IFI ZEN BLUE HI-RES BLUETOOTH HI-FI RECEIVER
The iFi ZEN Blue is the first in a range of new desktop components from the digital audio specialists.
The ZEN Blue hi-res Bluetooth streamer is the first of a range of ZEN Series products, all sharing the same 158x35x100mm (WxHxD) aluminium case.
iFi says that we can expect the ZEN DAC, which swaps Bluetooth reception for a USB input and adds an integrated headphone amp pretty soon. Also, further ZEN Series products are set to arrive in the coming months.
iFi ZEN Blue
The iFi ZEN Blue, according to the Southport-based company, is the world's first Bluetooth receiver that supports all the latest hi-res codecs. We're promised the best-quality music streaming from smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs to any audio system.
iFi's ZEN Blue might only have a £129 price tag but the snazzy aluminium enclosure, as well as the usual iFi attention to detail inside, means you get plenty for your money.
High Spec Bluetooth Receiver
Firstly, the ZEN Blue is packing the Qualcomm QCC5100 chip. This state-of-the-art chip processes the incoming data, and the iFi receiver is the first product of its kind to be rocking this new-generation Bluetooth IC.
Secondly, all the latest hi-res Bluetooth audio formats are supported. So, you get Qualcomm's aptX HD, Sony's LDAC and Huawei's HWA. Additionally, the streamer boasts regular aptX, aptX Low Latency (for synching sound with visual media), AAC (the favoured format of iOS devices) and SBC (the 'plain vanilla' Bluetooth codec).
The Qualcomm QCC5100 offers a 'system-on-a-chip' Bluetooth 5 solution and covers everything including Digital to Analogue conversion. Many manufacturers would rely on this chip to deliver the DAC function, but not iFi.
ESS Sabre DAC
The ZEN Blue utilises a specialised DAC chip from ESS Technology's Sabre family to convert the signal from digital to analogue. One key benefit of this is the chip's Hyperstream architecture with integrated Time Domain Jitter Eliminator. The upshot being vanishingly low distortion and high dynamic range. iFi has found that this solution, along with the Qualcomm chip, delivers top-notch Bluetooth audio.
The DAC stage handles sample rates above the maximum supported by the best hi-res Bluetooth formats – of the current 24-bit-capable codecs, aptX HD's specification tops out at 48kHz, while LDAC and HWA support up to 96kHz.
John Curl - Balanced Design
Also, this is the first iFi product to benefit from the input of legendary audio designer John Curl, who has teamed up with the iFi 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 anywhere near this price point. 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.
Ins and Outs
You can add the ZEN Blue's high-quality Bluetooth reception to any audio system via analogue or digital cable connections.
Thanks to the switch at the back, you can route the digital signal via 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.
Price and availability
Available from October at an RRP of £129.
For more information, head to iFi Audio.
StereoNET UK’s Editor and Bass playing gadget junkie. He’s captained the good ship GadgetyNews for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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