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  1. BillsonChang007
    iFi Micro iDSD BL: The Good Dark Side
    Written by BillsonChang007
    Published Feb 24, 2017
    Pros - sound quality, balanced, no channel imbalance, versatile with anything, power
    Cons - needs a more visible volume indicator, 3D+ can sound bright
    Why I love iFi and their products
    iFi have been known, reputably for their amazing amplifiers and DAC. Ranging from Nano to Micro to Retro and the most recent addition, the Pro line, iFi have an amplifier and DAC for different purposes and price ranges. The nano for on-the-go and affordability, Micro for transportability, Retro for the speakers and Pro for the extremes. Having tried their products, mostly the Micro line which they first set-off with, it never disappointed me in terms of sound quality. Throughout the years, listening to recommendations by users and reviews is what really brought them where they are now, being featured on the Head-Fi gift guide and not to mention other reputable audio review websites and it is not one, not two, but most of their products are outstanding.
    My favorite product that they have created so far is the Micro iDSD. It started back in 2014 where they started a thread in Head-Fi asking opinions on what this Micro iDSD really should be and from there, they take everyone’s opinions into consideration and kept the crowd updated throughout from hardware to software and the troubles that they ran into. When they introduced the Black Label edition of the Micro iDSD, I was all hyped and even more when they announced a tour for it! A huge thanks to iFi for adding me into the tour for this iFi Micro iDSD BL!
    I really appreciate how the iFi team gave the packaging a formality and it represents the company very well. What came with the original Micro iDSD is very similar with absence of a black carrying pouch which is no big deal but considering the Micro iDSD BL costs more at USD549 as opposed to USD499 for the original Micro iDSD puts be in doubt [both prices excludes taxes].  Other than that, it comes with instruction manual, 3.5mm to 3.5mm standard jack, 2x silicone bands, angled male type A to female type A USB, wired USB Female type A to female type B converter, left and Right RCA cable, 4x rubber feet, 3.5mm to 6.3mm jack converter, jumper, USB Female type A to female type B adapter and a piece of rectangular rubbery “thingy” that probably used for when stacking a phone on top to avoid frictions. With exception of the carrying pouch, the Micro iDSD BL comes with pretty much everything and there’s nothing short of. I have been using the original Micro iDSD for more than 2 years now and I never see the need to carry the pouch along anyway. If anything, it makes the ports less accessible when inside thought it was genius to have a hole cut for the USB.
    What's so cool about this BL
    The build and weight of both the editions are similar; all metal and weight is on the bulky side for such a small footprint but I think that’s how I would like it to be. Makes it sits properly on the table. As a proud Micro iDSD user for more than 2 years, I can safely say that, the unit is very durable considering I have not been nice to it partially because I am quite violent with gadgets. So no worries, go ahead, throw it in the backpack and rock but it probably won’t survive in the water thought. I have to say thought, thumbs up to the batman-like black finish with orange wordings that really stands out. However, good luck trying to read the unimportant feature lists at the bottom but really, it’s nothing important… or is it. Seriously thought, it is worded in black on a black casing. If anything, the original Micro iDSD’s volume knob is stiffer than the BL edition.
    Not only does it look like Bruce Wayne’s multibillion techs but it also features like his utility belt. It is a DAC and amplifier that also works as a preamplifier that can power from the smallest earphones to THE giant Bane. There are three power mode namely Eco, Normal and Turbo. Personally, I do not find the need for “Turbo” for any headphones just yet as at Turbo, it outputs 4, 000mW @ 16 Ohm of power and I doubt there are any headphones that needs it with exception of a few such as the popular HifiMan HE-6. In normal and eco modes it outputs 1, 900mW @ 16Ohm and 500mW @ 8Ohm respectively. For most headphones, Eco mode is more than enough in my opinion. However, what about earphones and headphones with high sensitivity? There’s the IEMatch. It has two switches; high sensitivity (-12dB) and ultra-sensitivity (-24dB) which makes volume more adjustable or you can have it switched off. Do note that, avoid using IEMatch on other modes; Normal and Turbo. “It is like pressing the accelerator while applying brakes” – iFi. Other features include XBass+, 3D+, polarity (-/+), and Filter (Standard/Phase Minimum/Bit-Perfect). Oh, it also features as a Plan B power bank at the side but keep in mind that, the unit takes quite a while to charge up.  There is also a small LED light on top which determine the status of the unit. It has a built in gen 1 iPurifier into it as well and up to Normal mode, it can purely drain on USB or charge at the same time in eco mode. Information on these features can be found here.
    The main course
    With all the Batman’s design and features aside, the sound quality itself is no joke either. I find it an amazing piece of amplifier and DAC combo. There’s perfectly no channel imbalance pass the 9’O Clock turn. While it is not as neutral as I expected it to be, it remains well balanced. The bass is tick tight and beats down to as deep as you could wish. Without the XBass, the bass is there but lacks the “bold”. The upper bass is what I like the most out of all as it has a good amount of weights and punches that anyone would appreciate. I personally find that the highs are a minute louder than the midranges and this result in a very fun and enjoyable sound. Throughout the listening experience, I find it entirely to be ultimately smooth, while attaining that speed on the punches at the same time, not missing any details. It just feels like you are driving on a Porsche at say 170kmph but you feel that the car is doing it effortlessly and that is how it feels like to listen to the Micro iDSD BL as a standalone.
    I think that the XBass+ and the 3D+ is what actually saved the amplifier side of it. Starting with the XBass+, it really adds very notable amount of bass to it and fits the “basshead” category just nicely and at the same time, with the speed, and thumbs that is just so good and pleasant to enjoy with. Without the 3D+, the soundstage is pretty wide but the separations feel a little bit packed together. Flick the 3D+, it is as if the musician just immediately spread out themselves from a small stage to an opera theatre and for movies, you could better aware of the environment of the scene. There’s one trade-off thought. With the 3D+, the treble can spike up and especially with female voices, I find it a ted annoying with the B&O H6 and Brainwavz HM5 but if the XBass+ is on together with it, it soothes the treble by adding "bolds" to the whole sound making the treble less noticeable although it is still there. Darker headphones like the Mr. Speaker’s Mad Dog have no big deals with this.
    I then connected the iDSD BL to Garage1217 Project Sunrise III w/ Amperex 6dj8 Orange edition and boy is there a huge improvement in comparison to the standalone without XBass+ nor 3D+. That said, the amplifier of the iDSD BL is great matched with the DAC but is rather average only. With the XBass+ thought, the iDSD BL have better bass in every spectrum than the tubes; speed, quantity, and depth. When both the XBass+ and 3D+’s running, the iDSD BL does stands pretty close to the tubes. The iDSD BL is definitely clearer but with the tubes thought, the soundstages, separations, and sound is just more “real” and so, so, so, slightly more airy. At high volumes [pass the 3’O clock], I find the iDSD BL losses its dynamic ranges and clarity, soundstages and separations gets a little mixed up. Not to worry thought, I doubt there’s a need to turn up the heat given there’s 3 different power mode.
    As a pure DAC itself, I find the Micro iDSD BL to be extremely flat and literally have no flavors. It is like an ice cream cone; it doesn’t have much taste but add the ice cream on top and you get a delicious dessert. The Micro iDSD BL matches well with any ice creams [amplifier] and it will sound amazing. It is airy and very analytical. Plugging in for the first time, really tells you how much details have you been missing all along. Not to mention its capability to hit up to DSD512.
    Now for the grand comparison. As Lex Luthor once said and I quote “God vs Man, Day vs Night”…
    The BL edition is better than the original in a few ways, but in many ways, they are quite similar. Besides the obvious color differences, exterior wise, they are pretty much the same chassis with similar ports and switches. The difference lies within; the BL uses latest and higher end components, the 3D and XBass gets a nice upgrade and indeed worthwhile. As a standalone DAC/amp, I would say that the BL is smoother, warmer, more refined and the two switches at the front is a major step up from the original and distinctly a better unit than the original. Channel imbalances issues are non-existence on the BL pass the 9’ O Clock. At the end thought, if you already own the original edition, you are better off spending the money elsewhere like a separate amplifier. I personally find that when using the two as a sole DAC, I find both to have similar sound although the BL are more “stable” with the channel imbalance. That said, the original edition at $499 or even cheaper sometimes, is still a very good DAC/amp while the BL is for if you do not own neither and its really worth the extra 10% difference. The original edition is also more neutral in comparison to the BL as a DAC/amp combo.
    Thank you for reading
    The Micro iDSD BL is yet another amazing unit, I wish I could spend more time to enjoy with. I was the lucky winner of the Micro iDSD 2 years ago and I couldn’t be happier to be able to listen to the BL. It is amazing and it still did not fail to wow me away. I especially enjoy it with my B&O H6; it adds necessary warm and bass to it with the XBass+ and I can leave the 3D+ off while still getting the airy and separation I wanted. It’s truly a match made in heaven. I have never enjoyed the B&O headphone as much before despite it being my on-the-go headphone. Overall, it is very versatile with anything you throws at.
      blackyangell, Krisna13 and maheeinfy like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. beowulf
      Nice. Agree with most of your points. The 3D is not a gimmick and it does add a feeling of space, but only sometimes. Depending on the source it can make the sound a bit too bright/grainy/fatiguing.

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

      Did you notice the lag when starting play? And pops on power on/off?
      beowulf, Feb 25, 2017
    3. BillsonChang007
      @beowulf thankss! Yea it did have pop sound on power but I think that is quite common on amplifiers [same to on-board soundcard on start up, phones, etc]. As for playback delay, it's also there but only at initial start-up and after maybe a min or two of not using it. I also find the lag slightly longer than the original. 
      BillsonChang007, Feb 25, 2017
    4. Adamora
      Folks, please do not forget to update the firmware of this device to the iFi_XMOS_V5.2B for it to have no delays whatsoever whilst using it as a pure desktop DAC/AMP
      It was driving me insane using windows 10 until I found out it auto sleeps every bloody second to save power.
      Adamora, Feb 27, 2017
  2. proedros
    iFi Micro iDSD BL: Once you go black, you never go back
    Written by proedros
    Published Mar 6, 2017
    Pros - Very Musical and resolving Sound , Versatility (can be used with both ciems and full phones), Great Bass/Treble Boost, Amazing Build Quality
    Cons - More transportable than portable, no availability for Balanced use/Balanced Cables, difficulty to see volume knob level may irritate some
    Before submitting my thoughts on the IDSD Micro Black Label (to be called BL from now on), I would like to thank the folks at Ifi Audio for organizing this EU Demo Tour and giving us the opportunity to listen to BL . Initiatives like that help both companies to expand their clientelle and customers to try something out before buying and i hope that these events happen more often, especially for such quality products like the BL.

    Ok , on with the review then. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But i am just nit-picking here , BL is an amazing device and I was quite amazed by it. In fact, if you are on the market for a DAC/AMP that shoots way above its price and screams 'QUALITY' , then BL should definitely be on your shortlist.
      EagleWings likes this.
    1. Tony1110
      Didn't you like Athena any better using this?
      Tony1110, Mar 6, 2017
  3. noobandroid
    Super versatile, great functionality, great SQ
    Written by noobandroid
    Published Mar 6, 2017
    Pros - Wide range of format supported, multiple I/O to choose from, a power bank i guess?
    Cons - Black on black lettering on the back, $ (as always)


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


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


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

    Alesis Elevate 5

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


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


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

    Final thought

    On the appearance side, hoped they have changed the black on black text, and then the outlook will be just nice. Other that that, I have no problems or nags with this product at all. It can be used on battery power, charging devices too , and be sounding awesome while at it. What more can you demand for in format support? DSD, DXD and all common formats are there ready to be used. Really wished I could keep the unit but then it's a Lucid dream haha, oh well.
  4. miceblue
    A Terrific Bang for Your Buck DAC/Amp Combo!
    Written by miceblue
    Published Mar 12, 2017
    Pros - Octa-speed DSD, femto clocks, overall sound quality, gain options, digital filter options, discrete XBass+ and 3D+ sections, battery powered
    Cons - Flimsy-feeling plastic switches, male USB A USB input, bulky size for true portable use
    This is a review for the micro iDSD Black Label edition, not the original micro iDSD

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

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

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

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







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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Quality: 4/5

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

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

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

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

    Audio Quality: 4.5/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Value: 5/5

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

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

    Thank you for taking the time to read/peruse through this review! : )
    1. View previous replies...
    2. jeffhawke
      My first question was answered by watching your excellent unboxing video :)
      jeffhawke, Mar 13, 2017
    3. miceblue
      Thank you! I tried to change the buffer settings a bit, but I couldn't find one that worked out for my computer.

      Thank you for the kind words!
      You firstly need the appropriate media player. Audirvana+ or JRiver Media Center support the upsampling feature. In A+, open the preferences, go to the Audio Filters tab, click on the DSD button and set the option to DSD256. In JRMC, go to the options, Audio tab, Settings section, DSP & output format, check the Output Format tab, click on the Output Format tab, and select 4xDSD in DoP format from the drop down menu under Output Encoding.
      miceblue, Mar 13, 2017
    4. jeffhawke
      I tried Audirvana+ for a while, but I was not happy with its library import and management features. I am in fact about to give JRiver a try, so I will definitely follow your advice and see how it pans out.
      Thank you!
      jeffhawke, Mar 13, 2017
  5. monster2046
    BLACK Background can pay my full attention on my music
    Written by monster2046
    Published Mar 14, 2017
    Pros - Good Sound, Affortable Price
    Cons - connectivity is not fit to eastern music lovers
    This is my pleasure that I will be the tester of ifi new product, idsd black lablel (let us be short as BL).
    As a newbie of headfi, I am whole heartly to try difference devices.  
    When I first read about the spec of the BL, I talk to myself that "woo......."  From technical perspective, the components are good and I reach to exited mode that I want to test the BL.
    The appearance is just as as the previous version, just changing the colour from silver to black. To me, I don't care on the appearance while I just focus on the sound is match with my preference or not.
    The device can support optical, usb  but unfortunately, my on hand dap (Paw Gold and DX 90) haven't optical out, the coxial in of BL can't match with DX90 coxial out.  The usb connection, is difference with mojo and vantam.  I just can test the amplifier function.  (iDSD primary design is for desktop connection)
    I think there are many reviews of Paw Gold and I don't explain anymore.  I just talk about my personal feel of Paw Gold line out to BL.  I listen my sound with using a pair of CIEM, Oriolus 2 only.  I set the power to normal.  
    My comment is very simple, just same as the colour of the device, BLACK.  I can't hear any noise from the BL.  The background is too dark and I just can pay my full attention to listen my music with no any interference.  
    The power is enough and driven my earphone give me a sense of "enrich, solid".  Even less than medium volume can drive my earphone.  To my sense of hearing, the vocal (especially female singer) is charming and attractive.  This is easily for me to imagine a lady ,standing on a stage, is singing a song for me.      
    When the Bass enhance button is on, the bass will be increase 3db (I guess).  As Oriolus 2 is a 4-driver hybrid earphone, this can give me a sense of warm surrounding me.
    However, 3D function is really bad to me.  Once open the function, I just feel that all sounds stick together and spoil all music that I am listening.
  6. Tobias89
    Fantastic jack of all trades, and master of quite a few!
    Written by Tobias89
    Published Mar 19, 2017
    Pros - Excellent sound, Feature rich, high performance to price ratio
    Cons - Non-existent volume indicator, awkward shape (ifi micro product series in general) - Long and thin
    About Me

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


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


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


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



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


    About the iDSD BL


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


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


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


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





    Headphones Used

    Audio Technica ATH-R70x

    Sennheiser HD800

    64 Audio A12 CIEM


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

    Storms Are On The Ocean

    Amber Rubarth

    Spanish Harlem

    Rebecca Pidgeon



    Drum Impro

    Dali CD

    Ignorance (Acoustic)


    Just A Fool (ft. Blake Shelton)

    Christina Aguilera

    Cheek to Cheek

    Lady Gaga / Tony Bennett



    See You Again (ft. Charlie Puth)

    Wiz Khalifa


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


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


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


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


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




    Vs Chord Mojo

    Coming soon


    Vs RHA Dacamp L1

    Coming soon


    Finish/Build Quality


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


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


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


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

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

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



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



    Inputs (rear)

    USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket

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

    (with iPurifier® technology built-in)

      Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial

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

      SPDIF Optical

    Outputs (rear)

    Audio RCA L+R

      Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial

    Up to 192kHz PCM

    Output (right side)

    SmartPower® Socket

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


    Controls (front)

    – HP Output

    Audio 6.3mm Headphone Jack

    – Volume with Power On/Off switch

    Precision analogue volume control

    <2dB Tracking error

    – 3.5mm Input

      Auto disable the digital section when this is in use

    – X-Bass®


    – 3D Holographic Sound®


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

    Controls (left side)

    – Power Mode

    Turbo, Normal, Eco

    Computer controlled power and gain scaling

    – Polarity


    – Filter

    3 positions, 6 filters

    (see filter section below)

    Controls (bottom)

    – Line Direct/Preamplifier

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

    Fixed 2V or variable with up to 5V available

    – iEMatch®

    Perfect-matching circuit for IEMs (eliminate hiss)

    Off / High Sensitivity Headphone / Ultra Sensitivity Headphone

    DAC section


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

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

      Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing


    Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock

    RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds

    Audio Formats

    DSD 512/256/128/64

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion


      DXD 2x/1x

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion


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

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion



    – PCM

    Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard

    Digital filters selectable

    – DSD

    Extreme/Extended/Standard Range

    Analogue filters selectable

    – DXD

    Bit-Perfect Processing

    Fixed analogue filter

    Specifications (DAC Section)

    Dynamic Range (Line)


    THD & N (0dBFS Line)


    Output Voltage (Line)


    Output Impedance (Zout)

    < 240Ω

    Jitter (correlated)

    Below AP2 test set limit

    Headphone Power Output

    HP Amp Output

    Power (max)

    Power (continuous.)

    – Turbo mode

    10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm

    >1560 mW @ 64 Ohm

       > 166 mW @ 600 Ohm

    – Normal mode

    5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm

    > 950 mW @ 32 Ohm

       > 100 mW @ 300 Ohm

    – Eco mode

    2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm

    > 250 mW @ 16 Ohm

    Specifications (Headamp Section)

    Dynamic Range (HP)

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

    THD &N (HP 500mW/16R)

    < 0.008%

    Output Voltage (HP)

    >8V (Turbo Mode)

    Output Impedance (Zout)

    <1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)

    Maximum Output Power

    4,000mW @ 16 Ohm Load

    when using sinewave testing the iDSD micro may engage protection circuits

    Continuous Output Power

    1,000mW @ 64 Ohm Load





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

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


    1. View previous replies...
    2. DigitalCitizen
      @Tobias89 Did adjusting the IEMatch settings do anything to change the sound of the A12 significantly? Hearing that the sound might be thicker or warmer than the Mojo kind of scares me. The mojo was already unlistenable on my ciems.
      DigitalCitizen, Mar 23, 2017
    3. Tobias89
      @DigitalCitizen I had another listen to the BL at Stereo just now, and I take back what I said. I find it be slightly "thinner" and drier compared to the Mojo. That's on my A12. Sorry for the confusion :x
      Personally I didn't find the Mojo to be thick/lush, but to be pretty "neutral" and balanced, being not too lush yet not too clinical. The iDSD retains some of its predecessor's dry/clinical signature, but adds that touch of musicality.
      I didn't notice any major changes in the sound of my A12 regardless of the IEMatch settings.
      Tobias89, Mar 24, 2017
    4. DigitalCitizen
      Hmm alright than you for the comparrison! I'll try and audition it soon.
      DigitalCitizen, Mar 24, 2017
  7. 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.
  8. 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:
  9. 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
  10. 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