iFi ZEN DAC discussion + impression
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dcime

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A new review.


YOU ARE WAY OVERANALYZING THIS DAC!!

ITS AN ENTRY LEVEL PIECE DESIGNED FOR NEW LISTENERS CONFIRMED AND POSTED BY IFI THEMSELVES IN THIS THREAD.

IF YOU HAVE NOT NOTICED ALREADY, THE xDSD BY IFI IS THE LATEST & GREATEST SHOW IN MID-TOWN.THE FACT THAT YOU ARE GREEN ONLY ALLOWS ME TO TAKE YOU LESS SERIOUSLY TO NONE AT ALL. YOU, IT SEEMS, ARE NOT THE TARGETED AUDIENCE HERE. INSTEAD, AGAIN, ITS FOR THOSE NEW TO THE INDUSTRY THAT WANT TO GET THEIR FEET WET WITHOUT JUMPING ALL IN!!!

(I’m not yelling)
 
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dadracer2

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Soooooo....Dadracer2..... Where’s the review? Read your post twice and was only able to dissect one paragraph, maybe. There is no review. Just a gratitude letter to iFI and a pic. No review there!!
This is a thread for impressions and discussion on the Zen dac and that is precisely what I have done. I might yet do a review and in which case it will be in the review section. If that's ok with you?

If someone loans you something then it would seem the polite thing to do is thank them for that which is what I have always done in giving impressions or writing reviews. Are you saying people should not do that? Also tells you that I haven't paid for it and you can decide if that matters or not to you.

Despite getting a loan of something I will tell you my thoughts and some context but almost never the tech stuff. I have in the past been less impressed with iTube, the xDSD and others so its not merely love and worship at the altar of ifi Audio.

So as this is a discussion thread (allegedly) what would you like to ask about the Zen dac?
 
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mageor

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Hey guys, a quick question. I m waiting my new zen dac to arrive. .. I have the Eris presonus 4,5 monitors which support both balanced and unbalanced inputs... Is there any noticeable difference in favor of using balanced cables? There are lots of quality rca cables but very few quality balanced cables in the below 100 euros space... Any suggestions will be welcome...
 
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Xanthophyll

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YOU ARE WAY OVERANALYZING THIS DAC!!

ITS AN ENTRY LEVEL PIECE DESIGNED FOR NEW LISTENERS CONFIRMED AND POSTED BY IFI THEMSELVES IN THIS THREAD.

IF YOU HAVE NOT NOTICED ALREADY, THE xDSD BY IFI IS THE LATEST & GREATEST SHOW IN MID-TOWN.THE FACT THAT YOU ARE GREEN ONLY ALLOWS ME TO TAKE YOU LESS SERIOUSLY TO NONE AT ALL. YOU, IT SEEMS, ARE NOT THE TARGETED AUDIENCE HERE. INSTEAD, AGAIN, ITS FOR THOSE NEW TO THE INDUSTRY THAT WANT TO GET THEIR FEET WET WITHOUT JUMPING ALL IN!!!

(I’m not yelling)

Well I haven't even managed to buy a DAC/AMP yet so I'm interested in this unit. Only recently bought pair of decent headphones so I've been scouring this site for some ideas.

PS: That's certainly not me in the video I linked, it just happened to be a fairly thorough review that I shared since there hasn't been a lot of information available about this unit.
 
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post-15292006
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claud W

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I laughed out loud so much about the poster using Senn HD 800s with his ZenDAC. If you buy one, you will either have to use IEMs or an efficient full size headphone. Its USB powered for Christ's sake. I bet it does not have any more power than my DAP.
 
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Asahi Templar

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I laughed out loud so much about the poster using Senn HD 800s with his ZenDAC. If you buy one, you will either have to use IEMs or an efficient full size headphone. Its USB powered for Christ's sake. I bet it does not have any more power than my DAP.

Actually the zen DAC can power the HD800 to very loud levels if you run it balanced. It can put out roughly 72mws into 300 ohms balanced which is enough to drive it past 115 dB SPL ( a level you should NOT be listening to!)

Even single ended it has enough power to easily get to reasonable volumes. Only reason you would need more power is if you are doing large additive EQs.

HD800 is not that difficult to drive.

Also depending on your DAP you might lose that bet lol, a lot of DAPs out there barely put out 150mw into 32ohms which is quite frankly crap. The new Sony Nw-A100 which sells for 300-400 dollars only puts out a pathetic 70mw into 16ohms!

Dont be fooled by the USB power, Zen DAC has quite a lot of power. Its one of the reasons its so impressive. I have not encountered a USB amp that was able to put out this much juice before. Only thing I suspect it will have trouble with is 600 ohm impedeance headphones and low efficiency planars.

My He4xx still has not arrived so cant be sure how it will handle planars which need a lot of current to perfrom their best.

This all being said I hope that a ZEN amp is in the works as I would love to see a affordable balanced Class A amp to stack with this. if they can put one out for 200 dollars or less that would be a big deal. Only real competitor in that range for class A is the Schiit Asgard 3 which is class A for 500mws only (and huge!) so there is definitely a opening in the market for that.
 
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claud W

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I have Senn HD 800 and 800S. They will play with DAP power, but to get the performance you paid for, mine need the DNA Stratus or my Shiit Ragg, and maybe my Phonitor (haven't tried yet) Why poot around with this nice & cheap DAC/Amp. Hook it up to Senn HD 660s or Oppo PM-3 or other efficient headphones or a set of IEMs and get its best performance. My DAP is an Ibasso DX 220.
 
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801evan

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I've brought my 14 stage power filter to my local HiFi store and it cleans up the sound amazingly. I've tried 5 possible power combinations with the IFI 3 stack and neither of the combos can catch up to the Zen DAC. There was even an Abyss Phi (dunno which version) and it's bass was too messy to be appreciated on the chain.

The best attempt on the IFI 3 stack was on the iCan Pro and it relatively sounds slower, less resolution and bloaty on the bass vs the Zen DAC. This is with a 10 stage power filter on it. And the iCan pro is DC looped to the iDSD Pro with monocrystal 20 awg silver and oyaide DC plugs.

On the final leg, I tried the 820. I was always underwhelmed with it's sound before but now, I was very impressed with it. The low mids haze and slowness that always bugged me in the different chains I've heard before (even on a 7k USD amp, re:leaf) is now gone. It's clean and tight and can rival the LCD 4.

I also tried the HD600 and 650 with 4.4 and with 22awg monocrystal copper itSE and was oddly underwhelming. The drivers couldn't keep up with the speed and resolving power as the 800s/820. While every other time I would usually praise the hd600/650 over the 800s/820.

The 2 aluminium box is from ldovr.com and the black ones are from custom power filters.
IMG_20191107_191227.jpg
 
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Koolpep

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I have Senn HD 800 and 800S. They will play with DAP power, but to get the performance you paid for, mine need the DNA Stratus or my Shiit Ragg, and maybe my Phonitor (haven't tried yet) Why poot around with this nice & cheap DAC/Amp. Hook it up to Senn HD 660s or Oppo PM-3 or other efficient headphones or a set of IEMs and get its best performance. My DAP is an Ibasso DX 220.
i today tried my xDSD with my HD820 and was very surprised. It did work quite nicely and sounded surprisingly good I must say. Before that I tried the good old BH Crack with Speedball upgrade and also liked that combo with Millard/Tung Sol tubes. Coming from planers, I usually am in the camp. of MOAR POWER-MOAR BETTER. But with the Senns I was quite surprised. Way easier to drive impactful and with grip on the drivers than my 650.
 
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dadracer2

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It seems as though I have upset some forum users by not putting an actual review here in the impression and discussions thread. Well here is an expanded impression or mini review and comparison with some other usb dacs and my main system.


The ifi audio Zen DAC is not the best headphone dac/amp that I have heard. There, I’ve said it. It is a very good dac/amp and way better than the price suggests.

I have tried it with a wide range of my favourite music from the following albums streamed from Tidal by my laptop. All the tracks I listened to were in Tidal Hi Fi or Masters (MQA) which the Zen handled once I updated the software driver on my laptop. This was my very old and creaky laptops fault.

Albums used included……….

Al Green- Lets stay together

Aretha- I never loved a man (mono & stereo)

Bob Marley- Legend

Burt Bacharach- Anyone who had a heart

Bowie- Platinum collection

Dusty- In Memphis

Eagles- Hotel California

Eurythmics- Sweet dreams

Gregory Porter- Nat King Cole and me

Joan Armatrading- JA

Ocean Colour Scene- Moseley Shoals

Ramones- Ramones

Rickie Lee Jones- RLJ

Seal- Soul

Pretenders- Pretenders

I chose tracks from these that I know and enjoy as some of the recordings are not what would be considered audiophile tests and I make no apologies for this.

I used my Audio Technica ATH MSR 7b headphones for 2 reasons. The first is they match the Zen DAC on price level and second they can be used balanced with the Zen DAC 4.4mm output. This is a great inclusion for this price level on a headphone DAC/amp. The Zen drove the ATs with ease and I didn’t need to stray beyond 1 o’clock on the volume knob.

I also compared the Zen DAC with my Audioquest Dragonfly Black and Meridian Explorer2 with Tidal from my laptop.

My preference was for the Zen each time. It had better soundstage width and depth along with better mid-range neutrality. Vocals seemed to be more real. Bass was more extended than the Dragonfly and tighter than the Explorer. Now using the “Truebass” function on the Zen gave more bass and certainly than either of the other 2 USB DACs. I am not sure if I liked it though. It seemed to suit some tracks better than others. Where it was a track with a lot of bass (eg Bob Marley tracks) it seemed to work better. That might be an obvious statement but it’s what I heard. In any event I preferred it without. It didn’t muddy things but just altered the balance in way I didn’t like as much. It is more than likely other folks will prefer it of course!

In terms of treble the Zen was smooth but extended and clear. It sounded better than the other 2 usb dacs which felt a bit rolled off by comparison.

Finally and just for fun I compared the Zen DAC/Audio Technica combination using Tidal streamed from my laptop to my main system. This is a Cayin HA300 SET amp/ Sennheiser HD800S combination with Tidal streamed from an Auralic Aries G1 and Vega DAC.

This is not the best headphone amp/dac combination I have ever heard either but it’s the best I have heard that I can afford.

Just to say the tonal balance of the Audio Technica ATH is similar to that of the HD800S. Neutral with an extended treble (some people may call that bright!). The ATs are closed back and both headphones were used balanced.

This was not a fair fight but just to get a feel for things. The Zen DAC produced a much smaller soundstage and with less depth. Individual vocals and instruments had less air around them and were less focussed. Tonally the systems were not far apart but the Zen DAC was a little brighter and glassy. Bass was less extended with Zen and less visceral even with added Truebass.

I could go on but if it seems like I am saying the Zen DAC was poor that is not true. In isolation it is a perfectly delightful device to listen to and if you just want to listen to music while chilling out it is perfect.

It would be an excellent budget busting system with the ATs or for somebodies first steps into streaming high quality music.

So the Zen DAC is not the best ever headphone/dac but the best I have heard for the money and far better than you imagine it should be.

If this isn't reviewy enough then hard lines as I'd rather spend more time enjoying the music thanks.
 
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magicalmouse

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2 questions

1. does the zen dac discharge a laptop battery quickly?

2. has anyone compared it (sq) with the nano black?

thanks

d
 
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rapier84

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Can anyone compare Zen's SQ (and features) with Shanling M0?
Got both, no contest. Alot more power to drive headphones and dynamics feel less compressed in the Zen as compared to M0. But its apples to oranges. One is a portable player and one is a dedicated DAC thats more transportable than portable. M0 only if absolute portability is needed.
 
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Untitled.png
What settings would be best? Still new at this
 
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dharmasteve

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The Zen Blue thread is a bit redundant. That's a shame because those with a nice analogue HiFi system can really make use of the Zen Blue's LDAC capability. The sabre chip sounds nice amplified through speakers. There are so few LDAC desktop receivers that I am surprised that so few are interested in it, particularly at its price point. Maybe many have wives who don't want speakers in their living rooms and don't like noise. I guess we must be at the death of HiFi.
 
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