iFi has been exceptionally busy over the past 2 years updating its existing product lineup and introducing a myriad of portable options for your iPhone or Android smartphone. The iFi ZEN Series has been a huge hit so far; although my experience with the ZEN CAN Signature 6xx has been one of the few disappointments so far in many years with their products.
The iFi ZEN One Signature DAC looks to be a no-compromise desktop DAC with support for hi-res streaming and support for every Bluetooth codec with the exception of Bluetooth aptX Lossless which was announced in Q4 2021.
Described as a ‘universal DAC’ owing to its all-encompassing input options, the ZEN One Signature takes the DAC stage from the ZEN DAC V2, adds S/PDIF inputs (optical and coaxial) alongside the USB port, stirs in Bluetooth technology from the ZEN Blue V2 ($189 at Crutchfield) and seasons the pot with signature-grade circuit enhancements to create a desktop DAC solution for $349 USD.
The result is a pure DAC (no built-in headphone amp or volume control) that serves as a home audio hub for all your digital devices, from smartphones and tablets to PCs and Macs, disc players and audio servers to TVs and games consoles.
The ZEN One Signature’s singular purpose is to take the digital audio signal from any device, via cable or Bluetooth, and convert it to analogue to feed an external amp and speakers (or headphones).
The ZEN One Signature’s ‘digital engine’ is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chipset that iFi uses extensively. One such critical component is the XMOS chip that processes the audio data received via the USB and S/PDIF digital inputs.
The ZEN One Signature uses a low-latency, 16-core XMOS microcontroller delivering enhanced processing power; iFi’s in-house digital development team has programmed the XMOS firmware to optimise sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the Burr-Brown DAC.
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.
The ZEN One Signature’s hi-res audio credentials encompass 32-bit/384kHz PCM over USB (192kHz over S/PDIF), all levels of DSD to DSD256, and single- and double-speed DXD. Thanks to the Burr-Brown DAC chip’s four-channel True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables DSD, as well as PCM, to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in its native form right through to analogue conversion.
MQA – the hi-res streaming format – is also supported, with full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz. This means that the complete ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to just the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’ – ideal for subscribers to Tidal’s ‘HiFi Plus’ tier, where Tidal Masters (MQA) content can be found.
Bluetooth done better
While Bluetooth’s wireless convenience and wide device compatibility is well recognised, many people don’t realise how good Bluetooth audio can sound because they’ve only experienced it at base-level quality via rudimentary SoC (System on Chip) implementations. iFi has gone to great lengths to ensure its Bluetooth technology is state-of-the-art, earning it a class-leading reputation.
Making full use of Qualcomm’s latest four-core QCC5100 Bluetooth processing chip, every current high-definition Bluetooth audio format is supported, including aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, LDAC and HWA/LHDC.
Other codecs covered include regular aptX and aptX Low Latency, AAC and SBC (the ‘plain vanilla’ Bluetooth codec). This means that every possible source device is handled at the highest audio resolution its Bluetooth specification allows.
The ZEN One Signature is Bluetooth v5.1-compliant, ensuring the best possible range, stability and performance. Up to eight paired Bluetooth source devices can be stored in memory, making it easy to switch from one device to another.
Around the back resides an asynchronous USB Type B port, alongside two S/PDIF inputs – optical and coaxial, the latter doubling as a digital output. RCA analog outputs are joined by a balanced 4.4mm output, enabling fully balanced connectivity with a suitably equipped amplifier. iFi makes a balanced 4.4mm to stereo XLR cable, ideal for connecting the ZEN One Signature to an amp with XLR inputs.
For more information: ifi-audio.com