Seeking the Myth – A Review of the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label

For my tastes, the Meze 99 Classics are not the best pairing with the iFi. The treble can get a little hot, and the vocals a little thin. These are traits which work well for the 99C. But the iDSD accentuates them too far. Black Sabbath, for instance, with its exciting, bright energy, doesn’t sound the greatest. But Nirvana Unplugged, being a warm, laid-back album, is quite seductive. The richness of the Meze is also heightened by the Black Label, and the sweetness of the DAC mixes well with these phones. So it’s not the best pairing, but it can be very enjoyable with the right music.

You know what does sound AMAZING with Black Sabbath? The Sennhieser + Massdrop HD6XX (or HD650). These headphones are famous for their thick and lush, forward vocals, and the iDSD does little to alter that. Plus, any increase in treble sparkle can only help these extremely warm monitors. They also revel in the speed and dynamism of the DAC, being known as slower and relaxed, normally. With iMatch Off, these pushed the volume up to 1 O’Clock before they were loud enough for serious Rock. Plenty of room to go. And f**k do they sound scrumptious!

Flipping iMatch up to Ultra Sensitive, I get lots of play on the volume pot using the Vision Ears VE8 IEM. At 12 O’Clock it starts to get good and loud, so you should have no problem finding the right volume. There is no hiss. It sounds wonderful. The VE8 is a clean, neutral-warm, sort of relaxed animal. I enjoy the color the Black Label adds. More glitter in the highs, harder punch in the lows, clarity throughout. You lose some of the air and soundstage of my other sources, but this combo is highly recommended nonetheless. Pinky approves!

HiFiMAN’s new RE800 needs no help in the treble region, possessing a savage spike in the 6K-8K area. Like the Meze, my enjoyment depends on the album. If it’s a warm, acoustic record, like Patricia Barber, the iDSD>RE800 manage a delightful balance. But if you have on MASTER OF PUPPETS, be warned: From hell’s heart they stab at thee. When these sound good, they sound really good. They’re aggressively resolving, rendering top level imaging and separation. The bass is meaty, tight, and controlled. Vocals are so detailed and transparent I expect the singer to lean over and lick my ear at any moment. I think I’d like that.

Really, it’s just that treble that’s a problem. It’s the iDSD’s only fault. It makes finding the right headphone more difficult than it ought to be. Too bright or too warm and your source can take the wrong headphone, exaggerate one of its strengths, and make it suddenly unacceptable. The Black Label has a tendency to do that. If all you own is warm, earthy monitors, you should feel confident in this purchase. It’s a stupendous DAC & Amp for such headphones. Just be careful with those trebly cans. They may learn new ways to kill humans.




Pinky Powers

Pinky Powers

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.


5 Responses

  1. Just listening to it. And honestly, I may have overstated the treble issue. It’s a great sounding DAC. 🙂

  2. Great review… I am looking at the idsd micro, quick question about the treble issue : did you use the measure or listen mode mainly? Also is the treble issue only with the 3D+ or also without it? Thanks 🙂

  3. No. It just sounds a little better to my ears. The bigger bang-for-your-buck is certainly the Black Label. It has greater driving power and is far more versatile. I happen to really like it, and wouldn’t mind owning one.

    Also, I do REALLY like the sound of the BL. It just didn’t pair the best with some gear.

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