iFi micro iDAC2 Sound Quality (Subjective Listening)
This isn’t my first experience with iFi Audio’s products. I was using the nano iDSD before, followed by the micro iDSD that quickly became my favorite portable DAC/AMP. So it’s no surprise to me if the micro iDAC2 sounded great. Honestly, I would be more surprised if it didn’t sound good. But I am happy to tell you that it’s a good portable DAC. Yeah, you didn’t waste your time reading this review! The real question is, is the iDAC2 your cup of tea? Will it go well with your audio gear like your headphone, IEM or amplifier?
For several months I used the micro iDAC2 as my primary DAC for my PC. Sometimes I pair it with the micro iCAN SE, but most of the time I just listened to it right off from its front 3.5mm headphone out. One of the things that I like about the iDAC2 is that it’s totally USB powered. I connected it to my Gigabyte Z170X-Gaming 7‘s rear USB3.0 port, and after installing the “iFi (by AMR) HD USB Audio Driver 2.26” it’s all set. I did try the USB3.1 port briefly, but I didn’t notice any benefit of using it over the USB 3.0 port.
Now in terms of sound quality, to my ears the iFi micro iDAC2 has a very clean and clear output signal. I couldn’t hear any distortion or static sound, even when playing different audio formats (PCM to DSD and vice versa) or when skipping time on a particular track. Hissing sound was nonexistent at all especially when I used headphones. I tried IEMs as well, like the Campfire Andromeda you see above, and hiss was observable only when I turned the volume knob all the way to 85%-100%. Of course, I wasn’t listening to any music at the time (with the Andromeda). As you can see from the photo above, the volume knob is only at 9 o’clock and that’s already the comfortable listening volume with the Andromeda. As for headphones, depending on the impedance of the headphone, you need to crack the volume up more.
The iFi micro iDAC2 has a very neutral and natural tonality or sound signature. Audio fidelity is definitely top notch without losing quality or detail, and at the same time it doesn’t add anything or slightly alter the sound signature of your headphone or IEM. There is no treble boost or bass boost with the iDAC2. If you have a bassy or warm-sounding headphone that you may want to give it more treble presence, the iDAC2 can’t do it for you. Or if you have a sharp piercing and sibilant headphone or IEM that you want to tone down its treble and give it a little more bass presence, the iDAC2 can’t do that either.
To my ears, the iDAC2 sounds like it is passing the original state of your audio, without adding or losing anything. If you have a lossless audio or your feeding DSD audio to the iDAC2 then that’s what you get. Of course, if you feed it with a lossy MP3 audio, it can’t make it sound any better at all. Better get the lossless version of that music if you don’t want your ears to suffer. Sound staging and imaging are pretty good as well with the iDAC2. Just be sure you also have a headphone or IEM capable of delivering that amount of soundstage and imaging as well.
If I were to compare the micro iDAC2 with the micro iDSD, I would say that overall the micro iDSD is better compared to the iDAC2. When I was switching from the iDAC2 to micro iDSD while listening to Adele, I noticed that the mid-section of the micro iDSD has more body or probably a tad warmer compared to the iDAC2. Not to mention, the iDSD has a better amplification section and it does come with more connectivity options and feature such as XBass and 3D.
Now in terms of pairing headphones and IEMs, the micro iDAC2 is not that picky at all. No problems with IEMs since generally speaking IEMs are very easy to drive. However headphones are a different story. Headphones that are relatively easy to drive won’t have any problems with the iDAC2. I tried it with the EL-8, Fidelio X2, HE-400s and HE-400i; the iDAC2 was able to drive these headphones with ease. But I don’t think that the integrated amplifier of the iDAC2 is powerful enough to drive headphones with high impedance rating. Headphones like the Sennheiser HD800(s) with a nominal impedance of 300 Ω, you will have to pair the iDAC2 with an amplifier (like the micro iCAN SE) to drive these high impedance headphones to their full potential.
Price and Availability
iFi Audio’s iDAC2 USB powered / portable DAC with DSD support is now available in the US and UK. You can grab one via Amazon.com for $349. While in UK, it currently retails for £295.00 and you can order one from Amazon UK here. iFi Audio is offering a 1 year warranty for parts and labor for the said device.
iFi micro iDac2 Review: Conclusion
iFi Audio has created another marvel in the form of the micro iDAC2. This is a great digital to analog converter that comes with a reference-like sound quality. Price is most of the time debatable, however you can’t also deny that there are DACs that have a much higher price tag but performs more or less the same or (worst) subpar compared to the iDAC2. Some DACs doesn’t even support DSD or anything above 384kHz. DSD formats are not as popular yet compared to lossless PCM formats. Soon it will be and the iDAC2 is fully prepared for that.
With the iDAC2 you get what you feed it with. Throw a 16/44 kHz audio and that’s what you get, throw a 24/96 or even a DSD256 and the iDAC2 won’t complain at all. The sound quality and signature simply stays at its original form and you get the cleanest and purest signal. It’s very neutral sounding and natural. Think of it this way, if the iDAC2 was a monitor or TV, the colors are not too saturated or washed out.
In terms of build quality, it is pretty much solid thanks to its aluminum metal casing. I really don’t have any major issues with the iDAC2. If I have to nitpick, the 3.5mm headphone out could have been a little bit farther from the volume knob and the rubber feets could be a little bit thicker. Although its integrated amplifier is powerful enough to drive in ear monitors or most headphones on the market, I would like to reiterate that it may be or is inadequate to fully drive headphone with high impedance. Like I said earlier, better pair the iDAC2 with an amplifier like the micro iCAN SE if that’s the case.
Overall, it was and until now is a really nice and enjoyable listening experience with the iDAC2. This is simply a no-nonsense product that is very easy to use and operate. If you want a neutral-sounding DAC without costing you too much, then the iFi micro iDAC2 should be on your top list.