I recently had the opportunity to review the iFi Audio ZEN Air Phono Preamp! I connected it to my Denon DP-1200 Turntable with a Sumiko Rainier cartridge, and Sansui DA-S750U speakers. I will start of by saying that I recently reviewed the Fosi Audio Box X4 MM Phono Preamp. I honestly love both, but for very different reasons. The iFi is more pronounced, it really punches with both bass and treble, but not so much with the kids. I do however, like the warm sound of the Fosi Audio preamp as well. If you are looking for a warmer, more subdued soundstage, the Fosi is for you. That being said, I really like the way he iFi Audio ZEN Air sounds on smaller speakers, and especially with headphones. The ZEN also can be used with an MC cartridge, whereas the Fosi cannot. That in my book is worth a lot! I don’t know of any other, sub $100 preamp that can use an MC cartridge. I’m sure the internet trolls will thoroughly enjoy telling me all about the various preamps that do, but for my experience, this is it. I will also say that I called both iFi and Fosi to ask some setup and technical questions. Two phone calls each. Both were very eager to help. iFi was much more to the point and down to business. Both of the Fosi reps seemed to have all the time in the world, but used that time to get to know me and how I use their products.
I also was able to test the iFi Audio ZEN AIR CAN Headphone Amplifier. I have to start out by saying that I am not a headphone guy. I tested using my iFi Audio ZEN Air Phono Preamp and Fosi Audio Box X4 MM Phono Preamp, with my Denon DP-1200 Turntable with a Sumiko Rainier cartridge, and Sansui DA-S750U speakers. I also have to admit that I usually prefer a tube amp over solid state in just about any situation. Not being a headphone guy, I tested with some Beats Studio headphones that I had lying around gathering dust. I feel like there was no benefit whatsoever to using the Fosi preamp over the iFi when using the iFi headphone amp. The tube properties were negated with the solid state headphone amp so you were kind of left with a rather dull sound. The iFi Audio ZEN AIR CAN Headphone Amplifier paired with the iFi Audio ZEN Air Phono Preamp on the other hand is a completely different story. What the iFi preamp left to be desired, the iFi amp more than made up for!! I was shocked at the difference. It had a much more broad soundstage, very detailed, and left nothing to be desired with the bass. The treble was just shy of perfect, but let’s be honest, Beats headphones are known for their terrible treble and mids. I think the weak link is the headphones that I am using. I would love the opportunity to test them with a real pair, but alas, I not only have to send the iFi equipment back, but I hesitate to spend big dollars on headphones simply to test. I certainly won’t pass up a pair if someone wants to send some to me….
In closing, I was very impressed with the iFi products. I have to keep telling myself that these are only their more entry level selections, as they sound like they are worth a lot more than they charge for them. I have included links to my unboxing and review videos below. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any questions!