iFi Zen Blue brings High Res Bluetooth to any system

posted on Friday, 27th September 2019 by Steve May

Hi-fi  Bluetooth  High Res Audio  Streaming 

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UK Hi-Fi specialist iFi Audio has launched a new range of desktop-sized audio products with the Zen Blue, a Bluetooth receiver that supports a full array of hi-res Bluetooth codecs. It's designed to stream from smartphones, tablets, PCs and Macs to any connected audio system.

The key to its wide compatibility is the new Qualcomm QCC5100 IC, which can handle Qualcomm aptX HD, Sony LDAC and Huawei HWA, along with aptX Low Latency (for synching sound with visual media), AAC and SBC. Of the current 24-bit-capable codecs, aptX HD’s specification reaches at 48kHz, while LDAC and HWA support up to 96kHz.

The idea is that every Bluetooth device will connect at the highest resolution its Bluetooth audio specification will allow. Up to seven paired Bluetooth source devices can be remembered.

Even though the Qualcomm QCC5100, a ‘system-on-a-chip’ solution, also handles D-to-A, iFi has opted to route digital audio from the QCC5100 to a specialised DAC chip from ESS Technology’s Sabre line to convert the signal from digital to analogue, to further enhance performance.

ZEN Blue Front Crop

ZEN Blue Crop

A switch at the back of the unit dictates how the digital signal is routed; either through the DAC and analogue output stage, or directly to the digital outputs.

Connections include a phono stereo output, optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, and a 4.4mm Pentaconn output which enables balanced signal transfer to amps/speakers equipped with a balanced input – either a 4.4mm input, or XLR inputs via a 4.4mm-to-XLR cable.

iFi says the next product in the range, utilising the same cosmetic design, will be a Zen DAC, which swaps Bluetooth reception for a USB input and adds an integrated headphone amp.

The Zen Blue has a retail price of £129.

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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