- 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.
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.
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…
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At A Glance
What’s in the box?
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
¼” headphone adapter
Spec & Features
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
- 611mW @ 600 Ohm
- 4,980mW @ 32 Ohm
- 153mW @ 600 Ohm
- 2,417mW @ 32 Ohm
More than enough power for any headphones you may have.
- Balanced 4.4mm analogue input
- USB-C (5V) battery charge input
- USB 3.0 Type-A input
- Single-ended ¼” headphone jack
- Balanced 4.4mm headphone jack
- Mode switch
- Volume Potentiometer
- White: > 75%
- Green: > 25%
- Red: > 10%
- Red (flashing) < 10%
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.
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:
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 – 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.
- Headphones used: HIFIMAN DEVA, AKG K702, Sennheiser HD600, AKG K712, AKG K371.
- Source(s): Tidal Hi-Fi, Spotify Premium, FLAC, Masters, and who cares about DSD lol. What Is DSD In Audio?
- Albums: Listed towards the bottom!
- Film: A Few Good Men, JFK, And Justice For All, The Road Warrior, Dances With Wolves. More to come!
- Games: Fallout 4, The Outer Worlds.
- Playlist: iFi Diablo Playlist
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.
Used with the Blue Cable to keep a level playing field. Used AKG K702.
Diablo vs. K5 Pro
$150 vs. $900
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
- The same applies as above with the Zen DAC + Zen CAN. Related: iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack
Sound with iPurifier Active Noise Cancellation
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. 😂
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:
- Get the iFi Zen DAC, pair it with a Zen CAN silver and shut up. If $300 is too much?
- 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.
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Do YOU think it’s worth the investment? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,
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More to come!