Big Shoutout to Lawrance and iFi Audio for sending this demo unit, and for their continued support!!
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
At A Glance
In The Box
USB Type-A to Type-C Charging Cable
USB Type-A (Female) to Type-A Cable
Quick Start Guide
Table of Contents
Build & Aesthetic
Features, Usage, and Power
Sound & Comparisons to Other DACs
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling, shall we?
iFi’s hip-dac and Headphone Amplifier
- Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H!
- Digital Inputs: USB 3.0 Type ‘A’
- High-Speed Asynchronous USB 2.0 (32-bit/384kHz)
- Headphone Output: Balanced 4.4mm, Single-Ended 3.5mm
- Power Output: 2.0V/400mW @ 16 Ohm.
- Battery: Lithium-polymer 2200mAh
- Power System: Charging via USB-C BC V1.2 compliant up to 1000mA charging current
- Power (max): <2W idle, 4W max
- Dimensions: 102(l) x 70(w) x 14(h) mm
- Weight: 125g (0.28 lbs.)
- Warranty period: 12 months
In The Box:
- hip-dac and portable headphone amplifier
- 1x USB-A Blue Cable for PC
- 1x iFi Audio OTG Cable (Type-C) for phone
- 1x Type-C Charging Cable
- 4 adhesive rubber feet
- User guide and warranty card
Even despite my ever-growing disdain for the Amp/DAC market, there is a company that I think deserves some props.
That’s iFi and no, it’s not because they send me stuff. It’s because they actually make good products.
Is their hip-dac worth the investment?
What does it do?
Who is it for?
The answers to all of these questions and more can be had for the low low price of $299.99, now backed by a full money-back guarantee!
If you aren’t completely satisfied with the advice given here today, we’ll refund you no questions asked.
Just swipe your credit card here and LOL JK.
Build & Aesthetic
As with all of iFi’s products that I’ve gotten a chance to demo, the hip-dac is no different with regard to build.
It’s built wonderfully, feels heavy and substantial in your hand given it’s very small, and also boasts a more robust profile than most DACs in this price range or otherwise.
When you finally hold it in your hand, you’ll know where your money went!
I firmly believe this is part of what sets iFi apart from other companies.
They always take great care in crafting a product that not only performs well musically but is built for the long haul in terms of longevity and reliability.
If I accidentally dropped this unit, I’d feel comfortable that it would shake it off and ask for more like Mick Foley.
All in all, everything feels solid to the touch.
There isn’t much to it as far as moving parts go.
It’s a simple and effective Amp/DAC for your mobile phone and also works as a desktop Amp/DAC.
The buttons feel good, the volume pot feels robust, and the connections are good for the most part.
I sometimes have a bit of trouble actually getting the 3.5mm plug into the jack, but that could be a personal problem. 😛
Let’s get into some of the hip-dac’s features!
Features & Usage
The front of the unit reveals a very pragmatic and almost austere sensibility. It’s very utilitarian-looking.
There are iFi’s mainstays in both Power Match (essentially gain), and XBass (Bass Boost), a volume pot that doubles as the On/Off switch, and a 4.4mm balanced headphone jack as well as a single-ended 3.5mm jack.
Just turn the volume knob and it will make a click sound before powering on and off.
The unit also displays different colors according to the source file.
Let’s take a look:
- Green = 44/48/88/96kHz
- Yellow = 176/192kHz, DXD352/384kHz
- Cyan = DSD128/DSD64 2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2MHz
- Blue = DSD256 11.2/12.2MHz
- Magenta = MQA
- Off = No Valid Signal aka you’re SOL buddy! Lol.
This configuration is similar to iFi’s Zen DAC/Amp for your desktop and supports DSD.
- Related: What Is DSD In Audio?
The Volume Pot is an analogue volume control.
At extremely low volume you’ll notice there’s an ever-so-slight imbalance, but other than that I’d say it’s nearly perfect.
To plug it into your laptop, just use the supplied Blue Type-A cable.
After plugging it in, turn on the unit to draw BUS power.
If you power it on first and then connect it, it will draw battery power.
In battery power mode, the hip-dac will continue to use battery power even if the USB cable is connected afterward.
For connections to Apple devices, the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter is required.
For connection to Android devices, the supplied USB OTG cable will work.
It is a Type-C cable, so if you have a phone with a micro connection like I do, you’ll need one of these adapters.
In addition to the Type-A port on the back, we’ve also got a USB Type-C charging port.
Just use the supplied Type-C cable to charge. It takes around 3 hours and lasts 12 hours before needing another charge.
The back of the unit also reveals a small LED charging light to indicate the status.
- White = > 75%
- Green = > 25%
- Red = > 10%
- Red (flashing) = < 10%
The battery LED will also flash when charging.
What formats are supported?
- Octa/Quad/Double/Single-Speed DSD
- DXD (384/352.8kHz)
- PCM (384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
To enable MQA:
- Click the 3 bars in the upper left-hand corner inside Tidal.
- Go to File > Settings > Streaming.
- Scroll down until you see Sound Output, then set it accordingly. It will say something like (“iFi (By AMR) HD + USB Audio).
- Click to the right of Sound Output where it says “More Settings”
- Tick the box to enable Exclusive Mode, which will allow MQA rendering.
If you don’t go through these steps first, the unit won’t display Magenta for MQA.
Sometimes Tidal also gives you a pop-up and asks if you would like to set the device to Exclusive Mode when you turn the unit on and fire up the program.
If that happens, just press yes and you won’t have to worry about the above steps.
Something I would have liked to see:
- Some rubber bands for your phone.
The hip-dac supplies 2.0V @16 Ohm, (roughly 130-135mw) which I find is very good for a unit as affordable as this one is.
It provides around the same amount of power as a DragonFly Red.
I don’t have any trouble driving the HE400se, Sennheiser HD600 or AKG K702, but I do have the power match button on with the 600 and 702.
With it off, you’ll be mostly maxing out the volume, but it does get loud enough.
With the button on, you’ll have more than plenty of headroom.
It’s interesting to note that even despite the 400se’s poor efficiency, I didn’t need power match.
Speaking of headphones and getting loud enough, how does the hip-dac actually sound?
For these albums, I listened to the entire duration but picked out my favorites from each to dissect.
Before we get into it, let’s take a gander at some images and watch a video!
Don’t forget to leave me some love! <3
& Comparisons to the DragonFly Red, Q1 MK II, and Topping NX4
- DAC chip: Burr-Brown chipset True NativeDSD Bit-Perfect DXD/PCM
- Headphones Used: Sennheiser HD600, AKG K702, HE400se, Arya, DEVA, etc.
- Source: Tidal Hi-Fi, Spotify Premium
- Playlist: Here! (Keep in mind this is a new playlist that will be used to compare with the hip-dac 2.
Because I own the DragonFly Red, I thought I’d do a little A/B comparison to get a sense of how the hip-dac sounds in practice.
The differences are quite immense upon first listen.
- Album 1: J Dilla – The Shining (FLAC, 2006)
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD600
This is probably my favorite beat on the album and is up there with my all-time favorite J Dilla joints.
It’s incredibly layered and there are a ton of amazing things going on.
Dilla really had a way of working samples to his advantage and squeezing every last drop of nuance out of the vocals and instruments.
This track is a prime example of him at the peak of his creative powers.
He chops it up with absolutely incredible precision and care, paying attention to even the smallest, most subtle details to craft a masterpiece.
The DragonFly Red renders the song much more clear and open, while the hip-dac is a lot warmer, more laid back, and more relaxed.
Imagine yourself skiing down a mountain in January while chewing Winterfresh gum.
That’s what it feels like to listen out of the Red here. 😀
The hip-dac simply provides a different flavor. Neither is better or worse than the other.
It mostly comes down to preference. How do you like your music to be portrayed?
The tracks “Love”, “Baby”, and “So Far To Go” all yielded the same result.
The DragonFly Red dons a more open type of sound. It’s more neutral and clean sounding like Windex.
That said, the hip-dac doesn’t sound congested or anything. It’s more of a kickback with a glass of scotch type of sentiment.
Being that the hip-dac does resemble a flask, I’d highly recommend a glass of spirits to go with it.
Just don’t become an alcoholic and start hiding booze in your purse and sh**.
- Album 2: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (Master, 1971)
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD600
On Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks”, the differences heard from above are still there, but they’re more subtle.
I think it’s easier to distinguish the differences in how this DAC sounds with Hip-Hop than it does with Rock and Roll.
On “Stairway to Heaven”, I was also surprised to not hear much of a difference, given the stark contrast between some of the tracks on The Shining.
- Album 3: Pink Floyd – Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (FLAC, 1967)
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD600
“Bike” – The differences in sound from above are still apparent, but this time a bit more noticeable than they were on Led Zeppelin IV.
The DF Red sounds a bit more crisp and clear. More open.
“On Interstellar Overdrive” It’s more of the same. The hip-dac seems to have a subtle layer of blanky over it, rendering the track ever so slightly warmer and more relaxed.
- Album 4: J Dilla – Jay Love Japan (FLAC, 2007)
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD600
“Yesterday” is a great track to compare because it’s really clean and hits hard even without any bass boost.
The DragonFly Red rendered it open, sterile, and crisp, but it lacked the weight and body that the hip-dac provided.
There seemed to be more meat on its bones out of the hip-dac.
I’d compare it to a lean bodybuilder who has some muscle on him (but not too much like a steroid meathead) vs. your average skinny dude.
Again, comparing these 2 DACs with Hip-Hop is much easier and reveals a fairly stark contrast vs. a genre like Classic Rock.
Topping NX4 & FiiO Q1 Mark II Comparison
These 3 DACs are very similar in terms of aesthetic, build, and features.
Sound-wise, I’d say the NX4 is more sterile and neutral, similar to the sound of the DragonFly Red in comparison to the hip-dac (The DragonFly is a tad less sterile than the NX4 though).
The Q1 is probably the warmest sounding out of this lot, coming in a tad warmer than the hip-dac.
The relationship between the Q1 MK II and NX4 is similar to the relationship between the DragonFly Red and hip-dac that we discussed a bit ago.
- The Q1 = Warmer, more relaxed, more lush sounding.
- NX4 = Cooler, more intense/lively, more sterile, and neutral sounding.
- hip-dac vs. DragonFly Red = Same relationship (cool vs. warm).
- Q1 vs. hip-dac = Similar sounding.
- NX4 vs. hip-dac = NX4 is more neutral and sterile sounding. Similar to an Objective 2 actually.
All 3 support DSD and have gain and bass functions.
The NX4 does not have a balanced 4.4mm jack but does have a line out.
The Q1 MK II also has a line-out function on the front, in addition to its balanced 2.5mm port and standard 3.5mm single-ended port.
Instead of Type-A, the NX4 has 2 micro USB inputs, 1 for charging and the other for listening.
Charge time on the NX4 and Q1 MKII is rated at less than four hours, while the hip-dac claims 3.
Probably a minuscule difference there to be honest.
The Q1 MK II has one micro USB port on the back for connection to a PC.
For your phone,
you’ll either use the auxiliary port for Android, or the supplied Apple Lightning Cable for your iPhone/iOS device.
The NX4 claims 7.5 hours of playback time before needing a charge (via USB DAC mode), while the Q1 says around 10 hours for the USB portion, and 20 hours via auxiliary.
For me and my Android, aux is ideal. I don’t feel like I’m ever having to charge the Q1 since I use it with both my phone and PC.
In headphone Amp mode, the NX4 claims 28 hours.
So basically, if you’re using it as just an Amp into a separate DAC.
- Related: Beginners Guide: What is a USB DAC
The hip-dac claims 12 hours via USB, but I was only getting 6.5 through my PC.
Weight-wise, the Q1 is the lightest at 101g, followed by the hip-dac at 125g and the NX4 at 148. It should be noted that on my scale the hip-dac weighs in at 134/135g.
Overall, the hip-dac deserves an A or an A-.
For what it is, it performs beautifully.
You can pair it with your phone, or listen at your desk, and it comes packed with plenty of power and the XBass button if you desire some extra low-end slam.
2 things that I had to dock some points for were the lack of rubber bands to attach to your phone, and the only 6.5 hrs. playtime when it was advertised as 12.
I much appreciated the inclusion of the Type-C Adapter for your phone.
That’s an extra $15 that they included for free.
The only downside is that if you have a phone with Micro USB as I do, you’ll have to snag the adapter linked above.
Still, that’s (roughly) $8 well spent in my estimation.
Just make it a habit of charging the DAC like you would your phone and you shouldn’t have any issues.
I wouldn’t wait ’till it completely drains.
Charge it as soon as you’re done listening to music and you won’t have to worry much or do any sort of waiting around.
The question becomes, is the hip-dac still worth the investment today?
In 2020 I thought it was a great value and purchase, and not much has changed other than the fact that since then, a lot more companies are manufacturing dacs with Bluetooth capability.
iFi’s Go Blu is one such example, and it is more convenient with a phone.
You’ll sacrifice a tiny bit of sound quality, and it’s roughly $30 more. But you can use either the hip-dac or Blu with some sort of OTG cable.
The hip-dac is also a bit warmer than the Blu in terms of its sound profile, and that may or may not factor into your decision.
If I needed something portable, I’d purchase a BTR5 which is tops on my list Best Portable Headphone Amplifiers right now.
For something similar to the hip-dac with more flexibility, The hip-dac or Q1 MK II are both good though they have replaced Q1 with Q3.
Do keep in mind that I’ve demoed over 55 Amp/DACS at the time of this update and have 10+ on my desktop at any given point.
With that, check out my list of best portable options:
Or if you want to go ahead and snag my top recommendation, it’s definitely the BTR5.
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi hip-dac Review and Comparison to the DragonFly Red, Topping NX4 and FiiO Q1 MK II.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
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Which of these Amp/DACs fits your needs better? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,
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- Fantastic Build
- Plenty of Power
- Bass and Power Match
- Warm, Smooth, and Detailed
- Easy to Use
- Could have used some bands for phone
- Not getting 12 hour play time
- A Type-C to micro adapter would have been nice
Hip Dac or DACport HD?
Hey Jasmeet! Saw your comment on YT I guess my question to you would be if you’re going to use it with your phone or not. Let me know!
Would it be able to drive the Sundara?
Hey Gustavo! Absolutely! You won’t have any issues. Sundara is actually a hare more efficient than the others at 94dB vs. 93. I’ve been using the hip with both the 400S and 4XX. 4XX has identical specs as a 400i Impedance and Sensitivity wise. You’ll have plenty of headroom with the power match on. Let me know what you think!
Hi Stu, can u please tell me only about the sound and power differences between zen and hip dac? Single ended only, Will mostly be using with a laptop, hence either are fine. Also, i have an e12 for additional amplification. Headphones are 6xx, 400i and isines.
Hey I posted this on YouTube but it should help folks here as well:
Hey man! I did a side by side of the hip-dac and Zen for you. Sound wise they are very very similar (almost the same actually). I believe the Zen is just a smidgen more open sounding, but it was really hard to tell. I went back and forth on it quite a bit listening to Caribou’s new album Suddenly. The E10K is going to be more open, crisp, and cool vs. the warmer natures of both the Zen and hip. It’s a more neutral presentation whereas the hip and Zen are more “colored” if you will, kind of laid back, lush, warm, relaxing (insert word salad here). I was using my HD600 for testing through FLAC and Tidal. It’s more of a preference rather than one being “better” than the other. The 600’s get plenty loud enough with gain out of the E10K and power match out of the Zen. You’ll find yourself anywhere from 12-2 on Zen and 5-6 on E10K. Let me know what you think!
Hi, Stu, I am a beginner who read your review and just bought the hip dac.
I got the dac before yesterday, but when I connect my asus labtop (win 10), there is no response.
I tried to install the driver from the website, but the driver also states: “no device detected”
For android, I connect to my sony xperia 5, but there is no sound on spotify. Only when I opened flac in music library, there is a very weak music with tons of noise.
Do you think that the dac is out of order and needed to be returned? Or I used the wrong ways to set up? Please advise.
Hey Ken! It seems you may have gotten a lemon and it just needs to be swapped out. I’m really sorry to hear that as mine works fine. Have you contacted iFi?
Thank you, nice review, wanted to know how it works with 300 Ohms headphones.
Hey there! Thank you so much for stopping by. 🙂
My 300 Ohm HD600 works great with the hip-dac. Right now I’m listening to Virtual Self, Lane 8 – Ghost Voices (through Spotify Premium) with the gain button OFF and it’s getting plenty loud enough but: You won’t have much headroom. Fortunately the gain button helps a lot. Just know that with the gain on you’ll have a ton of headroom so I wouldn’t worry about it at all. Are you listening mostly on your phone? What headphones do you have?
hi , thanks for the good review. as the review mention the hip dac can be power by usb power by plugging the usb source first than turn on the dac. this does not mine one i follow this step and it still drain the battery. and when the battery die it cant turn on the dac. do i need to update firmware or something to make this happen ?
My pleasure 🙂
The battery is still going to die regardless, thus you will still have to charge the unit UNLESS you keep it plugged into a USB power hub full time like I do. So I have both cables (The blue Type-A, and the Black Type-C) plugged in to my USB hub. I don’t listen to music that much with my phone so this is a good solution for me as I keep the hip-dac on my desk full time. Again, if you’re running it with a phone you WILL have to re-charge it because it’s battery powered. Hope that helps! Let me know!
Thank you very much for your excellent review and always share your impressions and valuable knowledge to help our decisions.
I wanted to inform you that the specifications of the IFI-Audio HipDAC have changed. They went from those published by you in the review:
“…… 2019/11 / hip-dac_manual_Ver1.1.pdf specifications:
Power Output: 2.0V / 400mW @ 16 Ohm “,
to current (and better!):
Please “ifi-Audio.com” website & “…. / 2020/03 / hip-dac-User-Manual_Ver1.3.pdf:
BAL: 400mW @ 32Ω; 6.3V@600ΩS-
BAL (SE): 280mW @ 32Ω; 3.2V@600Ω ”
In any case, I do not know if this seems useful to you and merits a favorable update of your review or you do not consider it necessary.
Hey Martin! Great info there! Are these for newer production models coming out? And it’s absolutely necessary thank you for sharing!
I don’t know if these are for newer production models coming out.
I just realized it and wanted to inform you in case you deemed it necessary to share. Because my headphones are very “difficult” to drive (AKG K340 Over ear), I was struck by the differences when, after reading your excellent review, I checked in detail on the IFI Audio website for power performance and voltage. After inquiring a bit, I found that the version “…. hip-dac-User-Manual_Ver1.3.pdf ….” were applied to the IFI Audio website, instead of the version “…. hip-dac_manual_Ver1.1.pdf specifications “.
Kind regards, friend,
Thanks Martin! I really appreciate you reaching out about that. I will have to ask Lawrance at iFi about it! 🙂
Hi Stu, thanks for the review!
If I have ATH-M50x or ATH-MSR7B which DAC/Amp should I get, the ifi hip dac or dragonfly red?
Hey there! My pleasure man. Hmm.. Do you think you’d prefer a warmer tone or cooler, more open, airy, detailed, etc. ??
I prefer a little warmer tone, ad some low to balance the brighter nature out of the ATH. But overall I am a detailed maniac, love the separations of instruments. just a casual listener that sometimes doing a bedroom recording with my guitar.
I think the hip-dac would make a perfect compliment to a headphone like the M50x man, and if it’s the MSR7B, the DF Red is probably your best bet. I tried that headphone and it was on the warmer side to me. I wasn’t a huge fan of the bass, as it felt a bit clammy and perhaps a tad bloated. Other than that it was a really nice listen! What do you think?
So, I think I can’t go wrong with both, need to save my money more 😀
Heh! Yeah! Where are you located by the way?
Wahyu SG, do not get the ifi hip dac for the ath msr7b. I have that combination and there is an audible hiss when no music is playing. Gain button On even worse. I am using my k702 and will sell the msr7b because of that even tho i like them
Hey man! Thanks for the input! How are you liking the 702?
> To plug it in to your laptop, just use the supplied Blue Type-A cable. After plugging it in, turn on the unit to draw BUS power. If you power it on first and then connect, it will draw battery power.
According to iFi this is not true. The iFi always uses battery power and can only be charged by using the usb-c charge port. It can not rum from BUS power or even draw power on the data port. The port only provides data hence the name. This is so when connected to mobile devices it doesn’t drain the battery on the mobiel device as the port only provides data.
Please amend your article cuz I nearly bought it thinking it could be powered by usb bus. Luckily I double-checked on the manufactures website:
IT would be awesome if the Hip could run from usb bus power but according to iFi it always uses battery power and it makes sense since the data port just does data.
Hey Jim! Thank you! I took that from the spec sheet in the box but I will confirm with the rep at iFi and get back to you!
Also noticed your email said no spam, please. I don’t spam people’s emails. I only send emails to people who have A) signed up to the list, or B) have explicitly given me written consent to email them. 🙂
Do you think this is a good fit for the Sennheiser HD58x and the Koss KPH-3oi?
Hey man! Yeah! I’m listening now with KPH30i. Sounds fantastic! Haven’t heard the 58X yet. 🙂 I wouldn’t hesitate though. Let me know!