Today we are back to a review of an iFi Audio piece of gear. Their new Hip DAC V2. For the rest of this review, I will refer to it as the “V2.”
The V2 is the same size as the V1 Hip DAC from iFi. It embraces a new orange colour, with a silver volume knob vs. the blue paint, and gold knob of the original. The V2 has an upgraded XMOS USB processing chip, full MQA decoding, and a new crystal clock which supposedly helps overall sound quality. I don’t care about MQA at all to be honest, but the other changes are nice little upgrades that will help the overall quality of the unit.
The V2 has a 3.5mm output which uses iFi’s “S-Balanced” tech, and also has a 4.4mm output for fully balanced use. Also on the front panel are a low/high gain selector, and an XBASS selector, which is iFi’s take on a simple bass boost, done in the analog domain.
On the rear of the device, there is iFi’s usual type A USB for data, and also a USB-C port for charging. Now, I understand that separating these two inputs has benefits for noise, especially from the charging side. I will be honest though, this is probably my only large gripe with the unit. I don’t really see a device aimed at a more “consumer” market, and everyday use VS “High end” use, needing this separation of power and data. For this type of device I’m a huge fan of a “one and done” type of connection. It’s frustrating to have the two cables going from your laptop to deliver the data, and also keep the battery charging. It’s not a huge deal, just something I don’t fully agree with on this type of device.
Speaking of the battery, depending on the headphones you are using, you will get about 7-8 hours out of a fully charged V2, which is enough I find. Its not class leading, but it’s certainly enough for a few hours at a coffee shop, or 6-7 hours on a flight. That sort of thing.
The overall sound of the V2 is fairly in line with iFi’s other equipment, but obviously on a scaled down level. I find it somewhat warm, but not syrupy or gooey. The V2 is a bit brighter than other iFi gear that I’ve listened too. Overall detail levels are totally inline with the price point, but also not a strong point. I don’t really think that is the point of this piece of gear though. The XBASS is great with headphones that are a bit bass light, but I found with neutral or bass heavy headphones, it was a bit strong. Thus, with the headphones I have, I preferred to just dial in my preferred bass levels with EQ, rather than the units own bass adjustment.
With 400mw into 32ohms from the balanced output, that Hip DAC has enough power for most easier to drive headphones. I wouldn’t recommend it for something very difficult to drive, other than a back up option. However, with something like the Meze Empyrean, or ELITE, it’s a great match for a portable option. I only have fairly difficult (in IEM terms) IEM’s on hand, and I had no problems with hiss using them with the V2. I have read other users report a bit hiss with very sensitive IEMs. In this case I would recommend using iFi’s “ear buddy” or “IEmatch” dongles, which will cut the hiss out. Obviously, it’s not ideal, but at the price point and size of the V2, I can’t see iFi managing to build all their features internally. If you want IEmatch built in, their new XDSD Gryphon might be worth a look. I haven’t had a chance to hear that piece of gear yet, but its feature set is astounding. However, it is double the price of the V2, so that’s entirely understandable.
In terms of comparisons, I wanted to find something that was similar to the V2 to compare it with. I found a Fiio Q3 on craigslist for 100 dollars, so I snapped that up, and have been doing back and forth listening with the units. The Q3 is a little bit longer length wise, and the V2 is a little bit wider, but they are largely the same size. They also have mostly comparable specifications, with the V2 being slightly more powerful. The Q3 does have a single input cable, which I appreciate. The Q3 sounds a bit leaner, less presence in the mids. It also has a tiny bit sharpness in the highs vs iFi. Detail levels are largely similar, with the iFi taking the edge. The Fiio retails at $150USD, and the V2 retails at $300USD. I think if you just need a back up option for occasional use, I would get the Q3. However, if this is going to be your main piece of source gear, and you will use it often, it would be worth springing the extra cash for the V2.
Overall, I think the Hip DAC V2 does what it is designed to do very well. It isn’t a top of the line piece of gear, nor does it sound like one. However, if you need an option that you can plug into your laptop, or use on the go on a flight, or similar, it makes a very compelling case for its use. It can drive a large segment of the headphone market with no problems, has gain and bass boost options to tailor the sound further, and has a very solid battery lifetime should you need to go free from being plugged in. I think that for a large segment of people using headphones, the V2 might fit them very, very well, and would certainly be a huge upgrade from simply using their laptops built in headphone output. This is where the V2 shines, and is at its best.
If it fits your use case, and headphones or IEMs, the V2 is certainly worth checking out, and is a great, tiny little piece of source equipment. The fact it looks great too, is just a bonus 🙂