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Amp/DACs item created by joe, Aug 5, 2014
Pros - sound quality, balanced, no channel imbalance, versatile with anything, power
Cons - needs a more visible volume indicator, 3D+ can sound bright
Why I love iFi and their products
iFi have been known, reputably for their amazing amplifiers and DAC. Ranging from Nano to Micro to Retro and the most recent addition, the Pro line, iFi have an amplifier and DAC for different purposes and price ranges. The nano for on-the-go and affordability, Micro for transportability, Retro for the speakers and Pro for the extremes. Having tried their products, mostly the Micro line which they first set-off with, it never disappointed me in terms of sound quality. Throughout the years, listening to recommendations by users and reviews is what really brought them where they are now, being featured on the Head-Fi gift guide and not to mention other reputable audio review websites and it is not one, not two, but most of their products are outstanding.
My favorite product that they have created so far is the Micro iDSD. It started back in 2014 where they started a thread in Head-Fi asking opinions on what this Micro iDSD really should be and from there, they take everyone’s opinions into consideration and kept the crowd updated throughout from hardware to software and the troubles that they ran into. When they introduced the Black Label edition of the Micro iDSD, I was all hyped and even more when they announced a tour for it! A huge thanks to iFi for adding me into the tour for this iFi Micro iDSD BL!
I really appreciate how the iFi team gave the packaging a formality and it represents the company very well. What came with the original Micro iDSD is very similar with absence of a black carrying pouch which is no big deal but considering the Micro iDSD BL costs more at USD549 as opposed to USD499 for the original Micro iDSD puts be in doubt [both prices excludes taxes]. Other than that, it comes with instruction manual, 3.5mm to 3.5mm standard jack, 2x silicone bands, angled male type A to female type A USB, wired USB Female type A to female type B converter, left and Right RCA cable, 4x rubber feet, 3.5mm to 6.3mm jack converter, jumper, USB Female type A to female type B adapter and a piece of rectangular rubbery “thingy” that probably used for when stacking a phone on top to avoid frictions. With exception of the carrying pouch, the Micro iDSD BL comes with pretty much everything and there’s nothing short of. I have been using the original Micro iDSD for more than 2 years now and I never see the need to carry the pouch along anyway. If anything, it makes the ports less accessible when inside thought it was genius to have a hole cut for the USB.
What's so cool about this BL
The build and weight of both the editions are similar; all metal and weight is on the bulky side for such a small footprint but I think that’s how I would like it to be. Makes it sits properly on the table. As a proud Micro iDSD user for more than 2 years, I can safely say that, the unit is very durable considering I have not been nice to it partially because I am quite violent with gadgets. So no worries, go ahead, throw it in the backpack and rock but it probably won’t survive in the water thought. I have to say thought, thumbs up to the batman-like black finish with orange wordings that really stands out. However, good luck trying to read the unimportant feature lists at the bottom but really, it’s nothing important… or is it. Seriously thought, it is worded in black on a black casing. If anything, the original Micro iDSD’s volume knob is stiffer than the BL edition.
Not only does it look like Bruce Wayne’s multibillion techs but it also features like his utility belt. It is a DAC and amplifier that also works as a preamplifier that can power from the smallest earphones to THE giant Bane. There are three power mode namely Eco, Normal and Turbo. Personally, I do not find the need for “Turbo” for any headphones just yet as at Turbo, it outputs 4, 000mW @ 16 Ohm of power and I doubt there are any headphones that needs it with exception of a few such as the popular HifiMan HE-6. In normal and eco modes it outputs 1, 900mW @ 16Ohm and 500mW @ 8Ohm respectively. For most headphones, Eco mode is more than enough in my opinion. However, what about earphones and headphones with high sensitivity? There’s the IEMatch. It has two switches; high sensitivity (-12dB) and ultra-sensitivity (-24dB) which makes volume more adjustable or you can have it switched off. Do note that, avoid using IEMatch on other modes; Normal and Turbo. “It is like pressing the accelerator while applying brakes” – iFi. Other features include XBass+, 3D+, polarity (-/+), and Filter (Standard/Phase Minimum/Bit-Perfect). Oh, it also features as a Plan B power bank at the side but keep in mind that, the unit takes quite a while to charge up. There is also a small LED light on top which determine the status of the unit. It has a built in gen 1 iPurifier into it as well and up to Normal mode, it can purely drain on USB or charge at the same time in eco mode. Information on these features can be found here.
The main course
With all the Batman’s design and features aside, the sound quality itself is no joke either. I find it an amazing piece of amplifier and DAC combo. There’s perfectly no channel imbalance pass the 9’O Clock turn. While it is not as neutral as I expected it to be, it remains well balanced. The bass is tick tight and beats down to as deep as you could wish. Without the XBass, the bass is there but lacks the “bold”. The upper bass is what I like the most out of all as it has a good amount of weights and punches that anyone would appreciate. I personally find that the highs are a minute louder than the midranges and this result in a very fun and enjoyable sound. Throughout the listening experience, I find it entirely to be ultimately smooth, while attaining that speed on the punches at the same time, not missing any details. It just feels like you are driving on a Porsche at say 170kmph but you feel that the car is doing it effortlessly and that is how it feels like to listen to the Micro iDSD BL as a standalone.
I think that the XBass+ and the 3D+ is what actually saved the amplifier side of it. Starting with the XBass+, it really adds very notable amount of bass to it and fits the “basshead” category just nicely and at the same time, with the speed, and thumbs that is just so good and pleasant to enjoy with. Without the 3D+, the soundstage is pretty wide but the separations feel a little bit packed together. Flick the 3D+, it is as if the musician just immediately spread out themselves from a small stage to an opera theatre and for movies, you could better aware of the environment of the scene. There’s one trade-off thought. With the 3D+, the treble can spike up and especially with female voices, I find it a ted annoying with the B&O H6 and Brainwavz HM5 but if the XBass+ is on together with it, it soothes the treble by adding "bolds" to the whole sound making the treble less noticeable although it is still there. Darker headphones like the Mr. Speaker’s Mad Dog have no big deals with this.
I then connected the iDSD BL to Garage1217 Project Sunrise III w/ Amperex 6dj8 Orange edition and boy is there a huge improvement in comparison to the standalone without XBass+ nor 3D+. That said, the amplifier of the iDSD BL is great matched with the DAC but is rather average only. With the XBass+ thought, the iDSD BL have better bass in every spectrum than the tubes; speed, quantity, and depth. When both the XBass+ and 3D+’s running, the iDSD BL does stands pretty close to the tubes. The iDSD BL is definitely clearer but with the tubes thought, the soundstages, separations, and sound is just more “real” and so, so, so, slightly more airy. At high volumes [pass the 3’O clock], I find the iDSD BL losses its dynamic ranges and clarity, soundstages and separations gets a little mixed up. Not to worry thought, I doubt there’s a need to turn up the heat given there’s 3 different power mode.
As a pure DAC itself, I find the Micro iDSD BL to be extremely flat and literally have no flavors. It is like an ice cream cone; it doesn’t have much taste but add the ice cream on top and you get a delicious dessert. The Micro iDSD BL matches well with any ice creams [amplifier] and it will sound amazing. It is airy and very analytical. Plugging in for the first time, really tells you how much details have you been missing all along. Not to mention its capability to hit up to DSD512.
Now for the grand comparison. As Lex Luthor once said and I quote “God vs Man, Day vs Night”…
The BL edition is better than the original in a few ways, but in many ways, they are quite similar. Besides the obvious color differences, exterior wise, they are pretty much the same chassis with similar ports and switches. The difference lies within; the BL uses latest and higher end components, the 3D and XBass gets a nice upgrade and indeed worthwhile. As a standalone DAC/amp, I would say that the BL is smoother, warmer, more refined and the two switches at the front is a major step up from the original and distinctly a better unit than the original. Channel imbalances issues are non-existence on the BL pass the 9’ O Clock. At the end thought, if you already own the original edition, you are better off spending the money elsewhere like a separate amplifier. I personally find that when using the two as a sole DAC, I find both to have similar sound although the BL are more “stable” with the channel imbalance. That said, the original edition at $499 or even cheaper sometimes, is still a very good DAC/amp while the BL is for if you do not own neither and its really worth the extra 10% difference. The original edition is also more neutral in comparison to the BL as a DAC/amp combo.
Thank you for reading
The Micro iDSD BL is yet another amazing unit, I wish I could spend more time to enjoy with. I was the lucky winner of the Micro iDSD 2 years ago and I couldn’t be happier to be able to listen to the BL. It is amazing and it still did not fail to wow me away. I especially enjoy it with my B&O H6; it adds necessary warm and bass to it with the XBass+ and I can leave the 3D+ off while still getting the airy and separation I wanted. It’s truly a match made in heaven. I have never enjoyed the B&O headphone as much before despite it being my on-the-go headphone. Overall, it is very versatile with anything you throws at.
Pros - Very smooth and natural sound, inmense versatility
Cons - None
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 .
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
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!
Pros - Extremely versatile, impressive power output, lots of sound customization options
Cons - First two seconds of every track are muted, slight channel imbalance at lower volume, bulkier and heavier than a portable unit should be
I wanted to start this review off with a Swiss Army knife joke but it looks like several Head-Fiers have already did that so in a futile attempt to be both funny and original I’ll start off with a comic.
I'm 99% sure this is how it went down
I’d like to sincerely thank Hoomairah Atchia-Rawat from iFi Audio for choosing me for the Review Tour as well as Mateusz Przychodzień of Forza Audioworks for lending me his personal iDSD BL unit for evaluation. I was not paid to write this review and (unfortunately) I did not get to keep the unit. I did have a lot of fun writing this so there's that.
So what the iDSD BL actually is? Well, the iFi’s own website calls it “the world’s most powerful DSD/PCM/DXD Battery-powered DAC”. However I feel that calling the iDSD a DAC is doing it disservice as this device can do so much more than just convert ones and zeroes into an analogue waveform. So from now on I’m going to refer to the iDSD as a USTAB, a “Universal Soldier of The Audio Battlefield”. I believe this acronym reflects the nature of the iDSD BL much more accurately than “DAC/amp combo” or a “portable amp”.
To explain in detail the thought process behind this name let’s talk about all functionalities of this little black box.
Jean-Claude Van Damme with head-mounted iDSD BL, 1995
Spoiler: What iDSD BL is:
DAC / Headphone Amp combo
DAC only (with both USB and S/PDIF inputs)
Headphone Amp only
DAC / Preamp
USB to S/PDIF converter
Spoiler: What iDSD BL is not:
To underline the “Universal” part of the acronym even further, performance of the individual sections of the iDSD BL can be fine-tuned by the user.
The DAC has three distinct digital filter and can reverse the polarity of the digital signal.
The amp section has three levels of gain (nine if you multiply it by IEMatch settings), bass boost and iFi’s proprietary 3D Sound.
The RCA outs on the back can output both fixed and variable volume.
I’ll talk about all of these functionalities in more detail a little later on.
Subtle, yet elegant design, with product shots on the top and side of the box with USTAB's specs on the bottom. Aesthetically pleasing, recyclable and stylish. I wouldn’t mind displaying it on a bookshelf like a Lego set for my guests to admire.
More important than the box are its contents and here’s where iDSD BL’s USTAB nature shows up again. A lesser company would include just a USB cable and a 6.3mm adapter but not iFi.
No, the British company wants their customers to be prepared for every type of audio combat scenario and that’s why in the iDSD BL box contains:
Spoiler: Package contents:
iDSD BL unit
USB 3.0 type A male to female cable (1m long)
USB type B to type A female to female adapter
Another USB type B to type A female adapter ( a shorter one)
6.3mm to 3.5mm jack adapter
Toslink to mini Toslink adapter
RCA cable (0.5m long)
3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect
Rubber covers for the RCA jacks
Four stick-on rubber feet
Two rubber bands for attaching the iDSD to a portable source
Cloth pouch for storing the iDSD
My only gripe with the USTAB’s arsenal is that it does not include a Micro-USB OTG or an Apple Camera Connection Kit despite being marketed as a smartphone-compatible device. But that is a very minor issue, overall I am really impressed by the amount of accessories included in the box.
Oh iFi Audio, you didn't have to
Additional 50 points to iFi audio for including this note in the box. It serves no practical purpose aside from making the iDSD owners feel loved by the company. It's a simple gesture but it works.
Front of the device houses the headphone output, the volume knob, a 3.5mm audio input and switches for the XBass and 3D Sound. Unusually for a portable device a 6.3mm jack is used instead of a more common 3.5mm connection but iFi includes an appropriate adapter in the box so that shouldn’t be a problem. The potentiometer is wonderfully smooth to operate and the switches are sturdy enough to not be turned by accident so overall, great job. One issue that should be pointed out though is that the volume marker on the potentiometer is rather hard to see (a black notch on black background). iFi, please put a dab of paint in a contrasting color on the notch to make it more visible. That’s the only improvement I could ask for.
On the back of the device we can find: USB used for connecting the USTAB to a PC or a mobile source, a pair of analog RCA jacks and a combo coaxial/optical input/output RCA plug. The combo RCA plug works as an optical or coaxial input when no USB is connected and as a coaxial only output when USB is connected, thus making the iDSD an USB to S/PDIF converter when the situation calls for one.
USB port of the iDSD BL is unique among portable DACs. While all other products happily use the micro USB type B connectors, the USTAB not only uses a full size type-A plug, it uses a male USB type-A plug! Not gonna lie, I was very sceptical about this. What’s wrong with good ol’ micro USB type B? Well, lots of things actually. Micro USB connectors are unreliable, fragile, and easily broken. Also, DACs which use micro USB connectors require their own custom micro-USB to micro-USB cables.
So, how do you connect the iDSD BL to a smartphone? Easily, using a USB OTG adapter (or Apple Camera Connection Kit if you’re an iPhone user). And you know what? This is genius. Think about it. OTG adapters (and CCK) can be found in pretty much any electronics store. They don’t need to be custom made or imported from China. And the connection is much more secure than a micro-USB type B connection.
An unbreakable bond was formed
Congratulations iFi. I will never, ever doubt your design decisions again. You have convinced me.
The right side of the device houses a female USB type A port. This port is used to charge your mobile device. It’s not going to win against a dedicated powerbank but it will save your skin in an emergency situation. As I’ve said, iDSD is a Universal Soldier, able to adapt to any situation.
Left side and the bottom of the device is where things start to get more interesting. Here we can find switches used to fine-tune the performance of the USTAB.
RCA output switch - Used to switch between fixed and variable output. use fixed output when connecting the iDSD BL to another headphone amp, a preamp or an integrated amplifier. Use the variable mode when connecting to active speakers or a power amp. Dunno what else to tell You dear reader, works as expected.
Power mode - used to switch between three different gain settings. Goes from “reasonable” to “no man shall possess this kind of power” really fast. The effect of the Power Mode on the overall sound quality will be covered in more detail in the part where I finally start talking about sound.
Polarity - Used to reverse the polarity of the digital signal. Despite my best effort I was not able to hear any difference between the reversed and the non-reversed signal so I just left it at non-reversed.
Digital filter switch - Used to switch between three different digital filters. Honest to God, I can’t hear the difference in PCM mode. In DSD mode the switch controls analog filters and the difference is clearly audible so I will cover it in more detail in the part where I finally start talking about sound.
IEMatch - Used to adjust output sensitivity. If you experience hiss even in Eco mode, adjust this untill hiss is gone, otherwise leave at Off.
The bottom of the device also has output labels and the spec sheet printed on it but since it’s black writing on an equally black background you won’t be able to decipher it anyway. iFi please make the font at least a little brighter.
Yeah, I don't know either what it says
I was able to test the iDSD BL on Windows, Linux and Android operating systems. Unfortunately I do not have access to Apple hardware so I wasn’t able to test Macs and iPhones for compatibility. Here are the results:
Android - PCM, DXD and DSD playback works using USB Audio Player Pro. All playback modes (Native, DoP, DSD to PCM conversion) are supported. Does not work with apps that use standard built-in audio stack (YouTube, Tidal, Spotify), however that is an Android issue and not iDSD BL issue. If you plan to use USTAB with an Android device please download one of several USB Audio compatible music apps or root your device.
Windows - PCM and DXD works after installing iFi’s proprietary driver. DSD playback works in DSD to PCM conversion mode. I followed the Foobar2000 configuration guide but after setting up the plugins I ended up hearing either music in PCM-conversion mode or total silence in native DSD (both indicated via the Foobar interface and the color of the LED on the USTAB).
Linux - PCM and DXD works systemwide out of the box (via ALSA). DSD playback works in DSD to PCM conversion mode. Unfortunately after a few hours of intensive cli-fu, googling and reboots I still didn’t manage to force MPD to play DSD natively so I just gave up. According to instructions I found here [TU LINK https://github.com/lintweaker/xmos-native-dsd] native DSD requires replacing the kernel and ALSA lib and/or applying custom patches to the MPD. As far as I know audiophile-oriented Linux distros such as Volumio and APLinux have this modifications built-in but I haven’t tested them myself because the amount of effort required to do that quickly got ridiculous.
The part where I finally start talking about sound
As usual, my first song is And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope by progressive black metal band Ne Obliviscaris. The violin intro on this song is my go to treble evaluation track. Throughout the entire song iDSD BL remained in full control of the sound. The violin was crisp, smooth and articulate, with absolutely no harshness to it whatsoever. What impressed me the most in this song is that despite the overall density of the mix the violin parts and clean vocals were always clearly separated from the other instruments, never blending with the drums or the guitars.
Next up, Kraftwerk’s Sex Object. Probably my favourite track from the Techno Pop album. A clear motive is established at the beginning of the song, composed of violin-like synthesizer melody. This motive is played throughout the entire song, and just like the real violin in NeO, it remains crisp and articulate without ever sounding grainy.
Last but not least, Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby by Cigarettes After Sex, an American ambient pop group. Wonderfully detailed, airy with great imaging. The cymbals are deliciously crispy with satisfying decay.
To mix things up a little I decided to play Sunyatta album by instrumental progressive metal band Vipassi. The guitar and bass are fast, forward and dynamic with good attack. Drums are clearly separated from the rest of the instruments and remain so for the duration of the album.
Every note is clearly pronounced and every is riff full of life. On Benzeiten, the second track of the album, the USTAB gives the drums much needed impact without sacrificing guitar slam. On Samsara the backing female vocals can be clearly distinguished in the mix despite the very aggressive drum and guitar parts further proving that iDSD BL’s instrument separation is top notch. Frankly I don’t know what else to tell you, this album is a treat to listen to on the iDSD BL (if you’re into metal that is).
But maybe you’re not that into metal and you’d like to find out how does the iDSD BL handle more audiophilly correct content.
Let’s fire up Brothers in Arms. First thing you may notice is wonderful decay and pleasant smoothness of the guitar. Second thing you may notice is beautiful intimacy and depth in Mark Knopfler’s voice. It’s not that I’m suddenly hearing additional layer, I’m hearing the exact same voice I’ve heard numerous times before but it conveys so much more emotion than before. I love this song even more now.
To properly asses the bass quality of the iDSD I must first tell you my dear reader about XBass.
XBass is iFi’s proprietary analog filter meant to improve bass response of bass-shy headphones. But do not mistake it for a simple bass boost. XBass makes the bass more present in the mix, adds more body to it and improves impact (within reason, it’s not going to turn your AD700 into XB700). As a result bass-shy headphones become neutral-sounding or even “fun” and bassy headphones become… well, bassier.
Test Track #1 - Almost Like The Blues by Leonard Cohen
Great sense of depth on the bass guitar and plenty of detail but the notes do not carry any weight. Enabling XBass adds more weight and body to the bass. It is now as present in the mix as the piano and vocals. My Shure SRH1840 are now closer to being neutral than ever before. If I were to listen to Popular Problems only for the rest of my life, I’d probably never turn XBass off.
Test Track #2 - Excursions by A Tribe Called Quest
This song left me a little confused. After massive improvement I heard on the ALTB I expected the bass track to go through a similar transformation. But the difference was much more subtle here. Welcome, but subtle. SRH1840 were never a bass heavy cans and iFi’s analog filter didn’t turn them into such but it added some nice body to the double-bass intro as well as some more impact to the drums.
Test Track #3 - What Happened by Dope D.O.D
This is where the limitations of the filter start to show. Lack of sub-bass and very weak impact make this song lifeless using Shures. Despite my best efforts I can’t turn the SRH1840 into a bass heavy headphone. Of course it’s not iFi’s fault, XBass can put make-up and a nice dress on your prom date but it’s no Fairy Godmother. It won’t magically create sub-bass out of nothingness.
As a last test I enabled XBass on my Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, just to see how far the bass can be pushed on these cans. As it turns out,with XBass on the lowest frequencies get strong enough to cause the cups to vibrate to the rhythm of the music, in turn causing the bones in my skull to vibrate as well. Dubstep on this sounds like an earthquake deep in my brain. This was a unique experience to me and one I won’t forget anytime soon.
3D Matrix Plus
iDSD BL also has another filter called which supposedly recreates a speaker soundstage while using headphones. Initially I assumed that iFi’s description is just a fancy name for crossfeed but that seems to not be the case. While yes, the 3D Matrix Plus does seem to mix channels together a bit it also widens the soundstage, enhances the treble (subtly) and moves the sound above the listener’s head. Unlike the XBass I wouldn’t recommend having it on all the time but on some recordings (such as Yosi Horikawa’s Wandering) I really enjoyed it.
Universal nature of the iDSD BL shows itself again in the Gain management section of the device. Most competing devices do not offer any type of gain adjustment or might offer a single High/Low toggle. But not USTAB, no. Our Universal Soldier is capable of using any weapon he finds on the battlefield no matter the impedance and sensitivity.
There are three different gain levels available with additional adjustment available via a separate IEMatch switch on the bottom of the device. You plan to use 600ohm impossible to drive monsters with the BL? Go ahead, set the gain to Turbo and enjoy over 166mW of power. Oh, you’d rather use sensitive IEMs? No problem, set the gain to Eco and enjoy pitch-black background. What? You can still hear noise? Enable IEMatch to fix the issue. Still can hear it? Well, you might just have tinnitus because with IEMatch engaged the background of the USTAB is absolutely silent with not a single hint of hiss.
Last of the (many) switches on the iDSD BL. The digital filter. I’ll talk very briefly about this one because the difference is very, very subtle. When playing PCM files the difference is so small that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between different filters if my life depended on it so I just left it on Bit-Perfect and never looked back.
During DSD playback the switch toggles between three analog filters and switching between them seems to increase/decrease the volume of the track. I’m not entirely sure why this happens and whether it is supposed to do something more but the difference in volume is obvious. As with PCM, I left it on Bit-Perfect and never looked back as I find the option to change the filters rather redundant.
Dear reader, if you've managed to get this far you’re probably under the impression that the iDSD BL is a perfect device, devoid of any defects and for the most part, you’re right. But unfortunately the USTAB does have some issues and this is what we’re going to talk about now.
The first problem is that for some reason, iDSD BL mutes the first second or two of every track. This happens regardless of the file being played, source device and any of the iDSD settings. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means but it’s annoying enough to be mentioned. Hopefully this bug will be resolved in a future firmware update.
Second issue: channel imbalance. At low volume (9’o clock on the potentiometer and below) the left channel is noticeably louder than the right channel. Increasing the volume resolves the problem but people who like to listen to music queitly (or use very sensitive headphone) might be bothered by it.
Third issue: Size and weight. The USTAB is advertised as a portable devices that can be easily paired with a smartphone and while that’s technically true the iDSD is too big to fit in a pocket and it weighs a whooping half a kilogram when stacked with my phone. Trust me, I wish I was kidding.
Portable device lol
So, after seven pages of B-list movie references, jokes and babbling, what is my final opinion on the iDSD BL? I deeply enjoyed using this device both as a desktop unit and on the go. I deeply enjoyed its powerful headphone output. I deeply enjoyed its rich customization options. If you’re looking for a device that’s excellent in every possible use case, that can adjust to any headphones, any source device and any conditions you should seriously consider buying the iDSD BL. It is a brilliant device and a true Universal Soldier of the Audio Battlefield.
You may be wondering why I bothered to put all the goofiness here. Well, for me audio is all about having fun and I can't have fun if I'm forced to be dead serious.
Spoiler: Software used
USB Audio Player Pro
Foobar2000 with ASIO and DSD plugins
Cantata Music player
Spoiler: Headphones used
Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro
Pros - Crazy amounts of power, beautiful sound, portable, doesn't require drivers to work.
Cons - Can't buy the special edition opamps on their own, costs money, will make your other gear suck in comparison
The original iDSD Micro stood out from the competition as an all-in-one replacement for the most discerning listeners' setups. The original iDSD Micro delivered - I had one, but as I started to not need a portable device anymore, I started comparing it to all the dedicated desktop gear I had. I had a glorious DAC and some very serious stereo power amps at the time - two Hafler DH500's running in mono. By the time I had re-configured my listening station to be all desktop again, my iDSD Micro didn't have much of a place since my desktop DAC - an E-MU 0404 with an AK4396 - could do the job. That was the end of my time with the original iDSD Micro. I sold it and moved on. However, after almost a year since then, I had completely dismantled my home stereo as a result of living in an apartment and getting too many noise complaints. That began my journey to find the setup the could replace that stereo with no compromises.
The new iDSD Micro Black Label is iFi's first major upgrade to the iDSD Micro. The very day I heard there would be a tour for it, I signed up and was ecstatic to find I had been one of the chosen reviewers for it. My hopes were that the Black Label wouldn't just match my crazy desktop setup - which could double my power bill just by being plugged in - but make it all seem lame in comparison.
I have gone thru tons and tons of gear in the decade or so I've been on Head-Fi. One of the few things that's been consistent in almost that whole time is one of my first big audio purchases - an E-MU 0404 USB I got shortly after it came out. So it's been in my hands for close to 15 years. It featured a beautifully implemented AK4396, and for a long time (up until maybe 2012 or 2013) I used it as my headphone amp too. It was the DAC that survived not only the original iDSD Micro but even the mighty Mojo.
Another one of my favorite DACs, although not a super expensive one - the Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD, like both the original and Black Label iDSD Micro, uses a Burr Brown DAC. I always found the SBX effects to be high quality on it. Since getting rid of my original iDSD Micro, I would switch between these two DACs. I ended up being a huge fan of the bMac, an Indonesian made & designed portable amp, which has kept its place on my desk for close to a year now. I had also gained a very strong affinity for the Parasound Zamp, with the gobs of power it could push to any headphone, and sound amazing doing so. After the tour was announced, but well before I received my unit, the Walnut V2 made its appearance on the Head-Fi map and became well respected as a very high quality but budget unit. Having a power output comparable to the iDSD Micro, I decided to settle with it as I liked its sound even as a desktop headphone amp.
Fast forward from the ending of 2016 to early February 2017. After a couple months of hearing nothing, and watching iDSD Micro Black Label reviews slowly pop up on the site - which I kept myself from reading to keep from having preconceived notions about its sound - I finally got the email. It was my turn at last to try the Black Label. Little did I know it would make me feel like the first day I got the E-MU instead of listening with my PC's built-in sound chipset, or the first time I heard $1,700 IEMs - you get the point.
The day it arrived, I got both my most recent favorite setup and the setup that beat the iDSD Micro many months ago, and got them ready and re-familiarized myself with them before switching to the Black Label. I don't even remember what headphone I tried first on the Black Label. The thing is, it doesn't matter. No matter what I tried, it was on a whole different level than any of my gear. My setup that had been my favorite up until that moment was dishearteningly muddy and flat in comparison to what I was hearing. The setup that nearly matched the original iDSD Micro in sound was lifeless and lacked dynamics compared to the Black Edition. And so, that marked the last day I was able to enjoy the setup I had until that point.
I knew the Black Label was all business. Custom-designed op-amps, a stunning capacitor selection, and some awfully bold claims about how much better it would be over the original. While I can't rip the op-amps out of this tour unit to try in other gear, and I doubt iFi would sell me some of their iFi/AMR op-amps, I've messed with enough op-amps in my life to know what to expect from a lot of them, and I know from my time with the Black Edition I like what I am hearing an awful lot.
A while back, I published a review on the Parasound Zamp, a 45 watt zone power amp that happened to have a headphone jack on the front of it. I praised it for its ability to breathe crazy amounts of life into any headphone you plug it. People got excited about it, and it was one of my most popular reviews. I've tried other amps that boast a high wattage output, but none are capable of being quite as dynamic and effortless as that Zamp did. Even if the original iDSD Micro couldn't do this job, the Black Edition definitely can and does. I think I spent at least 3/4 of my time with it in Turbo mode. I'm a bass head, a SPL freak and I love my headphones to sound like they're going to explode with energy. I could not find a headphone pairing that did not sound good on this amp, much like with the Zamp. And for how alive, crisp, and clear everything sounds, I probably would have been impressed if I was just hearing the amp section and didn't use the DAC at all. Using the original iDSD Micro I never wanted to use as an amp by itself, but the Black Edition has me enjoying the device as an amp thoroughly.
Speaking of bass - one of my bigger complaints about the original iDSD Micro was the bass boost switch hardly did anything. It made a very subtle difference which I felt was only really noticeable when you were listening at very high volumes. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the bass boost was certainly more present on this unit. On any headphones I used, it added a great amount of weight to the bass with any headphone I used. The background is silent and the detailing and clarity is top notch. When I was listening with more demanding headphones like the JVC SZ's, the difference was huge with the switch flipped.
The 3D option does roughly the same thing as the Sound Blaster's Crystallizer function. It essentially makes the sound a little more "V" shaped. I kept the 3D switch off for the majority of my listening, but never thought it sounded bad with it on. I don't tend to use the Crystallizer very often at all when I'm using my X-Fi anyway. What is clear is that the Black Label goes so much farther past the all-in-one replacement for your listening setup. For discerning and picky listeners who are not willing to accept any compromise, true music lovers who listen all day and can't tolerate a minute of downtime, this is the all-in-one unit for you.
The price and its similarity to the Mojo's price can not be ignored. The original iDSD Micro used to be compared to the Mojo, but I never felt that was a balanced comparison, even if they did the same jobs. Interface differences aside, the Mojo has a more unique sound. For me, that unique sound did not always work out. It made my MP3's and other lossy audio sound like garbage. Lossless sounded wonderful on the Mojo, but I don't have the kind of library that can be easily replaced with lossless copies. The Mojo failed to work out for me for this reason, regardless of the fact the volume control balls drove me insane and the charging mechanism was too flaky to work for someone who listens all day long and gets furious at any downtime. My Mojo only lasted a couple months before the aspects of it that bothered me outweighed my ability to enjoy it.
The Mojo is more easily compared to the Black Label, I think. Lossy audio still sounds great on the Black Label, but the Black Label - even on bit-perfect mode - offers such a fast and detailed yet slightly warm sound. I always felt the iDSD was the more honest of the two, and the Black Label is the best choice for me as it's honest, neutral, and balanced but offers the lush, refined sound the Mojo was capable of whereas the original iDSD Micro was not as capable. Before the Black Label, I think it would have been a much harder choice between the Mojo and the iDSD Micro. With the Black Label in the mix, the gap is so much smaller. The improvements iFi brought to the table with the Black Label really shows. No longer do you have to pick between two desktop stack replacements which approached the problem in completely different ways for a great all-in-one portable device. I noticed right away the overall sound character has tried to catch up to the competition, and it is my opinion that iFi did an excellent job of this. Anyone who thought the original iDSD Micro could stand to be brighter would probably not be the biggest fans of the changes iFi made. To anyone else, I would feel pretty confident it is only an upgrade. It's a move slightly more in the direction of how the Mojo sounds, and personally I like it a ton.
To be sure I get my point across by how impressed I am of the sound coming out of this device - all-in-one unit or not - my DAC and amp setup I had been using before this, I had replaced op-amps, capacitors, all manners of things to improve the sound quality to my liking. And while it all had approached and come fairly close to the Black Label's sound, it just simply can't catch up in any way. My setup had too much background noise and not a dynamic, crisp and quick enough sound to it. It was even a tiny bit like I was back in electrostatic territory listening to the Black Edition at times. I wasn't even happy with my setup's bass levels when I was switching back from the Black Label which took me by surprise. The bass power of the Black Label is not to be underestimated.
On the day I got the tour unit, I was doing recording work in my studio and had it sitting on top of a tube compressor I was using. Of course, it made perfect sense that once I was done recording and going to listen back on headphones, I should first listen with the setup I had deemed best, and then listen straight out of the Black Edition.
In my pitch-black recording studio, I noticed the iDSD Micro BL illuminated by one of my tube compressor's VU monitors.
Listening to the Black Label has made me so uninterested in all the other DACs and amps I have lying around. They all are so inferior to the Black Label in my mind now. Every headphone I have tried it with, it's a gorgeous, lively pairing. There is no such thing as bad synergy with the Black Label. Everything works so amazingly with it, and the Black Label is able to make anything I throw at it - source material or headphones - sound the best I've heard most of it ever be.
While it did not provide a whole new world of clarity I hadn't heard through my DAC before, it did give me something I hadn't heard since that dual mono Hafler setup with the 0404 sitting on top. That dead silent background, perfect extension across the full frequency spectrum, no BS. All you got was the music, honest as possible, but sounding beautiful doing so. It is a gorgeous thing when there is truly no need for any tricks to make the source sound better than it really is. All you need is the perfect presentation of it. My years and thousands of dollars per year spent chasing this level of sound proves this was no easy feat.
One of the other things I wanted to test out of the Black Label right away was its performance as a DAC if substituted for either my 0404 or modded X-Fi Titanium HD with the same amps afterward. The dual mono DAC design had me very interested in this model. It had lower noise and better detailing, speed and dynamics compared to the X-Fi Ti HD. Compared to the 0404 with the AK4396, the 0404 was a leaner and brighter sound. It did not have the slight warmness the dual Burr Brown setup in the X-Fi, but the 0404 also had a thinner and flatter sound in comparison.
The last time I've had this hard of a time giving up some review gear was when I was touring the Kumitate Labs IEMs. I never ended up getting one of those were too far out of my price range combined with my unwillingness to buy a custom IEM, with the KL-REF being close to $2000. Still, to this day it remains one of the most beautiful and well balanced sounds I've heard from any headphone. Going back to my gear after sending the Black Label back to iFi I know will feel like sending those Kumitates back. I just wanted to keep begging to spend another day with them. I had to force myself to keep listening when I was comparing my other gear to the Black Label because none of it was as good. None of it. I knew it was a winner when I couldn't stop trying different headphones through it, not because any of them weren't giving me the sound I wanted, but because they all sounded so ridiculously good out of the Black Label. I had been using headphones I hadn't tried in ages just to rock out because they all sounded so much better than I had remembered them. This isn't something I had done or really experienced since I was doing my Parasound Zamp review.
I had been struggling to find out how I was going to describe this device adequately in a review. I wanted to do it proper justice, not just say over and over "it was great! i loved it! everything was great!" and after several drafts I still have the feeling my whole review just reads like that. What I can't seem to emphasize properly is how to put my experience having the iDSD Black Label into the proper context.
Finally, the answer came to me on the weekend at 4AM. I was standing in my living room in my pajamas, JVC SZ2000 on my head, the iDSD Black Label in my hand, running off a super long USB extension cable into my PC. I had been tweaking my five-band parametric EQ and blasting crappy Italian Discomagic compilation CD's from the early and mid 1990's. I remember because I had Turbo mode on the Black Label and was pushing every last decibel of sub and mid bass out of my JVC SZ2000 as I could. As I was listening to the cheesy Italo disco mixes, I went back through all the Head-Fi meets I'd been to in my life and came to a realization. The most active meet I'd ever attended, which was in 2006, I listened to all the top of the line setups that existed eleven years ago. Nothing I was hearing was possible back then. Forget the bass power of the SZ2000 which just wasn't possible before JVC invented that - what about the Black Label itself? As a perfect stand-in replacement but not more than that, the original iDSD Micro was still a feat of technology that wouldn't have been possible in 2006, but I never got the impression with the original iDSD Micro that really took me by awe. The Black Edition was something that truly was not possible as long as a decade ago or even half a decade. Here was a box I could hold in my hand and not only could it match the sound of stacks of gear amounting to nearly $1,000 on their own - it was surpassing all of it in any possible way. Going back to any of my old setup results in one form of disappointment or another. And anything I heard that long ago, giant stacks of specialized gear isolated from one another and linked up with top of the line cables, to my own personal setup I've obsessively perfected over time, all crushed by the sound of the Black Label. This was truly the sound of audio perfection as far as I've heard. Maybe it won't be 5 years or a decade from now, that's fine because it's good enough to have turned the tables. I can shamelessly say this is what I hoped the Mojo would be. Not only having enough power to challenge the most power hungry headphones but sounding so glorious doing it, there is nothing else I could ask for.
The Sound Blaster seemed so worthless in comparison. No DSP can come close to matching the sound of bit-perfect music played so honestly, with so much perfectly controlled power. The E-MU could only compete when it was running thru the Zamp V3 - still one of the most amazing and perfect combinations I've ever heard in my life - but this offers so much more flexibility and doesn't require two AC outlets. That is what truly made this device so good to me. The sound quality and energy I could only get my running my all-time favorite DAC into a 45 watt desktop power amp, designed to drive speakers, with a gigantic toroidal transformer. The DAC also requires its own power supply. Two pieces of gear I had never been able to beat with anything bus or battery powered. And here it was! Worst of all, it wasn't even mine - I was last in line for my leg of the tour. I would go in between dancing and singing to these bargain bucket Italo house mixes and complete despair that I had to give it back to iFi. I just couldn't stop listening to it, day or night. Every minute I spent with the sub and mid bass boosted as high as 34dB and Turbo mode activated with my JVC's was to die for. And, yes, it's suitable for non bass heads too. More often than I could understand, I found myself with Turbo mode on but running no EQ and just having the XBass switch on with all my power-hungriest ear buds. But again I have to emphasize, it doesn't really matter what gear you use on this. No matter what it is, it's going to sound as good as it can possibly sound in the year 2017 as far as I am convinced. I spend thousands of dollars on gear per year chasing after this exact sound. I have no doubts that the Black Label is a turning point, as it would be remarkable even for a desktop only device in my opinion. To be in a battery powered, compact format is nothing short of mind-blowing, and the components that are upgrades over the original iDSD Micro enough to make any audio loving engineer shed a tear of delight.
Is it worth your hard earned money? I would feel better about getting this than I ever did about buying a Mojo. I could just have this and my PC running foobar2000 and I'd be set. There is nothing I could find lacking in this device compared to anything else I like to use to listen. In fact, the Black Label really brought out what was wrong with the rest of my system. I was worried if I liked this a lot I wouldn't be able to budget for it even if I stretched it, but my experience using this has completely and honestly made the rest of my DACs and amps seem useless. At this point, they are all inferior to the Black Label in my eyes. When I send it back to iFi, I'll be counting the days until I have one in my hands again. Really, after about 2 weeks spent with this unit, I haven't been able to bring myself to use anything else for more than a couple minutes. It's the new standard by which I will measure anything else, truthfully and honestly. I can only hope I don't have to go too long without it in my life. I've had iFi gear before but I'm fully convinced now they're entirely deserving of all my respect. I can't thank iFi enough for the opportunity to try this out, even if it did make me hate all my other DACs and amps. For a single device to be able to replace what I missed most about my 500 watt dual mono-block home stereo is truly remarkable. For it to be battery powered and pocketable is truly ridiculous. I do honestly think this is a new milestone in portable sound. Anybody else making combo DAC/amp units needs to take a serious lesson from this. iFi is not messing around and it is so obvious when you are listening to it. I can't help but recommend any lovers of that lively, energetic sound prioritize investing in this unit.
(edit: I realized I never mentioned my settings used. For nearly the entire time I had this, as with my original iDSD Micro, I had IEMatch disabled and the filter set to bit-perfect. Also, I failed to mention the IEMatch switches are more recessed than on the original iDSD Micro, which I appreciated.)
Pros - Full of options, packed with switches, excellent neutral sound, loads of input/output configurations
Cons - lots of switches confused me
Ifi Micro IDSD BL (Black) Impressions And Review - Expatinjapan
ifi Micro iDSD BL and iBasso DX200 vis SPDIF and Campfire Audio Nova. ifi Micro iDSD BL (Black) review -expatinjapan http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd-bl/ Thank you to ifi for sending me the ifi Micro iDSD BL to try out as it made its way to Hawaiibadboy of Head-fi who also resides in Japan. I dont usually do loaners these days as its a lot of work writing a review, taking pictures etc etc. But I have had a steady communication with ifi for a while now and that is also important in my books. Plus pre Head pie i won an ifi ipurifier in one of their Head-fi contests. So time to give back.
Unfortunately even though they did afford me ample time to try out the ifi Micro iDSD BL due to it being over the New year and into heavy work load January and organizing my house for a new in coming baby I did not get to put it through its paces as much as would have liked to.
The ifi Micro iDSD BL is packed with many functions, an audio swiss knife If you will, it contains so many options it truly initially stopped me in my tracks for a while as I tried to figure out where to begin.
But begin I did....
ifi Micro iDSD connected to an ipod touch via mini to mini and iBasso IT03 IEMs. ifi website overview
- `The iFi micro iDSD Black Label is the newest iFi micro flagship product.
At the heart, beats the Burr-Brown DSD512/PCM768/2xDXD True Native® DAC with headphone amplifier.
The Black Label looks very good on the outside yet the inside is even better where relentless attention has been paid to advancing the sonics with the very latest components:
• DAC digital signal and digital power sections upgraded
• AMR Global Master Timing® femto-precision clock system upgraded for ‘super low’ phase-noise/jitter
• Analogue signal and power sections revised
• 3D+® performance-tuned / XBass+® performance-tuned
• Latest Output stabilisation network offers less distortion
The micro iDSD Black Label. The best, evolved.`
ifi outer box
(Via ifi website).
Inputs (rear) USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket
(with iPurifier® technology built-in) 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)
Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial 3 Way combo SPDIF port (Coaxial In/Out; Optical In); Up to 192kHz PCM
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
– 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)
– 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 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
24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8 All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
768/705.6/384/352.8kHz All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
48/44.1kHz All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
– 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
Whats in the box?
The unit, warranty card, instructions etc An excellent array of cables and accessories. The unit itself. `Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/Coax
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.` - via ifi website.
So many mind boggling options. Sound
I tried the ifi Micro iDSD BL with a simple ipod set up, via SPDIF to the iBasso DX200, my basic home set up and also out of my Macbook.
In all the configurations the ifi proved to be a high performer, not surprising considering how long they have been around and the many products that ifi have made.
The ifi iDSD BL is definitely a souped up version than its earlier sibling with better specs overall.
Its sound is quite neutral, detail orientated and overall quite transparent. The sound stage is wide, separation between instruments is of a high quality, the reproduction of the source material is very honest and accurate.
If one is looking for a unit on the warm sounding side, this isnt it, and thankfully so.
One also has the options of the many many switches to toggle between for larger headphones or sensitive IEMs, to increase/decrease power or gain.
At $US549 the ifi Micro iDSD BL (Black) is a good purchase.
Its multiple inputs and outputs make it a versatile unit that can suit a users many audio needs.
It certainly has a decent price /performance ratio.
As with all ifi products it is well designed and manufactured.
It can be considered more transportable than portable, and is more ideal for an addition to home set up.
whether in conjunction with other ifi products, and existing home system or by itself with a set of active speakers.
As seen at a Tokyo Headphone show.
The ifi Micro iDSD BL is a solid and well made unit that goes for a sensible price.
Its many inputs and outputs make it a unit that can be used with a variety of products.
Whilst the size certainly puts in more in the transportable area than as a possible portable device, I would see most users preferring to utilize the ifi Micro iDSD BL as a part of home system or independently with a set of active speakers, connected to a computer or simply fed with a source and enjoyed at a desk via a set of earphones or headphones.
The sound of the ifi Micro iDSD BL model is one of clarity, great details, authentic reproduction of the source materials, medium to wide sound stage, full bodied sound in the lows and mids without become flabby, dark or boomy, the highs are soft and extended.
It certainly packs enough power to drive most headphones with ease. And has enough subtle settings to also make it suitable for sensitive IEMs.
A wide variety of setting switches means that the user can also customize it to their preferred sound signature.
To conclude the ifi Micro iDSD Black is a versatile product that does neutral very well, but also by way of various switches and settings allows the users to customize their sonic experience.
It plays well with large headphones and also more sensitive IEMs.
Its compatibility and many inputs and outputs make it a versatile future proof machine.
Plus it looks smexy.
Thank you to ifi for loaning me the ifi Micro iDSD Black.
Pros - Versatility, power, accessories, quality XBass if that is what you are after
Cons - size for portable use, sound quality is very good, but not exceptional for the price
First of all I would like to say thank you to iFi for choosing me as one of the lucky tester of their new iFi Micro iDSD Black Label in the UK section of their worldwide loaner program. I have had a lot of fun during this week and I really enjoyed playing with the Black Label and comparing it to my Chord Mojo.
I chose this title for my review, as the Mojo is one of the most popular competition to the Micro iDSD BL due to its similar purpose and price point, and probably many potential buyer will be looking for comparisons of this two DAC/amps. This review reflects my personal, subjective opinion. Ears, headphones, sound signature preferences widely vary, which can lead to different results. Reading many reviews however can give the reader a direction to go, and test the chosen audio equipment to see if that really is what they want. This review is not the ultimate objective truth, but one honest and subjective opinion from an audio enthusiast.
I am in this hobby for 8-10 years, and I simply love to listen to music in high quality and just relax and get lost in the tunes after a busy day. I am not a professional sound engineer, like many reviewers here on Head-Fi. I am not very interested in different graphs and measurements as my ears can tell me whether I like the sound of a DAC/amp/headphone or not. I am into detailed and clear bass that has authority, but does not suppress other frequencies. I like clean and slightly forward mids with lifelike vocals and smooth, laid back but not rolled of or lacking treble. I can’t stand harshness, sibilance and plastic sound which I define as the opposite of a real, lifelike, and natural sound presentation.
I mostly listen to ambient, downtempo, electronica, but I also like trip-hop, some vocal centric music, and occasionally even classical music.
Since on Head-Fi there are already a lot of detailed reviews about the iDSD BL with measurements and technical details, I decided to focus on comparing the BL to my Chord Mojo, and do it in a more subjective way.
For this review I mainly used my beloved AudiQuest NightHawk headphone, but also tried my (new) Cardas A8, and Sennheiser IE80 (just sold) IEMs. I have been using my Chord Mojo almost every day, since I purchased it a year ago.
My source is a Dell Latitude E7440 laptop with Foobar2000, AudioQuest Jitterbug and I use bitperfect mode, mainly with FLAC files and some DSD.
Let’s see then, whether the iDSD BL has got enough to offer me to dethrone the Mojo.
Accessories, built quality:
The iDSD BL comes in a nice box, with tons of accessories. I can’t imagine anyone complaining about the number of connection cables, adapters and other accessories. The cables and different sockets on the iDSD BL offer endless possibilities to connect almost anything and everything to iFi’s latest flagship DAC/amp. There are also rubber bands and rubber sheet for portable use, not to mention the nice carrying pouch.
At this point I will echo the opinion of many other reviewers: I just can’t see the BL as a portable device due to its size. When connected to a smartphone it is almost the size of a real brick. I often find even Mojo too bulky for portable use. On a positive note, the BL is easily transportable, which means you can just put it in your bag and take HQ audio with you on your holidays.
No complaints regarding the built quality, the BL is indeed a very well-built piece of equipment.
About some of the switches and sockets on the iDSD BL:
This is the area where the iDSD BL has a clear advantage over Mojo. It is much more versatile. You literally can connect it to anything and everything, while Mojo was mainly designed to be a DAC/amp ‘on the go’ used with smartphones.
The iDSD BL can find a place in many areas, from studios to speaker systems, home audio systems and you can also use it on the go. That being said I mainly use my Mojo as a desktop DAC, but I admit it might not be the most ideal device for that.
At first I did not really understand why iFi chose a female USB A socket as digital input. It is very uncommon, since most of the aftermarket USB cables are Micro B male to USB A male. If somebody wants to upgrade the supplied iFi USB cable, will have hard time to find one. (It is debatable whether upgrading USB cables make sense or not, but there always will be customers, who want to do that.) On the other hand I can understand iFi’s decision, as the Micro USB B connections can often be weak and loose, while the USB A socket gives a much safer and tighter fit, especially when you have the female version, where the bigger half of the USB plug’s head is basically ‘swallowed in’ by the device.
I find the extra USB socket on the side of the BL a very useful addition, as you can use it to charge other electronics on the go.
I have to say from the perspective of comfort I prefer the (software controlled) analogue volume knob of the iDSD BL to Mojo’s digital pebbles. It is just simply more comfortable to turn a knob than tapping on buttons. However choosing the right volume level to match the impedance of your headphones or IEMs can be a bit tricky with the iDSD BL. iFi says the volume knob should be set at 12 o’clock or above to achieve optimal performance. The reason for this is, because on lower volume levels (below 10 o’clock) there is audible channel imbalance on iFi’s DAC/amp. According to iFi, this compromise had to be made in order to have the better sound quality of the analogue volume knob.
With the ‘power mode’ switch (and ‘IEMatch’ switch if you use IEMs) you need to find the right settings first, to be able to turn the volume knob to 12 o’clock without any issues. In my opinion for some users this will be slightly inconvenient, and some other users who do not necessarily read the user’s manual just won’t understand why they experience channel imbalance in their headphones when the volume knob on the iDSD BL is below 10 o’clock.
This switch will be in normal position with higher impedance headphones, eco mode with IEMs and low impedance headphones, and in turbo mode with speakers I guess, as I can hardly imagine anyone keeping the switch in turbo mode even with the highest impedance headphones, it has so much power!
Polarity and filter:
To me these switches did not make any difference.
3D toggle switch:
I kept the 3D effect switched off. To me it did not make the sound better, but on the contrary. There is a slight treble elevation, that I would rather call treble boost not 3D. The soundstage also becomes a little wider, and the sound a bit airier, but to me this effect is too artificial, with no benefits.
XBass toggle switch:
One of my very first impressions with the BL’s sound was that the bass is quite present, even without the XBass effect turned on. Switching the XBass toggle on is like turning up a subwoofer on your head. (Although it is a very well implemented subwoofer, it does not kill the rest of the frequencies.) I can’t imagine anyone using the XBass effect continuously. Occasionally with some bass heavy electronic music it can be real fun for a few minutes, as you can imagine yourself being in a concert venue or club, where the bass from the subwoofers just shake all the internal organs of the audience. At times it can be fun, but impossible to live like this long term.
I kept both the Xbass and 3D effects switched off for the rest of my time with the iDSD BL.
iFi Micro iCAN 1[sup]st[/sup] gen. vs. iFi iDSD Black Label:
The iDSD BL is not the first iFi product in my hands. I owned a Micro iCan 1[sup]st[/sup] gen. and a Nano iCan at some point of my life. (Unfortunately I have no experience with the iDSD 1[sup]st[/sup] gen.)
Compared to these iFi amplifiers, I can see the physical and hear the sound quality improvements, even though I have to rely on my memory with this. Sorting out the illogical switching directions of the 3D and XBass toggles of the older units is a very good thing in my opinion, but I have to add, I miss the two step Xbass settings from the Micro iCan.
The iDSD BL compared to the Micro iCAN 1[sup]st[/sup] gen. sounds much more natural, and smoother. The BL’s sound is very smooth, ensuring long fatigueless listening sessions. In my opinion it is a great direction to go from previous iFi house sound.
Since I have been using Mojo almost every day for a year, I know its sound very well. When I turned the iDSD BL on the first time, I instantly noticed the nice and smooth sound with quite a weighty bass, but I found it more two dimensional and less exciting compared to Mojo. Almost like the warmth was just a little too much, creating a very thin, velvety veil compared to Mojo’s immediately obvious clarity and dynamic punch. The bass being strong and present on the BL does not help with this sensation. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying, the iDSD BL does have a very nice sound, but in direct comparison to Chord Mojo, these differences are present to my ears. It is not night and day, but to me it is obvious enough. Do not forget, I am using the NightHawk, which is already a warm headphone with a relatively good amount of bass. (Same true for the Cardas A8.) Perhaps bright and treble-centric open back headphones like for example most of Beyer’s line up benefit more from the iDSD BL’s warm and more bass-centric sound.
The soundstage on the iDSD BL is slightly wider than it is on the Mojo, however Mojo’s exceptional depth gives the sound a real 3D feeling, which makes the 3D effect on the iDSD BL even more unnecessary. Instruments and voices are better separated on Mojo, and they are slightly more detailed with a better contour.
This picture appeared in my mind while I was A/B testing the two DACs: listening to the iDSD BL is like sitting in a comfy plush chair in a cinema with a nice speaker system watching a concert of your favourite band, while listening to the Mojo is more like being in a small jazz club, listening to live music. The latter means a more intimate and more realistic sound, but both have the right to exist.
These differences mostly pop up in direct A/B comparison. When I only listen to the iDSD BL for a couple of hours, it is also very enjoyable.
Let me go into a bit more details regarding the frequency regions:
The treble on the iDSD BL is very smooth and non-fatiguing. Despite the relaxed high frequencies everything that happens in this region is clearly audible. No disturbing high pitch noises, even percussion never comes through as harsh or piercing. (I believe, brighter headphones with the 3D knob turned on can sound harsh, but this is a very unlikely scenario. I suggest to leave that knob alone anyway.) The iDSD’s treble is an absolutely fine treble. Nothing is missing, but also nothing is shining through. Mojo in comparison has a slightly more detailed, more dynamic treble. Instruments sound clearer, more present (and more lifelike) to my ears.
This is where the difference is the most obvious in favour of the Mojo. In direct comparison mids sound slightly recessed on the BL and more forward on the Mojo. Mojo is a ‘mid-heaven’. While on the BL mids are there and fine again, Mojo just wins this part by quite a long mile, being absolutely realistic and lifelike. On vocal centric music the difference should be obvious to most ears. It feels like good recording vs live singing. Probably the exceptional depth on Mojo also helps the voices to sound more realistic.
I find this region the most interesting. I have already mentioned one of my very first impressions with the BL was the somewhat weighty bass. Do not misunderstand what I am trying to say, the bass on the iDSD is not overwhelming, and it does not bother the mids, neither the treble, it just always feels more present compared to the Mojo. (Remember, it is with the Xbass effect being turned off.) This velvety smooth and good bodied bass gives a real base to the sound on the iDSD BL. It is not bothering, but this sensation of bass presence is always there. I do like warm and smooth sound, but when I do critical listening (like now), I would not mind to have a little less of these two brilliant sound characteristics. At casual listening, when the headphones are simply on your head and you do some reading or anything else, this extra warmth and smoothness can actually be very useful, saving you from listening fatigue, and ensuring a comfortable long listening time. For my personal taste Chord has found a bit better balance between clarity and smoothness, and I find the iDSD BL leaning just a little bit too much to the warmer side here, and I mostly hold the bass quantity responsible for this. (I still consider the BL to be a huge improvement over the Micro iCan 1[sup]st[/sup] gen.’s brighter and not very realistic sound.)
I find Mojo to be more true to recordings. Mojo also has a stronger dynamic punch, and the bass becomes big and thumping only, when the recording is calling for it. If we wanted to oversimplify things, we could say the BL has bigger bass quantity in general, but the Mojo’s bass is better defined and higher quality. After coming to the conclusion, that the iDSD BL has got a bit more bass quantity in general, I was very much surprised, that with some sub-bass heavy music tracks like the ‘Creeper’ and ‘Animal’ from the band called ‘The Acid’ the sub-bass notes were more powerful on the Mojo, while the BL has run out of that big bass juice at the lowest notes, and became slightly rolled off in this sub bass region. After the strong bass presence on the BL this small difference in the bottom frequencies was quite surprising to me.
The differences that have been highlighted between the two DACs in this review are not very huge differences by any means. Both the iDSD BL and the Mojo are great DAC/amps, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. In this tight A/B comparison however I have to give the edge to Mojo on pure sound quality (not versatility!), but I know, probably some people will prefer the iDSD BL’s smoothness and bass centric sound to Mojo’s precision and dynamism, and there is nothing wrong with that.
The Mojo to my ears has a slightly more refined sound with better depth which results in a space, where you can experience lifelike music with plenty of fabulous dynamics. The iDSD BL provides a very nice and very smooth listening experience. In head to head comparison, the Mojo sounds more exciting to me, so for me the choice is clear. The iDSD BL is a very nice product, its versatility is impressive, and it truly has a top performer sound. At the end of the day, diversity is what makes this world beautiful.
For me however the nice and smooth, good quality music listening experience what the iDSD BL offers just can’t beat the excitement and beauty of Mojo’s natural realism. Of course, as always, Your Miles May Vary.
Pros - Great all around bang for the buck
Cons - volume indicator is barely visible
iFi iDSD Black Label
Hey guys, this is my quick review of the ifi idsd Black Label. The unit itself is courtesy of ifi, and is a loner unit which I am borrowing for seven days as part of a world wide review tour. Besides getting to audition the unit at our home for seven days with our own gear, there are no other incentives or hidden agendas on my part. This is my honest opinion and my opinion only.
Thank you to Laurence @ ifi for giving me the opportunity of auditioning this unit.
Upon opening the box I was greeted with the unit itself. Taking the unit out of the box, it feels like a well made piece of gear. There are two switches on the front, one is for the XBass+ and one for the 3D+ features. The switches feel sturdy and have a nice firm click to them when flicking them up or down. Up engages the given feature, down is the normal off position.
The volume knob has a good size for the device, and sticks out enough out of the way of the 3D+ switch which is positioned right next to the volume knob. One thing to note here is that the volume indicator on the knob itself is just a small slit and is black on an already black knob so I really couldn't tell most of the time were the volume was at. I would have prefered for the tiny slit to be painted in orange like the rest of the printing on the device for a better visual aid.
Also on the front of the device we find a 6.3MM jack and a 3.5MM jack. The 6.3MM jack is the headphone output, and the 3.5MM jack is actually an input! I was surprised at first since I was expecting both would be headphone outputs to accommodate for both 6.3mm and 3.5mm headphones without a need for an adapter, non the less I don't find it to be lacking either way. The addition of this input makes this versatile device even more diverse as it can be used strictly as a headphone amplifier too!
Moving on to the back of the device we find a pair of RCA outs and a very clever combo SPDIF Coaxial/Optical Input and Output. Also on the back of the device we find the USB input. Again, I find it quite clever for iFi to have the USB input implemented this way. It is essentially a male USB jack that has been recessed in the chassis of the unit. I found it extremely sturdy and very spacious. It easily accommodated for a CCK from my ipod touch and it also fitted my Android USB otg cable without of course, the need for any extra adapters in both instances.
Flipping the idsd BL on its side we find three small recessed switches that are very well implemented as far as being easily accessible. Easy to switch yet also out of the way enough that I don't think they'll be accidentally engaged when carrying the unit in your hand. Turning the unit on it's belly we find some more orange printing indicating, for example, what these three switches on the side of the unit are for.
One switch is for the Power Mode, one for the Polarity, and one for the Digital Filters.
There are three positions on the Power Mode switch. Eco, Normal and Turbo.
Eco = for high-sensitivity IEMs
Normal = for medium-sensitivity headphones
Turbo = for the most-demanding headphones
The Polarity switch has either "+" or "-"
From iFi: "Adjustable signal polarity of music playback. For a digital signal source only (ie. not for an analogue signal via the 3.5mm input.)"
In all honesty I have not read up much on this and I tried it a couple of times and found there was no noticeable change to the sound.
The Digital Filters switch also has three positions and are as follows: Bit-Perfect, Minimum Phase, and Standard. I believe iFi recommends "Bit Perfect" for PCM, so thats what I used my short time with the iDSD BL since I did not use any DSD or DXD files.
Also on the bottom of the unit we find two more switches. One switch is towards the front of the unit and it's iFi's very own iEMatch(TM). This switch is for further use in tweaking your headphone output for ultra sensitive iems especially. There are three positions on the switch; Off, High sensitivity and Ultra Sensitivity.
Towards the back of the unit we find a two position switch indicating Preamplifier and Direct mode. Direct mode is used as a fixed RCA output that bypasses pretty much everything else on the unit and goes straight to your power amp, headphone amp, etc.
Preamplifier: (direct quote from ifi)
the iDSD functions as a DAC/preamplifier. The volume control is now enabled for the RCA line output and when used in conjunction with the Power Mode offers gain of:
Eco = 0 dB
Normal/Turbo = 9dB
Last but not least on this incredibly versatile unit we find a female USB socket on the remaining side of the unit. This USB port is labeled SmartPower Charging on the belly of the unit. It is used to charge small devices like your smartphone, ipod or other digital transport you might be using with your iDSD BL.
Ah, I almost forgot to mention. There is one thing on the top side of the unit and that is a very small pinhole of an indicator light. This LED light turns different colors to indicate different things:
LED Color Mode
Magenta DSD512 22.5/24.5MHz
Blue DSD256 11.2/12.2MHz
Cyan DSD128/DSD64 2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2MHz
Yellow 176/192kHz DXD352/384kHz
Green(Flashing) Awaiting USB Connection
Red Battery Low
No light Battery Empty
Accessories inside the box:
1x Blue male USB to female USB cable (1 meter) to connect iDSD to a PC.
1x Male 3.5mm to male 3.5mm (15 cm) interconnect cable to use iDSD as an amplifier.
1x Purple male RCA to RCA cable. (50 cm)
1x Female USB Type B to Female USB Type A converter “cable” to connect iDSD to a PC with a audiophile grade USB Type B cable.
1x Female USB Type B to Female USB Type A converter “dongle” to connect iDSD to a PC with a audiophile grade USB Type B cable.
1x iFi branded, velvety carrying pouch.
2x Silicone bands to attach iDSD to a phone.
1x Silicone piece that protects your phone when you attach your phone to iDSD.
1x Female 3.5mm to male 6.3mm connector.
3x silicon covers/protectors for RCA and coax jacks.
Turning on the unit.
The volume knob is also used to power on the unit. I used the provided blue USB cable and plugged in to my laptop. Plugged in my headphones, turned on my Tidal desktop app, aaaannnd nothing! No music came out. I opened up my Windows playback devices and did not see the idsd BL on the listed devices so I figured I needed some drivers. A quick google search lead me to the idsd BL product page and on the bottom of the page found the Downloads tab which led me to the Windows drivers. After a quick download and setup I was ready to go...
I did most of my listening the first few days with my Grado PS1000. The Grados are not considered particularly hard to drive but I have found them to be a bit picky of headphone amps and even DACS. I've owned the PS1000 for over two years now and it has been overall my favorite headphone up to date. I would say it is a very colored headphone compared to all other TOTL headphones I've tried, but it is also very exciting for me. Listening through these cans is always a pleasure for me as the music is always very lively and transparent. The midbass has a very noticeable boost and the highs are very airy. Voices and guitars are excellent imo.
Listening to a few tracks the idsd BL sounds balanced to me and very similar to what I'm used to hearing straight out of the Mojo. The Ps1000 sounds properly driven, the details that I'm used to hearing are all there, there is no added sibilance which is great because I've came across a couple of DACs and amps that didn't play well with the Ps1000. It does not sounds too analitical, has nice warmth and the mids sound proper, not thin. I do feel like it might not be as involving as the Mojo.
I decided to compare it against the Mojo since I feel like these two are direct competitors and are around the same price range. For my home setup I use the Mojo feeding my headphone amp so I was curious to see how the iDSD BL would compare.
Micro iDSD BL as a Dac vs Chord Mojo.
I connected both the Mojo and the BL to my laptop. Both are then hooked up to the Schiit SYS and then the Schiit SYS to my MAD Ead+ HD headphone amp. I listen with my Grado PS1000. All tracks were from the Tidal desktop app. All are lossless FLAC files and also lots of new "MASTER" files which are at 24/96kHz and a few files at 24/88kHz. In the Tidal settings I check "Force volume" and "Use Exclusive Mode" for both the Mojo and the BL.
Switching between the two DACS is as easy as opening the settings in Tidal, picking either dac and the pressing down the button on the SYS. It is important to note that in this direct mode, the Mojo sounds a tad louder so I did compensate the volume on the amp when switching to the idsd BL. Volume matching was done by ear and I did as best as I could.
Setting on the Mojo itself: I held down both volume buttons when powering on to set the volume to a standard output level for typical line-out use.
Setting on the BL: I tried both from battery power mode and USB powered. Output switch set on "Direct".
What I hear with this setup going back and forth was that the BL sounds a bit more laid back than the Mojo. I felt that overall it fell a bit short in comparison. The Mojo simply feels like it has more PRESENCE. The ifi BL tends to have a softer sound. The bass hits a tad softer, vocals are a tiny bit further (also softer), the Mojo sounds like it has a blacker background, the music sounds like it has better attack and it sounds clearer than the BL. There was more enjoyment out of the Mojo since I caught myself more than few times bobbing my head, singing along and tapping my feet to the music when listening was switched to the Mojo.
Now for the sake of being a bit more thorough I'd thought I try this same setup but this time I switched the idsd BL Output switch to pre-amplifier instead of direct mode. I then proceded to get the volume on my amp as closely matched as possible between the Chord Mojo's "standard output level" and the volume wheel on the idsd BL to match it. Power mode on the idsd BL was on "normal" btw.
What I now heard was a lot more closer than before, in fact I'm having a hell of a time trying to nitpick and find any differences between these two. I hesitate to say the Mojo is a tiny bit more nuanced than the BL, but I can't reliably tell a difference so I'll just leave it at that.
As a dac/amp vs Chord Mojo:
Same setup as above but without the Schiit SYS and my MAD Ear+ in the audio chain. Volume matching was by ear and once again I did as best I could with these two. Using the Grado PS1000 here's what I found:
I spent quite a bit of time comparing side by side really trying to pick at something to reliably point out but in all honesty I would not be able to tell these two apart in a blind test with my headphones. Any differences that might exist are so small that I don't feel comfortable even pointing out. Again this is my experience with a given set of headphones. One thing to note though, on extended listening sessions between the two, I noticed that I found the Mojo more engaging and musical. The iDSD BL while apparently not lacking any behind the Mojo still fell a bit short for me as far as listening pleasure goes.
Listening with XBass+ and 3D+:
I must say that I did enjoy both the 3D+ and XBass+ features. With the Ps1000 the 3D+ switch makes the treble more airy and expansive. Highs are boosted very tastefully with these headphones and I did find it useful in many tracks but not always. Both these features are well implemented and are good to have imo. I also had great success with the XBass+ and 3D+ on a pair of Ortofon eq-5 iems that I borrowed from a friend of mine. Again the 3D+ makes the treble sound airy and the sound stage more expansive and the bass boost did just that boosting the low end on this iem to a much more favorable level.
One thing that I almost forgot to mention was that I found the iDSD BL did really well on my desk right next to my cell phone and also my office phone. The reason I noticed this is because I always have to set my cellphone aside to a different location away from my gear and I also end up unplugging the office phone from the wall wart because of electrical interference.
Due to the short review period with the unit time did not permit me to further test the unit more in depth. I did try the unit as a DAC/pre-amp with my power amp and speakers and I can say that the couple of tracks I heard sounded very well in this setup. I also wanted to compare the amp section od the idsd BL versus my RSA Intruder but only manage to squeeze in a few tracks. I thought the idsd definitely held it's own but the intruder still has a more mature sound and is a step ahead of the amp in the idsd bl.
Well that about does it for my impressions of the Micro iDSD Black Label. In my opinion ifi have themselves a winner in this device and I would have no reservations recommending this to anyone who is in the market for a DAC/AMP combo in this price range and a bit beyond really, whether it be desktop, transportable or portable this thing is very good and certainly up there with the Chord Mojo on a short list of what to buy under $1000. Great bang for the buck!
Dell i7 Laptop
Ipod touch 6th Generation
Samsung galaxy Note 4
Samsung TV - optical out
Mad Ear+ HD
Yamaha CA-1010 *edit CA-2010
Magnum V7 build
Ortofon Eq-5 iem
All Music was lossless tracks from Tidal.
Pros - clarity, power, versatility, build quality
Cons - crowded front panel, questionable filters
It is with great pleasure that I can say that I have been selected to take part in the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label listening tour. My thanks to Lawrence from iFi for helping to organize the USA East leg of the tour. What this means, is that I have 1 week to listen to & evaluate the ifi Micro iDSD Black Label, which is a DAC utilizing a dual core Burr-Brown DSD512/PCM768/2xDXD chip and headphone amplifier. Although I am very grateful to be able to participate in this tour, I receive no compensation other than the joy of listening in the comfort of my own home, and the following review is my honest opinion. This is my 1[sup]st[/sup] ever review of a DAC/amp, so please bear with me as I try to hit all the pertinent points.
I’ll start with a little about myself. I’m pushing 50 and have less than perfect hearing (50 is pushing back). I’ve been a music lover for as long as I can remember, and I learned to listen a little more critically during the few years I sold audio equipment (and the more I listen, the more I learn). My fascination/infatuation with headphones began about 4 years ago, and has only gotten stronger. I’ve only recently taken a more serious look at the hardware end of the audio equation, and I’m enjoying the journey. I've never had the opportunity to hear the original iDSD, so I'm particularly glad to spend some time with the Black Label. The majority of my listening was done listening to FLAC, WAV & various MP3s with my Shanling M2, Fiio x3 (1st gen.), Samsung Galaxy S7, or through my HP all in one PC as a source for the iDSD BL. My tastes are fairly eclectic, but my listening centered on classic rock, folk, jazz, classical and various genres of EDM.
First, let’s get a couple of ergonomic niggles out of the way. When using the iDSD BL as an amp only, the front panel gets awfully crowded, (especially if you’re using a ¼” to 1/8”) adapter making it difficult to adjust the volume or activate/deactivate the Xbass+ or 3D+. Perhaps changing these 2 filters to the right side would alleviate this issue, especially since I didn’t find myself using them a whole lot. Occasionally, I found the selectors on the bottom of the unit to change positions during normal movement of the unit from one place to another. In fact, at one point one of the plastic knobs fell off of the selector switch it was attached to (giving me a slight heart attack since I don’t own the unit)
Fortunately I found and reattached it without further incident. A set of raised feet would likely prevent this from happening. I also found the volume pot can use a bit more resistance. It was too easy to turn, and although I give kudos for the orange font on the bottom, a volume indicator line that’s not black on black would be much more useful (and greatly appreciated).
The iDSD BL came with a generous amount of accessories. There are 2 of the usual rubber bands for stacking, RCA cables for preamplifier use, a storage pouch, USB A to USB B cable, 3.5mm (male x male, for use with the line in) adapter, 3.5mm x 6.35mm adapter (the front panel has a ¼” headphone out only), an optical by RCA adapter, USB A (female to male) adapter, and a rubber mat. There’s really not much more I could say I’d like to see included.
There are so many things this little beast can do I feel a bit overwhelmed trying to cover it all. On the front panel from left to right, you have a ¼” headphone input jack, Xbass+ control (on/off), 3.5mm audio input jack, “3D+” control (a filter said to create a larger soundstage, also on/off), and the volume control dial.
The right side is bare, except a USB Type 'A' Female connection for charging other devices.
Around the rear there is an “Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/Coax” connection that automatically configures to Coaxial or Optical use, a left & right female RCA output, and a USB Type 'A' male digital input.
Moving along to the left side, there is one portion of the gain control (Eco/Normal/Turbo), a polarity switch (+/-) and filter control (Bit Perfect/Minimum Phase/Standard).
On the bottom of the unit, there are markings to identify all the controls on the sides and back (orange on black is very legible, thank you!)
as well as the other portion of the gain control called IE Match (Off/High Sensitivity/Ultra Sensitivity) and control for the rear RCA outs (Preamplifier/Direct).As I said there is a lot the iDSD BL can do, and given I was only able to spend a week with it, I’ll concentrate on what I did use.
There are five power output modes, Eco, Normal and Turbo, High Sensitivity, Ultra Sensitivity. Their website states that the micro iDSD BL is able to have the power and gain dialed-in to”perfectly suit all headphones”. In truth, everything from my 64 Audio U6 to my Sennheiser HD600, the ifi easily delivered whatever power was needed. It had copious amounts of power when called for, never needing to go over 11:00 on Normal gain with the HD600, and more often closer to 9:00. I am not the best judge of hiss due to persistent (and tenacious) tinnitus, however without music playing using my U6 on Eco gain, there was no discernible noise whatsoever (YMMV). Obviously, when using the High Sensitivity or Ultra Sensitivity settings, there would be even less noise. I’ll note that I’m not sure what “type” of amp the iDSD BL utilizes, but it never felt more than warm to the touch, even during heavy usage.
I’m a firm believer that amplifiers for the most part (at least amps of the solid state variety) should be the proverbial “Wire with Gain” in that they shouldn’t impart much “color” onto the sound. That being said, in reality I think there is always some sonic coloration passed along when creating an audio chain and an amplifier is no different. I’ll admit that there is the possibility that I haven’t acquired the skill of breaking the sonic influence into bass/mids/treble/soundstage, but I believe that these influences are much more subtle than that. I would go so far as to call an amp full, thin, warm etc. but not much more, especially without having equipment to back up my claims. I find the amp section of the IDSD to fall on the warm side of neutral without sounding thick or muddy in any way. When comparing to other amps I have on hand, my ALO National or the RHA Dacamp1 (On loan for a listening tour, comparing amp only here) I find there to be more similarities than differences. Because they are all so close in fidelity, without volume matching, it’d be impossible to comment on detail retrieval and the like, but the overall impression I had was that they are all warm-ish amps: everything I played sounded full bodied and satisfying.
If you’re using a PC and you want to use the iDSD BL as a DAC, you need to download the driver from their website ( http://ifi-audio.com/micro-idsd-ifi-xmos-firmware/ ). If you’re a MAC lover, it is supposed to be plug-n-play, I believe. Downloading and installing the appropriate driver was more of a challenge than I expected (IOS users, this is your cue to laugh). Every time I downloaded the driver to install, it would literally disappear after a few seconds. It was there, and then it wasn’t. To say I was perplexed would be an understatement. I assumed that there must be an explanation, so I read a bit online until I came across one post noting that you may have to turn off your anti-virus. How a driver could look like malware is beyond my computer knowledge, but someone figured it out, and I’m glad they did. I turned off my Norton, and we were back in business. Once the driver was downloaded, and the ifi took over DAC duties, the synergy of the DAC/amp combo became readily apparent.
Since the front panel does get crowded once the line in is being used, I mostly opted to use it through the Coaxial input or as a DAC/amp. The coax from my Fiio or Shanling sounded terrific, with plenty of detail and space, definitely a step up from the line out IMO. The iDSD BL is unwieldy, but is indeed portable enough to move from room to room, or to take with you for listening while writing in a coffee shop or other stationary activity. This was quite welcome if I didn’t feel like being tied to my computer to listen, or wanted to continue my listening session elsewhere if it was getting noisy. The iDSD BL did pair easily to my Samsung Galaxy S7, and though there was no faulting the sound quality, it was awkward at best given the size difference. Again, if being used while stationary, it wouldn’t be a big issue, but it’s not really a portable solution.
I do think most people will opt to use this primarily as a DAC/amp, either on a desktop, or portably with a laptop. If I were to do a blind test, I would be very hard pressed indeed to distinguish between the coax & the USB, at least with my current sources, and I think that’s a very good thing since I enjoyed the iDSD BL so much either way. Again, without a proper A/B test I don’t feel confident enough to give a definitive answer as to which one is better, but I am inclined to say the DAC in the iDSD BL would be the superior choice. It definitely has a synergy with the amp section, and benefited from being fed higher bitrate files without being too unforgiving of MP3s. I could (and did) listen to this for hours, enjoying every minute.
Moving on to the filters, I’ll start by saying, I’m not a huge fan. When testing the polarity switch and filter control, I heard no appreciable difference at all, regardless of the position, so I left them in positive & Bit Perfect respectively. There is a possibility that they would have a greater effect on speakers if the DAC was used through the line out, but I never got the chance to test it that way. I don’t know if the Xbass+ and 3D+ switches are considered filters, but even though I didn’t use them much, I did hear an effect on the audio when using them. The Xbass+ seemed to have an effect primarily on the sub bass, whereas the 3D+ is intended to be a spatializer of sorts, to widen the perceived soundstage. I found the 3D+ to effect the treble mostly and added some “grain” up top. I mostly left these off, but did occasionally find them helpful when used together as a sort of loudness control, adding a bit of clarity for low level listening. My personal preference (and recommendation to RHA) would be for the iDSD BL to have an adjustable treble and bass control, +/- 5 or so, which seems to me would be a more universally useful tool.
Since fortune smiled upon me and I happened to have the RHA Dacamp L1 (also priced $549 USD) on hand at the same time, it seems only appropriate that I give my impressions of both. Build quality between the two is about on par, with the RHA being just a tad more robust overall IMO. The RHA also has the smaller more portable form factor: it’s smaller in every dimension. The RHA has a balanced headphone output as well, but it’s a 4 pin mini XLR input, which seems to only be compatible with their own headphone the CL1 Ceramic (at least I don’t know of any other headphone using that connection). Furthermore, the benefits of using that connection was not readily apparent…it sounded just about the same when used single ended or balanced (reviewer Brooko did record measurements that seem to back this up). The RHA does have bass/treble controls (+9/-3 for both) and 3 gain levels, but the iDSD BL has 5 gain levels, Xbass+, 3D+ and a preamp output. They both can be used to charge a dying cellphone, have about the same battery life/charge time and have digital inputs (coaxial and optical for the ifi, optical for the RHA). I’d say all the bells and whistles come down to a matter of preference, and I’d give RHA a slight advantage being more portable. Ergonomically, there isn’t too much to complain about in either case. The biggest problem with the ifi is a somewhat crowded front panel, on the other hand the volume wheel RHA chose, while having better resistance than the ifi, is much harder to control…it steps up in volume more rapidly and is awkward to turn. Sound quality is where the rubber meets the road, as they say, and sonically I’d say it would be a matter of preference. Power output seems comparable overall, with the ifi being more versatile (at least 5 different gain levels). While I find both of these to be on the warm side, I’d say that the ifi is more on the analytical side of warm, while the RHA sounds a touch smoother. These are not night and day differences, and there was no clear sonic winner for me. I’d honestly be more than happy to have either of these in my audio chain. I lean slightly toward the ifi, simply because my DAPs utilize coaxial outputs and I could see myself using that often, but that could easily change with a DAP upgrade.
I am truly sorry to see the iDSD BL leave. In my opinion, except for some small niggles, ifi has done a great job with the iDSD BL. It’s well built, very versatile, has plenty of power on tap, and sounds fantastic. The price is a bit high, but you do get a lot for your money. My thanks again go to Lawrence and ifi. After spending a week with the iDSD, I can definitely recommend checking it out if you‘re in the market for a DAC/amp. It is definitely worth a listen.
Pros - Feature rich with high performance to price ratio; Multi-platform compatibility; Isolated USB and analog ground with excellent USB EMI noise rejection
Cons - 1-2 seconds of silence at the beginning of playback (from a stop); 1 LED indicator with complicated color codes
Many thanks to iFi for the tour program, to let us have some experience with the new iFi micro iDSD Black-Label!
iFi micro iDSD Black-Label product web page:
Due to the limitation of max 100000 characters in this review section, I couldn't post here the features and measurement part of this review. Please check the features and measurement part here:
iFi micro iDSD Black-Label - In-Depth Review
The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is the improved version of the previous iFi micro iDSD. iFi has shared to us in detail, many of their design considerations during the development of the micro iDSD. Lot’s to learn from the post, therefore I think it is worth to post the link to the early discussion here:
I bought the iFi micro iDSD pre-ordered from Stereo Singapore in September 2014. Since then it has been one of my favorite portable DAC. I like the line output sound quality especially when paired with iFi micro iCan, but the headphone output of iFi micro iDSD requires some matching to sound best. My biggest complaint so far from the iFi micro iDSD is the quality of the iEMatch switch that often glitchy and causes loss of the right channel or severe channel imbalance. The volume pot of my iFi micro iDSD also has audible channel imbalance below 9:30’ position. Together with the glitchy iEMatch switch, it makes me difficult to use it for sensitive IEMs. I’m glad to say that I found the channel imbalance of the review unit of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label has been greatly reduced, and practically I didn’t have any channel imbalance issue even at low volume setting. I hope this will be the case for all iFi micro iDSD Black-Label units. I also hope that the iEMatch switch durability has been improved on the Black-Label version.
Some of the improvements in the Black-Label version are some of the electronic components, power sections, clock system, and some other improvement on both digital and analog circuit sections, including the implementation of custom Op-Amp. There is no changes in the technical specifications and features from the previous iFi micro iDSD, so feature wise both the iFi micro iDSD and the Black-Label version are similar. The improvement is more on the sound quality. One might ask when there is an improvement in the sound quality, why it is not shown in the specification? The simple answer is, the measured specifications don't cover all aspects of the sound quality. Basic specifications such as FR, THD, and SNR are only a few aspects of the audio quality and quite often are not advertised in detail. THD for example, usually only advertised as average THD, but manufacturer usually doesn't give further detail like what is the distortion profile across the audio band, which type of distortion that is more dominant, etc. Therefore, usually, it is close to impossible to judge the sound quality of a DAC or Amplifier only by looking at the advertised specifications.
In summary, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is an excellent sounding, feature rich DAC + headphone amplifier. It does require some knowledge to get the most out of it. Sound quality wise, it is on the neutral side with no obvious coloration. For those who are looking for warm, intimate, mellow type of sound signature, better look elsewhere. Transparency, clarity, speed, and detail retrieval are still the main characteristics of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound signature, similar to the iFi micro iDSD. And iFi has improved it further in a more musical manner on the Black-Label version. Besides some technical improvement from the previous iFi micro iDSD, the sound quality improvement that I observed on the Black-Label are transparency, dynamic, and instrument separation. The Black-Label is more transparent and realistic sounding than the already transparent sounding iFi micro iDSD. Not a night and day differences, but noticeable. And I’m glad to say that the increase in transparency and detail retrieval doesn’t make the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sounding more analytical than the iFi micro iDSD. Subjectively, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is actually sounding more musical to me. Even though not by much, I do prefer the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound quality than the iFi micro iDSD.
Feature rich with high performance to price ratio.
Neutral sound quality with superb transparency, speed, and detail retrieval.
Good multi-platforms compatibility with various operating systems.
Isolated USB and analog ground with excellent USB EMI noise rejection.
Various digital and analog filters to suit listening preference.
A wide range of gain and headphone output power settings to suit various loads, from sensitive IEMs to demanding headphones.
Useful and good sounding analog bass boost and stereo enhancement analog circuit.
Good battery life.
1-2 seconds of silence at the beginning of playback (from a stop). This short period of silence causes the first 1-2 seconds of the song gets muted at the start. This can be quite annoying for some songs that start immediately at the 1st second. This is the only most annoying flaw of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label so far, but I believe it can be fixed by firmware update if iFi is willing to fix it, or probably by releasing a special driver only for PCM playback. I notice that the silence period is slightly longer on the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label compared to the iFi micro iDSD. Due to the short review time, I’ve only tested it with foobar v1.3.12 (WASAPI and DSD ASIO). Probably there is a way to shorten the silence from the setting, but I didn’t have enough time to play around with the setting or checked this symptom using other media player applications. This short period of silence at the beginning of playback is could be due to ‘pop’ issue described here:
1 LED indicator to indicate many operating conditions. It is not user-friendly to expect a user to memorize so many color codes from a single LED indicator.
Volume level indicator is hard to see.
Suggestions for improvements:
To shorten the start play silence.
A more user-friendly LED indicator. Suggested 3 LEDs indicator as described at the end part of this review.
White or silver volume level indicator for better visibility.
Better design rubber feet with a stronger attachment to the metal case. It is preferable to have better rubber feet that have been fixed to the metal case from the factory.
Sound quality observations were done using my regular test tracks as shown at the end of this review. As for headphones and IEMs, I mostly used the following during this review:
Philips Fidelio X1
STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S
AK T8iE Mk2
Headphone Output Sound Signature:
Transparent with good detail and dynamic is probably the simplest way to describe iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound signature. Generally, it sounds quite neutral with no obvious coloration. The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is not a warm and mellow sounding type of DAC that tends to ‘beautify’ recording flaws. It is a bit on the dry and analytical side, but iFi has done it in a nice and musical way. It is still lean on the analytical side but it doesn’t sound thin. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label has excellent stereo imaging, spacious and holographic with good depth. The headphone output is powerful with lightning fast transient, always giving the impression that it can drive any IEMs and headphones with ease. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label might not be for those looking for smooth warm and polite sounding DAC, but I imagine that the Black-Label could easily be the sound engineer favorite portable DAC.
With the mentioned headphones and IEMs above, I prefer to match the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label with the less analytical sounding ones. Though pairing the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label with HD800 and T1 give and impressive transparent and holographic sonic presentation, but overall still rather too bright for my preference. The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label despite the small size also surprisingly able to drive the HiFiMan HE-6 quite well, but the pair also a bit too bright for me.
So the headphones and IEMs that I consider pairs well with iFi micro iDSD Black-Label are:
Philips Fidelio X1
STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S (Connected to Line Output)
AK T8iE Mk2
Most surprising is how iFi micro iDSD Black-Label improves the sound quality of the new Brainwavz B200, dual BA drivers IEM. B200 usually sounds polite with soft treble with my Onkyo DP-X1, not so much excitement. But when driven from iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, the treble suddenly shines and sparkling nicely. B200 sounds more lively and exciting with iFi micro iDSD Black-Label. Quite a significant improvement. The Audio-Technica ATH-R70x and STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S (Connected to Line Output) are also wonderful pairs with the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label.
Comparison to iFi micro iDSD Headphone Output
At the same volume level, the Black-Label sounds more powerful with greater dynamic and sense of driving power. Bass sounds slightly thicker, tighter, punchier, and has a better texture. I feel both bass and midrange texture and micro dynamic seems to be improved on the Black-Label, giving a slightly better perception of depth, transparency, and instruments separation. Treble is more or less the same, but on some recordings with sibilance, the sibilant sounds a tad more prominent on the older micro iDSD, and a tad less sharp on the Black-Label. Just a tad, basically the difference is quite small. The level of treble and treble sparkle are about the same, but with slightly different character. The sparkling character of the treble of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is somehow sounding a tad more natural to my ears. In summary, the Black-Label sounds more transparent, bolder, and more energetic than the previous micro iDSD. The difference is audible but not a night and day kind of differences. What I mean is, that if we already have the micro iDSD, I think it is not necessary to sell it to get the Black-Label. But if I have to choose, I would definitely choose the Black-Label over the silver micro iDSD.
iFi micro iDSD Black-Label Line Output + iFi micro iCan
I remember that in past, ever mentioned in the forum that some suggested to iFi to tweak the headphone amplifier of the micro iDSD to be closer to the sound signature of the micro iCan. So is the headphone amplifier of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label now sounds close to the micro iCan? Well not quite yet. The headphone output of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sounds dryer than the iCan. In my opinion, the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label line output connected to micro iCan still sounds better. They do share some similarity, like the level of transparency, detail retrieval, and dynamic are probably about the same, but the micro iCan sounds slightly smoother and warmer that makes the micro iCan more friendly for analytical headphones like HD800 and T1. The micro iCan has slightly longer decay than the Black-Label headphone amplifier that makes it sounds less dry and more pleasing to my ears. I’m still hoping that one day I could have a new generation of micro iDSD with the headphone out sound quality that is similar to the micro iCan sound quality. So I don’t have to bring two units to enjoy the sound quality of the combination of micro iDSD + micro iCan. In the past, I’ve compared the line output sound quality of my micro iDSD to bigger and more expensive desktop DACs, and micro iDSD line output has been proven to exceed its price bracket. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label line output doesn’t disappoint and even improved it further on the transparency, detail, and instrument separation. Very impressive line output sound quality from such a small portable DAC. IMHO, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is worth it even just for the DAC section alone.
Chord Mojo (Headphone Output Comparisons)
Listening to classical DSD tracks, Super Artists on Super Audio sampler vol.5 from Channel Classics Records, when using the analogy of medium and large concert hall, Chord Mojo sounds like we are listening to the concert in a medium size hall, with a tad better micro detail and impact. Listening to Chord Mojo is like sitting closer to the musical performance, more intimate presentation with a tad clearer micro detail and slightly better sense of micro-dynamic. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, on the other hand, provides a more spacious sensation, like listening in a larger hall. Less intimate with a larger sense of space. iFi micro iDSD BL is also perceived as a tad smoother sounding than Mojo. The difference is not day and night, but quite easy to distinguish. Both performs admirably in their own ways. I do need more time for better comparison between Mojo and iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, but the most distinguishable difference is in the presentation, between the more intimate presentation of Mojo and the more holographic presentation of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label. Honestly, I can’t really tell which one is better. I guess it is not for better or worst but more about personal preference.
Features and Measurement
Both the older version of iFi micro iDSD and the Black-Label version have similar features and specifications, therefore I listed only the Black-Label version in this table of features.
Table of Features in comparison to Chord Mojo:
ParameteriFi micro iDSD Black-labelChord Mojo
DACDual-Core Burr-Brown (2-DAC Chip)Chord Custom FPGA DAC
PCMPCM 768/ 705.6/ 384/ 352.8/ 192/ 176.4/
96/ 88.2/ 48/ 44.1kHzPCM 768/ 705.6/ 384/ 352.8/ 192/ 176.4/
96/ 88.2/ 48/ 44.1kHz
DSDup to DSD 512up to DSD 256
USB InputUSB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket
(with iPurifier® technology built-in)Micro-B USB
SPDIF Coaxial InputRCA - Up to 192kHz PCM3.5mm jack - Up to 768kHz PCM
SPDIF Optical InputUp to 192kHz PCMUp to 192kHz PCM
SPDIF OutputRCA Coaxial - Up to 192kHz PCM-
USB to SPDIF ConversionYes - Up to 192kHz PCM-
Selectable FilterYes - 3 options for each PCM and DSD-
Analog Line InputYes - 3.5mm socket-
Analog Line OutputYes - Dedicated RCAIntegrated with headphone output
Line Output LevelDirect: 2V Fixed
PreAmp - Eco: 0 - 2.18 V
Variable - Normal: 0 - 5.66 V
Variable - Turbo: 0 - 6.43 V0V - 4.79V Variable
Headphone Output1x 6.5mm socket2x 3.5mm socket
Adjustable HO GainYes - 9 combinations-
Maximum HO Voltage -
measured @ 600 ohms load9.71 Vrms4.79 Vrms
Maximum HO Current -
measured @ 15 ohms load306 mA199 mA
HO Output ImpedanceIEMatch Off: 0.34 ohms
IEMatch High Sensitivity: 4.1 ohms
IEMatch Ultra Sensitivity: 0.95 ohms0.44 ohms
HO SNR @ 50 mV @ 33 ohms
(for very sensitive IEM)Eco - Ultra Sens. : 87.3 dB
Normal - Ultra Sens. : 87.0 dB
Turbo - Ultra Sens. : 83.0 dB82.9 dB
Volume ControlAnalog PotentiometerDigital
Extra FeaturesXBass Plus, 3D Matrix Plus, Polarity Switch,
& USB Power Bank (5V, 1.5A)-
Dimension177mm (l) x 67mm (w) x 28mm(h)82mm (l) x 60mm (w) x 22mm (h)
I did some test and observation of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label features, like testing the iFi iPurifier® technology on the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label USB input and how effective that feature to remove unwanted EMI from USB audio, here:
Unfortunately I cannot post all the features and measurement part here due to the maximum limit of the characters that can be posted in this section.
Therefore, Please check the features and measurement part here:
iFi micro iDSD Black-Label - In-Depth Review
iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is probably the most unique and feature rich DAC+Amp combo in its class. The Black-Label version is a proof of iFi main priority in their design philosophy, which is sound quality. The Black-Label version has similar features to the older version of micro iDSD, and all the effort and improvement is only to achieve one goal, better sound quality. And I think iFi has achieved it. Kudos to iFi!
Equipment used in this review
Philips Fidelio X1
STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S
1964 Audio V3 (universal)
AK T8iE Mk2
DAC and Amplifiers:
iFi micro iDSD
iFi micro iCan
QuantAsylum QA401 - 24-bit Audio Analyzer
Owon VDS3102 - 100 MHz Digital Storage Oscilloscope
Brymen BM829s - Digital Multimeter
HRT LineStreamer+ - Analog to Digital Converter
ZKE EBD-USB+ - USB Power Meter
Computer & Player:
DIY Desktop PC: Gigabyte GA-H77-D3H-MVP motherboard, Intel i7-3770, 16 GB RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit SP1.
Some recordings used in this review:
Pros - Packed with features, Extremely strong amp section, Clean and resolving sound
Cons - A little warm and tilted towards the lower spectrum, Not the best transparency, Too many features?
Spoiler: Warning: Spoiler!
*This review comes from my Portable Amp / Dac Shootout.
Posted as a reference for users. For the full review, see:
Manufacturer: iFi Audio
Model: micro iDSD
Price: $499 at musicdirect.com
Volume Control: Precision analogue volume control knob (On/Off)
Power Connector: USB 3.0 Male, USB 3.0 Female
Battery Life: 4800 mAH battery, depending on which mode is selected, drains battery accordingly (Eco, Normal, Turbo). Estimated 12 hours playback on Eco mode.
Inputs: 1x USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket
1x SPDIF Coaxial
1x SPDIF Optical
Outputs: 1x RCA L+R
1x SPDIF Coaxial
Consult this page for detailed specifications. (http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd)
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
Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock
RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds
All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
Build and Finish: Surprisingly lengthy unit made out of machined aluminum. Decent weight with quality metal switches and knobs. The iDSD is well-finished, a quality product with no quality control issues. On the back of the unit, iFi Audio was thoughtful enough to place a detailed specs report for easy consultation.
Accessories: I’ve never seen a product come with this many accessories before. iFi Audio definitely wanted the consumer to have every single option available for the long haul.
The original packaging is also quite useful. It comes with a foam insert, that allows you to place the iDSD back in its original alignment. The box serves as a carrying case of sorts.
Comes with: 1x Velvet Pouch, 2x Detailed Instruction Cards, 1x 3.5mm Male to 3.5mm Male Adapter, 2x Silicone Bands, 1x 90° Male USB to Female USB Cable (Type A), 1x Female USB (Type A) to Female USB (Type B) Cable, 1x Purple RCA Cable, 4x Rubber Soles for Amp, 1x 3.5mm to 1/4th Adapter, 1x Jumper, 1x Short Female (Type A) to Female (Type B) Adapter, 1x Blue USB 3.0 Male (Type A) to Female (Type A) Cable
Technology and Design:
The Micro iDSD is easily the most technologically well-equipped product I’ve seen from a manufacturer. For the price, you’re getting so much to work with.
First off, supported playback includes just about everything under the sun. It’s definitely future-proof with Octa DSD 512, Double DXD 256, and PCM 768 playback.
Additionally, the iDSD can drive just about anything under the sun with 10V of power @ 16 ohm when “Turbo” mode is selected. This includes orthodynamic headphones such as the HIFIMAN HE-6.
The iDSD is designed around getting the cleanest signal from the amplifier/dac to your headphones. There’s a built-in iPurifier on the rear USB port, eliminating EMI interference on its way to the iDSD. For the DAC section, there’s an ultra-low jitter Femto clock--something I’ve never seen at this price range.
There are also three filter options (PCM, DSD, DXD), iEMatch for IEMs sensitivity matching, X-Bass, 3D Holographic Sound, and a power socket on the right side where you can utilized the iDSD to charge your portable devices. Yes, you can use the iDSD as a charger. iFi Audio has even included that as an option.
Included accessories are also a bonus. You have everything you could possibly need to get started.
Sound / Comparisons:
All listening was done on Eco or Normal Power Mode, - Polarity, Bit-Perfect Filter, iEMatch disabled, X-Bass and 3D Holographic disabled. I found this offered the most neutral and true flavor of the original recording. I won’t be commenting on the results of experimenting with these settings.
I found the iDSD a very interesting listen. Quite frankly, it’s as close as you can get to reference for the price of $499. However, I have a hard time giving it the ultimate nod for transparency and neutrality. Even with all its technology, at the heart of the iDSD is still the Burr-Brown DAC chip. This gives the iDSD a slightly warm tinge that’s most evident with neutral headphones like the Ether or the Audio Technica R70x. That’s not to say the iDSD is lacking in details. In fact, I would say the opposite is true. I had no trouble hearing all the subtle nuances in each track, and I didn’t hear any flaws smoothed over despite the warmer presentation.
For most people, the iDSD offers a clear improvement over lesser offerings and a window to musically accurate sound. Fundamentally speaking, the iDSD works well with just about every headphone on the market. It also always manages to sound just right; the soundstage is never too expansive and is often portrayed with a good sense of intimacy. But on tracks that require a medium to communicate an effective sense of space, the iDSD doesn’t disappoint either.
Bass is tight, well-rounded, with slightly above average dynamics and impact. On a headphone like the Ether, I looked to hear the sub-bass and excellent bass response. The iDSD did precisely that, without over-emphasizing and glossing over the bass details I’ve grown accustomed to.
Mids and vocals are fairly neutral, I didn’t feel as if the iDSD was particularly forward or distant. In my mind, the iDSD passed the realism test. Vocals sparkled when they should, crooned when called upon, and sounded pretty darn good overall.
The treble on the iDSD is slightly accentuated. Perhaps this has something to do with the house sound of iFi Audio, since the iDAC2 and other offerings I’ve tried have a similar presentation. The iDSD, fortunately, has the least coloration of all its brethren. The treble sounds quite lean juxtaposed against the full-bodied and warm bass thumping in the background. I’ll have to say I prefer this dry and slightly analytical treble personally. It makes Electronica and Rock music a pleasure to listen to, similar in the way Grados handle treble (but without the harshness).
The iDSD also excelled at imaging and transient speed. Fast and difficult recordings were played back without a hitch with perfect instrumental placement. It is this particular trait, coupled with an “open” sound that allows the iDSD to be considered reference in my book.
While not as musical as the Mojo, or as dynamic as the Concero HP, the iDSD nonetheless holds its own as a contender for one of the better portable amps/dacs. It serves as an all-purpose and well-honed unit that offers so much possibilities in terms of playback and usage.
Clarity, cohesion, openness, and accuracy. The Micro iDSD has all of them in spades.
Conclusively, I highly recommend the iDSD for a long-term purchase that doesn’t disappoint.
Overall Score: 8.9