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iFi’s ZEN Blue 3 Bluetooth DAC Can Transmit Lossless Audio?

iFi claims that the ZEN Blue 3 is the world’s first lossless audio receiver and transmitter with speeds up to 1200kpbs.

iFi Audio ZEN Blue 3 DAC

iFi Audio has revealed the ZEN Blue 3 hi-resolution Bluetooth DAC. This new component combines wireless connectivity with lossless CD-quality audio transmission and audiophile-grade circuitry with an emphasis on providing music listeners with the best possible Bluetooth listening experience.

ZEN Blue 3 Overview

ZEN Blue 3 provides three new function modes to suit any listener. These modes include:

  • RX mode which receives Bluetooth from a source device
  • TX mode which transmits Bluetooth to a device
  • Wired DAC mode

iFi claims that the ZEN Blue 3 is the world’s first DAC that can wirelessly receive and transmit Lossless Bluetooth audio with the inclusion of Qualcomm’s QCC518x Bluetooth audio chip and the aptX Lossless codec.

iFi Audio ZEN Blue 3 DAC Front

With a maximum bitrate of 1,200kbps, aptX Lossless claims to be the first and only Bluetooth codec currently capable of wirelessly sending and receiving CD-quality audio without losing data during compression. If your smartphone supports aptX Lossless, you can stream high-quality lossless music from your device to your hi-fi system.

The ZEN Blue 3 also provides backward compatibility with current major Bluetooth codecs including aptX Lossless, aptX Adaptive, aptX, AAC, and SBC. LDAC and LHDC/HWA are also supported.

Users of Bluetooth headphones and TWS (True Wireless Stereo) earbuds should like what the ZEN Blue 3 offers.  

Since Bluetooth transmission in all supported codecs, including CD-quality aptX Lossless, and also wired connection through USB-C, SPDIF, or analog RCA is available, listeners can connect the ZEN Blue 3 to an audio source like a laptop, mobile, or TV, and listen on Bluetooth headphones or earbuds.

With the included Qualcomm QCC518x chipset paired with a dedicated ESS Sabre DAC (chip not specified) and Hi-Fi circuitry, the ZEN Blue 3 is designed to outperform most Bluetooth transmitters and receivers.

iFi Audio ZEN Blue 3 DAC Front Left Buttons

RX (Receiver) Mode

RX mode receives Bluetooth signal from a source device, letting you stream lossless music from your smartphone, laptop, or PC to your hi-fi system. The ZEN Blue 3 forms the connection between the two ensuring that the emotion and detail within hi-res audio files are retained providing a better music listening experience. 

TX (Transmission) Mode 

For those using the ZEN Blue 3 in transmission mode for watching video content or gaming, there is a Low Latency button on the front of the unit. Using the ZEN Blue 3’s Low Latency mode, the time taken to send and receive audio is drastically reduced. When your eyes see it, your ears hear it – putting you right back in the moment, where you belong. This is great for gamers and TV viewers. 

iFi Audio ZEN Blue 3 DAC Front Right

DAC (Digital Audio Converter) Mode

For added use flexibility the ZEN Blue 3 can also be used as a wired DAC, offering 96kHz/24-Bit audio via USB-C, or 192kHz/24-Bit audio via SPDIF, which can be output via 4.4 balanced or RCA analog outputs.

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By including a balanced line output, users with a balanced audio setup can benefit from significantly reduced signal noise and crosstalk between channels, bringing all the clarity with none of the audio clutter or distortion.

Performance can be further enhanced with the optional SilentPower iPower2 power supply, featuring proprietary Active Noise Cancellation II technology.
Underpinning the circuitry are cherry-picked, premium components from TDK, and Texas Instruments.

The amplification stage boasts iFi/AMR’s own ‘OV’ (Operationsverstärker) series op-amps, outperforming commercial chips that use low-grade copper and inexpensive aluminum bond wire.

iFi Audio ZEN Blue 3 DAC Rear

Specifications

  • SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio): 109dB
  • DNR (Dynamic Noise Reduction): 109 fBA (odbFS @3 kHz)
  • THD+N: <.005% (10k load@ 20 – 20 kHz)
  • Dimenstions: 158 x 115 x 35mm (6.2 x 4.5 x 1.4 inches)
  • Net Weight: 447 grams (.99lbs)

Digital Inputs

  • RX Mode: Bluetooth 5.4
  • TX Mode: USB, Optical, Coaxial
  • DAC Mode: USB, Optical, Coaxial

Analog Inputs

  • RX Mode: None
  • TX Mode: RCA
  • DAC Mode: RCA

Digital Outputs

  • RX Mode: Optical, Coaxial
  • TX Mode: Bluetooth 5.4
  • DAC Mode: Optical, Coaxial

Analog Outputs

  • RX Mode: RCA (4mm Balanced)
  • TX Mode: None
  • DAC Mode: RCA (4mm Balanced)

Maximum Sampling Rates

  • RX Mode: 96K/24 bit
  • RX Mode: 96K/24 bit
  • DAC Mode (USB): 96K/24-bit
  • DAC Mode S/PDIF: 192 kHz, 24-bit

Included Accessories: 

  • Power Supply 
  • USB-C Cable
  • Analog RCA Cables
iFi Audio ZEN Blue 3 DAC Accessories

Initial Impressions

iFi has proven that it knows how to build affordable, high quality hi-res DACs that perform extremely well against the competition in the market; including products from Schiit Audio, FiiO, and Topping.

What’s interesting is that the iFi ZEN Blue 3 does not support DSD or MQA and the focus has become Bluetooth streaming with support for almost all of the important codecs and aptX Lossless.

Before you get too excited about aptX Lossless, it’s important to remember that the technology is new and that very few products exist that support it at this point.

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Your current iPhone 15 does not not support it and it will likely be more than a year before we see a wide range of smartphones, wireless headphones, and active Bluetooth speakers that can receive aptX Lossless.

The new ZEN Blue 3 is a forward thinking product that is likely to offer very good sound quality as a wired DAC right now and impressive lossless Bluetooth performance when the market catches up to it.

iFi Audio ZEN Blue 3 DAC

Pricing & Availability

The iFi ZEN Blue 3 is available to purchase from July 9th, 2024 at ifi-audio.com for £299 / $299 / CA$299 /AU$299 / €299.

Related Reading

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. ORT

    June 28, 2024 at 4:12 pm

    Well it certainly looks cool! What would the maximum transmit distance be for this striking piece of equipment, please?

    ORT

    • Ian White

      June 29, 2024 at 7:18 pm

      ORT,

      iFi did not specify but our experience with other similar products has been 20-30 feet as a maximum and that assumes that there are no interior walls between the DAC and the other device. We will test that when the review sample arrives.

      Best,

      Sir Ian

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