The original and rather splendid hip-dac is one of iFi’s most popular portable USB DAC/headphone amps. Now, some 21 months after it launched, the company has updated it – and not just with a new 'Sunset Orange' paint job either.
While the iFi hip-dac 2's most visually obvious update is the anodised finish applied to its aluminium enclosure (replacing the original’s 'Petrol Blue' hue) there are also a number of enhancements under the hood.
The inaugural hip-dac's 8-core XMOS chip, which processes the data received over USB, has been replaced by a new-generation 16-core XMOS chip that boasts double the clock speed and four times the memory. This processor was initially introduced to iFi’s higher-priced DACs, such as the flagship iDSD Diablo, but is now trickling down to iFi’s entry-level devices.
Possibly the biggest draw of this new chip is that its enhanced processing power enables the hip-dac 2 to deliver full MQA decoding. To clarify: the complete ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’ – the method undertaken by the original hip-dac, not to mention many rival DACs at its price point. This should make the hip-dac 2 an excellent shout for subscribers of Tidal’s Masters tier, which uses the MQA codec to facilitate its hi-res catalogue.
The iFi hip-dac 2 also utilises an updated version of iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) circuitry, which features a new crystal clock that promises to further eradicate jitter in the digitial-to-analogue conversion process.
Other than these changes, the hip-dac 2 retains all the features found in the original, five-star portable USB DAC/headphone amp. That includes the Burr-Brown DAC chip, which supports PCM and DXD files at sampling rates up to 384kHz, alongside DSD from 2.8MHz to 12.4MHz (DSD64, 128 and 256).
Either side of the hip-dac 2's rotary volume control, a pair of LEDs change colour to indicate the format and sampling rate of the audio file being played.
The amp stage promises to deliver 400mW into a 32-ohm headphone load, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of headphone and earphone types with power to spare. iFi assures users that even high-impedance headphones are handled with ease, thanks to output voltage of 6.3V into 600 ohms (from the balanced output).
To further tailor the output to suit connected headphones, the hip-dac 2's amp stage boasts a switchable gain – a feature called PowerMatch. As the name suggests, this matches the level of drive to the headphone load, adjusting input sensitivity and thereby signal strength. With high-sensitivity in-ear monitors, for example, iFi says to leave PowerMatch at its lower setting to promote a silent, hiss-free background. But if your headphones benefit from a higher level of drive – such as many on- and over-ear types – you should try pressing the PowerMatch button to increase gain.
XBass is another user-selectable feature – billed as a "sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange".
In terms of connections, the iFi hip-dac 2 features two USB ports – Type A for audio data and USB-C for charging. Unusually, the Type A input features a ‘male’ connector, which offers an advantage to users of iPhones and iPads with Lightning ports because it accepts Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter directly without requiring an additional female-to-male USB adaptor. So, iFi hip-dac 2 presents a neat gateway to fully enjoy Apple Music's new Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless tiers, too.
Two outputs are provided: a 3.5mm socket, and a 4.4mm Pentaconn output that caters for headphones equipped with balanced connectivity (to take full advantage of the hip-dac 2’s differential amp design).
The hip-dac 2’s 2200mAh battery should, iFi says, last for eight to 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.)
If you want to add further protection for the hip-dac 2's anodised metallic finish, iFi has released a dedicated case for it. Made from vegan-friendly suede in 'Dove Grey', the hip-case fits both the hip-dac and hip-dac 2 like a glove.
Listen to our pick of the 13 of the best hi-res albums on Tidal Masters
Or our roundup of 11 of the best spatial audio tracks in Dolby Atmos on Apple Music
Looking for a DAC? Our collection of the best DACs 2021: USB, portable and desktop DACs can help