Skip to main content

Ifi iDSD Nano Black Label hands-on review

The iDSD Nano Black Label DAC delivers amazing audio, if you get it to connect

Ifi iDSD Nano Black Label hands-on review
Ifi iDSD Nano Black Label hands-on
MSRP $199.00
“The iDSD Nano Black Label serves up brain-shaking volume and power, when it works.”
  • Eye-watering volume
  • Balanced headphone support
  • Lightweight
  • Battery delivers 10 hours of use
  • Connectivity problems with Android devices
  • Requires another cable purchase

Smartphones make excellent music players. Most have plenty of storage, data for streaming, Bluetooth and — hopefully — a 3.5mm headphone jack, and exceptional portability. However, even while some manufacturers make an effort to get the sound right — LG’s G6 and V30 for example — most phones could benefit from adding a standalone digital-to-analog converter (DAC). In our Ifi Nano iDSD Black Label hands-on review, we test out the latest $200 DAC from Ifi Audio to see if it’s the bargain it appears to be.

Features and design

The $200 Ifi Nano iDSD Black Label is less than half the price of the similar, and very popular, Chord Mojo DAC. Ifi Audio said it didn’t believe a DAC should cost the same as the device to which it’s attached, and it hasn’t stripped back the feature list to achieve the price either. The little black box supports hi-res audio formats up to PCM 32/384kHz and DSD 256. Also, the DAC supports MQA for use with content such as Tidal’s Master files.

The Nano iDSD Black Label is lightweight and compact, and isn’t dissimilar to carrying around a battery pack for your phone. It has two headphone outputs, one with a balanced output, and a chunky physical volume knob that also turns the device on and off. Despite being designed for use with a smartphone, out of the box it’s easier to connect to your computer using the included USB cable. To connect it to your phone you’ll need to buy a special cable. If you have an iPhone you need the Apple Camera Connection Kit, or if you have an Android phone, you need an On-The-Go (OTG) cable, which is also often used for transferring photos from the device to a PC.

We couldn’t get the Nano Black Label working with many smartphones

We expect peripherals to connect up without issue, but unfortunately that’s not the case with the Ifi Nano iDSD Black Label, and the problem is very frustrating. We couldn’t get the Nano Black Label working with many smartphones we had on hand for the test. Most seriously, the LG V30 refused to connect and play music through the DAC, a phone which MQA highlighted as a high performer at the Nano Black Label’s launch, and even supplied us with special recommended tracks to test out on the device. We also tried with a Huawei Mate 10 Pro, a OnePlus 3T, a OnePlus 5, and a new Razer Phone.

After speaking to Ifi Audio about the problem, it may come down to the use of a USB Type-C plug and Android compatibility. They suggested several fixes which had worked on a Samsung Galaxy S8, but they did not cure the problems with our hardware. We eventually got the Nano Black Label working with our Google Pixel 2 and with our iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X. Here, it was essential the unit was switched on before being plugged into the smartphone, otherwise it wasn’t recognized.

We’re lucky to be able to swap between smartphones, a luxury most people won’t have. Buying the iDSD Nano Black Label and finding out it doesn’t work with your phone would be a disappointment. The DAC worked perfectly as a replacement for the soundcard on our MacBook Pro, plugged in with the supplied cable. The battery is charged using the same cable, and usage time is quoted as 10 hours.


How did it sound when we got it working? We tested the Ifi iDSD Nano Black Label with two sets of headphones. The Brainwavz B200 balanced dual armature in-ears, and the Marshall Major 2 Bluetooth (plugging in with the supplied cable, obviously) on-ear headphones. Starting with the iPhone X, Jidenna’s Long Live the Chief rattled our brain and blurred our vision using the Marshall headphones, giving a really strong vocal and bass performance. What’s immediately obvious is the amount of power the on-board amplifier on the Nano Black Label produces. Take it to three quarters volume and you can physically feel the Marshall’s cups vibrating on your head. There’s way more punch and volume than your ears can take.

Ifi iDSD Nano Black Label hands-on review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

We always enjoy Perfume’s Magic of Love for its varied, wide soundstage; but the iDSD Nano Black Label keeps things relatively intimate, without minimizing the wonderful spaciousness of that particular track. Keyakizaka46’s Kaze ni Fukaretemo — a great track over headphones — sounds great, with the wide range of vocals spread equally wide over the soundstage, and lead singer Hirate Yurina’s voice focused at exactly the right time. Trying the same tracks on the Google Pixel 2 resulted in a very similar performance, but with less bass response and a brighter sound.

Plug the Brainwavz balanced in-ears into the iEMatch 3.5mm jack, and flick the switch over to “Measure” on the iDSD Nano Black Label, and you get the clearer, wider soundstage the Marshall’s couldn’t produce — at the expense of heavy bass. If you own a pair of balanced headphones, the iDSD Nano Black Label will definitely help bring out their best.

There’s way more punch and volume than your ears can take.

A quick comparison with the Chord Mojo reveals the iDSD Nano Black Label can’t quite compete with the more expensive unit’s monster power and all-immersive soundstage. The Chord Mojo also works with all our Android devices without a problem. Audio performance differences are minor, and the iDSD Nano Black Label actually has the Mojo beaten on sheer, massive volume. If your plan is to lose your hearing in the near future, the iDSD Nano Black Label will be of great help. It’s also less of a cable nightmare, with the USB connector built into the device, rather than needing a MicroUSB cable to connect the Mojo to the phone’s audio dongle.

Because of the iDSD Nano Black Label’s problem connecting to Android phones, we haven’t had the chance to try out its MQA ability, and have only tested it with standard lossy files on our smartphones. All this makes a blanket recommendation of the device difficult. If you have an iPhone, we know it works, and it genuinely enhances the audio experience. If you have an Android phone, we’d hold off buying one until Ifi Audio releases a list of phones that absolutely work with the DAC. Otherwise you risk messing around with returning the product if it doesn’t connect.

We have alerted Ifi Audio about these problems, and know it’s working on fixing them. If updated firmware arrives and cures connectivity issues, we’ll update here.

Andy Boxall
Senior Mobile Writer
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
Best Apple AirPods alternatives for 2024: Bose, Sony, Marshall, and more
Apple AirPods Pro 2 and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Apple has played a significant role in advancing the popularity and technology of in-ear true wireless earbuds. Their glossy white design has become a recognizable status symbol and they have introduced features like active noise cancellation (ANC), voice-assistant support with Siri, and Spatial Audio for an immersive sound experience.

If you're in the market for new wireless earbuds and considering either the Apple AirPods (3rd generation) or Apple's flagship AirPods Pro (2nd generation), you've likely noticed that all that technology and cachet comes at a premium price. The latest 3rd-gen AirPods cost $169, the most recent 2nd-gen AirPods Pro cost $249, and the 2nd-gen AirPods cost $129.

Read more
Apple’s entry-level AirPods are back under $100
Apple AirPods placed on a table next to their charging case

If the more recent models of Apple's AirPods are still too expensive for you, even with the discounts from AirPods deals, then you may want to check out Walmart's offer for the second-generation Apple AirPods. They're currently available for only $99, following a $30 discount on their original price of $129. If you weren't able to get these wireless earbuds for this cheap from previous sales, now's your chance to do so, but you need to hurry because Apple devices almost always get sold out quickly when their prices get slashed.

Why you should buy the Apple AirPods 2
The latest models of Apple's AirPods are the third-generation Apple AirPods and the second-generation Apple AirPods Pro, but the second-generation Apple AirPods are still a worthwhile investment, especially if you can get them for this cheap. You won't get features such as head-tracking spatial audio and active noise cancellation, but the Apple AirPods 2 are still extremely simple to set up with your iPhone or iPad -- you just need to open their charging case near your device, and tap on the notifications to complete the process. They will work with Android smartphones and tablets, but with the extra step of pressing the button at the back of the case to initiate pairing.

Read more
LG’s OLED Evo-tailored soundbar is available for preorder for $800
The LG SG10TY soundbar.

Earlier today, LG satiated TV enthusiasts by announcing the pricing and availability for its anticipated 2024 slate of OLED evo G4 and C4 televisions that wowed us at CES 2024. But the Korean electronics giant isn't done for the day and has also announced that its latest 3.1-channel wireless Dolby Atmos soundbar, the SG10TY, designed to pair perfectly with evo G Series TVs, is also available today for preorders and will cost $800.

The first of LG's CES 2024-announced soundbars to see the light of day, the SG10TY (and its sibling, S70TY, which matches with LG's 2024 QNED TVs) is a slim wall-mountable soundbar that is meant to work seamlessly with  LG's 2024  OLED evo G4 Series TVs in more ways than one. While it's a perfect fit, size-wise, for the 65-inch OLED EVO G4, matching its width and frame bezel, the LG SG10TY integrates with any of the evo G4 sizes, from its smallest 55-inch to the huge 97-inch model.

Read more