(September 26, 2019) Southport, UK’s iFi Audio has unleashed a unique Hi-Res device crafted to introduce quality Bluetooth streaming into any audio system with digital or analog inputs. It’s called ZEN Blue (£129, $129) and marks the first of a new class of iFi products designed with top-shelf performance, integration friendliness, and reasonable pricing in mind.
On the outside, ZEN Blue appears to be a relatively simple device, presenting a brushed metal faceplate that houses iFi’s logo, a pairing button, and an LED indicator. The backside isn’t much more complex, giving owners access to a selector switch, an antenna attachment point, two analog outputs (RCA stereo and a 4.4mm Pentaconn for balanced output), and optical and coaxial digital outputs. The inside, however, carries some intriguing tech that’s locked and loaded to deliver an elite and broad-reaching Bluetooth experience.
Tapping the power of Qualcomm’s latest QCC5100 IC, ZEN Blue is capable of supporting the latest in Hi-Res Bluetooth formats. Those formats include standard SBC, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency (synchs sound with visual media), Apple’s AAC, Sony’s LDAC, and Huawei’s HWA up to 24/192. To ensure the best possible sound, iFi’s engineers have designed ZEN Blue to send a processed digital signal from the QCC5100 to an ESS Technology Sabre chip for conversion. That means the QCC5100 is used purely for Bluetooth functionality, not digital to analog conversion, separating the device’s digital and analog stages for improved performance. The ESS DAC and its Hyperstream architecture with integrated Time Domain Jitter Eliminator is tasked with analog conversion duties, resulting in supremely minimized distortion and exceptionally high dynamic range. Moreover, according to iFi, the device’s internal circuitry has been tweaked and streamlined by audio guru John Curl. That, along with ZEN Blue's balanced analog stage, guarantee full optimization of onboard technologies.
ZEN Blue is sized perfectly to have a minimal impact once incorporated into a system, sporting a 6.2”L x 3.9”W x 1.4”H case that weighs a mere 1.05 lbs.
iFi says ZEN Blue will begin shipping in October, quickly followed by ZEN DAC which swaps Bluetooth functionality for a USB input and an integrated headphone amp.