iFi mixes audio-enhancing cocktail for Zen One Signature release
Music lovers hoping to enjoy high-resolution audio from a smartphone may well find that the conversion circuitry inside is simply not up to the task. The Zen One Signature DAC from Brit audio specialist iFi has been designed to rectify that.
A digital-to-analog converter essentially does what its name suggests, converting a digital input signal into an analog output signal. Lots of our devices already pack one, including the laptop I'm using to write this overview, my portable audio player I'm listening to and even my smartphone.
But DACs in such devices can be on the basic side, meaning that if you like your digital music at the highest resolution possible, you're probably going to need some assistance from dedicated conversion hardware. That's precisely what the Zen One Signature is designed to offer.
Described as a universal DAC, the curvy unit essentially combines design elements from the company's award-winning Zen DAC V2 and Zen Blue V2 devices, while also mixing in some Signature-grade circuitry.
The new Zen includes the same DAC stage found in the award-winning Zen DAC V2, which means a Burr-Brown chipset with built-in MQA decoder that supports PCM-format playback at up to 32-bit/384-kHz resolution as well as native DSD256. And thanks to the chip's four-channel design, the PCM and DSD are routed to separate pathways for "bit-perfect" performance.
To this audio cocktail, iFi has added S/PDIF optical and coaxial and USB Type B inputs, with an optimized 16-bit XMOS chip processing the audio data from these inputs for full PCM resolution over USB and a sample rate of up to 192 kHz over S/PDIF.
The Zen One Signature has also been treated to the Bluetooth 5.1 technology found in the Blue V2 model, with support for high-resolution streaming coming courtesy of the aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, LDAC and HWA/LHDC codecs.
The Signature part of the equation ensures that "every element of its circuitry is designed for pure performance." This translates to high-end components such as Panasonic OS-CDN and Elna Silmic II capacitors, Vishay MELF resistors, and short signal pathways. The unit also ships with an ultra-low-noise DC power supply, though it can be powered over USB from the device it's connected to.
Wrapped in blue-shaded aluminum housing, the new Zen rocks control buttons on the front panel for switching input sources as well as LEDs that display in different colors to represent audio format and sample rate. The panel around back sports RCA outputs and a balanced 4.4-mm outputs, together with the various inputs already mentioned.
Where some members of iFi's family include an amplifier stage, this model does not so will need to serve as a quality-enhancing bridge between digital audio input and signal output via a hi-fi amp in the living room, active speakers in the lounge or the headphone amp on the home-office desk.
Developed as an audio hub for smartphones, tablets, PCs, laptops, audio servers, TVs and games consoles, the Zen One Signature is on sale now for a recommended retail price of US$349.
Product page: Zen One Signature