iFi audio iDSD Diablo Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by iFi audio, Jan 14, 2021.

  1. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    iDSD Diablo: revel in the detail

    Dressed in devilish red, iFi’s new top-of-the-range transportable DAC/headphone amp sports a powerful engine under the hood, expertly tuned to deliver an exhilarating sonic performance

    [​IMG]

    Southport, England – iFi ushers in the New Year with the best battery-powered DAC/headphone amp the company has ever produced – the devilishly brilliant iDSD Diablo. Engineered to sit proudly at the top of iFi’s illustrious range of mobile and transportable devices, the Diablo is built for the purists – the true headphone enthusiasts who crave pure, unadulterated sonic performance.

    With dimensions of 166x72x25mm, its size is similar to DAC/amps in iFi’s long-running, transportable micro iDSD series, with a built-in, quick-charge-compatible battery that makes it easy to move from desk to living room to travel bag. Its sleek new design and fiery red finish, however, mark it out as distinctly different.

    Like a high-performance sports car designed for uncompromising speed, the iDSD Diablo sets aside facilities offered by other iFi DAC/headphone amps – sonic tailoring options and Bluetooth connectivity, for example – to focus on pure sonic power, featuring ultra-high-quality circuit components and the ability to drive any headphones on the planet with aplomb. Simply connect your digital source via USB or S/PDIF, plug in your headphones and prepare for a riveting musical ride from this elite-class digital audio engine, expertly tuned to achieve captivating speed, scale and dynamic range.

    DAC’s entertainment

    The iDSD Diablo’s digital stage incorporates a Burr-Brown DAC chip that iFi uses extensively, selected for its natural-sounding ‘musicality’ and True Native architecture. Here, two of these chips are installed in a custom ‘interleaved’ configuration – this enables four pairs of differential signals (two pairs per channel) which lowers the noise floor, improves channel separation and enhances the DAC’s ability to resolve fine musical detail and micro-dynamics.

    iFi’s experience with this Burr-Brown chipset means it knows how to make the most of it, but the creation of an exemplary digital stage involves more than the selection of a particular DAC chip. One such critical component is the XMOS chip that processes the audio data received via the USB and S/PDIF digital inputs. The iDSD Diablo uses a new low-latency XMOS microcontroller with greatly enhanced processing power – compared to the current generation of eight-core chips, this new 16-core IC delivers double the clock speed (2000MIPS) and four times the memory.

    [​IMG]

    iFi’s in-house digital development team has programmed the XMOS firmware to optimise sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the DAC circuitry. Extensive jitter-eradication technologies are also applied to the digital stage, including an enhanced version of iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) femto-precision clock featuring a new crystal oscillator.

    Every music format at the highest quality

    Hi-res audio support is state-of-the-art, handling PCM data to 32-bit/768kHz, all levels of DSD up to DSD512, and single- and double-speed DXD.

    Thanks to the Burr-Brown DAC chip’s four-channel True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables DSD, as well as PCM, to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in its native form right through to analogue conversion. This is often not the case with DAC devices from other brands – even if DSD compatibility is stated, many such DACs convert DSD signals to PCM.

    MQA – the hi-res streaming codec, as used by Tidal’s ‘Masters’ tier – is also supported through the USB and S/PDIF inputs, with full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz thanks to the processing power of the new 16-core XMOS chip. This means that the full ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to only the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’. Globally, MQA has become an important consideration for any comprehensively equipped DAC; for Tidal Masters subscribers, the iDSD Diablo is a great way to make the most of the superior sound of which this streaming service is capable.

    PureWave – balanced circuit design for the purest sound

    The digital stage is only half the story in any DAC/headphone amp; when it comes to the crucial analogue circuitry, many such devices fall short. Balanced, differential analogue circuit design has long been championed for its ability to reduce noise and cross-talk within the signal path by fully separating the left and right channels. However, this is more complex and costly than single-ended circuitry, and so has traditionally remained the preserve of high-end hi-fi components.

    [​IMG]

    iFi has gradually introduced fully balanced circuit design across its range – first in the flagship Pro Series components, then in the entry-level ZEN Series devices. The company’s two newest DACs, the mains-powered NEO iDSD and transportable iDSD Diablo, benefit from further refinement of their balanced, symmetrical dual-mono topologies with short, direct signal paths. iFi calls this circuit concept ‘PureWave’, referring to the sonic purity it achieves thanks to exceptional linearity and infinitesimally low levels of noise and distortion.

    Powerful amplification delivers musical gratification

    Already renowned for the performance of the amp stages in its DAC/headphone amps, iFi has ensured the iDSD Diablo is its best-ever transportable amplifier, designed to deliver reference-level sound. Able to drive all manner of headphones with ease, from highly sensitive in-ear monitors to current-hungry planar headphones, it delivers prodigious power (up to 5000mW), propulsive energy and engaging dynamics, coupled to a remarkable ability to resolve fine texture and detail.

    The great variation in the electrical characteristics of different headphone/earphone types is accommodated by the provision of three settings enabling the user to adjust power and gain to suit whatever the amp stage is tasked with driving: ‘Turbo’ ramps up the level of drive for current-hungry headphones, ‘Eco’ dials down the power to suit high-sensitivity in-ear monitors and/or extend battery life, and ‘Normal’ sits between the two.


    [​IMG]

    High-quality components are used throughout the iDSD Diablo’s circuitry, utilising its larger form factor in comparison to smaller, pocket-sized DAC/amps. Custom ultra-low-distortion MOSFET op-amps feature in both the digital and analogue stages, together with a hand-selected range of capacitors including the multilayer ceramic type TDK C0G and aluminium-polymer type Panasonic OS-CON. MELF thin-film resistors and inductors from Taiyo Yuden and Murata also feature in the circuit design.

    These are all more costly than commonly used circuit components, but class-leading qualities such as low ESR (Equivalent Series Resistance), high stability and low distortion pay great dividends in terms of sound quality. Many hours of listening tests, alongside rigorous analysis in the lab, has determined the optimum circuit design to deliver maximum musical enjoyment.

    An important aspect of the iDSD Diablo’s circuit design is its direct-coupled nature (no coupling capacitor is present), achieved without a conventionally applied DC servo; iFi calls this design Servoless Direct Drive. Also important is the use of a high-quality analogue potentiometer to control volume – its sonic transparency compared to chip-based volume controls makes the most of the clarity and resolution of the amp stage.

    OptimaLoop – negative feedback that is purely positive

    ‘Negative feedback’ is used in amplifier circuits to compare the output signal with the input signal and correct errors, in order to control gain and reduce distortion. For sound quality, this is positive; but commonly applied, one-size-fits-all ‘global negative feedback’ can highlight different problems whilst solving others – corruption of the error signal, phase shifts, group delay and so on can all have a negative impact on sound quality.

    Recognising that different parts of a circuit benefit from specifically optimised feedback loops, iFi has developed a negative feedback system that is much more accurate than the usual approach. This incorporates multiple feedback paths instead of one global loop, each path optimised for a particular function and working synergistically with the others to deliver optimal overall performance. iFi calls this new configuration OptimaLoop.

    This power does not corrupt

    In keeping with the iDSD Diablo’s focus on pure, unadulterated performance, much attention has been applied to the power supply circuity. Battery power provides a theoretical performance advantage over mains power, with ultra-clean and stable DC current avoiding the issues that can be introduced by mains electricity with its dips, spikes and noise-inducing RFI/EMI pollution. There are also potential sonic downsides to battery power, however, resulting from low output voltage and inconsistent output impedance as batteries discharge – these issues are fully tackled by the iDSD Diablo’s design.

    In order to make less efficient headphone types sing – planar magnetic designs, for example – the voltage needs to be stepped up from 3.7V to +/- 15V. This is achieved through the use of a step-up converter running at 1.2MHz – a frequency far beyond audibility that is easier to filter than a typical switch-mode supply, enabling high linearity and ultra-low noise.

    [​IMG]

    High-bandwidth power supply circuity is dedicated to each critical part of the iDSD Diablo’s design, with independent linear regulation delivering excellent PSRR (Power Supply Rejection Ratio) performance. The headphone amp stage eschews IC regulators in favour of Panasonic OS-CON capacitors, delivering 2320uF between them. The DAC section benefits from an ultra-low-noise regulator with additional passive filtering, reducing high order harmonic distortion and, in turn, jitter. Even the USB input stage benefits from dedicated regulation and multistage filtering, and the microprocessor control circuitry (often a local source of digital noise) has separate regulation, too.

    Get connected

    At the front of the unit, alongside a standard 6.3mm single-ended headphone socket, resides a 4.4mm Pentaconn output for headphones offering balanced connection. An increasing number of high-quality headphones and in-ear monitors either come so equipped or give the option of detaching the cable and upgrading to a 4.4mm Pentaconn connector (this output is particularly recommended for tougher headphone loads). In terms of power, the balanced headphone output delivers 12.6V/4980mW into 32 ohms and 19.2V/611mW into 600 ohms, while the single-ended output supplies 8.8V/2417mW into 32 ohms and 9.6V/153mW into 600 ohms.

    At the back of the chassis are two digital audio inputs: USB-A and an S/PDIF socket that accepts both electrical and optical signals, the former via a 3.5mm connector and the latter via a supplied adapter. Unusually, the USB-A input features a ‘male’ connector, rather than a typical ‘female’ port – this arrangement provides greater mechanical integrity than the USB/Micro USB ports commonly used by other DAC/headphone amps. It also offers an advantage to users of iPhones and iPads with Lightning ports, because it accepts Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter directly without requiring an additional female-to-male USB adaptor. A separate USB-C charging port is also provided, along with a fixed line-level 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output to connect an external amp.

    A package worthy of reference status

    In keeping with a reference-level product, iFi has been generous with the accessories supplied with the iDSD Diablo. The DAC/amp may be powered from the mains, as well as by its built-in battery; in order to ensure optimal sound quality when hooked up to the mains, iFi includes its iPower 5V AC/DC adapter, which engenders significantly less noise than other similar devices thanks to Active Noise Cancellation and sells separately for £49.

    Also included is a 4.4mm Pentaconn to XLR balanced interconnect cable, enabling the iDSD Diablo to be connected to an amp and speakers (or a pair of active speakers) with balanced XLR inputs. Other supplied connectors include a short (15cm) USB-C to USB-A audio cable, as well as an extension cable – all USB3.0 compliant – plus a USB-C charging cable and an adapter to connect headphones with a 3.5mm jack to the 6.3mm single-ended output. Even a travel case is included.

    In addition, the first iDSD Diablo production run includes iFi’s iPurifier3 in the bundle – retailing separately at £129, this USB ‘noise-buster’ is designed to tackle all aspects that degrade sound quality over USB thanks to a precision mix of tech including Active Noise Cancellation. It all adds up to a package of accessories worth around £300.

    Delivering devilishly good sound for headphone lovers, iFi’s iDSD Diablo is available from selected retailers from Friday 15th January at an RRP of £899, (€999, $899).
     
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  2. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    Having a temporary iFi iDSD Diablo demo unit just a few comments:

    obviously there is no XBass or 3D sound shaping.
    there is also no built in IEMatch. AFAIK there is no such thing as an external IEMatch for 4.4 balanced connectors.
    so for sensitive IEMs, like some from Campfire Audio, an IEMatch 3.5 with an adapter into the 1/4" SE jack is what is required for reducing the air to blackness, and to gain more usable range on the volume pot.

    impressions to come. one thing for sure, the build quality and focused feature set are impressive.
     
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  3. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Hey, I may buy this after-all!

    What's the difference in terms of sound with the iDSD BL or Signature?
    Does it inherit the architecture of the Neo iDSD in portable form?
     
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    Last edited: Jan 14, 2021
  4. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    "The iDSD Diablo’s digital stage incorporates a Burr-Brown DAC chip that iFi uses extensively, selected for its natural-sounding ‘musicality’ and True Native architecture."

    The same one as previous iDSD products I'm assuming? :)
     
  5. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Oh god the color. I’m blind from the pictures alone. Not sure I could own one because of that alone but it’s cool to see iFi making a better transportable dac/amp (and weird how close it is to the release of the signature). I wish instead of ieMatch it had an ultra low gain setting. I thought maybe at some point I’d ditch my desktop iem rig for whatever iFI’s best transportable DAC/amp was but this probably won’t work.
     
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  6. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    @iFi audio Can you give more detail about the gain settings? Particularly the Eco setting for iems. I can’t tell how much gain this is from the product specifications on your site.
     
  7. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Since I'm not a corpse pretending to be alive quite yet, I dig the colour. :p:punk:
     
  8. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Sounds like a stripped down focused high performance transportable? Thinking JVC FDX1, since I have not found a great match for this IEM yet.
     
  9. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Afraid someone will shit on his opinions

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    That's pushing close to desktop dac territory in pricing. Hope it has some desktop performance
     
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  10. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    will put the 4.4mm bal jack on the Drop JVC FDX1 this weekend, into both the iDSD Signature and iDSD Diablo and report back.

    yes, there is desktop performance here for certain. both with Auteur and CA Solaris 2020, would take either of these iDSD models over a modi/magni. have not heard Vali2+ with a Bifrost2, nor a Jot2 with Bifrost2.

    IMO- these iDSD models are in play "as a desktop system":
    a) if you would use the battery / portability aspects from time to time
    b) if only very tiny desk / table space is available
    c) if you want very good to great sonics and flexibility switching between full sized cans and IEMs on the same device
     
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  11. Bloom

    Bloom MOT: Bloom Audio

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  12. Grattle

    Grattle Friend

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    Seems to be horribly overpriced. No way I’d pay that much for something using a tiny cheapo pot. Parts cost looks like < $150.
     
  13. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Please start your own line and build thousands of them with no markup :headbang:
     
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  14. Mithrandir41

    Mithrandir41 Friend

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    yeah, parts cost is the only thing involved in pricing... you got development, labor costs, overhead, not to mention the need to keep the business going by actually turning a tidy profit.
     
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  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    If it can compete with desktop units, I don't mind the "transportability tax".
     
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  16. Azteca

    Azteca Friend

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    It does stand in stark contrast to their other offerings, which tend to have very robust functionality for almost every use case. It took me a minute to understand who (or what) this was for, but if someone has a high-end transducer and wants serious power in a small package, this fits the bill. I'm not that person, so I'm just going to skip right over. This is like the "sport" package on a car: a total waste of money if you're aiming for value and stable daily driving, just the ticket if you drive cars to go fast.
     
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  17. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    getting back to some impressions....

    the Bloom write up is pretty great. IMO there isn't a lot of "neutral vs. warmth" difference between the two, just a tad.

    Other traits I noticed:
    iDSD Signature sound stage is basically a flat line in front of your nose, ear to ear.
    iDSD Diablo shows a bit of a shallow arc out in front, provides for better spatial presentation and layering.
    this seemed familiar and more akin to Neo iDSD, which shares some "upgraded parts" with Diablo if i read the spec sheets side by side.
    Diablo easier to hear the room. micro details pop a bit more, easier to pick out.

    decays / notes seem to linger and float more from Diablo, easier ability to delineate. not sure if this the XMOS improvement or amp parts.
    bass from Diablo is also a tad tighter with a bit more kick.

    Drop JVC FDX1 aren't my favorite IEM, used at bedtime for fall asleep music with Shanling UP4.
    don't listen critically with them much, but with the:
    iDSD Diablo 4.4mm Bal output, Eco mode
    good blackness with no music playing, no air or hiss. MAYBE slight air at max volume knob.
    usable range on vol pot 9a-11am (using adapter and 1/4" SE jack, vol pot range 9a-12n)
    bass can kicks up a bit, spacing opens

    Drop JVC FDX1 with
    iDSD Signature 4.4mm Bal output, Eco mode, no IEMatch
    usable range on vol pot 9a-12noon
    bass is good, plenty of treble energy
    slight warmth of iDSD Sig possibly helps vocal sound less thin, which is helpful with FDX1 IMO

    given the extra power in the 4.4 bal, using Diablo with IEMs is risking blowing your ears off, even in Eco mode,.
    am uncertain if the 4.4bal is SUPPOSED / True Balanced to sound better, or if S-balanced iFi stuff makes it to Diablo's SE output. but if so, it's a shame as 4.4bal is overly powerful for most IEMs.

    at first blush, if one is willing to forego the last 4.88% of sonic differences to the Diablo-
    the iDSD Signature with IEMs (due to built in IEMatch) and with full sized headphones is the more flexible unit.
    which also saves $ if one doesn't need the included Diablo accessories either.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021
  18. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Afraid someone will shit on his opinions

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    I mean find this product really confusing in the sense that I dont know what role its supposed to fulfill.

    If it were merely an upgrade of the micro iDSD variants, but had a moderate price raise, then it would fit the transportable demographic. I know the extra costs to make it balanced compared to single ended raises the prices.

    With the current price, are you really paying for more benefits on the dac end or the amplifier end?

    If you are gonna use it as something transportable with an iem, why is the balanced architecture really needed for more power and no iematch with more noise? Most iems don't need robust amplication, so I guess campfire iems are out. I know it has good power, but with enthusiast choices like sw51+ as an example, you could tailor the amp section better for better synergy

    If you already have a amp and headphones and just need to improve the dac, how much more value does it give at the price range for dac? I think perhaps getting a bifrost + Pi2aes would be better or even getting a used Gungnir a2 /w unision would serve far better. if you were going to spend that much, maybe you could stretch to get a soekris 2541 with r2r goodness or a used soekris1541 at the same price.

    If you want an AIO, how much of an improvement is it to the iDSD micros before it to merit the price increase. Yeah its probably gonna smack chord stuff, but I'm assuming its going to be a worse AIO than its bigger brother, iDSDpro, which I feel is a worse AIO than the older soekris1541. I'm assuming the soekris2541 is an improvement, and worth the extra 200 dollars because I assume it'll sound better than the iDSDpro if it really is better than the dac1541.

    I don't doubt its a good product, performs well, has great build quality, no deal breakers in the sound etc, and probably is again a safe buy that synergizes more broadly with different gear. Other than attracting first time buyers going into the foray of HIFI, I'm really having a hard time seeing its merit amongst other options at the price its asking.

    The whole Ifi philosophy of sort of good at everything, but not really shining at anything to to appeal broadly to all demographics leaves it in no mans land.

    Hoping this gets around to more ears, and @purr1n could chime in with his review, but I honestly find it hard to get excited about.
     
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    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021
  19. Grattle

    Grattle Friend

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    I get that. Still shouldn’t cost more than $250.

    edit: Oh shit, it’s red. Everybody charges a premium for red. Makes total sense now.
     
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  20. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Stimulus checks my friend, stimulus checks.
     
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