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  1. kamikaziH2Omln
    Subtle Design with Not So Subtle Sound
    Written by kamikaziH2Omln
    Published Jan 20, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Swiss Army DAC, Rich Sound, Portability
    Cons - No definitive EQ, Silence Fade In at beginning of playback
    Who Am I?

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


    Equipment Used

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

    Disclaimer:

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

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

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


    Packaging and Initial Impressions:

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

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

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

    Power and Connectivity:

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

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

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

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


    Sound

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

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

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

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

    · Burning Bright – Riot Games (320 kbps MP3)

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

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

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


    Treble

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Midrange

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

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

    Bass

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

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


    3D Matrix + and XBass

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

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

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

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


    Conclusions

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

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

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

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      Fondler, blackyangell and phthora like this.
    1. phthora
      Nicely done! Great review!

      And I see that the nub has fallen off of your preamp switch as well. I lost mine after maybe two weeks of stacking my DAP with the BL. That has been my biggest complaint about the Black Label, so I guess that's pretty telling.
      phthora, Jan 29, 2018
  2. Dobrescu George
    IFI IDSD BL : THE PINNACLE OF DAC AND AMP TECH
    Written by Dobrescu George
    Published May 8, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Amazing Sound, Great Battery Life, Great Soundstage, Impressive Transients, Well extended sound in both bass and treble, versatility
    Cons - The start of a song is lower in volume after a long pause

    Introduction


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

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

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

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

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



    About me

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

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

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

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

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

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



    First Impression

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

    One song… then another… then another…

    Then another…

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

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



    Product Presentation:

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    Packaging:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    - USB-A Female to USB-B Female cable

    - 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo line out cable

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

    - Toslink / Optical adapter

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

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

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

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

    What I look in for a DAC/AMP

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

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

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

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

    - Good Value

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

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

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

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

    - Fluent, Fast, stable Firmware

    - Wide Music file type support

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

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



    Technical Specifications

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



    Build Quality/Aesthetics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Testing

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

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

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



    Sound Quallity

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



    Little disclaimer:

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

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



    Channel balance

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

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



    Bass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Midrange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Treble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Special note

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

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

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

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

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



    Soundstage

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

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

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

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



    ADSR/PRaT

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

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

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



    Portable Usage

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

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

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



    Drive factor

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

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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

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

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

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

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

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

    EMI

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

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

    Comparisons

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

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

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

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


    Bonus Photos

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    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]



    Value

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

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

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



    Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    If I helped you out and you're interested in Visual Novels, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

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  3. CoffeeDog
    iDSD BL Sets the Standard
    Written by CoffeeDog
    Published Apr 14, 2017
    5.0/5,
    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
  4. gto88
    iFi micro iDSD - best portable value
    Written by gto88
    Published Mar 22, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Features, Build Quality, SQ, Value
    Cons - a little big as portable, dac decoder indicate light is hard to see
    Gears used for comparison:
    Headphone - Sony Z1R, HIFIMAN HE1000.V2, Sennheiser HD800
    AMP   - Schiit Jotunheim (amp),  Audio-GD NFB-1AMP
    DAC   - L.K.S MH-DA003

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

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

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

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

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

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

    - Final note:
     
        About volume knob, the mark on it is almost invisible, same to Jotunheim and
        iDSD nano.
        It is not a problem for Audio-GD amp because it is digital, the number display
        perfectly shows the volume.
        I have seen a user mod the knob of a BL unit, and it looks gorgeous and clear.
        It is obvious a common issue for analog knob, hopefully it can be improved among
        manufactures.
      Apple0222 likes this.
  5. Tobias89
    Fantastic jack of all trades, and master of quite a few!
    Written by Tobias89
    Published Mar 19, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent sound, Feature rich, high performance to price ratio
    Cons - Non-existent volume indicator, awkward shape (ifi micro product series in general) - Long and thin
    About Me

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Disclaimer

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

     

    About the iDSD BL

    20170306_180029.jpg

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Source

    Nil

     

    Headphones Used

    Audio Technica ATH-R70x

    Sennheiser HD800

    64 Audio A12 CIEM

     

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

    Storms Are On The Ocean

    Amber Rubarth

    Spanish Harlem

    Rebecca Pidgeon

    Angel

    Saybia

    Drum Impro

    Dali CD

    Ignorance (Acoustic)

    Paramore

    Just A Fool (ft. Blake Shelton)

    Christina Aguilera

    Cheek to Cheek

    Lady Gaga / Tony Bennett

    Royals

    Lorde

    See You Again (ft. Charlie Puth)

    Wiz Khalifa


      

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

     

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

                                                                                                                        

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

     

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

     

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

     

    Comparison

    20170306_180241.jpg

     
    Vs Chord Mojo

    Coming soon

     

    Vs RHA Dacamp L1

    Coming soon

     

    Finish/Build Quality

    20170306_180044.jpg

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

     

    Features

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

    Specifications

    Inputs/Outputs

      
    Inputs (rear)

    USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket

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

    (with iPurifier® technology built-in)

      Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial

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

      SPDIF Optical

     
       
    Outputs (rear)

    Audio RCA L+R

     
      Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial

    Up to 192kHz PCM

       
       
    Output (right side)

    SmartPower® Socket

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

       
       
    Controls

      
    Controls (front)

      
    – HP Output

    Audio 6.3mm Headphone Jack

     
    – Volume with Power On/Off switch

    Precision analogue volume control

    <2dB Tracking error

    – 3.5mm Input

      Auto disable the digital section when this is in use

    – X-Bass®

    On/Off

     
    – 3D Holographic Sound®

    On/Off

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

       
    Controls (left side)

      
    – Power Mode

    Turbo, Normal, Eco

    Computer controlled power and gain scaling

    – Polarity

    Normal/Inverted

     
    – Filter

    3 positions, 6 filters

    (see filter section below)

       
    Controls (bottom)

      
    – Line Direct/Preamplifier

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

    Fixed 2V or variable with up to 5V available

    – iEMatch®

    Perfect-matching circuit for IEMs (eliminate hiss)

    Off / High Sensitivity Headphone / Ultra Sensitivity Headphone

       
       
    DAC section

      
    DAC

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

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

      Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing

     
       
    Clock

    Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock

    RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds

       
    Audio Formats

    DSD 512/256/128/64

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

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

      DXD 2x/1x

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

    768/705.6/384/352.8kHz

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

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

    48/44.1kHz

       
    Filters

      
    – PCM

    Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard

    Digital filters selectable

    – DSD

    Extreme/Extended/Standard Range

    Analogue filters selectable

    – DXD

    Bit-Perfect Processing

    Fixed analogue filter

       
       
    Specifications (DAC Section)

      
    Dynamic Range (Line)

    >117db(A)

     
    THD & N (0dBFS Line)

    <0.003%

     
    Output Voltage (Line)

    >2V

     
    Output Impedance (Zout)

    < 240Ω

     
    Jitter (correlated)

    Below AP2 test set limit

     
       
       
    Headphone Power Output

      
    HP Amp Output

    Power (max)

    Power (continuous.)

    – Turbo mode

    10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm

    >1560 mW @ 64 Ohm

       > 166 mW @ 600 Ohm

     
    – Normal mode

    5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm

    > 950 mW @ 32 Ohm

       > 100 mW @ 300 Ohm

     
    – Eco mode

    2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm

    > 250 mW @ 16 Ohm

       
       
    Specifications (Headamp Section)

      
    Dynamic Range (HP)

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

     
    THD &N (HP 500mW/16R)

    < 0.008%

     
    Output Voltage (HP)

    >8V (Turbo Mode)

     
    Output Impedance (Zout)

    <1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)

     
    Maximum Output Power

    4,000mW @ 16 Ohm Load

    when using sinewave testing the iDSD micro may engage protection circuits

    Continuous Output Power

    1,000mW @ 64 Ohm Load

     

     

     

    Conclusion

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

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

     

    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
  6. rafaelpernil
    A great DAC-Amp full of features
    Written by rafaelpernil
    Published Feb 22, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Very smooth and natural sound, inmense versatility
    Cons - None
    To begin with, I would like to thank iFi for making this great tour and allowing some of us to test this product.
     
    I've been enjoying my original micro iDSD since January 2015 and it is really a piece to love. Its spacious natural sound, so efortless and delivering confindently in the serious Hi-Fi range... It scaled up as my setup did, unleashing deeper layers of detail by lowering it's USB noise (data and power wise) with a micro iUSB3.0, providing better dynamics and even better stereo presentation.
     
    To be honest, up to date, I am very happy with it. I tweaked my source (laptop) for lower latency thus outputing lower USB packet jitter, I adjusted the polarity of the components of my system for even better dynamics and so far everything pays for the efforts.
     
    Having said that, my system isn't complete yet, my speaker amp is kind of a bottleneck in here. I measured its noise and it doesn't even reach a S/N ratio of 70dB (Whereas iUSB3.0 offers an S/N ratio of almost 154dB). However, it can prove many points using it as a differential tool for both units, iDSD and iDSD BL.
     
    With no further adue, let's get into the review :D.
     
     
    For those of you who already know iFi, there's some key differences in this package over old products:
     
    -Rubber feet are smaller and have an iFi logo on it (Cool addition)
     
    -All accessories are now separed in two white mate carton boxes with satin iFi logo on it. I like it, cleaner and easier to pack.
     
    -The blue USB cable seems kind-of darker now. And slightly sturdier.
     
    And for those of you who happen to be first meeting iFi products, let me just say this: They give an Apple-like experience for the unboxing, simple and elegant.
    But for the fortune of us, they give a ton more of accessories, and to be honest, not bad at all. 

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

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

    How does it perform solely as a DAC?
     
    First, comparing it to the original iDSD, I sat both units in Direct mode (Fixed Line-Out at 2V) and swapped my Oyaide neo d+ Class S USB cable connected to a micro iUSB3.0 after each test. The results proved this new unit instantly superior to the old one, giving far better texture, a better detailed bass, smoother sound and a better defined stereo image. However, I found soundstage better on the original iDSD, but maybe it is just a matter of time, to burn-in the new BL unit. I suspect improvements mainly come from improved capacitors, lower jitter and due to its improved analog section.
    By its own, without comparison, I would say it's one of the easiest DACs to listen I have tested. I listened to hours of music without noticing any disturbance in the sound. Which, by the way, happened to me sometimes with my original iDSD, sounding a little bit uncontrolled at highs.
     
    IMG_20170214_130628.jpg
     
    IMG_20170215_133324.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_131433.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_131237.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_124811.jpg
     
     
    How dows it perform as a DAC-Amp?
     
    Well, I did some comparisons to original iDSD with the same source and the same blue cable and found out some interesting results. I used my micro iUSB3.0 as power supply and USB hub for both units:
     
    At first I equated the volume using a sonometer app and a 1kHz test tone and Black Label required more volume to reach same decibels. Which are great news, we have better gain control now!
     
     *NOTE: I haven't used the Oyaide cable because when swapping, I would have to turn off the DAC, turn it on again and readjust the volume to  get it powered via USB, where the micro iUSB3.0 helps with its 0.1uV noise floor*
     
    Taking into account the headphone amp, there's a major leap forward. A very significant difference, fixing a lack of bass texture and micro detail. I noticed a smoother sound, slightly better tone wise,
    with much better controlled highs, providing a solid image. It sounds more natural, with better texture and dynamics. Overall, very cohesive. But I would say original iDSD has a bigger soundstage.
     
    IMG_20170211_152357.jpg
     
     
     
    What about digital filtering?
     
    I perceived a lesser degree of improvement when comparing straight to USB port with iUSB3.0 as source. It seems this overhauled version has lower jitter and better filtering. A very good job!
     
     
    And now, talking about XBass+, there is also a very clear improvement. Bass boost is much more noticeable and fits quite nicely with many tracks. 3D Holographic + on the counterpart sounds slightly
    more unrealistic, a very nice addition nonetheless.
     
     
     
    Sincerely I would love to keep this unit with me. It sounds so great I don't wan't to stop music. It sounds so great I don't even have to worry about audio.
     
    Thanks for reading me, I hope you liked the review!
      proedros likes this.
  7. vapman
    The only acceptable replacement for the most discerning audiophile's desktop stereo setups.
    Written by vapman
    Published Feb 19, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Crazy amounts of power, beautiful sound, portable, doesn't require drivers to work.
    Cons - Can't buy the special edition opamps on their own, costs money, will make your other gear suck in comparison
    The original iDSD Micro stood out from the competition as an all-in-one replacement for the most discerning listeners' setups. The original iDSD Micro delivered - I had one, but as I started to not need a portable device anymore, I started comparing it to all the dedicated desktop gear I had. I had a glorious DAC and some very serious stereo power amps at the time - two Hafler DH500's running in mono. By the time I had re-configured my listening station to be all desktop again, my iDSD Micro didn't have much of a place since my desktop DAC - an E-MU 0404 with an AK4396 - could do the job. That was the end of my time with the original iDSD Micro. I sold it and moved on. However, after almost a year since then, I had completely dismantled my home stereo as a result of living in an apartment and getting too many noise complaints. That began my journey to find the setup the could replace that stereo with no compromises.
     
    The new iDSD Micro Black Label is iFi's first major upgrade to the iDSD Micro. The very day I heard there would be a tour for it, I signed up and was ecstatic to find I had been one of the chosen reviewers for it. My hopes were that the Black Label wouldn't just match my crazy desktop setup - which could double my power bill just by being plugged in - but make it all seem lame in comparison.
     
    I have gone thru tons and tons of gear in the decade or so I've been on Head-Fi. One of the few things that's been consistent in almost that whole time is one of my first big audio purchases - an E-MU 0404 USB I got shortly after it came out. So it's been in my hands for close to 15 years. It featured a beautifully implemented AK4396, and for a long time (up until maybe 2012 or 2013) I used it as my headphone amp too. It was the DAC that survived not only the original iDSD Micro but even the mighty Mojo.
     
    new-ifi-audio-micro-idsd-black-label-samma3a-002.png 3299555-kickass12.png emu0404usb2.jpg
     
     ​
    Another one of my favorite DACs, although not a super expensive one - the Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD, like both the original and Black Label iDSD Micro, uses a Burr Brown DAC. I always found the SBX effects to be high quality on it. Since getting rid of my original iDSD Micro, I would switch between these two DACs. I ended up being a huge fan of the bMac, an Indonesian made & designed portable amp, which has kept its place on my desk for close to a year now. I had also gained a very strong affinity for the Parasound Zamp, with the gobs of power it could push to any headphone, and sound amazing doing so. After the tour was announced, but well before I received my unit, the Walnut V2 made its appearance on the Head-Fi map and became well respected as a very high quality but budget unit. Having a power output comparable to the iDSD Micro, I decided to settle with it as I liked its sound even as a desktop headphone amp.
     
    Fast forward from the ending of 2016 to early February 2017. After a couple months of hearing nothing, and watching iDSD Micro Black Label reviews slowly pop up on the site - which I kept myself from reading to keep from having preconceived notions about its sound - I finally got the email. It was my turn at last to try the Black Label. Little did I know it would make me feel like the first day I got the E-MU instead of listening with my PC's built-in sound chipset, or the first time I heard $1,700 IEMs - you get the point.
     
    ccc13736_1754017.jpg
     
    The day it arrived, I got both my most recent favorite setup and the setup that beat the iDSD Micro many months ago, and got them ready and re-familiarized myself with them before switching to the Black Label. I don't even remember what headphone I tried first on the Black Label. The thing is, it doesn't matter. No matter what I tried, it was on a whole different level than any of my gear. My setup that had been my favorite up until that moment was dishearteningly muddy and flat in comparison to what I was hearing. The setup that nearly matched the original iDSD Micro in sound was lifeless and lacked dynamics compared to the Black Edition. And so, that marked the last day I was able to enjoy the setup I had until that point.
     
    I knew the Black Label was all business. Custom-designed op-amps, a stunning capacitor selection, and some awfully bold claims about how much better it would be over the original. While I can't rip the op-amps out of this tour unit to try in other gear, and I doubt iFi would sell me some of their iFi/AMR op-amps, I've messed with enough op-amps in my life to know what to expect from a lot of them, and I know from my time with the Black Edition I like what I am hearing an awful lot.
     
    A while back, I published a review on the Parasound Zamp, a 45 watt zone power amp that happened to have a headphone jack on the front of it. I praised it for its ability to breathe crazy amounts of life into any headphone you plug it. People got excited about it, and it was one of my most popular reviews. I've tried other amps that boast a high wattage output, but none are capable of being quite as dynamic and effortless as that Zamp did. Even if the original iDSD Micro couldn't do this job, the Black Edition definitely can and does. I think I spent at least 3/4 of my time with it in Turbo mode. I'm a bass head, a SPL freak and I love my headphones to sound like they're going to explode with energy. I could not find a headphone pairing that did not sound good on this amp, much like with the Zamp. And for how alive, crisp, and clear everything sounds, I probably would have been impressed if I was just hearing the amp section and didn't use the DAC at all. Using the original iDSD Micro I never wanted to use as an amp by itself, but the Black Edition has me enjoying the device as an amp thoroughly.
     
    3bc9e25a_iDSDBlackLabelComponents.jpg
     
    Speaking of bass - one of my bigger complaints about the original iDSD Micro was the bass boost switch hardly did anything. It made a very subtle difference which I felt was only really noticeable when you were listening at very high volumes. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the bass boost was certainly more present on this unit. On any headphones I used, it added a great amount of weight to the bass with any headphone I used. The background is silent and the detailing and clarity is top notch. When I was listening with more demanding headphones like the JVC SZ's, the difference was huge with the switch flipped.
     
    The 3D option does roughly the same thing as the Sound Blaster's Crystallizer function. It essentially makes the sound a little more "V" shaped. I kept the 3D switch off for the majority of my listening, but never thought it sounded bad with it on. I don't tend to use the Crystallizer very often at all when I'm using my X-Fi anyway. What is clear is that the Black Label goes so much farther past the all-in-one replacement for your listening setup. For discerning and picky listeners who are not willing to accept any compromise, true music lovers who listen all day and can't tolerate a minute of downtime, this is the all-in-one unit for you.
     
    The price and its similarity to the Mojo's price can not be ignored. The original iDSD Micro used to be compared to the Mojo, but I never felt that was a balanced comparison, even if they did the same jobs. Interface differences aside, the Mojo has a more unique sound. For me, that unique sound did not always work out. It made my MP3's and other lossy audio sound like garbage. Lossless sounded wonderful on the Mojo, but I don't have the kind of library that can be easily replaced with lossless copies. The Mojo failed to work out for me for this reason, regardless of the fact the volume control balls drove me insane and the charging mechanism was too flaky to work for someone who listens all day long and gets furious at any downtime. My Mojo only lasted a couple months before the aspects of it that bothered me outweighed my ability to enjoy it.
     
    a73e217a_B_P1070660.jpg
     
    The Mojo is more easily compared to the Black Label, I think. Lossy audio still sounds great on the Black Label, but the Black Label - even on bit-perfect mode - offers such a fast and detailed yet slightly warm sound. I always felt the iDSD was the more honest of the two, and the Black Label is the best choice for me as it's honest, neutral, and balanced but offers the lush, refined sound the Mojo was capable of whereas the original iDSD Micro was not as capable. Before the Black Label, I think it would have been a much harder choice between the Mojo and the iDSD Micro. With the Black Label in the mix, the gap is so much smaller. The improvements iFi brought to the table with the Black Label really shows. No longer do you have to pick between two desktop stack replacements which approached the problem in completely different ways for a great all-in-one portable device. I noticed right away the overall sound character has tried to catch up to the competition, and it is my opinion that iFi did an excellent job of this. Anyone who thought the original iDSD Micro could stand to be brighter would probably not be the biggest fans of the changes iFi made. To anyone else, I would feel pretty confident it is only an upgrade. It's a move slightly more in the direction of how the Mojo sounds, and personally I like it a ton.
     
    To be sure I get my point across by how impressed I am of the sound coming out of this device - all-in-one unit or not - my DAC and amp setup I had been using before this, I had replaced op-amps, capacitors, all manners of things to improve the sound quality to my liking. And while it all had approached and come fairly close to the Black Label's sound, it just simply can't catch up in any way. My setup had too much background noise and not a dynamic, crisp and quick enough sound to it. It was even a tiny bit like I was back in electrostatic territory listening to the Black Edition at times. I wasn't even happy with my setup's bass levels when I was switching back from the Black Label which took me by surprise. The bass power of the Black Label is not to be underestimated. 
     
    On the day I got the tour unit, I was doing recording work in my studio and had it sitting on top of a tube compressor I was using. Of course, it made perfect sense that once I was done recording and going to listen back on headphones, I should first listen with the setup I had deemed best, and then listen straight out of the Black Edition.
     
    fgdfsgdfgf.jpg
    In my pitch-black recording studio, I noticed the iDSD Micro BL illuminated by one of my tube compressor's VU monitors.
     
    Listening to the Black Label has made me so uninterested in all the other DACs and amps I have lying around. They all are so inferior to the Black Label in my mind now. Every headphone I have tried it with, it's a gorgeous, lively pairing. There is no such thing as bad synergy with the Black Label. Everything works so amazingly with it, and the Black Label is able to make anything I throw at it - source material or headphones - sound the best I've heard most of it ever be.
     
    While it did not provide a whole new world of clarity I hadn't heard through my DAC before, it did give me something I hadn't heard since that dual mono Hafler setup with the 0404 sitting on top. That dead silent background, perfect extension across the full frequency spectrum, no BS. All you got was the music, honest as possible, but sounding beautiful doing so. It is a gorgeous thing when there is truly no need for any tricks to make the source sound better than it really is. All you need is the perfect presentation of it. My years and thousands of dollars per year spent chasing this level of sound proves this was no easy feat. 
     
    One of the other things I wanted to test out of the Black Label right away was its performance as a DAC if substituted for either my 0404 or modded X-Fi Titanium HD with the same amps afterward. The dual mono DAC design had me very interested in this model. It had lower noise and better detailing, speed and dynamics compared to the X-Fi Ti HD. Compared to the 0404 with the AK4396, the 0404 was a leaner and brighter sound. It did not have the slight warmness the dual Burr Brown setup in the X-Fi, but the 0404 also had a thinner and flatter sound in comparison.
     
    The last time I've had this hard of a time giving up some review gear was when I was touring the Kumitate Labs IEMs. I never ended up getting one of those were too far out of my price range combined with my unwillingness to buy a custom IEM, with the KL-REF being close to $2000. Still, to this day it remains one of the most beautiful and well balanced sounds I've heard from any headphone. Going back to my gear after sending the Black Label back to iFi I know will feel like sending those Kumitates back. I just wanted to keep begging to spend another day with them. I had to force myself to keep listening when I was comparing my other gear to the Black Label because none of it was as good. None of it. I knew it was a winner when I couldn't stop trying different headphones through it, not because any of them weren't giving me the sound I wanted, but because they all sounded so ridiculously good out of the Black Label. I had been using headphones I hadn't tried in ages just to rock out because they all sounded so much better than I had remembered them. This isn't something I had done or really experienced since I was doing my Parasound Zamp review.
     
    I had been struggling to find out how I was going to describe this device adequately in a review. I wanted to do it proper justice, not just say over and over "it was great! i loved it! everything was great!" and after several drafts I still have the feeling my whole review just reads like that. What I can't seem to emphasize properly is how to put my experience having the iDSD Black Label into the proper context.
     
    cc1b7ea2_PCB-1.1-WHITE.jpg
     
    Finally, the answer came to me on the weekend at 4AM. I was standing in my living room in my pajamas, JVC SZ2000 on my head, the iDSD Black Label in my hand, running off a super long USB extension cable into my PC. I had been tweaking my five-band parametric EQ and blasting crappy Italian Discomagic compilation CD's from the early and mid 1990's. I remember because I had Turbo mode on the Black Label and was pushing every last decibel of sub and mid bass out of my JVC SZ2000 as I could. As I was listening to the cheesy Italo disco mixes, I went back through all the Head-Fi meets I'd been to in my life and came to a realization. The most active meet I'd ever attended, which was in 2006, I listened to all the top of the line setups that existed eleven years ago. Nothing I was hearing was possible back then. Forget the bass power of the SZ2000 which just wasn't possible before JVC invented that - what about the Black Label itself? As a perfect stand-in replacement but not more than that, the original iDSD Micro was still a feat of technology that wouldn't have been possible in 2006, but I never got the impression with the original iDSD Micro that really took me by awe. The Black Edition was something that truly was not possible as long as a decade ago or even half a decade. Here was a box I could hold in my hand and not only could it match the sound of stacks of gear amounting to nearly $1,000 on their own - it was surpassing all of it in any possible way. Going back to any of my old setup results in one form of disappointment or another. And anything I heard that long ago, giant stacks of specialized gear isolated from one another and linked up with top of the line cables, to my own personal setup I've obsessively perfected over time, all crushed by the sound of the Black Label. This was truly the sound of audio perfection as far as I've heard. Maybe it won't be 5 years or a decade from now, that's fine because it's good enough to have turned the tables. I can shamelessly say this is what I hoped the Mojo would be. Not only having enough power to challenge the most power hungry headphones but sounding so glorious doing it, there is nothing else I could ask for.
     
    The Sound Blaster seemed so worthless in comparison. No DSP can come close to matching the sound of bit-perfect music played so honestly, with so much perfectly controlled power. The E-MU could only compete when it was running thru the Zamp V3 - still one of the most amazing and perfect combinations I've ever heard in my life - but this offers so much more flexibility and doesn't require two AC outlets. That is what truly made this device so good to me. The sound quality and energy I could only get my running my all-time favorite DAC into a 45 watt desktop power amp, designed to drive speakers, with a gigantic toroidal transformer. The DAC also requires its own power supply. Two pieces of gear I had never been able to beat with anything bus or battery powered. And here it was! Worst of all, it wasn't even mine - I was last in line for my leg of the tour. I would go in between dancing and singing to these bargain bucket Italo house mixes and complete despair that I had to give it back to iFi. I just couldn't stop listening to it, day or night. Every minute I spent with the sub and mid bass boosted as high as 34dB and Turbo mode activated with my JVC's was to die for. And, yes, it's suitable for non bass heads too. More often than I could understand, I found myself with Turbo mode on but running no EQ and just having the XBass switch on with all my power-hungriest ear buds. But again I have to emphasize, it doesn't really matter what gear you use on this. No matter what it is, it's going to sound as good as it can possibly sound in the year 2017 as far as I am convinced. I spend thousands of dollars on gear per year chasing after this exact sound. I have no doubts that the Black Label is a turning point, as it would be remarkable even for a desktop only device in my opinion. To be in a battery powered, compact format is nothing short of mind-blowing, and the components that are upgrades over the original iDSD Micro enough to make any audio loving engineer shed a tear of delight.
     
    cf636661_PCB-2-WHITE.jpg
     
    Is it worth your hard earned money? I would feel better about getting this than I ever did about buying a Mojo. I could just have this and my PC running foobar2000 and I'd be set. There is nothing I could find lacking in this device compared to anything else I like to use to listen. In fact, the Black Label really brought out what was wrong with the rest of my system. I was worried if I liked this a lot I wouldn't be able to budget for it even if I stretched it, but my experience using this has completely and honestly made the rest of my DACs and amps seem useless. At this point, they are all inferior to the Black Label in my eyes. When I send it back to iFi, I'll be counting the days until I have one in my hands again. Really, after about 2 weeks spent with this unit, I haven't been able to bring myself to use anything else for more than a couple minutes. It's the new standard by which I will measure anything else, truthfully and honestly. I can only hope I don't have to go too long without it in my life. I've had iFi gear before but I'm fully convinced now they're entirely deserving of all my respect. I can't thank iFi enough for the opportunity to try this out, even if it did make me hate all my other DACs and amps. For a single device to be able to replace what I missed most about my 500 watt dual mono-block home stereo is truly remarkable. For it to be battery powered and pocketable is truly ridiculous. I do honestly think this is a new milestone in portable sound. Anybody else making combo DAC/amp units needs to take a serious lesson from this. iFi is not messing around and it is so obvious when you are listening to it. I can't help but recommend any lovers of that lively, energetic sound prioritize investing in this unit.
     
    (edit: I realized I never mentioned my settings used. For nearly the entire time I had this, as with my original iDSD Micro, I had IEMatch disabled and the filter set to bit-perfect. Also, I failed to mention the IEMatch switches are more recessed than on the original iDSD Micro, which I appreciated.)
      cpauya, golov17, Krisna13 and 3 others like this.
    1. Lord Rexter
      Thank you for a great review!
      Lord Rexter, Feb 19, 2017
    2. vapman
      vapman, Feb 19, 2017
  8. earfonia
    iFi Audio micro iDSD Black-Label: Sound Quality First!
    Written by earfonia
    Published Jan 31, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Feature rich with high performance to price ratio; Multi-platform compatibility; Isolated USB and analog ground with excellent USB EMI noise rejection
    Cons - 1-2 seconds of silence at the beginning of playback (from a stop); 1 LED indicator with complicated color codes
    Many thanks to iFi for the tour program, to let us have some experience with the new iFi micro iDSD Black-Label!

     



     

    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label product web page:
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd-bl/

    Manual:
    http://ifi-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/data/manual/miDSDBL_manual.pdf
     
     
    Due to the limitation of max 100000 characters in this review section, I couldn't post here the features and measurement part of this review. Please check the features and measurement part here:
     
    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label - In-Depth Review
     
     

    The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is the improved version of the previous iFi micro iDSD. iFi has shared to us in detail, many of their design considerations during the development of the micro iDSD. Lot’s to learn from the post, therefore I think it is worth to post the link to the early discussion here:

    http://www.head-fi.org/t/711217/idsd-micro-black-label-tour-details-page-147-release-info-page-153

    I bought the iFi micro iDSD pre-ordered from Stereo Singapore in September 2014. Since then it has been one of my favorite portable DAC. I like the line output sound quality especially when paired with iFi micro iCan, but the headphone output of iFi micro iDSD requires some matching to sound best. My biggest complaint so far from the iFi micro iDSD is the quality of the iEMatch switch that often glitchy and causes loss of the right channel or severe channel imbalance. The volume pot of my iFi micro iDSD also has audible channel imbalance below 9:30’ position. Together with the glitchy iEMatch switch, it makes me difficult to use it for sensitive IEMs. I’m glad to say that I found the channel imbalance of the review unit of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label has been greatly reduced, and practically I didn’t have any channel imbalance issue even at low volume setting. I hope this will be the case for all iFi micro iDSD Black-Label units. I also hope that the iEMatch switch durability has been improved on the Black-Label version.
     

     

     

    Some of the improvements in the Black-Label version are some of the electronic components, power sections, clock system, and some other improvement on both digital and analog circuit sections, including the implementation of custom Op-Amp. There is no changes in the technical specifications and features from the previous iFi micro iDSD, so feature wise both the iFi micro iDSD and the Black-Label version are similar. The improvement is more on the sound quality. One might ask when there is an improvement in the sound quality, why it is not shown in the specification? The simple answer is, the measured specifications don't cover all aspects of the sound quality. Basic specifications such as FR, THD, and SNR are only a few aspects of the audio quality and quite often are not advertised in detail. THD for example, usually only advertised as average THD, but manufacturer usually doesn't give further detail like what is the distortion profile across the audio band, which type of distortion that is more dominant, etc. Therefore, usually, it is close to impossible to judge the sound quality of a DAC or Amplifier only by looking at the advertised specifications.

    In summary, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is an excellent sounding, feature rich DAC + headphone amplifier. It does require some knowledge to get the most out of it. Sound quality wise, it is on the neutral side with no obvious coloration. For those who are looking for warm, intimate, mellow type of sound signature, better look elsewhere. Transparency, clarity, speed, and detail retrieval are still the main characteristics of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound signature, similar to the iFi micro iDSD. And iFi has improved it further in a more musical manner on the Black-Label version. Besides some technical improvement from the previous iFi micro iDSD, the sound quality improvement that I observed on the Black-Label are transparency, dynamic, and instrument separation. The Black-Label is more transparent and realistic sounding than the already transparent sounding iFi micro iDSD. Not a night and day differences, but noticeable. And I’m glad to say that the increase in transparency and detail retrieval doesn’t make the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sounding more analytical than the iFi micro iDSD. Subjectively, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is actually sounding more musical to me. Even though not by much, I do prefer the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound quality than the iFi micro iDSD.
     

     

    Pros:
    1. Feature rich with high performance to price ratio.
    2. Neutral sound quality with superb transparency, speed, and detail retrieval.
    3. Good multi-platforms compatibility with various operating systems.
    4. Isolated USB and analog ground with excellent USB EMI noise rejection.
    5. Various digital and analog filters to suit listening preference.
    6. A wide range of gain and headphone output power settings to suit various loads, from sensitive IEMs to demanding headphones.
    7. Useful and good sounding analog bass boost and stereo enhancement analog circuit.
    8. Good battery life.

    Cons:
    1. 1-2 seconds of silence at the beginning of playback (from a stop). This short period of silence causes the first 1-2 seconds of the song gets muted at the start. This can be quite annoying for some songs that start immediately at the 1st second. This is the only most annoying flaw of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label so far, but I believe it can be fixed by firmware update if iFi is willing to fix it, or probably by releasing a special driver only for PCM playback. I notice that the silence period is slightly longer on the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label compared to the iFi micro iDSD. Due to the short review time, I’ve only tested it with foobar v1.3.12 (WASAPI and DSD ASIO). Probably there is a way to shorten the silence from the setting, but I didn’t have enough time to play around with the setting or checked this symptom using other media player applications.​ This short period of silence at the beginning of playback is could be due to ‘pop’ issue described here:
              http://ifi-audio.com/audio_blog/pop-goes-dsd-why-does-this-happen/
    1. 1 LED indicator to indicate many operating conditions. It is not user-friendly to expect a user to memorize so many color codes from a single LED indicator.
    2. Volume level indicator is hard to see.

    Suggestions for improvements:
    1. To shorten the start play silence.
    2. A more user-friendly LED indicator. Suggested 3 LEDs indicator as described at the end part of this review.
    3. White or silver volume level indicator for better visibility.
    4. Better design rubber feet with a stronger attachment to the metal case. It is preferable to have better rubber feet that have been fixed to the metal case from the factory.
     


     
     
     

    Sound Quality

    Sound quality observations were done using my regular test tracks as shown at the end of this review. As for headphones and IEMs, I mostly used the following during this review:
     
    Headphones:
    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
    Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7
    Beyerdynamic T1
    HiFiMan HE-6
    Massdrop HD6xx
    Sennheiser HD800
    Philips Fidelio X1
    STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S
     
    In-Ear Monitors:
    AK T8iE Mk2
    Brainwavz B200
    DUNU DN-2000
     

     

    Headphone Output Sound Signature:
    Transparent with good detail and dynamic is probably the simplest way to describe iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound signature. Generally, it sounds quite neutral with no obvious coloration. The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is not a warm and mellow sounding type of DAC that tends to ‘beautify’ recording flaws. It is a bit on the dry and analytical side, but iFi has done it in a nice and musical way. It is still lean on the analytical side but it doesn’t sound thin. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label has excellent stereo imaging, spacious and holographic with good depth. The headphone output is powerful with lightning fast transient, always giving the impression that it can drive any IEMs and headphones with ease. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label might not be for those looking for smooth warm and polite sounding DAC, but I imagine that the Black-Label could easily be the sound engineer favorite portable DAC.

    With the mentioned headphones and IEMs above, I prefer to match the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label with the less analytical sounding ones. Though pairing the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label with HD800 and T1 give and impressive transparent and holographic sonic presentation, but overall still rather too bright for my preference. The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label despite the small size also surprisingly able to drive the HiFiMan HE-6 quite well, but the pair also a bit too bright for me.
     

     
     
    So the headphones and IEMs that I consider pairs well with iFi micro iDSD Black-Label are:

    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
    Philips Fidelio X1
    STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S (Connected to Line Output)

    AK T8iE Mk2
    Brainwavz B200

    Most surprising is how iFi micro iDSD Black-Label improves the sound quality of the new Brainwavz B200, dual BA drivers IEM. B200 usually sounds polite with soft treble with my Onkyo DP-X1, not so much excitement. But when driven from iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, the treble suddenly shines and sparkling nicely. B200 sounds more lively and exciting with iFi micro iDSD Black-Label. Quite a significant improvement. The Audio-Technica ATH-R70x and STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S (Connected to Line Output) are also wonderful pairs with the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label.
     

     


    Comparison to iFi micro iDSD Headphone Output
    At the same volume level, the Black-Label sounds more powerful with greater dynamic and sense of driving power. Bass sounds slightly thicker, tighter, punchier, and has a better texture. I feel both bass and midrange texture and micro dynamic seems to be improved on the Black-Label, giving a slightly better perception of depth, transparency, and instruments separation. Treble is more or less the same, but on some recordings with sibilance, the sibilant sounds a tad more prominent on the older micro iDSD, and a tad less sharp on the Black-Label. Just a tad, basically the difference is quite small. The level of treble and treble sparkle are about the same, but with slightly different character. The sparkling character of the treble of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is somehow sounding a tad more natural to my ears. In summary, the Black-Label sounds more transparent, bolder, and more energetic than the previous micro iDSD. The difference is audible but not a night and day kind of differences. What I mean is, that if we already have the micro iDSD, I think it is not necessary to sell it to get the Black-Label. But if I have to choose, I would definitely choose the Black-Label over the silver micro iDSD.
     

    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label Line Output + iFi micro iCan
    I remember that in past, ever mentioned in the forum that some suggested to iFi to tweak the headphone amplifier of the micro iDSD to be closer to the sound signature of the micro iCan. So is the headphone amplifier of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label now sounds close to the micro iCan? Well not quite yet. The headphone output of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sounds dryer than the iCan. In my opinion, the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label line output connected to micro iCan still sounds better. They do share some similarity, like the level of transparency, detail retrieval, and dynamic are probably about the same, but the micro iCan sounds slightly smoother and warmer that makes the micro iCan more friendly for analytical headphones like HD800 and T1. The micro iCan has slightly longer decay than the Black-Label headphone amplifier that makes it sounds less dry and more pleasing to my ears. I’m still hoping that one day I could have a new generation of micro iDSD with the headphone out sound quality that is similar to the micro iCan sound quality. So I don’t have to bring two units to enjoy the sound quality of the combination of micro iDSD + micro iCan. In the past, I’ve compared the line output sound quality of my micro iDSD to bigger and more expensive desktop DACs, and micro iDSD line output has been proven to exceed its price bracket. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label line output doesn’t disappoint and even improved it further on the transparency, detail, and instrument separation. Very impressive line output sound quality from such a small portable DAC. IMHO, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is worth it even just for the DAC section alone.
     

     

     
     

    Chord Mojo (Headphone Output Comparisons)
    Listening to classical DSD tracks, Super Artists on Super Audio sampler vol.5 from Channel Classics Records, when using the analogy of medium and large concert hall, Chord Mojo sounds like we are listening to the concert in a medium size hall, with a tad better micro detail and impact. Listening to Chord Mojo is like sitting closer to the musical performance, more intimate presentation with a tad clearer micro detail and slightly better sense of micro-dynamic. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, on the other hand, provides a more spacious sensation, like listening in a larger hall. Less intimate with a larger sense of space. iFi micro iDSD BL is also perceived as a tad smoother sounding than Mojo. The difference is not day and night, but quite easy to distinguish. Both performs admirably in their own ways. I do need more time for better comparison between Mojo and iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, but the most distinguishable difference is in the presentation, between the more intimate presentation of Mojo and the more holographic presentation of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label. Honestly, I can’t really tell which one is better. I guess it is not for better or worst but more about personal preference.


     
     
     
    Features and Measurement
     
    Both the older version of iFi micro iDSD and the Black-Label version have similar features and specifications, therefore I listed only the Black-Label version in this table of features.
     
    Table of Features in comparison to Chord Mojo:
    Parameter
    iFi micro iDSD Black-label​
    Chord Mojo​
    DAC
    Dual-Core Burr-Brown (2-DAC Chip)​
    Chord Custom FPGA DAC​
    PCM
    PCM 768/ 705.6/ 384/ 352.8/ 192/ 176.4/
    96/ 88.2/ 48/ 44.1kHz​
    PCM 768/ 705.6/ 384/ 352.8/ 192/ 176.4/
    96/ 88.2/ 48/ 44.1kHz​
    DSD
    up to DSD 512​
    up to DSD 256​
    Multi-platform compatibility
    Yes​
    Yes​
    USB Input
    USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket
    (with iPurifier® technology built-in)​
    Micro-B USB​
    SPDIF Coaxial Input
    RCA - Up to 192kHz PCM​
    3.5mm jack - Up to 768kHz PCM​
    SPDIF Optical Input
    Up to 192kHz PCM​
    Up to 192kHz PCM​
    SPDIF Output
    RCA Coaxial - Up to 192kHz PCM​
    -​
    USB to SPDIF Conversion
    Yes - Up to 192kHz PCM​
    -​
    Selectable Filter
    Yes - 3 options for each PCM and DSD​
    -​
    Analog Line Input
    Yes - 3.5mm socket​
    -​
    Analog Line Output
    Yes - Dedicated RCA​
    Integrated with headphone output​
    Line Output Level
    Direct: 2V Fixed
    PreAmp - Eco: 0 - 2.18 V
    Variable - Normal: 0 - 5.66 V
    Variable - Turbo: 0 - 6.43 V​
    0V - 4.79V Variable​
    Headphone Output
    1x 6.5mm socket​
    2x 3.5mm socket​
    Adjustable HO Gain
    Yes - 9 combinations​
    -​
    Maximum HO Voltage -
    measured @ 600 ohms load
    9.71 Vrms​
    4.79 Vrms​
    Maximum HO Current -
    measured @ 15 ohms load
    306 mA​
    199 mA​
    HO Output Impedance
    IEMatch Off: 0.34 ohms
    IEMatch High Sensitivity: 4.1 ohms
    IEMatch Ultra Sensitivity: 0.95 ohms​
    0.44 ohms​
    HO SNR @ 50 mV @ 33 ohms
    (for very sensitive IEM)
    Eco - Ultra Sens. : 87.3 dB
    Normal - Ultra Sens. : 87.0 dB
    Turbo - Ultra Sens. : 83.0 dB​
    82.9 dB​
    Volume Control
    Analog Potentiometer​
    Digital​
    Extra Features
    XBass Plus, 3D Matrix Plus, Polarity Switch,
    & USB Power Bank (5V, 1.5A)​
    -​
    Weight
    310g​
    180g​
    Dimension
    177mm (l) x 67mm (w) x 28mm(h)​
    82mm (l) x 60mm (w) x 22mm (h)​

     
    I did some test and observation of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label features, like testing the iFi iPurifier® technology on the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label USB input and how effective that feature to remove unwanted EMI from USB audio, here:
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Unfortunately I cannot post all the features and measurement part here due to the maximum limit of the characters that can be posted in this section.
    Therefore, Please check the features and measurement part here:
     
    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label - In-Depth Review
     
     


    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is probably the most unique and feature rich DAC+Amp combo in its class. The Black-Label version is a proof of iFi main priority in their design philosophy, which is sound quality. The Black-Label version has similar features to the older version of micro iDSD, and all the effort and improvement is only to achieve one goal, better sound quality. And I think iFi has achieved it. Kudos to iFi!
     
     

     

     

     

     
     



    Equipment used in this review

    Headphones:
    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
    Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7
    Beyerdynamic T1
    HiFiMan HE-6
    Massdrop HD6xx
    Sennheiser HD800
    Philips Fidelio X1
    STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S
     
    In-Ear Monitors:
    1964 Audio V3 (universal)
    AK T8iE Mk2
    Brainwavz B200
    DUNU DN-2000
     
    DAC and Amplifiers:
    Chord Mojo
    iFi micro iDSD
    iFi micro iCan
    Audio-Technica AT-HA22Tube
     
    Measurement Equipment:
    QuantAsylum QA401 - 24-bit Audio Analyzer
    Owon VDS3102 - 100 MHz Digital Storage Oscilloscope
    Brymen BM829s - Digital Multimeter
    HRT LineStreamer+ - Analog to Digital Converter
    ZKE EBD-USB+ - USB Power Meter
     
    Computer & Player:
    DIY Desktop PC: Gigabyte GA-H77-D3H-MVP motherboard, Intel i7-3770, 16 GB RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit SP1.
    foobar2000 v1.3.12



    Some recordings used in this review:
     

    1. View previous replies...
    2. MLGrado
      nice!  I am still waiting on it.  I am near the end of the line for review.  I am also on the list to review the new Aune S6.  I am looking forward to that comparison!  
       
      I am curious about the cutoff you are talking about on PCM material.  Is it on PCM only?  Correct?  Hmmm.  Let me get my iDSD Micro out and have a listen.  This is not something I recall experiencing with my PC.  I think if I did have that issue I would remember because I would find it extremely annoying.  That is still one of the maddening things about USB audio, and I am sure it drives these companies crazy...  especially with PC audio, since hardware configs are practically unlimited in possible combinations, it is probably impossible to get it perfect for everyone.  
       
      I know over time these little glitches in the iFi software have improved immensely.  To the point where I felt the user experience was a good as one could expect considering all the functionality.  The software has come a long way, and I think that shows you both sides of the coin when your relatively small company has its own in house software and design team.  
      MLGrado, Feb 2, 2017
    3. MLGrado
      And thanks for the comparo with the Chord.  I have yet to hear a Chord product, but I know many swear by them. 
      MLGrado, Feb 2, 2017
    4. earfonia
      @MLGrado, Looking forward to your review!
      The initial silence is short on my micro iDSD, but a bit longer on micro iDSD BL that starts to get me annoyed. Hope I could find the right setting with foobar to get rid of it. 
      earfonia, Feb 3, 2017
  9. 00lunar
    A marvelous all-arounder
    Written by 00lunar
    Published Jan 18, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Sound, functionality, build quality, price-to-performance ratio
    Cons - Nothing major. Black writing could be orange.
    Introductory word
     
    They say that once you go black.... yeah. This is quite self-explanatory. And behold, black iFi Audio product emerged. I can only say - finally. Cheers to 'em English folks. Even though I enjoy iFi stuff, I had a pleasure to know said manufacturer's every device out there, silver color doesn't make me pleasantly anxious. Don't get me wrong, it looks OK. It fits where it needs to fit. Though I wondered if we'll see black puppies from iFi, that was my desire number one for a long, long time. And to know that BL version is supposedly better than stock iDSD is yet another reason to be happy. Improvements are usually good in our hobby. And if a company with very extensive know-how is able to further improve its circuitry here and there, the outcome surely is something to look forward to. So we looked forward, waited. And waited. And then waited some more.
     
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    My experience with iDSD Micro was very enjoyable overall. In order not to make this story longer than needed (it's long enough), let me just say that for the price, this was and still is IMO a very nice product to have. I believe that it defended itself over time, it held its ground firmly against numerous rivals. Several of my friends own one and are perfectly happy. Yes, they do AMR window shopping, but are happy nonetheless. When I used my iDSD Micro on the go with a laptop, its one feature stood out of the crowd, namely organics. With right tracks and right CIEMs/headphones, this deck had it. This lifelike, rich and musical approach I subjectively enjoy and pay attention to since literally forever.
     
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    Original iDSD sound wasn't thin, dull, fuzzy or unpleasant in any way. For the money it was simply right. Chord Hugo elevated this experience to even greater extent, but for a completely different, much higher asking though. When my buddies asked me about a transportable DAC/amp combo they should buy, I suggested to go with iDSD Micro as a complete have-it-all package that'll cover most of their needs. If budget to spend was higher, Hugo was my pick. After many sources auditioned, my all time favorites up to $3'500 were iDSD Micro, Hugo and desktop AURALiC Vega in that logical order exactly, namely from the most affordable to the most pricey.
     
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    Years have passed, iDSD is no longer with me and the same story is with Hugo. I'm a home stereo person of heavy calibre these days. But iDSD BL is something I noticed in an instant. One of my friends planned to grab one unit for his own needs anyway. Needless to say, I've exploited his kindness. In short, to evaluate iDSD BL's skills, ENIGMAcoustic Dharma D1000 and HiFiMAN HE-1000 V1 cans were very helpful in writing this piece. Apologies for not being able to compare said English deck to any competition as I currently don't own anything suitable for the job.
     
    Functionality and stuff
     
    Before we'll dive into the sound, a word about fit'n'finish and said product's functionality. iDSD BL is a typical iFi Audio device, nothing much can be said about it as there's been a lot of reviews out there already. That's hardly any surprise at all. In any case, black iDSD Micro looks dandy. Subjectively this color is great, much better than the original. Stealthy impressions, anyone? Yes, please. And the paint job itself is done nicely too, even all across the product's chassis. Orange writings do the trick nicely as well. Perhaps this is just me, but black&orange mix is something that IMO simply works. My only gripe is with our English deck's bottom. Some descriptions visible there are orange, whereas vast majority is black, therefore unreadable while looking directly at the product. This could have been done better. Therefore please iFi, put orange lettering everywhere. The product is durable, every part of its chassis is nicely finished and properly matched. Rubbery knobs look more decently than in the original, namely aren't wobbly at all, but my memory might not serve me well here. 3D and Xbass knobs feel solid and properly clicky. I can't remember how these functions were implemented in the first iDSD Micro. But their input is very audible.   
     
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    As far as iDSD BL functionalities go, things are as good as they get for the price. This device can be used as an S/PDIF converter which I've exploited in home stereo with ease. FPGA based Audiobyte Hydra-X+ was audibly better in this task (greater resolution, even punchier and organic sound, a bit blacker background and wider imaging), but not by a lot. And Audiobyte's thing was sold for about $800 or so, these days it's in EOL state. Moving on, the ability to bypass iDSD BL's volume control is handy. Just for the sake of this review I've tried this product in standalone and heavy $$$ environment solely as a source and it handled itself in there nicely. Nowhere near my main DACs (LampizatOr Golden Gate, AMR DP-777). Yet to a point where the switch from said sources wasn't painful, which is more than surprising. Volume bypass will be probably very rarely exploited, but it's good that iDSD BL's signal path can be shortened when needed.
     
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    iEMatch works as intended, we'll return to this topic down below, for now I can only write that it simply does the job with my Vision Ears VE5. I'm not a huge fan of filtering of any sort, therefore bit-perfect mode is my path with every source out there (LampizatOr excluded for obvious reasons, DSD upsampling is mandatory in this product's case). And during two weeks spent with iDSD BL I have to confess that I've used it as a power bank two times. Not much to say here, it charged my phone no questions asked and literally saved the day.
     
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    Some people might be picky about iDSD BL's size and I understand this as its bulky. But once my mate shared it with me, I've always had it with while going to work, to a point where it became a habit. To have it developed in such short time counts for something. And once on the spot, iFi's deck worked with a laptop all day. Needless to say, I got attached to it as quickly as with the original iDSD Micro years back. And I got used to iDSD Bl's size, that's not an issue for me as I don't do smartphone + DAC/amp rubber-strapped on-the-go combos, that's not my thing. Functionality wise, iDSD BL covered all of my needs and in proper, predictable fashion. This kind of a package for this kind of dough I consider as a steal. YMMV, though. In the end, would I change anything in said machine's design/functionality? Orange writing aside, at the moment no, not really. Perhaps over longer time span I'd nitpick something, but not past my two weeks adventure. The loaner turned out to be a perfectly healthy deck. No hiccups, hisses or any other unpleasant surprises happened along the road. And dead silent too.
     
    Sound
     
    Let's move to sound quality. iDSD BL was used solely as a transportable integrated solution as this is its main function. My guess is that vast majority of you out there use that exactly and rarely anything else. Vision Ears VE5 came in as the first order of business. These are sensitive, midrange focused, bass light and wide sounding little devils. What they need is a bit more body and shove downstairs to sound properly. iDSD BL delivered just that and without any resolution loss. Also, this transportable deck doesn't sound sharp at all once burned-in. At least not with highly resolving VE5 CIEMs. These not only sounded clean and very informative, therefore as per usual (...and presumably to iEMatch tech inside iDSD BL), but also properly punchy, with spot-on texturing and imaging as wide as per usual. In short, I couldn't single out one particular element of this listening session that bothered me. Perhaps because of my subjective, not overly analytical and at times forgiving approach. When the overall experience is simply enjoyable for me, I'm not into pigeonholing. And that was the case with iDSD BL and VE5 combo. It was pleasant and highly synergistic, simple as that. Come to think of it, Lotoo PAW Gold provided me with even more lifelike experience a while back, yet for what iDSD BL is, it turned out great with said German CIEMs. A word about Xbass trickery is in order, though. With VE5 this works like a charm. In short, Xbass pumps up both the lowest and above departments in said CIEMs in a particularly great fashion, yet at no cost at all. I can't say the same thing with D1000, these cans subjectively don't need it. But VE5? Holy cow...    
     
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    Moving on, it was high time to use the main headphones - HE-1000. Their slightly mellow, wide and enjoyable character pushed all my buttons in an instant. These cans are the reason why I sold my Sennheisers HD 800 and never looked back. The distinctive difference between these two models is in company needs. 800s crave for a very specific amplification to sound good, usually times more expensive. Picture Bakoon HPA-21, Trilogy 933 and (poor version) old Phoenix amp by Audio-Gd. HE-1000 on the other hand will go with literally everything out there in more enjoyable fashion. Heck, I've had a blast with these and HiFiMAN's SuperMini DAP. It didn't drove 'em to their full potential, but the outcome was pleasant still. I expected nothing less from iDSD BL. In short and in above mentioned headphones' case, this deck provides what's needed.
     
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    First of all, this transportable machine has lots of juice to handle HE-1000, which roughly translates to properly punchy attitude. Said cans can be a bit too mellow and watery (yet not boring!) at times, but with iDSD BL the sound is honestly feisty and engaging. Proper crack and shove is there, nicely rounded, generously textured and not overly contour or stiff. The gist is that their amazing soundstage is as wide and deep as usual, nothing is missing in there. The layering is grand too, one can peel off rows one by one with decently recorded tracks. And at this point it's worth to know that iDSD BLS as a package is slightly on the warmer side. Not cold, bluntly warm or plainly fuzzy and overly cozy in the process. It is simply spot-on in that regard, even though not being neutral in 100%. The density is there too, but not overbearing. HE-1000's bass never became boomy or unpleasant, but what it had instead is both proper control and great texturing. The midrange felt quite vivid and clear at the same time, the resolution was there too. To hear all 'em tasty details properly flavored, vibrant in the process and without any veiling at all is a fabulous experience in general.
     
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    HE-1000's highs were decent too, without metallic tint, yet finely decayed, smooth and present. There was no need to either tighten their screw or make it a bit loose. Yet again, YMMV. But what stood out of the crowd is this 'organics' feature I've mentioned above. The gist is that iDSD BL and HE-1000 combo is tangible, vivid and with this lifelike tissue present all across the board. This in my book seals the deal as said feature is the one I'm subjectively after. It distinguishes good equipment from great one and said iFi's deck is able to pull this off. I could now dive into "I'd tweak this, I'd tweak that", but that'd be unnecessary nitpicking past HE-1000 experience. Let me simply state that the outcome was very involving and subjectively enjoyable as a whole. And at this point it was clear to me that iDSD BL doesn't fulfill the magnifying glass duties, it's focus is in texturing instead of sterile dissection. And that's always good for this audiophile.
     
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    Next in line were Dharma D1000 cans. I'll allow myself to be somewhat shorter here, as HE-1000 was my main evaluation tool. The initial observation was that these headphones' rich, expansive and well-textured aspects behaved as per usual with iDSD BL. Said transportable piece allowed them to be what they are. Simple, ain't it? The bass was punchy, well-bodied and was of pleasant nature in general. It didn't sound distorted and with ENIGMAcoustics product that was the case once or twice. But the lowest extension wasn't there, it was hard to shake off the feeling that these cans put emphasis on upper bass region. Additionally, their tonal balance is usually shifted a bit towards downstairs department and this was heard as well. But because of SBESL driver, the FR is complete nonetheless, or at least it feels like it. These features make Dharma D1000 a rather unique performer, peculiar to say the least, yet pleasant overall. My point is that iDSD BL showed all that and of proper quality. Bass we've already covered, yet moving above things are tasty too. Grain-free, smooth and texturally rich vocals among other things simply work. I honestly hadn't had a viable reason to complain.
     
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    Yes, HE-1000 gets this midrange job in even better and more organic way and price wise it should. But Dharmas represent somewhat similar, joy focused approach and iFi's product is perfectly capable of delivering it. Highs are one of American cans' trademarks. These are nicely extended, have proper body and are free from overbearing shininess. Some good words can be said about imaging as well. Everything is in order there, though in D1000 case it was heard, that iDSD BL tends to paint a picture somewhat shorter than usual. That wasn't the case with HE-1000 or VE5, on the contrary to this paragraph's main cans. The same story is with resolving power, it was slightly decreased with these and again, I had no reasons to be vocal about it during two other models' listening sessions. The gist is that the overall experience was of enjoyable sort. I got the impression that iDSD BL was able to show their character in a proper way. The outcome was less spectacular than with HE-1000, but that was somewhat expected. And Dharmas D1000 are strange.
     
    Summary
     
     
     
    I'll try to make this chapter as short as possible. iFi Audio iDSD BL is a great product to have. It's well-made, exceptionally versatile, quite convenient to use, has enough power to handle literally every set of cans out there and it's price-to-performance ratio is - in my humble opinion - off the charts. I can't tell, perhaps for iDSD BL's $549 asking, things can be different sound wise, to some of you even better. But what counts for me is that this English deck sounds really good and it sports that organic, tension-free and tangible approach, which I never have enough of. Hence if someone asks me what transportable and affordable device to buy, "Go for iDSD BL, you'll thank me later" is my answer.   
     
    1. some leftovers:
     
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    1. View previous replies...
    2. frogmeat69
      Yeah, I wonder the same thing? Deal breaker how?
      frogmeat69, Jan 19, 2017
    3. Wyd4
      Great review thanks :)
      RCA Deal breaker indeed.
      I hate how my original iDSD conveniently plugs into my amp via RCA.  Drives me nuts :p
      Wyd4, Jan 19, 2017
    4. Krisna13
      Very well written review, good job!
      Krisna13, Mar 9, 2017
  10. bapspidoff
    iDSD Micro Black Label - An incremental improvement to an already outstanding product (World Tour Review)
    Written by bapspidoff
    Published Jan 17, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Noticeably improved bass and smoother sound compared to the original.
    Cons - Volume knob position is hard to see on the black edition. I prefer the look of the silver to the black.
    First of all, thank you so much to Ifi-Audio for sending me a black edition to review for free! Really awesome of them to involve the audio community to such a degree.
     
    I will keep this review relatively simple. I have the original silver Micro iDSD so it only makes sense to compare the two. I A/B tested the two units side by side while listening to some go-to tracks on my HifiMan HE-500 headphones. I had XBass enabled and 3D disabled for every track (just my personal preference). I did my best to volume match them by ear but I’m sure it was not perfect.
     
    Tracks I used for testing:
     
    Kurt Vile - Wheelhouse
    Danny Brown - Get Hi
    Neon indian - Local Joke (tons of sibilance on this terribly mastered track, so a good test)
    Dirty projectors - About to Die
    Dinosaur Jr. - Plans
    Matthew Dear - Ahead of Myself
     
    After listening (and re-listening) to these 6 tracks I found that I was hearing the same differences over and over again and so I felt comfortable sharing my fairly conclusive findings.
     
    Results:
     
    1. These two units are different but not to a startling degree. They are still similar in overall sound.
    1. The clearest improvement to the Black unit is far and above the bass. The bass goes deeper and hits harder. This was apparent in every song. The added bass makes listening to the Black edition quite enjoyable. I will miss the added bass when going back to my original Micro iDSD!
    2. Time and time again I found the Black unit to be smoother than the original Micro iDSD. Sibilance is less noticeable on poorly mastered tracks and the overall presentation of the music is easier on the ears. The black edition sounds silky where the silver, by comparison, sounds more dry. The black sounds cleaner and has a sound signature that is a bit more immersive.
    3. The black edition has an improved soundstage, but only marginally so. It seems deeper and more realistic.
    4. Detail retrieval is basically identical between the two units. I found that I sometimes noticed details more readily on the Silver unit but that could be because it sounds slightly “brighter” than the black.
    5. When I briefly tried out the 3D setting, I found it to be much more enjoyable than on the original silver unit. I never use it on my old unit because it makes the sound too bright for my taste. The 3D enabled on the black edition colored the sound it a pleasant, perhaps more immersive way. I could definitely see myself using 3D on the black edition.
     
    I think that the differences between the two units can be distilled to this:
     
    The black edition is a marginal but not insignificant upgrade to the original. The bass is much improved and it sounds smoother overall.
     
    That being said, would I upgrade to the black edition? Probably not. One reason I wouldn’t is I actually much prefer the look of the silver unit to the black edition. It looks more high-end in my opinion. One thing that quickly annoyed me about the black edition is the inability to see the position of the volume knob. Such is the trade-off with black-on-black design. A dark grey unit would be the best of both worlds, in my opinion.
     
    I think if you are buying a Micro iDSD for the first time, shelling out the extra cash for the black edition is an absolute no-brainer. Do it. It’s an excellent sounding unit - Ifi-Audio moved the ball forward on this one and the original was (and is) fantastic so that is no small feat. Upgrading from the original to the black is a harder decision. I would personally be more inclined to upgrade to something that is a big jump in quality, not an iterative improvement.
      blackyangell and proedros like this.