Ifi Micro IDSD Black Label

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Cellist88, Dec 6, 2016.

  1. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Friend

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    Anyone interested in this unit? While finding alternate solutions to the Mojo and Geekout V2+, I ran across the new version. Ifi has a special way of marketing, but I did like my Ifi Micro Idsd when I had it. With the new OSCON caps, I thought maybe it would be more similar than not to the Sony ZX2. YMMV, but I hope it is an improvement to the original.
     
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  2. Torq

    Torq Retired from SBAF

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    I ordered one of these a couple of days ago and it's supposed to arrive on Tuesday (12/13). I'll probably make a few, light, remarks about it when it shows up and I can give it a quick whirl with my proper cans, but real impressions will probably be a week after that.

    If it's any good, I'm going to toss it on the boat and use it there; if not, well, I'm not sure where I'll toss it.

    [This thread probably belongs in the "Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units" forum.]
     
  3. loplop

    loplop Acquaintance

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    I got one a few days ago; Funny enough I intend to run it with my ZX2 when I want to drive LCD's, will keep you posted on sound vs ZX2 as it settles in.

    Initial impressions are that it sounds nothing like the ZX2 itself. Generally a deeper, more coherent but less wide stage, more detail, a bit "wet" sounding, with a generally more precise but thinner presentation. The Sony took some time to develop it's character, so I'll reserve final judgment until I have some mileage and close listening on it.
     
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  4. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Friend

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    Looking forward to some more impressions. Thx Loplop...that was actually the comparison I was looking for as I am thinking of going for a transportable setup now instead of going full dap ><. I unfortunately ordered an alo cdm before i found out about the BL, so was curious! might grab one of these just to hear the differences from the original.
     
  5. loplop

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    Will keep you posted as it develops!

    I don't think an ALO CDM is an unfortunate move, to be honest. I'd expect it to sound rather different.

    I'm pondering a tube transportable (as an addition), myself. Woo WA8, ALO CDM, or maybe A2P... I think the sound would be rather complimentary.
     
  6. Torq

    Torq Retired from SBAF

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    Well, it made it ... so now it's charging ahead of some very high-level impressions and then, when I get done with the other amp comparison I'm wrapping up I'll come back and say a bit more about it ... which will, of course, include comparisons with Chord's Mojo and some other bits and bobs. For now ...

    iFi Micro iDSD BL.jpg
     
  7. Dash

    Dash Facebook Friend

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    I like the black, but I am not crazy about the orange.
     
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016
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  8. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Friend

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    Looking forward to those impressions torq! Judging from memory of the 8 months i used the ifi idsd, it should be good, though I don't think it is close to my new alo cdm. I just hope all their little tweaks lead to a less brittle sound from the amp, esp in the treble. I did like that the unit had a nice meaty sound.
     
  9. loplop

    loplop Acquaintance

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    Just hit 100 hours on mine. Still plan on running it in over the next few weeks before final conclusions.

    I can say that it sounds nothing like the ZX2... As in, there's nothing about the sonic signature that sounds alike to the ZX2 itself, Cellist88. If you like the ZX2, you may not like the iDSD BL (and vise-versa).

    Would love to hear that ALO CDM myself, BTW :) I haven't decided which tube unit I'm going with... Just can't make up my mind.
     
  10. Dino

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    I could picture @Torq passing these out at Halloween.
     
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  11. Torq

    Torq Retired from SBAF

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    Finally got to spend a little time listening to the Black Label (I've been focusing on the Jotunheim ... more about which, I expect, tomorrow). I'm listening pretty much fresh out of the box/off it's first charge. I don't really do the "burn-in" thing, so take that for what it's worth - but I will leave it playing before I post any formal impressions or comparisons. Everything here-in is just off-the-cuff, literal-first-impression with a few minor comparisons where they really stand out.

    Don't be surprised if my impressions change with more critical listening, a broader array of music, and more ability to focus rather than just doing a hit-and-run on the thing.

    TL;DR Version First:

    I like it, and it's quite a fun listen. It's initially impressive. I bought it on a whim, with no "audition", but I can see it getting quite a bit of use. It's quite "exciting", with meaningful bass (certainly more "turgid" than Mojo) and decent air/space. Treble can be a bit excitable in places, but so far it's not troublesome. It has more than enough power for serious headphones. It's got quite a few "adjustments" some of which are more interesting/obvious in their effects than others.

    Quick, gratuitous, and not-very-good picture to hint at what's to come:

    Three.jpg

    (From left to right: Chord Mojo, iFi Micro iDSD, HeadRoom Supreme* ... 4x AA "Duracell Killer Edition"**)

    For static/desktop use I'd opt for a Modi MB/Jotunheim without question, and I say that on the basis of spending most of the day with the Jotunheim combined with various DACs, but it's initially impressive all the same and, of course, it's portable. You could stack it, though it's a little large for that (about twice the size of the Mojo and almost double the weight). It behaves better, and is easier to integrate into a desktop scenario than Mojo.

    Slightly More Detailed Version:

    As just stated, I've spent most of the day with the Jotunheim (w/ Modi MB, Bifrost MB and Yggdrasil), so comparisons to that fall out of this quite readily. And I would say, probably not-at-all-unexpectedly, if you are looking for something for static, desktop, use, he Modi MB/Jotunheim combination is hard to beat. Certainly that combo is ahead of this unit, albeit also $100 more expensive.

    That caveat aside ...

    Both high and low-frequency extension is noticeably better than the Mojo; the Chord unit always comes across to me as being slightly rolled-off at both extremes (especially with IEMs). Bass here hits harder and plays deeper. Treble is a little splashy/excitable compared to the Mojo, but then Mojo is always seems a bit laid back. While not a big "believer" in burn-in, treble is one area I have heard, in the past, calm down a little from first-use. I've not listened long enough to know if this will be fatiguing, or just exciting (which is how it sounds right now). And I've no idea, yet, if that's down to the DAC section or the amp (or both). I'm just running it as a combined DAC/amp for now. The iFi unit exhibits better air/space at the top-end compared to Mojo.

    Dynamics are solid, and micro-dynamics are quite good ... was particularly noticeable in Cohen's "Show me the Place". Control and precision don't seem to be at issue here, even with my bigger cans. Assessing detail and resolution will require more serious listening, but I don't hear anything that gives me pause or concern so far.

    I suspect a slightly U-shaped FR curve here, but I've not measured it and couldn't say, if this is the case, again, whether it was down to the DAC or amp.

    Turning on the X-Bass feature ... well, it makes the lowest registers more prominent. Shocking, I know. I don't think they really need that, but that'll depend on what headphones you're running with it. With the LCD-4 and Abyss it seemed to muddy things up a bit in the mid/upper bass, but was quite fun with the right music. Personally, at least based on what I've heard so far, I wouldn't worry about this as it's not exactly lacking in bottom-end drive with this feature turned off. I expect I'll never engage X-Bass beyond the initial experimentation.

    The 3D+ function, which is something like a marriage between cross-feed and a stage-expander has a very varied effect. Into the Utopia, which has a very compressed stage compared to, say the HD800S or Abyss, it generally just made things seem brighter. Occasional tracks would seem a bit wider and more diffuse, and sometimes would project forwards. There was some sense of depth, but it was essentially "stuff that's on my nose, stuff that's a bit off my nose", with no layering in between. Take this with a grain of salt - proper stage impressions require putting it into my speaker rig. With the HD800S the stage did noticeably widen, though depth effects, while more exaggerated, were still very simple and comparatively shallow.

    *My first experience with cross-feed came with the HeadRoom Supreme, which I think is the 2nd edition, but was bought back in 1995 (I think, maybe '96), and I still have. With that unit the "Audio Image Processor" definitely helped with the "three blob" effect, and made protracted listening a lot less fatiguing. Too early to say if the 3D+ function on the iFi will achieve the same thing.

    There's AMPLE power in this thing. It's having no trouble driving my LCD-4 or Abyss with entirely suitable authority. That's something Mojo clearly cannot do - gets decent volume but just doesn't have the grunt to be convincing. That said, I found the same with both the Hugo TT and the DAVE, so it's not really surprising.

    Anyway, those are some first impressions - reasons to be optimistic ... but the potential for concern, at least in the treble, as well ... just too early to say. And there's lots more to explore, including variances between inputs (just have it running off USB for now ... yes, I know, the HORROR ...), but I like it this far. It's already clearly more suitable for driving serious cans than the Mojo, doesn't seem nearly as sensitive to the quality of it's USB input and isn't getting all pissed off at every last bit of EMI/RF, and has obviously better extension.

    For the first time, I find myself wondering how one of the LH GO2 units would compare (on sound, not power).

    So, until, I get done with my iFi Pro iCAN and Jotunheim write-ups (and a "surprise" comparison), that's it on the Black Label for me. Probably sometime next week before I can do more with it. But, before I wrap this up ... here's a better idea of the relative sizes of these units (and an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red) ... all of which I'll compare in my "proper" write up:

    Four.jpg

    Oh ... and everything I've tried so far has been Redbook 16/44.1 KHz PCM ... I'll piddle with DSD etc. later on.

    ---

    **This thing will literally eat four new AA Duracell's (which fit internally) in under an hour just driving the classic Etymotic ER4-S.

    (I used to travel with the Headroom Supreme, a Panasonic CD-player, the Etymotic's, all in a "HeadRoom" custom bag for it all, and a big 4-D Cell battery pack tucked into the side ... which was good for maybe 20 hours). It was a really well designed system ... and while a bit big and heavy, it was actually less buggering around than trying to fire up a Mojo off an iPhone today. Of course, you could only fit a 20-CD case in that bag, but still ... it was state of the art at the time!)
     
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  12. Ice-man

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    I owned the original idsd and thought it was quite decent. It's a little cumbersome as a true portable but great as transportable and very at home on the desktop. 3d sound never worked for me but the bass boost I found fairly well done and I used it often.

    I'd be interested in more opinion on the old vs new version. I could see myself picking this one up in the future. If you find that you hate it, pm me. ;)
     
  13. loplop

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    Nicely structured initial thoughts, Torq. I'm not hearing anything contradictory.

    A few thoughts:
    1. The treble will settle with time. It will still bite if the recording is poor, but somewhere around 50-65 hours mine lost the splashy sensation in the treble. It is quite extended, and so far (I'm ~100 hours in) it still doesn't have the weight of the best, but it is satisfyingly good now.
    2. The XBass and 3D switches are, IMO, not solely dependent upon DACAmp/Headphone synergy. I find them very recording dependent, to be honest. I encourage you to flip them and find the best setting per album--I've found some combinations that really surprised me with more insight and musical enjoyment.
    3. The 3D switch does, sadly, boost the treble somewhat. Thus, it's only useful on recordings without already-hot or splashy treble. That said, per #2, it can sometimes be really enjoyable.
    4. Try the 3D switch through a traditional loudspeaker-based hifi. It's a different implementation when feeding RCA's vs. headphone jack, and assumes you are using loudspeakers. With the caveat of #2 being recording dependent, I have found this to be extraordinary on a few recordings.
    5. I think the amp is fairly uncolored; I tried it line in, and it allows the sound of the source to dominate, and doesn't add any treble spotlighting
    6. IMO this thing needs to be listened to on battery. I found some odd hash/grain/splash when running off USB power. Luckily, you can do this no matter the source: before connecting USB, turn on the iDSD BL and wait until the green light blinks. Then connect USB. In this mode, it's running off battery and only allowing a sight trickle charge to the internal battery. Although ifi says you will run down the battery doing this, I ran my LCD2's continuously on "normal" (not eco) for a few days during burn in and it never died on me or hit low battery.
    7. When doing #6, Once you stop the music, leave the switch ON and it will go into sleep mode in 3 mins and then start charging the iDSD. It will stop at 80% charge in this mode to maximize battery life. If you're using a portable DAP to feed it, or a source without USB power, no problem; just unplug your DAP, plug in a USB cable attached to power, and wait 3 mins.

    Thanks for your detailed thoughts. Hope I was able to add some useful info. I'm likely not going to get to >250 hours or so (the time it reportedly takes OSCONs to "break in) until after the holidays, so I'm still reserving final thoughts for another day...
     
  14. eastboundofnowhere

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    Thanks for the impressions guys. Really interesting swiss army knife approach here. If anyone has listened with sensitive iems, specifically the Andromeda, how is the hiss? I have saved up for a zx2 but after being burned, again, and again, and again on high end daps can't make myself pull the trigger on one. With this I could just do digital out from something when I want to use iems and leave it hooked up to the xbox for movies/tv on speakers other times.
     
  15. Cellist88

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    you can read twister6's review on the andromeda where at the end of the review, he pairs it with the original idsd with iematch engaged. For the andros, I can say confindetly that zx2 is a beautiful match....just only problem is there is a hiss in the background that you can hear even while playing music for me. There is more hiss if you use the TRRS too....so if you are very hiss prone, you might get annoyed with the ZX2. Only reason I sold my ZX2 to a fellow Sbaf er :)
     
  16. eastboundofnowhere

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    Screw it. Ordered one and an IEMatch so I can compare it with the other amps I have sitting around on an even playing field so to speak. Really, really need to do a massive gear purge after this. Kind of counterintuitive buying decision I guess but I am curious.
     
  17. SHAWN P. WATSON

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    I agree with loplop on his point #6. I had forgot that I had done hours of auditioning drawing power off the USB. Once I remembered to run it of battery, whoa! The bass firmed up beautifully and everything smoothed out for a very enjoyable listen. The X-Bass and the 3D+ are very subtle and content-dependant as loplop said. I find they are very useful and far more than a gimmick. One other thing I thought I heard was that setting the power mode to "Normal" actually produced a very nice, stable, sound stage. But when the power mode was turned to "Turbo" the sound stage was not as stable although it still sounded good. I'll have to do more listening to confirm.

    Compared to my GO2A, the iDSD has more air, spaciousness, body, and smoothness, all the way around, but in all fairness the GO2A is not battery powered. What I'm wondering now is how good the GO2A would sound with iFi's Mercury USB Cable and iPurifier 2?
     
  18. Torq

    Torq Retired from SBAF

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    I'd agree with both of you here ... and I've been listening on battery power rather than USB. Tried it with USB power last night and it didn't take much before I wanted to switch back to the battery. I will note that this thing seems rather less sensitive to a less-than-wonderful USB source (MacBook Retina, w/ USB-C to A dongle) than the Mojo. Either way, fortunately battery life is good, and it's pretty well behaved when it comes to charging.

    Treble is settling down a little (unattended burn-in), but I'd still describe it as a bit splashy. Definitely more extended and with better air than Mojo, though.

    Minor issues so far ...
    1. The turn-on/off point on the volume control doesn't have much resistance, and it's very easy to accidentally turn the thing off when you're really just trying to turn it down. And then if you turn it back on again, without disconnecting it, it'll switch to USB power mode.
    2. Channel balance at low volume isn't great. Not uncommon with any pot, but it's off more than I'm used to even with portable amplifiers (my old RSA Intruder and ALO Audio Int+ OE were never noticeably problematic here). With the TH-X00 it's extremely noticeable until about 11 o'clock on the volume dial. "Eco" mode helps, but "Normal" sounds better ...
     
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  19. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Friend

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    The usb is better because it has an IFI purifier built into the unit already. :)
     
  20. gixxerwimp

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    My original iDSD is basically my home DAC/amp as I don't have a dedicated listening space and move between desktop (PC), living room and bedroom (iPad). I generally do all my listening off of the battery and just have to remember to charge it every now and then. I would also love to hear a direct comparison between the original and the Black. AFAIK they stuck in a few "better" more expensive parts and tweaked a few things that are only spoken of vaguely in fighter pilot speak. I'd be surprised if a person with average listening abilities (like me) could hear a difference. Never use 3D. Just goes bright and weird.

    I occasionally use XBass to bring out the sub-bass and find the effect fairly subtle. According to ClieOS's measurements on HF, it's +1dB at 90Hz and ramps up from there. Lots of people complained that it didn't make any difference. I think iFi mentioned that XBass was tweaked slightly so the boost curve may be different from the original.

    I haven't kept up with the firmware revisions, but iFi released several "flavours" a while back to suit different usage models. Some people running solely off portable devices wanted it to NEVER draw power, even in sleep mode. I asked iFi if there would be any sonic benefits to upgrading firmware and they replied, "Sorry cant divuge the inner workings as others are watching." Not sure what version firmware Black is running.

    Edit: Here's the micro iDSD firmware download page. I'm still on 4.10. http://ifi-audio.com/micro-idsd-ifi-xmos-firmware/

    I listened to the Andromeda with the iDSD at both Normal and Eco power with iEMatch set to High and couldn't hear any hiss in a fairly noisy meet environment. It's been a while since I plugged my ER4Ps into it, but I've never noticed any hiss

    I think the iEMatch built into the iDSD and the standalone unit are slightly different but should be close enough for a slightly lumpy playing field comparison. Sorry, can't remember where I read this.

    The channel balance on my unit is pretty good after about 9:30.

    I usually listen with my HD650Ms at Normal and iEMatch set to High. I agree that with power set to Eco, it doesn't sound as good. For me, it isn't quite as punchy. I can't hear any difference between iEMatch set to Off and High, but on Ultra, things sound a bit dead/dampened.

    I listen to FLAC 44.1Hz rips and set the filter to "Bit-Perfect". There's a very subtle difference in the high end roll off (which ClieOS also measured) and this takes a bit of the edge off the treble. Note that with PCM it's a digital filter, but with DSD it's an analogue filter which has a much more pronounced roll off.

    BTW, I just noticed the original iDSD is on Amazon for $379.99 (SBAF referral embedded into link).
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2016

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