Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver

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Tyson

Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« on: 5 Jan 2017, 01:22 am »



Dual Applications - Main System and Portable Applications
I’ll be doing a review of the iDSD Black as DAC in my main 2 channel system.  It is also a portable headphone amp but I don’t listen to music via my phone so I'll won't be reviewing the iDSD as a headphone amp or portable solution. 

System
Server - Windows 10 64bit Music Server
Software Player - JRiver and/or HQ Player
USB Power – iFi iUSB 3 and Regen Amber & Green
DAC - iFi iDSD Silver or Black
Preamp – Hot-rodded Hagerman Clarinet customized for octal tubes (6SN7 & 6BL7)
Amp - First Watt Burning Amp 3 (also hot-rodded with ridiculous parts quality)
Speakers - Serenity Acoustics Super 7s
Power Conditioners - BPT 2.5 and Felix/Bybee Bars
Room – Dedicated audio room in the garden level half-submerged basement

Music
All hirez music – 24/48, 24/96, 24/88, 24/192, 24/352 as well as DSD64, DSD128, and DSD256 files.  Rock, Classical, Jazz, Country, World Music, Soundtracks – you name it I probably have it.  Well maybe not quite that bad, but it’s pretty ridiculous. 

Upsampling & Conversion
I discovered recently that HQ Player, which is new to me, can get you MUCH better sound quality than JRiver (my usual player) because it does a better job upsampling and converting PCM to DSD.  I’ve got it set to convert all PCM files to DSD256 and it sounds freaking amazing.  The iDSD benefits enormously from being fed a DSD signal that the dedicated server already converted. 





USB Conditioners
First a note about conditioners.  I’ve listened to the iDSDs with and without all the conditioners in my system list.  Here’s my opinion based on that listening. 

“Should I use the iUSB 3, is it worth the $400?”  Yes, yes it is. 

“What about the iSilencer?”  It’s good but only gets you about 70% of what the iUSB 3 does. 

“What about all those Regen thingies, why do you have those?”  I bought those before the iUSB 3 came out.  The iUSB 3 is superior to the Regens.  But one day I thought, what the hell, maybe I should daisy chain them and see what happens.  What happened was even better sound.  Should you go buy a bunch of Regens, too?  I don’t know.  Probably not.  The iUSB 3 does all the heavy lifting.  The Regens make very small additional improvements.  I would not buy them if I didn’t already have them.  But they were already on hand so why not?  Hehe.






Setting Up the iFi iDSD
Luckily I had the iFi Silver in my system for the past 2 years and I’ve been able to zero in on the best settings in my system.  Here are my recs:

Output – Direct Mode.  This bypasses the volume pot so you get a full signal at the RCA analog outputs.  It also bypasses all the “Power Mode” and “IEMatch” settings. 

Polarity – “+”

Filter – Bit-Perfect

Xbass – Off

3D – Off

This get you as close to “Straight Pass Through” mode as possible.  And it’s how the iDSD sounds best, IMO.  These are also the best settings for the Black.

Sound Quality & Comparisons
OK, I’ve made you wait long enough.  How does it sound?  In a word – great!  It improves on the iDSD Silver in almost every way.  Let’s enumerate:

Bass – It’s not even a contest.  The bass on the Silver was very good but the Black just crushes it.  Better slam, attack, control, clarity, rhythm, delineation, everything is just better.  When I got OB Servo Controlled subs as part of my Serenity Acoustic Super 7 speakers, that was the only other time I’ve heard an improvement in bass at this level with my system.  Jackhammer bass.  But with finesse.

Macro Dynamics – Slam?  Yeah it’s also an order of magnitude better than the Silver.  The transient attacks are just downright MEAN, haha.  It’s like a high-performance car, it is just ‘itching’ to smack you around in an instant.  Zero to 100 in .01 seconds. 

Micro Dynamics – This is about even between the units.  In other words, they are both amazing.  The subtle little bits of intensity that comes through when real artists are playing are rendered exceptionally well.  This is a super important area for me because so many times it isn’t reproduced properly and it’s a critical part of being able to distinguish a good musical performance from a great musical performance.  Or a truly gifted musician from a merely good musician. 

Tonality – The one area that the Silver clearly wins.  Here the Silver is just magic.  Tonal density, differentiating the wood body of an instrument against the rosiny strings, the bloom of real instruments in a real space, the ability to hear subtle differences in tonality between different instruments in a large orchestra.  These are all things that the Silver excels. 

On the other hand, the Black may not have the ‘center of the earth, tube-like tonality’ that the Silver does, but it does have its strengths too.  It is light on its feet, effervescent and ebullient.  It is absolutely crystal clear and as close to ‘not there’ as I’ve heard at anywhere near this price point. 

Resolution – Black is clearly better (see what I did there?  Haha).  It’s like putting on a pair of new prescription glasses.  Everything snaps in to focus.  Or to be more specific it’s like going from HD video to 4K video.  There’s just more information there.  To me this is the most impressive aspect of the Black. 

Soundstage & Imaging – Oh, here is where things get interesting.  They are quite different in their presentations.  The Silver, with its dense tonality and lower overall resolution has a relaxed and beautiful presentation of instruments that are located in a deep, deep black background.  It’s almost like the music surges up from silence.  I love it.  On the other hand, the Black with its greater resolution and lighter tonality presents a lot more information – you hear EVERYTHING.  Which results in a massive soundstage, huge depth, width and even height. 





Final Thoughts
So, is the Black an improvement over the Silver?  Yes, decisively.  Will I be buying the Black and using it in my system?  No, no I won’t.  Because for me the tonality is more important than every other single factor.  That’s my preference, even if it is a preference for a more colored sound.  Rose tinted glasses?  Yep. I prefer all my music to be beautified.  I’ve heard it mentioned that the iTube would give me the tonality I seek while keeping all the improvements the Black offers.  Maybe I’ll give that a go in the future.  For now, I’ve held on to this unit for far too long as it is (and enjoyed the heck out of it).  Time to send it to the next person on the list. 

jtwrace

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #1 on: 5 Jan 2017, 01:37 am »
Nice.  Guess this means I'm not converting many ISO files.  If you change your mind, it's a standing offer.   :)

poseidonsvoice

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Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #2 on: 5 Jan 2017, 01:51 am »
Great introspective review Tyson!  Can't  say I am surprised as I have always thought you were a tonal listener from our private pm's regarding Pass' designs  :thumb:

Best,
Anand.

JakeJ

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #3 on: 5 Jan 2017, 02:10 am »
Thanks Tyson!  Great review, very informative, simple presentation, and an entertaining read.  I'm convinced I would be happier with the silver after reading this, thanks.

Was the unit part of the Head-Fi tour?

Can I PM you about Pass designs as well?  Recently acquired a Volksamp Aleph 30 and a Pass Labs X350.5.

Phil A

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #4 on: 5 Jan 2017, 02:22 am »
Thanks for the analysis and review!

zybar

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #5 on: 5 Jan 2017, 02:42 am »
Great review Tyson!

George

brj

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #6 on: 5 Jan 2017, 03:23 am »
Nice review, Tyson!  It reminds me that I need to bring my (silver) micro iDSD home from the office to try in the main system.

(Though the micro iUSB3 is the iFi component that I've really been wanting to demo...)

brother love

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #7 on: 5 Jan 2017, 12:59 pm »
Wow. Top notch review Tyson. Well done sir.  :thumb:

PS, Glad the HQ Player is working for you. It's a real game changer for sure.

zybar

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #8 on: 5 Jan 2017, 01:19 pm »
Wow. Top notch review Tyson. Well done sir.  :thumb:

PS, Glad the HQ Player is working for you. It's a real game changer for sure.

Quick side note...the soon to be released Roon 1.3 will do upsamplimg and my eliminate the need to use HQ Player.  I greatly prefer Roon over JRiver.

George

nature boy

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #9 on: 5 Jan 2017, 01:41 pm »
 Thanks for the insightful review Tyson.

NB

rodge827

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #10 on: 5 Jan 2017, 04:44 pm »
Hi Tyson,

Thanks for the great and to the point review.  8)

Were the review Dacs run off the internal battery?

While listening did the charge for the batteries ever kick in?

Was there a noticeable difference in sound quality when they did?

Rudimentary questions at best but I have an itch...

Chris

 

Tyson

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #11 on: 5 Jan 2017, 05:00 pm »
Nice.  Guess this means I'm not converting many ISO files.  If you change your mind, it's a standing offer.   :)

Oh I still might.  George is saying Roon will do upsampling soon.  If it sounds better than Jriver, I am jumping ship, but Roon only does DSF files not ISO files, so..... maybe I'll PM you soon ;)

Tyson

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #12 on: 5 Jan 2017, 05:01 pm »
Thanks Tyson!  Great review, very informative, simple presentation, and an entertaining read.  I'm convinced I would be happier with the silver after reading this, thanks.

Was the unit part of the Head-Fi tour?

Can I PM you about Pass designs as well?  Recently acquired a Volksamp Aleph 30 and a Pass Labs X350.5.

Sure, PM me, I'd love to talk about the Pass designs.  The man is a genius. 

I am not on the Headfi tour.  I am on the "I went to the iFi booth RMAF and that sounds badass - can I try one out at home please!" tour.

Tyson

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #13 on: 5 Jan 2017, 05:18 pm »
Quick side note...the soon to be released Roon 1.3 will do upsamplimg and my eliminate the need to use HQ Player.  I greatly prefer Roon over JRiver.

George

Yeah, Roon's interface and metadata abilities alone are worth the price and hassle of changing.  Jriver sounds great and all, but lets face it the interface for Jriver is mediocre at best.  And the interface for HQ Player is downright primitive.  Ah the things we do for better sound...

Tyson

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #14 on: 5 Jan 2017, 05:21 pm »
Hi Tyson,

Thanks for the great and to the point review.  8)

Were the review Dacs run off the internal battery?
While listening did the charge for the batteries ever kick in?
Was there a noticeable difference in sound quality when they did?
Rudimentary questions at best but I have an itch...

Chris
Nope, I did not listen to it using the battery - it was plugged in to the iUSB 3 the whole time.  Yes, battery does sound better, I know that from previous experiments with my Silver iDSD.  But using the battery is just too finicky for me as a long term solution.  Seriously at some point I just don't want to futz around with my system any more.  Audiophilia is a disease, but I'm not THAT sick :P

jtwrace

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #15 on: 5 Jan 2017, 05:25 pm »
Oh I still might.  George is saying Roon will do upsampling soon.  If it sounds better than Jriver, I am jumping ship, but Roon only does DSF files not ISO files, so..... maybe I'll PM you soon ;)
Yeah the Roon 1.3 release is going to be massive as I've seen the release notes for alpha testers.  Hang tight!

poseidonsvoice

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Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #16 on: 5 Jan 2017, 05:33 pm »
Yeah the Roon 1.3 release is going to be massive as I've seen the release notes for alpha testers.  Hang tight!

Not massive but bombastic! I'm tickled with joy. Tyson, climb on!  :thumb:  :P

Yes, I'm a lifetime subscriber to Roon; I've seen jtwrace's release notes of the release notes of the alpha testers  :rules:

 :green:

Best,
Anand.
 

Tyson

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #17 on: 5 Jan 2017, 05:48 pm »
Found this, for anyone curious about what Jason and Anand are talking about:

http://www.digitalaudioreview.net/2017/01/coming-over-the-hill-the-monstrous-roon-1-3/

sts9fan

Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #18 on: 5 Jan 2017, 06:07 pm »
Not massive but bombastic! I'm tickled with joy. Tyson, climb on!  :thumb:  :P

Yes, I'm a lifetime subscriber to Roon; I've seen jtwrace's release notes of the release notes of the alpha testers  :rules:

 :green:

Best,
Anand.

So Bigly!!

Pez

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Re: Tyson’s Review - iFi iDSD Black vs Silver
« Reply #19 on: 5 Jan 2017, 07:06 pm »
Nice review Tyson. Yep, system synergy is interesting isn't it? One set of upgrades may not be optimal when a system is tuned one way or another. That said, the important take away is either unit is excellent and depending on your personal preferences and system setup you might pick one over the other. If you love BASS then you'd better get a black label. If you love DYNAMICS again, black label is the way to go. Personally on my Meze headphone setup (which I will post impressions of sometime in the future)  tonality is one of the strongest attributes. That said, I don't have a standard mDSD sitting around to directly compare.

Oh, if you haven't already, go enter the iSilencer 3.0 contest here: http://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=147447.msg1580369#msg1580369