Drop iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Review (Stream)

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by purr1n, Jul 17, 2020.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    This may have to be a streaming review over time as I don't have all the pieces yet, but hope to within a week. The Drop iFi ZEN accepts a balanced input and also a balanced output. Unfortunately, I do not have the 4.4mm cable. I thought I had some extra plugs lying around to solder one together, but I can't seem to find them in my parts bin. This means that I cannot evaluate the full capabilities of the amp yet using a balanced DAC or driving a headphone balanced.

    The ZEN CAN Signature has an active EQ designed or the Drop HD6XX. There is a button which I assume should be able to active or deactivate this feature with a corresponding LED indicator. However, this does not appear to be work. The ZEN CAN seems stuck with the HD6XX EQ mode on. I am not sure if the unit is broken or if I do not know how to use it. Either way, I'm sure this will be remediated sooner or later.

    The ZEN CAN will accept up to three inputs, selectable with a toggle button on the front panel. A slightly larger button allows us to select among three four different gain settings (0dn, 6db, 12db, and 18db). The photos do not do the chassis and feel of the buttons justice. The feel of the chassis is solid - as if I could use it to cleave the skulls of my enemies. The buttons have a tactile feel with a ker-dink upon a press. The volume control feels almost pneumatic. This is stuff that we've grown to expect from iFi. I think the design is kind of sexy too - like something from the OG Battlestar Galactica.

    IMG_20200717_201038.jpg

    Here is the back of the unit. We have three inputs which are supported. Power is provided by a 5V wall wart switcher.
    IMG_20200717_201257.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2020
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  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    This is in 80 degrees Fahrenheit ambient, but with a small fan about 10 feet away blowing over the area. The unit does get a little bit warm. This is a good thing right because stuff that gets hot sounds better?

    flir_20200717T203011.jpg
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2020
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Since I am stuck, at least for now in HD6XX Active EQ mode, I figured I'd go straight to the EQ to get a better idea. I know that a graph was provided with Tyll's measurement and the corresponding affect on the frequency response. This graph was hard to see. I made a mistake myself by thinking each demarcation was one decibel instead of two. So it turns out after listening that the EQ profile have had been more aggressive that I thought based on a cursory look at the graph (my bad, but I'm getting blind now from middle age). A measurement at the output with instrumentation is the best way to see for ourselves.

    Drop ZEN CAN Signature
    Active EQ profile of the HD6XX mode
    upload_2020-7-17_20-44-17.png

    The bass boost is about +9db at 20Hz, +5db at 50Hz, +2db at 100Hz. There is also a +3.5db boost at 6.5kHz.

    It pains me to say this, but I am not sure if I agree with this EQ profile for the HD6XX. I had debated with myself whether I should even speak about this product - kind of like biting the hand that feeds you - the generosity of even giving SBAF a loaner for review is something I deeply appreciate - and the fears of confirming what Jude has been telling other vendors for almost a decade: that we are unreasonable, unfair, and will crap on their products.

    However, in all my interactions with Drop and iFi, they have always said to be forthright and not allow them to influence me in any way. In light of this, I decided to go ahead, but also allow rebuttal or perhaps a second look down the line in case something was wrong here. The best way is to be fair without passion.

    Now getting back to the EQ, here are my issues with it:
    • The bass boost is too much. The HD6XX may need some help in the low and sub bass, but it doesn't need any more mid-bass around 100Hz.
    • The 6.5kHz upper mid boost could be understandable in a way since the HD6XX / HD650 is known to be laid-back. However, this depends upon the iteration. This boost could have helped the very early HD650, but somewhere down the line when Sennheiser switched to the silver baffles, I didn't think this upper mid to lower treble bump was needed. Maybe a bit more lower to mid-treble boost of 2db, but certainly not any more at 6.5kHz. In fact the HD6XX already has a narrow bump between 5-6kHz on both SBAF and Jude's frequency response measurements. The addition of moderately wide bump from 4.5kHz to 8.5kHz with peak point at 6.5kHz just makes it too much!
    • This is just my opinion. It's possible that others, or the more typical consumer may prefer this tuning. The bass is a bit more in line with Sean Olive's consumer research.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2020
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Here is the usual distortion or SINAD plot at -3dBu (0.550Vrms) output - which happens to be "fricking" loud for the HD650. We've been using this level for years now. The highest distortion product is the second harmonic which looks to be more than -110db down from the fundamental tone. This is a great result.

    There's some mains noise (typical and not of any concern) and grass that seems less than the distortion products. I do wonder if the grass is a result of the EQ and if I turned it off, the grass would disappear. Either way, this is electrons bouncing off each other and will have no correlation to subjective experience.

    Drop iFi ZEN CAN Signature HD6XX
    Steady state 1kHz sine at 0.550mV into 300-ohms (x1 or 0db gain)
    Active EQ on
    upload_2020-7-17_21-15-8.png


    Drop iFi ZEN CAN Signature HD6XX
    1kHz into 300-ohm load
    Gain Settings
    Active EQ on
    upload_2020-7-17_21-24-55.png

    Note that actual gain is slightly under what is labeled, about -0.5 to 0.85db. This is typical. No manufacturer says -0.47 gain +11.43 gain. Well maybe Germans would appreciate this accuracy and precision.


    Drop iFi ZEN CAN Signature HD6XX
    1kHz into 300-ohm load
    THD+N vs Input (dBu) - Note actual gain is -0.87db, so just add to the amplitude in X-axis for output
    Active EQ on
    upload_2020-7-17_21-19-54.png

    Note that the sweet spot, the area of lowest distortion coincides with what would be near "fricking" loud for the HD650. Based on the behavior (the small rise after the sweet spot) and the heat, I think that at least the output stage could be a discrete design. Most chip designs will have the THD+N sliding downward to lower and lower levels, and then suddenly zip up in high slope line.

    As for subjective impressions, I'm not sure I can provide any yet. Not with that EQ in place.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2020
  5. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Hmm, yeah, I had concerns about the EQ when I saw initial graphs.

    The bass results made it very clear iFi was going for something targeting the Olive/Welti curve, which is all the rage right now because...reasons? For all the time people spent shitting on Beats for its bass-heavy sound, it seems the modern "objective" community has welcomed an incredibly bass-heavy sound as the new reference target.

    Not that I don't mind a bit of extra bass myself, but the HD650 isn't a good use case for this sort of scenario.

    Realistically, the HD650 needs maybe +2dB around 20Hz, a broad decrease centered around 100Hz with a max of -3-4dB, and maybe a +1, 2dB max bump around 10KHz.

    That they chased bumping the 6KHz area suggests a misunderstanding of Tyll's results. Headphones that measured as such on his rig in that way tended to be fairly linear in the upper-mids and treble.
     
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  6. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    This seems to match pretty well with iFi's curve. The boost starting in the mid-bass set off big alarm bells for me.
     
  7. Raimei Templar

    Raimei Templar Facebook Friend

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    Based off a Oratory1990s GRAS measurements and Harmon curve calculations the 650 does have a dip at 6k that needs boosting to get to Harmon levels, but it is a pretty narrow dip, it looks like the ifi curve is using too wide of a band there. The greatest boost should be at 6k as the dip is concentrated there. It should not boost the region from 5.5k and below at all.

    I assume they are trying to fix the "dip" from 4-5k that shows up on GRAS graphs versus Harmon response but I think Harmon calls for way too much energy there and many people myself included find that region already too energetic on the 650. It is likely going to be quite fatiguing for many as a result with that region boosted.

    I will be a decenting voice and say that I did enjoy boosting the 6-7k region but I used a more narrow band and it was only by 2.5db or so. I am more of a dt880 kind of guy though so my tastes are a bit brighter than most hd650 fans.

    A big factor here too is the wear of the earpads on the 650,I found that the 650 sounds considerably brighter with new earpads. This eq may be intended for one with worn earpads.

    I completely agree on the criticism of Harmon having too much subbass. I actually get headaches from Harmon levels of subbass as I quite sensitive there. For my tastes I prefer to have much less energy below 30hz,that nearly 10db boost eq would definitely induce a headache for me! It is odd that they boosted the midbass as the 650 exceeds the Harmon curve there.

    I still think the non signature version has potential to be a big deal so it will be fun to hear some impressions of the zen can without the eq. I do like the colors though drop picked a winner with midnight blue!
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
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  8. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    While chasing down the latest drama on SBAF, I came across Max Setting's review. @3:58 he says he found the buttons "cheap", "jiggling" and had problems actuating them. Guess it could be early/pre production issues? Just providing another data point.

    He was able to find a 4.4mm male-to-male for $20-ish on the sixth page of his Amazon search but, it's now sold out: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08279BFXS

     
  9. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    There is a small amount of play which I assume what he meant by jiggling. The electronics management doesn't change the inputs or gain setting immediately for the input. The lights flash for a bit before the input change is made. There doesn't seem to be a lag on the gain button.

    An intent press and millisecond hold on the gain button is necessary to make a change. I see this as desirable. The last thing I want while listening to Campfire IEMs is accidentally bumping the gain up and blowing up my ears.

    I guess I am allowed to talk about the DAC. Stay tuned for that.
     
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  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Ugh. That's too much. Call me cheap. I would have liked to see a 4.4mm balanced cable come with either the amp or the DAC. And with the amp, at least a 4.4 to 4-pin XLR. Part of this is because I have become accustomed to the iFi brand and their company ethos to always provide the sundry accessories that their customer would need. I buy iFi because I don't have to deal with this crap!

    These parts are super specialized. Heck, the only place on the Internet I can find so far for a 5-pin 4.4mm connector where I can make my own cables is from Germany.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
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  11. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    My OG iDSD #swissarmyknife AIO came with every possible cable/dongle/doohickey I could possibly need. Too bad these don't (for now?).

    Edit: And this is just freaking ridiculous.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
  12. fraggler

    fraggler A Happy & Busy Life

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    Is this workable? https://doublehelixcables.com/produ...k-gold-aluminum-upgrade-barrel-2-5-3-5-4-4mm/
    There are also a ton of options on Aliexpress for really cheap, but they won't do you any good for a review any time soon. For a real Pentaconn, then yeah, nearly impossible to buy singles last time I checked.
     
  13. Roget

    Roget Rando

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    Purrin:

    Thank you for the measurements. I appreciate the measurements. I learn from your comments.
    Drop sells the 4.4mm balanced cables for $89: https://drop.com/buy/ifi-zen-can-signature-6xx-amp-drop-exclusive
    The price is excessive. The total cost is $249 + $89 = $338. This is like a trick.
    Can you explain more on why you do not like the EQ?
     
  14. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    I may be mistaken, but I think this is $12.75 for just the "upgrade" barrel and doesn't include the actually plug part of the connector.

    Edit: These are the complete Pentacostal connectors at $29.85 a pop.
    https://doublehelixcables.com/product/eidolic-e-4-4g-4-4mm-trrrs-balanced-audio-connector-sony/

    (I guess the Drop IC isn't looking so bad now o_O ... Fuck Sony :mad:)
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
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  15. Roget

    Roget Rando

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    I don't know how the arrangement works. Drop is not the same as iFi.

    If Drop wanted you to review in all ways why did they not send you cable for DAC to amplifier interconnect and amplifer to HD6XX?
     
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  16. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Any one of you guys can feel free to contact the Double Helix dude. I've known him since the days of Chang and I actually like this cables. Get free cables for yourself, and for SBAF, a 4.4mm interconnect, and a 4.4mm for HD6** headphones. I will give him a free 3-month sponsorship and shill his cables. Haha.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
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  17. fraggler

    fraggler A Happy & Busy Life

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    Oof. It did seem like too good a deal for Eidolic :)
    Ok, here is another try for a US source that should be decent (looks alot like AEC Taiwan connectors): http://www.plussoundaudio.com/diy/connectors.html
     
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  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Let me check the box again. If not, I will contact them.

    The Drop will be over by the time I get all the parts and solder the wires. Little bit frustrating because I can't even try out the DAC in all it's glory.
     
  19. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Different measurement rigs, different results. Also, very slight differences from unit to unit or HD6XX to HD650 depending upon date of manufacture. First of all throw away Tyll measurements. They were never compensated correctly - for good reason because Tyll wanted relative comparisons to work (instead of Jude who's always using the latest and greatest from GRAS so very little of his stuff is comparable on a relative basis).

    Here is Jude's of HD6XX and HD650
    [​IMG]

    Note similarities of Jude's GRAS measurements to my EARS up to around 8kHz, which tends to be normal.

    This is one of a recent HD650
    MiniDSP EARS with SBAF Compensation (perceptual neutral <> Harmon garbage consumer preference curve)
    YEL = HD650 from Jot
    GRN = HD650 from Drop ZEN CAN Sig HD6XX with Active EQ turned on
    upload_2020-7-18_11-29-57.png

    That's more bass than most SBAF members would want if they had made the decision to go with the HD650 in the first place. If anything push the mid-bass down and lift the lower bass per @gixxerwimp and @Hands.

    Is the upper mid lift too much? Maybe, maybe not. Was the solid-state-ish aggressive forward upper-mids that I heard a result of the EQ or something that is inherent to the amp? This is a good question that I cannot answer yet because I can't turn the EQ off.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020
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  20. Pogo

    Pogo Friend

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    Or you could just get a Loki for $149 and use whatever SE DAC and Amp you already have or want.
    But that of course would be so 2017....
     

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