iFi launches ZEN Blue Hi-Res Bluetooth receiver

Your starter for ZEN

by Andy Bassett
SRP: £129.00

The first in a series of high quality affordable desktop audio components, iFi’s ZEN Blue Bluetooth receiver leads the way in supporting all the latest Hi-Res codecs for music streaming from smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs.

Adding high quality Bluetooth reception to any audio system via analogue or digital cable connections, the wallet-friendly ZEN Blue at £129 could be the perfect way to get extra life from existing Hi-Fi gear.

Boasting a new generation Bluetooth IC, the ZEN Blue features a state-of-the-art Qualcomm QCC5100 chip housed within the aluminium casing. As such, all the latest Hi-Res Bluetooth standards are supported including Qualcomm’s aptX HD, Sony’s LDAC and Huawei’s HWA. Also present and correct are regular aptX and aptX Low Latency for synching sound with video, plus there’s the AAC preferred codec for iOS devices, as well as the basic vanilla SBC codec. This means that the Bluetooth signal output from any current device will be supported.

Despite the Qualcomm QCC5100 offering a ‘system-on-a-chip’ Bluetooth solution, iFi has chosen to implement a separate ESS Technology Sabre DAC to take care of the signal conversion. Thus, the incoming signal bypasses the QCC5100 DAC and is routed to the ZEN Blue’s DAC for conversion from digital to analogue. In doing so, it takes advantage of the Sabre’s Hyperstream architecture with integrated Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, which helps to deliver low distortion and high dynamic range. This DAC stage can handle sample rates well in excess of those that the Bluetooth codecs will be supplying - currently, the 24-bit-aptX HD’s specification maxes out at 48kHz, while LDAC and HWA support up to 96kHz.

iFi ZEN Blue
The ZEN Blue’s remaining circuitry is custom designed and optimised with input from legendary audio designer John Curl.

The Blue’s analogue output stage eschews the affordable price point and is a balanced design incorporating professional-grade balanced line drivers, C0G capacitors from TDK, and a precision low-noise power supply IC from Texas Instruments.

A switch at the rear of the receiver dictates how the incoming signal is routed, depending upon the audio setup the ZEN Blue is feeding. Thus, the signal can either be routed through the Sabre DAC and analogue output stage or directly to the digital outputs.

As well as analogue RCA outputs which can be used to connect to amplifiers and active speakers, there’s the option of a 4.4mm Pentaconn output which enables balanced signal transfer to amps/speakers equipped with a balanced input - either a 4.4mm input, or XLR inputs via a 4.4mm-to-XLR cable.

On the digital front, optical and coaxial outputs enable connection to anything with a built-in DAC and corresponding digital input, such as an AV amp or an external Hi-Fi DAC.

iFi ZEN Blue
The ZEN Blue can recall up to seven different Bluetooth devices and features a decent reception range courtesy of its Bluetooth 5 specification.

Information regarding the specific Bluetooth codec being processed is available via a colour coded LED on the front panel, while a second LED indicates the sample rate. Furthermore, as new Bluetooth codecs are developed, it is possible to update the Qualcomm’s QCC5100 chip ‘over-the-air’ ensuring increased longevity for listener’s audio setups.

The iFi ZEN Blue Bluetooth receiver will be available from October at an RRP of £129.

Have you any Hi-Fi equipment that would get a boost from adding Bluetooth connectivity? Let others know how you would use the ZEN Blue if you had one.

Source: Press release
Image Source: iFi





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