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  1. Johnny Mac
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label Realview.
    Written by Johnny Mac
    Published Sep 3, 2019
    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
    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
    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.

    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.
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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
    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.

    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.
  2. lambdastorm
    Written by lambdastorm
    Published Sep 21, 2018
    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.
      joeydgraffix and Sabron like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. joeydgraffix
      We may just have different taste's in sound. I had both the silver and black versions & I had everything set correctly. They both handled poorly with EQ. XBass just muddied the bass. The 3d was absolutely disappointing, to me there was no concert like sound to it, just boosted treble with some sound being pushed to the sides. It had a ton of power but the sound from it just seemed to be on the bad side for me.
      joeydgraffix, Mar 1, 2019
    3. 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.
      abirdie4me, Apr 9, 2019
    4. 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.
      Highend75, Aug 26, 2019
  3. emptymt
    Fun, Technical, Competent and Black Labelled
    Written by emptymt
    Published Mar 7, 2018
    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.
    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

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

    - Porcupine Tree
    - Be'lakor
    - Opeth
    - Shadow Gallery
    - Cynic
    - Lurker Of Chalice
    - Amorphis
    - Novembre

    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.

    box-up.jpg box-front.jpg

    - 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


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

    ifi-micro-bl-back.jpg ifi-micro-bl-front.jpg

    - MQA
    - DSD playback
    - XBass
    - 3D +

    About 8 hours depending on loads

    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.

    ifi-micro-bl-top.jpg ifi-micro-bl-right.jpg


    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.

    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.

    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.

    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 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.

    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.

    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

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

    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.

    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.


    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!


    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.


    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.


    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
  4. SoundApprentice
    Black is Better
    Written by SoundApprentice
    Published Jan 21, 2018
    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.
  5. kamikaziH2Omln
    Subtle Design with Not So Subtle Sound
    Written by kamikaziH2Omln
    Published Jan 20, 2018
    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

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


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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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      Fondler, blackyangell and phthora like this.
    1. 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.
      phthora, Jan 29, 2018
  6. Dobrescu George
    Written by Dobrescu George
    Published May 8, 2017
    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


    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:








    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
    6.3 mm Headphone Out
    Frequency Response
    20 Hz - 20.000Hz (-3dB)
    Works as a USB DAC
    Yes, works for Android and Windows
    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
    310 g
    DAC Chip
    Custom Native Burr-Brown DAC
    Max Output Voltage
    10 V
    AMP Configuration
    OV 2627 + OV 2628
    Works as a pre-amplifier
    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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









    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.


    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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  7. analogsurviver
    Coming of age - original Micro iDSD vs Micro iDSD Black Label
    Written by analogsurviver
    Published Apr 14, 2017
    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.
     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 …
    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  
    – 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.  
    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 : 
    You can also download 30 sec MP3 samples from their sampler here 
    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 : 
    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
    R channel inverted on the oscilloscope
    L ch, R ch inverted and their difference signal
    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
    c )  96kHz 24bit
    d ) 176.4 kHz 24bit
    e ) 192 kHz 24 bit
    f ) DSD64
    g ) DSD128
    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 :
    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 .
    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
    b) minimum phase
    c ) standard
    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.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. rolli1949
      rolli1949, Apr 16, 2017
    3. 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!
      earfonia, Apr 24, 2017
    4. 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 !
      analogsurviver, Apr 24, 2017
  8. CoffeeDog
    iDSD BL Sets the Standard
    Written by CoffeeDog
    Published Apr 14, 2017
    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!
    1. yoyorast10
      How did you get rid of the silence?
      yoyorast10, May 24, 2018
    2. 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!
      CoffeeDog, Jun 19, 2018
  9. OSiRiSsk
    The dac/amp chameleon
    Written by OSiRiSsk
    Published Mar 22, 2017
    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

    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
    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
    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.
    I will miss you Black Label!​

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

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

    All things considered - if you are looking for an affordable all-in-one AMP/DAC solution, with ability to switch from sensitive IEMs to most powerful headphones (Turbo most truly does this, trust me) with fun effects to play with (3D+ and XBass+) you have my permission to pull the trigger :wink:
  10. gto88
    iFi micro iDSD - best portable value
    Written by gto88
    Published Mar 22, 2017
    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.
      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
      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
      Apple0222 likes this.