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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.. don’t want to read?!
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Now, let’s have a gander at the Topping E30/L30 stack, and find out how it… stacks up.. (HAHA!) against iFi’s Zen CAN Signature Stack!
We’ll start with build.
iFi products have always been incredibly rock solid, and the Zen CAN Signature 6XX is no different. Both the DAC and Amp are made of a rugged, brushed aluminum chassis that feel extremely weighty in your hand.
iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX (Amp): 18 Oz. (526g)
iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX (DAC): 16.5 Oz. (483g)
Topping L30 (Amp): 11.8 Oz. (345g)
Topping E30 (DAC): 9.1 Oz. (267g)
Both the Topping L30 and E30 bear a similar sentiment. The L30 actually feels a tad heavier than the Zen CAN amp, which was a bit surprising to me. But, the it’s not. It is significantly lighter. I don’t know why it felt heavier at first. The E30 DAC portion is a bit lighter but still feels very durable in your hands.
Volume potentiometers on both feel about the same. Neither feel cheap and are nice to turn. The Zen CAN turns a bit more free-flowing, but it’s more of an observation than anything. I think its knob is more elegant looking. It’s also a bit larger.
The back panel of the Topping E30 DAC reveals a pair of RCA outs, a coaxial output, an optical output, and a USB Type-B port. There’s also a DC5V jack for your outlet.
Topping supplies a cable, but you’ll need one of those USB bricks to plug into. For me this was a bit of a disappointment as I only have one for my phone. I’d rather just have a regular brick, but most people will have at least a few of these adapter bricks on hand.
The back panel of the L30 Amp contains a set of RCA inputs and outputs. Like the Zen CAN amp, you can use the L30 as a preamp into some separate speakers. It also has a 15V AC jack and comes with another gigantic brick. This thing is about as heavy as the one that Marv throws at Kevin in Home alone.
SUCK BRICK, KID!!
The Zen CAN Amp has a balanced 4.4mm input, 3.5mm single ended input, a pair of RCA inputs, a balanced 4.4mm output, and a DC 5V jack.
The DAC portion has a balanced 4.4mm output, a pair of RCA outputs, USB Type-B jack, and a DC 5V jack.
The Zen combo affords you the option of using a 3.5mm to RCA (as I’m using now), or RCA to RCA for the connection between the 2. With the Topping stack, you’ll be using RCA to RCA exclusively.
The Topping doesn’t have any balanced inputs or outputs, but the Zen CAN doesn’t have the optical or coaxial connections.
The Topping is also better for all you lazy couch potatoes out there who haven’t moved in decades.
Because the E30 comes with a remote, you don’t even have to get up from your couch if you want to adjust the volume. This is a huge selling point for me specifically. I set the volume of the amp first, and then adjust the volume on the DAC (with the remote) based on what film I’m watching or game I’m playing.
It’s the ultimate sedentary slob fest. You won’t even have to clean Cheetos off your grubby paws. Just set it and forget it!
If you buy within the next 30 minutes, we’ll include 10 bags of assorted Doritos and a 12 pack of Mountain Dew at no extra charge to you. Just pay shipping and handling!!
The front panel has big bold alarm clock looking numbers that adjust based on what file you’re playing. The E30 supports up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512.
Both support Tidal MQA.
Inside Tidal, just go File > Settings > Streaming, and scroll down to Sound and Sound Output. Right next to sound output in parenthesis it will say (more settings). Click that. Just tick the button to exclusive mode and Tidal will have control of the DAC. Now when you play a Master File or album, you’ll notice the E30’s interface will switch to 96kHz (or 88.2 as seen above).
For the Zen, the halo ring light around the DAC’s potentiometer will turn Magenta. It looks blue in the above picture, but it is indeed Magenta.
With the E30, you can cycle through your connections with the remote, or just tap the power/select button on the right hand side. Let’s be honest though, who’s gonna actually get up. LOL.
The L30 amp has 2 switches toward the left: one is used for the preamp, headphone amp, and off functions, and the other is your gain. This thing has plenty of power with a +9dB boost, so don’t fret! I’m only at about 1 o’clock on the 0dB (no gain) setting.
The Zen CAN is also very powerful, with a 6dB, 12dB, and 18dB boost.
Instead of a switch, the Zen CAN utilizes buttons, but also has the 3D feature and XBass button. Press once for the XBass, twice for 3D, and a third time for both. A fourth time shuts them all off.
Do keep in mind I’ve been demoing the ZEN Can Signature 6XX version. Instead of XBass, the button says “HD6XX.” Yeah. That’s a rant for another time.
For most people, I’d just recommend the regular Zen CAN as it’s much more sensibly priced. If you’re interested in an in depth look at the Zen CAN 6XX signature stack and how it compares to the original iFi Zen Amp/DAC combo, click here: iFi Zen Amp/DAC vs. Zen CAN Signature 6XX.
If you plan to run balanced, or need some extra musical enhancements, the Zen CAN stack may be the way to go. If you plan on never leaving your couch ever again, go with the E30/L30. Just make sure to throw some extra Toppings on that b*tch.
But how do these bad boys sound in relation to one another?
Glad you axed, HOMMIE.
Though the L30 technically has more power on paper, with no gain on both, I’m at 10-11 ‘o’clock on the Zen and about 1-2 on the L30 for roughly the same volume. These are both comfortably loud volumes if that makes sense. Not too quiet, not too loud.
The L30 boasts a really impressive 3,500mW into 16 Ohm, 2,300mW into 32 Ohm, and 280mW into 300 Ohm.
By contrast the Zen CAN Signature provides 1,000mW @ 16 Ohm, 1,600mW @ 32 Ohm, 196mW @ 300 Ohm, and 98mW @ 600 Ohm.
In other words, don’t worry about it.
I thought it might have just been my imagination, but early on I noticed that the E30/L30 combo sounded a bit more open and airy vs. the slightly warmer sounding Zen CAN Signature stack. To ensure that my impressions were accurate, I painstakingly calibrated the volume level on each to make sure they were exactly the same.
Keep in mind this is before looking at any specs of any kind.
When I noticed it again it kind of hit me. For a while I wasn’t really hearing much of a difference, but every so often it would come up again. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what the discrepancy was, but it’s becoming more apparent now as the songs on the playlist start to add up.
The Zen CAN Signature is a bit on the warmer side. It’s not a huge difference, but it is there. The presentation of the E30/L30 reminds me a lot of the DragonFly Red. It’s like opening your window and letting a cool breeze in.
The Zen CAN is a bit more laid back, but still very detailed and clear. It’s a kick back and relax typa homie.
Speaking of homies, check out my sick a** t-shirt design that I made especially for kick back and relax typa homies like YOU! Check it out here! I know you’re going to love it. You can show everyone how chill you are.
The sound of the Zen CAN signature portrays the music a bit more boxed in, while the E30/L30 combo opens things up a little more. It sounds slightly more expansive and grand.
In short, the Topping stack is cleaner, with somewhat less noticeable distortion. Now, I don’t find the Zen CAN distorted. I’m just saying that on paper, the sound contrast that I heard before reading any specs makes sense in context.
The L30 boasts a less than minuscule 0.00006% THD, while the Zen CAN is showing less than 0.005%.
In the case of A/B’ing both of these back and forth, yes. There is a difference. But like I always say, you’re never going to notice or care without both right there at your disposal. Can I honestly say I would be able to tell which is which in a blind test? Maybe, maybe not. I’m leaning towards yes this time around, only because I heard the discrepancy first without having to refer to any specs. Still, it may take a while for you to hear it.
Further, some people may enjoy that little bit of extra distortion. Ever heard of a Tube amp? If you weren’t aware, there’s a reason people buy them. It’s because they sound good. So no, distortion is not a bad word.
You are aware of this invention they call the tube amp, and with this invention, it plays music good right?
Anyways..what’s my final word here?
If you need some extra enhancements, balanced capability, and a bit of a warmer, gooier, more laid back presentation, the Zen CAN is what you’re after. I would just go with the Regular version though:
If you desire a more neutral presentation, (perhaps the most neutral I’ve heard), and more power for the most demanding of headphones, the L30/E30 combo is the solution. At less than 0.1 output impedance, it’s going to sound crystal clear, detailed, and true to the source.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.