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iFi Zen Blue HiFi Bluetooth Receiver

February 10, 2020

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We recently purchased new speakers for our main living space. The primary source of music in that space is streaming (Tidal and Spotify) from our iPhones. I bought a Rocketfish RF-BTR315 Bluetooth receiver (photo below) to tide us over, but I wanted something with a little more quality.  The Rockfish worked and sounded fine – its primary deficiency is that you need to be in fairly close proximity to broadcast to the receiver.  But for a $35 solution, I had no complaints.

 

I realize that Bluetooth is not an audiophile solution for streaming, but it is convenient. For example, devices effortless pair and no additional software is required and Bluetooth has a low price point.  If you have someone over and they want to play music from their phone, it is easy for them to connect to a Bluetooth receiver.

I did some research on an upgrade to the Rocketfish.  I was looking for:

  • A quality DAC
  • Something that I could stream various apps from my phone (primarily Spotify and Tidal)
  • Something that could play Tidal MQA
  • Something better than Bluetooth for connectivity
  • A reasonable price (e.g. under $300)

I found various solutions like Bluesound’s NODE 2i at $550 and iFi’s Pro iDSD at $2800 – you see a pattern here – expensive. I am reluctant to pay big bucks for a digital solution that is likely to be outdated within a year. It is not like speakers, amps, and turntables which are evergreen.  Then I found a reasonably priced solution – the iFi Zen Blue HiFi Bluetooth Receiver at $130.

Per the manufacture’s web site:

It uses Bluetooth5.0®, the very latest version, and the newest Qualcomm 5100 chip to process all incoming Bluetooth® data.  There ESS Sabre DAC chip is there to ensure an extremely smooth digital to analogue conversion.  Banish standard ‘Bluetooth Blues’ with the iFi hi-res implementation.

I am not technical – so I can’t vouch for Zen’s technology, but I can tell you it sounds great and I can go anywhere in my two-story condo with my phone and the Zen stays connected.  I did A/B test against my laptop hardwired to an Audioquest Dragonfly Black DAC and it sounded just as good to my not so golden ears.  Granted the Dragonfly is not exactly a high-end solution.

The Zen checks most of my boxes except MQA and that it is Bluetooth. Tidal Masters (MQA) sounds better than Spotify tracks on the Zen, so it is complementing the source. It definitely sounds better than the Rockfish. As I mentioned above, I could not detect diminished sound quality when I A/B tested to my Dragonfly.   For $130 it is plenty hi-rez for my needs.

The device itself has excellent build quality.  It gets good reviews online.  Ifi has a good reputation in the digital audio space.

Some common complaints are that the display is too bright (not a problem for me as I have it in a cabinet and in my particular application I am not staring at it) and you can’t turn it off (not an issue for me as I have it plugged into my receiver’s switched outlet which means when I turn off the receiver it cuts power to the Zen).  I dig its retro 60s space-age styling.  It has an impressive output stage with both analog and digital outputs.  It has an additional balanced analog output if you have equipment that can take advantage of that feature (I don’t).

iFi is not over hyping the product when they say;

“This ultra-affordable hi-res Bluetooth® streamer enables you to chillax in style.”

I can comfortably recommend this product.

 

From → Audio

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