As they describe themselves “iFi is a brand new line of electronics with trickle-down technology licensed from AMR and aimed primarily at the future, Computer Audio generation. All iFi products boast Class A analogue circuitry with no DSP and the signal stays ‘Bit Perfect’ throughout.”
They crowd design devices as they did on iDSD Micro. They ask to the end-user before making them so they could know what the user would need the most. They are also a very nice company. If you ask a question, they’ll answer almost instantly. If you need anything, they’ll provide. I can’t imagine Etymotic or Astell&Kern doing something like that.
Box Contents | Accessories
iDSD comes with a well designed, elegant cardboard box. I don’t know if you pay attention to these things but the font is well chosen but the big red “Octa DSD512” sticker in front of the box, to be honest, it looks like “cheap marketing” I don’t know if it is the right term. It literally kills the elegance.
- 1x Blue male USB to female USB cable (1 meter) to connect iDSD to a PC.
- 1x Male 3.5mm to male 3.5mm (15 cm) interconnect cable to use iDSD as an amplifier.
- 1x Purple male RCA to RCA cable. (50 cm)
- 1x Female USB Type B to Female USB Type A converter “cable” to connect iDSD to a PC with a audiophile grade USB Type B cable.
- 1x Female USB Type B to Female USB Type A converter “dongle” to connect iDSD to a PC with a audiophile grade USB Type B cable.
- 1x iFi branded, velvety carrying pouch.
- 2x Silicone bands to attach iDSD to a phone.
- 1x Silicone piece that protects your phone when you attach your phone to iDSD.
- 1x Female 3.5mm to male 6.3mm connector.
Accessories are very rich. iFi thought of everything but I am not sure about one thing. Why do we need two female USB Type B to male USB Type A connectors? An Android OTG cable would cost the same and it could be much more useful to the user. Anyways, I must congratulate iFi for thinking and including the accessories like no company ever does.
The photograph below doesn’t have the blue USB cable and the velvet pouch as I don’t have them with me right now.
Design | Build
The device itself is big but not so heavy. If you are carrying a phone that is bigger than 5.2”, pairing it with iDSD won’t be a problem because they are almost the same size but does not have the same thickness. Its thickness is four times bigger compared to my phone. (Sony Z2)
Most of the people consider iFi products as transportable, not portable but when you include it in your daily rig and get used to it, it does not cause major problems to you while carrying. I’m walking almost 10km with it in a daily basis since I bought it and I haven’t had any problems.
I think iDSD is very good looking. It’s fully aluminum and does not have any loose part which makes it very durable. Its side and bottom switches feel like good quality rubber, Xbass and
3D switches are metal just like the chassis.
The sound signature of a headphone requires tons of describing and metaphors whereas DACs or DAC/Amps requires very less because they generally alter the signature as a whole, not parts. iDSD Micro has a 2 Burr Brown tuned DAC inside. It has a mid-forward but more reference kind of signature in the treble region, with a very soft and smooth bass response.
Sound Quality | Resolution | Hiss | Volume Knob
I consider iDSD’s sound quality in few parts because it is not a DAP. This is a DAC/AMP we are talking about. It can be connected to different devices with different modes.
So I’ll be starting from the best to worse.
With an Android or IOS Phone and a good quality Linux PC on Battery mode, iDSD’s resolution is one of the best there is. When you switch to something more expensive and advanced, the difference in resolution isn’t day & night. Every shade of the tones are clear and well-defined. There is no audible hiss even with very sensitive monitors.
With a Mac and a Linux PC on USB Power mode, iDSD’s resolution and everything is still the same but in very high volumes, with a very sensitive headphone, you can feel a difference in sound whereas Battery mode has a slightly better, blacker background.
With a Windows PC on USB Power mode, iDSD still has everything intact but the difference I am talking about is more audible with sensitive monitors.
The volume knob is an analog kind, not digital so it makes a little channel imbalance between %0-30, and when you turn the knob, with sensitive monitors you can hear crackling between %20-40 but these things harm no one. You won’t listen less than %35-40 volume in ECO Mode anyway.
Also iDSD does not cherry-pick recordings!
Soundstage | Separation
iDSD has a wide soundstage and it gets even wider with the 3D switch I’ve talked about on its section.
iDSD’s separation is its weakest point compared to more expensive systems. I’m not saying that the separation is bad, I’m just saying everything iDSD gives is beyond its price range, except its separation. Its separation has nothing special but it is good for the price.
XBass & 3D
XBass, is a bass enhancer like its name indicates, obviously. After a few experiment, it is easy to say that it only works with sensitive in-ear monitors and the change isn’t too dramatic as well. It only fills the gap in sub-bass or boosts it a little, nothing much. I generally leave it open if I’m not dealing with a basshead IEM. It generally helps very little.
3D does more change sonically than Xbass. It decreases the mid-bass, increases upper-mids, makes a selective crossfeed between left and right channels, a very unique one. That crossfeed I’m talking about helps very much on weird mastered recordings. e.g. Sinnerman. It literally fixes the stage of the recording. But honestly, I don’t think 3D is something that you can leave on indefinitely.
Driveability | ECO – NORMAL – TURBO | Usability
iDSD is a beast in this subject and that’s probably why it has so many fans. It can literally drive anything. In ECO mode, sensitive monitors, in Normal Mode, standard type headphones and in Turbo Mode it can drive most power hungry cans.
I’ve tested, it takes 12 hours to drain iDSD in ECO Mode while using Battery Mode. On USB Power mode, the battery won’t drain itself whether it’s in ECO or Normal Mode. I’ve also tested it in Turbo mode. It doesn’t matter if it is in Battery or USB Power Mode, it approximately takes 6-7 hours to drain its battery.
Digital Filters | Analogue Filters | Polarity
When it comes to digital filters iDSD has, such as Standard, Minimum Phase, Bit-Perfect, I wasn’t able to hear a noticable difference. If I heard it, I’m not even sure it’s not placebo. The way I understand it, when you’re listening DSD, digitals filters turn into analogue ones.
When it comes to analog filters such as Standard Range, Extended and Extreme, I was able to hear clear differences and I liked what I heard. When you’re listening to DSD, these analogue filters get activated. In every step you change the filters to the Standard one, treble increases. There was no clear indication but I assume Bit-Perfect equals to Standard Range on analogue and it has a very dark and smooth sound.
Also iDSD has a polarity switch. Like the digital filters I wasn’t able to hear any difference.
iEMatch is a passive attenuator that increases output impedance of the 6.3mm out a little. iFi doesn’t have a detailed explanation about how much it changes the output impedance but I assume Off <1 Ohm, High Sensitivity ~ 2 Ohm, Ultra Sensitivity ~ 3 Ohm.
You may ask, “What output impedance affects?”. The general use of this that iFi thought was eliminating the hiss of very sensitive monitors. But it does much more. Output impedance changes the frequency response of an IEM or a headphone. There is a basic calculation for that. If the impedance of the headphone/IEM is at least 8-10 times bigger than the amplifier’s output impedance, it won’t change the sound. If it’s less than that, you may need to greet with a colored sound which may be nice or sometimes unpleasant. I really love the idea of having this switch on a device and it does its work very well.
Male USB A | RCA Out (Direct/Pre-Amplifier) | SPDIF IN/OUT
Having a male USB A 2.0 connector for the digital connection was a great idea. When you’re going to connect the device to a phone, all you need is an OTG cable and you’re good to go.
iDSD also has a RCA output section. You have two different choices for that. Direct or Pre-Amplifier. Direct, as the name indicates, directly gives the DAC’s reference sound. The volume knob, 3D and Xbass does not work like this. They are not soundFX. Pre-Amplifier’s sound is more colored compared to Direct mode. It is warmer. Volume knob, XBass and 3D works with it. 3D that comes from RCA outs are different than 3Ds you’re using for headphones. They have a different circuit iFi says. 3D that comes from Pre-amplified RCAs are called “3D for Speakers”.
Also Direct or Pre-Amplifier, RCA’s are working simultaneously with the headphone output.
I’ve also had the pleasure of testing the SPDIF input, Toslink. I felt a little difference between USB input. Between digital audio transmission methods, the change is always subtle like this was for me. Toslink has slightly smoother but less detailed presentation than USB but in a very subtle way.
Installation | Updating iDSD | Smart Power
When it comes to DACs, installation time and progress matters very much. With a Mac OS, IOS, Android or Linux, iDSD is just a plug-and-play toy. There is no installation. If it is a portable device, to make it work in the Battery Power Mode, you switch iDSD on, then you make the USB connection, if it is a non-portable device, you plug iDSD in and switch it on. That’s it. Cannot be simpler.
If it is Windows, there is a 2-3 minute driver installation progress. Download from iFi’s website, install and you’re good to go.
Unlike most of the DAC or DAC/Amp brands on the market, people of iFi are busy with developing new stuff. There are many software versions of iDSD Micro. Currently, they are on version 5.2. They do care about your device and continue developing it with softwares. Version 5.2 has a playback delay problem. iFi pointed out that it was related to Sleep Mode. To solve this issue, they published 5.2B. 5.2B doesn’t switch to the sleep mode. They are calling it “the portable version” but I like to call it “the life-saver version”.
iDSD has a Smart Power feature. If your phone battery is about to be drained you can use iDSD as a power bank. iDSD has 4800mah battery that can be used for that purpose which is more than enough for your phone or your tablet. It gives 5V / 1.5A which is quite standard. This feature is another plus if you ask me.
vs. Lotoo Paw Gold ($2000)
LPG has a better resolution, separation, deeper soundstage and it is easier to carry around. iDSD has a wider soundstage.
Tonality-wise, LPG has a sharper imaging and a punchier sound because of its energetic upper mid region, iDSD is warmer because of its midbass and mid forward presentation.
vs. Chord Mojo ($599)
Mojo is warmer, it has a narrower stage and it is more intimate. iDSD has a brighter sound compared to Mojo. Resulting in better detail revealment. Mojo is more musical whereas iDSD is more analytic. It’s just a presentation difference.
vs. Audioquest Dragonfly Red ($200)
Audioquest have a similar sound signature. It’s not as detailed as iDSD. iDSD have better PRaT and handles complicated passages more successfully. iDSD has more natural timbre.
Red sounds kind of thin, especially with classical music. iDSD has more bass weight.
vs. Audioquest Dragonfly Black ($100)
Dragonfly Black has a more bodied, more bassy sound signature whereas iDSD has a mid forward one. In technicality iDSD has a better resolution, detail, separation and soundstage. When used without a Jitterbug, Dragonfly is more likely to create a hiss sound.
iDSD Micro is the definition of bang for the buck in every way. More or less expensive, there aren’t many options other than Mojo. Furthermore, iFi is a concerning company, they care about you, also they care about their product, iDSD’s resolution is outstanding and it can literally drive anything. It has tons of features and I think iDSD is the real deal.