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iFi Zen DAC aims to deliver better digital sound on a budget

Well-equipped iFi Zen DAC aims to better digital sound on a budget
(Image credit: iFi)

Of all the things in life that can enter us into a zen state of mind, good quality music would be one of them – and promising to deliver just that is iFi’s latest DAC/headphone amplifier.

The second addition to the company’s Zen range following the release of the Zen Blue aptX HD Bluetooth receiver last month, the iFi Zen DAC (£129) is designed to be the audio-enhancing middleman between a source and your headphones/amplifier/streamer. The iFi Zen DAC is all-inclusive in its mission, able to play a wide range of files from PCM 24-bit/384kHz to DSD256 (in native form) to MQA.

Rather than use an off-the-shelf chip, the DAC section is based on a Burr-Brown DAC chip, and iFi aims to get the most out of its sonic performance through its own in-house processing.

(Image credit: iFi)

The analogue stage is, unusually at this price, a balanced design. There's a switchable gain in the headphone amp stage to accommodate a wide spectrum of headphones with differing sensitivities. iFi's TrueBass claims to be a more sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’.

A Pentaconn 4.4mm balanced output sits alongside an unbalanced 6.3mm output on the front panel, while at the rear a similar 4.4mm balanced output enables connection to amps and active speakers equipped with either a matching 4.4mm balanced input, or an XLR input (via a 4.4mm-to-XLR cable). Also onboard is a more typical RCA output. Both can be switched between ‘variable’ and ‘fixed’ modes so the Zen DAC can be used as a preamp for volume control if needed.

As for inputs, there’s an asynchronous USB Type B input, which supports the ‘SuperSpeed’ USB 3.0 standard and is also compatible with USB 2.0.

The iFi Zen DAC is available from mid-October.

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