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iFi Audio nano iDSD LE

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#1
iFi Audio's nano iDSD LE is a little DAC/amp with big ambitions. It packs all the knowledge from the bigger DAC/amps in iFi's huge portofolio of products into a small package. Despite being small, it still features RCA line-outs, a very respectable headphone amplification circuit, and a 1000 mAh battery.

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#2
Cool to see some iFi Audio gear reviewed. Have the Micro iDSD myself, and it's just a really great device. Wish more people would give them a look and chance.
 
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#3
Today's mobo audio does just a good a job.
 
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#5
It's not an "odd plug" it's a USB 3.0 type B connector and perfectly standard.
Is it a good connector design? Maybe not, but it's backwards compatible.

 
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#7
so.... i have a asrock z77-pro3 mb.
I use a creative xtreme gamer soundcard, connected to my 5.1 HT via spdif to hear music.
also, i use a plantronics headset to play games.


Now i wonder:

will i have any benefit from this AMP?

i mean, mb sound i think its crappy from my ears.

But will i have any sort of benefit with this?

thanks in advance.
 
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#9
It's not an "odd plug" it's a USB 3.0 type B connector and perfectly standard.
Is it a good connector design? Maybe not, but it's backwards compatible.

How many other audio companies have adopted it?
It is a strange/odd choice for anything marketed as portable, as it is huge.
 
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#10
For cheap active speakers most on-board sound cards are good enough. Anything more serious than that you should consider upgrading. Even on cheap headphones you can hear the difference compared to on-board as the noise floor is lower and the dynamics are better, plus for efficient headphones you get better volume control.

Most on-board solutions suffer from high output impedance which makes them sound strange with low to medium impedance headphones. Noise floor is usually a lot higher as well which detracts a lot from the listening experience.
 
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#11
Today's mobo audio does just a good a job.
agreed, asus employs ESS sabre DAC's into their ROG boards, ESS Sabre chips are top of the hill currently but with that being said i've never heard their implementation using it.
 

NRANM

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#12
I would go ahead and say that on-board audio is sufficient for virtually any active/multimedia speaker system, even expensive ones.
For headphones I can agree that on-board solutions are not as good but it's due to the amp section, not the DAC, so even just an amplifier (not a DAC/amp combo) would suffice.

Also, this "review" is laughable. Not a single word on the components used for the circuitry (USB receiver, DAC, op-amp, buffer, etc.), no graphs or measurements are provided. The entire "review" boils down to "I personally liked how the device sounded, you should buy it".
 
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#13
So you would know how it sounded just by looking at the components? Components play a much smaller part of the end performance than people think, you can have a look at NwAvGuy's O2 and ODAC documentation.

If we had the capability to measure like NwAvGuy then it would make sense to provide measurements, but doing silly RMAA graphs like you see on most audio reviews just confuse people. And then there is still the problem of how well the objective measurements compared with the subjective listening experience.

The review is based on comparison with another capable albeit slightly more expensive unit which is well reviewed all around.
 

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#14
If two devices are designed properly they will sound identical or with insignificant differences. After all, we are talking about transistors, not tubes.
Knowing what components are used in a device can be a sign or lack of competence. As NwAvGuy has said it himself, some components are simply not designed for audio and using them in an audio device is sub-optimal.

If components play a small part in the performance of the device, then what plays the larger part? The metal casing? The cable? The color of the pcb?
And if components are so unimportant, then why do various manufacturers can't stop bragging what supposedly high-end chips they've used in their latest DAC and/or Amp?

Just because you do not have the same equipment as NwAvGuy doesn't mean you shouldn't perform any measurements. Less accurate measurements are still better than no measurements. This and the "it confuses people" sound like very lazy excuses to not do proper reviews.

How about graphics card reviews not mention any benchmark FPS numbers, temperatures or fan noise information.
Reviewer would just say: "Well, the card looks nice, I couldn't hear it in my case so it must be very quiet, it wasn't too hot to the touch so I guess it's not overheating, and games played fine. Oh, and I could swear that the colors with this card are more rich and alive than the other card because it is more powerful and expensive."
There, short and sweet.
 
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#15
How many other audio companies have adopted it?
It is a strange/odd choice for anything marketed as portable, as it is huge.
That's not what you wrote though, you just said it was an "odd plug". If you said it was an odd choice of connector, I would've agreed with you.
 
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#16
If two devices are designed properly they will sound identical or with insignificant differences. After all, we are talking about transistors, not tubes.
Knowing what components are used in a device can be a sign or lack of competence. As NwAvGuy has said it himself, some components are simply not designed for audio and using them in an audio device is sub-optimal.

If components play a small part in the performance of the device, then what plays the larger part? The metal casing? The cable? The color of the pcb?
And if components are so unimportant, then why do various manufacturers can't stop bragging what supposedly high-end chips they've used in their latest DAC and/or Amp?

Just because you do not have the same equipment as NwAvGuy doesn't mean you shouldn't perform any measurements. Less accurate measurements are still better than no measurements. This and the "it confuses people" sound like very lazy excuses to not do proper reviews.

How about graphics card reviews not mention any benchmark FPS numbers, temperatures or fan noise information.
Reviewer would just say: "Well, the card looks nice, I couldn't hear it in my case so it must be very quiet, it wasn't too hot to the touch so I guess it's not overheating, and games played fine. Oh, and I could swear that the colors with this card are more rich and alive than the other card because it is more powerful and expensive."
There, short and sweet.
Quality components are nothing without proper integration, same the other way around.

Problem is we have no way of judging it based on photos whether the components are selected correctly as you would have to have know everything about the circuit design and goals. If you see the test methodology and amount of component combinations tested on some of the proper open-source designs, there is no way to add anything except stating what is inside. The reason why companies brag about chips is because the chips are cheaper than proper engineering. Which is why the O2 can sound nice without boutique op-amps, caps, and wires.

Take the O2 and swap the op-amps to the most expensive on the market and it performs subjectively worse while measuring almost the same even when you have the proper test gear. Doing RMAA between two units of similar quality does not reveal anything except for the measurement variance.

I would like to do proper measurements, but currently it is out of budget.
 

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#17
Actually we can judge whether components are selected correctly. Some components are objectively worse than others, some are way overpriced for what they offer, etc. We can get an idea if the manufacturer is trying to produce something decent or if (for example) the goal is to put some rather expensive components that would impress audiophiles without having any practical benefit.

Subjective is the key word here. Without proper measurements and technical information everything in this review is subjective. That's not how science and electronics articles and reviews work.

This is basically a glorified press release.
 

Ears

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#19
In his review, Frederik S says Volume imbalance is noticeable in the first 1/8th of the knob's range. The channel imbalance disappears once you are in the usable range. In the iDSD LE I have, I would say there is more than an imbalance; for me one or both channels drop out in this part of the volume knob's range. This seems to be a defect, and I'm wondering if it's common to all copies of this DAC.

Has anyone else reading this noticed problems with the start of the volume control's range? Or does anyone reading this have an iDSD LE which does not have this issue? Fredrik, has iFi acknowledged or explained this behavior? Any help appreciated, thanks.
 
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#20
It is the characteristics of the volume pot that creates the imbalance. I guess if you got one with a bad pot it could lead to more on/off behavior in that range. I would contact them and ask, as I only have one unit I cannot comment on the variance between units.

And the RCAs are cut when you insert a jack to protect the circuit. Sorry for the slow replies been very busy with work.
 

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#21
Thank you, Frederik S. Further research turned up two white papers from AMR & iFi explaining the volume control used in the nano iDSD (and, I presume, the nano iDSD LE as well):

http://support.ifi-audio.com/kb/faq.php?id=438 said:
To achieve the most transparent and highest resolution sound, the analogue volume control
used inside the nano iDSD is a software‐controlled Stepped Volume Control....

If you cannot use the volume beyond 10 o’clock, then your headphone is too sensitive for
the nano iDSD. An inline attenuator (say ‐12dB, between the headphone and the nano iDSD)
is required to match the headphone to the nano iDSD....

Comments
i. All analogue volume controls exhibit a small amount of channel imbalance at very low
volume settings (below 10 o’clock).

ii. An analogue volume control (stepper version) will also have finite steps (24‐64 steps)
over the whole range. Hence at very low volume settings (below 10 o’clock), where the
steps are larger, one will hear volume change in larger steps.

If normal listening is performed at 9 o’ clock (should be 12 o’ clock or beyond), the
IEM/headphone is likely to be too sensitive for the iDSD/iCAN.

So it seems there is no "pot" (potentiometer): the "imbalance" of the stepper control before 10:00 is a design choice. Is it a good choice? iFi states this control is "controlled via software." Perhaps it can be programmed to mute its unusable low range.

It is the characteristics of the volume pot that creates the imbalance. I guess if you got one with a bad pot it could lead to more on/off behavior in that range. I would contact them and ask, as I only have one unit I cannot comment on the variance between units.