iFi, a British audio manufacturer, has garnered widespread recognition for its popular ZEN Series. These adorable tiny gadgets produce outstanding sound and are surprisingly economical, with the ZEN DAC V2 and ZEN Blue V2 beginning at only £159.
Now, iFi has increased its ambitions even further with the introduction of the ZEN Air series. This takes the four original ZEN devices and simplifies the circuitry while preserving the essential components. Consequently, the device’s price has been reduced to only £99.
The ZEN Air DAC is a high-end digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier. As with the ZEN DAC, the ZEN Air DAC is equipped with a high-quality headphone amplifier that can work on a wide range of head devices. It may also be used as a DAC/preamp, with dual RCA outputs, to feed an amplifier or a pair of active speakers. It connects via USB to PCs, Macs, and smart gadgets.
The underlying DAC technology is identical to that of the original ZEN DAC. It utilizes a Burr-Brown DAC chip that iFi prefers for its natural-sounding musicality’ and True Native architecture, in combination with custom technology such as bespoke XMOS firmware and digital filtering, as well as iFi’s GMT clock system to combat jitter. PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz is supported by DXD and DSD64,128, and 256.
Due to the True Natural nature of the Burr-Brown chip, PCM and DSD travel distinct paths — this allows both PCM and DSD to stay ‘bit-perfect’ in their native state. While the ZEN Air DAC’s analog stage is streamlined in contrast to the ZEN DAC V2’s completely balanced design, it retains audiophile-grade components. It also includes a bespoke op-amp with ultra-low noise performance and low-impedance power supply rails with Taiyo Yuden and Murata low-ESR inductors.
Instead of the extruded aluminum shell seen on the rest of the ZEN Series, the ZEN Air devices use a synthetic polymer casing with a textured surface that comes in various shades of grey. iFi says that the casings are not standard ABS plastic but rather a high-grade thermoplastic polymer with additions to minimize brittleness and increase stress absorption.
The ZEN Air models’ simplified circuitry falls short of the performance of the ZEN series, and a few features have been omitted, but the critical components have been kept. For instance, the ZEN devices’ completely balanced circuit topologies have been reduced, implying that the 4.4mm balanced connectors available throughout the ZEN Series have been eliminated in the ZEN Air devices.
Several of the changes introduced to the ZEN DAC and ZEN Blue’s newest V2 versions, such as the upgraded GMT clock mechanism, are also lacking. However, retaining the majority of the critical characteristics guarantees that circuit designs continue to use high-quality discrete components and symmetrical channel layouts. According to iFi, nothing else on the market compares to the Zen Airline, particularly given the price.
This post was last updated on 2022-09-28 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.