iFi Audio iDSD Diablo 2 Headphone Amp/USB DAC

hfnoutstandingLaunched a little after Halloween, iFi Audio's devilish top-of-the-range portable aims to put a bat up the nightdress of the competition. Are you ready to sell your soul?

With its wide range of portable, battery-powered DACs and headphone amplifiers, few companies have done as much as iFi Audio to improve listening on the hoof. Yet the new iDSD Diablo 2, its latest range-topping model and a replacement for the iDSD Diablo of 2021, pushes the envelope of the mobile DAC/amp genre, both by being far from budget at £1299, and large enough for its manufacturer to deem it more 'transportable' than genuinely 'pocket-size'.

It also offers a surprisingly powerful output, switchable in three modes (Normal, Turbo and Nitro) to use with everything from sensitive in-ears to hard-to-drive over-ears. When connecting 'tricky cans', such as Dan Clark Audio's Stealth or higher-tier Sennheiser models, the iDSD Diablo 2 gets to run on all cylinders. And for the unit's aptly named Nitro mode, iFi Audio claims a whopping 5180mW/32ohm balanced output [or 2450mW via the 6.35mm output].

Into The Groove
The design of the first iDSD Diablo, with its red casework reminiscent of an Italian sportscar, was hardly conventional. This successor model appears even more outlandish, while also feeling a little classier overall. A new metallic red finish covering most of the unit projects a more distinguished air, as do the multiple grooves running the length of the amplifier's aluminium chassis. These are claimed by iFi Audio to aid heat dissipation, but their more obvious function is to facilitate desktop use. When using the amp at your computer, included clip-on 'bat wings' let you position the iDSD Diablo 2 at different angles, making adjustment of volume levels or swapping headphones easier. It's a small hack, but rather clever.


Both sides of the PCB are shown here. Far right – Vishay MELF resistors and Pana OS-CON caps on PSU side. Centre – 4800mAh Li-polymer battery in place. Left – Qualcomm Snapdragon (BT 5.4) processor [top right] is joined by a USB/MQA XMOS processor [below] and two TI DSD1793 DACs [left centre]

Another neat feature is a sliding lock to fix the device's front-panel volume rotary in one position – vital for security when listening on the move. Similarly, small flick switches on the front and bottom of the amp are recessed and suitably stiff. Operation is therefore somewhat fiddly, but you'll never accidentally put the iDSD Diablo 2 into Nitro mode while listening via IEMs on the Tube… It also feels like it'll survive being carried around in a backpack, and a case – with enough space for your cables and charger – is included to keep the amplifier in pristine condition.

Looking Ahead
iFi Audio tends to be an early adopter of new technologies, and that's the case here. The iDSD Diablo 2, like the previous limited edition 'X' upgrade of the original iDSD Diablo, supports the nascent MEMS technology. Standing for 'micro-electromechanical systems', MEMS-based earphones feature solid-state, piezoelectric drivers promising improved performance over conventional dynamic designs. A switch on the front turns the amplifier's MEMS mode on and off, but as models have yet to arrive at retailers, at present this is mostly about futureproofing.

The same almost applies to the iDSD Diablo 2's compatibility with aptX Lossless Bluetooth – which allows for wireless transmission of lossless CD-quality – as there are few smartphones yet available featuring the necessary chipset. iFi Audio's new DAC/amp is ready for it, though, as part of its Bluetooth 5.4 specification that also supports a slew of 'better' but lossy codecs including aptX, LDAC and LHDC (based on Huawei's HWA).

This Bluetooth skill is new, as the first-generation iDSD Diablo catered to wired sources only over 3.5mm optical/coaxial and USB. These inputs are retained on the iDSD Diablo 2 (the USB port is now USB-C rather than USB-A), alongside a second USB port to charge the unit's internal battery. iFi Audio bundles the amp with its iPower 2 plug-top supply, which features active noise cancelling and is generally 'quieter' than the average 5V USB connection from your laptop, or switchmode wall-wart, etc.

iFi Audio
Supplied by: KS Distribution (K&S Technology Ltd), Shoreham, UK
01903 768919