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June 2021

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iFi Audio iDSD Diablo DAC / Amplifier Review
The little Devil.
Review By Al Chieng


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.


iFi Audio iDSD Diablo DAC / Amplifier Review


The Diablo sits atop the portable / transportable DAC / amps (that is a mouthful) categories in the iFi lineup. Why should you care about the packaging? Well sometimes it is all about the experience. Now I am not looking for something wrapped in gold leaf and encased in a specially carved wooden box, but within this price point and standing on the top of lineup you have expectations. Verdict? The packaging is a complete success. The way they have developed the box was thoughtful, clean, and a certain level of pageantry. iFi have included a number of different accessories to get you started. The unit is accompanied by wall wart plug, a 4.4mm Pentaconn to XLR balanced interconnect cable, USB-A to USB-C charging cable, and a 3.5mm jack to 6.3mm single ended output adapter.

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.



The Device
iFi Audio's Diablo, I assume, gets its name from the deep red coloring of the aluminum case, which is a little different from the regular black and natural finishes that we have seen from similar products. The unit is sleek, with no sharp edges, and has very few switches to attenuate the sound. The power/volume knob is smooth, and a small toggle exists to choose three outputs for volume (eco, normal, turbo). Aesthetics aside this unit possesses some serious processing power. The unit uses two Burr Brown DAC chips that can handle up to PCM 768, DSD 512, and 2xDXD on both the PCM and DSD claim to be "bit-perfect." The unit can also provide full MQA decoding for those that use Tidal, Roon, and Audirvana for playback.



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 Sound
I started my journey with my trusty Audeze EL 8 to see if they could be properly driven with the Diablo. Firing up Jacky Terrasson's "Rat Race" I was struck with the accuracy of the drum beat and the pace and rhythm throughout the piece. The close mic set was faithfully rendered, and when the tempo picked up the Diablo did not disappoint, keeping instruments separated and coherent. There was a bit less resonance coming from the bass, but the bass snap of the strings more than made up for it. The piano sounded great with life and emotion, and made me yearn for live music. Like many people in the world I cannot wait for things to get back to normal.

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
What you get is a pretty awesome package. What I mean by this is that for a component of this size and price you receive a stylish device that can be easily transportable, and can be used by a variety of headphones. This ability to move about freely is one of the advantages of headphone listening, and I can see this unit being used as a perfect mobile office solution, dorm room listening station, or travel companion when you just need to be away from the crowd. What it lacks in warmth and ultimate resolution it gives in power, transient response, and quiet noise floor.



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.




Check Out Positive Feedback
See many great reviews by Positive Feedback at this link.




Type: USB DAC with stereo headphone amplifier
Price: $899




Company Information
iFi Audio
Website: iFi-Audio.com
















































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