Home Amps/DACS iFi Diablo Review: Is It Worth The Price?!

iFi Diablo Review: Is It Worth The Price?!

by Stuart Charles Black
iFi iDSD Diablo Review

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Updates:

  • 2/28/21. Article posted.
  • 4/14/21. Added some more films: Terminator, Terminator 2, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Tin Cup.
  • 4/18/21. Added Video.

Big Shoutout to Lawrance and iFi Audio for sending this demo unit, and for their continued support!!

These are all my own opinions. I’m not being paid to say anything positive or negative about this unit. I also haven’t read any other reviews before sitting down to write this. All thoughts and impressions are my own.

With that…

Is iFi’s Diablo worth the asking price? What about this Amp/DAC sets it apart from other similar products?

All of these answers and more, comin’ up.

iFi iDSD Diablo Review

Greetings bass head, Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…

Video Review

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At A Glance

Title
iFi Micro iDSD Diablo Purist Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier - USB/SPDIF Input - 4.4mm Balanced Output - 4.4mm & 6.3mm Headphone Jacks
Thumbnail
iFi Micro iDSD Diablo Purist Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier - USB/SPDIF Input - 4.4mm Balanced Output - 4.4mm & 6.3mm Headphone Jacks
Digital Inputs
USB 3.0 Type A (USB 2.0 Compatible)/S-PDIF (3.5mm coaxial/optical)
Formats
DSD512/256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD, DXD (768/705.6/384/352.8kHz), Double/Single-Speed DXD, PCM (768,705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz, MQA
Audio Output
Balanced 4.4mm, Single-ended 6.35mm (1/4")
Output Power
19.2V/611mW (@ 600 Ohm), 12.6V/4,980mW (@ 32 Ohm), 9.6V/153mW (@ 600 Ohm), 8.8V/2,417mW (@ 32 Ohm)
Frequency Response
10Hz - 80kHz (-3dB)
Signal to Noise Ratio
Balanced: -120dB, S-E: -114dB
Total Harmonic Distortion
Balanced: 0.002%, S-E: 0.001%
Filters
DSD: Extreme/Extended/Standard Bandwith, PCM: Bit-Perfect/Minimum-Phase/Standard, DXD: Bit-Perfect Processing
Power Consumption
Turbo: 12W, Normal: 5W, Eco: 2W
Battery
Lithium-polymer 4800Ah
Power System
Charging via USB-C (iFi iPower included), BC V1.2 compliant up to 1900mA charging current
Dimensions
166 x 72 x 25mm / 6.5" x 2.8" x 1.0"
Net Weight
330g (0.73 lbs.)
Warranty Period
12 months
Prime
Price
$999.00
Title
iFi Micro iDSD Diablo Purist Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier - USB/SPDIF Input - 4.4mm Balanced Output - 4.4mm & 6.3mm Headphone Jacks
Thumbnail
iFi Micro iDSD Diablo Purist Portable DAC/Headphone Amplifier - USB/SPDIF Input - 4.4mm Balanced Output - 4.4mm & 6.3mm Headphone Jacks
Digital Inputs
USB 3.0 Type A (USB 2.0 Compatible)/S-PDIF (3.5mm coaxial/optical)
Formats
DSD512/256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD, DXD (768/705.6/384/352.8kHz), Double/Single-Speed DXD, PCM (768,705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz, MQA
Audio Output
Balanced 4.4mm, Single-ended 6.35mm (1/4")
Output Power
19.2V/611mW (@ 600 Ohm), 12.6V/4,980mW (@ 32 Ohm), 9.6V/153mW (@ 600 Ohm), 8.8V/2,417mW (@ 32 Ohm)
Frequency Response
10Hz - 80kHz (-3dB)
Signal to Noise Ratio
Balanced: -120dB, S-E: -114dB
Total Harmonic Distortion
Balanced: 0.002%, S-E: 0.001%
Filters
DSD: Extreme/Extended/Standard Bandwith, PCM: Bit-Perfect/Minimum-Phase/Standard, DXD: Bit-Perfect Processing
Power Consumption
Turbo: 12W, Normal: 5W, Eco: 2W
Battery
Lithium-polymer 4800Ah
Power System
Charging via USB-C (iFi iPower included), BC V1.2 compliant up to 1900mA charging current
Dimensions
166 x 72 x 25mm / 6.5" x 2.8" x 1.0"
Net Weight
330g (0.73 lbs.)
Warranty Period
12 months
Prime
Price
$999.00

What’s in the box?

Diablo

Blue USB Type-B Cable

iPurifier3 Active Noise Cancellation

5V DC Power Brick

Power Brick USB-C Adapter. I use this to charge and listen at the same time so it always has enough juice.

USB-A to USB-C Charging Cable

4.4mm to dual XLR balanced cables

Optical adapter

¼” headphone adapter

Start-Up Guide

Warranty Card

iFi iDSD Diablo Review

Spec & Features

iFi iDSD Diablo Review

Supports 7 modes:

  • Green for PCM/44/48/88/96kHz
  • Yellow for PCM 176/192/352/384kHz
  • White for PCM 768kHz
  • Cyan for DSD64/128
  • Blue for DSD256
  • Red for DSD512
  • And Magenta is MQA decoding

Total Harmonic Distortion

  • Single-ended: 0.001% and
  • Balanced: 0.002%

Max Power Output

Balanced:

  • 611mW @ 600 Ohm
  • 4,980mW @ 32 Ohm

Single-ended:

  • 153mW @ 600 Ohm
  • 2,417mW @ 32 Ohm

More than enough power for any headphones you may have.

Inputs

Back

  • S/PDIF/Coax/Optical
  • Balanced 4.4mm analogue input
  • USB-C (5V) battery charge input
  • USB 3.0 Type-A input

Front

  • Single-ended ¼” headphone jack
  • Balanced 4.4mm headphone jack
  • Mode switch
  • Volume Potentiometer

Battery Status:

  • White: > 75%
  • Green: > 25%
  • Red: > 10%
  • Red (flashing) < 10%

iFi Diablo

Is the Diablo worth the asking price of around 900 big ones?

I hate to say it, but no. It’s not. I’ve listened to over 20 albums, 5 films, a game or 2, and countless other misc. tracks before coming to this conclusion.

Is it a solid product? Absolutely! It’s hefty and robust, has built-in rubber feet, and looks fab on your desk or in your home theater/gaming space. Related: How To Set Up A Home Theater System For Beginners: Part I

Features and versatility are what set it apart from the others, both from a standpoint of what you’re getting in the package, its power modes, its ease of use, what types of files it can play, as well as a few different ways you can use it.

Still, its closely related Black Label brother did everything that the evil twin Diablo does, except it was cheaper and had an XBass whereas the Red Terror does not. Related: iFi micro iDSD Black Label Review!

BASS HEADS ONLY, BUSTER!!

The Black Label also had RCA outputs. The Diablo has a balanced 4.4mm out, but fewer people may utilize that. I don’t know that for certain one way or another. I do know RCA out is more convenient for the average user.

The S/PDIF input is a welcome return though.

Just use the supplied optical adapter and you can game on your console. I don’t know much about the PS5 right now, but folks have told me it does not have an optical input which is a real pain in the a**. I still have a PS4 and I’m completely satisfied with it. I don’t feel the need to upgrade and I can use it with any DAC that has an optical input.

Power modes have also made a return, as you can run your headphones in Eco, Normal, and Turbo.

iFi rates Eco for high sensitivity IEMs with 12-hour battery life, Normal for medium Sensitivity headphones with a 9-hour life, and turbo for the most demanding headphones at a 6-hour life. There is plenty of power here for any headphones you may have around.

iFi iDSD Diablo Review

Right before the Road Warrior screening.

Right before Serpico screening IIRC.

The Devil (‘scuse me, Diablo) does have a 4.4mm headphone input, but what DAC doesn’t nowadays? When the Black Label came out, we were still in the beginning stages of using headphones balanced with DACS, at least from a general consumer standpoint. I also think that most people will still be using a single-ended connection. Running balanced is more of a hassle for the majority of casual listeners, but that’s still only my opinion.

The point is this: if I thought the Black Label at $599 was pushing it (but still mostly worth a long-term investment given how versatile it was), the Diablo is certainly NOT worth $300 extra, at least in my mind. It’s like that high-maintenance chick who knows she’s high-maintenance and beautiful, but also knows her head is filled with sand.

When I first received it, I thought: “Wow! What a great package! You’re getting so much! Seems like a great value!” Then someone on Instagram told me what the price was and I was like:

“Wow! That’s an entire month’s rent!” 😂

It’s sort of like disappointed black guy:

Disappointed Black Guy Meme Strikes For The First Time On Home Studio Basics.

😂

If I was on the fence about Neo but still saw the tremendous value in it, Diablo makes me want to run out and purchase a Neo without thinking twice. Related: iFi Neo iDSD Amp/DAC Review &#8211; Is It Worth $700?!

The Neo really is a jack of all trades and worth the asking price if I were to keep it for many years. As I mentioned in the official review, if it had an XLR mic input on the front I would most certainly buy it given everything else it can do. The Diablo to me pales in comparison and is not worth an investment at its current price.

I say that for another important reason; the sound. No, it’s not bad. It sounds great, but (and iFi might crucify me for saying this) it doesn’t sound any better than an iFi Zen.

MAN THIS IS SOME MORE BULLSH**!!!!

Yeah, I went there. Sorry, iFi. But it’s true.

Welp looks like I won’t be reviewing any more iFi DACS lol.

Great product, but not even close to being worth 9 hunnit.

I’d price this at around $500.

REAL TALK!!

Sound

The Diablo actually sounds very similar to the Zen; a cross between neutral and warm. This is a presentation I’ve always enjoyed in iFi products – crisp, full-bodied, and detailed, yet not sterile or cold sounding. iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review [New Standard?]

iFi has always utilized the Burr-Brown chip so there isn’t really much more I can say or add to what I’ve said dozens of times previously. I’ve demoed a bunch of their products and they all sound great. I’m not going to make up a bunch of word salad just to sound like those other reviewers who try and artificially hype you up so you’ll buy the product faster (cough Z Reviews cough) ‘Scuse me.

Select Comparisons

Used with the Blue Cable to keep a level playing field. Used AKG K702.

Diablo vs. K5 Pro

$150 vs. $900

iFi iDSD Diablo Review

I didn’t hear much of a difference between them. Both delivered the ferocity and slam of Common’s “The Sixth Sense” with equal measure. Tight, plenty of impact, clear, and crisp. On “The Narcissist”, the K5 Pro did sound slightly warmer and less detailed. And?

  • Tracks demoed: The Sixth Sense, E.A.T. – DJ Premier, Marco Polo, Masta Ace, Kevin Garrett – Factor In, Outkast – Two Dope Boyz (In A Cadillac), The 1975, No Rome – The Narcissist, Alextbh – Moments, DJ Khaled, Nipsey Hussle, John Legend – Higher. <Man, that sample is crazy, right? So much soul.

This is exactly why I don’t recommend DACS based on sound; they don’t really actually sound that much different if we’re being honest and not shilling crap. I’ve always said this and will continue to double down on it as more and more products flood the market.

Diablo vs. AudioQuest DragonFly Red

$200 vs. $900

Very similar. Both seem to be very open and detailed. These 2 are perhaps the most similar sounding.

Tracks Demoed: Zoology – 100°, Yasper, Louk – The Oldest Man In The Room, weird inside – Be Alright, Scarface, Jay-Z, Beanie Sigel – Guess Who’s Back, Robert Glasper – Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Diablo vs. Zen DAC + Zen CAN

$300 vs. $900

Again, not much of a difference.

  • Tracks demoed: Nipsey Hussle, Mustard – Perfect Ten, Outkast – Wailin’, Styles P, Oswin Benjamin – Morning Mourning, Nipsey Hussle – Picture Me Rollin’, Zoology – 100°, Nipsey Hussle – Double Up (Feat. Belly, Dom Kennedy)

Diablo vs. Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack

$450 vs. $900

Sound with iPurifier Active Noise Cancellation

iFi iDSD Diablo Review

It may just be my imagination, but I did feel like it sounded clearer and airier with the iPurifier vs. without. Vocals in particular seemed more present and lively. The songs took on a more “in-person” flavor and felt like they had a pulse of their own. I really wasn’t expecting to notice a difference, but again, it may just be Placebo.

Going further, I did an in-depth back and forth between the iPurifier vs. Blue cable at the same exact volume. I do think there is a slight improvement with what I mentioned above; air, clarity, and Soundstage all seem more vast and expansive. Vocals are again, more forward, and lively. Oh no, here comes the word salad, lol.

This is a great feature, but why can’t iFi include a USB Type-B cable in the package? You’ve included the kitchen sink but yet I have to use my own. Some people may not be fortunate enough to have one lying around. Shoot, include a Type-B and maybe I’ll go $550 instead of $500. 😂

 

Final Word

The Diablo vs. K5 Pro is perhaps the most important comparison here from a price and value standpoint. There’s little I can do with the Diablo that I can’t do with the K5 Pro.

Both can play DSD, Masters, hi-res files over 48kHz, etc. Both have optical for gaming, both have plenty of power, and both can be used as preamps (albeit in different ways). Both also have very similar sound profiles.

The only real differences between them are that you can use balanced cables with the Diablo and it has a balanced 4.4mm out instead of RCA. That to me isn’t worth $750 more. I’m sorry. Yes, you’re getting a lot in the package. The iPurifier adds a bit of extra air and clarity, but again, not worth all the extra money. I’d gladly pay $500 for the Diablo given everything included, but nothing more.

Some may disagree with me here and that’s perfectly OK.

I do tend to place more emphasis on the value of a DAC (i.e. what it’s capable of) over the actual sound of it, and certainly, iFi seems to be inadvertently forcing my hand here. Even so, I just can’t justify that much money personally. Other people may.

What do I recommend?

Why not just go with a Signature Black Label instead at around $650? It also has a balanced 4.4mm headphone input but is a bit more convenient with its RCA outs. You’re not missing out on anything here that you’d get going that route and you’re getting the Xbass feature as well.

If that’s still too steep, I recommend a good ‘ole fashioned ass-whoopin’.

Just kidding. You have 2 more options:

  1. Get the iFi Zen DAC, pair it with a Zen CAN silver and shut up. If $300 is too much?
  2. Get a K5 Pro.

Here are my options ranked in order:

Black Label Signature:

 

iFi Zen CAN + Zen DAC:

 

 

FiiO K5 Pro:

 

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi Diablo Review and came away with some valuable insight.

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

Do YOU think it’s worth the investment? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

Photos

More to come!

iFi iDSD Diablo Review

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Albums

John Coltrane – Blue Train (1958)

Kevin Garrett – Hoax (2019)

Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams – Aporia (2020)

Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension (2020)

Plini – Impulse Voices (2020)

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (2015)

Sufjan Stevens – The Age Of Adz (2010)

Turnover – Altogether (2019)

Ella Mai – Self Titled (2018)

Led Zeppelin I (1969)

Led Zeppelin II (1969)

American Football – Self Titled (1999)

American Football – LP2 (2016)

Chet Baker & Paul Bley – Diane (1985)

Day Wave – Head Case (2015)

Jackson Browne – The Pretender (1976)

Chon – Self Titled (2019)

Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder (2017)

Ayelle – NOMAD (2020)

36 – Wave Variations (2020)

36 – Revisionist History (Compilation Works), 2020

Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs (2008)

36, Zakè – Stasis Sounds For Long Distance Space Travel (2020)

Film

A Few Good Men (1992)

JFK (1991)

…And Justice For All (1979)

 

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1979)

 

Dances With Wolves (1990)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Serpico (1973)

Tin Cup (1996)

Terminator T2: Judgement Day (1991)

The Terminator (1984)

Games

Fallout 4 (2015)

The Outer Worlds (2019)

iFi Diablo

4.95

Build

5.0/5

Features & Connections

4.9/5

Accessories

4.9/5

Power

5.0/5

Sound

5.0/5

Pros

  • Great Build
  • Great Sound
  • Great features
  • Plenty of Power
  • Great Accessories Package

Cons

  • Overpriced
  • No Type-B Cable
  • No XBass
  • Sound doesn't stand out vs. anything cheaper I have

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11 comments

Ian T March 3, 2021 - 2:43 pm

Love your entertaining channel Stu, but I have the Diablo and the DF Red and they are WAY different, even to my fresh noob-like ears. The Diablo is like fine wine, the Red (which I dearly love btw) sounds like mush comparatively. Why review DACs if you have already decided that DACs almost all are the same thing for your use cases? Now whether it’s worth the cash for sound quality, someone with more than one DAC/amp in that price range would have to chime in!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 3, 2021 - 3:29 pm

Hey Ian! Thanks for tuning in.

Mush? Really? Perhaps you’re trying to justify that purchase because the DF Red most certainly does not sound like mush; by itself or in comparison to the Diablo. What exactly is “mush” anyway? Could you extrapolate on “fine wine?” What exactly does that mean? To me, this is just word salad and doesn’t tell me anything. It just means you’re super excited.

I don’t decide that beforehand. I test the DAC first and then come up with an impression based on price, value, how it sounds in relation to other dacs, etc. It just so happens that after demoing close to 50 of them, a trend is emerging. Imagine that. Comparing an Amp in a similar price range to another Amp indicates exactly nothing about how it truly performs. Comparing price ranges gives you a much clearer idea of whether or not the dac is even worth it based on how it sounds in relation to something that does the exact same thing at a lower price point.

I’ve never said all dacs are the same. What I do say is that the differences between them are marginal, minuscule, minimal, etc.; all of which I have been quoted as saying countless times in articles and videos.

The Diablo is most certainly not worth $900 based on sound alone. That would be asinine for anyone to claim if they being truly objective and actually going back and forth between multiple dacs listening intently. I normally have anywhere from 10-15 DACS on my desk at one time – I understand what’s going on. Until people wake up and realize that they are mostly being scammed out of their money, nothing will change and you’ll have hundreds and thousands of more dacs come out, all of which do the exact same thing. Companies realize there’s a huge market for noobs that don’t have a clue, thus more and more. I’m here to help people make sound buying decisions, not be some shill who recommends every flavor of the week dac that comes through. I’ll leave that for Z Reviews.

People need to focus on what matters; the way a track was recorded, mixed, and mastered, then the headphones, then maybe the DAC. The former are all basic sound engineering principles that people love to just throw out in favor of a placebo that’s mostly in their head; in large part, because they’ve never actually mixed down a track and don’t understand that there’s this thing called a frequency response and it goes from 20Hz – 20kHz. It’s called, the limitations of human hearing. Go ahead, ask someone to mix something outside of that. They’d laugh at you.

But here we have companies advertising outrageous crap like our dac can play this and play that and blah blah blah DSD, PCM one million up to whatever the new number is, whatever the new spec is that doesn’t matter in the slightest, etc., etc.

The bearing that a DAC has on how your music will sound is extremely inconsequential outside of stuff like Output Impedance. Its primary function is to convert information, not be some magic pill that makes everything dandy.

That said, this package is worth $500. That’s my personal opinion. Why do I keep reviewing them? Because what I’m saying, my message, is something I believe in. Whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t really matter.

Thanks for stopping by!

Reply
whitedragem March 3, 2021 - 8:56 pm

I see a slight danger in what you are saying there, with ‘this DAC should be worth $500’, without qualifying that for that to be true, the entire audio market would have to be scaled accordingly.

Yes I agree in diminishing returns being a ‘tad unfair’ when we go above the $500 price point.
I use some multi thousand dollar headphones that wouldn’t be 10% ‘better’ than $500 ‘well selected’ headphones..

But the truth is, and feeding back on your own statements, without using ‘word salad’ (subjective truths?), is that the Diablo is clearly a cut above the entry level ‘norm’. This by definition raises the ‘tier’ of its output, and quite simply- DOES JUSTIFY THE PRICE – to some; those people being the sorts who are happy to have scaling returns or understand the market and that higher end products sell less and simply cost more for ‘consumerism’ reasons..

The subtle stuff that makes the world of difference (I am avoiding poetry to describe), is why the Diablo belongs on a shelf or two higher than things like the Dragonfly Red or MOST CERTAINLY the K5 Pro.
Dragonfly themselves have higher tiered parts, that many users justify the sound improvements that they offer.. I don’t have an opinion on any of those parts because they don’t interest me (I assure you NONE of them could hit the level of sound quality I would need to consider replacing a full sized ‘desktop’ DAC); whereas the Diablo does interest me- I have one, have benchmarked it for a month, and have moved on my Chord DAC as the Diablo was an easy win over it..
Something that blindtesting with various family members, and they all picked the Diablo EVERY TIME.
Thats not to say the Diablo always sounded better. Some recordings sounded worse.. but in those instances the Chord was glossing over issues. Sure the Chord was, in those instances a ‘nicer’ listen, but it wasn’t being honest to the recording.

I figure your article would be so much stronger if you qualified that their are differences, and that if a users weighing was for sound quality (being what we typically buy DACs for), then the part DOES offer something that is worthy of a higher price tier (even if in the ideal world, those higher price tiers didn’t cost 4x-20x as much).. it would be great if the Diablo cost $500 -I’d love that too. Especially as the second hand market filled with everyone selling off kit that cost thousands and ‘downgraded’ to the budget Diablo part.
I did!
(because the Diablo at ‘full retail price’ trounced a lot of stuff vastly higher in cost)
Those little nuances that we get with vastly more cash thrown into high end DACs, that the Diablo gives, actually makes it a budget BARGAIN part.

I say this based on a lot of listening and a lot of blind A/Bing, and a range of kit.. I have the time to compare several, and I honestly wouldn’t have twenty on my desk to compare or no doubt the comparison would be rushed and probably end up with some misinformation that would even mention the K5 Pro vs the Diablo..
To be fair I did have to use a hyper expensive 2 channel rig (that had XLR inputs as an aside) to easily demonstrate how thoroughly the Diablo trounced my Levinson DAC (albeit an older part), and a much newer Chord DAC.. The fact that it could run with those parts was awesome,..the fact that in a blind A/B it was evidently better, made it a cheap upgrade that many will enjoy buying.
For the record – I’d take the Diablo over the Neo in a heartbeat (and I did).

I only comment as your review page is great and I appreciate what you are doing.. and I agree that most people are well served by ANY cheap DAC as a substantial upgrade over the inbuilt stuf fin TVs and most DVD players and gaming consoles etc..
I know that the price to performance ratio does not scale linearly beyond that first jump to ANY DEDICATED DAC.. but, the Diablo is a great example of ‘getting what you paid for’, and I do not feel that it has the price markup that most manufacturers put on their equipment when refining a circuit to perfection and rotating lots of parts for ‘perfect sound’ tuning.
From what I see iFi have done that ‘for free’.

Keep up the good fight. Getting people to buy a dedicated DAC is a great start..

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 4, 2021 - 4:06 am

Hey man thanks for stopping by!

This is my issue, and it’s not geared towards you in particular. It’s the fact that not one single person ever explains to me HOW the more expensive DAC is better. It’s always just a lot of hot air, weird blanket statements, and fine wine. I can sit here and describe sound all day and I’ve been doing it for a long time. The problem is, no one who wants to debate ever does. They simply resort to word salad. I use actual terms to describe sound – stuff like attack, sustain, decay, instrument timbre, resolution, detail, tonality, etc. Stuff that can actually be described objectively. I didn’t hear the Diablo portray ANY of those things better than the others, thus I didn’t mention them. Perhaps I should do that next time for posterity’s sake. A DAC cannot fundamentally change how the track was recorded. If it sounds like sh** it’s going to be sh**. Period.

But the truth is, and feeding back on your own statements, without using ‘word salad’ (subjective truths?), is that the Diablo is clearly a cut above the entry level ‘norm’. This by definition raises the ‘tier’ of its output, and quite simply- DOES JUSTIFY THE PRICE – to some; those people being the sorts who are happy to have scaling returns or understand the market and that higher end products sell less and simply cost more for ‘consumerism’ reasons..

You told me nothing about why. You simply said it’s a cut above without a reason.

There’s nothing about the Diablo that stands out from a sound perspective, and we also must remember that the bearing a DAC has on how your music will sound is incredibly minuscule when you consider other, way more important factors like how the song was actually recorded, mixed and mastered, followed by the headphones in question. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse talking about this, but nobody in the audiophile world wants to actually discuss it. Why? Because it’s out of their realm and not relevant to them, despite the fact that we’re talking about basic sound engineering principles that do not change.

The obsession with DACS has gotten borderline frightening to me, what with people trying to justify spending thousands of dollars on something that maybe affects the sound like 2-5%. Add to that we’ve got hundreds and thousands of them now. Does that seem normal to you? Serious question.

If you’re a musician or producer you understand how ridiculous DACS are in general. They all tout these outlandish claims but fail to acknowledge the fact that the human range of hearing is very limited. When mixing a track, the frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz for a reason. None of that other DSD nonsense, high PCM crap matters in the slightest. Not to mention the fact that a standard DSD file can be reproduced by formats that aren’t DSD. So the question then becomes, why are we so preoccupied with stuff that’s largely inconsequential to a good listening experience?

With that, I’d really like to know what exactly about the Diablo’s sound makes it better than anything I’ve mentioned?

And you basically just assumed that because I have a lot of Amps on my desk, I must have rushed the article when in reality, I didn’t. I chose the ones that were most worthy of an A/B out of what I had.

I also put a lot of time and effort into this one in particular, and it was fairly exhausting. Your assumptions are frankly insulting. I went back and forth extensively with what I have here on hand and listened to over 20 albums, 5 films, and countless other songs, all of which are listed here in the article. I did that purposefully so I wouldn’t get comments like yours, but alas, it did me absolutely no good. I don’t understand what you meant by this part of your sentence: “probably end up with some misinformation that would even mention the K5 Pro vs the Diablo..”

This is also part of my problem. How exactly is that misinformation? That doesn’t even make sense. I simply A/B’d two products back and forth and came to a conclusion based on what I heard. I think you got that word confused with something else.

I figure your article would be so much stronger if you qualified that their are differences, and that if a users weighing was for sound quality (being what we typically buy DACs for), then the part DOES offer something that is worthy of a higher price tier (even if in the ideal world, those higher price tiers didn’t cost 4x-20x as much)..

So, basically, you’re telling me to retract my stance so that it suits your narrative? Am I reading that correctly? That’s one of the most outlandish things I’ve ever heard, and probably why there are so many lukewarm shills out there jizzing on every flavor of the week dac that comes out without a second thought.

But I digress..

Thanks for the love otherwise. I’m not trying to attack you. I simply get passionate about what I believe in. As I said in the other comment, whether I’m right or wrong doesn’t really matter.

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rene milne March 4, 2021 - 7:12 am

You are a good person…
I like your passion; probably wouldn’t have read your prose otherwise 😉

Actually we agree on so much, and I do not mind you using breakdowns of my sentiments to highlight difficulties with ‘how do we rate’ these things.
I avoided terms as I wasn’t trying to argue with you, just highlight that your viewpoint was from the perspective of a DACnot offering the best bang/buck ratio when factoring the difference that recordings and speakers (headphones) offer.
I actually posted a comment on head-fi defending your article, with much of what you said to me, even before I saw a response.. (trust me when I say ‘we agree’ on more than we disagree).

If I came off sounding like I was accusatory about your lack of comparison, that was simply because I too grabbed one of the first units from the first batch that went around the world, and I spend more than half a day, every day breaking it in and comparing it, primarily with ONE DAC, and I only in the last week feel I could write much about it with any sense of authority.
(for example I am not sure if you are aware, but, like an impeadence change, the Normal vs Turbo modes greatly change the sound output, and for the musical terms you state you look for, Normal mode output GREATLY trounces Turbo mode output as far as I can tell.)
I actually went hifi store shopping and looked at hyper expensive cables (even if just from the point of view of impedance shifting) and listened intently to this part in balanced and non balanced modes.
I found that only when running it into tier 1 kit could it reveal the finest nuances of its’ output- a fact that my child (who has golden ears) came up with conclusions it had taken me weeks to find, and they could do it with thirty seconds of one song, and a minute of another.

When championing your write up (elsewhere) I highlighted that just because one output sounds ‘better’ doesn’t mean it is more accurate.
To that end I am only interested in testing the part with 44.1khz and 16bit (although I did play with upsampling and a Playstation 5 output as well)…

Maybe we have different ears for hearing this stuff.. I will confirm that when I was using any modern junk-fi, the differences were hard to pick even with thorough A/Bing.. but when I shifted to megabuck parts and used the XLR outputs – the difference was instant.
A roll I had previously ran things like a Cambridge Audio DAC Magic and Fiio DAC/amps into (and Nuforce and Audioengine and Emotiva etc; all of them sounding quite horrible, until I found a Chord DAC that, like many musos’ seem to find, the reduced ‘preringing’ (digital artifice) makes them sound very analogue.
In blind testing everyone has chosen the Diablo over the Chord DAC, with a few wins to the Chord, being due to it ‘glossing over’ bad recording’ (the Diablo being the more honest playback and superior from the point of view of replaying music)..

I won’t use ‘word salad’ describing the differences,. they are nuanced.. but encourage you to compare the Normal and Turbo modes critically (not against other DACs; against each other…) and you will quickly build up a range of albums to play with each mode (they are THAT different).
As I say after many weeks of benching just this one DAC, would I feel confident to say something about it. To my ears, most of those other DACs, whilst not unlistenable, and certainly great value propositions to anyone who hasn’t bought their endgame source and headphones, the Diablo does do a great job of translating music into great audio.
I feel that sometimes something as simple as ‘an average transport’ can make comparisons useless (given how ‘samey’ many DACs can sound), and having owned a few ‘world reference transports’, until I found a Questyle QP1R, I can honestly say not a single digital audio player I had ever touched, had equalled it as a transport.
The Diablo deserves a great transport, and, yes, ‘digital cables (CAN) matter’.. Now that I have armed you with fuel, implying that good equipment feeding into a DAC might affect objective output, and ‘gone the cable route’, I will take the rotten tomatoes I am due.

Stuart I only ask you ‘be kind’; my subjective opinions also come from decades (and decades) of playing with this stuff, and I have done so professionally/to make a crust (not selling), and I have what I consider to be ‘quite a scientific process’ that I bring to the table.

I can handle your’ feeling defensive of my words (you put a lot of serious work and effort in) and I respect our viewpoints where they differ (I don’t really feel they do, just that I put a different value on the slight sound changes that this part brings, and HAVING MY RECORDINGS AND HEADPHONES COVERED – the area where money spent makes the greatest change – what the Diablo does, I see at that perfect spot on the plot towards diminishing returns, where after this pricepoint, money does not scale well to sound netted.
The Diablo, for me, clearly replaces, well, many parts of much higher pricepoints, and it is the cheapest I have ever found this level of sound. The desktop version of this part would not interest me in the slightest due to what ‘many functions’ can do to sound quality…
This part is pure and focused and delivers SOMETHING. Is that something worth three times the cost to a person who doesn’t have their end game headphones – absolutely NOT.
Is it worth considering for people who do? Yes. A resounding “yes”!

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Stuart Charles Black March 5, 2021 - 4:29 pm

Hey!

I should re-clarify; the Diablo is a great bang for buck DAC, if it were $500, perhaps a bit more. In thinking about it for the last few days and considering the package, I may go $600. Most people won’t be able to justify spending almost a grand on something that has little effect on the overall sound of their music. The other problem is that people will attempt to invalidate your stance in any way possible; from “you’re not using the right music”, to “you’re not using the right source”, to “you’re using the wrong headphones”, to, “those aren’t the right cables”, “you didn’t pee first before hand so your impressions are rushed” (tongue in cheek) to anything in between. In that sense, I think it’s less about them trying to convince me, and more of them trying to convince themselves of something due to their own cognitive dissonance.

Even if theoretically, I had everything “right” according to one person’s (or a group of people)’s “standard”, someone else would come along and complain about something else.

I decided long ago that I don’t really care anymore. Someone is always going to find something wrong with anything you say, so you may as well be straight up honest about what you think. Because it doesn’t really matter. If you take a stance, there will always be someone who says the exact opposite. Case and point: My praise of the KPH30i. “The KPH30i is cloudy sound!”

Thank you. I will have to do a more in-depth A/B/C of Eco vs. Normal vs. Turbo. That is one thing I didn’t do quite as much, so I will incorporate that into the article.

Lol. Didn’t even realize you defended the article. Not sure what we’re going back and forth for if we mostly agree? But thanks! Haha. As you said in the latter part of your response, it likely comes down to Price vs. perceived performance; I don’t believe it’s worth what they’re asking for, and you do. That’s completely fine!

About Balanced; yeah I am itching to do an article on Balanced vs. Unbalanced, but I don’t have enough experience yet with it. I have a ton of experience using Balanced cables with Studio Monitors, but not headphones. I think it will be really interesting to find out if there are any perceivable differences. The concept of reverse polarity has always intrigued me, and of course, it makes total sense from a scientific standpoint.

I guess my question is always, “Can the average person with limited hearing perceive these differences?” Because let’s face it, most people do NOT have Golden ears. I would consider my hearing above average and have been told as much over the years producing music and whatnot. Most people can’t hear over 15k so then the question becomes, where are all of these crazy claims coming from? Children aren’t audiophiles nor do they review gear. So someone’s lying. Even someone with good to above average hearing like myself still can’t hear over 20k. This is something that is not disputable, yet we still have people who claim otherwise – saying things like “Well you can feel it on a subconscious level.” Okay? And? That doesn’t tell me anything. All it says is that they’ve fallen into the expensive/more is better audio trap.

Thank you for your input on the Diablo. I will take your suggestions into consideration. I’m just not sure you can imply something like “Well, once you spend X amount on heapdhone Y, then your impressions of the DAC will change, and/or make sense or become somehow more validated (if I’m understanding your last bit correctly).

I’ve personally never believed in this idea of “Well I can’t make an impression on a digital to analog converter until I have so and so expensive headphone to match.” That doesn’t really make sense. It’s just another audiophile type of notion with no real basis in reality. A NAIM DAC V-1 sounds great with high end headphones, sure. But do I need high end headphones to realize it’s potential or come to the conclusion that it’s a good product? Absolutely not, and that goes back to DACS and they’re small impact on the way your music is going to sound. It might make a 5% difference at most, but Diminishing Returns kick in way sooner in DACS than they do with headphones. That’s as close to objective as it gets and very few people would argue with you on it. The Mojo does stand out amongst the ridiculous never ending sea of DACS (and I’ve said as much for close to 3 years now), but I believe it less to do with glossing over something rather than, it just tends to be a superior product vs. most others I’ve heard.

That’s my .02.

I certainly respect your opinions and will take your suggestions into consideration as I continue demoing the Diablo. Thank you for engaging in this debate with me. It’s been fun. Contrary to how I may have sounded through prose, I am not upset. Just passionate! This has been pretty fun actually. 🙂 It’s always nice to get a dialogue going, and I certainly appreciate you not attacking me.

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rene March 7, 2021 - 6:02 pm

Welcome; and ‘thanks’

hmm Cognitive Dissonance is something I have written a lot on (it is one of those terms, along with the whole branch of ‘humanism’ that I loved about Psychology when I started studying it at college/and then university, since the early nineties); I do feel that a lot of what you write is ‘wrestling’ with this stuff, and truth be told, the internet is often filled with ‘little johnies’ who own $200 phones that they think are equal to $1000 dollar ones, and know that a DAC is the spec sheet (and never the circuit), and that Nvidia and XBOX are the best etc etc etc (and will try to convince me that Call of Duty is better than Battlefield) (we all have our opinions, and we all have our blindspots). I know an open mind and willingness to consider and a happiness to test theories is what has done wonders for MY mindset over the years. “Everyday is a school day” is what my nan always said, and is what I have raised my children to live by.

I get that you are passionate- so lets just acknowledge you have some serious stuff to wrestle with there; do it for yourself, find YOUR audience, both good things.. AND know that certain parts of certain test tracks are the only way to compare to hear differences. All DACs sound the same, until they don’t. And hearing where/when they don’t requires feeding in perfect zeros and ones, through power cables that can strangle the terminator, at midnight when the moon is in retrograde. (some of that might actually be true).. how we learn what works is often by finding out what doesn’t.
Having owned a hew high end transports, I learned that one DAC, can alter its sound considerable, based on quality of zeros and ones fed to it.. does that extend to digital cables? yes, if they are not passing perfect zeros and ones. beyond passing correctly the right information, then, inarguably ‘no’.

I have MY opinions.. and am happy sprouting them to anyone who cares to listen, but enjoy sharing them with people who ask.. (an opinion is only worth something if ‘asked for’, given freely it is often worth about as much (nothing)).

The Diablo in ECO mode doesn’t seem to be in Class A mode, where as it is a much better headphone amp when running in NORMAL / TURBO (the former has better note and tonality/ the latter better soundstage) – it might be an impeadance change on the latter two modes,.. but ECO isn’t anything special to write home about. (comparitively speaking), except maybe in balanced mode (I haven’t done enough testing)- what I can say – is that the theory behind true balanced design (the Diablo is a first from iFi in their portable parts to do this is my understanding), it increases the dynamic range by six dB (this is huge), AND – way more importantly – it DOUBLES THE SLEW RATE!
The best amp I’ve ever owned (for decades) would be worth as much as much of the worlds housing, in modern amp replacement units. It has flat frequency response from DC (0hz) to 500,oookhz, five power supply feeds, and all sorts of defeat switches for purity etc.. but I reckon the feature that made it awesome was its 500’mu’ second slew rate.
It just responds quickly/faster than anything out there.. (that I have experienced).. maybe valves are loved for achieving the same with the way they do things.. I don’t know.. but I do know that the high slew rate is something that cheap stuff doesn’t achieve, and anything that increases this number interests me.. so for me, whilst I bought the Diablo with no interest in balanced mode (as a DAC with high power so that it could play dynamically and not run out of juice when large bands/orchestras have ‘lots going on’(instruments lose weight to note delivery)), the nature of balanced mode output doubling the slew rate is even more important to me that the extra 6dB of dynamic range (and not being a muso, dynamic range and soundfield are my goto first checks (beyond signal to noise ratio naturally)).

I’d say you have a lot more to tap from this part, and my smile cracked up on my dial once I had a balanced cable to play with…
Balanced cables for studio work is all about noise rejection on long cable runs.. it isn’t anything like what we are doing ‘from headphone amps’; totally different purposes.

regarding the ‘average person with limited hearing’ perceive these things: Hans Beekhuyzen after fourty years (or more) of professional audio journalism can ‘nail it’ (with limited frequency pickup; sure!) when investigating audio equipment. In part to having played with so much stuff and having learned so much stuff,.. and tricks to pick up nuances that define equipment class/tier etc.
One of his most amazing (humble) aspects is: he will not give an opinion about anything he hasn’t heard. he does give some BRILLIANT general guidelines, and whilst I do not generally watch youtube clips (I’ve watched more Goodies episodes on Youtube than everything else on youtube combined); I have eternal time for listening to Hans speak. He has a great youtube on ‘hearing loss with age’ and explains quite correctly how it pertains to music appreciation. (it is seriously worth a watch- it shifts paradigms!)

regarding not being able to say that without said equipment – you can’t say ‘such and such’; actually I can, and I think the vast majority (although I feel like this is a bully ing statement to phrase it this way) of reviewers (professional) would fall into this category.. we actually need to have equipment that can push past the capabilities of the parts we are testing or else we just don’t understand what we are testing.
It would be like benchmarking DACs with Jack Johnson in mp3 files. Probably ‘close to the CD version; doesn’t matter/ who cares.. but three instruments is hardly going to challenge a DAC in the same way that a full orchestra would.
In my teenage years I signed up to ‘the classical appreciation society’ cause that music was the best genre was the best for testing equipment.. and I would spend friday nights drinking beer with mates and comparing CD players etc.. I then felt safe playing Nine Inch Nails knowing that my DACs were the best damn job at digital transform my budget then allowed. (I had an amp and speakers I have to this day never bettered, so the test allowed the full realisation of what the equipment could perform); getting back to ‘you cannot say that “equipment limiting my output affect ability to review” (not verbatim) – of course I can- would a car with a top speed of 60mph be able to honestly say how great a high performance tire is? on straight road, with no water about?
We need to be able to test the capabilities of the parts we are benchmarking.. if that means ‘lots of laps’ around a race track, so be it.. (if we are attempting to share learned knowledge from our ‘play sessions’); in my case it is orchestral recordings (and many specific tracks, some I am only listening to for a specific three seconds, or twenty seconds that I am familiar with how different kit resolves those moments).

I take it as a muso you have ears for certain aspects of sound that are well trained. There is much in your reviews that would benefit many. In fact most musos’ from what I understand, LOVE Chord DACs due to their inherent ability to remove pre-ringing, which obviously DOESN’T exist in natural instrument playback… and is a feature of Digital to Analogue Conversion. Kinda why Chord seem to be bit of a secret society unto themselves, like as if ‘once you’ve had Chord, you just don’t go back’.
I actually moved on from Chord with the Diablo. and I have this incredible belief that once iFi (AMR) let the GTO filter run on it (via Firmware update) that the part will sound even more natural. -my understanding is the GTO filter is based on what MQA actually does to the waveform to make audio ‘better’; being able to run that process on ALL MUSIC (that is already lossless) is a real reason for that algorithm to exist.. (unlike MQA as a market divide for ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’; that was initially impressive more so due to the remastered for MQA (like remastered for apple music stuff) that, as you seem to be a fan of, mastering and the recording matter MOST.) The GTO filter is a great collaboration between iFi(AMR) and Meridian that is actually a cool benefit to those with iFi DACs and the new XMOS chip (something I didn’t really care about until I realised how useful it is for jitter control), will make running some really high quality filters an amazing experience.. especially for how clinical and ‘studio reference’ that the Diablo part provides.

anyhow – we are both passionate.. clearly I wouldn’t write here if I wasn’t..
please whatever truths you might glean from my, ahem, ‘prose’ (purple or otherwise), I hope it is more than ‘balanced output doubles the slew rate’ (although THAT is cool!).
Equipment matters, and the fact that different DACs actually either show up or forgive well their source equipment is actually a part of many reviewers tests. And understanding that part of a test is how many reviewers figure out which market sector a DAC belongs in, or is designed for.
As an example, the Chord Hugo, to me, seems to make everything sound good. (even bad recordings), where as the Diablo makes ‘not everything’ sound brilliant, and bad stuff sound truly poor. I like a studio reference DAC (honesty and neutral) as my audio frontend. I like to tune the sound with speakers (headphones), and I don’t mind separating my recordings to be used on different stereo systems.. (eg mainstream/mass market stuff on the home theatre rig, and the nice stuff on the dedicated ‘two channel’ setup)

Again, I reckon you are right to ignore feedback from most.. the internet has many muppets and everyone has an equal voice, true.. but there are core crowds who seem to gravitate together, and will generally, like good shepherds, tend to the flock and pick up any who fall behind, so that we all get there together.

In this regard I enjoy your point of view and have learned through your words – keep up the good work.
I think, without doubt, one of your most salient points is that ‘headphones alter the sound the most’ and are definitely where budget towards the hobby can make the biggest sound difference. (of course a proper amp to drive them will net better control/output (not just volume), and then we have ‘garbage in = garbage out’; being feed them great recording (which will benefit from a high quality DAC and preamp).
speakers and recordings mattering most -amps and DACs mattering less (ideally everything in synergy); and with fair acknowledgement of the wonderful work ye do, I bid thee adieu.

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Sir Skirmish April 10, 2021 - 11:12 pm

Hi, maybe you can touch on the fact that Diablo is an MQA decoder DAC while the rest of the DACs are just MQA renderer? There is a difference between the two and the sound quality if you listen to MQA files is better in the decoder. And that is why maybe the price is as such.

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Stuart Charles Black April 12, 2021 - 8:02 pm

Hey man I mentioned using MQA files in the article. Could you expound upon exactly how the sound quality is better?

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Faheem April 21, 2021 - 8:32 am

I own high sensitivity and very low sensitivity headphones. The Diablo is a waste of money on easy to drive hp. With the Susvara, it’s a different ball game, I did a side by side with the Signature and there was a difference but only at above average listening levels where the Signature sounds less dynamic, which would probably be the Diablo able to hit higher peak voltage at sustained lengths of time. With my Ananda , volume matched up to 85dbspl, the Xcan and Diablo are evenly matched, so you are absolutely right about the Zen Can being the better option but only with around. 94dbv and above headphones. Same with the HD650, the Zen Can or Fiio are far better value.

Another factor is the balanced line out. If using an amplifier, you will not have ground loop issues with balanced.

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Stuart Charles Black May 3, 2021 - 5:31 pm

Hey man! Interesting findings.

I really appreciate your down-to-earth take and complete honesty. I always harp on that notion; that yes, in a lot of cases there are some differences (between dacs in general), but they’re incredibly small, subtle, and miniscule. To the point where it doesn’t really matter for the majority of regular people.

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