Highly specified, super-affordable and simple to use, iFi’s ZEN DAC elevates your digital audio experience to a higher plane.
Hot on the heels of the ZEN Blue hi-res Bluetooth streamer, iFiexpands the ZEN family of desktop-sized audio products with the ZEN DAC –a USB DAC/headphone amp offering a level of specification and performance that belies its eminently affordable £129 price tag.
Designed for home use –on a desk, perhaps, or in theliving room –the ZEN DAC connects to PCs and Macs, or smart devices such as tablets or phones, via USB. Its hi-res digital-to-analogue conversation technology processes all forms of digital audio to a super-high standard, while the integrated analogue headphone amplifier delivers superb sound with all headphone types, from in-ear monitors to larger on-and over-ear designs.Compared to simply plugging headphones directly into a computer or smart device, the ZEN DAC transforms the listening experience –sound is clearer, more detailed, more expansive and engaging, making the most of whichever headphones are connected.As well as driving headphones, the ZEN DAC can be used as a USB DAC in a home audio system, with or without its volume control engaged. What’s more, whether you’re hooking up headphones, an external amp or active speakers, you have a choice of single-ended or balanced connection –a remarkable facility at the price.
The DAC section is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chip that iFi uses extensively, selected for its fluid, highly ‘musical’ sound quality and ‘True Native’ architecture. This, together with the XMOS chip used for input processing, enables iFi to deliver excellent sound quality across all manner of digital audio formats including hi-res PCM, ‘bit-perfect’ DSD and MQA –the hi-res streaming codec, as used by Tidal’s ‘Masters’ tier. Given the diminutive asking price, the ZEN DAC’s digital audio credentials are highly impressive. PCM and DXD audio data is supported up to24-bit/384kHz, alongside DSD sampling rates from 2.8MHz to 12.4MHz (DSD256).
Thanks to the Burr-Brown chip’s True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways –this enables DSD to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in its native form, right through to analogue conversion. Many DACs that claim DSD compatibility accept DSD data but then convert it to PCM; for DSD purists, the ZEN DAC is a fantastic affordable solution. Another circuit feature that separates this and other DACs made by iFi from competing designs is iFi’s in-house programming of the XMOS chip. While other manufacturers simply use the firmware that comes with the chip off-the-shelf, which is not typically optimised for audiophile-grade sound, iFi programs its own bespoke firmware to boost audio processing power. iFi’s continuous software development allows features to be added or optimised via firmware updates, enabling the ZEN DAC to be tailored to the user’s playback priorities and ensuring it stays cutting-edge over time. Users can even download and install different versions of iFi firmware to experiment with different digital filters should they so desire. Extensive clock-locking is used throughout the digital stage to eradicate jitter, maintaining the integrity of the digital signal until conversion.