What if I told you Hifi results can be affordable, easy and good looking? It may be hard to believe but let me introduce you to the iFi Zen Blue, a bluetooth streamer/dac. This streamer is a great small device that offers an ease of use that some streamers seem to miss out on. Plug it in via one of the outputs to just about any type of systems then pair it with your favorite device to splay from and you’re off to the races. I tend to be skeptical of devices like this that offer so much for so little. I am pleased to say that so far I am very pleased with it so far, so let’s get into the review.
The set up is very simple. you have a few options for outputs, there are RCA out, Balanced Out, Coaxial, and Optical. That being said, there is a built in dac so you can hook it directly into powered speakers via the RCA if you prefer not to use the speakers built in DAC (assuming yours has one, most seem to offer that) or you can plug it into an analog input on your pre amp. We used the later of the those two as I do not have any powered speakers on hand. As mentioned you can also use the digital outputs if you have a dac you prefer or want to use your pre amps built in dac. Once you select the output and have the ac adapter plugged in you are ready to connect. Simply turn on bluetooth on your selected device and then press the pairing button on the Zen Blue and you should see it pop up in the device menu to connect to. That is pretty much it, I will say switching devices seems to be a little finicky, then again I do not really use bluetooth elsewhere so it may just be me.
The sound is an improvement over how I normally would listen to my Macbook which is via the headphone jack into RCA analog inputs. The DAC in the Macbook is passable but nothing to write home about. Playing through the Zen Blue and using it’s DAC provides a noticeable increase in clarity and detail. The Zen Blue will play all High Res formats as well it will connect to virtually any device. At least it should play and connect to any mainstream devices and files. Another thing to note is that the response is very fast. If you change a song on your device the delay may be a second at most. The range is also more than anyone could reasonably need. I don’t know how far I could have gone but it stayed connected on the other side of the house and even outside, so at least 30-40 feet. I don’t know to many people that are normally that far away from their system while they listen, perhaps someone with an outdoor set up where the receiver is in the house. Range will however always vary depending on walls, devices and other variables so your mileage may vary. The only thing I don’t like and it’s not a big deal, but there is no power switch. It stays lit up so if this is in a bedroom the blue lights may bother you, I would not say this is a deal breaker as when you disconnect the device it does seem to have a sleep mode.
ifi Zen Blue Specs
|Input:||Bluetooth 5.0TM with AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, HWA Codec|
|Output:||Optical/Coaxial, Audio RCA L/R, 4.4 Balanced Lineout|
|Frequency Response:||20Hz – 20kHz <+0/-0.5dB (44.1kHz)|
|1Hz – 44khz <+0/-3.0dB (>= 88.2kHz)|
|Output Voltage @ 0dBFS:||2.05V (+/-0.05V)|
|Dynamic Range:||109dB (A)|
|Signal/Noise ratio:||109dB (A) @ 0dBFS|
|THD & N @ 0dBFS:||< 0.0015% 10k Load|
|Output Impedance:||< 50Ω|
|Power Consumption:||< 2.5W|
|Dimensions:||158 (l) x 100 (w) x 35 (h) mm|
|Weight:||0.8 kg (1.8 lbs)|
I like the iFi Zen Blue. It is a great device for the money. It has a great appearance so it will look at home in nearly any system. Who do I think would be the perfect customer though? Anyone with an older system, I will elaborate. Even though my Marantz SR7009 is not that old, the bluetooth connection is pretty awful to use. It constantly loses connection and lags behind when switching songs or volumes. This could be a Marantz thing, however I know some of the older Bluetooth systems are not that great as there is no one agreed upon way to do bluetooth, meaning manufacturers can turn on or off or leave every feature enabled in the code for their device. That leads oftentimes to a clunky experience. Bluetooth also seems to be an afterthought in some integrated and preamps. The Zen Blue performs so much better for me. It would also be great for people into vintage audio that may want to add streaming as a possibility to their classic Integrated or preamp. Lets not forget people that use powered speakers that may not have bluetooth built in, this could be a great add on for that as well.
iFi Audio Provided Hifi Chicken with the Zen Blue. iFi did not pay in part or full for the review of the Zen Blue.
As always if you can take a listen to one in person before making your decision, don’t just take our word for it, it is your money after all.
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