iFi audio hip-dac Review

iFi audio Hip-Dac

Technical Performance

 

 

The soundstage is not very wide and deep, so it’s somewhat average and boxy in this regard. However, it’s better than my expectations at this price level. The forward mid-range presentation creates a close stage in terms of length though. Yet, the device has a nice ability to separate the instruments and reproducing a spacious stage. That sense of space was one of the striking qualities of the device when I first listened to it.

The bass recovery is one of the positive points about hip-dac. Yet when you open the xBass effect, that ability is not the same. The feature is very nice just for the sake of fun, but not so good to me in terms of pure sound quality. But that’s just me, you might feel differently.

The best parts about the hip-dac, however, are the resolution and transparency. These two are very important factors for me and the hip-dac is just marvelous from that standpoint. Balance-wise the mid-range is forward as I mentioned various times. Other than that there are no unnecessary peaks and lifts in the presentation. Separation is good with plenty of air and space. Tonality is realistic with a touch thinner timbre than I would’ve liked.

Synergy

I don’t recommend using the hip-dac with very sensitive monitors. Take the InEar ProMission X for example. Its impedance is 10ohms, and it has a sensitivity of 120 dB. This is one of the most sensitive monitors you can find. Is it impossible to use it with the iFi hip-dac? No, it’s not, but it’s not ideal either. In low volumes, there’s a slight channel imbalance, so you need to crank up the volume. But if you like your music a bit quiet like me, then it’s not your best pairing.

The device is wonderful and very powerful for full-size headphones though. The result is excellent with the Thieaudio Phantom, especially when the xBass feature is on. The results with other monitors such as the P-EAR-S SH3 are quite good. Just be aware that it’s not ideal with very sensitive monitors.

Conclusion

The iFi hip-dac has only one goal; improving your sound quality compared to the direct outputs of laptops and smartphones. After the time I’ve had with this device, I can smoothly say that it reaches that goal perfectly. The previous similar device from iFi, the xDSD, doesn’t sound this natural and easy-going to me. Instead, it is bright and somewhat “digital” sounding. Sure, it has Bluetooth, a 3D effect switch and other extras but do you really need them? Well, I don’t.

So for just $149, you get a very natural, uncolored, and slightly warm sound with forward mids. Technicalities-wise the device is excellent with great resolution, transparency, and separation. The outer design is better and more refined compared to the previous generation as well.

The hip-dac enters our DAC/Amp Combo Recommendations and I think it’ll stay there for quite some time.

 

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A keen audiophile and hobby photographer, Berkhan is after absolute perfection. Whether it is a full frame camera or a custom in-ear, his standpoint persists the same. He tries to keep his photography enthusiasm at the same level with audio. Sometimes photography wins, sometimes his love for music takes him over and he puts that camera aside. Simplistic expressions of sound in his reviews is the way to go for him. He enjoys a fine single malt along with his favourite Jazz recordings.

14 Comments

  • Reply July 30, 2020

    CW

    I’m a big fan…got this w/ my Sennheisser 660s cans and am really enjoying the combo. Great for portability and I do use on my work-from-home desk. One great tip is to have the hip-dac plugged in to an external power source before turning on and it will draw from the external power and not the built-in battery.

    In fact, I also got the Zen DAC for my ‘den’ upstairs for convenience.

    • Reply July 31, 2020

      Berkhan

      Enjoy it. However if the device is only working with an external power source, the battery might get deteriorated.

  • Reply July 30, 2020

    Michael Norberg

    Nice review, but I wish there was a comment which DAC chip is actually used for the ifi Hip Dac.

  • Reply July 30, 2020

    Bob

    Do you have to “unzip” files to download the drivers??? If you do count me out. I have NEVER had any luck trying to do this.

    • Reply July 31, 2020

      Berkhan

      I think so yes. Let me know if you need any help.

    • Reply August 20, 2020

      james wilson

      Bob, there is no reason you should ever have a problem unzipping a file then using it… I’ve never heard such a thing in my life… maybe watch a youtube video on how to unzip a file?

      I think its in your head, brother.

  • Reply August 2, 2020

    Bobo

    What would you say in terms of difference to ifi micro black? I was thinking of downgrading since my cans are OPPO pm3 pretty easy to drive.

    • Reply August 2, 2020

      Berkhan

      There isn’t a big difference between them. I think the hip-dac even sounds more natural.

  • Reply August 4, 2020

    Musikverein

    Natural is the keyword here! Analogue, I would add. The first to my ears with 24Bit (classical) music material. Imho this iFi is a no brainer if you run it with neutral/analytical phones as I do:
    Tin Hifi T4 modded, K712 modded, DT880/600 (soon) balanced.
    It has replaced the Dragonfly in this chain. Another huge benefit: the Hip does not distort audibly, even under full load. Five stars, certainly for the sound to price ratio.

    • Reply August 5, 2020

      Berkhan

      You have nice pairings there. Enjoy!

  • Reply August 13, 2020

    Musikverein

    So true, Berkhan.
    I had the chance today to extensively listening to Hip Dac in combination with the brandnew Zen Can Amp and to run that into HD800s, DT880 600 and Diana Phi.
    In short, I consider this the mid-fi combination of the year so far. Organic and coherent in timbre, multifeatured, resilient to clipping. Well designed, except the USB cable which is made for the color blind.. Plus, all of this for a very affordable price point one might call Entry.

  • Reply September 15, 2020

    Fabio

    Very nice device! Got it last Saturday. At the moment I don’t have serious headphones. I tested it with my iBasso IT01S and Beyer DT770.
    The hiss with the IT01S connected to the balance 4.4mm is very audible and I don’t like it.
    Can you please suggest me good headphones to use in combination with the Hip Dac? Budget 200-400 € and I mostly listen to metal, rock and jazz in this order. Progressive Metal is my favourite genre.
    Many thanks!!

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