This is the official thread for discussing the iFi Audio Nano iDSD Black Label.
Just got the iFi Audio Nano iDSD BL and so far so good! I just started using Tidal as my main music service and wanted to see if the MQA experience was all they say it is. Seeing that the Nano iDSD has a setting to decode MQA I bought it.
Although not all the music on Tidal is Mastered, there is still a good selection. Let me just say, my Sennheiser 598’s have never sounded better with a portable AMP/DAC. The indicator light glows magenta when MQA is working and I love to see that little magenta LED light up.
The only drawback to the Nano is the lack of output. There is only a line out for the 3.5 mm jack or headphone jacks. Whereas, there are optical outputs on other AMP/DAC’s around the same price range.
I’ll be keeping this little gem and enjoying my full resolution music!
I started with the iDSD Micro I updated the firmware for MQA. I ran it through my Schiit Valhalla and my Woo WA6. I do believe I hear a nominal difference from Tidal but I upgraded to the Concero HD Dac which has no MQA. I debated whether to keep the iFi but I’m selling it now since I really don’t use a portable setup. My better headphones are all open back. It IS nice having something on the nightstand though. BTW, if you’re interested in the Micro (not black label) I’d part with it with all accessories and box for a pretty great deal.
This should make a few folks here happy. iFi audio received assistance from MQA to improve the sound of standard PCM content on their current line of DACs. They have graciously offered a free firmware update to existing customers. The difference in sound quality is not small.
Here’s an excerpt from their whitepaper. More details here: https://ifi-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/iFi-audio-Tech-Note-GTO-filter-FINAL.pdf
Finally, I shared some tips in this post to the iFi audio squad on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/ifiaudiosquad/permalink/314974285723346/
I have to say that I was fairly surprised by the level of performance on offer in such a small, and flexible, package … regardless of the rather high-value price it is offered at.
I am going to have to seriously re-consider what lives in my laptop travel case (“go bag”) …
Well done! Absolutely stunning photos, btw.
Thanks for the kind words!
As always very thorough review. It is interesting that the unit comes with a full size USB A male adapter it looks like as a connection source. That is the first time I’ve seen that on nearly any device. Is there any reason why that connection is better than the USB B standard?
From a performance perspective, no.
However, since the device is intended to be used as a portable unit as much as fixed one, their using a USB-A connection means it will plug directly onto the end of an Apple Lighting to USB Cable - and indeed the body of that connection is recessed into the device. That makes for a more secure connection and a shorter/smaller overall setup.
Most non-Apple OTG cables will also fit that way, again making for a smaller and more solid setup.
They do the same thing on the Micro iDSD Black Label as well (for the same reason).
That’s a good reason! I don’t possess one of those cables, but it is odd that they cater to the Apple dongle here. Not many audio manufacturers are willing to do that, now that Apple has forsaken them.
You can see the USB end of the Apple adapter here … which just slots neatly into the iFi Nano and Micro iDSD … very clean and compact:
It often surprises me what manufacturer’s will do in such situations. That said, a couple of weeks ago Apple announced a program that will let manufacturers of audio devices build/ship their own direct-to-Lightning cables with less overhead than typical MFi certified products.
That should have the effect of seeing things like the next generation of Dragonfly or similar products not need an Apple adapter at all, without incurring the additional cost/overheard of getting fully MFi certified.
I’m currently using the iFi nano BL from the preview program…I think I need to hurry up and review it…so that I can send it off and buy my own, very impressed with it as a portable solution. The iEmatch works amazingly well with my CA Andromeda.
Would it make sense to buy this if you’re going to primarily use it on a desktop?? Or would it be better to buy a combination of a Magni2+Topping D10/D30?
Planning on getting a pair of andromedas so the fact it includes the IEMatch is very tempting…
Man this Lil thing is a killer travel and work desk buddy! I’ve mostly been using my CA Cascade and Andromeda with it. Just a great little DAC/amp, really enjoying it. I’ll try and get my notes/thoughts together this week/weekend and post a review… I’ll say this The Dragonfly Black has had almost no listening time, to many irritations for my style of listening, I might do a separate review of it but I don’t think it will be very long
For IEMs, especially the Andromeda, while the Magni 2 (or the Magni 3, which is what you’d get if you’re not buying used) are quiet enough in low-gain, they’re still not going to be as quiet as the iEMatch output on the Nano iDSD.
I like the DAC performance of the Nano iDSD Black Label quite a bit more than I do that of the D10 or D30.
Also, while it’s not obvious (though I talk about it in my review), the Nano iDSD Black Label has balanced-compatible (discrete grounds, rather than differential) headphone outputs.
The iFi Nano iDSD Black Label works quite nicely on the desktop (it is weightier and more physically stable than it looks). It has a proper line-out to feed a bigger amp, so can be cleanly used as a pure-DAC if you needed to add a more powerful amplifier later. And in addition to the iEMatch feature it also has USB filtering as standard.
So given that, I’d be inclined to go with the Nano iDSD unit.
If doing a separate DAC/AMP, which I would really only do here if I was also going to be driving particularly hungry headphones (and maybe more of that than IEMs), then I’d add the Modi 3 to the DAC side of your considerations - unless you need DSD support - it’s easily the best $100 DAC I’ve heard.
Wow, thats really high praise!
Could you describe what you like about the Nano as a dac over the d10/d30? Also, could I just use it while its charging? I probably won’t be using it unplugged very often. I feel like I heard something about it being worse than just using it through battery power
Not @torq, but I have had the D30 and I’m currently using the Preview program iFi Nano iDSD Black Label, and for me the ifi NiBL (pronounced nibble, I’m totally calling it that from now on! ) just has a warmer more relaxed sound coming from it, without really losing anything. I would call it a fun/relaxing DAC/amp I think the Toppings offerings can be more analytical and bright for me, and if I want to go more analytical I personally have better DACs at hand… I am interested in hearing the Topping D50 at some point. Anyhow back to the NiBL I find it to be an exceptional travel buddy and work office setup. I am listening to it right now at my office desk as a matter of fact plugged into the laptop and charging, so that should answer that question, and it sounds the same as if on battery for me anyhow.
In my review I talked about how it sounds on/off battery. For me, with the sources I use, there was no difference I could tell on a quick A/B comparison basis. It was only over longer listening sessions where it seemed that running it off its battery resulted in the slower onset of listening fatigue. But since there are many factors that contribute to that, this is by no means more than an anecdotal observation and may be irrelevant.
As @DarthPool says, you can charge it while using it just fine. It’s charge rate will vary some based on how much power it is being asked to deliver (playing DSD512 into a low-impedance, low efficiency headphone, very loudly might be enough to bring the actual charge rate to zero).
In regards to the Topping D10 … I find that to be somewhat harsh, bright and to present things with an exaggerated or “over sharpened” sense of detail. Not that it is actually resolving more detail than other DACs, just that it presents what detail it does extract in a way that sounds artificial and overdone (a bit like getting too heavy handed with the sharpening filters in Photoshop). The net result of which is that I find it off-putting timbrally and tonally and quite fatiguing to listen to.
And the D30 … I find it to be sterile/clinical sounding, which I could also describe as lifeless and un-involving. And I don’t mean this in terms of “has no coloration” … I could say that about lots of DACs. It’s technically competent, but just not for me. There are other DACs, that measure similarly (some a bit worse, some a bit better) but when heard blind that I do enjoy. This just isn’t one of them.
iFi NiBL a traveler’s guide to NiBL bliss
iFi Audio Nano iDSD Black Label (here forth known as “A NiBL”, or “NiBL” pronounced A Nibble). This lil guy is the cooler younger sibling to the iFi Nano iDSD DAC/amp. It is being provided to me on loan by the wonderful Headphones forum Community Preview Program. I find the community to be the cream de le crème of the audio forum communities…but like that is just my opinion man (fight me). I think that @Torq did a much more detailed and professional review already for this little work horse, so I am taking a more fun approach, not to say @Torq isn’t a fun guy (quite the contrary in fact, definitely a gentleman I could grab some good booze with, cheers mate!).
Fine I’ll do the hard work:
Hard specs above, I don’t know what else you want from me… Honestly, all joking aside though click the link above for all the specs right from the horse’s mouth as they say.
Ear Input devices:
I utilized a couple of different ear hole covers and fillers (headphones and IEMs), and all sounded very excellent from this lil monster. The main head time went to the CA Cascades (at work open backs aren’t the best options), CA Andromedas, and a smattering of other headsets here and there. Currently using the HD58X Jubilee.
My favorite pairing was the CA Cascades (using the cloth pads, with the 4T filter, the filter I could do without but I was too immersed in the music to remove it every time I thought to). For whatever reason the bass is not overpowering while using this combo, maybe it was brain break-in/headphone break-in but the more I listen to the CA Cascades the more I love them, especially with the “NiBL” it really is something to try if you get the chance, either independently or as a pair.
CA Andromeda….my daily commuter IEM, and my most sensitive anything I have…I mean it is scared of everything! Seriously it hisses at everything! Yeesh I have to put its iFi iEMatch leash on it to take it anywhere. Thankfully the “NiBL” and it are a love at first sight and make for a wonderful pairing with the iEMatch output. I mean this combo is phenomenal, the “NiBL” brings out all the CA Andromeda qualities to allow it to run free in its natural musical and fun experience without messing with what makes it such a unique IEM.
I feel like I can defend myself with this…. maybe take on Goliath with it swinging the “NiBL” around head then snaps it just right for it to launch off it’s USB leash, right into Goliaths head. Seriously this thing is a tank and is built for commuters and travelers. Above comment aside please don’t throw it at people that just isn’t nice, or safe for the “NiBL” they are a good lil travel buddy and just want to make your ears happy.
Aluminum case is a nice feel and the paint on it is a nice matte that isn’t a fingerprint magnet. Smooth to the touch but won’t go slipping out of your hand. Outputs have a smooth feel when sliding in the jack……. back on track, there are three outputs all 3.5mm two in front one in back. Also, in the back is the USB input and filter toggle switch (talked about below). The volume knob is a smooth operator for such a small knob, it isn’t always about the size of the knob but how well it turns up your music, and this lil knob doesn’t disappoint. Smooth and agile with a nice orange line showing where you are. The knob is the power control and has a nice “snap” when going on/off.
Finally, the LED light on the front has multiple colors depending on what is happening Pulled straight from the manual:
Blue: DSD 256
Cyan: DSD 128/DSD 64
White: DXD PCM 352.6/384kHz
Yellow: PCM 176.4/192kHz
Green: PCM 44.11/48/88.2/96kHz
Magenta: MQA (all sample rates)
Green (flashing): Waiting for USB connection
Red alternating with: Battery is fully discharged, USB power any of the above is being used to play music but battery is N OT b e i ng c h a r g e d
Red: Battery is < 1 0% and requires charge
No LED: Battery empty Power OFF
I think it would be cool if there was a way to set the LED color but that is neither here nor there.
How a thing sounds:
Filters are interesting, I had to really listen to hear the difference. There was a noticeable change when I upgraded to the latest drivers, everything seemed to sound fuller. I couldn’t get too much of a change out of swapping the filters, with most of my sets but it was most noticeable with the CA Andromedas. “Listen” had a more in close feel to it with vocals, while “measure” was for me closest to my preferences in listening (I think @Torq, nails it on the head for this particular aspect and I don’t think I can add much to it with my limited experience in DACs amps).
With the CA Cascade everything comes alive, Highs are allowed to breath that rarefied high altitude air and sparkle, without being too much.
Mids push up against you like that first slow dance with a sweetheart and they whisper/sing in your ear the entire dance.
Bass is present with slam and precision but not over bearing, controlled, is an accurate word.
The way it presents music is to me a fun, relaxing, present/engaging listen. I really dig on this sound profile.
For me this DAC/amp has a mellow listening environment. I wouldn’t say it excels in any one area, but does everything just right for a quick little travel DAC/amp for on the go or portable office desk setup. This fills a niche for quality on the go audio. It just sounds good and powers most things you would throw at it.
The sum of its parts:
Once you go “NiBL” you never go back! Ha. So, to start off, I will probably be buying my own “NiBL” when I send this off to the next preview program recipient. This lil beast is so far in my experience the best small form DAC/amp I’ve played with. I actually started carrying around my USB adapter for my phone so that I can use this instead of my dongle DAC, yeah it isn’t sexy looking coming out of a phone, but that audio quality is hard to beat on the go! For the size and price, I think it is very much so worth it, if you are in the market for a travel DAC/amp. I think it competes easily with other DAC/amps in its price range, well quite frankly it trounces a bunch of them, but as a dedicated desktop setup I think there are probably better options, but as a travel buddy or a nightstand setup, it is just a great DAC/amp that punches harder than it’s size and price range suggest.
I couldn’t agree more. When anyone else gets the least bit tense, seems they calm down all on their own. It’s as if having a healthy, learning, and harmony forum is most what we all seem to want. Kudos to all of us.