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iFi Hip-dac2 Portable DAC/Amp Review

Upgrade from the Dongle

Christopher Coke Updated: Posted:
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Hardware Reviews 0

Last week, we took a look at an interesting (and tiny) gateway to portable audio with the iFi Go Blu. A portable powerhouse in its own right, the Go Blu is perfect for users that want to cut the cord, but what about those listeners who crave more: more power, more features, and the guarantee of compression-free listening only a wired connection can provide? That’s where the Hip-dac2 comes in. 

Specifications

  • Current Price: $189.99 (Amazon
  • Formats supported
    • DSD: 256/128/64, Quad/Double/Single-Speed
    • PCM: 384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
    • DXD: 384/352.8kHz
    • MQA: 384/352.8kHz
  • Digital Inputs
    • USB 3.0 Type 'A'
    • (USB2.0 compatible)
  • Headphone Outputs
  • Balanced: 4.4mm
  • S-Balanced (S-E): 3.5mm
  • Power Output (@1% THD)
  • Battery: Lithium-polymer 2200mAh
  • Battery Life: Approx. 8 hours
  • Power System : Charging via USB-C, BC V1.2 compliant up to 1000mA charging current and 6.3 volts
  • Power (max): <2W idle, 4W max
  • Dimensions: 102 x 70 x 14mm/4.0" x 2.8" x 0.6"
  • Weight: 125g (0.28 lbs)

iFi Hip-dac2 - Introduction and Key Features

Be careful with the Hip-dac2: someone might think you’re getting ready for a mid-day nip. That’s because it looks like nothing more than a little flask. That design is intentional and gives the Hip-dac a unique visual identity in a market that seems more crowded by the day. It also serves a functional purpose: the same way you could slip a flask into a small chest pocket, the Hip-dac2 slips away and is easily carried alongside your phone to drive even demanding headphones on the go. 

Measuring only 4.0 x 2.8 inches, it delivers a surprising amount of power. The Hip-dac2 supports single-ended (3.5mm) and balanced (4.4mm) connections. Over single-ended (S-Balanced), it’s able to output up to 280mW, but like the best balanced portable amps, the balanced output bumps that all the way to 400mW. That’s enough to drive all but the most demanding headphones. I tested the Hip-dac2 with the new HIFIMAN DEVA Pro and the Ananda, as well as the much more demanding HD6XX (300 ohm) and it had no trouble driving them.

If you’re listening on the go, however, there’s a good chance you won’t be listening to bulky over-ears and will instead be plugging in more sensitive IEMs. The Hip-dac2 has an answer to that in the form of PowerMatch. Rather than include simple low and high gain modes, the amp can detect the load presented by the headphones and increase or decrease power to match. You’ll still need to take care that the volume is turned down before putting them in your ears (this will absolutely push them to ear-damaging levels) but it all but eliminates the hiss below 85% volume.

Another neat feature it brings to the table is X-Bass. We saw this on the Go Blu, but I think I find it even more enjoyable here. There seems to be a bit more oomph behind it — or perhaps it’s just because it’s more impactful on the over-ear headphones I tested with. While the Go Blu certainly could drive over-ears, its tiny form factor made it best suited for equally small in-ears. Regardless, X-Bass can be that special sauce certain headphones need to sound their best and doesn’t force you to apply a software-level EQ.

Taking a closer look at the device itself, iFi has done an excellent job making it feel premium and robust. It’s built completely from aluminum and is clearly designed to survive the rigors of daily use. The buttons and volume knob have been designed to offer satisfying, easy to recognize feedback. When not in use, the knob clicks to turn off the unit. The outer shell is anodized orange for a bit of added visual flair, but if you’d rather protect it from scratches, iFi also sells a suede slip-ion Hip-case for it that also looks quite nice. 

Around the back, we have our input deck. The device connects to sound sources using USB Type-A and receives power through USB Type-C. There are two surprises here. The first is that the Hip-dac has a male connector, recessed into the shell. There is a USB Type-C to Type-A female cable in the box. I found this strange at first, but after living with the DAC, it’s begun to make more sense. This makes for a strong connection that isn’t easily tweaked. For something that will be living in your pocket and possibly getting stressed as you move throughout the day, the bigger connect is clearly more resilient. Still, I wish that it was able to receive power and data simultaneously through its USB Type-C port. 

You won’t need to connect both cables at once to listen through your PC, however, and you won’t need to worry about the Hip-dac2 draining your smartphone’s battery. That’s because it features a built-in 2200mAh battery. iFi rates this for about eight hours of listening, but it will vary depending on your volume and how much power your headphones demand. With the level of output it offers, it could drain a smartphone battery fairly quickly, so it’s good to see it able to stand on its own two feet. 

This design also makes it much easier to carry throughout the day. The mental weight of balancing the enjoyment of your listening with the drain on your battery is alleviated, so you no longer have to choose. 

Inside that shell, you’ll find the same type of premium components and design that iFi is known for. The Hip-dac2 uses a Burr-Brown multibit DAC and a new 16-core XMOS chip. The combination of these components opens the door to 32-bit, 384kHz listening so you’ll never have to sacrifice the quality of your music. It also supports MQA for TIDAL Master Quality tracks and DSD256. The Hip-dac2 could easily be your singular listening device if you wanted it to be.

iFi Hip-dac2 - Listening and Daily Use

Now we come to the most important part. What’s it like to actually use? After testing the Go Blu, I’m not surprised to find that it’s exceptionally good. Beginning with the practicalities, I found carrying the Hip-dac2 around required some changes. I usually keep my phone in my jeans, but with the added width of the DAC, I found it easier to carry in my coat pocket or to leave both out on my desk. 

That said, I prefer this form factor versus a dongle DAC which dangle precariously from my pocket or the rigid form that feels like it will break and take my USB port with it. There’s no way around its size, but iFi has done a good job of making it easy to slide in and out of the pocket with the controls right at the top for easy adjustment. 

The amount of power these can deliver was really exceptional. I was able to take my Anandas and Sundara to work and actually enjoy them during my breaks, something I previously left only for home. The PowerMatch feature was particularly useful and didn’t miss the mark even once. It’s a versatile little device thanks to it. IEMs or full over-ears, it doesn’t matter: I was able to have enjoyable listens regardless of how efficient they were. 

I also really enjoyed the X-Bass. As I mentioned previously, there seemed to be a bit of extra magic in it here. Turning it on with my Sennheiser HD6XX, it was like they came to life. The low-end boost was clean and didn’t muddy up the mids or cut out detail. I turned it on for some of my early 2000s-era post-hardcore, Senses Fail’s Let It Enfold You, an album that is disappointingly bass anemic. Just like my beloved HD6XX, the Hip-dac breathed new life into the album, turning it into something it should have been all along. 

The DAC does seem to have a bit of middle-high sparkle. I didn’t make my headphones fatiguing but was just enough to bring out a bit of extra detail and shine in my music. A good DAC shouldn’t reinvent headphones you’ve come to love. Instead, it should enhance them, and this definitely struck home. Still, users wanting complete neutrality will want to bear this in mind.

Like the Go Blu I looked at last time, the Hip-dac 2 is impressive. Build quality, sound, and versatility are spot on. Like anything, though, it's not perfect. I miss the lack of X-Space for enhanced soundstage, but since it seems a better match with over-ears, the headphones themselves fill in this gap much more than the average IEM is able to. I also wish there were a way to play, pause, or skip tracks on the device itself.

All in all, the Hip-dac2 lives up to the high reputation garnered by its predecessor.

Final Thoughts

As a daily driver, the iFi takes some getting used to. You have to be in the market for an additional brick in your pocket. Once you’re in that mindset, however, you begin to see the opportunities afforded by that additional size: more power, more functionality, better build quality. This is a device that has enough power to drive all but the most demanding headphones, will sound good doing it,  and won't drain your phone in the process -- whether that’s listening to MQA, FLAC or DSD files, or even something as simple as streaming from Spotify. The Hip-Dac2 is a winner. 

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.

9.0Amazing
Pros
  • Excellent build quality
  • Balanced and single-ended support
  • Lots of power
  • Designed for easier pocket use than many competing portable DACs
  • Outstanding sound quality
Cons
  • No X-Space
  • No way to control media outside of volume


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight


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