iFi is a brand new line of electronics that is build with tricked down technology from their parent company Abbingdon Music Research (AMR). They released many products like the Nano and Micro; most of which are small form factors that gets the job done with great performance. The iFi Nano iDSD had already taken the world by storm and set the benchmark of what a DAC/Amp can do in the under $500 category. With its slightly larger form factor, the new iFi Micro iDSD shown significant improvements from its predecessor Nano with only minor price difference.
iFi Micro iDSD
The iFi Micro iDSD is like a Swiss army knife that is able to do much more than their smaller Nano or even any other products offered in their product line. It features a DAC that supports sampling rates so high that its maximum acceptable resolution is at a scale that no music are currently available in that format. In PCM, it supports up to 32/768khz streams and for DSD, it supports up to DSD512. As the market progresses to demand for more higher sample rates for DSD and PCM, its DAC capability would really show its longevity in terms of future proofing its sampling support. For the inputs, it uses an asynchronous USB input as well as a coaxial input (up to 24/192 in PCM) for use with CD transports etc. Android and Apple devices are also supported and it runs by an OTG connection with the camera linking kit respectively. At the heart of this device, it runs on dual Burr Brown chips in dual differential mode with custom interleaving to reduce the noise floor of the DAC. For the clock, it uses a low jitter GMT computer controlled Femto clock that has a jitter at an impressive measurement of <280 femtoseconds. Recently, there have been many mods for ESS Sabre DACs for use with a Femto clock and though its measurement may look minuscule; a good clock does have a positive impact in sound quality. It’s a really good thing that manufacturers like iFi are starting to up their game and implementing better technology, making for stiffer competition amongst similar or higher priced DACs. As for the headphone amp section, it has three selectable gains. In Turbo mode, it is able to output 10v/4000mw @ 16ohms, which is a staggering load of power considering its size! As for Normal and Eco mode it outputs at 5.5v/1900mW @ 16ohms and 2.0v/500mw @ 16ohms respectively. Another important aspect is its build in battery supply, making it both a portable and desktop amplifier. The iFi Micro iDSD also supports either line out as a DAC or can act as a isolated preamp.
Unboxing of the iFi Micro iDSD
It is a great thing that manufacturers provide many accessories to make this easier for consumers, whether if you are trying to find an adaptor or using an Amp band to bundle with their Android or Apple products etc. Inside the box, it includes:
1) A travel pouch for the Micro iDSD
2) An Instruction manual
3) A 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect for use with mobile device, using the amp section of the iDSD
4) Two units of silicone bands
5) A 90 degrees Type A to female A USB connector
6) A USB Female Type A to female Type B connector
7) A pair of RCA interconnects
8) Four units of rubber feet
9) A 3.5mm to 6.3mm jack converter
10) A Mini Toslink to Toslink adaptor to be plugged from the front 3.5mm input
11) USB Female Type A to female Type B connector
12) USB 3.0 Female Type A to Male Type A
Listening Impressions of the DAC section
Fresh out of the box, my general impressions of the iFi Micro iDSD sounded overly warm and lacking detail for most music. As for most equipment, burn in period is usually required for the equipment to sound at its best. After 100 hours of burn in, the sound of the DAC really startled me. Listening to “The Four Seasons Winter Concerto in F minor, op. 8 no. 4, RV 297 I. Allegro” (Naxos)(24/96khz), the iFi Micro iDSD became less warm and delivered more detailed presentation. Instrument separation was pretty decent with space between instruments, with a slight hint of congestion in more complex passages, though I feel that some people take it as a more coherent sound. On its treble, the instruments were lacking in depth on its airiness extension. This was also reflected on Bianca Wu’s “Jazz Them Up” album, track “你是我的女人”(16/44.1khz), the vocals sounded thick and lacking the treble extension.
Listening to poor recording like Imagine “Dragon’s Demons” (16/44.1khz), the iFi Micro iDSD is so forgiving that it compensated the grainy quality and made mediocre recording relatively good to listen without fatigue. On to the electronic dance music like Martin Garrix “Animals”(16/44.1khz), The bass was very detailed with distinctive layering. PRaT was very good as the DAC was able to keep up with the music without any transient smearing or muddiness. The iFi Micro iDSD presents fast electronic music with great punch and dynamics that kept my fingers tapping along with the rhythmic beats. While playing back in DSD, the general sound signature of the DAC still retained with a more natural midrange to upper midrange region. Filter wise, there wasn’t much change to the sound to me whether used in DSD or PCM mode. Compared to a similarly priced DAC like the Matrix Mini-I Pro, the Mini-I Pro had better extension towards the treble region with a leaner midrange on instruments and vocal. However, prolong listening of the Matrix Mini-I Pro can create fatigued due to a more detailed and extended treble region.
Listening Impressions of the Headphone Amplifier section
The sound of the headphone amp was generally on the more energetic and brighter side. Using the same music as before, the tonality becomes more natural with a lift of veil from the midrange to upper midrange region. Upon using it just as a headphone amplifier through its analog inputs, it demonstrated a more dynamic, engaging and even brighter signature than using it together with the DAC section. In my opinion, iFi must have built this product to be used as a whole for the overall implementation in your music playback to get the optimum presentation.
When pairing with my sensitive Heir Audio 4a universals in ear monitors with the switch set to Eco mode and iEMatch setting at ultra sensitive, I received a very dark background with complete absence of hiss. The sound I am able to get with this in ear monitor was very effortless and transparent. Pairing it with HD800 requires a slightly higher gain and again the headphone amplifier powers it with no issues, though there is a hint off grain at the treble section and overall not as refined compared to the likes of HiFiMAN EF6 or Musical Fidelity M1 HPA. Next I tried using this headphone amplifier to power with the very inefficient HiFiMAN HE-6, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a very high volume output, much efficient than the HiFiMAN EF6 or other speaker Amps.
IFi has really stepped up their game in the past few years and is able to deliver a product that is so versatile, being able to playback any files currently in the market and has a very powerful headphone amplifier that even powered up the very inefficient HiFiMAN HE-6. At this price point, it is a really an excellent performer in both the headphone amplifier and the DAC section. If you are just starting out on audio or require a spare portable Amp and DAC combination, this is one of the best ones currently available in the market.
Associated Equipment during review:
Matrix-M stage, HiFiMAN EF-6, Musical Fidelity M1 HPA, DIY lovely cube, Objective 2 amplifier
Digital to analog converters:
Teac UD-501, L.K.S Audio Dual ESS9018, Objective DAC, Matrix Mini I-Pro
Sennheisser HD800 with 27awg silver OCC cables, Sennheisser HD600 with Cardas headphone cable, Fostex T50rp mod with Shure SR-840 pads, Beyerdynamic DT880 600ohm
DIY Furutech power cords with Wattgate connectors, Acrolink P4030 with Oyaide Rhodium plugs, PS Audio AC12, Oyaide Tsunami with Furutech and Cardas rhodium connectors.
USB cables: Vertere double d-fi, iFi Gemini
Goertz audio Micropurl interconnect, QED signature audio interconnect, Audioquest Sky interconnects, Kimber Kable KCAG, Neotech copper XLR interconnects
Kimber Kable 12TC
Preamp: Emotiva XSP-1
Power Amp: Emotiva XPA-1 x2
Loudspeaker and subwoofer: Focal Electra 1027Be, REL B1