IFi hip-dac 2 review | What Hi-Fi?

Given that the excellent original ifi hip-dac removed the preconceptions anyone might have had about what a ‘serious’ portable dac should look like, the main difficulty ifi faces with the sequel to hip-dac 2 is undoubtedly the loss of novelty value. when unboxing the 2nd generation update, for example, we no longer exclaimed, “ha! it really does look like a flask!” though we did notice the beautiful new sunset orange paint job, a hue now more akin to expensive malt whiskey than a jet of gasoline.

In other places, it may seem like not much has changed, but of course we need to dig a little deeper. HIP-DAC 2’s next-generation 16-core XMOS chip boasts twice the clock speed and four times the memory of its big brother. It also houses an updated version of ifi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) circuitry, featuring a new crystal clock in an attempt to further eradicate jitter in the digital-to-analog conversion process. And partly thanks to that chip, there’s now full triple mqa decoding, a point that’s sure to pique the interest of tidal hi-fi subscribers.

Reading: Usb dac headphone amps

so can ifi’s hip-dac 2 be better than the original and therefore justify the slightly extra expense over its predecessor? we’re about to find out.

  • ifi hip-dac 2 on amazon for $189 (opens in a new tab)


whereas the inaugural hip-dac’s 8-core xmos chip (processing data received via usb) has now been replaced by a 16-core xmos chip for four times the memory and power to offer a full mqa decode, the hip-dac 2’s £189 ($189, au$279) starting price seems more than fair, generous even. yes, it’s more expensive than the original’s £149 ($149, au$249) price (although a quick price scan reveals you can now pick one up for slightly less than the launch price, while supplies last), but you’re now getting the processor that was initially introduced in ifi’s most expensive dacs including its flagship (four times the price) idsd diablo so the fact that the british firm’s premium technology has now trickled down to its most basic devices is something worth shouting about. on.


as with the original, the ifi hip-dac 2 is a well made unit. the extruded aluminum case, about the size of a pack of cards (or a small hip flask), fits nicely in the palm of your hand and feels delightfully cool, and the rotary metal volume dial (which doubles as a rocker switch) power switch and it would be the bottle cap, if it were actually a hip flask) it spins quietly and has a beautiful high-end feel.

On the bottom of the hip-dac 2 there is a male USB data input port. It might look a bit clunky by today’s standards, but using this instead of the typical female option means that as well as offering a really secure connection that won’t fall out on your commute or disconnect if it falls off your desk, the dac can connect Directly to Apple Lightning to USB (Camera Adapter Cable) to use your iPhone as a source. And that means easy, cost-effective access to high-resolution lossless Apple Music files. You’ll need to buy the cable from Apple separately, but the Hip-DAC 2 comes with three USB cables: a USB-C OTG (on-the-go) cable, ideal for connecting Android devices and PCs/Macs with USB-C ports. ; a usb-a cable (for everything else); and a usb-a to usb-c for charging.

On the top of the unit are two outputs: a conventional 3.5mm headphone jack and a balanced 4.4mm pentacon. the latter supposedly takes full advantage of the dac’s differential amp design circuitry (something of a usp compared to most rivals) but, since our favorite headphones at this level have the traditional unbalanced connection, it’s a novel inclusion more than essential, although one that adds value nonetheless.

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The hip-dac 2’s 2200mah battery should, if it says, last eight to 12 hours of playback time, depending on the volume level and power consumption of the connected headphones, and take note here. Wear a pair of Austrian hi-x55 juice-guzzling headphones and naturally the hip-dac 2 won’t last as long as it can when plugged into bijou soundmagic e11c headphones. During our tests, we got just over seven hours with the Austrian Audio headphones and closer to the maximum claimed figure with the SoundMagic in-ear headphones, on a full charge. Remaining resistance is indicated by a small LED below the USB Type-C charging port, which is located next to the USB-A input on the base of the DAC. it glows white if it’s over 75 percent in the tank, green for over 25 percent, red for over 10 percent, and flashes red when it needs to charge. During charging, the battery LED will flash whatever color you’re in, and you can keep listening while you recharge.


Flanking the volume knob on the opposite side of the headphone jacks are two buttons to help customize the sound. From the outside in, first comes the powermatch button, which essentially changes the gain of the internal amp to make headphone matching easier. for in-ear headphones, ifi recommends leaving them off, but for in-ear and over-ear headphones, pressing the powermatch button on provides the volume boost they need, and you’ll see it pop up thanks to a helpful white led light.

next to this is a button to start xbass. As with the inaugural hip-dac, our reservations about a bass-enhancing option are soon dispelled: ifi’s subtle treatment means that, depending on your headphones, the profile is really useful, adding a sensible degree of range influence. low to certain in ears (including the klipsch t5m) without sounding bloated, warm or muddy.

perhaps one of the nicest improvements ifi has made to this second generation hip-dac has to do with the pair of led lights located on either side of the volume dial. these indicate the audio format and sample rate received by the hip-dac 2 from your music source, but where the original hip-dac’s color coding wasn’t particularly informative (it couldn’t tell the difference between the older pcm file types for example) , it seems that ifi has listened to user feedback and has done something about it.

now 44.1khz and 48khz files are represented with a yellow light, but 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8 and 384khz files will be indicated with a white glow . dsd64 and 128 files are indicated in cyan, while dsd256 (also known as quad speed dsd) files will now cause the leds to illuminate red. thanks to the dac’s ‘three split’ decoding process, now done internally (as opposed to final splitting in the manner of an mqa ‘renderer’, the method done by the original hip-dac), the mqa files glow green but mqa studio tracks are now also recognized, glowing blue. magenta means the file is playing at its original sample rate (mqb). Enthusiasts will note that ifi has added two new colors to the swatch here (red and white) to accommodate this functionality, and they’re also very useful.


We started listening with a hi-res lossless playlist of apple music on our iphone. streaming diamond eyes (with sia) by eddie benjamin, we nearly took off our austrian audio hi-x55 headphones to check where the sound is coming from, that’s how precise the location of the therapist speaking to our left (where our phone is) is . ). the bass is expansive, regimented, and punchy as layered vocals, reverb, and a variety of sonic elements close in on each of our ears.

our playlist continues on air tonight by phil collins where the stripped back intro, peppered with screeching guitar and dissonant chords, allows the hip-dac 2 to shine through the midrange and treble. When collins’ voice is centrally attached, we also realize how much processing has been applied to his voice, details that lesser dacs can’t offer, and definitely not at this price point. At about three minutes in, there’s a moment in the track that, when done right, feels like the vast darkness and wasteland of the intro suddenly condensed and hurtled down on you like a freight train. To say that the hip-dac 2 doesn’t disappoint here, and in terms of dynamics in general, is an understatement.

We switch to a playlist of tidal masters accessed from our laptop, and yo-yo ma’s libertango sees a juicy cello found driving the tango beat, involving everything from a scratchy guiro behind our left ear to an accordion to the right of the detailed string of ma passages, and a violin to its left. all instruments are three dimensional, textured and emotive at all frequencies in a cohesive and impressive mix for the level.

See also: Teac UD-505 | Audiofool Reviews

Is it better than the original hip-dac? Considering the five star review of the first generation, it may seem like a tough question, but after our long listening sessions we concluded that yes, there is an improvement through the leading edges of the notes, the bass snap and the general exuberance with which this dac streams our music, not only when accessing mqa files but over the course of our testing. the character of hip-dac 2 is a bit more forward-looking than the original, but that’s not a criticism here, as it serves to reaffirm any hint of softness around the notes. Stream a maxwell cold tide master file and the initial drum fill and bass in our right ear feel slightly sharper, deeper, and with a few extra inches of breathing room to resonate.


At this level, you’re unlikely to find a portable dac as clear, enthusiastic, full-featured, or as downright attractive as the ifi hip-dac 2. When a product leans heavily on one gimmick, i.e., masking As a container for alcohol, while nice, you may feel discarded before you give it a chance. doing so as far as ifi would be a mistake, because really, this dac is anything but a joke. It seamlessly improves portable music quality, faithfully reproduces virtually anything you ask it to do, and the extra oomph offered by the company’s most premium processor, coupled with your favorite burr-brown DAC, is well worth the nominal extra outlay. over the original. said original is still a noble and inexpensive dac. it’s just that its successor is a bit better.


  • sound 5
  • features 5
  • design 5


read our review of the original ifi hip-dac

also consider the ifi zen dac v2

read our audioquest dragonfly cobalt review

these are the best dacs: portable and desktop usb digital to analog converters

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