Review - Fosi Audio SK02

Review - iFi Audio Hip DAC 3

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TLDR version on YouTube: TDLR - iFi Audio Hip DAC

The iFi Audio Hip DAC 3 has been loaned to me by iFi Audio for me to test it out and share my thoughts in this review. As always, they have not made any requests or comments and my review aims to be as unbiased as humanly possible.

You can find the official page for the Hip DAC 3 here: https://ifi-audio.com/products/hip-dac-3/

The above is a non-affiliate link.


Intro…

Let me preface this review by saying that I am a fan of iFi in general, having tried out a lot of their stuff and liking the majority of it. That is not to say that I have liked all of their items, nor is it to say that they have all been without issues. In general, I like their house sound and a lot of their designs, but sometimes they come with other “issues” that make them not a great fit for me.

One of the items that would probably fit into the category of “nice sound but not for me” would be the Hip DAC, at least the 1 and 2. I have never reviewed them, nor have I spent a huge amount of time with them, in fact, the Hip DAC 1 I tried for like 2 minutes and the Hip DAC 2 for probably 5 or 6 songs at most. During those brief tests, I liked the form factor and I liked the typical iFi sound, what I didn’t like was the choice of a full sized USB connector (although I do understand the reason behind it) and the main issue, the background hiss with IEMs. 

While I am sure that the Hip DAC 2 was (is) great for over ear headphones, I have never tried it, I don’t have much use for a small portable amp/DAC for over ears as I don’t usually wear them away from a desk set up. Therefore, left with only IEMs to use, I really didn’t want to put up with the hiss when there are other alternatives out there. This may be a little hypocritical as I use the Go Blu regularly which also has the background hiss, although I feel it is less present than on the Hip DAC 2 (and not really noticeable on the 3.5mm output which is what I usually use).

But anyway, why am I going on about a device that I never owned or reviewed?

Well, it may be that iFi have actually resolved these issues with the new Hip DAC 3, something that I was eager to find out.


Presentation…

Honestly, I have reviewed so many iFi products and said the same thing about their presentation that I just feel that, at this point, I am copy and pasting myself.

They are well packed in a no frills but elegant way, containing the necessary items to get listening, which in this case are the device, two cables (USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to Lightning) and the quick start guide. Oh, and we must not forget the iFi sticker 😉

There really isn’t much more that needs saying but if you want more, just check out one of my previous iFi reviews 😊


Build and aesthetics…

The Hip DAC 3 is identical in design and dimensions to the previous generation, measuring 102 x 70 x 14mm and weighing just 135 grams. Ok, that is 10 grams heavier than the Hip DAC 2 but it is still very compact and lightweight. To put it into perspective, I have a Google Pixel 7a phone, as it is one of the smaller options, and the Hip DAC 3 is around two thirds of the size and no thicker than the phone with the case on it. 

With Hip in the name and a quick glance at the design, there is no need to say that it is meant to resemble a hip flask, although with its size, you wouldn’t be storing a lot of alcohol in it.

Where the original Hip DAC was blue, the 2 was orange, the 3 opts for a titanium coloured finish and I have to say that it looks very elegant. I have been carrying it around over the holiday period and people were guessing higher prices than it actually sells for just based on looks (admittedly those people are already used to me telling the crazy prices for headphone related gear, so they are going to guess high already). Still, it looks cool and certainly doesn't look cheap.

As far as build, it really hasn’t changed from the previous models, still maintaining the metal enclosure and buttons/knob, there have just been a couple of changes to the actual functions, which I am going to mention now.


Functionality…

The main functions of the Hip DAC 3 remain the same, that is to say, those that are on the front of the unit. On the left we have the power match button (which is iFi for gain), followed by the XBass button. In the center we get the nice volume knob which is grippy and easy to turn. Then on the right we get the 4.4mm balanced headphone output along with the 3.5mm unbalanced headphone output (well, it’s actually S-Balanced but that’s another conversation). The two slotted LEDs, one at each side of the volume know, are still present here also.

Moving around to the back of the device, here we have major change number 1. The full sized, recessed, USB male connector has been replaced with a USB-C socket. This is probably the happiest I have been to see a USB-C connector on a device! To be honest, I am not as bothered by micro-USB as many others (although I do prefer USB-C much more) but the full sized USB-A connector on a device this small was just something that I could not get behind. So here, I am extremely happy for the update.

Also on the back, we get the second USB-C port, which was already present on the Hip DAC 2, that is to charge the internal battery. I know that some people would prefer to be able to charge the device with the same cable that is being used for dat but personally I prefer them to be separate on portable battery devices, that way it is not always charging when left connected to my laptop etc.

Underneath the device we get change number 2. The addition of IEMatch, something that can go a long way to resolving the hiss issue that was present on the previous model. For those that don’t know what IEMatch is, in simple terms it attenuates the output of the amplifier, helping reduce background noise but also allowing the amplifier to be used in higher ranges of the volume knob. Why would you want to use the higher ranges of the knob, well, as iFi use analog volume controls, there is always some kind of imbalance at the lowest ranges, which can be an issue if you use extremely sensitive IEMs and don’t listen very loud. iFi have sold IEMatch separately for quite some time now but it is nice to see them including it on more and more devices.

So, as far as functionality, plug in the cable to the iFi Hip DAC 3 and your device, turn the knob to turn it on, adjust volume to taste and start listening.

As far as formats, the device accepts PCM and DXD up to 384kHz, and DSD64/128/256, along with full decoding of MQA if that is something you need.


Sound…

It would be very unfair for me to try and compare the Hip DAC 3 to the Hip DAC 2 in terms of sound because it has been a while since I heard the 2, I only listened to it for a short amount of time and I don’t have the same IEMs available. However, I do seem to think that the Hip DAC 3 is slightly less warm than I remember the other model being. This could be totally wrong, as I said, I can’t really compare, but that was the first impression I got.

Let’s be clear, I think this is noticeably an iFi sounding product, with that hint of warmth that I find to be present in almost all of their devices, but I feel that it is slightly more neutral than something like the Go Blu. In fact, I would say that it is very very similar in sound to the Gryphon, a device that I love and use regularly. I know that there have been modifications to the new model (although I don’t know what they are and haven’t really researched them) but I feel that the sound is still nice and relaxed but not quite as smoothed over as I sometimes feel the Go Blu is.

I have been using the Hip DAC 3 a lot over the holidays, with many kinds of IEMs and I have not had a complaint with any of them. Is is capable of 280mW (@32 Ohms) from the unbalanced output and 400mW (@32 Ohms) from the balanced output, so it will power most easy to drive over ears as well, but I really didn’t find myself reaching for them, I would just grab a set of IEMs and go and lounge around somewhere (being sick over the holidays also meant that I favoured lounging on a sofa more than sitting at a desk!).

Yet the biggest plus for me is the fact that the background noise has been reduced dramatically from what I remember on the previous generation. Again, I don’t have the same IEMs that I tested the 2 with, so it’s not really apples to apples, but with the ones I have been using, the only time I could hear hiss was when I had the volume level set way higher than I would ever listen to music to anyway. I am very happy that the IEMatch is there but, as with the Gryphon, I really didn’t find myself using it.

So to wrap up the sound section, I guess I could say that the Hip DAC 3 has the typical touch of iFi sound but without being overly warm, more towards the neutral side of things, making details and nuances very easily appreciated (with the right IEMs of course!).


Conclusion…

I usually have positive opinions about the iFi products that I get to try out but I do find some more exciting than others. The Go Blu was something I was very impressed with when it was released (I bought one), the Gryphon was another (I also bought one) and the Go Pod were one of the most impressive things I tried out last year (I haven’t bought one… yet!). 

To say that the Hip DAC 3 is the third generation of a device that didn’t really draw my attention, I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed using it. 

If you want a touch of the iFi sound, in a portable package, then I think that the Hip DAC 3 is a very good option. In fact, I would say that if you want the sound of the Gryphon but without all the bells and whistles, then this is also a very good candidate.


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