General Information

iFi audio's ZEN Air Phono – not only does it offer excellent performance with both MM and MC cartridges, it also delivers an ultra-low noise performance that’s measurably and audibly the cleanest and clearest at its price point – just like its big brother, the award-winning ZEN Phono. This ensures that the listener hears every drop of detail against a super-quiet background.

zen air phono.png

Like other ZEN Air devices, the ZEN Air Phono simplifies the fully balanced circuit design of its mainline ZEN equivalent but still retains a symmetrical channel layout with high-quality surface-mounted components offering low ESL (Equivalent Series Resistance), high stability and low distortion. This pays dividends in terms of sound quality and the accuracy of RIAA equalisation. In common with many iFi devices, a custom OV Series op-amp is used – in this case, the OVA2637A – further contributing to the price-busting sonic performance thanks to its ultra-low distortion characteristics (THD <0.0001%).

Latest reviews

Superb Budget-Friendly Phono Stage
Pros: Outstanding sound quality, Price point ($99 USD)
Cons: Provided cable is a bit short
Introduction: I reviewed the ZEN Air Phono over a two-week period during a USA loaner tour of the ZEN Air series products. Many thanks to @Rowan94 for including me in the tour.


Product: The ZEN Air Phono is an external turntable preamplifier. The unit reduces hiss, noise and rumble when spinning vinyl. The ZEN Air Phono touts ultra-low noise, support for both Moving Magnet (MM) and Moving Coil (MC) phono cartridges, precise RIAA equalization, subsonic filtering to help with warped records. The front panel has two buttons: power and subsonic filter. The rear panel has RCA single-ended input and output, ground connector and DC 5V power input. Gain values are: MM 40dB and MC 64dB.

Accessories: One cable is included with the ZEN Air Phono: a (26") black USB-A DC 5V power cable. The cable could stand to be a bit longer. I used the supplied cable with a USB wall adapter to provide power to the unit.

Build: The unit design is similar to the non-Air ZEN line, but the housing is a very sturdy high-grade thermoplastic polymer as opposed to metal. While the unit doesn't feel substantial in the hands, it still feels solid and easily stayed in place on my desk. All of the connectors held the cables securely.


I connected the ZEN Air CAN (which I was also reviewing) to the ZEN Air Phono's output, and connected my Technics SL-Q202 to the ZEN Air Phono's input (and it's ground wire to the Phono unit as well). I used two different MM cartridges on my Technics turntable during my listen evaluation sessions: Ortofon 2M Red, Nagaoka MP-110. Setup was quick and painless. If you are going to be using multiple ZEN Air components in a stack (as I was in my evaluation), I would recommend using: a USB power wall adapter, a USB hub, and if necessary a USB extension cable.

I experimented briefly with the subsonic filter setting. As I understand it, when enabled this filter rolls off lower frequencies. Luckily I don't have many heavily warped records or mechanical (bearing) noise from my turntable. I surmise the benefits of this filter would be better realized in a room speaker configuration.


Sound: I listened to a wide variety of vinyl records during my listening evaluations session -- both older original pressings and newer remastered pressings. The ZEN Air Phono delivered transparent, neutral, color-add-free sound. Each artist/song came through with clarity and limited background noise. Connected to the ZEN Air CAN, I was able to easily dial in my preferred listening volume and sound enhancers (XBass+, XSpace) if/when desired.

Conclusion: The ZEN Air Phono is an excellent value-for-money phono preamplifier. Despite the lower price point, ifi Audio's usual level of quality is delivered without making too many sacrifices. It is an affordable way to enter or re-enter the world of listening to vinyl. The sound delivered is truly outstanding -- clear, transparent and neutral. I highly recommend considering the ZEN Air Phono for an affordable desktop phono preamplifier solution. You won't be disappointed.
Thank you for your review! :D


Headphoneus Supremus
Ifi Phono stage
Pros: Solid build quality
Change nothing great in terme of sound
Look is cool and need small place
Easy to use in connection,can you the usb Port for current
Cons: the housing case is plastic could be better
Subsonic Filter found not impressed

Thanks to the Ifi Zen Air Tour, some members here had the opportunity to participate in the tour that took place here in the forum.
I would like to thank Rowan for organising this tour and Ifi for agreeing and providing the products.
I must also apologise for the length of the tour, unfortunately I had some personal issues that delayed it unnecessarily.

You had to sign up for the tour, Rowan personally wrote to you to let you know you were on board.
The rest went 1 to 1 as described in the tour, the products were shipped and arrived in person at your familiar home.
I personally do not get any fee or anything like that, the tour was absolutely voluntary.
And the products have to be returned.

Why am I doing this?

I have always been interested in Ifi products, starting with the Ify Hip Dac 2 I bought a few months ago.
When I am out and about and have been very happy with it.
Since then I've continued to be very interested in their products where they develop for the community.
Somehow I've always been interested in testing the products on a small budget.
And the opportunity was just great to be able to test something without having to spend money.
Of course, it's also a hobby of mine, so why not?

About the Ifi Phono Zen Air:

There wasn't much in terms of content, the phono stage, a hollow plug cable with USB connector, and that's it.
I assume that the cable is simply used to supply power to the phono preamplifier via a charger mains plug.
I tested to see if it also worked via the USB port on the PC and it did, big surprise.
I connected all the devices to the Audioquest Powerquest 3 via the USB port, which seemed to me to be a very sensible solution.
The cable could have been a bit longer for my taste, I had to use my own as it is a bit longer.
I can't say whether it was intentional not to include a power supply or the true content of the purchase.

Visually, it looks very elegant, and there's not much to it either.
The black plastic casing enhances the look, but the feel is not mine.
But it's okay if you want to offer the customer something, because Chinese products are also sometimes strong in comparison

I connected all the devices to the Audioquest Powerquest 3 via the USB port, which seemed to me to be a very sensible solution.
The cable could have been a bit longer for my taste, I had to use my own as it is a bit longer.
I can't say whether it was intentional not to include a power supply or the true content of the purchase.

Visually, it looks very elegant, and there's not much to it either.
The black plastic casing enhances the look, but the feel is not mine.
But it's okay if you want to offer the customer something, because Chinese products are also sometimes strong in comparison.


Is a Pioneer Pl 300 vinylplayer from 1980 that was made in Japan at that time.
I have found the technical data for it and it is summarised here, if you are interested:
I bought it second hand from the local area a few years ago and it is still in perfect condition after all these years, but it is not the newest anymore.
The cartridge is the Ortofon 2M Red.

The amp is currently the Feliks Euforia with 6080 mullards and apapted 6v6 Sylvania tubes.
The amplifier is also equipped with Vcaps capacitors and is no longer completely standard.
Headphones I have chosen the ZMF Auteur Og for the setup.

If there is still time, I will test the phono stage on my other hi-fi amplifier in the living room.
There is an old Harman Kardon 880 VXI with two Elac Editition One loudspeakers from the 90's where a very good satisfactory setup is.
There, the Ifi Phono Zen Air will be tested against the Harman Kardon internal phono stage and will have to prove itself.

Since time is also somewhat limited, I decided on 5 records. Since the record player also had to be moved from the living room and reset, this also took time.
this also took time.

Cock Robin - The album has no title and the pressing is from 1985 by CBS.
Joe Cocker- Cocker ( The pressing is from 1986 from Capitol records with DMM, Dmm = Direct Metal Mastering)
Sandra - Into a Secret Land ( The pressing is from 1988 Virgin records)
Rage against the Maschine - Rage against the Maschine ( I think the pressing is from 2015 when the vinyl hype got a boost.I couldn't find out who pressed it)
AC/DC - Iron Man 2 (I couldn't find out when exactly the pressing was done, I also think I bought it in 2015 like Rage against the Maschine).

I deliberately decided to vary the years of the records, because of the MoFi debate that made the rounds in the vinyl scene a few months ago.
And I can't comment further because I don't have the knowledge either.
I have read a few articles about mastering mainly, especially in relation to the new pressings, what the exact details are I don't know 100%.
The only thing I can say is that the Rage against the Maschine album on vinyl is still unchallenged to my ears.
Which means I've heard streams where I've always missed something that came across divine on the vinyl.
I'll have more to say about the record later.

Ifi Phono.jpg


After setting it up, I listened to it for a while to get in the mood.
I replaced the 6080 Mullard tubes on the Feliks Euforia amplifier because I found the bass lacking and a bit too neutral.
I also felt that the music from the records I listened to lacked a bit more weight.

In general you hear the normal noises more amplified than on the stereo system logically.
Things like the tonearm moving, noise from the turntable, cracking noises from dust on the platter etc....

Otherwise the Ifi Zen Air phono stage does its job quite well. I am very positively surprised at how well it does it.
It stays switched off most of the time.
Why is that?
You can't rewind the vinyl, but when the subsonic is on, I notice that it takes the weight out of the music and the timbre.
And also the bass weight in general, I think the bass becomes a bit slimmer with less weight, I don't like that so much. Also the stage presence decreases a bit.
I also noticed this the first time I listened to the Cock Robin album, when the Mullard tubes were still in use.
The good thing is that you can switch it off.
But I really don't need it for my taste.
Especially with the Rage against the Maschine album, I notice it very clearly when the drums start or the bass hits.
It's certainly a matter of taste for each individual in the end.

Let's move on to the first album I know best, the one by Rage against the Machine.
(I must note that this is my first phono stage that I personally test).

Rage against the Machine:
In one sentence the album on vinyl remains simply Divine.
The Euforia amplifier hits like a bomb even with a turntable coupled with the Ifi phono stage.
It's also everything I'd expect from a Harman amp in the living room. It gets me grooving in equal measure.
Weight,bass,separation,stage precision and an incredible timbre and guitar riffs that gets you going.
I don't hear anything where the Ifi phono stage does anything different or changes anything sonically.I like that,it's all really played from the gut,deep and lush and in its place.
You feel really good on stage as if you were playing or being there yourself.
The left/right separations are very authentically portrayed, the overall performance is also very breathtaking, especially that of the singer.
The smoky voice, the bellowing.
The drumming from the drums and the guitar riffs just sweep you along and the place order is also right and definitely in its place.
You can also hear the pauses in between very well.
Also, certain side noises from the recording are really fully there and perceptible when listening closely.Simply WOW....That's why the vinyl version is simply the best album.
I've also listened to the stream many times, even when I'm on the road, but it just doesn't pull me in the same way as the vinyl record.
Something is just missing in the stream and it seems a bit more clinical and colder in general and less engaging.
The way the setup is right now, it's just all there for the taking, I wouldn't have thought the Ifi phono stage would do that very well.
And for me, it has already earned its place in the headphone sector.Which is something to think about,because otherwise I almost cause noise nuisance to my neighbours with this album in the living room.

AC/DC - Iron Man 2

Here it's similar to the Rage against the Machine album.everything you hear on vinyl is present.
What is noticeably audible is that these are really older recordings, but they are also great to hear in the sound.
The old hands know this from the disco when Ac/Dc was playing and you stood there with your beer in your hand and your knee was swinging.
That's exactly the feeling I had when I listened to some of the tracks.
So here too, the Ifi Phono stage really gets you going and invites you to want to do things, because it's fun and it gets you going.

Cock Robin

Let's move away from rock and into pop music from the 80s.
Certain treble ranges unfortunately distort slightly, even after changing tubes it is still there but not as extreme as before.
I think this is due to the recording itself and has nothing to do with the actual hardware.
Soundwise the same feeling as described, plays very neatly, cleanly, powerfully down until the tone arm moves up again.
Instruments are really very authentically represented in the mix,left-right separation is correct,contours are present that were intended at the time.
Macro and dynamics are completely present. Depth design is also very neat.
Vocals are in their place, you can hear the singer really well, the slightly smoky and painful with a certain melting in the voice.
The singer's accompanying voice is also tasty to listen to, and calms you down in a special way, even though he sometimes doesn't sing quite clearly due to his accent.

Joe Cocker- Cocker

The first side of the record I would say tends to be designed for stereo systems rather than headphones.
It sounded good overall, but I could hear that certain passages are reserved for stereo systems and are tuned that way.
The second side of the record was much more pleasant for headphones.
The rest of the impressions are the same as those described above.
Nothing was missing,the weight was there,also typical pronunciations in the voice could be heard where abbreviations were made by Joe Cocker back then.
The music also flowed like it had been composed back then.
I don't know the album very well now, but it was more than decent. Everything else sounded very coherent, voice, tonal weight of the instruments, staggering.
Still enjoyed it in a way,especially on the 2nd side of the record where it was a bit more relaxed.

Sandra - Into a Secret Land

The first sounds were again seduced to groove.the sounds of the sythesizers of that time are really good and it's fun to listen to them.
Also the voice of Sandra sounds breathtakingly good how close you can get to her.
The rest of the composition is also very well presented: depth, stage presentation, dynamics, syntis, very smoothly presented, open and transparent with a good low end.
It's all there from a sonic point of view.

On the Harman Kardon hi-fi system:
The amplifier is quite old and has never seen an overhaul.
I tested both the internal phono stage and the Ifi.
The Ifi was a bit better for my taste, I guess it's the age of the amp why the Ifi was better.
In terms of sound, everything remained the same except for certain areas that had a little more power and weight. The Ifi didn't add anything and was otherwise normal.
This is another area where you can benefit when the internal phono stage gets old.


There is nothing bad to say about the Ifi phono stage.
I had a lot of fun with it and it gave me another opportunity to enjoy my childhood record collection, part of which came from my father, on a very good amplifier.
The only thing to note is that there may well be records where the focus is clearly on stereo systems and not headphones.
Like the Joe Cocker album for example, which was not really made for headphones to be clear.
It can really be a record side or song that is not made for it.
You have to say that 40/50 years ago you couldn't imagine that there would be something like that on the market today.
So it may be that the stream is better than the record or the song.
The phono stage has convinced me personally that I will buy it as a supplement to my system.
It doesn't colour or add anything, it is transparent, neutral, authentic and focused throughout, Ifi have done a good job on this.

If you are looking for a cost effective setup for your turntable, because of children or other purchases, you will do very well with the phono stage and can recommend the Ifi Zen air Can to go with it.
The pairing is not bad compared to a tube amp.
It has a little less depth,air,separation and detail is not as concise as on a tube amp.But the rest is there and consistently satisfying and powerful enough.
I did very well with the Zmf Auteur at 0 gain plus Xbass.
It was just a test to get a feel for the Can before connecting it to a Dac. Combined with the phono stage it really is a nice transparent little toxic setup with little sacrifice in the low budget sector.
Last edited:
Thank you again for taking the time to review these units and be a part of the tour! I really enjoyed this review of the ZEN Air phono! :)
  • Like
Reactions: Deleeh

Mike Foley

500+ Head-Fier
ZEN Air Phono, a high value phono stage
Pros: Cheap.
Decent build quality.
Excellent sound quality.
Cons: MC input may be superfluous. Mono button would be nice.
First of all I would like to thank @Rowan94 , and @iFi audio for the opportunity to review the ZEN Air components that are out on tour here on head-fi.

In this review I shall be taking a listen to the ZEN Air Phono, a compact phono-stage, selling here in the UK for £99.00.

The Air Phono is based upon the existing ZEN Phono, and to keep the price low a number of changes have been made. The balanced output, and load adjustments for MC cartridges have been dropped, whilst MC compatibility and RCA outputs have been retained. The Air Phono keeps the unique style of the ZEN Phono, but the metal casing of the higher model has been replaced with one made of plastic. The build quality is still good, and the sockets feel nice and sturdy. Also retained is a subsonic filter, to reduce noise caused by warped records. I tried it, and it works without any effect on sound quality.
All testing was done using a Technics SL-1210II, fitted with a Linn Akito arm, and Ortofon 530 MkII moving magnet cartridge, running through Schiit Saga pre-amp, Schiit Vidar power amp, into Castle Avon 4 floor standing speakers.
Even before cuing up the first record I was struck my how quiet this phono stage is. Turning the volume up to full, I could hear a faint hiss from the cartridge, but no humming or buzzing noises, which is not the case with my usual Schiit Mani phono stage.
The first record I played was The Beatles “Abbey Road” which is over 40 years old, and has seen some serious use over the decades. It has it’s fair share of pops and cracks, but through the ZEN Air, these were nowhere nearly as intrusive as when using the Mani. The music itself was presented in what I would call an accurate manner, with the ZEN Air adding very little in way of colouration. Stereo imaging was excellent, as was pace, rhythm and timing.
With everything I played, from Nick Drake through to Bob Mould, I was impressed with the results I was getting. Music was dynamic, clear, and above all involving and entertaining.

I briefly tried the ZEN Air through a 1990’s vintage Arcam Alpha 7 integrated amplifier, and was a definite improvement over the decent enough onboard phono stage.

I really like the ZEN Air Phono, and to be honest I’m struggling to find fault with it, especially for the paltry amount it sells for. Being picky, I can’t see many people using it with a moving coil cartridge, and mono button would be nice for those vintage album moments, but that’s it.
This phono stage is going to be a fine way to upgrade those budget turntables with built in phono facilities, older amplifiers like the Arcam I used, as well as adding vinyl playback to those amplifiers that don’t have a dedicated phono input, such as the Schiit Saga I use.
I highly recommend this excellent value phono stage.
Thank you so much for your review! This was a joy to read! :)


There are no comments to display.