iFi hip-dac 2 promises even better performance and full MQA decoding

iFi hip-dac 2
(Image credit: iFi)

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The inaugural hip-dac's 8-core XMOS chip, which processes the data received over USB, has been replaced by a new-generation 16-core XMOS chip that boasts double the clock speed and four times the memory.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.

iFi hip-dac 2

(Image credit: iFi)

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".

iFi hip-dac 2 connected to a smartphone

(Image credit: iFi)

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.

The iFi hip-dac 2 is available now at an RRP of £189 ($189, AU$279). The inaugural hip-dac is still available for £149 ($169) while stocks last. The hip-case is priced £29 ($29).


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

Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds.