iFi Audio iDSD Diablo DAC / Amplifier Review
Established in 2013, iFi Audio currently has developed and manufactured over 30 products from its headquarters in Southport, UK. Sourcing parts from all over the world its main aim has been to create high quality audio wherever you are. Thus, the iFi Audio iDSD Diablo would be the quintessential device to deliver on its mission statement. For the more eco friendly consumer iFi has specifically pointed out in their website that they utilized recycled materials in both their packaging and products and no hazardous toxins are within components.
An interesting addition is that the Diablo has a USB-A male connector rather than the usual female port. iFi have included a iPurifer3 device that plugs into this and allows for any USB-B connector to hook up to your source. The IPurifer3 device claims to provide active noise cancellation, rebalances, and regenerates the signal (written directly on the device). Unfortunately I was unable to test it in and out of the system because I did not possess the necessary cables to directly link the Diablo to my source.
According to the website, the Diablo has differential analogue circuit design with separate signals paths for left and right. Further sound improvements have been made using what they call PureWave, which involves dual mono topologies with short direct signal paths. The amp/DAC combo also boasts power that can handle the most demanding headphones, such as planar magnetics. This all in one package can be run either by the wall wart or battery power.
The design is great overall expect for one nitpick I had right away. The iPurifier3 that provides active noise cancellation via the USB input is large enough that the unit cannot not be placed flat. The back corner raises the unit slightly, and although it does not upset the unit's balance since it is long and flat, it would have been nice to have the rubber feet slightly larger to allow the Diablo to sit flat.
The amp/DAC combo powered the EL 8 flawlessly, and I set the
amp to echo for more nuanced control of the volume. I found at the normal
setting I was not able to set the volume at lower levels without a slight
channel imbalance. However, the EL 8 are quite efficient, and I have encountered
this with other amps in this category.
In honor of DMX I listened to some of his quintessential hits,
which confirmed his dominance in hip hop in his time. Listening to "Ruff
Ryders' Anthem," "Where the Hood At," "X Gon' Give It To Ya,"
just to name a few, DMX had a unique delivery and was honest with the rage he
felt and how his experiences defined who he was. I switched to my LCD-XC
headphones and found the mid bass to be well defined without drowning out DMX's
flow, combining energetic rhymes with a powerful bassline. The Diablo had me
head bobbing and swaying to the music. The passing of DMX had me wondering about
the plight of many of these middle age rappers, and the fact that society does
not allow for these larger than life figures much room to age gracefully. The
problems and demons that they faced live on in their music, and is a testament
of talent gone far too soon.
I switched to my LCD-4s and sat down to "Have Mercy on Me" from The Black Keys Chulahoma album. The guitar and drums combined with the vocals highlight this Junior Kimbrough tribute album. The amp was great at recreating the music to express the feelings of artist and the mood. The guitar distortion and feedback is mesmerizing. Switching to a more power hungry headphone did not diminish on dynamics, coherence, pace, or rhythm. The claim of power can be confirmed as the Diablo operated masterfully in presenting the music. I did miss a little bit of warmth from the vocals and instruments, but that is probably due to my tube loving nature.
The last track I played was an up and coming hyper pop artist named Ely Otto. The song entitled "Sugar Crash!" encompasses the struggle the current pandemic has had on the artist, and definitely connects to many people's experiences. The experimentation and exaggeration of the hyper-pop genre is interesting. Using mainstream pop music as a framework with the addition of electronic effects and disruptive elements make for interesting and catchy music. Using my modified Grados and Shure IEMs revealed a quiet noise floor with the amp/DAC combo.
Ely Otto's electronic altered voice over the high beat track expressed the angst of the situation while conveying a very honest portrayal of what it's like to struggle during a difficult time. The Diablo was able to keep up with reproduction and although the recording was not of the highest quality it was still very listenable. The amp has the tendency to smooth a bit the higher frequencies, which lends it a better listening experience on lower res tracks. The trade-off might be that you do not get everything that is being recorded all the time, but at the same time it will not make your ears bleed.
Wrapping It Up
I like the fact that I was
able to play high res tracks and it comes with a convenient protective travel
case. I am a sucker for the punchy color, and applaud iFi for the ability to use
a balanced connection which does make a difference. In the end, for best results
stay on battery power and used balanced headphones to experience a semi portable
musical experience, and I would recommend you give this little devil a shot.
Take care, Al.