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.
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.
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.