The Hip DAC with its high quality components sounds very good, delivering very good amount of details and clarity for the most part of the spectrum. Addition of gain and bass boost switches along with the 4.4mm balanced out do broaden the mass appeal. The XBass has already found a lot of admirers. Without any tweaking the Hip DAC sound fairly neutral and colorless. It does favor the lower end and vocals a bit more than the rest of the spectrum while downplaying the upper treble region.
As mentioned earlier the Hip DAC favors the lower end with a nicely rounded thump and very good amount of rumble. To deliver more of the same it has an XBass button which boosts the lower end volume while slowing down the decay and adding more texture. It can be used with flatter or lean sounding IEMs and headphones. The best thing is it works perfectly, without bothering about EQing separately helping lean sounding IEMs like the DM7 and Avara AV3 gain good amount of body and thump.
Lower end extension is very good too. Sub-bass and mid bass are balanced nicely, both of them have equal amount of emphasis. The mid bass meatier and voluminous, giving the lower end the required amount of thump and slam. The decay speed is a hair slower which help with a bit more texture and resolution. The upper bass has very good amount of details and melts nicely into the lower mid.
Mid range of the Hip DAC is good on its own while having a bit of vocal emphasis gives it a sense of better details and clarity. It extracts very good amount of details and the transparency is up to the mark but when compared to the competition the Hip DAC doesn’t have the daft footed feel to it. Notes feel a bit more planted and less agile. The base feels wider than usual while the finishing is slightly on the blunt side. It would have made more sense with slightly better attack but this kind of notes gives it a smoother and crowd pleasing tonality. The thicker base makes the background acts slightly veiled. Micro details are not as transparent as they are with the TR-Amp. Vocals on the other hand have nice texture and tonality along with plenty of details and clarity. Both male and female vocals are accurate and enjoyable. The upper mid region has no anomalies to worry about but the slight lack of energy can feel a bit less engaging.
Treble is the only region where the Hip DAC struggles to deliver satisfying amount of details or resolution. I expect a DAC to be as neutral as possible but the Hip DAC doesn’t feel constrained by this concept. It feels like the Hip DAC is tuned to suit treble aggressive IEMs and headphones. It does help in reducing the accentuated treble region but then the treble extension and energy after the mid treble region is poor with more neutral sounding IEMs, it kind of feels like the Tempotec V1A with more power and better notes transparency.
Lower treble region has good amount of energy and delivers good amount details but it starts losing energy as it goes higher which results into lack to attack and gives an perception of lack of extension.
I like the resolution and imaging but the notes feel a bit more planted, compromising a bit of agility, notes depth and background clarity. Layering is good, but the separation could have been better.
STAGE AND IMAGING:-
The Stage size of the Hip DAC is very good for the price. It has very good depth and width but the stage get slightly narrower as the goes further from the head giving it a slightly conical feel instead of being rounded. Imaging is very good but the out of the head presence is slightly less than the TR-Amp. Instruments have nice density and don’t feel clumsy, cramped or overly spacious. Bass, mid range and treble region have nice presence without obstructing each other. It would have been better with a bit more rounded feel.
VS EarMen TR-Amp:-
The TR-Amp is much closer to the neutrality expected from DACs. It has more agile notes and slightly better resolution and considerably better details across the spectrum. The lower end is slightly leaner with equally good extension. Mainly the reduction in volume of the mid bass is what results into the leaner feel. The mid range slightly less forward but it still maintains plenty of details and transparency. Treble region is where the TR-Amp pulls ahead with a big margin. It delivers much better details and extension. The layering and separation is excellent. Notes are a lot more agile. Overall stage size is bigger with depth and height while the width is more or less the same. Imaging of the TR-Amp is better with more out of the head experience.
The Hip DAC has advantage of being smaller and lighter while the bass boost switch and availability of balanced out adds more versatility.
VS Radsone HUD 100 MK2:-
The HUD100 mk2 is a lot smaller and technically inferior on paper with an entry level DAC chip and lesser power output. It has no battery, draws power from the connected source and lacks balanced out or bass boosting DSPs.
The lower end is on the flatter side with lesser rumble and grunt. The mid bass is more neutral aiming for cleanliness instead of emphasizing. It barely has any emphasis on any part of the spectrum. And unlike the TR-Amp which can feel a bit dry HUD maintains nice juicy feel to it while delivering better transparency and clarity compared to the Hip DAC. Layering and separation too is better than the Hip DAC. Stage wise both are similar but the imaging of the HUD is more out of the head and can feel a bit more dynamic.
HUD 100 mk2 should be a no contest for the Hip DAC but the Korean device is more than up to the task. It might struggle while driving some of the most powerful headphones but while driving portable and less demanding headphones it delivers better end to end clarity and transparency.
A DAC is supposed to have an as neutral as possible sound signature, the Hip DAC deviates from this concept and introduces a bit of flavor of its own. It makes flat sounding headphones more enjoyable and treble aggressive IEMs or headphones much more tolerable. It does not lack with details but the contrast and crispiness could have been better. I would have liked a bit more agile notes with slightly smaller foot print. It favors a bit of warm and darker sound signature which will please the general consumer but I find it hard to recommend it for critical listening.
In the end it boils down to personal preference. There are a lot of users who will enjoy this mellow and slightly laid back approach more than the more transparency and agile HUD100 mk2 or TR-Amp. But for purists, they need to look at the Xduoo XD05 plus or TR-Amp.