Anyone who has infected with the ‘Audiophile’ virus, possibly has heard ‘IFI Audio/AMR Audio’s name once or used at least one of their devices too. Ifi audio as a brand is not only famous for its high-end equipment but also due to their end to end product solutions. Either you want a high-end DAC or some high efficient power adapters, all you can get from Ifi audio easily. Though Ifi audio and their products remained limited to a specific group of buyers due to their respectively high price. Budget audiophiles or newcomers in this hobby may have avoided Ifi’s products so far due to the high price but Ifi now has some answers for them too. Recently they have launched two very affordable products, one for desktop and other for portable usage. I had purchased the Zen DAC as soon as it launched and loving it too much. My eyes were on that portable Ifi Hip DAC too, so I managed to get a demo unit too. I would like to thank Headphone Zone for sending the unit for review. So let’s evaluate it.
Specifications of Ifi Hip DAC
- Model Number – Hip DAC,
- Color – Teal,
- DAC Chip – Texas Instruments Burr-Brown DSD1793,
- AMP Chip – OV4627A,
- Structure – Anodized Aluminum,
- Size – 14mm x 111mm x 70mm (D x H X W),
- Input – USB B 2.0 female for data transfer and USB Type C for charging.
- Analog Output – 3.5 S Balanced and 4.4 mm balanced.
- USB Protocol – UAC 2.0 and 3.0,
- MAX decoding – DSD256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD DXD (384/352.8 kHz), PCM (384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz) MQA,
- Frequency Response – 20Hz-40 kHz,
- Output Power – (@1% THD) BAL – [email protected] Ohm, S-BAL (SE) – [email protected] Ohm, BAL- [email protected] Ohm S-BAL (SE) – [email protected] Ohm
- Output Power usage – 2W idle, 4W max,
- Battery – 2200mAh,
- Charging time – 3 hours,
- Compatibility – Windows, Mac OS, Android, IOS (I pad pro with Type C),
- Microphone Support – Yes,
- In-Line Controls – No,
- ASIO – Yes,
- Drivers – Yes,
- Gain – Yes (Power Match),
- Bass Boost – Yes (XBass),
- Weight – 125 grams.
What’s in the Box?
- Ifi Hip DAC,
- USB A to Type C Charging Cable,
- Type C to USB A 3.0 Female OTG Cable,
- USB A 3.0 to USB A 3.0 Female Data Cable,
- 3M Silicone Feet,
- Hip DAC User Manual,
- Warranty Car.
Tested Sources with Ifi Hip DAC
Windows 10 PC, Realme C2, Macbook 13 inch, Hiby R3, iPhone 7.
Tested Apps with Ifi Hip DAC
USB Audio Player Pro, Tidal Desktop, Audirvana plus, Hiby Music player, Foobar2000.
Tested Gears with Ifi Hip DAC
Sennheiser HD6xx, Fearless audio Crystal Pearl, Nature Sound NS3, IBasso IT00, Magaosi K3 HD.
Product Page – Here
Ifi Hip DAC is a plug and play device for Android, Linux, and MAC OS and works without any additional drivers. But if you want to use Hip DAC in windows machines, you have to use the specific driver for it. After installing the drivers; if your PC doesn’t recognize Hip DAC, please install the drivers again. Sometimes it needs twice installation. The current USB 2.0 driver version is 3.2 and after the successful driver installs the device should pop-up in your sound device list. The audio drivers also include ASIO drivers which can be used with software like Foobar2000 to achieve bit-perfect decoding in windows.
Driver Link – Here
User flashable firmware is also supported by Ifi Hip DAC. Ifi Audio releases firmware updates from time to time which you can download and upgrade the Hip DAC to its latest version easily. The stock Hip DAC firmware is 5.30 Cookies & Cream. The firmware download link and installation process can be found here.
Firmware Link – Here
Install Foobar2000 and install the ASIO Support component. Then go to File – Preferences – Output and select the ‘ASIO: iFI (by AMR) HD USB Audio’ from drop down and then Apply – Ok.
To showcase the presentation, I have made an unboxing video which you can watch below. The overall presentation is good and I would like to appreciate Ifi’s eco-friendly packaging.
The best thing with Hip DAC is it comes with most of the accessories, still being an affordable device. To use Hip DAC with IOS devices you have to buy a separate Apple camera adapter cable which is a bit disappointing. I am missing some rubber bands too, which is useful to attach such portable DACs with a Smartphone.
Design & Build Quality
Ifi’s previous attempt of a truly pocketable device was Ifi XDSD and it is a great sounding device. I have used it for some days earlier too but there were lots of designs and build quality issues. The wave-like design on the outer stainless steel part is annoying. It’s also a fingerprint magnet and easy to get scratched. Due to the design, it’s hard to stick with other devices and the confusing volume rotary wheel is another disaster.
Hip DAC, on the other hand, is a practical device. It’s thin, small, lightweight, flat, and pocketable. Ifi has corrected almost all the errors present in XDSD. When buying personal electronics devices users either prefer black or silver color on their new devices but Hip DAC’s mountain blue (Teal) color is looking so beautiful that no one should have any objection to it. A smooth matt finish in combination with the black front/back and brass volume wheel are complementing each other. Subtle branding on top of the Hip DAC is also a nice touch. I can see a design similarity between Fiio’s Q1 mk2 and Hip DAC too.
Build quality is too good in Hip DAC. Hard to find any imperfection, even the silver front buttons don’t rattles while shaking the device. The device feels solid yet lightweight in the palm of your hand, hard to believe that it has a battery inside it.
The analog volume potentiometer is nice to have in such a thin and portable device. The motion is smooth and has an on/off function build into it. The knob is neither too big nor too small, hence very easy to operate without interfering with other devices when attached to smartphones or DAPs. Ifi claims that their analog volume solution is much superior to digital volume control and I am a great fan of analog volume control but still like other analog volume control a mild channel imbalance can be heard at very low volume. As it is present at a very low volume, it’s not a big issue.
Hip DAC has 2 input ports, one full-size USB A female for data transmission and other USB type C for charging. Ifi still using the full-size USB A female in their all devices, as it’s more durable and widely compatible across the device. But in 2020 when USB type C is so versatile and both good type C to type C / type C to Lightning (MFI certified) cables are available, there is no need to use such big USB A female port in a portable device. Sadly Hip DAC also doesn’t have any Line-in input so it can’t be used as external AMP.
Hip DAC has 2 output ports. One is 3.5mm (S balance) and the other 4.4 mm balanced. You may be surprised to know that the 3.5 mm port also supports balanced output. Ifi has used their proprietary S balanced technology in Hip DAC too. That means the 3.5 mm port in Hip DAC supports 3.5mm (4pin TRRS), 3.5mm (3pin TRS), and 3.5mm (TRS+mic) output. In 2020 most of the portable devices coming with 4.4mm balanced port and Hip DAC are no exception here.
Front & Back LED Light
Several color-changing LED is present in Hip DAC’s front and back. The LED besides volume know shows –
- Green – Power on/ Up to 96 kHz,
- Yellow – Up to 384 kHz,
- Cyan – DSD128,
- Blue – DSD256,
- Magenta – MQA.
Two separate white LED is also present to show if XBass and PowerMatch are on or off. On the backside, one LED is present under the type C charging port to show the battery and charging status.
- White – > 75%
- Green – >25%
- Red – >10%
- Red Flashing – <10%
Battery LED will flash when it is charging.
Hip DAC comes with a 2200mAh lithium polymer battery and it takes almost 3 hours and a couple of minutes to fully charge it. There is a contradiction in the working time of the battery. On the product page, Ifi claims the working time is 12 hours and in the box and user manual, Ifi mentioned 8 hours of battery life. In my testing, Hip DAC has managed to last around 7.5-8 hours depending on the load, gain, and bass boost. Make sure to charge the battery 4/5 cycles to achieve the mentioned working time.
[email protected] Ohm from the balanced port and [email protected] Ohm, are some good figures for such a thin and portable device. So Hip DAC should run moderately power-hungry cans smoothly. With all my IEMs and headphones, Hip DAC has performed well. Tried some demanding headphones, and Hip DAC managed to run them smoothly too.
The power match is the Ifi’s reinterpretation of ‘Gain’ setting. Thankfully Ifi added this in this entry-level product too. High gain is useful when you need some extra juice from you DAC and you are out of volume. After some measurements, I can see using the Power Match being on, you can expect 8-10db gain boos in Hip DAC which is fantastic.
The noise floor is very low at low volume. Once you crank the volume up and the internal relay clicks, you can face some mild background noise from Hip DAC. But while playing songs that noise not at all bothering. Thankfully Ifi implemented their legendry S-Balanced 3.5mm port in Hip DAC too and they have also advised using sensitive IEMs via S-Balanced port to get better channel separation and low noise floor. With the help of a 3.5mm (TRRS) male to 2.5mm (TRRS) adapter; I have managed to test the S-Balanced port. And it’s something one should consider if using sensitive IEMs, almost no noise, and better channel separation.
While charging or discharging, the device doesn’t heat up too much. When using with PC it heats up a but still not too much. Don’t charge and use the device simultaneously, it may affect the life span of the battery.
Mic & In-Line Controls
Hip DAC’s 3.5mm port supports Mic input. That means if you use an IEM/Headphone with an inline microphone, you can attend calls too from your Smartphone. But Hip DAC doesn’t support in-line controls like accepting calls/disconnecting calls by pressing inline buttons in earphones.
Here are some of my favorite tracks which I have used to evaluate Ifi Hip DAC in this review.
- ‘I Miss You’ by Adele ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Sweet Child’ by Simply Red ( MQA),
- ‘Your Latest Trick’ by Dire Straits (16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Running On Faith’ by Eric Clapton ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Trust in Me’ by Etta James ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘You Know I’m No Good’ by Amy Winehouse (MQA),
- ‘Victim of Love’ by Eagles ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Instant Crush’ by Daft Punk ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Family Man (Extended Vocal Remix)’ by Fleetwood MAC (MQA),
- ‘Three O’Clock Blues’ by B.B. King (MQA),
- ‘Don’t You’ by Amber Rubarth (DSD 5.6 MHz),
- ‘Looking For A Home’ by Keith Greeninger & Dayan Kai (DSD 2.8 MHz).
Like other brands, Ifi also tends to tune their devices to a certain type of sound signature. The similarity of tone and signature may be the result of using particular Burr-Brown chips or certain filters. In their other more premium devices Ifi tends to use a switch to choose between ‘Measure’ and ‘Listen’ filters which offer either a neutral or a warm sound. But in Hip DAC there is no such filter slide switch and after using it for some time, I feel that most probably the default sound signature has been set to the ‘Listen’ mode which means a neutral sound with a hint of warmth.
As mentioned above there is warmth and that warmth is present on the lower frequency part mainly. Though that warmth is not too much and with a non-bassy IEM/Headphone the lower frequency part sounds flat. When paired with a bass-heavy IEM the rumble soon becomes more prominent. Speed is fast and decay is accurate. Overall a well-controlled and quality bass can be achieved with the combination of Hip DAC and dynamic driver IEM.
XBass is the feature that adds more emphasis to the lower frequency part of Hip DAC. A 1 to 1.8db boost from 20Hz to 200Hz can be noticed with the bass boost on. Now if you are not a fan of critical listening, this added bass boost is nice to experience.
The Midrange is clean and natural. I am not calling it transparent as I can feel some warmth here too. The midrange is free from any strong coloration too. My previous Ifi device was XDSD and it impressed me with its excellent midrange. Hip DAC’s midrange is quite nice but not at the level of XDSD’, It lacks the energy and sounds a bit relaxed. Slight warmth in lower mids creating a sweet timbre in male vocals where female vocals are on the softer side. With MQA tracks Hip DAC has managed to overcome the softness in upper-mids and sounds more engaging. Ifi probably one of the device manufacturers whose MQA implementation is flawless.
I am truly impressed by Hip DAC’s higher frequency part. It’s the best part of Hip DAC’s so far for me. The higher frequency part is well extended yet it doesn’t add any roughness or harshness to your gears. With all my gears I can hear only the sparkle, which was missing with my other portable DACs. That amount of sparkle is just perfect, and ads clarity and spaciousness to the tracks. Even in this area, Hip DAC is better than Ifi’s more expensive XDSD.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Instrument Separation
Soundstage production with Ifi Hip DAC is not a super wide rather a natural stage can be noticed. Depth is there but in terms of width and height is not so wide. The imaginary stage is good, but not excellent. With well-mastered tracks or MQA tracks, Hip DAC is capable of rendering outstanding clarity and details which helps to monitor your favorite tracks. In terms of detail retrieval and instrument separation, Hip DAC can outperform many high-end DACs easily. When some entry-level DACs suffer to manage complex tracks, Hip DAC just driving them like butter.
ALL DIGITAL FILTERS FOR AUDIO ARE WRONG. ALL OF THEM, INCLUDING THE ‘NO FILTER’ OPTION. THIS IS WHY WE NEED YET ANOTHER FILTER!
With optional firmware version V 5.3C you can apply GIBBS TRANSIENT OPTIMISED DIGITAL FILTER, which is according to Hip DAC is more musical than other filters. They have briefly discussed some technical parameters in their GTO filter notes which you can read on their website. Now as a listener it’s hard to note any changes after applying any such filter as there are many limitations present. When you don’t have two separate devices and can’t back and forth the filters in the A-B test, it is impossible to tell the difference at all. Still, I have noted some improvements which may be a placebo effect or a real thing. With GTO filter Hip DAC added more energy in the upper mids and presence area. Improvement in soundstage also can be heard. Overall the sound is more dynamic now.
Ifi Hip DAC vs. Audirect Beam 2
This comparison may seem idiotic as Beam 2 and Hip DAC are two completely different types of devices. Still, they are both portable devices with some similar features. Both the devices priced around 150$ and comes with MQA decoding and balanced out. Now from the physical perspective, there are surely Hip DAC has a lot of advantages.
- Hip DAC is battery powered which gives better runtime of your portable source.
- It has a physical volume control which is very useful.
- Build quality is way better in Hip DAC.
- It comes with a 4.4 mm output which is sturdier than 2.5mm.
The output power of Hip DAC is also higher than Beam 2 and sonically very close. Now it doesn’t mean that Beam 2 doesn’t have any advantages over Hip DAC. Beam 2 is more portable and widely compatible across the devices out of the box. Sonically Hip DAC and Beam 2 are very close but I can give a small advantage to Beam 2 when comes to detail retrieval and better imaginary stage.
Before trying hip DAC my main concern was, what are the compromises Ifi has made to make Hip DAC so affordable? But it turns out Hip DAC still being the most affordable offering from Ifi packed with lots of premium features with excellent close to the neutral sound. Ifi Hip DAC is like a complete meal for a new audiophile. Once you have it, you don’t need another premium DAC/AMP unless you want to drive deep further.