iFi iDSD Diablo 2 review: the red DAC’s more devilishly good second time around

There’s an iFi headphone amp/DAC at each price-point – however there was a robust case to be made for the unique iDSD Diablo being probably the most cost-effective of the lot. So the iDSD Diablo 2 has lots to reside as much as if it desires to grow to be among the finest moveable DACs round…

The design is tidier and extra considerate than earlier than. Specification has moved on a little bit, too, because of new services with Bluetooth 5.4 and xMEMS headphones. What hasn’t modified, although, is the iFi’s have to be paired with equally upmarket headphones with a purpose to do its factor to its full potential.

It’s price it, although, as a result of when partnered with a number of the finest wired headphones within the enterprise, its ‘full potential’ could be very spectacular certainly. It’s a fast, absolutely detailed and properly balanced pay attention, in a position to organise a soundstage or an advanced combine till these sound as pure as might be. It communicates fluently, controls rhythms and tempos properly, and might extract each scrap of data out of your digital audio information with out obvious effort.

Some listeners will hanker after larger low-frequency affect, and others (or perhaps the identical ones) will recognise that the iDSD Diablo 2 might have larger dynamic headroom. Regardless of this, although, the iFi is an admirable machine and one that can take some shifting from very close to the highest of your wish-list.

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 seen from above, on a wooden table

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 assessment: Value and launch date

  • Launch date: November 2023
  • Value: $1,299 / £1,299 / AU$2,199

The iFi iDSD Diablo 2 is on sale now, and in the UK it sells for £1,299. In America you’ll need to half with an solely barely extra palatable $1,299, whereas in Australia it’ll set you again AU$2,199.

Irrespective of the place you’re purchasing, that is critical cash for a bit of desktop gear.

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 assessment: Options

  • Balanced and unbalanced outputs
  • Twin-core Burr Brown DAC chipset
  • Bluetooth 5.4 with aptX Lossless compatibility

Each the price-point and iFi’s sense of itself inside the market insist that the iDSD Diablo 2 be exhaustively specified, groaning underneath the load of its listing of options. And so it proves.

It’s not an particularly small machine, the iDSD Diablo 2, however nonetheless every finish is full of connections and controls. On the entrance, there are 6.3mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced outputs – the latter is really useful to be used with xMEMS stable state driver headphones, and there’s a swap immediately above it to let the iFi know if it’s linked to xMEMS headphones or not. A 3-position swap lets you choose an influence mode – ‘regular’, ‘turbo’ and ‘nitro’ can be found, and these are very excitable methods of describing the extra energy output that could be required to drive headphones of specific sensitivity. An LED lets you realize what’s occurring as regards file kind and dimension (should you’ve made a wired connection) or codec kind (should you’re utilizing Bluetooth). A comparatively massive analogue quantity management (with sliding lock) completes the entrance fascia line-up.

The rear panel, in the meantime, includes a button to provoke Bluetooth pairing (the iFi has Bluetooth 5.4 on board, and is suitable with each codec from SBC and AAC to LDAC and aptX Lossless – though, as we will see, getting affirmation that you simply’re streaming aptX Lossless is significantly extra of a palaver than it needs to be). There’s additionally a 4.4mm balanced line-level enter, and a hybrid 3.5mm enter for both optical or coaxial digital info. Two USB-C sockets full the set – one if for connection to mains energy or to cost the inner battery, and the opposite is for knowledge switch. This final is a giant enchancment on the unique iDSD Diablo, which required an infernal (pun very a lot meant) association of USB extension cables to make a connection. Though acquired knowledge says the battery is the cleaner and more practical technique to energy the Diablo 2, iFi additionally offers its iPower 2 energy provide – it’s claimed to be ten instances quieter than common mains energy provides.

On the underside of the chassis there’s a ‘IEMatch’ swap to be used with in-ear screens – the accessible positions are ‘4.4’, ‘6.35’ and off.

On the within, the iDSD Diablo 2 is fitted with a dual-core Burr Brown digital-to-analogue chipset, offering help for digital audio information of each worthwhile kind as much as 768kHz and DSD512 in addition to full MQA decoding. iFi has allied this formidable processing energy to options it calls (with typical understatement) ‘PureWave’ (balanced dual-mono analogue amplification structure), ‘Servoless DirectDrive’ (as direct and uncorrupted a sign path as attainable) and ‘OptimaLoop’ (minimisation of distortion and part sound).

iFi suggests the iDSD Diablo 2 has an infinite five-watt output, which might be greater than sufficient to drive even probably the most recalcitrant headphones with none of the acquire intervention choices iFi provides. Like a lot in life, although, iFi’s claims for the ability that’s on faucet listed below are the topic of some debate. These 5 watts are a peak energy measurement, slightly than RMS steady energy – and iFi’s measurement window isn’t open for so long as is normal across the wider trade. Nonetheless, at this level the argument is educational – the best way the Diablo 2 performs will dictate whether or not or not we should always all get hung up on energy scores…

Options rating: 5 / 5

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 closeup, showing headphone jacks

Word the ‘wings’  (Picture credit score: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 assessment: Design

  • 29 x 85 x 166mm (HxWxD)
  • 455g
  • A number of positioning choices

In absolute phrases, the iDSD Diablo 2 isn’t an particularly massive machine, however at 29 x 85 x 166mm (HxWxD) it nonetheless takes up useful desktop area. So iFi has correctly made positioning it as versatile as attainable, because of a reworked chassis that replaces the unique Diablo’s easy casework with an association of twenty-two ‘rails’ that assist cooling. Eight of those rails can every settle for one of many 4 ‘wings’ equipped with the product, which permits it to be positioned both vertically or horizontally.

In addition to these supporting ‘wings’, the iDSD Diablo 2 additionally comes with the iPower 2 energy provide, quick and lengthy(er) USB-C cables, quick USB-C / Lightning cable, USB-C / USB-A adapter, Toslink optical adapter and a 3.5mm / 6.3mm headphone adapter. It’s additionally equipped with an ‘iTraveller’ gentle carrying case, into which just about all of those equipment will match with out issues.

Design rating: 4.5 / 5 

iFi iDSD Diablo 2's underside, detailing the ports

Every part in its proper place…  (Picture credit score: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 assessment: Sound high quality

  • Direct, unequivocal efficiency
  • Detailed, fairly lean sound 
  • May conceivably be extra dynamic

A desktop machine like this requires a desktop, so the iDSD Diablo 2 is linked through USB-C to an Apple MacBook Professional (2020) operating Colibri software program with a purpose to ship correctly high-resolution digital audio information. It’s linked to a number of pairs of headphones – the vast majority of this testing is carried out utilizing Sennheiser IE900 in-ear screens and a pair of Austrian Audio ‘The Composer’ over-ears, each utilizing their 4.4mm cable. For the sake of fine kind, each iOS and Android smartphones are used to take a look at the iFi’s Bluetooth functionality, too.

Nevertheless it’s secure to say that regardless of the headphones or the supply machine, or in actual fact the type of music that’s on the go (and my testing consists of all the things from 16bit/44.1kHz information of Doris Troy’s What-cha Gonna Do About It and Lambchop’s The Every day Growl to a 24bit/192kHz file of David Bowie’s Be My Spouse and a DSD64 copy of Stevie Marvel’s Residing for the Metropolis), the angle and character of the iDSD Diablo 2 doesn’t actually alter all that a lot. This can be a swift, articulate and detailed pay attention, with the type of muscle-mass of a distance runner and related manoeuvrability. When you got here for vaulting dynamism and/or overtly stocky low frequencies, you may need to look elsewhere. Everybody else, although, ought to pay attention lengthy and laborious…

At each flip, the iFi retains a detailed eye on the high quality particulars and the broad strokes, and manages to place each ingredient of a recording into correct context. It travels from the underside of the frequency vary to the highest in a easily convincing method, and is ready to generate a real sense of unity and ‘efficiency’ from a recording. It’s attainable to tilt its frequency response simply barely in the direction of the highest finish should you use unsympathetic headphones, however in nearly each circumstance the iDSD Diablo 2 is a assured, balanced pay attention.

It creates a giant, open soundstage and organises it properly. It’s capable of finding area for probably the most transient features of a recording even within the busiest mixes, retains each ingredient of it at arm’s size from the others to ensure that it to have the mandatory area to specific itself – and but ties all of it collectively nearly effortlessly. It’s nearly fanatical in its consideration to the small harmonic variations that lesser amplifiers are comfortable to miss.

Management of the bottom frequencies is absolute – and the alacrity of their assault and decay means the iFi offers good expression to rhythms. There’s an absence of bulk or substance to the underside finish it produces, although – there’s no scarcity of bass extension, however there’s not an enormous quantity of weight to the low finish, and the iDSD Diablo 2 can sound comparatively light-weight in consequence. In the case of the largest dynamic shifts in quantity or depth, it doesn’t appear to have all that a lot attain both – presumably as a result of it is a very loud amplifier even when it’s enjoying quietly.

For all of its acquire and sensitivity controls, the iFi sounds prefer it’s providing you with all the things it’s acquired proper from the off – which simply doesn’t go away it a lot headroom when the going will get louder nonetheless.

Sound high quality rating: 4.5 / 5

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 and Sennheiser iE900, on a wooden table

The majority of my testing was carried out with the Sennheiser IE900 or the Austrian Audio ‘The Composer’  (Picture credit score: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 assessment: Usability & setup

  • Easy to function
  • Some gentle Bluetooth weirdness 
  • Brief cables might be a problem

On a elementary degree, the iDSD Diablo 2 is a bit of cake to function. Its controls are all bodily, its quantity dial operates at well-judged increments and the quantity dial lock is a pleasant contact too. When you can plug a supply of music and pair of headphones in, you’re in enterprise.

The size of cables equipped are a minor irritation, although. To attach my MacBook Professional (2020) to the iFi, the USB-C / USB-C is required – however the braided cable is so quick that there’s next-to-no skill to regulate its place on the desk. I’ve quite a few USB-C / USB-C cables of assorted lengths in my house, I’ll admit, and iFi provides a extra helpful size of a lot much less spectacular high quality – however I can’t think about it will carve into iFi’s revenue margin an excessive amount of to produce a braided cable, say, twice so long as this one.

Each my iOS and my Android smartphones see, and pair with, the iDSD Diablo 2 shortly sufficient. As soon as the connection is made, the LED on the iFi’s fascia glows yellow to point the AAC codec – as a result of that’s iPhones for you. However an Asus smartphone offers each impression of streaming aptX Adaptive (inexperienced LED) although it’s in a position to cope with aptX Lossless (white LED).

Usability & setup rating: 4/5

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 on its side, showing the file indicator light

This white gentle (for aptX Lossless) was oddly laborious to return by when utilizing sources in a position to deal with it…  (Picture credit score: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 assessment: Worth

It’s nigh-on inconceivable to counsel the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 isn’t a profound enchancment on the sound to be achieved by plugging your headphones immediately right into a smartphone, say, or a laptop computer.

As a desktop audio machine, then, it makes lots of sense should you’re the type of one that takes listening this manner severely sufficient to have invested in succesful headphones and lots of high-resolution digital audio information. For ‘informal’ or ‘leisure’ listeners, although, a tool that calls for such equally achieved (and correspondingly costly) partnering gear must be thought-about overkill.

Worth rating: 4/5

iFi iDSD close-up of the front fascia, on wooden table

Word the brand new ‘rails’ on the casework to assist with cooling (Picture credit score: Future)

iFi iDSD Diablo 2 assessment: Additionally take into account

iFi iDSD Diablo of the branding on the casework, silver on red

iFi makes sturdy design selections and also you like to see it (Picture credit score: Future)

How I examined the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 assessment:

  • Varied headphones
  • Varied audio file varieties and sizes
  • Varied sources of music

For an almost-unbroken week, the iFi iDSD Diablo 2 sat subsequent to my laptop computer, and performed music both from the machine’s reminiscence (utilizing a wired connection) or from one of some smartphones (utilizing Bluetooth). Music saved as MP3, FLAC and DSD information was used, and headphones from ‘reasonably dear’ to ‘extraordinarily costly’ had been plugged into each the balanced and unbalanced outputs…

First reviewed April 2024


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