Question Headphone amp with or without a DAC

Loomah

Standard Member
Hi
I bought an iFi Zen CAN late last year on the basis that it was one of very few headphone amps in my price range that didn't incorporate a DAC. The reason for that is that some time ago I was discussing it in an AV store with a view to connecting to my AK70 mkii. I was advised that because the AK70 has 2 DACs (not sure the fact it's 2 matters!) I didn't need an DAC/Amp combo.

My question here is would it actually matter using a combined (or even 2 separate) unit(s)?

I'm in never ending conversations with iFi over the fact that the CAN buzzes, depending on what is being used as the source so I may be in the market for a replacement. Although I'm not actually asking the question here if anyone has any thoughts on the buzzing I'd be glad to hear

for info the basic set up is
source: Astell & Kern JR, AK70 mkii, one plus 8T mobile or Samsung Galaxy Tab
linked to CAN via QED Performance Audio J2P (plus HELM DAC dongle between phone/tablet and J2P)
output to Grado SR225 headphones
I have the iPower connector for the unit
 

muljao

Well-known Member
The fact your unit uses two dacs likely means it uses a dac per channel. It's as much fancy talk on electronics as anything.

If you use your digital out from your player and plug into another dac, that dac will do the decoding. Dacs don't combine and do the job together

Not sure about the buzzing
 

Steven

Senior Moderator
I'm in never ending conversations with iFi over the fact that the CAN buzzes, depending on what is being used as the source
EMI could be for any culprit. Specificity on which combination is creating the noise would help

My guess is the culprits are the smartphones and tablet, but equally it could be the headphone amp itself or the mains wall socket
 

Loomah

Standard Member
EMI could be for any culprit. Specificity on which combination is creating the noise would help

My guess is the culprits are the smartphones and tablet, but equally it could be the headphone amp itself or the mains wall socket

Thanks for your thoughts on the buzzing
You're right about the smart phone & tablet but adding a 'dongle' DAC (HELM) to the mix alleviates a lot of buzzing there. The 'worst' culprit though is the AKJr. The mains connection is iFi's own noise reducing iPower connection - though I acknowledge that is probably a different kind of noise they are talking about....or maybe not

I'd like to stress at this point, however, that I'm not trying to slag off iFi. This specific amp just doesn't work for me. It's not the first time something like this has happened (I had to change my audiolab M-DAC nano 3 times, but it was worth it!) Will see what happens when I get it back from them
 

Steven

Senior Moderator
Tried swapping the iPower out for a 'normal' charger? (UK safety standards certified of course). Are you going direct to mains or via a surge protector or power conditioner? Several combinations to try
 

karlsushi

Active Member
I posted on here recently about digital interference through my Chord Mojo (intermittent buzzing), when connected to my smartphone.

I finally figured out it was the mobile data causing the problem. Not WiFi. I finally figured out how to turn off mobile data while keeping the WiFi on my phone (the latter of which I needed when streaming music of course). Turn on 'airplane mode', then just switch wifi back on.

Not sure if the buzzing you are experiencing is the same thing, but may be worth a try.
 

karlsushi

Active Member
Back to your main query though, as I'm sure you're probably already aware, the DACs you currently use based on what I think you are saying in your setup, are either the one in your A&K players, or the one in your HELM dongle.

On this basis, you would probably see an improvement in sound quality if you removed the HELM and connected your phone/tablet (digitally) to a desktop DAC, depending largely of course on which one.

I have never used or listened to the A&K players, but given their price, I suspect they have relatively decent DACs in them, so you would need to spend a bit more on a desktop DAC to get any improvement over them, but as I don't believe they have a digital output (?) then I don't think there is any way to bypass the internal DAC on those players.

Put simply, if you are using the 3.5mm output from the A&K players, then the DAC conversion has already taken place so you only need analogue components upstream of them, such as you already have with the ifi Zen Can.

To put it another way, if you get a different headphone amp/dac, the internal dac would be surplus to requirements using the A&K players, but may benefit the phone/tablet.

Hope that makes sense, assuming you hadn't already realised that.
 

Loomah

Standard Member
Back to your main query though, .........

Put simply, if you are using the 3.5mm output from the A&K players, then the DAC conversion has already taken place so you only need analogue components upstream of them, such as you already have with the ifi Zen Can.

To put it another way, if you get a different headphone amp/dac, the internal dac would be surplus to requirements using the A&K players, but may benefit the phone/tablet.

Hope that makes sense, assuming you hadn't already realised that.

Thanks for the response. That does summarise the situation way more succinctly than I managed!

Putting my query in to something more visual I think I'm looking at this
DigitalSignal>DAC>AnalogueSignal>DAC>EvenMoreAnalogue

The question is around will the second DAC be detrimental in any way? By definition it converts digital to analogue but if it gets no digital input what does it do?

Everything in your response makes sense - A&K doesn't need external DAC (in fact can be used as external DACs). Adding the HELM makes a massive difference to my buzzing issue with the android sources. But this is really about me getting my head around using a desktop DAC in the mix. I think my answer at the moment is that the HELM does a (good) job and the AK70 into the amp also does the job. Just waiting for feedback from iFi when they get the amp back!

Thanks again for every one's input to this. I'm trying to learn as I go. So, MQA streamers and Naim 1st gen? (only kidding!)
 

Loomah

Standard Member
Tried swapping the iPower out for a 'normal' charger? (UK safety standards certified of course). Are you going direct to mains or via a surge protector or power conditioner? Several combinations to try
Thanks for the suggestions. I don't have a suitable charger to swap out (probably not entirely true but...) other than the iPower itself there are no other power manipulators involved. The original setup necessitated using an extension cable but that was easily swapped out (to go straight to the wall) with no affect
 

karlsushi

Active Member
Putting my query in to something more visual I think I'm looking at this
DigitalSignal>DAC>AnalogueSignal>DAC>EvenMoreAnalogue
a DAC requires a digital input (a USB/Coax or Toslink cable). You cannot feed a DAC an analogue signal from a phono/rca stereo cable.

Whenever you use an analogue input on your headamp (twin RCA or 3.5mm jack) then, unless the unit you are using has an ADC (analogue to digital converter) built into it, then it will just be dealing with the analogue signal.

There are amplifiers/preamps that use ADC's as part of DSP or room correction processing (before converting back to analogue using a further in-built DAC), but in the scenario you are talking about regarding a headphone amp/DAC, this won't be the case.

You first need to think about which cable you are using and that gives you the answer as to whether you are feeding the unit a digital or analogue signal (with the only confusion being RCA coax cables which are digital as oppose to the usual RCA phono cables - but these send a signal over one connector as oppose to the twin RCA for analogue stereo).

If your headamp has a DAC in it, the DAC will be bypassed if you plug in RCA stereo connectors. You will only be using the DAC if you plug in a digital cable (USB/Coax/Toslink).

A digital signal is digital information based on '0's' and '1's' and requires conversion to create sound. Analogue is actual audio, not just a digital file.

Hope that helps.
 

iFi audio

Active Member
AVForums Sponsor
Hi
I bought an iFi Zen CAN late last year on the basis that it was one of very few headphone amps in my price range that didn't incorporate a DAC. The reason for that is that some time ago I was discussing it in an AV store with a view to connecting to my AK70 mkii. I was advised that because the AK70 has 2 DACs (not sure the fact it's 2 matters!) I didn't need an DAC/Amp combo.

My question here is would it actually matter using a combined (or even 2 separate) unit(s)?

I'm in never ending conversations with iFi over the fact that the CAN buzzes, depending on what is being used as the source so I may be in the market for a replacement. Although I'm not actually asking the question here if anyone has any thoughts on the buzzing I'd be glad to hear

for info the basic set up is
source: Astell & Kern JR, AK70 mkii, one plus 8T mobile or Samsung Galaxy Tab
linked to CAN via QED Performance Audio J2P (plus HELM DAC dongle between phone/tablet and J2P)
output to Grado SR225 headphones
I have the iPower connector for the unit

Hi Loomah,

Thank you for your question, we're happy to help where and when we can :)

I noticed you've mentioned you're in talks with us here at iFi, and I'm just popping in a courtesy message to make sure our support team have all your questions handled and answered.

If you'd like to let us know your ticket number, we can always look into this further and enable our communications are met.
 

wizball1974

Active Member
Hi
I bought an iFi Zen CAN late last year on the basis that it was one of very few headphone amps in my price range that didn't incorporate a DAC. The reason for that is that some time ago I was discussing it in an AV store with a view to connecting to my AK70 mkii. I was advised that because the AK70 has 2 DACs (not sure the fact it's 2 matters!) I didn't need an DAC/Amp combo.

My question here is would it actually matter using a combined (or even 2 separate) unit(s)?

I'm in never ending conversations with iFi over the fact that the CAN buzzes, depending on what is being used as the source so I may be in the market for a replacement. Although I'm not actually asking the question here if anyone has any thoughts on the buzzing I'd be glad to hear

for info the basic set up is
source: Astell & Kern JR, AK70 mkii, one plus 8T mobile or Samsung Galaxy Tab
linked to CAN via QED Performance Audio J2P (plus HELM DAC dongle between phone/tablet and J2P)
output to Grado SR225 headphones
I have the iPower connector for the unit

Sorry to hear you have encountered problems with the Zen Can. I have one myself, hooked up (RCA to RCA) to a desktop DAC that features dual DAC chips. I have never heard buzzing from the Zen Can.

I expect your conversations with ifi covered this already, but...
  • does using (or not using) Line Out mode on AK70 affect buzzing?
  • does the gain setting on Zen Can affect buzzing? (I would expect the 32 ohm Grados to be plenty loud enough even on lowest gain)
 

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