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
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 TouchMusic:
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.