iFi hip DAC Review: Warm and Loose

The newest little flask shaped DAC-slash-amplifier
has arrived at Minidisc, so we’ve taken a swig. Is the iFi Hip DAC worth sneaking around in
your pocket? Well honestly, I have to say, I was really
surprised by the sound of this little blue wonder. On paper and in the hand, it looks the part. About the size of a deck of cards, the Hip
DAC packs both a 3.5mm and 4.4mm balanced connection that can produce 400mW at 16 ohms,
almost 4 times what a similar device like the Fiio Q1Mk2 can produce. The HipDAC has a USB C port, but that’s
just for charging the device – actual audio input is connected via iFi’s unique male
USB port, which means a one cable connection with OTG cables and Apple’s camera connection
kit. IFI helpfully provides all necessary the USB-A
and USB-C cables, but for iPhone users you’ll have to buy the lightning camera connection
kit cable seperately. Now try saying that one 10 times fast. You get volume control via the little gold
knob, but on our demo unit we noticed an issue where the unit will turn off without clicking
into the “OFF” position if you get right to the end of the pot, meaning that it’s
quite easy to turn off accidentally if you are fiddling around at very low volumes. Unfortunately, in combination with this issue
there issome channel imbalance at the end of the pot, so if you are using extremely
sensitive IEMs you might run into a problem where the HipDAC gets too loud before you
get past the channel imbalance. For this practical reason we would hesitate
to recommend this amplifier to users with super sensitive IEMS. Now on the other end of the scale, in high
gain mode the Hip DAC produces enough voltage to easily drive high impedance headphones
like the Sennheiser HD820, and enough current to drive low impedance, low sensitivity headphones
like the Dan Clark Audio Aeon 2 without breaking a sweat. But power output aside, how does it actually
sound? Well, I mentioned at the beginning of this
video, I was really surprised by the sound of this DAC/amp. Now I usually find differences between sources
really quite subtle, and often apart from differences in power output, output impedance
and noise floor performance, most sources sound quite similar to me. Not so the Hip DAC. The Hip DAC sounds noticeably warm with everything
I tried it with. The highs get rolled off, everything gets
smoother and the bass gets thumpier and flabbier. We compared the HipDAC with the Chord Mojo,
which is supposedly a warm sounding source, and the iFI makes even the Mojo sound bright. We’re really not sure what secret sauce
that iFi is adding to the Hip DAC, but it definitely hasn’t been tuned for a linear
sound, even compared to iFi’s own Zen DAC, which is iFi’s desktop counterpart to the
hip DAC that was released around the same time. The Hip DAC makes everything sound smoother
at the expense of making bass sound a bit underdamped. It can make brighter headphones like Grados
and Audio Technica’s sound sweeter and more balanced, but for anything that is warm to
begin with, I found the Hip DAC makes everything sound too muddy. And this is before you switch on the bass
switch, which just doubles down on the effect. There was actually no headphone that we had
that we actually enjoyed with the bass switch since it makes everything sound overblown,
but it’s there if you want it. So should you get one of these? Well, before I started this review I thought
that the Hip DAC would be an easy upgrade over similar products like the Fiio Q1Mk2. But now that I have a listen, I don’t think
the decision is so simple, since the sound of the Hip DAC is definitely not balanced
like the Fiio. If you want something to drastically warm
up a cold sounding can, the hip DAC is an easy recommendation. But if you want something that works better
as an all rounder, you might have to give the Hip DAC a swig and a miss. Let us know what you think. This is Lachlan for MinidiscTV, and we’ll
see you next time.

12 comments on “iFi hip DAC Review: Warm and Loose”

  1. metal571 says:

    No one:

    Minidisc: Warm and Loose

  2. Branislav Crljenica says:

    🤔Can the Fiio Q1Mk2 work on an Android phone?

  3. Traffic Light says:

    Will you ever review the Sony NW-ZX507?

  4. heang oy says:

    Vs q5s from fiio?

  5. Tony London says:

    What about ifi zen dac ?

  6. dmac6419 says:

    Battery life ain't the greatest,only getting about 6 hour's and this is the second one.

  7. Patrick Cunha says:

    Which one would you recommend for the Beyerdynamic dt 770 pro 80 ohm. The ifi hip dac or the fiio q1 mark 2? (iPhone User)

  8. syazh1 says:

    How about the mqa decoding capability through tidal? I noticed some users reported issue with led indicator not detecting the sample rate changes especially on mobile devices.

  9. THE KING says:

    Bro its too expensive.i cant affordable for me.. i have kz zs10 pro can i buy for that or not.. can you recommend me some cheap one. And is that do anything good with sound thanks alot❤️

  10. James Young says:

    Hey there in Australia! I just learned of you while checking out some reviews of the iFi hip DAC/Amp. My ears really perked up when you mentioned specifically that it had no problem powering the new Dan Clark Aeon 2c! I just got these over the Holidays and am specifically looking for a DAC/Amp combo for them. So far just running them directly from my iPhone or MacBook Pro. I'm new to "higher end" headphones and not sure whether the Aeon 2c is categorized as an already "warm" headphone or not. What is your sense of whether the iFi DAC/Amp is a good match for them? I've also heard some good things about the Chord Mojo for example but those are over twice as expensive. And you also mentioned the fiio q1 mark 2. I do like the form factor and design of the hip DAC (blue and brass, great combo) but realize that's was secondary to sound quality. Any advice/feedback you can provide is greatly appreciated. Thank you. Jim Young Longview, WA/USA

  11. Cy says:

    How do the BTR5 or UP4 compare?

  12. RON B says:

    Muddy and no 2.5 balanced input, color me disappointed.
    Good to hear from u again Lachlan, been a while.
    Hope u guys get the Focal Arche n do a review on it.

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