iFi Nano iDSD Black Label portable DAC


I frequently ended my videos by stating that
current developments in digital audio are rapid. Let me now start with this statement
at the beginning of this video. For the subject of this review – the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label
– does not only have a long name and an attractive price. It’s remarkable that portable DAC’s seem
to lead the developments and that is why I review them. I do not have sufficient expertise
on headphone and in-ear listening and thus will not judge the portable use but restrict
myself to domestic use. Though I will mention the features that are uniquely for portable
and headphone use. The Nano Black – as I will call the Nano iDSD
Black Label in this review – has the extruded aluminium housing we know from other iFi products.
It’s very sturdy, this time it’s black and the bottom lists all the features. It’s
designed to be combined with your smartphone using the two firm wide rubber bands that
come with the unit. That is why the top is somewhat rounded. It measures 64 by 96 by
25.5 millimetres and weighs only 139 grams. OK time to look a bit more up close. On the
front we see a 3.5 millimetre jack to connect the headphone to. A second jack is optimised
for the higher sensitivity of in-ears. iFi uses TRRS jacks which is great if you own
balanced headphones. The LED further to the right indicates the power status, the battery
status, the sample frequency and MQA all through colours. This really is becoming a trend and
for someone like me that have a low color sensitivity it’s not really convenient.
But it’s cheap and takes little space. On the right the volume knob that doubles as
a power switch in the counter clockwise position. Let look at the other end. On the left the
fixed level line output. In the middle a switch that offers two filter settings, one minimum
phase Bezier filter that is optimised for listening and a linear phase Transient Aligned
Filter for measurement. Apparently there are people that think that less than half a dB
roll of at 20 kHz is important or at least more important than a a better transient respons.
Just use the listen position and forget the other one. On the right the most ingenious
solution for portable use to date, the OTG A-type USB input. Normally a type B input
is used on DAC’s but the solution here solves the problem with iPhones for the Apple Lightning
to USB Camera Adaptor can be plugged directly into the Nano Black. Also supplied are a USB
3 cable of around one metre length for connecting it to a USB2 or USB3 port on the computer
or streamer, an adaptor plug to USB B and an 18 cm adaptor cable to USB B, both to use
with a standard USB A to B cable. When opened the first you see is the battery
that I folded away here. It is attached to the print using a connector and thus can easily
be replaced. Then the line output on 3.5 mm jack, the USB Type A input mounted on a semi
detached PCB. Here the in-ear and headphone jacks. The four contacts for balanced operation
are clearly visible. Then the dust proof potentiometer, which always makes sense, but even more so
in portable devices. When we flip over the PCB we see the XMOS USB interface chip, a
small STC MUC micro processor, two clock crystals, one each for 44.1 and 48 kHz based sampling
frequencies and the Burr Brown DAC chip. This chip is able to do PCM up to 192 kHz according
to Texas Instruments, the current owner of Burr Brown. But the Nano Black does play my
PCM 352.8 and DSD256 files effortless. Perhaps that these are downsampled in the Nano Black,
I can’t say. Not that it really matters, the amount of music available at those high
sampling frequencies is extremely limited. All that tech is nice, but how does it sound?
Well here is the real surprise for it’s different in character than the Pro-Ject ProBox
S2 Digital I reviewed a few weeks ago but not less. The iFi doesn’t have the touch
of harshness in the highs the Pro-Ject has but is slightly less open in the mid range
while the lows go impressively deep with excellent tonality for its class. It is, of course,
a completely different beast. Where the Pro-Ject is designed for stationary use, can be used
as digital pre-amp and does full MQA decoding and rendering, the iFi only has one input
and no volume control on the line out while it needs a program on the computer or smartphone
to do the decoding of MQA. On the other hand, the iFi consumes little power and thus can
be fed from the internal battery and works with smartphones while the Pro-Ject depends
on a separate power supply. When the Nano Black is compared to for instance the Meridian
Explorer 2, it wins sound wise, does a wider range of sampling frequencies, including DSD
but only does MQA rendering and not decoding. It does perform great in my setup 3 and in
my setup 2, ranking next to the Pro-Ject. I don’t think too many people will care
for MQA for mobile use. They still argument whether 256 or 320 kilobit per second MP3
is good enough and that all has to do with storage. People rather take 250 than 150 albums
with them and find the quality of MP3 fine for mobile use. Otherwise they would have
gone to AAC already since that offers more quality than MP3 at the same bitrate. But
if you want a DAC that you can use for both portable use and domestic use, it’s nice
to have MQA rendering. The build quality is very high, the ‘On the go’ USB A solution
is brilliant and will be appreciated by iPhone owners. Battery life allegedly is 10 hours
and the battery is user replaceable, provided you have a torq screwdriver. At less than
250 quit it really is a steal. I am constantly looking for interesting equipment to review
– doing series of me-too products is extremely boring – and again I managed to find one in
the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label. If you want more, come back next Friday and subscribe
to this channel or follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. If you liked this video, please
consider supporting the channel through Patreon or Paypal. Any financial support is much appreciated.
The links are in the comments, just as the link to a description of my three setups.
Help me to help even more people enjoy music at home by telling your friends on the web
about this channel. I am Hans Beekhuyzen, thank you for watching and see you in the
next show or on theHBproject.com. And whatever you do, enjoy the music.

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17 thoughts on “iFi Nano iDSD Black Label portable DAC

  1. I got to listen to this thing at Axpona 2018 and it sounded great with headphones. I agree also that the USB A male makes sense and reduces the overall footprint of the device and iPhone.

  2. Excellent video.
    You're like the Tyll Hertsens of audio gear. I will gladly support you by patron and hopefully you'll keep these reviews flowing.

  3. Three weeks ago, I almost purchased this unit off of Amazon while searching for a MQA DAC, I held back until I had time to further research. Well, Hans did it again, the research for me!! Thank YOU for the very informative video that will once again influence my purchasing decisions. See you on the next one.

  4. Great review man, congrats!! One question, i want to use these nano with a better amp, so i want to know how i can connect both of them to avoid using the amp in the ifi nano and only use the dac? Thanks a lot.

  5. Hey man thanks to your review i buy these little baby, its so awsome, im using it with a magni3 and i think its a good combo. In other hand, i want to use it as an portable amp, so i want to know if the ifi nano can drive 600 ohms headphones? Thanks again!!!

  6. So when I’m using Tidal, should I enable or disable MQA passthrough when using this DAC? On which output should one connect the AT MSR7 headphones, IEMatch or Direct? (It’s a 35ohm set)

  7. Hello @Hans.

    ifi claims tht "TI Burr Brown 1793 DAC" used in "ifi Nano BL" converts DSD to Native DSD without convert it to PCM.
    They say tht other DACs convert DSD to PCM & then to Analog.

    U agree? Did u get better sound through ifi Nano BL than other DAC Amp fr DSD files?

    Pls replay. Thanks & regards,

    ~ Bhavin

  8. I used this little guy to and from work and at work in the office and found it great.

    Now I am working from home and really struggling to justify upgrading it considering it feeds a Burson Play with v6 opamps to my LCD2Classics and just a pair of Audioengine A5+.
    I dont really know what I could buy within the realms of sanity that will net me a large enough difference to bother.

  9. For all the people that cant connect it with the Mobile via OTG, This is the TIP… A) connect the otg with the phone, B) open the ifi nano BL power,  C) Connect the otg female ucb cable with the ifi nano . And that's it .

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