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  1. howdy
    iFi DSD Micro
    Written by howdy
    Published Jun 3, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound, Settings, Power, Very Robust build!
    Cons - There really is no Cons, some might not like the size
                                                                                               iFi Micro DSD
     
     
    First a little boring stuff about me. I am a 42 year old man with average hearing loss for someone my age. I like to think I take good care of my ears and I’m able to pick up subtle differences in the music I listen to. I will state right away as well that I am not an Audiophile but rather someone who really enjoys listening to most genres of music.
    I will also state that I am in no way affiliated with iFi, just simply doing a review of this wonderful AMP/DAC. I only do reviews on something I like and for the most part I do not do a lot of reviews. I was supplied this device from an iFi distributor.
     

    Boxing
    The Box is nicely made and reminds me of Apple in how it was designed. To me I could care less about packaging as long as it protects the merchandise. Some here like a well made box so here is a few pictures of the box and its contents.
     
     
    Source used

    I only paired this with my DX90 (with a SanDisk 128gb Class 10), as this is a great match. The DX90 is easy to operate without looking at it and fits nicely on top of the Micro. This is hooked up via the Coax that came with my DX90. Update: And now with a DX80 and 2 128gb cards. Half of the review was with the DX90 and I recently bought a DX80 to go with it. I should also mention that half way through this review I ended up buying my own Micro as I just fell in love with the sound and I returned the review unit. 
     
     
    Headphone/IEMs used

    Thus far used ENIGMAcoustics Dharma 1000 (Dharma), Oppo PM3, VMODA M100 and Alclair RSM Customs.
     


     
     
     
    Sound

    Now, to me, the most important part is the sound. This is all in MY opinion as they are my ears!
    To me the sound is absolutely to my sound signature which is clean, clear and crisp. I have heard a lot of great sounding rigs and this to me is one of the best I’ve heard. I recently had the Mojo (Tour Unit), and I’m not going to say anything bad about the Mojo as I loved that as well but to tell you the truth I very much prefer this awesome rig. There are so many options; from using very sensitive IEMs to your desk speakers this thing can power them all. So with all of that said, I will start with the Dharmas. The Dharmas are a great sounding Headphone and at $1200.00 dollars it should be, but paired with the Micro DSD for the first time I was blown away ( I always try and look for the immediate WOW factor) with the sound. I felt like I was there and really got emotionally involved with the music I was listening to. I was hearing subtle differences in songs I have listened to a million times before. 
     

    The Bass is very impactful and not even the slightest bit Boomy or distorted, it is very controlled. The Highs are perfect and not overly done, I can listen to the Micro for hours with any headphone with no fatigue, it is that well done. The Mids are present and just where I like them. Soundstage is good, (this is where the MoJo excels) it’s not too far out, but really properly placed. There is a “3D” switch to make it wider and I have used it a few times but actually prefer it the way it is (off). There is also a Bass boost, I have used it a few times to try it out and it has a slight bump, it is smooth and not over powering, but again, I like it the way it is. 
     

    The iDSD Micro is like a Swiss army knife of features, with all the varying combinations, there is setting for anyone. There is an IEM switch for varying sensitivity levels of IEMs so that you will not get hiss, which I had none with my Alclair CIEMs. For gain there is ECO which is like low gain, there is a standard which is like a medium to high gain and there is a turbo (10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm), this is if you want to melt your brain. The turbo mode for most headphones is way too powerful, but, is there if you need it. This would be for the really hard to drive headphones or speakers. There are a few more switches like Polarity so you can switch your polarity. Filter switch, which has bit perfect so it can play your music like it was intended. 
    My favorite setting right now and while doing this review is IEMatch set to off the Filter is on Bit Perfect, Polarity set to + and the power mode is on standard/ECO.  
    I won’t get into the semantics as there are some very detailed reviews on there like @twister6. I just wanted to give my brief feeling on this great device, this is definitely a keeper as I have been trying to whittle down my collection to a couple of good rigs and just enjoy what I have!
     

     
    Thanks for reading!
      vapman, proedros, twister6 and 3 others like this.
    1. vapman
      I just got mine today and totally agree, this dac/amp is a killer all in one, as a former Mojo owner I might actually prefer the micro.
      vapman, Jun 3, 2016
    2. howdy
      Glad you are liking it! The DX80 is an awesome source for it as you have dual slots and Optical connection. 
      howdy, Jun 3, 2016
  2. Whitigir
    Warm, thick and deep tonal body, detailed yet relaxing trebles
    Written by Whitigir
    Published Apr 9, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Compact, transportable, powerful, beautiful sound, tube-like warmth
    Cons - Buttons, volume knobs, no balanced connections
    image.jpg

    Please allow me a moment to express my appreciation toward IFI for this opportunity to demo the Micro IDSD for reviewing purposes and return. The unit itself is a DAC/AMP combo which plays DSD natively, and sport Burrbrown DAC, so any fan of BurrBrown will be happy.

    Upon receiving the unit, it arrived in a nice and neat box, and literally comes with a lot of supportive cables and adapter, a carrying pouch as well.

    image.jpg


    At first I couldn't figure out how to charge the unit because the confusion between the "smart charging" port on the side and the "digital input". Took me about 15 minutes to figure out that the unit charging port is the digital input with male USB and provided blue USB cables. I had to look for the manual to discovered that the smart charging port on the side is to charge your devices as an external battery pack only! So, please do not get confused
    image.jpg
    image.jpg
    The device itself is like a chunk of aluminum with ports ! But it magically about the size length of the Note 4. Hah! Perfect stack up! Though, it would be nice and neat if IFI with all of their supplied cables would add in a short Female USB to OTG micro USB cable. There is only 1/4" out for headphones, and if you have 3.5mm style plug, you can use the adapter inside the box. I like the RCA stereo out for pre-amp to large stereo systems. This is excellent feature for people who also love large stereo system. It can be pre-amplified (controllable output volume), or direct (max output)

    The knobs and switches, it would be nice to have the volume knob and switches more covered, recessed, or a button to lock it, because it is so easy to knock it out of the setting and damage your own hearings. It is best to set it and sit still to enjoy it. Therefore, I agree with people calling the IDSD the "transportable" unit. Beside, the rubber bands once strapped on to stack, it could easily hit and move the gain switch....which may again damage your hearing, I stacked it up higher to avoid hitting it. I rarely move mine, and more than a couple occasions I almost yank out my headphones due to the sudden loudness...this 4000 mW is not a joke ! So, it is good to set and sit to enjoy, and not recommended to pocket it on the go.
    image.jpg

    Battery longevity: I listen to my collections for about 2-3 hours a day, and it keeps up just fine, with both Zx2/note 4 and IDSD stacking, it last an average of 6-5 hours. It digital input actually will draw and charge itself whenever possible, and I observed that it charged from The IPad Pro, because they both went through their battery faster and the blue light will lit up even though the unit is turned to off. Therefore, on supportive device, the USB in port can be used to feed digital and charge at the same time. Interferences and noises are no issues here when stacking on a phone or getting too close to the computer. I do hear hums and such on PHA-3 when paired with smartphone being on top. So, interferences isolated = 1 more credit toward micro IDSD. However, IDSD micro doesn't have secondary self charge port while the main digital/charge port is being used, and that means you just can not stack another additional battery on top, this is where PHA-3 get the credit, but then PHA-3 takes a longer time to charge up than Micro IDSD. So, you get to pick your poison.

    Battery recharge: it charges around 4 hours on average by using the Apple 12W charger and its blue digital cables.

    Also to note, the adapter of 3.5mm to 1/4" that comes in the box will work with any 3.5mm TRRS hi-fi man style or Zx2 style.

    It took me a few tries to get the Zx2 to work with Micro IDSD. I figured both Zx2 and IDSD has to be off , connected, then turned on IDSD (wait on the green light), then turn the ZX2 screen on in order for them to pair up ? Strange, but whatever as long as it works.
    Now, then I tried to pair it with Note 4 and Onkyo Hf player, it worked just in a snap of a fingers.

    image.jpg

    image.jpg


    Pairing with Windows 10 laptop requires manual download of the driver from IFI, and connecting to IPad or IPhone with IOS only needs Apple Lightning to Camera USB cables. I tried watching movies and gaming are both simply superb. It is so far the best Single Ended device that I have come across so far.

    image.jpg


    Summed up: It is Warmth but sweet mid range, beautiful micro energies variations, every micro movements of the tonal body from the inner fidelity can be observed . That is why I call it beautiful and sweet, especially string instruments and drum plays. Yeah, tube-like, impact, darker, warmer, but controlled, detailed, great 2D soundstage, and musical are the summed up of Micro IDSD perfectly. So, I guess, if they hit your spot ? Please read on.


    The sound signature: warm tone on low and mid spectrum while the vocal is with great transparency, airy but darker trebles and very good separations. Very good soundstage, and this soundstage is the typical soundstage that I like a lot, the spherical soundstage. I would say it is even a bit more emphasized toward Lower mid bass and bass energies (the impacts, oh my...). This sound signature will grab "bass lovers" and "audiophiles" all alike at the heart on the first impression. I love (quality only) type of bass, and it really did grab my attentions. Please don't be mistaken this bass for the kind of bass that you hear on cheap gears and or low quality. I have to say it again, (it is the energies, the fidelity, the impact ) that is emphasized. For example, in the song that is well known to me, I feel the percussionist applied more power into his beats and plays but they are all so magically controlled, detailed, textured. The best enjoyment comes from both Xbass and 3D off. Beautiful dynamic energies.

    The next thing I found out is that it uses Femto clock to totally eliminate Jitters ? I think this is the cheapest device to have built in the Femto clock at the price $499 on Amazon and authorized dealers.

    image.jpg

    Soundscape: surrounding and holographical

    Soundstage: spherical, good width and depth. But with more attention and I would say this soundstage is with more width than depth, also the 3rd dimension Presentation is surprisingly good for a device with single ended and at this price range. Now, there is 3D function, and it seems that IFI reserved the extra 3rd dimensional depth and height for this feature. There is a noticeable improvement on this 3rd dimension senses when turned on. It also improves the width and depth of 2nd dimensional and the separations of each instrument spaces as well. Most importantly, it doesn't feel artificial.... Actually to really look into nit picking it, the mid is a bit sharper , and there are more reverbs, but not to the noticeable level to call it artificial. Some smoothness in the lower energy of upper mid and lower trebles play may be a tad harsher.

    Bass: Very detailed , clean and full of energies while retaining the warmth but very clear and transparent. I love how deep, powerful the sub-bass goes and still detailed/controlled without being muddy, the separations of different plays are well presented, and the power applied onto each beats on different instruments are very well presented. Then there is X-Bass function, which don't really noticeably bring out "Bass" as I would think, it actually turned the mid-bass to be warmer and with deeper sub-bass. Bass is very enjoyable and addictive on this device with big body and defined dept whether you turn on X-bass or not because it doesn't really bring the kind of EQ like noticeable bass bump, but more like a different kind of sound signature bass. Keep it off for tighter and more controlled bass, or on for a tad warmer and deeper bass. I observed much deeper bass and slams on SA5000 VS TH900. It probably scales with the headphones and the headphones sound signature itself as well. The best thing about the bass here is the Percussion of the play, whether it is projected further away or closer to me, I always feel that Slam and Bang in full body (always full of energies and impactful).

    Mid: Mid is warmth, with excellent separations, every details are well presented even some nuances details are playing out very good. Vocal is forward and clean with the transparency and smoothness. Mid spectrum is full of energy that one would expect coming from a powerful amp of 4000mw as advertised + some more, and not only that the variations of the micro details energies are very well perceived, and that means beautiful strings play, brass, and wind instruments. I would say Mid spectrum is one of this IDSD forte, it is just so good, sweet, fluid, warmth+smooth, linear, detailed and full of energies. Oh, and that electric guitar crazy plays, it is always full of energies. Excellent variations of micro energies, and kind of following it give me the total satisfactions, the feeling of hearing the guitarists right in front of my eyes, if I focused on to it, and never miss any micro-details.

    Trebles: very detailed, warmth but detailed, splashy but soft, and well extended but Super smooth and thick, also a bit darker but energetic. It helps to observe detailed play without introducing fatigue. There is this beautiful blend of upper mid and lower trebles spectrum for a very detailed fidelity and sparkles without the harshness and hot coming trebles. It is so well received that the extensions of vocal tone is more "air like" rather than harsh "S,X,Z". I rarely enjoy Rock and Metal, but I tried it here "the veer Union-Decade", and it was awesome. I never liked Rock and Metal much because the music domain too much into upper mid and high spectrums, if not done right it could easily be lacking the bass thumb, energized and detailed trebles but harsh and hot trebles which had always makes these genres less enjoyable for me. However as stated here, I love this trebles and the sound overall from Micro IDSD

    image.jpg
    image.jpg

    Conclusions: I have yet to hear a better (bass quality and musicality with the warmth+detail+transparency sound like this especially mid spectrum, vocal and wide soundstage) from a single ended sonically performance like this Micro IDSD. For the moment, I couldn't help but wondered "what if" there was balanced connection due to Dual DAC in this unit ? My experiences with Balanced vs SE had always been very favorable toward a good Balanced design. Even though my Demo unit had some flaws here and there, whether defective or bugs, it is still a too good with price to performance ratio. I enjoy it a lot due to the warmth tonal body, big and powerful bass but too well controlled, the transparency mid, the clear vocal, and the smooth transitional between upper mid and lower spectrums and then the airy trebles with flying details but still relax and musical. It makes me recall the 80ish hi-fi systems with tube and such, and back then I was only a kid....so....memory won't be that good for sound quality :D

    image.jpg
    image.jpg

    The love-hate Story:

    Ok, I give up. How come it sounds so good with SE connection ? The tonal balances, details, and musicality is even better than Zx2. For my personal taste and preferences, I love instrumentals, pop, EDM, ballads, therefore I love what I am hearing here, full of energy, dynamic, beautiful strings plays. One could even call this being a bit colored like i mentioned above, more toward the warmth and tonal body thickness, so it is all about musicality, enjoyment and not for picking your music a part in the while of not missing any beats and micro details. Also don't forget that vocal, very addictive. If I thought Zx2 had that unique tonal body and musicality, this IDSD micro brings it to another level, an improvement, at a cheaper price, and single ended connection! I can totally justify buying it for my Zx2. By this, I can enjoy Zx2 alone, or pair it up to IDSD micro for enjoyment, and I can even use it to iPad, laptop, iPhones, a function that Zx2 lack.

    I had never been aware of IFI and it products line up, until I got offered a chance for this demo unit for audition and return. I was a bit skeptical because I am slowly losing faith of "affordable and quality" audio to be in any new products anymore. Then I wasn't even excited about the unit when it arrived. I even had a hard time with it on the first day. The confusion of smart charge port and digital and charging ports, the pairing with Zx2. But then, after everything was figured out and listened to it. I changed my mind, and I just want to buy it. Therefore, I went digging into it real hardware components and it explained everything: high quality components, and Femto clock, dual DAC, Quality Capacitors. It is so lovely, beside the unique sonical quality, I think it build is unique for this price range as well. I am glad to have the chance to audition this unit. The design within the device is all dual like (Dual DAC, Dual Mono Pre-amplification).....and the end output is only Single ended....god...so frustrated regardless of IFI explanations, I still think there will be a huge market for this type of Warmer, darker, more musical sound signature and balanced connection for an even better quality.



    Comparison VS Mojo: form and build factors, Mojo win straight out. Sound performances ? I prefer IDSD micro with it beautiful warmth tonal body and transient micro energies, and I also prefer the more spherical soundstage. But keep in mind, Mojo can totally be Portable, with better clarity and transparency, more neutral, but only a little less spherical in soundstage, where as IDSD Micro is only Transportable....as in do not put in the pocket moving and jamming. All of these buttons will get messy and blow out your ears drums.



    The potential of RCA pre-amplifier output. It is actually more powerful than I imagined. I tried on to connect o my large stereo system, and it actually is pumping pretty good impact, dynamic, and the soundstage is very very good for a device of it size. It carries on with the above sound signature from headphones, but most noticeable will the bass, depth, impact, and the soundstage. Me and my wife are both surprised by it. Therefore, I have nothing to say beside the good thing for this micro IDSD being a quality pre-amplifier.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. LajostheHun
      Lots of people are missing out on these products, because they don't receive the endless hype others like the Chord, Cavalli audio, A&K etc gets. My Ican easily bested my Liquid Carbon even when that one was used in balanced mode. Yeah a balanced version of this product would be great if the price remained reasonable.
      LajostheHun, Apr 12, 2016
    3. HiFi FOR METAL
      LajostheHun, There is a a balanced version it is called the iCan Pro, it is $1700, I know it is more than the liquid carbon, but it doubles as a preamp for home stereo use plus has every input imaginable, has a tube buffer stage and solid-state XLR input. Here is the link to a U.S. store that has it. 
       
      http://www.musicdirect.com/p-364754-ifi-pro-ican-headphone-amp.aspx
       
      Also I sort of disagree with the reviewer saying the iDSD isn't portable, all one would have to do is put it in a messenger bag, I don't see putting a Chord Hugo stack with my iPhone in my pocket either, but YMMV.

      What is cool is you can use the idsd with apps like Korg Audiogate, and Onkyo HF player and playback DSD in your car through the Aux input which sounds amazing especially with the 3d enabled using the DAC as a preamp. Also if you add an Audio Quest jitter bug to your Camera connection Kit, it will also sound very good and get rid of a lot of the noise from the phone. Then you have really great car audio. I almost wish ifi could make a stand alone car audio unit with USB power like iUSB 3.0 and have the ability to plug your phone into it that would make an amazing head unit for car instal. 
      HiFi FOR METAL, Apr 14, 2016
    4. proedros
      even though i have (and i am very happy with) ZX2 , i keep coming back to this dac/amp and i get an itch of trying/buying it

      damn you head-fi
      proedros, Oct 14, 2016
  3. SoundApprentice
    Black is Better
    Written by SoundApprentice
    Published Jan 21, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Feature set, Flexibility, Price to Performance
    Cons - Questionable switches, Might be paying for unused features
    [​IMG]

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

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

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

    Unboxing Impressions

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

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

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

    Sound Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [​IMG]

    Toned Up

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

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

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

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

    Parting Thoughts

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




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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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







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





    DSC_8306.jpg

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    DSC_8302.jpg

    DSC_8304.jpg

    DSC_8303.jpg

    DSC_8307.jpg





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

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    DSC_8311.jpg





    DSC_8350.jpg

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



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


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





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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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





    Quality: 4/5

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

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

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


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





    Audio Quality: 4.5/5

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





    Value: 5/5

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

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


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

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

    Intro

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

    Appearances

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

    Setup

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

    Alesis Elevate 5

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

    HD650

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

    Software

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

    Final thought

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

     
    The part where I finally start talking about sound

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

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

     
    Shure SRH1840
    Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro
    Sennheiser PC37X
      proedros and Krisna13 like this.
    1. beowulf
      I don't find channel imbalance that much of an issue since you have pretty much 6 settings for gain (3 power/3 IEMatch). Even on the Andromeda, I don't have the volume low enough to notice imbalance.
      One issue I notice is a pop when it is turned on or volume dropped to zero, that one can be annoying and a good reason to not put your IEMs/headphones on before turning it on.
      Good work on the review.
      beowulf, Feb 21, 2017
    2. Yethal
      I only noticed the imbalance when I tried listening to music really quietly, 99% of the users won't notice it.
      Yethal, Feb 21, 2017
  9. jinxy245
    Black Label: The Signature Sound Of ifi
    Written by jinxy245
    Published Feb 4, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - clarity, power, versatility, build quality
    Cons - crowded front panel, questionable filters
    It is with great pleasure that I can say that I have been selected to take part in the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label listening tour. My thanks to Lawrence from iFi for helping to organize the USA East leg of the tour. What this means, is that I have 1 week to listen to & evaluate the ifi Micro iDSD Black Label, which is a DAC utilizing a dual core Burr-Brown DSD512/PCM768/2xDXD chip and headphone amplifier. Although I am very grateful to be able to participate in this tour, I receive no compensation other than the joy of listening in the comfort of my own home, and the following review is my honest opinion. This is my 1st ever review of a DAC/amp, so please bear with me as I try to hit all the pertinent points.
     
     
    I’ll start with a little about myself. I’m pushing 50 and have less than perfect hearing (50 is pushing back). I’ve been a music lover for as long as I can remember, and I learned to listen a little more critically during the few years I sold audio equipment (and the more I listen, the more I learn). My fascination/infatuation with headphones began about 4 years ago, and has only gotten stronger. I’ve only recently taken a more serious look at the hardware end of the audio equation, and I’m enjoying the journey. I've never had the opportunity to hear the original iDSD, so I'm particularly glad to spend some time with the Black Label. The majority of my listening was done listening to FLAC, WAV & various MP3s with my Shanling M2, Fiio x3 (1st gen.), Samsung Galaxy S7, or through my HP all in one PC as a source for the iDSD BL. My tastes are fairly eclectic, but my listening centered on classic rock, folk, jazz, classical and various genres of EDM.
     
     
    First, let’s get a couple of ergonomic niggles out of the way. When using the iDSD BL as an amp only, the front panel gets awfully crowded, (especially if you’re using a ¼” to 1/8”) adapter making it difficult to adjust the volume or activate/deactivate the Xbass+ or 3D+. Perhaps changing these 2 filters to the right side would alleviate this issue, especially since I didn’t find myself using them a whole lot. Occasionally, I found the selectors on the bottom of the unit to change positions during normal movement of the unit from one place to another. In fact, at one point one of the plastic knobs fell off of the selector switch it was attached to (giving me a slight heart attack since I don’t own the unit)
    IMG_0592.jpg
     
    Fortunately I found and reattached it without further incident. A set of raised feet would likely prevent this from happening.  I also found the volume pot can use a bit more resistance. It was too easy to turn, and although I give kudos for the orange font on the bottom, a volume indicator line that’s not black on black would be much more useful (and greatly appreciated).
     
     
    The iDSD BL came with a generous amount of accessories. There are 2 of the usual rubber bands for stacking, RCA cables for preamplifier use, a storage pouch, USB A to USB B cable, 3.5mm (male x male, for use with the line in) adapter, 3.5mm x 6.35mm adapter (the front panel has a ¼” headphone out only), an optical by RCA adapter, USB A (female to male) adapter, and a rubber mat. There’s really not much more I could say I’d like to see included.
     
     
    There are so many things this little beast can do I feel a bit overwhelmed trying to cover it all. On the front panel from left to right, you have a ¼” headphone input jack, Xbass+ control (on/off), 3.5mm audio input jack,  “3D+” control (a filter said to create a larger soundstage, also on/off), and the volume control dial.
    IMG_0566.jpg
     
    The right side is bare, except a USB Type 'A' Female connection for charging other devices.
    IMG_0568.jpg
     
    Around the rear there is an “Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/Coax” connection that automatically configures to Coaxial or Optical use, a left & right female RCA output, and a USB Type 'A' male digital input.
    IMG_0590.jpg
     
    Moving along to the left side, there is one portion of the gain control (Eco/Normal/Turbo), a polarity switch (+/-) and filter control (Bit Perfect/Minimum Phase/Standard).
    IMG_0591.jpg
     
    On the bottom of the unit, there are markings to identify all the controls on the sides and back (orange on black is very legible, thank you!)
    as well as the other portion of the gain control called IE Match (Off/High Sensitivity/Ultra Sensitivity) and control for the rear RCA outs (Preamplifier/Direct).As I said there is a lot the iDSD BL can do, and given I was only able to spend a week with it, I’ll concentrate on what I did use.
    IMG_0574.jpg
     
    There are five power output modes, Eco, Normal and Turbo, High Sensitivity, Ultra Sensitivity. Their website states that the micro iDSD BL is able to have the power and gain dialed-in to”perfectly suit all headphones”. In truth, everything from my 64 Audio U6 to my Sennheiser HD600, the ifi easily delivered whatever power was needed. It had copious amounts of power when called for, never needing to go over 11:00 on Normal gain with the HD600, and more often closer to 9:00. I am not the best judge of hiss due to persistent (and tenacious) tinnitus, however without music playing using my U6 on Eco gain, there was no discernible noise whatsoever (YMMV). Obviously, when using the High Sensitivity or Ultra Sensitivity settings, there would be even less noise. I’ll note that I’m not sure what “type” of amp the iDSD BL utilizes, but it never felt more than warm to the touch, even during heavy usage.
     
     
     I’m a firm believer that amplifiers for the most part (at least amps of the solid state variety) should be the proverbial “Wire with Gain” in that they shouldn’t impart much “color” onto the sound. That being said, in reality I think there is always some sonic coloration passed along when creating an audio chain and an amplifier is no different. I’ll admit that there is the possibility that I haven’t acquired the skill of breaking the sonic influence into bass/mids/treble/soundstage, but I believe that these influences are much more subtle than that. I would go so far as to call an amp full, thin, warm etc. but not much more, especially without having equipment to back up my claims. I find the amp section of the IDSD to fall on the warm side of neutral without sounding thick or muddy in any way. When comparing to other amps I have on hand, my ALO National or the RHA Dacamp1 (On loan for a listening tour, comparing amp only here) I find there to be more similarities than differences. Because they are all so close in fidelity, without volume matching, it’d be impossible to comment on detail retrieval and the like, but the overall impression I had was that they are all warm-ish amps: everything I played sounded full bodied and satisfying.
    IMG_0560.jpg
     
    If you’re using a PC and you want to use the iDSD BL as a DAC, you need to download the driver from their website ( http://ifi-audio.com/micro-idsd-ifi-xmos-firmware/ ). If you’re a MAC lover, it is supposed to be plug-n-play, I believe. Downloading and installing the appropriate driver was more of a challenge than I expected (IOS users, this is your cue to laugh). Every time I downloaded the driver to install, it would literally disappear after a few seconds. It was there, and then it wasn’t. To say I was perplexed would be an understatement. I assumed that there must be an explanation, so I read a bit online until I came across one post noting that you may have to turn off your anti-virus. How a driver could look like malware is beyond my computer knowledge, but someone figured it out, and I’m glad they did. I turned off my Norton, and we were back in business. Once the driver was downloaded, and the  ifi took over DAC duties, the synergy of the DAC/amp combo became readily apparent.
    Since the front panel does get crowded once the line in is being used, I mostly opted to use it through the Coaxial input or as a DAC/amp. The coax from my Fiio or Shanling sounded terrific, with plenty of detail and space, definitely a step up from the line out IMO. The iDSD BL is unwieldy, but is indeed portable enough to move from room to room, or to take with you for listening while writing in a coffee shop or other stationary activity. This was quite welcome if I didn’t feel like being tied to my computer to listen, or wanted to continue my listening session elsewhere if it was getting noisy. The iDSD BL did pair easily to my Samsung Galaxy S7, and though there was no faulting the sound quality, it was awkward at best given the size difference. Again, if being used while stationary, it wouldn’t be a big issue, but it’s not really a portable solution.
    IMG_other_0586.jpg
     
     I do think most people will opt to use this primarily as a DAC/amp, either on a desktop, or portably with a laptop. If I were to do a blind test, I would be very hard pressed indeed to distinguish between the coax & the USB, at least with my current sources, and I think that’s a very good thing since I enjoyed the iDSD BL so much either way. Again, without a proper A/B test I don’t feel confident enough to give a definitive answer as to which one is better, but I am inclined to say the DAC in the iDSD BL would be the superior choice. It definitely has a synergy with the amp section, and benefited from being fed higher bitrate files without being too unforgiving of MP3s. I could (and did) listen to this for hours, enjoying every minute.
     
     
    Moving on to the filters, I’ll start by saying, I’m not a huge fan. When testing the polarity switch and filter control, I heard no appreciable difference at all, regardless of the position, so I left them in positive & Bit Perfect respectively. There is a possibility that they would have a greater effect on speakers if the DAC was used through the line out, but I never got the chance to test it that way. I don’t know if the Xbass+ and 3D+ switches are considered filters, but even though I didn’t use them much, I did hear an effect on the audio when using them. The Xbass+ seemed to have an effect primarily on the sub bass, whereas the 3D+ is intended to be a spatializer of sorts, to widen the perceived soundstage. I found the 3D+ to effect the treble mostly and added some “grain” up top. I mostly left these off, but did occasionally find them helpful when used together as a sort of loudness control, adding a bit of clarity for low level listening. My personal preference (and recommendation to RHA) would be for the iDSD BL to have an adjustable treble and bass control, +/- 5 or so, which seems to me would be a more universally useful tool.
     
     
    Since fortune smiled upon me and I happened to have the RHA Dacamp L1 (also priced $549 USD) on hand at the same time, it seems only appropriate that I give my impressions of both.  Build quality between the two is about on par, with the RHA being just a tad more robust overall IMO. The RHA also has the smaller more portable form factor: it’s smaller in every dimension. The RHA has a balanced headphone output as well, but it’s a 4 pin mini XLR input, which seems to only be compatible with their own headphone the CL1 Ceramic (at least I don’t know of any other headphone using that connection). Furthermore, the benefits of using that connection was not readily apparent…it sounded just about the same when used single ended or balanced (reviewer Brooko did record measurements that seem to back this up). The RHA does have bass/treble controls (+9/-3 for both) and 3 gain levels, but the iDSD BL has 5 gain levels, Xbass+, 3D+ and a preamp output. They both can be used to charge a dying cellphone, have about the same battery life/charge time and have digital inputs (coaxial and optical for the ifi, optical for the RHA). I’d say all the bells and whistles come down to a matter of preference, and I’d give RHA a slight advantage being more portable. Ergonomically, there isn’t too much to complain about in either case. The biggest problem with the ifi is a somewhat crowded front panel, on the other hand the volume wheel RHA chose, while having better resistance than the ifi, is much harder to control…it steps up in volume more rapidly and is awkward to turn. Sound quality is where the rubber meets the road, as they say, and sonically I’d say it would be a matter of preference. Power output seems comparable overall, with the ifi being more versatile (at least 5 different gain levels). While I find both of these to be on the warm side, I’d say that the ifi is more on the analytical side of warm, while the RHA sounds a touch smoother. These are not night and day differences, and there was no clear sonic winner for me. I’d honestly be more than happy to have either of these in my audio chain. I lean slightly toward the ifi, simply because my DAPs utilize coaxial outputs and I could see myself using that often, but that could easily change with a DAP upgrade.
     
     
    I am truly sorry to see the iDSD BL leave. In my opinion, except for some small niggles, ifi has done a great job with the iDSD BL. It’s well built, very versatile, has plenty of power on tap, and sounds fantastic. The price is a bit high, but you do get a lot for your money. My thanks again go to Lawrence and ifi. After spending a week with the iDSD, I can definitely recommend checking it out if you‘re in the market for a DAC/amp. It is definitely worth a listen.
  10. Takeanidea
    iFi iDSDBL a dacamp for Christmas with all the trimmings
    Written by Takeanidea
    Published Dec 22, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Accessories, finish, power, hardware settings
    Cons - Volume unbalanced at low settings
    iDSD BL

    Christmas Dacamp with all the trimmings

    Introduction

     
    I have been lucky enough to be part of a very special tour.  iFi has given me the chance to look at their heavily updated iDSD. They have called it the Black Label Edition. I’m part of a review tour. As reviewers on headfi, we are bound by only 2 things really; we must post a review and we must keep the unit for the length of time specified by the company. iFi gave me 7 days to find out as much as I can about this dacamp. This is the result. Hope you like it. If you don’t I’m sorry. I did my best in the time I had here. I try my hardest to put myself in the shoes of a prospective buyer and I know iFi any other company only want to know what I think about their products. Not what they think. I don’t get paid for this and I’ve done quite a few reviews this year, both on here and on earphonia.com. This doesn’t make my opinion more valid than anyone else’s. It simply shows I’m in this for the long run. 
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    My association with the iDSD is rather short. I used this when I met up with my good friend @glassmonkey on a weekend’s mini meet back last year. I threw a number of headphones at the old model ; the Sennheiser HD800, HiFiMan HE6, Mr Speakers Alpha Dogs were amongst some of my less sensitive headphones. All were powered admirably by the iDSD.  Fast forward to December 2016 and we now have an elegant black number to spend a week with. Micah(aka @glassmonkey) passed it to me last week (it’s a small world isn’t it?) and I have set it off on it’s way with a tearful wave. This is the iDSD but not as we know it. Many things have been changed from the standard model. iFi have moved on since then. Micah has written plenty on the components that have been changed. Suffice it to say, iFi has done more than just a spray job on it. More customisable power but less extreme 3D and bass switching are the order of the day. 
     

    Features

     
    So what is the BL model and what can the iDSD do? And are these the features you are craving from your source? Or this is overkill for you? When one reads through various threads the impression I get is that there can never be enough spec. Each person has found some aspect of the hifi world that appeals to them, be it DSD or balanced, mp3 or flac. The industry is changing all the time , not necessarily for the better. Many of the changes are to keep up with the changing digital formats available. 200 Gb memory cards are being filled to the rafters with music. These can even fit in some phones, so manufacturers are being forced to get OTG as standard on their units.
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    The iDSD is a Dacamp. It can be fed music from a laptop with it’s high quality USB cable. It can also be fed an optical in signal and output a digital signal through optical. OTG is supported, so phones can output to the Black Label. I was able to use Android Marshmallow natively through Deezer and YouTube aswell as the usual USB Audio Player,  Onkyo Player and Hiby Music Player. All the weird and wonderful formats I had on my Macbook were easily taken care of by the iFi.  The iDSD also accepts analogue signals. The 3.5mm jack by the 6.3mm input, is not as I initially thought for IEMs. To my embarrassment I was informed it was for audio sources without digital out connections to be used on the iDSD. In this way the iDSD will act as an amplifier. The iDSD also can be used as a preamp or direct line out, to form part of a full sized HiFi. The F6 power amplifier I have did not cope with the amount of juice the BL was trying to put into it, so I used the preamp which worked suitable well. The Direct Mode will only be using the DAC part of the iDSD. The preamp uses both. There is a smart charge facility on the side of the unit. This allows for your phone perhaps to get some emergency power once it’s been OTG’d to death. I’m presuming many of you  know this already; even larger newer phones don’t last more than a couple of hours playing OTG out to an external device. The iDSD will easily outlast your phone so should be able to keep it going until you can get to a proper power source. Of course you won’t be using the iDSD as a source by this time and the phone will be all but redundant while it’s trying to achieve more charge. 
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    Within the analogue and digital in realm we have been given a wide range of choices. There are 3 sensitivity switches on the underside of the unit for IEMs. A minijack converter is provided to plug in your earphones to the output. I found the highest sensitivity setting on all the IEMs I tried to be too quiet even with the volume switched to max. The lowest setting was really loud. Wow! There is enormous scope for getting the right balance of loudness setting within those 3 settings. The settings on the side are for full sized. The highest setting was too quiet even for my 32 Ohm AT W1000Z closed cans. The middle setting was perfectly ok for these. The HE6 needed the lowest one but not to the maximum volume.  With the headphones all dialled in for volume, you must then concentrate on the Digital Filter. This is a 3 way switch for Bit Perfect Minimum Phase and Standard. Standard is the most tweaked filter and is designed towards a DSD file. I settled on the standard filter as I felt it added some good punch to the music without making it harsh. All is not over yet. You must decide whether you want more bass in your life. There is just such a switch for this. Maybe your vinyl rips need a touch of extra or your orchestra is not sounding full enough? The bass has an on off setting. The 3D switch will widen the image of your soundstage considerably. Such features are available through various software. For those who will wish to change between filters on various tracks, this as a hardware feature, could be extremely useful.
     

    Build

     
    With the iDSD comes many bits and bobs.  
     
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    The packaging is beautiful. The unpacking of the unit was a sensual pleasure. There are things which impressed. A variety of non standard looking cables and stars and bags fell gently out of 2 shiny white boxes neatly tucked into their respective columns hidden under the belly of the iDSD itself.  
    Top left - an analogue cable 3.5mm. Coming downwards a USB converter for OTG. The purple cable is twin RCAs for line out to a full size amp. 2 thick rubber straps to tie your phone or DAP up to the BL. The white shiny card above is a spacer to keep the iDSD from being scratched or rubbed by the thing it’s attached to. The blue USB cable is a thick high quality one. An optical adapter, detailed manual and USB adapter complete things. Other than one really nice extra. 
     
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    A black velvet carry pouch. Very nice indeed. 
    A sizeable number of accessories. For OTG the cables provided here won’t do the trick. There would be far too much cabling once even a tiny micro usb is daisychained on. Chord supplied one tiny usb cable for the Mojo in comparison. RHA also make sure they have lots and lots of goodies in their DL1 Dacamp box. I used the Mojo OTG cable from their accessory pack with the iFi which created a great little stack for out and about. I would have liked to have seen a dedicated optical cable with the bundle. Adapters are very easy to lose. 
    There has been some discussion about the volume control on the iDSD. The original volume control was slated by a vociferous minority for being unbalanced at low volume settings. The volume has not been changed on the BL version.
     
    IMG_20161222_114102031_HDR2.jpg
     
     
    It still has issues with unbalanced sound at low volume. It’s therefore extremely important to get the switching sensitivity correct to alleviate this problem. This problem does not exist on either the RHA DL1 IMG_20161129_113738013_HDR.jpg
     
    or the Mojo. 
     
    [​IMG]
     

    Sound Quality

     
    I have a semi professional analogue to digital converter, the ART Phono Preamp Plus. It’s ability to rip vinyl without electronic interference in the background recording is the reason I bought it. I soon discovered it had many other benefits. I can hook up any line out source, in this case , the iDSD, and record the output straight into the ART and then onto the MacBook digitally. It’s merely a case of picking a track , plugging the device into the back of the ART and pressing record on Audacity.  Only the source is changed. switching is instant. 
     
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    Once a volume match is attained, my Chord Mojo can then be compared side by side, over and over again, using the same track, same input, same volume. This testing was done by me on day one. They are freely available for anyone who wishes to listen for themselves. There is no load going into the 2 devices. The analogue stage and the quality of the preamp mean that the sound quality is not as good as you would get from plugging your headphones straight into either device. It will give you a flavour of any differences between the Chord Mojo and the iDSD Black Label. In my opinion the differences are there. Please PM me if you wish to be sent a link to them. They are of a DSD recording so should be pretty good quality. I invite you therefore to listen for yourself as to what you might think of the sound quality of the iDSD BL. If you wish to do that I would encourage you not to read any further. STOP NOW!  
     
     
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    PM me and I will send you the link. Make your own conclusion, listen as much as you can stand, then come back here and see if you agree with me. I really hope some of you do. I am not the authority here, nor are my ears. We all must decide for ourselves using the information out there whether any audio product will suit our needs and improve on what we have. Only the individual can decide that, ideally with an audition. This is the closest I can give anyone to that experience. You are welcome!
    Now it is time for the spoiler, my own opinion of the iDSD sound quality , specifically against 2 devices.  Device one, from memory. The iDSD v the RHA DL1 dacamp. IMG_20161129_113658868_HDR.jpg
     
    The iDSD is a clear winner against the DL1. I found the RHA to be too shrill in the upper regions and too bloated in the lower regions. This with one notable exception; the CL1 Ceramic IEM in balanced mode  was superb through it. The iDSD v the Mojo; that you can hear for yourself. You can take my opinion with a pinch of salt. For what it’s worth, I did like the iDSD a great deal. The standard filter and mid setting on with the bass and 3D switch off sounded powerful and punchy. It sounded a little thin and slightly recessed in the mid section and less strained in the treble regions than the Mojo. mojorha4.jpg
     
    The bass and subbass lacked some of the impact of the Mojo. Although the Mojo was probably slightly more rolled back in the higher FR the iDSD seemed like it was being pushed slightly harder. I have had the Chord Mojo since October 2015. 
     
    Clearly it will take quite some beating. I haven’t yet found a portable device that I preferred the sound to. These differences in SQ are not huge differences. I am subtly trying to defend my views on the differences between the 2 if you are unable to hear them. I am merely stating that buying a different pair of headphones would give you a much more obvious set of differences than changing between the iDSD or Mojo. 
     

    Conclusion

     
    The iDSD BL offers an awful lot of options for the money. It costs more money for the Chord Mojo. The Mojo is a simple device with few options. It can output 2 headphones simultaneously whereas the BL  only has the one. It has arguably better sound quality than the iDSD but the differences are small. It fits a standard 5” smartphone or DAP considerably better than the Mojo without it’s adapter, although for the same money the Mojo has an accessory pack which sorts this problem out.  All choices in the audio world are complicated. If I had my opinion as to which device I would spend my money on, then I would choose sound quality before all else. 
     
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    In this regard I would put the iDSD a close second to the Chord Mojo. But, my dear reader, have a listen to the track which I have painstakingly prepared for you. Click here You may have an entirely different take on the matter
      Cagin, golov17, Whitigir and 3 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Takeanidea
      @gunwale  the differences to me are quite clear but I have cheated a little by listening many many times with everything from $20 IEMs to AKG K1000s. If you aren't noticing the differences then I don't think you need to spend so much money on stuff like this. The money might be better invested in different headphones as they are much easier to pick up the differences on. It's a blessing for you that you are not hearing the differences, or perhaps, imagining the differences.....
      Takeanidea, Dec 30, 2016
    3. Takeanidea
      The files are Ed Sheeran Parting Glass live at Wembley 90 second excerpt and Simple Minds She's a River 90 second excerpt - I have linked them in the review now
      Takeanidea, Dec 30, 2016
    4. gunwale
      now i am thinking of getting the grace m9xx since it was made available again a few days ago.
       
      is there anyone who have tried both idsd bl and m9xx?
      gunwale, Jan 4, 2017