Home Amps/DACS iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review [New Standard?]

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review [New Standard?]

by Stuart Charles Black
iFi's Zen DAC/Amp Review

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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!

Updates:

  • 11/13/19. Article cleanup.
  • 11/25/19. Added Video Review.
  • 11/26/19. Added Album List.
  • 12/28/19. Added some Albums.
  • 6/10/21. Article cleanup.

2,046-word post, approx. 4-5 min. read

Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!

Before we get into the ifi Zen Amp/DAC Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..

I’m here to Help!!

iFi's Zen DAC/Amp Review

Crispy.


Table of Contents

Click to navigate the article!

Introduction
Specifications
Build
Features & Usage
Ergonomics/Power
Video Review
Photo Gallery
Sound
Final Grade

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

Introduction

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 receiving a product from a company where I 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 what 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 set up. 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.

So strap on your seat belts folks and get ready!

Specifications

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H!
  • 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!

Build

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. 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’ Atom is that it just felt too light. It wasn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but when a $130 product feels as solid as the Zen does, it makes you wonder why other companies can’t follow suit.

The Zen DAC is 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 really no reason to have it off unless you’re running some IEM’s or other low impedance, high sensitivity headphones.

The True Bass feature is probably my favorite so far. I have yet to feel as if it’s too much. It seems to do a good job matching the headphone in question, adding some sick low-end rumble without feeling bloated, cheap, or out of line. It’s really the perfect amount of added thump with a headphone like the HD600, Creative Aurvana Live! or Philips SHP9500. I actually love the 9500 paired best as far as bass goes. It really fills the headphone out nicely while still helping to retain the 9500’s incredible sense of clarity, detail, and depth.

The analog volume control can be used to control the headphone volume or preamp volume. For the preamp section into some separate speakers/monitors, just switch it to “Variable” on the back.

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

On the Back

First up is another 4.4mm analog output. You can use this to connect to some separate powered monitors/speakers via something like this 4.4mm to dual XLR cable.

Variable/Fixed Switch

The Variable/Fixed Switch that we mentioned earlier. Variable is for outputting to Speakers/Monitors while Fixed bypasses the Volume Control for said speakers and will be used while you’re listening to music through your PC.

RCA/Analogue Outs

The RCA/Analogue Outputs can also connect to some separate monitors/speakers. Just use something like this Dual RCA to XLR Male.

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 actually 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 really 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.

How powerful is the Zen though?

Ergonomics/Power

Out of the unbalanced port:

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

For the balanced we’re getting:

  • 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 most any headphones here. Power output specs aren’t overrated, but they sometimes don’t tell the whole story.

There have been plenty of times when I thought a headphone wouldn’t sound loud enough out of a certain amp but many times I was pleasantly surprised. Some examples include a K240 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

Don’t forget to leave me some love! <3

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! 🙂

OFF
PCM 44/48/88/96
PCM 176/192/353/384 kHz
DSD64/DSD128
DSD256
Tidal MQA

Now for the best part, how does it sound?

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.

As mentioned earlier, the bass button here sounds marvelous to my ears. In testing 3 different headphones I found that it never over-exaggerates the low end. With most Amps & DACs, I tend to keep the bass off because I just find that it doesn’t really enhance the sound, and in most cases actually detracts from the overall experience. With the Zen I find myself keeping it on more often than not.

It adds a perfect amount and seems to match the headphone’s low-end profile better than most. I feel like some amps try to add some arbitrary amount to all songs spread across the board. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I find the Zen to tailor its bass specific to the headphone in question.

I found the Zen giving the HD600’s a lot of life with the bass boost on. Many Wow. Such life. This is significant because the 600’s low end is very delicate; it doesn’t really 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

The Power Match (or Gain for purists), is mostly always kept on as well. With IEM’s 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.

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 @ 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 even 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 600’s 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 of time. It’s a relaxing, inviting sound that will satisfy nearly everyone, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Sennheiser HD600

The HD600 pairs very well with a Zen.

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)

So what’s the final grade?

Final Grade

This Amp deserves a solid A. The short blue cable and lack of power brick in the box turned me off a smidgen. I would have liked to see iFi include more cables here. I understand it’s a lower price point, but there’s 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 sounds great, and there’s a lot of options at your disposal. You can’t ask too much more at this price point to be honest.

 

 

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.

Does Zen sound like an amazing value? 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,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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!

ifi Zen Amp/DAC

4.9

Build

5.0/5

Sound

5.0/5

Features

5.0/5

Ease of Use

4.5/5

Pros

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

Cons

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

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26 comments

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?

Reply
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.

Reply
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.

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

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

Reply
gonzoznog January 20, 2020 - 4:04 am

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

Reply
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?

Reply
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?

Reply
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!

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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?

Reply
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!

Reply
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,
Nick.

Reply
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?

Reply
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.

Nick

Reply
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!

Reply
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?

Reply
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!

Reply
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

Reply
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.

Reply
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?
Thanks

Reply
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!

Reply
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

Reply
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!

Reply
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!

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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!

-Stu

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