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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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Becky is the Hi-Fi and Audio editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, Australia, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her eight years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.