iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label DAC and Headphone Amplifier B Grade Tatty Packaging
The original iDSD set a new benchmark for portable DAC/Headamps in the US$500 sector. Nothing came close to its sonics, flexibility and outright power. Nothing at least until the micro iDSD ‘Black Label.’
The evolution into the ‘Black Label’ covers these main areas:
Satin black chassis with ‘burnt orange’ silk print
Major parts changes to the very latest available
3D Holographic+® and XBass+® new implementation are very easy to discern
Sonically, much smoother, more weight and with a full-bodied mid-range. The bass is deeper and cleaner. The Black Label is in every way, the ‘turbo charged’ version of the normally aspirated micro iDSD.
Perhaps ‘Double Black’ is a more apt description because it is different on the outside as well as the inside. The matt and gloss black anodising is set against the ‘burnt orange’ silk print. While keeping in essence the same design philosophy, we re-engineered the micro iDSD after taking into consideration suggestions and integrating the most advanced and newest components available.
· DAC digital signal and digital power sections upgraded
· AMR Global Master Timing® femto-precision clock system upgraded for ‘super low’ phase-noise/jitter
· Analogue signal and power sections revised
· 3D+® performance-tuned / XBass+® performance-tuned
· Latest Output stabilisation network offers less distortion
The Digital Engine:
DAC Power supply upgraded with iFi custom ultra-low noise Operationsverstärker OV2028
DAC reference voltage decoupling changed to Panasonic audio-grade ECPU film capacitors
Digital power supplies upgraded with ultra-low impedance Panasonic OSCON capacitors
GMT® Femto precision clock system power supply upgraded for super low phase-noise/jitter
The Analogue section:
Analogue section upgraded with iFi custom low noise FET input Operationsverstärker OV2627
Analogue power supplies upgraded with Ultra-low impedance Panasonic OSCON capacitors
Re-designed Output Stabilisation network for less distortion
For 3D+® & XBass+® we adjusted based on wide ranging customer feedback after a period of field testing different adjustments.
3D+® is deeper and wider, and more spacious.
XBass+® is deeper and cleaner bass and is more audible.
With the original iDSD micro, iFi already pushed parts quality to a very high level. Yet after long-term testing and with new parts now available to us that were not available at the time of the original production version of the iDSD micro, we were able to wring meaningful improvements in sound quality by substituting specific parts with higher grade (and more expensive) alternatives.
Specifically, with the upgrades applied we were able to produce a sound that is smoother sounding than the original, yet with increased level of detail and improved dynamics and slam. These are not ‘night and day’ differences but the difference is very discernible. To gain meaningful sonic improvements on a product like the iDSD micro was no small challenge.
Os-Con's originally from Sanyo (now taken over by Panasonic) have been around for a good while. Among the larger value capacitors useful in power supplies, they hold a special place.
In a ground breaking series on capacitor performance published in the late Nineties and early Noughties in Wireless World, Cyril Bateman showed they persistently outperformed all alternatives at high frequencies and were second in low-distortion only to Elna Silmic types.
AMR CD-77 Digital Processor
At AMR starting from the CD-77 Compact Disk Processor, we have a long history of using Os-Con's.
After the Panasonic takeover, supply chains were changed and they became difficult to obtain. Testing alternatives offered by other manufacturers showed them to be dramatically inferior to the original Sanyo product and not much better then generic Electrolytic Capacitors.
Further, originally Os-Con's were not available in the values/voltages/sizes needed for the relative miniature equipment in the iFi range.
In recent times, the supply situation has improved and Panasonic has introduced a new range of ‘miniturised’ Os-Con's suited for iFi equipment. So despite their steep cost (around 10x that of common electrolytic capacitors) the micro iDSD Black Label is the first to start to feature them as an alternative where Elna Silmic capacitors cannot be accommodated; be it because of cost or size constraints, as they are physically much larger for the same capacitance and even more costly.
iFi/AMR ‘OV’ series stands for ‘Operationsverstärker’ (German for Operational Amplifier). iFi/AMR’s ‘OV’ range IC's use HCOFC copper lead-frames and 4N Gold bond-wire which is streets ahead of mainstream commercial chips that use inexpensive aluminum bond-wire and low-grade and low-cost copper in the lead-frames.
It is seldom found because it requires custom packaging of chips from wafers and has a very high MOQ (30,000 pcs per part and purchase) to do. Therefore, the parts used in the micro iDSD BL are ‘above and beyond.’
Specifically the iFi OV2028 is a BJT input Dual OV with extremely low-noise, wide bandwidth and high slew rate.
The iFi OV2627 is an FET input Dual OV with low noise, extremely wide bandwidth and very high slew rate.