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ifi Zen DAC and Headphone Amp Review

raif71

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Thanks @Taddpole and @zjx1017 for replying. Yeah even the name is the same. Didn't even mention "v2" or "pro" etc. This dac/amp came out last year so I was confused why the recent article from hifinews.
 

confucius_zero

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would it measure differently after the GTO firmware update?
 

Veri

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would it measure differently after the GTO firmware update?
Filter response will change, THD+N ratio might actually be worse. GTO is a rather leaky filter. Other measurements will be unaffected, unless there's more changes (iFi does noise shaping and dithering without documentation of it anywhere).
 

confucius_zero

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Veri

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freq-48.png.6ce6f7c02b9d744711760de123fb82e2.png


it has a slow roll-off reaching only -2 dB by 24 kHz which is very unimpressive and worse than the stock filters as measured by Amir in this thread.
taken from https://audiophilestyle.com/forums/topic/55951-ifi-foe-fum/
some discussion here https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...s-transient-optimized-filter-whitepaper.4662/
 

confucius_zero

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thanks for sharing this!
 

makatech

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Would be really really nice with an updated review running the Zen Dac through a good power supply and running the 5.3c firmware using the GTO filter. This review is slightly confusing since there are so many positive reviews out there (lots of them). Maybe it's performing bad running through USB power?

It is a possibility too that it measures poorly but sounding really good? Something is confusing with this dac/amp.
 
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raistlin65

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Would be really really nice with an updated review running the Zen Dac through a good power supply and running the 5.3c firmware using the GTO filter. This review is slightly confusing since there so many positive reviews out there (lots of them). Maybe it's performing bad running through USB power?

How about a subjective review I wrote of the JDS Labs Atom using the Tempotec Sonata HD Pro as a DAC. Only costs $10 more than the ifi Zen DAC without the power supply: https://www.reddit.com/r/BudgetAudiophile/comments/ibmnnf
Unless someone is determined to use balanced headphone cables, I just don't see the iFi Zen as a decent deal any which way you look at it.
 

makatech

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How about a subjective review I wrote of the JDS Labs Atom using the Tempotec Sonata HD Pro as a DAC. Only costs $10 more than the ifi Zen DAC without the power supply: https://www.reddit.com/r/BudgetAudiophile/comments/ibmnnf
Unless someone is determined to use balanced headphone cables, I just don't see the iFi Zen as a decent deal any which way you look at it.

You think balanced headphone cables will bring more life in the Zen Dac comparing to a power supply?

Cool, I'm really curious in getting the Tempotec Sonata HD Pro for my Android phone (from your recommendation on Reddit) and I'm sure they will sound even better through a good amp, great for people on a budget or for Hifi newbies (like me).

But yes, I am still confused about the Zen Dac because of lots of positive reviews out there. If there were one or two, ok, but there are lots, it's a fact. These reviewers having "untrained ears" or the Zen Dac is actually sounding good even though it's not measuring very precise running them through usb power?

The Zen Dac perhaps needing a power supply for delivering up to specs, some reviewers have been highlighting this and iFi is mentioning this in their official specs as well. Some reviewers also like the gto filter in the 5.3c better than 5.3 firmware but this is very subjective (different views).

This also lead to a more difficult question: Which is most important, the measurements or how they sound, how we experience the sound? Some DACs out there possible have reputations sounding a bit digital but maybe they measure amazingly well?

Yes, I have the Zen Dac but I have nothing to compare with. ;-)

The only annoying thing I have noticed so far is quiet pops when sample rate is switching from mqa - pcm back to mqa but this only happens when I click the play button manually in Tidal, not for continuous play(I think).

Finally: What about the "KHADAS TONE BOARD" as a budget setup? Tried it?
 
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raistlin65

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Yes. There seems to be a lot of hype about the Zen DAC because people are buying it without experience with other options. So it sounds good compared to what they are used to. But they could have gotten more for their money

Zen DAC has more power output when balanced cables are used.

I don't know what a digitally sounding DAC is. A very well measuring DAC will not sound like anything. It will accurately convert the digital file to analog. Which is what a DAC should do. If you want to change how that analog output sounds, use EQ or get different headphones
 

makatech

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Yes. There seems to be a lot of hype about the Zen DAC because people are buying it without experience with other options. So it sounds good compared to what they are used to. But they could have gotten more for their money

Zen DAC has more power output when balanced cables are used.

I don't know what a digitally sounding DAC is. A very well measuring DAC will not sound like anything. It will accurately convert the digital file to analog. Which is what a DAC should do. If you want to change how that analog output sounds, use EQ or get different headphones

I wasn't referring to people buying it without experience though. I was referring to all positive reviews out there (there are many) for the Zen Dac and winning the ‘Best Value DAC’ EISA Award 2020-21.

Not saying all reviewers are good though, of course not. ;-) Many of them are probably trusting their ears, intuition and not doing any measurements like on this site. Like you are saying some of them may be inexperienced in sound too feeling happy about finally getting better sound through an amp/dac.

Yes, more power when using balanced cables but also more power when a power supply is used. It's possible balanced cables giving the best result if wanting to get some more headroom though (I don't know). Using HD6XX it's probably not good for the ears having the volume level higher than 12-13 though with power match enabled (for classical music higher volume up to maximum 15:00 may be necessary though). It's a known fact USB power isn't the most clean or stable power out there depending on the computer?

I will try to drop this subject now, I promise ;-) but yes, I'm still confused. You are saying it's extremely hyped but a poor product comparing to the competition out there in the same price class. Now I will move on and read reviews about the "KHADAS TONE BOARD".
 
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makatech

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To my taste zen dac was underpowered even for hd600. I returned it for this only reason.

I'm surprised, I don't feel it's underpowered for the HD6XX but it's perhaps touching the limit. ;-) Running my Zen Dac with a power supply and the HD6XX. When listening loud usually 11-12 is good (power match enabled), for really loud 13. It depends on the source, type of music and recording though, I have noticed a few classical recordings may demand up to 15 if you want that strong intimate feeling. Not to forget, I am probably listening too loud most of the times... usually I listen between 9 - 12

"Z Reviews" trying HD600 together with Zen Dac here:

For HD600 & HD650 maybe a pair of balanced cables are good though if you want some extra headroom, for avoiding distortion when pushing it hard.

I believe you have two factors here affecting the result, power supply and balanced cables.(ok, three, firmware version as well). Problem is if buying both a quality power supply and balanced cables then you end up with a much more expensive system in a price level with tougher competion.
 
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Jimbob54

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Would be really really nice with an updated review running the Zen Dac through a good power supply and running the 5.3c firmware using the GTO filter. This review is slightly confusing since there are so many positive reviews out there (lots of them). Maybe it's performing bad running through USB power?

It is a possibility too that it measures poorly but sounding really good? Something is confusing with this dac/amp.

It's a somewhat less than state of the art dac in measurement terms coupled with a somewhat underpowered head amp but for not a lot of money. I'd wager if used as a dac to a separate amp, anyone would struggle to pick it in a blind test regardless of firmware or filters. Used as a combo, if not using harder to drive phones I'm sure it's fine and again, if level matched blind tested with appropriate cans, I reckon many would struggle to pick it out as different to many 2 to 300 combos or stacks.

Personally, the weakness of the head amp to drive a wider range of cans would take it out of the running for me. It is what it is though.
 

makatech

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It's a somewhat less than state of the art dac in measurement terms coupled with a somewhat underpowered head amp but for not a lot of money. I'd wager if used as a dac to a separate amp, anyone would struggle to pick it in a blind test regardless of firmware or filters. Used as a combo, if not using harder to drive phones I'm sure it's fine and again, if level matched blind tested with appropriate cans, I reckon many would struggle to pick it out as different to many 2 to 300 combos or stacks.

Personally, the weakness of the head amp to drive a wider range of cans would take it out of the running for me. It is what it is though.

I really like it but luckily I haven't much to compare with. ;-) Like I wrote earlier if also buying a quality power supply & a pair of balanced cables then it builds on the total price making it less of a deal. It's best for headphones easier to drive with perhaps HD600 & HD650 being a limit. Since quality balanced cables are expensive it could be a better alternative buying a more powerful amp and running the Zen Dac as a DAC (if you really like it).

This is a dangerous fun new world for me, I have to stay focused not buying too much gear. ;-) I returned my Sennheiser Momentum 3s today tough, proud about that (I don't want to become a collector). They are great (I really liked them) but I have other bt headphones good enough.
 

Jimbob54

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I really like it but luckily I haven't much to compare with. ;-) Like I wrote earlier if also buying a quality power supply & a pair of balanced cables then it builds on the total price making it less of a deal. It's best for headphones easier to drive with perhaps HD600 & HD650 being a limit. Since quality balanced cables are expensive it could be a better alternative buying a more powerful amp and running the Zen Dac as a DAC (if you really like it).

This is a dangerous fun new world for me, I have to stay focused not buying too much gear. ;-) I returned my Sennheiser Momentum 3s today tough, proud about that (I don't want to become a collector). They are great (I really liked them) but I have other bt headphones good enough.
Very wise. I seem to have accumulated a few phones and bits of kit. The phones (much less so the amps, even less so the DACs) are all different and I have my favourites but, I do wonder if I started again, might I just get one or 2 cans and amps. Maybe one planar and one dynamic. Then just listen to the music.

Like you say, if you recognise the Zens limitations and how to work within them, I'm sure it's a great and very affordable solution, and cheap, great measuring and far more powerful amps to add on later are available in abundance.
 

makatech

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raistlin65

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I assume there is a different thread for the MQA debate on audiosciencereview but I thought MQA was the best quality available for streaming right now?

Or it's not possible to hear the difference between Hifi och Master tracks on Tidal? A lot having to do with the actual recording as well?

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/mqa-time-domain-accuracy-digital-audio-quality

This will give you an overview of the controversy about MQA
https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/reviews/mqa-a-review-of-controversies-concerns-and-cautions-r701/
 

odyo

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Would be really really nice with an updated review running the Zen Dac through a good power supply and running the 5.3c firmware using the GTO filter. This review is slightly confusing since there are so many positive reviews out there (lots of them). Maybe it's performing bad running through USB power?

It is a possibility too that it measures poorly but sounding really good? Something is confusing with this dac/amp.

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Distortion pattern looks like tube. Maybe thats why.
 
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