At the time, that new Terminator movie was just being announced I was write up the iFi Audio micro iDSD review and scrambling my head with sci-fi typical question. “Are we in the control of technology or technology controls us!?”
21st century brought so much technological breakthroughs in all fields of science and industry, but in most cases in the absence of high-end audio industry. We might been getting accustom of shinny, bling old tech being repacked continuously, but this got a little to do with the actual electronically related achievements and pushing the barriers of electronic audio high-tech any further. We’re highly enjoying the miniaturisation of our mobile gadgetry and all electronic paraphernalia, yet very few companies are putting their efforts and funds into creating and developing something worthy of calling NEW in high-end audio.
iFi and high-end audio?
Before any of you will get into any strange mind contemplation let me explain. iFi pushed the almost impossible barrier of trickling down the technology of their upmarket AMR brand into their subsidised company products. They brought so much technology and most importantly music to the affordable level, that would be anything less then hypocrisy to not call iFi Audio micro iDSD an true high-end audio product. Even at the entry level pricing and positioning. Being earliest adopter of anything computer and digital related, from my first Sinclair ZX81 computer down to the first digital audio recording hardware and software, I’ve went through all the digital boom, that started even before the introduction of rebook CD medium in ninety 80’s. We came far with digital audio. From onboard SID chips, first integrated sound cards up to dedicated stand alone converters. Sadly most of the first generations dedicated PC sound cards were of mediocre quality and only later on the silent revolution slowly began to emerge.
The heatwave addressed and impacted both pro and hi-fi/high-end crowd. Converters slowly manifested as ad hoc separated boxes, that could finally bring up to speed to the quality and connectivity.
WE CAME FAR, BUT HOW FAR?
iFi Audio micro iDSD is logical progression of the company iDAC and their way of addressing the marketing demands. DSD kicked in and become a standard. Like it or not it seems, that holds on to more then just a marketing hype and trend. In past two years many companies started to offer pure DSD downloads and net is full of Sony Playstation copies ISO files or personal libraries of such album transfers. Sadly along vast DSD format offerings there is no guarantee to get direct master version of SACD albums. Many of SACD releases were just redbook version being transferred into DSD format. Not everybody knows, or talks about the SACD true nature master tape origins or transfers. Sadly, anything edited regarding the DSD must be transferred into the PCM format. And there goes the sublime difference and advantage of format. Luckily, there is still enough albums out there, that were not edited. Even quite some legendary pop, jazz, classical and other genres. With the greatly implemented DSD DAC one can spot the difference of such album instantly. Truly not many DAC are on the verge of such potency, but iFi Audio micro iDSD holds the key to unlocking this mystery at once. I’ve showed the difference to many sceptics and to their surprise the evidence can be heard instantly even with so called non trained ear.
As iFi Audio micro iDSD packs mind-boggling set of features let us look at whats so special about this mighty little machine:
iFi Audio micro iDSD
There is nothing like the micro iDSD. It is literally, out of this world. It is the only DAC in the world (at any price) to play True Native Octa-DSD512/PCM768/Double DXD. Its Perfect-Match means it can be fine-tuned to any headgear from IEMs all the way through to large headphones. Its 8v/4000mW output makes it one of the most powerful headamps to drive even the most hungry of headphones with ease.
The micro iDSD has 3 different power modes Eco, Normal and Turbo. Capable of 4000mW, 1000mW or 250mW, the micro iDSD is able to drive the full gamut of headphone and amplifiers alike. With iEMatch there to dial to suit any IEM, the micro iDSD has redefined the headphone amplifier class.
Used along with the analogue volume control, the diminutive size of the micro iDSD belies its uncanny ability to drive virtually anything and everything!
Dual Core x2
iFi has forged an enviable reputation for being at the forefront of computer audio technology. The micro iDSD has just made another leap, an Octa-Leap to be precise. With its special Dual-Core Burr-Brown native DSD/PCM chipset at the heart, the micro iDSD is capable of True Native PCM768, Octa-Speed DSD512 and 2x DXD; it is simply out of this world.
SmartPower® is the micro iDSD’s onboard recharging feature for Smartdevices. Its 4800mAH battery is able to fully recharge an iPhone two-times. Compatible with Apple and Android, phones and tablets, it is another example of iFi’s commitment to customer needs – enjoy high-end audio on the go without worrying about the phone going flat.
XBass and 3D Holographic
iFi’s iCAN and iTube have already achieved widespread acclaim, so much so that their core features including 3D Holographic and XBass have become renowned in their own right and imitated by others. In the micro iDSD, for the first time in an iFi product, it features XBass and 3D Holographic for Headphones and Speakers. All these features are still executed in the analogue, not digital domain to preserve the original music format.
And so much more….with the amazing Crowd-Design program, we are over the moon that you, the customer was central to the development of the micro iDSD. The micro iDSD is literally bursting with features – such as Direct/Pre-Amp, 3.5mm input, SPDIF Input/Output and much, much more. You will have to see it to believe it.
DAVID VS GOLIATH
How all this can be packed into this tinny, semi shinny now already highly recognised aluminium chassis? Of course by the ongoing pursue of AMR and iFi audio mastermind Thorsten Loesch. Sometimes I really doubt, that this men sleeps at all. I sleep little and less then most people I talk with, but it seems Mr. T pushes it even more to extreme.
iFi Audio micro iDSD combines everything Thorsten and iFi team learned and created so far with few new tricks under the hood. I’ve wrote twice and repeating it here. iFi Audio doesn’t follow the norms and standards. They create the rules being followed by others and envied by others. There is no other company of this globe, that pushes the limits of possible at such down to earth pricing. This might all sounds like messiah enlightenment talk. Yet, I’m over positive of such grand empowered devices in their miniature form and will write up as long iFi provide want me to explore and write about their gear. This fuels me up with positive energy and keeping my faith into the audio industry and good intended people behind it.
Products like this brings music to the masses and connect more people to our beloved industry. If you’v learned to know Vincent and Thorsten, then everything becomes perfectly clear. They are good minded, great hearted earthlings with intriguing sets of altruistic endeavours besides getting their checks delivered on regular basis. Sure its business, but what’s matters its the attitude and the way you execute your venture and iFi do it in a different way.
We might like it or not, but the world already became an utopian global state once projected through the works of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. They influenced many of us and enclosed the worrying projections of future. In a way we’re already living in the future. The present become as bizarre as what was it were a guiding theme in science fiction few decades ago. High-tech high-performance machines became actually materialised and thanks God not only for the sake of military corporations, although we all enjoyed some offsprings of their work. Arpanet etc.
The world we’re living in might not being perfect and ruled in the way we want and technology might not be at our hands in the most viable way. Yet, we still benefit a lot in our daily life’s digestion.
People tend to see the globalisation phenomena as both good and bad. If observed through the spectre of music and its reproduction the on going story can gets more positive aura.
We’re moving into the absence of typical music mediums of the past. Vinyl sales are on the rise and will stay as niche medium for sure, but for a fact the digital audio formats already took their spot and won the battle long ago. Many things can be argued, but music and musical reproduction as basic humanistic value still represent the free spirit and hold intricate potency of connecting, relaxing, healing and empowering. If technology is used in right way all of mentioned positive attributes can be manifested.
For me iFi Audio micro iDSD embraces the point of audio electronics existence with such a pace. iDSD is unapologetically great and viable medium. The Swiss Army knife digital/headphone hub in the best meaning of the word.
COMPLEXITY AT EASE
One thing, that its most hard to do is to create something complex in an easy understandable and operating way. This is where real science and intuition for electronic comes to a place. Using technology only for the sake of technology is fake pursuit. Everyone wants feature based products, but in absence of thick instruction manual :). This is a thing, that many grasp for, but very few actually managed to achieve. Being in command and not commanded by features and high-tech. Thats the real science at work.
As with previous iFi products iFi Audio micro iDSD translates to the similar language. Modus Operandi needs no mystification or engineering skills. iDSD is concluded with simplistic interface, that hide sophistication below the hood. This is what every 21st century designer mind set should strive for. Feature set below speaks for itself:
iDSD Micro spots USB 2.0 type A “OTG” Socket input,(with iPurifier® technology built-in), Intelligent SPDIF® Coaxial input, SPDIF Optical input, Audio RCA L+R outputs, SmartPower® Socket, Audio 6.3mm Headphone Jack output, Precision analogue volume control, 3.5mm audio Input (Auto disable the digital section when this is in use), Turbo/Normal/Eco computer controlled power mode, Normal/Inverted Polarity, Filter selection with 3 positions/6 filters, Line Direct/Preamplifier switch and iEMatch® Perfect-matching circuit for IEMs (eliminate hiss).
iFi approach to electronic design and sound know already became a standard of its own. They also managed established the “company” sound, that can be recognised across their whole range. Thorsten take on Burr Brown under the hood is different and as usually he pulled off some special tricks. DSD, DXD octa-DSD512 and 768kHz PCM might not having yet have vast software to digest, but this baby is future packed and future ready! You’ll hard earned money is safely invested with this latest audio gadget.
What does PCM filters and DSD filter bring? At PCM side one can choose between bit-perfect, minimum phase, and standard filter and with DSD among Extreme, Extended, Standard Range filters.
Both PCM and DSD offer intricate scoping. The changes operate on sublime level, but again with the enough substantial changes, that creates the differences worthy of having on hands as well as exploring. BitPerfect filter seems to glide things and tune in the vast anchor points of iDSD. This feature alone makes all the difference with PCM decoding and playback.
One the DSD side iDSD Micro transcode DSD to analog signal directly and without any step up into the additional digital processing. We all know, that any digital processing requires the conversion to PCM and these is where DSD loose its inherited advantage. This keeps the DSD conversion pure and simple. And result is of obvious difference. Personally I can happily go along the iFi way of doing it as it remain closer to the music. With iDSD Micro 1 bit DSD signal travels directly to the FIR filter where conversion is happening and this results in very refined, easy to digest natural listening.
Eco, Turbo modes. In Turbo mode in literally grabs the headphone guts and never leave it for the second. I’m a gain junkie and enjoy “riding” on the fullest bloom. Turbo is smoking hot!
3D Holographic and XBass boost functionality? 3D Holographic adds on to the spacial environment projection both in mobile and desktop operation. I tended to use 3D Holographic more with headphones, but also found its way into few situations in the larger audio system. It was same with the XBass boost. This comes handy in focusing the lower bass notes on both platforms. and it can also helps with positioning the speakers closer to wall.
iDSD is bigger then box. This was always obvious for any iFi components I’ve had pleasure to deal with. The grand pace and intricate ability to deal with the complexity of the music is of special scale with IDSD. Unlike many, or most DAC’s iDSD micro use high-resolution, micro/macro levelling and transparency for its own benefit in the term of musicality. It can keep up with the amount of anchor points, that many DAC’s bring up at few thousands, but fail in delivering the music. This is where David pulls Goliath’s with an easy strike.
Its always challenging to combine mobile and desktop functionality and even more importantly performance in box of such small dimensions. This is as “compressed“ as it gets I guess and imagining these level of miniaturisation few years back would sound like nice daydreaming of some sci-fi character living in the fictional late 21st century.
There is something un-denyingly simple and right about music coming out of iDSD Micro. The unaltered easinesses and flow were both more closely connected to the gear of upper echelon, rather then anything connected to the entry level of high-end. iFi iDSD Micro is a clear sign of new era where performance can take place at impressive level even without being prejudiced about the price.
iFi Audio micro iDSD transcend its size and appearance. You can pack it and take a way in a heartbeat and just slip it in your pocket if needed. Talking about sci-fi, high-tech, high-performance utilisation in the smallest foot print? You’ve got it.
As a fact DAC’s are getting cheaper and more affordable by each year and iFi Audio micro iDSD can literary crush some of the giants, that costed 10k and more up in the past. In the era where everybody talks about resolution, dynamics, speed, transparency iDSD micro brings all that plus musicality. Enriched by the wide array features, this is really a no brainer for wider parties of interest. Geeks, music lovers, audiophiles and gadget enthusiasts can all get their urge fulfilled under one package.
If you’re following my articles, tests and reviews there is one thing, that always pop up as a reference link to the sound. The dark, warm nature energy of music. This is what challenge every DAC ability of reference reproduction and iDSD can bring impressive amount of attributes with a smacking resemblance of what you’ll get at 3K DAC’s and above.
Getting some much power on hands in the Apple style eco modern design packaging screams industrial quality with all attention to the smallest details. iFi invested their resources into building up not only technologically advanced devices, but also a brand image with impact, that lingers. You feel special the way you’re treated by product experience and packaging along with actual sound experience. I wish most companies would follow this route. People are appreciating both of these aspects in best way and this shows in almost cult following of the iFi brand.
Being audiophiles, music and gadget lovers themselves iFi pushed there right buttons to the max and created something that is not only of the high performance, but with the big lusting factor. If some company manage to bring the Apple kind of approach to wholesome experience in the high-end audio, then is for sure iFi.
I’ve been know for my liking of esoteric and exotics gear. Yet, along that people knowing me more intimately long time ago recognised my geek nature. When something profoundly different is manifested in such a sensible and compact form I’ll put all my manifesto in support and speak out loudly. iFi products continuously impress me and you can call me their avid fan.
In the best way of futuristic miniaturisation iFi brings the non-military high-tech in our beloved field of musical reproduction. I was always fan of science fiction for few obvious reasons. One of them being the original ideal of making technology simple and of smallest footprint. iDSD brings the level of mobile performance so close to the abilities of desktop, that future is finally coming to the realms of present. In a way I could say, that we’re living what we’ve dreaming off. I think Thorsten and iFi team good samaritan nature is finally manifesting in the cyber role of electronic audio wizards. Best thing is, that Mr. T is not in danger of any corporate guns, but rather with his own deadlines and actualisations of all his endless mind projects coming to life and fruition.
For what it represent and how much it brings in the terms of technology, functionality and non the last musicality, there is nothing, that can rational holds me back in wholeheartelty recommend iFi Audio micro iDSD.
Text: Matej Isak
Formats supported: DSD512/256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single- Speed DSD DXD(768/705.6/384/352.8kHz), Double/Single- Speed DXD PCM(768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/ 48/44.1kHz)
Filters: PCM - Bit-Perfect Processing/Minimum
Phase/Standard DSD - Extreme/Extended/Standard Bandwidth DXD - Bit-Perfect Processing
Digital Output: SPDIF Coaxial Audio Input: 3.5mm
Digital Inputs: High-Speed Asynchronous USB 2.0 (32bit/768kHz) SPDIF Coaxial/Optical Audio Output: 6.3mm
RCA Line out (2V fixed/2V-5V variable)
Turbo (8.0V max/4,000 mW @ 16 Ohm) Normal (4.0V/1,000 mW @ 16 Ohm) Eco (2.0V/250mW@16 Ohm)
Battery: Lithium-polymer 4800mAh Power System: USB BCP V1.2 compliant up to
1500mA charging current Power (max): <2w 4w="" i="" idle="" max="" nbsp="">2w>
Dimensions: 177(l) x 67(w) x 28(h) mm
Weight: 310g (0.68 lbs)
User manual download: here
Price: 499 EUR