iFi audio ZEN DAC and CAN Signature Review

ifi audio zen Signature

 

Without any filter activated the ZEN CAN Signature in general sounds balanced and natural with good transparency and linearity. Separation is good but it isn’t the most spacious presentation either. This, together with the limitation in sound stage width and depth make it a more intimate presentation. Don’t get me wrong, what the ZEN CAN Signature does at this price is pretty good but it has its limitations, and that’s perfectly normal.

For me this amp is all about the HD6XX EQ setting for Sennheiser and this is where the ZEN CAN Signature shines. The effect of this setting on your headphones depends on the Senn headphone in use, for some it will have a bigger effect, for others the impact is less present. We’ll get back to that in the next chapter.

All-in-all I like the Sennheiser EQ setting with all of the Sennheiser headphones I used (see below), and with this amp it was difficult going back to the normal sound of the Senns without the EQ adjustment. I would describe the sound as fuller (because of the lower end boost) but also as livelier, more musical and more energetic. I also find the setting to have a positive effect on the spaciousness, especially in the mids section.

ifi audio zen Signature

ifi audio zen Signature

Not looking at the lower end lift you wouldn’t expect this much difference in sound, but it is there. For me the change was most audible with the HD660S and least with the HD800 but we’ll get back to that in a bit. The ZEN CAN Signature isn’t the strongest amp in a technical way but it is a very engaging one.

iFi ZEN Signature combo sound impression

Going back to the ZEN DAC Signature from the Atlas logically is noticeable (think sound stage, detail and precision) but the iFi CAN & DAC Signature combo has great synergy and they work well together.

I would never say the HD660S or even the HD650 have too little bass presence, but at the same time I never found the HD6XX setting to exaggerate with the amount of bass. I’m convinced that for most of you, it will hit the sweet spot.

We have a $500 USD combo here, and that is defendable if you have (several) Sennheiser headphones and if you will be using the HD6XX setting. The combo really is nice with my Sennheiser headphones but it isn’t the best on the market looking at its technical performance (It doesn’t pretend to be either). The sound is natural, full and it has good clarity and dynamics. The detail retrieval and attack is good but not spectacular at the same time. Together with the low-end weight, it’s especially the smooth and musical mids that are very likeable here, as well as its engaging character.

ifi audio zen Signature

ifi audio zen Signature

Sennheiser Headphones

For this chapter we of course focus on the HD6XX setting and the effect of it on the headphone.

First off, the good old HD650. This headphone has always been one of my favorite headphones. While I many headphones in my collection outperforming this classic, there still is something magical about its sound. For the price it’s going or it well amped certainly still sounds incredible, even for its age.

According to iFi audio the synergy with the HD6XX setting on the ZEN CAN Signature is excellent and I have to agree with that. While the HD650 already has great bass and sweet mids, it makes the HD650 sexier, more spacious and the mid-timbre simply is gorgeous. The bass elevation of course is quite remarkable, but I never found the bass to become too much. Where they originally are more focused, the voices with the setting activated blend more in to the whole because of the added weight. With many albums that was good, with others it was less wished, but in those cases you can easily deactivate the setting.

With the HD800 iFi audio gives a “Good” synergy advise. I still find the HD800 to sound best on a good tube amp such as the Nirvana and Crack, but I also quite like it from warmer sounding solid state amps such as the Niimbus Audio US4+ or even the more neutral Burson 3XP. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this mini stack for this headphone but I’ve actually been quite enjoying the HD800 with it. It doesn’t get the very best out of the HD800, but it still is remarkable.

What I miss with the HD800 (no filters activated) in this stack is overall body, spaciousness and that sublime sound stage width and depth. With the EQ activated the lower end kick nicely improves and the HD800 becomes more musical and engaging but the mids could be better. I probably wouldn’t pick the ZEN CAN Signature as my main HD800 amplifier because I know how good it can sound, but it with the EQ activated does sound musical and the bass has a good presence and kick. I don’t think it’s the amp that will make you fall in love with the HD800, but it will make the HD800 more listenable for many of you, even though it’s far from reaching its potential.

My DROP HD6XX (number 841 from the very first series) is supposed to have excellent synergy with the setup according to iFi, and that comes to no surprise as it’s basically an HD650 in disguise.

Great bass, though not the fastest or tightest but that’s typical to the HD650 and sweet musical mids are the first things you notice. The combo with the HD6XX has great dynamics and really good mids, and you just get a very engaging and addictive sound. Like with the HD650, I on this combo prefer listening to the Sennheiser HD6XX headphone with the special HD6XX EQ setting activated. Great stuff.

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

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