iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!

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Tyson

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Preamble
You could say that I love the iFi house sound.  I mean, how the hell else did I end up with (not one, not 2, but) 4 DACs?  Yeah, I like it.



System
Portable - MBP 16”, 2019; Beyer T1s modded to fully balanced.  Hapa Audio headphone cable and adapter, Alclair Curve IEMs

Non-Portable - Dedicated music server running Roon, iFi iDSD Pro, PS Audio P5 power regenerator, custom 6SN7/6BL7 headphone amp (and preamp), Beyer T1’s and Hapa Audio cables throughout.



Music used
BE - BTS
Rebirth - Sonya Yoncheva
Kick - INXS
Serpentine Prison - Matt Berninger
Liszt - Benjamin Grovenor




iFi ZenDAC 
If we take the iFi iDSD Pro as a reference, meaning that the Pro is a 10 out of 10 performance wise, we have a standard to measure the other gear against.  For the ZenDAC, that put’s it’s performance right around 6.  Good, and especially high value for the $$.  It really does nothing wrong and all of it’s sins are ones of omission.  If you are on a budget and you just want to forget about the equipment carousel and just want something that will let you kick back and just enjoy your music, the ZenDAC is it. 

iFi HipDAC
A solid 7.  And WAY better than it has any right to be, for this $$.  I actually really love the HipDAC, for me it’s the perfect size for a truly portable solution.  It’s got more resolution and punch than the ZenDAC but still maintains that golden beauty of a presentation.  From hirez Qobuz streaming, to Youtube videos, to Spotify streaming, all of it sounds great.  I’m not sure how they voiced this thing so well while keeping the level of detail that it has, but I’m very glad they did.  The HipDAC is a REAL winner. 

iFi El Diablo
Ah, the main event, the newest release.  From a pure performance standpoint I’m inclined to give it an 8 when comparing it to the iDSD Pro, but I have to bump that up a point because it’s portable and the Pro is not.  The level of sheer performance they get out of a portable device is just insane.  I’ll hit the highlights of what it brings to the table using my musical selections below.

BTS - BE: Modern pop, excellent production.  The ability of the Diablo to capture the melancholy of the opening track (Life Goes On), to the depression in Blue and Grey and then amp things up with the old school hip hop vibes of Dis-Ease is really impressive.  Oh, and the bass.  OMG, the BASS.  Man, the Diablo not only gives you big, deep bass, but it also grabs your headphone drivers in a vice-like grip and nearly beats your ears into submission with incredibly percussive bass. 

Rebirth - Sonya Yoncheva: Classical female soprano, singing songs of beauty and heartbreak from the Renaissance.  Sometimes the music is upbeat, sometimes it’s sad and melancholy.  Sometimes she has a single instrument backing her, sometimes many more than one.  But always, always, always you hear the power and fragile beauty of her singing.  Just beautiful.

Kick - INXS: A remastered favorite from my youth.  The guitar driven electro funk sounds on The Devil Inside are just punchy and groovy and make you want to get up and dance.  Getting up and dancing is another tell-tale sign of excellence.  I may not dance well, but I do dance hard.

Serpintine Prison - Matt Berninger: Man this guy has a great voice.  Deep, resonant and craggy, but also smooth and beautiful when needed.  I really like this album, and the Diablo really captures that “late night, twilight beauty” he’s putting out.  The Diablo excels at male vocals.  Or really anything deep.  There’s just an effortless power to what it does. 

Liszt - Benjamin Grosvenor: Brand new recording of Listz’s Piano Sonata in B Minor.  Man, when I put the Diablo into my portable system and started to listen, I had to take my headphones off because I thought the music was coming through my speakers and not my headphones.   That’s how convincing the soundstage was.  The performance itself is also very good, although not quite up there with the classic accounts by Maurizio Pollini or Martha Argerich.  On the other hand, neither of their recordings are nearly this transparent and clear.  And the Diablo lets you hear EVERYTHING. 

Conclusion
So there you have it, a review of several of the iFi pieces I have in house.  Hope you liked it and found it helpful. 

iFi David

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Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #1 on: 16 Mar 2021, 11:04 am »
Thanks Tyson, that's a lovely informational work right there!

mr_bill

Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #2 on: 16 Mar 2021, 03:23 pm »
Tyson,
Did you try the Diablo in your big speaker rig too?

Tyson

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Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #3 on: 16 Mar 2021, 03:40 pm »
Tyson,
Did you try the Diablo in your big speaker rig too?

I did not. 

Jon L

Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #4 on: 16 Mar 2021, 04:14 pm »
Looks like a cool product.  Have you tried any low-impedance headphones on it, especially via the "Turbo" mode for more current?

Playing Devil's advocate, I don't like the USB-A input, which makes all our expensive "normal" USB cables with USB-B connector useless  :(

Tyson

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Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #5 on: 16 Mar 2021, 05:43 pm »
I liked Turbo mode with my Beyer T1s, but not with my Alclair IEMs. 

The USB-A cable iFi includes is actually pretty good.  And it's definitely a lot more secure than the standard USB C connectors. 

iFi David

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Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #6 on: 13 Apr 2021, 04:30 pm »
And it's definitely a lot more secure than the standard USB C connectors. 

That's true, they're rather robust!

howard1818

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Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #7 on: 17 May 2021, 07:31 pm »
Which of the iFi products would you recommend (budget) to use with my speakers. Not currently using headphones. Thanks

Tyson

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Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #8 on: 17 May 2021, 07:37 pm »
The el Diablo is an easy choice for use with speakers.

mr_bill

Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #9 on: 15 Feb 2022, 01:23 am »
Tyson,
Is the new Gryphon better than Diablo?
I’m not a headphone guy but thinking of using one of these or the Neo in my main speaker system. I would use it with my new Zen Stream.

Pez

Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #10 on: 15 Feb 2022, 03:13 am »
Owning both units I’ll say this, “better sound quality” is not the parameter I would use to decide on which one to get. What I would consider is this:

Gryphon is, by far, the most versatile portable iFi has ever release period. Bluetooth with LDAC capability (if you have an LDAC capable portable, this feature is next tier.)  usb input, spdif input and analog inputs as well. The plethora of options such as Xbass, xspace, filter options, and bass presence features make tuning your headphones to match you taste much easier than anything else. Not to mention IEMatch for sensitive IEMs.

Diablo is literally the definition of a one trick pony. Phenomenal sound quality. ZERO bass features, ZERO, filter options. In fact all it can do is boost its output to accommodate larger cans. Dual differential dual mono design in a portable headphone amp is one helluva trick to be able to do. But it’s absolute lack of features means you’d better really love the “raw” Sonics of your headphones and not want/need any sort of bass/presence etc adjustments because it’s just not available of Diablo.

For me personally, Diablo tends to sit idle on my dresser while I rock out to Gryphon all friggin day.

Tyson

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Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #11 on: 15 Feb 2022, 03:48 am »
Tyson,
Is the new Gryphon better than Diablo?
I’m not a headphone guy but thinking of using one of these or the Neo in my main speaker system. I would use it with my new Zen Stream.

Gryphon is better for portable, the Diablo is better in a 2 channel music system.

mr_bill

Re: iFi El Diablo & Cornucopia - a massive review, oh my!
« Reply #12 on: 16 Feb 2022, 02:03 am »
Thank you Tyson