iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: a devilishly powerful DAC

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The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC is the newest addition to the iDSD lineup from UK manufacturer iFi Audio. This high-end model priced at €999 is capable of supporting PCM streams up to 32-bit and 768kHz as well as DSD512 and MQA formats. It is equipped with two Burr-Brown True Native DACs in a dual mono configuration, features audiophile-grade amplification and is capable of delivering up to 2,417mW per channel into 32 ohms, for a total power handling of nearly 5,000mW. Is the iFi Audio iDSD Diablo capable of raising Hell?

The iFi Audio iDSD is the latest addition to the iDSD range from the British manufacturer. It is capable of powering all headphones and earphones available on the market.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: the brand

The history of iFi Audio dates back to 2012 when the British manufacturer AMR (Abbingdon Music Research), until then specialized in the design of amplifiers, CD players and speakers, decided to create a new entity dedicated to portable systems and digital music. From the very beginning, iFi Audio has benefited from the expertise of its parent company to offer innovative systems, combining the best audiophile components with the latest technologies. This choice has paid off and allowed iFi Audio to make a name for itself in the world of high fidelity and to earn the unanimous approval of the specialized press.

Today, iFi Audio’s catalog consists of portable headphone amplifiers, power conditioners, portable DACs, USB DACs, Hi-Fi preamps and phono preamps. All of these devices are made with high quality components and are designed to last as long as possible. A recipe that iFi Audio has once again put into practice with the iDSD Diablo DAC, which benefits from a state-of-the-art design and adopts components of a higher quality than the vast majority of USB DACs available on the market.

The FiiO FA9 in-ear monitors proved to be a perfect match for the iFi Audio iDSD Diablo DAC.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: packaging and accessories

The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB audio DAC comes in a large box decorated with a picture of the DAC along with the brand logo, the DAC model, some specifications and a sticker announcing the compatibility with MQA streams. The full characteristics of the device are printed on the back of the box. 

Inside the box, the iDSD Diablo is wrapped in a plastic bag and housed in a foam plate to guarantee optimal protection during transport. Underneath this plate are the accessories that accompany the DAC in two boxes on the side and a very high-quality carrying pouch. The brand went all out and, like always with the English manufacturer, the manufacturing quality of the accessories is evident.

The iDSD Diablo comes with:

  • an iPower 5V noise reduction charger
  • a dual XLR to Pentaconn 4.4mm mini-jack cable
  • a USB-C to USB-A cable
  • an AC to USB-C adapter cable
  • a USB-A to USB-A cable
  • an iFi Purifier USB-A to USB-B adapter
  • a 3.5mm mini jack to 6.3mm jack adapter.
  • an S/PDIF to 5.5mm jack adapter
The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC comes with a beautiful soft case and a wide selection of adapters.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: presentation

The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC stands out at first glance with its red-tinted aluminum chassis. An esthetic choice that may suit everyone’s taste but that will sure leave an impression. The other surprising element concerning the presentation of this DAC is its size. We are used to our faithful Chord Mojo USB DAC, and we were not really expecting a device of this caliber, since the iDSD Diablo measures 166 mm long by 72 mm wide and 25 mm high for a total of 330 grams. Its imposing size does not necessarily make it very practical for a portabme use, but it remains easily transportable for long trips for example, especially thanks to the very nice soft carrying case provided.

The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo is much larger than the the Chord Mojo and boasts a unique appearance and an extremely robust chassis.

As for the connectors, iFi Audio has kept things simple without leaving anything out. On the front, there is an unbalanced 3.5mm mini-jack headphone output, a balanced 4.4mm mini-jack headphone output, and a power selector (Eco, Normal and Turbo). On the back of the DAC are a USB-A port for digital streams, a USB-C port for power, a balanced 4.4mm mini-jack line out and a 3.5mm mini-jack optical input. For power and volume control, the iDSD Diablo has a very sensitive volume dial. 

The back of the iFi Audio iDSD Diablo features a USB-A port for digital audio, a USB-C port for charging the battery, a 4.4mm mini-jack balanced output and a 3.5mm mini-jack optical input.

The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC is extremely versatile and supports PCM audio streams up to 768kHz as well as DSD512, DXD768 and MQA formats up to 384kHz. With a frequency response of 10Hz to 80kHz and a power handling ranging from 2417mW at 32 ohms to 611mW at 600 ohms, the iDSD Diablo is a true force of nature capable of powering the entire range of in-ear monitors and hi-fi headphones on the market without any problems. 

Underneath its robust aluminum shell, the iDSD Diablo houses a dual Burr-Brown True Native DAC to ensure that digital streams remain unchanged or ‘bit-perfect’. The dual-mono design offers a perfect separation of the stereo channels for an ultra spacious soundstage and an excellent layering of the sound. The DACs are associated with a 16-core XMOS controller that receives and processes the USB and S/PDIF streams to ensure proper data addressing and limit jitter. This new low latency XMOS microcontroller has significantly improved processing power. Compared to the current generation of eight-core chips, this new IC offers twice the clock speed (2000 MIPS) and four times the memory (512 KB).

The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC features an unbalanced 6.3mm headphone output and a balanced 4.4mm mini-jack headphone output for optimal compatibility with all the best hi-fi headphones on the market.

The iDSD Diablo features audiophile-grade amplification with PureWave technology for noise reduction. As usual, iFi Audio has used exclusively high-end components for the iDSD Diablo. These include ultra-low distortion Op MOSFET transistors, multi-layer ceramic C0G capacitors from TDK, OS-CON aluminum-polymer capacitors from Panasonic, and coils developed by Japanese manufacturers Taiyo Yuden and Murata.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: iFi Audio iPurifier

The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo DAC comes with an iFi Audio iPurifier3 USB filter. The iPurifier3 is designed to optimize the transmission of digital audio data and remove background noise from the power supply. The iFi Audio iPurifier3 USB filter incorporates electronics designed to remove electrical interference and also regenerate digital signals at the rate imposed by the DAC. As a result, the sound is more transparent and the listening experience more detailed and dynamic.

The iFi Audio iPurifier3 USB filter features electronic components designed to suppress electrical interference and ensure a more transparent and detailed listening experience.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: key specs

Inputs

  • USB 3.0 compatible USB type A port (also USB 2.0 compatible)
  • 3.5mm coaxial/optical S-PDIF connector

Supported formats

  • DSD (512 / 256 / 128 / 64)
  • DXD (768 / 705.6 / 384 / 352.8kHz)
  • PCM (768 / 705.6 / 384 / 352.8 / 192 / 176.4 / 96 / 88.2 / 48 / 44.1kHz)
  • MQA

Measurements

  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 80kHz (-3dB)
  • Signal-to-noise ratio: -120dB (balanced) / -114dB (unbalanced)Dynamic range: 120dB (balanced) / 114dB (unbalanced)
  • THD: 0.002% (balanced) / 0.001% (unbalanced)

Maximum headphone output level 

Balanced:

  • 19.2V / 611mW into 600 ohms
  • 12.6V / 4,980mW into 32 ohms

Unbalanced:

  • 9.6V / 153mW into 600 ohms
  • 8.8V / 2,417mW under 32 ohms

Connectors

  • Balanced 4.4mm line output (fixed level)
  • Unbalanced 6.35mm headphone output
  • Balanced 4.4mm mini-jack headphone output
  • USB-A input
  • 3.5mm mini-jack S/PDIF input

Power consumption 

  • Turbo: 12W
  • Normal: 5W
  • Eco: 2W
  • 4800mAh lithium-polymer battery
  • Power system charging via USB-C (iFi iPower included)

General

  • Dimensions: 166 x 72 x 25mm
  • Weight: 330g

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: testing conditions

For this test, we paired the iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC with the Focal Elegia hi-fi headphones, as well as with the FiiO FH7 and FiiO FA9 in-ear monitors. We listened to CD quality and Hi-Res files (24-bit/96kHz up to 24-bit/192kHz) via Qobuz with our Sublime+ subscription, as well as CDs and MP3 320kbps, WAV, FLAC and DSD files stored on a computer and a smartphone. The DAC was connected to the computer using a NorStone Arran USB cable. For the combination of the iDSD Diablo and the smartphone, we used an iFi Audio micro USB OTG cable.

The rich and detailed sound signature of the iDSD Diablo combined with the clear and precise reproduction of the Focal Elegia headphones allowed us to rediscover some of our classic albums.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: listening impressions

Neurosis – Under the Surface (CD) 

From the very beginning of the track, the iDSD Diablo started flexing its muscles by giving the percussion all the scope it needed. The soundstage was extremely wide and balanced with a slight midrange emphasis, enough to bring out the vocals without overdoing it. The iDSD Diablo rendered Steve Albini’s production brilliantly. The sound take revolves around the natural acoustics of the room with minimal editing and the DAC reproduces it with surprising dynamics and authenticity. 

The Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went To Georgia (16/44)

Twirling violin, rhythmic snare drum, booming bass, richly detailed guitars and piano, all instruments are reproduced in a natural and clear way. Whether you focus on the entire instrumentation or each instrument separately, the iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC does a masterful job, so much so that you feel like you’re in the center of the room. The voice stands out perfectly and benefits from a realism that brings the track to life.

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Diablo Rojo (16/44)

With the iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC combined with the Focal Elegia headphones, we experienced a simply splendid listening experience with this track. The spacious soundstage combined with the naturalness and dynamics of the DAC gave us the impression of hearing the guitar duo in concert. This is a particularly good feeling after a year without seeing musical performances. The rhythmic technique of Gabriela and the finesse of Rodrigo’s playing are sublimated by the iDSD Diablo and Focal Elegia. A real joy.

AC/DC – Hell’s Bells (24/96)

It is always interesting to rediscover classic tracks with a new device. That’s the beauty of high-end hi-fi equipment: its ability to make you rediscover a song or an album you already know by heart, and that’s exactly what the iDSD Diablo did. The listening experience was so clear and detailed that it felt as if we were hearing this album for the very first time even though it had such a profound impact on our teenage years. Angus Young’s guitar has never sounded so natural and the iDSD Diablo did justice to the “best rhythm section in the world”.

Chris Isaak – Voodoo (DSD128)

If the iDSD Diablo surprised us with its spacious soundstage and dynamics with CD quality files, imagine what it’s capable of with DSD files. The track had plenty of space to breathe, the stereo effect was quite simply fantastic, the different instruments and effects filled the space and Chris Isaak’s voice was placed perfectly in the middle, clear and detailed. A devilishly catchy listen.

The combination of the iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC, iFi Audio OTG cable and Focal Elegia headphones provided us with a true portable digital hi-fi system.

iFi Audio iDSD Diablo: compared to…

Chord Mojo: Sold for twice the price of the Chord Mojo, the iDSD Diablo offers a more spacious and detailed sound stage. What particularly appealed to us in comparison to our reference DAC was the richness of the midrange and the dynamics of the iFi Audio DAC. We particularly liked the combination of the iDSD Diablo with the FiiO FA9 IMEs, which gave them a nice dose of energy and character. The main advantage of the Chord Mojo over the iDSD Diablo is its compact and robust design, which makes it an ideal companion for listening on the go.  

The rich midrange and energy of the iDSD Diablo USB DAC worked perfectly with the excellent FiiO FA9.

Conclusion

The iFi Audio iDSD Diablo USB DAC is the ideal high-end DAC for mixed residential and portable use. It is perfect for audiophiles who want to take full advantage of very high resolution files stored on a computer or enjoy MQA tracks streamed from Tidal. It fits easily into a bag, so you can take it home, to work, use it during your commute, and delivers enough power to drive all the IEMs and hi-fi headphones on the market. The Pentaconn 4.4mm to XLR cable lets you connect the DAC to an amplifier or a pair of active speakers with XLR connectors, making it a true hi-fi component that will fit into any system. Let’s face it, with the iDSD Diablo, the competition has something to worry about! 

What we liked:

  • The spacious sound stage
  • The rich and detailed sound
  • The simple and comprehensive design

We would have liked:

  • Nothing more


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