iFi Announces Signature ZEN DAC and CAN 6XX Models
iFi's ZEN DAC and ZEN CAN have been supercharged via a crowd design initiative to create Signature versions.
iFi's ZEN DAC and CAN Signature models promise even higher performance levels and are the results of a 'crowd design' initiative initially to be retailed in limited numbers.
The Applause Award-winning ZEN DAC continues to receive accolades, as does the rest of the ZEN series which includes the ZEN Blue, Phono and, of course, CAN.
The challenge the ZEN design team set itself was to see if it could produce a 'signature' level USB DAC/headphone amp and analogue headphone amp if given an increased target retail price compared to the standard ZEN DAC goes for. The result is the ZEN DAC Signature and ZEN CAN Signature 6XX. Initially, it was created in limited numbers to be sold exclusively by US-based crowdshopping website Drop.com; now that this limited run has ended, iFi is ready to capitalise and launch these special Signature editions worldwide.
Both models sport a smart new livery, their 158x35x100mm aluminium enclosures finished in deep Space Blue – the colour iFi uses for its Signature editions. This is complemented by dark grey front and rear panels and blue controls. The differences, of course, are more than skin-deep.
ZEN DAC Signature
The new Signature edition loses the headphone amp stage of the original ZEN DAC, and upgrades the fully balanced circuitry to create a DAC for those who wish to maximise pure sonic performance, says the brand. The result is a pure DAC used to feed an external amp, whether this is a headphone amp or an amp and speakers. The signal path and critical components within it are said to have been upgraded and now also features enhanced true-differential balanced topology.
Various key surface-mounted circuit components have been upgraded to high-end devices, including Panasonic OS-CON and Elna Silmic II capacitors.
The ZEN DAC Signature's digital stage retains its sibling's True Native DAC architecture, delivering bit-perfect PCM (up to 32-bit/384kHz), native DSD (up to DSD256) and DXD, plus MQA. The sample rate of incoming audio data is indicated by a multicoloured LED behind the aluminium volume control. Also kept is the iFi-programmed XMOS chip, which processes data received at the USB input, and jitter-eradicating, audiophile-grade oscillators, contribute to exemplary handling of digital audio signals as they are received, processed and converted to analogue form.
Connectivity, loss of headphone port aside, remain a USB Type B input supports the 'SuperSpeed' USB 3.0 standard and asynchronous USB 2.0 There are also a stereo pair of RCA sockets for single-ended connection to an amp, plus a Pentaconn 4.4mm output.
You can switch the Signature edition's outputs between 'variable' and 'fixed'. The variable setting applies volume control to the audio signal, enabling the ZEN DAC Signature to act as a preamp to connect directly to a power amp. The fixed option bypasses the volume control, setting the output at 4.2V (balanced) or 2.1V (single-ended) for connection to an external preamp, integrated amp or active speakers with their own volume control.
ZEN CAN Signature 6XX
The new Signature edition of the ZEN CAN further improves the original's sound quality with enhanced circuit design, says iFi. It also features a custom EQ setting precisely tailored across the entire frequency response curve, making the most of a particular headphone model.
Dubbed ActivEQ, the tech combines active and passive components to create a specific EQ curve to suit a particular pair of headphones, performed in the analogue domain and without added noise or distortion, promises the manufacturer. The ZEN CAN Signature 6XX features ActivEQ for the 'Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 6XX' – a popular pair of headphones based on the Sennheiser HD 650 and created exclusively for Drop.com. These headphones are renowned for their midrange performance quality but are said to exhibit some quirks in the bass and treble ranges.
Pressing the 'HD 6XX' button calibrates its signal to complement the headphone's response characteristics right across the frequency range, thus tailoring its performance to fit the HD 6XX. The ActivEQ's benefits are equally applicable to Sennheiser's HD 650 headphones, which share the same sonic characteristics. This feature can be switched on or off; without ActivEQ engaged, the ZEN CAN Signature 6XX's performance is described as 'balanced' and should make the most of all manner of headphones and in-ear monitors.
Under the hood you'll find dual-mono, true-differential balanced circuitry with several elements trickled down from the discrete Class-A circuitry developed for iFi's flagship headphone amplifier, the Pro iCAN. Key components have been upgraded to enhance performance in line with the ZEN DAC Signature's improvements, including the use of Panasonic OS-CON and Elna Silmic II capacitors.
The amp delivers 1600mW (7.2V) into 32 ohms from the single-ended output, with 15V+ available to loads of 300 ohms or more through the balanced output, ensuring it takes even current-hungry planar headphones in its stride.
The ZEN CAN Signature 6XX retains its older sibling's smooth-acting volume control, as well as all the other sockets and buttons. Gain covers four settings in six dB steps – 0dB, 6dB, 12dB and 18db – unity gain (0dB) is useful to ensure low noise with sensitive in-ear monitors.
You get a pair of headphone outputs – a 6.3mm output and a 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output for headphones offering balanced connection. Next to the headphone sockets is a button to engage the ActivEQ mode, plus a further sonic tailoring option – XSpace. This analogue processing mode compensates for the 'in-head localisation' effect and widens the headphone soundstage to deliver a more spacious and speaker-like experience, says iFi.
Around the back, the ZEN CAN Signature 6XX offers stereo RCA and 3.5mm single-ended inputs, plus a balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn input. A 4.4mm balanced output is also provided, to connect to power amps equipped with a balanced input.
ActivEQ – crowd design initiative
The Signature 6XX isn't the only ZEN CAN Signature edition that iFi plans to make. A second version is on the cards, with ActivEQ tailored to another popular headphone model – and iFi wants headphone aficionados to vote for which model they want it to be.
Voting is now open at ifi-audio.com/zencansignaturecrowddesign.
Everyone who casts a vote has the option to enter a draw to win the new version of the ZEN DAC Signature once it has been made – complete with ActivEQ to match the winning headphones.
The ZEN DAC Signature and ZEN CAN Signature 6XX are available from selected retailers from Friday 6th February, at an RRP of US$249 | S$330 each. For a limited time, both come with iFi's ultra-low-noise 'iPower X' AC/DC power adapter – another performance-enhancing upgrade over the regular ZEN devices.
StereoNET’s Bass playing gadget junkie and UK correspondent has captained the GadgetyNews good ship for over a decade, making low jargon high tech a very handy thing. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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