If you thought the Dongle DAC wars were getting competitive, iFi just made the digital music streaming category a lot more interesting. The iFi ZEN Signature lineup is currently on my desk under review and the one thing missing was a hi-res streamer that worked with both Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect. Enter the new iFI ZEN Stream.
The iFi ZEN Stream 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. It utilizes an open-source architecture making it flexible and future-proof…mostly.
The iFi ZEN Stream is a rather comprehensive and flexible solution in one rather small box. Its open-source architecture ensures the user is not tied to a specific platform or app, offering a wealth of options and the ability to add more via programmable firmware.
Its Linux-based operating system offers 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.
The ZEN Stream’s hi-res audio includes support for PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD up to 11.2MHz (DSD256) over Wi-Fi, as well as over Ethernet cable.
Digital inputs include 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).
2 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 USB 3.0 and use iFi’s ANC II active noise cancellation to remove distortion from the audio signal.
The iFi ZEN Stream also includes the following features:
- Integrated Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect: Users of these online music services can stream directly from the Tidal and Spotify apps
- 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 ensures 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: At launch, the ZEN Stream is compatible with Roon Bridge software, making in suitable for a Roon environment, and full Roon Ready 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.
The iFi ZEN Stream is a logical addition to any iFi ZEN or ZEN Signature desktop system and we can’t wait to review this very affordable network streamer that looks to offer almost anything one could need.
For more information: TBA