Today we check out the $149 iFi Hip-Dac for the first time before the full review.
Disclaimer: The iFi Hip-Dac was provided directly by iFi Audio. This post is part of our new First Look Sunday series, you can find all of the previous ones here.
About iFi Audio
Belonging to the group AMR (Abbingdon Music Research Group), which is one of the largest audio equipment manufacturers in the UK, iFi Audio is a manufacturer of several DACs and amplifiers, as well as other accessories for computer & home audio. I already reviewed four different iFi products before this one, which are the Nano iOne, the Nano iDSD Black Label, the xDSD, and the xCAN. I also reviewed the great iFi ZEN Blue most recently and it entered our Best Wireless Recommendations list.
iFi Audio has a very open and charming communication which makes things a lot easier, at least it’s been the case for me. They pay attention to the products of course, but they also pay attention to make you happy. I’m pretty sure this is also the case for their actual customers. Also, I would like to pay special thanks to Karina for this review sample.
About iFi Hip-DAC
The iFi Hip-Dac is a very compact and portable DAC/Amp mostly for mobile users. It supports hi-res PCM up to 384kHz as well as DSD256 and MQA as used by Tidal’s ‘Master’ tier. The Hip-Dac has standard iFi traits such as “power match” -which is the gain switch-, and an X-Bass switch for more oomph. The new thing here is the 4.4mm balanced output. This is becoming the standard socket for balanced audio nowadays. You have a standard 3.5mm as well of course.
Take the hip-dac, our mini DAC/headphone amplifier, with you wherever you go.
The new design is also very modern, sleek and to me stunning. The xDSD’s design was also very nice, but I think this simply is the next level in terms of looks and convenience. It’s very slim, very compact and sexy looking.
The new iFi Hip-Dac is a stunning device. It is a fresh renovation in their line-up in terms of portable DAC/Amps. It’s very flashy, eye-catching and cool. It’s somewhat less serious with a more consumer looking approach when compared to iFi’s previous devices. The outside of the device is full aluminum. The front side has a black plastic panel as well as the backside. The color scheme is beautiful with a petrol blue and black combination. The design is finished nicely with a copper volume pot and it gives the device a certain character.
The recessed USB socket of the device is very rigid and I find this solution thoughtful overall from iFi. This way you can use this device many years to come without worrying about the lifetime of the USB input. iFi supplies a USB-C cable for that purpose, meaning you can use every modern smartphone with it. In the past, I criticized iFi for not putting that cable in the package of their DAC/Amps. This time you have it, and it looks like it’s the same cable that I covered in 2018; the iFi OTG Cable.
The build quality is very good and the volume pot, in particular, gives a very premium feel. The xDSD was not good in that regard as well as the xCAN, as I mentioned in their respective reviews. The xBass feature is really useful if you want to enjoy EDM tunes, but I mostly kept that off since I don’t like artificial effects. The device supports every file format you can think of, and it’s flawless to listen to MQA recordings from Tidal with USB Audio Player Pro with a smartphone.
Sound-wise the device is a bit warmer than neutral with a good sense of space and resolution. The overall separation is very successful, and the sound-stage is wider and deeper than what I expected. The Hip-Dac has excellent imaging as a direct result, and it is combined with good transparency, especially in mids. Presentation-wise I think the device is mid-centric as a whole. The tonality in the instruments is very satisfying and you have a good body in the whole sound. So I liked the sound performance and I think it’s better than what xDSD and CAN had to offer in the past.
The iFi Hip-Dac looks like a great performer at this time and I don’t think my opinion will change after the full review either. One of my friends has already sold his DAP and he’s happily using the Hip-Dac with his smartphone. Of course, the decision depends on your usage preferences. Yet that still tells something, doesn’t it?