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Zen Blue brings wireless streaming to legacy hi-fi setups

Zen Blue brings wireless strea...
With the Zen Blue, you can bring Bluetooth streaming to any audio system
With the Zen Blue, you can bring Bluetooth streaming to any audio system
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The Zen Blue can be cabled to powered speakers or a hi-fi amplifier via analog or digital connections
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The Zen Blue can be cabled to powered speakers or a hi-fi amplifier via analog or digital connections
The LED to the front and center changes color to signify which codec is in play, while the light to the right indicates the sample rate
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The LED to the front and center changes color to signify which codec is in play, while the light to the right indicates the sample rate
There are RCA and balanced analog outputs, as well as optical/coaxial connection for digital output
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There are RCA and balanced analog outputs, as well as optical/coaxial connection for digital output
The Zen Blue is "the world’s first Bluetooth receiver supporting all the latest hi-res codecs for the best-quality music streaming from smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs to any audio system"
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The Zen Blue is "the world’s first Bluetooth receiver supporting all the latest hi-res codecs for the best-quality music streaming from smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs to any audio system"
With the Zen Blue, you can bring Bluetooth streaming to any audio system
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With the Zen Blue, you can bring Bluetooth streaming to any audio system

Vinyl is on the rise, so you may be tempted to dust off your once-retired living room hi-fi setup and spin up a party. But what if you also want to stream digital music from your smartphone and your amplifier lacks a receiver? Provided you have spare analog or digital input ports, you can add one into the mix – such as the Zen Blue from the UK's iFi Audio.

The Southport-based audio hardware maker says that the Zen Blue is "the world’s first Bluetooth receiver supporting all the latest hi-res codecs for the best-quality music streaming from smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs to any audio system."

The 158 x 35 x 100-mm (6.2 x 1.3 x 3.9-in) aluminum box can be cabled to a hi-fi system or powered speakers via analog or digital connections and the latest 24-bit audio streaming formats are covered, including aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, LDAC and HWA, as well as regular aptX, AAC and SBC codecs.

The LED to the front and center changes color to signify which codec is in play, while the light to the right indicates the sample rate
The LED to the front and center changes color to signify which codec is in play, while the light to the right indicates the sample rate

And iFi Audio is promising top notch streaming quality too. "Bluetooth reception represents a mere convenience for many audio manufacturers, enabled in the simplest and cheapest way to ‘tick a box’ on the features list," reads the company's announcement. "But the manner in which Bluetooth is implemented – the quality of signal processing and the circuitry that surrounds it – has a big impact on performance. Not all Bluetooth sounds the same, and iFi engineers its products to obtain the best possible performance from every audio source – Bluetooth streaming included."

At the heart of the streaming box is a Qualcomm QCC5100 SoC for Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, but the Zen Blue doesn't reply on its built-in digital-to-analog conversion, iFi has included separate digital and analog stages – the signal runs from the QCC5100 to an ESS Sabre DAC to convert it from digital to analog for output.

The Zen Blue can remember up to seven paired source devices, is reported to facilitate low distortion playback with high dynamic range and, unusually for a DAC at the inexpensive end of the market, features a balanced analog output stage.

The Zen Blue is priced at US$129.

Product page: Zen Blue

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