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

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

Introduction

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

Of all the manufacturers I’ve dealt with, and there are a few, iFi is the only one that makes what they are doing sound like witchcraft. Stealth technology, tube state, noise cancelling power USB coax etc… I don’t know how they do it, and don’t pretend to, but my lack of understanding won’t make me turn all Luddite and start bashing gears. I don’t need to understand it to enjoy it.
 
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Here’s the brief version of everything that iFi had to say in the iDSD thread about the newest member of the iFi family:
 
In short, iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label has:
 
  1. re-designed output stabilisation
  2. OV2627 op-amps upgraded analogue section
  3. Panasonic OSCON capacitors loaded power supply
  4. OV2028 op-amps loaded DAC power supply
  5. DAC voltage decoupling based on audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
  6. GMT® Femto precision clock system power supply upgraded
 
In short, iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label is:
 
  1. a tweaked to the roof original Micro iDSD
  2. a satin black version (with silk orange writings) of original Micro iDSD
  3. sonically much better version of original Micro iDSD
  4. loaded with latest 3D+® and XBass+® tech, superior over ones in original Micro iDSD
  5. 10% higher price of $549 (ex-tax) / Euro599 (incl VAT)
  6. superior to original Micro iDSD
 
 
It also has special Operationsverstärker, which is Operational Amplifier auf Deutsch. They use the cool copper-lead frames pictured below.
 
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It is also worth noting some of the features passed on through its iDSD lineage:
  1. Dual Burr-Brown DAC chips developed by Burr-Brown Japan before the TI acquisition, custom tweaked to play all the way up to unicorn formats: OctaDSD (512DSD—there aren’t even any recordings that I know of) to PCM768 (I don’t know if recordings exist for this standard)
  2. 3 output modes: eco, normal and turbo and the iEMatch feature allowing headphones from ultra-sensitive custom in-ear flagships to insensitive masses of metallic HiFiMan HE-6 glory
  3. Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/coax allows using the iDSD BL to feed your Sonos, or plugging in your DAP when you feel the need to make up for it’s inadequacies
  4. Battery power for loads of time, with smart charging for your devices when you aren’t blasting your aural cavities with wonders, delights, and delectable morsels of audio fayre (iFi advertise 6-12 hours battery playback, depending on how hungry your headphones are)
 
If you want more text about this new-fangled contraption, check out the iFi website.
 
Specifications
 
Formats supported
DSD512/256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD
DXD(768/705.6/384/352.8kHz), Double/Single-Speed DXD
PCM(768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz)
Filters
PCM – Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard
DSD – Extreme/Extended/Standard Bandwidth
DXD – Bit-Perfect Processing
Digital Inputs
High-Speed Asynchronous USB 2.0 (32bit/768kHz)
SPDIF Coaxial/Optical
Digital Outputs
SPDIF Coaxial
Audio Input
3.5mm
Audio Output
6.3mm (2V-5V variable), RCA Line out (2V fixed)
Power Output
Turbo (8.0V max/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm)
Normal (4.0V/1,000 mW @ 16 Ohm)
Eco (2.0V/250mW@16 Ohm)
Battery
Lithium-polymer 4800mAh
Power System
USB BCP V1.2 compliant up to 1500mA charging current
Power (max)
<2W idle, 4W max
Dimensions
177(l) x 67(w) x 28(h) mm
Weight
310g (0.68 lbs)
Manual
Available online here
Drivers/Firmware
Here ya go
 

Form & Function

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

 
I can also confirm that if you are going to connect your phone in this way as your primary way of using your Micro iDSD Black Label, you’ll want to flash the Limoncello 5.2B firmware. Twenty minutes hooked up to the iDSD BL took my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 from 100% to 81% battery.
 
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The Micro iDSD Black Label speaks.​
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The Micro iDSD BL has the same form factor as the whole micro series, but has traded out the straight aluminum (aluminium for some folks) sheath for a stark matte black scabbard with orange accent lettering. I was a bit worried that the orange lettering would look garish and never allow me to escape the conquest of Jack-o-lantern images in my head. Luckily for me, and all those thinking of buying this little beast, the orange is very well executed and the black looks amazing. It looks like I’ve got a miniature panther sitting atop my other audio gear, but there are no eyes to see on this in the dark, nothing to let you know that your ears aren’t about to be bombarded with bliss. It’s a stealthy joy cannon.
 
The switches are well labelled, as is the headphone jack, 3.5mm input, and all inputs and outputs, but lordy the volume knob could use an orange dot to know not to blast my ears too badly. This thing can throw out a lot of wattage, so a little warning would be good. As is, there is just a barely visible black line to let you know what volume you are at. The line is cut into the knob, so you can feel the volume before you hear it at least.
 
Similarly, if you want to read anything on the bottom of the iDSD BL, good luck with that. The writing is dark grey on a black background. Not the most clear choice of text. The good news is once you know what you are doing, and through using the user manual, the text on the bottom is made irrelevant.
There are lots of features on the iDSD BL. I’ll take these features one by one.
 
  1. Power mode: the iDSD BL, like it’s predecessor has three power modes, it’s like gain but each step doubles the wattage to the headphones. Turbo delivers 4W, while normal delivers 1w, and Eco delivers 250mW into 16 Ohms. My personal preferences with the HD600 were was normal at about 2 o’clock. With the Noble Kaiser 10 Encore (K10E), I liked Eco mode at about noon. I liked the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (UERR) best in Normal with volume at about 11 o’clock.
  2. iEMatch: the Noble K10E is pretty sensitive and has pretty much never needed much of anything to drive it on anything that I’ve drove it out of, but it didn’t need iEMatch. I don’t have any more sensitive IEMs on hand. One advantage of IEM match with the Noble K10E was more sensitive volume control. When I turned to high sensitivity my volume adjustment became finer. I tried the UERR in High Sensitivity, but had to put the power level into Turbo, which comes with some noise floor consequences, so negates some of the benefit. I preferred the UERR with iEMatch Off and power set to Normal. With the Noble K10E, I tried Eco and High Sensitivity, but found that I preferred Eco with Normal, as I perceived a slightly larger soundstage.
  3. XBass: gives a small dB boost to lower frequencies without touching the mids. It’s a really nicely executed effect that worked well with the HD600 and the UERR (especially with the UERR).
  4. 3D: I was previously a fan of this on the iCAN SE, but the iCAN SE amp was not as good sounding as the iDSD BL, from memory, and I find the change on this iDSD BL is not as subtle as the XBass effect. It does give a bit more air, but it also pushes some instruments forward (cymbals particularly), which will be pleasing to some but sounded a bit unnatural to me. I like an organic neutral signature most of the time, without any particular sections of the frequency range sounding too far forward. The 3D switch goes a little too forward and v-shaped for my tastes. That’s OK, though, as it is designed for variation, the standard is soooooo good, I generally don’t even touch the switches (maybe the XBass from time to time, depending on my mood and my material). 3D is awesome with the Meze 99 Classics.
  5. Filter: there are three filter settings—standard (not for DSD or DXD), Minumum Phase, and Bit Perfect. I tested these out with the Rebecca Pigeon – Spanish Harlem, and noted that the sound got warmer and less sharp as I dropped down the ladder from Bit Perfect to Standard. The differences were very subtle. With DSD256 (Trondheim Solistene – Frank Bridge Variations 4. Romance, from 2L recordings), I noticed increased volume as I went down the ladder. With DXD (Hoff Ensemble - Bøhren/Åserud: Blågutten) I didn’t notice differences—it all sounds wonderful.
  6. Native everything. Cookie Marenco over at Blue Coast has previously emphasized that the less conversion that happens, the better; this is why they say recordings that they receive in PCM192 sound best in PCM192, not DSD. This plays native DSD to OctaDSD (512) and DXD to double DXD (768mHz), and all the other PCM you can eat. If you need DoP it’s there, but trust me, you don’t need it.
 
In other good news, I powered the HD600 for at least 13 hours on battery power, so the battery has plenty of guts. The reason I say at least 13 hours is I fell asleep and it was off when I woke up. I was doing the battery test passively, as 13 hours is a long time to be in one place. I fell asleep after watching the Seahawks dismantle the Panthers—that game ended at 5 AM here, I was le tired.
 

Audio quality

With no switches engaged the iFi iDSD Black Label is dead to rights neutral. It lets the headphone do the singing. This is very similar to the LH Labs GO2A Infinity I just recently picked up. These two DAC/Amps share quite a bit in common, actually. Both are made out of aluminum, both have multiple gain settings, both output 4VRMS at 16 Ohms, both are freaking excellent neutral DACs. The GO2A Infinity, for all its qualities, can’t play DSD256 or higher, uses DoP exclusively, doesn’t have a battery up in it (GO V2+ for that), doesn’t have the sheer headphone matchability, and doesn’t have digital or analogue outputs outside of headphone outs—of which it has a 3.5mm TRRS balanced and a standard 3.5mm jack. Also, the GO2A doesn’t have the magic switches found on the front of the Micro iDSD Black Label.
 
Let’s talk about those switches. I first threw the iDSD on with another item I’m reviewing, the 1MORE MK802 using the optional 3.5mm cable (it’s a Bluetooth headphone). I tossed some white noise on to see if I could hear the shaping effects of the switches. When I flipped the 3D switch the pitch of the white noise became higher. It was a very noticeable change. I then flipped off the 3D switch and flipped on the XBass switch expecting a similar lowering of pitch. I couldn’t hear the difference with white noise. However, when I threw on the new Chesky 30th Anniversary Collection, the bass switch was subtle, but noticeable, and more so when I switched to the HD600. From what I can tell the XBass gives a subtle subbass boost that is just big enough to make bass notes more full and drum strikes have more palpable impact and air in the strike. XBass can lend bass guitar and stand-up bass some really nice grunt, too. The 3D effect is accomplished through a treble boost. Neither boost messes with the midrange frequencies, which is really nice. The boosts are subtle modifications that allow you to give more fulfilling bass on a slightly bass light headphone like the HD600 or give a little more perceived soundstage on a treble limited headphone. Also, if you have a neutral phone and want it to sound more vibrant you can flip the switches. If you want to paint in technicolour shades in a landscape in your audio dreams without losing the central image and symbolic language, these switches let you do that.
 

 
In several words the iDSD Black Label is: clear, neutral, powerful, and flexible. I tried the iDSD Black Label with the HD600 (Normal, iEMatch Off), the Noble Kaiser 10 Encore (Eco, iEMatch Off, soft hiss on Normal), the UERR (Normal, iEMatch Off), and the Meze 99 Classics (Eco, iEMatch Off, hiss on Normal) it delivered all courses deliciously. When I craved a bit more bass from the HD600, the XBass took care of that; and when I wanted to balance out the signature of the Meze 99 Classics to make them clearer, I switched on 3D effect; but generally I found I liked the iDSD BL vanilla. It delivers such perfect neutrality. I think that the Meze 99 Classics really benefit from the 3D switch. The sound of them improves so much more to my liking—after listening to them with 3D on, I don’t think they’ll ever sound quite as good on other sources. The 3D switch balances out the extra bass groove that the Meze’s have. They don’t tighten that bass, but they put it into relief by sharpening the upper-mids and treble registers. I found that the 99 Classics don’t have sharp treble—I don’t get where that has been coming from; but do have boosted bass and mids. The signature is much more balanced with 3D engaged. One thing I did like with 3D was boosting the treble helped make some muddier tracks sound a bit more crisp, which to me was better than boosting soundstage. I totally dug the increase in perceived resolution. Duller tracks had their camping spork audio tranformed into restored functional blades, but not into Japanese steak knives.
 
 
 
My primary listening for the review was Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited in 24/96. The album is excellent and excellent sounding. You really understand why Bob Dylan just recently won the Nobel Prize for literature—his words are poetry that moved the world and shaped music in his heyday and will continue shaping music long into the future. I used this to generate my initial impressions above and gauge the capabilities of the device.
 

Comparisons

For comparative listening I expanded out a bit:
  1. Dragonforce – The Fire Still Burns; Heartbreak Armageddon (speed, air)
  2. Damien Rice – Animals Were Gone (just for the heartbreak)
  3. Animals as Leaders – Ka$cade (speed, resolution)
  4. Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (resolution, male vocals)
  5. Why – Strawberries (bass, stage)
  6. Michael Jackson – Billie Jean [vinyl rip] (stage, imaging, resolution)
  7. Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra – Sibelius: 5th Symphony, Allegro molto [DSD64] (scale, imaging)
  8. Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev  – Tchaikovsky: 1812 Festival Overture
  9. Amber Rubarth – Sessions from the 17th Ward
  10. And others…
 
Before I do some comparisons, here is the relevant info about my set-up(s).
 
Dell Vostro → LH Labs Lightspeed 2 (split power and data) USB cable → iFi Micro iUSB3.0 →
  1. Stock iDSD BL USB3.0 cable → iDSD BL
  2. Stock iDSD BL USB3.0 cable → iDSD BL → Airist Audio Heron 5
  3. LH Labs Lightspeed 2 (split power and data) USB cable → LH Labs GO2A Infinity
 
iBasso DX50 → stock 3.5mm to coaxial cable → iDSD BL
 
 
 
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When comparing the iDSD to the Airist Audio Heron 5, the Heron 5 has more grunt and soar across the whole spectrum, clearer holographic mids, and a bit bigger stage (all dimensions), but both are truly excellent sounding. The Heron 5 costs $750 (on Massdrop when it comes up, $1000 direct from Airist Audio). The Micro iDSD BL costs $550. The caveat here is that when I reviewed the iCAN SE, I didn’t find the iCAN SE to do as well with power hungry cans as the Heron 5. For this review, I don’t have any of those top-tier cans on hand. With the HD600 the Heron 5 is better, but it isn’t as decisive a victory as the comparison with the iCAN SE. There are a lot of ways that the iDSD BL is better: you can use it with high sensitivity low resistance IEMs, it has an excellent DAC implementation, you can throw it in your backpack, the iDSD BL has excellent distribution networks, and the customer service of iFi is absolutely stellar. Overall the Micro iDSD BL is a way better value than the Heron 5. In this comparison the Airist Audio Heron 5 was also being fed by the Micro iDSD BL, so the incremental cost of the improved performance is really $750 or more, because the iDSD BL is responsible for some of the sound quality I’m hearing out of the Heron 5.
 
When comparing to the Light Harmonic Labs GO2A Infinity in balanced, with volume matching, the two amps were nearly indistinguishable when playing at the same power output. The GO2A (1000 mW) setting is exactly the same 4VRMS into 16 Ohm output as the Micro iDSD BL. The GO2A was a little smoother, with the iDSD having a bit tighter contours and more well defined edges. The GO2A Infinity and the iDSD BL both have good power and good matchability. The GO2A Infinity has three levels, 100mW, 450mW, and 1000mW into 16 Ohms. Potentially, the iDSD BL has more matchability than this with the various iEMatch settings. Both amps have about the same soundstage. The GO2A Infinity is tiny, but won’t have a chance in Hades of driving an HE-6 or AKG-K1000. The GO2A Infinity will do fine on most headphones on the market, and performs very well with my HD600 and the Noble Kaiser 10 Encore. For value, the GO2A Infinity is currently $349 (not including shipping/taxes/etc…, distributor network is poor), and the iDSD BL is available all over the place for $549 (£455, €599—dang, what happened to the Euro?). Another place that iFi wins is customer service. iFi are just better staffed and more responsive. They also have had a better business plan to date and a lot better relationship with the community—needless to say.
 
As expected the iDSD BL sounds great when fed by the coaxial source. Amber Rubarth covering Tom Waits’ ‘Hold On’ is still one of my favourite acoustic tracks. Sessions From the 17th Ward should be in everybody’s collection. I don’t care if all you listen to is mainstream pop, metal and EDM, if you can’t feel this music and can’t get into the stellar musicianship, I just don’t know what to say.
 

Conclusions

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

I also have the amazing new LH Labs Geekout 2A Infinity.  Taking nothing from the Geekout 2A Infinity but the iDSD BL bests it fairly handily by.... say 15% in nearly all respects.  Now, I've not let it burn in.  I've not played with any of the settings.  I've not listened to it with a bunch of different headphones--just the AKG 553 Pro.  I've not put the iDSD BL through it's paces etc. BUT.....................Almost immediately, I experienced a better (and more) believable sound staging.  The music has more body than the GO2A Infinity.  The iDSD BL just seems more effortless, focused, etc.  There is an ease about it's power....a solidity.  There is a connection to the music that is more emotional.  I nearly cried on a few tracks as I was greatly moved by what I was hearing.  Those femto clocks and other boutique parts are definitely doing their thing.  $549 is a bargain in my mind.  I have absolutely no regrets with this purchase.  I have a new best friend and cannot wait to add some of the other iFi power goodies to this thing.  Oh and that volume pot problem that manifests at less than 9 O'clock is a non-issue on my product.  My volume pot works perfectly below 9 O'clock.   I may have a Geekout 2A Infinity for sale......it's that good.  
Pros: A lot of possibilities for adjustments, powerful, clean sounding
Cons: Slightly too large to be truly portable, may lack some richness in the sound
The iFi Audio Micro iDSD was sent to me by iFi with help from their Norwegian distributor Audioaktøren for the purpose of doing this review and including it in my recently started $250+ amp/DAC comparison thread. It’s a loaner unit and will be returned to Audioaktøren after my review is published. I would like to say thank you to Karina as well as Terje and Hallvar for making this review happen, thank you very much!
 
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The iFi Audio Micro iDSD is available from numerous online and domestic resellers (many places) with prices starting from $499 (at the time of this review). This is a link to the current Amazon listing for the Micro iDSD: 
 
https://www.amazon.com/iFi-Micro-iDSD-Headphone-Amplifier/dp/B00M50FLWK
 
For more information about the Micro iDSD you can also visit the IFI website:
 
http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd/
 
I’m not in any way affiliated with iFi or Audioaktøren.
 
Short introduction to iFi Audio:
iFi Audio is a UK based company.
 
This is what they say about themselves on their website:

“iFi is a brand new line of electronics with trickle-down technology licensed from AMR and aimed primarily at the future, Computer Audio generation. All iFi products boast Class A analogue circuitry with no DSP and the signal stays ‘Bit Perfect’ throughout.
How a product looks and performs matters, but so does its impact on the environment. That’s why nearly every iFi product and its packaging are made from highly recyclable materials like aluminum, paper, recycled plastic and why we refuse to use harmful toxins in our components. We do this to ensure that every product we release meets our environmental standards.”
 
About me:
I’m a 44 year old music and sound lover that changed my focus from speakers to headphones and IEM’s about five years ago. At that time I realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to have all the different setups that I wanted and still house a family of four children and a wife so my interest turned first to full sized headphones and later also IEM’s.
 
My preferences are towards full sized open headphones and I believe that also says something about what kind of sound signature I prefer (large soundstage in all directions, balanced and organic sound).
 
My music preferences are pretty much all over the place (only excluding classical music, jazz and really heavy metal). My all-time favorite band is Depeche Mode although I also listen to a lot of grunge/indie, singer/songwriter/acoustical stuff as well as the typical top 40 music.
 
I tend to value function over form within reasonable limits.
 
I do not use EQ, ever.
 
I’m a sucker for value for money on most things in life Head-Fi related stuff is no exception.
 
Built, accessories and functionality:
The iFi Audio Micro iDSD is a solid state headphone amplifier and DAC combo.  
 
The Micro iDSD is available in only one variation AFAIK: silver color.
 
I’ve got to be honest and admit that when I’ve seen pictures of  and read about the Micro iDSD I’ve almost been intimidated by its huge amount of options and buttons. At the same time I’ve also been very fascinated about in so naturally I was thrilled at the opportunity to try it out for myself.
 
Output power is rated to 950mW@ 32Ohm when running in Normal mode and from the numbers it should be somewhere around 2W in Turbo mode (more about the different modes later). Output impedance is rated at less than 1Ohm.
 
The Micro iDSD has a sturdy housing that feels very durable. The physical controls available on it do feel reliable. Speaking of physical controls there sure is an impressive number of them and they’re present on almost every side of the unit. On the front you’ll find the volume control that also is the on/off switch accompanied by the on/off buttons for bass boosts (XBass) and crossfeed (3D). The volume control seems quite sturdy but like most other devices with an analogue volume control there’s channel imbalance at low listening levels (very low to be fair). The number of settings to adjust the power from the iDSD to suit your IEM’s/headphones makes this pretty much a no issue though. Underneath the unit there’s a switch for choosing between pre-amp or DAC direct output from the RCA output. You’ll also find the “IEM match” switch here which you can use to fine tune the noise floor/gain with sensitive IEM’s. There are three settings available: High Sensitivity, Ultra Sensitivity or Off. I’m not sure that I’m that thrilled about the placement on these buttons since I more than once managed to change the IEM match level by incident by moving the unit, adding some rubber feet that’s high enough should eliminate this though. On the left side (facing from the front) you’ll find a red switch for setting the “Power Mode” and you can choose between Eco, Normal or Turbo. In addition you’ll also find the switch for changing the polarity and choose which digital filter you’d like to use ((bit perfect, minimum or standard are available). On top of the unit as well as on the right side there are no switches at all, so still room for more in the next revision :wink:. Puh, that’s it when it comes to options to make the iDSD work as good as possible with your preferences and/or IEM’s/headphones.  Although the Micro iDSD doesn’t feel very heavy the overall build still feels solid enough for a desktop unit.
 
The Micro iDSD offers one male USB A digital audio input and one separate female USB A charging port to take advantage of the fact that the iDSD ois also able to act as a powerbank and charge your phone or other devices. It’s the first time I’ve come across a device like this with a male USB input but I can surely see why iFi has chosen this solution, the USB connection is very sturdy and much more so than I’ve experienced on any device with the regular female input. Also located on the back you’ll find a combined optical in/coax in or out combined connection (this socket will work as a coaxial out when USB audio in is connected) as well as the RCA output. Further there’s a 3.5mm input on the front for line in together with the 6.3mm headphone output socket.
 
As you can tell there’s almost no limit to the ways you can make the iDSD suit you or your equipment the best way. Only thing I can actually think of that I miss is a balanced output. Apart from that this is a very complete and versatile unit, probably the best I’ve come across so far in this aspect.
 
The Micro iDSD works very well with Android when connected with an OTG cable and using USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) as music player. Although Android and sound does not have a great reputation the Micro iDSD have worked with every Android device I’ve tried it with (sometimes with the help of UAPP).  Battery drain is quite low when running on battery and from testing with my LG G3 it seems to be 10-15% per hour. To make sure you do run it on battery turn on the iDSD before you connect it to your Android device, if not it’ll take its power from the device draining it very fast.
 
The Micro iDSD uses an Xmos USB receiver that is supposed to work with Apple devices using the Camera Connection Kit (CCK) but unfortunately I haven’t been able to test this myself.
 
The Micro iDSD support all popular file formats for audio up to DSD512 and 32bit/768kHz files.
 
IMG_4022.jpgIMG_4019.jpg
 
IMG_4023.jpgIMG_4024.jpg
 
IMG_4025.jpgIMG_4027.jpg
 
The accessories included are:
1 USB A female to USB B female cable
1 USB A female to USB A male cable
1 USB A to USB B adapter
2 rubber bands (to attach it to a phone or other transport)
4 small rubber feet (to attach the main body to the floor)
1 rubber sheet (to place between the iDSD and another device)
1 RCA to RCA cable  
1 Optical to 3.5 mm optical adapter
1 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable
1  3.5 to 6.3 mm adapter
1 pouch (to store it in when not in use or travelling)
 
IMG_4010.jpgIMG_4011.jpg
 
IMG_4012.jpgIMG_4017.jpg
 
 
The specs:
Item
Description
Remarks
Inputs/Outputs
 
 
Inputs (rear)
USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket
(with iPurifier® technology built-in)
Compatible with computers (Apple/Win/Linux), iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android Devices, camera kit or USB-OTG cable required. (Full USB3.0 port compatible)
  Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial
3 Way combo SPDIF port (Coaxial In/Out; Optical In); Up to 192kHz PCM
  SPDIF Optical
 
 
 
 
Outputs (rear)
Audio RCA L+R
 
  Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial
Up to 192kHz PCM
   
 
 
 
Output (right side)
SmartPower® Socket
Fast charge all portable devices. Compliant with USB Battery Charging Standard 1.2 – 5V @ 1.5A
 
 
 
 
 
 
Controls
  
Controls (front)
  
– HP Output
Audio 6.3mm Headphone Jack
 
– Volume with Power On/Off switch
Precision analogue volume control
<2dB Tracking error
– 3.5mm Input
  Auto disable the digital section when this is in use
– X-Bass®
On/Off
 
– 3D Holographic Sound®
On/Off
Auto-switching for Speakers® and Headphones® (two separate and distinct circuits)
 
 
 
Controls (left side)
  
– Power Mode
Turbo, Normal, Eco
Computer controlled power and gain scaling
– Polarity
Normal/Inverted
 
– Filter
3 positions, 6 filters
(see filter section below)
 
 
 
Controls (bottom)
  
– Line Direct/Preamplifier
Preamplifier function Enable/Disable, 0/9dB gain selectable
Fixed 2V or variable with up to 5V available
– iEMatch®
Perfect-matching circuit for IEMs (eliminate hiss)
Off / High Sensitivity Headphone / Ultra Sensitivity Headphone
 
 
 
 
 
 
DAC section
  
DAC
Dual-core DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown
2-DAC Chip; 4-Channel; 8-Signals, custom interleaving for maximum SNR
  Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing
 
 
 
 
Clock
Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock
RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds
 
 
 
Audio Formats
DSD 512/256/128/64
24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8
All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
  DXD 2x/1x
768/705.6/384/352.8kHz
All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
  PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/
48/44.1kHz
All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion
 
 
 
Filters
  
– PCM
Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard
Digital filters selectable
– DSD
Extreme/Extended/Standard Range
Analogue filters selectable
– DXD
Bit-Perfect Processing
Fixed analogue filter
 
 
 
 
 
 
Specifications (DAC Section)
 
 
Dynamic Range (Line)
>117db(A)
 
THD & N (0dBFS Line)
<0.003%
 
Output Voltage (Line)
>2V
 
Output Impedance (Zout)
< 240Ω
 
Jitter (correlated)
Below AP2 test set limit
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Headphone Power Output
  
HP Amp Output
Power (max)
Power (continuous.)
– Turbo mode
10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm
>1560 mW @ 64 Ohm
– Normal mode
5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm
>950 mW @ 32 Ohm
– Eco mode
2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm
>250 mW @ 16 Ohm
 
 
 
 
 
 
Specifications (Headamp Section)
 
 
Dynamic Range (HP)
>115dB(A) (Eco Mode, 2V Out)
 
THD &N (HP 500mW/16R)
< 0.008%
 
Output Voltage (HP)
>8V (Turbo Mode)
 
Output Impedance (Zout)
<1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)
 
Maximum Output Power
4,000mW @ 16 Ohm Load
when using sinewave testing the iDSD micro may engage protection circuits
Continuous Output Power
1,000mW @ 64 Ohm Load
 
 
 
 
 
 
I’ve used the Micro iDSD for the last couple of weeks and my unit has played for well over 100 hours.
 
Demo list:
Mark Knopfler – Sailing to Philadelphia
Røyksopp (Feat.Susanne Sundfør) – Save Me
Ane Brun – These Days
Michael Jackson – Dirty Diana
Metallica – Die Die My Darling
The Peter Malick Group – Immigrant
Eva Cassidy – Songbird
Thomas Dybdahl – A Lovestory
Norah Jones – Don’t Know Why
Celldweller – Unshakeable
Jack Johnson – Better Together
Seinabo Sey – Younger (Kygo remix)
Dire Straits- So Far Away
Björk - Moon
Lupe Fiasco - Deliver
Morrissey – Earth Is the Loneliest Planet
 
Sound impression:
The first thing that I thought when I started to listen to the iFi Micro iDSD was that it reminded me quite a bit of the spacious and airy presentation that I’ve heard with the Mojo not too long ago.
 
Bass extension and quality is very good and I don’t feel as if there’s any noticeable roll off in the lower frequencies. Mid- and upper-bass is also well controlled contributing to the sense of space and airiness that the iFi Micro iDSD produces.  Despite the very good quality and quite good bass presence I can’t help feeling that the iDSD lacks some richness through the whole frequency range.
 
The midrange is liquid and smooth with plenty of details. The iFi Micro iDSD sounds very linear through all frequencies and the midrange is no exception. Nothing stands out and it sound natural and makes a relaxing listening experience. If anything I’d say it’s a bit on the dry side.
 
The treble is well extended, airy and smooth. Once again I find myself wishing for a touch more substance and body but the overall impression is still that the iDSD has a very nice and non-fatiguing treble presentation.
 
The overall presentation has great soundstage width and a very nice balance from the lowest to the highest notes. Despite this I still feel that there’s some richness and timbre lacking making the sound a bit on the dry side. To me this makes the iDSD work very well with  headphones and IEM’s that’s rich and full in there character.
 
As already mentioned the iDSD does also offers a lot of tuning options for those interested in that. This is really not my thing and to be honest I can’t hear much difference between the different digital filter options (this is the case with most of my amp/DAC’s that has got this so I won’t hold it against the iDSD). When it comes to the 3D setting I personally find it a bit artificial sounding and had it off for most of the time. The Xbass on the other hand is actually quite nice in its implementation and I enjoyed it when using earbuds but kept it off otherwise. I do know that other people enjoy these kinds of features a lot more than I do so I won’t hold it against the iDSD but rather add it as a positive thing for giving the user more choices which I really appreciate and value.
 
Comparison:
Please note that the comments in the comparison section are not in absolute terms but in comparison between subject A and B. This means (as an example) that if subject A is found to be brighter than subject B it does not necessarily mean that subject A is bright sounding in absolute terms. I hope this makes sense.
 
In these comparisons I’ve been listening through my AKG Q701’s.
 
I’ve been using the USB input when doing these comparisons. Both units has been hooked up to two different laptops both running Windows 7 with the same settings and I use MediaMonkey as my player of choice.
 
Both units was connected to a simple switch box through their respectively headphone outputs. This way it’s very easy to switch between the sources in minimal time. I also use a simple Android app to volume match the amplifiers so although maybe not perfectly scientifically the result should still be pretty correct.
 
Burson Audio Conductor V2+ (1,499) vs IFI Micro iDSD:
The V2+ is the heart of my main system and I really love both its features and sound. It’s expensive and it’s big and heavy (7 kg) but to me it’s also a very complete unit that doesn’t makes me miss anything in either sound nor features so I’ll include it as one of the comparison units for all my $250+ amp/DAC combo reviews. I’m also very familiar with it.
 
These two share a lot of treats like a similar amount of air and an equally wide soundstage presentation. Compared to the iFi Micro iDSD the V2+ has a touch richer sound through the whole frequency range, this makes quite a difference to the overall presentation,  resulting in the  V2+ sounding more dynamic and with better timbre to the notes.  It’s not a huge difference but an important one in making the V2+ sounding more natural and pair better with a wider variety of headphones. The deepest bass may also be a touch more well-defined on the V2+.
 
The V2+ of course has some other advantages such as significantly higher power output (4W @32Ohms which is about the double compared to the iDSD), two analogue RCA inputs. In addition it also has a great quality remote control. The iDSD on the other hand has internal battery, is more portable and a much better match for most IEM’s.
 
Audinst HUD-DX1 (with Burson Audio V5i op amps, $469) vs IFI Micro iDSD:
 
IMG_4031.jpgIMG_4033.jpg
 
Compared to the iFi Micro iDSD the Audinst has a more dynamic and slightly less laid back sound. The Audinst is the fuller sounding of the two but its bass is also slightly looser and less well defined. The iDSD is a bit thinner and but also more airy in its presentation. The iDSD does also have a wider presentation while the Audinst has better depth and an overall richer sound. 
 
Feature wise both of these are equipped with a lot of in- and outputs but the iDSD does offer a lot more adjustments such as bass boost, 3D switch, and multiple gain and hiss (reducing) settings. When I reviewed the Audinst HUD DX1 I called it a “Swiss Army knife” offering, the iFi Micro iDSD is actually even more so, not necessarily when it comes to in- and outputs but definitely when it comes to settings and tweaks to make it sound as good as possible with the IEM’s/headphones that you use.
 
Burson Audio Conductor Air ($499) vs IFI Micro iDSD:
This two are similar in the way that they both works best when connected to a computer or laptop in my opinion but they can also be used portable (the Air maybe more so) or with your phone or tablet (the iDSD maybe more so) if needed. Compared to the iDSD the Air has a thicker sound while maintaining the same level of details. Layering is noticeable better on the Air while the iDSD has a touch more airiness and wider soundstage. The Air does also have better depth and timbre to the notes and the iDSD does actually feel a bit thin and dry in comparison. In short the Air has more drive while the iDSD is more laid back.
 
Feature wise the Air loses out by a fair bit though. With its two micro USB inputs (one for digital audio in and one for power) and two outputs (line out and headphones out) it’s no match for the number of inputs and outputs the iDSD offers. The iDSD does also have an internal battery.
 
For even further comparisons feel free to visit this thread for breakdown between more $250+ amp/DAC units (this is a work in progress and several other units will follow in the near future).
 
http://www.head-fi.org/t/816410/peter123s-250-amp-dac-combo-comparison-thread#post_12771442
 
Matching:
The output impedance of the headphone out on the Micro iDSD is rated to less than 1Ohm. This means that it should work well with pretty much all low and high impedance headphones and IEM’s available out there.
 
In this section I’ve tested how some of my favorite headphones but also one earbud and one pair of IEM’s pairs up with the Micro iDSD.  
 
AKG Q701 ($300):
The Q’s aren’t the best pairing with the iFi Micro iDSD in my opinion. The slightly thin sound on the iDSD makes male vocals lack some weight to sound perfectly natural. After having thoroughly enjoying the Mojo with the Q’s I’d expected the iDSD to work really well with them as well but I’d guess the Mojo is also richer sounding than I remember it .The iDSD has no problem at all to power the Q’s to louder listening levels.
 
Philips Fidelio X2 ($300):
The X2’s, being quite warm and full by itself, is a great match with the iDSD. It balances the full mid-bass on the X2’s in a great way making it sound excellent.  The smooth and dry presentation seem to work great with the X2’s ans although it’s not necessarily the best pairing I’ve heard with the X2’s it’s definitely one of the better.
 
 
VE Zen 2.0 ($138):
The Zen 2.0 is a 300Ohm earbud that I like a lot and tend to use instead of closed headphones. It’s also a reliable travel partner for me when I stay in hotels and don’t have any full size cans around.
 
The soft and smooth signature from the Zen 2.0 works OK with the iDSD but nothing more. This pairing lacks some dynamics and richness to be really good for me. A fuller more dynamic signature does suit the Zen’s better for my preference. Turning the bass boost on the iDSD helps though and it sounds quite good this way.
 
Aurisonics ASG-1PLUS ($500):
The ASG-1PLUS is an 11Ohm hybrid IEM (1 DD + 1 BA).
 
Once again an OK pairing and I like it better than what I did with the Mojo from memory. A bit too relaxed and lacking some depth but still quite an enjoyable listening. Once again I feel that I could have enjoyed a bit better timbre as well as some more dynamics. I’m aware that this is also the nature of the 1PLUS shining through but it’s more easily noticed here than with some other pairings.
 
Super Audio 6 ($250):
The Super Audio 6 (SA6) is a six BA driver Chines DIY offering. It has a warm, smooth, intimate and mid-centric overall presentation.
 
The combination of the iDSD and SA 6 is really nice to listen too. The SA6 is very rich sounding by itself and this works really well with the iDSD. The overall sound in this pairing is very enjoyable and once again the iDSD sounds great with a rich sounding pair of IEM’s7headphones.
 
To round off the matching section the signature of the iFi Audio Micro iDSD does make it work better with some headphones and IEM’s than others. To me there’s no doubt that it sounds the best with rich sounding IEM’s and headphones that has great timbre by themselves. That being said it doesn’t sound bad with anything I’ve tried it with (and that’s quite a lot).  The very low amount of hiss as well as enough power for all my full sized headphones, and not to mention all the available settings, does make it very versatile in practical use.
 
Summary:
The iFi Audio Micro iDSD is truly a remarkable device. It offers more settings and tuning availability and is more usable with a wide range of headphones and IEM’s than any other device of this kind that I’ve come across so far. It also has a great number of connection options combined with a quite neutral and very enjoyable sound signature.  I do find it to perform its best with richer sounding headphones and IEM’s but that being said I have not come across any pairing where it sounds bad.
 
Although it’s kind of big for being truly portable I’d still recommend anyone looking for a DAC/amp to use in their main system (both head-fi and/or hi-fi), around the house, in hotel rooms or in the office to check out the iFi Audio Micro iDSD .
 
Audio Quality: 4.5
Design: 4
Quality: 4.5
Value: 5
Features: 5
peter123
peter123
@rickyleelee
Yeah, standard filter was my preferred one.
 
As for burn in my unit was a used demo unit so it really shouldn't be any need for it. I'm not a big believer in burn in in genreal since I've never noticed any significant change in any of the satuff that I own. That being said I always do it anyway just to please the ones that find it important :wink:
malazz123
malazz123
nice review i have 1 too 
patekswiss
patekswiss
I found the mature sound of the iDSD micro to be flat and uninvolving to my ears compared to my reference DACs (the Lynx HiLo and DACs from exaSound and MyTek).

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

Also think its important to keep in mind that for the price of a device with the paper specifications of the iDSD micro, if my experience is any guide, there will necessarily be compromises in build quality, which I believe resulted in connectivity issues that limited the usefulness of the device, despite my initial high hopes for it.
Pros: Sound, Settings, Power, Very Robust build!
Cons: There really is no Cons, some might not like the size
                                                                                           iFi Micro DSD
 
 
First a little boring stuff about me. I am a 42 year old man with average hearing loss for someone my age. I like to think I take good care of my ears and I’m able to pick up subtle differences in the music I listen to. I will state right away as well that I am not an Audiophile but rather someone who really enjoys listening to most genres of music.
I will also state that I am in no way affiliated with iFi, just simply doing a review of this wonderful AMP/DAC. I only do reviews on something I like and for the most part I do not do a lot of reviews. I was supplied this device from an iFi distributor.
 

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

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

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


 
 
 
Sound

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

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

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

 
Thanks for reading!
vapman
vapman
I just got mine today and totally agree, this dac/amp is a killer all in one, as a former Mojo owner I might actually prefer the micro.
howdy
howdy
Glad you are liking it! The DX80 is an awesome source for it as you have dual slots and Optical connection. 
Pros: Very versatile DAC/amplifier, All in one DAC/amp solution for home and away, Ideal driving power for all types of earphones, Great sound quality
Cons: Downloading software/firmware can be a pain, Not a pocket friendly portable solution, Lots of settings to learn
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At the time of this review, the iFi micro iDSD, iFi nano Gemini cable and iFi nano iUSB3.0 was for sale on Amazon’s website. Here are links for the purchase of these three items:
 
 
 
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http://www.amazon.com/Micro-iDSD-Headphone-Amplifier-Octa-Speed-Double-Speed/dp/B01D40AQJ2?ie=UTF8&keywords=micro%20idsd&qid=1461553486&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1
 
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http://www.amazon.com/iFi-Gemini-Dual-Headed-Cable-Meter/dp/B00COJ5Z64/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1461553590&sr=8-2&keywords=ifi+gemini
 
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http://www.amazon.com/iFi-iUSB3-0-Audio-Power-Regenerator/dp/B01BMT1CVS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461553784&sr=8-1&keywords=ifi+nano+iusb
 
Introduction
When I purchased my Sennheiser HD600 headphones, I knew I was going to need a more powerful desktop rig to make them sing. I did my homework and came up with a budget solution. I picked up a HifimeDIY Sabre 9023 DAC and a Bravo Audio Ocean Class a tube amplifier. This combination created a very powerful and spacious sound that to this day I am very content with.
 
Since obtaining this rig, I have had the pleasure to attend several audio exhibits and Head-Fi meets. It’s been awesome being able to try the best headphones, DACs and amplifiers the world of personal audio has to offer. I’ve heard DAC and amplifier rigs that sound better than mine, but the big drawback and reason I haven’t picked anything else up to this day has been because of price. It seems like every time I hear something I would prefer to have over my current gear, the price tag is around two thousand dollars or more. As many of us know, in the world of top end audio we tend pay a lot for minor upgrades. The law of diminishing returns becomes more and more apparent the further we travel down the proverbial rabbit hole of audio gear.
 
When iFi contacted me to see if I would be interested in covering some of their products for a review, I was pretty excited. I decided at the time that it was going to be a challenge to see if iFi could offer a source that can rival my budget set up and fall under the thousand dollar mark. Not only does this combination trump my budget rig in terms of sound quality, I found it to be a Swiss Army Knife for audiophiles. Let’s go over these products with a comprehensive review.
 
Disclaimer
I was given an opportunity to review samples provided by iFi in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion and review. I am in no way affiliated with iFi. I would like to take this time to personally thank Tyler for the opportunity to review these products.   

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

 
Nano iUSB 3.0
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http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/nano-iusb3-0/
 
Before I begin the discussion on this, allow me to quote the Amazon listing’s description and explanation:
 
“The Nano iUSB3.0 is small, but provides a "USB Total Solution" for audio technology. With USB3.0 Ultra-Speed (5.0 Gbps), it is future-proofed with a near-silent noise floor thanks to built-in Active Noise Cancellation®. IsoPower® separates the audio and power lines for the ultimate in audio signal transmission via USB. You will immediately notice cleaner, crisper audio from your USB DAC when using the Nano iUSB3.0. REclock® technology re-clocks and completely re-generates the USB signal. PowerStation® generates a completely new 5V USB power line including a 3-stage, 6th order RFI noise filter. The quietest of quiet is what you will get with iFi's added technologies. On top of all of this, REbalance® further purifies the audio datastream. Last, but not least, RapidCharge® means the fastest re-charge of even the thirstiest rechargeable battery powered devices. This means flawless pairing with iFi's iDSD DACs. Feature-packed? Yes. Cutting-edge technology? Check. Improves every USB audio system? You bet. In short, you can't go wrong by adding iFi's Nano iUSB3.0 to your USB Audio rig.”
 
So now that you have the information on it, let’s first start by addressing the lingering topics that go on in audiophile circles about products like this. Some will say that something like this isn’t necessary, especially if we have DACs that implement some of this same technology already. Others will say that the audible difference isn’t noticeable to the human ear, and may only be slightly traceable through measurements. While I think there is a half truth to this, what I will add to the conversation is that for under two hundred dollars I find this item to be worth every penny and more, ESPECIALLY when paired with the micro iDSD. Let me explain why.
 
The nanao iUSB 3.0 has the same shape and size body as the portable models iFi offers. Its basically a shortened version of the micro iDSD body.
 
What is Jitter?
I could try to explain jitter, but this guy does it way better than I can:

 
With advancements in digital audio technology, I don’t think jitter is as big of a deal as it used to be. We all know that some things sound better than others, and that’s usually because of the combination of a high quality DAC and amplifier. There are variables that make a DAC/amplifier perform poorly and one of these things is jitter. It's nice to have a product like the nano iUSB 3.0 that helps to eliminate this (even if it is an added safeguard when used with a high quality dac with similar “jitter elimination technology”). It’s reassuring to think that we have the added certainty that jitter will not play a big part in why we aren’t getting the most out of our sources and music.
 
Clean Power Supply
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The other benefit of this device is clean power. The flow of power has a considerable impact on our audio chain. Just about all of us can remember a time when listening to music and our experience is altered because of signal noise. We hear it sometimes as electromagnetic interference, or a slight hiss when the music is quiet or paused. As audio enthusiasts, we strive for perfect sound, and a big part of this is a black background. Although many would see these as minor setbacks, in the grand scheme of things it’s a big deal. We want the music to be as clean and uninterrupted as possible.
 
Noise Cancelling (before it’s actually noise)
We’ve all heard of noise cancelling. Bose has cornered the market on noise canceling headphones. The way it operates is that for any noise that they headphone picks up, the headphone essentially creates a “counter-frequency” to cancel unwanted sound. This allows the listener to focus more on the music and less on the surroundings. The folks at iFi have implemented technology in the nano iUSB 3.0 with the same concept but in a different application. It cancels unwanted noise created by your power supply.
 
REclock/REgenerate
Have you ever listened to music through a computer or phone, and tell yourself “wait a minute, this sounds faster/slower?” Or maybe you’ve listened to music and thought something in the timing is just “off” and can’t put your finger on it? Most of our music players have internal clocks that aren’t always spot on. The data is all there, but the timing isn’t. This can be one of the biggest problems with digital audio. Modern day computers tend to do it less often than older ones, but it still happens from time to time.
 
The iFi nano iUSB 3.0 addresses this with technology that takes your audio data and re-clocks and regenerates the music, making it as natural as possible before it gets to your DAC.
 
REbalance
The claim on this is that the iFi nano will take your USB signal and make it cleaner by eliminating unwanted noise and balancing the signal. While I’m not too sure about this, I don’t think iFi would blatantly sell some magic snake oil, and I’m confident that there is some technology designed to help improve the USB signal. If it’s there, it’s not audible to my ears.
 
Separate Power/Audio and USB Charger
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The iUSB 3.0 has a nine volt wall wart and a USB type B port for  inputs, and two USB type A outputs. The two separate USB outputs are split into power and audio/power. It works in two ways.
 
Option #1: The Audio out USB port can be used for both power and audio for a DAC, leaving the power output for charging external devices. One nice thing to note is that the iUSB 3.0 charging port is Bus Charge 1.2 compliant, meaning not only will it charge your portable devices, it will charge them faster than normal USB chargers. This is the way almost any DAC aside from the micro iDSD would hook up to the iUSB 3.0.
 
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Option #2:  When using the nano with the Gemini Cable, the power and audio from each port is transmitted separately and to the same device. This makes for a “best of both worlds” type of application and maximizes the potential of the micro iDSD. It will charge the battery of the iDSD when not in use, and when in use it will power the unit while keeping the Audio and power supply separate up to the point of the connection.
 
Gemini Cable
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http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/accessory-gemini/
 
I’m going to be honest here. I think spending over two hundred dollars on a double sided USB cable is pretty out there. Here’s the kicker though...
 
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The Gemini cable is designed to be used exclusively with the iUSB and micro iDSD products. It looks like no corners have been cut with this cable, and no exceptions were made. It’s a very rugged cable, with excellent shielding.
 
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The transmission of this cable from end to end stays around ninety ohms and only varies by one percent at most. That is incredibly efficient and basically makes the transmission from the nano iUSB 3.0 to the micro iDSD about as flawless as it can get.
 
My Opinion on the nano iUSB 3.0
I really like this device when paired with the micro iDSD (via the Gemini Cable which I will cover next) and feel it justifies its asking price. This thing isn’t going radically improve your music and send you into another dimension of audio bliss, but it will noticeably help clean up any signal noise you get with your DAC and amplifier. The most beneficial thing regardless of what DAC you have is how silent the noise floor is. When combined with the micro iDSD, the noise floor is pitch black, even with my most sensitive in-ear monitors. There is no hissing or signal noise that I noticed whatsoever.
 
I didn’t notice any kind of jitter or clocking issues with the iUSB 3.0, even when used with my nine year old Toshiba laptop (I do occasionally notice clocking issues when not using the iUSB 3.0 with this computer).
 
Another thing I will say about the nano iUSB 3.0 is that if you have a micro iDSD, it’s a must have because the two compared together makes for an incredibly awesome and convenient desktop rig in terms of functionality. Using the nano iUSB 3.0 along with the Gemini cable, it operates as a charging port if you want to use the micro iDSD for portable use. I can use my micro iDSD all day for portable use, then when I get home, all I have to do is plug into the Gemini Cable and my micro iDSD is now a complete audiophile desktop rig that charges without any needed power from my computer.
 
I went into this having my doubts about whether or not this nano iUSB 3.0 is just a gimmick that will take people’s money without offering much beyond what the micro iDSD already does. Truth be told, the nano iUSB and Gemini cable is the ultimate compliment to an already awesome DAC/amplifier from iFi. It adds to the micro iDSD (or any DAC for that matter) both in terms of functionality and performance.

 
Conclusion
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I went into this thinking that this would be a contest to see how the micro iDSD would stack up against my long time favorite budget rig. I’m not even going to bother doing a comparison because it isn’t a contest. It’s in a league with things that cost much more than its current asking price. The micro iDSD/nano USB 3.0/ Gemini Cable combination comes to a cumulative total of under a thousand dollars. I say this in all honesty, at this price I find it to be one of the greatest deals I’ve come across in this hobby. I can’t think of anything that will give you this much versatility and sound quality for twice as much money.
 
The iDSD does everything just as good or better than all of my other DACs and amplifiers. The micro iDSD is everything I need wrapped up into one device. It’s a great desktop or portable rig. It’s incredibly easy to use. With the Gemini cable, the thought of charging the unit is an afterthought as long as I use it as a desktop unit that day. It pushes everything from in-ear monitors to Power hungry full size cans. The various output powers and sound adjustment switches made me revisit earphones I gave up on in the past and find new life in their sound. It may not be the only DAC/amplifier I will ever need, but for now I can say in all honesty that the iDSD offers just about everything I need to enjoy my entire collection of music and earphones.
 
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Thanks for reading and happy listening!   
Hisoundfi
Hisoundfi
Thanks for your kind words guys.
WilliamLeonhart
WilliamLeonhart
great review! Have you tried the iDSD nano and the iDAC 2? How much would I miss going for these instead of the micro? I don't use DSD too much.
malazz123
malazz123
i have it and love it ... after read your review i might consider to buy the iUSB + gemini cable+ and maybe iPurifier2 
Pros: Compact, transportable, powerful, beautiful sound, tube-like warmth
Cons: Buttons, volume knobs, no balanced connections
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Please allow me a moment to express my appreciation toward IFI for this opportunity to demo the Micro IDSD for reviewing purposes and return. The unit itself is a DAC/AMP combo which plays DSD natively, and sport Burrbrown DAC, so any fan of BurrBrown will be happy.

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

image.jpg


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

The knobs and switches, it would be nice to have the volume knob and switches more covered, recessed, or a button to lock it, because it is so easy to knock it out of the setting and damage your own hearings. It is best to set it and sit still to enjoy it. Therefore, I agree with people calling the IDSD the "transportable" unit. Beside, the rubber bands once strapped on to stack, it could easily hit and move the gain switch....which may again damage your hearing, I stacked it up higher to avoid hitting it. I rarely move mine, and more than a couple occasions I almost yank out my headphones due to the sudden loudness...this 4000 mW is not a joke ! So, it is good to set and sit to enjoy, and not recommended to pocket it on the go.
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Battery longevity: I listen to my collections for about 2-3 hours a day, and it keeps up just fine, with both Zx2/note 4 and IDSD stacking, it last an average of 6-5 hours. It digital input actually will draw and charge itself whenever possible, and I observed that it charged from The IPad Pro, because they both went through their battery faster and the blue light will lit up even though the unit is turned to off. Therefore, on supportive device, the USB in port can be used to feed digital and charge at the same time. Interferences and noises are no issues here when stacking on a phone or getting too close to the computer. I do hear hums and such on PHA-3 when paired with smartphone being on top. So, interferences isolated = 1 more credit toward micro IDSD. However, IDSD micro doesn't have secondary self charge port while the main digital/charge port is being used, and that means you just can not stack another additional battery on top, this is where PHA-3 get the credit, but then PHA-3 takes a longer time to charge up than Micro IDSD. So, you get to pick your poison.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Soundscape: surrounding and holographical

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

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

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

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

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

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The love-hate Story:

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

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



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



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

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

damn you head-fi
Pros: sound quality, build quality, a ton of accessories, support of every format up to and including DSD512.
Cons: size which is more appropriate for transportable rather than portable use.

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

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

iFi_Micro_iDSD_15.jpg

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

Design

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

iFi_Micro_iDSD_16.jpg

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

iFi_Micro_iDSD_12.jpg

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

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

 

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

iFi_Micro_iDSD_1.jpg

iFi_Micro_iDSD_11.jpg  



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

iFi_Micro_iDSD_6.jpg

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

[size=15.08px]Features[/size]
 
Another benefit of the Micro iDSD’s beefy size is that it can pack a lot of features. Some of these are features you won’t find in another DAC. On the end with the headphone jack and volume knob, there are two switches for audio enhancement – XBass and 3D Holographic. What they do is self-explanatory (XBass extends the bass response and 3D recreates a holographic sound field), but an important thing to know is that they add to the analog signal (after it’s converted from digital). iFi doesn’t want to mess with the true, original signal or risk negatively impacting other sounds.

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

iFi_Micro_iDSD_5.jpg

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

iFi_Micro_iDSD_3.jpg  


iFi_Micro_iDSD_4.jpg  



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Sound

iFi_Micro_iDSD_8.jpg

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

iFi_Micro_iDSD_14.jpg

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

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

As originally seen on AndroidGuys.com

JUGA
JUGA
did the X-Bass function works?  if yes - can you here difference? we have 4 unit and in all 4 devices X-Bass das not works. There is no difference between switch off and switch on.
balcy24
balcy24
The X-Bass on my iDSD Micro is very subtle but is there. Now the 3D effect is really noticeable. I discovered it on a track with a high hat on the lower right around 4 o'clock When the 3D was on it expanded to between 2 and 4 o'clock. I switched it on and off several times as it was so amazing.    
ieffsmale
ieffsmale
JUGA, The X-Bass also works very well on my iDSD Micro.  In my experience, the effect seems to be greater when running to an amp and speakers than with headphones.  (Same with the 3D switch.)
This thing is amazing. I run my HD-650's in "Eco" and "Normal" power mode 90% of the time, and it powers them just fine. Rarely have I needed to go all the way up to "Turbo" mode to keep the volume between 1:00 and 3:00 where I like it. The versatility, value and (especially) the sound of the iDSD Micro are off the charts good.
Pros: Very powerful, very clear sonic signature
Cons: at the time of this review there are none will update the "cons" section later
.​
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

howdy
howdy
My work computer did not show it posted but obviously it did it multiple times.
hankaberle
hankaberle
Well, I really liked mine too until it fell apart.  At $500, it's a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
If yours fell apart after 1+ years, you would know where I'm coming from..  
vapman
vapman
Why must good video reviews be so far and few between... Looking forward to the black edition update
Pros: Made to work with iPhone thunderbolt camera adaptor, excellent asynch USB, swiss army knife features
Cons: setting buttons on bottom need to be recessed to avoid accidental change when amp is moved, doesn't have the tonal solidity of a full desk top amp
I think there are quite a few reviews on this headphone amp so I see no need to do another long winded one. Consider this rather some
observations on what is a fine product but does have its quirks.
 
First my setup is typically UPNP streamed music out to asynch USB/ DAC. For headphones I currently use Hifiman HE-400 and Grado SR-225,
For comparison headphone amps I have Hifiman EF-5 and Musical Hall 25.2.
 
Ergonomics:  one has to be careful to check all switches if the amp is moved as its easy to accidentally brush one on the bottom and change settings... this happens
often with the IEM button
 
Asynch USB section: this is quite good and used in my main system marginally better than the Gustard U12
 
Amp section: excellent detail, balance and range. However compared to the tube desktop amps the Micro lacks solidity for tone colors.  They in turn aren't
quite as delicate in detail and are less forgiving of bad source.
 
DAC section: works quite well feeding my other headphone amps. However in main system compared to Metrum Octave the Micro DAC section sounded thin,
not as good as the DAC section on an Oppo 103. This seems to be the weakest part of the amp.
JUGA
JUGA
did the X-Bass function works?  if yes - can you here difference? we have 4 unit and in all 4 devices X-Bass das not works. There is no difference between switch off and switch on.
Pros: State-of-the art design, a touch of Burr-Brown warmth, rich feature set
Cons: Not really portable, LED status light isn't in the best spot.
My iFi micro iDSD review was originally posted on Metal-Fi but I am cross posting on Head-Fi at iFi's behest.

Introduction


headroommicroline.jpg

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

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

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

iWho?


microiDSD-1.jpg

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

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

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

Crowdsourced Design


iFiCrowdDesign.jpg

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

Digital Done Right


iFiMicroDSD-DualCoreBurrBrown.jpg

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

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

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

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


IFiXMOS.jpg

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

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

With Great Power Comes Greater Responsibility


microiDSD-5.jpg

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

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


iFiPowerMode.jpg

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

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

Odds & Ends


microiDSD-6.jpg
microiDSD-7.jpg

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

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

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


microiDSD-4-e1439750176209.jpg

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

Setup


microiDSD-22.jpg

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

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

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

Sound


iFiSamplingRates.png

You made it!

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



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



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



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

Conclusion


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

idsd micro will probably be my next purchase
Trogdor
Trogdor
Thanks proedros! You will not regret the purchase.
Pros: Incredible detail and clarity with more power than any portable has a right to put out.
Cons: No actual on/off switch (It would be nice to leave the volume knob where it is when you turn it off), Larger size is pushing the portable envelope
****************New iFi iDSD Micro BLACK LABEL Review (3/20/2017)  Original iDSD Micro Review below!
 
I haven't been able to separate the iDSD Micro Black Label review from the original iDSD Micro's old review, so I will build on what's already here:
 
 
DSC_2432.jpg
Many thanks to Lawrance & the iFi team for allowing me to perform a "head-to-head" comparison between my trusty iDSD Micro, and the new iDSD Micro Black Label (from now on referred to as "BL") 
 
So what is it?  The iFi iDSD Micro BL is in my eyes, an evolution of the original iDSD Micro portable headphone amplifier.
 
So what's different?  Well, it's Black with Orange print instead of the original's silver with black print.  I have read that there are some improvements in "fit and finish", but as I still have no noticeable flaws in my original unit, I can't speak to that myself.  In truth, most of the difference is "under the hood", so to speak.  Improved components in terms of clock timings, circuitry, power, & the like.  (I'm not a spec guy, as you might have guessed.)
 
**SPOILER**  (If you just want the bottom line, here it is up-front,)
So do I think it is worth it?   2 answers for 2 groups:  
 
If you don't already own an iDSD Micro - YES!  This is quite possibly one of the strongest portable amp offerings that I have ever heard of in the sub $2,000 USD portable headphone amp category, period.  Add to that, a very sophisticated and clean DAC section, and you have a portable that can hold its own against many desktop class components out there.  
 
If you already own an iDSD Micro - Maybe?  The problem here is that there wasn't anything that I considered "wrong" with the original.  Yes, there is a certain refinement to the sound of the new iDSD BL when I do A/B side-by-side comparisons between the 2., and yes, if I had the opportunity to buy either at the same price, I'd buy the new unit.  But while the changes are indeed for the better in the new unit to my ears, they are subtle.  In truth, if I were to listen to them hours apart, I'd be hard-pressed to separate the differences between the two from other variations like changes of headphone positioning and quality of seal between the pads and my ears.  
 
 
So let's take a look at what I've been rambling about:
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As you can see, my old unit even after years of coast to coast trips still looks pretty darn good!  No problems with construction, switches, or ports.  The label for the serial # has worn away a bit, and some of the lettering on the bottom of the unit has rubbed-off from constant handling.  (Hey, my hands sweat a lot in the summer sometimes!)  So when I saw the two side-by-side, I was pretty impressed!  Most of my gear gets replaced on an annual basis due to "wear and tear" from my mobile lifestyle.  (My iDSD Micro has easily seen 12+ of the 50 states, and many of them multiple times.)
 
 
Underneath, they are again essentially identical.  (I faded the serial labels purposefully as a courtesy to iFi)
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And here you can truly see wear on my old unit.  Still not bad after years of abuse!  (I USE my gear regularly, so they don't stay museum quality sadly...)
DSC_2437.jpg
 
 
So, why did I spend so much time showing the physical characteristics?  In truth, I struggled with this review.  The new iDSD BL is very similar to my original.  I can't tell you that the battery lasts longer, that it drives headphones much stronger, or that there is an upgrade in construction.  Why?  I suspect that it's because the original never needed improvement.  My old iDSD's battery STILL lasts longer than any of my cell phones or my DAP's batteries.  The construction is tough enough to take a tumble from my lap, to airport/airplane/hotel floors, (Typically carpeted) and not show it.  The power output rivals my Schiit Audio's AGARD 2 dedicated DESKTOP headphone amp while running off battery power., The only thing that I could have asked for is an ON/OFF switch, so that I could leave my volume levels the same when I return to listening.  (Like if I'm comparing different headphones head-to-head and want as little variation as possible.)
 
So what do you get in terms of sound quality?  
 
AMP Section - With the iDSD BL, you get just a little more of what you get from the original.  I spent DAYS trying to find that "A-HA moment" when a clear and defining difference would jump out at me.  It just never happened.  What I heard was a mellow, SPACIOUS sound.  Just like the original.  The fine detail is a little tighter on the original, and more "musical" on the BL.  (I had to listen to Sennheiser HD-650, HD-800, AKG 545/550, JVC HA-SZ2000, and Beyerdynamics T1 ver.2 headphones repeatedly in succession in order to be sure, as each demonstrates their strengths accordingly.  In short, it's a matter of taste.  The original will please those seeking a more analytical presentation, while the BL might please those who felt the original could be just a tad harsh.  
 
DAC Section - Again, SUBTLE differences between the two.  The BL only really sounded different on the T1 & HD-800.  The other headphones sounded essentially identical on both when evaluating their DAC performances.  The T1 just sounded a little crisper on the original, and slightly more "musical" on the BL.  The HD-800 showed the difference to a slightly greater degree, and was slightly more fatiguing on the original.  If I only owned HD-800s, I would upgrade to the BL for this reason more than all the other subtle differences combined. 
 
 
For music, I chose "What God Wants Part-1" (Roger Waters), "Drink Up Me Hearties" (Hans Zimmer),  "Why Me?" (Planet P Project), "La Sagrada Familia" (Alan Parsons Project), "Thriller" (Michael Jackson), "The Kids Aren't Alright" (The Offspring), "On My Level" (Wiz Khalifa (MY ultimate BASS evaluation track!)),  "Ave Maria, for voice & piano" (Mario Lanza)  Each tracks sampled between Mp3, FLAC, & DSD quality versions. (Except Mario Lanza, who I only had in CD format.)
 
Equipment - DAPs iPhone 4S, 5, 6, & 7+, & iPAD Air, iBASSO DX90, Lenovo Yoga A12 (Android version), Dell XPS 8500 (Win 10, 64GB, Foobar2000/JRiver Media Center 21) Schiit Audio ASGARD 2  Forza Audio cables
 
***************************************Original iDSD Micro Review*******************************
 
5 Stars
Summary:  Incredible DAC capable of more than what most users will need for the foreseeable future
 
Pros
Incredible detail and clarity with more power than any portable has a right to put out.
 
Cons 
No actual on/off switch (It would be nice to leave the volume knob where it is when you turn it off), Larger size is pushing the portable envelope
 
I will leave the technical speak and unboxing play-by-play to the reviews that are already here, done by people who do a much better job than I can currently manage.  Just know that the iDSD Micro comes with EVERYTHING that I could ask for to get started in terms of connectivity and accessories already in the box. 
 
First:  When I bought my iDSD Micro, it was $499.  It has gone up since then, but if I was to buy it all over again, I'd still do so as I've heard nothing that touches it in the sub-$2,400 portable DAC/Amp market.
 
I completely lucked-into finding this device simply because I wanted a device that would make my iBASSO DX90 work with my Sennheiser HD-650s in hotel rooms. 
(No, I'm not one of those people who would blast my fellow plane passengers with whatever I'm listening to with open back headphones....)
At first I had a FIIO e17 that I had intended to use with my iPhones (4S & 5) and iPad Air, but learned the hard way that there is no simple way to make that combo work.  So I looked for another solution that would provide a better DAC and enough power to make my HD-650s sound "full" rather than anemic.  The iDSD Micro connects to new-style "Lightning" i-devices simply through a Camera Connection Kit (C.C.K.) cable.  Nice and neat! (Though the old 30-pin apple devices will need a short USB cable to attach the C.C.K. to the iDSD Micro)
 
Boy did I get more than I bargained for.  The iDSD Micro's brightness really brought some crispness to the HD-650s which some have called "veiled".  They do not sound veiled to me at all with this combo.  If I were listening to the GRADO 225Es that I had tried, the highs were far too "sparkly" and I didn't care for them.  Nothing against the headphones, they just didn't fit my tastes with this combo.  Now there is another "DARK SIDE" that I learned that the iDSD Micro excels at;  BASSHEAD HEADPHONES!  I'm a part-time Basshead, and sometimes just want some jaw-rattling "THUMP" to my music.  Enter the JVC HA-SZ2000 (Kings!),  JVC HA-M55x, and Photive PH-BTX6. In order of Bass capability.  One of the first comments about each of these headphones is that they have recessed mids that you'll have to EQ heavily for.  Not so with the iDSD Micro!  Add some 3D to make them feel less closed-in, but retain their bass slam.  Then flip the XBASS switch and EQ your songs to your tastes.  The iDSD never falls short for pushing power through your phones, and the DAC/amp combo works nicely to tighten-up the bass on all three, but especially the PH-BTX6 as it is the most bloated.  The SZ2000s just keep pulling more and more sub-bass out if the source song has it.  Some songs just THUMP, but never get loose and sloppy with the SZ2000s.  This is not the case with other amp/DAC combos I've tried. like the FIIO e17.  It makes all 3 of them louder, but doesn't do much to help keep the dynamics of the music "civilized" once the BASS gets raised beyond moderate levels.  Likewise with my tabletop SCHIIT Audio ASGARD 2 amp.  It does an AWESOME job with making classical, rock, pop, or jazz/Blues sound like new discoveries with the HD-650s, but there is just more loudness when you try to blow up the bass without any or much control over it's presentation.
 
I don't use IEMs often, but when I plug up my UE Super-Fi3s (90% of what I listen to) or VMODA Bass Freqs (For the occasional "in-ear" bass-heavy listening) I set the iDSD micro to "NORMAL" mode for most rock/pop/BASS-heavy listening, and down further to "ECO" mode for classical/lyrical music; all set to "Hi Sensitivity" on IE match settings.  (I've never had to use the "Ultra Sensitivity" setting for super-sensitive IEMs, but it is nice to know that it is there if I ever needed it.)
 
So in summary:  Portable DAC/Amp that rivals some desktop/rack solutions for power output and performance.  Does a great job with High-end music formats (DSD, DXD, FLAC, etc..) making old favorites sound like I've heard them for the first time.  If your headphones are slightly claustrophobic when it comes to soundstage, the 3D feature can help quite a bit without sounding "artificial".  And lastly, if you are a TRUE basshead, I've never heard a portable amp that causes your music to actual bring home the slam as powerfully and neatly as the iDSD Micro does.
Hawaiibadboy
Hawaiibadboy
Nice review. Man that thing keeps going up in price. Kinda hints at it's success since things that suck tend to drop in price after the same amount of time and things that don't suck......get more expensive.
Pros: Plenty of Features with Excellent Performance
Cons: Size. Not the best standalone amp for the price.
At this point of time, iFi Audio shouldn’t need much introduction at all. The British company is the more budget oriented sister brand of the prestige Abbingdon Music Research and have made a name for able to punch above its weight when it comes to price/performance ratio. If anything, the micro iDSD that is going to be reviewed here has set a new bar on what it means to be an overachiever in the world of portable audio gear. Never have we seen so many features being packed into one portable USB DAC + amp while still having such level of performance.
 

 
Spec
DAC:
Dual Burr Brown DAC, custom interleaving for maximum SNR
Clock: Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock (RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds)
Selectable Filter:    
            PCM (digital): Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum Phase/Standard    
            DSD (analog): Extreme/Extended/Standard Range    
            DXD (analog): Bit-Perfect Processing
Full Native Decoding:    
            DSD 512/256/128/64 (24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8Mhz)    
            DXD 2x/1x (768/705.6/384/352.8kHz)    
            PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
Dynamic Range (Line): over 117db(A)    
THD & N (0dBFS Line): under 0.003%      
Output Voltage (Line): over 2V 
Output Impedance (Zout): under 240Ω 
Jitter (correlated): Below AP2 test set limit         
 
Headphone-out:
Selectable:
            Power mode: Eco, Normal and Turbo
            Polarity: Normal / Inverted
            Filters: see DAC spec
            iEMatch: Off / High Sensitivity / Ultra Sensitivity
Power (max) / (continuous.)
- Turbo mode: (10.0V max) 4000 mW @ 16 Ohm / over 1560 mW @ 64 Ohm
- Normal mode: (5.5V max) 1900 mW @ 16 Ohm / over 950 mW @ 32 Ohm
- Eco mode: (2.0V max) 500 mW @ 8 Ohm / over 250 mW @ 16 Ohm
Dynamic Range: over 115dB(A) (Eco Mode, 2V Out)
THD &N (500mW/16R): under 0.008%
Output Voltage: over 8V (Turbo Mode)
Output Impedance (Zout): under 1Ω (iEMatch not engaged)
 
Input:
USB 2.0 type A
            Built-in iPurifier, all major OS (*MacOSX, Windows, Linux) support. OTG supports: Apple portable devices with iOS 7+ and camera connection kit and selected Android devices with USB OTG cable.
S/PDIF
            Coax and optical in, PCM up to 192kHz.
Analog in
            3.5mm stereo jack
 
Output:
S/PDIF
            Coax-out, PCM up to 192kHz
RCA
            User selectable line (direct) or variable (preamp, with 9dB gain) output
Headphone out
            6.4mm stereo jack
 
SmartPower® Socket: For recharging USB device (BC1.2 supported, 5V @ 1.5A)
 
EQ: X-Bass and 3D Holographic Sound, separated output for speaker (RCA preamp mode) and headphone-out.
 

 

 

 
Accessories and Build Quality
Just about everything you need are included with the micro iDSD. You will get two rubber bands (for strapping a portable source to the iDSD), a short RCA-to-RCA cable, a short 3.5mm interconnecting cable, 4 stick-on rubber feet, an 1m USB 3.0 cable, a 1 foot USB cable with right angled plug (presumably for the SmartPower socket), a 6.4mm-to-3.5mm stereo adapter, a TOSlink adapter, a soft pouch, a small silicone mat (for cushioning between iDSD and your portable source), plug two USB type A female to type B female adapter (just in case you don’t want to use the included USB 3.0 cable but instead opt for your own USB type B cable, which is commonly known as the USB cable for printer and desktop USB device). Perhaps the only thing missing is either an OTG cable or camera connection kit, depends on whether you are an Android or Apple user. But those should be sourced by your own.
 
As with all iFi’s gears, build quality is quite excellent, though I do have some very minor complaints. The first is the more obvious – the housing is not exactly portable friendly, even though it is consistent with the micro series. You will want to put micro iDSD (along with its source) inside a small messenger bag or backpack rather than inside your pocket. The second is the tiny switches on the iDSD isn’t extremely firm and can be moved accidentally if it is in a very tight place (which makes it even less idea to put inside a pocket). It isn’t really that much of an issue as long as it is not in tight places though it is something to pay attention to. You won’t want to get caught off guarded when the gain switch is pushed from Eco to Turbo without you knowing it, for an example. A good practice is just not to store your micro iDSD with a lot of other stuff together. Having the rubber band on the body also help to keep things away. Last but not least, and I am just nit-picking here, is to have a less protruding 6.4mm-to-3.5mm adapter. The included adapter works just fine, but I do think a lower profiled adapter really works better.
 
One of the true genius on micro iDSD’s design is the use of a recessed USB type A male connector. This makes using either a camera connection kit for Apple iOS devices or an USB OTG cable for Android devices much easier. Gone is the need of multiple cable connecting to each other or special cable. It is streamlined and it is beautiful – makes me wonder why no other has thought about it before.
 

Front
 

Back
 
Battery Life
Battery life is estimated to be just around 6 hours with Turbo mode, 9 hours for Normal mode and 12 hours with Eco mode, plus or minus an hours or so depends on different condition and load of course. The battery life isn’t exactly long per se, but it is price you have to pay for having such a huge amount of output power for portable use.
 
Another thing about the battery is that it has its own smart circuit to control the charging. To speed up the charging, you need to plug the micro iDSD into a BC1.2 complied USB port. A regular USB port will work just as well, as long as the iDSD is turned off and you don’t mind a bit longer charging time. If the iDSD remains on, a regular USB port might not output enough current to both charge and power iDSD at the same time, so it might drain off the battery slowly. Whether it will drain or charge really depends on how much power your USB port can pump out. Again, a BC1.2 complied USB port (or hub) is your best bet. Last but not least, the smart circuit also turns micro iDSD into a USB power bank when (and only when) it is turned off. Just plug any USB device on to the USB port on the side of micro iDSD and it will charge it up. Needless to say, this will eat into micro iDSD’s play time.
 

SmartPower Socket on the side
 

Gain, Polarity and Filters selection on the side.
 

iEMatch and RCA-out selection on the bottom.
 
Gain, Hiss and EMI
There are two way of adjusting gain on micro iDSD: the power mode and the iEMatch. According to my own measurement, the Eco mode is just under 1dB of gain, Normal mode is around 9~10dB of gain where Turbo mode gives you around 15~16dB gain – and this is the same whether you are using micro iDSD as DAC+amp or as pure amp. iEMatch on the other hand is doing just the opposite by lowering gain: the Off setting doesn’t do anything, where High Sensitivity setting is about -11.4dB and Ultra Sensitivity setting is about -24dB. The recommended way of adjusting gain is that you start with the power mode first. If you still find Eco mode too loud, then you adjust the iEMatch. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to use Turbo mode with Ultra Sensitivity since you will end up getting roughly the same gain as Normal mode without iEMatch, yet wasting a lot of battery power in the process. Last but not least, there is also the pre-amp mode which you can set for the RCA output and it has a 9dB gain (roughly equal to Normal mode). That is mainly for using iDSD as a preamp feeding into a power amp, and you get to use the loudspeaker version of XBass and 3D Holographic Sound effect as well (which we will discuss more on the next section).
 
Hiss is not an issue for micro iDSD at all as I can’t even detect any obvious hiss on Turbo mode with my most hiss prone IEM. EMI is very mild too and hardly a concern at all. Even with Turbo mode, it is about as loud as someone whispering next to your ear.
 

Sony Xperia Z2 feeds into micro iDSD via USB OTG cable
 

Sony NWZ-A15 feeding into micro iDSD via WMC-NWH10 cable
 
Sound Quality and EQ
As usual, we start with some basic measurement. RMAA reveals no problem as far as frequency response, noise and distortion go. In fact, the measured difference between Eco, Normal and Turbo mode is pretty small as well, which is a very good thing as higher gain doesn’t seem to degrade SQ much. Line-out voltage is about 1.95Vrms or so, where max voltage on headphone-out goes from just a little above 2Vrms in Eco mode to over 11Vrms in Turbo mode (*no load, and it might go lower with load, as indicated by iFi). Measurement over current output shows that it has plenty of power regardless of which gain mode it is in. With iEMatch sets to off, output impedance is under 1 ohm. On High Sensitivity, it is around 4 ohm or so. With Ultra Sensitivity, it goes back down under 1 ohm again. Also, High Sensitivity roughly cuts the output power by half with the same volume as the Off setting, though Ultra Sensitivity only cuts about 1/5. The main reason for more loss of power on High Sensitivity probably has to do with its higher output impedance, if anything else. Regardless, both High and Ultra Sensitivity still maintain more than adequate amount of power to drive IEM with good authority.
 

The Three PCM filters @ 16/44.1
 
Another user selectable option on the micro iDSD that will affect SQ is the filter selection. Filter is needed because the DAC’s sampling process will produce high frequency noise above the audible range. Even though it is mainly on the inaudible range, its effect will still reach under 20kHz and therefore we need filter to cut them off. With PCM decoding, the filter switch changes between three different digital filters setting: Standard, Minimum Phase and Bit Perfect. Standard filter is also known as ‘fast roll-off’ sometime, which has a shaper cut –off frequency, offer a flatter FR curve and nicer measurement. But it is often also regarded as being harsher and grainier sounding. Minimum Phase is what known as ‘slow roll-off’ by some, and usually offer a smoother sound but comes with a slight -3dB roll off between 14kHz to 20kHz. It is probably one of the most common filter found on higher end DAC because it is regarded as the best compromise between measurement and human perception. Bit Perfect on the other hand is actually not a filter at all. It is more commonly known as Non-OverSampling, or NOS for short. As the name implies, it is where the DAC doesn’t oversample the signal and doesn’t use any digital filter. The resulted FR curve has a rather big -3dB roll-off going from upper midrange all the way to 20kHz. NOS is in itself too complex a topic for us to cover here - but the basic idea is not to oversample the signal as would be done on normal DAC. Instead, the sampling is carried out where the focus is to restore the musicality back to the signal rather than to achieve the highest accuracy on frequency response. The result is often being described as a sound that is more analog and natural, though doesn’t measure nearly as good as the other two filters and can sound slightly hissy with sensitive headphone due to the lack of filter. To put it short, you can think of the three filters as going from what measured best to what perceived best. With DSD decoding, the same filter switch change to three analog filter selection: Standard, Extended, and Extreme. Due to its 1 bit nature, DSD can’t employ any digital filter (which we will discuss further in the next section on native decoding). Therefore it can only use analog filter after the decoding. The three settings are mainly to determine where to set the cut-off point along the frequency response. Last but not least, DXD only gets one setting and it is Bit Perfect / NOS, therefore it doesn’t matter which position the switch is in. So, you might start to wonder which filter sounds best? Well, the whole point of having a filter selection is so that you can find out the answer for yourself. It isn’t about right or wrong but about your own preference. However, for the purpose of the review, I have used the Standard filter for most of the measurement as well as majority of the subjective listening. Of course, this doesn’t actually mean I prefer the Standard filter more.
 
Last but not least on the user selectable switch that affects the SQ is the polarity. The short story it is that someone once found out that his music has been recorded in reversed polarity (which most human are not very sensitive of), then reversing the polarity will restore back what the music should have sounded like. In the ‘+’ position, the music will pass through iDSD as it is; in ‘-’ position however, the polarity will be reversed. I can’t really tell the difference myself, but don’t let me stop you from trying it out for yourself. If you are like me, just leave it at ‘+’ should be fine.
 
Now let start with the subjective listening – and let get this out of the way first: while micro iDSD can be used as a pure amp, it is not really the best portable amp you can buy for the price. While the amp section is excessively powerful and can drive even fairly inefficient planar magnetic headphone to quite a good level, it has a noticeably drier and brighter sound signature with some of the texture over lower mid to bass range missing. However, micro iDSD isn’t a bad sounding amp either. I would think the amp section alone is good enough to match any upper second tier portable amp or even lower top tier portable amp. It is just not enough to truly being referred as a top tier portable amp on its own.
 
As I have written on my review on nano iDSD, I often find portable DAC+amp combo either has a good amp but an only a decent DAC, or the other way around with a good DAC but just an okay amp section. On the micro iDSD however, I really don’t find the amp section to be the limiting factor at all – yes, it isn’t the best amp section ever. But it does have really good synergy with the DAC section, where the slightly drier amp is compensated by the slightly warmer DAC and they end up being smooth and fairly neutral sounding, if not just a bit on the richer and fuller side of the presentation. In other words, the sonic characteristics of the famous Burr Brown sound that is supposed to be warm and thick are not lost in the process, but tuned down a little and become more adaptive as a whole when it comes to synergy and headphone pairing. Of course, you are really craving for the full Burr Brown treatment, the RCA-out still offers a chance for you to feed micro iDSD to an amp of your own choice. That being said, the line-out from micro iDSD is indeed excellent. It rivals just about every USB DAC I have heard before, desktop or portable. Though I do want to point out I really haven’t heard any of the multi-thousands DAC that I can’t afford anyway, so it is not to say micro iDSD is the be-all-end-all of DAC.
 
One other thing I really love about the micro iDSD is that it is optimized for OTG usage. In my case, it works with both my Sony Xperia Z2 as well as Sony NWZ-A15 DAP without any problem. Sony already has a special USB driver implemented on their latest Android flagship smartphone, which upsamples everything to 24/192, and it works flawlessly with micro iDSD without the need of any extra app. Of course, if you have either USB Audio Player Pro, Onkyo HD Player or Hiby Music player, you can also play DSD files on iDSD as well using DoP protocol. The A15 player however isn’t Android based. But it does support USB OTG with a special cable (Sony WMC-NWH10) and has no problem working with micro iDSD to create probably one of the best sounding portable ‘stack’ in the market, rivaling high end audiophile digital audio players like HiFiman and Astell & Kern. I was, on two occasions, also able to compare micro iDSD to the much more expensive and very well regarded Chord Hugo (both fed by the same digital source). While Hugo carries a much more euphonic presentation, I don’t actually find it to be technically better than iDSD. One might like the flavour Hugo adds to the music, but it is really more of a flavour to me rather than a true rendition of what is intended, not to say that it isn’t an absolute great flavour on its own right. I personally thought that this is a good indication on micro iDSD’s ability to play on a much higher level of playfield than what its price tag would have otherwise suggested.
 

XBass
 
Micro iDSD, like micro iCAN, comes with both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound. Unlike iCAN’s two level selection however, they only have one setting on iDSD – on or off. The effect is somewhat in between iCAN’s two levels. iFi’s reasoning is that they don’t want to have too big or small an effect as people might find it either too much or too little. Thus they opted for the middle ground. To me, the effect on XBass is indeed a little too subtle. It seems to work fine on some of my IEM but less noticeable on other. 3D Holographic Sound on the other hand has a bit more noticeable impact, which the IEM user in me does like it quite a lot (*given most IEM never really have good soundstage to begin with). Last thing to note is that both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound also work on variable RCA-out (*preamp mode), but they are tuned differently from the XBass and 3D Holographic Sound on headphone-out as they are intended to be fed to power amp and eventually loudspeaker. So if you are feeding the variable RCA-out to a headphone amp (then to a headphone of course), the EQ might not sound right, especially with 3D Holographic Sound.
 
Extra: Native vs Non-Native Decoding
When it comes to DSD playback, the words ‘native decoding’ has been threw around fairly casually by many manufacturer. The fact is however, many of them isn’t as ‘native’ as you will like to believe and often some form of internal conversion has been employed. To really understand whether a DAC really is natively decoding DSD or PCM, often you need to look beyond words but inside the circuit design on the chip’s level. Unfortunately for most of us, that’s just impossible as manufacturer would rather not share with everyone their trade secret. I won’t try to cover the whole topic here as it is such complex an issue that it will probably take an expert a lot more inks than what this review is intended for, and I am no expert on this topic either. But luckily Mr. Thorsten Loesch, the designer of micro iDSD, has already written such an article. While it is about nano iDSD, the same blood is in the vein of micro iDSD as well. Therefore what has been said on that article is just as true for micro iDSD as it is for nano iDSD. Read it here: http://www.audiostream.com/content/qa-thorsten-loesch-amrifi
 
The take-away point is - with the complexity and uncertainty in recording and mastering of the music before it reaches our ears, it is best to keep thing as ‘native’ and as non-invasive as possible when it comes to converting the 1 and 0 back to analog sound. That’s perhaps the reason why iFi has insisted on using the Burr Brown DAC rather than opts for something new and shiny with a more ‘marketable’ nametag. In that sense, I think they have done a tremendous job on optimizing the Burr Brown DAC to make it just as relevant as any top-of-the-line DAC chip in the market right now.
 
Sum-up
Is micro iDSD the perfect portable DAC+amp? No. If I can have a wish list, I’ll like it to be smaller, lightly, slimmer, shorter and perhaps, a true top tier amp as well. But the one thing that can’t be denied, nor would I wish to change, is the fact the micro iDSD is packed full of value and performance.  If you ever need a portable USB DAC + amp that can just about do it all, do it well, and do it without costing a limb, I reckon this is /it/.
 
A thanks to iFi Audio for the review sample.
ClieOS
ClieOS
@yuping O2 and micro iCAN is pretty much on par when it comes to SQ, but one thing that gives micro iCAN the edge is its 3D Holographic Sound and Xbass. Between the two, I am more inclined to recommend micro iCAN first. Better yet, get the newer micro iCAN SE as it is as good as the regular iCAN, but with a lot more power.
roladyzator
roladyzator
@ClieOS How does micro idsd compare to Audiotrak Dr. Dac 3? Is it worth paying extra for the iDSD? 
 
I am looking for an upgrade from Fiio E10k to drive KRK KNS 8400 and DT150.
 
FiiO sounds a little dry to me with KRK and a bit muddy in the bass and dull in the treble on DT150. I expect an overall increase in resolution and detail retrieval, soundstage size. I expect an overall increase in resolution and detail retrieval, soundstage size. Of course I never experienced hi end sound so I don't know what to expect.
ClieOS
ClieOS
@roladyzator Dr. DAC 3 is a solid DAC/amp, but if budget isn't a major issue, I'll always recommend micro iDSD first. It is just a step up from Dr. DAC 3. However, I never listened to KRK or DT180 before and can't comment on how they will behave on iDSD or Dr. DAC3.
Pros: Superbly clean output , Lots of Power , Dynamic , Practical , Features ( 3D Holographic & XBass) , Battery Life , Construction , Design , Value .
Cons: Cable length provided
The iDSD Micro. 
Bought at S$699. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now... for the metal switches, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is really nothing not to love about it. 

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

DSC_3824.jpg
 
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BLACK LABEL REVISIT REVIEW
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This review is written based on my comparison of the iFi iDSD Micro Black Label with the iFi iDSD Micro that I have used over the past 2 years .Let us start by calling the Black label as “B” and the normal , silver item , “S”. The review is in no way sponsored by iFi as they simply sent a unit for me to demo for a week before I’ll have to hand it over to the next reviewer . Whatever you are about to read would be blunt , honest review regarding the fore-mentioned products .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLOSING
Thus far , I have tried B with a few new IEMs which I find interesting , such as the Audiotechica Live Sound series , which I feel only the LS200 is worth the money (your mileage may differ) , and the Audeze iSIne 20 which sounded wonderful with them . Over the remaining week I have to spend time with B , I’ll most probably bring it out to get plugged by jacks of different size and colour as much as possible :p
 
And will update my pairing findings here .
If there are any particular pairings you would like me to try it on your behalf , do comment down below and I will try my best to get them paired up in the days to come . As Singapore is such a small country , majority of IEMs and headphones are easily within reach , yes , even the JH Angels .
 
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BLACK LABEL REVISIT REVIEW
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Koolpep
Koolpep
Different implementation of the X-Bass. Did you upgrade them to FW 5.1? And which headphones are you using?
JUGA
JUGA
fostex TH-900. aste&kern t5p. beyerdynamic dt 770/250 Ohm. 
in early batches (august 2015 - december 2015) of micro iDSD the X-Bass effect was strongly expressed. But not now. i try to understend.. it's not for me. it' for our customers (i work in Doctorhead.ru (Russia).
 
Koolpep
Koolpep
That is weird indeed - all these headphones should react just fine to X-Bass
Pros: able to drive the most demanding phones; "3d" crossfeed a strong feature; inputs can be coax, toslink or line-in
Cons: disappointing burr brown dac
i won't repeat the details available in the review that's already been posted.
 
i got the ifi micro idsd for several reasons: one was that i wasn't sure my dx90 had a strong enough amp to drive the planar alpha primes that i recently bought.  the ifi micro has a very strong amp, capable of 4w output.  another reason i got it was that i was curious about how a different dac would sound- i have a dx90 with its dual sabre dac, and a gungnir on my home system with its akm chips.  the ifi micro idsd comes with a burr brown dac.
 
bottom line:  my dx90 could in fact drive the alpha primes pretty well, but they sound even better when i use the dx90 line-out to the micro's line-in, i.e. use the dx90's dac and the ifi micro's amp.  the greater power of the ifi's amp, plus its very impressive "3d" crossfeed feature produces a bigger and cleaner soundstage.  the ifi's dac was a disappointment, at least compared to the dx90's dac.  the dx90's dual sabres produce cleaner, clearer sound.  in comparison, the ifi's burr browns sound muddy.  i don't want to overstate this- if i had just listened to the ifi micro and not had the dx90 to compare with the very same source files run out through the very same amp [the ifi's via line-out-in], the burr browns would have sounded fine, perfectly acceptable  
 
the ifi micro is not a portable "on-the-go" device, it's too big and heavy for that.  i would call it "transportable," rather than "portable."  the heaviness of the micro is in part a function of its very large 4800mah battery - a trade-off desirable in some circumstances, not others.  
 
in sum, the ifi micro is a very capable, multi-featured, transportable device.  it will accept inputs via coax or toslink to run through its dac stage, or line-in to skip its dac and just use its powerful amp.  there are a multitude of adjustments that can be made depending on the power demands of your phones, as well as a choice of filters controlling how it samples.  [i only use pcm flac files and so used the bit-perfect filter.]
jk47
jk47
i don't know why you'd want to buy both a hugo and a micro - each has a dac and an amp, so they serve identical functions.  i haven't heard a hugo so can't comment on sound differences.  
 
as to whether dacs have differences, i would say from this experience that they do.  otoh, i suppose the differences i heard could have arisen elsewhere in the chain.  for example, to use the ifi's dac i connected the dx90 to the micro with a coax-spdif cable that came with the dx90.  perhaps there was something in that connector that produced the differences in sound.  or perhaps the dx90's coax out is somehow distorting the output.  i hadn't thought of those explanations when i wrote the review.  i can't fully check these alternate theories, even if i wanted to spend the time, which i don't.  i could certainly get a different connector to use instead of the one supplied.  but i don't have the knowledge or the means to check whether there's a problem in the dx90's coax out.
JUGA
JUGA
did the X-Bass function works?  if yes - can you here difference? we have 4 unit and in all 4 devices X-Bass das not works. There is no difference between switch off and switch on.
jk47
jk47
i haven't used the ifi micro for some time and i don't believe i ever even tried the x-bass function.  i've just been using my qp1r dap.
Pros: Crystal clear, lifelike audiophile sound, with a touch a warmth that is great for long listening sessions. TONS of power to drive any headphone.
Cons: switches are a bit fragile. On both examples, back in 2014 and in 2017, one of them came flying off!
It was around February of 2014 when I first read of iFi while skimming the Head-fi forums. I was looking for a DSD capable DAC in the sub $500 range to replace the first generation Audioquest Dragonfly serving my desktop listening needs. There was only a handful of options at the time, and my interest in DSP free DSD playback further limited the choice. Actually, my choice was made for me. The iFi iDSD nano was the only DAC I could find that fulfilled this requirement in my price bracket. The only problem was I knew nothing about iFi, and I was concerned by the incredibly low price. Surely the raw sound quality would be compromised at this price point. Then again, at a mere $189 there was little risk, so with a 'What the heck?' attitude I ordered one. And wow. Wow. Wow again.
 
I am glad I took the risk of a blind buy. In addition to being impressed with the sound quality, I became equally impressed with the crew at iFi/ AMR. Their customer interaction and support is superb. And they are truly committed to their vision of Hi-Fi, which is unapologetically different than the hi-fi norm. In the end, they are committed to providing the best sound and most useful feature set for the dollar.
 
 
It should come as no surprise, then, that I followed closely the crowd design of the iDSD Micro, and am among the first 512 owners. An 'Octa-Adopter.'
 
 
OCTA-WHAT???
 
 
'Octa' as in 8x DSD, or DSD512. Yes, this DAC will playback DSD rates up to 24.6 Mhz! This is the first example of such support in a consumer level product. It also supports PCM up to 768khz. Although I know of no content currently available at these high rates, upsampling to DSD512 is possible in software, and PCM 768 allows for DSD256 playback via DoP, which means ASIO is not required for playback at that rate. Although I am not as familiar with the state of Mac computer audio, I believe this may be the first time DSD256 is available on the Mac without a need for special driver software.
 
 
A DIFFERENT KIND OF HI-FI
 
 
I mentioned earlier that iFi doesn't follow the hi-fi norm. What does that mean? iFi believes in minimal DSP, and believes that one should be listening to as close to the source audio as possible. DSP's such as upsampling, volume control, format conversion, etc. create unavoidable mathematical losses. The more conversions, the greater the losses. The more changes to the source signal, the more likely the changes become audible. This may especially be the case with DSD. DSP such as filtering, sample rate conversion and volume control require conversion of the 1-bit bitstream to a multibit intermediary, and remodulation back to 1 bit.
 
Therefore, the iDSD Micro uses a chipset that converts DSD to analog natively with no extra digital conversion or DSP. The 1 bit DSD signal is sent to an analog FIR filter for conversion. That's it! Also, the iDSD micro has a 'BitPerfect' filter option for PCM. This eliminates the oversampling reconstruction filter used in PCM conversion.
 
So in a DAC loaded with features, simplicity characterizes the nature of the actual audio conversion. This matches my personal audio values.
 
 
THE iFi EXPERIENCE
 
 
Unboxing an iFi product is a treat! Packaging is reminiscent of that other "i" company.
 
In the box you will find a plethora (hyperbole, of course) of quality adapters and cables. Which calls attention to the unique 'OTG' USB port on the back of the Micro. It is a unique port engineered for mobile convenience. To use it with a standard desktop USB cable, an adapter is required. Two versions of the adapter are included. The adapter I chose to use is cable-less. The other adapter has a very short cable between terminations. I chose the first adapter presuming higher quality, but the cabled version may be more convenient when space behind the DAC is a concern. The 'hard' adapter combined with my iFi Gemini cable requires several inches of clearance.  It is also an interesting little detail that the 'hard' adapter comes packed in an anti-static bag, like what you would expect to find enclosing delicate computer components.  Also, I think it is important to add that the included USB cables are OTG cables, so if you don't already have an expensive USB cable like the Gemini, I would suggest forgetting about the adapters and going with one of the included cables.
 
This is all I will have to say about the adapters, mobile uses, battery, etc. I will leave that to others, as I use this iDSD exclusively in a desktop environment, and cannot adequately review mobile functionality.
 
Build quality and appearance is typical iFi. The iDSD micro is well built but take care with the switches. They feel a little fragile, and as a matter of fact, I had some trouble with a sticky switch.  My over aggressive tugging, attempting to 'un-stick' it, caused the red 'Turbo' switch that controls amp output level to go flying off into the floor!! Fortunately it easily reattached, and works properly now.
 
 
THE SOUND
 
 
Now on to the good stuff! The sound! Crisp detailed highs, smooth upper mids, slightly warm lower mids and upper bass. Clean extension into the lows. Not too much bass; just about right. Does it deviate from neutral? That is something I am not sure I can answer. Tonal balance is the product of an entire system, and all I can tell you is how it sounds in mine, which is a custom built AMD PC running the latest Jriver Media Center software, iDSD micro, iFi iUSB power, iFi Gemini 'split' USB cable, and a modded USB cable eliminating the 5v line pre iUSB Power. The review headphones are Grado RS1i's.
 
In comparison to the iDSD nano, the sound is the same tonally, but there is a notable increase in detail and dimensionality. On the Nano, audio images are wide, but slightly flat in comparison. The Micro has greater depth of soundstage. Never is the extra detail harsh, though. The micro is always delightfully smooth and listenable.
 
DSD was the strong suit of the iDSD nano, and is improved in the Micro. I feel the greatest improvement, though, is with PCM material, especially using the BitPerfect filter. The promise of the Burr Brown DSD1793 segment DAC is realized more fully here. PCM sounds both silky smooth AND extremely detailed, like a hybrid of true PCM and Delta Sigma conversion, which is EXACTLY what the segment DAC is.
 
For headphone use, which is how I exclusively use the iDSD, power is abundant and flexible. There are three settings, from Eco mode to 'Turbo' mode, which will tear paint off the walls with my Grados!!! Eco mode is already stronger than the headphone amp in the iDSD Nano, but I have settled on the middle 'Standard' mode for all my listening.
 
The headroom it provides for the dynamic orchestral recordings that dominate my listening is welcome. This addresses the only other weakness of the iDSD Nano. The iDSD Micro has plenty of power, dynamic swing and driver control to keep up when the music gets loud and complex.
 
I enjoy the 3D and XBass 'Analog Signal Processing'. The effect of both is subtle but notable. They never get in the way, and depending on soundtrack can really enhance the experience. For instance, the bass drum on orchestra recordings has deep authority with XBass turned on, and 3D mode really does widen the soundstage nicely, and puts the center image more 'out in front.' But I did notice that with 3D mode engaged, images on recordings I know well were placed too far to the edges for my liking, and overall imaging suffered. Instruments gain a greater sense of space, but lose their precise placement 'in space', so I do the majority of my listening with 3D mode disengaged.  XBass seems ESPECIALLY useful at lower to moderate listening levels, filling in the low end nicely.  At higher levels, or with music recorded with little dynamic range, the bass emphasis may be a bit much.  But as most of my listening is to very dynamic music with moderate average levels, I leave XBass engaged most of the time and do enjoy the effect.  Ultimately, results vary from soundtrack to soundtrack, though.
 
 
IN CONCLUSION
 
 
There are many more features included in this incredible product that I have not mentioned, but I believe I have covered everything that stands out to me after two days of listening. This is a special product, both in feature set and sound quality. Designed by a renowned audio engineer, with customized software and extreme functionality. Oh, and it sounds in a word, amazing. If you are looking to spend in the $500 to $1000 range, and maybe even more, you owe it to yourself to hear the iDSD micro.
 
Highly recommended.  
 
 
 
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ADDENDUM 

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