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ifi Zen DAC and Headphone Amp Review

Noodles

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So this is an update on my earlier rant on the V1 ... I never thought I would be writing these words, but here I go.
I own a V2 Zen DAC due to PS5 support on their 5.3 firmware. It works fine for the PS5.

Up to this point I had not used it on my noisy USB PC, until today. I plugged it in without the power adapter and my usually very noisy USB power did not translate as such on the V2. I used to have a V1 and that was absolutely abysmal.
I can still hear the faintest hint of ground loop noise if I plug in sensitive IEMs but not remotely close to what I had on the V1.
If I plug in the Power supply, it is all but gone.

I do not know what they changed except the XMOS chip, but apparently they have added additional filters (have not looked at schematics yet).

So ... credit where credit is due. Good job iFi ?!
 

G-rig

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Sounds like an issue with your setup my V1 perfect from PC via USB to 789
 

Noodles

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Sounds like an issue with your setup my V1 perfect from PC via USB to 789
I am quite aware of that :)
Was just pointing out that they actually made some imrpovements between the versions that address the poor usb connection that was reported in the review as well that was also an indication of the issue i had as well.
 

G-rig

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What improvements, I only mentioned it as mine is fine and had been for years maybe you got a dud but sounds like you've sorted it out :)
 

Noodles

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I had 2 v1's (one was a replacement), both had the same issue + channel imbalance on the volume control.
Might have been a batch issue?, but again - they did make improvements apparently as the v2 has none of them problems.
 

G-rig

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I had 2 v1's (one was a replacement), both had the same issue + channel imbalance on the volume control.
Might have been a batch issue?, but again - they did make improvements apparently as the v2 has none of them problems.
Yeah maybe bad batch or fake
The features of the v2 got nothing to do with overall quality so who knows.
 

Optimate

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I need an scientific explanation for my dilemma. I bought two different headphone setups and both still have a couple weeks in their return period. I first purchased the iFi Zen DAC v2 after reading several subjective reviews—i.e., not Audio Science Reviews. Later I become obsessed reading through this site, so I then purchased a Topping E50/L50 stack.

I have given both sets equal time. I listen to every music genre except, perhaps, contemporary pop-country. I know that the Topping stack should be objectively better from pouring through this site. The Topping stack sounds crystal clear to me, playing Qobuz and Tidal from a MacBook Pro and iPad Air. The thing is, I have come to realize that like listening to music from the iFi Zen better. The only way I can describe it is that the iFi seems softer and rounder, if that makes any sense. It just feels more comfortable.

Now, I don't want to waste my money. I know the Topping stack is better, so that is what I should keep. But I need help understanding why I like the iFi better...is it because I've been conditioned through my entire life from listening to music from inferior products? Should I just suck it up and keep the superior product?

I appreciate any advice.
 

sjeesjie

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Word has it that this dac sounds a lot better when combined with a purifier in place.

Kiddings aside, I don’t support companies that sell snake oil. Why don’t they even include a powersuply with this thing…
 

Jimbob54

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I need an scientific explanation for my dilemma. I bought two different headphone setups and both still have a couple weeks in their return period. I first purchased the iFi Zen DAC v2 after reading several subjective reviews—i.e., not Audio Science Reviews. Later I become obsessed reading through this site, so I then purchased a Topping E50/L50 stack.

I have given both sets equal time. I listen to every music genre except, perhaps, contemporary pop-country. I know that the Topping stack should be objectively better from pouring through this site. The Topping stack sounds crystal clear to me, playing Qobuz and Tidal from a MacBook Pro and iPad Air. The thing is, I have come to realize that like listening to music from the iFi Zen better. The only way I can describe it is that the iFi seems softer and rounder, if that makes any sense. It just feels more comfortable.

Now, I don't want to waste my money. I know the Topping stack is better, so that is what I should keep. But I need help understanding why I like the iFi better...is it because I've been conditioned through my entire life from listening to music from inferior products? Should I just suck it up and keep the superior product?

I appreciate any advice.
Do yourself a favour and if you can, perform an output matched blind test. If you reliably pick the iFi as preferred, keep it. If you can't discern, keep it anyway as its cheaper.
 

LaL

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I need an scientific explanation for my dilemma. I bought two different headphone setups and both still have a couple weeks in their return period. I first purchased the iFi Zen DAC v2 after reading several subjective reviews—i.e., not Audio Science Reviews. Later I become obsessed reading through this site, so I then purchased a Topping E50/L50 stack.

I have given both sets equal time. I listen to every music genre except, perhaps, contemporary pop-country. I know that the Topping stack should be objectively better from pouring through this site. The Topping stack sounds crystal clear to me, playing Qobuz and Tidal from a MacBook Pro and iPad Air. The thing is, I have come to realize that like listening to music from the iFi Zen better. The only way I can describe it is that the iFi seems softer and rounder, if that makes any sense. It just feels more comfortable.

Now, I don't want to waste my money. I know the Topping stack is better, so that is what I should keep. But I need help understanding why I like the iFi better...is it because I've been conditioned through my entire life from listening to music from inferior products? Should I just suck it up and keep the superior product?

I appreciate any advice.
Many people have a preference for iFi's warmer, fuller sound compared to a colder, more analytical sound from many other companies.
The problem is, iFi's products don't measure quite as well, but still produce a sound that is very pleasing to the human ear.

The regular-Zen-Dac is reasonably good for an inexpensive entry level Dac/Amp combo, but if that warmer sound is your preference I would suggest trying the newer Signature-Zen-Dac as it's a little more detailed and less compressed sounding when compared to the regular one.
https://Audio46.com/products/ifi-zen-dac-signature-hi-resolution-dac-open-box
 

G-rig

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Word has it that this dac sounds a lot better when combined with a purifier in place.

Kiddings aside, I don’t support companies that sell snake oil. Why don’t they even include a powersuply with this thing…
I've got the v1 Zen Dac, a power supply isn't necessary as it gets power from USB just fine. You can always buy one yourself and do some double blind testing, and convince yourself it sounds better to justify the spend.

The v1 doesn't have any other inputs besides USB, so it's aimed to be fed from a PC setup. If it had optical and coax inputs then they'd supply an AC adaptor, or should at least (the signature includes one i think).
 

G-rig

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I need an scientific explanation for my dilemma. I bought two different headphone setups and both still have a couple weeks in their return period. I first purchased the iFi Zen DAC v2 after reading several subjective reviews—i.e., not Audio Science Reviews. Later I become obsessed reading through this site, so I then purchased a Topping E50/L50 stack.

I have given both sets equal time. I listen to every music genre except, perhaps, contemporary pop-country. I know that the Topping stack should be objectively better from pouring through this site. The Topping stack sounds crystal clear to me, playing Qobuz and Tidal from a MacBook Pro and iPad Air. The thing is, I have come to realize that like listening to music from the iFi Zen better. The only way I can describe it is that the iFi seems softer and rounder, if that makes any sense. It just feels more comfortable.

Now, I don't want to waste my money. I know the Topping stack is better, so that is what I should keep. But I need help understanding why I like the iFi better...is it because I've been conditioned through my entire life from listening to music from inferior products? Should I just suck it up and keep the superior product?

I appreciate any advice.
It's always fun to try new stuff but agree that once you hit a certain minimum level of gear, 'upgrades' often result in changes to sound as opposed to major sonic improvements. Personally, I also prefer a warm sound over clinical sound. It's good you got to test both and decide for yourself. I've got the iFi V1 DAC and paired with a DROP AAA789 and still sounds fantastic. If you are able to exchange/upgrade to the Signature version it sounds like that could be worth a bit extra (apparently bit more detail as mentioned. Like John Darko he's still about the music listening enjoyment over tech (probably 60/40% he said) and I tend to agree- just get a good enough setup that you think sounds good or you'll never be happy - always something more expensive or 'better' around and hanging out on here too much may not be that productive after you've researched. Everyone's opinions are good though, and the Toppings have been popular on the forums for a long while now although the price has crept up a lot for what they were to start with. Tough choice.
 

jarmo

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I need an scientific explanation for my dilemma. I bought two different headphone setups and both still have a couple weeks in their return period. I first purchased the iFi Zen DAC v2 after reading several subjective reviews—i.e., not Audio Science Reviews. Later I become obsessed reading through this site, so I then purchased a Topping E50/L50 stack.

I have given both sets equal time. I listen to every music genre except, perhaps, contemporary pop-country. I know that the Topping stack should be objectively better from pouring through this site. The Topping stack sounds crystal clear to me, playing Qobuz and Tidal from a MacBook Pro and iPad Air. The thing is, I have come to realize that like listening to music from the iFi Zen better. The only way I can describe it is that the iFi seems softer and rounder, if that makes any sense. It just feels more comfortable.

Now, I don't want to waste my money. I know the Topping stack is better, so that is what I should keep. But I need help understanding why I like the iFi better...is it because I've been conditioned through my entire life from listening to music from inferior products? Should I just suck it up and keep the superior product?

I appreciate any advice.
I used to prefer the polite Burr-Brown sound too, until I spent enough time with ES9038 and AK4452/93 chips to realise I no longer wanted to be spared the details.

Similar story with Yamaha amps. Thought they were the bee's knees until a Rega got up in my face one day..
 

G-rig

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I used to prefer the polite Burr-Brown sound too, until I spent enough time with ES9038 and AK4452/93 chips to realise I no longer wanted to be spared the details.

Similar story with Yamaha amps. Thought they were the bee's knees until a Rega got up in my face one day..
Yeah I am enjoying the detail of the ESS but it's probably the RME Adi2 as well that helps. Pairs pretty well with my yamaha activite monitors. The difference was pretty noticeable after using a DACmagic vq. More detail and tighter/more bass.

I still think the iFi Zen DAC is good for a first dac for the price, or even for a PC/secondary setup . Many options these days.
Kind of would prefer a neat stack instead of odd shaped devices now too.
 
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raistlin65

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I still think the iFi Zen DAC is good for a first dac for the price, or even for a PC/secondary setup . Many options these days.

I can easily think of more than a half a dozen DACs that have been independently measured on ASR, DACs that cost significantly less than the Zen DAC. And DACs that measure much more accurate than the first gen Zen DAC.

These would all be the first and last DAC that many people would ever need, as they are easily arguable to be noise and distortion-free within the range of human hearing.
 

G-rig

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I can easily think of more than a half a dozen DACs that have been independently measured on ASR, DACs that cost significantly less than the Zen DAC. And DACs that measure much more accurate than the first gen Zen DAC.

These would all be the first and last DAC that many people would ever need, as they are easily arguable to be noise and distortion-free within the range of human hearing.
Oh yeah, which ones for under 200$ AUD?
I'm guessing all toppings and other DIY chi-fi offerings? As long as they sound good, reliable and good build quality..not all about specs on paper.
 

raistlin65

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Oh yeah, which ones for under 200$ AUD?

JDS Labs Atom DAC+, Schiit Modi 3+, Topping E30 & D10S, Monoprice Liquid Spark, for example. You can use this list and filter by DAC and sort by recommended to find others you might look into


As long as they sound good, reliable and good build quality..not all about specs on paper.

Ummm. Subjective evaluations of how DACs sound is not usually how DACs are evaluated on ASR.
 

G-rig

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JDS Labs Atom DAC+, Schiit Modi 3+, Topping E30 & D10S, Monoprice Liquid Spark, for example. You can use this list and filter by DAC and sort by recommended to find others you might look into




Ummm. Subjective evaluations of how DACs sound is not usually how DACs are evaluated on ASR.
Yeah ok thanks for that, familiar with a lot of them. Sometimes it comes down to features and availablity for a reasonable price in some countries.

It's still nice if you can audition a few and see what you like the sound of, not always an option though.

I was thinking of upgrading the iFi v1 for something else (like the dqp balanced). Wouldn't be a massive upgrade to warrant selling mine plus the extra but usually better off throwing more money at it. The next step up is usually $700 AUD etx
 

raistlin65

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It's still nice if you can audition a few and see what you like the sound of, not always an option though.
Comparing DACs is difficult to do. You'd want to properly volume level the headphone output with a voltmeter (DACs vary slightly in voltage output) and do a double blind test. Otherwise, you could be comparing two accurate DACs which should sound the same, only they would sound different.

So for people into high fidelity, the best thing to do is buy one of the accurate DACs that Amir recommended and forget about it. And for people that don't like the sound of the their headphones with that DAC, use EQ.
 

G-rig

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That's fair mate, but we are talking about $200 so most will /should be quite similar in that price bracket.
I do remember that Amir said he didn't like the retro/60 styling - I could do without it too but it's a solid unit. If i didn't already have it i'd probably be researching for a few months but it's done me well for a fair while. I do look around at alternatives every so often.
The ES chips seem to be the new goto now but note that the Burr-Brown served everyone pretty well for years

Don't forget the iFi also supports MQA :).
 
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