iFi Hip-dac Portable DAC & Headphone Amplifier: Full reviews

iFi Hip-Dac

The product to be introduced in this article is a DAC that has some equipment to listen to higher-quality music, you can also buy and used a few DACs. In this article, you will get to know a full review of  iFi Hip-dac Portable DAC & Headphone Amplifier

Well, the editorial was long before, but the DAC to be covered this time belongs to the so-called tail DAC category, and it is a product that delivers quite good sound quality and output compared to its size. It’s none other than the iFi HipDac.

As you can see from the design below, it is a medium product, and usually, medium DAC guarantees sound quality to some extent, but the output is often weak, so it covers wired earphones but is often not enough to sound headphones. It is a product that provides enough output that even a few wired headphones can hear it to some extent.

Dali’s iO-6 is a wireless headphone that plays audiophile-grade sound sources. However, Sony’s WM-1000X series did not use them much. Both are good but thinking about it now, there are indeed a few things that are a bit disappointing.

there would be no difference from when using the Sony WM-1000X series in the past. Rather, if you prefer the WM-1000XM4 with LDAC support, you’ll be fine.

iFi Hip-DAC – Unboxing

Fi Hip-DAC Box

Before starting the review of the iFi Hip DAC, As you can see from the case picture above, the hip dac from ifi is a portable DAC and headphone amplifier. As we’ll talk about below, it also does a decent job as a headphone amp. So, I think it is a cost-effective product. This is because some DACs require a separate headphone amplifier to sound the headphones. Most DACs are good enough to make earphones ring, but headphones are a little different.

The front of the box shows the design of the hip dac (hip deck). Like the current ifi mobile DAC products, as well as the previous products, the designs of ifi products have a slightly future-oriented (?) appearance, so it seems that people have different likes and dislikes. However, there were many evaluations that the overall design of the hip deck was okay. We will talk about the design below.

Fi Hip-DAC Box

On the back of the box, the features and specifications of the hip deck are written in detail. Since the hip deck is a DAC, it receives digital input. So, there is a USB-A 3.0 type port on the back of the hip deck. However, it is common that it is usually male, but it is female. This part will be discussed in detail below. Power is received through a USB-C type port.

It can play DSD 256, PCM 384, and MQA. This means that it can reproduce all of the highest-quality sound quality available today. The output supports 3.5mm unbalanced output (normal output) and 4.4mm balanced output.

Because it is portable, it operates on battery and has a 2200mAh battery. The playback time seems to be about 4 hours (there is a feeling that it is a little short).

The box itself is very simple. Functions and specifications are covered in more detail below, so I won’t go into more detail here.

iFi Hip-DAC – Components

iFi Hip-DAC - Components

iFi Hip Dac review the components of the hip deck as follows. It is the hip deck body and three cables. Interestingly, two of the three cables are OTG cables. As mentioned earlier, the hip deck’s digital input is a USB-A 3.0-type female terminal, so it seems to have adopted the OTG method. One USB-C cable is for the power supply.

One of the two OTG cables is a USB-C OTG cable and the other is a USB-A OTG cable. I think the USB-C OTG cable is for connecting a smartphone and the USB-A OTG cable is for connecting a PC. Laptops these days have many USB-C ports, so you can connect a USB-C OTG cable to your laptop.

For reference, it can be directly plugged into a smartphone that supports a USB-C type port, but in the case of an iPhone, it is difficult to use the cable provided by default in the Hip Deck because the Lightning port is still used. However, if you use a genuine camera kit provided by Apple, you can connect directly. Alternatively, you can use a USB-C OTG cable using a Lightning to USB-C converter (i.e. iPhone users will need to invest extra).

Let’s talk about the performance-related part again below, and let’s take a look at the exterior design first, and iFi Hip dac review. 

iFi Hip-DAC – Design

Let’s take a look at the design of the iFi hip dac review design part. As mentioned earlier, except for a few products before or after the Hip Deck, it was said that likes and dislikes were divided because they adopted a fairly future-oriented (?) design. Let’s take a brief look at the design of the Hip Deck.

iFi Hip-DAC - Design

Looking at the design of the hip deck, it is like looking at a small old whiskey bottle or canteen. 

overall small. It came out in a small size suitable for a portable product. So, it is a size that is not burdensome to carry around. On the front, there is a volume knob with a power on/off function, and it consists of two buttons and two ports. We will explain that function below.

iFi Hip-DAC - Design

If you turn the hip deck over and look at the bottom, the role of each button and port is written.

As mentioned earlier, the golden knob has a volume function that doubles as power on/off. Earlier, it was said that the hip deck also serves as a headphone amplifier, but although it is small in size, the output is quite large. That’s why even headphones with fairly high impedance resonate well enough. Specifications are designed to resonate up to a maximum impedance of 300 ohms.

Based on the volume knob, there is an XBase button to the right when viewed from the bottom. XBase is a function that strengthens the base a little more. Usually, I adjust the EQ (equalizer) to strengthen the bass, but there are times when I feel that the bass rises a little awkwardly in the process. Of course, there are products where EQ works naturally, but many products seemed to hear something unnatural when the bass was raised with EQ.

However, if you enhance the bass through XBase (usually called bass boosting), the bass is emphasized more naturally than you think. It’s not that the base is getting bigger that much, but it feels like the base is a bit more voluminous. I feel that way. This means that the base naturally rises.

So, when listening to monitoring-oriented headphones (for example, Sennheiser’s HD560S, HD600, HD660S), there is a feeling of boredom if you listen without XBase, but if you turn on XBase, you will have fun listening. I can feel the difference even with my ears, the youngest, but I think that sensitive people or people with slightly open ears will feel the difference.

There is a button called Power Match next to the XBase button, which increases the volume more than the default volume. This function is considered to be a function for headphones, but it is difficult to mention the concept of impedance used in earphones and headphones. In my opinion, it seemed to increase the sound twice as much.

There are output terminals on the left side of the volume knob, which will be mentioned below.

iFi Hip-DAC - Design

The above is the front of the hip deck, and there are two output terminals (output terminals) on the right side of the front (the left side of the volume knob based on the bottom in the previous picture). Next to the volume knob is a 4.4mm balanced jack, and next to it is a 3.5mm unbalanced jack.

First of all, if you look at the 3.5mm unbalanced jack, you can just see it as a part where you plug in the 3.5mm ear jack provided by the wired earphones or headphones we use. Most of the earphones or headphones I have support a 3.5mm ear jack, so I usually plug it in and listen.

iFi Hip-DAC - Design

What does the back of the hip deck look like? For reference, in the photo above, the golden circular something attached to the Hi-Res AUDIO sticker is a vibration chip that is said to control vibration. I don’t know how effective it will be, but I bought it because I heard it’s okay on YouTube, and I’m using it. I’m not hearing much of a difference with my ears. I just think of it as an aesthetic sense of stability.

There is a USB-A type port on the left side of the vibration chip (?), and this is the port that receives digital input. However, as mentioned earlier, it is usually a male port, but the hip deck is a female port. All portable DAC products from ifi look like this. I wondered why it was like this, but there is a story that it adopted this shape to be able to use it using the camera kit on the iPhone. 

For smartphones, you can use the included USB-C type OTG cable. In the case of Android smartphones coming out these days, most of them provide USB-C ports, so there will be no problem. And recent laptops also provide USB-C ports, so you can use them there.

iFi Hip-DAC – Usage

So let’s see how to actually use it, let’s review the iFi Hip-Dac usage part. In my case, I am using the hip deck in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look at the method we are currently using.

iFi Hip-DAC - Usage

As you can see from the picture above, a USB-C OTG cable is connected to the hip deck and connected to the Poco X3 to use as a source device. The Poco X3 uses the UAPP app to play sound sources with Tidal (I’ll reorganize this later).

In the case of the HD569, two types of cables are provided, one with a 3.5mm ear jack and a short length (I think it’s about 1m) wired cable, and the other with a 6.3mm ear jack and a long length of about 4 to 5m. A wired cable is provided. In my case, I connect a long cable and use it with a 3.5mm conversion gender inserted in the middle because it is a 6.3mm ear jack instead of a 3.5mm.  

iFi Hip-DAC - Usage

The picture above is a way to use the hip deck on the iPhone as mentioned briefly before. The most convenient way is to use the camera kit, but since the camera kit is expensive, I use the Lightning to USB-C gender from ddHiFi. It is a method of inserting a gender and inserting a USB-C OTG cable there to connect to the hip deck. Recognition works well.

In the case of the iPhone, since there is no such app as UAPP, the Tidal app is used as it is. Well, the sound comes out just fine. In my case, the main thing for listening to music is listening to music using the Poco X3, but sometimes I listen to music through the iPhone like that. There is no big difference between listening on an Android smartphone, or an iPhone and listening through a hip deck, so even if you listen to it like that, you can enjoy a satisfactory pitch life.

iFi Hip-DAC – Performance

iFi Hip-DAC - Performance

let’s review the iFi Hip-Dac Performance part, Had mentioned the sound performance that a hip deck can provide before, but it seems that DACs have a lot of likes and dislikes depending on which chipset they use. I think it’s because the sound tendencies are shown depending on the chipset, but usually, AK chipsets (like AK4497) or ESS chipsets are used, but hip decks use Burr-Brown chipsets.

For reference, most DACs from ifi, as well as hip decks, use Burr Brown chipsets. Of course, the sound does not come out just because of the chipset, but the other circuit configurations that make up the surroundings are also important.

The performance that the hip deck can pull out is PCM 384kHz, DSD 256, DXD 384. Since most of the music I listen to is in PCM format, I rarely use DSD or DXD formats (especially in the above combination), but it is possible to reproduce almost the highest quality sound that exists. First of all, the streaming music service that I listen to almost mainly is Tidal. As will be explained below, it is expensive because it streams studio-grade lossless master sound sources in the MQA method, but it is used. The next streaming service I listen to is YouTube Music. YouTube Music is a service that I use because it is automatically used for free as I use YouTube Premium, but I listen to music sources that cannot be found on Tidal on YouTube Music.

In the above combination, it was said that UAPP was used as a player that makes the hip deck sound, but by installing the MQA plug-in in UAPP for a fee (UAPP itself is paid, but it is a paid plug-in again -.-), and listening to it with the hip deck, you can definitely feel the difference in sound quality.

To explain the MQA method, the article will be long. To briefly explain, the MP3 method was previously referred to as a lossy compression method, but MP3 compresses by reducing the capacity by erasing information in the high-pitched range based on the audible frequency that people can hear when CD sound sources are standard way.

It is not accurate, but since it is a method of compressing only about 6 to 70% of the information of the original music file, the capacity is greatly reduced. The capacity of kbps, such as 128 kbps, 192 kbps, and 384 kbps, refers to the amount of sound information. The higher the number, the greater the amount of sound information, so although it is a lossy compression method, you can hear it with relatively high sound quality (of course, the capacity increases that much).

The MQA method is called a lossless compression method. However, it is ambiguous to call it completely lossless, but anyway, since it includes sound information from the audible frequency that people can hear to a little more expanded frequency, it is generally lossless when people hear it. It is said to be made in Meridian.

A typical CD sound source is made based on 16bit, 44kHz, but that is when it is made as a CD, and it is said that it is made in 24bit, 192kHz when it is usually made in a studio (sometimes it is said that it is made in 24bit, 384kHz). Also, the original sound is stored in the range of 0 to -168 dB, but the MQA method uses only 0 to -120 dB to reduce the capacity.

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The reason why the MQA method uses only information up to -120dB rather than full-spec is that the area of -120 ~ -168dB is an area that stores super-high sound information, and most audio devices cannot reproduce it, so it is said to be omitted.

This is the reason why the MQA method is called a lossless compression method, but it is difficult to call it lossless. Just as MP3 is called lossy because it removes information in the super-high range, the MQA method also lacks some of the information in the super-high range (of course, it is an area that most audio equipment cannot reproduce), so it is ambiguous to call it completely lossless.

Anyway, since the MQA method provides more sound information than the lossy transmission method that we usually use on Melon or other streaming music sites, it is true that it sounds close to the original sound.

However, just because the MQA method is provided by the streaming service does not mean that you can listen to it in the MQA method. You need a sound system that can play the whole sound source in the MQA method. It is not provided by the music player, but MQA decoding must be supported by the sound card, DAC, and DAP (strictly, the DAC among the elements that make up the DAP).

Earlier, it was said that Meridian created the MQA method, but to support MQA decoding, a license must be obtained from Meridian. However, it seems that the price of this license is not cheap. Among high-quality DACs that support PCM 192kHz, there are many DACs and DAPs that do not support MQA. However, HeapDeck supports MQA decoding.

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