New iFi Zen DAC/amp for Tidal HiFi & Masters

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Claud, Oct 25, 2019.

  1. Claud

    Claud Friend

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    Last edited: Oct 25, 2019
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  2. Lyander

    Lyander Too sensitive for SBAF

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    Might be useful to have the brand and model name in the title?

    I'm a fan of iFi gear, I've had a Micro iDSD for a few years now— it still sounds nice for the price, and based on lengthy demos I might happily own a Pro iCan given sufficient funding, just for the Swiss Army knife approach. Only real concern (besides occasionally poo design decisions like toggles at the bottom) is that same do-everything including the laundry philosophy occasionally making the bulk of features redundant when you're not using, say, an iDSD or Pro as an all-in-one. That tanks the value proposition a wee bit.

    Been intrigued by this one, I'm saving up for an affordable AIO for measurements and lazy Sunday bed listening; the Micro iDSD doesn't count since it runs into channel balance issues because of the IEMatch switch and is kinda bulky for lugging around to shops alongside other measurement thingies.

    Also, MQA can go eat tree bark.
     
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  3. Yethal

    Yethal Acquaintance

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    How much you want to bet that in a few months iFi is going to announce a Zen amp with pentacon balanced input but won't release a pentacon interconnect to pair them up?
     
  4. Ksaurav402

    Ksaurav402 Friend

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    Very appropriately priced as AIO in nice footprint with balanced out for office or bedroom set up.
    Let's hope it sounds good as well. Schiit is also coming with new Fulla, so interesting days ahead.
     
  5. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    It looks interesting for two reasons: I am always interested in a balanced solution in this price range because I use 2xNuforce HPA200 in my setup and I do not want to spend much for just decent volume control and DAC.
    The second reason is that I do not remember when, if ever, I have seen such an ugly, even offensive design. It reminds me of MQA
     
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  6. Claud

    Claud Friend

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    It might not be pretty, but at $129 from our sponsor, Bloom Audio, it is a cheap solution for those that want to enjoy Tidal.
     
  7. Aiibo

    Aiibo Acquaintance

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    I'm listening to a Zen DAC these days. I've done most of the listening in my room system - Cyrus 8vs2 amp, Acoustic Energy Aegis Evo 3 speakers. I also tried it with few easy to drive headphones - Takstar Pro 82, AKG K92 and IEMs like Tin Audio T2. It sounded quite OK and powerful enough for these. I'm still hoping to receive Senn HD6xx soon, but until then I have nothing more demanding to try it with.

    Out of the box it's a bit bass-loose and vocals sounded a bit too laid back to my ears. But when I flashed it with latest 5.3c firmware, it started to sound much better to my ears - snappier, more precise, bass became better controlled and vocals more prominent. Also, when I added my DIY power supply to it (made by SupperTeddyReg schematics) it really came alive with better instrument separation and darker background.

    Compared to Modi 3, I found ZEN to sound more fluid all over the frequency range, from bass, through vocals, to cymbals - Modi 3 sounded more dry in compassion. On the other hand ZEN was clearly less rhythmic and precise out of the box, it's warmish and sluggish bass was something I didn't appreciate and if I was pressed to choose one I would keep Modi 3 for it's foot tapping qualities. But after installing new firmware, ZEN's weakest points - speed and rhythmic precision - improved. On the other hand, its good points like bass weight and fluid character remained. At that point I actually started favoring ZEN over Modi 3. Lastly, when my linear PS is added it does little for Modi 3 but makes distinct difference for ZEN, adding to tone weight and some sort of calmness I perceived as increased background darkness. Sound-stage gained slightly more depth to it in my room system. That made everything sound a bit more present and believable to my ears. This change was now clearly putting its overall sound quality heads and shoulders above Modi's to my ears.

    I actually got Zen DAC on a loan from iFi, for a review on my YT channel. At first I just wanted to conclude it's a decent sounding, feature packed device and ship it back, but after flashing new firmware and then adding linear PS I decided to purchase it instead and sold off my Modi 3. I'm looking forward to getting Modi Multibit next time and see how it fares against Zen.
     
  8. Raimei Templar

    Raimei Templar Acquaintance

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    I have had the zen dac for about a month and its a pretty good little unit.

    The dac portion is much stronger than the amp portion. The amp is very underpowered. It sounds really good, its quite natural and sounds like its basically just amplifying the DACs output near as I can tell rather than altering it anyway but power is lacking. If you go into the high gain and go past about 12 oclock it starts distorting and sounds harsh, brittle and overly bright. Its got enough power for my Hifiman HE5se single ended but only JUST barely. Going balanced gives more headroom and its pretty acceptable as long as you only want to listen at a moderate level.

    The specs IFI gave for the amp are misleading IMO, as it doesnt put out anywhere near that level of power. I assume they are weighting them at 10% THD or some high number which I really dont care for.

    The Dac section is quite pleasant, fun and has very punchy but somewhat dirty sounding bass. Its a sound I guess a lot of people would enjoy. Its got a pretty intimate sound to it, especially the bass which is pretty forward. I think its not as detailed as some other dacs out there as its going for a more easy listening kind of sound.

    Compared to the Modi, I first prefered the Zen DAC as I found it to be funner and have much more weight to the bass but overtime I have come to prefer the Modi 3. The modi offers a wider, more spacious soundstage and it does something magical to female vocalists that I really enjoy. Its a pleasant heavenly subtle kind of sparkle that makes vocalists like Anette Olzon really shine. I listened to the whole Dark Element album with both of them and the Modi was just much more enjoyable owning to that sparkle. I would say the Modi is more detailed as well.

    The DSD performance is outstanding, this is actually one of the best DSD dacs I have heard. I have a really strange DSD version of Billy Jean that some dacs actually cannot play at all but the Zen DAC played it with no issues whatsoever. I have to say the DSD files sounded considerably better to me than PCM did. Generally I think the opposite so that was interesting!

    I didnt try the GTO filter much as to be honest I dont like that it takes away the bitperfect aspect of the burrbrown chip. I think if they are going to go big on the GTO thing they should probably upgrade to some newer dac chips that might offer better performance.

    I find Ailbos result with the linear power supply interesting because on my unit at least, I must admit I dont think the 5v input is doing much of anything. I got a 5v3a power adapter and tried using it but it seemed to make no difference at all. With the Modi when you plug in a power adapter it causes the Modi to register as a powered device and stop drawing power from its data port. The Zen doesnt do this near as I can tell, it seems like its drawing power anyway and then using the 5v if its not getting enough power. While I admit not having the technical ability to verify this I can say plugging in or unplugging the adapter while listening did absolutely nothing at all.

    I also had some annoying issues with the Zen making annoying popping and distorted sounds randomly. I had to unplug it and plug it back in to fix it. It generally only did it once per day so it wasnt the end of the world, but its still irritating. Using the power adapter didnt stop this from happening.

    Overall I think the Zen is a pretty good option for a starter amp/dac combo at its price if you are only going to use sensitive headphones or you can go balanced for moderately inefficient headphones. Its a really great way to get into MQA if your into it or if your really into DSD as its at its best there IMO.For PCM I prefer Modi and since that is what I listen to 99% of the time I will just keep Modi and sell the Zen.
     
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  9. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    Agree with both these points, my findings were the same. Cheers for the solid review ;)
     
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  10. Claud

    Claud Friend

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    I started this thread because I found a cheap internet appliance to use for listening to Tidal Masters and of course regular Tidal and other on line music. $129 shipped from our sponsor, Bloom Audio and others. I needed some 4.4 balanced terminated cords so I ordered them Black Friday weekend from Norne Audio. They arrived late last week and the ZEN DAC the week before. Having studied peoples posts about the ZEN DAC I chose my OPPO PM-3 and Senn HD 660S headphones to do duty with ZEN DAC and my DAPs. Right out of the box, the Senn sounded a touch more resolving than the OPPO. Bass Boost also was a bot overpowering on both headphones until I played with the power/gain matching button.
    The IMAC, Zen DAC and the Oppo headphones will all go back to our beach home the beginning of April. A12027C4-CA17-4C95-911B-8F8B6A960423_1_201_a.jpeg
     
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