1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.

    Dismiss Notice
  1. knorris908
    Incredible DAC capable of more than what most users will need for the foreseeable future
    Written by knorris908
    Published May 5, 2015
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Incredible detail and clarity with more power than any portable has a right to put out.
    Cons - No actual on/off switch (It would be nice to leave the volume knob where it is when you turn it off), Larger size is pushing the portable envelope
    ****************New iFi iDSD Micro BLACK LABEL Review (3/20/2017)  Original iDSD Micro Review below!
     
    I haven't been able to separate the iDSD Micro Black Label review from the original iDSD Micro's old review, so I will build on what's already here:
     
     
    DSC_2432.jpg
    Many thanks to Lawrance & the iFi team for allowing me to perform a "head-to-head" comparison between my trusty iDSD Micro, and the new iDSD Micro Black Label (from now on referred to as "BL") 
     
    So what is it?  The iFi iDSD Micro BL is in my eyes, an evolution of the original iDSD Micro portable headphone amplifier.
     
    So what's different?  Well, it's Black with Orange print instead of the original's silver with black print.  I have read that there are some improvements in "fit and finish", but as I still have no noticeable flaws in my original unit, I can't speak to that myself.  In truth, most of the difference is "under the hood", so to speak.  Improved components in terms of clock timings, circuitry, power, & the like.  (I'm not a spec guy, as you might have guessed.)
     
    **SPOILER**  (If you just want the bottom line, here it is up-front,)
    So do I think it is worth it?   2 answers for 2 groups:  
     
    If you don't already own an iDSD Micro - YES!  This is quite possibly one of the strongest portable amp offerings that I have ever heard of in the sub $2,000 USD portable headphone amp category, period.  Add to that, a very sophisticated and clean DAC section, and you have a portable that can hold its own against many desktop class components out there.  
     
    If you already own an iDSD Micro - Maybe?  The problem here is that there wasn't anything that I considered "wrong" with the original.  Yes, there is a certain refinement to the sound of the new iDSD BL when I do A/B side-by-side comparisons between the 2., and yes, if I had the opportunity to buy either at the same price, I'd buy the new unit.  But while the changes are indeed for the better in the new unit to my ears, they are subtle.  In truth, if I were to listen to them hours apart, I'd be hard-pressed to separate the differences between the two from other variations like changes of headphone positioning and quality of seal between the pads and my ears.  
     
     
    So let's take a look at what I've been rambling about:
    DSC_2433.jpg
    As you can see, my old unit even after years of coast to coast trips still looks pretty darn good!  No problems with construction, switches, or ports.  The label for the serial # has worn away a bit, and some of the lettering on the bottom of the unit has rubbed-off from constant handling.  (Hey, my hands sweat a lot in the summer sometimes!)  So when I saw the two side-by-side, I was pretty impressed!  Most of my gear gets replaced on an annual basis due to "wear and tear" from my mobile lifestyle.  (My iDSD Micro has easily seen 12+ of the 50 states, and many of them multiple times.)
     
     
    Underneath, they are again essentially identical.  (I faded the serial labels purposefully as a courtesy to iFi)
    DSC_2435.jpg
     
     
    And here you can truly see wear on my old unit.  Still not bad after years of abuse!  (I USE my gear regularly, so they don't stay museum quality sadly...)
    DSC_2437.jpg
     
     
    So, why did I spend so much time showing the physical characteristics?  In truth, I struggled with this review.  The new iDSD BL is very similar to my original.  I can't tell you that the battery lasts longer, that it drives headphones much stronger, or that there is an upgrade in construction.  Why?  I suspect that it's because the original never needed improvement.  My old iDSD's battery STILL lasts longer than any of my cell phones or my DAP's batteries.  The construction is tough enough to take a tumble from my lap, to airport/airplane/hotel floors, (Typically carpeted) and not show it.  The power output rivals my Schiit Audio's AGARD 2 dedicated DESKTOP headphone amp while running off battery power., The only thing that I could have asked for is an ON/OFF switch, so that I could leave my volume levels the same when I return to listening.  (Like if I'm comparing different headphones head-to-head and want as little variation as possible.)
     
    So what do you get in terms of sound quality?  
     
    AMP Section - With the iDSD BL, you get just a little more of what you get from the original.  I spent DAYS trying to find that "A-HA moment" when a clear and defining difference would jump out at me.  It just never happened.  What I heard was a mellow, SPACIOUS sound.  Just like the original.  The fine detail is a little tighter on the original, and more "musical" on the BL.  (I had to listen to Sennheiser HD-650, HD-800, AKG 545/550, JVC HA-SZ2000, and Beyerdynamics T1 ver.2 headphones repeatedly in succession in order to be sure, as each demonstrates their strengths accordingly.  In short, it's a matter of taste.  The original will please those seeking a more analytical presentation, while the BL might please those who felt the original could be just a tad harsh.  
     
    DAC Section - Again, SUBTLE differences between the two.  The BL only really sounded different on the T1 & HD-800.  The other headphones sounded essentially identical on both when evaluating their DAC performances.  The T1 just sounded a little crisper on the original, and slightly more "musical" on the BL.  The HD-800 showed the difference to a slightly greater degree, and was slightly more fatiguing on the original.  If I only owned HD-800s, I would upgrade to the BL for this reason more than all the other subtle differences combined. 
     
     
    For music, I chose "What God Wants Part-1" (Roger Waters), "Drink Up Me Hearties" (Hans Zimmer),  "Why Me?" (Planet P Project), "La Sagrada Familia" (Alan Parsons Project), "Thriller" (Michael Jackson), "The Kids Aren't Alright" (The Offspring), "On My Level" (Wiz Khalifa (MY ultimate BASS evaluation track!)),  "Ave Maria, for voice & piano" (Mario Lanza)  Each tracks sampled between Mp3, FLAC, & DSD quality versions. (Except Mario Lanza, who I only had in CD format.)
     
    Equipment - DAPs iPhone 4S, 5, 6, & 7+, & iPAD Air, iBASSO DX90, Lenovo Yoga A12 (Android version), Dell XPS 8500 (Win 10, 64GB, Foobar2000/JRiver Media Center 21) Schiit Audio ASGARD 2  Forza Audio cables
     
    ***************************************Original iDSD Micro Review*******************************
     
    5 Stars
    Summary:  Incredible DAC capable of more than what most users will need for the foreseeable future
     
    Pros
    Incredible detail and clarity with more power than any portable has a right to put out.
     
    Cons 
    No actual on/off switch (It would be nice to leave the volume knob where it is when you turn it off), Larger size is pushing the portable envelope
     
    I will leave the technical speak and unboxing play-by-play to the reviews that are already here, done by people who do a much better job than I can currently manage.  Just know that the iDSD Micro comes with EVERYTHING that I could ask for to get started in terms of connectivity and accessories already in the box. 
     
    First:  When I bought my iDSD Micro, it was $499.  It has gone up since then, but if I was to buy it all over again, I'd still do so as I've heard nothing that touches it in the sub-$2,400 portable DAC/Amp market.
     
    I completely lucked-into finding this device simply because I wanted a device that would make my iBASSO DX90 work with my Sennheiser HD-650s in hotel rooms. 
    (No, I'm not one of those people who would blast my fellow plane passengers with whatever I'm listening to with open back headphones....)
    At first I had a FIIO e17 that I had intended to use with my iPhones (4S & 5) and iPad Air, but learned the hard way that there is no simple way to make that combo work.  So I looked for another solution that would provide a better DAC and enough power to make my HD-650s sound "full" rather than anemic.  The iDSD Micro connects to new-style "Lightning" i-devices simply through a Camera Connection Kit (C.C.K.) cable.  Nice and neat! (Though the old 30-pin apple devices will need a short USB cable to attach the C.C.K. to the iDSD Micro)
     
    Boy did I get more than I bargained for.  The iDSD Micro's brightness really brought some crispness to the HD-650s which some have called "veiled".  They do not sound veiled to me at all with this combo.  If I were listening to the GRADO 225Es that I had tried, the highs were far too "sparkly" and I didn't care for them.  Nothing against the headphones, they just didn't fit my tastes with this combo.  Now there is another "DARK SIDE" that I learned that the iDSD Micro excels at;  BASSHEAD HEADPHONES!  I'm a part-time Basshead, and sometimes just want some jaw-rattling "THUMP" to my music.  Enter the JVC HA-SZ2000 (Kings!),  JVC HA-M55x, and Photive PH-BTX6. In order of Bass capability.  One of the first comments about each of these headphones is that they have recessed mids that you'll have to EQ heavily for.  Not so with the iDSD Micro!  Add some 3D to make them feel less closed-in, but retain their bass slam.  Then flip the XBASS switch and EQ your songs to your tastes.  The iDSD never falls short for pushing power through your phones, and the DAC/amp combo works nicely to tighten-up the bass on all three, but especially the PH-BTX6 as it is the most bloated.  The SZ2000s just keep pulling more and more sub-bass out if the source song has it.  Some songs just THUMP, but never get loose and sloppy with the SZ2000s.  This is not the case with other amp/DAC combos I've tried. like the FIIO e17.  It makes all 3 of them louder, but doesn't do much to help keep the dynamics of the music "civilized" once the BASS gets raised beyond moderate levels.  Likewise with my tabletop SCHIIT Audio ASGARD 2 amp.  It does an AWESOME job with making classical, rock, pop, or jazz/Blues sound like new discoveries with the HD-650s, but there is just more loudness when you try to blow up the bass without any or much control over it's presentation.
     
    I don't use IEMs often, but when I plug up my UE Super-Fi3s (90% of what I listen to) or VMODA Bass Freqs (For the occasional "in-ear" bass-heavy listening) I set the iDSD micro to "NORMAL" mode for most rock/pop/BASS-heavy listening, and down further to "ECO" mode for classical/lyrical music; all set to "Hi Sensitivity" on IE match settings.  (I've never had to use the "Ultra Sensitivity" setting for super-sensitive IEMs, but it is nice to know that it is there if I ever needed it.)
     
    So in summary:  Portable DAC/Amp that rivals some desktop/rack solutions for power output and performance.  Does a great job with High-end music formats (DSD, DXD, FLAC, etc..) making old favorites sound like I've heard them for the first time.  If your headphones are slightly claustrophobic when it comes to soundstage, the 3D feature can help quite a bit without sounding "artificial".  And lastly, if you are a TRUE basshead, I've never heard a portable amp that causes your music to actual bring home the slam as powerfully and neatly as the iDSD Micro does.
      Hawaiibadboy and Pokemonn like this.
    1. Hawaiibadboy
      Nice review. Man that thing keeps going up in price. Kinda hints at it's success since things that suck tend to drop in price after the same amount of time and things that don't suck......get more expensive.
      Hawaiibadboy, May 5, 2015
  2. ClieOS
    The Overachiever
    Written by ClieOS
    Published Apr 28, 2015
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Plenty of Features with Excellent Performance
    Cons - Size. Not the best standalone amp for the price.
    At this point of time, iFi Audio shouldn’t need much introduction at all. The British company is the more budget oriented sister brand of the prestige Abbingdon Music Research and have made a name for able to punch above its weight when it comes to price/performance ratio. If anything, the micro iDSD that is going to be reviewed here has set a new bar on what it means to be an overachiever in the world of portable audio gear. Never have we seen so many features being packed into one portable USB DAC + amp while still having such level of performance.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Spec
    DAC:
    Dual Burr Brown DAC, custom interleaving for maximum SNR
    Clock: Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock (RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds)
    Selectable Filter:    
                PCM (digital): Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard    
                DSD (analog): Extreme/Extended/Standard Range    
                DXD (analog): Bit-Perfect Processing
    Full Native Decoding:    
                DSD 512/256/128/64 (24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8Mhz)    
                DXD 2x/1x (768/705.6/384/352.8kHz)    
                PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
    Dynamic Range (Line): over 117db(A)    
    THD & N (0dBFS Line): under 0.003%      
    Output Voltage (Line): over 2V 
    Output Impedance (Zout): under 240Ω 
    Jitter (correlated): Below AP2 test set limit         
     
    Headphone-out:
    Selectable:
                Power mode: Eco, Normal and Turbo
                Polarity: Normal / Inverted
                Filters: see DAC spec
                iEMatch: Off / High Sensitivity / Ultra Sensitivity
    Power (max) / (continuous.)
    - Turbo mode: (10.0V max) 4000 mW @ 16 Ohm / over 1560 mW @ 64 Ohm
    - Normal mode: (5.5V max) 1900 mW @ 16 Ohm / over 950 mW @ 32 Ohm
    - Eco mode: (2.0V max) 500 mW @ 8 Ohm / over 250 mW @ 16 Ohm
    Dynamic Range: over 115dB(A) (Eco Mode, 2V Out)
    THD &N (500mW/16R): under 0.008%
    Output Voltage: over 8V (Turbo Mode)
    Output Impedance (Zout): under 1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)
     
    Input:
    USB 2.0 type A
                Built-in iPurifier, all major OS (*MacOSX, Windows, Linux) support. OTG supports: Apple portable devices with iOS 7+ and camera connection kit and selected Android devices with USB OTG cable.
    S/PDIF
                Coax and optical in, PCM up to 192kHz.
    Analog in
                3.5mm stereo jack
     
    Output:
    S/PDIF
                Coax-out, PCM up to 192kHz
    RCA
                User selectable line (direct) or variable (preamp, with 9dB gain) output
    Headphone out
                6.4mm stereo jack
     
    SmartPower® Socket: For recharging USB device (BC1.2 supported, 5V @ 1.5A)
     
    EQ: X-Bass and 3D Holographic Sound, separated output for speaker (RCA preamp mode) and headphone-out.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Accessories and Build Quality
    Just about everything you need are included with the micro iDSD. You will get two rubber bands (for strapping a portable source to the iDSD), a short RCA-to-RCA cable, a short 3.5mm interconnecting cable, 4 stick-on rubber feet, an 1m USB 3.0 cable, a 1 foot USB cable with right angled plug (presumably for the SmartPower socket), a 6.4mm-to-3.5mm stereo adapter, a TOSlink adapter, a soft pouch, a small silicone mat (for cushioning between iDSD and your portable source), plug two USB type A female to type B female adapter (just in case you don’t want to use the included USB 3.0 cable but instead opt for your own USB type B cable, which is commonly known as the USB cable for printer and desktop USB device). Perhaps the only thing missing is either an OTG cable or camera connection kit, depends on whether you are an Android or Apple user. But those should be sourced by your own.
     
    As with all iFi’s gears, build quality is quite excellent, though I do have some very minor complaints. The first is the more obvious – the housing is not exactly portable friendly, even though it is consistent with the micro series. You will want to put micro iDSD (along with its source) inside a small messenger bag or backpack rather than inside your pocket. The second is the tiny switches on the iDSD isn’t extremely firm and can be moved accidentally if it is in a very tight place (which makes it even less idea to put inside a pocket). It isn’t really that much of an issue as long as it is not in tight places though it is something to pay attention to. You won’t want to get caught off guarded when the gain switch is pushed from Eco to Turbo without you knowing it, for an example. A good practice is just not to store your micro iDSD with a lot of other stuff together. Having the rubber band on the body also help to keep things away. Last but not least, and I am just nit-picking here, is to have a less protruding 6.4mm-to-3.5mm adapter. The included adapter works just fine, but I do think a lower profiled adapter really works better.
     
    One of the true genius on micro iDSD’s design is the use of a recessed USB type A male connector. This makes using either a camera connection kit for Apple iOS devices or an USB OTG cable for Android devices much easier. Gone is the need of multiple cable connecting to each other or special cable. It is streamlined and it is beautiful – makes me wonder why no other has thought about it before.
     
    [​IMG]
    Front
     
    [​IMG]
    Back
     
    Battery Life
    Battery life is estimated to be just around 6 hours with Turbo mode, 9 hours for Normal mode and 12 hours with Eco mode, plus or minus an hours or so depends on different condition and load of course. The battery life isn’t exactly long per se, but it is price you have to pay for having such a huge amount of output power for portable use.
     
    Another thing about the battery is that it has its own smart circuit to control the charging. To speed up the charging, you need to plug the micro iDSD into a BC1.2 complied USB port. A regular USB port will work just as well, as long as the iDSD is turned off and you don’t mind a bit longer charging time. If the iDSD remains on, a regular USB port might not output enough current to both charge and power iDSD at the same time, so it might drain off the battery slowly. Whether it will drain or charge really depends on how much power your USB port can pump out. Again, a BC1.2 complied USB port (or hub) is your best bet. Last but not least, the smart circuit also turns micro iDSD into a USB power bank when (and only when) it is turned off. Just plug any USB device on to the USB port on the side of micro iDSD and it will charge it up. Needless to say, this will eat into micro iDSD’s play time.
     
    [​IMG]
    SmartPower Socket on the side
     
    [​IMG]
    Gain, Polarity and Filters selection on the side.
     
    [​IMG]
    iEMatch and RCA-out selection on the bottom.
     
    Gain, Hiss and EMI
    There are two way of adjusting gain on micro iDSD: the power mode and the iEMatch. According to my own measurement, the Eco mode is just under 1dB of gain, Normal mode is around 9~10dB of gain where Turbo mode gives you around 15~16dB gain – and this is the same whether you are using micro iDSD as DAC+amp or as pure amp. iEMatch on the other hand is doing just the opposite by lowering gain: the Off setting doesn’t do anything, where High Sensitivity setting is about -11.4dB and Ultra Sensitivity setting is about -24dB. The recommended way of adjusting gain is that you start with the power mode first. If you still find Eco mode too loud, then you adjust the iEMatch. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to use Turbo mode with Ultra Sensitivity since you will end up getting roughly the same gain as Normal mode without iEMatch, yet wasting a lot of battery power in the process. Last but not least, there is also the pre-amp mode which you can set for the RCA output and it has a 9dB gain (roughly equal to Normal mode). That is mainly for using iDSD as a preamp feeding into a power amp, and you get to use the loudspeaker version of XBass and 3D Holographic Sound effect as well (which we will discuss more on the next section).
     
    Hiss is not an issue for micro iDSD at all as I can’t even detect any obvious hiss on Turbo mode with my most hiss prone IEM. EMI is very mild too and hardly a concern at all. Even with Turbo mode, it is about as loud as someone whispering next to your ear.
     
    [​IMG]
    Sony Xperia Z2 feeds into micro iDSD via USB OTG cable
     
    [​IMG]
    Sony NWZ-A15 feeding into micro iDSD via WMC-NWH10 cable
     
    Sound Quality and EQ
    As usual, we start with some basic measurement. RMAA reveals no problem as far as frequency response, noise and distortion go. In fact, the measured difference between Eco, Normal and Turbo mode is pretty small as well, which is a very good thing as higher gain doesn’t seem to degrade SQ much. Line-out voltage is about 1.95Vrms or so, where max voltage on headphone-out goes from just a little above 2Vrms in Eco mode to over 11Vrms in Turbo mode (*no load, and it might go lower with load, as indicated by iFi). Measurement over current output shows that it has plenty of power regardless of which gain mode it is in. With iEMatch sets to off, output impedance is under 1 ohm. On High Sensitivity, it is around 4 ohm or so. With Ultra Sensitivity, it goes back down under 1 ohm again. Also, High Sensitivity roughly cuts the output power by half with the same volume as the Off setting, though Ultra Sensitivity only cuts about 1/5. The main reason for more loss of power on High Sensitivity probably has to do with its higher output impedance, if anything else. Regardless, both High and Ultra Sensitivity still maintain more than adequate amount of power to drive IEM with good authority.
     
    [​IMG]
    The Three PCM filters @ 16/44.1
     
    Another user selectable option on the micro iDSD that will affect SQ is the filter selection. Filter is needed because the DAC’s sampling process will produce high frequency noise above the audible range. Even though it is mainly on the inaudible range, its effect will still reach under 20kHz and therefore we need filter to cut them off. With PCM decoding, the filter switch changes between three different digital filters setting: Standard, Minimum Phase and Bit Perfect. Standard filter is also known as ‘fast roll-off’ sometime, which has a shaper cut –off frequency, offer a flatter FR curve and nicer measurement. But it is often also regarded as being harsher and grainier sounding. Minimum Phase is what known as ‘slow roll-off’ by some, and usually offer a smoother sound but comes with a slight -3dB roll off between 14kHz to 20kHz. It is probably one of the most common filter found on higher end DAC because it is regarded as the best compromise between measurement and human perception. Bit Perfect on the other hand is actually not a filter at all. It is more commonly known as Non-OverSampling, or NOS for short. As the name implies, it is where the DAC doesn’t oversample the signal and doesn’t use any digital filter. The resulted FR curve has a rather big -3dB roll-off going from upper midrange all the way to 20kHz. NOS is in itself too complex a topic for us to cover here - but the basic idea is not to oversample the signal as would be done on normal DAC. Instead, the sampling is carried out where the focus is to restore the musicality back to the signal rather than to achieve the highest accuracy on frequency response. The result is often being described as a sound that is more analog and natural, though doesn’t measure nearly as good as the other two filters and can sound slightly hissy with sensitive headphone due to the lack of filter. To put it short, you can think of the three filters as going from what measured best to what perceived best. With DSD decoding, the same filter switch change to three analog filter selection: Standard, Extended, and Extreme. Due to its 1 bit nature, DSD can’t employ any digital filter (which we will discuss further in the next section on native decoding). Therefore it can only use analog filter after the decoding. The three settings are mainly to determine where to set the cut-off point along the frequency response. Last but not least, DXD only gets one setting and it is Bit Perfect / NOS, therefore it doesn’t matter which position the switch is in. So, you might start to wonder which filter sounds best? Well, the whole point of having a filter selection is so that you can find out the answer for yourself. It isn’t about right or wrong but about your own preference. However, for the purpose of the review, I have used the Standard filter for most of the measurement as well as majority of the subjective listening. Of course, this doesn’t actually mean I prefer the Standard filter more.
     
    Last but not least on the user selectable switch that affects the SQ is the polarity. The short story it is that someone once found out that his music has been recorded in reversed polarity (which most human are not very sensitive of), then reversing the polarity will restore back what the music should have sounded like. In the ‘+’ position, the music will pass through iDSD as it is; in ‘-’ position however, the polarity will be reversed. I can’t really tell the difference myself, but don’t let me stop you from trying it out for yourself. If you are like me, just leave it at ‘+’ should be fine.
     
    Now let start with the subjective listening – and let get this out of the way first: while micro iDSD can be used as a pure amp, it is not really the best portable amp you can buy for the price. While the amp section is excessively powerful and can drive even fairly inefficient planar magnetic headphone to quite a good level, it has a noticeably drier and brighter sound signature with some of the texture over lower mid to bass range missing. However, micro iDSD isn’t a bad sounding amp either. I would think the amp section alone is good enough to match any upper second tier portable amp or even lower top tier portable amp. It is just not enough to truly being referred as a top tier portable amp on its own.
     
    As I have written on my review on nano iDSD, I often find portable DAC+amp combo either has a good amp but an only a decent DAC, or the other way around with a good DAC but just an okay amp section. On the micro iDSD however, I really don’t find the amp section to be the limiting factor at all – yes, it isn’t the best amp section ever. But it does have really good synergy with the DAC section, where the slightly drier amp is compensated by the slightly warmer DAC and they end up being smooth and fairly neutral sounding, if not just a bit on the richer and fuller side of the presentation. In other words, the sonic characteristics of the famous Burr Brown sound that is supposed to be warm and thick are not lost in the process, but tuned down a little and become more adaptive as a whole when it comes to synergy and headphone pairing. Of course, you are really craving for the full Burr Brown treatment, the RCA-out still offers a chance for you to feed micro iDSD to an amp of your own choice. That being said, the line-out from micro iDSD is indeed excellent. It rivals just about every USB DAC I have heard before, desktop or portable. Though I do want to point out I really haven’t heard any of the multi-thousands DAC that I can’t afford anyway, so it is not to say micro iDSD is the be-all-end-all of DAC.
     
    One other thing I really love about the micro iDSD is that it is optimized for OTG usage. In my case, it works with both my Sony Xperia Z2 as well as Sony NWZ-A15 DAP without any problem. Sony already has a special USB driver implemented on their latest Android flagship smartphone, which upsamples everything to 24/192, and it works flawlessly with micro iDSD without the need of any extra app. Of course, if you have either USB Audio Player Pro, Onkyo HD Player or Hiby Music player, you can also play DSD files on iDSD as well using DoP protocol. The A15 player however isn’t Android based. But it does support USB OTG with a special cable (Sony WMC-NWH10) and has no problem working with micro iDSD to create probably one of the best sounding portable ‘stack’ in the market, rivaling high end audiophile digital audio players like HiFiman and Astell & Kern. I was, on two occasions, also able to compare micro iDSD to the much more expensive and very well regarded Chord Hugo (both fed by the same digital source). While Hugo carries a much more euphonic presentation, I don’t actually find it to be technically better than iDSD. One might like the flavour Hugo adds to the music, but it is really more of a flavour to me rather than a true rendition of what is intended, not to say that it isn’t an absolute great flavour on its own right. I personally thought that this is a good indication on micro iDSD’s ability to play on a much higher level of playfield than what its price tag would have otherwise suggested.
     
    [​IMG]
    XBass
     
    Micro iDSD, like micro iCAN, comes with both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound. Unlike iCAN’s two level selection however, they only have one setting on iDSD – on or off. The effect is somewhat in between iCAN’s two levels. iFi’s reasoning is that they don’t want to have too big or small an effect as people might find it either too much or too little. Thus they opted for the middle ground. To me, the effect on XBass is indeed a little too subtle. It seems to work fine on some of my IEM but less noticeable on other. 3D Holographic Sound on the other hand has a bit more noticeable impact, which the IEM user in me does like it quite a lot (*given most IEM never really have good soundstage to begin with). Last thing to note is that both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound also work on variable RCA-out (*preamp mode), but they are tuned differently from the XBass and 3D Holographic Sound on headphone-out as they are intended to be fed to power amp and eventually loudspeaker. So if you are feeding the variable RCA-out to a headphone amp (then to a headphone of course), the EQ might not sound right, especially with 3D Holographic Sound.
     
    Extra: Native vs Non-Native Decoding
    When it comes to DSD playback, the words ‘native decoding’ has been threw around fairly casually by many manufacturer. The fact is however, many of them isn’t as ‘native’ as you will like to believe and often some form of internal conversion has been employed. To really understand whether a DAC really is natively decoding DSD or PCM, often you need to look beyond words but inside the circuit design on the chip’s level. Unfortunately for most of us, that’s just impossible as manufacturer would rather not share with everyone their trade secret. I won’t try to cover the whole topic here as it is such complex an issue that it will probably take an expert a lot more inks than what this review is intended for, and I am no expert on this topic either. But luckily Mr. Thorsten Loesch, the designer of micro iDSD, has already written such an article. While it is about nano iDSD, the same blood is in the vein of micro iDSD as well. Therefore what has been said on that article is just as true for micro iDSD as it is for nano iDSD. Read it here: http://www.audiostream.com/content/qa-thorsten-loesch-amrifi
     
    The take-away point is - with the complexity and uncertainty in recording and mastering of the music before it reaches our ears, it is best to keep thing as ‘native’ and as non-invasive as possible when it comes to converting the 1 and 0 back to analog sound. That’s perhaps the reason why iFi has insisted on using the Burr Brown DAC rather than opts for something new and shiny with a more ‘marketable’ nametag. In that sense, I think they have done a tremendous job on optimizing the Burr Brown DAC to make it just as relevant as any top-of-the-line DAC chip in the market right now.
     
    Sum-up
    Is micro iDSD the perfect portable DAC+amp? No. If I can have a wish list, I’ll like it to be smaller, lightly, slimmer, shorter and perhaps, a true top tier amp as well. But the one thing that can’t be denied, nor would I wish to change, is the fact the micro iDSD is packed full of value and performance.  If you ever need a portable USB DAC + amp that can just about do it all, do it well, and do it without costing a limb, I reckon this is /it/.
     
    A thanks to iFi Audio for the review sample.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. ClieOS
      @yuping O2 and micro iCAN is pretty much on par when it comes to SQ, but one thing that gives micro iCAN the edge is its 3D Holographic Sound and Xbass. Between the two, I am more inclined to recommend micro iCAN first. Better yet, get the newer micro iCAN SE as it is as good as the regular iCAN, but with a lot more power.
      ClieOS, Apr 29, 2016
    3. roladyzator
      @ClieOS How does micro idsd compare to Audiotrak Dr. Dac 3? Is it worth paying extra for the iDSD? 
       
      I am looking for an upgrade from Fiio E10k to drive KRK KNS 8400 and DT150.
       
      FiiO sounds a little dry to me with KRK and a bit muddy in the bass and dull in the treble on DT150. I expect an overall increase in resolution and detail retrieval, soundstage size. I expect an overall increase in resolution and detail retrieval, soundstage size. Of course I never experienced hi end sound so I don't know what to expect.
      roladyzator, Aug 1, 2016
    4. ClieOS
      @roladyzator Dr. DAC 3 is a solid DAC/amp, but if budget isn't a major issue, I'll always recommend micro iDSD first. It is just a step up from Dr. DAC 3. However, I never listened to KRK or DT180 before and can't comment on how they will behave on iDSD or Dr. DAC3.
      ClieOS, Aug 2, 2016
  3. potatoe94
    Overflowing With Features !
    Written by potatoe94
    Published Feb 25, 2015
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Superbly clean output , Lots of Power , Dynamic , Practical , Features ( 3D Holographic & XBass) , Battery Life , Construction , Design , Value .
    Cons - Cable length provided
    The iDSD Micro. 
    Bought at S$699. 

    Intro 
    This company, AMR iFi, is remarkable to start with. They have made so many amplifiers and dacs with different functions, size and price points, all to their signature minimalist aluminum block design. All of their products have performance which far exceeds their price point, making every purchase, worth it. iFi did not pay me to review their products, but i do own many of them, and i am very much impressed with every single one of them. I will now proceed with the review. 

    Box Contents
    When you first open the box, like every other of their product, it feels like your are unraveling something of very high quality, which turns out to be true. Inside the box you will first see the product itself, underneath, you will get 2 purple RCA cables, a 3.5 to 3.5 short cable, a Long blue usb cable, pair of rubber bands for DAPs, the rubber feets and the Luxurious velvet-alcantara black pouch for the iDSD. The long blue usb cable, which connects the iDSD to the PC, seems alittle long for my preference, and it isnt like the one found in the iFi iDSD Nano, the Nano one was a light blue translucent cable with silver-coloured braiding, which was shorter and had a different connector. Due to the number of switches on this little machine, there is also a usefull guide for each and every switch, explaining what it does briefly and telling you how to start off safety without damaging your iems with too much power.Rubber caps are even provided for those RCA and SPDIF inputs/outputs which i seldom use.   Everything required is present and it felt like it was all geared up to go.

    User-Friendliness
    First thing i immediately noticed when i got the iDSD Micro as compared to the Nano, is the convenience, surprisingly even when the Micro was double in length. The reason i said that is mainly because this has a male USB input, which was amazing, i could simply hook it to my android phone by OTG direct. Unlike the Nano, where i have to hook the given blue cable, and then add my own OTG cable, which made it really long and clumsy. Of course, the size may be a problem for those truly on-the- go users. Even though i pair it with the IE800, UmPro50, i usually only use them when i am settled down in an undisturbed area, like a library, cafe or at home to use it. They do come along with a 3.5mm input, which i did not know how it work and have not tried it, but it's output is a 6.3mm jack which you could just insert an adapter for 3.5mm inears. You can Also output by RCA or SPDIF. The iDSD Micro also acts as a portable charger for your mobile devices from it's usb port at the side. 

    Features & Performance
    Everyone would notice a few rubber switches around the iDSD, Let us first take a look at what everyone with an iDSD Micro would notice first.

    The red switch. The red switch at the side of the iDSD directly facing you has 3 settings, This is the Power mode settings, it does eco, normal or turbo, as claimed, the eco is for iems, normal for moderate impedance headphones and turbo for high impedance headphones. Always start with the Eco mode, then move up if more power is required, speaking of power, the battery life is very very good. it comes with a 4800mah battery which could power portable use for a week or two, depending on duration of use. However, when at home, i could use my laptop's USB power to charge and use the iDSD at the same time, i find this method of power management superbly intelligent and reliable, as the duration i used it on battery is usually shorter than the duration i use it from my laptop, i have found myself to never have charged the battery a single time after the first initial 24 hour charge.

    Moving on the the next switch beside it, Polarity + -, i have not tried the negative one and left it on the positive default, some people enjoy the other, but its all based on preference.

    And the one beside the Polarity switch, the Filters, For PCM which i listen to, it has 3 stages, the Standard Filter, Minimum Phase & Bit Perfect, i leave that to Bit Perfect, because it stated that it was perfect hahaha ! They are different filters to play around with, you'll just have to try each one and see how each one fits you, its once again a preferential thing. 

    At the underside right corner, you'll find the IEMatch Switch. This is for you to select 3 stages of Sensitivity, Naming, Off, High Sensitivity and Ultra Sensitivity, of course, you should leave this off if you are using normal or turbo mode, This is just meant for the InEars, in which you should have already set the power mode to eco. if the off setting is producing a little hiss, you might consider moving up the switch to the next one or the other, it cleans out the little hisses you get if your IEMs are alittle sensitive, however i've realized that when you go up sensitivity line, you realize that the 3D Holographic & XBass effect were also reduced slightly, i know it was intended to be made that way, so there's another preferential option for you to choose. 

    And there's the last rubber switch, on the left of the underside, you will see another switch, linked to the RCA output, which there is an option of having Preamplifier or Direct. I've not found myself using it. 

    Now... for the metal switches, 

    The famous iFi 3D Holographic, it widens the sound-stage of your music beautifully, it is one of the main reason why i upgraded my iCAN Nano & iDSD Nano into this iDSD Micro, it becomes an all in one and whole lot more. The effects are made in the analogue channel, in which iFi mentioned that it holds true to the original source and it is not a digital software kind of effect. It really brings your music to life, makes it more tangible and believable, even for headphones. As the user guide included with the iDSD, it mentioned also that if the 6.3mm jack has been plugged in, the 3D holographic would be their headphones 3D holographic setting, if they do not detect the 6.3mm jack plug in, they would output it as a speaker setting 3D holographic, which is slightly different ; from my experience with the iTUBE Micro. 

    And their other one, the XBass, increases the depth and body of your bass and sub bass, this really brings bass shy headphones or IEM to life, giving them alittle more volume and warmth. 

    All these features are already good enough to be sold on their own ! However there's more !
    iDSD Micro is mainly made as a Digital Analogue Converter + Amp, it reduces the noise of your noisy source input, like from your laptop or PC, all digital-electric noise will be eliminated as this brings your on board DAC, outside. Connected by a USB cable which leads to the already on board iPurifier (another of iFi's invention) to clean up all noise which have made it that far. The Dac chip is a dual Octa BurrBrown DSD Chip, which it can play not most, but every single file you throw at it. The result of all these, Exceptionally clean output, needless to say, its really beautiful and at this price point, it certainly beats many 1-2k desktop DACs and amps already. 

    As you can see the number of switches i have mentioned from above, you can truly customize the sound of your output to your preference, i have never seen a DAC or an AMP deliver so much features into something so small and reasonably priced. Not even the Woo 7 Fireflies come close to price-performance ratios. This iDSD Micro is amazing, it's the "Meaty Monster", it is a show piece. which brings me to my next discussion.

    Build Quality
    A show piece indeed, take a look at that beautifully finished aluminium brick, as minimalist as design can get, sticking true to the rest of their iFi series of products, this one blends in perfect. It is as durable as it seems, knobs and switches feels like they are of quality. The overall product has a very nice quality weight to it, which made it feel really premium, unlike other amps which uses plastic to "reduce weight" which simply made it feels and look cheap. I love the metal, and i don't mind the added weight, it feels expensive, and it should feel that way. 

    Conclusion
    Until now, iFi has never made a product that disappoint, they are a truly remarkable company which makes remarkable products, The iDSD Micro design features was brainstormed with the community in mind, seeking suggestions from the fellow users here in head-fi, which i think is a really beautiful thing to see, the company putting the users first and listening to what the user wants, and includes them in their design, all companies should learn from this. The iDSD certainly is a monster packed full of features, made with quality and made to impress.

    The iDSD Micro has an easily distinguishable house sound signature which carries a little warmth and smoothness to the music with the switches turned off , 
    so that's something you should expect and will come to enjoy over time . The 3D holographic switch not only widen the soundstage ,
    and improves imaging , but also extends a little of the treble and increases it's presence . 

    I would strongly recommend this to my friends.
    For the price, you get the iCAN, 2 iDSD Nano, iPurifier, Portable Charger & New Features.

    There is really nothing not to love about it. 

    I hope that iFi continues to make excellent quality products as such, and i look forward to your next product in the iFi line ! 

    DSC_3824.jpg
     
    ========================================================================================================================
    BLACK LABEL REVISIT REVIEW
    ========================================================================================================================


    This review is written based on my comparison of the iFi iDSD Micro Black Label with the iFi iDSD Micro that I have used over the past 2 years .Let us start by calling the Black label as “B” and the normal , silver item , “S”. The review is in no way sponsored by iFi as they simply sent a unit for me to demo for a week before I’ll have to hand it over to the next reviewer . Whatever you are about to read would be blunt , honest review regarding the fore-mentioned products .

    BOX
    On first look , the iDSD Micro Black Label and iDSD Micro have identical packaging , simple white box , accessories and contents similar too . For those who do not know , the accessories were well decked out, most of the quality cables you require to get it running is provided . The instruction manual is a must-read for first timers , as the iDSD is a powerful amplifier with adjustable gain , so make sure you set things up right before you plug anything into your ears . I will save you on the box introduction as the photo would do a good job explaining it .
    _DSC6215-2.jpg       _DSC6217-2.jpg
     
                                                           
     
    PHYSICAL
    You would immediately notice that the finish on the both products are vastly different , the B being black and the S in silver . Both feels like they were made out of the same solid aluminium body that comes with all iFi amplifiers and dacs . Switches feels tactile, the way I remember how all my new iFi would . The B is detailed in orange letters to make reading of the text easier in an all black body . Everything else feels familiar to a S owner .
     
    _DSC6218-2.jpg       _DSC6219-2.jpg       _DSC6220-2.jpg
     

    SONICS
    I will be comparing them with my daily drivers , the RHA MA750i , which have been burnt in for over 800 hours , in which it now plays smooth and forgiving sound , leaning towards the warmer end of the spectrum . Interesting choice for a daily driver for someone who has owned the IE800 , Noble Savant , Beyer T90 ? I think so too , but I find them really reliable , and they never fail to impress on their scalability with power .

    The audio files used consists of 44.1 FLAC , PCM , Binaural and 192 FLACs .
     
    The thing I love about the iDSD is the versatility of  sound customizations , unlike all other decamps , the iDSD has 3 different power modes , turbo to drive high impedance headphones , down to the eco mode which drives sensitive IEMs . If eco is still too powerful , you could adjust the IEMatch at the bottom of the iDSD , which allows you to make micro adjustments of the supplied power , so even a 16 ohm IEM would not be left out . Leave your filter at bit perfect for the most musical experience . Polarity can be set at any you desire , I cannot seem to hear any audible difference with it being + or - . So , of all the previously mentioned settings , most of them could be left untouched if you plan to use the same IEM or headphone to pair with it . However , like our taste , our cravings change time to time , so the 3D Holographic switch and the XBass switch would meet just that . All in all , you would notice that you have 4 options to play with . both switch on , both switch off , only 3d on , only xbass on . iFi mentioned that they have changed not just the chips , but the switches have been improved as well , however , we’ll just be testing them with both switches on or both switches off on both units .
     
    With both settings switched off (3D Holographic & XBass)
    S – Provides a slight V shaped signature with nice moderate sized room soundstage , leaning towards the analytical sound , has more emphasis on treble , but still comfortable to listen to over extended period of time .
    B – Warmer, smoother overall sound, however, it is also more intimate due to the tighter soundstage, has less emphasis on the treble , and mids more apparent over the S version .

    With both settings switched on (3D Holographic & XBass)
    S- Beautifully open , instrumental separation becomes clear , treble is further emphasised and sub bass is recovered .
    B- Warmer , smoother , relaxed sounding . Treble not as emphasised .

    S PRO : Suitable for more analytical listening or with pairing with an iem or headphone that lacks In the treble department , S would greatly complement it and balance the spectrum .
    S CON : is slightly less pleasurable when compared to listening with B , Treble may be too bright when paired with bright IEMs .
     
    B PRO : Suitable for more pleasure listening , great for balancing with bright sounding , warm lacking IEMs .
    B CON : Sometimes too warm for bassy IEMs .

    DECISION
    I wouldn’t say which is better than another , as I feel they both are very different decamps to fill different needs , i think it would be a silly decision to discontinue S , as I feel that some people would be needing an S more than the B , vice versa .

    Q &A
    So , for people who already own the S , is it worth selling S to go for B ?
    Well you’ll need to see if majority of your headphones and IEMs becomes overly bright when paired with S , if so , I would strongly recommend you to give the B a try , and you’ll most probably like it from the way that it is tuned . It sounds almost like adding a valve tube.

    Would it be reasonable to own both?
    Yes of course , because they act as 2 completely polar decamp , they product almost different sound , owning both of them while you are still familiarlize with their features and buttons would come to great use when switching from one unit to another , based on the pairing of the headphones .
     
    If you do not own any of them and do not know which to get ?
    The answer for this would be to personally try them out if possible , head down to your local distributor and check if they have demo units for you to try out to see if it suits you . I am pretty sure at least one would suit your liking! If ordering online is your only option , you would have to ask yourself what does your IEM or headphone lacks . as S would bump the treble and B would bump the warmth .

    Why do you think they call it the black label ?
    Personally , I think that the name clashes with a whiskey , and coincidentally , it has a warm and relaxed sound , which is comfortable and pleasing at the same time . The word black may also infer that it is the darker sounding twin of the S series , which is brighter physically and sonically .

    CLOSING
    Thus far , I have tried B with a few new IEMs which I find interesting , such as the Audiotechica Live Sound series , which I feel only the LS200 is worth the money (your mileage may differ) , and the Audeze iSIne 20 which sounded wonderful with them . Over the remaining week I have to spend time with B , I’ll most probably bring it out to get plugged by jacks of different size and colour as much as possible :p
     
    And will update my pairing findings here .
    If there are any particular pairings you would like me to try it on your behalf , do comment down below and I will try my best to get them paired up in the days to come . As Singapore is such a small country , majority of IEMs and headphones are easily within reach , yes , even the JH Angels .
     
    ========================================================================================================================
    BLACK LABEL REVISIT REVIEW
    ========================================================================================================================

      Danzas123 and Pokemonn like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Koolpep
      Different implementation of the X-Bass. Did you upgrade them to FW 5.1? And which headphones are you using?
      Koolpep, Mar 13, 2016
    3. JUGA
      fostex TH-900. aste&kern t5p. beyerdynamic dt 770/250 Ohm. 
      in early batches (august 2015 - december 2015) of micro iDSD the X-Bass effect was strongly expressed. But not now. i try to understend.. it's not for me. it' for our customers (i work in Doctorhead.ru (Russia).
       
      JUGA, Mar 13, 2016
    4. Koolpep
      That is weird indeed - all these headphones should react just fine to X-Bass
      Koolpep, Mar 13, 2016
  4. MLGrado
    A great sounding Native DSD DAC with plentiful and innovative features
    Written by MLGrado
    Published Aug 14, 2014
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Crystal clear, lifelike audiophile sound, with a touch a warmth that is great for long listening sessions. TONS of power to drive any headphone.
    Cons - switches are a bit fragile. On both examples, back in 2014 and in 2017, one of them came flying off!
    It was around February of 2014 when I first read of iFi while skimming the Head-fi forums. I was looking for a DSD capable DAC in the sub $500 range to replace the first generation Audioquest Dragonfly serving my desktop listening needs. There was only a handful of options at the time, and my interest in DSP free DSD playback further limited the choice. Actually, my choice was made for me. The iFi iDSD nano was the only DAC I could find that fulfilled this requirement in my price bracket. The only problem was I knew nothing about iFi, and I was concerned by the incredibly low price. Surely the raw sound quality would be compromised at this price point. Then again, at a mere $189 there was little risk, so with a 'What the heck?' attitude I ordered one. And wow. Wow. Wow again.
     
    I am glad I took the risk of a blind buy. In addition to being impressed with the sound quality, I became equally impressed with the crew at iFi/ AMR. Their customer interaction and support is superb. And they are truly committed to their vision of Hi-Fi, which is unapologetically different than the hi-fi norm. In the end, they are committed to providing the best sound and most useful feature set for the dollar.
     
     
    It should come as no surprise, then, that I followed closely the crowd design of the iDSD Micro, and am among the first 512 owners. An 'Octa-Adopter.'
     
     
    OCTA-WHAT???
     
     
    'Octa' as in 8x DSD, or DSD512. Yes, this DAC will playback DSD rates up to 24.6 Mhz! This is the first example of such support in a consumer level product. It also supports PCM up to 768khz. Although I know of no content currently available at these high rates, upsampling to DSD512 is possible in software, and PCM 768 allows for DSD256 playback via DoP, which means ASIO is not required for playback at that rate. Although I am not as familiar with the state of Mac computer audio, I believe this may be the first time DSD256 is available on the Mac without a need for special driver software.
     
     
    A DIFFERENT KIND OF HI-FI
     
     
    I mentioned earlier that iFi doesn't follow the hi-fi norm. What does that mean? iFi believes in minimal DSP, and believes that one should be listening to as close to the source audio as possible. DSP's such as upsampling, volume control, format conversion, etc. create unavoidable mathematical losses. The more conversions, the greater the losses. The more changes to the source signal, the more likely the changes become audible. This may especially be the case with DSD. DSP such as filtering, sample rate conversion and volume control require conversion of the 1-bit bitstream to a multibit intermediary, and remodulation back to 1 bit.
     
    Therefore, the iDSD Micro uses a chipset that converts DSD to analog natively with no extra digital conversion or DSP. The 1 bit DSD signal is sent to an analog FIR filter for conversion. That's it! Also, the iDSD micro has a 'BitPerfect' filter option for PCM. This eliminates the oversampling reconstruction filter used in PCM conversion.
     
    So in a DAC loaded with features, simplicity characterizes the nature of the actual audio conversion. This matches my personal audio values.
     
     
    THE iFi EXPERIENCE
     
     
    Unboxing an iFi product is a treat! Packaging is reminiscent of that other "i" company.
     
    In the box you will find a plethora (hyperbole, of course) of quality adapters and cables. Which calls attention to the unique 'OTG' USB port on the back of the Micro. It is a unique port engineered for mobile convenience. To use it with a standard desktop USB cable, an adapter is required. Two versions of the adapter are included. The adapter I chose to use is cable-less. The other adapter has a very short cable between terminations. I chose the first adapter presuming higher quality, but the cabled version may be more convenient when space behind the DAC is a concern. The 'hard' adapter combined with my iFi Gemini cable requires several inches of clearance.  It is also an interesting little detail that the 'hard' adapter comes packed in an anti-static bag, like what you would expect to find enclosing delicate computer components.  Also, I think it is important to add that the included USB cables are OTG cables, so if you don't already have an expensive USB cable like the Gemini, I would suggest forgetting about the adapters and going with one of the included cables.
     
    This is all I will have to say about the adapters, mobile uses, battery, etc. I will leave that to others, as I use this iDSD exclusively in a desktop environment, and cannot adequately review mobile functionality.
     
    Build quality and appearance is typical iFi. The iDSD micro is well built but take care with the switches. They feel a little fragile, and as a matter of fact, I had some trouble with a sticky switch.  My over aggressive tugging, attempting to 'un-stick' it, caused the red 'Turbo' switch that controls amp output level to go flying off into the floor!! Fortunately it easily reattached, and works properly now.
     
     
    THE SOUND
     
     
    Now on to the good stuff! The sound! Crisp detailed highs, smooth upper mids, slightly warm lower mids and upper bass. Clean extension into the lows. Not too much bass; just about right. Does it deviate from neutral? That is something I am not sure I can answer. Tonal balance is the product of an entire system, and all I can tell you is how it sounds in mine, which is a custom built AMD PC running the latest Jriver Media Center software, iDSD micro, iFi iUSB power, iFi Gemini 'split' USB cable, and a modded USB cable eliminating the 5v line pre iUSB Power. The review headphones are Grado RS1i's.
     
    In comparison to the iDSD nano, the sound is the same tonally, but there is a notable increase in detail and dimensionality. On the Nano, audio images are wide, but slightly flat in comparison. The Micro has greater depth of soundstage. Never is the extra detail harsh, though. The micro is always delightfully smooth and listenable.
     
    DSD was the strong suit of the iDSD nano, and is improved in the Micro. I feel the greatest improvement, though, is with PCM material, especially using the BitPerfect filter. The promise of the Burr Brown DSD1793 segment DAC is realized more fully here. PCM sounds both silky smooth AND extremely detailed, like a hybrid of true PCM and Delta Sigma conversion, which is EXACTLY what the segment DAC is.
     
    For headphone use, which is how I exclusively use the iDSD, power is abundant and flexible. There are three settings, from Eco mode to 'Turbo' mode, which will tear paint off the walls with my Grados!!! Eco mode is already stronger than the headphone amp in the iDSD Nano, but I have settled on the middle 'Standard' mode for all my listening.
     
    The headroom it provides for the dynamic orchestral recordings that dominate my listening is welcome. This addresses the only other weakness of the iDSD Nano. The iDSD Micro has plenty of power, dynamic swing and driver control to keep up when the music gets loud and complex.
     
    I enjoy the 3D and XBass 'Analog Signal Processing'. The effect of both is subtle but notable. They never get in the way, and depending on soundtrack can really enhance the experience. For instance, the bass drum on orchestra recordings has deep authority with XBass turned on, and 3D mode really does widen the soundstage nicely, and puts the center image more 'out in front.' But I did notice that with 3D mode engaged, images on recordings I know well were placed too far to the edges for my liking, and overall imaging suffered. Instruments gain a greater sense of space, but lose their precise placement 'in space', so I do the majority of my listening with 3D mode disengaged.  XBass seems ESPECIALLY useful at lower to moderate listening levels, filling in the low end nicely.  At higher levels, or with music recorded with little dynamic range, the bass emphasis may be a bit much.  But as most of my listening is to very dynamic music with moderate average levels, I leave XBass engaged most of the time and do enjoy the effect.  Ultimately, results vary from soundtrack to soundtrack, though.
     
     
    IN CONCLUSION
     
     
    There are many more features included in this incredible product that I have not mentioned, but I believe I have covered everything that stands out to me after two days of listening. This is a special product, both in feature set and sound quality. Designed by a renowned audio engineer, with customized software and extreme functionality. Oh, and it sounds in a word, amazing. If you are looking to spend in the $500 to $1000 range, and maybe even more, you owe it to yourself to hear the iDSD micro.
     
    Highly recommended.  
     
     
     
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------
     

    ADDENDUM 

     
    I am back to review the iFi iDSD Micro Black Label Edition.  I was part of the tour group that was so lucky to receive a one week audition of the Black Label, simply abbreviated BL from here on.  Unfortunately, I cannot create a new review entry.  I am only allowed by the Head-Fi system to edit my existing review.  So here is an addendum with my impressions of the BL Edition.  
     
     
    Based on my observation of the posts here on Head-fi, it seems many people see the iDSD Micro as a 'jack of all trades' at its price; that is, a device that squeezes in so many features at the expense of some quality.  As if without all the many features and functions, more 'quality' could have been squeezed in.  Maybe.  It seems a logical assumption.   But iFi is very resourceful.  With their own software team and one extremely clever engineer at the helm, whose designs have long held considerable acclaim in the traditional audiophile world and the DIY audio community, they can get a LOT done for not a lot of money.  
    Features were not added in compromise of audio quality.  Actually, when iFi went to the 'crowd design' concept with the iDSD Micro, there was already a prototype design, which was of course scratched for the actual final crowd-designed product.   But in the end, perhaps the largest difference between the prototype and the final iDSD Micro was the increase in audio quality the higher price point afforded.  It wasn't just about the bells and whistles.  
     
    Yet, here we are more than two years later, and iFi has managed to squeeze even more audio quality out of the iDSD Micro with just a slight price increase.   And I say 'BRAVO'.  
     
     
    The increase in audio quality relative to price increase is impressive.  For not a lot more, you get the same fully featured product that NOW has just enough of a refined sound to truly go head to head with the dedicated desktop DAC's in what I consider the next major price bracket of $1000.  Not to mention how it stands up against other portables and head-amp/DAC combos.  
     
    So if the original iDSD is a 5 star product, and it still is, what is the BL?  5.5?  Yeah, something like that, if we could do such a thing.  
     
     
    So how does the BL differ from the original?  I would say in overall refinement.  Less grain.  A more airy, extended top end.  Oh, and the KILLER mid-range that just kept me coming back for more and more.  It is pretty amazing, actually.  I in many ways prefered the BL in my main head-fi system, in place of my Wyred4Sound DAC-1 LE Femto clock edition DAC, which is double the price!  Was the BL better?  No, it wasn't better.  But it was competitive, and did exceed in a few areas, like the aforementioned mid-range.  The mids take on a smooth, silky and full tube like presence, that never lacks for micro-dynamics or detail.  And I personally just love that kind of sound.  But don't stop reading if you don't.  For it gets balanced out by a more forward and lively presence region, and more treble 'air' as audiophiles like to say.  Bass?  Bass is well delineated, strong and full.  No complaints.  
     
    Another area where I feel the BL, and the original as well, exceeds the W4S DAC is with DSD material.  Well duh, one might say, since DSD is right there in the model name, so one can only assume that DSD is done extremely well.  And it is of course.  I must confess that I was at one time a DSD 'zealot'.   Not so much anymore.  I am more format agnostic these days.  Other factors are important, or even more important than the delivery format.  But, whatever that format is, I want my DAC to convert it in the best way possible.  
     
    The iDSD uses a FIR filter in the analog domain to convert the DSD signal.   The 1-bit DSD signal needs to be stripped of its square-wave high-frequency ultrasonic content to exit the DAC in a listenable format.  And that is really all it needs.  And that is all the iDSD does.  Relatively simple process, and it uses a moving-average filter that is just 8 bits long.  (8 bits in the time domain).  Which means as the sample rate increases, the time distortion of the filter lessens!  By the time you get up to DSD512, there is truly excellent time domain performance here, which is one of the oft stated advantages of 'native' DSD over PCM.  
     
    My W4S DAC uses the ESS chipset, whose highly knowledgeable and respected designers took a different approach.  They don't really tell us a lot about what they do to DSD, other than showing some response graphs that seem to show it isn't decimated all the way down to what we consider 'normal' PCM sample rates. (DXD and lower) We also know that the high frequency content of DSD is removed in the DIGITAL domain via AT LEAST an IIR filter, as opposed to analog ala iDSD and its Burr-Brown chip.  But in order for DSD to be filtered digitally, it has to be turned into a digital multi-bit format.  Absolutely has to be.  It has to be digital multi-bit for the volume control, and the ASRC too.  This is TYPICALLY accomplished within the architecture of a filter.  The result might be called 'DSD-wide', or 'PCM-narrow'.  Some would pass it off as true multi-bit delta-sigma, (especially those that sell ESS based DAC's with DSD as a major selling point) but I would disagree with that.  That would require a modulator.  Then again, the difference between multi-bit Delta Sigma and "Noise-Shaped low-bit-depth high-sample-rate PCM" might be semantics.  ANYWAY.  The point being, the ESS chipset requires more DSP and manipulation of the original DSD signal.  DSD is subjected to the filtering, then possibly volume control, sample rate conversion, and THEN is re-modulated into another Delta-Sigma format (the ESS Hyperstream converter) before being filtered again at the final output stage for conversion to analog.  It just seems to the layman like me more complex and involved (unnecessary?) than filtering to analog with an FIR filter realized in the analog domain.  
     
    And to my ears, this comes to fruition.  DSD sounds more natural via the iDSD, and what I consider its characteristic sound is distinguishable from PCM.  Via the W4S, though, DSD sounds, well, more processed. And very little different than PCM.  
     
    If you are a DSD lover, or if you have lots of DSD files such as myself, then you really are going to want the iDSD Nano, iDSD Micro, iDSD Micro BL, or something like it.  Say, the upcoming iDSD Pro?  :) :) :) Can't wait to hear THAT one!  
     
     
    In conclusion, I am VERY thankful for the chance to review the Black Label.  iFi is quite the company.  They are customer oriented, forward thinking, and create excellent products.  In all this they distinguish themselves from the rest of the very competitive industry.  
     
     
     
    iDSD Micro Black Label   5.5/5 stars  
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
      WNBC, Anjolie, Vartan and 3 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. WhiskeyJacks
      Is the IFI nano idsd still a good buy? or would say screw and jump right in the micro idsd at the difference in price?
      WhiskeyJacks, Sep 24, 2014
    3. tre9
      MLGRADO Is full of it. What a big LIAR
      tre9, Jan 22, 2016
    4. JUGA
      did the X-Bass function works?  if yes - can you here difference? we have 4 unit and in all 4 devices X-Bass das not works. There is no difference between switch off and switch on.
      JUGA, Mar 13, 2016
  5. emptymt
    Fun, Technical, Competent and Black Labelled
    Written by emptymt
    Published Mar 7, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Fun, excellent technicality and details, silent background, well-priced, well-built, clean clear sound, powerful, flexible, well implemented extra features, generous accessories.
    Cons - The carrying pouch is a dust magnet, transportable and hard to use on the go because of the size and long shape, not pocket able. Features can be overwhelming when you get into it.
    DISCLAIMER
    Hi everyone, Before I start the review, I would like to thank Ifi for making this DAC/AMP.
    This review is made by myself based on my observation and listening pleasure of The amp/dac on various gear that I have after about a bit over a month of ownership regardless of price points.

    I have no affiliation to Ifi in any way and everything said here is based on my experience over a week.
    The pricing in Australia is 799.95 AUD (About 620 USD, converted by Google, not official price), so the review will be made using that as the value.

    This Review will also touch on the difference between the micro and the nano, and whether it is worth it to get the micro over the nano.

    INTRODUCTION (If you read my other review, you can skip this)
    I'm an Indonesian working as a Web Developer in Melbourne, Australia.
    Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.
    When I start my headphone hobby, music listening has been a very rewarding experience for me and has helped me in many aspects of life other than music enjoyment, but, with the booming price of high end headphones/IEM, it has become a bit of a heavy hit on my wallet.

    Starting from almost 4 years ago I've been really hooked by metal music, and nowadays my everyday music listening always incorporate metal tracks, I guess you can call me a Metal-head.

    Other than that I also like Progressive Rock, Jazz, etc basically anything that is very technical and well made except classical, and no I don't really listen to modern music.

    Metal music is my primary focus, so this review will appeal more for people who likes Metal music like me and less so for people who likes modern music like Trap music, pop music, ed sheeran, Taylor Swift, etc.

    I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, lets say for example Classical, therefore it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like, and those are mainly:
    - Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind, like 80% off the time)
    - Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Riverside(rock/metal), Radiohead or something like it)
    - EDM (Mostly trance)
    - Jazz (Norah Jones, Diana Krall and the likes)
    - Folk (just start lately, but I've been listening to Fionn Regan and found it enjoyable)
    - Indonesian Song (it's basically the Indonesian version of pop, guitar used is mostly acoustic guitar, sounds natural and relaxing however, mastering of the song is usually poor, this is good to test how good a headphone/Iem handle poorly recorded material)
    - etc

    Genre's that I don't listen to, not even one bit, unless forced like in shopping center.
    - Rap
    - Classical
    - Bollywood stuff
    - Modern pop

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

    ARTIST/MUSIC USED IN THE REVIEW
    - Porcupine Tree
    - Be'lakor
    - Opeth
    - Shadow Gallery
    - Cynic
    - Lurker Of Chalice
    - Amorphis
    - Novembre

    PACKAGING
    Simple white box, containing the unit and 2 more white boxes inside containing USB cable and rubber bands for stacking, you will also find some documentation in there, simple and clean packaging.
    A lot of accessories is packaged in the box, neatly and well organized.

    box-up.jpg box-front.jpg

    ACCESSORIES
    - USB adapter (USB to USB-A)
    - Blue USB cable for digital input
    - 3.5mm to 1/4 inch adapter
    - RCA to RCA cable (Ifi Micro to your amp, unbalance in)
    - 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable (for stacking your DAC to the AMP section of the Micro)
    - Optical/Toslink adapter
    - USB-A Female to USB-B Female short adapter
    - Black carrying pouch case
    - 2 black rubber amp straps for "stacking"
    - Extra rubber feet (4, white in color)
    - Rubber insert mat for stacking (It will stay in between your device so that it doesn't rub each other and causes scratches)
    - Documentations and warranty

    acc.jpg

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

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

    PLAYBACK ABILITIES / SOUND ENHANCEMENT
    - MQA
    - DSD playback
    - XBass
    - 3D +

    BATTERY LIFE
    About 8 hours depending on loads

    BUILD QUALITY
    Excellent! Metal Chassis, with great Black Matte finish, screwed together nice and tight.
    Switches are great and tactile, volume pot with good resistance, USB and headphone Jacks have a secure feel to them when you connect your devices.

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

    SOUND QUALITY
    SOUND SIGNATURE

    It is quite neutral, with a little bit of boost and coloration in the bass department, so the bass has a lot of power and attack, however unlike the typical bass elevated signature, where the overall sound can have some lushness to it, this Micro is not like that at all, the amount of body is about straight in the middle of being thin and lush.

    The mids is slightly recessed especially the vocal and upper mid and Treble are about right in line with each other with about the same amount of emphasis and straight down the middle in the body department, I feel that it has a slight rise in the upper mids but nothing too major, due to this personality, the Micro has the benefit of being clinical without sounding sterile, where the details pop but still musical.

    BASS
    The Bass is powerful but tight, the attack are strong, and this combine with very fast blast beat in metal music makes for an excellent combination. The distinction of each hits are apparent, you can almost feel the physicality of the play and it is very engaging. I really like the bass interpretation of the Micro, it has the speed, attack and tightness that enables you to hear notes as fast as this with very minimal effort.

    The Bass is slightly boosted, I feel that it is a couple DB more than the mids and treble at any volume level, and this is without XBass, it is also slightly more forward to you, although not by much, so positioning is almost spot on for me.

    Despite the slight boost, it has never intrudes the mids at all, I think the tuning of the bass is spot on, it combines very well with the mids and treble, and when all spectrum is playing together in the music, nothing takes over, you can everything that is going on and gives the music cohesiveness.

    MIDS
    The mids is very natural sounding with some slight clinical tilt to it, listening to violin work of Ne Oblivisacris is a very enjoyable experience, It almost feel a little thin sounding, but not really so, to put it simply, it is just about right to hear all the intricacies before sounding thin while staying smooth.

    The mids is slightly more laid back as compared to the bass, but it is only slightly and does not sound recess at all, positioning is good, singer comes out about in the center stage, depending on the recording.

    Vocals are natural and is slightly relaxed in presentation, a bit behind the guitar I would say, Amorphis use both clean and harsh vocals in their music, and on the clean vocals side, it sounds clean and smooth, and dare I say a little sweetness in it, slightly mellow and syrupy to portray the emotion.
    When transitioning to the harsh vocals, it still remains smooth without harshness and the growl is powerful and guttural, portraying the rage and stronger more raw emotion in the music.

    When two singers sing together, I can hear the distinction very clearly and they don't cover each other up which says a lot about the resolving ability the unit has.

    When hearing string instruments, you can feel the string as it is being pluck by the player, there is a little "jolt" that can be heard and the sound transition naturally to the decay, the decay is quick but not abrupt, which means that the micro handles reverb very well.

    Talking about the guitar, it has an excellent amount of bites, and combines well with the layered sounding distortion, that at times sounds big and grand enveloping the atmosphere.
    The guitar tone is very natural both for electric and acoustic guitar, as a metal music fan, I'm a massive addict when it comes to electric guitar sound and I really enjoy the presentation that the Micro offers in this regard.

    TREBLE
    The treble is flat starting from the upper mid, which is a little behind the bass in emphasis, the rise start in the frequency where the guitar usually lives.

    After passing this region, it goes flat, maybe very slightly more so it can get a little bit exciting.
    This is quite similar as in the nano, but not as prominent and instead of dipping after the upper mid, the micro stays flat.

    Guitar Solo shines when it needs to be, trebly guitar has some sweetness into it and sounds very melodic without sounding thin and sharp, a lot of Melodic death metal music can benefits from this.
    Unlike the Nano, the treble is quite linear and is not tamed at the upper region, at least not as much to my ears. Cymbals and Hi-hats are heard clearly and is not in the background, it is not the sparkly type, so don't expect super sparkly treble here.

    I think going for the approach that they did in the bass and mids, this is an excellent decision, as we want to keep the general sound clean and fatigue free, too much tizz and spark can reduce haziness to the sound.
    If you are a treble addict, I feel that the 3D feature despite being marketed to increase soundstage actually did some trickery to the treble and makes the whole sound brighter, so you might want to try that.

    SOUND STAGE / SEPARATION
    Sound stage is about average for a unit at this price range, although this is a bit hard for me to test as all my headphone are not the best in sound stage, and I'm also not a big sound stage addict.

    The amount of width, height and depth is very close, so this is the #D spherical type as opposed to the nano which I think is more oval in shape.

    Regardless, Instrument separation is great, nothing overlap each other, they just do their own thing and play harmoniously.

    EXTRA FEATURES:
    We have a lot of these, just look at this switches everywhere:

    ifi-micro-bl-bot.jpg ifi-micro-bl-left.jpg ifi-micro-bl-front.jpg

    IEMatch (Off, High Sensitivity, Ultra sensitivity)
    I didn't play around with this much, I did try the High sensitivity and the off one, I feel some differences in the blackness of the background just like I did in the nano, I leave this on almost all the time.

    When going from High to ultra, after volume matching by ears, I feel that there is no difference whatsoever, if there is any it would be too small for me to catch with my current gears as I'm not an IEM user.

    XBass + (Off, On)
    Does it work? Yes!, Does it work Well? also yes.
    I think it mostly does the work on the sub-bass as I feel the kick and rumble of the music much more when I have this on.

    I think this feature works very well, although I would like one more level between on and off as I feel that the strong can be a bit on the strong side when left on all the time.
    I'm not a bass addict and mostly content with the bass I get from the off set up.

    However the implementation of this feature is excellent, I heard nothing weird going on in the bass while having this on, no distortion, no boominess and no softness to it.
    The attack still remain strong just with more weight and loudness to it.

    This feature is also really useful for playing games and movies, when you turn it on the sound of explosion, gunshot just becomes more powerful and more exhilarating.
    I think the XBass is the most useful feature out of all the features the unit has.

    3D + (Off, On)
    Does it work? Yes!, Does it work well? depends.
    This is where it can be a little experimental, I found that they approach this by doing something to the treble, which makes the presentation sound more lively and has a bigger scope of view.

    For comparisons sake, we will using a clock as our 360 degree point of view:
    When listening to Lighbulb sun from Porcupine tree, the guitar sounds like it's coming from the left around 10.30 in direction, with the 3D on, it sounds like it's coming from 9.30 in direction, plus the treble becomes more lively and brighter. I found that in the lightbulb sun record, it works quite well.

    However when I play some Opeth or other metal songs, maybe due to the guitar distortion having a lot of distortion already, the brightness and extra liveliness makes the guitar sounds artificial, as it now sounds too distorted, it loses the cohesiveness and just doesn't sound good at all to me, at least for Metal.

    I mostly have this feature off due to my music preference being mostly metal in this review, but I think if you listen to a lot of rock music, you might want to try this.

    Extra notes on XBass & 3D (+ some analysis for use case):
    Turning this on will skew the tonal balance as you may already know, but the amount changes depending on your listening level.

    For example if you are allow level listener, I feel that the amount of boost that the XBass adds to the bass is most likely a fixed number, let's say + 6db.
    This means that it will always add 6db regardless of your volume, for example:
    You listen to music at 60db, + XBass + 6 db, so the bass boost is 10% in decibel
    You listen to music at 80db, + XBass + 6 db, so the bass boost is 7.5% in decibel (you get less boost in percentage compared to 60db volume listening level)

    Bottom line is, you get more bass boost at low volume level, and don't forget that decibel is a logarithmic measurement, 1db increase means 10 times louder in sound.
    Similar thing could apply to the 3D Natrix, although I think that they work in a different way.

    This is actually quite common in other portable amplifier as well, as they usually add a fixed amount to increase the intended frequency, usually the bass.

    *notes:
    If some has a better understanding on this than me, feel free to enlighten me in the comments, this is just my observation, I could be wrong.


    Power Mode (Turbo, Normal, Eco)
    This sets how much power the unit use on default, lets say if you use IEMs you may need to go with eco mode, as the ifi documentation say:
    "Tip: With a new pair of IEMs/Headphones, ALWAYS start
    with the volume no higher than 9 o' clock and with the
    Power Mode set to ‘Eco’"
    I mostly use the unit in normal power mode.

    Polarity (-, +)
    I had no idea about this one, I assume it might have something to do with the dynamic transition, I had it on all the time.

    Filter (Standard, Minimum Phase, Bit Perfect)
    I had it in bit perfect phase all the time, as most of my music is PCM, according to iFi:
    "Tip: For PCM we recommend ‘Bit-Perfect’ for listening and
    ‘Standard’ for measurements. For DSD, select
    Extreme/Extended/Standard to find the one that sounds
    best for listening and ‘Standard Range’ for
    measurements."

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

    COMPARISONS
    Fiio X7 II

    The Fiio X7 II is a good little unit, it is a DAP that I'm currently using on the go now as I grew tired of stacking.
    The X7 II I feel has a more neutral sound signature, the mids is a little more forward than the BL, where it is slightly recessed.

    However after using both units, I'm confident to say that the Ifi Micro beats the X7 II in power and dynamic, the bass has a stronger attack and treble more defined.

    Other than that I also feel that they have a different sound stage, I feel the Micro is more spherical compared to the X7 II, cohesiveness is really close, both are cohesive all the way through the frequencies, where the sound just envelop around you.

    The question is, is the BL strong enough to make me give up the X7 II?
    the answer is no, the X7 II just have way more functionality for an all in one device, no stacking around with cable, can act as transport, and the sound is really closely match.

    Chord Mojo
    I used to own one, and back in the day the chord mojo and the ifi Micro has a fierce rivalry!

    I have sold my chord mojo probably last year, so I can't do a direct comparison on it, however the iFi micro BL has a different sound signature and feel from the mojo, the mojo was warmish and more lush, details are there but due to it's sound signature, the mojo can sound less detailed compared to the BL, I personally like the BL better, the mojo wins hands down with portability though, the BL is transportable but too bulky too use while on the move.

    The BL to me just sounds cleaner and details pop a little bit better, soundstage is slightly bigger and sounds more cohesive.

    iFi Nano BL
    The nano is more geared and focused on music enjoyment that is fatigue free.

    Due to this the the treble is more subdued compared to the Micro, where it can gat a bit exciting at times.
    Both are smooth at the top, however one has more emphasis is brighter than the other, if you are very sensitive to treble, you may want to test the Micro before buying the unit.

    For long hours use, it might be safer to get the nano if you are unsure about the Micro's treble.
    Details, clarity, cohesiveness and bass tightness is superior on the Micro, the bass attack, mids naturalness has some upgrades too but not significant.

    POWER OUTPUT / HEADPHONE PAIRING
    This unit is extremely flexible, I have no doubt that it is powerful enough to power through everything from IEM to full sized, except maybe the HE-6, which I don't have so I can't test this for sure.

    Meze 99 Classic
    My on the go set up. I'm still using the small pads on my meze 99 classic as I think the bigger pads has more bass.
    Good strong dynamic, with clear mids and controlled treble, bass attack is strong and punchy with good speed, it synergize well with the BL.

    ifi-v281-meze99.jpg

    Focal Utopia
    My main gear at home, the BL powers it up perfectly, unlike the Nano BL where I can feel that my Utopia is not performing at its max, the Micro BL certainly brings out the potential of the headphone.
    Cohesiveness and details are the strong point in this set up, you just hear everything in the music, from the guitar plucks, violin strokes, voice vibration, absolutely lots of information you can hear with this combo!

    ifi-v281-utopia.jpg

    Shozy Stardust
    Clear sweet unoffensive sound with controlled treble and excellent bass for a small earbud, for a super lazy set up this works pretty well.
    I mostly use this to watch movies, play games etc.

    ifi-stardust.jpg

    AS DAC
    When used with my V281, along with my focal Utopia, The BL did an excellent job, the Violectric HPA V281 just takes cohesiveness, separation and attack to the next level, my utopia sounds very dynamic and smooth.
    More natural sounding mid that sounds vivid and personal.
    Treble sounds more refined, and controlled, very enjoyable to listen to.

    Sound signature is very similar to using the BL asa standalone, this leads me to believe that the amp section of the BL is quite transparent.

    ifi-v281.jpg

    CONCLUSIONS
    The Ifi Micro iDSD BL is an excellent unit, the main duty for this product for me is as transportable, you can leave the unit at your office at work and just use it everyday while doing some productivity work.

    The sound quality for the price range is excellent, it has a lot of features which can be overkill sometimes, but you don't need to use it!

    Battery life is good and accessories are pretty generous.
    Pricing is good, considering all those extras above and it's performance, I found it well justified.
    4.5 Stars
  6. analogsurviver
    Coming of age - original Micro iDSD vs Micro iDSD Black Label
    Written by analogsurviver
    Published Apr 14, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound Quality - particularly in DSD, the best portable battery operated amplifier for AKG K-1000, Swiss Army Knife of digital audio
    Cons - Silence/fade in around 2 seconds at the start , (TRANS)portability, unable of sustained operation with AKG K-1000, settings prone to accidental switch
    I would like to thank ifi Audio for allowing me to test the Micro iDSD Black Label in frame of the EU BL tour - and particularly to Hoomairah for his prompt communication troughout the process .
     
    This is my take on the iFi Audio Micro BL review.  It is not the first iFi Audio product I am familiar with, being preceeded by iFi  nano iDSD and iFi Micro iDSD. I have tried not to read the reviews of oth
    er members on the BL tour in order to produce as idividual review as possible; if there is any covering the gounds already done by others, I apologize – but hope you will find some information not available elsewhere useful.
     
    First, a few words about myself. I am a leftover  from  times when analog  record was the only show in town – and CD never really did happen for me. It was only when DSD became more available that I became interested in digital/computer audio.  And you have to take into account that I do find  odd  quite a few words, that although written and spoken in English exactly the same, mean entirely different things in my world and that generally accepted on head-fi.  Headamp is for most of you a headphone amplifier – and in my Time/World it means an active ultra low noise amplifier for moving coil phono catridges.  Also the term subbass means another frequeny range for us old timers than for younger head-fi talk – etc, etc. And - I am not a native english speaker.
     
    And last, but certainly not the least important – I am a free lance recording engineer,  specializing in acoustic , particularly  vocal/choir music.
     
    Micro BL is externally exactly the same as its original predecessor – save for colour and a few stencils on the bottom of the unit, hinting at the differences from the original.
     
    IMG_20170409_205046.jpg
     
    IMG_20170409_205053.jpg
     
     
    IMG_20170409_205113.jpg
     
    IMG_20170409_205144.jpg
     
    IMG_20170409_205625.jpg
     
    IMG_20170409_205628.jpg
     
    IMG_20170409_205642.jpg
     
    IMG_20170409_205841.jpg
     
    IMG_20170409_205935.jpg
     
    IMG_20170409_210040.jpg
     
     
     
     I am the kind of guy who is willing to go to another part of town or prepared to order online and wait for a considerable time – if that extra effort would bring me some highly contrasting colored USB cables, for example – since a salad of black cables for everything,  when time is at premium (one can count when doing live recording things WILL crop up to force one to use minimum time/effort for setting up the recording system ) is a recipe for disaster. This is my way of saying why having a matt black case and gloss black lettering  is not exactly my cup of tea – it is impossible to read in anything but perfect lighting conditions, which are next to impossible in real world. As an anecdote – musicians often ask me - FOR REAL - which is the the right and left side on the – Philips SHP-9500 …
     
    post-32878-0-59108000-1378207120.jpg
     
     
    The volume control knob also falls into the »invisible« category – IIRC in the thread on BL  I did notice a few interesting propositions for ameliorating the situation. If the BL wasn't a loan from the manufacturer, I would odopt one of them in a heatbeat.
     
    I do agree the BL most probably appeals to more people with its classy matt black with orange and gloss black lettering better than more plain silver with black lettering original.  
    Functionality is exactly the same for both.  That means it is (trans)portable, not something most people will be able to squeeze in a pocket.  Home/desktop audiophiles might well  find out their RCA cables/connectors are simply of too large diameter to fit to the micro – PLEASE do not discard it for such minor annoyance.
     
    Micro is perhaps the closest approximation of the Swiss Army Knife in digital audio. It is both a DAC and headphone amplifier, but can be used as either DAC only trough preamp output ( bypassing most of the controls, most notably the volume control ), only as a headphone amplifier with analog input via 3,5 mm TRS jack – or combination of the two. It has three Power Levels and three settings for the headphone sensitivity – covering any likely dynamic pair of headphones in existance, from ultra sensitive IEMs  to the hardest to drive »headphones« ( better term for it would be earspeakers ) , the AKG K-1000. It is the most powerful portable headphone amplifier available – the only headphone that it can not drive to the full loudness is the already mentioned AKG K-1000.
     
    I do have a criticism regarding handling of the micro – concerning its switches for Power Mode, Polarity, Filter and iEMatch ; they can be too easily unintentionally changed. By merely placing on a cloth covered table, on the loan unit which has not been fitted with the silicone rubber »feet«, the iEMatch switch can easily be toggled to another setting, for example.  To me it happened while using the K-1000; as from the settings required for the K-1000 ( everything full gas … ) it is only possible to go down in output level, it was a minor annoyance and a few a bit more hairy moments before I found what had happened for the sound to suddenly become very very faint. With a more sensitive headphones or IEMs, if it happens going in the opposite direction, from lower to higher output, it could result in an unpleasent shock to the ears and in worst case permanent headphone/IEM damage could result.
     
    Having been familiar with iFi DSD capable DACs from the nano onwards, I was less than impressed that each consequent firmware update resulted in fade in of some time ( 0.5- 2 seconds, sometimes preceded with few seconds of complete silence ) – only the original nano with the first firmware version did play immediately after clicking the file. This is OK for most home users, as it prevents sudden loud burst of sound; but it is a no go during mastering, as any delay is most unwelcome.
     
    Its DAC section will play anything you are likely to obtain – NATIVELY - now, as well as in the future.  There are no commercially available recordings in DSD512 or DXD 768/32 that I am aware of – formats micro is capable of playing back today.
     
    I do not own measuring equipment beyond signal generator and analogue 100 MHz oscilloscope. I do not subscribe to the notion that measuring to 20 kHz, which is quite possible using various PC software, is nearly enough. Some software I am familiar with go up to working with 192/24, allowing to display results appox to 96 kHz – still not enough in my opinion. Micro, either original or BL, perfoms well in excess of 20 kHz – so all I could realistically do was to take a few pictures of micro(s) playing back square waves on an oscilloscope at various frequencies and recorded at various PCM and DSD settings. In addition, there is a video of a "manual sine sweep", recorded from 10 kHz up to the upper limit, which very clearly shows the difference PCM vs DSD.
     
    But it is the listening that proved to be, at the same time, the most interesting and hard to do.  I borrowed an original Micro from a friend – as well as comparing the BL to my modified Korg MR-1000 recorder.
     
    One thing that does impede the exatness of listening – setting both device A and device B to the same level, within 0.2 dB or better – is the tracking of the Micro volume potentiometers.  The original Micro sample at hand has an abysmal tracking at low levels – unusable. The BL version fared appreciably better in this regard. But both the original and BL show small, but audible differences in volume between the two channels, at anything but fully advanced setting. This proved to be quite a problem when trying to adjust  the very same output at 1kHz reference tone at -20 dB – in order to match that from Korg MR-1000 recorder, which does not have an output level control. One has to go trough the driver ( which involves micro's potentiometer ) in order to arrive close to the output from MR-1000. The L-R difference displayed by either of the Micro at the setting required can be enough to compromise the listening – showing an error of about + or - 0.2 to 0.5 dB .
     
    The original Micro, as good as it is, proved to be no match for the SQ coming from by me modified MR-1000. The BL, with all the right changes made in the right places, should fare better – and that was the initial attraction for me to apply for the Tour.
     
    I did compare my mod of MR-1000 to the BL on large speakers. With my friend, we tried to equalise the playback levels at 1kHz at -20dBDb  best we could  BY EAR ( due to the potentiometer problem mentioned above ) – volume control of the actual playback being controlled trough another preamp, making the conditions  the same for any given device or recording. Both me and my friend agreed there never before there was so minuscule difference between two devices – yet, the BL was a wee bit more decisive, had a tiny bit more dynamic  slam and displayed a tiny fraction more control during loud climaxes – with the MR-1000 countering by a wee bit more defined very low level portions of the music, particularly in the decay . As mentioned above, either of the two consistent observations might be affected by the fact that perfect volume matching was not possible due to potentiometer tracking in micro BL. I would call it a draw – but you have to consider the modified MR-1000 is »my« baby - and BL is a challenger, so I "might" be a bit biased.
     
    I did also demo the BL for another friend. First, against his present DAC, trough micro BL preamp output, using mainly ripped CDs from his server as a source. We did not pay much attention to the levels, as the difference was quite audible . He – and his wife – described the BL as more »bright« and »analitycal« - but in a positive way. At very first, they commented BL does not have as much deep bass as their DAC. At that time, I introduced some well recorded files >> 44.1kHz/16 bit – silent asking in my friend's wife eyes to stop shelling their apartment ( as well as their neighbours' …) with all things bass plus the remark »..I was not aware my speakers were capable of such bass…« by my friend is all that was needed to dispell BL »having not so strong bass«. BL does not have overblown bass, but if and when it is present in the recording – you will hear it in all its authority, provided the rest of the equipment can reproduce it in the first place.
     
    The second part of the demo – intentionally left for the end – was BL playing my binaural master DSD128 recordings trough the AKG K-1000. Neither my friend nor his wife have never even seen the K-1000 before – let alone listen to binaural recorded in DSD128 played trough it. I limited this to three pieces running together for approx 18-19 minutes – which means either of the pair stopped doing anything else for the duration during his/her turn.  Tapping their feet, nodding in rhytm of the music with head, etc – I let them fully savour the moment of this musical bliss. Two VERY hapy faces and lots of enthusiastic comments resulted – should the BL be anything less than it is, this demo would not have such good results.
     
    A word regarding the ultimate SPL capability of the original micro and micro BL when driving the AKG K-1000 is in order. Depending on music, there will be from 1 to anything up to say 6-7 dB less output than required to correctly play back an unccompressed recording. When pushed beyond its capability – which WILL occur when driving K-1000 – the resulting clipping is anything but pleasent and benign. As it happens exactly in the region where monitoring of a recording HAS to be flawless ( around peaks, that is to say around – 5 or so dBFS and above  ), this unfortunately rules micro out for such a use with AKG K-1000. There is a small increase in output power with the BL compared to the original, but it is academic  in practice. Consider an analogy with a racing car; the ultimate speed to be attained is 300 km/h +, original peaking at approx. 160 km/h and BL at approx. 180 km/h – but both handle superbly up to their maximum.  All it takes to exceed this limit is say a lieder recital ( female  singer + piano ) – from an uncompressed recording or live microphone feed. Most of the commercially available ( usually compressed, even classical on audiophile labels ) recordings can be enjoyed on K-1000 while being driven by the BL  - if some attention is paid to really carefully establish the playback levels.
    As a portable amp for the K-1000, BL stands alone.
     
    When driving the K-1000, a remark on the consumption/playback endurance is in order. Immediately after receiving the BL, I put it trough its paces – with few entire recently  binaurally recorded concerts. Fankly, I lost the tracking of time, listening from around 10 PM trough »something« AM, approaching wee hours – with the sound suddenly shutting off. The BL has not been showing any signs of life – not even the blue LED indicating charging was active. It took some 15 or so minutes while being attached to USB before the blue LED came on again, followed by a lenghty period till it was charged again – more than 8 hours. Clearly, the micro can not  charge its battery via USB 2.0 fast enough to prevent it from being totally drained when driving the K-1000 – something of importance to anyone requiring an amplifier for sustained work/listening with K-1000. For those who have not experienced anything close to shutdown of BL; when the battery is dischargd deep enough, it will still play, but the LED would quit shining in accordance to the file being played and start intermittently in blue and red – indicating charging is requied prior to further use. If you persist beyond this point, it will shut itself down – to prevent discharging the Li-Ion battery below the voltage value which always has destruction of the battery as a consequence. This has been confirmed by ifi's Hoomairah, the man responsible for the EU part of the BL tour – who has performed »above and beyond the call of duty« troughout my time with BL. The exact time this will happen with BL and K-1000 depends on music being played – all it is 100% it can not be round the clock. USB 3.0 also can not charge fast enough from this happening, but  should ultimately prolong the endurance of the BL with K-1000.
     
    OK, now the »chore« - original Micro vs BL. Listening using AKG K-1000. Having heard and seen ( on the oscilloscope ) the consequences of the »potentiometer blues«, I figured out the best option is to use both in driver mode, with potentiometer  fully advanced, IEM sensitivity off, Power Mode Turbo,  filter set to bit-perfect  ( filter setting is acting – besides filtering – also as a hidden form of volume/gain control when playing back DSD files – see some photos below  ) , with both Micros powered on prior to connecting to USB – which means operating off internal battery. This time, I measured/matched the output using oscilloscope ; both the original and BL were within the scope trace width , matched to <<<0.2 dB. I could do the switch by phisically removing USB cable and headphone jack from original  and attaching to BL – and vice versa, while maintaining all the settings exactly equal. Please DO stop the playback while inserting or removing the 6,5 mm headphone jack while in »full gas« mode – I do not know how well the BL can tolerate the  short circuit removing and inserting headphone jack creates at its full blast and how well it is protected from this – and learning the hard way is not the best option.  I am well aware this is not a true AB(X) comparison, but was the best I could do at the time. I have tried to »assign« the original micro to one Zone in JRMC, the BL to another , in order to eliminate the need to phisically switch the USB connection. No go; Zones in JRMC need to play different  things, like audio in Zone A, video in Zone B; or PCM ( .wav ) in Zone A, DSD (.dff ) in Zone B ( and similar distinctions ) – while I wanted to compare two (to computer at least ) exactly same DACs , playing the same file of the same type in two different Zones, using the same type of driver for both. Even going ASIO for one Zone and WASAPI for another Zone ( and playing DSD via DoP) was considered as sufficiently different – so I did not proceed in this direction.
     
    Yes, it would be nice to have two PCs of the same type, configured EXACTLY the same, each connected to respective micro, output of both would then go to the only decent commercially available ABX comparator  
    http://www.avahifi.com/products/accessories/abx-comparator-switchbox
    – to  satisfy even the hard core objectivist crowd regarding proper double blind ABX procedure. Provided the piggybank  allowed  for  it …
     
    OK, how do then compare the original and BL under the conditions described above ? The difference is clear – an very consistent. It does not wander »one is better at X and another countering by being better at Y«. The BL has much better defined bass, slightly but decidedly better differentiated treble, better dynamics and overall much more effortless clarity - across the board.
     
    I will try to elaborate on the above. Original Micro is much like the picture of a product from the OEM – with the dealer's watermark over it. You get to see what the dealer is offering, while finest details of the original picture are not accessible. BL removes much – if not all ? – of this »watemark«. The biggest achievement of BL over the original is its ability to much more clearly differentiate the noise from the signal. This concept should be more familiar to music lovers who are coming more from the analogue side of audio than to those who grew up with CDs. But although the mechanisms behind what we perceive as noise in both analogue and digital are different, the audible results are pretty much similar.
     
    Best analogue gear can not make the noise of the  records to go away – but it CAN differentiate this noise  from the music so well it no longer is perceived as indistinguishable part of the music – but something unrelated to music and thus easier »avoided« - leading to much more believable reproduction.
     
    The BL does similar. Although the digital portion of the BL ha salso been upgraded,  the lion's share of impovement in BL compared to the original lies in the use of better parts in its ANALOGUE section - particularly the capacitors, both in signal path and power supply.
     
    These differences are rather subtle ; most easily and first is heard better, more »powerful, impactful« ( i know, it is strictly subjective comment ) bass, and tinier details like keys on a keybod of an accordion, valves on a clarinet, rosin of the strings, inhaleing of the singers at the start of the song, slight noises of the »handing« an acoustic  guitar, pedal action in harp or piano,  audience made noise ( reading programme sheets, changing the position on their chairs or benches, etc ), outside traffic, etc – that do not get lumped into a constant »static« noise - all add up to the higher realism BL is capable of with quality recordings.  The level at which the music is still clearly intelligible is quite much lower with BL than with the original – always a sign of a superior device.
     
    Now, I did not use »night and day difference« terms to describe original vs BL. That would be an exageration – and unfair. Yet, there is no denying BL is an »original coming of age«. The differences might not be striking on strict ABX -  but listening to say an entire concert on original and then on BL would bring the smile to the listener's face – while the opposite, first BL and then original, would remove it …
     
    A word about the files used for the review. I am very DSD oriented – and, when push came to shove, used my own DSD masters. There are sites where you can download free DSD (and other PCM/DXD hi-rez ) samples, like 2L, nativedsd.com, blue coast records, etc.  
    http://www.2l.no/hires/
    https://www.nativedsd.com/
    http://bluecoastrecords.com/
     
     
    Mea culpa - for all practical purposes, I did not listen to RBCD 44.1 kHz 16 bit critically. Checking how my own DSD masters sound with BL took the better of me.
     
    Since most of the improvement of the BL lies in its analogue part, I also used ( beter recorded ) MP3s, AIFFs and the like :
     
    I also recently became aware of a very interesting audiophile label : 
    http://chasingthedragon.co.uk/
    You can also download 30 sec MP3 samples from their sampler here 
    http://www.elusivedisc.com/Chasing-the-Dragon-Audiophile-Recordings-Import-Test-CD/productinfo/CTDCDI007/
     
    One of my  - if not THE - favourite recording engineers is Ken Kreisel : http://www.kreiselsound.com/downloads_1.php
     
    One recording used for naturalness and particularly bass extension and dynamics was this : http://www.analogplanet.com/content/how-does-28000-sat-pick-arm-sound#MVsCXdVRHhzZcFDi.97
     
     – as well as going straight into the analog input, bypassing all »digititis« altogether - using analogue records/turntable as a source. Much the same kind of difference(s) as described above…
     
    I also used Philips SHP-9500 for some listening . BL is more than powerful enough to drive these well beyond any reasonable listening level – and was used to great effect with large symphonic pieces, which require more juice in the bottom than AKG K-1000 is capable of – regardless of the amplifier driveng them. BL/SHP-9500 produced almost tactile bass – as far as something strapped to one's head without physical sense of bass vibration of live music  or speakers can convey.
     
    I also checked for noise/hiss with few IEMs – nothing bad to report on this count  either.
     
    You will notice no mention of 3D and/or Xbass functions.  I did try these two  - briefly – on the BL, noting that 3D is sometimes, but rarely, beneficial on some of my recordings meant for speakers.
    It is most detrimental for binaural recordings.  Xbass I have tried with some IEMs – but not long enough to comment  anything  but  that it »works«. I did not compare the same functions with the original micro. Here one song I adore - and does benefit from using X-Bass  with K-1000 - but using original Micro : 
     
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6YKJX-dXIM
     
    About the Polarity switch : definitely useful - but only with a recording that does pay meticulous attention to phase concerns troughout the whole process. You will not only hear the difference, but also be able to tell which polarity is the correct one. The problem in real world is that various electronic devices in the chain from microphone to loudspeaker or headphone can invert the phase 180 degees - and series connection of number of inverting devices can result the end output is either in phase with the original or inverted - depending whether there is odd or even number of inverting devices in the chain. These phase cues are most likely to be captured properly using simple microphone recording techniques - and the least likely using multimiking. With most multimiking recordings, it is next to impossible to hear the effects and/or correctness of the polarity ( or absolute phase , if you prefer to call it that way ) - it has been usually scrambled beyond recognition. To get grasp how the polarity inversion affects the sound, I recommend a decent binaural recording to start with - as it is the simplest and best way to demonstrate the audibility of the difference. 
     
    Finally, I have recorded photos of the two micros playing exactly the same signals trough preamp (bypassing the volue control etc ) . I apologize for the rather poor picture quality, but I am anything but a photographer - this was made on a phone. As, for all practical purposes, the photos of the original and BL Micro playing test signals look the same, I have included only the BL.
     
    I found that in PCM, iFi iDSD family, original nano, original micro and micro BL intoduces phase difference between the channels, left leading the right – to the point one signal aleady being at full volume while the other still being silent – the lag is about the equal of the entire rise/fall time .I have tried various software players with iFi DACs – foobar2000, JRMC, Korg Audiogete 2/3/4 – to no avail. The lag of the right versus the left channel remained constant, regardless of the software used. 
     
    As you can see, there is zero phase difference between the two channels  for DSD files – in any DAC, using any software player.
     
    These signals have been recorded from signal generator ( trough Y splitter , so that exactly the same analog signal has been presented to the L &R inputs of Korg recorder(s))  to Korg MR series of recorders – and when played back from Korg MR series  of recorders, there is no phase difference between the two channels, even for the MP3 192kbps recording (available on MR-1 only ).
     
    I wanted to present as challenging and »real world« signals – and chose to display the results of approx 3 kHz square wave ( I coud use a frequency counter … ) at about -12 dBFS ( I could use better potentiometer … ). This amplitude level is great also for showing the difference among PCM and DSD – as well as differences for various sampling frequencies in either. These are real world signals, not theorethically arrived at by computer – but something  that actually makes MUSIC recordings that can be listened to. For the pros and cons of PCM vs DSD etc , if interested, we can take that topic to Sound Science forum – here is only my honest report on findings on micro BL.
     
    Troughout the photos,
     
    upper trace represents the LEFT
     
    and lower trace represents the RIGHT channel 
     
    1. Micro BL - IEMatch off_minimum phase_normal_direct : Foobar2000 
     
    a) 48kHz 16 bit
     
    IMG_20170410_125527.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_125542.jpg
    R channel inverted on the oscilloscope
     
    IMG_20170410_125607.jpg
    L ch, R ch inverted and their difference signal
     
    IMG_20170410_125612.jpg
    difference signal 
     
     
    THE CAPTIONS BELOW FOLLOW THE PATTERN OF THE ABOVE CASE OF 48kHz 16 bit ( with an exception here or there , mainly due to my photographic "skills " ... )
     
    b ) 88.2 kHz 24 bit
     
    IMG_20170410_130322.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130336.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130351.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130402.jpg
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    c )  96kHz 24bit
     
    IMG_20170410_130511.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130533.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130551.jpg
     
    d ) 176.4 kHz 24bit
     
    IMG_20170410_130721.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130812.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130823.jpg
     
    e ) 192 kHz 24 bit
     
    IMG_20170410_130926.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_131010.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_131027.jpg
     
    f ) DSD64
     
    IMG_20170410_125830.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_125855.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_125903.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_125927.jpg
     
     
    g ) DSD128
     
    IMG_20170410_130121.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130048.jpg
     
    IMG_20170410_130219.jpg
     
    h )  manual triangle sweep 10 kHz and up>; 176.4 kHz 24 bit video ( to be uploaded at a late date - first have to set up my YT channel ... ) - so here only the one picture at approx 10 kHz taken :
     
    IMG_20170410_132258.jpg
    Lch, Rch inverted, difference signal
     
    i ) sweep from 10 kHz up, ,  but DSD128 ( frankly, can not remember at which frequency and/or whether this was sine or triangle sweep - but there is never any phase lag between the channels and no difference signal ( save for the inherent DSD ultrasonic noise ), at any frequency up to the upper limit, which is > 100 kHz .
     
    IMG_20170410_131526.jpg
    Lch, Rch inverted, difference signal
     
     
     
    2. Influence of filter settings on DSD playback - they also influence the amplitude of the signal. Please note if you compare filtering with DSD files, you have to make sure they are compared at exactly the same output level - or "louder is better" will be inevitable but false result. The signal here is approx 1 kHz around 0dBFS, large signal. The settings on the oscilloscope remained constant troughout this test, differences in gain can easily be calculated from these photos, from lowest of bit perfect setting to highest gain of standard setting there is almost double or slightly below 6 dB difference in level.
     
    a ) bit perfect
     
    DSD64
    IMG_20170410_144327.jpg
     
     
    DSD128
    IMG_20170410_144422.jpg
     
     
    b) minimum phase
     
    DSD64
    IMG_20170410_144554.jpg
     
     
    DSD128
    IMG_20170410_144707.jpg
     
     
    c ) standard
     
    DSD64
    IMG_20170410_144848.jpg
     
     
    DSD128
    IMG_20170410_144947.jpg
     
    I had to return the BL prior I was able to take "all" the oscilloscope pictures,  but since there was no or next to no difference to be seen compared to original micro, I will upload some of the more interesting ones at a later date. 
     
     
    The Verdict : iFi Audio Micro iDSD BL is a device coming of age. It is more than competitive in today's market  and its price/performance ratio is very high indeed . Exactly which of many, many features appeal to any prospective buyer and how valuable they are to an individual is for anyone to decide for his/herself. There probably are better products, at considerably higher prices – but nothing can challenge the BL at the presnt price as a complete portable package with support for all the formats likely yet  to hit the market  ( with the notable exception of the MQA ) and all dynamic driver headphones - well into the future.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. rolli1949
      rolli1949, Apr 16, 2017
    3. earfonia
      Good review! I never noticed of the phase issue during my review of the BL. One day I will check my Silver iDSD. Thanks!
      earfonia, Apr 24, 2017
    4. analogsurviver
      Thank you for your kind comment.  I congratulate you on your excellent review !
       
      This phase issue in BL and original micro and nano when dealing with PCM over USB has prompted me to check all my "digititis" - CD players, CD-R recorders, internal sound cards on PC and laptop, USB sound card, etc. I will have to check if I have a commercially available test CD with anything resembling a square wave on both channels (IIRC there should be an absolute polarity test using aperiodic square wave ...) - otherwise I will have to make a square wave CD-R recording and/or recording using Korg MR series, both native PCM and DSD bounced down to PCM. Multiplied by USB vs SPDIF, that is quite some work ahead !
      analogsurviver, Apr 24, 2017
  7. proedros
    iFi Micro iDSD BL: Once you go black, you never go back
    Written by proedros
    Published Mar 6, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Very Musical and resolving Sound , Versatility (can be used with both ciems and full phones), Great Bass/Treble Boost, Amazing Build Quality
    Cons - More transportable than portable, no availability for Balanced use/Balanced Cables, difficulty to see volume knob level may irritate some
    Before submitting my thoughts on the IDSD Micro Black Label (to be called BL from now on), I would like to thank the folks at Ifi Audio for organizing this EU Demo Tour and giving us the opportunity to listen to BL . Initiatives like that help both companies to expand their clientelle and customers to try something out before buying and i hope that these events happen more often, especially for such quality products like the BL.

    Ok , on with the review then. 

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

     
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label has:
     
    re-designed output stabilisation
    OV2627 op-amps upgraded analogue section
    Panasonic OSCON capacitors loaded power supply
    OV2028 op-amps loaded DAC power supply
    DAC voltage decoupling based on audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
    GMT® Femto precision clock system power supply upgraded
     
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label is:
     
    a tweaked to the roof original Micro iDSD
    a satin black version (with silk orange writings) of original Micro iDSD
    sonically much better version of original Micro iDSD
    loaded with latest 3D+® and XBass+® tech, superior over ones in original Micro iDSD
    10% higher price of $549 (ex-tax) / Euro599 (incl VAT)
    superior to original Micro iDSD
     
    Dual Burr-Brown DAC chips developed by Burr-Brown Japan before the TI acquisition, custom tweaked 
    to play all the way up to unicorn formats: OctaDSD (512DSD—there aren’t even any recordings that 
    I know of) to PCM768 (I don’t know if recordings exist for this standard)
     
    3 output modes: eco, normal and turbo and the iEMatch feature allowing headphones from 
    ultra-sensitive custom in-ear flagships to insensitive masses of metallic HiFiMan HE-6 glory
     
    Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/coax allows using the iDSD BL to feed your Sonos, or 
    plugging in your DAP when you feel the need to make up for it’s inadequacies
    Battery power for loads of time, with smart charging for your devices when you aren’t blasting 
    your aural cavities with wonders, delights, and delectable morsels of audio fayre (iFi advertise 
    6-12 hours battery playback, depending on how hungry your headphones are)
     
     
    iDSD BL comes with more in its box than any of the other’s I’ve opened. Here are the full contents:
     
    Micro iDSD BL
    1 metre USB 3.0A female to USB3.0A male cable
    USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female cable (for using whatever USB cable you like without straining the USB jack)
    USB 2.0A female to USB 2.0B female short adaptor (for using whatever USB cable you like)
    iFi’s standard purple RCA cables
    Heavy duty rubber bands for stacking your source on top of the iDSD BL
    6.3mm to 3.5mm convertor
    Short 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable
    Mini Toslink to Toslink adaptor
    4 iFi branded silicone feet (that’s a step up from my Micro iUSB3.0)
    A silicone sheet—is this for putting under or on top? I couldn’t tell, but it should provide some cushion
    A velvet bag for transport
     
    20170228_170615.jpg
     
     
     
    I will now discuss the most important parameter (to me , at least) - the sound signature/quality of BL. I am a guy who uses only CIEMs so all my thoughts are based on listening done with CIEMs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Last but not least, some thoughts on the 2 available switches , the 3D and the Bass Boost.
     
    3d switch is a nice touch, as it feels like a booster for the high frequencies, while simultaneously creating asense of an airier, more open sound . It is nicely done and its effect did not sound 'fake' to my ears, and i found myself using it quite a lot, especially on recording which suffer from some clarity up top and sounded a bit 'veiled' to my ears.
     
    As for the bass boost i did not use it, as i found the bass very nicely done on the Bl and its quantity was more than enough for my needs , even with the bass boost switch turned off. When i tried it though, i found the bass increase tastefully done , so if you are a basshead , this switch should come in handy to you.
     
     
     
    20170228_170720.jpg
     
    As i said , i have been owning a SONY ZX2 for quite some time and i will present a small comparison with the BL, so that ZX2 owners get an idea how BL sounds.

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

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

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

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

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

    But i am just nit-picking here , BL is an amazing device and I was quite amazed by it. In fact, if you are on the market for a DAC/AMP that shoots way above its price and screams 'QUALITY' , then BL should definitely be on your shortlist.
      EagleWings likes this.
    1. Tony1110
      Didn't you like Athena any better using this?
      Tony1110, Mar 6, 2017
  8. BillsonChang007
    iFi Micro iDSD BL: The Good Dark Side
    Written by BillsonChang007
    Published Feb 24, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - sound quality, balanced, no channel imbalance, versatile with anything, power
    Cons - needs a more visible volume indicator, 3D+ can sound bright
    FullSizeRender-6.jpg
    Why I love iFi and their products
     
    iFi have been known, reputably for their amazing amplifiers and DAC. Ranging from Nano to Micro to Retro and the most recent addition, the Pro line, iFi have an amplifier and DAC for different purposes and price ranges. The nano for on-the-go and affordability, Micro for transportability, Retro for the speakers and Pro for the extremes. Having tried their products, mostly the Micro line which they first set-off with, it never disappointed me in terms of sound quality. Throughout the years, listening to recommendations by users and reviews is what really brought them where they are now, being featured on the Head-Fi gift guide and not to mention other reputable audio review websites and it is not one, not two, but most of their products are outstanding.
     
    My favorite product that they have created so far is the Micro iDSD. It started back in 2014 where they started a thread in Head-Fi asking opinions on what this Micro iDSD really should be and from there, they take everyone’s opinions into consideration and kept the crowd updated throughout from hardware to software and the troubles that they ran into. When they introduced the Black Label edition of the Micro iDSD, I was all hyped and even more when they announced a tour for it! A huge thanks to iFi for adding me into the tour for this iFi Micro iDSD BL!
     
    I really appreciate how the iFi team gave the packaging a formality and it represents the company very well. What came with the original Micro iDSD is very similar with absence of a black carrying pouch which is no big deal but considering the Micro iDSD BL costs more at USD549 as opposed to USD499 for the original Micro iDSD puts be in doubt [both prices excludes taxes].  Other than that, it comes with instruction manual, 3.5mm to 3.5mm standard jack, 2x silicone bands, angled male type A to female type A USB, wired USB Female type A to female type B converter, left and Right RCA cable, 4x rubber feet, 3.5mm to 6.3mm jack converter, jumper, USB Female type A to female type B adapter and a piece of rectangular rubbery “thingy” that probably used for when stacking a phone on top to avoid frictions. With exception of the carrying pouch, the Micro iDSD BL comes with pretty much everything and there’s nothing short of. I have been using the original Micro iDSD for more than 2 years now and I never see the need to carry the pouch along anyway. If anything, it makes the ports less accessible when inside thought it was genius to have a hole cut for the USB.
     
    What's so cool about this BL
     
    FullSizeRender-3.jpg
     
    The build and weight of both the editions are similar; all metal and weight is on the bulky side for such a small footprint but I think that’s how I would like it to be. Makes it sits properly on the table. As a proud Micro iDSD user for more than 2 years, I can safely say that, the unit is very durable considering I have not been nice to it partially because I am quite violent with gadgets. So no worries, go ahead, throw it in the backpack and rock but it probably won’t survive in the water thought. I have to say thought, thumbs up to the batman-like black finish with orange wordings that really stands out. However, good luck trying to read the unimportant feature lists at the bottom but really, it’s nothing important… or is it. Seriously thought, it is worded in black on a black casing. If anything, the original Micro iDSD’s volume knob is stiffer than the BL edition.
     
    Not only does it look like Bruce Wayne’s multibillion techs but it also features like his utility belt. It is a DAC and amplifier that also works as a preamplifier that can power from the smallest earphones to THE giant Bane. There are three power mode namely Eco, Normal and Turbo. Personally, I do not find the need for “Turbo” for any headphones just yet as at Turbo, it outputs 4, 000mW @ 16 Ohm of power and I doubt there are any headphones that needs it with exception of a few such as the popular HifiMan HE-6. In normal and eco modes it outputs 1, 900mW @ 16Ohm and 500mW @ 8Ohm respectively. For most headphones, Eco mode is more than enough in my opinion. However, what about earphones and headphones with high sensitivity? There’s the IEMatch. It has two switches; high sensitivity (-12dB) and ultra-sensitivity (-24dB) which makes volume more adjustable or you can have it switched off. Do note that, avoid using IEMatch on other modes; Normal and Turbo. “It is like pressing the accelerator while applying brakes” – iFi. Other features include XBass+, 3D+, polarity (-/+), and Filter (Standard/Phase Minimum/Bit-Perfect). Oh, it also features as a Plan B power bank at the side but keep in mind that, the unit takes quite a while to charge up.  There is also a small LED light on top which determine the status of the unit. It has a built in gen 1 iPurifier into it as well and up to Normal mode, it can purely drain on USB or charge at the same time in eco mode. Information on these features can be found here.
     
    IMG_0162.jpg
    The main course
     
    With all the Batman’s design and features aside, the sound quality itself is no joke either. I find it an amazing piece of amplifier and DAC combo. There’s perfectly no channel imbalance pass the 9’O Clock turn. While it is not as neutral as I expected it to be, it remains well balanced. The bass is tick tight and beats down to as deep as you could wish. Without the XBass, the bass is there but lacks the “bold”. The upper bass is what I like the most out of all as it has a good amount of weights and punches that anyone would appreciate. I personally find that the highs are a minute louder than the midranges and this result in a very fun and enjoyable sound. Throughout the listening experience, I find it entirely to be ultimately smooth, while attaining that speed on the punches at the same time, not missing any details. It just feels like you are driving on a Porsche at say 170kmph but you feel that the car is doing it effortlessly and that is how it feels like to listen to the Micro iDSD BL as a standalone.
     
    I think that the XBass+ and the 3D+ is what actually saved the amplifier side of it. Starting with the XBass+, it really adds very notable amount of bass to it and fits the “basshead” category just nicely and at the same time, with the speed, and thumbs that is just so good and pleasant to enjoy with. Without the 3D+, the soundstage is pretty wide but the separations feel a little bit packed together. Flick the 3D+, it is as if the musician just immediately spread out themselves from a small stage to an opera theatre and for movies, you could better aware of the environment of the scene. There’s one trade-off thought. With the 3D+, the treble can spike up and especially with female voices, I find it a ted annoying with the B&O H6 and Brainwavz HM5 but if the XBass+ is on together with it, it soothes the treble by adding "bolds" to the whole sound making the treble less noticeable although it is still there. Darker headphones like the Mr. Speaker’s Mad Dog have no big deals with this.
     
    I then connected the iDSD BL to Garage1217 Project Sunrise III w/ Amperex 6dj8 Orange edition and boy is there a huge improvement in comparison to the standalone without XBass+ nor 3D+. That said, the amplifier of the iDSD BL is great matched with the DAC but is rather average only. With the XBass+ thought, the iDSD BL have better bass in every spectrum than the tubes; speed, quantity, and depth. When both the XBass+ and 3D+’s running, the iDSD BL does stands pretty close to the tubes. The iDSD BL is definitely clearer but with the tubes thought, the soundstages, separations, and sound is just more “real” and so, so, so, slightly more airy. At high volumes [pass the 3’O clock], I find the iDSD BL losses its dynamic ranges and clarity, soundstages and separations gets a little mixed up. Not to worry thought, I doubt there’s a need to turn up the heat given there’s 3 different power mode.
     
    As a pure DAC itself, I find the Micro iDSD BL to be extremely flat and literally have no flavors. It is like an ice cream cone; it doesn’t have much taste but add the ice cream on top and you get a delicious dessert. The Micro iDSD BL matches well with any ice creams [amplifier] and it will sound amazing. It is airy and very analytical. Plugging in for the first time, really tells you how much details have you been missing all along. Not to mention its capability to hit up to DSD512.
     
    Now for the grand comparison. As Lex Luthor once said and I quote “God vs Man, Day vs Night”…
    FullSizeRender.jpg
     
     
    The BL edition is better than the original in a few ways, but in many ways, they are quite similar. Besides the obvious color differences, exterior wise, they are pretty much the same chassis with similar ports and switches. The difference lies within; the BL uses latest and higher end components, the 3D and XBass gets a nice upgrade and indeed worthwhile. As a standalone DAC/amp, I would say that the BL is smoother, warmer, more refined and the two switches at the front is a major step up from the original and distinctly a better unit than the original. Channel imbalances issues are non-existence on the BL pass the 9’ O Clock. At the end thought, if you already own the original edition, you are better off spending the money elsewhere like a separate amplifier. I personally find that when using the two as a sole DAC, I find both to have similar sound although the BL are more “stable” with the channel imbalance. That said, the original edition at $499 or even cheaper sometimes, is still a very good DAC/amp while the BL is for if you do not own neither and its really worth the extra 10% difference. The original edition is also more neutral in comparison to the BL as a DAC/amp combo.
     
    Thank you for reading
     
    The Micro iDSD BL is yet another amazing unit, I wish I could spend more time to enjoy with. I was the lucky winner of the Micro iDSD 2 years ago and I couldn’t be happier to be able to listen to the BL. It is amazing and it still did not fail to wow me away. I especially enjoy it with my B&O H6; it adds necessary warm and bass to it with the XBass+ and I can leave the 3D+ off while still getting the airy and separation I wanted. It’s truly a match made in heaven. I have never enjoyed the B&O headphone as much before despite it being my on-the-go headphone. Overall, it is very versatile with anything you throws at.
    FullSizeRender-4.jpg
      blackyangell, Krisna13 and maheeinfy like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. beowulf
      Nice. Agree with most of your points. The 3D is not a gimmick and it does add a feeling of space, but only sometimes. Depending on the source it can make the sound a bit too bright/grainy/fatiguing.

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

      Did you notice the lag when starting play? And pops on power on/off?
      beowulf, Feb 25, 2017
    3. BillsonChang007
      @beowulf thankss! Yea it did have pop sound on power but I think that is quite common on amplifiers [same to on-board soundcard on start up, phones, etc]. As for playback delay, it's also there but only at initial start-up and after maybe a min or two of not using it. I also find the lag slightly longer than the original. 
      BillsonChang007, Feb 25, 2017
    4. Adamora
      Folks, please do not forget to update the firmware of this device to the iFi_XMOS_V5.2B for it to have no delays whatsoever whilst using it as a pure desktop DAC/AMP
       
      It was driving me insane using windows 10 until I found out it auto sleeps every bloody second to save power.
      Adamora, Feb 27, 2017
  9. ExpatinJapan
    The smexy ifi Micro iDSD BL is a veritable audio swiss army knife
    Written by ExpatinJapan
    Published Feb 15, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Full of options, packed with switches, excellent neutral sound, loads of input/output configurations
    Cons - lots of switches confused me :)

    Ifi Micro IDSD BL (Black) Impressions And Review - Expatinjapan

     
    [​IMG]
     ifi Micro iDSD BL and iBasso DX200 vis SPDIF and Campfire Audio Nova.​
     ​
    ifi Micro iDSD BL (Black) review​
    -expatinjapan​
     ​
    Thank you to ifi for sending me the ifi Micro iDSD BL to try out as it made its way to Hawaiibadboy of Head-fi who also resides in Japan. I dont usually do loaners these days as its a lot of work writing a review, taking pictures etc etc. But I have had a steady communication with ifi for a while now and that is also important in my books. Plus pre Head pie i won an ifi ipurifier in one of their Head-fi contests. So time to give back.
    Unfortunately even though they did afford me ample time to try out the ifi Micro iDSD BL due to it being over the New year and into heavy work load January and organizing my house for a new in coming baby I did not get to put it through its paces as much as would have liked to.
     
    The ifi Micro iDSD BL is packed with many functions, an audio swiss knife If you will, it contains so many options it truly initially stopped me in my tracks for a while as I tried to figure out where to begin.
     
    But begin I did....
     
    [​IMG]
    ifi Micro iDSD connected to an ipod touch via mini to mini and iBasso IT03 IEMs.​
     ​
     ​
    ifi website overview 
    - `The iFi micro iDSD Black Label is the newest iFi micro flagship product.
    At the heart, beats the Burr-Brown DSD512/PCM768/2xDXD True Native® DAC with headphone amplifier.
     
    The Black Label looks very good on the outside yet the inside is even better where relentless attention has been paid to advancing the sonics with the very latest components:
     
     • DAC digital signal and digital power sections upgraded
    • AMR Global Master Timing® femto-precision clock system upgraded for ‘super low’ phase-noise/jitter
    • Analogue signal and power sections revised
    • 3D+® performance-tuned / XBass+® performance-tuned
    • Latest Output stabilisation network offers less distortion
     
    The micro iDSD Black Label. The best, evolved.`
     
    ifi outer box
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]


     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    Specifications:
    (Via ifi website).
     
    Inputs/Outputs
     
       
    Inputs (rear) USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket
    (with iPurifier® technology built-in) Compatible with computers (Apple/Win/Linux), iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android Devices, camera kit or USB-OTG cable required. (Full USB3.0 port compatible)
    Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial 3 Way combo SPDIF port (Coaxial In/Out; Optical In); Up to 192kHz PCM
    SPDIF Optical
         
    Outputs (rear) Audio RCA L+R
    Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial Up to 192kHz PCM
         
    Output (right side) SmartPower® Socket Fast charge all portable devices. Compliant with USB Battery Charging Standard 1.2 – 5V @ 1.5A
         
         
    Controls
     
    Controls (front)
    – HP Output Audio 6.3mm Headphone Jack
    – Volume with Power On/Off switch Precision analogue volume control <2dB Tracking error
    – 3.5mm Input Auto disable the digital section when this is in use
    – X-Bass® On/Off
    – 3D Holographic Sound® On/Off Auto-switching for Speakers® and Headphones® (two separate and distinct circuits)
         
    Controls (left side)
    – Power Mode Turbo, Normal, Eco Computer controlled power and gain scaling
    – Polarity Normal/Inverted
    – Filter 3 positions, 6 filters (see filter section below)
         
    Controls (bottom)
    – Line Direct/Preamplifier Preamplifier function Enable/Disable, 0/9dB gain selectable Fixed 2V or variable with up to 5V available
    – iEMatch® Perfect-matching circuit for IEMs (eliminate hiss) Off / High Sensitivity Headphone / Ultra Sensitivity Headphone
         
         
    DAC section
     
    DAC Dual-core DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown 2-DAC Chip; 4-Channel; 8-Signals, custom interleaving for maximum SNR
    Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing
         
    Clock Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds
         
    Audio Formats DSD 512/256/128/64
    24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8 All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
    DXD 2x/1x
    768/705.6/384/352.8kHz All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
    PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/
    48/44.1kHz All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
         
    Filters
    – PCM Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard Digital filters selectable
    – DSD Extreme/Extended/Standard Range Analogue filters selectable
    – DXD Bit-Perfect Processing Fixed analogue filter
         
         
    Specifications (DAC Section)
     
       
    Dynamic Range (Line) >117db(A)  
    THD & N (0dBFS Line) <0.003%  
    Output Voltage (Line) >2V  
    Output Impedance (Zout) < 240Ω  
    Jitter (correlated) Below AP2 test set limit  
         
         
    Headphone Power Output
     
    HP Amp Output Power (max) Power (continuous.)
    – Turbo mode 10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm >1560 mW @ 64 Ohm
    > 166 mW @ 600 Ohm
     
    – Normal mode 5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm > 950 mW @ 32 Ohm
    > 100 mW @ 300 Ohm
     
    – Eco mode 2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm > 250 mW @ 16 Ohm
         
         
    Specifications (Headamp Section)
     
       
    Dynamic Range (HP) >115dB(A) (Eco Mode, 2V Out)  
    THD &N (HP 500mW/16R) < 0.008%  
    Output Voltage (HP) >8V (Turbo Mode)  
    Output Impedance (Zout) <1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)  
    Maximum Output Power 4,000mW @ 16 Ohm Load when using sinewave testing the iDSD micro may engage protection circuits
    Continuous Output Power 1,000mW @ 64 Ohm Load
     
     ​
    Whats in the box?
     ​
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    The unit, warranty card, instructions etc​
     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    An excellent array of cables and accessories.​
     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    The unit itself.​
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    `Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/Coax
     
    Digital Audio Players (DAP) and home SPDIF sources are abound. Flexibility remains key and the micro iDSD BL retains the intelligent SPDIF in/out socket for optical/coax signals. So for those who wish to upgrade their DAP, simple use it as a transport and feed the micro iDSD Black Label.` - via ifi website.
     ​
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    So many mind boggling options.​
     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    Sound
     
    I tried the ifi Micro iDSD BL with a simple ipod set up, via SPDIF to the iBasso DX200, my basic home set up and also out of my Macbook.
     
    In all the configurations the ifi proved to be a high performer, not surprising considering how long they have been around and the many products that ifi have made.
     
    The ifi iDSD BL is definitely a souped up version than its earlier sibling with better specs overall.
     
    Its sound is quite neutral, detail orientated and overall quite transparent. The sound stage is wide, separation between instruments is of a high quality, the reproduction of the source material is very honest and accurate.
     
    If one is looking for a unit on the warm sounding side, this isnt it, and thankfully so.
     
    One also has the options of the many many switches to toggle between for larger headphones or sensitive IEMs, to increase/decrease power or gain.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     ​
    [​IMG]
     ​
      Value
     
    At $US549  the ifi Micro iDSD BL (Black) is a good purchase.
     
    Its multiple inputs and outputs make it a versatile unit that can suit a users many audio needs.
    It certainly has a decent price /performance ratio.
     
    As with all ifi products it is well designed and manufactured.
     
    It can be considered more transportable than portable, and is more ideal for an addition to home set up.
     
    whether in conjunction with other ifi products, and existing home system or by itself with a set of active speakers.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
     
    [​IMG]
    As seen at a Tokyo Headphone show.​
     
     
    Overall
     
    The ifi Micro iDSD BL is a solid and well made unit that goes for a sensible price.
     
    Its many inputs and outputs make it a unit that can be used with a variety of products.
     
    Whilst the size certainly puts in more in the transportable area than as a possible portable device, I would see most users preferring to utilize the ifi Micro iDSD BL as a part of home system or independently with a set of active speakers, connected to a computer or simply fed with a source and enjoyed at a desk via a set of earphones or headphones.
     
    The sound of the ifi Micro iDSD BL model is one of clarity, great details, authentic reproduction of the source materials, medium to wide sound stage, full bodied sound in the lows and mids without become flabby, dark or boomy, the highs are soft and extended.
     
    It certainly packs enough power to drive most headphones with ease. And has enough subtle settings to also make it suitable for sensitive IEMs.
     
    A wide variety of setting switches means that the user can also customize it to their preferred sound signature.
     
    To conclude the ifi Micro iDSD Black is a versatile product that does neutral very well, but also by way of various switches and settings allows the users to customize their sonic experience.
    It plays well with large headphones and also more sensitive IEMs.
    Its compatibility and many inputs and outputs make it a versatile future proof machine.
     
    Plus it looks smexy.
     
     
    [​IMG]
     
     ​
    Thank you to ifi for loaning me the ifi Micro iDSD Black.​

    1. misteral201103
      What was your impression of the 3D effect? Does it create a 'being there' experience? Or is it simply a little reverb and filter?
      misteral201103, Feb 16, 2017
    2. JKDJedi
      Mine is on da mail! 
      JKDJedi, Feb 17, 2017
  10. betula
    iFi Micro iDSD Black Label versus Chord Mojo
    Written by betula
    Published Feb 11, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Versatility, power, accessories, quality XBass if that is what you are after
    Cons - size for portable use, sound quality is very good, but not exceptional for the price
     First of all I would like to say thank you to iFi for choosing me as one of the lucky tester of their new iFi Micro iDSD Black Label in the UK section of their worldwide loaner program. I have had a lot of fun during this week and I really enjoyed playing with the Black Label and comparing it to my Chord Mojo.
     I chose this title for my review, as the Mojo is one of the most popular competition to the Micro iDSD BL due to its similar purpose and price point, and probably many potential buyer will be looking for comparisons of this two DAC/amps. This review reflects my personal, subjective opinion. Ears, headphones, sound signature preferences widely vary, which can lead to different results. Reading many reviews however can give the reader a direction to go, and test the chosen audio equipment to see if that really is what they want. This review is not the ultimate objective truth, but one honest and subjective opinion from an audio enthusiast.

      IMG_20170208_083747945_BURST001.jpg

    Background:

     I am in this hobby for 8-10 years, and I simply love to listen to music in high quality and just relax and get lost in the tunes after a busy day. I am not a professional sound engineer, like many reviewers here on Head-Fi. I am not very interested in different graphs and measurements as my ears can tell me whether I like the sound of a DAC/amp/headphone or not. I am into detailed and clear bass that has authority, but does not suppress other frequencies. I like clean and slightly forward mids with lifelike vocals and smooth, laid back but not rolled of or lacking treble. I can’t stand harshness, sibilance and plastic sound which I define as the opposite of a real, lifelike, and natural sound presentation.
     I mostly listen to ambient, downtempo, electronica, but I also like trip-hop, some vocal centric music, and occasionally even classical music.
     Since on Head-Fi there are already a lot of detailed reviews about the iDSD BL with measurements and technical details, I decided to focus on comparing the BL to my Chord Mojo, and do it in a more subjective way.
     
    IMG_20170211_135509006.jpg

    Equipment used:

     For this review I mainly used my beloved AudiQuest NightHawk headphone, but also tried my (new) Cardas A8, and Sennheiser IE80 (just sold) IEMs. I have been using my Chord Mojo almost every day, since I purchased it a year ago.
     My source is a Dell Latitude E7440 laptop with Foobar2000, AudioQuest Jitterbug and I use bitperfect mode, mainly with FLAC files and some DSD.
    Let’s see then, whether the iDSD BL has got enough to offer me to dethrone the Mojo.
     
    IMG_20170211_103531403.jpg
     
    Accessories, built quality:

    The iDSD BL comes in a nice box, with tons of accessories. I can’t imagine anyone complaining about the number of connection cables, adapters and other accessories. The cables and different sockets on the iDSD BL offer endless possibilities to connect almost anything and everything to iFi’s latest flagship DAC/amp. There are also rubber bands and rubber sheet for portable use, not to mention the nice carrying pouch.
     At this point I will echo the opinion of many other reviewers: I just can’t see the BL as a portable device due to its size. When connected to a smartphone it is almost the size of a real brick. I often find even Mojo too bulky for portable use. On a positive note, the BL is easily transportable, which means you can just put it in your bag and take HQ audio with you on your holidays.
     No complaints regarding the built quality, the BL is indeed a very well-built piece of equipment.

    IMG_20170211_094651171.jpg
     
    About some of the switches and sockets on the iDSD BL:

     This is the area where the iDSD BL has a clear advantage over Mojo. It is much more versatile. You literally can connect it to anything and everything, while Mojo was mainly designed to be a DAC/amp ‘on the go’ used with smartphones.
    The iDSD BL can find a place in many areas, from studios to speaker systems, home audio systems and you can also use it on the go. That being said I mainly use my Mojo as a desktop DAC, but I admit it might not be the most ideal device for that.
     
     At first I did not really understand why iFi chose a female USB A socket as digital input. It is very uncommon, since most of the aftermarket USB cables are Micro B male to USB A male. If somebody wants to upgrade the supplied iFi USB cable, will have hard time to find one. (It is debatable whether upgrading USB cables make sense or not, but there always will be customers, who want to do that.)  On the other hand I can understand iFi’s decision, as the Micro USB B connections can often be weak and loose, while the USB A socket gives a much safer and tighter fit, especially when you have the female version, where the bigger half of the USB plug’s head is basically ‘swallowed in’ by the device.
    I find the extra USB socket on the side of the BL a very useful addition, as you can use it to charge other electronics on the go.

    IMG_20170208_083611420_HDR.jpg
     
    Volume knob:

     I have to say from the perspective of comfort I prefer the (software controlled) analogue volume knob of the iDSD BL to Mojo’s digital pebbles. It is just simply more comfortable to turn a knob than tapping on buttons. However choosing the right volume level to match the impedance of your headphones or IEMs can be a bit tricky with the iDSD BL. iFi says the volume knob should be set at 12 o’clock or above to achieve optimal performance. The reason for this is, because on lower volume levels (below 10 o’clock) there is audible channel imbalance on iFi’s DAC/amp. According to iFi, this compromise had to be made in order to have the better sound quality of the analogue volume knob.
     With the ‘power mode’ switch (and ‘IEMatch’ switch if you use IEMs) you need to find the right settings first, to be able to turn the volume knob to 12 o’clock without any issues. In my opinion for some users this will be slightly inconvenient, and some other users who do not necessarily read the user’s manual just won’t understand why they experience channel imbalance in their headphones when the volume knob on the iDSD BL is below 10 o’clock.

    Power mode:

    This switch will be in normal position with higher impedance headphones, eco mode with IEMs and low impedance headphones, and in turbo mode with speakers I guess, as I can hardly imagine anyone keeping the switch in turbo mode even with the highest impedance headphones, it has so much power!

    Polarity and filter:

    To me these switches did not make any difference.

    3D toggle switch:

     I kept the 3D effect switched off. To me it did not make the sound better, but on the contrary. There is a slight treble elevation, that I would rather call treble boost not 3D. The soundstage also becomes a little wider, and the sound a bit airier, but to me this effect is too artificial, with no benefits.

    XBass toggle switch:

     One of my very first impressions with the BL’s sound was that the bass is quite present, even without the XBass effect turned on. Switching the XBass toggle on is like turning up a subwoofer on your head. (Although it is a very well implemented subwoofer, it does not kill the rest of the frequencies.) I can’t imagine anyone using the XBass effect continuously. Occasionally with some bass heavy electronic music it can be real fun for a few minutes, as you can imagine yourself being in a concert venue or club, where the bass from the subwoofers just shake all the internal organs of the audience. At times it can be fun, but impossible to live like this long term.
    I kept both the Xbass and 3D effects switched off for the rest of my time with the iDSD BL.

    iFi Micro iCAN 1st gen. vs. iFi iDSD Black Label:

     The iDSD BL is not the first iFi product in my hands. I owned a Micro iCan 1st gen. and a Nano iCan at some point of my life. (Unfortunately I have no experience with the iDSD 1st gen.)
    Compared to these iFi amplifiers, I can see the physical and hear the sound quality improvements, even though I have to rely on my memory with this. Sorting out the illogical switching directions of the 3D and XBass toggles of the older units is a very good thing in my opinion, but I have to add, I miss the two step Xbass settings from the Micro iCan.
      The iDSD BL compared to the Micro iCAN 1st gen. sounds much more natural, and smoother. The BL’s sound is very smooth, ensuring long fatigueless listening sessions. In my opinion it is a great direction to go from previous iFi house sound.

    Sound quality:

     Since I have been using Mojo almost every day for a year, I know its sound very well. When I turned the iDSD BL on the first time, I instantly noticed the nice and smooth sound with quite a weighty bass, but I found it more two dimensional and less exciting compared to Mojo. Almost like the warmth was just a little too much, creating a very thin, velvety veil compared to Mojo’s immediately obvious clarity and dynamic punch. The bass being strong and present on the BL does not help with this sensation. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying, the iDSD BL does have a very nice sound, but in direct comparison to Chord Mojo, these differences are present to my ears. It is not night and day, but to me it is obvious enough. Do not forget, I am using the NightHawk, which is already a warm headphone with a relatively good amount of bass. (Same true for the Cardas A8.) Perhaps bright and treble-centric open back headphones like for example most of Beyer’s line up benefit more from the iDSD BL’s warm and more bass-centric sound.
     The soundstage on the iDSD BL is slightly wider than it is on the Mojo, however Mojo’s exceptional depth gives the sound a real 3D feeling, which makes the 3D effect on the iDSD BL even more unnecessary. Instruments and voices are better separated on Mojo, and they are slightly more detailed with a better contour.
     This picture appeared in my mind while I was A/B testing the two DACs: listening to the iDSD BL is like sitting in a comfy plush chair in a cinema with a nice speaker system watching a concert of your favourite band, while listening to the Mojo is more like being in a small jazz club, listening to live music. The latter means a more intimate and more realistic sound, but both have the right to exist.
     These differences mostly pop up in direct A/B comparison. When I only listen to the iDSD BL for a couple of hours, it is also very enjoyable.

    IMG_20170211_103120045.jpg
     
    Let me go into a bit more details regarding the frequency regions:
     
    Treble:

     The treble on the iDSD BL is very smooth and non-fatiguing. Despite the relaxed high frequencies everything that happens in this region is clearly audible. No disturbing high pitch noises, even percussion never comes through as harsh or piercing. (I believe, brighter headphones with the 3D knob turned on can sound harsh, but this is a very unlikely scenario. I suggest to leave that knob alone anyway.) The iDSD’s treble is an absolutely fine treble. Nothing is missing, but also nothing is shining through. Mojo in comparison has a slightly more detailed, more dynamic treble. Instruments sound clearer, more present (and more lifelike) to my ears.

    Mids:

     This is where the difference is the most obvious in favour of the Mojo. In direct comparison mids sound slightly recessed on the BL and more forward on the Mojo. Mojo is a ‘mid-heaven’. While on the BL mids are there and fine again, Mojo just wins this part by quite a long mile, being absolutely realistic and lifelike. On vocal centric music the difference should be obvious to most ears. It feels like good recording vs live singing. Probably the exceptional depth on Mojo also helps the voices to sound more realistic.

    Bass:
     
     I find this region the most interesting. I have already mentioned one of my very first impressions with the BL was the somewhat weighty bass. Do not misunderstand what I am trying to say, the bass on the iDSD is not overwhelming, and it does not bother the mids, neither the treble, it just always feels more present compared to the Mojo. (Remember, it is with the Xbass effect being turned off.) This velvety smooth and good bodied bass gives a real base to the sound on the iDSD BL. It is not bothering, but this sensation of bass presence is always there. I do like warm and smooth sound, but when I do critical listening (like now), I would not mind to have a little less of these two brilliant sound characteristics. At casual listening, when the headphones are simply on your head and you do some reading or anything else, this extra warmth and smoothness can actually be very useful, saving you from listening fatigue, and ensuring a comfortable long listening time. For my personal taste Chord has found a bit better balance between clarity and smoothness, and I find the iDSD BL leaning just a little bit too much to the warmer side here, and I mostly hold the bass quantity responsible for this. (I still consider the BL to be a huge improvement over the Micro iCan 1st gen.’s brighter and not very realistic sound.)

    IMG_20170211_103830411.jpg
     
     I find Mojo to be more true to recordings. Mojo also has a stronger dynamic punch, and the bass becomes big and thumping only, when the recording is calling for it. If we wanted to oversimplify things, we could say the BL has bigger bass quantity in general, but the Mojo’s bass is better defined and higher quality. After coming to the conclusion, that the iDSD BL has got a bit more bass quantity in general, I was very much surprised, that with some sub-bass heavy music tracks like the ‘Creeper’ and ‘Animal’ from the band called ‘The Acid’ the sub-bass notes were more powerful on the Mojo, while the BL has run out of that big bass juice at the lowest notes, and became slightly rolled off in this sub bass region. After the strong bass presence on the BL this small difference in the bottom frequencies was quite surprising to me.

    IMG_20170208_083716801.jpg
     
    The differences that have been highlighted between the two DACs in this review are not very huge differences by any means. Both the iDSD BL and the Mojo are great DAC/amps, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. In this tight A/B comparison however I have to give the edge to Mojo on pure sound quality (not versatility!), but I know, probably some people will prefer the iDSD BL’s smoothness and bass centric sound to Mojo’s precision and dynamism, and there is nothing wrong with that.
     The Mojo to my ears has a slightly more refined sound with better depth which results in a space, where you can experience lifelike music with plenty of fabulous dynamics. The iDSD BL provides a very nice and very smooth listening experience. In head to head comparison, the Mojo sounds more exciting to me, so for me the choice is clear. The iDSD BL is a very nice product, its versatility is impressive, and it truly has a top performer sound. At the end of the day, diversity is what makes this world beautiful.
     For me however the nice and smooth, good quality music listening experience what the iDSD BL offers just can’t beat the excitement and beauty of Mojo’s natural realism. Of course, as always, Your Miles May Vary.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. beowulf
      Punchy bass and warmer. Hmm this might just be what I need to perfectly pair the Campfire Audio Andromeda, which has a fairly bright/treble-rich signature by default and does not benefit from extra brightness from the sources. Also, if it's a bit on the bass heavy side, it might pair it well for the exact same reasons. The Andro is balanced on bass but could use more punch with a few tracks that are mastered in a thin signature.
      beowulf, Feb 15, 2017
    3. betula
      @rickyleelee, each to their own, I guess.
      @beowulf yes, that seems to be a good pairing. Give it a go. :wink:
      betula, Feb 15, 2017
    4. Libertango
      Excellent review and I find it to reflect my findings. While I very much prefer the IDSD with my Sennheisers and Fostex TH900 (they perfectly complement one another) I do prefer the Mojo with the Nighthawk which you used for this review.
      Libertango, Mar 25, 2017