Award-winning audio specialist iFi has just expanded its Zen Signature range – which the firm describes as "enhanced, premium-grade devices based on the acclaimed entry-level Zen Series – with the Zen One Signature.
It is described as a ‘universal DAC’ owing to its all-encompassing input options and it takes the DAC stage from the What Hi-Fi? 2021 Award-winning Zen DAC V2, adds S/PDIF inputs (optical and coaxial) alongside the USB port, stirs in Bluetooth technology from the five-star Zen Blue V2 and finished with Signature-grade circuit enhancements. The result is a pure DAC (no built-in headphone amp or volume control) that serves as a home audio hub for all your digital devices, from smartphones and tablets to PCs and Macs, disc players and audio servers to TVs and games consoles.
The Zen One Signature’s singular purpose is to take the digital audio signal from any device, via cable or Bluetooth and convert it to analogue to feed an external amp and speakers (or headphones). Coupling high-quality internal components with iFi’s proprietary circuit design, it promises a brilliant boost to sound quality, however your devices connect to it.
For many, says iFi, the Zen One Signature is the one and only DAC they will ever need in their home.
The Zen One Signature’s digital engine is based around the Burr-Brown DAC chipset that iFi uses extensively, plus a low-latency, 16-core XMOS microcontroller delivering enhanced processing power (the same one found in the firm's premium portable iDSD Diablo DAC/headphone amp).
Extensive jitter-eradication tech has also been applied to the digital stage, including the latest generation of iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) femto-precision clock and intelligent memory buffer.
Zen One Signature’s hi-res audio credentials encompass 32-bit/384kHz PCM over USB (192kHz over S/PDIF), all levels of DSD to DSD256, and single- and double-speed DXD. Thanks to that Burr-Brown DAC chip’s four-channel True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables DSD, as well as PCM, to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in their native form right through to analogue conversion.
MQA (the format used by Tidal for the Masters files found in its HiFi Plus tier) is also supported, with full decoding up to 384kHz, meaning that the complete ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’.
iFi has also gone to great lengths to ensure its Bluetooth tech is state-of-the-art. Making full use of Qualcomm’s latest four-core QCC5100 Bluetooth processing chip, every current high-definition Bluetooth audio format is supported, including aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, LDAC and HWA/LHDC. Other codecs covered include regular aptX and aptX Low Latency, AAC and of course SBC.
The Zen One Signature is Bluetooth 5.1-compliant and up to eight paired Bluetooth source devices can be stored in memory, making it easy to switch from one device to another.
How does the Zen One Signature differ from its ‘regular’ Zen device counterparts? Well, iFi's entry level Zen series introduced the benefits of balanced circuit design (lower noise, greater sonic purity) at affordable prices, but the Signature-level Zens, such as the Zen DAC Signature and Zen Can Signature, should further up the ante with their enhanced true-differential balanced topologies – and the Zen One Signature is no exception. From input to output, iFi assures us every element of its circuitry is designed for pure performance.
Key surface-mounted components have been upgraded, including Panasonic OS-CON and Elna Silmic II capacitors, and the design has been refined to ensure short, direct signal paths and thus boast even greater sonic detail and expression.
Power can be supplied over USB from a connected device (a laptop, say) or directly from the mains via an AC/DC adapter. Optimum performance is promised with iFi’s ultra-low noise iPower2 DC power supply, included in the price (or £69 when purchased separately).
Aesthetically, the Zen One Signature sports the same 158x35x100mm aluminium enclosure as the rest of the Zen range, finished in Deep Space Blue, the colour iFi uses to differentiate its Signature-level models, rather than the grey finish of the regular Zen Series devices.
At the front are buttons for powering up/down and switching between the USB, S/PDIF and Bluetooth inputs, alongside colour-changing LEDs to indicate the incoming audio format and sample rate. A further button switches the LEDs on or off, as well as activating the Bluetooth pairing mode.
Around the back resides an asynchronous USB Type B port alongside two S/PDIF inputs – optical and coaxial, the latter doubling as a digital output. RCA analogue outputs are joined by a balanced 4.4mm output, enabling fully balanced connectivity with a suitably equipped amplifier. iFi makes a balanced 4.4mm to stereo XLR cable which, it says, is ideal for connecting the Zen One Signature to an amp with XLR inputs.
The iFi Zen One Signature is available in the UK from today, 14th January at an RRP of £349 / AU$519 (which is roughly $480, although US availability is not yet known).
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