iFi Audio ZEN: compact and affordable hi-fi equipment

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The iFi Audio ZEN range is the most popular of the British manufacturer. Its DACs, network players, headphone amplifiers and phono preamplifiers are capable of great feats in a very attractive compact format. This minimalist spirit is now embodied in the iFi Audio ZEN Air series, which offers simpler and more affordable electronics than ever before.

iFi Audio ZEN: compactness and musicality

The hi-fi equipment in the ZEN range is designed to be as compact as possible so it is easy to install on the corner of a desk, next to the computer or in a hi-fi cabinet. Their elegant chassis is made entirely of thick aluminum parts. It has a refined, sculptural design, reminiscent of a pebble polished by the natural erosion of a stream. The components used are inherited from the most prestigious models of the brand, promising surprising musical qualities for such small devices.

iFi Audio ZEN DAC and ZEN Air Dac: Hi-Res Music

The iFi Audio ZEN range consists of three DACs for playback of digital music. The iFi Audio ZEN Dac V2 USB DAC is the most popular model and has received rave reviews from the international press. It has been awarded the Diapason d’or label and the EISA award, as well as a 5-star rating by What Hi-Fi? and countless positive reviews. This model, which also impressed us during our review (read the review of the DAC iFi Audio ZEN Dac V2), integrates a DAC that is 32-bit/384kHz, MQA and DSD compatible via the single USB-B input. This DAC can also be used as a headphone amplifier with an unbalanced 6.35mm jack and a balanced 4.4mm jack output. A second 4.4mm jack output is associated with the RCA output to connect this DAC to a hi-fi amplifier or a pair of connected speakers. The level can be fixed or variable, allowing it to be used as a hi-fi preamplifier.

The iFi Audio ZEN Dac V2 DAC and headphone amp provides playback of 32-bit/384kHz, MQA and DSD files from a Windows or Mac computer.

Even more affordable, the iFi Audio ZEN Air DAC has a very similar design to the ZEN DAC, with a Burr Brown DAC that also supports 32-bit/384kHz, MQA and DSD. It also benefits from a 16-core XMOS chip and a proprietary clock to limit jitter. The difference is in the headphone amp, which does away with the balanced connection in favor of 3.5mm and 6.35mm jack outputs. However, it retains the XBass+ function to increase the bass level and PowerMatch (adjustable gain) so it can be more easily paired with demanding headphones. Finally, the RCA output can still be set to line or variable level.

The iFi Audio ZEN Air DAC abandons the balanced connection to become even more affordable while retaining 32-bit/384kHz, MQA and DSD compatibility.

For the most comprehensive installations, the British manufacturer also offers the iFi Audio ZEN One Signature DAC. The latter is equipped with an optical and a coaxial input, in addition to the USB-B port. A Bluetooth aptX, LDAC and HWA/LHDC receiver is also included to facilitate wireless music streaming. Like the other models in the ZEN series, it is 32-bit/384 kHz, MQA and DSD compatible. However, the headphone amp section has been removed.

The flagship of the range, the iFi Audio ZEN One Signature DAC provides both optical and coaxial inputs for easy connection of digital sources such as a network player, TV or CD player.

iFi Audio ZEN Can and ZEN Air Can: powerful headphone amplifiers

The headphone amplifiers of the iFi Audio ZEN range are identified by the name “Can”. The iFi Audio ZEN CAN is the most powerful model, with Class A discrete balanced circuits taken from the iFi Audio iCan Pro. With a power of 385mW into 600 ohms and 1.89W into 64 ohms on the Pentaconn balanced output and up to 1.6W into 32 ohms on the mini-jack output, this headphone amplifier is capable of powering almost all hi-fi headphones and IEMs on the market. It is ideal for use with the other electronics in the range, with which it can be connected via RCA, 6.35mm jack or 4.4mm jack.

With 1.89W into 64 ohms on the Pentaconn balanced output and up to 1.6W into 32 ohms on the mini-jack output, the iFi Audio iCan Pro headphone amplifier can power most headphones and in-ear monitors on the market.

The iFi Audio Zen Can headphone amplifier is available in several versions, with specific equalization curves for powering specific headphones, such as theiFi Audio ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 for the Meze 99 Classics and Meze 99 Neo headphones, theiFi Audio ZEN CAN Signature HFM for HiFiMan headphones and theiFi Audio ZEN CAN Signature 6XX for Sennheiser HD 6XX headphones and other references from the German manufacturer.

The iFi Audio ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 headphone amp adopts an equalization curve specifically developed to optimize listening with the Meze 99 Classics and Meze 99 Neo headphones.

The most affordable model of the range, the iFi Audio ZEN Air CAN headphone amplifier abandons the balanced 4.4mm jack input in favor of a second RCA input, in addition to the 3.5mm mini jack input. On the front panel, it still has an unbalanced 6.35mm jack output and a balanced 4.4mm jack output. The power is slightly lower, dropping from 1600mW to 1200mW in balanced. A value that is still high enough to power most headphones. In addition, the iFi Audio ZEN Air Can retains the three-position adjustable gain (0 dB, 9 dB and 18 dB), as well as XBass+ and XSpace technologies for enhanced bass and soundstage expansion.

Slightly less powerful, but just as musical, the iFi Audio ZEN Air CAN is ideal for use with less demanding headphones.

iFi Audio ZEN Phono and ZEN Air Phono: for vinyl lovers

For vinyl record lovers, the iFi Audio ZEN range consists of two phono preamps: the iFi Audio ZEN Phono and the iFi Audio ZEN Air Phono. The Air model is the most affordable and supports both MM and MC cartridges. It offers a variable gain of 40 dB to 64 dB. The gain stage is entrusted to an OVA2637A op amplifier shared by many of the devices in the range. A subsonic filter is also present to limit ground loop noise. The iFi Audio ZEN Phono provides a filtered and isolated power supply and a fully balanced architecture. The gain is variable from 36 dB to 72 dB. In addition, the RCA output is now accompanied by a balanced 4.4mm jack output.

The iFi Audio ZEN Phono preamplifier supports most turntables equipped with a MM or MC cartridge.

iFi Audio ZEN Blue and ZEN Air Blue: HD Bluetooth

Now in its second generation, the iFi Audio ZEN Blue V2 is a Hi-Res Audio Wireless certified Bluetooth receiver that supports all Bluetooth codecs. It supports Bluetooth AAC SBC, aptX, aptX HD, HWA, LHDC and LDAC for optimal listening quality up to 24-bit/192kHz and perfect compatibility with any smartphone, tablet, DAP or computer. It can be easily combined with any amplifier thanks to its numerous analog and digital outputs. For smaller budgets, the iFi Audio ZEN Air Blue also offers this compatibility with HD codecs through the use of the same Qualcomm QCC5100 Bluetooth 5.0 chip. The sound performance is identical and the only difference is that it only features one connector: an RCA output.

Bluetooth AAC SBC, aptX, aptX HD, HWA, LHDC and LDAC compatible, the iFi Audio ZEN Blue V2 receiver is Hi-Res Audio Wireless certified to maximize Bluetooth listening quality.

iFi Audio ZEN Stream: a comprehensive network player

To complete the range, the British manufacturer also offers theiFi Audio ZEN Stream, a network player that allows the playback of files shared over the local network via DLNA, access to streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal, as well as the connection of a hard drive or USB key. It can play music via AirPlay and Chromecast for easy streaming from a smartphone or tablet. Hi-Res Audio certified, the iFi Audio ZEN Stream network player delivers high-quality sound with 32-bit/384 kHz and 11.2 MHz DSD support. A particularly versatile piece of equipment which you can find here: iFi Audio ZEN Stream network player review.

Just as compact as the rest of the line, the iFi Audio ZEN Stream network player is the perfect complement to a headphone amp or hi-fi system for enjoying digital music and streaming services.

Exhaustive and innovative, the iFi Audio ZEN range offers ultra-compact devices adapted to all needs and budgets. The perfect way to complete an existing hi-fi system without taking up too much space or to create a discreet and elegant setup for headphone listening.


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