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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

Bob from Florida

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MC Lyra escala capsule. Zen was both at 72 and 60db gain. I use 68db on my ref2 (high gain using rca output). I only use RIAA equ on my ref2, don’t use other records (Columbia or Deca).

I don’t understand about measures, but this two electronics are night and day for Music reproduction.
I was asking your methodology to the comparison. How did you level match?
 

mike70

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I think a good method to compare cartridges / preamps is to digitalize and compare with ABX method and headphones.

Same record, track, turntable, cartridge, cables, audio interface with good ADC. The only difference is the preamp. In the digital domain you can (more) easily apply level matching and then use Foobar and ABX plugin, as an example.

If he can recognize the "better" preamp 8 of 10 times (or more) I believe every word he said.
 

AudioSceptic

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reydelanada

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I was asking your methodology to the comparison. How did you level match?
Nothing serious. Not pretending change your mind. We’ve tested this way many components. Sometimes we find very small differences, some times none. This time, that phono stage was so behind that even my friend was shocked. Not sure if phono stages can make such a big differences or this ifi zen unit was faulty. We’ve compared at home with this methodology 4000€ streamers vs 100€ streamers with obviously no differences. 7000€ DACs Vs 100€ DACs with no differences (or once very very subtle…). This time was as I’ve said, a very big step.

Makes sense? Don’t know. Hope someone can tell me if phono stages can create such big differences.
 

mike70

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Nothing serious. Not pretending change your mind. We’ve tested this way many components. Sometimes we find very small differences, some times none. This time, that phono stage was so behind that even my friend was shocked. Not sure if phono stages can make such a big differences or this ifi zen unit was faulty. We’ve compared at home with this methodology 4000€ streamers vs 100€ streamers with obviously no differences. 7000€ DACs Vs 100€ DACs with no differences (or once very very subtle…). This time was as I’ve said, a very big step.

Makes sense? Don’t know. Hope someone can tell me if phono stages can create such big differences.

Try what I describe before. My AT 33ptg/II is better than my Ortofon Blue with my Bob device's tranny.
 

Bob from Florida

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Nothing serious. Not pretending change your mind. We’ve tested this way many components. Sometimes we find very small differences, some times none. This time, that phono stage was so behind that even my friend was shocked. Not sure if phono stages can make such a big differences or this ifi zen unit was faulty. We’ve compared at home with this methodology 4000€ streamers vs 100€ streamers with obviously no differences. 7000€ DACs Vs 100€ DACs with no differences (or once very very subtle…). This time was as I’ve said, a very big step.

Makes sense? Don’t know. Hope someone can tell me if phono stages can create such big differences.
For the 3rd time - please detail your methodology? Just asking, mind is not made up either direction.

When I compared the Zen to a Musical Surroundings Phonomena 2 Plus, I set the gain at position 3 on the Zen - 60 db 1000 ohms load and the same on the Phonomena. Other than less hum on the Zen could hear no differences between them. To match to my internal phono stage on my Luxman L507uxii I stepped the volume up 4 db to match the Zen gain of 60 db, however, the load on the Luxman is fixed at 100 ohms. The Zen in that comparison had more “life” to it which I would attribute to incorrect loading - too low - for the Hana SL.
 

reydelanada

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For the 3rd time - please detail your methodology? Just asking, mind is not made up either direction.

When I compared the Zen to a Musical Surroundings Phonomena 2 Plus, I set the gain at position 3 on the Zen - 60 db 1000 ohms load and the same on the Phonomena. Other than less hum on the Zen could hear no differences between them. To match to my internal phono stage on my Luxman L507uxii I stepped the volume up 4 db to match the Zen gain of 60 db, however, the load on the Luxman is fixed at 100 ohms. The Zen in that comparison had more “life” to it which I would attribute to incorrect loading - too low - for the Hana SL.
Already detailed you my test settings some posts before this one you quote. I use 200ohms in my ref2. Loading differences does not make major sound changes in my system. I can’t distinguish between 50,100,200… I do if i go to 47k.
 

Bob from Florida

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Already detailed you my test settings some posts before this one you quote. I use 200ohms in my ref2. Loading differences does not make major sound changes in my system. I can’t distinguish between 50,100,200… I do if i go to 47k.
What I am asking is - how did you match levels between the phono preamps when their gains are not the same?
 

reydelanada

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What I am asking is - how did you match levels between the phono preamps when their gains are not the same?
148236EA-3B84-4821-9439-FC408BA169D9.jpeg


With this… might be not too much scientific, but has been enought the other 245 times we’ve been a/b testing between electronics.

As I’ve told you more than 3 times. We matched levels. Nothing too serious but enough.

Take care.
 

Bob from Florida

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View attachment 236086

With this… might be not too much scientific, but has been enought the other 245 times we’ve been a/b testing between electronics.

As I’ve told you more than 3 times. We matched levels. Nothing too serious but enough.

Take care.
The reason I asked for details of your testing is the louder source is almost always the preferred source. My integrated does 1 db steps so I have some confidence in matching without using a scope to verify. Now, I don’t have a $12,000 phono stage to compare - but my own testing with the Zen against 2 other phono stages did not reveal much differences aside from the Zen being very low level 60 HZ hum.
 

pma

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The pop is widely distributed across the spectrum with the highest peak around 700 HZ. Hopefully this will give you some idea of the range of frequencies generated with a major “pop”.

If you want to catch frequency spectrum of the "pop" or "click", you need much shorter FFT time record than you have used. Otherwise, the averaging nature of the FFT, over the long time interval, will make the spectrum amplitude low, with respect to majority of "normal" music samples. Click spectrum can be simply imagined as a spectrum of a single impulse with known width. Simply, 100us wide impulse will have considerable spectral content from DC to 10kHz, 1ms impulse will have it from DC to 1kHz.
Below please see a recorded click, its spectrum taken with 2048 points FFT (42.6 ms time interval), and finally the click in longer time span.

Recorded click, time span 9 ms
click_rec1.png


Click spectrum with 2048 points FFT, 42.6 ms length of time interval
click_spectrum.png

The click impulse is about 0.5ms wide and the corresponding FR cut-off corner is at 2kHz, as expected.

Click record in 700ms span
click_rec1_wide.png


So, 1/width (of the click) tells you the significant spectrum part, DC - 1/w

This is something to be considered and @amirm should realize this fact. It is the height of the click impulse that is important regarding overload behaviour of the phono preamp used. It would be good to test it.

The spectral frequency display might be of interest as well. Please see the sudden spectrum jump near the click.
click_spectralview.png


Another recorded click, now ADC is clipping!
click_ADCclipping.png
 
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DSJR

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Try what I describe before. My AT 33ptg/II is better than my Ortofon Blue with my Bob device's tranny.
Just looked up the prices of the Bob's Devices transformers. Are you mad sir? They appear to be $1750 or so :D

Sowter used to be nearby (they seem to have moved fifty or more miles away now) and I once made (and lost) a box to put a couple of their MC transformers in. I think they were less than £200 the pair with foo wiring too.. Must admit I haven't checked lately.
 

Bob from Florida

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If you want to catch frequency spectrum of the "pop" or "click", you need much shorter FFT time record than you have used. Otherwise, the averaging nature of the FFT, over the long time interval, will make the spectrum amplitude low, with respect to majority of "normal" music samples. Click spectrum can be simply imagined as a spectrum of a single impulse with known width. Simply, 100us wide impulse will have considerable spectral content from DC to 10kHz, 1ms impulse will have it from DC to 1kHz.
Below please see a recorded click, its spectrum taken with 2048 points FFT (42.6 ms time interval), and finally the click in longer time span.

Recorded click, time span 9 ms
View attachment 236167

Click spectrum with 2048 points FFT, 42.6 ms length of time interval
View attachment 236168
The click impulse is about 0.5ms wide and the corresponding FR cut-off corner is at 2kHz, as expected.

Click record in 700ms span
View attachment 236170

So, 1/width (of the click) tells you the significant spectrum part, DC - 1/w

This is something to be considered and @amirm should realize this fact. It is the height of the click impulse that is important regarding overload behaviour of the phono preamp used. It would be good to test it.

The spectral frequency display might be of interest as well. Please see the sudden spectrum jump near the click.
View attachment 236172

Another recorded click, now ADC is clipping!
View attachment 236174
Point taken. Since I last tried testing the pop I purchased Audiotools for my i devices to use for subwoofer tuning. Below is 2048 samples and below that 16,384 samples followed by 32,768 samples. Source is snapping my fingers near the microphone. Three different snaps but sufficient to show some differences between sample size. At the bottom is a 2048 plot from the original App - Spectrum. Same snap of fingers but fairly useless compared to Audiotools. The primary frequency of my fingers snaps is around 2 KHZ in all cases, but the FFT on Audiotools shows a much better defined peak with respect to frequency. I am going to try this test again with the new App.

1665312884110.png



1665313231129.png



1665313318133.png


1665313903493.png
 

SMen

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With this… might be not too much scientific, but has been enought the other 245 times we’ve been a/b testing between electronics.

As I’ve told you more than 3 times. We matched levels. Nothing too serious but enough.

Take care.
Your original description "no dynamics, no separation, no air" applied for me with the low gain standard MM. However with the next level (High Output MC / low output MM) there were dynamics, separation and air aplenty, and I came to the conclusion (even with matching volume) that something else was at play. It is of course not scientific at all, and two different cartridges ...

I've actually just picked up a balanced amplifier to test this input following another review, and with the increased voltage I am able to enjoy the standard MM again.

It's a bit quirky this phono pre. It might be the unbalanced voltage output in relation to what is downstream ... it might be worth trying the balanced input on your Reference 2. I was pretty shocked this weekend switching to balanced (in a good way).
 

bracko

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I have tested this phono stage against an audio research reference 2 in a quite well controlled enviroment. Levels matched, and switching from one to another by pressing one button of pre amp remote. The owner of the ifi zen, a good friend of mine,was with me, and he thought differences were going to be very little, as it happened with most of our Dac and other components tests we have done.

In this case, was really night and day. Music from ifi zen sounded dead, no dynamics, no separation, no air, when compared to The other phono stage. We were quite impressed to hear such a big difference.

I also tested an ASR phono basis and could not hear any major difference against the arc ref 2, but with the ifi zen in my system was like a different sport ;)
Honestly, I am very, very wary when someone says "no dynamics, no separation, no air" because those adjectives really mean very little when it comes to electronics and are mostly dependent on loudspeakers, rooms etc. Anything else is probably more in the head of the listener or due to wrong settings.

I really hope though that a $10000 and a $5000 phono stage can sound better than a $200 one.
 
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SMen

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Honestly, I am very, very wary when someone says "no dynamics, no separation, no air" because those adjectives really mean very little when it comes to electronics and are mostly dependent on loudspeakers, rooms etc. Anything else is probably more in the head of the listener or due to wrong settings.

I really hope though that a $10000 and $5000 phono stages can sound better than a $200 one.
I'm a bit wary of saying people are not (or just) hearing things ;)
:D ... usually it is just a sign of 'check your settings' - personally I think that this is about gain vs cartridge and whatever is downstream, and setting the volume won't necessarily be enough ... but I'll scarper if it's contentious ... :) ... and I think trying balanced - both units are balanced as well as rca. I think it is interesting when this kind of thing happens ... unless just a faulty iFi.
 
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bracko

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I'm a bit wary of saying people are not (or just) hearing things ;)
:D ... usually it is just a sign of 'check your settings' - personally I think that this is about gain vs cartridge and whatever is downstream, and setting the volume won't necessarily be enough ... but I'll scarper if it's contentious ... :) ... and I think trying balanced - both units are balanced as well as rca. I think it is interesting when this kind of thing happens ... unless just a faulty iFi.
Also, I've heard iFi Phono with quite an inexpensive cartridge and know that it doesn't lack dynamics, separation or air ;)
 

reydelanada

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I just tell my experience. I think I'm quite objetive when doing my own tests. I've tested other phono stages against my ref 2 and could not hear a difference, as I've already mention. Even they cost a fraction of the ref 2. I've tested a 100€ DAC fed by a rpi4 with amazon cables (Like 250€ in total) against my state of the art combination of Cables, DAC, DDC, streamer, etc, costing more than 20.000€ in total and I'm quite happy to say could not hear any difference at all talking about sound quality, scene, liveness, air or any other thing.

So when I hear differences, I hear them, and when not, not. I don't give a shit about price. Price != value != SQ. I also mentioned that my friend ifi zen could be faulty. I don't think we messed up with the test.
 
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