Antick Dhar

New Head-Fier
iFi Hip Dac- A warm flask of audio goodness?
Pros: -Solid Build construction
-phenomenal looks
-Forward and dynamic sound
-Precisely administered Bass slam on X-Bass mode
-Warm with smooth sound presentation
-Non fatiguing treble
-Excellent midrange
-Value for money
Cons: -Slow Charging
-There is no LED for signal charging level
-Average Soundstage
-Not including OTG cable for Iphone
Summary- The hip-dac portable USB DAC/headphone amp helps improve your mood by adding the delicious, full-bodied flavor of single malt whiskey to your mind.

Disclaimer- No one has paid me or given me with a review unit for this iFi Hip dac, which I bought from Gears For Ears - Bangladesh with my own money. As a result, everything I've said in this review is totally based on my own personal experiences
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Build (5/5)-
-
The quality of build is Solid and great with The aluminum case feels, and the metal volume control (which also serves as a power switch) has a pleasing cooled feeling to it.

-Both the 3.5mm and balanced Pentaconn 4.4mm jacks are available. The argument is that the balanced output takes full use of the DAC's internal circuitry, and offers the hip-dac something of a unique selling proposition (USP) in today ’s market.

-The Power Match button switches between low and high gain modes.
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SPECIFICATIONS-
-Inputs: USB Type-A, USB 3.0, 3.5mm audio | Outputs: 3.5mm, 4.4mm | Bluetooth: No | Native sample rate support: PCM (up to 384kHz), DXD (up to 384kHz), DSD (up to 256kHz), MQA | Dimensions (hwd): 1.4 x 7 x 10.2cm (length) | Weight: 125g

-iFi still supports all of their features with the entry-level devices. The larger iFi devices have those X-Bass and 3D features, and they kept the X-bass on with the hip Dac.

-Up to 32-bit/384-kHz PCM and DSD256 files can be played on the hip-audio dac's output. MQA is on the menu as well. That said, there's a good possibility the hip-dac will serve as your personal music server.

-The 2200mAh Li-Poly battery is not particularly big. It lasts between five and seven hours, which is much less than I would want. Considering that I listened to it loudly, it might take you up to 8 or 9 hours if you listen quietly. The charge time is about two hours, which is again very slow.

Pairing IEMs- Dunu Zen , Dunu Titan 6 , Moondrop Aria , Final E5000, Fiio Fh3, Blon Bl-05s

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N.B Use the 3.5mm S-Balanced for those ‘hissy' IEMs. Your single-ended connection gives you access to all the advantages of balanced audio. In my review sessions, though, I tend to utilize the 4.4 balanced output most often.

Sound Section (5/5)

Tonality- Warm, Smooth, Full

Bass
- The IFi Hip DAC's sound is controlled by its bass slam, which is the greatest section of its sound. This brand of Burr Brown Dac chips is famous. And the primary bass has a lot of substance. For most entry-level headphones, this amp offers excellent dynamics. When it comes to bass-loving headphones and IEMs with poor bass or bright tuning, the X-Bass may actually be useful as it is not boomy. The X- bass works very well, and with Moondrop Aria and Dunu Zen, it was a wonderful experience and extremely detailed.

Mids- The mids have an energetic yet detailed tone, with a forward but punchy sound. Even though it has a little thickness to it, the midrange sounds so dynamic. With music from artists like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Safkat Amanat Ali, the iFi provides lots of punch and energetic sounds that are powerful, open and expressive. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's unique voice comes through with complexity, while the background music is so good.

Treble- It's full, rich, and extremely smooth in the treble. In other words, a less fatiguing, smoother presentation is offered.

Soundstage – The soundstage is basically average and does not have an immersive soundstage. But after the GTO filter update, it increased and presented a decent soundstage. In imaging, I gave it a go with the GTO filter, but I felt little toward it on soundstage and separation.

Again, I really appreciated how the portable DAC/AMP adjusted for the tricky harmonic circumstances while listening to just a few songs. The Hip DAC has a warmer sound yet is still forward and dynamic. As a result, when I paired the Hip-dac with DUNU Zen, a notable peak in the upper midrange was entirely gone from Dunu Zen surprisingly.
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Conclusion

It has a sleek and absent of harsh edges appearance. It takes a lot of energy to listen to a hip-dac for long periods of time, and you won't feel fatigued subsequently. In addition to that, the battery life, which is only adequate for one day of use, is a little disappointing. A second two-hour charge is required, although you may still use it during this time. I would recommend updating the GTO filter after purchasing the hip Dac. Lastly, for the price, this is the best value for the money and Hip Dac won't let you down.
Antick Dhar
Antick Dhar
S
Sifat Redwan
Great review ! Can this power the Hifiman 400se ?
T
tonymcross
Thanks for the review! Could you compare sound quality between 3.5 usual and 3.5 balance?

Sajid Amit

500+ Head-Fier
Pocket Rocket!
Pros: Sound Quality, A well-executed Bass Boost, Build Quality, Looks, basically everything!
Cons: Charges a tad slowly, but nitpicking here!
Mini Review:

Using a Burr-Brown DAC Chip, the iFi Hip DAC offers surprisingly good sound quality for its price. I managed to get a review unit from Gears for Ears, a leading audiophile store in Bangladesh, and was very impressed. For reference, I am used to large desktop amps and dacs. My current setup is a Holo Audio May DAC and an Accuphase e380 Integrated Amplifier which I use to drive both headphones and speakers.

This is a warm sounding DAC Amp combo with 400 mW of power, which is enough to drive headphones. Both my Focal Clear and Sennheiser HD 650 were driven well. I used the Final Audio A8000 which can be analytical, and while the Hip DAC represented the A8000's sound signature well, I did notice a slight dip in lower treble, compared to the upper treble.

The bass-boost function works exceedingly well, and it was rollicking good fun with the Sennheisher HD 650. :)

Video Review:

Samin Zaman
Samin Zaman
Exilent Bhai ❤️
Somatic
Somatic
Do you think the Hip Dac is worth it for the A8000? How is the sound different than stock IPhone? I have a Chord TT2 that I can use in desktop mode but wondering what a good portable solution would be for the A8000. Thanks.

asifur

100+ Head-Fier
IFI Hipdac - The new DAC/AMP champ for the price category
Pros: + Great design & Build Quality
+ Balanced Output of 4.4mm with regular 3.5mm
+ Clean Sound
+ Powerful enough to drive most IEMs
Cons: - Battery Life
- Slow charging
- Shallow Soundstage
IFI Hipdac - The new DAC/AMP champ for the price category

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Disclaimer:

I have bought this Dac/Amp with my own hard earned money and no one has paid me anything or supplied me with any review unit. So, everything mentioned in this review are purely my own based on my experiences with the Dac/Amp.

Introduction:

IFI Hip-dac is the newest portable integrated amplifier and DAC designed to replace your smartphone’s audio output. Featuring a BurrBrown DAC and MQA decoding, the hip-dac is priced at $149.

It seems like IFI has taken the guts of the excellent, desktop-based Zen DAC and crammed them into a smaller, battery-powered form into Hip-dac.
The Hip-dac is simply the best-looking portable DAC/Amp I've come across, and it performs pretty well too.
Priced at $149, the hip-dac isn’t too pricey for the specs it offers, and it looks great, to boot. Its luxurious petroleum-blue and copper finish alongside its hipflask-like design (hence the name) means it is, weirdly enough, a DAC you really want to show off – and it’s small enough to slip into your pocket with ease.

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While there’s no support for Bluetooth, there are lots of connectivity options and it supports pretty much every codec you could think of, meaning all your Hi-Res Audio needs should be met.

The Hip-dac uses Burr-Brown DAC chip, which IFI claims ensures audio formats to stay "bit-perfect" right through to analogue conversion, as well as eradicating digital distortion. A PowerMatch button means that it can drive just about any IEMs with ease – although very power-hungry Headphones can reduce the stated battery life of 8 – 12 hours significantly.
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Specifications Summary:

The specifications as mentioned in IFI website is below:
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Audio Performance:

Following are the key traits when it comes to sound:
- Clean Sound
- Warmish Tuning
- Bass boosting feature which can enhance bass quite a bit
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In summary, the Hip-dac is a very powerful and clean sounding dac/amp for the price.
I use Qobuz mainly and have paired it with both iPhone and Hiby R6 pro DAP and in both cases found the performance to be great in all occasions.

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Furthermore, I had paired the hip-dac with quite a selection of IEMs... such as: Fiio FD5, Fiio FH7, Kbear Believe, Dunu Zen, Mee Audio Pinnacle P1, Meze Rai Solo, Final Audio VR3000, etc.. and the list goes on...

The tracks I have used can be found from the below playlist that I have used and generally use for most reviews...


The hip-dac provides a detailed, well-balanced sound, and while listening to few tracks, I was impressed by how the portable DAC/AMP worked to accurately produce the complex harmonic situations, the guitar licks, the trumpet accents, the cello & pianos also sounded just great! Even for IEMs like Dunu Zen where I had noticed a noticeable peak in the Upper mids on other Dac/amps... on the Hip-dac it just vanished!

I've found the Hip-dac to be very fun-sounding, with overall clean sound, warmish tuning is something i liked quite a bit and despite the rather below average soundstage performance I have found the hip-dac performance to be very musical. this is likely the champ of the given price bracket for the performance it provides non doubt.

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R
Rizzo43
I really liked your review, very accurate. By your experience, do you know any desktop or portable Dac that has the same warm signature with a better soundstage?
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asifur
asifur
@Rizzo43 I would recommend the @iFi audio Nano Black Label for affordable portable solution as it's the similar size of hip-dac with more height. But doesn't come with 4.4mm port. If you need the 4.4mm port and more power I would highly recommend that you go for @iFi audio Micro iDSD Signature which I have reviewed also.
Samin Zaman
Samin Zaman
If Value For The Money Had A Face

Dobrescu George

Reviewer: AudiophileHeaven
Warm, Forward & Blue - iFi Hip DAC / AMP
Pros: + Build Quality
+ Has a volume wheel
+ Sonic presentation
+ Price
Cons: - Battery Life is not perfect, charges slowly
Warm, Forward & Blue - iFi Hip DAC / AMP





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iFi Hip DAC is a very pocket-friendly DAC/AMP from the UK-based producer iFi, and it comes with a full feature set, including a beautiful design, and is priced at 150 USD, making it one of the most affordable DAC/AMPs out there. It will be compared to Earmen TR-AMP, Earstudio HUD100, FiiO BTR5, and Beam2 from Audirect. The pairing list will include FiiO FA9, oBravo Cupid, Final Audio B3, and Meze Rai Penta.

















Introduction





iFi decided to redesign their entry-level DAC options, and this is how they created the Hip Dac looking like a Flask. It replaces the older iDSD Nano Black Label which I reviewed, and it comes with a better overall ergonomic, shape, and improved sound. It also comes in blue, but it still received the outstanding support from iFi, and like all of their products, has a good price / performance ratio. iFi is excellent to work with, a trustworthy company, and even in the days of Brexit, they are still reliable and won't let you down.





It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with iFi. I'd like to thank iFi for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with the iFi Hip Dac. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in iFi Hip DAC find their next music companion. Since I reviewed many competitors as well, this review isn't trying to sell the Hip DAC to you, but rather trying to help you decide on what is the best choice for you, based on pairings, comparisons and descriptions.









Packaging





First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:





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The package of the Hip Dac is pretty great, although it is not quite as good as the original iDSD Micro Black Label was. It comes with all the cables you may need to use it, including OTG cables, microUSB cables, Type-C cables, and a cable for your windows computer. All in all, this is a great package, and the only thing that could be missing from it is a pouch.





There are rubber feet included in the package too, but no straps, so strapping the Hip Dac to your smartphone will require you to either purchase some rubber straps, or double sided velcro.





The Hip DAC has just the right power for IEMs, and not for Headphones, and it will require you to use a smartphone as a source, since it won't have a power deliver quite that larger compared to the average DAP.











Build Quality/Aesthetics/Functionality





The overall impression that the Hip Dac leaves is that of a really solid device. It is made of metal, has a beautiful blue / cyan color, and it has a type-C port, a USB Type-A port, at the back, and a volume wheel, two buttons and two headphone outputs at the front.





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The tech inside is impressive, but what is more impressive is that iFi still supports all of their features with the entry-level ones. The larger iFi devices have those X-Bass and 3D features, and they kept the X-Bass on with the hip Dac. I love it, and for those IEMs that are brighter, it is a total win.





There's also a balanced output this time around, and Hip Dac comes with S-Balanced, basically delivering the same performance over Balanced as it does over Single Ended.





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We get MQA, we get DSD decoding even on Mac and Linux, and we get the GTO Filter that's first been introduced with Pro iDSD. All of this is tech talk, and I would rather tell you that the Hip Dac has about 400mW on 32 OHM, on balanced, and 280mW at 32 OHM on SE. This is enough to drive most IEMs, but despite iFi's very courageous claims, I wouldn't recommend Hip DAC for Sundara or anything harder to drive than it. Technically it has enough power, but it lacks control and it doesn't sound proper anymore at really high volumes, so for best experiences I would stick with either easy to drive, or medium to drive stuff.





With very sensitive IEMs like the Atlas, there's some hissing, so please keep that in mind as well, if you plan on getting it for something like FH7 from FiiO.





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The battery is not very large, it is a Li-Poly of 2200mAh, which is less than half of what Xiaomi puts in their Note 9S smartphones. It achieves around five to seven hours, which is not great at all, being less than I find ideal. I tested it fairly loud, so it may last you up to 8-9 hours if you listen really quiet. The battery can be charged in about two hours, which is once again quite slow.





The volume control acts as an off/off switch, and it offers good control, with very little channel imbalance. Being analogue, it has some minor volume imbalance, but after 9 o'clock it is not noticeable.





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The Power Match button basically switches it between low and high gain, but the low gain doesn't have a blacker background, nor does it seem to have any advantage, so I always stick with high gain.





Overall, the device is made nicely, with good design and good features, but the battery life is what I would consider a fairly serious drawback, on an otherwise fairly well balanced device for 150 USD.











Video Review
















Sound Quality





The overall sonic signature is warm, slightly thick, with a forward midrange and a a forward but smooth treble. This pairs exceptionally well if you want a relaxing source, something that sounds natural, and it has good dynamics, as well as a fairly good impact, making the Hip Dac ideal for bright and shouty IEMs / Headphones. Depending on what you're coming from, it may seem a bit forward, and also as wide as it is deep.





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It doesn't sound as detailed or as crisp as the xDSD, and it is not quite as laid back as the original iDSD Micro Black Label. It is a good step-up in terms of clarity and performance compared to the original iDSD Nano Black Label, all while keeping the same overall signature.





The bass is the best part of iFi Hip DAC's sound. There's a tiny bit of roll-off in the lowest octaves, but has good substance in the main bass. There's a good amount of thump and impact, and it can drive most entry-level headphones nicely. Especially with headphones and IEMs that have a somewhat anemic bass, or a bright tuning, the X-Bass can be a life saver, so for UFO Ears 112, Soundmagic HP1000, and even for oBravo Cupid, the Hip Dac is perfect.





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The midrange is forward, punchy and aggressive, but also extremely detailed. The soundstage is very much a sphere, with excellent acoustic clues to height, depth, width, everything can be pinpointed to where it came from, and music itself is quite vividly presented. The midrange sounds ever so slightly thick, but aggressive. I was taken by surprise by its detail and substance, but also by the imaging the Hip Dac is able to pull, presenting things not holographic, but live.





The treble is actually in contrast with everything else, because where it is also a bit forward, it lacks grain and can be extremely smooth, lacking in edge and bite. It is forward in quantity, and presented as a major part of the sound, but it doesn't have a lot of texture. It is a bit similar to the treble of the iDSD Micro Black Label, which was never edgy or strong in the treble, but still a forward treble.











Comparisons





I will be comparing the Hip Dac to the HUD100, Earmen TR-AMP,Beam 2 from Audirect, and FiiO BTR5. It may seem unfair, but all of those are at the same price, or priced lower than the Hip DAC, so all of them should be on your radar, if you have the budget to purchase a Hip DAC.





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Since there are many comparisons, and much more that you'd probably want to hear about, please leave a comment if you're curious how the Hip Dac compares to something.





iFi Hip DAC vs Earmen TR-AMP (150 USD vs 250 USD) - TR-AMP doesn't have balanced, but it can get much louder with lower distortions than the Hip DAC. The TR-AMp sounds more natural, more even, with a more neutral midrange, and with a more natural treble. The Hip DAC sounds more focus, with a more intimate soundstage, it has a warmer bass, warmer midrange, and a smoother treble. The Hip DAC is better with bright and shouty IEMs, where the TR-AMP is more of a natural DAC/AMP that works with everything out there.





iFi Hip DAC vs FiiO BTR5 (150 USD vs 110 USD) - FiiO BTR5 has a bit less power than the Hip DAC, both on paper and in practice, but BTR5 has bluetooth, many usage scenarios, and is more silent with hiss-sensitive IEMs. In fact, I would say that it is a bit more versatile, if you don't mind the lowered driving power of BTR5. The Hip DAC sounds warmer, more intimate, but deeper, it sounds more forward, has more attack, and feels smoother in the textures.





iFi Hip DAC vs Earstudio HUD 100 (150 USD vs 180 USD) - HUD100 has a major handicap in terms of driving power and it is mostly enough for IEMs, but there's an Earstudio MK II out there which I will be reviewing really really soon. On this note, Hip DAC has much more driving power, sounds warmer, but also more intimate, with a deeper soundstage. The Hip DAC sounds more forward, has more punch, and more dynamics, but also smoother in the textures. The HUD100 tends to have a slightly better texture, with more clarity, a more musical presentation, and despite the lower power, where it can drive something, it has better control.





iFi Hip DAC vs Audirect Beam 2 (150 USD vs 180 USD) - The Beam 2 is a bit warm by itself, but by comparison, it sounds more open, more vivid, brighter, and cleaner than the Hip DAC. Despite them having slightly different driving power on paper, they are similar in practice, especially once you par both with Deva and push turn both almost to their MAX. Beam 2 drains your phone's battery, while Hip DAC has one of its own, but not with a long life.











Pairing





The pairing list has been tailored to the Hip DAC, since I managed to find a few IEMs that paired really nicely with it. Those are the mighty FA9, oBravo Cupid, Meze Rai Penta, and Final Audio B3.





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All of those make really interesting pairings to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the Hip Dac, but it should do just well with the likes of Brainwavz Alara, Ultrasone Signature DXP, and even 1More Triple Driver.





iFi Hip DAC + Final Audio B3 - (150 USD + 500 USD) - B3 sounds fairly nice with the Hip DAC, because they are a brighter IEM, and the added bass / substance from the X-Bass totally improves things when I want to indulge a bit in my bassheads needs. The overall pairing is wide, but also deep, has a good amount of energy and is more forward than B3 usually is, sounding really close to what I would call "live", and reminding me of all the awesome concerts I was able to attend before.





iFi Hip DAC + FiiO FA9 - (150 USD + 500 USD) - FA9 is warmer, but it is one of the IEMs that doesn't really hiss at all with the Hip DAC. You won't need the bass boost for FA9, but it is nice to hear the overall clarity and detail of the pairing, and FA9 reveals just how detailed, clear and clean the Hip DAC can be, all while having a tiny bit of added extra substance.





iFi Hip DAC + Meze Rai Penta - (150 USD + 1100 USD) - Rai Penta is actually here because I liked how the Hip DAC makes it a bit more forward, and gives it a bit of extra substance with the Bass Boost. There's a bit of hissing with this pairing, but the overall sound makes you forget about it, especially since you're most likely to listen louder than you'd hear the hiss present.





iFi Hip DAC + oBravo Cupid - (150 USD + 300 USD) - The cupid is a rare case that's quite bright, and which really really needs a boost in the lows. Happily, the Hip Dac has an x-Bass and makes the Cupid sound much more natural, balanced, more detailed and cleaner with the X-Bass enabled. Somehow, having more bass means that I can distinguish details better, that I can hear music cleaner, and it makes the Cupid a much better overall IEM.











Value and Conclusion





The value of the Hip DAC is pretty good, and that's a huge deal for it. If you have just 150 USD, and want a smoother, warmer DAC that's still fairly forward, it is a great one to get, with good features, MQA support, and even a Balanced output.





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It is a bit of a let down when it comes to the package, especially if you're looking for a typical iFi package / product, but it still comes bundled with a good amount of cables, has rubber feet, and comes with a much needed adapter cable. It has a male connector, so it needs OTG Female adapters, but happily I found that most OTG adapters on the market are compatible with it.





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The build is excellent, and the only thing that holds it back a bit is the battery life, which is not great, at five to seven hours being good only for one day of usage. You also need to charge it for two hours to fill its resources, but you can use it while charging, which evens things a bit.





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The sound is forward, a bit thick, smooth, and pretty dynamic. With a good amount of punch, and a fairly vivid presentation, it is a great pair for brighter and grainy IEMs / Headphones.





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At the end of today's review, if you're looking for something forward, if you need a reliable DAC/AMP with MQA, if you want to have an analogic Bass Boost, the iFi Hip DAC is really easy to recommend and one you should totally get to spice up your music adventure!









Full Playlist used for this review





We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality are all revealed by those songs. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music!






Youtube Playlist





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Tidal Playlist





https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b





I hope my review is helpful to you!
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
Hiii @shampoosuicide . I noticed this when comparing Single Ended vs Single Ended. I tried the GTO filter, but didn't have a strong impression about it. About comparisons with TR-AMp, I did notice that it can deliver more power, lower distortions at the loudest levels. Hip Dac may be better on Balanced, but at the moment I did the review, I assumed it uses the ifi super balanced feature thingy, through which iFi proimises to deliver the same quality in SE and Balanced, so I didn't progress further to test the balanced output
shampoosuicide
shampoosuicide
Many thanks for the detailed clarification @Dobrescu George ! I thought that bit was interesting as iFi puts the power output for the hip-dac's 4.4mm port at 400mW @ 32 ohms, which is a little higher than the TR-Amp's spec of 350mW @ 32 ohm. The hip-dac's 3.5mm out is quite a bit lower at 280mW @ 32 ohm, though.
H
Harisankar
I find it pretty comfortable to drive my he400i 2020 with ifi hip dac. With Tidal music, regular mp3 or flac files and even good quality youtube videos, I nevery go past the 2 o clock mark and mostly remain at 1 o clock mark. With some poorly recorded YouTube videos, I had to push it to 4 o clock mark or even higher. However that is more the problem of the audio file than the dac/amp. Since he400i 2020 has very similar resistance and sensitivity to the Hifiman Sundara, it stands to reason that similar results should happen for the Sundara as well. Lastly hip dac also outputs more power than the Earmen Tr Amp through its balanced output (400mW balanced vs 350mW unbalanced ). Since you have mentioned in some comments that Tr Amp is powerful enough for a Sundara or he400i 2020, similar should be the case for hip dac as well

joaojp1

New Head-Fier
iFi Hip Dac
Pros: Slightly warm sound with great resolution
Amazing looks and build quality
XBass strikes again!
Price
Cons: Not suitable for low impedance iems
It would be even better with Bluetooth!
Disclaimer: This unit as send to me by iFi UK however, all the thoughts shared in this review are my own and reflect my honest opinion about this product.

A special thanks to Karina for this review sample, as always iFi Audio and particularly Karina are always a joy to communicate with, bringing an incredibly open and charming communication which makes the whole review process so much easier and enjoyable.

I am new to the head-fi world and I have only recently started to appreciate the intricacies of the high-resolution audio, so do not expected this to be a technical review It will be a review that will address the major features of the product from the consumer point of view specifying its usefulness or not.



The iFi audio hip-dac is a portable DAC/Amp mostly to be used by users on the go, it supports high-res audio up to PCM 384kHz/DSD256 as well as MQA rendering used by services like Tidal.

This device includes the usual set of features we are all quite acquainted with iFi products, like XBass and a gain switch dubbed as “power match”, it also comes equipped with a 4.4mm balanced output which is slowly becoming the new standard for balanced audio, replacing the old and flimsy 2.5mm one, it includes as well a classic 3.5mm jack.

Packaging and accessories

The product comes as per usual packaged in its traditional white box enclosed in a cardboard sheath, the device rests in a cut out and beneath it are the included accessories (USB-A male-to-female cable, USB-A to USB-C cable, USB-C female to USB-A, user guide), this time iFi finally decided to include an OTG cable making it finally easy to use their DAC/Amps out of the box with modern smartphones. Once again USB-C was the standard decided for the charging port, we are finally moving away from USB micro b. This unit still does not have any buttons, like next track or pause to use while connected, however the lack of Bluetooth in this case makes this a nonissue.

Build Quality

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iFi finally said goodbye to the horrible surface finish of the xCAN and XDSD and this time around chose a sleek blue aluminum contouring the whole device, the front and back are adorned with black plastic panels giving the whole DAC/Amp a very modern, sexy, and convenient to use design. The amazingly smooth and gold volume pot gives that last premium feel to the whole design while improving on those included on the xDSD and xCAN.

Features

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On the volume wheel side, from left to right, you are greeted with iFi power match, which is basically a gain switch, the still amazing XBass toggle button, the volume wheel, the 4.4mm balanced output as well as iFi traditional 3.5mm S-Balanced jack, making it possible to use TRRS 3.5mm cables.
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On the other side it features only the recessed USB socket as an usb input, this type of input in my opinion is still the benchmark to beat in terms of rigidity and overall durability, and an usb c port for charging.

From my use scenario the battery life was fairly good and although I never accurately measured it would last at least for two listening sessions so around 8 to 10 hours.

Sound

Once again iFi refined the sound signature of their DAC/Amps, this time they managed to turn the sound less analytical/digital while keeping all the detail.

The hip-dac provides an amazing sound, slightly warm with great transparency and definition between the different instruments while providing a reasonably wide soundstage.

The whole device sound signature was simply perfect for rock music, which is what I mostly listen to.

The only drawback sound wise in this unit happens when you try to pair it with low impedance iems, there is a channel imbalance at very low volume levels that makes you rise the volume to levels higher that what I usually like listening to, especially for extended periods.

Unfortunately, I still do not possess the equipment to test its balanced circuit.

Conclusion

This time iFi outdone themselves, they managed to improve several characteristics of their previous series of portables units while significantly decreasing its price point.

So, for just $149/165€ you get a device capable of improving the sound quality of your output devices with an amazingly natural and defined sound.

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iFi audio
iFi audio
Very nice, thanks! :beerchug:

MundoHiFiOz

100+ Head-Fier
iFi hip dac review
Pros: Build quality
Extra bass gain
Price
Cons: Hiss with sensitive iems
About me:
Music lover and earphone reviewer, most of my previous reviews are in spanish.

Disclaimer: iFi graciously lent me the Zen Can in exchance of my opinion

Gear used:
Fiio q5s, tempotec IDSD plus, audiosense AQ7, Dunu dk2001, Beyerdynamic DT150, Sennheiser HD 650.

About iFi:
iFi audio is a company with headquarters in the UK that since 2012 has launched more than 30 high quality audio products with one aim in mind "to improve your music enjoyment." You can find more in https://ifi-audio.com/about-ifi/

Specifications:

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
DacBurr Brown DSD1793
Weight125g (0.28 lbs)

Packaging and accessories:

Hip dac comes in a small white cardboard box, it has a solid packaging and all materials look reciclable. Inside of this box we can find a usb type A extender, usb type c to usb type A male, usb type c to usb type A female, a warranty card, instructions manual and the hip dac itself.

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Buttons and characteristics

To connect this dac to the computer, phone or any capable device you have to use the USB type A connection, the type C input is only for charging purposes.

On the other side of this hip dac you can find 2 buttons, the first one is the PowerMatch or extra gain for power hungry headphones and the other is the bass gain. Also you can find the volume wheel which is used to turn on/off the device. This wheel is very sensitive so you can adjust the volume with precision but also be careful of accidental movements.

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This device uses a "S-balanced technology" in the 3.5mm input allowing us to use apart from the conventional unbalanced jack, the well known 3.5mm pro that some headphones and daps like shanling m8 uses. Finally, we can also connect our headphones to the 4.4mm balanced input that delivers enough power for most hungry gear.

Daily use:
It's easy to use with Android or IOS phones, just plug and play also thanks to the separated charging port it´ll never drain our phone´s battery. It takes 3 hours to fully charge and around 6-8 hours of continuous playback. In case that you want to use Tidal first you´ll need to install USB player pro for MQA files reproduction.
I experienced noise/hiss with sensitive iems like Dunu dk2001 or Hifi Boy Osv3.

Sound:

Sweetness and warmth are two words that can easily describe the sound of the hip dac.

Bass: Without the extra gain activated it delivers a good textured and not much emphasized bass, it has good speed and keeps the mids clean but once you turn on the extra bass feature it gains much more body and loses speed, this can easily satisfy any bass lover. The level of rumble is great for pop, rap or hip hop music and i liked the way this feature is implemented, it really works.

Mids: All the midrange has a sweet and satisfying tonality, it stays away from being neutral and adds some coloration to the sound. The midrange is focused in showing dynamism and musicality, this helps to achieve a very forgiving midrange against bad recordings. Voices and acoustic instruments have extra amount of weight presenting richer tones. Instrumental separation is above average, imaging is very precise and soundstage is deep although is not outstanding.

Treble: Has a natural representation, it's clear and crisp with good level of detail. The overall warm sound of the hip dac don't hide the treble or try to reduce its importance in the sound so with warmer earphones like Cat ear MIA or blon bl03 you won´t miss detail in the upper part of the sound.

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Pairings:

Audiosense AQ7: Great pairing, the resolving and transparent midrange of AQ7 benefits from the warm and lush sound that adds the hip dac.

Beyerdynamic dt150: The hip dac can easily drive this headphone with the extra gain activated and at around 50% of volume. Bass has good depth and control, mids are clean and overall is a very good pairing although i prefer colder and resolving sources with this headphone..

Sennheiser HD650: With the 4.4mm connection it can drive this headphone, of course not at the highest level but good enough to enjoy the music sessions. Extra bass gain has not much effect as we can experience with iems, treble has good separation and air, also voices sound natural.

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Comparisons:

Fiio q5s: It has an opposite sound signature, bass is more linear and tight, mids are more detailed and resolving and treble is more accented in the q5s. The bass gain feature is better implemented in the hip dac, it really adds more weight and rumble.

Tempotec IDSD plus: Sound is neutral and colder with the IDSD amp, soundstage is wider and deeper with the hip dac. Both devices have balanced output and while the hip dac has more power for headphones, IDSD plus has cero noise with sensitive iems.

idsd.jpeg


Conclusions

For 150$ you get a very solid constructed device, enough power for most headphones, balanced output, MQA compatibility and a very sweet, warm and enjoyable sound that is able to deliver a very musical sound without missing technical aspects. You can watch the review here (spanish):

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C
coldbrewidn
H
Harisankar
I find it pretty comfortable to drive my he400i 2020 with ifi hip dac. With Tidal music, regular mp3 or flac files and even good quality youtube videos, I nevery go past the 2 o clock mark and mostly remain at 1 o clock mark. With some poorly recorded YouTube videos, I had to push it to 4 o clock mark or even higher. However that is more the problem of the audio file than the dac/amp. Since he400i 2020 has very similar resistance and sensitivity to the Hifiman Sundara, it stands to reason that similar results should happen for the Sundara as well.
MundoHiFiOz
MundoHiFiOz
@Harisankar thanks for sharing! I also enjoyed the hip DAC with power hungry headphones.

Headphones and Coffee

Previously known as Wretched Stare
Am amazing portable
Pros: Amazing compatibility with files, excellent sound, power, dependability and it's very stylish. Balanced outputs What's not to love.
Cons: Not really any thing, I would have liked a 3.5 Aux in or a optical but that's just nit picking.
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The ifi hip-dac comes in a simple box clean and has a great amount of information in a easy to read text.
Opening the box the hip-dac is sealed in plastic for protection and inside is also some cables to help connect it to your PC and Android device with the Male USB ready to receive the Apple camera cable kit so no matter what you're running its ready to go.
The case is a beautiful soft metal in a blue color I find attractive. The brass knob is both volume and on off switch. buttons for Xbass and smart power match.

The hip-dac offers a very close to neutral sound with a little warmth down in the lower end I find quite pleasant. This combined with great looks and build quality and the compatibility with so many platforms and files.

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Sebastien Chiu
Sebastien Chiu
Thanks very much for taking your time to review, glad you love it!

JasonLucas

New Head-Fier
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!

corgifall

500+ Head-Fier
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.
IMG_4610.jpg

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.
IMG_0004.JPG

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.
IMG_0003.JPG

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.
IMG_4531.jpg

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.

Zortven

New Head-Fier
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$.

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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
dscf4710-1.jpg

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
Remember to visit us at ear-fidelity.com

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TiborM
TiborM
Love mine too!
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necktru
necktru
I can confirm my Beyer 770 pro 250ohm are working great, 60%-65% volume with high gain switch

Otto Motor

Headphoneus Supremus
Mein Funky Ballantine’s
Pros: Super haptic; appealing design; thin/portable; very powerful, even drives the least sensitive headphones well; value.
Cons: Warm signature not optimal for warm earphones/headphones; slight hiss with very sensitive earphones; sharp metal edges.
frontis2-copy-800x445.jpeg


This review was initially published at www.audioreviews.org


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The ifi Audio hip-dac is a zippy sounding, powerful, and very attractive looking/feeling dac/amp at a very good price.


INTRODUCTION

ifi Audio are an English company out of Southport. Lately, the company has put British portable audio on the map by both quality and innovation. Earlier this year, I purchased their $199 nano iDSD Black Label (“BL”) upon the recommendation of co-blogger and BL owner Biodegraded, and also upon the reviews and recommendations by Hifi magazines. And I love it (or luv’ it, as the Mancunians would say). The Nano BL is an established entity, I don’t have to say much about it – it is that good.

Recently, ifi Audio released the $149 hip-dac, an amp more powerful than the nano iDSD BL that carries some innovation, and it is smaller – and – as the name implies it is very “hip”. I can say it right away, the hip-dac is another winner. And since I am late in the reviewing game, I will rather focus on the differences between the two offerings. Which one is right for who? The amps differ in some of their features. After all, there is $50 to be saved on the hip-dac. By the way, both models use the same Burr-Brown chip set from Texas Instruments.




SPECIFICATIONS

Output impedance of the hip-dac is about 1 ohm (which is very good) and it stays at 1 ohm during high-gain, too. You find all the nitty gritty details in the downloadable manual: https://media.ifi-audio.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/hip-dac-User-Manual_Ver1.3.pdf

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)


PHYSICAL THINGS AND USABILITY

In the box you find:

  • the actual amp/dac
  • some stick-on rubber feet
  • a USB-A to USB-C charge cable
  • a USB-C OTG cable for connecting to an Android device
  • a 1ft. USB 3.0 cable for connecting to a computer
  • the usual paperwork.
ifi hip-dac


The actual unit is made of metal – and the hip part has a double meaning in my interpretation: first, because of is its retro 1970s design in terms of shape and colour. Second, because it resembles a hip flask. Build is great but despite the overall rounded shape, there are sharp edges in the front and back – handle with care. Haptic is great, the hip dac feels good and substantial in my hands – and it is rather flat, which makes it easy more portable than the bulky Nano BL. Great for putting it in the pocket. Looks and feel are ok, now let’s see what the hip dac can do for us – and what it cannot.

ifi hip-dac


ifi hip dac


ifi hip-dac



FUNCTIONALITY OF THE HIP-DAC

WHAT IT DOES

First, the hip dac, despite its name, is not only a dac but also an amp, and a really powerful one. And it is probably the cheapest of its kind that offers a 4.4 mm balanced output. It also offers an Xbass button, which is essentially the loudness button on your dad’s hifi stereo amplifier: it adds bass, duh, but in a good, subtle way. I caught myself actually using it, a truly guilty pleasure for the closet audiophile. Extra bass well done. For more power-hungry headphones, it offers a PowerMatch button, which is essentially a gain switch. And it offers separate ports for charging and connecting to a computer: so it can play while charging. The Nano BL does not offer the 4.4 mm balance, Xbass, gain, or separate ports for charging and playing, but it has other features instead the hip dac lacks.


WHAT IT DOES NOT

The hip dac does not have the Nano’s IE Match, it does not have different filters, and also no line-out for external speakers.


POWERMATCH VS. IEMATCH

There has been some confusion about the difference between the two. Let me clarify. The hip-dac’s gain switch (‘PowerMatch’ button) is different from the nano BL’s IEMatch. PowerMatch increases gain for the more power hungry headphones, but does not change output impedance, which stays around or less than 1 Ohm on both settings.

In contrast, the nano BL’s iEMatch does not add gain, it attenuates the sound by increasing output impedance from <1 Ω (high sensitivity) to <2.5 Ω (ultra-sensitivity). This is done by resistors dampening the amplifier. IEMatch is therefore less favourable for power-hungry high-impedance earphones but it handles very sensitive iems better in that it creates less hiss, and you have better range and less sensitivity on the volume pot. The changing impedance can influence the tonality with “interesting” impedance profiles of multi driver earphones for the better or worse, depending on the earphone. You find links to relate articles about these topics on our Tech 101 page.

In summary, the hip-dac would be the better choice for full-size cans – it is the more powerful one of the two – and the nano BL is more suited for sensitive iems.


OPERATION

The hip-dac’s back panel is reserved for connectivity, and the front panel has all the knobs and buttons.

ifi hip-dac


Looking at the back, we have the following inputs (but no outputs):

  • USB-C port for charging only. That’s practical as the hip das can be used while charging. There is a battery-status LED underneath it.
  • USB-A port for connecting to a source. You can use the Apple Camera Adapter for connecting an iPhone/iPad, an OTG cable for connecting to an Android device, and a USB cable if you run your music from a computer.
ifi hip-dac


In the front, we find:

  • A standard 3.5 mm headphone jack/port.
  • An LED that indicates charge status and level (well explained in the manual).
  • A 4.4 mm balanced “out”: apparently, the hip dac is one of the cheapest devices on the market to offer such.
  • A “gain” button for adjusting output power (depending whether you drive a high sensitivity earphone or a power-hungry headphone).
  • An X-bass button, which is essentially the “Loudness” button on your dad’s Hifi amplifier. It gives the sound a gentle, yet snappy and very appealing, silky bass boost.

AMPLIFICATION

In one word: zippy – and still when driving my 300 Ω Sennheiser HD600 headphones. Power is not a problem! In fact, the hip-dac drove the HD600 with more ease than the nano BL.


POWER CONSUMPTION

I could not test the built-in 3.7 V battery’s power drain in a real life situation as the previous reviewer had left the device on during shipping. The battery arrived completely drained, and had been so for quite a number of days so that it properly had suffered some permanent damage.


TONALITY

My tonal preference and testing practice


My test tracks explained

Firmware used: 5.30

The hip-dac has a warm signature with a slightly boosted, wonderfully silky bass and generally a good punch, which appears to be part of ifi’s house sound. There is a bit of a wow factor upon first listening, every time. It sounds best with neutrally tuned iems and headphones and pairs less optimally with warm ones (warm + warm = hot). I enjoyed the hip-dac with the JVC HA-FDX1, my favourite neutral single DD earphone, which was smoother, broader, and with way more headroom than with the harsher sounding, more aggressive, more neutral $139 Earstudio HUD100 (its price is in the miniature design). The hip-dac’s image was generally clean, accomplished, forward and dynamic with a subtle but never overwhelming bass punch. And yes, I used the Xbass when out and about. With sensitive iems, there can be a slight hiss.

With the iDSD Black Label, the JVCs sounded even warmer, more laid back, smoother, thicker, less punchy/tamer, less exciting, but more forgiving of boosted upper-midrange tunings and with more 3D volume. If the hip-dac was a “Sturm und Drang” teenager, the nano BL would be a middle-aged, mature, but cool person. The hip-dac does more justice to pop and rock music and the nano BL better delivers on classical music and jazz.

With warm earphones such as the Shozy Form 1.4 both amps struggle in that they overthicken and ubercolour the image a bit. Here, the hip-dac does a better job in musical reproduction, the nano BL delivers a rather polite musical rendition. Warm iems/headphones sound better with a neutral dac/amp such as the Earstudio HUD100 MK2.


HIP-DAC OR NANO BL?

My mind intuitively places the bulkier ifi nano BL on my desk, and the ifi hip-dac in my shirt pocket, just by looking at them. This is underlined/supported by the Black Label’s 3.5 mm line out – used for speakers – which the hip dac does not have. But there are other criteria…

You want the hip dac if:

  • You prefer a zippy sound
  • You need more power than the Nano BL provides
  • You need that X-tra bass
  • You need it for mainly on the go
  • You don’t need to drive speakers on your desk
  • You prefer a flat design for your pocket
  • You want to operate it during charging
  • You want to save $50
You want the Nano BL instead if:

  • You prefer a more laid-back sound signature
  • You use it mainly at home
  • You use it on your desk to drive speakers
  • You use it with very sensitive items (IE Match)
  • You appreciate the choice of filters

IFI AUDIO HIP-DAC COMPARED

The hip-dac is better and bigger sounding than any of the dongles I have tested recently. For example, the hip-dac sounds much smoother, warmer, silkier, more relaxed, accomplished and with more depth and width of presentation compared to the $120 Earstudio HUD100 MK2. The latter is leading the pack of dongles, it sounds more neutral than the hip-dac, and, with neutral earphones, it is more aggressive, harsh, and abrasive in comparison – and it does not offer that big headroom. On the other hand, the Earstudio HUD100 MK2 is much smaller (you pay extra for miniature) and it does not have a consumable battery…which means it will survive the ifi hip-dac but also drains any phone it is attached to. The $70 Audirect Hilidac Atom Pro and $45 Tempotec Sonata HD Pro have to line up behind hip-dac and HUD100 MK2.

You find an INDEX of all our dac/amp reviews HERE.


CONCLUDING REMARKS


The ifi hip dac is a zippy, slightly warm sounding amp that connects to your portable devices and computers alike (but I see it more on the on-the-go side). It is reasonably small, looks and feels attractive, and it sounds great with low- to high-impedances headphones, too. Also, the price is right. Bingo!

Greetings to the greater Manchester area…I went to university at the other end of the M62 for a year, a long long time ago…in Hull.

Until next time…keep on listening!

Jürgen Kraus signature


DISCLAIMER

The hip-dac was on a 60-day loan from ifi Audio and I thank them for that.

Our generic standard disclaimer.

You find an INDEX of our most relevant technical articles HERE.
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Otto Motor
Otto Motor
Hip-dac: more powerful from balance output.
Single ended: BL is more powerful.

But I would not worry about that. The nano is smoother, the hip-dac is zippier.
Tripokaridos
Tripokaridos
Thanks for taking time to search that for me, very appreciate your kindness.
Now i am sure.
Otto Motor
Otto Motor
I would just take the better deal. I had purchased the nano earlier this year and borrowed the hip-dac from ifi Audio (which was returned). Either one would do for me.

Idontevenknowmyname

New Head-Fier
Pros: Great sound
Nice build quality
Good Value
Relatively Portable
Cons: Battery Life
After a good week, I still stand by these "early impressions"

-----------------
Hey there, I just revieved my Hip Dac today and have been listening all day.

The Hip Dac sounded great from the beginning (after about 20 minutes I changed to the newest firmware) but gets better and better (about 7 hours in). This pairing is something special. I have had my 232s for more than 5 years now and regret that I never gave them a source they deserved.
I drove them with my Iriver H300 which does not sound bad but is nothing compared to this.
I also listened over my laptop (Xiaomi Mi Notebook Pro) which sounds suprisingly well but lacks the depth, clarity and low end in comparison. I also used my phone from time to time (Blackberry Passport) and while it does sound decent it also lacks a lot in the low end.

Now let me tell you this pairing is pretty much perfect.
I get zero noise although I have to be very careful with the volume control or it will blast my ears out (I just discovered that when I actually listen for it there is some noise floor on high volume with quiet passages, so its not zero. With most tracks its not really noticeable though so maybe I will just ignore it).
The 232s have a slightly v-shaped sound signature and this player has a bit of a boost in the mid range and low end which makes the 232s sound pretty amazing. This little thing gives them the creamy mids the 232 does not deliver normally.
The low end is phenomenal. Now these already have nice and controlled bass with insane low end extension but paired with this its truly breath taking at times.

On many tracks I find the x-bass too much and it makes the sound too muddy.
On the right tracks though this is ****ing eargasm.
This shows what the 232s are truly capable of in terms of low end. With psytrance especially the bass is out of this world good. Which it was even before but with x-bass it completely blows me out of my mind while still keeping most details and nice highs. Best bass boost I ever heard, just wish there were some levels you could switch through as on most songs I actually thinks its a bit too much.

The 232s end up sounding relatively neutral with very nice low end even without x-bass and a slightly warm sound signature which I enjoy quite a lot.
Now its of course not the best dac in the world and neither the best amp but for this price its fantastic.
While I don`t own any high end dacs or amps I can only compare it to the best sound card I have, the Asus Xonar D2X.

This is a fantastic card with lots of details and an amazing sound stage but sadly I lost a connector for it and have not been able to use it for some time now, so this is all from memory. The D2X definitely had a way better sound stage.
Not that the Hip Dac has a bad one, but its not that wide and lacks some depth in comparison.
It also wins in the highs and mids, but only slightly in the mids. The low end is another story though.

The D2X is a pretty flat tuned dac which results in very nice controlled low end but sometimes I wished there was more and sadly there is no option to increase it via the driver. The low end on the Hip Dac is very good.
Without x-bass its pretty much the perfect amount for me since it is slightly boosted but it does not sound muddy at all and overall it sounds simply amazing. X-bass is for when I want that extra juice but I find it very genre and track dependent.
Since I listen to a lot of electronic music I think it fits psytrance the best out of all I tried so far, with hip hop it got easily too muddy and techno was nice but also a bit much with some songs.


All in all the Hip Dac comes pretty close to the D2X in highs and mids and the lows win it for me for sure.
It does not sound as refined and detailed but more musical and since the 232s don`t really lack details its a match made in heaven for me. I am sure there is a lot of better gear that will blow my mind even more but for now, I could not be happier.
My 232s have never sounded so engaging and fun. My only gripe is the battery life and the very limited volume control range (not the players fault though) so far but I knew what I was gonna get myself into...
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ngoshawk

Headphoneus Supremus
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/

KiVaqCN.jpg


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

mLJkTmf.jpg


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

lPxnM4t.jpg

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.

pJ0yqYH.jpg


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.

xVFFpK9.jpg


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.

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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.

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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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B9Scrambler

Headphoneus Supremus
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.

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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.

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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

**If you enjoyed this review, there are tons more to be found over on The Contraptionist.**

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

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Last edited:
keunhuvac
keunhuvac
Hi, any suggestion if pair this dac with akg n40?

McCol

Headphoneus Supremus
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.
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

Old1Eye

New Head-Fier
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.





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
Tripokaridos
Tripokaridos
Yes nano is warmer and more powerful on 3.5 jack vs hip dac .

Sunstealer

500+ Head-Fier
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.
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Wiljen

Headphoneus Supremus
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

Ynot1

500+ Head-Fier
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.
hip-dac-board-2-copy.jpg


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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Y
Ynot1
Others have reviewed these with HD600 and they seemed satisfied.
pail
pail
Thank you
A
Amyth sharma
Hot when i use, its normal??

gnahra

1000+ Head-Fier
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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S
shoaibexpert
Hi @iFi audio

I am buying the Hip DAC and noticed that there was a 4.4 Pentaconn balanced port and a 3.5mm port. I have these 2 questions:

1. Is the 3.5mm port fully balanced when used with a 3.5mm TRRS balanced connector/cable or does it stay single ended?

2. Also, with 3.5 Single ended connectors/cables, does it improve the SQ to go from say a 3.5mm single ended connector/cable (which comes with most headphones) to a 4.4mm Pentacon (other than voltage increase in voltage) connector cable...as i read something about the S-balanced providing all the benefits of balanced to single ended cables?

I am asking if I need to change my supplied headphone 3.5 single ended cable to either a 3.5mm or a 4.4mm balanced cable...given the 3.5mm TRRS balanced cables are cheaper..but ill only do this if it improves the SQ over the normal 3.5 single ended operation with the hip DAC.

Thanks
N
nosauce
I can confirm that the Hip-Dac is upgradable. Right now there seems to be 3 versions of the firmware providing different sound signatures. I tried them all and like the v5.30 best (which is the version that it shipped with). I found that the vocals are more forward with this version which I really like. v5.3c implements iFi's GTO filter. More details and links may be found in this post from what seems to be the main hip-dac thread:

https://www.head-fi.org/threads/ifi-audios-worst-kept-secret-the-hip-dac.924428/post-15499598
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