iFi iDSD Diablo Review and Measurements

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Feb 13, 2022.

  1. wadec22

    wadec22 Almost "Made"

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    First, thank you to both @rhythmdevils and @iFi audio for the loaner. I know it is a significant cost and some risk for the iFi team and it takes a ton of work to manage the route, pm's, etc for the tour. I genuinely appreciate it gents.

    Testing gear & notes
    • Compared to the iFi Gryphon & RME UCXII->THX887
    • I had the Sennheiser HD800S, LCD-X, DT880 250ohm and 900 pro X on hand to test with.
    The Build/Packaging
    • Comes in a great box. Not grossly over sized or anything. The outer sleeve has a neat to-scale size of the unit so you know exactly how big it is.


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    • Once you remove the sleeve, the box is a nice hard cardboard. On the rear it shows specs and marketing.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    • Inside the box the Diablo is gently snuggled in some great foam. The packaging does a good job of making you feel like your money has been well spent.
    • Below the Diablo there is a nice travel case, user guide and compartments for the cables and power adapter.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Aesthetics and build
    • The Diablo is an acceptable size for the power it comes with.
    • I respectfully disagree with @purr1n, I think it is every bit as "garish" as the photos suggest. I LOVE it though! I'm a sucker for that candy apple red and it is one of the most attractive DAC/amps I have seen. To each their own.
    [​IMG]
    • The power brick is an unfortunate necessity but totally acceptable given the power it is capable of putting out.
    • The USB cable is a sky blue color? This I don't get. Why not black? I think the two colors clash, but again, extremely subjective here.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    • The Diablo is absolutely striking on the desktop and looks so good in my opinion, it may very well enhance your listening room ambiance. :)
    • The light on the front changes color based on sample rate, so it provides great function and beauty.
    • The toggle switch allows for Eco, Normal or Turbo mode for you to try and match your output impedance best.
    • It also provides a 4.4mm balanced connection for maximum power and a 1/4" connector for unbalanced listening.

    [​IMG]

    Sound

    I think the clear flaw in my case is not having a great match on hand for the unit. I had the Sennheiser HD800S, LCD-X, DT880 250ohm and 900 pro X.
    • There is so much power on tap in the Diablo, it was too much for pretty much any headphone I had on hand.
    • I first tried the HD800S via 4.4mm thinking it would be a fun test drive. It really wasn't, even on ECO, it was too much juice and functionally the dial was too sensitive.
    • I switched the HD800S to 1/4" connection and was surprised at how sensitive the dial still was on ECO mode. It sounded great, providing some good thump in the bass but functionally I didn't care for the pairing.
    • Predictably the 250ohm 880 was a slightly better match given the lower sensitivity, but still, not that much harder to drive.
    • The 900 Pro X was an awful match. The 900 pro X has a very low impedance (45 or 48 I believe) and has a highish bass distortion. The Diablo's muscle flat out amplified all the flaws of the 900 Pro X. Gross.
    • The LCD-X was a better match but again just too sensitive for the muscle of the Diablo.

    Final Thoughts
    The Diablo is a gorgeous DAC/Amp with an impressive amount of muscle. I think this unit would be awesome for anyone wanting to pair with a laptop or portable listening setup AND needed some real power to drive their headphones. I think it is a pretty niche product.

    Given how easy so many headphones have become to drive, I think most would prefer the equally sexy Gryphon. I can't say enough good things about that product. While I think the Diablo looks sexier. The Gryphon is also a beauty and a much more flexible unit with many more features.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The Diablo is great for what it does, I just don't think that many people will be looking for this specific use case. It is great that iFi seems to have something for everyone.

    Thank you so much again for the loaner opportunity!
     
  2. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Our pleasure, thanks a lot for all your effort that went into this review :)
     
  3. loadexfa

    loadexfa MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Loaner Impressions
    This will be more stream of consciousness, life has been too busy and I need to cut corners.

    I really like the Diablo. Been trying with the Auteur Classic, HP-1 RD modded, and LCD-4 RD modded out of my iPhone with Qobuz. First thing I noticed with both the Diablo and my older Micro iDSD BL (abbreviated BL) is they're both much better with my orthos in turbo mode. I rarely played with this setting in the past and wish I had sooner. These little portables sound good with the LCD-4, not something I expected. I tried the balanced out (thanks for the included adapter RD) and switched to the SE out for easier comparison. Turbo mode didn't make as dramatic a difference for the Auteur Classic. It's still better but the orthos went from limp to lively and enjoyable with that change.

    Diablo brings out more details than the BL yet is smoother. I can hear a bit of harshness on the BL which is absent on the Diablo. Nothing is smoothed over, simply a lack of harsh. I wouldn't call the BL harsh but these things come up with comparison listening. Diablo has better staging and air. Overall a more enjoyable listen than the BL. The house sound is still there, if you like the iFi house sound and want a portable, this should be a strong consideration.

    I'm in the "the Diablo pics look more garish than in person" camp. It's still a striking red but the pics look glaring to me. It's not glaring in person. Nice case and other accessories.

    Sometimes the first 1/2 second of a song is skipped. I find this annoying and would need to find a fix if I owned a Diablo.

    Using the Diablo as an amp with the SFD-2, wow, a large improvement. Better resolution, staging, and tone (thanks to @3X0 for bringing the needed adapters). Using the Diablo as a desktop amp is totally reasonable and competitive in this price range. Compared with the Stratus (yeah, absurd but whatever), the Stratus has better staging, a slightly warmer tone, and a fuller sound. Better presence and vocal tone too. Still the Diablo doesn't sound bad in comparison, it hits harder on percussion, has a more crisp sound and holds up against the Stratus. The Stratus is more to my taste but considering the price difference, the Diablo is great!
     
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    Last edited: Sep 23, 2022
  4. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Thanks a lot for these impressions and in particular for comparing iDSD Diablo to the BL. Very nice stuff :)
     
  5. CaptainCope

    CaptainCope Almost "Made"

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    Loaner Impressions
    Impressions were from Qobuz on Pixel 4a to Diablo using Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog Pro and ModHouse Argon mk. 2

    I was looking forward to this loaner as I was hoping this is a device throw in my work bag and use my T50 mods. It has plenty of power, timbre was smooth and bass was punchy. With the Argon Mod bass was mushy and this is because that headphone has mushy bass. It was not a good pairing.

    I found the balanced output mid forward and I preferred the single ended -- and it gave more room on the volume knob.

    The USB male connector is weird but whatever audio brings out weird USB anyway.

    I really enjoyed the Diablo and I expect to be ordering one.

    diablo.jpg
     
  6. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Excellent, thanks a lot and I'm happy to read that you've enjoyed yourself with micro iDSD Diablo :)
     
  7. Tchoupitoulas

    Tchoupitoulas Friend

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    iFi Diablo Loaner Impressions

    I’m very grateful to @iFi audio for kindly lending us their red devil and for @jexby and SBAF for lining up this loaner tour, I really appreciate it. I’m especially grateful to check out the Diablo because I’ve never heard any iFi products properly beyond their IEMatch and Go bar (and, briefly, the Gryphon at CanJam).

    I really like the Diablo as a transportable device. It trails the Bifrost 2 combined either with a SW51+ or a Mjolnir 1 (recognizing the latter was originally a pricey amp), and from memory and from inference, I’d say the Diablo would have a hard time besting the BF2 -> Jot 2 combination. But for something battery powered, the ability to drive almost all of my headphones satisfactorily - and even impressively, in some cases – is pretty cool.

    The Diablito isn’t as bright and obnoxious a red in person as it appears in photos, although it’s still pretty damn, irredeemably red. It’s like it’s always just applied a generous layer of lipstick. Something also worth pointing out at the outset is that this little demon needs time to warm up before it sounds good. Before the fires of hell kick in it sounds constrained, weak, shrill, muddy, and disappointingly unresolving. Once it’s at a hellish temperature, it really comes alive. [edit: I'm failing at being funny here and should clarify that the device doesn't get hot].

    I tried the Diablo out of my iPhone 13 Mini using both the DAC/amp’s battery and plugged into my power strip. I also test drove several headphones with various power demands with it, from the easy-to-drive ESX900 (awesome!) and the Vérité (great) to the more demanding Ether 2 (great again) and the power-hog LCD-4 (er, nope).


    General Comments
    The Diablo's very impressive for such a little thing. I hear it as imparting a slightly warm sound to my headphones. It didn’t seem to suffer from any digital nastiness. The tuning is quite balanced, by which I mean the slightly elevated bass is matched by decent treble extension, without being in any way v-shaped; rather, quite to the contrary, the mids seem to be the most important quality, neither recessed nor overly emphasized in the upper mids, which I tend to find bothersome. The treble extends well – as far as I can tell (my hearing tops out around 14 kHz), and I hear the treble as being quite smooth and nicely airy.

    There’s no congestion to the sound. The timbre of instruments is pretty good, too – not outstanding, but well done for the price. What impressed me the most is the Diablo’s macrodynamic strength and its liveliness as well as its surprisingly spacious headstage and very good separation and layering. The one thing that disappointed was the mediocre resolution. I write this in the context of coming from the Bifrost 2 and the SW51+, so this is perhaps an unfair comparison, given the latter combination’s higher price and size advantage.

    Ok, some more specific pairings:


    ESX900 (Eco setting)
    The Eco setting worked nicely as these are incredibly easy to drive headphones. I tended to prefer using the Normal mode, though, and didn’t suffer from any channel imbalance on low volume. Even though the Diablo has a small knob, it’s easy to adjust the volume in careful, tiny increments.

    The Diablo does everything you could want to make these headphones sound great; the bass is gloriously rich and deep and strong. The sound is wonderfully spacious, and the resolution is excellent. I didn’t spend much time with this pairing, though, because these headphones are so easy to drive, the Diablo’s kind of overkill for them. I loved them out of iFi’s Go bar dongle, at a third of the price of the Diablo.


    Vérité (normal and turbo, balanced)
    The Vérité sounds quite nice and mellow with the Diablo. It has good, authoritative bass, which helps tilt the overall tuning in a warmer direction that works well with the Vérité’s laidback upper mids to make for a pleasantly euphonic listening experience. I could add more but my general impressions, above, were based on the Vérité. I’ll just note that there’s good synergy here, at least for my preferences (my main amp, for reference, is the Stratus.


    Ether 2 (normal mode for the most part, with some turbo charging, both SE)
    I was surprised at how well the Diablo drives these relatively demanding planar headphones. They sound really good – or, at least, the Diablo does justice to the Ether 2. There may even be great synergy here. The one major flaw of the Diablo, the not-so-great resolution, is less of an issue here because the Ether 2’s resolution isn’t good to begin with, so I hadn't had high expectations in the first place.

    There’s very good sub-bass depth, with lots of lovely rumble. The Ether 2 aren’t as robust in the lowest audible frequencies – compared with the LCD-4, for instance – but the weight of such sub-bass as the Ether 2 have is delivered well with the Diablo. There’s also a decent amount of mid-bass heft, which gives the Ether 2 some slam.

    The mids are nice and even and the treble’s lovely and smooth and pretty well extended.

    Surprisingly, even from just normal mode, the Ether 2 sells its soul to the Diablo: the amp brings the Ether 2 to life with pretty damned strong macrodynamics, which was a surprise as I don’t find DCA headphones to be impactful typically. I’d say the Diablo made the Ether 2 sound as energetic as I’ve heard them.

    Where things also get great with the Ether 2 are the excellent separation and the big, spacious staging, which is immersive if not quite holographic. The Diablo makes these headphones come across as though I’m surrounded by lovely, open, airy and spacious sound.

    Finally, I have to say I really enjoyed this combination. Please forgive the vague, imprecise and subjective description here but the Diablo and Ether 2 made for a really fun, engaging and pleasing listening session. There was a nice sense of pacing, and I think the micro-dynamics and other qualities like transients made for a happy toe-tapping groove when listening to my music.


    LCD-4 (Turbo, balanced)
    The less said, the better. The Diablo just couldn’t do these headphones justice. I can’t say I’m surprised but I’m skeptical of claims that the Diablo could work well with something like the Susvara. The LCD-4 could get plenty loud but were shrill, as though straining to deliver the right sound, and the LCD-4 also sounded fairly flat and, well, not worth listening to. There’s no shame in this for iFi, though; obviously, there are reasonable limits to what a battery-powered device can achieve.


    Conclusion
    If you’re in the market for a device like this and can get to audition it, let it warm up first before listening critically. I could see this being a great device for taking on work trips and to listen with in hotel rooms.

    Oddly, though, having liked the Diablo and the Go bar, and having briefly heard the Gryphon, I’m now wondering if I might get along with that latter all-in-one device: it drove my IEMs and the ESX900 nicely at CanJam, and I found I didn’t really need the Turbo mode of the Diablo all that often, although it did offer some improvements to dynamics and staging qualities. I’d be keen to learn how big a difference there is between the Diablo and the Gryphon when it comes to the Vérité, given that the Gryphon costs 60% of the Diablo...

    Thank you again iFi and SBAF, I very much appreciate the awesome opportunities to check out gear. I'm finding that the more iFi devices I hear, the more I like them.
     

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