The Diana Phi has a moderate sensitivity. Its 91dB/mW might suggest it’s a not that hard to drive headphone, but in reality, like almost all full sized high end headphones, it scales up nicely with proper amplification. Yes, you can get to loud volumes even with DAPs, but decent amps will get it to its full potential.
For amplifiers it’s not just about the milliwatts or watts output power to tell you how well they perform. No, it’s about more. It’s about circuit design, amperage, noise floor and a few other things that come into play. Headphones truly benefit from a good amplifier and under-driving them is just not doing a pair of cans like the Diana Phi justice.
Cayin – iHA-6
The iHA-6 has more than enough power to get the Abyss to blasting loud volumes. I have the Cayin fed by the Chord Qutest, which is set to pure reference.
The Cayin gives the Abyss a nicely controlled low end with decent body and weight. It goes low with good resolution and texture. You get a well layered sound with impressive imaging and stereo separation. The stage goes well beyond your ears and stretches far front and back. Bass is dynamic and has a natural decay where you can follow the notes fading out.
It’s a fast sound with excellent dynamics and rhythm. The resolution is wonderful, where every little nuance gets portrayed with accuracy and precision. I never had the feeling of missing out on something. The iHA-6 gives the Diana Phi a fantastic black background, which is almost dead silent.
The midrange is filled with resolution and transparency. There is a high amount of air in the spectrum, but it never comes across as unnaturally airy in my books. Vocals are emotional with good body, they aren’t too dense or heavy to make them sound slow, quite the opposite actually. The speed of the Diana Phi is impressive.
Treble has good body and decent richness, but the iHA-6 does also have a tendency to a brighter and harder contoured top end, which in some cases can be audible with the Diana Phi. For instance certain cymbal crashes appear brighter and hotter than on other pairings.
Woo Audio – WA11
The WA11 is one of the few high end portable amplifiers on the market. It boasts a solid 1.2 Watts into 30 Ohms and has more than enough juice to drive the Abyss to loud levels, even in low gain mode there is more than enough room to go higher on the volume dial. I have been using high gain as I feel it makes the music even more alive.
The Woo amp gives the Diana Phi a more weighty low end and lower midrange. This especially comes into play with deeper vocals and instruments. The aforementioned Leonard Cohen track ‘You want it Darker’ really shines with this setup.
What you get is a big an majestic sound, filled with body and just about the perfect note size. It’s a nicely rich sound that really gets your attention. It makes my feet tap to the beat and the beauty of it is, you can take it anywhere as it’s all battery operated.
Vocals and instruments are organic and soft. The emotions really come through with the Woo amp. Female vocals and higher pitched instruments enjoy an impressively rich tone. Keys, violins and wind instruments all sound gorgeous. You don’t get the extreme darkness in the background as with other setups, but this by far is the nicest overall sound from any I have tested.
Treble is neither shy nor aggressive, it’s present but not overly attention seeking. It’s rich and soft, yet detailed and precise with good energy.
The crafted sound stage does stretch in good dimensions on all axis. It goes wide and deep with great layering. The resolution is still remarkable but with the bigger blend of the WA11 it seems a notch less precise as with other, more analytical pairings. When it comes to imaging the Diana Phi x WA11 combo definitely rocks. It presents a wide imaging with spot on placement of musicians.
Vocals are well centered and appear in front of you with excellent body. You get a nice holographic image in this pairing, where you can almost feel the bands in your presence.
All in all, this is my favourite pairing as it presents the music with a bigger bodied sound, just as I like it.
Lotoo – PAW Gold Touch
The PAW Gold Touch is about the only DAP that can handle full sized headphones in my arsenal. The Lotoo does get the Diana Phi loud enough, but it doesn’t unveil its true potential. On high gain I can push the Abyss to loud volumes without breaking a sweat, and even have some room left to go further up north.
The Lotoo definitely gets the most out of the Abyss of all my DAPs. None other can handle big cans like the PAW, but there still is room for improvement, especially when you know how much better the Diana Phi can get.
Bass is well defined but slower than it can be. It has a softer bass with still good punch and impact. You get a precise sound with slightly more forward highs. There are tons of details coming through with the Lotoo and you certainly get good resolution and layering.
The sound stage has good dimensions, but it’s not as big as with other pairings. The stage goes wider than it goes deep. Vocals and instruments appear closer to you. What you get is a clean and clear sound, that’s sporting very nice transparency throughout.
Bass and mids are a little lighter, but do get the job done when it comes to realism. There are good amounts of air in the instruments to give them a nimble-feet approach. They definitely don’t sound overly thick or dense. Vocals are missing out on a few drops of blood for my taste. Treble can be a little forward with the Lotoo, but if you don’t like it, you can always use the PEQ and tame the frequencies you’re not fond of.
For a portable audio player and all-in-one solution it’s an outstanding result nonetheless.
Chord Electronics – Hugo2
The Hugo2 is one of my all-time favourite one-piece DAC/Amp combinations. It handles all my headphones and IEMs with ease and the Diana Phi is no exception.
With the Brit you get a lighter bass, that’s tight but misses out on physicality to me. The Chord does an incredible job at creating a mighty stage. The resolution and detailing of this pairing is hard to match. There’s so much information in the Hugo2 which finds its way through the Abyss.
With the Chord you get a lighter presentation with lots of air in the sound. It’s a well defined and rendered sound that impresses on technicalities. It’s hard to find something that is as resolving, as precise and as clean as the Hugo2 when it comes to performance. With the Diana Phi however it’s missing blood and body for my taste.
Mids are fast, crisp and precise with an impressive load of informations. The layering of the sound is class leading. You get a transparent midrange with precisely separated instruments. Imaging that’s as good as it gets. With the Hugo2 you’ll be transported into the scene of the music, straight to the performers.
You get a very exciting sound, with crystal clean treble, that has good energy and sparkle. For some this might be too much though, as it sometimes is on the edge of comfort. It’s a sound that screams for a secondary amplifier like the WA11, but since the Woo only has 4.4 mm balanced input that sadly won’t happen.
As said, the sound overall is impressive on many levels, but for me it’s missing the enjoyment of music.
Comparisons start after the jump.