iFi Audio ZEN Stream Review

iFi Audio ZEN Stream

In this review we take a close look at the iFi Audio ZEN Stream, selling for $/€/£ 399 .

 

Disclaimer: iFi Audio sent the ZEN Stream to me to be featured on Headfonia.com, it remains the property of iFi Audio at all time.

iFi Audio

Belonging to the group AMR (Abbingdon Music Research Group), which is one of the largest audio equipment manufacturers in the UK, iFi Audio is a manufacturer of several DACs and amplifiers, as well as other accessories for computer & home audio. We already reviewed multiple iFi Audio products before this one, such as the Nano iOne, the Nano iDSD Black Label, the xDSD, the xCAN, the ZEN Blue, the ZEN CAN, Hip-DAC, iDSD Signature and the NEO iDSD. A lot of these products have entered our recommended buy lists.

iFi Audio has very open and charming communication with a helpful and kind attitude, 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 making you happy and they listen to the consumers, their clients.

The unit we’re looking at today is the iFi Audio ZEN Stream. Let’s get started.

Intro

I personally have never written about a streamer simply because my experience up to now hasn’t been very positive with this type of units.

Often they were incredibly complicated, hard to set up, hard to work with or just overly expensive. I also haven’t always had a need to go wireless but times change and so I have two excellent little streamers here with me now. Both will be covered on Headfonia as they are excellent and affordable compact streamers.

iFi Audio ZEN Stream

iFi Audio ZEN Stream

You can find the iFi Audio ZEN Stream dedicated web page here: https://ifi-audio.com/products/zen-stream/

iFi Audio is calling this WiFi audio transport “Streaming unleashed”, and that’s exactly what it is to me as this little unit is incredibly versatile. The ZEN Stream has one simple goal: to send music in a simple way from the Internet or your local storage to your DAC. And that with no loss of quality.

iFi Audio built the ZEN Stream to let you enjoy PCM384/DSD256 via WiFi/LAN. As they say: “Just add your smart device as a remote and away you go.” Here’s a quick video presentation of the iFi ZEN Stream:

The ZEN Stream is selling for $399 all over the world and for that money you get a nice box with the following inside:

1 x ZEN Stream

1 x Ethernet cable

1 x Plastic screwdriver

1 x Power adapter

1 x Antenna

1 x Instruction card

1 x User manual

iFi Audio ZEN Stream

iFi Audio does recommend using the ZEN Stream in combination with their own iPower2 power supply for the best of results. The unit we received also came with the optional PSU which is selling for $59-$69 USD/Euro.

An interesting feature is that the ZEN Stream allows to use it in ‘Exclusive’ modes. You can in example select to use Spotify only. That way all other operations are shut down in order to deliver the purest possible performance. According to iFi Audio it minimizes ‘software jitter’ which negatively can impact the quality of computer audio playback. In all my testing I experienced no jitter at all, and it’s the minimum to expect from a streamer.

The iFi Audio ZEN Stream is all about versatility and it allows you to stream from the following sources:

  • Stream straight from Spotify/Tidal apps with Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect
  • From any DLNA certified streaming app (our own app is imminent!)
  • Integrated Airplay and Chromecast (available soon) – easy streaming from Apple and Android devices
  • ROON Ready functionality
  • NAA operation in conjunction with Sygnalist’s HQPlayer software

So the ZEN Stream basically covers all popular services, such as Qobuz, QQMusic, YT Music, J River, Audirvana, Foobar3000, VLC, MediaMonkey and many more. This is simply great and incredible for a streamer at this price level.

iFi Audio ZEN Stream

We will get into the “usability” of the several of these streaming sources later in this article.

Design & Build quality

The ZEN Stream’s design is very familiar as it is part of the iFi Audio ZEN series. It’s a very recognizable design and they’re all units with a small form factor. Ideally for all of us with an overly full desk or limited space. The ZEN Stream measures 158 x 100 x 35mm (6.2” x 3.9” x 1.4”) and it only weighs 578g, or 1.14lbs.

So build quality wise, there really is nothing negative to say about the ZEN Stream unit. Those who are familiar with iFi Audio know that the BQ is top notch and there is plenty of positive feedback to be found online. But also on the inside of the unit, iFi Audio is making sure the quality is great. You get carefully chosen circuit components including discrete, high-grade surface-mounted devices such as TDK C0G multilayer ceramic capacitors and inductors from Taiyo Yuden and Murata. iFi Audio also uses high-PSRR, low idle current, low-dropout voltage regulators with soft start. This according to iFi Audio means maximized efficiency and minimized system noise. The latter being a critical point for all streamers and something that has to be non-existing basically.

The article continues on the Second page. Click here or use the jumps below.

Page 1: iFi Audio, Intro, ZEN Stream, Design & Build Quality

Page 2: Layout & Features, Specifications, Usability Part 1

Page 3: Usability Part 2, End Words

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

9 Comments

  • Reply October 5, 2021

    steve

    no comparison to other streamers? or sound quality depending on different outputs?

    • Reply October 5, 2021

      Lieven

      The reason why there are no comparisons is in the article.
      SQ Coax vs USB? No noticeable difference with this one

      • Reply October 6, 2021

        steve

        Will be looking for your next streamer reviews :). just feels incomplete to have a review without a comparison to other similar products or a benchmark. I do appreciate the fact that there haven’t been streamer reviews in the past on this site

  • Reply October 5, 2021

    Tomas

    Not a review in my opinion, seems more like add, but ok.
    We can understand now it is raspberry pi with volumio and does not have Chromecast.

    • Reply October 5, 2021

      Lieven

      Your comment got marked as spam. I “unspammed” it, though maybe the system was right 😉
      Not everyone is an IT specialist and knows a thing or two about the pi and how to build and configure one. So it’s good to see these kind of solutions from iFi and others.
      Of course for those who do know it, can do it and can put it in a nice enclosure, that certainly is the best/cheapest way to go. So for you this is nothing spectacular, but for others it can be, just take that into account.
      And in regards to this streamer, it really is a simple to use, super versatile one. So yeah, people will/do like it.

      • Reply October 5, 2021

        Tomas

        Thank you for yor answer. I think this is nice product too.I just think your review was flat and you omitted important information for buyer. Also this was your time to say it is not Raspberry pi, because it is not, i was not right.
        Anyway, good luck.

        • Reply October 5, 2021

          Lieven

          I never said this was a Pi. I said that if you know the Pi tech, you can build a streamer yourself 😉
          I don’t feel any info is missing at all though, we disagree there, but thanks for reading/the comments

  • Reply October 5, 2021

    Marc Walbert

    I do own a zen but I found difficult to engage with the streamer
    The price is very sharp and I do not understand all the services you get for that price.

  • Reply October 28, 2021

    Bobo

    I just bought a zen stream. Ehat do you recommend as a DAC- zen dac or use my DF cobalt?

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