Balanced, All-Analog Headphone Amplifier Delivers Cost-Belying Sound, Features, Convenience: iFi Zen CAN Features Two Outputs, Audiophile Circuitry, and Four Gain Settings
The price-belying iFi Zen CAN headphone amplifier puts an exclamation point on the level of sound, convenience, build, and features you can get for such a remarkable price. A balanced, symmetrical, dual-mono analog design with two headphone outputs and a balanced analog pre-out, Zen CAN benefits from the involvement of iconic circuit engineer John Curl – most obviously in its stunningly low-noise performance and clean signal path. That's not to make light of its exceptional drive capability (1600mW into 32 ohms for the single-ended output), enough to ably power current-hungry planar-magnetic ‘phones. Or the fact the all-analog device features not a single digital input and connects to anything with an analog output, be it a digital audio player, laptop, tablet, smartphone, CD player, or phone preamplifier. It can even pair with the iFi Zen Blue to add Bluetooth reception or combine with the Zen DAC for upgraded sonics. The choice is yours.
Housed in a study aluminum case, Zen CAN includes four-step adjustable gain, a bypassable 3D analog spatializer, and bypassable XBass EQ adjustment to help you dial in exactly what you want to hear. A smooth rotary volume control adds confidence and textural feel. Inside, multiple discrete surface-mounted components – ranging from TDK C0G and Panasonic ECPU capacitors to a OV4627 quad-amp stage with four independent FET op-amps in a folded cascode array to a separate op-amp for the input stage, the latter featuring automatic level matching and feeding a TOSCOS precision potentiometer – account for the tremendous detail, clarity, dynamics, and presence you'll experience.
Feel free to read more about the technical specifics below. For now, know that our 100% Music Direct Satisfaction Guarantee gives you the security you need to go to zen.
"Many rivals in this market add DAC functionality, but the ZEN CAN seems to benefit from its singular focus, and enables system-building flexibility. The 'can-do attitude' pun is obvious, but entirely apt. This is a little amp that delivers a lot!"
– Mark Craven, Hi-Fi News, Outstanding Product review
Audiophile-Grade Circuitry and Parts
Zen CAN's circuitry is a balanced, symmetrical dual-mono design. Balanced circuits have long been championed by renowned high-end audio electronics engineer John Curl, a technical consultant for iFi. Curl has worked closely with iFi's in-house technical team, headed by Thorsten Loesch, to produce an analog circuit of exceptional quality for a device of this kind. A number of key elements have trickled down from the discrete Class A circuitry developed for iFi's flagship headphone amplifier, Pro iCAN, which is 12 times the price of Zen CAN. It offers prodigious drive capability for such a modestly priced headphone amp, delivering 1600mW (7.2V) into 32 ohms from the single-ended output, with 15V+ available to loads of 300 ohms or more through the balanced output. Zen CAN's circuitry also utilizes many discrete, high-grade surface-mounted components to maximize sonic purity, such as TDK C0G and Panasonic ECPU capacitors, and ultra-low-distortion thin-film resistors. iFi's custom OV4627 quad-amp stage features four independent FET op-amps using a ‘folded cascode' design, with low-impedance feedback circuitry to enhance performance. A further custom op-amp is used for the input stage, which features automatic level matching and feeds a TOCOS precision potentiometer, while the fully discrete, balanced, complementary bipolar output stage uses the same Class A buffer found in iFi's Pro iCAN. The power supply circuitry includes ‘stealth mode' voltage conversion, again derived from Pro iCAN, with linear regulation, noise filtering, physical isolation from sensitive audio circuits, and 4,000uF capacitance to keep ample power in reserve to respond to musical transients. Even the way Zen CAN switches between settings has been engineered to ensure sonic transparency. FET-based switching is handled by a microcontroller, which only ‘wakes up' when the user changes a setting, thus eradicating any sonically deleterious interference.
Smartly Designed – And Able to Drive Any Kind of ‘Phones
In the center of the front panel is a smooth-acting rotary volume control, flanked by a range of sockets and buttons. On the left, beside the power button and input switch, resides a control for selecting the appropriate gain. Four settings in six dB steps – 0dB, 6dB, 12dB and 18db – enable the amp to precisely suit the connected headphones; unity gain (0dB) is useful to ensure low noise with sensitive in-ear monitors, while the higher gain settings make the most of tougher headphone loads, delivering excellent dynamic headroom. To the right are a pair of headphone outputs – a 6.3mm output for headphones that have a standard single-ended connector (compatible with all headphones) and a 4.4 Pentaconn balanced output for headphones offering balanced connection. An increasing number of high-quality headphones and in-ear monitors either come so equipped or give the option of detaching the cable and upgrading to a 4.4mm Pentaconn connector, and this output makes the most of them. Next to the headphone sockets is a button to engage iFi's XBass and 3D sonic tailoring options for headphones. XBass adjusts frequency response to enhance low frequency performance – particularly useful with open-back headphones that leak deep bass. 3D compensates for the ‘in-head localization' effect that often occurs when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed using a pair of speakers, effectively widening the headphone soundstage. Both XBass and 3D engage purely analog processing and may be bypassed entirely if preferred. Around the back, Zen CAN offers stereo RCA and 3.5mm single-ended inputs, plus a balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn input. A 4.4mm balanced output is also provided, to connect to power amps and active speakers equipped with a balanced input – either a Pentaconn 4.4mm input or XLR inputs via a 4.4mm-to-XLR cable. This balanced output can also be used for single-ended connection if no balanced input is available. All Zen CAN inputs and outputs are gold-plated for optimal conductivity.
AC 100 -240V, 50/60Hz (iFi iPower included)
>15.1V/385 mW (@ 600 Ohm)
>6.0V/1150 mW (@ 32 Ohm)
>7.6V/98 mW (@ 600 Ohm)
>7.2V/1600 mW (@ 32 Ohm)
THD & N:
Balanced: <0.006% (@ 360 mW/2.4V 16 Ohm)
S-E: <0.005% (@ 100 mW/1.27V 16 Ohm)
Balanced: >120dBA (@ 15.2V)
S-E: >118dBA (@ 7.6V)
Balanced: 7.4V RMS
RCA: 3.8V RMS
3.5mm: 1.92V RMS
Gain: 0dB, 6dB, 12dB and 18dB
Frequency Response: 20Hz - 20kHz (-3dB)
No Signal: ~5W
Max Signal: ~13W
Dimensions: 6.2" x 4.6" x 1.4"
Weight: 1.14 lbs.
Warranty period: 12 months
User Manual (PDF, 542 KB)