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iFi’s ZEN is a £129 MQA/DSD DAC & headphone amplifier

  • An MQA DAC and headphone amplifier that will talk to a Mac, a PC and a smartphone* for a hundred quid (ish)? Not the AudioQuest DragonFly Black but the forthcoming ZEN DAC from iFi that eschews the dongle in favour of a quarter-width aluminium chassis more becoming of a desktop rig.

    Features abound in all directions so let’s keep it simple with four to the floor:

    1) On internal D/A conversion, we note a TrueNative BurrBrown DAC chip that handles PCM up to 24bit/384kHz and DSD (up to DSD256) but without the usual apriori conversion to PCM.

    2) For headphone listeners, the front panel offers both 6.4mm single-ended and 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced connectors that talk to iFi’s PowerMatch variable gain amplification circuit.

    3) On the back panel – and switchable between line-level and variable gain – twin RCA sockets and a second 4.4mm Pentaconn connector permit hook-up to an amplifier or a pair of powered loudspeakers.

    4) Inputs number one: a single USB 3.0** socket controlled by a firmware-updatable XMOS receiver chip running custom code for MQA compatibility. A front panel LED keeps us abreast of the incoming MQA stream’s authenticity, as well as the sample rates of ‘standard’ PCM streams and bit-rates for DSD.

    Look (again) at that asking price: £129. Not bad. Not bad at all.

    Shipping begins ‘Mid October’.

    Further information: iFi

    * iOS compatibility unconfirmed

    ** Also compatible with USB 2.0 connections

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    Letters to the editor: Suitcase Coffee Co., Onix, Klarita Muso

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