iFi Audio micro iDSD

Average User Rating:
4.57843/5,
  1. 00lunar
    5.0/5,
    "A marvelous all-arounder"
    Pros - Sound, functionality, build quality, price-to-performance ratio
    Cons - Nothing major. Black writing could be orange.
    Introductory word
     
    They say that once you go black.... yeah. This is quite self-explanatory. And behold, black iFi Audio product emerged. I can only say - finally. Cheers to 'em English folks. Even though I enjoy iFi stuff, I had a pleasure to know said manufacturer's every device out there, silver color doesn't make me pleasantly anxious. Don't get me wrong, it looks OK. It fits where it needs to fit. Though I wondered if we'll see black puppies from iFi, that was my desire number one for a long, long time. And to know that BL version is supposedly better than stock iDSD is yet another reason to be happy. Improvements are usually good in our hobby. And if a company with very extensive know-how is able to further improve its circuitry here and there, the outcome surely is something to look forward to. So we looked forward, waited. And waited. And then waited some more.
     

     
    My experience with iDSD Micro was very enjoyable overall. In order not to make this story longer than needed (it's long enough), let me just say that for the price, this was and still is IMO a very nice product to have. I believe that it defended itself over time, it held its ground firmly against numerous rivals. Several of my friends own one and are perfectly happy. Yes, they do AMR window shopping, but are happy nonetheless. When I used my iDSD Micro on the go with a laptop, its one feature stood out of the crowd, namely organics. With right tracks and right CIEMs/headphones, this deck had it. This lifelike, rich and musical approach I subjectively enjoy and pay attention to since literally forever.
     

     
    Original iDSD sound wasn't thin, dull, fuzzy or unpleasant in any way. For the money it was simply right. Chord Hugo elevated this experience to even greater extent, but for a completely different, much higher asking though. When my buddies asked me about a transportable DAC/amp combo they should buy, I suggested to go with iDSD Micro as a complete have-it-all package that'll cover most of their needs. If budget to spend was higher, Hugo was my pick. After many sources auditioned, my all time favorites up to $3'500 were iDSD Micro, Hugo and desktop AURALiC Vega in that logical order exactly, namely from the most affordable to the most pricey.
     

     
    Years have passed, iDSD is no longer with me and the same story is with Hugo. I'm a home stereo person of heavy calibre these days. But iDSD BL is something I noticed in an instant. One of my friends planned to grab one unit for his own needs anyway. Needless to say, I've exploited his kindness. In short, to evaluate iDSD BL's skills, ENIGMAcoustic Dharma D1000 and HiFiMAN HE-1000 V1 cans were very helpful in writing this piece. Apologies for not being able to compare said English deck to any competition as I currently don't own anything suitable for the job.
     
    Functionality and stuff
     
    Before we'll dive into the sound, a word about fit'n'finish and said product's functionality. iDSD BL is a typical iFi Audio device, nothing much can be said about it as there's been a lot of reviews out there already. That's hardly any surprise at all. In any case, black iDSD Micro looks dandy. Subjectively this color is great, much better than the original. Stealthy impressions, anyone? Yes, please. And the paint job itself is done nicely too, even all across the product's chassis. Orange writings do the trick nicely as well. Perhaps this is just me, but black&orange mix is something that IMO simply works. My only gripe is with our English deck's bottom. Some descriptions visible there are orange, whereas vast majority is black, therefore unreadable while looking directly at the product. This could have been done better. Therefore please iFi, put orange lettering everywhere. The product is durable, every part of its chassis is nicely finished and properly matched. Rubbery knobs look more decently than in the original, namely aren't wobbly at all, but my memory might not serve me well here. 3D and Xbass knobs feel solid and properly clicky. I can't remember how these functions were implemented in the first iDSD Micro. But their input is very audible.   
     

       
    As far as iDSD BL functionalities go, things are as good as they get for the price. This device can be used as an S/PDIF converter which I've exploited in home stereo with ease. FPGA based Audiobyte Hydra-X+ was audibly better in this task (greater resolution, even punchier and organic sound, a bit blacker background and wider imaging), but not by a lot. And Audiobyte's thing was sold for about $800 or so, these days it's in EOL state. Moving on, the ability to bypass iDSD BL's volume control is handy. Just for the sake of this review I've tried this product in standalone and heavy $$$ environment solely as a source and it handled itself in there nicely. Nowhere near my main DACs (LampizatOr Golden Gate, AMR DP-777). Yet to a point where the switch from said sources wasn't painful, which is more than surprising. Volume bypass will be probably very rarely exploited, but it's good that iDSD BL's signal path can be shortened when needed.
     

     
    iEMatch works as intended, we'll return to this topic down below, for now I can only write that it simply does the job with my Vision Ears VE5. I'm not a huge fan of filtering of any sort, therefore bit-perfect mode is my path with every source out there (LampizatOr excluded for obvious reasons, DSD upsampling is mandatory in this product's case). And during two weeks spent with iDSD BL I have to confess that I've used it as a power bank two times. Not much to say here, it charged my phone no questions asked and literally saved the day.
     

     
    Some people might be picky about iDSD BL's size and I understand this as its bulky. But once my mate shared it with me, I've always had it with while going to work, to a point where it became a habit. To have it developed in such short time counts for something. And once on the spot, iFi's deck worked with a laptop all day. Needless to say, I got attached to it as quickly as with the original iDSD Micro years back. And I got used to iDSD Bl's size, that's not an issue for me as I don't do smartphone + DAC/amp rubber-strapped on-the-go combos, that's not my thing. Functionality wise, iDSD BL covered all of my needs and in proper, predictable fashion. This kind of a package for this kind of dough I consider as a steal. YMMV, though. In the end, would I change anything in said machine's design/functionality? Orange writing aside, at the moment no, not really. Perhaps over longer time span I'd nitpick something, but not past my two weeks adventure. The loaner turned out to be a perfectly healthy deck. No hiccups, hisses or any other unpleasant surprises happened along the road. And dead silent too.
     
    Sound
     
    Let's move to sound quality. iDSD BL was used solely as a transportable integrated solution as this is its main function. My guess is that vast majority of you out there use that exactly and rarely anything else. Vision Ears VE5 came in as the first order of business. These are sensitive, midrange focused, bass light and wide sounding little devils. What they need is a bit more body and shove downstairs to sound properly. iDSD BL delivered just that and without any resolution loss. Also, this transportable deck doesn't sound sharp at all once burned-in. At least not with highly resolving VE5 CIEMs. These not only sounded clean and very informative, therefore as per usual (...and presumably to iEMatch tech inside iDSD BL), but also properly punchy, with spot-on texturing and imaging as wide as per usual. In short, I couldn't single out one particular element of this listening session that bothered me. Perhaps because of my subjective, not overly analytical and at times forgiving approach. When the overall experience is simply enjoyable for me, I'm not into pigeonholing. And that was the case with iDSD BL and VE5 combo. It was pleasant and highly synergistic, simple as that. Come to think of it, Lotoo PAW Gold provided me with even more lifelike experience a while back, yet for what iDSD BL is, it turned out great with said German CIEMs. A word about Xbass trickery is in order, though. With VE5 this works like a charm. In short, Xbass pumps up both the lowest and above departments in said CIEMs in a particularly great fashion, yet at no cost at all. I can't say the same thing with D1000, these cans subjectively don't need it. But VE5? Holy cow...    
     

        
    Moving on, it was high time to use the main headphones - HE-1000. Their slightly mellow, wide and enjoyable character pushed all my buttons in an instant. These cans are the reason why I sold my Sennheisers HD 800 and never looked back. The distinctive difference between these two models is in company needs. 800s crave for a very specific amplification to sound good, usually times more expensive. Picture Bakoon HPA-21, Trilogy 933 and (poor version) old Phoenix amp by Audio-Gd. HE-1000 on the other hand will go with literally everything out there in more enjoyable fashion. Heck, I've had a blast with these and HiFiMAN's SuperMini DAP. It didn't drove 'em to their full potential, but the outcome was pleasant still. I expected nothing less from iDSD BL. In short and in above mentioned headphones' case, this deck provides what's needed.
     

     
    First of all, this transportable machine has lots of juice to handle HE-1000, which roughly translates to properly punchy attitude. Said cans can be a bit too mellow and watery (yet not boring!) at times, but with iDSD BL the sound is honestly feisty and engaging. Proper crack and shove is there, nicely rounded, generously textured and not overly contour or stiff. The gist is that their amazing soundstage is as wide and deep as usual, nothing is missing in there. The layering is grand too, one can peel off rows one by one with decently recorded tracks. And at this point it's worth to know that iDSD BLS as a package is slightly on the warmer side. Not cold, bluntly warm or plainly fuzzy and overly cozy in the process. It is simply spot-on in that regard, even though not being neutral in 100%. The density is there too, but not overbearing. HE-1000's bass never became boomy or unpleasant, but what it had instead is both proper control and great texturing. The midrange felt quite vivid and clear at the same time, the resolution was there too. To hear all 'em tasty details properly flavored, vibrant in the process and without any veiling at all is a fabulous experience in general.
     

     
    HE-1000's highs were decent too, without metallic tint, yet finely decayed, smooth and present. There was no need to either tighten their screw or make it a bit loose. Yet again, YMMV. But what stood out of the crowd is this 'organics' feature I've mentioned above. The gist is that iDSD BL and HE-1000 combo is tangible, vivid and with this lifelike tissue present all across the board. This in my book seals the deal as said feature is the one I'm subjectively after. It distinguishes good equipment from great one and said iFi's deck is able to pull this off. I could now dive into "I'd tweak this, I'd tweak that", but that'd be unnecessary nitpicking past HE-1000 experience. Let me simply state that the outcome was very involving and subjectively enjoyable as a whole. And at this point it was clear to me that iDSD BL doesn't fulfill the magnifying glass duties, it's focus is in texturing instead of sterile dissection. And that's always good for this audiophile.
     

     
    Next in line were Dharma D1000 cans. I'll allow myself to be somewhat shorter here, as HE-1000 was my main evaluation tool. The initial observation was that these headphones' rich, expansive and well-textured aspects behaved as per usual with iDSD BL. Said transportable piece allowed them to be what they are. Simple, ain't it? The bass was punchy, well-bodied and was of pleasant nature in general. It didn't sound distorted and with ENIGMAcoustics product that was the case once or twice. But the lowest extension wasn't there, it was hard to shake off the feeling that these cans put emphasis on upper bass region. Additionally, their tonal balance is usually shifted a bit towards downstairs department and this was heard as well. But because of SBESL driver, the FR is complete nonetheless, or at least it feels like it. These features make Dharma D1000 a rather unique performer, peculiar to say the least, yet pleasant overall. My point is that iDSD BL showed all that and of proper quality. Bass we've already covered, yet moving above things are tasty too. Grain-free, smooth and texturally rich vocals among other things simply work. I honestly hadn't had a viable reason to complain.
     

     
    Yes, HE-1000 gets this midrange job in even better and more organic way and price wise it should. But Dharmas represent somewhat similar, joy focused approach and iFi's product is perfectly capable of delivering it. Highs are one of American cans' trademarks. These are nicely extended, have proper body and are free from overbearing shininess. Some good words can be said about imaging as well. Everything is in order there, though in D1000 case it was heard, that iDSD BL tends to paint a picture somewhat shorter than usual. That wasn't the case with HE-1000 or VE5, on the contrary to this paragraph's main cans. The same story is with resolving power, it was slightly decreased with these and again, I had no reasons to be vocal about it during two other models' listening sessions. The gist is that the overall experience was of enjoyable sort. I got the impression that iDSD BL was able to show their character in a proper way. The outcome was less spectacular than with HE-1000, but that was somewhat expected. And Dharmas D1000 are strange.
     
    Summary
     
     
     
    I'll try to make this chapter as short as possible. iFi Audio iDSD BL is a great product to have. It's well-made, exceptionally versatile, quite convenient to use, has enough power to handle literally every set of cans out there and it's price-to-performance ratio is - in my humble opinion - off the charts. I can't tell, perhaps for iDSD BL's $549 asking, things can be different sound wise, to some of you even better. But what counts for me is that this English deck sounds really good and it sports that organic, tension-free and tangible approach, which I never have enough of. Hence if someone asks me what transportable and affordable device to buy, "Go for iDSD BL, you'll thank me later" is my answer.   
     
    1. some leftovers:
     


    dpwolfordMD, Krisna13 and x RELIC x like this.
  2. bapspidoff
    5.0/5,
    "iDSD Micro Black Label - An incremental improvement to an already outstanding product (World Tour Review)"
    Pros - Noticeably improved bass and smoother sound compared to the original.
    Cons - Volume knob position is hard to see on the black edition. I prefer the look of the silver to the black.
    First of all, thank you so much to Ifi-Audio for sending me a black edition to review for free! Really awesome of them to involve the audio community to such a degree.
     
    I will keep this review relatively simple. I have the original silver Micro iDSD so it only makes sense to compare the two. I A/B tested the two units side by side while listening to some go-to tracks on my HifiMan HE-500 headphones. I had XBass enabled and 3D disabled for every track (just my personal preference). I did my best to volume match them by ear but I’m sure it was not perfect.
     
    Tracks I used for testing:
     
    Kurt Vile - Wheelhouse
    Danny Brown - Get Hi
    Neon indian - Local Joke (tons of sibilance on this terribly mastered track, so a good test)
    Dirty projectors - About to Die
    Dinosaur Jr. - Plans
    Matthew Dear - Ahead of Myself
     
    After listening (and re-listening) to these 6 tracks I found that I was hearing the same differences over and over again and so I felt comfortable sharing my fairly conclusive findings.
     
    Results:
     
    1. These two units are different but not to a startling degree. They are still similar in overall sound.
    1. The clearest improvement to the Black unit is far and above the bass. The bass goes deeper and hits harder. This was apparent in every song. The added bass makes listening to the Black edition quite enjoyable. I will miss the added bass when going back to my original Micro iDSD!
    2. Time and time again I found the Black unit to be smoother than the original Micro iDSD. Sibilance is less noticeable on poorly mastered tracks and the overall presentation of the music is easier on the ears. The black edition sounds silky where the silver, by comparison, sounds more dry. The black sounds cleaner and has a sound signature that is a bit more immersive.
    3. The black edition has an improved soundstage, but only marginally so. It seems deeper and more realistic.
    4. Detail retrieval is basically identical between the two units. I found that I sometimes noticed details more readily on the Silver unit but that could be because it sounds slightly “brighter” than the black.
    5. When I briefly tried out the 3D setting, I found it to be much more enjoyable than on the original silver unit. I never use it on my old unit because it makes the sound too bright for my taste. The 3D enabled on the black edition colored the sound it a pleasant, perhaps more immersive way. I could definitely see myself using 3D on the black edition.
     
    I think that the differences between the two units can be distilled to this:
     
    The black edition is a marginal but not insignificant upgrade to the original. The bass is much improved and it sounds smoother overall.
     
    That being said, would I upgrade to the black edition? Probably not. One reason I wouldn’t is I actually much prefer the look of the silver unit to the black edition. It looks more high-end in my opinion. One thing that quickly annoyed me about the black edition is the inability to see the position of the volume knob. Such is the trade-off with black-on-black design. A dark grey unit would be the best of both worlds, in my opinion.
     
    I think if you are buying a Micro iDSD for the first time, shelling out the extra cash for the black edition is an absolute no-brainer. Do it. It’s an excellent sounding unit - Ifi-Audio moved the ball forward on this one and the original was (and is) fantastic so that is no small feat. Upgrading from the original to the black is a harder decision. I would personally be more inclined to upgrade to something that is a big jump in quality, not an iterative improvement.
    proedros likes this.
  3. heliosphann
    4.5/5,
    "Great things come in small packages."
    Pros - Huge feature set, compact, powers almost anything and plays almost anything.
    Cons - Poor LED placement, volume knob not marked well, battery can't charge while playing on USB power.
    *I was provided a review sample by iFi for the Black Label tour*
     
     
    iFi Micro iDSD BLACK LABEL
     
    Packaging and Build Quality
     
    The iDSD Black Label came packaged in a sturdy, well presented box. Most welcome were the plethora of accessories that it came with. Multiple different kinds of cables, connectors a storage bag and even rubber feet for the main unit. The lack of accessories is one complaint I've personally had with several other mid to high end audiophile amps/dacs, etc... iFi certainly didn't skimp in this area and I'm very happy they didn't. Also included was a small, but very well written instruction manual/guide.
     
    I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the micro iDSD BL unit itself. I actually thought it'd be bigger, but the size to me is very spot on. I was also always a little weary of the long, rectangular form factor, but it turns out it's quite accommodating. This makes it especially handy if you had a small area/work-space and real estate was a premium. The unit feels very sturdy and has a good weight to it, but it's not excessively heavy for portable use. I must say, the black matte finish with the orange markings looks fantastic. The numerous switches located on every side of the unit (minus the top) are very well marked and have great mechanical and tactile feel. I only had a few issues with the physical build of the micro iDSD BL. My biggest was with the placement of the sole LED indicator. It's placed towards the top/rear of the unit on a bevel and if placed to the left of you, is impossible to see. Placement towards the front of the unit, possibly right above the volume pot would be far more effective. It would also be nice if the LED, or perhaps a secondary one, would display if you are using USB Power or Battery Power. I also felt that the volume knob should have used some of the orange paint to mark the position indicator.
     
    Features and Sound Quality
     
    One thing for certain about the micro iDSD Black Label is it certainly isn't lacking in features. This is one very versatile piece of kit. I utilized most of the features that I would normally have if I owned this unit. That means I didn't didn't use the IEM matching as I only use full size headphones. I also didn't utilize the smart charging feature, but that's certainly a great feature if you plan on taking this unit on the go.
     
    I mostly used used the Black Label with several PC's via USB. The software download was super easy and installation was a breeze. Using Foobar I went through pretty much every format the micro iDSD could handle. With the exception of DSD/DXD, everything played exceptional. The sample rate change delay was slightly longer than some units I've used, but nothing too excessive. Back to the DSD/DXD playback, I initially had a few playback issues, but they were quickly remedied by increasing the buffer size. DSD all the way up to 256 and DXD played very well after that. I also used the Black Label as a portable unit with my iBasso DX80 as a transport via digital-coax and was very pleased by the results. I didn't run down the battery completely during my testing. However, the listed playtimes even in Turbo Mode, are more than acceptable.
     
    During my time with the Black Label, I used a variety of different full sized headphones with the unit. Everything I threw at it was easily powered from the HE-1000 to the HD650. I found myself mostly using the Normal and Turbo power mode depending on the headphone, although the ECO setting was nice to have especially if you wanted to get longer battery usage. The XBass Plus setting was solid as far as bass booster's go. Most of the headphones I used with the Black Label didn't really need it, but I quite enjoyed it when using my stock HD800. The 3D Matrix Plus feature was interesting, but I overall found myself not using it much. It seemed very dependent on the source material and the headphone used. On some headphones I felt it added far too much treble and on headphones with great soundstage/imaging it sometimes sounded strange. However, I did quite enjoy it with my TH900's.
     
    As I mentioned earlier, the micro iDSD Black Label did a great job powering all the headphones I threw at it. I also felt the sound quality the Black Label delivered was solid. Just straight out with base settings, the Black Label delivers a fairly neutral sound. I own a Chord Mojo and decided to do some A/Bing of the two with my DX80 feeding both as a transport via Digital Coax. I consider the Mojo to be an exceptional piece of hardware and feel it delivers far above it's price class. When comparing the Black Label to the Mojo, I felt it fell behind in a few areas. Most notable soundstage, instrument separation and detail retrieval were lacking. The Black Label also felt slightly warmer than the Mojo. All this aside, the iDSD sill sounded very good and I honestly prefer many of it's aesthetics over the Mojo.
     
    Final Thoughts
     
    Overall the iFi micro iDSD Black Label is a fantastic portable amp/dac, especially at its price point. This is a great all-in-one unit that can be used in a multitude of ways and is able to play pretty much any format out there. I’d easily recommend it to someone who’s looking at similar priced/featured portable amp/dac units.
    Vartan likes this.
  4. dburna
    5.0/5,
    "iFi Audio Micro iDSD BL - Tour Review"
    Pros - Sound improvements across-the-board vs. the original (silver) iDSD; greatly improved headphone sound
    Cons - Hard to see volume level on volume knob (minor)
    I was fortunate to be part of the iDSD BL Tour (US).  Below are my findings of a direct comparison versus the existing iDSD (silver) which I own.
     
     

     
     
     
     
    A couple introductory notes on my review (skip this if you just want the conclusions, though it provides useful context):
    • The set-up (pictured) is my work-at-home rig; I listen to the iDSD on a desktop set-up, rarely as a portable rig.
    • I also listen through JBL LSR305 active monitors a lot as I need to be on/off the phone for work and switching headphones to phone and back again all day is a pain. The 305s are surprisingly good for low cash.
    • I tried the setup comparison between iDSD and iDSD BL (called BL going forward) with all listed headphones but keeping the rest of the rig (iFi USB purifier, cables, iUSB) constant. As the picture shows, I had both iDSD and BL side-by-side so I could just move cables in seconds to compare specific passages, not just whole songs.
    • I did some tweaking with all kinds of settings, just for comparison, but I don't play around with these in 'real' listening – I find most of the knobs and switches useful for dialing in a good combination with whatever particular headphones I am using, then I leave them alone. However, I do appreciate the flexibility these different settings provide for personal customization.
    • For two days I listened solely to the BL. I find plugging in a new component can appear to make it sound 'better' at first mainly because it is different. I wanted to “get to know” the BL before doing any comparison.
    • Bottom line: during those two initial days, I enjoyed the heck out of the BL. It's a more immersive experience than the iDSD.
     
    Summary:
    • iDSD BL > original iDSD (possibly '>>', though I hate hyperbole, especially my own)
    • BL's black color is classier than iDSD silver.....but I'm not a fan of silver, so YMMV.
    • BL has better dynamics, air, soundstage depth, and bass control.
    • BL has a fuller, more refined presentation; iDSD seems a little thin in comparison.
    • BL seems considerably more powerful.....even though the specs for both seem the same. I had to turn the volume down ¼ to 1/8 on the BL dial to achieve similar volume with the iDSD. Start low with your initial settings, fellow tour members – you could be in for a loud surprise. 
    • I think BL's 3D and xBass are better, but the difference was subtle to my ears. They may be better on the BL, but the major difference was the overall sound improvement. That seemed to dominate any differences I could hear in the 3D/XBass comparison.....but that's just me.
    • BL had me just listening/enjoying for days without any nagging critical audiophile thoughts; I can't achieve quite the same level of immersion with the iDSD.
    • The better/more revealing your headphones are, the more pronounced the difference should be.
    • One (minor) suggested improvement: it would be good if there was an orange line on the volume control notch. It is hard to see the volume level on the BL, easier on the silver iDSD.
    • Sennheiser Momentum Over-Ears recommended only for cell phone/mobile use. :)) Now I understand what people mean when people say they are bass-heavy. Bass didn't seem so pronounced using my anemic cell phone. I'll keep using them when on-the-go.....not at home.
    • I don't like in-ear 'phones pretty much at all. Not comfortable to my ears, and I've tried more than a few. Not going to pony up for custom IEMs.
     
    By the end of my “tour time”, I lost interest in comparing the two and just wanted to maximize my time with the BL. The devil on my shoulder kept suggesting, “Hey Dave, just slap a coat of black paint on your iDSD and send that along to the next reviewer. I doubt anyone would notice.”
    ANSWER: Yes – yes they would.
     
    Job very well done, iFi. The BL is is an evolutionary improvement in most ways over the iDSD. Anyone still using an iDSD (like me), don't run it over with a truck – not that this would hurt the iDSD in any way. The iDSD is still a fine performer and I am quite happy with mine. However, the BL is noticeably better and well worth the audition, even if you are considering more expensive gear.
     
    -dB (with audiophile envy - again.....curse you, iFi)
     
     
     
    Equipment Used:
    • JBL LSR305 active monitors
    • Macbook Pro
    • iTunes, JRiver
    • Monoprice RCA-to-XLR cables
    • Stock iFi input cables
    • Headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Over-Ears v1.0, Sennheiser HD650s with Stefan Audio Art cables, KZ ATE KZ-ATE Dynamic Balanced Armature IEMs (bargain basement ear buds)
     
    Music Used:
    • Wes Montgomery “Echoes of Indiana Avenue” (2016)
    • Andy Narell & Relator “University of Calypso” (2009)
    • These Immortal Souls “I'm Never Going to Die Again” (1992)
    • Sean Watkins “What to Fear” (2016)
    • Vilde Frang “Korngold, Britten Violin Concertos” (2016)
    • Various Artists “Bureau B – Katalog I” sampler
    • Roedelius Schneider “Stunden” (2011)
    • Erroll Garner “Ready Take One” (2016)
    • Alejandro Escovedo “Burn Something Beautiful” (2016)
    • The Spinanes “Strand” (1996)
    proedros likes this.
  5. mathieu89
    4.5/5,
    "IDSD Black label - A great gear ... Not only for Headphones "
    Pros - True hifi gear - Quality for monney - Powerfull enough output to drive power amps
    Cons - none
    The unit arrived in perfect condition, packaged in the  usual iFi nice boxing.
     
    - The IDSD was powered through the  iUSB2 unit and an Uptone power supply
    I don't use headphnes, so my judgement is only valid for the RCA output.
    We connected it on two different hifi systems :
    1 - Krell / Vecteur Alpha / with and without the  Audio Research Preamp. USB cables is  Absolute Creation and  Howland for the RCA and speakers
    2 - A large Acoustat  44 electrostatic system, amplified with Electrocompanie mono amps, with and without a modified Perreaux SM3 preamp.
    Audio files are all non compressed, mainly Classical and Jazz (P.Herreweghe/Beethoven/9th - Harnoncourt/Haydn/7th words of Christ/Teldec - McGegan/Arias for Mantegnana- Ahmal Jamal/Live concert ...)

    Immediate comparison between the  Standard and Black label unit show indiscutable improvements/
    - Voice are more natural, I would say more transpare,t, but without loss of impact and presence.
    - Bass seems to extend deeper, lighter, but this extension comes without any negative artifact, at the  opposite of an 'Hifi' sound. There is more music there.
    - The unit is more dynamic than the  standard IDSD, an loses the  slightly 'warm' sound of the  former.
    Longer listening session shows that the Black label is more regarding toward the system on which it is connected than the  older one. It may reveal some defects of the others components, such as harshness or 'bummy bass.
    In some cases the addition of the preamp added some warmth, but removed some neutrality and tones reality.
    I clearly prefer this new unit. It is more of my taste : closer to the reality of dynamics, voices humanity and quick low response.

    Once again, AMR/iFi gives the opportunity to put one foot in the 'tru living music' for many audio enthousiasts. Thanks !
    I don't see any concurrence below 2000e to beat the  IDSD, and even more the  Black label. A true bargain.
     
    Mathieu
  6. silvrr
    3.0/5,
    "iFi Audio micro iDSD Black Label (The swiss army knife of the Head-fi world)"
    Pros - Plays just about anything, great build quality, good sonic.
    Cons - Tries to be a all-in-one but should focus on doing one thing really well.

    [​IMG]

    INTRODUCTION:
     
    When I decided to sell my Chord Mojo the iDSD was one of the units that got put on my list to research more.  If you have a box to check, the spec sheet of the iDSD BL probably does it.  Super High PCM sample rates, check, DSD, check, absurd wattage output, check, optical, USB, coax and analog inputs, check.  On top of that iFi follows some great design and build practices, high quality material and parts are standard on every iFi product I've seen to date.  
     
    With my past AMP/DAC being truly portable with the Mojo and my current AMP/DAC Schiit Jotunheim) being more a standard desktop solution I found the iDSD BL to fall somewhere in between.  With a price for the BL at $549.00 and the Mojo ($529.00) coming in slightly lower and the Jotunheim ($499.00) coming in even lower than that the iDSD BL has some stiff competition to compete against in the eyes of this reviewer. 
     

     
    DISCLAIMER:
     
    I received the BL as part of a Head-Fi loaner tour.  It went on to the next person when I was finished with my review.   I have no connection to ifi other than this loaner tour.
     

     
    HARDWARE AND SPECIFICATIONS:

    [​IMG]
     
    Packaging & Accessories:
    The BL comes in a nice box with a sleeve on the outside that has the graphics.  The inner box is like a iPhone box and there are two smaller boxes below the iDSD to hold the accessories.  There are a ton of accessories.  USB 3.0, RCA, Optical mini adapter, 6.35 to 3.5mm TRS adapter, a bag, non skid silicone mat, two silicone bands and two adapters to go type A to type B usb.  If you plan on using USB your going to need a lot of these cables and adapters as the USB input is a Type A male connector, not the typical USB type B (printer cable) you see on a lot of DACs.
     
    Specifications:
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd-bl/
     
    One of the things I see repeated about the BLs specs is its 4 watt power output.  Yes, it can do 4 watts, however that output is only into a 16 ohm load and it's likely only for a fraction of  a second.  Notice that the continuous power output figures are much lower and not at 16 ohm.  Furthermore if you look at the continuous power output (which is a more real measurement of what the amp can do) they rate it at 64 ohms and its 1560 mW.   Or wait, is it 1000 mW into 64 ohm continuous output, they are both listed on the page I linked.  
     
    I'm not saying the BL isn’t capable of powering most of the headphones out there, however, I think iFi should concentrate on providing solid ( and not conflicting ) values for output instead of some values for marketing to throw around.  Additionally, those power values are given using turbo mode, yet for some reason the dynamic range measurement is done in ECO mode.  Something tells me figures aren’t so pretty when measured in Turbo mode.  
     

     
     
    DESIGN AND BUILD:

    Inputs:
    USB (Rear)
    SPDIF Coax (Rear)
    SPDIF Optical (Rear)
    *Note that the SPDIF ports are combined and limited to 192Khz PCM
    3.5 mm TRS (Front)
    [​IMG]
    Outputs:
    RCA (Rear) Fixed or variable output
    6.35 mm TRS (Front)
    USB Power (provides 5V 1.5 Amp when BL is off)
     
    [​IMG]
     
    I find the BL design to be a bit odd.  Is it portable or more of a desktop solution?  It's small-ish and can run off battery which would lead a lot of people to believe that it's portable product.  However, it only has a 6.35 mm headphone output, which is normally found on full-size cans.   I don’t see a lot of people rocking full size cans on the go.  Also, with the exception of the apple CCK you're going to need some type of speciality cable to hook up your your Android phone or a DAP.  The USB input is a male port and won’t work with the common cables I see being used with phones and DAPs.   Yes, optical and coax are available to mobile users, however, your aren’t going to listen to anything over 192khz and DSD is out of the question.  Additionally, all the cables they give you are for full size applications.  
     
    I was pretty excited to see the 5V 1.5A port on the side of the BL  Thoughts of Volumio running on my Raspberry Pi feeding the BL while I move around the house were flying around my head.  That is until I clicked on the BL and noticed that the power to that USB port is cut when the BL is powered on.  I thought this would be nice for mobile users until I really thought about it, if my phone is dying/dead and I want to listen to music I need to charge it via a USB port.  The power port on the side of the BL is not a USB input only power.   OK, so someone with a DAP with plenty of power could listen to that while they charge their phone on the go.  Nope, useless there to, don’t forget once you power the BL on that port goes dead.  Not to mention with the BL connected to a DAP and your phone there is a mess of wires and quite a bit of bulk, not really portable.  I really don’t get how someone would use this port.  There are battery boost packs the size of my thumb that can charge my iPhone 6s a couple of times, Id much rather keep that in my bag than the BL.  
     
    [​IMG]
     
    OK, so the BL is more of a desktop solution.  This makes sense given the 6.35mm headphone jack and the RCA outputs (variable and fixed output available).   Then why have it use a battery, why try to make it small and powered off of USB?  If it's meant to be a desktop solution, provide a traditional power input and increase the footprint a bit, give use a bigger volume knob.  
     
    I kind of get the feeling that the BL is like a swiss army knife, yes it's great when you can pull that toothpick out of your knife, or save the day with your bottle opener or some other trick tool.  To have all that stuff you're making sacrifices in size or design somewhere else and most of the time all you really want is a good knife.  
     
    Build:
     
    The BL and all the accessories it comes with actually are very nicely built.  The chassis feels very solid and all the ports, knobs and switches feel solid.  The black coating on the BL should hold up, if feel like I see this coating on a lot of products and it holds up well.  Overall, the BL has very good build quality and is what you would expect at this price point.  
     

     
    USING THE BL:
     
    The BL has three power levels, Eco/Normal/Turbo.  I kept the BL in ECO most of the time with my Ether Cs. .  Only when I needed a bit of a boost on a track with a low recording level did I use normal.  The turbo made the volume knob a bit touchy as the power increases very quickly.  With my HD6XX I used either normal at the very top of the range or turbo at the very bottom.  Small volume adjustments in Turbo with the HD6XX were much easier.
     
    I used the BL via USB with two Linux variants; Mint and Arch Linux (volumio) and both times was plug and play.  Connecting the BL to my iPhone 6s via a CCK worked also and the CCK plug fits into the male USB port on the BL nicely without the need for any other cables.  On Windows (7 and 10) a driver is required.  I hate having to install drivers (this is a windows problem not a iFi problem) but iFi does make it easy, single file, click and it's installed.  It's also just a single item in your programs. (unlike Chord which left 3 or 4 programs to uninstall)
     
    The battery.  It lasts a long time, I really didn’t use it in a portable situation during my review.  However, I did have it connected via optical and wondered how it would fare without its USB power source.  It lasted over night without going dead even though I left it powered on.  The one issue I have is that it cannot run straight off the USB power source, it has to get some juice in the battery if left totally dead before you can listen again.  This was one of the reasons I sold my Mojo, I guess I'm bad at remembering to plug it in at the end of a listening session. Also, if I am constantly going to have something plugged in why not just have a desktop solution with a real power source.  By the time I unplugged the optical and USB it was just as easy to unplug my Jot power cable and the USB to move them.  
     

     
    HOW DOES IT SOUND:
     
    First off I would like to cover some of the ‘sound enhancement’ features and switches of the BL.  
     
    3D+: Maybe this didn’t pair well with my headphones or just isn’t my cup of tea but I found this ruined whatever song it was applied to.  I think the same effect could be gained with some bad EQ adjustments.  The output from the BL becomes harsh and I could never leave it on for more than a short stint.  
     
    Xbass+: A bass head may like this feature.  If you like the sound signature of your headphones and just sometimes just want a bit of a bass boost this isn’t going to be your cup of tea.  There is a large boost in the bass and while it remains clean and I never heard distortion from it, it's just too much.  Some of their other products have multiple stages of this bass enhancer but the BL does not, it's on or off.  A dial or multiple stages is needed here.
     
    The rest of the review is done with these two items in the off position.
     
    Filter: Switching between bit perfect, minimum phase and standard resulted in no difference for me.  
     
    Other Gear Used During this Review:
    Mr. Speakers Ether C  v1.1 (No tuning pads): https://mrspeakers.com/shop/1-headphones/ether-c/
    Sennheiser HD 6XX Headphones: https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-sennheiser-hd6xx
    Schiit Jotunheim w/DAC: http://schiit.com/products/jotunheim [Jot used in single ended mode only]
    [Source 1] Raspberry Pi running Volumio: http://www.head-fi.org/t/795895/a-70-bit-perfect-audio-player
    [Source 2] Desktop PC (Windows 10 via USB running Foobar)
     
    Overall Impressions:
     
    My initial impression of the BL when I first plugged it in was that there was way too much energy in the high end frequencies.  Songs like The Chain from Fleetwood Mac would have an over emphasis on the tambourine and cymbals which became a bit distracting.  As I normally do with a review, I spent a few days listening to only the BL, let my ears become accustomed to it and get to know the sound signature.  Over this period the high end emphasis became less apparent but would still be noticeable during some songs.
     
    I spent quite a bit of time listening to the BL, trying different genres and going through my normal review playlist.  I found the BL to be extremely competent and it drove my Ethers (low impedence) and HD6XX (high impedence) with ease.  I never found it running out of steam trying to reproduce low frequencies and it pulled a the detail out of my recordings that I was used to.
     
    After a few days I started doing some A/B testing with my Jot.  If you look at my other reviews I generally go through specific recordings and note the differences between a known (my Jot in this case) and the review sample.  I ended up finding that I was writing the same thing over and over again so I figured I would just provide it once and save some bandwidth.
     
    From a technical perspective I could be happy with the BL or the Jot.  They both power my cans with lots of room to spare and other than the BLs high end issue I noted above they are on par with how they reproduce the music.  Here and there I would think one was pulling a bit more detail than the other but without a switch box to rapidly switch it's really hard to say reliably that one is better than the other.  
     
    Overall, it will come as no surprise that I prefer the high end reproduction of the Jot.  For bass and mids I really like the Jot better too.  The BL has plenty of authority and control for the low frequencies but I just prefer the Jot.  I found guitars coming out a bit warmer from the Jot, and it should be, an acoustic guitar really isn’t a cold instrument.  We are starting to split hairs here though.  
     
    I think the biggest difference I noticed between the BL and Jot is I could sit back and listen to the Jot.  With the BL I was always in review mode, not really enjoying the music.  When doing my A/B tests I often end up getting off task and just listen to the music with a review sample.  That never happened with the BL, I was always listening to it and not the music or just sitting back and enjoying myself.
     

     
    CONCLUSION:
     
    I think the BL is a great example of what is possible today in audio.  A device that can easily be transported, plays basically every format and bit rate available, and can power anything from IEMs to super high impedance over ear headphones.  The BL provides a ton of options and flexibility, it can be used as a DAC and pre-amp for your speakers and has a wide variety of input options.  The construction is top notch and all the ports and materials are top notch.
     
    Furthermore, with the exception of the high end reproduction on certain songs I think it's very good sonically too.   However,  I never really enjoyed the BL, I never got lost in the music with it, I never ended up halfway through an album wondering how I got there.  I wish I could give a characteristic or specification to express this better but I'm failing at finding a way to express it in more objective terms.
     
    Finally, would I recommend the BL to someone?  With the exception of someone who has very power hungry cans and wants a transportable (not portable) solution; I would say no.  If you want a very competent portable player the BL isn’t it, it's not portable, I would only put it in the transportable category.  You really can’t stuff it in a pants/coat pocket with your DAP.  If someone doesn’t have the need for portability there are a ton of full-size and even transportable (within a house) solutions that come in at a lower price than the BL and are just as competent sonically.
     
    This review is a bit short on details of the sonics of the BL but I found it really hard to spend a ton of time reviewing a product and trying to communicate every last detail about the sound when I really don’t think people should buy it.  As I said earlier in the review I feel like the BL is the swiss army knife of the Head-fi world; if you're in the market for a DAC/AMP figure out what you really need and get a ‘knife’ that does what you really need and leave the gimmicks behind.
     

     
     
    OTHER BL REVIEWS:
    http://www.head-fi.org/products/ifi-audio-micro-idsd
     
    OTHER REVIEWS FROM ME:
    http://www.head-fi.org/users/365069/reviews
    Ancipital likes this.
  7. Aerosphere
    5.0/5,
    "iFi Micro iDSD Black Label "The Silhuette of Greatness""
    Pros - Musicality, Precision, Price/Performance.
    Cons - TRANSportable.

    The review was originally posted on quantumears but I wanted to share it with Head-Fi as well.

     

    Intro

    We have the iFi’s latest sorcery in our hands!
    We all know iFi. For those who don’t know, iFi is a renowned audio company. They specialize in all sorts of devices, DACs, Pre-amps, Amps, Signal Purifiers, Signal Enhancers etc… They have this crazy habit of supplying you with everything you’ll ever need while using their products.. On a side note, they are a customer-oriented company. A rare thing nowadays.
     

    Box Contents | Accessories

    iDSD comes with a well designed, elegant cardboard packaging. You can find everything about the Black Label on the box. Specs, features, technologies…
     
    Accessories are very rich. iFi thought of everything although we’d appreciate an micro usb OTG cable! Anyway, I must congratulate iFi for thinking and including the accessories like no company ever does. The only difference in the accessories between regular iDSD is the improved USB3.0 cable. It looks more durable now!
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Inside the box;
    1. 1x Blue male USB to female USB cable (1 meter) to connect iDSD to a PC.
    2. 1x Male 3.5mm to male 3.5mm (15 cm) interconnect cable to use iDSD as an amplifier.
    3. 1x Purple male RCA to RCA cable. (50 cm)
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 1x iFi branded, velvety carrying pouch.
    7. 2x Silicone bands to attach iDSD to a phone.
    8. 1x Silicone piece that protects your phone when you attach your phone to iDSD.
    9. 1x Female 3.5mm to male 6.3mm connector.
    [​IMG]
    Design | Build
    The device itself is big but not so heavy. If you are carrying a phone that is bigger than 5.2”, pairing it with iDSD won’t be a problem because they are almost the same size but does not have the same thickness. Its thickness is four times bigger compared to my phone. (LG V20)
    Most of the people consider iFi products as transportable, not portable but when you include it in your daily rig and get used to it, it does not cause major problems to you while carrying. Black Label’s finish is truly mesmerizing. I am not a big fan of orange but I must say that black/orange combo worked for this device. It’s fully aluminum and does not have any loose part which makes it very durable. All sockets are gold plated. Its side and bottom switches feel like good quality rubber, Xbass and 3D switches are metal. Please look at my night shots, BL looks utterly amazing.
    [​IMG]

    Improvements[​IMG]

    iFi re-designed some parts of iDSD to create the Black Label. Changes are shown below:
    1. re-designed output stabilisation
    2. OV2627 op-amps upgraded analogue section
    3. Panasonic OSCON capacitors loaded power supply
    4. OV2028 op-amps loaded DAC power supply
    5. DAC voltage decoupling based on audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
    6. GMT® Femto precision clock system power supply upgraded
    7. 3D and XBass Switches re-designed
     

     

     

     

    Sound Signature | Sound Quality | Resolution

    Following changes above granted a certain warmth to iDSD BL.
    Increased note thickness resulted in bolder mid presentation. This alteration contributed to female vocal tonality to be more realistic. Plus, added emotion increased the perception of holographic staging. Surprisingly enough, added warmth did not influenced iDSD’s airy presentation dramatically. Same goes for the treble extension. It’s not in anyway crippled or hindered by the new changes of iDSD BL. In short, Black Label sounds more organic and musical compared to regular iDSD. I personally, always wanted my regular iDSD to sound fuller, more natural.. Well, I definitely got what I wanted!
    Resolution is pretty much the same, however 3D switch do improve the perceived detail and texture little bit, which contributes to resolution by a small margin.
    Black Label’s bass is little bit rounder, tighter. With XBass on, the difference is HUGE. I’ll talk more about it later!
    Side note, iDSD BL is a lot more forgiving than the Original iDSD.
     

    Hiss | Volume Knob

    If you remember our previous iDSD(Silver) review, we implied Android and Windows not being all the same about sound. While using iDSD(Silver), portable devices tend to have a darker background whereas iDSD BL sounds fantastic on everything. USB or Battery Power, Android or Windows.
    Regular iDSD was doing some channel imbalance between volumes 0-30%. It wasn’t a big problem because of the gain modes and iEMatch wouldn’t let you to listen below 50%. Actually it wasn’t a problem at all. It was just a fact. The exact fact remains same with iDSD Black Label. We hoped that they fixed this slight discomfort but I guess it’s related to analog attenuator they’re using. Anyways, the problem persists but like I said this is not a game changer or an unfortunate loss.
    [​IMG]

    Soundstage | Separation

    iDSD has a wide soundstage. Not very tall, but wide. iDSD BL’s separation is a little better than the regular iDSD but still it is the weakest point of iDSD compared to more expensive systems. (LPG, Hugo etc.) I’m not saying that the separation is bad, I’m just saying everything iDSD gives is beyond its price range, except its separation. Its separation has nothing special but it is surely good for the asking price.
    [​IMG]

    XBass+ & 3D+

    iFi really did fix the switches, the change is NOT subtle anymore.
    Let’s talk about the “XBass”. It will be the new favourite of bassheads. iFi really outdid themselves on this one because this switch boosts the low end A LOT. I don’t have the required equipment to measure it but I can say that it acts like a 8-9db bass boost. It’s much much better than the Original iDSD’s bass boost which was very subtle.
    Now, the 3D+ switch. Well to be honest I did quite a lot experiment on this switch and I am quite sure that it narrows the soundstage and increases perception of depth when used with IEMs. It is quite different with near-field monitors though. It organizes the stage resulting in more precise and holographic staging. I wouldn’t use it with all IEMs though.
    [​IMG]

     

    Driveability | ECO – NORMAL – TURBO | Usability

    iDSD is a beast in this subject and that’s probably why it has so many fans. It can literally drive anything. In ECO mode, sensitive monitors, in Normal Mode, standard headphones and in Turbo Mode it can drive most power hungry cans.
    1. Turbo mode 10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm
    2. Normal mode 5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm
    3. Eco mode 2.0V/250 mW @ 16 Ohm
    According our tests, it takes 12 hours to drain iDSD in ECO setting while Battery Mode is activated. On USB Power setting, the battery won’t drain itself whether it’s in ECO or Normal setting. I’ve also tested it in Turbo setting. It approximately takes 6-7 hours to drain its battery.
     

     

    Digital Filters | Analogue Filters | Polarity

    When it comes to digital filters iDSD has, such as Standard, Minimum Phase, Bit-Perfect, I wasn’t able to hear a noticable difference. If I heard it, I’m not even sure it’s not placebo. The way I understand it, when you’re listening DSD, digitals filters turn into analogue ones.
    When it comes to analog filters such as Standard Range, Extended and Extreme, I was able to hear clear differences and I liked what I heard. When you’re listening to DSD, these analogue filters get activated. Also iDSD has a polarity switch. Like the digital filters I wasn’t able to hear much difference.
     

     

    Built-in iPurifier

    iFi integrated an iPurifier technology onto the PCB of the BL. Right off the bat, I didn’t think that it’d benefit me all that much. Boy was I wrong.. I recently bought a pair of JBL LSR305 for mixing purposes. Using LSR305s with my gaming desktop rig + Dragonfly v1.5 caused crazy amount of buzzing, hissing and RF. God, all that interference… I couldn’t stand it. I’ve been searching for a cure and then iFi sent the iDSD to me. Of course I instantly remembered the integrated iPurifier, I gave it a shot and the LSRs were DEAD SILENT. Truly amazing. All that interference from my GTX 1070, power supply and unshielded motherboard was gone as soon as I plug the BL in. I love you iPurifier. I truly do.
     

     

    iEMatch

    iEMatch is a passive attenuator that increases output impedance of the 6.3mm out a little. iFi doesn’t have a detailed explanation about how much it changes the output impedance but I assume Off <1 Ohm, High Sensitivity ~ 2 Ohm, Ultra Sensitivity ~ 3 Ohm.
    You may ask, “What output impedance affects?”. The general use of this that iFi thought was eliminating the hiss of very sensitive monitors. But it does much more. Output impedance changes the frequency response of an IEM or a headphone. There is a basic calculation for that. If the impedance of the headphone/IEM is at least 8-10 times bigger than the amplifier’s output impedance, it won’t change the sound. If it’s less than that, you may need to greet with a colored sound which may be nice or sometimes unpleasant. I really love the idea of having this switch on a device and it does its work very well.
     

     

    Male USB A | RCA Out (Direct/Pre-Amplifier) | SPDIF IN/OUT

    Having a male USB A 2.0 connector for the digital connection was a great idea. When you’re going to connect the device to a phone, all you need is an OTG cable and you’re good to go.
    iDSD also has a RCA output section. You have two different choices for that. Direct or Pre-Amplifier. Direct, as the name indicates, directly gives the DAC’s reference sound. Pre-Amplifier’s sound is more colored compared to Direct mode. It is warmer. Volume knob, XBass and 3D works with it. 3D that comes from RCA outs are different than 3Ds you’re using for headphones. They have a different circuit iFi says. 3D that comes from Pre-amplified RCAs are called “3D for Speakers”.
    Also Direct or Pre-Amplifier, RCA’s are working simultaneously with the headphone output.

    I’ve also had the pleasure of testing the SPDIF input, Toslink. I felt a little difference between USB input. Between digital audio transmission methods, the change is always subtle like this was for me. Toslink has slightly smoother but less detailed presentation than USB but in a very subtle way.
    [​IMG]

    Installation | Updating iDSD | Smart Power

    When it comes to DACs, installation time and progress matters very much. With a Mac OS, IOS, Android or Linux, iDSD is just a plug-and-play toy. There is no installation. If it is a portable device, to make it work in the Battery Power Mode, you switch iDSD on, then you make the USB connection, if it is a non-portable device, you plug iDSD in and switch it on. That’s it. Cannot be simpler.
    If it is Windows, there is a 2-3 minute driver installation progress. Download from iFi’s website, install and you’re good to go.
    Unlike most of the DAC or DAC/Amp brands on the market, people of iFi are busy with developing new stuff. There are many software versions of iDSD BL Micro. Currently, they are on version 5.2. They do care about your device and continue developing it with softwares. Version 5.2 has a playback delay problem. iFi pointed out that it was related to Sleep Mode. To solve this issue, they published 5.2B. 5.2B doesn’t switch to the sleep mode. They are calling it “the portable version” but I like to call it “the life-saver version”.
    iDSD has a Smart Power feature. If your phone battery is about to be drained you can use iDSD as a power bank. iDSD has 4800mah battery that can be used for that purpose which is more than enough for your phone or your tablet. It gives 5V / 1.5A which is quite standard. This feature is another plus if you ask me.
    [​IMG]

    Quick Comparisons

    vs. Lotoo Paw Gold ($2000)
    LPG has a better resolution, separation, deeper soundstage and it is easier to carry around. iDSD has a wider soundstage.
    Tonality-wise, LPG has a sharper imaging and a punchier sound because of its energetic upper mid region, iDSD is warmer because of its midbass and mid forward presentation.
     
    vs. Chord Mojo ($599)
    Mojo is warmer, it has a narrower stage and it is more intimate. iDSD BL has a more balanced sound compared to Mojo. Resulting in better detail revealment. They are both very musical. BL has superior resolution and soundstage. I’d personally go with BL. (Device size is real though, you may need to evaluate that matter in your mind first)
     
    vs. Audioquest Dragonfly Red ($200)
    Audioquest have a similar sound signature. It’s not as detailed as iDSD. iDSD have better PRaT and handles complicated passages more successfully. iDSD has more natural timbre.
    Red sounds kind of thin, especially with classical music. iDSD has more bass weight.
     
    vs. Audioquest Dragonfly Black v1.5 ($100)
    Dragonfly Black has a lot less treble extension.Technicality-wise iDSD has a better resolution, detail, separation and soundstage. When used without a Jitterbug, Dragonfly is more likely to hiss.
     

    Summary

    iDSD BL is the definition of bang for the buck in every way. More or less expensive, there aren’t many options other than Mojo. Furthermore, iFi is a concerning company, they care about you, also they care about their product, iDSD’s resolution is very good and it can literally drive anything. It has tons of features and I think iDSD BL is the real deal.
    If you are looking for a DAC/AMP between 350-750$ this is your safest bet. Go get one! 
     
    Side note: MSRP is 549$ without tax U.S / 599 eur incl. vat E.U
    proedros, Chip B, flinkenick and 3 others like this.
  8. dsnyder
    4.5/5,
    "Incremental Improvements...or the start of a new line?"
    Pros - Lots of inputs and outputs, great features, delightful sound quality
    Cons - Ridiculous USB type-A input, excessive size/weight for portable use, too many switches in too many places, loud POP! on power-up/power-off
    First, I'd like to thank Lawrence and the folks at iFi Audio for lending me a micro iDSD Black Label DAC for a week so that I could experience it firsthand. If you're reading this review, I'm assuming you fall into one of three categories:
     
    1. you have an iFi DAC and you're wondering if the micro iDSD Black Label is a worthwhile upgrade
    2. you're in the market for a transportable DAC and are curious about iFi's new flagship product
    3. you've followed a link to this page but otherwise, have no idea what this thing is about
     
    iFi Audio is a brand that requires little introduction here on Head-Fi, but in case you missed the massive crowd design topics in this forum that are associated with the micro iDSD, I'll provide a brief introduction. iFi Audio is a subsidiary of AMR (Abbingdon Music Research), which is one of the UK's largest manufacturers of high-end audio systems. AMR is famous for their Series 77 and Series 777 products, including the highly regarded DP-777 reference class DAC with NOS tubes. For the performance it provides, this 25.4 lb monster is a great value even at its lofty $5K USD price. The problem? Well, apart from cost, it's not very portable!
     
    In the US, the assembly of gear that renders sound into a room is commonly referred to as a "stereo", even if many more than two channels are enabled. The term, "high-fidelity" is an adjective that describes the quality of a stereo. In the UK, the reverse is true; the term "hi-fi" is a noun, not an adjective, and "stereo" indicates the number of channels supported by the hi-fi. You go to your UK friend's house to listen to their "hi-fi", not their "stereo."
     
    The name "iFi", then, is a personalized version of "hi-fi". Like that certain American company that is keen to put the letter "i" in front of lots of nicely packaged products, "iDAC", "iDSD" and similar names indicate that these are personal entertainment products with trickle-down technology from AMR. Think of iFi Audio as the "personal hi-fi" (or "i-fi") arm of AMR.
     
    Ignoring their Pro and Retro lines for a moment, iFi Audio's components come in two sizes: "nano" and "micro". These sizes share the same six-sided cross-sectional dimensions of roughly 2 1/2" wide by 1" tall, differing only in length--3 3/8" for the nanos vs. 6 1/8" for the micros. While too thick to fit unobtrusively into a pocket, these are seriously small components compared to what you'll typically find in a desktop or rack audio system.
     

     
     
    I think of iFi Audio as a one-stop shop for computer audio. In addition to five native DSD-capable USB DACs plus a USB to S/PDIF interface, their product line has the greatest depth and breadth in USB power and signal clean-up devices on the planet...by a huge margin. Their emphasis on purifying the power that is fed to the DAC is particularly telling--it indicates that iFi Audio has a deep understanding of how and why clean power is important to computer audio, and that understanding drives their product design and product enhancements. The most recent product to benefit from this understanding is the new micro iDSD BL.
     

     
    Those familiar with the original micro iDSD DAC/amp will find nothing new in terms of function and features with the Black Label model. All of the switches, toggles, inputs and outputs have been duplicated in the new product. The micro iDSD DACs come nicely packaged with a black velvet pull string bag, USB type B to A adapters, USB extension cables, RCA cables, a short 1/8" TRS patch cable, a TOSLINK S/PDIF optical coupler, a gold 1/4" to 1/8" TRS adapter, and elastic bands to strap the DAC to a smartphone or portable player. My original micro iDSD kit also included a set of stick-on rubber feet and a pair of thick plastic spacers to keep the DAC and whatever it is strapped to from scratching each other. I have found the rubber feet to be handy on my micro iDSD to keep it from marring the table or sliding around, but the rubber feet and the black velvet bag are somewhat mutually exclusive, so I can see why iFi dropped them from the BL's packaging. They are easy enough to find at your local hardware store if you want them.
     
    You might never know it by just glancing at the iDSD BL, but it sports three digital inputs (USB, TOSLINK and COAX S/PDIF), one analog input (1/8" TRS), one digital output (COAX S/PDIF), and two analog outputs (1/4" TRS and RCA, fixed or variable), plus a USB charging port. That's a crazy amount of I/O for such a small device! Think of the iDSD BL as the personal audio equivalent of one of those big, fat pocket knives with a dozen or two different tools. I actually tested all of these inputs and outputs, and they all work as advertised. What's interesting is that the COAX S/PDIF output functions even with the DAC switched off. As expected, there's no signal on the COAX S/PDIF output with PCM material at sampling rates above 192kHz or with DSD. The only thing missing is conversion of the analog input signal to digital on the USB and COAX S/PDIF outputs. :)
     

     
    The combination of Power Mode and iEMatch® switches provide, in theory, nine different gain settings; however, iEMatch® is likely intended to be used with Power Mode set to "Eco", so effectively, there are five different gain settings. These are important because both versions of the micro iDSD have volume tracking issues at settings below 9 o'clock. Used together, these switches should enable just about any headphones to operate comfortably at close to the optimal 3 o'clock volume setting.
     
    The sound can be tailored using the X-Bass®, 3D Holographic Sound®, Filter, and Phase switches. I always felt that the effect of the 3D switch was a little too heavy-handed on the original micro iDSD; however, it seems to be more pleasing on the iDSD BL, making it usable even without the X-Bass switch enabled for most music. My understanding is that these switches have a different effect on the RCA line outputs when the preamplifier mode is engaged, providing enhanced stereo separation in the bass. I did not test this for reasons that I'll explain later. Like all of iFi's other DSD-capable DACs, the behavior of the filter switch depends on input format. Normal and minimum phase are digital oversampling filter settings with different cut-off frequencies, and bit-perfect is a non-oversampling setting with no digital filter. The same positions affect the cut-off frequency of the analog filter for DSD. The phase switch is a nice addition, however, although I'm somewhat sensitive to absolute phase in my loudspeaker + room system, I've never been able to identify a difference by inverting phase while listening with headphones.
     
    The light on top of the DAC changes color to indicate the source format. I wish that the micro iDSD models used a color scheme that's more similar to the nano iDSD and micro iDAC2. On the latter, green indicates a CD/DAT sampling frequency while any other color indicates high-rez. This is a useful distinction that's lost with the micro iDSD models which illuminate green for anything at or below 96kHz.
     
    A more significant point against the micro iDSD models relative to their less advanced siblings is the loud POP! that is emitted from both the headphone and RCA outputs when the device is switched on and sometimes when it's switched off and goes in/out of standby mode. I was disappointed when I discovered this issue with the original micro iDSD and even more disappointed to find that it has not been corrected in the iDSD BL. Not only is this POP! somewhat painful if you switch on the DAC while wearing efficient headphones, it precludes the DAC from directly driving power amplifiers and powered monitors. It can be a problem even if great care is taken to ensure that the external amplifiers are always off or muted during DAC power transitions because going into or waking up from standby can also cause an output surge. While not expensive, at the ~$500 USD price-point, I expect an audio product to be more well-behaved. This is why I did not test the preamplifier feature on the iDSD DACs.
     
    My final gripe with the crowd designed micro iDSD concerns the USB type-A input. Oh my gosh is this irritating! The idea is that the DAC will be directly connected to a smartphone or tablet by way of an OTG or camera connection kit cable, making the combination a tidy digital transport+DAC+amp combo for music on-the-go. Even though the type-A input eliminates the need for a short USB cable, this is an awkward and un-pocketable contraption. What's worse, we now have a ~$500 DAC that is incompatible with standard audiophile USB cables like iFi's own Mercury and Gemini, even though the DAC is sufficiently resolving to benefit from using them. We're left using a low-quality adapter or springing for the type-A iPurifier2 (which I did not have on hand for this review) to connect the micro iDSDs to a PC, which for a DAC this size and weight is likely the more common use case. Frustrating! A type-A input would almost make sense on the smaller nano iDSD models, but, in my opinion, it has no place on the micro iDSD. Okay...end of rant!
     
    Moving on from form, features, functionality, and my personal gripes to what you're probably more interested in...how the iDSD BL sounds. In a word, "lively". The BL departs slightly from the signature iFi Audio "house sound", which I would describe as erring on the warm side of neutral. Compared to previous iFi DACs, mid-bass on the BL has a little more punch, and vocals soar with a more open, forward midrange. Highs are, in particular, more extended, airy and pure than the iDAC2.
     

     
    This new DAC is fast. I mean, crazy fast sounding--if that's even an audio descriptor. Listening to acoustic guitar, you get the sense that the DAC is tracking each string and the associated harmonics with tremendous speed and accuracy. No details are lost. Attacks emerge from the soundstage like a flash of lightening, and decays extend like rolling thunder into a deep black background. The more forward balance of the BL brings alluring presence to vocals but also to strings, snare drums, and brass instruments. The sound is energetic, punchy, and engaging both in the big rig and with headphones.
     
    Switching back to the original micro iDSD, I noted that the presentation is more laid-back and euphoric while still maintaining excellent detail. Soundstage width, depth, and height seem to be slightly greater with the original iDSD while the BL's soundstage is tighter and has a tiny bit more focus. The iDAC2 fits somewhere in the middle with a big, enveloping soundstage and lovely midrange bloom. It falls short relative to the BL only in its treble presentation, which by direct comparison, sounds slightly colored and rolled-off (both DACs using the minimum phase filter setting) vs. BL's pure, airy highs. This difference is most noticeable in acoustic jazz cymbals and hi-hat.
     

     
     
    Others have covered in detail what iFi has changed internally to bring about these sonic improvements, so I won't repeat them here except to say that the new Panasonic OS-CON capacitors should receive much of the credit. They are probably also responsible for the longer than normal burn-in time associated with the micro iDSD BL--this thing should finally settle in sonically after about 400-500 hours of playback.
     
    All three of these "micro" sized DSD capable DACs from iFi Audio sound terrific, especially considering their relatively low $350 - $550 USD price range. While there's not a huge difference in sound among them, each clearly has its own personality. If you delight in excavating every last micro detail from your music and listening sessions, the new BL is going to be your favorite by a mile. You might prefer the original iDSD if you prefer to just kick back and veg to soothing music with an enveloping soundstage while occasionally digging on details buried in the mix. If you don't require the portable features, the iDAC2 is incredibly resolving and punchy without being fatiguing.
     
    Your choice among these three may come down to system synergy as well. Listening to the BL with Grado RS2e headphones was an intense experience that could easily become overstimulating and even fatiguing depending on music choice and listening duration. However, the more laid-back Sennheiser HD600s were a delightful match to the BL's liveliness. In the big rig, if your system's balance tends towards forward or analytical, you may find the BL's intensity to be exhausting (perhaps addressable by inserting iFi's micro iTube between the DAC and your amplifier). However, the BL will add a little extra snap to systems with a more relaxed presentation. My big rig system employs room treatments and digital room correction, so the presentation is among the most neutral I have ever heard. As such, I never found the lively, energetic nature of the BL to be fatiguing, and I missed the beautiful, extended treble when I switched back to my beloved iDAC2.
     
    If you own the original micro iDSD, is there enough difference to justify the upgrade? It really depends on your listening priorities and associated equipment. If you have a dedicated audio PC with high-quality media player (JRiver, AMARRA, Audirvana, etc.) and Sennheiser HD600 or better headphones, you'll definitely appreciate the improvements in presence, detail, and speed offered by the BL. If you're mostly driving the DAC with a smartphone and using IEMs, the differences may not be as apparent or easy to appreciate. The BL is a pretty big step up in sound quality and power from the nano iDSD models, but keep in mind that it's also much larger, heavier, and less portable.
     
    The Chord Mojo is now the same price as the micro iDSD BL, so you might be wondering how to choose between these two. I happened to have one on hand for this review, so I did some quick listening comparisons. The difference in sound is nearly as great as the difference in size! Considering form factor alone, the Mojo is the way to go if portable audio is a priority for you. It's small, dense, and ergonomic. It has a pair of headphone jacks for sharing music with a friend without a splitter. While I don't love the mini-USB input, at least it's possible to find both OTG and audiophile grade USB cables with mini-USB plugs, including some from Audioquest. The Mojo's sound is even more laid-back, "British", and warm than the original micro iDSD, so the contrast in presentation between the Mojo and the BL is quite stark. Carefully consider your choice of headphones and associated gear before choosing one over the other. Both are beautifully detailed in their own way, but the BL presents a blacker background with greater dynamic contrast and is my pick between the two for best value for money.
     

     
    While I do miss some of the benefits of the BL in my system, I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing if iFi will give the iDAC2 the Black Label treatment. If so, that could be a very exciting sounding DAC that will be a welcome addition to an already extremely impressive lineup.
     
    Associated equipment for this review includes:
    1. Legacy Audio FOCUS SE loudspeakers
    2. Wyred 4 Sound mAMP monoblock amplifiers
    3. Emotiva XSP-1 analog preamp
    4. Morrow Audio and Straight Wire interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords
    5. iFi Audio, XLO, and Wireworld USB cables
    6. iFi nano iUSB3.0, micro iUSB2.0, and iPurifier2 USB power and signal conditioners
    7. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, Sennheiser HD600, and Grado RS2e headphones
    8. JRiver Media Center v22 running on Windows 10 (with Fidelizer Pro) and Mac OS X
  9. stevenyu2000
    3.5/5,
    "Good DAC with Multi-Connect and output"
    Pros - Flexible with lots input and output. Musical and Powerful AMP.
    Cons - Not Support DSD with Coxial input
    IFI Micro iDSD Black Label
     
    IFI released their new upgrade model of Mirco series , the iDSD Black Label , we called it BL .
    According to the IFI wed page ......
     
    In short, iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label has:
     
    re-designed output stabilisation
    OV2627 op-amps upgraded analogue section
    Panasonic OSCON capacitors loaded power supply
    OV2028 op-amps loaded DAC power supply
    DAC voltage decoupling based on audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
    GMT® Femto precision clock system power supply upgraded
     
    In short, iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label is:
     
    a tweaked to the roof original Micro iDSD
    a satin black version (with silk orange writings) of original Micro iDSD
    sonically much better version of original Micro iDSD
    loaded with latest 3D+® and XBass+® tech, superior over ones in original Micro iDSD
    10% higher price of $549 (ex-tax) / Euro599 (incl VAT)
    superior to original Micro iDSD




     
     
     
    You can expected the improvement in power supply to provide a clean and good support to the DAC circuit.
    A Black outlook let it looks cool and much high class than the original silver color.
     
    Thank you IFI for let me be one the BL tour in Hong Kong. My BL was totally new in box . I opened it from the box and hear its sound from zero run in .
     
    Talk back my setup with the BL.
    My setup was a transportable headfi setup. A DX50mod with coxial out to BL . A Venture 4 core Coxial cable was connected between DX50 and BL.
    The BL as DAC with direct mod , RCA out to my DIY AMP , A 8 core pure silver RCA cable was connected between BL and AMP.
    The IEM I used was IE800 with Earmod , 8 core pure silver cable used.


     
     
    BL provided lots of solution for me such as PC with USB connect to BL , DX50 coxial out to BL and use BL own phoneout for my IE800 , and my transportable setup , DX50 > BL > AMP > IE800.
     
    BL support DSD with its USB but cannot support DSD with coxial input. I have try some players with coxial out but BL cannot playback the DSD with coxial in.
     
    BL has powerful AMP inside, even IE800 can drive well and muscial . the bass+ and 3D+ effectted with more bass and better sound stage.
     
    I used BL as DAC for my AMP. It was a musical DAC , Warm sound with good punch. Its same style with the old IDSD. Since my BL was new in box , the sound with tight, the dynmic range, Treble extend and Bass punch was not as good as the old one.
    The old IDSD was demo at shop , maybe the run-in time not enough let BL as good as the old one. The good news run-in was improve. The BL at last when I return , it was better than before but still not as good as the old one. But I believe the BL will better than the old model as new BL change lots of capacity as they need run in as well.
  10. scootermafia
    5.0/5,
    "Honey, I shrunk the home reference system."
    Pros - Abundant power, stellar DSD performance, wide-ranging features to customize the sound
    Cons - Stretch-limo dimensions (narrow and long), 6.3mm output only, unusual USB input
    First off, I want to thank Tim @ Kitsune Hifi who sold me on iFi gear and gave me good advice on improving the digital end of my system (between the transport and the DAC), which was sorely lacking.  However, the iDSD BL could probably stand in for my home system, and at times makes me forget I even have a giant, overcomplicated rig.  
     
    Pre-disclaimer: I never write reviews and this will be a quick early one - some first impressions and my gut instincts on it - don't expect anything hyper-analytical, just some macro level stuff.  
     
    First impressions:
    This thing is long and narrow, while it's not for pocket use, it's not going to take up much room on the desktop, just place it judiciously.  It still takes up less area than a Chord Hugo, while clocking in at 1/5 the price.  It is made of hefty aluminum and the switches and knobs feel solid.  It has some heft to it, and the internal photos show a menacingly dense set of boards and exotic parts.  iFi does their own totally custom opamps, the digital clocking comes courtesy of their AMR ultra high end brand, and there are some badass caps and resistors in there for sure.  It's based off the new TI DSD DAC chips, of which it has two.  While you're going to have to make some adjustments to your hookups if you have all balanced stuff, it's well worth it.  
     
    Features: 
    The bass boost and crossfeed 3D toggles are subtle and don't seem to detract from the experience.  Not annoying me is a good sign, I left them on at most times, especially with the Utopia which can always use a little help to max out its bass capabilities.  The three different filters toggled on the side will take some experimentation and vary in their function for different filetypes so you can have hours of entertainment working out how they stack up.  With three different gain settings, I found that the Utopias do not need the high gain level - the Black Label seems not to flinch at really any of my mountain of headphones, even the hard to handle LCD4.  There are further IEM modes that can be activated to really dial things back and impedance match so it was able to play nice with my various CIEM.
     
    Sound:
    The iDSD has a male, recessed USB-A in the back panel; the included USB 3.0 cable has a cable mount female on it that slots into the recess.  I'm not going to think too hard about what iFi was going for here, nor am I going to agonize over the best way to hook everything up; copious adapters are included to make sure all avenues are covered.  I just plugged it into my Holo Audio Titanis USB Turbo to further clean up the Macbook's USB output, plugged in my Utopia, and that was what I spent the most time with.  I was really floored flipping through my DSD library (which has been dormant due to my use of the Yggdrasil, but is about to change with the impending arrival of the Holo Spring KTE Edition DAC, which will go head to head in my audio lab rig) as I think even on my home setup I've been missing out on some really insane little details using the Utopia - and this setup is by no means burned in or hooked up to an external amp.  I'm basing this all on about 4 hours listening tonight and on-off listening in the past week.  Loads of power and dynamics, ultra tight bass, and minimal fatigue.  I'm honestly laughing in horror at what i've spent on a gaggle of other portable dac/amps and DAPs.  They're all going to be spending a lot of time on the shelf.  If thieves showed up for the rest of my rig, I wouldn't even be that put out, so long as I had the Utopia or the Z1Rs and the iDSDBL.  The big thing is the dead silent background due to how well implemented the digital end of things is; pair that with the well-above-average power output and the relative efficiency of the Utopias, and they feel like they are being pushed hard even on medium gain.  This little dac/amp gets out of the way and lets the Utopia do their thing, while playing nice with literally every file format, even ones for which there are no files yet (DSD512 lol).  DSD256 classical is just fearsome, I don't even know what to say there, except it's a new level of delicate, nuanced clarity.  The free Mozart violin concerto on 2l.no should be a must have in everyone's test rig, with amazing transitions between the most quiet tiny bits towards the periphery of the soundstage exploding into the full orchestra, and each instrument placed laser-like in the headstage.  At this point in my audiophile career I have a ridiculously short attention span, so the fact that this new toy is not in a drawer somewhere yet is a testament to its value to me.  It's a keeper and at $550 should be on everybody's desk.

    Verdict: 
    Give it a try - in the very least you can feed your favorite amp with it, use it as a preamp, and everything in between.  iFi does not mess around and this is a disruptive product that has a no-holds-barred assault of technology and synergy to let it perform as it's doing right now.  Once I use it for months I might find something to whine about, but for now, it's a no brainer.  The real reason I'm using it is that it doesn't fatigue me with the Utopia, which is no mean feat.  With the wrong amp and dac, they have ludicrous clarity but will drive you nuts with that little bit of extra edge and attack and shrillness.  The only solution is a really good source and source material, and with some good DSD & hires files and the iDSD Black Label, you're all set.  

    Disclaimer: I paid retail price for any gear I've bought from Kitsune.  It's worth it to get an extra helping hand on what stuff to try next.  If I really wanted to, I could try to fish around for show samples direct from manufacturers to save a few bucks, not the case here.  
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