iFi hip-dac 3 Review

iFi hip-dac 3 review featured

In this article, I’m reviewing the iFi hip-dac 3 portable DAC and headphone amplifier. The hip-dac 3 is the third generation of the hip-dac and features a Burr Brown DAC chipset and iFi’s familiar IEMatch, PowerMatch and XBass. It’s priced at $199.

Disclaimer: This sample was provided by iFi Audio for an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own, based on my experience with the product.

iFi hip-dac 3 Review
Verdict
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Pros
Resolving, smooth sound signature
Soundstage and imaging
Neutral, detailed sound signature
Fantastic build quality and materials
Cons
Hard to fault at this price
4.5
Our Score
WHERE TO BUY

iFi hip-dac 3

In the Box
  • iFi hip-dac 3
  • 4x silicone feet
  • USB-C to USB cable
  • USB-C to USB-C cable
  • USB-C to Lightning cable
  • iFi sticker
  • Documentation

Features

The hip-dac 3 is built around a Burr Brown DAC chipset for ‘bit-perfect’ playback, just like the previous versions. There are some noteworthy changes under the hood including:

an upgraded version of iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) circuitry, including a new crystal oscillator – this further reduces phase noise, contributing to purer, crisper sound.

iFi Audio

The iFi hip-dac 3 utilizes a 16-core XMOS microcontroller. The device supports up to PCM 384kHz, DSD128, DSD256 and full MQA decoding. Moreover, the amplification stage boasts a true balanced (differential) circuit design to reduce signal distortion.

Output power is up to 400mW @ 32-ohms and 6.3V into 600 ohms from the balanced output.

For sensitive iEMs, the hip-dac 3 features IEMatch which diminishes background noise, enriches detail and dynamic range, and broadens the usable volume control range.

For more demanding headphones, hip-dac 3 has iFi’s PowerMatch feature which is essentially an output gain. It aligns the drive level with the headphone load, adapting input sensitivity to regulate signal strength accordingly.

The hip-dac 3’s 2200mAh battery typically provides 7 to 12 hours of playtime on a single charge, varying based on the volume level and the power demands of the connected headphones.

hip-dac 3 front panel

Design

The iFi hip-dac 3 has an anodized finish with a new colourway called Titanium Shadow. It has a subtly textured feel to it and during my testing seems resistant to both fingerprints and scratches.

The front or top panel hosts the analogue volume knob along with the 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone jacks plus the PowerMatch and XBass buttons. On either side of the volume knob are a pair of LEDs that change colour depending on the sample rate of the file currently being played.

On the flipside, there are 2 USB-C ports, one for charging and one for data transfer. As an aside, the hip-dac is compatible with Windows, Android and Apple devices. It even comes with a Lightning to USB-C cable which is a rarity with portable DACs.

A new addition to the third-gen hip-dac is the IEMatch button on the underside. This minimizes background noise, improves detail and dynamic range, and expands the effective range of the volume control when using sensitive IEMs.

Underside and IEMatch switch

Sound

Although I never tried the earlier hip-dacs, I have tested several other iFi products. So I was pretty excited to hear this device. I paired it up with some IEMs including the DUNU Falcon Ultra and Spirit Torino IEM Twin Pulse Beryllium and some headphones such as the Meze 99 Classics and FiiO FT3.

The performance of the hip-dac 3 surpassed my expectations. As I played Explosions in the Sky’s ‘Your Hand in Mine,’ its ability to match the tumultuous crescendos of the track with unwavering energy was striking. Yet, it seamlessly transitioned, guiding me through the serene, quieter passages with remarkable nuance and emotive expression.

The hip-dac 3 adeptly navigates the midrange, offering finesse without any sharpness. Notably, its spacing and separation are amplified when coupled with some quality IEMs. When indulging in Haken’s ‘The Architect,’ I found myself captivated by the textured nuances of the electric guitars, alongside the expansive scale of the soundstage. The presentation is vibrant and enthusiastic, yet maintains a seamless, composed delivery.

iFi hip-dac 3 and some knickknacks

Moreover, the hip-dac 3 excels in faithfully reproducing the intricate nuances of instruments and vocal timbres. For instance, when listening to Ludovico Einaudi’s evocative piece ‘Una Mattina,’ the rendering of the piano is exquisite. Each note resonates with a lifelike quality, conveying a hauntingly beautiful essence that captivates the senses. The hip-dac 3’s precision in capturing the subtle tonal variations and dynamics of the piano enhances the emotional depth of the composition.

The hip-dac 3’s sound has a touch of analog warmth, giving it a distinct character. It holds onto all the fine details and textures in the music without missing any. Despite the richness of these details, it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It’s like a clean canvas where each sound finds its place, standing out vividly while blending smoothly into the whole musical picture.

iFi hip-dac 3 with IEMs

Verdict

With such a pedigree, it’s hardly surprising that the iFi hip-dac 3 sounds so good. What I wasn’t expecting was the high level of the materials and build quality. When you combine those with the versatility offered by the IEMatch, PowerMatch and XBass, you start to get an idea of the value on offer here. The hip-dac 3 is a standout device and as such, is easily worthy of our recommended award.

Recommended award


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