Based in the UK iFi is one of the most renowned portable DAC/Amp makers in the world. They have some of the best portable devices along with desktop DAC/Amps in a lot of price ranges. Few years ago they were not really bothered about balanced outputs like 2.5mm and 4.4mm but now they have a handful of DACs and AMPs which support balanced output catering to a wider range of users. Along with their in house optimizations they have recently launched a plethora of portable DACs and amps like Hip DAC, xCAN, xDSD and ZEN CAN.
Hip DAC is one of their smallest and most portable DACs which can be used with both mobile phones and PCs. Thanks to its 4.4mm balanced out it manages to grab a lot of attention. And more than the spec its color catches the eyes, the Cyan color looks really beautiful. Priced at $150 or 12000inr it competes with a handful of DAC/amps in this price range. Before the Hip DAC I have been exposed to the Black Label DAC/Amp, which has a very revealing and transparent sound with plenty of details.
In their words:
Hip, hot and happening
“Our hip-dac is the perfect companion for music lovers on the go.
Not only will its hi-res specs make your tunes sound fabulous, but its hot, on-trend styling will make them look pretty amazing too.
Smartly dressed in petrol blue with a touch of copper, the go-anywhere hip-dac was designed to slip discreetly into your pocket BUT its cool look might mean you want to keep it on display.”
Get one for yourself from here:-
PACKAGING A ACCESSORIES:-
For a $150 DAC it comes with a few handy set of accessories. Most of the DAC/Amps don’t bother much about the convenience of the user but iFi has nearly covered them all.
It comes in a small box. There are 3 cables, an USB A female to C OTG cable which is to be used with mobile phones, a short USB A to C cable perhaps for charging maybe (nothing else cable done with it) and the last one is a female to male USB A cable to connect with PC. A set of rubber foots should protect the body from rubbing against rough surfaces. Along with the cables a couple of leaflets covering the warranty and quick start information can be found in the box. I am kind of nit picking but except the OTG cables (to be used with mobile phones) the other two cables could have been slightly longer, specially the charging cable.
(On a side note I think iFi should sell a stacker for Hip DAC, which could be attached and detached from the mobile phone)
BUILD QUALITY AND CONNECTIVITY:-
The concept of the hip DAC is to make it very portable dac, as portable as a hip Flask which can be carried around without any problem. The Hip DAC emulates similar shape and looks without being heavy. With a dimension of just 102 x 70 x 14mm while tipping the scale at just 125grams it is one of the most powerful portable DAC/Amps in its price bracket.
One of the most attractive aspects of the Hip DAC is its Cyan colored metal housing. It feels strong and can take a few dings without any external damage. The color scheme is really attractive, Cyan body with golden knob emulating a hip flask kind of shape gives it a aesthetically premium feel which is very rare in any price bracket. It feels really sturdy from every aspect except the USB OTG port (why not a simple USB port though). The OTG port is the weakest point with a slight big of wobble to it. Everything else feels aptly sturdy, let it be the golden colored power/volume knob or the Xbass and power match switches they all have nice click and work as intended.
As the name suggests the Hip DAC is a DAC with headphone amplification which has portability in its mind. And like most of the portable DAC/Amps in this price range the Hip DAC has only one input and output option. The music can only be streamed into the OTG port and the output has to be through the S-balance compatible 3.5mm or the 4.4mm ports.
Before connecting it with the PC a driver should be installed from their website. Connect it with the blue OTG cable (go to the sound menu and set Hip DAC as default output device).
TECH TALK, DRIVING POWER AND BUTTONS:-
Hip DAC is one of the most formidable portable DAC/AMPs in this price range. It can be used with mobile phones and PCs but looking at its size and convenience I assume most of the users prefer to use it with their mobile phones while on the move. It houses a Burr Brown chip which can handle hi-res PCM up to 384kHz as well as DSD256 and MQA used by Tidal’s ‘Master’ tier. It also uses quad J-Fet OV4627A operational amplifiers along with DUAL-mono power amp IC headphone drivers. And to everyone’s delight it comes with balanced outputs. The 4.4mm pentaconn opens up the balanced world and even though the 3.5mm feels like single ended it too is S-balanced which provides balanced like experience while reducing some hissing with sensitive IEMs. Doesn’t matter which port is in use the Hip DAC delivers plenty of power, going as high as 6.3v with a 600ohm load (with the 4.4mm balanced). And even if you are not someone who likes to buy separate cables for your ear/headphones the Hip DAC can do 280mw with the 3.5mm socket, which in my opinion is plenty to drive power hungry headphones.
|Formats supported||DSD256/128/64, Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD DXD(384/352.8kHz), PCM(384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz) MQA|
|Digital Inputs||USB 3.0 type ’A’ High-Speed Asynchronous USB 2.0, (32bit/384kHz)|
|Headphone Outputs||Balanced 4.4mm S-Bal (SE) 3.5mm|
|Power Output (@1% THD)||BAL: 400mW@32 Ohm ; S-BAL(SE): 280mW@32 Ohm BAL: 6.3V@600 Ohm ; S-BAL (SE): 3.2V@600 Ohm|
|Power System||Charging via USB-C, BC V1.2 compliant up to 1000mA charging current|
|Power (max)||<2W idle, 4W max|
If bass is what drives the sound for you, iFi has equipped the Hip DAC with XBASS button which brings back the fuller and meatier feel to the flatter sounding head gears. I tried it with a couple of my headphones and it works flawlessly boosting the sub-bass and mid-bass region, giving the lower end plenty of rumbles. It does slow down the decay speed a bit but that is a tradeoff a bass lover is always willing to.
One might say “I tried the Hip DAC and it was not really impressive with its driving capabilities”. To get the best output with sensitive headphones Hip DAC has a power match button which delivers more power and is perfectly capable of driving most of the headphone in the market. Don’t Expect it to drive the least sensitive and needy headphones. It can drive nearly 99.9% IEMs with ease.
In their words:-
“PowerMatch The amp stage features switchable gain, which we call PowerMatch. This option matches the level of drive to the load presented by the headphones, by adjusting input sensitivity and signal strength. With less sensitive headphones such as large cans, put PowerMatch at its higher setting for best performance and vice versa for IEMs.”
The Hip DAC is small and slim but it still houses a very respectable 2200mah battery inside it which is good for at least 6-7hours of usage and can be as good as 10-11 hours. While driving the MSR7B through the 4.4mm socket with “Power match” and XBASS on the battery life is the poorest, delivering around 6 hours and around 7 hours from the 3.5mm socket with both the buttons on. To get the best out of the battery one has to use the 3.5mm socket with all the switches off with moderate volume. Even when iFi says the Hip DAC can be charged with high power charger with 5V support, it still takes around 3 hours with my 20w (5V 4A) charger.
On a longer commute, there is small chance that the Hip DAC will die halfway. I would love iFi to fit a higher capacity battery even if it translates into a slightly bigger and heavier device.