Look and feel
Design-wise, the Nano BL follows the same styling we’re come to know from ifi. Build quality is impeccable, with a satin matte finish that exudes quality. The Nano BL is surprisingly lightweight, and handles comfortably alongside most smartphones, although it is thicker than many contemporary portable devices. The thickness of the Nano BL makes it less pocketable than slimline devices, and certainly bulkier than dongle-type devices, so keep that in mind if pocketability is a priority.
The front panel contains the headphone output ports (both direct and IE Matched – more on this later), a small LED that changes colour based on output format and power status, and a combo power/volume knob with a distinct level indicator and a perfectly tactile feel. On the back is the very-ifi USB-A male port, a small switch to select between two audio filter choices, and a line out port for connecting the Nano BL to powered speakers.
Overall the design, fit and finish are first class, as we’ve come to expect from ifi. Some users have complained the 3.5mm headphone ports don’t have the same ‘travel’ as typical ports that let you ‘click’ your plugs in place, but that seem to be more a design choice than a flaw. The volume knob is clearly a few steps above average, and the all-metal aluminum housing is reassuringly solid.
Hook it up
Connecting the Nano BL to my smartphone was as easy as finding a suitable USB A-to-C OTG cable and putting the two together. My LG V30+ smartphone immediately recognised the Nano BL on power up, and both USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) and Tidal indicated they were ready to play.
I did (and still do) have a small issue that forces me to disconnect the Nano BL at the USB-A port and reconnect it for the phone to pick it up as an audio source, but that could have something to do with my third-party OTG cable. In any case, that workaround works if you have similar issues.
Once connected, any music played on your phone should come directly through the headphones connected to the Nano BL. If it doesn’t, it could be related to the issue described above, otherwise your phone may have a toggle switch for multiple playback devices. Just be careful not to turn the volume knob too far on first listen, and if you have any doubt about how sensitive your IEMs might be, best connect them to the IE Matched port before trying the direct headphone out.
Speaking of IE Match, this an ifi technology that increases the resistance of the headphone output to significantly lower the noise floor for more sensitive IEMs. If you use one of Campfire Audio’s super sensitive IEMs like the Andromeda or Solaris you’ll hear a faint hiss if you connect them to the direct headphone out, which is where the IE Match option is useful. That said, the IE Match function of the Nano BL raises output impedance to a rather high 4Ω, which could affect the sound signature of BA-only IEMs like Andromeda.
You can also connect the Nano BL to a computer with the provided USB cable and use it as a DAC/amp in place of your computer’s sound card. Since ifi includes its iPurifier technology in the Nano BL, in most cases this will give you a decent boost in sound quality. When connected to a computer as a DAC, the Nano BL is powered through the USB bus, not the battery, which is also charged in the process.
Coming up, sound quality…