iFi Audio micro iDSD

General Information

There is nothing like the micro iDSD. It is literally, out of this world. It is the only DAC in the world (at any price) to play True Native Octa-DSD512/PCM768/Double DXD. Its Perfect-Match means it can be fine-tuned to any headgear from IEMs all the way through to large headphones. Its 8v/4000mW output makes it one of the most powerful headamps to drive even the most hungry of headphones with ease.

Latest reviews

Zortven

New Head-Fier
Pros: iEMatch
XBass is working great
Details
Sound signature
Power
Functionality
MQA
Cons: Limited use cases of 3D switch
Too big to be portable
iFi iDSD Micro Black Label
dscf4845.jpg


iFi iDSD Micro Black Label is a portable, powerful DAC with a lot of functionalities like MQA. It is priced at 599USD.
Sound quality for the price
Rating: 9 out of 10.

Build quality
Rating: 10 out of 10.

Value
Rating: 9 out of 10.

Packaging

The box has the same design as all older iFi products do. Inside you can find a lot of things, so here’s a full list of them.

Four adapters – from USB type B to USB type A, USB type A OTG, 10cm interconnects terminated with 3,5mm jack, rubber feet, 3.5mm to 6.3mm jack adapter, normal optical connector to 3,5mm type, black soft pouch with iFi logo, RCA interconnects, two rubber straps and a rubber pad which you can use to stack the iDSD with your phone or DAP. This is a pretty nice list, Isn’t it?
Build quality


iFi iDSD Micro Black Label is basically a bigger brother of iDSD Nano series, so they share the same build quality. It is made of metal, with a lot of connectors, switches, subtitles and so on. I’ll explain the functionality of all of them in the next paragraph. Back to the topic, iDSD Micro is built perfectly, everything you can move is working with some resistance, but I wouldn’t define this as a problem. Dimples on both sides of iFi DAC improves the grip and look of this little bastard.
Functionality
dscf4843-1.jpg

That will be a long part of the text, so if you’re interested only in the sound you can skip this paragraph without any guilt.

The one really important thing for sound quality is the fact that iFi can decode MQA files, so you can listen to the master quality tracks on tidal.

On the front, you can find 6,35mm jack as an output, 3,5mm jack as an analogue input, two switches and the potentiometer which also turns on the whole device. Going back to switches, the one bestead closer to the 6,35mm jack is called XBass and it boosts bass in the best way I’ve heard in a DAC ever. It isn’t expanding reverberation, it really boosts the quantity of bass, but also improves the dynamic so the bass still remains fast as hell. The second switch is called 3D, and it is trying to enhance the soundstage and imaging, it is making such a deluded feeling with open-back headphones that produce wide scene, but it may help closed-back headphones of which the holography isn’t the strong point, anyway I wouldn’t use it for music, maybe for gaming and movies.

On the left side, iFi placed three sliders, the first one is a digital filter with the help of which you can choose between bit-perfect, minimum phase and standard. Differences between them are noticeable, but they aren’t game changers. Bit-perfect is the sharpest, but last two sound almost the same, the minimum phase is more delicate and the standard is the most natural. The second slider is called Polarity and the name explain everything, you can invert the phase using this one. The third and last on this side is Power Mode which is basically the gain. There’s Eco, normal and turbo. Always check if it is set properly because my very first try of this option scared me with the volume level.

On the rear, you can find RCA output, SPDIF In/Out connector and USB Type A connector that works as a digital input.
On the right side, iFi placed a USB Type A which allows the iDSD to charge other devices, like your phone. There’s 7,5W on the output (5V, 1,5A).

Finally, the last two sliders are located on the bottom of the device. First one supports the iEMatch function, so you can use your IEMs with such a powerful device without any issues. There are options of high sensitivity and ultra sensitivity, so even Campfire Audio Andromeda can be uses with it without any problems. The second slider allows you to choose between direct and preamplifier for RCA output.
Sound


A big, portable device with so many options. Can it be that good? Sure it can.
iFi iDSD Micro Black Label can easily fight with its stationary competitors like Topping DX7s, and in my opinion, it’s way better as a DAC than the Chord Mojo. iFi plays a very detailed, natural sound that can be a little brightened for some people. I would say that iFi lets the headphones play with their style, imposing almost nothing from itself. That’s a huge merit in my opinion, but it is making it harder to describe the DAC itself.
Taking a look at the power, it can easily drive most of the headphones available on the market.

As I mentioned before iFi isn’t providing much from itself to the sound but there are some things I can talk about. The bass sounds really natural. It can strike hard, it can be lazy, just like the engineer/musician wanted to. It is very detailed, you can hear every single bounce of the stringing of the drums, every jolt of the strings from a bass guitar. Checked on the Fyne F500 that are very source sensible iFi slightly boosts the lows, they aren’t as hard as usual, they are very deep. Loved that thing, because it wasn’t warmed, just more like listening to the live sound.

The midrange isn’t recessed even a little, vocals are always the first on the place. There’s no sign of smoothness, lower mids are very well texturized with a huge amount of confidence in the voices. It might sound strange for you, but I felt like wow, I would trust him, even if he was singing about something I disagree with at all. On the other hand, female vocals are delicately sharpened and brightened, on bad mixed tracks it is even painful, so I have to reduce the volume even if I’m not sensible for things like that. Personally, I do not consider this as a con, since iDSD Micro BL focuses on being transparent and neutral, and it actually helps with evaluation of the song’s mastering.
The treble is more similar to bass than higher midrange when it comes to overall sounding. It’s natural, not delicate, not sharp, it’s just playing nicely with a lot of details that are starting and ending with a kind manner. I love the timbre and accurateness of drum plates, they are very exact with a pleasant glimmer. Treble is like playing with long, soft hair. You can feel every single one of them, but it isn’t unpleasant for you in any way.
The soundstage is – as it usually is on portable devices – narrower and less accurate compared to stationary devices like DX7s or RME ADI DAC-2, but way better than Chord Mojo or cheaper options like DACAMP L1 or Q5s. As for its width, the soundstage is deep and holography is great, even with complicated songs where there are many instruments. Separation stands on a high level, with a noticeable black background that is covered quickly with other sound sources.
Summary

iFi iDSD Micro Black Label is micro only by the name, it sounds like a stationary DAC. It can charm you with its natural sound signature that isn’t inflicting the headphone that much as other sources sometimes do. Many functions, some like XBass and iEMatch works better, some like 3D, well, they are there. If you’re looking for a source that lets your headphones perform with their own style, you should check this one. But there’s one question at the end. Is it still a portable DAC with its dimensions and weight?
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
  • Headphones – Meze Rai Solo, Campfire Audio Andromeda, Audeze LCD-3, Brainwavz Alara, Fostex TH-610, Fyne F500
  • Sources– DX3 Pro, Little Dot MK IV, Topping DX7s, Nuforce HA-200, DACAMP L1, Chord Mojo, FiiO Q5s, iFi iDSD Nano BL
Remember to visit us at ear-fidelity.com
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Cat Music and rev92

Johnny Mac

New Head-Fier
Pros: Provides load of power, power-efficient, built-in iEMatch and iPurifier, clean and resolving sound with great detail and dark background, 3D+ and xBass+ allows for fine tuning. Multiple gain and power output options
Cons: SmartPower feature is unnecessary
DSC00011-1024x576.jpg

DSC00005-1024x550.jpg
iFi Audio is a company based in UK launched in 2012 with a vision of improving sound quality and eradicating distortion, noise and hiss from different audio equipment. They are well known for their plethora of DACs, AMPs and a lot more that usually fits in an audiophile’s everyday audio chain. One of their well-known offering was the Micro iDSD which gained them more respect resulting in a fan base which in turn voiced feedbacks on improvements the Micro iDSD could have. With iFi Audio’s mantra of improving sound quality, they were more than willing to take in the feedback of their product users which eventually gave birth to a beefed up version of the Micro iDSD.

This beefed up version is none other than the Micro iDSD Black Label, iFi Audio’s top-rated desktop DAC and headphone amplifier. Clad in anodized black coating with orange accents which coincidentally matched my default Foobar theme. The color contrast is one of the best combo that electronic devices usually goes for which Sony’s black industrialized theme has pioneered. It still retains much of the OG Micro iDSD features and form factor but has ironically “amped” up features which can be summarized as follows:
  • Performance-tuned 3D® Plus and XBass® Plus
  • ZeroJitter/Femto clock system upgraded for lower phase-noise/jitter
  • Digital engine upgraded with iFi custom ultra-low noise Op-Amp OV2028
  • Analogue section upgraded with iFi custom ultra-low noise Op-Amp OV2627
  • Ultra-low impedance OS-CON polymer capacitors and Panasonic audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
proo.png
The iFi micro iDSD Black Label currently retails for $549 and ฿21,900 over at ProPlugin’s website. iFi Audio via their exclusive Thailand distributor, ProPlugin, sent me the review unit. If you happen to be around Bangkok, Thailand, I highly recommend you to check out ProPlugin for their extensive Pro Audio solution especially iFi Audio.
Features

3D+ and xBass+
There's currently a collection of signature and distinct technologies that iFi Audio parades and two of those are in the Micro iDSD Black Label, the 3D+ and xBass+ features in its latest iteration is in the Micro iDSD Black Label with signs that such features, even it its current brilliance, are still being worked on for further improvements. What the 3D+ feature highlights is the benefit of providing a more immersive experience by providing broader spatial accuracy which is one of the areas audiophiles are very critical off. The xBass+ feature aims to provide an added oomph to the low-end frequency performance which most gear are delicate with, it allows the user an adaptable option towards certain low-end preferences depending on their specific needs. iFi Audio knows these features would interest a lot of audiophiles and it’s great that they managed to create a detailed account as to what this supposedly do, you can check out their resource about the 3D+ and xBass+ features by clicking on the hyperlinks.

HeadAmp Turbo and iEMatch
iFi Audio’s top-rated desktop DAC and headphone amplifier wouldn’t be as top-rated without the Headamp Turbo feature which addresses all easy to drive and power-hungry headphones and earphones that its potential audiophile users may possess in their collection. Headamp Turbo allows the Micro iDSD Black Label to have 3 distinct power output levels being Eco (2.0V/250mW@16Ohm), Normal (4.0V/1,000mW@16Ohm) and Turbo (2.0V/250mW@16Ohm). The iEMatch feature in the Micro iDSD Black Label is another in-house developed tech which even has its own product line but iFi Audio decided to incorporate it to address the increasing gap of impedance values on different IEMs being released in the market, the iEMatch comes in 3 distinct levels being Off , High-sensitivity (-12dB adjustment) and Ultra-sensitivity (-24dB adjustment). The integration of these 2 features allowed me to tweak and fine-tune to my preferences the Micro iDSD Black Label according to the headphone and earphone that I happen to pick up and use and it worked well. The Turbo toggle was the setting that I used the least since the Eco and Normal power outputs were more than enough to power most of my IEMs and Headphones, a different story happened with the iEMatch as I found myself constantly toggling between the options as I do have a lot of review unit IEMs on my rotation which demanded different gain adjustment. This experience allowed me to appreciate the versatility of the Micro iDSD Black Label.

Packaging and Accessory set
The iFi Audio Micro DSD Black Label comes in the signature iFi Audio packaging in white which would have been great if it came in black to match the Micro DSD Black Label’s updated colorway. It highlights the vast features that is packed inside their Micro iDSD BL and with vast features comes vast accessories. Here’s the complete list.
DSC00002-1024x564.jpg
Accessory list:
  • Horizontal stacking rubber feet
  • USB A Female > B Female Cable
  • Caps for RCA sockets
  • iFi bag
  • USB3.0 A MALE > A FEMALE
  • Silicone bracelet
  • Label of battery charging
  • RCA cable
  • 6.35 > 3.5 adapter
  • 3.5 male > male cable
  • Optical Adapter
  • USB A Female > B Female Adapter
  • User manual
  • Warranty Card
Build quality, Interfaces and Handling
The Micro iDSD Black Label is as industrialized and modernized as it gets build-wise, from its anodized black chassis to its chamfered edges up to its protruding panels screams discrete masculinity. Despite the extensive knobs, ports and switches on the Micro iDSD BL, there are no loose parts to be observed when shook. All the switches offered a great feedback click when toggling as well as the volume knob, it feels smooth to turn and adjust. Handling the Micro iDSD BL was also easy because of its overall familiar vertical orientation which most power banks come in. It also consumes little desk space especially if you manage its connection cables well. The choice of using switches for the 3D+ and xBass+ features was personally great as it was easy to identify if turned on or off unlike a button/indicator LED combo.

Front Panel
DSC00015-1024x581.jpg
The Micro iDSD BL’s front panel features the power/volume knob which gives out a distinct click when turned on, it’s at the 7’oclock mark when off and spins up to the 5’oclock mark for full volume. A single orange tick on the power/volume knob indicates its current volume level. At the center of the front panel is the 3.5mm input port which can be used to feed audio output from various mobile devices, sandwiching this 3.5mm input port are the 3D+ and xBass+ switches, the 3D+ feature only works on headphones when the 6.3mm port is used and doesn’t work for speakers when the 6.3mm port is used. Both the 3D+ and xBass+ are analogue signal processing systems which has their own distinct pathways for audio output.

Back Panel
DSC00017-1024x579.jpg
The Micro iDSD BL’s back panel houses most of its input and output ports such as the Combo SPDIF Coaxial/Optical Input and Output which is auto-switching depending on the presence of USB audio signal. Next to the Combo SPDIF Coaxial/Optical Input is the RCA Line Output port for HiFi systems which I wasn’t able to test. The final port at the back is the recessed USB digital input which also doubles as the charging port. This is the main input port that I use to pair the Micro iDSD BL with my laptop and mobile phone to dish out my favorite tunes.

Side Panel
DSC00019-1024x578.jpg

DSC00016-1024x559.jpg
The side panel of the Micro iDSD BL is ribbed and features the switch toggle for the “Power Mode (Headamp Turbo)”, “Polarity” and “Digital Filter” features, the “Power Mode” button comes in red to differentiate it and also act as an identifier for ease of use. The other side of the Micro iDSD BL is the single USB –A (5V/1.5A) port for the “SmartPower” feature which allows you to charge portable devices such as your mobile phone and music player, it does charge larger portable devices such as tablets but would drain the battery faster making it less battery efficient in the long run. Using the “SmartPower” feature is independent from music playback and you either use the Micro iDSD BL for music playback or for charging. I'm not a fan of this feature, I'd rather bring my own power bank than "waste" the Micro iDSD BL's battery life because my experience with SmartPower feature wasn't positive as it made me to actually lose actual playback time so don't ask me how fast it charges.

Under Panel
DSC00020-1024x548.jpg
All sides of the Micro iDSD BL featues all the necessary inputs, outputs, switches or knob and the under panel doesn’t escape that. The under panel features all the essential Micro iDSD BL specifications and feature descriptions along with the iEMatch and RCA Line Output switches. There is no rubber feet pre-installed this time around but iFi Audio got you covered with a set included in the package. There have been sightings from actual users though of the iEMatch switch dropping so here goes iFi Audio, feedback.

Connectivity and Stability
The Micro iDSD Black Label packs the Burr-Brown Multibit DAC chip to accommodate its main processing tasks and it does it seamlessly, there were no hiccups whatsoever in my experience with it. I have mainly used the Micro iDSD BL’s USB-A input connected to my Windows 10 laptop via the supplied USB A male to USB A female cable, it was as simple as plug and play, there were no driver requests as well. I have used the same connection cable in connecting the Micro iDSD Black Label to my Samsung S10 5G’s USB C port using the Type C OTG cable supplied with the S10 5G, there were also no annoying cutouts experienced and connection was seamless and nuisance-free. The Micro iDSD Black Label’s connection stability continued on to its 3.5mm input port when used as a standalone amp via the supplied 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect, it worked great when connected to the Sony A46HN music player as well as the Zishan DSD and encountered no nagging connection issues.

Sound Quality and Battery Life
DSC00021-1024x607.jpg
The size of the Micro iDSD BL doesn’t come to naught as it packs a 4800Ah battery in order to sustain all the heavy lifting especially for the PowerMode’s Turbo and SmartPower. iFi Audio provides an estimated battery life of around 6-12 hours within the Eco to Turbo parameters. I tested out the Micro iDSD BL on Eco with all special features turned with iEMatch cycling depending on necessity and it lasted me 11 hours and 38 minutes while at Normal yielded 8 hours and 45 minutes. I wasn’t able to utilize the Turbo mode that much as most of my headphones and IEMs were sufficiently driven already with just the 2 modes. Charging the Micro iDSD BL was easy as the nature of its usage allows it be charged most of the time rather than being forgotten, the LED indicator on the upper panel was just an added bonus to indicate the battery level as I never had the Micro iDSD BL quit out on me while in use. The fact that I wasn’t able to utilize the Turbo mode made things interesting due to the potential that it has in powering future cans that might demand more power than the 2 earlier modes can provide. I only tested the SmartPower to confirm it is working and never had it take on a full cycle of charging another portable device, there were no hiccups and the Micro iDSD BL didn’t warm up too much just like a usual power bank does.

I have already heard ravings about the Micro iDSD BL way before I have ever tried one and most of the feedback were how they were able to drive power-hungry cans and not much about their distinct sound signature or a singular sonic improvement. The Micro iDSD BL started on a weird note from the get go for me as though I used it on the Eco mode most of the time, it always started to provide sound on the right earpiece of any IEM as well as headphone that I plug it into and only balances out when the volume knob was at the 9’oclock position, this continued to happen in all audio related tasks from regular music playback, movies and gaming. While this might be bothersome for some, I’m personally fine with it as it’s a matter of habit before one would be used to it though would be best not to have to do that.

I tested the Micro iDSD BL’s sound while being paired with the Samsung S10 5G via OTG as well as via USB connection with the MSI-GF62 8RE-055TH and Foobar2000 v1.4 with 16/44 FLAC (MCR’s Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits) and DSD64 files (MJ’s Thriller album). The Micro iDSD BL’s sound is drop dead analytical and sterile and couple that with a dark and silent background gives it a great sound signature that most purists would love, ironic as it might be that with all the special features that the Micro iDSD BL possess. It makes for a perfect analog equalizer with all its knobs and switches. The 3D+ features does indeed work but is more easily discerned in closed back headphones (Meze Audio 99 Neo) than when used in IEMs (LX Ear Pluto and Custom Art FIBAE Black) and open back cans (ATH-AD900x). It creates a subtle expansion emphasized more in width than with creating a better layering delivery, the already dark background compliments well with this outcome. The xBass+ feature is the one that I personally find more appealing and useful as it works on all the gears that I paired with the Micro iDSD BL. It doesn’t add more bass or anything of that sort but instead cleans out the delivery of the lows giving a fuller bodied feel and control on the attack, especially with pure BA setups such as the IEMs I used for this realview. The Micro iDSD BL’s sound signature and technical “improvements” that its features add to the mix of your DAP and HP/IEM makes for overall experience which is more analytical and details-centric on an almost pitch black background to the extent that it sucks out the fun in one’s rig.

Conclusion
DSC00009-1024x626.jpg
The Micro iDSD Black Label is indeed black, its ability to render the totality of the sound signature to be devoid of noise and hiss while pumping out loads of power enough to tackle most power-hungry cans which in turn allows for individuals who possess easier to drive cans to be able to finally check on those harder to drive cans they’ve been checking out. It still retains the inherent sound of the gears in its path and only enhances where most are lacking, soundstage and low-end presence. It packs a lot of features which isn’t gimmicky and actually functions to the point that some of it would be left unused once you’ve settled to your preferred setup. Its footprint also leaves one to always be on edge on bringing in out as a portable device as it isn’t that handy as some would say while being too small to be a true desktop setup solution. The Micro iDSD Black Label’s asking price of $549 is justifiable considering you get standalone product features such as the iPurifier and iEMatch, which if you haven’t tried yet is truly a feature worthy of being included in most DAC/Amps to date. I don’t need the SmartPower feature though and if that could be shelved and make the next Micro iDSD iteration more compact would be great since the direction of the Micro iDSD BL’s sound signature points to an audiophile’s purist ego, but hey, I'm just one of the many that voiced my feedback.

lambdastorm

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Very nice chassis

AMP section has remarkable amount of control and drive

Battery lasts reasonably long
Cons: Absolutely horrible DAC

Channel imbalance
With everyone loving these and hyping this lil' box up, I'm gonna play the devil's advocate and call it terrible, and I've owned two over the course of a year, got the first one here for around $320, bought another one brand new for $599.

Let's not talk about aesthetics. That's what lures me in in the first place. It looks pretty dang neat. A few switches here and there, a 1/4 port on the front, a set of RCAs, one optical and one USB port in the back. A real swiss army knife huh, compact and thoughtful.

But that's where all good news end. I literally cannot find anything positive to say about the sound. It's terrible, no, horrible actually. I bought the second unit just to see if I got a lemon, and bam I did not, it really just sounds that bad.

First of all, the headphone amp is actually pretty decent. It has plenty of drive and decent level of control for high impedance cans. HD600s sound great out of the amp, why the AMP section you say?

Because its DAC section is unforgivingly terrible. I've used the RCA ports in the back many times and everytime I plugged something in, it makes me wonder how on earth would these guys pair such a horrible DAC with such a good sounding amp in such a deceivingly nice chassis. The sound it puts out is lifeless, greyed out and lacks air. Detail retrieval is actually pretty decent, but highs are rough, mids are okay-ish and the bass on this thing is just an abomination. Not only is it loose, it doesn't have much extension down low and lacks quantity. My PS Audio Nuwave and Perfectwave MkII DAC both eat this thing for breakfast. Going back to those two makes me realize how artificial and harsh sounding this DAC/AMP really is, cuz the DAC section ruins what would otherwise be a fantastic dac/amp.

The amp section is pretty decent however. I tried hooking up my desktop DACs to this lil thing with a RCA-3.5mm cable, and it sounds pretty dynamic. Lots of power, pretty good control and reasonably good bottom end extension. Doesn't really sound like a portable unit, but the horrible DAC section makes the unit as a whole very tiny sounding.




In the end, I suggest any other users to steer clear of this dac/amp. The AMP section of this lil box trumps most if not all portable units on the market, however the DAC section is just so uninspiring it ruins the whole experience. It's tiny sounding, doesn't have much dynamics and lacks air. I don't really think its worth it even for the $320 I got it for.
abirdie4me
abirdie4me
Just picked this up used, and I think it sounds great. However, it doesn't sound great as preamp to my Jotunheim amp. I did some A/B testing with Jot balanced DAC, I noticed very little difference (grouped zone via Roon, so they were volume matched). But the iDSD by itself sounds awesome to me, so for me this is a great value for a portable dac/amp. I sold my mojo, it seemed lifeless and uninspiring in comparison. We all hear differently and have different preferences I guess.
Highend75
Highend75
It is obvious that you cannot hear the major details of this DAC, let alone the most subtle.
Some people can't tell the difference between High-end and mid-fi.
The ear just isn't capable.
droido256
droido256
Just got mine, and holy cow. Even on eco mode the LCD-2F is nearly unbearable loud at 12 clock volume. With the xbass on, it (LCD-2) will beat your ears up.

Comments

There are no comments to display.
Top