Home Amp/DAC Comparisons iFi Zen vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. JDS ATOM vs. Bravo Ocean

iFi Zen vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. JDS ATOM vs. Bravo Ocean

by Stuart Charles Black
HiFiMAN HE4XX vs. 400i vs. 400S vs. Sundara

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Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!

Before we get into the iFi Zen vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. JDS ATOM vs. Bravo Ocean, grab a snack, sit back, and relax because…

I’m Here to Help!!

Table of Contents

Introduction
What’s In The Box?
Build
Features & Usage
Sound
Video Shootout
Recommendation & Final Word
Albums, Film, & OST

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling, shall we?!

Introduction

A few people have been asking me about the differences between the iFi Zen and FiiO K5 Pro, so I thought I would make a big shootout and also include the ATOM and Bravo Ocean in for good measure!

The reason is that all four of these amps come in at similar price points, all are meant to be used on your desktop exclusively, and all have similar outputs and inputs, generally doing many of the same tasks that you may call on them for in the studio.

The Bravo Ocean is a bit different in some ways with regard to the type of Amp that it is, and we’ll get into that as well!

By the time you’re finished reading this article, you should have a clear idea of what it is that might suit your needs best.

So with that, let’s get into what’s in the box!

In the Box

JDS ATOM

Price: Check JDS! | Official Review: Here!

JDS Labs Atom vs. Objective 2

  • ATOM Amp
  • 16VAC Power Adapter

Bravo Ocean

  • Ocean Amp
  • Instructions
  • 24V DC Power Brick

FiiO K5 Pro

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Check Apos Audio! | Official Review: Here!

FiiO K5 Pro Review

  • K5 Pro Amp/DAC
  • USB Type-B Cable
  • 15V DC Power Brick
  • 1/4″ headphone adapter and extra rubber feet
  • Quick Start Guide and Warranty Card

iFi Zen

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here! | Zen V2 Review: Here!

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review

MQA supported.

  • Zen Amp/DAC
  • USB Type-A Cable
  • RCA to RCA Analog Cable
  • Warranty and Instruction Cards

With that out of the way, how’s build on each of these?

Build

Right off the bat, the ATOM is the lightest out of this bunch, coming in at a modest 9.3 Oz. (264g) approximately.

In order from lightest to heaviest:

  1. JDS ATOM9.3 Oz. (264g)
  2. Bravo Ocean11.1 Oz. (324g)
  3. FiiO K5 Pro15.4 Oz. (437g)
  4. iFi Zen18.1 Oz. (516g)

Knobs, buttons, and connections:

  • JDS ATOM – Good, if a bit flimsy. Buttons on the front move around a bit inside of their respective slots. The connections on the back are all solid. The volume pot feels more like a flimsy piece of plastic than I prefer, but still fine. No fingerprints.
  • Bravo Ocean – Front panel yields a very industrial type of look. The ON/OFF switch and Volume Pot feel very solid. 1/4″ jack and 3.5mm jack on the front are both robust. The back panel is all good. No fingerprints.
  • FiiO K5 Pro – Feels a tad light for its size, but still solid. Imagine this as a very lean soccer player who moves around with agility and finesse. The volume pot feels nice to turn. The switches on the front all feel great. The back panel looks solid. Some fingerprints.
  • iFi Zen – Extremely robust. The volume pot is a dream to turn, and sort of resembles a polygonal type of feel. The buttons and jacks on the front are all solid. The back panel is very good. No fingerprints.

Let’s get into features!

Features & Usage

JDS ATOM

  • Price: Check JDS Labs!
  • Connections: 1x pair of RCA Analog Inputs and Outputs. Line input. 16VAC power jack, 1/4″ headphone jack.
  • DSD support: No.
  • MQA support: N/A. If you run it out of something like a DragonFly Red, then yes it will run MQA files as that Amp/DAC supports it. If you run it out of a regular DAC, then no.
  • Power Output: Max output at 600 Ohm: 125mW, Max output at 150 Ohm: 502mW, Max output at 32 Ohm: 1W

Common uses:

  • Hook it up to studio monitors/speakers and use it as a preamp.
  • Use it as a dedicated Amp/DAC on your desktop for music or gaming.
  • Hook it up to your PS4 (with the help of an OL DAC + Optical) for gaming or any DAC that has an optical input.
  • Use it in conjunction with pretty much any DAC via its RCA inputs and line input. You could use a 3.5mm interconnect or an RCA to 3.5mm (RCA to mini).

Check out the screengrab from my JDS ATOM vs. Objective 2 video!

iFi Zen vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. JDS ATOM vs. Bravo Ocean

Bravo Ocean

  • Price: Check Amazon!
  • Connections: 1x pair of RCA Analog Inputs and Outputs. Line input. 24V DC power jack, 1/4″ headphone jack, 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • DSD support: No.
  • MQA support: N/A. If you run it out of something like a DragonFly Red or K3, then yes it will run MQA files as those Amp/DACs support it. If you run it out of a regular DAC, then no.
  • Power Output: Not Specified.

Common uses:

  • Hook it up to studio monitors/speakers and use it as a preamp.
  • Use it as a dedicated Amp (with a separate DAC) on your desktop for music or gaming.
  • Hook it up to your PS4 (with the help of an OL DAC + Optical) for gaming or any DAC that has an optical input.
  • Use it in conjunction with pretty much any DAC via its RCA inputs and line input.
  • Power Output:

As you can see, the Bravo Ocean behaves in a similar way to the ATOM and does pretty much all of the same things.

The only real difference is that it’s a Class A Tube Hybrid Amp and thus gets extremely hot.

Please make sure to turn it off when not in use unless you want your house or apartment to burn down.

Lol. It’s not that serious, but should be done as a precautionary measure regardless.

In fact,

this thing gets so hot that you can’t really keep your finger on it for more than a few seconds if it’s been on for a while.

FiiO K5 Pro

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Check Apos Audio!
  • Connections: 1x pair of RCA Analog Input & Outputs, 1x Coaxial Input, 1x Optical Input, USB Type-B jack, 15V DC power jack, 1/4″ Headphone jack.
  • DSD support: Yes.
  • PCM: Up to 32-bit/384kHz.
  • MQA support: No.
  • Power Output: 1.5W @ 32 Ohm.

Common Uses:

  • Hook it up to studio monitors/speakers and use it as a preamp.
  • Use it as a dedicated Amp/DAC on your desktop for music or gaming.
  • Output it to a separate Amp via its RCA Analog Outs.
  • Hook it up to your PS4 via its optical input.
  • Hook it up to anything in your home theater via its Coaxial input.
  • Use it in conjunction with pretty much any DAC via its RCA inputs. Just make sure the DAC in question has RCA Analog Outputs.

Check out this helpful image that I grabbed from one of my YouTube videos!

Video Discussion

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As you can see, the K5 Pro is a bit more valuable in a home listening environment because it can do a few more things.

Because it’s a combo Amp & DAC rolled into one, you can use it with a separate amp if you want later on down the road.

It also has Coaxial Input for use with anything in your home theater. Pretty nifty indeed!

iFi Zen

  • Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H!
  • Connections: 1x 4.4mm balanced output, 1x RCA Analog Output, 1x USB Type-B jack, 5VDC power jack, 1/4″ headphone jack, 4.4mm balanced headphone jack.
  • DSD support: Yes.
  • PCM: Up to 32-bit/384kHz.
  • MQA support: Yes.
  • Power Output: 280mW @ 32 Ohm, and 36mW @ 300 Ohm. Balanced: 380mW @ 50 Ohm, and 70mW @ 600 Ohm.

Common Uses:

  • Hook it up to studio monitors/speakers and use it as a preamp via its RCA Analog Outputs OR 4.4mm balanced output.
  • Use it as a dedicated Amp/DAC on your desktop for music or gaming.

The Zen is a bit more limited, but does support MQA and should be used as a desktop Amp/DAC primarily.

All of that’s well and good, but how do these sound in relation to each other?

Sound

I’m going to throw in the DragonFly Red as well here.

I went back and forth on a Master of “Come Together” by the Beatles (A song I’m very familiar with) through the AKG K702.

The K5 Pro sounded slightly warmer and maybe a bit less expansive, while the DF Red sounded a bit more open and airy than the Zen.

The Zen is kind of in the middle of the 2.

It was a really marginal difference though and could be my imagination.

I’ve always perceived the DF Red to have very good sound staging and expansiveness throughout the frequency spectrum.

Audioquest DragonFly Red vs. Black

Playing cards not included.

It just seems like everything has a bit more life to it.

So the differences between the Zen and K5 Pro aren’t that notable, but the difference between the DragonFly Red vs. the Zen and K5 Pro is quite noticeable.

The DragonFly does sound very open, airy, clean, and crisp. It’s like walking outside to a cool morning breeze in the fall.

Warm Signature

The Zen and K5 Pro are definitely warmer and more laid back, with less expansiveness.

If the Zen is warm and more lush sounding, the Bravo Ocean + DragonFly Red is a little more open and crisp.

Listening out of the Zen is sort of like a warm hug, whereas the Bravo + Red is more akin to opening a window in your home and letting some air in.

The image is a bit wider and has more room to breathe.

The ATOM is certainly the most neutral, crisp, and clean-sounding Amp out of this bunch.

I remember the first time I heard an Objective 2.

The incredible spacing made it almost feel as if you were listening in a studio environment rather than through headphones.

More of the same applies here with the ATOM. It’s extremely clean like Windex homie!

I think what you ultimately decide on is more a matter of warm vs. cool preference and what you hope to accomplish in your studio space.

Let’s take a look at a video and some images before we get into the final word!

Video Shootout

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

With that, what’s the final word?

Recommendation & Final Word

FiiO K7 Review

As alluded to above, what you go with here depends on your unique situation, whether or not you want to use a separate DAC, whether you’ll be console gaming, your sound preference, etc., etc.

With that said, the K5 Pro is the standout from this bunch because it can basically hook up to anything inside of your home studio or home theater listening environment and comes packaged as a combo all in one Amp + DAC.

No need to freak out! πŸ˜› It’s definitely the most versatile out of these as well, and sounds fantastic to boot!

Learn More:

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi Zen vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. JDS ATOM vs. Bravo Ocean Amp and DAC shootout!!

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

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Which of these better suits your needs? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

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!

Album List…

Albums, Film, and OST

More coming soon as I remember them! I listened to a lot of music with these amps. πŸ™‚

Beatles – Abbey Road (1969)

Common – Black America Again (2014)

Flying Lotus – Flamagra (2019)

Grateful Dead – Terrapin Station (1977)

Fallout New Vegas OST (2010)

Fallout 2 OST – Mark Morgan

Fallout 1 OST – Mark Morgan

Donkey Kong Country 2 OST (1995)

John Coltrane – Coltrane (1957)

John Coltrane – Soultrane (1958)

The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time OST (1998)

The Legend Of Zelda – A Link To The Past OST (1991)

Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism (2003)

The Shins – Oh, Inverted World (2001)

Sufjan Stevens – Michigan (2003)

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (2015)

MF DOOM – Operation: Doomsday (1999)

Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine (2016)

Mac Miller – Swimming (2018)

John Coltrane – Coltrane Plays The Blues (1960)

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1964)

Ornette Coleman – Change of the Century (1960)

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)

Films

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)

Inception (2010)

Primal Fear (1996)

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

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20 comments

John May 26, 2020 - 7:38 pm

Hello, for listening on Tidal exclusively, would you recommend K5 Pro or Ifi Zen Dac?

Does the MQA support on the Ifi Zen Dac really makes a difference compared to K5 Pro?
K5 Pro seems like a nicer product overall. Dunno which one to buy.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black June 5, 2020 - 3:11 pm

Hey John! It is indeed kind of a tough call, but I think the K5 slightly edges the Zen because it is simply more versatile. Both can play Tidal Masters, both can hook up to separate speakers via the RCA Outs, both can play DSD files, and both have a very similar sound (almost identical really). The Zen is just a tad crisper.

The Zen can be used balanced via it’s 4.4mm jack, so if that’s a priority, I’d go with it instead of K5 Pro.

For Tidal, the Zen will light up Magenta as the indicator for Masters, and the K5 Pro will light Yellow which indicates anything over 48kHz.

As for the reasons why the K5 edges out the Zen?

It has 2 pairs of RCA Analogs (A pair of inputs AND outputs), so it can be used as just a DAC or just an amp. It can also hook up to a turntable very easily if you want to listen to vinyl. It also has an optical input for console gaming as well as a coaxial input which is very versatile in a home theater setting.

I think if you plan to utilize any of those features, the K5 Pro is the solution. If you’re going to run balanced cables, the Zen is my choice. Hope that helps! Let me know and apologies for the late response. I had been getting a lot of spam so I had to run some filters and your message went into the trash and I didn’t see it for awhile.

Talk soon,

-Stu

Reply
Murshid K September 24, 2020 - 4:15 pm

I was a little surprised today. I have a question to ask before telling about that.
Does the ifi idsd black label show any improvement over ifi zen dac/amp in sound quality?
Is the zen dac/amp enough to drive HE4XX to its full potential without the need for ifi zen can? I plan to buy zen can later if i decide to buy zen dac/amp now.

About that surpeise i had , i was listening to your YouTube videos lately and i watched almost all of them (Very good reviews and stuff. Nice presentation). Today i came here in the website and read this article aboit dacs. At the end of the article, in the ‘about the author’ section i saw your photo. OMG! This is the same person who gave me lots and lots of advices and suggestions before, i think during 2016. I missed this website because i forgot to bookmark it. Somehow i domt see this website during my google searches amd slowly i forgot about thism. Today, voilaaa…..! Here iam reading Stu reviews again. I never had a clue that its the same person in that photo doing thise youtube videos. Iam so happy to interact again after alll these years.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black September 28, 2020 - 3:53 pm

Hey man! Yeah I would say the Black Label is an improvement. It’s so powerful and clean! Zen DAC is fine for the 4XX according to many people I’ve talked to, plus my own experience. You’ll see the comments on various Zen DAC videos and comparisons. πŸ™‚

Hahah! Wow man. What a great story. I definitely remember your name – in fact, I was looking at it the other day and I said to myself “I know that guy from somewhere.” Lol. So great to hear from you again! What did I help you with specifically? I can’t remember since it’s been so long. I also do talk to a lot of folks and try to help out in any way I can.

Let me know man!

Reply
murshid k September 29, 2020 - 6:13 am

Thanks for the reply. i think you helped me with some IEM, i was just getting into the audiophile territory at that time. Honestly, i don’t remember the answers you gave me at that time. But i know that, you helped me irrespective of my numerous noob’s questions with lot of mistakes. You took your valuable time to give me long informative replys.
as of now i am looking for a pre-owned zen dac and zen can. Also planning to buy a closed back headphone in near future.
i still cannot believe that this photo is you and it is the same person in the YouTube videos ?
Sorry for the spelling mistakes i had in the comment, i was using a very bad keyboard.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black September 29, 2020 - 4:36 pm

No worries man! Thank you so much. Great to have you back on board! Make sure to Subscribe if you haven’t already to the channel and bookmark the site. Spreading the word to everyone you know also really helps gain traction. πŸ™‚

Which closed headphones do you have in mind? Perhaps I can help.

Talk soon!

Reply
Luca March 21, 2021 - 11:02 pm

Hi, I have a question about He400i + Atom. This is my first combo, so pardon my noob question. I noticed that when the volume knob is at 1 ‘o clock the sound really changes, it is superb, exciting. With lower volume, the quality of the sound does not seem so impressive. Is this a normal behavior or the Atom is missing some ampere? Would the K5 Pro perform significantly better at lower volumes than the Atom?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 27, 2021 - 4:16 pm

Hey man! I’d say this is pretty normal of all amps per my experience and I know exactly what you’re talking about. I just fired up the K5 Pro to test for ya and you’ll get about the same phenomenon. Had it at 10 and it was okay. Pumped it to 12-1 and it starts to really come to life. πŸ™‚ I may just hold off on getting anything more at this point. I don’t have the 400i and ATOM here to go back and forth, but I’m using the K712 and K5 Pro right now.

Reply
Pep April 29, 2021 - 7:21 pm

About K5 pro and ifi zen ,can drive a 600 ohms headphone? Like Dt880… Thanks!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 3, 2021 - 5:11 pm

Hey man! K5 Pro will without a sweat. I wouldn’t personally use a Zen for 600 Ohm though. The ceiling is around 300. I would get a K5 Pro or G6. I saw your other comment on the G6 article. I use the K5 Pro for full-time desktop use and G6 for gaming and film if that helps any. Both are my top 2 for most people.

Reply
Pep May 12, 2021 - 9:18 pm

Thank you very much Stu. Take note. Thanks for your tips. I appreciate your work.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 14, 2021 - 1:46 pm

You’re welcome man! Let me know which one you’re going to go with πŸ™‚

Reply
Charliezadon May 15, 2021 - 9:06 am

Hey Stu-bear,
I’m in the market to get an amp/dac, but I wanted to ask you a couple questions before deciding on what to purchase. Here are my questions:

1) Does balanced make a difference in sound quality? Everywhere I have looked, people fight about this. People that say it does make a difference never really give any explanations beyond it maybe removing some distortion.
2) Have you had a chance to listen to the iFi Zen Dac v2? How would you say it compares?

As of right now, I’m leaning pretty hard towards the K5 pro, but my headphones came with a balanced 4.4mm jack and I figured it would be fun to test if balanced made a difference. Only problem is, it’s really hard to return things here in Japan. Once the box is open, it’s yours unless the item is broken. Please give me your thoughts.

Many thanks,
Charlie

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 16, 2021 - 8:55 pm

Hey man! I haven’t actually listened balanced with headphones surprisingly enough. I use balanced cables with my studio monitors which does remove all noise (a concept known as reverse polarity which you may be familiar with). I’m just not sure we can translate that and say without a doubt it makes headphones sound better.

I think the K5 Pro is a perfect product and I use one as my daily driver with the K702. I will need to try balanced and see if I care much, but I’m pretty much 95% sure I’m probably not going to give a crap and it’s likely overrated. Take that with a grain of salt though.

Haven’t gotten my hands on a Zen DAC V2 but I will try and get one here ASAP!

Reply
Charliezadon May 18, 2021 - 3:49 am

Hey Stu,

I also meant to ask if you ever compared a high quality desktop PC motherboard’s onboard sound (in my case Realtek ALC1220) to an external dac/amp. My current motherboard sounds way better than my old laptop, but I’m curious if it would make a difference when compared to an external dac/amp.

Thanks again,
Charlie

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 20, 2021 - 3:02 am

Hey man! Yeah funny you ask that. I just compared my Lenovo X1 Extreme’s internals with some dacs on my desk like the Zen, K5 Pro, even Diablo etc., and didn’t really hear much of a difference lmao. Keep in mind this is a roughly $3k laptop at retail. Probably would make a really interesting video and get a lot of people butt hurt. xD

Reply
Charliezadon May 20, 2021 - 6:13 am

Oh man, please, I’m begging you, please do it! I’m super interested to hear your thoughts on how they all would compare.
I’m now curious if the sound from a laptop vs a desktop would sound much different. I compared my old laptop to my current desktop, and there was a slight difference, but I think that was due to the power of the newer desktop vs the limited power a laptop will be able to push, especially one 9 years old.

Man, this is really making reconsider even bothering with purchasing an external dac/amp… I want to test it, but returning it might be a huge pain.

Stuart Charles Black May 21, 2021 - 2:44 pm

Yeah man, there are certain instances where I would absolutely need one. An example would be my previous laptop (Lenovo T510). It had a horrendous soundcard so it made sense to get an external one. The laptop I have now (X1) is completely different. I think they put a little more effort into making the soundcard very good. So I think it will depend on yours and whether or not you deem it “good enough” so to speak.

Il Capo April 24, 2022 - 3:53 am

Hi Stu

I had a question regarding the Zen Air DAC (basically the same as Zen V2 without balanced). I’m looking for the best option to get the most out of my HD560s, TYGR 300R and DT 900 Pro X. I was thinking of getting the Zen Air DAC for €99 but I also thought of the Fiio E10K as a budget option and the Sabaj A10H (more or less the same as an atom amp for EU ppl) paired with apple usb c dongle as a DAC at €125. Which would you say gets the most out of these headphones? Or if you have any better options those are always welcome of course :). Just care about sound quality, not so much about features.

Thanks in advance!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black April 24, 2022 - 2:04 pm

Hey man!

My pleasure.

DAC A isn’t going to improve the sound quality and make it better than DAC B. That’s just not really how it works. DACS do provide different flavors of sound (i.e. warm/smooth vs. more neutral), but the quality of the music has all to do with how it was recorded, mixed, and mastered + the quality of the headphones themselves.

In any event, my top recs are ATOM/K5 Pro, and G6 for gaming. I had stopped recommending the Zen because it’s overpriced at almost $200 now, but if that Air one is €99 (around $107 USD), then go for it. To be honest, it kind of pisses me off that they can’t just include balanced at that price and just have to come out with another product instead of lowering the price of the original, but whatever. It’s all just so annoying to me rn lol.

I’d say for neutrality, the ATOM (or Sabaj) is what I’d go for, and K5 for warmth. The Zen kind of lies in the middle sound-wise.

Reply

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