Today we check out the $129 USD iFi ZEN Blue in this review.
Disclaimer: The iFi ZEN Blue was provided directly by iFi Audio. The review reflects my sincere opinions as always.
About 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. 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 Audio has 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
The iFi Zen Blue is a high-resolution Bluetooth streamer DAC, supporting all the major Bluetooth codecs available (Bluetooth 5.0TM with AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, HWA/LHDC Codec). It can also play your music as a DAC in analog mode (like a line-out), which you can switch from the back of the device. The digital switch turns the unit into a standalone source to use with additional devices in the audio chain.
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. The USB connection is not supported by this device. For USB, you need to go with the standard ZEN DAC.
The x-factor of the ZEN Blue is its high-quality components (as always with iFi), and not relying on an SoC (System on a chip) method as other Bluetooth solutions utilize. Each stage of the process is carefully designed to give the best performance:
“The Qualcomm chip routes the raw, digital Bluetooth signal to a specialized Sabre DAC chip to convert the signal from digital to analog – any jitter is eliminated using our GMT Femto-precision clock system to deliver Bluetooth® that is a cut above.”
The ZEN Blue also comes with Bluetooth 5.0, the latest and the most advanced Bluetooth version with better speed, range, and other advantages.
The Zen Blue arrives in a very simple and modest package. You get the device on the left, and accessories on the right. The small box stores an RCA cable and an adapter for powering up the device. You also get the wireless antenna separately and you attach it afterward.
As always with iFi Audio, the packaging is made from recyclable materials. This is a considerate decision from iFi and I’m glad that they’re keeping this up. The presentation of the package is unimpressive, to say the least, but it works perfectly as I didn’t see any deformations from shipping.
Design & Build Quality
Appearance-wise the iFi ZEN blue 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 an LED on the right, which indicates the sample rate. There’s a BT pairing button on the left side. In the middle, we see the iFi logo which lights up to show that the device is active.
I liked the design language simply because of its sleekness and simplicity with the brushed aluminum finish. But design and looks are personal topics of course. This is just my feeling. Nevertheless, I think this is a very thoughtful design for home-usage. I also realized that it is quite smaller in real life than in photographs.
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. It’s rugged, smooth, and reassuring.
User experience is quite positive with the iFi ZEN Blue and the BT connection is flawless overall. It has a very good range thanks to that antenna on the back and Bluetooth 5.0 support. You hear a nice woman speaking in the background, letting you know the connection and codec types when you’re operating the device. 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.
The BT pairing button on the left side doesn’t feel very premium though. It is kind of a letdown because all the other parts of the device are exceptionally well built. But when you press that button, the tactile feeling is unimpressive and cheap, to be honest. You don’t use that button too much so it’s not an issue whatsoever, but I would’ve liked a better-designed button.
The review continues on PAGE 2 with more thoughts on user experience & sound performance.