iFi Zen DAC review | What Hi-Fi?

iFi has constructed a cast recognition for its well-featured, inexpensive digital-to-analogue converters. Thanks to a mixture of options and sound quality that’s hard to better on the price, the Zen DAC is arguably considered one of its finest merchandise.

This is a USB-only desktop product that takes power from the pc that’s connected to it. If you need optical or coax this product is not for you, regardless that iFi makes a range of other merchandise that will attraction.

Build

You don’t want to be near a mains outlet, so it’s possible to make use of this in the garden or away from the house. It’s no longer transportable in the sense that the Audioquest DragonFly or Cyrus soundKey are – the Zen is about the dimension of a small paperback, so it’s too large for a pocket. It’s well constructed with a well finished aluminium case and precise-feeling controls.

There’s improve possible too, with iFi making an outboard mains energy supply known as the iPower X (£99/$99), which undoubtedly improves the sound in all spaces, but in addition strikes the DAC into desktop-only situation and a higher worth segment.

While we might unquestionably recommend the upgrade for the future, we think the Zen DAC is a brilliant performer as it's. It’s easy to set up and we get getting into a question of minutes, the use of the supplied USB cable.

Features

iFi has at all times tried to pack as a lot compatibility as imaginable into its products and this one is no other.

iFi Zen DAC tech specifications

Input USB3.0 (USB2.0 compatible)

Output Audio RCA

Output impedance < 1ohm

Dimensions (hwd) 3 x 10 x 11.7cm

Weight 0.8kg

Despite its budget nature, the Zen can handle PCM information up to 384kHz and up to DSD256. It too can decode MQA, which is spectacular at this value.

As for outputs, there are 6.3mm and four.4mm balanced Pentaconn jacks on the front, a stereo RCA line output on the again with some other 4.4mm balanced option subsequent to it.

The inclusion of balanced outputs is strange at this worth, but in addition points to the fact that the Zen’s analogue output level has an absolutely balanced format. There’s a number of having a hard and fast or variable output during the line connections, this means that that the Zen can operate as a electronic preamp in a gadget if you want to use it that way.

While it’s commendable that iFi has gone to the difficulty of implementing any such design, it’s also true that the bulk of value compatible package that will likely be partnered with the DAC received’t be balanced or succesful sufficient to take advantage of it. Still, that barely makes the inclusion of such outputs a unfavorable.

Sound

iFi has tried to optimise the sound for quite a lot of headphones. There’s a button at the entrance that gives a selection of output ranges to consider the massive difference in sensitivity between headphone sorts, and another that provides some extent of bass spice up. This works subtly sufficient to be helpful, including additional weight and authority to skinny or lean sounding cans.

Most price range digital-to-analogue converters aren’t in particular inspiring to listen to and don’t have a tendency to provide a lot of a step-up over the soundcard of a computer. That’s by no means the case here.

The Zen DAC clearly outperforms our MacBook Pro laptop easily, sounding clearer and extra detailed. We listen to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and are inspired through the iFi’s expressive dynamics and its skill to reproduce the piano’s harmonic richness convincingly. The leading edges of notes are exact but not over etched, and there’s a excellent sense of authority to the sound.

Tonally, this can be a well-judged unit, having just the precise stage of smoothness at prime frequencies to forestall low bit fee or thin-sounding song streams from getting annoying. We like the openness of the presentation and its typically even-handed nature.

We transfer to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and the Zen responds with enough in the best way of punch and rhythmic drive to keep us listening. There’s a good quantity of perception, so we will follow Lamar’s drift, and a decent dose of composure to stay this dense recording sounding organised. Such things aren’t a given at this degree.

Verdict

Compare the iFi with worth rivals and it’s clearly up there with the best when it comes to sound quality. But it additionally provides a degree of versatility that those opponents don’t. If you’re searching for a well-built, funds desktop DAC, this iFi must be best of your record.

SCORES

MORE:

Best DACs 2020

Read our iFi Zen Blue review

Read our Cyrus soundKey review

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