iFi audio ZEN Stream

Discussion in 'Product Announcements' started by iFi audio, Jun 25, 2021.

  1. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Streaming elevated to a higher plane

    Introducing ZEN Stream: a flexible and affordable Wi-Fi audio transport, equipped to unleash the full potential of every digital music source – from online streaming to local network storage

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    iFi audio ZEN Stream is our latest addition to the award-winning ZEN Series of compact and affordable audio devices, designed to deliver flexible, high-quality network streaming to any audio environment.

    Described as a ‘Wi-Fi audio transport’, the ZEN Stream acts as a bridge between your Wi-Fi network and your audio system. It connects to a router via Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable, and outputs to an external DAC via USB or S/PDIF. Its open-source architecture makes it flexible and future-proof; its purpose-built hardware and software deliver excellent sound quality; and its price makes it an eminently affordable solution for high-performance network audio streaming.

    Open-source architecture – audio streaming unleashed

    Many audio streaming devices lock users into a specific platform. But, if they want to select their preferred streaming platforms and apps without restriction, with the ability to adapt and evolve as requirements change, a device with an open-source architecture offers clear advantages. Raspberry Pi is a popular open-source single-board computer that's effective, inexpensive and not tied to a specific platform. As such it gives the user plenty of streaming options, but also is complicated to set up and has not been designed and optimised for high-performance audio straight from the box.

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    The ZEN Stream offers the best of both worlds in one unique package. Its open-source architecture ensures the user is not tied to a specific platform or app, offering a wealth of options and the ability to add more via programmable firmware. Its Linux-based operating system offers exceptional flexibility, with the streaming community encouraged to work with iFi to create additional features to add down the line via OTA (Over The Air) updates.

    The ZEN Stream has been designed from the ground up for the sole purpose of high-quality audio streaming. The hardware has been built to deliver the best possible sound quality, working in perfect harmony with iFi’s in-house software development. From the device drivers, to the kernel (the heart of the operating system), to the shell (which interfaces with the kernel), to the applications and the user interface, everything is fully optimised for seamless operation and excellent sonic performance.

    Superb sound, no matter how you stream

    The ZEN Stream’s hi-res audio credentials are top-notch, supporting PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD up to 11.2MHz (DSD256) over Wi-Fi – highly unusual – as well as over Ethernet cable. There are multiple ways in which the device can interface with your music collection or favourite streaming service, depending on the user’s preference, and thanks to the ZEN Stream’s open-source architecture these will expand over time. Here are some of the options provided at launch:

    § Integrated Tidal Connect and Spotify Connect
    Users of these hugely popular online music services can stream directly from the Tidal and Spotify apps – simple, seamless and effective.

    § DLNA certification
    Any DLNA-compatible streaming app – including iFi’s forthcoming Stream-iFi app – can be used to control the ZEN Stream and access audio content from online services and DLNA-certified network storage devices.

    § AirPlay and Chromecast
    Integrated Airplay and Chromecast ensures easy streaming from Apple and Android devices. AirPlay is included at launch; Chromecast will be added as a free firmware update later this year.

    § Roon compatibility
    The Roon platform has become the standard-bearer for high-quality digital music management and streaming – a great interface, strong flexibility and high-quality sound are all benefits, although Roon-compatible hardware does not tend to come cheap. At launch, the ZEN Stream is compatible with Roon Bridge software, making in suitable for a Roon environment, and full Roon Ready certification is in the pipeline – a tempting proposition given the ZEN Stream’s affordable price point. With the ZEN Stream, you can add Roon compatibility to any DAC on the planet.

    § NAA operation
    The ZEN Stream can operate as an NAA (Network Audio Adapter) in conjunction with Sygnalist HQPlayer software – favoured by many serious music streaming enthusiasts. This means it can direct packets of audio data received over Wi-Fi or Ethernet cable straight to the connected DAC without applying any processing whatsoever.

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    iFi delivers hot exclusives

    An ingenious part of the ZEN Stream’s design is the ability to select between ‘exclusive modes’ – individual settings that deliver fully optimised performance by focusing operation on one particular mode of use. The following modes are provided:

    § All-in-one
    This non-specific mode is great for all platforms, audio formats and devices.

    § DLNA streaming
    Select this mode to optimise performance when using the ZEN Stream with DLNA-compatible apps and devices.

    § NAA streaming
    Select this mode when using the ZEN Stream as a Network Audio Adapter in conjunction with Signalyst HQPlayer software.

    § Roon Bridge streaming
    Select this mode when integrating the ZEN Stream into a ROON environment.

    § Tidal streaming
    If you’re a subscriber to Tidal’s Masters Tier and use it exclusively, this is the mode for you.

    Built for sonic brilliance

    Outwardly, the ZEN Stream is encased in the distinctive dark grey aluminium extrusion that houses every device in iFi’s ZEN Series. Its silver-coloured aluminium faceplate sports two multi-colour LEDs – one to indicate internet/intranet connection and speed; the other to show the incoming audio format and sample rate (these LEDs may be switched off if preferred). There are just two buttons: the power switch and a ‘hotspot’ button, the latter used to join a Wi-Fi network.

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    While there is no display other than the status LEDs, all information about the music being streamed will be displayed on the control app selected by the user. iFi has taken the decision that it is better to focus on performance and value-for-money, rather than increase cost by incorporating a display that would arguably be superfluous to the end-user.

    Around the back, alongside the Wi-Fi antenna, reside an array of sockets and ports. Dual-band Wi-Fi reception supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac for a fast, reliable wireless connection, while a high-grade Gigabit Ethernet port supplies a cabled network option of the highest quality. There’s also a USB-A input, giving the option of playing music from HDD and solid-state storage devices, and a USB-C programming port to upload software/firmware updates (an alternative to OTA updates via Wi-Fi).

    Two digital outputs – asynchronous USB and coaxial S/PDIF – provide connection to an external DAC, and are regulated by iFi’s femto-precision GMT (Global Master Timing) clock circuitry to eradicate jitter from the digital signal. The USB ports – both input and output – support SuperSpeed USB3.0 and benefit from iFi’s ANC II active noise cancellation to remove distortion from the audio signal. Similarly, the S/PDIF output incorporates iFi’s iPurifier technology.

    The ZEN Stream’s circuit design has been painstakingly engineered to deliver superb sound, with processing muscle supplied by a 64-bit, quad-core ARM Cortex microprocessor. This is accompanied by carefully chosen circuit components including discrete, high-grade surface-mounted devices such as TDK C0G multilayer ceramic capacitors and inductors from Taiyo Yuden and Murata.

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    Regulators with high PSRR (Power Supply Rejection Ratio), low idle current and low dropout voltage are used, together with a synchronous 1.5MHz high-speed power supply controller, further contributing to the ZEN Stream’s pure, distortion-free performance. As befits an audiophile-grade device, the ZEN Stream does not incorporate a noisy fan – instead, iFi has designed low-profile heatsinks to prevent overheating whilst maintaining the unit’s compact size.

    Fab and affordable

    Fusing state-of-the-art hi-res sound with open-source versatility, the iFi ZEN Stream is a uniquely specified network audio streaming transport at a refreshingly affordable RRP of £399 (€399, $399) – available from selected retailers from 25 June.
     
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  2. Alcophone

    Alcophone Rando

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    Overall pretty exciting, but more difficult to integrate than necessary since there is no TOSLINK output.
     
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  3. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    I hear you, but considering ZEN Stream's key purpose, it features cricital outputs.
     
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  4. HotRatSalad

    HotRatSalad Friend

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    Loaner ? This is intriguing. Liked PI2AES hardware wise but hate the software and interfacing with it.

    Is there an advantage to using HQplayer over anything else for just your own file streaming ? Would like to stick this in between my pc and bifrost 2.
     
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  5. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I’d be interested in a loaner too.
     
  6. Walderstorn

    Walderstorn Friend

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    Would love one of these for an European Loaner.
     
  7. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    a Zen Stream demo unit will arrive in my hands soon, and will compare simplicity and sonic delivery with the pi2AES which coax feeds a Bifrost2, EC Aficionado and EC Black Widow 2. (only headphone: ZMF Verite Closed Blackwood. FTW)

    despite owning no DAC with AES input, if AES out was possible on Zen Stream would have been a bonus feature add IMO.
    (for that eventual TOTL DAC ya know)
    really wonder how the internal clocks on the Zen Stream would compare with the Metrum Ambre.

    more when it happens.
     
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  8. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Looking forward to reading about your experience with it!
     
  9. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Would have been great to have a USB pass through option to connect a computer and (optionally) de-crapify it - with a button to switch modes - like the Project S2 Ultra.
    I get that it would mean either no coax output in that mode, or an additional USB-Spdif converter for it.
     
  10. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    I hear you and there's a ton of things we could do. ZEN Stream was meant to be affordable however, so we had to limit what it can do.
     
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  11. schnesim

    schnesim Rando

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    Is it possible to play music files from a connected USB hard drive?
     
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  12. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    Last edited: Jun 29, 2021
  13. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Just to confirm, yes, it's possible.
     
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  14. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    thanks to iFi Reps, loaner Zen Stream arrived a few days back and WOW! was this device easy to get set up on a Wifi network, and Ethernet! it's one dense little box, with a good amount of "noise cancellation" tech.
    Based on Volumio inside, with various software / kernel optimization tweaks depending on the Mode selected.

    So far have been using Zen Stream as a Roon Bridge - works flawlessly, sounding clear and precise delivering SPDIF to a Bifrost2.
    Believe with a future update it will be Roon Ready (officially) one day?

    Will be testing out some other features soon, and reporting back with more impressions.
    A fast, stable and easy config to streaming for certain!
     
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  15. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Thanks and have fun with it :)
     
  16. Mystic

    Mystic Mystique's Spiritual Advisor

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    Any chance of native Apple Music support (now that they offer lossless)?

    Airplay turns streaming music from Apple Music into the lossy AAC format.
     
  17. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    How is that a feature a hardware vendor (iFi) can predict when the platform / software vendor (Apple) holds the answer?
     
  18. Mystic

    Mystic Mystique's Spiritual Advisor

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    Idk how Apple Music works, be it like Spotify or Tidal Connect.
     
  19. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Any update on this? :)
     

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