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ifi Zen DAC and Headphone Amp Review

LaL

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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.
The products you mention are Dac only units.
For a £130 entry level product the Zen-Dac is both an Amp and a Dac.
 

raistlin65

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The products you mention are Dac only units.
For a £130 entry level product the Zen-Dac is both an Amp and a Dac.

I'm aware.

The other poster made a claim about using it as a DAC, not as a DAC/headphone amp (review the previous posts).

That being said, outside of the UK where the price of the iFi Zen is often close in price to the Topping DX3 Pro+, I would generally recommend the Topping for its better DAC and more powerful headphone amp. And because the Topping doesn't need balanced cables for more difficult to drive headphones, which will raise the cost of ownership of the iFi Zen.
 

G-rig

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The headphone amp is reasonable, and people will most likely add a separate amp later which improves the sound and authority, once you research and invest more it's inevitable.

The point is it's still a great all in one device to drastically improve your PC listening experience. I added the balanced 4.4mm to XLR cable to the 789 and can't complain. Balanced is rarely necessary unless you have long lengths of cable going to active speakers or microphones etc, but thought I'd test it out for simplicity (and relatively cheap for interconnects).

I looked up that topping, A$300, no balanced outputs. The comments were interesting, and still an entry level device. Don't know why People still have wet dreams over this brand, they aren't exactly cheap anymore and look like set top boxes.

 

raistlin65

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I looked up that topping, A$300, no balanced outputs. The comments were interesting, and still an entry level device. Don't know why People still have wet dreams over this brand, they aren't exactly cheap anymore and look like set top boxes.

As already pointed out to you, it's a better DAC and headphone amp than what is in the ifi Zen. Check out Amir's review.
 

G-rig

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As already pointed out to you, it's a better DAC and headphone amp than what is in the ifi Zen. Check out Amir's review.
Will do, I was even looking at the D10s Balanced, pretty cheap for pc setup, only has TRS out (so need to factor in different cables).
Anyway, how much better would you say the DX3 Pro+ is, and in dollar terms? Not worth me swapping over to something when you factor in selling the iFi for a loss (but would still be a good secondary device for work etc).
I don't mind something a bit smoother given the DT1990 Pros are pretty lively anyway and it pairs up with the 789 pretty well.
Hopefully people are actually enjoying music as well as all the specs and reviews :p.
 
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raistlin65

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Will do, I was even looking at the D10s Balanced, pretty cheap for pc setup, only has TRS out (so need to factor in different cables).
Anyway, how much better would you say the DX3 Pro+ is, and in dollar terms? Not worth me swapping over to something when you factor in selling the iFi for a loss.
I don't mind something a bit smoother given the DT1990 Pros are pretty lively anyway and it pairs up with the 789 pretty well.
Hopefully people are actually enjoying music as well as all the specs and reviews :p.
For you, ifi Zen is very cheap in comparison. And since you already have the THX 789, the Topping D10 balanced would seem better for you if you want to try a more accurate DAC.

In many markets, the ifi Zen is much closer in price. That was sort of my point before. By the time someone has paid for balanced cables to access the full power of the ifi Zen, they might as well get the DX3 Pro+ when the price is much closer.

Given how accurate the 789 and DX3 Pro+ headphone amp output is, it would be highly unlikely you would be able to hear the difference between the 789 (using the DX3 Pro+ DAC) and the DX3 Pro+ headphone output in a properly volume leveled, double blind test. That is, unless you were trying to drive something extermely difficult for the DX3 Pro's headphone amp to drive.
 

G-rig

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For you, ifi Zen is very cheap in comparison. And since you already have the THX 789, the Topping D10 balanced would seem better for you if you want to try a more accurate DAC.

In many markets, the ifi Zen is much closer in price. That was sort of my point before. By the time someone has paid for balanced cables to access the full power of the ifi Zen, they might as well get the DX3 Pro+ when the price is much closer.

Given how accurate the 789 and DX3 Pro+ headphone amp output is, it would be highly unlikely you would be able to hear the difference between the 789 (using the DX3 Pro+ DAC) and the DX3 Pro+ headphone output in a properly volume leveled, double blind test. That is, unless you were trying to drive something extermely difficult for the DX3 Pro's headphone amp to drive.
Thanks, that helps, sounds like the DX3 Pro would go well with the 789 then (wouldn't mind a bit more detail given the headphones and amp are considerably better). Would you still recommend balanced cables to the amp? I could probably still sell the zen dac + 4.4 cable as a bundle. I'd use the Adi-2 but that is in another room with active monitors (needed a remote and vol control.

Edit: 44 pages to review on the DX3 thread, seems like a few niggles but impressive performance. Wondering if there is a DAC only equivalent with LDAC for slightly cheaper.. probably handy having the built in amp too etc.

Otherwise the D10 Balanced may be good but would have to factor in some short TRS to XLR cables, would prefer xlr-xlr as a standard, but not usually provided in compact devices.
 
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raistlin65

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Would you still recommend balanced cables to the amp?
The DX3 Pro+ does not have balanced output. You would have to connect to the THX 789 RCA inputs.
Wondering if there is a DAC only equivalent with LDAC for slightly cheaper.. probably handy having the built in amp too etc.

I don't know.

The Topping BC3 is an excellent bluetooth receiver with LDAC. It also has an optical output, so it could be connected to the optical input of any DAC.

 

G-rig

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The DX3 Pro+ does not have balanced output. You would have to connect to the THX 789 RCA inputs.


I don't know.

The Topping BC3 is an excellent bluetooth receiver with LDAC. It also has an optical output, so it could be connected to the optical input of any DAC.

Good quality RCAs should be fine if just going from DAC to headphone amp. Was just after some shorter /neater ones but have some directional Taralabs i can use. I can get a bit obsessed about balanced, but not 100% necessary in this use case.

The Dx3 Pro+ sounds like the most versatile unit instead of a D10 + the BC3 perhaps (with the added benefit of hp jack and volume control (not necessary with my current setup).

Edit: I noticed the D10 balanced is a bit higher on Amir's list (on the DX3 Pro+ list).
 
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G-rig

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I was reading a few of those threads and the comments, seems like a few bugs, ground loops and poor customer support for a lot of the topping stuff. Shame the D10P balanced has optical outouts not inputs, bit odd. Probably keep the Zen DAC and balanced cable for now, would cost a bit swapping over.
 

Bumer

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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.
Lol I had the same feeling when I just just got the DX3 Pro+ and started comparing with iFi Zen DAC v1 I’ve been running for sometime. The Zen DAC just sounds much better to me than the better measuring DX3 Pro+. Not sure but have been leaning towards Burr Brown DACs from the Microsoft Zune era. There is something magical with them.

If it comes to picking one it might definitely be the Zen DAC. For the $130 I paid nothing beats it.

Or more philosophically, I should say I’m not hooking up these devices to a spectrum analyzer to watch and admire how they measure but I hook them up to headphones to enjoy the music and have a good time. Zen gives the good times for me hence a keeper :).

There isn’t a scientific explanation anyone can give for what makes anyone happy, you see?
 

G-rig

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Lol I had the same feeling when I just just got the DX3 Pro+ and started comparing with iFi Zen DAC v1 I’ve been running for sometime. The Zen DAC just sounds much better to me than the better measuring DX3 Pro+. Not sure but have been leaning towards Burr Brown DACs from the Microsoft Zune era. There is something magical with them.

If it comes to picking one it might definitely be the Zen DAC. For the $130 I paid nothing beats it.

Or more philosophically, I should say I’m not hooking up these devices to a spectrum analyzer to watch and admire how they measure but I hook them up to headphones to enjoy the music and have a good time. Zen gives the good times for me hence a keeper :).

There isn’t a scientific explanation anyone can give for what makes anyone happy, you see?
Couldn't agree more mate, a lot of people fail to realise it should be about the love of music listening and the enjoyment you get from decent equipment. The sky is the limit with how much one wants to spend trying to reach the pinnacle of sound quality. Too many people hang around on forums and worry about nitty gritty improvements and specs on paper. A lot of the differences you may not even hear, and depends on the type of sound you like too.

Chi-fi is usually budget brands anyway, presenting great sound and features for reasonable money (not as cheap as it was anymore) with a few quirks. Topping gets great praise on here but isn't perfect or the be all or end all.
 
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