iFi ZEN Stream Networked Audio Bridge Announced
iFi adds a flexible and affordable Wi-Fi audio transport to its ZEN range, dubbed Stream.
iFi's ZEN Stream is the latest compact desktop device from the Southport-based company and has been explicitly designed to allow your online music to flow from network to DAC.
The ZEN Stream is a Wi-Fi audio transport that connects 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.
The ZEN Stream's open-source architecture is said to ensure that you are not tied to a specific platform or app and so have the option to add more via programmable firmware. We are told that its Linux-based operating system offers exceptional flexibility, with the streaming community encouraged to work with iFi to create additional features to add down the line via OTA (Over The Air) updates.
Unlike some more DIY options, the ZEN Stream's hardware has been built to deliver the best possible sound quality, working in perfect harmony with iFi's in-house software development, states the company. From the device drivers to the kernel (the heart of the operating system), to the shell (which interfaces with the kernel), to the applications and the user interface, everything is fully optimised for seamless operation and excellent sonic performance.
Naturally, the ZEN Stream handles hi-res audio and supports PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD up to 11.2MHz (DSD256) over Wi-Fi as well as over Ethernet cable.
It is great to see that Airplay and Chromecast (landing later in the year) are integrated and that the Stream can be used as a Roon Bridge with Roon Ready certification already in the pipeline. Additionally, you can stream directly from Tidal and Spotify apps.
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.
Also, the ZEN Stream can operate as an NAA (Network Audio Adapter) in conjunction with Sygnalist HQPlayer software. 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.
ZEN Stream offers several ''exclusive modes'' – individual settings that deliver fully optimised performance by focusing operation on one particular mode of use, for instance, Tidal Streaming if you are going to be exclusively using Tidal's Masters service, or Roon Bridge, for users of the excellent Roon software service.
Of course, the ZEN Stream matches the rest of iFi's keenly-priced range with its silver-coloured aluminium faceplate sporting two multi-colour LEDs. One indicates internet/intranet connection and speed, while the other shows the incoming audio format and sample rate. You also have the option to switch the light show off, if you want. There are just two buttons: the power switch and a ''hotspot'' button, the latter used to join a Wi-Fi network.
Dual-band Wi-Fi reception supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, while a high-grade Gigabit Ethernet port supplies a cabled network option.
The ZEN Stream offers 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 as an alternative to OTA updates via Wi-Fi.
You get a pair of digital outputs – asynchronous USB and coaxial S/PDIF – to enable the Stream to hook up to a DAC (such as iFi'siFi's ZEN DAC II) 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, we are told.
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.
Of course, iFi states that it has used top-notch components, with a quad-core ARM Cortex microprocessor taking care of the processing. This is accompanied by high-grade surface-mounted devices such as TDK C0G multilayer ceramic capacitors and inductors from Taiyo Yuden and Murata.
Regulators with high PSRR (Power Supply Rejection Ratio), low idle current and low dropout voltage are also used, together with a synchronous 1.5MHz high-speed power supply controller. This, says the manufacturer, further contributes to the ZEN Stream's distortion-free performance.
The iFi ZEN Stream is available from June 25th with an RRP of £399 (estimated US$555). Availability and pricing for Asia has yet to be announced by the company.
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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