iFi Zen DAC V2 Review

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Oct 27, 2022.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    While I heard and reviewed the Drop Signature variant here, I had never had a chance to hear the plain Zen DAC. This here is the V2 version of the Zen DAC. It sounds different from the Drop Signature version (I have no idea how the V2 Signature sounds like), in that it's less laid-back, less outright warm, but yet maintains a palatable mid-to-high treble free from digititus common in the higher-end ESS + OPA1612 designs built purely to score well on SINAD graphs to the tenth of a decibel.

    DSCF0295-1.jpg

    Resolution and technicalities match what I remember from the Drop Signature. The Zen DAC V2 is energetic with plenty of slam in the low end and strong attack on the transients without the etch or splash. There's also bit of that vintage saturation thing going when the signal hits peak levels. (I'm betting a uplift in THD as we get near and toward 0dbFS). A bit like the Burl B2 Bomber DAC, but with the Burl's output level turned down a bit. In terms of presentation, the Zen DAC V2 reminds me most of the Burl. A smidgen of outward warmth, an internal warmth that becomes most evident at higher sound levels, and muscular drive. If you prefer your toms sounding smeared and snares lacking the snap that wakes you up, then by all means go elsewhere. No, the Zen DAC V2 doesn't render bass textures or microdynamics as well as the Burl, but it doesn't cost well over $2k either.

    Compared to the slightly higher priced Modius E, the Modius has the edge in "black-ground", fine detail, and a delicateness (I know, unbelievable for an ESS based DAC). However the Modius E's transients are less hard hitting; and however a good job Schiit has done to un-delta-sigma the highs to the point where they are better than AKM version of the Modius, they are still evident, especially in longer listening sessions. It's really pick your poison when it comes to Modius E and Zen V2. They are simply different sounding. Personally my pick is the iFi Zen DAC because of its energy and drive. To me, it's a mini Burl B2. Your pick may be different. One thing for sure: the Zen DAC deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

    Note that I only used the single ended outputs. I used the Magni 3+ and Piety as head-amps with a wide variety of headphones (Grado, HD650, ZMFs). I'm turning sour on balanced stuff on the entry level end. PIA and extra expense that I'm just not going to bother with it. The best entry and mid level stuff is single-ended.

    FWIW, I do my DAC evaluations these days blind. I put a box over the DACs so I don't know they are. Every day before the kids head out to school, I ask my wife to scramble the cables. It's really not that hard to tell the difference. Just as it wasn't hard to tell the difference between the beef nihari at Pakwan or Shalimar. This assuming if one was familiar with how each restaurants made this dish (although it would be hard for someone who had never tasted beef nihari).

    The downsides to the Zen DAC? USB input only. Also, just pretend the built-in headphone output doesn't exist or is a freebie prize found at the bottom of the Frankenberry cereal box.

    P.S. I bought this for myself from Amazon.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 27, 2022
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    iFi Audio Zen DAC V2
    1kHz steady-state sine
    0dbFS SE output into 100k-ohm load
    upload_2022-10-27_19-56-12.png

    iFi Audio Zen DAC
    1kHz steady-state sine
    -30dbFS SE output into 100k-ohm load
    upload_2022-10-27_19-52-46.png

    iFi Audio Zen DAC
    1kHz steady-state sine
    -60dbFS SE output into 100k-ohm load
    upload_2022-10-27_19-53-24.png

    iFi Audio Zen DAC
    1kHz steady-state sine
    -90dbFS SE output into 100k-ohm load
    upload_2022-10-27_19-54-16.png
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2022
  3. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    iFi Audio Zen DAC V2
    THD (db) vs output (dbFS )
    1kHz steady-state sine SE output
    upload_2022-10-27_20-20-16.png

    iFi Audio Zen DAC
    Linearity (x5 measurement overlay)
    Relative level (db) vs output (dbFS )
    1kHz steady-state sine SE output
    upload_2022-10-27_20-27-17.png
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2022
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    iFi Zen DAC V2
    White Noise 48kHz
    250kHz bandwidth
    upload_2022-10-27_20-31-32.png

    iFi Zen DAC V2
    Impulse Response
    upload_2022-10-27_20-35-45.png

    iFi Zen DAC V2
    500Hz square wave
    -10dbFS
    upload_2022-10-27_20-39-29.png

    Looks like linear phase filter.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2022
  5. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    I've got limited experience with iFi DACs generally but have had pretty good experiences with their stuff so far both at home and in demo settings. IIRC you've not gotten ears on the original silver Micro iDSD but how's this compare to the Black Label variant purely as a DAC, @purr1n?

    The chunkier transportable models had pretty great treble balance in Bit Perfect mode, though from memory the headstage was more width than it was depth. I was less a fan of their GTO filter cuz it seemed to muddy image precision a bit relative to Bit Perfect but at least that had no egregious tonality weirdness to my ears; what filter does this come stock with again?
     
  6. WoodyLuvr

    WoodyLuvr Friend

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    Couldn't agree more.

    One of the most surprising components, in many years for me, has been my little iFi Audio ZEN DAC Signature v2. Simply amazed how well this little DAC performs and most especially at this price point! I had ordered it on a simple lark (after reading about the V1 here on SBAF) thinking that it would probably not fare very well.. but what a surprise! It is a wonderful DAC and most importantly it is in perfect synergistic partnership with my vacuum tube amp. Out of all the DACs that I tried, nothing seems to pair as well than the Zen DAC Signature V2. Chalk it up to my being one of those squirrelly TI Burr Brown fiends!

    More here
     
  7. purr1n

    purr1n Burned out

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    Only one filter here, linear phase with fast rolloff from the measurements. Hard to compare because the Micro BL is an AIO and as you mentioned, the BL has various filter selections whereas the Zen DAC V2 does not. However, I feel don't the Bit Perfect filter is necessary at all. In a DAC vs DAC comparison, the iFi ZEN V2 is way better. It's just hard for AIO portables / transportables to compete directly against dedicated desktop units, even entry level low cost ones. I like what iFi is offering us with this, their vision of what this should sound like. Throwing in a Bit Perfect mode would probably just result in yet another option that just doesn't sound as good to what I'm hearing now.

    You know me. I hate options. I prefer audio gear designers to just give me what they think sounds best.

    The opposite are the Chi-Fi outfits that give us eight filter options, six of which sound like shit, and two are decent. It's like grow some balls or have a spine. Pick one and voice / optimize the DAC for that one.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 28, 2022
  8. scapeinator1

    scapeinator1 Once You Go Black You'll Never Go Back

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    Anyone know of any discernable differences between the V1 and the V2 ZEN DACs? I've been using the V1 and an IEmagni as my setup at work for a while now. Can't complain, it's very capable and inoffensive.

    Also, my understanding is that the Zen DACs can run with or without external power provided. I managed to dig up a 5V supply at the lab and I found that it seemed to sound better that way. Would be curious whether in measurements there is a noticeable difference?
     
  9. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    IIRC they should be extremely similar since the V2 was mostly about USB/XMOS chip upgrade to give it some more horse power (more stable MQA, etc..), sound wise they should be just about the same.
     
  10. caute

    caute Facebook Friend

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    This has nothing to do with the Zen DAC, although it sounds like a nice DAC! Just want to ask @purrin if you're stoked you get to just type "Piety" instead of "super secret continuity-circuit, mini-Jotenheim in a magni case that I've had for years that you will never hear, that will probably never get released, unless..."
     
  11. ufospls2

    ufospls2 Friend

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    I really liked the time I spent with the V1 ZenDAC. I think the V2 designation may have been due to difficulty getting parts and some slight changes to the XMOS chip etc as it came out so soon after the V1.

    I'm curious about the ZenAirDAC, especially if one has no need for the balanced outputs or the XBASS and what not. It's a shame the price had to go up on the ZenDACv2 as the V1 was compelling at $99USD, but again, the ZenAir may do really well at that price point also.

    iFi is loaning me a ZenDAC Signature to review for my blog, so I will report back about that one also.
     
  12. iFi audio

    iFi audio MOT iFi Audio

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    Excellent stuff @purr1n, thank you very much!
     

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