iFi audio ZEN Air CAN - The Official Thread

AMR / iFi audio

Industry Expert
Aug 21, 2019
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Hello there,
The all-analogue ZEN CAN has been much praised for delivering features usually reserved for high-end headphone amps at many times the price. The ability to drive tough headphone loads, the balanced circuit design, the vanishingly low levels of distortion and versatile sonic tailoring options to optimise performance are all highly unusual in a desktop-size headphone amp costing less than £200.

ZA-CAN-header.jpg

At just £99/€99/$99, the ZEN Air CAN offers even more astonishing value for money – its circuitry and facilities have been simplified, but the quality of what has been retained is remarkable. Like the ZEN CAN, it has no digital input of any kind; it connects to any audio source with an analogue output, such as the headphone output from a DAP (Digital Audio Player), a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone, or the RCA outputs from, say, a CD player, or a phono stage like the ZEN Air Phono. It could also be paired with the ZEN Air Blue to add Bluetooth reception, or perhaps combined with the ZEN Air DAC to upgrade the DAC’s headphone amp stage.

zen-air-can-2-768x339.jpg

Technical highlights:
- Single-ended topology
- 4.4mm S-Balanced output offers better noise rejection and lower crosstalk
- High-quality parts
- Class A output buffer
- Up to 1,2W @ 32Ohm
- Rugged and sonically transparent FET-based input selector

ZEN-Air-CAN-Simple-Connection-Guide_V5.jpg
 

AMR / iFi audio

Industry Expert
Aug 21, 2019
1,929
854
200
41
UK
ifi-audio.com


ZEN Air CAN - Let's take another look.

At just £99/€99/$99, the ZEN Air CAN offers astonishing value for money – its circuitry and facilities have been simplified form the original ZEN CAN but the quality of what has been retained is remarkable. Like the ZEN CAN, it has no digital input of any kind; it connects to any audio source with an analogue output, such as the headphone output from a DAP (Digital Audio Player), a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone, or the RCA outputs from, say, a CD player, or a phono stage like the ZEN Air Phono. It could also be paired with the ZEN Air Blue to add Bluetooth reception, or perhaps combined with the ZEN Air DAC to upgrade the DAC’s headphone amp stage.


Tech highlights

Whilst the fully balanced circuit topology of the ZEN CAN has been simplified to make its Air equivalent, it retains the use of discrete, high-grade components and a separate, symmetrical layout between channels – an exceptional level of design at such an eminently affordable price point. Though not quite boasting the output level of the mainline ZEN CAN, there’s still ample power on tap to drive all manner of headphones with ease – 1200mW into a 32-ohm load – coupled with ultra-low distortion to deliver impressive musical texture and detail.

iFi’s quad-amp circuitry features custom OVA-series FET op-amps using a ‘folded cascode’ design, with specialised feedback circuitry to optimise performance. The input stage features automatic gain matching between inputs and feeds a TOCOS precision potentiometer, while the discrete, complementary bipolar output stage utilises the same Class A buffer found in more expensive iFi headphone amps. The power supply circuitry includes ‘stealth mode’ voltage conversion, with linear regulation, noise filtering, physical isolation from sensitive audio circuits and more than 4,000uF capacitance to keep ample power in reserve to respond to musical transients.

Alloy shielding within the thermoplastic polymer outer case protects sensitive signal paths from interference. Even the way the ZEN Air CAN switches between settings has been engineered to ensure sonic transparency – FET-based switching is handled by a microcontroller, which only ‘wakes up’ when the user changes a setting, thus eradicating any sonically deleterious interference. All this painstaking attention to detail would be impressive in a high-end headphone amp; that fact that iFi has succeeded in implementing such high-quality circuitry in one retailing at just £99/€99/$99 is nothing short of remarkable.

Features and connectivity

Just as remarkable is the retention of so much of the ZEN CAN’s highly impressive feature set. XBass+, iFi’s sophisticated bass enhancer, and XSpace, which widens the soundstage to compensate for ‘in-head localisation’ effects, are both present. Gain adjustment to precisely suit the connected headphones is also provided, with three steps – 0dB, 9dB and 18dB – in place of the ZEN CAN’s four steps.

The ZEN CAN’s dual headphone outputs – 6.3mm and 4.4mm – are also repeated here, although the 4.4mm output is not fully balanced as it is on the ZEN CAN. Instead, it benefits from iFi’s S-Balanced circuit design, which cuts noise and crosstalk by 50 per cent with single-ended headphone connections. Similarly, the ZEN Air CAN sports three analogue inputs, the same number as the mainline ZEN CAN – but here, the 4.4mm balanced input is swapped for an extra pair of single-ended RCA sockets, providing two stereo RCA inputs and one 3.5mm S-Balanced socket in total.
 

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