iFi iDSD Diablo 2
iFi iDSD Diablo 2
iFi iDSD Diablo 2

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 Review: An Epic listening experience

iFi iDSD Diablo 2
9.5

In today’s review, we’re diving into the highly anticipated portable DAC – the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 amplifier. Despite not being completely sold on the sound of its predecessor, the original Diablo, I found myself using it consistently for work due to its remarkable blend of a compact design with the ability to drive even the most power-hungry headphones. It stood out as a pinnacle of high-end performance within its category.

The Diablo 2 has taken these qualities to the next level. It’s not only become more powerful but also integrates superior wireless codecs along with a slew of other advancements that enhance its flexibility. This device truly embodies the essence of a charismatic and fiery demon. Its capabilities were perfectly summed up during its unveiling as having “Heavenly Sound. Devilish Power”. However, with great power comes a greater price tag, now set at $1,600. Is it justified? While I have faith in the craftsmanship of British brand iFi, let’s critically assess this alluring piece of technology.

Design

The unboxing of the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 is an experience in itself, presented in a sizable and hefty package that elaborately lists its specifications. Upon opening, you’re greeted with a treasure trove of accessories that go above and beyond: the iTraveller case, iPower2 power supply, a lengthy USB-C/USB-C cable, USB-C to USB-A adapter, TOSLINK optical adapter, a short USB-C/USB-C and USB-C to Lightning cable, a 3.5mm to 6.3mm plug adapter, two stands, and two stickers. iFi’s knack for lavish packaging is evident, ensuring that users have everything they need for any listening situation straight out of the box.

A noteworthy addition is the stands, aptly named Wings of Inferno, which attach directly to the Diablo 2. These not only serve to prevent overheating but also add versatility to its placement, allowing for both horizontal and vertical orientation on a desk. This thoughtful touch underscores the device’s dual function as both a high-performance portable DAC and a stationary desktop unit, blending practicality with a dash of romance in its design.

Upon initially encountering the substantial packaging of the iFi iDSD Diablo 2, one might be led to believe that the device itself has grown significantly in size. However, this is not the case; it remains impressively compact and perfectly suited for portable use. Compared to its first-generation counterpart, which featured a smooth and rounded design, the Diablo 2 has evolved into a ribbed structure that I find even more appealing. The iconic devil red color has undergone a transformation as well – it’s now a deeper, more saturated hue that’s truly striking. The build quality is flawless, radiating the aura of a high-end, premium device. The iFi iDSD Diablo 2’s design is just as stunning, alluring, and distinctive as its predecessor’s.

Regarding controls, the device is equipped with mechanical switches for mode selection, a dedicated physical button for Bluetooth activation, and an analog volume knob. The volume knob’s increments are somewhat large, which can be a concern when using sensitive IEMs; at the lowest volume settings, there may be a slight channel imbalance. It appears that, similar to the first Diablo, volume adjustments cannot be made at the source. The potentiometer moves very smoothly, which could pose a risk to your hearing if it’s accidentally adjusted, given the device’s considerable power output. Fortunately, iFi has thoughtfully included a locking feature that prevents unintended adjustments by securing the knob in place, a safety measure for which they deserve commendation.

Features

The iFi iDSD Diablo 2 positions itself as an exceptionally versatile piece of audio equipment, akin to a Swiss army knife for audiophiles. It offers a comprehensive suite of connectivity options including a line input, two USB Type-C ports (one for charging and one for data), both 6.3mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced headphone outputs, a 4.4mm balanced line output, and an S/PDIF output. Remarkably, it introduces Bluetooth 5.4 to the world, supporting an extensive array of codecs such as AAC, aptX, aptX Adaptive, LDAC, HWA, and notably, the cutting-edge aptX Lossless codec with a bitrate of 1200 kbit/s, significantly surpassing the bitrates of aptX Adaptive (420 kbps) and LDAC (990 kbps).

Diving deeper into its technological prowess, the Diablo 2 is equipped with a Burr-Brown True Native dual-core multibit DAC that supports Bit-Perfect processing, capable of handling PCM up to 768 kHz and DSD512, along with full MQA decoding. While there may be discussions about the true multibit nature of Burr-Brown DACs, iFi’s extensive experience with these components is evident in their product’s performance.

Wireless communication is managed by the Qualcomm QCC518x chip, whereas a 16-core XMOS processor handles the digital signal processing from the USB input. To minimize jitter, the Diablo 2 utilizes high-precision GMT (Global Master Timing) clock generators, along with high-quality components such as TDK C0G class 1 ceramic capacitors, Vishay MELF resistors, Panasonic OS-CON capacitors (totaling 5410 μF), and muRata low ESR control type multilayer capacitors. The device also features advanced jitter reduction technology, a fully balanced dual-mono circuit with short direct signal paths (PureWave) for improved channel separation and clarity, and proprietary technologies like Servoless DirectDrive and OptimaLoop for enhanced gain control.

At the heart of its impressive power output is the OV series operational amplifier, boasting an ultra-low distortion level of 0.0001%, capable of delivering a formidable 5180 mW into a 32 ohms balanced connection. This makes the Diablo 2 a powerhouse, capable of driving the most demanding planar magnetic headphones, while still being adaptable enough to cater to a wide variety of headphones with its three selectable output modes: Normal (for IEMs), Turbo (for standard full-size headphones), and Nitro (for high-impedance full-size headphones), with Nitro mode pushing the voltage up to 19.2 V. This level of versatility and power in such a compact device is truly remarkable, making the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 a standout in its field, ready to meet the demands of audiophiles and professionals alike.

The iFi iDSD Diablo 2 addresses the concern of background noise with sensitive IEMs by incorporating a low-gain setting that effectively eliminates noise for most users. For those still encountering noise issues or seeking finer volume control, the device includes an additional feature: the built-in iEMatch technology. This technology, previously available as a separate adapter, is designed to attenuate the signal, thereby expanding the usable volume range and mitigating channel imbalance issues commonly encountered with sensitive IEMs. While it may slightly affect the sound quality, the trade-off allows for a broader adjustment range and improved listening experience with IEMs, making it a valuable option for audiophiles.

Furthermore, the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 introduces an xMEMS toggle switch, specifically catering to headphones equipped with xMEMS technology, enhancing compatibility and user experience.

In terms of battery life and power management, the Diablo 2 offers versatile powering options, capable of running on both its internal battery and external power sources. The device’s battery life varies depending on the selected output mode: up to 12 hours in Normal mode, 9 hours in Turbo mode, and 6 hours in Nitro mode, although actual duration will depend on the headphones’ load and usage conditions. The inclusion of the iPower2 power supply unit, featuring a noise reduction system, addresses potential noise issues when using external power, ensuring a clean listening experience. However, for the most demanding headphones, users might prefer to connect the device to an outlet to avoid power deficiencies, especially as the battery depletes, ensuring consistent performance and eliminating the risk of distortion.

Sound

The main testing was carried out on headphones Focal Utopia, 64 Audio tia Fourte, Noble Audio Khan, Audeze LCD-3, HiFiMAN Edition XS and Dunu DK-3001 Pro.

In an attempt to encapsulate the sonic essence of the iFi iDSD Diablo 2, it’s crucial to note its lively and dynamic performance, a continuation of the musicality that defined its predecessor. This device elevates the listening experience with improved resolution, a broader soundstage, enhanced clarity, and a wider dynamic range. The backdrop against which musical elements play out is impeccably dark, allowing for a sharper contrast and making each detail more discernible.

The Diablo 2’s sound signature is characterized by its vibrant drive and seamless integration of musical elements, creating a cohesive and energetic presentation. Its ability to maintain excellent speed and holographic sound staging immerses the listener in a deeply engaging auditory experience, akin to being enveloped in a captivating dance. The precision in attack and the adept handling of rhythm and pace further underscore its impressive performance.

Warmth and richness define the timbral quality of the Diablo 2, steering clear of any lean or overly cool tonalities. Instead, it offers a palette of vivid, fully saturated colors, rendering music with a lush, creamy texture that’s both soothing and engaging to the ear. The device tends toward a mid-centric sound, ensuring that instruments sound expressive, voluminous, and palpably detailed. Vocals, in particular, are rendered with remarkable juiciness and smoothness, embodying both confidence and fervor without veering into harshness. The treble is detailed and well-defined, contributing to the overall lively and coherent sound without inducing listener fatigue.

The iFi iDSD Diablo 2, with its tasteful design and emphasis on epic listening experiences, seems to strike a balance between technical prowess and engaging, enjoyable sound. While it presents an improvement over its predecessor in terms of technicality and versatility, it retains a characteristic entertainment value, with a hint of tube-like warmth. This aspect, though seen as a deviation from strict linearity, neutrality, and micro-detailing by those with a preference for analytical listening, could be perceived as a major advantage by listeners who prioritize musical enjoyment and emotional engagement over analytical precision.

Bass
The bass frequencies are described as massive, rounded, and velvety, offering a substantial foundation without overpowering the midrange. This indicates a controlled approach to low-end presentation, ensuring clarity and balance. The bass is impactful and dynamic, contributing to a lively and harmonious sound.

Midrange
The midrange stands out as the highlight of the Diablo 2, characterized by its expressiveness, vibrancy, and emotional depth. It achieves a delicate balance between smoothness and energy, with clear articulation and satisfactory detail retrieval. This improvement in clarity and expressiveness over the first Diablo model underscores the device’s evolution towards a more refined and engaging listening experience. The spacious, three-dimensional soundstage and the captivating rendering of vocals further enhance the midrange appeal, despite a slight smoothing of instrumental contours and a desire for more nuanced detailing.

High Frequencies
The treble is described as gentle, flexible, and well-extended, with a warm timbral quality that adds naturalness and a pleasing aesthetic to the sound. This approach to high frequencies ensures a melodious and comfortable listening experience, avoiding harshness while still offering richness and control. While the very upper echelons of the treble might not exhibit the utmost in refinement or sparkle, the analog character of the treble presentation complements the overall sound signature, contributing to the Diablo 2’s engaging and coherent sonic identity.

In summary, the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 is crafted for those who seek a sound that combines technical merit with an engaging, emotionally resonant listening experience. Its deviation from strict neutrality and analytical detail is a conscious choice, aimed at delivering a sound that prioritizes musical enjoyment and emotional connection.

Conclusion

The debut of the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 marks a significant breakthrough in the Hi-Fi world. This vibrant, highly charismatic device is something I urge you to experience firsthand for an unforgettable impression. While its sound signature is refined and may not align with everyone’s taste, it’s certainly worth giving a listen.

iFi iDSD Diablo 2
iFi iDSD Diablo 2
9.5