The iFi Zen USB DAC’s digital section is based around a Burr-Brown (Texas Instruments) DSD1793 DAC that supports PCM and DXD data up to 24-bit/384kHz, as well as DSD from 2.8MHz to 12.4MHz (DSD256). ‘Thanks to the ‘True Native’ design of the DSD1793's decoding process, PCM and DSD take separate pathways, which enables DSD signals to remain bit-perfect in their native form, right through to analogue conversion,’ said George Poutakidis, of BusiSoft AV, which distributes iFi in Australia. ‘Many DACs that claim DSD compatibility accept DSD data but then convert it to PCM; for DSD purists, the ZEN DAC is a fantastic affordable solution.’ The asynchronous USB Type B input supports the ‘SuperSpeed’ USB 3.0 standard and is also compatible with USB 2.0. Unusually, iFi enables users to download and install different versions of iFi firmware for the Zen, should they wish to experiment with, for example, different digital filters.
The iFi Zen DAC’s analogue stage is a balanced design, though you ultimately have the choice of using balanced or unbalanced outputs. The headphone amp stage has switchable gain, (iFi calls it ‘PowerMatch’) so you can match the output level to the sensitivity of the headphones you connect to it. The iFi Zen also has iFi’s ‘TrueBass’ bass boosts circuitry. ‘An evolution of iFi’s established XBass circuit, TrueBass is a sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that subtly enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange, which I find particularly useful with earphones and open-back headphones that may lack deep bass,’ said Poutakidis. ‘It operates entirely in the analogue domain rather than messing with the digital signal via DSP and may be switched in or out via a button on the front panel.’
The iFi ZEN DAC uses Pentaconn 4.4mm balanced terminals, rather than traditional XLR sockets, one of which is on the front panel alongside a standard unbalanced 6.35mm headphone socket. There’s another Pentaconn output on the rear panel, alongside a pair of unbalanced RCA outputs. These rear line-level outputs, both balanced and single-ended, can be switched between ‘variable’ and ‘fixed’, so that if used in the variable mode, the Zen DAC can act as a preamp feeding a power amp or active speakers. ‘Compared to simply plugging headphones directly into a computer or smart device, the iFi Zen transforms the listening experience,’ said Poutakidis. ‘The sound is clearer, more detailed, more expansive and engaging, and makes the most of whichever headphones are connected.’
Available now, the iFi Zen USB DAC sells for $199 (RRP).
For more information, contact BusiSoft AV