iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad

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BRN

iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« on: 1 Mar 2017, 11:03 pm »
I want to thank Pez for the opportunity to review the IFi Micro iDAC2.

I have been reading different forums looking at the Micro IDSD and iDAC2. Initially, I was thinking that the Micro iDSD Black Label was the DAC I wanted, because of the great reviews and the specs looked better. In addition, where the iDSD BL cost falls within the iFi lineup makes it appear as if it is the better DAC. But after reading some post and asking questions it became clear that is not the case of one DAC being better than the other. The two DACs are marketed for different audiences. The Micro iDSD and iDSD BL are designed for the headphone crowd. They pack a lot of capabilities in one package to meet the needs of the avid headphone listener on the go, and even can meet the needs to of someone looking for a good desktop solution. The iDAC2 is designed to be one component in a system, whether that is the DAC in a desktop headphone stack or in a two channel speaker system. For my needs I was looking for the latter. I want to upgrade the iFi Nano iDSD in my two channel speaker system.   

This review focuses on the iDAC2 used in a 2 channel speaker system and not as a headphone solution.

For the review the iDAC2 was connected via a DH Labs USB cable in to my Windows 10 computer with no power filtering. I let the DAC burn in for just over 160 hours before I sat down to do any critical listening. I compared the iDAC2 to my Nano iDSD that was used in battery mode and not powered by the computer.



Fit and Finish:
The iDAC2 has a nice aluminum case with three LED lights that indicate power, resolution, and I believe connection to the computer or USB lock. One of the LEDs changes color to indicate the file resolution. I like the simplicity of the iDAC2 and the fact that it is basically plug and play. Once you get the computer setup and connected the only changes you can make to the DAC are the three different filters controlled via a toggle switch next to the USB3 input on the back, or is that the front? The RCAs, 3.5mm headphone jack, and volume control are on the front, or is that the back? Originally I thought that the USB and RCAs being on opposite sides was going to be a pain, but since the RCAs are fixed output with no switches or volume controls I did not need to do anything with iDAC2 once setup. The Nano iDSD has the same layout, but the volume control is for power and adjusts the volume for both the RCAs and 3.5mm headphone jack. In addition, if you want to run the iDSD in battery mode you need to disconnect the USB, turn the iDSD on, and reconnect the USB. In a portable environment this is not a problem, but using it in a 2 channel system can be a PITA, so I usually just leave the iDSD on with the volume turned to max.



Listening:
As to be expected, the sound signatures of the Nano iDSD and iDAC2 are similar. In my opinion both DACs have a very natural sound that is non-fatiguing. I can and do listen to my Nano iDSD for hours without feeling I need a break from the music. I find that there is a very fine line between too much detail and muddy sound, and I feel that the iFi DACs I have listened to do a nice job of finding the sweet spot. An example of this is the Nano iDSD and IQaudio Pi-DAC+. I like the sound of both DACs, and still use the Pi-DAC+ in my office, but the Pi-DAC+ is ever so slightly more detailed than the Nano iDSD, but for my tastes the iDSD is more to my liking, and with DSD records that only the iDSD supports, there is no contest, DSD records sound better.

The differences between the Nano iDSD and iDAC2 has more to do with the additional detail the iDAC2 is able to retrieve from records. What stuck out most was the ability of the iDAC2 to retrieve more information on the leading edges of instruments and voices. What I mean is that I can hear notes from voices and instruments ever so slightly longer from the iDAC2, which adds so much to the realism of the recording. Also, the clarity, imaging, and dynamics are better. The music does not sound as recessed, there is a spacious soundstage that extends beyond the left and right sides of the speakers, and singers and instruments are better positioned with the iDAC2. It’s these aspects that really make the music sound more realistic to me. I’m sure has a lot to do with the class A analog section connected directly to the RCAs.

On DSD recordings the difference in sound between the two DACs was not that great. They sounded very similar, but the iDAC2 still had the advantage. When it came to PCM the iDAC2 was clearly better and much closer to the sound quality of DSD recordings, also the differences between redbook through 24/192 recordings were minimal, with both sounded very good. The quality of the mastering was a much greater influence on the sound than file types. There is a bigger difference on the Nano iDSD between file types.

I also tested the different filters. For DSD I preferred Extreme and PCM Bit-Perfect. For DSD I do not think that I would ever use anything other than Extreme, but for PCM I could see using the Standard filter, especially on MP3 files, though I did not test this.

At the end of the day I really like the iDAC2 and I’m going to one.

System:
Minix neo z83-4 Windows 10 fanless computer
JRiver MC22
Nano iDSD
Bottlehead Quickie Preamp with PJCCS or Kuartlotron simple error-correction superbuffer
Mogami interconnects W2549
DH Labs USB cable
Folsom DIY7297 amp
Blumenstein Orca speakers
Yamaha 8" down firing subwoofer
Felix power filter

My past DACs going back about 12 years have been:
DIY Paradise Monica NOS DAC with battery
First generation KandK RAKK DAC with passive output
Heavily modified Bolder Cable Co Squeezebox2 and Bolder power supply
Squeezebox Touch and John Swenson with Teddy Pardo superreg power supply
Raspberry Pi IQaudio Pi-DAC+ and Power supply used for the Touch

Music:
Elton John - Elton John DSD
Diana Krall - The Girl In The Other Room - Redbook
Diane Schuur -  Deedles - Redbook
Clark Terry - Portraits - Redbook
Herbie Hancock - Possibilities - Redbook
Muddy Waters - Folk Singer 24/192
Miles Davis : Kind Of Blue - 24/192
Cat Stevens - Tea For The Tillerman - 24/192
The Doors - The Doors - 24/96
The Rolling Stones - GRRR! - 24/88.2
The Doobie Brothers - Captain And Me - 24/192
Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die - 24/192
CCR- Willy and The Poor Boys - 24/192
Crosby, Stills, & Nash - Crosby, Stills, & Nash - 24/96
There were a few other albums  not listed as well.

JLM

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Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #1 on: 2 Mar 2017, 01:09 am »
Good Review! thanks!

Pez

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #2 on: 2 Mar 2017, 02:36 pm »
Thanks for the review Brad! It was fun to go from this: http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=148565.0 to this review.  :D

Bragging up the iDac2 a bit, guess who else uses it in their system? You all have heard of Athens audio club right? Guess what the president uses in his €100k system: http://ifi-audio.com/reviews/audiophile-club-of-athens-the-president-uses-the-ifi-idac2-in-his-ultra-fi-system/  :thumb:

mr_bill

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #3 on: 2 Mar 2017, 04:26 pm »
What's the better choice for the NON Headphone buy - for use only in your big rig with speakers.  Is it the Idac2 or the Black Label?

Odal3

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Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #4 on: 2 Mar 2017, 04:51 pm »
Thanks for posting the comparison. Always wondered about the differences.

Pez

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #5 on: 2 Mar 2017, 05:52 pm »
What's the better choice for the NON Headphone buy - for use only in your big rig with speakers.  Is it the Idac2 or the Black Label?

I gotta be honest with you. For me the answer is obvious, at $549, the Micro iDSD Black Label. If I had to pick one, Black Label every time. First of all, if you even think about wanting to use headphones with it, it does an extraordinary job of superb sonics. But as you said, for only two channel OR if you are using it in an iFi stack then absolutely that answer is the Black Label again. The iDac2 is an awesome piece at $349, but you are getting more than a battery and an amazing headphone amp section with the Black label, you are getting Sanyo Os-Cons. Both iDac2 and Micro iDSD Black Label have Vishay MELF Resistors and Panasonic electrolytics, so we're not talking about cheapy off the shelf parts here in either case. The Micro iDSD Black Label is just the higher end piece in many respects. Plus, if you go on vacation you can take part of your hifi with you. The Black Label is an indispensable part of my travel life. Add a pair of IEM headphones with you for the flight, coupled with a smart device for music, movies and games it's like you never left home and are not currently crammed on a giant tin can in the sky.  8) Ok, maybe not all of that, but you get the picture.  :duh:

Now, if you don't want the uber headphone section and that $349 price speaks to your wallet then go iDac2. It is sonically excellent and like the Black Label, it serves as a great launching pad to piece meal your digital section later on if you chose. There are options that synergize with iDac2 incredibly well like the iUSB3.0, iSilencer, and the upcoming i****** all designed to allow you to upgrade your digital section with drop in ease.

Now that I have firmly established that I do in fact really like both pieces, here's the short answer: The only thing better about the iDac2 vs the Micro iDSD Black Label is the price.

brother love

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #6 on: 2 Mar 2017, 06:01 pm »
You left out that the iDAC2 has a DSD256/ PCM384 max, whereas the iDSD/ iDSD BL has a DSD512/ PCM768 max.  :thumb:

Pez

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #7 on: 2 Mar 2017, 08:29 pm »
You left out that the iDAC2 has a DSD256/ PCM384 max, whereas the iDSD/ iDSD BL has a DSD512/ PCM768 max.  :thumb:

I left out a plethora of things! IEMatch, power mode, Xbass, 3D, Preamp mode/direct mode, 3.5mm analog input, analog outputs, the coolest SPDIF/Optical option I have ever see on any device, the ability to charge your phone. it slices it dices it makes julienne fries.

BRN

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #8 on: 2 Mar 2017, 10:24 pm »
I agree that the Micro iDSD BL has some many great features, but I would never use them myself. I did mull over getting the iDSD BL, but in the end, and this is personal, the iDAC2 seemed a better match. I also, took into account that I will be adding some of the other power upgrade options that can improve the performance, like the iUSB3.0, iPurifier2, or a combination of both.

From a sound standpoint I did not have the iDSD BL to compare to the iDAC2, so my comments may have been a little stronger than necessary. If I had an iDSD BL to compare to the iDAC2, maybe I would have said I was going to get a iDSD BL. I don't know. All I know is that the iDAC2 is a great sounding DAC and it sounds very good in my system, and if someone does not have the money for the iDSD BL they need to have this DAC on their short list.

nature boy

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #9 on: 2 Mar 2017, 10:45 pm »
I left out a plethora of things! IEMatch, power mode, Xbass, 3D, Preamp mode/direct mode, 3.5mm analog input, analog outputs, the coolest SPDIF/Optical option I have ever see on any device, the ability to charge your phone. it slices it dices it makes julienne fries.

Pez,

Is there an optical input to the iFi Micro IDAC2?  If so then I could use this with a Chromecast Audio for a simple streaming solution in my bedroom system.

NB

BRN

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #10 on: 2 Mar 2017, 11:00 pm »
I believe that the only input on the iDAC2 is USB. The SPIDF is an RCA output only.

iFi is bring out a new Nano wireless DAC that looks to accept SPIDF input, but not sure if it does optical.

mr_bill

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #11 on: 2 Mar 2017, 11:32 pm »
I'd love to read a review that compares BL to Idac2 that is not written for use on only headphones!

Pez

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #12 on: 3 Mar 2017, 03:26 pm »
Pez,

Is there an optical input to the iFi Micro IDAC2?  If so then I could use this with a Chromecast Audio for a simple streaming solution in my bedroom system.

NB

Yes and yes. The optical input resides INSIDE the RCA digital out. There is a little adaptor that comes with the micro iDSD that allows you to plug optical into a coaxial input. Like magic.

dburna

Re: iFi Micro iDAC2 Review by Brad
« Reply #13 on: 3 Mar 2017, 03:37 pm »
Yes and yes. The optical input resides INSIDE the RCA digital out. There is a little adaptor that comes with the micro iDSD that allows you to plug optical into a coaxial input. Like magic.

Oh.....so THAT'S what that little adapter does.  I was wondering.

-dB