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ifi hip dac review (DAC & Headphone Amp)

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the ifi hip dac combination USB DAC and portable headphone amplifier (with battery). It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $169 from Amazon including Prime shipping.

I don't know why ifi thinks this is a "hip" dac as the enclosure is a generic one offered by others:

ifi hip dac review balanced headphone amplifier.jpg


Unusual here is inclusion of a balanced, 4.4 mm headphone jack which is nice. A bass boost function is provided which is also not present in other products.

I was surprised that I could not get the unit charged through its standard USB port but had to use USB-C:
ifi hip dac review usb-c charging balanced headphone amplifier.jpg


As you see ifi continues to use male USB connection so has to provide you an adapter. Have not been a fan of its thick cable even though I understand their motivation.

Ifi Hip DAC Measurements
I started testing in balanced mode. Output was a healthy 6+ volts in high gain so I dialed that down to 4 volt and got this dashboard:

ifi hip dac measurements headphone amplifier.png


Wow, we are so used to exceptional performance in this class product that this level of distortion really stands out. SINAD of 70 dB lands the hip dac at the bottom of our 330+ DACs tested:

Best portable dac headphone amp reviewed 2021.png


Unbalanced out has a max of 3 volts so I adjusted that to 2 volts and results were the same:

ifi hip dac unbalanced measurements headphone amplifier.png


So for here on, I am going to use balanced output adjusted to 4 volts except power tests where it is at max.

Noise level is much more decent than distortion:

ifi hip dac DNR measurements headphone amplifier.png


The reconstruction filter is both slow and doesn't attenuate enough:

ifi hip dac filter measurements headphone amplifier.png


Jitter spikes are not that visible but this may be due to high noise floor:

ifi hip dac jitter measurements headphone amplifier.png


Linearity is not acceptable in this day and age:

ifi hip dac linearity measurements headphone amplifier.png


It should be able to easily do 20 bits.

IMD distortion test shows that the output saturates early and allows distortion to rise:

ifi hip dac IMD measurements headphone amplifier.png


Multitone which is run at lower levels does better as a result (than our dashboard):

ifi hip dac multitone measurements headphone amplifier.png


Sweeping against frequency shows flat, high distortion:

ifi hip dac THD+N vs frequency measurements headphone amplifier.png


Key here is power versus distortion into high and low loads. Let's start with 300 ohm:

ifi hip dac power into 300 ohm measurements headphone amplifier.png


While distortion rises good bit, there is also a lot of power available which is nice.

In low gain, we don't have a lot of power but do have distortion:
ifi hip dac power into 33 ohm measurements headphone amplifier.png


The xBass enhancement goes too high in frequency in what it boosts:

ifi hip dac xbass frequency response measurements headphone amplifier.png


Without xBass activated, response is dead flat to 20 kHz so all the talk about the BurBrown DAC having mellow/laid back sound is nonsense. If anything, its high distortion can make things sound a tiny bit bright.

Finally, channel balance was surprisingly poor:

ifi hip dac channel balance measurements headphone amplifier.png


The sample you get may be different though.

Ifi hip dac Listening Tests
I started with my Drop Ether CX headphones using balanced mode. Here, I could only get to moderate levels beyond which, audible distortion set in especially with bass notes. As a result, turning xBass on severely degraded the sound causing me to listen at very mild volumes. Switching to Sennheiser HD-650, it sounded very good and was able to get quite loud. xBass effect was a bit much but not too bad if used at lower listening levels.

Conclusions
There are a lot of arrows pointing against the ifi hip dac. It doesn't look hip and has a very low performing DAC platform with high distortion. What saves it is that it has a lot of power with high impedance loads using balanced outputs. Even without balanced, it can drive headphones like Sennheiser HD6XX. So if that is your application, it may do. Otherwise, the game has moved on way, way past where ifi is. Company needs to build a new DAC platform to be in the running.

I can't recommend the ifi hip dac.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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Paolo

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Thanks Amir, could It be possible to see the xBass effect on the HD6XX frequency response?
 

LearningToSmile

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This is one of the reviews I've been really looking forward to, since I almost bought this few times - it stands out from similar products with its physical design including the nice color, and it's quite affordable(locally it's around 10% cheaper than the Topping NX4). At least I hoped for performance similar to some other ifi products tested before, with SINAD between 90-100 dB - unfortunately it doesn't even get there.
 

raif71

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fwiw, I love my hip dac and how it sounds. I pair it with fiio m6 dap. :)

1626953002879.png


Connected together by bluetack (in this case whitetack). I use this when I'm doing chores around the house.
 
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ShiZo

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I wonder if their flagship dac or amp is any good. This isn't promising though.
 
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amirm

amirm

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OP
amirm

amirm

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How did the panther save his head?
Because of high output power with high impedance loads. It doesn't matter how good the DAC is if you run out of power in the headphone amp.
 

Veri

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vkvedam

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iFi and Bluesound like the Burr Brown chips. Technically they measure inferior all the time. I see no reason in getting this over plenty of other decent offerings around :confused:
 

Jimbob54

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There's that characteristic ifi spray of distortion which I assume is what appeals to many even if they don't know what it is.
 

threni

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ifi? lol! Pronounced iffy, I take it?

adjective
INFORMAL
full of uncertainty; doubtful.
of doubtful quality or legality.
 
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