IFI Micro iDSD Black Label DAC Review

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten some time to putz around with a high end DAC, but today is different.  Finally, the IFI Micro iDSD DAC has landed in my lap – and this is the Black Label version, no less.  With some impressive hardware and a price of $549, the real question is this:  is the juice worth the squeeze?

IFI Micro iDSD Black Label DAC Review

IFI Micro iDSD Black Label DAC Review

At first glance, it’s plain to see that the iDSD Black Label means business.  It’s packaged with a USB 3.0 cable (for play and charging), two USB 2.0 adapters,  one RCA cable, a 3.5mm to 1/4” stereo adapter plug, a carrying pouch, and two industrial-strength bands for strapping the DAC to a mobile player.

The unit itself is encased in a metal housing with plastic face-plates.  Inputs include USB, 3.5mm stereo, SPDIF.  RCA, SPDIF, and 1/4” stereo audio outputs are also included.

Depsite being lightweight, the whole machine feels surprisingly solid in my hands.  Switches don’t feel cheap or plastic, and volume adjustment is buttery-smooth.

Interestingly, the DAC sports a SmartPower Charging USB port with a 5-volt/1.5 amp power rating.  While it’ll easily re-charge your smartphone on the go, IFI warns against charging tablets (because it will drain your battery, pronto).

Specs

There’s a lot going on with the specs for the iDSD Black Label – almost too much to put into this review.  For those who desire a full list of specifications, I encourage you to jump over to the user manual.  For those who want to the Readers Digest Version of the specs, keep reading.

IFI’s iDSD Black Label handles DSD, DXD, and PCM formats.  Headphones ranging from 8-600 ohms can be used with the amp, because this thing is packing some power.

For those who are using even the most basic PCM imput (MP3, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, etc.), the inclusion of Bit Perfect Processing, Bass Boost, and 3D Matrix Plus technology still make this DAC a solid option for vastly improving sound.

Sound

I’ve already done a lot to ensure I get some decent audio quality from my setup.  I long ago switched to WAV and FLAC (though I have yet to drink the DSD Kool-Aid).  I’ve invested in high-end models of open-back, closed-back, and in-ear designs.  And yet I’ve never been so floored by the performance of a DAC to consider purchasing one.  But the black magic of the iDSD Black Label is real, folks – and it’s immediately apparent that the sound greatly benefits from this DAC.

Bass Boost is natural, and nowhere near as under-powered or oppressive as on other DACs.  Bit Perfect Processing is no joke, either – the sound at once takes on a new and very precise degree of sharpness and contrast.

The real coup de grace, though, is the 3D Matrix Plus Technology, which turns even my lower-end earbuds into an audio tour-de-force.  Recreating an almost holographic sense of placement and depth, it’ll add soundstage to any pair of cans, but sounds ASTOUNDING with open-back models.

Thanks to the astounding performance of this DAC, coupled with it’s ability to work as an amplifier or pre-amp, the iDSD Black Label crushes its competition.  Add to this mix the different filter levels, more choices of input, and the 3D Matrix Plus voodoo, and you’ve got some serious audio business.

Compatibility

You can run just about anything through this DAC – from junky MP3 files and sloppy YouTube videos, to Sony’s luscious DSD files.  The choice of input is also wider than with other DACs – users can choose from SPDIF, USB 3.0, or the all-too-common 3.5mm stereo.  While my FiiO X5 II portable player worked perfectly well with the Black Label, I can’t get over the level of performance I get using it with my PC.  I mean, hot damn.  Here the filters, working in conjunction with rich file formats (and perhaps just a little less compression than on the FiiO), lead to a sound that can only be described as Audiophile Crack.

Other Observations

The sound is RICH.  Richer than what I’m already experiencing with my setup.  Richer than what I’ve heard coming out of any other DAC.  I had no clue I was missing out on so much detail, and I’ve been at this headphone review thing for three years now.

My bank account is going to be hurting soon.  Or maybe I can sell my soul to the devil for one of these.  Seriously…this DAC is amazing.

Final Analysis

I love the IFI iDSD Micro Black Label DAC.  Keeping my bias in check, though, I can vouch for this:  it’s packing some incredible technology that imparts an impressive level of sharpness and contrast to any music source.  If you’re in the market for a DAC/Amp combo and you haven’t yet considered this model, you need to get your life together and go check it out.  Even if the Black Label were to cost twice as much, it would still be worth the price.  So at $549, it’s nothing short of a steal.