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iFi adds Zen Stream 'wi-fi audio transport' to its compact, budget Zen Series

iFi Zen Stream
(Image credit: iFi)

iFi is building on its diminutive but impressive Zen Series with the introduction of Zen Stream, a component that promises to facilitate high-performance wi-fi streaming for any audio system. Simply connect it to a DAC. 

Described as a ‘Wi-fi audio transport’, the Zen Stream acts as a bridge between your wi-fi network and audio system. It connects to a router via wi-fi or Ethernet cable and outputs to either an external DAC or an amplifier with digital inputs, via USB or SPDIF. In its press release, iFi is quick to state that the Zen Stream's perfect streaming partner might be its own Zen DAC hi-res DAC/headphone amp (and it could well be right).

The brand also claims the Zen Stream's open-source architecture and custom-designed hardware and software make it flexible and future-proof – it works with multiple platforms, has streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal integrated and offers hi-res audio support over wi-fi.

Under the distinctive dark grey aluminum extrusion (which houses all of iFi's Zen Series products), a quad-core ARM Cortex microprocessor and dual-band wi-fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac support) means up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256 files can be played over wi-fi or Ethernet cable.

You can also stream straight from Spotify and Tidal apps with Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect, plus the Zen Stream is Roon, DLNA and NAA compatible. With integrated AirPlay, there's easy streaming from Apple devices. iFi says that Chromecast is to be added post-launch via firmware update, too.

iFi Zen Stream

(Image credit: iFi)

A novel part of the Zen Stream’s design is the ability to select between exclusive modes, promising an optimised performance by focusing on one particular mode of use. 

The following five modes are: 'All-in-one', a non-specific mode for all platforms, audio formats and devices; 'DLNA streaming', to optimise performance when using the Zen Stream with DLNA-compatible apps and devices; 'NAA streaming', for when using the Zen Stream as a Network Audio Adapter in conjunction with HQPlayer software; 'Roon Bridge streaming', when integrating the Zen Stream into a Roon environment; and 'Tidal streaming', for subscribers of Tidal’s Masters tier.

iFi Zen Stream

(Image credit: iFi)

There are just two buttons on the front of the unit: the power switch and a ‘hotspot’ button used to join a wi-fi network. Around the back, alongside the wi-fi antenna, you get a high-grade Gigabit Ethernet port, a USB-A input (giving the option of playing music from HDD and solid-state storage devices) and a USB-C programming port to upload software/firmware updates (an alternative to OTA updates via Wi-Fi).

Two digital outputs – asynchronous USB and coaxial S/PDIF – provide connection to an external DAC or amp with digital inputs. Both of these outputs are regulated by iFi’s femto-precision GMT (Global Master Timing) clock circuitry, in a bid to eradicate jitter from the digital signal. 

The iFi Zen Stream is available from today in the UK, priced £399 (approximately $555, AU$800, although pricing and availability in the US and Australia is not yet known).

MORE: 

Read all our iFi reviews

Not yet a hi-res music subscriber? See Hi-res music streaming services compared: which should you sign up for?

Peruse our pick of the best music streamers 2021: upgrade to a wireless system

Becky is the newest staff writer on What Hi-Fi? and can most-often be found writing, reviewing and drinking coffee in the listening facility, or at her desk next to a stack of mags. (She is probably wearing in-ears, so don't be put off if she's unresponsive.) She supports Chelsea even when it hurts, and her other half is a football writer whose skill both amazes and irritates her. 

  • manicm
    No MQA support?
    Reply
  • Gray
    Added to its range of budget products......but not quite as budget as them.
    Reply
  • doifeellucky
    This is a bizarre price from iFi. Based on features and functionality it should be probably £150-£200 max. You can get a raspberry pie and use Volumio for far less that that, which based on a review I saw is fundamentally the same as the Zen. Apparently the coax is ‘special’ in some way but certainly doesn’t justify what they’re charging. Also as the reviewer stated most people use something like the Zen DAC connected via a computer anyway so why is this even needed.
    Reply
  • Friesiansam
    If I bought one it would for me, as I see it, be doing the same job as the USB cable connected to my PC and, the free software on my PC (Foobar2000).
    Reply
  • ianmolynz
    Does seem a little expensive but iFi have always produced good kit. Would remove the need to use a PC as the source connect and there would potentially be some sonic gains in streaming directly from your router especially if the dedicated streaming modes work as described. Debatable if this is worth £400 though.

    So I decided to take the plunge and have the unit directly connected to my router (LAN cable) and configured for Roon connected to the ifi DAC via USB. Initial impressions are very good. Plugged in the Fostex HD900 cans and definitely an improvement on connecting directly to the DAC via PC. Suspect it removes a lot of noise and jitter from the stream. Will need to do a bit of analysis on the streaming traffic to be certain. Worth £400? only time will tell. Plan to test with my mates Naim NDX2 streamer to see if it makes any discernible difference.
    Reply
  • Gray
    doifeellucky said:
    This is a bizarre price from iFi. Based on features and functionality it should be probably £150-£200 max. You can get a raspberry pie and use Volumio for far less that that, which based on a review I saw is fundamentally the same as the Zen. Apparently the coax is ‘special’ in some way but certainly doesn’t justify what they’re charging. Also as the reviewer stated most people use something like the Zen DAC connected via a computer anyway so why is this even needed.
    As a Pi / Volumio user, I couldn't agree more.
    As I was reading this story I was basing it on their usual £129-£149 pricing, thinking they'd sell loads.....then I saw the asking price. No doubt it's well made and will do its job well but....
    Reply
  • Tinman1952
    Gray said:
    As a Pi / Volumio user, I couldn't agree more.
    As I was reading this story I was basing it on their usual £129-£149 pricing, thinking they'd sell loads.....then I saw the asking price. No doubt it's well made and will do its job well but....
    Yeah. They have obviously looked at products such as SOTM Neo and Lindemann Limetree bridge and thought…we could do that!
    Wouldn't be surprised if they are soon heavily discounted…..
    Reply