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ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio – Bluetooth signal transmission up to Hi-res audio

Audiophile sound quality, free of cables – that is how iFi Audio is advertising its latest solution in the iFi Audio ZEN series, the ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio. This is a Bluetooth transceiver that can send and receive audio in Hi-res quality based on the latest technology and also functions as a DAC.

Story Highlights
  • The new ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio is a Bluetooth transceiver that can receive and transmit signals up to Hi-res Audio and also functions as a DAC.

The company iFi Audio has been offering solutions dedicated to Bluetooth for years as part of the so-called iFi Audio ZEN Series. The first generation of this product line, designed for desktop audio, was the ZEN Blue by iFi Audio, which was used to equip a wide range of audio systems for Bluetooth. This was followed by the second generation, the ZEN Blue V2 by iFi Audio, and now the third generation is available, the ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio, although it is only to a limited extent that one can speak of a direct successor to the solutions offered to date.

With this third generation, the developers are not only relying on the latest Bluetooth standard technology, but are also significantly expanding the range of functions, as the ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio is now designed as a transceiver and is also able to function as a D/A converter.

ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio as a Bluetooth transceiver

The previous solutions in the iFi Audio ZEN series for Bluetooth were designed solely as receivers, so they were used, as already mentioned, to equip an audio system for signal transmission from a smartphone, for example.

The new ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio can also do this, so it acts as a receiver. But it is also able to transmit signals as a transmitter, for example to a Bluetooth headset.

Bluetooth 5.4

The new ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio uses Bluetooth 5.4, in the form of a QCC518x chipset from Qualcomm Inc. This is capable of using all currently relevant Bluetooth codecs.

The new ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio therefore supports SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX Low Latency, aptX Lossless and also LDAC and LHDC/HWA.

As a rough guide, the signal transmission rate is up to 1,200 kbps with aptX Lossless. With LDAC it is 990 kbps, with aptX 352 kbps and with SBC as little as 328 kbps.

This means that signal transmission is not only possible in CD quality, but even in Hi-res audio, up to 24 bits and 96 kHz, as the manufacturer explicitly emphasises.

Whether the ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio is used as a receiver, for example to receive signals from a smartphone or record player with a Bluetooth module, or as a transmitter to control Bluetooth headphones, is determined by a button on the front of the device.

Integrated D/A converter

Of course, a D/A converter is available here, whereby the manufacturer emphasises that it does not rely on the Bluetooth chipset alone, but also uses a so-called ESS Sabre Hyperstream DAC chipset.

This converter is not only available for transmitting signals via Bluetooth, but can also be used by external sources, because the new ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio has an optical and coaxial S/PDIF interface as well as a USB-C port, to which a PC or Mac can be connected directly. This allows audio data to be processed at up to 24 bits and 192 kHz.

A pair of RCA sockets is available for analogue sources, and a 4.4 mm Pentaconn is available as an additional balanced analogue output.

Audio signals can also be output digitally with the new ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio, for which this solution offers additional optical and coaxial S/PDIF interfaces.

The ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio is powered by an external 5 V DC power supply, which is worth mentioning for the sake of completeness. Optionally, you can upgrade to the iFi Audio SilentPower iPower2 Power Supply.

The front of the new ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio has a number of buttons that can be used to set the operating mode, select inputs and prepare the device for pairing with Bluetooth devices. There is also a display that shows the frequency of the digital signals.

Prices and availability

The new ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio is now available from specialist retailers at a recommended retail price of € 299,-.

Getting to the point

The third generation of the iFi Audio ZEN series Bluetooth device is not just a successor to the previously available systems, but rather a completely new product. For the first time, iFi Audio has designed the current ZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio as a Bluetooth transceiver, which means that it can receive and transmit, supports Bluetooth 5.4 including all relevant Bluetooth codecs and thus also Hi-res Audio, is even labelled as Hi-res Audio Wireless, and also has an integrated D/A converter. An extremely flexible device that expands the iFi Audio ZEN Series.

PRODUCTZEN Blue 3 by iFi Audio 
Price€ 299,-
BrandIFI
ManufacturerIFI AUDIO
DistributionWOD Audio
More about this manufacturer at HiFi BLOG
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Michael Holzinger

Michael Holzinger, founder and editor-in-chief of HiFi BLOG and sempre-audio.at, has been working for years as a journalist in the fields of IT, photography, telecommunications and consumer electronics.

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