Headphones: RHA T10, T20, AKG K7XX, LCD-2f, Momentum, RE-400, HD-650
From Röyksopp to Amber Rubarth, Diana Krall to Apoptygma Berzerk, Tom Jones to Sphongle, Yello to Camouflage, mostly FLACs 24/96 or 16/44.1 – some mp3 320kbps, some AAC 256kbps
Depending on headphone high or low gain – no EQ
Disclaimer: samma3a.com provided me with a demo unit of the iFi iDSD micro. I am not affiliated with iFi/AMR or Samma3a.com Though I really highly appreciate what samma3a is doing for the audiophiles in the region!! Thank you so much for letting me test and review this player.
I ended up buying one right when I had to return my demo unit.
iFi iDSD micro on top of this stack
- Most powerful portable DAC/Amp
- impeccable sound quality
- drives EVERYthing (thanks to IEM switch and gain control)
- feature fest, PACKED with features
- punches way above it’s price range
- might be all you ever need
- superior build
- slight imbalance in very low volumes
Simply put: The most feature rich and best sounding portable DAC/Amp. Value for money is incredible. It can even replace desktop systems.
Now, the longer version:
Packaging & Accessories
How do these companies pack so much in such a small package.
Inside the package you will find:
- iFi iDSD micro
- 1m USB cable to connect to PC/Mac
- small 3.5mm connector cable for the 3.5mm input
- 2 USB adapters for use of normal USB cables
- rubber feet
- optical adapter from TOSLINK to 3.5mm optical
- RCA connection cable for use as DAC/Preamp
- carrying pouch
- rubber bands to secure your DAP on the iDSD
- silicon pad to put between the iDSD and the DAP so no scratches will occur
- 6.35mm to 3.5mm headphone adapter
DAC Chip: Dual (2x) BurrBrown 1793 (custom interleaving applied); Ultra low jitter Femto clock
Turbo mode: (10.0V max) 4000 mW @ 16 Ohm; 1560 mW @ 64 Ohm
Normal mode: (5.5V max) 1900 mW @ 16 Ohm; 950 mW @ 32 Ohm
Eco mode: (2.0V max) 500 mW @ 8 Ohm; 250 mW @ 16 Ohm
Output impedance: smaller than 1 Ohm
Dynamic Range: > 115 dB
DSD 512/256/128/64 (24.6/22.6/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8Mhz)
DXD 2x/1x (768/705.6/384/352.8kHz)
Filters – user selectable:
Bitrperfect, Minimum Phase, Standard
Power modes: Eco, Standard, Turbo
Polarity: +/- (+ = standard polarity)
iEMatch(R)= Off, High Sensitivity, Ultra Sensitivity
USB 2.0 Type A (with build in power purifier), works with MacOS, Windows and Linux)
Support for Android OTG and iOS for iOS7 and above (Camera Connection kit plugs right in)
S/PDIF – COAX and optical in (supports 24bit/192kHz max)
3.5mm analog input
S/PDIF: COAX out
RCA: line out or variable output for pre-amp functionality
Headphone out: 6.35mm with adapter to 3.5mm
The iDSD has an extra USB port to charge your USB devices.
X-Bass: Boost subbass and bass
3D Holographic sound: creates a larger soundstage, different effects for headphones and line out used
Usability and Build Quality
The iDSD has a plethora of switches and port. Let’s take a virtual walk around the device:
Volume and on/off switch
Pretty self explanatory, turn the dial past the initial resistance and it switches on, the more you turn the dial to the right, the higher the volume.
3D Holographic Sound switch
Flipping this switch opens up the soundstage supposedly and creates a larger out-of-your-head experience. It applies different circuitry if used with headphone-out or with the RCA out. All of it is done in the analog domain, so no bits are changed. It works better with certain genres, sometimes I liked it a lo and sometimes I couldn’t be bothered with this switch and function. A nice to have for me, not more.
Who doesn’t want extra bass. Not that you would need it with the iDSD but here it is. Actually it’s a bit different from other DAPs bass boosts. It really boosts down low, very low. Not the typical mid bass boost you usually get. Depending on the headphones you use, you might not even hear it, but with the iDSD on a stereo system with a subwoofer, you will feel it.
Standard, Minimum Phase and Bit-Perfect this switch has different functions based on the source material. When listening to normal music in PCM format (basically everything except DSD) then Bit-Perfect is the switch position to be in except when making measurements, then standard should be selected according to the manual.
The Minimum Phase filter is reducing unwanted pre- and post-ringing of the digital signal, producing a more natural sound. When using DSD then the filter is Extreme, Extended and Standard range, when using DXD the filter is fixed on bit-perfect analogue filter. In short, just play with them and use what sounds best for your ears, I personally leave it off most of the time and sometimes use bit-perfect.
This changes the signal polarity, I have no idea what it does. Only works with digital signal – apparently some people like to switch from + (normal) to – as the polarity can sometimes be reversed during recordings.
Power Mode switch
This is where the magic happens, Eco, Normal and Turbo are the switches here is how to find the optimal setting for you:
as above, use if volume too loud for certain in-ear headphones.
USB Digital input (and iOS connector and Android OTG port)
This is indeed a pretty amazing connector. High-Speed Asynchronous USB 2.0 (32bit/768kHz) is what it can take in. iFi was very smart designing it in a reverse USB port. That way, if you have an iPhone or iPod you can use the Camera Connection Kit (or now called: Lightning to USB Camera Adapter) with that cable you can use the iPhone as the transport and let the iFi do the DAC and Amping.
Together with the Onkyo HF player you can play FLAC files from your iPhone. Apparently you can do the same with an Android phone but I am not the expert in that, OTG USB should work as well.
This USB port has as well the iPurifier technology build in that ensures that the electrical noise that can be transferred via USB (from your PC and all the wizzbangery that goes on inside it, as well as from the power lines) is cleaned as much as possible, resulting in a better sound.
Standard RCA left/right connectors to connect the iFi to a separate amp or music system.
Output switch (Direct/Pre-Amp)
The RCA output can either be with a fixed volume output or can be used as a pre-amp if you have an amp without volume control. Very nifty function.
COAX in/Out and Optical Input combo port
Another VERY smart connector from iFi. You can either use this to connect a digital COAX S/PDIF cable or a standard TOSLINK optical digital cable via the included TOSLINK to 3.5mm adapter.
Smart Power Charging USB port
With this USB port you can charge any USB device directly from the iDSD’s build in battery.
Rock solid. The micro is a gorgeous piece of engineering. It feels lovely to the touch, the material does not keep any fingerprints, feels like a tank, indestructible. iFi made all their products follow the same design and they sell a small stacking rack so you can pile them up nicely on your desk when not used on the go. You really get the premium feeling while handling this device. It feels expensive, more expensive than it is.
Sound Quality Comparisons:
The holographic and realistic rendering of the music just blew me away. To be honest, I have never heard any sound quality like this, maybe a Hifiman 901 portable player with a balanced amp board comes close but then, this setup will cost of course 3 or 4 times as much as the iDSD. The first few minutes listening to this little thing, I spend in disbelieve. Especially as I just paid moa lot on a desktop amp/DAC combo that the iDSD blows out of the water. Seriously.
The first thing you realize is that you can adjust the iDSD to exactly your needs. Basic understanding of impedance and power requirements helps, but even if you never heard about it, iFi provides you with a couple of easy rules to reach the best probable settings super fast.
DAC, RCA, Line Out & Digital In&Out (COAX)
Using the micro as a DAC only shows it’s dual DAC prowess. The wizards at iFi put in two Burr Brown 1793 DACs from Texas Instruments. They deliver such a nice, separated and detailed sound without ever sounding harsh or sibilant.
You can basically connect the iDSD to anything via RCA. It can also function as a USB to optical converter if you so wish. The use of a dual chip DAC reduces the noise level by 3dB. This is a lot in terms of noise and helps making the iDSD one of the quietest portable (background noise) amps and DACs.
DAC use on a Computer
Glorious. I use a Mac and as with most quality gear, it’s not using any drivers. You just plug it in and use all its features right until true native PCM768, duh. It also understands DSD512 and 2x DXD not sure I will ever have any files that have that resolution.
So once you connect the iDSD to your PC or Mac the little status LED lights up and shows you with its color which resolution the PC/Mac is feeding into the micro. If you switched on your iDSD before connecting the PC/Mac won’t charge the battery, of you switch it on after connecting it, the battery will be charged.
Using the iFi iDSD micro is a revelation to me. I can have the quality of a full desktop audio stack in this small chocolate bar sized piece of machinery. Amazing. I can now go to the office and have my full audio setup with me. No more deciding which amp/DAC to leave in the office and which to use at home. It’s a game changer for me.
Conclusion & Headphone pairing
This amazing device even made my “problem” in ears, the UE900s sound amazing. No other of my players and amps has ever managed this. Am glad I didn’t give them away as I can suddenly appreciate their 4 driver balanced armature goodness…. Thanks to the iFi.
I tried many headphones on the iFi, throwing more and more harder and harder to drive headphone to it, and surprisingly it handled them all with ease. In-ears are driven with such an authority that I don’t want to listen to any other amp anymore with them (tested with RHA 750, T20, Ultimate Ears UE900S, JVC HA-FX850).
The larger headphones are driven mostly with similar playfulness. The Sennheiser HD-650 unfolds his magical midrange that makes this headphone so special. The Hifiman HE-560 which is as well quite hard to drive, sings with it and delivers beautiful bass and excellent highs. The Audeze LCD2 sounds lush and full, while the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90 with 600 and 250 Ohms are driven nice and with full bass impact.
Run, don’t walk to samma3a.com and order it from there. Especially since the retail price here in the GCC is LESS than the price in the US – we get a great deal here, yiipppieee.
For 2099 Dirhams this technological marvel is a steal.
THANKS to www.samma3a.com and @Mazen4samma3a for the review loaner! I am happy to report that I instantly purchased one after having to return the demo unit. I couldn’t be happier with my purchase.