Compendium updated February 25th, 2021.
"This DAC can do MQA, 32-bit decoding, and balanced audio for under $300" isn't a sentence we thought we'd be saying any time soon. But that's the astonishing state of budget-fi audio in 2021. The ifi Zen DAC can do all that and more.
We’ve compiled reviews from across the web for your reference. What you’ll find here are the TLDR versions of the full reviews (which you can access with the provided links). We’ll continue updating this compendium as reviews come in.
From Audio Science Reviews' review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on November 14th, 2019:
“The ifi Zen on paper has dazzlingly good feature set for its price. Lots of connectivity is there together with a western company standing behind it. Alas, the DAC portion is yesterday's news and not competitive. Headphone output is low and distorts quite easily.
“Redeeming the unit is availability of more power through its 4.4 mm "balanced" headphone jack and very low price for the category.
“Net, net, it works and is adequately good. Won't hold a candle to higher end devices or separates. For $200 you can get a DAC and Amp combo that would run circles around it.
“I can't recommend the ifi Zen DAC as long as I have my audio performance elitist hat on. You can choose to do otherwise without said hair covering.”
From TechRadar's review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on January 28th, 2020:
“The iFi Zen DAC is an excellent DAC and amp for the price. The unit has support for most major hi-fi audio formats as well as balanced connections, which is rare for entry-level audio products. While the Zen DAC isn’t the last word in sound stage, dynamics, or detail retrieval, it still manages to elevate the music listening experience. You’ll have to step up to a much more expensive DAC/amp like the Chord Mojo if you want even more performance.”
From Z Reviews' review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on July 14th, 2020:
"I'm in love with this amplifier."
From WhatHiFi's review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on May 1st, 2020:
“Compare the iFi with price rivals and it’s clearly up there with the best when it comes to sound quality. But it also offers a degree of versatility that those rivals don’t. If you’re looking for a well-built, budget desktop DAC, this iFi should be top of your list.”
From Stereo Magazine's review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on September 17th, 2020:
“And whoever listens to the Zen DAC will probably completely and finally lose his belief in the usual audiophile structure of price and quality. It played fresh and carefree, sounded colorful and differentiated. The Evergreen "Caravan Of Love" by the Isley Brothers sounded richer in the low frequencies, more homogeneous in the mids and altogether much more relaxed than over the headphone jack of the MacBook, from whose hard drive the music was being played in both cases. Even with less sensitive headphones, the iFi reached high volumes.”
From MajorHiFi's review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on October 12th, 2019:
“I really enjoy listening to the IFI Zen DAC and I will probably purchase one in the near future. But it would make a good gift, too, to my friends and family who love good audio but don’t want anything too flashy or expensive. At the heart of the matter, that’s what the Zen DAC is – just really good audio, in a simple, economic package. At $129, you can’t get much sweeter than that.”
From Soundphile's review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on May 20th, 2020:“9/10.
From The Audiophile Man's review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on July 9th, 2020:
“There is an awful lot of features packed into this small chassis, a lot of quality (all that balanced gubbins), the Pentacon socket (I know plenty of expensive DACs that don’t offer that), the useful pre-amp option and analogue gain control. And all at a low, low price. How, I have to ask, does iFi do it? I thought the new breed of Chinese hi-fi brands were the low cost specialists here but apparently not. They don’t reach the high finish quality that iFi provides either.
“Of course, the glitz and glamor would be nothing without great sound and, let me assure you, the Zen offers great sound. This is a quality piece of kit but, hey, what more would you expect from iFi?”
From Stereonet's review of the iFi Zen DAC, first published on August 4th, 2020:
“iFi's new Zen DAC/headphone amplifier does an awful lot for the money, then. If you're into music on the move and want a fine sounding, versatile and robust little powerhouse – then this is it. Offering super keen value compared to some price rivals, it's an essential audition for cash-strapped head-fi fans.”
Editor’s note: Emphases ours.