iFi launches ZEN Stream

iFi is fast becoming one of the most innovative companies in hi-fi and head-fi today.

The company has already released several products this year despite disruptions caused by the COVID-19 lockdowns. This morning (UK time), iFi launched the iFi ZEN Stream.

From its website: “Described as a ‘Wi-Fi audio transport’, the ZEN Stream acts as a bridge between your Wi-Fi network and your audio system. It connects to a router via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable, and outputs to an external DAC (or an amp with digital inputs) via USB or S/PDIF. Its open-source architecture makes it flexible and future-proof; its purpose-built hardware and software deliver excellent sound quality; and its price makes it an eminently affordable solution for high-performance network audio streaming.

“ZEN Stream’s hi-res audio credentials are top-notch, supporting PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD up to 11.2MHz (DSD256) over Wi-Fi — highly unusual — as well as over Ethernet cable.”

At launch, Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect are already integrated and users can stream directly from these apps.

Other features include:
DLNA certification: Any DLNA-compatible streaming app — including iFi’s forthcoming Stream-iFi app — can be used to control the ZEN Stream and access audio content from online services and DLNA-certified network storage devices.

AirPlay and Chromecast: Integrated Airplay and Chromecast ensure easy streaming from Apple and Android devices. AirPlay is included at launch; Chromecast will be added as a free firmware update later this year.

Roon compatibility: The Roon platform has become the standard-bearer for high-quality digital music management and streaming — a great interface, strong flexibility and high-quality sound are all benefits, although Roon-compatible hardware does not tend to come cheap. At launch, the ZEN Stream is compatible with RoonBridge software ,making it suitable for a Roon environment, and full RoonReady certification is in the pipeline — a tempting proposition given the ZEN Stream’s affordable price point. With the ZEN Stream, you can add Roon compatibility to any DAC on the planet.

NAA operation: The ZEN Stream can operate as an NAA (Network Audio Adapter) in conjunction with Sygnalist HQPlayer software — favoured by many serious music streaming enthusiasts. This means it can direct packets of audio data received over Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable straight to the connected DAC without applying any processing whatsoever.

Around the back, alongside the Wi-Fi antenna, reside an array of sockets and ports.Dual-band Wi-Fi reception supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac for a fast, reliable wireless connection, while a high-grade Gigabit Ethernet port supplies a cabled network option of the highest quality. There’s also a USB-A input, giving the option of playing music from HDD and solid-state storage devices, and a USB-C programming port to upload software/firmware updates (an alternative to OTA updates via Wi-Fi).

Two digital outputs — asynchronous USB and coaxial S/PDIF — provide connection to an external DAC or amp with digital inputs. Both these outputs are regulated by iFi’s femto-precision GMT (Global Master Timing) clock circuitry to eradicate jitter from the digital signal.

The USB ports — both input and output — support SuperSpeed USB3.0 and benefit from iFi’s ANC II active noise cancellation to remove distortion from the audio signal. Similarly, the S/PDIF output incorporates iFi’s iPurifier technology.

The ZEN Stream’s circuit design has been painstakingly engineered to deliver superb sound, with processing muscle supplied by a 64-bit, quad-core ARM Cortex microprocessor. — Posted by Lam Seng Fatt

iFi products are available in Malaysia from E1 Personal Audio Malaysia in Sungei Wang Plaza, Kuala Lumpur. The iFi ZEN Stream retails at RM1,949.

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