iFi audio ZEN CAN

General Information

The ZEN CAN has trickle-down Class A discrete balanced circuitry from iFi audio’s US$1,699 flagship Pro iCAN. With 15.1V at 300Ω 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

Latest reviews

ifi Audio Zen Can
Pros: Great sound
Fully balanced
Very inexpensive
Compact
Cons: Not a fan of the Xbass or 3D
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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 https://ifi-audio.com/products/zen-can/ 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.
bedlam inside
bedlam inside
Nice work!
ishmaelk
ishmaelk
My impression coincides with yours. I am liking the Zen Can a lot. I had had the Zen Dac before and wasn't very impressed by the headphone amp, but the Zen Can is a fantastic piece of gear.
I have used it with the ATH-MSR7B, using of course the balanced output, and with the Sennheiser HD6XX using SE.
In both cases the amp gave ample stage, with more depth than I'm used to in this price range.
I don't intend to compare apples and oranges here, but after my disappointment with the lack of depth of the Topping A90, I'm enjoying the Zen Can very much.
One thing I noticed with the ATH-MSR7B is that, with the balanced output, it kind of tames the treble spike or, by amplifying the lower frequencies, it makes it stand out less, I don't know. The bass seems to be fuller without being intrusive, flabby or bloated.
I wish I had balanced cables for the HD6XX to try them.
dadracer2
dadracer2
Balanced cables can work well with some headphones and less so with others is my experience. HD800 not such a big change but yet HD800S a significant change.....go figure.

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