iFi Audio iDSD Diablo
Copyright Louis Gonzalez 2021

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo Review

Sound Impressions

Summary

The minute you have a listen to the iFi iDSD Diablo you get a sense of cleanliness and crispness with a higher tendency to have a sharper character compared to other iFi units I have. It seems the warmth character of those iFi BB chips is still there but with an added analytical character but in reality, it’s more clarity.

You get a ton of micro detail and it’s the kind of gear that you often say “I never heard that before” with because the Diablo brings detail forward while at the same time retaining a smooth enough character as not to irk your audible senses with too much forwardness.

This little devil has volume and power to spare and I doubt you could find a headphone on the current market that will present a challenge to drive them. I dared not raise the volume past halfway on with the mode on normal with my Aryas.

Frequency Response

You have to possess dog ears to need more bandwidth in frequency response than what the Diablo has. The extension is excellent in both directions with great bass but also with a shimmering top end that seems to have no end.

I think this is iFis brightest sounding piece to date. Not bright in the sense of having lots of highs but the Diablo seems to produce high frequencies with a high level of detail. The frequency response is very balanced and does not interpret my description of bright.

The iFi iDSD Diablo has a flat frequency response and has no area emphasized or altered. Up to now, the Diablo is the most linear sounding iFi amplifier I have and last I counted I have 6. However, it still retains a slight amount of the warm character of past iFi amplifiers.

Bass

Since the Diablo is absent of the XBass feature you basically will have to rely on an equalizer if you want extra bass or just rely on the fact that the Diablo reproduces accurate bass and it’s the kind of gear that you will not want to alter its sound character often.

With the amount of power this unit has one could certainly pump up that bass and not worry about running out of power when the bass demands it.

the bass response is very tight, fast, and has lots of punch behind each note. The amount of power to move bass forcefully is there with almost a full 5 watts if you use the 4.4mm output. The iFi spec is at 4.980mw so even the single-ended side supplies ample power for most headphones out there.

Musicality

Some solid-state amplifiers to my ears have a sharp edginess that defines their character, but it is more similar to something like a camera’s ability to produce a sharp image. But musicality suffers and a sterile character comes through sometimes.

Although the iFi iDSD Diablo is a sterile and somewhat neutral sounding amp and linear in response it still has an ability to capture emotion in certain types of recordings. One of the things I like about the sound signature is the ability to bring out intricacies in a recording.

You could hear breath, space, room reverb, string vibration, and other nuances that make music more enjoyable and makes some songs somewhat worth a second listen.

Dynamics

The one thing I thought stands out of the sound signature in the iFi iDSD Diablo is the transient response and dynamic sound that it produces. The sound produced by the Diablo is very quick with a very fast attack and decay.

This quality carries over on every frequency area of the spectrum and seems to have a crisp aspect with almost every micro detail and background nuances present. There is a large difference between silence and loud passages which gave the sound character a high amount of excitement.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo

Synergy

The Diablo pairs with everything I hooked it up to plus played every type of digital file I threw at it. It never asked for drivers and always worked in a plug-and-play manner. I used the Diablo with my Android phone, Windows 10 laptop plus a full-size PC with no issues.

I feel the Diablo is very versatile when it comes to powering highly sensitive IEMs and headphones such as Norn and the Ananda and all in between adequately. I would use the Diablo for monitoring, analytical or critical listening but most importantly, it can work well in a pleasurable listening scenario.

Select Comparisons

iFi Audio NEO iDSD x Topping A90

Technical

This is my desktop setup which to me is one of the best combinations I heard at this price. It is a somewhat unconventional setup because the NEO also has amplification and although it sounds clean it just does not have the power to drive planar headphones which are my favorite type. This is where the A90 comes into play.

This setup has versatility for days with multiple types of headphone output ports and various types of outputs and it really makes a good test bench setup mostly because of its accurate sound with power to spare.

About the one thing you will miss out on by having the Diablo instead of this setup is a Bluetooth input and a bit more connectivity but of course, the combo setup is costlier. On the negative end, the setup requires some space on your desktop and it certainly cannot go portable as the Diablo can.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo

Performance

The DAC section inside the Diablo is practically identical to the NEO and it’s a very accurate DAC that will please most audiophiles by producing clean sound with lots of micro detail and lots of imaging precision. Since the DAC section is the same then what really makes a difference here is the type of amplification so let’s look at that.

The Topping A90 has the ability to be a smudge smoother up on the top frequencies with a darker background while the Diablo tends to sound livelier, sharper, and more dynamic. Power output is more robust on the A90 but the Diablo with almost 5 watts is more than enough except for perhaps 2 or 3 headphones out there.

I could sum them both as the A90 being more linear and flatter while the Diablo is a touch brighter, sharper with slightly better transient response. The A90 seems more natural while the Diablo seems more exciting but that just might be the color of the cabinet that is exciting my senses.

I think iFi would take over if they pull a rabbit of the hat as they always do and release a counter to all the stacks with a matching amplifier for the NEO which would be lovingly called the iFi NEO stack. Diablo demonstrates that iFi can make a great and powerful clean-sounding amplifier.

iFi Audio Micro iDSD Signature Series

Technical

This has to be one of the top questions this year amongst audiophiles. Should I get the Black, the Signature Series, or get the Diablo? There are differences in sound signature and obviously in features so let’s start with features.

The only one that has a line input is the Black. I understand that amplifying an underpowered headphone output from a device that has an inferior DAC is not the best way to go if you want assured pristine sound quality but if you want that feature then you have to go black but this is the only reason.

The Diablo is a purist unit far as features are concerned. Sure it has 2 digital inputs with 2 headphone outputs plus a balanced 4.4mm analog out while the analog out on the Signature series has full-sized RCA outputs. So you could access the DAC section of all three units but the Xbass and 3D features are missing off the Diablo and so is the selectable bitrates.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo

Performance

Which one sounds better, the Diablo or the Signature series? They both have a purpose in a way. If you want more warmth and some sound-altering features like Xbass then go with the signature. However, if you want unaltered sound then I would say definitely the Diablo.

There is a cleaner signature in the Diablo plus the dynamic range seems higher. The Diablo has more power plus the attack and decay are better. The Diablo seems speedier sound signature while the SIG is more relaxed.

I would say fidelity, in general, gained 10% in quality and that there is an apparent improvement in the Diablo sound character over its predecessors that seems more refined and more upscale.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo

Our Verdict

The iFi iDSD Diablo to me sonically is the best iFi DAC amplifier with portability made up to date. Its sound characteristics are more in line with esoteric gear but that does not mean that their past units are far behind either. The sonic refinement is apparent on the Diablo once you give it a listen for a while.

Portable wise you would have to spend way over a grand to obtain better sound and to be honest I almost feel the urge to ditch my full-sized combo for the Diablo because it’s that good and besides it will only take up a fraction of the space on my desktop that my current rig does.

Do I miss the Xbass feature? Heck yea. Do I miss the selectable DAC? Heck no. My gripes are mostly with the included wires that will not work with the DC purifier and there is no wire to go portable with and that fact will send you on a search for these two needed wires almost immediately.

Other than that the iFi iDSD Diablo is a wonderful piece of gear that anyone would be proud to own. It’s a pleasure to listen to with a vast amount of power in a small package that can go portable. I am certain you will not regret getting one if you ever decide to.

iFi Audio iDSD Diable Specifications

  • Digital Inputs USB 3.0 type A (USB 2.0 compatible)
  • SPDIF 3.5mm Coaxial or Optical
  • Formats supported DSD512 / 256 /128 /64
  • Octa/Quad/Double/Single Speed DSD
  • DXD Double or Single Speed 768/705.6/384/352.8kHz
  • PCM 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/ 96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
  • Frequency Response 10Hz – 80kHz +/- 3db
  • SNR Balanced -120db / SE -114db
  • Dynamic Range Balanced – 120db / SE 114db
  • THD + N Balanced 0.002% / Se 0.001%
  • Headphone Max Output Balanced 19.2V 4,980mW @32 ohms / 12.6 V 611mW @ 600 ohms
  • SE 8.8V 2,417mW @ 32 ohms / 9.6V 153mW @600 ohms
  • Fixed Audio Output 4.4 Balanced
  • Power Consumption Turbo 12w / Normal 5w / Eco 2w
  • Charging via USB type C BC V1.2 up to 1900mA
  • Ipower 12v adapter included
  • Battery Lithium Polymer 4800mAH
  • Dimensions 166x72x25mm / 6.5”x2.8”x1.0”
  • Weight 330g / 0.73lbs
  • Warranty 12 Months
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