iFi ZEN One Signature is a Sensibly-Priced Flagship DAC
iFi kicks off 2022 with the ZEN One Signature, a “universal DAC” that boasts a large spec sheet paired with a small price.
iFi's ZEN One Signature does not sport a headphone amp or volume control. Still, its range of connectivity options, enhanced true-differential balanced topology and ability to decode 32-bit/384kHz PCM over USB (192kHz over S/PDIF), single- and double-speed DXD, and up to DSD256 makes this compact DAC extremely attractive, especially at its price point.
To create the ZEN One Signature, iFi appears to have taken the DAC stage from the ZEN DAC V2, added S/PDIF inputs (optical and coaxial) alongside the USB port alongside the ZEN Blue V2's Bluetooth tech. The finishing touches include Signature-grade circuit enhancements wrapped up in a smart 158x35x100mm Deep Space Blue aluminium enclosure.
As we have come to expect, the ZEN One Signature is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chipset, selected for its natural-sounding 'musicality' and True Native architecture, according to iFi. One thing is for sure, the company should know this IC inside out and, therefore, how to make the most of it.
Naturally, that's only part of the story, and iFi states that the XMOS chip used to process the audio data received via the USB and S/PDIF digital inputs is a 16-core microcontroller programmed in-house to optimise sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the Burr-Brown DAC.
Furthermore, extensive jitter-eradication technologies are also applied to the digital stage, including the latest generation of iFi's GMT (Global Master Timing) femto-precision clock and intelligent memory buffer.
Additionally, thanks to the Burr-Brown DAC chip's four-channel True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables both to remain 'bit-perfect' in their native form right through to analogue conversion, says the brand. MQA is also supported, with full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz.
Bluetooth comes by way of Qualcomm's latest four-core QCC5100 chip, which also hands the ZEN One Signature aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, LDAC and HWA/LHDC, as well as aptX and aptX Low Latency, AAC and SBC. Also, up to eight paired Bluetooth source devices can be stored in memory, making it easy to switch from one device to another.
Being a Signature product, key surface-mounted components have been upgraded to high-end devices, including Panasonic OS-CON and Elna Silmic II capacitors. Moreover, the design has been refined to ensure short, direct signal paths.
The dark grey front and rear panels house buttons for powering up/down and switching between the USB, S/PDIF and Bluetooth inputs, alongside colour-changing LEDs to indicate the incoming audio format and sample rate. You can also turn the LEDs on or off and activate Bluetooth via another button.
Around the back, you'll find an asynchronous USB Type B port, two S/PDIF inputs – optical and coaxial, with the latter doubling as a digital output. RCA analogue outputs are joined by a balanced 4.4mm output, enabling fully balanced connectivity with a suitably equipped amplifier. iFi notes that it makes a balanced 4.4mm to stereo XLR cable, ideal for connecting the ZEN One Signature to an amp with XLR inputs.
The iFi ZEN One Signature is available at an RRP of US$349.
StereoNET’s resident rock star, bass player, and gadget junkie. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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