About the iFi Audio hip-dac
Flask-shaped portable DAC serves up top-shelf sound
Flask-shaped portable DAC serves up top-shelf sound
The iFi Audio hip-dac sports one of the coolest portable headphone amp/DAC designs I've seen. And not just because it resembles an old-fashioned hip flask! It's so compact and thin that it slipped right into my jacket alongside my phone, without creating much pocket bulge. But even though it looks slim and unassuming, as the old country lyrics go: "don't let it fool you about what's inside."
The super-slim, battery-powered iFi hip-dac connects to your phone and headphones to give you better sound on the go.
I tested out this battery-powered DAC with both my phone and laptop. It bypassed the rotgut audio circuitry inside those devices, and the sonic upgrade was immediate. My headphones sounded much more dynamic and detailed than when connected directly to the phone or computer.
Makes all your digital music sound better
The hip-dac features digital connections and a high-grade Burr-Brown DAC chip that can squeeze out more musical detail from Spotify®, Apple Music®, YouTube, and other digital audio sources. This DAC will decode high-resolution music files up to 32-bit/384Hz resolution, and DSD files up to 11.2 MHz. It also offers full MQA support.
My listening impressions
I only had a few days to audition the iFi hip-dac before its big debut at the CanJam NYC 2020 headphone festival in Manhattan. It performed well with with two very different types of headphones — the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 closed-back over-ears and the Meze Rai Solo in-ear monitors (IEMs). I primarily used the lossless streaming service Qobuz for music, and the hip-dac's LED lights changed colors to verify the resolution of the incoming signal.
The Aeon 2s are easier to drive than most planar magnetic headphones, but I would still always recommend listening with a separate headphone amp like this one. I thought the hip-dac powered them well, and really had a grip on the start-and-stop movement of those special drivers. The results were improved dynamics and imaging — there was real depth within Aeon 2's spacious soundstage.
(I will say that the iFi xDSD portable DAC/amp was an even better match with these headphones, providing more power and control. But when you look at the value here, I would be more than pleased with the hip-dac.)
There are two front-panel buttons for sound processing options. One is called "PowerMatch®" and adjusts the gain for larger headphones like the Aeon 2s. I personally preferred the more precise volume control that I got from the old-school analog volume dial. But I did find myself hitting the other "Xbass®" button to add some extra low-end to certain songs.
It worked particularly well with the Rai Pentas, which have a very powerful, defined bass on their own. But I really enjoyed the extra low-end oomph when listening to the album No Requests by legendary DJs Stretch and Bobbito. They assembled a formidable live band to "reinterpret" classic soul, reggae, and jazz numbers that are often sampled in hip-hop. Those new arrangements and basslines really had my head nodding with iFi's Xbass processing engaged — a potent punch of low end, without extra bloat.
The compact, lightweight iFi hip-DAC was sturdy and substantial enough that it didn't slide around my desk during use.
iFi certainly made the connections easy. The hip-DAC is one of the most uncomplicated DACs I've ever used. A USB cable (with a Type A USB male on one end and Type A USB female on other end) is included for connecting to a PC, and a USB Type A to Type C is included for newer Android™ phones. I was able to connect to my older Samsung Galaxy phone with an additional adapter (there are mini-USB and Apple Lightning® adapters for iPhone® sold separately).
And I didn't have to download any USB drivers to play my music. My phone automatically sent sound through the DAC, and on my computer, it was a quick click on audio settings to get things going.
S-balanced headphone amp
On the front panel, there is a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack along with a balanced 4.4mm headphone output. The latter is the new industry standard balanced connection that helps cuts down on signal noise and distortion.Sony developed this special connection, and a growing list of headphones from multiple brands use it.
Either way you connect takes advantage of what iFi calls "S-balanced" headphone amp technology. Their dual-mono circuitry keeps the left and right audio channels separate for as long as possible to avoid cross-talk and distortion.
A note about charging
The hip-DAC has a built-in rechargeable battery that offers 12 hours of music listening on a full charge, depending on how you use it. Bluetooth tends to run more battery, so you'll get more toward the low end of that range if you connect wirelessly. This amp runs completely on battery, and must be recharged via the USB-C port (a charging cable is included). You'll want to ensure it is charged up when you take it out and about.
- battery-powered portable USB DAC with built-in high-performance headphone amp
- pocket-sized design with metal chassis
- improves sound from your PC, digital music player, iPhone, and/or Android phone
- USB-A and USB-C cable included
Built-in digital-to-analog converter:
- Burr-Brown "True Native" digital-to-analog converter chip for high-quality sound
- supported audio files: up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM; DSD 256 (11.2 MHz)
- offers rendering for MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) audio files
- Type A USB input for connecting PC, smartphone, and other mobile devices
S-balanced headphone amplifier:
- two headphone outputs:
- one 3.5mm stereo minijack
- one balanced 4.4mm output
- iFi's dual-mono circuitry helps reduce crosstalk between the left and right audio channels
- output power: > 2.0V / 400mW @ 16 ohm
- XBass sound control processing for boosting bass
- PowerMatch switchable gain
- manual power switch/volume control dial with 40dB-0dB attenuation
General info and specs:
- USB-C charging cable included
- rechargeable battery provides up to 12 hours of playback on a full charge
- completely self-powered, cannot borrow power from your computer, phone, or playback device during use
- color-coded LED indicator for incoming sample rate
- includes selection of silicone grip pads
- 2-3/4"W x 4-1/16" H x 1/2"D
- weight: 0.28 lbs.
- warranty: 1 year
- Our 60-day money-back guarantee
- MFR # 312001
What's in the box:
- Portable DAC/headphone amp (blue)
- 6.5" USB cable (Male Type A USB on one end and USB-C on other end)
- 4.75" USB cable (Female Type A USB on one end and male USB-C on other end)
- 12.5" USB 3.0 cable (Female Type A USB on one end and Male Type A USB on other end)
- Instruction card
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More details on the iFi Audio hip-dac
Overview: The iFi Audio hip-dac is a miniature digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier that will greatly enhance the sound of your digital music collection. It is designed for use with your smartphone or tablet, or your PC or Mac. The hip-dac has a Type A USB 3.0 input port and two headphone outputs (3.5mm and 4.4mm). To use the device with your smartphone or tablet, you'll need an Apple CCK (Camera Connection Kit) cable or Android OTG cable (both sold separately). A USB-C port is provided for charging the device. Dimensions: 2-3/4" W x 4" H x 9/16" L; Weight: 4.7 ounces.
Digital-to-Analog Conversion: The hip-dac plays Hi-Res audio in the original format, including DSD (up to 256 MHz), DXD (up to 384 kHz), and PCM (up to 384 kHz). You can also listen to MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) audio. It uses a Burr-Brown "True Native" DSD1793 DAC chip to lower noise (by 3dB) and provide better channel separation. The signal remains in its native format, so you get the best of each format. The hip-dac portable DAC is compatible with the following audio formats:
- DSD: 256, 128, 64 MHz (Octa/Quad/Double/Single-speed DSD)
- DXD: 384, 352.8 kHz
- PCM: 384, 352.8, 192, 176.4, 96, 88.2, 48, 44.1 kHz
MQA (Master Quality Authenticated): The hip-dac includes MQA rendering technology, which enables you to play back MQA files and stream MQA audio from sites such as Tidal Masters. MQA delivers the sound of the original master recording, so you'll hear the music exactly the way the artist intended.
LED Indicator: The hip-dac has an LED that indicates the sampling frequency received from the source. It also shows the charging and battery status. The LED color scheme is as follows:
- Power On:
- Green: PCM 44.1 / 48 / 88.2 / 96 kHz
- Yellow: PCM 176 / 192 kHz; DXD 352/384 kHz
- Cyan: DSD 128 / DSD 64 (2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2 MHz)
- Blue: DSD 256 (11.2/12.2 MHz)
- Magenta: MQA
- No LED: No valid signal
- Battery Status (flashes when charging):
- White: > 75%
- Green: > 25%
- Red: > 10%
- Red (flashing): </= 10%
Headphone Amplifier: The iFi hip-dac's headphone amplifier that can drive most headphones and in-ear monitors with a 2.0V / 400mW output at 16 ohms. The balanced 4.4mm headphone output uses inverse positive/negative electrical paths to deliver equal and opposite audio signals to each side of the headphone driver voice coil. The balanced output offers double the voltage output for driving bigger and more difficult-to-drive headphones. It also produces reduced THD distorthion and crosstalk, compared to unbalanced, single-ended outputs. The hip-dac also features a single-ended 3.5mm unbalanced headphone output with iFi's S-Balanced circuit topography, which is specially suited for IEMs (in-ear monitors). S-Balanced features a dedicated negative wire for each channel, and supports both TRS and TRRS headphones.
PowerMatch: The headphone output is equipped with iFi's PowerMatch technology. You can turn PowerMatch on or off as needed to match the level of the drive to the load presented by the headphones. When switched on, PowerMatch adjusts the input sensitivity and signal strength, which works best for less sensitive large headphones. Leaving PowerMatch off works best for the more sensitive IEMs.
XBass: The iFi hip-dac features iFi's analog XBass circuitry that adds back the lost bass response to give you a more accurate reproduction of the original music. XBass work well for many open-back headphone designs.
USB Input: The hip-dac has a Type A USB 3.0 input that can be used with your smartphone, tablet, or home/office computer. For iPhone and iPad, you will need an Apple CCK cable, such as the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter or the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter (sold separately). For Android, an OTG (On-the-Go) cable (with Type C or Micro USB, depending upon the device) is required. When connecting to your home or office computer, you should use the included USB 3.0 cable.
USB Charging Port: The unit also has a USB-C port for charging the device. The hip-dac charges in approximately 3 hours using a high-powered USB power source (5V/1000mA).
Rotary Volume Control: The hip-dac has a precision analog volume control with an integrated power on/off switch.
Battery: The hip-dac is powered by a built-in 2200mAh Lithium-polymer rechargeable battery. For best results, you should always switch on the power first, before plugging in your device.
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