One of my favorite portable digital to analog converter (DAC)/amplifier combos is the iFi Micro Black Label. It is competitive with the other first-class, portable DAC/amp on the market, the Chord Mojo. However, the Mojo has always outperformed it for many folks because of its impressive portability. Additionally, to many audiophiles’ chagrin, both the Chord Mojo and the iFi Micro Black Label have always been out of budget, hovering above $500. Well, my audiophile friends, today everything changes. The new iFi Nano Black Label is here, and at just $199.00, it has left me wondering if the sound stands up to the Micro. Today I’ll find out with a full iFi Nano Black Label DAC/Amp Review review. This is my first amplifier review, so if I skip over anything important that you’d like to know about this DAC/amp, please feel free to shoot me a message and I can address it.
On with the review.
Small but Mighty – iFi Nano Black Label DAC/Amp Review
In the Box
-iFi Nano Black Label
-USB A female to USB A male
-Velvet protective pouch
-USB A female to USB B female
-USB A male to USB B female
-straps for phone or music player
Right away the size of this DAC and amp is obvious. The iFi Nano Black Label is much more portable than the iFi Micro Black Label. It is the same size as the other iFi Nano DACs. This means it is just a little bit thicker than the Chord Mojo. However, it weighs less than the Mojo at just 130g (.31lbs). Additionally, it is great for taking on-the-go because it has a battery life of 8 hours.
There isn’t much information on the chassis material used in the iFi Nano Black Label, but because of its weight, I’m guessing it is made of aluminum. It feels strong and durable, and I have no fears of it denting, although I could see scratching being an issue if it is mishandled. iFi handily includes a velvet pouch to prevent it from scratches. Additionally, all the components inside are high quality, boutique components, just like the iFi Micro Black Label.
The only input available on the iFi Nano Black Label is a digital USB A (OTG) input. There are no analog inputs which may bum out some folks.
There are three output options on the iFi Nano Black Label. Each one is 3.5mm but work for different types of listening devices. One, labeled “Direct” is for normal, headphones with normal to high impedance levels. The next is IEMatch, which is for super low impedance in-ear monitors. Lastly, there is a Line Out, used for sending line level to speakers for listening.
Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) is a new lossless audio format that is so small it can be used for streaming. This is the same format Tidal uses to stream audio. Previously, there weren’t many high quality DACs that supported MQA files, but the iFi Nano Black Label is keeping up with newest technology by incorporating this support.
There are two digital filter options while listening via DSD and PCM. The first is the “Measure” filter, which is optimized the frequency response. The other filter is the “Listen” filter which optimizes the transient response with minimum phase.
The Burr Brown Bit-Perfect DSD processing and the Bit-Perfect DXD processing makes the digital to analog conversion possible for the iFi Nano Black Label. The iDSD Micro Black Label also uses these same chips, which proves the high quality of the small but mighty DAC.
Judging the sound of a DAC/amp is a little difficult. It requires pumping the volume up high and down low with multiple headphones of various impedances. So that is what I did.
I had a plethora of Beyerdynamic headphones in front of me, so I started by listening to the Beyerdynamic DT770 250 ohm headphones. I figured the iFi Nano Black Label should be able to handle these headphones well, as other amps in this price range do a fine job powering 250 ohms. As expected, the Nano Black Label supplied plenty of power to the headphones. I raised the volume up as loud as my little ears could handle and I couldn’t hear any distortion. I then lowered the volume as low as possible while still being able to discern the details of the mix. The headphones still sounded full and dynamic.
Next, I reached for the DT880s. I have them in two impedances, 32 ohms and 600 ohms. First I gave a listen to the 32 ohm headphones. These obviously required much less power. As I pumped the volume up as loud as possible, the high mids seemed cramped and dynamically static. As I lowered the volume back down, the level of detail still present impressed me.
Finally I reached for the 600 ohm DT880s. I wasn’t sure if this little amp was going to be able to power such a highly resistant headphone. To my surprise, wow! This amp made these headphones really sing! At louder volumes, the headphones maintained space in the high-mid frequencies and everything felt dynamically rich and true. At low levels, the headphones maintained this dynamic response.
The iFi Nano Black Label DAC and amplifier is small but mighty. It is perfect for audiophiles on a budget. If you want a simple, portable amp like the Chord Mojo that sounds amazing but is less expensive, do yourself a favor and check out the iFi Nano Black Label. If you are looking for something with more diverse inputs, outputs, and features, you may want to save up and spring for the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label.
The iFi Nano Black Label DAC and amp is available for the best price here:
|Input(rear):||USB2.0 type A “OTG” Socket (with iPurifier® technology built-in)|
|Output(rear)；||1 x Audio fixed line out L+R 3.5mm|
|Digital Filter:||2 positions, 2 filters|
|Outputs(front):||2 x Headphone Audio 3.5mm one direct and one with iFi iEMatch® integrated|
|DAC:||DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown Bit-Perfect DSD processing, Bit-Perfect DXD processing|
|Clock:||Low-jitter crystal clock|
|Audio Formats:||DSD 256/128/64/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8|
|MQA 88.2/96/176.4/192kHz filters|
|Filter–PCM:||Listen(transient optimised minimum phase)|
|Measure(frequency response optmised)|
|–DSD:||Listen(extended bandwidth transient optimised)|
|Measure (narrow bandwidth, low output band noise optimised)|
|–DXD:||Fixed Bit-Perfect Processing|
|–MQA:||Fixed MQA Filter|
|Amplifier:||Dual Mono 2 x 285mW Direct Drive, coupling capacitor free circuit for highest fidelity|
|Volume Control:||3.5mm TRRS with Balanced compatible wiring|
|Dynamic Range(including DAC):||> 109dB(A) @ 3v (Direct)|
|> 107dB(A) @ 0.5V (iEMatch®)|
|THD &N (@ 125mW/30R):||< 0.005%|
|Max. Output (<10% THD):||> 3.5V @ 600Ω Load (Direct) (20mW/600Ω)|
|> 2.9V @ 30Ω Load (Direct) (285mW/30Ω)|
|> 1.7V @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (200mW/15Ω)|
|Output Impedance :||< = 1Ω (Direct)|
|< = 4Ω (iEMatchsup>®)|
|Channel Separation:||> 79dB @ 600Ω Load (Direct)|
|> 79dB @ 15Ω Load (Direct) (1kHz, TRRS plug Balanced wiring)|
|Dynamic Range(Line):||> 109dB(A)|
|THD & N(0dBFS Line):||< 0.004%|
|Output Voltage(Line): :||2.15V (+/-0.05V)|
|Output Impedance:||< 240Ω|
|Channel Separation:||> 99dB (@ 1kHz)|
|Jitter(correlated):||Below test set limit|
|Dimensions:||96(l) x 64(w) x 25.5(h)mm|
|Weight:||139g (0.31 Ibs)|