iFi ZEN DAC 3: boost your audio quality

These days, many of us (myself included) are just used to the audio quality that we get coming from our phones into our earbuds. And sure, it’s good – but it could be better. That’s where a digital-to-analog-converter (DAC) can come into play, putting some warmth back in, and doing a better job than whatever chip is in your phone. Recently released, the iFi ZEN DAC 3 has us intrigued.

  • iFi ZEN DAC 3
  • iFi ZEN DAC 3

What it is

The iFi ZEN DAC 3 is a compact DAC that was intended for a wide set of use-cases. The fact that it was built with us non-audiophiles in mind is revealed by the input. It’s not an audio standard that we’re used to seeing, but it’s one that points us to the future: USB-C. This means that you can hook your phone, laptop, or tablet in, and have it work. For the output, you’ve got a dedicated headphone jack, as well as a line out to send the signal into your audio setup, if you want.


Why we like the iFi ZEN DAC 3

I’ve seen various DAC announcements, and they never quite grabbed my attention. This one, though, has me thinking about adding one to my setup. The inclusion of that USB-C input, that really underscores the press release saying that this is a DAC for everyone. It’s about the simplest setup you could have. Plug it into the wall, run the USB-C cable from the source, and then plug your headphones in. This is markedly easy, and should allow folks (like me) to easily experience what a dedicated DAC can do for their music.


Wrapping things up

Along with the relatively compact size and good looks, you’re going to like the price of the iFi ZEN DAC 3 – $229. For a device of this nature to come in there with the balanced output, bass boosting circuits, and the plug-and-play ease of USB-C feels almost unheard of. Is it too good to be true? We’re working on getting a review unit, so we’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, you can check it out over at ifi-audio.com


Key Features

  • Ultra-res audio: PCM 768kHz, DSD 512 and Full MQA Decoding
  • Improved DC offset and USB-C input overvoltage protection
  • USB-C input for plug-and-play connectivity
  • 4.4mm balanced headphone and line outputs
  • Fixed or variable output gain for optional preamp functionality
  • XBass+ and PowerMatch analogue processing modes

iFi ZEN DAC 3 Tech Specs

768kHz 512
Full Decoder
DACBit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by Burr Brown
Headphone OutputBAL 4.4mm/UnBAL 6.3mm
Output Power (RMS)Balanced
390mW@32Ω; 7.2V@600Ω
210mW@32Ω; 3.8V@600Ω
Output Impedance<1Ω (BAL/UnBAL)
THD + NBalanced
<0.006% (2.0V @ 600Ω)
<0.006% (1.27V @ 32Ω)
Line OutputBAL 4.4mm/UnBAL RCA
Output PowerBalanced UnBAL2V-6.2V max. (variable); 4.2V fixed 1V-3.3V max. (variable); 2.1V fixed
Output Impedance<200Ω BAL; <100Ω UnBAL
Frequency Response5Hz – 90kHz (+/-3dB)
Power Consumption~2.5W Max Signal
Dimensions158x115x35mm (6.2” x 4.6” x 1.4”)
Weight456g (1.0 lbs)
Warranty period12 months

Patrick Kansa

A big data developer and leader with a penchant for gadgets, books, watches and beverages. You can find my work on WristWatchReview, Knapsack.News, and Slushpile. If you're on Twitter and/or Instagram, you'll find me there as @PatrickWatches.

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