iFi Launches Portable 32-bit/384kHz-capable Hip-Dac

Teeny tiny.

While components and devices seem to continually get smaller as technology progresses, it doesn’t seem to come at the cost of feature set.

Take iFi’s new Hip-Dac as an example. A 125-gram 32-bit/384kHz, DSD256, DXD, and MQA-capable pocket-portable USB DAC and 400 mW headphone amplifier built around a Burr-Brown True Native chipset that is set to retail for $149 USD. For those who don’t mind the extra weight or minnimal-bulk cost that comes with a separate amp/DAC, iFi seems to have touched a sweet spot for cost/performance/features.

Touted as an all-new design, the Hip-Dac comes in “petrol blue with a touch of copper” and is designed to replace the built-in DAC and amplifier circuitry that currently resides in your smartphone, tablet, laptop, Mac or PC. Basically, a dongle that is packed with tech meant to greatly improve on what your stock portable or desktop device can offer for sound quality from digital files.

According to iFi the Hip-Dac features “clock-locking [which] eradicates jitter (digital distortion), using iFi’s GMT femto-precision clocking system to maintain the integrity of the digital signal until conversion to analogue.”

It features a built-in 2200mAh battery with a claimed eight to 12 hours of play time. The Hip-Dac includes three USB cables: USB-C OTG (On-The-Go) cable, USB Type A; and Type A to USB-C charging cable.


Press release highlights below

Hi-res PCM and DXD audio data is supported at sampling rates up to 384kHz, alongside DSD from 2.8MHz to 12.4MHz (DSD64, 128 and 256). Thanks to the Burr-Brown chip’s True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables both PCM and DSD to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in their native form right through to analogue conversion. Either side of the rotary volume control reside a pair of LEDs that change colour to indicate the format and sampling rate of the digital audio being played.

The hip-dac’s amp circuitry is of balanced (differential) design – highly unusual in a DAC/headphone amp anywhere near this price point. Balanced audio circuits have long been championed by renowned high-end audio electronics engineer John Curl, now a technical consultant for iFi, given their ability to reduce noise within the signal path. Curl has worked closely with iFi’s in-house technical team, led by Thorsten Loesch, to produce an analogue stage of exceptional quality for a device of this kind.

The circuitry incorporates a range of high-quality components, carefully selected for their performance in an audio context, including a custom iFi OV op-amp, TDK C0G class 1 ceramic capacitors, a precision low-noise power supply IC from Texas Instruments and a high-quality analogue volume pot (many portable DAC/headphone amps use inferior digital volume controls).

The headphone amp has a nominal power rating of 400mW and is capable of delivering over 700mW from the balanced output depending on the impedance of the attached headphones – impressive in comparison with the hip-dac’s peers, driving all manner of headphone/earphone types with ease.

The amp stage features switchable gain, which iFi terms PowerMatch. This matches the level of drive to the load presented by the headphones, by adjusting input sensitivity and thereby signal strength. With high-sensitivity headphone types such as in-ear monitors, leave PowerMatch at its lower setting for ultra-low-noise performance. But if your headphones require more drive – most on/over-ear types, for example – press the PowerMatch button on the front panel to increase gain.

Another circuit feature that separates this and iFi’s other DACs from competing designs is the XMOS chip, which processes audio data received at the USB input and is programmed in-house. Rather than relying on firmware supplied off-the-shelf, which is not typically optimised for audiophile-grade sound, iFi programs its own bespoke firmware to enhance audio processing.

iFi’s continuous software development allows features to be added or optimised via firmware updates, enabling the hip-dac to be tailored to the user’s playback priorities and ensuring it stays cutting-edge over time. Users can even download and install different versions of iFi firmware to experiment with different digital filters if they wish.

XBass is another user-selectable feature – a sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange, particularly useful with earphones and open-back headphones that may lack deep bass. It operates entirely in the analogue domain rather than messing with the digital signal via DSP and may be switched in or out of the signal path.

There are two USB ports – Type A for audio data and USB-C for charging. Unusually, the Type A input features a ‘male’ connector, rather than a typical ‘female’ port. This arrangement provides greater mechanical integrity than the USB/Micro USB ports commonly found on DAC/headphone amps from other manufacturers. It also offers an advantage to iPhone and iPad users, because it accepts Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adaptor directly without requiring an additional female-to-male USB adaptor. (The Camera Adapter is required to connect Apple iOS devices to third-party USB devices.)

Two outputs are provided – a 3.5mm socket for headphones with a single-ended cable/connector and a Pentaconn 4.4mm output enabling headphones equipped with balanced connectivity to take full advantage of the hip-dac’s differential amp design. In addition, the 3.5mm output benefits from iFi’s proprietary S-Balanced circuitry, cutting crosstalk and related distortion in half when used with regular, single-ended headphone connections – this is especially beneficial with high-sensitivity in-ear monitors. Combined with the hip-dac’s PowerMatch facility, these outputs deliver class-leading performance with a broader range of headphone/earphone types than other comparably priced DAC/amp designs.

COMPANY INFO
iFi Audio

COMMENTS
barfle's picture

Apparently this has to stream from another device? With the size and cost of memory, it seems like a few gig wouldn’t be asking too much.

Or did I miss something?

Rafe Arnott's picture
It's not a DAP with wi-fi, or storage, it's a portable amp/DAC. And for $149 USD, you're already get tons of value IMO.
X