iFi ZEN CAN 3 Review

iFi ZEN CAN 3 headphone amplifier

Many laud iFi’s Zen line for its impressive price-to-performance value. Priced around $200-$300 per device, iFi offers a range of entry-level items such as phono preamps, DACs, and headphone amps. Today, we delve into the ZEN CAN 3, a headphone amplifier that has built a reputation for its Class A topology and clean sound. This latest update enhances the sound quality and introduces new features. Compatible with most headphones, including xMEMS IEMs, and equipped with modes for gaming and multimedia, the ZEN CAN 3 could potentially be the only headphone amp you ever need. But does it live up to this promise? Let’s find out in this review.

What’s in the Box

  • ZEN CAN 3
  • Power Supply
  • 3.5 to 6.35mm Adapter
  • RCA Cable
  • Quick Start Guide
  • Warranty Card

iFi ZEN CAN 3 top view


Familiar to those acquainted with iFi’s design ethos, the ZEN CAN 3 maintains the aesthetic charm of the Zen DAC 3, featuring a dual-material faceplate with a separating accent line. This design upgrade elevates the device’s look, departing from the brushed aluminum style of previous generations.

The front panel houses several essential controls and connectors. From left to right, there is a power button, an input selection switch, and a gain switch. A large volume dial sits centrally, flanked by a single-ended 6.35mm headphone jack and a balanced 4.4mm headphone jack. The far-right hosts the mode selection button, which we’ll explore in more detail in the design section.

The back panel includes an RCA input, a single-ended 3.5mm input, a balanced 4.4mm input, a balanced 4.4mm output for preamp use, and a power cord port.

The tactile buttons offer satisfying feedback, and the volume dial allows for precise adjustments. Weighing just 495 grams, the ZEN CAN 3 is compact and lightweight, yet it feels robust and durable, perfect for stacking with other Zen line products.

iFi ZEN CAN 3 design


The ZEN CAN 3 can drive a wide range of headphones, from xMEMS-based IEMs to high-end planars, boasting an impressive 2,000mW output power. Utilizing the same Class A circuitry as iFi’s flagship iCAN Phantom, it ensures top-tier performance and cutting-edge technology.

New analogue EQ-modes enhance immersion during gaming or watching multimedia. The movie mode EQ clarifies dialogue, while the game mode sharpens subtle sound effects, making it easier to pinpoint sounds and enhance low-end rumble.

Unique to the ZEN CAN 3, iFi achieves these features through analogue circuitry rather than Digital Signal Processing (DSP). This method maintains sound integrity, reduces phase shift and distortion, and offers natural frequency adjustments. iFi’s signature analogue bass enhancement, XBass+, amplifies bass without compromising midrange clarity, while XSpace expands the soundstage, delivering a concert-like experience.

These features perform admirably, though their effectiveness may vary by track, game, or movie. XBass+ and XSpace enhance specific sounds, but sometimes XBass+ can be overpowering, and XSpace might artificially widen the soundstage. The good news is that these controls are easily adjustable, allowing you to tailor them to your preference.

iFi ZEN CAN 3 Sound Impressions

Sound Impressions

Using perennial mid-fi headphones like the Sennheiser HD660S2 and Hifiman Sundara, as well as newcomers like the Sennheiser HD620S, I put the Zen Can 3 to the test. iFi is known for a clean and smooth take on sound, looking to present an elegant sound signature for a fraction of the cost of high end systems. I found the Zen Can 3 to be no different. 

Low end textures are nice and balanced. They aren’t overly emphasized, with a neutral presentation prioritized for the sound signature. That said, with XBass+ turned on, you get elevation to your low end rumble, and some tracks really benefit from it. The mids are neutral with a hint of warmth to them. Vocals come across as clear and non fatiguing and instrument separation is quite good for the price. The top end has a nice potency to it, adding excitement to its sound without creating any harshness. 

Soundstage is also quite good. It’s not the widest amp ever but with the HD660S2, I did notice some nice subtleties far off to the right and left. A key factor that separates entry-level amps and higher end ones is a sense of space. This can mean the space between instruments or the space left on the margins of the soundstage. I was impressed by the Zen Can’s ability to present a clear sense of space in both regards. Instruments were properly separated and there seemed to be excess room for microdetails to play out. To be sure, it’s not at the level of higher end amps, but I was impressed by the amount it’s able to deliver for the price. 


Final Thoughts

iFi’s ZEN CAN 3 continues the brand’s tradition of offering exceptional performance for the price. Its build quality, feature set, and sound make it an excellent entry-level amp that scales well with mid-fi equipment. It’s also a great choice for those seeking a versatile device for gaming, movies, and music. The ZEN CAN 3 is a reliable, versatile, and great-sounding amp that delivers on its promises.

The iFi ZEN CAN 3 is available at Audio46.

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