Review: IFI’s iDSD – Fully Packed

Sound

Well, it offers a pretty balanced pallet. The bass has good body and impact. I would say it is on the full side of neutral. It is plenty big when the music called for it, but never takes over the sound when it shouldn’t. It doesn’t bleed into the mids. It offers fine detail retrieval and texture in the bass. It never turned into a blob of sound.

The mids follow suit well. I find the midrange takes on the most prominent role in the iDSD’s frequency range. They aren’t overpowering, or bloated in body, but there is definite warmth to the midrange that is quite pleasing. Although it played well with classical recordings, the slightly warm prominence of the midrange made vocal music my favorite selection with this here unit. As always, Jenny Lewis gets a lot of play, but Tegan and Sara, Garbage, Green Day, Derek and the Dominos all sounded great. While voices didn’t leap out of the headphones like they do on some systems, they were well positioned in the front of the music and never got lost in the din. Obviously, choice of headphones has a lot to do with this as well, but more on that later.

The treble is… gentle. It is there, and again, provides good detail, but it doesn’t have that sparkle that I often like. It obviously isn’t harsh, and it isn’t rolled off into oblivion, but those who like their treble to make a stand, probably aren’t going to be satisfied with the Micro iDSD.

This baby does offer up a pretty good sound stage though. Its width and depth are both quite good. I never felt the sound to be claustrophobic in the least. As for the 3D sound enhancement, I don’t care for it. What it sounds like to me is a boost the lower treble (that in itself is not a bad thing), but then it seems to take what should be right in front of you, and shuffles it off to the sides. It sounds to me more like odd stereo separating than a 3d enhancement, but again, just me. I know some other reviewers really like it, so your millage may vary, but it feels artificial to me.

Sometimes, when reviewing something, there is one word in-particular that seems to sum up the sound of something. With the Concero products I reviewed, that word is “electric”. The G109 would be “clarity”. With the Micro iDSD, that word is “polite”. This is why I am finding it hard to go into great detail about the sound. It isn’t doing anything wrong, but it is presenting the music in a very “polite” manner. I am currently listening to the Matrix M-stage HPA-3U (which is a warmer sounding unit than the iDSD), and the HD650, and this combo has more snap and drive than I got with the iDSD. Now, depending on the music and headphones, polite can actually work to your advantage.

Take for example the HE400s. I find this to be a fairly aggressive headphone, that isn’t afraid of getting into treble (see what I did there?). With my Concero HP, sometimes, it is amazing, other times… youch! Take the Radiohead song “No Surprises” for example. With the iDSD/HE400s combo, that song is an ethereal experience. On the Concero HP, it is harsh and a little unpleasant. The iDSD and the HE400s paired extremely well together. The same can also be said of the mixing the iDSD with the Grado SR80e. It keeps the harsher aspects of the SR80e in check while providing very good detail.

The biggest surprise to me is how well it paired with my RE400. The lower treble of the RE400 added a dash of spice to the proceedings, and the iDSD did a terrific job with filling out the sound stage. This is also the only time I used the XBass feature. I found the added bass to be very slight, but that very slight boost is just what the RE400 needed.

With the RE400, I use the iDSD in the eco/high sensitivity mode and it worked great. I tried it on ultra-sensitivity, and had to crank the volume almost up to the max, so this sucker should work with just about any IEM, no matter the sensitivity, and with an output impedance of less than 1ohm, there is no need to worry about psychotic impedance swings. It had no trouble making the HD650 blast on normal gain, and they claim (and I don’t have the phones to test this), that on turbo gain, it can drive the HE6. So, basically, they say, and I have no reason to doubt this, that the Micro iDSD can drive anything everything.

When using the iDSD as a DAC and outputting it to the Matrix, the results are a little dull. Sleepy is a good word for it. It might not be too bad feeding a Burson amp, which tend to be on the quick, forward side of things, but short of that… As for using it as a standalone amp, when fed from my Concero HP, it a pretty neutral sound, definitely more juiced with than with its built-in DAC. It wasn’t quite as spacious, but the energy is certainly up. However, if you are looking for a desktop amp, the Soloist SL and the G109s are only a little bit more, and are both better amps. As for using the iDSD as a portable amp, it sounds good, and it can, technically be used as one, but its size, and the placement of the 1/8 inch input makes that an awkward fit. Transportable, not portable after all. Plus, although you can separate the source and the amp, I have to say that this is intended as a total package. The sound of the DAC and amp complement each other well.

As far as the different filters go, I’m not one to mess around with them much. After dinking around with them a bit on some different music, I found the standard filter to give the vocals a little more pop, and then I stuck with that one for the rest of the test. As far as DSD goes, it worked. So, if that is your thing, knock yourself out. I’m still not convinced of the benefit to sound, and the file size gets obscene. To each his own, I guess.

In the end, it is hard not to recommend the Micro iDSD. It is well built, portable, with an amazing set of features and options, and excellent sound quality, so long as you are looking for a relaxed sound. You just can’t argue with its versatility.

Editor’s note: A friend of mine let me borrow his iDSD a couple of month’s ago already but I never got to writing about it. Like Dave said, the iDSd packs a whole lot of gimmicks together in one transportable unit. The iDSD to me was rather neutrally tuned and showed a lot of detail in reproducing the music. For my personal tastes it was a bit on the meh side and I found it more dry than musical sounding. That said, it did make the Sennheiser HD650 sound quite good and any amp that does that has potential. It just wasn’t my kind of sound. My friend is quite happy with his iDSD but I did notice he was interested already in trying different amps.

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29 Comments

  • Reply September 8, 2015

    Kristian Lindecrantz

    Welcome back Dave! Great review, and I must say refreshing to not only read overly positive comments on this unit. I’m sure it’s plenty versatile, and has a great set of features, especially for the price. Though maybe it doesn’t mark the second coming of our Lord and saviour as some would have you believe

    • Reply September 8, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Yeah, like I mentioned in my Italic part, I’m not the biggest fan. It’s just not my thing. Maybe a bit overhyped but none the less, a decent amp

      • Reply September 9, 2015

        Dave Ulrich

        I is a little on the polite side, but with the right headphones, I still think it sounds quite good. And as for it being the second coming, I did try, and the iDSD can’t turn water into wine.

  • Reply September 9, 2015

    Jeff

    Cool! Can you comment on iDSD versus the Hugo please? My friend got an iDSD a few weeks ago and he’s happy with it and I plan to go over to his house to compare it with my Hugo. I am half excited and half worried due to all the positive feedback about the iDSD that I find virtually everywhere.

    By the way, in the editor’s note, iDSD is written iDSd. Hope this helps.
    Cheers.

    • Reply September 9, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      What a crappy editor. 🙂

      Hugo vs iDSD = Musical delight vs analytic presentation

      I’m exagerating a bit, but you’ll hear it for yourself. I would choose the Hugo over the iDSd (see what I did there?) anytime, even if the IFI extracts more detail, it doesn’t present it in the way Hugo does.

      Hugo vs ALO CDM, now that’s a different tory…

      • Reply September 9, 2015

        Jeff

        Gah, it’s iFi not IFI… get it right! haha : )

        Thanks for giving me an idea of what it may be like. I have listened to the CDM a couple of times already and I did enjoy it but I felt like the HD650 was a better match with the Hugo. I guess other headphones and IEMs may be a different story. Looking forward to part 2!

        Cheers.

      • Reply September 10, 2015

        Yaroslav

        HD650. iDSD vs …? Like, something portable or trans-portable, so not Crack. A20? Any other recs? 🙂

        • Reply September 10, 2015

          Headfonia_L.

          Hugo? CDM? CLAS SOLO+DUET? THEOREM?

          • Reply September 10, 2015

            Yaroslav

            Great, thanks! Hugo and CDM are way out of my league, but was thinking Theorem.

            Am I right to understand that iDSD, O2 and other “crowd favorites” are no match with HD650 because they are too cold/dry/analytic?

            • Reply September 10, 2015

              Headfonia_L.

              I couldn’t have said it better

              • Reply September 10, 2015

                Yaroslav

                BTW wonder why you didn’t list Concero as an option — just read a wonderful review (right here) and seems it is driven by USB which is just perfect.

                • Reply September 10, 2015

                  Headfonia_L.

                  it’s not as portable?

                  • Reply September 11, 2015

                    Yaroslav

                    Guess my bad describing requirements than, I am basically upgrading from the Dragonfly so anything USB-powered that can be thrown into a bag is fantastic. And I have HD650s little brother, Momentum, with the iPhone, so no amping really needed there.

                    Sorry for misleading, I guess.

                    • September 11, 2015

                      Alberto Martinez

                      When you have decided which USB-powered DAC, please let me know. I am in the same process, thanks

                    • September 12, 2015

                      Headfonia_L.

                      Check the Resonessence labs HERUS review. great usb dac and it works on android and iphone via cck

                    • September 12, 2015

                      Yaroslav

                      Oh, while we’re on the point of micro USB DAC/AMP/all-in-one devices, did you have a chance to check Apogee Grove out? Sennheiser partnered with them and with the “constant current drive” thing it stands out from all the others in that category, of course not sure if that is bullshit.

                      On one hand, Apogee is not exactly known for audiophile stuff (although I had the Duet and its headphone amp was fantastic). On the other, they have the Sennheiser partnership so they are pretty much endorsed..

                    • September 13, 2015

                      dalethorn

                      Someone on Changstar got one and has a happy experience with it. There are no other reviews AFAIK.

              • Reply September 11, 2015

                Dave Ulrich

                The HD650 is much more enjoyable with the iDSD than the O2. It isn’t the best combo with the iDSD, but I wouldn’t call it bad by any means

          • Reply September 13, 2015

            Yaroslav

            Oh, and regarding portables — what about HP-V1 out of a good DAC? Or if we’re going portable, tubes do not matter that much as with full-size and I should not hunt for the likes of that and cheaper ALOs and just get a good SS?

    • Reply January 20, 2017

      James

      Comparing features and versatility is like comparing an apple to a suspension bridge. The HUGO is for use with headphones. Period. The IDSd is an all around device that is fantastic on a PC, laptop, etc. I find it funny that many people in the comments here feel the IDSd is over rated but my experience is the opposite. Build quality is another thing. HUGO looks like a piece of cheap junk and I seriously doubt its durability, especially for a mobile centric device.

  • Reply September 11, 2015

    Gary Webster

    This is a great review. As soon as I saw the word ‘meh’ I knew I’d made the right decision in not buying this to partner my Xperia Z3. Thank you for the saving 🙂

    • Reply September 12, 2015

      Headfonia_L.

      Was that my “meh” at the end of the article?
      The iDSD is fairly good if you like what it does, it just doesn’t hit my strings

      • Reply September 12, 2015

        Gary

        Yes indeed it was…..although I was about to buy it based on the styling and the drooling head-fiers so a perfectly time intervention if I may say so. A fool and his money….

  • Reply October 20, 2015

    R12wan

    I can definitely see what you mean about being thin and analytical. Borrowed the IDSD Micro and tried it out. Only compared it to listening from the iMac’s headphone port directly and the difference is there. Using Beyer T90. As an example, in the song ‘Royals’ by Lorde, in the first sentence, you can hear that her s’s are thinner and more pronounced. “In the moviesssss” Whereas playing straight form the iMac, her voice is more rounded, a little fuller and to my ears more natural. Same impression playing some Enya. Anyway, I don’t know how helpful this comment will be to others considering this unit but I thought I’d share. To my ears, I found it almost distracting and too analytical. Maybe I’m being too picky!

  • Reply October 20, 2015

    R12wan

    Also, found it a bit problematic using Spotify. For some reason, Spotify had to be already open and then you had to connect via usb. If the unit was already connected and you tried to open up spotify, it wouldn’t open and would crash!

  • Reply March 17, 2016

    Michael Gunin

    In your opinion, how does Micro compare to HRT microStreamer?

  • Reply April 14, 2018

    Andrew

    I have the iDSD and only using it as a DAC into my Schiit Valhalla. The amp in the iFi seemed really noisy to me. I’m a novice and now wonder if a better DSD/MQA DAC will be a better choice. I don’t need the portability I just loved that the DAC had native DSD onboard and I truly thing it does a nice job, but I have nothing to compare it to. The Concero is tempting BUT it’s $850 and does not support MQA. I love DSD files but my bank account doesn’t and the stream from Tidal is indeed impressive for what it is.

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