The iFi Zen Stream, A Review

acgingersnaps

Well-known Member
I've had one of these in my possession for a few weeks now (On loan from iFi Audio, for which my thanks) and thought that I'd share my thoughts on it.

I've got combo of budget and midrange kit, which all listening was conducted on. This product doesn't have a DAC, it's a transport, so will require you to have an external DAC already or for you to have one on board your amplifier/receiver. In my case I have Topping D30, which I connected to the iFi with a coaxial cable. As a saddo, this is the sort of thing that I have lying about anyway, so no issues there. USB is also an option, so it should suit most, but I was slightly surprised at the lack of an optical digital option.
The Topping's connected to a Rega Elex R amp, feeding Neat Motive SX2 speakers.

Everything's neatly packaged and it comes with a power supply, a screw on aerial, an ethernet cable and a little plastic screwdriver for adjusting the input settings. Looks wise, if you're familiar with the Zen series, you'll be familiar with this (photo below, illustrating how neatly it joined my iFi/Schiit stack, fitting beautifully above the excellent iFi Zen Phono). It feels solid and is well finished. All good so far.

Connecting to my wifi network was straight forward, with clear instructions provided, and I was good to start playing tunes within five minutes of opening the box, so I did.

Sound wise, it's great. Everything sounds as you'd expect it to. This is a complement, I'm not going to tell you that it revolutionanised the sound, because that would be absurd. It offers a really clear signal and everything sounded great, as I'd expect from my system. This is the sort of thing that will sit as happily doing it's job on a really expensive system, as it will on a budget one. You're getting a high quality signal, that does it's job well.

There was a rock solid connection too, and with it's 'exclusive modes' set to Tidal, I was able to easily control it from the Tidal app. However, this in itself was a bit of a bone of contention. I usually use Qobuz and as an Android user, wasn't able to. Had I been an iPhone user this wouldn't have been a problem, but I'm not, so it was. In fact my listening habits made this a bit of a frustrating product for me to review. I listen to vinyl and stream using my phone and either a streaming service, BBC Sounds or a Podcast app. Usually I use a Sonos Connect if I want to stream to my main rig. As a result, I can only really comment on how Tidal sounds (great!). The absence of a way for me to easily connect to anything else meant that I didn't.

As a result, this is a bit of a qualified conclusion.
If, like me, you just use an Android phone, the lack of an iFi DNLA app or Chromecast, make this a difficult recommendation. I'd love to have a go once they're included, which apparently they will be soon. I'm sure the more technically minded might have a 3rd party app that would access things like the BBC from my phone, but it's not something I was able to get to.
However, If you use a DLNA app on your PC or have an iPhone (Airplay is available), I think this is probably a superb bit of kit and is very well priced (£399), as quick search for off the shelf streamers will quickly show you.

To conclude, this is clearly a cracking bit of hardware (From a consistently solid company) that, if you're an Android user, just needs the sofware to catch up a bit.
 

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Adam72

Active Member
A nice write up, cheers for your thoughts. I've never felt the need for a streamer, I just connect my iPhone to the DAC on my amp and press play.
 

acgingersnaps

Well-known Member
A nice write up, cheers for your thoughts. I've never felt the need for a streamer, I just connect my iPhone to the DAC on my amp and press play.
I get you, but it's one of those things where once you switch to being able to do it wirelessly, you never go back.
 

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