Home Amps/DACS iFi Zen DAC Review – Still An Entry Level Standard?

iFi Zen DAC Review – Still An Entry Level Standard?

I've had a Zen in my studio since 2019, but is it still a great choice for budding audiophiles?

by Stuart Charles Black
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Part of the iFi Zen Mini-Series!

Shout out to Lawrance and the folks over at iFi for their continued support in sending this demo unit!

Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!! Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so..

The iFi Zen, since its debut, has been revered for its commendable performance in the realm of Digital-to-Analog Converters (DACs).

Positioned as a cost-effective option within the burgeoning DAC market, its initial reception was marked by its competitive price-to-performance ratio and commendable audio quality.

However, the landscape of DAC offerings has evolved considerably since the Zen’s inception, with numerous alternatives flooding the market, each boasting distinctive features and varying price points.

The pivotal question looming over the iFi Zen now revolves around its sustained relevance and competitive edge in the face of the current expansive and diversified DAC market.

As consumers seek ever more sophisticated audio experiences, the inquiry arises: does the iFi Zen maintain its value proposition or has it been outpaced and possibly overshadowed by newer, potentially more advanced options?

Today we’ll take a deep dive in and learn more about a product I’ve owned since 2019.

By the end, you’ll know if it’s still worth a purchase, and if it isn’t, I’ll steer you in the direction of something that is.

Deal? Cool.

Let’s dive in!

iFi's Zen DAC/Amp Review


Table of Contents

Click to navigate the article!

Features & Usage
Video Review
Photo Gallery
Final Grade

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!


Even despite my complaining every time a DAC hits the market (and for good reason), it truly is a good time to be alive.

iFi’s new Zen is part of the reason why.

It was the first time I received a product from a company and thought, “Technology is truly advancing at an almost alarming rate.”

Times are much different now.

No longer does it require your kidney to achieve great sound, whether in setting up a small home studio or just simply investing in a good pair of headphones and an Amplifier to listen to your favorite music.

If my maths are right, roughly $339.23 will net you 97.2879% of all you’ll ever need.

My readers and subscribers by now should understand that the Law of Diminishing Returns runs rampant in audio, as it’s rarely worth investing much beyond that initial setup.

Any subsequent attempt to achieve a better sound is almost futile (there are some exceptions of course), and will have you ending up deep down the rabbit hole (or whoring yourself on a side street for cash to buy more audio). Moar Audio.

Yo I got these Cheeseburgers man!”

It feels like iFi is attempting to set the bar high with their dirt-cheap Zen DAC/Amp, while at the same time impressively mapping out a standard and daring other companies to match it.

This thing clearly has no business being so affordable, and we’ll find out exactly why in this write-up.

Note: Some things have changed since this article was originally written, but we’ll get to that in the final word. Stick around!

iFi Zen

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H!

In The Box


RCA to RCA cables

USB Type-B to Type-A cable

Warranty Information

Startup Guide


  • Input: USB 3.0 (also 2.0 compatible)
  • Formats: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 384kHz. DSD 64/128/256
  • DAC: Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by Burr-Brown

For a full list of specs, head on over to iFi’s website and check out the Zen: Zen DAC by iFi audio!


The build of the Zen is the first thing that will jump the f*** out at you.

Go ahead, put it in your hands, and marvel. This baby is hefty.

Imagine flopping out of the womb at a cool 25 lbs. That’s what you’re getting here (sorta lol).

There’s weight to this puppy.

It almost feels like you could casually toss it on the ground and it would ask for more like Mick Foley.

One of the things I complained about with JDS’ Original ATOM is that it just felt too light. They’ve since rectified that issue with the ATOM Hevi and ATOM 2!

The Zen? It’s a no-fingerprint gathering, all-aluminum chassis having, balanced input dabbling, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ and dealin’, limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, rock-solid sun of a gun! WOO!! YEAH!!

The analog-digital volume control is a dream to turn, while the True Bass and Power Match Buttons feel incredible to the touch.

Everything about this beast screams quality, from the connections on the back to the sleek and attractive front.

It’s an elegant alien if there ever was one.

It’s kind of futuristic-looking sitting on your desk, and comes packed with a lot of features at this price point!

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review

Current troops: FiiO K5 Pro, iFi Zen, FiiO K3, FiiO E10K, Topping NX4.

Let’s take a look!

Features & Usage

On the front, we’ve got a power match button, which kind of mimics the effect of a gain switch.

I mostly always have this on; there’s no reason to have it off unless you’re running some IEMs or other low-impedance, high-sensitivity headphones.

The True Bass feature can be hit or miss, but I find it helps to add some girth to a genre like Metal which sounds kind of thin in general.

Metal is also notorious for being badly mastered, so TrueBass puts some much-needed meat on its bones and prevents it from sounding overly anemic.

I also enjoy the true bass feature with headphones like the HD600, Creative Aurvana Live!, or Philips SHP9500.

The Zen fills the 9500s out nicely while still helping to retain their incredible sense of clarity, detail, and depth.


The analog volume control can be used to control the headphone volume or preamp volume (on variable mode).

For the preamp section into some separate speakers/monitors, keep it fixed if you prefer to use the Volume control on the speakers and not the DAC, and variable if you prefer to control the volume on the Zen.

As a personal preference, I like to keep it fixed as it’s easier to manage and I like the output voltage being constant.

For speakers without volume control, you’ll have to use variable mode.

For a simple setup, try the Presonus Eris e3.5, and a set of RCA to RCA cables.

I’m using this specific RCA to mini (3.5mm) at the moment and also listening with the HIFIMAN Arya.

iFi Zen DAC Review

iFi Zen DAC Review

Pictured Below: Zen Blue

If you’re wondering why the Zen Blue is underneath, it’s because you can pair it with the Eris’ via Bluetooth connection with your phone!

Just use a pair of RCA to RCA cables, similar to the connection between the Zen and Eris.

The LED light indicates the audio format you’re in, and the Zen impressively covers a wide range:

  • PCM 44/48/88/96 = Green
  • PCM 176/192/353/384 = Yellow
  • DSD 64/128 = Cyan
  • DSD256 = Blue
  • MQA = Magenta

Zen comes with a 1/4″ unbalanced jack as well as a 4.4mm balanced analog output.

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review

iFi Zen DAC/Amp Review

Back Panel

First up is another 4.4mm analog output.

You can use this to connect to some separately powered monitors/speakers (balanced) via something like this 4.4mm to dual XLR cable.

For a while, I was using the Zen as a DAC (balanced) into the xDuoo MT604 headphone amp using the same cable from above which is another neat option you have.

Variable/Fixed Switch

The Variable/Fixed Switch that we mentioned earlier.

RCA/Analogue Outs

The RCA/Analogue Outputs can also connect to some separate monitors/speakers.

USB Input

The USB input is pretty self-explanatory, but I didn’t like the cable that came with it. It’s much too short.

I’m listening through the Zen as I type this, but I’m using the much better, longer cable that came with the FiiO K5 Pro.

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review

Too short.

iFi also claims a power brick comes with the Zen but I did not receive one inside the package.

These are the only 2 cons to an otherwise wonderful product, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Technically you don’t need the brick; you could just keep it plugged into your PC and it will always stay on that way.

The trade-off is that the Zen will draw more of your PC’s battery power that way; something to keep in mind regardless.

How powerful is the Zen though?


Out of the unbalanced port:

  • 280mW @ 32 Ohm, and 36mW @ 300 Ohm

For the balanced port:

  • 380mW @ 50 Ohm, and 70mW @ 600 Ohm

iFi rates the Zen as being compatible with anything 12-300 Ohms which is about right.

With the HD600, there’s plenty of headroom here as it only requires about 20mW from an amp.

20mW isn’t set in stone either. I can drive it with less powerful Amps & DACs.

Just think of the number as a good benchmark to try and hover around.

It’s important to note that I’d feel comfortable driving almost anything here. Power output specs aren’t overrated, but they sometimes don’t tell the whole story.

There have been plenty of instances when I thought a headphone wouldn’t work out of a certain amp but many times I was pleasantly surprised.

Some examples include a K240M 600 Ohm out of an E10K (yes you read that right), an HD600 paired with a FiiO Q1 MK II, etc.

The main takeaway here is that I wouldn’t be worried about power at all with the Zen.

You’re getting more than enough in 99% of listening situations.

Video Review

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Photo Gallery…

Photo Gallery

Click to see the Zen in action!

iFi Zen Amp/DAC ReviewiFi Zen Amp/DAC ReviewiFi Zen DAC/Amp ReviewiFi Zen Amp/DAC ReviewiFi Zen Amp/DAC Review
MQA supported.

Shoot 2

Exploring the different file formats! 🙂

PCM 44/48/88/96
PCM 176/192/353/384 kHz
Tidal MQA

Now for the best part, how does it sound?


I did a little comparison to the Topping NX4 and found that the Zen is a bit warmer with slightly more recessed vocals.

The NX4 sounded more sterile and a bit colder by comparison.

True Bass

I’ve been demoing a Zen since 2019 and listened with a vast array of setups and headphones, also trying all of the newer iterations that have since come out.

I have to say that I don’t use the bass boost all that much but do find it to be incredibly beneficial when listening to Metal music as we discussed earlier.

I also found that the Zen gives the HD600 a lot of life with the bass boost on. Many Wow.

This is significant because the 600s low end is very delicate; it doesn’t respond well to EQ or added bass.

With the Zen, I find it remains clean while also adding some extra zest.

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review

Power Match

Despite not using True Bass all that much, I do use Power Match (or Gain for Purists) quite often.

With IEMs, you’ll probably want to have it off, but I find myself with it turned on 99% of the time because I mostly listen with headphones.

The sound profile of the Zen is a cross between warm-ish and neutral which is typical for iFi and essentially their “house” sound if you will.

In Sylo Nozra’s “Losing Myself” at around 3:33, I found the background vocals were standing out considerably more than I remember.

It was like they demanded a certain level of attention that I don’t remember experiencing before.

On Kevin Garrett’s “Little Bit of You”, the High Hat at at 2:02 also emerged with a more immediate and noticeable presence, making itself known right away.

There was more clarity to it.

The background soundscape also felt more alive and coherent.

I had never noticed that before despite listening to the song many times with other set-ups.

It just seems like the Zen paired with the 600 is a great match all around. I’m not finding the 600s sounding quite as shouty or irritating (around 3k) out of the Zen as I would with other, more neutral setups.

There’s an undeniable warmth with this amp.

It just makes you want to chillax and listen to music for extended periods.

Sennheiser HD600

The HD600 pairs very well with a Zen.


So what’s the final grade?

Final Grade

This original version is a solid A and leaning towards A+ because I’ve had it here since 2019 and it’s never once malfunctioned or given me any problems.

The short blue cable and lack of power brick in the box turned me off a smidgen, and I would have liked to see iFi include more cables here.

I understand it’s a lower price point, but there are a lot of great features to take advantage of.

This would have been an even more insane value with some more appropriate accessories to match – even just an extra cable or 2.

Still, it’s incredibly easy to hook up (instantly recognized and running within seconds), its build is outstanding, it’s incredibly reliable, and there are many options at your disposal.

You can’t ask too much more at this price point to be honest.

Current Update

FiiO K5 Pro Review

The Zen is still something I was recommending quite often to people, and I still love it now though the situation has gotten quite complicated.

The original iteration reviewed was around $130 and an absolute steal.

If you consider that a JDS Labs ATOM amp + DAC costs around $200, iFi was basically giving the Zen away when it first came out.

2021 saw the updated Zen DAC V2 which added plug-and-play (no optical cable needed) console compatibility for an extra $30 ($160).

I still thought that was more than fair considering I do a lot of gaming on my PS4 and felt it remained an excellent value.


There is no more original Zen.

It’s been replaced by the Zen V2 which costs around $199 – now overpriced in my opinion.

I will update this article as new information comes to light and/or things change, but for now, I’m not recommending the Zen.

So what do I recommend?

I think the FiiO K5 Pro (ESS or AKM versions) or K11 are much better values than the Zen at this point.

No, you don’t get the balanced 4.4mm output on the back, or the 4.4mm headphone output on the front, but for the same price as the Zen V2, you can just get a K7 if you want to use balanced headphones and the dirt cheap K11 has them too.

The K7, like the Zen, is around $200.

FiiO K7 Review

FiiO K7 ReviewWith the K7, in addition to the RCA outputs, you’re getting the optical input, a coaxial input, as well as a set of RCA inputs.

The Zen only has the RCA outputs.

The only thing the Zen has that the K7 doesn’t is the 4.4mm output on the back. If that’s what you’re looking for, I don’t think the Zen is a bad purchase at all since it’s still capable of quite a bit.

It’s also plug-and-play with a console which pretty much cancels out the need for an optical input, but you may still use optical for other things.

Overall, I still like the K5 Pro/K7 more than a Zen and use them every day for different things.

I think what you go with ultimately depends on your situation, but as a do-all Amp/DAC, the K11 is likely the best overall value since it’s only around $130 (Subject to Change) and has everything that the K5/K7 has except for RCA inputs.

Learn More:


If you need the RCA inputs, the K7 is the best value at $200 since it has a balanced headphone output.

There’s no real reason to recommend the K5 Pro anymore (ESS or AKM) since the K11 provides the balanced headphone output for $20 cheaper. 

As far as those differences, the ESS version simply uses an ESS Sabre chip which is known for its ultra-neutral, clean, crisp profile.

AKM chips have a slightly higher output impedance and sound a tad warmer. Not a huge difference, but the ESS profile, to me, definitely represents just about the biggest “sound” difference you’ll experience in DACS; even though it may actually still be a placebo lol.

Outside of that, they are all very similar sounding per my experience.

Ready for the next article in the series?


Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve gotten some valuable information out of this iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review.

What are your thoughts on these changes? What’s your go-to Amp/DAC? Be sure to let me know!!

If you have any other questions or feel I’ve missed the mark on something, leave a comment down below or contact me!

I very much look forward to speaking with you…

All the best and God bless,





Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

Album List

Talib Kweli & DJ Hi-Tek (Reflection Eternal) – Train of Thought (2000)

Tears for Fears – Songs from the Big Chair (1985)

John Coltrane – My Favorite Things (1961)

Odie – Analogue (2018)

Tycho – Epoch (2016)

Chon – Grow (2015)

Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine (2016)

Grateful Dead – Terrapin Station (1977)

ifi Zen Amp/DAC








Ease of Use



  • Incredible Build
  • Very Powerful
  • Great Sound
  • Lots of Features
  • Extremely easy to use


  • No Power Brick Included
  • Blue USB cable too short
  • Could have included more cables

Don't forget to share if you found it helpful!

You may also like


Karthik January 1, 2020 - 10:04 am

Hey Stu,
Thank you for recommending the Zen for my AKG 712s. I wish I had bought them first before going for the Audioengine D1. Not that the D1s are bad but the truebass functionality of the Zen makes the AKGs sound great at the lower end. I still feel the sound from the D1 is very clean. I also wish IFI gave some adapters for the 4.4mm balanced port as finding a proper adapter on the market is trickier. I am not sure if having a 4.4mm to 3.5mm adapter still gives a balanced output. Did you get to test the sound from balanced port?

Stuart Charles Black January 1, 2020 - 5:45 pm

Hey man!

My pleasure! It’s a fantastic amp. I did not get a chance to try balanced. 4.4mm I guess is becoming the new 2.5mm because it’s more rugged. There are many people who have issues with the 2.5 bending/breaking and just not holding up well.

From my understanding, simply using a balanced adapter will not output the sound balanced as the Left, Right, and Ground are still all shorted together inside. Meaning: it’s basically pointless and will still be single ended. You would still need a 4 poled headphone jack (TRRS), as a 3 poled (standard 3.5mm TRS balanced cable) would not work. I think. Lol. It can get kind of confusing.

I did read that it does help with loudness or whatever, but I personally wouldn’t even bother if I were you. You’re in danger of damaging the amp actually.

I’m actually waiting for a response from a guy on Amazon. Check out what he said and my reply here.

Karthik January 2, 2020 - 9:14 am

Hey Stu,
Thanks for the reply. Yeah I did see those exact comments from amazon when I was looking for the adapter and was thinking the same. I will stick with the 6.35mm jack for my AKGs.

Stuart Charles Black January 2, 2020 - 3:48 pm

No worries my friend! Keep me posted on your findings with everything.

gonzoznog January 20, 2020 - 4:04 am

Can the unit output to rca and 4.4 on the back simultaneously?

Stuart Charles Black January 20, 2020 - 2:30 pm

Hey there! Thanks for stopping by. Not sure what you mean by simultaneously, but yes: It does have a 4.4mm output as well as a pair of RCA Analog Outs. Do you already have a set of speakers/monitors that you’re looking to connect to this bad boy?

Ridwan March 9, 2020 - 8:42 am

Hi Stu, I wanted to ask, what are the sound quality and power differences over single ended output and line out between zen dac and hip dac. I will mostly be using on a laptop, so either could suffice for me. But I am more interested in better audio, output power and battery-less functionality hence leaning towards zendac it a little. Also if you can, how they fare against e10k in similar conditions. My gear will be 6xx, 650, 400i and isine10. I have an e12, would i require that for additional amplification?

Stuart Charles Black March 10, 2020 - 3:28 pm

Hey I posted this on YouTube but it should help folks here as well:

Hey man! I did a side by side of the hip-dac and Zen for you. Sound wise they are very very similar (almost the same actually). I believe the Zen is just a smidgen more open sounding, but it was really hard to tell. I went back and forth on it quite a bit listening to Caribou’s new album Suddenly. The E10K is going to be more open, crisp, and cool vs. the warmer natures of both the Zen and hip. It’s a more neutral presentation whereas the hip and Zen are more “colored” if you will, kind of laid back, lush, warm, relaxing (insert word salad here). I was using my HD600 for testing through FLAC and Tidal. It’s more of a preference rather than one being “better” than the other. The 600’s get plenty loud enough with gain out of the E10K and power match out of the Zen. You’ll find yourself anywhere from 12-2 on Zen and 5-6 on E10K. Let me know what you think!

eric hsia May 14, 2020 - 11:47 am

hallo can this dac drive r70x? i intrested with r70x. but i already own zen dac. can this thing driving r70x properly? or do i need balance to get better result? thank you

Stuart Charles Black May 14, 2020 - 1:00 pm

Hey Eric! I think that’s pushing it but you’ll probably be alright. If I had to guess you’re not going to have much headroom though. 99dB Sensitivity is actually pretty good for a headphone of that Impedance so you may go for it! My HD600’s at 300 Ohm, 97dB get plenty loud enough. If you plan to run them balanced, there’s plenty of power though. What do you think? Let me know. Were you considering any other amps? The ATOM might be right up your alley.

Phil Sills June 7, 2020 - 6:25 pm

Hey Stu,

Ive had my Zen for a few months and love it. Ive had a few niggles with it such as having to unplug and plug it back in as it randomly stops working plus it sometiomes has an issue with my Corsair devices but a quick unplug and re plug in of either the Zen or the offending device (Usually my mouse) then its playing again.

Other than that I really love it. I mainly listen through a pair of HE4XX’s and occasionally switch to X2HR’s and HD6XX’s but the HE4XX seems to have been designed to work with it.

I was wondering how much of a difference their is in sound quality between the ZEN DAC and a CHord Mojo? Mojo’s are coming up for sale for around $320 dollars second hand so was wondering if worth investing in it. I have wanted a chord for a long time and just want to know if the sound improvement of the mojo over the Zen worthy of the investment?

Stuart Charles Black June 10, 2020 - 2:42 pm

Hey man!

Sorry to hear you’re having some minor issues; I am surprised by that because my Zen has worked flawlessly since day one. I would reach out to iFi about that for sure and see what they say because to me that’s disappointing and shouldn’t happen.

Anywho, about the sound differences between the Mojo and Zen. I haven’t heard a Mojo in awhile but I would like to demo it again and do an A/B test. I will say the Mojo was the best one I’ve heard along side the Bryston BHA-1 and I’ve talked about that quite a bit over the last year or so. I do think $320 is a fantastic deal on it too. I’ve heard some people having issues with charge after about a year, and it does run hot but to me it’s a great product and I haven’t personally had issues with it in trying it out a few times.

I’d like to try the Mojo again before I tell you definitively yes or no, but I’m leaning towards yes for that price. For $500 I probably wouldn’t bother, but I remember vividly how good the Mojo + Aeon Flow sounded together and it was really like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Keep in mind though it could have been the headphones too. That was around Sept/Oct. 2018. Check out my Mojo Review though and keep me posted brother!

Nick October 23, 2020 - 3:31 pm

Hey Stu,
I might’ve posted a similar message accidentally, sorry for that.
Anyway, I have a little dilemma, I got a pair of imported Sony CD900STs(impedance is 63 ohms, shouldn’t be too different from 7506 and V6), problem is that they have a non removable, fat 6.5 mm plug. My problem is that I don’t have a 6.5 mm interface to plug that into, so I was thinking of getting an AMP/DAC combo while we’re at it, to upgrade my current straight-from-PC setup.

Where I live I can get the Fiio K3, K5(non pro) and Zen DAC, the K3 being the cheapest, but almost identical in price to the Zen, when I include a 6.5 to 3.5 mm adaptor. K5 is more expensive than both. I am pretty new to enthusiast audio and would like your advice, which of the three amp/DACs should I get. I don’t really have any sound preference as far as I know.

I enjoy listening to many genres, Pop, Indie folk, Hip hop(Kanye for example), orchestral, nothing too specific, if that matters.

Also wanted to say that I really enjoy watching your videos, love the writing and the humor.

Thanks in advance and have a great weekend,

Stuart Charles Black October 24, 2020 - 2:42 am

Hey man! Thank you so much for the love. Hmm. Tough one! Gosh I have been wanting to try those headphones for ages! How do you like ’em?

As for what Amp/DAC you should go with, I would go with the Zen. I think you’ll really love it. Both the K3 and Zen can play Tidal masters, as well as files above 48kHz in general and DSD. I don’t know about the K5 regs version, but my K5 Pro also plays Masters in Tidal as Yellow (anything over 48). Both the K3 and Zen also have balanced jacks (K3’s is 2.5mm vs. 4.4 for the Zen). The K3 has an optical out while the Zen has the RCA outs. Both have gain and bass boost. You’re making this really tough! Lol. Sound wise, there’s not a whole heap of difference there, as in: you’re not going to care. I’m going back and forth with them now using my Senny HD600’s.

I’m trying to think of a reason to pick one over the other, but I can’t really come up with one. The Zen is a much heftier product than the K3, and you can output to speakers a bit easier with the RCA outs. K3 has the optical out, but it’s tougher finding speakers with optical in.

Both can also be used as just a DAC if you wanted to purchase a separate amp down the road.

I’m leaning towards the Zen though, and for me it comes down to the build. I know, silly.. but both are similarly priced and I feel like I use the Zen more often in studio than I do the K3. Love both though. The other thing is that the Zen is going to give you some more power, so for me both of those things seal it. Give the Zen a whirl! I do make a small kickback if you decide to purchase, which helps the blog and channel out immensely. I know you’ll love Zen. It gets high marks and it’s just an all around fantastic product.

Looks like we listen to a lot of the same stuff too! What are your favorite artists?

Nick October 25, 2020 - 10:51 pm

Hey Stu,
thanks a lot for the quick and extremely informative response, I have decided to go with the Zen, it should probably arrive tomorrow and I’ll post an update about how the Sony’s sound using it, my Zoom lectures are going to sound a whole lot better as well, that’s for sure.

I don’t live in the US so I can’t ship it from Amazon, but I can use your general Amazon affiliate link to buy some stuff that does ship to where I live, hit me up with it in your response!

Regarding the music I listen to – quite varied so can’t remember all of it, off the top of my head I can think of stuff like Beach House and similar, Daft Punk, some of Big KRIT’s albums, Bon Iver, Freddie Gibbs, Jack Johnson, classical music now and then, and a lot more, nothing too specific. What are a few artists you listen too currently? Would love to hear some new stuff.

Also wanted to congratulate you on the partnership with Apos, glad to see the channel grow.


Stuart Charles Black October 25, 2020 - 11:54 pm

No worries man! Where are you located? The links in the articles to re-direct, but of course not to every country lol. Let me know where you are.

Nice! I like some Beach House and Bon Iver. Wow Jack Johnson too. That’s a blast from the past for me. Is he still making music? I really liked a lot of his early work.

Thank you so much about Apos. Really excited about that. 🙂

Hmm. I mentioned to another fella on YT that I’ve been really into Day Wave here recently. He’s a solo act I believe out of Oakland California. https://open.spotify.com/album/3zRcLPFlbstom1vCWT3y9r?si=hlTX3G0tS0KK6o0OT4Hufg

I’ve actually been listening to him for awhile but just sat down with the album above in it’s entirety. Such great music. It’s really rare nowadays to be able to sit through entire albums anymore. Check that out.

Also today just stumbled across this band called “Turnover” I was listening to this album and they sound like a cross between Fleet Foxes, Pinback, and Minus the Bear – all bands you should check out too if you haven’t. https://open.spotify.com/album/0KruT6dkmYULduBmT23Svn?si=_Nv4YfzYRJizYyMbK4ltgA I have to run out but I will link you some more stuff in a bit. 🙂 Check those out in the meantime!

David Aliaga November 19, 2020 - 5:54 pm

Hi brother thaks for this review, i have a question, this dac/amp is capable of playing direct audio from protools?

Stuart Charles Black November 21, 2020 - 3:37 am

Hey David! Thank you so much! I’m not too sure about that as I don’t use Pro tools, but I can ask the rep about it!

Xavier December 5, 2020 - 2:26 pm

Hey Stu
I was thinking to “get in the hobby”, and listen to music in a more attentive way rather than just listening when I do something else…..But getting in the hobby, I don’t want to spend tons of money in case I don’t or can’t spend too much time on it
I was recommended the iFi Zen DAC on another website, but also read some mixed reviews, and finally read yours…..well, maybe the iFi Zen DAC is a good starter after all
Now, I like music with female vocals (Elisa Gerrard, Cocteau Twins, etc…)
What would be a good headset for this type of music AND a good fit as well for the iFi Zen DAC?
I would like to be in the $100 price range (up to $150 max if if really brings a huge plus)
I was looking on Amazon at headsets such as Grado SR80e, Fidelio XH2R, AKG K240 MkII? or any other recommendation?
Thank you so much

Stuart Charles Black December 11, 2020 - 8:58 pm

Hey man! Did you see my other reply? Out of those, I’d stay away from the 80e. It will annoy you after a short time because of the 2kHz (mid-range) issue. X2HR is more of a bass head type of headphone with a more pushed back mid-range. I’d probably steer clear of that one also because of the type of music you listen to.

AKG K240 is fantastic if a bit light on the bass. It’s probably one of the most natural headphones I’ve ever heard though. Great for older rock, Motown, soul, etc. I think that or the 9500 is what you’re going to want. 🙂 Both are in my Budget Kings series which I linked you in the other comment. I just like the 9500 a bit more as the K240 can sometimes sound a bit dull with certain types of music.

Xavier December 6, 2020 - 2:18 pm

Hello Stu
I discovered your website by chance and I LOVE it…..On top of reviews and recommendations, you explain things in the world of Hi-Fi and it’s great
I would like to listen to music in what you call a “critical listening”. Since I’m starting in the hobby, I want to keep my investment reasonable though
I’m not into metal, hard-rock, nor hip-hop. I like female vocals, bands such as The Silencers, The Smith, etc….
I’m thinking to get the iFi Zen DAC
But for the headphone around $100, which one of those would be the best pick to match with my type of music AND the iFi Zen DAC?

Stuart Charles Black December 11, 2020 - 8:54 pm

Hey Xavier!

Thank you so much for your continued support! Check out the YouTube Channel as well and sub there if you haven’t! 🙂

As for your question, have you seen the Budget Kings series? I think you should probably get an SHP9500!

You can use the bass boost on the Zen with the 9500 if you’d like some extra as the 9500 does roll off. But it’s an incredibly natural sound for the most part and it’s just going to be an amazing headphone for you. If you’re into vocals and hearing everything going on in the mix, the 9500 is most certainly an amazing experience. I bought one in 2017 and still use it often! It’s a headphone that makes me smile every time I go back to it, and will undoubtedly have a place in your space for years to come. It’s built really well and super comfortable to boot. Just an insane value, really.

Let me know what you think!

Greg B January 9, 2021 - 10:02 pm

Stuart, great reviews. Just found your site. Very informative. I have a question about these lower budget dac/amps. How do they compare to dedicated PC sound cards. I have a Soundblaster AX in my PC and just purchased meze classic headphones and don’t think I am getting the best of of my new cans. Would a Fiio K5 pro or the IFi zen dac be better choices for desktop music and gaming. If a dedicated external dac is the way to go, what would you recommend under $200. Cheers Greg

Stuart Charles Black January 11, 2021 - 4:46 am

Hey Greg, thank you! My cousin and uncle’s name is Greg! I don’t have a whole heap of experience with dedicated sound cards, but I will tell you this: My Lenovo X1 Extreme’s soundcard sounds freaking really good. Like I don’t even really notice a sound difference between it and some amp/dacs I have on my desk lol. A scary thought indeed.

Wow, that’s a tough call. Did you see my big shootout? I’d say the sound of them is very very similar. If someone held a gun to my head, I’d choose the K5 Pro because it’s more versatile, but you really can’t go wrong with either. I will link you to the shootout. Def consider purchasing from Apos! https://homestudiobasics.com/ifi-zen-vs-fiio-k5-pro-vs-jds-atom-vs-bravo-ocean/ Please keep me posted on everything!

James April 16, 2021 - 8:59 am

Hi there, great reviews – really enjoying.
Wondering if I’d hear the difference in price, as it were, between the ifi and a chord mojo?
Looking for an amp/dac for my akg k712s.

Thanks again!

Stuart Charles Black April 16, 2021 - 5:55 pm

Hey man! I’m actually demoing the K712! Check out my review: https://homestudiobasics.com/akg-k712-review/ Also have a final shootout coming that you will probably enjoy 🙂 But yeah, I would say there is a difference in flavor. The Mojo generally warms things up quite a bit but vocals sound more lively and immediate. Almost as if the singer was in front of you. Some won’t like the warm tone, but I personally fell in love with it. I think the Mojo does tend to outperform most dacs in the general under $1k range. Check this out first though: https://homestudiobasics.com/before-you-buy-a-chord-mojo-read-this/ If you’re apprehensive about that, I would just get a Zen DAC with the Silver Zen CAN for more power. The K712 is even less efficient than the other AKG’s (I believe it’s around 84-88dB Sensitivity) so I think you will probably benefit from that extra power the Zen CAN provides. For around $300 I really like that stack.

And if you were interested in the life-changing experience with Mojo + Aeon.

Talk soon!


Sasa A. September 13, 2021 - 11:34 am

Hey there!

If you could tell me a little about sound differences between Dragonfly Red, which I currently using in combination with Topping A50, and Ifi Zen DAC?

Thanks, you have a very informative website as Youtube channel to.

Stuart Charles Black September 13, 2021 - 2:42 pm

Hey man! Thank you :O) DF Red is going to sound crisper, more open, and more neutral sounding. Definitely an airier type of portrayal than the warmer Zen. The Zen is kind of like a cross between neutral and warm. Out of everything I have here, I tend to use it most alongside the FiiO K5 Pro.

Sasa A. September 13, 2021 - 11:41 am

And is it worth of an upgrade to Zen?

Stuart Charles Black September 13, 2021 - 2:42 pm

I wouldn’t really call it an “upgrade” per se, it just portrays music a bit differently I guess.

Sasa A. September 13, 2021 - 4:10 pm

Thank you!! Just keep doing a good things.

Stuart Charles Black September 13, 2021 - 4:21 pm

My pleasure, man! And will do. Thank you for your support and encouragement. It means the world! As always, keep me posted on everything as I’m always here to chat. 🙂

Miguel January 24, 2022 - 1:27 pm

Hi Stuart.
I had the IFI Zen DAC v2, I bought it from amazon, but I had strange ‘clicks’ when changing songs, so I returned it. Probably it was a bad unit.
I’ve just got the Fiio new k3, and I’m quite happy. I used it with a Meze 99 classics on my laptop (The meze 99 does not need more amplification). The only question I have is, am I missing something with respect to the IFI ZEN DAC v2 or are they similar in sound quality. (I don’t think I’ll use ever more than CD tidal quality or spotify quality).

Stuart Charles Black January 24, 2022 - 4:13 pm

Hey Miguel!

I have them both here on my desk and did a back and forth for you with Spotify. Funny you ask because I was actually just comparing them back and forth with the Eris e3.5’s that I just got and I don’t hear much difference. So as preamps, I’d say they sound very similar through speakers. With headphones, it’s more of the same, so I wouldn’t stress too hard about it. I will say the Zen is slightly but noticeably warmer than the more sterile/clean presentation of the K3. So as for the ultimate question of “Am I missing out?” it really depends on which kind of sound you prefer at the end of the day.

ruff January 30, 2022 - 2:22 am

Hey man,
I just wanted to know if truebass still works when the zen dac is used as DAC only through its 4.4 line out with something like say CEntrance Ampersand.
Thanks mate!

Stuart Charles Black February 2, 2022 - 6:21 pm

Hey man!

Nah, it won’t. I just tested mine for you. I’m running the Zen into the MT-604 via 4.4mm to dual XLR.

Francesco Ferrari February 28, 2022 - 8:34 pm

Hi Stuart.
I have the IFI Zen DAC v2.
I’m using it with an old Sennheiser 595hd and I’m really enjoying how it sounds.
I mostly like the smooth and well balanced basses (with power match and xbass activated); mids and voices sound clear and lively; I feel only high frequences to be missing a bit.
I’m looking for an headphone upgrade that could bring more clarity, detail, highs detail and depth without giving up on the smooth, worm and great mids of the 595.

I listen different kind of genres, buy mostly classic rock, blues, pop and, sometimes, lounge/disco.
Should I try the 600, or giving my taste, should I look for anything different?

Thanks so much

Stuart Charles Black March 7, 2022 - 9:25 pm

Hey man! How about the 400se which is my top recommendation in mid-fi!

Keep me posted with any questions you may have 🙂

Aleksander December 22, 2022 - 11:04 am

I couldn’t find the description of how Zen Dac works after connecting an additional power supply so I decided to test it myself.
The test result for me are clear – there is no difference regardless of whether the power supply is connected or not. For the purposes of the test, I set the volume knob to a fixed level to see if with additional power the signal will be stronger and the music will become louder.
Tested many of my favorite albums in this configuration (different genres of music) and in none of the cases did I hear any difference in either quality or volume. The headphones were connected to the Unabalanced and Balanced port, but the conclusions are the same – there is no difference.
Do yourself a favor and don’t waste your money on an extra power supply(especially the one from ifi – the price was sucked out of stone coated with snake oil).

My config during testing:
Device: ifi Zen Dac V2, firmware v7.40, Driver Version 5.12.0
OS: Windows 10 PRO
USB port version on motherboard: 3.1
Headphones: Sennheiser HD6XX(hardest to drive in my collection) with SE and BAL cable

Final words: Just make suree you plug your Zen Dac into USB port version 3(delivers more power than USB 2) and you are good.

I have a theory that ifi realized that adding a power supply is pointless(most users are already using USB3) and this is the reason why we will not find it in the box. It was probably too late to change the printed manuals and box layout.

PS Checked power supply specs on ifi web page. You need 5V 3A with 5.5mm/2.1mm plug, but please erase that from your memory immediately.

Stuart Charles Black December 23, 2022 - 3:20 pm

Thank you for this! I suspected as much, but I’ve never used a power supply with any of their products as I never felt it was necessary (plus they never include one in the demo box).

Zippy January 24, 2023 - 11:40 am

Hi Stuart,

Stumbled on your site by accident whilst researching DACs, great reviews ! I’m a complete noob, never owned a DAC previously, so am ‘batting blind’.

I’m wanting to improve the sound on my pc desktop, mainly for itunes library and internet radio, and have a pair of Eris 3.5 monitors on order to replace a, now aging, Samsung R1, and prefer wired connections.

Had considered Ruark MR1 MK2s and Audioengine HD3s, but the Eris’ were a no brainer for the price. Spare budget allows for a DAC, and love the build and design of the ifis, so which one ?

I don’t use headphones that often, and the Eris’ have that option, so, to my untrained ear, is there much difference between Zen V1 (£130), Zen V2 (£160), Signature V1 (£190), and Signature V2 (£235) ?

Here’s your chance to help me make a ‘sound’ decision ! ; – )

Stuart Charles Black January 29, 2023 - 2:14 am

Hey man! Nah, you’re not going to hear a difference – especially if you’re just connecting to powered speakers. I personally use the K3 for those duties. Not sure if you read the entire article here but I’m not recommending the Zen anymore (at least at this time) as it’s overpriced now IMO. That is unless of course, you can snag it for $130. I just don’t know what they’re going for nowadays. My personal suggestion is a K5 Pro.


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