iFi audio nano iDSD Black Label

Rating:
4.35294/5,
  1. ahmadfaizadnan
    iFi iDSD Nano Black Label: a Micro BL Contender?!
    Written by ahmadfaizadnan
    Published Feb 6, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - MQA, Neutral acoustic sound, portability, S-Balance, IEMatch
    Cons - Bass has less impact, IEMatch could do toggle button
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    Wait. Don’t judge me by the title statement. I don’t want to make it controversial but that’s what I heard. Whether it holds or not, it’s really up to you to decide. The question is, where do I stand by this statement? I’ll let you guys know at the end. Let see if this small black box lives up to the hype.

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


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

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

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

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

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    Features/ Specifications

    Input(rear):

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

    Output(rear);

    1 x Audio fixed line out L+R 3.5mm

    Digital Filter:

    2 positions, 2 filters

    Outputs(front):

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

    DAC

    DAC:

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

    Clock:

    Low-jitter crystal clock

    Audio Formats:

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

    DXD 384/352.8kHz

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

    MQA 88.2/96/176.4/192kHz filters

    Filter–PCM:

    Listen(transient optimised minimum phase)

    Measure(frequency response optimized)

    –DSD:

    Listen(extended bandwidth transient optimised)

    Measure (narrow bandwidth, low output band noise optimized)

    –DXD:

    Fixed Bit-Perfect Processing

    –MQA:

    Fixed MQA Filter

    Headphone Amplifier

    Amplifier:

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

    Volume Control:

    3.5mm TRRS with Balanced compatible wiring

    Dynamic Range(including DAC):

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

    > 107dB(A) @ 0.5V (iEMatch®)

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

    < 0.005%

    Max. Output (<10% THD):

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

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

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

    Output Impedance :

    < = 1Ω (Direct)

    < = 4Ω (iEMatchsup>®)

    Channel Separation:

    > 79dB @ 600Ω Load (Direct)

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

    Line Output

    Dynamic Range(Line):

    > 109dB(A)

    THD & N(0dBFS Line):

    < 0.004%

    Output Voltage(Line): :

    2.15V (+/-0.05V)

    Output Impedance:

    < 240Ω

    Channel Separation:

    > 99dB (@ 1kHz)

    Jitter(correlated):

    Below test set limit

    Dimensions:

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

    Weight:

    139g (0.31 Ibs)

    Warranty period:

    12months

    Info from ifi-audio.com


    Gear used


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

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

    Amp(s): ECP DSHA-0

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

    IEM(s): Westone 30 and KZ ZS6


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


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


    Shawn Mendes -Stitches MTV Unplugged (Master)

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


    Queen – Another One Bites the Dust

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

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    Headphone Pair (Vs iDSD Micro BL)

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

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

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

    IEM Pair

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

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


    Overall

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

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

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



    Build
    [​IMG]

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



    [​IMG]

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



    [​IMG]

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



    [​IMG]

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



    Sound Quality
    [​IMG]

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



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



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



    [​IMG]

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



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



    [​IMG]

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



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



    [​IMG]

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



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



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



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



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



    [​IMG]



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



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



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



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



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



    [​IMG]



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



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



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



    [​IMG]



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



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



    Conclusion
    iFi Audio have once again been the first to launch another amazing product in an emerging market. It's light weight small size and sheer functionality combined with MQA rendering really make it a highly competitive portable for today's growing market of streaming consumers. I even found it to subtlety help open up the often closed in sound of lossy from my own Spotify and Napster streaming services. All in all any one searching for a highly functional portable Dac-Amp to serve a collection of both super sensitive iems and moderately sensitive fullsize/portable headphones across a wide variety of both digital sources and playback rates will be hard pressed to find better option at this price point!
      St3ven and emptymt like this.
  3. bms44974
    Excellent desktop DAC/AMP for headphones/IEMs
    Written by bms44974
    Published Jan 30, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - price
    size
    SQ (especially with headphones & IEMs)
    Cons - when used as desktop DAC/AMP:
    frequent clicks with system sounds
    laptop reverted to onboard speakers when unit was not on at boot time
    Setup:
    I currently use an iDAC (original) in my desktop configuration. Foobar2000 serves as the source on my laptop (Dell XPS15 [9550]). The signal path is:

    laptop USB C -> Dell WD15 “docking station” -> USB 3.0 SS (A) cable to USB 2.0 B in iDAC.

    For testing the nano iDSD BL, I used the same USB cable from the dock and added the female to female USB B to USB A adapter that came with the nano iDSD BL. The iFi USB audio driver was updated to version 3.2 prior to testing.

    Downstream equipment included home and office desktop setups:
    1) Creek 4330se integrated amplifier and Epos M12 loudspeakers
    2) JBL LSR305 active studio monitors​
    and two headphone/IEM pairs:
    3) Sennheiser HD600 headphones
    4) Etymotic ER4SR IEMs​

    The iDAC RCA and nano iDSD BL line-out were used when testing the two desktop speaker configurations (DAC only). The headphone (iDAC) and IEM-match (nano iDSD BL) ports were used when testing the headphone and IEMs (DAC/AMP).

    Please note that I did not have am means to connect my portable source (FiiO X5ii) to the nano iDSD BL. All tests used the desktop source noted above.

    Operation:
    As I am used to the iDAC which only operates on USB power, one of the hardest things for me to remember was to turn the nano iDSD BL off when not in use. Switching between the two was also a bit cumbersome as the iFi USB drivers, while bundled, are different for the iDAC and iDSD. Each switch required that Foobar2000’s output settings be reset. This would not be an issue in normal use.

    When using the nano iDSD BL exclusively for several days in my office and home desktop configurations (1 & 2, above) I had to turn the unit on after the computer to keep from running on battery power. This meant that the iFi USB driver would not see the nano iDSD BL at boot time and reverted to my laptop speakers by default. If I was careful (and fast), I could turn the BL on during the boot process (i.e. as soon as the blue charging light came on) and avoid having to unplug and reconnect the unit. I suppose I could have waited for my laptop to boot entirely before connecting the iDSD, but I am too accustomed to plugging the iDAC in first. Old habits die hard.

    During desktop use, there were often small clicks when system sounds were played through the speakers. This was never a problem with the iDAC.

    Sound Quality:
    With HD600 and ER4SR, the nano iDSD BL had cleaner treble and base and better instrument separation and staging than the iDAC. The HD600s and ER4SRs really opened up with the nano iDSD BL. To my ears, both units performed equally (and very) well in the Creek/Epos and JBL settings. I could hear no notable difference between nano iDSD BL and iDAC with these open speaker systems.

    Overall:
    I was very impressed with the nano iDSD BL when using headphones and IEMs, where there was a clear improvement in sound quality compared with the iDAC. Whether due to a lack of fidelity in my desktop systems, DAC only operation, or the fine job iFi did with the original iDAC, I could not discern a difference between the nano iDSD BL and iDAC with my two open speaker setups. On account of its battery and smaller size, the nano iDSD BL is clearly more portable than the “transportable” iDAC. It would make an excellent addition to a portable rig. For desktop use with open speakers (where battery operation is not important), the iDAC (and likely the iDAC2) might be a better choice in so far as convenience of operation is concerned. The advantage would clearly go to the nano iDSD BL in the “price department”.

    Recordings used during the test:
    I have very few DSD files in my library and use them only when testing portable gear. I can’t tell much difference between DSD and FLAC for well-recorded source material. The following CD up to studio master quality FLAC files (approximately 500 to 5500 kbps) were used during testing of the nano iDSD BL.
    • Adam Harasiewicz: Chopin Nocturnes & Preludes
    • Bonnie Raitt: Road Tested
    • Calum Graham: Phoenix Rising
    • Dirks und Wirtz: Kinski Spencer Gismonti
    • Don Ross: PS15
    • Giovanni Palombo: La melodia segreta, A Secret Melody
    • Goran Sollscher: Eleven-String Baroque
    • Hoff Ensemble: Quiet Winter Night
    • Julian Webber: Elgar Cello Concerto - Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No.1
    • Laurence Juber: Guitar Noir
    • Los Angeles Spin
    • Luca Stricagnoli: Luca Stricagnoli
    • Mike Dawes: What Just Happened
    • Nora Jones: Come Away with Me
    • Oslo String Quartet: The Shubert Connection
    • Vladimir Horowitz: Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #3
    • Yo-Yo Ma: Bach Cello Suites Nos. 1, 5 & 6, Rachmaninov Prokofiev Cello Sonatas, Mendelssohn Piano Trios, Op. 49 & Op. 6
  4. ostewart
    Superb sound on the go
    Written by ostewart
    Published Jan 24, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Size, Power, Sound Quality
    Cons - Lack of inputs
    Firstly I would like to thank iFi Audio for loaning me this unit for review.

    *disclaimer: This sample was provided on loan for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings.

    Gear Used:
    HP Laptop > Nano iDSD Black Label > Kinera Earbuds, Custom Art FIBAE3, HiFiMan HE500, German Maestro GMP400 and others.

    DSC_9806.jpg

    Tech Specs:
    A comprehensive list can be found on the iFi website: https://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/nano-idsd-bl/
    MSRP: £199

    Packaging, Build Quality and Accessories:
    The Nano iDSD Black Label comes in familiar packaging if you have bought from iFi before, a small white box with an outer sleeve detailing features and specs. Take off the sleeve and you are greeted with a two part box, take the top off and the Nano iDSD is held in place with a foam inlay, also you will see a white box which houses the accessories. I like the simplicity of iFi Audio packaging, pleasing to the eye, detailed and easy to open, with no added frills or luxuries.

    The Nano iDSD BL is a very neat little device that feels like it was built to last the rigours of daily use. The housing is made of aluminium, the sockets are all tight and have no play in them, the volume knob that acts as the on/off switch is smooth and doesn’t stick out far. Overall it feels well put together and should last a long time, and survive some tumbles.

    Accessory wise you get a small black velvet carry case, a small pigtail adaptor (USB to USB-A), a solid USB to USB-A adaptor, and a long USB cable for PC use. Also included are 2 amp straps, everything you need to get up and running on a PC or MAC. You will need additional cables for using it with an Android or iPhone.

    DSC_9793.jpg

    Features:

    The Nano iDSD BL is a DAC/Amp, it only has a USB input, and cannot be used with an analogue source, nor can it be used with a coaxial or optical source. This limits it somewhat, but then again to fit all that in a small chassis would bring compromises that could alter the performance. On the back you have the USB input, filter switch and a 3.5mm line-out. The filter switch has 2 positions, Measure and Listen, there is a very slight difference between the two; the listen position adds a little smoothness and warmth to the sound, the measure position gives you a more analytical sound.

    On the front you have the volume knob that acts as the on/off switch, and two headphone outputs. The direct output which is for full-size headphones and the iEMatch output which is for sensitive IEM’s (the signal is attenuated a little amongst other things). The 3.5mm output is also TRRS compatible if you want to go balanced, but iFi say the way their system works brings benefits of balanced to single ended headphones too.

    The Nano iDSD BL is plug and play with most devices, however it is recommended to install the official iFi drivers on a PC.

    The Nano iDSD BL has an internal battery capable of giving up to 10hrs of listening time on a full charge. This makes it a great companion to those who have moved to phones without a headphone jack.

    DSC_9797.jpg

    Sound:

    The Nano iDSD BL is a great little device that packs a punch in a small package, its sound is much bigger than its size might suggest. It has a slight warmth and smoothness to the sound, being a great DAC/Amp to just sit back and enjoy the music with. Using it with IEM’s it brings an added level of control and separation to the sound, bringing out much better sound quality than your average smart phone or computer can deliver. It does a very fine job at handling slightly harder to drive loads like the HD6xx series from Sennheiser, or my German Maestro GMP400, bringing out very impressive dynamics and a slight fullness to the sound.

    The Nano iDSD BL is not clinical, it won’t make you analyse your system, but it also doesn’t mask the finer details. The detail retrieval is superb, and as a standalone DAC it would do very well in any system. iFi have spent some time honing the sound of their newer devices, making them appeal to a wide audience with a detailed, yet rich and open sound that is sure to please a lot of people. There is no lack of air or sparkle up top, it is still a very well balanced sounding DAC/Amp, but as stated it is not clinical in its presentation.

    It doesn’t try to jump out and say “Hey I’m influencing the sound by adding this” instead there is a subtle smoothness that takes away any fatigue. The Nano iDSD BL works really well with most of the easy to relatively hard to drive headphones out there. Performance with IEM’s should not be understated; the iEMatch works wonders allowing you to listen to sensitive IEM’s with no hiss, or the need for an attenuator.

    DSC_9795.jpg

    Conclusion:
    The iFi Nano iDSD BL is the perfect portable partner for any audiophile on a tight budget, for £200 it offers a lot for the price. It is an easy recommendation, the sound is smooth, natural and open, the build quality is excellent and there are no downsides apart from the lack of inputs. Use it out and about, then at home hook it up to your speaker system via the line-out. You won’t be disappointed by the Nano iDSD BL.

    I really cannot fault it for the size and price; it seems that most equipment prices are going up, yet iFi are really out there trying to show you can have a lot of performance for a small price.

    Now I wish iFi could bring out a sub-par product so it doesn’t look like I am being sponsored to write positive reviews for them. But I genuinely struggle to find fault with the Nano iDSD BL, along with quite a few of their other products.


    Sound Perfection Rating: 9.5/10 (The sound and features make up for the lack of inputs).

    DSC_9803.jpg
      Grimbles and Wyville like this.
  5. joaojp1
    iFi audio nano iDSD Black Label
    Written by joaojp1
    Published Jan 23, 2018
    4.0/5,
    I am posting this review due to being part of the iFi nano iDSD Black Label tour, all the thoughts shared in this review are my own and reflect my honest opinion about this product.


    I am new to the head-fi world, I only started to appreciate the intricacies of the high resolution audio last year so don’t expected this to be a technical review It will be a review that will address the major features of the product from the consumer point of view specifying it’s usefulness or not



    Packaging and accessories

    2018-01-15 11.30.05.jpg

    2018-01-15 11.25.03-1.jpg

    The product Is well package in a white box enclosed in a cardboard sheath, the device rests in a cut out and in front of it is a little white box containing the included accessories (iFi bag to carry the device, 2 silicone bracelets, a USB A Female to B Female Adapter, a USB3.0 A Male to A Female cable and a USB A Female to USB B Female Cable). Although the box contains all the necessary cables to connect it to the computer it lacks a OTG Cable to able to connect It to your android or an equivalent solution for an Apple device, which in my opinion is a bit of a major flaw, since one of it’s bigger selling points is it’s portability and the possibility to connect it to your smartphone.

    Build quality

    The device features an all metal chassis that feels premium and should be pretty durable, in the bottom it was four silicone feet that prevent it from sliding or scratching your smartphone when it's attached via the included silicone bands

    2018-01-15 11.21.21.jpg


    2018-01-15 11.21.40.jpg

    Features

    2018-01-15 11.23.25.jpg

    2018-01-15 11.22.11.jpg

    On one side you have the in my opinion excellent volume knob and the two 3.5mm headphone output, one labeled IEMatch that works better with sensitive IEM's by providing better volume control and no audible hiss with my Shure SE846, basically it works as advertised, the other one is labeled direct and works as an ordinary headphone output. On the otherwise you have the only input, one of the few weak points of this unit, and a 3.5 mm line out if you want to connect it to a pair of powered speakers.

    Sound

    The nano BL performs extremely well for it's price and small size I can't give you any detailed comparisons with any other dac's since the only other one that I have tried is the Chord Hugo 2 which is in a league of it's own in terms off general detail retrieval and micro detail but the nano BL is no slouch either it has good detail retrieval and doesn't color the sound in any way, providing definitely better sound than your standard smartphone

    When using my Shure SE846 I found it performed as good as my Onkyo DP-X1 DAP which is three times it's price however when paired to my Mr. Speakers AEON I found the Onkyo to have better detail retrieval and a more laid back sound which suits better my preferences.

    Conclusion

    The iFi Nano iDSD BL is the perfect portable DAC for it’s price range, it definitely offers a lot for the price and for the budget conscious audiophile I definitely think it’s one of the best solutions on the market right now. The only downside I can think off is the lack of inputs otherwise this a pretty good and well rounded product that extends iFi excellent line of products.
      Grimbles likes this.
  6. 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.
      Grimbles likes this.
  7. 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.
  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. 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

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      Grimbles, arvinm21 and Wildcatsare1 like this.
  10. 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.
      St3ven, cpauya and arvinm21 like this.