The Most Powerful DAC/Headphone Amp Yet
iFi Audio has raised the bar for portable USB DACs with the release of the iDSD Diablo 2 Portable DAC Amplifier. It’s the third iteration in the popular Diablo series and the most striking portable Bluetooth DAC/headphone amplifier, in my opinion. The Diablo 2 is a complete redesign of the iconic chassis with an edgier shape and the addition of some neat “Diablo Wings” that elevate how you display the Diablo 2.
The original Diablo was a crowd favorite among audiophiles and the Diablo 2 has some big shoes to fill to take first place. Not only has the Diablo 2 undergone a makeover but it sports some pretty exciting HiFi upgrades: An xMEMS Technology switch, a new Nitro power mode, Bluetooth 5.4 with support for aptX Lossless, and an iEMatch switch. And that’s just to name a few.
- Incredibly Powerful
- Bluetooth 5.4 and support for aptX Lossless
- Versatile placement with Diablo Wings
- Large and Cumbersome, not pocket-sized
- Short accessory cables
"I love it when manufacturers take what already works and add additional improvements, not just sound quality, but also bringing features up to today's standards. The Diablo 2 is not a ground-up new design. The original Diablo was very successful but had a few things that we wished had been changed — Especially the Male USB-A connection. While I get it for the Apple CCK nonsense we all had to deal with, for all other USB uses, it was a pain. On the Diablo 2, I'm so glad to see all USB-C connections, an amazing new chassis design, and a better implementation of being able to use both sensitive IEMs and hard-to-drive headphones. It's tough to do both well. The Diablo 2 wins in this category. iFi is always ahead of the competition in terms of bringing the next hot technology, and with the addition of xMEMS and the new Bluetooth 5.4 standard, I foresee a lot of the Diablo 2 in my listening future."
iFi Diablo 2 Portable DAC/Amp Review & Comparison [Video]
The original Diablo's firey red chassis made it a real show stopper sure to turn heads asking 'Hey what's that?', and honestly I was sad to see it go when the Diablo-X was released with a Black chassis. Luckily iFi decided to return to its roots bringing back the red chassis, but they did it with a twist. The Diablo 2 looks like something Marty McFly would be whipping out of his back pocket and plugging into the DeLorean to enjoy HiFi tunes while traveling through time. It's both retro and futuristic looking and the color choices are reminiscent of the Original Nintendo system, in my opinion.
The original Diablo's chassis was bright and bold, whereas the Diablo 2's red chassis is richer and more cool-toned. I would've loved to be a fly on the wall when iFi was discussing the design of the Diablo 2 because it's almost a complete 180 from the first two iterations. It's edgier — Literally, with grooves around the entire chassis and those rounded sides have been replaced with sharper corners. These grooves actually serve a purpose and are referred to as "rails" by iFi. There are 22 rails that allow for improved cooling performance, with eight rails being compatible with the Diablo wings. What are the "wings?" The Diablo 2 comes with four wings that let you customize the position of the DAC. You can move these wings around to position the Diablo 2 horizontally or vertically to save space.
We took the liberty of testing out several variations of how you can position the Diablo 2 so you can see it for yourself!
iFi Audio Diablo 2 with longer wings positioned horizontally
On the front of the Diablo 2 you'll see the volume control knob with a newly-added volume lock, balanced 4.4mm XMEMS output, unbalanced 6.35mm output, power mode switch, xMEMS switch and audio format/Bluetooth format LED light. The Diablo 2 has three power modes: Normal, Turbo, Nitro.
Normal: For most over or on-ear headphones
Turbo: Ramps up the level of drive/amplification for current-hungry headphones
Nitro: Maximum power output (Headphone max output)
The back panel of the Diablo 2 has a balanced 4.4mm line input/output, S/PDIF 3.5mm coaxial/optical input, battery status LED light, USB-C 5V charging port, USB-C input and Bluetooth pairing/input mode selector button. Lastly, on the underside of the Diablo 2 is the iEMatch switch which reduces the output level and has two switch settings: 4.4mm headphones and 6.35mm headphones.
Every Diablo model has been an absolute beast, so it's not surprising that the Diablo 2 could drive every pair of headphones and IEMs I tested. Just like the other models, it uses Burr Brown's DAC chip that lends a natural-sounding "musicality." The Diablo 2 has enhanced output power compared to the Diablo-X which was evident from the moment I connected my headphones. Sennheiser's IE900 earphones are one of the most sensitive IEMs we carry and the Diablo 2 elevated their sound like I'd never heard before. The IE900's are natural-sounding and quite detailed so I was pleasantly surprised to hear and feel the thumping bass. Drake's song Virginia Beach is a fast-paced rap song with some heavy-hitting bass and the Diablo 2 was powerful enough to drive the IE900's so efficiently that I almost couldn't believe it. Deep, impactful bass that rumbled in my eardrums with great energy and dynamics. I adjusted the settings on the Diablo 2, switching on the iEMatch and using the Turbo Mode which seemed to be the sweet spot for the IE900.
For a power-hungry over-ear headphone I tested the HiFiMan Susvara. The Susvara is INCREDIBLY hard to drive and the original Diablo and Diablo-X both struggled to drive the Susvara. So I was extremely surprised that the Diablo 2 could handle the Susvara. Finding a portable device to drive these headphones is like hitting the jackpot. It performed best with the Diablo 2 in the most powerful mode, Nitro, but Turbo was also comfortable and sounded great. The Susvara has some nice bass to it and there was plenty of energy in every song. It's got a neutral sound signature and there was a nice balance between bass and detail.
Because you can never test out too many headphones, next up on my list is the Dan Clark Audio E3 closed-back headphones. These planar magnetic headphones are hot off the press and are much easier to drive than the Susvara. The E3 performed best in Turbo mode. Normal mode wasn’t bad but I felt like I didn’t get as much headroom as I did when in Turbo mode. The E3 headphones are smooth and articulate. You won’t get any crazy booming bass, just a precise, refined listening experience which was exactly what the Diablo 2 and E3 delivered.
We’ve been drooling over the Meze Audio Empyrean 2 headphones since their release. The Empyrean 2 has an amazing sound with better resolution and detail retrieval than the original Empyrean. They’ve got a specially designed hybrid array driver so they need some amplification to power them. Turbo mode was perfect for the Empyrean 2. The Diablo 2 amplified the Empyrean 2’s sound perfectly. There was enough headroom and energy that it didn’t feel like the Diablo 2 was too powerful or not powerful enough. I've been in the swing of the holiday season since early October so obviously I had to do some testing with my favorite Christmas songs! And yes, I love Last Christmas by Wham! It's got great energy and I couldn't help but bop my head when I listened to this (on repeat). No sibilance, great vocals, and an amazingly musical sound.
Now for the moment we've all been waiting for, Bluetooth mode! The Diablo 2 wirelessly connects to your source device and it's as easy as holding down the button on the back panel for three seconds. The sound quality in Bluetooth mode is good — And that says a lot because I've tested some pretty crappy Bluetooth HiFi devices. Is it going to be as good as a wired connection? Of course not, but for Bluetooth 5.4 and lossless audio it does a stellar job, and you really can't beat convenience.
Overall, the Diablo 2 was an excellent source of power and amplification for every headphone and IEM I tested. It didn't negatively color the sound of any headphones, allowing me to still enjoy the unique sound signatures of each one. With that extra power did come some added bass, but it was tasteful, not overly accentuated or unpleasant. The Diablo 2 has great dynamics and I truly don't have anything bad to say about it.
Is It Over Now? (Taylor's Version) (From the Vault)
by Taylor Swift
1989 (Taylor's Version) (Deluxe)
For All the Dogs Scary Hours Edition
Get Him Back
by Olivia Rodrigo
Last Christmas (Remastered)
Briefly mentioned earlier, the Diablo 2 has three power modes with each one affecting the battery life differently. Normal mode gets up to 12 hours of continuous use, turbo mode allows for nine hours and nitro mode allows for six hours of playback. The OG Diablo and Diablo-X also featured three power modes but the Diablo 2 has the most output power.
Normal: For most over or on-ear headphones
Turbo: Ramps up the level of drive/amplification for current-hungry headphones
Nitro: Maximum power output (Headphone max output)
xMEMS Technology made its big debut in the HiFi audio world earlier this year when iFi incorporated it into the Diablo-X. This technology uses the piezoelectric effect to create a paper-thin solid-state speaker. These micro-speakers offer great potential to push the boundaries of IEM and headphone performance.
NOTE: xMEMS technology and corresponding settings are only compatible with HiFi devices that utilize this technology. Non-xMEMS headphones and IEMs are not meant to be used with this setting on the Diablo 2 and will have degraded sound quality if attempted. xMEMS has specific impedance requirements.
It seems like almost every HiFi company is jumping on the Bluetooth bandwagon, adding it to almost every piece of audio gear imaginable. While I'm not going to race to buy the latest desktop DAC with Bluetooth, it is a welcome addition to the Diablo 2. After all, it is a portable device so I'm honestly surprised iFi hasn't incorporated it sooner. The Diablo 2 was built for on-the-go listening and with Bluetooth 5.4 you can enjoy music hands-free — Anywhere.
The Diablo 2 is the first portable DAC/Amp with Bluetooth 5.4 and support for aptX Lossless. Qualcomm's new QCC518x Bluetooth audio chip supports all Bluetooth formats (aptX Lossless, aptX Adaptive, aptX, LDAC, LHDC/HWA, AAC, SBC) allowing for hi-res/high-resolution music playback. This is the first time iFi has incorporated Bluetooth into the Diablo and it's a welcome addition, giving users the ability to choose how they listen.
On the underside of the Diablo 2 is the iEMatch switch which reduces the output level, so that even the most sensitive In-Ear-Monitors (IEMs) can be matched to the iDSD Diablo 2. iEMatch is tailored for highly-sensitive headphones and earphones, greatly benefiting your IEMs. iEMatch can increase the dynamic range of sensitive IEMs by reducing background amplifier hiss. Switch settings: 4.4mm headphones, Off, and 6.35mm headphones. The Diablo-X came with an iEMatch dongle which could be used with the Diablo-X, so to have the technology embedded into the Diablo 2 is a lifesaver. One less accessory to tote around!
Tip: The iDSD Diablo 2 or the headphone will not be damaged if the iEMatch switch is adjusted incorrectly, but the attenuation level will not be correct.
Tip: Balanced 6.35mm headphone output reduces the level by 12dB and balanced 4.4mm headphone output lovers it by12dB.
PureWave, Servoless DirectDrive, OptimaLoop, Advanced Jitter Reduction Technolgoy
The Diablo 2 features all this technology and more, delivering exceptionally pure, detailed, and emotionally touching sound. PureWave elevates clarity by separating channels and reducing noise. DirectDrive removes the need for coupling capacitors. OptimaLoop employs tailored multiple feedback paths in amplifiers, refining gain control and reducing distortion. The GMT Femto-Precision clock with Smart storage cache minimizes phase noise for a cleaner sound.
Comparison to the Diablo and Diablo-X
The original Diablo pioneered the way for the Diablo-X and Diablo 2 and while nothing beats the OG, the Diablo 2 has a lot more to offer. It's the only model with Bluetooth, xMEMS, and iEMatch built right in. It's also got USB-C ports, whereas the two earlier models have USB-A ports. The fact alone that the Diablo 2 has Bluetooth connectivity makes it more enticing than the OG Diablo and Diablo-X. I can already sense some audiophiles rolling their eyes at the thought of Bluetooth in a HiFi device but it's a nice option to have.
In terms of sound, all three models sound phenomenal and you can't go wrong with any of them. The Diablo-X was the first model to integrate xMEMS technology and at the time it wasn't featured in any other products in the HiFi market. Because of that, there were very few xMEMS IEMs available so the xMEMS mode was a little useless — But luckily that's changed. xMEMS mode is intended to only be used with compatible xMEMS IEMs so the Diablo-X was a little too powerful for non-xMEMS high-sensitivity IEMs. Now that the Diablo 2 has an xMEMS switch it's much more suitable for high-sensitivity IEMs, making it the ultimate portable headphone amp companion.
The original Diablo will always be timeless with its Ferrari red chassis, and the Diablo-X is noteworthy for its use of innovative technology, but the Diablo 2 raises the bar for what we can expect to hopefully see more of from iFi in the future. So if you're looking for the most powerful, feature-rich DAC/Amp of the entire lineup, then I'm pleased to present to you the winner — The Diablo 2.
While I've got nothing against stock audio cables, the ones that came with the Diablo 2 were just a little lacking for me. The USB-C to C cable was too short and I struggled to create the perfect desktop setup for my listening sessions. Naturally, I swapped the stock cable for a Black Dragon USB Cable with C-to-C connections and was off to the races. Our Black Dragon USB Cable will provide you with a more stable connection for digital audio transmission. But How? Well, it all comes down to materials and most of the time manufacturers will skimp on the cables so money can be used on more important things like the device itself. While I appreciate that, the cable can be what stands between you and a premium listening experience. In the case of the Diablo 2 the cable is just too short for my desktop setup so opting for a longer, higher-quality cable just made sense.
Now, you may be pleased with the stock USB Cable, but are you happy with your headphones cable? Odds are you might be but there's always room for improvement and that's exactly what our Dragon Headphone Cables do — Improve your headphone's sound quality. And yes, your headphone's sound quality may be deteriorated by the quality of the stock cable paired with it. And who wants to listen to subpar sound when they paid for premium? You want to hear your music exactly the way the artist intended and exactly the way your headphones are meant to reproduce it. Our Dragon Headphone Cables, just like all of our Dragon Audio Cables are made with only the purest UP-OCC Silver and Copper and trust me, you can hear the difference.
Personally, I enjoyed listening to the Meze Empyrean 2 and HiFiMan Susvara with our Black Dragon Universal Headphone Cable, and for the Sennheiser IE900 our Silver Dragon MMCX IEM Cable was a perfect match. The Black Dragon provided more bottom-end weight to the headphones and gave me that musical, warm sound that I love. Daily, in our Cary, NC headquarters, we handcraft our Silver Dragon, Black Dragon, Blue Dragon, and Bronze Dragon Audio Cables each with their own unique sound signatures and characteristics. Our Blue Dragon Universal Headphone Cable is the perfect pair for the Dan Clark E3 headphones, not coloring the sound but providing a neutral, clean, accurate representation of the E3.
And if you're not convinced, check out our blog where we've unveiled our best Dragon Audio Cables of 2023.
So, is the third time the charm? I'd say so and honestly, every single Diablo model has been a slam dunk. It's not easy to release several iterations of a model and make it refreshing but iFi has made yet another great, new high-end combo unit. Nothing about the Diablo 2 feels recycled or tired. If you've been looking for the perfect portable audio device then the Diablo 2 is it. You get Bluetooth 5.4 with support for all Bluetooth formats, three power modes to drive all of your headphones, and xMEMS technology if you decide to score a new pair of compatible xMEMS IEMs. Everything sounded great on the Diablo 2, but high-energy, dynamic genres like pop, rock, and Hip-Hop stood out the most. You can't go wrong with any of the Diablo models, they all have something unique to offer and will power your most demanding headphones effortlessly. As for the Diablo 2, if you're questioning whether it's worth checking out take my word for it — It's three P's in a pod: Powerful, portable, and pretty dang awesome.
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What's in the Box
- iDSD Diablo 2
- iPower 2 (5V) Power Supply
- USB-C Cable
- USB-C OTG Cable
- USB-C to USB-A Adapter
- 3.5mm to 6.35mm Headphone Adapter
- Toslink Optical Adapter
- iTraveller Carying Case
- Quick Start Card
- Instruction Card
Hi-Res Support: 768kHz, DSD512, full MQA
Bluetooth Formats: aptX Lossless, aptX Adaptive, aptX, LDAC, LHDC/HWA, AAC, SBC
Output: 4.4mm, 6.3mm
4.4mm: >19.2V/61mW (@600Ohms); >12.87V/240mW (@32Ohms)
6.3mm: >9.6V/153mW (@600Ohms); >8.85V/2450mW (@32Ohms)
xMEMS: >28Vpp (4.4mm output)
Output Impedance: <200 Ohms
THD+N: 0.002% @0dBFS 200k Ohms
Power Consumption: Nitro 12W, Turbo 5W, Normal 2W, xMEMS 8W
Battery: Lithium-polymer 4800mAh
Charging: Via USB-C-BC v1.2 compliant up to 1900mA
Net Weight: 455g (1.0lbs)
Digital Inputs: 1x USB-C; 1x S/PDIF (Optical/Coaxial) Bluetooth 5.4
Headphone Outputs: 1x balanced 4.4mm, 1x 6.3mm
Line Output: 1x balanced 4.4mm
Power/Charging: 1x USB-C