Home Amp/DAC Comparisons iFi Zen DAC + Zen CAN Amp vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack

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

Is the Signature 6XX Stack BETTER Than The Original? Let's Find Out.

by Stuart Charles Black
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Part of the iFi Zen Mini-Series!

 

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

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

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, all over again so…

In The Box

Original Zen DAC/Amp Combo

iFi AUDIO Zen DAC Desktop USB DAC and Headphone Amp

Blue USB Type-B Cable

RCA to RCA cable (not pictured)

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)

Let’s start with build.

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 buttons 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 button says “HD6XX.”

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.

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 like the Presonus Eris e3.5 and a DC5V jack for power.

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.

Let’s first clarify that the “sound” of these is a cross between neutral and warm.

This is common to all iFi products because they utilize the Burr-Brown chip.

You’ll mostly find this balance to be pleasing to the ear as the music never sounds overly cold or lifeless, but it also doesn’t seem gooey or stuffy – an issue that some tube amps suffer from.

6XX stack vs. regular silver stack

What I found is that there is absolutely no difference here.

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.

It’s the same stack repackaged in Blue with 6XX plastered everywhere.

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.

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 a K5 Pro for cheaper.

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 since around 2018.

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 all sound very similar and if there are any differences, they’re incredibly subtle.

Is the Signature Stack Worth It??

MQA – Zen CAN + Original Zen DAC

MQA – ZEN Can Signature 6XX Stack

To answer your question, no.

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

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.

Video Shootout

Don’t forget to leave me some love and subscribe! <3

So with that, which should you go with?

Final Word

I used to recommend the Zen DAC until it started increasing in price.

I was perfectly fine with the added console compatibility in the Zen DAC V2 for around $30 more than the original ($160 instead of $130).

But currently, the Zen is around $200 which is overpriced in my opinion. What exactly warrants a $70 price increase?

In my mind, nothing. As for the 6XX stack and all that stuff, you don’t need it.

If you’re brand new, I’d start with a K5 Pro. It’s a much better value and priced right. 

Learn more:

 

 

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!

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

Click to enter!

 

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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4 comments

Carl August 9, 2021 - 10:44 pm

Thank you for the review! Appreciate it!

I currently run the Zen Dac with DT1990 Pro 250ohm, i like them fine as they are with the zen dac. However, i read online people saying that a good amp can “open up” headphones better, or “get more closer to its potential”. In the sense that my current setup drive the headphones to say 90% of it potential, and a good amp could squeeze that number higher.

Do you believe i would benefit from the Zen Can? Will it possibly give more details/clarity to my sound experience?

The thing i have hard to grasp is, if IFI made the Zen Dac/amp sufficiently strong to run 99% of all headphones, then why would anyone at all need a stack Zen Dac/amp + CAN combination? If not for better sound quality?

Appreciate your answer! 🙂

Reply
Stuart Charles Black August 10, 2021 - 4:46 pm

Hey man, thank you! What a great question, and one that I don’t think I answered in the review.

In my opinion, no. The Zen CAN simply adds more power for harder-to-drive headphones and that’s it. I may use it for the headphone I have on my head now (AKG K240M 600 Ohm), or some Audeze models, HIFIMAN, etc.

What I would not do is buy it thinking it’s going to improve the sound, because it won’t and I speak from experience with 50+ Amps & DACS demoed at the time of this comment. I believe the most important component to a rig is actually not the rig, but the source file, followed by the headphones and then the dac. Amps and/or dacs can color the sound a bit or keep it dead neutral, but they absolutely cannot fundamentally change the way something was recorded.

In reality, 99.9% of amps and dacs do a perfectly fine job of converting and amplifying music. In other words, there’s a reason why there are thousands and thousands of products. Without going too far down the rabbit hole, let’s just say it’s not because there’s an actual need for them. It’s because of something else.($$$)

I think the amp/dac craze is an extreme example of supply and demand which explains why you can get one for dirt cheap now – i.e. something that basically performs like a product costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Companies now are simply exploiting the fact that many newbies want one and so they’re all trying to compete to come out with a “better” one even though they mostly all sound incredibly similar. There are some subtle sound differences, but nothing to get all up in arms over.

So, if you have headphones that you think aren’t quite getting enough juice, or you plan to use a more demanding headphone in the future, then stack it up! The price is reasonable enough I think.

Hope that helped! Let me know 🙂

Best,
-Stu

Reply
jamie January 31, 2022 - 12:44 am

I am going to buy the iFi ZEN DAC V2 and eventually pair it with a pair of Sennheiser HD600

when that happens will i need the iFi ZEN CAN Balanced Desktop Headphone Amp and Preamp with 4.4mm Outputs

the box standard one not the fancy one with the 6xx preset

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 2, 2022 - 6:28 pm

Hey Jamie!

I saw your other comment on another review. For me, the HD600 is fine with just the Zen DAC, but try it out and let me know. If not, then yeah I’d pair it with a Zen CAN silver.

Reply

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