iFi ZEN DAC is a combination USB DAC/headphone amplifier that connects to PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets via USB to take your audio experience to a higher plane.
The Zen Dac's Burr-Brown DAC chip provides excellent sound across all digital audio formats including hi-res PCM, ‘bit-perfect’ DSD and MQA rendering – the hi-res streaming codec, as used by Tidal’s ‘Masters’ tier. The ZEN DAC’s digital audio credentials are highly impressive for a product in this price range.
The ZEN DAC’s asynchronous USB Type B input supports the ‘SuperSpeed’ USB 3.0 standard and is also compatible with USB 2.0
The digital stage
PCM and DXD audio data is supported up to 24-bit/384kHz, alongside DSD sampling rates from 2.8MHz to 12.4MHz (DSD256).
Thanks to the Burr-Brown chip’s True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables DSD to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in its native form, right through to analogue conversion. Many DACs that claim DSD compatibility accept DSD data but then convert it to PCM. For DSD purists, the ZEN DAC is a fantastic affordable solution.
Extensive clock-locking is used throughout the digital stage to eradicate jitter, maintaining the integrity of the digital signal until conversion.
The output stage - connecting a HiFi amplifier
The fixed volume option bypasses the volume control, fixing the output at 4.2V (balanced) or 2.1V (single-ended) for connection to an external preamp or integrated amp.
The output stage - use as a pre-amp to connect to powered speakers or poweramps
The line-level outputs can be switched to ‘variable’. The variable setting applies volume control to the audio signal, enabling the ZEN DAC to perform as a preamp feeding a power amp or active speakers.
The 4.4mm output to the rear enables connection to amps and active speakers equipped with a balanced input – either a Pentaconn 4.4mm input, or XLR inputs via a 4.4mm-to-XLR cable. Single-ended RCA outputs are also provided.
The headphone output stage
The ZEN DAC’s analogue stage is a balanced design with Pentaconn 4.4mm balanced outputs– not often found in a combination DAC/headphone amp at this price point. It incorporates a range of quality circuit components, carefully selected for their performance in an audio context, including C0G capacitors from TDK and an analogue volume pot.
The headphone amp stage has switchable gain, which we call PowerMatch. This matches the level of drive to the load presented by the headphones, by adjusting input sensitivity and thereby signal strength. With high-sensitivity headphone types such as in-ear monitors, leave PowerMatch at its lower setting for ultra low-noise performance. But if your headphones require more drive – most on/over-ear types, for example – press the PowerMatch button on the front panel to increase gain.
TrueBass is another user-selectable feature. An evolution of our established XBass circuit, TrueBass is a sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that subtly enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange – particularly useful with earphones and open-back headphones that may lack deep bass. It operates entirely in the analogue domain rather than messing with the digital signal via DSP and may be switched in or out via another button on the front panel.
Looking for an even better headphone amplifier? Stack the ZEN DAC with ZEN CAN for an amazing desktop head-fi experience, particularly with sensitive IEMs and harder-to-drive headphones.
Add a 5v DC power supply for even better performance (we suggest the iFi iPower 5V).