iFi Audio micro iDSD

Zortven

New Head-Fier
Pros: iEMatch
XBass is working great
Details
Sound signature
Power
Functionality
MQA
Cons: Limited use cases of 3D switch
Too big to be portable
iFi iDSD Micro Black Label
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iFi iDSD Micro Black Label is a portable, powerful DAC with a lot of functionalities like MQA. It is priced at 599USD.
Sound quality for the price
Rating: 9 out of 10.

Build quality
Rating: 10 out of 10.

Value
Rating: 9 out of 10.

Packaging

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

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


iFi iDSD Micro Black Label is basically a bigger brother of iDSD Nano series, so they share the same build quality. It is made of metal, with a lot of connectors, switches, subtitles and so on. I’ll explain the functionality of all of them in the next paragraph. Back to the topic, iDSD Micro is built perfectly, everything you can move is working with some resistance, but I wouldn’t define this as a problem. Dimples on both sides of iFi DAC improves the grip and look of this little bastard.
Functionality
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That will be a long part of the text, so if you’re interested only in the sound you can skip this paragraph without any guilt.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

New Head-Fier
Pros: Provides load of power, power-efficient, built-in iEMatch and iPurifier, clean and resolving sound with great detail and dark background, 3D+ and xBass+ allows for fine tuning. Multiple gain and power output options
Cons: SmartPower feature is unnecessary
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iFi Audio is a company based in UK launched in 2012 with a vision of improving sound quality and eradicating distortion, noise and hiss from different audio equipment. They are well known for their plethora of DACs, AMPs and a lot more that usually fits in an audiophile’s everyday audio chain. One of their well-known offering was the Micro iDSD which gained them more respect resulting in a fan base which in turn voiced feedbacks on improvements the Micro iDSD could have. With iFi Audio’s mantra of improving sound quality, they were more than willing to take in the feedback of their product users which eventually gave birth to a beefed up version of the Micro iDSD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lambdastorm

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Very nice chassis

AMP section has remarkable amount of control and drive

Battery lasts reasonably long
Cons: Absolutely horrible DAC

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

emptymt

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Fun, excellent technicality and details, silent background, well-priced, well-built, clean clear sound, powerful, flexible, well implemented extra features, generous accessories.
Cons: The carrying pouch is a dust magnet, transportable and hard to use on the go because of the size and long shape, not pocket able. Features can be overwhelming when you get into it.
DISCLAIMER
Hi everyone, Before I start the review, I would like to thank Ifi for making this DAC/AMP.
This review is made by myself based on my observation and listening pleasure of The amp/dac on various gear that I have after about a bit over a month of ownership regardless of price points.

I have no affiliation to Ifi in any way and everything said here is based on my experience over a week.
The pricing in Australia is 799.95 AUD (About 620 USD, converted by Google, not official price), so the review will be made using that as the value.

This Review will also touch on the difference between the micro and the nano, and whether it is worth it to get the micro over the nano.

INTRODUCTION (If you read my other review, you can skip this)
I'm an Indonesian working as a Web Developer in Melbourne, Australia.
Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.
When I start my headphone hobby, music listening has been a very rewarding experience for me and has helped me in many aspects of life other than music enjoyment, but, with the booming price of high end headphones/IEM, it has become a bit of a heavy hit on my wallet.

Starting from almost 4 years ago I've been really hooked by metal music, and nowadays my everyday music listening always incorporate metal tracks, I guess you can call me a Metal-head.

Other than that I also like Progressive Rock, Jazz, etc basically anything that is very technical and well made except classical, and no I don't really listen to modern music.

Metal music is my primary focus, so this review will appeal more for people who likes Metal music like me and less so for people who likes modern music like Trap music, pop music, ed sheeran, Taylor Swift, etc.

I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, lets say for example Classical, therefore it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like, and those are mainly:
- Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind, like 80% off the time)
- Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Riverside(rock/metal), Radiohead or something like it)
- EDM (Mostly trance)
- Jazz (Norah Jones, Diana Krall and the likes)
- Folk (just start lately, but I've been listening to Fionn Regan and found it enjoyable)
- Indonesian Song (it's basically the Indonesian version of pop, guitar used is mostly acoustic guitar, sounds natural and relaxing however, mastering of the song is usually poor, this is good to test how good a headphone/Iem handle poorly recorded material)
- etc

Genre's that I don't listen to, not even one bit, unless forced like in shopping center.
- Rap
- Classical
- Bollywood stuff
- Modern pop

GEAR USED
- Meze 99 Classic
- Focal Utopia
- Shozy Stardust
- Fiio X7 II
- Violectric HPA v281

ARTIST/MUSIC USED IN THE REVIEW
- Porcupine Tree
- Be'lakor
- Opeth
- Shadow Gallery
- Cynic
- Lurker Of Chalice
- Amorphis
- Novembre

PACKAGING
Simple white box, containing the unit and 2 more white boxes inside containing USB cable and rubber bands for stacking, you will also find some documentation in there, simple and clean packaging.
A lot of accessories is packaged in the box, neatly and well organized.

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ACCESSORIES
- USB adapter (USB to USB-A)
- Blue USB cable for digital input
- 3.5mm to 1/4 inch adapter
- RCA to RCA cable (Ifi Micro to your amp, unbalance in)
- 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable (for stacking your DAC to the AMP section of the Micro)
- Optical/Toslink adapter
- USB-A Female to USB-B Female short adapter
- Black carrying pouch case
- 2 black rubber amp straps for "stacking"
- Extra rubber feet (4, white in color)
- Rubber insert mat for stacking (It will stay in between your device so that it doesn't rub each other and causes scratches)
- Documentations and warranty

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I/O
- 1/4 inch headphone out
- RCA unbalance out
- 3.5mm unbalance In
- USB digital In
- USB "smartpower" charging in
- SPDIF In/Out

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PLAYBACK ABILITIES / SOUND ENHANCEMENT
- MQA
- DSD playback
- XBass
- 3D +

BATTERY LIFE
About 8 hours depending on loads

BUILD QUALITY
Excellent! Metal Chassis, with great Black Matte finish, screwed together nice and tight.
Switches are great and tactile, volume pot with good resistance, USB and headphone Jacks have a secure feel to them when you connect your devices.

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SOUND QUALITY
SOUND SIGNATURE

It is quite neutral, with a little bit of boost and coloration in the bass department, so the bass has a lot of power and attack, however unlike the typical bass elevated signature, where the overall sound can have some lushness to it, this Micro is not like that at all, the amount of body is about straight in the middle of being thin and lush.

The mids is slightly recessed especially the vocal and upper mid and Treble are about right in line with each other with about the same amount of emphasis and straight down the middle in the body department, I feel that it has a slight rise in the upper mids but nothing too major, due to this personality, the Micro has the benefit of being clinical without sounding sterile, where the details pop but still musical.

BASS
The Bass is powerful but tight, the attack are strong, and this combine with very fast blast beat in metal music makes for an excellent combination. The distinction of each hits are apparent, you can almost feel the physicality of the play and it is very engaging. I really like the bass interpretation of the Micro, it has the speed, attack and tightness that enables you to hear notes as fast as this with very minimal effort.

The Bass is slightly boosted, I feel that it is a couple DB more than the mids and treble at any volume level, and this is without XBass, it is also slightly more forward to you, although not by much, so positioning is almost spot on for me.

Despite the slight boost, it has never intrudes the mids at all, I think the tuning of the bass is spot on, it combines very well with the mids and treble, and when all spectrum is playing together in the music, nothing takes over, you can everything that is going on and gives the music cohesiveness.

MIDS
The mids is very natural sounding with some slight clinical tilt to it, listening to violin work of Ne Oblivisacris is a very enjoyable experience, It almost feel a little thin sounding, but not really so, to put it simply, it is just about right to hear all the intricacies before sounding thin while staying smooth.

The mids is slightly more laid back as compared to the bass, but it is only slightly and does not sound recess at all, positioning is good, singer comes out about in the center stage, depending on the recording.

Vocals are natural and is slightly relaxed in presentation, a bit behind the guitar I would say, Amorphis use both clean and harsh vocals in their music, and on the clean vocals side, it sounds clean and smooth, and dare I say a little sweetness in it, slightly mellow and syrupy to portray the emotion.
When transitioning to the harsh vocals, it still remains smooth without harshness and the growl is powerful and guttural, portraying the rage and stronger more raw emotion in the music.

When two singers sing together, I can hear the distinction very clearly and they don't cover each other up which says a lot about the resolving ability the unit has.

When hearing string instruments, you can feel the string as it is being pluck by the player, there is a little "jolt" that can be heard and the sound transition naturally to the decay, the decay is quick but not abrupt, which means that the micro handles reverb very well.

Talking about the guitar, it has an excellent amount of bites, and combines well with the layered sounding distortion, that at times sounds big and grand enveloping the atmosphere.
The guitar tone is very natural both for electric and acoustic guitar, as a metal music fan, I'm a massive addict when it comes to electric guitar sound and I really enjoy the presentation that the Micro offers in this regard.

TREBLE
The treble is flat starting from the upper mid, which is a little behind the bass in emphasis, the rise start in the frequency where the guitar usually lives.

After passing this region, it goes flat, maybe very slightly more so it can get a little bit exciting.
This is quite similar as in the nano, but not as prominent and instead of dipping after the upper mid, the micro stays flat.

Guitar Solo shines when it needs to be, trebly guitar has some sweetness into it and sounds very melodic without sounding thin and sharp, a lot of Melodic death metal music can benefits from this.
Unlike the Nano, the treble is quite linear and is not tamed at the upper region, at least not as much to my ears. Cymbals and Hi-hats are heard clearly and is not in the background, it is not the sparkly type, so don't expect super sparkly treble here.

I think going for the approach that they did in the bass and mids, this is an excellent decision, as we want to keep the general sound clean and fatigue free, too much tizz and spark can reduce haziness to the sound.
If you are a treble addict, I feel that the 3D feature despite being marketed to increase soundstage actually did some trickery to the treble and makes the whole sound brighter, so you might want to try that.

SOUND STAGE / SEPARATION
Sound stage is about average for a unit at this price range, although this is a bit hard for me to test as all my headphone are not the best in sound stage, and I'm also not a big sound stage addict.

The amount of width, height and depth is very close, so this is the #D spherical type as opposed to the nano which I think is more oval in shape.

Regardless, Instrument separation is great, nothing overlap each other, they just do their own thing and play harmoniously.

EXTRA FEATURES:
We have a lot of these, just look at this switches everywhere:

ifi-micro-bl-bot.jpg ifi-micro-bl-left.jpg ifi-micro-bl-front.jpg

IEMatch (Off, High Sensitivity, Ultra sensitivity)
I didn't play around with this much, I did try the High sensitivity and the off one, I feel some differences in the blackness of the background just like I did in the nano, I leave this on almost all the time.

When going from High to ultra, after volume matching by ears, I feel that there is no difference whatsoever, if there is any it would be too small for me to catch with my current gears as I'm not an IEM user.

XBass + (Off, On)
Does it work? Yes!, Does it work Well? also yes.
I think it mostly does the work on the sub-bass as I feel the kick and rumble of the music much more when I have this on.

I think this feature works very well, although I would like one more level between on and off as I feel that the strong can be a bit on the strong side when left on all the time.
I'm not a bass addict and mostly content with the bass I get from the off set up.

However the implementation of this feature is excellent, I heard nothing weird going on in the bass while having this on, no distortion, no boominess and no softness to it.
The attack still remain strong just with more weight and loudness to it.

This feature is also really useful for playing games and movies, when you turn it on the sound of explosion, gunshot just becomes more powerful and more exhilarating.
I think the XBass is the most useful feature out of all the features the unit has.

3D + (Off, On)
Does it work? Yes!, Does it work well? depends.
This is where it can be a little experimental, I found that they approach this by doing something to the treble, which makes the presentation sound more lively and has a bigger scope of view.

For comparisons sake, we will using a clock as our 360 degree point of view:
When listening to Lighbulb sun from Porcupine tree, the guitar sounds like it's coming from the left around 10.30 in direction, with the 3D on, it sounds like it's coming from 9.30 in direction, plus the treble becomes more lively and brighter. I found that in the lightbulb sun record, it works quite well.

However when I play some Opeth or other metal songs, maybe due to the guitar distortion having a lot of distortion already, the brightness and extra liveliness makes the guitar sounds artificial, as it now sounds too distorted, it loses the cohesiveness and just doesn't sound good at all to me, at least for Metal.

I mostly have this feature off due to my music preference being mostly metal in this review, but I think if you listen to a lot of rock music, you might want to try this.

Extra notes on XBass & 3D (+ some analysis for use case):
Turning this on will skew the tonal balance as you may already know, but the amount changes depending on your listening level.

For example if you are allow level listener, I feel that the amount of boost that the XBass adds to the bass is most likely a fixed number, let's say + 6db.
This means that it will always add 6db regardless of your volume, for example:
You listen to music at 60db, + XBass + 6 db, so the bass boost is 10% in decibel
You listen to music at 80db, + XBass + 6 db, so the bass boost is 7.5% in decibel (you get less boost in percentage compared to 60db volume listening level)

Bottom line is, you get more bass boost at low volume level, and don't forget that decibel is a logarithmic measurement, 1db increase means 10 times louder in sound.
Similar thing could apply to the 3D Natrix, although I think that they work in a different way.

This is actually quite common in other portable amplifier as well, as they usually add a fixed amount to increase the intended frequency, usually the bass.

*notes:
If some has a better understanding on this than me, feel free to enlighten me in the comments, this is just my observation, I could be wrong.


Power Mode (Turbo, Normal, Eco)
This sets how much power the unit use on default, lets say if you use IEMs you may need to go with eco mode, as the ifi documentation say:
"Tip: With a new pair of IEMs/Headphones, ALWAYS start
with the volume no higher than 9 o' clock and with the
Power Mode set to ‘Eco’"
I mostly use the unit in normal power mode.

Polarity (-, +)
I had no idea about this one, I assume it might have something to do with the dynamic transition, I had it on all the time.

Filter (Standard, Minimum Phase, Bit Perfect)
I had it in bit perfect phase all the time, as most of my music is PCM, according to iFi:
"Tip: For PCM we recommend ‘Bit-Perfect’ for listening and
‘Standard’ for measurements. For DSD, select
Extreme/Extended/Standard to find the one that sounds
best for listening and ‘Standard Range’ for
measurements."

Pre-amplifier output
I didn't use this at all, so no comments here.

COMPARISONS
Fiio X7 II

The Fiio X7 II is a good little unit, it is a DAP that I'm currently using on the go now as I grew tired of stacking.
The X7 II I feel has a more neutral sound signature, the mids is a little more forward than the BL, where it is slightly recessed.

However after using both units, I'm confident to say that the Ifi Micro beats the X7 II in power and dynamic, the bass has a stronger attack and treble more defined.

Other than that I also feel that they have a different sound stage, I feel the Micro is more spherical compared to the X7 II, cohesiveness is really close, both are cohesive all the way through the frequencies, where the sound just envelop around you.

The question is, is the BL strong enough to make me give up the X7 II?
the answer is no, the X7 II just have way more functionality for an all in one device, no stacking around with cable, can act as transport, and the sound is really closely match.

Chord Mojo
I used to own one, and back in the day the chord mojo and the ifi Micro has a fierce rivalry!

I have sold my chord mojo probably last year, so I can't do a direct comparison on it, however the iFi micro BL has a different sound signature and feel from the mojo, the mojo was warmish and more lush, details are there but due to it's sound signature, the mojo can sound less detailed compared to the BL, I personally like the BL better, the mojo wins hands down with portability though, the BL is transportable but too bulky too use while on the move.

The BL to me just sounds cleaner and details pop a little bit better, soundstage is slightly bigger and sounds more cohesive.

iFi Nano BL
The nano is more geared and focused on music enjoyment that is fatigue free.

Due to this the the treble is more subdued compared to the Micro, where it can gat a bit exciting at times.
Both are smooth at the top, however one has more emphasis is brighter than the other, if you are very sensitive to treble, you may want to test the Micro before buying the unit.

For long hours use, it might be safer to get the nano if you are unsure about the Micro's treble.
Details, clarity, cohesiveness and bass tightness is superior on the Micro, the bass attack, mids naturalness has some upgrades too but not significant.

POWER OUTPUT / HEADPHONE PAIRING
This unit is extremely flexible, I have no doubt that it is powerful enough to power through everything from IEM to full sized, except maybe the HE-6, which I don't have so I can't test this for sure.

Meze 99 Classic
My on the go set up. I'm still using the small pads on my meze 99 classic as I think the bigger pads has more bass.
Good strong dynamic, with clear mids and controlled treble, bass attack is strong and punchy with good speed, it synergize well with the BL.

ifi-v281-meze99.jpg

Focal Utopia
My main gear at home, the BL powers it up perfectly, unlike the Nano BL where I can feel that my Utopia is not performing at its max, the Micro BL certainly brings out the potential of the headphone.
Cohesiveness and details are the strong point in this set up, you just hear everything in the music, from the guitar plucks, violin strokes, voice vibration, absolutely lots of information you can hear with this combo!

ifi-v281-utopia.jpg

Shozy Stardust
Clear sweet unoffensive sound with controlled treble and excellent bass for a small earbud, for a super lazy set up this works pretty well.
I mostly use this to watch movies, play games etc.

ifi-stardust.jpg

AS DAC
When used with my V281, along with my focal Utopia, The BL did an excellent job, the Violectric HPA V281 just takes cohesiveness, separation and attack to the next level, my utopia sounds very dynamic and smooth.
More natural sounding mid that sounds vivid and personal.
Treble sounds more refined, and controlled, very enjoyable to listen to.

Sound signature is very similar to using the BL asa standalone, this leads me to believe that the amp section of the BL is quite transparent.

ifi-v281.jpg

CONCLUSIONS
The Ifi Micro iDSD BL is an excellent unit, the main duty for this product for me is as transportable, you can leave the unit at your office at work and just use it everyday while doing some productivity work.

The sound quality for the price range is excellent, it has a lot of features which can be overkill sometimes, but you don't need to use it!

Battery life is good and accessories are pretty generous.
Pricing is good, considering all those extras above and it's performance, I found it well justified.
4.5 Stars
droido256
droido256
The size isnt that much of a problem, its smaller than I expected and its light, much lighter than it looks. I do agree all the switches and options can be a bit overwhelming at first.

SoundApprentice

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Feature set, Flexibility, Price to Performance
Cons: Questionable switches, Might be paying for unused features


Shortly after sending my iFi Audio Pro iCAN review unit back, iFi hit me up with its stealthy Micro iDSD BL (Black Label), a portable desktop DAC and pre-amp/headphone amp combo that packs a punch and goes head-to-head against the very popular Chord Electronics Mojo (If you see this Chord, I’d love a demo).

Much like the Pro iCAN, the iDSD BL is an iFi flagship product, but this time in its smaller portable/desktop Mirco line. Here again, iFi packs in strong feature sets bettered by trickle-down R&D and technology from iFi’s ultra-high-end parent company, Abbingdon Music Research, or AMR Audio.

You can read about all of the tech specs on iFi’s website, like the dual-core Burr-Brown DAC chips, custom Sanyo OP-Amps, and femto clock, so I’ll just get to the feedback you care about — user and listening impressions.

Unboxing Impressions

A relative newcomer to iFi products, I was happy to see the lesser-expensive iDSD BL comes well-packed in higher-end packaging with clean, minimalistic design and aesthetics like the Pro iCAN. It gives off the impression that you’re unboxing a much more expensive product. Inside, you’ll find a very comprehensive accessory set. Everything you need to put the iDSD BL to use is included: USB 3.0 cable, RCA cable, Optical/Toslink adapter, 3.5mm to 6.3mm headphone jack adapter, 3.5mm jumper, some other various USB adapters, a crushed velvet storage bag, a rubber mat to keep the iDSD BL from sliding around on various surfaces when in use, and two bands for securing the iDSD BL to your smartphone or DAP (you can even use the iDSD BL to charge your smartphone).

Despite its light weight, in hand, the iDSD BL has a sleek and solid feel. I’d say it’s comparatively robust next to products from JDS Labs and Schiit, and maybe a hair less robust than ALO and Chord’s offerings; however, I do have a couple of gripes. The black-on-black text on the chassis is hard to read, and the various recessed slide switches feel, well, cheap. In fact, the first time I slid the iEMatch switch into another position, the round plastic button popped off the switch post. The button easily went back on, but I’d prefer more solid switches on a unit at this price point. I can see these buttons easily popping off their posts if handled less that delicately when traveling. This nitpicking aside, the front panel toggle switches and volume pot operate nicely with good tactile feedback, and the overall look and feel of the device is quite pleasing.

As for being portable, yes, the 4800mAh lithium battery lets you use the iDSD BL on the go, but it’s long, narrow rectangular shape and overall length does make it rather awkward to carry. It’s approximately 1.5” longer than most standard smartphones when accounting for the volume knob and exposed inputs/outputs. In fact, it’s closer in size to the battery brick for my laptop, so this isn’t something I am tossing into a jacket pocket to use on the train each day. This becomes less of an issue if you carry a bag of some sort.

Sound Options

Perhaps the greatest traits of the iDSD BL are its flexibility and versatility. From sensitive IEMs to more power-hungry headphones, mixing and matching the Power Mode (Eco -
2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm; Normal - 5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm; Turbo - 10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm) and proprietary iEMatch (Off, High-Sensitivity, Ultra-Sensitivity) settings allows you to dial in the right amount of power and gain to drive your music with balance and authority.

Because of a strong channel imbalance on the volume pot of my review unit, and my preference for lower listening levels while working, I found these variable settings incredibly useful for balancing the volume output for all of the headphones and IEMs in my collection. For example, I’m back to primarily using the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home as my home-office headphone, which was comfortably driven in just the Eco/High-Sensitivity settings, meaning the more powerful settings will get deafeningly loud.

Furthering its versatility, the iDSD BL also benefits from two proprietary circuitries — Xbass+ and 3D+ — that help correct some common headphone and loudspeaker shortcomings: sub-bass and imaging. While only “on” or “off” via two front panel toggle switches, instead of being active in varying degrees like on the Pro iCAN, these are still very usable EQ-like features.

XBass+ is iFi’s solution to bass deficiency in reference headphones and loudspeakers. Through analog signal processing circuitry, XBass+ provides a noticeable, although sometimes intrusive, bass boost. Much like my experience with the Pro iCAN, I was mostly pleased with how the bass boost integrated into the timbre of the amp, but results obviously vary by recording and headphone/loudspeaker selections. XBass+ nicely boosts the deep bass regions of the Sennheiser HD650, Beyerdynamic Amiron Home, and Focal Elear on bass-light recordings. With bass-shy headphones like my old AKG K701 or the updated Q701, XBass+ adds some welcomed warmth and impact. On the other hand, the dark and mysterious AudioQuest NightHawk (review), and the Fostex TH-600 gets boomy with Xbass+. The takeaway here is that you just have to experiment; XBass+ is not a set-it-and-forget-it option.

While XBass+ helps correct bass deficiency, 3D+ helps correct sound stage deficiencies, like that closed-in feeling when the sound is stuck right between your headphones. In other words, 3D+ was designed to create an “out-of-head” headphone listening experience that emulates listening to well-placed loudspeakers in a room.

Much like the XBass+ feature, 3D+ is rather hit-or-miss. I particularly liked this feature on the Pro iCAN, which had varying degrees of impact. On the iDSD BL, 3D+ is again “on” or “off” only, which limits its usability. In particular, I found 3D+ to work well with live recordings and videos, like Ben Howard’s 2015 Glastonbury Festival performance, where it widens the sound stage and makes for a more cohesive and deeper blending of sound. Testing it with the tracks I used in my Pro iCAN review, the 3D+ function again worked well enough with jazz classics like John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” where instrument localization is very apparent and added depth and dimension enhances the experience. Admittedly though, some tracks get too busy and displaced with 3D+ engaged, especially when it has adverse effects in the treble region, injecting a strange artificial tizzy-ness to cymbals or an intrusive reverb effect to the entire track. Here again, it’s a feature that’s easily experimented with. Does it truly emulate properly positioned loudspeakers? No, but with the right tracks, it does make welcomed improvements to that “stuck in your head” feeling during long headphone sessions.



Toned Up

Coming from the Pro iCAN, which was surprisingly neutral and precise, I was expecting more of the same from the iDSD BL, but I was met instead with a tuning tipped towards warmer tones and marginally less precision in detail retrieval and treble clarity. It seems while the iDSD BL still seeks transparency, its tone plays it a bit safe, emphasizing more body in the bass and mids, probably for more versatility with headphone/IEM selection. I suspect this is also in part due to the tuning of the dual-core Burr-Brown DAC chips. For what it’s worth, the iDSD BL sounds more like the tube modes of the Pro iCAN than the solid-state section.

In comparison to my JDS Labs Objective2 headphone amp and OL DAC (review), the iDSD BL offers more bass impact and dimension, even without the XBass+ and 3D+ features engaged. However, the JDS stack takes the edge in neutrality and clarity, which is a touch dry in comparison, but perhaps more sonically accurate. I also still use an older ALO “The Island” at work, which comes off as much warmer and textured in comparison to both.

Overall, my takeaway is that the iDSD BL is relatively crisp and clear, with good bass impact and timbre, a touch rounded in the mids, but with nice dynamics, good space and dimension, and the right amount of treble and resolution for it to be hi-fi without being analytical.

Accuracy and neutrality are what come to mind with the Pro iCAN, which simply lacks a notable “house sound.” The iDSD BL moves a step back from its big sibling, adding a hint of coloration that gives it a touch of flavor for your desktop and portable needs. Add in the simple sound tweaks possible with XBass+ and 3D+ and you have a small amp/DAC that dishes out a darn good listening experience.

Parting Thoughts

Lastly, it’s well worth noting that the iDSD BL’s flexibility doesn’t stop with power and tone controls for your headphone listening sessions. The iDSD BL can serve as a DAC and pre-amp for your powered monitors, where XBass+ and 3D+ also work. It accepts USB and digital coax inputs (and optical/Toslink with the provided adapter) for greater input versatility. It natively plays all DSD, DXD, and PCM files, including Quad-DSD256, Octa-DSD512, and bit-perfect Double-DXD and PCM768. Consider all this on top of the innumerable headphones and IEMs that can be driven efficiently with the various Power Mode and iEMatch configurations and it’s clear that the iDSD BL offers scalability, flexibility, and performance well beyond its weight class.

kamikaziH2Omln

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Swiss Army DAC, Rich Sound, Portability
Cons: No definitive EQ, Silence Fade In at beginning of playback
Who Am I?

I’m a 21-year-old student studying electrical engineering. I’ve been immersed in the world of high fidelity audio for a long while now and been part of the Head-Fi community now for over 5 years. With the support of the community, I have had the opportunity to attend a few meet ups, listen to various Amplifiers, DACs, and DAPs, and write reviews to contribute back! I love seeing the changes that have brought to the market, and I hope that the constant innovation and competition in the market drives better products at lower prices. I always find myself learning something new in these reviews that I write, and I hope you can learn something new too!


Equipment Used

Sources:
  • Schiit “Modi 2 Uber” Digital-to-Analog Converter
  • Labs “Objective 2” Amplifier
  • iDSD Black Label
  • Supermini DAP
IEMs:
  • Heir Audio 3.ai
  • HiFiMan RE-600 “Songbird”
Headphones:
  • Sennheiser HD 6XX
  • Sennheiser Momentum Over Ear (v1.0)

Disclaimer:

I was not incentivized by any means from iFi to write this review. I am not sponsored by iFi Audio and my opinions on the unit I was provided are my own. At this point in time, the iFi iDSD Black Label provided for this review has already been returned, and is in the possession of iFi Audio.

The opinions expressed in this review are my own. They may not be necessarily what another may perceive. Audio is subjective and your experience will differ from mine in some form. Don’t take my opinion alone to come to a decision on this unit or any unit that I have reviewed. I thoroughly believe that the best way to understand a product in the event you cannot test it is through multiple sources. Luckily for the iDSD Black Label, there are plenty of reviews to read!

I wanted to extend my thanks to the iFi Team for giving me the opportunity to express my opinion on this device, and I hope it helps you, the reader, to better understand this piece of equipment, even if you can’t see it for yourself.


Packaging and Initial Impressions:

One of my favorite things about iFi is their care in packaging. In my opinion, iFi-Audio are what other companies should strive to be in terms in packaging. They present their product not only with a fashionable and professional manner, but also in a very functional way as well. The packaging isn’t space inefficient (one of my biggest pet peeves), and sturdy. The box design hasn’t noticeably changed between this and other previous products they have released (the iUSB comes to mind personally). The packaging served me very well when setting up between dorm room, home, and visiting a friend.

The boxes came compartmentalized with many little boxes with an assortment of many cables, adapters, and other necessities for this Swiss Army Knife of a DAC/AMP. Among these cables include a USB 3.0 USB Male to Female connector from the iDSD to computer, a RCA stereo cable (male to male), SPDIF adapter, and various other adapters to meet other needs, such as pre-amping and using the iDSD as a DAC. Although these cables aren’t exactly the most “premium” in terms of build quality, they are certainly not poorly made either. However, when spending $549.99 (market price July 2017) on an item such as the iDSD, it isn’t uncommon to already have premium variants of these cables already. However, the inclusion of these cables were thoughtful and worked well in practice. Although they wouldn’t necessarily be my “end game” in cabling, it definitely would be something I could appreciate when in a bind.

But all of this aside, the design of the iDSD Black Label shouldn’t come as a drastic surprise to anyone familiar with iFi-Audio. This design is tried and true staple of iFi; using this design for years now, going all the way back to the iCAN. It isn’t the most aesthetically crazy designs on the market, however it makes up what it lacks in fashion in utility, both in size and accessibility. Being an incredibly powerful unit for a variety of reasons in a small package as well as being rack mountable (up to 4 units?!) on the iFi iRack, it seems that the design isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Power and Connectivity:

Oh boy, talking about connectivity options on this guy is a doozy. I’m sure that, no matter how much I write out on this, I’ll miss something in some way or another. The iDSD Black Label is so expansive in its connectivity options that it often feels unfair when many people refer to it only as a DAC/AMP since it can do so much more. It can serve any headphone or IEM under the sun with ease. LCD2? No problem, crank up the power mode (gain) to “turbo” and rock out. Got some Noble Savants? Easy peasy. Dial down the power mode, and set the iEMatch accordingly.

Inputs wise, you have three options; USB digital, SPDIF/ Toslink digital, and 3.5mm Analog. Additionally, you get three output options; SPDIF/ Toslink digital, RCA output, and ¼ in (6.3mm) headphone analog out, all in one compact package. To further the insanity, this little guy is capable of handling DSD512, PCM768, and DXD2x. While being able to use all of these capability, is nice, it is critical to remember that not all devices or software support these bitrates and container types. Certain games (CS:GO comes to mind) will refuse to output sound when set beyond 192 kHz. Additionally, certain programs will refuse containers such as DSD and DXD (iTunes, I’m looking at you). With more “exotic” file types, you may finding yourself having to put a little extra effort in to squeeze out that extra data. I know that many praise JRiver for being able to handle the majority of the aforementioned file types, and you may find yourself drifting towards this media player as your musical journey progresses. This isn’t a fault towards iFi by any means.

Connecting to all devices with the iDSD BL seemed to work flawlessly. Windows 10 was accepted without special drivers, Android (v 7.0) was no issue, and even Mac OS X Snow Leopard was without issue. The only “catch” was that the sample rate options that I had on the Android OS was limited to what Poweramp decided was appropriate for that day. I very well could have missed the options where I could change that but I wasn’t able to for the love of this review. Regardless, although I constantly praise the sound quality of the LG V20, carrying the iDSD wasn’t remotely a fair competition. Sure, I can gloat about how much I love to sprint, but put me next to Usain Bolt, and you now have an understanding of the significant rift these two devices have. But I’ll leave those details for later on.

I tried my hand at a detailed table this time around, and these were pulled directly from the manufacturer at this link here.


Sound

I actually had the pleasure of listening and reviewing the new EL Stack right before I was able to listen to the iFi iDSD BL. With their surprisingly close price points, with the iDSD sitting at $549.99, the EL AMP stack sits at a combined $528.00. With impressions fresh in mind and notes on hand, I was very happy to set these two solutions against each other.

However, you may say, “Hey, hey, hey! Hold up just a second! Those two solutions are completely different! One is restricted to a desktop with dedicated power and the other has modularity and portable form factor! How on earth are you going to compare them?” Before I had learned about the unit a little bit and received it for review, I would have absolutely agreed with you. From a spreadsheet, one would assume that the iDSD would get slaughtered in comparison to a two piece set. However, what makes this review and hobby fun is that, until you something a listen, anything can happen.

I chose a few songs that I thought were different but demanding. However, I wanted to make sure that these songs were not only demanding for the sake of being demanding, but chose a few carefully to highlight different frequency ranges. These pieces included:

· Magic (feat. Nile Rodgers and Brandy) – Mystery Skulls (320 kbps MP3)

· Burning Bright – Riot Games (320 kbps MP3)

· Very Early- Bill Evans (11289 kbps DSD 128/ 5217 kbps FLAC)

· Atlantis (Must Die! Remix) – Popeska (320 kbps MP3)

Since I had the Schiit 2 Uber and Objective 2 combo available on hand, I had used those for direct comparison with the iDSD BL on hand. I utilized an RCA switch and a program called “Audioswitcher” to switch between each source respectively whilst isolating each source from interference from each other by being directly connected.


Treble

The song that put the most emphasis on treble out of the selections I critically listened to was “Burning Bright” by Riot Games and “Very Bright” by the Bill Evans Trio, and is the focus of this section.

Starting off with “Burning Bright”, this song was chosen due to its frequent instrumentally chaotic sections. With bright vocal interludes amid the instrumentals, this piece is often a challenge to be properly presented in a couple of spots. Listening to the iFi unit compared to the JDS Labs offering and the Schiit Modi 2U and O2, the most apparent and definitive differences between them in the treble regions was instrumental separation efficiency. The vocals were cleaner, the instruments were more distinct, and the overall sound was less veiled.

However, when I played Bill Evans… oh… oh man… the reason for why people find the iDSD BL to be a game changer became quite apparent. Although the majority of this song hangs out in the midrange (and stay tuned, since we’ll talk more about this soon), the drums in Bill Evan’s “Very Early” are too perfect to possibly forget mentioning.

Without giving too much of a history lesson, the Bill Evans Trio was a jazz group that were predominant in the 1970s, known particularly for their modal and cool jazz genres. For those unfamiliar with both of these genres, modal jazz is a style that is based off of different “jazz modes”, which is well explained here (http://www.jazzstandards.com/theory/modal-jazz.htm). Cool jazz alternatively is characterized by relaxed tempos and lighter overarching tone, which contrasted the intense and complex bebop style that presided it. But, why does this matter? Understanding the genre, you can understand why it is a very ideal for critical listening. With the simplistic soundscape, the instrumentals are incredibly revealing of the faults of a given sound system. On this track, the differences between the different systems became stark. Looking back on my previous reviews, this type of music was a missed opportunity that won’t be overlooked in the future.

Self-reflection aside, this piece was a fresh slap in the face, showing why the iDSD BL is a crowd favorite. Although the only other DSD device I had available was the HiFiMan Supermini (which the iDSD defiantly trampled), I actually had multiple copies of this piece in varying formats.

For the treble, I focused on the drum kit, particularly the crash and rides. The experience was… fantastic. It was as perfect, no more than perfect, than what you could as for in the given. To be more precise about the experience, a lot of people like to describe the experience of getting nicer headphones as “removing the veiling sheet between the artist and the listener”. Using the iDSD BL, the treble was unforgivingly transparent, and the experience was like upgrading headphones all over again, but on a much more personal level. Instead of things sounding cleaner, the sound was crisp, true, and rolled off more naturally. It was surprising, and I was grinning the way any good surprise makes you do. Sure the EL Stack was good, but it felt less… well… special when compared side to side.


Midrange

I hate to drone on about the same song over and over, but the proverbial “meat” of the Bill Evans piece wasn’t the Treble- no, not remotely. Rather, the focus of this piece was centered around the midrange, with the musings of Bill Evans on the Piano and upper midrange and Eddie Gomez on the Bass covering the lower midrange and bass. In one word, I would describe the iDSD as lush. From Merriam-Webster, the term “lush” means, “appealing to the senses; opulent, sumptuous” or to be characterized by an abundance. I choose this term carefully, as… well, it is hard to describe sound to someone.

However, the iDSD BL has a special way of sounding incredibly wide, luxuriously smooth, and particularly personal. The piano from Bill Evans is fully bodied and clean while Eddy Gomez’s bass fills in the lower registers with equal but subdued presence. The midrange was so sweet that it brought back fond memories of seeing McCoy Tyner live with my father when I was roughly 10 years old. I honestly can’t remember the sound quality of the set that night, but for a fleeting moment I escaped reality and imagined it to sound like what I am hearing now.

Bass

The piece that I used to pay particular attention to bass was “Atlantis (Must Die! Remix)”. This is because this piece is not only busy and aggressive in the low range, but also extends deep into the bass. It’s a piece that I’ve heard too many cheaper, more affordable systems screw up this piece, often getting lost and getting muddy in the lower extremities.

Although the O2+Modi 2U was a surprisingly well handled combo, it was audibly dwarfed by the iDSD alone. The O2 sounded thinner and fatigueingly sharp, whereas the iDSD was significantly more bodied at the lower extremities. Additionally, the iDSD was more pronounced and instrumentation clarity was clearly in favor of the iDSD when compared to the O2+ Modi as well as the JDS EL Stack. It is a treat listening to this song with both the JDS Stack and iDSD. From the various amps I have tried, they are both the first sets at the cheapest cost that provide a bass experience that not only physically shakes my Sennhesier HD 6XX, but does so cleanly and with finesse. I’m not one to encourage going deaf, but with both sets you’ll find yourself hurting your ears before you start criticizing either set for clipping, which can provide for some really entertaining listening sessions.


3D Matrix + and XBass

One of the biggest things that I wish that the JDS EL Stack had that I still haven’t found frequently in many high end DACs or Amplifiers would be the availability of an equalizer, similar to what is available on a lot of the portable Fiio options. Although iFi didn’t exactly provide a full EQ to tamper with, they took a different but similar step with the 3D+ and XBass switches on the device. It’s funny how out of all the million frills that this device has, I am easily the most fond of these two switches. I am a particularly sporadic listener and having the modularity to change the music, no matter how small, is a huge perk to me as a listener compared to the other options out there.

The 3D Matrix + (3D Holographic Sound®) switch is one that, for lack of better description, widens the perceived soundstage of the output without perceived distortion. Reading other reviews, I notice this feature is more often than not overlooked, which is a disservice to this small but wonderful switch. However, it is hard to elaborate when not much information really exists about the finer details of this process. In my experience however, I find the soundstage to be significantly wider, at a cost of a hair of clarity loss.

XBass is a function that adds a mild bump in the lower registers during playback. Though it isn’t the most “mind blowing” or novel feature to be released on a DAC/ AMP, saying that I don’t appreciate it would be an understatement. The execution of this switch is perfect, providing a bump that is noticeable, but never overbearing to my experience. My greatest mistake I think I made in writing this review was my carelessness to neglect getting measurements on the actual differences that this switch makes in playback.

Regardless, listening to music on my 6XX, I found myself keeping both switches toggled on almost all the time. Sure it isn’t a “perfect” reproduction of the mix that made it onto the CD/ WEB based release, but the tuning that these switches provide perfectly satisfy those tiny itches that I’ve longed for that many solutions don’t have to offer. Being able to actively tune older, less bass aggressive pieces to match more modern mixing techniques and tendencies at the flip of a switch is fantastic. However, giving a little cleaner “bump” in the lower registers gives me an experience that I could only imagine the engineers of Beats would dream of. That coupled with the enveloping sound of the 3D Matrix, and I know that I’ll be definitely reminiscing the experience I had till I can get my own iDSD or equivalent offering.


Conclusions

This was easily the most difficult review that I have ever done. Not because it was a product I didn’t like, not because it was a product that I was indecisive about, nor was it a product that didn’t have a lot to talk about. Rather, it was quite the opposite. I have never had the conundrum where I didn’t know which angle to approach a product. But the iDSD BL is a device that does an awful lot, and it does an awful lot well. There was a lot to talk about, but I still think that there is plenty that I missed. Like every product I look at, I recommend getting a second persons option, but with the iDSD BL, even more so. With all the things it can do, I am sure to have missed something, and it is always good to have a second, third, and fourth opinion to weigh in.

Conclusively, I love the EL Stack, and I love my Modi + O2 combo, but using the iDSD was took the listening experience to a new level. Metaphorically, if the O2 or EL Combo was like looking at a beautifully shot professional landscape shot, the iDSD BL was like seeing the scenery in person. Sure, the professional shot is incredible, but there is something inexplicable about seeing a breathtaking view for yourself. Realistically, the differences are minute, but if you are looking at amplifiers in this price bracket, with a little research, you already know that returns on audio quality don’t often scale with price. However, the distinguishing factors between the tested tracks, such as spaciousness and accuracy, made the iDSD BL feel unusually deserving of the stark price difference that these two setups have.

Between the three setups that I had used frequently (Modi 2U+ O2, JDS EL Stack, and iDSD BL), the iDSD was easily my favorite. It had too much to offer on top of its top-notch playback that made it something special. Unfortunately for you as the buyer, iFi has provided so much that something about it will eventually make you consider it. If you get the opportunity at a meetup or at a store, absolutely get a listen, but don’t be surprised if your wallet is $550 weaker when you get home.

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phthora
phthora
Nicely done! Great review!

And I see that the nub has fallen off of your preamp switch as well. I lost mine after maybe two weeks of stacking my DAP with the BL. That has been my biggest complaint about the Black Label, so I guess that's pretty telling.

Dobrescu George

Reviewer: AudiophileHeaven
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.


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 .


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




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.



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:















Packaging:

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















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.



- 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




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




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











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.





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

















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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analogsurviver

Headphoneus Supremus
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
 
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R channel inverted on the oscilloscope
 
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L ch, R ch inverted and their difference signal
 
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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
 
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IMG_20170410_130402.jpg
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
c )  96kHz 24bit
 
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d ) 176.4 kHz 24bit
 
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e ) 192 kHz 24 bit
 
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f ) DSD64
 
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g ) DSD128
 
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IMG_20170410_130048.jpg
 
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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.
rolli1949
earfonia
earfonia
Good review! I never noticed of the phase issue during my review of the BL. One day I will check my Silver iDSD. Thanks!
analogsurviver
analogsurviver
Thank you for your kind comment.  I congratulate you on your excellent review !
 
This phase issue in BL and original micro and nano when dealing with PCM over USB has prompted me to check all my "digititis" - CD players, CD-R recorders, internal sound cards on PC and laptop, USB sound card, etc. I will have to check if I have a commercially available test CD with anything resembling a square wave on both channels (IIRC there should be an absolute polarity test using aperiodic square wave ...) - otherwise I will have to make a square wave CD-R recording and/or recording using Korg MR series, both native PCM and DSD bounced down to PCM. Multiplied by USB vs SPDIF, that is quite some work ahead !

CoffeeDog

New Head-Fier
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!
Y
yoyorast10
How did you get rid of the silence?
CoffeeDog
CoffeeDog
That's a good question. I haven't noticed it for some time, and had forgotten about that initial silence. I think it was likely due to the player I was using and that an update resolved the issue. I listen to the BL without any limitations now, and am still loving it!

OSiRiSsk

100+ Head-Fier
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, sound, power

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.
 
 
Conclusion

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:

gto88

1000+ Head-Fier
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.
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Tobias89

Previously known as ojy89.
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

 

DigitalCitizen
DigitalCitizen
@Tobias89 Did adjusting the IEMatch settings do anything to change the sound of the A12 significantly? Hearing that the sound might be thicker or warmer than the Mojo kind of scares me. The mojo was already unlistenable on my ciems.
Tobias89
Tobias89
@DigitalCitizen I had another listen to the BL at Stereo just now, and I take back what I said. I find it be slightly "thinner" and drier compared to the Mojo. That's on my A12. Sorry for the confusion :x
 
Personally I didn't find the Mojo to be thick/lush, but to be pretty "neutral" and balanced, being not too lush yet not too clinical. The iDSD retains some of its predecessor's dry/clinical signature, but adds that touch of musicality.
 
I didn't notice any major changes in the sound of my A12 regardless of the IEMatch settings.
DigitalCitizen
DigitalCitizen
Hmm alright than you for the comparrison! I'll try and audition it soon.

monster2046

New Head-Fier
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

miceblue

Headphoneus Supremus
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/





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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.
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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 SOUNDTM"). 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! : )
jeffhawke
jeffhawke
My first question was answered by watching your excellent unboxing video :)
miceblue
miceblue
@gr8soundz
Thank you! I tried to change the buffer settings a bit, but I couldn't find one that worked out for my computer.

@jeffhawke
Thank you for the kind words!
You firstly need the appropriate media player. Audirvana+ or JRiver Media Center support the upsampling feature. In A+, open the preferences, go to the Audio Filters tab, click on the DSD button and set the option to DSD256. In JRMC, go to the options, Audio tab, Settings section, DSP & output format, check the Output Format tab, click on the Output Format tab, and select 4xDSD in DoP format from the drop down menu under Output Encoding.
jeffhawke
jeffhawke
I tried Audirvana+ for a while, but I was not happy with its library import and management features. I am in fact about to give JRiver a try, so I will definitely follow your advice and see how it pans out.
Thank you!

noobandroid

1000+ Head-Fier
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.
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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

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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.jpg2nd.jpgstream.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.

proedros

Headphoneus Supremus
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.
 
 
 
20170228_170720.jpg
 
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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Tony1110
Tony1110
Didn't you like Athena any better using this?

BillsonChang007

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: sound quality, balanced, no channel imbalance, versatile with anything, power
Cons: needs a more visible volume indicator, 3D+ can sound bright
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Why I love iFi and their products
 
iFi have been known, reputably for their amazing amplifiers and DAC. Ranging from Nano to Micro to Retro and the most recent addition, the Pro line, iFi have an amplifier and DAC for different purposes and price ranges. The nano for on-the-go and affordability, Micro for transportability, Retro for the speakers and Pro for the extremes. Having tried their products, mostly the Micro line which they first set-off with, it never disappointed me in terms of sound quality. Throughout the years, listening to recommendations by users and reviews is what really brought them where they are now, being featured on the Head-Fi gift guide and not to mention other reputable audio review websites and it is not one, not two, but most of their products are outstanding.
 
My favorite product that they have created so far is the Micro iDSD. It started back in 2014 where they started a thread in Head-Fi asking opinions on what this Micro iDSD really should be and from there, they take everyone’s opinions into consideration and kept the crowd updated throughout from hardware to software and the troubles that they ran into. When they introduced the Black Label edition of the Micro iDSD, I was all hyped and even more when they announced a tour for it! A huge thanks to iFi for adding me into the tour for this iFi Micro iDSD BL!
 
I really appreciate how the iFi team gave the packaging a formality and it represents the company very well. What came with the original Micro iDSD is very similar with absence of a black carrying pouch which is no big deal but considering the Micro iDSD BL costs more at USD549 as opposed to USD499 for the original Micro iDSD puts be in doubt [both prices excludes taxes].  Other than that, it comes with instruction manual, 3.5mm to 3.5mm standard jack, 2x silicone bands, angled male type A to female type A USB, wired USB Female type A to female type B converter, left and Right RCA cable, 4x rubber feet, 3.5mm to 6.3mm jack converter, jumper, USB Female type A to female type B adapter and a piece of rectangular rubbery “thingy” that probably used for when stacking a phone on top to avoid frictions. With exception of the carrying pouch, the Micro iDSD BL comes with pretty much everything and there’s nothing short of. I have been using the original Micro iDSD for more than 2 years now and I never see the need to carry the pouch along anyway. If anything, it makes the ports less accessible when inside thought it was genius to have a hole cut for the USB.
 
What's so cool about this BL
 
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The build and weight of both the editions are similar; all metal and weight is on the bulky side for such a small footprint but I think that’s how I would like it to be. Makes it sits properly on the table. As a proud Micro iDSD user for more than 2 years, I can safely say that, the unit is very durable considering I have not been nice to it partially because I am quite violent with gadgets. So no worries, go ahead, throw it in the backpack and rock but it probably won’t survive in the water thought. I have to say thought, thumbs up to the batman-like black finish with orange wordings that really stands out. However, good luck trying to read the unimportant feature lists at the bottom but really, it’s nothing important… or is it. Seriously thought, it is worded in black on a black casing. If anything, the original Micro iDSD’s volume knob is stiffer than the BL edition.
 
Not only does it look like Bruce Wayne’s multibillion techs but it also features like his utility belt. It is a DAC and amplifier that also works as a preamplifier that can power from the smallest earphones to THE giant Bane. There are three power mode namely Eco, Normal and Turbo. Personally, I do not find the need for “Turbo” for any headphones just yet as at Turbo, it outputs 4, 000mW @ 16 Ohm of power and I doubt there are any headphones that needs it with exception of a few such as the popular HifiMan HE-6. In normal and eco modes it outputs 1, 900mW @ 16Ohm and 500mW @ 8Ohm respectively. For most headphones, Eco mode is more than enough in my opinion. However, what about earphones and headphones with high sensitivity? There’s the IEMatch. It has two switches; high sensitivity (-12dB) and ultra-sensitivity (-24dB) which makes volume more adjustable or you can have it switched off. Do note that, avoid using IEMatch on other modes; Normal and Turbo. “It is like pressing the accelerator while applying brakes” – iFi. Other features include XBass+, 3D+, polarity (-/+), and Filter (Standard/Phase Minimum/Bit-Perfect). Oh, it also features as a Plan B power bank at the side but keep in mind that, the unit takes quite a while to charge up.  There is also a small LED light on top which determine the status of the unit. It has a built in gen 1 iPurifier into it as well and up to Normal mode, it can purely drain on USB or charge at the same time in eco mode. Information on these features can be found here.
 
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The main course
 
With all the Batman’s design and features aside, the sound quality itself is no joke either. I find it an amazing piece of amplifier and DAC combo. There’s perfectly no channel imbalance pass the 9’O Clock turn. While it is not as neutral as I expected it to be, it remains well balanced. The bass is tick tight and beats down to as deep as you could wish. Without the XBass, the bass is there but lacks the “bold”. The upper bass is what I like the most out of all as it has a good amount of weights and punches that anyone would appreciate. I personally find that the highs are a minute louder than the midranges and this result in a very fun and enjoyable sound. Throughout the listening experience, I find it entirely to be ultimately smooth, while attaining that speed on the punches at the same time, not missing any details. It just feels like you are driving on a Porsche at say 170kmph but you feel that the car is doing it effortlessly and that is how it feels like to listen to the Micro iDSD BL as a standalone.
 
I think that the XBass+ and the 3D+ is what actually saved the amplifier side of it. Starting with the XBass+, it really adds very notable amount of bass to it and fits the “basshead” category just nicely and at the same time, with the speed, and thumbs that is just so good and pleasant to enjoy with. Without the 3D+, the soundstage is pretty wide but the separations feel a little bit packed together. Flick the 3D+, it is as if the musician just immediately spread out themselves from a small stage to an opera theatre and for movies, you could better aware of the environment of the scene. There’s one trade-off thought. With the 3D+, the treble can spike up and especially with female voices, I find it a ted annoying with the B&O H6 and Brainwavz HM5 but if the XBass+ is on together with it, it soothes the treble by adding "bolds" to the whole sound making the treble less noticeable although it is still there. Darker headphones like the Mr. Speaker’s Mad Dog have no big deals with this.
 
I then connected the iDSD BL to Garage1217 Project Sunrise III w/ Amperex 6dj8 Orange edition and boy is there a huge improvement in comparison to the standalone without XBass+ nor 3D+. That said, the amplifier of the iDSD BL is great matched with the DAC but is rather average only. With the XBass+ thought, the iDSD BL have better bass in every spectrum than the tubes; speed, quantity, and depth. When both the XBass+ and 3D+’s running, the iDSD BL does stands pretty close to the tubes. The iDSD BL is definitely clearer but with the tubes thought, the soundstages, separations, and sound is just more “real” and so, so, so, slightly more airy. At high volumes [pass the 3’O clock], I find the iDSD BL losses its dynamic ranges and clarity, soundstages and separations gets a little mixed up. Not to worry thought, I doubt there’s a need to turn up the heat given there’s 3 different power mode.
 
As a pure DAC itself, I find the Micro iDSD BL to be extremely flat and literally have no flavors. It is like an ice cream cone; it doesn’t have much taste but add the ice cream on top and you get a delicious dessert. The Micro iDSD BL matches well with any ice creams [amplifier] and it will sound amazing. It is airy and very analytical. Plugging in for the first time, really tells you how much details have you been missing all along. Not to mention its capability to hit up to DSD512.
 
Now for the grand comparison. As Lex Luthor once said and I quote “God vs Man, Day vs Night”…
FullSizeRender.jpg
 
 
The BL edition is better than the original in a few ways, but in many ways, they are quite similar. Besides the obvious color differences, exterior wise, they are pretty much the same chassis with similar ports and switches. The difference lies within; the BL uses latest and higher end components, the 3D and XBass gets a nice upgrade and indeed worthwhile. As a standalone DAC/amp, I would say that the BL is smoother, warmer, more refined and the two switches at the front is a major step up from the original and distinctly a better unit than the original. Channel imbalances issues are non-existence on the BL pass the 9’ O Clock. At the end thought, if you already own the original edition, you are better off spending the money elsewhere like a separate amplifier. I personally find that when using the two as a sole DAC, I find both to have similar sound although the BL are more “stable” with the channel imbalance. That said, the original edition at $499 or even cheaper sometimes, is still a very good DAC/amp while the BL is for if you do not own neither and its really worth the extra 10% difference. The original edition is also more neutral in comparison to the BL as a DAC/amp combo.
 
Thank you for reading
 
The Micro iDSD BL is yet another amazing unit, I wish I could spend more time to enjoy with. I was the lucky winner of the Micro iDSD 2 years ago and I couldn’t be happier to be able to listen to the BL. It is amazing and it still did not fail to wow me away. I especially enjoy it with my B&O H6; it adds necessary warm and bass to it with the XBass+ and I can leave the 3D+ off while still getting the airy and separation I wanted. It’s truly a match made in heaven. I have never enjoyed the B&O headphone as much before despite it being my on-the-go headphone. Overall, it is very versatile with anything you throws at.
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beowulf
beowulf
Nice. Agree with most of your points. The 3D is not a gimmick and it does add a feeling of space, but only sometimes. Depending on the source it can make the sound a bit too bright/grainy/fatiguing.

The bass boost is well implemented tho. I almost never use it since the Z1R are already rich at that, but it's nice to have it.

Did you notice the lag when starting play? And pops on power on/off?
BillsonChang007
BillsonChang007
@beowulf thankss! Yea it did have pop sound on power but I think that is quite common on amplifiers [same to on-board soundcard on start up, phones, etc]. As for playback delay, it's also there but only at initial start-up and after maybe a min or two of not using it. I also find the lag slightly longer than the original. 
Adamora
Adamora
Folks, please do not forget to update the firmware of this device to the iFi_XMOS_V5.2B for it to have no delays whatsoever whilst using it as a pure desktop DAC/AMP
 
It was driving me insane using windows 10 until I found out it auto sleeps every bloody second to save power.

rafaelpernil

Head-Fier
Pros: Very smooth and natural sound, inmense versatility
Cons: None
To begin with, I would like to thank iFi for making this great tour and allowing some of us to test this product.
 
I've been enjoying my original micro iDSD since January 2015 and it is really a piece to love. Its spacious natural sound, so efortless and delivering confindently in the serious Hi-Fi range... It scaled up as my setup did, unleashing deeper layers of detail by lowering it's USB noise (data and power wise) with a micro iUSB3.0, providing better dynamics and even better stereo presentation.
 
To be honest, up to date, I am very happy with it. I tweaked my source (laptop) for lower latency thus outputing lower USB packet jitter, I adjusted the polarity of the components of my system for even better dynamics and so far everything pays for the efforts.
 
Having said that, my system isn't complete yet, my speaker amp is kind of a bottleneck in here. I measured its noise and it doesn't even reach a S/N ratio of 70dB (Whereas iUSB3.0 offers an S/N ratio of almost 154dB). However, it can prove many points using it as a differential tool for both units, iDSD and iDSD BL.
 
With no further adue, let's get into the review :D.
 
 
For those of you who already know iFi, there's some key differences in this package over old products:
 
-Rubber feet are smaller and have an iFi logo on it (Cool addition)
 
-All accessories are now separed in two white mate carton boxes with satin iFi logo on it. I like it, cleaner and easier to pack.
 
-The blue USB cable seems kind-of darker now. And slightly sturdier.
 
And for those of you who happen to be first meeting iFi products, let me just say this: They give an Apple-like experience for the unboxing, simple and elegant.
But for the fortune of us, they give a ton more of accessories, and to be honest, not bad at all. 

*Fun fact: Their blue USB cable is the second best USB cable I have at home and I assure you it provides a nice smooth sound. Excellent considering it's built in!*
 
Here I leave you some photos of the whole unboxing experience.
 
IMG_20170214_132012.jpg
 
IMG_20170214_132027.jpg
 
IMG_20170214_132037.jpg
 
IMG_20170214_132114.jpg
 
IMG_20170214_132138.jpg
 
IMG_20170214_130910.jpg
 
WARNING: Staring too much at the unit will seduce your mind with its attractiveness
 
Oh, here we are, look at that. Ain't that sexy? Sure this smokey black brother is catching your attention. (Yep, smokey as Johny Walker's Black Label, no coincidence)
Labeled with orange and dark grey silk-screen print, it seems iFi is playing elegant once more, but better refined. No coincidence whatsoever, it reminds me to this Black Label whiskey. I see a clear evolution throughout their products, specially in the design department this time, no detail has passed unnoticed, carefully improved from the bottom to the top.
 
 
IMG_20170214_131551.jpg
IMG_20170214_131047.jpg
 
IMG_20170214_131210.jpg
 
IMG_20170214_131152.jpg
 
 
IMG_20170214_131016.jpg
 
IMG_20170214_130955.jpg
 

Now, getting into the hardware, there are a lot of major changes, so let's recap:
 
-Digital engine upgraded - Op-Amp OV2028
 
-Analog section upgraded - Op-Amp OV2627
 
-Zero Jitter/Femto clock system upgraded for lower phase-noise/jitter
 
-3D+ and XBass+
 
-Ultra-low impedance OS-CON polymer capacitors and Panasonic audio-grade ECPU film capacitors.
 
I think it's going to be hard to discern where the improvements come from in each different scenario, but I'll do my best to find out what role plays each of these improvements in the final product. Let's call it reverse engineering :D
I could give you some technical details from their webpage, but that would it give this review any value, would it? So, instead of that, I'll sign to iFi philosophy, and let the ears do the talking. 
 
 

How does it perform solely as a DAC?
 
First, comparing it to the original iDSD, I sat both units in Direct mode (Fixed Line-Out at 2V) and swapped my Oyaide neo d+ Class S USB cable connected to a micro iUSB3.0 after each test. The results proved this new unit instantly superior to the old one, giving far better texture, a better detailed bass, smoother sound and a better defined stereo image. However, I found soundstage better on the original iDSD, but maybe it is just a matter of time, to burn-in the new BL unit. I suspect improvements mainly come from improved capacitors, lower jitter and due to its improved analog section.
By its own, without comparison, I would say it's one of the easiest DACs to listen I have tested. I listened to hours of music without noticing any disturbance in the sound. Which, by the way, happened to me sometimes with my original iDSD, sounding a little bit uncontrolled at highs.
 
IMG_20170214_130628.jpg
 
IMG_20170215_133324.jpg
 
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IMG_20170214_131237.jpg
 
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How dows it perform as a DAC-Amp?
 
Well, I did some comparisons to original iDSD with the same source and the same blue cable and found out some interesting results. I used my micro iUSB3.0 as power supply and USB hub for both units:
 
At first I equated the volume using a sonometer app and a 1kHz test tone and Black Label required more volume to reach same decibels. Which are great news, we have better gain control now!
 
 *NOTE: I haven't used the Oyaide cable because when swapping, I would have to turn off the DAC, turn it on again and readjust the volume to  get it powered via USB, where the micro iUSB3.0 helps with its 0.1uV noise floor*
 
Taking into account the headphone amp, there's a major leap forward. A very significant difference, fixing a lack of bass texture and micro detail. I noticed a smoother sound, slightly better tone wise,
with much better controlled highs, providing a solid image. It sounds more natural, with better texture and dynamics. Overall, very cohesive. But I would say original iDSD has a bigger soundstage.
 
IMG_20170211_152357.jpg
 
 
 
What about digital filtering?
 
I perceived a lesser degree of improvement when comparing straight to USB port with iUSB3.0 as source. It seems this overhauled version has lower jitter and better filtering. A very good job!
 
 
And now, talking about XBass+, there is also a very clear improvement. Bass boost is much more noticeable and fits quite nicely with many tracks. 3D Holographic + on the counterpart sounds slightly
more unrealistic, a very nice addition nonetheless.
 
 
 
Sincerely I would love to keep this unit with me. It sounds so great I don't wan't to stop music. It sounds so great I don't even have to worry about audio.
 
Thanks for reading me, I hope you liked the review!
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Yethal

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Extremely versatile, impressive power output, lots of sound customization options
Cons: First two seconds of every track are muted, slight channel imbalance at lower volume, bulkier and heavier than a portable unit should be
Intro
 
I wanted to start this review off with a Swiss Army knife joke but it looks like several Head-Fiers have already did that so in a futile attempt to be both funny and original I’ll start off with a comic.ifiaudioname.jpg
                                                   I'm 99% sure this is how it went down
 
I’d like to sincerely thank Hoomairah Atchia-Rawat from iFi Audio for choosing me for the Review Tour as well as Mateusz Przychodzień of Forza Audioworks for lending me his personal iDSD BL unit for evaluation. I was not paid to write this review and (unfortunately) I did not get to keep the unit. I did have a lot of fun writing this so there's that.
 
Product description
 
So what the iDSD BL actually is? Well, the iFi’s own website calls it “the world’s most powerful DSD/PCM/DXD Battery-powered DAC”. However I feel that calling the iDSD a DAC is doing it disservice as this device can do so much more than just convert ones and zeroes into an analogue waveform. So from now on I’m going to refer to the iDSD as a USTAB, a “Universal Soldier of The Audio Battlefield”. I believe this acronym reflects the nature of the iDSD BL much more accurately than “DAC/amp combo” or a “portable amp”.
To explain in detail the thought process behind this name let’s talk about all functionalities of this little black box.
 
Universal-soldier-1992-03-g.jpg
Jean-Claude Van Damme with head-mounted iDSD BL, 1995
 
 
  1. DAC / Headphone Amp combo
  2. DAC only (with both USB and S/PDIF inputs)
  3. Headphone Amp only
  4. DAC / Preamp
  5. Preamp only
  6. USB to S/PDIF converter
  7. Powerbank
 
 
  1. Speaker Amp
  2. Coffee maker
 
To underline the “Universal” part of the acronym even further, performance of the individual sections of the iDSD BL can be fine-tuned by the user.
  1. The DAC has three distinct digital filter and can reverse the polarity of the digital signal.
  2. The amp section has three levels of gain (nine if you multiply it by IEMatch settings), bass boost and iFi’s proprietary 3D Sound.
  3. The RCA outs on the back can output both fixed and variable volume.
I’ll talk about all of these functionalities in more detail a little later on.
Box
 
Subtle, yet elegant design, with product shots on the top and side of the box with USTAB's specs on the bottom. Aesthetically pleasing, recyclable and stylish. I wouldn’t mind displaying it on a bookshelf like a Lego set for my guests to admire.
 
Box.jpg
 
 
More important than the box are its contents and here’s where iDSD BL’s USTAB nature shows up again. A lesser company would include just a USB cable and a 6.3mm adapter but not iFi.
No, the British company wants their customers to be prepared for every type of audio combat scenario and that’s why in the iDSD BL box contains:
 
iDSD BL unit
USB 3.0 type A male to female cable (1m long)
USB type B to type A female to female adapter
Another USB type B to type A female adapter ( a shorter one)
6.3mm to 3.5mm jack adapter
Toslink to mini Toslink adapter
RCA cable (0.5m long)
3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect
Rubber covers for the RCA jacks
Four stick-on rubber feet
Two rubber bands for attaching the iDSD to a portable source
Cloth pouch for storing the iDSD
Silicone pad
 
Packagecontents.jpg
 
 
My only gripe with the USTAB’s arsenal is that it does not include a Micro-USB OTG or an Apple Camera Connection Kit despite being marketed as a smartphone-compatible device. But that is a very minor issue, overall I am really impressed by the amount of accessories included in the box.
 
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Oh iFi Audio, you didn't have to
 
Additional 50 points to iFi audio for including this note in the box. It serves no practical purpose aside from making the iDSD owners feel loved by the company. It's a simple gesture but it works.
 
Device itself
 
Front of the device houses the headphone output, the volume knob, a 3.5mm audio input and switches for the XBass and 3D Sound. Unusually for a portable device a 6.3mm jack is used instead of a more common 3.5mm connection but iFi includes an appropriate adapter in the box so that shouldn’t be a problem. The potentiometer is wonderfully smooth to operate and the switches are sturdy enough to not be turned by accident so overall, great job. One issue that should be pointed out though is that the volume marker on the potentiometer is rather hard to see (a black notch on black background). iFi, please put a dab of paint in a contrasting color on the notch to make it more visible. That’s the only improvement I could ask for.
 
On the back of the device we can find: USB used for connecting the USTAB to a PC or a mobile source, a pair of analog RCA jacks and a combo coaxial/optical input/output RCA plug. The combo RCA plug works as an optical or coaxial input when no USB is connected and as a coaxial only output when USB is connected, thus making the iDSD an USB to S/PDIF converter when the situation calls for one.
USB port of the iDSD BL is unique among portable DACs. While all other products happily use the micro USB type B connectors, the USTAB not only uses a full size type-A plug, it uses a male USB type-A plug! Not gonna lie, I was very sceptical about this. What’s wrong with good ol’ micro USB type B? Well, lots of things actually. Micro USB connectors are unreliable, fragile, and easily broken. Also, DACs which use micro USB connectors require their own custom micro-USB to micro-USB cables.
 
So, how do you connect the iDSD BL to a smartphone? Easily, using a USB OTG adapter (or Apple Camera Connection Kit if you’re an iPhone user). And you know what? This is genius. Think about it. OTG adapters (and CCK) can be found in pretty much any electronics store. They don’t need to be custom made or imported from China. And the connection is much more secure than a micro-USB type B connection.
 
unbreakablebond.jpg
An unbreakable bond was formed
 
Congratulations iFi. I will never, ever doubt your design decisions again. You have convinced me.
 
The right side of the device houses a female USB type A port. This port is used to charge your mobile device. It’s not going to win against a dedicated powerbank but it will save your skin in an emergency situation. As I’ve said, iDSD is a Universal Soldier, able to adapt to any situation.
 
Left side and the bottom of the device is where things start to get more interesting. Here we can find switches used to fine-tune the performance of the USTAB.
  • RCA output switch - Used to switch between fixed and variable output. use fixed output when connecting the iDSD BL to another headphone amp, a preamp or an integrated amplifier. Use the variable mode when connecting to active speakers or a power amp. Dunno what else to tell You dear reader, works as expected.
  • Power mode - used to switch between three different gain settings. Goes from “reasonable” to “no man shall possess this kind of power” really fast. The effect of the Power Mode on the overall sound quality will be covered in more detail in the part where I finally start talking about sound.
  • Polarity - Used to reverse the polarity of the digital signal. Despite my best effort I was not able to hear any difference between the reversed and the non-reversed signal so I just left it at non-reversed.
  • Digital filter switch - Used to switch between three different digital filters. Honest to God, I can’t hear the difference in PCM mode. In DSD mode the switch controls analog filters and the difference is clearly audible so I will cover it in more detail in the part where I finally start talking about sound.
  • IEMatch - Used to adjust output sensitivity. If you experience hiss even in Eco mode, adjust this untill hiss is gone, otherwise leave at Off.
 
The bottom of the device also has output labels and the spec sheet printed on it but since it’s black writing on an equally black background you won’t be able to decipher it anyway. iFi please make the font at least a little brighter.
 
backofidsd.jpg
Yeah, I don't know either what it says
Compatibility
 
I was able to test the iDSD BL on Windows, Linux and Android operating systems. Unfortunately I do not have access to Apple hardware so I wasn’t able to test Macs and iPhones for compatibility. Here are the results:
  1. Android - PCM, DXD and DSD playback works using USB Audio Player Pro. All playback modes (Native, DoP, DSD to PCM conversion) are supported. Does not work with apps that use standard built-in audio stack (YouTube, Tidal, Spotify), however that is an Android issue and not iDSD BL issue. If you plan to use USTAB with an Android device please download one of several USB Audio compatible music apps or root your device.
  2. Windows - PCM and DXD works after installing iFi’s proprietary driver. DSD playback works in DSD to PCM conversion mode. I followed the Foobar2000 configuration guide but after setting up the plugins I ended up hearing either music in PCM-conversion mode or total silence in native DSD (both indicated via the Foobar interface and the color of the LED on the USTAB).
  3. Linux - PCM and DXD works systemwide out of the box (via ALSA). DSD playback works in DSD to PCM conversion mode. Unfortunately after a few hours of intensive cli-fu, googling and reboots I still didn’t manage to force MPD to play DSD natively so I just gave up. According to instructions I found here [TU LINK https://github.com/lintweaker/xmos-native-dsd] native DSD requires replacing the kernel and ALSA lib and/or applying custom patches to the MPD. As far as I know audiophile-oriented Linux distros such as Volumio and APLinux have this modifications built-in but I haven’t tested them myself because the amount of effort required to do that quickly got ridiculous.

 
The part where I finally start talking about sound

As usual, my first song is And Plague Flowers The Kaleidoscope by progressive black metal band Ne Obliviscaris. The violin intro on this song is my go to treble evaluation track. Throughout the entire song iDSD BL remained in full control of the sound. The violin was crisp, smooth and articulate, with absolutely no harshness to it whatsoever. What impressed me the most in this song is that despite the overall density of the mix the violin parts and clean vocals were always clearly separated from the other instruments, never blending with the drums or the guitars.
 
Next up, Kraftwerk’s Sex Object. Probably my favourite track from the Techno Pop album. A clear motive is established at the beginning of the song, composed of violin-like synthesizer melody. This motive is played throughout the entire song, and just like the real violin in NeO, it remains crisp and articulate without ever sounding grainy.
 
Last but not least, Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby by Cigarettes After Sex, an American ambient pop group. Wonderfully detailed, airy with great imaging. The cymbals are deliciously crispy with satisfying decay.
 
To mix things up a little I decided to play Sunyatta album by instrumental progressive metal band Vipassi. The guitar and bass are fast, forward and dynamic with good attack. Drums are clearly separated from the rest of the instruments and remain so for the duration of the album.
Every note is clearly pronounced and every is riff full of life. On Benzeiten, the second track of the album, the USTAB gives the drums much needed impact without sacrificing guitar slam. On Samsara the backing female vocals can be clearly distinguished in the mix despite the very aggressive drum and guitar parts further proving that iDSD BL’s instrument separation is top notch. Frankly I don’t know what else to tell you, this album is a treat to listen to on the iDSD BL (if you’re into metal that is).
 
But maybe you’re not that into metal and you’d like to find out how does the iDSD BL handle more audiophilly correct content.
Let’s fire up Brothers in Arms. First thing you may notice is wonderful decay and pleasant smoothness of the guitar. Second thing you may notice is beautiful intimacy and depth in Mark Knopfler’s voice. It’s not that I’m suddenly hearing additional layer, I’m hearing the exact same voice I’ve heard numerous times before but it conveys so much more emotion than before. I love this song even more now.
 
XBass
 
To properly asses the bass quality of the iDSD I must first tell you my dear reader about XBass.
 
XBass is iFi’s proprietary analog filter meant to improve bass response of bass-shy headphones. But do not mistake it for a simple bass boost. XBass makes the bass more present in the mix, adds more body to it and improves impact (within reason, it’s not going to turn your AD700 into XB700). As a result bass-shy headphones become neutral-sounding or even “fun” and bassy headphones become… well, bassier.
 
Test Track #1 - Almost Like The Blues by Leonard Cohen
Great sense of depth on the bass guitar and plenty of detail but the notes do not carry any weight. Enabling XBass adds more weight and body to the bass. It is now as present in the mix as the piano and vocals. My Shure SRH1840 are now closer to being neutral than ever before. If I were to listen to Popular Problems only for the rest of my life, I’d probably never turn XBass off.
 
Test Track #2 - Excursions by A Tribe Called Quest
This song left me a little confused. After massive improvement I heard on the ALTB I expected the bass track to go through a similar transformation. But the difference was much more subtle here. Welcome, but subtle. SRH1840 were never a bass heavy cans and iFi’s analog filter didn’t turn them into such but it added some nice body to the double-bass intro as well as some more impact to the drums.
 
Test Track #3 - What Happened by Dope D.O.D
This is where the limitations of the filter start to show. Lack of sub-bass and very weak impact make this song lifeless using Shures. Despite my best efforts I can’t turn the SRH1840 into a bass heavy headphone. Of course it’s not iFi’s fault, XBass can put make-up and a nice dress on your prom date but it’s no Fairy Godmother. It won’t magically create sub-bass out of nothingness.
 
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As a last test I enabled XBass on my Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, just to see how far the bass can be pushed on these cans. As it turns out,with XBass on the lowest frequencies get strong enough to cause the cups to vibrate to the rhythm of the music, in turn causing the bones in my skull to vibrate as well. Dubstep on this sounds like an earthquake deep in my brain. This was a unique experience to me and one I won’t forget anytime soon.
 ​
3D Matrix Plus
 
iDSD BL also has another filter called which supposedly recreates a speaker soundstage while using headphones. Initially I assumed that iFi’s description is just a fancy name for crossfeed but that seems to not be the case. While yes, the 3D Matrix Plus does seem to mix channels together a bit it also widens the soundstage, enhances the treble (subtly) and moves the sound above the listener’s head. Unlike the XBass I wouldn’t recommend having it on all the time but on some recordings (such as Yosi Horikawa’s Wandering) I really enjoyed it.
 
Gain
 
Universal nature of the iDSD BL shows itself again in the Gain management section of the device. Most competing devices do not offer any type of gain adjustment or might offer a single High/Low toggle. But not USTAB, no. Our Universal Soldier is capable of using any weapon he finds on the battlefield no matter the impedance and sensitivity.
There are three different gain levels available with additional adjustment available via a separate IEMatch switch on the bottom of the device. You plan to use 600ohm impossible to drive monsters with the BL? Go ahead, set the gain to Turbo and enjoy over 166mW of power. Oh, you’d rather use sensitive IEMs? No problem, set the gain to Eco and enjoy pitch-black background. What? You can still hear noise? Enable IEMatch to fix the issue. Still can hear it? Well, you might just have tinnitus because with IEMatch engaged the background of the USTAB is absolutely silent with not a single hint of hiss.
Digital filters
 
Last of the (many) switches on the iDSD BL. The digital filter. I’ll talk very briefly about this one because the difference is very, very subtle. When playing PCM files the difference is so small that I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between different filters if my life depended on it so I just left it on Bit-Perfect and never looked back.
During DSD playback the switch toggles between three analog filters and switching between them seems to increase/decrease the volume of the track. I’m not entirely sure why this happens and whether it is supposed to do something more but the difference in volume is obvious. As with PCM, I left it on Bit-Perfect and never looked back as I find the option to change the filters rather redundant.
 
Issues
 
Dear reader, if you've managed to get this far you’re probably under the impression that the iDSD BL is a perfect device, devoid of any defects and for the most part, you’re right. But unfortunately the USTAB does have some issues and this is what we’re going to talk about now.
 
The first problem is that for some reason, iDSD BL mutes the first second or two of every track. This happens regardless of the file being played, source device and any of the iDSD settings. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means but it’s annoying enough to be mentioned. Hopefully this bug will be resolved in a future firmware update.
 
Second issue: channel imbalance. At low volume (9’o clock on the potentiometer and below) the left channel is noticeably louder than the right channel. Increasing the volume resolves the problem but people who like to listen to music queitly (or use very sensitive headphone) might be bothered by it.
 
Third issue: Size and weight. The USTAB is advertised as a portable devices that can be easily paired with a smartphone and while that’s technically true the iDSD is too big to fit in a pocket and it weighs a whooping half a kilogram when stacked with my phone. Trust me, I wish I was kidding.
 
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Portable device lol
 
 
Conclusions
 
So, after seven pages of B-list movie references, jokes and babbling, what is my final opinion on the iDSD BL? I deeply enjoyed using this device both as a desktop unit and on the go. I deeply enjoyed its powerful headphone output. I deeply enjoyed its rich customization options. If you’re looking for a device that’s excellent in every possible use case, that can adjust to any headphones, any source device and any conditions you should seriously consider buying the iDSD BL. It is a brilliant device and a true Universal Soldier of the Audio Battlefield.
 
Final note
You may be wondering why I bothered to put all the goofiness here. Well, for me audio is all about having fun and I can't have fun if I'm forced to be dead serious.
 

 
USB Audio Player Pro
Foobar2000 with ASIO and DSD plugins
Cantata Music player
Tidal

 
Shure SRH1840
Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro
Sennheiser PC37X
beowulf
beowulf
I don't find channel imbalance that much of an issue since you have pretty much 6 settings for gain (3 power/3 IEMatch). Even on the Andromeda, I don't have the volume low enough to notice imbalance.
One issue I notice is a pop when it is turned on or volume dropped to zero, that one can be annoying and a good reason to not put your IEMs/headphones on before turning it on.
Good work on the review.
Yethal
Yethal
I only noticed the imbalance when I tried listening to music really quietly, 99% of the users won't notice it.

vapman

Member of the Trade: bhobuds.com
Pros: Crazy amounts of power, beautiful sound, portable, doesn't require drivers to work.
Cons: Can't buy the special edition opamps on their own, costs money, will make your other gear suck in comparison
The original iDSD Micro stood out from the competition as an all-in-one replacement for the most discerning listeners' setups. The original iDSD Micro delivered - I had one, but as I started to not need a portable device anymore, I started comparing it to all the dedicated desktop gear I had. I had a glorious DAC and some very serious stereo power amps at the time - two Hafler DH500's running in mono. By the time I had re-configured my listening station to be all desktop again, my iDSD Micro didn't have much of a place since my desktop DAC - an E-MU 0404 with an AK4396 - could do the job. That was the end of my time with the original iDSD Micro. I sold it and moved on. However, after almost a year since then, I had completely dismantled my home stereo as a result of living in an apartment and getting too many noise complaints. That began my journey to find the setup the could replace that stereo with no compromises.
 
The new iDSD Micro Black Label is iFi's first major upgrade to the iDSD Micro. The very day I heard there would be a tour for it, I signed up and was ecstatic to find I had been one of the chosen reviewers for it. My hopes were that the Black Label wouldn't just match my crazy desktop setup - which could double my power bill just by being plugged in - but make it all seem lame in comparison.
 
I have gone thru tons and tons of gear in the decade or so I've been on Head-Fi. One of the few things that's been consistent in almost that whole time is one of my first big audio purchases - an E-MU 0404 USB I got shortly after it came out. So it's been in my hands for close to 15 years. It featured a beautifully implemented AK4396, and for a long time (up until maybe 2012 or 2013) I used it as my headphone amp too. It was the DAC that survived not only the original iDSD Micro but even the mighty Mojo.
 
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 ​
Another one of my favorite DACs, although not a super expensive one - the Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD, like both the original and Black Label iDSD Micro, uses a Burr Brown DAC. I always found the SBX effects to be high quality on it. Since getting rid of my original iDSD Micro, I would switch between these two DACs. I ended up being a huge fan of the bMac, an Indonesian made & designed portable amp, which has kept its place on my desk for close to a year now. I had also gained a very strong affinity for the Parasound Zamp, with the gobs of power it could push to any headphone, and sound amazing doing so. After the tour was announced, but well before I received my unit, the Walnut V2 made its appearance on the Head-Fi map and became well respected as a very high quality but budget unit. Having a power output comparable to the iDSD Micro, I decided to settle with it as I liked its sound even as a desktop headphone amp.
 
Fast forward from the ending of 2016 to early February 2017. After a couple months of hearing nothing, and watching iDSD Micro Black Label reviews slowly pop up on the site - which I kept myself from reading to keep from having preconceived notions about its sound - I finally got the email. It was my turn at last to try the Black Label. Little did I know it would make me feel like the first day I got the E-MU instead of listening with my PC's built-in sound chipset, or the first time I heard $1,700 IEMs - you get the point.
 
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The day it arrived, I got both my most recent favorite setup and the setup that beat the iDSD Micro many months ago, and got them ready and re-familiarized myself with them before switching to the Black Label. I don't even remember what headphone I tried first on the Black Label. The thing is, it doesn't matter. No matter what I tried, it was on a whole different level than any of my gear. My setup that had been my favorite up until that moment was dishearteningly muddy and flat in comparison to what I was hearing. The setup that nearly matched the original iDSD Micro in sound was lifeless and lacked dynamics compared to the Black Edition. And so, that marked the last day I was able to enjoy the setup I had until that point.
 
I knew the Black Label was all business. Custom-designed op-amps, a stunning capacitor selection, and some awfully bold claims about how much better it would be over the original. While I can't rip the op-amps out of this tour unit to try in other gear, and I doubt iFi would sell me some of their iFi/AMR op-amps, I've messed with enough op-amps in my life to know what to expect from a lot of them, and I know from my time with the Black Edition I like what I am hearing an awful lot.
 
A while back, I published a review on the Parasound Zamp, a 45 watt zone power amp that happened to have a headphone jack on the front of it. I praised it for its ability to breathe crazy amounts of life into any headphone you plug it. People got excited about it, and it was one of my most popular reviews. I've tried other amps that boast a high wattage output, but none are capable of being quite as dynamic and effortless as that Zamp did. Even if the original iDSD Micro couldn't do this job, the Black Edition definitely can and does. I think I spent at least 3/4 of my time with it in Turbo mode. I'm a bass head, a SPL freak and I love my headphones to sound like they're going to explode with energy. I could not find a headphone pairing that did not sound good on this amp, much like with the Zamp. And for how alive, crisp, and clear everything sounds, I probably would have been impressed if I was just hearing the amp section and didn't use the DAC at all. Using the original iDSD Micro I never wanted to use as an amp by itself, but the Black Edition has me enjoying the device as an amp thoroughly.
 
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Speaking of bass - one of my bigger complaints about the original iDSD Micro was the bass boost switch hardly did anything. It made a very subtle difference which I felt was only really noticeable when you were listening at very high volumes. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the bass boost was certainly more present on this unit. On any headphones I used, it added a great amount of weight to the bass with any headphone I used. The background is silent and the detailing and clarity is top notch. When I was listening with more demanding headphones like the JVC SZ's, the difference was huge with the switch flipped.
 
The 3D option does roughly the same thing as the Sound Blaster's Crystallizer function. It essentially makes the sound a little more "V" shaped. I kept the 3D switch off for the majority of my listening, but never thought it sounded bad with it on. I don't tend to use the Crystallizer very often at all when I'm using my X-Fi anyway. What is clear is that the Black Label goes so much farther past the all-in-one replacement for your listening setup. For discerning and picky listeners who are not willing to accept any compromise, true music lovers who listen all day and can't tolerate a minute of downtime, this is the all-in-one unit for you.
 
The price and its similarity to the Mojo's price can not be ignored. The original iDSD Micro used to be compared to the Mojo, but I never felt that was a balanced comparison, even if they did the same jobs. Interface differences aside, the Mojo has a more unique sound. For me, that unique sound did not always work out. It made my MP3's and other lossy audio sound like garbage. Lossless sounded wonderful on the Mojo, but I don't have the kind of library that can be easily replaced with lossless copies. The Mojo failed to work out for me for this reason, regardless of the fact the volume control balls drove me insane and the charging mechanism was too flaky to work for someone who listens all day long and gets furious at any downtime. My Mojo only lasted a couple months before the aspects of it that bothered me outweighed my ability to enjoy it.
 
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The Mojo is more easily compared to the Black Label, I think. Lossy audio still sounds great on the Black Label, but the Black Label - even on bit-perfect mode - offers such a fast and detailed yet slightly warm sound. I always felt the iDSD was the more honest of the two, and the Black Label is the best choice for me as it's honest, neutral, and balanced but offers the lush, refined sound the Mojo was capable of whereas the original iDSD Micro was not as capable. Before the Black Label, I think it would have been a much harder choice between the Mojo and the iDSD Micro. With the Black Label in the mix, the gap is so much smaller. The improvements iFi brought to the table with the Black Label really shows. No longer do you have to pick between two desktop stack replacements which approached the problem in completely different ways for a great all-in-one portable device. I noticed right away the overall sound character has tried to catch up to the competition, and it is my opinion that iFi did an excellent job of this. Anyone who thought the original iDSD Micro could stand to be brighter would probably not be the biggest fans of the changes iFi made. To anyone else, I would feel pretty confident it is only an upgrade. It's a move slightly more in the direction of how the Mojo sounds, and personally I like it a ton.
 
To be sure I get my point across by how impressed I am of the sound coming out of this device - all-in-one unit or not - my DAC and amp setup I had been using before this, I had replaced op-amps, capacitors, all manners of things to improve the sound quality to my liking. And while it all had approached and come fairly close to the Black Label's sound, it just simply can't catch up in any way. My setup had too much background noise and not a dynamic, crisp and quick enough sound to it. It was even a tiny bit like I was back in electrostatic territory listening to the Black Edition at times. I wasn't even happy with my setup's bass levels when I was switching back from the Black Label which took me by surprise. The bass power of the Black Label is not to be underestimated. 
 
On the day I got the tour unit, I was doing recording work in my studio and had it sitting on top of a tube compressor I was using. Of course, it made perfect sense that once I was done recording and going to listen back on headphones, I should first listen with the setup I had deemed best, and then listen straight out of the Black Edition.
 
fgdfsgdfgf.jpg
In my pitch-black recording studio, I noticed the iDSD Micro BL illuminated by one of my tube compressor's VU monitors.
 
Listening to the Black Label has made me so uninterested in all the other DACs and amps I have lying around. They all are so inferior to the Black Label in my mind now. Every headphone I have tried it with, it's a gorgeous, lively pairing. There is no such thing as bad synergy with the Black Label. Everything works so amazingly with it, and the Black Label is able to make anything I throw at it - source material or headphones - sound the best I've heard most of it ever be.
 
While it did not provide a whole new world of clarity I hadn't heard through my DAC before, it did give me something I hadn't heard since that dual mono Hafler setup with the 0404 sitting on top. That dead silent background, perfect extension across the full frequency spectrum, no BS. All you got was the music, honest as possible, but sounding beautiful doing so. It is a gorgeous thing when there is truly no need for any tricks to make the source sound better than it really is. All you need is the perfect presentation of it. My years and thousands of dollars per year spent chasing this level of sound proves this was no easy feat. 
 
One of the other things I wanted to test out of the Black Label right away was its performance as a DAC if substituted for either my 0404 or modded X-Fi Titanium HD with the same amps afterward. The dual mono DAC design had me very interested in this model. It had lower noise and better detailing, speed and dynamics compared to the X-Fi Ti HD. Compared to the 0404 with the AK4396, the 0404 was a leaner and brighter sound. It did not have the slight warmness the dual Burr Brown setup in the X-Fi, but the 0404 also had a thinner and flatter sound in comparison.
 
The last time I've had this hard of a time giving up some review gear was when I was touring the Kumitate Labs IEMs. I never ended up getting one of those were too far out of my price range combined with my unwillingness to buy a custom IEM, with the KL-REF being close to $2000. Still, to this day it remains one of the most beautiful and well balanced sounds I've heard from any headphone. Going back to my gear after sending the Black Label back to iFi I know will feel like sending those Kumitates back. I just wanted to keep begging to spend another day with them. I had to force myself to keep listening when I was comparing my other gear to the Black Label because none of it was as good. None of it. I knew it was a winner when I couldn't stop trying different headphones through it, not because any of them weren't giving me the sound I wanted, but because they all sounded so ridiculously good out of the Black Label. I had been using headphones I hadn't tried in ages just to rock out because they all sounded so much better than I had remembered them. This isn't something I had done or really experienced since I was doing my Parasound Zamp review.
 
I had been struggling to find out how I was going to describe this device adequately in a review. I wanted to do it proper justice, not just say over and over "it was great! i loved it! everything was great!" and after several drafts I still have the feeling my whole review just reads like that. What I can't seem to emphasize properly is how to put my experience having the iDSD Black Label into the proper context.
 
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Finally, the answer came to me on the weekend at 4AM. I was standing in my living room in my pajamas, JVC SZ2000 on my head, the iDSD Black Label in my hand, running off a super long USB extension cable into my PC. I had been tweaking my five-band parametric EQ and blasting crappy Italian Discomagic compilation CD's from the early and mid 1990's. I remember because I had Turbo mode on the Black Label and was pushing every last decibel of sub and mid bass out of my JVC SZ2000 as I could. As I was listening to the cheesy Italo disco mixes, I went back through all the Head-Fi meets I'd been to in my life and came to a realization. The most active meet I'd ever attended, which was in 2006, I listened to all the top of the line setups that existed eleven years ago. Nothing I was hearing was possible back then. Forget the bass power of the SZ2000 which just wasn't possible before JVC invented that - what about the Black Label itself? As a perfect stand-in replacement but not more than that, the original iDSD Micro was still a feat of technology that wouldn't have been possible in 2006, but I never got the impression with the original iDSD Micro that really took me by awe. The Black Edition was something that truly was not possible as long as a decade ago or even half a decade. Here was a box I could hold in my hand and not only could it match the sound of stacks of gear amounting to nearly $1,000 on their own - it was surpassing all of it in any possible way. Going back to any of my old setup results in one form of disappointment or another. And anything I heard that long ago, giant stacks of specialized gear isolated from one another and linked up with top of the line cables, to my own personal setup I've obsessively perfected over time, all crushed by the sound of the Black Label. This was truly the sound of audio perfection as far as I've heard. Maybe it won't be 5 years or a decade from now, that's fine because it's good enough to have turned the tables. I can shamelessly say this is what I hoped the Mojo would be. Not only having enough power to challenge the most power hungry headphones but sounding so glorious doing it, there is nothing else I could ask for.
 
The Sound Blaster seemed so worthless in comparison. No DSP can come close to matching the sound of bit-perfect music played so honestly, with so much perfectly controlled power. The E-MU could only compete when it was running thru the Zamp V3 - still one of the most amazing and perfect combinations I've ever heard in my life - but this offers so much more flexibility and doesn't require two AC outlets. That is what truly made this device so good to me. The sound quality and energy I could only get my running my all-time favorite DAC into a 45 watt desktop power amp, designed to drive speakers, with a gigantic toroidal transformer. The DAC also requires its own power supply. Two pieces of gear I had never been able to beat with anything bus or battery powered. And here it was! Worst of all, it wasn't even mine - I was last in line for my leg of the tour. I would go in between dancing and singing to these bargain bucket Italo house mixes and complete despair that I had to give it back to iFi. I just couldn't stop listening to it, day or night. Every minute I spent with the sub and mid bass boosted as high as 34dB and Turbo mode activated with my JVC's was to die for. And, yes, it's suitable for non bass heads too. More often than I could understand, I found myself with Turbo mode on but running no EQ and just having the XBass switch on with all my power-hungriest ear buds. But again I have to emphasize, it doesn't really matter what gear you use on this. No matter what it is, it's going to sound as good as it can possibly sound in the year 2017 as far as I am convinced. I spend thousands of dollars on gear per year chasing after this exact sound. I have no doubts that the Black Label is a turning point, as it would be remarkable even for a desktop only device in my opinion. To be in a battery powered, compact format is nothing short of mind-blowing, and the components that are upgrades over the original iDSD Micro enough to make any audio loving engineer shed a tear of delight.
 
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Is it worth your hard earned money? I would feel better about getting this than I ever did about buying a Mojo. I could just have this and my PC running foobar2000 and I'd be set. There is nothing I could find lacking in this device compared to anything else I like to use to listen. In fact, the Black Label really brought out what was wrong with the rest of my system. I was worried if I liked this a lot I wouldn't be able to budget for it even if I stretched it, but my experience using this has completely and honestly made the rest of my DACs and amps seem useless. At this point, they are all inferior to the Black Label in my eyes. When I send it back to iFi, I'll be counting the days until I have one in my hands again. Really, after about 2 weeks spent with this unit, I haven't been able to bring myself to use anything else for more than a couple minutes. It's the new standard by which I will measure anything else, truthfully and honestly. I can only hope I don't have to go too long without it in my life. I've had iFi gear before but I'm fully convinced now they're entirely deserving of all my respect. I can't thank iFi enough for the opportunity to try this out, even if it did make me hate all my other DACs and amps. For a single device to be able to replace what I missed most about my 500 watt dual mono-block home stereo is truly remarkable. For it to be battery powered and pocketable is truly ridiculous. I do honestly think this is a new milestone in portable sound. Anybody else making combo DAC/amp units needs to take a serious lesson from this. iFi is not messing around and it is so obvious when you are listening to it. I can't help but recommend any lovers of that lively, energetic sound prioritize investing in this unit.
 
(edit: I realized I never mentioned my settings used. For nearly the entire time I had this, as with my original iDSD Micro, I had IEMatch disabled and the filter set to bit-perfect. Also, I failed to mention the IEMatch switches are more recessed than on the original iDSD Micro, which I appreciated.)
Lord Rexter
Lord Rexter
Thank you for a great review!
vapman
vapman
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