iFi audio hip-dac: The Official Thread

Aug 21, 2019
iFi hip-dac warms the soul with intoxicating sound

With a sound as flavoursome and richly detailed as a delicious single malt, the hip-dac portable USB DAC/headphone amp delivers the perfect pick-me-up for any music lover on-the-go


Southport, England – iFi adds to its award-winning range of portable DAC/headphone amps with an all-new design – the hip-dac.

Smartly dressed in petrol blue with a touch of copper, the go-anywhere hip-dac is designed to slip discretely into a pocket and offers an extensive hi-res specification that belies its eminently affordable £149, (€159, $149) price tag.

The hip-dac replaces the inferior DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Convertor) and amp circuitry in smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs to vastly improve headphone sound. Its design and performance set it apart from other DAC/headphone amps in its class – connect your playback device via USB, plug in your favourite corded headphones or in-ear monitors and the hip-dac delivers a sound brimming with bold dynamism and fluid refinement, effortlessly engaging the listener with all manner of music.

In the home, in the office, on a train or plane – the hip-dac is the music lover’s inseparable friend.

Digital stage

The DAC section is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chip that iFi uses extensively in its products, selected for its fluid, highly ‘musical’ sound quality and True Native architecture. This, combined with custom iFi circuitry, enables the hip-dac to deliver excellent sound quality across all manner of digital audio formats, including bit-perfect PCM, native DSD and MQA – the hi-res streaming codec, as used by Tidal’s ‘Masters’ tier.

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 DAC/headphone amps. Either side of the rotary volume control reside a pair of LEDs that change colour 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 to maintain the integrity of the digital signal until conversion to analogue.

Another circuit feature that separates this and iFi’s other DACs from competing designs is the XMOS chip, which processes audio data received at the USB input and is programmed in-house. Rather than relying on firmware supplied off-the-shelf, which is not typically optimised for audiophile-grade sound, iFi programs its own bespoke firmware to enhance audio processing.

iFi’s continuous software development allows features to be added or optimised via firmware updates, enabling the hip-dac to be tailored to the user’s playback priorities and ensuring it stays cutting-edge over time. Users can even download and install different versions of iFi firmware to experiment with different digital filters if they wish.

Analogue stage

The hip-dac’s amp circuitry is of balanced (differential) design – highly unusual in a DAC/headphone amp anywhere near this price point.

The circuitry incorporates a range of high-quality components, carefully selected for their performance in an audio context, including a custom iFi OV op-amp, TDK C0G class 1 ceramic capacitors, a precision low-noise power supply IC from Texas Instruments and a high-quality analogue volume pot (many portable DAC/headphone amps use inferior digital volume controls).

The headphone amp delivers 660mW of power from the balanced output (520mW from the single-ended output) into a 32-ohm load – impressive when compared to the hip-dac’s peers, ensuring compatibility with a wide range of headphone and earphone types. With a rating of 200mW from the balanced output into a 300-ohm load, it drives most power-hungry headphones with ease.

The amp stage features switchable gain, which iFi terms PowerMatch. This matches the level of drive to the load presented by the headphones, by adjusting input sensitivity and thereby signal strength. With high-sensitivity headphone types such as in-ear monitors, leave PowerMatch at its lower setting for ultra-low-noise performance. But if your headphones require more drive – most on/over-ear types, for example – press the PowerMatch button on the front panel to increase gain.


XBass is another user-selectable feature – a sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange, particularly useful with earphones and open-back headphones that may lack deep bass. It operates entirely in the analogue domain rather than messing with the digital signal via DSP and may be switched in or out of the signal path.

Get connected

The hip-dac’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-dac’s specialised 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. This arrangement provides greater mechanical integrity than the USB/Micro USB ports commonly found on DAC/headphone amps from other manufacturers. It also offers an advantage to iPhone and iPad users, because it accepts Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adaptor directly without requiring an additional female-to-male USB adaptor. (The Camera Adapter is required to connect Apple iOS devices to third-party USB devices.)

Two outputs are provided – a 3.5mm socket for headphones with a single-ended cable/connector and a Pentaconn 4.4mm output enabling headphones equipped with balanced connectivity to take full advantage of the hip-dac’s differential amp design. 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. Combined with the hip-dac’s PowerMatch facility, these outputs deliver class-leading performance with a broader range of headphone/earphone types than other comparably priced DAC/amp designs.

The hip-dac’s 2200mAh battery lasts for around 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 Type A cable; and a Type A to USB-C charging cable. (The Camera Adapter required to connect Apple iOS devices is purchased separately.)


With its petrol blue, 102x70x14mm, extruded aluminium enclosure, the hip-dac has a high-quality look and feel with a colour that is bang on trend – the Pantone Colour of the Year 2020 is also blue. Just the tonic for any headphone fan, the hip-dac is available from February at an RRP of £149 (€159, $149) and will be showcased at CanJam NYC 2020.
Aug 21, 2019
iFi audio hip-dac: Tech Note #1
Beauty that is not skin deep

Introducing the smallest balanced DAC around

Here at iFi audio, we’ve already created a number of small portable devices. As much as we love them all, we decided to try and give a device that’s smaller, lighter, simpler and more wallet-friendly than ever before – the iFi audio hip-dac.

The hip-dac weighs only 125 grams and measures (L x W x H) 102 x 70 x 14 mm, which makes it a sleek, easy to carry, ultra-portable solution, perfect for consumers after a pocket DAC/amp loaded with cutting-edge technology and features way beyond its price point.

As balanced as it’s hip
One of the hip-dac’s key features is its balanced circuit design, dare we say, unprecedented at its entry-level price point. AMR/iFi audio prides itself on trickle-down technology. The ZEN was the first series to benefit from the flagship balanced Pro machines, but we pushed further and had this topology implemented in our hip-dac.

Why balanced?
Balanced circuits consist of both channels separated and mirrored. This doubles the number of parts involved. That’s why balanced solutions are inherently more complex, twice as costly to develop and far more difficult to implement. That’s also the main reason why balanced circuits are normally reserved for high-end audio components that sell for so much more. Our balanced circuits were developed by the AMR/iFi audio team, led by Thorsten Loesch and supported with invaluable input by John Curl.

Truly native heart
Proper digital to analogue conversion is a must and here, the Burr-Brown DACs have what it takes. Not only to achieve great sound, but also to allow for truly native DSD and PCM data streams. When it comes to D/A converter chips, we don’t cut corners. Our hip-dac’s heart is the very same as in many of our pricier products – Texas Instruments Burr-Brown DSD1793. It truly natively supports digital content up to DSD 256/DXD384/PCM384kHz and handles MQA playback on top of that. Simply put, it does pretty much everything one could want from a portable multi -tasker.

Multibit digital engine with AMR Global Master Timing
The hip-dac is very much akin to the micro iDSD Black Label for a perfectly valid reason. Both products are based on the Burr-Brown DSD1793 D/A converter chip and share extremely similar digital and analogue stages.

The digital section of the hip-dac is drawn from the micro iDSD Black Label. The USB type A OTG/CCK connector offers supreme portability plus dependability and direct connection to Apple CCK/Android OTG.

In the hip-dac, the clock domain naturally covers USB but also synchronizes the MCU (Master Control Unit) to effectively ensure the hip-dac’s entire digital functionality is slaved to the GMT clock system. It is global by name and by nature. The above are all reasons why the hip-dac’s digital heart is as good as it can be.

The key components are:
  1. A digitally-controlled stepped attenuator IC
  2. iFi audio’s proprietary operational amplifiers (W990VST and the high-performance, low-noise, quad J-Fet OV4627A)
  3. Dual-mono power amp IC headphone drivers.
The hip-dac draws upon the existing iFi headphone platform but with the circuitry ratcheted up several notches. Performance is increased, both noise and distortion are lowered and XBass function gains electronic switching.
Aug 21, 2019
iFi audio hip-dac: Tech Note #2

Digital section: ‘True Native’ augmented by the Octa-Core Transputer

At the heart of the hip-dac is the same Burr-Brown ‘True Native’ chipset as found in the flagship Pro iDSD. It offers two separate signal pathways for PCM and DSD, the ‘best of both formats’ as the signal quality remains native.

Choosing the right DAC topology significantly affects the final sound. We loved the dynamics and slam of the multi-bit topology (e.g. the legendary Philips TDA1541A), however with high-definition it (actually there’s no true multi-bit DAC chipset available yet) doesn't have the low-level linearity of the Delta-Sigma topology.

So to get the best of both worlds, we need:
  • Multi-bit for dynamics and slam (the higher bits of the PCB data);
  • Delta-Sigma for the low level linearity (the lower bits of the PCB data);
So the DAC chip we picked for hip-dac has the following topology:
  • Top 6 bits: true multi-bit;
  • Lower bits: Delta-Sigma.

# DSD256 is available on Windows via ASIO DSD and with special firmware on OSX, Windows and Linux via DoP DSD

Running alongside the Burr-Brown ‘True Native’ chipset is the 8-Core XMOS based on our own code, which updates it with our own Star Clocking, just as it was done in the micro iDSD.


The hip-dac implements Version 4 AMR XMOS platform and uses the latest generation 8-Core 500MIPS XMOS1 transputer derived main processor. These processors are quite unique in their architecture and based on a technology once considered to revolutionize computing, the INMOS Transputer.

From Inmos to XMOS

The transputer (Trans – Com – Puter) was a pioneering microprocessor architecture of the 1980’s, intended for parallel (multi-core) computing. It was designed among others by David May and produced by Inmos, a semiconductor company based in Bristol, United Kingdom.

For some time in the late 1980’s many considered the transputer to be the next great design for the future of computing. While INMOS themselves ultimately faded from the scene, their pioneering parallel computing platform is echoed in every modern PC running Dual or Quad Core CPUs and in any multi-core CPUs found in i.e. smartphones and tablets. XMOS “Transputer” Chips have since found many applications where their unique architecture outperforms both traditional CPUs and FPGA systems, not the least in USB Audio.

What all this means for hip-dac? Its XMOS unlocked 384kHz/32Bit PCM and 11.2MHz single bit DSD sample rates.



Just about every iFi DAC offers MQA because we always pursue better quality music and as many choices for our customers as possible. Our engineers implemented MQA functionality in hip-dac’s firmware, alongside every other format this product can handle. Whatever music type or quality it is you’re into, the hip-dac has you covered.

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