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iFi's Zen Air hi-fi range brings its successful Zen series to a lower price

iFi Zen Air series
(Image credit: iFi)

With prices starting around £159 ($159, AU$229) for the What Hi-Fi? 2021 Award-winning Zen DAC V2, the Zen Blue V2 (an updated version of the excellent iFi Zen Blue), Zen Can and Zen Phono, iFi's popular Zen Series has arguably already achieved the company's aim of making high-performance audio more accessible.

But iFi's ambition clearly knows no bounds. The UK audio specialist's new Zen Air range takes these four Zen devices, simplifies the circuitry and strips back some features while retaining core elements to enable an even more affordable price tag.

The Zen Air DAC, Zen Air Blue, Zen Air Can and Zen Air Phono look similar to their brethren in the 'main' Zen line, featuring the same desktop-friendly size and distinctive shape. However, in place of the extruded aluminium enclosure used throughout the Zen Series, the Zen Air devices sport a synthetic polymer case with a textured finish, each in a different shade of grey. iFi is quick to tell us this isn’t just generic ABS plastic though, it’s a high-grade thermoplastic polymer with additives to reduce brittleness and improve shock absorbance.

iFi Zen Air Blue detail

(Image credit: iFi )

So are the Zen Airs essentially Zens in more affordable jackets? No. iFi explains that the simplification of the circuitry within the Zen Air models means the mainline Zen devices remain sonically superior, and some of the features supported are correspondingly absent from their Zen Air equivalents. For example, the fully balanced circuit topologies in the new Zen Air devices have been simplified, so the 4.4mm balanced connections offered throughout the Zen Series are not included in their Zen Air counterparts.

Some of the upgrades made to the latest V2 editions of the Zen DAC and ZEN Blue, (such as the enhanced GMT clock system) are also absent. But by retaining most of the core features and ensuring the circuit designs remain high quality – including discrete components and symmetrical channel layouts – iFi assures us that the performance across the range comes remarkably close to the mainline Zen models.

The core DAC technology in the Zen Air DAC, for example, is the same as the original Zen DAC, using the Burr-Brown DAC chip that iFi has long favoured. You're also getting the company's bespoke XMOS firmware and digital filtering, and iFi’s GMT clock system to tackle jitter. Hi-res PCM is supported to 32-bit/384kHz, alongside DXD, and DSD64, 128 and 256. MQA is also supported but take note, it's MQA rendering, as with the original Zen DAC, rather than full MQA decoding as performed by the Zen DAC V2.

The Zen Air DAC (a USB DAC and headphone amp) and Zen Air Blue (a Bluetooth DAC with support for Bluetooth 5.1 with aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, LDAC and HWA/LHDC) are available at selected retailers from today, 4th March. 

The Zen Air Can analogue headphone amp and Zen Air Phono (an MM/MC phono stage) will follow in May.

Pricing is easy to remember – they're all £99 each (which is around $130 or AU$179, although these last two prices are guidelines).

Certainly, there’s little competition in the market at under £100...

MORE:

See our pick of the best DACs 2022: USB, portable and desktop digital-to-analogue converters

Your cheat sheet on DACs: what is a DAC? And do you need one?

Want something premium? See dCS's new Ring DAC Apex tech within its Vivaldi and Rossini series

Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds. 

  • djh1697
    iFi's address on google maps is a large house in Southport, they have no factories in the UK. It is sourced from China. Hopefully this year will see growth, a newish company that I would not like to see disappear.
    Reply
  • LukeO
    At what point is it worth investing in a DAC Vs just upgrading your headphones? I'm looking at getting a headphone based set up for home but if I go from thinking about spending £30 on some AKG K72s to £100 more to add an iFi Air am I just much better spending £130 on headphones instead?
    Reply
  • Gray
    djh1697 said:
    a newish company that I would not like to see disappear.
    Too right.
    Can't fault them for value when all around are increasing prices.
    Reply
  • Gray
    LukeO said:
    I'm looking at getting a headphone based set up for home
    Well in that case Luke it is best to up your budget on the headphones, especially if your listening will be exclusively via headphones.
    Personally, I wasn't impressed with the K92 model (despite its best-buy WHF review).
    Ideally you'd get to try some options before settling because the differences in sound (and comfort) can be vast.
    Don't read this as me saying that more expensive will always be better....though I would imagine the HE1 from Sennheiser isn't too shabby - £51,000 - but you do get an amp with it.
    (I paid 335 times less for my HD-560S from Sennheiser Direct, £152 with a 10% first-order discount).

    Start with some decent (low to medium impedance) headphones and see how you go.
    You can always think about DAC / amps later.
    Reply