iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack

Part of the iFi Zen Mini-Series!

 

Big Shoutout to Lawrance and iFi Audio for sending this demo unit, and for their continued support!!

2,007-word post, approx. 5 min. read

Updates:

  • 2/11/21. Article Posted.
  • 3/24/21. Added Video.

Video Shootout

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Is the Zen CAN Signature 6XX worth your kidney? Does it sound any better than the regular Zen CAN Silver for $150 more?

Stick around and let’s find out!

Greetings comrade 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, all over again so…

*Disclaimer.* This is my personal. opinion. It’s not right or wrong. A lot of people will identify with it. Some won’t. And that’s perfectly fine. So before you word vomit all over my comment section, just take a deep breath and be cool!

“Be cool, hunny bunny!”

Specs, In The Box, Photo Gallery, Gaming/Film, and Albums listened to will be at the bottom. So stick around and read what I have to say first, alright mate?!

Is the Signature Stack Worth It??

MQA – Zen CAN + Original Zen DAC

 

MQA – ZEN Can Signature 6XX Stack

To answer your question, no. The Zen CAN Signature 6XX is absolutely not worth your kidney, but I think that much was obvious. It’s not worth its going price of around $450 either.

Does it sound any better than the regular Zen CAN for $150 more? Nope. Not even close.

It’s astonishing to me the lengths that these lukewarm a** reviewers will go to convince themselves that a more expensive product indeed sounds better. What’s more, they’ll even try and convince YOU! That’s what we call shilling (cough Z Reviews cough). ‘Scuse me.

You may as well light $150 on fire and flush it down the toilet because what you’re paying for is essentially a button that says “6XX.” More on that later. And no I’m not burning a dollar this time. 

I really like iFi as a company, but I don’t hold my tongue for anyone.

This was a clear misstep and I think most people understand that by now. If you bought this, I’m sorry. My condolences to your wallet. Just return it if possible. If you can’t, just enjoy it but listen to me first next time.

While other reviewers will splooge all over the latest flavor of the month DAC like:

“Oh my God! Buy it now!! It’s so good ungh!”, I will always tell you the truth first.

With that…

Sound

I used the original Zen as just a DAC into the Zen CAN Silver (or regular), and A/B tested it against the Blue Signature 6XX stack. I used iFi’s RCA to RCA cables for both and tested tracks in Spotify Premium as well as Tidal Hi-Fi. This means anything 24/44, 24/48, 24/96, Master Files, etc.

  • Link to the playlist here!
  • Headphones used: Sennheiser HD600, HIFIMAN DEVA, Philips SHP9500. More to come!

And please, don’t talk to me about “Balanced.” That’s a scam for another day.

What I found is that there is absolutely no difference between these 2. Not by a damn sight. I even tried really, really hard to hear one (you know… as most people do), attempting to convince myself that there was a discrepancy, but still couldn’t. There isn’t one. It’s the same stack repackaged in Blue with 6XX plastered everywhere.

REAL TALK!

And seriously, don’t talk at me about the files used, my headphones, whether or not I had to take a dump at the time, how sunny or cloudy it was outside, the temperature inside of my apt., etc.

When I demo products, I actually, you know, listen to music. What a concept. I actually put them through their paces, unlike other people who listen to half of one song and then make an “impression” while throwing up a bunch of flawed measurements that don’t really mean anything in the context of a listening experience (cough Audio Science “Review” cough). ‘Scuse me.

You also have to make sure the volume levels on both are the exact same, or else your impressions are immediately skewed and therefore null and void. I firmly believe that 99% of “differences” that people hear in DACS are volume discrepancies. 🤣😂

So, you could pay $300 ($130 for the Zen DAC + around $170 for the Zen CAN) and be perfectly happy, or spend $450 and completely regret your purchase when you realize you’ve been played. The choice is yours!

That looks perfectly satisfactory to me. Sounds great too!

The problem with this whole situation is that Drop and iFi took advantage of the 6XX’s surging popularity. On Drop’s website, it says,

“TAKE YOUR 6XX TO THE NEXT LEVEL.”

Man, give me a break.

We’re talking about a headphone that’s been in circulation in some form or fashion for over 24 years, but now all of a sudden we need to Drop everything and purchase this stack because the headphone is missing something that a DAC (of all things) can fix?

Yeah, no.

I got some beachside property in Kansas to sell you, too. Modest Mouse approved.

It’s a complete lie, and anyone who supports it should put a bag over their head.

The 6XX button is a glorified bass boost and nothing more. It doesn’t magically make the headphones sound better. Like Oh My God. I can feel myself about to go off on a rant.

I need to find my Zen place. Haha! See what I did there?!

It’s not that it’s a bad product. That’s not what I’m saying. It sounds great. I’m saying it’s overpriced – even more so than a $300 Cobalt and I didn’t really think it could get any worse than that.

Heck, even the Zen DAC + Zen CAN Silver is a bit overpriced when you could just get an ATOM Stack for around $200.

I like iFi products, I really do. They are built incredibly well and they work. I haven’t had a single issue with any one of them and I’ve been demoing their stuff for over 2 years now. I’ve had 15 or so Amps and DACS on my desk at one point, and right now I have 11. You have to understand that generally speaking, they’re incredibly overrated.

I still use the original Zen DAC and enjoy it. It sounds great, it’s built like a tank, and it has plenty of features.

Speaking of build and features, let’s get into specifics.

Build & Features

Both of these stacks are incredibly rugged and durable.

  • The original Zen Amp/DAC Combo: 17.6 Oz., 515g.
  • Zen Can Amp Silver: 17.1 Oz., 503g
  • 6XX Signature (just amp): 18 Oz. 527g
  • 6XX Signature (just dac): 16.5 Oz, 483g

All 4 feel solid and hefty even despite some minor differences in weight.

Both have the 3 input button on the front, the 3 gain stage, the ¼” jack, the 4.4mm balanced jack, and the bass boost/3D button.

The only difference is that the Zen CAN’s button says XBass next to it while the Signature Stack’s button says “HD6XX.”

*Extreme Eyeroll*

The other difference is that the original Zen is an Amp/DAC combo and can be used on its own without a separate amp.

Listening to some Tidal Masters.

If you were interested in the original Zen Amp/DAC vs. the Signature Stack, I’ll link it here: Related: iFi Zen Amp/DAC Review [New Standard?]

*Spoiler Alert* It sounds the same LOL.

The back of both the Zen Can Silver and Zen CAN Signature Amp reveal the same inputs: A balanced 4.4mm, single-ended 3.5mm, and a pair of RCA inputs for use with a separate DAC. On the right side, there’s a balanced 4.4mm output for use with separate powered speakers and a DC5V jack for power.

So with that, which should you go with?

Final Word

I think the answer is obvious. The original Zen Amp/DAC combo really did set a new standard for entry-level affordable desktop amp/DAC combos. I said it then, and I still think it holds true now. If you already have the original and need some more power, the Zen CAN is a great addition for $170 as it represents a true upgrade – plenty of extra power, lots of connection options, as well as the bass and gain. It’s a stack that most people will end up keeping for quite a while.

If you’re brand-spanking new, the original Zen Amp/DAC is a great way to get your feet wet for only $130 as a do-all combo. It does completely fine with any headphones I have and I love it. You can always add a Zen CAN later.

And that’s my final answer!!

SAVE YO MOTHA F*CKIN’ MONEY! YEAH!! WOOO!!

 

Stack it up!

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this comparison of the original iFi Zen Amp/DAC + Zen CAN STACK vs. the Zen CAN Signature 6XX STACK, and now understand that the Signature is a more expensive re-package of the same exact product!

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.

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

Is the Zen CAN worth it to YOU? I would love to hear your thoughts. 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!

In The Box

Original Zen DAC/Amp Combo

iFi AUDIO Zen DAC Desktop USB DAC and Headphone Amp

Blue USB Type-B Cable

Spec Sheet

Limited 1-Year Warranty

Zen CAN Silver

Zen CAN

RCA to RCA cables

DC5V power supply

1/4″ adapter

Spec Sheet

Limited 1-Year Warranty

Zen CAN Signature 6XX

iFi audio iPower X power supply with US Plug

20.5 in (22 cm) USB cable

21.5 in (55 cm) RCA cable with gold-plated connectors

6.3 mm to 3.5 mm converter

Owner’s manual

Manufacturer’s 1-year warranty

Zen DAC Signature

iFi audio iPower X power supply with US Plug

20.5 in (22 cm) USB cable

21.5 in (55 cm) RCA cable with gold-plated connectors

Owner’s manual

Manufacturer’s 1-year warranty


Specs/Features

Original Zen DAC/Amp Combo

Zen CAN Silver

Zen CAN Signature 6XX

I was not sent the original box for either of these

  • Price: Check Drop!
  • Inputs: RCA, 3.5 (single-ended), 4.4mm (balanced)
  • Headphone output: 6.35 mm, 4.4 mm
  • Gain: 0 dB, 6 dB,12 dB,18 dB adjust
  • THD+N (A-Weighting): 0.0066% (balanced), 0.0058% (single-ended)
  • Maximum output power (16 ohms): 3.0 V / 600 mW (balanced), 4.0 V / 1000 mW (single-ended)
  • Maximum output power (300 ohms): 15.1 V / 756 mW (balanced), 7.6 V / 196 mW (single-ended)
  • Maximum output power (600 ohms): 15.2 V / 385 mW (balanced), 7.6 V / 98 mW (single-ended)
  • SNR: -122 dB (balanced)
  • Dynamic range: -122 dB (balanced)
  • Frequency response (-3dB): 10 Hz – 200 kHz
  • Function Button: HD6XX  adaption and/or XSpace; Bypass
  • IMD: 0.0098%
  • Crosstalk: -50 dB
  • Zout (headphone out): 0.25 ohms (single-ended), 0.5 ohms (balanced)
  • Zout (balanced line out): 200 ohms
  • Maximum power consumption: 13 W / 2.6A
  • Dimensions: 4.6 x 3.9 x 1.2 in (11.7 x 10 x 3 cm)
  • Weight: 1.87 Ibs (0.85 kg)

Zen DAC Signature 6XX

  • Input: USB-B 3.0 socket (USB-B 2.0 compatible)
  • Supported formats: 44.1 / 48 / 88.2 / 96 / 176.4 / 192 / 384 kHz, PCM
  • 2.8 / 3.1 / 5.6 / 6.2 / 11.2 / 12.4 mHz, DSD
  • 353 / 384 kHz, DXD
  • DAC: Bit-perfect DSD and DXD by Burr Brown
  • Power consumption: 5V / 174ma, P = 0.887W (on idle using included iPower)
  • Audio RCA output (unbalanced): 2.1 V fixed, 1 V – 3.3 V maximum (variable)
  • 4.4 mm Pentaconn output (balanced): 4.2 V fixed, 2 V – 6.2 V maximum (variable)
  • Z output (unbalanced): ≤ 100 ohms
  • Z output (balanced): ≤ 200 ohms
  • SNR: < -117 dB(A) at 0 dBFS (unbalanced / balanced)
  • DNR: > 117 dB(A) at -60 dBFS (unbalanced / balanced)
  • THD+N: <0.0011% at 0 dBFS (unbalanced / balanced)
  • Dimensions: 4.6 x 3.9 x 1.2 in (11.7 x 10 x 3 cm)
  • Weight: 1.65 lbs (0.75 kg)

Albums

More to come!

John Coltrane – Giant Steps (1960), Tidal Master
John Coltrane – Coltrane (1957), Tidal Master
Smokey Robinson and The Miracles – Special Occasion (1968)
Turnover – Peripheral Vision (2015)
Turnover – Good Nature (2017)
No Vacation – Amo XO (2015)
Plini – Impulse Voices (2020)
Oh Wonder (2015)
Grover Washington Jr. – Feels So Good (1974)
Grover Washington Jr. – Mister Magic (1974)
The Japanese House – Good At Falling (2019)
Sufjan Stevens – Michigan (2003)
Kevin Garrett – Mellow Drama (2015)
Sufjan Stevens – The Ascension (2020)

Photo Gallery

iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX StackiFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX StackiFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack

iFi Zen CAN Silver Amp

5

Build

5.0/5

Sound

5.0/5

Features/Connections

5.0/5

Power Output

5.0/5

Pros

  • Built like a tank
  • Great sound
  • Plenty of features and connections
  • Plenty of power

Cons

  • None!

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