A Bluetooth receiver that supports all the latest hi-res codecs to stream music from smartphones, tablets, PCs, and Macs to any audio system.
The ZEN Blue immediately impresses with its sturdy aluminium enclosure, unusual at such a low price. But what really sets it apart is the circuitry within – iFi has gone to great lengths to ensure that the sound quality over Bluetooth is the best it can be, through both its analogue and digital outputs.
Connect to PC, Phone, iPad using Bluetooth
- Improve the sound quality of your music with the ZEN Blue simply and easily.
- Control your music via Bluetooth® with your favourite music app and relax.
- The ZEN Blue supports Bluetooth® fully — every source device is covered at the highest resolution its Bluetooth audio specification will allow.
- Supports up to seven Bluetooth devices.
Connect to a Stereo Amplifier or Powered Speakers
- RCA stereo outputs allow connection to amplifiers, active speakers and the like, while a 4.4mm Pentaconn output enables balanced signal transfer to amps/speakers equipped with a balanced input – either a 4.4mm input, or XLR inputs via a 4.4mm-to-XLR cable. For digital connections, optical and coaxial outputs are provided – these allow connection to anything with a built-in DAC and corresponding digital input, such as an AV amp or an external hi-fi DAC.
- Balanced - the ZEN Blue’s analogue output stage is a balanced design. The balanced design means less interference and cross talk. It has RCA and balanced outputs at HiFi standard level; 2V SE and 4V BAL and thus is compatible with both HiFi and Pro systems.
The technologies – Breathtaking Bluetooth
The manner in which Bluetooth is implemented – the quality of signal processing and the circuitry that surrounds it – has a big impact on performance. Not all Bluetooth sounds the same, and at iFi we engineer our products to obtain the best possible performance from every audio source – Bluetooth streaming included.
All the latest 24-bit-capable Bluetooth audio formats are supported, including Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, Sony’s LDAC and Huawei’s HWA. Other codecs covered include regular aptX and aptX Low Latency, AAC (the favoured format of Apple iOS devices) and SBC (the ‘plain vanilla’ Bluetooth codec). This means that every possible source device is covered at the highest audio resolution its Bluetooth specification allows.
The LED at the centre of the ZEN Blue’s front panel changes colour to identify the Bluetooth codec being received:
|aptX Low Latency||Red|
While another LED to the right indicates the sample rate:
The ZEN Blue ‘remembers’ up to seven paired Bluetooth source devices, making it easy to switch from one device to another, with an impressive reception range thanks to the latest Bluetooth 5 specification. The DAC stage handles sampling rates well in excess of the maximum delivered by current hi-res Bluetooth formats – of the 24-bit-capable codecs, aptX Adaptive and aptX HD support up to 48kHz, while LDAC and HWA reach 96kHz.
The iFi Bluetooth implementation begins with a state-of-the-art Qualcomm QCC5100 chip to process the incoming data – the ZEN Blue is the first product of its kind to benefit from this new-generation Bluetooth IC. Extensive clock-locking is used throughout the digital stage to eradicate jitter, maintaining the integrity of the digital signal until conversion.
The Qualcomm QCC5100 offers a ‘system-on-a-chip’ Bluetooth solution, with all functions covered including D-to-A conversion. Many manufacturers would simply rely on this chip to deliver the DAC function, but this is not the iFi way.
The ZEN Blue has separate digital and analogue stages. To feed the analogue stage, the processed digital signal is routed from the QCC5100 to a specialised DAC chip from ESS Technology’s Sabre family to convert the signal from digital to analogue.
One of the key advantages of the ESS Sabre DAC chip is its Hyperstream architecture with integrated Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, which helps to deliver vanishingly low distortion and high dynamic range. We’ve found that this allies perfectly with the Qualcomm chip to deliver Bluetooth audio that sounds far better than the norm.
None of this would mean much if the rest of the ZEN Blue’s circuitry were not up to scratch. This is the first iFi product to benefit from the input of legendary audio designer John Curl, who has teamed up with the our electronics design team, led by Technical Director Thorsten Loesch, to ensure the circuit design of every product is fully optimised.
The ZEN Blue’s analogue output stage is a balanced design – highly unusual in a DAC at this price point. The balanced design means less interference and cross talk.
It incorporates a range of high-quality circuit components, carefully selected for their performance in an audio context, including professional-grade balanced line drivers, C0G capacitors from TDK and a precision low-noise power supply IC from Texas Instruments.
Best of both worlds
The ZEN Blue adds high-quality Bluetooth reception to any audio system via analogue or digital cable connections. A switch at the back dictates how the digital signal is routed; either through the DAC and analogue output stage, or directly to the digital outputs.
On the analogue side, RCA stereo outputs allow connection to amplifiers, active speakers and the like, while a 4.4mm Pentaconn output enables balanced signal transfer to amps/speakers equipped with a balanced input – either a 4.4mm input, or XLR inputs via a 4.4mm-to-XLR cable. For digital connections, optical and coaxial outputs are provided – these allow connection to anything with a built-in DAC and corresponding digital input, such as an AV amp or an external hi-fi DAC.