I think what makes the iFi sound so good is the filtering and the clean signal it's giving your DAC compared to the Node. Wouldn't your DAC already be cleaning up the rest of the signal too? Not sure how much you could really improve the sound from the iFi without moving up and spending more on a different unit.
Ifi Zen Streamer plus upgraded power supply - the streamer to beat??
Hi Fellow Audiophile nerds,
I know everyone likes to put a plug in for whatever products they happen to have in their system. I'm no better. But, I thought it would be worth sharing my experience with the ifi Zen Stream paired with an upgraded linear power supply, because it sounds great and seems like a really good value for what you get.
The ifi Zen stream is a small device, purpose built, with USB output. It cost me $400 USD on Amazon. Has been favorably reviewed by many including Absolute Sound, Audio Excellence Canada, and others. Some reviewers mentioned issues connecting to wifi, but I haven't had any problems. Ifi claims the product downloads firmware updates automatically. Streaming via Tidal Connect has been rock solid for me thus far.
I added a linear power supply from a British company called McRU - recommended by the British Audiophile. McRU makes a power supply for the Zen Stream and it costs around $350.
So, with this $750 combination, it seems I have a streamer with most of the features that you would find in high-end streamers from Auralic or Aurendor, and they retail from something like $3500 and way up. What I don't yet have is I2S output and a really good internal clock to reduce jitter before going into my DAC. But, Denafrips offers 3 digital to digital units, with their entry level Iris going for about $550 USD. So that's another option for those wanting to improve performance further.
How does it all sound? Going from a Bluesound Node 2i using coaxial output into a Denafrips Ares II, to the Zen stream with upgraded power supply USB output into the Denafrips Ares II the upgrade was very significant. More clarity, darker (less noisy) background, better instrument separation, and overall the sound seems to have a bit more weight to it.
Just thought I'd share this, and would love to hear others' opinions and experiences.
Hi blkwrwgn (that's a mouthful) and fuzztone (much easier).
I get a lot of my advice from the British Audiophile youtube channel - highly recommended. He has two videos, one on the Denafrips Iris (www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tKWWs-OMxw) that does a great job of explaining all the differences between digital outputs and why USB is better than coaxial, and I2S supposedly better than USB; and another video on upgrading your streamer/dac with an external power supply (www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmiLQ9ifb0A)
As I mention, if you want the I2S output and your DAC accepts I2S, then a device like the Denafrips Iris should be a cost-effective upgrade that still puts the price of the Zen Stream/Power supply/Digital to Digital package well below (comparable?) streamers from Auralic and Aurender and others.
As for external power supplies, the British Audiophile says he compared an iFi power supply with a linear power supply from a company called McRU. He found the LPS to be a significant improvement over the iFi power supply, though the iFi power supply was certainly an improvement over your standard cheapo wall plug (switch mode power supply).
Another option if you where going to spend more on a iris, is upgrade ares ii to the pontus and really see how your system get bigger sound stage , clearer uppers, excellent mid bass and tighter lower bass. I heard iris is good but if using a clocker the gaia is suppose to be excellent far far better in many ways. The iris and ares ii is better, but clock in pontus is higher quality and pontus alone would be a heart increase. I really like my zen streamer also.
IMHO, the ifi Zen Stream is a breakthrough product and tremendous value stock. It's nice to have a number of PS upgrade options.
Bluesound 2i was all the rage a couple years ago. So got refurbished. $420 + Topping D90 $630 + PD Creative power supply. 132 coax 40. Cord $100. After the power supply upgrade is when it really shines. I did not get the Pardo LPS much more $$. I will leave this alone until something breaks. The iFi looks great idea. Optical may be an option. So much easier to keep noise out.
I may try the OP's combo once the Zen Stream is Roon ready. I know it apparently works with Roon now, but apparently Roon ready status is coming soon according to the ifi website. I just tried a Bricasti M5 streamer and it couldn't send audio to my Yggdrasil via USB, despite both components being Roon ready. I tried it via SPDIF/BNC and it frankly sounded worse (in your face and fatiguing) than just sending the signal directly from my M1 Mac Mini to the DAC. USB is most definitely the input of choice for any Schiit DAC with their Unison technology. Got a refund and decided to maybe just keep things as they are, after all, it sounds great! But I can't help but wonder if the right dedicated renderer/streamer might sound even better. Honestly, probably not but I'd like to have some experience with a few to know for sure.
Hi Unsound (like the name). The only thing to be aware of with I2S output is that whatever device outputs I2S is responsible for clocking the signal. So if a MK II version of the Zen Stream were to have I2S output, it would also need to have a very good clock to be a true audiophile streamer. If your DAC has a great internal clock, you'll probably get better results feeding it with a USB signal. The Denafrips Iris (and their other more expensive D2D devices) do have very good clocks (probably better than what is found in most DACs) and that's why the I2S output from the Denafrips Iris, to a DAC that accepts I2S, can be an enhancement. But it all depends upon the quality of the different parts in the signal chain.
Decided to try the Zen Stream and received it today. Just using the included wall-wart, which is indeed a bit of a joke. Biggest disappointment is that, like the Bricasti M5, it also won't send audio to my Yggdrasil via USB. At this point it's obvious Schiit has a USB compatibility issue and I've sent them a message to see if they intend to do anything about it. So, I'm resigned to using SPDIF once again (the SPDIF cable I have is BNC on the other end). But here's a little shocker. It sounds MUCH better than the M5 did with the same connection. This thing costs 1/6 of what the M5 typically retails for, uses a power supply that looks like it should be for a calculator (M5 has a built-in linear PS), and yet fairly blows the M5 away in SQ. I agree with unsound that the aesthetics and functional design leave a lot to be desired, but it's hard to argue with the performance. It seems to work just fine with and is recognized by Roon. @unsound, is it known that a MK II version is coming or are you just speculating? I'm tempted to get a nice PS for it and cross my fingers that USB functionality eventually comes via a FW update from either Schiit or ifi. But if there's a MKII version on the horizon I'll return this one and hope for a better design soon.
@joshindc Seems like your buddies over on DIY Audio don't share your enthusiasm and BTW don't tell people that it's better than an Auralic or Aurender unless you have personally demoed them side by side with your wonder box.
Hi @lordmelton. I did not say the Zen Stream plus an LPS would sound better than an Auralic or Aurender - it's true I haven't heard them in my system (have you?) - I only said it seems like this combo gives you all the features you would expect from a high-priced streamer from those two brands at much lower cost. But I'm sure people will disagree. That's one of the things that makes this hobby interesting.
@joshindc I apologise, you were only comparing features, my bad.
To evaluate the quality of streaming you're getting compare it to a cd or a recording on your HDD or SSD.
A good DAC is essential, if you get one with an Amanero USB board/input you won't need a re-clocker and it'll have I2S but USB should be fine.
I didn't feel like running into the same issues I did before with the ifi unit, so I ended up getting a referb Cambridge cxn v2 off ebay the other day.
Might even do the modwright upgrades too if I really like the Cambridge. I use roon, so the software side of things don't bother me but the ifi was such a pita in that it would lock up, wouldn't connect to anything other than roon (no spotify or airplay), lights would go out and then you would have to reboot it etc.....
@blkwrxwgn I’d be VERY interested in your findings as I’m looking at the iFi Zen Stream with an upgraded power supply but also entertaining the ProJect Stream Box, which, to me, is a pi on steroids. My bias, iFi Stream with upgraded iFi power supply and $80 optical isolation link as discussed in other threads here. But your impressions would be extremely helpful. Thanks!
@soix Spent a few days with the Cambridge.
I’ll keep it short but I wanted to be able to use just the cambridge on it’s own since it’s supposed to have a pretty good DAC. So I listened to it on it’s own for a bit and thought it sounded great! I was really happy to be able to sell the RME ADI 2 and be done........then I switched back to the pi 4 and RME setup and was immediately woken up to how good that DAC is.
I then thought I was going to end up sending the Cambridge back until I then hooked the RME up to the Cambridge and that’s when I found the happy spot. I think the ifi or Cambridge with a great DAC like the RME is the way to go. The DAC in the Cambridge is no match for the RME and then you get a much smaller but still an upgrade using the cambridge over the pi 4 setup.
I spent a few months with the ifi and I think the ifi might have a very very slight advantage to the cambridge sound wise but I don’t think I want to deal with their issues and lack of customer support again. I like the package of the cambridge, it worked immediately with my roon setup and the small screen is nice but it needs an upgraded DAC for sure.
This thread has been valuable to me, thanks! I also am interested in the iFi stream however having a screen would seem useful. I've been researching streaming devices and recently procured a Qobuz subscription and playing it through my new apple laptop. Still quantifying my needs prior to purchasing a streamer or streamer/server.
@blkwrxwgn Thanks so much for your valuable insights. Super helpful! BTW, the WRX is my favorite hot hatch. I used to own a VW Corrado VR6 and still miss her!
I jumped on the Zen Stream early, so mine came with the iPower included. Mine uses a wired ethernet connection and I use it exclusively in Roon Mode feeding a Chord Qutest DAC (which has an SBooster). I haven't gone crazy comparing and contrasting outside of saying that it's noticeably better than the Node 2i in the same setup that it replaced and that in my implementation, it's been bulletproof--no connectivity issues, Roon always finds it, music never drops.
I've got a Innuos Zenith Mk3 (feeding a Border Patrol DAC) in another room, and while I think the Innuos is better, I've never felt the urge to swap things back and forth. All I'll say is that I'm really happy with the Zen Stream, even as I upgrade the rig that's in in--it's damn good, and I imagine really hard to beat at up to three or four times it's price.
@blkwrxwgn You bastard! I’m so jealous as Porsche is my absolute fave car. At the time right outta business school I couldn’t afford a 944 turbo much less a 911, hence the Corrado
@unsound Big +1 on that!!!
@badgerdms Thank you, that’s hugely helpful. Have you thought about getting the Phoenix? I really want the Zen Mk3 so I can load my CDs into it but, alas, it’s not in the budget right now so it’s hugely helpful to know the Zen Stream isn’t all that far off in the meantime.
This is a great thread. I've just started building a digital system and my first purchase was the Zen Stream and so far I've been really impressed. I'm feeding it with a 15v iPower X from a good Power Conditioner with a couple of AC iPurifiers plugged in.
I've been down a deep rabbit hole with Ethernet and tried all sorts of expensive components (EE 8 Switch, SotM iSO CAT 7, Audioquest, Chord and SotM cables) and not-so-expensive (Cisco 2960, SFPs, 10Gtek FMCs etc.). Try as I may I can't beat the sound from a solid Wi-Fi connection to the Zen Stream!
My current DAC is the Zen DAC v2 (I know, it's really cheap but it sounds really good to my ears!) I've tried several USB cables from Wireworld and the ifi Mercury 3. I'm now using the stock USB cable supplied with the DAC and an ifi iPurifier 3. The iPurifier 3 makes a massive difference to SQ and with it plugged in the more expensive USB cables are redundant.
With some good quality RCA cables to a Topping PA5 and some lovely speaker cables to some great Wharfedale speakers, I'm actually at a loss on what I might improve!
The DAC is an obvious area of improvement and I might audition a Zen DAC Signature v2 and a Denafrips Ares II to see if they make any audible difference.
It's reassuring to know that the Zen Stream is potentially "as good" as some of the far more expensive models as I had my eye on the Auralic Ares G1.1 but that is quite a significant cost uplift and doesn't offer MQA decoding.
If ifi can offer native Qobuz integration to the Zen Stream that would be a game changer as I really want to try Qobuz but the current need for a third-party app kills it for me.
@jabbaman I wouldn’t let a 3rd party app stop you. MConnect HD is only $5.99 and works pretty much as well as the Qobuz site.
@soix - I gave MConnect HD a try today with a Qobuz free trial and my personal view is that:
1. I can't hear a difference between Qobuz Hi-Fi and Tidal Hi-Fi (I am old so my hearing is maybe not able to discern the finer points between the two formats).
2. The MConnect HD UX and UI is awful compared to the native Apple and Windows Tidal app. I'm not paying for something that utterly terrible so I've requested a refund from the Apple Store.
3. The Qobux app itself also lags behind the Tidal app in terms of ease of use, navigation and the way it presents search results. The algorithms in Tidal are spot on.
I'm switching to a Denafrips Ares II so I'm leaving MQA in the rear-view mirror (partly, the Zen Stream will still unfold MQA) but Tidal Hi-Fi is pretty good and one day I hope Spotify comes to the Hi-Res party!
Obviously, this is just my opinion based on what ticks my boxes! It's wonderful that we have all these options and choices though isn't it?
The only comparisons I’ve seen are of stock Zen Stream and Node, an in those comparisons the ZS was preferred, so I assume adding a better PS to either would prefer the ZS. But that’s just a guess. I will say that the ZS puts all its $$$ to being a streamer while Node also is a DAC, which probably makes a difference.