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Ifi’s latest DAC is the first to add lossless Bluetooth audio

Ifi Audio Zen Blue 3 DAC (front).
Ifi Audio

Ifi Audio‘s new Zen Blue 3 wireless digital-to-analog converter (DAC) will officially be available to buy for $299 on July 9. When it is, it will be the first device of its kind to support a wide variety of Bluetooth codecs, including Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless, the only codec that claims to deliver bit-perfect CD quality audio over a Bluetooth connection.

Admittedly, there are very few devices on the market that can receive aptX Lossless (and fewer that can transmit it), so it’s a good thing that the Zen Blue 3 also works with the more widely supported aptX Adaptive, LDAC, and LDHC/HWA codecs (all of which are hi-res audio-capable), plus the three most common codecs: AAC, SBC, and aptX.

You can use the Zen Blue 3 to receive Bluetooth audio from a phone or computer and then send it along to a connected hi-fi component either as analog (using the DAC) or as digital via a SPDIF output, or you can put the device into transmit mode and reverse the flow: It will send analog or digital audio from your hi-fi system to your wireless earbuds or wireless headphones using the highest-quality codec they support.

Ifi Audio Zen Blue 3 DAC (rear).
Ifi Audio

The Zen Blue 3 works with the latest Bluetooth 5.4 specification when in receive or transmit mode (with an optional low-latency mode for gaming applications), but there’s also a dedicated DAC mode for managing wired audio that you simply want to convert from the inputs (RCA, USB-C, SPDIF) to the outputs (RCA, SPDIF, and 4.4mm balanced.)

That DAC mode will support up to 24-bit/96kHz via via USB-C, or up to 24-bit/192kHz via the SPDIF input.

Inside, Ifi says the Zen Blue 3 uses premium components from TDK and Texas Instruments, augmented by iFi/AMR’s own ‘OV’ (Operationsverstärker) series op-amps, which it claims will outperform commercial chips that use low-grade copper and inexpensive aluminum bond-wire.

In the box, the DAC ships with its own power supply, a USB-A to USB-C cable, and a stereo RCA patch cord.

At $299, the Ifi Zen Blue 3 looks like a bargain when compared to the recently released McIntosh MB25 ($600). However, if you want to spend a little less, you may want to take a trip to Canada where the Zen Blue 3 sells for the same price as in the U.S., but in Canadian dollars ($299 CAD). With current exchange rates, that drops the price to just $219.

Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
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