In the quest for a top-notch, affordable, high-quality audio experience, the iFi Zen DAC V2 has emerged as an undeniable champion. This DAC/amp combo is a top-tier contender in the audio devices market, delivering an unparalleled audio experience for a fraction of the cost of its competitors. In this comprehensive review, we’ll delve into the numerous facets that make the iFi Zen DAC V2 a must-have for every audio enthusiast.
The iFi Zen DAC V2 has earned its reputation as a formidable force in the realm of digital-to-analog converters (DACs). Its alluring combination of affordability, top-tier performance, and a plethora of features make it a compelling choice for anyone seeking an upgrade to their audio setup. The iFi Zen DAC V2 already has a solid foundation, being an upgrade of the original iFi Zen DAC.
Design & Build Quality
The iFi Zen DAC V2 sports a sleek, minimalist design that is aesthetically pleasing and practically built. Its matte black metal casing exudes a sense of sophistication without feeling ostentatious. It has a genuine premium feel to it. The compact size and lightweight nature make it an easy fit for any desktop or small bag, offering portability without compromising its robust build. My only complaint is that the metal finish is prone to showing fingerprints.
The iFi Zen DAC V2 doesn’t skimp on connectivity options. It is equipped with various inputs and outputs to cater to multiple audio needs. On the rear, it features a USB 3.0 Type B connector (compatible with USB 2.0) for connecting to a PC and a 5V DC input for extra power or if you are not using the USB connection. You’ll also find the RCA analog output, a 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output, and a Variable/Fixed switch that determines if the iFi Zen DAC V2s volume knob is enabled when the rear outputs are in use.
Now onto the front of the iFi Zen DAC V2. The front right area of the device includes a single ended 6.3mm unbalanced headphone socket and a 4.4mm balanced headphone output. On the front left side is the PowerMatch button (off means low gain, on means high gain), the TrueBass button (enables improved bass response), and we finish with a giant volume knob in the center of the device.
The volume knob feels satisfying to use, which is essential for a device like this. The movement feels smooth and has just the right amount of stiffness to it.
The iFi Zen DAC V2 is powered by an XMOS 16-Core chip that enhances processing power (up to 2000MIPS) and a large amount of memory (512KB), a significant upgrade from the 8-Core XMOS chip used in the original Zen DAC. The enhanced processor ensures smoother data transfer and better audio quality.
The Crystal Clock
The iFi Zen DAC V2 also features a low-jitter crystal clock. This cutting-edge feature significantly improves the timing, reduces jitter, and ensures an accurate, high-quality audio output.
Transparency and Clarity
When it comes to sound, the iFi Zen DAC V2 is built to deliver transparency, clarity, and power. It has been designed with a focus on providing a true-to-source audio output that doesn’t add unnecessary coloration to the sound but also prevents audio from sounding too flat or dull. It succeeds with flying colors here, delivering an incredible sound across multiple genres of music, movies, and even computer games.
Detail and Smoothness
The iFi Zen DAC V2 provides an impressive level of detail retrieval and a smooth listening experience. It brings out the nuances in the audio, offering a more balanced and vivid soundstage. The enhanced processing power of the iFi Zen DAC V2 contributes to a more refined audio presentation with tighter bass and greater dynamic expression.
You get an accurate separation of left and right audio when listening to audio. Particularly when listening to classical music, the positioning of the instruments is accurately presented. The better your headphones, the more you notice the subtle improvements in imaging and soundstage.
PowerMatch and TrueBass
The iFi Zen DAC V2 has two unique features – PowerMatch and TrueBass. PowerMatch is a gain adjustment feature that adjusts the output to match the sensitivity of different headphones. PowerMatch off, or low gain, is meant for IEMs, while PowerMatch on, or high gain, is intended for over ear headphones. I left PowerMatch off for most of my headphones as even at low gain, it provided enough power to drive almost everything I tried.
On the other hand, TrueBass is a bass-enhancing feature that boosts the bass presence in the audio mix without compromising the overall sound profile. If your headphones are lacking in the lower end frequencies or you just want a little extra bass for the mood, enabling TrueBass gives you some extra punch. I’m surprised how iFi is able to achieve this without having the extra bass bleed into other frequencies or muddy the sound.
The iFi Zen DAC V2 is packed with a plethora of features that make it a compelling choice for audio enthusiasts.
When using the iFi Zen DAC V2 with a Windows PC, you’ll want to download and install the driver provided by iFi, specifically the 5.12 driver version. This allows full decode support for MQA audio files and installs the iFi USB Audio Device Control Panel software. You’ll want to have this to set your playback software to use the ASIO driver for the device to get bit-perfect playback. The installation is easy, and the software is solid. I’ve included a few screenshots below of the software, and also how it looks in media players such as MusicBee, my preferred media player. Read this article to find out why.
Volume Knob LED Lighting
The volume knob features a ring of LED lights behind it, but it is not there purely for decorative reasons. Instead, it changes colors depending on the audio output format and sampling frequency. See the chart below for what each color means.
Variable and Fixed Output
The variable/Fixed switch on the back side of the iFi Zen DAC V2 allows the Zen DAC to function as a digital preamp, providing greater flexibility for the user. The iFi Zen DAC V2 can be paired with an amp, such as the iFi Zen CAN, which is when you would want to set the switch to fixed.
One of the most notable, and divisive features of the iFi Zen DAC V2 is its full MQA decoding capability. Thanks to its powerful 16-core chip, the V2 has graduated from being just an MQA renderer to a fully-fledged MQA decoder. This means the iFi Zen DAC V2 can fully decode and play back MQA-encoded files, ensuring a more accurate and authentic audio reproduction.
The feature is seen as divisive as the addition of MQA means an increased price in the device due to licensing costs, and some audiophiles believe there is no advantage in the sound quality of MQA audio compared to traditional Hi-Res FLAC/ALAC audio and is purely a marketing trick. I do not own many MQA audio files, so I am not invested in the MQA ecosystem, meaning I don’t have a dog in this fight. Still, I’m not convinced MQA is purely a money making marketing technology, as some audiophiles proclaim.
The iFi Zen DAC V2 is an impressive piece of audio equipment that delivers high-quality sound at an affordable price. Its sleek design, robust build quality, and host of features make it an excellent choice for anyone looking to enhance their audio experience. Whether you’re a seasoned audiophile or just starting your journey into the world of high-quality audio, the iFi Zen DAC V2 is a worthy addition to your audio setup.
To say that the iFi Zen DAC V2 is a bargain would be an understatement. It’s a top-tier DAC/amp combo that delivers much more than what its price tag suggests. The iFi Zen DAC V2 is not just a piece of audio equipment; it’s an investment in high-quality sound.
Now, if you own the original iFi Zen DAC, the decision to upgrade to the V2 is much harder. There are no massive upgrades from the original, just refinements and some additions. If you need complete MQA decoding support, that could be one reason. If you want the added benefit of the updated low-jitter crystal clock, then sure. But you won’t miss too much if you stick with the original iFi Zen DAC, which sounds and performs great.
The iFi Zen DAC V2 is a testament to the fact that you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy a high-quality audio experience. It’s an affordable, high-quality option that proves you can have your cake and eat it too. So, whether you’re an audio enthusiast or a casual listener, consider adding the iFi Zen DAC V2 to your audio setup. You won’t regret it.
HiFi Oasis Overall RatingHiFi Oasis Overall Rating
- Design & Build Quality9/10 Amazing
- Sound8/10 Very good
- Features8/10 Very good
- Clear, smooth sound profile with excellent detail retrieval
- Full MQA support
- Excellent connectivity options
- BassBoost feature works extremely well
- Impressive build quality
- MQA support adds additional cost for arguably little gain
- Dedicated power supply not included
- Metal finish prone to showing fingerprints