🔷 iFi ZEN CAN Headphone Amplifier

This is the official thread for the iFi ZEN CAN (non-Drop edition) Headphone Amplifier

This thread is for discussion and reviews.

  • Fully Balanced
  • Class A output section
  • XBass bass boost and “3D” crossfeed circuit

:red_circle: Hifiguides Amazon Link

[Reviews]

Z Reviews

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wow…late to the party. this has been out for months. LoL!

INTRODUCTION

Ever since iFi announced the launch of their Zen CAN amp – both the Drop Signature 6XX edition (not the subject of this review) and the regular iFi branded edition (the subject of this review) – I’ve been very interested in it. I’ve owned the iFi Hip-DAC for several months and really enjoy it for what it is and with certain headphones (Focal Elegia sounds wonderful on it). I also have the Zen DAC which is a quirky but solid product that also plays nicely with particular headphones (Elegia again, Beyerdynamic DT880 and Sennheiser HD6?? series respond to the Zen DAC’s bass boost really well when a powerful amp is between them). The Zen CAN amp also excited me because it was an under 200USD amp with a class A output stage that didn’t appear to be interested in the measurement-chasing game [the amp section of Zen CAN does use op-amps but the class A output stage appears to be intended to add a hint of class A ‘color’ to the sound]. Under that 200USD price point the headphone amplifier market is currently dominated by op-amp based amplifiers using some kind of feedback or feed-forward tech that measures really well but may or may not sound particularly good. A couple offerings from Schiit (Asgard 3, Magni 3+) and the Monolith Liquid Spark amp are about the only other amps in this price range that aren’t strictly measurement chasers – even though they measure well enough that their measurements should be of no concern to end users. So, the Zen CAN is among the few that dare to be different while at the same time coming with iFi’s superior international availability compared to those Schiit products. That makes it an interesting product right out of the gate. I saved up some Amazon rewards points and cashed them in to get a Zen CAN cheap and I’ve never spoken to anyone at iFi. The opinions you’re about to read are my own. Do the sonic results of the Zen CAN match the level of interest? Well…it depends. Let’s dig in and find out how and why…

[Fair warning…this gets long because there is a LOT to talk about with this amp, both for good and ill. I went back up and put this disclaimer in when my word count hit 1950 and I still had a ways to go. You’ve been warned :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:]

FEATURES & BUILD

Power Trip

The Zen CAN retails for about 169USD but was on sale for 149.99 when I bought it from Amazon. Now a few months after launch you need to be careful which version you buy. There’s was a first run launch edition that came with iFi’s iPower power supply. The version I bought came with a generic 5V 2.4A power brick with rather stiff cord. Fortunately, a fellow audiophile had an extra 5V 2.5A iPower on hand and sold it to me cheap. I’ll comment on the sonic differences between the two PSUs later in the review. Keep in mind that going forward most editions out there are likely to have the generic power brick included, though. Either way, the 5V power input got an eyebrow raise from me because that is uncommonly low for amps in this price range. The Monolith Liquid Spark uses a PSU with 36V 1.25 A output. The JDS Labs Atom amp uses a 16V 1A PSU output and the Schiit Magnius uses 15V 1.5A PSU output, as examples. Using the simple electrical power equation of power = current x voltage, we see that with the iPower the Zen CAN’s available power from its power supply tops out at 5V*2.5A = 12.5 watts, which is less than any of the three other amps have available using the same formula. In fairness, the Geshelli Labs Archel 2 GMR amp uses a 12V 0.5A PSU giving it 6 watts of input power to work with. Why am I spending so much time on the power supply? You’ll find out in the sound section.

From iFi’s product page: “The ZEN CAN has trickle-down Class A discrete balanced circuitry from iFi audio’s US$1,699 flagship Pro iCAN. With 15.1v @300 Ohms on tap, it has serious power that will make even difficult-to-drive headphones thump to the beat.” That same page also claims a maximum output of 1890mW per channel from the balanced headphone output at 64 ohms.

Uniquely Zen Features

The Zen CAN comes with 3 inputs: a 3.5mm unbalanced minijack, an unbalanced RCA input, and a balanced 4.4mm pentacon input. It has a 4.4mm pentacon preout. It has 4 gain stages, a bass boost iFi calls “XBass” (um, iFi, if you ever read this, can you just come up with one name for a bass boost and stick with it, please?), and a “3D” option that is a crossfeed circuit. The XBass and 3D features are toggled by a button. Press the button once for XBass, twice for 3D only, thrice for both XBass and 3D together, and a fourth time to deactivate both again. Heads up: there was an audible ‘click’ in the headphones on that fourth button press deactivating both EQ circuits simultaneously. The click wasn’t loud but surprised me the first time I heard it. It’s not at a level to do any damage to your equipment or ears, though. There are 4.4mm balanced pentacon and standard 6.3mm unbalanced headphone jacks on the front panel, along with a volume knob that doesn’t have much resistance but feels generally ok to use.

Making Connections

Alright, a comment on the 4.4mm pentacon balanced input and output: I understand why it’s here but it also sneakily makes this amp a more expensive proposition than it seems at first glance. The 4.4mm jacks are used to fit the small form factor of the unit. It’s also true that 4.4mm connectors are likely to become an industry standard in the near future, at least for headphone cables. iFi is the only company I can think of that currently uses 4.4mm pentacon as a line-level interconnect standard. That means you’ll have to buy some specialty cabling. If you match the Zen CAN with the Zen DAC you’ll need a 4.4mm to 4.4mm cable. Amazon sells as “cheap” one. Drop sells a not-cheap one that I recommend not supporting. If you have another DAC with balanced 3 pin XLR outputs you’ll need an 4.4mm-to-3 pin XLR “Y” cable. The funny thing about that is most such cables have the male terminations on the XLR plugs when the female is needed to plug into the back of all the balanced-output DACs I’m aware of. So, you’ll also need to snag some female-to-female XLR extenders or put in a special order with Hart Audio Cables. I had a 4.4-to-XLR cable from using my Zen DAC to feed my Monolith Liquid Platinum amp at one point and hard to order some XLR extenders. It worked but was ungainly and can put a lot of extra torque on the XLR output of your DAC. I ordered a lighter 4.4mm-to-female 3 pin XLR cable from Hart and they charged me $45 for it, and while that sounds steep, it’s a fair price given the going rate for specialized balanced audio cables. Regardless of which cabling route you choose you’re adding a fairly large percentage of the Zen CAN’s cost to your overall purchase.

The Fairest of Them All?

I’ve seen some complaints about the iFi Zen aesthetic. Yes, it looks like a spaceship, at least to me, but I like the aesthetic. It’s another way iFi dares to be different. You get something more than a black rectangle to look at. But, YMMV. The overall built quality is solid as it’s an all metal construction. The one exception to that would be the buttons that toggle through power, input, gain level, and EQ circuits. The button caps seem flimsily held on and will rattle around when you pick up the amp for any kind of transport or cleaning. They don’t feel great to push and you have to push them in a sort of ‘just the right way’ to get them to respond. I suppose for the price we can’t have it all and this amp already has quite an impressive feature set for its price point.

Alright but how does it…(?)

SOUND

I Used Balanced A Lot

I didn’t notice any difference in sound quality from using the balanced or unbalanced inputs. I spent minimal time listening to the unbalanced headphone output, using most listening time from the balanced output. The unbalanced output is reasonably good. What little time I spent with it didn’t throw up any red flags in terms of overall audio quality, provided that it could adequately power whatever headphone was plugged in. But I must emphasize that I did not spend much time using the unbalanced headphone out. Why? Well, a balanced headphone amp is not inherently better sounding than unbalanced (aka single-ended) amplifier provided that equal amounts of care in design and part selection has been given to each amp. However, if an amp – particularly one at this price – is balanced, it’s likely to be noticeably better sounding from its balanced output than its unbalanced output because most of the design care and part selection went into it being balanced. If you’re interested in this amp, make sure that your headphones have the option of being driven balanced.

Divide & [Sorta] Conquer

As for the overall sound performance, the power demand of the headphone really matters…like, it’s a REALLY BIG DEAL. Therefore, this sound section is going to have some subsections; one for the not-so-good part of the sound performance, one for the pretty solid sound performance, and one to return to the power supply discussion from earlier. The divide between whether the iFi Zen CAN is a headphone amp someone should be interested in depends on the power demand of the headphone(s) they’re trying to power. In simple terms, high-impedance or otherwise hard to drive headphones are out while low impedance headphones and many planar magnetic headphones are in. I’ll tackle the issue with high-impedance headphones first to get the unpleasant bits out of the way, and then I’ll move to where the Zen CAN is comfortable to end on a higher note.

The Unfortunate

If your objective is to power high impedance headphones like the 300-ohm models from the Sennheiser HD6?? series or the 250-ohm models in Beyerdynamic’s DT series, simply don’t plan to use the XBass feature. If you want to power the 600-ohm versions of Beyer’s DT series, this is NOT the amp for you. Period. Even if you go through the process of balance modding your 600-ohm Beyer DT headphone (as I have), I repeat, this is NOT the amp for you. Period. Even though the Zen CAN is rated to have plenty of power, it seems to do a poor job of delivering that power to the drivers, particularly in the low end. The bass gets distorted and very sloppy very quickly. With the XBass on and the volume level averaging about 75dB my Senn HD6XX was audibly distorting on bass hits. Deactivating the XBass takes the distortion out at that volume level but the distortion comes back somewhere around the 85dB average level even without the XBass. That’s too loud for me but I wanted to pass along the word because that is where some like to listen. My DT880’s (600-ohm, balance modded, and using Zen’s balanced output) bass just goes to shambles around 70dB whether XBass is on or not. Deep bass hits are distorted and sloppy. And it doesn’t take a super bassy song to do it. ‘Stupid Girl’ by Garbage is thick and sludgy sounding, but it’s also not a bass torture test. Most of that track the bass sounded like it was wavering and the kick drum hits had audible sloppiness, sounding splashy. Switching the headphone to my Asgard 3 the bass is clean, rich, and punchy. In addition to the bass woes, mids and highs get harsh and crunchy with these high-impedance headphones on the Zen CAN. That harshness and crunchiness was very similar to what I heard from the amp section of the Zen DAC when powering a low-impedance load like the Focal Elegia. It seems that these entry-level iFi amps don’t handle difficult [for them] loads as gracefully as other entry-level amps handle the same loads.

For what it’s worth, I was initially worried I just had a bad unit so I reached out to some fellow experienced audiophiles who I know have experience with the Zen CAN or the Drop variant of it (Zen CAN Signature 6XX); three total individuals. All three agreed that with high impedance Senns (HD6XX, HD650, HD600 were the models explicitly named) the bass distorts when the volume gets pushed, with two of them agreeing with me that they didn’t have to push the volume all that hard to notice the distortion. Two of the three were able to confirm my observation that 600-ohm Beyers are completely out of the question on this amp and one added that the 300-ohm ZMFs are a no-go as well. Personally, I find the Zen CAN’s struggles with high-impedance loads disappointing because high-impedance Sennheisers and Beyerdynamics are found the world over. iFi products also have excellent international distribution. Schiit’s international distribution currently lives up to their name. Yet, the Zen CAN amp simply does not have the drive to handle high-impedance loads. It’s disappointing, but it is what it is. I have further editorial commentary on this matter that I’ll save for a later section, too. However, all is not lost because not every headphone is a high impedance headphone.

The More Fortunate

For my planars (Audeze LCD-2 rev 1 prefazor, HiFiMan Edition X V2) and low-impedance (bio)dynamics (Focal Elegia, Lawton modded TH-X00, borrowed Audioquest Nighthawk), the Zen CAN is a respectable amp for the price. I took the Zen CAN, my SMSL SU-8 DAC, and Focal Elegia with me while traveling for the holidays. That trio gave me good detail, good staging, pretty decent imaging, and with the XBass enabled lots of bass slam and rumble. The bass was a tad boomy at times but not enough to keep me from getting lost in music in 30ish minute bursts when I needed a quick social recharge. I’ll continue to preach that with proper amp power, iFi’s bass boost and the Focal Elegia are a great pairing. iFi’s bass boost implementations continue to impress me. Generally speaking, though, when the Zen CAN is offered a load it can handle, it sounds good. It has similar but not quite as attention-grabbing cleanliness as amps like the Atom, Topping L30, Magnius, and Geshelli Labs amps have with just a hint of class A flavor. There is a decently wide and coherent soundstage with appropriate imaging and separation for the price. With these easy-to-drive loads, though, the bass can still be a bit sloppy, especially in the sub-bass. It’s not as overtly distorted as with high-impedance loads but it can be sloppy. With XBass on the bass is more extended but the sloppiness gets proportionately worse. It really does seem that the Zen CAN just straight-up struggles to deliver power to the drivers in the low end of the spectrum. However, most of the time said sloppiness was not so bad that I couldn’t enjoy music. I enjoyed music frequently with low-impedance headphones with this amp.

Back to Power Supplies

I spoke at length about the power supplies in the Features & Build section. There are sonic differences between the two power supplies but they don’t change the overall behavior of the amp. Best I could tell the iPower just delayed the bass woes on high-impedance headphones by about 2-3 dB. Meaning, with the generic power supply, the bass would distort around 72 or 73 dB average on HD6XX with bass boost on as opposed to around 75 dB with the iPower. Outside of that I really could not detect any sonic differences in the two power supplies. The higher quality iPower bought that extra 2-3 dB of low-end headroom – for lack of better term – and that’s about it.

The 3D Feature

I don’t have much to say about this. I didn’t use it much. What it does well is relieve some ear pressure when listening to older stereo recordings with hard-panning. Do you notice an odd and uncomfortable pressure on your ears when a sound comes from only one side of a headphone? We’re not evolved to hear sound only in one ear like that so it feels uncomfortable. This 3D feature from iFi helps some. It takes some of hard-panning out and relaxes the ears a bit. If you have old recordings with all the instruments in one channel and all the voices in the other, this will integrate them to some degree. It works reasonably well. It’s not going to give you a whole soundstage reinvention, but it does make listening to such recordings on headphones less fatiguing.

COMPARISON WITH OTHER AMPS

As I mentioned in my L30 and Archel 2 GMR reviews, I had those two amps, Schitt’s Magnius and Asgard 3, JDS Labs Atom, and Monolith Liquid Spark amps all on hand for some amount of time overlapping with the Zen CAN. It’s been a budget amp bonanza on my desk lately. I’m still planning on a larger post with more detailed thoughts on how all those amps compare. So here I’ll add a quick note that the Zen CAN for the most part slots in between the two Schiit amps in the high range of overall quality for this grouping, but you have to draw a line at about 100Hz. Above that frequency the Zen CAN has just a touch more refinement, detail, and staging/imaging than the Magnius yet falls far short of the Asgard 3. Below 100Hz the Zen CAN falls back into the pack where it may only beat the L30 in terms of bass control. In fact, the Geshelli Labs Archel 2 GMR, despite its 6 watt power draw from its power supply, comfortably exhibits more bass extension and control. For me the bottom line is that if you live in the United States or a country where Schiit products can be had for reasonable prices, pony up the extra $30 and buy the Asgard 3 instead of the Zen CAN. The A3 outclasses it just about every sonic category – no, not ‘just about every’, it’s every sonic category A3 beats it and does so rather handily. The Zen CAN brings more features. Its XBass may attract some. But, even so, if that bass boost is what you want, I recommend getting the Zen DAC and piping its RCA output through the Asgard 3. That signal chain turns the 600-ohm DT880 into a v-shaped headphone and does so without ever sounding strained. By the time you buy a DAC and balanced cables, the Zen DAC + Asgard 3 will be cheaper than the Zen CAN and your appropriately priced DAC of choice, anyway.

A WAVETHEORY EDITORIAL

I know this review is getting long, even by my standards, but there is something weighing on me. I’m caught between wanting to be as impartial as I can be and yet not completely ripping into a company under the guise of ‘entertainment.’ I think I have a legitimate beef with iFi with the Zen CAN, though. Here’s a screen shot from iFi’s Zen CAN product page:

image

That text is a bit small but I want to draw your attention to what I included above; the bit that says “With 15.1v @300 Ohms on tap, it has serious power that will make even difficult-to-drive headphones thump to the beat.” To me this language is straight-up misleading. I’m willing to grant that companies are out for profit and give them some leeway in how they use language to frame their sales pitches. This language crosses a line, though. In my own listening experience and in talking with other experienced audiophiles who I trust, the Zen CAN may deliver low frequency information to hard-to-drive headphones’ drivers but to call that “thump to the beat” is a bridge too far for me. There is too much distortion below 100Hz with 300+ ohm headphones. Making that claim creates an expectation of clean, powerful bass from this amp with headphones of this type and the product simply does not deliver on that expectation. I have used and liked iFi products prior to the Zen CAN and respect the niche that iFi is carving out in the budget audiophile market, but the behavior they’re demonstrating here is disappointing. If anyone from iFi ends up reading this, please encourage your company to change that language on the product page or, better yet, rework the product to match the language.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The iFi Zen CAN headphone amplifier is an intriguing and unique product in the budget headphone amplifier category. It comes with a very interesting feature set. The bass boost is well implemented (an iFi staple at this point) and the 3D feature can be helpful with certain recordings. The overall sound quality is pretty good with easy to drive headphones but the Zen CAN is out of its element when it’s asked to drive high-impedance headphones. It’s also disappointing that iFi’s advertising is misleading on how well they claim their product handles high-impedance headphones. If you’re in the United States or another country where Schiit products are easy to acquire, my sincere recommendation is to skip the Zen CAN and buy an Asgard 3. You’ll end up saving money by not forking over extra cash for currently-niche balanced cables and you’ll get a much better performing amp. However, if you’re not in such a country and you have easy-to-drive headphones, the Zen CAN is arguably the overall best sounding headphone amplifier under 200USD. I hope that in a future generation of the Zen CAN, iFi reworks the power supply and power delivery on this unit so it can truly deliver a “thump to the beat” experience with the high-impedance headphones out there that can be bought all over the world. If they do that and keep the price where it is, they’ll have a very compelling product on their hands.

Thanks for sticking out this long read, everyone. Enjoy the music! :beers:

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Better late than never. We seem to be fielding more questions about the non-Drop version than the Drop version anyway. So here’s an official thread.

Lol, @donjklassen is either the fastest reader ever or just wanted to be the first “like” :rofl:

I scrolled to see how long and threw a like solely because I was like daaamn

I’ll give it a read now lol

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I had a LoL to give away that I was only ribbing you.

that said, it would be helpful if you could provide two things with your thoughts. a pros / cons list and a TLDR for those like me who’s brains shut down when they see a wall of text.

thank you for the time and effort to do this too!

I’ve been considering that. Still mulling. Thanks for the suggestion.

Each word is only another brick in the wall…to make a bad song pun. But, yeah, this one got longer than usual, even for me. iFi is the current King of the Hill in somehow giving a reviewer so much more to talk about than the sound. They have some interesting quirks; some that work, some that don’t.

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@WaveTheory Nice review.

I have absolutely no interest in iFi products, but read your review regardless. I quite enjoy reading your write-ups and thorough explanations on products.

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Thank you!

Man, my wallet cries every time you suggest something to pair with the Elegia. It can only take so much! :sob:

Just kidding, great review man, congrats! Really love your approach, and if I may I will give some thoughts based on what I’ve read and what I know from an Engineer point of view:

First, the whole ifi marketing: it’s bad, and I would say you should always be wary of a company that gives power rating in [email protected] loads. That’s why I really think companies should be very transparent about how they measured any values, cause things can be technically true and yet, very misleading.

Second, a lot of what you described with high impedance loads seems to me it may be related to both their power choice and the topology. Class A, despite being very linear, is a PAIN to work with variable loads. It’s possible you’re experience distortion in bass because lower frequency demands more power, i.e. more current since you need a greater excursion from the driver. Couple this with a limited power budget, since I imagine they use a boost converter(1) for the output voltage to be 15V; and there you go, your amp output is a distorted mess. This seems especially true when you consider the Pro iDSD uses either a 9V/6.7A or an 18V/3.35A (total 60W) for supply, even if it does more stuff than the Zen CAN. If you’re interested, try getting a higher amperage PSU and you will see the distortion will move even further (for reference, the iFi power X gets the current to 3A).

Anyway, just adding a little on the technical side. Again, great write-up! I’m still curious about iFi products, but I think if I get anything will go to the iDSD signature or other higher stuff.

(1)Just for info, a boost conversion usually gets the supply voltage up, from 5V to 15V, for example. It, however, limits down the maximum current output, so as to maintain power balance. (V x I at input = V x I at the output, without considering losses)

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Thanks for the thoughts! I doubt I’ll invest in a much bigger power supply for this unit. Every extra dollar I spend on it is a mark against it, IMO. When it’s only $30 less than the Asgard 3 but you have to spend at least that to get it to perform anywhere close to Asgard 3, just buy the Asgard 3.

I figured iFi would have to be doing something to convert a 5V input to a >15V output, regardless of at what frequency they measure that output. I know enough physics to know that the amplifier simply can’t put out more energy than it can pull from its power supply - that’s simply the law of conservation of energy. So to get to that 15V they have to cut the current output to stay at or under the 12.5W the PSU can deliver. And yeah, I don’t know of an amplifier that can output as much energy as it sucks out of the wall as there is inevitably losses to heat and so forth.

As far as the Class A topology of the CAN goes, in reading their website I’m not convinced it’s a fully class A amp. They talk about using an op-amp that looks like it probably does most of the signal amplifying. The class A portion might just be a final little circuit right at the output to give it a flavor of “class A sound.”

You are right about headphones generally being a challenging load - especially dynamic headphones. The impedance curves of dynamic drivers tend to be U-shaped due to the increased resistance an inductor puts on a circuit at high frequencies and the increased difficulty of controlling the driver around its natural resonant frequency. That makes bass especially challenging and also where the most energy is needed.

OK, now I’m just being a nerd and need to shut up. Thanks again!

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Huahuahuahua it’s in my profile, I’m a full-time tech nerd, so this is my kind of talk. :rofl:

From what I’ve read, specially in the Pro iDSD material, they use a regular opamp input stage, which probably still is class A; and a output stage “with discrete components” probably some form of push-pull configuration with JFETs, which can handle way more current than MOSFETs.

Still, there is so much you can do when limiting supply current. Low power and Low voltage designs are a pain in the butt. You need to do weird stuff to avoid distortion and other non-linearities. :expressionless:

Nice review of a product that made me interested in it for being… “short sighted”.


Looking at the pictures IFI published, why would they blurr the component values? Any hobby tinkerer can tell you those are not expensive.

Concerning the power supply dependency: The blurred caps look like 100 or 180uF 16V caps (probably Panasonic el-cheapo tier). Benefit of the doubt, I say maybe 1mF (= 1000uF) of caps in there.
Cheaping out on caps like that does not induce confidence in the quality of the other components.

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Yet another clear and well thought out review… I look forward to these and thoroughly enjoy the work put into them…keep it up @WaveTheory

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You mention it struggling with DT880 600ohms, is this from an unbalanced perspective?
I have the CAN running a balanced mod for 880s and I can’t say I’ve noticed any issues, but them I’m hardly an audiophile either.

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I found the only difference balanced or unbalanced made with the DT880 is at what volume level the bass fell apart, well really the whole sound fell apart, IMO. The balanced output delayed said falling apart by about 3-5dB, depending on what music was going through there. In either case, that volume level was well below a comfortably involving but not deafening loud 75dB average, where I usually listen when I’m jamming out.

Really? A HiFiGuides account, DT880, and a Zen CAN? Sounds pretty audiophile to me.

Out of curiosity, do you have any experience with other amps? If so, which ones?

Ha, the HifiGuides accounts is BECAUSE I have no idea what I’m doing :slight_smile:
That’s also how I ended up with my setup. I was simply a bit more open than most I guess.
Between all this homeworking and springing for a new gaming rig I was…am in an experimental mood.
I’m pretty much getting everything I have been thinking about for the last decade or so.

Rambling ahead, you have been warned.

Add some disappointment into the mix with past audio setups and I was more than willing to go the extra mile. And while I still would not even consider myself an audio enthusiast, you guys were so helpful I figured I’d stick around a little bit longer. A nice breath of fresh air to see a forum where people aren’t at each others throats

As for other amps, not much really, the zen stack is the first real dedicated setup I have.
Before that I had creative sound cards and lately the E5 but, while I always thought they were better than mainboard sound, I was never quite happy. Same for the headphones. Had DT880 pro or DT990 pro before, some sennheiser headset and recently BOSE Quiet comfort 35 along with various gaming headsets aver the years as well as some JVC HA-SZ2000.

Since I was upgrading all my main gear I figured I might as well throw audio into the mix and then saw the DT880 600 ohm Zeos review. Of the headphoens I had, the Beyers were up there with the bose and you guys convinced me I could fix everything that I didn’t like about the Beyers I had.

One reason I have been dissapointed is that aeons ago I had a 5.1 speaker set up and I really enjoyed that. And I have been chasing a similar experience with headphones but I never really got there. I’m still not there but I feel I’m about as close as I can reasonably get before it makes more sense to switch to speakers. Still plan on getting a real speaker surround setup again…eventually…some day. NO idea what I had back then, some sort of combo dac/amp giant box thing to play DTS surround.

Keep in mind this all over like 20 years now. And I have never really listened to music. I am now with the latest setup but even then it’s more because I get hung up on the experience and just enjoy it and less that I seek out to listen to music.

In those 20ish years, the lesson I am learning is that, if you want an “experience”, you better be willing to bite the bullet and pay, and a forum like this just happens to have way more experience than me. The audio world is mighty confusing for the uninitiated lol


Having typed all that out, I might be an audiophile in denial haha.

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Definitely. Might as well just embrace it. :laughing:

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5.1 speakers for gaming is pretty sweet. But it also takes the arrangement work of surround sound and jams into a desktop environment. Most people’s desks don’t have shelves behind their sitting area for the surround channels it seems. I think that, and keeping noise down for others in the house (gaming sound is more annoying than music sound when you’re not involved) is why headphones exploded for gaming. Many audiophile grade headphones can in fact mimic surround sound if they’re given a good signal and the game’s audio engine does positional sound well. DT880 is such a headphone. In fact it’s my goto recommendation for gaming can under $200. If you’re willing to try it the Schiit Modi 3+ & Magni 3+ will get you closer to that sound with DT880. Step up to their Asgard 3 and you’ll be amazed.

LOL. Yep. If you care about sound enough to be able to be disappointed in sound things, you’re an audiophile.