IFI Nano iDSD DAC Review

Continuing this week’s pointed look at IFI’s new range of amps and DACs, I’ve holed myself up in the MajorHifi Review Office with the Nano iDSD DAC – a less costly version of the Micro iDSD Black Label, retailing for $199.  But how does it fare in terms of performance?

IFI Nano iDSD DAC Review

IFI Nano iDSD DAC Review

The Nano iDSD comes packaged with a USB 3.0 (2.0 compatible) cable, an RCA cable, a warranty card/spec sheet, two hefty rubber bands, and a nice little storage pouch.

Input is limited to USB, but outputs include 3.5 mm audio, RCA, and SPDIF.  The unit sports a 1400 mAh internal battery, but can still run off of USB power when plugged into a computer.

A dedicated switch on the rear side of the Nano iDSD allows the user to switch between Standard and Minimum Phase filtering.

The whole unit is fairly lightweight and easy to carry.  An aluminum body contributes to this portability, while still feeling strong enough to take a tumble or two.  In all, it’s no bigger than my FiiO player and could easily fit in the pocket of a jacket or coat.

Specs

Power Source: Battery/USB Bus power
DAC/Amp always run on battery
Battery Life: ~ 10 Hours playback*
Formats: 44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192/384KHz PCM
2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2/11.2/12.4MHz DSD
353/384KHz DXD
Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by Burr Brown (1-DAC Chip; 2-Channel; 4-Signals)
Filter: PCM: Standard/Minimum Phase digital (selectable)
DSD: Standard/Extended Range analogue (selectable)
DXD: Bit-Perfect Processing, analogue filter (fixed)
Input: USB 2.0
compatible with iPhone,iPod, iPad and Android Devices USB-OTG#
Output SPDIF RCA (only PCM up to 192KHz)
Audio RCA
3.5mm Headphone
Dynamic Range: >104dB
THD &N (35mW) < 0.005%
THD &N (Line) < 0.005%
Output Power (16R): > 130mW
Output Voltage: >1.65V (>100Ω)
Output Impedance:(Zout): <1Ω
Power Consumption: < 3W (charging battery and playback together)

Look at all those specs!  Boiled down, it’ll handle anything from lowly MP3’s to Sony’s proprietary DSD to the newer DXD format.  Battery life can reach 10 hours of continuous playback, depending on volume level, of course.  The amplifier inside the DAC is also decent – it provides enough power to drive less power hungry models ranging up to 150 ohms, but may not perform as well beyond that threshold.

Sound

While the amplifier qualities are adequate enough, the DAC qualities are more of note, and readily apparent at first listen.  Like other products in the IFI catalog (namely, the more expensive Micro iDSD DACs), the Nano tackles sound with excellent filtering and a surprisingly good input channel.

The result is a sharp and contrasting sound that remains immaculate.  Definitely, this is not the revelation that I experienced with the iDSD Micro Black Label, but it is a close second with pleasing audio improvements that go hand-in-hand with the affordable price.

Compatibility

Fairly wide open to different file formats, I was stoked to pump my FLAC and WAV files through this little beast, but you could opt for lossy MP3 files or the higher end DXD and DSD stuff, too.

Much mention has been made of smartphone compatibility, and you can pair the Nano with Apple and Android devices – with the use of Camera Connection Kit or OTG adapter, respectively.

As far as headphones are concerned – and as I mentioned above – you can run some decent models off of the on-board amp, but more power-hungry models may leave you wanting more.  While I can personally attest to the efficacy of models up to 50 ohms, the power output seems ripe for any impedance up 150 ohms.  Of course, you could still use the Nano as a DAC hooked up to a dedicated amplifier for even better results.

Other Observations

This is a nifty little DAC, and I could see it being a no-brainer for those casual listeners who haven’t yet experienced high end audio.  For Johnny Aux-Cable, the USB input adds enough of an improvement, but add in the filtering and you’ve got sound with real ooomph.

I really wish there was a bass boost function on this DAC – maybe my only real misgiving for the IFI Nano iDSD.  Otherwise, sound is great, but just about any other DAC gives you option of adjusting bass somewhat.  Come on, IFI, what’s the deal?

Final Analysis

A strong DAC and decent amp, the IFI Nano iDSD offers impressive performance at a bargain price.  Sure, it isn’t the apex of audio technology, but it’s a much needed stepping-stone for casual listeners and budding audiophiles alike.