iFi audio iDSD Black Label is our major step towards making our original nano iDSD even better. The latter device handles MQA files, provides even better sound quality and sports our proprietary iEMatch technology on-board as well.

iFi audio nano iDSD Black Label

Rating:
4.34783/5,
  • iFi audio iDSD Black Label is our major step towards making our original nano iDSD even better. The latter device can handle MQA files, provides even better sound quality and sports our proprietary iEMatch technology on-board as well.

    Power your headphones. Big style.
    With maximum output power (32R) around 10 times that of iPhone 6 (285mW vs. 27mW), the nano iDSD Black Label can drive most headphones on the market.

    Uber convenient
    It’s small, lightweight and battery powered. You can take the nano iDSD Black Label everywhere you go and it won’t drain your phone’s battery.Just switch on the BL first and then plug in your device. The Lithium Polymer battery gives the nano iDSD Black Label 10 hours of non-stop musical enjoyment.It also has a special USB male ‘A’ connector for a direct connection. Use a USB-to-Lightning (Apple) or OTG connector (Android). Or if at home, just use the enclosed USB3.0 cable to connect to a PC.Stream Apple Music/Google Play/Spotify/Tidal/Youtube content from your phone to a whole other level of quality. Add kick-a** sound to your gaming by connecting your console or computer.

    Master Quality Authenticated
    iFi always strives to bring you choice. We’ve added yet another file format to our portfolio in the form of MQA in the new BL. Take TIDAL or your MQA file to a whole new level.MQA is an audio technology developed by Bob Stuart. This technology makes hi-res audio streaming a reality and delivers studio master quality audio to your headphones.

    High-Res Audio Certified
    The nano iDSD Black Label is one of the best native highest-resolution DACs you can find, supporting PCM up to 32/384 kHz and DSD up to 256 times the sample rate of a CD, even on Mac OSX* and mobile phones*. It is also certified ‘High-Res Audio’ according to the stringent criteria set down by JEITA and JAS (Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association and Japan Audio Society). Don’t accept low-resolution music!(*firmware upgrade needs to be applied to enable DSD256 on all devices)

    Perfect your listening pleasure
    The nano iDSD Black Label lets you choose between the ‘Listen’ (Minimum Phase Bezier Filter) and ‘Measure’ (Linear Phase Transient Aligned Filter) options. It’s the only portable DAC to give you so much control.

    Compatible. Like no other.
    The new headphone amplifier delivers more than double the power of the original nano iDSD into 16 Ohm and over four times the power into high-impedance headphones. Meanwhile, the built-in IEMatch circuit ensures that even extremely sensitive headphones and IEMs are ‘hiss free’ throughout the volume range.The nano iDSD Black Label also includes the S-Balanced wiring system for the headphone outputs, giving the full benefit of balanced outputs when used with headphones and IEMs (fitted with balanced wiring) with low-noise and lower distortion. Even unbalanced headphones benefit, as S-Balanced cuts crosstalk in half (without the need to re-wire headphones to benefit).

    As is the AMR/iFi DNA, we love to audition and vet new parts as they come onto the market and where possible, use the ultimate components. Whereas some shun internals pictures, we always strive to show ‘what’s under the hood’ as customers like to make informed purchasing decisions based upon sonics and outright ‘sound for the pound’. The nano iDSD Black Label, while very affordable, is packed to the rafters with boutique components. Here are just a few:

    1. Thin Film Resistors for audio section lower noise & distortion than standard metal film or carbon film types.
    2. Tantalum Polymer Capacitors for Power Supplies.
    3. TDK C0G capacitors for the analogue filter.
    4. Panasonic ECPU Film Capacitor for critical DAC reference voltage.
    5. Analogue volume control potentiometer for best sound quality.
    6. Dual-Mono Headphone amplifier with 3.5mm TRRS balanced wiring all the way to the amplifier, despite the amplifier being single-ended this delivers all the benefits of balanced wiring.
    7. Built-in iEMatch using MELF resistors for transparent matching of very sensitive headphones and/or IEMs.

Recent Reviews

  1. Necron99
    iFi Nano iDSD BL (Connectivity and portability)
    Written by Necron99
    Published Apr 5, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Connects to almost anything!
    Small and compact. Good for PC and or Mac desktops. IEMs and headphones audio options.
    Cons - You're going to need a lot of cables!
    You'll need to find a carry case for the Nano Black and all the cables you'll need.
    iFi Nano iDSD Black


    Connectivity and cables

    Have a lot of gear at work and at home? Worried if the iFi Nano iDSD Black can work with all your gear? Well here’s a post of the Nano Black and all the gear I connected it to.

    1) Connectivity (digital and analog)

    The Nano BL has built in USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket. This means if you wish to connect to either a Micro B OTG, USB C OTG, and or the Apple Camera Connecter you’ll need to purchase these perspective cables accordingly. The Nano BL has the needed cables for PC.

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    Figure 1

    From left to right. USB C OTG, Micro B OTG, Apple Camera Connector, generic Apple Camera Connector, USB A Female to B Female Cable*, USB A Female to B Female Adapter*, and a USB 3.0 A Male to A Female cable*. * These are included with the Nano Black, the rest ARE NOT!

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    Figure 2

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    Figure 3


    PC

    USB A Female to B Female Cable, USB A Female to B Female Adapter*, and a USB 3.0 A Male to A Female and special guest the iFi Mercury 3.0.

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    iFi Nano Black and the Matrix Audio M-Stage HPA-2 Classic

    Nano connected to a PC via the iFi Mercury 3.0


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    iFi Nano Black and the Matrix Audio M-Stage HPA-2 Classic


    While not all of these are necessary, they can be used with whatever gear and or wires you may already own. While you can use the Nano directly connecting to the PC, it's best you download the drivers from iFi’s site. I personally recommend the Mercury 3.0 cables. Smooth sound!


    Apple

    USB C OTG, Apple Camera Connector, generic Apple Camera Connector, and USB 3.0 A Male to A Female.

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    Figure 7

    The USB C OTG and or USB 3.0 A Male to A Female is needed for Macs and or Mac Books. The Apple Camera Connector is to be used for iPads, iPhones, and or iTouch/iPod OS 10 and above. The generic Apple Camera Connector can be used on ALL Apple products OS 9.3 and below. In case you’re wondering why you would do this, the iPods 5th generation and below have Wolfson sound chips. Best you go find one while you still can…

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    Figure 8 Mini Mac and the Nano Black Figure 9 Mini Mac audio via the Nano Black.


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    Figure 10
    Mac Book and Nano Black

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    Mac Book Pro audio output control panel

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    6th Generation iPod/iTouch connected via Apple Camera Connector to the Nano Black

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    5th Generation iPod/iTouch connected via Apple camera connector to Nano Black



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    Figure 15

    5th Generation iPod/iTouch connected via generic Apple camera connector to Nano Black



    Pioneer XDP-300R


    Needed the Micro B OTG on this. Not a problem.

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    Pioneer XDP-300R connected via Micro B OTG to the Nano Black



    Shanling M2 & M3s


    USB C OTG worked like a charm.
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    Shanling M3s and the Nano Black via the USB C OTG cable

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    Shanling M2 connected via USB C OTG to the Nano Black


    Cayin i5

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    Cayin i5 connected via USB C OTG



    Analog audio output


    While the Nano has an audio output, there is no audio input so those of you looking to use it this way, cannot. As for the audio output it can't be used as a preamp, just as a DAC. The audio output is fixed, so your external gear will have handle the sound output.



    3.5 to RCA outputs or a 3.5 male to 3.5 male cables are your friend if you wish to go this route.

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    Figure 24 & 25



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    Figure 26, 27, & 28

    iF Nano Black and the Matrix Audio M-Stage HPA-2 Classic

    With this in mind, there isn't ANYTHING I could not connect this amp to. Worked flawlessly with PC’s, Mac Books, Mini Macs, iTouch, (the included cables and or the Apple Camera Connecter) the Shanling M2 & M3s as well as the Cayin i5. (USB-C OTG) Pioneer XDP-300R (Micro B OTG)


    So if you have any concerns about this Nano connecting with your gear, don’t worry.



    PART II


    iFi Nano iDSD BL (size and portability)

    Think of this, if you pardon the play on words, an OTG view of the Nano Black!

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    Figure 1

    The included accessories and cables of the Nano.


    Size and weight, hah! This thing is nice and compact. However it is a little bulky (thick). So those of you with large size DAPs, may need to check and see if this won’t be a problem for you. A decent sized bag or space in your backpack should suffice. So while not thin, its size isn’t that overwhelming. Also you will need to consider getting shorter and more compact OTG cables to use. Longer, unyielding ones can be problematic in tight spaces.
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    Side view comparisons of the

    Little Bear B4, Oppo HA-2 SE, Chord Mojo, xDuoo XD-05 and the iFi Nano iDSD Black.

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    The Nano Black and a Little Bear B4

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    The Nano Black and an Oppo HA-2 SE

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    The Chord Mojo and the Nano Black


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    An xDuoo XD-5 and the Nano Black

    The Nano comes with a carry bag, but it is not big enough to carry all the included cables or the OTG ones you may need for your particular gear.

    When not being used or in transport I don’t like using just bags, I prefer a solid case. So behold a Lowepro carry case I found on sale in Hong Kong.

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    Figure 12 Figure 13

    Hard case Storage space

    So does everything that came with it fit? Yes it does!

    So as you can tell, it isn’t that much thicker than both the B4 and the XD-5 and just a tad wider and thicker than the Mojo. So size shouldn't be an issue. Unless, of course, you love the HA-2’s thinner size.

    So that concludes the connectivity and portability aspect of this 3 part review. Sound is forth coming. See you all soon!
      Metamodern Sounds and rayliam80 like this.
    1. Hyde00
      Awesome review!!! I'm actually in the market to purchase a portable dac/amp. My top choice is the ifi nano black label but I'm also considering oppo ha-2se or chord mojo.

      Curious as to if you manage to finish the next part review, really interested as to how it stack up against oppo ha-2se and chord mojo.

      Again thanks for the great review!
      Hyde00, Jul 29, 2018
  2. Dobrescu George
    iFi iDSD Nano Black Label - Mighty Little One
    Written by Dobrescu George
    Published Mar 17, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent sonic quality, Textures, Timing, Deep Bass, Similar sound to iDSD Micro BL, Excellent Portability, Sleeker Design, Affordable Price, Great Ergonomics, Transparent
    Cons - A tad too little driving power for harder-to-drive headphones, but not a huge con at this price.
    iFi iDSD Nano Black Label - Mighty Little One

    iFi made the world a bit brighter when they designed and started selling their iDSD Micro BL, which we reviewed in the past, and now they are back at it again. iFi iDSD Nano Black Label is the refinement (Black Label) version of their highly acclaimed iFi iDSD Nano DAC/AMP, which made a many music enthusiasts on a budget happy back when it was released. We're going to look at what iDSD Nano BL brings to the mix!

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    Introduction

    iFi is a large company, part of the Abbingdon Music Research Group (AMR), which by itself is one of UK's largest audio equipment designers and producers. iFi has been known for a good while for their very healthy ethics, excellent standards of work and extended customer support, providing service and friendly support even for products which have been long out of their warranties. iFi is also one of the companies which is quickest to answer fan / customer mail and questions and they are always managing tours for their products, and designing new awesome products, both standalone (like the one we are reviewing today), and add-on products which extend the fun of other products like iFi AC iPurifier, which we reviewed in the past https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/2018/02/ifi-ac-ipurifier-power-immaculate.html

    It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with iFi, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by iFi or anyone else. I'd like to thank iFi for providing the sample for the review. The sample was provided along with iFi's request for an honest and unbiased review. This review will be as objective as it is humanly possible, and it reflects my personal experience with iFi iDSD Nano Black Label. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in iDSD Nano BL find their next music companion.



    About me

    https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/p/about.html



    Packaging

    First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:

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    iFi's packaging has become a standard in this niche by now, with their beautiful white boxes of immaculate imagery, all wearing the banner of being environment friendly, and processed with organic ink. Those might not be important aspects to all customers, but it warms the heart to know that iFi is doing all their best to protect the world while providing a very interesting product.

    The packaging includes iNano BL, along with a carrying bag, cables, rubber straps, a few exotic connectors, and iFi's warranty card. It seems that the device has almost everything it could require included in the package, minus an OTG cable, which we felt might have been welcome with iDSD Micro BL.

    iFi's blue USB cable can connect to anything, from an OTG to a desktop computer, but you'll require that OTG adapter for a smartphone. iFi's cable is of a very high quality and it always served us well during our tests, providing a hassle-free and perfect connecting for our devices.

    As for all the exotic extras iFi includes with their packaging, neither our workstation nor our high-end desktop isn't able to use those, so they are rather made for a very specific purpose, and while we think that only few users will be able to take full advantage of those, we are very happy that iFi includes them with their devices.

    The carrying pouch should only be used while storing iNano BL as it won't provide much protection to it, and using it while iNano BL is in usage can also lead to overheating.



    What to look in when purchasing a high-end DAC/AMP

    https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/p/what-to-lookl.html



    Technical Specifications

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    Build Quality/Aesthetics/UI/Firmware

    Starting with the build quality, iNano BL is built like a tank. It doesn't have any edges that can be affected by other objects if it is kept in a pocket next to them, the volume wheel is much larger in diameter and much shorter in length when compared to iDSD BL Micro, thing which makes the volume wheel much much less prone to any kind of damage, and all buttons feel trust-worthy.

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    The whole device is painted in a semi-glossy black color, and it has a very fine texture on it. The edges are less exposed when compared to iDSD BL Micro, making iNano BL easier to slide in and out of a pocket / bag, and making stacking much easier with a wider range of devices.


    The design is more elegant and less industrial this time around, iFi making iDSD BL Nano a device that can easily fit with a wider range of environments and making sure that it won't look strange placed in any kind of other environment.

    The rubber feet are also attached to the device from the factory now, thing which we liked quite a lot. It seems that iFi iDSD BL Micro also comes with its feet attached via factory in the latest releases, but we couldn't confirm this information with an official source.

    The firmware of iDSD Nano BL is very hassle-free and it works without any drivers on Android devices. From all our Android devices tested, it worked just fine on every device, without any lag and without any issues. On Windows, one needs to install iFi's driver for Windows for the iNano BL to work. The drivers work very fine, do not require any kind of special settings, and you are able to just set and forget for those moments when you don't want to tinker with fine settings.

    There are two filter settings, measure and listen. What they do, basically, measure applies absolutely no special smoothing or any kind of enhancer over the music, and plays it bit-perfect, while listen will apply some filters and some smoothing over the signals played to provide a more musical experience. In our experience, measure is better than listen for music that has a lot of sharp transient and a lot of textures in the instruments, while listen works better for music which relies a lot of very liquid and smooth instruments and vocals. The changes each filter adds to the music are rather small and one doesn't need to bother with them, but they do provide some fine tuning for those who want an either bit-perfect or a more musical experience.

    There is an iEMatch button built-in to iNano BL, and it does what it should do, providing a little bit of attenuation where it is required. We never used it as almost all our IEMs were not too loud without it, although there is some hiss present with some IEMs when using them from the Direct port, so we recommend experimenting with those ports to find the perfect balance.


    There is an option for Balanced cables, or rather, iFi has built in a balanced output in the 3.5mm jack, with a TRRS 3.5mm connection which also accepts SE cables. Basically, you can use any 3.5mm connector, or make a 3.5mm balanced connector. The theoretical advantage is that iNano BL should have all the advantages of a balanced setup, all while remaining Single ended when the user doesn't have any Balanced cables. As we didn't have any 3.5mm balanced cables (not exactly a standard), we couldn't test this feature in any way, but the amplification iFi built is indeed very good and it does amplify the signal in a balanced way, although it is questionable whether this is audible without the proper cables.



    Sound Quality

    All good and well, iFi always makes trusty devices, but now it is the time of judging its sound quality. This will be rather interesting because iNano BL is rather inexpensive 200$ current Amazon price mark, being less expensive than DH1000 which we reviewed quite recently, and much less expensive than FiiO Q5, which runs for about 350$.

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    The overall signature of iDSD Nano BL is really really similar to that of its bigger brother, iDSD Micro BL. In fact, they are so close, that just going from one to the other doesn't immediately reveal the differences, and one would require an extended period of time to spot the differences properly. Since this is a standalone review, we'll try to focus a bit on iNano BL's signature rather than just compare it to its bigger sibling for now.


    iDSD Nano BL is a pretty neutral tuned DAC/AMP with an excellent depth to its sound, a very good vocal timbre and a rather neutral overall tuning. It has a bit of an added sparkle in the treble, but nothing too much, while the bass has a good depth, whilst keeping a good impact as well.



    Bass

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    The bass of iDSD Nano BL is one heck of a deal. We're talking about a device costing 200$, and we can be amazed. The bass goes as low as one can imagine it would go, and it hits as deep as one can imagine it can hit. The fine refinement of percussion textures is rather amazing, and there is something about deep bass notes that never ceased to impress us during our tests. The impact is quite amazing as well, along with the rather interesting revealing abilities in finer bass textures and nuances. This being said, we're not sure if it quite reaches its bigger brother's level, but it still is an amazing experience.




    Midrange

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    The midrange of iNano BL is once again quite excellent. It has a very good resolution and very good revealing abilities, a very natural and spot-on tonal timbre, and it has a great amount of detail and micro-detail. Due to some crazy good and quick timings, it is able to reveal fine textures in Mindless Self Indulgence music, all whilst keeping the vocals of Jill Tracy as musical and emotional as ever. Guitars have a very juicy presentation, with a very engaging overall feeling, while pianos have the right amount of emotion and depth to sound realistic. Everything is fairly well presented and feels spot-on, and once again, while not having quite exactly the performance of its bigger brother, it still is an amazing performance.



    Treble

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    The treble experience of iNano BL is once again, quite amazing. The treble extends very well up to the highest registers audible to the human ear, while cymbal crashes last for the right amount of time. At times, it has a shorter decay than its bigger brother, sounding maybe a tad less extended in its soundstage, but it still has a good amount of air in its treble and between its instruments. Trumpets bear excellent impact and aren't made any romantic where they should be more brilliant rather than friendly, while the very fine touching of a cymbal during a cabaret is rendered perfectly romantic with a very sensitive touch.



    Soundstage

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    Another interesting aspect of iDSD Nano BL is its soundstage. The soundstage size is on the larger side for the price range, but smaller than its bigger brother, iDSD Micro BL, where Micro BL feels more extended and things can be spread on a wider scale, with more depth, and where Nano gives more of a room impression in its soundstage. Even so, the instrument separation is golden for the price, and everything placed together, the whole soundstage / instrument separation and imaging are amazing.



    ADSR/PRaT

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    The ADSR / PRaT are another part of iNano BL that amazed us, as it quickly reminds of its bigger brother, Micro BL. Given that Micro BL is one of the best DAC/AMPs we tested to date in its timing and (Attack Decay Sustain Release), iNano BL is also quite amazing. Setting the filter slider to measure will result in excellent timings all-around, with a natural decay that doesn't smear and isn't prolonged, and with a quick and tangible attack for every musical note. The overall feeling is that micro-textures and textures are revealed nicely, with a very good introspection in their finer nuances, whilst if you want a smoother and more laid-back presentation, you can always engage the listen filter, which will make the whole timing more fit with laid-back music, giving the whole device a more relaxed feeling.



    Portable Usage

    Interestingly enough, we still aren't quite that enthused about an external DAC/AMP, but we found iDSD Nano BL to be much more portable than its bigger brother (literally). iDSD Micro BL was larger than any smartphone on the market, being both longer, thicker and actually narrower, providing a rather bad fit for smartphones, but it was the perfect width and length to be stacked with a DAP (Digital Audio Player) as a transport.

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    iNano BL, on the other hand, is rather thin and small compared to iDSD BL Micro, as iNano BL really fits wherever you need it to fit. It is amazing to think what tech iFi was able to craft inside the small shell of iNano BL and how good they have been at optimizing every little bit of space inside it.

    The cable thing, on the other hand, is interesting to say the least. You can find an OTG that would fit inside iNano BL's USB input in such a way that you can literally wear it using only one short OTG cable, so that is a huge plus for portability.

    It doesn't suffer from any kind of interference from outside sources, but it doesn't sport any extra portability feature like Bluetooth either, iNano BL being at the sweet spot of being portable.



    Comparisons

    Most comparisons have been taken with Edifier S1000DB, Audeze LCD-MX4, Cleartune SV4, Dita Truth, Hifiman RE2000, Ultrasone Signature Studio, Hifiman RE800, Sennheiser ie800, and Dunu Falcon-C.

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    iDSD Nano BL vs FiiO Q5 (AMP5) - We know that most of our readers seek this part the most, so let's get started with the most interesting comparison we can have. Since FiiO Q5 is priced between iDSD Nano BL and iDSD Micro BL, and since adding AMP5 increases Q5's price a bit, this is going to be the most interesting comparison to look at today. Starting with the device itself, iDSD Nano BL is a smaller overall device, with a smaller footprint, while Q5 with any of its amps looks much more like a typical DAP, and its body would probably stack better to a DAP. Stacking to a smartphone, or at least to our test smartphone, Xiaomi Mi Max 2, is the same issue with both, both are very narrow to stack to it perfectly, but the fact that FiiO Q5 is longer actually makes it stack better. The features within are many and useful on both, as FiiO Q5 comes with a 2.5mm balanced port ex-factory, where iDSD Nano BL comes with a 3.5mm Balanced port. Q5 has Bluetooth support, but it will not work with a typical OTG cable, requiring a microUSB to microUSB cable or a USB Type-C to micro-USB cable to work with a smartphone. Volume control is done via a wheel on both devices, and it works fine on both, the wheel has proper protection on both devices. FiiO Q5 looks a tad more stylish in the long run, but leaving a larger footprint, this is also to be expected. When it comes to their sound, the sonics are quite different, especially with Q5 having multiple AMP modules which provide different sonic experiences. With AM05, FiiO Q5 has a similar level of control over the bass, comes with a slightly larger soundstage in width and especially in depth, all while staying at a similar height as iDSD Bl Nano. The treble is similar between the two, along with the overall tonal balance, although iDSD BL Nano has a tad more sparkle in the treble. Q5 tends to be more dynamic where iNano BL tends to be more energetic and emotional, although Q5 is quite emotional as well. FiiO Q5 has a lot of driving power behind it, and it is considerably more able than iNano BL when it comes to heavy loads, but we didn't really turn the volume to max on iNano BL with many headphones, so most users purchasing iNano BL at a considerably lower price might own easier to drive headphones, and feel content with the results. The details are a tad higher on FiiO Q5, but the differences are rather hard to spot and require careful listening and revealing headphones / IEMs for proper analysis.


    iDSD Nano BL vs iDSD Micro BL - This comparison will also be quite important, and starting with the obvious, iDSD Micro BL is the better device on every level possible, but it also is around 2.5 times as expensive. We reviewed iDSD Micro BL in the past, and we still hold it in very high regards, as being one of the best DAC/AMPs there are. https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/2017/05/ifi-idsd-bl-pinnacle-of-dac-and-amp.html On the other hand, iNano BL comes at a significantly more affordable price and a much more portable size. The first and very obvious difference is in raw power, iDSD Micro BL being probably the strongest portable DAC/AMP made to date, and still keeping that title among the devices we tested, while iNano BL is considerably lower powered. Even so, iNano BL has a lot of power for portables and for what we feel most people will combine it with headphones that will not require more power, having around 285mW for 30 OHM on Direct. The difference in sonics becomes more obvious upon more listening and upon using quick-switching, but iDSD BL Micro has a larger soundstage in every direction, painting what could be called a soundscape on its side, rather than just a soundstage. Micro BL also has much better control at louder volumes, and overall control over transients and transient response, and it feels more musical and smoother, doing everything quite effortlessly, with a strong emotional touch, where iNano BL seems more energetic, but not as effortless and not as detailed either. There are details that iDSD Micro BL is able to extract and present to the listener with much better definition than iNano BL. The PRaT and ADSR is better on iDSD Micro BL as well, fine textures being one step ahead in resolution and presentation, although without very specific music and without knowing what to search for, this can be rather hard to distinguish.



    Value and Conclusion

    When it comes to iFi, we're talking about a huge company, part of AMR, one of the largest audio companies in the world, so we know we are talking about a serious company with a lot of support and a very strong background. iDSD Nano BL is their product offered to those who can't afford their more expensive offerings. Regarding offering an amazing device at a very affordable price, they do it in style and with elegance. iDSD Nano BL is probably one of the device we can recommend the most at its price, and for a good reason. It sounds better than most DAPs that can be found at this price, and ultimately, it might even be hard to distinguish it from the mighty Micro BL, if not using very revealing headphones / IEMs or without proper listening.

    We didn't have a chance to compare it to virtually every other DAC/AMP that is priced at 200$, but we are confident that one would have a hard time finding anything at a similar price that has the same sonic abilities, along with iFi's trusty support and warranty.

    All in all, iDSD Nano BL is one heck of a device, having not only a good price but also an amazing sound to it, amazing hardware to back it up, and a lot of useful features like balanced output, iEMatch built-in, multiple filters, and many others. It will connect hassle-free to your source / transport, and it will provide a good amount of fun and enjoyment with music, being neutrally tuned, with a touch of emotion, being rather vivid and detailed, and having a good amount of dynamics in its sound. It is hard to recommend something as much as iDSD Nano BL from iFi for just 200$, and we're sure that owners can confirm the enjoyment they are experiencing with it.




    Stay safe and remember to always have fun while listening to music!



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      LordZero, SV_huMMer and HalSF like this.
    1. LordZero
      Great review! I need a dac/amp for my computer and I am looking at this little beast, also was wondering how it would pair with the cayin n3 and the iBasso it01. I see you have the iBasso it01 in your photos, how the sound together?
      LordZero, Apr 2, 2018
      Dobrescu George likes this.
    2. Dobrescu George
      @LordZero - iBasso IT-01 works pretty sweet with iDSD Nano BL, the sound together is pretty warm as IT-01 has a romantic and enthusiastic midbass, with a very clear and well-defined midrange, and with a nice sparkle in the treble, without being grainy :)
      Dobrescu George, Apr 2, 2018
  3. kstellaern
    Bang for the Buck!
    Written by kstellaern
    Published Mar 7, 2018
    4.0/5,
    I received the iFi nano iDSD Black Label for reviewing as part of the EU tour
    The coming review is my honest opinion about the device.

    My Background
    I am a mechanical engineering student who likes to listen to music a lot. In the last few years, i upgraded my gear on a students budget! My preferred music genre is Indie, Jazz, Hip-Hop and some classic Rock. I am more on the "warm" sound signature side.

    Devices in my possession

    DACs
    • Geek Out 2A
    • Fiio Q1 II
    • Dragonfly 1.2 "Clone" ​
    • LG G6 Phone​

    Headphones
    • PSB M4U2
    • Monoprice M1060 (Fazor Mod)​
    • Sennheiser HD650​
    IEM
    • PSB M4U4
    • Pinnacle P1
    Music Source
    • PC (Windows and Linux, Foobar)
    • LG G6 Android Phone (USB Audio Player Pro)

    Music Files
    • Tidal with MQA
    • Flac Files (44,1khz-192khz, 16bit-24bit)
    • DSD Files
    • DSF Files

    Review
    Packaging

    Really nice presentation. It comes with a lovely pouch and all cables you will need for connecting to a PC/MAC. Really impressed.
    IMG_20180307_161954.jpg

    Build Quality and Size

    Really nice and heavy build quality. It is not too light not too heavy! The finishing is superb. I really like it and can not hope for more.
    The nano BL is more on the bigger side of my DACs. See my pictures for comparison. It is about the size of a cigarette box.
    IMG_20180307_161732.jpg IMG_20180307_161810.jpg

    Specs



    The specs are the best one of all my DACs. Here is a list:


    General
    Input(rear): USB2.0 type A “OTG” Socket (with iPurifier® technology built-in)
    Output(rear); 1 x Audio fixed line out L+R 3.5mm
    Digital Filter: 2 positions, 2 filters
    Outputs(front): 2 x Headphone Audio 3.5mm one direct and one with iFi iEMatch® integrated
    DAC
    DAC: DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect DXD processing
    Clock: Low-jitter crystal clock
    Audio Formats: DSD 256/128/64/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8
    DXD 384/352.8kHz
    PCM 384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
    MQA 88.2/96/176.4/192kHz filters
    Filter–PCM: Listen(transient optimized minimum phase)
    Measure(frequency response optimised)
    –DSD: Listen(extended bandwidth transient optimised)
    Measure (narrow bandwidth, low output band noise optimized)
    –DXD: Fixed Bit-Perfect Processing
    –MQA: Fixed MQA Filter

    Headphone Amplifier
    Amplifier: Dual Mono 2 x 285mW Direct Drive, coupling capacitor free circuit for highest fidelity
    Volume Control: 3.5mm TRRS with Balanced compatible wiring
    Dynamic Range(including DAC): > 109dB(A) @ 3v (Direct)
    > 107dB(A) @ 0.5V (iEMatch®)
    THD &N (@ 125mW/30R): < 0.005%
    Max. Output (<10% THD): > 3.5V @ 600Ω Load (Direct) (20mW/600Ω)
    > 2.9V @ 30Ω Load (Direct) (285mW/30Ω)
    > 1.7V @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (200mW/15Ω)

    Output Impedance :
    < = 1Ω (Direct)
    < = 4Ω (iEMatchsup>®)
    Channel Separation:
    > 79dB @ 600Ω Load (Direct)
    > 79dB @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (1kHz, TRRS plug Balanced wiring)

    Line Output
    Dynamic Range(Line): > 109dB(A)
    THD & N(0dBFS Line): < 0.004%
    Output Voltage(Line): : 2.15V (+/-0.05V)
    Output Impedance: < 240Ω
    Channel Separation: > 99dB (@ 1kHz)
    Jitter(correlated): Below test set limit
    Dimensions: 96(l) x 64(w) x 25.5(h)mm
    Weight: 139g (0.31 Ibs)
    Warranty period: 12months


    As you can see it is powerful and can decode everything you are hoping for!
    It too has a MQA license. (MQA is a heavily discussed file format)

    Connectivity

    The input and outputs are great. It has a male USB input. Perfect for connecting OTG Cables from Phones.
    and three 3,5mm Outputs. One line, one 3,5mm unbalanced out and a 3,5mm iE Match out with a balanced option. I personally think the 3,5mm balanced is a bit weird because the cables are really hard to get. But I understand the decision. It´s a cool technology behind it. For more: http://mediaportal.ifi-audio.com/Digital/NanoBL/nDSD BL balanced circuit Tech Note (Nov xx) .pdf


    Sound

    The nano came to me in middle of writing my bachelor thesis. So I had hours and hours of listening sessions.
    Overall I have to say WOW. What a nice little device! I really like the sound of it! The highs are not too harsh, the bass is not to muddy. It is really relaxing to hear with it! I never missed anything from my other DACs. So it is the perfect symbiosis of all my other devices. The power output is really nice. It can run my M1060 and HD650 without any Problems. All my IEM have no hissing.

    Software\Firmware
    The Firmware upgrade is really easy to do! Only download some files and it is ready to flash! After the firmware update, the MQA function of Tidal was working perfectly and the RGB LED as an indicator is really nice. It can also help if you want to know if your music source is working like it should be :wink:

    When you are connecting the Nano to an Android 7.0 device it works flawlessly. I highly recommend the "USB Audio Player Pro" App. it has Tidal Integration as well!


    Conclusion

    Perfect little DAC for desktop and smartphone use. It is really portable. Has a nice volume knob (digital volume control like on the Geek Out and Dragonfly is not that great). it can drive all "normal" headphones. And the best one is the Price. At only 199 $ it is really a no-brainer because it is so versatile.








    1. dheepak10
      Is it able to decode MQA via tidal app or UAPP on the LG G6? The G6 would be my primary source. Hence interested in the response.
      Also does it sound better than G6 with the ESS DAC?
      Thanks!
      dheepak10, Jun 10, 2018
  4. ExpatinJapan
    Back in black
    Written by ExpatinJapan
    Published Mar 3, 2018
    4.0/5,
    IFi Nano IDSD Black Label Review
    - Expatinjapan

    [​IMG]

    https://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/nano-idsd-bl/

    [​IMG]
    iFi nano iDSD Black Label, Shanling M3S and Campfire Audio Cascade

    Unboxing and build

    As per usual iFi does an excellent job at design and construction of another of their products. Robust, functional and smexy.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Hot stuff!

    [​IMG]

    Instructions and warranty card etc

    [​IMG]

    Simply beautiful in its simplicity

    [​IMG]

    The IEmatch port is suitable for sensitive BA earphones and the the direct for standard headphones, BA and DD earphones. Play around and see which you prefer.

    [​IMG]

    Line out port , Measure filter which I found to be more reference
    and Listen setting is a tad more natural and musical.
    Digital input for iOS, Android and PC/Mac.

    [​IMG]

    Cable accessories.

    I would have liked to see a basic OTG cable included for android,
    but with the variety of Android connectors it probably isn`t practical.

    I was a bit confused by the adapter and the main black cable
    and how I should utilize it. My fail. Its good for some some uses such as the iFi iPurifier, extra connection options etc

    [​IMG]

    iFi nano iDSD BL main accessories
    • iFi bag
    • silicone bracelet
    • USB A Female > B Female Adapter
    • USB3.0 A MALE > A FEMALE
    • USB A Female > B Female Cable
    • user manual
    • Warranty Card
    • note card
    • STS card

    [​IMG]

    Connections

    "Its working, its working!"

    [​IMG]

    The iFi nano iDSD Black Label connects easily to your computer
    for an enhanced listening experience.
    I use VOX player application on my old Macbook pro.

    [​IMG]

    When connected to my well used Campfire Audio Andromeda I often used the IEMatch port, but found the 1 ohm output of the direct port pleasing.

    [​IMG]

    As can be seen from this screenshot of my ipod touch 6G using Flacplayer app by Dan Leehr the
    iFi nano iDSD Black Label plays back the tracks natively with no downsampling.


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
    The iFi nano iDSD Black Label connected via USC-C to
    Shanling M3S, with Campfire Audio Cascade.

    [​IMG]

    Due to a lack of the proper cable in my possession I did a little Frankenstein work around to test out the Opus#1S Dap with the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label. After some fiddling around I got it to work.
    Pictured with Campfire Audio Orion.


    [​IMG]

    Tech Specs

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Features/Specifications:

    General
    Input(rear): USB2.0 type A “OTG” Socket (with iPurifier® technology built-in)
    Output(rear); 1 x Audio fixed line out L+R 3.5mm
    Digital Filter: 2 positions, 2 filters
    Outputs(front): 2 x Headphone Audio 3.5mm one direct and one with iFi iEMatch® integrated
    DAC
    DAC: DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect DXD processing
    Clock: Low-jitter crystal clock
    Audio Formats: DSD 256/128/64/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8
    DXD 384/352.8kHz
    PCM 384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
    MQA 88.2/96/176.4/192kHz filters
    Filter–PCM: Listen(transient optimised minimum phase)
    Measure(frequency response optmised)
    –DSD: Listen(extended bandwidth transient optimised)
    Measure (narrow bandwidth, low output band noise optimised)
    –DXD: Fixed Bit-Perfect Processing
    –MQA: Fixed MQA Filter

    Headphone Amplifier
    Amplifier: Dual Mono 2 x 285mW Direct Drive, coupling capacitor free circuit for highest fidelity
    Volume Control: 3.5mm TRRS with Balanced compatible wiring
    Dynamic Range(including DAC): > 109dB(A) @ 3v (Direct)
    > 107dB(A) @ 0.5V (iEMatch®)
    THD &N (@ 125mW/30R): < 0.005%
    Max. Output (<10% THD): > 3.5V @ 600Ω Load (Direct) (20mW/600Ω)
    > 2.9V @ 30Ω Load (Direct) (285mW/30Ω)
    > 1.7V @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (200mW/15Ω)

    Output Impedance :
    < = 1Ω (Direct)
    < = 4Ω (iEMatchsup>®)
    Channel Separation:
    > 79dB @ 600Ω Load (Direct)
    > 79dB @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (1kHz, TRRS plug Balanced wiring)

    Line Output
    Dynamic Range(Line): > 109dB(A)
    THD & N(0dBFS Line): < 0.004%
    Output Voltage(Line): : 2.15V (+/-0.05V)
    Output Impedance: < 240Ω
    Channel Separation: > 99dB (@ 1kHz)
    Jitter(correlated): Below test set limit
    Dimensions: 96(l) x 64(w) x 25.5(h)mm
    Weight: 139g (0.31 Ibs)
    Warranty period: 12months

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Sound

    Theres not much to be said for those already familiar with iFi products as the iFi nano iDSD Black Label follows in the same tradition of the products that have come before it. The usual iFi signature of clarity, resolution and a general reference sound.

    The iFi nano iDSD Black Label a transparent and linear dac/amp.
    The sound stage is reasonably wide and instrument placement is accurate.
    Overall resolution is great, and detailing and layering is satisfactory and pleasing.

    A DAC should in my view not color the source, and hopefully the source is fairly neutral too. A slight variance from product to product cannot be avoided due to different DAC and Amp chips etc etc, but thankfully these days the differences are largely null. And the main points to focus on are how neutral, how accurate the machine is etc.

    The iFi nano iDSD Black Label is effective in that it packs enough power to drive some large headphones to a decent enough listening level where they perform as they should, yet also at the other end support sensitive in ears.

    I wont overdo or extensively extend this particular section. The iFi nano iDSD Black Label does what it advertises and does it well. Like other iFi products the build and customer service is excellent.
    The sound as I have written above is fairly linear and reference orientated.
    It has enough resolution and power to please.

    [​IMG]

    Price

    The asking price of the iFi nano iDSD Black Label is an affordable US$200.
    The iFi nano iDSD Black Label is in summary mid fi at a low fi price.

    Overall

    Comparisons between the nano black label and the micro black label are to be expected. From memory whilst obviously the Micro has more bells and whistles and is more often than not described as an audio swiss army knife of sorts, the Nano is more a simplistic, slimmed down version.
    The Micro does do everything slightly bigger, and the nano is not a slouch by any means is a slightly more subdued version of its larger sibling.

    The Nano packs a decent amount of power and can drive most cans admirably with ease.
    Pairing with an Android device can be tricky as there are so many various cables out there.
    So choose your connector wisely.

    Connecting to the ipod touch was easy and stress free.
    As seen above I also was able to connect it to a variety of sources, though my list is not exhaustive nor extensive.
    I had no issues with connecting to my Macbook pro either.
    At one time just for sciences sake I went Macbook-usb-nano-line out- cable- home system.

    The battery life is touted at ten hours, and whilst I never did a proper full discharge I only gave it a few charges whilst my testing went on.

    Portable or transportable? Well this is a matter of taste. A while back this would have been seen as totally portable, but as devices get smaller and thinner this veers slightly in the direction of transportable, yet still very stackable.

    I love the volume knob, it does the run the risk of a bump and suddenly increasing the volume due to its smoothness of rotation. But I never encountered such a problem.

    Output Impedance : < = 1Ω (Direct) < = 4Ω (iEMatchsup>®)
    This is matter of preference and also depends on how much hiss your sensitive IEMs exhibit, or dont.
    Multi BA IEMs retain their designed signature best at 1 ohms, but If there is hiss then the iEMatch port is your best bet.

    The Measure and Listen switches are mainly neutral/reference and natural/musical. I found them to be more noticeable with the Direct jack than the IEMatch jack.
    How audiable the effects were varied from earphone to earphone.

    The iFi nano iDSD Black Label play back a wide variety of audio formats so most users will be pleased. I myself I have only tested a few but perusing the various forums I read other users met with success and pleasure.

    It is of a generally neutral signature that is favored by most manufacturers these days and generally demanded and expected by consumers which leave the ear/headphones alone to do their work and exhibit their particular sonic characteristics.

    The iFi nano iDSD Black Label: mid fi at a low fi price.

    Thank you to iFi for sending Head pie the iFi nano iDSD Black Label for review
      Colors, jaekyll, SV_huMMer and 2 others like this.
  5. Mightygrey
    Nano footprint; Black Label performance.
    Written by Mightygrey
    Published Feb 28, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Power-to-size ratio – drives 300ohm cans with ease; build; desktop flexibility; incredible value; will handle any file-type you throw at it.
    Cons - USB-A male “out” connection only; more transportable than portable; no pre-out (if I’m being picky…)?
    My hand shot-up when I saw that iFi had arranged a global head-fi tour of their new addition to their range of bewilderingly-named (seriously, keeping-up with which acronym is which is tough…) small headphone DAC/amp combos – the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label. There’s been nothing but praise for the Micro - the, err, slightly “less small” portable DAC/amp from iFi that’s been swaying would-be Chord Mojo users, and blowing people away with its head-melting ability to pump a whole four watts into 16 ohms, plus super-talented DAC that can handle just about any file type thrown its way. For me, the Micro was not quite ‘micro’ enough for me to want to comfortably stack on-the-go, and perhaps slightly more than I wanted to spend at the time.

    [​IMG]

    But at $200, the Nano BL is a pretty appealing proposition on paper alone:

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Features/Specifications:

    General
    Input(rear): USB2.0 type A “OTG” Socket (with iPurifier® technology built-in)
    Output(rear); 1 x Audio fixed line out L+R 3.5mm
    Digital Filter: 2 positions, 2 filters
    Outputs(front): 2 x Headphone Audio 3.5mm one direct and one with iFi iEMatch® integrated

    DAC

    DAC: DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect DXD processing
    Clock: Low-jitter crystal clock
    Audio Formats: DSD 256/128/64/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8
    DXD 384/352.8kHz
    PCM 384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
    MQA 88.2/96/176.4/192kHz filters
    Filter–PCM: Listen(transient optimised minimum phase)
    Measure(frequency response optmised)
    –DSD: Listen(extended bandwidth transient optimised)
    Measure (narrow bandwidth, low output band noise optimised)
    –DXD: Fixed Bit-Perfect Processing
    –MQA: Fixed MQA Filter

    Headphone Amplifier

    Amplifier: Dual Mono 2 x 285mW Direct Drive, coupling capacitor free circuit for highest fidelity
    Volume Control: 3.5mm TRRS with Balanced compatible wiring
    Dynamic Range(including DAC): > 109dB(A) @ 3v (Direct)
    > 107dB(A) @ 0.5V (iEMatch®)
    THD &N (@ 125mW/30R): < 0.005%
    Max. Output (<10% THD): > 3.5V @ 600Ω Load (Direct) (20mW/600Ω)
    > 2.9V @ 30Ω Load (Direct) (285mW/30Ω)
    > 1.7V @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (200mW/15Ω)
    Output Impedance : < = 1Ω (Direct)
    < = 4Ω (iEMatchsup>®)
    Channel Separation: > 79dB @ 600Ω Load (Direct)
    > 79dB @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (1kHz, TRRS plug Balanced wiring)

    Line Output

    Dynamic Range(Line): > 109dB(A)
    THD & N(0dBFS Line): < 0.004%
    Output Voltage(Line): : 2.15V (+/-0.05V)
    Output Impedance: < 240Ω
    Channel Separation: > 99dB (@ 1kHz)
    Jitter(correlated): Below test set limit

    Dimensions

    96(l) x 64(w) x 25.5(h)mm
    Weight: 139g (0.31 Ibs)

    So, the same DAC-section from its brethren, in a smaller package, at a $200 asking price? Sign me up! I decided that when my week review-time came with the Nano BL, that I was going to look to answer the following questions:

    1. POWER? Sure, at 285mW @ 30ohms, it’s no slouch. But how will it handle higher-Z cans being thrown at it?

    2. LIVEABILITY? Can this portable-in-mind DAC/amp combo really work in a “stack” on a day-to-day basis? And for those looking for a do-it-all DAC/amp, could this possibly be the only desktop peripheral you’ll ever need?

    3. TO MOJO, OR NOT TO MOJO? The size, dimensions and capabilities of the Nano aim it squarely at Chord’s wunderkind. The Nano already has a $379 headstart on the Mojo (currently $579 on amazon). But other things being equal, how does it perform head-to-head?

    [​IMG]

    Presentation and form-factor

    It’s a solid-feeling little deck-of-cards-sized metal black box and reassuringly well-built – and perhaps a little lighter than I was expecting. So light, in fact, that when I had it performing desktop duties, the fairly girth-y USB cable supplied with it tended to move it across my desktop and it wouldn’t really want to stay in-place. So it’s nice and portable in terms of footprint, and heft.

    [​IMG]

    On the “front side”, there’s two 3.5mm headphone outputs – ‘IEMatch’; and ‘Direct’. The former is designed for use with high-sensitivity IEMs (as its name suggests…) for “…reduced background noise and matched-gain.”. The latter directs the full output of the Dual Mono 2 x 285mW Direct Drive into regular sensitivity headphones.

    Alongside the 2 x headphone outputs is a rather tactile, “proper” volume knob. The knob “clicks” to take care of powering the Nano BL on/off, as well as volume-duties for headphones.

    Adorning the front panel is a multi-coloured LED that indicates battery-status, and audio-format playback. Chord Mojo users will sympathise with having to memorise which colour denotes which mode, but it’s fairly straightforward.

    Flip-around to the “rear” side, and there’s a 3.5mm Line Output for sending the output from the DAC section to another amplifier/component; a switch to flick between “MEASURE” and “LISTEN” filters; and a rather curious full-sized male USB input to handle both data and charging duties. More on this later.

    [​IMG]

    Ergonomics and real-world ‘liveability’

    There’s generally two kinds of on-the-go audiophiles – “Stackers”, and “DAP-pers”. The Nano BL is pitched at the former group, in that it’s designed to easily pair/stack with a source (either a smartphone; DAP; or laptop/PC); to provide better digital decoding, playback, and amplification for headphones, or for use upstream from powered monitors or other two-channel systems. And because of its diminutive form-factor, taking it with you on-the-go is easy. Right?

    Mobile use

    The first test I had with the Nano BL out of the box was to attach it to my Samsung S7 Edge, playing FLAC files through USB Audio Player Pro. Luckily I was able to ‘plug-and-play’ right away, because I happened to have a USB-A female to USB-micro OTG adapter handy lying around.

    [​IMG]

    Mobile users beware – the Nano BL doesn’t come with a mobile-ready cable. At first I thought this to be a major oversight, but realised that there’s a mix of mobile users out there with either USB-micro; USB-C; or Lightning compatible smartphones. So rather than packing no less than 4 x connections into the box (including the full-sized PC connection included), it’s incumbent on the consumer to grab the one that best fits their set-up. Just make sure you know this beforehand or you could be stuck with an expensive paperweight while waiting on a cable to arrive, or for your next store visit!

    Still, the USB-male input is a little confounding, as its recessed connection means that bulkier USB cables won’t necessarily “dock” with it flush, and may not even fit at all.

    Anyhow, pairing the Nano BL with the S7 Edge was a breeze, and started playback right away. It’s not exactly a “pocketable” stack – in fact it’s pretty thick when stacked back-to-back, so if you’re out and about you’ll need to hold them (pretty firmly) in the palm of your hand.

    iFi rate the battery life for the Nano BL at 10 hours - I never came even close to running it down, so can't really comment on it but have no reason to doubt that it's achievable. On thing I only realised after my time with the Nano BL was up, was that if you switch it on before plugging into USB power, it'll continue to run off battery power. Whereas if you plug it in first and then switch it on, it'll charge/run off USB power.

    So yes, it’s “portable” alright, but perhaps “transportable” is a little more accurate – it’s perfect for taking with you; un-packing; and hooking-up with your source in a hotel-room; flight; or café for killer sound wherever you happen to find yourself. Like parked outside with a nice beer and a pair of Meze 99 Classics…for example.

    [​IMG]

    One minor quibble with mobile-use is with regards to that otherwise excellently-tactile volume-knob – it’s easily bumped in bags; crowds; or by just about anything – meaning you can suddenly have a rather-large surge in volume unexpectedly…

    Desktop use

    I spent most of my time with the Nano BL on my desktop at work, or as a part of my main full-sized set-up at home. The small footprint and easy to use volume control mean it’s great for static use, and (depending on your requirements) it really could be the only DAC/amp you need. When thinking about similarly-priced set-ups such as a Schiit Magni/Modi combination; or an Objective O2 – it really doesn’t lose out in terms of form-factor, and certainly weighs-in a lot smaller.

    [​IMG]

    I spent the majority of desktop use with the Nano BL connected to my 15” Macbook Pro, with either Roon or Tidal (desktop app) as a source. I used it to both power my headphones directly, or to use it up-stream as a standalone DAC sending a line-out signal to my Bottlehead Crack OTL and Schiit Magni 3 amps.

    [​IMG]

    The only thing to note about line-out desktop use in DAC-only mode, is that you won’t be able to control volume from the unit itself as a pre-amp – it’s a fixed signal, and you’ll need to attenuate volume elsewhere. A switchable line-out/pre-out would have been nice, but at $200 you can’t really complain.

    Sound quality and performance

    I’m not a huge believer in wildly-fluctuating sonic character between DACs, so I’ll only briefly remark that the Nano BL’s DAC sounds expectedly transparent, detailed, and spacious when used in DAC-only mode. It’s highly-capable in that it handles a wide range of formats: PCM (up to 384kHz), DSD (up to 256), and also MQA – which is an interesting selling-point if that sort of thing interests you. I’m not exactly a huge proponent of proprietary formats, and don’t believe there’s any problem that needs solving with FLAC or other open/lossless sources. I did have to give the Nano BL a firmware update in order to be able to play MQA files through the Tidal desktop app, which sounded “great” - but not any different really to PCM, to my ears anyhow. MQA however does reward with a nice magenta glow on the LED on the front-panel.

    [​IMG]

    Using it to power headphones directly, the first thing I threw at the Nano BL were my Grado GR10 IEMs as I was keen to hear the ‘IEMatch’ feature unique to iFi. Unfortunately my review unit seemed to only be sending a signal to one-channel through this output, so the rest of my listening was via the ‘Direct’ output. Fortunately I didn’t experience any hiss/imbalance whatsoever so was happily able to get (otherwise) full use out of the Nano BL before sending it back to the local Australian distributor.

    [​IMG]

    Low-impedance cans sounded predictably excellent, including the aforementioned GR10’s, as well as my Meze 12 Classic IEMs; and moving onto full-sized cans – my Grado GH1s, Beyerdynamic DT1350s, and Meze’s 99 Classics, which I particularly enjoyed for a real (trans)portable treat.

    The real test, for me, was to see if the Nano BL was happy to push my harder-to-drive headphones without clipping, struggling, or degrading sound quality. It immediately proved to me that yes, it can – easily. I tested it using my 250ohm Beyerdynamic DT1770s, and my 300ohm ZMF Eikons and Sennheiser HD650s, and it never broke a sweat. I got to unbearably-loud volume on the Senns at just past 12 o’clock. I will say that my Schiit Magni 3 does open up the treble detail and controls bass a little better, but that’s sending a full 430mWPC at 300ohms – I’m not sure of the Nano’s equivalent output at that impedence, but the manual does state that it’s only pushing-out 20mW @ 600ohms.

    [​IMG]

    I switched between the ‘…frequency response optimised’ “MEASURE” and ‘transient optimized minimum phased’ “LISTEN” filters to see how that affected the sound. I was unable to hear any noticeable difference, but your mileage may vary, of course.

    As a solid-state amplifier it’s devoid of colouration and provides a clean, neutral window on music. Without beating around the bush, it sounds bloody excellent. Would it struggle with low-sensitivity planars? Probably, but that’s expecting too much from a $200 all-in-one tiny unit.

    Nano vs Mojo

    They’re both small little black boxes. Both very capable DAC sections. Both capable of easily driving headphones well and stacking with mobile devices.

    [​IMG]

    So what pulls them apart?

    ‘Wins’ for the Mojo:

    - More connectivity options – USB; co-ax; optical
    - More power – puts out 720mW @ 8ohms
    - 2 x parallel headphone outputs, capable of both full headphone-output and variable line-out duties
    - Able to pair with the (somewhat under-baked and controversial) ‘Poly’ streamer/player

    ‘Wins’ for the Nano BL:

    - Proper, tactile volume knob
    - IEMatch capability for high-sensitivity IEMs (if it works properly)
    - Sends fully-balanced TRRS wiring all the way through to the 3.5mm output
    - MQA-capable (although controversial, it’s a trick that the Chord simply can’t do)
    - It’s $379 cheaper

    That last ‘win’ for the Nano BL is the clincher – if you’re in the market for a small do-it-all DAC/amp, grabbing the iFi device and pocketing the change is a no-brainer, unless you’re:

    a) A believer in the bragging-rights (or sonic difference) of the Chord proprietary FPGA DAC
    b) In love with the design of the Mojo (who doesn’t love the shiny colourful balls?)
    c) Interested in creating an all-in-one ‘MojoPoly’ DAC/Amp/Player/Streamer

    Now I happen to be a Mojo owner, as that was the product that best fitted my needs at the time. I also was interested in the Poly at the time, and did indeed end up buying that as well. My experience with life with the MojoPoly is best left for another review, but if I had my time again and was only interested in the DAC/Amp itself, I would likely have saved myself a few hundred bucks and been completely thrilled with the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label (confusing nomenclature and all…).

    [​IMG]
      mgunin, ryanjsoo, volly and 3 others like this.
    1. Navodar
      Navodar, Mar 3, 2018
    2. Mightygrey
      Hi @Navodar - I downloaded a MacOS update and it seemed to work ok right away using the desktop Tidal app. Got the Magenta light once I set the Nano to be controlled exclusively by the app.
      Mightygrey, Mar 7, 2018
  6. Ksweene5
    iFi's Newest Black Label Entrant Reviewed
    Written by Ksweene5
    Published Feb 19, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - soundstage, separation, build quality, looks, reputable company, future-proofed, actually 4.5 Stars ****
    Cons - included accessories, lone input
    Review - iFi Nano iDSD BL (4.5 stars is my actual rating, that didn't seem to be an option when submitting)

    Hello HF -

    Full disclosure - iFi supplied the unit free of charge for a review period of apx. 7 days. This is a completely unbiased review and iFi was very clear that they wanted honest and unbiased review.

    Before starting I want to note when I reference a “unit” I mean the unit being reviewed - “iFi Nano,,,”. I also call it the Nano and iFi. If I am talking about something that isn’t the iFi I call it by name. iFi - please simplify the naming conventions? We are getting into BMW/Mercedes levels of silly model names.

    Intro -

    To start - I plan to write this focused on the “feeling” of using the equipment, as opposed to technical listening type info. There are many more qualified than I, and many in general, who can and will write about specifics of frequency response, strong/weak points of sound reproductions, etc. I plan to review this based much more on the “feeling” of the sound relative to what I know and other equipment. As such, I should give a little summary of the W/H’s of how I listen so you can get a basis for your listening habits v mine.


    I listen to classic/modern/indie/alt rock and then pop music the most. Withing that, the vast majority is rock music. No modern/radio country really. Not much classical. Some jazz. I prefer a little bias of the highs and lows, a “jazz/r&b” sig if you will, scooped mids some extra bass but close to neutral. My favorite headphones are my HD-650s and my Pinnacle P1s. I also love my Etymotic HF5’s. I have Grado Sr80s and also loved my (recently sold) Fidelio X1s. I also like my Monk +’s and my UE6000s. My normal equipment includes a Ray Samuels Audio (RSA) The Predator portable DAC/Amp, and a Schiit Magni 2 amp for home/wired use. I also have my LG V30, which is fantastic.


    I like warm sound. I really appreciate separation and soundstage.


    To me - “mid-fi” means pieces of equipment in about the $300-500 range. I apply that same descriptor to headphones / amps / DACs.


    First Impressions / Unboxing -


    Sturdy, quality build, compact packaging. Everything fits tight (very tight).

    The build quality on the unit feels great right off the bat. Its light but the casing feels very sturdy in the hand. It turns on with a satisfying “click” on the volume and my first time plugging into the unit (¼” cable to 650s, USB out from my laptop) the ports felt very sturdy. The only input is a USB connection, the unit has a USB-A male plug. This will turn out to be a very frustrating aspect of getting going.


    Hours into the session, I want to get up and get a snack and clean up. Normally I would throw my kit into my pockets and walk around like a weirdo with cables hanging off of me into my pants. Unfortunately I can’t do that here with what I got out of the box - reminding me again of frustration instead of the super pleasant listening experience.


    My job has trained me to offer at least some solution when discussing a problem, thus - what would I like to see included. Why are we using a male USB-A? Regardless, if you use this as your ONLY input - include a female to male A adapter. I would like to see at the least an option to get going with a USB micro, even that would be way late to the party. I can’t imagine the reason for not making this with a USB-C input and probably a USB C. It’s 2018, USB-C is here to stay, and offers so many perks over older USB types.

    Offer a little upcharge to get lightning if its a money thing, USB-C shouldn’t be a barrier in 2018. Get this stuff in the box - nobody buying this will blink at a $10 increase in cost to get cabling that is actually useful. Also, if I don’t have the cable/adaptor to get this going you’ve messed up! I have cables on cables on cables and adaptors on adaptors on cables on cable(y) adaptors. I know that sounds silly, but I rarely can’t come up with some cable or cable combo to get what I need in a pinch. In addition to “audiophile” stuff, I am a musician and have worked in studios - I really have a pretty stupid amount of cables laying around.


    Usage - initial thoughts


    I quickly noticed the lack of ability to get an analog input to the unit and just check out the amp portion. My regular portable dac/amp (Ray Samuels RSA Predator) has the option to input 3.5mm and just use the amp. I like this option as sometimes I don’t have the necessary digital cable handy, and my new LG V30 is a very capable DAC.Using only the amp also has battery benefits over running as a DAC/AMP. This could be a specific use-case scenario for this reviewer - but in my experience I would not be the only one having these thoughts.


    Sound / Comps -


    The sound has very good separation. I notice this right away casually listening as I set up for writing and a focused listening session.


    The following is almost a “stream of consciousness” section while I was listening to songs I know well. For readers sake, I edited some afterwards.


    I hear birds in the background of Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White”, during the last verse/chorus, that I honestly never noticed before. I had only ever noticed this sound at the very end of the song. The unit makes it sound like they are overhead, just behind me, and a little on my left. I love when equipment allows me to feel like I could close my eyes and point to where the instrument (sound, whatever) is “in the room”.

    I get a tight, but large feeling, soundstage using this unit. The sound seems to tighten up my 650s, where some equipment give them a little bit of a “loose” warm feel. I think the attack and decay here is sharper than I normally hear out of the 650s, but still warm and fun.


    In Bon Iver’s “For Emma” I can clearly hear the different guitar takes, strumming patterns, stereo separation in the mix. It affords me the ability to generally tell the difference between what is likely Justin using different guitars/mics/recording techniques. It adds to the complexity of the sound (in a good, even great, way). To a “lay” user, I think they would hear this as incredibly detailed and pleasing. To me it is also very pleasing, but I hear every little up/down strum flourish very well. Did I mention I love the separation and soundstage on this unit? Because I do.


    Switching back to my V30 only (same file) the sound is equally clear, possibly a little more neutral. The separation is good, but the soundstage is closer together. As the instruments comes together it still sounds great, but there is less directional definition and I also hear a less detail in things like the up/down strum pattern and multiple guitar takes mixed together. I do prefer the listening on the iFi. Both very quality, but a warmer and bigger sound on the iFi. To me, that's a great quality.


    On “All Night” - Bey’s vocals sound just about equal across the V30 to iFi. I will say that, again, the soundstage is better on the iFi - Bey sounds like she is “in front” of the band moreso with the unit than just off the v30. I enjoy the song quite a bit, it seems to really “hit” where pop music ashould. To me this dac/amp has wide appeal for how it handles sound.


    Compared to the V30 and Schiit combo - I think the iFi is actually more fun. The bass sounds to me like it’s “jumping” around more - like its more live and present than the song via the phone/schiit. The bass is a little flatter and less lively, its separated less, and the vocals get lost in the mids more with the v30/schiit combo than in the iFi to 650 combo.


    Switching over to my most used IEM’s, MeeAudio Pinnacle P1s, I still get a great soundstage with QOTSA’s “Like Clockwork” sounding wide and deep. The vocal on this track sounds excellent - this amp really allows a vocal track to shine, reproducing Homme’s raspy croon as well as anything I have used.


    Listening to Julien Bakers “Shadowboxing” again shows off the excellent mid-range on the Nano. With the bassy electric having full separation from her breathy and powerful vocal you can really appreciate the quality of the simple production on the album - you could be listening on IEMs or hearing the song at your favorite sounding venue. There is very much a “live sound” presence the Nano brings to the table - very accurate but not the clinical sound that is sometimes a product of focusing on neutral and accurate sound reproduction.


    Compared to the same listening on my Predator, the iDSD is less warm, equally detailed and with a more pleasing soundstage to my ears. This dac/amp really rewards quality recordings, it seems more than happy to allow the listener to hear and appreciate every nuance of a song. I hear this the most on a recording like Daft Punk’s “Game of Love” - where subtle background synth lines are very present and small percussion accents very easy to hear.


    Where I find the first (sound) shortcoming of this amp is when I dig into my hip-hop/rap collection. I listen to a good bit of music in this genre, but its production values frequently don’t play nice with audiophile gear, which I suppose is part of the reason anyone buys Beats. I do not get a lively, bassy feel at all. The bass is actually quiet and seems generally pushed towards the back of the mix, leaving the mids hanging out to dry. Compared to rap through my Predator, and even the V30 alone, this sound is flat and boring.It does not inspire me to want to get up and dance, just to take a review break and get my bass/dance/party fix quickly on a different setup.


    On Tool’s “The Pot” the excellent soundstage in on full display again. It’s like the band is playing in a circle around my head. It sounds great! - percussion is crystal clear, bass is heavy and accurate, vocals show Maynard’s range and authenticity, and and Jones’ guitar is beautiful.


    Listening to Bon Iver’s “22, A Million”, I am reminded of the respect paid to great production by this unit. If an artist wanted you to hear a guitar noodle, in the background, clearly overshadowed by a vocal flourish after - you will hear it just like that. For me, one of the greatest parts of accurate audio reproduction isn’t the pomp and circumstance of a totally unbiased, neutral sound, but hearing what your (__enter artist of choice__) wanted you to hear. To understate it to the extreme, a multitude of people, from the artist to the series of engineers, all work very hard to get a specific sound to you. To me, it’s seeing a Van Gogh in person vs seeing an excellent print. If possible, I want the original, all day every day. With audio, I can have (very nearly) that. The Nano 100% moves you towards that goal.


    My current most used setup at home is my phone (LG V30) into my Schiit Magni 2, to my 650s. I’ve really enjoyed this setup a lot. The same songs, computer to Nano, to 650s, sound so much more full and warm through the latter. Turned to what I’d appxmate as 60%, the Nano drives the sh*t out of y 650s - in the best possible way.


    I have, and I’m sure will, loved the Magni 2. Schiit is a great company in the scheme of mid/hi end audio. On this front, I’d take the sound out of the Nano hands down. I didn’t find tracks to deter me from that position despite trying to (in audio, the negative is easier to prove than the positive). I get a ton of clarity and beauty from the V30/Schiit, but the warmth and separation I get from the Nano is far better. By no means take this as a deterrent from picking up either of those pieces of kit, but if the choice involves the Nano v those options/something similar - get the nano. It is great. I really, really, love the sound from this unit.





    Listening options -


    Plugging the unit into my laptop (older Yoga Pro) it was picked up immediately and I had no issues getting music going pretty much right away. There is plenty of headroom here using my 650s. I am ½ volume, “Direct” out, and these cans are bumping. I’ve spent countless hours on these cans and have a good feel for when they are really being driven, pushed a little but in the sweet spot. The iFi delivers here in spades. It really drives these, plenty of room to spare, and I feel like this matchup is an especially good one. We’ll see as I move on to other options.


    Battery -


    I am not the first in the review chain, and the unit was sent with a full charge. The holidays meant I had a little less time with the unit than I qould have liked. The battery seemed well above average.


    Features -


    IE Match / Direct - I have read up on the IE Match feature, from iFi and also some user generated info, and I am still not sure this is as important a feature as it is made out to be. I may not have quite the diversity of headphone/impedance types to really benefit. What I can speak to is what I perceive as a difference in the sound. There is a level difference between them, where I needed to turn up the volume to get to the same listening level output while using IE Match.


    After matching listening levels, using the IEMatch sounds, to me, almost like dropping the blanket over the music. I hear a little less crispness using IE Match, and it does also seem to temper some of the more harsh highs. The ladder is especially noticeable when listening to something like Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” and in general more noticeable on radio pop type songs. I also hear some muddling of the L/R separation that I enjoy so much from the Nanos other output. I detect a narrowing of the soundstage, with the music feeling more like it's being played AT me instead of WITH me. Its less immersive and I feel less engaged.


    Overall, I preferred the sound from the “Direct” output and used that much more during my time with the Nano. Again, I might be a specific use case situation where this feature isn’t very beneficial - but I also don’t fully understand what this feature adds overall.


    Final thoughts -

    I would buy this unit. In fact, I might buy this unit. I live in the “mid-fi” space (a hilarious name for a spot where people spend car-payments worth of dough on unnecessary equipment) but this represents a likely upgrade for anyone living at or below that spot. Its very similar to my RSA, but newer, more adaptable, and better prepared for the future. I hate the cabling situation - it's just silly in 2018 - but as an audio nerd I’ll happily research and buy yet more equipment to correct that problem. For the price, I don’t know I would have a better “jack of all trades” rec over this.. If this is in your financial wheelhouse, and you are wanting a versatile and portable option, buy it.


    TL;DR version -


    Pros -

    • great soundstage and separation
      • Vocals are excellent!
    • Compatibility with all current hi-res file types

    • Build quality and feature set

    • Looks (its good lookin’ !)

    • Price
    Cons -

    • The digital input, cable situation! (an easy fix, please fix it??)

    • Inability to use it w/o DAC
      HalSF and SV_huMMer like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. jeffhawke
      Enjoyable review Kyle, I was thinking of getting one myself to supplement my micro iDSD BL (which I would never let go of, as it has all the digital and analog inputs the nano is missing, PLUS the cables! on top of amazing sound), as the nano appears to be really portable, as opposed to transportable, and I could use my Cayin N3 as pure digital transport. I found a USB C to USB A female OTG that actually works, for less than $3, so I might give it a go.
      jeffhawke, Feb 20, 2018
    3. Ksweene5
      Thanks for the feedback ya'll - I hope to contribute more reviews in the near future.
      Ksweene5, Feb 20, 2018
    4. abm0
      Would've been better to correct the understanding of the concept rather than just mock it. Since it's "-fi" it has to be based completely on FIdelity, and not at all on price.
      abm0, Apr 17, 2018
  7. SV_huMMer
    Nano iDSD Black Label: a black box full of wonders
    Written by SV_huMMer
    Published Feb 16, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent feature set, platform and format compatibility
    Great portable-friendly package
    Vastly improved amplification section
    Clear, transparent and neutral sound signature
    Cons - May sound too sterile with extremely neutral cans
    Accessories bundle not optimal
    Not ideal headphone connectors layout
    USB input square opening could be larger
    This review is part of iFi Audio’s generous Nano BL Tour, where I am happy and proud to be selected as one of the reviewers for the European leg of the Tour. Therefore, a disclaimer is due here:

    Disclaimer: the unit tested was a loaner from iFi, which means exactly this: I received it from iFi free of charge and returned it after the review. I have not been otherwise incentivized by iFi to write a positive review. And frankly – I didn’t need any additional incentives!

    Disclaimer 2: the review contains a few very technical and detailed abstracts, that may be way too lengthy and detailed for a captivating reading, therefore, those abstracts will be titled as Geeky Tech Notes and will be hidden under spoilers, which you may or may not wish to open.

    Background with iFi products

    I have been for three years and I still am a happy owner of iFi’s original Nano iDSD (the fully-featured one, not LE!), that I’ve had enough time to put through its paces in both desktop and portable applications. I must confess I am absolutely in love with this little piece of genius engineering, although, as it is always the case with beloved partners, Nano iDSD wasn’t without its flaws. Needless to say I was eagerly awaiting for the opportunity to get my hands on the new Black Label incarnation of this tiny magic box to see what has changed and in what direction, apart from the obvious switch from “blonde” to “brunette” appearance. So inevitably, throughout this review I will be comparing the new BL to the original iDSD Nano.

    Packaging and contents

    The unit I reviewed was a brand-new, unopened retail unit (not a tour unit), therefore I can be confident that the packaging and contents are exactly what you’ll find on the shelves of retail stores/in boxes coming from online stores.

    Nano BL Package.JPG

    The packaging style is very similar to the original iDSD Nano that I own: you’re met by an outer sleeve with a colorful product picture and a wealth of both marketing and technical information. It even has a little special sticky black label (no pun intended… or is it? ) on the top of the box, showing off 4x Extra Power, Dual Mono Output and MQA Authenticated features. The sleeve off, you will find a typical iFi white tight-fit box (a bit “Apple-style”). Note the obvious difference between box dimensions of the original Nano and the BL: the latter is much slimmer, with roughly the same length and width.

    Nano iDSD and BL packages.JPG
    Nano Black Label on the left, original Nano iDSD on the right

    Great job by iFi on slimming down the box, given that the Nano BL has a lot of stuff included:

    Nano BL bundle.jpg

    The most notable difference is the set of cables, which is logical given the change of physical USB connection on the BL compared to the original.

    iDSD and  BL rear stacked.jpg

    The BL comes with the total of 3 cables/adaptors:

    - 1m/3ft long USB3.0 A Male to A Female cable. This one looks like the regular USB3.0 extension cable, and technically this is exactly what it is. It will be your main cable for charging the unit from any wall plug adapter/powerbank/computer port, as well as your USB DAC connection cable to connect the BL to a PC.
    - A short (slightly less than 20cm/about 7in) USB2.0 A female to B Female cable. This will allow you to connect whatever existing USB A to B male cables you may already have in your desktop or portable setups.
    - An even shorter single-piece solid A Female to B Female adaptor, which obviously has exactly the same purpose as the aforementioned 7 inch cable, but in a different form factor.

    I will get back to this with a more in-depth analysis of connectivity options later in my review.

    Unlike the original Nano iDSD, which included a regular, but decent, stereo RCA cable, the new BL bundles no analogue interconnects at all.

    In addition to the set of cables and adapters, the BL also comes with a pair of rubber bands to “sandwich” it with a portable source – a smartphone or a DAP, however, the rectangular silicone spacer that came with the original Nano iDSD, is no longer included.

    To finish with the packaging, I’ll mention the much discussed carrying pouch. Yes, it does have an opening at the bottom, and no, this is not a stitching defect, but a wise feature to run cables through.

    I am personally not a big fan of soft-cloth carrying pouches, especially made of velour-esque materials. To say that this is a dust/debris magnet is a classical British understatement. Moreover, it offers only limited protection against scratches, but not more. Don’t get me wrong – this is perfectly fine, and very thoughtful on behalf of iFi to include the pouch free of charge, but I always want my beloved gadgets well protected. My original Nano iDSD has been kept in a small digital camera pouch that I got dirt-cheap in the local camera store, and, as you can see, after 3 years of heavy use it is still in a pristine condition.

    Nano iDSD in pouch.JPG

    Given that Black Label is black (what a surprise ), I’d strongly recommend getting something similar for your new toy, as the black coating may be even more prone to accidental bumps and scratches.

    Exterior, connections and controls

    I can’t agree more with Henry Ford who once said that “The car can be of any color, as long as this color is black”!
    The Nano BL, with its high-grade matte-black finish and glossy black/orange markings is beautiful. Full stop! Front and rear plates are perfectly machined and beveled edges add to the overall impression of a quality product.

    Nano BL angle view.JPG

    Don’t get me wrong – the original Nano iDSD made me have the same feelings of shimmering quality when I first got it in my hands, but there’s nothing I can do – BLACK is BLACK. I love it.

    While it’s a pure question of personal taste, I was not overly happy with the overall change in the front and rear plate shapes. I really loved the complex multi-angled “raised eyebrows” shape of the original Nano and Micro series.

    Nano iDSD and BL side by side.JPG

    The new BL has a much simpler, more “boring” trapezoid face. I can see it being more comfortable in the portable set up, as it has less bumpy edges now, but to me it kind of lost that signature bold look of iFi Nano/Micro series. Other than this, the overall physical dimensions of the two units remain very close, with exactly the same chassis length and width. The BL has a slightly smaller overall length thanks to a very wise move by iFi of making the volume knob almost twice as short as the original Nano iDSD.

    Front panels profile.jpg

    Bravo, iFi, you really nailed this one! While still offering perfectly sufficient grip for convenient volume control, the new BL does not have this unnecessarily protruding volume knob of the original Nano iDSD. Moreover, the new knob is also more visually informative, thanks to an orange mark against a black background – a step forward from barely visible silver mark on a silver knob of the original Nano iDSD.

    Volume knobs.jpg

    However, both the original Nano iDSD and the new BL volume knobs could in my opinion do a much better job in portable use, if they were a little crown-shaped, as opposed to cylindrical.

    Crown_Volume_Knob.jpg

    This would allow much easier “blind operation” of the unit if in a pocket/pouch/bag, because with a little practice you’d be able to tell the dialed volume just by feeling the knob position relative to the unit body.

    Geeky Technote on volume control
    Note on the volume control of the Nano BL: the novelty is not only the new shape of the knob In fact, technically volume controls of the original iDSD Nano and the Nano BL are implemented very differently. The original Nano iDSD had iFi’s proprietary “Software controlled analogue volume control”, which, in human language, meant that the actual potentiometer that you turn with the volume knob is not in the audio signal path. Instead, it controls a special IC, which in turn switches the signal route across multiple arrays of small resistors, providing stepped volume control. The advantage of this method is that the actual signal quality, as well as relative channel tracking, are not affected by neither the quality nor the possible wear and tear of the potentiometer’s resistive track layers.

    This allows using a relatively inexpensive potentiometer with no detriment whatsoever to the audio signal quality – one of those smart things iFi utilizes to build great products at attractive prices. However, the downside of this approach is that a) arrays of resistors take up valuable PCB real estate, and b) the steps of attenuation are quite pronounced and audible, especially at lower volume levels. This translated into quite a few user complaints about “pops” and “clicks” of the original Nano iDSD as you turn the volume knob, especially in the initial part of the adjustment range, that in reality were those audible attenuation steps. iFi even issued tech notes detailing this, outlining the comfortable adjustment range of “past 12 o’clock mark at the volume dial”, and even advised users of very sensitive IEMs to add impedance-boosting adapters, to shift the volume adjustment range of comfortable listening levels further up the actual knob range.

    I am very happy to confirm that the new Nano BL is completely free from all these issues, and not only thanks to a dedicated “iEMatch” headphone out. The volume control in Nano BL is now a classical tried and tested “potentiometer-in-the-signal-line” solution. The potentiometer used is twin-track, to maintain the “S-Balanced” topology of Nano BL’s amp, which means that adjustment is made separately for left and right channel signals. The result is silky-smooth, absolutely “analogue-feeling” volume adjustment throughout the entire volume knob rotation range, no matter with what headphones – hard to drive full size cans plugged into “Direct” socket, or super-sensitive IEMs connected to “iEMatch” socket.

    First of all, big thanks to iFi for resisting the temptation of simply using fully digital DAC-level volume control, which is a lot easier and cheaper to implement, but might result in quite audible degradation of sound quality.

    My (partially educated guess) is that another reason behind replacing the original Nano iDSD’s resistor array switching method of volume regulation with the more traditional “pot-in-the-signal-path” thing is due to the fact that with the old method in order to maintain “S-balanced” dual mono topology of the amp output section, one would have to use twice as much resistor arrays, which may drive the costs up, and be very hard, if not impossible, given the small PCB footprint.

    Adding more to the overall compactness of the unit, the new BL has no protruding RCA connector for SPDIF out on the back (although this one comes at a price of actually losing the functionality), and the filter switch is now a nicely recessed design.

    rear panels profile.jpg

    Front controls and connectors

    One of the headline features of the new BL is a totally reworked amplifier part, which now offers two 3.5mm connectors for your headphones, located in the left part of the front panel. The left one is marked as “iEMatch”, the right one as “Direct”.

    NanoBL front panel.jpg

    While having two headphone outputs may sound better than one, I personally don’t think so. In a small portable package, where every millimeter and gram counts, having two basically identical headphone connectors with just some internal impedance-matching circuit that differ is a bit of a waste, in my view. I am not an audio engineer, but it seems to me iEMatch could well be a toggle switch feature, instead of a separate connector. The valuable space taken by the second connector could be then used to provide some more useful features, such as 2.5mm TRRS balanced connector (to complement 3.5mm TRRS connector which is already there). I don’t think a full-size ¼ inch (6.3mm) jack is that important in a device that is tailored for portable use, but even this would be a more useful feature than what we have now.

    Between the pair of headphone output connectors on the left and the volume knob on the right now resides the main RGB LED which signals battery states, connection states and formats of tracks played. More on it later, but I wanted to highlight another perfect hit by iFi for moving the LED from the top of the original Nano iDSD to the front plate, where it really belongs. I loved how discreet and unobtrusive was the tiny LED on the original iDSD Nano, but its placement could feel awkward at times, especially if you try to stack several units in desktop use, or put your “sandwich” into a pocket/pouch/bag in portable use. In many normal usage scenarios you simply could not see or, at least, could not easily see the LED on the original Nano iDSD. This problem is simply inexistent in the new BL. Ideally, I’d personally prefer the old, smaller and less bright LED of the original Nano iDSD at the new Nano BL location, but this is probably asking too much.

    Rear controls and connectors

    Nano BL rear panel.jpg

    The left corner of rear plate of the unit houses the 3.5mm stereo mini jack line out, which is a fixed-level 2v stereo output.

    Geeky Technote on Line Out
    The line out of the Nano DL did not only change location and connector type compared to the original Nano iDSD, but is now implemented in a different, and more appropriate, way: it is a truly fixed-level line out signal, not affected by the volume control circuit and totally independent from headphone output. This is different from the original Nano iDSD, where the “line-out” front RCA connectors were affected by the volume control knob, and were truly “line-out” only if you set the volume knob to MAX. Note also that with the original Nano iDSD, the “line out” signal was muted when you inserted the jack into the headphones out – not the case with Nano BL: the line out signal is always present, no matter headphones connected or not.

    Needless to say how much better the new approach is: in desktop use you can now easily connect the BL to an external amplifier and still be able to listen to headphones plugged into BL at adequate levels without affecting the line out signal. Great job on implementing this, iFi! You do lose the “preamp” feature of the original Nano iDSD, however, you’d probably only need it in some exotic cases of connecting Nano to speaker systems that have no volume control. Ironically, I happen to have exactly this exotic case for near field speaker set up – a pair of Genelec 6010 studio monitors. They do have gain control knob on each speaker, but it is located at the rear of the cabinet and is very awkward to use. So I had to add a passive volume control to the set up to test with Nano BL.

    Next to the line out is the tiny digital filters switch, which seems to be exactly the same filter switch as in the original Nano iDSD, but with different naming. It looks on paper that “Listen” on the BL is the old “Minimum Phase” on the original Nano iDSD, and “Measure” is “Standard”. To be frank with you, I have never been able to hear any difference beyond the autosuggestion between the two, neither on the original Nano, nor on the new BL, no matter what music I listened to with what headphones. If this sounds to you as a verdict that I am deaf or at least hearing-impaired, you might want to skip my listening impressions altogether :)

    The right corner of the rear plate is occupied by the digital USB input, which represents another novelty introduced on the BL.

    Nano BL Digital Input.jpg

    Unlike the original Nano iDSD, which had a traditional USB3.0 Type B Female (USB3.0 shaped, but USB 2.0 electronically, to be precise) connector for digital input, the new BL offers the recessed USB Type A Male connector. This smart move (as well as a few other feature differences that I will mention later) to me is a clear sign that iFi is shifting the positioning of the unit more towards the portable use rather than desktop use.

    Electronically, this is still the USB2.0 asynchronous digital input, just like on the original Nano iDSD. However, the use of a recessed male connector now allows users to connect the BL to both Android and iOS devices with a lot less cable clutter.

    iOS connections

    As you all know, in order to get true digital USB audio out with current generation of iOS devices, you need to use Apple’s Lightning to USB camera adapter (and special software, and some luck – but more on this later).

    Apple lightning to USB connector.JPG

    This adapter has a USB Type A Female socket at the device end, where you’re normally supposed to plug the regular USB Type A Male end of the cable connecting your camera to import pictures. (Yes, Apple officially says that this connector is only for importing pictures from compatible digital cameras. He-he ) With most other USB DACs/Amps, this is exactly what you’ll have to do: plug the Type A Male end of your normal USB cable into this Apple adapter.

    Apple with original Nano iDSD.jpg

    What you can do now, with iFi Magic (or shall I say clever thinking), is have this regular USB cable disappear! Instead, you simply plug the Type A Female end of your Apple adapter right into this rectangular hole with rounded corners, where it fits just perfectly.

    Nano BL with iPad.JPG
    Sorry for the fingerprints on the dirty iPad screen

    Geeky Technote on Apple USB adapters and USB Audio Out
    Technically speaking, there are a total of four Apple’s original adapters that allow (with varying degree of success though) to connect an external USB DAC to an Apple device for a bit-perfect USB Audio Class-compliant output. For older 30-pin devices, it’s the old and discontinued Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit (MC531ZM/A) (and yes, it works only with 30-pin iPads, no 30-pin iPhones or iPods support it). This is now kind of history.

    For more recent lightning devices, there’s Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter – this is exactly what you want to use with Nano BL because of physical connector compatibility – you can plug the device end of this adapter straight into Nano BL’s recessed Type A Male socket. There are two generations of this adapter, MD821ZM/A (the earlier) and MD821AM/A (the more recent), which seem to work in exactly the same way, at least for the purposes of USB Audio out. And finally, there’s the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter (MK0W2AM/A), which is the newest version. It adds USB3.0 speeds to devices who support it (selected iPad Pro models only, AFAIK), and has a physically larger adapter body adding a female lightning socket for external power supply. This adapter will not physically plug directly into Nano BL, simply because it’s bigger than the square opening around the USB connector.

    Side note. Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter is not just straightforward wires with different connectors: they do have some Apple’s proprietary digital circuitry inside, so the result is only guaranteed (sort of :wink:) with original adapters.

    Android connections

    In order to connect a USB DAC to an Android device, you need to use the so-called USB OTG (or On-The-GO) cable. This cable is a lot simpler than the Apple adapter, and is in fact just straight wires with different connectors, but wires are soldered in a specific way so that the cable conforms to OTG specs.

    Typically, an OTG cable will have a micro USB (or, with recent smartphones, USB Type C) connector at the phone end, and then a USB Type A Female socket on the other (device) end. And while technically very different, both Apple adapters and Android OTG cables share physically identical USB Type A Female connectors at the device end, meaning both of which can be plugged directly into the new BL, without any additional cables or adapters.

    Apple and OTG Type A Female connectors.jpg
    A typical Android USB OTG adapter (left) next to Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter (right)

    This is where the new “recessed USB Typa A Male” connector of Nano BL really shines in its full glory: all you need to have is a standard USB OTG adapter (Micro USB or USB Type C at the phone end, depending on your device), which you can plug directly into Nano BL.

    Nano BL with Android OTG.jpg

    I can’t stress enough how much more convenient and compact this is, compared to, for example, the original Nano iDSD. This is the mess of cables you’d normally have to live with when using Nano iDSD in portable mode:

    Nano iDSD stock cables mess.jpg

    In order to make the portable package with Nano iDSD nicer and more compact, I ordered a wonderful custom-built copper litz Micro USB to USB Type B OTG cable, which worked perfectly, but required quite an additional investment.

    Nano iDSD custom OTG cable stack.jpg

    With the Nano BL, this is not necessary. Of course, those of us who fancy aftermarket custom cables, could still bother ordering a custom-made higher-quality OTG cable with typical USB Type A Female connector, but the ability to use almost (and this is an important “almost”!) any commercially available USB OTG adapter is a huge plus.

    However, a special note must be made here: while Apple’s original Lightning to USB Camera Adapters are all exactly the same in terms of physical dimensions, unfortunately, USB OTG cables are offered by hundreds of different manufacturers, and the size of the outer plastic shell of the female connector can vary quite significantly. Being more of an Android guy rather than Apple person, I have quite a selection of different OTG cables, and I was able to find both those that fit perfectly, those, that fit with a very tight squeeze, and those, that just won’t fit at all.

    Three OTG connectors.jpg
    From left to right: perfect fit, barely fits, does not fit at all.

    Therefore, if you plan to use the BL in an Android-based portable set up and you’re planning to use the USB OTG cable directly plugged into BL’s USB socket – take the BL with you when you shop for the OTG cable to try the fit, or be prepared to do some sanding off of the plastic shell. Do NOT force the connector into the socked – you risk to bend/damage the contacts. The connector must enter without any excessive force.

    Original USB and OTG connectors.jpg
    Note the striking size difference between the bundled USB cable Type A female connector and the worst-case Android USB OTG connector – it is well over 1.5 mm!

    I wish iFi made this square opening just another half-millimeter larger in each direction – this would have solved a lot, if not all, of the physical compatibility issues with all sorts of cables and adapters.

    As you may have noticed, gone is the SPDIF RCA output of the original Nano iDSD – yes, the new BL omits the Digital-to-Digital Converter (DDC) functionality altogether. Whether to lament it or not strongly depends on your intended use. If you happen to own and cherish one of those older-generation coaxial SPDIF-only DACs – then you’ll lose the ability to hook it to your PC via USB to SPDIF conversion offered by the original Nano iDSD. If not (my case) – this omission is nothing to regret about. Obviously, the DDC is a lot more “desktop” rather than “portable” feature: I can hardly imagine when you could need to have an SPDIF output in a truly portable scenario. Yet another sign of iFi clearly wanting the BL to be perceived as a portable solution in the first place.

    This closes the section on external controls and connectors. All other sides of the unit are free of any connectors/controls etc. The “belly” has four pre-installed small silicone bumps which provide good grip for the unit sitting on the desk, and some protective clearance between BL and the phone/DAP, if used in a portable “sandwich” set up. Note that the original Nano iDSD also came with preinstalled silicone feet, but those were much larger and taller, making the entire portable “sandwich” noticeably thicker, than in case of Nano BL.

    Since this is a loaner unit which I am supposed to return in impeccable condition, there will be no disassembly/teardown, sorry :).

    Test equipment and music

    Test equipment.JPG

    Sources

    In desktop mode, the BL is fed by the digital signal from a dedicated music PC running Windows Server, via a NEC-based PCIe USB 3.0 card. I installed the most up-to-date USB Driver package from iFi, v.3.20.0. The playback software is Foobar2000 v1.3.17, packed with foo_out_asio v2.1.2, foo_dsd_processor v1.1.0 and foo_input_sacd v1.1.0.

    In portable mode, the BL is connected to Sony Xperia Z5 Compact, non-rooted, and running latest stock FW. The playback software is the latest version of USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP)v.3.8.5 and/or Hiby Music v.3.0.0 International build 5481. I have also tested the iOS playback using an iPad Mini 4, running the latest iOS 11.2.2 and Onkyo HF Player (full license) for bit-perfect hi-res USB Audio output tests, although I do not primarily use iPad as a portable music source.

    The Nano BL was tested with three different firmware binaries: the original 5.2 Limoncello, the 5.2A “DSD256 DoP” variation, as well as the 5.3C RC2 MQA-enabled. More on this later.

    Headphones

    Full size: AKG K501; AKG Q701; Audiotechnica ATH-A700; Audiotechnica ATH-ES10; Sony MDR-7506; Philips Fidelio X2

    IEM: Etymotic ER4P Custom eartips + recable.

    Compared to/paired with:

    iFi Nano iDSD USB DAC/Amp
    M2Tech HiFace USB DAC
    Ray Samuels Audio RSA Predator USB DAC/Amp
    Laconic HA-04AF Tube Headphone Amp
    Genelec 6010 Near-field studio monitors

    Test music

    While I have listened to a large variety of music during burn-in, I will base my listening impressions for this review on a playlist of test songs that I try to use in whatever equipment listening tests, in order to have more comparable results.

    Format compatibility and audible differences between formats (or absence thereof :wink:) was tested using the excellent selection of hi-res samples offered by 2L – a Norwegian record label. The advantage is that I truly compare apples to apples: 2L offers the same track, packaged in a variety of different formats (FLACs ranging from Redbook to DXD, DSD from 64 to 256, and even MQA-encoded files) all coming from the same highest-quality studio master source. In my compatibility tests I used the Mozart Violin Concerto in D major KV 218, I. Allegro, performed by Marianne Thorsen & TrondheimSolistene and mastered in hot and fresh MQA remix of 2016.

    Sound signature and sonic qualities were tested using a selection of my favorites tracks, mainly coming from big audio companies’ or record lables’ test/demonstration disks. The track list is below:

    track list.jpg

    Basic operations

    PC operation

    BL is recognized by Windows-based PCs as a USB Audio device and appears under “Sound, video and game controllers” as “iFi (by AMR) HD+ USB Audio”.

    I used the supplied USB3.0 Type A Female to Type A Male cable for connection to my PC. In fact, any USB Type A Female to Type A Male extender cable would work, no matter USB3.0 or USB2.0, because electronically the USB input on the Nano DL is USB2.0.
    However, this is not the only cabling option. The Nano DL includes two adapters that allow you to use any USB2.0 Type B terminated cable to connect to your digital source. USB Type A to B cables are quite common among higher-end aftermarket USB cable manufacturers. The USB Type A end would usually go to the source – a PC, or a network player/streamer, and Type B would usually go to the DAC. This is not a rule nor a standard, so other variations also occur.

    As I mentioned earlier, both included adapters do exactly the same thing and only differ in shape and length. In my opinion, including both of them is a bit of a redundancy. Moreover, unlike the original Nano iDSD, which had “USB3.0-shaped” Type B socket (with the cutout for the raised part of USB3.0 compliant cables), both included adapters would only physically accept “square” USB2.0 Type B cables. Technically, USB3.0 fully-wired cables would make absolutely no difference, as only the USB2.0 part of contacts will be used anyway. However, as USB3.0 is gradually replacing USB2.0 virtually everywhere, the physical compatibility of the original Nano iDSD with the new generation of cables is an added bonus.

    With Firmware 5.2 Limoncello the unit is absolutely stable, and gets recognized by the system every time I connected it, both in “battery power mode” (where you have to first turn the unit on with the volume knob, and then connect the USB cable), and in “USB power mode” (where you plug the cable first and then turn the device power on with the volume knob).

    Geeky Technote on power circuit
    ¬The Nano BL does an excellent job of managing the power, and does in my opinion even better, than its predecessor. There are quite a few subtle, but interesting differences, and I did some tests and measurements using an inexpensive USB power meter, the absolute precision of which is not too important, as what I am really interested in is relative performance between different modes, as well as compared to the original Nano iDSD and my M2Tech HiFace DAC. So please take the absolute power numbers below with a grain of salt – it’s the trends that are more important.

    Charging

    When connected to a USB power source (no matter PC port, portable device or USB power adapter) with power switched off, the Nano BL initiates the charging mode: the LED turns blue, and the battery is begin charged with up to 600mA. The maximum the original Nano was roughly 400mA, which means that, all other things being equal, the Nano BL would pump more energy during the same period of time (with a good charger), resulting in reduced charging times.

    Nano BL OFF Charging.jpg

    An interesting observation: when you connect the Nano BL in USB Power mode, the device starts talking to the system even when the volume knob is in the OFF position. Voltage is supplied to Data+ and Data- lines the moment you plug the cable (see D+ and D- readings in the picture above). The driver is initialized; the device is correctly detected by the host, no matter PC, Android or iOS. For example, on a PC, Nano BL is correctly displayed in the iFi HD USB Audio control panel, and you can even start the playback in Foobar2000 using it as the output device (the control panel will also correctly reflect changes in the track sample rate) with the unit still switched off, but of course no sound will be coming out of connected headphones and/or line out.

    This is very different from the original Nano iDSD, which started the handshake only after you switched it on by turning the volume knob. In OFF position, there’s no voltage on Data+ and Data- lines, hence the device is not visible to the host, and only draws power.

    This leads me to the conclusion that the Nano BL always powers at least the USB receiver chip and (maybe) part of the DAC circuitry from the external USB power source, before the circuit is broken by the power switch in the volume pot.

    Turning the unit ON while in “USB Power mode”

    If you turn the Nano Black Label ON while it is connected to a USB port, it enters the “USB Power Mode”, and the current consumption increases by approximately 20mA. In other words, in my measurements it went up from 600mA to 620mA when turned on while charging at max current, or from 210mA to 230mA when charging closer to full battery capacity. If you turn the power OFF again, and the battery is still not full, the power consumption will go back to whatever charging current there was, and the LED will turn blue again.

    Nano BL OFF Charging low.jpg
    Nano BL OFF, charging
    Nano BL on from Charging low.jpg
    Nano BL On from charging

    600mA is quite a lot of current, and even though it will drop as the battery charges, I certainly do not recommend using “USB Power Mode” with portable devices, nor leave Nano DL connected to your portable device after you switch it OFF. I know it sort of contradicts iFi’s statement that you can use the unit with portable sources, even if the battery is fully depleted. And yes, you can, however, I don’t think you want to drain 600mA current from your mobile phone, and this is exactly what Nano BL will drain with empty battery, as the charging current will be the highest. Another thing to remember is that there are quite few portable devices, that would actually allow such a drain from them. My Sony Xperia Z5 Compact is known to have a very generous current allowance on its OTG port, so it did supply up to 610mA to Nano BL (590mA in the picture), but the battery drain was very strong.

    Nano BL OTG Charging.jpg
    Note the huge voltage drop – the phone’s power regulator has a hard time coping with Nano BL’s power appetite!

    The original Nano iDSD shows a slightly different behavior. When connected with power off, it starts charging the battery at around 400mA, gradually dropping as it gets fuller. Same pattern with different values. However, when you turn the power ON, the power consumption jumps to a fixed value оf around 340-360mA, regardless of the battery charging level (and current consumption in charging mode). When you turn the power OFF again, the current consumption returns to the charging value (which could be higher or lower than 340-360mA in the ON state, depending on the level of battery charge).

    Nano iDSD OFF Charging.jpg
    Nano iDSD OFF, charging
    Nano iDSD ON from USB Power Mode.jpg
    Nano iDSD ON from charging

    However, if you turn the power ON when the battery is fully charged (the LED is off and Nano iDSD goes into the “trickle charge” mode, drawing about 40mA) - the current consumption drops to basically zero (at least, below the precision threshold of my cheap meter, which seems to be 10mA). The unit operates with literally zero current draw from the source until the battery is dead or until you unplug and re-plug it – in which case the power management logic resets. So in other words, if the original Nano iDSD gets fully charged between the moment you connect it to the USB port and you turn it ON, it will always start in “Battery Power Mode”, even though technically you plugged the cable first, and then turned the power ON.

    This strange behavior was corrected in Nano BL, which, even if fully charged, will always correctly turn ON in “USB Power Mode”, always drawing “X+20mA” from the source, where X is whatever current the unit was drawing in the “OFF” position, including the “trickle charge” when the battery is fully charged.

    Battery Power Mode

    If you connect the Nano BL to a USB port with its power ON, it will enter the “Battery Power Mode”.
    In this mode the unit consumes virtually nothing from the source’s USB port, with my cheap power meter it was jumping around 10-20mA.

    Nano BL OTG Battery Power mode.jpg

    Nano iDSD has approximately the same current drain in Battery Power Mode. Needless to say that this mode is a lot more appropriate for the portable use. Compared to a very portable-friendly, but still battery-less, M2Tech HiFace DAC, both Nanos draw almost 10 times less power from the source, which, to me, is a clear and unbeatable advantage of battery-equipped devices in portable use.

    M2Tech.jpg

    Using Foobar2000, I had absolutely no problem playing back all almost all declared file formats. The unit correctly accepted PCM signals ranging from your Redbook 16/44.1 all the way up to whopping DXD 24bit/352kHz files. As far as DSD is concerned, I was able to effortlessly playback DSD 64 (2.8MHz) and DSD 128 (5.6MHz).

    DSD256 files could not be played back though Nano BL flashed with 5.2 Limoncello. The original Nano iDSD running the same 5.2 Limoncello firmware (and yes, this is exactly the same FW, the binary file is absolutely identical) could not play DSD256 neither. However, for the original Nano iDSD there’s 5.2A firmware variant officially listed on the web site, which unlocks DSD256 in DoP (DSD-Over-PCM), and allows to play back DSD256 files.

    While 5.2A is not officially listed as compatible with Nano BL, after consultations with iFi technical specialists I tried flashing this binary to Nano BL, and it went totally fine. The unit was initialized by the driver now displaying 5.2A firmware, and DSD256 tracks played just fine, with the control panel correctly reporting DSD256 (DoP) output format and a whopping 705600kHz sampling rate.

    Foobar_lights.jpg

    While I strongly believe that the ability to play back DSD256 content in a normal, “consumer listening” environment, let alone portable set ups, is more of a demonstration of iFi’s excellent engineering rather than a practical necessity, credits given where due. iFi managed to cram an incredible amount of versatility and flexibility in such a tiny footprint (both in terms of physical dimensions and the price bracket). There’s certainly some magic going on inside those tiny boxes. Black magic in this case :wink:

    I have also tried the newer Release Candidate firmware for the Nano BL – namely, 5.3C RC2. This firmware unleashes MQA decoding capabilities of the Nano BL, is said to lock PCM up-sampling to 8x, and changes the logic of LED color indication of the incoming signal format.

    As far as MQA is concerned, unfortunately, I could not test this feature. TIDAL is not available in Russia, and I could not find any other way of testing MQA-encoded tracks on a PC source. So no magenta light has ever shown up on my Nano DL.

    DSD playback in 5.3C RC2 is unchanged compared to 5.2 – full support of DSD64 and DSD128 tracks, the LED correctly turns cyan. DSD256 tracks cannot be played back again – you do need 5.2A to unlock DSD256 DoP mode.

    With the PCM material the unit behaves quite differently compared to the stock 5.2 Firmware. The 5.3C RC2 is said to always show the white LED on PCM material because it is “upsampled 8x”. And indeed, instead of showing individual color coding for up to 96kHz (green) or 174/192kHz (yellow) or DXD (white), the Nano BL is now always white with PCM tracks. However, I could not perceive any audible difference between non-upsampled playback of PCM tracks and 8x upsampling.

    I must note, however, that in terms of the overall stability the 5.3C RC2 is still what it is honestly called – a release candidate. I did have a couple of occurrences where Nano BL would not be recognized by the system at first connection attempt (no matter “Power then cable” or “Cable then power”), and required re-plugging it one or two times. Once recognized, the unit remain rock-solid in terms of stability. This only happened to me on the 5.3C RC2 firmware – I have never had any issues plugging/unplugging/re-plugging dozens of times with neither Nano BL, nor Nano iDSD, with officially released 5.2 and 5.2A firmware.

    Android operation

    Nano BL was tested with my Sony Xperia Z5 Compact, which supports USB OTG connection (this is a mandatory requirement to properly use outboard USB DAC on an Android device, bypassing any internal system audio processing).

    The only caveat is the physical compatibility of the Nano BL’s square opening and the size of the outer shell of the Type A female connector on the OTG cable. I covered it in the “Packaging and contents” section of this review, just a reminder: not all USB OTG cables are created equal, so please try before you buy!

    On my Xperia, in order to use the Nano BL (or any other external USB device), I needed to initialize it manually, by going to Settings -> Device Connection -> USB Connectivity, and tap the “Detect USB Device”.

    Screenshot_20180214-171938.png

    Your mileage may vary, as I think it strongly depends on the USB OTG implementation and can differ from phone to phone and from Android version to another.

    In portable set up, you will want to use Nano BL’s Battery Power Mode, so please make sure to turn the unit on with the volume knob first, and then connect your cables and perform whatever actions are necessary to initialize the device on your smartphone or tablet.

    Nano BL demonstrated perfect compatibility with both USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) and Hiby Music – the two leading Android apps capable of completely bypassing Android system sound mixer and output bit-perfect USB Audio to outboard DACs. I had absolutely no problem playing back the entire selection of my test tracks, including (with some quirks) DSD256 tracks.

    Screenshot_20180214-171914.png Screenshot_20180214-172139.png

    Track format indication by the LED was accurate with all the files. Most of my testing was done using USB Audio Player Pro, with Bit Perfect set to “ON”, DSD Mode set to “Native”, and no USB Tweaks selected. I must once again acclaim iFi’s excellent format compatibility across any platform!

    Geeky Technote on DSD256 playback on Android
    The only thing that deserves a special mention is that DSD256 files in UAPP played just fine both in “Native DSD” and in “DoP” mode. This seemed a bit strange to me, because I thought DSD256 playback required “DSD-Over-PCM” (DoP) mode. The LED on Nano BL correctly lights up in blue, which means that at least there’s no hidden PCM conversion of any sort going on. Frankly, I don’t know if it is Nano BL actually doing more than advertised, or the UAPP has those settings messed up, switching to DoP automatically when the DAC requests it.

    In Hiby Music DSD256 also didn’t work as advertised: it didn’t work at all My test DSD256 file would not start playing back with an error message “File format is not supported”, no matter what DSD setting was selected – Native DSD or DSD-Over-PCM.

    Once again – in my opinion, DSD256 files in a portable set up are just plain useless. They take up HUGE amount of portable device’s storage (a single 5-min DSD256 .dsf file is on average an insane 800 MB!!!), while offering absolutely no sonic advantages compared to DSD64 or 128, and, depending on other equipment, it may not offer any audible advantages even over PCM files. My deeper-than-necessary dwelling into this subject is dictated by purely technical curiosity, rather than any practical concern.

    iOS connection and operation

    While I don’t normally use iOS devices as my digital music sources (I could’ve elaborated on this on 3-4 more pages, but I will not start this Holy War :wink:), for the purposes of testing I used my iPad Mini 4 with Onkyo HF Player, connecting Nano BL directly by Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

    A note to be made here: make sure to always use “Battery Power Mode” when connecting Nano BL to your iOS device, by turning the power on first, and the plugging the cable in. Otherwise you will most likely get the famous annoying Apple’s “The attached accessory uses too much power” error message, and your Nano BL will not be initialized.

    iOS warning.png

    Your mileage with more powerful Apple devices such as iPads Pro may vary, but to be on the safe side, I recommend sticking to the Battery Power Mode all the time. Even without the error message, this makes perfect sense, as you don’t really want Nano to draw power from your mobile device.

    Connecting Nano BL in Battery Power mode is a breeze. Once initialized by the system, the unit becomes visible to Onkyo HF Player.
    Nano BL demonstrated once again excellent format compatibility, playing back all my test PCM and DSD tracks. Note that, unlike UAPP or Hiby on Android, Onkyo HF Player only offers DSD-Over-PCM (or DoP) playback for DSD files (in addition to DSD-to-PCM conversion, which is a totally different thing). It may well be an iOS platform limitation, although being able to play hi-res or DSD content and output it to an external USB DAC form an iOS device is already a huge achievement by Onkyo!

    onkyo HF Player.png

    The Nano BL LED indicator correctly reported all the signal formats, from green for PCM all the way up to blue for DSD256 DoP.
    The only unpleasant experience of using Nano BL on iOS device is a sudden and very loud unpleasant “scratching” sound, quite often coming from the headphones the moment you close Onkyo HF Player after playing back a DSD file. This has nothing to do with Nano BL and must be something about the app or the iOS platform in general, as this happened to me with every USB DAC I tried on my iPad. It does not happen but make sure to switch the unit off before closing the Onkyo HF Player.

    I did not test any other third-party music software on my iPad, since Onkyo HF Player is the only true bit-perfect USB Audio app that I know of, and I own a full-licenced version which allows you to load and play back hi-res content. Please note that for all your fancy hi-res PCM and/or DSD tracks, you’ll need to load them directly to Onkyo HF Player using iTunes’ application-specific file sharing. Onkyo HF Player can read your iTunes music library locally stored on your iPad, but the playback will be routed via iOS audio mixer.

    The native Apple music app can play through Nano DL too, but of course, only those tracks that are in your iTunes library.

    Listening impressions

    black magic.jpg

    This is the trickiest part of any review, but probably for most readers, the most important one. My problem with listening impressions has always been that I know this is always purely subjective, and as such maybe the least reliable part of any review. On the other hand, this is exactly what makes multiple reviewers’ tours the most useful form of product presentation – readers get a wide range of different opinions, and where such opinions converge would most likely be as close to objectivity as possible.

    I will start with a few general comments about Nano iDSD Black Label, and then would add some finer details and impressions on various gear combinations and music tracks.

    Unique sonic characteristics of different headphones driven by Nano BL remain very recognizable

    This one is important. In other words, Nano iDSD Black Label does a good job of not adding too much of its own sonic character to different headphones it drives. Some reviewers would call it neutral sounding, and it may be a good term, although to me, it is neutral not in the sense of perfectly flat frequency response curve, but in the sense of not affecting much the overall tonal characteristics of given headphones.

    What it means in practice, with Nano BL, for example, my Etymotics sounded pretty much what they are supposed to sound: a high-precision surgical scalpel, capable of dissecting music into its finest layers and pieces. And not a Thor hammer that slams base notes into your head like a very colored and punchy ES-10 by Audiotechnica.

    Nano BL does not try to be nice sounding (by emphasizing lower end, or adding more sparkle to the treble), it tries to be sounding honestly. This may or may not what someone is looking for.

    For example, the M2Tech HiFace DAC + RSA Predator combo are a totally different sounding set up, with much more coloration, much more involving sound. Great lower end punch; lush, rich and forward-sounding mids, and slightly recessed treble may sound more appealing, especially with some genres.

    However, the price to pay for this emotional involvement is that there’s much less sonic character difference between different pairs of headphones, and all of a sudden your darker, more aggressive and impactful Fidelio X2 start sounding not that different from you normally airy, light and laid-back AKG K501.

    Nano iDSD Black Label is a true powerhouse of a headphone amplifier

    This one is obvious. The Black Label is a HUGE improvement over the original Nano iDSD in terms of headphone amplification.
    It easily coped with anything I was able to throw at it, from sensitive Etymotic IEMs and ATH-EW9 clip-ons to much harder to drive AKG K501.

    Nano BL with AKG K501.jpg
    I hope this is the biggest thing ever plugged into Nano BL :)

    Even without going to the extremes of the headphones range (no, I don’t own any planars, orthodynamics or old-school 600 Ohms studio monitoring cans), I can tell the power reserve of this tiny box is absolutely amazing!

    This is probably the most notable difference with the original Nano iDSD. I have always thought (and I still do) that Nano iDSD is a much better DAC than the headphone amp, and in my personal set up it was mainly a desktop unit. Its headphone jack was its Achilles heel.
    Certainly not the case with the new Nano BL! A combination of clever iEMatch technology, new fully analogue volume control and the S-Balanced topology make it a much more capable headphone amp than its predecessor.

    If any criticism could be applied to headphone amplification of the Nano BL – this would go towards the iEMatch socket. It does sound slightly veiled, less transparent and detailed, than the Standard output, even at normalized volume levels. Whether it has to do with iEMatch additional circuitry in the signal path, or I simply don’t have uber-sensitive 16-ohms IEMs to really benefit from this technology – I am not sure. But here’s the fact: most of my listening was done via the Standard output.

    I must admit I was not able to test the advantages of the “S-Balanced Technology” offered by iFi, simply because I could not get hold of any balanced-cabled headphones that would be terminated in a 3.5mm TRRS plug.

    Geeky Technote on balanced headphone connections
    The problem with “balanced headphones” (as much as I hate this term, because it is completely incorrect from the engineering point of view) is that, unlike studio/on-stage/broadcasting world, there’s absolutely no industry standards as to the connectors. We have a wild plethora of options, ranging from dual 3-pin XLRs to 2.5mm 4-pole TRRS, with all sorts of things in the middle - single 4-pin XLR, 4-pin mini-XLR, dual 3.5 TRS, dual 6.3 TRS, 4-pin square “RSA-Alo Audio” Camera plug and you name it!

    As I wrote in the Connections and Controls section of this review, anything that would help users cope with this versatility, would be of great help: a 2.5mm balanced connector instead of one of the 3.5mm, and/or one or two balanced adapter cables instead of two identical USB Type B adapters in the bundle would make this “S-Balanced” feature a lot more practical and useful.

    Nano iDSD BL as a DAC kept all the good things of the original Nano iDSD

    I compared Nano iDSD Black Label to the original Nano iDSD, as well as to M2Tech HiFace DAC, in DAC only mode, driving either an external headphones amp or my active monitors from the devices’ line outputs. My findings confirm that the DAC part of both generations of Nanos is almost, if not exactly, the same: the best DAC I have ever heard in sub-$500 class, hands down, especially with DSD material.

    Line outs.JPG

    It has a very neutral, open sound signature, with a very cohesive overall sonic picture, very good level of detail, and excellent timber reproduction – very natural and delicate. With PCM material it retains most of its qualities, however, it does sound a little less refined and detailed. The differences are very subtle, and require very careful listening with very detailed and neutral headphones (I use my Etymotics for these purposes), but they are audible. This is perfectly in line with my earlier impressions from the original Nano iDSD, and I can only repeat that if you really want to get the best of your iFi Nano – go for DSD material.

    I must say that overall the Burr-Brown platform iFi chose for its portable range is really great, and iFi certainly learned well how to make a good DAC on this chip. In my personal ranking, it beats all of the Sabre portable implementations I have heard in this price bracket, and is a very solid contender even against my preferred (albeit not yet owned) AKA4490-based portable platform, such as Shanling M3S. However, this comparison is not very accurate, as I did not have M3S at hand during the review, and had to rely on memorized sonic impressions of the latter.

    One thing to note here. It is not a warm and bright sounding DAC, nor a dark, bass-hammering DAC. So if you prefer this type of sound signature – look elsewhere.

    Individual sound impressions

    With open full size cans (AKG K501/Q701, Philips Fidelio X2)

    The Nano BL did a great job allowing K501 and Q701 unleash their strongest features: excellent airiness, fantastic detail and wide and precise soundstage. You could almost physically feel the intimate chamber space where TACET went on with tube only recording of Stuttgarter Kammerorchester performing Boccherini’s La Musica Notturna, while at the same time enjoy the spaciousness of a concert hall with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, conducted by Anatole Fistoulari, made you plunge into the Swan Lake’s Act 2, Scene 10.

    Timbre accuracy was also excellent, and I am not adding “for the price” this time. TACET’s tube-only recordings have, to my taste, the most-natural sounding string instruments I have ever heard, and Nano BL was able to convey them without any undue interference. This is something that, for example, none of the Sabre-based portable devices I auditioned was capable to do.

    With Fidelio X2, Nano BL managed to drive them to their usual more punchy, heavier-weight and full-bodied sound. “You and your friend” by Dire Straits sounded as energetic and full of drive as you’d expect it to sound, and the same applies to the heart-touching acoustic guitar reefs and voice by Nils Lofgren in his “Keith Don’t Go’.

    With closed-back cans (Sony MDR-7506/Audiotechnica ATH-A700/ES-10)

    Those are the cans I’d normally use for recordings that benefit from a more intimate, in-your-ears sound signature, with a lot of presence. And Nano BL did not disappoint! John Campbell’s infernal voice sounded infernal enough to make you shiver listening to his Down in the Hole. And the incredible Melody Gardot would literally whisper into your ear her “So we meet again, my heartache”.

    The lower end of the spectrum was punchy and accurate, if only just a tiny bit lighter-weight than, for instance, my desktop tube amp is capable of delivering into the same cans. This totally conforms with the term “neutral-sounding” that can be applied to Nano BL – as much as I enjoy the whopping bass response of my Laconic tube amp, its sound signature is anything but neutral :).

    Laconic.jpg

    At home, in my desktop system, I’d probably have more enjoyment of Alan Taylor’s “Dedicated to…” bass line, however, on the go Nano BL was more than persuasive with this piece.

    With Etymotic ER4P Custom re-cabled IEMs

    Nano BL had absolutely no problems driving Etymotics, and I did not even have to recourse to the iEMatch socket – they played just fine from the Standard output. No matter Standard or iEMatch, Nano BL demonstrated a totally black background, with no hum or hiss whatsoever, even with the volume knob turned all the way to max. Excellent job by iFi, and apparently "iPurifier technology built in" does its job.

    Plugged into Nano, ER4P remained exactly what they are: an extremely accurate, sharp and sterile medical scalpel, which is capable of carving out the smallest details of the music texture. Etymotics and Nano BL turned out to be an excellent testing and evaluation combo, but…

    This is probably the only case where in terms of the actual listening pleasure and enjoyment I might say I liked my M2Tech HiFace DAC/RSA Predator more than the Nano BL. The much livelier sonic character of M2Tech HiFace DAC, combined with RSA’s signature dark, laid-back and lower-end focused sound are simply more fun with Etys because they offset nicely the uber-flat, even and sterile sound signature of Etymotics. This in no ways mean something is wrong with Nano BL, it is just that ER4 are a very specific pair of IEMs, and not all DACs/Amps are a synergetic match.

    Conclusions and final word

    Bravo, iFi, you did it again!

    You started this game with the original Nano iDSD – opened up the world of excellent sound in a portable package to a sub-$200 market. Then you took the original Nano iDSD, painted it in black, improved on every single aspect that needed improvement, added a few new features (some more practical than others :wink:, and still crammed the whole thing into the same $200 envelop.
    The only question that I have is how do you guys do it. Black magic? :wink:

    Is Nano BL ideal? For its price it certainly is. It’s small, incredibly versatile, packed with features and has a very pleasant, clear and neutral sonic character.

    Is it for everyone? Well, in my view, it will definitely fit the bill with most users. However, a distinctly neutral sound may seem a bit uninspiring for someone who is addicted to colored sound. Others may note some lacking energy and emotion, especially with some headphones, but this is certainly not Nano BL’s fault.

    Did I like it? I absolutely did, and this is not surprising: I like my original Nano iDSD a lot, and here comes the successor that is simply a better, improved version of it.

    Oh, and now it is BLACK!
      Mkoll, H T T, Scutey and 3 others like this.
    1. Dark Helmet
      Geat review.
      Dark Helmet, Feb 18, 2018
    2. Scutey
      An excellent, thoughtful and comprehensive review.
      Scutey, Mar 2, 2018
    3. SV_huMMer
      Thank you for your kind words! It really is a great little unit, and I've had tons of fun and enjoyment with it.
      SV_huMMer, Mar 22, 2018
  8. ahmadfaizadnan
    iFi iDSD Nano Black Label: a Micro BL Contender?!
    Written by ahmadfaizadnan
    Published Feb 6, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - MQA, Neutral acoustic sound, portability, S-Balance, IEMatch
    Cons - Bass has less impact, IEMatch could do toggle button
    20180120_151109.jpg
    Wait. Don’t judge me by the title statement. I don’t want to make it controversial but that’s what I heard. Whether it holds or not, it’s really up to you to decide. The question is, where do I stand by this statement? I’ll let you guys know at the end. Let see if this small black box lives up to the hype.

    Disclaimer
    I used to own mojo but decided to sell the unit because I am not using it as much. I am focusing on dedicated desktop setup thus the reason for selling. While I am familiar with the sound signature, I don’t have the unit for direct comparison with iDSD Nano Black Label. I might throw in some impressions comparing the Mojo with Nano BL, but it will not do justice to how they really compare. But I did used iDSD Micro BL for direct comparison. Thus, I decided to give my two cents and my own insights on these DACs.


    First and Foremost
    I would like to give my thanks to Lawrence from iFi Audio that manage the west USA tour well; also, to iFi Audio in general as they gave us the opportunity to try the unit in our system/setup. I have talked to some of the iFi personnel in the past CanJam and they are easy to approach. The customer service also has never been better. They are helpful in Head-Fi and every other forum I bet.

    My iFi background
    I never had any iFi product on my own, but I do have several friends that own them, and it happened that two of them are my housemates. I get to listen to iDSD micro Black Label extensively while had a fair of listening time in the past with iDSD micro SE. My impression of the variations of iDSD micro is that the Black Label nail it in almost every section; a worthy upgrade I would say. I keep comparing the micro Black Label with Mojo but never come to a conclusion which one of them is better. In my opinion, Mojo performs better with HD800 and TH900 while micro BL shines with warm headphones like HD650. Well, in the end, it really comes to personal preferences. Now that iDSD Nano Black Label is released, I am really intrigued to see where it falls in iFi DAC/Amp line up. Although it might sound obvious that it’s going to be a better version of iDSD Nano, will it better the iDSD micro SE or BL? Or even Chord Mojo?

    20180120_151023.jpg 20180120_151142.jpg

    What’s in the box?
    Out of the box, you’ll get the DAC, a well-thought carrying case, a USB B cable female to male adapter, USB A female to a USB B female adapter, a short USB A female to USB B male adapter, rubber band for stacking, manual and warranty card. Obviously, RCA cable is not provided by iFi this time since it doesn’t have RCA like its older brother.

    20180120_151612.jpg
    Build and Appearance
    As usual, it has the iFi logo at the top and descriptions at the bottom. iFi is known for their product’s versatility but iDSD Nano BL by far the simplest in terms of functionality. It has two headphone outputs, both 3.5mm but one of them has the IEMatch feature. With the IEMatch, it ensures ‘hiss-free’ out from sensitive IEM or headphones. At the back, there’s a toggle button for ‘listen’ or ‘measure’. The ‘listen’ feature uses a minimum phase filter while ‘measure’ uses the linear phase filter. Personally, if I decide to do mastering tracks or get involved sound production, I might not be going to get the iDSD Nano BL despite the ‘measure’ feature; but, it is good to have and works for those who travel and work in the sound production industry. It only has digital input and 3.5mm line out if you want to connect the iDSD Nano BL with a separate amp. Overall, it got a great build quality and pretty much similar to any other iFi products.

    20180120_152001.jpg 20180120_151941.jpg 20180120_152021.jpg

    Features/ Specifications

    Input(rear):

    USB2.0 type A “OTG” Socket (with iPurifier® technology built-in)

    Output(rear);

    1 x Audio fixed line out L+R 3.5mm

    Digital Filter:

    2 positions, 2 filters

    Outputs(front):

    2 x Headphone Audio 3.5mm one direct and one with iFi iEMatch® integrated

    DAC

    DAC:

    DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect DXD processing

    Clock:

    Low-jitter crystal clock

    Audio Formats:

    DSD 256/128/64/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8

    DXD 384/352.8kHz

    PCM 384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz

    MQA 88.2/96/176.4/192kHz filters

    Filter–PCM:

    Listen(transient optimised minimum phase)

    Measure(frequency response optimized)

    –DSD:

    Listen(extended bandwidth transient optimised)

    Measure (narrow bandwidth, low output band noise optimized)

    –DXD:

    Fixed Bit-Perfect Processing

    –MQA:

    Fixed MQA Filter

    Headphone Amplifier

    Amplifier:

    Dual Mono 2 x 285mW Direct Drive, coupling capacitor free circuit for highest fidelity

    Volume Control:

    3.5mm TRRS with Balanced compatible wiring

    Dynamic Range(including DAC):

    > 109dB(A) @ 3v (Direct)

    > 107dB(A) @ 0.5V (iEMatch®)

    THD &N (@ 125mW/30R):

    < 0.005%

    Max. Output (<10% THD):

    > 3.5V @ 600Ω Load (Direct) (20mW/600Ω)

    > 2.9V @ 30Ω Load (Direct) (285mW/30Ω)

    > 1.7V @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (200mW/15Ω)

    Output Impedance :

    < = 1Ω (Direct)

    < = 4Ω (iEMatchsup>®)

    Channel Separation:

    > 79dB @ 600Ω Load (Direct)

    > 79dB @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (1kHz, TRRS plug Balanced wiring)

    Line Output

    Dynamic Range(Line):

    > 109dB(A)

    THD & N(0dBFS Line):

    < 0.004%

    Output Voltage(Line): :

    2.15V (+/-0.05V)

    Output Impedance:

    < 240Ω

    Channel Separation:

    > 99dB (@ 1kHz)

    Jitter(correlated):

    Below test set limit

    Dimensions:

    96(l) x 64(w) x 25.5(h)mm

    Weight:

    139g (0.31 Ibs)

    Warranty period:

    12months

    Info from ifi-audio.com


    Gear used


    Source(s): Tidal Master, Foobar, Pioneer XDP-100r

    Dac(s): iDSD Nano Black Label, iDSD Micro Black Label

    Amp(s): ECP DSHA-0

    Headphone(s): Takstar Pro 82, Sennheiser HD800 SDR and HD6XX (modded)

    IEM(s): Westone 30 and KZ ZS6


    Songs (mostly MQA)
    Sam Smith – Too Good at Goodbyes (Master)


    This song focusses mostly on male vocals and out from the iDSD Nano BL, the DAC is able to bring nuance and good tonal balance across the spectrum with Sam’s magical voice and the background singer. With iDSD Micro BL, the sound is another level. Sam’s voice seems to be more engaging and every instrument sounds lively and real.


    Shawn Mendes -Stitches MTV Unplugged (Master)

    A live concert could be an issue to some gear and iDSD Nano BL produce a more forward sound. It is lacking in separation when compare to iDSD Micro Label is noticeable with this song. I felt like I am sitting in the front row with Nano BL and 3 or 4 rows further with Micro BL. Other than mentioned, I had a tough time to distinguish between both DACs with this song. The one thing that I can point out is it sounds more real with Micro BL but if you’re not listening to them for 2-3 hours, you might think that both produce a very similar sound signature.


    Queen – Another One Bites the Dust

    I always use this song for review as every instrument and singer has its own mic thus produce a good separation on its own. Nano BL with MQA rendering provides a great layering and separation that rivals Micro BL. Although its older brother has more sense of space and a tad more microdetail, it is hard to differentiate them in this song. The drum kick has less impact with Nano BL but they have more similarities than differences in my opinion.

    20180120_151857.jpg

    Headphone Pair (Vs iDSD Micro BL)

    20180120_152729.jpg
    Modded Sennheiser HD6XX
    How does it pair with HD6XX/650? This is no doubt one of the famous questions asked in multiple forums. I personally enjoy the vocal out of these in almost every song that I listen to. This amp pairs amazingly fine with a more forgiving headphone like HD6XX/650 as it could have sounded too revealing with headphones like HD800 and Takstar Pro 82. I still enjoy the HD800 with DSD and acoustical music with this amp but favor HD6XX pair for most other tracks. Like I mentioned before, I can’t get enough with the MQA feature. It opens up the sound and shows the capability of the headphone. While I don’t seem to agree when people said that HD6XX/650 is veil, but the MQA does add a more refined detail and perceived clarity out of the headphone. I could hear a better bass, more open soundstage and better nuance across the spectrum. The Nano BL produce rich sound engaging mids but Micro BL wins in dynamic and faster transient response. The Micro BL is one of the best transportable DAC/Amp for HD650/6XX under $1000 but Nano BL do come close and with that smaller size, I am not surprised if I pick Nano BL over Micro BL.

    20180120_152535.jpg
    Modded Takstar Pro 82
    My first impression right off the bat was lively and full of energy. This headphone could sound dull and lifeless with bad synergy. With Nano BL, it brings everything forward but natural. Takstar Pro 82 is known for its wide soundstage but sometimes I feel that the sound is too distant and not natural. With Nano BL, everything sounds right. Articulate bass, smooth sound across the spectrum, percussion and singer’s position seems right to my ears. Imaging is above average despite the forward presentation. Even though I enjoy the combo, I still think that iDSD micro BL is a better pair with this headphone. Tonal density is lacking, and it sounds a little dry in comparison to micro BL. I used to love vocals and mids with this headphone but less so with Nano BL in the chain. However, the upper midrange and treble with this combo never cease to amaze me; pleasant to listen to but never lose energy.

    20180120_161720.jpg
    HD800 SDR + Sheepskin Pad
    Personally, I am not a fan of HD800 and iDSD Micro BL combo. Don’t get me wrong, they do sound great, but I felt like HD800 has a better synergy with mojo. So, what about Nano BL? As you would expect from the similarities of the Black Label brothers, I still prefer mojo over Nano BL for HD800 as they are more enjoyable to my ears. In terms of power, it got more than enough to drive the HD800 to an ear-splitting level. Since HD800 has a huge soundstage, the Nano BL provides a good imaging and more neutral soundstage to the headphone. As if you were seating in the front row of a concert while Micro BL is a further row back. The bass is profound but not as punchy as Micro BL. The Micro BL bass has more texture and quantity, especially with the XBass feature. Although, Nano BL really stands out with instruments like trumpet and saxophone. I enjoy the tonality with orchestra and instrumental song even though it still lacking in overall instrument separation as compare to Micro BL. Vocal is balanced and good but lacks rhythm. I enjoy acoustic song and vocal but less so with group singing. Well, I did find that the Nano BL has a more pleasing treble extension but also less airy at the same time.

    IEM Pair

    20180120_153112.jpg
    Westone 30
    The best portable combo that I had so far. Westone 30 has a similar tonality to HD650: forward sounding with great instrument separation, midrange has a great body with an amazing vocal presentation, impactful bass and laid back. I am positive that the IEM could benefit the iDSD NANO BL capability considering its performance with HD6XX and it certainly did. The first thing I noticed was the vocals on these were amazing! Sweet and intimate are the words to describe them. I keep playing any tracks that emphasis on vocals and GOSH! I love them. Period. My source with this combo is Pioneer XDP-100r and if you ask me if they are better than my desktop setup? I would say no but I really enjoy these when I step out of the door. It is kind of disappointing that Tidal mobile does not have MQA because it if it does, they are going to be an amazing combo. However, across the spectrum, I did find that it’s lacking in tonal density. It sounds a bit dry with some songs. At times, it felt a little congested and too forward. I tried the ‘measure’ filter for my other gears but not a fan of the sound. With Westone 30, it made it a slightly drier but more neutral at the same time. The bass in this IEM could be too much for some and with ‘measure’ filter, the bass is more controlled. Again, I still enjoy the ‘listen’ filter with this IEM for the most part. Overall, I really enjoy this fun combo, especially with EDM, pop, and rock.

    20180120_153255.jpg
    KZ ZS6
    KZ ZS6 is my another go to IEM with acoustic, orchestra and classic songs. I don’t have any preferences in genre, but I love to listen to any quality recording with great mastering. If I said that Westone 30 resembles HD650, KZ ZS6 reminds me of HD800. Large soundstage, shrilling treble, great clarity, clean bass but less impact. Despite the similar tonality, the quality is different and HD800 is superior by all means. The amp produced an accurate sounding combo and it did remove the unnecessary spike on the KZs which was I thought great because it did not do that much with HD800. Great imaging and has more body in the midrange and bass. KZs by far is my most sensitive IEM and it can pick up every single noise and distortion coming from the source. The IEMatch has the S-balanced feature that provides full balanced benefits and ‘hiss free’. The result is everything sounds clean with black background. I enjoy acoustic, orchestra and classical songs out of these but still lacking with some modern songs. As of how much I love the improvements it gave to KZ ZS6, I still think that Westone 30 is the better combo.


    Overall

    There are couple things that I like about this new DAC/Amp from iFi Audio and one of them is MQA rendering. In fact, I love it a lot. Everything seems clear and the clarity is something that I would not expect in the sub $200 portable amp. As a fan of balanced and neutral sounding amp, this will be my top choice if I am looking for the amp without breaking the bank. If you’re an IEM user, this amp is your best friend. The S-balance feature provides black background even with super sensitive IEMs. Of course, you can get a separate iFi IEMatch for the same purpose, but having it soldered inside the amp makes a lot of different; shield it from any external interferences. However, I prefer it to have a toggle button for the IEMatch feature like iDSD Micro BL instead of two 3.5mm outputs. A ¼ in output jack would be a good addition for versatility. I am positive that what iFi had in mind was to focus on IEM than full-size cans, but it would be amazing if ¼ in output jack could replace one of the 3.5mm jack and place the toggle button for the other 3.5mm jack to activate the IEMatch feature. I used the ‘listen’ filter most of the time and that’s how I enjoyed the most when listening to music. While it is a good feature to have, for leisure listener, it might not be utilized as much. I am a huge fan of iDSD Micro BL and thought that I am expecting too much on this amp to be a clone of its older brother. The bass in Micro BL is amazing and hope that Nano BL could do slightly better in the bass. It does have quantity but lacking in quality and texture.

    20180120_151731.jpg


    With MQA rendering feature, it allows for great detail retrieval that rivals Micro BL and Chord Mojo. It is a top-notch selection DAC/Amp under $200. For those who are looking for a sub $200 portable amp, I would advise you to just pull the trigger. You will never regret it.

    images

    1. 20180120_152729.jpg
      Navodar and SV_huMMer like this.
  9. Mshenay
    Streamers Delight!
    Written by Mshenay
    Published Feb 2, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Spacious Sound, MQA Support, Functionality, Black Background, Balanced & Flexible Presentation
    Cons - Volume Knob, Bass can be a little soft
    iFi Audio is at it again! This time their latest Black Label product the iDSD Nano brings MQA support into the portable realm. Overall I found it's sound to be spacious and black with a super light compact body and priced right at $199.



    Build
    [​IMG]

    The product's well built with minimal seams in the chassis and non-invasive screw placement. It features a unique USB Type A male connector housed seamlessly into the chassis. It's well built and light, the power switch is built into the volume knob and otherwise the only other moving part is the digital filter switch on the back.



    [​IMG]

    The 3.5mm and USB connectors are solid with no wiggle or play. My only gripe is the volume knob wiggles just a little, and there's a noticeable jump about 2 dBs up halfway through it's rotation. Otherwise it works, I didn't have any issue with it slipping or self rotating while I had it stashed in my hoody.



    [​IMG]

    The front side also features two different 3.5mm outputs, iEMatch and Direct. iEMatch is optimized for low impedance high sensitivity headphones and iems. Direct is suited for normal or more traditional impedance and sensitivity ratings. The only headphone I had that benefited iEMatch was my HD 25-1 ii and even then it was only marginally quieter. Otherwise I ran everything else through the direct port.



    [​IMG]

    As always the iDSD Nano arrives within iFi Audio's gorgeous packing brimming with goodies. This time they included a little soft felt pouch, a USB 3.0 Type A Cable and a 3.0 Type A female to Type B female so that you can hook it up to an existing USB Cable you already have for another DAC. Pretty handy as I have quite a few USB B's I use for the various Dacs I have in home. There was also a little sheet of paper with some optional rubber feet that I did choose to install. No analog cables this time how ever, just digital.



    Sound Quality
    [​IMG]

    Part of me wants to believe there's a little black magic at work here, but alas I know it's only electrons flowing to an fro. That said, the iDSD Nano Black Label sounds amazing and is characterized by a wide spacious sound with an excellent black background. Part of it's blackness has to due with the dual outputs, there's a Direct and IEMatch port. Direct for normal sensitivity headphones and IEMatch for high sensitivity headphones and iems. You can also run 3.5mm Balanced into either and achieve an even quieter output.



    I also liked how it's uniquely wide imaging also improved the quality of my owning lossy streaming listening. I typically shy away from streaming for reviews, but both Spotify and Napster set to 320kbs gained a subtle but noticeable more spacious presentation. This level of clarity I also enjoy from my Geek Out v2+ but the iDSD Nano Black Label presents this without emphasizing so much of what is lost like the Geek Out v2+ sometimes does. I do appreciate that iFi has voiced this product in such a way that it compliments the more closed in sound of lossy, especially at this price point!



    Tonality of the amp did change depending on the filter selected, with the Listen filter engaged it had a warmer tonality with a nice focus on the transients that follow after each individual note, how ever the lows were a bit thicker, in contrast the Measure filter tightened up the presentation for the entire spectrum as a whole but didn't have as sharp of a focus on transients. For the most part I enjoyed the Listen filter the most, as it offered the most natural and resolved presentation. Measure was more often than not too dry and sometimes harsh, though about 1/10 of the headphones in my collection actually did sound better with the Measure filter! The HE 4XX being the most notable of them.



    [​IMG]

    Hifiman's Massdrop collaboration the HE 4XX is it self a thicker sounding headphone with a nice focus on transient balance. Resolving equally well both micro detail and ambient noise. What I found is with listen, while the resolve was even better the sound as a whole lacked impact. Switching over to measure breathed life into the HE 4XXs presentation without tilting the balance of resolve too aggressively toward ambient noise. Meaning, while micro detail didn't pop out as much, macro detail or ambient noise also wasn't over emphasized.



    All in all I felt with the Measure filter the HE 4XX was equipped for every and all genres of music! It's own thicker intimate signature pair'd well with the iDSD Nano Black Label's spacious imaging and the added edge of the Measure filter. Even better the iDSD Nano Black Label never presented me with too little head room I always had more than enough range on the volume knob.



    [​IMG]

    With my Ypsilon G1 and many others, the listen filter was the best. This Grado style DIY headphone has a nice forwardness in the upper mids with good balance in the rest of the spectrum. The iDSD Nano Back Label kept that nice edge in the upper mids without softening the rest of the spectrum to much.



    I found it kept a good texture in the bass while still adding a little needed body. The upper mid peak was also lessened a little by some added bloom and decay within the lower and central mid range. This fairly balanced dynamic sounded phenomenal with just the iDSD Nano Black Label! These two made for a super easy to carry around combo, as each is light weight and simply pleasurable to listen with.



    [​IMG]

    Now power wise, I did find the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label to be lacking a little with my HD 800. While it had enough voltage to get loud, I found insufficient in providing the power needed to bring the HD 800 to life. That said, I did pair up the Line Out into my APPJ PA1502A SET Tube Amp.



    I also took this time to compare the Line out of the iFi Audio iDSD Nano Black Label to that of my own Behringer UCA 202. With the APPJ 1502A the difference between the two was obvious, the iDSD Nano maintained better tactility with more texture in the lows. In comparison the UCA 202 had some ringing in the mid range in addition to a some what congested sound even with the HD 800! Switching back to the iDSD Nano Black Label I always appreciated how the sound opened up! The only real advantage the UCA 202 seem to have was how clearly it resolved breaths. Human breathing and breathing alone stood out just a bit better with the UCA 202 than it did on the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label, though this advantage is only obvious on tracks featuring a solo or duet where congestion is a non-issue. With larger Jazz ensembles or classical orchestra's the iDSD Nano Black label again reigned supreme.



    [​IMG]



    I also took the time to see how the UCA 202 Line out into my Vali 1 would compare again'st the iDSD Nano Black label running as both an DAC/Amp. For these impressions I went back to my Ypsilon G1 headphone.



    Once again, I found the UCA 202 and Vali 1 pairing to have some congestion, while both sources were quite cohesive with their respective amps. The UCA 202 still struggled with larger bands or scores. Ultimatley the iFi iDSD Nano Black label proved it had better balance, resolve and imaging overall.



    Though, the Vali 1 and UCA 202 did present a uniquely sweet wonderfully stunning and beautiful mid range in comparison to the iDSD Nano Black Label. This benefit though didn't compensate for the systems overall inability to properly present space. I suppose if you find your self listening to only classical duets or solo's then you may be able to sustain your self with such a system for only around $100. Other wise if you enjoy a larger range of music then you'll get not only a better quality of sound overall but the benefit of portability with the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label!



    [​IMG]



    Being a DAC/Amp combo only the iDSD Nano Black Label does require both a graphic interface and storage interface for playback. So I decided to see how it compared to some of the DAPs in my collection that it prices just above.



    The first of which was my Hifiman HM601, each had their own strengths and weakness as far as resolve went. How ever the iDSD Nano Black Label had better tonal balance and imaging overall. In some cases the HM601 proved to have better micro dynamics and micro resolve. As I found transients and small gradual volume increases were resolved with phenomenal clarity from the hm601... assuming your using a pair of complimentary headphones. My Ypsilon G1 was too sensitive and picked up on the nosiness of the onboad amp in the HM 601. Though my ES 10 did better and took advantage of the HM601s amazing resolve, but my HE 4XX did not. For the most part my HE 4XX was too thick that any gained resolve was lost in the ocean of decay. So thicker headphones will suffer when pair'd with the HM 601, it's intimate sound stage also holds it back.



    In contrast the iFi Audio iDSD Nano Black Label offers two distinct filters to widen it's "complimentary" range or scope. Using Listen for my Ypsilon G1 and ES 10 there was again better tonal balance overall and I enjoyed Measure with my HE 4XX. So there was never a problem of a "bad pairing" as each filter had a distinct enough difference to compliment almost every headphone I threw at it.



    While resolve alone was not always as immersive, the combined performance of both resolve in relation to imaging was. More intimate pieces of music found an increase and clarity from the iDSD Nano Black Label, where as with the HM601 they were often too close sounding. Additionally both ambient noise and spacial cue's where clearer with the iDSD Nano Black Label over the HM 601.



    So while the HM 601, when pair'd with the right headphone, resolved more transient information relating to the individual instruments themselvs. The iDSD Nano Black Label, with any headphone, presented more information relating to how that instrument was placed within the space it was recorded in. At times this lead to an almost... fuller more real to life sound, as the music as a whole had a more vivid envelope. It's easy to get lost into the individual instruments when listening with the HM601, but moving up to the iDSD Nano Black Label suddenly the entire band's presence in relation to one another is clearer. For example the decay of the double bass s in Mile's Davis So What adds a nice fullness that blends nicely with the falling edge and echo of the horns. The littlest of details like this is something I expect and usually look for in higher priced products so I was surprised to hear it while listening on the iDSD Nano Black Label.



    [​IMG]



    Shanling's M2S still holds my recommendation as by far the best single all in one portable music solution, and for those of you who want a nice upgrade from it without spending as much and having to daisy chain a DAP to an Amp. The iFi iDSD Nano Black Label would be my recommendation, as it keeps to a small light weight and convenient form factor. This is even more true if your wanting to take advantage of Tidal's MQA Masters or other streaming services.



    The two share a similar balance doing many things right and having few actual faults. What the iDSD Nano Black Label brings is an even more resolved sound with a more flexible tonality. The Listen filter really reminds me of how the M2S presentation with the Measure bringing me back to my time with the Cayin N3. Except the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label offers more power and resolve than both. So those of you who may not need blutooth support but want MQA and streaming support and intend to use your cellular phone/laptop top or desktop as a source will find a noticeable improvement in upgrading to the iDSD Nano Black Label.



    Now in my video review I choose not to comment on the MQA Playback for the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label. This was because I do not have Tidal my self nor access to to it, how ever I had the chance to finally hear the iDSD Nano Black Label with an MQA Master!!!



    [​IMG]



    For better or worse I waited until after I listened to the MQA Master to take my pic, the meet was a little busy so I didn't have prime time for arranging everything as I wanted. Non the less, I took the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label for a spin with some Megadeath! I choose their Rust In Peace album and took Tornado of Souls for a listen, I did so with my ZMF Eikon and the iCan Pro Amp set to Tube-output. An WOW I was yet again impressed with how clear and vivid the sound was. While the music was un-familiar to me the level of resolve I heard was not, in switching between the MQA Master and Non MQA Master there was indeed an increase to the spaciousness and blackness overall. While MQA Masters don't take the iFi iDSD Nano into the "next level" I felt it was enough of an improvement to maybe justify a Tidal Subscription... maybe.



    The sheer convenience of both Tidal and the quality of it's MQA Masters really encapsulate what the iFi iDSD Nano is about! Quality and convenience packaged in a light weight easy to use form factor without compromise. So for those of you maybe looking for the ultimate in light weight listening, your Cell a Tidal Subscription and this little magic black box might be all you need! I won't say it's the most cost effective solution, but again it's by far one of the most liberating. What ever music you want, where ever you want it, without the fuss of managing a myriad of SD Cards or a library of offline files, you don't even have to hunt for the "perfect Master" either as again Tidal's taken that time to procure it for you! If Tidal continues to expand it's MQA Master library I may even buy into the madness... maybe.



    Conclusion
    iFi Audio have once again been the first to launch another amazing product in an emerging market. It's light weight small size and sheer functionality combined with MQA rendering really make it a highly competitive portable for today's growing market of streaming consumers. I even found it to subtlety help open up the often closed in sound of lossy from my own Spotify and Napster streaming services. All in all any one searching for a highly functional portable Dac-Amp to serve a collection of both super sensitive iems and moderately sensitive fullsize/portable headphones across a wide variety of both digital sources and playback rates will be hard pressed to find better option at this price point!
      St3ven and emptymt like this.
  10. emptymt
    Powerful, Flexible, Musical little DAC/AMP
    Written by emptymt
    Published Feb 1, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Musical and Enjoyable, Well-priced, Well-built, Macro detail is good, clean output, Powerful, Flexible, extra features do works, good accessories, good packaging.
    Cons - Micro detail can be better, can rarely sound a little artificial, no OTG cable, the carrying pouch is a dust magnet.
    Disclaimer
    Hi everyone, Before I start the review, I would like to thank Ifi for making this DAC/AMP.
    This review is made by myself based on my observation and listening pleasure of The DAC/AMP on various gear that I have regardless of price points.

    I have no affiliation to Ifi in any way and everything said here is based on my experience over a week.
    The pricing in Australia is 299.95 AUD , so the review will be made using that as the value.

    INTRODUCTION
    I'm an Indonesian working as a Web Developer in Melbourne, Australia.
    Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.
    When I start my headphone hobby, music listening has been a very rewarding experience for me and has helped me in many aspects of life other than music enjoyment, but, with the booming price of high end headphones/IEM, it has become a bit of a heavy hit on my wallet.

    Starting from almost 4 years ago I've been really hooked by metal music, and nowadays my everyday music listening always incorporate metal tracks, I guess you can call me a Metal-head.

    Other than that I also like Progressive Rock, Jazz, etc basically anything that is very technical and well made except classical, and no I don't really listen to modern music.

    Metal music is my primary focus, so this review will appeal more for people who likes Metal music like me and less so for people who likes modern music like Trap music, pop music, ed sheeran, Taylor Swift, etc.

    I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, lets say for example Classical, therefore it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like, and those are mainly:
    - Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind, like 80% off the time)
    - Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Riverside(rock/metal), Radiohead or something like it)
    - EDM (Mostly trance)
    - Jazz (Norah Jones, Diana Krall and the likes)
    - Folk (just start lately, but I've been listening to Fionn Regan and found it enjoyable)
    - Indonesian Song (it's basically the Indonesian version of pop, guitar used is mostly acoustic guitar, sounds natural and relaxing however, mastering of the song is usually poor, this is good to test how good a headphone/Iem handle poorly recorded material)
    - etc

    Genre's that I don't listen to, not even one bit, unless forced like in shopping center.
    - Rap
    - Classical
    - Bollywood stuff
    - Modern pop

    Gear Used
    - Meze 99 Classic
    - Focal Utopia
    - Shozy Stardust
    - Fiio X7 II
    - Violectric HPA v281

    Artist, Music that I used in the review:
    - Porcupine Tree
    - Be'lakor
    - Opeth
    - Shadow Gallery
    - Cynic

    PACKAGING
    Simple white box, containing the unit and another white box inside containing USB cable and rubber bands for stacking, you will also find some documentation in there, simple and clean packaging.
    1.jpg

    ACCESSORIES

    - Black carrying pouch
    - USB adaptor (USB to USB-A)
    - Blue USB cable for digital input
    - 2 amp straps for "stacking"
    2.jpg

    Missing:
    OTG cable at least for Android, using USB C (Apple one is using lightning and not usable for pc, so this one is ok to miss, but USB-C is now standard, include this please..)

    I/O
    - 3.5mm headphone out
    - 3.5mm headphone IEMatch out
    - 3.5mm Lineout
    - USB In
    3.jpg 4.jpg
    5.jpg

    Extra Features:
    - IEMatch, according to Ifi site:
    Use the iEMatch® when the headphones/in-ear monitor (IEM) is either too loud and/or there is excessive hiss from the music source. From Smartphones to airplane in-flight entertainment systems, powerful headphone amplifiers, the iEMatch® improves musical enjoyment by:
    1. Background noise – significantly reduced
    2. Dynamic range – more open, transparent
    3. Volume control – increased usable range
    - Filter for measuring and music listening (Don't really care bout this TBH, i didn't even try it)
    - MQA
    - DSD playback (Most of my tracks are PCM, so I didn't test this)

    Battery Life
    8 -10 hours depending on loads

    Build Quality
    Excellent! Metal chassis with textured finish that is screwed together nicely, with rubber feet at the bottom to prevent sliding, nice analog volume pot with very good resistance that doubles as on/off swith, led indicator lights, light unit but not overly so, it does not slides around too much.

    Sound Quality
    Sound Signature

    Very slight V-shaped with boosted bass with tiny bloom, Mids is not forward and slightly laid back, very tiny emphasis and forward sounding upper-mid/lower treble for guitars with good body, upper treble like cymbals is slightly laid back and not too sparkly.

    This is not a neutral type signature, but very enjoyable to listen to for a long time without fatigue, is not too distracting as the treble is not harsh and, perfect for work or when you just want to relax.

    Bass
    The Bass is not the tightest bass I've ever heard but it has good dynamic and attack, so it doesn't soft or cushion-y and is not boomy. Other than that there is a slight bloom on it so bass kicks sounds thicker and meaty.

    Due to this the perceive speed on a very speedy beats like "blast-beats" drum kicks in metal music is not the fastest or most distinct I've ever heard, as the distinction between each hits is not apparent as compared other gears I've owned, but I've heard worse and despite this the speed is good.

    Bass extension is quite good but I wouldn't say that this is the bass best assets, however you don't have to work hard to notice it, it is presented in a tasteful way that makes music enjoyable especially in tracks that is mastered with weaker bass.

    Bass Guitar sounds sweet with tasteful thickness that does not overwhelm the music and just shines where it needs to be.

    Mids
    The Mids is not as forward as the bass, resulting in a slightly laid back presentation, It is smooth and has excellent macro detail but micro detail such as taking breadth, lip smack and raspiness is not very apparent, vocal decay is also decent with the voice fading away that can still be heard when other parts of the music takes over, especially at the start of the decay, however as the decay goes to the end it is covered by other sounds, so the separation has some weakness in this department.

    The presentation is on the smoother sides, when hearing harsh vocals from extreme metal bands, it is not harsh at all, however the edge of the voice is there but could be better, as those bites also adds to the experience of the music, but too much exposure of these bites when not handled properly can be fatigueing.
    The good thing here is that the Ifi is always smooth and I will happily lose out on some of those bites for a fatigue free experience.

    Moving on to the guitars, the guitars are forward sounding, this is really good on a guitar solo, It will get your attention and you will feel good about it if you like guitars like I do. So the presentation is very enjoyable, at least for me, how about the technicalities? It is also good, but again not the best I've heard. The guitar sounds melodic and sweet, but it's losing alittle bit of that rawness that you usally associate with electrric guitars on metal music, the bites is missing a little bit, my point is it is there but I want more of it to be exposed, we want to hear all those details because we love it.

    Treble
    The treble is slightly boosted and forward on the lower treble but laid back on upper treble.

    Guitars that has high notes still carry the same characteristics as I describe earlier, however when we move up to other percussion instruments like cymbal hits, it is laid back and sit in the background, it is not roll off in any way, it just that the other frequencies sounds more dominant so when the music gets busy, it is more difficult to hear this frequency, you will definitely need to concentrate.

    Technicalities is decent, due to the sound signature, upper treble details and extension is difficult to notice, although it is there but I would say that the decay is difficult to appreciate is the other frequencies all sound louder and this decay got buried in it.

    On Lower Treble/Upper mid, it has good body and it is smooth and sweet sounding with some bites of those distortion from the electric guitars shining through taking center stage, the details is appreciable with good body so that it does not sound thin.

    Sound-stage
    It has more width than depth and height, so it is more oval on the horizontal axis, left/right channel separation is good with instruments taking its own place without being congested.

    The depth is decent, you can tell there is some difference on how the sound is coming to you depending on the position, vocals close and center, guitar forward sounding either from left or right, drums from the back either from left or right.

    IEMatch
    Does it work? I think it does, It is not easy to spot the difference since IEMatch will give less volume compared to it's normal output, The Meze 99 classic (32 ohm, which technically shouldn't be affected) plays fine from both out put, but I want to find out if Ifi's claim about IEMatch is true or not.

    In order to test this, I switch back and forth using the same song, but the problem is when switching, I have to adjust the volume knob to get the same volume before I can start concentrating again to feel if there are any difference.

    Both output are clean and performs well without any problems, but ever so slightly, I feel that the IEmatch output possibly due to lower noise floor, sounds more vivid and also seems more dynamic, although the difference is really hard to hear and could be placebo effect in my brain, but this is what I think I heard.

    Comparisons
    Fiio X7 II

    The Fiio although still has slight bass emphasis, is much more balance signature wise, to be honest the X7 II sound signature is the type of sound signature that is ideal for my preference, I usually like neutral sound signature with slight bass emphasis, this is because it is easier to appreciate details across the frequency bands as all the frequencies more or less has the same emphasis. This makes X7 II easier to pair with a lot of other amps and headphones without over emphasizing anything when interacting with the sound signatures of other gears.

    The Ifi seems to be designed as an all in one DAC/AMP solution, judging from the price points, I can see the market target of this product will probably not experiment too much on amp and headphone pairings, therefore there is less chance of bad synergy.

    On this approach I think the Nano totally knock the implementation out of the park, it is not shy of going straight to the point with their sound signature to which they see fit for their audience.

    The Fiio X7 II exposed details more and has better balance, but depending on your preference you may like the Ifi more, it is more musical especially for most people who likes some elevation on the bass with fun enjoyable sound signature with clean clear sound.
    But the X7 II has the added benefits of a standalone unit, no need for stacking, this is a huge plus for me..
    Hmmm, this makes me wonder if Ifi is interested in making DAPs in the future..??

    I believe the X7 is more well match if compared to the micro iDSD Black Label, hopefully I will get a chance to compare those soon.

    Power output/ Headphone pairing
    It is quite strong for such a little unit, it powers my Meze 99 classic perfectly and the synergy is awesome, very enjoyable when working in the office.
    6.jpg

    The Utopia also sounds quite good on this and it plays music just fine, nothing sounds weird and just plays music well. The sound signature pairs well with the utopia, however it does not unleash the full potential of the headphone.
    7.jpg

    The shozy stardust also plays well on it, this is where the IEMatch comes to play, I have a good amount of volume pot wiggle room, it sounds nice and clean without any hiss and it's very enjoyable to listen too.
    9.jpg

    As DAC to V281
    When used with my V281, along with my focal Utopia, it becomes apparent that the technicalities doesn't expose the details that I usually find in my usual v281 combo, it is also less natural sounding, however, the bass presentation combos well with my Utopia and adds some of those bottom end that some people want and the treble is pulled back a bit but not as laid back as when using the ifi by itself, I personally think that the Utopia is not bass light, but for those who think so, this can work, although I would suggest looking for higher end DACs if you are on this level to get all those details.

    With that aside, all the details extracted by the DAC in Ifi Nano is presented beautifully, with superior layering (like on another level layering), I heard way more details easily that I have never noticed before as compared to using the Ifi alone, I have to say that the DAC although not the most technical in bringing Micro details, but it makes up for it with its presentation of macro detail and enjoyable tonality, at least in my set up.

    This combined with The Focal Utopia which pretty much exposed everything without any harshness, gives great results that I wan't expecting from a DAC on this price range, well done Ifi!
    8.jpg

    Conclusions
    The Ifi Nano iDSD BL is a good introduction for the iFi product, for the price I couldn't recommend this product more! It performs better than the price can suggest despite some weaknesses, very flexible power output and an enjoyable sound signature that is fatigue free.

    It has excellent build quality and acceptable use case, with a good amount of accessories out of the box.
    The only main negative for me is that OTG cable is not included, most people who buys this usually wants to use it with their mobile device.

    The pricing is good too, and I think is quite affordable for many people.
      Deftone, SV_huMMer, calbu and 4 others like this.
    1. Deftone
      Good review mate nice to see more appreciation for metal.
      Deftone, Feb 19, 2018
      emptymt likes this.
    2. emptymt
      Thx mate, metal is my favorite music! I hope this helps other metal lovers out there.
      emptymt, Feb 20, 2018
      Deftone likes this.

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