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

      IMG_20170208_083747945_BURST001.jpg

    Background:

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

    Equipment used:

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

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

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

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

    IMG_20170208_083611420_HDR.jpg
     
    Volume knob:

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

    Power mode:

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

    Polarity and filter:

    To me these switches did not make any difference.

    3D toggle switch:

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

    XBass toggle switch:

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

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

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

    Sound quality:

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

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

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

    Mids:

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

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

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

    IMG_20170208_083716801.jpg
     
    The differences that have been highlighted between the two DACs in this review are not very huge differences by any means. Both the iDSD BL and the Mojo are great DAC/amps, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. In this tight A/B comparison however I have to give the edge to Mojo on pure sound quality (not versatility!), but I know, probably some people will prefer the iDSD BL’s smoothness and bass centric sound to Mojo’s precision and dynamism, and there is nothing wrong with that.
     The Mojo to my ears has a slightly more refined sound with better depth which results in a space, where you can experience lifelike music with plenty of fabulous dynamics. The iDSD BL provides a very nice and very smooth listening experience. In head to head comparison, the Mojo sounds more exciting to me, so for me the choice is clear. The iDSD BL is a very nice product, its versatility is impressive, and it truly has a top performer sound. At the end of the day, diversity is what makes this world beautiful.
     For me however the nice and smooth, good quality music listening experience what the iDSD BL offers just can’t beat the excitement and beauty of Mojo’s natural realism. Of course, as always, Your Miles May Vary.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. beowulf
      Punchy bass and warmer. Hmm this might just be what I need to perfectly pair the Campfire Audio Andromeda, which has a fairly bright/treble-rich signature by default and does not benefit from extra brightness from the sources. Also, if it's a bit on the bass heavy side, it might pair it well for the exact same reasons. The Andro is balanced on bass but could use more punch with a few tracks that are mastered in a thin signature.
      beowulf, Feb 15, 2017
    3. betula
      @rickyleelee, each to their own, I guess.
      @beowulf yes, that seems to be a good pairing. Give it a go. :wink:
      betula, Feb 15, 2017
    4. Libertango
      Excellent review and I find it to reflect my findings. While I very much prefer the IDSD with my Sennheisers and Fostex TH900 (they perfectly complement one another) I do prefer the Mojo with the Nighthawk which you used for this review.
      Libertango, Mar 25, 2017
  2. wormsdriver
    iFi Audio iDSD Black Label - it should be on your short list!
    Written by wormsdriver
    Published Feb 7, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Great all around bang for the buck
    Cons - volume indicator is barely visible
    iFi iDSD Black Label
     
    Hey guys, this is my quick review of the ifi idsd Black Label. The unit itself is courtesy of ifi, and is a loner unit which I am borrowing for seven days as part of a world wide review tour. Besides getting to audition the unit at our home for seven days with our own gear, there are no other incentives or hidden agendas on my part. This is my honest opinion and my opinion only.
     
    Thank you to Laurence @ ifi for giving me the opportunity of auditioning this unit.
     
     
    Unboxing:
    IMG_9314.jpg IMG_9315.jpg IMG_9339.jpg IMG_9336.jpg IMG_9337.jpg
     
    Upon opening the box I was greeted with the unit itself. Taking the unit out of the box, it feels like a well made piece of gear. There are two switches on the front, one is for the XBass+ and one for the 3D+ features. The switches feel sturdy and have a nice firm click to them when flicking them up or down. Up engages the given feature, down is the normal off position. 
     
    The volume knob has a good size for the device, and sticks out enough out of the way of the 3D+ switch which is positioned right next to the volume knob. One thing to note here is that the volume indicator on the knob itself is just a small slit and is black on an already black knob so I really couldn't tell most of the time were the volume was at. I would have prefered for the tiny slit to be painted in orange like the rest of the printing on the device for a better visual aid.
     
    Also on the front of the device we find a 6.3MM jack and a 3.5MM jack. The 6.3MM jack is the headphone output, and the 3.5MM jack is actually an input! I was surprised at first since I was expecting both would be headphone outputs to accommodate for both 6.3mm and 3.5mm headphones without a need for an adapter, non the less I don't find it to be lacking either way. The addition of this input makes this versatile device even more diverse as it can be used strictly as a headphone amplifier too!

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

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

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

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


      Eco = 0 dB
      Normal/Turbo = 9dB

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

    IMG_9329.jpg
     

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

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

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

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

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

     
    Speakers:
    Magnepan .7

     
    All Music was lossless tracks from Tidal.
      Gonzalez likes this.
    1. Onny Izwan
      Very unfortunate that the Mojo comparison was conclusive. The BL still needs a lotta work
      Onny Izwan, Feb 7, 2017
    2. joseph69
      Nicely done.
      joseph69, Feb 7, 2017
  3. jinxy245
    Black Label: The Signature Sound Of ifi
    Written by jinxy245
    Published Feb 4, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - clarity, power, versatility, build quality
    Cons - crowded front panel, questionable filters
    It is with great pleasure that I can say that I have been selected to take part in the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label listening tour. My thanks to Lawrence from iFi for helping to organize the USA East leg of the tour. What this means, is that I have 1 week to listen to & evaluate the ifi Micro iDSD Black Label, which is a DAC utilizing a dual core Burr-Brown DSD512/PCM768/2xDXD chip and headphone amplifier. Although I am very grateful to be able to participate in this tour, I receive no compensation other than the joy of listening in the comfort of my own home, and the following review is my honest opinion. This is my 1st ever review of a DAC/amp, so please bear with me as I try to hit all the pertinent points.
     
     
    I’ll start with a little about myself. I’m pushing 50 and have less than perfect hearing (50 is pushing back). I’ve been a music lover for as long as I can remember, and I learned to listen a little more critically during the few years I sold audio equipment (and the more I listen, the more I learn). My fascination/infatuation with headphones began about 4 years ago, and has only gotten stronger. I’ve only recently taken a more serious look at the hardware end of the audio equation, and I’m enjoying the journey. I've never had the opportunity to hear the original iDSD, so I'm particularly glad to spend some time with the Black Label. The majority of my listening was done listening to FLAC, WAV & various MP3s with my Shanling M2, Fiio x3 (1st gen.), Samsung Galaxy S7, or through my HP all in one PC as a source for the iDSD BL. My tastes are fairly eclectic, but my listening centered on classic rock, folk, jazz, classical and various genres of EDM.
     
     
    First, let’s get a couple of ergonomic niggles out of the way. When using the iDSD BL as an amp only, the front panel gets awfully crowded, (especially if you’re using a ¼” to 1/8”) adapter making it difficult to adjust the volume or activate/deactivate the Xbass+ or 3D+. Perhaps changing these 2 filters to the right side would alleviate this issue, especially since I didn’t find myself using them a whole lot. Occasionally, I found the selectors on the bottom of the unit to change positions during normal movement of the unit from one place to another. In fact, at one point one of the plastic knobs fell off of the selector switch it was attached to (giving me a slight heart attack since I don’t own the unit)
    IMG_0592.jpg
     
    Fortunately I found and reattached it without further incident. A set of raised feet would likely prevent this from happening.  I also found the volume pot can use a bit more resistance. It was too easy to turn, and although I give kudos for the orange font on the bottom, a volume indicator line that’s not black on black would be much more useful (and greatly appreciated).
     
     
    The iDSD BL came with a generous amount of accessories. There are 2 of the usual rubber bands for stacking, RCA cables for preamplifier use, a storage pouch, USB A to USB B cable, 3.5mm (male x male, for use with the line in) adapter, 3.5mm x 6.35mm adapter (the front panel has a ¼” headphone out only), an optical by RCA adapter, USB A (female to male) adapter, and a rubber mat. There’s really not much more I could say I’d like to see included.
     
     
    There are so many things this little beast can do I feel a bit overwhelmed trying to cover it all. On the front panel from left to right, you have a ¼” headphone input jack, Xbass+ control (on/off), 3.5mm audio input jack,  “3D+” control (a filter said to create a larger soundstage, also on/off), and the volume control dial.
    IMG_0566.jpg
     
    The right side is bare, except a USB Type 'A' Female connection for charging other devices.
    IMG_0568.jpg
     
    Around the rear there is an “Intelligent In/Out SPDIF Digital Optical/Coax” connection that automatically configures to Coaxial or Optical use, a left & right female RCA output, and a USB Type 'A' male digital input.
    IMG_0590.jpg
     
    Moving along to the left side, there is one portion of the gain control (Eco/Normal/Turbo), a polarity switch (+/-) and filter control (Bit Perfect/Minimum Phase/Standard).
    IMG_0591.jpg
     
    On the bottom of the unit, there are markings to identify all the controls on the sides and back (orange on black is very legible, thank you!)
    as well as the other portion of the gain control called IE Match (Off/High Sensitivity/Ultra Sensitivity) and control for the rear RCA outs (Preamplifier/Direct).As I said there is a lot the iDSD BL can do, and given I was only able to spend a week with it, I’ll concentrate on what I did use.
    IMG_0574.jpg
     
    There are five power output modes, Eco, Normal and Turbo, High Sensitivity, Ultra Sensitivity. Their website states that the micro iDSD BL is able to have the power and gain dialed-in to”perfectly suit all headphones”. In truth, everything from my 64 Audio U6 to my Sennheiser HD600, the ifi easily delivered whatever power was needed. It had copious amounts of power when called for, never needing to go over 11:00 on Normal gain with the HD600, and more often closer to 9:00. I am not the best judge of hiss due to persistent (and tenacious) tinnitus, however without music playing using my U6 on Eco gain, there was no discernible noise whatsoever (YMMV). Obviously, when using the High Sensitivity or Ultra Sensitivity settings, there would be even less noise. I’ll note that I’m not sure what “type” of amp the iDSD BL utilizes, but it never felt more than warm to the touch, even during heavy usage.
     
     
     I’m a firm believer that amplifiers for the most part (at least amps of the solid state variety) should be the proverbial “Wire with Gain” in that they shouldn’t impart much “color” onto the sound. That being said, in reality I think there is always some sonic coloration passed along when creating an audio chain and an amplifier is no different. I’ll admit that there is the possibility that I haven’t acquired the skill of breaking the sonic influence into bass/mids/treble/soundstage, but I believe that these influences are much more subtle than that. I would go so far as to call an amp full, thin, warm etc. but not much more, especially without having equipment to back up my claims. I find the amp section of the IDSD to fall on the warm side of neutral without sounding thick or muddy in any way. When comparing to other amps I have on hand, my ALO National or the RHA Dacamp1 (On loan for a listening tour, comparing amp only here) I find there to be more similarities than differences. Because they are all so close in fidelity, without volume matching, it’d be impossible to comment on detail retrieval and the like, but the overall impression I had was that they are all warm-ish amps: everything I played sounded full bodied and satisfying.
    IMG_0560.jpg
     
    If you’re using a PC and you want to use the iDSD BL as a DAC, you need to download the driver from their website ( http://ifi-audio.com/micro-idsd-ifi-xmos-firmware/ ). If you’re a MAC lover, it is supposed to be plug-n-play, I believe. Downloading and installing the appropriate driver was more of a challenge than I expected (IOS users, this is your cue to laugh). Every time I downloaded the driver to install, it would literally disappear after a few seconds. It was there, and then it wasn’t. To say I was perplexed would be an understatement. I assumed that there must be an explanation, so I read a bit online until I came across one post noting that you may have to turn off your anti-virus. How a driver could look like malware is beyond my computer knowledge, but someone figured it out, and I’m glad they did. I turned off my Norton, and we were back in business. Once the driver was downloaded, and the  ifi took over DAC duties, the synergy of the DAC/amp combo became readily apparent.
    Since the front panel does get crowded once the line in is being used, I mostly opted to use it through the Coaxial input or as a DAC/amp. The coax from my Fiio or Shanling sounded terrific, with plenty of detail and space, definitely a step up from the line out IMO. The iDSD BL is unwieldy, but is indeed portable enough to move from room to room, or to take with you for listening while writing in a coffee shop or other stationary activity. This was quite welcome if I didn’t feel like being tied to my computer to listen, or wanted to continue my listening session elsewhere if it was getting noisy. The iDSD BL did pair easily to my Samsung Galaxy S7, and though there was no faulting the sound quality, it was awkward at best given the size difference. Again, if being used while stationary, it wouldn’t be a big issue, but it’s not really a portable solution.
    IMG_other_0586.jpg
     
     I do think most people will opt to use this primarily as a DAC/amp, either on a desktop, or portably with a laptop. If I were to do a blind test, I would be very hard pressed indeed to distinguish between the coax & the USB, at least with my current sources, and I think that’s a very good thing since I enjoyed the iDSD BL so much either way. Again, without a proper A/B test I don’t feel confident enough to give a definitive answer as to which one is better, but I am inclined to say the DAC in the iDSD BL would be the superior choice. It definitely has a synergy with the amp section, and benefited from being fed higher bitrate files without being too unforgiving of MP3s. I could (and did) listen to this for hours, enjoying every minute.
     
     
    Moving on to the filters, I’ll start by saying, I’m not a huge fan. When testing the polarity switch and filter control, I heard no appreciable difference at all, regardless of the position, so I left them in positive & Bit Perfect respectively. There is a possibility that they would have a greater effect on speakers if the DAC was used through the line out, but I never got the chance to test it that way. I don’t know if the Xbass+ and 3D+ switches are considered filters, but even though I didn’t use them much, I did hear an effect on the audio when using them. The Xbass+ seemed to have an effect primarily on the sub bass, whereas the 3D+ is intended to be a spatializer of sorts, to widen the perceived soundstage. I found the 3D+ to effect the treble mostly and added some “grain” up top. I mostly left these off, but did occasionally find them helpful when used together as a sort of loudness control, adding a bit of clarity for low level listening. My personal preference (and recommendation to RHA) would be for the iDSD BL to have an adjustable treble and bass control, +/- 5 or so, which seems to me would be a more universally useful tool.
     
     
    Since fortune smiled upon me and I happened to have the RHA Dacamp L1 (also priced $549 USD) on hand at the same time, it seems only appropriate that I give my impressions of both.  Build quality between the two is about on par, with the RHA being just a tad more robust overall IMO. The RHA also has the smaller more portable form factor: it’s smaller in every dimension. The RHA has a balanced headphone output as well, but it’s a 4 pin mini XLR input, which seems to only be compatible with their own headphone the CL1 Ceramic (at least I don’t know of any other headphone using that connection). Furthermore, the benefits of using that connection was not readily apparent…it sounded just about the same when used single ended or balanced (reviewer Brooko did record measurements that seem to back this up). The RHA does have bass/treble controls (+9/-3 for both) and 3 gain levels, but the iDSD BL has 5 gain levels, Xbass+, 3D+ and a preamp output. They both can be used to charge a dying cellphone, have about the same battery life/charge time and have digital inputs (coaxial and optical for the ifi, optical for the RHA). I’d say all the bells and whistles come down to a matter of preference, and I’d give RHA a slight advantage being more portable. Ergonomically, there isn’t too much to complain about in either case. The biggest problem with the ifi is a somewhat crowded front panel, on the other hand the volume wheel RHA chose, while having better resistance than the ifi, is much harder to control…it steps up in volume more rapidly and is awkward to turn. Sound quality is where the rubber meets the road, as they say, and sonically I’d say it would be a matter of preference. Power output seems comparable overall, with the ifi being more versatile (at least 5 different gain levels). While I find both of these to be on the warm side, I’d say that the ifi is more on the analytical side of warm, while the RHA sounds a touch smoother. These are not night and day differences, and there was no clear sonic winner for me. I’d honestly be more than happy to have either of these in my audio chain. I lean slightly toward the ifi, simply because my DAPs utilize coaxial outputs and I could see myself using that often, but that could easily change with a DAP upgrade.
     
     
    I am truly sorry to see the iDSD BL leave. In my opinion, except for some small niggles, ifi has done a great job with the iDSD BL. It’s well built, very versatile, has plenty of power on tap, and sounds fantastic. The price is a bit high, but you do get a lot for your money. My thanks again go to Lawrence and ifi. After spending a week with the iDSD, I can definitely recommend checking it out if you‘re in the market for a DAC/amp. It is definitely worth a listen.
  4. earfonia
    iFi Audio micro iDSD Black-Label: Sound Quality First!
    Written by earfonia
    Published Jan 31, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Feature rich with high performance to price ratio; Multi-platform compatibility; Isolated USB and analog ground with excellent USB EMI noise rejection
    Cons - 1-2 seconds of silence at the beginning of playback (from a stop); 1 LED indicator with complicated color codes
    Many thanks to iFi for the tour program, to let us have some experience with the new iFi micro iDSD Black-Label!

     



     

    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label product web page:
    http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-idsd-bl/

    Manual:
    http://ifi-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/data/manual/miDSDBL_manual.pdf
     
     
    Due to the limitation of max 100000 characters in this review section, I couldn't post here the features and measurement part of this review. Please check the features and measurement part here:
     
    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label - In-Depth Review
     
     

    The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is the improved version of the previous iFi micro iDSD. iFi has shared to us in detail, many of their design considerations during the development of the micro iDSD. Lot’s to learn from the post, therefore I think it is worth to post the link to the early discussion here:

    http://www.head-fi.org/t/711217/idsd-micro-black-label-tour-details-page-147-release-info-page-153

    I bought the iFi micro iDSD pre-ordered from Stereo Singapore in September 2014. Since then it has been one of my favorite portable DAC. I like the line output sound quality especially when paired with iFi micro iCan, but the headphone output of iFi micro iDSD requires some matching to sound best. My biggest complaint so far from the iFi micro iDSD is the quality of the iEMatch switch that often glitchy and causes loss of the right channel or severe channel imbalance. The volume pot of my iFi micro iDSD also has audible channel imbalance below 9:30’ position. Together with the glitchy iEMatch switch, it makes me difficult to use it for sensitive IEMs. I’m glad to say that I found the channel imbalance of the review unit of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label has been greatly reduced, and practically I didn’t have any channel imbalance issue even at low volume setting. I hope this will be the case for all iFi micro iDSD Black-Label units. I also hope that the iEMatch switch durability has been improved on the Black-Label version.
     

     

     

    Some of the improvements in the Black-Label version are some of the electronic components, power sections, clock system, and some other improvement on both digital and analog circuit sections, including the implementation of custom Op-Amp. There is no changes in the technical specifications and features from the previous iFi micro iDSD, so feature wise both the iFi micro iDSD and the Black-Label version are similar. The improvement is more on the sound quality. One might ask when there is an improvement in the sound quality, why it is not shown in the specification? The simple answer is, the measured specifications don't cover all aspects of the sound quality. Basic specifications such as FR, THD, and SNR are only a few aspects of the audio quality and quite often are not advertised in detail. THD for example, usually only advertised as average THD, but manufacturer usually doesn't give further detail like what is the distortion profile across the audio band, which type of distortion that is more dominant, etc. Therefore, usually, it is close to impossible to judge the sound quality of a DAC or Amplifier only by looking at the advertised specifications.

    In summary, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is an excellent sounding, feature rich DAC + headphone amplifier. It does require some knowledge to get the most out of it. Sound quality wise, it is on the neutral side with no obvious coloration. For those who are looking for warm, intimate, mellow type of sound signature, better look elsewhere. Transparency, clarity, speed, and detail retrieval are still the main characteristics of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound signature, similar to the iFi micro iDSD. And iFi has improved it further in a more musical manner on the Black-Label version. Besides some technical improvement from the previous iFi micro iDSD, the sound quality improvement that I observed on the Black-Label are transparency, dynamic, and instrument separation. The Black-Label is more transparent and realistic sounding than the already transparent sounding iFi micro iDSD. Not a night and day differences, but noticeable. And I’m glad to say that the increase in transparency and detail retrieval doesn’t make the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sounding more analytical than the iFi micro iDSD. Subjectively, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is actually sounding more musical to me. Even though not by much, I do prefer the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound quality than the iFi micro iDSD.
     

     

    Pros:
    1. Feature rich with high performance to price ratio.
    2. Neutral sound quality with superb transparency, speed, and detail retrieval.
    3. Good multi-platforms compatibility with various operating systems.
    4. Isolated USB and analog ground with excellent USB EMI noise rejection.
    5. Various digital and analog filters to suit listening preference.
    6. A wide range of gain and headphone output power settings to suit various loads, from sensitive IEMs to demanding headphones.
    7. Useful and good sounding analog bass boost and stereo enhancement analog circuit.
    8. Good battery life.

    Cons:
    1. 1-2 seconds of silence at the beginning of playback (from a stop). This short period of silence causes the first 1-2 seconds of the song gets muted at the start. This can be quite annoying for some songs that start immediately at the 1st second. This is the only most annoying flaw of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label so far, but I believe it can be fixed by firmware update if iFi is willing to fix it, or probably by releasing a special driver only for PCM playback. I notice that the silence period is slightly longer on the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label compared to the iFi micro iDSD. Due to the short review time, I’ve only tested it with foobar v1.3.12 (WASAPI and DSD ASIO). Probably there is a way to shorten the silence from the setting, but I didn’t have enough time to play around with the setting or checked this symptom using other media player applications.​ This short period of silence at the beginning of playback is could be due to ‘pop’ issue described here:
              http://ifi-audio.com/audio_blog/pop-goes-dsd-why-does-this-happen/
    1. 1 LED indicator to indicate many operating conditions. It is not user-friendly to expect a user to memorize so many color codes from a single LED indicator.
    2. Volume level indicator is hard to see.

    Suggestions for improvements:
    1. To shorten the start play silence.
    2. A more user-friendly LED indicator. Suggested 3 LEDs indicator as described at the end part of this review.
    3. White or silver volume level indicator for better visibility.
    4. Better design rubber feet with a stronger attachment to the metal case. It is preferable to have better rubber feet that have been fixed to the metal case from the factory.
     


     
     
     

    Sound Quality

    Sound quality observations were done using my regular test tracks as shown at the end of this review. As for headphones and IEMs, I mostly used the following during this review:
     
    Headphones:
    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
    Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7
    Beyerdynamic T1
    HiFiMan HE-6
    Massdrop HD6xx
    Sennheiser HD800
    Philips Fidelio X1
    STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S
     
    In-Ear Monitors:
    AK T8iE Mk2
    Brainwavz B200
    DUNU DN-2000
     

     

    Headphone Output Sound Signature:
    Transparent with good detail and dynamic is probably the simplest way to describe iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sound signature. Generally, it sounds quite neutral with no obvious coloration. The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is not a warm and mellow sounding type of DAC that tends to ‘beautify’ recording flaws. It is a bit on the dry and analytical side, but iFi has done it in a nice and musical way. It is still lean on the analytical side but it doesn’t sound thin. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label has excellent stereo imaging, spacious and holographic with good depth. The headphone output is powerful with lightning fast transient, always giving the impression that it can drive any IEMs and headphones with ease. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label might not be for those looking for smooth warm and polite sounding DAC, but I imagine that the Black-Label could easily be the sound engineer favorite portable DAC.

    With the mentioned headphones and IEMs above, I prefer to match the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label with the less analytical sounding ones. Though pairing the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label with HD800 and T1 give and impressive transparent and holographic sonic presentation, but overall still rather too bright for my preference. The iFi micro iDSD Black-Label despite the small size also surprisingly able to drive the HiFiMan HE-6 quite well, but the pair also a bit too bright for me.
     

     
     
    So the headphones and IEMs that I consider pairs well with iFi micro iDSD Black-Label are:

    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
    Philips Fidelio X1
    STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S (Connected to Line Output)

    AK T8iE Mk2
    Brainwavz B200

    Most surprising is how iFi micro iDSD Black-Label improves the sound quality of the new Brainwavz B200, dual BA drivers IEM. B200 usually sounds polite with soft treble with my Onkyo DP-X1, not so much excitement. But when driven from iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, the treble suddenly shines and sparkling nicely. B200 sounds more lively and exciting with iFi micro iDSD Black-Label. Quite a significant improvement. The Audio-Technica ATH-R70x and STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S (Connected to Line Output) are also wonderful pairs with the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label.
     

     


    Comparison to iFi micro iDSD Headphone Output
    At the same volume level, the Black-Label sounds more powerful with greater dynamic and sense of driving power. Bass sounds slightly thicker, tighter, punchier, and has a better texture. I feel both bass and midrange texture and micro dynamic seems to be improved on the Black-Label, giving a slightly better perception of depth, transparency, and instruments separation. Treble is more or less the same, but on some recordings with sibilance, the sibilant sounds a tad more prominent on the older micro iDSD, and a tad less sharp on the Black-Label. Just a tad, basically the difference is quite small. The level of treble and treble sparkle are about the same, but with slightly different character. The sparkling character of the treble of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is somehow sounding a tad more natural to my ears. In summary, the Black-Label sounds more transparent, bolder, and more energetic than the previous micro iDSD. The difference is audible but not a night and day kind of differences. What I mean is, that if we already have the micro iDSD, I think it is not necessary to sell it to get the Black-Label. But if I have to choose, I would definitely choose the Black-Label over the silver micro iDSD.
     

    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label Line Output + iFi micro iCan
    I remember that in past, ever mentioned in the forum that some suggested to iFi to tweak the headphone amplifier of the micro iDSD to be closer to the sound signature of the micro iCan. So is the headphone amplifier of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label now sounds close to the micro iCan? Well not quite yet. The headphone output of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label sounds dryer than the iCan. In my opinion, the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label line output connected to micro iCan still sounds better. They do share some similarity, like the level of transparency, detail retrieval, and dynamic are probably about the same, but the micro iCan sounds slightly smoother and warmer that makes the micro iCan more friendly for analytical headphones like HD800 and T1. The micro iCan has slightly longer decay than the Black-Label headphone amplifier that makes it sounds less dry and more pleasing to my ears. I’m still hoping that one day I could have a new generation of micro iDSD with the headphone out sound quality that is similar to the micro iCan sound quality. So I don’t have to bring two units to enjoy the sound quality of the combination of micro iDSD + micro iCan. In the past, I’ve compared the line output sound quality of my micro iDSD to bigger and more expensive desktop DACs, and micro iDSD line output has been proven to exceed its price bracket. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label line output doesn’t disappoint and even improved it further on the transparency, detail, and instrument separation. Very impressive line output sound quality from such a small portable DAC. IMHO, iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is worth it even just for the DAC section alone.
     

     

     
     

    Chord Mojo (Headphone Output Comparisons)
    Listening to classical DSD tracks, Super Artists on Super Audio sampler vol.5 from Channel Classics Records, when using the analogy of medium and large concert hall, Chord Mojo sounds like we are listening to the concert in a medium size hall, with a tad better micro detail and impact. Listening to Chord Mojo is like sitting closer to the musical performance, more intimate presentation with a tad clearer micro detail and slightly better sense of micro-dynamic. iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, on the other hand, provides a more spacious sensation, like listening in a larger hall. Less intimate with a larger sense of space. iFi micro iDSD BL is also perceived as a tad smoother sounding than Mojo. The difference is not day and night, but quite easy to distinguish. Both performs admirably in their own ways. I do need more time for better comparison between Mojo and iFi micro iDSD Black-Label, but the most distinguishable difference is in the presentation, between the more intimate presentation of Mojo and the more holographic presentation of iFi micro iDSD Black-Label. Honestly, I can’t really tell which one is better. I guess it is not for better or worst but more about personal preference.


     
     
     
    Features and Measurement
     
    Both the older version of iFi micro iDSD and the Black-Label version have similar features and specifications, therefore I listed only the Black-Label version in this table of features.
     
    Table of Features in comparison to Chord Mojo:
    Parameter
    iFi micro iDSD Black-label​
    Chord Mojo​
    DAC
    Dual-Core Burr-Brown (2-DAC Chip)​
    Chord Custom FPGA DAC​
    PCM
    PCM 768/ 705.6/ 384/ 352.8/ 192/ 176.4/
    96/ 88.2/ 48/ 44.1kHz​
    PCM 768/ 705.6/ 384/ 352.8/ 192/ 176.4/
    96/ 88.2/ 48/ 44.1kHz​
    DSD
    up to DSD 512​
    up to DSD 256​
    Multi-platform compatibility
    Yes​
    Yes​
    USB Input
    USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket
    (with iPurifier® technology built-in)​
    Micro-B USB​
    SPDIF Coaxial Input
    RCA - Up to 192kHz PCM​
    3.5mm jack - Up to 768kHz PCM​
    SPDIF Optical Input
    Up to 192kHz PCM​
    Up to 192kHz PCM​
    SPDIF Output
    RCA Coaxial - Up to 192kHz PCM​
    -​
    USB to SPDIF Conversion
    Yes - Up to 192kHz PCM​
    -​
    Selectable Filter
    Yes - 3 options for each PCM and DSD​
    -​
    Analog Line Input
    Yes - 3.5mm socket​
    -​
    Analog Line Output
    Yes - Dedicated RCA​
    Integrated with headphone output​
    Line Output Level
    Direct: 2V Fixed
    PreAmp - Eco: 0 - 2.18 V
    Variable - Normal: 0 - 5.66 V
    Variable - Turbo: 0 - 6.43 V​
    0V - 4.79V Variable​
    Headphone Output
    1x 6.5mm socket​
    2x 3.5mm socket​
    Adjustable HO Gain
    Yes - 9 combinations​
    -​
    Maximum HO Voltage -
    measured @ 600 ohms load
    9.71 Vrms​
    4.79 Vrms​
    Maximum HO Current -
    measured @ 15 ohms load
    306 mA​
    199 mA​
    HO Output Impedance
    IEMatch Off: 0.34 ohms
    IEMatch High Sensitivity: 4.1 ohms
    IEMatch Ultra Sensitivity: 0.95 ohms​
    0.44 ohms​
    HO SNR @ 50 mV @ 33 ohms
    (for very sensitive IEM)
    Eco - Ultra Sens. : 87.3 dB
    Normal - Ultra Sens. : 87.0 dB
    Turbo - Ultra Sens. : 83.0 dB​
    82.9 dB​
    Volume Control
    Analog Potentiometer​
    Digital​
    Extra Features
    XBass Plus, 3D Matrix Plus, Polarity Switch,
    & USB Power Bank (5V, 1.5A)​
    -​
    Weight
    310g​
    180g​
    Dimension
    177mm (l) x 67mm (w) x 28mm(h)​
    82mm (l) x 60mm (w) x 22mm (h)​

     
    I did some test and observation of the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label features, like testing the iFi iPurifier® technology on the iFi micro iDSD Black-Label USB input and how effective that feature to remove unwanted EMI from USB audio, here:
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Unfortunately I cannot post all the features and measurement part here due to the maximum limit of the characters that can be posted in this section.
    Therefore, Please check the features and measurement part here:
     
    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label - In-Depth Review
     
     


    iFi micro iDSD Black-Label is probably the most unique and feature rich DAC+Amp combo in its class. The Black-Label version is a proof of iFi main priority in their design philosophy, which is sound quality. The Black-Label version has similar features to the older version of micro iDSD, and all the effort and improvement is only to achieve one goal, better sound quality. And I think iFi has achieved it. Kudos to iFi!
     
     

     

     

     

     
     



    Equipment used in this review

    Headphones:
    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
    Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7
    Beyerdynamic T1
    HiFiMan HE-6
    Massdrop HD6xx
    Sennheiser HD800
    Philips Fidelio X1
    STAX SR-L300 + SRM-252S
     
    In-Ear Monitors:
    1964 Audio V3 (universal)
    AK T8iE Mk2
    Brainwavz B200
    DUNU DN-2000
     
    DAC and Amplifiers:
    Chord Mojo
    iFi micro iDSD
    iFi micro iCan
    Audio-Technica AT-HA22Tube
     
    Measurement Equipment:
    QuantAsylum QA401 - 24-bit Audio Analyzer
    Owon VDS3102 - 100 MHz Digital Storage Oscilloscope
    Brymen BM829s - Digital Multimeter
    HRT LineStreamer+ - Analog to Digital Converter
    ZKE EBD-USB+ - USB Power Meter
     
    Computer & Player:
    DIY Desktop PC: Gigabyte GA-H77-D3H-MVP motherboard, Intel i7-3770, 16 GB RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit SP1.
    foobar2000 v1.3.12



    Some recordings used in this review:
     

    1. View previous replies...
    2. MLGrado
      nice!  I am still waiting on it.  I am near the end of the line for review.  I am also on the list to review the new Aune S6.  I am looking forward to that comparison!  
       
      I am curious about the cutoff you are talking about on PCM material.  Is it on PCM only?  Correct?  Hmmm.  Let me get my iDSD Micro out and have a listen.  This is not something I recall experiencing with my PC.  I think if I did have that issue I would remember because I would find it extremely annoying.  That is still one of the maddening things about USB audio, and I am sure it drives these companies crazy...  especially with PC audio, since hardware configs are practically unlimited in possible combinations, it is probably impossible to get it perfect for everyone.  
       
      I know over time these little glitches in the iFi software have improved immensely.  To the point where I felt the user experience was a good as one could expect considering all the functionality.  The software has come a long way, and I think that shows you both sides of the coin when your relatively small company has its own in house software and design team.  
      MLGrado, Feb 2, 2017
    3. MLGrado
      And thanks for the comparo with the Chord.  I have yet to hear a Chord product, but I know many swear by them. 
      MLGrado, Feb 2, 2017
    4. earfonia
      @MLGrado, Looking forward to your review!
      The initial silence is short on my micro iDSD, but a bit longer on micro iDSD BL that starts to get me annoyed. Hope I could find the right setting with foobar to get rid of it. 
      earfonia, Feb 3, 2017
  5. Sil3nce
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD
    Written by Sil3nce
    Published Jan 22, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Packed with features, Extremely strong amp section, Clean and resolving sound
    Cons - A little warm and tilted towards the lower spectrum, Not the best transparency, Too many features?
    *This review comes from my Portable Amp / Dac Shootout.
    Posted as a reference for users. For the full review, see: 
     
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/798562/portable-amp-dac-shootout-ifi-micro-idsd-vs-resonessence-concero-hp-vs-chord-mojo-vs-ifi-idac2-vs-hrt-microstreamer

     

     
    Manufacturer: iFi Audio

    Model: micro iDSD

    Price: $499 at musicdirect.com

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

    Power Connector: USB 3.0 Male, USB 3.0 Female

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

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

    1x SPDIF Coaxial

    1x SPDIF Optical

    Outputs: 1x RCA L+R

    1x SPDIF Coaxial

     

    Specifications:

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

     
    DAC

    Dual-core DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown

    2-DAC Chip; 4-Channel; 8-Signals, custom interleaving for maximum SNR

      Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect PCM processing

     
     

     

     

    Clock

    Ultra low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto Clock

    RMS jitter 12kHz – 1MHz < 280 Femtoseconds

     

     

     

    Audio Formats

    DSD 512/256/128/64

    24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

      DXD 2x/1x

    768/705.6/384/352.8kHz

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

      PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/

    48/44.1kHz

    All native decoding, no internal hardware conversion

     

     

     


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

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

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

     
    Overall Score: 8.9
     
        -Bass: 9
        -Mids: 9
        -Treble: 8.5
        -Transparency: 9
        -Dynamics/Transients: 9
        -Resolution/Details: 9
        -Soundstage/Presentation: 9
  6. 00lunar
    A marvelous all-arounder
    Written by 00lunar
    Published Jan 18, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Sound, functionality, build quality, price-to-performance ratio
    Cons - Nothing major. Black writing could be orange.
    Introductory word
     
    They say that once you go black.... yeah. This is quite self-explanatory. And behold, black iFi Audio product emerged. I can only say - finally. Cheers to 'em English folks. Even though I enjoy iFi stuff, I had a pleasure to know said manufacturer's every device out there, silver color doesn't make me pleasantly anxious. Don't get me wrong, it looks OK. It fits where it needs to fit. Though I wondered if we'll see black puppies from iFi, that was my desire number one for a long, long time. And to know that BL version is supposedly better than stock iDSD is yet another reason to be happy. Improvements are usually good in our hobby. And if a company with very extensive know-how is able to further improve its circuitry here and there, the outcome surely is something to look forward to. So we looked forward, waited. And waited. And then waited some more.
     
    _MG_3288.jpg
     
    My experience with iDSD Micro was very enjoyable overall. In order not to make this story longer than needed (it's long enough), let me just say that for the price, this was and still is IMO a very nice product to have. I believe that it defended itself over time, it held its ground firmly against numerous rivals. Several of my friends own one and are perfectly happy. Yes, they do AMR window shopping, but are happy nonetheless. When I used my iDSD Micro on the go with a laptop, its one feature stood out of the crowd, namely organics. With right tracks and right CIEMs/headphones, this deck had it. This lifelike, rich and musical approach I subjectively enjoy and pay attention to since literally forever.
     
    _MG_3302.jpg
     
    Original iDSD sound wasn't thin, dull, fuzzy or unpleasant in any way. For the money it was simply right. Chord Hugo elevated this experience to even greater extent, but for a completely different, much higher asking though. When my buddies asked me about a transportable DAC/amp combo they should buy, I suggested to go with iDSD Micro as a complete have-it-all package that'll cover most of their needs. If budget to spend was higher, Hugo was my pick. After many sources auditioned, my all time favorites up to $3'500 were iDSD Micro, Hugo and desktop AURALiC Vega in that logical order exactly, namely from the most affordable to the most pricey.
     
    _MG_3290.jpg
     
    Years have passed, iDSD is no longer with me and the same story is with Hugo. I'm a home stereo person of heavy calibre these days. But iDSD BL is something I noticed in an instant. One of my friends planned to grab one unit for his own needs anyway. Needless to say, I've exploited his kindness. In short, to evaluate iDSD BL's skills, ENIGMAcoustic Dharma D1000 and HiFiMAN HE-1000 V1 cans were very helpful in writing this piece. Apologies for not being able to compare said English deck to any competition as I currently don't own anything suitable for the job.
     
    Functionality and stuff
     
    Before we'll dive into the sound, a word about fit'n'finish and said product's functionality. iDSD BL is a typical iFi Audio device, nothing much can be said about it as there's been a lot of reviews out there already. That's hardly any surprise at all. In any case, black iDSD Micro looks dandy. Subjectively this color is great, much better than the original. Stealthy impressions, anyone? Yes, please. And the paint job itself is done nicely too, even all across the product's chassis. Orange writings do the trick nicely as well. Perhaps this is just me, but black&orange mix is something that IMO simply works. My only gripe is with our English deck's bottom. Some descriptions visible there are orange, whereas vast majority is black, therefore unreadable while looking directly at the product. This could have been done better. Therefore please iFi, put orange lettering everywhere. The product is durable, every part of its chassis is nicely finished and properly matched. Rubbery knobs look more decently than in the original, namely aren't wobbly at all, but my memory might not serve me well here. 3D and Xbass knobs feel solid and properly clicky. I can't remember how these functions were implemented in the first iDSD Micro. But their input is very audible.   
     
    _MG_3305.jpg
       
    As far as iDSD BL functionalities go, things are as good as they get for the price. This device can be used as an S/PDIF converter which I've exploited in home stereo with ease. FPGA based Audiobyte Hydra-X+ was audibly better in this task (greater resolution, even punchier and organic sound, a bit blacker background and wider imaging), but not by a lot. And Audiobyte's thing was sold for about $800 or so, these days it's in EOL state. Moving on, the ability to bypass iDSD BL's volume control is handy. Just for the sake of this review I've tried this product in standalone and heavy $$$ environment solely as a source and it handled itself in there nicely. Nowhere near my main DACs (LampizatOr Golden Gate, AMR DP-777). Yet to a point where the switch from said sources wasn't painful, which is more than surprising. Volume bypass will be probably very rarely exploited, but it's good that iDSD BL's signal path can be shortened when needed.
     
    _MG_3293.jpg
     
    iEMatch works as intended, we'll return to this topic down below, for now I can only write that it simply does the job with my Vision Ears VE5. I'm not a huge fan of filtering of any sort, therefore bit-perfect mode is my path with every source out there (LampizatOr excluded for obvious reasons, DSD upsampling is mandatory in this product's case). And during two weeks spent with iDSD BL I have to confess that I've used it as a power bank two times. Not much to say here, it charged my phone no questions asked and literally saved the day.
     
    _MG_3295.jpg
     
    Some people might be picky about iDSD BL's size and I understand this as its bulky. But once my mate shared it with me, I've always had it with while going to work, to a point where it became a habit. To have it developed in such short time counts for something. And once on the spot, iFi's deck worked with a laptop all day. Needless to say, I got attached to it as quickly as with the original iDSD Micro years back. And I got used to iDSD Bl's size, that's not an issue for me as I don't do smartphone + DAC/amp rubber-strapped on-the-go combos, that's not my thing. Functionality wise, iDSD BL covered all of my needs and in proper, predictable fashion. This kind of a package for this kind of dough I consider as a steal. YMMV, though. In the end, would I change anything in said machine's design/functionality? Orange writing aside, at the moment no, not really. Perhaps over longer time span I'd nitpick something, but not past my two weeks adventure. The loaner turned out to be a perfectly healthy deck. No hiccups, hisses or any other unpleasant surprises happened along the road. And dead silent too.
     
    Sound
     
    Let's move to sound quality. iDSD BL was used solely as a transportable integrated solution as this is its main function. My guess is that vast majority of you out there use that exactly and rarely anything else. Vision Ears VE5 came in as the first order of business. These are sensitive, midrange focused, bass light and wide sounding little devils. What they need is a bit more body and shove downstairs to sound properly. iDSD BL delivered just that and without any resolution loss. Also, this transportable deck doesn't sound sharp at all once burned-in. At least not with highly resolving VE5 CIEMs. These not only sounded clean and very informative, therefore as per usual (...and presumably to iEMatch tech inside iDSD BL), but also properly punchy, with spot-on texturing and imaging as wide as per usual. In short, I couldn't single out one particular element of this listening session that bothered me. Perhaps because of my subjective, not overly analytical and at times forgiving approach. When the overall experience is simply enjoyable for me, I'm not into pigeonholing. And that was the case with iDSD BL and VE5 combo. It was pleasant and highly synergistic, simple as that. Come to think of it, Lotoo PAW Gold provided me with even more lifelike experience a while back, yet for what iDSD BL is, it turned out great with said German CIEMs. A word about Xbass trickery is in order, though. With VE5 this works like a charm. In short, Xbass pumps up both the lowest and above departments in said CIEMs in a particularly great fashion, yet at no cost at all. I can't say the same thing with D1000, these cans subjectively don't need it. But VE5? Holy cow...    
     
    _MG_3307.jpg
        
    Moving on, it was high time to use the main headphones - HE-1000. Their slightly mellow, wide and enjoyable character pushed all my buttons in an instant. These cans are the reason why I sold my Sennheisers HD 800 and never looked back. The distinctive difference between these two models is in company needs. 800s crave for a very specific amplification to sound good, usually times more expensive. Picture Bakoon HPA-21, Trilogy 933 and (poor version) old Phoenix amp by Audio-Gd. HE-1000 on the other hand will go with literally everything out there in more enjoyable fashion. Heck, I've had a blast with these and HiFiMAN's SuperMini DAP. It didn't drove 'em to their full potential, but the outcome was pleasant still. I expected nothing less from iDSD BL. In short and in above mentioned headphones' case, this deck provides what's needed.
     
    _MG_3296.jpg
     
    First of all, this transportable machine has lots of juice to handle HE-1000, which roughly translates to properly punchy attitude. Said cans can be a bit too mellow and watery (yet not boring!) at times, but with iDSD BL the sound is honestly feisty and engaging. Proper crack and shove is there, nicely rounded, generously textured and not overly contour or stiff. The gist is that their amazing soundstage is as wide and deep as usual, nothing is missing in there. The layering is grand too, one can peel off rows one by one with decently recorded tracks. And at this point it's worth to know that iDSD BLS as a package is slightly on the warmer side. Not cold, bluntly warm or plainly fuzzy and overly cozy in the process. It is simply spot-on in that regard, even though not being neutral in 100%. The density is there too, but not overbearing. HE-1000's bass never became boomy or unpleasant, but what it had instead is both proper control and great texturing. The midrange felt quite vivid and clear at the same time, the resolution was there too. To hear all 'em tasty details properly flavored, vibrant in the process and without any veiling at all is a fabulous experience in general.
     
    _MG_3303.jpg
     
    HE-1000's highs were decent too, without metallic tint, yet finely decayed, smooth and present. There was no need to either tighten their screw or make it a bit loose. Yet again, YMMV. But what stood out of the crowd is this 'organics' feature I've mentioned above. The gist is that iDSD BL and HE-1000 combo is tangible, vivid and with this lifelike tissue present all across the board. This in my book seals the deal as said feature is the one I'm subjectively after. It distinguishes good equipment from great one and said iFi's deck is able to pull this off. I could now dive into "I'd tweak this, I'd tweak that", but that'd be unnecessary nitpicking past HE-1000 experience. Let me simply state that the outcome was very involving and subjectively enjoyable as a whole. And at this point it was clear to me that iDSD BL doesn't fulfill the magnifying glass duties, it's focus is in texturing instead of sterile dissection. And that's always good for this audiophile.
     
    _MG_3291.jpg
     
    Next in line were Dharma D1000 cans. I'll allow myself to be somewhat shorter here, as HE-1000 was my main evaluation tool. The initial observation was that these headphones' rich, expansive and well-textured aspects behaved as per usual with iDSD BL. Said transportable piece allowed them to be what they are. Simple, ain't it? The bass was punchy, well-bodied and was of pleasant nature in general. It didn't sound distorted and with ENIGMAcoustics product that was the case once or twice. But the lowest extension wasn't there, it was hard to shake off the feeling that these cans put emphasis on upper bass region. Additionally, their tonal balance is usually shifted a bit towards downstairs department and this was heard as well. But because of SBESL driver, the FR is complete nonetheless, or at least it feels like it. These features make Dharma D1000 a rather unique performer, peculiar to say the least, yet pleasant overall. My point is that iDSD BL showed all that and of proper quality. Bass we've already covered, yet moving above things are tasty too. Grain-free, smooth and texturally rich vocals among other things simply work. I honestly hadn't had a viable reason to complain.
     
    _MG_3306.jpg
     
    Yes, HE-1000 gets this midrange job in even better and more organic way and price wise it should. But Dharmas represent somewhat similar, joy focused approach and iFi's product is perfectly capable of delivering it. Highs are one of American cans' trademarks. These are nicely extended, have proper body and are free from overbearing shininess. Some good words can be said about imaging as well. Everything is in order there, though in D1000 case it was heard, that iDSD BL tends to paint a picture somewhat shorter than usual. That wasn't the case with HE-1000 or VE5, on the contrary to this paragraph's main cans. The same story is with resolving power, it was slightly decreased with these and again, I had no reasons to be vocal about it during two other models' listening sessions. The gist is that the overall experience was of enjoyable sort. I got the impression that iDSD BL was able to show their character in a proper way. The outcome was less spectacular than with HE-1000, but that was somewhat expected. And Dharmas D1000 are strange.
     
    Summary
     
     
     
    I'll try to make this chapter as short as possible. iFi Audio iDSD BL is a great product to have. It's well-made, exceptionally versatile, quite convenient to use, has enough power to handle literally every set of cans out there and it's price-to-performance ratio is - in my humble opinion - off the charts. I can't tell, perhaps for iDSD BL's $549 asking, things can be different sound wise, to some of you even better. But what counts for me is that this English deck sounds really good and it sports that organic, tension-free and tangible approach, which I never have enough of. Hence if someone asks me what transportable and affordable device to buy, "Go for iDSD BL, you'll thank me later" is my answer.   
     
    1. some leftovers:
     
    _MG_3297.jpg _MG_3304.jpg
    _MG_3300.jpg _MG_3299.jpg
    1. View previous replies...
    2. frogmeat69
      Yeah, I wonder the same thing? Deal breaker how?
      frogmeat69, Jan 19, 2017
    3. Wyd4
      Great review thanks :)
      RCA Deal breaker indeed.
      I hate how my original iDSD conveniently plugs into my amp via RCA.  Drives me nuts :p
      Wyd4, Jan 19, 2017
    4. Krisna13
      Very well written review, good job!
      Krisna13, Mar 9, 2017
  7. bapspidoff
    iDSD Micro Black Label - An incremental improvement to an already outstanding product (World Tour Review)
    Written by bapspidoff
    Published Jan 17, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Noticeably improved bass and smoother sound compared to the original.
    Cons - Volume knob position is hard to see on the black edition. I prefer the look of the silver to the black.
    First of all, thank you so much to Ifi-Audio for sending me a black edition to review for free! Really awesome of them to involve the audio community to such a degree.
     
    I will keep this review relatively simple. I have the original silver Micro iDSD so it only makes sense to compare the two. I A/B tested the two units side by side while listening to some go-to tracks on my HifiMan HE-500 headphones. I had XBass enabled and 3D disabled for every track (just my personal preference). I did my best to volume match them by ear but I’m sure it was not perfect.
     
    Tracks I used for testing:
     
    Kurt Vile - Wheelhouse
    Danny Brown - Get Hi
    Neon indian - Local Joke (tons of sibilance on this terribly mastered track, so a good test)
    Dirty projectors - About to Die
    Dinosaur Jr. - Plans
    Matthew Dear - Ahead of Myself
     
    After listening (and re-listening) to these 6 tracks I found that I was hearing the same differences over and over again and so I felt comfortable sharing my fairly conclusive findings.
     
    Results:
     
    1. These two units are different but not to a startling degree. They are still similar in overall sound.
    1. The clearest improvement to the Black unit is far and above the bass. The bass goes deeper and hits harder. This was apparent in every song. The added bass makes listening to the Black edition quite enjoyable. I will miss the added bass when going back to my original Micro iDSD!
    2. Time and time again I found the Black unit to be smoother than the original Micro iDSD. Sibilance is less noticeable on poorly mastered tracks and the overall presentation of the music is easier on the ears. The black edition sounds silky where the silver, by comparison, sounds more dry. The black sounds cleaner and has a sound signature that is a bit more immersive.
    3. The black edition has an improved soundstage, but only marginally so. It seems deeper and more realistic.
    4. Detail retrieval is basically identical between the two units. I found that I sometimes noticed details more readily on the Silver unit but that could be because it sounds slightly “brighter” than the black.
    5. When I briefly tried out the 3D setting, I found it to be much more enjoyable than on the original silver unit. I never use it on my old unit because it makes the sound too bright for my taste. The 3D enabled on the black edition colored the sound it a pleasant, perhaps more immersive way. I could definitely see myself using 3D on the black edition.
     
    I think that the differences between the two units can be distilled to this:
     
    The black edition is a marginal but not insignificant upgrade to the original. The bass is much improved and it sounds smoother overall.
     
    That being said, would I upgrade to the black edition? Probably not. One reason I wouldn’t is I actually much prefer the look of the silver unit to the black edition. It looks more high-end in my opinion. One thing that quickly annoyed me about the black edition is the inability to see the position of the volume knob. Such is the trade-off with black-on-black design. A dark grey unit would be the best of both worlds, in my opinion.
     
    I think if you are buying a Micro iDSD for the first time, shelling out the extra cash for the black edition is an absolute no-brainer. Do it. It’s an excellent sounding unit - Ifi-Audio moved the ball forward on this one and the original was (and is) fantastic so that is no small feat. Upgrading from the original to the black is a harder decision. I would personally be more inclined to upgrade to something that is a big jump in quality, not an iterative improvement.
      blackyangell and proedros like this.
  8. heliosphann
    Great things come in small packages.
    Written by heliosphann
    Published Jan 16, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Huge feature set, compact, powers almost anything and plays almost anything.
    Cons - Poor LED placement, volume knob not marked well, battery can't charge while playing on USB power.
    *I was provided a review sample by iFi for the Black Label tour*
     
     
    iFi Micro iDSD BLACK LABEL
     
    Packaging and Build Quality
     
    The iDSD Black Label came packaged in a sturdy, well presented box. Most welcome were the plethora of accessories that it came with. Multiple different kinds of cables, connectors a storage bag and even rubber feet for the main unit. The lack of accessories is one complaint I've personally had with several other mid to high end audiophile amps/dacs, etc... iFi certainly didn't skimp in this area and I'm very happy they didn't. Also included was a small, but very well written instruction manual/guide.
     
    I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the micro iDSD BL unit itself. I actually thought it'd be bigger, but the size to me is very spot on. I was also always a little weary of the long, rectangular form factor, but it turns out it's quite accommodating. This makes it especially handy if you had a small area/work-space and real estate was a premium. The unit feels very sturdy and has a good weight to it, but it's not excessively heavy for portable use. I must say, the black matte finish with the orange markings looks fantastic. The numerous switches located on every side of the unit (minus the top) are very well marked and have great mechanical and tactile feel. I only had a few issues with the physical build of the micro iDSD BL. My biggest was with the placement of the sole LED indicator. It's placed towards the top/rear of the unit on a bevel and if placed to the left of you, is impossible to see. Placement towards the front of the unit, possibly right above the volume pot would be far more effective. It would also be nice if the LED, or perhaps a secondary one, would display if you are using USB Power or Battery Power. I also felt that the volume knob should have used some of the orange paint to mark the position indicator.
     
    Features and Sound Quality
     
    One thing for certain about the micro iDSD Black Label is it certainly isn't lacking in features. This is one very versatile piece of kit. I utilized most of the features that I would normally have if I owned this unit. That means I didn't didn't use the IEM matching as I only use full size headphones. I also didn't utilize the smart charging feature, but that's certainly a great feature if you plan on taking this unit on the go.
     
    I mostly used used the Black Label with several PC's via USB. The software download was super easy and installation was a breeze. Using Foobar I went through pretty much every format the micro iDSD could handle. With the exception of DSD/DXD, everything played exceptional. The sample rate change delay was slightly longer than some units I've used, but nothing too excessive. Back to the DSD/DXD playback, I initially had a few playback issues, but they were quickly remedied by increasing the buffer size. DSD all the way up to 256 and DXD played very well after that. I also used the Black Label as a portable unit with my iBasso DX80 as a transport via digital-coax and was very pleased by the results. I didn't run down the battery completely during my testing. However, the listed playtimes even in Turbo Mode, are more than acceptable.
     
    During my time with the Black Label, I used a variety of different full sized headphones with the unit. Everything I threw at it was easily powered from the HE-1000 to the HD650. I found myself mostly using the Normal and Turbo power mode depending on the headphone, although the ECO setting was nice to have especially if you wanted to get longer battery usage. The XBass Plus setting was solid as far as bass booster's go. Most of the headphones I used with the Black Label didn't really need it, but I quite enjoyed it when using my stock HD800. The 3D Matrix Plus feature was interesting, but I overall found myself not using it much. It seemed very dependent on the source material and the headphone used. On some headphones I felt it added far too much treble and on headphones with great soundstage/imaging it sometimes sounded strange. However, I did quite enjoy it with my TH900's.
     
    As I mentioned earlier, the micro iDSD Black Label did a great job powering all the headphones I threw at it. I also felt the sound quality the Black Label delivered was solid. Just straight out with base settings, the Black Label delivers a fairly neutral sound. I own a Chord Mojo and decided to do some A/Bing of the two with my DX80 feeding both as a transport via Digital Coax. I consider the Mojo to be an exceptional piece of hardware and feel it delivers far above it's price class. When comparing the Black Label to the Mojo, I felt it fell behind in a few areas. Most notable soundstage, instrument separation and detail retrieval were lacking. The Black Label also felt slightly warmer than the Mojo. All this aside, the iDSD sill sounded very good and I honestly prefer many of it's aesthetics over the Mojo.
     
    Final Thoughts
     
    Overall the iFi micro iDSD Black Label is a fantastic portable amp/dac, especially at its price point. This is a great all-in-one unit that can be used in a multitude of ways and is able to play pretty much any format out there. I’d easily recommend it to someone who’s looking at similar priced/featured portable amp/dac units.
      Vartan likes this.
  9. dburna
    iFi Audio Micro iDSD BL - Tour Review
    Written by dburna
    Published Jan 10, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Sound improvements across-the-board vs. the original (silver) iDSD; greatly improved headphone sound
    Cons - Hard to see volume level on volume knob (minor)
    I was fortunate to be part of the iDSD BL Tour (US).  Below are my findings of a direct comparison versus the existing iDSD (silver) which I own.
     
     
    IMG_20170105_184441.jpg
     
     
     
     
    A couple introductory notes on my review (skip this if you just want the conclusions, though it provides useful context):
    • The set-up (pictured) is my work-at-home rig; I listen to the iDSD on a desktop set-up, rarely as a portable rig.
    • I also listen through JBL LSR305 active monitors a lot as I need to be on/off the phone for work and switching headphones to phone and back again all day is a pain. The 305s are surprisingly good for low cash.
    • I tried the setup comparison between iDSD and iDSD BL (called BL going forward) with all listed headphones but keeping the rest of the rig (iFi USB purifier, cables, iUSB) constant. As the picture shows, I had both iDSD and BL side-by-side so I could just move cables in seconds to compare specific passages, not just whole songs.
    • I did some tweaking with all kinds of settings, just for comparison, but I don't play around with these in 'real' listening – I find most of the knobs and switches useful for dialing in a good combination with whatever particular headphones I am using, then I leave them alone. However, I do appreciate the flexibility these different settings provide for personal customization.
    • For two days I listened solely to the BL. I find plugging in a new component can appear to make it sound 'better' at first mainly because it is different. I wanted to “get to know” the BL before doing any comparison.
    • Bottom line: during those two initial days, I enjoyed the heck out of the BL. It's a more immersive experience than the iDSD.
     
    Summary:
    • iDSD BL > original iDSD (possibly '>>', though I hate hyperbole, especially my own)
    • BL's black color is classier than iDSD silver.....but I'm not a fan of silver, so YMMV.
    • BL has better dynamics, air, soundstage depth, and bass control.
    • BL has a fuller, more refined presentation; iDSD seems a little thin in comparison.
    • BL seems considerably more powerful.....even though the specs for both seem the same. I had to turn the volume down ¼ to 1/8 on the BL dial to achieve similar volume with the iDSD. Start low with your initial settings, fellow tour members – you could be in for a loud surprise. 
    • I think BL's 3D and xBass are better, but the difference was subtle to my ears. They may be better on the BL, but the major difference was the overall sound improvement. That seemed to dominate any differences I could hear in the 3D/XBass comparison.....but that's just me.
    • BL had me just listening/enjoying for days without any nagging critical audiophile thoughts; I can't achieve quite the same level of immersion with the iDSD.
    • The better/more revealing your headphones are, the more pronounced the difference should be.
    • One (minor) suggested improvement: it would be good if there was an orange line on the volume control notch. It is hard to see the volume level on the BL, easier on the silver iDSD.
    • Sennheiser Momentum Over-Ears recommended only for cell phone/mobile use. :)) Now I understand what people mean when people say they are bass-heavy. Bass didn't seem so pronounced using my anemic cell phone. I'll keep using them when on-the-go.....not at home.
    • I don't like in-ear 'phones pretty much at all. Not comfortable to my ears, and I've tried more than a few. Not going to pony up for custom IEMs.
     
    By the end of my “tour time”, I lost interest in comparing the two and just wanted to maximize my time with the BL. The devil on my shoulder kept suggesting, “Hey Dave, just slap a coat of black paint on your iDSD and send that along to the next reviewer. I doubt anyone would notice.”
    ANSWER: Yes – yes they would.
     
    Job very well done, iFi. The BL is is an evolutionary improvement in most ways over the iDSD. Anyone still using an iDSD (like me), don't run it over with a truck – not that this would hurt the iDSD in any way. The iDSD is still a fine performer and I am quite happy with mine. However, the BL is noticeably better and well worth the audition, even if you are considering more expensive gear.
     
    -dB (with audiophile envy - again.....curse you, iFi)
     
     
     
    Equipment Used:
    • JBL LSR305 active monitors
    • Macbook Pro
    • iTunes, JRiver
    • Monoprice RCA-to-XLR cables
    • Stock iFi input cables
    • Headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Over-Ears v1.0, Sennheiser HD650s with Stefan Audio Art cables, KZ ATE KZ-ATE Dynamic Balanced Armature IEMs (bargain basement ear buds)
     
    Music Used:
    • Wes Montgomery “Echoes of Indiana Avenue” (2016)
    • Andy Narell & Relator “University of Calypso” (2009)
    • These Immortal Souls “I'm Never Going to Die Again” (1992)
    • Sean Watkins “What to Fear” (2016)
    • Vilde Frang “Korngold, Britten Violin Concertos” (2016)
    • Various Artists “Bureau B – Katalog I” sampler
    • Roedelius Schneider “Stunden” (2011)
    • Erroll Garner “Ready Take One” (2016)
    • Alejandro Escovedo “Burn Something Beautiful” (2016)
    • The Spinanes “Strand” (1996)
      lucasbrea and proedros like this.
  10. mathieu89
    IDSD Black label - A great gear ... Not only for Headphones
    Written by mathieu89
    Published Jan 9, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - True hifi gear - Quality for monney - Powerfull enough output to drive power amps
    Cons - none
    The unit arrived in perfect condition, packaged in the  usual iFi nice boxing.
     
    - The IDSD was powered through the  iUSB2 unit and an Uptone power supply
    I don't use headphnes, so my judgement is only valid for the RCA output.
    We connected it on two different hifi systems :
    1 - Krell / Vecteur Alpha / with and without the  Audio Research Preamp. USB cables is  Absolute Creation and  Howland for the RCA and speakers
    2 - A large Acoustat  44 electrostatic system, amplified with Electrocompanie mono amps, with and without a modified Perreaux SM3 preamp.
    Audio files are all non compressed, mainly Classical and Jazz (P.Herreweghe/Beethoven/9th - Harnoncourt/Haydn/7th words of Christ/Teldec - McGegan/Arias for Mantegnana- Ahmal Jamal/Live concert ...)

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

    Once again, AMR/iFi gives the opportunity to put one foot in the 'tru living music' for many audio enthousiasts. Thanks !
    I don't see any concurrence below 2000e to beat the  IDSD, and even more the  Black label. A true bargain.
     
    Mathieu