Home Amp/DAC Comparisons iFi Zen vs. Zen V2 – Is The V2 Now Overpriced?

iFi Zen vs. Zen V2 – Is The V2 Now Overpriced?

by Stuart Charles Black
iFi Zen vs. Zen V2 (Upgraded)

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Originally published 7/3/21.

Updates:

  • 2/22/22. Article revisit.

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 leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear), all over again, so…

Let’s get right into the Zen vs. Zen V2 (Upgraded) and find out what the differences are. Keep in mind that this will be a primer for the official Zen review!

Video Discussion

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Let’s take a look at the specs and what’s in the box:

In The Box

iFi Zen Amp/DAC Original

iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack

iFi AUDIO Zen DAC Desktop USB DAC and Headphone Amp

Blue USB Type-B Cable

RCA to RCA cable (not pictured)

Spec Sheet

Limited 1-Year Warranty

ifi Zen Amp/DAC V2 (Upgraded)

iFi AUDIO Zen DAC Desktop USB DAC and Headphone Amp

Blue USB Type-B Cable

RCA to RCA Cable

Spec Sheet

Limited 1-Year Warranty

Just act like I included the RCA to RCA cable in the first picture. πŸ˜›

So right off the bat, the packaging and accessories are the same. Let’s take a gander at the backside.

Everything is the exact same except for a few things:

  1. The Zen V2 now uses the 16 core XMOS Chip which allows the product to fully decode MQA and run DSD256 on the same firmware due to the extra processing power of the chip.
  2. There’s a new and improved low jitter clock with > 20dB better performance.

Can I tell a difference? We’ll get into that in a bit.

Specifications

Price: Check Amazon | Check B&H

Features

  • Formats: PCM/Bit Perfect DSD & DXD
  • Digital Inputs: USB 3.0B (USB2.0 Compatible)
  • Analogue Outputs: 6.3mm Unbalanced / 4.4mm Balanced / RCA
  • PowerMatch Adjustment for iEMs/ On & Over Ears
  • TrueBass to add bass to IEMS
  • Precision analogue volume control

Specifications

  • Input: USB3.0 B Socket (USB 2.0 Compatible)
  • Formats: 44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192kHz PCM, 2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2/11.2/12.4MHz DSD, 353/384kHz DXD
  • DAC: Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC By Burr Brown

Line Section

  • Output: Audio RCA (UNBAL), 2.1V fixed, 1V/3.3V max. (variable)
  • 4.4mm Pentacon (BAL): 4.2V fixed, 2V/6.2V max. (variable)
  • Zout: <=100 Ohm (UNBAL), <=200 Ohm (BAL)
  • SNR: <-116dB (A) @ 0dBFS (UNBAL/BAL)
  • DNR: >116dB(A) @ -60dBFS (UNBAL/BAL)
  • THD+N: <0.0015% @ 0dBFS (UNBAL/BAL)

Headpone Section

  • Output: 6.3mm (UNBAL), 1V/3.3V max., 12 – 300 Ohm Headphone
  • 4.4mm Pentaconn (BAL), 2V/6.2V max., 12 – 600 Ohm Headphone
  • Output Power: UNBAL>280mW @ 32R, >36mW @ 300R, BAL >380mW @ 50R, >70mW @ 600R
  • Output Impedance: <1 Ohm (UNBAL/BAL)
  • THD & N: <0.005% (125mW @ 32R)
  • SNR: >113dBA (3.3V UNBAL/6.2V BAL)
  • Power Consumption: No Signal – 0.5W, Max Signal – 2.5W
  • Dimensions: 117(l) x 100(w) x 30(h)mm
  • Weight: 491g (1.08 lbs.)
  • Warranty Period: (12 months)

iFi Zen Amp/DAC

Build

First, we’ll get into the build if you’re not familiar with this product.

I said it in 2019 and I’ll say it again, The Zen is one of (if not the best) built products I’ve ever tested and what’s astonishing is how well it’s built for the price.

A lot of cheaper products have build qualities to match, but the Zen is rather hefty and durable coming in at just a shade over a pound (1.08 lbs.)

The polygonal-inspired volume pot is still a dream to turn, and all connections feel solid and robust.

Front Panel

On the front, we’ve got power match, TrueBass, a 4.4mm balanced input as well as your standard 1/4″ jack.

Back Panel

iFi Zen DAC/Amp Review

The back reveals the same RCA outputs, USB 3.0 socket, and DC 5V power jack.

Keep in mind you don’t technically need a power supply to run the Zen. I’ve always used bus power from my laptop. Just plug it in and it’s ready to go immediately.

With that, how does it sound?

Sound

The sound of the original Zen was smooth and detailed with a touch of warmth. I still believe this is one of the best purchases a budding audiophile can make when just starting out in the hobby; in fact, I’ve demoed 50+ Amps & DACS at the time of this writing and there aren’t many I’d consider demonstrably better than a Zen – iFi’s Diablo included.

Some people (who will not be named) have accused the Zen of being underpowered, but I personally have always felt like that was a load of horse shit.

With power match on, you’ll be around 12-2 ‘o clock with most headphones. I’ve never had to push it past that for any reason, so the underpowered claims tend to be over-exaggerated.

If you’re hearing is damaged beyond repair, sure, it may not have enough power. But for people who value their ears, it’s just fine.

Be wary of people who try and describe the sound of a DAC using lots of word salad. They’re likely just word vomiting and/or trying to fill up blank space.

iFi Zen vs. Zen V2

iFi Zen vs. Zen V2 (Upgraded)

It’s the same great sound.

Lawrance, the rep @ iFi told me through email,

“I’ll get one sent your way. It’s mostly just some component upgrades and upgrading it to an MQA decoder rather than just renderer.”

There were a few instances where I felt like the V2 version was a tad more refined/clear, but it could have just been my imagination and/or a placebo in thinking the roughly $30 increase in price makes the V2 sound better.

It doesn’t. And that’s completely fine.

If you do run MQA through Tidal, then yeah, it may be worth it to get the V2. Listeners who don’t run Tidal may not need this one.

In that case, I would just go with the original. The subject of MQA has been a hotly debated topic of late, and let’s just say it’s kind of complicated. Lol.

Gaming

What’s even cooler is that iFi just released a firmware update allowing you to use the Zen V2 with your Playstation via USB slot. Just go here, use the dropdown, and find Zen DAC V2 and follow the prompts!

I’ve been gaming with it since I received the comment below from “Ale” and having a blast! If you game and watch a lot of film, the Zen V2 is perfect.

What you’ll love most is that it’s plug-and-play and also sounds really crisp and clean. In writing the 560S review, I decided to compare it to some other headphones I have here using the Zen as the Amp/DAC.

In short, it’s been a lot of fun! Headphones used include the 560S, K702, K612, HD600, and HD58X. Article coming soon!

Final Word

2022 Update:

The original Zen at $130 was a steal and underpriced but has now been discontinued. At around $160, the upgraded Zen V2 was still a good value as I thought an extra $30 for console compatibility was fair. It’s now ballooned to almost $200, and its current price isn’t worth it in my opinion. In other words, why did the price go up another $30?

I will be keeping a close eye on the price and if it comes back down, I’ll recommend it again.

What do I recommend instead?

Many will be familiar with my other entry-level recommendation in FiiO’s K5 Pro. Well, they too have since come out with an updated version (this time using the ESS 9038 chip) which is priced similarly to the Zen V2.

Do I feel as though the AKM version of the K5 Pro ($150) is a better value than the Zen V2 at roughly $190? Without question.

Is the upgraded K5 Pro ESS worth $50 more than the AKM version? I can’t say definitively as I’m still waiting on the unit to arrive. While I do find it interesting to compare the sound of DACS, I generally recommend them based on features and versatility – not sound.

Given that, the K5 Pro ESS is still a better value than the Zen based on versatility alone, but, you can still purchase the K5 Pro AKM version as of now, which I will link below.

I will update this article as new information comes to light and things inevitably change.

For now:

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi Zen DAC/Amp vs. Zen V2 upgraded comparison and gained some valuable insight.

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 are you going to purchase? Do you believe the Zen V2 is worth almost $200? 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!!

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23 comments

Ale July 14, 2021 - 12:43 pm

V2 and “newer V1s” should also support playstation now (via USB): https://ifi-audio.com/download-hub/ β†’ Firmware-update β†’ “Added PlayStation USB compatibility.”

Reply
Stuart Charles Black July 14, 2021 - 2:29 pm

Wow, that’s awesome news! Thank you for sharing, Ale! That is seriously so cool. I had tried it out like a month or so ago via someone asking on the channel or blog.

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Ale July 14, 2021 - 6:56 pm

don’t get me wrong, i’m not sure about this because i don’t own a zen dac to test it, but i had read about it in some forums and on the official IFI firmware update website it says it is now compatible (“Release date: June 01, 2021 / This download is for: macOS, Windows / Full MQA major code optimisation. Added PlayStation USB compatibility.”)…. maybe you can test and confirm this if you still have the zen dac v2 with you.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black July 14, 2021 - 7:05 pm

Yes! I’m definitely going to download it and see. I will keep you posted!

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Stuart Charles Black July 14, 2021 - 7:12 pm

I decided to do it right away. Confirmed working! IT’S ALLLLLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!!!!!! Lmao. So cool. Bout to play some VIDYA GAMES! xD Def stay tuned for some gaming impressions and an article update within the next few days. Big thanks for the heads up again. πŸ™‚

Reply
Ale July 14, 2021 - 9:11 pm

was a pleasure πŸ˜‰

Stuart Charles Black July 15, 2021 - 12:49 pm

??

kevin July 20, 2021 - 4:29 pm

Hi thank you for very great reviews.
I’m undecided between this and Fiio K5 Pro.
It’s for a pair of HD599SE and ATH M50X
I listen all kind of music and i’m using Tidal and FLAC CDs

Thank you!!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black July 20, 2021 - 7:44 pm

Hey man! If Tidal, def Zen! The firmware update for Zen V2 also makes it compatible with PS4! Let me know if you have any questions.

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Charliezadon July 25, 2021 - 5:04 am

Hey Stu, I was bugging about your thoughts on dac/amps a while back. I ended up getting the Zen DAC v2 and CAN. There was a major sale out here and I figured it was the best price I was going to get. As for the power of the DAC, I can confirm that it is strong enough. I tested my ATH-M50x and HarmonicDyne Zeus on it, and I barely ever turned the knob up past 10~11 o’clock. Anything over that, and I would be scared I’d start causing damage to my ears. My only question is, which firmware are you using? I noticed that they had 2 versions on the website: 7.2 and 7.2c. Did you try both? Could you hear a difference? Was there one you preferred? I couldn’t hear much of a difference and what I did hear, I thought was placebo.

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Stuart Charles Black July 25, 2021 - 6:59 pm

Gosh I don’t even know lol but I actually just updated the firmware and drivers on the V2 and now I can play on PS4!! I wouldn’t worry too much about differences. It’s the same sound across the board. Don’t make yourself crazy over that type of stuff. πŸ™‚

Reply
some dude July 30, 2021 - 12:24 pm

So there’s virtually no major difference between the original Zen DAC and the V2?
Anyways.. my main concern with the Zen DAC (either version) is it’s power delivery.
I’m not that knowledgeable and rather new to this world so I wonder if this sweet little thing is enough to drive headphones like the 1990 Pro, HD 660 S or Sundara vs. things like D7X Pro, SMSL SU/SH-9 or Schiit stacks? Am I about to fall for the audiofoolery?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black July 30, 2021 - 2:35 pm

Hey man! Nah, even the rep said as much. The kicker is that they just released a firmware update so I can now use it with my PS4!!! Pretty nifty actually and something that I personally derive much value from. In fact, I can kind of tolerate the asking price now because of that.

As far as power goes, that’s always been an interesting debate. You’ll find differing schools of thought, but for me, it’s fine. With power match on, I’m never past 1 or 2 ‘o clock.

I have yet to find a headphone with it that didn’t get completely and utterly loud enough. If someone says it’s not loud enough or doesn’t have enough power, I’m inclined to believe their hearing is damaged.

As far as driving a headphone, that’s more of a snobby term that audiophiles like to use to try and differentiate between “enough power” vs. how the amp actually integrates with the headphone of choice, and I’m not the one to ask that because to me, and after demoing 50 of these things, the differences between Amps & DACS are there, sure, but not nearly as gargantuan as some would have you believe. It’s just not worth stressing out about, trust me.

The Zen is a great product and sounds fantastic with all headphones I’ve tried. 1990 is 250 and 102dB Sensitivity. Perfectly fine on paper though I haven’t used one so don’t @ me on that lol. Sundara is 30 something ohm and has low sensitivity. You’ll be on power match but it will be fine. 660S I haven’t heard yet but my HD600 (300 Ohm) and 58X are fine (though the 58x is a bit easier to drive at 150 Ohm).

I have the SH-9 on my desk now and yes, it’s got more power for sure and will be easier to reach a desirable volume with said headphones.

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gilmour_fan July 30, 2021 - 7:56 pm

Hey Stu.
I just discovered your website and youtube channel and would like to thank you first for saving my money. I had almost bought the Zen Signature set and you were like god sent. On top of that, I am located in a country where I have to pay extra for shipping, taxes and customs as none of these products are locally available.
I have few questions before making the purchase. I have HD6xx and Aune X1S DAC/AMP. Aune for me has lot of treble and a little brighter. What do you suggest, should I buy the Zen DAC first or the Zen CAN and use it with same Aune DAC?
If I buy Zen DAC, do you really suggest buying Zen CAN later for HD6xx? After reading your review, I understood that just the Zen DAC is enough for driving HD6xx. What would be the real advantage of adding Zen CAN?

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Stuart Charles Black August 1, 2021 - 4:55 pm

Hey man! Try Zen DAC first. It’s a nice mix of neutral/warm-ish, so right in the middle. Sounds great with the 600 series!! If you want to add Zen CAN, you can later on. The advantage is simply extra power for more demanding headphones that you may encounter later on in your journey. Keep me posted and thank you so much for hte kind words! It really helps this blog out a lot πŸ™‚ Talk soon, -Stu

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keith watkinson August 22, 2021 - 7:44 pm

I have a pair of HD579 Sennheiser with the V1 Zen Dac and i do really like the sound i only use Flac and WMA Lossless and some Mp3 Files but no MQA audio so would i notice any improvement if i changed to the V2 Zen Dac thanks Keith.

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Stuart Charles Black August 23, 2021 - 1:27 pm

Hey man! Nah. Still the same sound pretty much. I would get a Zen if you do console gaming with PS4 though as they just released a firmware update πŸ™‚

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Jeuris Arnaud August 31, 2021 - 4:32 pm

Hello from belgium ! πŸ˜€

i really don’t know if i’m going to fiio k5 pro which have significantly more power on zen dac v2, really same price at 5€ differences in the 2, at this time is for an HD599SE + SHP9600

but i would go on HD600 and sundara soon, and as i’ve experienced it sundara takes a lot, i really listen at high volumes and the k5 pro + sundara from a friend takes the full volume on mid gain to be comfortable for me, so i’m a little bit afraid of the lower power of the zen v2, i know i can add a zen can to have more power but this makes double the price and i prefer one solid piece than 2 separates, i hope you can suggest me πŸ™‚

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Stuart Charles Black September 1, 2021 - 3:31 pm

Hey man! K5 pro def more power! I would do that as the Can + Zen is more expensive. I’ve had people tell me they absolutely love the Zen + Sundara and it drives them no problem so maybe try it out? For just the 599 and 9600 Zen is more than enough. Sundara could go either way.

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Leng February 2, 2022 - 6:57 am

your review help me very lot. thank you.

2022
ZEN V2 and G6
which one better? i play fps game but i dont want to use G6 EQ

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Stuart Charles Black February 2, 2022 - 7:07 pm

Hey man, thank you and you’re welcome!

G6 is my full-time gaming dac with a console, but V2 is also very good. It just doesn’t have Scout Mode or mic input like G6 which is why G6 for me is better for FPS gaming. So if you don’t do any FPS gaming and only single-player, get the Zen. If you do multi-player gaming, I’d get a G6.

Hope that helps! Let me know.

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Anti-ASR February 28, 2022 - 4:31 am

I have no idea why Amir from ASR says this DAC has poor amplification, I gave this DAC a shot with my Sennheiser HD800S, as this was the closest thing I have that matches the Ohm Resistance and sensitivity of his HD 650. Volume level, this can definitely get uncomfortably loud at depending on how you use it. Using the unbalanced jack does make it painfully loud , while the balanced connections pumps it up to “You are definitely going damage your ears loud.”

That being said, I think all headphone enthusiast should keep at least two amplifiers for low and high sensitivity.
I am primarily using the my HD 800S with the Fiio K9 Pro but I managed to snag a Final Audio Sonorous 3 at a great price. To the great displeasure of my ears, the K9 Pro had too much power and for a 16 ohm and 102 db sensitivity headphones; even at lowest gain settings. The Zen DAC V2 is great fit, and it gives me enough headroom for watching videos that have lower than usual volume.

This whole amplification pairing thing is making me hesitant on buying anymore headphones now, seems like any single change of components can break the entire listening foundation.

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Stuart Charles Black March 6, 2022 - 2:53 pm

Yeah, I’ve never understood that gripe from him and unfortunately, it’s caused countless parroting of what is essentially a non-issue. Unless your hearing is damaged, the Zen is perfectly capable of driving 99% of headphones. I’ve never been past 2 with power match on anything I’ve listened to, and most of the time I don’t even have to turn it up that much anyways.

Reply

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