In The Box
The Nano BL ships in a compact box packed full of accessories. Aside from the Nano itself, ifi includes a good quality USB-A female to male cable and various USB adapters that let you hook up the Nano BL to different devices. You also get a pair of elastic straps in case you want to stack the Nano BL with your smartphone, and a soft velour pouch to keep the Nano BL safe and clean in your carry bag or pocket.
What you don’t get, oddly, is an OTG cable from the Nano to your smartphone – Lightning for iPhones and USB-C for Android phones. In ifi’s defense, many phones ship with their own OTG cables, although very few OTG cables sport the female USB-A port you need to connect them directly to the Nano BL. ifi’s recently-released HiP DAC ships with this type of OTG cable, so it makes sense for ifi to start including it with the Nano BL.
Once you go black
The Black Label moniker denotes ifi’s ‘premium’ grade of consumer device, building on the previously popular Nano iDSD with more expensive parts, better amplification, and some new features (like MQA decoding support) for a still very reasonable asking price of $199.
It’s not quite as sophisticated or robust as the company’s BL flagship, the full-sized Micro iDSD BL, but has features like the new S-balanced amplification architecture its big brother lacks. It’s also not as powerful as the full-size Micro, but being less than half the size and weight, that’s understandable.
The Nano is very much intended as battery-powered portable companion to a smartphone or a lightweight all-in-one desktop DAC/amp, designed to drive moderately-sensitive headphones and IEMs, whereas the Micro can best be described as a ‘transportable’ desktop device.
Using the same ifi-modified hybrid Burr-Brown digital audio chip as the Micro, the Nano BL was one of the first devices of its kind to feature native MQA hardware decoding, along with native DSD 256 and 384kHz PCM support, making it a very versatile audio decoder on the go and at the desk. It’s rated power output of 285mW into 32Ω from its direct headphone output makes it more than powerful enough to drive almost any IEM on the market, along with some harder-to-drive full size headphones.
It’s certainly more powerful than your average smartphone and most entry-level DAPs, so if your headphones need more power and finesse, the Nano BL is one way to get them.
Coming up, more features…