iFi Audio ZEN CAN Headphone Amp Lab Report

Lab Report

We've tested numerous iterations of iFi Audio's portable headphone amps, including the nano iDSD [HFN Dec '14], the 'Black Label' variant [HFN Apr '18], the 'original' xCAN [HFN Feb '19] and EISA Award-winning xDSD [HFN Jul '18], and ZEN DAC [HFN Jul '20] – all, except the xCAN, incorporating DAC and headphone amp functions. The new ZEN-shaped CAN, like the xCAN, is a purely 'analogue' headphone preamp but, by some margin, is its most capable to date, exceeding the output of all its predecessors by delivering up to 1580mW (1.6W)/32ohm and a not insubstantial 655mW/8ohm. However, power output is influenced by the CAN's gain setting, falling to 425mW/32ohm in its 0dB mode [see Graph 1, below].

Other factors, including distortion and the A-wtd S/N are also skewed by your choice of gain setting, not least because the ZEN CAN's auto level-matching op-amp input sees a marked increase in THD with inputs beyond 550mV (from 0.001% at 400mV in, to 0.02% at 900mV in). The input clips at 3.7V. With the gain set to +12dB or +18dB, THD falls to as low as 0.00025-0.0017% (0dBV/600ohm), increasing under load (10mW/32ohm) to 0.0013-0.0019% [see Graph 2, below]. In practice the 0dB mode is ideal for high sensitivity earbuds as it offers the widest 100.5dB A-wtd S/N ratio (re. 0dBV) and lowest –100dBV residual noise. The +18dB gain setting offers 93.9dB and –97dBV, respectively.

Output impedance is impressively low at 510-800mohm in the 0dB setting, reducing still further to 415-605mohm in the +18dB mode, while the response is flat to within ±0.1dB from 1Hz-60kHz. So, in practice, the ZEN CAN will cause very little modification to the overall system response regardless of the impedance of the attached headphones. PM


Continuous power output vs. THD into 32ohm (0dB gain, black; 18dB, red) and 8ohm (18dB; grey)


Distortion versus frequency from 5Hz-40kHz (black, 1V into 600ohm; red, 40mW into 25ohm load)

Maximum output (<1% THD into 47kohm) 7577mV
Maximum power output (<1% THD) 1580mW/32ohm
Output Impedance (20Hz-20kHz) 415-605mohm (0.42-0.61ohm)
A-wtd S/N ratio (+18dB/0dB gain) 93.9dB / 100.5dB (all re. 0dBV)
Distortion (20Hz-20kHz, re. 10mW/0dBV) 0.001-0.002%/0.0003-0.002%
Frequency resp. (20Hz-20kHz/100kHz) +0.00dB to –0.01dB / –0.33dB
Stereo separation (20Hz-20kHz) 60dB to 30dB
Power consumption 6W
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight 158x35x117mm / 515g
Price £149

iFi-Audio (Abbingdon Global Group)
Supplied by: iFi Audio
01900 601954