Home Amp/DAC Guides iFi’s Zen Series: A Look Back To 2019

iFi’s Zen Series: A Look Back To 2019

by Stuart Charles Black
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

This article will house all impressions of iFi’s Zen series and includes all signature stacks I’ve heard (DAC + Amplifier separate), regular stacks, and single Amp/DAC combos like the original Zen, Zen V2, Zen 3, etc.

We’ll rank them in terms of price to performance, value, etc.

Bookmark and share as all future iterations will be included in the list as well as products I haven’t gotten to yet (MZ99 Signature, Zen One Signature). I’ll also include a photo gallery at the end that highlights some fun times I had demoing all of these.

By the end, you should know which one is most worth a purchase and if none of them are, I’ll point you in the direction of something that is.



Let’s dive in.


Zen CAN/DAC Signature 6XX

Price: Check Amazon!

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

This is one of the earliest models.

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


  • 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)


  • 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)

Unfortunately, the Zen CAN Signature 6XX didn’t quite live up to the hype and to me, was a massive disappointment.

Not because it’s not a good product, but because for just an amplifier, it’s way overpriced at around $300.

In other words, you have to buy the DAC which is also $300. And if my maths are right, that comes out to a whopping $600 for… a button.

Couple that with the fact that it didn’t make my Sennheiser headphones sound any better and you’ve got a recipe for a colossal ripoff.

In other words, iFi took advantage of the HD6XX’s skyrocketing popularity by essentially manufacturing something that didn’t need to be manufactured.

Yeah-well-that’s-just-like-your-opinion-man aside, iFi outfits most of their Amps and DACS with what they call “Power Match” (essentially gain), XSpace (some models have it, others don’t) and XBass (Formerly TrueBass).

XSpace is essentially a Soundstage enhancer/widener, and across the series as well as a bunch of other iFi products, it’s hit and miss.

On some products you can clearly hear a difference – with others, not so much.

  • All Amps & DACS I’ve demoed can be found here.

Ditto for the XBass.

It’s also hit-and-miss, but in all honesty, I hardly ever use it since it tends to muddy everything up; especially with headphones that already have enough bass.

  • Read my rant on endless amounts of headphone companies completely obliterating their low-end response by employing horrific tuning and overly boosting frequencies that need to be cut.

For this particular amp, instead of the button being “XBass,” it says “6XX.”

Aw gee. *rolls eyes*

This button was supposed to be the end all be all, but it functions exactly like a standard bass boost.

All of this for $600? Yeah, no.

The Zen CAN Signature (Amplifier portion) has 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 back of the Zen CAN Signature Amp reveals 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.

And yeah, it’s versatile and perfectly fine as a dac + amp stacked.

But in no way is it worth 3x as much as an ATOM stack.

So no, don’t buy it.

Please. Just don’t. You’re lighting money on fire and I can assure you you’ll regret it later when you’re crying in your Cheerios having a panic attack.

Plus, even if you don’t, you’ll be fiending for the next flavor of the week DAC anyway. I’ve had extensive experience with over 74+ of them, I would know.

So for the love of God, listen to me. Don’t do it.



Official Review: Here!

iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

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

After 40 albums + a playlist, I can tell you that this time around, the button 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 – remember how I said earlier it was hit-and-miss?

The HFM stack is a good example of them getting it right.

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, and you’re certainly not going to feel as if you’re at a concert.

Sorry, that’s just a bunch of marketing nonsense. We’re talking about headphones after all – not speakers.

Between the 2, I prefer using the ‘HFM’ button more than I do the XSpace button.

I used 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 turned 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.

iFi Zen CAN Signature HFM Review

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. Most everything iFi makes is good. That’s not the issue here, dude. The chinaman isn’t the issue either.

I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, dude.

 Remember: Walter was an asshole, but he was also right the entire film while the Dude got duped by Lebowski and tricked into caring about a fake kidnapping plot.


Everything that made the original Zen so groundbreaking is there.

But it’s still unnecessary and excessive this time around – as most Amps and DACS tend to be.

If the price were way lower, I would probably have no reservations in recommending it – especially since I do like the inclusion of the balanced interconnect and thought that was a nice touch.

The feature set this time around is 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.


Zen Can Silver (OG)

Price: Check Amazon!

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

We’re now starting to approach decent value territory, as the Zen Can Silver is, again, the same exact thing as the above 2 Amps, only it’s $100 cheaper.

Pictured below the Zen CAN in the above image is the original Zen acting as the DAC portion.

For those who needed a bit more power from the original Zen, this product was a decent buy (at the time) but I still wasn’t doing cartwheels or anything.

I went back and forth exhaustively for many hours trying to hear some sort of difference in sound between this and the 6XX version.

I couldn’t. There is no difference. And if there is, there isn’t.

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

You got that?

iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX StackThat said, this regular version of the Can Amp is a much better value than both the HFM and 6XX iterations, so bear that in mind.


Paying $199 for just an amplifier is still a ripoff when other excellent products are priced much better. More on that in a bit so hang tight, keep reading, keep laughing.

The feature set is the same as the others, only it’s silver and just says “XSpace” and “XBass.” Connections are all the same as well.


iFi Zen DAC/Amp (OG version)

Official Review: Here!

iFi Zen DAC V2 Review

The oldest picture I have of the Zen (2019, Nikon D3200)

This is it, folks. What a blast from the past. I first demoed this thing around, gosh, 2019? I can’t even remember.

In some ways, this was the DAC that set the whole DAC craze off and currently has people stuck in the rabbit hole; sort of like this:

I could be wrong about that, but probably not.

All I know is that the ludicrous obsession with them kinda started skyrocketing around that time and it gets worse every day.

If they made headphone jacks big enough for you t.. never mind.

The good news is that DACS in general are pretty dirt cheap now, hence why I’m writing this article begging, pleading with you not to spend unnecessarily large sums of money on empty promises that result in a boulevard of broken dreams.

Originally retailing at a measly $130, the Zen/DAC combo amp/dac could be used as a preamp, had a variable/fixed switch, a balanced 4.4mm output for use with something like the MT-604, a balanced 4.4mm headphone output, a standard 6.35mm output, TrueBass, PowerMatch, yadda yadda.

All for just a little over $100.

You can imagine me back then singing its praises, and I did for some years until something happened.


iFi Zen Can V2

Price: Check Amazon | Official Review: Here

iFi Zen vs. Zen V2 (Upgraded)

The Zen V2 happened, and it was essentially the same thing as the Zen.

Lawrance, the rep @ iFi told me through email at the time,

“I’ll get one sent your way. It’s mostly just some component upgrades and upgrading it to an MQA decoder rather than just a renderer.”

Some months later, iFi released a firmware update that included plug-and-play capability for consoles. At only an extra $30, ($160) I was totally on board and recommended it to people.

After that, and in the years since, iFi has jacked up the price gradually to around $200.

And it’s not a good value anymore. So I stopped recommending it. We’ll get into what I do recommend, so just hold your horses, young man.


iFi Zen DAC 3

Price: Check Amazon! | Official Review: Here!

Oh, look, another shiny new object. There’s plenty more where this came from, trust and believe.

This isn’t called V3. Just 3.

While the sequel to movies can sometimes be incredible and arguably better than the original (See: Terminator vs. Terminator 2), the 3rd usually falls flat (See: Godfather 3, Home Alone 3, Will Smith 3, etc.).

With the Zen 3, we have something that kind of is a cross between both better and worse.

Oh no.

I knowwwww.

On the surface, the USB-C input is a really welcome change. If you’ll recall, I complained endlessly about that silly, short, ridiculously useless Type-B cable that iFi used to ship with all Zen units (and pretty much every other product they sell). It was horrendous. Don’t even get me started. I ranted for years about that thing. Using it was like trying to use a giant piece of cardboard to wipe your ass.

So, this new USB-C hole is much appreciated from my end (no pun intended).

Top To Bottom: Zen DAC 3, V2, Original.


Oh gosh, how do I put this without wanting to go on a rant. Hm. The Zen DAC 3 got an adult swim bump in support and now handles PCM768, DSD512, in addition to being an MQA decoder like the V2. Neat. Awesome. Oh boy. I can already feel an erection coming.

The problem?

Unless I’m going absolutely batshit crazy (and that’s certainly possible), the Zen DAC 3 somehow has less power out of the unbalanced 6.35mm headphone output.

Here’s actual footage of my reaction to that:

  • Zen V2 outputs 280mW of power unbalanced at 32 Ohm, and 36mW at 300 Ohm.
  • Zen 3 outputs 210 at 32 Ohm and 18 at 600 Ohm (!) Note: Output at 300 Ohm is not specified here.
  • Both output 70mW at 600 Ohms balanced.

 Omg lol I can just hear the whining now. 

Dear Reader,

Do you realize how much people complained about the “lack of power” from the original Zen?

I’ve suffered through having to listen to endless crying since 2019 with everyone and their grandma commenting on my blog “Well so and so said the Zen is Unddeerrpoooowwweeeeerrreeeeeeeed, wHaT dO i dOoOoOo?”, and even though I never thought it was underpowered and told them to tell the other people to f off, providing less in a supposed upgraded product is a huge step backward no matter what your philosophy on DACS is.

Shouldn’t the numbers improve and go UP over time?

iTs jUsT hOw tHe WoRld WoRkS lOLl. 

For instance, John Seaber at JDS Labs recently told me despite really not wanting to do it (because there’s no reason to), people kept crying about the power output of the ATOM (which already had way more than enough) so he bumped up the numbers in the ATOM 2 to insane ridiculous amounts of power that you’ll never use and kept the price very similar. What a guy. And they’ll probably still find something else to whine about.

I respect his business decision, but I don’t respect those dimwits bitching that their precious amp only has 2 Watts of power rather than 5.

F you. Have fun blowing your ears out and then complaining that it’s “not loud enough.” LOOOOL.

And iFi?

Instead of upping the numbers, they’re like nah. We’ll just keep them worse or about the same, and then continue to charge more.


Signal to noise ratio is also a bit worse (109dB vs 113 for the Zen V2), Total Harmonic distortion stays the same (0.005%), and the Zen 3 is actually lighter than the V2. (456g vs. 491).


At around $229 for the Zen 3, the slap in the face doesn’t feel quite as bad considering it does include a USB-C input and higher PCM for only $30 more.

I don’t give 2 shits about high PCM files since they don’t matter, but some may care and I’m trying to be fair. The original Zen maxed out at 384kHz while the Zen 3 finally ups it to the coveted, holy grail of 768kHz (tongue planted firmly in cheek right now).

The Problem? iFi took forever to do it.

FiiO (and loads of other companies) have been maxed out on sample rate in their DACS for a while now. So who cares? It’s not a selling point anymore and in my opinion, never was.

It’s also aesthetically different in color (black sheep) but I’m not going to comment as opinions vary and it’s low on the list of priorities as far as I’m concerned.

Other than the USB-C input, the back panel on all 3 is roughly the same.

At the end of the day, iFi also haven’t bothered to consider a redesign in terms of its overall functionality, but they should.


Because other, better products provide more value/connection options, and way more power, while either being around the same amount of money or a lot less.

FiiO K11 ReviewAnd I’m not trying to dump on iFi. Out of all the companies I’ve dealt with, their QC and build quality are very high up there.

It’s just that the value doesn’t quite match the price anymore. So I hope they consider what I’ve said today moving forward.

Is the Zen 3 a better value than the V2?

As we’ve learned, it’s both an upgrade and downgrade at the same time which is absolutely silly.

That said, an extra $30, to me, just isn’t that much of a difference to complain about, but I’m still not telling you to buy it.

FiiO K7 Review

As an alternative, the FiiO K11 and K7 are much better values, and price to performance ratio is just about 100% perfect in my estimation. 

The K11 is, interestingly enough, the same price as the original Zen DAC when it came out ($130; subject to change).

It has the balanced 4.4mm output but also has an optical input, coax, line outs, and USB-C. In addition to that, there’s a multi-function knob, colors, and therefore slightly more “bells and whistles” than a Zen.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, it has 60mW of power unbalanced at 300 Ohms.

The Zen only has 36. 

FiiO K11 Review

FiiO K11 Review

My other main recommendation is the JDS ATOM lineup, because, well, JDS understands how the market operates and does the opposite; an admirable trait in my eyes and worthy of a slow clap. 

  • Read my ethos here and why that matters. 

JDS Labs ATOM 2 Review

So there you have it.

Expect more to be added to the list as they come out.

For now, I can’t recommend anything from the Zen series but hope to in the future if iFi takes some of what I’ve said into consideration.

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Zen DAC Ranking Shootout Comparison thingie ma bob and came away with some valuable insight.

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!!

What are your thoughts on these? The industry as a whole? Elitist audiophiles who can hear the grass growing? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God Bless,





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