iFi’s Zen DAC V2 was one of the first reviews on HiFi Starters. A USB DAC and headphone amplifier, we loved it so much it’s still here. Now £199, it’s comfortable in starter systems up to £2,000, the nominal max on this site.
iFi isn’t a company to keep still so there’s now a complete range of ZENs, running up to the £349 Zen One Signature. Features vary – the One Signature has both USB and SPDIF inputs for example – but they all share the same basic form. Hello flying saucers. Baby of the range is the Zen DAC Air at £99.
Or rather it was. iFi has just announced its new Uno, a DAC & headamp set to arrive in time for Christmas at the remarkably low price of £79/US$79/€79. The casework has shrunk, the Uno fits in the palm of your hand. Cute isn’t a word normally associated with HiFi but it’s appropriate here. And the Uno’s functionality is more limited than its siblings but not by much. Power Match is still present, boosting the gain by 6dB for hard to drive headphones. iFi’s proprietary S-Balanced circuitry is deployed on the headphone output. It’s a quasi-balanced arrangement that reduces noise and crosstalk. And three EQ settings work in the analogue domain to optimise the sound for music, movies or games. Our past experience with iFi’s analogue EQ has always been positive.
The single USB-C input takes both power and signal from the connected device. Crucially, the input isn’t limited to computers as is often the case at this price level, smartphones and tablets can join in the fun. There’s no provision for an external power supply though, something we found useful with the Zens. Well something had to give for the price.
The Uno is based on the ESS ES9219MQ/Q DAC chip, with iFi developing the associated clocking, power supply and analogue output circuitry (no doubt borrowing much from the ZENs). On rates the Uno handles up to PCM 32bit/384kHz, DSD256 and also MQA. Finally a single set of RCA outputs is available for use in a system. Laptop + Uno + powered speakers sounds ideal.
iFi sees the Uno as a ‘first-rung audio upgrade’ and we’re not going to argue. Consider our interest well and truly piqued. We’ve requested a review sample.