iFi Audio Takes On Bad Sound with New Portable DAC

U.K.-based iFi Audio is taking on bad sound with a svelte yet sophisticated digital-to-analog converter (DAC)/headphone amp that replaces the inferior DACs and amplifiers found in most smartphones, tablets, and PCs.

Slated to ship in February for $149, the new hip-dac is only a half-inch thick, making it easy to conceal in a pocket, and built around Burr-Brown’s True Native chipset, which supports PCM/DXD sampling rates up to 384 kHz and DSD playback from 2.8MHz to 12.4MHz. PCM and DSD signals follow separate pathways through the DAC, enabling them to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in their native form right up to analog conversion, according to iFi.

The hip-dac employs iFi’s “GMT femto-precision clocking system to maintain the integrity of the digital signal” through conversion and a XMOS chip optimized for audio that processes signals received via USB. There are two USB ports — Type A for audio data and USB-C for charging.

The Type A connection supports “SuperSpeed” USB 3.0 and is asynchronous, meaning the data rate is regulated by the hip-dac’s audio clock. It is also configured with a ‘male’ connector instead of the usual female port for “greater mechanical integrity than the USB/Micro USB ports commonly found on DAC/headphone amps from other manufacturers.”

Two outputs are provided to accommodate headphones with a standard 3.5mm connector and those with a 4.4mm balanced connector. The 3.5mm connection includes iFi’s proprietary S-Balanced circuitry, which is said to significantly reduce crosstalk and distortion.

The hip-dac features a balanced (differential) headphone amplifier developed by noted audio designer John Curl, which incorporates a custom op-amp, ceramic capacitors, a low-noise power supply, and a high-quality analog volume pot. The amp has a nominal power rating of 400mW but is capable of delivering over 700mW from the balanced output, depending on headphone impedance.

The hip-dac is housed in a rugged aluminum case with a rotary volume dial and two buttons — one for increasing gain when used with lower-sensitivity headphones and one that boosts bass. Two LEDs on either side of the volume control change color to indicate audio format and sampling rate.

Rated battery life is between 8 and 12 hours, depending on volume and headphone power consumption. The hip-dac comes with three USB cables.

For more information, visit ifi-audio.com.

brenro's picture

This vs Audioquest Dragonfly.