HD600 and iFi ZEN series ~ Do I need an amp?

Hey all. Thanks to randomly stumbling across some of Zeos’ reviews, I decided to make the first jump into the audiophile world with the HD600 and the iFi Zen DAC, which was decided on through a mixture of my own research, the dankpods youtube channel which I love, and a few recommendations from friends in the hobby. I’m coming a set of beats and airpods pros so it was a pretty big (but every exciting) commitment.

For reference: https://ifi-audio.com/products/zen-dac/

I’m looking at also getting an amp, and it seems most logical to keep it in the same product chain and stack it with the zen can: https://ifi-audio.com/products/zen-can/

I couldn’t find the Signature edition since they are sold out on drop.

The real question: is the internal amp inside the ZEN dac strong enough to power the HD600 on it’s own? Should I just go with my gut and get an amp as well? Or, should I trust my ears when I get them in hand and let them burn into my brain before making a decision?

Thx for your help!

yes the zen dac can run the HD 600… it may struggle a little bit on the unbalanced port so I would recommend just getting a good pair of balanced cables for the headphone and use the 4.4mm balanced port on the zen… this way your just fine. Zen can is nice too but not particularly needed just may give you more headroom, bit more warmth, clarity, more refinement, that xspace button too which is a nice addition. If your looking to save some budget, just skip the zen can imo.

Thanks for the recommendation! Any advice on cable options? I was looking at Hart Audio since the modular connectors look super nice and I could rotate between 6.35, 4.4, 3.5, and 2.5 depending on my needs.

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Yeah, I would just recommend Hart Audio they are what I use and they make absolutely fantastic cables, if someone wanted to save money you could of course just buy something off like amazon… but Hart are definitely much better quality. The balanced port on the zen dac is a 4.4mm so you will just need that cable and you will be just fine.

make sure you get a cable that has balanced input for the HD600 as well. you cannot use a single ended cable on balanced output, as that would damage your amplifier. I mention this as you could do this unknowingly if you ordered a 4.4mm pentagon adapter that terminates into whatever connector your se cable requires.

just wanted to warn you so you don’t have anything unexpected happen!

edit - you can have Hart make a custom cable that is balanced input for your Senn and terminates in 4.4mm pentacon for your Zen. I have the Zen and bought a 4.4mm pentacon to female XLR as I had a balanced cable come with my Nighthawk Carbon’s. it was the more affordable option and didn’t result in wasting the balanced cable I already had.

as your headphone collection grows, there may be a point that it’s better to get balanced adapters, but in this case, I think you should just get a proper cable and remove unnecessary points of contact in your cable train. :slight_smile:



Appreciate the info ~ I understand the general reasoning why balanced is better but am still quite behind on the learning curve! I’ll definitely make a note of that in my request to Hart.

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going to balanced from single ended on my Zen with my Nighthawk Carbon’s, there was a boost in volume, so I didn’t have to it dialed up as high as before. it was also a bit fuller in sound.

balanced is a no brainer on high end equipment, but due to costs, has a much lower value proposition for headphones that don’t cost all that much. that said, the HD600 are highly regarded and having been around for as long as they have (something like 20+ years now, I think?), it’s worth it.

Another option.

Zen CAN + separate DAC like the Topping E30, or if you want to optimize a balanced signal path, something like the Soncoz.

The CAN has more of everything over the Zen Dac.
Power - seriously, this thing is a beast - input options, better gain selection, an actual on/off button on the front, and the XBass / 3D function is more refined than the Zen Dac’s “True Bass” that a few reviewers have noted is too much boost.
I ran mine off the 3.5mm headphone output of my laptop before I decided on a DAC and the results were not disappointing.

And Plus 1 on the Hart Audio or similar balanced cable. Going balanced roughly doubles the available power with a HD600 and seems to open up the sound stage just a little bit.

and something should be said about the HD600 and how much it loves tube amps.

the best and least expensive option for a OTL tube amp would be the Little Dot MKII. I think they go for about $175 new via Amazon…though there are rumors of fakes, so you may wish to order directly from Little Dot’s webstore that ships out of China.

edit - in fact, the HD6 - - family loves tube amps…so you may wish to grab an HD6xx from Drop as it’s a tweaked version of the HD650 for a lot less money, and then, should the opportunity present itself, grab the HD660s so you have the whole ‘set’, LoL!

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Thank you so much for the recommendations! I’ll definitely check out the CAN before making a decision. I already know I want to stack eventually, so may as well get both.

I ended up changing my mind on the 600 and did indeed grab a 6xx. Got it secondhand, and it already arrived yesterday. Loving it very much, can’t wait to see what it can do with more power. Orders placed with Hart Audio for a cable and a full set of their connectors.

I will update yall on what I decide!

I like the zen can. I have plenty of more capable amps at this point and picked up the can about a month ago and I still like it. I wouldn’t know if it is a significant upgrade over the zen dac other than more power maybe? Plus it has the option to use the xbass, 3D or xbass plus 3D. The 3D button is really cool for old recordings that don’t have great stereo separation. Like songs where it just has stuff in the left, right and center channel but nothing in between. The 3D button is basically a crossfeed so it makes those old recording sound more uniform. Newer recordings don’t seem to be very affected by it however the xbass button is nice and doesn’t add too much or bloat the bass or anything.

I agree with @Marzipan, where the whole interconnect set probably wasn’t needed at the moment but I suppose it doesn’t hurt. Just make sure you test each of them because I had a 1/4 inch one that went out on me but he replaced it. I’ve heard of others where the minixlr fails on them but I haven’t seen that yet. I went with hart for sure because I need nearly every headphone connection and each amp output connect at this point so it was either that or have about 5 cables for each headphone which would be ludicrous. It’ll be nice to have as you start to build up your collection of amps and headphones though, if you’re ready to dig down that hole.