Today we check out the $189 USD iFi audio hip-dac 2.
Disclaimer: The iFi audio hip-dac 2 was sent to us directly by iFi audio. This review reflects my unbiased opinion as always. This review has similarities with the original hip-dac review since they have the same design and build.
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 reviewed several iFi products before this one, such as the Nano iOne, the Nano iDSD Black Label, the xDSD, and the xCAN. I also reviewed the great iFi ZEN Blue and it entered our Best Wireless Recommendations list.
There’s also the NEO iDSD. I still use that one in my house for TV & home audio. The iDSD Signature is also another nice DAC/Amp from iFi Audio. Those ones are also selected as two of the best DAC/Amp combos on our site.
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.
New xDSD Gryphon will also be here soon.
About iFi audio hip-dac 2
The iFi audio hip-dac 2 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 2 has standard iFi traits such as “power match” -which is the a switch-, and an X-Bass switch for more oomph. The 4.4mm balanced output is still there. This has become the standard socket for balanced audio. You have a standard 3.5mm as well of course.
Above you can see my original hip-dac review. The hip-dac 2 brings improvements such as the new XMOS USB chip and full MQA decoding. The first version had the rendering capability of MQA files, but the second version can decode the MQA files as well, if you bother. The new USB chip delivers double the clock speed and four times the memory for better performance.
Aside from those improvements, there’s a newly upgraded crystal clock that contributes to a purer and crisper sound, according to iFi Audio.
Design & Build & Package
When the first hip-dac came out, I found the design modern and sleek. The old 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. It is a fresh renovation in their line-up in terms of portable DAC/Amps. It’s very flashy, eye-catching and cool.
The hip-dac 2 has a new orange colour with a silver volume knob. Overall this design is a bit more serious looking than the original, which had a flashy blue with the copper volume pot. The second version looks even cooler and down-the-earth. The color scheme is beautiful with an orange/black/silver combination. I think iFi nailed the design part with this release.
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 in the past. 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. However, this also prevents you from using your existing USB cables because of the recessed male form.
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 new hip-dac 2 is quite slim, so it’s a nice companion for smartphone users. If you like this minimalistic approach, it’s a nice companion for slim laptop users as well. Just sit at a cafe, connect the USB cable, open up the volume pot and you’re good to go. It’s plug and play for smartphones, as well as PCs. However, I recommend installing the iFi firmware on your Windows laptop for full function, especially MQA.
The xBass button is 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, and 24 Bit files from Qobuz, with USB Audio Player Pro with a smartphone.
There’s an IEMatch button next to the xBass button and that acts as a gain switch on face value. However, it acts the same as the iFi’s IEMatch accessory. It performs an impedance matching to your IEMs and provides you the optimum gain setting.
One thing that I liked is the inclusion of the 4.4mm Balanced output. This allows you to use your 4.4mm jack. This provides a very rigid and secure connection compared to 2.5mm. Also, the 3.5mm output has an “S-Balanced” output, so you can perfectly use your 3.5mm Balanced cables if you have any.
The battery life is very good and my experience has been consistent with the figures. Speaking of it, the charging and data ports on the hip-dac are separated. For charging you use the USB Type C connector, and for data you utilize the classic USB-A. This is an important decision since it separates power and data flow to the device.
One thing to note is that; the balanced output is a bit noisy with sensitive IEMs, so if you want to use those kinds of gear with the hip-dac 2, I recommend sticking to the standard 3.5mm. There’s no such problem for full size headphones.