Shoutout to Lawrance over at iFi for the demo unit and their continued support of the blog and channel!
Greetings mate and Welcome aboard. Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…
At A Glance
ifi hip-dac 2
Price: Check Amazon!
In The Box
iFi audio hip-dac2 Portable USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
USB Type-A Female to USB Type-A Male Cable
OTG Type-C Cable
USB Type-A to USB Type-C Charging Cable
Limited 1-Year Warranty
- Outputs: 1 x 1/8″ / 3.5 mm TRS Unbalanced Headphone Output, 1 x 4.4 mm TRRS Balanced Headphone Output
- Host Connection: 1x USB Type-A (USB 3.0/3.1 Gen 1)
- USB (Non-Host): 1x USB Type-C (USB 3.0/3.1 Gen 1, Power Input)
- Output Power: 400mW into 32 Ohms (1% THD, Unbalanced), 280 W into 32 Ohms (1% THD, Balanced)
- Sample Rates: 44.1 to 384 kHz (PCM, D/A Conversion)
- Bit-Depths: 24-Bit (PCM, D/A Conversion)
- Digital Audio Decoding: DSD, PCM
- Power Requirements: Battery
- DC Input Power: 1.2 VDC at 1A
- Power Consumption: 2W (Idle) 4W (Maximum)
- Internal Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion, 2200 mAh
- Approximate Battery Life: 8 Hours
- Dimensions: 4 x 2.8 x 0.6″ / 101.6 x 71.1 x 15.2 mm
- Weight: 4.4 oz / 125.0 g
I reviewed the hip-dac in 2020, and iFi has recently come out with version 2.
Today we’ll take a hard look at it and determine whether or not it’s an upgrade and if you should actually buy it.
For all intents and purposes, this will be a review + comparison to the original.
What is it?
If you’re brand new to the world of Amps & DACS, the hip-dac 2 is simply a DAC + Amplifier in one that people use to improve the sound quality of their headphones and/or provide more power to them.
- Related: What is a USB DAC?
The unit in question happens to be portable but can also be used on your desktop with the supplied fat blue cable that we all know and love.
You’re my boy, blue!
For connection with a phone, iFi supplies an OTG Type-C Cable.
On the front we’ve got a 4.4mm balanced headphone out, 3.5mm single-ended, the volume potentiometer, XBass, and Gain buttons.
The LED around the volume pot lights up different colors according to the source. Let’s take a look:
- Yellow = PCM 44.1/48kHz
- White = PCM 88.2/96/176.4/192/352.8/384kHz
- Cyan = DSD64/128
- Red = DSD256
- Green = MQA
- Blue = MQA Studio
- Magenta = Original Sample Rate*
iFi warns: installing GTO-enabled firmware may result in the LEDs on this device no longer changing in accordance with the above table.
On the back, there’s a USB Type-A port for use with your PC and a USB-C charging port.
If you listen mostly on your desktop, just keep the charging cable and blue cable plugged in at the same time which is what I do.
The hip-dac 2 again uses the Burr-Brown chip which is basically iFi’s house sound.
This is a warm, laid-back, and fluid signature that pairs well with headphones that may be a touch bright.
In terms of sound differences between the hip-dac and hip-dac 2, there are none.
It’s the exact same profile which isn’t surprising considering they use the same chip.
Are there any other differences?
This time around, the hip-dac 2 utilizes the 16-core XMOS chip which processes audio data received over USB.
iFi claims this new low-latency XMOS microcontroller has greatly enhanced processing power, providing double the clock speed and four times the memory.
Perhaps the main difference, and one that some people will find valuable, is that the hip-dac 2 now supports full MQA decoding whereas the original only supported rendering.
The third difference is an upgraded GMT clock system which eradicates jitter and enhances sound quality.
Lastly, the hip-dac 2 is a “vibrant sunset orange” vs. the crappy ugly horrendous God-awful “teal” present in the original.
Can you tell my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek right now?
Anyways, do these upgrades actually make a perceivable difference?
Well, I don’t know seeing as I don’t pay for a Tidal subscription anymore. As for why?
I wrote a separate article on that so be sure to check it out if you’re interested in some of the literature and methodology/various viewpoints behind MQA and the whole Tidal dilemma.
- Recommended: What is MQA? [Is It Ultimately A SCAM?!]
Apart from that, no, nothing about the hip-dac 2 makes me want to run out and purchase it over the original.
Think about it this way; if they didn’t bullet-point those upgrades and just gave you both DACS, blindfolded you, and said, “Tell me which is which”, I’m about 99.9% sure you wouldn’t be able to discern them.
Of course, they would never do that, so the point is moot.
The only real difference is that the hip-dac 2 is orange and priced higher.
So, Orange is the new teal. Hm.
Everything else is identical: The box, the design, weight, dimensions, supported sample rates, connections, buttons, included accessories, etc.
The original hip-dac only specified 2V/400mW @ 16 Ohm but didn’t specify balanced vs. unbalanced. The hip-dac 2 does:
- Balanced: 400mW @ 32 Ohm; 6.3V @600 Ohm
- Single-Ended: 280mW @ 32 Ohm; 3.2V
All in all, they provide just about the same amount of power give or take.
I’m not finding one significantly harder or easier to drive headphones than the other.
The problem is that the original didn’t have an engraved indicator to reveal where you were on a clock. The vibrant sunset orange one does which is neato cheeto I suppose.
If you run Tidal and are convinced that the vibrant sunset orange hip-dac 2 will be an upgrade given it’s now a decoder, more power to you (no pun intended).
I personally do not care about any of that stuff so I can’t and won’t recommend it.
I have both here and trust me when I tell you it’s like they cloned the hip-dac and painted it vibrant sunset orange.
In other words,
I’m listening to music on the original and don’t care a single iota that the vibrant sunset orange hip-dac 2 is on my desk.
It may as well not even exist.
But hey, that’s my own personal opinion.
If you know me, you’ll know I recommend DACS based on features and versatility; not sound.
In addition to being highly subjective,
the sound of Amps & DACS varies very little from product to product and that’s something I’ve harped on for a few years now.
Here’s the main reason I generally don’t trust random product reviewers on websites like B&H:
This is part of Kenneth’s review:
Audio quality on the 4.4 mm jack with headphones is excellent, but the 3.5 sounds like crap on headphones, I route the 3.5 mm jack to my speakers and it sounds fine there. I had to buy a $20 adapter from iFi to connect my headphones with a 3.5 mm male jack to the female 4.4 mm iFi jack.
Lol. You can’t just buy an adapter to make the signal balanced. It doesn’t work like that.
He would have to actually buy balanced cables specific to his headphones if the headphones were wired for such a purpose.
Just another example of not only ignorance but of the ultimate placebo effect.
His brain essentially tricked him into thinking that because he was somehow able to plug his headphones into a jack that says balanced, magically the sound improved 10-fold and wasn’t “crappy” anymore. Geez.
So what do I recommend instead?
I enjoyed the hip-dac and recommended it in 2020, but I think FiiO’s BTR5 is a better value and my current go-to portable DAC.
It can be used with a phone via Bluetooth or wired with the supplied USB-C to USB-C cable. It can also be used on your desktop.
The main reason I love it is that it’s priced right. I think $189 for the hip-dac 2 is way too high.
The original hip-dac is around $139 which I don’t really have an issue with, but I think the BTR5 hits the sweet spot at around $109.
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi hip-dac 2 Review and gained some valuable insight.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.
Which of these are you going to purchase? Do YOU believe the vibrant sunset orange hip-dac 2 is worth the price increase? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,