Ever since I got embroiled in the audio game, I found myself trawling Head-Fi to find the best and most advanced audio equipment for my budget. I made tables and lists, trying to mark out the things that I think I would enjoy and I had the money to purchase. I even have a upgrade path for every item in the audio chain, from headphones to IEMs to DACs and DAPs.
My interest in the iFi iDSD Micro was born from the rave reviews that the iDAC, iCAN and other iFi Audio products garnered on Head-Fi. It was under consideration along with a dozen other DAC/Amp combos that I thought would serve as a good upgrade for my FiiO E10. Initially, I had planned for a smaller upgrade to the Audinst HUD-MX2, but I decided that it wasn’t worth spending $300 for a small upgrade when I could go bigger, and jump straight to my end-game gear.
The iDSD Micro might not seem very end-game for serious audiophiles, but given that I currently can’t tell much of a difference between the quality of music from my iDSD Micro and the FiiO E10 which it replaced, I think it’s pretty much the best option for me. Any further up, and I’ll only be wasting money for a sound upgrade I can’t even hear. Headphones give the largest portion of the colouration in any audio chain, and my money is better spent collecting headphones than DACs.
I normally stay cautious of new products, waiting anxiously for reviews before jumping on them. But the offer from Stereo that gave a free SR60e with the pre-order of the iDSD Micro was too hard to resist, especially since I wanted a Grado. So I went for it, and it wasn’t like there weren’t already reviews praising the iDSD Micro anyway. Thankfully I got it when I did, because the pre-order ended the next day, and the current offers are not my cup of tea.
When the iDSD Micro arrived, I was well chuffed with the build quality and the gorgeous looks. It’s not the most conventional of shapes, but it looks good and is surprisingly light. The accessories were aplenty, and with the advice to charge the battery for 24h (or until full), I got home and got to charging the thing.
It took less than 24h, which was only recommended as a precaution because not all chargers charge at the same rate. When the blue LED went off, I immediately replaced the FiiO E10 from my audio chain, fiddling with the Toslink cable I bought for the express purpose of using the 3.5mm optical out from my MacBook Pro, saving me a USB port.
My initial impressions were, as stated, a bit anticlimactic. I couldn’t really tell the difference between my FiiO and the iDSD Micro, which I surmised was due to A) only 320kbps tracks (although I don’t believe in the hi-res hype) and B) my non-audiophile ears. That said, the features of the iDSD Micro made the purchase very well worth the money I paid for it (all S$649 of it).
Firstly, with the bulky USB cable and iPurifier tech built in, the iDSD Micro didn’t suffer from the chronic EMI problems my FiiO E10, bless its little soul, had in abundance. The hissing was driving me mad a month into my purchase, and while I didn’t regret buying it, I certainly felt like I needed to upgrade just to get a clean, black background.
The numerous options on the iDSD Micro sold me easily. They had 3 gain stages, reportedly able to drive even the notoriously hard to drive HiFiMAN HE-6. While I don’t have anything that tough to drive, it’s nice to have that option. It has all the inputs you could want, and can switch between being a pre-amp or a RCA lineout. It has the XBass and 3D Holographic Sound technology that iFi is so proud of, and while I couldn’t really feel the difference of the XBass (being mostly sub bass), the 3D Holographic Sound definitely made a big (and great) impression.
The iDSD Micro even has switches for polarity and filters, the explanations flying over my head. But the most important thing to me was iEMatch, the built-in volume attenuator. With the FiiO E10, I had channel imbalance when using my UM Pro 30s, because the IEMs were just that sensitive and I couldn’t turn up the volume to get the channels balanced. When I auditioned the iCAN Nano as a potential portable amp upgrade, I didn’t even dare turn the knob or play any music, such was the humming volume when I turned it on.
But with the iEMatch, I could flick a switch and give even the UM Pro 30s some breathing room on the volume knob. And on top of all that, the thing is semi-portable, has a USB port for charging electronics with its 4,800mAh battery, and can do coaxial out, and has iPhone (with the Camera Connection Kit) and Android OTG support. Oh, and it has support for DSD up to some insane resolution, which I don’t care for (but is a major part of the marketing). It’s always good to future-proof, I suppose 😀
Everything else on my list of potential purchases seems to pale in comparison to the bevy of options that the iDSD Micro offered. I might not have the discerning ears to appreciate the craft in creating the iDSD Micro’s sound, but I can certainly appreciate the options they have added (after consulting Head-Fi members). My other options, such as the exorbitantly expensive CEntrance HiFi-M8 or the Geek Pulse (which is STILL under development despite crowd-funding promises) all seemed to have flaws that I couldn’t overlook.
A pity I didn’t wait a little longer though. Creative’s new line of Sound Blaster DAC/Amps look fantastic, and have a cheap price to boot. I can even support a Singaporean company without compromising on quality of products. The Creative X7 has speaker taps, AptX bluetooth (with NFC support), support for subwoofers, microphones for calls and recordings, and an entire suite of equalizers to adjust the sound. Also comes with easily replaceable op-amps, but that’s for the tinkerers and not me. Price? S$499. What a steal that is.
Oh well, I’m happy with what I have. I can support them by buying the well-regarded Sound Blaster Roar (a bluetooth speaker I have no need for, but definitely want to have) and the Creative E5 (the portable DAC/Amp that sits just below the X7 in Creative’s new range of DACs) for my portable use. And I might even get my next IEM upgrade with Advanced AcousticWerkes, a new Singaporean company that makes custom IEMs that apparently sound pretty competitive.
But for now, I’ll enjoy the sweet, sweet music from my new favourite toy. Huzzah!