iFi Audio truly gets it. The British manufacturer of portable and desktop headphone amplifiers and DACs really has the pulse of the Head-Fi community and products like the brand new iFi hip-dac2 and hip-case are proof of that. 95% proof.
The original hip-dac was a really powerful and well-designed portable DAC/headphone amplifier and we’re a little surprised to see it replaced so quickly.
I feel like I just listened to one recently. At CanJam 2020 in NYC. 18 months of pandemic have truly flipped things on their head.
The other key thing is that the iFi hip-dac2 is really affordable — $189 USD affordable. The matching hip-case will add an additional $29 USD to the package.
The new model’s obvious distinguishing feature is the Sunset Orange anodised finish applied to its aluminium enclosure, replacing the original’s Petrol Blue. Under the hood, a collection of carefully considered and painstakingly implemented circuit changes elevate the hip-dac2’s performance to an even higher level.
The 8-core XMOS chip, which processes the data received over USB, has been replaced by a new-generation 16-core XMOS processor, delivering double the clock speed and four times the memory.
This chip was initially introduced to iFi’s latest DACs at higher price points, such as the NEO and Diablo models, and is now trickling down to iFi’s entry-level devices, including the hip-dac2.
This new chip’s enhanced processing power improves overall performance, as well enabling the hip-dac 2 to deliver full MQA decoding.
This means that the complete ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’ – which accounts for the vast majority of MQA-supporting DAC/headphone amps anywhere near the hip-dac2’s price point, including the original hip-dac.
This makes the hip-dac2 an excellent device for anyone who subscribes to Tidal’s Masters tier, which uses the MQA codec for hi-res streaming.
Those of us who don’t really care for MQA or think it improves Tidal’s sound quality significantly can keep reading.
There are other circuit improvements too, including a new version of iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) circuitry, featuring a new crystal clock. This results in even lower jitter performance, contributing to purer, crisper sound.
DAC’s The Way to Do It
The DAC section is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chip that iFi uses extensively in its products, selected for its fluid, natural musicality and True Native architecture. This, combined with custom iFi circuitry, enables the hip-dac2 to deliver excellent sound quality across all manner of digital audio formats, including bit-perfect PCM and native DSD, as well as MQA.
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, which is not the case with most other portable DAC/headphone amps.
Either side of the rotary volume control reside a pair of LEDs that change color to indicate the format and sampling rate of the digital audio being played.
Extensive clock-locking eradicates jitter (digital distortion), using iFi’s GMT femto-precision clocking system – upgraded in the hip-dac2 – to maintain the integrity of the digital signal until conversion to analogue.
Bespoke customization of the 16-core XMOS chip via iFi’s in-house programming team further enhances sound quality, with proprietary digital processing technology making a major contribution to the hip-dac2’s class-leading sound quality. Firmware updates to elements like digital filtering help to keep iFi devices, including the hip-dac2, fully up to date as technology progresses, as well as allowing for a degree of user-customization.
The hip-dac2’s USB input handles audio data up to 32-bit/384kHz and supports the ‘SuperSpeed’ USB 3.0 standard, as well as USB 2.0 for backwards compatibility. It is asynchronous, meaning that the data rate is regulated solely by the hip-dac2’s specialized audio clock circuitry for accurate, jitter-free data transfer from the source device.
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.
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.
The hip-dac2’s 2200mAh battery lasts for around 8-12 hours of playing time, depending on volume level and how power-hungry the connected headphones are. It comes bundled 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; and a USB-A to USB-C charging cable. (The Apple Lightning to USB adapter required to connect iOS devices is purchased separately.)
For more information: ifi-audio.com/products/hip-dac2/