iFi audio hip-dac - Reviews
Pros: Diminutive.
iFi build quality.
Multi-function.
Sound is typical iFi.
Cons: An xDSD lite?
Not real powerful.
Many other choices out there.
ifi hip-dac ($149.99): A slim and trim xDSD? Could be…

ifi hip-DAC page: https://ifi-audio.com/products/hip-dac/



Discreet, intelligent, cunning, kicks, beautiful, understated, timely, trim.

Intro: I am an iFi fan. I own the xDSD, Pro iDSD and the iTubes2/iDAC2/micro iDSD Black Label stack. I use them all (mostly Pro iDSD). I like them all. The stack was my first “foray” into an upper-end DAC/Amp set-up. The BL was my very first review. I liked it then. I still like it. I’ve also reviewed the Pro iCAN and xCAN, but do not own them. Do you see where this is going? I could be considered a fanboy. Or maybe, I just like the way iFi products sound and perform. Regardless of how you want to look at that, I do believe this gives me the position to be more critical (when warranted) than others because I have so much experience with the brand.

The hip-dac was sent to me as part of the North American part of the ifi tour. I thank Lawrance for the opportunity and support. This review will be unbiased (it really will), and the unit will be sent to the next person on the list. The unit belongs to ifi and will be returned to them at the end of the tour. I also thank ifi for continuing to run tours with their wares. I have in fact purchased a couple of items as a direct result. So be it.



Specs:

Formats supportedDSD256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD DXD (384/352.8kHz), PCM (384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz) MQA
Digital InputsUSB 3.0 type ’A’ High-Speed Asynchronous USB 2.0, (32bit/384kHz)
Headphone OutputsBalanced 4.4mm S-Bal (SE) 3.5mm
Power Output (@1% THD)BAL: 400mW@32 Ohm ; S-BAL(SE): 280mW@32 Ohm BAL: 6.3V@600 Ohm ; S-BAL (SE): 3.2V@600 Ohm
BatteryLithium-polymer 2200mAh
Power SystemCharging via USB-C, BC V1.2 compliant up to 1000mA charging current
Power (max)<2W idle, 4W max
Dimensions102(l) x 70(w) x 14(h) mm
Weight125g (0.28 lbs)


In the box:

1-hip-dac
1-blue ifi usb male to female cable
1-usb-c to usb male to female (direct connection to Android/DAP’s)
1-usb-a to usb male to female



Gear used/compared:

All prices in USD, unless noted otherwise

ifi xDSD ($399)
ifi micro iDSD Black Label ($599)
Audirect Beam ($99)

Sources:

iPhone XS Max
Shanling M2X
MacBook Pro
XDuoo x10t ii

Noble Savant II
Oriolus Finschi
TinHiFi T4


Songs used:

Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
The new twenty one pilots album, Trench
The new Mark Knopfler album, Down The Road Wherever


Unboxing:

This will be quick, since others have noted this section. The box is small, with a paperboard frame of recycled material, which supports the hip-dac. Underneath the hip-dac is the proverbial blue ifi cable. Under the frame are the other two cables, which are included. That’s it. No case, no protective sleeve. On the back of the back of the unit, there are two ports: a USB-C for data, and a USB-A for charging only. That’s it. A small LED under the charge port shows the relative amount of battery left, like other ifi devices, by color. Good to see this across devices.


Build quality/functionality:

This will be another short section. The build is good as others have noted. The anodized turquoise-blue finish is tough, and much less prone to smudges than the chromed xDSD/xCAN. Those are fingerprint mongers. I do believe the finish may be tougher in day to day use as well. Small rubber pads would have been appreciated, but most likely, the hip will be tethered to a Smartphone, which should be in a case.

All buttons and the knob function without trouble, but I too note that the volume knob is slightly off-center and will touch a surface when laid with the “ifi” logo face up. So be it, but in the long run that may cause a problem if the item is knocked about. Pads on the bottom would alleviate this problem. The volume knob does function smoothly and without too much effort. Just right. Connections are solid and no problem there, as well. Either side of the volume knob, u-shaped LED lights show the audio format in use.
  • Green – 44/48/88/96kHz
  • Yellow – 176/192kHz DXD352/384kHz
  • Cyan – DSD128/DSD64 2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2MHz
  • Blue – DSD256 11.2/12.2MHz
  • Magenta – MQA
There is enough “roughness” for a good tactile feel, so the critter should not slip out of your hand either. No straps are included, so you will have to grab one or two from your stash. Or if this will be a semi-permanent thing, Velcro. I would suggest something other than your hand, especially since the included USB-A to USB-C may not allow the paired unit to sit in the same orientation (see photo of DTR1/hip). Speaking of connectivity, you get the two cables with which to use. One for pairing and one for charging. The proverbial blue ifi can be used either way or as a bridge to another USB-A.

As stated above, each port has a singular use, and that’s all right to me, especially since they include the more common USB-C for source connectivity. With the ability to play up to DSD256 (even on a Mac, with the right driver according to Audiofools) and PCM/DXD384 as well as MQA, the little ifi can provide for quality music. Plus, based upon the specs, which include the Burr Brown DSD1793 chip you have a starting point equivalent or almost to the xDSD.

LED’s on either side of the volume knob show what audio format is playing, too. Just like the other portable ifi’s as noted above. Again, continuity. Plus, the 400mW is nothing to sneeze at, and drove most of my IEM’s/headphones well enough to enjoy. On par with other small amps I have. Battery life SHOULD get you through a workday fairly easily, unless you play continuously then expect 8 hours. Twice I left the device on and came back to a dead device. The first was less than 8 hours, the second just shy of 8. So, take the 12-hour life-expectancy as a “guide.” Under the charging cable sits a small LED that notifies you of the battery's status. Listed below is a key to how much is left.
  • White >75%
  • Green > 25%
  • Red > 10%
  • Red (flashing) >/= 10%
  • (led also flashes when charging)
The volume knob dominates the front of the hip-dac and is even gold (as is the ring around the 4.4 bal jack opening) for effect. Easy to use, with good tactility, I never felt it got in the way like a too easy or too hard knob would. To the “right” are the 4.4bal and 3.5se jacks. To the “left” are ifi’s ever present “XBass” and what ifi calls “Power Match.” This is essentially a “gain” switch for using harder to drive headphones. Not to be messed with lightly on IEM’s though, as it can raise the volume to uncomfortable levels on the switch, with its 6dB addition. Use it wisely. Both switches are either on or off, which gives the user the nice ability to change quickly either to on or off. A nice feature.

Straightforward. Simple to use. Powerful. Longevity.



Sound:

I would call the hip-dac pretty close to neutral, except down low, where it becomes warmer; especially when the xbass is added. That extra bass does tend to warm the sound up a bit to me. I will add that as you go up the sound spectrum, I heard some hiss depending upon what IEM I was using. Plus, to me it sounded a bit less warm as well. Maybe an “almost-balanced” teeter totter would represent the sound well. Slightly off, but not offensive to those who prefer neutral. I did find it less bright than the xDSD, but that will wait for the comparison.

That “near-neutrality” can clean up a Smartphone nicely I might add. Many Smartphones now have pretty decent sound, but even with those that do, the hip-dac would improve that sound. Adding what I will call “cleanliness” as opposed to clarity; the sound is still quite good out of a Smartphone. Again, more in the comparison. Call the signature near-neutral-pleasantly-clean-with-an-added-touch-of-warmth, and you get the idea.



Comparisons:

Ifi hip-dac ($149) vs ifi xDSD ($399):

Using the same battery, the xDSD does “suffer” from having all of the extras, including BT, the 3D+ sound addition and increased number of input options. It can get quite loud as well, since it has more power. It can also take higher quality files, too. More features equal more cost. More power equal more cost. If you want features, the xDSD is as versatile as a baseball utility player than can hit as well. In that vein, think of the hip-dac as the specialty positional player who does one thing, and does it well. Very well.

I do think that when all “extras” are turned off, the xDSD comes across as slightly brighter to me. I tried volume-matching by ear (yes, not precise, but it worked), and still came up with the same result. All things equal, I’d take the xDSD for the versatility. If you want a plain dac, then the hip is very worthy of consideration here.


Ifi hip-dac ($149) vs ifi micro iDSD Black Label ($599):

This one ain’t fair. Not at all. Well…other than to show how far ifi has come since the BL came out. I still love the BL, and do not use it near enough. It’s near-cult status is deserved and earned. It has power like a Hennessy. It has features like a Benz. It has quality like a Lexus. And it sounds like a Porsche would if it were an audio piece. This is the piece, which to me set the tone for ifi to go “portable” The previous iteration was good, no doubt (and I compared the two), but the BL kind of put ifi on the headphone market as a very worth option for OTG.

So, look at this like the grandfather schooling the grandson, giving him lessons on how to compete in a tough world. And it worked. The hip-dac is a worthy descendent of the BL.


Ifi hip-dac ($149) vs Audirect Beam ($99):

At the time of my review, I said the Beam might be all the ultra-portable dac/amp you need. Using it from my iPhone XS Max, I still feel it is really quite good. For sound qualities, the Beam is still a very fine unit, and I for one am glad a second iteration is coming out. Two things let it down to me though, a touchy volume control, and that it cannot be used with some of my items (XDuoo X10tii) without their own volume control. No big deal, really. For its purpose, the Beam is a really good option, but here the hip-dac bests it with the balanced option, xbass and “gain” options. Not really a fair comparison, as the Beam may be all you need, but worthy of mention simply because both are competitors. I like both.



Sources:

iPhone XS Max:
For most people, their Smartphone will be the point of connection. And this really is why the hip-dac was made: bring high fidelity to your Smartphone. Connecting to the iPhone is easy, if you have the camera dongle. If you do not have one, you will need to purchase one. Mine was $34+/-. Coupled with the ifi blue cable makes for a somewhat ungainly connection “kit,” but that is the life of an iOS owner…never easy.

Immediately, you hear the difference. Cleaner, crisper with more detail, the ifi makes a pointed difference. The noise floor is not perfectly black using the Oriolus Finschi, but not intolerable. Adding in the XBass, you get a satisfying thump to your sound. Adding those extra dB’s makes a difference at the requisite frequencies. Adequate volume was no problem, either. The ifi had the ability to drive the iPhone to loud levels, aided by the phone itself. No problem there.


XDuoo x10t ii: Switching to the x10, an interesting situation arose. Even on full volume with the IEM power match, the volume through the Finschi’s were not all that loud. Quality was the best of the lot, but I could not reach a “loudness” of which I would consider LOUD. Running the volume all the way up right now, without the power match, I find the listening level tolerable, but not loud.


Shanling M2x: Unfortunately, in a recent update, Tidal changed some “coding,” which Shanling did not account for so Tidal was not working on FW 2.6. A fix is in the wind, so I ran the M2x via SD card and accompanying music. Adding a bit of warmth to the sound characteristics, the M2x performed well. A nice portable set up this would make. Not as clean as the x10, but nonetheless quite a pleasant sound emanated from the mix.


MacBook Pro: Upon connecting to Tidal, an MQA message asked if I wanted to use the ifi as output audio. I clicked yes, and it warned me that the volume would be turned down to prevent hearing damage, kind of like an anti-line out. Once in, I raised the volume a bit (and it didn’t take much) to acceptable levels. Without that raise in volume, the same situation occurred, lackluster volume. Adding a bit from Tidal itself removed that lower-volume problem from the equation and I could reach very loud levels. It was rather fun playing with the XBass and Power Match here. The most yet.

Sound from Tidal was deep, rich and vibrant. Keeping Power Match on, I could easily change levels and kept the volume knob lower. Adding about 2x gain across the board will do that. The hip proved its versatility across platforms, and across the board with just the small sampling above. It worked, and it worked well.



Conclusion:

The hip-dac worked easily across different sources and worked well. The little ifi provided a bit of spark to some (iPhone), while adding bass to others when XBass was activated. I have a good admiration for the XBass feature, and have ever since the BL. It was and is a bit ungainly on the BL but serves its purpose. Moving down the lineage, the xDSD comes across as clean and powerful, with the added features of BT and optical. There is no denying its useful purpose. I really enjoy the features and the sound emanating from it.

The hip-dac is a bit different, though. It is simple. It is svelte. It is airy, and fairly cost-efficient. The Power Match provides the hip-dac with the added boost on the fly as convenient and thoughtful. It works, too. For that noisy commute, sometimes you need a quick jolt of volume, and the PM can do that. But don’t expect it to work miracles for hard to drive headphones on competent sources. It did work well on my MBP and iPhone, but as stated on the XDuoo and Shanling, struggled a bit. For easy to drive IEM’s, which most of us own this should not be a problem, though.

And the hip-dac really isn’t meant for use with a DAP. Nope, mostly for Smartphones and computers. With that in mind, the ifi does a fine job of giving a clean, slightly warm sound that also can support DSD and MQA. Nice features to have and looked at for the singular purpose, the hip-dac does just fine.

I thank ifi for arranging the tour and Lawrance for organizing it. They both do a fine job, and I really appreciate when a company puts their wares out for review tours. The diversity of “knowledge” benefits all who read the reviews. That’s a positive in my book.

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Pros: Great sound - Clean power - XBass is awesome - DSD and MQA support
Cons: Sharp shell - Mild low volume imbalance - Reliability (?)
Greetings!

Today we're checking out the hip-dac from iFi.

Since 2012 iFi has been delivering a wide variety of hifi products to the audio world from their headquarters in Southport, UK. DACs, amps, DAC/Amps, power purifiers, impedance adapters, speakers, and various other products and devices have come from the brand. I've been lucky enough to review the Pro iCAN, one of their flagship headphone amplifiers, and the iEMatch which enables you to use very sensitive iems with otherwise poorly matched sources. The hip-dac is their newest and most affordable portable headphone amplifier, eschewing the unique candy-bar shape of past devices for a more pocketable and traditional flask-shaped device.

Full disclosure time. The hip-dac first showed up around mid-February of this year and I enjoyed using it extensively over the following month. Unfortunately, before I had a chance to finalize my notes and compare to other devices it developed an issue which required it to be sent back. Yes, a month was not long enough for me. I prefer to use devices extensively before dipping into a review. Anyway, their rep Lawrance was awesome as always and arranged a replacement but there was a mixup and the wrong device was sent back. That was returned and I opted not to request another unit to finish the review. With the whole Coronoavirus thing in full swing and a number of devices in queue for review, I figured with the notes I had there was enough to write a complete review, though one that wouldn't be quite as detailed and in depth as usual. Still enough to get the point across though.

Enough dallying, let's take a quick look at iFi's excellent little audio flask.

P1060305.JPGP1060301.JPGP1060304.JPG

What I'm Looking For When it comes to portable amps and DAPs I take a pretty casual approach. If you’re wanting an in-depth look at this thing with measurement graphs going over THD, sinewaves, etc. you’ll want to look elsewhere. All I really care about is how easy is it to use? Is it well built and will it be durable long term? How’s the driving power and overall sound quality? Are the batteries going to run dry part way through a listening session? Is this the kind of device I’m going to take with me everywhere, or it is better suited to listening in the privacy of my home? Let's dive right in and find out what it's like to use the iFi hip-dac.

Using It As a portable DAC the hip-dac is a pretty sweet device to have with you. It's not so huge as to be impossible to carry when strapped to a DAP or phone, though you will need fairly large pockets. The included rubber feet aren't as useful when using it with a phone or DAP since they add a few extra millimetres to the overall thickness, unless you flip the device over but then you risk scratching your source. If you're pairing it with a laptop the grippy feet keep the device stable when setting it on a table or desk. Without the feet it readily slides around and even just the stiffness of the included cables can unsettle things.

When it comes to sound signature I found the hip-dac to have a mostly uncoloured presentation. There is a hint of warmth, but the major characterization to my ears was that it had a slightly lean, very detailed sound to it. Everything sounds very accurate, precise, and well-controlled with notes attacking and decaying quickly. Already lean sounding earphones like the Echobox Finder or Nomad can sound a bit too thin through the hip-dac, especially in the mids where vocals to weight and density, but for thicker and/or more neutral earphones it is a wonderful pairing; ex. Shozy Form 1.4 and ADV Model 3 BA2. Extension at either end doesn't seem to be lacking at all, while texturing throughout is also fantastic. Most importantly, the hip-dac sounds quite refined, especially when compared to more affordable options like the Auglamour GR-1 and Walnut F1. Next to Earmen's TR-Amp I found them equally slick but with slightly different signatures; TR-Amp warmer and more analogue, hip-dac cooler and more analytic.

Bass boost functions are usually little more than a quick distraction from the listening experience for me since they rarely boost areas that end up being beneficial. XBass on the hip-dac ended up being a godsend for a couple different products; TinHifi P1 and Audio AF1120 MKII. Neither of these earphones have a particularly robust low end in stock form. They have decent extension, but the emphasis just isn't there which left me wanting with bass-heavy genres. The hip-dac's XBass feature completely rectified this, adding back the missing low end from these two products. It was especially welcome with the P1 as it rounded out that earphone's bright, analytic sound allowing it to be much more versatile. The P1's planar driver can actually pump out some pretty wicked bass, it just needs a big push to get there.

When it comes to driving power, the hip-dac should be good enough for most anything thrown at it. You've got a standard 3.5mm out and a 4.4mm balanced out, with the PowerMatch gain switch to bump up output if needed. For regular iems I could listen comfortably with nary a twist of the volume knob. With the gain increased the hip-dac could pretty easily get even something as demanding as the Hifiman Susvara up to volume. For more likely candidates, such as a Meze 99 Neo, or Hifiman Sundara, the hip-dac was be a killer pairing providing plenty of volume and satisfying dynamics that really allowed these headphones to flex what they could do.

P1060308.JPGP1060311.JPGP1060401.JPG

Build And Battery The hip-dac is well-constructed with all-metal shell using anodized aluminum. The blue paint job and pebbled texturing looks fantastic, should be durable, and gives you something convincing to grip. All the dials and buttons feel solid and stable with smooth operation and definitive clicks when pressed. The volume knob in particular is a standout since it doesn't extend past the edges of the case which means it can be used while the device is laying flat on a surface, and is knurled providing plenty of grip for single finger use. I must note that out of the box there was no low volume imbalance which is quite common for this style of switch. However, after being used for a few days this quirk did rear it's head, though at volumes low enough to avoid affecting the listening experience. Overall fit and finish is quite good, minus one aspect. My only qualm is that the edges of the casing surrounding the plastic from and rear plate is quite rough/sharp. I accidentally sheared off a bit of skin on the back of my hand sticking it in my pocket with the device. If iFi could round off or taper those edges, that would be a welcome change.

On the front of the device front left to right (or right to left if you decide to orient it the other way) you find buttons for Power Match (impedance selector with a cool name) and Xbass and small LEDs for each to indicate when they are one. The volume/power dial is next up surrounded on either side by u-shaped LED lights that highlight the audio format in use.
  • Green – 44/48/88/96kHz
  • Yellow – 176/192kHz DXD352/384kHz
  • Cyan – DSD128/DSD64 2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2MHz
  • Blue – DSD256 11.2/12.2MHz
  • Magenta – MQA
You also find a 4.4mm balanced out, and a 3.5mm output with iFi's S-Balanced feature. This feature is intended to provide the noise reducing benefits of going balanced, but in a regular 3.5mm jack. Flipping around to the back you've got a female Type-A port on the left and to the right a Type-C port used exclusively for charging, under which sits a teensy led that notifies you of the battery's status.
  • White >75%
  • Green > 25%
  • Red > 10%
  • Red (flashing) >/= 10%
  • (led also flashes when charging)
The hip-dac is rated for up to 12 hours of use but even at the low volumes at which I listen and with less than demanding products being powered, was getting closer to 10 on most charges. While getting closer to the rated life would be ideal, what I was seeing was enough for regular, daily use and I never found myself wanting for more.

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In The Box The hip-dac's packaging is basic and functional, made from somewhat flimsy white cardboard. It does only what a package needs to do without much in the way of frills. On the front is an image of the device with the brand name and model, along with a big Hi-Res sticker. The only embellishments are a neat raised triangular pattern in the top left and bottom right corners. On the left of the box is a profile shot of the hip-dac, while the right poses a few highlight features; Xbass, balanced out, MQA hi-res audio streaming support, and a Burr-Brown chipset. Flipping to the back is a brief product description noting features like a 12 hour battery life, as well as images of the front and back of the device. Beneath those images is a complete specification list. Cutting the security seal and lifting back the top flap reveals a dense cardboard insert, countering the flimsy exterior and protecting the device and accessories within. In all you get:
  • iFi hip-dac
  • Blue USB-A (female) to USB-A (male)
  • Cloth coated USB-A (female) USB-C (male)
  • Black USB-A (male) to USB-C (male) [charging cable]
  • User guide card
  • Four rubber feet (uninstalled)
  • Warranty information card
Overall a very good unboxing experience. One area the hip-dap one-ups the competition, like the Radsone HUD100 and Earmen TR-Amp, is in the included cables. Whereas those two devices lack the ability to connect to Type-C output devices out of the box and require adapters, the hip-dac absolutely does. This enables you to use it with the portable devices it was intended to be paired with, right away. Big points earned with that.

Final Thoughts Like the Pro iCAN before it, the hip-dac left a mark on my memory and is something I'll be looking to pick up in the future pending I have the available funds. And that is despite the issues my review sample had. I'm the only one I've read of that experienced a failure, so when it comes to durability I remain hopeful the hip-dac is a reliable device and my experience was a one off.

It's a wonderful device to use thanks to an attractive, easy to use design with features that are not gimmicky. XBass completely revivified the TinHifi P1 by fleshing out the low end. The PowerMatch switch enables the hip-dac to comfortably power headphones that otherwise wouldn't be feasible. You have a ton of support for high quality music files, including DSD and Tidal's MQA format. The battery life is decent, the sound output is clean, and in general there really isn't much to complain about. The hip-dac is a good device that is well worth consideration.

Thanks for reading!

- B9

Disclaimer Thanks to Lawrance for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing another iFi product, and for arranging a loaner sample for review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on just over a month using the hip-dac. They do not represent iFi or any other entity. At the time of writing the hip-dac retailed for around 150 USD: https://ifi-audio.com/products/hip-dac/

Specifications

specs.jpg
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keunhuvac
keunhuvac
Hi, any suggestion if pair this dac with akg n40?
Pros: Excellent build quality
3.5 and 4.4mm connections
Easy to use
Wonderful sound quality
Value for money
Cons: For portable the form factor is not ideal compared to the Dragonfly range.
Firstly many thanks to IFI-Audio for the opportunity to sample and review the Hip-Dac.

Unboxing and contents

The Hip-Dac comes in a nice little box that is quite minimalist in it's packing (not sure about retail version), no little wasteful plastic bags for cables etc. The demo version came with a couple of usb cables to connect to smartphone and a usb input for connecting to PC/Mac.
Build quality is very good. No movement or wiggle on the headphone sockets. Volume pot is sturdy with good smooth movement, would have been nice to have had a volume marker but not a massive issue.

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Tracks and gear used.

To get an idea of the Hip-Dac's capabilities I used my Sennheiser 660s with it's 4.4mm balanced cable. I also used the Etymotic er4sr, IMR RAH and couple of sets of earbuds.

I also compared it to my IFI-Audio Black Label Micro Idsd. This is a bit of an unfair comparison due to spec and price difference however I feel it gives an idea of where the Hip-Dac sits. I did some comparison to the Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt, however this was very brief as I received this the day I was sending the Hip-Dac back to Ifi-Audio. As well as these I have also included some thoughts in comparison to the TOTL Fiio M15 DAP

I tend to use a certain mixture of tracks when I'm trying out new audio gear, these are usually a mixture of flac files and a few higher resolution files from Qobus.

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Tracks

David Bowie - Starman and Rock and Roll Suicide
The Smiths - Well I Wonder and I Know It's Over
British Sea Power - Bear
The Wedding Present - Bewitched and Kennedy
Mogwai - Mogwai Fear Satan and Don't Believe the Fife
New Order - Elegia and Your Silent Face

These tracks are chosen for various reasons, that for me cover all aspects of what I want to hear done well from a set of earphones, DAP or in this case a DAC/AMP.



Sound

The first thing I noticed with the Hip-dac is that it has a really nice clear crisp sound signature to these 49 year old ears. There isn't any added colouration to the sound, it presents as fairly neutral across the spectrum.

Bowie's Starman is a track I often choose when trying new kit as the first minute of the song provides a good test of depth and separation for new earphones or source.
The Hip-Dac had no issue here and when the first drum beat kicks in the separation and movement between the left and right was as I believe it should be. For example when using a smartphone the detail in separation is not of the same standard and often blends into one. The acoustic guitar in the first bars of the track are also well defined and have a really clear sound.

In comparison the Idsd Black Micro adds a bit more of everything to the equation, a little more detail on the track and a real kick to the bass drum when it kicks in, however at £600 compared to the £150 of the Hip-Dac this is to expected.

The thing that impressed me when listening and switching between the two units is how close the sound signature is between the two, I don't know if IFI are using the same DAC or a very similar version but the Hip-Dac definitely shares some of the same sonic qualities as it's big brother.

Kennedy by The Wedding Present is a track from the early nineties with what I would call a closing 1 minute 30 seconds of fast jingly jangly guitar riffs, it's a track that has no special deep bass line or drum sounds to pick out of the mix, it's just a lovely bit of fast British indie music. The Hip-Dac again does a sterling job with the track, it doesn't add anything to the mix in terms of increasing the treble response or being weighted towards the mids. It's accurate, crisp and overall musical. When paired with the Etymotic er4sr the guitars have a really nice crunch to them.

I could go on about each track I tried but to be honest there is no need for two reasons, 1 - I'm not as gifted as some at being able to describe the finer details in technical terms and secondly the Hip-Dac sounded stunning with every track I used and it had no issue in driving any of the earphones or headphones/earbuds that I tried with it.

Brief Comparisons

As mentioned I also own the IFI Black Label Micro, this is stunning piece of audio hardware and has been one of my best buys over the years. The sound quality it produces form the dual Burr-Brown dacs is excellent and the power it provides comfortably drives my collection of head and earphones.
The Hip-Dac in comparison as can be seen in the picture is less than half the size but despite this size difference it does a very good job of competing with it it's older stablemate.

Don't get me wrong the Black Label Micro is the better piece of audio hardware but I'd say the rule of diminishing returns plays a part here. If your looking for a solution to pair with just a laptop or smartphone and don't need the power in reserve the Micro gives, then the Hip-Dac will fit the bill.

The Hip-Dac shares the same signature sound, the main difference to me is that the Micro just does everything a bit better, a little more detail in the music, more headroom when listening to harder to drive headphones/earphones and more depth to the bass response.

Listening to my Sennheiser 660s through the 4.4mm balanced was very good, it drove them with no issue, I'd say the main difference was that the Micro just gives more depth feels like it drives them easier at lower volumes.

I also briefly compared to the Fiio M15 which is a little unfair as the Fiio is £1300 compared £150, again though the Hip-Dac competes well. Different sound signature and less power than the Fiio however it doesn't shame itself up against such a highly priced DAP. Similar to the Black label micro, the Fiio M15 just has a bit more of everything but you would expect that with the price difference.

Lastly I briefly compared to the Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt. Both are very good at what they do, the Cobalt has plenty of power to drive the same earphones that I used with the Hip-Dac, the Cobalt to my ears has a slightly warmer presentation with a little more emphasis on the bass response however I would say the mids on the Hip-Dac are more fluid, the highs are very similar.

In all testing I only used my Samsung S20 Ultra with the USB OTG cable, no issues at all. I used the USB Audio Player Pro App which worked as it should with the Hip-Dac.
I only briefly tried the bass boost which does what it says, it's not an option I use on equipment. The Power Match also worked well, giving the Hip-Dac that little extra power if it needs it.

Final Thoughts

The Hip-Dac is a stunning DAC/AMP at a stunning price, I've heard similar products at twice the price that are not as good as the Hip-Dac.

Would I buy it?

Well if I didn't already own the Black Label Micro and the Cobalt then I would. The Cobalt is not better musically but where I do prefer it is in it's form factor. I often lie in bed with either DAP for music when reading or smartphone for watching a movie or music. The Cobalt is just easier due to its smaller size for this use. I know that sounds a bit shallow but thats the reality for me. I use the Black Label with my Mac, it never unplugs from that. If I didn't own that then I would probably plump for the Hip-Dac, it really is that good.
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Jawis
Jawis
Hi, thanks for the review.
I too have the Rah. Apologies if you have made a sound impression about it with the Hip as I wasn't able to find it.
I was just wondering what filter combo you are using and how you thought it sounded with the Hip?
I have been thinking more about the ifi for the use with the P1 and Pioneer XDP-30R. In this combo with balance I think it just needs a little extra push. I think the Ifi might just do it.
Still interested to know how things were combined with the Rah.

Cheers,

Wai
Pros: Stylish and Comfortable, Brilliant sound, Easy to use, Good bang for buck
Cons: Would have been nice to have small built in rubber feet, Volume marker on dial would have been nice.
Ifi Hip Dac Review By Ben Killeen.





Initial first impressions/unboxing:


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Box presentation is simple but informative, nicely illustrated.



Device is well packaged and secure.

Included in the box with the device are 3 cables (1 blue computer male to female USB A cable, 1 black female USB A to male USB C, 1 black male USB A to male USB C).

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The device itself is a nice smooth matt finish.

Good weight and comfortable in the hand, feels solid and well built.
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On the bottom is the USB C charging port with a small LED charge light above it, and an audio input male USB A port.

On the top of the device is the 3.5 mm headphone output, 4.4 mm balanced headphone output, Xbass (referred to in this review as bass boost) button, power match button and copper volume dial.

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Ports seem strong and well fixed in place, buttons are nice and clicky with good feedback and the volume dial has a nice power on click and smooth rotation.



The design and feel of the product is very good given the price point.











Different headphones/earphones:



Headphone: Denon ah D5200



Macbook Pro 2011 with Hip Dac

Brilliant soundstage, open and great separation between instruments/vocals.

Clear detailed mids and highs.

Vocals really pop, energetic and lively soundstage.

Bass boost works well on most songs with these Headphones.



Macbook Pro 2011 without Hip Dac

Smaller soundstage, feels like being in a tunnel after the Hip Dac.

Vocals aren’t as clear or defined.

Highs don’t sparkle, less energetic and less separation.







Headphone: Sony WH-700N (modded)



Macbook Pro 2011 with Hip Dac

Bass boost gets very muddy here, not distorted but does loose some detail.

Boost off, bass is nice and deep with a lively feel to it.

Soundstage opens up nicely with more separation, energetic and engaging, vocals really pop.



Macbook Pro 2011 (cable) without Hip Dac

Bass presence lost and less detailed, it’s there but it just lacks anything.

Vocals less detail, not as energetic nor do they pop or sparkle.

Soundstage is tighter, less open.

Overall sounds more veiled and less engaging.







Earphone: RHA T20i – Reference filter



Macbook Pro 2011 with Hip Dac

Not a huge difference over the MacBook.

Bass boost is a mess when used, sounds better with power match off too.

A little cleaner sounding soundstage, but it’s marginal at best.

Slightly harsh treble at higher volumes.



Macbook Pro 2011 without Hip Dac

Needs a lot of volume for decent listening quality.

Maybe slightly veiled, hard to tell.







Earphone: Sony MDR-NC750



Macbook Pro 2011 with Hip Dac

Not a massive difference here, overall soundstage is a bit cleaner, clearer.

Details are a bit better defined.

Bass boost is overkill and not worth using here.



Macbook Pro 2011 without Hip Dac

Bass is a little less defined.

Needs a lot more volume to get a nice listening level with detail.

Treble feels harsher and less defined, slightly veiled overall sound.







Verdict:



For the price it is a very nice device.

Audio quality is awesome, very clean and energetic sound with great separation.

Personally I don’t feel the need for bass boost, it can be a bit hit or miss depending on the track or headphones used.



Compared to the iDsd Nano or if you don’t have anything other than your phone or laptop, I would highly recommend the Hip Dac as your stand alone device or even as a portable device to go along side a decent home sound system.



I would have liked it to have a couple of things that the iDsd Nano has, for example: the small rubber feet already fitted VS massive sticker alternatives, a volume mark on the volume dial would also be nice, maybe add the same black rubber bands into the box for strapping it to an audio device (it is supposed to be a pocket amp).



I found my earphones (cheap and higher end) didn’t improve as much using the Hip Dac, over the Macbook with out it compared to my headphones.

Biggest improvement was with my best headphones, so the Hip Dac seems to scale well with better equipment.



Definitely an improvement with all earphones/headphones when compared to using my phone without the Hip Dac.



Over all a very good device for the price!



I would give Hip Dac a 4.8/5









Comparing the Ifi Hip Dac with Ifi iDsd Nano

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(Both are at a similar price point)



Hip Dac has a better cable selection, it comes bundled with a shorter blue computer cable vs the iDsd Nano.

The iDsd Nano also doesn’t come with any USB C cables for phone connection compared to the Hip Dac.

Though the blue computer cable that comes with the iDsd Nano, doesn’t fit the Hip Dac due to the Hip Dac's port size being smaller.



They both feel about the same weight, but due to its shape the Hip Dac feels better in the hand.

Hip Dac doesn’t have rubber feet (stick on feet included in the box, feels like an after thought) built into it, so will become scratched left on a desk.

The iDsd Nano has more port selections, but they are all 3.5 mm, it also lacks the USB C for charging.

This makes the Hip Dac feel more a portable pocket device (hence its name) vs the iDsd Nano feeling like a portable desk device.



The Hip Dacs volume dial will touch the table though if left upside down on a surface. It is very slightly off center.
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The iDsd Nano also has a mark on its volume dial to indicate volume level, Hip Dac doesn't have this.

iDsd Nano lacks the bass boost button that the Hip Dac has.

Both devices have a balanced headphone output, but they are implemented differently, 3.5 mm vs 4.4 mm.

The Hip Dac has a power match button compared to the iDsd Nano having a separate 3.5mm headphone output for the same function.



Over all i feel the Hip Dac is a more refined device over the iDsd Nano





Songs tested with:







Artist: Mr Big – Superfantastic



iDsd Nano

Bass:

Good depth and adds a bit of warmth that the song needs, like adding a bit of pepper to a steak.



Mids:

Backing guitars and vocals have good separation and nice detail.

Added warmth gives a smooth presentation.



Treble:

Good detail, doesn’t pop out to much and allows the higher vocals to ring without hurting.





Hip Dac

Bass:

Clean but lacking presence, creating a cold sounding song.

Bass boost brings the presence and makes the song easier to listen to, but it adds a little distortion.



Mids:

Clean and energetic, but also feels cold and surgical in its presentation.



Treble:

To sharp and over detailed to the point of hurting, especially to the high vocals.





iDsd Nano = 4.2/5

Hip Dac = 4/5







Artist: Sting – English Man In New York



iDsd Nano

Bass:

Good presence, not as tight but still clean.

Nicer bass than the Hip Dacs standard, but not as nice VS bass boost.



Mids:

Smooth sound, but not as detailed. Feels there is a little less open soundstage and less separation.



Treble:

Not as sparkly or detailed, details are still there but they don’t pop or sparkle the same.





Hip Dac

Bass:

Clean, not over powering with nice definition.

Has just about enough presence.

Bass boost adds much better bass presence, doesn’t distort here and keeps a nice clean and tight bass.



Mids:

Brilliant clarity with vocals, lovely details and separation.

Really opens up the soundstage.



Treble:

Snares are well detailed and sparkly without ever feeling harsh.

Lovely spacious sound.



SIDE NOTE: This song works very well with bass boost!



iDsd Nano = 4/5

Hip Dac = 5/5







Artist: Stone Sour – Through Glass



iDsd Nano

Bass:

The added warmth works well with this song, nice detail and depth.

Works as a better balance between the two options from Hip Dacs bass.



Mids:

Nice detail on guitar strings and vocals, but lacks the same separation.

Sounds a bit messy overall with its soundstage.



Treble:

Nice extension on the guitar chords, not as lively and details seem lost due to lack of separation.





Hip Dac

Bass:

A little light but detailed.

Bass boost works well and adds some warmth and weight that this song needs, doesn’t distort either.



Mids:

Well detailed, lovely separation between vocals and guitar, great soundstage.



Treble:

Detailed and energetic, makes for a lively engaging song.

Never harsh or fatiguing.



iDsd Nano = 4/5

Hip Dac = 4.5/5





Artist: The Cure – Lullaby – Extended Mix



iDsd Nano

Bass:

More presence, but not as defined or detailed.

The sound of the bass guitar doesn’t have the same string rattle.

Gives a warmer sound over all.



Mids:

Vocals sound good but with a little less clarity.

Sound feels tighter/less spacious.

Guitars fall into the background more, less energetic.

Still clear and detailed.



Treble:

Can hear all the nice triangle details but they don’t pop out as much and sound less energetic.

Can feel a little harsh after a while.





Hip Dac

Bass:

Boost off it’s a lovely balanced sound, clear and clean bass that’s just about enough.

Boost on, no distortion with this song, you can really feel the kick drum kicking your ear drum.

But once the bass guitar starts, it becomes a bit to bloated.



Mids:

Clarity of the vocals and the sense of spaciousness are excellent, guitars and percussion sound lively and adds an energised feel to the song.



Treble:

Brilliant detail, little sounds pop out from the background.

Can clearly hear the triangles and snare brush, never feels harsh.





iDsd Nano = 4.5/5

Hip Dac = 5/5









Thoughts:



Hip Dac


Flatter frequency response range VS iDsd Nano, less present bass but tighter, more detailed.

Overall has a more open and detailed soundstage with great separation.

Bass boost works ok with some songs but on average adds distortion ( depending on your Headphones).

Sound is clean and detailed, though sometimes a little cold and clinical in comparison to the iDsd Nano.

Works with a much broader genre of music in comparison.





pail
pail
Hi, so you prefer the sound of the Hip-Dac to the Nano ? oh another question, isn't the Nano more powerful than the Hip-Dac ? cheers
audiomonkey777
audiomonkey777
interesting! I had a much loved nano BL for years, sadly lost now. I'm looking for a replacement. Looks like the hip-dac is going to be the one.
Old1Eye
Old1Eye
Yes I do prefer the hip DAC to the nano, I would buy the hip DAC if I didn't already have the nano.
It's not a huge difference, but it's definitely a cleaner and more energetic sound
Pros: Balanced and S-balanced outputs
Transparent nature of sound
Small form factor
Build quality
Value for money
Cons: None
Many thanks to Ifi Audio for the opportunity to review this unit as part of a tour.

Unboxing and Contents
The hip-dac (HD) comes in an understated but tasteful little box which is about the size of a small multipack box of cereal. The shape echoes a hip flask (hence the name). The HD itself is about the same width as my Oneplus 6 (OP6) and ⅔rds the length. I can strap it to my OP6 but the volume knob just obscures the fingerprint sensor on the back. Inside the box are a slim manual and various cables - a USB A-C OTG cable, male USB A-C and male to female USB A. 4 embossed adhesive rubber feet are also included - a nice touch.

IMG_20200412_172147.jpg


Design
The body is a cool shade of metallic deep ocean blue. This matches very nicely with my universal Encores. It is a little slippery but these things always are. On the back are the type C charging and male type A input ports. There is an error in the manual: there is no facility for USB power, unfortunately. The HD is internal battery powered only. The manual also states to power on the HD before connecting to a phone to prevent phone battery drainage. Charging from flat takes about 3 hours, as indicated by the charging LED. This is below the USB C port and impossible to see when a cable is plugged in. It should be above it!

IMG_20200412_172343_Bokeh.jpg


IMG_20200412_172245_Bokeh.jpg


There are 2 buttons on the front fascia - one for Powermatch (allowing the HD to match impedance and sensitivity) and XBass. Powermatch is recommended for headphones. It made my IEMs louder but increased the volume pot sensitivity, making it harder to control. I didn’t feel that it changed the sound itself. Xbass switches in an analogue circuit that adds a low shelf filter in the sub bass and bass bands. This worked really well with my neutral Encores. I didn’t bother with the Tux5 as it has plenty of intrinsic low end response.

The volume pot has a pleasing, weighty feel to it but for me had a very sensitive spot around 11 o’clock that jumped from comfortable to loud with only a tiny adjustment. Surrounding the volume knob are 2 LEDs which indicate the audio format according to frequency. I used MP3, FLAC and DSD256.

There are 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended outputs. The latter incorporates Ifi’s S-balance technology, which allows for a balanced signal through conventional unbalanced 3.5mm cables: “A dedicated negative wire per channel all the way to each channel’s amplifier’s star-ground makes sure there is no crosstalk between the channels. This also reduces the noise and distortion inherent in a traditional balanced setup.”

Hardware
OnePlus 6 with Neutron player
iBasso DX220, AMP8EX, Neutron via Android
Noble Encore, Noble Tux5 with 4.4mm Electro Acousti hybrid 8W, Noble copper 8W cables. 3.5mm-4.4mm 8W adaptor.

AMP8EX
I used Neutron via Android to access the transport aspect of the DX228 but there were pops and clicks throughout track playback with occasional timing distortion. I gather that this is a known issue with the DX220. What I could hear felt a little more resolved but there is probably some inherent selection bias on my part. The DX220 wasn’t really designed for this anyway, I just wanted to see if it worked.

Oneplus 6
The Encore and Tux5 are sensitive IEMs; using a 4.4mm balanced cable there is a moderate and mild amount of waterfall hiss respectively when there is no playback. This disappears when a track is played but reappears in quiet sections of any given track. When using the S-balance socket and a 3.5-4.4mm adaptor the noise disappeared. I preferred the S-balance mode as there was less background noise and distortion. The technology works!

The HD itself sounds transparent: I don’t get any particular colouration or timbre change with either IEM (apart from the Xbass with the Encore). This is what one wants, right? I heard greater separation, resolution and control regardless of music input.

Conclusion
The hip-dac is a great little device that is a perfect addition to a smartphone transport. The wide selection of audio formats, outputs and understated but high quality design are huge plus points. This is a prime contender if you want to take a large step forward in audio appreciation without having to buy a separate DAP.
Last edited:
Pros: Great Build quality, DSD and MQA support, easy setup, good sound
Cons: slightly warm, usb input only, mild hiss with ultra-sensitive in-ears.
ifi-Hip-dac-shot4.JPG
Disclaimer: I own, use, and have reviewed quite a few iFi products and am a fan of several of them. In this case, the Hip DAC was sent to me as part of a review tour so it wasn't a freebie from iFi, and my impressions are limited to 10 days use and I cannot speak to the longevity of the device. I've done my best to compare it to the other generations of iFi products I have in house and a few competitors, but with the limited time, A/B compares are somewhat minimal. I'd like to thank Lawrence and iFi Audio for giving me the opportunity to put the Hip DAC through its paces. If you have an interest in the Hip DAC or other iFi products please see their website for more details.



Unboxing:

The Hip DAC comes in a white box with image of the device on the front and specs on the rear. Opening the top flap reveals a press board tray with the device itself protected in plastic and the provided cables beneath it. Cables include an short USB type C cable, a male to female full sized type A, and a type C OTG to female connector to allow direct connection from a phone to the device. No carrying case or other items are provided in the kit, so it is on the minimalist side, but at the $150 price point perhaps it is best that the money is spent on internals rather than fancy covers.

ifi-Hip-dac-box_front.JPGifi-Hip-dac-box-rear.JPGifi-Hip-dac-box-side.JPGifi-Hip-dac-kit1.JPG


Build:

The hip dac is a very solid device in hand with all metal construction. Those familiar with the X series products will recognize the form factor as the Hip is roughly the same height and width but slightly thinner by comparison. For those unfamiliar, the hip dac is slightly wider than a deck of playing cards and roughly as tall and as thick. The hip dac also foregoes the polished metal housing of the X series in favor of anodized aluminum which is both durable and less expensive again allowing for more of your dollar to go to internals. The front, from left to right, has a single ended 3.5mm output (that also supports x-balanced), a 4.4mm balanced output, a brass volume control (with LEDs on either side to indicate power on/off and input format), the xBass control and led indicator, and lastly the gain control (power match) and led indicator. The rear panel is a bit less busy with a full sized recessed male USB type A connection for data only as is in common use on ifi products, and a USB type-C female for charging only and an LED indicator for battery status. Its a tidy package with little wasted space.
ifi-Hip-dac-front.JPGifi-Hip-dac-rear.JPGifi-Hip-dac-side.JPG



Internals:

The heart of the Hip DAC is the Burr Brown DSD1793 chip which handles decoding duties and supports native DSD256 (even on mac w/ the right driver), PCM and DXD up to 384kHz, and MQA. Output is then handled by proprietary quad J-Fet OV4627A operational amplifiers and dual-mono power amp IC headphone drivers. The big thing of course if dual-mono design for true balanced output in a device in this class. The Hip DAC shares a lot with its desktop Zen cousins, and more than a little DNA with the Pro iDSD as well. Output power is quite respectable at 400mW@32Ω using the 4.4 balanced connector or 280mW@32Ω using the 3.5 connector. Finally a 2200 mAh lithium polymer battery provides the power for all this and easily supported an 8 hour workday with power to spare in my testing. For more information on the Burr Brown Chip, see TI's build sheet. Also the Tech note for the Hip Dac is a good read if you want more technical detail than provided here.

hip dac internals 2.jpghip-dac Internals1.jpg


Controls/Features:

Controls on the Hip DAC are very straight forward, the volume knob doubles as the on/off switch. The other two controls are push button on/off switches for xBass and what iFi calls Power Match that most of us know as gain. These two are either on or off rather than being tiered like some others. The Power match, per iFi is best left off for sensitive iems and turned on when paired with more power hungry over-ears. I found that low impedance, high-sensitivity cans like the Grado Sr60 did fine with power match off, but once you moved up into the 150Ω range, the added boost provided by enabling Power Match was helpful in having some extra headroom. I've spoken to xBass before, I am generally not a fan of any form of artificial bass boost as far too often it vastly over-emphasizes the bass and works on way too wide a band so everything comes out poorly defined and sloppy. xBass is admittedly better than most and does a better job of enhancing only where it needs it. It is one of a very few bass controls that I actually think serves a useful purpose at times. That isnt to say I'd turn it on and leave it on, but it is worth an experiment or two for those of you who cant seem to get enough bass out of your favorite can or in-ear. I've included the user guide below as it includes the meaning of the LEDs for power and format and it seems a bit silly to rehash all of that rather than just borrow their version.

ifi-hip-dac-manual.jpg



Sound:

Since the Hip DAC's forte is portable use, I did most of my sound notes using either a phone or the Hidizs AP80 as the source, and my Eartech quints as the earphones. I did take turns using both the single ended and balanced outputs to be sure I caught any changes in signature between the two, and also used a couple of full sized cans including the HD700 and Campfire Cascade as these represent the kind of headphones most likely to be paired to the Hip DAC. In testing various other things to see just how far it could be pushed in either direction, I did find that the noise floor even with the gain on low is audible on super sensitive iems like the Magaosi K5. If you are planning on using something with an unusually high sensitivity (110db range), I'd recommend you audition this before purchase to make sure hiss wont be a problem. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the He6 that has the sensitivity of a rock, and the Beyer 990 600Ω with good sensitivity but an impedance from... Neither of these are a good fit as sound is compressed, bass is anemic, and overall either of these headphones tax the Hip DAC well beyond its comfort zone.

Staying somewhere between those extremes, yields best results and gives a signature that is slightly warm signature. Detail is quite good and to my ear on par with the xDSD which is saying a good bit. I do think that the Hip DAC has a very slight warmth particularly evident in the lower mids that keeps it from being absolutely neutral, but certainly not enough to distract during listening and not enough to detract unless using a headphone that is already bordering on excessively warm. On the opposite end, things that tend to sound slightly cool benefit greatly from that and a few in-ears that I found a bit dull are actually greatly improved due to that very mild coloration. I think many will prefer the iFi house sound as I have come to regard it over an absolute neutral for that reason.



Comparisons


vs xDSD - There is some heritage here as the Hip DAC is arguably a direct descendant of the xDSD. Outwardly, I think one can argue that is true, inwardly it is probably a bit more closely related to the Zen, but they all share some common ancestors. The xDSD is a bit more versatile with bluetooth and optical input options, higher end file format support (for the few who need 768kHz), and arguably a bit more power. Both share the same battery with the Hip DAC conserving it a bit better and the xDSD using it to power those additional features. The xDSD also has the 3D+ function that was not incorporated in the Hip DAC. Both suffer from a bit of hiss when combined with extremely sensitive in-ears, and both have roughly the same upper limit on output power. For those who will use the Hip DAC with typical 24/96 flac or 128DSD files via a USB type-C interface from a phone or tablet, it can be thought of as the xDSD with all the unnecessary removed and improved battery life in the trade off. For those that need the additional inputs or crave the 3d+, the xDSD remains the operative choice.

Hip_vs_xdsd_front.JPGhip_vs_xdsd_rear.JPG


vs Xduoo XD-05+ - The Hip DAC is much more portable than the XD-05+ as it is a bit under 1/2 the size of it, but it trades power for size with the XD-05 being able to easily drive some of the headphones that caused the Hip DAC to struggle. Again, input options are more versatile on the XD-05+, and some will appreciate the option to swap op-amps to tailor the sound or the exposure of the DAC filters to do the same. Others will find the XD-05+ cumbersome and over-complicated as it is easy to hit the input switch on the side while carrying in a pocket and all at once your music is gone. Here we have another battle of features vs simplicity and the end users desires will ultimately determine which is a better option. Sound wise both are very good so the user doesn't lose either way in that department.
Hip_vs_xd05_front.JPGHip_vs_xd05_rear.JPGHip_vs_xd05_top.JPG


vs Earmen TR-amp - Here we have a bit more of a fair fight. The TR-amp like the Hip DAC is USB only, offers both a charging port and a separate data port. The TR-amp adds a pair of RCA pre-outs, disposes of the gain and bass controls, and adds a fixed vs volume adjustable switch for the pre-outs. The TR is similar in width and length, but nearly 3 times the height of the Hip DAC and weighs a bit more as well. Sound wise both are musical and slightly warm with good detail retrieval. Power is slightly better on the TR-amp, while battery life favors the Hip DAC albeit not by a huge margin. For pocket carry, I'd choose the Hip DAC as it is more convienent, for on the desk use, the pre-out is handy if you want to use a powered monitor, but otherwise the two are feature matched pretty well, and the TR is $100 more. You have to want the pre-out pretty badly, or need that additional power to justify the cost difference.

Hip_vs_TR_front.JPGHip_vs_TR_rear.JPGHip_vs_TR_top.JPG


Conclusion
I've been accused of being an iFi fanboi a time or two, and I will admit that most of the products I have tested from iFi have fared well. I'd like to think that was more a matter of solid products at realistic price points than some predisposition to the brand on my part. Having said that, the Hip DAC isn't going to change that pattern. It's well made, sounds good, and offers good value for the price. It is kind of a one trick pony with its single USB input, but that is a pretty common usage scenario, so if you are going to pick a single input type, that is the one to choose (especially in the portable market). I do wish the noise floor were a bit lower as I suspect a few people with really sensitive in-ears will find a bit of hiss even on low gain, but again those with flagship in-ears are not really the target audience here. The Hip DAC is aimed squarely at those who want better sound out of their phone or computer without spending a fortune in the process and with a minimum of fuss to get it setup and working. It accomplishes that quite handily and will make a good laptop and phone companion for a lot of new audio enthusiasts. We should probably consider the Hip DAC as the gateway drug to things like the Pro iDSD as it will introduce many to higher quality audio and introduce the iFi name in the process. As for me, the addiction continues.
pail
pail
One thing turns me off, This is not portable why a battery ? if I want portable I take something like a Drangonfly.
Wiljen
Wiljen
Someyoungguy - yes the Hip dac has a very similar tonality to xDSD but lacks the other input options and some power comparatively.
Pail - to each his own but its plenty small enough for portable use for me. Its still smaller than the phone it is likely tethered too which is kind of where I draw that line.
pail
pail
Yep I might be not right, looks like when those DAC have a battery they can drive big impedance headphones (iFI xCAN can drive 600 Ohms HP !), this is a big plus for me. Cheers
Pros: Dynamic amplification. Technical term BALLZY.
Detail retrieval, separation, black background, bass boost, and value off the charts.
Cons: No eq.
No ios cable in the box yet.
iFi Hip Dac Tour Review

A little background: I happened to join the iFi Hip Dac product tour, because I wanted to learn more about iFi portable yet affordable amp. And I was able to listen to the Hip Dac over the course of a week with my various head gear. I also compared the Hip Dac to some of the other portable headphone amps that I had come across over the years. Specifically I compared Creative G5, Fiio Q1MKII, Fiio Q5, and Topping NX4. Some of the headphones I used were Audeze iSine10, Audeze Sine, Soul sl150, Polk Buckle, Spadger (HM5 clone), and Jade Audio EA3.

Short version:
This Hip Dac is something very special. It does one thing, usb to 3.5 single ended or 4.4 balance. The bass boost is the best. The power match works like a gain switch without the noise. The charge is through the usbc port and there is no noise. The other big USB port connects to transport, be it from Mac or PC (I used the Mac) or Android or iOS (this cable is only shown in the manual). Sound quality being the most important factor, Hip Dac is better than Topping NX4 by a lot, Fiio Q1MK2 balance by a margin, Fiio Q5 balance by a margin, and Creative G5 by a margin. By a margin could mean the size of the ocean if dynamic amplification is important to you. I highly recommend you listening to this Hip Dac amp.

Long version:
There is supposedly a new technology in the Hip Dac. And according to iFi press releases the digital audio processing is really fancy. Some how iFi took the best of the multibit and single bit processing technology and combined those attributes into the Hip Dac. So if I did the math, you get the high dynamics of multibit and the high resolution of the single bit. What my ears hear is something special. I hear enormous dynamics in the music and the details are incredible. The amp background is black. The separation is quite noticeable. Me likes. What can I say. Stuff like this makes me feel like the world is going in the right direction. And I didn’t even mention the price of admission.

What I didn’t do: (in my defense I had the Hip Dac for only one week)
I did not have a 4.4mm adapter to do balance. But I ordered one, will be arriving by boat. Anyway, I could hardly believe this thing could be better by much over single ended. I certainly didn’t need more power; granted I don’t have Argon’s. And I did not run otg to Android.

Spec as I saw it: Single ended power: 280mW@32 Ohm. Plenty. Balance gives you more: 400mW@32 Ohm.

What you can’t do with the Hip Dac:
It’s hard to believe I would go there, but the internals do not have op amp sockets to plug in something else. A real cavalier might install a socket, but for what. I don’t know. No inputs for analog, and I think this is because the way the digital audio processing works. And it seems the best way to keep signals clean is to keep it digital until the very last step, going to analog. Hip Dac has bass boost, a really good one at that, but not an equalizer to shape the spectral response. I really needed to pull back the mids on the Sine. The battery is removable via 2 pin connection, once the internals are pushed open, but iFi has not provided extra battery purchase option yet.
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Comparisons:
Hip Dac was compared to Fiio Q1MKII and Q5 from memory as I had participated in those product tours as well. Basically Hip Dac sounds better to my ears because of the dynamic amplification. However the Fiios do offer other flexibility with connections and use cases. But in my humble opinion sound quality over rules those other factors; mind you, the detail retrieval and clarity were equal subjectively. The Hip Dac is much better than the Topping NX4 in my opinion. Before I thought my NX4 was working fine. But now I wonder if there is something wrong with it. Hip Dac is playing mind tricks on me. Definitely Hip Dac has set a new standard in audio amplification quality. Lastly I compared Hip Dac to the Creative G5. The only real reason G5 can even be mentioned here is because of the SBX processing. With the built-in eq in the SBX feature, I was able to pull back the mids on the Sine. It is true the G5 can sound digitally artificial dsp sounding, but I only found that with the bright headphone like the Spadger. G5 also seems to have more power with the SBX than Hip Dac in single ended mode. But sound wise Hip Dac destroys G5 in every way. Hip Dac has better separation, blackness of background, detail retrieval, and last but not least more dynamic amplification.
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Spectral analysis:
I should have put this in the previous relevant section as I did not spend time analyzing the spectral response of the Hip Dac, beyond affirming that they’re all there: bass, mids, and highs.

Future cast:
I hope iFi does not rest on their laurels and continue to bring great innovations to us audio fans. And in the future please add an eq somewhere.

Headphones:
I will point out the special details that impressed me the most using the Hip Dac.
Previously Audeze Sine and iSine10 were on the same level of performance regarding the music that I listened to, some EDM. But now with having listened to the Hip Dac, I much prefer the Sine’s bass response over the iSine10. The open back nature of the iSine10 shows the lack of bass fullness that is there on the Sine. The Hip Dac really does the bass well. Also I found planar headphones offered a textural resolution and detail retrieval that I never heard before. Talk about scaling with better amp. Even the Jade Audio EA3 which is very sensitive did not deliver the textural resolution and detail. By the way the Hip Dac drives the EA3 with awesome power. I think it is the dynamic performance that is really making me notice. All of the other headphones sounded great with the Hip Dac. And I used the bass boost and the power matched all of the time. The battery life prolly do not benefit from that but sound sure does.
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Conclusion:
I think the Hip Dac is a real major major major major major break through in Audiophile community. But I have no budget to be an audiophile. However as soon as Amazon restocks the Hip Dac, even I can be able to afford the price of admission. This is really great. I meant that I could afford this thingy. The iFi Hip Dac is nothing less than a masterpiece with a knob. I unshamefully hype and recommend the Hip Dac to fellow music listeners. The Hip Dac is powerful, dynamic like you can’t believe, offers great detail retrieval and resolution, great separation, and background blackness unheard of at this price point.

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pail
pail
Hi, can you drive 300 Ohms headphones with it ? I agree with you, most important is quality of sound.
Y
Ynot1
Others have reviewed these with HD600 and they seemed satisfied.
pail
pail
Thank you
First, let me thank iFi for providing me a Hip-Dac for a few days to give it a whirl. I appreciate the opportunity!

I’ll provide my high level summary and thoughts up top, and then below – if you’re so inclined – I include more details about what I listened to, with some more detailed descriptions of certain tracks.

You'll probably notice my comments are largely qualitative in nature - I don't have the capabilities yet to be particularly technical in my language, and so I just stuck to language and concepts I'm comfortable with.

Overall, I found the Hip-Dac a joy to use. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to “up” their portable rig, and in particular given the $149 pricepoint. While I know it’s an overused phrase, I have to use it here – this thing punches SIGNIFICANTLY above its weight.

Pros: Smooth, warm sound signature, non-fatiguing, very engaging with a wide and enveloping soundstage, superb value for the money, and excellent build and form factor.

Cons: only con I could come up with was battery life; in my time using it, I could get 6-8 hours of battery life out of it. Note that the website says “up to 12 hours,” of course depending on the particulars (only reason I am scoring a 4.5 instead of 5)

Note that I didn’t use Xbass or PowerMatch in my listening – just didn’t think I needed each, so opted to not use either.

Lastly, I compared the Hip-Dac to my AQ Cobalt. In brief, I found the Hip-Dac to offer ~90% of what I could hear from the Cobalt sound-quality wise, of course at half the cost, which is an excellent ratio! In addition, one other way to think about this…as I mention below in the detail, had I been moving around (i.e., commuting or otherwise traveling), I am fairly certain I would not have picked up on the differences between the 2 DACs – the fact that I was in my office in a quiet setting enabled me to pick up super subtle differences between them. I’d keep that in mind, depending on how you intend to use this.
There are really only two reasons I could imagine one would choose the Cobalt over the Hip-Dac:
  1. While the Hip-Dac is ultra-portable, it’s hard to beat the “USB stick” form factor of the Cobalt, so if you need something super ultra small, you may prefer the Cobalt (or Black or Red, for that matter)
  2. The Cobalt is firmware-upgradable; while I don’t believe AQ has released any firmware upgrades for the Cobalt since launching. While it looks like iFi has firmware upgrades on it’s site, I’m not sure if the Hip-Dac itself is firmware upgradable

Here’s more detail for those interested:
IEM: EE Legend X (stock cable, Symbio W hybrid tips)
Source: Tidal via iPad (combo of streamed and downloaded tracks)
Environment: at my desk (i.e., not moving around; surroundings were very quiet)
Track list:
  • 9th Ave (Rodg, extended mix)
  • We Know (Boom Jinx, Soundprank, Katrine Stenbekk; Vintage & Morelli remix)
  • Tatooine (Larsson, Mind of One)
  • Vestido de Lunares (from Summer Sol II)
  • South of the Border (Ed Sheeran featuring Camila Cabello & Cardi B) masters
  • Bad Liar (Imagine Dragons) masters
  • Ink (Coldplay) masters
  • Better This Way (Jake Isaac) masters
Form factor: this is fantastic, truly lives up to the “hip dac” name – easily fits in your pants pocket, if that’s where you choose to place it; roughly the same height/width as a deck of cards, but thinner. Beautiful blue finish, and I love the copper rotary volume nob, which also couples as the power on/off nob (turning on/off with a very satisfying “click” – the same sort of satisfaction I get from the sound the front door on a well built German makes when you shut it). Feels very well built.

Xbass: Across the tracks I listened to, engaging the xbass wasn’t necessary, and in fact made the bass overwhelming. Keep in mind this is probably because of the combination of the genre of the tracks + my IEM; juicing the low frequencies just wasn’t needed in my opinion.

Power match: Similarly, I didn’t feel the need to engage power match; I tried it on all my tracks and concluded having it off was just fine, so no need to engage. This is consistent with the guidance in the manual included with the DAC (suggestion is to leave off with IEMs, but turn on for headphones).

Track details:

“We Know”
  • bass line at ~30” is one of my favorite opening bass lines; bass hits slightly heavier and deeper on the Cobalt, but very very good on the hip-dac
  • Times during the track when the high frequencies (for example, symbols and the like around 2’30” and 5’45” ) hit a bit harshly and overly bright; on the Cobalt, the harshness was a bit better controlled in my opinion

“Tatooine”: crescendo that peaks just after 3’ is extremely engaging and enveloping; with the Cobalt, I hear just a touch more crispness, with a bit more definition between instruments

“Vestido": bass rumble ~20” goes deep, yet stays tight and well-controlled throughout the track; I loved the background hand-clapping that starts ~1’45” – crisp and clear, yet undoubtedly in the background as it should be

“South of the Border”
  • hint of sibilance, but soundstage is immersive, felt totally enveloped by the sound, particularly during the duets
  • with Cobalt, at ~40 seconds, there’s some bass drum rumble, which I heard slightly more of with the hip-dac; felt that vocals were slightly better separated on the Cobalt
“Bad Liar”
  • crisp, clear finger snaps; drumline is taught, deep, impactful; in the opening few seconds, there’s a crackling sound in the background (intentional!) that adds texture to the track, and I noticed first on the hip-dac and then had to listen to the Cobalt again to see if it was as pronounced (it wasn’t – sounded superb on the Hip-Dac)
  • Crescendo to ~1’20” equally as impactful using either DAC
“Ink”
  • opening drum line is deep, tight, very impactful with a great rumble; additional instruments at ~12 seconds results in great separation – feel like I can hear each instrument clearly and distinctly, including the subtle shake of the maracas at ~30”
  • with Cobalt, the bass hits a bit deeper with just a touch more rumble; instrument separation is just slightly clearer in most, but not all, instances (but, as a counterpoint, the maracas that start at ~30” are not any clearer or more pronounced than on the hip-dac)
“Better This Way”
  • I found the Hip-Dac, LX, and master quality recording an amazing combo on this track; felt like I was in an intimate club listening to Jake sing for ~50 people; able to distinctly pick up nuances in the music, the way he pronounces the letter “d” at the end of the word “instead” and “behind” and “dead” – almost sounds like a “t,” which is exactly as Jake pronounces it I imagine
  • with Cobalt I hear a little more resolution and detail during certain parts of the song, for example during the opening ~60 seconds or so during which Jake sings with the piano accompaniment only; would I have noticed this difference had I been commuting or traveling? No.
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