iFi audio nano iDSD Black Label

Rating:
4.34783/5,
  1. glassmonkey
    Great genes in this DAC family, wallet happy price
    Written by glassmonkey
    Published Nov 29, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Pros: Excellent transparent sound, small size, outstanding price, driving power for HD600, iEMatch built in, iPurifier built in, excellent 3.5mm line-out, two good filters, huge format compatibility
    Cons - Cons: Silk-screen writing is damn near impossible to read, doesn’t come with short OTG cable (one would be better than none), doesn’t come with USB3.0 adaptor so not compatible with new iFi USB cable releases, a slight softness in the midrange through headphone outs
    Acknowledgment
    I’d like to thank iFi for loaning me the Nano iDSD Black Label and a pre-production unit in return for my honest opinion. It was a lot of fun being one of the first folks to get their hands on a retail unit, though I wish I could have been at the launch event. I still haven’t tried Johnny Walker Black.

    This review was originally posted on my blog, and I'm now sharing with the wonderful community on Head-Fi. You folks rock.

    Introduction
    Anyone who’s been following me for a while knows that I’ve reviewed two full sheds of iFi gear. I might be the person with the most iFi reviews, I’m not sure. This one makes six after the following: iFi Micro iDSD Black Label (Micro iDSD BL), iPurifier2.0, iDAC2, iCAN SE, Micro iUSB3.0. I’ve also spent some time with the original iDSD and the original iCAN. I’ve been offered a couple more reviews, and will probably do some, time allowing.

    Up to now, the most ‘WOW!’ product I’ve heard from from iFi is the iDSD Micro BL. It was also the classiest and most decked out offering. It’s a desktop dynamo with a Swiss Army knife of audio features, but I have to emphasize that while it can be transported, it isn’t really what people think of as portable. For that, I’m now having a look at the brand spankin’ new iDSD Nano BL’s pocketable frame.

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    Usability: Form & Function
    Unboxing
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    I’ve unboxed a lot of iFi gear over the years, but this is the first piece of gear from iFi to actually surprise me. Anyone who has been following iFi for any length of time or bought any of their Micro or Nano series DACs or amps has received the same box, with quite often the same components and compartments inside. It’s a roughly 10” x 3.5” x 3” oblong rectangle—a sort of less streamlined coffin-box. In the past, it hasn’t mattered whether you were buying a Nano or Micro series, the only thing different on the top level was how big the cut-away in the foam insert was. Below the presented DAC or amp would be some mix of the following accessories, a red 3.5mm aux cable, a short purple set of RCA interconnects, some adaptors (most likely), rubber stacking bands (for your DAP/phone), and a blue USB cable (sometimes USB3.0).

    This time around we get a half-height box, which I very much like. The wasted space of previous Nano series boxes has been eschewed in favour of a more efficient DAC apartment. You’ve got your bed of foam on the left, and your closet box of white accessories on the right, all the cooking happens when the DAC gets out of bed. The box is still surrounded in a tight-fitting card sleeve, and still has the same silver iFi logo filigreed onto the top of the now slimmed down white heavy card box. Some things change, but others stay the same.

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    Aesthetics and Ergonomics

    The major ergonomics critique of the iFi Micro series is that calling them portable is a bit of a joke. They are portable like your laptop and less convenient to carry, as there just aren’t any bags that really work for iFi’s unique signature shape. I loved the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label, but it was about as transportable and ergonomic as a pet brick. Don’t throw your Black Label, it’s so much better than Father Jack’s brick. It’s a shape that grows on you. Love who your Micro be, iFi.



    That said, the Nano series is smaller, a little smaller than a minimum size deck of Magic the Gathering cards, with penny sleeves. Previous iterations of the iFi Nano series haven’t had any of the genetic make-up of the iDSD Micro Black Label in the looks and functionality department. Now that has changed. This isn’t your 2014 Nano iDSD. That version was silver, with big faceplates ridges on the front and back, whilst the new one has tapered edges to make it more pocket friendly. It doesn’t really feel like something you’d throw in your coat pocket due to the ergonomics. Those two RCA jacks sticking out the front and the coax coming off the back coupled with the aforementioned anodized aluminum ridges left lots of things to poke you from inside your jacket pocket.

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    From an ergonomics perspective the new Black Label is smoother, sleeker, with more attractive printing and a more durable frame. I say more durable for a different reason than one might think. It is made of the same aluminum, it has the same anodized finish (albeit in black), but it has some key differences. The iFi iDSD BL is rocking out with three 3.5mm jacks set flush and not directly by the volume knob. Making the 3.5mm jacks flush makes it so there isn’t anything to snag on, which is more pocket friendly. The placement of 3.5mm output right next to the volume knob didn’t just make the front of the original Nano iDSD a bit busy, it made it so turning the volume knob whilst listening to headphones would require navigating your headphone cable. An additional pocket friendly addition is switching from the USB B input of the original Nano iDSD to the USB A OTG input of the Micro iDSD series. The connection is very stable which reduces stress on the jack. All these smoothing factors add to reduced wear and friction on the case elements, and the more secure USB connection will minimise damage to the USB connection, meaning this is a daily driver that should hold up to a bit of rubbing, but I’d still not drop it or toss it around roughly.

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    Function
    The original iFi Nano iDSD was full of firsts (DXD and DSD256, super lightweight, 10 hour pure battery running) and was the best-selling DAC in Japan for a while, but it was for a different use case. That iDSD was about being a pint-sized capable home DAC with a lightweight amplifier that only output 130 mW into 16Ω. It had a digital out, and full-size RCA outputs to hook up to your home amplifier—great features, but not pocket friendly. The iFi Nano iDSD BL has some serious upgrades under the sleeker casing. Much like the Micro iDSD BL, this Nano iDSD BL has iEMatch built in and iPurifier built in. Like the Nano iDSD (original) the Nano iDSD BL runs on battery for 10 hours and throws down some DSD256 and DXD, but it also has MQA in-built now too.

    MQA
    Now, I’m not sure about this MQA thing (ars technical article that is well worth a read). Some have said it’s a sneaky backhanded route to a new form of DRM (record companies have to license equipment, consumers pay for special equipment, streaming services get charged for royalties, etc…). Whatever I might think about the likelihood that MQA gives me better than just streaming 24/96 FLAC directly or listening to real master quality PCM (Archimago’s Musings), MQA certainly didn’t sound bad. That said, I was listening through the XI Audio Formula S and a pair of HiFiMAN Susvara headphones with the Nano iDSD BL as the DAC to start. I listened to 2L recordings DXD tracks in both DXD and in the MQA down-coded versions. I don’t know if I would be able to tell the difference. Both sounded bloody excellent, but those are excellent recordings. Chicken/egg dilemma. Did the tracks sound excellent because the format captured the quality of the recording, or would any lossless format of CD quality or above capture the quality of the recording? I don’t know. I also took an auditory stroll through Tidal’s ‘Masters’ library. Beyonce’s Lemonade album sounded awesome—why did Adele 25 win best album? That decision makes no damn sense as Lemonade is a triumph from start to finish (though some parts had some hardcore derivations, like the transparent Eurythmics inspiration on Don’t Hurt Yourself) and 25 is Adele singing three good songs plus some filler.

    The difficult part of MQA listening is its hard to compare to actual redbook CD. I’ve always found that Tidal sounds a bit ‘enhanced.’ I’m convinced that there is DSP to make it sound a bit more vivid. Who’s to say this doesn’t also happen with MQA? Most of the albums that Tidal has MQA ‘Masters’ of, they also have standard ‘CD Quality’ versions. So I stepped right up and made a quick playlist of some stuff I’m familiar with:

    1. Nick Drake – Thoughts of Mary Jane
    2. Nick Drake – One of These Things First
    3. Counting Crows – Anna Begins
    4. Norah Jones – Shoot the Moon
    5. Beyoncé – Don’t Hurt Yourself
    6. Led Zeppelin – D’yer Mak’er
    7. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go
    8. Beck – Guess I’m Doing Fine
    With Thoughts of Mary Jane the volume levels between the tracks aren’t the same. I have similar experiences on Counting Crows – Anna Begins. The Masters versions seem a little more restrained, but they also have a touch more depth to the sound, but this additional depth sounds like it is all in front of the stage. The stage sounds moved, not factually deeper. Turning down the volume on the HiFi version of Norah Jones – Shoot the Moon gives a good approximation of the Master. I am noting a bit more texture in the bass on the Shoot the Moon Master version. It sounds a bit fuller with rounder attack and decay. I think there may actually be differences, but that some of it is difficult to judge due to volume effects. I observe similar improvement in the kick drum on Beyoncé – Don’t Hurt Yourself. Well it’s either confirmation bias, or a trend, the bass on the Master version of D’yer Mak’er is more textured and rich. Transients in the cymbals also take on a bit more weight. Overall the sound is just a little weightier and more textured. On The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go the Masters version is the louder version. Unfortunately two Where Did Our Love Go tracks sound so different, I’m pretty sure they aren’t from the same master. I can’t do a real comparison. This may end up being a problem for anything that has a remaster. Provenance is important, but it may be even more important on MQA albums as essentially they are having multiple operations done on the material. On Guess I’m Doing Fine slide guitar and bass sound a bit richer with fuller note edges without sounding fat. The bass sustains just a little bit longer.

    So inconclusion (intentional), the results are inconclusive on MQA. With 2L songs off their test bench I couldn’t distinguish MQA from DXD Masters. On Tidal, MQA sounded generally a little quieter, but also sounded like the notes were a bit fuller and richer, especially in bass notes, which got some plus texture. I couldn’t discern any differences in sound stage. I didn’t do my tests blinded, but I also didn’t always know the order of tracks and was able to pick out the MQA track on a couple of occasions without having visual confirmation (D’yer Mak’er, Guess I’m Doing Fine), which could easily be random chance. Without repeated blind testing, the null hypothesis would be that I guess right 50% of the time. Two cherry-picked right guesses does not a strong observation make. How much do you trust my ears? How much do you trust your own? The next time I listened to D’yer Mak’er I guessed wrong. I also wasn’t consistent on Norah Jones – Shoot the Moon. I think I’d have to have perfect volume matching to have confidence in any comparisons over time.

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    One thing I can say for MQA, it doesn’t appear to make sound quality worse. Whether real or imagined, the sound seemed different, but it seemed generally better than the CD quality version on Tidal and not worse than the DXD when listening to 2L tracks (with a substantially smaller file size). I’ve done previous tests with DXD and lower bitrate formats and found that I generally preferred the DXD to everything else and couldn’t tell it apart from DSD128 and DSD256 on DSD mastered tracks. Generally, DXD is as close to the master as you can get. Top masters are in 32bit DXD (352kHz), commercial DXD just drops 8 bits on the word length.

    iEMatch
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    To test out iEMatch I whipped out my most sensitive IEMs, the Noble Kaiser Encore. When no music is playing there is low level hiss out of both the Direct and the iEMatch outputs, but the iEMatch output is virtually silent. The hiss on the iEMatch is way way down. Hiss is inaudible on either of them when any music is playing, including silent portions of music. The iEMatch comes with a sound signature toll. Because it raises output impedance (from under 1Ω to under 4Ω), it does exactly what you would expect it to do, it pushes up the bass a bit. The effect isn’t bad, but it definitely colours the sound.

    On the Micro iDSD I found that the main advantage of iEMatch was allowing greater use of the volume control with sensitive IEMs, and this is still the case here. On Direct, the Noble Kaiser Encore gets loud fast.

    Driving Power
    As previously highlighted, the Nano iDSD BL does just fine with sensitive IEMs, thank you very much. It also handled the RHA CL750 with aplomb. But what about the HD600, you say? What about those teasers on the twitterverse?

    The stats say it should be able to pull it off. I’ve previously done the HD600 driven well from a 280 mW into 32Ω source. That measurement just happens to be right about where this Nano iDSD BL sits (285 mW into 30Ω), so theoretically, it should do it.

    Is theory replicated in practice? Absolutely. Actually, I think it drives the HD600 better than it drives the RHA CL750. When comparing to the XI Audio Formula S (in balanced output) fed by the Nano iDSD BL driving the HD600 vs. the Nano iDSD BL in Direct drive mode, I get a little bit more depth on the Formula S, but the differences aren’t much. The iFi Nano iDSD BL gets out some serious performance. It will drive the HD600 to plenty of volume with plenty of dynamics.

    For laughs, I hooked up the HiFiMAN HE1000 v2 for a little try. The Nano iDSD BL gives enough volume, but it lacks the dynamic punch of the XI Audio Formula S and can’t match the imaging. Unsurprisingly, the HE1000 v2 needs more juice to thrive. You can play the HE1000 v2, but it’s wasted on the iFi Nano iDSD BL. It was, surprisingly, not a laugher.

    I also used the 3.5mm out to the XI Audio Formula S (review upcoming), and it provided a super clean output. The system is straight up transparent. I loved this combination with the HiFiMAN Susvara, and I also dug it with the Unique Melody ME1.

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    Audio quality
    You know what is really strange? I really don’t have much to say about the sound quality of the iFi Nano iDSD BL independent of comparisons. It is transparent. It has excellent resolution. It doesn’t output a coloured sound. It has an accurate, well-defined, reasonably sized soundstage. I think the key here for the BL is actually how it compares to other DAC/Amps and DAPs. I’ve got a few of those on hand. DAC comparisons used the following signal chain, designed to get the best out of a DAP (you may not get as good using these on your rig):

    Dell Inspiron 13 → Generic iFi USB3.0 cable → iFi Micro iUSB3.0 → LH Labs Lightspeed 2G split power and data usb cable → DAC/Amp (potentially with adaptor first)

    I used a Lindy USB3.0 B to A adaptor instead of the iFi one included in the packaging (one more thing to send back to iFi in perfect condition). Since iFi doesn’t produce their adaptors and they don’t appear to be audiophile grade, it doesn’t really matter which adaptor I use, so long as it isn’t junk. I’ve used the Lindy for a long time. It does the job.

    All comparisons were done using the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (for general timbre and DAC capabilities), the Sennheiser HD600 for driving power, and the Noble Kaiser Encore for hiss. Volume matching was performed using an SPL meter and a listening level of ~78.2 dB calibrated with white noise for comparisons using the UERR. I didn’t bother to volume match the Noble Kaiser Encore because the listening tests were for answering relatively simple yes/no question does it hiss during silence or during quiet music? For that question I just need to listen at a similar volume, not a precisely calibrated volume. For the HD600, my question was similarly simple to the Noble Kaiser Encore: can the player drive it? To know this, all I needed to do was check volume and listen for dynamics and spacialization. My listening level is 78.2dB, approximately, and I can usually get within 0.2-0.5dB by ear. I’ve had a goodly number of times where I set the volume on an IEM, measure it, and then discover that the SPL measurement is 78.2 dB with white noise. For all listening tests the Nano iDSD BL was on the ‘Measure’ filter.

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    I played the following tracks:

    1. Cyndee Peters – House of the Rising Sun (fantastic track from Opus3 records, DSD128)
    2. Hoff Ensemble – Blågutten (2L track with huge space, DXD, available for free)
    3. Wager-Åstrand - Fasten Seat Belts (another Opus3 track, DSD128)
    4. Pixies – Where is My Mind (24/88.2)
    5. Why? – Sod in the Seed (16/44.1)
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    iFi Nano iDSD BL vs. LH Labs GO2A Infinity
    From a features standpoint, the Nano iDSD BL has a number of advantages: it draws normal current off of a USB source (LH Labs Draws a bit extra), it has 10 hours of battery, and it has a true and excellent fixed line-out. The Nano iDSD doesn’t have a balanced output, but the balanced circuit inside it gives the same sonic benefits. The Nano iDSD BL is more matchable and doesn’t rely on external volume control.

    UERR
    The sense of space in both players is similar, with the GO2A Infinity having a slight advantage in height and width, but depth goes to the Nano. The GO2A Infinity has harder edges and more firm impact, but it can be sharp and unforgiving at times. The Nano iDSD BL is smoother and more forgiving, whilst the GO2A can be hard and sharp at times. The upper mids on the GO2A are sweeter, but can overheat at times. The iDSD doesn’t soar as much as the GO2A does on Where is My Mind, but it has more depth on Sod in the Seed and has an overall less exuberant sound. On Sod in the Seed, the high glockenspiel notes are a bit piercing on the GO2A, and more natural on the Nano iDSD BL. Treble is hiked up a bit, which is probably what creates some of the extra height in the GO2A sound, and more edgy impactful sound in the upper mids. The sound on the GO2A can become fatiguing with its exuberance, even if it is totally inspiring in a collection of moments. If the hard edges and exuberance irritate you even a little, the echo-chamber of your mind will get to you when the track playing back has what some would view as flaws. Some will find the exuberance inspiring and worthy of praise whilst others will be immediately turned off on the GO2A Infinity, the Nano iDSD BL doesn’t have these hard edges, it’s smooth. It is still detailed, but the treble isn’t enhanced, so no divisive screams.



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    Noble Kaiser Encore
    Out of both the Direct and iEMatch outputs, the Noble Kaiser Encore sounds as special as it should. Hiss is effectively controlled on both outputs, but there is some minor hiss during silence on the Direct output. You may not even hear it. If the Kaiser Encore is hooked up to the iEMatch output, it gets a bass boost. Maybe you want a bit extra midbass, maybe you don’t. When using the Kaiser Encore on the GO2A Infinity, even at the lowest gain, it hisses like an Indiana Jones nightmare.

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    HD600
    The HD600 is my stress test for portable players and the both of these players pass. The HD600 sounds full with all dynamics intact. Soundstage was not crushed and nothing sounded softened.

    iFi Nano iDSD BL vs. Questyle QP2R
    I know. This comparison is not really fair, right? The QP2R is more than 6x the price. As anyone who’s been around the block in audiophile-land more than once will tell you, the law of diminishing returns hits like crotch-punching circus dwarf. There are some features that the Nano iDSD BL has that the QP2R doesn’t: a fixed analog line-out, and iEMatch. Of course the QP2R also throws down some features that iFi doesn’t, mostly about being a DAP and not a portable DAC/Amp. They both rock 10 hour (tested) battery life and excellent sound.

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    UERR
    The UERR has brilliant spatial presentation on both the Nano iDSD BL, it’s a friggin’ monitor after all. However, the QP2R has greater depth, width and height as well as better layering. The soundstage has an effortlessness to the separation of the instruments on the QP2R. It’s really friggin’ brilliant. Tonally, the Nano iDSD BL is a bit soft in the midrange, whilst the QP2R is more impactful and sharper. On Where is My Mind, there is more soar, more space, more layering. The QP2R is just superior with the UERR. Listening to other tracks

    Noble Kaiser Encore
    The QP2R has hiss with the Kaiser Encore, more so on the balanced out. The hiss is lower and less obtrusive than that found on the GO2A Infinity when on single-ended output, but it is noticeable. I tried messing with some adaptors like the 75Ω impedance adaptor from DUNU or the UE Buffer Jack. The UE Buffer Jack reduces hiss by adjusting damping factor in favour of the IEM. It doesn’t cause frequency response modification like an impedance adaptor, but it does lower the hiss level, whilst not eliminating it completely in this case. The 75Ω adaptor eliminated the hiss, but messed up both the bass and the treble, making the treble thin and the bass flabby. The Nano iDSD BL is superior with the Noble Kaiser Encore. It has been my experience that none of Questyle’s gear plays well with multi-BA, sensitive IEMs. I’ve tried using the QP2R, the CMA600i and the CMA800R Golden Reference amps, and all have problems with the Noble Kaiser Encore. Questyle gear likes headphones and IEMs that have some impedance.

    HD600
    The Questyle QP2R likes the 300Ω Sennheiser HD600 headphones. The Questyle QP2R, on paper, shouldn’t drive the Sennheiser HD600, but current mode amplification is magic, and it somehow manages to drive it with space to spare on the settings dialled into high gain and high bias settings with the balanced output. I had to turn it up to 99 out of 120 on volume, which means plenty of overhead was still there.

    With regard to the sound characteristics of the two players, the QP2R has a clearer and more forward midrange with stronger edges. The iFi Nano iDSD BL has a smoother more soft feel, which makes it feel a little less resolute, but will have people really digging the ambiance once they settle in. Much like the Hidizs AP200 below, the Questyle QP2R has greater impact to it’s sound, but it never sounds like it is trying too hard or tipping the frequency response out of balance. The Questyle QP2R is delightful, and I prefer it’s sound to the iFi Nano iDSD BL. It is 6x the price, though, so on a value for money level the Nano iDSD Black Label wins easily.

    iFi Nano iDSD BL vs. Shanling M2s
    The iFi Nano iDSD BL and Shanling M2s might be considered direct comparators. Both do DSD256 and DXD. Both are small and capable. Both are useable with your phone (iFi via USB OTG, Shanling M2s via Bluetooth). Both can be used as external DACs with a computer. Both are under £200 with the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label coming in at £199 and the Shanling M2s dropping in at £189 (on Amazon.co.uk). The Shanling M2s has the best screen on any DAP I’ve been privileged enough to use. The Nano iDSD BL doesn’t have a screen, but does have iEMatch, a true fixed line-out and MQA.

    UERR
    The Shanling M2s has a softer midrange on the The Pixies – Where is My Mind and doesn’t soar with female vocals like the iFi Nano iDSD BL can in Where is My Mind. It lacks the amplitude. On Why? – Sod in the Seed the midrange is cleaner and clearer with better defined edges on Yoni Wolf’s slacker rap musings. Claps and woodblocks lack the impact and definition on the Shanling M2s. Bass on the Shanling M2s is a bit more present with a warmer overall sound. There is a bit of a gauziness to the Shanling M2s sound, a slight veiling. On the fast percussion of Fasten Seat Belts, the M2s just can’t keep up with the track in the way that the Nano iDSD Black Label does. The Black Label has excellent speed and precision. The Shanling M2s just sounds slower. Listening with the iFi Nano iDSD BL on Cyndee Peters – House of the Rising Sun, it’s like a morning mist has been pierced by the rising sun and forced to retreat back into the wooded hollows from whence it crept. The background is black and clear. Excellent. The Shanling M2s, whilst good doesn’t have the kind of clarity and resolution that the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label can muster.

    Noble Kaiser Encore
    There is a slight elevation in the bass on the Shanling M2s because of the output impedance. Some will like this ‘enhancement.’ The added bass is still nice, but this is not neutral playback. The Noble Kaiser Encore does not hiss on the M2s.

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    HD600
    The Shanling M2s can play loud enough with the HD600 only if you max out the volume meter. This player will do in a pinch, but really shouldn’t be used for the HD600. Dynamics are crushed a bit and the soundstage gets a little smaller, but the overall sound is still good.

    iFi Nano iDSD BL vs. Hidizs AP200
    Interestingly both the Hidizs AP200 ($299 suggested for aluminum 32GB) and the iFi Nano iDSD BL ($199) have balanced amplification inside with a single ended output. The Hidizs is more expensive, but you do get yourself a full-on touch screen DAP with full Android, Play Store, and friggin’ killer sound. In practice the iDSD gets better battery life. I’ve been averaging around 7-8 hours on the Hidizs AP200.

    UERR
    On Where is My Mind, the Hidizs soars a little more and has a little more impact. It is a very punchy player without having the sharpened treble claws of the LH Labs GO2A Infinity. Image size and clarity are pretty similar between the Nano iDSD BL and the Hidizs.

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    If I had to give any edges, it would be that the Hidizs AP200 has a little bit more height and the iFi Nano iDSD BL has a little more width. Depth is even, as far as I can tell. Tonally the Hidizs AP200 is a little more bright. What listeners prefer will really come down to tonal preference. Overall presentation is a little more energetic on the AP200 than the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label. Again, whether you want a more relaxed sound like the iFi or a punchy stand up and get noticed sound like the Hidizs will come down to listening preference. Personally, I’d be happy to have both options. Sometimes you want more relaxing, sometimes you want energy. Are you feeling laconic today?

    Noble Kaiser Encore
    There is a very soft hiss with the Hidizs AP200 that becomes inaudible in most music. Listening to Cyndee Peters do House of the Rising Sun with the UERR there is no hiss on the track, it’s clean as a surgical theatre. When switching to the Kaiser Encore, there is hiss on the track but it is light and may actually be the IEMs being more sensitive to the noise of the tape. The Cyndee Peters recording is a tape transfer direct to DSD, so it is possible that the Kaiser Encore could be picking up non-musical information from the recording method. The impedance output of the Hidizs didn’t cause any perceptible bass elevation, which is a pro in my book. Performance compared to the Nano iDSD in Direct mode is pretty similar, with slightly more hiss on the AP200.

    HD600
    Much like the Shanling M2s, it takes everything the Hidizs AP200 has to get to a good volume level on the HD600 (97 of 100). In this case, I think it sounds a bit better than the M2s. The soundstage has significantly less width and depth than the Nano iDSD BL, and the Nano iDSD BL clearly outplays on clarity, separation and driving power. It also handles the speedy percussion of Fasten Seat Belts with outstanding resolution that the Hidizs AP200 does not match. The Hidizs AP200 gives good tone, generally, but the technical capabilities of the Nano iDSD BL are superior. At times the Hidizs struggles and distorts on some low bass notes, whereas the iFi Nano iDSD BL withstands the assault of low bass notes without distortion. The Hidizs does have a bit more focus and slam in the mids, which could be due to slightly elevated upper mids compared to the Nano iDSD BL. Punchy like the talented Mr. McGregor.

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    iFi Nano iDSD BL vs. Aune M1s
    The Aune M1s is quite simply one of my favourite DAPs to work with. It doesn’t change the sound of any IEMs I play with it. It stays out of the way, maintaining the most consistently neutral presentation of any of the DAPs in my stable (more than a few). It’s a simple beast, and it doesn’t have a ton of power for output or a ton of features. It doesn’t have a fixed line-out. It will not play the HD600. It does have balanced output. It also doesn’t mess with the sound of the Noble Kaiser Encore at all. I’ve spent a lot of time previously talking about the Aune M1s, so you can check out it’s review.

    UERR
    Listening to House of the Rising Sun, there is more width to the stage on the Nano iDSD BL than on the Aune M1s. Both keep a nice tone, but the Nano iDSD BL has a bit sweeter treble when the bells and cymbals come in, with a bit fuller presentation.

    Noble Kaiser Encore
    The M1s is perfectly clear with the Noble Kaiser Encore. It is a beautiful pairing that lets the Encore shine. There is no hiss, and the bass isn’t elevated due to impedance mismatches.

    HD600
    Can’t do it. Sound is drained and feeble. Frequency response isn’t accurate either.

    Specifications
    General Specifications
    Price: £199 ($199)
    DAC: Burr Brown
    Formats Supported: DSD64-DSD256, DXD384/352.8kHz, PCM 44.1-384, MQA 88.2/96/176.4/192kHz filters
    Filters: Listen (transient optimised minimum phase filter), Measure (frequency response optimised filter)
    Inputs: USB Type A “OTG” socket with built in iPurifier® technology
    Battery Life: ~10 hours (tested)
    Dimensions: 96 x 64 x 25.5mm
    Weight: 139g (0.31 lbs)
    Warranty: 12 months

    Headphone Amplifier
    Outputs: Dual Mono 2 x 285mW Direct Drive, coupling capacitor free circuit, 2 x 3.5mm outputs: 1 Direct and 1 iFi iEMatch integrated (for sensitive IEMs)
    Max Output Level (<10% THD): >3.5V @ 600Ω load (Direct; 20mW into 600Ω), >2.9v @ 30Ω load (Direct; 285mW into 30Ω), >1.7V @ 15Ω load (Direct; 200mW into 15Ω)
    Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise: < 0.005% @125mW/30R
    Dynamic Range (DNR): >109db (A-weighted) @ 3V (Direct), >107db (A-weighted) @ 0.5V (iEMatch®)
    Output Impedance: ≤ 1Ω (Direct), ≤ 4Ω (iEMatch)
    Channel Separation: > 79dB @ 600Ω load (Direct), > 79dB @ 15Ω load (Direct)
    Volume Control: Analog 2-track Potentiometer with power switch, < 2dB tracking error – 40dB…0dB attenuation

    Line Output

    Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise: < 0.004%
    Dynamic Range (DNR): >109db (A-weighted)
    Output Voltage: 2.15V (±0.05V)
    Output Impedance: < 240Ω
    Channel Separation: > 99dB @ 1kHz
    Jitter (correlated): Below set test limit

    Conclusions

    If you are looking for an upgrade to your two channel living room setup from something more basic, and potentially from something considerably more advanced—as a straight-up DAC the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label was superior to my Questyle CMA600i in the same signal chain (playing into the XI Audio Formula S feeding HiFiMAN Susvara); or you are looking for something that drives a wide variety of headphones with no problem, or maybe you are staring into the abyss of format wars like the potential impending ascendancy of the newest format darling (MQA), then you may want to check out the iFi Nano iDSD BL. The Nano iDSD BL drives headphones from the Noble Kaiser Encore (very minimal hiss that disappears with music) all the way up to the Sennheiser HD600 without distortion through the Direct port. In the case of the Noble Kaiser Encore, I did notice a little tonal change on the iEMatch port, that change was pretty similar to what I experience when listening to the Kaiser Encore out of the Shanling M2s, both sound good with the Kaiser Encore.

    If I had to cite any weaknesses, it would be that sometimes the midrange can sound a little meeker than I expect. Some will find this of benefit, and I find it to be a very minor detractor that varies in infinitesimally small effects with the changing of my mood. This softening of the midrange is specific to the headphone amplifier component as the line-out maintains firm tone through the midrange when feeding the XI Audio Formula S.

    You’d be hard-pressed to find a DAC/Amp combo at £199 ($199) with more features and better sound. Just as the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label was unfair to it’s competitors, the Nano iDSD Black Label should make some DAPs in the £200 range nervous. It’s got better sound quality than the all of my under $200 DAP stable, and kicks out sound on par to significantly better than some more expensive DAPs that I have or have played with.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
  2. Grimbles
    A small DAC/Amp that nails almost everything
    Written by Grimbles
    Published Dec 1, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Great sound, brilliant value for money
    Cons - Not pocket portable
    Quick Read Conclusion

    A superb sounding compact DAC/Amp that really packs a punch. Less suitable for pockets than some DAC/Amps, it is still a portable winner for me. Sound quality is fantastic, slightly warmer than purely neutral, with one of the best soundstages I have (in my admittedly limited experience) heard. Most of all, at £200 it is epic value for money, making it very easy to recommend. In fact, I recommend it so highly, I put my own money where my big mouth is and bought one.

    Introductions and General Bumf

    I was originally part of the tour for the iFi Audio nano iDSD Black Label ("Nano BL") but have actually purchased one for myself. Read into that what you will. For clarity, I am in no way associated with iFi and have received no inducement (other than the chance to use a Nano BL for a week) to write my review. I would like to thank Karina and the team at iFi for allowing me to take part in my first tour.

    Test Kit: I have tested the Nano BL with Shure SE215, SE425, Sennheiser HD600, Ultimate Ears UE900s and KEF M500 headphones/IEMs. Sources have been a Samsung Note 8 and Galaxy S8 (using both Hiby music and USB audio player pro), Dell E7270 running Windows 7 and 11" Macbook Air (2012 vintage). I also ran the line out through a Schiit Vali 2 to compare against the Modi 2.

    Preparation: I have given the Nano BL a shade over 50 hours of burn-in (unsure if I believe in burn in, but figured this should help for people who do) and I did not start any critical listening without giving it at least an hour to warm up (I think warm up of DACs does help, and have read a couple of papers on this, but given this is a "mobile" DAC I don’t think real world use will involve having had this thing plugged in for 24 hours before listening).

    Me as a listener: I am not a pro by any stretch of the imagination. I have always enjoyed my music, and my tastes are pretty broad. I go to live music ranging from rock and pop concerts to orchestra and opera. I would not describe myself as having a trained ear, but I am attentive and my ears are in pretty good nick for a 34 year old (my hearing cuts off around 17.5 kHz per my frequency generator).

    My tastes: neutral to warm, but I do like good punchy bass and I love to hear decent instrument separation.

    Test tracks: I've tried to keep it broad and I have cited my music sources below, so (where possible) people can download the tracks themselves.

    1) Wiz Kalifah – On My Level (320k MP3, Google Store)

    2) Norah Jones – Turn Me On (24/192 FLAC, Qobuz)

    3) John Williams – Throne Room from Star Wars performed by Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (16/44.1 FLAC, Qobuz)

    4) The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work (16/44.1 self ripped FLAC)

    5) Ed Sheeran – Castle on the Hill (320k MP3, Google Store)

    6) Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King (from the Peer Gynt Suite) performed by the Zech National Symphony Orchestra (24/48, Musopen Kickstarter Project)

    7) Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay (24/192, HD Tracks)

    8) 30 Seconds to Mars – Stronger (Radio 1 Live Lounge Cover) (16/44.1, self-ripped FLAC)

    9) Pearl Jam – Yellow Ledbetter (320k MP3, Google Store)

    10) Rage Against the Machine – Wake Up (292k m4a, iTunes)

    So, on to the main event. [/General Bumf]

    Unboxing

    There are plenty of videos on youtube and some pictures below, so I won't bore on about this. Suffice to say, a good experience which felt suitably special. In the box, you get the Nano BL, a tactile "crushed velvet" (suspect not actually velvet) carry bag for it, a couple of silicon bands for attaching it to a phone, some cables and adaptors, a few (very basic) booklets and a little bag of silica gel.

    I've seen a few criticisms about the lack of an OTG cable and/or lack of a shorter cable. To be honest, I think iFi would struggle to win here – their user base is likely to be a mixture of iPhone (lightning) and android (usb-c or micro usb) so whatever they could include is not going to work for everyone (and at £200 I don’t think you can reasonably expect a full complement of cables). They're only a few quid after all, and I am sure iFi recognised that most of their target audience would either have one already, or could easily source one. I did not see this therefore as a massive omission.

    Unboxing 1.jpg Unboxing 2.jpg Unboxing 3.jpg Unboxing 4.jpg Unboxing 5.jpg

    Practicalities

    From the tip of the volume nob, the Nano BL is (by my approx. measurements) 9.5cm long, at its peak it stands 2.5cm high and is 6.5 cm wide. iFi tell us this is a portable unit, and that is broadly true, but there's portable and there's portable. Bolted to the back of a phone, this is not (in my opinion) practically "pocket portable" unless you are wearing a coat/clothes with very large pockets. I don’t really like attaching to my phone using rubber rings, so I don’t do this. For me, portability relates predominantly to my train commutes and for this it is perfect as I can set it on my table with my phone and drop it in my bag when not in use. It's reasonably light, and does not get particularly warm during use so I don’t see any bar to using the Nano BL on the bounce, other than general size.

    Battery life is claimed to be up to 10 hours by iFi on the packaging. My experience, with the volume at about 9 o'clock (off is c. 7 o'clock) I am seeing a shade over 7 hours. Also worth noting is that if the Nano BL runs out of battery life, you can continue to run it so long as the USB port can provide it with sufficient power. It won't charge the battery at the same time however. I think iFi have missed a trick here as being able to recharge on the fly whilst listening, would have been a great inclusion.

    I want to take a minute to talk about the USB implementation too. I have to say this is brilliant – the USB port is USB A male, meaning if you are using an OTG cable from a phone or android device (I suspect most people reading this review would do this) it simply plugs straight in. One note of caution though, watch your OTG cable as the one in the pic below fits perfectly, but I have a chunkier plastic one I had to shave with a Stanley knife to achieve a fit.

    USB Port.jpg

    I have seen a few comments on forums, complaining about non compatibility. Across my devices (listed above) I have had no problems with instant recognition of the Nano BL.

    *EDIT* a few people have noted on forums that their bag has a hole in the bottom which they consider a fault. Have a look here from about post #415 https://www.head-fi.org/threads/ifi...-participants-page-26-post-386.864211/page-28 i think it is meant to be there, for poking cables through when you are out and about. See below.

    20171202_190441.jpg 20171202_190407.jpg

    Finally, I'm not going to list out all of the functions available, stats etc. – you can see them here on iFi's website https://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/nano-idsd-bl/, or discussed excellently in @glassmonkey 's frankly brilliant review (I especially like what he had to say about MQA) https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/ifi-audio-nano-idsd-black-label.22770/reviews#review-19505 .

    The Sound

    I have decided to split my review into the increasingly standard format of highs, mids, lows and soundstage. I am also going to focus a little on separation, as it is something I enjoy hearing.

    Highs

    I'm yet to experience sparkling or fatiguing treble and so whilst I have read a lot about it I can't say I have a reference point for it. Of the Nano BL I cannot say the highs are not disproportionately pronounced or notable to my ears. I enjoyed clearly hearing the triangle and cymbals in Throne Room, distinguishable through the entire orchestra. This is particularly notable on the SE425s which, along with the M500s, have probably seen the most use with the Nano BL. Similarly, the crashing waves and whistling through Dock of the Bay are right where you want them to be – present and clear but in no way overpowering.

    Mids

    From the headphones and tracks listed above, you can probably tell I'm a sucker for mids. And the Nano BL does not disappoint. Its performance of Yellow Ledbetter almost left a tear in my eye, the guitar absolutely consuming, ringing clear with the Nano BL faithfully re-creating the interplay of an increasingly complex fall off against each new note; a sound interplay which is often lost on lesser sources, particularly straight from my smart phones. Norah's Turn Me On is delivered with all that wonderful richness, the Nano BL evidently talented with this sort of track, I think assisted by the fact that its silences are really, really silent (subject to the below), no buzz or machine noise at all – just sweet, sweet silence! Even Rage's Wake Up is served up competently, each riff distinguishable amongst the constant noise of the track.

    Lows

    Here, the Nano BL again shows itself to be a class act. With the HD600s and M500s, the rumbling bassline in On My Level is suitably huge, creating that real sense of big bass I think can be hard to recreate without a chunky subwoofer. Where it really shows itself to be ahead of the pack though is how it covers the same song with the SE425s – these IEMs are definitely lighter (albeit usually tighter) with bass, but with the Nano BL pushing, that Wiz Kalifah bassline is still the leading sound to the song, with the rest of the track following. Each note is delivered with impact and more tremor than I've heard the SE425s deliver elsewhere. I wonder if iFi have enhanced the bass a little with this DAC? Not so much it's unpleasant, but with my setup it is noticeable.

    Soundstage and Separation

    So whilst the tonality and musicality are definitely sweet, something I really noticed with the Nano BL is its pronounced soundstage and instrument separation. This is the first time I have listened to music from an in-ear source and have felt anything like the sense of size you get when sat in front of an actual orchestra. I don’t particularly experience height of sound, but I definitely perceive width very clearly, especially on the orchestral pieces. I would also say separation is the most exceptional I have yet heard. In the verve's Drugs Don’t Work, both guitars are very clearly there, in no way blending as they often do, especially direct from phone outputs. Similarly in 30 Seconds to Mars' Stronger cover from Radio 1's Live Lounge, not only is there width, with each layer of the track sounding like it is physically placed somewhere else, but as the track layers up every drum tick, cymbal, guitar note and synth sound is clearly distinguishable, with the vocals holding everything together. I've posted previously how I've been really disappointed with Ed Sheeran's divide album on good earphones, but particularly my 425s. The complex track building has sounded very muffled and confused, with an overall effect of clashing. The Nano BL managed to hold it together here, with the layers distinguishable but coherent and complimentary without clashing.

    A criticism (which is probably down to recordings rather than the device) is that the pronounced separation and width of soundstage can occasionally sound artificial. A couple of the Otis Redding tracks on the same album as Dock of the Bay end up with a sort of "half-half" effect where all the vocals are in the left ear and everything else in the right. This was distracting for me, and took away from the enjoyment of the track a little, but I only noticed it on a few, older tracks. Further, it can pick up the odd thing it isn’t meant to – the musopen kickstarter's high res files have a few noticeable turns of page, musicians shuffling etc. and you can hear each and every one in In the Hall of the Mountain King.

    Comparisons v. Schiit Stack

    As you'll see from the photos below, I had a bit of fun feeding the Nano BL's line out into my Vali 2 and listening to the Nano BL v. the Modi 2 Uber (and for the below, "Schiit Stack" means the Modi 2 Uber and Vali 2) to see if there was much difference just in the DACs. For the purposes of this test, I only used my HD600s. Now, let's be clear about this, the Schiit Stack reopened my music collection for me, delivering clarity and detail I had never heard before. It was a massive upgrade for me, and so, for a portable £200 unit, I am really pleased to say that, across the piece, I think these two are pretty close. The Nano BL is possibly a little tighter and more impactful with bass, and the Schiit Stack perhaps a little more "tingly" in the highs, but not much in it. Where there is a difference is in the width of soundstage, the Nano BL definitely wider, and with more pronounced separation. My preference depends on mood, and I can't honestly give a "better" opinion – not better, not worse, just different and equally enjoyable.

    Stacked.jpg

    Other thoughts

    iFi are making a lot of their "semi balanced" output. I started a thread here a while ago on unbalanced v balanced and know that it is an emotive issue for some and not a debate I am going to enter into (due to self-recognised ignorance on the topic). Technical implementation aside, and subject to the buzz point discussed below, silents are silent so for example, in In the Hall of the Mountain King, the almost silent start of the track, with very quiet plucking is not detracted form by any sort of buzz or hum. For clarity, I have not tested with a 3.5mm TRRS cable and so cannot comment on any difference between unbalanced v (sort of) balanced on this device.

    If I plug my IEMs into the direct output and crank the volume up there is a hiss. However this would be a listening level that would probably burst my head, so not a real world problem. This is not noticeable at low level/with non-IEMs/from the IE Match port.

    For all headphones I tested in both ports. The IE Match port doesn’t go loud enough to drive the HD600s at a pleasant listening volume for me, but the direct port definitely does. If I'm being very picky, I would say that the IE Match port sounds ever so slightly veiled compared to direct, particularly in the mids with guitars. But it's slight, barely noticeable, and wouldn’t stop me from using it for IEMs.

    Measure/Listen switch – switched this a few times and couldn’t discern a difference. All testing was done on Listen.

    Niggles and Solutions

    Early on I was experiencing a mixed amount of battery drain on both my S8 and Note 8. Intermittently, the Nano BL seemed to suck a big chunk of juice out of the phone, and then the phone goes back to operating normally. I couldn’t explain this initially, but have now realised that if you turn it off and leave it plugged into the phone (certainly on the S8 and Note 8) it will pull power and recharge itself, rinsing your phone!

    I also experienced a pronounced clicking and popping (not interference, just intermittent pops and clicks) for a while. I isolated this to one of the cables (in fact, the one I shaved down so it could fit the USB port), but I don’t get the same issue with this cable on other devices so perhaps a fit issue? In any event, it was the cable not the Nano BL but one to watch for.

    Conclusion

    All in all, the Nano BL delivers some of the best sound I have ever heard, standing shoulder to shoulder with my Schiit Stack. That it does this in a reasonably portable package is remarkable, but when it does that for £200 I find almost nothing to fault. This game is all about compromise and personal taste for me, as I will probably always be able to buy "better" than I have. The question I ask myself is, can I tell the difference, and if so, is it worth it? Hence, compromise. At this price point though, there is little or no compromise on sound and in fact I suspect a number of manufacturers making similarly priced and even more expensive devices are, correctly, a little worried. If the compromise for this product is that it is a little chunkier than would be absolutely ideal, it is one I am happy to live with – so much so, I have bought one with my own, hard earned dosh.
      SV_huMMer, KaiFi, arvinm21 and 3 others like this.
    1. KaiFi
      I've noticed the "artificial" sound of the soundstage too. It's not a major negative or anything, but on some orchestral tracks it seemed like everything was coming out of the left channel (and the Schiit stack, which I have too, sounded more balanced). Overall I think it's a great sound though.
      KaiFi, Jan 26, 2018
      Grimbles likes this.
    2. Grimbles
      Thanks @KaiFi pleased to hear you like the Nano BL too! Its a funny thing that soundstage - generally i think it sounds fabulous but the odd track (and agree i hear on some orchestral tracks) it's more emphasised than with other units. Anecdotally i think it is predomanantly with older recordings (presumably containg less sophisticated stereo data). I havent checked this scientifcally, but does this match your experience?
      Grimbles, Jan 27, 2018
  3. dadracer2
    Nano Black the best portable DAC/Amp?
    Written by dadracer2
    Published Dec 18, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Sound Quality
    Size
    Flexibility
    Ability to drive high impedance headphones
    Cons - I don't have one!
    [​IMG]


    There is a very good reason why I took a photo of the Nano Black is sitting atop my existing ifi Audio “Stack” which consists of Micro iDSD; Micro iCAN SE; iUSB; Gemini cable; Mercury cable and iPurifier2.


    The reason is that unexpectedly I spent a lot of time and effort comparing these and constituent parts thereof. Initially I had fully expected to get my trusty Meze 99s warmed up and a quick listen to the Stack and then compare the Nano Black and job done. But oh no that was not nearly sufficient……….


    The Meze 99 is a good headphone and for a closed back has very good imaging properties. It also has a warm and generous bass with an ever so slightly laid back treble. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I could not easily decide which was better through the Meze 99s the Stack or the Nano Black. The comparison was using some favourite album tracks on Tidal HiFi from my laptop.


    The Meze 99s is one of my favourite travel headphones due to their sound quality, ease of drive and cost. Therefore I had expected they would be a good combination with the Nano Black.


    So with my initial plan now thwarted I turned to my HD800s in order to get more resolution and neutrality and imaging so to be sure what the key differences were.


    I started back with the same album tracks as before but this time comparing the Micro iDSD on its own to the Nano Black using Tidal HiFi from my iPhone and then a selection of Hi Res album tracks from the phone. All of this was via the HD800s.


    The first thing is that the Micro iDSD has a more potent amplifier and so was able to drive the HD800s from a lower volume setting. The Nano Black does drive the HD800s but needs a bit more from the volume control so it took a bit of trial and error to get the volume levels matched (by ear as I don’t have a meter!).


    Oh my goodness it was still very close. The Nano Black has a warmer/fuller bass as though it had one click of Xbass. In fact if you gave the Micro iDSD one click of Xbass the sound was astonishingly close, to the point where it made me wonder if this was a design feature???


    The Nano Black does not quite deliver the image depth of the Micro iDSD, but in fairness other than those points you would not have thought one was twice the price of the other.


    Then I joined the Micro iDSD back up with its chums in the Stack and tried again. Well this just doesn’t seem right but it’s still a close thing. The Stack is a bit better resolving, bit better depth, bit less warmth to the bass, bit more treble energy. That might seem a lot but it took a lot of the day to determine this and by a bit I mean 10-15% better.


    And here’s the thing. When I just sat and listened to the Nano Black playing Hi Res tracks via HD800s I wasn’t thinking any of that I was just enjoying really good sound reproduction of really good music.


    The ifi Stack I have is remarkably good for the money to the point where I listen to it more often than my main system simply because it is so easy to use and the sound quality is so high. Using it with Tidal is very easy and gives me an almost limitless supply of music.


    What the Nano provides is a portable version of that Stack with nearly as good sound and all for £200. It is ridiculous!


    You can read all the details and specs of the Nano Black here… https://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/nano-idsd-bl/


    So there is no need for me to tell you what ifi Audio can tell you more comprehensively!


    Meantime I’d like to mention a couple of the Nano Blacks features. The first is the amp as mentioned will drive high impedance headphones such as the HD800s and drive them properly. The one thing I don’t have is a 3.5mm TRRS plug so that I could have used the HD800s in balanced mode. This would be worth trying as I have heard the HD800s in balanced mode via an XLR plug and it improves them even further.


    Likewise I didn’t try MQA or rather Tidal Master tracks as my Micro iDSD doesn’t unfold these and so it would not have been a fair comparison, and that’s why I used 24/192 and DSD files from my iPhone instead for the His Res comparison. I will probably try the Master file later on and once I download the new firmware.


    In conclusion I must thank ifi Audio for the kind loan of the Nano Black. I think that it is as good a device as they have ever made and for the price I am truly dumfounded. I will certainly be purchasing one for myself when this loaner goes back as it offers the possibility of very nearly Hi End HiFi on the move. Indeed if you were listening to this while travelling or in a hotel on business of an evening then I think you would be highly impressed with the quality of sound this device brings to CD and Hi Res music. stack.jpg
      Grimbles, KaiFi and arvinm21 like this.
    1. KaiFi
      This is the best DAC I've used so far. It sounds better than the Fiio E17K, the Dragonfly Red, and even the Schiit Modi 2/Magni 3 stack to my ears.
      KaiFi, Jan 26, 2018
      Grimbles likes this.
  4. betula
    Best sound on a budget: iFi iDSD Nano BL
    Written by betula
    Published Dec 19, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - good value for money, warm and well-balanced sound, small enough for portable use
    Cons - bulky USB-A connection to portable devices, some initial hiccups when connecting to android phones
    After participating in the iFi iDSD Micro BL tour earlier this year, iFi gave me another opportunity to test their new iDSD Nano BL this time. The UK based company sent me a brand new Nano BL for a week in exchange for my honest opinion. Thank you once again!

    [​IMG]

    After I had tested the iDSD Micro BL and compared it to my Chord Mojo (which I own since its release), I was lucky enough to own a Micro BL for a longer period. Knowing these two great quality portable DAC/amps pretty well, I was very excited to see what iFi has to offer for £200 which is more or less half the price of the two aforementioned devices.

    In my opinion, the Nano BL will definitely stir up the portable DAC/amp market in the £200 segment, I have no doubt about that.
    I also prefer the Nano’s sound to some slightly higher priced competition (Oppo HA2SE), but to my experience the picture still changes around £400 pretty drastically. The Micro BL and Mojo still rule the portable DAC/amp scene with all rights, but if someone can’t afford to spend £400 on a digital to analogue converter, it is not easy to recommend anything else for £200 than the Nano BL.

    [​IMG]

    Package, accessories, built quality

    The Nano BL comes in a nice box, which is half the size of the Micro BL’s box, just like the device itself. We still receive a nice selection of accessories, however one potentially useful cable is missing and that is the USB-A female to USB micro B/USB C which you could use to connect the Nano BL to mobile phones or DAPs. As the Nano has a truly portable size (unlike its bigger brother the Micro BL), not including this cable is a poor choice in my opinion. We do have a USB 2.0 cable though and an adapter as well which I think most customers would happily exchange for a Micro B or C cable.

    [​IMG]

    I mentioned this in my iDSD Micro BL review as well, so I am not going into details again but I am still not sure why iFi is using USB A female port on its portable DACs, when you can see USB B ports on all the similar devices.
    The Nano BL otherwise has the same very good build quality like its bigger brother, the Nano is just much smaller and lighter. Mojo is still slightly smaller than the Nano BL and does not have a volume knob sticking out which can easily turn if it touches something in your bag for instance.

    [​IMG]

    Even though the Nano BL has a truly portable size, there are sleeker and smaller competitors. The Nano BL however offers a better sound than any DAP or portable DAC I heard so far in the £200-250 price segment.

    The iDSD Micro BL is amazingly versatile, and you pay for this versatility as well as for its great sound quality. In case of the Nano BL, sound purists get a better deal for their money as on the one hand it is less versatile but on the other hand it also means your money is going towards sound quality only. This is the priority for many of us.

    [​IMG]

    Two burning questions

    Before I go into details regarding the Nano BL’s sound quality, I would like to answer two questions that probably many of the readers have.

    1,
    How much do I get for £200 from the iDSD Micro’s performance?
    It would be pretty pointless to suggest a number what percentage of the Micro BL’s sound quality the Nano BL possesses. iFi are obviously not stupid to give you the same or even almost the same sound quality for less than half the price of the Micro BL. Although the Micro’s higher price is partly due to its versatility and exceptional output power, it still sounds much better than the Nano in every respect. However I also think that 60% of the people who don’t need the Micro’s versatility and power, will be just as happy with the Nano’s sound quality. It is exceptionally good for £200.

    [​IMG]

    2, Does the Nano BL come close to Chord Mojo for only £200?
    The short answer is no. In my opinion the Micro BL is somewhat on Mojo’s level, (even though they represent quite a different approach to sound), but I have to disappoint you, the Nano is not beating DACs for twice its price. It is good marketing to ask this question, but the answer is simply a short no. I have to add though, the Nano BL’s sound will satisfy many people who don’t hear the difference between a £200 and a £400 DAC.
    My girlfriend who is not into portable audio but has quite musical ears sums up the difference: “The Nano sounds very good, but the Mojo makes me smile.”

    [​IMG]

    Now, that we have got the two most important/exciting/disturbing questions out of the way, let’s see what the Nano BL has to offer sound-wise.

    Sound

    The Nano BL has much less power than its big brother the Micro BL, which is not really a surprise. The Micro is a powerhouse, I can’t imagine there is anything it couldn’t drive. The Nano on the other hand in my opinion won’t power the most hungry headphones (300Ω) on a satisfying level, although it has plenty of power for every portable and/or lower impedance headphones. With my 25Ω Nighthawks I usually turned the volume up to 50%.

    [​IMG]

    The Nano’s sound signature is relaxing, warm and natural compared to its competition, with nice and satisfying bass, just what I prefer.
    The sound overall is very satisfying, nothing really lacks. Good treble and bass extention, good soundstage, good separation, good space, very enjoyable in fact. The Nano’s sound only starts to fall short when we compare it directly to higher-end products like the Mojo or the Micro BL. For the price of two Nano BLs you can get a better music listening experience, but you only need that if your ears are able to appreciate the difference, and the double cost also doesn’t hurt your wallet too much.

    [​IMG]

    I was able to listen to music with the Nano BL for hours, and I really enjoyed it’s warm, ear-friendly and powerful sound. It is not as detailed as the more expensive DACs mentioned in this review neither has the same level of resolution, but for half the money it is actually not very far from them. iFi’s smaller DAC is definitely more than half as good as the Micro or the Mojo, but as you go for higher and higher quality products in this hobby, you pay more and more for a 10-20% improvement.

    [​IMG]

    The Nano BL is well balanced tonally throughout the frequencies, with a healthy bass response. Bass never lacks on the Nano, however a category higher you can hear a cleaner and better controlled bass. More expensive DACs like the Mojo sound more exciting and pleasing, more realistic and lifelike especially when it comes to acoustic instruments (strings, percussion) and vocal. Also the soundstage depth of the higher-end DACs is missing from the Nano, the picture is slightly more 2D than 3D.
    The Nano BL is not as clean and clear as the more expensive competitors, it is like putting a good quality fullHD LCD screen next to a 4K oled screen. The full HD is absolutely satisfying, until you see (in our case hear) the better resolution.

    [​IMG]

    In my Micro BL review I mentioned that iFi’s sound with the BL line reminds me to a good quality film theater sound system with its good bodied bass. Very entertaining and relaxing. On the other hand Chord’s DACs like the Mojo aim to sound as lifelike as possible. Both approach has a market in my opinion, it is good to have different choices. The Nano follows this ’entertaining Hi-Fi sound system’ kind of sound. iFi’s DACs still sound more natural and lifelike than many of their competitors, for instance I did not really like the OPPO HA2SE’s thinner and more artificial sound (especially in the treble region) even though it was very detailed (more detailed than the Nano).

    Nano BL vs. Mojo

    The most obvious difference when we compare the Nano BL to Mojo is the lack of dynamic punch and depth on the Nano. Mojo’s attack is much quicker, decay is shorter which results in a more accurate sound with additional clarity and air, leading to better imaging and better instrument separation. Background is also more black and we have more details and a more lifelike sound as the final product.
    The fact we can compare the Nano BL to a significantly more expensive DAC is a big compliment itself to the Nano.

    [​IMG]

    Conclusion

    This little black box from iFi is extremely capable for £200. I like its ear-friendly and smooth sound, it is well-balanced tonally and offers a fantastic value for money. The full MQA compatibility can be an attractive feature for many buyers. iFi’s newest DAC/amp the iDSD Nano BL has everything to be the new king of its price category.
  5. starman93
    just the best DAC around in the sub 600€ market
    Written by starman93
    Published Dec 19, 2017
    5.0/5,
    Pros - smoothest and most analogue sounding in this price range(even 1200€ if we consider sony wm1a),details and instrument separation to die for
    Cons - Why so long USB cable?Why no female USB to micro USB/USB C?
    [​IMG] <a href="https://www.hostingpics.net/viewer.php?id=409475IMG201712120959163.jpg"><img src="https://img15.hostingpics.net/thumbs/mini_409475IMG201712120959163.jpg" alt="Hébergement photos" /></a>
    First,i want to say i have NOT been influenced in ANY way(should it be a discount coupon if i post a positive review or whatever you might imagine)by iFi Audio who sent me the DAC as a group test,this is the 1st time i EVER participate in this,i never thought i would ever have been chosen,just feel free to PM if you're skeptical(as i was myself before).I'm a human being,i either like or dislike a music/hi-fi gear,i'm no MUSIC surgeon so i won't go into FR analysis(as you find a lot in these pages)BECAUSE in the end i find them confusing(contadictions in terms,misuse of words or lack of clear and honest impressions).
    At first listen i felt quite unimpressed but the Nano's charms slowly grow up on you to become utterly addictive in the end.The bass are well rounded just as i love them(nothing close to the dry bass of ,say,the Pioneer XDP30R),the mids glorious(slight tilt to it which makes the whole difference with an average sounding DAC),the highs are detailed without EVER being harsh(any harshness will come down to the HPs used or poorly recorded materials).This DAC simply outperforms well-established "killers" like the Mojo,or the Sony WM1A.When listening to the Sony i find myself missing the sheer sparkle and life of the Nano,making the Sony sounding dull.Instrument separation is better than of an old fav of mine,the IBasso DZero Mk2,which shares with the Nano an outstanding midrange.
    Final word:i wish this DAC will meet the success it truly deserves as this is the cleanest sounding i have ever had,its value(regardless of price) is simply outstanding,even more so than the exceptionnal Dragonfly Red.
      Grimbles, trellus and arvinm21 like this.
  6. shenanbay
    $200 Beast Portable AMP/DAC
    Written by shenanbay
    Published Dec 21, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Build Quality, SQ, ieMatch, Compact Size, Accessories, Soundstage
    Cons - Volume knob can turn in the pocket
    First of all I would like IFI for letting me in on this tour. I have never reviewed anything so here goes,

    Build

    The Nano looks like it will weigh a brick. In reality it doesn’t. it is surprisingly light. Weighs just as much as my phone. It is a bit thick, but its not massive. The unit looks beautiful in the stealth black finish . The lettering in the back is a bit hard to read since its also black. You have to hold the nano in a specific angle for the light to reflect just right to see what is written

    iEMatch

    wow this definitely changed the way some of the tracks sounded to me. It was mostly heard on my jhaudio 10x3. Plugging them into just the direct port gave the slightest hiss, but after plugging them to the iEMatch it was like day and night. The background was pin drop silent. It gave a real empty feeling when the tracks had silence in them

    Filters

    To be honest I tried a lot to hear the differences between the two filters. I was not able any difference, maybe it is just my ears. I left it on measure for the majority of the time after the initial switching around to hear the difference.


    Test Tracks

    Murder One – Metallica

    hd6xx - warm, not as crunchy as I would like it. the amp has plenty of power to drive it. I was able to tell the different layers and separate them

    jhaudio - warm, same as the hd6xx not as crunchy I would prefer. plenty of power to drive it. the iem match does make a difference. Was able to tell the different layers

    AFO – it doesn’t like this song through the iDSD nano. It sounds cluttered and underpowered.

    Nuforce – I had to run these on the direct port. It did sound much better than driving it with just my phone, but it was not a lot better than how it sounded with the hd6xx and JHaudio

    Spanish Harlem - Rebecca Pidgeon

    jhaudio - iemmatch made the silent backgrounds as Silent as I have ever heard. the female voice and the voilin sounds beautiful. Made me listen to this song on repeat atleast 5 times. it sounds very musical. can hear the instrument layers very clearly. from the bass line to the marracas. Beautifully matching. The imaging was very nice. I was able to pick out every instrument

    hd6xx – not as musical as I liked it on the jhaudio 10x3. It is missing the coherence on these. The piano sounds too warm and kind of muffled. The background is pretty silent. The female voice comes out beautifully. Just a tad warm for my taste. The imaging was there. A bit cluttered


    Wayfaring Stranger - New Appalachians

    hd6xx – the female voice comes out beautifully again. The bass line also is very nicely presented. Kinda missing the umph, but that might be the headphone also. While the imaging was nice. I felt like a layer of music was missing when comparing to listening with the jhaudio 10x3. Other than the nano performs this song beautifully

    jhaudio – pretty much everything was delivered perfectly to my ears. The Nano performs amazingly well with acoustic music.

    Nuforce – the sound was too warm for me. It wasn’t muddy or bad. I would have liked a bit more treble and mid range. The bass was overwhelming

    Comparison

    Oneplus 5 vs iDSD nano – the nano definitely has a lot more power for headphones. It also sounds cleaner with better soundstage and imaging. It is definitely worth paying the $200 for this.

    Shangling M3s vs iDSD nano – hands down prefer the nano. They both seem to have the same amount of power output. The nano might be a bit more powerful, but the nano sounds transparent and neutral compared to the M3s. The m3s is too warm for my taste. The nano has better soundstage than the m3s

    NFB 11.28 vs iDSD nano – these two are not exactly in the same class. The NFB is a very powerful amp. The nfb is much more transparent and also sounds neutral. Maybe the tiniest bit of sparkle. The nano sounds a bit warm when you compare it to the nfb. While the nano has a good soundstage, the nfb beats in a very noticeable way.

    Conclusion

    While this is a portable amp/dac it does have the power to drive the hd6xx very well. It does not sound as open on some songs, but other than that this performs very well. Boy does it perform like a beast with my jhaudio 10x3. JUST WOW!! The two are a perfect match. With the nuforce x massdrop while it was better than just driving it with my phone I don’t see myself carrying the nano just to drive these. It is not the Nano’s fault. The iem is just not on the Nano’s level. It seems to bottleneck the dac/amp. I highly recommend this to anyone that wants powers their portable headphones and iems on the go. I might actually buy one myself.

    IMG_20171211_192122_801.jpg

    images

    1. IMG_20171211_190824.jpg
    2. IMG_20171211_191607.jpg
    3. IMG_20171211_192100.jpg
    4. IMG_20171211_192336_536.jpg
    5. IMG_20171211_192437.jpg
      Grimbles, arvinm21 and Wildcatsare1 like this.
  7. crabdog
    Bring your phone or laptop to life
    Written by crabdog
    Published Dec 27, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Build quality
    Compatibility with iEMatch
    Rich, detailed sound
    Cons - Volume knob could use more resistance
    DSC_0670[1].jpg

    For a lot of people the DAP acronym likely means nothing or very little. Those people are probably content to use their smartphones as a daily driver to fulfill the task of a music player. And why not? Today's modern smartphones generally have a large screen with excellent visibility, a responsive user interface plus there are a multitude of third party music apps and streaming services available. However phones don't usually deliver the best quality audio and it's for that reason things like the iFi Audio Nano iDSD Black Label exist. Landing at a price of $200 this little, portable DAC boasts an impressive feature set at a competitive price. Let's take a closer look.

    Dislcaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. I am not affiliated with the company and all observations and opinions here are my own, based on my experience with the product. Check out the official page for more info and full specifications.

    Packaging and accessories

    Things start off with a fairly compact, white box enclosed in a cardboard sheath. The box is adorned with an image of the device on the front along with some text outlining key features. Over on the back is a more comprehensive list of features and specifications.

    After opening the box you see the device nestled in a foam cutout. Under the foam are the accessories which include 2x silicone bands, 1x USB cable, a fabric carry pouch and a couple of adapters. Like some others, I am a little puzzled about the lack of any OTG or lightning cable considering one of the device's main selling points is being able to connect it to your smartphone. You do however have everything you need to connect to a computer out of the box.

    DSC_0488.jpg DSC_0492.jpg DSC_0498.jpg DSC_0528.jpg

    Build quality and functionality

    The iFi Audio Nano iDSD Black Label portable DAC is roughly the size of a deck of playing cards or for those familiar, a Chord Mojo. Therefore it's a good size for attaching to a smartphone (although a bit bulky for pockets) and very diminutive if situated on your desktop.

    The brushed metal chassis looks and feels nice and durable. The top of the chassis is bare apart from the ifi branding. On the bottom side there are four small silicone feet to hold it in place on a surface and prevent scratching if strapped to a smartphone.

    DSC_0538.jpg DSC_0639[1].jpg

    On the front end are (from left to right): 3.5mm iEMatch headphone jack, 3.5mm Direct headphone jack, LED indicator and Power switch/volume knob. The purpose of the iEMatch jack is for pairing with sensitive in ear monitors and I found it to work well, allowing for better volume control and with no audible hiss.

    I do have one gripe with the volume knob and that is the low resistance that it has. Considering this is meant to be a portable device the volume knob is a little too easy to turn and it's near impossible to put into your pocket without moving it. This can result in either getting a deafening blast of music or having sound reduced to near nothing or even switching the device off accidentally. I feel that a recessed knob would have been more appropriate here, or at least one with greater resistance, although it does work well on the desktop.

    DSC_0637[1].jpg

    At the back end are (from left to right): 3.5mm Line Out, Measure/Listen filter switch and the USB digital input. With the filter set to "Measure" the output signal is more neutral and uncolored, great for those recording frequency response or the analytical fans. In "Listen" mode the sound is a little fuller and more enjoyable to my ears. During my testing I left the filter on the "Listen" mode.

    DSC_0634[1].jpg

    I had read that some people were not able to successfully connect the Nano BL to their smartphones. For me however, I plugged into my Samsung Galaxy Note 5 with the OTG cable (which I had to go out and purchase separately...) and it was good to go. It certainly was noticeably better than my phone's DAC and needless to say a much higher output power than provided by my phone as well.

    Sound

    Gear used for testing
    • PC/MusicBee > USB to USB
    • Samsung Galaxy Note 5 > OTG
    • Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro (250 ohm)
    • Meze 99 Classics
    • Acoustic Research AR-H1
    • Inearz Audio Fusion
    • DUNU DK-3001
    The Nano Black Label performs extremely well for a portable device. Although the soundstage is about average it does have great detail retrieval. Its sound is mostly transparent with good extension at both ends. The Nano Black Label converts your musical data and forwards it onto your listening medium and lets the latter paint its own image, which is just the way it should be IMO.

    DSC_0646[1].jpg

    DT990 Pro
    iFi claims that this little guy can drive almost any headphone. While it was able to do so with everything I tested with, I found on some tracks I was pushing the volume almost to maximum with the Beyerdynamic DT990. That's a 250 ohm headphone so I'm not entirely convinced that this DAC would be sufficient for something 300 ohm and upwards. Having said that though the DT990 Pro sounded to be performing at its best with good dynamic range and full-bodied bass.

    AR-H1
    With the Acoustic Research AR-H1 there's definitely more than enough grunt on tap to make these sing. Listening to Bach's Six Concertos by Trevor Pinnock and the European Brandenburg Ensemble was a treat with this pairing, the imaging and soundstage were very immersive and immensely enjoyable.

    Meze 99 classics
    iFi Audio's Nano BL wakes the bass dragon in these headphones. But it's not a bad thing. It's like you know that there's too much bass but you love it anyway and can't stop listening and tapping your feet. When you get that basshead urge and want your skull shaken the 99 Classics will happily oblige and the Nano is more than happy to provide the juice.

    Inearz Audio Fusion
    This is one of, if not the best pairing I've heard for the Fusion so far. Using the iEMatch jack on the Nano BL the Fusion's bass seems to tighten up, making it a little less boomy but maintaining its impressive impact. Separation is excellent with sounds coming from a deep, black space. There's not a hint of hiss or background noise and detail is really good. In fact I'm enjoying this combination so much right now I want to keep listening instead of moving on to the next earphone!

    DUNU DK-3001
    Still one of my all time favorite IEMs, the DUNU DK-3001 falls right into my personal preference when it comes to sound signatures. The 13mm dynamic driver provides a powerful, punchy bass while the balanced armatures deliver clear mids and crisp treble. The Nano Black Label portable DAC again presents the music with great separation, detail and tonality and lets the transducers work their magic.

    DSC_0638[1].jpg

    Conclusion

    iFi Audio has a very solid reputation among Head-Fiers and now that I've (belatedly) seen and heard what they can do I totally get it.

    The Nano iDSD Black Label is a fantastic little unit. I love the aesthetic, the build quality, features and of course the sound. The only thing that doesn't sit well with me is the resistance of the volume knob, as I mentioned before. Everything apart from that makes this a very appealing device. With its reasonable price this is definitely something I can recommend for anyone looking for a portable DAC to pair with their phone or computer.

    *This review was originally posted on my blog at Prime Audio. Hop on over to see more like this.
      Grimbles, dadracer2, trellus and 3 others like this.
  8. rafaelo
    Nano Black: A review by a non Headphone person.
    Written by rafaelo
    Published Dec 31, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - IFI sound signature, bass, IEMatch, Volume knob, MQA rendering
    Cons - Battery Consumption, Not Gym friendly, NO MQA Decoding, ΝO Bluetooth.
    First of all, I need to apologize to all because I am not a headphone person, I have very budget headphones which I use only out of nessecity and my review will appear so poor in comparison with so many experts in this forum. I am posting in this forum simply because it is required as part of the loan review process. However, I will do the review in an informal way from the point of view of simple consumer that offers an honest opinion in order to help other consumers at his level to choose a product and I hope some of you will find this review somewhat useful. More importantly, I hope I will provide useful consumer feedback to Ifi audio to design new products that fullfil some additional requirements of a silent budget audiophile minority (or maybe a majority:)...)

    To start with, my biggest concern regarding this device is the battery life. I thought that I had a default product since in any of my listening sessions I did not exceeded 2 hours of continuous listening. On my conserns Ifi responded with the following message :


    '10 hours playback is possible but on low volume / headphone etc.
    Charging time is around 3 hours'

    It is true that I was listening on high volume because i liked the combination of using IEMatch and raising the volume a lot (without IEmatch the volume is so loud in lower settings) but I got this response after I returned the unit so simply I do not know if that is the case.
    However, 2 hours battery life is a bit of deal breaker for me but I am not sure if this is the result of faulty unit or let's say an "illegitimate" usage from me.

    Someone can avoid using the battery for instance if using a desktop or laptop or Network adapter like the raspberry pi or the USBridge. However, you need the battery for a connection with an ios device like the iPad or iPhone and although is not strictly required for practical reasons with an android device too.

    I am an extremely happy owner of the ifi ione DAC so in my case I was interested in the mobile abilities of the nano Black. In my home set up the ione DAC is simply a dream so I would only consider to buy the nano for mobile use with my android phone or the iPad trying to reproduce the situation I experience in home for which I will discuss more thoroughly later.

    The headphones I used in my testing are the following:

    1) AKG Y50 50£
    2) soundmagic e10c 40£
    3) sennheiser hd 202 25£

    All of them I consider them very good for the price but clearly belong in the super budget category and probably they do not do any justice to the quality/power of nano. However, the nano is a relatively affordable dac so this may make sense as well. If I had 1000£ headphone I would consider a lot more expensive dac/amplifiers and not even blink to buy the mojo, maybe the Hugo as well.

    To my view the rivals to ifi nano Black are the mojo (because is so hyped and roughly the same footprint) and the audioquest dragonflys third generation.

    Both Dragonflys, red or black, have the perfect footprint for me for mobile use and I would definitely have bought one over the two if I had an iPhone instead of my android phone. As it is widely known from forums the android system is not compatible with these DACs and you need the UAPP in order to enjoy the full benefit of these DACs. Unfortunately, it seems that this is the case for the Nano black. Is working great with UAPP but not so well outside the app. I heard some clicks and pops from time to time and although in the beginning I thought is the otg cable responsible now i believe is the android system so screwed for proper usb audio without an appropriate app. Recently, I discovered that I have problems with using my dragonfly even with my UAPP so I couldn't do a comparison between dragonfly and nano on my phone. I can't use it in my iOS devices because v1.2 takes so much power so I did a direct comparison only with my surface book where the nano black smoked in sound quality the dragonfly v1.2. (although to be completely honest the dragonfly was not used for much time at this point) but since I had done similar comparisons in the past between ione and dragonfly I call it a day after a few minutes of comparison. Which brings to my first observation, that in a desktop/laptop situation the nano black is so much better and easily justifies its lager footprint. Usually, in a laptop situation I use the tidal desktop app which I find very powerful with the exclusive mode and the MQA Decoding functionality. After updating the nano firmware the MQA in the latest firmware version the rendering could be used providing a noticeable improvement in MQA tidal master songs. I believe this is the strongest point of the nano black. In a desktop/laptop situation with MQA where it really thrives and has the biggest delta with a non MQA dac. It would be interesting to compare with the red version in an MQA setting but that was not possible in my case.

    Because in my home set up ione was so much an improvement and better definitely than any of my previous DACs I am always wishing ifi to bring at least some portion of this sound quality to a dragonfly like form. For people like me with budget headphones that do not require a lot of power convenience is of ultimate importance. Another alternative, is to utilize the nano form factor with the Bluetooth functionality of ione. I am not fun of Bluetooth in home even in the best version available which is the ione implementation. Using usbridge or even raspberry pi provides so much more quality after paying the introductory price(in time) of setting up a system like that.

    But on the road where the ambient noise plays an important role and where compromises can be made this can be excellent solution. Even in the nano form you can have nano in one pocket phone in the other and go even in the gym.

    On the iPad, nano is good as well but the tidal app does not utilise fully the abilities of this dac. The blue cable provided in the box has excellent sound quality but behaves as a diva. With my iPad most of the times did not work. When it works is very good but only when it works. Maybe loves usb 3 ports more. I have similar experience with the blue usb supplied with my ione.

    I used the nano also in my home set up where I did not spend a lot of comparison time between this and the usb input of ione. I took as a given that they sound very similar and this is also confirmed by a brief observation more or less. So I am taking the liberty to comment on the sound quality of the nano dac from my previous experience from the ione and combine my experiences.

    My home set up consists of a marantz 6005 pm amplifier (300£) and a tannoy DC6T speakers that I got on offer for 250£ and voted best speakers for few years in the 800-1500£ category by the what hifi magazine. A very budget system again with some potential. However, before using the ifi dac or the ipurifier I was somewhat in disbelief for the ability of these speakers. I thought that maybe the amp was not able to realise the full potential or simply they were overestimated. I had also the belief that all budget DACs sound more or less the same so no further music satisfaction could be achieved until I upgrade my system considerably. That was before ifi arrived in town. First with the ipurifier and then with ione. Immediately, the improvement was substantial the amp and the speakers made an unbelievable combination that defied their price. Further tweaks, like a tube preamplifier, good RCA cables and the USBridge elevated the sound even further. If my speakers on 250£ pounds deserve every single penny the same is true for the ifi products. The ifi DACs transform the sound in two ways. One is through their ipurifier technology and the other through the DAC section.

    The sound signature of this dac I believe depends very much on the synergy. In my home set up with the warm marantz, the tube preamplifier section and my RCA cables the sound is warm, dynamic, transparent powerful and full of energy. Another way to put it is that the sound transformed to the equivalent sound of a hifi system that is one price category above without being fatiguing so you can listen for many hours.

    However, the ifi dac alone in a different system or the black alone with my headphones had a different behaviour and someone could say that it has neither excess warmness nor brightness. This is a positive for me, because it can be manipulated according to tastes. As such, I was getting more pleasure from my home set up rather than using the nano black with my laptop. Another observation, is that the nano black played better with the power supply taken from an ifi ipower through a usbridge and jitterbug than its internal power from its battery.

    This brings me to the following conclusions.

    1) An excellent DAC in absolute levels however you need to read other reviews (as I will do) for a comparison with the biggest rivals such as mojo and dragonfly red.

    2) Not very transportable. I prefer/need so much more the small factor of dragonfly. Alternatively, it needs the Bluetooth functionality to be truly convenient. If IFI manages to do that can make a budget Poly/Mojo killer with the nano form factor.

    3) For home set up I definitely prefer ione. It has the same sound quality and offers so much more functionality. The spdif implementation is from another planet and elevates the TV system to extraordinary levels.

    4) The battery for me is the big question. Nobody complained so far so maybe is my unit or I was doing something wrong. But 2 hours is two little this is an issue for me. The point is that it sounds so good that you want to raise the volume, if that deplates the battery excessively what is the point then?

    5) It would be nice to have MQA Decoding functionality as well. With UAPP you can have tidal with mobile devices and with Kodi/tidal 2 add on in home without a PC.

    6) The sound signature of IFI I believe is one of the best in the market and the one I clearly prefer. Please package this in more devices of different forms.

    7) The volume knob is a big plus for me and the strongest advantage against dacs like the mojo. For me it feels like the throttle in a bike. You give more when you need or want and the feeling is amazing. Maybe this is why I had two hours of battery only in my listening sessions. Ifi please NEVER remove the knob from your devices when needed.

    Probably, I will not buy this device simply because it does not cover my mobile needs but if it covers your requirements then I really recommend this product. I do not know if it is the best dac under 500£ and how compares with all its rivals but I know that: it sounds really really good in order to write a review 4 hours before new year Eve!

    Happy new year everyone!
      ninetylol likes this.
  9. wormsdriver
    Great sound sometimes comes in small packages!
    Written by wormsdriver
    Published Jan 22, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - engaging sound, volume knob, nice aesthetics , price to performance ratio, portable
    Cons - a bit too light weight for my taste, battery life between charges
    iFi Nano iDSD Black Label

    Greetings all, these are my impressions on the iFi nano iDSD Black Label. The unit comes courtesey of iFi as they are hosting a review tour of the nano idsd BL here on Head-fi. I have spent 7 days with the unit and I am shipping it out to the next person in line so they can review it. Before I begin I want to thank Lawrance and iFi for hosting these tours of their products and giving us a chance to try out their products in exchange for an honest review, can't beat that right!? :smile:


    Package, accessories, built quality

    The Nano comes in a small white box. Inside opening the package you will find some paperwork, the Nano itself and a small white box. Inside that box there is a USB cable for connecting the nano to your PC/Mac and it also doubles as charging cord. Also included are 2 other USB adapters, 2 silicone bands for stacking the Nano to your smartphone/ipod and a felt carrying bag to protect your Nano.

    The Nano iDSD Black Label is as it's name indicates all black in color, made out of brushed metal and has an excellent finish. The unit itself is very small and light weight so it is ideal for taking along with you to use with your smartphone, tablet or laptop as long as your device is cable of being a USB host.
    IMG_9482.JPG


    Features

    The nano's front panel has two 3.5mm outputs, one of which is labeled iEMatch and the other is labeled direct. iEMatch is ideal for sensitive in ear monitors and headphones, I found it works very well giving you full use of range on the volume knob. Direct output is the regular higher gain output. And lastly the front also consists of the volume knob which is lovely to have for a device such as this as opposed to buttons or even worse only software volume controls as found on such DACs as the Audioquest Dragonfly and other similar types of Dac/amps in this price range.

    The back of the unit has a dedicated line out for sending your signal from the Nano DAC to a different amp or powered monitors. A switch containing two listening filters and a digital input for connecting to your transport device or for charging the unit itself.
    IMG_9483.JPG IMG_9484.JPG



    Sound

    The nano BL to me sounds on the warm side of neutral. Very nicely done in my opinion, not overly done just right. At times the treble seems a bit laid back, not as upfront and the bass is slightly warm but makes it very engaging in my opinion.

    As a matter of fact my whole time with the nano has been very enjoyable no complaints whatsover and the only short comings (nit picking really) are only audible when in direct comparison to something "better" that is in a higher price brackett. Even then it really depends on how resolving your headphone is and how critical you are listening to really tell a difference.

    In direct comparisons with the Chord Mojo, the nano held it's own but ultimately fell short in overall resolution and sounded a tiny bit more dry. The Mojo also has a lower noise floor which helps notes come across more clearly. For this comparison I used a classic Grado Rs1 which is easy to drive and has a very intimate soundstage so Ymmv. Speaking of soundstage the Mojo is abit more holographic as the sounds had a bit more depth and were more sourrounding as opposed the nano which sounds a bit more 2 dimmensional in comparison. These are very subtle differences and not exactly night and day. I'd say for one third the price of the Mojo the Nano BL has nothing to be ashamed about, no Sir!

    Direct comparisons were done by volume matching both units with and SPL Meter app on my phone and playing a pink noise file to the Rs1.

    In conclusion, I'd say the iFi Nano iDsd is a definitive winner not only for it's price to performance but for it's overall engaging sound that is a joy to listen to!


    Other notes:

    No noticeable interferance when using with my Android phone. UAPP would occassionally crash and track would start looping.

    I was unable to fully test battery life and charging cycle in my short audition period.

    I wasn't really able to tell if the Nano was fully decoding MQA files since the led did not change colors while listening to Tidal Master tracks.

    Unfortunately I was unable to try out the balanced output due to not having a proper adapter for my cans.
      zdrvr and Grimbles like this.
  10. TimeSnow
    Best in class
    Written by TimeSnow
    Published Jan 23, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Great sound for the price
    - Eminently portable
    - Best portable MQA ready device on the market.
    Cons - Soundstage sounds a bit artificially wide
    - May not suit an already bright rig
    - Bass is a little looser than I'd like
    This is my first audio gear review, but hopefully not my last.

    Caveat: This is a review that I'd like to read - which means cutting out a lot of extraneous stuff and instead focusing on what matter to someone like me when trying to decide what gear to purchase. If you want that other stuff, there's ample reviews that contain it and they're all worth a look.

    About me:

    I'm a professional music, mix engineer and composer. I have a lot of expensive gear and a lot of cheap and cheerfully gear. I use the tools I need without going overboard and wasting money. At least that's my goal.

    Disclaimer: I was part of the iFi tourbox for the Nano and was allowed to test it for a few weeks in exchange for my honest review.

    The pitch

    The iFi audio nano iDSD Black Label is a more compact, simplified and cheaper version of the non-nano Black Label. It uses well known and respected Burr-Brown convertors, and - like the similarly priced Dragonfly Red - allows users to access MQA files on Tidal, etc.

    So, is it better than the Dragonfly Red?

    When I was getting into headphones again, after years of just using them for work, I did what many do, I started googling.

    What Google lead me to believe was that a decent set of open back headphones was going to be a lot nicer than my studio cans, but I'd probably need an amp to get the most out of them.

    Not wanting to break the bank I bought a pair of HD 650s and a Dragonfly Red.

    This - especially with Tidal/MQA - was a total eye opener.

    At about the same time I signed up for Head-fi and started buying cheap then less cheap IEMs.

    Trying to get that same level of happiness on the go as I had at home was... Frustrating. MQA isn't really a portable format, and IEMs don't sound like open-back headphones. However I eventually bought my LZ A4s, USB Audio Player Pro and - coupled with the DFR - was pretty happy.

    But...

    Then I bought my custom made Hifiman HE-560s (known on Head-fi as the Batman headphones) and a Chord Mojo.

    Suddenly that DFR was not only underpowered, but it just didn't sound all that good, relative to the €500 Mojo.

    So. Now the meat, the reason you might be reading this: where does the iFi Nano stand, compared to the DFR and... Dun, dun, dun... The Mojo?

    Well, it's interesting and almost but not quite the outcome you'd expect.

    VS the Mojo:


    Can you save £300, skip the Mojo and buy this?

    No. Well, maybe. Yes? It depends.

    No, because comparing the two back to back playing FLAC files, or DSD, the Mojo is just better. If the Mojo is 100, the Nano is say about an 80/85.

    But it's a little more complex than that.

    The sound signatures ARE different, and not just by a little bit. The Nano is brighter, but not thinner. The bass is a bit looser and the soundstage is a bit wider, but it also sounds a little artificial.

    That might actually be something people prefer. If it is, then at the price it's a crazy steal. So that's the maybe. Maybe it matches your gear, your taste and your budget perfectly, in a way the mojo can't.

    As for the Yes... Yes it is better than the Mojo in one hugely significant way: MQA.

    The Mojo is probably never going to playback MQA. That's just a sad fact. Which means you have to have another solution if you want to take advantage of all that Tidal has to offer. And guess what...

    VS the Dragonfly Red:


    The iFi kills the DFR is every single way except one: it's size. It's larger and more bulky. Oh I guess you have to charge it as well... So that's another thing... But c'mon, charging things is just part of life in 2018. Suck.It.Up.

    Anyway and in conclusion:


    If you have about £200 to spend on an DAC/Amp combo, and want MQA, there's no earthly reason to look anywhere else.

    If you're looking for a first DAC/Amp to see if they actually do anything, look no further.

    If you don't care about MQA, and have £500 to spend on the best sound quality, the Mojo is better. Assuming your gear matches it, which it probably does.

    But for many thousands of people this will probably be the new king of sub-Mojo portable DAC/Amps. It certainly should be.

    As for me, I'm selling my DFR and buying a Nano for MQA alone. It's 100% a steal compared to the DFR, and the only real choice in this price range.

    Thanks:

    Thanks to iFi for the loaner, thanks to Karina and the IFI UK team and thanks to Head-fi for making it all possible.
      masterpfa and Grimbles like this.
    1. Hifi_Man
      Hifi_Man, Feb 22, 2018
    2. masterpfa
      Thank you for your review and actually you have answered the questions I would have asked, 'the comparison between Mojo and iDSD' and I must admit 80-85% of the Mojo is more than acceptable to me especially considering IMO how good the Mojo is, I may just purchase this little gem primarily for MQA.

      Thanks again
      masterpfa, Feb 28, 2018
      TimeSnow likes this.
    3. dcfac73
      Great review. I love the Nano as well. Great shot of the Classic 99 too, I regret not getting the ivory. They look awesome.
      dcfac73, Mar 2, 2018
      iFi audio likes this.