With the so-called iFi Audio ZEN Series, the company iFi Audio has an extremely exciting product range on offer. The series offers D/A converters, Bluetooth receivers, phono preamplifiers and headphone amplifiers, and with the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio, a streaming bridge has now been added.
Once again, iFi Audio is expanding the so-called iFi Audio ZEN Series with an extremely exciting solution. For the first time, a streaming bridge is available in the form of the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio.
Mind you, we are deliberately not talking about a streamer in the conventional sense, but rather the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio itself is referred to as a WiFi audio transport.
ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio, the new addition to the iFi Audio ZEN Series
iFi Audio has gradually built up a very exciting range of products with the iFi Audio ZEN Series. Here you will find solutions such as D/A converters, headphone amplifiers, Bluetooth receivers and phono preamplifiers, all of which are always focused on the essentials and packaged in a futuristic but thoroughly elegant form.
While the first solutions of the product series were recently presented in the second generation, the ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio is a completely new solution.
Very compact solution
All solutions of the iFi Audio ZEN Series share the aforementioned futuristic design of the very, very compact housing. This also applies to the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio, which measures only 158 x 100 x 35 mm and weighs 578 g with its aluminium housing.
While the other systems in the range have very few controls, the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio has only two buttons on the front, one of which is the main switch.
The second one is used for integration into the network via WiFi, which the manufacturer calls the hotspot button.
Network integration via WiFi or LAN
Even though the manufacturer primarily refers to WiFi, the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio can also be used via network cable. The corresponding Ethernet interface is located on the back. In addition, the developers rely on a particularly high-quality network interface; according to the manufacturer, a high-performance Ethernet switch with a power-saving integrated 5-port Giga PHY is used.
However, iFi Audio states that the integrated WiFi module according to IEEE 802.11ac offers sufficient performance to ensure even hi-res audio without problems. An external antenna contributes its share.
This is not the only reason why the manufacturer refers to the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio as a WiFi audio transport, whereby audio signals in Linear PCM with up to 32 bits and 384 kHz as well as DSD up to DSD256 are to be supported.
ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio, the WiFi Audio Transport
iFi Audio uses an analogy to CD players or a CD transport. While a conventional CD player has an integrated D/A converter, this is not available in a CD transport, which is therefore dependent on an external converter and concentrates solely on reading out the data as accurately as possible.
This is exactly how iFi Audio wants the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio to be understood; it is a streaming bridge whose sole task is to offer audio streaming based on various technologies in the best possible quality, and to pass the data on to an external converter in digital form.
For this purpose, the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio is initially equipped with a coaxial S/PDIF interface.
iFi Audio iPurifer built-in
By the way, this S/PDIF interface has a special feature: the iFi Audio iPurifer is integrated here for optimal, always interference-free signal transmission.
The two USB 3.0 ports on the back of the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio are also equipped with Active Noise Cancellation II for corresponding storage media and asynchronous USB audio, and thus for connection to a DAC.
In addition, there is a particularly precise clock generator based on iFi Audio’s femto-precision GMT (Global Master Timing) circuitry, which is designed to prevent jitter that can damage the sound.
Volumio as a basis
In principle, the manufacturer speaks of an optimised open-source architecture that works with a wide variety of platforms and is thus optimally equipped for future innovations.
In fact, iFi Audio uses the Volumio system from the software company Volumio Srl a socio unico, which, according to the company, has been significantly optimised for the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio. Performance is provided by a 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex processor.
As a dlna-certified streaming client, the ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio offers audio streaming via UPnP. This means that it can be controlled directly with the software JRiver Media Center or Audirvana Studio. In addition, it is possible to play back audio data from USB media as another simple way.
In addition, the ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio is also equipped for Spotify including Spotify Connect, as well as for TIDAL including TIDAL Connect. The ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio already supports Apple AirPlay and will also support Google Chromecast via a firmware update in the future. The ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio will also be Roon Ready in the near future, which means that it can also be integrated into the media management and multi-room audio streaming solution from Roon Labs LLC. In addition, there is a special NAA Operation Mode in conjunction with Sygnalist HQ Player software.
Five Exclusive Modes
A special feature of the ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio is that it has five so-called Exclusive Modes, which are intended to provide an optimal configuration at all times. All unnecessary programmes and APIs are deactivated, so that only those required for the respective mode are actually active.
However, these are switched via a small rotary encoder on the back, which is designed in such a way that you are unlikely to switch quickly, but rather select the operating mode that you want to use in the long term.
The most flexible is, of course, the All-in-One mode, which covers all possibilities, but in which all options are ultimately activated. In addition, there are the modes dlna Streaming, NAA Streaming, Roon Bridge Streaming and TIDAL Streaming.
Particularly high-quality power supply
Solutions like the ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio are often operated with external power supplies, which are often said to be of poor quality and are recommended to be upgraded accordingly.
This should not be necessary with the ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio, as iFi Audio states that the new ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio is delivered with a power supply equipped with iFi Silent Power Tech.
Getting to the point
Even with the components available so far, the iFi Audio ZEN Series must be described as an extremely exciting product line that offers a variety of solutions, most of which are optimised for one or two tasks. This is also the case with the latest addition to the series, the ZEN STREAM by iFi Audio. This is a streaming bridge that concentrates solely on the signal processing of audio data via the network and is extremely flexible in this respect. The conversion of the signals is left to an external DAC, such as another solution from the iFi Audio ZEN Series.