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iFi Audio micro iDSD

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发表于 2018-9-28 14:27 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
There is nothing like the micro iDSD. It is literally, out of this world. It is the only DAC in the world (at any price) to play True Native Octa-DSD512/PCM768/Double DXD. Its Perfect-Match means it can be fine-tuned to any headgear from IEMs all the way through to large headphones. Its 8v/4000mW output makes it one of the most powerful headamps to drive even the most hungry of headphones with ease.
这是来自国外发烧友论坛的评论,此链接可查看https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/ifi-audio-micro-idsd.20201/
 楼主| 发表于 2018-9-28 14:29 | 显示全部楼层
Pros - Very nice chassis

AMP section has remarkable amount of control and drive

Battery lasts reasonably long
Cons - Absolutely horrible DAC

Channel imbalance
With everyone loving these and hyping this lil' box up, I'm gonna play the devil's advocate and call it terrible, and I've owned two over the course of a year, got the first one here for around $320, bought another one brand new for $599.

Let's not talk about aesthetics. That's what lures me in in the first place. It looks pretty dang neat. A few switches here and there, a 1/4 port on the front, a set of RCAs, one optical and one USB port in the back. A real swiss army knife huh, compact and thoughtful.

But that's where all good news end. I literally cannot find anything positive to say about the sound. It's terrible, no, horrible actually. I bought the second unit just to see if I got a lemon, and bam I did not, it really just sounds that bad.

First of all, the headphone amp is actually pretty decent. It has plenty of drive and decent level of control for high impedance cans. HD600s sound great out of the amp, why the AMP section you say?

Because its DAC section is unforgivingly terrible. I've used the RCA ports in the back many times and everytime I plugged something in, it makes me wonder how on earth would these guys pair such a horrible DAC with such a good sounding amp in such a deceivingly nice chassis. The sound it puts out is lifeless, greyed out and lacks air. Detail retrieval is actually pretty decent, but highs are rough, mids are okay-ish and the bass on this thing is just an abomination. Not only is it loose, it doesn't have much extension down low and lacks quantity. My PS Audio Nuwave and Perfectwave MkII DAC both eat this thing for breakfast. Going back to those two makes me realize how artificial and harsh sounding this DAC/AMP really is, cuz the DAC section ruins what would otherwise be a fantastic dac/amp.

The amp section is pretty decent however. I tried hooking up my desktop DACs to this lil thing with a RCA-3.5mm cable, and it sounds pretty dynamic. Lots of power, pretty good control and reasonably good bottom end extension. Doesn't really sound like a portable unit, but the horrible DAC section makes the unit as a whole very tiny sounding.




In the end, I suggest any other users to steer clear of this dac/amp. The AMP section of this lil box trumps most if not all portable units on the market, however the DAC section is just so uninspiring it ruins the whole experience. It's tiny sounding, doesn't have much dynamics and lacks air. I don't really think its worth it even for the $320 I got it for.
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 楼主| 发表于 2018-9-28 14:41 | 显示全部楼层
Pros - Fun, excellent technicality and details, silent background, well-priced, well-built, clean clear sound, powerful, flexible, well implemented extra features, generous accessories.
Cons - The carrying pouch is a dust magnet, transportable and hard to use on the go because of the size and long shape, not pocket able. Features can be overwhelming when you get into it.
DISCLAIMER
Hi everyone, Before I start the review, I would like to thank Ifi for making this DAC/AMP.
This review is made by myself based on my observation and listening pleasure of The amp/dac on various gear that I have after about a bit over a month of ownership regardless of price points.

I have no affiliation to Ifi in any way and everything said here is based on my experience over a week.
The pricing in Australia is 799.95 AUD (About 620 USD, converted by Google, not official price), so the review will be made using that as the value.

This Review will also touch on the difference between the micro and the nano, and whether it is worth it to get the micro over the nano.

INTRODUCTION (If you read my other review, you can skip this)
I'm an Indonesian working as a Web Developer in Melbourne, Australia.
Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.
When I start my headphone hobby, music listening has been a very rewarding experience for me and has helped me in many aspects of life other than music enjoyment, but, with the booming price of high end headphones/IEM, it has become a bit of a heavy hit on my wallet.

Starting from almost 4 years ago I've been really hooked by metal music, and nowadays my everyday music listening always incorporate metal tracks, I guess you can call me a Metal-head.

Other than that I also like Progressive Rock, Jazz, etc basically anything that is very technical and well made except classical, and no I don't really listen to modern music.

Metal music is my primary focus, so this review will appeal more for people who likes Metal music like me and less so for people who likes modern music like Trap music, pop music, ed sheeran, Taylor Swift, etc.

I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, lets say for example Classical, therefore it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like, and those are mainly:
- Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind, like 80% off the time)
- Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Riverside(rock/metal), Radiohead or something like it)
- EDM (Mostly trance)
- Jazz (Norah Jones, Diana Krall and the likes)
- Folk (just start lately, but I've been listening to Fionn Regan and found it enjoyable)
- Indonesian Song (it's basically the Indonesian version of pop, guitar used is mostly acoustic guitar, sounds natural and relaxing however, mastering of the song is usually poor, this is good to test how good a headphone/Iem handle poorly recorded material)
- etc

Genre's that I don't listen to, not even one bit, unless forced like in shopping center.
- Rap
- Classical
- Bollywood stuff
- Modern pop

GEAR USED
- Meze 99 Classic
- Focal Utopia
- Shozy Stardust
- Fiio X7 II
- Violectric HPA v281

ARTIST/MUSIC USED IN THE REVIEW
- Porcupine Tree
- Be'lakor
- Opeth
- Shadow Gallery
- Cynic
- Lurker Of Chalice
- Amorphis
- Novembre

PACKAGING
Simple white box, containing the unit and 2 more white boxes inside containing USB cable and rubber bands for stacking, you will also find some documentation in there, simple and clean packaging.
A lot of accessories is packaged in the box, neatly and well organized.
box-up.jpg box-front.jpg
ACCESSORIES
- USB adapter (USB to USB-A)
- Blue USB cable for digital input
- 3.5mm to 1/4 inch adapter
- RCA to RCA cable (Ifi Micro to your amp, unbalance in)
- 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable (for stacking your DAC to the AMP section of the Micro)
- Optical/Toslink adapter
- USB-A Female to USB-B Female short adapter
- Black carrying pouch case
- 2 black rubber amp straps for "stacking"
- Extra rubber feet (4, white in color)
- Rubber insert mat for stacking (It will stay in between your device so that it doesn't rub each other and causes scratches)
- Documentations and warranty
acc.jpg

I/O
- 1/4 inch headphone out
- RCA unbalance out
- 3.5mm unbalance In
- USB digital In
- USB "smartpower" charging in
- SPDIF In/Out
ifi-micro-bl-back.jpg ifi-micro-bl-front.jpg
PLAYBACK ABILITIES / SOUND ENHANCEMENT
- MQA
- DSD playback
- XBass
- 3D +

BATTERY LIFE
About 8 hours depending on loads

BUILD QUALITY
Excellent! Metal Chassis, with great Black Matte finish, screwed together nice and tight.
Switches are great and tactile, volume pot with good resistance, USB and headphone Jacks have a secure feel to them when you connect your devices.
ifi-micro-bl-top.jpg ifi-micro-bl-right.jpg
SOUND QUALITY
SOUND SIGNATURE
It is quite neutral, with a little bit of boost and coloration in the bass department, so the bass has a lot of power and attack, however unlike the typical bass elevated signature, where the overall sound can have some lushness to it, this Micro is not like that at all, the amount of body is about straight in the middle of being thin and lush.

The mids is slightly recessed especially the vocal and upper mid and Treble are about right in line with each other with about the same amount of emphasis and straight down the middle in the body department, I feel that it has a slight rise in the upper mids but nothing too major, due to this personality, the Micro has the benefit of being clinical without sounding sterile, where the details pop but still musical.

BASS
The Bass is powerful but tight, the attack are strong, and this combine with very fast blast beat in metal music makes for an excellent combination. The distinction of each hits are apparent, you can almost feel the physicality of the play and it is very engaging. I really like the bass interpretation of the Micro, it has the speed, attack and tightness that enables you to hear notes as fast as this with very minimal effort.

The Bass is slightly boosted, I feel that it is a couple DB more than the mids and treble at any volume level, and this is without XBass, it is also slightly more forward to you, although not by much, so positioning is almost spot on for me.

Despite the slight boost, it has never intrudes the mids at all, I think the tuning of the bass is spot on, it combines very well with the mids and treble, and when all spectrum is playing together in the music, nothing takes over, you can everything that is going on and gives the music cohesiveness.

MIDS
The mids is very natural sounding with some slight clinical tilt to it, listening to violin work of Ne Oblivisacris is a very enjoyable experience, It almost feel a little thin sounding, but not really so, to put it simply, it is just about right to hear all the intricacies before sounding thin while staying smooth.

The mids is slightly more laid back as compared to the bass, but it is only slightly and does not sound recess at all, positioning is good, singer comes out about in the center stage, depending on the recording.

Vocals are natural and is slightly relaxed in presentation, a bit behind the guitar I would say, Amorphis use both clean and harsh vocals in their music, and on the clean vocals side, it sounds clean and smooth, and dare I say a little sweetness in it, slightly mellow and syrupy to portray the emotion.
When transitioning to the harsh vocals, it still remains smooth without harshness and the growl is powerful and guttural, portraying the rage and stronger more raw emotion in the music.

When two singers sing together, I can hear the distinction very clearly and they don't cover each other up which says a lot about the resolving ability the unit has.

When hearing string instruments, you can feel the string as it is being pluck by the player, there is a little "jolt" that can be heard and the sound transition naturally to the decay, the decay is quick but not abrupt, which means that the micro handles reverb very well.

Talking about the guitar, it has an excellent amount of bites, and combines well with the layered sounding distortion, that at times sounds big and grand enveloping the atmosphere.
The guitar tone is very natural both for electric and acoustic guitar, as a metal music fan, I'm a massive addict when it comes to electric guitar sound and I really enjoy the presentation that the Micro offers in this regard.

TREBLE
The treble is flat starting from the upper mid, which is a little behind the bass in emphasis, the rise start in the frequency where the guitar usually lives.

After passing this region, it goes flat, maybe very slightly more so it can get a little bit exciting.
This is quite similar as in the nano, but not as prominent and instead of dipping after the upper mid, the micro stays flat.

Guitar Solo shines when it needs to be, trebly guitar has some sweetness into it and sounds very melodic without sounding thin and sharp, a lot of Melodic death metal music can benefits from this.
Unlike the Nano, the treble is quite linear and is not tamed at the upper region, at least not as much to my ears. Cymbals and Hi-hats are heard clearly and is not in the background, it is not the sparkly type, so don't expect super sparkly treble here.

I think going for the approach that they did in the bass and mids, this is an excellent decision, as we want to keep the general sound clean and fatigue free, too much tizz and spark can reduce haziness to the sound.
If you are a treble addict, I feel that the 3D feature despite being marketed to increase soundstage actually did some trickery to the treble and makes the whole sound brighter, so you might want to try that.

SOUND STAGE / SEPARATION
Sound stage is about average for a unit at this price range, although this is a bit hard for me to test as all my headphone are not the best in sound stage, and I'm also not a big sound stage addict.

The amount of width, height and depth is very close, so this is the #D spherical type as opposed to the nano which I think is more oval in shape.

Regardless, Instrument separation is great, nothing overlap each other, they just do their own thing and play harmoniously.

EXTRA FEATURES:
We have a lot of these, just look at this switches everywhere:
ifi-micro-bl-bot.jpg ifi-micro-bl-left.jpg
ifi-micro-bl-back.jpg
IEMatch (Off, High Sensitivity, Ultra sensitivity)
I didn't play around with this much, I did try the High sensitivity and the off one, I feel some differences in the blackness of the background just like I did in the nano, I leave this on almost all the time.

When going from High to ultra, after volume matching by ears, I feel that there is no difference whatsoever, if there is any it would be too small for me to catch with my current gears as I'm not an IEM user.

XBass + (Off, On)
Does it work? Yes!, Does it work Well? also yes.
I think it mostly does the work on the sub-bass as I feel the kick and rumble of the music much more when I have this on.

I think this feature works very well, although I would like one more level between on and off as I feel that the strong can be a bit on the strong side when left on all the time.
I'm not a bass addict and mostly content with the bass I get from the off set up.

However the implementation of this feature is excellent, I heard nothing weird going on in the bass while having this on, no distortion, no boominess and no softness to it.
The attack still remain strong just with more weight and loudness to it.

This feature is also really useful for playing games and movies, when you turn it on the sound of explosion, gunshot just becomes more powerful and more exhilarating.
I think the XBass is the most useful feature out of all the features the unit has.

3D + (Off, On)
Does it work? Yes!, Does it work well? depends.
This is where it can be a little experimental, I found that they approach this by doing something to the treble, which makes the presentation sound more lively and has a bigger scope of view.

For comparisons sake, we will using a clock as our 360 degree point of view:
When listening to Lighbulb sun from Porcupine tree, the guitar sounds like it's coming from the left around 10.30 in direction, with the 3D on, it sounds like it's coming from 9.30 in direction, plus the treble becomes more lively and brighter. I found that in the lightbulb sun record, it works quite well.

However when I play some Opeth or other metal songs, maybe due to the guitar distortion having a lot of distortion already, the brightness and extra liveliness makes the guitar sounds artificial, as it now sounds too distorted, it loses the cohesiveness and just doesn't sound good at all to me, at least for Metal.

I mostly have this feature off due to my music preference being mostly metal in this review, but I think if you listen to a lot of rock music, you might want to try this.

Extra notes on XBass & 3D (+ some analysis for use case):
Turning this on will skew the tonal balance as you may already know, but the amount changes depending on your listening level.

For example if you are allow level listener, I feel that the amount of boost that the XBass adds to the bass is most likely a fixed number, let's say + 6db.
This means that it will always add 6db regardless of your volume, for example:
You listen to music at 60db, + XBass + 6 db, so the bass boost is 10% in decibel
You listen to music at 80db, + XBass + 6 db, so the bass boost is 7.5% in decibel (you get less boost in percentage compared to 60db volume listening level)

Bottom line is, you get more bass boost at low volume level, and don't forget that decibel is a logarithmic measurement, 1db increase means 10 times louder in sound.
Similar thing could apply to the 3D Natrix, although I think that they work in a different way.

This is actually quite common in other portable amplifier as well, as they usually add a fixed amount to increase the intended frequency, usually the bass.

*notes:
If some has a better understanding on this than me, feel free to enlighten me in the comments, this is just my observation, I could be wrong.

Power Mode (Turbo, Normal, Eco)
This sets how much power the unit use on default, lets say if you use IEMs you may need to go with eco mode, as the ifi documentation say:
"Tip: With a new pair of IEMs/Headphones, ALWAYS start
with the volume no higher than 9 o' clock and with the
Power Mode set to ‘Eco’"
I mostly use the unit in normal power mode.

Polarity (-, +)
I had no idea about this one, I assume it might have something to do with the dynamic transition, I had it on all the time.

Filter (Standard, Minimum Phase, Bit Perfect)
I had it in bit perfect phase all the time, as most of my music is PCM, according to iFi:
"Tip: For PCM we recommend ‘Bit-Perfect’ for listening and
‘Standard’ for measurements. For DSD, select
Extreme/Extended/Standard to find the one that sounds
best for listening and ‘Standard Range’ for
measurements."

Pre-amplifier output
I didn't use this at all, so no comments here.

COMPARISONS
Fiio X7 II
The Fiio X7 II is a good little unit, it is a DAP that I'm currently using on the go now as I grew tired of stacking.
The X7 II I feel has a more neutral sound signature, the mids is a little more forward than the BL, where it is slightly recessed.

However after using both units, I'm confident to say that the Ifi Micro beats the X7 II in power and dynamic, the bass has a stronger attack and treble more defined.

Other than that I also feel that they have a different sound stage, I feel the Micro is more spherical compared to the X7 II, cohesiveness is really close, both are cohesive all the way through the frequencies, where the sound just envelop around you.

The question is, is the BL strong enough to make me give up the X7 II?
the answer is no, the X7 II just have way more functionality for an all in one device, no stacking around with cable, can act as transport, and the sound is really closely match.

Chord Mojo
I used to own one, and back in the day the chord mojo and the ifi Micro has a fierce rivalry!

I have sold my chord mojo probably last year, so I can't do a direct comparison on it, however the iFi micro BL has a different sound signature and feel from the mojo, the mojo was warmish and more lush, details are there but due to it's sound signature, the mojo can sound less detailed compared to the BL, I personally like the BL better, the mojo wins hands down with portability though, the BL is transportable but too bulky too use while on the move.

The BL to me just sounds cleaner and details pop a little bit better, soundstage is slightly bigger and sounds more cohesive.

iFi Nano BL
The nano is more geared and focused on music enjoyment that is fatigue free.

Due to this the the treble is more subdued compared to the Micro, where it can gat a bit exciting at times.
Both are smooth at the top, however one has more emphasis is brighter than the other, if you are very sensitive to treble, you may want to test the Micro before buying the unit.

For long hours use, it might be safer to get the nano if you are unsure about the Micro's treble.
Details, clarity, cohesiveness and bass tightness is superior on the Micro, the bass attack, mids naturalness has some upgrades too but not significant.

POWER OUTPUT / HEADPHONE PAIRING
This unit is extremely flexible, I have no doubt that it is powerful enough to power through everything from IEM to full sized, except maybe the HE-6, which I don't have so I can't test this for sure.

Meze 99 Classic
My on the go set up. I'm still using the small pads on my meze 99 classic as I think the bigger pads has more bass.
Good strong dynamic, with clear mids and controlled treble, bass attack is strong and punchy with good speed, it synergize well with the BL.
ifi-v281-meze99.jpg
Focal Utopia
My main gear at home, the BL powers it up perfectly, unlike the Nano BL where I can feel that my Utopia is not performing at its max, the Micro BL certainly brings out the potential of the headphone.
Cohesiveness and details are the strong point in this set up, you just hear everything in the music, from the guitar plucks, violin strokes, voice vibration, absolutely lots of information you can hear with this combo!
ifi-v281-utopia.jpg
Shozy Stardust
Clear sweet unoffensive sound with controlled treble and excellent bass for a small earbud, for a super lazy set up this works pretty well.
I mostly use this to watch movies, play games etc.
ifi-stardust.jpg

AS DAC
When used with my V281, along with my focal Utopia, The BL did an excellent job, the Violectric HPA V281 just takes cohesiveness, separation and attack to the next level, my utopia sounds very dynamic and smooth.
More natural sounding mid that sounds vivid and personal.
Treble sounds more refined, and controlled, very enjoyable to listen to.

Sound signature is very similar to using the BL asa standalone, this leads me to believe that the amp section of the BL is quite transparent.
ifi-v281.jpg

结论
Ifi.iDSD BL是一个优秀的单元,对我而言,这个产品的主要职责是便于携带,您可以离开您办公室的单元在工作,只是每天使用它,同时做一些生产力的工作。

音质的价格范围是优秀的,它有很多功能,有时可能过火,但你不需要使用它!

电池寿命很好,配件非常大方。
定价是好的,考虑到上面所有这些额外的因素和它的表现,我觉得它是有道理的。


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 楼主| 发表于 2018-9-29 14:51 | 显示全部楼层
thesoundapprentice-ifi-idsd-bl.JPG
Shortly after sending my iFi Audio Pro iCAN review unit back, iFi hit me up with its stealthy Micro iDSD BL (Black Label), a portable desktop DAC and pre-amp/headphone amp combo that packs a punch and goes head-to-head against the very popular Chord Electronics Mojo (If you see this Chord, I’d love a demo).

Much like the Pro iCAN, the iDSD BL is an iFi flagship product, but this time in its smaller portable/desktop Mirco line. Here again, iFi packs in strong feature sets bettered by trickle-down R&D and technology from iFi’s ultra-high-end parent company, Abbingdon Music Research, or AMR Audio.

You can read about all of the tech specs on iFi’s website, like the dual-core Burr-Brown DAC chips, custom Sanyo OP-Amps, and femto clock, so I’ll just get to the feedback you care about — user and listening impressions.

Unboxing Impressions

A relative newcomer to iFi products, I was happy to see the lesser-expensive iDSD BL comes well-packed in higher-end packaging with clean, minimalistic design and aesthetics like the Pro iCAN. It gives off the impression that you’re unboxing a much more expensive product. Inside, you’ll find a very comprehensive accessory set. Everything you need to put the iDSD BL to use is included: USB 3.0 cable, RCA cable, Optical/Toslink adapter, 3.5mm to 6.3mm headphone jack adapter, 3.5mm jumper, some other various USB adapters, a crushed velvet storage bag, a rubber mat to keep the iDSD BL from sliding around on various surfaces when in use, and two bands for securing the iDSD BL to your smartphone or DAP (you can even use the iDSD BL to charge your smartphone).

Despite its light weight, in hand, the iDSD BL has a sleek and solid feel. I’d say it’s comparatively robust next to products from JDS Labs and Schiit, and maybe a hair less robust than ALO and Chord’s offerings; however, I do have a couple of gripes. The black-on-black text on the chassis is hard to read, and the various recessed slide switches feel, well, cheap. In fact, the first time I slid the iEMatch switch into another position, the round plastic button popped off the switch post. The button easily went back on, but I’d prefer more solid switches on a unit at this price point. I can see these buttons easily popping off their posts if handled less that delicately when traveling. This nitpicking aside, the front panel toggle switches and volume pot operate nicely with good tactile feedback, and the overall look and feel of the device is quite pleasing.

As for being portable, yes, the 4800mAh lithium battery lets you use the iDSD BL on the go, but it’s long, narrow rectangular shape and overall length does make it rather awkward to carry. It’s approximately 1.5” longer than most standard smartphones when accounting for the volume knob and exposed inputs/outputs. In fact, it’s closer in size to the battery brick for my laptop, so this isn’t something I am tossing into a jacket pocket to use on the train each day. This becomes less of an issue if you carry a bag of some sort.

Sound Options

Perhaps the greatest traits of the iDSD BL are its flexibility and versatility. From sensitive IEMs to more power-hungry headphones, mixing and matching the Power Mode (Eco -
2.0V/500 mW @ 8 Ohm; Normal - 5.5V/1,900 mW @ 16 Ohm; Turbo - 10.0V/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm) and proprietary iEMatch (Off, High-Sensitivity, Ultra-Sensitivity) settings allows you to dial in the right amount of power and gain to drive your music with balance and authority.

Because of a strong channel imbalance on the volume pot of my review unit, and my preference for lower listening levels while working, I found these variable settings incredibly useful for balancing the volume output for all of the headphones and IEMs in my collection. For example, I’m back to primarily using the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home as my home-office headphone, which was comfortably driven in just the Eco/High-Sensitivity settings, meaning the more powerful settings will get deafeningly loud.

Furthering its versatility, the iDSD BL also benefits from two proprietary circuitries — Xbass+ and 3D+ — that help correct some common headphone and loudspeaker shortcomings: sub-bass and imaging. While only “on” or “off” via two front panel toggle switches, instead of being active in varying degrees like on the Pro iCAN, these are still very usable EQ-like features.

XBass+ is iFi’s solution to bass deficiency in reference headphones and loudspeakers. Through analog signal processing circuitry, XBass+ provides a noticeable, although sometimes intrusive, bass boost. Much like my experience with the Pro iCAN, I was mostly pleased with how the bass boost integrated into the timbre of the amp, but results obviously vary by recording and headphone/loudspeaker selections. XBass+ nicely boosts the deep bass regions of the Sennheiser HD650, Beyerdynamic Amiron Home, and Focal Elear on bass-light recordings. With bass-shy headphones like my old AKG K701 or the updated Q701, XBass+ adds some welcomed warmth and impact. On the other hand, the dark and mysterious AudioQuest NightHawk (review), and the Fostex TH-600 gets boomy with Xbass+. The takeaway here is that you just have to experiment; XBass+ is not a set-it-and-forget-it option.

While XBass+ helps correct bass deficiency, 3D+ helps correct sound stage deficiencies, like that closed-in feeling when the sound is stuck right between your headphones. In other words, 3D+ was designed to create an “out-of-head” headphone listening experience that emulates listening to well-placed loudspeakers in a room.

Much like the XBass+ feature, 3D+ is rather hit-or-miss. I particularly liked this feature on the Pro iCAN, which had varying degrees of impact. On the iDSD BL, 3D+ is again “on” or “off” only, which limits its usability. In particular, I found 3D+ to work well with live recordings and videos, like Ben Howard’s 2015 Glastonbury Festival performance, where it widens the sound stage and makes for a more cohesive and deeper blending of sound. Testing it with the tracks I used in my Pro iCAN review, the 3D+ function again worked well enough with jazz classics like John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” where instrument localization is very apparent and added depth and dimension enhances the experience. Admittedly though, some tracks get too busy and displaced with 3D+ engaged, especially when it has adverse effects in the treble region, injecting a strange artificial tizzy-ness to cymbals or an intrusive reverb effect to the entire track. Here again, it’s a feature that’s easily experimented with. Does it truly emulate properly positioned loudspeakers? No, but with the right tracks, it does make welcomed improvements to that “stuck in your head” feeling during long headphone sessions.
thesoundapprentice-ifi-idsd-bl-2.JPG
Toned Up

Coming from the Pro iCAN, which was surprisingly neutral and precise, I was expecting more of the same from the iDSD BL, but I was met instead with a tuning tipped towards warmer tones and marginally less precision in detail retrieval and treble clarity. It seems while the iDSD BL still seeks transparency, its tone plays it a bit safe, emphasizing more body in the bass and mids, probably for more versatility with headphone/IEM selection. I suspect this is also in part due to the tuning of the dual-core Burr-Brown DAC chips. For what it’s worth, the iDSD BL sounds more like the tube modes of the Pro iCAN than the solid-state section.

In comparison to my JDS Labs Objective2 headphone amp and OL DAC (review), the iDSD BL offers more bass impact and dimension, even without the XBass+ and 3D+ features engaged. However, the JDS stack takes the edge in neutrality and clarity, which is a touch dry in comparison, but perhaps more sonically accurate. I also still use an older ALO “The Island” at work, which comes off as much warmer and textured in comparison to both.

Overall, my takeaway is that the iDSD BL is relatively crisp and clear, with good bass impact and timbre, a touch rounded in the mids, but with nice dynamics, good space and dimension, and the right amount of treble and resolution for it to be hi-fi without being analytical.

Accuracy and neutrality are what come to mind with the Pro iCAN, which simply lacks a notable “house sound.” The iDSD BL moves a step back from its big sibling, adding a hint of coloration that gives it a touch of flavor for your desktop and portable needs. Add in the simple sound tweaks possible with XBass+ and 3D+ and you have a small amp/DAC that dishes out a darn good listening experience.

Parting Thoughts

Lastly, it’s well worth noting that the iDSD BL’s flexibility doesn’t stop with power and tone controls for your headphone listening sessions. The iDSD BL can serve as a DAC and pre-amp for your powered monitors, where XBass+ and 3D+ also work. It accepts USB and digital coax inputs (and optical/Toslink with the provided adapter) for greater input versatility. It natively plays all DSD, DXD, and PCM files, including Quad-DSD256, Octa-DSD512, and bit-perfect Double-DXD and PCM768. Consider all this on top of the innumerable headphones and IEMs that can be driven efficiently with the various Power Mode and iEMatch configurations and it’s clear that the iDSD BL offers scalability, flexibility, and performance well beyond its weight class.

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 楼主| 发表于 2018-9-29 15:11 | 显示全部楼层
Pros - Swiss Army DAC, Rich Sound, Portability
Cons - No definitive EQ, Silence Fade In at beginning of playback
Who Am I?

I’m a 21-year-old student studying electrical engineering. I’ve been immersed in the world of high fidelity audio for a long while now and been part of the Head-Fi community now for over 5 years. With the support of the community, I have had the opportunity to attend a few meet ups, listen to various Amplifiers, DACs, and DAPs, and write reviews to contribute back! I love seeing the changes that have brought to the market, and I hope that the constant innovation and competition in the market drives better products at lower prices. I always find myself learning something new in these reviews that I write, and I hope you can learn something new too!

(我是谁?

我是一名21岁的学习电气工程的学生。我已经沉浸在高保真音频的世界很长一段时间了,现在已成为Head-Fi社区的一员已有5年多了。在社区的支持下,我有机会参加一些会议,听取各种放大器,DAC 和DAP,并撰写评论以回馈!我喜欢看到市场带来的变化,我希望市场上的不断创新和竞争能够以更低的价格推动更好的产品。在我写的这些评论中,我总是发现自己正在学习新东西,我希望你也能学到新东西!)



Equipment Used

Sources:
Schiit “Modi 2 Uber” Digital-to-Analog Converter
Labs “Objective 2” Amplifier
iDSD Black Label
Supermini DAP
IEMs:
Heir Audio 3.ai
HiFiMan RE-600 “Songbird”
Headphones:
Sennheiser HD 6XX
Sennheiser Momentum Over Ear (v1.0)

Disclaimer:

I was not incentivized by any means from iFi to write this review. I am not sponsored by iFi Audio and my opinions on the unit I was provided are my own. At this point in time, the iFi iDSD Black Label provided for this review has already been returned, and is in the possession of iFi Audio.

The opinions expressed in this review are my own. They may not be necessarily what another may perceive. Audio is subjective and your experience will differ from mine in some form. Don’t take my opinion alone to come to a decision on this unit or any unit that I have reviewed. I thoroughly believe that the best way to understand a product in the event you cannot test it is through multiple sources. Luckily for the iDSD Black Label, there are plenty of reviews to read!

I wanted to extend my thanks to the iFi Team for giving me the opportunity to express my opinion on this device, and I hope it helps you, the reader, to better understand this piece of equipment, even if you can’t see it for yourself.


Packaging and Initial Impressions:

One of my favorite things about iFi is their care in packaging. In my opinion, iFi-Audio are what other companies should strive to be in terms in packaging. They present their product not only with a fashionable and professional manner, but also in a very functional way as well. The packaging isn’t space inefficient (one of my biggest pet peeves), and sturdy. The box design hasn’t noticeably changed between this and other previous products they have released (the iUSB comes to mind personally). The packaging served me very well when setting up between dorm room, home, and visiting a friend.

The boxes came compartmentalized with many little boxes with an assortment of many cables, adapters, and other necessities for this Swiss Army Knife of a DAC/AMP. Among these cables include a USB 3.0 USB Male to Female connector from the iDSD to computer, a RCA stereo cable (male to male), SPDIF adapter, and various other adapters to meet other needs, such as pre-amping and using the iDSD as a DAC. Although these cables aren’t exactly the most “premium” in terms of build quality, they are certainly not poorly made either. However, when spending $549.99 (market price July 2017) on an item such as the iDSD, it isn’t uncommon to already have premium variants of these cables already. However, the inclusion of these cables were thoughtful and worked well in practice. Although they wouldn’t necessarily be my “end game” in cabling, it definitely would be something I could appreciate when in a bind.

But all of this aside, the design of the iDSD Black Label shouldn’t come as a drastic surprise to anyone familiar with iFi-Audio. This design is tried and true staple of iFi; using this design for years now, going all the way back to the iCAN. It isn’t the most aesthetically crazy designs on the market, however it makes up what it lacks in fashion in utility, both in size and accessibility. Being an incredibly powerful unit for a variety of reasons in a small package as well as being rack mountable (up to 4 units?!) on the iFi iRack, it seems that the design isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Power and Connectivity:

Oh boy, talking about connectivity options on this guy is a doozy. I’m sure that, no matter how much I write out on this, I’ll miss something in some way or another. The iDSD Black Label is so expansive in its connectivity options that it often feels unfair when many people refer to it only as a DAC/AMP since it can do so much more. It can serve any headphone or IEM under the sun with ease. LCD2? No problem, crank up the power mode (gain) to “turbo” and rock out. Got some Noble Savants? Easy peasy. Dial down the power mode, and set the iEMatch accordingly.

Inputs wise, you have three options; USB digital, SPDIF/ Toslink digital, and 3.5mm Analog. Additionally, you get three output options; SPDIF/ Toslink digital, RCA output, and ¼ in (6.3mm) headphone analog out, all in one compact package. To further the insanity, this little guy is capable of handling DSD512, PCM768, and DXD2x. While being able to use all of these capability, is nice, it is critical to remember that not all devices or software support these bitrates and container types. Certain games (CS:GO comes to mind) will refuse to output sound when set beyond 192 kHz. Additionally, certain programs will refuse containers such as DSD and DXD (iTunes, I’m looking at you). With more “exotic” file types, you may finding yourself having to put a little extra effort in to squeeze out that extra data. I know that many praise JRiver for being able to handle the majority of the aforementioned file types, and you may find yourself drifting towards this media player as your musical journey progresses. This isn’t a fault towards iFi by any means.

Connecting to all devices with the iDSD BL seemed to work flawlessly. Windows 10 was accepted without special drivers, Android (v 7.0) was no issue, and even Mac OS X Snow Leopard was without issue. The only “catch” was that the sample rate options that I had on the Android OS was limited to what Poweramp decided was appropriate for that day. I very well could have missed the options where I could change that but I wasn’t able to for the love of this review. Regardless, although I constantly praise the sound quality of the LG V20, carrying the iDSD wasn’t remotely a fair competition. Sure, I can gloat about how much I love to sprint, but put me next to Usain Bolt, and you now have an understanding of the significant rift these two devices have. But I’ll leave those details for later on.

I tried my hand at a detailed table this time around, and these were pulled directly from the manufacturer at this link here.


Sound

I actually had the pleasure of listening and reviewing the new EL Stack right before I was able to listen to the iFi iDSD BL. With their surprisingly close price points, with the iDSD sitting at $549.99, the EL AMP stack sits at a combined $528.00. With impressions fresh in mind and notes on hand, I was very happy to set these two solutions against each other.

However, you may say, “Hey, hey, hey! Hold up just a second! Those two solutions are completely different! One is restricted to a desktop with dedicated power and the other has modularity and portable form factor! How on earth are you going to compare them?” Before I had learned about the unit a little bit and received it for review, I would have absolutely agreed with you. From a spreadsheet, one would assume that the iDSD would get slaughtered in comparison to a two piece set. However, what makes this review and hobby fun is that, until you something a listen, anything can happen.

I chose a few songs that I thought were different but demanding. However, I wanted to make sure that these songs were not only demanding for the sake of being demanding, but chose a few carefully to highlight different frequency ranges. These pieces included:

· Magic (feat. Nile Rodgers and Brandy) – Mystery Skulls (320 kbps MP3)

· Burning Bright – Riot Games (320 kbps MP3)

· Very Early- Bill Evans (11289 kbps DSD 128/ 5217 kbps FLAC)

· Atlantis (Must Die! Remix) – Popeska (320 kbps MP3)

Since I had the Schiit 2 Uber and Objective 2 combo available on hand, I had used those for direct comparison with the iDSD BL on hand. I utilized an RCA switch and a program called “Audioswitcher” to switch between each source respectively whilst isolating each source from interference from each other by being directly connected.


Treble

The song that put the most emphasis on treble out of the selections I critically listened to was “Burning Bright” by Riot Games and “Very Bright” by the Bill Evans Trio, and is the focus of this section.

Starting off with “Burning Bright”, this song was chosen due to its frequent instrumentally chaotic sections. With bright vocal interludes amid the instrumentals, this piece is often a challenge to be properly presented in a couple of spots. Listening to the iFi unit compared to the JDS Labs offering and the Schiit Modi 2U and O2, the most apparent and definitive differences between them in the treble regions was instrumental separation efficiency. The vocals were cleaner, the instruments were more distinct, and the overall sound was less veiled.

However, when I played Bill Evans… oh… oh man… the reason for why people find the iDSD BL to be a game changer became quite apparent. Although the majority of this song hangs out in the midrange (and stay tuned, since we’ll talk more about this soon), the drums in Bill Evan’s “Very Early” are too perfect to possibly forget mentioning.

Without giving too much of a history lesson, the Bill Evans Trio was a jazz group that were predominant in the 1970s, known particularly for their modal and cool jazz genres. For those unfamiliar with both of these genres, modal jazz is a style that is based off of different “jazz modes”, which is well explained here (http://www.jazzstandards.com/theory/modal-jazz.htm). Cool jazz alternatively is characterized by relaxed tempos and lighter overarching tone, which contrasted the intense and complex bebop style that presided it. But, why does this matter? Understanding the genre, you can understand why it is a very ideal for critical listening. With the simplistic soundscape, the instrumentals are incredibly revealing of the faults of a given sound system. On this track, the differences between the different systems became stark. Looking back on my previous reviews, this type of music was a missed opportunity that won’t be overlooked in the future.

Self-reflection aside, this piece was a fresh slap in the face, showing why the iDSD BL is a crowd favorite. Although the only other DSD device I had available was the HiFiMan Supermini (which the iDSD defiantly trampled), I actually had multiple copies of this piece in varying formats.

For the treble, I focused on the drum kit, particularly the crash and rides. The experience was… fantastic. It was as perfect, no more than perfect, than what you could as for in the given. To be more precise about the experience, a lot of people like to describe the experience of getting nicer headphones as “removing the veiling sheet between the artist and the listener”. Using the iDSD BL, the treble was unforgivingly transparent, and the experience was like upgrading headphones all over again, but on a much more personal level. Instead of things sounding cleaner, the sound was crisp, true, and rolled off more naturally. It was surprising, and I was grinning the way any good surprise makes you do. Sure the EL Stack was good, but it felt less… well… special when compared side to side.


Midrange

I hate to drone on about the same song over and over, but the proverbial “meat” of the Bill Evans piece wasn’t the Treble- no, not remotely. Rather, the focus of this piece was centered around the midrange, with the musings of Bill Evans on the Piano and upper midrange and Eddie Gomez on the Bass covering the lower midrange and bass. In one word, I would describe the iDSD as lush. From Merriam-Webster, the term “lush” means, “appealing to the senses; opulent, sumptuous” or to be characterized by an abundance. I choose this term carefully, as… well, it is hard to describe sound to someone.

However, the iDSD BL has a special way of sounding incredibly wide, luxuriously smooth, and particularly personal. The piano from Bill Evans is fully bodied and clean while Eddy Gomez’s bass fills in the lower registers with equal but subdued presence. The midrange was so sweet that it brought back fond memories of seeing McCoy Tyner live with my father when I was roughly 10 years old. I honestly can’t remember the sound quality of the set that night, but for a fleeting moment I escaped reality and imagined it to sound like what I am hearing now.

Bass

The piece that I used to pay particular attention to bass was “Atlantis (Must Die! Remix)”. This is because this piece is not only busy and aggressive in the low range, but also extends deep into the bass. It’s a piece that I’ve heard too many cheaper, more affordable systems screw up this piece, often getting lost and getting muddy in the lower extremities.

Although the O2+Modi 2U was a surprisingly well handled combo, it was audibly dwarfed by the iDSD alone. The O2 sounded thinner and fatigueingly sharp, whereas the iDSD was significantly more bodied at the lower extremities. Additionally, the iDSD was more pronounced and instrumentation clarity was clearly in favor of the iDSD when compared to the O2+ Modi as well as the JDS EL Stack. It is a treat listening to this song with both the JDS Stack and iDSD. From the various amps I have tried, they are both the first sets at the cheapest cost that provide a bass experience that not only physically shakes my Sennhesier HD 6XX, but does so cleanly and with finesse. I’m not one to encourage going deaf, but with both sets you’ll find yourself hurting your ears before you start criticizing either set for clipping, which can provide for some really entertaining listening sessions.


3D Matrix + and XBass

One of the biggest things that I wish that the JDS EL Stack had that I still haven’t found frequently in many high end DACs or Amplifiers would be the availability of an equalizer, similar to what is available on a lot of the portable Fiio options. Although iFi didn’t exactly provide a full EQ to tamper with, they took a different but similar step with the 3D+ and XBass switches on the device. It’s funny how out of all the million frills that this device has, I am easily the most fond of these two switches. I am a particularly sporadic listener and having the modularity to change the music, no matter how small, is a huge perk to me as a listener compared to the other options out there.

The 3D Matrix + (3D Holographic Sound®) switch is one that, for lack of better description, widens the perceived soundstage of the output without perceived distortion. Reading other reviews, I notice this feature is more often than not overlooked, which is a disservice to this small but wonderful switch. However, it is hard to elaborate when not much information really exists about the finer details of this process. In my experience however, I find the soundstage to be significantly wider, at a cost of a hair of clarity loss.

XBass is a function that adds a mild bump in the lower registers during playback. Though it isn’t the most “mind blowing” or novel feature to be released on a DAC/ AMP, saying that I don’t appreciate it would be an understatement. The execution of this switch is perfect, providing a bump that is noticeable, but never overbearing to my experience. My greatest mistake I think I made in writing this review was my carelessness to neglect getting measurements on the actual differences that this switch makes in playback.

Regardless, listening to music on my 6XX, I found myself keeping both switches toggled on almost all the time. Sure it isn’t a “perfect” reproduction of the mix that made it onto the CD/ WEB based release, but the tuning that these switches provide perfectly satisfy those tiny itches that I’ve longed for that many solutions don’t have to offer. Being able to actively tune older, less bass aggressive pieces to match more modern mixing techniques and tendencies at the flip of a switch is fantastic. However, giving a little cleaner “bump” in the lower registers gives me an experience that I could only imagine the engineers of Beats would dream of. That coupled with the enveloping sound of the 3D Matrix, and I know that I’ll be definitely reminiscing the experience I had till I can get my own iDSD or equivalent offering.


Conclusions

This was easily the most difficult review that I have ever done. Not because it was a product I didn’t like, not because it was a product that I was indecisive about, nor was it a product that didn’t have a lot to talk about. Rather, it was quite the opposite. I have never had the conundrum where I didn’t know which angle to approach a product. But the iDSD BL is a device that does an awful lot, and it does an awful lot well. There was a lot to talk about, but I still think that there is plenty that I missed. Like every product I look at, I recommend getting a second persons option, but with the iDSD BL, even more so. With all the things it can do, I am sure to have missed something, and it is always good to have a second, third, and fourth opinion to weigh in.

Conclusively, I love the EL Stack, and I love my Modi + O2 combo, but using the iDSD was took the listening experience to a new level. Metaphorically, if the O2 or EL Combo was like looking at a beautifully shot professional landscape shot, the iDSD BL was like seeing the scenery in person. Sure, the professional shot is incredible, but there is something inexplicable about seeing a breathtaking view for yourself. Realistically, the differences are minute, but if you are looking at amplifiers in this price bracket, with a little research, you already know that returns on audio quality don’t often scale with price. However, the distinguishing factors between the tested tracks, such as spaciousness and accuracy, made the iDSD BL feel unusually deserving of the stark price difference that these two setups have.

Between the three setups that I had used frequently (Modi 2U+ O2, JDS EL Stack, and iDSD BL), the iDSD was easily my favorite. It had too much to offer on top of its top-notch playback that made it something special. Unfortunately for you as the buyer, iFi has provided so much that something about it will eventually make you consider it. If you get the opportunity at a meetup or at a store, absolutely get a listen, but don’t be surprised if your wallet is $550 weaker when you get home.


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