iFi audio ZEN CAN

Jank14

New Head-Fier
Impressions of the Zen CAN
Pros: Soundstage & imaging
Nuanced sound
Good power
Cons: Needs a clean power supply to display it's true capabilities and supplied non iFi adapter was not up to the mark (hence reduction of .5 star from the rating)
Reference setup & configuration:

Tidal via laptop PC
USB 3 stock iFi cable
Zen DAC running 5.3c GTO firmware (non GTO sounds better with IEMs)
RCA interconnects
Zen CAN at +6db gain
XBass and 3D on throughout
Sennheiser HD 599 with custom cable via 4.4mm Pentaconn Balanced output
Few in-ears in Single Ended mode
Custom Linear PSU




Initial impressions


At just 4 hours out of the box, sounded edgy. Hard edgy across the freq range and not sharp edgy as in the highs. I've experienced this before. So left them burning-in without listening to them. Put on the headphones later to check on this, and I'm feeling it's starting to smooth out. Adjusting the gain settings helped sort this out as well. The attack and decay of the highs are more defined now and the soundstage as well. What was perceived as distortions earlier are now definitely clearing out.


It's wired via the RCA interconnects for now, though I have separated the wires which were stuck together as is common out of the box. Need to try a Pentaconn interconnect to see how much of an improvement it makes. Differential signal via line out ... just wondering.


Power supply in the box is a non iFi wall adapter. It was almost unnoticeable but it caused a periodically rising and falling ringing sort of noise in a wide band, peaking and clearly audible around 3.5k. Very faint with cans but it's there. Very noticeable via efficient in ears. Switched to my linear power supply and the noise was gone completely. So I was right, it was the wall adapter. But that meant the DAC was on relatively less clean laptop USB power and the DAC is affected by noise as well, though maybe to a lesser extent. Need to sort this out asap.


Going to leave it burning it in at this point, and not with the connected headphones sat on my ears ... 🤞🤞



In the long run


The amp takes a few minutes to warm up to it's operating temperature. Feels like the sound improves once it warms up. It does get warm, but so do all Class A amplifiers. iFi says it's not an issue so I'm not going to bother about this at all. I just stacked the CAN on top, with all due respect to full sized gear traditions.


The edgy harshness in the sound experienced earlier, has completely cleared out now. For the record, it has been run for more than thirty hours over multiple shifts, with headphones plugged in. And I only listened to it periodically for a few minutes in between all this, just to check in on it.


Tonality wise, I would not call it warm. Leaning to warm maybe. If compared to the Zen DAC, it can be said to be slightly less warm comparatively even. Tracks that are mastered lean, sound true to their recording. Variations in the tonality of recordings from different eras for example are accurately reproduced. I would prefer to put it this way: "More like neutral, with a timbre that is of just the right density".


When it comes to the soundstage, one can very clearly hear the well defined reverb even! I must mention, the decay of the reverb tones is definitely clinical. If it was a stereo speakers setup, this would feel as if the sound was slowly receding into them, while with headphones it felt like it is ebbing away in waves from the listener and fading into the frontal soundstage in both directions. Transients are very likeable, and do linger when called for. Stringed instruments that have been recorded as being in the background, can be heard rattling away clearly noticeably as well.



IMG_20210421_201049~2.jpg




Bass notes have a sense of heft to them that portrays bass drum hits in a well weighted way. On "Wide Open Spaces" by The Chicks, at times there is a barely noticeable but present textured reverb on the bass drum as if there was a thick strip of cloth between the beater and the skin of the drum that flutters against the skin after every hit. The toms on this track sound strikingly weighty.


Mids are not forward and instruments are relatively well placed in their respective positions. In contrast, the vocals do take prominence in the image. The emotions in Joni Mitchell's voice, ebb sharply and linger on well into the end of each of her vocal notes. Something I have not heard through other amps in roughly the same chain. Stuff like accompanying vocals are clearly defined and separated. Background vocals that surprisingly I had never ever noticed before even with DACs with spicy vocal concoctions, emerged with definition. Light instrument sounds like mildly miked violins playing in the background are never overrun by the rest of the fanfare.


Highs are not boosted, nor smoothed in any way. They are well defined, and extremely accurately portray their distinct individual notes. They are well extended, and the listener is able to individually differentiate each note even in the very upper reaches. Spatial highs present in the track are imaged accurately and seem to extend lingeringly, portraying the ringing in a way that is to be experienced. When called for, the CAN accurately portrays even the reverberation like rise and fall of the extended high frequency notes as well. Trebles portray a sense of space. There is not a hint of anything close to sibilance, even at my sibilance inducing settings in the DAC's Control Panel etc.


The same track "Wide Open Spaces" by The Chicks, on it's Live video version on Tidal, accurately portrays the wide staging of the recording, in contrast to it's audio only version. On the audio only version on the other hand, imaging is well portrayed. Separation of instruments etc. made me wonder if I had mistakenly shifted to the balanced interconnect.


3D on with open backs, initially, felt not as big relative to what I had expected in my mind. So do not expect spatial artefacts here with boosted delay and reverb. It is a very clean analogue implementation and stays true to the mastering. It is clearly better than the soundstage experienced via the Zen DAC alone. It more accurately portrays the direction of decay of the spatial cues. The soundstage has good depth to it. The sparse electric lead guitar in Aerosmith's Crazy has a clear sense of space and directionality. To experience anything better than this would require vastly superior headphones than what I had, and I'm sure the CAN will not be a let down even with such pairings.


XBass is very clean, and does not in any way intrude into the adjacent frequencies. For reference, it is definitely not for bassheads. For that, one will need to set the DAC to variable mode and use TrueBass from the Zen DAC. Here, volume needs to be upped to near three'o clock on the DAC. But no way for me to tell if I'm introducing distortions into the line-in of the CAN with that volume level, so sticking to Fixed mode for the line-out. I found nothing lacking this way.


The gain settings seem to make a slight difference in the perceived levels of the highs, in relation to the rest of the frequency range. For me, +6db seemed to be the sweet spot. 0db seems to smoothen out the entire frequency range, in a sort of linear sounding output. But the highs seem to fall below the rest of the frequencies. +6db also seems to add a bit of dynamism and punch to the sound. Higher gain levels might work well with planar drivers.


I would not say the CAN introduces any artificial colouration to the sound. It is mostly true to what it is fed with. It displays deft control of the drivers, with enough damping power with open backs that rely on this in particular. It does a better job of this than the DAC alone, at the same or even higher decibel levels. And it does have a bit of power, enough to outrun most cans.


Using the Balanced output from the CAN made the sound noticeably more linear and helped remove any inherent dips or "veil"s in the frequency response designed into the headphones.


The non iFi wall adapter I received in the box seems to wipe out almost all the aforementioned characteristics of the amp, and make the soundstage literally fall flat. The extent of this, to me, honestly was quite surprising. If used with the supplied wall adapter, not all of what I have said above hold good.




Tracks for main reference: by Joni Mitchell, The Chicks, Kerela Dust, Evanescence, Disturbed, Iron Maiden, Steely Dan, among others ...
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Wretched Stare

Head-Fier
One of the best in class
Pros: Superb build quality, great relaxed sound, more features than competition
Cons: Unusual shape that will be a matter of taste, no optical input.
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The Zen can as well as Zen DAC come in a attractive box with most of the accessories you might need.
The build quality is exceptional, all metal construction and a very cool shape to mimic a Zen stone pile, inputs and outputs are plentiful and far more than anything else in its price range. Inside the box one finds a warranty card, a quick start guide, purple RCA cable, 5V wall power supply adapter and a slim line 6.3mm adapter.

The volume knob is perhaps the best one I've used so so far, very smooth and not cheap feeling. The usual lower volume imbalance on most Amps is so minimal it not noticeable. The four step gain is a welcome feature Xbass is well implemented and ads a tasteful amount of bass, details without over doing it. The 3D effect gives a little more openness to the sounds boost the mids and treble slightly as well, it should be noted that these are not filters but an analog circuit.
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The sound in general is balanced/neutral with some warmth mostly its true to its source without adverse coloration.
Bass: presents itself well defined with good texture and control, the both Sub-Bass and Mid-Bass are respectively clean, nothing is emphasized until you hit that Xbass button.
Mids: are clear with a pleasant hint of warmth, nothing is added here just well done clean and detailed mids.
Treble: is neutral and has a good extension , more so with a balanced connection. Still its has good clean highs without harshness I found on some other amps.

The device has a enough power to bring life to the HD650 and Fostex T50RP without distortion or having to run max power, indeed it should run most headphones without an issue. IEMs are great but while the Zen has a low ground noise it is not recommended for very sensitive low power IEMs, I would recommend DD IEMs over the 12 Ohm rating and hybrid and BA IEMs 32 Ohms and up.

Conclusion: ifi has made some iconic audio products and the Zen Can is no exception.
Great build quality, sound and performance with a very usual design I personally like. It worked well everything from headphones to IEMs. The Zen Can and Dac offer a great performance to price ratio, together the work so well complimenting each other.

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MundoHiFiOz

100+ Head-Fier
IFI ZEN CAN BALANCED AMP REVIEW
Pros: Sound
Price
Balanced outputs/inputs
Design
Cons: Barely noticeable 3D effect
About me:
Music lover and earphone enthusiast, most of my previous reviews are in spanish.

Disclaimer: iFi graciously lent me the Zen Can in exchange of my opinion

Gear used: Sennheiser HD560s, Fostex T50RP, Hifi boy OSV3, Zen Can and Ifi´s own 4.4-4.4 cable

About iFi:
iFi audio is a company with headquarters in the UK that since 2012 has launched more than 30 high quality audio products with one aim in mind "to improve your music enjoyment." You can find more in https://ifi-audio.com/about-ifi/

Specifications:

Inputs4.4mm Pentacon BAL
RCA L/R Socket SE
3.5mm Jack SE
4.0V nominal @ 0dBFS, 24 kOhm Zin
2.0V nominal @ 0dBFS, 1 MegOhm Zin
1.0V nominal @ 0dBFS, 1 MegOhm Zin
Max OutputBalanced>15.1V/385 mW (@ 600 Ohm)
>11.0V/1890 mW (@ 64 Ohm)
S-E>7.6V/196 mW (@ 300 Ohm)
>7.2V/1600 mW (@ 32 Ohm)
THD & NBalanced
S-E
< 0.0007% (4V out, 600 Ohm, 1kHz)
<0.006% (@ 100 mW/1.27V 16 Ohm)
SNRBalanced
S-E
>120dBA (@ 15.2V)
>118dBA (@ 7.6V)
Max. InputBalanced
RCA
3.5mm
7.4V RMS
3.8V RMS
1.92V RMS
Gain0dB, 6dB, 12dB and 18dB
Frequency Response20Hz - 20kHz (+0dB / -0.03dB)
Power consumptionNo Signal
Max Signal
~5W
~13W
Input voltageDC 5V/2.5A
AC 100 -240V
50/60Hz
Dimensions160(w) x 117(d) x 35(h) mm
6.3" x 4.6" x 1.4"
Net weight515g (1.14 Ibs)

Packaging and accessories:

The Zen Can comes in a white cardboard box, it's exactly the same packaging as Ifi Zen dac with just minor and obvious changes. Inside we can find the warranty brochure, a card with buttons description, RCA cable, 5V wall power supply adapter, 6.3mm male to 3.5mm female adapter and the zen dac which keeps the same design and colors characteristic of the Zen line.

This headphone amplifier has a very compact size so it's easy to transport and to fit in smaller desktops. The metallic finish and unique design makes it a very good constructed device that adds style to your room.

PXL_20hhhhhj.jpeg


Buttons and features

One improvement over the Zen Dac design is the add of an on/off button so now we can control this function after we plug in the DC power supply. In the back of this device we´ll find the RCA, 3.5mm and 4.4mm inputs for connecting it to our phone, dap or external dac like Ifi Zen dac which I used for the purpose of this review. The only output found in the back is the 4.4mm analogue output commonly used for active speakers.
In the front of the Zen Can we can find the power button, input selection button, gain selection, bass gain and 3d Matrix buttons. Also we´ll find the volume wheel and 2 outputs: balanced 4.4 mm and single ended 6.3mm.

The analogue volume wheel is precise and channel imbalance is barely noticeable, it's only present when there's almost no sound. One interesting feature is the 4 level gain which starts from 0db growing in multiples of 6db until reaching 18db. None of the headphones i used required 18db gain, i kept this gain in 2db most of the time.

The first button from the right controls the bass gain "Xbass" and the 3D effect called "3D Matrix". The Xbass adds more weight to bass and gives a very light midbass elevation but don´t expect a basshead gain like the truebass from Zen Dac. The 3dMatrix tries to recreate a holographic sound field and it achieves its goal with iems but not much with open back headphones.

The most interesting feature of the Zen Can is the complete balanced audio circuit, according to IFI, some components like the Class A discrete circuit used in the Ifi Pro iCAN (£1,699) are also used in this amplifier. To fully test the balanced capabilities of the Zen Can i used the 4.4mm-4.4mm cable sold separately for pluging in the Zen Can and Zen Dac.

PXL_2021lgghhhhhhh.jpeg


Daily use:

The Zen Can gets warm after minutes of use, i was expecting hotter temperatures due to the class A discrete amp but it seems that the metallic/aluminum construction contributes to an efficient heat dispersion.

I used from iems to planarmargnetic headphones to test the amplification and sound of this amp. First, I recommend pairing this amp to any kind of iems and headphones. With iems the level of hiss/noise is very controlled and only noticeable without sound or using the powerful 4.4mm output, this is clearly an improvement over the Zen Dac.

With power hungry headphones like fostex t50rp, the Zen Can is able to deliver enough amplification to enjoy this kind of headphones so that's why it's easy to pair most of the headphones out there to this amp.

I want to mention that the sound from this device varies according to which input you use. If you use the RCA input, the sound is similar to the source, with the 4.4mm input the sound is brighter, cleaner and very detailed. The one to choose will depend on your headphones, I found that the clean and detailed sound of the 4.4mm input is very recommended for planar magnetic headphones.

PXL_20210306_185049951.jpg

Sound

In general, the sound of this amp can be described as follows:
Bass: It delivers good texture, deep clean impact and a very controlled bass. It's not much accented nor adds more weight; instead it gives a detailed low frequency that extends very deep achieving a very technical low frequency without sounding dry or boring.
Mids:
They are closer to the warm side, it has a very detailed, clean and transparent midrange.
Overall they are balanced and close to neutral, voices and instruments sound with correct weight, soundstage is spacious and sometimes it'll catch errors from bad recordings.
Treble:
Higs are accented and well extended, this gives the sound extra dynamism in the treble area. Attacks are fast and transitions feel realistic, clash of cymbals and flute sounds are very natural and with a good sense of clarity.

PXL_20210306_184114383.jpg


Pairings:

Fostex T50RP: This headphone needs a very powerful amp to show its true sound, the more amplification you give this headphone, the best it will sound. Once you pair the Zen Can to the fostex headphone, it's very notorious how soundstage improves in all directions and bass gets tighter and hits deeper. The T50RP sounds with a very airy treble and a deep punchy bass but the best part was the midrange, it gets very detailed with very high resolution although the sound is fatighing for long sessions.

HIfi Boy OSV3: This earphone catches a lot of noise from sources so it's a good test of how silent an amp is. With the Zen Can there's no hiss through the 6.3mm but using the powerful 4.4mm output, this earphone catches hiss as expected. About sound: With warm sources OSV3 sounds with much bass and a very relaxed treble but with neutral or bright sources, it sounds very balanced and that's how it sounded pairing it to the Zen Can.


Conclusion:

I've tried 3 different IFI products (hip dac, zen can and zen dac), all of them are under 200 $ and subjectively the Zen Can is the best of the three, it has great sound, balanced connections, good price and enough power output for most headphones / iems. I would have liked to see the Truebass gain instead of the Xbass gain but it's just a matter of preferences.

Video review (spanish):
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Sebastien Chiu
Sebastien Chiu
Thanks so much for your review and I'm glad you enjoyed your time with it!
dsrk
dsrk
Nice review, short and sweet.

kmmbd

500+ Head-Fier
Ticking the Boxes
Pros: Generally solid build quality
– Numerous input/output options cover most use cases (balanced/single-ended)
– More than enough output power for most headphones
– XBass and 3D effects are well-implemented
Cons: Design can be polarizing, buttons have poor feedback and rattles
– Stock power supply may not be iPower in some regions (reportedly)
– Not the best matching for sensitive IEMs
IMG_9553.JPG


This review was originally published on Audioreviews.org/my blog

“Can it power the Sennheiser HD650 to its full potential?”

This is the most common question I’ve been asked whenever there’s a talk about any good budget amp. Fortunately, nowadays there are numerous good offerings around the $100 mark that will power the HD650 and other such demanding cans with supreme authority. Yes, you can always try to get the last bit of performance out of these evergreen Sennheisers but diminishing returns quickly set in.

iFi Audio is a UK-based manufacturers focusing primarily on DAC and Amps in various form-factors. A few of their products have received critical acclaim, especially the iDSD Black Label and the Pro iCan/xCan flagship amp/DAC duo.

The iFi Zen Can is part of the recently released Zen stack and is meant to be paired with the iFi Zen DAC. Both the DAC and amp have practically the same chassis and looks rather retro when stacked. You can of course choose a DAC of your own preference and at times get even better performance (more on this below). Nonetheless, the iFi Zen Can aims to be the de-facto solution to powering high impedance full-size cans. Let’s see how well it fares against the stiff competition.

Note: the ratings given will be subjective to the price tier. Lawrence Lee of iFi was kind enough to send the iFi Zen Can as review loaner. Disclaimer.

Headphones/IEMs used: Sennheiser HD650, Final Sonorous III/E5000, Hifiman Ananda, Dunu Studio SA6
Price, while reviewed: 170 euros. Can be purchased from
Amazon DE.

Build:
The iFi Zen Can feels positively dense in hand with its sandblasted Aluminium finish (gray). There are four rubber feet at the bottom of the unit to ensure stability when put on the desk. The general shape is quite curious and deviates from the boring box-shaped DAC/Amps out there. It’s a bit of retro look and while I myself find it nice some have reported their displeasure at the asymmetric design. It looks better in person than in the photos so there’s that. The overall profile is rather compact and should fit even small desk setups.

The back of the unit (from the left) houses the 4.4mm balanced input, 3.5mm single-ended input, and RCA analog inputs. Then we find the balanced output (line-out) and finally the 5V DC power port.

IMG_9545.JPG


The front of the iFi Zen Can has the headphone outputs (6.35mm unbalanced, 4.4mm balanced/pentaconn). From the left, we find the power button, the input selector (RCA, unbalanced 3.5mm, balanced 4.4mm), the gain control (0/+6/+12/+18dB), the volume wheel, and the XBass/3D mode selector (toggles between XBass on/3D on/both on/both off).

IMG_9550.JPG


The volume wheel is very smooth and has beveled edges around it for easier grip. I wish it had a bit more tension but that’s a minor nitpick. My major gripe lies with the rattling buttons on the front panels themselves. They rattle every time you move around the unit and feels rather cheap/finicky when toggling them. The buttons themselves are aluminium (or so it appears) so this seems to be a curious design choice. If I had to change one thing about the Zen Can’s build — it would be these buttons. Other than that this rather budget amp has covered practically every input/output most users will ever need (barring XLR but I don’t expect that in such a budget device).
4.5/5

Accessories:
The iFi Zen Can comes with a pair of RCA-cables to use as analog interconnect (rather short, may require upgrading), a 3.5-to-6.35mm adapter, and a power supply. In some regions you get the iPower bundled in the box whereas in others (e.g. Singapore from what I hear) you get a generic adapter. I will highly recommend getting a good quality power adapter (if you don’t get the iPower in the bundle) since the generic adapter is very prone to mains noise and EMI and will generate a lot of background hiss/whine.

The cost cutting becomes rather evident in the accessory set but I guess that’s expected at this price-point.
3.5/5

Tech Inside:
Let’s get the specs out of the way first:
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For more info, you can check the Zen Can product page.

The internals of the Zen Can is its most interesting aspect IMO. iFi has apparently trickled down the amplifier circuit from their flagship Pro iCan to the Zen Can, albeit in a smaller package (and with lower output power). Then again, 1.6Watts of output power (@ 32 ohms) from the single-ended out is no joke. The balanced circuit is a dual-mono configuration and when paired with the balanced out from a DAC you shall get a fully balanced configuration (unlike certain THX amps).

The amplifier operates in discrete class-A (no A/B switching here) and employs a FET input (high input impedance, low output impedance) to improve distortion/SNR figures. Frankly, the THD% at 0.007 is not class-leading by any means. However, amps are more than measurements (for me at least) and better measuring amps at times can sound lifeless and sterile. Just listen to one of them THX amps and you’ll know what I mean.

There’s enough voltage swing in the Zen Can to power amp picky headphones like the HD650 and the HD800. The former works well with >5V voltage swing and the Zen Can definitely exceeds that even in lower gain levels.

As for the rest of the features, we got two iFi signature “circuits” inside: the XBass and 3D circuits, both of which are analogue signal processing circuits. XBass adds a sizeable bass-boost throughout the entire bass-range (from upper-bass to sub-bass). Fortunately, it’s not a bass-shelf (where all bass frequencies are similarly boosted) rather a gradual rise from 300Hz downwards. The sub-bass regions get a major lift by ~7/8dB and can solve some of the bass issues in open-back headphones, esp the likes of HD650. It’s definitely not for everyone though and not every headphone will react the same. HD650 for example has high distortion in the sub-bass region and in some bass-heavy tracks you’ll hear the driver cranking under pressure. It’s always good to have the option though and in many times I found myself keeping the bass boost on.

The 3D effect is a bit more subtle yet noticeable. The stage seems to get wider and deeper while lower-treble gains more presence. I personally didn’t like this effect as it made the midrange thinner than I prefer. For gaming this might come in handy though and again — it’s better to have this option than not.

As an aside, the internal components all seem to be of high quality so long-term durability should be quite good.

IMG_8928.JPG



Sound

The Zen Can has a warm-neutral sound overall. It’s pretty transparent to the source in fact and won’t color the music in any destructive manner. The treble is a bit less clinical than certain THX amps but that’s about it (can be a good thing if you don’t like treble glare). The gain levels up to +12dB is very usable. The +18dB gain can vastly increase grain and hiss so I tended to not use that mode and frankly +12dB gain is more than enough for my use-cases and powered all my headphones to deafening levels.

The staging isn’t as wide or deep as the THX amps or some higher-tier class-A designs but at this price range I don’t expect that either. Dynamics are mostly good with headphones but no so much with IEMs (more on this later). Overall resolution is what you’d expect — as good as the source itself (audibly transparent to the source). The biggest issue lies with the PSU for me as with the generic (non iPower) PSUs in some regions you will get audible hiss and a reduction in dynamic range/staging. Switching to iPower X ($100) will fix that but that investment takes it into another price category.

Qualms with PSU aside, for the price the Zen Can drives headphones as well as any other amps in this range. The 3D and XBass effects can be very fun to use and definitely adds to the overall package.
4.25/5

Pairings


I’ve found the Zen Can to pair the best with the HD650. In fact, I suspect the Zen Can was created specifically to match with the HD650/6XX/600 and the likes. The dynamics were spot-on, with the bass boost you could hear some decent sub-bass rumble and the stage depth was better than most amps in this range. If you plan to get the Sennheiser HD6XX or any other 6 series Sennheiser headphones, this is the amp to get for ~$200, period. Planars also fared well and for the likes of Sundara/Ananda this can be a great amp.

However, IEMs were a different story altogether. They got loud to dangerous levels but the overall presentation lacked dynamics and fell flat. In fact some IEMs like the Final E5000 (requires a good amp to shine) were muddy, bloated mess on the Zen Can despite being properly driven on paper. Same applied to some multi-BA IEMs. In general I don’t think the Zen Can is a good match for IEMs, then again the name itself has “Can” in it so there’s that.

Overall, for high impedance full-size cans the Zen Can is a great match. For IEMs — not so much. For IEMs though I’d not recommend such a behemoth for the most part and a simple DAC dongle will serve you well. For those who need best of both, however, this might fall short.
4/5

Select Comparisons

vs Topping L30 ($150):
This particular amp used to be the darling amp of the budget conscious. Incredible measurement figures, vanishingly low THD, tons of drive and best of all — could power IEMs and full-size headphones just as well. Too bad that they started to explode. Well, not all of them, more like a few of them, but it’s more than enough to raise concerns and this potential hazard alone dismisses Topping as a competition. I put this here mostly to warn people and until Topping proves that they have put more than enough safety measures in their amp I won’t recommend Topping products to anyone.

vs JDS Atom amp ($100): The Atom amp is even more neutral and that could be a good or a bad thing. It doesn’t have as much raw power as the Zen Can but from my experience it drives IEMs better than the Zen Can and also has less issues with mains noise. It does lack balanced out so there’s that and the overall build is a step down from the Zen Can esp the volume pot. Still, a very good choice for most budget buyers and can be a good alternative to Zen Can albeit without the bass/3D effects and a more clinical presentation.

vs SMSL SP200 ($270): Ah, the magical THX amp circuit that makes everything sound awesome. Not really. The SP200 is one of the least dynamic and most anemic sounding amps that I’ve ever encountered in this range. This thing is practically lifeless and sounds very dis-engaging (if that’s the correct term). The XLR inputs and such are nice touches but the way it presents sound is not my cup of tea. If you like a very sterile presentation you may give this a shot but I’d recommend not being swept up by “THX *random three digit numbers*” marketing jargon and actually listen to them before making a decision. Needless to say — I prefer the Zen Can much more, even with IEMs.

vs iFi Neo iDSD ($700): David vs Goliath, or so they say. I will be blunt: I prefer the Zen Can’s output (for using with the HD650) more than the Neo iDSD’s headphone output (balanced). With IEMs I do prefer the Neo iDSD but the Zen Can pairs so well with the HD650 that even iFi’s far higher tier offering doesn’t sound as nice or engaging, IMHO. The XBass effect is also absent from the Neo iDSD which is a slight letdown. Nonetheless, Neo iDSD review is coming soon and while it generally trounces over the Zen Can with most headphones and IEMs, the HD650 is the one headphone that sounds better on the Zen Can than on the Neo iDSD.

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Conclusion

The iFi Zen Can is the best amp under $200 for the Sennheiser HD6XX/650/600. That’s basically my takeaway after testing this amp for 2+ months. For similar high impedance dynamic drivers and low sensitivity planars — the Zen Can is is very capable indeed. IEMs and very sensitive headphones are where it falls somewhat short.

The design can be questionable and the power adapter situation is a bit strange (though most regions get the iPower X but still something you should discuss with the dealer beforehand). For 170 euros though, there really aren’t any deal-breaking issues here for the most part as long as you want to power full-size headphones. It ticks all the necessary boxes for driving power hungry cans, and then some.

These don’t explode and kill your headphones in the process and of course — sounds great with high impedance cans with ample headroom/drive. I recommend the Zen Can for such use cases, and highly recommend it if you own the classic Sennheisers and want an amp in a budget that can do justice to it.

Overall rating: 4.25/5
#Recommended (for powering high impedance headphones and planars)
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kmmbd
kmmbd
That's the analogue circuit engaging. I think it's normal since this is not a digital filter that's being applied.
SHOOTINGTECHIE
SHOOTINGTECHIE
Thanks a lot brother 😊
Uebelkraehe
Uebelkraehe
Good review and from personal experience i very much agree on the comparison to the SP200. The power noise issue can btw also completely be solved by using the (cheaper) iFi iPower 5v, which my Zen Can was bundled with.
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dadracer2

100+ Head-Fier
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.
dadracer2
dadracer2
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.
SHOOTINGTECHIE
SHOOTINGTECHIE
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 😁
Jurgen00
Jurgen00
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.
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