Coming hot on the heels of the iFi Micro iDSD Signature, the iDSD Diablo promises to bring the next step up in performance for a portable DAC. With many of the bells and whistles stripped out, and a bright red finish, the Diablo evokes a classic sports car – favoring power and performance above all else. So let’s get the keys, rev it up, and see what this baby can do.
The Build and Design
In case you missed it in any of the pictures or promos released so far, the iDSD Diablo is red. Very red. It’s a bit bigger than the micro iDSD Signature, with a smooth cylindrical shape that looks a bit like the muffler from a car. The input section in the back provides USB and SPDIF (digital coax or optical), and for outputs you have a balanced 4.4mm line out, and the two headphone outputs: 4.4mm balanced, and 6.3mm single ended.
The controls for the iDSD Diablo are pretty straightforward: you have a volume knob, and a gain selection with Eco, Normal, and Turbo (low, medium, and high) options. Turbo mode is no joke, pushing out 19.2V balanced, and 9.6V unbalanced. That’s quite a bit of power for a portable unit that can be run on battery.
To make up for the lack of bells and whistles on the unit itself, Diablo comes with an impressive selection of pack-ins and accessories. It comes with USB cables for charging and connecting to devices and a dual RCA cable. Then there’s a 5V iFi iPower included along with a DC/USB adapter, 6.3mm/3.5mm and SPDIF adapters, and a nice case to go along with it. You think that’s it, but when you look inside the case, you’ll find a couple very cool items: a 4.4mm balanced to dual XLR cable (designed to connect the 4.4mm line out to a balanced amplifier), and a iFi iPurifier USB (regularly $129 by itself). Altogether, it’s an excellent package that gives you everything you need for a variety of setups.
Diablo’s sound is big, fast, and detailed. The space and soundstage are desktop level, with a large three dimensional feel. The detail and resolution is expertly delivered with loads of texture and detail in the instruments and great vocal delivery as well. Where both of iFi’s other recent units, the NEO iDSD and micro iDSD Signature have a warmer sound signature, Diablo’s sound signature is more neutral, and slightly mid-forward, with more brightness and air in the treble than you might expect.
To get a better understanding of Diablo’s sound, I compared it to a handful of other DACs and DAPs. Compared to the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha and SE200, I found that Diablo presented the vocals a bit more forward and had significantly more body in the mids. The bass and treble were a little more dependent on the specific songs and headphones. The KANN Alpha in particular felt like it had a stronger delivery of the lows with IEMs, while the Diablo had a stronger feeling of impact in the low end with planar magnetic headphones like the DCA AEON 2 Closed.
Between the Diablo and iFi NEO iDSD, the NEO iDSD has a more obvious warmth and color to the sound. Its tuning is very pleasant and musical, but the more honest, energetic Diablo was more to my preference. Diablo also gives you a larger soundstage and more headroom. Spending some time going head to head with some of the other gear we have in the office, I found the tuning to be closer to the Burson Conductor, with a sound that evokes classic solid state amplification while providing just a hint of tube-like warmth.
I also tested a variety of IEMs and headphones. The IEMs I tested included the Campfire Audio Andromeda, Empire Ears Hero, and the all-new Noble Zephyr. In Eco mode, Diablo was able to accommodate the sensitive Andromeda and Hero without any issues or hum. One issue with IEMs in general is that the volume ramp can be a little hard to use, with the difference between 9 and 10 o'clock on the dial being a little jarring particularly with IEMs in the unbalanced channel.
The headphones I tested included the Meze 99 Classics, iBasso SR2, Dan Clark AEON 2 Closed, and HIFIMAN Susvara. That’s right. Susvara. If you were paying attention earlier, you might have noticed some particularly impressive power numbers, and Diablo straight up rocks with the Susvara. The impact, the detail, the air and space, it’s all there. Obviously I’m not saying that Diablo can compete with multi-kilobuck desktop DAC/amps in terms of sound quality, or that it can provide a full appreciation of the Susvara the way that a Chord TT2 would. But it can certainly provide all the power the Susvara needs (or any number of difficult to drive headphones), and the quality of the DAC is sufficient that you can start to see into the immaculate detail and incredible space and soundstage that a high-end planar can provide. If you’re looking for a portable solution for driving any number of notoriously hard to drive headphones, Diablo is it.
The Bottom Line
The iFi iDSD Diablo is very much the classic sports car in iFi’s line up. There are no extra features, no gimmicks, and no fancy switches: just power, power, and more power. To go along with that, you get a clear, neutral delivery of your music that will let you feel every high and low in your favorite songs. If you’re looking for pure power and a crisp, honest delivery in a portable DAC/amp, Diablo is ready to take you for a ride.