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iFi Zen CAN headphone DAC makes high-end performance affordable

iFi has added a new product to its ZEN series portfolio, with the ZEN CAN headphone DAC making high-end hi-fi sound more affordable.

According to iFi, the ZEN CAN offers features that’d be reserved for high-end headphone amps way in excess of the price on the table here.

Related: What is a DAC?

It’s an all-analogue headphone amp with no digital inputs. Connection is via the headphone output or RCA outputs, and the ZEN can also be paired with the ZEN Blue to create a Bluetooth connection. Or combine it with the ZEN DAC and the CAN’s headphone amp stage gets an upgrade. Just to add to its versatility, it can double up as a preamp to feed a power amp and speakers or a pair of active speakers.

In terms of design, the CAN is housed in an aluminium enclosure, and in the centre of the front panel is rotary volume control with sockets and buttons on either side. The power and input switches on are on the left, alongside a control for selecting the appropriate gain. Four settings are available in six dB steps – 0dB, 6dB, 12dB and 18db – to suit the connected headphones. Higher gain settings are apt for tougher headphone loads, while unity gain (0dB) is said to ensure low noise with sensitive in-ear monitors.

To the right-hand side of the rotary volume control are a pair of headphone outputs – 6.3mm output that’s compatible with all headphones, and 4.4 Pentaconn balanced output. The last button on the right is the latest version of iFi’s ‘XBass’ and ‘3D’ sonic tailoring options for headphones.

The former adjusts frequency response to enhance low frequency performance, and the latter compensates for the ‘in-head localisation’ effect. This often occurs when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed with a pair of speakers, widening the soundstage for a more speaker-like experience. Both XBass and 3D engage in analogue processing and can be bypassed entirely.

But that’s not all! More connections can be found around the rear: stereo RCA and 3.5mm single-ended inputs, plus a balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn input. A 4.4mm balanced output is also included for connection to power amps and active speakers that are equipped with a balanced input (either a Pentaconn 4.4mm input, or XLR inputs via a 4.4mm-to-XLR cable). All the ZEN CAN’s inputs and outputs are gold plated for optimal conductivity.

The iFi ZEN CAN is available from today (31 July). The first 1000 units come with iFi’s ultra-low noise ‘iPower’ AC/DC power adapter for £169. Once this has sold out, the ZEN CAN will be available for £149. The power adapter is available separately for £49.

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