Reviews by dadracer2


500+ Head-Fier
ifi Audio 4.4 to 4.4 cable
Pros: Very well made
Sounds better than the standard cable
Not expensive in comparison to the devices it can be used with
Cons: Plugs are a bit bulky
ifi audio 1.jpg

Yes, yes, I know, it doesn’t seem worth it to listen for changes with a tiny little interconnect cable, but bear with me. I mean it is not unusual to discuss or review these in a main system, so…

Towards the end of last year, I changed my home office system from a desktop based one to a portable/transportable one. Now it contains a Cayin N6ii DAP with A01, A02 and R01 motherboard modules and now most recently a Cayin C9 headphone amplifier. Currently I am pairing it with a set of Audio Technica ATH AP2000Ti closed back headphones, but I will also be using my Sennheiser HD800S once I get a shorter balanced cable with 4.4mm plug.

This system is significantly better than my old desktop based one, but as always there is that voice inside which says why not upgrade this or that to improve things even more.

Well in reality other than new headphone cables there is not much that is upgradeable but one item that I could see might be an option is the interconnect between the N6ii and C9. There appear to be only a few 4.4 to 4.4 short balanced interconnect cables out there and look to be either unexpectedly cheap or unbelievably expensive. The one that did appear most often in Google searches was the one from ifi Audio.

All of this brings me to tell you that ifi Audio very kindly send me a demo cable free of charge in return for my honest feedback and I have no financial or other connections to the company.

The ifi cable looks around twice the thickness than the supplied Cayin interconnect (code CS44C44) and almost twice the length at 300 vs 185mm. The one other tech point I can see if that while the Cayin cable is 6N OFC the ifi Audio cable is 4NOFC with 5N Platinum Pure Silver strands (not coating). I have had headphone cables with a similar “hybrid” format and they changed the sound quite noticeably over straight copper so I was interested to see what the result was.

After a good listen to a few albums using the standard Cayin cable in place and in order for the C9 to warm up (in Class A and valve settings) I swapped over to the ifi Audio cable and played the same albums again.

The sound balance did not seem to alter very much at all. In fact, I tried several repeat sessions with the 2 cables and I could not reliably say there was much difference. This was surprising as I expected a little more treble presence as I had found with headphones cables that contained silver strands in their cable.

On the other hand, the soundstage had a depth that was not there with the Cayin cable and the individual vocals and instruments had more focus and better-defined location. Do bear in mind this is with closed back headphones so I would anticipate this change may be improved upon even further with good open backed headphones (e.g HD800S).

In terms of cost, the Cayin cable seems to be available for around £35-40 GBP depending on source and delivery. The ifi cable is more widely available (here in the UK at least) and is around £60-70 GBP. I think if you are a fan of soundstage and stereo imaging then it is certainly worth considering. In fact if you are using it with a Cayin C9 it is a very small extra cost in return for getting the best out of that amplifier

The ifi Audio cable appears very well constructed and built to last in the hurly burly of a portable or transportable set up. At the end of the day I am not telling you how to spend your money but at least try these cables out for yourself and then decide.

Here are some of the tech details

ifi audio 2.jpg
There's just a touch more transparency and depth/width to the soundstage. The impression is a little brighter with the treble, and a tad more forward compared to the Cayin interconnect that comes with the C9. I'm listening to the SP2K/C9 with the Trailii.


500+ Head-Fier
ifi Audio Zen Can
Pros: Great sound
Fully balanced
Very inexpensive
Cons: Not a fan of the Xbass or 3D

In an effort to do the right thing I have made an attempt to recreate the ifi Audio Zen Can web page on my own desktop with my own Audio Technica ATH MSR7b headphones. You can see the proper image here alongwith a whole lot of technical details regarding the Zen Can.

Let me say that actually this opening photo is not as self-serving or lazy as it might appear. The ATH MSR7b is an excellent headphone for the money and even up to £500 there are few things better. In this respect it suits the Zen Can very well musically but also financially as we will go on to discuss shortly.

The Zen Can sits in the budget end of ifi Audio products which are designed for table top use and so this is not a portable device. It is certainly transportable if you wanted to take one on say business journeys around the globe. It is the headphone amp only version of the highly regarded Zen Dac.

Please note that is it a more powerful headphone amp than that in the Zen Dac and as far as I can tell has been designed as a balanced amp in operation from the beginning to the end.

Here is what ifi Audio mention….

The ZEN CAN has trickle-down Class A discrete balanced circuitry from iFi audio’s US$1,699 flagship Pro iCAN. With 15.1v @300 Ohms on tap, it has serious power that will make even difficult-to-drive headphones thump to the beat.

  • Class A discrete output buffer from the flagship Pro iCAN using Op-Amp (OV2637A)
  • FET input avoids loading volume control – low distortion/noise
  • SE inputs (1M Ohm) ensures loading of the source so always in Class A operation
  • Output amplifier gain of four steps in +6dB perfect for headphone matching

It certainly deals with powering the ATH MSR7b and also my Sennheiser HD800S. Now in fairness I did not spend a lot of time using the HD800S because I felt that people by and large are not going to routinely use that headphone with a budget orientated amp. If you do then please know they work and work well but I am not sure it is an ideal combination.

The ATH MSR7b is one of the least expensive closed back headphones which are also balanced and come with 3.5mm SE or 4.4mm balanced cables. Consequently, I tried both and also with my 3.5mm Forza Audio cable.

Furthermore, and in order to lend some perspective, I did some head amp to head amp comparisons between the Zen Can and my Lindemann Limetree Headphone which is part of my home office system. The other part being a Lindemann Limetree Network which supplied streamed albums from Tidal and Qobuz along with some hi-res files from a usb drive plumbed into the LLN.

Albums included tracks from

Gregory Porter, Nat King Cole and I

Bob Marley, Exodus

The Zombies, Time of the Season

Donny Hathaway, Live

Yazoo, Reconnected

Sade, Diamond Life

Rickie Lee Jones, Pop Pop

The Pretenders, Pretenders

Mungos HiFi, More Fyah

Joan Armatrading, Joan Armatrading

I like a mostly neutral sound and am not troubled by a lack of subterranean bass. I want vocals to sound real and vocalists to have good imaging and space in the soundstage. The Zen Can delivered this and delivered it well. It also provided good treble detail without it being overdone or sibilant. The mid-range was pretty much right on the money for neutrality but retained the vocalist’s emotion. Bass was strong and tight and never flabby or loose.

The soundstage was good especially across the width with less clarity in depth.

Changing from SE to balanced did not make a significant change to my ear but maybe the Forza cables provided a better SE level so that the differential was reduced.

One of the great additions to the Zen Can and at this price level I’m not aware of another budget head amp with this option is the option of different gain settings to suit different IEMs or headphones. So, you should be able to tailor the amp to suit your headphone optimally.

There is also the option of Xbass and 3D settings which can be added singly or jointly. I have to confess here that I didn’t find the Xbass to add to the music and if anything made it sound slightly soggy. The 3D seemed to add a very specific treble boost and again sadly I found it to detract from the music. I am sure that some folks will like these options and that’s fine as the choice is there.

Some of you may be aware of a product called the Zen Can Signature 6XX. This available on Drop in the USA. It has an additional circuit that has an EQ curve specifically for the Sennheiser HD6XX headphone. As this is not yet available in the UK and also, I am a HD600/650 heretic I chose not to try this out and so I cannot say how Zen Can performs in comparison to the Signature 6XX.

What I can tell you is how it compares to the Lindemann Limetree Amplifier which is a product which already punches well above its weight.

The Lindemann is the better device to my ear, but by a very small margin and certainly not in line with the 3 times price differential. So, in that respect the Zen Can is a real winner and an excellent partner to the ATH MSR7b (well chosen by ifi Audio). It offers great sound quality for very little money and has the flexibility of balanced operation and Can be used (see what I did there!) with a wide range of headphones.
Sorry, don't know what is going on. I am not familiar with the BTR5 so maybe there is a issue between them. Do you get the pop if you are using from another dac even say a laptop? At least then you know where the issue lies.
I tried it with just my pc and it is there the pop in hps while playing music , and I talked to another guy who also has it when switching on 3d audio , I guess it's the signal changing that's causing the pop , but I won't use it anyway 😅 , don't like the 3d audio make it foreward wider
Thanks for all the help 😁
I also hear it when I turn on 3D POP and crack in the headphones. Then even with the total shutdown of these sound modes.


500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Sound quality
Wide range of filters and headphone options
Wide range of playback resolutions including MQA
Very wide range of inputs and outputs
Cons: Control app is not one of the better ones
The user guide could benefit from a quick start section
This is going to be a series of evaluations of the Pro iDSD over a longer time than normal. It won’t involve a lot of technical information as that’s already out there not least of which from ifi Audio themselves. Here there are a bumper array of specifications, tech notes and video tutorials on set up to fill your head with.

Speaking of ifi Audio my sincere thanks must go to them for entrusting such a relatively costly device to me for an extended period.

I am aiming to look at setting up and running in, then comparing the Pro iDSD with the 2 systems I have available which bookend the Pro iDSD in terms of price and to see if it is poor/good/great value or even a great performer regardless of price. I also want to take a look at the control app and compare it to others as I feel this is often glossed over in what you might term professional reviews. I will try out a couple of different headphones that I use routinely and possibly also some IEMs but I don’t use these routinely as I much prefer an over ear headphone for comfort.

On that ifi Audio link there are also a collection of reviews and so if you do want to check out a good quality review by a professional I would recommend the one by John Grandberg as it seems to cover most everything you need to know and in a helpful informative manner.

Well the Pro iDSD is quite the device and while it is principally a DAC with enough options and settings to decode even the most exotic PCM/DSD/DXD files. It also has a prodigious set of filters with which to massage the sound from those files. It is also a streamer and runs on both Wi-Fi and Ethernet of which I prefer and exclusively use the former. Finally it is a headphone amplifier offering single ended and balanced connection together with options on gain level to suit sensitivity of the headphones or IEMs that you have chosen. As if that were not enough you can run the headphone amplifier in solid state, or Tube or Tube plus (like Tube but with minimal negative feedback) .

That’s just on the front panel (sorry there is a round window on the front to tell you the status of how you are connected and at what definition your music is being processed at).

The connectivity on the rear panel is mind boggling but in essence offers single ended/balanced/USB/SDHC/Coax/Optical/BNC/Power alongside aerial for Wi-Fi and output selection depending on if you are using the device in a HiFi or Pro audio setting. Going on past experience with ifi Audio products the set up “manual” has been quite Spartan but laid out in a logical progression. Now the manual is no longer Spartan but comprehensive, unfortunately however it is not the last word in logical layout. It took me a number of attempts to connect to Wi-Fi and then the other processes were fine but I just feel for the want of an easier layout or “fast start guide” it would have been much easier.

If I compare it to my 2 other systems from Lindemann (Limetree Network) and Auralic (Vega DAC and Aries G1 streamer) it was trickier to set up than either of those.

My main source of streamed music content is from Tidal as it is high quality and as it seems to provide all the music I want. I cannot comment on Qobuz as I have never used it at home.

The app which ifi Audio use for the Pro iDSD is Muzo and it was easy to access and download from the Apple app store. I believe it is equally available on Android.

I have to say that it connected to my Tidal account easily and was entirely stable. On the other hand it did not offer any flexibility in how it delivered “My Music” for example albums are listed by title alphabetically so you can’t change it to be by artist or date or anything else which is frustrating. I would have to put the Muzo app as third place against the Lindemann app as second and the Auralic LDS app as first. I’m told that MConnect or BubbleUPnP are other app control options but have not tried them as yet so will comment as and when I can.

I know it is often considered a small issue but I think it is of significant importance as it is fundamental in playing your music easily and smoothly and isn’t that why we are streaming and not playing a CD, LP or reel to reel tape?

Meantime I spent a few hours on deciding which settings I liked best with so many to choose from. This is not a definitive answer as you well prefer different settings depending on your taste and headphone choice. Given there are so many options I cannot conceive of a scenario where you could not find settings you liked best or at least better than the others.

I finally settled on Tube (who doesn’t love a triode or 2) and DSD 1024 with the GTO filter (also that seems to be the favourite filter of ifi Audio). The Limetree Network has far fewer options and so I went with DSD upsampling as Lindemann are big fans on the DSD format. The headphones used were Audio Technica ATH MSR7b (b for balanced) and Sennheiser HD800S. I started with the Audio Technica on single ended 3.5mm as both the Limetree and the Pro iDSD have this. Thereafter I moved onto the HD800S. I also tried the ATs balanced with the 4.4mm Pentaconn on the Pro iDSD to compare with its SE output. I don’t have a 4.4mm plug for the HD800S (yet) so will try that later.

In general terms and through both headphones there were several differences. The key differences between the LLN and Pro iDSD were speed, scale, sound balance and spatial reference.

On speed the LLN sounded lighter on its toes and gave the initial impression of greater speed. I will look into this more and see if it is true across more music genres as I think it might be due as much to the sound balance as anything.


Now scale on either headphone felt bigger on the Pro iDSD on the individual performers/instruments. It was more apparent on the HD800S but you could pick it up on the AT also.

I need to say that both headphones have in themselves a similar sound balance which is neutrality across the board and extended treble with a tight but lighter weight bass. This is the opposite of many traditional planar designs, but it is my preference.

In having said all this, the Limetree sounds lighter and brighter versus the Pro iDSD which has more warmth in its mids and extension at the bottom end. The Pro iDSD has a less sparkly treble which may be down to filter choice but I didn’t find a way to make it as sparkly as the Limetree. None of these traits are extreme or unpleasant but are only apparent on A/B comparison.

Finally on spatial cues both the DACs are strong. The Pro iDSD has the more focussed presentation of each of the instruments and vocals and it feels there is a bit more width and depth to the soundstage as well. In fact having tried the ATs with both single ended and balanced connection it is that kind of differential between the 2 DACs on spatial cues. The LLN sounds single ended and less 3D or hires in its stereo presentation than the Pro iDSD. If that makes sense?

As mentioned this is the first stage evaluation and I plan to try more music and options over the next days. Once I have got a better grip on the sound of the Pro iDSD I will compare it to my main system which has separate DAC, Streamer and Headphone amplifier.
Actually just yesterday the XLR to 4.4mm adapter plug I had ordered arrived. So I tried out the Pro iDSD with the AT MSR7b single ended and balanced and then finally the HD800S again both single ended and balanced.

The ATs sounded improved with a slightly stronger bass and a more focused stereo imaging in width.

The HD800S however soared. The top end became more sparkly and realistic, the bottom end more visceral although in both cases these were not extensions just better sounding versions of what had gone before. The stereo imaging now had real depth as well as width.

So now I finally feel as if I have begun to hear the value of the Pro iDSD over a less expensive device such as the Limetree.

I wonder if ifi Audio should bias the Pro iDSD more to people using the balanced operation more by adding an XLR socket and getting rid of one or other of the 3.5 or 6.35mm sockets instead.

Did anyone else experience this?
Lately I have been battling with the Pro iDSD to play with Tidal MQA (Masters) content. It seems that the Muzo app will not work with Tidal MQA at all and so it is necessary to use the M Connect app instead. I am trying to make it work but my iPhone wants to connect to M Connect via Airplay and I cant get it run on WiFi. Consequently still no Tidal MQA.

On the plus side of MQA I tried using an album I have on USB which was ripped from a UHQ CD MQA disc (also mine) and which has never played at MQA on anything I tried previously. On the Muzo app....surprise....24/178 wow. Actually it didn't provide a night and day difference but it did sound marginally better than the 16/44 stream from Tidal or indeed Qobuz.

None of that is the fault of the Pro iDSD as I am still undecided about the whole MQA thing. Anyway it has given me a boost to get to the bottom of the Tidal MQA conundrum.


500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Sound Quality
Ability to drive high impedance headphones
Cons: I don't have one!

There is a very good reason why I took a photo of the Nano Black is sitting atop my existing ifi Audio “Stack” which consists of Micro iDSD; Micro iCAN SE; iUSB; Gemini cable; Mercury cable and iPurifier2.

The reason is that unexpectedly I spent a lot of time and effort comparing these and constituent parts thereof. Initially I had fully expected to get my trusty Meze 99s warmed up and a quick listen to the Stack and then compare the Nano Black and job done. But oh no that was not nearly sufficient……….

The Meze 99 is a good headphone and for a closed back has very good imaging properties. It also has a warm and generous bass with an ever so slightly laid back treble. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I could not easily decide which was better through the Meze 99s the Stack or the Nano Black. The comparison was using some favourite album tracks on Tidal HiFi from my laptop.

The Meze 99s is one of my favourite travel headphones due to their sound quality, ease of drive and cost. Therefore I had expected they would be a good combination with the Nano Black.

So with my initial plan now thwarted I turned to my HD800s in order to get more resolution and neutrality and imaging so to be sure what the key differences were.

I started back with the same album tracks as before but this time comparing the Micro iDSD on its own to the Nano Black using Tidal HiFi from my iPhone and then a selection of Hi Res album tracks from the phone. All of this was via the HD800s.

The first thing is that the Micro iDSD has a more potent amplifier and so was able to drive the HD800s from a lower volume setting. The Nano Black does drive the HD800s but needs a bit more from the volume control so it took a bit of trial and error to get the volume levels matched (by ear as I don’t have a meter!).

Oh my goodness it was still very close. The Nano Black has a warmer/fuller bass as though it had one click of Xbass. In fact if you gave the Micro iDSD one click of Xbass the sound was astonishingly close, to the point where it made me wonder if this was a design feature???

The Nano Black does not quite deliver the image depth of the Micro iDSD, but in fairness other than those points you would not have thought one was twice the price of the other.

Then I joined the Micro iDSD back up with its chums in the Stack and tried again. Well this just doesn’t seem right but it’s still a close thing. The Stack is a bit better resolving, bit better depth, bit less warmth to the bass, bit more treble energy. That might seem a lot but it took a lot of the day to determine this and by a bit I mean 10-15% better.

And here’s the thing. When I just sat and listened to the Nano Black playing Hi Res tracks via HD800s I wasn’t thinking any of that I was just enjoying really good sound reproduction of really good music.

The ifi Stack I have is remarkably good for the money to the point where I listen to it more often than my main system simply because it is so easy to use and the sound quality is so high. Using it with Tidal is very easy and gives me an almost limitless supply of music.

What the Nano provides is a portable version of that Stack with nearly as good sound and all for £200. It is ridiculous!

You can read all the details and specs of the Nano Black here…

So there is no need for me to tell you what ifi Audio can tell you more comprehensively!

Meantime I’d like to mention a couple of the Nano Blacks features. The first is the amp as mentioned will drive high impedance headphones such as the HD800s and drive them properly. The one thing I don’t have is a 3.5mm TRRS plug so that I could have used the HD800s in balanced mode. This would be worth trying as I have heard the HD800s in balanced mode via an XLR plug and it improves them even further.

Likewise I didn’t try MQA or rather Tidal Master tracks as my Micro iDSD doesn’t unfold these and so it would not have been a fair comparison, and that’s why I used 24/192 and DSD files from my iPhone instead for the His Res comparison. I will probably try the Master file later on and once I download the new firmware.

In conclusion I must thank ifi Audio for the kind loan of the Nano Black. I think that it is as good a device as they have ever made and for the price I am truly dumfounded. I will certainly be purchasing one for myself when this loaner goes back as it offers the possibility of very nearly Hi End HiFi on the move. Indeed if you were listening to this while travelling or in a hotel on business of an evening then I think you would be highly impressed with the quality of sound this device brings to CD and Hi Res music.
This is the best DAC I've used so far. It sounds better than the Fiio E17K, the Dragonfly Red, and even the Schiit Modi 2/Magni 3 stack to my ears.
My ifi iDSD nano black label sounds better than my Modi 3 / Magni 3 Schiit Stack...

But I'd rather use the nano BL around the house rather than just at my computer.