Home Amps/DACS Is iFi’s hip-dac 3 Worth $200? Review and Analysis

Is iFi’s hip-dac 3 Worth $200? Review and Analysis

by Stuart Charles Black
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

In this review, we’ll take a hard look at iFi’s hip-dac 3 and find out how it fares against both hip-dac 1 and hip-dac 2 – discussing things like build quality, sound, power output, overall value, and more.

By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll have a clear understanding of what the hip-dac 3 is, how it can best serve you, and if it’s ultimately worth a purchase in today’s overcrowded DAC market.

If it’s not, I’ll point you in the direction of something that is.

Deal? Cool.

Let’s dive in.

Specs at the very end!

iFi hip-dac 3

Price: Check Amazon! | Check iFi! | Check B&H!

In The Box

iFi hip-dac 3

Quick Start Card

USB-A to USB-C Cable

USB-C to USB-C Cable

Instruction Card

Build & Features

iFi hip-dac 3 ReviewBeginning with build quality, the same flask shape makes another appearance, only this time in “Titanium Shadow” vs. the Teal/Turquoise of the original hip-dac, and the Sunset Orange inherent in the hip-dac 2.

And yeah, I’ll admit it: the hip-dac 3’s color does exude a sense of modern elegance and it looks pretty sophisticated – that is, if you’re a raging alcoholic.

I kid, I kid.

If you’ll recall, I poked fun at this series in my hip-dac 2 review, but by and large, they do look rather good sitting on your desk.

One of the best features of the hip(s) is indeed their compact nature and rugged build – in fact, all iFi products are built incredibly well and the aluminum-cased hip-dac 3 is no exception.

Front Panel

iFi hip-dac 3 Review

The front contains the volume potentiometer, Power Match Button (Gain), the XBass Button, a 4.4mm balanced jack, and a standard 3.5mm jack.

The unit is battery-powered with around 8 hours of life before needing a charge, but one of the main differences between this unit and the other 2 is the back panel.

Back Panel

iFi hip-dac 3 Review

Instead of a USB-A port coupled with the USB-C charging slot, we now have 2 USB-C jacks. It’s pretty easy to tell which is which as the charging port has a small LED indicator below.

Speaking of that, here are the Status LEDs:

  • White: 76% – 100%
  • Green: 21% to 75%
  • Red: 11% to 20%
  • Flashing Red: 0% – 10%

The unit will shut off once the battery is drained.

Also keep in mind that if you want to use the hip-dac 3 as a desktop Amp/DAC, you’ll need 2 cables to charge and listen at the same time. This is because the data input slot does not charge the battery.

For me, this is a pretty big downside, but your mileage may vary.

New Features

iFi hip-dac 3 Review

iFi hip-dac 3 ReviewOne notable difference on the hip-dac 3 is the inclusion of an IEMatch switch which iFI says is “optimized for high-sensitivity headphones and earphones, making it especially beneficial for your in-ear monitors.”

The hip-dac 3 also boasts a few circuit enhancements, including new metal film capacitors for a better frequency response.

There’s also an updated version of iFi’s GMT circuitry + a new crystal oscillator.

iFi says this further reduces phase noise, delivering a purer sound.

As for my opinions on all of that?

Thank heavens I have all 3 here to go back and forth, and I will share my thoughts in the sound section.

For now, let’s take a look at power output.

Power

Nothing has changed here, as you’re still getting 400mW @ 32Ω and 6.3V @ 600 Ω out of the balanced jack.

Unbalanced is still 280mW @ 32Ω and 3.2V @ 600Ω.

All in all, you won’t have to worry about power with the hip-dac 3.

There’s more than enough to go around – even for more demanding headphones.

DAC Chip

iFi hip-dac 3 Review

According to iFi:

“The same Burr-Brown chip was selected for its fluid, highly ‘musical’ sound quality and true native architecture.

Together with iFi’s custom circuitry, this enables the hip-dac 3 to deliver excellent sound quality across digital audio formats, including bit-perfect PCM, native DSD, and MQA.

Overall Package

The overall unboxing is pretty standard issue stuff, but I would have liked to see some sort of band + lightning adapter for your phone (such as the one they include in the Go Link’s package) or a lightning cable.

I have a rubberband-y thing here at the pad, so I was able to wrap both up for easy portable listening while I’m out and about, but without something to hold them together, it’s pretty awkward unless you’re just chilling on the couch or something.

Because this is indeed a portable unit, I feel like iFi should accommodate those on-the-go listeners.

As much as I enjoy listening with the hip, the Go Link is miles more convenient and incredibly easy to use with an iPhone. 

For clarification, I used the hip-dac 3 with my iPhone 11, the USB-C cable, and the Go Link’s lightning adapter.

I also used it with my laptop via the supplied USB-C cable.

If there’s supposed to be a lightning cable in the box (per the image below), I didn’t receive one.

Now that we’re dancing around the subject, let’s delve into the sound profile.

We’ll compare the 3 and find out if there are any actual differences between them.

Sound

iFi hip-dac 3 Review

There are only a few instances where I firmly believe that the DAC itself can have an impact on the sound.

The first is if your Laptop/PC/Phone etc. has a crappy Soundcard and/or is simply old. In this case, pretty much any DAC is going to be a marked improvement.

The second is, to some extent, the DAC chip.

I’ve always said that the ESS Sabre variety sounds more open, airy, and spacious than other chips, and I stand by that.

The third just so happens to be the hip-dac. It typically does sound slightly warmer; almost mimicking a tube amp in some respects.

This sentiment goes back to the original hip-dac that I demoed in 2020.

These impressions largely remain the same in iFi’s latest hip-dac 3 offering; i.e., all 3 of these DACS share the same “sound profile.”

As for all the new features mentioned earlier, none of them have any effect on sound. In other words, the original hip-dac 1 sounds exactly the same as hip-dac 2 and 3.

When compared side by side with JDS’ ATOM, you can hear that the hip has a subtle sheen of warmth over it. Yes, it’s kind of subtle, but it’s there.

JDS ATOM HEVI Review

This is precisely why some people may not prefer the sound of the Burr (Brown) at the end of the day.

In my opinion, it’s not quite as neutral as the ATOM, but the difference is a bit marginal.

This is further reinforced by the fact that the hip-dac’s output impedance is still less than 1. The ATOM is around 0.7, but I believe the main difference here lies in the DAC implementation.

Burr Brown chips are noticeably warmer, but again, that’s still just my opinion.

Balanced Impressions

  • Gold Planar GL2000 – Harder to drive than the G200. Neither presents an issue with the hip-dac 3. The Arya is also super easy to drive.

iFi hip-dac 3 Review

Here’s where things get saucy; in the best way possible.

Outside of the main considerations (Source quality, the headphones themselves) few other things in audio contribute to better sound, but listening balanced is absolutely one of them and it’s not even close in my opinion.

In fact, a shortcut/hack, if you’re strapped for cash and can’t buy headphones with better resolution, is to simply listen to the ones you already have with balanced cables (if possible).

First off, you’ll start to hear everything the artist put into the track. The stuff you missed/didn’t notice before? It comes through easily.

I just listened to “Waterfall” by Jmss, Otaam, and noticed a weird-sounding hi-hat panned hard right.

Another clear improvement is the separation of instruments and voices.

iFi hip-dac 3 Review

You can hear vocals better, background vocals, synths, and anything that may have either A) seemed like an afterthought or B) didn’t come through at all with any sort of clarity.

A great example of this is 50 Cent’s “Ryder Music”.

The entire song sounds completely different through a balanced setup.

For one, his voice sounds more intimate, but you can also hear the reverb on his vocals.

That sort of thing rarely manifests through an unbalanced connection. If it does, it’s typically because you’re listening to high-end or planar headphones.

Not only that, but all the subtle background stuff is ultra clear and detailed, and the hook is much more present and lively.

In addition, Vocal samples trail off beautifully, and the sustain of notes in particular is exemplary.

On Fabolous’ “Into You” at 2:02 you can hear him say “Bling” which I never noticed before through an unbalanced connection.

The same goes for Erykah Badu’s “My Life” at 1:37.

Notice that small utterance that comes out at the end of the phrase.

Her voice trails off and you can hear her kind of say “yeah” in a strange way. It’s kind of like an accidental ad-lib.

She’s in the heat of singing and it kind of just comes out.

Now just apply all of these things and more to every song you’ve ever heard and you’ll start to understand why people get sucked down the rabbit hole never to return ever again. 

Here me getting stuck in said rabbit hole:

The share button is to the left. xD

So yeah, the hip-dac 3 is a fine piece of ass… I mean kit.

That said, is it worth the money?

My issue with the hip-dac 3 at $199 is that A) it’s overpriced, and B) I can get a FiiO K7 for the same price and have the same balanced 4.4mm jack with lots more versatility on the back.

The K7 provides a pair of RCA inputs, RCA outputs, an optical input (console gaming, etc.), and a coaxial input, in addition to the USB Type-B slot. It also doesn’t need to be charged.

I understand the hip is mostly meant for portable use, but many people will use it on their desktop out of necessity and because of that, it’s frustrating that you have to charge it.

For those needing something strictly for their phone, look to the FiiO BTR5 and check out my best portable headphone Amps & DACS list.

The original hip-dac makes the list, but it’s not the best option in my opinion. 

The BTR5 is (as of now).

It’s a Bluetooth amp/dac with a balanced jack (2.5mm), you can listen to it while it’s charging, and it’s around $80 cheaper while not being as bulky.

Final Verdict

iFi hip-dac 3 ReviewThe hip-dac series is a pretty good collection of DACS that are a bit outdated in my humble opinion. This is based on experience with 65+ in general, so please bear that in mind.

In some ways, it feels like iFi is reviving something that just needs to die.

If you’re interested in my frustration with this series, I let loose a little in the hip-dac 2 review.

So iFi, if anyone from your team is reading this, it’s time to move on and refocus your efforts on improving the Go Link; a DAC I like and see a lot of potential in.

Add a 4.4mm balanced jack, give it more power, and keep everything else the same. I really like the inclusion of the lightning adapter as it’s super quick and easy to hook it up to an iPhone + you can use it on your desktop very easily as well.

As it stands now, the hip-dac 3 resembles a fancy-looking flask, but like getting trashed and making out with that ugly chick at the kegger party, you may regret it in the morning.

Specifications:

  • Input: USB-C
  • Formats: DSD256/11.3MHz, PCM 384kHz, MQA Full Decoder
  • DAC: Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by Burr Brown
  • Headphone Outputs: Balanced 4.4mm / S-BAL 3.5mm
  • Power Output: 400mW @ 32Ω / 6.3V @ 600Ω, Unbalanced: 280mW @ 32Ω, 3.2V @ 600Ω
  • Output Impedance: ≤1Ω (BAL/S-BAL), With IEMatch engaged: ≤4.5Ω
  • Signal-to-Noise-Ratio: BAL <109dBA @ 0dBFS / S-BAL <103dBA @ 0dBFS
  • Dynamic Range: BAL <109dBA @ 0dBFS / S-BAL <103dBA @ 0dBFS
  • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise: BAL <0.006% (360mW/2V @ 600Ω) / S-BAL <0.01% (100mW/1.27V @ 32Ω)
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 45kHz (-3dB)
  • Power Consumption: <2W idle, 4W max
  • Battery: Lithium-polymer 2200mAh, approx. 8-Hour Life
  • Power System: Charging via USB-C, BC V1.2 compliant up to 1000mA charging current
  • Dimensions: 102 x 70 x 14 mm (4.0″ x 2.8″ x 0.6″)
  • Net Weight: 137g (0.3 lbs.)
  • Limited Warranty: 12 Months

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi hip-dac 3 Review and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

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Is the hip-dac 3 worth the money despite my ramblings? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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4 comments

Metoo December 11, 2023 - 12:14 am

iFi don’t need to improve the Go Link, the Go Bar is the premium improved dongle DAC. It costs even more than this Hip Dac 3 and outputs even more power – which is incredible for a dongle.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 11, 2023 - 1:03 pm

Already reviewed The Go Bar and it’s hilariously overpriced, so no. Anyone who buys that is lighting money on fire especially considering how many better alternatives there are. A good portable BT DAC with ample power should run no more than about $100-120. Just ask FiiO or Hidizs.

Reply
Jason January 17, 2024 - 4:24 pm

I would agree, I have a FiiO BT DAC, and I’m forever surprised in how much it actually adds to my listening experience. For the tiny outlay and the decent build quality, I see not much reason to spend the amount on the more bulky iFi…

Reply
Stuart Charles Black January 18, 2024 - 8:28 pm

Hey Jason!

Nope! No reason to. I was able to use the hip-dac 3 with my phone, but it was kind of clunky and cumbersome – and they don’t even include a band in the box. I had to use one I had lying around.

The issue is not that the units aren’t solid (The Chinaman is not the issue here, dude). The problem with this series is that, to me, it’s basically capitalizing on the success of the original 2020 hip-dac by simply pumping out the same unit over and over once the hype died down.

Given how saturated the DAC market has become, there’s just no reason for this to exist anymore, but that’s a whole separate can of audiophile rabbit hole worms that probably deserves its own video – or 10…

Reply

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