There is nothing like the micro iDSD. It is literally, out of this world. It is the only DAC in...

iFi Audio micro iDSD

Average User Rating:
4.57843/5,
  • 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.

Recent User Reviews

  1. Dobrescu George
    5.0/5,
    "IFI IDSD BL : THE PINNACLE OF DAC AND AMP TECH"
    Pros - Amazing Sound, Great Battery Life, Great Soundstage, Impressive Transients, Well extended sound in both bass and treble, versatility
    Cons - The start of a song is lower in volume after a long pause

    Introduction


    iFi Micro iDSD BL (Black Label) is one of the most interesting DAC/AMPs produced by iFi. iFi is a part of Abbingdon Music research group from UK.

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    I didn't know much about iFi before getting the BL, but they have proven to be very friendly so far and their interaction with their customers and fans is a commendable one.

    I was extremely skeptical towards iDSD BL at start, mostly because iFi has a very bold marketing and makes a lot of promises that I had questions about. Those questions can only be answered by firsthand experience and usage. No matter what explanation one would receive, you always have to hear to believe when a device receives so much enthusiasm as iDSD BL does.

    iFi has a lot of involvement with the audiophile community and organizes tours and such, but I wasn't part of their tours before because there were not enough participants from Romania. I briefly heard the original iDSD (the silver one), when I was comparing it with Chord Hugo, but I didn't have enough time to make a complex or throughout impression about it, although I remember liking it quite a bit.

    I have absolutely no affiliation with iFi at this moment, I am not receiving any kind of incentive to sweeten things out. My review will be as objective as it is humanly possible and it is a description of my general experience with iDSD BL as a device, every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it.



    About me

    My name is George Dobrescu and I am the Director of the Seventh Heart Studios game studio. I work as one of the main programmers for the company, and I am the writer for Quantum Magica and Falsetto Memories projects. I spend eight – twelve hours a day working on a computer, writing and sometimes drawing. I also take care of administrative work which means that I require a portable setup so I'll be testing the portability of iDSD as well.

    Music is present all around me for a big part of that time as working with music is always more fun. With all the devices I own, I need great sound, comfort and ease of usage, not to mention that my listening volume ranges from "please stop that, it's far too loud" to "I can't even tell that you're listening to music".

    My collection includes everything from Classical to Metal, from Rap to Pop, from Punk to Cabaret and absolutely everything in between. There are great artists from every type of music, and I'm one to collect their albums, and keep a tidy order for my files.

    You can check out more about our games on our pages https://www.facebook.com/seventh.heart.studios/ and https://twitter.com/7heartstudios .

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    At Seventh Heart Studios, we all love music and this has had an impact on our games as we hold the music close to our hearts and we are committed to only use ogg -q10 as the encoding format for our music since it offers the best disk space to sound quality ratio, OGG -q10 being closest to audibly transparent when compared to FLAC encoding.

    Personal philosophy: Music is more than a hobby or sound. Music is inspiration. Music is life. Music has meaning by itself, being the one thing that can define one's life while shaping one's imagination and creativity. Music can open doors to new plains and music can change one's mood. Music can rest the mind better than days of sleep or can give one energy better than a thousand cups of coffee. Music can be anything we want it to be and the music we experience using professional audition tools is more but at the same time it is nothing more than our way of enhancing the emotion we get from music. Love is a concept too shallow, unable to encompass what music really means to a music lover.



    First Impression

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    When it comes do audio devices, I have owned a FiiO X5 2nd generation for the longest time from all the devices I've been using and it has proven to be one heck of a companion. I love that device and I love FiiO's service as they've helped me one too many times. I also owned Sennheiser ie800, Meze 99 Classics, and owned many other devices through the years, but only a few really impressed me.

    I have made my best efforts to get my hands on an iFi iDSD BL as curiosity was burning me for a while. All good and well, I was quite happy when I got a unit to play with as people have been praising iDSD BL to be one of the greatest DAC/AMPs of all time and my skepticism was burning me from the inside.

    Fast forward to one week later, the unit arrived in Romania. It was the Thursday before the Easter and everyone in Romania was in a rush to get their preparations done. At the moment I received the unit, I have already lost two nights of sleep, having less than two hours each night since I had a lot of work to take care of before Easter.

    The delivery guy called me to pick up iDSD BL and he was quite nice. The weather was warm and clear as well, but the lack of sleep was slowly getting to me. I could barely walk, was really hungry and most of all, a very bad mood haunted me the day I received the package. The delivery guy handed me the cardboard package and I placed the box and the unit in my backpack for an hour or so, as I went ahead to finish some of the work that still needed to be taken care of. When I arrived home, the unit was carefully placed on my desk (still packaged) for another hour as even so, I had even more work to do and could not dig right into a DAC/AMP before finishing at least the urgent tasks.

    After finishing all urgent tasks, I told myself that it is time to test the unit for a few minutes, just for quenching my curiosity then it's sleep time for at least a few hours. By the time I managed to open the box and sort out the cables, the fatigue was so much that I was blinking for seconds just to be able to keep myself awake.

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    The unpacking experience is a delight and the large number of accessories is a huge surprise, but at the moment the sound was the only thing that was on my mind. I wanted to know how it sounded like right away and the only accessory I really wanted to get out of the box was the USB cable. Happily, iFi included a good quality USB cable that's hard to mistake, so I could get to listening to iDSD BL right away.



    All good and well, the DAC install process on a laptop requires less than a minute and it didn't even ask me to restart it. Good work on the software support.

    The moment of shock comes in just a few seconds, when iDSD BL is connected to the laptop and I start the first song. Yes… It sounds interesting. It is impossible to tell how it sounds right away, but what I notice immediately is the soundstage and the details! It surely sounds different than what I'm used to hear when I listen to my music. I check if the X-bass and 3D switches are off, and both are off. What am I hearing though… Something… Details. Tons and tons of details. My laptop already has a dedicated audiophile grade DAC solution, based on an ESS chip, but iDSD BL stuns me with the great amount of details it is able to pull from the songs I have known for ages.

    Compared to my laptop, iDSD Micro BL managed to bring in so much more detail and nuance, life and dynamism to highlight every change of tonality and micro detail, to expand the soundstage way above what I am used to. All good and well, but I need to hear more of that new sound. As much as I fear it is addictive, I simply can't stop myself from listening…

    One song… then another… then another…

    Then another…

    I notice only later that at least three hours have passed and I'm still enjoying iDSD BL with a smile on my face. My work-related fatigue isn't there anymore, or rather I completely ignored my lack of sleep only so I could listen more to this wicked witchery box.

    The first impression ends only after I spend over four hours listening to iDSD BL. I eventually went to sleep happy with the sound I heard. A few hours of sleep, and I was back ready to listen to this thing. One way or another, I just can't get enough of it!



    Product Presentation:

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    Packaging:

    First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:

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    iFi put a lot of thought in the package and the packaging process as the package includes all the accessories necessary for the unit to work with a large number of devices. The box is composed of an outer layer that must be stripped down, inside which is the actual cardboard box that includes the unit. Inside the cardboard box, the unit sits comfortably in a cutout that protects it and holds it in its place, next to a humidity controller bag.

    Underneath the unit, there are two small cardboard boxes, each including a number of connectors and accessories. I managed to identify most of them, but two or three of them are quite exotic and will surely come in handy to some power users. I like to see special extras that you don't really see included with most devices.

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    - There is a black velvety pouch, which acts mostly as a transport pouch as it is generally advised against using any DAC/AMP inside a case for thermal reasons


    - There are two black rubber bands for keeping ifi iDSD tied to a DAP / Transport and a rubber band that acts as a separator for them.

    - 2xRCA to 2xRCA cable that looks pretty sturdy and feels nice to the touch

    - USB cable that is USB-A Female to USB-A Male for connecting iDSD to a computer / laptop. This cable seems to be well made, it is thick but flexible and it seems to be shielded against EMI (Electro Magnetic Interferences)

    - Rubber feet that one must stick to iDSD so it sits better on a desk as a desktop DAC / AMP

    - USB-A Female to USB-B Female cable

    - 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo line out cable

    - USB-A Female to USB-B Female short connector (packaged in a static isolating bag)

    - Toslink / Optical adapter

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    The large number of accessories is big a plus for iDSD BL, especially as some of those accessories are quite exotic and hard to come by.

    I have been using iDSD portable for the past two weeks and the feet present to sing of wearing, they stay in place and as good as they did the first day I applied them. I actually appreciate the possibility of each user applying the feet so iDSD BL is most compatible with any transport you have. Getting them perfectly aligned requires less than three minutes of fiddling and they do stay well put in place.

    The only accessory that is missing from the box is an OTG cable for smartphones, but that is a very common and cheap accessory that you can easily find in any smartphone shop. For the record, I already had one lying around the house to confirm that OTG cables are a common accessory.

    At the end of the day, the unboxing experience for iDSD is elegant and luxurious, it is clearly geared towards the high-end market, and there's a little bonus: the box has a green card indicating that iFi used an environmental friendly package, so you have no reasons to feel guilty about the cardboard box hurting the environment.

    What I look in for a DAC/AMP

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    When buying a DAC/AMP unit, there are a few things that a buyer should be looking and seriously consider as sooner or later those will come in foresight:

    - Sound quality. This is the most important aspect if traveling the path of adding a DAC / AMP to your daily listening chain

    - Battery life – at least 8 hours of battery life per full battery at high volume on high gain, with effects engaged. Anything above this number will come in handy down the road.

    - Intuitive / ergonomic build (buttons arrangement, robust build, no creaking noises, resistance to pressure for when it's a pocket, robust headphone jacks, no wearing issues after long term usage)

    - Good Value

    - Interesting design - the device must look modern / elegant / luxurious and fit in with both street usage and a business environment

    - To work well with both IEMs and over the ear headphones

    - USB DAC function that works with both laptops, smartphones and an audiophile dedicated transport

    - Enough I/O ports for all devices and current usage patterns

    - Fluent, Fast, stable Firmware

    - Wide Music file type support

    iDSD Micro Black Label checks the points above fairly well, although we will explore the sonic abilities in depth in just a few moments.

    For the record, the build quality in special is really good and although I do charge it daily, it never runs out of juice on me.



    Technical Specifications

    Output Impedance
    1 ohm into a 32 ohm load
    Connector
    6.3 mm Headphone Out
    Frequency Response
    20 Hz - 20.000Hz (-3dB)
    Works as a USB DAC
    Yes, works for Android and Windows
    Battery
    4800mAh, Li-Polymer
    Play Time
    ~10 Hours
    Output Power
    1560mW into 64 Ohm
    Output Power 2
    950mW into 32 Ohm
    Output Power 3
    250mW into 16 Ohm
    Weight
    310 g
    DAC Chip
    Custom Native Burr-Brown DAC
    Max Output Voltage
    10 V
    SNR
    115dB
    AMP Configuration
    OV 2627 + OV 2628
    Works as a pre-amplifier
    Yes
    Works as an Amplifier
    Yes, Line-Out Cable Included



    Build Quality/Aesthetics

    iDSD looks like an instrument from a future engineering laboratory, fitting well in with the industrial design world but able to pass fairly well for a modern piece of equipment. The black writing on black surface provides a plus of style, and the logo style and design looks modern. The power mode button is red – excellent selection as it is good to mind its role, especially if using IEMs while all the other buttons are black.

    There are a lot of cues written on the device that indicate what every button and setting does, all indications being written in an orange font for better visibility.

    The device is pretty thick and pretty long, but not wider than Xiaomi Mi Max or the average smartphone. The main audio jack is 6.3mm, but it comes with a golden adapter to 3.5mm so you can connect any headphone and IEM out of the box.

    Connected to a DAP, it doesn't look like a bomb, but it does look quite eccentric. The extreme edges of the device are slightly rounded while many of its surfaces feature an angular design, all resulting in a neat looking device.

    The settings buttons are mostly made out of rubber and offer a hassle-free operation. The two buttons for sonic adjustments that read X-Bass and 3D are actually made of metal and are presented on the front of the device. There are two buttons / adjusters under the device, one for changing between preamplifier and Direct functions and one for engaging different iEMatch settings.

    The two frontal buttons, XBass and 3D feature an old-school switch design that will be loved by many audio enthusiasts, and both buttons click right into place. The buttons are fairly distanced between each other and it is possible to switch 3D on and off without touching the volume wheel. After using the device portably for a long time, I can surely say that even with a line-in cable connected, the buttons can be accessed and switched with no problems, I found their operation to be really good. I do change the xBass settings once per every two-three songs as I like it's effect.

    The analogue volume pot is pretty sensitive to touch, turns smoothly and offers a hassle-free operation. The true volume wheel usable area starts after 10 - 11 o'clock, if the music is too loud at that point, it is good to either lower the power setting or engage iEMatch.

    The USB input is found on the back of the device, along with the SPDIF in/put and RCA outputs. The USB port is a male USB port, but it has enough space around it to accommodate any OTG cable, like the one I had around so it can be said that iDSD a wide array of inputs.

    The RCA ports connected flawlessly with multiple RCA cables I had around and the ports themselves look well aligned. I mainly use iDSD BL with Sennheiser ie800 and Meze 99 Classics, but I'm sure that the RCA ports will come in handy for many users.

    There is a USB smart power port on the right side of the device, which will provide power to a smartphone. This Smart Charge port also features a quick charge function. It connected with Mi Max on first try and it provided charging, same for other smartphones I had on my hands.

    There is a single LED light on top of iDSD that provides insight to its function (featuring multiple colors and blinking patterns, depending on the information it provides).

    Every port and every button feels fairly sturdy and the whole device feels good in hand. While not in operation, the device is cold and the metal surface is finely textured resulting in a good grip and a nice sensation to the touch. While in usage, iDSD can get a bit warm, but I never experienced it getting too hot. Per total the build of the device is hard to fault and after proper testing I can confirm that it will react well to daily usage.



    Testing

    I have tested iDSD with my laptop and my phone, both as a portable device and as a desktop device. I also used iDSD BL with X5ii where iDSD BL acts as an amp for X5ii

    The connection to a laptop is flawless it works with both Foobar, Youtube videos and games without asking any questions. With Xiaomi Mi Max, which is an Android device, the connection doesn't require anything but the OTG cable and it works as well as with a computer. With FiiO X5ii, the connection doesn't work using the OTG cable, the preferred way being to use a co-aux cable with X5ii, or using X5ii as a DAC and iDSD as an AMP. FiiO X5-3 should be able to use an OTG cable as well as co-aux signal, but I don't own X5-3 to confirm.

    For the record, I have watched over 4 continuous hours and over 12 hours in total of music videos, using iDSD BL and Mi Max stacked together + Meze 99 Classics, while I was riding a bus. I can confirm that I didn't get any physical fatigue, the devices can be held together in one hand and there's no downside to using them this way. Using iDSD BL to watch videos on a phone is not just possible, but it is a fun and recommended experience.



    Sound Quallity

    iDSD BL has a specific signature that would come off as fun and natural. The whole sound is organic and musical, there is enough energy in music for it to sound engaging, the soundstage without 3D enabled is already very good, and the bass is well controlled, goes deep and has enough strength to sound real. The top end is friendly, and it sounds natural and life-like, iDSD BL having a very detailed top end. The Dynamic Range is impressive as iDSD BL gives life to a lot of music and the transients are quite impressive as well. The textures of iDSD are more than good, it is easy to get amazed by the guitar textures in many you've known for ages, especially with Meze 99 Classics. The sound is slightly warm and the midrange is expressed naturally, the whole sound being a perfect fit for Metal, Rock, Pop, Classical, Cabaret, Punk, Rap, Avant-Garde and Electronic (Everything Electronic included here). To be fair, iDSD works well with any kind of music thrown at it, from the La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin by Claude Debussy all the way to Metallica's Fuel.



    Little disclaimer:

    For the sonic impressions, I have used Ultrasone Dj One Pro, Sennheiser ie800, Meze 99 Classics / Neo and a few other auxiliary devices. Ie800 and Meze 99 C/N are both quite revealing, and both already have a very good soundstage. Each headphone has a signature of its own, and although they differ a lot in their signatures, I surely enjoy both in their own context.

    iDSD has been extensively tested against a generic good DAC solution found in a laptop and against Xiaomi Mi Max. The nature of testing a DAC / AMP makes any kind of observation possible through the headphone / IEM, so at times it is possible that I might end up describing the sound of the combo.



    Channel balance

    There is absolutely Zero channel imbalance on iDSD after the volume pot passes the 10 – 11 o'clock mark. This is fair for a device using an analogue volume pot and every device with an analogue volume pot presents this behavior. The 11 o'clock mark can be passed with virtually any IEM or headphone, provided you are using the right power + iEMatch combination, iDSD providing one of the most versatile driving functions ever seen in a DAC / AMP. A large number of iEMatch + power settings combinations is possible and you can obtain a wide array of power and volume outputs.

    To be fair, I never had a problem with channel imbalance, and my volume wheel sits around one-two o'clock while out and about and between twelve and one o'clock while inside.



    Bass

    I needed to hear iDSD much more than the initial audition to see what amazed me so much. What kept me up that day although I could barely see straight?

    The bass of iDSD BL is clearly part of the reason why. The natural, detailed, well textured and deep bass is one of the best features of iDSD BL. Even a basshead will cry of happiness the first time he hears the bass iDSD BL and the power it is able to push. There are many devices that go deep with the bass, but iDSD feels like it goes even deeper. The slam and hit are out-of-this-world. One of the biggest advantages of its bass is that it doesn't bloat one bit, but it goes deep in a clean way. The texture is kept in the bass, and it is presented in a vivid manner. It doesn't cover the midrange or treble at all, shining together with the rest of the spectrum.

    The bass recovers details very well, each tiny detail in the bass being easy to discern even for an untrained ear. A strong point of iDSD BL is also the control it has over the bass. iDSD provides much more authority than either Mi Max or most portable devices. the bass being clean, coming forward and being there to take names. The bass is one of the fastest I've seen, the good control meaning not only great depth, but also a fast recovery from every bass slam and hit. Metal and fast electronic music requires a very fast bass that is able to stop on the drop of a needle, but is also able to sound natural and full when it is called for. iDSD does a great job at this. The decay is precise and it is neither shortened nor prolonged, just the right amount of decay one would expect out of a TOTL DAC / AMP.

    There is a little button that has XBass written all over it. Now, the device clearly doesn't need for it to be pressed as the bass is already great in its natural form, but who can stop themselves when they see the button there?

    Engaging the X-Bass will add thickness, slam, warmth and raw force to the bass, but it won't slow it down. The sound keeps itself on the same level of coherency, but there is even more tactile feeling to every hit. It shakes the very ground around the listener and is able to turn a great bass into an even greater bass.

    There is also a 3D button that begs to be engaged. This is a bit unexpected, but when engaging 3D, the bass gets better in separation and layering. There is even more space to music and everything doesn't just come forward but from around the listener as well.

    With iDSD BL, the question is not whether it outclasses something anymore. The questions is now: "How can it sound so natural?"

    I am sure that the already incredible bass of ie800 and Meze 99C/N play a major role in this as well, but neither can have such an amazing sound when they are driven from a smartphone and although ie800 is an IEM, it is one of the hardest to drive IEMs in the whole world and iDSD BL has total control over it.

    Knife Party – 404 – The bass hits deep at the first notes, but when the song really starts, the bass goes even deeper. Each hit resonates for a good period of time, providing a clean and natural decay. All the symbols in the mids and treble stay clear and there is no trace of bloating or overdoing things. The fast segments of the song offer a good rhythm, the bass is fast enough to give a tactile / out-of-head sensation, and it feels like it is hitting from around the listener if called for. The sound is unique and most certainly is a surprise hearing this well-known song sound like this for the first time.

    Infected Mushroom – Becoming insane – The bass comes to accompany every guitar note at the beginning of the track, giving the guitar a lush and organic tone. The bass after the intro part feels insanely clear, goes all the way down to the lowest of octaves, but doesn't intrude on the midrange, the whole sound assembly giving the right bite to all guitar notes. The song comes off as deep and playful and there is a certain musical feeling to it. For the record, the amount of enjoyment with iDSD BL is so high that I couldn't stop listening the track while taking impressions.

    Gorillaz – El Manana – The bass comes off clear and again, there is no trace of distortion or overshadowing of other elements. The song feels liquid, flows well, and the background tones come through very well, having enough space to breathe around the forward tones. The spaciousness of the song is very good and there are sounds that come from around the listener, the song having a very involving feeling to it.

    Oceana – Barracuda Capital of the World – iDSD reveals good properties when playing a natural decaying bass guitar that's supposed to envelop the whole song. The song needs to a very clear bass to sound right and iDSD BL nails it just right. There is no trace of distortion in the bass, and the left – right panning is played well, while the micro details and short notes come out at the right moments, but keep their places as details, while the cymbals and the tambourine instrument have enough spark and bite to make the song feel real. The voice has a natural tone and is very convincing, coming forth with warmth and emotion.



    Midrange

    iDSD BL's midrange is a big surprise as it kept me up two nights testing between BL and other devices. At first, it was pretty hard to tell how the midrange of iDSD actually sounds like, and especially how is it different from other devices. There are differences that any listener notices at first hand listen when trying iDSD BL, but those differences are hard to name directly without a comprehensive vocabulary.

    One of the words I would use to describe it is musical. iFi iDSD Micro BL is extremely musical. Rather said, it is not analogue sounding but natural and life-like. Many digital sources make the music sound dull and lifeless, flat and undynamic. iDSD BL has an exceedingly dynamic sound, to the point where it is hard not to notice how much the dynamics are improved over weaker sources.

    There is a large difference between loud and quiet instruments, and there is a great sense of space and detail in the music. It is able to make Pop music sound dynamic and detailed. It doesn't forgive mistakes present in the music, but it is able to assemble the track in an authentic and enjoyable manner.

    When I first heard iDSD, I was surprised to discover that the midrange tonality between iDSD, Mi Max and a laptop's on-board audio is different. After further analysis, it seems that iDSD is the one that sounds most natural and that comes closest to how music sounds when live. The digital / off-tone of Mi Max, for example, cannot compare to the iDSD BL's spot-on tone.

    For the record, I couldn't start writing about the midrange until listening to iDSD BL for a few days since it dazzled me. One of the things that really surprises is the space between instruments that's much larger than any smartphone or laptop offers. I would venture to say that the sound of iDSD BL and ie800 is similar to that you hear when you hear Sennheiser HE-1 (Orpheus 2) native setup. The sound gains so much in the dynamics, details, and soundstage that it really reminds of how HE-1 sounds like. I would actually venture to say that that iDSD BL + ie800 can actually be compared to He-1 sound wise.

    The midrange is not recessed by any means, the midrange being in line with everything else, leaving enough space for instruments to breathe and for certain sounds to happen outside of one's head. Even though ie800 is an IEM and not a full headphone, iDSD makes certain sounds come as if they are coming from a good distance from the listener. Especially details and background instruments can feel as if they are meters away from the listener. A piano in the background is possible to imagine being somewhere in the back as it is possible to imagine how the pianist is playing it with a silly smile on his face. Guitars in Metal and Rock songs have power and texture to them, they don't feel recessed. The sound is vivid, exposing all the ribs on a steel guitar cord to the listener.

    Obscurcis Romancia – Sanctuare Damne – By the time the song starts, you are surprised by the warmth and strength of it, pushing the listener to know that the song will shortly come to life. The multiple guitars chords come vivid and clear, the voices having enough strength to achieve an absolute impact. The synth notes are now extremely clear while many times they used to came off as a fuzz and they are now easy to tell apart from the guitar notes. The crescendo in the song has the right amount of suspense and the drums construct the rhythm all the way to the full explosion. The cymbals are very clear and have enough spark to feel tangible, but they don't go overboard and don't sound sibilant nor harsh. The acoustic guitar notes have the right amount of bite and attack to them, while the piano and the bass guitar have their own place and continue building to a coherent sound, making the whole song sound like a sweet symphony.

    Iron Maiden – Dance of the dead – The acoustic guitar has a good bite and presence, while the bass guitar is lucid and forward for the whole duration of the song. The voice is extremely clear and there is no sibilance on any of the words. The speed of the whole song is good, but it doesn't go overboard and every note has a natural decay leading to a crystalline but natural sound. The cymbal crashes are smooth, but that is the song itself. The synths are clear and sure a nice addition to the song as on weaker sources they can sound mushy, now being strikingly rich. What is shocking about the song is the separation and definition of instruments as many DAC/AMPs struggle with getting it right. The soundstage is very large, the guitar sound projecting itself in the front of the listener. The guitar solo has a natural tone and the rhythm guitars that accompany it make great highlights for one of Iron Maiden's greatest guitar solos.

    Maroon 5 – Not coming home – This is a special live song from the album "Songs about Jane". The song is vivid and there is even more space between the instruments than it is with other sources. The voice is clear and has good texture while all guitar sound clear. Although the song is dynamically compressed, the public is clearly somewhere in the background and the drums are well placed in the stereo field. Fuzz effects on guitars are easily palpable and they don't come as a cloudy or mushy fuzz while the bass comes forward and impresses by impact and lack of distortion. The special effects travel well in the sonic space and don't cover themselves in a veil while the voice remains natural and honest for the whole duration of the song.

    System of a Down – Nuguns – The aglow texture of the guitars is easy to spot right from the start of the song. Every note and reverberation comes through in hot and gets the right amount of play time. The voice is clear and tonality is spot-on. The bass guitar gives the whole song a lush presentation and a good impact while the cymbals and drums bite enough to be part of the song. The solo at 1:30 is vivid and the special notes are all entities of their own, coming with good distinction, well separated from the other guitar notes that are sang at the same time.

    Kathy Perry feat Kanye West– ET – This song is dynamically compressed from the start, but I'm quite enthused with the way iDSD BL handles it. The song will easily distort on many setups due to the high amount of dynamic compression it has, but stays daylight clear with iDSD BL and ie800. Bass strength helps a lot with the impact as every single drum hit at the start of the song is able to shake the ground around the listener better than a night club in the summer. What I really love here is the voice of Kathy Perry. Like all female voices through iDSD BL, it sounds crystalline, having the right tonality to it. Female voices sounding right is a pretty important aspect of any DAC/AMP + IEM or Headphone combo since a beautiful female voice can brighten one's day and I'm happy to report that iDSD BL nails the female voices very well. Male voices are clear as well and the tonality is also spot-on. There's an organic air to vocals that's hard to explain without using superlatives, but it's easy to discern after first hearing iDSD BL.

    Powerman 5000 – To Be Human – The song starts strong and fast, each individual bass and guitar note being sent well while every cymbal crash comes through with life and energy to enlighten the listener. The voice doesn't have any sibilance to it, and the effects and symbols up top have a good bite giving the song a great happy and musical impression. Guitar solos both have the right amount of highs to them and manage to live through the headphones / IEMs used as if the guitarists are masterfully playing them right in front of the listener. I couldn't stop from banging my head and tapping my leg on the floor hearing this song on this setup and had to start singing along by half of the song – this is the best measure of the fun one can have with this setup.

    Kishida Cult – High School Of The Dead – A great example of clear guitar tones and clear female voices. The voice feels close to the listener, the tone doesn't sing in falsetto at any moment, the guitars staying clear throughout the whole song. There is a clear tendency of the song to sound wide and guitar effects come from the sides, while the voice comes from the front of the listener, creating an ideal stage presentation for this song. The bass notes are welcome as they define the flow of the song very well, while the cymbals have the right amount of bite and spark to them, staying clear and in their own sonic space. There is a clear distinction between the guitar playing in the right and the one playing in the left ear, both offering a clear view over their own musical notes.

    Ken Arai – I Am – This is a dubstep / Electronic song and you can be pretty curious to hear on a TOTL setup. The first impact of the song is amazing as the bass hits deep and strong. The bass shakes the very being of the listener, but it doesn't distort one bit – amazing rendering knowing how pumped this song is in the bass. There is a clear sense of space and the mid-centric effects are well defined while their texture is aglow and tangible. The soundstage has a round shape with the sound being wide but deep at the same time. There are effects coming from the back and the front of the listener, effects coming from the whole audio space, and effects coming from the sides. Both Ie800 and 99C/N have a wide presentation by themselves, iDSD enhancing both, making this song even more fun to listen to.



    Treble

    iDSD BL treble is actually very good. I was extremely skeptical about the treble when I got the unit since many said that it is warm. I feared that this warmth or would mean a rolled off treble that doesn't carry enough energy. I am a natural treble lover, or at least I prefer cymbal crashes to have a good spark to them and I prefer for the symbols in electronic music to express their energy and not be recessed. iDSD goes one step further and above with this.

    In my Music Loving journey, I often find myself enhancing the treble of certain devices, leading to some sibilance in the top registers, eventually adding distortion, all leading to a tiring presentation.

    With iDSD, the treble doesn't sound rolled off nor is it sibilant. It has just the right amount of treble to present the notes well and keep their ADSR and Dynamics in check without any distortion or harshness.

    When a source has an inherent lack of treble, the music sounds laid back. Happily, iDSD Bl doesn't suffer from this and energetic music sounds energetic, upbeat songs are upbeat and laid back songs are laid back. Both fast and slow music sound natural / as they should through iDSD BL, leading to a DAC/AMP that is versatile in its presentation. Acoustic music in special needs a precise bite, and iDSD brings the right resolution for this.

    Acoustic guitars with metal wire strings need to have a certain bite to them that enhances the whole engagement of the song. I'm glad to report that iDSD BL keeps the guitar string bite complete without sounding metallic or shrill.

    In the past, I kept searching for this type of sound. A sound that has both a clear but present treble, energy and musicality. Trumpets need a lot of treble and energy to express their textures right. Leningrad is a band that uses trumpets quite a bit throughout their works, and iDSD BL helps a lot with their music getting the right amount of bite and impact, energy and life.

    Protest The Hero – I Am Dimitri Karamazov And The World Is My Father –This is a song that easily sounds harsh and sibilant on most sources. While I don't really mind sibilance or harshness, iDSD does manage to make it much more musical and coherent. The bass hits are stronger than on other sources, especially in the lowest registers while the treble is very clear but doesn't offend. The guitar notes are a pleasure to hear and the soundstage is large, but doesn't overdo things, keeping the right forwardness to the track. While this song hasn't got as much soundstage as other Protest The Hero songs, it clearly doesn't sound one bit congested, and like pretty much everything through iDSD BL, it sounds open and the instruments feel as if they come defined in layers, with a clear distinction between the individual layers.

    Leningrad – WWW – The song starts strong and the treble shines through the trumpets and the hi-hats. Guitars are sweet while the voice is clear and has the right amount of strength and texture to it. The bass is forward and keeps the song on-track while it is able to stop at the right moment to keep the chorus in check. There is a clear definition for the guitar notes in left and right, each ear getting a whole symphony of guitar notes. The pianos in the background are clear but don't intrude if they aren't called for. I'm once more amazed by the clarity and energy of the song given the lack of sibilance expressed by iDSD BL.

    Teddy Loid w Daoko – Me Me Me – P1 - The female voice is sweet and fuzzy while the cymbals are clear and come through with the right amount of strength. The piano and synth notes are also sweet and don't intrude but aren't subdued either. P2 – The female voice has the right tone to add to the emotion of the song while the pianos are also tuned right for the emotional impact. P3 – The symbols in the higher registers are not sibilant nor harsh, but have enough strength to enhance the whole song. The electronic parts come through with amazing strength and the bass is there, doesn't intrude but doesn't take a back seat either. The most amazing part of the song is the soundstage which gives it a vividness that's hard to match. The effects towards the end of the song are fairly crisp and won't intrude one on another. It is easy to say that the way the female voices are rendered by the iDSD BL + ie800 is lovely, but iDSD BL + 99N is awesome as well.

    The Offspring – Pretty Fly For A White Guy – The song starts with a really good impact on the drums. The cymbal crashes last exactly as long as they should while the female voices have the right sweet/smut feeling to them. The guitars following are clear and have a good texture while the male voices are crisp and clear. The bass keeps playing in its own layer, doesn't intrude nor does it bleed in the midrange. The cymbals are smooth and friendly, but they define the energy of the song, while the solo guitar is good at playing the notes in a well-defined location. The effects of the song have good spatial positioning and there's no smearing of space or dynamics.

    Special note

    I must say that I have been dazzled by the iDSD + ie800 combo and I feel haven't offered Meze 99C/99N enough time during the in-depth sonic review. This segment will be dedicated for iDSD BL + 99C / 99N combo.

    IOSYS – Professional Breeders – The song starts literally strong and the bass is literally shaking my head as I'm listening to it through 99N. The sweet girl voice comes through in perfect clarity without protruding on the bass or changing the impact the bass continues to have in its own layer. There is a clear distinction between the foreground and background voices that is being knitted through, while every single synth sound happens over a large space rather than radiating from a fixed source.

    Rings of Saturn – Infused – The song starts strong, but the voice, cymbals, bass and guitars stay in shape as each sound is easy to distinguish from one another. The cymbals are clear and there is no trace of early roll-off while the guitar solos start to weave in the song almost as if the fabric of the universe is being woven in the listener's mind through the headphones (The song is part of Alien Metal after all). The notes are whole and there's zero smearing while the sensation that a whole world is being constructed in front of the listener is true to itself, the song having great impact and strength with which it comes forth. The screaming voice has the right texture and tonality while the guitars have never been so vivid before, leading to an enlightening experience to this song. It is possible to hear the natural tailing of the cymbals every time it should happen as it is possible to hear the small finger movements on the guitar frets while the song is being played.

    Haggard – Chapter I / As The Heaven Wept – The song is difficult for most setups as Haggard uses many instruments in their songs, most of times only a few of the instruments sounding right. On iDSD + 99N, each instrument is rendered well in its own layer, while the bass brings a magical power to the whole song. The guitars are sweet and they clearly keep their own place and when the piano becomes the foreground instrument, each key pressed has the convincing tune of a grand piano. There is a specific resonance that the piano used has in reality and iDSD + 99N manages to reproduce it very well, and what's even more, I'm using them with no EQ while taking this impression! The male voice has the right amount of attack and warmth while every scream carries forward a unique power and emotional attachment.

    Eminem – Rap God – The first piano notes are clear and the bass notes go deeper than they ever did. The tactile sensation of bass is almost possible to feel through the whole head. Eminem's voice is as clear as it can be while the words are easy to understand and the effects can be heard through the whole audio space. Meze 99N and 99C are some of the best headphones if you're eyeing an amazing bass, and iDSD makes things even better. With weak sources, the bass doesn't go as deep as it does with iDSD BL and the soundstage is nowhere near as large nor are the instruments as well separated and layered. By the end of the song, I'm amazed how the bass can start out of nowhere and stop at the drop of a needle.



    Soundstage

    The soundstage of iDSD BL is one of the big surprises I have every time I hear it. The soundstage has a wide and deep feeling to it. There's no mistaking about it when a sound travels through the sonic space and iDSD BL is great at getting the attention and imagination of the listener involved in the song. There are lots of sounds that should come from a certain spot in the audio space and iDSD BL manages to create those sounds at the right spots.

    There is a large difference between iDSD and a weaker source when it comes to soundstage. iDSD manages to sound airy and open, even with a closed back headphone and a TOTL IEM like ie800.

    My music tastes rely heavily on a good quality soundstage and I would be willing to say that iDSD BL has one of the best soundstages I've heard to it. Without the 3D button engaged, the soundstage is natural / life-like and believable, while the positioning of instruments is extremely convincing. Songs that would normally sound congested (Protest The Hero – I am Dimitri Karamazov and the world is my father, Hollywood Undead – Knife called Lust) will now get a certain air to breathe and and while iDSD doesn't overdo things, it most certainly is able to make things sound musical and enjoyable. With songs that already have an over-expansive soundstage (Mindless Self Indulgence – Angel), the soundstage doesn't get smeared, but everything gets its textures enhanced, while the soundstage stays true to itself with certain effects sounding like they happen outside of the headphones themselves. There is no detail loss or over-enhancement of soundstage, rather things stay natural and do sound like they are coming from further away than they ever did.

    The 3D button will enhance the soundstage and the lower treble, giving a bit more air to instruments and it will also push the instruments further to the sides. It works amazingly well with 99Neo and 99Classics, almost replacing the need of using any EQ after all.



    ADSR/PRaT

    iDSD BL sports one of the best ADSR / PRaT I've seen (heard) in audio devices. The strong point of its (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) and (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) is how natural it sounds. Probably one of the features of its special Burr-Brown DAC implementation, iDSD BL has a very life-like sound where the musical note feels whole, there is no early cut from a musical note and there is no bloating or distortion. The transients of iDSD BL don't feel enhanced or analogue, they simply feel natural – one of the best feelings in audio devices possible to achieve. After testing iDSD BL with another DAC, I would say that the AMP implementation it has is also flawless in the transient response and ADSR area since it stays at an excellent level.

    Where many DAC/AMPs can come off as extremely fast they can also feel like they have their transients enhanced, leading to a loss of depth when compared to the fulness iDSD can offer in songs that require it to sound real. Fast notes are lightning fast, micro textures are clear and wouldn't come off as enhanced, but rather perfectly natural where the black background of iDSD BL will make those micro textures easy to spot without having to over-enhance them.

    Music sounds effortless, and we have to mention the levels of engagement this type of presentation brings to the listener. The naturalness of ADSR will give flavor to every piano note and it will highlight the nuance of every sound played through iDSD BL.



    Portable Usage

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    Many of you might wonder how portable is iDSD BL and how will you feel while using it as your travel companion. The only thing I can comment here is that I have a small side bag in which I normally carry FiiO X5ii and it easily accommodated iDSD BL. I've been using it daily as a portable device for over two weeks now, and I never experienced a problem with it. It is built like a tank after all, it has been put in my backpack, it has been turned on and off a ton of times and I had been adjusting the volume and its settings while on-the-go. Everything works absolutely flawless and the black FiiO X5ii + iDSD Black Label looks stunning. While some stacks can look like bombs, people look at this stack like you're carrying one of the most luxurious devices for listening to music.

    For the record, with the rubber feet attached and when using the included rubber band, the stacking with X5ii not only works, but it works flawlessly. iDSD BL doesn't press against iEMatch nor against the preamp/direct button, as you can see from the pictures.

    All in all, I totally recommend iDSD as a portable device as my experience with it has been great and I have literally taken it with me while going on business trips and had an overwhelmingly positive experience.



    Drive factor

    iFi iDSD Micro series (both the BL and Silver) are probably the most versatile DAC/AMP series ever made – This is not even a compliment but a statement.

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    They are able to drive headphones from the most sensitive to the hardest to drive headphones (including the famous HD800), IEMs that are picky with their driving source (ie800), without having any hiss or having any kind of struggle to keep control. In fact, the rather high power rating of iDSD BL gives it an upper hand over most DAC/AMP setups out there as it extorts an amazing control over any headphone and IEM out there. Ie800 is a good example as although it is an IEM, it is much harder to drive than Meze 99 Classics and it can swallow a lot of power before the sound achieving its full potential.

    Happily, iDSD BL has no problems in gaining a true level of control over ie800, and it controls Meze 99 Classics / Neo greatly as well. The bass iDSD has is completely different from the bass of Mi Max or a good laptop soundcard because it goes far deeper and hits with far better strength, all while keeping far better control. Only now I realized that Mi Max actually can hit strong in the bass with enough EQ, but will quickly lose control while iDSD is able to keep its control over the headphone for the entire duration of a musical note.

    Given its versatility, iDSD can happily pass as one of the best DAC/AMP to own for a long duration of time or if trying to drive a varied collection of headphones and IEMs.

    To expand on this, iDSD features three power levels, Eco, Normal, and Turbo, each of them pushing a different power into headphones and IEMs, but it also has three levels of iEMatch, which controls the power, if Eco is too loud for driving the most sensitive IEMs. Any combination of the two is possible, my most used combination being iEMatch turned off and power set to normal. This combination gives enough power and control over both Meze 99 Classics and ie800, but also leaves enough volume pot movement space to fine adjust the volume when needed.

    iDSD has virtually no background noise, or at least no background noise that I can detect. This means that it will be dead silent with any IEMs, helping with the enhanced soundstage characteristics.

    All in all, iFi can only be commended for the great job they do with the driving segment of iFi iDSD Micro BL and at the moment it looks like iDSD BL can safely drive almost any Dynamic, Planar and BA headphone or IEM very well.

    EMI

    iDSD is free of any kind of EMI (Electro Magnetic Interference), as it resulted from the tests.

    It is possible to use it literally above the wifi router while a large game is downloaded through Steam with Zero EMI, and it is possible to use the Mi Max to make calls while iDSD is literally strapped to it and there will still be no EMI to talk about. Given the large metal body and considerable driving power, iDSD being EMI free is nice yet an unexpected treat.

    Comparisons

    Since iFi iDSD is a DAC/AMP device, I can only compare it partially with other devices I own as I don't have a lot of other DAC/AMPs on my hands right now.

    iDSD BL vs FiiO X5-2 –The tonality between the two devices is different as X5ii offers a more forward presentation, with a lower mid hump while iDSD is even throughout its whole frequency response. The fact that iDSD will offer a larger soundstage also means that most instruments will be less in-your-face. iDSD BL will generally make all details and micro details easier to spot, but it won't take away the fun of a good forward song. Given the differences between the devices (DAC/AMP vs DAP, iDSD has no storage and needs a transport, X5ii is not intended to do the same job and can work as a transport for iDSD), they are complementary rather than direct competitors, using iDSD as an AMP to X5ii being an idea as feasible as using X5ii as a transport. If there is a way to describe their sound differences, FiiO x5ii sounds analogue-like while iDSD BL sounds real-life-like.

    iDSD BL vs Mi Max – The main transport I used for iDSD BL while portable was actually Xiaomi Mi Max since it was pretty comfortable and I didn't have the cables to connect it to X5ii. I felt the limitation of having a single mSD card in Mi Max, but iDSD connected flawlessly to it, and there were no problems in their usage together. iDSD has a much cleaner, better controlled, better detailed presentation. iDSD has considerably more authority over the headphones, making Mi Max sound loose and weak in comparison. There is a clear tendency for iDSD to extract far more details from music, and the level of realism the music has with iDSD is worlds apart when it is compared directly to Mi Max. Mi Max sounds digital, while iDSD sounds real-life-like. There is no doubt that iDSD will sound better to virtually any listener, but the fact that Mi Max is a very nice transport for it is true as well.

    iDSD vs P775 custom ESS DAC solution – This is a good laptop's on-board DAC solution, maybe the best DAC/AMP solution found on a laptop at the date, masterfully implemented by Clevo. While the laptop sounds audibly clearer and more vivid than other laptops I had in the past, iDSD's sound is worlds apart in a good sense. iDSD has a considerably cleaner presentation with far better transients, much better instrument separation, considerably better driving power and bass slam. iDSD provides a considerably closer to reality presentation. Testing the DAC of the laptop by using its line-out against the DAC of iDSD reveals that the DAC in iDSD is also considerably better, being considerably cleaner, and rendering every musical note with far better definition and refinement. All in all, iDSD sounds life-like while P775 sounds like a bad digital presentation, but having iDSD near a laptop will mean that iDSD will play all the music.


    Bonus Photos

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    Value

    Taking into account all the specifications of iDSD BL, the driving power, the incredible sound and all the jobs it can get done, the price can only be considered fair for its abilities. In fact, it is one of the best priced DAC/AMP units considering that it is able to drive both ie800 and HD800 in the same package and do it while being portable. Compared to its competitors, iDSD has a better general versatility and provides a lot of features that cannot remain unmentioned such as great battery life, great sound, custom sound tuning, works as a pre-amplifier, can receive both USB and SPDIF signal, offers a plethora of accessories in the box, comes with a good warranty (iFi being known for offering a pretty good warranty for their products), and works out of the box with a machine or device running Android or Windows. iDSD is a fierce competitor regardless of the price we are considering it to run for.

    I haven't even gotten into the DSD and DXD abilities iDSD BL has, but that's just the icing on the cake and I'm not the best person to ask about those. I imagine that if RedBook FLAC sounds this good, DSD and DXD will sound crazy good so the fact that iDSD BL is able to play DSD and DXD and Hi-Res files is also something to take into account and it adds to the value.

    The general sound iDSD has with Sennheiser ie800 reminds of Sennheiser HE-1, the famous headphone setup costing over 55.000$, so that's something to take into account as well. Most of its magic comes from the wide soundstage, instrument separation, sonic layering and great authority it has over headphones, while the spot-on ADSR and precise sound come in to help define the sound as one of the most natural sounds heard in a DAC/AMP unit to date. Most alternative devices that offer similar abilities are priced higher than iDSD BL so the value of the unit is really good.



    Conclusion

    There are lots of reasons to get an iFi iDSD Micro Black Label and in fact, given its versatility and sonic abilities, the only possible downsides in the long run might be the size if you want to stack it, and… That would be it. I can't really fault this device. The battery life seems to last forever in my tests and I haven't managed to drain the whole battery so far, the ergonomics were fairly good for me and the whole device is just lovely.

    Taking into account everything it is able to do, iDSD can be a permanent solution to drive one's lifetime collection of headphones. The sound is vivid and life-like, so it will fit right in with both natural signature lovers and warm signature lovers, there is no trace of sibilance anywhere and iDSD can express enough authority over virtually anything, so there is virtually no reason not to get one given you can afford it.

    The price / performance ratio is pretty good as well, since in the time I've been using it, I found nothing to complain about. For the record, I think that it is intuitive to use and a pleasure to own as a device.

    You don't need to buy a new transport as it works with almost any smartphone and any laptop, and it most certainly doesn't need any special treatment to be used. It looks and is sturdy, the owner not needing to worry about it getting scratched, while the design is modern enough to take iDSD out of the home and even when heading to an official meeting.

    It is a device that's been able to put up with my quandaries and my crazy usage habits, as I have used iDSD BL portable and I've watched a few hours of music video with it using my smartphone as a source without any trace of fatigue or it becoming boring. I consider the usage a fun experience and would totally recommend it if you're looking for a DAC/AMP that will last you a long while and works like a pocket army knife, able to do all kinds of jobs, no matter how odd the job is.

    If the main question that's on your mind is if you should be getting an iDSD Black Label, the simple answer is go out and listen one! You will hear how good it sounds for yourself! Every user so far is in love with their iDSD Black Label and I am sure that it will make even more music lovers from all round the world fall in love with its signature!

    Stay safe and remember to always have fun while listening to music!

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  2. analogsurviver
    4.5/5,
    "Coming of age - original Micro iDSD vs Micro iDSD Black Label"
    Pros - Sound Quality - particularly in DSD, the best portable battery operated amplifier for AKG K-1000, Swiss Army Knife of digital audio
    Cons - Silence/fade in around 2 seconds at the start , (TRANS)portability, unable of sustained operation with AKG K-1000, settings prone to accidental switch
    I would like to thank ifi Audio for allowing me to test the Micro iDSD Black Label in frame of the EU BL tour - and particularly to Hoomairah for his prompt communication troughout the process .
     
    This is my take on the iFi Audio Micro BL review.  It is not the first iFi Audio product I am familiar with, being preceeded by iFi  nano iDSD and iFi Micro iDSD. I have tried not to read the reviews of oth
    er members on the BL tour in order to produce as idividual review as possible; if there is any covering the gounds already done by others, I apologize – but hope you will find some information not available elsewhere useful.
     
    First, a few words about myself. I am a leftover  from  times when analog  record was the only show in town – and CD never really did happen for me. It was only when DSD became more available that I became interested in digital/computer audio.  And you have to take into account that I do find  odd  quite a few words, that although written and spoken in English exactly the same, mean entirely different things in my world and that generally accepted on head-fi.  Headamp is for most of you a headphone amplifier – and in my Time/World it means an active ultra low noise amplifier for moving coil phono catridges.  Also the term subbass means another frequeny range for us old timers than for younger head-fi talk – etc, etc. And - I am not a native english speaker.
     
    And last, but certainly not the least important – I am a free lance recording engineer,  specializing in acoustic , particularly  vocal/choir music.
     
    Micro BL is externally exactly the same as its original predecessor – save for colour and a few stencils on the bottom of the unit, hinting at the differences from the original.
     
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     I am the kind of guy who is willing to go to another part of town or prepared to order online and wait for a considerable time – if that extra effort would bring me some highly contrasting colored USB cables, for example – since a salad of black cables for everything,  when time is at premium (one can count when doing live recording things WILL crop up to force one to use minimum time/effort for setting up the recording system ) is a recipe for disaster. This is my way of saying why having a matt black case and gloss black lettering  is not exactly my cup of tea – it is impossible to read in anything but perfect lighting conditions, which are next to impossible in real world. As an anecdote – musicians often ask me - FOR REAL - which is the the right and left side on the – Philips SHP-9500 …
     
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    The volume control knob also falls into the »invisible« category – IIRC in the thread on BL  I did notice a few interesting propositions for ameliorating the situation. If the BL wasn't a loan from the manufacturer, I would odopt one of them in a heatbeat.
     
    I do agree the BL most probably appeals to more people with its classy matt black with orange and gloss black lettering better than more plain silver with black lettering original.  
    Functionality is exactly the same for both.  That means it is (trans)portable, not something most people will be able to squeeze in a pocket.  Home/desktop audiophiles might well  find out their RCA cables/connectors are simply of too large diameter to fit to the micro – PLEASE do not discard it for such minor annoyance.
     
    Micro is perhaps the closest approximation of the Swiss Army Knife in digital audio. It is both a DAC and headphone amplifier, but can be used as either DAC only trough preamp output ( bypassing most of the controls, most notably the volume control ), only as a headphone amplifier with analog input via 3,5 mm TRS jack – or combination of the two. It has three Power Levels and three settings for the headphone sensitivity – covering any likely dynamic pair of headphones in existance, from ultra sensitive IEMs  to the hardest to drive »headphones« ( better term for it would be earspeakers ) , the AKG K-1000. It is the most powerful portable headphone amplifier available – the only headphone that it can not drive to the full loudness is the already mentioned AKG K-1000.
     
    I do have a criticism regarding handling of the micro – concerning its switches for Power Mode, Polarity, Filter and iEMatch ; they can be too easily unintentionally changed. By merely placing on a cloth covered table, on the loan unit which has not been fitted with the silicone rubber »feet«, the iEMatch switch can easily be toggled to another setting, for example.  To me it happened while using the K-1000; as from the settings required for the K-1000 ( everything full gas … ) it is only possible to go down in output level, it was a minor annoyance and a few a bit more hairy moments before I found what had happened for the sound to suddenly become very very faint. With a more sensitive headphones or IEMs, if it happens going in the opposite direction, from lower to higher output, it could result in an unpleasent shock to the ears and in worst case permanent headphone/IEM damage could result.
     
    Having been familiar with iFi DSD capable DACs from the nano onwards, I was less than impressed that each consequent firmware update resulted in fade in of some time ( 0.5- 2 seconds, sometimes preceded with few seconds of complete silence ) – only the original nano with the first firmware version did play immediately after clicking the file. This is OK for most home users, as it prevents sudden loud burst of sound; but it is a no go during mastering, as any delay is most unwelcome.
     
    Its DAC section will play anything you are likely to obtain – NATIVELY - now, as well as in the future.  There are no commercially available recordings in DSD512 or DXD 768/32 that I am aware of – formats micro is capable of playing back today.
     
    I do not own measuring equipment beyond signal generator and analogue 100 MHz oscilloscope. I do not subscribe to the notion that measuring to 20 kHz, which is quite possible using various PC software, is nearly enough. Some software I am familiar with go up to working with 192/24, allowing to display results appox to 96 kHz – still not enough in my opinion. Micro, either original or BL, perfoms well in excess of 20 kHz – so all I could realistically do was to take a few pictures of micro(s) playing back square waves on an oscilloscope at various frequencies and recorded at various PCM and DSD settings. In addition, there is a video of a "manual sine sweep", recorded from 10 kHz up to the upper limit, which very clearly shows the difference PCM vs DSD.
     
    But it is the listening that proved to be, at the same time, the most interesting and hard to do.  I borrowed an original Micro from a friend – as well as comparing the BL to my modified Korg MR-1000 recorder.
     
    One thing that does impede the exatness of listening – setting both device A and device B to the same level, within 0.2 dB or better – is the tracking of the Micro volume potentiometers.  The original Micro sample at hand has an abysmal tracking at low levels – unusable. The BL version fared appreciably better in this regard. But both the original and BL show small, but audible differences in volume between the two channels, at anything but fully advanced setting. This proved to be quite a problem when trying to adjust  the very same output at 1kHz reference tone at -20 dB – in order to match that from Korg MR-1000 recorder, which does not have an output level control. One has to go trough the driver ( which involves micro's potentiometer ) in order to arrive close to the output from MR-1000. The L-R difference displayed by either of the Micro at the setting required can be enough to compromise the listening – showing an error of about + or - 0.2 to 0.5 dB .
     
    The original Micro, as good as it is, proved to be no match for the SQ coming from by me modified MR-1000. The BL, with all the right changes made in the right places, should fare better – and that was the initial attraction for me to apply for the Tour.
     
    I did compare my mod of MR-1000 to the BL on large speakers. With my friend, we tried to equalise the playback levels at 1kHz at -20dBDb  best we could  BY EAR ( due to the potentiometer problem mentioned above ) – volume control of the actual playback being controlled trough another preamp, making the conditions  the same for any given device or recording. Both me and my friend agreed there never before there was so minuscule difference between two devices – yet, the BL was a wee bit more decisive, had a tiny bit more dynamic  slam and displayed a tiny fraction more control during loud climaxes – with the MR-1000 countering by a wee bit more defined very low level portions of the music, particularly in the decay . As mentioned above, either of the two consistent observations might be affected by the fact that perfect volume matching was not possible due to potentiometer tracking in micro BL. I would call it a draw – but you have to consider the modified MR-1000 is »my« baby - and BL is a challenger, so I "might" be a bit biased.
     
    I did also demo the BL for another friend. First, against his present DAC, trough micro BL preamp output, using mainly ripped CDs from his server as a source. We did not pay much attention to the levels, as the difference was quite audible . He – and his wife – described the BL as more »bright« and »analitycal« - but in a positive way. At very first, they commented BL does not have as much deep bass as their DAC. At that time, I introduced some well recorded files >> 44.1kHz/16 bit – silent asking in my friend's wife eyes to stop shelling their apartment ( as well as their neighbours' …) with all things bass plus the remark »..I was not aware my speakers were capable of such bass…« by my friend is all that was needed to dispell BL »having not so strong bass«. BL does not have overblown bass, but if and when it is present in the recording – you will hear it in all its authority, provided the rest of the equipment can reproduce it in the first place.
     
    The second part of the demo – intentionally left for the end – was BL playing my binaural master DSD128 recordings trough the AKG K-1000. Neither my friend nor his wife have never even seen the K-1000 before – let alone listen to binaural recorded in DSD128 played trough it. I limited this to three pieces running together for approx 18-19 minutes – which means either of the pair stopped doing anything else for the duration during his/her turn.  Tapping their feet, nodding in rhytm of the music with head, etc – I let them fully savour the moment of this musical bliss. Two VERY hapy faces and lots of enthusiastic comments resulted – should the BL be anything less than it is, this demo would not have such good results.
     
    A word regarding the ultimate SPL capability of the original micro and micro BL when driving the AKG K-1000 is in order. Depending on music, there will be from 1 to anything up to say 6-7 dB less output than required to correctly play back an unccompressed recording. When pushed beyond its capability – which WILL occur when driving K-1000 – the resulting clipping is anything but pleasent and benign. As it happens exactly in the region where monitoring of a recording HAS to be flawless ( around peaks, that is to say around – 5 or so dBFS and above  ), this unfortunately rules micro out for such a use with AKG K-1000. There is a small increase in output power with the BL compared to the original, but it is academic  in practice. Consider an analogy with a racing car; the ultimate speed to be attained is 300 km/h +, original peaking at approx. 160 km/h and BL at approx. 180 km/h – but both handle superbly up to their maximum.  All it takes to exceed this limit is say a lieder recital ( female  singer + piano ) – from an uncompressed recording or live microphone feed. Most of the commercially available ( usually compressed, even classical on audiophile labels ) recordings can be enjoyed on K-1000 while being driven by the BL  - if some attention is paid to really carefully establish the playback levels.
    As a portable amp for the K-1000, BL stands alone.
     
    When driving the K-1000, a remark on the consumption/playback endurance is in order. Immediately after receiving the BL, I put it trough its paces – with few entire recently  binaurally recorded concerts. Fankly, I lost the tracking of time, listening from around 10 PM trough »something« AM, approaching wee hours – with the sound suddenly shutting off. The BL has not been showing any signs of life – not even the blue LED indicating charging was active. It took some 15 or so minutes while being attached to USB before the blue LED came on again, followed by a lenghty period till it was charged again – more than 8 hours. Clearly, the micro can not  charge its battery via USB 2.0 fast enough to prevent it from being totally drained when driving the K-1000 – something of importance to anyone requiring an amplifier for sustained work/listening with K-1000. For those who have not experienced anything close to shutdown of BL; when the battery is dischargd deep enough, it will still play, but the LED would quit shining in accordance to the file being played and start intermittently in blue and red – indicating charging is requied prior to further use. If you persist beyond this point, it will shut itself down – to prevent discharging the Li-Ion battery below the voltage value which always has destruction of the battery as a consequence. This has been confirmed by ifi's Hoomairah, the man responsible for the EU part of the BL tour – who has performed »above and beyond the call of duty« troughout my time with BL. The exact time this will happen with BL and K-1000 depends on music being played – all it is 100% it can not be round the clock. USB 3.0 also can not charge fast enough from this happening, but  should ultimately prolong the endurance of the BL with K-1000.
     
    OK, now the »chore« - original Micro vs BL. Listening using AKG K-1000. Having heard and seen ( on the oscilloscope ) the consequences of the »potentiometer blues«, I figured out the best option is to use both in driver mode, with potentiometer  fully advanced, IEM sensitivity off, Power Mode Turbo,  filter set to bit-perfect  ( filter setting is acting – besides filtering – also as a hidden form of volume/gain control when playing back DSD files – see some photos below  ) , with both Micros powered on prior to connecting to USB – which means operating off internal battery. This time, I measured/matched the output using oscilloscope ; both the original and BL were within the scope trace width , matched to <<<0.2 dB. I could do the switch by phisically removing USB cable and headphone jack from original  and attaching to BL – and vice versa, while maintaining all the settings exactly equal. Please DO stop the playback while inserting or removing the 6,5 mm headphone jack while in »full gas« mode – I do not know how well the BL can tolerate the  short circuit removing and inserting headphone jack creates at its full blast and how well it is protected from this – and learning the hard way is not the best option.  I am well aware this is not a true AB(X) comparison, but was the best I could do at the time. I have tried to »assign« the original micro to one Zone in JRMC, the BL to another , in order to eliminate the need to phisically switch the USB connection. No go; Zones in JRMC need to play different  things, like audio in Zone A, video in Zone B; or PCM ( .wav ) in Zone A, DSD (.dff ) in Zone B ( and similar distinctions ) – while I wanted to compare two (to computer at least ) exactly same DACs , playing the same file of the same type in two different Zones, using the same type of driver for both. Even going ASIO for one Zone and WASAPI for another Zone ( and playing DSD via DoP) was considered as sufficiently different – so I did not proceed in this direction.
     
    Yes, it would be nice to have two PCs of the same type, configured EXACTLY the same, each connected to respective micro, output of both would then go to the only decent commercially available ABX comparator  
    http://www.avahifi.com/products/accessories/abx-comparator-switchbox
    – to  satisfy even the hard core objectivist crowd regarding proper double blind ABX procedure. Provided the piggybank  allowed  for  it …
     
    OK, how do then compare the original and BL under the conditions described above ? The difference is clear – an very consistent. It does not wander »one is better at X and another countering by being better at Y«. The BL has much better defined bass, slightly but decidedly better differentiated treble, better dynamics and overall much more effortless clarity - across the board.
     
    I will try to elaborate on the above. Original Micro is much like the picture of a product from the OEM – with the dealer's watermark over it. You get to see what the dealer is offering, while finest details of the original picture are not accessible. BL removes much – if not all ? – of this »watemark«. The biggest achievement of BL over the original is its ability to much more clearly differentiate the noise from the signal. This concept should be more familiar to music lovers who are coming more from the analogue side of audio than to those who grew up with CDs. But although the mechanisms behind what we perceive as noise in both analogue and digital are different, the audible results are pretty much similar.
     
    Best analogue gear can not make the noise of the  records to go away – but it CAN differentiate this noise  from the music so well it no longer is perceived as indistinguishable part of the music – but something unrelated to music and thus easier »avoided« - leading to much more believable reproduction.
     
    The BL does similar. Although the digital portion of the BL ha salso been upgraded,  the lion's share of impovement in BL compared to the original lies in the use of better parts in its ANALOGUE section - particularly the capacitors, both in signal path and power supply.
     
    These differences are rather subtle ; most easily and first is heard better, more »powerful, impactful« ( i know, it is strictly subjective comment ) bass, and tinier details like keys on a keybod of an accordion, valves on a clarinet, rosin of the strings, inhaleing of the singers at the start of the song, slight noises of the »handing« an acoustic  guitar, pedal action in harp or piano,  audience made noise ( reading programme sheets, changing the position on their chairs or benches, etc ), outside traffic, etc – that do not get lumped into a constant »static« noise - all add up to the higher realism BL is capable of with quality recordings.  The level at which the music is still clearly intelligible is quite much lower with BL than with the original – always a sign of a superior device.
     
    Now, I did not use »night and day difference« terms to describe original vs BL. That would be an exageration – and unfair. Yet, there is no denying BL is an »original coming of age«. The differences might not be striking on strict ABX -  but listening to say an entire concert on original and then on BL would bring the smile to the listener's face – while the opposite, first BL and then original, would remove it …
     
    A word about the files used for the review. I am very DSD oriented – and, when push came to shove, used my own DSD masters. There are sites where you can download free DSD (and other PCM/DXD hi-rez ) samples, like 2L, nativedsd.com, blue coast records, etc.  
    http://www.2l.no/hires/
    https://www.nativedsd.com/
    http://bluecoastrecords.com/
     
     
    Mea culpa - for all practical purposes, I did not listen to RBCD 44.1 kHz 16 bit critically. Checking how my own DSD masters sound with BL took the better of me.
     
    Since most of the improvement of the BL lies in its analogue part, I also used ( beter recorded ) MP3s, AIFFs and the like :
     
    I also recently became aware of a very interesting audiophile label : 
    http://chasingthedragon.co.uk/
    You can also download 30 sec MP3 samples from their sampler here 
    http://www.elusivedisc.com/Chasing-the-Dragon-Audiophile-Recordings-Import-Test-CD/productinfo/CTDCDI007/
     
    One of my  - if not THE - favourite recording engineers is Ken Kreisel : http://www.kreiselsound.com/downloads_1.php
     
    One recording used for naturalness and particularly bass extension and dynamics was this : http://www.analogplanet.com/content/how-does-28000-sat-pick-arm-sound#MVsCXdVRHhzZcFDi.97
     
     – as well as going straight into the analog input, bypassing all »digititis« altogether - using analogue records/turntable as a source. Much the same kind of difference(s) as described above…
     
    I also used Philips SHP-9500 for some listening . BL is more than powerful enough to drive these well beyond any reasonable listening level – and was used to great effect with large symphonic pieces, which require more juice in the bottom than AKG K-1000 is capable of – regardless of the amplifier driveng them. BL/SHP-9500 produced almost tactile bass – as far as something strapped to one's head without physical sense of bass vibration of live music  or speakers can convey.
     
    I also checked for noise/hiss with few IEMs – nothing bad to report on this count  either.
     
    You will notice no mention of 3D and/or Xbass functions.  I did try these two  - briefly – on the BL, noting that 3D is sometimes, but rarely, beneficial on some of my recordings meant for speakers.
    It is most detrimental for binaural recordings.  Xbass I have tried with some IEMs – but not long enough to comment  anything  but  that it »works«. I did not compare the same functions with the original micro. Here one song I adore - and does benefit from using X-Bass  with K-1000 - but using original Micro : 
     
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6YKJX-dXIM
     
    About the Polarity switch : definitely useful - but only with a recording that does pay meticulous attention to phase concerns troughout the whole process. You will not only hear the difference, but also be able to tell which polarity is the correct one. The problem in real world is that various electronic devices in the chain from microphone to loudspeaker or headphone can invert the phase 180 degees - and series connection of number of inverting devices can result the end output is either in phase with the original or inverted - depending whether there is odd or even number of inverting devices in the chain. These phase cues are most likely to be captured properly using simple microphone recording techniques - and the least likely using multimiking. With most multimiking recordings, it is next to impossible to hear the effects and/or correctness of the polarity ( or absolute phase , if you prefer to call it that way ) - it has been usually scrambled beyond recognition. To get grasp how the polarity inversion affects the sound, I recommend a decent binaural recording to start with - as it is the simplest and best way to demonstrate the audibility of the difference. 
     
    Finally, I have recorded photos of the two micros playing exactly the same signals trough preamp (bypassing the volue control etc ) . I apologize for the rather poor picture quality, but I am anything but a photographer - this was made on a phone. As, for all practical purposes, the photos of the original and BL Micro playing test signals look the same, I have included only the BL.
     
    I found that in PCM, iFi iDSD family, original nano, original micro and micro BL intoduces phase difference between the channels, left leading the right – to the point one signal aleady being at full volume while the other still being silent – the lag is about the equal of the entire rise/fall time .I have tried various software players with iFi DACs – foobar2000, JRMC, Korg Audiogete 2/3/4 – to no avail. The lag of the right versus the left channel remained constant, regardless of the software used. 
     
    As you can see, there is zero phase difference between the two channels  for DSD files – in any DAC, using any software player.
     
    These signals have been recorded from signal generator ( trough Y splitter , so that exactly the same analog signal has been presented to the L &R inputs of Korg recorder(s))  to Korg MR series of recorders – and when played back from Korg MR series  of recorders, there is no phase difference between the two channels, even for the MP3 192kbps recording (available on MR-1 only ).
     
    I wanted to present as challenging and »real world« signals – and chose to display the results of approx 3 kHz square wave ( I coud use a frequency counter … ) at about -12 dBFS ( I could use better potentiometer … ). This amplitude level is great also for showing the difference among PCM and DSD – as well as differences for various sampling frequencies in either. These are real world signals, not theorethically arrived at by computer – but something  that actually makes MUSIC recordings that can be listened to. For the pros and cons of PCM vs DSD etc , if interested, we can take that topic to Sound Science forum – here is only my honest report on findings on micro BL.
     
    Troughout the photos,
     
    upper trace represents the LEFT
     
    and lower trace represents the RIGHT channel 
     
    1. Micro BL - IEMatch off_minimum phase_normal_direct : Foobar2000 
     
    a) 48kHz 16 bit
     
    IMG_20170410_125527.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_125542.jpg
    R channel inverted on the oscilloscope
     
    IMG_20170410_125607.jpg
    L ch, R ch inverted and their difference signal
     
    IMG_20170410_125612.jpg
    difference signal 
     
     
    THE CAPTIONS BELOW FOLLOW THE PATTERN OF THE ABOVE CASE OF 48kHz 16 bit ( with an exception here or there , mainly due to my photographic "skills " ... )
     
    b ) 88.2 kHz 24 bit
     
    IMG_20170410_130322.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130336.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130351.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130402.jpg
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    c )  96kHz 24bit
     
    IMG_20170410_130511.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130533.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130551.jpg
     
    d ) 176.4 kHz 24bit
     
    IMG_20170410_130721.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130812.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130823.jpg
     
    e ) 192 kHz 24 bit
     
    IMG_20170410_130926.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_131010.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_131027.jpg
     
    f ) DSD64
     
    IMG_20170410_125830.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_125855.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_125903.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_125927.jpg
     
     
    g ) DSD128
     
    IMG_20170410_130121.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130048.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130219.jpg
     
    h )  manual triangle sweep 10 kHz and up>; 176.4 kHz 24 bit video ( to be uploaded at a late date - first have to set up my YT channel ... ) - so here only the one picture at approx 10 kHz taken :
     
    IMG_20170410_132258.jpg
    Lch, Rch inverted, difference signal
     
    i ) sweep from 10 kHz up, ,  but DSD128 ( frankly, can not remember at which frequency and/or whether this was sine or triangle sweep - but there is never any phase lag between the channels and no difference signal ( save for the inherent DSD ultrasonic noise ), at any frequency up to the upper limit, which is > 100 kHz .
     
    IMG_20170410_131526.jpg
    Lch, Rch inverted, difference signal
     
     
     
    2. Influence of filter settings on DSD playback - they also influence the amplitude of the signal. Please note if you compare filtering with DSD files, you have to make sure they are compared at exactly the same output level - or "louder is better" will be inevitable but false result. The signal here is approx 1 kHz around 0dBFS, large signal. The settings on the oscilloscope remained constant troughout this test, differences in gain can easily be calculated from these photos, from lowest of bit perfect setting to highest gain of standard setting there is almost double or slightly below 6 dB difference in level.
     
    a ) bit perfect
     
    DSD64
    IMG_20170410_144327.jpg
     
     
    DSD128
    IMG_20170410_144422.jpg
     
     
    b) minimum phase
     
    DSD64
    IMG_20170410_144554.jpg
     
     
    DSD128
    IMG_20170410_144707.jpg
     
     
    c ) standard
     
    DSD64
    IMG_20170410_144848.jpg
     
     
    DSD128
    IMG_20170410_144947.jpg
     
    I had to return the BL prior I was able to take "all" the oscilloscope pictures,  but since there was no or next to no difference to be seen compared to original micro, I will upload some of the more interesting ones at a later date. 
     
     
    The Verdict : iFi Audio Micro iDSD BL is a device coming of age. It is more than competitive in today's market  and its price/performance ratio is very high indeed . Exactly which of many, many features appeal to any prospective buyer and how valuable they are to an individual is for anyone to decide for his/herself. There probably are better products, at considerably higher prices – but nothing can challenge the BL at the presnt price as a complete portable package with support for all the formats likely yet  to hit the market  ( with the notable exception of the MQA ) and all dynamic driver headphones - well into the future.
    quahog_convo and earfonia like this.
  3. CoffeeDog
    5.0/5,
    "iDSD BL Sets the Standard"
    Pros - Fantastic sound, portable, power bank
    Cons - edit: The first second or so of a newly selected track is always muted.
    I was expecting iFi Audio's new micro iDSD Black Label to be a bit different than my iDSD silver model; after all, it's the company's latest version of a standard offering. There are some new parts that are better, the same parts but "better", maybe a replacement switch or two, and check that new black anodizing with orange lettering! So yes, I was expecting there to be some differences, but I'd instead found that the two were as alike as cherry pie and, well, double cherry pie.

    The iFi iDSD Silver (henceforth, I will refer to Silver or Black Label(BL) as appropriate) is my first dedicated headphone-specific piece of audio equipment. I've been a borderline audiophile for decades and, like many, had let the "hobby" (more like "experience") lapse into memory due to consequences of family (either too noisy to listen or too quiet to turn it on). The quest for perfect sound reproduction still simmered quietly on somewhere in my mind. I did after all still have my nice room system; I just couldn't use it for focused (critical?) listening. My listening had come down to a music player of some sort and my Shure e3c buds. When those earbuds needed replacing, I'd found Head-Fi and the rest is... what led me to owning the iDSD micro.

    I was stunned by the output of the Silver to my also new Sennheiser HD650's! [ THANKS Head-Fi-ers!!! ] I'd felt like a kid again, not only re-discovering my old musical loves but also finding new ones. I think most readers here are fully aware of this phenomenon. I've followed a familiar progression of listening and learning, ending up with a pair of Hifiman's HE-1000 v1. I did find that some music didn't sound so great anymore with the Hifiman-Silver combination; I was getting a harsh/shrill sensation from some material that had seemingly complex high frequency components, especially if those components were loud. Although the HE-1000 are undoubtedly my preferred headphone (I'd spent a full day auditioning the Hifiman as well as about a dozen or so other fine phones including HD800S, LC-3, Utopia and Elear, at Moon Audio in Cary (near Raleigh), NC. Well worth the visit with a very patient Drew Baird!), I'd still swap in the HD650 for some listening.

    Not so with the Black Label!!! I don't know what those folks over at AMR/iFi are up to, but it seems like there may be a little black magic in there to go with the black paint job.

    The Black Label sounds perfect, at least paired with my HE-1000. Utterly perfect. I haven't auditioned many DACs, and certainly fewer headphone amps, other than during my visit with Moon during my ultimate headphone quest, so am not in a position to describe or justify my claim of perfection based upon comparisons with other DAC/Amps. Even if I did have such experience, I don't have the wordsmith's ability to adequately provide such a description; I'll leave such things to those much more capable than I. What I can do is tell you what I mean by "perfect".

    The BL is perfect in the sense of "you'll know it when you see it". Like when you turn around and encounter a sunset that causes you to simply freeze: the moment is perfect and you are caught up in it. Like when a small group of people comes upon a scene and everyone is instantly "stopstop!don't move!freezefreezefreeze!" because that moment, that scene, is perfect. It was just that sort of experience that I'd had upon listening to my usual set of evaluation tracks.

    I had been very happy with my Silver, aside from the aforementioned occasional high frequency harshness, and as is usual in so many situations, I just didn't know any better. My very first impressions from my first test track ,Yes' "Awaken" from "Going For the One" 192kHz/24bit (some say 192/24 is overkill, which is great for a comparison like this, right?), were that this was like putting butter on toast. I mean, toast is just fine but it is so much better when you put butter on it. Almost instantly, I knew that I wanted some of the Black Label's tasty butter on all of my toasty music. No kidding, that's what came to mind while listening, just like that. I'd chosen the Yes song because of a section in the first part where Alan White's cymbals just sound abrasive. I'd never noticed that abrasiveness in over 35 years of listening to the song, until the Silver had come along. It had just seemed as if it was due to the DAC, but I didn't really see how that would be possible. Well, it is possible. That passage of "Awaken" sounds just perfect with the Black Label! It is almost as if you can see the "offending" cymbal clearly with the BL, whereas the Silver just shines a bright light on it and all you see is glare. When listening to the Silver, I would at the very least turn the music down significantly; most likely I'd just change headphones or change songs. With the BL I'd actually turned it up and fully enjoyed it!

    While listening with the Black Label I quickly stopped listening to the HD650, for there was just no need. I'd found that the HE-1000 were in fact every bit the stellar transducers I'd hoped them to be, and when fed by the BL they could fully shine. I should note here, however, the the magical bit-massaging that goes on inside the BL worked its wonder on the HD650 and a visiting pair of B&W P7 just fine, but the HE-1000's diaphragm was resolving waveforms that appeared invisible to the dynamic drivers of the other two. The take away here is that the HE-1000 were clearly resolving musical information when played on the BL that was absent on the Silver. The Black Label was giving me a much more accurate as well as noticeably more pleasant sound than Silver.

    Two tracks I've found enjoyably useful when evaluating systems are the first two from Erik Kunzel's Time Warp CD with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra: 1) Ascent for Synthesizer and 2) Star Trek: Main Theme. Ascent for Synthesizer was written in part in order to evaluate some of the limits of synthetic music. After all, there is no natural instrument whose waveform can suddenly and instantly stop; there is always mechanical ringing. Anyway, Ascent... wrings a system out pretty well, and I am very familiar with it. Or so I'd thought. There were several places where I'd heard things I'd never heard before (sound familiar?) but, much more telling, is how what had always been one sound occupying a somewhat central space had become two distinct "objects" in space that were constantly changing position in a fairly complex pattern. This was repeatable and is something I'd never before heard on any system! Star Trek: Main Theme gets put in there sort of by default because Ascent... segues directly into Star Trek, but that is not a bad thing. Kunzel and his Pops not only know the piece well, their performance is engaging (see what I did there?) and is a good listening test. Not only is this a good recording of an orchestra and a room, there are segments that can stress a system's illusion of credibility. For instance, during one quiet passage there is the chiming of a glockenspiel. For some reason this simple ring is difficult to reproduce properly, but yet again the BL does so invisibly.

    I can go on giving my impressions of how one song or another sounds like this or that, but I don't know how I can improve upon my assessment that the BL reproduces music ~ to my ears and with my Hifiman HE-1000 ~ in such a manner as to convince me that it can not be better. Which brings with it a dilemma: I'd already thought I'd found sonic nirvana with the Silver, so could I again be wrong with the Black Label? I don't want to give the wrong impression here: I want one, and I want it badly. I honestly have been missing this BL, and have gone right back to changing headphones as necessary, depending upon the music, now that I am once again listening to the Silver. But to my dilemma: I know that I am in love with this sound. I need it. I require it. There may be other DACs that are "better" or what not, but I want THIS sound! But what of the upcoming Pro iDSD? Could it be possible that the Pro could sound that much better than the micro BL?

    I'm telling you, I'm spoiled by the sound of the BL. I did enjoy the Bass Boost button, and had left the function engaged almost throughout my listening time. But the Bass Boost was not what made the difference; that falls to the wizardry from the guys at iFi. Kudos to you all!!!

    Another analogy had come to mind while listening the the Black Label: that of a fantastic automobile paint job. A perfect paint job. One where you really can't tell where the surface of the paint starts, or if it is in fact actually wet paint. One that glistens and gleams with a seemingly impossible depth. Such a paint job is what what it feels like to listen to the BL. It glistens, and it gleams. It doesn't make the music sound brighter, or more clear, or what have you; it just makes the music seem more right, more natural. More real. The Silver is a perfectly decent, top notch paint job on a luxury coupe; the BL is a custom paint job to which all others would aspire. The Black Label makes that music that you love feel like you love it even more. It feels like butter on your toast.

    I want to thank the good people at iFi for providing an evaluation unit to some of us here in Head-Fi. It is often difficult if not impossible for many or most of us to find a way to evaluate good headphone equipment. I had to drive 1000 miles to evaluate an assortment of very nice headphones, so having a unit made available to us like this is a wonderful opportunity. I'd also like to thank iFi for choosing me even though they'd known I'd be late in posting this review, as well as the fact that I have little experience reviewing.

    So now all that is left (to me) is the decision. Black Label or Pro iDSD? The Pro is much more expensive and is not yet available, and I do need a BL fix now. I hate to say it, for I know how it sounds, but the truth is the truth: my old faithful and beloved micro iDSD Silver just doesn't do it anymore.

    EDIT: I don't know how I'd forgotten to include this one fault, but I think it is a fairly significant one. As others have noted, the first second or so of a track is muted if that track was just selected; sequential tracks in the same file (sequential songs on an album) do not exhibit this silence. I understand that there may be reasons for this, but it is nevertheless sometimes irritating and I hope it can be corrected in a firmware update.

    EDIT Nov 23, 2017: I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner, but I think I should say that I'd purchased a BL several months ago. It is all that I'd remembered, with one additional benefit: That second or so of initial silence is now absent! Good going iFi guys!
  4. OSiRiSsk
    4.0/5,
    "The dac/amp chameleon"
    Pros - 3D+ and XBass+ effects, ability to drive sensitive IEMs and demanding headphones, musicality
    Cons - unsuitable for portable use, minor issue when using as a DAC
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label
     
      Intro




    I have received Black Label from iFi company as part of the review tour, in exchange for my honest opinion
    You can find specification here
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd-bl/
    The price is currently at 549 USD on amazon, and the official iFi distributor in my country (Czech) is selling it for roughly 650 USD
    So what is Black Label? It is a headphone amplifier+dac combo in the first place. It supports pretty much every music format humankind has every invented.
     
      Design, build, portability



    The design is very smooth in my opinion and I quite it very attractive. There is just something special about that dim black finish of the device.
    All iFi amps and dacs reminds me of a star destroyer. Which I really love as a Star Wars fan :-D
     
     
    star.jpg
    I can't help it, but it reminds me Star Destroyer! Another reason to love it!​

    For a desktop amp/dac the size is rather small, no external power cord is needed and you can simply hook it up via provided usb cable to your laptop. It has even some battery inside which allows it to run as a amp alone, without the need of powering it. However, given its size I feel like this is quite impractical and for my use case I have never used it and didn't even plan it. It was just too clunky in my opinion, to stack it with your DAP or something like that. Not sure what was the intention behind this battery thing, but in my case, I was always running it hooked via USB cable. Though maybe for somebody it will make sense to run it just from the battery.
     
    ifi.jpg
    I will miss you Black Label!​

     
     
    Features - I would say this is the strongest advantage of the Black Label. It is definitely one of the most versatile device on the market, pretty much only thing which is missing is the balanced input/output. Otherwise it's really all-in-one solution. There are lot of switches and I must admit that stuff like "Polarity" and "Filter" didn't really change the sound at all - at least I couldn't hear any sort of difference, so even after reading the provided manual, I had no idea what it's supposed to do.
     
    However, there are many useful switches too - especially the "IEM match" and "Power Mode". These two allows you to configure gain of the amplifier, which makes Black Label compatible with all sorts of headphones ranging from sensitive IEMs such as Shure 846 to hard to drive planars. I have tried to set "Power Mode" to "Turbo" and it almost killed me, so I just switched it back to "Normal" for the remaining time.
     
    I used "IEM Match" functionality when I was testing the Black Label with my Shure 535 which are considered quite sensitive. It worked brilliantly and it gives you great flexibility on how much power you want to feed your headphones with. 
    The Black Label was also always dead silent - I haven't heard any background noise or hiss with any of the tested headphones, which is really great. No interference whatsoever.
    From harder to drive headphones I have used Fostex T50RP MK3 which was easily driven by the Black Label. My current main go-to headphones are Lawton Audio LA2000 which is a modification of famous Denon AHD2000 and the result was spectacular.
     
    k5-vs-ifi.jpg
    Not so much difference between Black Label and FiiO K5+FiiO X7...unless you use effects!​

     
    It's a bit tricky for me to evaluate amp or dac quality, as I feel most reviewer tend to focus on the headphones itself, which I don't want to do. With all of the tested headphones (Shure 535, Lawton Audio LA2000, Fostex T50RP MK3, VE Monk Plus) I have received satisfactory results - I was able to squeeze maximum potential from these headphones, drive them really easily and the sound was always which I consider a good match. My current desktop combo is FiiO X7 docked into the FiiO K5 amp. Sound wise it's quite similar, with one difference - FiiO K5 is a bit sharper in sound, while iFi was slightly more musical. But the dac section - i.e. the detail, resolution was pretty much on the similar level. I am not sure whether this is a compliment for or insult for either of these rigs, but that's just the way it is.
    But here comes a twist - Black Label has two magical buttons - 3D+ and XBass+ - which as the name suggest, first should increase the sense of space and second enhance the bass. When I first switched these on, I was disappointed - the change wasn't as big as I was expecting. But nevermind, I kept on listening. After 15 minutes or so, I switched them both off. Only then I've realized what a drastic difference it was. I am listening to a lot of EDM music - drum and bass, techno, house, hip hop, RnB.. So the XBass+ effect was extremely addictive with me. Without these effects off I'd call Black Label a decent amp/dac combo. However, with some track, the synergy of these effects is so immersive that it takes the whole device to a completely different level. For a longer listening session, it can     be a bit fatiguing, because the intensity of the music you will hear is just huge. Still, for me this was the decisive point which catapulted the Black Label to a whole new level and I really recommend everybody to it, because some tracks were just made for 3D+ and XBass+. 
     
    With XBass+ the bass had much more body, it became more physical. With fast pace tracks there was more rumble. But the bass duration wasn't really changed, so in the end it didn't really overflow to other frequencies, and that's what made it great.
    With 3D+ I have felt almost concert like experience. The instrument separation just become much greater which gave you that extra feel of space. Again, some tracks didn't benefit so much, but some were excellent.
    This is what made Black Label such fun and versatile device to use.
     
    However I have found also some quirks, which I need to mention. When Black Label is used as a DAC, it has always 1-2 sec initial delay when it's turned on - meaning, when you start to play some music or video, the Black Label will be silent for 1-2 second and only after that it will start playing sound. Once it starts, there is no delay though and the sound is perfectly synchronized, which makes it suitable even for watching movies. 
    Also, couple of times it happened, that when connected initially, the sound was completely distorted almost unbearable to hear. However, after re-connecting the device it always went back to normal.
    I was using Black Label only with my Macbook so can't comment on how it works with Windows or Linux systems.
     
     
    So let's sum this up.
    Powerful amp with the ability to drive most sensitive IEMs to most demanding headphones ✓
    Plenty of detail, resolution, and nice musical sound ✓
    Support for every possible music format every invented ✓
    3D+ and XBass+ effects , yes please ✓✓✓✓✓
    Affordable price ✓
     
    On the other hand:
    When used as DAC - ddd quirk of initial 1-2 silence when first playing the music 
    When effects are off, the sound quality is in range of FiiO K5+FiiO X7 which I am still undecided whether it's compliment or not :) 

    All things considered - if you are looking for an affordable all-in-one AMP/DAC solution, with ability to switch from sensitive IEMs to most powerful headphones (Turbo most truly does this, trust me) with fun effects to play with (3D+ and XBass+) you have my permission to pull the trigger :wink:
  5. gto88
    5.0/5,
    "iFi micro iDSD - best portable value"
    Pros - Features, Build Quality, SQ, Value
    Cons - a little big as portable, dac decoder indicate light is hard to see
    Gears used for comparison:
    Headphone - Sony Z1R, HIFIMAN HE1000.V2, Sennheiser HD800
    AMP   - Schiit Jotunheim (amp),  Audio-GD NFB-1AMP
    DAC   - L.K.S MH-DA003

    I own iFi iDSD nano, so the driver is already in my computer,
    I plug it in and the device shows in my PC and in Foobar2000 output list.
     
    - Sound Quality by power mode.
     
      Eco mode,
     
      It has very good SQ for my Z1R, it drives the music beautifully without holding back.
      Even the Z1R is an easy driven headphone, the amp is capable to  drive it to reproduce the music
      as it should be, I hear clarity and dynamic in
      this mode.  The XBass feature extends bass a little deeper and doesn't add too much.
      the result is very good to my ear, definitely a plus point to amp section.
     
      Normal mode,
     
      It is sufficient to drive HE1000 and HD800 and of course Z1R.
      Adding XBass my HD800 bass response is enhanced in a pleasant way makes it better
      than I ususal know it.
     
      Turbo Mode,
     
      More power for sure, the benefit for what I can see is less turn of  volume knob.
      I do not have 600ohm headphone like T1 or HE-6, so I would not know
      if it is a must to use this mode for those headphones.

      When XBass is on, this mode will show too much bass boom and becomes overwhelm
      which somehow degrades overall SQ.
      This is not the case in normal power mode, which blends real well.
      Sound stage is pretty good in width & depth and layering of instruments are clear.

      However, it is still a little smaller than my LKS+NFB-1AMP, the music with BL
      feel closed by, it is good when on the move.  While at home, if it can be extended
      a little more that will make it almost perfect.
     
      Overall, this amp has planty of power, and XBass is absolutely a handy feature that
      adds the extra bass when you need it.
      My Sony Z1R has been considered as bass strog headphone, turning on XBass
      make the bass fuller and punchier, I am like "Wow...".

      I think to turn it on or off would be music track and headphone dependant.
      It can be too musch bass for some music, but it also add fun factor to
      some tracks that I am familiar with.
     
      3D+ feature
     
      However doesn't have dramatic effect as XBass, I don't hear much
      difference on my musics.
      I tried this with normal gain on HE1000-V2 headphone, in case you wonders.
     
      Filters,
     
      They all sound a bit different, I used a DSD album to test this:

      - bit-perfect: it sounds darker than min, phase, but smooth, one has to turn  volume a little up.
      - min. phase : this sounds more open on female voice track
      - standard   : this mode has loundest volume on all 3 modes.
     
      overal, it gives me this impression, min. phase mode change the sound smoothier
      than standard filter, and bit-prefect filter even improve the smoothness further
      than min. phase filter.
      It gives users 3 flavors of sounds, you will find one that you like the best.
     
    - Build Quality:
     
      The Pphysical size is smaller then I expected, about 1 inch short of twice
      length of iDSD nano.
      Its whole metal construction feels solid and strong, the build is no doubt
      at one of the highest quality, and its weight is on the light side with its
      rich feature in such small package.
      It might be too big for portable if you use to tie your cell phone/DAP with
      dac/amp.
      But it is small enough for me to take it with me any where in my bag.
     
    - Comparison:
     
      The overall clarify and music layering is about the same as my LKS+Jotunheim (L+J).
      But, my L+J combination sounds fuller at times, BL is a tad thin in music
      reproduction, but it needs to do careful back and forth comparison to notice it.
      However, BL is only 1/3 of the price of L+J combo, and it is portable that means you
      can take it with you on the road and enjoy the vivid music.

    - Conclusion:
     
      The amplification part, BL is small in size but never lack in power,
      it performs really well to drive all my headphones.
      I use normal mode all the time which has enough  power to drive all my headphones.
      
      And I really like the XBass feature that you will surely enjoy for some musics.
      For its price, capability, features, flexibility and performance, 
      I will definitely recommend this DAC/AMP to any one who is looking for a combo
      for portable or desktop use.

    - Final note:
     
        About volume knob, the mark on it is almost invisible, same to Jotunheim and
        iDSD nano.
        It is not a problem for Audio-GD amp because it is digital, the number display
        perfectly shows the volume.
        I have seen a user mod the knob of a BL unit, and it looks gorgeous and clear.
        It is obvious a common issue for analog knob, hopefully it can be improved among
        manufactures.
    Apple0222 likes this.
  6. Tobias89
    5.0/5,
    "Fantastic jack of all trades, and master of quite a few!"
    Pros - Excellent sound, Feature rich, high performance to price ratio
    Cons - Non-existent volume indicator, awkward shape (ifi micro product series in general) - Long and thin
    About Me

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Disclaimer

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

     

    About the iDSD BL

    20170306_180029.jpg

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Source

    Nil

     

    Headphones Used

    Audio Technica ATH-R70x

    Sennheiser HD800

    64 Audio A12 CIEM

     

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

    Storms Are On The Ocean

    Amber Rubarth

    Spanish Harlem

    Rebecca Pidgeon

    Angel

    Saybia

    Drum Impro

    Dali CD

    Ignorance (Acoustic)

    Paramore

    Just A Fool (ft. Blake Shelton)

    Christina Aguilera

    Cheek to Cheek

    Lady Gaga / Tony Bennett

    Royals

    Lorde

    See You Again (ft. Charlie Puth)

    Wiz Khalifa


      

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

     

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

                                                                                                                        

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Comparison

    20170306_180241.jpg

     
    Vs Chord Mojo

    Coming soon

     

    Vs RHA Dacamp L1

    Coming soon

     

    Finish/Build Quality

    20170306_180044.jpg

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

    1.     USB 3.0A female to USB3.0A male cable (1M)
    2.     USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female cable
    3.     USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female short adaptor
    4.     iFi’s standard purple RCA cables
    5.     Rubber bands
    6.     6.3mm to 3.5mm convertor
    7.     3.5mm to 3.5mm cable
    8.     Mini Toslink to Toslink adaptor
    9.     4 silicone feet
    10.     Silicone sheet
    o    Velvet Carrying Pouch

     

    Features

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

    Specifications

    Inputs/Outputs

      
    Inputs (rear)

    USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket

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

    (with iPurifier® technology built-in)

      Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial

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

      SPDIF Optical

     
       
    Outputs (rear)

    Audio RCA L+R

     
      Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial

    Up to 192kHz PCM

       
       
    Output (right side)

    SmartPower® Socket

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

       
       
    Controls

      
    Controls (front)

      
    – HP Output

    Audio 6.3mm Headphone Jack

     
    – Volume with Power On/Off switch

    Precision analogue volume control

    <2dB Tracking error

    – 3.5mm Input

      Auto disable the digital section when this is in use

    – X-Bass®

    On/Off

     
    – 3D Holographic Sound®

    On/Off

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

       
    Controls (left side)

      
    – Power Mode

    Turbo, Normal, Eco

    Computer controlled power and gain scaling

    – Polarity

    Normal/Inverted

     
    – Filter

    3 positions, 6 filters

    (see filter section below)

       
    Controls (bottom)

      
    – Line Direct/Preamplifier

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

    Fixed 2V or variable with up to 5V available

    – iEMatch®

    Perfect-matching circuit for IEMs (eliminate hiss)

    Off / High Sensitivity Headphone / Ultra Sensitivity Headphone

       
       
    DAC section

      
    DAC

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

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

      Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing

     
       
    Clock

    Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock

    RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds

       
    Audio Formats

    DSD 512/256/128/64

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

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

      DXD 2x/1x

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

    768/705.6/384/352.8kHz

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

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

    48/44.1kHz

       
    Filters

      
    – PCM

    Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard

    Digital filters selectable

    – DSD

    Extreme/Extended/Standard Range

    Analogue filters selectable

    – DXD

    Bit-Perfect Processing

    Fixed analogue filter

       
       
    Specifications (DAC Section)

      
    Dynamic Range (Line)

    >117db(A)

     
    THD & N (0dBFS Line)

    <0.003%

     
    Output Voltage (Line)

    >2V

     
    Output Impedance (Zout)

    < 240Ω

     
    Jitter (correlated)

    Below AP2 test set limit

     
       
       
    Headphone Power Output

      
    HP Amp Output

    Power (max)

    Power (continuous.)

    – Turbo mode

    10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm

    >1560 mW @ 64 Ohm

       > 166 mW @ 600 Ohm

     
    – Normal mode

    5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm

    > 950 mW @ 32 Ohm

       > 100 mW @ 300 Ohm

     
    – Eco mode

    2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm

    > 250 mW @ 16 Ohm

       
       
    Specifications (Headamp Section)

      
    Dynamic Range (HP)

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

     
    THD &N (HP 500mW/16R)

    < 0.008%

     
    Output Voltage (HP)

    >8V (Turbo Mode)

     
    Output Impedance (Zout)

    <1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)

     
    Maximum Output Power

    4,000mW @ 16 Ohm Load

    when using sinewave testing the iDSD micro may engage protection circuits

    Continuous Output Power

    1,000mW @ 64 Ohm Load

     

     

     

    Conclusion

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

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

     

  7. monster2046
    4.0/5,
    "BLACK Background can pay my full attention on my music"
    Pros - Good Sound, Affortable Price
    Cons - connectivity is not fit to eastern music lovers
    This is my pleasure that I will be the tester of ifi new product, idsd black lablel (let us be short as BL).
    As a newbie of headfi, I am whole heartly to try difference devices.  
    When I first read about the spec of the BL, I talk to myself that "woo......."  From technical perspective, the components are good and I reach to exited mode that I want to test the BL.
    The appearance is just as as the previous version, just changing the colour from silver to black. To me, I don't care on the appearance while I just focus on the sound is match with my preference or not.
    The device can support optical, usb  but unfortunately, my on hand dap (Paw Gold and DX 90) haven't optical out, the coxial in of BL can't match with DX90 coxial out.  The usb connection, is difference with mojo and vantam.  I just can test the amplifier function.  (iDSD primary design is for desktop connection)
    I think there are many reviews of Paw Gold and I don't explain anymore.  I just talk about my personal feel of Paw Gold line out to BL.  I listen my sound with using a pair of CIEM, Oriolus 2 only.  I set the power to normal.  
    My comment is very simple, just same as the colour of the device, BLACK.  I can't hear any noise from the BL.  The background is too dark and I just can pay my full attention to listen my music with no any interference.  
    The power is enough and driven my earphone give me a sense of "enrich, solid".  Even less than medium volume can drive my earphone.  To my sense of hearing, the vocal (especially female singer) is charming and attractive.  This is easily for me to imagine a lady ,standing on a stage, is singing a song for me.      
    When the Bass enhance button is on, the bass will be increase 3db (I guess).  As Oriolus 2 is a 4-driver hybrid earphone, this can give me a sense of warm surrounding me.
    However, 3D function is really bad to me.  Once open the function, I just feel that all sounds stick together and spoil all music that I am listening.
     
    Thanks
  8. miceblue
    4.0/5,
    "A Terrific Bang for Your Buck DAC/Amp Combo!"
    Pros - Octa-speed DSD, femto clocks, overall sound quality, gain options, digital filter options, discrete XBass+ and 3D+ sections, battery powered
    Cons - Flimsy-feeling plastic switches, male USB A USB input, bulky size for true portable use
    Disclaimer
    This is a review for the micro iDSD Black Label edition, not the original micro iDSD

    I firstly want to thank Lawrance at iFi for letting me use the micro iDSD Black Label for a few months. I had originally requested the micro iDSD, but the timing of the request was right in line with the launch of the Black Label edition.

    This was a brand new unit, so I let it burn in for quite some time in case I receive any scrutiny about that. : p





    Product Score Summary:
    Value: 5/5
    Audio Quality: 4.5/5
    Quality: 4/5
    Design: 4/5
    Overall: 4.375/5







    Video Time Markers:
    0:11 - Thank you to iFi
    1:02 - micro iDSD vs micro iDSD Black Label differences
    2:01 - Usage of the micro iDSD BL
    2:23 - IEMatch
    4:23 - Polarity switch
    4:41 - Digital filters
    5:24 - DAC architecture
    6:04 - DAC sound quality
    7:47 - Imaging and femto clocks
    8:55 - Soundstage
    9:10 - Price and affordability
    9:17 - Amplifier power output and sound quality
    10:41 - Ocata-Speed DSD
    11:41 - Upsampling to DSD256
    13:48 - micro iDSD vs Black Label appearance
    14:27 - XBass+ and 3D+ switches
    16:36 - Digital filters
    18:07 - Price/performance evaluation
    18:58 - Male USB-A connector
    20:06 - [Problem fixed from firmware upgrade]
    http://ifi-audio.com/micro-idsd-ifi-xmos-firmware/





    DSC_8306.jpg

    DSC_8297.jpg

    DSC_8302.jpg

    DSC_8304.jpg

    DSC_8303.jpg

    DSC_8307.jpg





    Most people don't know this, but the orange paint on the micro iDSD Black Label fluoresces under UV light. It makes for a cool photography subject, hahaha.
    DSC_8319.jpg

    DSC_8326.jpg

    DSC_8311.jpg





    DSC_8350.jpg

    I made an unboxing video to explain what goodies are included with the iDSD BL box, as well as a basic overview of the unit. Like most, if not all, iFi products, you will be equipped with all of the items you would ever need for the product inside of the box.



    Video Table of Contents:
    2:12 - iFi disclaimer
    2:44 - Box sleeve overview
    3:15 - micro iDSD Black Label overview
    4:24 - Back panel input/outputs
    5:07 - Bottom labels and switches
    6:33 - Warranty card and user manual
    7:11 - Accessory box 1 contents
    7:35 - Female USB-A to female USB-B adaptor and explanation
    9:02 - Accessory box 2 contents


    Or for a too long; didn't watch overview:
    • RCA - RCA cable
    • 3.5 mm - 3.5 mm right-angle stereo cable
    • mini-TOSLINK adaptor
    • Female USB A - male USB A cable
    • Female USB A - female USB B cable adaptor
    • Female USB A - female USB B adaptor
    • Silicone mat
    • iFi-branded silicone feet
    • Velour carrying pouch
    • Silicone caps for the RCA and S/PDIF jacks
    • 3.5 mm - 6.3 mm adaptor
    • 2x silicone bands





    Design: 4/5
    One of the things that sets the micro iDSD Black Label apart from other DAC/amps is its design. Using the same chassis as the other micro line of products, the iDSD BL carries its unique shape and form factor. This is, however, why I docked a point from the Design score. Although the iDSD BL is portable, there is no way it would fit comfortably in a pocket. This is more of a transportable DAC/amp than a portable one, and that limits its functionality. On the other hand, since transportable DAC/amps are smaller than desktop-sized ones, it does have the benefit of being able to fit on a cramped desk more easily.

    If you want to use the micro iDSD BL as a truly portable DAC/amp, there is a battery inside of it that lasts 6-12 hours depending on usage. I almost exclusively used it as a USB-powered DAC/amp with my laptop though since that's how I would use it.

    With the idea of portability in mind, the use of a male USB A connector makes sense since you can just use a Lightning - female USB A adaptor, or an OTG cable for Android-based devices. However, since I consider this more of a transportable unit than a portable one, having the use of a male connector is an inconvenience if you want to use your own USB cables, or audiophile ones at that. iFi's own Mercury nor Gemini cables are compatible with the micro iDSD BL without the use of an adaptor.



    Outside of these issues, I think the design of the micro iDSD BL is pretty solid. From the outside, the whole chassis is utilized in terms of inputs/outputs/switches. The Black Label edition goes for a stealthy black-orange appearance and I like that very much. On the bottom of the unit, there is some print in a glossy black paint such that it's very discrete, yet available if you need to refer to it. One small complaint I have is the lack of a clear indicator of where the volume knob is at: there's only a very small, uncolored, dimple near the edge of the front part of the knob.

    The whole concept of the micro iDSD BL being the "Swiss Army knife of audio" is really exciting to see. It has so many inputs and outputs, gain and power output settings, and audio tweaks in general that it should satisfy anyone who likes to modify their systems' sound. The only set of options you won't see in this device are balanced inputs/outputs, but given the size of the chassis and the sheer amount of stuff crammed into the device, it is quite understandable. The combo S/PDIF/coaxial input/output port should be quite useful to many.


    Moving to the inside, the Black Label edition adds some improvements to the circuit that should be appreciated. Having femto-second global master timing clocks is not a trivial thing to be added in a sub-$1000 device, let alone sub $600. That to me is just mind-blowing. Upgraded components both in the digital and analog sections of the device are also welcome, in addition to the XBass+ and 3D+ additions, which I think are well-done. The XBass+ and 3D+ features are separate analog effects done on the headphone output, so it's not just a DSP effect.

    The design choice to use a hybrid R-2R/ΔΣ Burr Brown DAC chip is fascinating! Basically this DAC chip takes the 6 most significant bits of your PCM source file and does a digital-to-analog conversion process through a R-2R resistor ladder, true multi-bit, process. The remaining bits go through a typical Delta Sigma modulated pathway.

    The DAC chip also decodes DSD natively in a true 1-bit fashion that only involves a single low-pass filter.

    On top of all of this, the DAC is capable of playing back DSD512 (Octa-speed DSD) and 24/768 PCM. Not that there's any music in this format, but a 24/768-capable DAC is able to transfer DSD256 via the DSD over PCM protocol without any problems for Mac OS users.

    The use of 3 different filters for your music also allows the user to tune the device to their own liking and to experiment with the concept of filters. In my review video, I had mentioned that the filters seemed to be more like digital filters. This is only half-right. The filter switch acts as a digital filter selection during PCM playback. For DXD playback (which is actually still PCM), a fixed analog filter is used. Likewise for DSD playback, a selectable analog filter is used. This is a very unique set of features for filters that I have not seen in any other device in any other price range. Kudos to iFi for including this as a design feature!

    Furthermore, the inclusion of not one, but two gain systems allows the micro iDSD BL to have an incredible amount of versatility for use with headphones. Eco, Normal, and Turbo gain modes are kind of your standard low/medium/high gains respectively. However, the micro iDSD BL has an additional 2-stage gain stage meant to be used for sensitive headphones and in-ear monitors specifically: IEMatch. I think this design is simply brilliant, and more devices should have something like this, seriously.





    Quality: 4/5

    Since this category is really arbitrary, I will use this section to rate the micro iDSD's overall build quality and feel.

    The only reason why I docked a point from this category is that the switches don't feel very robust minus the metal flip switches for the XBass+ and 3D+ settings. The rest of the switches are rather cheap-feeling since they're just plastic and they don't have a lot of resistance. I didn't add the silicone feet to this unit since I am not the owner of it, so I mostly just placed the micro iDSD BL on the silicone mat instead.

    I don't mind having buttons or switches on the bottom of a unit as long as they don't accidentally get activated. Unfortunately most of the switches on the micro iDSD BL tend to get moved easily, and this adds to the problem of having this unit in a pocket for portable use.


    For everything else around the device, things seem to be of top-notch quality. The chassis feels diamond-solid [better than rock-solid] and super robust, the paint seems to be of high quality and I don't see it chipping off in the long-run, the inputs/outputs feel solid and not flimsy or loose, and the volume knob is silky smooth to use (actually it's pretty addicting to turn since it feels smooth but it has a very, very, very nice sense of resistance; seriously, try it out!).





    Audio Quality: 4.5/5

    Amplifier
    I'll start by mentioning the amplifier section. I am personally not a huge advocate for amp matching with headphones. If it gets loud enough, that's usually good enough for me since I listen to music at fairly low volume levels.

    With this in mind, I think the amplifier section of the micro iDSD BL is great. It can drive my Etymotic ER4SR and OPPO PM-3 with ease, specifically in Eco/Ultra-Sensitivity settings. Again, if it gets loud enough, it's good enough for me; there is absolutely no reason for me to use higher gain settings for these headphones. The background is dead silent without any traces of hiss at all. Only when I turn off the IEMatch and turn the volume all the way up on Normal gain do I start to hear background hiss. However, at this point, you wouldn't be using such sensitive headphones from the get-go.

    I did get the chance to hear the micro iDSD BL with a Sennheiser HD800. I just used Normal gain mode and it drove them just fine like a typical solid state amplifier without any issues. I'm still not a huge fan of the HD800 myself, but at least the micro iDSD BL can do a comprable job at driving it.

    I have no idea when anyone would ever use the Turbo gain mode on the micro iDSD BL. Perhaps to be able to drive the infamous HiFiMAN HE-6, or maybe even the AKG K1000? I didn't get the chance to use the micro iDSD BL with such insensitive headphones unfortunately. Those headphones aren't easy to come by in the first place, but it's, again, good to know that the micro iDSD BL has a gain mode for them: 4 watts of power into a 16-ohm load is not a trivial thing to do in a battery-powered audiophile-targeted device.


    XBass+ and 3D+
    Briefly mentioning the XBass+ and 3D+ switches, I actually really liked them. Unlike some devices, the micro iDSD BL uses discrete circuit pathways for these two settings, which are also all analogue and not digital (AKA not DSP).

    The XBass+ might not be for everyone since it's a pretty substantial boost, but I liked it because it was in the lower-/mid-bass area and it didn't affect the upper-bass/lower-midrange a whole lot. This is my preferred way to do a bass boost since it stays more true to being a bass boost.

    The 3D+ switch is essentially a crossfeed effect, but again, it is all analog. I typically don't like using crossfeed since it sounds weird to me, but the micro iDSD BL seems to do it more justice than not. I should give a warning that it does seem to make recordings brighter-sounding, so if you have a bright music, it might be too much. That being said, enabling the 3D+ switch sounds like it angles the music 30˚ inward from the horizontal, kind of like speakers pointed at your head. Neato!


    DAC
    Now on to the DAC portion of the micro iDSD BL. I think this is where the sound aspect gets interesting. I spent most of my time listening to the micro iDSD BL as a DAC with the STAX SRS-2170 system.

    I firstly want to make it clear that most of my listening sessions were done with the Standard digital filter. These filters could arguably affect how people perceive the sound. Between the three digital filters, the Standard one sounded the best to me. Here's a summary of how I felt between the filters, although I must stress that the differences are pretty subtle and not everyone may hear them:
    • Standard: The least harsh-sounding filter to my ears, with a larger sense of space, but at the cost of a limited ability to image
    • Minimum-Phase: Harsher-sounding to me compared to the Standard filter, and has a reduced soundstage, but better imaging (having more space between instruments)
    • Bit-Perfect: I really couldn't hear a difference between this filter and the other ones

    Playing PCM files in this manner, I noticed that the micro iDSD BL kind of has a "Goldilocks" sound compared to other DACs I'm used to hearing. The ESS-based DACS typically have a bright and more detailed sound ("SABRE SOUND[sup]TM[/sup]"). On the other end, AKM-based DACs tend to sound really warm. Perhaps it's due to iFi's use of the hybrid Burr Brown chip, but I find the micro iDSD BL to sound a bit warm as a whole while having a somewhat detailed sound: it's a blend of both the AKM and ESS DAC chips' sound.

    Perhaps it's due to the Global Master Timing of the micro iDSD BL's femto clocks, as I've found to be the case for other femto clock-carrying DACs, but I really marveled how well the micro iDSD BL can image. It didn't have the largest-sounding soundstage that I've heard in a DAC, but being able to determine where an instrument is within the soundstage and how clear that instrument is from another is more important for how I listen to music.

    Playing DSD, I really like how the micro iDSD BL sounds. Smooth is the best way to describe it. Again, the Burr Brown chip that the micro iDSD BL uses has a true DSD playback loop in that a 1-bit digital-to-analog conversion is done with a single low-pass filter. The filter switch in the case of DSD only changed the volume to my ears, so there's not really much to say about those.

    I liked the sound of the micro iDSD BL's DSD playback so much that I used software to upsample my music to DSD256 throughout most of my listening tests. One of the original reasons why I wanted to hear the micro iDSD in the first place was because I was interested in iFi's "Octa Speed" capability. In OS X, you can only play DSD music through the DSD over PCM (DoP) protocol in which the DSD source is disguised as a PCM file so the computer can transfer it to the DAC to be decoded as DSD (note that this is NOT a conversion process). Therefore, playing back DSD256 music...
    DSD256 data rate = 2 channels * 1 bit * 44.1 kHz * 256 = 22.5792 Mbps

    Equivalent PCM data rate = 2 channels * 16 bits * 44.1 kHz * 16 = 22.5792 Mbps (AKA 16-bit/705.6 kHz)
    requires a DAC capable of reading a 16-bit/705.6 kHz signal. Obviously the micro iDSD BL can accept a 32-bit/768 kHz signal, so this is probably one of the only DACs that can play back DSD256 music on OS X! Unfortunately in Windows 10, I couldn't get the DSD512 stream to work properly as it kept stuttering for me.

    Upsampling even CD-quality files seemed to make them sound smoother to my ears. Daft Punk's "Derezzed" song is one of my favorite test tracks to use for bass and brightness. When I talked to the iFi folks at CanJam at RMAF last year, they mentioned that they liked "Derezzed" too, but it can be pretty harsh-sounding at times, in which I agree and that's why I use it as a test track. I asked them about their "Octa-Speed" feature since there's probably like 5 music tracks in the world that are recorded in DSD512 and they mentioned that upsampling "Derezzed" to higher DSD rates actually helped reduce its harsh sound. This is exactly what I heard when upsampling any music track to DSD256: things just become less harsh overall and the sound seems to become smoother and more pleasing to the ears because of this.

    One theory I have for this phenomenon is due to the nature of DSD decoding. All of the songs' original frequency content is still retained, but higher rate DSD sampling rates have higher signal to noise ratios. This in combination with the Burr Brown's true DSD pathway might benefit the digital-to-analog conversion process.





    Value: 5/5

    If you couldn't tell by this review, I really, really, really like the micro iDSD BL, and especially for the price. Considering all of the features this device has, combined with all of the included accessories, and its overall sonic performance, I think this device could be double the price and I would still recommend it. Seriously, this is one beast of a device.

    Outside of the largish/portablish design, the kind of annoying male USB A connector, and the somewhat flimsy-feeling plastic switches, I'd whole heartily give the micro iDSD BL two thumbs up. I still can't believe iFi is only setting this at a $549 USD MSRP. That's just mind-boggling.


    Thank you for taking the time to read/peruse through this review! : )
  9. noobandroid
    4.0/5,
    "Super versatile, great functionality, great SQ"
    Pros - Wide range of format supported, multiple I/O to choose from, a power bank i guess?
    Cons - Black on black lettering on the back, $ (as always)

    Intro

    Special thanks to iFi Audio and local distributor for setting u[ this review tour of iFi Audio micro iDSD. First off we will be going into the looks of the BL, and then into SQ from RCA out and then the HO, and finally the software side of them.
     

    Appearances

    I'll just shove a couple of pictures in your face and not write a lot.
    20170306_211427.jpg 20170306_211454.jpg 20170306_211508.jpg 20170306_211521.jpg 20170306_211536.jpg 20170306_211553.jpg
     
    As the pictures show, there is quite a lot of I/o to go with and on the 5th picture is actually a USB power output  aka charger to external devices.
     

    Setup

    20170301_214846.jpg 20170306_211641.jpg
     
    My setup will be using the iFi BL sourcing from PC - iFi iUSB, and on the second picture you can see a supplied OTG female to a printer connector female cable, which is a totally weird way to use them, but then USB OTG cable becomes a useful tool to use, readily available. The speaker used is Alesis Elevate 5.
     
    Secondary setup is similar but on the headphone jack with HD650.
     

    Alesis Elevate 5

    On the RCA out to the speaker, the BL can serve as a pre-out, which enables the usage of X-Bass + and the 3D+. On music these both are hell of a weird thing to use as on the 3D ON, it makes the music sound so thin but wide, studio albums get totally out of shape by using this. So, i switched to the cleaner direct output, which disables amplification on the BL and it sounds so much better. 
     
    Bass power isn't exactly the strongest, but it gets the job done cleanly. On Metallica's newest album "Hardwired", it gives the thump and pace up so the whole momentum is in tempo.The bass drum stumps are clearly heard and bass guitars doing the magic . I am digging this setup on metal genre, totally not bad at all.
     
    Mid vocals are very clear but not overly forward. Pronunciations can be heard and spelled out clearly. James Hetfield doesn't have the best of English, and that I can hear lol. 
     
    Treble is clear and crispy, not overpowering the other portions of the music, and just stays together with the percussion. Different cymbals type can be differentiated clearly.
     
    Soundstage I couldnt comment much, maybe due to the properties of my speakers. What I heard is not very wide soundstage, and so I couldn't tell whether it is the limit of the BL or my speakers.
     
     

    HD650

    In order to use the headphone out, I had to mute the RCA while having it connected, since both can output AT THE SAME TIME!! Tha'ts one weird feature, or maybe a flaw? I don't have a clue.
     
    On the HD650 connected, the Trebles are set even clearer maybe because of the closer proximity of the drivers to my ears, but the quality of it still maintains, with every different cymbal notes differentiable.
     
    Bass thump on the HD650 is much stronger, and gets even more with the X-Bass on. Bass goes on full force but with so much control on it that I can set this up with the X-Bass on as a "compensation / correction" for some songs with weaker bass. Definitely worth considering enabling this on certain situations only, as not everything needs so much bass on it.
     
    Vocals are slightly weaker on the headphone out, and guitars + drums can slightly drown out the main vocalist, but there are some other factors which are to be considered. The metal genre might have a characteristics of such, where emphasis is more on the guitars and vocals are secondary only.
     
    For soundstage test, I enabled the 3D+ and tested Nightwish. All I can say is 3D+ is not suitable for music at all. Placements of instruments get disrupted and becomes unbalanced. With the 3D+ off, it has better balance and becomes less artificial. One scene I tried which I find totally digging the 3D+ is movies!! I used Jungle Book to try the 3D+ and boy I enjoyed the movie that I get emotional and goosebumps all over. I think 3D+ has found it's place in my books, movies~ oh yeah~~
     

    Software

    As like other iDSD, installation of their special driver is neccesary, and in Foobar2000, ASIO has to be selected, to avoid interruptions from Win Mixer. I haven't tried OTG mode, but it should work straight off the bat without much hitch.
    2017-03-06_21-48-58.jpg 2nd.jpg stream.jpg
     
     
    In the second image, under USB streaming mode, there are multiple selections, shown in 3rd picture. Asio buffer size is also selectable from 64 samples up to 8192 samples.
     
     

    Final thought

    On the appearance side, hoped they have changed the black on black text, and then the outlook will be just nice. Other that that, I have no problems or nags with this product at all. It can be used on battery power, charging devices too , and be sounding awesome while at it. What more can you demand for in format support? DSD, DXD and all common formats are there ready to be used. Really wished I could keep the unit but then it's a Lucid dream haha, oh well.
  10. proedros
    4.5/5,
    "iFi Micro iDSD BL: Once you go black, you never go back"
    Pros - Very Musical and resolving Sound , Versatility (can be used with both ciems and full phones), Great Bass/Treble Boost, Amazing Build Quality
    Cons - More transportable than portable, no availability for Balanced use/Balanced Cables, difficulty to see volume knob level may irritate some
    Before submitting my thoughts on the IDSD Micro Black Label (to be called BL from now on), I would like to thank the folks at Ifi Audio for organizing this EU Demo Tour and giving us the opportunity to listen to BL . Initiatives like that help both companies to expand their clientelle and customers to try something out before buying and i hope that these events happen more often, especially for such quality products like the BL.

    Ok , on with the review then. 

    First , some tech specs/stuff , which many reviewers before me have included in their amazing reviews, so i have decided to put as hidden text (click to read)

     
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label has:
     
    re-designed output stabilisation
    OV2627 op-amps upgraded analogue section
    Panasonic OSCON capacitors loaded power supply
    OV2028 op-amps loaded DAC power supply
    DAC voltage decoupling based on audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
    GMT® Femto precision clock system power supply upgraded
     
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label is:
     
    a tweaked to the roof original Micro iDSD
    a satin black version (with silk orange writings) of original Micro iDSD
    sonically much better version of original Micro iDSD
    loaded with latest 3D+® and XBass+® tech, superior over ones in original Micro iDSD
    10% higher price of $549 (ex-tax) / Euro599 (incl VAT)
    superior to original Micro iDSD
     
    Dual Burr-Brown DAC chips developed by Burr-Brown Japan before the TI acquisition, custom tweaked 
    to play all the way up to unicorn formats: OctaDSD (512DSD—there aren’t even any recordings that 
    I know of) to PCM768 (I don’t know if recordings exist for this standard)
     
    3 output modes: eco, normal and turbo and the iEMatch feature allowing headphones from 
    ultra-sensitive custom in-ear flagships to insensitive masses of metallic HiFiMan HE-6 glory
     
    Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/coax allows using the iDSD BL to feed your Sonos, or 
    plugging in your DAP when you feel the need to make up for it’s inadequacies
    Battery power for loads of time, with smart charging for your devices when you aren’t blasting 
    your aural cavities with wonders, delights, and delectable morsels of audio fayre (iFi advertise 
    6-12 hours battery playback, depending on how hungry your headphones are)
     
     
    iDSD BL comes with more in its box than any of the other’s I’ve opened. Here are the full contents:
     
    Micro iDSD BL
    1 metre USB 3.0A female to USB3.0A male cable
    USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female cable (for using whatever USB cable you like without straining the USB jack)
    USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female short adaptor (for using whatever USB cable you like)
    iFi’s standard purple RCA cables
    Heavy duty rubber bands for stacking your source on top of the iDSD BL
    6.3mm to 3.5mm convertor
    Short 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable
    Mini Toslink to Toslink adaptor
    4 iFi branded silicone feet (that’s a step up from my Micro iUSB3.0)
    A silicone sheet—is this for putting under or on top? I couldn’t tell, but it should provide some cushion
    A velvet bag for transport
     
    20170228_170615.jpg
     
     
     
    I will now discuss the most important parameter (to me , at least) - the sound signature/quality of BL. I am a guy who uses only CIEMs so all my thoughts are based on listening done with CIEMs.

    So, after fiddling around with the many options available , i settled down on the following for my listening sessions

    Source Setup Used : iBasso DX80 > stock 3.5mm to coaxial cable > iDSD BL
    CIEM Used :Hidition NT6 (6-BA CIEM)
    Power Mode Setting : ECO
    Filter Setting: Bit-Perfect
    IEMatch Setting: High/ OffECO POWER MODE
    Music Files Used : 16/44 FLAC (mostly 70s/80s disco/funk/soul and some 80s rock)

     
    So on to how this little bugger sounded. First things first : This is a great DAC/AMP. I really liked what i was hearing and could not turn this little ******** down once i started listening to it. In fact my loving ZX2 simply gathered dust while the BL was around in my house (and ears).
     
    The sound was very enjoyable to my ears. BL sounds full and musical , but without sacrificing clarity . It has an almost perfect balance of musicality and clarity.

    The bass hits very, very nicely without sounding bloated , i was really impressed by how good the lows sounded with my (relatively bass-light) NT6. Great job there iFi.

    The mids are lush and musical without sounding too sugar-coated, and they are very well positioned , neither too upfront nor distant. No complaints there again.

    The highs feel sparkly without reaching sibilance levels. When i wanted a tad more 'air' (on some 'veiled' recordings), the 3d switch took care of this perfectly  (I shall return to the 3D and Bass Boost switches later).
     
    Even though BL was only used in SE mode, i found it to have great separation and a big soundstage with very good placement, with very good width.

    Last but not least, some thoughts on the 2 available switches , the 3D and the Bass Boost.
     
    3d switch is a nice touch, as it feels like a booster for the high frequencies, while simultaneously creating asense of an airier, more open sound . It is nicely done and its effect did not sound 'fake' to my ears, and i found myself using it quite a lot, especially on recording which suffer from some clarity up top and sounded a bit 'veiled' to my ears.
     
    As for the bass boost i did not use it, as i found the bass very nicely done on the Bl and its quantity was more than enough for my needs , even with the bass boost switch turned off. When i tried it though, i found the bass increase tastefully done , so if you are a basshead , this switch should come in handy to you.
     
     
     
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    As i said , i have been owning a SONY ZX2 for quite some time and i will present a small comparison with the BL, so that ZX2 owners get an idea how BL sounds.

    Compared to my SONY ZX2, i liked the DX80>IDSD BL setup much more. BL definitely feels like a step up in dynamics, sonic finesse and overall enjoyment.
     
    The mids sounded fuller , the bass had more power and the soundstage was bigger with better placement and separation. ZX2 is no slouch, but i couldn't help but think that ZX2 sounded at times almost anemic next to the BL sound.

     
    So is everything perfect on the BL ? Even though i was VERY pleased with what i heard, there are some things that could make this great DAC/AMP even better.
     
    First of all, I would have liked having the option of using it balanced as all my CIEM cables were TRRS terminated and i had to use a balanced>SE adaptor all the time.

    I can not imagine how much better BL would sound if I could go balanced, as it sounded amazing even on SE mode.

    Also , some people may have a hard time seeing where the volume meter stands, as there is not a dot or something to distinguish the volume level.

    Speaking of volume , I must say that I did not detect any channel imbalance at all , even at very low volume levels.

    But i am just nit-picking here , BL is an amazing device and I was quite amazed by it. In fact, if you are on the market for a DAC/AMP that shoots way above its price and screams 'QUALITY' , then BL should definitely be on your shortlist.

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