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  1. dburna
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD BL - Tour Review
    Written by dburna
    Published Jan 10, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Sound improvements across-the-board vs. the original (silver) iDSD; greatly improved headphone sound
    Cons - Hard to see volume level on volume knob (minor)
    I was fortunate to be part of the iDSD BL Tour (US).  Below are my findings of a direct comparison versus the existing iDSD (silver) which I own.
     
     
    IMG_20170105_184441.jpg
     
     
     
     
    A couple introductory notes on my review (skip this if you just want the conclusions, though it provides useful context):
    • The set-up (pictured) is my work-at-home rig; I listen to the iDSD on a desktop set-up, rarely as a portable rig.
    • I also listen through JBL LSR305 active monitors a lot as I need to be on/off the phone for work and switching headphones to phone and back again all day is a pain. The 305s are surprisingly good for low cash.
    • I tried the setup comparison between iDSD and iDSD BL (called BL going forward) with all listed headphones but keeping the rest of the rig (iFi USB purifier, cables, iUSB) constant. As the picture shows, I had both iDSD and BL side-by-side so I could just move cables in seconds to compare specific passages, not just whole songs.
    • I did some tweaking with all kinds of settings, just for comparison, but I don't play around with these in 'real' listening – I find most of the knobs and switches useful for dialing in a good combination with whatever particular headphones I am using, then I leave them alone. However, I do appreciate the flexibility these different settings provide for personal customization.
    • For two days I listened solely to the BL. I find plugging in a new component can appear to make it sound 'better' at first mainly because it is different. I wanted to “get to know” the BL before doing any comparison.
    • Bottom line: during those two initial days, I enjoyed the heck out of the BL. It's a more immersive experience than the iDSD.
     
    Summary:
    • iDSD BL > original iDSD (possibly '>>', though I hate hyperbole, especially my own)
    • BL's black color is classier than iDSD silver.....but I'm not a fan of silver, so YMMV.
    • BL has better dynamics, air, soundstage depth, and bass control.
    • BL has a fuller, more refined presentation; iDSD seems a little thin in comparison.
    • BL seems considerably more powerful.....even though the specs for both seem the same. I had to turn the volume down ¼ to 1/8 on the BL dial to achieve similar volume with the iDSD. Start low with your initial settings, fellow tour members – you could be in for a loud surprise. 
    • I think BL's 3D and xBass are better, but the difference was subtle to my ears. They may be better on the BL, but the major difference was the overall sound improvement. That seemed to dominate any differences I could hear in the 3D/XBass comparison.....but that's just me.
    • BL had me just listening/enjoying for days without any nagging critical audiophile thoughts; I can't achieve quite the same level of immersion with the iDSD.
    • The better/more revealing your headphones are, the more pronounced the difference should be.
    • One (minor) suggested improvement: it would be good if there was an orange line on the volume control notch. It is hard to see the volume level on the BL, easier on the silver iDSD.
    • Sennheiser Momentum Over-Ears recommended only for cell phone/mobile use. :)) Now I understand what people mean when people say they are bass-heavy. Bass didn't seem so pronounced using my anemic cell phone. I'll keep using them when on-the-go.....not at home.
    • I don't like in-ear 'phones pretty much at all. Not comfortable to my ears, and I've tried more than a few. Not going to pony up for custom IEMs.
     
    By the end of my “tour time”, I lost interest in comparing the two and just wanted to maximize my time with the BL. The devil on my shoulder kept suggesting, “Hey Dave, just slap a coat of black paint on your iDSD and send that along to the next reviewer. I doubt anyone would notice.”
    ANSWER: Yes – yes they would.
     
    Job very well done, iFi. The BL is is an evolutionary improvement in most ways over the iDSD. Anyone still using an iDSD (like me), don't run it over with a truck – not that this would hurt the iDSD in any way. The iDSD is still a fine performer and I am quite happy with mine. However, the BL is noticeably better and well worth the audition, even if you are considering more expensive gear.
     
    -dB (with audiophile envy - again.....curse you, iFi)
     
     
     
    Equipment Used:
    • JBL LSR305 active monitors
    • Macbook Pro
    • iTunes, JRiver
    • Monoprice RCA-to-XLR cables
    • Stock iFi input cables
    • Headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Over-Ears v1.0, Sennheiser HD650s with Stefan Audio Art cables, KZ ATE KZ-ATE Dynamic Balanced Armature IEMs (bargain basement ear buds)
     
    Music Used:
    • Wes Montgomery “Echoes of Indiana Avenue” (2016)
    • Andy Narell & Relator “University of Calypso” (2009)
    • These Immortal Souls “I'm Never Going to Die Again” (1992)
    • Sean Watkins “What to Fear” (2016)
    • Vilde Frang “Korngold, Britten Violin Concertos” (2016)
    • Various Artists “Bureau B – Katalog I” sampler
    • Roedelius Schneider “Stunden” (2011)
    • Erroll Garner “Ready Take One” (2016)
    • Alejandro Escovedo “Burn Something Beautiful” (2016)
    • The Spinanes “Strand” (1996)
      lucasbrea and proedros like this.
  2. Aerosphere
    iFi Micro iDSD Black Label "The Silhuette of Greatness"
    Written by Aerosphere
    Published Jan 2, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Musicality, Precision, Price/Performance.
    Cons - TRANSportable.

    The review was originally posted on quantumears but I wanted to share it with Head-Fi as well.

     

    Intro

    We have the iFi’s latest sorcery in our hands!
    We all know iFi. For those who don’t know, iFi is a renowned audio company. They specialize in all sorts of devices, DACs, Pre-amps, Amps, Signal Purifiers, Signal Enhancers etc… They have this crazy habit of supplying you with everything you’ll ever need while using their products.. On a side note, they are a customer-oriented company. A rare thing nowadays.
     

    Box Contents | Accessories

    iDSD comes with a well designed, elegant cardboard packaging. You can find everything about the Black Label on the box. Specs, features, technologies…
     
    Accessories are very rich. iFi thought of everything although we’d appreciate an micro usb OTG cable! Anyway, I must congratulate iFi for thinking and including the accessories like no company ever does. The only difference in the accessories between regular iDSD is the improved USB3.0 cable. It looks more durable now!
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Inside the box;
    1. 1x Blue male USB to female USB cable (1 meter) to connect iDSD to a PC.
    2. 1x Male 3.5mm to male 3.5mm (15 cm) interconnect cable to use iDSD as an amplifier.
    3. 1x Purple male RCA to RCA cable. (50 cm)
    4. 1x Female USB Type B to Female USB Type A converter “cable” to connect iDSD to a PC with a audiophile grade USB Type B cable.
    5. 1x Female USB Type B to Female USB Type A converter “dongle” to connect iDSD to a PC with a audiophile grade USB Type B cable.
    6. 1x iFi branded, velvety carrying pouch.
    7. 2x Silicone bands to attach iDSD to a phone.
    8. 1x Silicone piece that protects your phone when you attach your phone to iDSD.
    9. 1x Female 3.5mm to male 6.3mm connector.
    [​IMG]
    Design | Build
    The device itself is big but not so heavy. If you are carrying a phone that is bigger than 5.2”, pairing it with iDSD won’t be a problem because they are almost the same size but does not have the same thickness. Its thickness is four times bigger compared to my phone. (LG V20)
    Most of the people consider iFi products as transportable, not portable but when you include it in your daily rig and get used to it, it does not cause major problems to you while carrying. Black Label’s finish is truly mesmerizing. I am not a big fan of orange but I must say that black/orange combo worked for this device. It’s fully aluminum and does not have any loose part which makes it very durable. All sockets are gold plated. Its side and bottom switches feel like good quality rubber, Xbass and 3D switches are metal. Please look at my night shots, BL looks utterly amazing.
    [​IMG]

    Improvements[​IMG]

    iFi re-designed some parts of iDSD to create the Black Label. Changes are shown below:
    1. re-designed output stabilisation
    2. OV2627 op-amps upgraded analogue section
    3. Panasonic OSCON capacitors loaded power supply
    4. OV2028 op-amps loaded DAC power supply
    5. DAC voltage decoupling based on audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
    6. GMT® Femto precision clock system power supply upgraded
    7. 3D and XBass Switches re-designed
     

     

     

     

    Sound Signature | Sound Quality | Resolution

    Following changes above granted a certain warmth to iDSD BL.
    Increased note thickness resulted in bolder mid presentation. This alteration contributed to female vocal tonality to be more realistic. Plus, added emotion increased the perception of holographic staging. Surprisingly enough, added warmth did not influenced iDSD’s airy presentation dramatically. Same goes for the treble extension. It’s not in anyway crippled or hindered by the new changes of iDSD BL. In short, Black Label sounds more organic and musical compared to regular iDSD. I personally, always wanted my regular iDSD to sound fuller, more natural.. Well, I definitely got what I wanted!
    Resolution is pretty much the same, however 3D switch do improve the perceived detail and texture little bit, which contributes to resolution by a small margin.
    Black Label’s bass is little bit rounder, tighter. With XBass on, the difference is HUGE. I’ll talk more about it later!
    Side note, iDSD BL is a lot more forgiving than the Original iDSD.
     

    Hiss | Volume Knob

    If you remember our previous iDSD(Silver) review, we implied Android and Windows not being all the same about sound. While using iDSD(Silver), portable devices tend to have a darker background whereas iDSD BL sounds fantastic on everything. USB or Battery Power, Android or Windows.
    Regular iDSD was doing some channel imbalance between volumes 0-30%. It wasn’t a big problem because of the gain modes and iEMatch wouldn’t let you to listen below 50%. Actually it wasn’t a problem at all. It was just a fact. The exact fact remains same with iDSD Black Label. We hoped that they fixed this slight discomfort but I guess it’s related to analog attenuator they’re using. Anyways, the problem persists but like I said this is not a game changer or an unfortunate loss.
    [​IMG]

    Soundstage | Separation

    iDSD has a wide soundstage. Not very tall, but wide. iDSD BL’s separation is a little better than the regular iDSD but still it is the weakest point of iDSD compared to more expensive systems. (LPG, Hugo etc.) I’m not saying that the separation is bad, I’m just saying everything iDSD gives is beyond its price range, except its separation. Its separation has nothing special but it is surely good for the asking price.
    [​IMG]

    XBass+ & 3D+

    iFi really did fix the switches, the change is NOT subtle anymore.
    Let’s talk about the “XBass”. It will be the new favourite of bassheads. iFi really outdid themselves on this one because this switch boosts the low end A LOT. I don’t have the required equipment to measure it but I can say that it acts like a 8-9db bass boost. It’s much much better than the Original iDSD’s bass boost which was very subtle.
    Now, the 3D+ switch. Well to be honest I did quite a lot experiment on this switch and I am quite sure that it narrows the soundstage and increases perception of depth when used with IEMs. It is quite different with near-field monitors though. It organizes the stage resulting in more precise and holographic staging. I wouldn’t use it with all IEMs though.
    [​IMG]

     

    Driveability | ECO – NORMAL – TURBO | Usability

    iDSD is a beast in this subject and that’s probably why it has so many fans. It can literally drive anything. In ECO mode, sensitive monitors, in Normal Mode, standard headphones and in Turbo Mode it can drive most power hungry cans.
    1. Turbo mode 10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm
    2. Normal mode 5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm
    3. Eco mode 2.0V/250 mW @ 16 Ohm
    According our tests, it takes 12 hours to drain iDSD in ECO setting while Battery Mode is activated. On USB Power setting, the battery won’t drain itself whether it’s in ECO or Normal setting. I’ve also tested it in Turbo setting. It approximately takes 6-7 hours to drain its battery.
     

     

    Digital Filters | Analogue Filters | Polarity

    When it comes to digital filters iDSD has, such as Standard, Minimum Phase, Bit-Perfect, I wasn’t able to hear a noticable difference. If I heard it, I’m not even sure it’s not placebo. The way I understand it, when you’re listening DSD, digitals filters turn into analogue ones.
    When it comes to analog filters such as Standard Range, Extended and Extreme, I was able to hear clear differences and I liked what I heard. When you’re listening to DSD, these analogue filters get activated. Also iDSD has a polarity switch. Like the digital filters I wasn’t able to hear much difference.
     

     

    Built-in iPurifier

    iFi integrated an iPurifier technology onto the PCB of the BL. Right off the bat, I didn’t think that it’d benefit me all that much. Boy was I wrong.. I recently bought a pair of JBL LSR305 for mixing purposes. Using LSR305s with my gaming desktop rig + Dragonfly v1.5 caused crazy amount of buzzing, hissing and RF. God, all that interference… I couldn’t stand it. I’ve been searching for a cure and then iFi sent the iDSD to me. Of course I instantly remembered the integrated iPurifier, I gave it a shot and the LSRs were DEAD SILENT. Truly amazing. All that interference from my GTX 1070, power supply and unshielded motherboard was gone as soon as I plug the BL in. I love you iPurifier. I truly do.
     

     

    iEMatch

    iEMatch is a passive attenuator that increases output impedance of the 6.3mm out a little. iFi doesn’t have a detailed explanation about how much it changes the output impedance but I assume Off <1 Ohm, High Sensitivity ~ 2 Ohm, Ultra Sensitivity ~ 3 Ohm.
    You may ask, “What output impedance affects?”. The general use of this that iFi thought was eliminating the hiss of very sensitive monitors. But it does much more. Output impedance changes the frequency response of an IEM or a headphone. There is a basic calculation for that. If the impedance of the headphone/IEM is at least 8-10 times bigger than the amplifier’s output impedance, it won’t change the sound. If it’s less than that, you may need to greet with a colored sound which may be nice or sometimes unpleasant. I really love the idea of having this switch on a device and it does its work very well.
     

     

    Male USB A | RCA Out (Direct/Pre-Amplifier) | SPDIF IN/OUT

    Having a male USB A 2.0 connector for the digital connection was a great idea. When you’re going to connect the device to a phone, all you need is an OTG cable and you’re good to go.
    iDSD also has a RCA output section. You have two different choices for that. Direct or Pre-Amplifier. Direct, as the name indicates, directly gives the DAC’s reference sound. Pre-Amplifier’s sound is more colored compared to Direct mode. It is warmer. Volume knob, XBass and 3D works with it. 3D that comes from RCA outs are different than 3Ds you’re using for headphones. They have a different circuit iFi says. 3D that comes from Pre-amplified RCAs are called “3D for Speakers”.
    Also Direct or Pre-Amplifier, RCA’s are working simultaneously with the headphone output.

    I’ve also had the pleasure of testing the SPDIF input, Toslink. I felt a little difference between USB input. Between digital audio transmission methods, the change is always subtle like this was for me. Toslink has slightly smoother but less detailed presentation than USB but in a very subtle way.
    [​IMG]

    Installation | Updating iDSD | Smart Power

    When it comes to DACs, installation time and progress matters very much. With a Mac OS, IOS, Android or Linux, iDSD is just a plug-and-play toy. There is no installation. If it is a portable device, to make it work in the Battery Power Mode, you switch iDSD on, then you make the USB connection, if it is a non-portable device, you plug iDSD in and switch it on. That’s it. Cannot be simpler.
    If it is Windows, there is a 2-3 minute driver installation progress. Download from iFi’s website, install and you’re good to go.
    Unlike most of the DAC or DAC/Amp brands on the market, people of iFi are busy with developing new stuff. There are many software versions of iDSD BL Micro. Currently, they are on version 5.2. They do care about your device and continue developing it with softwares. Version 5.2 has a playback delay problem. iFi pointed out that it was related to Sleep Mode. To solve this issue, they published 5.2B. 5.2B doesn’t switch to the sleep mode. They are calling it “the portable version” but I like to call it “the life-saver version”.
    iDSD has a Smart Power feature. If your phone battery is about to be drained you can use iDSD as a power bank. iDSD has 4800mah battery that can be used for that purpose which is more than enough for your phone or your tablet. It gives 5V / 1.5A which is quite standard. This feature is another plus if you ask me.
    [​IMG]

    Quick Comparisons

    vs. Lotoo Paw Gold ($2000)
    LPG has a better resolution, separation, deeper soundstage and it is easier to carry around. iDSD has a wider soundstage.
    Tonality-wise, LPG has a sharper imaging and a punchier sound because of its energetic upper mid region, iDSD is warmer because of its midbass and mid forward presentation.
     
    vs. Chord Mojo ($599)
    Mojo is warmer, it has a narrower stage and it is more intimate. iDSD BL has a more balanced sound compared to Mojo. Resulting in better detail revealment. They are both very musical. BL has superior resolution and soundstage. I’d personally go with BL. (Device size is real though, you may need to evaluate that matter in your mind first)
     
    vs. Audioquest Dragonfly Red ($200)
    Audioquest have a similar sound signature. It’s not as detailed as iDSD. iDSD have better PRaT and handles complicated passages more successfully. iDSD has more natural timbre.
    Red sounds kind of thin, especially with classical music. iDSD has more bass weight.
     
    vs. Audioquest Dragonfly Black v1.5 ($100)
    Dragonfly Black has a lot less treble extension.Technicality-wise iDSD has a better resolution, detail, separation and soundstage. When used without a Jitterbug, Dragonfly is more likely to hiss.
     

    Summary

    iDSD BL is the definition of bang for the buck in every way. More or less expensive, there aren’t many options other than Mojo. Furthermore, iFi is a concerning company, they care about you, also they care about their product, iDSD’s resolution is very good and it can literally drive anything. It has tons of features and I think iDSD BL is the real deal.
    If you are looking for a DAC/AMP between 350-750$ this is your safest bet. Go get one! 
     
    Side note: MSRP is 549$ without tax U.S / 599 eur incl. vat E.U
    1. View previous replies...
    2. PxOR
      I am seriously considering one but i am afraid of the channel imbalance at the lower side of the pot because i do plan to use some sensitive IEMs with it too. so far i have seen people say it's not an issue at all to very apparent...which is really not helping :D. What would you say about that?
      PxOR, Mar 6, 2017
    3. khaja
      EXCELLENT review. You help me to buy best doc/amp while I was confuse which one should I buy. now I bought it and I am very happy to use it.....Thanks
      khaja, Apr 1, 2017
    4. slingshot80
      Very thorough review. Seems to offer the most at the price point. I will connect it to mono amps in my office to drive some small Monitor Audio speakers.  I will check out the headphone capabilities also. 
      slingshot80, Apr 19, 2017
  3. scootermafia
    Honey, I shrunk the home reference system.
    Written by scootermafia
    Published Dec 23, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Abundant power, stellar DSD performance, wide-ranging features to customize the sound
    Cons - Stretch-limo dimensions (narrow and long), 6.3mm output only, unusual USB input
    First off, I want to thank Tim @ Kitsune Hifi who sold me on iFi gear and gave me good advice on improving the digital end of my system (between the transport and the DAC), which was sorely lacking.  However, the iDSD BL could probably stand in for my home system, and at times makes me forget I even have a giant, overcomplicated rig.  
     
    Pre-disclaimer: I never write reviews and this will be a quick early one - some first impressions and my gut instincts on it - don't expect anything hyper-analytical, just some macro level stuff.  
     
    First impressions:
    This thing is long and narrow, while it's not for pocket use, it's not going to take up much room on the desktop, just place it judiciously.  It still takes up less area than a Chord Hugo, while clocking in at 1/5 the price.  It is made of hefty aluminum and the switches and knobs feel solid.  It has some heft to it, and the internal photos show a menacingly dense set of boards and exotic parts.  iFi does their own totally custom opamps, the digital clocking comes courtesy of their AMR ultra high end brand, and there are some badass caps and resistors in there for sure.  It's based off the new TI DSD DAC chips, of which it has two.  While you're going to have to make some adjustments to your hookups if you have all balanced stuff, it's well worth it.  
     
    Features: 
    The bass boost and crossfeed 3D toggles are subtle and don't seem to detract from the experience.  Not annoying me is a good sign, I left them on at most times, especially with the Utopia which can always use a little help to max out its bass capabilities.  The three different filters toggled on the side will take some experimentation and vary in their function for different filetypes so you can have hours of entertainment working out how they stack up.  With three different gain settings, I found that the Utopias do not need the high gain level - the Black Label seems not to flinch at really any of my mountain of headphones, even the hard to handle LCD4.  There are further IEM modes that can be activated to really dial things back and impedance match so it was able to play nice with my various CIEM.
     
    Sound:
    The iDSD has a male, recessed USB-A in the back panel; the included USB 3.0 cable has a cable mount female on it that slots into the recess.  I'm not going to think too hard about what iFi was going for here, nor am I going to agonize over the best way to hook everything up; copious adapters are included to make sure all avenues are covered.  I just plugged it into my Holo Audio Titanis USB Turbo to further clean up the Macbook's USB output, plugged in my Utopia, and that was what I spent the most time with.  I was really floored flipping through my DSD library (which has been dormant due to my use of the Yggdrasil, but is about to change with the impending arrival of the Holo Spring KTE Edition DAC, which will go head to head in my audio lab rig) as I think even on my home setup I've been missing out on some really insane little details using the Utopia - and this setup is by no means burned in or hooked up to an external amp.  I'm basing this all on about 4 hours listening tonight and on-off listening in the past week.  Loads of power and dynamics, ultra tight bass, and minimal fatigue.  I'm honestly laughing in horror at what i've spent on a gaggle of other portable dac/amps and DAPs.  They're all going to be spending a lot of time on the shelf.  If thieves showed up for the rest of my rig, I wouldn't even be that put out, so long as I had the Utopia or the Z1Rs and the iDSDBL.  The big thing is the dead silent background due to how well implemented the digital end of things is; pair that with the well-above-average power output and the relative efficiency of the Utopias, and they feel like they are being pushed hard even on medium gain.  This little dac/amp gets out of the way and lets the Utopia do their thing, while playing nice with literally every file format, even ones for which there are no files yet (DSD512 lol).  DSD256 classical is just fearsome, I don't even know what to say there, except it's a new level of delicate, nuanced clarity.  The free Mozart violin concerto on 2l.no should be a must have in everyone's test rig, with amazing transitions between the most quiet tiny bits towards the periphery of the soundstage exploding into the full orchestra, and each instrument placed laser-like in the headstage.  At this point in my audiophile career I have a ridiculously short attention span, so the fact that this new toy is not in a drawer somewhere yet is a testament to its value to me.  It's a keeper and at $550 should be on everybody's desk.

    Verdict: 
    Give it a try - in the very least you can feed your favorite amp with it, use it as a preamp, and everything in between.  iFi does not mess around and this is a disruptive product that has a no-holds-barred assault of technology and synergy to let it perform as it's doing right now.  Once I use it for months I might find something to whine about, but for now, it's a no brainer.  The real reason I'm using it is that it doesn't fatigue me with the Utopia, which is no mean feat.  With the wrong amp and dac, they have ludicrous clarity but will drive you nuts with that little bit of extra edge and attack and shrillness.  The only solution is a really good source and source material, and with some good DSD & hires files and the iDSD Black Label, you're all set.  

    Disclaimer: I paid retail price for any gear I've bought from Kitsune.  It's worth it to get an extra helping hand on what stuff to try next.  If I really wanted to, I could try to fish around for show samples direct from manufacturers to save a few bucks, not the case here.  
      gikigill and Cotnijoe like this.
  4. hardlok
    Black but beautiful compared to the silver original iDSD Micro!
    Written by hardlok
    Published Dec 12, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Tonally similar to its predecessor yet packs in that last ounce of oomph, slam, musicality and finesse in just the right spectrums of audio. Worth it!
    Cons - The black casing and hard-to-read words are subjectively not in line with the trademark IFI looks, but the sound makes the cosmetics tolerable!
    Went into the shop to audition the original Micro (my current desktop setup) vs the BL. Remember, not all reviews here are about the BL but the iDSD Micro platform products in general.
    Anyway, after an hour of careful volume-matched auditioning, what skepticism I had about the minor tweaks in componentry over the already-great-sounding Micro silver had melted away.
     
    I have concluded that the upgraded components really make that last ounce of difference in an already fine product! Bass slam that was already pretty good in the original, is now more pronounced and adds to the oomph and color and the low end. Overall clarity, already good on the original, is now slightly increased and subtly smoother and sweeter. Overall image width and height, on the Senn HD599, is about the same to me, but then, with the added clarity+sweetness+slam, that same stereo image suddenly snaps into sharper focus on good recordings. On bad or average recordings the BL actually makes the music tolerable due to the added musicality. Ahhhh... musicality...  that is the one elusive trait which could justify giving up my beloved Micro. The BL definitely has a palpable increase in musicality which I didn't even know I was hungering for, til today. The original silver Micro definitely has that muscical quality, but I guess the BL has nailed the fringes of diminishing returns down.
     
    For new owners who have never owned the Micro but like its sonic signature, this more-expensive unit may be a hard sell because the we're talking about mostly the same features and hardware platform. For the price difference you get a couple high-end components and improved clock... can this super tweak really justify the price difference? To that, I now say YES, if extra slam and musicality make a pronounced difference to the kind of music you like. For most general listening of lossy music, the BL won't be justified over the original Micro. But with the right equipment that has the resolving power to let you discern the 5% increase in sound quality, playing high quality uncompressed well-recorded audio, that 5% suddenly scales to 10% or more. Really hard to put a finger on it, but I guess this kind of sonic tweaking is what drives the audio hardware-modding market worldwide.
     
    For owners of the existing Micro looking to sell off their unit for this upgrade at the new price, I would advise a long side-by-side audition at the shop with your own gear in tow. The price differential you pay has to justify the improvements I mentioned above. Not everyone will feel the need to upgrade, if the music, other hardware and taste in audio do not require (or do not resolve the fine differences) the subtle increases in clarity and smoothness. Many headphiles depend on differences in tonal signature as the way to size up a tweaked product. In this case, the tonal signature remains unchanged, so that may give us a hasty conclusion about the value of the tweaks. But then again, anyone who owns the silver Micro (and bothers to keep it) would likely not be casual music lovers who go for V-shaped tonal signatures... so even a 5% improvement in an already good product can mean a lot if it is centred around not just tonality but the harder-to-define areas such as microdynamics, slam and musicality. The wonderful home-trial policy of IFI is definitely a good excuse to give the BL an extended spin in your own audio setup. Just don't blame me if you find the sonic improvements mild and yet you still decide to keep it because the music now somehow seems to connect with you more than how it did on the original Micro!
     
    Oh, and one last thing -- the XBass and 3D features have been judiciously used to liven up flat sounding recordings on the original Micro, and I walked into the store today not expecting much improvement in the XBass+ and 3D+. In fact, I did the bulk of the audition without these features, so that I could get a good feel of the basic audio differences in the main hardware. But when it came time to test out these two features, I can honestly say, they really have been fine-tuned to sound more natural without losing much of the punch! XBass is now even tighter and more refined due to the main benefits of the hardware tweak on the bass spectrum. 3D+ is sweeter and more holographic at the extreme HF region. It makes the previous 3D now sound a bit harsh and brash (that sounded gooded nevertheless!).
  5. glassmonkey
    iFi iDSD Black Label: Swiss Army knife utility, top tier sound and flexibility that does everything extremely well, so much value it’s uncompetitive
    Written by glassmonkey
    Published Dec 6, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - power to drive an HE-6 with finesse to feed a Kaiser 10 Encore, plays everything natively, extraordinarily flexible sonically and practically
    Cons - 3D can sound artificial on some tracks, black on black fonts on bottom, difficult to see volume knob level
    iDSDBL-24.jpg

     

    Acknowledgment   

    It’s always a privilege to check out new gear in exchange for your honest opinion. Thanks, iFi, for letting me in on this particular party. I’ve been borrowing this unit as part of the worldwide iFi tour.
     

    Introduction

    This is my fifth review of a piece of iFi gear. I’ve previously reviewed the Micro iUSB3.0 (own it), the Micro iDAC2, and the iPurifier2 (extreme value for money and good performance)(links are to the reviews), and have a pending review of the Micro iCAN SE (link to the iCAN SE thread). I’ve also had brief listens to the Micro iDSD and the Micro iCAN, so I feel like I’ve got a good idea of what iFi has to offer now, and it’s generally good, though few products have reached anywhere near the wow factor of the first product I reviewed, the Micro iUSB3.0. The iDSD BL just may reach for that summit.
     
    I’ve experienced a good working relationship with iFi and every item I’ve reviewed for them has been worth at least four stars. They make excellent products with extreme capabilities, and the newly upgraded and optimized version of the the Micro iDSD is no different. It packs a lot of power in a portable package, has a big battery, was developed with the community, and has an extremely capable DAC that plays every format worth delving into and some that are probably just wastes of space—I can’t tell the difference between DSD128 and DSD256 and PCM352, I’m pretty sure that I won’t hear anything different with DSD512—but good on iFi for being ironclad ‘buzzword’ proof. It’s a philosophy that I think Jason Stoddard of Schiit would probably smirk a little at. I won’t smirk. I actually do have a lot of respect for letting people play whatever music they want and doing your best to make it sound as good as you can even if you know that they are fools hearing placebo effects or just anything they think they want to hear. I think iFi’s dedication to serving their customers desires, within reason, is very enviable. I appreciate the amazing Schiit—the Yggdrasil is still one of my favourite DACs and I am eager to hear the Jotunheim—being turned out by that California powerhouse of affordable audio, but I’d really like to be able to play my DSD without using the sub-optimal Loki. A DAC named after the trickster god shouldn’t do one trick and only in limited fashion—it didn’t even play DSD128.
     
    The iFi Micro iDSD Black Label isn’t trying to do one thing and do it well. It is trying to be a veritable Swiss army knife of audio goodness that is small enough to carry in similar fashion to perhaps the world’s most famous multi-tool—I got my whittling badge in Cub Scouts with a Victorinox knife. I doubt the iDSD BE will ever reach that level of fame, but I imagine I’ll have a lot more uses for it now that I’m not living in the deep woodlands of Alaska and not earning any further whittling honoraria.
     
    Let’s see what this baby has going for us. But first, here is a mea culpa and description of my predilections. It takes a confident person, or maybe a fool—I resemble both—to buy shoes from a brand that they’ve never tried on. Reading a review without knowing anything about the reviewer is a similar thing, so there’s some pertinent information about me below the fold.
     
    2015-07-20-1437426450-7937643-babarcus.jpg
     
    Like most sensible people I started falling in love with music as a child. My first portable audio device was a Sony Walkman (the cassette kind) that I got when I was 10 years old (24 years ago).  I listened with the cheap Sony on ears that came with the Walkman until I bought a Koss CD boombox and started listening to UAF College Radio and 103.9 (alternative rock at the time) in Fairbanks, Alaska. I once listened to Louie, Louie for 3 days straight, and I’m not insane—did you know there is a Spanish gospel version of Louie, Louie?
     
    Like political tastes and tastes in friends, my musical tastes evolved through association and then rebellion and experimentation. From the songs of my father (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, ZZ Top), to the songs of my peers (Dr. Dre, Green Day, Nirvana, Weezer), my tastes evolved, expanded and exploded into the polyglot love that is my current musical tapestry. Like a Hieronymous Bosch mural, my tastes can be weird and wonderful: dreamy Japanese garble pop, 8 bit chiptune landscapes percolated with meows, queer punk, Scandinavian black metal; or they can be more main-stream with minglings of Latin guitar, Miles Davis trumpet, and banks of strings and percussion in the Mariinsky Orchestra. Mostly my audio drink of choice is a rich stout pint of heady classic rock and indie/alternative from my musical infancy and identity formation (the 90s). Come as you are, indeed. Beyond the weird, the wonderful, the interesting and accepted, I’m a big fan of intelligent hip-hop artists like Macklemore, Metermaids, Kendrick Lamar, Sage Francis and Aesop Rock. I even dabble in some country from time to time, with First Aid Kit and the man in black making cameos in my canals.
     
    My sonic preferences tend towards a balanced or neutral sound, though I’ll admit to liking a little boosted bass or treble from time to time. If I have to choose between warm and bright, I’ll choose bright almost every time. A few screechy high notes are preferable to me than a foggy unfocused bass guitar. As my tastes are eclectic, and a day of listening can involve frequent shifts in my sonic scenery, I don’t generally want headphones that try to paint my horizons in their own hues. I need headphones that get out of the way, or provide benign or beneficial modifications. I desire graceful lifts like an ice-dancing pairs’ carved arc, not heaving lifts like a man mountain deadlift.
     
    My last hearing test with an audiologist was a long time ago and under strange circumstances. However, I have heard tones all the way down to 10hz and all the way up to 23Khz using headphones in my collection. Either my headphones tend to have a hole in frequency at 18kHz or my hearing does, because I never seem to hear it. I’m sensitive to peaky treble, and treble fatigue, even when I can’t hear what might be causing it. I do enjoy smooth extended treble. I like deep tight bass and impactful drums, and dislike upper mid-bass emphasis.  I like my vocals crisp, so stay away from Josh Tillman’s voice you nasty upper mid-bass hump.  I like air in the stage, not just cues to distance and height, but the feeling of air moving around and through instruments. Soundstage shouldn’t be just about hearing, I need to feel it. I listen at volume levels that others consider loud (78 to 82 dB), but I just set it to where the dynamics peak. I’m not here to shatter my eardrums. I like them just how they are.
     
    I generally don’t believe in using EQ, not even for inexpensive headphones, especially in reviews. I won’t claim that I haven’t done it, but I generally try to avoid it.
     
    I believe that burn-in can make a difference, but I also acknowledge that there isn’t any measurement that appears to give conclusive proof that burn-in exists. I trust my ears, fully acknowledging that my brain may fill in expected details, may colour my interpretation, or may be subject to its own settling period with a headphone. In my experience, burn-in effects are not as large as proponents of burn-in tend to advertise. I’ve also noted that using white/pink/brown noise, I almost never observe changes beyond 24 hours of burn in. When people tell you that you shouldn’t listen to your headphones until they have 200 hours on them, I think these people need to be ignored. No matter what, you should be listening to your headphones at different stages, right out of the box and at intervals. How can someone observe a difference without baseline observations and follow up observations to measure change trajectories? If you really want to be serious about controlling for effect, you need volume matching, source matching, and tip/pad matching.
     
    I’m a firm believer that cables can make a difference, but I don’t think they always do. When I tried out Toxic Cables line, they were in a bunch of baggies at the Cambridge 2015 HeadFi meet without any labels tell me what I was listening to. The cheapest looking one was the one I liked the best. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to spend much to improve my sound. It turned out that the cheapest looking one was the Silver/Gold top of the line cable. I’ve heard the difference that USB cables can make, from upgrading from the crappy cable that came with my Geek Out 1000 to a Supra USB, and then again when upgrading to the LH Labs Lightspeed 2G with the iUSB3.0. When I picked up a cheap shielded power lead from Mains Cables R Us to replace my standard kettle lead on my integrated amplifier, I heard more crunchy and clearer treble. I switched the leads with my wife blinded and she heard the same difference. I didn’t tell her what I heard and let her describe it herself. But cables don’t always make a difference. When I switched from my standard HD650 cable to a custom balanced cable (Custom Cans UK, very affordable), the sound stayed exactly the same when hooked up via a top tier (custom made by my local wire wizard, out of  silver/gold Neotech wire) 4-pin XLR to 6.3mm converter. Balanced mode made a difference in clarity and blackness of background—this indicates that the amp was the deciding influence, not the cable. Your mileage may vary and you may not hear a difference, but I have.
    My brother used to have a Mohawk but not like Mr. T’s awesome Mohican. It was actually a Mo-mullet. It was probably the worst haircut I’ve ever seen. Shaved on the sides, short on top, long in back. Totally unique, in totally the wrong way. My brother the unicorn.
     
    photo.jpg
     

    Vital Statistics (specs from manufacturers and distributors)

    Of all the manufacturers I’ve dealt with, and there are a few, iFi is the only one that makes what they are doing sound like witchcraft. Stealth technology, tube state, noise cancelling power USB coax etc… I don’t know how they do it, and don’t pretend to, but my lack of understanding won’t make me turn all Luddite and start bashing gears. I don’t need to understand it to enjoy it.
     
    a4179298634_10.jpg
     
     
    Here’s the brief version of everything that iFi had to say in the iDSD thread about the newest member of the iFi family:
     
     
     
    It also has special Operationsverstärker, which is Operational Amplifier auf Deutsch. They use the cool copper-lead frames pictured below.
     
    TQFP_Leadframe_p2.jpg
     
     
    It is also worth noting some of the features passed on through its iDSD lineage:
    1. Dual Burr-Brown DAC chips developed by Burr-Brown Japan before the TI acquisition, custom tweaked to play all the way up to unicorn formats: OctaDSD (512DSD—there aren’t even any recordings that I know of) to PCM768 (I don’t know if recordings exist for this standard)
    2. 3 output modes: eco, normal and turbo and the iEMatch feature allowing headphones from ultra-sensitive custom in-ear flagships to insensitive masses of metallic HiFiMan HE-6 glory
    3. Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/coax allows using the iDSD BL to feed your Sonos, or plugging in your DAP when you feel the need to make up for it’s inadequacies
    4. Battery power for loads of time, with smart charging for your devices when you aren’t blasting your aural cavities with wonders, delights, and delectable morsels of audio fayre (iFi advertise 6-12 hours battery playback, depending on how hungry your headphones are)
     
    If you want more text about this new-fangled contraption, check out the iFi website.
     
    Specifications
     
    Formats supported
    DSD512/256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD
    DXD(768/705.6/384/352.8kHz), Double/Single-Speed DXD
    PCM(768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz)
    Filters
    PCM – Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard
    DSD – Extreme/Extended/Standard Bandwidth
    DXD – Bit-Perfect Processing
    Digital Inputs
    High-Speed Asynchronous USB 2.0 (32bit/768kHz)
    SPDIF Coaxial/Optical
    Digital Outputs
    SPDIF Coaxial
    Audio Input
    3.5mm
    Audio Output
    6.3mm (2V-5V variable), RCA Line out (2V fixed)
    Power Output
    Turbo (8.0V max/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm)
    Normal (4.0V/1,000 mW @ 16 Ohm)
    Eco (2.0V/250mW@16 Ohm)
    Battery
    Lithium-polymer 4800mAh
    Power System
    USB BCP V1.2 compliant up to 1500mA charging current
    Power (max)
    <2W idle, 4W max
    Dimensions
    177(l) x 67(w) x 28(h) mm
    Weight
    310g (0.68 lbs)
    Manual
    Available online here
    Drivers/Firmware
    Here ya go

     

    Form & Function

    iDSDBL-3.jpg
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    iDSDBL-8.jpg

     
    Those who’ve seen any iFi gear from the Nano or Micro series will know that they all come in the same size box. Whilst this is true, the iFi iDSD BL comes with more in its box than any of the other’s I’ve opened. Here are the full contents:
    1. Micro iDSD BL
    2. 1 metre USB 3.0A female to USB3.0A male cable
    3. USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female cable (for using whatever USB cable you like without straining the USB jack)
    4. USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female short adaptor (for using whatever USB cable you like)
    5. iFi’s standard purple RCA cables
    6. Heavy duty rubber bands for stacking your source on top of the iDSD BL
    7. 6.3mm to 3.5mm convertor
    8. Short 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable
    9. Mini Toslink to Toslink adaptor
    10. 4 iFi branded silicone feet (that’s a step up from my Micro iUSB3.0)
    11. A silicone sheet—is this for putting under or on top? I couldn’t tell, but it should provide some cushion
    12. A velvet bag for transport
     
    That’s a lot of stuff in the box. Strangely, they didn’t include a standard USB OTG cable. That seemed really strange to me. For a device that is going to be used with a lot of people’s cell phones, that should be included. We get two USB2.0A female to USB2.0B female adapters.
     
    absolutely bass
    head round bashing
    up down vertical
    crack guitar--sparkle
     
    Those who like Ace will understand. Must not sleep, must tell others. Those poor lines above are mine, not Aesop Rock, so direct your hate mail at me for the bad attempt at rap. Ace rocks the lyrics better below.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    I can also confirm that if you are going to connect your phone in this way as your primary way of using your Micro iDSD Black Label, you’ll want to flash the Limoncello 5.2B firmware. Twenty minutes hooked up to the iDSD BL took my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 from 100% to 81% battery.
     
    iDSDBL-10.jpg
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    iDSDBL-19.jpg
    The Micro iDSD Black Label speaks.​
    iDSDBL-14.jpg
    iDSDBL-20.jpg
    iDSDBL-16.jpg iDSDBL-17.jpg

     
    The Micro iDSD BL has the same form factor as the whole micro series, but has traded out the straight aluminum (aluminium for some folks) sheath for a stark matte black scabbard with orange accent lettering. I was a bit worried that the orange lettering would look garish and never allow me to escape the conquest of Jack-o-lantern images in my head. Luckily for me, and all those thinking of buying this little beast, the orange is very well executed and the black looks amazing. It looks like I’ve got a miniature panther sitting atop my other audio gear, but there are no eyes to see on this in the dark, nothing to let you know that your ears aren’t about to be bombarded with bliss. It’s a stealthy joy cannon.
     
    The switches are well labelled, as is the headphone jack, 3.5mm input, and all inputs and outputs, but lordy the volume knob could use an orange dot to know not to blast my ears too badly. This thing can throw out a lot of wattage, so a little warning would be good. As is, there is just a barely visible black line to let you know what volume you are at. The line is cut into the knob, so you can feel the volume before you hear it at least.
     
    Similarly, if you want to read anything on the bottom of the iDSD BL, good luck with that. The writing is dark grey on a black background. Not the most clear choice of text. The good news is once you know what you are doing, and through using the user manual, the text on the bottom is made irrelevant.
    There are lots of features on the iDSD BL. I’ll take these features one by one.
     
    1. Power mode: the iDSD BL, like it’s predecessor has three power modes, it’s like gain but each step doubles the wattage to the headphones. Turbo delivers 4W, while normal delivers 1w, and Eco delivers 250mW into 16 Ohms. My personal preferences with the HD600 were was normal at about 2 o’clock. With the Noble Kaiser 10 Encore (K10E), I liked Eco mode at about noon. I liked the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (UERR) best in Normal with volume at about 11 o’clock.
    2. iEMatch: the Noble K10E is pretty sensitive and has pretty much never needed much of anything to drive it on anything that I’ve drove it out of, but it didn’t need iEMatch. I don’t have any more sensitive IEMs on hand. One advantage of IEM match with the Noble K10E was more sensitive volume control. When I turned to high sensitivity my volume adjustment became finer. I tried the UERR in High Sensitivity, but had to put the power level into Turbo, which comes with some noise floor consequences, so negates some of the benefit. I preferred the UERR with iEMatch Off and power set to Normal. With the Noble K10E, I tried Eco and High Sensitivity, but found that I preferred Eco with Normal, as I perceived a slightly larger soundstage.
    3. XBass: gives a small dB boost to lower frequencies without touching the mids. It’s a really nicely executed effect that worked well with the HD600 and the UERR (especially with the UERR).
    4. 3D: I was previously a fan of this on the iCAN SE, but the iCAN SE amp was not as good sounding as the iDSD BL, from memory, and I find the change on this iDSD BL is not as subtle as the XBass effect. It does give a bit more air, but it also pushes some instruments forward (cymbals particularly), which will be pleasing to some but sounded a bit unnatural to me. I like an organic neutral signature most of the time, without any particular sections of the frequency range sounding too far forward. The 3D switch goes a little too forward and v-shaped for my tastes. That’s OK, though, as it is designed for variation, the standard is soooooo good, I generally don’t even touch the switches (maybe the XBass from time to time, depending on my mood and my material). 3D is awesome with the Meze 99 Classics.
    5. Filter: there are three filter settings—standard (not for DSD or DXD), Minumum Phase, and Bit Perfect. I tested these out with the Rebecca Pigeon – Spanish Harlem, and noted that the sound got warmer and less sharp as I dropped down the ladder from Bit Perfect to Standard. The differences were very subtle. With DSD256 (Trondheim Solistene – Frank Bridge Variations 4. Romance, from 2L recordings), I noticed increased volume as I went down the ladder. With DXD (Hoff Ensemble - Bøhren/Åserud: Blågutten) I didn’t notice differences—it all sounds wonderful.
    6. Native everything. Cookie Marenco over at Blue Coast has previously emphasized that the less conversion that happens, the better; this is why they say recordings that they receive in PCM192 sound best in PCM192, not DSD. This plays native DSD to OctaDSD (512) and DXD to double DXD (768mHz), and all the other PCM you can eat. If you need DoP it’s there, but trust me, you don’t need it.
     
    In other good news, I powered the HD600 for at least 13 hours on battery power, so the battery has plenty of guts. The reason I say at least 13 hours is I fell asleep and it was off when I woke up. I was doing the battery test passively, as 13 hours is a long time to be in one place. I fell asleep after watching the Seahawks dismantle the Panthers—that game ended at 5 AM here, I was le tired.
     

    Audio quality

    With no switches engaged the iFi iDSD Black Label is dead to rights neutral. It lets the headphone do the singing. This is very similar to the LH Labs GO2A Infinity I just recently picked up. These two DAC/Amps share quite a bit in common, actually. Both are made out of aluminum, both have multiple gain settings, both output 4VRMS at 16 Ohms, both are freaking excellent neutral DACs. The GO2A Infinity, for all its qualities, can’t play DSD256 or higher, uses DoP exclusively, doesn’t have a battery up in it (GO V2+ for that), doesn’t have the sheer headphone matchability, and doesn’t have digital or analogue outputs outside of headphone outs—of which it has a 3.5mm TRRS balanced and a standard 3.5mm jack. Also, the GO2A doesn’t have the magic switches found on the front of the Micro iDSD Black Label.
     
    Let’s talk about those switches. I first threw the iDSD on with another item I’m reviewing, the 1MORE MK802 using the optional 3.5mm cable (it’s a Bluetooth headphone). I tossed some white noise on to see if I could hear the shaping effects of the switches. When I flipped the 3D switch the pitch of the white noise became higher. It was a very noticeable change. I then flipped off the 3D switch and flipped on the XBass switch expecting a similar lowering of pitch. I couldn’t hear the difference with white noise. However, when I threw on the new Chesky 30th Anniversary Collection, the bass switch was subtle, but noticeable, and more so when I switched to the HD600. From what I can tell the XBass gives a subtle subbass boost that is just big enough to make bass notes more full and drum strikes have more palpable impact and air in the strike. XBass can lend bass guitar and stand-up bass some really nice grunt, too. The 3D effect is accomplished through a treble boost. Neither boost messes with the midrange frequencies, which is really nice. The boosts are subtle modifications that allow you to give more fulfilling bass on a slightly bass light headphone like the HD600 or give a little more perceived soundstage on a treble limited headphone. Also, if you have a neutral phone and want it to sound more vibrant you can flip the switches. If you want to paint in technicolour shades in a landscape in your audio dreams without losing the central image and symbolic language, these switches let you do that.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    In several words the iDSD Black Label is: clear, neutral, powerful, and flexible. I tried the iDSD Black Label with the HD600 (Normal, iEMatch Off), the Noble Kaiser 10 Encore (Eco, iEMatch Off, soft hiss on Normal), the UERR (Normal, iEMatch Off), and the Meze 99 Classics (Eco, iEMatch Off, hiss on Normal) it delivered all courses deliciously. When I craved a bit more bass from the HD600, the XBass took care of that; and when I wanted to balance out the signature of the Meze 99 Classics to make them clearer, I switched on 3D effect; but generally I found I liked the iDSD BL vanilla. It delivers such perfect neutrality. I think that the Meze 99 Classics really benefit from the 3D switch. The sound of them improves so much more to my liking—after listening to them with 3D on, I don’t think they’ll ever sound quite as good on other sources. The 3D switch balances out the extra bass groove that the Meze’s have. They don’t tighten that bass, but they put it into relief by sharpening the upper-mids and treble registers. I found that the 99 Classics don’t have sharp treble—I don’t get where that has been coming from; but do have boosted bass and mids. The signature is much more balanced with 3D engaged. One thing I did like with 3D was boosting the treble helped make some muddier tracks sound a bit more crisp, which to me was better than boosting soundstage. I totally dug the increase in perceived resolution. Duller tracks had their camping spork audio tranformed into restored functional blades, but not into Japanese steak knives.
     
     
    715rP6OlDoL._SL1500_.jpg
    big_arrow_orange_on_deep_purple_pack_of_standard_business_cards-r5acd10d1b5d04d64a026a06f9a95ab59_i579t_8byvr_324.jpg
    I2.jpg
    Light My Fire Titanium Spork
    Business card from Zazzle
    Restored rusty bayonet

     
    My primary listening for the review was Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited in 24/96. The album is excellent and excellent sounding. You really understand why Bob Dylan just recently won the Nobel Prize for literature—his words are poetry that moved the world and shaped music in his heyday and will continue shaping music long into the future. I used this to generate my initial impressions above and gauge the capabilities of the device.
     

    Comparisons

    For comparative listening I expanded out a bit:
    1. Dragonforce – The Fire Still Burns; Heartbreak Armageddon (speed, air)
    2. Damien Rice – Animals Were Gone (just for the heartbreak)
    3. Animals as Leaders – Ka$cade (speed, resolution)
    4. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (resolution, male vocals)
    5. Why – Strawberries (bass, stage)
    6. Michael Jackson – Billie Jean [vinyl rip] (stage, imaging, resolution)
    7. Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – Sibelius: 5th Symphony, Allegro molto [DSD64] (scale, imaging)
    8. Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev  – Tchaikovsky: 1812 Festival Overture
    9. Amber Rubarth – Sessions from the 17th Ward
    10. And others…
     
    Before I do some comparisons, here is the relevant info about my set-up(s).
     
    Dell Vostro → LH Labs Lightspeed 2 (split power and data) USB cable → iFi Micro iUSB3.0 →
    1. Stock iDSD BL USB3.0 cable → iDSD BL
    2. Stock iDSD BL USB3.0 cable → iDSD BL → Airist Audio Heron 5
    3. LH Labs Lightspeed 2 (split power and data) USB cable → LH Labs GO2A Infinity
     
    iBasso DX50 → stock 3.5mm to coaxial cable → iDSD BL
     
     
     
    iDSDBL-22.jpg iDSDBL-23.jpg
    iDSDBL-25.jpg
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    iDSDBL-29.jpg

     
    When comparing the iDSD to the Airist Audio Heron 5, the Heron 5 has more grunt and soar across the whole spectrum, clearer holographic mids, and a bit bigger stage (all dimensions), but both are truly excellent sounding. The Heron 5 costs $750 (on Massdrop when it comes up, $1000 direct from Airist Audio). The Micro iDSD BL costs $550. The caveat here is that when I reviewed the iCAN SE, I didn’t find the iCAN SE to do as well with power hungry cans as the Heron 5. For this review, I don’t have any of those top-tier cans on hand. With the HD600 the Heron 5 is better, but it isn’t as decisive a victory as the comparison with the iCAN SE. There are a lot of ways that the iDSD BL is better: you can use it with high sensitivity low resistance IEMs, it has an excellent DAC implementation, you can throw it in your backpack, the iDSD BL has excellent distribution networks, and the customer service of iFi is absolutely stellar. Overall the Micro iDSD BL is a way better value than the Heron 5. In this comparison the Airist Audio Heron 5 was also being fed by the Micro iDSD BL, so the incremental cost of the improved performance is really $750 or more, because the iDSD BL is responsible for some of the sound quality I’m hearing out of the Heron 5.
     
    When comparing to the Light Harmonic Labs GO2A Infinity in balanced, with volume matching, the two amps were nearly indistinguishable when playing at the same power output. The GO2A (1000 mW) setting is exactly the same 4VRMS into 16 Ohm output as the Micro iDSD BL. The GO2A was a little smoother, with the iDSD having a bit tighter contours and more well defined edges. The GO2A Infinity and the iDSD BL both have good power and good matchability. The GO2A Infinity has three levels, 100mW, 450mW, and 1000mW into 16 Ohms. Potentially, the iDSD BL has more matchability than this with the various iEMatch settings. Both amps have about the same soundstage. The GO2A Infinity is tiny, but won’t have a chance in Hades of driving an HE-6 or AKG-K1000. The GO2A Infinity will do fine on most headphones on the market, and performs very well with my HD600 and the Noble Kaiser 10 Encore. For value, the GO2A Infinity is currently $349 (not including shipping/taxes/etc…, distributor network is poor), and the iDSD BL is available all over the place for $549 (£455, €599—dang, what happened to the Euro?). Another place that iFi wins is customer service. iFi are just better staffed and more responsive. They also have had a better business plan to date and a lot better relationship with the community—needless to say.
     
    As expected the iDSD BL sounds great when fed by the coaxial source. Amber Rubarth covering Tom Waits’ ‘Hold On’ is still one of my favourite acoustic tracks. Sessions From the 17th Ward should be in everybody’s collection. I don’t care if all you listen to is mainstream pop, metal and EDM, if you can’t feel this music and can’t get into the stellar musicianship, I just don’t know what to say.
     

    Conclusions

    Go get one. What the heck are you waiting for? There isn’t a so easily transportable DAC/Amp combo out there with the technical capabilities of the iDSD Black Label. It has a crisp, transparent, neutral presentation. It can power headphones from the most delicate flower sensitive custom IEMs all the way up to the man eating Bengal tigers of audiophilia: the HE-6 and other rare beasts. Beyond having power and finesse, it also plays any kind of music you throw at it natively—no signal degrading conversion. If you needed some dessert with this 15 course dinner, the XBass and 3D effect switches give it to you. Have all the pudding you like, I promise the enhanced treble and bass won’t screw up your appetite. It's a worthy $549 contender for your audio money.
      vapman, proedros, jazzfan and 9 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Haris Javed
      good review - I just ordered mine as well - however you might want to fix this 
           - Turbo delivers 8W, while normal delivers 4w, and Eco delivers 250mW into 16 Ohms - The 8, 4 numbers are volts, not Watts :wink: 
      Haris Javed, Dec 13, 2016
    3. glassmonkey
      @Haris Javed thanks for the kind words and gentle corrections. I've fixed the error now. Jeez, confusing watts and volts. Good thing I'm not an engineer... Yikes.
      glassmonkey, Dec 13, 2016
    4. Condocondor
      Just got mine today 12/16/16.  Guess what?.........it's aye......uh.....well.......a ******* masterpiece. 

      I also have the amazing new LH Labs Geekout 2A Infinity.  Taking nothing from the Geekout 2A Infinity but the iDSD BL bests it fairly handily by.... say 15% in nearly all respects.  Now, I've not let it burn in.  I've not played with any of the settings.  I've not listened to it with a bunch of different headphones--just the AKG 553 Pro.  I've not put the iDSD BL through it's paces etc. BUT.....................Almost immediately, I experienced a better (and more) believable sound staging.  The music has more body than the GO2A Infinity.  The iDSD BL just seems more effortless, focused, etc.  There is an ease about it's power....a solidity.  There is a connection to the music that is more emotional.  I nearly cried on a few tracks as I was greatly moved by what I was hearing.  Those femto clocks and other boutique parts are definitely doing their thing.  $549 is a bargain in my mind.  I have absolutely no regrets with this purchase.  I have a new best friend and cannot wait to add some of the other iFi power goodies to this thing.  Oh and that volume pot problem that manifests at less than 9 O'clock is a non-issue on my product.  My volume pot works perfectly below 9 O'clock.   I may have a Geekout 2A Infinity for sale......it's that good.  
      Condocondor, Dec 16, 2016
  6. Hisoundfi
    The total package... The iFi Audio micro iDSD DAC/amplifier, iUSB 3.0 and Gemini Cable
    Written by Hisoundfi
    Published Apr 29, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Very versatile DAC/amplifier, All in one DAC/amp solution for home and away, Ideal driving power for all types of earphones, Great sound quality
    Cons - Downloading software/firmware can be a pain, Not a pocket friendly portable solution, Lots of settings to learn
    20160229_165823.jpg
     
    At the time of this review, the iFi micro iDSD, iFi nano Gemini cable and iFi nano iUSB3.0 was for sale on Amazon’s website. Here are links for the purchase of these three items:
     
     
     
    20160225_163632.jpg    20160225_163639.jpg
    http://www.amazon.com/Micro-iDSD-Headphone-Amplifier-Octa-Speed-Double-Speed/dp/B01D40AQJ2?ie=UTF8&keywords=micro%20idsd&qid=1461553486&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1
     
    20160225_163730.jpg    20160225_163736.jpg
    http://www.amazon.com/iFi-Gemini-Dual-Headed-Cable-Meter/dp/B00COJ5Z64/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1461553590&sr=8-2&keywords=ifi+gemini
     
    20160225_163405.jpg    20160225_163359.jpg
    http://www.amazon.com/iFi-iUSB3-0-Audio-Power-Regenerator/dp/B01BMT1CVS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461553784&sr=8-1&keywords=ifi+nano+iusb
     
    Introduction
    When I purchased my Sennheiser HD600 headphones, I knew I was going to need a more powerful desktop rig to make them sing. I did my homework and came up with a budget solution. I picked up a HifimeDIY Sabre 9023 DAC and a Bravo Audio Ocean Class a tube amplifier. This combination created a very powerful and spacious sound that to this day I am very content with.
     
    Since obtaining this rig, I have had the pleasure to attend several audio exhibits and Head-Fi meets. It’s been awesome being able to try the best headphones, DACs and amplifiers the world of personal audio has to offer. I’ve heard DAC and amplifier rigs that sound better than mine, but the big drawback and reason I haven’t picked anything else up to this day has been because of price. It seems like every time I hear something I would prefer to have over my current gear, the price tag is around two thousand dollars or more. As many of us know, in the world of top end audio we tend pay a lot for minor upgrades. The law of diminishing returns becomes more and more apparent the further we travel down the proverbial rabbit hole of audio gear.
     
    When iFi contacted me to see if I would be interested in covering some of their products for a review, I was pretty excited. I decided at the time that it was going to be a challenge to see if iFi could offer a source that can rival my budget set up and fall under the thousand dollar mark. Not only does this combination trump my budget rig in terms of sound quality, I found it to be a Swiss Army Knife for audiophiles. Let’s go over these products with a comprehensive review.
     
    Disclaimer
    I was given an opportunity to review samples provided by iFi in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion and review. I am in no way affiliated with iFi. I would like to take this time to personally thank Tyler for the opportunity to review these products.   

     
    Micro iDSD (Octa DSD512)
    20160225_224106.jpg
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd/
     
    Before I begin the discussion on this, allow me to quote the Amazon listing’s description and explanation:
     
    There is nothing like the micro iDSD. It is literally, out of this world. It is the only DAC in the world (at any price) to play True Native Octa-DSD512/PCM768/Double DxD. Its Perfect-Match means it can be fine-tuned to any headgear from IEMs all the way through to large headphones. Its 8v/4000mW output makes it one of the most powerful headamps to drive even the most hungry of headphones with ease. iFi has forged an enviable reputation for being at the forefront of computer audio technology. The micro iDSD has just made another leap, an Octa-Leap to be precise. With its special Dual-Core Burr-Brown native DSD/PCM chipset at the heart, the micro iDSD is capable of True Native PCM768, Octa-Speed DSD512 and 2x DxD; it is simply out of this world. The micro iDSD has 3 different power modes Eco, Normal and Turbo. Capable of 4000mW, 1000mW or 250mW, the micro iDSD is able to drive the full gamut of headphone and amplifiers alike. With iEMatch there to dial to suit any IEM, the micro iDSD has redefined the headphone amplifier class. Used along with the analogue volume control, the diminutive size of the micro iDSD belies its uncanny ability to drive virtually anything and everything! SmartPower is the micro iDSD's onboard recharging feature for Smartdevices. Its 4800mAH battery is able to fully recharge an iPhone two-times. Compatible with Apple and Android, phones and tablets, it is another example of iFi's commitment to customer needs - enjoy high-end audio on the go with the micro iDSD”
     
    As for the background on the micro iDSD, this product was designed with the Head-Fier in mind. In fact, much of the design concepts were a product of feedback from the Head-Fi community. Search the threads for this device and you will see that this product was designed from what many felt were the things required to make the micro iDSD the ultimate all-in-one audiophile DAC/amplifier.
     
    The Micro comes with the following accessories:
    20160225_235348.jpg
    1x RCA cable (1 foot)
    1x 3.5mm interconnect (approx. 4 inches)
    1x Silicone pad for stacking purposes
    2x Silicone bands for stacking portable sources
    1x USB male to female type A cable (approx 3 feet)
    1x USB type B female to USB type A female (approximately 6 inches)
    1x Optical female input to toslink adapter
    1x USB type B female input to micro USB output adapter
    1x USB type B female input to USB type a female output
    1x Felt carrying case
     
    You get just about everything you need to hook any audio device up to the iDSD in the package. The only aftermarket cable I used outside of the package contents were the Gemini Cable, or a Toslink to Toslink interconnect.
     
    Getting Started
    20160429_030927.jpg
    Because the micro iDSD was used in combination with the nano iUSB 3.0, hooking the device up is a bit different than going straight into the computer. However, getting started with the software was the same.
     
    20160429_033828.jpg
    Once the device has a full initial charge the software can be downloaded from the iFi website. Once the iFi software is loaded and installed, optional firmwares can be downloaded, unzipped and installed by loading it into the computer application’s firmware folder. I will admit that this process calls for someone who has a little more knowledge of computers than the average person, or someone who can follow the online instructions carefully. Figuring out the software will be a pain for some people. Let it be known that it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you don’t follow the instructions you can run the risk of bricking your micro iDSD and need to send it back to iFi to be fixed.  
     
    20160429_032725_HDR.jpg
    After downloading and installing the software and firmware updates, the first thing I did was bump the output resolution. On my Windows 10 laptop the iDSD has max output at a whopping 32/192k. If you aren’t sure how good that is, just know that the output resolution and bitrate of a compact disk is 16/44k.
     
    Sound in a Nutshell
    Once the sampling rate was maxed out, it was time to grab my HD600 and fire up some DSD files. Even upon first listen I had perma-grin. To my ears, without flipping any switches on the unit, the micro iDSD is true to any recording and plays it with a level of resolution and detail that is very, very impressive!
     
    I could ramble on and on about the sound about the iDSD, but in a nutshell the iDSD plays music with no added color to its presentation. The iDSD will play your music the way it should be heard. It is a very revealing sound thanks to its very accurate sound reproduction. I've read several iDSD reviews before writing this review, and impressions vary, sometimes significantly. Many of them are different depending on who's review you read. After listening to the iDSD for a few months, the conclusion I have about the sound is that I don't want to label the signature on the iDSD, and feel that the iDSD sound is incredibly balanced with enough minor sound adjustment settings to match just about anyone's preference.
     
    5dc6963d_ifi_micro_idsd_block_zpsbqnn4oui.png
    The iDSD is future-proofed in terms of its resolution capability. It plays pretty much every type of music file up to double DXD. The iDSD uses dual Burr Brown DAC chips (one for each channel). After looking at the diagram, I was left wondering why iFi wouldn’t finish the deal and add dual op-amps and a balanced output. If I had to guess, iFi is probably already working on this for future versions.
     
    Power Output
    The most impressive thing about the iDSD is its versatility, with the most important aspect being the adjustable power outputs. The iDSD will drive my ZMF Omni and HD600 with ease, and with the flip of a switch or two I can drive my most sensitive multi-armature in-ear monitors. I have NEVER used a DAC/amp with adjustments that makes it ideal for any earphone type of earphone that I own.
     
    20160225_224127.jpg
    The iDSD has three power output settings:
     
    *Turbo: (8.0V max/4000 mW@16 Ohm)
    *Normal:  (4.0V/1000 mW@16 Ohm)
    *Eco: (2.0V/250 mW@16 Ohm)
     
    Yes friends, in Turbo mode the micro iDSD pumps out FOUR WATTS at sixteen Ohms! Do you own a headphone that the iDSD can’t drive? Probably not!
     
    When you don’t need that much power the Normal mode hits a sweet spot, offering one full watt. This is still plenty of power for almost every headphone in today’s market. This is the setting I used to push my headphones when using the iDSD as a portable. It’s powerful enough to make my cans sound great, and not so powerful that I’m prematurely draining my 4800mAh lithium ion battery.
     
    Eco mode is the least powerful and I found it to be ideal with in-ear monitors. It also worked well for more sensitive headphones. When using this mode the battery lasts longer than the other settings.
     
    20160225_224135.jpg
    If you thought the power output settings are enough, the iDSD has a “IEMatch” switch to dial things in even more with your most sensitive earphones. You can attenuate the signal from 0/12/24 dB to get the output and volume dial perfect for your earphone and preference.
     
    20160225_224120.jpg
    The iDSD has a USB charger attached to side of the device as well. If your portable device or smartphone runs out of juice, you can charge it with the iDSD. One thing to note, the iDSD will not work as a DAC or amplifier and charge at the same time. It’s one or the other.
     
    Desktop and Portable use
    20160305_082046.jpg
    The iDSD can be used as a desktop or portable device. The 4800mAh battery not only guarantees a consistent and undisturbed power supply, it also allows the unit to be used without being plugged into a power source. The battery lasted for me for an entire day of on and off listening, and still had power to spare when I plugged it in as my desktop rig later on in the day.
     
    If I wasn’t using it as my daily portable, it was on my desk being used as the main DAC/amplifier for my desktop, or charging thanks to the design of the nano iUSB 3.0 and Gemini cable (I’ll go over that more in a bit). The iDSD is bigger than most portable DAC/amplifiers on the market today. Although it is portable, I don’t consider it to be pocket friendly. If this bothers you, iFi offers a smaller version called the nano iDSD which offers a good amount of its big brother’s features.
     
    Inputs and Outputs
    20160225_224114.jpg
     
    micro iDSD input options:
    *3.5mm analog input (on the front)
    *SPDIF input (coaxial or optical via toslink)
    *High Speed USB 2.0 input
     
    micro iDSD output options:
        *¼ inch line out (comes with ¼ to 1.8th inch adapter)
        *RCA line with adjustable preamplifier or direct output (on the back of the unit)
        *SPDIF Coaxial output with adjustable preamplifier or direct output (on the back of the unit)
     
    With these input/output options, I’m still experimenting with all of my sources and figuring out various ways to get the iDSD to work. This not only applies to my desktop and portable rigs, but also my home stereo. When used in my review laboratory the iDSD not only pushes my headphones, I also use the dual RCA outputs on the back of my unit to feed my stereo music from my laptop. The micro iDSD does this phenomenally. Not only do my headphones sound better, so does my stereo thanks to this device.
     
    DSC_0002.jpg
    I was able to connect the DX80 via toslink.
     
    DSC_0004.jpg
    With my Luxury and precision LP5, I was able to connect via digital coax.
     
    DSC_0001.jpg
    With my LG V10, I was able to connect via OTG. All connections were simple and without any complications or bugs.
     
    Fine Tuning Options
     
    Filter Options:
        *Bit-Perfect
        *Minumum Phase
        *Sandard
     
    To be honest, I didn’t notice a significant difference in sound when using these filters. For the most part I left the iDSD in standard or Bit-Perfect mode. From what I read, the Bit-Perfect and Minimal Phase settings are for using the iDSD in PCM, and the Standard filter was ideal for DSD and DXD. If anything, the upper frequencies seemed maybe just a bit more relaxed in Bit-Perfect mode, with virtually no change in the other two settings to my ears.
     
    Another option was a switch to reverse polarity. This was another feature I could have done without. I leave the iDSD in positive polarity when I use the device.
     
    Xbass
    The Xbass switch is located on the front of the iDSD. While I’m usually not a fan of bass boost switches, in this case I find it to be a useful tool and utilize it quite often. The iDSD Xbass button adds a boost only to the lowest frequencies without raising the midbass or making the sound boomy. Where I found the Xbass switch to be most useful is with my more linear sounding earphones. A simple flip of a switch gave them a clean and welcomed low end boost that improved their sound.
     
    20160225_224106.jpg
     
    3D Switch
    The 3D switch is also located on the front of the iDSD. Although the intention of this is to create a more open soundstage (and it does so in a certain degree), I found it to be a “awesomifier” for my warmer and bassier earphones. My pair of ZMF Omni sound good with the iDSD, but add the 3D switch into the mix and they become incredible to my ears. The same results can be said for all of my warmer and bassier stuff.

     
    Nano iUSB 3.0
    20160225_223927.jpg
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/nano-iusb3-0/
     
    Before I begin the discussion on this, allow me to quote the Amazon listing’s description and explanation:
     
    “The Nano iUSB3.0 is small, but provides a "USB Total Solution" for audio technology. With USB3.0 Ultra-Speed (5.0 Gbps), it is future-proofed with a near-silent noise floor thanks to built-in Active Noise Cancellation®. IsoPower® separates the audio and power lines for the ultimate in audio signal transmission via USB. You will immediately notice cleaner, crisper audio from your USB DAC when using the Nano iUSB3.0. REclock® technology re-clocks and completely re-generates the USB signal. PowerStation® generates a completely new 5V USB power line including a 3-stage, 6th order RFI noise filter. The quietest of quiet is what you will get with iFi's added technologies. On top of all of this, REbalance® further purifies the audio datastream. Last, but not least, RapidCharge® means the fastest re-charge of even the thirstiest rechargeable battery powered devices. This means flawless pairing with iFi's iDSD DACs. Feature-packed? Yes. Cutting-edge technology? Check. Improves every USB audio system? You bet. In short, you can't go wrong by adding iFi's Nano iUSB3.0 to your USB Audio rig.”
     
    So now that you have the information on it, let’s first start by addressing the lingering topics that go on in audiophile circles about products like this. Some will say that something like this isn’t necessary, especially if we have DACs that implement some of this same technology already. Others will say that the audible difference isn’t noticeable to the human ear, and may only be slightly traceable through measurements. While I think there is a half truth to this, what I will add to the conversation is that for under two hundred dollars I find this item to be worth every penny and more, ESPECIALLY when paired with the micro iDSD. Let me explain why.
     
    The nanao iUSB 3.0 has the same shape and size body as the portable models iFi offers. Its basically a shortened version of the micro iDSD body.
     
    What is Jitter?
    I could try to explain jitter, but this guy does it way better than I can:
    [​IMG]
     
    With advancements in digital audio technology, I don’t think jitter is as big of a deal as it used to be. We all know that some things sound better than others, and that’s usually because of the combination of a high quality DAC and amplifier. There are variables that make a DAC/amplifier perform poorly and one of these things is jitter. It's nice to have a product like the nano iUSB 3.0 that helps to eliminate this (even if it is an added safeguard when used with a high quality dac with similar “jitter elimination technology”). It’s reassuring to think that we have the added certainty that jitter will not play a big part in why we aren’t getting the most out of our sources and music.
     
    Clean Power Supply
    20160225_223856.jpg
    The other benefit of this device is clean power. The flow of power has a considerable impact on our audio chain. Just about all of us can remember a time when listening to music and our experience is altered because of signal noise. We hear it sometimes as electromagnetic interference, or a slight hiss when the music is quiet or paused. As audio enthusiasts, we strive for perfect sound, and a big part of this is a black background. Although many would see these as minor setbacks, in the grand scheme of things it’s a big deal. We want the music to be as clean and uninterrupted as possible.
     
    Noise Cancelling (before it’s actually noise)
    We’ve all heard of noise cancelling. Bose has cornered the market on noise canceling headphones. The way it operates is that for any noise that they headphone picks up, the headphone essentially creates a “counter-frequency” to cancel unwanted sound. This allows the listener to focus more on the music and less on the surroundings. The folks at iFi have implemented technology in the nano iUSB 3.0 with the same concept but in a different application. It cancels unwanted noise created by your power supply.
     
    REclock/REgenerate
    Have you ever listened to music through a computer or phone, and tell yourself “wait a minute, this sounds faster/slower?” Or maybe you’ve listened to music and thought something in the timing is just “off” and can’t put your finger on it? Most of our music players have internal clocks that aren’t always spot on. The data is all there, but the timing isn’t. This can be one of the biggest problems with digital audio. Modern day computers tend to do it less often than older ones, but it still happens from time to time.
     
    The iFi nano iUSB 3.0 addresses this with technology that takes your audio data and re-clocks and regenerates the music, making it as natural as possible before it gets to your DAC.
     
    REbalance
    The claim on this is that the iFi nano will take your USB signal and make it cleaner by eliminating unwanted noise and balancing the signal. While I’m not too sure about this, I don’t think iFi would blatantly sell some magic snake oil, and I’m confident that there is some technology designed to help improve the USB signal. If it’s there, it’s not audible to my ears.
     
    Separate Power/Audio and USB Charger
    20160225_235849.jpg
    The iUSB 3.0 has a nine volt wall wart and a USB type B port for  inputs, and two USB type A outputs. The two separate USB outputs are split into power and audio/power. It works in two ways.
     
    Option #1: The Audio out USB port can be used for both power and audio for a DAC, leaving the power output for charging external devices. One nice thing to note is that the iUSB 3.0 charging port is Bus Charge 1.2 compliant, meaning not only will it charge your portable devices, it will charge them faster than normal USB chargers. This is the way almost any DAC aside from the micro iDSD would hook up to the iUSB 3.0.
     
    20160225_223905.jpg
     
    Option #2:  When using the nano with the Gemini Cable, the power and audio from each port is transmitted separately and to the same device. This makes for a “best of both worlds” type of application and maximizes the potential of the micro iDSD. It will charge the battery of the iDSD when not in use, and when in use it will power the unit while keeping the Audio and power supply separate up to the point of the connection.
     
    Gemini Cable
    20160429_041753.jpg
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/accessory-gemini/
     
    I’m going to be honest here. I think spending over two hundred dollars on a double sided USB cable is pretty out there. Here’s the kicker though...
     
    20160429_030951.jpg
    The Gemini cable is designed to be used exclusively with the iUSB and micro iDSD products. It looks like no corners have been cut with this cable, and no exceptions were made. It’s a very rugged cable, with excellent shielding.
     
    20160429_030944.jpg
    The transmission of this cable from end to end stays around ninety ohms and only varies by one percent at most. That is incredibly efficient and basically makes the transmission from the nano iUSB 3.0 to the micro iDSD about as flawless as it can get.
     
    My Opinion on the nano iUSB 3.0
    I really like this device when paired with the micro iDSD (via the Gemini Cable which I will cover next) and feel it justifies its asking price. This thing isn’t going radically improve your music and send you into another dimension of audio bliss, but it will noticeably help clean up any signal noise you get with your DAC and amplifier. The most beneficial thing regardless of what DAC you have is how silent the noise floor is. When combined with the micro iDSD, the noise floor is pitch black, even with my most sensitive in-ear monitors. There is no hissing or signal noise that I noticed whatsoever.
     
    I didn’t notice any kind of jitter or clocking issues with the iUSB 3.0, even when used with my nine year old Toshiba laptop (I do occasionally notice clocking issues when not using the iUSB 3.0 with this computer).
     
    Another thing I will say about the nano iUSB 3.0 is that if you have a micro iDSD, it’s a must have because the two compared together makes for an incredibly awesome and convenient desktop rig in terms of functionality. Using the nano iUSB 3.0 along with the Gemini cable, it operates as a charging port if you want to use the micro iDSD for portable use. I can use my micro iDSD all day for portable use, then when I get home, all I have to do is plug into the Gemini Cable and my micro iDSD is now a complete audiophile desktop rig that charges without any needed power from my computer.
     
    I went into this having my doubts about whether or not this nano iUSB 3.0 is just a gimmick that will take people’s money without offering much beyond what the micro iDSD already does. Truth be told, the nano iUSB and Gemini cable is the ultimate compliment to an already awesome DAC/amplifier from iFi. It adds to the micro iDSD (or any DAC for that matter) both in terms of functionality and performance.

     
    Conclusion
    20160422_171444.jpg
    I went into this thinking that this would be a contest to see how the micro iDSD would stack up against my long time favorite budget rig. I’m not even going to bother doing a comparison because it isn’t a contest. It’s in a league with things that cost much more than its current asking price. The micro iDSD/nano USB 3.0/ Gemini Cable combination comes to a cumulative total of under a thousand dollars. I say this in all honesty, at this price I find it to be one of the greatest deals I’ve come across in this hobby. I can’t think of anything that will give you this much versatility and sound quality for twice as much money.
     
    The iDSD does everything just as good or better than all of my other DACs and amplifiers. The micro iDSD is everything I need wrapped up into one device. It’s a great desktop or portable rig. It’s incredibly easy to use. With the Gemini cable, the thought of charging the unit is an afterthought as long as I use it as a desktop unit that day. It pushes everything from in-ear monitors to Power hungry full size cans. The various output powers and sound adjustment switches made me revisit earphones I gave up on in the past and find new life in their sound. It may not be the only DAC/amplifier I will ever need, but for now I can say in all honesty that the iDSD offers just about everything I need to enjoy my entire collection of music and earphones.
     
    20160229_165823.jpg
    Thanks for reading and happy listening!   
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Hisoundfi
      Thanks for your kind words guys.
      Hisoundfi, May 1, 2016
    3. WilliamLeonhart
      great review! Have you tried the iDSD nano and the iDAC 2? How much would I miss going for these instead of the micro? I don't use DSD too much.
      WilliamLeonhart, May 2, 2016
    4. malazz123
      i have it and love it ... after read your review i might consider to buy the iUSB + gemini cable+ and maybe iPurifier2 
      malazz123, Oct 11, 2016
  7. twister6
    New wave of British invasion!
    Written by twister6
    Published Apr 1, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - sound quality, build quality, a ton of accessories, support of every format up to and including DSD512.
    Cons - size which is more appropriate for transportable rather than portable use.

    I would like to Thank iFi for providing me with a review sample of their flagship Micro iDSD in exchange for my honest opinion.
     
    Manufacturer website: http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd/
     
    * click on images to expand.

     
    I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record every time I mention about my preference of a portable audio setup where all I need is a small pocket-able DAP and a pair of IEMs for listening on the go.  But as a reviewer, I try to be more open-minded and step outside of the portable gear circle to get my feet wet exploring full size headphones, portable and usb DACs/amps and even some desktop DACs/amps.  Desktop setup for me is a real stretch because when I’m ready to sit down, my preferred listening environment is our family room couch, when our young ones are finally in bed and my wife next to me getting her daily dose of social media updates (thus a no open-back headphone policy lol!).  At that point, I can stack up my DAP with a portable amp or hook up USB DAC to my aging ThinkPad to boost its audio performance.
     
    Obviously, while using my DAP or my laptop as a source, I’m not going to drag a desktop amp on to the couch.  Also, using some of my smaller usb DACs offers only a marginal improvement and can’t support all high res sampling rates, plus many of these are underpowered to drive higher impedance or planar magnetic full-size headphones to their full potential.  It feels like I have to either compromise or to use different pieces of equipment to meet my needs because I want something that could be reasonably transportable, could drive everything from sensitive monitors to more demanding cans, and will support all popular hi-res formats.  Add to this a wish for a great sound quality and not to be at a mercy of noisy 5V usb VBUS.  Is this too much to ask?  I thought it was until I got a chance to review iFi micro iDSD.  Is this too good to be true?  Let’s see what I found over the last few weeks of using this true Swiss Army Knife of semi-portable audio gear.
     
    Unboxing.
     
    Greeted with a nice cover shot of all aluminum Micro, my attention zoomed right into the description underneath of it with “Octa-Speed DSD512, Double-Speed DXD, and PCM 32bit/768kHz”.  You know right away this is going to be one serious piece of audio equipment with some major horse power under the hood.  As I continued with my tour of the box exterior, turning it on the side revealed more details about Dual-Core Burr Brown chipset supporting True Native DSD and Bit Perfect DXD/PCM, a powerful 8Vrms/4W (into 16 ohm) output, 3D holographic sound system and XBass effects, and even 1.5A external charging port for your smartphone or tablet.  But wait till you get to the back of the box and start reading every bullet in the Technologies and Specifications list underneath of a detailed drawing of Micro from every side.  To describe it as “impressive” would be an understatement, and the only thing missing in there was a kitchen sink, and that was probably because they ran out of room.
     
    Even before getting my hands on it, I was already feeling overwhelmed trying to decide what I am going to test first when I get Micro out of the box.  The box was inside of the outer sleeve with all the printed info, and sliding it off revealed an all white “apple” quality cardboard box with silver iFi letters on top.  With a cover off, now I was able to see Micro in all its glory, wedged inside of a secure foam cutout.  My first impression was “Wow!!!”  It looked bigger than I expected and had a shape reminding me of a car amp unit.  I also felt a very solid aluminum shell and a noticeable heft as I removed Micro in order to get to the bottom of the box where all the accessories were stored across two partitioned sections.  While in many cases I appreciate the actual experience of unboxing the product, here my highlight was reading a detailed Spec list which builds up the anticipation!
     
    ifi_idsd-03_zpskckjcqf6.jpg   ifi_idsd-04_zpsapshdh5u.jpg
    ifi_idsd-05_zpsdpkkqp5u.jpg   ifi_idsd-06_zpstonuss8i.jpg
    ifi_idsd-07_zpsxccu6mnj.jpg   ifi_idsd-08_zpslh1kstjs.jpg
     
    Accessories.
     
    As much as I couldn’t wait to get to Micro, I had to set it aside and move on to examine the accessories.  First of all there was a detailed manual, very important in this case since Micro is full of surprises you can easily miss.  Then, you have 4 clear rubber stick on bumps to use under the iDSD for additional friction and/or to prevent surface from scratches, and also a semi-transparent rubbery pad to use with iDSD when you stacking it with another device (smartphone, tablet, DAP, etc).  You also get 1/4” to 3.5mm adapter since iDSD has 1/4” HO.  With all aluminum/silver body finish I personally didn’t like the look of a gold adapter sticking out of the socket, so I found a shallow silver one as a replacement (PC-234S model).  Also, iFi included a velour drawstring storage/protection pouch and 2 mounting rubber bands to secure transport/source devices to Micro.
     
    Moving on to cables, you will find a dual RCA high quality cable, and I really mean HIGH quality!  You also get a short 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect cable to use Micro as amplifier from your source.  Next is the USB-A to USB-B socket adapter cable and another short adapter to accommodate Micro’s USB-A connector on the back since many audio digital cables are usb-a to usb-b.  Also, you get a high quality USB-A socket to USB-A connector cable to attach Micro directly to you computer.  And if that wasn’t enough, they also included Toslink to mini 3.5mm optical adapter since Micro’s Coax port is combined with optical input.  Only one adapter was included, though I would have preferred a pair in order to transform a common Toslink cable.
     
    This was a very impressive collection of accessories, and I’m not talking about cheap fillers, but the actual high quality cables and other goodies.  The only thing I would add is a short OTG adapter cable, typical USB-A socket to micro-USB connector for Android devices, and a camera adapter kit cable for iPhone/iPad devices.  Micro supports USB OTG connection and with USB-A connector on the back you can go directly with a short adapter cable to your smartphone or tablet.
     
    ifi_idsd-09_zpsocjly3pd.jpg   ifi_idsd-10_zpsp6ljwag4.jpg
    ifi_idsd-11_zpsgloniic5.jpg   ifi_idsd-12_zpsh6sldk24.jpg
    ifi_idsd-13_zpseqypz8xn.jpg   ifi_idsd-14_zpsoc6pscxp.jpg
    ifi_idsd-15_zpsmzzogdg3.jpg
     
    PC-234S replacement 1/4" to 3.5mm adapter (not included, search for it on eBay):
     
    ifi_idsd-30_zpsobxnwsd4.jpg   ifi_idsd-31_zpscrtgrfwx.jpg
     
    Design.
     
    I already mentioned that from the first look Micro iDSD design reminded me of a car amp unit.  It looks very clean with all aluminum body which probably great for heat dissipation and EMI shielding, and slopped edges along the sides for stacking other iFi units on top of each other.  When you visit iFi website, you will find that all of their products have the same universal shape and uniform aluminum look.  Weighting a little over 300g and with dimensions of 177mm x 67mm x 28mm, Micro looks a little bulky for a portable use, but next to my Note 4 I quickly realized that it’s only a little bit longer in comparison.  You do feel heft of the unit, but it’s manageable.  As many have mentioned this already, Micro iDSD is transportable rather than portable.
     
    Starting with a “faceplate”, you will find 1/4” headphone jack all the way to the left, far away from an analogue volume control pot which is on the right.  Volume knob also turns the power on/off with a click as you turn it clockwise.  Also, there is LED light through a small pinhole on the top of Micro where the LED color indicates different audio formats as well as battery charging status.  My only comment here is that I wish the knob would be a little more textured (like a fine diamond cut) to enhance the grip which can get a bit slippery.  I really like that headphone jack and volume pot were far apart, unlike in Nano iDSD where they are next to each other causing a bit of an obstruction with headphone cables that use thicker connector housing.  In the middle of the faceplate you have 3.5mm audio signal input for a direct amplification of the analog signal (from HO).  To the Left/Right of this Input you have 2 high quality toggle switches, XBass for bass extension and 3D for holographic sound expansion – more about their effect in Sound analysis section of the review.
     
    One thing to keep in mind and something which is not obvious until you read iFi detailed manual, the internal battery (a hefty 4800 mAh) allows two modes of power operation.  If you turn the power on before connecting to your source, you will be running in Battery Power mode and not draining the power from the source, also important since some smartphones will not allow usb DAC connection if excessive power drain is detected.  Otherwise, if you connect Micro to your source (with usb cable) and then turn the power on – you will be running in USB Power mode while also charging the battery.  Just keep in mind, the usb charging from laptop is painfully slow.  Either way, you have two different options.  Furthermore, Micro’s digital input (USB A port) also has a built-in iPurifier Lite which suppresses the noise from USB power line and conditions the data signal.
     
    This brings us to the rear panel of Micro where you will find USB-A connector all the way to the right – the digital data input feeding into the internal DAC.  It was a bit strange not to find a more traditional USB-B connector, but the convenience of a straight USB-A allows a direct connection with USB OTG adapter to pair up with a smartphone or a tablet.  In a portable setup you want to have as little as possible cable interconnects to keep it clean, and in this case you can just use a very short USB OTG adapter for Android devices or camera kit adapter for Apple devices.  With other included cables and adapters you have different options to connect to your computer or to use an adapter so you can switch to your aftermarket high quality digital audio cables.
     
    Next to USB input you have a Line Out which bypasses the internal amplifier and sends the signal from DAC to L/R RCA connectors.  That output could be connected to another external amplifier or receiver.  This Line Out output is actually configurable where underneath of Micro there is a switch allowing selection between Direct (0dB) or Pre-Amplifier (6dB) modes.  Next to Line Out you have SPDIF Coaxial combined with Optical port which works either as Input or Output – this socket is auto-switching.  When USB audio signal is connected, this port functions as SPDIF Coaxial Output.  Then, when USB audio signal is disconnected, this port functions as SPDIF Coaxial or Optical Input.  Due to combined nature of this port, optical Input uses 3.5mm mini-Toslink connection thus a reason why iFi included one Toslink mini adapter plug.  Basically, if you want to use your DAP as a transport to feed the digital signal into Micro’s DAC/amp, this is a way to go, and if your source supports Toslink optical signal – it’s the best choice over a coax cable.
     
    Moving along the left side of Micro, you will find USB-A port which is only intended for SmartPower Charging, supporting 5V at 1.5A to charge your smart device.  On the other side you will find 3 different slide switches.  To make it stand out, the red switch corresponds to PowerMod gain with ECO (2V, 250 mW @16 ohm), Normal (4V, 1W @16 ohm), and Turbo (8V, 4W @16 ohm).  That is quite a spread allowing to drive anything from efficient to power hungry headphones.  Of course, the gain mode selection will have an effect on the battery life, where it's estimated to get close to 12hrs (in ECO mode) down to 9hrs (in Normal mode) reduced to 6hrs (in Turbo mode).  And if that wasn’t enough, underneath of Micro there is another power adjustment called IEMatch for sensitive IEMs with Off (0dB), High Sensitivity (12dB), and Ultra Sensitivity (24dB) attenuation adjustment.  I’ve never seen this level of micro-adjustment to accommodate anything and everything under the sun!  In addition to that, next to the gain PowerMode switch you will also find Polarity selection switch (for digital signal source), and a Digital filter to switch between Standard, Minimum Phase, and Bit-Perfect modes.
     
    You can definitely see that iFi team put a lot of thought into the design and flexibility of controls where you don’t need any external software and can adjust and change all these modes of operation straight from the unit.  Overall, it wasn’t just a high quality material used in the design of the body, but also the selection of toggle and slider switches that felt solid and durable.
     
    ifi_idsd-16_zpsa5nh3df0.jpg   ifi_idsd-17_zpsc24qgduk.jpg
    ifi_idsd-18_zps1a6vhmae.jpg   ifi_idsd-19_zpsl0xzp3nx.jpg
    ifi_idsd-20_zpsnwbyqufe.jpg   ifi_idsd-21_zpsyskt4fmk.jpg
    ifi_idsd-22_zps439ycyrt.jpg   ifi_idsd-23_zpsjbci8orw.jpg
    ifi_idsd-24_zpsuqswq9x7.jpg  
     
    Using micro iDSD as an external battery pack charger.
     
    ifi_idsd-29_zpssoopqv75.jpg
     
    Under the hood.
     
    Moving on to the internal design, I discovered that Micro was actually Crowd-Designed when iFi made their original post in March of 2014 on Head-fi, asking the members of this #1 audio community to list what they would like to see in this upcoming flagship DAC/amp.  We are used to hearing Crowd-Funded term when companies seek money to turn their ideas into a real product.  Here, we are talking about iFi Audio which is a subsidiary of Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) - one of the UK's largest manufacturers of high-end audio systems that cost up to $100k, a successful company that has been in businesses since 2000.  Despite all this credibility, they opened the forum discussion to build a list of desired features by asking the Crowd who this Design was intended for.  In today's audio market this is very rare, especially among reputable established companies.
     
    Unfortunately I didn't follow their original Crowd-Design thread until now, but it's a truly fascinating read I highly recommend to check out here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/711217/idsd-micro-crowd-designed-and-the-new-firmware-flavours-are-here-page-138.  In addition to following everything from "birth" of the ideas, it contains a very well organized index page with links to corresponding posts going over every single design detail.  Furthermore, iFi is very active in Head-fi community, and I see constant interaction and replies where this thread continuous to grow with more info.
     
    Block diagram of the design:
     
    ifi_micro_idsd_block_zpsbqnn4oui.png
     
    I'm not going to rehash all the details, and I already covered all the ports and controls in a Design section of my review.  One thing to keep in mind, with a selection of Burr Brown dual-core DAC chipset which actually utilizes 2x DAC chips across 4 output channels, you have a Native DSD/PCM support of every available high resolution format.  We are talking about up to Octa-DSD speed of DSD512, obviously supporting Quad/Dual/Single DSD256, DSD128, and DSD64, and also double/single speed DXD with 768/705.6kHz and 384/352.8kHz, and PCM from 44.1kHz to 768kHz.  I wasn't even able to find DSD512 samples for listening, and thanks to iFi samples included with iPurifier2 on usb stick, was able to play and to verify DSD64/128/256 using Foobar2k playing on my aging laptop.  Of course, this is a universal audio interface and every other lossy and lossless audio format will be supported.
     
    Sound analysis.
     
    A lot of people just assume because Burr Brown DAC is in the picture, it’s a slam dunk when it comes to sound quality.  Any DAP or DAC/amp architecture has many variables which all contribute to a final shaping of the sound.  I have a few DAPs using PCM1792, yet they all sound different.  This was my first experience with an audio gadget utilizing DSD1793, and I’m sure it will sound different from others due to iFi unique tuning of the amp section.  Luckily, due to plethora of inputs and output, you can also separate DAC and amp for a better evaluation.  But combined together, Micro offers a very addictive smooth analog detailed expanded neutral sound that brings up the best in any type of headphones regardless of their sound signature.
     
    I can imagine that some people will expect a sound analysis based on evaluation of various parts of the frequency spectrum, but in reality we hear the sound not from a pure DAC/amp perspective, but rather colored by headphone signature.  I will cover various headphone pair ups with relatively comparison to other DACs/amp in Pair-up section of my review, but in this section I want to bring up a few other interesting observation about Micro iDSD sound performance.
     
    With popularity of the original Nano iDSD, I’m sure many would be interested to know how Micro compares to Nano.  Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on Nano as well for review/comparison.  To my ears Micro sounds more transparent, more multi-dimensional (even without 3D holographic effect), more dynamic, and with blacker background.  Of course this should be expected considering a more advanced design and a different selection of components.  But in this case it wasn’t “just a little bit better” but actually noticeably better.  At the same time, for a portable convenience at less than half of the price, Nano definitely deserves a serious consideration.
     
    ifi_idsd-34_zpsl6fjm6m4.jpg   ifi_idsd-35_zps92z9nsxa.jpg
    ifi_idsd-36_zpsj9fz3604.jpg
     
    Going back to Micro, you have an option to either use it as DAC/amp or Amp by itself.  I found this next test to be very interesting because Micro combination of DAC/amp sounds fantastic, but while testing amp by itself I found the sound to be not as dynamic or layered and lacking some transparency.  Don't get me wrong, amp is actually clean and relatively neutral, but the sound was missing the smooth detailed dynamic magic of Burr-Brown chipset.  To take full advantage of that, you need to either use digital/USB input or Coax input.
     
    With Coax input you bypass your source's internal DAC/amp and go straight into Micro where you can either use an electrical RCA Coax cable or optical Toslink cable, depending on your source.  If your source supports both, like in some DAPs where Coax and Optical (mini toslink) inputs are combined, after a close a/b comparison I consistently hear with optical connection the sound being a little smoother and slightly more refined.  I went back'n'forth many times to rule out a placebo effect, and every single time I found that I prefer optical interconnect over coax cable.  If your source doesn't have optical output, Coax cable is still a great alternative, but otherwise - go for optical connection.  I used Extreme audio short optical interconnect cable, this one.
     
    ifi_idsd-25_zps2umpsqnk.jpg   ifi_idsd-26_zps0myld3as.jpg
    ifi_idsd-44_zpsnq2e3fmq.jpg
     
    If you want to use your smartphone as a source, now you have access to a direct USB OTG digital connection.  Testing with my Galaxy Note 4, I found no EMI interference, excellent pair up with all of my headphones, dynamic analog smooth detailed sound, and overall no major difference in sound quality compared to Micro pair up with other DAPs through coax/optical, though maybe just a little bit smoother and warmer with Note 4 in comparison to dedicated DAPs.
     
    ifi_idsd-27_zps0uxvpeow.jpg   ifi_idsd-28_zpsfjihcvxu.jpg
     
    One advantage of using Micro digital input is that it has a built-in iPurifier Lite.  You can't really disable it to note the difference, but I was able to use iFi standalone iPurifier 2 to hear the advantage of its functionality in series with USB port.  I ran the test using my Note 4 as a source/transport, and found that Micro (w/built in iPur Lite) vs Micro (w/iPur2 in series) yielded another noticeable change where the background became blacker, leading to a cleaner on/off sound of the notes with a faster transient, especially in instrumental tracks.
     
    The same test using my Note 4 as a source and Nano vs Nano (w/iPur2 in series) yielded a very noticeable change with background becoming blacker and a significant reduction in background noise.  It actually improved Nano sound quality making it more dynamic, more transparent; maybe not on a level of Micro performance but definitely with an improvement.  The only problem - it adds a bulk to Nano iDSD, making it less portable.
     
    ifi_idsd-33_zpszoekim9q.jpg   ifi_idsd-01_zps275fkyml.jpg
     
    Of course I can't finish sound analysis section without talking about XBass and 3D effects.  Activating XBass resulted in what I hear as a narrow and well controlled sub-bass boost that doesn't spill into lower mids and has a very subtle effect on mid-bass.  I definitely hear it as a well controlled boost, focusing mostly on sub-bass without affecting too much mid-bass or muddying the mids.
     
    While testing, 3D holographic toggle had a bit of a polarizing effect on me.  Enabling 3D seems to affect only upper mids/treble region, acting like an exciter effect, adding some airiness to the sound, and creating a wider/deeper perception of the stage.  To my surprise I found this effect to work not as good with every pair of headphones.  It works great with warm and neutral signature headphones, but when used with bright headphones - it can make treble harsh and grainy.  Example, PM-3 and A2000Z benefited from Micro 3D effect, but ES60, EL-8C and DN2kJ – not as much.
     
    ifi_idsd-32_zpsu6n9vxon.jpg
     
    Pair-up and Comparison.
     
    I think this “pair-up” section is the most important in describing the sound of Micro because it gives you a better perspective with a relative comparison of how other headphones sound with Micro and how it compares to a selection of other DACs/amps.  In this test I used Micro connected to my laptop, and selected ES60, PM-3, EL-8C, and U12 for listening comparison with Micro iDSD, Nano iDSD, Schiit FULLA, Cozoy Aegis, and GeekOut GO450.  Below are my listening notes with each pair of headphones.
     
    Westone ES60 CIEM.
     
    w/Micro - hissing is under control with a gain switch (of IEMatch), smooth detailed sound, punchy extended tight bass, smooth detailed mids, well defined extended treble, smooth analog detailed tonality, and excellent transparency and layering/separation of instruments.
     
    w/Nano – more background hiss (can’t take advantage of gain switch), the sound is not as smooth as Micro, still a punchy extended bass, but not as articulate in comparison to Micro, mids are revealing and detailed, but not as smooth as Micro, treble is very similar and so does soundstage expansion.
     
    w/FULLA - a lot of hiss and distracting EMI crackle, soundstage is a little wider in comparison to Micro, the sound is bright and detailed, bass is not as tight and sub-bass is extended but not as deep as with Micro, but still, the bass is fast and punchy, mids are brighter in comparison, a little more upfront though not as smooth, also treble is brighter and with more crunch.
     
    w/AEGIS - a lot of hiss, have to use a minimum volume setting (too much default gain, not good with sensitive multi-BA monitors), and I hear a lot of background noise.  The sound is balanced, detailed, bright, with a punchy extended tight bass, detailed revealing mids, and a well defined extended treble.
     
    w/GO450 -  using 47 ohm output I hear less hissing/noise - but sound is dull and not as detailed, when switching to 0.47 ohm out – serious hissing, but sound is more detailed.  With the later one, I hear a balanced detailed revealing sound, punchy extended tight bass, detailed revealing mids, and a well defined extended treble.
     
    Oppo PM-3 planar magnetic full size.
     
    w/Micro – I hear a smooth detailed sound, punchy bass (but not as fast), smooth clear mids, nice smooth clear treble which is not as airy or extended.  In this pair up mids sound very natural, probably the best PM-3 pair up I heard to date.  I was a bit surprised since PM-3 is warm smooth to begin with, but Micro made them shine, especially with 3D switch on.
     
    w/Nano – it was a bit short on power to drive PM-3 to their full potential, definitely a bit of a stretch for Nano, the sound was not as smooth, less revealing, not as transparent or layered, it was clear but not as detailed, and mids were a little less natural.
     
    w/FULLA - nice deep punchy bass, tight and articulate, but mids didn’t sound as natural, and the sound was not as transparent or layered, a bit flat, though treble was clear and well defined – the star of his pair up.
     
    w/AEGIS - nice deep articulate bass, but mids sound a bit off being a bit bright and unnatural, nice extended treble with a good airiness.
     
    w/GO450 - great bass impact, bright detailed mids, nicely extended treble, and a decent transparency.
     
    Audeze EL-8C planar magnetic full size.
     
    w/Micro - bright revealing fast sound, has a slight metallic sheen, punchy fast bass, bright analytical mids, airy extended treble.  Mids are not as organic or natural.  I was a bit surprised, but didn’t like this pair up.
     
    w/Nano - bright revealing sound, very noticeable metallic sheen, punchy fast bass but not as much sub-bass, bright analytical mids though could be a bit harsh with some songs, crisp extended airy treble.  Mids could be a lot more smoother.
     
    w/FULLA - bright revealing fast sound, fast punchy bass, bright analytical mids, airy extended treble, still traces of metallic sheen, and sounds is not as natural.
     
    w/AEGIS - bright revealing sound, metallic sheen, too vivid, fast punchy bass with a noticeable sub-bass extension, mids are bright revealing but slightly harsh, treble is bright crisp airy.
     
    w/GO450 - bright revealing sound, articulate fast tight bass, mids are a bit shouty, bright, revealing, not as metallic as with other pair ups.  Treble is crisp and extended.  This pair up yields a touch less of metallic sheen.
     
    64 Audio ADEL U12 IEM.
     
    w/Micro - zero hiss (in Eco gain), smooth detailed sound, fast deep articulate low end with a nice punch, smooth detailed mids, smooth clean well defined treble.  Nicely expanded soundstage, even works with 3D switch.
     
    w/Nano - a little bit of hiss, smooth detailed sound, deep articulate low end with a fast punch and a nice sub-bass extension, but bass is not as tight as with Micro.  Mids are smooth and detailed, but not as detailed as Micro, and I also hear a clean treble though not as extended.  Micro feels like it has a little better retrieval of details with U12.
     
    w/FULLA - a little hiss, sound is a bit congested with overpowering low end, and not as transparent or detailed. But overall tonality is warm and you can hear a tight low end punch.
     
    w/AEGIS - too much power for these IEMs, too much noise/hiss, can't even play it from laptop, this DAC/amp is not good for majority of sensitive IEMs.
     
    w/GO450 - (0.47 ohm output), smooth warm sound, low end is not as tight but still has a good sub-bass extension, warm smooth clear mids but not as detailed, clear treble with some roll off.
     
    With some other headphones.
     
    Micro w/T5p.2 - bright revealing detailed sound, not as much body or sub-bass, fast mid-bass punch, lean lower mids, bright analytical upper mids, a bit harsh with some traces of sibilance, bright crisp, airy treble.
     
    Micro w/R70x - excellent pair up with a very natural detailed sound, articulate punchy mid-bass, lean detailed mids with organic sound quality and excellent retrieval of details, extended crisp treble, excellent soundstage.
     
    Micro w/MSR7 - great pair up with a clear detailed sound, not too bright, punchy extended bass, nicely balanced mids (not too full or too lean), mids are definitely not as bright as with some other sources, and crisp detailed treble.  Has a great soundstage expansion as well.  Overall sound is well balanced and detailed.
     
    Micro w/DN2kJ - good pair up, upper frequencies are under control, but still a bit bright and with a more mid-forward signature.  Bass quality is good, but not as much quantity, sound sig is more J shaped.
     
    Conclusion.
     
    When it comes to my casual headphone listening at home, I found that any USB DAC will do because they all improve the sound of my aging ThinkPad T430s laptop.  But it was never as enjoyable until I switched to Micro iDSD and now can't even think about using anything else.  Micro's smooth analog detailed sound characteristics just works with any pair of headphones regardless of their sound signature.  Micro's design has an amazing flexibility to accommodate any audio setup, portable or desktop.  And due to its ability to play everything up to and including Octa-speed DSD512, instead of enjoying my usual selection of EDM tracks, now I'm looking for exotic DSD128, DSD256, and DSD512 classical orchestra performances (typical hi-res recordings).  Did I become a fan of Mozart and Chopin music renditions? Not really, but I'm fascinated with being able to play 1.5GB DSD256 audio files from my laptop without skipping a beat or a string.
     
    I'm already anticipating questions after the review asking me how does Micro iDSD compares to another wave of British invasion from Chord, such as Mojo or Hugo.  I can't answer that because I never tested any Chord products.  That would certainly make an interesting comparison, especially since Mojo is in the same price category.  But until then, Micro iDSD will have a solid place at the top of my USB DAC/amp food chain because no other product I've tested in this category comes close to its performance and sound quality.  My only wish, and the only critical comment, is for iFi design team to be able to pack performance and sound quality of Micro iDSD into Nano iDSD footprint, turning this transportable into fully portable.
      proedros, Brooko, Koolpep and 18 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Aerosphere
      Awesome! Thanks
      Aerosphere, Apr 5, 2016
    3. Sonic Defender
      Just picked my Micro up today and I am using it to see how well my Bluetooth headphones do with wired connections. Really liking the Micro so far. Great review, and I especially appreciate the tip about power on the Micro before source connection. Good to know as my OTG cable for my G3 is still inbound so I'll be prepared now to avoid battery drain from the G3. Cheers. 
      Sonic Defender, Apr 8, 2016
    4. James Cygnus
      Anyone else experience a power on "pop"?  Have the black label version and wondering if this is normal/expected..
      James Cygnus, Jan 27, 2017
  8. joshnor713
    Go big or go home
    Written by joshnor713
    Published Mar 9, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Clear, detailed, full, and engaging sound. Huge battery and smartphone support. IEM sensitivity matching, bass and 3D boosters, various audio formats
    Cons - It's large for a portable DAC. Smartphone cable is not included.
    iFi Audio comes from the Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) family of HiFi gear (that can run upwards of $10K). The iFi team has taken that AMR expertise and trickled it down to more affordable devices. Seems that was a good move, because its flagship mobile DAC, the Micro iDSD, has hit the audiophile scene pretty hard and won the hearts of many.

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_15.jpg


    I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about and iFi Audio was kind enough to send me a review unit. It’s not the most compact device, but I’m recommending it for audio lovers nonetheless. Let’s go over why that is.
     

    Design

    The Micro iDSD is a big slab metal. Other than the smooth, anodized finish, the design from every angle is industrial and raw. And that’s perfectly fine. Metal is premium and robust all on its own. There’s machined edges and lines all over, so its definitely not boring either.

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_16.jpg


    As I mentioned earlier, the Micro iDSD is on the large-side for a portable DAC, but iFi did in fact make a portable unit here. It has its own battery and can interface with an Android device (via OTG) for the music source. I think the reason for its girth is because iFi puts audio quality and features above all else. We’ll get to the sound impressions later, but as a hint, I’m convinced that the size is worth it.
     
    Let’s continue with the tour. There are I/O on both ends and switches for unique features all around the device (which I’ll get to in the next section). While the Micro iDSD is a mobile unit, iFi built it with flexibility. That’s why on the left end you’ll see A/V ports for SPDIF In/Out and coaxial Left/Right channel outputs for an entertainment system.

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_12.jpg


    Here is also where the audio source goes in. Strangely, this Digital Input port is a full-sized male USB connector. That means to hook up your source, you’ll be using a cable with a female USB connector on one end and the respective male port on the other (USB, micro-USB, Lightning).
     
    In the packaging, there’s a female USB to male USB cable included (for connecting to a computer), but unfortunately no cable for any mobile devices. So you’ll have to hit up Amazon or something for a micro-USB compatible cable.

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_7.jpg My third-party female USB to micro-USB OTG cable


     

    The other end of the unit is where you plug in your headphones and control the volume. The headphone jack is full-size (6.3mm), but thankfully iFi included a 3.5mm adapter in the box. If you prefer to send analog audio into the DAC (rather than digital), there’s also a 3.5mm input here.

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_1.jpg

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_11.jpg  



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The volume knob is rather large, but I appreciate that it allows you to finely tune the attenuation. It firmly and smoothly rolls to suit your sensitivity. It’s also serves as the power switch. Rotate the knob clockwise from the starting position and you’ll hear a click that turns the DAC on.

    You’ll spot a USB opening on one of the sides. This allows you to draw power from the Micro iDSD’s hefty battery (4,800mAh) to charge your mobile device. That’s one benefit about the bulk, it can also be a power bank.

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_6.jpg


    Lastly, there’s a tiny multi-color LED light on the top of the unit. It does typical indication, like a Blue light for charging or Red for low battery. But iFi goes a step further and uses its other colors to indicate the format of the audio signal. The Micro iDSD supports three different encoding technologies – PCMDXD, and DSD.
     
    iFi_Micro_iDSD_10.jpg


    Features
     
    Another benefit of the Micro iDSD’s beefy size is that it can pack a lot of features. Some of these are features you won’t find in another DAC. On the end with the headphone jack and volume knob, there are two switches for audio enhancement – XBass and 3D Holographic. What they do is self-explanatory (XBass extends the bass response and 3D recreates a holographic sound field), but an important thing to know is that they add to the analog signal (after it’s converted from digital). iFi doesn’t want to mess with the true, original signal or risk negatively impacting other sounds.

    On the underside, there’s generous feature called IEMatch. It’s pretty common these days that earphones (aka In-Ear Monitors or IEMs) are sensitive, meaning that it doesn’t take much volume before they get too loud. That can be annoying depending on the volume control of the source. Therefore, iFi threw in two different levels to help tame the volume – High Sensitivity and Ultra Sensitivity.

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_5.jpg


    Behind the scenes, these are probably two degrees of attenuators (or can be thought of as gain reducers). The important thing is that they keep the sound true (something that resistors typically struggle with; so iFi probably had to work some magic there). I have super sensitive IEMs, the Shure SE846, and on the Ultra Sensitive setting there is zero noise (hissing) and I for the first time have adequate control over the volume level.
     
    The other features are a bit more technical, but I’ll briefly run through them:

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_3.jpg  


    iFi_Micro_iDSD_4.jpg  



     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Power Mode: Three different power settings (Eco, Normal, Turbo), to accommodate differing types of headphones, from sensitive (Eco) to more demanding (Turbo) hardware.
    2. Filter: Three digital/analog filters for different audio use cases (Bit-Perfect, Minimum Phase, Standard).
    3. Output: The Micro iDSD can pre-amplify the signal before sending it out of the RCA output (up to a gain of 9dB).

    Sound

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_8.jpg


    When I look at the size of the Micro iDSD, I’m like, “This thing better bring it!” Personally, I’ve only used the more typically-sized portable DACs, which are roughly the size of playing cards. They already sounded great to me, so I was suspicious over iFi’s beefy strategy. But boy did I get a reality check with this one.
     
    There are two things that hit you straight away on the first listen – Clarity and Fullness. By clarity, I’m talking crisp, crystal clearness in details you may not have even noticed before. I also mean it in terms of separation. Even when there’s a lot going on, the enunciation of the instruments, vocals, etc. just come through beautifully. And when the music calms and you hear only one or two elements, this allows your brain to focus and adore the minute nuances. You can hear whispering from voices or damping of instrument vibrations. It’s also an eye-opener when you realize what your headphones can really do.

    I notice the entire spectrum being more impactful and richer than with other DACs I’ve used. The overall sound is more encompassing (like from a sound system), which of course makes the experience more engaging and fun. The sounds are balanced, and elements only hit hard when the recording asks for it. I can tell that iFi does its best to honor the recording and artist’s intent.

    The whole presentation is so tight and controlled. I get the sense that iFi knows what it’s doing, in terms of precision and equal amount of enjoyment. I usually find something that I don’t like about a reproduction, but the Micro iDSD really makes it difficult to not call it perfect. I could say that sometimes I wish the low-end hit harder, but then there’s the XBass setting (which adds on the extra oomph).

    Final Thoughts

    iFi_Micro_iDSD_14.jpg


    So there you have it. The superb sound reproduction of the Micro iDSD just left me awe struck. So much that so that I stopped caring about the size – I need this thing in my life.
     
    The Micro iDSD won’t be for everyone. It really depends on your headphones and your budget (it’s not cheap, at $499). But if you’re at that point and looking for the best of the best, you cannot gloss over this DAC. The Micro iDSD is seriously going to be hard to top, and now I’ll think twice before I consider a small DAC.

    I must mention that iFi does have a more compact solution – the Nano iDSD. It obviously doesn’t pack as many features as the Micro, but it makes iFi’s expertise more reachable with a price of $199.

    As originally seen on AndroidGuys.com

      Hawaiibadboy, Vartan, golov17 and 2 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. 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 12, 2016
    3. balcy24
      The X-Bass on my iDSD Micro is very subtle but is there. Now the 3D effect is really noticeable. I discovered it on a track with a high hat on the lower right around 4 o'clock When the 3D was on it expanded to between 2 and 4 o'clock. I switched it on and off several times as it was so amazing.    
      balcy24, Mar 12, 2016
    4. ieffsmale
      JUGA, The X-Bass also works very well on my iDSD Micro.  In my experience, the effect seems to be greater when running to an amp and speakers than with headphones.  (Same with the 3D switch.)
      This thing is amazing. I run my HD-650's in "Eco" and "Normal" power mode 90% of the time, and it powers them just fine. Rarely have I needed to go all the way up to "Turbo" mode to keep the volume between 1:00 and 3:00 where I like it. The versatility, value and (especially) the sound of the iDSD Micro are off the charts good.
      ieffsmale, Mar 19, 2016
  9. Hawaiibadboy
    iFi micro iDSD video review
    Written by Hawaiibadboy
    Published Nov 4, 2015
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Very powerful, very clear sonic signature
    Cons - at the time of this review there are none will update the "cons" section later
    [​IMG]
    .​
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

    1. View previous replies...
    2. howdy
      My work computer did not show it posted but obviously it did it multiple times.
      howdy, Jan 23, 2016
    3. hankaberle
      Well, I really liked mine too until it fell apart.  At $500, it's a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
      If yours fell apart after 1+ years, you would know where I'm coming from..  
      hankaberle, Sep 13, 2016
    4. vapman
      Why must good video reviews be so far and few between... Looking forward to the black edition update
      vapman, Nov 17, 2016
  10. Trogdor
    The pinnacle of transportable desktop audio
    Written by Trogdor
    Published Aug 17, 2015
    5.0/5,
    Pros - State-of-the art design, a touch of Burr-Brown warmth, rich feature set
    Cons - Not really portable, LED status light isn't in the best spot.
    My iFi micro iDSD review was originally posted on Metal-Fi but I am cross posting on Head-Fi at iFi's behest.

    Introduction


    headroommicroline.jpg

    Does anyone remember what portable, audiophile-grade playback used to look like? I certainly do. I remember going to Head-Fi meets and being in just awe of all the insane amount of paraphernalia attendees would carry around just to play their favorite set of digital bits. Take for instance the Headroom Micro line. Consisting of both a standalone DAC and headphone amp, the Micro line was originally conceived to conquer the low to mid-tier desktop market. But because it packed a lot of performance per square inch, many audiophiles opted to go with it instead of Headroom’s own dedicated portable line, the Airhead, as their go to portable stack. That's why Headroom at the time even offered you a Micro sized fanny pack to help you transport your iPod's BFFs everywhere you went.

    Looking back though, it seems outlandish to me that any sane audiophile would even consider lugging around an entire Micro line just to achieve a modicum of fidelity through their favorite digital source. But the fact is both the Micro headphone amp and DAC were considered state-of-the-art back in the day, and offered many bleeding edge features that we all now take for granted, including an asynchronous hardware reclocker with noise shaping and even crossfeed.

    But technology improves at an extremely rapid pace, and what was state-of-the-art back then is now today's garage sale bait. Yet if the Micro line was indeed the standard in which all portable stacks were judged back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth (circa 2005), then today's equivalent would have to go to iFi Audio's micro iDSD, which is nothing short of a technological marvel. Read on to find out why this $499 (street) little beasty is nothing short of spectacular.

    iWho?


    microiDSD-1.jpg

    iFi Audio is a division of Abbingdon Music Research (AMR), a fairly well known and well respected high-end audiophile shop based in the UK. Their reference level CD player, the CDP-77 ($8,500), has been hailed by many as a real giant killer, conquering Redbook induced digititus for half the cost of some of its better known competitors. More recently however, AMR has been getting a lot of press for their single-ended triode amplifer, the AM-77 ($8,500), which brings valve-like sensibilities to your favorite reference chain of choice through the use of their proprietary OptiGain circuit.

    Obviously given the price tag of your standard issue AMR component, the market for these devices is somewhat limited (though frankly $8,500 isn't that outlandish in the high-end audiophile world believe it or not). So in order to expand their product line and appeal to a wider audience (read: younger), AMR spun off iFi Audio in 2012 as a separate business unit to develop audiophile grade products at a more affordable price.

    iFi Audio came running out the gate releasing a number of products that spanned all four corners of the digital and analog world, ranging from the iPhono (with no less than six different EQ curves to choose from) to the iUSB (the Arm & Hammer of USB power). In fact, very recently they just updated their well respected iDAC, which as many of its owners will attest to, laughs in the face of other DACs (portable or otherwise) that claim "high-res" support. But out of all the micro products they offer, I feel the micro iDSD, a combination DAC/headphone amp, is by far the most representative of AMR's trickle down economics approach.

    Crowdsourced Design


    iFiCrowdDesign.jpg

    After iFi reached critical mass with its 2012 introductory product line, the folks over there did something very smart: They sought direct community feedback during the design phase of their next iFi product. The net result of this social experiment can be found in the massive micro iDSD thread over on Head-Fi, where iFi not only collected feedback from the entire audiophile community at large but used this forum space to document the overall design process as well. If you have some free time to spare, I highly recommend you read all of the cherry picked posts referenced in the first post's table of contents section. iFi literally walked you through almost every major design decision they made, ranging from how they wrote some custom scheduling code to load-balance the numerous XMOS cores to how they implemented a reference level clock inspired by a missile guidance system. Trust me when I say that this thread is not only extremely informative, but very well written and at a level that even a non-technical audiophile will find fascinating to comb over.

    Digital Done Right


    iFiMicroDSD-DualCoreBurrBrown.jpg

    The iDSD has been one of the most difficult pieces of gear I've ever had to review simply for the fact that it is so feature rich. I could probably spend an article or two just talking about its DAC - seriously. In any event, in an effort to keep things organized let's dive into its digital side and then slowly make our way to its analog half.

    As you can see above, at the heart of the iDSD is a pair of Burr-Brown Multibit DACs that offer true native DSD and PCM support, the exact same chipset found in the nano version of the iDSD. But by adding a second double B, iFi was able to lower the noise floor by 3 dB as well as improve channel separation to boot! But like the nano version, the micro's firmware employs the same novel approach to PCM conversion as well.

    Unlike most delta-sigma architectures that convert everything to a 1-bit stream first before filtering, the iDSD preserves the high order 6-bits of a PCM data stream and only converts the rest of the low order bits via its internal 256fs (DSD256) modulator. iFi claims that this allows the iDSD to keep some of that Burr-Brown signature warmth while still retaining all the smoothness delta-sigma modulators are so famous for. Obviously for pure DSD input, those Burr-Brown's handle it natively using that same DSD256 modulator to convert to analog. And since iFi used the latest and greatest chipsets, the iDSD is able to handle an insane number of sampling rates, maxing out at Octa-Speed DSD512 and PCM768 (2x DXD)!

    Keep in mind that the iDSD is truly native with respect to DSD playback, so all volume control is done in the analog domain in an effort to stay true to the original bitstream. In other words, unlike a lot of DSD capable DACs that transcode to PCM first in order to apply digital volume control, the iDSD always preserves the original signal as is when converting 1's and 0's to electrons.


    IFiXMOS.jpg

    Feeding these two DACs is an eight-way XMOS U-series based chipset, which is one of the premier USB receiver solutions on the market. Now if you are vaguely familiar with XMOS that's probably because you've heard about it in the context of some ESS SABRE based solution, since the combination of SABRE and XMOS seems to be the defacto reference platform most audiophile products are based on today. I suspect though that iFi choose the XMOS (as opposed to something like a high-end C-Media chipset a la Schiit) not for its industry wide popularity, but mainly because of its high-processing power (MIPS) and ease of development. In fact as I mentioned above, iFi's software team went to town on the XMOS, not settling for the reference implementation provided by the vendor but actually writing their own custom firmware to better utilize all eight cores. Couple that with built-in iPurifier support, the iDSD has one of the most advanced USB solutions on the market today at any price point.

    There was also expressed interest by many Head-Fi'ers to have selectable digital filters just like you would find on the Herus+ dongle I reviewed recently. iFi listened and implemented two sets of three selectable filters depending on whether you are playing PCM versus DSD. For PCM based input, you have standard, minimum phase, and bit perfect, while for DSD you have extreme, extended, and standard. Sticking with PCM since that is by far most of what your brutal bits are encoded in, the standard filter offers the most accurate digital filtering at the cost of some added ringing. While the minimum phase and bit-perfect filters seem to be the most popular for actual listening among audiophiles, exhibiting the least amount of pre and post-ringing with respect to transients. DXD sampling rates have no filtering applied whatsoever and are converted to analog as is (as they should be).

    With Great Power Comes Greater Responsibility


    microiDSD-5.jpg

    As for amperage, the iDSD puts out an astounding amount of power with enough lightening to sizzle most full sized headphones. The key to taming this beast is through the Power and IEMatch mode switches located on the side and its underbelly respectively. The Power mode switch is by far the most important setting on the iDSD and the one you have to get right or you can blow up your favorite pair of transducers easily. It can be broken down into the following modes: Eco (500 mW at 8 ohms), Normal (1900 mW at 16 ohms), and Turbo (4000 mW at 16 ohms). Trust me when I say that the overwhelming majority of you will be headbanging in Eco mode. However, if you have some really hard to drive headphones (think HE-6) you can use the Normal and Turbo modes as appropriate (yes, Turbo mode will drive the AKG K-1000 handily).

    After the Power mode switch is finalized, then comes the IEMatch mode switch. Again, for full sized cans you are probably going to leave this switch in the off button for the life of the unit. But if you do plan to use really any kind of IEM (especially CIEMs) then the two other modes, High Sensitivity and Ultra High Sensitivity, are your friends. In order to figure out which setting will work best for your particular headphone, iFi offers the following chart:


    iFiPowerMode.jpg

    Common sense applies, so using Ultra High Sensitivity in Turbo mode is for those looking to earn a Darwin Award. For the rest of us however, iFi recommends that in general you want to be able to listen to your favorite pair of headphones at normal volume levels at the 3 o'clock position of the volume knob. That's the sweet spot, so start in Eco/Off mode and then gradually increase the Power and/or IEMatch buttons as needed. Trust me, it's not hard.

    Speaking of power, the iDSD allows you to work directly off of its internal 4800 mAH battery or USB via its SmartPower circuitry. The order of when you connect the iDSD via USB and turn the unit on is very important: Turn on the unit before connecting it via USB tells the firmware to operate on battery power exclusively. Conversely if you connect the unit via USB first and then turn the unit on, the iDSD will operate off of USB power instead. For iPhone and Android potential customers, iFi recommends that you use battery power mode since you may experience some device errors otherwise. Caveat emptor. And yes, the unit will charge while playing music too. In fact, the iDSD can even charge your favorite smart device up to two times while in use! In case you're wondering how do you tell when you are running out of juice, there is an LED status light on top of the unit that based on its color will tell you all sorts of useful information. Again, with great power comes greater responsibility. Use it wisely.

    Odds & Ends


    microiDSD-6.jpg
    microiDSD-7.jpg

    In terms of inputs outside of USB, the iDAC accepts optical and coaxial SPDIF via one port in the back and another 3.5 mm one in the front. The SPDIF input on the back also serves as output if you don't have any headphone connected. For outputs, you have your standard red and whites on the back (RCA) and the single 1/4" headphone jack in the front. And yes, the iDSD can essentially mimic a DAC/preamplifier via those RCA outputs by switching it out of Direct mode into Preamplifier mode by toggling a switch toward the rear of the unit.

    The volume knob controls a specially designed potentiometer (POT) made specifically for the iDSD, and apparently gives you slightly better control (<2 dB tracking error) than your standard issue ALPS. The two other switches next to it are the XBass and 3D Holographic Sound switches. When XBass is turned on it gives you a nice noticeable bass boost. The 3D Holographic Sound is iFi's cross feed circuit, which you may or may not dig. Disclaimer: I'm not a big fan of crossfeed in general.

    There is also a polarity inversion switch which for some of you out there on strong meds might find useful. I've never experienced any particular need to invert the polarity of the output so I'm highly confident that 99.9% of you aren't going to use it either.


    microiDSD-4-e1439750176209.jpg

    Finally, in case you haven't noticed from the pic above, the iDSD comes with a myriad array of adapters, and even includes a high quality USB 3.0 cable to boot. Once you open that box, you're set. For life. Seriously.

    Setup


    microiDSD-22.jpg

    As usual. my primary source was my trusty late-2011 Macbook Pro running OSX Yosemite 10.10.4 and Audirvana 2.2. For full sized cans I switched back and forth between my Audeze LCD-3 (non-fazor) and HiFiMan HE-1000, both powered by Eco mode with IEMatch off. That allowed me to listen to both headphones at normal volume levels around the 3 o'clock position. Check. I also tried my JHA Roxanne CIEM in Eco mode with Ultra High Sensitivity turned on which also worked like a champ - zero hiss, total black background. In addition to USB, I decided to plug in my Audiophilleo AP1 with PurePower USB to SPDIF converter to give that a go as well. Everything worked as expected but surprisingly I felt the USB input sounded better overall and as a result, became the primary way I escorted bits off of my MBP for this review.

    I also played a lot with the digital filter switch too, ultimately settling on the BitPerfect setting. Again, your mileage may vary, but I would start with BitPerfect, or maybe even Minimum Phase first, before randomly moving that switch around during playback.

    One final setup note: I had one technical problem I was not able to overcome switching back and forth between DSD and PCM with Audirvana. If I play DSD and then switch to PCM (no matter the resolution), I get a lot of noise and distortion as if the unit and/or my headphones are completely toast. I had to manually reset the unit by disconnecting it from the USB port and then plugging it back in again to reach a steady-state. This issue seems to be relegated to Audirvana only though, since I tried foobar2k under Win 7/VMware Fusion without any problem. Interestingly enough, Audirvana auto-recognizes that the iMicro supports up to DSD256 even though it really supports up to DSD512. This is due to the fact that the DoP spec (DSD over PCM) only supports up to DSD256 currently on OSX (I believe on Linux you can tweak the kernel to get DSD512 to go, but obviously I have no such luxury on my Mac).

    Sound


    iFiSamplingRates.png

    You made it!

    Alright, despite the fact that the iDSD supports a plethora of sampling rates and formats, I'm quite aware 99% of your time will be spent with 16-bit/44.1kHz PCM source material. With that said, just the ability to play these insane-rate files seemed like a lot of fun. So what I did was go to Native DSD's website and download a few free samples of various high-res formats, including DXD (32-bit/384kHz) and DSD128/256. I then plugged in my HE-1000 and off I went. Suffice it to say everything just worked! Was I amazed by the sound though? Not really, but frankly I didn't spend a lot of time critically listening to each download sample nor did I have any equivalent source material in standard definition format to really compare it to. Couple all that with the technical glitches of switching back and forth between DSD and PCM, I decided to move on.



    As a first test, I wanted to listen to some high-quality reference material to see what this puppy can really do. That means high dynamic, well mastered source material a la Horrendous' Ecdysis. This record is one of the best death metal albums to come out in a long time and Horrendous guitarist/engineer Damian Herring did a bang up job producing it, clocking in at DR10. And after blasting tracks "Weeping Relic" and "Monarch" I quickly realized just how good the iDSD is given its price tag. First off, detail retrieval is outstanding, with every track on this record just beaming with life. Transients are of particular note, having a very fast attack and then natural sounding decay as the dual Burr Brown's have no problem keeping up with band's various tempo changes. Bass is absolutely ear boggling too, with or without the XBass switch on. But what I found most gratifying is that unlike a lot of its competitors, the iDSD's overall presentation is open and wide. Any compressed sense of soundstage I was hearing was more an artifact of the headphone I was using than it was from the iDSD itself. Put simply, the iDSD has a way of politely removing itself from the playback chain, letting the music just speak for itself. A hallmark of every great piece of audiophile gear.



    Unfortunately, given how revealing the iDSD can be, I was immediately worried that Loudness War governed music would not fair as well, and to some extent I was right. As soon as I threw heavily compressed records like Strapping Young Lad's 1997 classic, City, or the recently released Trials record, This Ruined World, the iDSD's wonderful sense of airyness vanished due to both record's heavily reliance on dynamic range compression. Obviously, this isn't the fault of the iDSD per se, but just be aware that this unit is quite resolving for better or worse. The good news is that the added warmth of the Burr Browns does actually help alleviate ear fatigue over long listening sessions. However, I would absolutely avoid even looking at the 3D Holo switch, since iFi's crossfeed implementation pushes the midrange to the fore which for most highly compressed material utterly destroys the music (imagine the Grado house sound on steroids). Use of the XBass switch is certainly encouraged, especially if you have a can that is known to be somewhat anemic down low or you just want to have a little fun.



    Finally, a Metal-Fi review would not be a Metal-Fi review without some kind of needle drop. So I dusted off Nokturnal Mortum's Voice of Steel from my collection and just sat back and listened. Bass control again is just phenomenal, and that rang true no matter what headphone or IEM I used. I also felt that the midrange was exactly where it needed to be - prominent, but not to in your face, and having just enough analog warmth to help round out some of that digital edge we've all come so accustomed to. Some of you may find that unacceptable if strict transparency is what you seek, but for the rest of us who are out to simply enjoy the music the iDSD hits the nail right on the head. And while the treble doesn't shimmer like I've heard on systems many times its price, the iDSD's command of the upper frequency range is quite respectable. Not once did I feel somewhat grossed out by the crash of a cymbal or tap of a hi-hat. Something I can't say the same for a lot of SABRE based products I've listened to.

    Conclusion


    microiDSD-30.jpg

    The iFi micro iDSD is a phenomenal piece of gear, incorporating state-of-the-art digital design in an extremely well thought out package. In fact, my single biggest complaint is that it isn't really portable, but rather transportable. I mean of course you can lug it around if you really had to, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense these days given the rise of the dongle form factor. But portability issues aside, when it comes to both fidelity and feature set the iDSD is clearly the current standard in which all other devices in this segment should be judged. No question. My guess is you would have to spend at least four times the price to best this little box, and even then I suspect the differences will be paper thin. If you are looking for a multi-faceted desktop solution at a very reasonable price point, then your quest is over. Highly recommended.
      proedros and rafaelpernil like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Aerosphere
      Wow man, metal-fi review! Best! Thanks!!
      Aerosphere, Apr 21, 2016
    3. proedros
      great review , LOVED your witty humor inserts (darwin award axaxaxaxa)

      idsd micro will probably be my next purchase
      proedros, Jun 20, 2016
    4. Trogdor
      Thanks proedros! You will not regret the purchase.
      Trogdor, Jun 20, 2016