This is the official thread for discussing the iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label.
I bought the iFi Audio Micro iDSD BL a while back to leave at my fiance’s place and still have a reasonably powerful, flexible, good-sounding option to listen there. In doing so I wound up comparing it to a whole bunch of other similar DAC/amps, dongle-DACs and DAPs … but I’ll limit my comments here to those focused on the Micro iDSD BL’s signature, features and performance.
Picture for provenance …
This thing is laden with features. It can be used as a purely analog amp or pre-amp, a pure DAC, a DAC/amp combo, a USB->S/PDIF converter/regenerator, has multiple gain settings on the amp, multiple filter options on the DAC, has “iEMatch” for use with super-sensitive/low-impedance IEMs, a ton of power, all of the interesting inputs and outputs, a big on-board battery, which can be used to charge other devices, a neat USB connection that makes it very easy to use with an iPhone and Apple CCK cable, and adds both “X-Bass+” (bass enchancement, not just “boost”) as well as “3D+” which is a decent cross feed implementation.
The DAC section supports PCM and DXD up to 768 kHz and DSD upto octo-rate (DSD512) and features femto-class low-phase-noise clocks. And with the latest firmware it can do MQA rendering (you need a player that’ll do the first unfold, such as the native TIDAL client, Audirvana+ or Roon).
The amp section can push 4 watts into 16 ohms, with less than 1 ohm of output impedance. And for using very sensitive IEMs the “iEMatch” feature can be engaged to eliminate hiss and provide better impedance matching for multi-BA driver units.
Initial impressions, straight out of the box, and using it as a DAC/amp, were of a very “exciting” delivery, with a little treble splashiness. Over a couple of hundred hours use, the treble splashiness went away and the overall presentation calmed down a bit. To be fair, the treble thing was only evident if used as a DAC/amp; using either the DAC or the amp separately did not exhibit this at all.
Bass is rich, well textured, and deep with decent slam, and not at all shy - perhaps even very slightly emphasized (less noticeable if used just as a DAC). Treble had good air and a pretty smooth rendering once things had burned-in a bit. The mid-range is relatively lush and lucid, and while not tube-like, is a bit more romantic in it’s presentation than I would consider to be “strictly neutral” - though perhaps not so much so that I’d actually call it “romantic”. That works for me, but has to be classed as “editorializing”, which not everyone wants in their audio gear.
I found the unit to be very musically involving and, post-burn-in, non-fatiguing with my normal audition playlist. Female vocals, in particular (and one of my favorite genres) were quite a treat here, with excellent tone, no sibilance, and more than enough resolution and micro-dynamic subtlety to appreciate the emotion in voices.
Macro dynamics are a strong point on this unit, possibly due to it’s high-power capability, but the micro-dynamics aren’t far behind. Tracks with major, fast-and-big-transient, elements can be quite startling (intro to “Under African Skies”, Paul Simon, Graceland).
Detail/resolution are both very good, making it easy to discern changes in bowing technique/position on violin solos. Separation and layering are not quite as impressive as some other units in this price-class, but they’re not bad and are really the only “weak” spot the thing exhibits.
Overall tone and timbre are convincing and natural, excepting that slight “romantic” element I noted. I didn’t find this to intrude on the music and actually rather enjoyed it, but it can result in a bit more mid-range attention (rather than emphasis).
And the amplifier section is very quiet. One of the quietest portable units I’ve ever listened to. Engaging iEMatch (which will work with any headphone, not just IEMs) results in the unit being absolutely silent even with things like the Shure SE846, EE Zeus XRA or Campfire Andromeda.
The sound is not the very last word in terms of nuance of subtlety, but it is engaging, entirely coherent and extremely enjoyable, with no notable issues or concerns.
X-Bass+ and 3D+
For me, where this is not a particular bass-shy unit at the best of times, engaging X-Bass was generally “a bit too much of a good thing”. With bassier cans/IEMS (TH-X00 Purpleheart, SE846) it was, however, a bit obnoxious.
This is an on/off thing, so there’s no real level of adjustment available. Very nice to have in the event that you’re transducers are a bit on the bass-shy side, but it probably goes a bit too far in compensating for anything else.
The 3D+ feature is a cross-feed implementation. It’s not as convincing as the one on the Pro iCAN. It fixes the 3-blob issue, but doesn’t do anything, for me, to improve the apparent “stage”. The most notable effect is that the treble gets boosted noticeably. While it works to help with some hard-panned recordings, it was something I preferred to leave switched off.
This is definitely one of the Micro iDSD BL’s strengths. You can pretty much pair it with anything. From the most sensitive IEMs, to cans like the LCD-4, Abyss and even the HE-6, it’s quiet yet powerful enough to drive all of them very well. Not the last word in refinement, but you won’t be under-juicing your cans.
It was very enjoyable with the Focal Utopia, HD650, HD800S, Fostex TH-X00, SE846, EE Zeus XRA, LCD-4 and the Abyss, which covers a pretty wide gamut of pairings.
In particular, I found the Micro iDSD BL + Fostex TH-X00 a rather “guilty pleasure” in that it was exceedingly entertaining to listen to, with a very punchy and exciting delivery. That’d get to be a bit “too much” after a couple of hours … but they’re a VERY fun two hours!
Very high - especially if you’re going to use it as an all-in-one and make use of some of it’s more interesting features. It’s particularly good value as a transportable unit that can drive all your cans and had a fully competent built-in DAC and AMP.
The inclusion of USB filtering/clean-up makes it a lot easier to employ well in a broad variety of systems, and the analog inputs and pre-amp capabilities make it very useful on the desktop as well.
The package is more than the sum of it’s part. It’s good value, with excellent performance in all modes, and very easy to recommend - especially as an all-in-one solution. It’s flexible enough to grow with other aspects of a system (i.e. using it as a pure-DAC with a different amp, or as an amp with a different DAC).
Well worth auditioning if you’re in this particular market/budget segment.
Thank you very much for sharing your impressions. Very well done! I think I will enjoy reading more of your reviews/impressions on this site. You are very thorough and do a very good job of describing its sonic signature.
Personally, I am very interested in a comparison with the Chord Mojo. I own a Mojo now but I am considering the iDSD BL as a replacement for the office. Have you posted on this site or elsewhere some thoughts on how the two compare to one another and which you find to be of greater value?
I have, as it happens; I did a big comparison that encompassed all the units in the initial picture over on SBAF; you can find that thread here. And then it goes on to include comparisons to the Schiit Modi MB and the Sony WM1A, WM1Z and FiiO X5iii.
I don’t feel good about having so many links to former posts on another site - but if @andrew or @taronlissimore can weigh in with whether they are okay with them (or not, either is fine with me) then I’ll continue to include them where relevant. Some of those posts are just too long to redo here, and that’s probably not appropriate either.
Hey man good information is good information regardless of where it comes from!
Definitely ok to post external links to great info, regardless of where they’re from.
Well said gentlemen. I love this community! Other sites are not so welcoming of including links to other sites.
Man, I’m glad I read this! I’ve gone back and forth on my use of software cross-feed, lately having landed on turning it off because it seems to dull high frequencies (opposite of what you noticed with the iFi implementation). But … in comparing with the HD58X, I’ve been lamenting the 3-blob imaging of my LCD2C, which otherwise sounds pretty great (especially EQ’ed). Well, I turned cross-feed back on and whaddaya know(!), the soundstage becomes more contiguous with noticeably better on-center imaging. The downside is that the soundstage does become much more claustrophobic.
Well I’ve spent ages with my iFi Micro iDSD Black Label, and my impressions are quite similar to what they were at the beginning. This thing is just great, for my needs anyhow. I have my main set up in my bedroom, which I use at night, but I can take the iFi around the house, or travel with it. I do travel to Scotland for quite lengthly periods of time fairly often, and it is great for that purpose. Its like having a great little desktop set up, but in a transportable form factor.
The Black Label is powerful enough for most headphones, but can run sensitive IEM’s as well by using the “IEmatch” feature. There are so many features that I will probably forget to list a few! If you like bass, the “XBASS” feature is a great hardware boost. The “3D Sound” feature, is interesting on some tracks, but I tend not to use it. You can change the polarity to negative or positive, and there are three different filters. The “IEmatch” feature has three sensitivity settings, and the amp has ECO, Normal, and TURBO power modes. They are all easily accessible on the side of the unit, and can be changed easily, to see which suits you and your headphones best.
The amp section sounds great to my ears. It is a tiny bit less clear sounding than the iFi Micro iCAN SE, which I also own. However, when you consider it has a good DAC built in, and all those small features as well, it really is pretty impressive. It is a bit less warm than my desktop amp, and you do lose out on some of the very fine details in comparison to some amps, but again, at this price level you could do a whole lot worse in my opinion.
The DAC section really impressed me when I used it as a stand alone DAC in my desktop set up. It is fairly spacious sounding, and has great clarity. I was using my laptop’s headphone output as my DAC before I bought the Black Label, and the difference really was bigger than I expected. As a DAC only, I even prefer this unit to the Chord Mojo, which I also own.
In terms of using the unit as a whole DAC/Amp combo, it really comes into its own. It just sounds good. I’m going to be using it as my only source for the next 6 weeks, and while I will miss my desktop set up, it really isn’t the end of the world as I have the Black Label. It drives my Abyss well. I can use my Nobel 3’s with it if I want to using the “IEmatch” feature. Whats not to like really?
Fit and finish/build quality is great, and it isn’t too heavy. I was surprised at how light the Black Label is, given all that is going on inside it.
Battery life is great. It will last 6-12 hours depending on the power setting you are using. However, if you plug it into your computer before you turn it on, it will run indefinitely. Great!
All in all, the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label was worth every penny I paid for it in my opinion. I really, really like this unit. Fingers crossed I don’t run into any technical issues in the future, but so far so good. If you are looking for a strictly desktop use Amp/DAC combo, there are a few other options I would consider, but if you need transportability, and a good amount of power, you could do a whole lot worse than the iFi
Cons? It could be a bit cheaper, but so could everything I guess. I haven’t really run into any cons yet, for my uses. Your mileage may vary, and if your uses are different than mine, there might be better options out ther
okay, after several months of hard use, I can give a layman’s review of the Black Label; please don’t reference frequency response or sweet spots…i’ll just give you a blank stare . I use the unit attached to my computer for gaming, listening to music, attached to my phone, attached to my Roku, and my wife uses it attached to her IPad. Primary use is with an older set of Sony open back headphones with impediance of 250 ohms though I will also use them with my Etymotic ER4 PT’s. Even when running my headphones through my computer, they “struggle” a bit, not sounding as clear or clear, and needing more volume boost from the computer. Or perhaps when using the Black Label along with the computer, the sounds are just smoother and I don’t seem to need as much volume. Bottom line, listening is easier and more pleasant when using the BL. Teaming it with my android definitely helps save the battery in the phone, especially when using the full size headphones. And once again, having the Black Label helping, the music seems better, fuller, coming from my phone. My wife who is definitely a troglodyte where technology is concerned, will go the extra step of hunting down my BL unit when she is using her iPad to listen to music or watch movies. After showing her the headphone jack on the Roku remote, she didn’t even ask, using the BL attached to the remote, to help the cans. She has no idea what it does or how it does it, all she is concerned with is the fact the sound is better when using the little black box connected to the headphones. To date the battery hasn’t been an issue and it’s been used under some demanding conditions. Snow skiing usually involves cold weather, and batteries down’t do well with cold weather even when protected (think camera batteries…flashes…even the good die young). But the BL has allowed me to ski for 6-8 hours without fading, not only providing good sound but also keeping my phone battery from draining…win win. Not planned but dreaded, the unit has fallen several times from the desk to the wood floor (dogs and grand kids), and has kept functioning perfectly; a tough unit and that deserves quite a bit of applause in today’s environment of delicate electronic equipment.
Bottom line: I would have no problem buying this as a present for my best friend who also loves listening with headphones. My wife noticed the difference and can appreciate it to the point of complaining when I’m using it. Gaming or listening to music, I can tell when the BL isn’t being used and it distracts me from enjoying what I’m trying to do. Could I tell the difference between this and a $600 dollar unit??? Dunno! Am I interested in exploring a better unit?? Not in the least. Before I purchased this unit, I asked for advice from others in this forum, and deeply appreciate that they volunteered the Black Label as a viable option. If you are considering a “starter” amp or traveling companion, you won’t go wrong with this one.