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  1. lambdastorm
    Horrible.
    Written by lambdastorm
    Published Sep 21, 2018
    1.0/5,
    Pros - Very nice chassis

    AMP section has remarkable amount of control and drive

    Battery lasts reasonably long
    Cons - Absolutely horrible DAC

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

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

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

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

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

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




    In the end, I suggest any other users to steer clear of this dac/amp. The AMP section of this lil box trumps most if not all portable units on the market, however the DAC section is just so uninspiring it ruins the whole experience. It's tiny sounding, doesn't have much dynamics and lacks air. I don't really think its worth it even for the $320 I got it for.
      joeydgraffix and Sabron like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. ceemsc
      You guys must have your rigs eq'd incorrectly because I get a full range of frequency response right down to 20hz especially with XBass+ enabled. The treble extends fine hitting my top hearing range of 14khz, What this DAC/AMP lacks in intimacy, it makes up for in Soundstage size & depth + instrument separation; it sounds like I'm in a live concert. Make sure that IEMatch is set to OFF if you are using headphones as I've heard that can make at tinny sound if wrongly engaged.
      ceemsc, Mar 1, 2019
    3. joeydgraffix
      We may just have different taste's in sound. I had both the silver and black versions & I had everything set correctly. They both handled poorly with EQ. XBass just muddied the bass. The 3d was absolutely disappointing, to me there was no concert like sound to it, just boosted treble with some sound being pushed to the sides. It had a ton of power but the sound from it just seemed to be on the bad side for me.
      joeydgraffix, Mar 1, 2019
    4. abirdie4me
      Just picked this up used, and I think it sounds great. However, it doesn't sound great as preamp to my Jotunheim amp. I did some A/B testing with Jot balanced DAC, I noticed very little difference (grouped zone via Roon, so they were volume matched). But the iDSD by itself sounds awesome to me, so for me this is a great value for a portable dac/amp. I sold my mojo, it seemed lifeless and uninspiring in comparison. We all hear differently and have different preferences I guess.
      abirdie4me, Apr 9, 2019
  2. silvrr
    iFi Audio micro iDSD Black Label (The swiss army knife of the Head-fi world)
    Written by silvrr
    Published Jan 5, 2017
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Plays just about anything, great build quality, good sonic.
    Cons - Tries to be a all-in-one but should focus on doing one thing really well.

    [​IMG]

    INTRODUCTION:
     
    When I decided to sell my Chord Mojo the iDSD was one of the units that got put on my list to research more.  If you have a box to check, the spec sheet of the iDSD BL probably does it.  Super High PCM sample rates, check, DSD, check, absurd wattage output, check, optical, USB, coax and analog inputs, check.  On top of that iFi follows some great design and build practices, high quality material and parts are standard on every iFi product I've seen to date.  
     
    With my past AMP/DAC being truly portable with the Mojo and my current AMP/DAC Schiit Jotunheim) being more a standard desktop solution I found the iDSD BL to fall somewhere in between.  With a price for the BL at $549.00 and the Mojo ($529.00) coming in slightly lower and the Jotunheim ($499.00) coming in even lower than that the iDSD BL has some stiff competition to compete against in the eyes of this reviewer. 
     

     
    DISCLAIMER:
     
    I received the BL as part of a Head-Fi loaner tour.  It went on to the next person when I was finished with my review.   I have no connection to ifi other than this loaner tour.
     

     
    HARDWARE AND SPECIFICATIONS:

    [​IMG]
     
    Packaging & Accessories:
    The BL comes in a nice box with a sleeve on the outside that has the graphics.  The inner box is like a iPhone box and there are two smaller boxes below the iDSD to hold the accessories.  There are a ton of accessories.  USB 3.0, RCA, Optical mini adapter, 6.35 to 3.5mm TRS adapter, a bag, non skid silicone mat, two silicone bands and two adapters to go type A to type B usb.  If you plan on using USB your going to need a lot of these cables and adapters as the USB input is a Type A male connector, not the typical USB type B (printer cable) you see on a lot of DACs.
     
    Specifications:
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd-bl/
     
    One of the things I see repeated about the BLs specs is its 4 watt power output.  Yes, it can do 4 watts, however that output is only into a 16 ohm load and it's likely only for a fraction of  a second.  Notice that the continuous power output figures are much lower and not at 16 ohm.  Furthermore if you look at the continuous power output (which is a more real measurement of what the amp can do) they rate it at 64 ohms and its 1560 mW.   Or wait, is it 1000 mW into 64 ohm continuous output, they are both listed on the page I linked.  
     
    I'm not saying the BL isn’t capable of powering most of the headphones out there, however, I think iFi should concentrate on providing solid ( and not conflicting ) values for output instead of some values for marketing to throw around.  Additionally, those power values are given using turbo mode, yet for some reason the dynamic range measurement is done in ECO mode.  Something tells me figures aren’t so pretty when measured in Turbo mode.  
     

     
     
    DESIGN AND BUILD:

    Inputs:
    USB (Rear)
    SPDIF Coax (Rear)
    SPDIF Optical (Rear)
    *Note that the SPDIF ports are combined and limited to 192Khz PCM
    3.5 mm TRS (Front)
    [​IMG]
    Outputs:
    RCA (Rear) Fixed or variable output
    6.35 mm TRS (Front)
    USB Power (provides 5V 1.5 Amp when BL is off)
     
    [​IMG]
     
    I find the BL design to be a bit odd.  Is it portable or more of a desktop solution?  It's small-ish and can run off battery which would lead a lot of people to believe that it's portable product.  However, it only has a 6.35 mm headphone output, which is normally found on full-size cans.   I don’t see a lot of people rocking full size cans on the go.  Also, with the exception of the apple CCK you're going to need some type of speciality cable to hook up your your Android phone or a DAP.  The USB input is a male port and won’t work with the common cables I see being used with phones and DAPs.   Yes, optical and coax are available to mobile users, however, your aren’t going to listen to anything over 192khz and DSD is out of the question.  Additionally, all the cables they give you are for full size applications.  
     
    I was pretty excited to see the 5V 1.5A port on the side of the BL  Thoughts of Volumio running on my Raspberry Pi feeding the BL while I move around the house were flying around my head.  That is until I clicked on the BL and noticed that the power to that USB port is cut when the BL is powered on.  I thought this would be nice for mobile users until I really thought about it, if my phone is dying/dead and I want to listen to music I need to charge it via a USB port.  The power port on the side of the BL is not a USB input only power.   OK, so someone with a DAP with plenty of power could listen to that while they charge their phone on the go.  Nope, useless there to, don’t forget once you power the BL on that port goes dead.  Not to mention with the BL connected to a DAP and your phone there is a mess of wires and quite a bit of bulk, not really portable.  I really don’t get how someone would use this port.  There are battery boost packs the size of my thumb that can charge my iPhone 6s a couple of times, Id much rather keep that in my bag than the BL.  
     
    [​IMG]
     
    OK, so the BL is more of a desktop solution.  This makes sense given the 6.35mm headphone jack and the RCA outputs (variable and fixed output available).   Then why have it use a battery, why try to make it small and powered off of USB?  If it's meant to be a desktop solution, provide a traditional power input and increase the footprint a bit, give use a bigger volume knob.  
     
    I kind of get the feeling that the BL is like a swiss army knife, yes it's great when you can pull that toothpick out of your knife, or save the day with your bottle opener or some other trick tool.  To have all that stuff you're making sacrifices in size or design somewhere else and most of the time all you really want is a good knife.  
     
    Build:
     
    The BL and all the accessories it comes with actually are very nicely built.  The chassis feels very solid and all the ports, knobs and switches feel solid.  The black coating on the BL should hold up, if feel like I see this coating on a lot of products and it holds up well.  Overall, the BL has very good build quality and is what you would expect at this price point.  
     

     
    USING THE BL:
     
    The BL has three power levels, Eco/Normal/Turbo.  I kept the BL in ECO most of the time with my Ether Cs. .  Only when I needed a bit of a boost on a track with a low recording level did I use normal.  The turbo made the volume knob a bit touchy as the power increases very quickly.  With my HD6XX I used either normal at the very top of the range or turbo at the very bottom.  Small volume adjustments in Turbo with the HD6XX were much easier.
     
    I used the BL via USB with two Linux variants; Mint and Arch Linux (volumio) and both times was plug and play.  Connecting the BL to my iPhone 6s via a CCK worked also and the CCK plug fits into the male USB port on the BL nicely without the need for any other cables.  On Windows (7 and 10) a driver is required.  I hate having to install drivers (this is a windows problem not a iFi problem) but iFi does make it easy, single file, click and it's installed.  It's also just a single item in your programs. (unlike Chord which left 3 or 4 programs to uninstall)
     
    The battery.  It lasts a long time, I really didn’t use it in a portable situation during my review.  However, I did have it connected via optical and wondered how it would fare without its USB power source.  It lasted over night without going dead even though I left it powered on.  The one issue I have is that it cannot run straight off the USB power source, it has to get some juice in the battery if left totally dead before you can listen again.  This was one of the reasons I sold my Mojo, I guess I'm bad at remembering to plug it in at the end of a listening session. Also, if I am constantly going to have something plugged in why not just have a desktop solution with a real power source.  By the time I unplugged the optical and USB it was just as easy to unplug my Jot power cable and the USB to move them.  
     

     
    HOW DOES IT SOUND:
     
    First off I would like to cover some of the ‘sound enhancement’ features and switches of the BL.  
     
    3D+: Maybe this didn’t pair well with my headphones or just isn’t my cup of tea but I found this ruined whatever song it was applied to.  I think the same effect could be gained with some bad EQ adjustments.  The output from the BL becomes harsh and I could never leave it on for more than a short stint.  
     
    Xbass+: A bass head may like this feature.  If you like the sound signature of your headphones and just sometimes just want a bit of a bass boost this isn’t going to be your cup of tea.  There is a large boost in the bass and while it remains clean and I never heard distortion from it, it's just too much.  Some of their other products have multiple stages of this bass enhancer but the BL does not, it's on or off.  A dial or multiple stages is needed here.
     
    The rest of the review is done with these two items in the off position.
     
    Filter: Switching between bit perfect, minimum phase and standard resulted in no difference for me.  
     
    Other Gear Used During this Review:
    Mr. Speakers Ether C  v1.1 (No tuning pads): https://mrspeakers.com/shop/1-headphones/ether-c/
    Sennheiser HD 6XX Headphones: https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-sennheiser-hd6xx
    Schiit Jotunheim w/DAC: http://schiit.com/products/jotunheim [Jot used in single ended mode only]
    [Source 1] Raspberry Pi running Volumio: http://www.head-fi.org/t/795895/a-70-bit-perfect-audio-player
    [Source 2] Desktop PC (Windows 10 via USB running Foobar)
     
    Overall Impressions:
     
    My initial impression of the BL when I first plugged it in was that there was way too much energy in the high end frequencies.  Songs like The Chain from Fleetwood Mac would have an over emphasis on the tambourine and cymbals which became a bit distracting.  As I normally do with a review, I spent a few days listening to only the BL, let my ears become accustomed to it and get to know the sound signature.  Over this period the high end emphasis became less apparent but would still be noticeable during some songs.
     
    I spent quite a bit of time listening to the BL, trying different genres and going through my normal review playlist.  I found the BL to be extremely competent and it drove my Ethers (low impedence) and HD6XX (high impedence) with ease.  I never found it running out of steam trying to reproduce low frequencies and it pulled a the detail out of my recordings that I was used to.
     
    After a few days I started doing some A/B testing with my Jot.  If you look at my other reviews I generally go through specific recordings and note the differences between a known (my Jot in this case) and the review sample.  I ended up finding that I was writing the same thing over and over again so I figured I would just provide it once and save some bandwidth.
     
    From a technical perspective I could be happy with the BL or the Jot.  They both power my cans with lots of room to spare and other than the BLs high end issue I noted above they are on par with how they reproduce the music.  Here and there I would think one was pulling a bit more detail than the other but without a switch box to rapidly switch it's really hard to say reliably that one is better than the other.  
     
    Overall, it will come as no surprise that I prefer the high end reproduction of the Jot.  For bass and mids I really like the Jot better too.  The BL has plenty of authority and control for the low frequencies but I just prefer the Jot.  I found guitars coming out a bit warmer from the Jot, and it should be, an acoustic guitar really isn’t a cold instrument.  We are starting to split hairs here though.  
     
    I think the biggest difference I noticed between the BL and Jot is I could sit back and listen to the Jot.  With the BL I was always in review mode, not really enjoying the music.  When doing my A/B tests I often end up getting off task and just listen to the music with a review sample.  That never happened with the BL, I was always listening to it and not the music or just sitting back and enjoying myself.
     

     
    CONCLUSION:
     
    I think the BL is a great example of what is possible today in audio.  A device that can easily be transported, plays basically every format and bit rate available, and can power anything from IEMs to super high impedance over ear headphones.  The BL provides a ton of options and flexibility, it can be used as a DAC and pre-amp for your speakers and has a wide variety of input options.  The construction is top notch and all the ports and materials are top notch.
     
    Furthermore, with the exception of the high end reproduction on certain songs I think it's very good sonically too.   However,  I never really enjoyed the BL, I never got lost in the music with it, I never ended up halfway through an album wondering how I got there.  I wish I could give a characteristic or specification to express this better but I'm failing at finding a way to express it in more objective terms.
     
    Finally, would I recommend the BL to someone?  With the exception of someone who has very power hungry cans and wants a transportable (not portable) solution; I would say no.  If you want a very competent portable player the BL isn’t it, it's not portable, I would only put it in the transportable category.  You really can’t stuff it in a pants/coat pocket with your DAP.  If someone doesn’t have the need for portability there are a ton of full-size and even transportable (within a house) solutions that come in at a lower price than the BL and are just as competent sonically.
     
    This review is a bit short on details of the sonics of the BL but I found it really hard to spend a ton of time reviewing a product and trying to communicate every last detail about the sound when I really don’t think people should buy it.  As I said earlier in the review I feel like the BL is the swiss army knife of the Head-fi world; if you're in the market for a DAC/AMP figure out what you really need and get a ‘knife’ that does what you really need and leave the gimmicks behind.
     

     
     
    OTHER BL REVIEWS:
    http://www.head-fi.org/products/ifi-audio-micro-idsd
     
    OTHER REVIEWS FROM ME:
    http://www.head-fi.org/users/365069/reviews
      Ancipital likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. silvrr
      @MLGrado I never said they compromised for cost or that it isn't a sonically good amp/dac.  Its compromised in function.  Its to big to be truly portable (ala the Chord Mojo) and while trying to keep the size down you have to compromise for things like standard connectors and on a desktop amp I like a nice big volume knob.  Furthermore the fact you NEED their cables/adapters to use the BL is just odd to me.  
      silvrr, Jan 5, 2017
    3. rickyleelee
      Hey man long review and covered a lot. though to critize it for being a bad battery charge or average dac is very hard and I have heard other stuff at higher price ponts that sound s*it that are raved about here. at end it may not be oyour sound but guess you tried the power and imatch settings to get things rite for your hphones. the cable is for droid and apple phone - they all have female a sockets. they dont make you buy their cables bro
      rickyleelee, Jan 6, 2017
    4. ZetsuBozu0012
      Thanks for your insight, @silvrr. I own the original iDSD Micro and have to say I agree with most of your findings, save for the high-end being particularly pronounced (I paired mine with DT880s, for poop's sake!). I admit I was somewhat tempted to upgrade when I heard there was a new release, but the orange-on-black aesthetic and minimal improvements don't really do much for me; might just get a Jotunheim and relegate the iDSD to DAC service. Hope you're too discouraged by the negative feedback, critical reviews are almost always poorly received for some reason :p
       
      I'm on Android and ordinary micro USB/TypeC to USB-OTG cables work well enough when I'm running music out of my mobile. The supplied blue one is good enough for regular desktop use. Not quite sure you necessarily have to use iFi's own stuff, though some would argue the SQ is superior that way.

      And hey, I find the power-bank functionality useful! Saves me having to carry an extra gadget to and from school/work. You wouldn't believe the number of times the iDSD saved my ass when I was stranded with a dying phone, haha.
      ZetsuBozu0012, Mar 24, 2017
  3. stevenyu2000
    Good DAC with Multi-Connect and output
    Written by stevenyu2000
    Published Dec 30, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Flexible with lots input and output. Musical and Powerful AMP.
    Cons - Not Support DSD with Coxial input
    IFI Micro iDSD Black Label
     
    IFI released their new upgrade model of Mirco series , the iDSD Black Label , we called it BL .
    According to the IFI wed page ......
     
    In short, iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label has:
     
    re-designed output stabilisation
    OV2627 op-amps upgraded analogue section
    Panasonic OSCON capacitors loaded power supply
    OV2028 op-amps loaded DAC power supply
    DAC voltage decoupling based on audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
    GMT® Femto precision clock system power supply upgraded
     
    In short, iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label is:
     
    a tweaked to the roof original Micro iDSD
    a satin black version (with silk orange writings) of original Micro iDSD
    sonically much better version of original Micro iDSD
    loaded with latest 3D+® and XBass+® tech, superior over ones in original Micro iDSD
    10% higher price of $549 (ex-tax) / Euro599 (incl VAT)
    superior to original Micro iDSD
    500x1000px-LL-03b6ca5a_SanyoOSCON.jpg
    500x1000px-LL-584a7743_AMRCD-77-Digital-Engine.jpg
    500x1000px-LL-a73e217a_B_P1070660.jpg
    500x1000px-LL-c4a69a70_B_P1070561.jpg
     
     
     
    You can expected the improvement in power supply to provide a clean and good support to the DAC circuit.
    A Black outlook let it looks cool and much high class than the original silver color.
     
    Thank you IFI for let me be one the BL tour in Hong Kong. My BL was totally new in box . I opened it from the box and hear its sound from zero run in .
     
    Talk back my setup with the BL.
    My setup was a transportable headfi setup. A DX50mod with coxial out to BL . A Venture 4 core Coxial cable was connected between DX50 and BL.
    The BL as DAC with direct mod , RCA out to my DIY AMP , A 8 core pure silver RCA cable was connected between BL and AMP.
    The IEM I used was IE800 with Earmod , 8 core pure silver cable used.
    20161229_114351_HDR.jpg
    20161229_114425_HDR.jpg
     
     
    BL provided lots of solution for me such as PC with USB connect to BL , DX50 coxial out to BL and use BL own phoneout for my IE800 , and my transportable setup , DX50 > BL > AMP > IE800.
     
    BL support DSD with its USB but cannot support DSD with coxial input. I have try some players with coxial out but BL cannot playback the DSD with coxial in.
     
    BL has powerful AMP inside, even IE800 can drive well and muscial . the bass+ and 3D+ effectted with more bass and better sound stage.
     
    I used BL as DAC for my AMP. It was a musical DAC , Warm sound with good punch. Its same style with the old IDSD. Since my BL was new in box , the sound with tight, the dynmic range, Treble extend and Bass punch was not as good as the old one.
    The old IDSD was demo at shop , maybe the run-in time not enough let BL as good as the old one. The good news run-in was improve. The BL at last when I return , it was better than before but still not as good as the old one. But I believe the BL will better than the old model as new BL change lots of capacity as they need run in as well.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. jsplice
      Even with the somewhat-inefficient Beyer T1.2s, the amp in the iDSD is overkill.  I still run the iDSD on eco mode with the T1.2s.  I'd say unless you're looking for a portable unit that can power the HE-6, you'll never use all the power that the iDSD can output.  Headphones now are becoming more and more efficient every day.  The ability to do DSD is nice though, and something I definitely miss with the Dragonfly.
      jsplice, Jan 1, 2017
    3. glassmonkey
      @jsplice You must have more sensitive ears than me, or have a much lower preferred listening level. I listen at about 78dB and the iDSD BL needs to be in Normal mode to drive my HD600 adequately. The Beyerdynamic T1s are more demanding than the HD600, so I have to wonder if you are actually driving them fully. I'd turn the BL to at least Normal (I wasn't a fan of Turbo as noise shot up)--but if your listening level is really low you might get channel imbalance--and see what the headphones sound like.
      glassmonkey, Jan 1, 2017
    4. jsplice
      @glassmonkey I haven't measured the db level after I've set my listening level, so I can't say where I'm at there.  I've also never used the iDSD with the HD600 so can't make that comparison.  Yea, I've got the channel imbalance thing before when having the volume set low in normal mode.  That's the main reason I've kept it in eco.  Also, the Elear are so efficient that there's no way in hell I can use normal mode with them.  Even on eco mode with the Elear, I can't really get the volume past 10 o clock.  I will probably end up keeping my Dragonfly Red instead of the iDSD if I stick with my Elear and get rid of the T1.2.  If you have super efficient headphones, the amp in the iDSD is just overkill IMO.
      jsplice, Jan 1, 2017
  4. davide256
    Worth the price but not a giant killer
    Written by davide256
    Published Aug 23, 2015
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Made to work with iPhone thunderbolt camera adaptor, excellent asynch USB, swiss army knife features
    Cons - setting buttons on bottom need to be recessed to avoid accidental change when amp is moved, doesn't have the tonal solidity of a full desk top amp
    I think there are quite a few reviews on this headphone amp so I see no need to do another long winded one. Consider this rather some
    observations on what is a fine product but does have its quirks.
     
    First my setup is typically UPNP streamed music out to asynch USB/ DAC. For headphones I currently use Hifiman HE-400 and Grado SR-225,
    For comparison headphone amps I have Hifiman EF-5 and Musical Hall 25.2.
     
    Ergonomics:  one has to be careful to check all switches if the amp is moved as its easy to accidentally brush one on the bottom and change settings... this happens
    often with the IEM button
     
    Asynch USB section: this is quite good and used in my main system marginally better than the Gustard U12
     
    Amp section: excellent detail, balance and range. However compared to the tube desktop amps the Micro lacks solidity for tone colors.  They in turn aren't
    quite as delicate in detail and are less forgiving of bad source.
     
    DAC section: works quite well feeding my other headphone amps. However in main system compared to Metrum Octave the Micro DAC section sounded thin,
    not as good as the DAC section on an Oppo 103. This seems to be the weakest part of the amp.
    1. JUGA
      did the X-Bass function works?  if yes - can you here difference? we have 4 unit and in all 4 devices X-Bass das not works. There is no difference between switch off and switch on.
      JUGA, Mar 13, 2016
  5. SoundApprentice
    Black is Better
    Written by SoundApprentice
    Published Jan 21, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Feature set, Flexibility, Price to Performance
    Cons - Questionable switches, Might be paying for unused features
    [​IMG]

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

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

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

    Unboxing Impressions

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

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

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

    Sound Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [​IMG]

    Toned Up

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

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

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

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

    Parting Thoughts

    Lastly, it’s well worth noting that the iDSD BL’s flexibility doesn’t stop with power and tone controls for your headphone listening sessions. The iDSD BL can serve as a DAC and pre-amp for your powered monitors, where XBass+ and 3D+ also work. It accepts USB and digital coax inputs (and optical/Toslink with the provided adapter) for greater input versatility. It natively plays all DSD, DXD, and PCM files, including Quad-DSD256, Octa-DSD512, and bit-perfect Double-DXD and PCM768. Consider all this on top of the innumerable headphones and IEMs that can be driven efficiently with the various Power Mode and iEMatch configurations and it’s clear that the iDSD BL offers scalability, flexibility, and performance well beyond its weight class.
  6. OSiRiSsk
    The dac/amp chameleon
    Written by OSiRiSsk
    Published Mar 22, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - 3D+ and XBass+ effects, ability to drive sensitive IEMs and demanding headphones, musicality
    Cons - unsuitable for portable use, minor issue when using as a DAC
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label
     
      Intro




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



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

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

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

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

    All things considered - if you are looking for an affordable all-in-one AMP/DAC solution, with ability to switch from sensitive IEMs to most powerful headphones (Turbo most truly does this, trust me) with fun effects to play with (3D+ and XBass+) you have my permission to pull the trigger :wink:
  7. monster2046
    BLACK Background can pay my full attention on my music
    Written by monster2046
    Published Mar 14, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Good Sound, Affortable Price
    Cons - connectivity is not fit to eastern music lovers
    This is my pleasure that I will be the tester of ifi new product, idsd black lablel (let us be short as BL).
    As a newbie of headfi, I am whole heartly to try difference devices.  
    When I first read about the spec of the BL, I talk to myself that "woo......."  From technical perspective, the components are good and I reach to exited mode that I want to test the BL.
    The appearance is just as as the previous version, just changing the colour from silver to black. To me, I don't care on the appearance while I just focus on the sound is match with my preference or not.
    The device can support optical, usb  but unfortunately, my on hand dap (Paw Gold and DX 90) haven't optical out, the coxial in of BL can't match with DX90 coxial out.  The usb connection, is difference with mojo and vantam.  I just can test the amplifier function.  (iDSD primary design is for desktop connection)
    I think there are many reviews of Paw Gold and I don't explain anymore.  I just talk about my personal feel of Paw Gold line out to BL.  I listen my sound with using a pair of CIEM, Oriolus 2 only.  I set the power to normal.  
    My comment is very simple, just same as the colour of the device, BLACK.  I can't hear any noise from the BL.  The background is too dark and I just can pay my full attention to listen my music with no any interference.  
    The power is enough and driven my earphone give me a sense of "enrich, solid".  Even less than medium volume can drive my earphone.  To my sense of hearing, the vocal (especially female singer) is charming and attractive.  This is easily for me to imagine a lady ,standing on a stage, is singing a song for me.      
    When the Bass enhance button is on, the bass will be increase 3db (I guess).  As Oriolus 2 is a 4-driver hybrid earphone, this can give me a sense of warm surrounding me.
    However, 3D function is really bad to me.  Once open the function, I just feel that all sounds stick together and spoil all music that I am listening.
     
    Thanks
  8. miceblue
    A Terrific Bang for Your Buck DAC/Amp Combo!
    Written by miceblue
    Published Mar 12, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Octa-speed DSD, femto clocks, overall sound quality, gain options, digital filter options, discrete XBass+ and 3D+ sections, battery powered
    Cons - Flimsy-feeling plastic switches, male USB A USB input, bulky size for true portable use
    Disclaimer
    This is a review for the micro iDSD Black Label edition, not the original micro iDSD

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

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





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







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





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    DSC_8302.jpg

    DSC_8304.jpg

    DSC_8303.jpg

    DSC_8307.jpg





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

    DSC_8326.jpg

    DSC_8311.jpg





    DSC_8350.jpg

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



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


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





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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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





    Quality: 4/5

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

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

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


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





    Audio Quality: 4.5/5

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





    Value: 5/5

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

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


    Thank you for taking the time to read/peruse through this review! : )
    1. View previous replies...
    2. jeffhawke
      My first question was answered by watching your excellent unboxing video :)
      jeffhawke, Mar 13, 2017
    3. miceblue
      @gr8soundz
      Thank you! I tried to change the buffer settings a bit, but I couldn't find one that worked out for my computer.

      @jeffhawke
      Thank you for the kind words!
      You firstly need the appropriate media player. Audirvana+ or JRiver Media Center support the upsampling feature. In A+, open the preferences, go to the Audio Filters tab, click on the DSD button and set the option to DSD256. In JRMC, go to the options, Audio tab, Settings section, DSP & output format, check the Output Format tab, click on the Output Format tab, and select 4xDSD in DoP format from the drop down menu under Output Encoding.
      miceblue, Mar 13, 2017
    4. jeffhawke
      I tried Audirvana+ for a while, but I was not happy with its library import and management features. I am in fact about to give JRiver a try, so I will definitely follow your advice and see how it pans out.
      Thank you!
      jeffhawke, Mar 13, 2017
  9. noobandroid
    Super versatile, great functionality, great SQ
    Written by noobandroid
    Published Mar 6, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Wide range of format supported, multiple I/O to choose from, a power bank i guess?
    Cons - Black on black lettering on the back, $ (as always)

    Intro

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

    Appearances

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

    Setup

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

    Alesis Elevate 5

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

    HD650

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

    Software

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

    Final thought

    On the appearance side, hoped they have changed the black on black text, and then the outlook will be just nice. Other that that, I have no problems or nags with this product at all. It can be used on battery power, charging devices too , and be sounding awesome while at it. What more can you demand for in format support? DSD, DXD and all common formats are there ready to be used. Really wished I could keep the unit but then it's a Lucid dream haha, oh well.
  10. Yethal
    Universal Soldier of The Audio Battlefield
    Written by Yethal
    Published Feb 21, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Extremely versatile, impressive power output, lots of sound customization options
    Cons - First two seconds of every track are muted, slight channel imbalance at lower volume, bulkier and heavier than a portable unit should be
    Intro
     
    I wanted to start this review off with a Swiss Army knife joke but it looks like several Head-Fiers have already did that so in a futile attempt to be both funny and original I’ll start off with a comic. ifiaudioname.jpg
                                                       I'm 99% sure this is how it went down
     
    I’d like to sincerely thank Hoomairah Atchia-Rawat from iFi Audio for choosing me for the Review Tour as well as Mateusz Przychodzień of Forza Audioworks for lending me his personal iDSD BL unit for evaluation. I was not paid to write this review and (unfortunately) I did not get to keep the unit. I did have a lot of fun writing this so there's that.
     
    Product description
     
    So what the iDSD BL actually is? Well, the iFi’s own website calls it “the world’s most powerful DSD/PCM/DXD Battery-powered DAC”. However I feel that calling the iDSD a DAC is doing it disservice as this device can do so much more than just convert ones and zeroes into an analogue waveform. So from now on I’m going to refer to the iDSD as a USTAB, a “Universal Soldier of The Audio Battlefield”. I believe this acronym reflects the nature of the iDSD BL much more accurately than “DAC/amp combo” or a “portable amp”.
    To explain in detail the thought process behind this name let’s talk about all functionalities of this little black box.
     
    Universal-soldier-1992-03-g.jpg
    Jean-Claude Van Damme with head-mounted iDSD BL, 1995
     
     
    1. DAC / Headphone Amp combo
    2. DAC only (with both USB and S/PDIF inputs)
    3. Headphone Amp only
    4. DAC / Preamp
    5. Preamp only
    6. USB to S/PDIF converter
    7. Powerbank
     
     
    1. Speaker Amp
    2. Coffee maker
     
    To underline the “Universal” part of the acronym even further, performance of the individual sections of the iDSD BL can be fine-tuned by the user.
    1. The DAC has three distinct digital filter and can reverse the polarity of the digital signal.
    2. The amp section has three levels of gain (nine if you multiply it by IEMatch settings), bass boost and iFi’s proprietary 3D Sound.
    3. The RCA outs on the back can output both fixed and variable volume.
    I’ll talk about all of these functionalities in more detail a little later on.
    Box
     
    Subtle, yet elegant design, with product shots on the top and side of the box with USTAB's specs on the bottom. Aesthetically pleasing, recyclable and stylish. I wouldn’t mind displaying it on a bookshelf like a Lego set for my guests to admire.
     
    Box.jpg
     
     
    More important than the box are its contents and here’s where iDSD BL’s USTAB nature shows up again. A lesser company would include just a USB cable and a 6.3mm adapter but not iFi.
    No, the British company wants their customers to be prepared for every type of audio combat scenario and that’s why in the iDSD BL box contains:
     
    iDSD BL unit
    USB 3.0 type A male to female cable (1m long)
    USB type B to type A female to female adapter
    Another USB type B to type A female adapter ( a shorter one)
    6.3mm to 3.5mm jack adapter
    Toslink to mini Toslink adapter
    RCA cable (0.5m long)
    3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect
    Rubber covers for the RCA jacks
    Four stick-on rubber feet
    Two rubber bands for attaching the iDSD to a portable source
    Cloth pouch for storing the iDSD
    Silicone pad
     
    Packagecontents.jpg
     
     
    My only gripe with the USTAB’s arsenal is that it does not include a Micro-USB OTG or an Apple Camera Connection Kit despite being marketed as a smartphone-compatible device. But that is a very minor issue, overall I am really impressed by the amount of accessories included in the box.
     
    card.jpg
    Oh iFi Audio, you didn't have to
     
    Additional 50 points to iFi audio for including this note in the box. It serves no practical purpose aside from making the iDSD owners feel loved by the company. It's a simple gesture but it works.
     
    Device itself
     
    Front of the device houses the headphone output, the volume knob, a 3.5mm audio input and switches for the XBass and 3D Sound. Unusually for a portable device a 6.3mm jack is used instead of a more common 3.5mm connection but iFi includes an appropriate adapter in the box so that shouldn’t be a problem. The potentiometer is wonderfully smooth to operate and the switches are sturdy enough to not be turned by accident so overall, great job. One issue that should be pointed out though is that the volume marker on the potentiometer is rather hard to see (a black notch on black background). iFi, please put a dab of paint in a contrasting color on the notch to make it more visible. That’s the only improvement I could ask for.
     
    On the back of the device we can find: USB used for connecting the USTAB to a PC or a mobile source, a pair of analog RCA jacks and a combo coaxial/optical input/output RCA plug. The combo RCA plug works as an optical or coaxial input when no USB is connected and as a coaxial only output when USB is connected, thus making the iDSD an USB to S/PDIF converter when the situation calls for one.
    USB port of the iDSD BL is unique among portable DACs. While all other products happily use the micro USB type B connectors, the USTAB not only uses a full size type-A plug, it uses a male USB type-A plug! Not gonna lie, I was very sceptical about this. What’s wrong with good ol’ micro USB type B? Well, lots of things actually. Micro USB connectors are unreliable, fragile, and easily broken. Also, DACs which use micro USB connectors require their own custom micro-USB to micro-USB cables.
     
    So, how do you connect the iDSD BL to a smartphone? Easily, using a USB OTG adapter (or Apple Camera Connection Kit if you’re an iPhone user). And you know what? This is genius. Think about it. OTG adapters (and CCK) can be found in pretty much any electronics store. They don’t need to be custom made or imported from China. And the connection is much more secure than a micro-USB type B connection.
     
    unbreakablebond.jpg
    An unbreakable bond was formed
     
    Congratulations iFi. I will never, ever doubt your design decisions again. You have convinced me.
     
    The right side of the device houses a female USB type A port. This port is used to charge your mobile device. It’s not going to win against a dedicated powerbank but it will save your skin in an emergency situation. As I’ve said, iDSD is a Universal Soldier, able to adapt to any situation.
     
    Left side and the bottom of the device is where things start to get more interesting. Here we can find switches used to fine-tune the performance of the USTAB.
    • RCA output switch - Used to switch between fixed and variable output. use fixed output when connecting the iDSD BL to another headphone amp, a preamp or an integrated amplifier. Use the variable mode when connecting to active speakers or a power amp. Dunno what else to tell You dear reader, works as expected.
    • Power mode - used to switch between three different gain settings. Goes from “reasonable” to “no man shall possess this kind of power” really fast. The effect of the Power Mode on the overall sound quality will be covered in more detail in the part where I finally start talking about sound.
    • Polarity - Used to reverse the polarity of the digital signal. Despite my best effort I was not able to hear any difference between the reversed and the non-reversed signal so I just left it at non-reversed.
    • Digital filter switch - Used to switch between three different digital filters. Honest to God, I can’t hear the difference in PCM mode. In DSD mode the switch controls analog filters and the difference is clearly audible so I will cover it in more detail in the part where I finally start talking about sound.
    • IEMatch - Used to adjust output sensitivity. If you experience hiss even in Eco mode, adjust this untill hiss is gone, otherwise leave at Off.
     
    The bottom of the device also has output labels and the spec sheet printed on it but since it’s black writing on an equally black background you won’t be able to decipher it anyway. iFi please make the font at least a little brighter.
     
    backofidsd.jpg
    Yeah, I don't know either what it says
    Compatibility
     
    I was able to test the iDSD BL on Windows, Linux and Android operating systems. Unfortunately I do not have access to Apple hardware so I wasn’t able to test Macs and iPhones for compatibility. Here are the results:
    1. Android - PCM, DXD and DSD playback works using USB Audio Player Pro. All playback modes (Native, DoP, DSD to PCM conversion) are supported. Does not work with apps that use standard built-in audio stack (YouTube, Tidal, Spotify), however that is an Android issue and not iDSD BL issue. If you plan to use USTAB with an Android device please download one of several USB Audio compatible music apps or root your device.
    2. Windows - PCM and DXD works after installing iFi’s proprietary driver. DSD playback works in DSD to PCM conversion mode. I followed the Foobar2000 configuration guide but after setting up the plugins I ended up hearing either music in PCM-conversion mode or total silence in native DSD (both indicated via the Foobar interface and the color of the LED on the USTAB).
    3. Linux - PCM and DXD works systemwide out of the box (via ALSA). DSD playback works in DSD to PCM conversion mode. Unfortunately after a few hours of intensive cli-fu, googling and reboots I still didn’t manage to force MPD to play DSD natively so I just gave up. According to instructions I found here [TU LINK https://github.com/lintweaker/xmos-native-dsd] native DSD requires replacing the kernel and ALSA lib and/or applying custom patches to the MPD. As far as I know audiophile-oriented Linux distros such as Volumio and APLinux have this modifications built-in but I haven’t tested them myself because the amount of effort required to do that quickly got ridiculous.

     
    The part where I finally start talking about sound

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

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

     
    Shure SRH1840
    Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro
    Sennheiser PC37X
      proedros and Krisna13 like this.
    1. beowulf
      I don't find channel imbalance that much of an issue since you have pretty much 6 settings for gain (3 power/3 IEMatch). Even on the Andromeda, I don't have the volume low enough to notice imbalance.
      One issue I notice is a pop when it is turned on or volume dropped to zero, that one can be annoying and a good reason to not put your IEMs/headphones on before turning it on.
      Good work on the review.
      beowulf, Feb 21, 2017
    2. Yethal
      I only noticed the imbalance when I tried listening to music really quietly, 99% of the users won't notice it.
      Yethal, Feb 21, 2017