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  1. wormsdriver
    iFi Audio iDSD Black Label - it should be on your short list!
    Written by wormsdriver
    Published Feb 7, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Great all around bang for the buck
    Cons - volume indicator is barely visible
    iFi iDSD Black Label
     
    Hey guys, this is my quick review of the ifi idsd Black Label. The unit itself is courtesy of ifi, and is a loner unit which I am borrowing for seven days as part of a world wide review tour. Besides getting to audition the unit at our home for seven days with our own gear, there are no other incentives or hidden agendas on my part. This is my honest opinion and my opinion only.
     
    Thank you to Laurence @ ifi for giving me the opportunity of auditioning this unit.
     
     
    Unboxing:
    IMG_9314.jpg IMG_9315.jpg IMG_9339.jpg IMG_9336.jpg IMG_9337.jpg
     
    Upon opening the box I was greeted with the unit itself. Taking the unit out of the box, it feels like a well made piece of gear. There are two switches on the front, one is for the XBass+ and one for the 3D+ features. The switches feel sturdy and have a nice firm click to them when flicking them up or down. Up engages the given feature, down is the normal off position. 
     
    The volume knob has a good size for the device, and sticks out enough out of the way of the 3D+ switch which is positioned right next to the volume knob. One thing to note here is that the volume indicator on the knob itself is just a small slit and is black on an already black knob so I really couldn't tell most of the time were the volume was at. I would have prefered for the tiny slit to be painted in orange like the rest of the printing on the device for a better visual aid.
     
    Also on the front of the device we find a 6.3MM jack and a 3.5MM jack. The 6.3MM jack is the headphone output, and the 3.5MM jack is actually an input! I was surprised at first since I was expecting both would be headphone outputs to accommodate for both 6.3mm and 3.5mm headphones without a need for an adapter, non the less I don't find it to be lacking either way. The addition of this input makes this versatile device even more diverse as it can be used strictly as a headphone amplifier too!

    IMG_9319.jpg
     
     
    Moving on to the back of the device we find a pair of RCA outs and a very clever combo SPDIF Coaxial/Optical Input and Output. Also on the back of the device we find the USB input. Again, I find it quite clever for iFi to have the USB input implemented this way. It is essentially a male USB jack that has been recessed in the chassis of the unit. I found it extremely sturdy and very spacious. It easily accommodated for a CCK from my ipod touch and it also fitted my Android USB otg cable without of course, the need for any extra adapters in both instances.
    IMG_9320.jpg
     
    Flipping the idsd BL on its side we find three small recessed switches that are very well implemented as far as being easily accessible. Easy to switch yet also out of the way enough that I don't think they'll be accidentally engaged when carrying the unit in your hand. Turning the unit on it's belly we find some more orange printing indicating, for example, what these three switches on the side of the unit are for. 
     
    One switch is for the Power Mode, one for the Polarity, and one for the Digital Filters. 
    There are three positions on the Power Mode switch. Eco, Normal and Turbo.  
    Eco = for high-sensitivity IEMs
    Normal = for medium-sensitivity headphones
    Turbo = for the most-demanding headphones

    The Polarity switch has either "+" or "-"

    From iFi: "Adjustable signal polarity of music playback. For a digital signal source only (ie. not for an analogue signal via the 3.5mm input.)"

    In all honesty I have not read up much on this and I tried it a couple of times and found there was no noticeable change to the sound.
     
    The Digital Filters switch also has three positions and are as follows: Bit-Perfect, Minimum Phase, and Standard. I believe iFi recommends "Bit Perfect" for PCM, so thats what I used my short time with the iDSD BL since I did not use any DSD or DXD files.
    IMG_9323.jpg
     
     
    Also on the bottom of the unit we find two more switches. One switch is towards the front of the unit and it's iFi's very own iEMatch(TM). This switch is for further use in tweaking your headphone output for ultra sensitive iems especially. There are three positions on the switch; Off, High sensitivity and Ultra Sensitivity.
     
    Towards the back of the unit we find a two position switch indicating Preamplifier and Direct mode. Direct mode is used as a fixed RCA output that bypasses pretty much everything else on the unit and goes straight to your power amp, headphone amp, etc.
     
    Preamplifier: (direct quote from ifi)
    the iDSD functions as a DAC/preamplifier. The volume control is now enabled for the RCA line output and when used in conjunction with the Power Mode offers gain of: 


      Eco = 0 dB
      Normal/Turbo = 9dB

    IMG_9331.jpg
     
     
    Last but not least on this incredibly versatile unit we find a female USB socket on the remaining side of the unit. This USB port is labeled SmartPower Charging on the belly of the unit. It is used to charge small devices like your smartphone, ipod or other digital transport you might be using with your iDSD BL.
    IMG_9322.jpg
     
     
    Ah, I almost forgot to mention. There is one thing on the top side of the unit and that is a very small pinhole of an indicator light. This LED light turns different colors to indicate different things: 
     
    LED Color           Mode
    Magenta             DSD512 22.5/24.5MHz
    Blue                DSD256 11.2/12.2MHz
    Cyan                DSD128/DSD64 2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2MHz
    White               DXD705/768kHz
    Yellow              176/192kHz DXD352/384kHz
    Green               44/48/88/96kHz
    Green(Flashing)     Awaiting USB Connection
    Red                 Battery Low
    No light            Battery Empty

    IMG_9329.jpg
     

    Accessories inside the box:
     
    1x Blue male USB to female USB cable (1 meter) to connect iDSD to a PC.
    1x Male 3.5mm to male 3.5mm (15 cm) interconnect cable to use iDSD as an amplifier.
    1x Purple male RCA to RCA cable. (50 cm)
    1x Female USB Type B to Female USB Type A converter “cable” to connect iDSD to a PC with a audiophile grade USB Type B cable.
    1x Female USB Type B to Female USB Type A converter “dongle” to connect iDSD to a PC with a audiophile grade USB Type B cable.
    1x iFi branded, velvety carrying pouch.
    2x Silicone bands to attach iDSD to a phone.
    1x Silicone piece that protects your phone when you attach your phone to iDSD.
    1x Female 3.5mm to male 6.3mm connector.
    3x silicon covers/protectors for RCA and coax jacks.

    IMG_9332.jpg
     
     
    Turning on the unit.
    The volume knob is also used to power on the unit. I used the provided blue USB cable and plugged in to my laptop. Plugged in my headphones, turned on my Tidal desktop app, aaaannnd nothing! No music came out. I opened up my Windows playback devices and did not see the idsd BL on the listed devices so I figured I needed some drivers. A quick google search lead me to the idsd BL product page and on the bottom of the page found the Downloads tab which led me to the Windows drivers. After a quick download and setup I was ready to go...
     
    Listening impressions.

    I did most of my listening the first few days with my Grado PS1000. The Grados are not considered particularly hard to drive but I have found them to be a bit picky of headphone amps and even DACS. I've owned the PS1000 for over two years now and it has been overall my favorite headphone up to date. I would say it is a very colored headphone compared to all other TOTL headphones I've tried, but it is also very exciting for me. Listening through these cans is always a pleasure for me as the music is always very lively and transparent. The midbass has a very noticeable boost and the highs are very airy. Voices and guitars are excellent imo.
     
    Listening to a few tracks the idsd BL sounds balanced to me and very similar to what I'm used to hearing straight out of the Mojo. The Ps1000 sounds properly driven, the details that I'm used to hearing are all there, there is no added sibilance which is great because I've came across a couple of DACs and amps that didn't play well with the Ps1000. It does not sounds too analitical, has nice warmth and the mids sound proper, not thin. I do feel like it might not be as involving as the Mojo.
     
    I decided to compare it against the Mojo since I feel like these two are direct competitors and are around the same price range. For my home setup I use the Mojo feeding my headphone amp so I was curious to see how the iDSD BL would compare.
     
    Micro iDSD BL as a Dac vs Chord Mojo.
     
    I connected both the Mojo and the BL to my laptop. Both are then hooked up to the Schiit SYS and then the Schiit SYS to my MAD Ead+ HD headphone amp. I listen with my Grado PS1000. All tracks were from the Tidal desktop app. All are lossless FLAC files and also lots of new "MASTER" files which are at 24/96kHz and a few files at 24/88kHz. In the Tidal settings I check "Force volume" and "Use Exclusive Mode" for both the Mojo and the BL. 
     
    Switching between the two DACS is as easy as opening the settings in Tidal, picking either dac and the pressing down the button on the SYS. It is important to note that in this direct mode, the Mojo sounds a tad louder so I did compensate the volume on the amp when switching to the idsd BL. Volume matching was done by ear and I did as best as I could.
     
    Setting on the Mojo itself: I held down both volume buttons when powering on to set the volume to a standard output level for typical line-out use.
     
    Setting on the BL: I tried both from battery power mode and USB powered. Output switch set on "Direct".
     
    What I hear with this setup going back and forth was that the BL sounds a bit more laid back than the Mojo. I felt that overall it fell a bit short in comparison. The Mojo simply feels like it has more PRESENCE. The ifi BL tends to have a softer sound. The bass hits a tad softer, vocals are a tiny bit further (also softer), the Mojo sounds like it has a blacker background, the music sounds like it has better attack and it sounds clearer than the BL. There was more enjoyment out of the Mojo since I caught myself more than few times bobbing my head, singing along and tapping my feet to the music when listening was switched to the Mojo.
     
    Now for the sake of being a bit more thorough I'd thought I try this same setup but this time I switched the idsd BL Output switch to pre-amplifier instead of direct mode. I then proceded to get the volume on my amp as closely matched as possible between the Chord Mojo's "standard output level" and the volume wheel on the idsd BL to match it. Power mode on the idsd BL was on "normal" btw. 
     
    What I now heard was a lot more closer than before, in fact I'm having a hell of a time trying to nitpick and find any differences between these two. I hesitate to say the Mojo is a tiny bit more nuanced than the BL, but I can't reliably tell a difference so I'll just leave it at that.
     
    As a dac/amp vs Chord Mojo:
     
    Same setup as above but without the Schiit SYS and my MAD Ear+ in the audio chain. Volume matching was by ear and once again I did as best I could with these two. Using the Grado PS1000 here's what I found:
     
    I spent quite a bit of time comparing side by side really trying to pick at something to reliably point out but in all honesty I would not be able to tell these two apart in a blind test with my headphones. Any differences that might exist are so small that I don't feel comfortable even pointing out. Again this is my experience with a given set of headphones. One thing to note though, on extended listening sessions between the two, I noticed that I found the Mojo more engaging and musical. The iDSD BL while apparently not lacking any behind the Mojo still fell a bit short for me as far as listening pleasure goes.
     
    Listening with XBass+ and 3D+:
     
    I must say that I did enjoy both the 3D+ and XBass+ features. With the Ps1000 the 3D+ switch makes the treble more airy and expansive. Highs are boosted very tastefully with these headphones and I did find it useful in many tracks but not always. Both these features are well implemented and are good to have imo. I also had great success with the XBass+ and 3D+ on a pair of Ortofon eq-5 iems that I borrowed from a friend of mine. Again the 3D+ makes the treble sound airy and the sound stage more expansive and the bass boost did just that boosting the low end on this iem to a much more favorable level.
     
    Electrical interference: 
     
    One thing that I almost forgot to mention was that I found the iDSD BL did really well on my desk  right next to my cell phone and also my office phone. The reason I noticed this is because I always have to set my cellphone aside to a different location away from my gear and I also end up unplugging the office phone from the wall wart because of electrical interference.
     
    Due to the short review period with the unit time did not permit me to further test the unit more in depth. I did try the unit as a DAC/pre-amp with my power amp and speakers and I can say that the couple of tracks I heard sounded very well in this setup. I also wanted to compare the amp section od the idsd BL versus my RSA Intruder but only manage to squeeze in a few tracks. I thought the idsd definitely held it's own but the intruder still has a more mature sound and is a step ahead of the amp in the idsd bl.
     
    In conclusion: 
     
    Well that about does it for my impressions of the Micro iDSD Black Label. In my opinion ifi have themselves a winner in this device and I would have no reservations recommending this to anyone who is in the market for a DAC/AMP combo in this price range and a bit beyond really, whether it be desktop, transportable or portable this thing is very good and certainly up there with the Chord Mojo on a short list of what to buy under $1000. Great bang for the buck!
     
    Sources:
    Dell i7 Laptop
    Ipod touch 6th Generation
    Samsung galaxy Note 4
    Samsung TV - optical out

     
    Amps:
    Mad Ear+ HD
    RSA Intruder
    Yamaha CA-1010 *edit CA-2010

     
    Headphones: 
    Grado PS1000
    Grado GH-1
    Magnum V7 build
    Ortofon Eq-5 iem

     
    Speakers:
    Magnepan .7

     
    All Music was lossless tracks from Tidal.
      Gonzalez likes this.
    1. Onny Izwan
      Very unfortunate that the Mojo comparison was conclusive. The BL still needs a lotta work
      Onny Izwan, Feb 7, 2017
    2. joseph69
      Nicely done.
      joseph69, Feb 7, 2017
  2. Sil3nce
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD
    Written by Sil3nce
    Published Jan 22, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Packed with features, Extremely strong amp section, Clean and resolving sound
    Cons - A little warm and tilted towards the lower spectrum, Not the best transparency, Too many features?
    *This review comes from my Portable Amp / Dac Shootout.
    Posted as a reference for users. For the full review, see: 
     
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/798562/portable-amp-dac-shootout-ifi-micro-idsd-vs-resonessence-concero-hp-vs-chord-mojo-vs-ifi-idac2-vs-hrt-microstreamer

     

     
    Manufacturer: iFi Audio

    Model: micro iDSD

    Price: $499 at musicdirect.com

     
    Volume Control: Precision analogue volume control knob (On/Off)

    Power Connector: USB 3.0 Male, USB 3.0 Female

    Battery Life: 4800 mAH battery, depending on which mode is selected, drains battery accordingly (Eco, Normal, Turbo). Estimated 12 hours playback on Eco mode.

    Inputs: 1x USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket

    1x SPDIF Coaxial

    1x SPDIF Optical

    Outputs: 1x RCA L+R

    1x SPDIF Coaxial

     

    Specifications:

    Consult this page for detailed specifications. (http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd)

     
    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

     

     

     


    Build and Finish: Surprisingly lengthy unit made out of machined aluminum. Decent weight with quality metal switches and knobs. The iDSD is well-finished, a quality product with no quality control issues. On the back of the unit, iFi Audio was thoughtful enough to place a detailed specs report for easy consultation.
     
    Accessories: I’ve never seen a product come with this many accessories before. iFi Audio definitely wanted the consumer to have every single option available for the long haul.
    The original packaging is also quite useful. It comes with a foam insert, that allows you to place the iDSD back in its original alignment. The box serves as a carrying case of sorts.
     
    Comes with: 1x Velvet Pouch, 2x Detailed Instruction Cards, 1x 3.5mm Male to 3.5mm Male Adapter, 2x Silicone Bands, 1x 90° Male USB to Female USB Cable (Type A), 1x Female USB (Type A) to Female USB (Type B) Cable, 1x Purple RCA Cable, 4x Rubber Soles for Amp, 1x 3.5mm to 1/4th Adapter, 1x Jumper, 1x Short Female (Type A) to Female (Type B) Adapter, 1x Blue USB 3.0 Male (Type A) to Female (Type A) Cable
     
    Technology and Design:
     
    The Micro iDSD is easily the most technologically well-equipped product I’ve seen from a manufacturer. For the price, you’re getting so much to work with.
     
    First off, supported playback includes just about everything under the sun. It’s definitely future-proof with Octa DSD 512, Double DXD 256, and PCM 768 playback.
     
    Additionally, the iDSD can drive just about anything under the sun with 10V of power @ 16 ohm when “Turbo” mode is selected. This includes orthodynamic headphones such as the HIFIMAN HE-6.
    The iDSD is designed around getting the cleanest signal from the amplifier/dac to your headphones. There’s a built-in iPurifier on the rear USB port, eliminating EMI interference on its way to the iDSD. For the DAC section, there’s an ultra-low jitter Femto clock--something I’ve never seen at this price range.

    There are also three filter options (PCM, DSD, DXD), iEMatch for IEMs sensitivity matching, X-Bass, 3D Holographic Sound, and a power socket on the right side where you can utilized the iDSD to charge your portable devices. Yes, you can use the iDSD as a charger. iFi Audio has even included that as an option.
     
    Included accessories are also a bonus. You have everything you could possibly need to get started.

     
    Sound / Comparisons:
     
    All listening was done on Eco or Normal Power Mode, - Polarity, Bit-Perfect Filter, iEMatch disabled, X-Bass and 3D Holographic disabled. I found this offered the most neutral and true flavor of the original recording. I won’t be commenting on the results of experimenting with these settings.
     
    I found the iDSD a very interesting listen. Quite frankly, it’s as close as you can get to reference for the price of $499. However, I have a hard time giving it the ultimate nod for transparency and neutrality. Even with all its technology, at the heart of the iDSD is still the Burr-Brown DAC chip. This gives the iDSD a slightly warm tinge that’s most evident with neutral headphones like the Ether or the Audio Technica R70x. That’s not to say the iDSD is lacking in details. In fact, I would say the opposite is true. I had no trouble hearing all the subtle nuances in each track, and I didn’t hear any flaws smoothed over despite the warmer presentation.
     
    For most people, the iDSD offers a clear improvement over lesser offerings and a window to musically accurate sound. Fundamentally speaking, the iDSD works well with just about every headphone on the market. It also always manages to sound just right; the soundstage is never too expansive and is often portrayed with a good sense of intimacy. But on tracks that require a medium to communicate an effective sense of space, the iDSD doesn’t disappoint either.
     
    Bass is tight, well-rounded, with slightly above average dynamics and impact. On a headphone like the Ether, I looked to hear the sub-bass and excellent bass response. The iDSD did precisely that, without over-emphasizing and glossing over the bass details I’ve grown accustomed to.
     
    Mids and vocals are fairly neutral, I didn’t feel as if the iDSD was particularly forward or distant. In my mind, the iDSD passed the realism test. Vocals sparkled when they should, crooned when called upon, and sounded pretty darn good overall.
     
    The treble on the iDSD is slightly accentuated. Perhaps this has something to do with the house sound of iFi Audio, since the iDAC2 and other offerings I’ve tried have a similar presentation. The iDSD, fortunately, has the least coloration of all its brethren. The treble sounds quite lean juxtaposed against the full-bodied and warm bass thumping in the background. I’ll have to say I prefer this dry and slightly analytical treble personally. It makes Electronica and Rock music a pleasure to listen to, similar in the way Grados handle treble (but without the harshness).
     
    The iDSD also excelled at imaging and transient speed. Fast and difficult recordings were played back without a hitch with perfect instrumental placement. It is this particular trait, coupled with an  “open” sound that allows the iDSD to be considered reference in my book.
     
    While not as musical as the Mojo, or as dynamic as the Concero HP, the iDSD nonetheless holds its own as a contender for one of the better portable amps/dacs. It serves as an all-purpose and well-honed unit that offers so much possibilities in terms of playback and usage.
     
    Clarity, cohesion, openness, and accuracy. The Micro iDSD has all of them in spades.
    Conclusively, I highly recommend the iDSD for a long-term purchase that doesn’t disappoint.

     
    Overall Score: 8.9
     
        -Bass: 9
        -Mids: 9
        -Treble: 8.5
        -Transparency: 9
        -Dynamics/Transients: 9
        -Resolution/Details: 9
        -Soundstage/Presentation: 9
  3. heliosphann
    Great things come in small packages.
    Written by heliosphann
    Published Jan 16, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Huge feature set, compact, powers almost anything and plays almost anything.
    Cons - Poor LED placement, volume knob not marked well, battery can't charge while playing on USB power.
    *I was provided a review sample by iFi for the Black Label tour*
     
     
    iFi Micro iDSD BLACK LABEL
     
    Packaging and Build Quality
     
    The iDSD Black Label came packaged in a sturdy, well presented box. Most welcome were the plethora of accessories that it came with. Multiple different kinds of cables, connectors a storage bag and even rubber feet for the main unit. The lack of accessories is one complaint I've personally had with several other mid to high end audiophile amps/dacs, etc... iFi certainly didn't skimp in this area and I'm very happy they didn't. Also included was a small, but very well written instruction manual/guide.
     
    I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the micro iDSD BL unit itself. I actually thought it'd be bigger, but the size to me is very spot on. I was also always a little weary of the long, rectangular form factor, but it turns out it's quite accommodating. This makes it especially handy if you had a small area/work-space and real estate was a premium. The unit feels very sturdy and has a good weight to it, but it's not excessively heavy for portable use. I must say, the black matte finish with the orange markings looks fantastic. The numerous switches located on every side of the unit (minus the top) are very well marked and have great mechanical and tactile feel. I only had a few issues with the physical build of the micro iDSD BL. My biggest was with the placement of the sole LED indicator. It's placed towards the top/rear of the unit on a bevel and if placed to the left of you, is impossible to see. Placement towards the front of the unit, possibly right above the volume pot would be far more effective. It would also be nice if the LED, or perhaps a secondary one, would display if you are using USB Power or Battery Power. I also felt that the volume knob should have used some of the orange paint to mark the position indicator.
     
    Features and Sound Quality
     
    One thing for certain about the micro iDSD Black Label is it certainly isn't lacking in features. This is one very versatile piece of kit. I utilized most of the features that I would normally have if I owned this unit. That means I didn't didn't use the IEM matching as I only use full size headphones. I also didn't utilize the smart charging feature, but that's certainly a great feature if you plan on taking this unit on the go.
     
    I mostly used used the Black Label with several PC's via USB. The software download was super easy and installation was a breeze. Using Foobar I went through pretty much every format the micro iDSD could handle. With the exception of DSD/DXD, everything played exceptional. The sample rate change delay was slightly longer than some units I've used, but nothing too excessive. Back to the DSD/DXD playback, I initially had a few playback issues, but they were quickly remedied by increasing the buffer size. DSD all the way up to 256 and DXD played very well after that. I also used the Black Label as a portable unit with my iBasso DX80 as a transport via digital-coax and was very pleased by the results. I didn't run down the battery completely during my testing. However, the listed playtimes even in Turbo Mode, are more than acceptable.
     
    During my time with the Black Label, I used a variety of different full sized headphones with the unit. Everything I threw at it was easily powered from the HE-1000 to the HD650. I found myself mostly using the Normal and Turbo power mode depending on the headphone, although the ECO setting was nice to have especially if you wanted to get longer battery usage. The XBass Plus setting was solid as far as bass booster's go. Most of the headphones I used with the Black Label didn't really need it, but I quite enjoyed it when using my stock HD800. The 3D Matrix Plus feature was interesting, but I overall found myself not using it much. It seemed very dependent on the source material and the headphone used. On some headphones I felt it added far too much treble and on headphones with great soundstage/imaging it sometimes sounded strange. However, I did quite enjoy it with my TH900's.
     
    As I mentioned earlier, the micro iDSD Black Label did a great job powering all the headphones I threw at it. I also felt the sound quality the Black Label delivered was solid. Just straight out with base settings, the Black Label delivers a fairly neutral sound. I own a Chord Mojo and decided to do some A/Bing of the two with my DX80 feeding both as a transport via Digital Coax. I consider the Mojo to be an exceptional piece of hardware and feel it delivers far above it's price class. When comparing the Black Label to the Mojo, I felt it fell behind in a few areas. Most notable soundstage, instrument separation and detail retrieval were lacking. The Black Label also felt slightly warmer than the Mojo. All this aside, the iDSD sill sounded very good and I honestly prefer many of it's aesthetics over the Mojo.
     
    Final Thoughts
     
    Overall the iFi micro iDSD Black Label is a fantastic portable amp/dac, especially at its price point. This is a great all-in-one unit that can be used in a multitude of ways and is able to play pretty much any format out there. I’d easily recommend it to someone who’s looking at similar priced/featured portable amp/dac units.
      Vartan likes this.
  4. mathieu89
    IDSD Black label - A great gear ... Not only for Headphones
    Written by mathieu89
    Published Jan 9, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - True hifi gear - Quality for monney - Powerfull enough output to drive power amps
    Cons - none
    The unit arrived in perfect condition, packaged in the  usual iFi nice boxing.
     
    - The IDSD was powered through the  iUSB2 unit and an Uptone power supply
    I don't use headphnes, so my judgement is only valid for the RCA output.
    We connected it on two different hifi systems :
    1 - Krell / Vecteur Alpha / with and without the  Audio Research Preamp. USB cables is  Absolute Creation and  Howland for the RCA and speakers
    2 - A large Acoustat  44 electrostatic system, amplified with Electrocompanie mono amps, with and without a modified Perreaux SM3 preamp.
    Audio files are all non compressed, mainly Classical and Jazz (P.Herreweghe/Beethoven/9th - Harnoncourt/Haydn/7th words of Christ/Teldec - McGegan/Arias for Mantegnana- Ahmal Jamal/Live concert ...)

    Immediate comparison between the  Standard and Black label unit show indiscutable improvements/
    - Voice are more natural, I would say more transpare,t, but without loss of impact and presence.
    - Bass seems to extend deeper, lighter, but this extension comes without any negative artifact, at the  opposite of an 'Hifi' sound. There is more music there.
    - The unit is more dynamic than the  standard IDSD, an loses the  slightly 'warm' sound of the  former.
    Longer listening session shows that the Black label is more regarding toward the system on which it is connected than the  older one. It may reveal some defects of the others components, such as harshness or 'bummy bass.
    In some cases the addition of the preamp added some warmth, but removed some neutrality and tones reality.
    I clearly prefer this new unit. It is more of my taste : closer to the reality of dynamics, voices humanity and quick low response.

    Once again, AMR/iFi gives the opportunity to put one foot in the 'tru living music' for many audio enthousiasts. Thanks !
    I don't see any concurrence below 2000e to beat the  IDSD, and even more the  Black label. A true bargain.
     
    Mathieu
  5. dsnyder
    Incremental Improvements...or the start of a new line?
    Written by dsnyder
    Published Dec 31, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Lots of inputs and outputs, great features, delightful sound quality
    Cons - Ridiculous USB type-A input, excessive size/weight for portable use, too many switches in too many places, loud POP! on power-up/power-off
    First, I'd like to thank Lawrence and the folks at iFi Audio for lending me a micro iDSD Black Label DAC for a week so that I could experience it firsthand. If you're reading this review, I'm assuming you fall into one of three categories:
     
    1. you have an iFi DAC and you're wondering if the micro iDSD Black Label is a worthwhile upgrade
    2. you're in the market for a transportable DAC and are curious about iFi's new flagship product
    3. you've followed a link to this page but otherwise, have no idea what this thing is about
     
    iFi Audio is a brand that requires little introduction here on Head-Fi, but in case you missed the massive crowd design topics in this forum that are associated with the micro iDSD, I'll provide a brief introduction. iFi Audio is a subsidiary of AMR (Abbingdon Music Research), which is one of the UK's largest manufacturers of high-end audio systems. AMR is famous for their Series 77 and Series 777 products, including the highly regarded DP-777 reference class DAC with NOS tubes. For the performance it provides, this 25.4 lb monster is a great value even at its lofty $5K USD price. The problem? Well, apart from cost, it's not very portable!
     
    In the US, the assembly of gear that renders sound into a room is commonly referred to as a "stereo", even if many more than two channels are enabled. The term, "high-fidelity" is an adjective that describes the quality of a stereo. In the UK, the reverse is true; the term "hi-fi" is a noun, not an adjective, and "stereo" indicates the number of channels supported by the hi-fi. You go to your UK friend's house to listen to their "hi-fi", not their "stereo."
     
    The name "iFi", then, is a personalized version of "hi-fi". Like that certain American company that is keen to put the letter "i" in front of lots of nicely packaged products, "iDAC", "iDSD" and similar names indicate that these are personal entertainment products with trickle-down technology from AMR. Think of iFi Audio as the "personal hi-fi" (or "i-fi") arm of AMR.
     
    Ignoring their Pro and Retro lines for a moment, iFi Audio's components come in two sizes: "nano" and "micro". These sizes share the same six-sided cross-sectional dimensions of roughly 2 1/2" wide by 1" tall, differing only in length--3 3/8" for the nanos vs. 6 1/8" for the micros. While too thick to fit unobtrusively into a pocket, these are seriously small components compared to what you'll typically find in a desktop or rack audio system.
     
    micro_nano_BL.jpg

     
     
    I think of iFi Audio as a one-stop shop for computer audio. In addition to five native DSD-capable USB DACs plus a USB to S/PDIF interface, their product line has the greatest depth and breadth in USB power and signal clean-up devices on the planet...by a huge margin. Their emphasis on purifying the power that is fed to the DAC is particularly telling--it indicates that iFi Audio has a deep understanding of how and why clean power is important to computer audio, and that understanding drives their product design and product enhancements. The most recent product to benefit from this understanding is the new micro iDSD BL.
     
    BL_Box.jpg

     
    Those familiar with the original micro iDSD DAC/amp will find nothing new in terms of function and features with the Black Label model. All of the switches, toggles, inputs and outputs have been duplicated in the new product. The micro iDSD DACs come nicely packaged with a black velvet pull string bag, USB type B to A adapters, USB extension cables, RCA cables, a short 1/8" TRS patch cable, a TOSLINK S/PDIF optical coupler, a gold 1/4" to 1/8" TRS adapter, and elastic bands to strap the DAC to a smartphone or portable player. My original micro iDSD kit also included a set of stick-on rubber feet and a pair of thick plastic spacers to keep the DAC and whatever it is strapped to from scratching each other. I have found the rubber feet to be handy on my micro iDSD to keep it from marring the table or sliding around, but the rubber feet and the black velvet bag are somewhat mutually exclusive, so I can see why iFi dropped them from the BL's packaging. They are easy enough to find at your local hardware store if you want them.
     
    You might never know it by just glancing at the iDSD BL, but it sports three digital inputs (USB, TOSLINK and COAX S/PDIF), one analog input (1/8" TRS), one digital output (COAX S/PDIF), and two analog outputs (1/4" TRS and RCA, fixed or variable), plus a USB charging port. That's a crazy amount of I/O for such a small device! Think of the iDSD BL as the personal audio equivalent of one of those big, fat pocket knives with a dozen or two different tools. I actually tested all of these inputs and outputs, and they all work as advertised. What's interesting is that the COAX S/PDIF output functions even with the DAC switched off. As expected, there's no signal on the COAX S/PDIF output with PCM material at sampling rates above 192kHz or with DSD. The only thing missing is conversion of the analog input signal to digital on the USB and COAX S/PDIF outputs. :)
     
    BL_Inputs.jpg

     
    The combination of Power Mode and iEMatch® switches provide, in theory, nine different gain settings; however, iEMatch® is likely intended to be used with Power Mode set to "Eco", so effectively, there are five different gain settings. These are important because both versions of the micro iDSD have volume tracking issues at settings below 9 o'clock. Used together, these switches should enable just about any headphones to operate comfortably at close to the optimal 3 o'clock volume setting.
     
    The sound can be tailored using the X-Bass®, 3D Holographic Sound®, Filter, and Phase switches. I always felt that the effect of the 3D switch was a little too heavy-handed on the original micro iDSD; however, it seems to be more pleasing on the iDSD BL, making it usable even without the X-Bass switch enabled for most music. My understanding is that these switches have a different effect on the RCA line outputs when the preamplifier mode is engaged, providing enhanced stereo separation in the bass. I did not test this for reasons that I'll explain later. Like all of iFi's other DSD-capable DACs, the behavior of the filter switch depends on input format. Normal and minimum phase are digital oversampling filter settings with different cut-off frequencies, and bit-perfect is a non-oversampling setting with no digital filter. The same positions affect the cut-off frequency of the analog filter for DSD. The phase switch is a nice addition, however, although I'm somewhat sensitive to absolute phase in my loudspeaker + room system, I've never been able to identify a difference by inverting phase while listening with headphones.
     
    The light on top of the DAC changes color to indicate the source format. I wish that the micro iDSD models used a color scheme that's more similar to the nano iDSD and micro iDAC2. On the latter, green indicates a CD/DAT sampling frequency while any other color indicates high-rez. This is a useful distinction that's lost with the micro iDSD models which illuminate green for anything at or below 96kHz.
     
    A more significant point against the micro iDSD models relative to their less advanced siblings is the loud POP! that is emitted from both the headphone and RCA outputs when the device is switched on and sometimes when it's switched off and goes in/out of standby mode. I was disappointed when I discovered this issue with the original micro iDSD and even more disappointed to find that it has not been corrected in the iDSD BL. Not only is this POP! somewhat painful if you switch on the DAC while wearing efficient headphones, it precludes the DAC from directly driving power amplifiers and powered monitors. It can be a problem even if great care is taken to ensure that the external amplifiers are always off or muted during DAC power transitions because going into or waking up from standby can also cause an output surge. While not expensive, at the ~$500 USD price-point, I expect an audio product to be more well-behaved. This is why I did not test the preamplifier feature on the iDSD DACs.
     
    My final gripe with the crowd designed micro iDSD concerns the USB type-A input. Oh my gosh is this irritating! The idea is that the DAC will be directly connected to a smartphone or tablet by way of an OTG or camera connection kit cable, making the combination a tidy digital transport+DAC+amp combo for music on-the-go. Even though the type-A input eliminates the need for a short USB cable, this is an awkward and un-pocketable contraption. What's worse, we now have a ~$500 DAC that is incompatible with standard audiophile USB cables like iFi's own Mercury and Gemini, even though the DAC is sufficiently resolving to benefit from using them. We're left using a low-quality adapter or springing for the type-A iPurifier2 (which I did not have on hand for this review) to connect the micro iDSDs to a PC, which for a DAC this size and weight is likely the more common use case. Frustrating! A type-A input would almost make sense on the smaller nano iDSD models, but, in my opinion, it has no place on the micro iDSD. Okay...end of rant!
     
    Moving on from form, features, functionality, and my personal gripes to what you're probably more interested in...how the iDSD BL sounds. In a word, "lively". The BL departs slightly from the signature iFi Audio "house sound", which I would describe as erring on the warm side of neutral. Compared to previous iFi DACs, mid-bass on the BL has a little more punch, and vocals soar with a more open, forward midrange. Highs are, in particular, more extended, airy and pure than the iDAC2.
     
    loft_wide.jpg

     
    This new DAC is fast. I mean, crazy fast sounding--if that's even an audio descriptor. Listening to acoustic guitar, you get the sense that the DAC is tracking each string and the associated harmonics with tremendous speed and accuracy. No details are lost. Attacks emerge from the soundstage like a flash of lightening, and decays extend like rolling thunder into a deep black background. The more forward balance of the BL brings alluring presence to vocals but also to strings, snare drums, and brass instruments. The sound is energetic, punchy, and engaging both in the big rig and with headphones.
     
    Switching back to the original micro iDSD, I noted that the presentation is more laid-back and euphoric while still maintaining excellent detail. Soundstage width, depth, and height seem to be slightly greater with the original iDSD while the BL's soundstage is tighter and has a tiny bit more focus. The iDAC2 fits somewhere in the middle with a big, enveloping soundstage and lovely midrange bloom. It falls short relative to the BL only in its treble presentation, which by direct comparison, sounds slightly colored and rolled-off (both DACs using the minimum phase filter setting) vs. BL's pure, airy highs. This difference is most noticeable in acoustic jazz cymbals and hi-hat.
     
    micro_iDSD_BL_Orig.jpg

     
     
    Others have covered in detail what iFi has changed internally to bring about these sonic improvements, so I won't repeat them here except to say that the new Panasonic OS-CON capacitors should receive much of the credit. They are probably also responsible for the longer than normal burn-in time associated with the micro iDSD BL--this thing should finally settle in sonically after about 400-500 hours of playback.
     
    All three of these "micro" sized DSD capable DACs from iFi Audio sound terrific, especially considering their relatively low $350 - $550 USD price range. While there's not a huge difference in sound among them, each clearly has its own personality. If you delight in excavating every last micro detail from your music and listening sessions, the new BL is going to be your favorite by a mile. You might prefer the original iDSD if you prefer to just kick back and veg to soothing music with an enveloping soundstage while occasionally digging on details buried in the mix. If you don't require the portable features, the iDAC2 is incredibly resolving and punchy without being fatiguing.
     
    Your choice among these three may come down to system synergy as well. Listening to the BL with Grado RS2e headphones was an intense experience that could easily become overstimulating and even fatiguing depending on music choice and listening duration. However, the more laid-back Sennheiser HD600s were a delightful match to the BL's liveliness. In the big rig, if your system's balance tends towards forward or analytical, you may find the BL's intensity to be exhausting (perhaps addressable by inserting iFi's micro iTube between the DAC and your amplifier). However, the BL will add a little extra snap to systems with a more relaxed presentation. My big rig system employs room treatments and digital room correction, so the presentation is among the most neutral I have ever heard. As such, I never found the lively, energetic nature of the BL to be fatiguing, and I missed the beautiful, extended treble when I switched back to my beloved iDAC2.
     
    If you own the original micro iDSD, is there enough difference to justify the upgrade? It really depends on your listening priorities and associated equipment. If you have a dedicated audio PC with high-quality media player (JRiver, AMARRA, Audirvana, etc.) and Sennheiser HD600 or better headphones, you'll definitely appreciate the improvements in presence, detail, and speed offered by the BL. If you're mostly driving the DAC with a smartphone and using IEMs, the differences may not be as apparent or easy to appreciate. The BL is a pretty big step up in sound quality and power from the nano iDSD models, but keep in mind that it's also much larger, heavier, and less portable.
     
    The Chord Mojo is now the same price as the micro iDSD BL, so you might be wondering how to choose between these two. I happened to have one on hand for this review, so I did some quick listening comparisons. The difference in sound is nearly as great as the difference in size! Considering form factor alone, the Mojo is the way to go if portable audio is a priority for you. It's small, dense, and ergonomic. It has a pair of headphone jacks for sharing music with a friend without a splitter. While I don't love the mini-USB input, at least it's possible to find both OTG and audiophile grade USB cables with mini-USB plugs, including some from Audioquest. The Mojo's sound is even more laid-back, "British", and warm than the original micro iDSD, so the contrast in presentation between the Mojo and the BL is quite stark. Carefully consider your choice of headphones and associated gear before choosing one over the other. Both are beautifully detailed in their own way, but the BL presents a blacker background with greater dynamic contrast and is my pick between the two for best value for money.
     
    Mojo.jpg

     
    While I do miss some of the benefits of the BL in my system, I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing if iFi will give the iDAC2 the Black Label treatment. If so, that could be a very exciting sounding DAC that will be a welcome addition to an already extremely impressive lineup.
     
    Associated equipment for this review includes:
    1. Legacy Audio FOCUS SE loudspeakers
    2. Wyred 4 Sound mAMP monoblock amplifiers
    3. Emotiva XSP-1 analog preamp
    4. Morrow Audio and Straight Wire interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords
    5. iFi Audio, XLO, and Wireworld USB cables
    6. iFi nano iUSB3.0, micro iUSB2.0, and iPurifier2 USB power and signal conditioners
    7. Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, Sennheiser HD600, and Grado RS2e headphones
    8. JRiver Media Center v22 running on Windows 10 (with Fidelizer Pro) and Mac OS X
    1. View previous replies...
    2. dsnyder
      Fair question...I picked that up during a conversation with Mr. Zero Fidelity himself, Sean Fowler.
      dsnyder, Jan 1, 2017
    3. MLGrado
      I never noticed the pop on power up with my iDSD Micro Silver.  I did notice it with the Black Label.  It isn't that unusual.. I think it indicates lack of a muting relay that would add cost/complexity and is one more item in the signal chain that isn't absolutely necessary.  
       
      Via my Audeze LCD-X headphones, which, for Audeze, are high sensitivity with very easy to drive low impedance, the thunk was merely just an annoyance.  Not anywhere near loud enough for me to be worried about any possible damage to downstream components. 
       
      It may be more inconvenience, but if it truly worries you, keeping your headphones unplugged until after power on is a workable solution.  I will also note this only happens via the headphone output.  No such thunks on the RCA outputs (at least not in fixed mode)
       
      I agree about the increased presence and air.  It is especially welcomed (being done in a quite tasteful amount) in the upper mid lower treble.  Everything has just a bit more life and sparkle.  But I still would not go so far as to characterize the BL as bright.  Actually, as we move on up into the treble the sound is very smooth, sweet, and grain free.  No hint of listener fatigue. 
       
      Back in 2014 I had a discussion with Thorsten Loesch about the USB type A input.  My concern at the time was possible compromise in fidelity when using the Gemini cable.  The extra cable or adapter seemed to be a potential weak spot where any gains achieved via separation of the power and data feeds could be lost.  Thorsten didn't seem to think the difference would be significant, and I am guessing their lab measurements showed little actual difference.  But that is just a guess.  For me the biggest issue I have is the clunkyness of the heavy aluminum termination on the Gemini cable combined with the added length and weight of the iPurifier 2 and/or the required adapter.  All of those combined together plus gravity puts quite a downward strain on the connector.  
      MLGrado, Feb 13, 2017
    4. dsnyder

      I still contend that the loud POP effectively renders the preamplifier output function of these micro iDSD DACs useless for those who otherwise might consider connecting them directly to powered monitors or poweramps. Disappointing also since the much less costly iFi nano iDSD DACs do not seem to have this issue. Obviously, iFi knows how to build a device that does not emit a huge "POP" upon power-up or wake-up from sleep, but they didn't bother for their flagship micro iDSD models. Like the type A input, I'll continue to complain loudly until I feel that I've been heard.  :)
       
      As I said, how the BL sounds really depends on the system in which it operates. With the Grado RS2e headphones, it sounds bright (trust me), but it was delightful with the Sennheiser HD600's and totally fine in my Legacy Audio FOCUS SE based big rig.
       
       
      Your note about the conversation with Thorsten is helpful; however, the adapter is still appalling. I agree with you on the weight issue as well. Again, going with a type A (or micro USB) input almost makes sense with the ultra-portable nano iDSD products. I personally think it was a terrible choice on the larger, heavier micro iDSD models. This is the sort of thing that sometimes happens when something is designed by committee, sadly.
      dsnyder, Mar 16, 2017
  6. aftercrasher
    The iDSD Black Label is a more matured performer in every aspect
    Written by aftercrasher
    Published Dec 20, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Smooth delivery of orgasmic sound. Powerful enough to drive a planar, whilst gentle enough for sensitive IEM.
    Cons - xBass+ can get a tad bit too heavy.
    I will be comparing both the iDSD and the iDSD Black Label (called BL for short) with the XBass turned on as default as that is what I am used to listen. Each unit will be given a rating and at the end, the highest score wins. For a consistent result, I will be using my Hifiman HE-560 and 64 Audio U10 UIEM with Effect Audio Ares cable. I will not be swapping too many gears in order to not create too many variations. An ABX tester will be used so I can switch between the unit easily. All songs are ripped as AIFF from cd's. I will leave my thoughts on the stack integration and other headphones at the end. Do note that with your gear YMMV.
     
    • Counting Crows - Big Yellow Taxi
      1. Immediately, with the harder and punchier bass of the iDSD BL, I thought this song had a clear winner. Vocals were thicker, more musical, and by the mid of the song, I was tapping my feet and bobbing my head. Further switching between the 2 units made me realise that although the bass on the iDSD was not as punchy, the guitar strum just before the chorus sent chills down my spine thanks to its brighter treble. A thing to note is that while the HE560 liked the bass boost, but the low end got a bit too boomy for the U10 IEM.
      2. iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 4/5
    • Eagles - Life in the fast lane
      1. My gripes previously was that the bass is too light on the track with the iDSD. Now though, the iDSD BL presents a harder bass kicks in the opening, overall enhacing the imaging and musicality of the song. XBass and 3D is an appropriate option to use as it carries the song up to another level - closer to the live experience.
      2. iDSD - 3/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5
    • Norah Jones - Crazy
      1. The iDSD BL brought Norah Jones directly to my room. The darker Black Label makes her voice sound as smooth as honey. Her voice just tickled my ears bringing me to a huge grin. The notes from the double bass and piano was well rounded and punchy which added some depth to the sound.
      2. iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5
    • Babyface - Change the World (w Eric Clapton)
      1. The leaner iDSD takes the cake here due to the airy presentation. It brings out the details in the choir, hi hats, the electric piano and the bongo. I had to turn off the XBass on the BL as it was covering the detail in the song passage. Marks to the brighter iDSD.
      2. iDSD - 5/5 | iDSD BL - 3/5
    • Joe Hisaishi - My Neighbour Totoro Opening theme
      1. Again the airier iDSD beats the iDSD BL in this song. You can hear every instrument clearly thanks once again to the more neutral presentation. I tried adding in the 3D setting, while better, it could not sound as clear as the iDSD.
      2. iDSD - 5/5 | iDSD BL - 3/5
    • The Blue Hearts - Linda Linda (J Punk Rock)
      1. the iDSD can make the treble slightly splashy but more detailed. The iDSD BL controls the song better but could be duller in presentation.
      2. iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5 
    • Aerosmith (ft Carrie Underwood) - Can't stop loving you.
      1. The brighter iDSD emphasises the guitar strums but it can get a bit fatiguing if you are sensitive to high frequencies. the iDSD BL tames the highs and adds more depth to the song. However, Carrie Underwood's voice seem to be very slightly muffled due to the darker sound signature. the iDSD projects her voice and overall instruments better.
      2. iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 4/5
    • Scars - James Bay
      1. The iDSD projects James Bay's voice better, but lacks the depth that the iDSD BL provides. The bass kicks can get slightly boomy with the xbass turned on. The level of detail for both units remain excellent however.
      2. iDSD - 5/5 | iDSD - 5/5
    • AC/DC - Hard Times
      1. iDSD BL has got this song in its grip. The darker signature gives depth and really brings out the hard rock genre of this song. Hi-hats are well controlled but still remaining detailed. That Gibson electric guitar just sounds so rich with the iDSD BL.
      2. iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5
    • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Downtown (feat. Nally)
      1. I love this song due to the quirky nature, and more importantly a mixture of a lot of instruments and styles. The iDSD BL sent a massively (good) deep bass into my head thanks to the xBass boost (Although with the bass can get too messy with the U10). It is a toss between the 2 as the iDSD has more detail and sounds more forward. But in the end I had to give it to the iDSD BL for making me enjoy the song tremendously.
      2. iDSD - 4/5 | iDSD BL - 5/5

    Final thoughts between the iDSD and iDSD Black Label.
    I would call this unit a more matured iDSD with minor refinements that makes it great. I rated the Black Label 44/50 (compared to 42/50 for the iDSD). With my gear, the Black Label is darker overall with a slightly higher low end, and very ever so slightly recessed treble. Although I reckon that they may have added a touch too much boost to the XBass+. It would be nice if it came with a 2 step selector like on the iCan. Compared to the iDSD, the iDSD is a little more airy and detailed, but somewhat sterile and boring. The 3D+ setting is better implemented but I do not use them most of the time. Toggling it on certain songs (unplguged/live) can certainly complement the song, but use it wisely. All that said, if you are looking for an all-in-one solution, you cannot go wrong with both. The iDSD BL would be more polite to most songs, and also able to satisfy your inner bass-head, but could be too much for cans like the Beyerdynamic DT770, Fostex TH900 and Shure SE846.
     
    Things that I would like to see on future revisions
    2-step Bass toggle (found in the iCan), USB to Lightning cable for instant connection for iDevices.
     
    bl-side.jpg   blback.jpg
      DoctaCosmos and hqssui like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Krisna13
      Great review and comparisons. I've got the iDSD micro and the BL on the way. Looking forward to A/B-ing them. Do you mind briefly commenting on how the BL performs against the Mojo?
      Krisna13, Mar 9, 2017
    3. aftercrasher
      I felt the Mojo is a very good performer for its size. Price talk will be subjective, but for me yes it is reasonable. Solid aluminium body and very very nice pebble-like material for buttons. The Mojo has a lively sound. Bass is tight and punchy, vocals crisp and highs are nicely placed. If i remember correctly, the Mojo outperforms the iDSD (non BL) very slightly by having a more organic tone. the iDSD sounded more sterile and digital. Having said that i reckon the BL is as good and better value (due to the different connectivity and control options) than the Mojo. If you would like an all-in-1 portable dac, no doubt the Mojo will win due to its size and capability. However if you would like a desktop setup, my money is with the iDSD BL.
      aftercrasher, Mar 12, 2017
    4. Krisna13
      Thank you for the reply, good information to have for future reference. The iDSD BL will join my desktop setup so size is no worry. Saying that, I do take my iDSD micro for portable use too...Thank you again for the review and reply.
      Krisna13, Mar 12, 2017
  7. mejoshua
    Top notch DAC for the price and tons of functionality in a compact transportable device
    Written by mejoshua
    Published Dec 20, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Desktop class sound, DAC/amp very versatile for a wide range of iem/hp pairings, neutral and resolving yet engaging sound signature that pairs easily
    Cons - Only (trans)portable, not quite convenient to use with DAPs, 3D switch a bit too close to volume knob may cause accidents
    For the purposes of this review I will refer to the iDSD Micro Black Label as the BL
    Thanks and appreciation goes out to iFi Audio for organizing this tour – it is a privilege to be given this opportunity to review the BL. This unit will be returned after 1 week to be passed on to the next reviewer in the tour.
     
      20161219_111832_HDR.jpg
     
    Preamble:
    This is my second official review on Head-Fi, so I would gladly welcome any suggestions for improvement, or tips on what I could include so that it would be more helpful for other Head-Fi’ers in evaluating gear for purchase. I thought a bit about how to structure this review because I generally find it challenging to review DACs as compared to headphones or earphones. This is because it is not as easy to generalize a DAC’s characteristics and sonic qualities as compared to a headphone (or earphone), and they might sound slightly different with various pairings. I think that the most useful way to pin down a DAC’s sonic performance is to compare how it performs with different headphones and also comparing it with other DACs.
     
    I value timbre and tonality, then resolution and soundstaging (depth and realism over plain width). My listening preferences tend toward neutral but slightly dark, and I appreciate good low-end extension, texture and slam. I’m a vocal lover so the midrange is very important to me – mids need to have clarity but retain a level of musicality so that it is engaging and not sound congested or too analytical/hollow. I’m highly sensitive to treble, and harsh/uneven/forward treble can fatigue me easily. However, I appreciate high quality treble e.g. tonal correctness vis-à-vis real instruments as I know them (cymbal/violin tones) without any glare or peaks. High quality gear tends to tick most of these boxes easily.
     
    Packaging and Accessories:
    The BL comes in a standard white box, and includes –
    1)   felt pouch for the BL
    2)   female USB A to female USB B cable
    3)   3.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor
    4)   rubber pad (presumably for putting under the BL on a tabletop)
    5)   USB A male to USB B male adaptor
    6)   Two black rubber bands (for stacking the BL)
    7)   3.5mm to 6.35mm jack
    8)   Standard manual that explains the jacks and switches that can be found on the BL
     
    Design and Build:
    The BL is solidly built, and beautifully finished. I personally love the metallic black finish, and aesthetically I prefer it to its predecessor in silver. It is a compact design, and at times I still wonder how iFi has packed all that functionality into its chassis. I wouldn’t exactly call it portable but it is definitely transportable, especially if you are one who usually carries a small bag around e.g. a messenger or backpack (like I do). The volume knob allows you to do very fine adjustments, which can be very useful, and is quite smooth but retains enough traction for accuracy and to avoid accidental volume changes. The only gripe I have about the layout here is that when toggling the 3D switch I have the tendency of accidentally pushing the volume knob as well, because of my fat thumbs. People who have leaner digits or greater finger dexterity should have no worries though.
     
    The XBass and 3D switches feel sturdy and have a nice tactile feel when flipped. There are switches at the bottom of the BL, one for toggling between using it as DAC/Amp and as DAC only, and IEMatch, for toggling in use with highly sensitive earphones. There are 3 other switches at the side of the BL, one for power mode, one for polarity and the last for sound filters. I find that the 3.5mm input jack and the 6.35mm output jack is well placed for portable use, because that means that you can stack and still place the BL in an upright position in your back with those jacks facing up, allowing for fairly convenient volume manipulation on-the-go.
     
    20161219_111951_HDR.jpg   20161219_112012_HDR.jpg
    20161219_111918_HDR.jpg   20161219_112047_HDR.jpg
     
    Gear used:
    Concero HD
    Schiit Lyr (Philips 6DJ8 tubes)
    Onkyo DP-X1
    Sony A15
    Sennheiser HD650
    Hifiman HE400S
    Earwerkz (now Empire Ears) Legend Omega
    Aurisonics Rockets
     
    Some of the tracks I used:
    1) Don’t Know Why – Norah Jones 24/192
    2) Spanish Harlem – Rebecca Pidgeon DSD128
    3) Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48: II. Valse: Moderato – Tempo di valse – LSO String Ensemble 24/96
    4) Photograph – Ed Sheeran 16/44.1
    5) Birds – Coldplay 16/44.1
    6) What About Me – Snarky Puppy 16/44.1
     
    *note that I may not always comment specifically for each track in my review, but I am open to requests if you need specific information.
     
    Sound:
    Well here comes the most important part. I am running Audirvana+ on a 2011 Macbook Air 13”. Settings on the BL are usually on ‘Normal’ mode with IEMatch off unless specified.
     
    The first setup sees the Sony A15 as DAC, with line out into the BL, paired with the Aurisonics Rockets. The second setup uses the Onkyo DP-X1 as transport, feeding the BL with USB into the HD650. Then, comparisons 1 and 2 pit the BL against the Concero HD, which is a widely praised DAC and my desktop driver, albeit with less functionality than the BL but priced higher ($549 for the BL and $850 for the Concero HD), through the HE400S and the HD650. In the comparisons I usually kept the bass and 3D switches off in order to give a fairer comparison, and added comments about their selective use.
     
    Comparison 3 tries to pin down the performance of the BL in driving custom monitors (BA drivers), in contrast to my usual DAP, the Onkyo DP-X1.
     
     
    Sony A15 (Line Out) > BL > Aurisonics Rockets (and HD650)
     
    20161219_115303_HDR.jpg   20161219_164535_HDR.jpg
    20161219_164506_HDR.jpg
     
    I remembered that I had the line out jack for the A15, and added this setup because I considered that this is actually a transportable option. Besides, iFi does provide 2 black bands for those who might want to stack the BL with their DAPs. It may not be convenient for many but the sound quality may change your mind. This is desktop quality sound, available on-the-go.
     
    I volume-matched the A15 with and without the BL as accurately as I could, and I loved what I heard. Even with the XBass and 3D switches off, the audible difference is already significant. Comparing ‘Don’t Know Why’ by Norah Jones with and without the BL, there are immediate gains in air, space, and imaging, with greater vocal presence and resolution. Norah Jones’ voice is more focused; instrument placement increase in definition and clarity, and soundstage also gains some width and air.
     
    With the XBass toggled on, the midbass is pleasantly elevated to give a little more slam, decay and texture. By texture I mean that the bass can be ‘felt’ more – a little bit more tactile. The caveat is that not everyone might like this difference, because it may be a little too much north of neutral for some. Without also toggling the 3D switch on, the presentation turns a little dark.
     
    I loved the presentation with both the XBass and 3D switches turned on. The 3D switch re-balances the tonality of only the XBass switch by giving the music a treble lift. But that is an understatement. In this setup the 3D switch seems to provide a more ‘open’ sounding presentation. Vocals become a bit more forward and engaging without losing transparency. The soundstage increases in height, fills up the imaginary area somewhere above your forehead, along with a tad more width. The presentation also gains a lot more air and instruments have more breathing room and are nicely separated. The treble moves from the sonic background to a place where it suddenly has a little more sparkle and clarity.
     
    The result? Greater immersion into the music with excellent resolution, transparency, and musicality. Switching back to the A15 alone causes the music to sound compressed and somewhat claustrophobic. Given that the A15 has a small footprint, I would actually seriously consider this portable stack as a serious rig that gives you desktop class performance that you can actually carry around in a messenger bag.
     
    (I tried this stack with the HD650 just for kicks, of course with power mode on “Normal” and IEMatch “Off”. Turning the XBass on put the thump into the low end of the HD650s, however, it might not always be tasteful depending on track and preference. In many cases it changes the HD650s bass from being heard to being felt, working well as a result. I also toggle the 3D effect on simultaneously, and for most tracks, again, most noticeably makes the stage taller and more immersive, and adds air in the vocals and slightly more instrument definition. Imaging improves, together with a greater sense of realism. Even on a track with heavy cymbal work, tonality is never compromised, and with the HD650 the presentation still maintains its coherence and cohesiveness. However, as I note later (heads up), I suspect that more treble oriented cans might not synergize tonally as well with this pairing. I am really enjoying how a (trans)portable stack can drive HD650s properly.)
     
     
    Onkyo DP-X1 > BL > HD650
     
    The HD650s are the stuff of legend, and are well known for their audio quality. In fact, Massdrop recently ran a drop in collaboration with Sennheiser for the HD6XX, which basically replicates the sound signature of the HD650s. The HD650s are known to be slightly dark with a musical and lush midrange presentation, with the ability to scale up with better sources and amps.
     
    As tracks are playing I experimented with the BL’s power settings. I found that the “Turbo” drove the HD650s better than in “Normal” mode, but with the drawback of not having much volume control headroom – in between being too soft with channel imbalance or too loud for any listening comfort. In comparison to “Normal”, I found “Turbo” to provide slightly better control in the bass, and midrange notes were very slightly thicker. However, I ended up doing most of the listening in “Normal” mode for the reasons stated above.
     
    Compared to my memory of the non-Black Label iDSD Micro, generally the BL improves on its predecessor by providing a tighter grip on the bass, retaining midrange accuracy but having somewhat thicker notes lending itself to a more ‘musical’/engaging vocal presentation, for lack of a more appropriate term. Treble reproduction is remarkably accurate without giving in to any harshness or glare (perfect for someone like me), and maintains clarity without erring on the side of being clinical. Extension on both ends is very good, and detailing and resolution is top of its class in this price range.
     
    The pairing with the HD650 is a fine combination, and makes for a pleasurable listening experience. Because the HD650 is slightly dark, it pairs well with the BL’s neutrality and clarity to provide immersion into the music. The BL’s 3D switch, again, gives tracks a slight treble lift (and more), and also required tuning down the volume knob a notch when applied. However, the net gains seem more track dependent than with the Rockets (on some tracks it worked wonders for soundstage and imaging, but on others recessed/thinned out the mids and did weird things to the imaging – became too diffuse), I would say that the 3D function/crossfeed is generally very well implemented, and worked well for most tracks that have decent mixing and mastering. I would imagine that with neutral or more treble oriented headphones or earphones this boost may not work as well, and might even in fact cause an overemphasis on treble reproduction.
     
     
    Comparison 1:
    BL > Lyr > HE400S
    Concero HD > Lyr > HE400S
     
    My HE400S is grill modded and Focus A pad swapped, which helps improve its inherent staging qualities and bass extension. The comparison is done with the switches on the BL off, and set to “Preamplifier” mode. To be honest, when I first swapped out the Concero for the BL on the HE400S, I was a little shocked at its performance –the tonality was quite similar, and technically it is pretty close. In fact it was so close I was hard pressed to tell the difference at first listen, and it was only after critical listening that I managed to sieve out some small differences. This speaks volumes of what iFi has managed to achieve with the BL, when you get a DAC that competes easily with higher priced DACs in the sub $1k category.
     
    The Concero HD gets the edge for macrodynamics – bass slams a little harder and the presentation is slightly more energetic. The Concero HD low-end extension also reaches just a step lower than the BL. However, the BL’s bass is hardly far behind, albeit comparatively quicker and faintly lighter.
    Midrange/vocal resolution and clarity is top notch on both DACs, and I cannot pick them apart. For vocal-centric music both DACs present a highly immersive performance, drawing you into the music. Cymbal work comparatively sounds very slightly tizzier/hotter on the BL, but I’m really nit picking here, and so the Concero gets the nod for a slightly more natural treble timbre. The Concero HD also seems to extend a hair more than the BL but my ears are not as good with treble extension so take this last comment with a pinch of salt.
    Staging is a touch wider on the Concero, but seems a touch deeper on the BL. Imaging and separation brings both DACs neck to neck.
    I suspect that this result has also got to do with the pairing of the headphone’s sonic qualities, and in this case, the pairing of the Concero HD and the HE400S is more synergistic for my preferences. I conclude that this is a very impressive showing by the BL as DAC.
     
     
    Comparison 2:
    BL > Lyr > HD650
    Concero HD > Lyr > HD650
     
    Results are mostly similar to the HE400S, however, an interesting point of deviation worth noting is that I prefer the treble tonally on the BL with the HD650 over the Concero HD. This leads me to conclude that it has to do with DAC/headphone pairing when it comes to tonality. It also squares with what I have learnt in my personal audio journey, that synergy between your gear is the most important thing – getting the most expensive gear is not as important, because upstream gear may not play nice tonally with your current gear.
     
     
    Comparison 3:
    Onkyo DP-X1 > Legend Omega (Balanced)
    Onkyo DP-X1 (line out) > BL > Legend Omega
     
    Well, what can I say – naturally as a compact desktop level DAC/Amp offering the BL in SE trounces the Onkyo in balanced, even though the Onkyo does put up very decent competition, and performance is close.
     
    Power mode is on “Eco” and IEMatch is at “Ultra Sensitivity” – that leaves ample room for the volume pot, even though comfortable listening levels for me hover at around the 9 to 11 o’clock markings on the knob.
     
    With Norah Jones through the BL, her voice is slightly more focused with a bit more resolution and clarity. Imaging also gains a little more precision and definition, with some added air in the presentation. Because the Legend Omega is slightly dark in presentation, using the XBass on added too much bloom and decay to the bass for my liking. However, the 3D switch provided pleasing results. The treble gains precision and detail, and with the lift in treble the presentation also gains some air. Again, soundstage most noticeably gains height and a sense of “openness” (similarly, height and a smidgen more width). Notes are a little cleaner and more defined. However, the only thing I noticed is that the mids, although with some improved resolution, seemed to have taken a small step back in presence and is relatively less engaging than just with the Onkyo’s balanced out. On further listening I suspect my mind may be playing tricks on me as it adjusts to a larger stage presented through CIEMs. Somehow in my audio experiences midrange quality and soundstage spaciousness seem inversely proportional most of the time (i.e. the thicker and realistic the midrange, the smaller the stage; the thinner and hollower the midrange, the larger the stage). Of course this is a generalized observation based on the select gear that I’ve had the opportunity to listen to.
     
    With only the 3D switch on now, on Coldplay’s “Birds” track, through the BL, bass reaches down low, and has great attack and impact. If I can summarise the sound, two words I would use are ‘control’ and ‘precision’. I hear a lot of detail in individual instrumental and vocal spaces. The increased soundstage height from the 3D switch really helps with the spatial presentation and definition. Bass is well defined and fairly tight without being too analytical. Midrange is clear without losing much musicality, and the treble sits harmoniously with the rest of the spectrum without sacrificing any detail or sparkle. Tonality is pretty spot-on here, and with the detail retrieval and spatial qualities it’s one heck of a listening experience.
     
    The 3D switch is really beneficial on most classical tracks because of the increased presence of the HF spectrum and the improvements in air and staging. Most of the time it helps immerse one in the music and allows you to zoom in on any single instrument and passage. The balanced out on the Onkyo alone presents treble in a softer manner, and instruments are not so defined. If I may invoke a visual analogy, its akin to switch from 4k (BL) to 1080p (balanced out). This difference may prove starker (read: more audibly discernible) when applied to classical music than genres like pop, because of the number of instruments at play. I would also add that the BL has better microdynamics e.g. small volume changes in different sections are slightly more audible than just using the balanced out. The BL also hits slightly harder, so in terms of macrodynamics it also has the slight edge. The BL’s ability to render clarity and retrieve detail without losing musicality really allows the listener a fine experience over the Onkyo’s balanced out alone. Here the BL is definitely the better performer, especially so for classical music lovers.
     
    Conclusion:
     
    The iDSD Micro BL is truly a formidable device with a fantastic DAC and a ton of functionality, suited to the most sensitive of in ear monitors to the most inefficient and demanding of headphones. Its strengths lie in its neutral yet cohesive and very musical tonality, presentation of space and ability to resolve fine detail. Together with the capability of toggling the presentation with the XBass and 3D switches it is incredibly versatile, presenting the listener with a range of options for pairing with different headphones/earphones with varied sound signatures. I personally really dig the 3D switch, and I feel that it is very well implemented. It works wonders with darker sounding headphones with improvements in air and soundstaging (and sounds superb with the HD650). I suspect its effect varies primarily because it is track dependent (and headphone dependent).
     
    For audiophiles who do not mind the inconvenience of stacking, I would highly recommend the iDSD Micro BL as a (trans)portable option, paired with a DAP like the Sony A15 it will yield wonderful sonic results. As a DAC/Amp desktop solution for someone looking to enter the world of hi-fi I cannot more heartily recommend it. At $550 I think it has tremendous price to performance value (albeit a little steep if one is only starting out, but worth it), its DAC section easily competing with more expensive DACs in under the $1k range. Its functionality and small footprint is an added bonus. Bravo, iFi Audio, for a most excellent product! 

    1. View previous replies...
    2. dsnyder
      You really have a way with words when it comes to describing what you're hearing. Nice work!
      dsnyder, Jan 6, 2017
    3. mejoshua
      Thank you! Just hope it helps others make their purchasing decisions!
      mejoshua, Jan 6, 2017
    4. Krisna13
      Terrific review, thank you for putting in the time and effort. 
      Krisna13, Mar 9, 2017
  8. ngoshawk
    Just One More Day, Please!
    Written by ngoshawk
    Published Dec 18, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Incredibly clear sound, multitude of sound options, build quality, TURBO power! Good value.
    Cons - TRANSportability, 3D not the best on some genre/songs, switches can too easily move
    Oh my gawd this amp is incredible. If this is what moving upscale is, then I am in. I am beyond smitten. I am thrown face-first-headlong over the cliff. Enjoying the massive jet plane drop like never before. Traveling at warp 57, my Tennmak Pro’s have NEVER sounded this good…I await the crash to the ground. This would be a godsend, as it would be the final ecstasy to my full body experience.  I cannot breathe, yanked from my body it is as I hurtle towards that ultimate death…. Which would be welcomed as it would free me from this overwhelming envelopment of sound. A veritable cacophony of senses….Can we have more than five?! You are damn right we can…hitting the 3-D on Coldplays White Shadows, I give myself up. I give in to the sensory overload, which it provides. An out-and-out pummeling of sensory trance. I cannot bring myself to move past this. I don’t WANT to move past this. I want to curl up in that fetal position holding the Black Label close as I approach the end. Willingly, I protect the iDSD, so that it will survive and I won’t. It MUST survive, so that others can experience what I am. It’s as if I am David Bowie’s Lazarus….he willingly gave in to the cancer in the end, knowing he had produced such a masterpiece, giving to us, so that we may enjoy. Fighting like heck to the end, he rebelliously threw Black Star at us, so we would remember how damn good he was. A magical genius who told cancer what it could do…going out on HIS terms, to the dreaded disease…so that we would survive. This is what I must do so others may experience this primitive core explosion. This is a sense of not dread, but Paradise. Absolute Paradise. I give myself up so that you may survive.
     
     

     
    More background:
     
    Watching the Australian Open tennis tournament the year they used Coldplay’s Paradise as the go-to song, I watched some tennis. Some extraordinary tennis. Australia was facing record heat during the tourney. The players didn’t care. They competed, some to the full 3 or five sets, as the gender determined. There were some matches that went well beyond the normal 6-4 fifth set. The crowning jewels were the semi-finals and the finals, culminated by the Men’s final, which paired Rafael Nadal & Novak Djokovic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Australian_Open_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_Singles) in the longest match of the Australian Open history…in the heat…It was beyond spellbinding. I’ll admit I’m not the biggest tennis fan (my better half the wife unit is though, so I watched) but this whole tourney has me. Like the Black Label. The two mega-stars threw guts and sweat and heart and determination and every other superlative I can think of in my feeble mind at each other. Neither would break. There were breaks where the two would cross paths going to their respective benches, and they would low five each other. They knew what the match meant to the other and they would not yield. Eventually after 5 hours and 53 minutes (ALMOST SIX HOURS!), Nadal yielded. It was an instant classic (a term thrown around in this social media drooling-drivel-day), and some regard it as at minimum a top ten contestant for best final ever…A match which culminated in the dignitaries speaking for FAR too long…to the point that one of the Open Marshalls sought out two chairs and bottles of water for the champions (both in my mind) and he received more applause than any of the speakers…that’s how tired the two were. They could barely move…You might ask, what this has to do with the ifi…and you would be correct to shout that comment at me.
     
    djokernadal.jpg
    THIS was a tennis match!
     
    I fully believe after a short 45 minutes of listening that this device was crafted from the grit, the sweat, the blood, the Australian clay which those two idols of tennis competed on and gave up to that day. Shorn from the ground Nadal & Djokovic strode, the iDSD micro BL is a masterpiece. Simply smacks in the face to its competitors like Bowie to cancer. A full forehand volley driven of 125mph at its opponent head. A volley of such force that you must react or be laid out. Luckily for all of us, I do react and stop just short of the bottom. I thankfully come to my wits and stop; landing gently thanks to the parachute offered by the ifi iDSD micro Black Label. I cannot wait for more impressions.
     
    I haven’t even brought out the big guns yet…
     
    I am extremely grateful to the folks at ifi for the inclusion of me on the world tour. I have never done a tour such as this, but drawing from my experience on another recent tour, I will do my best to convey my likes, dislikes, quirks and joys. This review will be as open as I can. The tour unit will then be sent to the next lucky victim. My hope is that I can get the parachute packed for them…
     
    DSC_0042.jpg
     
     
    Initial Impressions:
     
    I have no experience with units of this magnitude, let alone price. My closest ownership is the Schiit Magni2, which I also use regularly. A comparison not really meant (or is it?), but one I will do (I didn’t). There is much difference, besides price.
     
    From my unboxing, I was rather startled as to just what to expect when I first saw the BL. I was very happy whenst the lid opened. A very black rectagonal cigar-shaped box greeted me. This unit is not small. It is meant for not only desktop use, but also TRANSportability. This would be the piece with which all of your other portable gear sits upon. An excellent foundation with which to start. Through all of the knobs, toggles, connectors, and switches; a small green light illuminates to show that “Yes, I am working, now begone and listen fore I smash your head.”
     
    From those multitudes of connecting options, I floundered for a good ten minutes trying to decipher where to hook my iPhone 6+…a simple start, and I completely bottled it. Eventually I was able to determine (stupid, I am) that the simple 3.5mm to 3.5mm right angle cable, which I raved about in the unboxing was the tool of choice. Until know, I did not let on what a dolt I was…
     
    DSC_0034.jpg DSC_0035.jpg
     
     
     
     
    Daunting though the size might be, the controls are logically laid out, and easy of function. Industrially-efficient is what I would describe. All switches, toggles, plug-ins, and cord/cable outlets are pretty much where they should be. No real surprise, and the red labels on the black aluminum body allows for fairly quick identification when needed of the three-way switches on the side. And those three-way switches are of light action. So be careful, especially when moving from the “normal” to the “turbo” setting on the amp. Yikes! As one becomes familiar with the switches, the red labels would simply be the back up. My one qualm is the toggles. I was worried in my opening about the “fragility” of them; how they might handle their location. I will say that due to the connections of the headphones in the ¼” jack and the 3.5mm input jack the two are protected. My worries seem unfounded at this point. What is bothersome from the toggles is quickly reaching them, as needed. I can see one wanting to toggle off and on the X-bass or the 3D between songs. This is where there can be a bother. But since they are toggles, a light flick either way takes care of that. No harm done.
     
    From the ifi site:
     
    Specifications
     
    Formats supported:
    DSD512/256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD
    DXD(768/705.6/384/352.8kHz), Double/Single-Speed DXD
    PCM(768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz)
     
     
    Filters:
    PCM – Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard
    DSD – Extreme/Extended/Standard Bandwidth
    DXD – Bit-Perfect Processing
     
     
    Digital Inputs:
    High-Speed Asynchronous USB 2.0 (32bit/768kHz)
    SPDIF Coaxial/Optical
     
     
    Digital Output:
    SPDIF Coaxial
     
     
    Audio Input:
    3.5mm
     
     
    Audio Output:
    6.3mm RCA Line out (2V fixed/2V-5V variable)
     
     
    Power Output:
    Turbo (8.0V max/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm)
    Normal (4.0V/1,000 mW @ 16 Ohm)
    Eco (2.0V/250mW@16 Ohm)
     
     
    Battery:
    Lithium-polymer 4800mAh
     
     
    Power System:
    USB BCP V1.2 compliant up to 1500mA charging current
     
     
    Power (max):
    <2W idle, 4W max
     
     
    Dimensions:
    177(l) x 67(w) x 28(h) mm
     
     
    Weight:
    310g (0.68 lbs)

     
    DSC_0044.jpg
    Red lettering makes for a somewhat easier read
     
     
    At a retail price of $549, this is not cheap for entry-level people. This is a definite step up. And it should be. With the reputation behind ifi’s other successful products such as the first generation micro iDSD as well as the micro and Pro iCan’s, it only makes sense to make an “improved” mid-fi with which to anchor the line up. Reading up on the old micro iDSD reviews it was very well received, called everything from “The Overachiever” by @ClieOS to a “True Swiss Army Knife” by @peter123, and the “New Wave of British Invasion” says @twister6 was in full swing.  With a reputation for tailoring amps to quite specific IEM’s or headphones, my hope is that this is more Swiss Army Knife as opposed to specialist. Initial impressions bely this thought.
     
    With a size slightly longer than a 6+ (YES, it IS!), stacking could be accomplished. I’m not sure how portable or practical that would be, but it can be done! It would dominate smaller DAP’s such as my Fiio x3ii, but such is life. As stated, many will simply use the BL with their desktops or laptops, so the size will not hinder.
     
     
    DSC_0041.jpg DSC_0040.jpg DSC_0045.jpg
     
    "Stacking with iPhone 6+"
     
     
     
    Some have said that with the new black color, they could not see the function terminology such as “turbo” and “DSD,” on the back. That just doesn’t bother me. This isn’t about what the unit says, it is about the sound. And my initial impressions were darn good if’n you couldn’t figure that out…
     
    Included with the BL is a Crown Royal-like suede pouch in which you would carry the unit and the necessary cables for the day. Functional, and no frills it does the job, albeit a tad small and snug. An assortment of cables and connectors is included in the box, such is the variety of ways one can connect the unit. Boasting such technological advances as:
     
    • 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 BL comes quite well equipped…as it should.
     
    DSC_0049.jpg DSC_0050.jpg
    DSC_0051.jpg DSC_0052.jpg
    ​Multitude of accessories which came with the i5...
     
     
     
     
     
    All of which mean the unit should be better. From initial third-party experiences, I can say the results are positive. I have no personal expertise with the old. With the addition of the “Headamp” Turbo setting, one can enhance the bass settings another notch beyond the normal. If that is not enough, then the XBass adds that final “11” to the mix. Think Spinal Tap, with the power to back it up.
     
    Unknown.jpg
     
     
    Once my initial WOW settled down, I thoroughly listened to see if the above-mentioned settings were simply an “enhancement” of the sound. My old ears did their best…
     
     
    Listening pleasures:
     
    Colplay: Paradise, A Sky Full of Stars, A Message, White Shadows, Lovers In Japan, Clocks, Paradise
    David Bowie: Lazarus, Blackstar
    Dave Matthews: Dodo, So Damn Lucky, Gravedigger,
    twenty one pilots: Hometown, Heavydirtysoul, Addict With a Pen, Car Radio
    U2: The Unforgettable Fire, When Love Comes to Town,
    Santana: Persuasion, Fried Neckbones and Home Fries
    Dire Straits: Lady Writer, Down to the Waterline, Sultans of Swing,
    Adele: Set Fire to the Rain, He Won’t Go, Hello,
    Los Lonely Boys: Senorita, Heaven, anything else, which came through my players…
     
    Device pleasures:
     
    Sources:
    iPhone 6+
    Fiio x3ii
    MacbookPro
     
    IEM’s/Headphones:
    Tennmak Pro
    Campfire Audio Nova
    Fostex T40RP MK3
    RHA ma750
     
    Amp comparisons: ummmm….never mind, pointless comparisons…
    Fiio A3
    Schiit Magni2
     
    DSC_0046.jpg
     
     
    Detail:
     
    DAY ONE:
    My listening was broken up into an odd assorted way, to some maybe. I spent a thorough day solely with the Tennmak Pro’s on my iPhone 6+ and the BL. What a joyous, pleasurable day it was! If my opening description wasn’t enough, then I will simply add that the BL brought out the best of the Pro’s. Solid, full, warm sound emanated from the Pro like I had never heard. Rich mids, solid but slightly boomy bass (sometimes) and a treble of sufficient quality came through so that temporarily I forgot that this was a $21 IEM playing through a $550 amp.
     
    This would be a case where the better source definitely enhances the lower priced item. Sometimes faults come through when using a “cleaner” power source, as if the deficiencies are laid bare-naked in the snow. Not a pleasant option or vision (please don’t ask…), but in this case the Pro doesn’t MIND being put bare, in fact it enjoys the frolic and gladly rewards with that warm sound I mentioned. Kind of like dancing through the snow with a nice mug of hot cocoa, laced with Bailey’s for good taste. Darn, that sounds really good right now…
     
    DAY TWO:
    I followed that day with a single day using the Nova in the same set up. OK, this makes more sense…an IEM in the same category as the amp. What a wonderful combo this is! Open more “airy” and brighter than simply through the iPhone. Detail oriented I heard things, which were hard to come by using my other amps. With some of my other setups, I would “hear” the sound, but it was sometimes fleeting, such as when I worked as a Biologist studying birds… If a new bird came along on my survey, I would separate out the new sounds from the ones I had already identified. It was not that I didn’t hear the finer tones in my normal set; but with the BL, it wasn’t as if this was a new sound.  There was no mistake…that tone, which might have been the fleeting sound of a far off bird on my surveys was DEFINITELY there. The birds/sound presenting themselves to me in a nice orderly fashion. No hiding, but not boisterousness either. Just a neat progression of sound. Harken back to a full procession coming in front of you…or the birds presenting me with easy identification without needling or disorder. Just presented for my listening indulgence. Enhanced bass with the switch on paid dividends to the Nova, adding that little extra I craved from them before. Now, I am in no way dissatisfied with the Nova, but the bass switch added the right amount for my taste. EQing would get me near the same thing, but toggling the bass on is a simple way to enhance for my taste.
     
    With the 3D toggle switched on, there is a definite jump in mids and a slight treble bump. In conversation with a fellow Head-fier, we discussed whether this was a placebo effect from the gain of mid/treble tones or if it was real. I do not have the equipment to gauge the truth (others are as we speak), if one can define the truth that way. My seat of the pants explanation (and reading about the crossover system involved) is that there is a shift fore and aft in my cranial matter in regards to the soundstage. Switching back and forth, or playing a song fully then repeat I can “sense” added depth in the anterior/posterior relationship of my cranial mush. Call it a bodybuilding “loudness” switch.  Some have stated that the effect on the micro/micro BL is not as effective as other units, but it works quite well for me. I could sense a larger soundstage, but not enough to make the instrumentation feel separated by a distance. I left the switch toggled on for the whole time; except times I wanted an “unencumbered” sound with which to listen.
     
    I find it quite marvelous that technologies such as the XBass and 3D can fit into a unit this size. My-oh-my how sound times have changed!
     
    Some have stated they wished for a bigger boost in the XBass toggle. I would disagree. I think there is enough of a bump at 6dB to satisfy most. I like the push added to the overall sound. A quick jolt of bass for those IEM’s which might be bass-shy. If I want more, then I will EQ my source.
     
    DAY THREE:
    Switching to my Fostex T40RP Mk3’s, I pushed the BL to the Turbo setting. I still had to push the volume pot to about halfway for a good listening level for me. And it was quite the stunning combination. Going through my iPhone 6+ with a newly acquired Lightning camera kit attachment, I was able to use the Digital SPDIF port, bypassing the DAC of the 6+, and fully using the BL. Holy buckets, what a difference! And yes, one would expect that going from a Smartphone to a dedicated DAC/DAP; but still the revelation was astounding. Rich of sound, full of body, slightly warmer than when run with my other setups, the Fostex have not sounded this good. I would call them a slightly “dry” sounding can OOTB, but one with which I like very much. EQing can take care of my personal tastes with the T40, but using the BL, there was no need. With 3D and XBass toggled on, I sat back and fully felt Dire Straits Down to the Waterline. Knopfler’s guitar rifts are a masterpiece to be enjoyed using good equipment, and I had found my listening of choice, whether it be from my x3ii or 6+, it was purely a marvel. Clean, clear, crisp, with the full sound one would expect from an amp of this caliber. It did not disappoint. And a volume, which satisfied me to the fullest. I cannot imagine pushing the pot higher, for fear of hearing damage.
     
    DAY FOUR-SEVEN:
    Running all set ups through my MacBook Pro, 6+ and x3ii; I tried all set ups, but fell back to the listings below. If I didn’t like the set up, I quit using it within about 15 min. My time was too short to audition something which was not that pleasant.
     
    DSC_0047.jpg DSC_0054.jpg
    Stacking with the Fiio x3ii
     
     
     
     
    Summary of Sound Prefs (no particular order):
     
    iPhone 6+-->Lightning Camera kit-->ifi BL-->Tennmak Pro:
     
    Just a thoroughly satisfying sound. A Marvel of todays technological advances from a cheap IEM to a moderately priced mid-fi amp; this was my favorite go-to sound for day to day. This would be my set if I had only one, which would travel.  twenty one pilots Hometown was my first listen, and my main song no matter what I test. I follow this up with Coldplay’s White Shadow or A Sky Full of Stars. The three songs hit a full gamut of sounds, which I can use to gain that initial sound, which I liked so much. That initial push of “what can this unit do.” From the keyboard, which nears distortion to the very forward sound of the Coldplay songs, this is a good judge. There is no hiding; and the “grouping” did not disappoint. 
     
    iPhone 6+-->Lightning Camera kit-->ifi BL-->Campfire Nova:
     
    My favorite setup for the majority of the music I auditioned. Bowie’s Lazarus is haunting enough under normal listening; but with this grouping, I could VERY easily imagine myself holed up hugging the wall in his hospital “suite.” Trying darn hard not to be noticed, lest I get thrown in the Institution myself, I would listen to his beautiful voice; and it would sound identical to this match, getting drawn in with his dilemma, his final push before death calls his name. This set brings me closer to his music than I have with anything else. And I am grateful. A nice slightly warm sound, which does not intrude, not wanting to draw attention to itself much the way if I were hunkering in Bowie’s hospital room. Sipping single malt, this would be my unwind unit in the evening.
     
    iPhone 6+-->3.5mm to 3.5mm cable-->ifi BL-->Tennmak Pro:
     
    This was the set with which I wrote my opening. As you can tell, it was sufficiently “adequate” that I was able to eagerly anticipate the “better quality” hook ups with gleeful, slack-jawed-joy. I was in listening bliss. I was so taken aback by that initial listen, that I wrote the opening on the spot. Such an honor it was, that I replayed Coldplay, twentyonepilots, David Bowie, and Lyle Lovett for three straight hours. Such was the joy, that I lost track of time and it was 0200 the following morn before I realized. Not that I cared, not one iota because of the delight I had experienced. Easy setup and with the length of the 3.5mm cord, easy to transport. This was the closest set up to actually SHOUT at me. Grab me by my shoulders, screaming WAKE THE HECK UP AND LISTEN!!!
     
    iPhone 6+-->3.5mm to 3.5mm-->ifi BL-->CA Nova:
     
    I spent the whole of the second day running this way. And I was not disappointed. I ran the same songs, over and over, with the same results. A more full sound, rounded out by the fore/aft added depth of the 3D, the Novas ran well. While not as good as the SPDIF/Lightning setup, a thoroughly enjoyable sound encased me, to the point where my co-worker was essentially right next to me before I heard or SAW her. A trance worthy of an Ouija board I was in…My second audition of the BL was a complete success, and it was during this day that @nmatheis convinced me to purchase the Lightning camera kit and I would not be dissatisfied (which I wasn’t!). Just more “Wow” moments all around…
     
    Fiio x3ii-->3.5mm to 3.5mm-->ifi BL-->Tennmak Pro
     
    Since the Fiio is a definite step up from the iPhone, I spent the next two days thoroughly auditioning my music with the x3ii as the source. This was probably the least used system, but not because it was the “worst.” I simply wanted to spend more time with the Nova inserted here. That said, I loved how the x3ii brought a cleaner sound to the table than Amazon Music, or Tuneshell (which has since failed me and I have deleted the app for reasons I will not state here). Yes, of course it was of higher quality music than the other, but I wanted to make sure I tested the arrangement in my best possible light. My best units if you will. While the quality was better, I did not enjoy this system as much as through my 6+. I know, I know, that doesn’t make much sense, but I felt the music I had was a bit flat. Even running through the “Line Out” from the Fiio it just wasn’t full enough for me. The warm Tennmak’s and XBass could not make me happy with my recordings the same way the 6+ did. I’m not sure I can explain it any better than I just wasn’t happy with this. Would it work? You bet, it wouldn’t be my first or second choice, though.
     
    Fiio x3ii-->3.5mm to 3.5mm-->ifi BL-->CA Nova:
     
    If I absolutely had to choose one set up, this would be it. The Novas warmer sound could compensate for the colder-more analytic sound of the Fiio. I think I stated in my review video, how with this set the two (BL & Nova) could overcome the cold nature of the x3ii, and it did. This set up would (and did) need the most EQing to be completely satisfactory of listening pleasure. I guess I have come full circle then; I used to EQ, and then swung HARD the other way. Now I am back to EQing. At least with this grouping I am. And that’s ok in my book. I hate to keep using the same bloody commentary regarding “slightly warm and full,” but…since I already stated that this would be my one go to set up, I really do not think I need to describe it any better. Using the line out on the x3ii, I was quite OK with letting the BL dictate and run the sound program. It was kind of like having a simple DJ with me who could only do three things well (XBass, 3D, Eco/Normal/Turbo) and that was quite all right. More than adequate, this was a DJ I could afford.
     
    Fiio x3ii-->3.5mm to 3.5mm-->ifi BL-->Fostex T40RP Mk3
     
    What a superb way to bring out the best in these hard to drive cans. Turbo was more than suitable to drive these “near-mid-fi” closed cans. I opted for the T40 because I wanted the better of the bass units, and the closed back, for privacy. These do not disappoint, but the amps I have, short of the Schiit Magni2 & Fiio A3 (almost) cannot really do them the justice which I heard through the BL. I have talked about a “veil being lifted” in previous reviews, but I think that would be an insult to the Fostex. Call it having the necessary “passing power” to cruise by the slower vehicles in the mountains. While the Schiit is sufficient, it doesn’t compete with the BL. Kind of like a BMW 3-series with four passengers and full luggage… The A3 would be the equivalent of a Prius…It would get me there, and in quite fine manner; just not like having a Ferrari F455 with which to do the job, and in not so near a hurry. There was no worry for power using the BL. I barely went over ½ on the volume with the BL/Fostex. Anything more, and I was ricking hearing loss in my mind. I really don’t want to lose more…
     
    DSC_0038.jpg
    Slim lines bely it's size
     
     
    Conclusion remarks:
     
    So there you pretty much have it. My time was far too short for my listening WANTS. I found myself craving just one more day knowing it wouldn’t happen. I think that is the highest compliment I can pay to this delightful unit. If a unit (especially a loaned/tour unit) can have my mind begging for just one more day, by the SECOND DAY; then I am enamored. I am taken. I am engaged to the listening for the short time available to me. Liken this to a long distance relationship where you will meet for a week, knowing that each day draws closer to the separation. The leaving, which will tug, no yank at you over the increasing distance which WILL happen. You keep thinking, “I really should be focused on the moment, lest it is lost.” But you obsess over the time ticking down, ever closer to the farewell. But during that time, you force yourself to envelop the moment, devour that time together, devoting full attention to your time together. Even though that damn clock is ticking ever louder in the back of your mind; you scream silently to it, "SHUT THE F-UP! I’M NOT DONE HERE,” as you surrender yourself, your time and your ears to the listening; knowing you must. Otherwise the task is lost. And not only do I not want that, I desperately do not. It would be a disservice to your relationship, your short but oh-so-sweet time together.
     
    You really must give in to the relationship to fully understand what is going on, otherwise the time is wasted, as is the relationship. Hopefully I have not wasted that time on this wonderful relationship, courting a future together, which I would willingly, GLADLY give in to again. And again. Lover's In Japan, from Coldplay's excellent Prospekt's March album is a very fitting end to this review. The timing could not be better...
     
    Is it perfect? Heck no. Does it have a few quirks? Yes, size to me is the main drawback. It is almost too big to be commonly portable, but workable. I would definitely keep this in a desktop situation, though if  “forced” to; it is too good not to use… And the 3D is not for everyone. It can artificially inflate the sound stage fore/aft as well as the mids becoming overly bright. It sounded good on some tracks, not good on others. So a simple toggle of the switch changes that. But the positives FAR outweigh the negatives. Three amp settings with which to choose from, as well as the XBass switch and the excellent sound from the digital out highlight those positives. Fine-tuning of IEM’s through the sensitivity settings is another quick way to tailor the listening. A nice touch.
     
    I really want to thank Lawance and Jared for this relationship. This time together with the WELL more than fine ifi iDSD Micro Black Label was all I could ask, albeit too short for my lusting listening pleasures... It really is a fine unit, which I would gladly spend more time with, and my hard earned dollars upon. That is about the highest praise I can give. Go listen, it will be worth it.
      proedros, dsnyder, peter123 and 3 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. ngoshawk
      Thanks man, I appreciate the kind words. Just a wonderful piece this was, and I miss it everyday. Maybe we will get lucky and be on the next tour together. Cheers and stay warm.
      ngoshawk, Dec 18, 2016
    3. proedros
      epic review indeed

      great job
      proedros, Dec 19, 2016
    4. ngoshawk
      Much obliged! Thank you very much.
      ngoshawk, Dec 19, 2016
  9. goldendarko
    Well Designed, Great Sounding and Extremely Versatile Trans-Portable DAC/Amp
    Written by goldendarko
    Published Dec 15, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sounds Great, Can Play Anything & Power Anything, Bass Boost & Treble Boost are Very Fun
    Cons - Trans-Portable size makes it hard to walk around with, nothing else really I can think of
    I was lucky enough to get to demo the iFi Audio iDSD Black Label for about a week thanks to the good folks at iFi and I just wanted to share my experience with this great little piece of equipment. The headphones I used for my review included an HE1000, LCD-3F, Ether C and a pair of Andromeda IEM's.
     
    The first thing you'll notice when you open the box is that they've included just about every adapter or accessory you can think of (except an OTG cable apparently), so right out of the gate you'll pretty much be ready to use this device with whatever gear you've got. The next thing that stands out is how well it seems to be built. Considering it comes in at what I would consider a budget gear range, I was very impressed because it had the build quality of more expensive gear. As I began using it with my different headphones I found out it was pretty damn versatile too, it could go from driving my Campfire Audio Andromeda's (which are very sensitive) on the IEM setting, all the way up to my HE1000's, which needed the Turbo setting to really shine. No other device I've got can achieve that feat of being able to drive anything you throw at it. That was my biggest takeaway from my week with the iDSD BL too, is how versatile it was. It can literally plan any file type, on any headphone and it sounded great doing so. 
     
    Another thing I really liked about it was the bass/treble boost switches. Normally stuff like this is very gimmicky and doesn't sound good, so I really wasn't even planning to try them but luckily I gave them a chance because I actually had a lot of fun using them! They are very subtle effects, nothing like I've been used to before, and they allow you to modify the sound very slightly which I found helpful for dealing with tracks that were either too closed in sounding and could use a little more air (mostly newer recordings), or other recordings that could stand for a little more bass. 
     
    In terms of headphone pairings, my guilty pleasure, and the one that's got me thinking about buying the iDSD BL was the LCD-3F pairing. I admit to using the bass boost with it quite a bit too, was just so fun sounding and really got me into the music. The Ether C's and Andromeda's were my next favorite pairings, but the HE1000 came across as a little bright sounding to me with the iDSD, just wasn't a great pairing IMO, but it certainly had the power to drive them adequately, I would just say it's a sound signature preference. 
     
    My only con for the device would be the size that fits it squarely into TRANS-portable territory. Unfortunately it's just too big to carry around in your pocket along with a phone for example, but if you are thinking about using it with a laptop for example it would be the perfect fit. 
     
    So in conclusion here are my main takeaways from the iDSD BL, in terms of pro's and cons:
     
    PRO's:
    -Versatile (Plays Anything, Powers Anything)
    -Subtle but Fun Bass/Treble Boost
    -Reasonable Price for Everything it Offers
    -Perfect for Transportable Setup
     
    Con's:
    -Too Big to be Used for a Portable Setup
    -Can Be a big Bright with certain headphones (particularly with bright recordings)
     
    So in Conclusion, I would say this device is like a swiss army knife for headphone enthusiasts in that it can be used in so many various setups, with any kind of headphones, and offers a great sound that is easily customized to user's tastes. It's an easy piece of gear to justify for a reasonable price for everything that it offers, highly recommened.
    1. glassmonkey
      Nice concise review!
      glassmonkey, Dec 16, 2016
    2. dsnyder
      Nice review...sounds like your impressions were very similar to mine. iFi should use this quote from your review in their marketing material, "It can literally plan any file type, on any headphone and it sounded great doing so". Well said.
      dsnyder, Jan 6, 2017
  10. peter123
    The true Swiss Army knife DAC/amp from iFI Audio
    Written by peter123
    Published Aug 31, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - A lot of possibilities for adjustments, powerful, clean sounding
    Cons - Slightly too large to be truly portable, may lack some richness in the sound
    The iFi Audio Micro iDSD was sent to me by iFi with help from their Norwegian distributor Audioaktøren for the purpose of doing this review and including it in my recently started $250+ amp/DAC comparison thread. It’s a loaner unit and will be returned to Audioaktøren after my review is published. I would like to say thank you to Karina as well as Terje and Hallvar for making this review happen, thank you very much!
     
    IMG_4003.jpg IMG_4004.jpg
     
    IMG_4005.jpg IMG_4009.jpg
     
    IMG_4006.jpg IMG_4007.jpg
     
    The iFi Audio Micro iDSD is available from numerous online and domestic resellers (many places) with prices starting from $499 (at the time of this review). This is a link to the current Amazon listing for the Micro iDSD: 
     
    https://www.amazon.com/iFi-Micro-iDSD-Headphone-Amplifier/dp/B00M50FLWK
     
    For more information about the Micro iDSD you can also visit the IFI website:
     
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd/
     
    I’m not in any way affiliated with iFi or Audioaktøren.
     
    Short introduction to iFi Audio:
    iFi Audio is a UK based company.
     
    This is what they say about themselves on their website:

    “iFi is a brand new line of electronics with trickle-down technology licensed from AMR and aimed primarily at the future, Computer Audio generation. All iFi products boast Class A analogue circuitry with no DSP and the signal stays ‘Bit Perfect’ throughout.
    How a product looks and performs matters, but so does its impact on the environment. That’s why nearly every iFi product and its packaging are made from highly recyclable materials like aluminum, paper, recycled plastic and why we refuse to use harmful toxins in our components. We do this to ensure that every product we release meets our environmental standards.”
     
    About me:
    I’m a 44 year old music and sound lover that changed my focus from speakers to headphones and IEM’s about five years ago. At that time I realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to have all the different setups that I wanted and still house a family of four children and a wife so my interest turned first to full sized headphones and later also IEM’s.
     
    My preferences are towards full sized open headphones and I believe that also says something about what kind of sound signature I prefer (large soundstage in all directions, balanced and organic sound).
     
    My music preferences are pretty much all over the place (only excluding classical music, jazz and really heavy metal). My all-time favorite band is Depeche Mode although I also listen to a lot of grunge/indie, singer/songwriter/acoustical stuff as well as the typical top 40 music.
     
    I tend to value function over form within reasonable limits.
     
    I do not use EQ, ever.
     
    I’m a sucker for value for money on most things in life Head-Fi related stuff is no exception.
     
    Built, accessories and functionality:
    The iFi Audio Micro iDSD is a solid state headphone amplifier and DAC combo.  
     
    The Micro iDSD is available in only one variation AFAIK: silver color.
     
    I’ve got to be honest and admit that when I’ve seen pictures of  and read about the Micro iDSD I’ve almost been intimidated by its huge amount of options and buttons. At the same time I’ve also been very fascinated about in so naturally I was thrilled at the opportunity to try it out for myself.
     
    Output power is rated to 950mW@ 32Ohm when running in Normal mode and from the numbers it should be somewhere around 2W in Turbo mode (more about the different modes later). Output impedance is rated at less than 1Ohm.
     
    The Micro iDSD has a sturdy housing that feels very durable. The physical controls available on it do feel reliable. Speaking of physical controls there sure is an impressive number of them and they’re present on almost every side of the unit. On the front you’ll find the volume control that also is the on/off switch accompanied by the on/off buttons for bass boosts (XBass) and crossfeed (3D). The volume control seems quite sturdy but like most other devices with an analogue volume control there’s channel imbalance at low listening levels (very low to be fair). The number of settings to adjust the power from the iDSD to suit your IEM’s/headphones makes this pretty much a no issue though. Underneath the unit there’s a switch for choosing between pre-amp or DAC direct output from the RCA output. You’ll also find the “IEM match” switch here which you can use to fine tune the noise floor/gain with sensitive IEM’s. There are three settings available: High Sensitivity, Ultra Sensitivity or Off. I’m not sure that I’m that thrilled about the placement on these buttons since I more than once managed to change the IEM match level by incident by moving the unit, adding some rubber feet that’s high enough should eliminate this though. On the left side (facing from the front) you’ll find a red switch for setting the “Power Mode” and you can choose between Eco, Normal or Turbo. In addition you’ll also find the switch for changing the polarity and choose which digital filter you’d like to use ((bit perfect, minimum or standard are available). On top of the unit as well as on the right side there are no switches at all, so still room for more in the next revision :wink:. Puh, that’s it when it comes to options to make the iDSD work as good as possible with your preferences and/or IEM’s/headphones.  Although the Micro iDSD doesn’t feel very heavy the overall build still feels solid enough for a desktop unit.
     
    The Micro iDSD offers one male USB A digital audio input and one separate female USB A charging port to take advantage of the fact that the iDSD ois also able to act as a powerbank and charge your phone or other devices. It’s the first time I’ve come across a device like this with a male USB input but I can surely see why iFi has chosen this solution, the USB connection is very sturdy and much more so than I’ve experienced on any device with the regular female input. Also located on the back you’ll find a combined optical in/coax in or out combined connection (this socket will work as a coaxial out when USB audio in is connected) as well as the RCA output. Further there’s a 3.5mm input on the front for line in together with the 6.3mm headphone output socket.
     
    As you can tell there’s almost no limit to the ways you can make the iDSD suit you or your equipment the best way. Only thing I can actually think of that I miss is a balanced output. Apart from that this is a very complete and versatile unit, probably the best I’ve come across so far in this aspect.
     
    The Micro iDSD works very well with Android when connected with an OTG cable and using USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) as music player. Although Android and sound does not have a great reputation the Micro iDSD have worked with every Android device I’ve tried it with (sometimes with the help of UAPP).  Battery drain is quite low when running on battery and from testing with my LG G3 it seems to be 10-15% per hour. To make sure you do run it on battery turn on the iDSD before you connect it to your Android device, if not it’ll take its power from the device draining it very fast.
     
    The Micro iDSD uses an Xmos USB receiver that is supposed to work with Apple devices using the Camera Connection Kit (CCK) but unfortunately I haven’t been able to test this myself.
     
    The Micro iDSD support all popular file formats for audio up to DSD512 and 32bit/768kHz files.
     
    IMG_4022.jpg IMG_4019.jpg
     
    IMG_4023.jpg IMG_4024.jpg
     
    IMG_4025.jpg IMG_4027.jpg
     
    The accessories included are:
    1 USB A female to USB B female cable
    1 USB A female to USB A male cable
    1 USB A to USB B adapter
    2 rubber bands (to attach it to a phone or other transport)
    4 small rubber feet (to attach the main body to the floor)
    1 rubber sheet (to place between the iDSD and another device)
    1 RCA to RCA cable  
    1 Optical to 3.5 mm optical adapter
    1 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable
    1  3.5 to 6.3 mm adapter
    1 pouch (to store it in when not in use or travelling)
     
    IMG_4010.jpg IMG_4011.jpg
     
    IMG_4012.jpg IMG_4017.jpg
     
     
    The specs:
    Item
    Description
    Remarks
    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
    – Normal mode
    5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm
    >950 mW @ 32 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
     
     
     
     
     

     
    I’ve used the Micro iDSD for the last couple of weeks and my unit has played for well over 100 hours.
     
    Demo list:
    Mark Knopfler – Sailing to Philadelphia
    Røyksopp (Feat.Susanne Sundfør) – Save Me
    Ane Brun – These Days
    Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana
    Metallica – Die Die My Darling
    The Peter Malick Group – Immigrant
    Eva Cassidy – Songbird
    Thomas Dybdahl – A Lovestory
    Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why
    Celldweller – Unshakeable
    Jack Johnson – Better Together
    Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo remix)
    Dire Straits- So Far Away
    Björk - Moon
    Lupe Fiasco - Deliver
    Morrissey – Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
     
    Sound impression:
    The first thing that I thought when I started to listen to the iFi Micro iDSD was that it reminded me quite a bit of the spacious and airy presentation that I’ve heard with the Mojo not too long ago.
     
    Bass extension and quality is very good and I don’t feel as if there’s any noticeable roll off in the lower frequencies. Mid- and upper-bass is also well controlled contributing to the sense of space and airiness that the iFi Micro iDSD produces.  Despite the very good quality and quite good bass presence I can’t help feeling that the iDSD lacks some richness through the whole frequency range.
     
    The midrange is liquid and smooth with plenty of details. The iFi Micro iDSD sounds very linear through all frequencies and the midrange is no exception. Nothing stands out and it sound natural and makes a relaxing listening experience. If anything I’d say it’s a bit on the dry side.
     
    The treble is well extended, airy and smooth. Once again I find myself wishing for a touch more substance and body but the overall impression is still that the iDSD has a very nice and non-fatiguing treble presentation.
     
    The overall presentation has great soundstage width and a very nice balance from the lowest to the highest notes. Despite this I still feel that there’s some richness and timbre lacking making the sound a bit on the dry side. To me this makes the iDSD work very well with  headphones and IEM’s that’s rich and full in there character.
     
    As already mentioned the iDSD does also offers a lot of tuning options for those interested in that. This is really not my thing and to be honest I can’t hear much difference between the different digital filter options (this is the case with most of my amp/DAC’s that has got this so I won’t hold it against the iDSD). When it comes to the 3D setting I personally find it a bit artificial sounding and had it off for most of the time. The Xbass on the other hand is actually quite nice in its implementation and I enjoyed it when using earbuds but kept it off otherwise. I do know that other people enjoy these kinds of features a lot more than I do so I won’t hold it against the iDSD but rather add it as a positive thing for giving the user more choices which I really appreciate and value.
     
    Comparison:
    Please note that the comments in the comparison section are not in absolute terms but in comparison between subject A and B. This means (as an example) that if subject A is found to be brighter than subject B it does not necessarily mean that subject A is bright sounding in absolute terms. I hope this makes sense.
     
    In these comparisons I’ve been listening through my AKG Q701’s.
     
    I’ve been using the USB input when doing these comparisons. Both units has been hooked up to two different laptops both running Windows 7 with the same settings and I use MediaMonkey as my player of choice.
     
    Both units was connected to a simple switch box through their respectively headphone outputs. This way it’s very easy to switch between the sources in minimal time. I also use a simple Android app to volume match the amplifiers so although maybe not perfectly scientifically the result should still be pretty correct.
     
    Burson Audio Conductor V2+ (1,499) vs IFI Micro iDSD:
    The V2+ is the heart of my main system and I really love both its features and sound. It’s expensive and it’s big and heavy (7 kg) but to me it’s also a very complete unit that doesn’t makes me miss anything in either sound nor features so I’ll include it as one of the comparison units for all my $250+ amp/DAC combo reviews. I’m also very familiar with it.
     
    These two share a lot of treats like a similar amount of air and an equally wide soundstage presentation. Compared to the iFi Micro iDSD the V2+ has a touch richer sound through the whole frequency range, this makes quite a difference to the overall presentation,  resulting in the  V2+ sounding more dynamic and with better timbre to the notes.  It’s not a huge difference but an important one in making the V2+ sounding more natural and pair better with a wider variety of headphones. The deepest bass may also be a touch more well-defined on the V2+.
     
    The V2+ of course has some other advantages such as significantly higher power output (4W @32Ohms which is about the double compared to the iDSD), two analogue RCA inputs. In addition it also has a great quality remote control. The iDSD on the other hand has internal battery, is more portable and a much better match for most IEM’s.
     
    Audinst HUD-DX1 (with Burson Audio V5i op amps, $469) vs IFI Micro iDSD:
     
    IMG_4031.jpg IMG_4033.jpg
     
    Compared to the iFi Micro iDSD the Audinst has a more dynamic and slightly less laid back sound. The Audinst is the fuller sounding of the two but its bass is also slightly looser and less well defined. The iDSD is a bit thinner and but also more airy in its presentation. The iDSD does also have a wider presentation while the Audinst has better depth and an overall richer sound. 
     
    Feature wise both of these are equipped with a lot of in- and outputs but the iDSD does offer a lot more adjustments such as bass boost, 3D switch, and multiple gain and hiss (reducing) settings. When I reviewed the Audinst HUD DX1 I called it a “Swiss Army knife” offering, the iFi Micro iDSD is actually even more so, not necessarily when it comes to in- and outputs but definitely when it comes to settings and tweaks to make it sound as good as possible with the IEM’s/headphones that you use.
     
    Burson Audio Conductor Air ($499) vs IFI Micro iDSD:
    This two are similar in the way that they both works best when connected to a computer or laptop in my opinion but they can also be used portable (the Air maybe more so) or with your phone or tablet (the iDSD maybe more so) if needed. Compared to the iDSD the Air has a thicker sound while maintaining the same level of details. Layering is noticeable better on the Air while the iDSD has a touch more airiness and wider soundstage. The Air does also have better depth and timbre to the notes and the iDSD does actually feel a bit thin and dry in comparison. In short the Air has more drive while the iDSD is more laid back.
     
    Feature wise the Air loses out by a fair bit though. With its two micro USB inputs (one for digital audio in and one for power) and two outputs (line out and headphones out) it’s no match for the number of inputs and outputs the iDSD offers. The iDSD does also have an internal battery.
     
    For even further comparisons feel free to visit this thread for breakdown between more $250+ amp/DAC units (this is a work in progress and several other units will follow in the near future).
     
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/816410/peter123s-250-amp-dac-combo-comparison-thread#post_12771442
     
    Matching:
    The output impedance of the headphone out on the Micro iDSD is rated to less than 1Ohm. This means that it should work well with pretty much all low and high impedance headphones and IEM’s available out there.
     
    In this section I’ve tested how some of my favorite headphones but also one earbud and one pair of IEM’s pairs up with the Micro iDSD.  
     
    AKG Q701 ($300):
    The Q’s aren’t the best pairing with the iFi Micro iDSD in my opinion. The slightly thin sound on the iDSD makes male vocals lack some weight to sound perfectly natural. After having thoroughly enjoying the Mojo with the Q’s I’d expected the iDSD to work really well with them as well but I’d guess the Mojo is also richer sounding than I remember it .The iDSD has no problem at all to power the Q’s to louder listening levels.
     
    Philips Fidelio X2 ($300):
    The X2’s, being quite warm and full by itself, is a great match with the iDSD. It balances the full mid-bass on the X2’s in a great way making it sound excellent.  The smooth and dry presentation seem to work great with the X2’s ans although it’s not necessarily the best pairing I’ve heard with the X2’s it’s definitely one of the better.
     
     
    VE Zen 2.0 ($138):
    The Zen 2.0 is a 300Ohm earbud that I like a lot and tend to use instead of closed headphones. It’s also a reliable travel partner for me when I stay in hotels and don’t have any full size cans around.
     
    The soft and smooth signature from the Zen 2.0 works OK with the iDSD but nothing more. This pairing lacks some dynamics and richness to be really good for me. A fuller more dynamic signature does suit the Zen’s better for my preference. Turning the bass boost on the iDSD helps though and it sounds quite good this way.
     
    Aurisonics ASG-1PLUS ($500):
    The ASG-1PLUS is an 11Ohm hybrid IEM (1 DD + 1 BA).
     
    Once again an OK pairing and I like it better than what I did with the Mojo from memory. A bit too relaxed and lacking some depth but still quite an enjoyable listening. Once again I feel that I could have enjoyed a bit better timbre as well as some more dynamics. I’m aware that this is also the nature of the 1PLUS shining through but it’s more easily noticed here than with some other pairings.
     
    Super Audio 6 ($250):
    The Super Audio 6 (SA6) is a six BA driver Chines DIY offering. It has a warm, smooth, intimate and mid-centric overall presentation.
     
    The combination of the iDSD and SA 6 is really nice to listen too. The SA6 is very rich sounding by itself and this works really well with the iDSD. The overall sound in this pairing is very enjoyable and once again the iDSD sounds great with a rich sounding pair of IEM’s7headphones.
     
    To round off the matching section the signature of the iFi Audio Micro iDSD does make it work better with some headphones and IEM’s than others. To me there’s no doubt that it sounds the best with rich sounding IEM’s and headphones that has great timbre by themselves. That being said it doesn’t sound bad with anything I’ve tried it with (and that’s quite a lot).  The very low amount of hiss as well as enough power for all my full sized headphones, and not to mention all the available settings, does make it very versatile in practical use.
     
    Summary:
    The iFi Audio Micro iDSD is truly a remarkable device. It offers more settings and tuning availability and is more usable with a wide range of headphones and IEM’s than any other device of this kind that I’ve come across so far. It also has a great number of connection options combined with a quite neutral and very enjoyable sound signature.  I do find it to perform its best with richer sounding headphones and IEM’s but that being said I have not come across any pairing where it sounds bad.
     
    Although it’s kind of big for being truly portable I’d still recommend anyone looking for a DAC/amp to use in their main system (both head-fi and/or hi-fi), around the house, in hotel rooms or in the office to check out the iFi Audio Micro iDSD .
     
    Audio Quality: 4.5
    Design: 4
    Quality: 4.5
    Value: 5
    Features: 5
      Cagin, proedros, Vartan and 10 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. peter123
      @rickyleelee
      Yeah, standard filter was my preferred one.
       
      As for burn in my unit was a used demo unit so it really shouldn't be any need for it. I'm not a big believer in burn in in genreal since I've never noticed any significant change in any of the satuff that I own. That being said I always do it anyway just to please the ones that find it important :wink:
      peter123, Sep 5, 2016
    3. malazz123
      nice review i have 1 too 
      malazz123, Oct 11, 2016
    4. patekswiss
      I found the mature sound of the iDSD micro to be flat and uninvolving to my ears compared to my reference DACs (the Lynx HiLo and DACs from exaSound and MyTek).

      I grant you that there is a price difference with these devices, but the sound of the iDSD micro is sufficiently lacking in comparison, at least in my opinion, that I personally would not view the savings as worth the tradeoffs. When I switched from the iDSD micro back to, for example, the HiLo, I was literally surprised at the punchiness, dynamic range and liveliness of the same source material through the same rig. These were not blind tests, so keep that in mind, but to me the sound quality was not close.

      Also think its important to keep in mind that for the price of a device with the paper specifications of the iDSD micro, if my experience is any guide, there will necessarily be compromises in build quality, which I believe resulted in connectivity issues that limited the usefulness of the device, despite my initial high hopes for it.
      patekswiss, Nov 9, 2016