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ifi Zen Air Phono Review

Rate this phono stage:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 3 3.9%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 28 36.4%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther

    Votes: 41 53.2%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 5 6.5%

  • Total voters
    77

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the ifi Zen Air Phono stage with moving coil and moving magnet support. It is on kind loan from a member and costs US $99.
ifi zen air phono review MM MC pre-amp stage budget.jpg


This is the first ifi product I have seen in this casing which is made out of plastic. It is textured and actually feels more luxurious and modern than the metal version. Due to black color, the white labels are easier to read as well. Cheaper, nicer and better, what could be better? :)

Power is provided from USB to barrel connector. There is a power supply but I don't knew if it is the original or not:
ifi zen air phono review MM MC pre-amp USB stage budget.jpg


ifi Zen Air Phono Measurements
Let's start with our dashboard in moving magnet gain setting:
ifi zen air phono measurements MM input.png


Nice and clean frequency spectrum. Noise is rather high though resulting in slightly below average ranking:
best budget phono stage review.png


Dropping input to 0.5mv and switching to Moving Coil, I was surprised to see more distortion:
ifi zen air phono measurements MC input.png


I could not reduce power supply noise either.

Back to MM setting, noise is not great as stated:
ifi zen air phono measurements SNR.png


As with its more expensive sibling (ifi zen phono), RIAA equalization is implemented perfectly:
ifi zen air phono measurements frequency response phono stage MM input.png


Measuring for headroom, we see less of it than its more limited than Zen Phono:
ifi zen air phono measurements THD vs level MC input.png


But therein is the higher distortion again on MC gain setting. Above is at 1 kHz; let's sweep at other frequencies:
ifi zen air phono measurements THD vs frequency MM input.png


We see disappointing drop in headroom and higher distortion yet again.

Finally, here is the distortion (no noise) sweep for both modes:
ifi zen air phono measurements THD vs frequency.png


Conclusions
I like the packaging of this ifi phono stage. Distortion and noise is OK but could be better given dirt cheap phono stages out there. RIAA Equalization though is implemented perfectly and for that, the ifi zen air phono joins my recommended list.

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martijn86

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Off topic, but I was looking through the Review Index and I saw that you had hit a milestone with the A90 Discrete. Congratulations on 1000 audio electronics reviewed @amirm! Thanks for your hard work and time and I hope to see many more devices tested in the future.

I feel obliged to say something about this Ifi... thing, so here it is:"Meh."
 

MrSoul4470

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Off topic, but I was looking through the Review Index and I saw that you had hit a milestone with the A90 Discrete. Congratulations on 1000 audio electronics reviewed @amirm! Thanks for your hard work and time and I hope to see many more devices tested in the future.

I feel obliged to say something about this Ifi... thing, so here it is:"Meh."
We've seen devices that cost 10 times that much and perform not better. I would call THAT "Meh.". I think this ifi delivers solid performance in regard to the price.
 

digicidal

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Definitely seems like a competent product (especially for the price)... but, am I the only one confused by the branding? I presumed a device with "Air" in it's name would have at least something to do with wireless communication? However, in checking their website to see if this was perhaps an oversight in the review... it seems even the Air DAC has the notable omission of BT audio and/or wifi streaming? There is a third companion product called "Air Blue" which is literally a BT-only DAC... with no digital output - so I'm a bit confused as to how they envision a full-stack audio setup? So you can stream BT to one device, physically transport digital to another, and analog (this device) to a third... requiring at least 3 separate inputs on whatever amplification is ultimately used?

In the height of naming irony... their Zen One Signature DAC (which trades "Air" for "One") has multiple inputs (including BT) and even outputs (OK just 2 outputs - both analog).

Not that any of that takes anything away from the performance of this specific device... it just is a bit confusing to anyone unfamiliar with their product lines.
 

martijn86

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We've seen devices that cost 10 times that much and perform not better. I would call THAT "Meh.". I think this ifi delivers solid performance in regard to the price.
Yeah I think that if you pay for a dedicated phono-stage, it should at least clear the -72dB signal range of the vinyl groove. It is decent but nothing special. At >40% the price of t he best phono stage tested to date, I won't go out of my way to get it. That's how I arrived at my conclusion... Meh.
 

Mike-48

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Nice review. I think "overhead" (in the graph) is meant to be "headroom."
 

Stokdoof

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Why do Phono stages perform so bad ? This 2022 companies must be able to design something better.
 

bocomomark

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The power supply is not original (It's just what I had been using. It ships with no power supply).
 

Dial

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I already bought the famous Micromega Mygroov for 75$ (tested in Analog Planet -2014- only for MM -the sound is said to be poor- but not yet for the MC). But if I had to buy one it could be this one.
 

srkbear

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Thanks @amirm! Did you have a chance to make anything of the “subsonic filter” toggle that is supposed to correct warbles cause by warped vinyl? I cannot imagine how such magic could be accomplished, but I’m not really a vinyl devotee so I’m not very current on the latest tech…
 
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