iFi Zen Blue

We look at the new, affordable, and impressive bluetooth centred product: the iFi Zen Blue. We revisit another star when it comes to Bluetooth performance – the D-Stream WAMP-200SB digital integrated amplifier.

Getting Better Bluetooth

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you can get ‘Zen’ here

Bluetooth has a lot going for it as a wifi system – it’s simple, works almost anywhere and is as close as we come to a universal standard that works across brands, operating systems and regions. Yet the simplicity and ubiquity of bluetooth means it’s often seen as a compromise option. The arrival of a new and affordable bluetooth centred product – the iFi Zen Blue at just NZ$280 – will change this way of thinking. And it’s prompted us to have another look at one of the unsung heroes in our range that’s also a star when it comes to Bluetooth performance – the D-Stream WAMP-200SB digital integrated amplifier.

But let’s first talk about the new. iFi have been around for a while and have built up a suite of small and reasonably affordable digital components – DACs, headphone amps and accessories. The new Zen Blue stands out in the iFi range for several reasons:

*It’s the first of a new generation of products with input from renowned audio designer John Curl  The sprinkling of audiophile pixie dust over the Zen Blue may not have any impact on the mass market but for those of us that value sound quality, I can assure you from my own listening that this is a level of quality from Bluetooth that you will not have heard before and even better, it has applications in many different systems.

*The actual design and build quality of the Zen Blue is way ahead of anything else at this level – the sleek metal casework and solidity have me wondering how on earth they do this for the price.

*Finally the connectivity and how this allows us to better exploit the Zen Blue’s abilities are outstanding.

The Zen Blue is primarily a Bluetooth receiver but has both analogue and digital outputs. What sets it apart from everything else is the quality delivered from both (noting that there is switching between them).

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Rear panel connections on the ifi Zen Blue – analogue & digital.

It is by definition a DAC and so has the ability to convert the digital Bluetooth signal to analogue and does this with a high performance Sabre DAC chipset. Thus making it perfect for direct connection into any analogue system. It even comes with some quite reasonable connecting cables.

If you’ve wanted to take a leap into wireless connection from your smartphone to your system, but haven’t wanted to either change the actual components, or been reticent about either quality or simplicity of operation, the Zen Blue is the solution you have been waiting for.

It also features a new 4.4m balanced jack output option. This has applications with some active speakers and specialist amplifiers.

The internal DAC is very good, and it’s highly likely that in many lower cost or older systems where the amp may have both analogue and digital inputs (think almost all home theatre products) , that the Zen Blue delivers the highest performance via analogue.

Where the Zen Blue absolutely shines is when connected to a high quality system with digital inputs – especially the coaxial (RCA) option. Bluetooth has not been an option with many better amps and DACs, in part because of concerns of quality compromise relative to wired connections or networked wifi.

The evolution and proliferation of Bluetooth standards means for many designers it’s just too hard to include. When you see what iFi have done this becomes clear – ‘All current and future Bluetooth® audio formats are supported. This includes Qualcomm’s aptX and aptX HD, LDAC and HWA, hi-res Bluetooth® codecs created by Sony and Huawei respectively, AAC, Apple’s favoured format and SBC, the standard Bluetooth® codec.’

So yes – it will work in virtually any setting. And with the rapid improvements in the quality of streaming via Spotify, Tidal, Apple and more, there is no better time to make this jump. Not forgetting also that for music that you choose to buy and store, the levels of resolution are often well above CD.

The Zen Blue is, by a considerable margin, better than our previous solutions in every regard which is all the more impressive given the modest difference in cost.

Consider these specific applications:

Our very best DACs – the NuPrime Evolution and DAC-10 – don’t feature Bluetooth. But when connected to the Zen Blue via coax the sound quality from iPhone is remarkable – the music is free flowing and detailed. If it weren’t for our exposure to some truly high end digital options such as the Nativ Vita, I would be quite happy to have this as my primary digital source.

Both the NuForce DDA-100 and NuPrime IDA-16 are awesome digital amplifiers that don’t have Bluetooth – again, the Zen Blue is the perfect fit. Add to this a long list of other quality DACs and amplifiers such as Meridian, Wadia, Rotel, Cambridge and many more, and you can start to see the possibilities.

All this said, there are a couple of things the Zen Blue doesn’t do. The whole idea behind Bluetooth is that it’s a relatively simply system to use that ‘pairs’ with your smartphone.  If you want multi-room or multi-source abilities then we should be talking about networked wifi systems and that’s a conversation we’re happy to engage in.

We’re happy to have your enquiry or order by Email

And if you want the performance of the Zen Blue into your speakers but have reservations about your existing amplifier, let’s look at the D-Stream option.

The D-Stream WAMP-200SB digital amplifier
The D-Stream WAMP-200SB digital amplifier

In a classic case of convergence both the Zen Blue and D-Stream WAMP 200 SB have little aerials and could be mistaken for modems. But the D-Stream, as well as having Bluetooth and several other inputs, both wireless and connected, is also a fully fledged amplifier that will outperform many existing analogue amps. Just as it’s easy to underestimate the performance of the Zen because of both low cost and size, the D-Stream is often overlooked in favour of bigger or more costly solutions. But its finish and build quality is even higher than the iFi and it offers control of all features via front panel or ap.

So – if looking to add the simplicity and performance high quality of bluetooth to an already capable system the Zen Blue is exactly what you need.

If wanting Bluetooth at this level,  AND upgrading the overall performance of an older amplifier (not to mention a host of other features), taking the next step up to D-Stream makes even more sense.

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buy D-Stream

Here are some end user reviews from Amazon – the D-Stream consistently gets 5 stars.

I took a chance without much knowledge of this product. I hooked the D-Stream up to my ELAC UB5 speakers and streamed some tunes from Tidal in high resolution.
All I can say is – it’s been quite a while since I have been this pleasantly surprised. The amplifier in the D-Stream is legit! I had to hear it to believe it. This is an amazing product for the money.

That’s one small amp for man, one giant leap for sound!


I really like this amp/streamer!

I’ve had it about a month now and have used it with Kef LS50 speakers (8 ohms), Elac UB5 speakers (4 ohms) and wharfedale Diamond 230 Floor standing speakers (8 ohms) and have enjoy the sound of all three sets of speakers hooked up to this. It’s clear, detailed, the bass is never boomy, and I never get tired of playing music on it (tidal hifi and Qobuz). Really, the sound of this thing is amazing!

I did have an issue with the remote not working. I reached out to the seller and they were very supportive. They even sent me a replacement right away without waiting for me to return the first one. The second on had no issue with the remote. Tops in customer service, I wish more companies were like them.

I’m giving it 5 Stars because it’s that good! 

I would recommend you give it a try, worth the money!

Sound quality is my priority. The WAMP 200 is round & warm (not-digital sounding), but authoritative in bass. Very green – I notice no heat waste. Totally Wired reviewer says: “On sound quality alone, the innovative D-Stream WAMP-200SB stands as the best sub-$1000 amplifier I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.”
Well said. Very versatile with Hi Def streaming (wireless or Ethernet), Bluetooth, Toslink (electronically isolated), and analog line in. Front panel controls, remote and IOS controls all intuitive and effective. Set up was easy and sound is improving each day (warmer). I opted to leave power on constantly to accelerate maturation; seems to draw very few watts and produces zero apparent heat. Would be great if Version II has headphone out. Impressive product even in current configuration.

We’re happy to have your enquiry or order by Email

Vita by Nativ at Totally Wired with D-Stream amplifer and Monitor Audio speakers

The Totally Wired Top 10

I’ve got a little list… there is such a thing as too much choice and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the alternatives. So we did the Kondo thing and asked ‘what sparks joy?’ Components with an identifiable and unique character that can deliver benefits in almost any system are what we all want, so here are our 10 best for 2019.

Vita by Nativ at Totally Wired

Nativ Vita – it just gets better…

The Nativ Vita has become the best addition we’ve ever made to our home music system. It has literally transformed our listening experience and opened out new avenues to go down. Here we share more of what we’ve learnt about this way of listening to music, plus Carolijn’s article for another point of view…

Summertime 2019

Welcome to the new year. In between some great beach walks (that’s the mouth of Blueskin Bay on a beautiful Christmas day in the pic above), we’ve been busy with exciting components and systems that are going to make this coming year so much more enjoyable for you…

Vita by Nativ at Totally Wired with D-Stream amplifer and Monitor Audio speakers

Nativ Vita – the first 2 months.

We’ve lived with the Nativ Vita for just on eight weeks now – if anything we are more enthused by the Vita than at first when I wrote our introductory page. As you might expect, we have learned a lot and have also enjoyed an encouragingly positive response from clients including a surprising number of sales. It’s become obvious that Nativ are on to a winning concept with the Vita – let’s look at some aspects that add to the original assessment.

Suggested Systems #1.

Expressing your individuality – 2 different system choices: 

In a one-size-fits-all world where every phone is basically the same, few things can be more individual than your choice of system to replay music in your home. The downside of this is that our choices can seem bewildering. So I’ve been doing some serious thinking about how we put together  a system – even then it’s a challenge to decide what we call it – a stereo or music  system, an AV media or surround system? Digital, analogue or both?

It’s become obvious that the old rules that were arbitrarily applied to system design just don’t work any more. Linn had a hierarchy of components starting from source but how does this work when the source is an iPhone? Wattage used to be the go-to specification for choosing speakers and amplifiers but with modern living loudness is hardly a desirable  attribute – quality is what counts.

And if you have an existing system, will be the best solution be to upgrade a single component or just to replace as a means to the end of better sound?

With all these considerations in mind I’ve decided to highlight 2 quite different system choices that we’ve been enjoying over the last few months. Working from home has allowed us to spend much more time listening and really coming to grips with how components will perform in your own environment.

System 1.

The first system centres on the new little French designed D-Stream WAMP-200 SB digital amplifier. This is a completely modern take on the idea of an entry level integrated amplifier and while intended to be a very simple to operate, there is a depth of features and flexibility that simply didn’t exist at any price a few years ago. That, and it sounds insanely good for very little.wamp3

The D-Stream hardly even looks like an amplifier – it’s a sleek and compact clamshell with two rear mounted wifi aerials that suggest in a completely reasonable way that this is essentially a network component first and foremost. So while the physical input and output array on the rear panel is modest, this is more than supplemented by wifi, Bluetooth and LAN connectivity and the entire world of possibilities that come with steaming services and shared music collections.

The D-Stream not only opens up all these channels for you, it is more than capable of making great sound with a wide range of speakers. Because it sounds so good, it will make low cost speakers sound better and allow you to build an easily affordable system that doesn’t skimp on quality or features.

But at the same time I’ll point out that the low cost of the D-Stream enables you to select speakers that are better than you might have otherwise allowed for. When carefully set up and connected in the same way we would with a high end amplifier, the D-Stream WAMP 200 SB is the literal giant killer.

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My wee office system with a big sound – Quad 12L.2s and the D-Stream WAMP-200SB.

As our suggested system, I’ve matched the D-Stream with a pair of rather nice trade in speakers – the Quad 12L.2s which have just come in – these shelf mount speakers have a generous and rich sound which builds on the D-Stream’s clarity and evenhanded presentation. Together they are easily our best sounding entry level system for just $1400 complete.

Now let’s take things up another level – System 2.

There is absolutely a place for a carefully put together component system where each part is purpose built. Because I’m continually evaluating new components I want a baseline system of high transparency at a realistic price point that reflects what I know many of you can afford. Simply put, I want to know that you’ll be able to hear what I do and that you’ll be able to trust what I write.

So I’ve put together a complete system where no individual part is more than $3000 and most are much less – this approach gives a huge degree of flexibility. Each component stands as what I’d hope is best in its class so you can look to put any one of them in your own system.

I’m intentionally using both analogue and digital sources, and the aim is to be able to appreciate both in equal measure.

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Is this your kind of component system – NuPrime, Sonus faber and the Consonance Wax Engine.

On the analogue side, we have the Consonance Wax Engine turntable, fitted with the new Dynavector 10X5mk2 high output moving coil cartridge. The digital foil for this is the NuPrime CDP-9 player and DAC – this deals not only with CD but has multiple digital inputs allowing you to stream in from smartphone, network, TV and more.

In keeping with the ethos of separate components we have NuPrime’s remarkable little HPA-9 analogue preamplifier. This is the unsung hero in the NuPrime range – resolutely analogue and running in pure Class A, you couldn’t ask for a simpler product that sounds great and even has an excellent phono stage built in. Originally intended as a headphone amplifier (and there are 3 outputs for this), I’ve found it to be a supremely capable preamplifier that adds quality and drive to almost any system.

Match this with the proven STA-9 120 watt power amplifier and you have a combination that will make the most of almost any form of music coming and and drive any speaker system you wish to connect. And don’t forget the STA-9 can be easily bridged so you can upgrade your system to two mono 280 watt power amps at any stage in the future.

We’ve been completely spoilt for choice with new speakers lately – the new Monitor Audio Silver series or Studios would be obvious choices for this system. But we’ve always loved what Sonus faber do and right now the Chameleon T’s are by far our best value speaker proposition – these are a full sized floor standing speaker the combine the essential ‘voice’ of Sonus faber with the efficiency, depth and solidity you’d expect with two bass drivers in a generously ported cabinet that stands around 1m high. Throw in a choice of Italian racing red or beautifully finished walnut side panels and you have a speaker system that looks every bit as good as it sounds.

Combined with the NuPrime electronics  and the Wax Engine turntable, the Chameleons do pretty much everything you could ever hope for – above all they produce the kind of sound that you can just fall into – rich and warm but always involving enough to keep you coming back for more.

Good as all the individual parts are, it’s the connections that make them work and turn it into a functioning system. The timely arrival of a new generation of cables from Keith Eichmann delivered a transparency and balance that is difficult to describe but easy to understand once you hear it. As it stands, this system includes two of the new ‘special’ gPower3 AC power cables, a couple of pairs of the the new QFlow3 analogue interconnects, a set of 2m QFlow7 speakers cables plus the matching bi-wire jumpers. And from the turntable we use a custom made Mogami interconnect with the KLEI Absolute Harmony RCA plugs – this ensures a complete absence of hum which is often the by-product of in -ine power supplies.

It says something about how I regard the importance of connections that when we do a quick add up of all the cables used, if considered as a component, they are the most costly part of this system. Sound crazy? My question to you would be what do you think would make this system perform at a higher level for less? We could change individual components, but would they really improve the system as a whole? And anyway, it would be easy enough to select Keith’s entry level KLEI cables which deliver a remarkably consistent performance – this would quickly bring the total back in line with the individual components.

The nature of component systems is that they are often built up over time – so you may only take one or two parts of the above system as being relevant to you. Think of it as a bit of a real world testbed.

What you’ll find striking is that you could migrate from the little D-Stream system in my office, to the NuPrime 9 based system above, and then to the boots and all Well Tempered/Nuprime Evolution set up, and not feel short changed at any step. Obviously as we go up there are marked improvements in qualities such as detail and precision, a vast increase in available power and dynamics. But each gets to the heart of music and is genuinely enjoyable. We’re not about audio elitism – I’m happy to work at the level you are comfortable with and will do my best to put together the best sound at whatever that happens to be. 

Consonance Wax Engine Turntable $1695

Dynavector DV 10X5Mk2 $1100

NuPrime CDP-9 player and DAC $2800

NuPrime HPA-9 preamp $1250

NuPrime STA-9 power amplifier $1250

Sonus faber Chameleon T speakers – on special – were $5000+ Now $2700 (red panels) $3000 (walnut)

KLEI gPower3 AC cables 1m $750

KLEI QFlow3 Interconnects $900

KLEI QFlow 7 Speaker cables 2m  $1575

KLEI Q7 Bi-wire jumpers $320.

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At the same time as I’ve been writing this, my partner Carolijn has been working through the new Vifa range of wireless speakers from the remarkable little Reykjavik (just $429) though to their elegantly proportioned Stockholm ($2700). Read her take here.

Vifa Copenhagen#vifaofficial in Pebble Grey at Totally Wired
Vifa Copenhagen#vifaofficial
The D-Stream WAMP-200SB digital amplifier

Embracing Digital

The new D-Stream WAMP-200SB amplifier, and new KLEI plugs & cables:

On sound quality alone, the D-Stream stands as the best sub-$1000 amplifier I’ve had the pleasure of listening to. Plus I have new cables and plugs from KLEI. Given all these developments I’ve put together a special demonstration pack so you can introduce yourself to the KLEI range and hear just how great an improvement you can get when you combine all of the elements.