iFi audio hip-dac

General Information

iFi hip-dac warms the soul with intoxicating sound

With a sound as flavoursome and richly detailed as a delicious single malt, the hip-dac portable USB DAC/headphone amp delivers the perfect pick-me-up for any music lover on-the-go


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Southport, England – iFi adds to its award-winning range of portable DAC/headphone amps with an all-new design – the hip-dac.

Smartly dressed in petrol blue with a touch of copper, the go-anywhere hip-dac is designed to slip discretely into a pocket and offers an extensive hi-res specification that belies its eminently affordable £149, (€159, $149) price tag.

The hip-dac replaces the inferior DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Convertor) and amp circuitry in smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs to vastly improve headphone sound. Its design and performance set it apart from other DAC/headphone amps in its class – connect your playback device via USB, plug in your favourite corded headphones or in-ear monitors and the hip-dac delivers a sound brimming with bold dynamism and fluid refinement, effortlessly engaging the listener with all manner of music.

In the home, in the office, on a train or plane – the hip-dac is the music lover’s inseparable friend.

Latest reviews

iFi Hip Dac
Pros: Amazing building block for great sound at a reasonable price
Balanced output
Great sounding dac
Good looks.
Powerful laid back sound
Cons: None at that price
Ifi hip dac
Excellent price to performance ratio
Best sounding bass boost feature I’ve ever seen
All the amp you need for 95% of iems
Warm powerful Yamaha like sound yet laid back and engaging
Can power the p1 to moderate to high levels
Input is male usb type A, provides short cables for type A or C
3.5 mm standard output or 4.4 pentaconn balanced. Excellent sounding dac
Instant audiophile upgrade to any android phone or usb connection 3.0
Doesn’t come with lightening cable adaptor, but can connect directly to one.
More lively fun sound than topping nx3s
Excellent build and looks, good cables and accessories. 2200 mAh internal battery
3 hour charge = 8-12 of use
Charging and data ports separate, can charge and use at same time.
Front panel IEMatch to best match gains for the headphone or iem plugged in.
Cons- could have even more power? But at this price it’s excellent.
Use balanced output for best sound.
Absolutely recommend- building block for audiophile sound at a reasonable price.

iFi audio
iFi audio
Thanks a lot!
Pros: Fun sounding portable DAC/amp. Wonderful color. Good amount of power. 4.4mm Pentaconn!!!
Cons: Male usb-a input. No AUX line in. Volume knob easy to adjust on accident.
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My very first portable DAC/amp device was the Oppo HA2 and I used the living daylights out of it attached to an old IPhone for portable use. I eventually got a Oppo HA2-se, FiiO q1mk2, FiiO q5, q5s and finally moved to daps. While I enjoy taking a dap out from time to time. I sometimes like just carrying one device and using the ol phone stack like I did back in my HA2 days. Plus nothing beats the performance of a modern smartphone vs a DAP. The IFI hip dac instantly stood out to me as something neat being a wonderful dark metallic teal color with its copper colored volume pot. Plus 4.4mm pentaconn is always an easy way to win me over on new products. I wasn’t sure how I would feel however since the hip dac had no AUX line in option and used a male usb-a output instead of something like usb-c or a female usb-a port. I’ll start off saying this was an interesting unit to test and live with. Let’s see how the hip dac holds its own as a portable unit!

Gear used
IPhone 12 Pro, Ikko OH10, DUNU SA3, ADV M5-5D, and Dan Clark Audio Aeon flow “RT” closed.

Unboxing experience
Well it comes in a small no frills box. The box has all the details and specs listed on the box as well which is nice. Once you open the box up and pull out the tray you get two small documents. The hip dac is in a nice protective shipping bag and under it are three cables. One charging usb-c cable, a ugly and stiff blue usb-a extender(probably super strudy) and finally a usb-c to usb-a female cable. A fairly straight to the point unboxing experience and that's fine. I did find the little sheet that explained what the colors meant when it came to sample rates to be very helpful.
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Looks and Feel
I find the hip dac to be quite the beauty. Everything is usually black or silver in the portable DAC/amp world so something different is always a nice change. The build quality of the hip dac feels fantastic. Buttons have a slight rattle but I don't find this to be a bother at all as you have to shake the unit hard to hear any of said rattle. Volume pot is nice and smooth to rotate and the little leds on the sides of the volume pot are a nice feature to show off the current sample rate or use of MQA. The unit itself feels great in the hand and has a nice weight to it.
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Battery life
Battery life is pretty good for my use. I didn’t attempt to run it from a full charge till it died while playing music but It lasts running close to 6-8 hours on and off music playback at my job in balanced and still working once I’m home. Once I get home I do throw it on the charger. I believe they rate it up to 8 hours but portable DAC/amps only need to last more than 4-6 hours to keep me satisfied.

EMI noise
When plugged into my IPhone with airplane mode on I get zero noise. This is expected and when I have it connected to my IPhone and with both just wifi or cellular turned on I still pick up irritating EMI noise. It isn't noticeable with music playing but paused or waiting for a song to buffer it’s super noticeable. I can’t fault the hip dac as my old Q5s, Q3 and Paw S1 all exhibit some type of EMI noise in the same scenarios. This also only happens when the hip dac is directly against the back of my IPhone.

Line in, usb output and volume pot
I decided to make a section just for this since these are the three things that bother me the most with the hip dac. The fact that there is no AUX line in means if you lose or break a very specific usb cable that isn’t the easiest to get ahold of in a hurry, you can’t line in via AUX as a backup which is a bummer for me. The weird male usb port is another thing that makes me scratch my head too. While it’s great for the old school IPhone users that use the old usb camera kit, If you don’t have it on hand already then that means you have to spend an extra $30 for the adapter to use the hip dac portable with an IPhone. It also irritates me that there is a usb-c port next to it that could have easily been a dual purpose charging and data port vs just a dedicated charging port. Since other IFI products use the same style usb input I’m sure it saves them some money but for me personally, I would have liked to see usb-c here. Last but not least is the volume pot. While I really like the feel of it and how big it is, it turns a little too easily. In my pocket it can easily get adjusted which made for a few scary “OH! Please dont murder my ears” moments. It would have been nice for IFI to make a hood or partial cover to keep the knob from being rotated easily. For laptop or desktop users I don’t believe this is a problem at all. These are of course all personal gripes and while I may be annoyed by these things, others may not see it as a problem.


Sound(overall)
These will be my impressions overall with the hip dac’s sound signature when used with all the iems and headphones I threw at the hip dac.

Lows
The lows are slightly boosted on the hip dac. I would call it just north of neutral and I find it rather pleasing for pretty much all the headphones and audio gear I had. Hybrid Iems have just a little extra punch in the low end and even the BA only iems have a little more life in bass as well. While the xBass feature makes for a really big boost to the low end. It doesn’t sound muddy or really bleed real hard into the mid range. I really like it on iems that are lean sounding in the low end.

Mids
The mids also have a hint of a very small boost. Vocals come through super clear and detailed. Sibilance on vocals is a little more noticeable than other source devices but it still has a nice presentation for being a portable device.

Highs
Even the top end has a nice little boost that makes for a crystal clear sound. Higher frequencies all have a really nice sparkle and come across as more detailed. Detail retrieval is good here and I can easily pick little things I expect to hear with my higher end iems.

Imaging/Soundstage
The soundstage is wider than some portable DAC/amps but it's about average overall. I think this is where you start to hit a wall on most portable DAC/amps. For the stage's width and depth there’s pretty good imaging and my normal side to side sound sweeps didn’t show errors for headphones I know to have fantastic imaging. That being said it shows it’s smaller stage on bigger over ear headphones. I do however think for a portable device that this is still good and I don’t see this as a negative.

Single ended output
Single ended performance out of everything is actually really nice. There is no hiss from my sensitive cables or iems and It powers my over ear headphones without too much effort in high gain. I would still recommend most over ear power hungry headphones off the balanced jack for the best performance.

Balanced outputs
The 4.4mm pentaconn balanced jack pushes out a little more volume but at the cost of some floor noise. Sensitive cables combined with sensitive iems made for an obnoxious hiss that was very noticeable. With some lower impedance cables I was able to control the hiss on my andros and m5-5d iems but I still wasn’t happy. Especially since If I ran the same cables and iems with a 4.4 to 3.5 adapter I got no hiss single ended. With my over ear headphones I didn’t run into any floor noise balanced so this is definitely something to think about if you like balanced and want to run sensitive iems through the 4.4mm pentaconn jack.

Power output
Power output depending on where you look(dealers) is either claimed to be 400mW @16 ohm or 400mW @32 ohm so I was kinda confused but with how loud things get via balanced and the fact that the official IFI website and box shows the 400mW @32 ohm I feel that is the correct power output. Power output is very good IMO and while it won’t match a desktop amp I do believe it does fantastic for being a portable device. Power output from single ended is 280mW @32ohm and I find this to be fantastic power out of a device in the sub $200 range.

Connectivity with computer and IPhone
The hip dac is big enough that I didn’t feel the need to use it with my ipad due to the stock usb-c cable not being long enough so it hangs off when my ipad is in it’s magic keyboard case. It also looks atrocious when you chain the stock blue usb cable then attach the usb-c adapter to it. The small Lotoo Paw S1 still holds the honor of being my ipad’s main DAC/amp. So unfortunately I didn't attempt to test the combo and stuck with just my PC and my IPhone for testing. The computer of course had no issues picking up the device on windows 10 and I was able to listen to music right away. I ran into issues attempting to use MQA or DSD upscaling past DSD64. This only required downloading their ASIO driver which was easy enough to find on their website. Once installed DSD256 and MQA worked just fine. It seems that the hip dac only does rendering of MQA and still requires Tidal to do the decoding. I won’t talk about my personal opinions when it comes to MQA but I will say I confirmed it worked just fine and I like the little magenta light telling me it’s actually working. I had to dig around and find the camera kit adapter for my IPhone since I haven’t needed to use it in forever but once connected the hip dac worked with no real fussing. Running local music worked fine and things like personal vinyl rips at high sample rates showed the correct color on the hip dac. Using tidal with its master quality actually worked and I was surprised that IOS allows use of MQA on the IPhone. The light changed to magenta on the hip dac and it had no noticeable issues rendering MQA files from tidal. The only quirk using MQA was that if the screen was locked or unlocked there would be a 1 second pause before playing music again. Only happened in tidal on master quality tracks. Not the end of the world however.
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Iem pairing opinions
Ikko OH10
The OH10 pairs nicely with the hip dac. The boosted mids and treble really help bring the OH10 to life. There is just a nice sparkle up top while keeping the low end thumpy without ever going too far. With xBass turned on it’s a slightly different story and the OH10 is simply turned into little bass cannons. It’s a pretty fun experience and I’m impressed the OH10 can keep it together and not clip with how intense the bass boost from xBass is on some tracks.

DUNU SA3
I finished testing the SA3 with the hip dac and while I still find the SA3 to be super laid back I found the extra sparkle of the hip dac helped but it wasn’t a huge boost. The xBass however worked here fantastically and It actually made the SA3 a neat experience. I found this combo great. Especially for those who may want a little more low end bite out the newer SA3 while keeping the relaxed mids and highs intact.

ADV Sound M5-5D
The M5-5D is fairly bright, super detailed and has very fantastic hard hitting low end. It’s sensitive however to hiss just like my older andros and I got an annoying hiss running this balanced. At first I thought something was wrong so I swapped from my Null Audio Lune cable to the DUNU Chord in 4.4mm and that actually calmed the hiss down but it was still a little too much floor noise for my taste. This was out of low gain and with high gain it got even worse. No noise when I ran the M5-5D single ended so I finished up testing this way. The hip dac’s more lively tuning sounded great on the 5D. Stage felt wide and deep with fairly good imaging. Close to my desktop setup. Top end was constantly sibilant and I don’t blame the hip dac for this as this set is overly bright out of the box. This is better controlled by my desktop setup which is a bit more neutral sounding. I think super detailed iems will do fine with the hip dac but I guess be warned the balanced output is somewhat noisy if you have sensitive iems.

Over ear pairing opinions
I decided on only using the closed aeons since I rarely use open backs away from my desk at home since I want the best isolation from normal apartment noises and I rather not annoy my roommate with my open back blaring in the living room or when I’m cooking. Using my aeons outside my room is also somewhat rare too. I tend to baby my over ear headphones over my iems. I did try my lcd2c and lcd-x which get enough power but still lack dynamics with almost all portable amps.

Dan Clark Audio Aeon “RT” Closed
The RT closed actually got up to a volume I liked and I got no hiss running them balanced. I was very happy especially after the hissy experience I had with my M5-5D. The RT closed still didn’t sound quite as alive as my desktop setup but I still got good detail out of the hip dac and the soundstage felt much smaller and noticeable with this combo. The low end felt a little too lean for my tastes. This was another headphone that the xBass kind of helped. Still felt a little much in the thumps and rumbles but it still made for a fun listen when I played any type of EDM or electronic music in general. In high gain I got to about 11-12 o’clock and that was plenty loud and clear for me. Very happy with the power output of the hip dac for these planars.

Compared to the recent FiiO Q3
I was lucky enough to have both the IFI hip dac and the FiiO Q3 to test side by side. Both sound fairly similar and after a week of listening to one for a while then switching devices, it was easy to tell the Q3 was fairly accurate in the mids and highs with a slight boost to low end while the hip dac was a little more “fun” or “lively” sounding overall. The Q3 also has a slightly smaller soundstage compared to the hip dac. Power output goes to the hip dac as well. The Q3 however has a nice and stiff volume knob, AUX input(though you have run balanced headphones to make use of this) and a normal usb-c port. For me the Q3 works out as my new daily portable amp since I’ve yet to accidentally adjust volume in my pocket or coat. While the hip dac wins IMO in sound quality by a small margin, If you only had one over the other and couldn’t compare the two side by side I would say the sound quality difference is small enough it’s possible you wouldn't notice the differences after a while. Power output, slightly better audio quality, larger soundstage and MQA will be the big reasons to pick the hip dac over the FiiO Q3 IMO. Pick the Q3 however if you need to use it on the move and want less risk of jumping volume on accident while it's in any type of pocket.
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Overall thoughts
I really enjoyed the sound quality of the hip dac! I love the color and feel of the hip dac as well. The lack of an AUX input, the male usb-a input instead of a usb-c input and the volume knob that can be easily adjusted in my pocket when I move around are the show stoppers for me. These three things keep this from being my daily portable DAC/amp when I wanna use my IPhone instead of a DAP. I think those who would use this for a first desktop setup or laptop will absolutely love this. I have a hard time recommending this as a portable on the go device due to the easy volume pot adjustments mentioned above. It only took two instances of the volume adjustments happening in my lab coat and front pocket for me to stop using it outside my apt or at my office cube. While I may not 100% recommend this for all portable uses, I do recommend the hip dac overall. The sound quality, MQA rendering(for those who want this), the looks and finally power output really make this a special portable DAC/amp. Good job to IFI on the hip dac and I think for the right setup the hip dac is an absolute winner! Thanks for reading!
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corgifall
corgifall
Everything has a slight boost to it. Compared to neutral setups with my ears anyways.
K
kungfuman
hi there, is that a genuine apple a1440 usb camera adapter cable you are using? i have bought a 3rd party one from amazon which unfortunately doesn't fit directly into the hip-dac so was wondering if the genuine one makes the difference.
corgifall
corgifall
Yup that is the official apple one.
Pros: Separation
Power match option
Overall quality
Warm, comfy sound signature
Great detailing
Cons: Shaking buttons
Narrow scene
XBass still isn't perfect
iFi Hip Dac is an entry level portable DAC with balanced output and MQA decoding. It is priced at 149$.



Sound quality for the price
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
Build quality
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
Value
Rating: 9 out of 10.

Packaging

The box is small, but well designed with nice in touch triangles embossed on the sides. Inside you can find rubber feet, a USB A to USB C cable, and OTG Cable with USB A on both sides. The first one is braided, the second one isn’t.

Build quality

iFi Hip Dac is made from metal with plastic front and rear. Edges of metal are too sharp in my opinion, the paint may scratch off. The potentiometer at the front is made of metal, painted gold. Moreover, on the front we have two jack connectors, the first one is balanced 4,4mm and the second one is 3,5mm single ended. On the left side of the potentiometer, you can find two buttons that are not holding out securely – when you move the device they will start shaking. On the rear part, you can find two USBs. OTG USB-A and standard USB-C.

Nonetheless, I adore how the Hip Dac looks. This “Ocean” color really sets it apart from the competition, and that gold volume knob is just like a cherry on top. Sweet.

Battery life
The battery life of built-in 2200mAh battery stands on a great level, it can easily hold up to eight hours, when I was testing (only on PC, but using OTG USB with Hip turned on as first, so only data was going through) it held for 9-10 hours, using Tidal Master from time to time, but it depends on the headphones and volume level.

Sound

iFi Hip Dac sounds similar to iFi xDSD and RHA DACAMP L1, even if Hip costs way less.
It is warm, pretty dense, with an objectively narrow scene and decent holography, but I think it’s the problem of many portable DAC’s. Hip sounds delicately smooth, but it isn’t imposing itself that hard. In two words, it is playing with a delicately warmed bass, natural sound, but straight to the ear caused by smaller soundstage compared to DACAMP mentioned earlier. Power match function works really great, Hip Dac can drive many headphones, Beyerdynamic DT770 80Ohm wasn’t a problem, but I think 250Ohm version could be problematic.


The bass is really strong. Not that fast, but it sounds very wide going around the head, but without a specific direction. Details and texture are great, you won’t hear the moment of pulling the string, but it is on a really high level considering the price.
You can also boost sub and mid bass by using the X-Bass option, it is like the popular option “Loudness” in amplituners. It works better than the boosting option in FiiO K3, Hip sounds more natural with X-Bass turned on.


The midrange is natural, slightly smoothed. It is well detailed for this price, placed close to the listener. Smoothness relies on soothing vocals and string instruments. I didn’t notice this behavior in any other situation. Both female and male vocals are quite engaging, they are able to keep us listening easily. When I matched Hip with Bqeyz Spring 1 with Satin Audio Chimera cable listening became a pure pleasure. It wasn’t so dynamic, but very comfy to listen to.

The treble overall is similar to midrange when it comes to sound signature. It is quite brighter than DACAMP L1, but I think a little softer than iDSD Nano LE. Detail reproduction is great, it is playing delicately further away than midrange.

The soundstage is delicately narrower and shallower than Zen Dac, but bigger than in FiiO K3. As a portable DAC, it is great in this price range. It wasn’t annoying until I was trying to listen to Dead Can Dance, then I felt something was missing. Same in the computer games, it didn’t satisfy me during gaming sessions. In daily listening, it didn’t bother me tho.
I was shocked by the possibilities of separation, I thought it would be much more difficult to distinguish a large number of sound sources, but wow. iFi Hip Dac is doing this very great, even if the holography isn’t spectacular.

Summary

iFi Hip Dac is a very good product in this price range, but I wish it would have had Bluetooth functionality. It sounds natural with boosted bass. After launching X Bass whole sounds becomes warmer, so it will please fans of this playstyle. It also provides much power, so it will feed most of the portable headphones. Recommended.

Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:

  • Headphones – Shozy Form 1.1, Fidelio X2HR, Beyerdynamic DT770, Brainwavz Alara, Noble Audio Django, Meze Rai Solo, Bqeyz Spring 1
  • Sources– RHA DACAMP L1, iBasso DX160, Topping DX3 Pro, iFi Zen DAC, FiiO BTR5, iFi iDSD Nano LE
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TiborM
TiborM
Love mine too!
necktru
necktru
I can confirm my Beyer 770 pro 250ohm are working great, 60%-65% volume with high gain switch

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