1. 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
  2. miceblue
    A Terrific Bang for Your Buck DAC/Amp Combo!
    Written by miceblue
    Published Mar 12, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Octa-speed DSD, femto clocks, overall sound quality, gain options, digital filter options, discrete XBass+ and 3D+ sections, battery powered
    Cons - Flimsy-feeling plastic switches, male USB A USB input, bulky size for true portable use
    Disclaimer
    This is a review for the micro iDSD Black Label edition, not the original micro iDSD

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

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





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







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





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    DSC_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
  3. 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.
  4. proedros
    iFi Micro iDSD BL: Once you go black, you never go back
    Written by proedros
    Published Mar 6, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Very Musical and resolving Sound , Versatility (can be used with both ciems and full phones), Great Bass/Treble Boost, Amazing Build Quality
    Cons - More transportable than portable, no availability for Balanced use/Balanced Cables, difficulty to see volume knob level may irritate some
    Before submitting my thoughts on the IDSD Micro Black Label (to be called BL from now on), I would like to thank the folks at Ifi Audio for organizing this EU Demo Tour and giving us the opportunity to listen to BL . Initiatives like that help both companies to expand their clientelle and customers to try something out before buying and i hope that these events happen more often, especially for such quality products like the BL.

    Ok , on with the review then. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Did you notice the lag when starting play? And pops on power on/off?
      beowulf, Feb 25, 2017
    3. BillsonChang007
      @beowulf thankss! Yea it did have pop sound on power but I think that is quite common on amplifiers [same to on-board soundcard on start up, phones, etc]. As for playback delay, it's also there but only at initial start-up and after maybe a min or two of not using it. I also find the lag slightly longer than the original. 
      BillsonChang007, Feb 25, 2017
    4. Adamora
      Folks, please do not forget to update the firmware of this device to the iFi_XMOS_V5.2B for it to have no delays whatsoever whilst using it as a pure desktop DAC/AMP
       
      It was driving me insane using windows 10 until I found out it auto sleeps every bloody second to save power.
      Adamora, Feb 27, 2017
  6. rafaelpernil
    A great DAC-Amp full of features
    Written by rafaelpernil
    Published Feb 22, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Very smooth and natural sound, inmense versatility
    Cons - None
    To begin with, I would like to thank iFi for making this great tour and allowing some of us to test this product.
     
    I've been enjoying my original micro iDSD since January 2015 and it is really a piece to love. Its spacious natural sound, so efortless and delivering confindently in the serious Hi-Fi range... It scaled up as my setup did, unleashing deeper layers of detail by lowering it's USB noise (data and power wise) with a micro iUSB3.0, providing better dynamics and even better stereo presentation.
     
    To be honest, up to date, I am very happy with it. I tweaked my source (laptop) for lower latency thus outputing lower USB packet jitter, I adjusted the polarity of the components of my system for even better dynamics and so far everything pays for the efforts.
     
    Having said that, my system isn't complete yet, my speaker amp is kind of a bottleneck in here. I measured its noise and it doesn't even reach a S/N ratio of 70dB (Whereas iUSB3.0 offers an S/N ratio of almost 154dB). However, it can prove many points using it as a differential tool for both units, iDSD and iDSD BL.
     
    With no further adue, let's get into the review :D.
     
     
    For those of you who already know iFi, there's some key differences in this package over old products:
     
    -Rubber feet are smaller and have an iFi logo on it (Cool addition)
     
    -All accessories are now separed in two white mate carton boxes with satin iFi logo on it. I like it, cleaner and easier to pack.
     
    -The blue USB cable seems kind-of darker now. And slightly sturdier.
     
    And for those of you who happen to be first meeting iFi products, let me just say this: They give an Apple-like experience for the unboxing, simple and elegant.
    But for the fortune of us, they give a ton more of accessories, and to be honest, not bad at all. 

    *Fun fact: Their blue USB cable is the second best USB cable I have at home and I assure you it provides a nice smooth sound. Excellent considering it's built in!*
     
    Here I leave you some photos of the whole unboxing experience.
     
    IMG_20170214_132012.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_132027.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_132037.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_132114.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_132138.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_130910.jpg
     
    WARNING: Staring too much at the unit will seduce your mind with its attractiveness
     
    Oh, here we are, look at that. Ain't that sexy? Sure this smokey black brother is catching your attention. (Yep, smokey as Johny Walker's Black Label, no coincidence)
    Labeled with orange and dark grey silk-screen print, it seems iFi is playing elegant once more, but better refined. No coincidence whatsoever, it reminds me to this Black Label whiskey. I see a clear evolution throughout their products, specially in the design department this time, no detail has passed unnoticed, carefully improved from the bottom to the top.
     
     
    IMG_20170214_131551.jpg
    IMG_20170214_131047.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_131210.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_131152.jpg
     
     
    IMG_20170214_131016.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_130955.jpg
     

    Now, getting into the hardware, there are a lot of major changes, so let's recap:
     
    -Digital engine upgraded - Op-Amp OV2028
     
    -Analog section upgraded - Op-Amp OV2627
     
    -Zero Jitter/Femto clock system upgraded for lower phase-noise/jitter
     
    -3D+ and XBass+
     
    -Ultra-low impedance OS-CON polymer capacitors and Panasonic audio-grade ECPU film capacitors.
     
    I think it's going to be hard to discern where the improvements come from in each different scenario, but I'll do my best to find out what role plays each of these improvements in the final product. Let's call it reverse engineering :D
    I could give you some technical details from their webpage, but that would it give this review any value, would it? So, instead of that, I'll sign to iFi philosophy, and let the ears do the talking. 
     
     

    How does it perform solely as a DAC?
     
    First, comparing it to the original iDSD, I sat both units in Direct mode (Fixed Line-Out at 2V) and swapped my Oyaide neo d+ Class S USB cable connected to a micro iUSB3.0 after each test. The results proved this new unit instantly superior to the old one, giving far better texture, a better detailed bass, smoother sound and a better defined stereo image. However, I found soundstage better on the original iDSD, but maybe it is just a matter of time, to burn-in the new BL unit. I suspect improvements mainly come from improved capacitors, lower jitter and due to its improved analog section.
    By its own, without comparison, I would say it's one of the easiest DACs to listen I have tested. I listened to hours of music without noticing any disturbance in the sound. Which, by the way, happened to me sometimes with my original iDSD, sounding a little bit uncontrolled at highs.
     
    IMG_20170214_130628.jpg
     
    IMG_20170215_133324.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_131433.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_131237.jpg
     
    IMG_20170214_124811.jpg
     
     
    How dows it perform as a DAC-Amp?
     
    Well, I did some comparisons to original iDSD with the same source and the same blue cable and found out some interesting results. I used my micro iUSB3.0 as power supply and USB hub for both units:
     
    At first I equated the volume using a sonometer app and a 1kHz test tone and Black Label required more volume to reach same decibels. Which are great news, we have better gain control now!
     
     *NOTE: I haven't used the Oyaide cable because when swapping, I would have to turn off the DAC, turn it on again and readjust the volume to  get it powered via USB, where the micro iUSB3.0 helps with its 0.1uV noise floor*
     
    Taking into account the headphone amp, there's a major leap forward. A very significant difference, fixing a lack of bass texture and micro detail. I noticed a smoother sound, slightly better tone wise,
    with much better controlled highs, providing a solid image. It sounds more natural, with better texture and dynamics. Overall, very cohesive. But I would say original iDSD has a bigger soundstage.
     
    IMG_20170211_152357.jpg
     
     
     
    What about digital filtering?
     
    I perceived a lesser degree of improvement when comparing straight to USB port with iUSB3.0 as source. It seems this overhauled version has lower jitter and better filtering. A very good job!
     
     
    And now, talking about XBass+, there is also a very clear improvement. Bass boost is much more noticeable and fits quite nicely with many tracks. 3D Holographic + on the counterpart sounds slightly
    more unrealistic, a very nice addition nonetheless.
     
     
     
    Sincerely I would love to keep this unit with me. It sounds so great I don't wan't to stop music. It sounds so great I don't even have to worry about audio.
     
    Thanks for reading me, I hope you liked the review!
      proedros likes this.
  7. 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
  8. vapman
    The only acceptable replacement for the most discerning audiophile's desktop stereo setups.
    Written by vapman
    Published Feb 19, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Crazy amounts of power, beautiful sound, portable, doesn't require drivers to work.
    Cons - Can't buy the special edition opamps on their own, costs money, will make your other gear suck in comparison
    The original iDSD Micro stood out from the competition as an all-in-one replacement for the most discerning listeners' setups. The original iDSD Micro delivered - I had one, but as I started to not need a portable device anymore, I started comparing it to all the dedicated desktop gear I had. I had a glorious DAC and some very serious stereo power amps at the time - two Hafler DH500's running in mono. By the time I had re-configured my listening station to be all desktop again, my iDSD Micro didn't have much of a place since my desktop DAC - an E-MU 0404 with an AK4396 - could do the job. That was the end of my time with the original iDSD Micro. I sold it and moved on. However, after almost a year since then, I had completely dismantled my home stereo as a result of living in an apartment and getting too many noise complaints. That began my journey to find the setup the could replace that stereo with no compromises.
     
    The new iDSD Micro Black Label is iFi's first major upgrade to the iDSD Micro. The very day I heard there would be a tour for it, I signed up and was ecstatic to find I had been one of the chosen reviewers for it. My hopes were that the Black Label wouldn't just match my crazy desktop setup - which could double my power bill just by being plugged in - but make it all seem lame in comparison.
     
    I have gone thru tons and tons of gear in the decade or so I've been on Head-Fi. One of the few things that's been consistent in almost that whole time is one of my first big audio purchases - an E-MU 0404 USB I got shortly after it came out. So it's been in my hands for close to 15 years. It featured a beautifully implemented AK4396, and for a long time (up until maybe 2012 or 2013) I used it as my headphone amp too. It was the DAC that survived not only the original iDSD Micro but even the mighty Mojo.
     
    new-ifi-audio-micro-idsd-black-label-samma3a-002.png 3299555-kickass12.png emu0404usb2.jpg
     
     ​
    Another one of my favorite DACs, although not a super expensive one - the Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD, like both the original and Black Label iDSD Micro, uses a Burr Brown DAC. I always found the SBX effects to be high quality on it. Since getting rid of my original iDSD Micro, I would switch between these two DACs. I ended up being a huge fan of the bMac, an Indonesian made & designed portable amp, which has kept its place on my desk for close to a year now. I had also gained a very strong affinity for the Parasound Zamp, with the gobs of power it could push to any headphone, and sound amazing doing so. After the tour was announced, but well before I received my unit, the Walnut V2 made its appearance on the Head-Fi map and became well respected as a very high quality but budget unit. Having a power output comparable to the iDSD Micro, I decided to settle with it as I liked its sound even as a desktop headphone amp.
     
    Fast forward from the ending of 2016 to early February 2017. After a couple months of hearing nothing, and watching iDSD Micro Black Label reviews slowly pop up on the site - which I kept myself from reading to keep from having preconceived notions about its sound - I finally got the email. It was my turn at last to try the Black Label. Little did I know it would make me feel like the first day I got the E-MU instead of listening with my PC's built-in sound chipset, or the first time I heard $1,700 IEMs - you get the point.
     
    ccc13736_1754017.jpg
     
    The day it arrived, I got both my most recent favorite setup and the setup that beat the iDSD Micro many months ago, and got them ready and re-familiarized myself with them before switching to the Black Label. I don't even remember what headphone I tried first on the Black Label. The thing is, it doesn't matter. No matter what I tried, it was on a whole different level than any of my gear. My setup that had been my favorite up until that moment was dishearteningly muddy and flat in comparison to what I was hearing. The setup that nearly matched the original iDSD Micro in sound was lifeless and lacked dynamics compared to the Black Edition. And so, that marked the last day I was able to enjoy the setup I had until that point.
     
    I knew the Black Label was all business. Custom-designed op-amps, a stunning capacitor selection, and some awfully bold claims about how much better it would be over the original. While I can't rip the op-amps out of this tour unit to try in other gear, and I doubt iFi would sell me some of their iFi/AMR op-amps, I've messed with enough op-amps in my life to know what to expect from a lot of them, and I know from my time with the Black Edition I like what I am hearing an awful lot.
     
    A while back, I published a review on the Parasound Zamp, a 45 watt zone power amp that happened to have a headphone jack on the front of it. I praised it for its ability to breathe crazy amounts of life into any headphone you plug it. People got excited about it, and it was one of my most popular reviews. I've tried other amps that boast a high wattage output, but none are capable of being quite as dynamic and effortless as that Zamp did. Even if the original iDSD Micro couldn't do this job, the Black Edition definitely can and does. I think I spent at least 3/4 of my time with it in Turbo mode. I'm a bass head, a SPL freak and I love my headphones to sound like they're going to explode with energy. I could not find a headphone pairing that did not sound good on this amp, much like with the Zamp. And for how alive, crisp, and clear everything sounds, I probably would have been impressed if I was just hearing the amp section and didn't use the DAC at all. Using the original iDSD Micro I never wanted to use as an amp by itself, but the Black Edition has me enjoying the device as an amp thoroughly.
     
    3bc9e25a_iDSDBlackLabelComponents.jpg
     
    Speaking of bass - one of my bigger complaints about the original iDSD Micro was the bass boost switch hardly did anything. It made a very subtle difference which I felt was only really noticeable when you were listening at very high volumes. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the bass boost was certainly more present on this unit. On any headphones I used, it added a great amount of weight to the bass with any headphone I used. The background is silent and the detailing and clarity is top notch. When I was listening with more demanding headphones like the JVC SZ's, the difference was huge with the switch flipped.
     
    The 3D option does roughly the same thing as the Sound Blaster's Crystallizer function. It essentially makes the sound a little more "V" shaped. I kept the 3D switch off for the majority of my listening, but never thought it sounded bad with it on. I don't tend to use the Crystallizer very often at all when I'm using my X-Fi anyway. What is clear is that the Black Label goes so much farther past the all-in-one replacement for your listening setup. For discerning and picky listeners who are not willing to accept any compromise, true music lovers who listen all day and can't tolerate a minute of downtime, this is the all-in-one unit for you.
     
    The price and its similarity to the Mojo's price can not be ignored. The original iDSD Micro used to be compared to the Mojo, but I never felt that was a balanced comparison, even if they did the same jobs. Interface differences aside, the Mojo has a more unique sound. For me, that unique sound did not always work out. It made my MP3's and other lossy audio sound like garbage. Lossless sounded wonderful on the Mojo, but I don't have the kind of library that can be easily replaced with lossless copies. The Mojo failed to work out for me for this reason, regardless of the fact the volume control balls drove me insane and the charging mechanism was too flaky to work for someone who listens all day long and gets furious at any downtime. My Mojo only lasted a couple months before the aspects of it that bothered me outweighed my ability to enjoy it.
     
    a73e217a_B_P1070660.jpg
     
    The Mojo is more easily compared to the Black Label, I think. Lossy audio still sounds great on the Black Label, but the Black Label - even on bit-perfect mode - offers such a fast and detailed yet slightly warm sound. I always felt the iDSD was the more honest of the two, and the Black Label is the best choice for me as it's honest, neutral, and balanced but offers the lush, refined sound the Mojo was capable of whereas the original iDSD Micro was not as capable. Before the Black Label, I think it would have been a much harder choice between the Mojo and the iDSD Micro. With the Black Label in the mix, the gap is so much smaller. The improvements iFi brought to the table with the Black Label really shows. No longer do you have to pick between two desktop stack replacements which approached the problem in completely different ways for a great all-in-one portable device. I noticed right away the overall sound character has tried to catch up to the competition, and it is my opinion that iFi did an excellent job of this. Anyone who thought the original iDSD Micro could stand to be brighter would probably not be the biggest fans of the changes iFi made. To anyone else, I would feel pretty confident it is only an upgrade. It's a move slightly more in the direction of how the Mojo sounds, and personally I like it a ton.
     
    To be sure I get my point across by how impressed I am of the sound coming out of this device - all-in-one unit or not - my DAC and amp setup I had been using before this, I had replaced op-amps, capacitors, all manners of things to improve the sound quality to my liking. And while it all had approached and come fairly close to the Black Label's sound, it just simply can't catch up in any way. My setup had too much background noise and not a dynamic, crisp and quick enough sound to it. It was even a tiny bit like I was back in electrostatic territory listening to the Black Edition at times. I wasn't even happy with my setup's bass levels when I was switching back from the Black Label which took me by surprise. The bass power of the Black Label is not to be underestimated. 
     
    On the day I got the tour unit, I was doing recording work in my studio and had it sitting on top of a tube compressor I was using. Of course, it made perfect sense that once I was done recording and going to listen back on headphones, I should first listen with the setup I had deemed best, and then listen straight out of the Black Edition.
     
    fgdfsgdfgf.jpg
    In my pitch-black recording studio, I noticed the iDSD Micro BL illuminated by one of my tube compressor's VU monitors.
     
    Listening to the Black Label has made me so uninterested in all the other DACs and amps I have lying around. They all are so inferior to the Black Label in my mind now. Every headphone I have tried it with, it's a gorgeous, lively pairing. There is no such thing as bad synergy with the Black Label. Everything works so amazingly with it, and the Black Label is able to make anything I throw at it - source material or headphones - sound the best I've heard most of it ever be.
     
    While it did not provide a whole new world of clarity I hadn't heard through my DAC before, it did give me something I hadn't heard since that dual mono Hafler setup with the 0404 sitting on top. That dead silent background, perfect extension across the full frequency spectrum, no BS. All you got was the music, honest as possible, but sounding beautiful doing so. It is a gorgeous thing when there is truly no need for any tricks to make the source sound better than it really is. All you need is the perfect presentation of it. My years and thousands of dollars per year spent chasing this level of sound proves this was no easy feat. 
     
    One of the other things I wanted to test out of the Black Label right away was its performance as a DAC if substituted for either my 0404 or modded X-Fi Titanium HD with the same amps afterward. The dual mono DAC design had me very interested in this model. It had lower noise and better detailing, speed and dynamics compared to the X-Fi Ti HD. Compared to the 0404 with the AK4396, the 0404 was a leaner and brighter sound. It did not have the slight warmness the dual Burr Brown setup in the X-Fi, but the 0404 also had a thinner and flatter sound in comparison.
     
    The last time I've had this hard of a time giving up some review gear was when I was touring the Kumitate Labs IEMs. I never ended up getting one of those were too far out of my price range combined with my unwillingness to buy a custom IEM, with the KL-REF being close to $2000. Still, to this day it remains one of the most beautiful and well balanced sounds I've heard from any headphone. Going back to my gear after sending the Black Label back to iFi I know will feel like sending those Kumitates back. I just wanted to keep begging to spend another day with them. I had to force myself to keep listening when I was comparing my other gear to the Black Label because none of it was as good. None of it. I knew it was a winner when I couldn't stop trying different headphones through it, not because any of them weren't giving me the sound I wanted, but because they all sounded so ridiculously good out of the Black Label. I had been using headphones I hadn't tried in ages just to rock out because they all sounded so much better than I had remembered them. This isn't something I had done or really experienced since I was doing my Parasound Zamp review.
     
    I had been struggling to find out how I was going to describe this device adequately in a review. I wanted to do it proper justice, not just say over and over "it was great! i loved it! everything was great!" and after several drafts I still have the feeling my whole review just reads like that. What I can't seem to emphasize properly is how to put my experience having the iDSD Black Label into the proper context.
     
    cc1b7ea2_PCB-1.1-WHITE.jpg
     
    Finally, the answer came to me on the weekend at 4AM. I was standing in my living room in my pajamas, JVC SZ2000 on my head, the iDSD Black Label in my hand, running off a super long USB extension cable into my PC. I had been tweaking my five-band parametric EQ and blasting crappy Italian Discomagic compilation CD's from the early and mid 1990's. I remember because I had Turbo mode on the Black Label and was pushing every last decibel of sub and mid bass out of my JVC SZ2000 as I could. As I was listening to the cheesy Italo disco mixes, I went back through all the Head-Fi meets I'd been to in my life and came to a realization. The most active meet I'd ever attended, which was in 2006, I listened to all the top of the line setups that existed eleven years ago. Nothing I was hearing was possible back then. Forget the bass power of the SZ2000 which just wasn't possible before JVC invented that - what about the Black Label itself? As a perfect stand-in replacement but not more than that, the original iDSD Micro was still a feat of technology that wouldn't have been possible in 2006, but I never got the impression with the original iDSD Micro that really took me by awe. The Black Edition was something that truly was not possible as long as a decade ago or even half a decade. Here was a box I could hold in my hand and not only could it match the sound of stacks of gear amounting to nearly $1,000 on their own - it was surpassing all of it in any possible way. Going back to any of my old setup results in one form of disappointment or another. And anything I heard that long ago, giant stacks of specialized gear isolated from one another and linked up with top of the line cables, to my own personal setup I've obsessively perfected over time, all crushed by the sound of the Black Label. This was truly the sound of audio perfection as far as I've heard. Maybe it won't be 5 years or a decade from now, that's fine because it's good enough to have turned the tables. I can shamelessly say this is what I hoped the Mojo would be. Not only having enough power to challenge the most power hungry headphones but sounding so glorious doing it, there is nothing else I could ask for.
     
    The Sound Blaster seemed so worthless in comparison. No DSP can come close to matching the sound of bit-perfect music played so honestly, with so much perfectly controlled power. The E-MU could only compete when it was running thru the Zamp V3 - still one of the most amazing and perfect combinations I've ever heard in my life - but this offers so much more flexibility and doesn't require two AC outlets. That is what truly made this device so good to me. The sound quality and energy I could only get my running my all-time favorite DAC into a 45 watt desktop power amp, designed to drive speakers, with a gigantic toroidal transformer. The DAC also requires its own power supply. Two pieces of gear I had never been able to beat with anything bus or battery powered. And here it was! Worst of all, it wasn't even mine - I was last in line for my leg of the tour. I would go in between dancing and singing to these bargain bucket Italo house mixes and complete despair that I had to give it back to iFi. I just couldn't stop listening to it, day or night. Every minute I spent with the sub and mid bass boosted as high as 34dB and Turbo mode activated with my JVC's was to die for. And, yes, it's suitable for non bass heads too. More often than I could understand, I found myself with Turbo mode on but running no EQ and just having the XBass switch on with all my power-hungriest ear buds. But again I have to emphasize, it doesn't really matter what gear you use on this. No matter what it is, it's going to sound as good as it can possibly sound in the year 2017 as far as I am convinced. I spend thousands of dollars on gear per year chasing after this exact sound. I have no doubts that the Black Label is a turning point, as it would be remarkable even for a desktop only device in my opinion. To be in a battery powered, compact format is nothing short of mind-blowing, and the components that are upgrades over the original iDSD Micro enough to make any audio loving engineer shed a tear of delight.
     
    cf636661_PCB-2-WHITE.jpg
     
    Is it worth your hard earned money? I would feel better about getting this than I ever did about buying a Mojo. I could just have this and my PC running foobar2000 and I'd be set. There is nothing I could find lacking in this device compared to anything else I like to use to listen. In fact, the Black Label really brought out what was wrong with the rest of my system. I was worried if I liked this a lot I wouldn't be able to budget for it even if I stretched it, but my experience using this has completely and honestly made the rest of my DACs and amps seem useless. At this point, they are all inferior to the Black Label in my eyes. When I send it back to iFi, I'll be counting the days until I have one in my hands again. Really, after about 2 weeks spent with this unit, I haven't been able to bring myself to use anything else for more than a couple minutes. It's the new standard by which I will measure anything else, truthfully and honestly. I can only hope I don't have to go too long without it in my life. I've had iFi gear before but I'm fully convinced now they're entirely deserving of all my respect. I can't thank iFi enough for the opportunity to try this out, even if it did make me hate all my other DACs and amps. For a single device to be able to replace what I missed most about my 500 watt dual mono-block home stereo is truly remarkable. For it to be battery powered and pocketable is truly ridiculous. I do honestly think this is a new milestone in portable sound. Anybody else making combo DAC/amp units needs to take a serious lesson from this. iFi is not messing around and it is so obvious when you are listening to it. I can't help but recommend any lovers of that lively, energetic sound prioritize investing in this unit.
     
    (edit: I realized I never mentioned my settings used. For nearly the entire time I had this, as with my original iDSD Micro, I had IEMatch disabled and the filter set to bit-perfect. Also, I failed to mention the IEMatch switches are more recessed than on the original iDSD Micro, which I appreciated.)
      cpauya, golov17, Krisna13 and 3 others like this.
    1. Lord Rexter
      Thank you for a great review!
      Lord Rexter, Feb 19, 2017
    2. vapman
      vapman, Feb 19, 2017
  9. ExpatinJapan
    The smexy ifi Micro iDSD BL is a veritable audio swiss army knife
    Written by ExpatinJapan
    Published Feb 15, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Full of options, packed with switches, excellent neutral sound, loads of input/output configurations
    Cons - lots of switches confused me :)

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

     
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     ifi Micro iDSD BL and iBasso DX200 vis SPDIF and Campfire Audio Nova.​
     ​
    ifi Micro iDSD BL (Black) review​
    -expatinjapan​
     ​
    Thank you to ifi for sending me the ifi Micro iDSD BL to try out as it made its way to Hawaiibadboy of Head-fi who also resides in Japan. I dont usually do loaners these days as its a lot of work writing a review, taking pictures etc etc. But I have had a steady communication with ifi for a while now and that is also important in my books. Plus pre Head pie i won an ifi ipurifier in one of their Head-fi contests. So time to give back.
    Unfortunately even though they did afford me ample time to try out the ifi Micro iDSD BL due to it being over the New year and into heavy work load January and organizing my house for a new in coming baby I did not get to put it through its paces as much as would have liked to.
     
    The ifi Micro iDSD BL is packed with many functions, an audio swiss knife If you will, it contains so many options it truly initially stopped me in my tracks for a while as I tried to figure out where to begin.
     
    But begin I did....
     
    [​IMG]
    ifi Micro iDSD connected to an ipod touch via mini to mini and iBasso IT03 IEMs.​
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     ​
    ifi website overview 
    - `The iFi micro iDSD Black Label is the newest iFi micro flagship product.
    At the heart, beats the Burr-Brown DSD512/PCM768/2xDXD True Native® DAC with headphone amplifier.
     
    The Black Label looks very good on the outside yet the inside is even better where relentless attention has been paid to advancing the sonics with the very latest components:
     
     • DAC digital signal and digital power sections upgraded
    • AMR Global Master Timing® femto-precision clock system upgraded for ‘super low’ phase-noise/jitter
    • Analogue signal and power sections revised
    • 3D+® performance-tuned / XBass+® performance-tuned
    • Latest Output stabilisation network offers less distortion
     
    The micro iDSD Black Label. The best, evolved.`
     
    ifi outer box
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    Specifications:
    (Via ifi website).
     
    Inputs/Outputs
     
       
    Inputs (rear) USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket
    (with iPurifier® technology built-in) Compatible with computers (Apple/Win/Linux), iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android Devices, camera kit or USB-OTG cable required. (Full USB3.0 port compatible)
    Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial 3 Way combo SPDIF port (Coaxial In/Out; Optical In); Up to 192kHz PCM
    SPDIF Optical
         
    Outputs (rear) Audio RCA L+R
    Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial Up to 192kHz PCM
         
    Output (right side) SmartPower® Socket Fast charge all portable devices. Compliant with USB Battery Charging Standard 1.2 – 5V @ 1.5A
         
         
    Controls
     
    Controls (front)
    – HP Output Audio 6.3mm Headphone Jack
    – Volume with Power On/Off switch Precision analogue volume control <2dB Tracking error
    – 3.5mm Input Auto disable the digital section when this is in use
    – X-Bass® On/Off
    – 3D Holographic Sound® On/Off Auto-switching for Speakers® and Headphones® (two separate and distinct circuits)
         
    Controls (left side)
    – Power Mode Turbo, Normal, Eco Computer controlled power and gain scaling
    – Polarity Normal/Inverted
    – Filter 3 positions, 6 filters (see filter section below)
         
    Controls (bottom)
    – Line Direct/Preamplifier Preamplifier function Enable/Disable, 0/9dB gain selectable Fixed 2V or variable with up to 5V available
    – iEMatch® Perfect-matching circuit for IEMs (eliminate hiss) Off / High Sensitivity Headphone / Ultra Sensitivity Headphone
         
         
    DAC section
     
    DAC Dual-core DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown 2-DAC Chip; 4-Channel; 8-Signals, custom interleaving for maximum SNR
    Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing
         
    Clock Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds
         
    Audio Formats DSD 512/256/128/64
    24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8 All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
    DXD 2x/1x
    768/705.6/384/352.8kHz All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
    PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/
    48/44.1kHz All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
         
    Filters
    – PCM Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard Digital filters selectable
    – DSD Extreme/Extended/Standard Range Analogue filters selectable
    – DXD Bit-Perfect Processing Fixed analogue filter
         
         
    Specifications (DAC Section)
     
       
    Dynamic Range (Line) >117db(A)  
    THD & N (0dBFS Line) <0.003%  
    Output Voltage (Line) >2V  
    Output Impedance (Zout) < 240Ω  
    Jitter (correlated) Below AP2 test set limit  
         
         
    Headphone Power Output
     
    HP Amp Output Power (max) Power (continuous.)
    – Turbo mode 10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm >1560 mW @ 64 Ohm
    > 166 mW @ 600 Ohm
     
    – Normal mode 5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm > 950 mW @ 32 Ohm
    > 100 mW @ 300 Ohm
     
    – Eco mode 2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm > 250 mW @ 16 Ohm
         
         
    Specifications (Headamp Section)
     
       
    Dynamic Range (HP) >115dB(A) (Eco Mode, 2V Out)  
    THD &N (HP 500mW/16R) < 0.008%  
    Output Voltage (HP) >8V (Turbo Mode)  
    Output Impedance (Zout) <1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)  
    Maximum Output Power 4,000mW @ 16 Ohm Load when using sinewave testing the iDSD micro may engage protection circuits
    Continuous Output Power 1,000mW @ 64 Ohm Load
     
     ​
    Whats in the box?
     ​
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    The unit, warranty card, instructions etc​
     
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    An excellent array of cables and accessories.​
     
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    The unit itself.​
     
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    `Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/Coax
     
    Digital Audio Players (DAP) and home SPDIF sources are abound. Flexibility remains key and the micro iDSD BL retains the intelligent SPDIF in/out socket for optical/coax signals. So for those who wish to upgrade their DAP, simple use it as a transport and feed the micro iDSD Black Label.` - via ifi website.
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    So many mind boggling options.​
     
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    Sound
     
    I tried the ifi Micro iDSD BL with a simple ipod set up, via SPDIF to the iBasso DX200, my basic home set up and also out of my Macbook.
     
    In all the configurations the ifi proved to be a high performer, not surprising considering how long they have been around and the many products that ifi have made.
     
    The ifi iDSD BL is definitely a souped up version than its earlier sibling with better specs overall.
     
    Its sound is quite neutral, detail orientated and overall quite transparent. The sound stage is wide, separation between instruments is of a high quality, the reproduction of the source material is very honest and accurate.
     
    If one is looking for a unit on the warm sounding side, this isnt it, and thankfully so.
     
    One also has the options of the many many switches to toggle between for larger headphones or sensitive IEMs, to increase/decrease power or gain.
     
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      Value
     
    At $US549  the ifi Micro iDSD BL (Black) is a good purchase.
     
    Its multiple inputs and outputs make it a versatile unit that can suit a users many audio needs.
    It certainly has a decent price /performance ratio.
     
    As with all ifi products it is well designed and manufactured.
     
    It can be considered more transportable than portable, and is more ideal for an addition to home set up.
     
    whether in conjunction with other ifi products, and existing home system or by itself with a set of active speakers.
     
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    As seen at a Tokyo Headphone show.​
     
     
    Overall
     
    The ifi Micro iDSD BL is a solid and well made unit that goes for a sensible price.
     
    Its many inputs and outputs make it a unit that can be used with a variety of products.
     
    Whilst the size certainly puts in more in the transportable area than as a possible portable device, I would see most users preferring to utilize the ifi Micro iDSD BL as a part of home system or independently with a set of active speakers, connected to a computer or simply fed with a source and enjoyed at a desk via a set of earphones or headphones.
     
    The sound of the ifi Micro iDSD BL model is one of clarity, great details, authentic reproduction of the source materials, medium to wide sound stage, full bodied sound in the lows and mids without become flabby, dark or boomy, the highs are soft and extended.
     
    It certainly packs enough power to drive most headphones with ease. And has enough subtle settings to also make it suitable for sensitive IEMs.
     
    A wide variety of setting switches means that the user can also customize it to their preferred sound signature.
     
    To conclude the ifi Micro iDSD Black is a versatile product that does neutral very well, but also by way of various switches and settings allows the users to customize their sonic experience.
    It plays well with large headphones and also more sensitive IEMs.
    Its compatibility and many inputs and outputs make it a versatile future proof machine.
     
    Plus it looks smexy.
     
     
    [​IMG]
     
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    Thank you to ifi for loaning me the ifi Micro iDSD Black.​

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

      IMG_20170208_083747945_BURST001.jpg

    Background:

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

    Equipment used:

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

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

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

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

    IMG_20170208_083611420_HDR.jpg
     
    Volume knob:

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

    Power mode:

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

    Polarity and filter:

    To me these switches did not make any difference.

    3D toggle switch:

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

    XBass toggle switch:

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

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

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

    Sound quality:

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

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

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

    Mids:

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

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

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

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