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Joining the ZEN Blue and ZEN DAC in IFi Audio’s ZEN Series, the new ZEN CAN is an all-analogue headphone amplifier that comes in the same compact aluminum chassis and includes features the company says are typically reserved for higher-end headphones amps that cost much more.
Among the features is the ability to drive tough headphone loads, the balanced circuit design, low levels of distortion, and versatile sonic tailoring options to optimize performance.
The amp has no digital input of any kind, USB or otherwise. Instead, it connects to any audio source with an analogue output, such as the headphone output from a DAP (Digital Audio Player), a laptop, a tablet, smartphone, or the RCA outputs from, say, a CD player or phono stage. It could be paired with the ZEN Blue to add Bluetooth reception, or combined with the ZEN DAC to upgrade the DAC’s headphone amp stage. As well as a headphone amp, it can double as a preamp to feed a power amp and speakers or a pair of active speakers.
Like the other ZEN Series products, the ZEN CAN sports a sturdy aluminium enclosure. Measuring just 158 x 35 x 100mm, it has a smooth-acting rotary volume control in the centre of the front panel, 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.
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, says iFi, which recommends the connector for use with high-impedance headphones).
Next to the headphone sockets is a button to engage the latest versions of 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 localisation’ effect that often occurs when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed using a pair of speakers, effectively widening the headphone soundstage to deliver a more speaker-like experience. Both XBass and 3D engage purely analogue processing and may be bypassed entirely if preferred.
Around the back, the 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 the ZEN CAN’s inputs and outputs are gold plated for optimal conductivity.
The ZEN CAN will be sold in Canada for an MSRP of $249 MSRP and will come packaged with the iPower upgraded power supply. On sale July 31 through iFi’s Canadian distributor Motet Distribution, it will start shipping August 5.