iFi ZEN Stream

YorkshireLee

Well-known Member
I thought I'd create this thread as this new streamer deserves a mention.

The ZEN stream is the latest release from iFi audio - and priced at £399 it's the most expensive unit (to my knowledge) in the ZEN range.
What's more - it's not an integrated streamer/DAC like other units out on the market are, it's a stream transport.

On the back of the unit, there's an SPDIF output, two USB 3.0 "A" interfaces, both of which feature ANC II, a USB C interface for updates, a WLAN aerial and a LAN interface. It also has a little switch with five exclusive modes:

All-in-one (covers the based) and supported largely by most platforms, DLNA, NAA (network attached adapter), ROON and TIDAL (for TIDAL connect).

On the front of the unit, it's relatively straight forward - a power button, two LED's (one for network connectivity, one for stream resolution) and then a setup button.

Setup is a little complex if using wireless - let me explain.
Firstly - you have to put the device in setup mode. Connect via wireless to the SSID and brown to the local interface / GUI.
From here you select your network, set your device name / airplay passwords etc and then exit setup mode.
The unit then connects to your WLAN and you should then see the device as an airplay / network source.

What people sometimes do is rush ahead and switch to a mode first and foremost (other than mode 1 which is needed for the above setup) and then cannot enter setup mode. There was also a bug in an early revision of the software that meant a reset could brick the device...

You select your mode after setup has been completed. Note - this isn't an issue for wired connectivity!

Selecting the mode requires a restart. So for me, I use TIDAL a lot - I got the device on the network (and I get a visual validation as the LED turns from red to green) - then select the mode, power off and power on again. I can now see the device in TIDAL connect.

If you're using a DAC with USB input (such as in my stack, the iFi ZEN DAC V2) - this can be powered from the 5V 900ma output on the ZEN stream itself. I'm all up for one less power supply! You can however go straight out from COAX into your amp if that's your preferred route.

There's no analog side - so no headphones, no RCA. Remember, it's a transport only.

Now onto the sound - I've really enjoyed the iFi ZEN range right from the first time I got my hands on it. It's well built, attractive and discrete.
I wish they had a DAC which had optical/COAX inputs as at the price points they manufacture at, I am sure it'd be a hit!

I stream a lot with the Bluesound Node, with the Pro-Ject Stream Box S2, a Pro-Ject Stream DS2 Transport plus many other devices (audiolab 6000N Play, HiFI Rose) - so I have I think a good amount of listening time and exposure to make some judgements.

Firstly - the output is very clear. Comparing quiet moments in tracks, the noise floor on any output interface is very very low. I am guessing this is down to the iPurifier filters on the output stage but would welcome comment on this.
Comparing MQA to HiFi / CD quality streams, there's a little more timbre and the treble (in particular, you can really hear more forward presentation on Gregory Porter's "No Love Dying" and the opening gentle snare brush and smaller cymbal runs when compared to some of the devices mentioned above.

Depending on how you're listening, this forward presentation can almost be seen as bright - not harsh, just more detail in the treble which I find really interesting. I think this also has something to do with the DAC combination - as going into the back of different amps (with integrated DAC's), some of this detail fell away which made for a slightly more natural listening experience. However - when listening through a set of monitor headphones or something such as the Grado GS1000e, this detail and what it was doing became much more apparent. I very quickly found myself analysing and really listening to the music rather than sitting back.

When listening to tracks such as "Destroying Angels" by Bohren & Der Club of Gore (it's not heavy metal like you may think from the name) - I really enjoyed the natural decay with instrumentation here, something which I feel is otherwise lost or reduced in other combinations.

When integrating this into one of my main racks with some of my higher end speakers - it doesn't feel or sound out of place at all.

I think it's an astonishing little product and one that people venturing into streaming shouldn't be hesitant about having a play with or a demo. At £399 it really takes some beating.

What would I improve? The front of the unit has a laser engraved "Stream" which doesn't feel in-keeping aesthetically with the rest of the range.
Perhaps an app for configuration and to see what input/output data is being passed through the unit could be a nice touch - I always compare against BluOS controller which I think is a superb app and would love that type of experience with many of the streamers :D But that's just me I guess....

I haven't yet played with the NAA side of things, though my ROON core sees the device in there and streaming from the PC is easy, responsive and I've not had the unit crash on me yet when using it this way.

I have had the occasional lockup if the device has been on for a few weeks. But a quick power off/on again fixes this.

Link to iFi's website: ZEN Stream by iFi audio | The high-performance, flexible and affordable Streamer from iFi audio

Input voltageDC 9V/1.8A-15V/0.8A
AC 100 -240V, 50/60Hz
InputWi-Fi / Ethernet / USB HDD

(Firmware updates via OTA and USB-C at rear)
FormatsPCM384
DSD256
(MQA-fully compatible)
OutputUSB3.0 (Type-A Socket) x2
SPDIF (Coaxial)
Power consumptionNo Signal ~6W
Max Signal ~10W
Dimensions158 x 100 x 35 mm
6.2" x 3.9" x 1.4"
Net weight578g (1.14 lbs)
 

YorkshireLee

Well-known Member
The ZEN stack (Stream, DAC and Phono amp)
 

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Cebolla

Well-known Member
You haven't actually mentioned comparing it with another streaming transport with a similar spec (eg a Raspberry Pi 4B, running TIDAL Connect supporting Volumio, with built-in USB audio output & an S/PDIF audio output add-on board, all for ~£100) and out to the same DAC, so how can you be certain that any audio improvements are due to the device itself and not the DAC you've connected it to?
 
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oldfart

Active Member
Set ZEN stream up this morning to use as a Roon end point, paired it with an M-DAC mini. Although I have not had time to evaluate properly yet I am impressed so far. FYI also easy to set up unlike a lot of other streamers/servers.
 

Cebolla

Well-known Member
Have you considered whether the 'easy to set up' is worth the extra ~£300 compared to a Raspberry Pi based streamer to paired with the M-DAC mini, running the same official RoonBridge Roon endpoint application - such as that provided by RoPieee 'ready-to-go' image for the Raspberry Pi?


1630238997643.png
 
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oldfart

Active Member
Did consider the Raspberry Pi but to be honest I am at a stage where I would rather go plug n play than rather spend time, setting up, downloading an image to an SD card loading onto the Pi. Also having to buy additional keyboard, mouse and then as usual for me something going wrong!. The extra outlay is worth it to me to be up and running in minutes, although I do appreciate for some the extra expense is too much to afford.
 

jht

Standard Member
Have you considered whether the 'easy to set up' is worth the extra ~£300 compared to a Raspberry Pi based streamer to paired with the M-DAC mini, running the same official RoonBridge Roon endpoint application - such as that provided by RoPieee 'ready-to-go' image for the Raspberry Pi?


View attachment 1562232
All my attempts with Pi so far have clicks/pops on playback start, track change and stop (not DSD or sample rate changes). From the extensive searching I've done on this, it seems to be down to the combination of playback software keeping the stream alive or not, and the DAC's handling of stream loss. With the TI DAC that exhibits this problem with MPD based solutions (RopieeeXL, MoOde), it doesn't do it when using a Sony blu ray player as the streamer.

I'm interested to know if the Zen uses MPD and anyone has run into similar click/pop issues. If not, I might be tempted...
 

Cebolla

Well-known Member
The specialised audio player/streamer distros that use MPD, like MoOdE & RopieeeXL, are normally several versions behind. It's possible that a later version of MPD might not produce the same problem, so it may be worth trying a standard & more configurable distro for the RPi, such as Raspberry Pi OS or DietPi, that should allow you manually install a much later version of MPD on.


BTW, if the Zen does use MPD it would only be because the UPnP/DLNA renderer it's using is the upmpdcli front end client for MPD. Also, the other streaming technologies mentioned above (AirPlay, Roon, NAA, TIDAL Connect, etc), don't use MPD.
 

oldfart

Active Member
Hi everybody, thought I would give you an update to my original post.

Whilst originally I set up the stream as an Roon endpoint and indeed was functioning as this, However I noticed the sample rate light stopped working after an hour or so. Contacted IfI support who told me to update the firmware but for some reason every time I hit the update button in the iFI local app nothing would happen. I then visited our good friends at the Yorkshire AV YouTube channel and went through the set up step by step, even resetting the stream with a pin in the back of the unit before starting. Once setup the same problem occurred and then although no lights was showing as before could still stream. So do I just not concern myself about something that really is not needed or beneficial to music enjoyment, well if all functions do not work then for £399 I felt cheated. It was returned for a refund.

I decided to bite the bullet and got a Matrix Elements i and so far no problems even over Wi-Fi. The Matrix is over double the price of the stream but I guess at some price point you get what you pay for. Not telling anybody not to buy the stream and I guess there are hundreds of people enjoying the stream at the moment. Was I unlucky, who knows but life is too short.
 

YorkshireLee

Well-known Member
Out of interest - the lights will go out if the right button (setup) is pressed.
I’m not sure if this is a discrete feature or not, but if I press it then both lights go out (still streams etc) but then press it again and both come on and show the relative colours.

If you pressed it - did the lights come back on?
 

oldfart

Active Member
Out of interest - the lights will go out if the right button (setup) is pressed.
I’m not sure if this is a discrete feature or not, but if I press it then both lights go out (still streams etc) but then press it again and both come on and show the relative colours.
Did not touch the button at any time whilst streaming. Matters not now as I have moved on but thanks for the info and might be useful to someone else.
 

jag1

Standard Member
Hi everybody, thought I would give you an update to my original post.

Whilst originally I set up the stream as an Roon endpoint and indeed was functioning as this, However I noticed the sample rate light stopped working after an hour or so. Contacted IfI support who told me to update the firmware but for some reason every time I hit the update button in the iFI local app nothing would happen. I then visited our good friends at the Yorkshire AV YouTube channel and went through the set up step by step, even resetting the stream with a pin in the back of the unit before starting. Once setup the same problem occurred and then although no lights was showing as before could still stream. So do I just not concern myself about something that really is not needed or beneficial to music enjoyment, well if all functions do not work then for £399 I felt cheated. It was returned for a refund.

I decided to bite the bullet and got a Matrix Elements i and so far no problems even over Wi-Fi. The Matrix is over double the price of the stream but I guess at some price point you get what you pay for. Not telling anybody not to buy the stream and I guess there are hundreds of people enjoying the stream at the moment. Was I unlucky, who knows but life is too short.
i have been having connection problems with my ZS, but its a month old and i did do the latest firmware update as well. i was hopping that it was a network problem at first. i think its a early production run problem. will see if i can exchange for a current model. trying to work with ifi on this. how does the Element compare sound wise., btw i am also an old fart and time is precious. when it works its awfully good sounding. anyone else having connections problems with older units? newer units? thanks.
 

oldfart

Active Member
The Matrix Element I is a very capable streamer DAC, set up easy, DAC sounds good to me as I use a pair of Sennheiser HD598, volume resets to -30Db when it goes into standby and is in fact just the right level for the headphones, the APP is also very intuitive in fact one of the best for music control and streaming, Qobuz and Tidal I have used. When used with Roon start playing the album and the unit comes on automatically, you can set up the standby time from within Roon when there is no signal. As I said before Wi-Fi is rock solid. Very happy I purchased it and would recommend it.
 

jag1

Standard Member
The Matrix Element I is a very capable streamer DAC, set up easy, DAC sounds good to me as I use a pair of Sennheiser HD598, volume resets to -30Db when it goes into standby and is in fact just the right level for the headphones, the APP is also very intuitive in fact one of the best for music control and streaming, Qobuz and Tidal I have used. When used with Roon start playing the album and the unit comes on automatically, you can set up the standby time from within Roon when there is no signal. As I said before Wi-Fi is rock solid. Very happy I purchased it and would recommend it.
just need a streamer, but it sounds good. got another update from IFI addressing connection stability. so far so good
 

iFi audio

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
@jag1 I hope that our customer support managed to solve your issue. If you have any questions left let me know.
 

jag1

Standard Member
@jag1 I hope that our customer support managed to solve your issue. If you have any questions left let me know.
it is working a little bit better, but the unit stops working, goes dead, lights out. once and awhile. still not perfect. get up, press the power button and all is good again
 

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OldeFlatus

Novice Member
I purchased a Zen Stream a couple of weeks ago hoping it would sound better than using an M1 MacMini running Audirvana. I contacted the manufacturer of my DAC (a unit that's been Stereophile Class A+ for years) and they suggested that the setup I was running was pretty much ideal... they were wrong. This thing sounds a whole lot better than anything else I've tried, including an HP Elitebook running Volumio, the same Elitebook running Windows and JRiver, a NUC running Volumio and a 2013 iMac running Audirvana and Tidal.

The software is still a work-in-progress so I view the unit like a 1960's Jaguar; it's not a Toyota but, on the other hand, it's not a Toyota. Very impressed, especially at the price.
 

jag1

Standard Member
i would gladly pay double the price for one that did not have the connection loss issues i have had. too old to get up and give it the old re-boot. i have worked with IFI and other forum members in trying to get it to stream without crashing for the last 2 months.
 

anton38

Novice Member
i would gladly pay double the price for one that did not have the connection loss issues i have had. too old to get up and give it the old re-boot. i have worked with IFI and other forum members in trying to get it to stream without crashing for the last 2 months.
Same here. I've bought mine in August and different connectivity issues persist- dropping the connection during streaming included. Very frustrating and I am considering returning it.
 

jag1

Standard Member
i have tried to get either a refund or an exchange from TREO in Singapore. they are giving me the run around. i have asked IFI to intervene but no luck. stay away from these people in Singapore. consider yourself lucky if you can get a refund. i think it's Lumin time.
 

iFi audio

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
Hey @jag1 , sorry to hear about your experience with TREO down in Singapore. If TREO did not work out try to contact our distributor in Singapore - Stereo Electronics. You can PM me more details and I'll see what I can do.
 

jag1

Standard Member
i bought my first Zen Stream from Stereo Electronics, it also was an early production run and had problems with the psu that where being shipped with the units at the time, like a lot of people had. i asked them for an exchange and they would not send me one. they only offered to refund the purchase price of the unit if it could be shipped back to them within a week to them. rather odd, i thought. it was more like an ultimatum. so i doubt if they would be helpful. i had to contact TREO in to order to get a replacement. this has been an expensive journey for me when you start to add up the shipping ing cost and import duties for faulty units. i am originally from the States where the customer is treated very differently. not use to this. i am now thinking Lumin. and will ask for a refund, tired of the run a run i am getting from these folks. IFI ZS sounded great when it was working and has great potential. the Lumin has been out for awhile however.
thanks,
 

iFi audio

Well-known Member
AVForums Sponsor
I does sound like an unfortunate experience. Sorry you had to go through that. Hope the next one will be better :) I am here if you have any audio-related questions.
 

jag1

Standard Member
i have asked TREO to refund my credit card for both items. this could have been handled better if they had simply agreed to send a replacement. i do not wish to do any further business with your partners in Singapore. just dreadful. hope that i do not have to get the police involved?
thanks,
 
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jag1

Standard Member
email from TREO today said they will refund me for the Zen Stream only minus a 50% restocking/open box fee! a re-stocking fee on a defective unit. i have contacted my bank and have initiated a claim against them for the full amount. just ludicrous
 

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