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ifi Zen Phono Review (phono stage)

Rate this phono stage:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 11 9.3%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 57 48.3%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther

    Votes: 46 39.0%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 4 3.4%

  • Total voters
    118

nothingman

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I like to see no or small difference in overload. The large amounts we see here is not good for the overload characteristics. That said, I agree that I have not posted this kind of measurement enough to get a good handle of the range of the values we get.

Indeed. For example, with the Zen we see it has more headroom at 1, 5, and 10khz than the Mani 2, and it’s only at 15 and 20khz where it’s worse. But without an idea of which frequencies are most impacted by clicks and pops, and how much of a burst in mV to expect from our cartridges when they play clicks and pops, it’s a little hard to tell if that’s significant or not.
 

Anonamemouse

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Thank you for the review!
I bought one a few months ago REALLY cheap because it has a deep scratch on the bottom of the unit. I barely ever play anything vinyl, and if it had not been for the massive discount I would probably have let it go. I liked the sound a lot! The white print on alu though... Why?
 

milosz

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I still want to see an ASR test of actual vinyl playback. I saw something on a forum recently where some "expert" was claiming he routinely measured 85 dB S/N ratio on vinyl playback. Not phono stage S/N but actual S/N of the vinyl medium whilst playing back. I call BS but I'd love to see some numbers for actual S/N and also for THD. There are measurement or setup type LPs that have 1 kHz tones on them, probably some that have other frequencies as well so at least some THD measurements ought to be possible. I would bet you that IM measurements for vinyl playback would be horrible, so that I wonder if there even exists an LP that was cut with simultaneous 19 kHz & 20 kHz tones* for an IM measurement. ( or even 1 kHz and 2 kHz )
========================================

*could a vinyl lathe even cut such a thing at let's say -3 dB without the cutting stylus hopping out of the groove? I wonder.
 

thyristor

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On/off, gain and sub-sonic filter are controlled by microcontroller. Microcontroller is completely shut down after a few seconds. That's why you have to press on/off button twice to power off the amp. First press will wake up the microcontroller and second press will power off the amp. This information is in the manual.

My cartridge is AT150 with ATN440MLb stylus and I'm using the lowest gain on the Ifi that is 36 dB. It's dead silent and I don't hear any hiss or noise. It's a neutral sounding amp. Probably because of great RIAA equalization.

I'm not concerned about the not so great measured performance as it far exceeds what you can get from Vinyl. While I get lots of enjoyment from listening records I don't consider Vinyl a high fidelity format.

Price of this has gone up recently. I think I paid 139 € for my unit which I think was great value. Current price of 189 € / $199 not so much.
 

nothingman

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Just putting these measurements out there which I found recently:


The 1kHz FFT show a similar pattern of noise dominance and very little to diminishing distortion, but SS captures better performance on the MM setting.

On SINAD, we run into trouble with Amir doing 5mv input and SS doing 1V output (they say: 1kHz sinewave, 1Vrms output into a 100k ohms load, 10Hz to 90kHz bandwidth, unweighted), but in any case SS’ SINAD measurement was .02% or 74db which is also a better figure than captured in this ASR review.

Not saying one is definitive at all. Just sharing in hopes it stirs discussion.
 

Risto_H

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5 mV = -46 dBV at input and with (measured) 36.8 dB of gain it results into -46 dBV + 36.8 dB = -9.2 dBV at output. 1 V would be exactly 0 dBV which means the noise floor with 1 V at output would be 9.2 dB better than what you get with 5 mV input. That's pretty significant and should explain the difference in S/N ratio. The same applies to many other measurements presented as well.
 

cgallery

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5 mV = -46 dBV at input and with (measured) 36.8 dB of gain it results into -46 dBV + 36.8 dB = -9.2 dBV at output. 1 V would be exactly 0 dBV which means the noise floor with 1 V at output would be 9.2 dB better than what you get with 5 mV input. That's pretty significant and should explain the difference in S/N ratio. The same applies to many other measurements presented as well.

5mv input and 36db of gain is .31v or so output?
 

oldmanhifi

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Aug 29, 2020
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I purchased one in July of last year new for $130. I've been very happy with it, though I wish the MM gain was 40 db rather than 36. As others have said, I have found it really quiet, even when I have my ear right next to the speaker. Very neutral presentation. Interesting how the headroom varies with frequency, but there probably isn't a whole lot of voltage being generated by the cartridge in the 15-20K region. Like Amir said, it could measure better, but absent gross noise and distortion, what is most audible is the RIAA correction, and this seems to nail that. For what I paid, I am satisfied.
 
OP
amirm

amirm

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5mv input and 36db of gain is .31v or so output?
Yes, see the review:

index.php


:)
 

Bob from Florida

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The record grove noise and distortion will be quite high by itself. And the noise is loaded in lower frequencies where we are less sensitive. So probably not. I let owners give real-life answers.
Direct comparison between Musical Surroundings Phonomena 2+ and the Zen had a marked difference with hum in playback. The Zen had overall noise about 12 db less than the Phonomena. This was measured at a fixed distance from the speaker at a fixed volume measured by my iPhone spectrum app. I am surprised it did not measure better given my preference of the Zen over the more expensive Phonomena. Maybe it simply comes down to power supply noise and RIAA accuracy.
Thanks for testing it.
 

Bob from Florida

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I purchased one in July of last year new for $130. I've been very happy with it, though I wish the MM gain was 40 db rather than 36.
If your line stage supports it, you could use the balanced output. You get 6 db more gain, which will get you 42 db on setting one.
 

SoundsGood2Me

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Hey can anyone please explain why all the phono amps noise floors rise at lower frequencies? They all have that same tendency yet preamps and power amps don't do this. Aaaanyone?
 

mike70

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Hey can anyone please explain why all the phono amps noise floors rise at lower frequencies? They all have that same tendency yet preamps and power amps don't do this. Aaaanyone?

I don't know really ... but remember the RIAA equalization ... phono preamps apply huge levels of amplification in lower frequencies, maybe that's the reason
 

Bob from Florida

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I don't know really ... but remember the RIAA equalization ... phono preamps apply huge levels of amplification in lower frequencies, maybe that's the reason
Frequencies below 1 khz are attenuated by as much as 20 db while above 1 khz are boosted by as much as 20 db during the cutting process. Not linear but a curve. The opposite occurs during playback to get a "flat" frequency response.
 

Risto_H

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Frequencies below 1 khz are attenuated by as much as 20 db while above 1 khz are boosted by as much as 20 db during the cutting process. Not linear but a curve. The opposite occurs during playback to get a "flat" frequency response.
Yes and the noise floor follows approximately the shape of RIAA equalization unless there's some sort of anomaly that bends either high or low frequencies.
 
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