Home Amps/DACS iFi Zen DAC 3 Review: Great Value Or Massive Disappointment?

iFi Zen DAC 3 Review: Great Value Or Massive Disappointment?

by Stuart Charles Black
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

What’s the deal with the Zen DAC 3?

Does it improve the lineup? Does it have more power? Is it a great value like Food Lion brand Greek Yogurt?

Now available Worldwide

All of these questions and more will be answered in the order in which they were received.

Please stay on this page as we’re experiencing high volume. Your feedback is very important to us.

No really, let’s dive into the weirdly coloured Zen DAC 3 and see if it outperforms its silver and grey brothers Zen DAC 1 and Zen V2. We’ll discuss build, sound, features, and more.

By the time you’ve finished reading this article, you’ll know if it’s worth a purchase, and if it isn’t, I’ll point you in the direction of something that is.



Let’s get started.

Photo Gallery and Specs at the end!

iFi Zen DAC 3

Price: Check Amazon | Check B&H

In The Box

1x iFi Zen DAC 3

1x USB-A to USB-C Cable

1x 3.5mm to 6.35mm Adapter

1x RCA to RCA Cable

1x Quick Start Guide

1x Instruction Card

1x Sticker

iFi Zen DAC 3 Review

What Is It?

It’s always helpful to clarify what we’re working with if you’re new to the awesomely wonderful world of amazing audio things (that was a mix of sincerity and sarcasm).

iFi’s Zen 3 is a combo Headphone Amplifier + DAC that takes care of the Digital-to-Analog Conversion and also Amplifies the sound for your listening pleasure and enjoyment.

It’s a preamp, meaning you can connect it to separate active speakers/monitors like the Presonus Eris e3.5, and generally any speakers that have RCA or line inputs.

With its RCA outputs, you can also connect it to a separate headphone amplifier as well; utilizing it as only a DAC.

Front Panel

iFi Zen DAC 3 Review

The front contains the volume potentiometer, 1/4″ (6.35mm) headphone output, 4.4mm balanced headphone output, XBass+, and Power Match.

Power match is essentially just a gain button, but we’ll get into that and power output more in a bit.

The only time I ever use the XBass button is when I’m demoing metal tracks for a reader or just listening to older Thrash.

This is because, generally speaking, Metal music is rarely recorded and mastered very well and oftentimes, sounds incredibly thin and anemic. The XBass helps make it listenable and enjoyable.

Without it, I have a hard time even listening to older metal at all.

Back Panel

iFi Zen DAC 3 Review

Here we have iFi’s usual: a balanced 4.4mm output for use with something like an xDuoo MT-604, a variable/fixed switch, a pair of RCA outputs that we just touched on for use with separate speakers, the DC 5V power jack, and an updated USB Type-C slot.

If you’ll recall, I complained endlessly about the short, bulky, annoying Type-B cable that they’ve used since 2019, so this is much appreciated from my end. It makes everything so much easier and more manageable, so for that, I give iFi props. 


iFi Zen DAC 3 Review

The bottom contains iFi’s built-in rubber feet, a tradition that has thankfully appeared in every model and really does an excellent job of keeping the unit in place.

Those rubber feet really tied the DAC together, did they not?

Speaking of, the overall build quality and QC are top-notch. I’ve had the original Zen here since 2019 and it’s functioned flawlessly with no issues.

Connections are always solid, the units are nice and hefty like garbage day, and the volume pot has always been rather fun to play with.

This time around, iFi did away with the polygonal look and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s obviously designed for better grip, but I didn’t have a problem gripping the other ones since I’m not a lazy couch potato with melted butter all over my fingers.

Or am I?

Variable/Fixed Switch

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.


If you’re coming from an OG Zen or Zen V2, you may be shocked to learn that the Zen DAC 3 somehow has less power overall. I had to reread the back of the box about 570 times while comparing it to the other boxes and rubbing my eyes to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.

 Zen V2 outputs 280mW of power unbalanced at 32 Ohm, and 36mW at 300 Ohm.

  • Zen 3 outputs 210 at 32 Ohm and 18 at 600 Ohm (!) Note: Output at 300 Ohm is not specified here.
  • Both output 70mW at 600 Ohms balanced.

And, considering how much whining went on since 2019 about how “underpowered” the original Zen was, to me this seems like a step back from iFi regardless of your philosophy on DACS.

To be clear, I was not one of the ones complaining about a lack of power in the Zen and Zen V2 because they both provide plenty for anything and everything I’ve ever used. I’ve been harping on this point and will keep doing so because it’s incredibly important for a couple of reasons:

  1. People tend to listen to music way too loud and thus likely have damaged hearing. This is what causes them to think they’re not getting enough power when in actuality they need to chill the f out and stop pumping the dial into oblivion.
  2. 99.9% of listening situations, save for the most inefficient of headphones, require way under 1W of total power. The JDS ATOM line is a perfect example of this, though John Seaber told me the reason the ATOM 2 has 2.65W is that people started crying a lot and demanding more like the whiny little brats they are. He put it nicer than me but he still thinks audiophiles are the worst. 

That said, I’m still of the opinion that newer iterations of the same model (for any company) should never provide less as it’s fairly counterintuitive, so this is a rather strange decision from iFi and I’m not thrilled about it.

So, audiophile, just keep that in mind before you start banging away on your keyboard in an attempt to “stick it” to me.

Even out of the Zen 3, with power match on, I still have 0 reason to push the dial past 10-11 o’clock. As for why, it’s because I value my hearing (shocker, I know), and the second is because it’s plenty loud enough with a song like Gestaltzerfall by Animals As Leaders (and any song amidst the sea of millions).

Listen to the song now:


We’re also getting the same “sound” (neutral-ish) out of the Zen DAC 3 (Burr Brown Chipset), and just because I’m such a great guy, I tried out all 3 and had myself an afternoon delight swapping back and forth.

iFi Zen DAC 3 Review

The Volt 2 is that homie. Notice how it’s way more useful than an “audiophile” dac lol. That’s not by accident. xD

Come on, just sit back and have a laugh, would you?

The conclusion?

The “sound” is exactly the same, though you’ll have to compensate for volume since the Zen 3 has less power.

For instance, both the Zen and Zen V2 with power match on are louder at 10 o’clock than the Zen DAC 3 with power match on.


iFi did finally bump up support to 768kHz PCM and DSD512, but this isn’t anything to do cartwheels over as they’re pretty much the last company to jump on the bandwagon. No offense. In other words, they’re way late to the party so it’s not a selling point (not that it ever was imo). 

Like the Zen V2, Zen DAC 3 is still an MQA decoder and renderer, so that’s nice.

That said, Signal-to-noise ratio is a bit worse (109dB vs 113 for the Zen V2), Total Harmonic distortion stays the same (0.005%), and the Zen 3 is actually lighter than the V2 if you can believe it. (456g vs. 491).


At around $229 for the Zen 3, the slap in the face doesn’t feel quite as bad considering it does include a USB-C input and higher PCM for only $30 more. I don’t really give a crap about high PCM/DSD and neither should you, but I’m not going to start ranting right now. *deep breath*

Overall, it just seems like a downgrade and that’s rather weird to type. Side-grades are one thing, but a downgrade is not a great look.

It’s important to understand that in the case of signal-to-noise ratio and distortion, anything over the SINAD standard of 90dB is perfectly fine. I’m just pointing out the differences between past and current models to make my point.

Console Compatibility

iFi Zen DAC 3 Review

If all that wasn’t bad enough, the Zen DAC 3 isn’t compatible with my PS4 which I found incredibly disappointing. If I had to guess, they’ll probably release a firmware update similar to the one they rolled out with the Zen V2, but there’s no guarantee.

At this stage of the game, there’s no excuse for charging $229 for this unit and not including plug-and-play with a console. None.

This is especially damning when you consider the V2 was only $160 after the firmware update (originally the same price as the first Zen @ $130).

Why on earth would I pay over $200 for version 3 when it’s a downgrade in almost every important category?

And that brings us to the final verdict.

Final Verdict

Zen DAC 3-1 (Top to bottom)

You can well imagine that I’m not recommending the Zen DAC 3, and in thinking back to when I first demoed the OG version, it saddens me quite a bit.

I really, really liked the original Zen at $130. It was an insane value at the time, but the price has ballooned out to over $200, and not much has changed in the way of upgrades.

In fact, in terms of price to performance, the Zen series has actually gotten worse over time, and that’s a crying shame.

I sincerely hope iFi reads this review and takes to heart what I’m saying.

If you’re looking for a great value, the FiiO K11, K7, and ATOM are my main recommendations for beginners, and the Creative SoundBlasterX G6 is my top choice for gamers.

Interestingly enough, the K11 is the same price as the original Zen from 2019, and at $130 it has an optical input, coaxial input, RCA Outputs, a 1/4″ (6.35mm) headphone output, and a 4.4mm headphone output in addition to an intuitive interface and some other extra features. For $100 less!

It does not have the balanced 4.4mm output of the Zen, so do keep that in mind.

FiiO K11 Review

Back of the K11

iFi Zen DAC 3 Review

Back of the Zen DAC 3

If you do need the RCA inputs, I’d look to the K7 as it’s $30 less than the Zen and affords you better versatility and a lot more power.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

There’s no reason to buy a Zen anymore, and until major changes are made to this line, I’m not recommending any of it.

Since you’re reading this and in the market for a good DAC, I think the dirt-cheap and highly effective K11 is a great place to start. I also think that by and large, FiiO prices their DACS a lot better and provides excellent price to performance/value vs. money spent.

Learn More:



Digital Stage

High-res support: 768kHz PCM; DSD512 (22.6MHz); full MQA decoding

Line Output Section

Output Power

  • Balanced 4.4mm: 2V/6.2V max. (variable); 4.2V fixed
  • Single-Ended RCA: 1V/3.3V max. (variable); 2.1V fixed
  • Output Impedance: Balanced 4.4mm ≤ 200Ω; Single-ended RCA ≤ 100Ω
  • SNR: ≥113dB @ 0dBFS
  • DNR: ≥113dB @ 0dBFS
  • THD+N: 4.4mm <0.0015% @ 0dBFS: RCA <0.003% @ 0dBFS

Headphone Output Section

Max. Output Power

  • Balanced 4.4mm: >70mW @ 600Ω >300mW @ 32Ω
  • Single-ended 6.35mm: >18mW @ 600Ω; >210mW @ 32Ω

RMS Output Power

  • Balanced 4.4mm: >390mW @64Ω
  • Single-ended 6.35mm: >201mW @ 32Ω
  • Output Impedance: ≤1Ω
  • SNR: ≥109dB @ 0dBFS (6.2V/4.4mm/3.3V/6.35mm)
  • DNR: ≥109dB @ 0dBFS (6.2V/4.4mm/3.3V/6.35mm)
  • THD+N: 4.4mm <0.005% (2V @ 600Ω); 6.35mm <0.013% (1.27V @ 32Ω)


  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 90kHz (±3dB)
  • Power Supply Requirement: USB-C or DC 5V/0.5A (centre + ve)
  • Power Consumption: No Signal ~ 0.5W; Max Signal ~1.5W
  • Dimensions: 158x115x35 mm (6.2″ x 4.6″ x 1.4″)
  • Net Weight: 456g (1.0 lbs)
  • Limited Warranty: 12 Months

Well, that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi Zen DAC 3 Review and gained some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

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What are your thoughts on iFi and the Zen Series? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,





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Joe May 26, 2024 - 9:30 am

Hi Stu,
thank you for your honest review.
It seems this new iFi Zen 3 is really a big disappointment.
My old Fiio K5 Pro with AKM DAC chip can spread this weakling in its bread.
Really bad value of this iFi unit.

Stuart Charles Black May 26, 2024 - 1:02 pm


Absolutely man. Thank you for stopping by! I was so disappointed in this one and it hurts because I really like the rep who I’ve been in contact with since 2018. To be honest, it’s kind of awkward to have to write these reviews sometimes. It’s just, what is this? I don’t know who makes the decisions over there, but something has to change. It’s gotten out of hand. And yeah, the K5 Pro is something I have been recommending for many years. I’d probably still be recommending it if not for the K11 which has a balanced headphone output and is around $20 less. The K7 is also an excellent value for those who need the RCA inputs. I still have a K5 Pro here and still use it as it’s always been an excellent product.

Ken June 8, 2024 - 8:53 pm

Excellent review. The biggest complaint I have about iFi’s DAC/amp products is their insistence on using analog volume control which has very obvious volume imbalance at low volumes. Companies like Fiio fixed things like this with the K5 a long time ago. Lack of console support is very disappointing as well. Creative and JDS Labs have been very good in this space, current have the Super X-Fi for PS5 duty.

Stuart Charles Black June 10, 2024 - 9:51 pm


Thanks man!

Yeah and that feeds into my overarching point about iFi. It’s like they’re still stuck in 2018. It seems crazy that they wouldn’t, at this point, either A) just make all the combo amp/dacs plug and play no questions asked, or B) have one (or more) products that just have an optical input as you allude to with JDS and FiiO (favorites of mine). I mean, how difficult is that? At this point, it just seems like they’re being stingy and to me it kind of reeks. That’s just my opinion though. I’ve been using my Creative G6 since 2019 with a PS4 (plug and play) and a K5 Pro since around the same time (Optical).

So what exactly is the reason why the Zen V2 required a firmware update just to use it with a console? And now the Zen 3 doesn’t even have that. Absurd.

I think Creative is going to send an X-Fi so that will be interesting to try out. I’m kind of over Amps & DACS but I still like to try the ones from companies I’ve been in contact with for a long time.


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