iFi Zen Phono review | What Hi-Fi?

At What HI-Fi?, we incessantly suggest investing in a decent entry-level phono degree to complement the rising market of budget record players, or as an upgrade to the phono stage constructed into the main amplifier. However, in doing so, we may well be in charge of constructing it appear there are extra in the market than is actually true.

The arrival of the iFi Zen Phono has swollen the ranks of decent entry-level phono stages. You undoubtedly received’t in finding one with a better spec sheet, or that is better constructed, however most significantly you’ll additionally battle to search out anything at this worth that’ll make your data sound cleaner.

Build and Features

iFi is an organization recognized for its ambition, determined to create entry-level products in a position to stack up towards the most efficient time and again the cost, and it virtually encourages the listener to be as bold with them.

The Zen Phono no longer most effective caters for shifting magnet cartridges, as you’d be expecting from a product equivalent to this, but it might probably take care of transferring coil too, offering a range of acquire in steps from 36dB as much as 72dB. It additionally features a balanced circuit design to reduce noise and crosstalk, a feature even less not unusual at this end of the market.

iFi Zen Phono tech specs

Gain settings 48dB (MC high), 36dB (MM)

Output impedance two hundred ohms

Input impedance 47k ohms (MM), 47K ohms (MC prime)

Dimensions (hwd) 3.Five x 15.8 x 11.7cm

Weight 515g

The company has even devoted really extensive consideration to creating its own low-noise power provide, as you may find in a flagship phono degree. Everything used, from the Panasonic and TDK capacitors to the Texas Instruments ICs, is geared in opposition to low distortion and crystal readability.

We incessantly mention hi-fi components providing headroom for upgrades, in order that they continue to accomplish when the elements around them step up a degree. But rarely will we come across those who stop just shy of begging you to discover an international of alternative, firmly nudging to check out new issues.

A fair-sounding MC cartridge by myself prices round double the cost of the Zen Phono, so an entry-level do-all phono degree gained’t keep up for long – but if iFi will get you to imagine a device past your own, then it has served a function.

Sound

In the meantime, the iFi Zen Phono sounds excellent. There is no mistaking where the company's center of attention has been – the presentation is immaculately blank. There will likely be elements costing two or possibly even thrice the fee that may combat to dig out this quantity of data and deliver it with this level of readability.

That isn’t to mention the Zen Phono is overly medical – it's going to include the heat and persona it's presented out of your turntable – nevertheless it isn’t including anything else to the sound, simply sprucing each and every notice to the most productive of its skill.

Unsurprisingly, the steadiness is spot on, too. The iFi is keen to reach as prime or low as your turntable asks it to, and deal with each and every frequency with that same sympathy to tone and texture.

There is a compromise right here, despite the fact that. With all this focus on readability and detail, the iFi loses a little of the rhythmic and dynamic sense we’d expect from a five-star product. While the texture and timbre of an device is attention-grabbing in itself, it wishes timing and expression to be track.

The Zen Phono isn't bereft totally of these skills, but it doesn’t snap in time or throw strains at us with the power some deserve. We’re now not precisely bored or left puzzled by way of the iFi’s efficiency, however we’d definitely trade a few of that cleanliness for a bit more feeling. Using the balanced output makes the presentation larger and bolder, however doesn't alternate the phono degree's fundamental sonic personality.

It’s the kind of factor at which Rega excels, and it provides products that sandwich the Zen Phono in value. The Fono Mini A2D isn’t in the same league on the subject of features or construct high quality and doesn’t match the Zen Phono for element, but its sound is general more musical and tasty for two-thirds of the price.

And if you're keen to spend a little extra, the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Rega Fono MM MK3 suits that more or less hi-fi nous with a knack for locating a groove and contouring low-level dynamic shifts. 

They are fundamental affairs, even though, so whilst we would possibly query simply how essential it is to have a budget phono degree that can deal with MC cartridges and has a balanced output, the iFi stands head and shoulders above its rivals when it comes to options sooner than even getting began.

Verdict

The iFi Zen Phono’s clarity is bound to present it a number of suitors. Its slight lack of enthusiasm approach we will’t somewhat give it the whole five stars, nevertheless it must no doubt be for your shortlist for a take a look at drive nonetheless.

SCORES

MORE:

Read our guide to the best phono preamps

Read our Rega Fono Mini A2D review

Read our Rega Fono MM MK3 review

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