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Amp/DACs item created by joe, Aug 5, 2014
Pros - Compact, transportable, powerful, beautiful sound, tube-like warmth
Cons - Buttons, volume knobs, no balanced connections
Please allow me a moment to express my appreciation toward IFI for this opportunity to demo the Micro IDSD for reviewing purposes and return. The unit itself is a DAC/AMP combo which plays DSD natively, and sport Burrbrown DAC, so any fan of BurrBrown will be happy.
Upon receiving the unit, it arrived in a nice and neat box, and literally comes with a lot of supportive cables and adapter, a carrying pouch as well.
At first I couldn't figure out how to charge the unit because the confusion between the "smart charging" port on the side and the "digital input". Took me about 15 minutes to figure out that the unit charging port is the digital input with male USB and provided blue USB cables. I had to look for the manual to discovered that the smart charging port on the side is to charge your devices as an external battery pack only! So, please do not get confused
The device itself is like a chunk of aluminum with ports ! But it magically about the size length of the Note 4. Hah! Perfect stack up! Though, it would be nice and neat if IFI with all of their supplied cables would add in a short Female USB to OTG micro USB cable. There is only 1/4" out for headphones, and if you have 3.5mm style plug, you can use the adapter inside the box. I like the RCA stereo out for pre-amp to large stereo systems. This is excellent feature for people who also love large stereo system. It can be pre-amplified (controllable output volume), or direct (max output)
The knobs and switches, it would be nice to have the volume knob and switches more covered, recessed, or a button to lock it, because it is so easy to knock it out of the setting and damage your own hearings. It is best to set it and sit still to enjoy it. Therefore, I agree with people calling the IDSD the "transportable" unit. Beside, the rubber bands once strapped on to stack, it could easily hit and move the gain switch....which may again damage your hearing, I stacked it up higher to avoid hitting it. I rarely move mine, and more than a couple occasions I almost yank out my headphones due to the sudden loudness...this 4000 mW is not a joke ! So, it is good to set and sit to enjoy, and not recommended to pocket it on the go.
Battery longevity: I listen to my collections for about 2-3 hours a day, and it keeps up just fine, with both Zx2/note 4 and IDSD stacking, it last an average of 6-5 hours. It digital input actually will draw and charge itself whenever possible, and I observed that it charged from The IPad Pro, because they both went through their battery faster and the blue light will lit up even though the unit is turned to off. Therefore, on supportive device, the USB in port can be used to feed digital and charge at the same time. Interferences and noises are no issues here when stacking on a phone or getting too close to the computer. I do hear hums and such on PHA-3 when paired with smartphone being on top. So, interferences isolated = 1 more credit toward micro IDSD. However, IDSD micro doesn't have secondary self charge port while the main digital/charge port is being used, and that means you just can not stack another additional battery on top, this is where PHA-3 get the credit, but then PHA-3 takes a longer time to charge up than Micro IDSD. So, you get to pick your poison.
Battery recharge: it charges around 4 hours on average by using the Apple 12W charger and its blue digital cables.
Also to note, the adapter of 3.5mm to 1/4" that comes in the box will work with any 3.5mm TRRS hi-fi man style or Zx2 style.
It took me a few tries to get the Zx2 to work with Micro IDSD. I figured both Zx2 and IDSD has to be off , connected, then turned on IDSD (wait on the green light), then turn the ZX2 screen on in order for them to pair up ? Strange, but whatever as long as it works.
Now, then I tried to pair it with Note 4 and Onkyo Hf player, it worked just in a snap of a fingers.
Pairing with Windows 10 laptop requires manual download of the driver from IFI, and connecting to IPad or IPhone with IOS only needs Apple Lightning to Camera USB cables. I tried watching movies and gaming are both simply superb. It is so far the best Single Ended device that I have come across so far.
Summed up: It is Warmth but sweet mid range, beautiful micro energies variations, every micro movements of the tonal body from the inner fidelity can be observed . That is why I call it beautiful and sweet, especially string instruments and drum plays. Yeah, tube-like, impact, darker, warmer, but controlled, detailed, great 2D soundstage, and musical are the summed up of Micro IDSD perfectly. So, I guess, if they hit your spot ? Please read on.
The sound signature: warm tone on low and mid spectrum while the vocal is with great transparency, airy but darker trebles and very good separations. Very good soundstage, and this soundstage is the typical soundstage that I like a lot, the spherical soundstage. I would say it is even a bit more emphasized toward Lower mid bass and bass energies (the impacts, oh my...). This sound signature will grab "bass lovers" and "audiophiles" all alike at the heart on the first impression. I love (quality only) type of bass, and it really did grab my attentions. Please don't be mistaken this bass for the kind of bass that you hear on cheap gears and or low quality. I have to say it again, (it is the energies, the fidelity, the impact ) that is emphasized. For example, in the song that is well known to me, I feel the percussionist applied more power into his beats and plays but they are all so magically controlled, detailed, textured. The best enjoyment comes from both Xbass and 3D off. Beautiful dynamic energies.
The next thing I found out is that it uses Femto clock to totally eliminate Jitters ? I think this is the cheapest device to have built in the Femto clock at the price $499 on Amazon and authorized dealers.
Soundscape: surrounding and holographical
Soundstage: spherical, good width and depth. But with more attention and I would say this soundstage is with more width than depth, also the 3rd dimension Presentation is surprisingly good for a device with single ended and at this price range. Now, there is 3D function, and it seems that IFI reserved the extra 3rd dimensional depth and height for this feature. There is a noticeable improvement on this 3rd dimension senses when turned on. It also improves the width and depth of 2nd dimensional and the separations of each instrument spaces as well. Most importantly, it doesn't feel artificial.... Actually to really look into nit picking it, the mid is a bit sharper , and there are more reverbs, but not to the noticeable level to call it artificial. Some smoothness in the lower energy of upper mid and lower trebles play may be a tad harsher.
Bass: Very detailed , clean and full of energies while retaining the warmth but very clear and transparent. I love how deep, powerful the sub-bass goes and still detailed/controlled without being muddy, the separations of different plays are well presented, and the power applied onto each beats on different instruments are very well presented. Then there is X-Bass function, which don't really noticeably bring out "Bass" as I would think, it actually turned the mid-bass to be warmer and with deeper sub-bass. Bass is very enjoyable and addictive on this device with big body and defined dept whether you turn on X-bass or not because it doesn't really bring the kind of EQ like noticeable bass bump, but more like a different kind of sound signature bass. Keep it off for tighter and more controlled bass, or on for a tad warmer and deeper bass. I observed much deeper bass and slams on SA5000 VS TH900. It probably scales with the headphones and the headphones sound signature itself as well. The best thing about the bass here is the Percussion of the play, whether it is projected further away or closer to me, I always feel that Slam and Bang in full body (always full of energies and impactful).
Mid: Mid is warmth, with excellent separations, every details are well presented even some nuances details are playing out very good. Vocal is forward and clean with the transparency and smoothness. Mid spectrum is full of energy that one would expect coming from a powerful amp of 4000mw as advertised + some more, and not only that the variations of the micro details energies are very well perceived, and that means beautiful strings play, brass, and wind instruments. I would say Mid spectrum is one of this IDSD forte, it is just so good, sweet, fluid, warmth+smooth, linear, detailed and full of energies. Oh, and that electric guitar crazy plays, it is always full of energies. Excellent variations of micro energies, and kind of following it give me the total satisfactions, the feeling of hearing the guitarists right in front of my eyes, if I focused on to it, and never miss any micro-details.
Trebles: very detailed, warmth but detailed, splashy but soft, and well extended but Super smooth and thick, also a bit darker but energetic. It helps to observe detailed play without introducing fatigue. There is this beautiful blend of upper mid and lower trebles spectrum for a very detailed fidelity and sparkles without the harshness and hot coming trebles. It is so well received that the extensions of vocal tone is more "air like" rather than harsh "S,X,Z". I rarely enjoy Rock and Metal, but I tried it here "the veer Union-Decade", and it was awesome. I never liked Rock and Metal much because the music domain too much into upper mid and high spectrums, if not done right it could easily be lacking the bass thumb, energized and detailed trebles but harsh and hot trebles which had always makes these genres less enjoyable for me. However as stated here, I love this trebles and the sound overall from Micro IDSD
Conclusions: I have yet to hear a better (bass quality and musicality with the warmth+detail+transparency sound like this especially mid spectrum, vocal and wide soundstage) from a single ended sonically performance like this Micro IDSD. For the moment, I couldn't help but wondered "what if" there was balanced connection due to Dual DAC in this unit ? My experiences with Balanced vs SE had always been very favorable toward a good Balanced design. Even though my Demo unit had some flaws here and there, whether defective or bugs, it is still a too good with price to performance ratio. I enjoy it a lot due to the warmth tonal body, big and powerful bass but too well controlled, the transparency mid, the clear vocal, and the smooth transitional between upper mid and lower spectrums and then the airy trebles with flying details but still relax and musical. It makes me recall the 80ish hi-fi systems with tube and such, and back then I was only a kid....so....memory won't be that good for sound quality
The love-hate Story:
Ok, I give up. How come it sounds so good with SE connection ? The tonal balances, details, and musicality is even better than Zx2. For my personal taste and preferences, I love instrumentals, pop, EDM, ballads, therefore I love what I am hearing here, full of energy, dynamic, beautiful strings plays. One could even call this being a bit colored like i mentioned above, more toward the warmth and tonal body thickness, so it is all about musicality, enjoyment and not for picking your music a part in the while of not missing any beats and micro details. Also don't forget that vocal, very addictive. If I thought Zx2 had that unique tonal body and musicality, this IDSD micro brings it to another level, an improvement, at a cheaper price, and single ended connection! I can totally justify buying it for my Zx2. By this, I can enjoy Zx2 alone, or pair it up to IDSD micro for enjoyment, and I can even use it to iPad, laptop, iPhones, a function that Zx2 lack.
I had never been aware of IFI and it products line up, until I got offered a chance for this demo unit for audition and return. I was a bit skeptical because I am slowly losing faith of "affordable and quality" audio to be in any new products anymore. Then I wasn't even excited about the unit when it arrived. I even had a hard time with it on the first day. The confusion of smart charge port and digital and charging ports, the pairing with Zx2. But then, after everything was figured out and listened to it. I changed my mind, and I just want to buy it. Therefore, I went digging into it real hardware components and it explained everything: high quality components, and Femto clock, dual DAC, Quality Capacitors. It is so lovely, beside the unique sonical quality, I think it build is unique for this price range as well. I am glad to have the chance to audition this unit. The design within the device is all dual like (Dual DAC, Dual Mono Pre-amplification).....and the end output is only Single ended....god...so frustrated regardless of IFI explanations, I still think there will be a huge market for this type of Warmer, darker, more musical sound signature and balanced connection for an even better quality.
Comparison VS Mojo: form and build factors, Mojo win straight out. Sound performances ? I prefer IDSD micro with it beautiful warmth tonal body and transient micro energies, and I also prefer the more spherical soundstage. But keep in mind, Mojo can totally be Portable, with better clarity and transparency, more neutral, but only a little less spherical in soundstage, where as IDSD Micro is only Transportable....as in do not put in the pocket moving and jamming. All of these buttons will get messy and blow out your ears drums.
The potential of RCA pre-amplifier output. It is actually more powerful than I imagined. I tried on to connect o my large stereo system, and it actually is pumping pretty good impact, dynamic, and the soundstage is very very good for a device of it size. It carries on with the above sound signature from headphones, but most noticeable will the bass, depth, impact, and the soundstage. Me and my wife are both surprised by it. Therefore, I have nothing to say beside the good thing for this micro IDSD being a quality pre-amplifier.
Pros - sound quality, build quality, a ton of accessories, support of every format up to and including DSD512.
Cons - size which is more appropriate for transportable rather than portable use.
I would like to Thank iFi for providing me with a review sample of their flagship Micro iDSD in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd/
* click on images to expand.
I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record every time I mention about my preference of a portable audio setup where all I need is a small pocket-able DAP and a pair of IEMs for listening on the go. But as a reviewer, I try to be more open-minded and step outside of the portable gear circle to get my feet wet exploring full size headphones, portable and usb DACs/amps and even some desktop DACs/amps. Desktop setup for me is a real stretch because when I’m ready to sit down, my preferred listening environment is our family room couch, when our young ones are finally in bed and my wife next to me getting her daily dose of social media updates (thus a no open-back headphone policy lol!). At that point, I can stack up my DAP with a portable amp or hook up USB DAC to my aging ThinkPad to boost its audio performance.
Obviously, while using my DAP or my laptop as a source, I’m not going to drag a desktop amp on to the couch. Also, using some of my smaller usb DACs offers only a marginal improvement and can’t support all high res sampling rates, plus many of these are underpowered to drive higher impedance or planar magnetic full-size headphones to their full potential. It feels like I have to either compromise or to use different pieces of equipment to meet my needs because I want something that could be reasonably transportable, could drive everything from sensitive monitors to more demanding cans, and will support all popular hi-res formats. Add to this a wish for a great sound quality and not to be at a mercy of noisy 5V usb VBUS. Is this too much to ask? I thought it was until I got a chance to review iFi micro iDSD. Is this too good to be true? Let’s see what I found over the last few weeks of using this true Swiss Army Knife of semi-portable audio gear.
Greeted with a nice cover shot of all aluminum Micro, my attention zoomed right into the description underneath of it with “Octa-Speed DSD512, Double-Speed DXD, and PCM 32bit/768kHz”. You know right away this is going to be one serious piece of audio equipment with some major horse power under the hood. As I continued with my tour of the box exterior, turning it on the side revealed more details about Dual-Core Burr Brown chipset supporting True Native DSD and Bit Perfect DXD/PCM, a powerful 8Vrms/4W (into 16 ohm) output, 3D holographic sound system and XBass effects, and even 1.5A external charging port for your smartphone or tablet. But wait till you get to the back of the box and start reading every bullet in the Technologies and Specifications list underneath of a detailed drawing of Micro from every side. To describe it as “impressive” would be an understatement, and the only thing missing in there was a kitchen sink, and that was probably because they ran out of room.
Even before getting my hands on it, I was already feeling overwhelmed trying to decide what I am going to test first when I get Micro out of the box. The box was inside of the outer sleeve with all the printed info, and sliding it off revealed an all white “apple” quality cardboard box with silver iFi letters on top. With a cover off, now I was able to see Micro in all its glory, wedged inside of a secure foam cutout. My first impression was “Wow!!!” It looked bigger than I expected and had a shape reminding me of a car amp unit. I also felt a very solid aluminum shell and a noticeable heft as I removed Micro in order to get to the bottom of the box where all the accessories were stored across two partitioned sections. While in many cases I appreciate the actual experience of unboxing the product, here my highlight was reading a detailed Spec list which builds up the anticipation!
As much as I couldn’t wait to get to Micro, I had to set it aside and move on to examine the accessories. First of all there was a detailed manual, very important in this case since Micro is full of surprises you can easily miss. Then, you have 4 clear rubber stick on bumps to use under the iDSD for additional friction and/or to prevent surface from scratches, and also a semi-transparent rubbery pad to use with iDSD when you stacking it with another device (smartphone, tablet, DAP, etc). You also get 1/4” to 3.5mm adapter since iDSD has 1/4” HO. With all aluminum/silver body finish I personally didn’t like the look of a gold adapter sticking out of the socket, so I found a shallow silver one as a replacement (PC-234S model). Also, iFi included a velour drawstring storage/protection pouch and 2 mounting rubber bands to secure transport/source devices to Micro.
Moving on to cables, you will find a dual RCA high quality cable, and I really mean HIGH quality! You also get a short 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect cable to use Micro as amplifier from your source. Next is the USB-A to USB-B socket adapter cable and another short adapter to accommodate Micro’s USB-A connector on the back since many audio digital cables are usb-a to usb-b. Also, you get a high quality USB-A socket to USB-A connector cable to attach Micro directly to you computer. And if that wasn’t enough, they also included Toslink to mini 3.5mm optical adapter since Micro’s Coax port is combined with optical input. Only one adapter was included, though I would have preferred a pair in order to transform a common Toslink cable.
This was a very impressive collection of accessories, and I’m not talking about cheap fillers, but the actual high quality cables and other goodies. The only thing I would add is a short OTG adapter cable, typical USB-A socket to micro-USB connector for Android devices, and a camera adapter kit cable for iPhone/iPad devices. Micro supports USB OTG connection and with USB-A connector on the back you can go directly with a short adapter cable to your smartphone or tablet.
PC-234S replacement 1/4" to 3.5mm adapter (not included, search for it on eBay):
I already mentioned that from the first look Micro iDSD design reminded me of a car amp unit. It looks very clean with all aluminum body which probably great for heat dissipation and EMI shielding, and slopped edges along the sides for stacking other iFi units on top of each other. When you visit iFi website, you will find that all of their products have the same universal shape and uniform aluminum look. Weighting a little over 300g and with dimensions of 177mm x 67mm x 28mm, Micro looks a little bulky for a portable use, but next to my Note 4 I quickly realized that it’s only a little bit longer in comparison. You do feel heft of the unit, but it’s manageable. As many have mentioned this already, Micro iDSD is transportable rather than portable.
Starting with a “faceplate”, you will find 1/4” headphone jack all the way to the left, far away from an analogue volume control pot which is on the right. Volume knob also turns the power on/off with a click as you turn it clockwise. Also, there is LED light through a small pinhole on the top of Micro where the LED color indicates different audio formats as well as battery charging status. My only comment here is that I wish the knob would be a little more textured (like a fine diamond cut) to enhance the grip which can get a bit slippery. I really like that headphone jack and volume pot were far apart, unlike in Nano iDSD where they are next to each other causing a bit of an obstruction with headphone cables that use thicker connector housing. In the middle of the faceplate you have 3.5mm audio signal input for a direct amplification of the analog signal (from HO). To the Left/Right of this Input you have 2 high quality toggle switches, XBass for bass extension and 3D for holographic sound expansion – more about their effect in Sound analysis section of the review.
One thing to keep in mind and something which is not obvious until you read iFi detailed manual, the internal battery (a hefty 4800 mAh) allows two modes of power operation. If you turn the power on before connecting to your source, you will be running in Battery Power mode and not draining the power from the source, also important since some smartphones will not allow usb DAC connection if excessive power drain is detected. Otherwise, if you connect Micro to your source (with usb cable) and then turn the power on – you will be running in USB Power mode while also charging the battery. Just keep in mind, the usb charging from laptop is painfully slow. Either way, you have two different options. Furthermore, Micro’s digital input (USB A port) also has a built-in iPurifier Lite which suppresses the noise from USB power line and conditions the data signal.
This brings us to the rear panel of Micro where you will find USB-A connector all the way to the right – the digital data input feeding into the internal DAC. It was a bit strange not to find a more traditional USB-B connector, but the convenience of a straight USB-A allows a direct connection with USB OTG adapter to pair up with a smartphone or a tablet. In a portable setup you want to have as little as possible cable interconnects to keep it clean, and in this case you can just use a very short USB OTG adapter for Android devices or camera kit adapter for Apple devices. With other included cables and adapters you have different options to connect to your computer or to use an adapter so you can switch to your aftermarket high quality digital audio cables.
Next to USB input you have a Line Out which bypasses the internal amplifier and sends the signal from DAC to L/R RCA connectors. That output could be connected to another external amplifier or receiver. This Line Out output is actually configurable where underneath of Micro there is a switch allowing selection between Direct (0dB) or Pre-Amplifier (6dB) modes. Next to Line Out you have SPDIF Coaxial combined with Optical port which works either as Input or Output – this socket is auto-switching. When USB audio signal is connected, this port functions as SPDIF Coaxial Output. Then, when USB audio signal is disconnected, this port functions as SPDIF Coaxial or Optical Input. Due to combined nature of this port, optical Input uses 3.5mm mini-Toslink connection thus a reason why iFi included one Toslink mini adapter plug. Basically, if you want to use your DAP as a transport to feed the digital signal into Micro’s DAC/amp, this is a way to go, and if your source supports Toslink optical signal – it’s the best choice over a coax cable.
Moving along the left side of Micro, you will find USB-A port which is only intended for SmartPower Charging, supporting 5V at 1.5A to charge your smart device. On the other side you will find 3 different slide switches. To make it stand out, the red switch corresponds to PowerMod gain with ECO (2V, 250 mW @16 ohm), Normal (4V, 1W @16 ohm), and Turbo (8V, 4W @16 ohm). That is quite a spread allowing to drive anything from efficient to power hungry headphones. Of course, the gain mode selection will have an effect on the battery life, where it's estimated to get close to 12hrs (in ECO mode) down to 9hrs (in Normal mode) reduced to 6hrs (in Turbo mode). And if that wasn’t enough, underneath of Micro there is another power adjustment called IEMatch for sensitive IEMs with Off (0dB), High Sensitivity (12dB), and Ultra Sensitivity (24dB) attenuation adjustment. I’ve never seen this level of micro-adjustment to accommodate anything and everything under the sun! In addition to that, next to the gain PowerMode switch you will also find Polarity selection switch (for digital signal source), and a Digital filter to switch between Standard, Minimum Phase, and Bit-Perfect modes.
You can definitely see that iFi team put a lot of thought into the design and flexibility of controls where you don’t need any external software and can adjust and change all these modes of operation straight from the unit. Overall, it wasn’t just a high quality material used in the design of the body, but also the selection of toggle and slider switches that felt solid and durable.
Using micro iDSD as an external battery pack charger.
Under the hood.
Moving on to the internal design, I discovered that Micro was actually Crowd-Designed when iFi made their original post in March of 2014 on Head-fi, asking the members of this #1 audio community to list what they would like to see in this upcoming flagship DAC/amp. We are used to hearing Crowd-Funded term when companies seek money to turn their ideas into a real product. Here, we are talking about iFi Audio which is a subsidiary of Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) - one of the UK's largest manufacturers of high-end audio systems that cost up to $100k, a successful company that has been in businesses since 2000. Despite all this credibility, they opened the forum discussion to build a list of desired features by asking the Crowd who this Design was intended for. In today's audio market this is very rare, especially among reputable established companies.
Unfortunately I didn't follow their original Crowd-Design thread until now, but it's a truly fascinating read I highly recommend to check out here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/711217/idsd-micro-crowd-designed-and-the-new-firmware-flavours-are-here-page-138. In addition to following everything from "birth" of the ideas, it contains a very well organized index page with links to corresponding posts going over every single design detail. Furthermore, iFi is very active in Head-fi community, and I see constant interaction and replies where this thread continuous to grow with more info.
Block diagram of the design:
I'm not going to rehash all the details, and I already covered all the ports and controls in a Design section of my review. One thing to keep in mind, with a selection of Burr Brown dual-core DAC chipset which actually utilizes 2x DAC chips across 4 output channels, you have a Native DSD/PCM support of every available high resolution format. We are talking about up to Octa-DSD speed of DSD512, obviously supporting Quad/Dual/Single DSD256, DSD128, and DSD64, and also double/single speed DXD with 768/705.6kHz and 384/352.8kHz, and PCM from 44.1kHz to 768kHz. I wasn't even able to find DSD512 samples for listening, and thanks to iFi samples included with iPurifier2 on usb stick, was able to play and to verify DSD64/128/256 using Foobar2k playing on my aging laptop. Of course, this is a universal audio interface and every other lossy and lossless audio format will be supported.
A lot of people just assume because Burr Brown DAC is in the picture, it’s a slam dunk when it comes to sound quality. Any DAP or DAC/amp architecture has many variables which all contribute to a final shaping of the sound. I have a few DAPs using PCM1792, yet they all sound different. This was my first experience with an audio gadget utilizing DSD1793, and I’m sure it will sound different from others due to iFi unique tuning of the amp section. Luckily, due to plethora of inputs and output, you can also separate DAC and amp for a better evaluation. But combined together, Micro offers a very addictive smooth analog detailed expanded neutral sound that brings up the best in any type of headphones regardless of their sound signature.
I can imagine that some people will expect a sound analysis based on evaluation of various parts of the frequency spectrum, but in reality we hear the sound not from a pure DAC/amp perspective, but rather colored by headphone signature. I will cover various headphone pair ups with relatively comparison to other DACs/amp in Pair-up section of my review, but in this section I want to bring up a few other interesting observation about Micro iDSD sound performance.
With popularity of the original Nano iDSD, I’m sure many would be interested to know how Micro compares to Nano. Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on Nano as well for review/comparison. To my ears Micro sounds more transparent, more multi-dimensional (even without 3D holographic effect), more dynamic, and with blacker background. Of course this should be expected considering a more advanced design and a different selection of components. But in this case it wasn’t “just a little bit better” but actually noticeably better. At the same time, for a portable convenience at less than half of the price, Nano definitely deserves a serious consideration.
Going back to Micro, you have an option to either use it as DAC/amp or Amp by itself. I found this next test to be very interesting because Micro combination of DAC/amp sounds fantastic, but while testing amp by itself I found the sound to be not as dynamic or layered and lacking some transparency. Don't get me wrong, amp is actually clean and relatively neutral, but the sound was missing the smooth detailed dynamic magic of Burr-Brown chipset. To take full advantage of that, you need to either use digital/USB input or Coax input.
With Coax input you bypass your source's internal DAC/amp and go straight into Micro where you can either use an electrical RCA Coax cable or optical Toslink cable, depending on your source. If your source supports both, like in some DAPs where Coax and Optical (mini toslink) inputs are combined, after a close a/b comparison I consistently hear with optical connection the sound being a little smoother and slightly more refined. I went back'n'forth many times to rule out a placebo effect, and every single time I found that I prefer optical interconnect over coax cable. If your source doesn't have optical output, Coax cable is still a great alternative, but otherwise - go for optical connection. I used Extreme audio short optical interconnect cable, this one.
If you want to use your smartphone as a source, now you have access to a direct USB OTG digital connection. Testing with my Galaxy Note 4, I found no EMI interference, excellent pair up with all of my headphones, dynamic analog smooth detailed sound, and overall no major difference in sound quality compared to Micro pair up with other DAPs through coax/optical, though maybe just a little bit smoother and warmer with Note 4 in comparison to dedicated DAPs.
One advantage of using Micro digital input is that it has a built-in iPurifier Lite. You can't really disable it to note the difference, but I was able to use iFi standalone iPurifier 2 to hear the advantage of its functionality in series with USB port. I ran the test using my Note 4 as a source/transport, and found that Micro (w/built in iPur Lite) vs Micro (w/iPur2 in series) yielded another noticeable change where the background became blacker, leading to a cleaner on/off sound of the notes with a faster transient, especially in instrumental tracks.
The same test using my Note 4 as a source and Nano vs Nano (w/iPur2 in series) yielded a very noticeable change with background becoming blacker and a significant reduction in background noise. It actually improved Nano sound quality making it more dynamic, more transparent; maybe not on a level of Micro performance but definitely with an improvement. The only problem - it adds a bulk to Nano iDSD, making it less portable.
Of course I can't finish sound analysis section without talking about XBass and 3D effects. Activating XBass resulted in what I hear as a narrow and well controlled sub-bass boost that doesn't spill into lower mids and has a very subtle effect on mid-bass. I definitely hear it as a well controlled boost, focusing mostly on sub-bass without affecting too much mid-bass or muddying the mids.
While testing, 3D holographic toggle had a bit of a polarizing effect on me. Enabling 3D seems to affect only upper mids/treble region, acting like an exciter effect, adding some airiness to the sound, and creating a wider/deeper perception of the stage. To my surprise I found this effect to work not as good with every pair of headphones. It works great with warm and neutral signature headphones, but when used with bright headphones - it can make treble harsh and grainy. Example, PM-3 and A2000Z benefited from Micro 3D effect, but ES60, EL-8C and DN2kJ – not as much.
Pair-up and Comparison.
I think this “pair-up” section is the most important in describing the sound of Micro because it gives you a better perspective with a relative comparison of how other headphones sound with Micro and how it compares to a selection of other DACs/amps. In this test I used Micro connected to my laptop, and selected ES60, PM-3, EL-8C, and U12 for listening comparison with Micro iDSD, Nano iDSD, Schiit FULLA, Cozoy Aegis, and GeekOut GO450. Below are my listening notes with each pair of headphones.
Westone ES60 CIEM.
w/Micro - hissing is under control with a gain switch (of IEMatch), smooth detailed sound, punchy extended tight bass, smooth detailed mids, well defined extended treble, smooth analog detailed tonality, and excellent transparency and layering/separation of instruments.
w/Nano – more background hiss (can’t take advantage of gain switch), the sound is not as smooth as Micro, still a punchy extended bass, but not as articulate in comparison to Micro, mids are revealing and detailed, but not as smooth as Micro, treble is very similar and so does soundstage expansion.
w/FULLA - a lot of hiss and distracting EMI crackle, soundstage is a little wider in comparison to Micro, the sound is bright and detailed, bass is not as tight and sub-bass is extended but not as deep as with Micro, but still, the bass is fast and punchy, mids are brighter in comparison, a little more upfront though not as smooth, also treble is brighter and with more crunch.
w/AEGIS - a lot of hiss, have to use a minimum volume setting (too much default gain, not good with sensitive multi-BA monitors), and I hear a lot of background noise. The sound is balanced, detailed, bright, with a punchy extended tight bass, detailed revealing mids, and a well defined extended treble.
w/GO450 - using 47 ohm output I hear less hissing/noise - but sound is dull and not as detailed, when switching to 0.47 ohm out – serious hissing, but sound is more detailed. With the later one, I hear a balanced detailed revealing sound, punchy extended tight bass, detailed revealing mids, and a well defined extended treble.
Oppo PM-3 planar magnetic full size.
w/Micro – I hear a smooth detailed sound, punchy bass (but not as fast), smooth clear mids, nice smooth clear treble which is not as airy or extended. In this pair up mids sound very natural, probably the best PM-3 pair up I heard to date. I was a bit surprised since PM-3 is warm smooth to begin with, but Micro made them shine, especially with 3D switch on.
w/Nano – it was a bit short on power to drive PM-3 to their full potential, definitely a bit of a stretch for Nano, the sound was not as smooth, less revealing, not as transparent or layered, it was clear but not as detailed, and mids were a little less natural.
w/FULLA - nice deep punchy bass, tight and articulate, but mids didn’t sound as natural, and the sound was not as transparent or layered, a bit flat, though treble was clear and well defined – the star of his pair up.
w/AEGIS - nice deep articulate bass, but mids sound a bit off being a bit bright and unnatural, nice extended treble with a good airiness.
w/GO450 - great bass impact, bright detailed mids, nicely extended treble, and a decent transparency.
Audeze EL-8C planar magnetic full size.
w/Micro - bright revealing fast sound, has a slight metallic sheen, punchy fast bass, bright analytical mids, airy extended treble. Mids are not as organic or natural. I was a bit surprised, but didn’t like this pair up.
w/Nano - bright revealing sound, very noticeable metallic sheen, punchy fast bass but not as much sub-bass, bright analytical mids though could be a bit harsh with some songs, crisp extended airy treble. Mids could be a lot more smoother.
w/FULLA - bright revealing fast sound, fast punchy bass, bright analytical mids, airy extended treble, still traces of metallic sheen, and sounds is not as natural.
w/AEGIS - bright revealing sound, metallic sheen, too vivid, fast punchy bass with a noticeable sub-bass extension, mids are bright revealing but slightly harsh, treble is bright crisp airy.
w/GO450 - bright revealing sound, articulate fast tight bass, mids are a bit shouty, bright, revealing, not as metallic as with other pair ups. Treble is crisp and extended. This pair up yields a touch less of metallic sheen.
64 Audio ADEL U12 IEM.
w/Micro - zero hiss (in Eco gain), smooth detailed sound, fast deep articulate low end with a nice punch, smooth detailed mids, smooth clean well defined treble. Nicely expanded soundstage, even works with 3D switch.
w/Nano - a little bit of hiss, smooth detailed sound, deep articulate low end with a fast punch and a nice sub-bass extension, but bass is not as tight as with Micro. Mids are smooth and detailed, but not as detailed as Micro, and I also hear a clean treble though not as extended. Micro feels like it has a little better retrieval of details with U12.
w/FULLA - a little hiss, sound is a bit congested with overpowering low end, and not as transparent or detailed. But overall tonality is warm and you can hear a tight low end punch.
w/AEGIS - too much power for these IEMs, too much noise/hiss, can't even play it from laptop, this DAC/amp is not good for majority of sensitive IEMs.
w/GO450 - (0.47 ohm output), smooth warm sound, low end is not as tight but still has a good sub-bass extension, warm smooth clear mids but not as detailed, clear treble with some roll off.
With some other headphones.
Micro w/T5p.2 - bright revealing detailed sound, not as much body or sub-bass, fast mid-bass punch, lean lower mids, bright analytical upper mids, a bit harsh with some traces of sibilance, bright crisp, airy treble.
Micro w/R70x - excellent pair up with a very natural detailed sound, articulate punchy mid-bass, lean detailed mids with organic sound quality and excellent retrieval of details, extended crisp treble, excellent soundstage.
Micro w/MSR7 - great pair up with a clear detailed sound, not too bright, punchy extended bass, nicely balanced mids (not too full or too lean), mids are definitely not as bright as with some other sources, and crisp detailed treble. Has a great soundstage expansion as well. Overall sound is well balanced and detailed.
Micro w/DN2kJ - good pair up, upper frequencies are under control, but still a bit bright and with a more mid-forward signature. Bass quality is good, but not as much quantity, sound sig is more J shaped.
When it comes to my casual headphone listening at home, I found that any USB DAC will do because they all improve the sound of my aging ThinkPad T430s laptop. But it was never as enjoyable until I switched to Micro iDSD and now can't even think about using anything else. Micro's smooth analog detailed sound characteristics just works with any pair of headphones regardless of their sound signature. Micro's design has an amazing flexibility to accommodate any audio setup, portable or desktop. And due to its ability to play everything up to and including Octa-speed DSD512, instead of enjoying my usual selection of EDM tracks, now I'm looking for exotic DSD128, DSD256, and DSD512 classical orchestra performances (typical hi-res recordings). Did I become a fan of Mozart and Chopin music renditions? Not really, but I'm fascinated with being able to play 1.5GB DSD256 audio files from my laptop without skipping a beat or a string.
I'm already anticipating questions after the review asking me how does Micro iDSD compares to another wave of British invasion from Chord, such as Mojo or Hugo. I can't answer that because I never tested any Chord products. That would certainly make an interesting comparison, especially since Mojo is in the same price category. But until then, Micro iDSD will have a solid place at the top of my USB DAC/amp food chain because no other product I've tested in this category comes close to its performance and sound quality. My only wish, and the only critical comment, is for iFi design team to be able to pack performance and sound quality of Micro iDSD into Nano iDSD footprint, turning this transportable into fully portable.
Pros - Clear, detailed, full, and engaging sound. Huge battery and smartphone support. IEM sensitivity matching, bass and 3D boosters, various audio formats
Cons - It's large for a portable DAC. Smartphone cable is not included.
iFi Audio comes from the Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) family of HiFi gear (that can run upwards of $10K). The iFi team has taken that AMR expertise and trickled it down to more affordable devices. Seems that was a good move, because its flagship mobile DAC, the Micro iDSD, has hit the audiophile scene pretty hard and won the hearts of many.
I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about and iFi Audio was kind enough to send me a review unit. It’s not the most compact device, but I’m recommending it for audio lovers nonetheless. Let’s go over why that is.
Design The Micro iDSD is a big slab metal. Other than the smooth, anodized finish, the design from every angle is industrial and raw. And that’s perfectly fine. Metal is premium and robust all on its own. There’s machined edges and lines all over, so its definitely not boring either.
As I mentioned earlier, the Micro iDSD is on the large-side for a portable DAC, but iFi did in fact make a portable unit here. It has its own battery and can interface with an Android device (via OTG) for the music source. I think the reason for its girth is because iFi puts audio quality and features above all else. We’ll get to the sound impressions later, but as a hint, I’m convinced that the size is worth it.
Let’s continue with the tour. There are I/O on both ends and switches for unique features all around the device (which I’ll get to in the next section). While the Micro iDSD is a mobile unit, iFi built it with flexibility. That’s why on the left end you’ll see A/V ports for SPDIF In/Out and coaxial Left/Right channel outputs for an entertainment system.
Here is also where the audio source goes in. Strangely, this Digital Input port is a full-sized male USB connector. That means to hook up your source, you’ll be using a cable with a female USB connector on one end and the respective male port on the other (USB, micro-USB, Lightning).
In the packaging, there’s a female USB to male USB cable included (for connecting to a computer), but unfortunately no cable for any mobile devices. So you’ll have to hit up Amazon or something for a micro-USB compatible cable.
My third-party female USB to micro-USB OTG cable
The other end of the unit is where you plug in your headphones and control the volume. The headphone jack is full-size (6.3mm), but thankfully iFi included a 3.5mm adapter in the box. If you prefer to send analog audio into the DAC (rather than digital), there’s also a 3.5mm input here.
The volume knob is rather large, but I appreciate that it allows you to finely tune the attenuation. It firmly and smoothly rolls to suit your sensitivity. It’s also serves as the power switch. Rotate the knob clockwise from the starting position and you’ll hear a click that turns the DAC on.
You’ll spot a USB opening on one of the sides. This allows you to draw power from the Micro iDSD’s hefty battery (4,800mAh) to charge your mobile device. That’s one benefit about the bulk, it can also be a power bank.
Lastly, there’s a tiny multi-color LED light on the top of the unit. It does typical indication, like a Blue light for charging or Red for low battery. But iFi goes a step further and uses its other colors to indicate the format of the audio signal. The Micro iDSD supports three different encoding technologies – PCM, DXD, and DSD.
Another benefit of the Micro iDSD’s beefy size is that it can pack a lot of features. Some of these are features you won’t find in another DAC. On the end with the headphone jack and volume knob, there are two switches for audio enhancement – XBass and 3D Holographic. What they do is self-explanatory (XBass extends the bass response and 3D recreates a holographic sound field), but an important thing to know is that they add to the analog signal (after it’s converted from digital). iFi doesn’t want to mess with the true, original signal or risk negatively impacting other sounds.
On the underside, there’s generous feature called IEMatch. It’s pretty common these days that earphones (aka In-Ear Monitors or IEMs) are sensitive, meaning that it doesn’t take much volume before they get too loud. That can be annoying depending on the volume control of the source. Therefore, iFi threw in two different levels to help tame the volume – High Sensitivity and Ultra Sensitivity.
Behind the scenes, these are probably two degrees of attenuators (or can be thought of as gain reducers). The important thing is that they keep the sound true (something that resistors typically struggle with; so iFi probably had to work some magic there). I have super sensitive IEMs, the Shure SE846, and on the Ultra Sensitive setting there is zero noise (hissing) and I for the first time have adequate control over the volume level.
The other features are a bit more technical, but I’ll briefly run through them:
Power Mode: Three different power settings (Eco, Normal, Turbo), to accommodate differing types of headphones, from sensitive (Eco) to more demanding (Turbo) hardware.
Filter: Three digital/analog filters for different audio use cases (Bit-Perfect, Minimum Phase, Standard).
Output: The Micro iDSD can pre-amplify the signal before sending it out of the RCA output (up to a gain of 9dB).
When I look at the size of the Micro iDSD, I’m like, “This thing better bring it!” Personally, I’ve only used the more typically-sized portable DACs, which are roughly the size of playing cards. They already sounded great to me, so I was suspicious over iFi’s beefy strategy. But boy did I get a reality check with this one.
There are two things that hit you straight away on the first listen – Clarity and Fullness. By clarity, I’m talking crisp, crystal clearness in details you may not have even noticed before. I also mean it in terms of separation. Even when there’s a lot going on, the enunciation of the instruments, vocals, etc. just come through beautifully. And when the music calms and you hear only one or two elements, this allows your brain to focus and adore the minute nuances. You can hear whispering from voices or damping of instrument vibrations. It’s also an eye-opener when you realize what your headphones can really do.
I notice the entire spectrum being more impactful and richer than with other DACs I’ve used. The overall sound is more encompassing (like from a sound system), which of course makes the experience more engaging and fun. The sounds are balanced, and elements only hit hard when the recording asks for it. I can tell that iFi does its best to honor the recording and artist’s intent.
The whole presentation is so tight and controlled. I get the sense that iFi knows what it’s doing, in terms of precision and equal amount of enjoyment. I usually find something that I don’t like about a reproduction, but the Micro iDSD really makes it difficult to not call it perfect. I could say that sometimes I wish the low-end hit harder, but then there’s the XBass setting (which adds on the extra oomph).
So there you have it. The superb sound reproduction of the Micro iDSD just left me awe struck. So much that so that I stopped caring about the size – I need this thing in my life.
The Micro iDSD won’t be for everyone. It really depends on your headphones and your budget (it’s not cheap, at $499). But if you’re at that point and looking for the best of the best, you cannot gloss over this DAC. The Micro iDSD is seriously going to be hard to top, and now I’ll think twice before I consider a small DAC.
I must mention that iFi does have a more compact solution – the Nano iDSD. It obviously doesn’t pack as many features as the Micro, but it makes iFi’s expertise more reachable with a price of $199.
As originally seen on AndroidGuys.com
Pros - Very powerful, very clear sonic signature
Cons - at the time of this review there are none will update the "cons" section later
Pros - Made to work with iPhone thunderbolt camera adaptor, excellent asynch USB, swiss army knife features
Cons - setting buttons on bottom need to be recessed to avoid accidental change when amp is moved, doesn't have the tonal solidity of a full desk top amp
I think there are quite a few reviews on this headphone amp so I see no need to do another long winded one. Consider this rather some
observations on what is a fine product but does have its quirks.
First my setup is typically UPNP streamed music out to asynch USB/ DAC. For headphones I currently use Hifiman HE-400 and Grado SR-225,
For comparison headphone amps I have Hifiman EF-5 and Musical Hall 25.2.
Ergonomics: one has to be careful to check all switches if the amp is moved as its easy to accidentally brush one on the bottom and change settings... this happens
often with the IEM button
Asynch USB section: this is quite good and used in my main system marginally better than the Gustard U12
Amp section: excellent detail, balance and range. However compared to the tube desktop amps the Micro lacks solidity for tone colors. They in turn aren't
quite as delicate in detail and are less forgiving of bad source.
DAC section: works quite well feeding my other headphone amps. However in main system compared to Metrum Octave the Micro DAC section sounded thin,
not as good as the DAC section on an Oppo 103. This seems to be the weakest part of the amp.
Pros - State-of-the art design, a touch of Burr-Brown warmth, rich feature set
Cons - Not really portable, LED status light isn't in the best spot.
My iFi micro iDSD review was originally posted on Metal-Fi but I am cross posting on Head-Fi at iFi's behest.
Does anyone remember what portable, audiophile-grade playback used to look like? I certainly do. I remember going to Head-Fi meets and being in just awe of all the insane amount of paraphernalia attendees would carry around just to play their favorite set of digital bits. Take for instance the Headroom Micro line. Consisting of both a standalone DAC and headphone amp, the Micro line was originally conceived to conquer the low to mid-tier desktop market. But because it packed a lot of performance per square inch, many audiophiles opted to go with it instead of Headroom’s own dedicated portable line, the Airhead, as their go to portable stack. That's why Headroom at the time even offered you a Micro sized fanny pack to help you transport your iPod's BFFs everywhere you went.
Looking back though, it seems outlandish to me that any sane audiophile would even consider lugging around an entire Micro line just to achieve a modicum of fidelity through their favorite digital source. But the fact is both the Micro headphone amp and DAC were considered state-of-the-art back in the day, and offered many bleeding edge features that we all now take for granted, including an asynchronous hardware reclocker with noise shaping and even crossfeed.
But technology improves at an extremely rapid pace, and what was state-of-the-art back then is now today's garage sale bait. Yet if the Micro line was indeed the standard in which all portable stacks were judged back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth (circa 2005), then today's equivalent would have to go to iFi Audio's micro iDSD, which is nothing short of a technological marvel. Read on to find out why this $499 (street) little beasty is nothing short of spectacular.
iFi Audio is a division of Abbingdon Music Research (AMR), a fairly well known and well respected high-end audiophile shop based in the UK. Their reference level CD player, the CDP-77 ($8,500), has been hailed by many as a real giant killer, conquering Redbook induced digititus for half the cost of some of its better known competitors. More recently however, AMR has been getting a lot of press for their single-ended triode amplifer, the AM-77 ($8,500), which brings valve-like sensibilities to your favorite reference chain of choice through the use of their proprietary OptiGain circuit.
Obviously given the price tag of your standard issue AMR component, the market for these devices is somewhat limited (though frankly $8,500 isn't that outlandish in the high-end audiophile world believe it or not). So in order to expand their product line and appeal to a wider audience (read: younger), AMR spun off iFi Audio in 2012 as a separate business unit to develop audiophile grade products at a more affordable price.
iFi Audio came running out the gate releasing a number of products that spanned all four corners of the digital and analog world, ranging from the iPhono (with no less than six different EQ curves to choose from) to the iUSB (the Arm & Hammer of USB power). In fact, very recently they just updated their well respected iDAC, which as many of its owners will attest to, laughs in the face of other DACs (portable or otherwise) that claim "high-res" support. But out of all the micro products they offer, I feel the micro iDSD, a combination DAC/headphone amp, is by far the most representative of AMR's trickle down economics approach.
After iFi reached critical mass with its 2012 introductory product line, the folks over there did something very smart: They sought direct community feedback during the design phase of their next iFi product. The net result of this social experiment can be found in the massive micro iDSD thread over on Head-Fi, where iFi not only collected feedback from the entire audiophile community at large but used this forum space to document the overall design process as well. If you have some free time to spare, I highly recommend you read all of the cherry picked posts referenced in the first post's table of contents section. iFi literally walked you through almost every major design decision they made, ranging from how they wrote some custom scheduling code to load-balance the numerous XMOS cores to how they implemented a reference level clock inspired by a missile guidance system. Trust me when I say that this thread is not only extremely informative, but very well written and at a level that even a non-technical audiophile will find fascinating to comb over.
Digital Done Right
The iDSD has been one of the most difficult pieces of gear I've ever had to review simply for the fact that it is so feature rich. I could probably spend an article or two just talking about its DAC - seriously. In any event, in an effort to keep things organized let's dive into its digital side and then slowly make our way to its analog half.
As you can see above, at the heart of the iDSD is a pair of Burr-Brown Multibit DACs that offer true native DSD and PCM support, the exact same chipset found in the nano version of the iDSD. But by adding a second double B, iFi was able to lower the noise floor by 3 dB as well as improve channel separation to boot! But like the nano version, the micro's firmware employs the same novel approach to PCM conversion as well.
Unlike most delta-sigma architectures that convert everything to a 1-bit stream first before filtering, the iDSD preserves the high order 6-bits of a PCM data stream and only converts the rest of the low order bits via its internal 256fs (DSD256) modulator. iFi claims that this allows the iDSD to keep some of that Burr-Brown signature warmth while still retaining all the smoothness delta-sigma modulators are so famous for. Obviously for pure DSD input, those Burr-Brown's handle it natively using that same DSD256 modulator to convert to analog. And since iFi used the latest and greatest chipsets, the iDSD is able to handle an insane number of sampling rates, maxing out at Octa-Speed DSD512 and PCM768 (2x DXD)!
Keep in mind that the iDSD is truly native with respect to DSD playback, so all volume control is done in the analog domain in an effort to stay true to the original bitstream. In other words, unlike a lot of DSD capable DACs that transcode to PCM first in order to apply digital volume control, the iDSD always preserves the original signal as is when converting 1's and 0's to electrons.
Feeding these two DACs is an eight-way XMOS U-series based chipset, which is one of the premier USB receiver solutions on the market. Now if you are vaguely familiar with XMOS that's probably because you've heard about it in the context of some ESS SABRE based solution, since the combination of SABRE and XMOS seems to be the defacto reference platform most audiophile products are based on today. I suspect though that iFi choose the XMOS (as opposed to something like a high-end C-Media chipset a la Schiit) not for its industry wide popularity, but mainly because of its high-processing power (MIPS) and ease of development. In fact as I mentioned above, iFi's software team went to town on the XMOS, not settling for the reference implementation provided by the vendor but actually writing their own custom firmware to better utilize all eight cores. Couple that with built-in iPurifier support, the iDSD has one of the most advanced USB solutions on the market today at any price point.
There was also expressed interest by many Head-Fi'ers to have selectable digital filters just like you would find on the Herus+ dongle I reviewed recently. iFi listened and implemented two sets of three selectable filters depending on whether you are playing PCM versus DSD. For PCM based input, you have standard, minimum phase, and bit perfect, while for DSD you have extreme, extended, and standard. Sticking with PCM since that is by far most of what your brutal bits are encoded in, the standard filter offers the most accurate digital filtering at the cost of some added ringing. While the minimum phase and bit-perfect filters seem to be the most popular for actual listening among audiophiles, exhibiting the least amount of pre and post-ringing with respect to transients. DXD sampling rates have no filtering applied whatsoever and are converted to analog as is (as they should be).
With Great Power Comes Greater Responsibility
As for amperage, the iDSD puts out an astounding amount of power with enough lightening to sizzle most full sized headphones. The key to taming this beast is through the Power and IEMatch mode switches located on the side and its underbelly respectively. The Power mode switch is by far the most important setting on the iDSD and the one you have to get right or you can blow up your favorite pair of transducers easily. It can be broken down into the following modes: Eco (500 mW at 8 ohms), Normal (1900 mW at 16 ohms), and Turbo (4000 mW at 16 ohms). Trust me when I say that the overwhelming majority of you will be headbanging in Eco mode. However, if you have some really hard to drive headphones (think HE-6) you can use the Normal and Turbo modes as appropriate (yes, Turbo mode will drive the AKG K-1000 handily).
After the Power mode switch is finalized, then comes the IEMatch mode switch. Again, for full sized cans you are probably going to leave this switch in the off button for the life of the unit. But if you do plan to use really any kind of IEM (especially CIEMs) then the two other modes, High Sensitivity and Ultra High Sensitivity, are your friends. In order to figure out which setting will work best for your particular headphone, iFi offers the following chart:
Common sense applies, so using Ultra High Sensitivity in Turbo mode is for those looking to earn a Darwin Award. For the rest of us however, iFi recommends that in general you want to be able to listen to your favorite pair of headphones at normal volume levels at the 3 o'clock position of the volume knob. That's the sweet spot, so start in Eco/Off mode and then gradually increase the Power and/or IEMatch buttons as needed. Trust me, it's not hard.
Speaking of power, the iDSD allows you to work directly off of its internal 4800 mAH battery or USB via its SmartPower circuitry. The order of when you connect the iDSD via USB and turn the unit on is very important: Turn on the unit before connecting it via USB tells the firmware to operate on battery power exclusively. Conversely if you connect the unit via USB first and then turn the unit on, the iDSD will operate off of USB power instead. For iPhone and Android potential customers, iFi recommends that you use battery power mode since you may experience some device errors otherwise. Caveat emptor. And yes, the unit will charge while playing music too. In fact, the iDSD can even charge your favorite smart device up to two times while in use! In case you're wondering how do you tell when you are running out of juice, there is an LED status light on top of the unit that based on its color will tell you all sorts of useful information. Again, with great power comes greater responsibility. Use it wisely.
Odds & Ends
In terms of inputs outside of USB, the iDAC accepts optical and coaxial SPDIF via one port in the back and another 3.5 mm one in the front. The SPDIF input on the back also serves as output if you don't have any headphone connected. For outputs, you have your standard red and whites on the back (RCA) and the single 1/4" headphone jack in the front. And yes, the iDSD can essentially mimic a DAC/preamplifier via those RCA outputs by switching it out of Direct mode into Preamplifier mode by toggling a switch toward the rear of the unit.
The volume knob controls a specially designed potentiometer (POT) made specifically for the iDSD, and apparently gives you slightly better control (<2 dB tracking error) than your standard issue ALPS. The two other switches next to it are the XBass and 3D Holographic Sound switches. When XBass is turned on it gives you a nice noticeable bass boost. The 3D Holographic Sound is iFi's cross feed circuit, which you may or may not dig. Disclaimer: I'm not a big fan of crossfeed in general.
There is also a polarity inversion switch which for some of you out there on strong meds might find useful. I've never experienced any particular need to invert the polarity of the output so I'm highly confident that 99.9% of you aren't going to use it either.
Finally, in case you haven't noticed from the pic above, the iDSD comes with a myriad array of adapters, and even includes a high quality USB 3.0 cable to boot. Once you open that box, you're set. For life. Seriously.
As usual. my primary source was my trusty late-2011 Macbook Pro running OSX Yosemite 10.10.4 and Audirvana 2.2. For full sized cans I switched back and forth between my Audeze LCD-3 (non-fazor) and HiFiMan HE-1000, both powered by Eco mode with IEMatch off. That allowed me to listen to both headphones at normal volume levels around the 3 o'clock position. Check. I also tried my JHA Roxanne CIEM in Eco mode with Ultra High Sensitivity turned on which also worked like a champ - zero hiss, total black background. In addition to USB, I decided to plug in my Audiophilleo AP1 with PurePower USB to SPDIF converter to give that a go as well. Everything worked as expected but surprisingly I felt the USB input sounded better overall and as a result, became the primary way I escorted bits off of my MBP for this review.
I also played a lot with the digital filter switch too, ultimately settling on the BitPerfect setting. Again, your mileage may vary, but I would start with BitPerfect, or maybe even Minimum Phase first, before randomly moving that switch around during playback.
One final setup note: I had one technical problem I was not able to overcome switching back and forth between DSD and PCM with Audirvana. If I play DSD and then switch to PCM (no matter the resolution), I get a lot of noise and distortion as if the unit and/or my headphones are completely toast. I had to manually reset the unit by disconnecting it from the USB port and then plugging it back in again to reach a steady-state. This issue seems to be relegated to Audirvana only though, since I tried foobar2k under Win 7/VMware Fusion without any problem. Interestingly enough, Audirvana auto-recognizes that the iMicro supports up to DSD256 even though it really supports up to DSD512. This is due to the fact that the DoP spec (DSD over PCM) only supports up to DSD256 currently on OSX (I believe on Linux you can tweak the kernel to get DSD512 to go, but obviously I have no such luxury on my Mac).
You made it!
Alright, despite the fact that the iDSD supports a plethora of sampling rates and formats, I'm quite aware 99% of your time will be spent with 16-bit/44.1kHz PCM source material. With that said, just the ability to play these insane-rate files seemed like a lot of fun. So what I did was go to Native DSD's website and download a few free samples of various high-res formats, including DXD (32-bit/384kHz) and DSD128/256. I then plugged in my HE-1000 and off I went. Suffice it to say everything just worked! Was I amazed by the sound though? Not really, but frankly I didn't spend a lot of time critically listening to each download sample nor did I have any equivalent source material in standard definition format to really compare it to. Couple all that with the technical glitches of switching back and forth between DSD and PCM, I decided to move on.
As a first test, I wanted to listen to some high-quality reference material to see what this puppy can really do. That means high dynamic, well mastered source material a la Horrendous' Ecdysis. This record is one of the best death metal albums to come out in a long time and Horrendous guitarist/engineer Damian Herring did a bang up job producing it, clocking in at DR10. And after blasting tracks "Weeping Relic" and "Monarch" I quickly realized just how good the iDSD is given its price tag. First off, detail retrieval is outstanding, with every track on this record just beaming with life. Transients are of particular note, having a very fast attack and then natural sounding decay as the dual Burr Brown's have no problem keeping up with band's various tempo changes. Bass is absolutely ear boggling too, with or without the XBass switch on. But what I found most gratifying is that unlike a lot of its competitors, the iDSD's overall presentation is open and wide. Any compressed sense of soundstage I was hearing was more an artifact of the headphone I was using than it was from the iDSD itself. Put simply, the iDSD has a way of politely removing itself from the playback chain, letting the music just speak for itself. A hallmark of every great piece of audiophile gear.
Unfortunately, given how revealing the iDSD can be, I was immediately worried that Loudness War governed music would not fair as well, and to some extent I was right. As soon as I threw heavily compressed records like Strapping Young Lad's 1997 classic, City, or the recently released Trials record, This Ruined World, the iDSD's wonderful sense of airyness vanished due to both record's heavily reliance on dynamic range compression. Obviously, this isn't the fault of the iDSD per se, but just be aware that this unit is quite resolving for better or worse. The good news is that the added warmth of the Burr Browns does actually help alleviate ear fatigue over long listening sessions. However, I would absolutely avoid even looking at the 3D Holo switch, since iFi's crossfeed implementation pushes the midrange to the fore which for most highly compressed material utterly destroys the music (imagine the Grado house sound on steroids). Use of the XBass switch is certainly encouraged, especially if you have a can that is known to be somewhat anemic down low or you just want to have a little fun.
Finally, a Metal-Fi review would not be a Metal-Fi review without some kind of needle drop. So I dusted off Nokturnal Mortum's Voice of Steel from my collection and just sat back and listened. Bass control again is just phenomenal, and that rang true no matter what headphone or IEM I used. I also felt that the midrange was exactly where it needed to be - prominent, but not to in your face, and having just enough analog warmth to help round out some of that digital edge we've all come so accustomed to. Some of you may find that unacceptable if strict transparency is what you seek, but for the rest of us who are out to simply enjoy the music the iDSD hits the nail right on the head. And while the treble doesn't shimmer like I've heard on systems many times its price, the iDSD's command of the upper frequency range is quite respectable. Not once did I feel somewhat grossed out by the crash of a cymbal or tap of a hi-hat. Something I can't say the same for a lot of SABRE based products I've listened to.
The iFi micro iDSD is a phenomenal piece of gear, incorporating state-of-the-art digital design in an extremely well thought out package. In fact, my single biggest complaint is that it isn't really portable, but rather transportable. I mean of course you can lug it around if you really had to, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense these days given the rise of the dongle form factor. But portability issues aside, when it comes to both fidelity and feature set the iDSD is clearly the current standard in which all other devices in this segment should be judged. No question. My guess is you would have to spend at least four times the price to best this little box, and even then I suspect the differences will be paper thin. If you are looking for a multi-faceted desktop solution at a very reasonable price point, then your quest is over. Highly recommended.
Pros - Incredible detail and clarity with more power than any portable has a right to put out.
Cons - No actual on/off switch (It would be nice to leave the volume knob where it is when you turn it off), Larger size is pushing the portable envelope
****************New iFi iDSD Micro BLACK LABEL Review (3/20/2017) Original iDSD Micro Review below!
I haven't been able to separate the iDSD Micro Black Label review from the original iDSD Micro's old review, so I will build on what's already here:
Many thanks to Lawrance & the iFi team for allowing me to perform a "head-to-head" comparison between my trusty iDSD Micro, and the new iDSD Micro Black Label (from now on referred to as "BL")
So what is it? The iFi iDSD Micro BL is in my eyes, an evolution of the original iDSD Micro portable headphone amplifier.
So what's different? Well, it's Black with Orange print instead of the original's silver with black print. I have read that there are some improvements in "fit and finish", but as I still have no noticeable flaws in my original unit, I can't speak to that myself. In truth, most of the difference is "under the hood", so to speak. Improved components in terms of clock timings, circuitry, power, & the like. (I'm not a spec guy, as you might have guessed.)
**SPOILER** (If you just want the bottom line, here it is up-front,)
So do I think it is worth it? 2 answers for 2 groups:
If you don't already own an iDSD Micro - YES! This is quite possibly one of the strongest portable amp offerings that I have ever heard of in the sub $2,000 USD portable headphone amp category, period. Add to that, a very sophisticated and clean DAC section, and you have a portable that can hold its own against many desktop class components out there.
If you already own an iDSD Micro - Maybe? The problem here is that there wasn't anything that I considered "wrong" with the original. Yes, there is a certain refinement to the sound of the new iDSD BL when I do A/B side-by-side comparisons between the 2., and yes, if I had the opportunity to buy either at the same price, I'd buy the new unit. But while the changes are indeed for the better in the new unit to my ears, they are subtle. In truth, if I were to listen to them hours apart, I'd be hard-pressed to separate the differences between the two from other variations like changes of headphone positioning and quality of seal between the pads and my ears.
So let's take a look at what I've been rambling about:
As you can see, my old unit even after years of coast to coast trips still looks pretty darn good! No problems with construction, switches, or ports. The label for the serial # has worn away a bit, and some of the lettering on the bottom of the unit has rubbed-off from constant handling. (Hey, my hands sweat a lot in the summer sometimes!) So when I saw the two side-by-side, I was pretty impressed! Most of my gear gets replaced on an annual basis due to "wear and tear" from my mobile lifestyle. (My iDSD Micro has easily seen 12+ of the 50 states, and many of them multiple times.)
Underneath, they are again essentially identical. (I faded the serial labels purposefully as a courtesy to iFi)
And here you can truly see wear on my old unit. Still not bad after years of abuse! (I USE my gear regularly, so they don't stay museum quality sadly...)
So, why did I spend so much time showing the physical characteristics? In truth, I struggled with this review. The new iDSD BL is very similar to my original. I can't tell you that the battery lasts longer, that it drives headphones much stronger, or that there is an upgrade in construction. Why? I suspect that it's because the original never needed improvement. My old iDSD's battery STILL lasts longer than any of my cell phones or my DAP's batteries. The construction is tough enough to take a tumble from my lap, to airport/airplane/hotel floors, (Typically carpeted) and not show it. The power output rivals my Schiit Audio's AGARD 2 dedicated DESKTOP headphone amp while running off battery power., The only thing that I could have asked for is an ON/OFF switch, so that I could leave my volume levels the same when I return to listening. (Like if I'm comparing different headphones head-to-head and want as little variation as possible.)
So what do you get in terms of sound quality?
AMP Section - With the iDSD BL, you get just a little more of what you get from the original. I spent DAYS trying to find that "A-HA moment" when a clear and defining difference would jump out at me. It just never happened. What I heard was a mellow, SPACIOUS sound. Just like the original. The fine detail is a little tighter on the original, and more "musical" on the BL. (I had to listen to Sennheiser HD-650, HD-800, AKG 545/550, JVC HA-SZ2000, and Beyerdynamics T1 ver.2 headphones repeatedly in succession in order to be sure, as each demonstrates their strengths accordingly. In short, it's a matter of taste. The original will please those seeking a more analytical presentation, while the BL might please those who felt the original could be just a tad harsh.
DAC Section - Again, SUBTLE differences between the two. The BL only really sounded different on the T1 & HD-800. The other headphones sounded essentially identical on both when evaluating their DAC performances. The T1 just sounded a little crisper on the original, and slightly more "musical" on the BL. The HD-800 showed the difference to a slightly greater degree, and was slightly more fatiguing on the original. If I only owned HD-800s, I would upgrade to the BL for this reason more than all the other subtle differences combined.
For music, I chose "What God Wants Part-1" (Roger Waters), "Drink Up Me Hearties" (Hans Zimmer), "Why Me?" (Planet P Project), "La Sagrada Familia" (Alan Parsons Project), "Thriller" (Michael Jackson), "The Kids Aren't Alright" (The Offspring), "On My Level" (Wiz Khalifa (MY ultimate BASS evaluation track!)), "Ave Maria, for voice & piano" (Mario Lanza) Each tracks sampled between Mp3, FLAC, & DSD quality versions. (Except Mario Lanza, who I only had in CD format.)
Equipment - DAPs iPhone 4S, 5, 6, & 7+, & iPAD Air, iBASSO DX90, Lenovo Yoga A12 (Android version), Dell XPS 8500 (Win 10, 64GB, Foobar2000/JRiver Media Center 21) Schiit Audio ASGARD 2 Forza Audio cables
***************************************Original iDSD Micro Review*******************************
Summary: Incredible DAC capable of more than what most users will need for the foreseeable future
Incredible detail and clarity with more power than any portable has a right to put out.
No actual on/off switch (It would be nice to leave the volume knob where it is when you turn it off), Larger size is pushing the portable envelope
I will leave the technical speak and unboxing play-by-play to the reviews that are already here, done by people who do a much better job than I can currently manage. Just know that the iDSD Micro comes with EVERYTHING that I could ask for to get started in terms of connectivity and accessories already in the box.
First: When I bought my iDSD Micro, it was $499. It has gone up since then, but if I was to buy it all over again, I'd still do so as I've heard nothing that touches it in the sub-$2,400 portable DAC/Amp market.
I completely lucked-into finding this device simply because I wanted a device that would make my iBASSO DX90 work with my Sennheiser HD-650s in hotel rooms.
(No, I'm not one of those people who would blast my fellow plane passengers with whatever I'm listening to with open back headphones....)
At first I had a FIIO e17 that I had intended to use with my iPhones (4S & 5) and iPad Air, but learned the hard way that there is no simple way to make that combo work. So I looked for another solution that would provide a better DAC and enough power to make my HD-650s sound "full" rather than anemic. The iDSD Micro connects to new-style "Lightning" i-devices simply through a Camera Connection Kit (C.C.K.) cable. Nice and neat! (Though the old 30-pin apple devices will need a short USB cable to attach the C.C.K. to the iDSD Micro)
Boy did I get more than I bargained for. The iDSD Micro's brightness really brought some crispness to the HD-650s which some have called "veiled". They do not sound veiled to me at all with this combo. If I were listening to the GRADO 225Es that I had tried, the highs were far too "sparkly" and I didn't care for them. Nothing against the headphones, they just didn't fit my tastes with this combo. Now there is another "DARK SIDE" that I learned that the iDSD Micro excels at; BASSHEAD HEADPHONES! I'm a part-time Basshead, and sometimes just want some jaw-rattling "THUMP" to my music. Enter the JVC HA-SZ2000 (Kings!), JVC HA-M55x, and Photive PH-BTX6. In order of Bass capability. One of the first comments about each of these headphones is that they have recessed mids that you'll have to EQ heavily for. Not so with the iDSD Micro! Add some 3D to make them feel less closed-in, but retain their bass slam. Then flip the XBASS switch and EQ your songs to your tastes. The iDSD never falls short for pushing power through your phones, and the DAC/amp combo works nicely to tighten-up the bass on all three, but especially the PH-BTX6 as it is the most bloated. The SZ2000s just keep pulling more and more sub-bass out if the source song has it. Some songs just THUMP, but never get loose and sloppy with the SZ2000s. This is not the case with other amp/DAC combos I've tried. like the FIIO e17. It makes all 3 of them louder, but doesn't do much to help keep the dynamics of the music "civilized" once the BASS gets raised beyond moderate levels. Likewise with my tabletop SCHIIT Audio ASGARD 2 amp. It does an AWESOME job with making classical, rock, pop, or jazz/Blues sound like new discoveries with the HD-650s, but there is just more loudness when you try to blow up the bass without any or much control over it's presentation.
I don't use IEMs often, but when I plug up my UE Super-Fi3s (90% of what I listen to) or VMODA Bass Freqs (For the occasional "in-ear" bass-heavy listening) I set the iDSD micro to "NORMAL" mode for most rock/pop/BASS-heavy listening, and down further to "ECO" mode for classical/lyrical music; all set to "Hi Sensitivity" on IE match settings. (I've never had to use the "Ultra Sensitivity" setting for super-sensitive IEMs, but it is nice to know that it is there if I ever needed it.)
So in summary: Portable DAC/Amp that rivals some desktop/rack solutions for power output and performance. Does a great job with High-end music formats (DSD, DXD, FLAC, etc..) making old favorites sound like I've heard them for the first time. If your headphones are slightly claustrophobic when it comes to soundstage, the 3D feature can help quite a bit without sounding "artificial". And lastly, if you are a TRUE basshead, I've never heard a portable amp that causes your music to actual bring home the slam as powerfully and neatly as the iDSD Micro does.
Pros - Plenty of Features with Excellent Performance
Cons - Size. Not the best standalone amp for the price.
At this point of time, iFi Audio shouldn’t need much introduction at all. The British company is the more budget oriented sister brand of the prestige Abbingdon Music Research and have made a name for able to punch above its weight when it comes to price/performance ratio. If anything, the micro iDSD that is going to be reviewed here has set a new bar on what it means to be an overachiever in the world of portable audio gear. Never have we seen so many features being packed into one portable USB DAC + amp while still having such level of performance.
Dual Burr Brown DAC, custom interleaving for maximum SNR
Clock: Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock (RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds)
PCM (digital): Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard
DSD (analog): Extreme/Extended/Standard Range
DXD (analog): Bit-Perfect Processing
Full Native Decoding:
DSD 512/256/128/64 (24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8Mhz)
DXD 2x/1x (768/705.6/384/352.8kHz)
Dynamic Range (Line): over 117db(A)
THD & N (0dBFS Line): under 0.003%
Output Voltage (Line): over 2V
Output Impedance (Zout): under 240Ω
Jitter (correlated): Below AP2 test set limit
Power mode: Eco, Normal and Turbo
Polarity: Normal / Inverted
Filters: see DAC spec
iEMatch: Off / High Sensitivity / Ultra Sensitivity
Power (max) / (continuous.)
- Turbo mode: (10.0V max) 4000 mW @ 16 Ohm / over 1560 mW @ 64 Ohm
- Normal mode: (5.5V max) 1900 mW @ 16 Ohm / over 950 mW @ 32 Ohm
- Eco mode: (2.0V max) 500 mW @ 8 Ohm / over 250 mW @ 16 Ohm
Dynamic Range: over 115dB(A) (Eco Mode, 2V Out)
THD &N (500mW/16R): under 0.008%
Output Voltage: over 8V (Turbo Mode)
Output Impedance (Zout): under 1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)
USB 2.0 type A
Built-in iPurifier, all major OS (*MacOSX, Windows, Linux) support. OTG supports: Apple portable devices with iOS 7+ and camera connection kit and selected Android devices with USB OTG cable.
Coax and optical in, PCM up to 192kHz.
3.5mm stereo jack
Coax-out, PCM up to 192kHz
User selectable line (direct) or variable (preamp, with 9dB gain) output
6.4mm stereo jack
SmartPower® Socket: For recharging USB device (BC1.2 supported, 5V @ 1.5A)
EQ: X-Bass and 3D Holographic Sound, separated output for speaker (RCA preamp mode) and headphone-out.
Accessories and Build Quality
Just about everything you need are included with the micro iDSD. You will get two rubber bands (for strapping a portable source to the iDSD), a short RCA-to-RCA cable, a short 3.5mm interconnecting cable, 4 stick-on rubber feet, an 1m USB 3.0 cable, a 1 foot USB cable with right angled plug (presumably for the SmartPower socket), a 6.4mm-to-3.5mm stereo adapter, a TOSlink adapter, a soft pouch, a small silicone mat (for cushioning between iDSD and your portable source), plug two USB type A female to type B female adapter (just in case you don’t want to use the included USB 3.0 cable but instead opt for your own USB type B cable, which is commonly known as the USB cable for printer and desktop USB device). Perhaps the only thing missing is either an OTG cable or camera connection kit, depends on whether you are an Android or Apple user. But those should be sourced by your own.
As with all iFi’s gears, build quality is quite excellent, though I do have some very minor complaints. The first is the more obvious – the housing is not exactly portable friendly, even though it is consistent with the micro series. You will want to put micro iDSD (along with its source) inside a small messenger bag or backpack rather than inside your pocket. The second is the tiny switches on the iDSD isn’t extremely firm and can be moved accidentally if it is in a very tight place (which makes it even less idea to put inside a pocket). It isn’t really that much of an issue as long as it is not in tight places though it is something to pay attention to. You won’t want to get caught off guarded when the gain switch is pushed from Eco to Turbo without you knowing it, for an example. A good practice is just not to store your micro iDSD with a lot of other stuff together. Having the rubber band on the body also help to keep things away. Last but not least, and I am just nit-picking here, is to have a less protruding 6.4mm-to-3.5mm adapter. The included adapter works just fine, but I do think a lower profiled adapter really works better.
One of the true genius on micro iDSD’s design is the use of a recessed USB type A male connector. This makes using either a camera connection kit for Apple iOS devices or an USB OTG cable for Android devices much easier. Gone is the need of multiple cable connecting to each other or special cable. It is streamlined and it is beautiful – makes me wonder why no other has thought about it before.
Battery life is estimated to be just around 6 hours with Turbo mode, 9 hours for Normal mode and 12 hours with Eco mode, plus or minus an hours or so depends on different condition and load of course. The battery life isn’t exactly long per se, but it is price you have to pay for having such a huge amount of output power for portable use.
Another thing about the battery is that it has its own smart circuit to control the charging. To speed up the charging, you need to plug the micro iDSD into a BC1.2 complied USB port. A regular USB port will work just as well, as long as the iDSD is turned off and you don’t mind a bit longer charging time. If the iDSD remains on, a regular USB port might not output enough current to both charge and power iDSD at the same time, so it might drain off the battery slowly. Whether it will drain or charge really depends on how much power your USB port can pump out. Again, a BC1.2 complied USB port (or hub) is your best bet. Last but not least, the smart circuit also turns micro iDSD into a USB power bank when (and only when) it is turned off. Just plug any USB device on to the USB port on the side of micro iDSD and it will charge it up. Needless to say, this will eat into micro iDSD’s play time.
SmartPower Socket on the side
Gain, Polarity and Filters selection on the side.
iEMatch and RCA-out selection on the bottom.
Gain, Hiss and EMI
There are two way of adjusting gain on micro iDSD: the power mode and the iEMatch. According to my own measurement, the Eco mode is just under 1dB of gain, Normal mode is around 9~10dB of gain where Turbo mode gives you around 15~16dB gain – and this is the same whether you are using micro iDSD as DAC+amp or as pure amp. iEMatch on the other hand is doing just the opposite by lowering gain: the Off setting doesn’t do anything, where High Sensitivity setting is about -11.4dB and Ultra Sensitivity setting is about -24dB. The recommended way of adjusting gain is that you start with the power mode first. If you still find Eco mode too loud, then you adjust the iEMatch. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to use Turbo mode with Ultra Sensitivity since you will end up getting roughly the same gain as Normal mode without iEMatch, yet wasting a lot of battery power in the process. Last but not least, there is also the pre-amp mode which you can set for the RCA output and it has a 9dB gain (roughly equal to Normal mode). That is mainly for using iDSD as a preamp feeding into a power amp, and you get to use the loudspeaker version of XBass and 3D Holographic Sound effect as well (which we will discuss more on the next section).
Hiss is not an issue for micro iDSD at all as I can’t even detect any obvious hiss on Turbo mode with my most hiss prone IEM. EMI is very mild too and hardly a concern at all. Even with Turbo mode, it is about as loud as someone whispering next to your ear.
Sony Xperia Z2 feeds into micro iDSD via USB OTG cable
Sony NWZ-A15 feeding into micro iDSD via WMC-NWH10 cable
Sound Quality and EQ
As usual, we start with some basic measurement. RMAA reveals no problem as far as frequency response, noise and distortion go. In fact, the measured difference between Eco, Normal and Turbo mode is pretty small as well, which is a very good thing as higher gain doesn’t seem to degrade SQ much. Line-out voltage is about 1.95Vrms or so, where max voltage on headphone-out goes from just a little above 2Vrms in Eco mode to over 11Vrms in Turbo mode (*no load, and it might go lower with load, as indicated by iFi). Measurement over current output shows that it has plenty of power regardless of which gain mode it is in. With iEMatch sets to off, output impedance is under 1 ohm. On High Sensitivity, it is around 4 ohm or so. With Ultra Sensitivity, it goes back down under 1 ohm again. Also, High Sensitivity roughly cuts the output power by half with the same volume as the Off setting, though Ultra Sensitivity only cuts about 1/5. The main reason for more loss of power on High Sensitivity probably has to do with its higher output impedance, if anything else. Regardless, both High and Ultra Sensitivity still maintain more than adequate amount of power to drive IEM with good authority.
The Three PCM filters @ 16/44.1
Another user selectable option on the micro iDSD that will affect SQ is the filter selection. Filter is needed because the DAC’s sampling process will produce high frequency noise above the audible range. Even though it is mainly on the inaudible range, its effect will still reach under 20kHz and therefore we need filter to cut them off. With PCM decoding, the filter switch changes between three different digital filters setting: Standard, Minimum Phase and Bit Perfect. Standard filter is also known as ‘fast roll-off’ sometime, which has a shaper cut –off frequency, offer a flatter FR curve and nicer measurement. But it is often also regarded as being harsher and grainier sounding. Minimum Phase is what known as ‘slow roll-off’ by some, and usually offer a smoother sound but comes with a slight -3dB roll off between 14kHz to 20kHz. It is probably one of the most common filter found on higher end DAC because it is regarded as the best compromise between measurement and human perception. Bit Perfect on the other hand is actually not a filter at all. It is more commonly known as Non-OverSampling, or NOS for short. As the name implies, it is where the DAC doesn’t oversample the signal and doesn’t use any digital filter. The resulted FR curve has a rather big -3dB roll-off going from upper midrange all the way to 20kHz. NOS is in itself too complex a topic for us to cover here - but the basic idea is not to oversample the signal as would be done on normal DAC. Instead, the sampling is carried out where the focus is to restore the musicality back to the signal rather than to achieve the highest accuracy on frequency response. The result is often being described as a sound that is more analog and natural, though doesn’t measure nearly as good as the other two filters and can sound slightly hissy with sensitive headphone due to the lack of filter. To put it short, you can think of the three filters as going from what measured best to what perceived best. With DSD decoding, the same filter switch change to three analog filter selection: Standard, Extended, and Extreme. Due to its 1 bit nature, DSD can’t employ any digital filter (which we will discuss further in the next section on native decoding). Therefore it can only use analog filter after the decoding. The three settings are mainly to determine where to set the cut-off point along the frequency response. Last but not least, DXD only gets one setting and it is Bit Perfect / NOS, therefore it doesn’t matter which position the switch is in. So, you might start to wonder which filter sounds best? Well, the whole point of having a filter selection is so that you can find out the answer for yourself. It isn’t about right or wrong but about your own preference. However, for the purpose of the review, I have used the Standard filter for most of the measurement as well as majority of the subjective listening. Of course, this doesn’t actually mean I prefer the Standard filter more.
Last but not least on the user selectable switch that affects the SQ is the polarity. The short story it is that someone once found out that his music has been recorded in reversed polarity (which most human are not very sensitive of), then reversing the polarity will restore back what the music should have sounded like. In the ‘+’ position, the music will pass through iDSD as it is; in ‘-’ position however, the polarity will be reversed. I can’t really tell the difference myself, but don’t let me stop you from trying it out for yourself. If you are like me, just leave it at ‘+’ should be fine.
Now let start with the subjective listening – and let get this out of the way first: while micro iDSD can be used as a pure amp, it is not really the best portable amp you can buy for the price. While the amp section is excessively powerful and can drive even fairly inefficient planar magnetic headphone to quite a good level, it has a noticeably drier and brighter sound signature with some of the texture over lower mid to bass range missing. However, micro iDSD isn’t a bad sounding amp either. I would think the amp section alone is good enough to match any upper second tier portable amp or even lower top tier portable amp. It is just not enough to truly being referred as a top tier portable amp on its own.
As I have written on my review on nano iDSD, I often find portable DAC+amp combo either has a good amp but an only a decent DAC, or the other way around with a good DAC but just an okay amp section. On the micro iDSD however, I really don’t find the amp section to be the limiting factor at all – yes, it isn’t the best amp section ever. But it does have really good synergy with the DAC section, where the slightly drier amp is compensated by the slightly warmer DAC and they end up being smooth and fairly neutral sounding, if not just a bit on the richer and fuller side of the presentation. In other words, the sonic characteristics of the famous Burr Brown sound that is supposed to be warm and thick are not lost in the process, but tuned down a little and become more adaptive as a whole when it comes to synergy and headphone pairing. Of course, you are really craving for the full Burr Brown treatment, the RCA-out still offers a chance for you to feed micro iDSD to an amp of your own choice. That being said, the line-out from micro iDSD is indeed excellent. It rivals just about every USB DAC I have heard before, desktop or portable. Though I do want to point out I really haven’t heard any of the multi-thousands DAC that I can’t afford anyway, so it is not to say micro iDSD is the be-all-end-all of DAC.
One other thing I really love about the micro iDSD is that it is optimized for OTG usage. In my case, it works with both my Sony Xperia Z2 as well as Sony NWZ-A15 DAP without any problem. Sony already has a special USB driver implemented on their latest Android flagship smartphone, which upsamples everything to 24/192, and it works flawlessly with micro iDSD without the need of any extra app. Of course, if you have either USB Audio Player Pro, Onkyo HD Player or Hiby Music player, you can also play DSD files on iDSD as well using DoP protocol. The A15 player however isn’t Android based. But it does support USB OTG with a special cable (Sony WMC-NWH10) and has no problem working with micro iDSD to create probably one of the best sounding portable ‘stack’ in the market, rivaling high end audiophile digital audio players like HiFiman and Astell & Kern. I was, on two occasions, also able to compare micro iDSD to the much more expensive and very well regarded Chord Hugo (both fed by the same digital source). While Hugo carries a much more euphonic presentation, I don’t actually find it to be technically better than iDSD. One might like the flavour Hugo adds to the music, but it is really more of a flavour to me rather than a true rendition of what is intended, not to say that it isn’t an absolute great flavour on its own right. I personally thought that this is a good indication on micro iDSD’s ability to play on a much higher level of playfield than what its price tag would have otherwise suggested.
Micro iDSD, like micro iCAN, comes with both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound. Unlike iCAN’s two level selection however, they only have one setting on iDSD – on or off. The effect is somewhat in between iCAN’s two levels. iFi’s reasoning is that they don’t want to have too big or small an effect as people might find it either too much or too little. Thus they opted for the middle ground. To me, the effect on XBass is indeed a little too subtle. It seems to work fine on some of my IEM but less noticeable on other. 3D Holographic Sound on the other hand has a bit more noticeable impact, which the IEM user in me does like it quite a lot (*given most IEM never really have good soundstage to begin with). Last thing to note is that both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound also work on variable RCA-out (*preamp mode), but they are tuned differently from the XBass and 3D Holographic Sound on headphone-out as they are intended to be fed to power amp and eventually loudspeaker. So if you are feeding the variable RCA-out to a headphone amp (then to a headphone of course), the EQ might not sound right, especially with 3D Holographic Sound.
Extra: Native vs Non-Native Decoding
When it comes to DSD playback, the words ‘native decoding’ has been threw around fairly casually by many manufacturer. The fact is however, many of them isn’t as ‘native’ as you will like to believe and often some form of internal conversion has been employed. To really understand whether a DAC really is natively decoding DSD or PCM, often you need to look beyond words but inside the circuit design on the chip’s level. Unfortunately for most of us, that’s just impossible as manufacturer would rather not share with everyone their trade secret. I won’t try to cover the whole topic here as it is such complex an issue that it will probably take an expert a lot more inks than what this review is intended for, and I am no expert on this topic either. But luckily Mr. Thorsten Loesch, the designer of micro iDSD, has already written such an article. While it is about nano iDSD, the same blood is in the vein of micro iDSD as well. Therefore what has been said on that article is just as true for micro iDSD as it is for nano iDSD. Read it here: http://www.audiostream.com/content/qa-thorsten-loesch-amrifi
The take-away point is - with the complexity and uncertainty in recording and mastering of the music before it reaches our ears, it is best to keep thing as ‘native’ and as non-invasive as possible when it comes to converting the 1 and 0 back to analog sound. That’s perhaps the reason why iFi has insisted on using the Burr Brown DAC rather than opts for something new and shiny with a more ‘marketable’ nametag. In that sense, I think they have done a tremendous job on optimizing the Burr Brown DAC to make it just as relevant as any top-of-the-line DAC chip in the market right now.
Is micro iDSD the perfect portable DAC+amp? No. If I can have a wish list, I’ll like it to be smaller, lightly, slimmer, shorter and perhaps, a true top tier amp as well. But the one thing that can’t be denied, nor would I wish to change, is the fact the micro iDSD is packed full of value and performance. If you ever need a portable USB DAC + amp that can just about do it all, do it well, and do it without costing a limb, I reckon this is /it/.
A thanks to iFi Audio for the review sample.
Pros - Superbly clean output , Lots of Power , Dynamic , Practical , Features ( 3D Holographic & XBass) , Battery Life , Construction , Design , Value .
Cons - Cable length provided
The iDSD Micro.
Bought at S$699.
This company, AMR iFi, is remarkable to start with. They have made so many amplifiers and dacs with different functions, size and price points, all to their signature minimalist aluminum block design. All of their products have performance which far exceeds their price point, making every purchase, worth it. iFi did not pay me to review their products, but i do own many of them, and i am very much impressed with every single one of them. I will now proceed with the review.
When you first open the box, like every other of their product, it feels like your are unraveling something of very high quality, which turns out to be true. Inside the box you will first see the product itself, underneath, you will get 2 purple RCA cables, a 3.5 to 3.5 short cable, a Long blue usb cable, pair of rubber bands for DAPs, the rubber feets and the Luxurious velvet-alcantara black pouch for the iDSD. The long blue usb cable, which connects the iDSD to the PC, seems alittle long for my preference, and it isnt like the one found in the iFi iDSD Nano, the Nano one was a light blue translucent cable with silver-coloured braiding, which was shorter and had a different connector. Due to the number of switches on this little machine, there is also a usefull guide for each and every switch, explaining what it does briefly and telling you how to start off safety without damaging your iems with too much power.Rubber caps are even provided for those RCA and SPDIF inputs/outputs which i seldom use. Everything required is present and it felt like it was all geared up to go.
First thing i immediately noticed when i got the iDSD Micro as compared to the Nano, is the convenience, surprisingly even when the Micro was double in length. The reason i said that is mainly because this has a male USB input, which was amazing, i could simply hook it to my android phone by OTG direct. Unlike the Nano, where i have to hook the given blue cable, and then add my own OTG cable, which made it really long and clumsy. Of course, the size may be a problem for those truly on-the- go users. Even though i pair it with the IE800, UmPro50, i usually only use them when i am settled down in an undisturbed area, like a library, cafe or at home to use it. They do come along with a 3.5mm input, which i did not know how it work and have not tried it, but it's output is a 6.3mm jack which you could just insert an adapter for 3.5mm inears. You can Also output by RCA or SPDIF. The iDSD Micro also acts as a portable charger for your mobile devices from it's usb port at the side.
Features & Performance
Everyone would notice a few rubber switches around the iDSD, Let us first take a look at what everyone with an iDSD Micro would notice first.
The red switch. The red switch at the side of the iDSD directly facing you has 3 settings, This is the Power mode settings, it does eco, normal or turbo, as claimed, the eco is for iems, normal for moderate impedance headphones and turbo for high impedance headphones. Always start with the Eco mode, then move up if more power is required, speaking of power, the battery life is very very good. it comes with a 4800mah battery which could power portable use for a week or two, depending on duration of use. However, when at home, i could use my laptop's USB power to charge and use the iDSD at the same time, i find this method of power management superbly intelligent and reliable, as the duration i used it on battery is usually shorter than the duration i use it from my laptop, i have found myself to never have charged the battery a single time after the first initial 24 hour charge.
Moving on the the next switch beside it, Polarity + -, i have not tried the negative one and left it on the positive default, some people enjoy the other, but its all based on preference.
And the one beside the Polarity switch, the Filters, For PCM which i listen to, it has 3 stages, the Standard Filter, Minimum Phase & Bit Perfect, i leave that to Bit Perfect, because it stated that it was perfect hahaha ! They are different filters to play around with, you'll just have to try each one and see how each one fits you, its once again a preferential thing.
At the underside right corner, you'll find the IEMatch Switch. This is for you to select 3 stages of Sensitivity, Naming, Off, High Sensitivity and Ultra Sensitivity, of course, you should leave this off if you are using normal or turbo mode, This is just meant for the InEars, in which you should have already set the power mode to eco. if the off setting is producing a little hiss, you might consider moving up the switch to the next one or the other, it cleans out the little hisses you get if your IEMs are alittle sensitive, however i've realized that when you go up sensitivity line, you realize that the 3D Holographic & XBass effect were also reduced slightly, i know it was intended to be made that way, so there's another preferential option for you to choose.
And there's the last rubber switch, on the left of the underside, you will see another switch, linked to the RCA output, which there is an option of having Preamplifier or Direct. I've not found myself using it.
Now... for the metal switches,
The famous iFi 3D Holographic, it widens the sound-stage of your music beautifully, it is one of the main reason why i upgraded my iCAN Nano & iDSD Nano into this iDSD Micro, it becomes an all in one and whole lot more. The effects are made in the analogue channel, in which iFi mentioned that it holds true to the original source and it is not a digital software kind of effect. It really brings your music to life, makes it more tangible and believable, even for headphones. As the user guide included with the iDSD, it mentioned also that if the 6.3mm jack has been plugged in, the 3D holographic would be their headphones 3D holographic setting, if they do not detect the 6.3mm jack plug in, they would output it as a speaker setting 3D holographic, which is slightly different ; from my experience with the iTUBE Micro.
And their other one, the XBass, increases the depth and body of your bass and sub bass, this really brings bass shy headphones or IEM to life, giving them alittle more volume and warmth.
All these features are already good enough to be sold on their own ! However there's more !
iDSD Micro is mainly made as a Digital Analogue Converter + Amp, it reduces the noise of your noisy source input, like from your laptop or PC, all digital-electric noise will be eliminated as this brings your on board DAC, outside. Connected by a USB cable which leads to the already on board iPurifier (another of iFi's invention) to clean up all noise which have made it that far. The Dac chip is a dual Octa BurrBrown DSD Chip, which it can play not most, but every single file you throw at it. The result of all these, Exceptionally clean output, needless to say, its really beautiful and at this price point, it certainly beats many 1-2k desktop DACs and amps already.
As you can see the number of switches i have mentioned from above, you can truly customize the sound of your output to your preference, i have never seen a DAC or an AMP deliver so much features into something so small and reasonably priced. Not even the Woo 7 Fireflies come close to price-performance ratios. This iDSD Micro is amazing, it's the "Meaty Monster", it is a show piece. which brings me to my next discussion.
A show piece indeed, take a look at that beautifully finished aluminium brick, as minimalist as design can get, sticking true to the rest of their iFi series of products, this one blends in perfect. It is as durable as it seems, knobs and switches feels like they are of quality. The overall product has a very nice quality weight to it, which made it feel really premium, unlike other amps which uses plastic to "reduce weight" which simply made it feels and look cheap. I love the metal, and i don't mind the added weight, it feels expensive, and it should feel that way.
Until now, iFi has never made a product that disappoint, they are a truly remarkable company which makes remarkable products, The iDSD Micro design features was brainstormed with the community in mind, seeking suggestions from the fellow users here in head-fi, which i think is a really beautiful thing to see, the company putting the users first and listening to what the user wants, and includes them in their design, all companies should learn from this. The iDSD certainly is a monster packed full of features, made with quality and made to impress.
The iDSD Micro has an easily distinguishable house sound signature which carries a little warmth and smoothness to the music with the switches turned off ,
so that's something you should expect and will come to enjoy over time . The 3D holographic switch not only widen the soundstage ,
and improves imaging , but also extends a little of the treble and increases it's presence .
I would strongly recommend this to my friends.
For the price, you get the iCAN, 2 iDSD Nano, iPurifier, Portable Charger & New Features.
There is really nothing not to love about it.
I hope that iFi continues to make excellent quality products as such, and i look forward to your next product in the iFi line !
BLACK LABEL REVISIT REVIEW
This review is written based on my comparison of the iFi iDSD Micro Black Label with the iFi iDSD Micro that I have used over the past 2 years .Let us start by calling the Black label as “B” and the normal , silver item , “S”. The review is in no way sponsored by iFi as they simply sent a unit for me to demo for a week before I’ll have to hand it over to the next reviewer . Whatever you are about to read would be blunt , honest review regarding the fore-mentioned products .
On first look , the iDSD Micro Black Label and iDSD Micro have identical packaging , simple white box , accessories and contents similar too . For those who do not know , the accessories were well decked out, most of the quality cables you require to get it running is provided . The instruction manual is a must-read for first timers , as the iDSD is a powerful amplifier with adjustable gain , so make sure you set things up right before you plug anything into your ears . I will save you on the box introduction as the photo would do a good job explaining it .
You would immediately notice that the finish on the both products are vastly different , the B being black and the S in silver . Both feels like they were made out of the same solid aluminium body that comes with all iFi amplifiers and dacs . Switches feels tactile, the way I remember how all my new iFi would . The B is detailed in orange letters to make reading of the text easier in an all black body . Everything else feels familiar to a S owner .
I will be comparing them with my daily drivers , the RHA MA750i , which have been burnt in for over 800 hours , in which it now plays smooth and forgiving sound , leaning towards the warmer end of the spectrum . Interesting choice for a daily driver for someone who has owned the IE800 , Noble Savant , Beyer T90 ? I think so too , but I find them really reliable , and they never fail to impress on their scalability with power .
The audio files used consists of 44.1 FLAC , PCM , Binaural and 192 FLACs .
The thing I love about the iDSD is the versatility of sound customizations , unlike all other decamps , the iDSD has 3 different power modes , turbo to drive high impedance headphones , down to the eco mode which drives sensitive IEMs . If eco is still too powerful , you could adjust the IEMatch at the bottom of the iDSD , which allows you to make micro adjustments of the supplied power , so even a 16 ohm IEM would not be left out . Leave your filter at bit perfect for the most musical experience . Polarity can be set at any you desire , I cannot seem to hear any audible difference with it being + or - . So , of all the previously mentioned settings , most of them could be left untouched if you plan to use the same IEM or headphone to pair with it . However , like our taste , our cravings change time to time , so the 3D Holographic switch and the XBass switch would meet just that . All in all , you would notice that you have 4 options to play with . both switch on , both switch off , only 3d on , only xbass on . iFi mentioned that they have changed not just the chips , but the switches have been improved as well , however , we’ll just be testing them with both switches on or both switches off on both units .
With both settings switched off (3D Holographic & XBass)
S – Provides a slight V shaped signature with nice moderate sized room soundstage , leaning towards the analytical sound , has more emphasis on treble , but still comfortable to listen to over extended period of time .
B – Warmer, smoother overall sound, however, it is also more intimate due to the tighter soundstage, has less emphasis on the treble , and mids more apparent over the S version .
With both settings switched on (3D Holographic & XBass)
S- Beautifully open , instrumental separation becomes clear , treble is further emphasised and sub bass is recovered .
B- Warmer , smoother , relaxed sounding . Treble not as emphasised .
S PRO : Suitable for more analytical listening or with pairing with an iem or headphone that lacks In the treble department , S would greatly complement it and balance the spectrum .
S CON : is slightly less pleasurable when compared to listening with B , Treble may be too bright when paired with bright IEMs .
B PRO : Suitable for more pleasure listening , great for balancing with bright sounding , warm lacking IEMs .
B CON : Sometimes too warm for bassy IEMs .
I wouldn’t say which is better than another , as I feel they both are very different decamps to fill different needs , i think it would be a silly decision to discontinue S , as I feel that some people would be needing an S more than the B , vice versa .
So , for people who already own the S , is it worth selling S to go for B ?
Well you’ll need to see if majority of your headphones and IEMs becomes overly bright when paired with S , if so , I would strongly recommend you to give the B a try , and you’ll most probably like it from the way that it is tuned . It sounds almost like adding a valve tube.
Would it be reasonable to own both?
Yes of course , because they act as 2 completely polar decamp , they product almost different sound , owning both of them while you are still familiarlize with their features and buttons would come to great use when switching from one unit to another , based on the pairing of the headphones .
If you do not own any of them and do not know which to get ?
The answer for this would be to personally try them out if possible , head down to your local distributor and check if they have demo units for you to try out to see if it suits you . I am pretty sure at least one would suit your liking! If ordering online is your only option , you would have to ask yourself what does your IEM or headphone lacks . as S would bump the treble and B would bump the warmth .
Why do you think they call it the black label ?
Personally , I think that the name clashes with a whiskey , and coincidentally , it has a warm and relaxed sound , which is comfortable and pleasing at the same time . The word black may also infer that it is the darker sounding twin of the S series , which is brighter physically and sonically .
Thus far , I have tried B with a few new IEMs which I find interesting , such as the Audiotechica Live Sound series , which I feel only the LS200 is worth the money (your mileage may differ) , and the Audeze iSIne 20 which sounded wonderful with them . Over the remaining week I have to spend time with B , I’ll most probably bring it out to get plugged by jacks of different size and colour as much as possible
And will update my pairing findings here .
If there are any particular pairings you would like me to try it on your behalf , do comment down below and I will try my best to get them paired up in the days to come . As Singapore is such a small country , majority of IEMs and headphones are easily within reach , yes , even the JH Angels .
BLACK LABEL REVISIT REVIEW
Pros - able to drive the most demanding phones; "3d" crossfeed a strong feature; inputs can be coax, toslink or line-in
Cons - disappointing burr brown dac
i won't repeat the details available in the review that's already been posted.
i got the ifi micro idsd for several reasons: one was that i wasn't sure my dx90 had a strong enough amp to drive the planar alpha primes that i recently bought. the ifi micro has a very strong amp, capable of 4w output. another reason i got it was that i was curious about how a different dac would sound- i have a dx90 with its dual sabre dac, and a gungnir on my home system with its akm chips. the ifi micro idsd comes with a burr brown dac.
bottom line: my dx90 could in fact drive the alpha primes pretty well, but they sound even better when i use the dx90 line-out to the micro's line-in, i.e. use the dx90's dac and the ifi micro's amp. the greater power of the ifi's amp, plus its very impressive "3d" crossfeed feature produces a bigger and cleaner soundstage. the ifi's dac was a disappointment, at least compared to the dx90's dac. the dx90's dual sabres produce cleaner, clearer sound. in comparison, the ifi's burr browns sound muddy. i don't want to overstate this- if i had just listened to the ifi micro and not had the dx90 to compare with the very same source files run out through the very same amp [the ifi's via line-out-in], the burr browns would have sounded fine, perfectly acceptable
the ifi micro is not a portable "on-the-go" device, it's too big and heavy for that. i would call it "transportable," rather than "portable." the heaviness of the micro is in part a function of its very large 4800mah battery - a trade-off desirable in some circumstances, not others.
in sum, the ifi micro is a very capable, multi-featured, transportable device. it will accept inputs via coax or toslink to run through its dac stage, or line-in to skip its dac and just use its powerful amp. there are a multitude of adjustments that can be made depending on the power demands of your phones, as well as a choice of filters controlling how it samples. [i only use pcm flac files and so used the bit-perfect filter.]