iFi Audio ZenDAC - Official Thread

Hey guys!

I just received a package from iFi Audio, containing a loaner of the new, soon to be officially released, ZenDAC! So far, it strikes me as a really neat little bit of gear.

Here is a link to the product page

The ZenDAC is an all in one DAC/Amp combo unit. I think it retails at $129USD……and that is pretty amazing. If I think about what was available when I got started with headphones 5 years ago for that price, this is leaps and bounds better.

I think for some people, especially those starting out, this is a great way to move away from a noisy motherboard audio out. The Fiio K5 Pro is another one to consider.

I haven’t had a lot of time with it so far, but it strikes me as a very competently designed little unit so far.

One thing that strikes me as kind of weird is that it doesn’t come with a power brick, but I suppose that is a way to save on costs and keep the price lower. The unit seems to run just fine from my laptops USB however.

I will report back with my full thoughts in a while, but so far so good :)

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Our iFi rep is dropping by Vancouver tomorrow and should be bringing the ZenDAC over as well as some other goodies. Looking forward to trying them out!

They showed us the prototypes at CanJam SoCal but we never got to try them out there.

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love that ifi Burr Brown implementions (xDSD user)
nice to see they went with this DAC chipset at this low entry price point
even mqa support and balanced 4.4 out - very nice!

would have loved it with LDAC support, the burr browns and the balanced out in one case

you can not combine/stack the new Zen Blue (Bluetooth DAC has the Sabre chipset) with the Zen DAC in a digital chain - so one could have the best of both units

i prefer a more industrial design like the iDSD micro BL or the THX AAA 789…
but these new units have a higher WAF(wife-acceptence-factor) :smiley:

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This looks almost perfect for office use. Wish it had rca or line in though.

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Yeah, I’m wondering if they’ll come out with an amp only version in the “Zen” line with some inputs and a bit more power out; kind of like the xCAN to the xDSD. That being said, the ZenDAC seems like a helluva feature set for the price.

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Got to play with the Zen DAC for a little while yesterday while our US iFi rep was in town.

It’s a very nice looking unit actually. I could easily see this stacked across office desks with their Zen Blue.

I just ran it USB from my Macbook and tried the Rosson’s out with it. The first thing I noticed was the noise floor was silent. I’ve been using the Micro iDSD Black Label as a DAC in a couple of chains lately and I’ve noticed that there is some background noise present but I didn’t find that with the Zen DAC at all.

The Zen DAC also has plenty of power. It seemed like and our rep confirmed it, that the ZenDAC has a more powerful amp than the Nano iDSD Black Label so if you don’t need the portability, the ZenDAC is going to be a very good option at $129.99.

We will also be having some units joining the Community Preview Program of both the ZenDAC and ZenBlue once the initial launch rush is over! It should make for a pretty good pairing for a lot of the Tier 3 and even some of the Tier 2 gear.

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That is interesting :thinking: especially since the NiBL is a daily carry for “emergency” amp/DAC use…and the $$$ is in the realm of stupid purchases…I would be interested in hearing these two new products from iFi…

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The Zen Blue is very similar looking if you haven’t seen it yet.

It’s an interesting one. We still sell a ton of Audioengine B1s and those are a pretty outdated item at this point so I could easily see this taking it’s place. It is a shame that there is no inputs on it though.

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Dropping in to say comparisons to the Schiit Fulla 2 and other desktop AIOs would be much appreciated! I’m considering one or the other for a laptop-on-my-bed or at-school/work, carry-in-my-bag-with-my-headphones sorta affair, plus an AIO for measurements with the MiniDSP EARS. At least I know a few local iFi retailers, shouldn’t be as worrying should anything go wrong.

P.S.
No cruddy toggles on the bottom a la IEMatch on the iDSD or any switches that feel loose? No long-term experience with their nicer Pro gear line but that’s one genuine concern I have with their transportable units.

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Well the new Fulla 3 is supposed to drop end of the month for $99, and the brand new gaming focused Hel is also supposed to drop at the same time for $199…

I’m probably going to pick up the Hel…but waiting on seeing final specifications.

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Oh Hel (couldn’t resist, hah), I caught news of those popping up at meets but given certain financial constraints plus the fact that I’m already considering spending on a scarce-ish desktop amp relatively soon I’m in full penny-pinching-without-buying-outright-bad-gear mode.

Not one for co-op gaming either (I’m a solo J/western RPG kinda dude) so the mic features of the Hel, while appreciated, likely will be useless to me. Fulla 3… Schiit.

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Me too I love the old school J/RPG’s. I played all the ones on the Snes and the Sega Megadrive. I also have a good collection of Gameboys scattered around the house. I have played nearly all the JRPG’s available on the game boy system.

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Has anyone tried the ZEN DAC for gaming yet? Seems like a good option for gamers with a standalone microphone (yeti / snowball) and headphones

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There are a couple of our forum members that have done reviews. Perhaps @dbstechtalk, or @Currawong will chime in.

You can find their YouTube reviews linked here:

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I didn’t try the Zen DAC for gaming, sorry. I only game on PlayStation not PC. Wish I could be of better help then none at all.

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No problem at all @dbstechtalk

Thanks Luke, I’ll check them out!

Hi Guys,

Today we are having a look at the iFi Audio ZenDAC, their new entry level DAC/Amp combo unit.

It really is amazing what you can purchase at the entry level nowadays, even compared to 5 years ago. This unit would have been unthinkable back then. The ZenDAC provides pretty much everything a beginner could ever need or want, at an MSRP of $129.99USD. Thats right. You heard me. $129.99USD. Thats crazy. 5 years ago this would have cost $500USD I would guess. It really is a testament to how far we have come as a hobby in such a short time span.

The ZenDAC provides less options than the usual iFi Audio fare, but for the asking price, that is expected. It still has everything you need as a beginner. It does have an update to iFi XBASS to what they now call TRUBASS. This provides a 6(ish) decibel boost to the low end, which is welcome on some headphones, and low and high gain settings (what iFi calls “Power Match.”) What I found really quite interesting was that the ZenDAC is a balanced piece of gear. This is unusual at this price point. Now, balanced doesn’t really matter to me, I would prefer a good single ended design over a poor balanced design, but it is something to take note of. Thankfully, iFi has gone with the 4.4mm Pentaconn sockets for both balanced headphone output and line out. This is a much better connector choice than 2.5mm jacks, which are not as durable.

Now, the ZenDAC is not the most powerful of amplifiers. The specs say 280mw at 32ohms single ended, and 380mw at 50ohms from the balanced output. With the high gain option, this will be enough for most headphones, especially as this piece of gear will likely be used by beginners, and entry level headphones tend to be easier to drive. Its not powerful enough to drive something like the HE6, but to be honest, I really don’t think that matters, its not what the ZenDAC was designed for. This is a piece of gear that will work great with something like the Drop/Sennheiser HD6XX, or similar. I mean, think of it like this. You purchase a pair of HD6XX for $200USD (or less if you buy them used) and the ZenDAC for $129.99USD, combine it with your laptop, and you are set. That is a system that would outdo a lot of more expensive set ups, especially from years past.

The ZenDAC can also be used as a system DAC in combination with an external amplifier. It has RCA outputs, as well as a 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output. This would need a special cable to be made (4.4mm to dual 3pin XLR) for use with a balanced external amplifier, but the option is there, and that is pretty neat. You can also choose either variable output, for use with a power amplifier, or fixed, for use with a preamp or integrated amplifier.

As you can see, the ZenDAC may not have all the typical iFi features, but it has everything you need, and even some stuff you don’t. Two thumbs up.

Now, the most important question. How does it sound? Perfectly acceptable. Is it a giant killer? Of course not. But the tonal balance seems fairly neutral, and detail is certainly acceptable. You have to keep in mind, this is $129.99USD! Its not meant to be a giant killer, its meant to get you started as a first option beyond the built in output to your laptop, or as a secondary set up beside your bed. That sort of thing, and honestly? I think it excels at those jobs.

The obvious thing to compare the ZenDAC to was my iFi Audio Micro iDSD Black Label, their top of the line transportable option. As you might expect, the iDSD is more capable, in every aspect. From features, to power, to sound quality, it is better. However, the iDSD retails for $600USD. That is almost 6 times more than the ZenDAC. It is more detailed, has better timbre and tonality, but the ZenDAC isn’t as far off as you might think.

If someone had just purchased their first pair of headphones that are something beyond a gaming headset, the HD58X or HD6XX, something like that, and asked me the fabled question of “do I need an amp or DAC?” I’d say, well, listen to your headphones from your computers built in output for a while, but after that, if the itch is there, give the iFi ZenDAC a try.

The ZenDAC is not the most sonically competent piece of gear ever made, it’s not the most powerful, it’s not the most detailed, but its not designed to be. It is a simple, beginner level, $129.99USD MSRP, piece of gear, and I think it lives up to that mark very well. I would totally recommend the ZenDAC to a beginner, or someone needing an affordable back up piece of source equipment. Thank you iFi for letting me give the ZenDAC a try :slightly_smiling_face:

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Great review Paul!

I’m not sure if iFi mentioned it to you and it’s a weird thing that they omit but the headphone output power actually doubles on the Zen DAC if you use a 5v power adapter vs the USB power. I believe their own iPower is about $49 US https://ifi-audio.com/products/ipower/ but most 5v power adapters should work just fine.

It’s definitely something that should be more visible about the product as it does add an extra layer to it for a cheap price.

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Hey Taron!

I didn’t know that! That is really interesting. Good to know, thanks for posting about it :slight_smile:

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