Last year the popular British amplifier manufacturer launched a wealth of upgraded models to multiple lines of products. Now iFi is looking to unleash their biggest entry-level models yet, the new ZEN Air DAC and ZEN Air Blue for only $99. These appear to be great jumping-off points to introduce a new audience to their line of products, so here’s what you can expect.
ZEN AIR DAC
The ZEN Air DAC supports different file formats – PCM 32bit/384kHz, fully native DSD256, and MQA. The XMOS 16-Core chip processes the audio data received via the USB digital input.
This new low-latency XMOS microcontroller has greatly enhanced processing power. Compared to the current generation of eight-core chips, this new 16-core IC delivers double the clock speed (2000MIPS) and four times the memory (512KB), as well as the latest SuperSpeed USB standard.
iFi’s in-house digital development team has programmed the XMOS firmware to optimize sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the Burr-Brown DAC.
PCM – Pulse Code Modulation is the file format used in CD, DVD, Blu-ray and other digital audio applications. It’s the next step up from MP3.
DSD – Direct Stream Digital is a very high-quality audio format, better than CD quality. The higher the number (sample rate), the better the recording – DSD64, 128, 256, 512 and 1024. Fully native means that it hasn’t been altered in any way from the original recording.
MQA – Master Quality Authenticated is an award-winning audio technology that enables music fans to stream the original master recording into their home, car, or their mobile. With the ZEN Air DAC, you can listen to MQA straight out of the box. Simply connect to Tidal Masters and check the option to stream MQA.
Their XBass+ makes a return here as well, tailoring the low-end to your taste.
ZEN Air Blue
The Bluetooth system inside has been upgraded by iFi to avoid the 40% drop in the audio quality you typically experience with standard Bluetooth (compared to wired audio). Discrete ESS Sabre Hyperstream DAC chipset with time-domain jitter eliminator, discrete oscillator, and 112dB dynamic range for discerning listeners. It supports many current Bluetooth stereo audio CODECs on the market today.
- SBC – standard Bluetooth used by most audio devices
- aptX – better than SBC, widely used, found in Android devices
- AAC – better than SBC, widely used, found in Apple devices
- aptX HD, aptxLL and aptX Adaptive – variations on an improved aptX
- LDAC – extremely high quality, designed by Sony
- LHDC – extremely high quality, designed by Huawei
You can find the iFi ZEN Air DAC and ZEN Air Blue at Audio46.