iFi Audio Unveils Zen Stream, a Dedicated Wi-Fi Audio Transport

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(June 25, 2021) The master of affordable Hi-Fi audio gear is at it again, giving the AV world yet another streaming-centric device. This time, Southport, England’s iFi Audio has cooked up a wireless audio transport born free of restrictive streaming platforms and sub-standard DACs. As it’s called, ZEN Stream is a compact Wi-Fi streaming component that acts as a bridge between digital music files and a dedicated DAC or DAC-equipped integrated audio component.

Looking very much like other iFi gear (such as Zen’s phenomenal ZEN Blue Bluetooth streamer), ZEN Stream’s Linux-based open source architecture gives owners complete control over streaming preferences, while allowing iFi to create additional – future – features using over the air updates. Internal components, such as a 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex microprocessor, TDK C0G multilayer ceramic capacitors and inductors from Taiyo Yuden and Murata, and low-profile heat sinks, lay the groundwork for distortion-free output. Active noise cancellation and iPurifier technologies further remove distortion for squeaky clean audio.

ZEN Stream supports PCM signals up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD up to 11.2MHz (DSD256) over Wi-Fi and Ethernet. It also supports TIDAL Connect and Spotify Connect for direct streaming from those service’s respective apps, streaming via AirPlay, compatibility with Roon Bridge software, and DLNA certification out of the box. Chromecast functionality will be added via firmware update later this year, and iFi believes Roon Ready certification is forthcoming. Additionally, ZEN Stream can serve as a Network Audio Adapter when used with Sygnalist HQPlayer software, passing packets received via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to an external DAC without applying any processing.

To hone performance, ZEN Stream can be set to operate in one of five exclusive modes (All-In-One, DLNA Streaming, NAA Streaming, Roon Bridge, and TIDAL streaming). These modes fully optimize performance for one specific type of use.

ZEN Stream’s simplified physical indicators and appointments complete a package that’s meant to deliver elite levels of performance without blowing up the wallet. The faceplate, for example, doesn’t carry any sort of display (leaving a user’s streaming service or control app to relay track information), only presenting status LEDs and a Wi-Fi hotspot button. And if ZEN’s onboard dual-band Wi-Fi isn’t used, the device’s backside gives owners access to Ethernet, USB-A, and asynchronous USB and S/PIDF connections.

iFi Audio’s Zen Stream carries a recommended retail price of $399 and is available for purchase now. Visit https://ifi-audio.com/products/zen-stream/ for more information.
 
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Mike-48

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There's been a lack of reasonably priced streamers for the audiophile. This seems to be perfect for the person who already has a DAC and wants to start using network streaming. It's far less costly than most such units I've seen.

What none of the iFi literature says is whether it supports GAPLESS playback. One shouldn't have to ask, but there's no other way to be sure. Maybe AVNirvana would contact iFi and ask?
 

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Great point. I’m hoping to source a sample for review... but, at the minimum, I’ll try to get an answer from iFi.

I’d hazard to guess the answer is yes
 

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Obvious answer... this streamer is only a transport, so PCM gapless is more or less dependent on the DAC that it feeds. iFi says that a very slight pause may occur when playing MQA.
 
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Mike-48

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Todd, that's not as obvious as one might think. AFAIK, gapless playback on DLNA requires the renderer (the Zen Stream) to correctly support the "SetNextAVTransportURI" DLNA command. Some do, so don't. Apparently, there are still on the market some turnkey chipsets that don't support this. I would guess it requires extra memory to buffer at least the start of the next track.

A non-gapless renderer ("streamer") feeding a DAC that can in theory handle gapless playback still will add extra gaps. I learned about that the hard way in several cases.

For more, see second post (by Cebolla) here.

PM sent with more comments.
 
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Point taken... and I do note that iFi specified PCM, not DLNA.
 

Mike-48

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I recommended a friend look into this, and he wrote back that the Zen Stream doesn't support Qobuz directly. That wouldn't bother me -- I use Quobuz via Roon -- but to him, it's a deal killer.

It's astounding to me that no one seems to manufacture a <$500 streamer (DAC-less) with a good, complete feature set, and simpler to set up and use than a Raspberry Pi.
 

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I have ZEN Stream in the house and operating… it’s in the review queue!
 

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SVS Prime Elevation x4 (Top Middle, Top Rear)
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dual SVS SB16s + dual PSA XS30s
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Video Display Device
JVC NX7
Screen
Carada Cine-White 0 gain
Streaming Subscriptions
LG Electronics 65-inch B6 OLED, Sony 65-inch X900F
I recommended a friend look into this, and he wrote back that the Zen Stream doesn't support Qobuz directly. That wouldn't bother me -- I use Quobuz via Roon -- but to him, it's a deal killer.

It's astounding to me that no one seems to manufacture a <$500 streamer (DAC-less) with a good, complete feature set, and simpler to set up and use than a Raspberry Pi.
I would just use it via Roon, too. I’m sure they have their reasons as to why it’s excluded. Hopefully they’ll be interested in discussing.
 
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