Today we check out the $129 USD iFi ZEN Blue for the first time before the full review.
Disclaimer: This post is part of our new First Look Sunday series, you can find all of the previous ones here.
About iFi Audio
Belonging to the group AMR (Abbingdon Music Research Group), which is one of the largest audio equipment manufacturers in UK, iFi Audio is a manufacturer of several DACs and amplifiers, as well as other accessories for computer & home audio. I already reviewed four different iFi products before this one, which are the Nano iOne, the Nano iDSD Black Label, the xDSD and the xCAN.
iFi have a very open and charming communication which makes things a lot easier, at least it’s been the case for me. They pay attention to the products of course, but they also pay attention to make you happy. I’m pretty sure this is also the case for their actual customers. Also I would like to pay special thanks to Karina for this review sample.
About iFi ZEN Blue
iFi Zen Blue is high-resolution Bluetooth streamer DAC, supporting all the major Bluetooth codecs available. It can also play your music as a DAC/Amp in analog mode, which you can switch from the back of the device. Digital switch turns the unit into a standalone DAC to use with additional amplifiers or active speakers.
The device supports a 4.4mm BAL and RCA analog outputs. On the digital side we have coaxial and optical. The ZEN Blue can only be used with Bluetooth connection. USB connection is not supported with this device. For USB, you need to go with the standard ZEN DAC.
Appearance-wise the iFi ZEN blue actually looks like a wireless router with its design shape and its antenna. Right from the start you feel that this is solely a device for home audio use. The front side has a LED light which indicates the sample rate and a BT pairing button. In the middle we see the iFi logo which lights up to show that the device is active, and it also reflects the BT codec type with different colors.
I liked the design language simply because of its sleekness and simplicity with the brushed aluminum finish. The device feels very rigid; from its silicone stoppers underneath to the outputs on the back, everything is solid and durable. Considering that it is a home device, nothing gives any worries to the user in terms of long term durability.
User experience is quite positive and the BT connection is flawless overall. It has a very good range thanks to that antenna on the back, and you have a nice woman speaking in the background, letting you know the connection and codec type. Pairing is extremely easy and straightforward, so you don’t have anything to worry about here. I used my Android phone with its LDAC support and everything is smooth so far.
Sound-wise, this one reflects iFi Audio’s house sound unsurprisingly, with a very clean presentation, a nice background, good resolution and clarity. To me it has a very neutral and linear response, good bass quality and good transparency in mids & treble. These impressions are from the 4.4mm BAL output directly, but my experience has been the same with the digital mode as well.
I really liked using the device with the optical output, directly connected to “the 1st” Hugo. The sound is very satisfying with my studio monitors (JBL LSR308). Sure, the Hugo adds some warmth here, but the ZEN Blue proves that it is a very good home audio device regardless. Considering the low price and the clean output, I personally think this is one of the best solutions from iFi. The full review will probably be up in February, so make sure not to miss it out!