Home Amps/DACS iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

by Stuart Charles Black
iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

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Part of the iFi Zen Mini-Series!

 

Thank you to Lawrance over at iFi for the demo unit!

Greetings mate and Welcome aboard. Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear) all over again, so…

Video Discussion

Coming Soon!

In The Box

 Zen CAN Signature HFM (Amp)

RCA to RCA cables

Power Supply

Quick Start Guide

Warranty Card

Box #2

Zen CAN Signature HFM (DAC)

RCA to RCA Cables

USB Type-A to Type-B Cable

Power Supply

Balanced 4.4mm interconnect

Quick Start Guide

Warranty Card

Amp contents.

DAC contents.

Specifications & Features

Features (DAC)

  • Chip: 16 Core XMOS chip allowing full decoding of MQA and DSD256 on the same firmware due to the extra processing power of the chip.
  • New and improved low jitter clock with >20dB better performance.
  • Full MQA decoding
  • Formats: PCM/Bit Perfect DSD & DXD
  • Digital Inputs: USB 3.0 B (USB 2.0 Compatible)
  • Analogue Outputs: 4.4mm Balanced/RCA
  • Precision Analogue Volume Control
  • Input Voltage: DC5V2.5A
  • Input: USB3.0B Socket (USB2.0 Compatible)
  • Formats: 44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192/352.8/384kHz PCM, 2.8/3.1/5.6/6.2/11.2/12.4MHz DSD 353/384kHz DXD MQA
  • DAC: Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC By Burr Brown
  • Line Section Output: Balanced 4.4mm: 2V/6.2V max. (variable) 4.2V fixed, UnBAL RCA: 1V/3.3V max. (variable) 2.1V fixed
  • Zout: ≤200 Ohm (BAL)/≤100 Ohm (UnBAL)
  • SNR: <-116dB(A) @ 0dBFS (BAL/UnBAL)
  • DNR: >116dB(A) @ -60dBFS (BAL/UnBAL)
  • THD+N: <0.0015 @ 0dBFS (BAL/UnBAL)
  • Power Consumption: ~0.5W (No Signal)/~2.5W (Max Signal)
  • Dimensions: 158 x 117 x 35 mm (6.2″ x 4.6″ x 1.4″)
  • Net Weight: 505g (1.11 lbs)
  • Warranty Period: 12 Months

Features (Amp)

  • Analogue Inputs: 4.4mm Balanced/3.5mm Single-Ended/RCA.
  • Analogue Outputs: 4.4mm Balanced.
  • Headphone Outputs: 4.4mm Balanced/6.3mm Single-Ended.
  • Headphone corrections optimized for HIFIMAN Headphones.
  • XSpace opens up your music to give you the spaciousness of a live-concert atmosphere.
  • Precision Analogue volume control.
  • Input voltage: 5V/2.5A
  • Max Output: Balanced – >15.1V/385mW (@600 Ohm), >11V/1890mW (@64 Ohm), >6.2V/1200mW (@32 Ohm), Single-ended – >7.6V/98mW (@600Ohm), >7.4V/870mW (@64Ohm), >7.2V/1600mW (@32 Ohm),
  • THD & N: <0.005% (@100mW/1.27V 16Ohm
  • SNR: >121dBA (@15.2V)
  • Max. Input: 7.4V RMS (Balanced)/3.8V RMS (RCA)/1.92V RMS (3.5mm)
  • Gain: 0dB, 6dB, 12dB and 18dB
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz – 200kHz (-3dB)
  • Power consumption: ~5W (No Signal)/~12W (Max Signal)
  • Dimensions: 158 x 117 x 35 mm (6.2″ x 4.6″ x 1.4″)
  • Net Weight: 550g (1.21 lbs)
  • Warranty Period: 12 Months

Ah, yes. Another iFi Stack; this time specifically for HIFIMAN headphones.

I’m not going to lie, when my friend Marko first leaked this to me my initial reaction was an *extreme eye-roll*.

Disclaimer: Before you read this and get upset, just remember it’s only one guy’s opinion. Respond/React accordingly.

You may remember my complete disgust for the 6XX signature stack.

I thought it was overpriced and unnecessary, especially when you can just save a bunch of money and buy a regular silver Zen CAN.

I still stand by that, as I would in no way ever fork over upwards of $600 for what is essentially a button that says “6XX.”

And especially not with the amount of experience I have with Amps & DACS now.

It was a glorified bass boost and nothing more. I also didn’t find it to enhance or add to the sound of the headphones.

To me, it was useless, with the overall sound of the 2 (Silver vs. Signature) being the same.

The HFM (HIFIMAN) stack?

iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

Well, it’s a bit more complicated this time around.

40 albums + a playlist later I can tell you that it actually does make HIFIMAN headphones sound a bit better. Yes, I actually listen to a lot of music before I give my opinions on gear. Shocker, I know.

For me, the button essentially opens them up and creates some space for the instruments to breathe.

Aside from that, it just sounds better with the button. I tried to fight it but to no avail.

XSpace claims to “open up your music to give you the spaciousness of a live-concert atmosphere” (via website/box).

It does open things up to a degree, but it’s definitely not night and day. Between the 2, I prefer using the ‘HFM’ button more than I do the XSpace button.

I used both the DEVA, HE400se, and Arya, and I have to say that, unlike the 600 series in which I was hardly ever pressing the button, this time around I pretty much never turn it off.

The problem?

It’s still overpriced at around $300 for each piece (Zen CAN Amp + DAC). So you’re paying $600 total for what is still essentially a button.

I’m sorry, but if I was someone on the hunt for an Amp and DAC (i.e. not someone who reviews unhealthy amounts of flavor of the week products), you’d have to really convince me that the price was worth it beyond a slight improvement in sound for one specific type of headphone (HIFIMAN in this case).

That’s not to say it’s not a good product; it absolutely is. Everything that made the original Zen so groundbreaking is there. But it’s still unnecessary and excessive this time around – as most Amp/DACS tend to be.

If the price were something like $300-400 (as in, similar to the price of the original Zen + Silver Zen Can Amp), I would probably have no reservation in recommending it – especially since I do like the inclusion of the balanced interconnect. I thought that was a nice touch.

The features set this time around are the same; we’ve got 3 gain settings (6dB, 12dB, 18dB), the HFM button (in place of 6XX), Xspace enhancements, and a 4.4mm balanced option for your headphones.

iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM ReviewiFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

Inputs & Outputs

The back of the Amp reveals a 3.5mm and 4.4mm input, as well as a balanced 4.4mm output for use with separate speakers as well.

The Real Differences

I’ve said this for the last few years now (and I’m not going to ever let up) because new people reading need to understand; the way a song ultimately sounds at its core has mostly to do with how it was recorded, mixed, and mastered.

For instance, slenderbodies’ “Are We?” is modern pop and sounds like it – it’s crisp, snappy, and well-recorded. It’s polished and pristine sounding. It’s also mixed and mastered really well.

By contrast, an older recording such as Belle & Sebastian’s “The Boy With the Arab Strap” (1998), while by no means sounds awful, is definitely a step-down.

This is just one example. There are countless instances going back to the ’60s and ’70s (and even way before that).

It’s also a different type of music which is an important distinction when comparing Amps and DACS.

A “just okay” recording in many cases is no fault of the artist – rather, it represents a different era in music. That’s all.

Times have changed, and recordings do as well.

If I could make an analogy, I look at it as the progression from 8-bit NES to what we have today, or, older YouTube videos in 240p vs. the ridiculous resolutions available now via more advanced technology.

In the case of features, think of it this way: If you put lipstick (Amp/DAC enhancements) on a pig (poorly recorded music), it’s still a pig.

The music will still sound like sh**. This is especially apparent in the original Zen’s bass boost – just because you press that button doesn’t mean it’s going to jive with every track. Some tracks may benefit from it, others won’t.

Now, putting lipstick on an already beautiful female (well-recorded music) can certainly enhance the look (or in this case, the sound) to some extent.

But it may not. Some girls don’t need makeup and have immense natural beauty. In a similar vein, some songs don’t really need anything extra. They play well on their own as fine compositions.

So my advice, again, is to worry about the source first and then the other stuff later.

Zen CAN Signature HFM vs. Zen Amp/DAC Combo (Original)

As in the case of the other stacks (Signature 6XX and Regular Silver Stack vs. Original Zen), this time around it’s the same – there isn’t any difference in sound between the Signature HFM and the Original Zen.

The only real difference is the color; it’s a darker Teal instead of a Midnight Blue.

In the case of the near-identical sound, that happens to be fairly unsurprising considering all iFi Products use the Burr Brown chip (which I like and enjoy).

iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

Final Word

What’s my advice?

I’d still go for an original Zen Combo and pair it with the Silver Zen CAN amp if you end up needing extra power for really demanding headphones. If not, the Zen on its own is perfectly fine. I still use one nearly every day.

Now, whether you opt for the Zen V2 (upgraded) or the regular entirely depends on if you’re a console gamer. Being that I am, I like having the V2.

I simply plug and play via USB and don’t need any additional wires. This makes it easy to transport between my studio and living room space.

 

 

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review, and came away with some valuable insight.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Is this product worth an investment? What are your thoughts on the hobby as a whole? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

Photo Album

Media

Papa M – Live From A Shark Cage (1999)

Sam Gendel, Sam Wilkies – Music for saxophone & bass guitar (2018)

Meitei – Komachi (2019)

Pajo – Pajo (2005)

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)

M83 – Saturdays = Youth (2008)

Trans Am – Surrender To The Night (1997)

slenderbodies – Are We? (2021)

St. South – Nervous Energy (2016)

Great Good Fine Ok – III (2017)

Great Good Fine OK – Great Good Five OK (2021)

vbnd – scum funk (2021)

Gustav Holst, John Williams, Strauss, Sprach Zarathustra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra – the Planets (1997)

slenderbodies – Fabulist (2017)

Henry Green – Shift (2018)

Aquilo – Silhouettes (2017)

Ford. – The Color Of Nothing (2020)

Ford. – (The) Evening (2018)

Amber Rubarth – Sessions From The 17th Ward (2012)

Bill Evans – Sunday At the Village Vanguard (1961)

Bill Evans – Live At the Montreaux Jazz Festival (1968)

Shallou – Magical Thinking (2020)

Sufjan Stevens – A Beginner’s Mind (2021)

Phoenix – Alphabetical (2004)

Papa M – A Broke Moon Rises (2018)

Papa M – Hole Of Burning Alms (2004)

Papa M – Whatever, Mortal (2001)

Papa M – Highway Songs (2016)

Slint – Spiderland (1991)

Tortoise – TNT (1998)

Oceansize – Frames (2007)

Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1959)

slenderbodies – komorebi (2019)

Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003)

Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998)

Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996)

Belle & Sebastian – Tigermilk (1996)

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6 comments

Chris January 19, 2022 - 9:33 am

iFi now has a Signature CAN for Meze 99 Classics. I want to start playing in the Tidal MQA world, so I was really going back and forth debating whether to dish out $600 for the Signature Meze stack. But this post, combined with your previous one concerning iFi’s Signature line, convinced me to buy the silver Zen DAC only, which I just ordered. Thank you for giving me permission to save money.

Two questions as I anxiously await delivery of my new DAC: (1) is safe to assume that, given its technical specifications, Meze 99 Classics don’t really need the separate Zen headphone amp? (2) I have only had a chance to demo the Signature line and real life and its physical build seems solid; some online reviews make it sound like the silver’s DAC’s buttons rattle and are junky—can you comment on that?

Thanks again. This site is an invaluable resource (or worth $400 to me).

Reply
Stuart Charles Black January 20, 2022 - 1:09 pm

Hey Chris!

My pleasure. Do keep me posted on your impressions. 🙂

As for your questions, 1) I would lean towards yes. I may or may not demo that unit but I can tell you right now there’s a good chance I wouldn’t recommend it based on what I know about the others. 2) Rattle and Junky? No and no. I’ve had the Zen here since 2019 and while the buttons do move a tad back and forth (minuscule amount) a bit, it’s not something that you’re going to care much about over time. In other words, it doesn’t matter in the slightest and has never had a detrimental effect on anything. Sounds like people just complaining to complain.

It’s like if you ordered fish from a seafood restaurant and then complained that it smells like fish – i.e. one of those things that I just kind of laugh at when I hear it.

Reply
jamie January 30, 2022 - 6:11 pm

Hi Stuart,
Can you tell me if the following would be a good fit, Im just starting out with the Audio Quest Dragon Fly Black,

I wanted a Dac upgrade and quiet fancied this one

iFi ZEN DAC V2 – Desktop Digital Analog Converter , Later on if I get a Fairly good pair of headphones, I was considering pairing it with the following would this work
iFi ZEN CAN Balanced Desktop Headphone Amp and Preamp with 4.4mm Outputs

I use Sennheiser 559s but was looking at the Sennheiser 600s later or possibly HIFIMAN Deva or the Audio-Technica ATH-R70X both of which are cheaper then the Sennheiser HD 600.
Would Appreciate any Advice thanks
Hope I havent rambled to much

All the best

Jamie

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 2, 2022 - 6:25 pm

Hey Jamie!

Yeah the Zen DAC + Zen CAN Silver is what you’ll want. With the 559 you’ll be fine with only Zen DAC, the HD600 and DEVA imo are just fine with it as well but you may opt for more power which is why you’d get the Zen CAN. I haven’t tried the R70X but it’s like 470 Ohm impedance so you’d also want the Zen CAN there as well.

Keep me posted with further questions!

Reply
Primix May 23, 2022 - 12:45 am

Hello.
I’m in a bit of a pickle. I use Zen DAC V2 with Hifiman Sundara. As I fell in love with Sundara’s they tend to be a bit harsh on some higher frequencies. So I’ve been thinking about upgrading the system with amp Zen CAN Signature HFM. Will Zen CAN silver still benefit sound quality or not much will change? Currently the price difference from where I buy is around 80$.
There is also a third option. Recently I’ve read flattering reviews of xDuoo MT-604 and from what I’ve heard this amp might mach my sound expectations. I still want that detailed, precise soundstage and separation but tame trebles a bit, also maybe make vocals a bit more natural, especially higher notes. Will Mt 604 be able to do that? I’ve read it might. I see your review isn’t out yet. It’s also around 30$ cheaper than Zen CAN silver. So that’s that.
What is your take on this? Maybe something completly different? I’ll mention that I want to go with fully balanced setup.
Thanks.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 25, 2022 - 10:05 pm

Hey there!

It can benefit but only if you think you’ll need more power. I do like the Zen DAC + Silver but I don’t currently recommend the Zen because it’s a bit overpriced now. That said, if you already have one and need more power I’d say go for it.

I have the MT-604 here and do enjoy it a lot, but I think it’s been a bit overhyped, to be honest with you. Is it that much different from a solid-state? In my mind, no, but again, I don’t have anything against it. The differences are very subtle, but yeah, generally speaking, it will be a touch warmer. For reference, I do pair it with the Zen that I have here via 4.4mm to dual XLR fwiw.

So yeah, it’s a good setup.

If it’s $30 cheaper I’d say go for it!

Let me know what you think.

-Stu

Reply

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