A year ago, AMR spin-off iFi Audio announced the Black Label version (US$549/€599/£455) of their already popular micro iDSD transportable DAC / headphone amplifier. A month or so later, we took it for a review spin with smartphone and MacBook and were bowled over by its fleshier (than the Chord Mojo) headphone drive and a seemingly never-ending feature set – S/PDIF inputs, RCA outputs, IEMatch, portable battery. A DAR-KO award was all but inevitable.
The Black Label micro iDSD was pressed into service again a few weeks later when assessing the latest round of David Bowie remasters to land on Tidal in both MQA and ‘standard’ PCM versions. We concluded, somewhat predictably, that Bowie’s early 1970s output sounded better with a better DAC, even one without MQA support (the iFi) than a lesser DAC with MQA support (the Meridian Explorer2).
In September, at Berlin’s IFA, iFi showed up to tease a new, smaller transportable DAC / headphone amplifier: the nano iDSD. MQA support (rendering only) would be baked into its USB receiver chip firmware upon official (October) release:
The nano iDSD BL / MQA announcement prompted existing micro iDSD BL owners to ask: what about us?
Half a year on and iFi Audio have today announced the v5.30 ‘Cookies & Cream’ firmware upgrade that will add MQA rendering support to a range of the company’s portables, not just the micro iDSD BL. Also getting Cookies & Cream are the Retro Stereo 50, micro iDSD, micro iDAC2, xDSD, nano iDSD BL/LE/original and nano iONE. Details can be found here.
Rendering support means any MQA listening will be reliant on the iFi DAC being USB connected to a device running an app that executes the first unfold. At the time of publishing, that means a laptop or desktop PC/Mac running Tidal’s desktop app, Audirvana+ etc. Not Roon.
I’ve successfully updated my micro iDSD BL to v5.30 using iFi’s MacOS installer but a Windows installer is also available.
Zooming out, we see field-upgradeable audio hardware becoming increasingly common. The likes of Devialet, AURALiC, PS Audio, AudioQuest – and now iFi Audio – offer products that keep on giving long after the initial purchase has been forgotten.
Further information: iFi Audio