
See all 50 reviews
Recent Pricing:
Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
Tobias89
Posted · 957 Views · 8 Comments

Pros: Excellent sound, Feature rich, high performance to price ratio

Cons: Non-existent volume indicator, awkward shape (ifi micro product series in general) - Long and thin

About Me

I stumbled into the head-fi world when my itchy fingers picked up a Shure SE846 back in January’14. Since then, it has been a long journey, and I’m only just starting. Exploring the various IEMs and portable set-ups available, I’ve slowly learnt to appreciate good sounding gears at various price points, culminating in my decision to start writing reviews in order to contribute in my tiny way back to this community. I’m still looking to slowly develop a more consistent writing style as well. I’ll appreciate any feedback anyone has on any areas I could improve on!

 

I have varying music taste, so I can listen to/ appreciate most genres of music too, from classicals to pop/rock and almost anything in between, and choose my listening genre at a particular time based on mood, although I’m still building up my music collection.

 

Personally, I like my bass. It doesn’t have to be in huge, overwhelming quantities, but it has to be good, clean and deep base. I don’t like recessed mids, while I’m generally tolerant towards treble, and can appreciate both bright and rolled- off trebles.

 

As with all reviews, this review is purely subjective, based on my own experience, gear and preference, so YMMV!

 

Disclaimer

The iFi iDSD Black Label here was kindly loaned to me for the purpose of this review, as part of their global tour. The unit I am currently reviewing is part of the Asia group. I will not be posting too many pictures of the iDSD BL as there have been many of much better quality that I can hope for in the reviews posted by other reviewers in the tour group.

 

About the iDSD BL

 

iFi is based in the UK, and they have an extensive line-up of products that are rather reasonably priced.

 

The original iDSD was an exceptionally good transportable/portable DAC/AMP, and the latest version of the Micro iDSD improves a lot on it. As with the previous version, iFi has managed to pack a huge amount of power in a portable package with excellent battery, an extremely capable DAC that plays every format worth delving into and some. That and the fact that the original iDSD was developed with the community is yet another bonus.

 

The iFi iDSD Black Label here is the latest iteration of the tried and tested iFi iDSD, and is priced slightly higher vs the original iDSD at $749 SGD in Stereo Electronics. It’s an incremental upgrade of the original iDSD, especially for the volume knob, which loses the original’s tendency to have imbalance at lower volumes.

 

Ok, as with my most recent few review, I’ll start off with the most important aspect of any review...the sound!!!!

 

Source

Nil

 

Headphones Used

Audio Technica ATH-R70x

Sennheiser HD800

64 Audio A12 CIEM

 

Tracks Used
Some of the tracks used for this review are:

Storms Are On The Ocean

Amber Rubarth

Spanish Harlem

Rebecca Pidgeon

Angel

Saybia

Drum Impro

Dali CD

Ignorance (Acoustic)

Paramore

Just A Fool (ft. Blake Shelton)

Christina Aguilera

Cheek to Cheek

Lady Gaga / Tony Bennett

Royals

Lorde

See You Again (ft. Charlie Puth)

Wiz Khalifa

  

The iDSD BL has a signature that is pretty neutral with not much coloration except for a touch of warmth compared to the original, and seems to pair pretty well with headphones that have leans towards being bright (eg. HD800). It’s transparent with a drier (more analytical) signature, but is definitely more musical than the original. Imaging is excellent, with a wide, open soundstage coupled with good depth. This allows for its ability to pull out details to shine through. Dynamics too is excellent, never once feeling “flat” or smoothed out. It certainly isn’t laid back or smoothed over.

 

On that note, for a portable device the BL powers the HD800 without struggling and still has enough juice left to spare.

                                                                                                                    

With the HD800, I used the Turbo mode with IEMatch turned off. Normal mode works well with the HD800 as well. Bass extends deep and vocals seem to hit a really sweet spot. The highs are extended without any sibilance. This results in an overall musical signature that draws me towards the much vaunted HD800. This is certainly one of my favourite portable devices when paired with the HD800. Whenever I feel that the bass is lacking (which isn’t often!), I’ll just flick the xBass switch, and ta-da, satisfaction!

 

With my A12, I had to switch on IEMatch and change the power mode to Eco. With this settings I can safely set the volume knob to around 12 position, giving me room on both sides (+/-). Despite this, I can safely turn it to normal mode and keep the volume knob low to about the 9 position with no issues, which couldn’t be done with the older model. The BL does seem to sharpen the mids and treble of my A12, which I’d rate as being on the more laid-back side. This seems to result in giving the A12 more air up top, improving on its already commendable soundstage width, but more so on its sense of “height”.

 

Compared to the original iDSD, there is some added warmth that makes for a more musical tilt of the original iDSD signature, which I liked but found to be somewhat dry and analytical. Treble on the BL is sparkling and a tad bright, but sounds natural and is certainly not piercing nor grating. This result in a device which pairs better with brighter sounding headphones, such as HD800, TH900, it is much better in taming the brighter/harsher treble of these headphones as compared to the original iDSD.

 

Comparison

 

Vs Chord Mojo

Coming soon

 

Vs RHA Dacamp L1

Coming soon

 

Finish/Build Quality

 

As described in the product name, this version of the iDSD is clad in matte black aluminium with orange lettering. Simply put, it’s extremely cool (black is my favourite color!). Its form factor does not differ one iota from the whole micro series, thus retaining what I personally feel is a more transportable form factor than a portable form factor.

 

The switches are well labelled, as are all the connectivity options, including the USB port, and the various inputs and outputs. The volume knob is another area with an improvement over that in the older version, with less/no channel imbalance at lower volumes. Volume control is smooth and yet firm.

 

My only gripes with the BL are the indicators. There isn’t one on the volume knob, which would have been a welcome addition, to make it easier for us to know the current volume. Not a deal breaker in my opinion though.

 

Also, as with the original iDSD, the labels for the filters, polarity, power and IEMatch are placed on the bottom of the device. Unless you’ve pretty much remembered them, you’d be forced to pick up the device to change/check your settings, which may/may not be often depending on your usage.
 

Packaging and Accessories
iFi pulled out all the stops here, and leaves nothing to be desired. The iDSD BL includes the following accessories:

  •     USB 3.0A female to USB3.0A male cable (1M)
  •     USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female cable
  •     USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female short adaptor
  •     iFi’s standard purple RCA cables
  •     Rubber bands
  •     6.3mm to 3.5mm convertor
  •     3.5mm to 3.5mm cable
  •     Mini Toslink to Toslink adaptor
  •     4 silicone feet
  •     Silicone sheet

o    Velvet Carrying Pouch

 

Features

  • The iDSD BL, as with the iDSD, comes with a myriad of features. I’ve listed them, as shown in iFi’s website on the BL:
  • ·     The heart of the original iDSD, the dual-core Burr-Brown, is retained in the BL. It’s one of the last chipsets from Burr-Brown Japan (though it was introduced post-merger), and their ‘swansong’, and embodies all their converter technology and is unrivalled in terms of subjective.
  • ·     Capable of true native playback of all music formats from MP3 all the way up to 512DSD/768PCM/2xDXD.
  • ·     The latest iterations of 3D+ and XBass+ are appreciated technologies that further enhance the enjoyment of music. With a larger soundstage and deeper, tighter bass respectively, both are even more engaging and satisfying than ever.
  • ·     iFi/AMR ‘OV’ series stands for ‘Operationsverstärker’ (German for Operational Amplifier). The ‘OV’ range IC’s use HCOFC copper lead-frames and 4N Gold bond-wire which are streets ahead of mainstream commercial chips that use inexpensive aluminum bond-wire, low-grade/low-cost copper in the lead-frames.
  • ·     Os-Cons, originally from Sanyo (now taken over by Panasonic), have been around for a good while. Among the larger value capacitors useful in power supplies, they hold a special place. They have been used in AMR components up to the revered CD-77 Reference Class CD Processor.
  • ·     Three power output modes, Eco, Normal and Turbo. If used in conjunction with the built-in iEMatch, the micro iDSD BL is able to have the power and gain dialed-in to perfectly suit all headphones from the super-sensitive Sennheiser IE-800 up to the hyper-hungry HiFiMan HE-6.
  • ·     Digital Audio Players (DAP) and home SPDIF sources are abound. Flexibility remains key and the micro iDSD BL retains the intelligent SPDIF in/out socket for optical/coax signals. So for those who wish to upgrade their DAP, simple use it as a transport and feed the micro iDSD Black Label.
  • ·     From the very hungry HiFi Man HE-6 down to the Sennheiser IE-800, the micro iDSD Black Label is able to play hi-res out and about for 6 to 12 hours respectively. Even when not in use, it is able to charge an iPhone from 0% to 100% two times through its side USB charging port.

 

Specifications

Inputs/Outputs

   

Inputs (rear)

USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket

Compatible with computers (Apple/Win/Linux), iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android Devices, camera kit or USB-OTG cable required. (Full USB3.0 port compatible)

(with iPurifier® technology built-in)

 

Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial

3 Way combo SPDIF port (Coaxial In/Out; Optical In); Up to 192kHz PCM

 

SPDIF Optical

 
     

Outputs (rear)

Audio RCA L+R

 
 

Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial

Up to 192kHz PCM

     
     

Output (right side)

SmartPower® Socket

Fast charge all portable devices. Compliant with USB Battery Charging Standard 1.2 – 5V @ 1.5A

     
     

Controls

   

Controls (front)

   

– HP Output

Audio 6.3mm Headphone Jack

 

– Volume with Power On/Off switch

Precision analogue volume control

<2dB Tracking error

– 3.5mm Input

 

Auto disable the digital section when this is in use

– X-Bass®

On/Off

 

– 3D Holographic Sound®

On/Off

Auto-switching for Speakers® and Headphones® (two separate and distinct circuits)

     

Controls (left side)

   

– Power Mode

Turbo, Normal, Eco

Computer controlled power and gain scaling

– Polarity

Normal/Inverted

 

– Filter

3 positions, 6 filters

(see filter section below)

     

Controls (bottom)

   

– Line Direct/Preamplifier

Preamplifier function Enable/Disable, 0/9dB gain selectable

Fixed 2V or variable with up to 5V available

– iEMatch®

Perfect-matching circuit for IEMs (eliminate hiss)

Off / High Sensitivity Headphone / Ultra Sensitivity Headphone

     
     

DAC section

   

DAC

Dual-core DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown

2-DAC Chip; 4-Channel; 8-Signals, custom interleaving for maximum SNR

 

Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing

 
     

Clock

Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock

RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds

     

Audio Formats

DSD 512/256/128/64

All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8

 

DXD 2x/1x

All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

768/705.6/384/352.8kHz

 

PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/

All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

48/44.1kHz

     

Filters

   

– PCM

Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard

Digital filters selectable

– DSD

Extreme/Extended/Standard Range

Analogue filters selectable

– DXD

Bit-Perfect Processing

Fixed analogue filter

     
     

Specifications (DAC Section)

   

Dynamic Range (Line)

>117db(A)

 

THD & N (0dBFS Line)

<0.003%

 

Output Voltage (Line)

>2V

 

Output Impedance (Zout)

< 240Ω

 

Jitter (correlated)

Below AP2 test set limit

 
     
     

Headphone Power Output

   

HP Amp Output

Power (max)

Power (continuous.)

– Turbo mode

10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm

>1560 mW @ 64 Ohm

   

> 166 mW @ 600 Ohm

 

– Normal mode

5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm

> 950 mW @ 32 Ohm

   

> 100 mW @ 300 Ohm

 

– Eco mode

2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm

> 250 mW @ 16 Ohm

     
     

Specifications (Headamp Section)

   

Dynamic Range (HP)

>115dB(A) (Eco Mode, 2V Out)

 

THD &N (HP 500mW/16R)

< 0.008%

 

Output Voltage (HP)

>8V (Turbo Mode)

 

Output Impedance (Zout)

<1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)

 

Maximum Output Power

4,000mW @ 16 Ohm Load

when using sinewave testing the iDSD micro may engage protection circuits

Continuous Output Power

1,000mW @ 64 Ohm Load

 

 

 

Conclusion

IMO the original iDSD was one of the best portable DAC/Amp in its price range, punching way above its weight. The myriad of options only served to improve its value. Now that Chord has launched the Mojo, which is an excellent DAC/Amp, it is good to see that iFi has responded in kind with the BL. It is certainly something to listen out for, and is IMHO one of the best DAC/amp at its price point without even a shadow of a doubt!

*I had to re-write it without the benefit of most of my notes which were inside, this review has been shortened to less than what I expected. Hope I didn’t miss out anything important. Lesson learnt L

 

8 Comments:

Nice review! Waiting for the comparison with Mojo and RHA Dacamp L1.
Thanks for the review! Just to get your thought real quick, would you say that the BL sounds thicker and/or warmer than the mojo? I'm looking to get a new amp for my miracles, and the mojo sounded horrible with it. 
Wow great detailed review!
I have the tour RHA L1 right now. I had the BL last November. I prefer the BL. More powerful, more tuning options, and to me a more "complete" sound. The sheer versatility of critters such as these is very impressive. If I had to spend my money on one of these as a transportable, it would be the BL as of right now, it is fabulous. Cheers, and good review.
@DigitalCitizen I'd say the BL sounds just slightly thicker. Not exactly a day/night difference. In fact, they feel somewhat similar to me with a pretty "flat"/neutral tuning with a dash of warmth. Mids on the Mojo do seem to be more upfront and intimate though.
 
What'll make me pick the BL over the Mojo will be that the BL has a better sense of "air" up top. It's not that the Mojo's weak in the treble department (definitely not), but I just prefer the BL in this case.
@Tobias89 Did adjusting the IEMatch settings do anything to change the sound of the A12 significantly? Hearing that the sound might be thicker or warmer than the Mojo kind of scares me. The mojo was already unlistenable on my ciems.
@DigitalCitizen I had another listen to the BL at Stereo just now, and I take back what I said. I find it be slightly "thinner" and drier compared to the Mojo. That's on my A12. Sorry for the confusion :x
 
Personally I didn't find the Mojo to be thick/lush, but to be pretty "neutral" and balanced, being not too lush yet not too clinical. The iDSD retains some of its predecessor's dry/clinical signature, but adds that touch of musicality.
 
I didn't notice any major changes in the sound of my A12 regardless of the IEMatch settings.
Hmm alright than you for the comparrison! I'll try and audition it soon.
Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Headphone Amplifiers › Amp/DACs › iFi Audio micro iDSD › Reviews › Tobias89's Review