iFi looks determined to dominate the affordable digital-to-analogue converter market. For the hip-dac, iFi has taken the guts of the excellent, desktop-based Zen DAC and crammed them into a smaller, battery-powered form. The name comes from its resemblance to a hip flask.
The hip-dac is a nicely made unit with an extruded petrol blue aluminium case that’s about the size of a pack of cards. The finish is neat and the metal volume control (that also doubles as the power switch) has a pleasantly damped feel.
Input is limited to a male USB Type A, which means that the DAC can connect directly to the Apple’s Lightning-to-USB (camera adaptor cable) needed to use an iPhone as source. You’ll have to buy that Apple cable separately, but iFi provides short cables that terminate with either USB Type A or USB Type C in the box.
3.5mm and balanced outputs
There are two outputs – a conventional 3.5mm headphone jack or a balanced Pentaconn 4.4mm alternative. The balanced output is claimed to take full advantage of the DAC’s similarly configured internal circuitry, and gives the hip-dac a USP compared with most rivals. None of our favourite headphones at this level come with a balanced connection, so we’ll park its inclusion under interesting, rather than essential.
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