This is the official thread for discussing the iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label.
I guess I’ll throw some thoughts in here to kick things off. I said a few words about this unit in the main iFi-brand thread. I’ll elaborate a bit on that here.
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.
I am loving this piece of gear after spending the past month with it. At the moment it is receiving USB input from a PC connected to a Roon core, and outputting via the RCA outputs in line mode to the SE input of my Schiit Jotunheim, which is in turn driving headphones or powered desktop speakers (Ruark MR2 Mk1 with a Kanto Sub6). I like the DAC in the micro a bit better than the Multibit card in the Jot. I have a Bifrost 2 on the way, so looking forward to comparing the two.
I’ve also used the Micro at the output of my iPad Pro (also acting as a Roon endpoint). My next experiment will be to use a chromecast audio with optical input. I am wondering if I can use the phone/device charging USB out on the micro to power the chromecast (liberating it from the wall and making it an untethered Hi Res endpoint).
I find I like this device more than the Chord Mojo, though I like having that around for slightly better portability. The incredible versatility of the Micro is astonishing. I am driving everything from my CA Solaris to my HD800S without any complaint, and it doubles as a mobile solution or a serious component in a mid-fi setup at home.
I’ll be interested in the comparison to the Bifrost 2.
Can someone help me. I’m trying to figure out why I can’t get Tidal to play 192 khz using this via the win 10 app. Can the windows 10 app not play 192?
It plays my 192 khz flac files not a single issue. But why isn’t Tidal streaming 192, it only shows 96 khz on tidal for me and I can’t figure out why.
And thank you for trying to help figure it out.
I may be off base here, but Tidal won’t give you native 192, only MQA - in which case the iFi will give you the purple MQA light. Are you not seeing that?
The driver shows bitrate in it i dont even need to look at light. And no it says 96 khz when it should show 192khz.
I have the black label that pre dates the light too I think. Or well it’s supposed to be amber or something. It’s not the 2nd run of hardware but I do have latest firmware update.
Or is that 96 khz showing the first unfold or something. I’m not cool with just accepting stuff’s working correctly I want to KNOW. And from what I can see the driver is saying 96. WHen I use foobar and play 192 that same driver window output says 192 like it should. But some reason Tidal does not. Or least I can see from what is supposed to be a 192 Tidal MQA file. Obviously the ifi black label is supposed to do it , so what is the issue.
Hello and welcome @hdtv00. I am sure somebody will be able to assist you in your enquiry. Enjoy the forum. It’s a great place to hang and super friendly.
Directly from their website “HiFi audio is a superior sound, but is still limited in its resolution — 44.1 kHz/16 bit. TIDAL has partnered with MQA to deliver something infinitely better: An authenticated and unbroken sound (typically 96 kHz/24 bit) with the highest possible resolution — as flawless as it sounded in the mastering suite.”
I couldn’t find any mention of 24bit 192khz https://tidal.com/masters
- What Audio Quality Does TIDAL HiFi Offer?
- A TIDAL HiFi membership allows you to listen to the best quality sound based on your selected device, settings, and data availability.A TIDAL HiFi membership supports four sound quality options for you to choose from: Master - Authenticated files from the mastering process. Studio quality. Unrivaled clarity and depth. MQA is authenticated by the artists themselves.
HiFi - Lossless CD quality (1411kbps or 16bit / 44.1kHz).
High - Best compromise between data usage and sound quality (320kbps AAC).
Normal - Reduced data usage for slower connections.
What is High Fidelity (HiFi) Sound? TIDAL HiFi relies on FLAC (16bit / 44.1kHz), a more robust and crisp streaming format. The majority of streaming services simply offer Standard Definition through the use of MP3s or other compressed formats - where aspects of the original recording are removed to compress the file, compromising on quality. With a TIDAL HiFi subscription, you have the ability to stream over 60+ million losslessly compressed tracks. TIDAL Lossless content is 4.4 times the bitrate of the highest Standard Definition streams offered by other services, allowing you to hear the music in its purest form.
What is Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) technology? While HiFi audio is a superior sound, it is still limited in its resolution —44.1 kHz /16 bit. TIDAL has partnered with MQA to deliver audio in an authenticated and unbroken version (typically 96 kHz / 24 bit) with the highest possible resolution—as flawless as it sounded in the mastering suite and precisely as the artist intended. TIDAL is one of the only services to render 24-bit master files streamable on portable devices as it uses a state-of-the-art MQA compression process.Here you can learn more about Master quality audio at TIDAL, and here about how the MQA technology works.
support 24bit 192khz.
It’s hard to find the detail on the track being streamed in the Tidal app. This is where ROON helps a lot. Often Tidal has several different editions at differing resolutions. ROON shows these clearly. A few of them are 192/24, a very few are higher. When you use MQA master, my system generally reports to me a 96/24 stream that unfolds to 192/24. The doubling is typical of the MQA. I don’t see many non-MQA high-res files on Tidal at all.
I’ve been happy with Tidal’s catalog in general, a lot of 44.1 material to stream, which is all I can handle with SONOS, and much of which sounds damn good. Yes it’s fun to see the MQA light when I’m using headphones, and it is notably better, but I listen to a lot of older music that I doubt has much more in higher res.
Maybe someone could school me on what can be gotten out of 50 year old master tapes.
As Qobuz also integrates with ROON, I may be switching eventually, but Tidal’s catalog in the older stuff I like to explore is pretty good.
I have to agree battery wise the black label is amazing. I did try the x-bass feature, wasn’t very intrusive and bloated, but added a small bump in the sub bass, didn’t end up using it too much. The 3D feature in short felt like a super cayin YB04 like sound, it just feels artificially expanded. These features didn’t really stand out but the biggest selling point in my eyes was the power output. The issues I did have with it was it just didn’t really deliver in sound quality like dynamics vs my atom+sdac-b setup at home which costs only $250 vs the $600 asking price of the BL. It was on the warmer side in the treble but it just felt really soft and felt a bit grainy. I tried driving them with the LCD-4, HEDDphone, and Susvara. I didn’t notice a huge difference versus the Hugo tt2 on the LCD4 and HEDDphone, and the auris nirvana on the Susvara. Then again I don’t know if the competing sources were great matches and I’m sorta new to comparing dac/amps + understanding the differences. I definitely could get the volume out of them. I also did have some bad channel imbalance up until 10ish o clock on my BL.
Personally for me, $600 seems like a tall ask. It may have the most power in a portable amp but I don’t know if it really matters to me if I don’t need that much power(I only really needed eco mode on my HD 580/800+others I tried at Canjam). I think the power it has is nice to have, and ideally I want to see portable amps that can drive an LCD-4, HEDDphone, or Susvara possibly. But if the sound quality doesn’t deliver, it just feels a bit like it doesn’t make sense since that is what they were aiming for I believe. From what I heard, I may have to wait until I enter the kilo-buck range to get that sound quality I’m looking for in a portable dac/amp.
It’s in a bit niche market, if you’re someone that really needs to take their LCD-4 on a trip then the BL is probably your best bet. I still implore manufacturers to reach that power that the micro BL can put out, but I would experiment a bit more on the sound quality part of it. I may rebuy it at one point if I can’t find anything that can do what the micro does but better.