The majestic Mezes
The original ZEN CAN, our all-analogue headphone amplifier, had the ability to drive tough headphone loads with a balanced circuit design, vanishingly low levels of distortion and exceptional sonics. The specially tuned ZEN CAN Signature 6XX and ZEN CAN Signature HFM swiftly followed.
However, there was one more headphone we thought deserved the ActiveEQ treatment – the Meze 99 Classics.
We love this headphone and know it works well with our gear but we just wanted to push its performance as far as we could.
Our ActivEQ feature combines active and passive components to create a specific EQ curve to suit a particular pair of headphones. This is performed in the analogue domain without adding any additional noise or distortion.
The Meze 99 Classics are revered the world over for their exceptional tonality and dynamic expression – they are loved by artists and audio enthusiasts alike. The ZEN CAN Signature MZ99, with the perfectly matched ActivEQ mode, adjusts the treble for more ‘vivaciousness’, and the enhanced mid-low bass extracts the last drop of sonic goodness from the Meze 99 Classics.
The Meze 99 Classics & ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 performance is simply magnificent.
99 is the magic number
Selecting the MZ99 button on the ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 calibrates its signal to complement the headphone’s response characteristics right across the frequency range. This then tunes its performance to work with Meze 99 headphones.
The ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 does not only work with the Meze 99 Classics, but also with the Meze 99 Neo and the Meze 99 by Drop.
As with our previous ZEN CAN Signature models, this feature can be switched on or off. Without ActivEQ engaged, the ZEN CAN Signature MZ99’s performance will bring out the best in all other headphones and in-ear monitors.
Gain, set, match
The ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 has four gain settings in six dB steps – 0dB, 6dB, 12dB and 18db. We’ve called this PowerMatch.
This enables the amp to precisely suit the connected headphones. Unity gain (0dB) is useful to ensure low noise with sensitive in-ear monitors, while the higher gain settings make the most of tougher headphone loads, delivering excellent dynamic headroom.
This analogue processing mode compensates for the ‘in-head localisation’ effect that can occur when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed using a pair of speakers.
It widens the headphone soundstage to deliver a more spacious and speaker-like experience.
Balanced is better
The ZEN CAN Signature MZ99’s circuitry is a balanced, symmetrical dual-mono design – a topology usually reserved for high-end headphone amps – with a number of key elements trickled down from the discrete Class A circuitry developed for iFi’s flagship headphone amplifier, the Pro iCAN.
Key components have been upgraded to enhance performance in line with the improvements made to the ZEN CAN Signature MZ99, including the use of Panasonic OS-CON and Elna Silmic II capacitors.
A ‘meze’ ing
The amp provides magnificent drive capability, delivering 1600mW (7.2V) into 32 ohms from the single-ended output, with 15V+ available to loads of 600 ohms or more through the balanced output.
The ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 delivers monumentally low distortion, rich sonic detail, and mesmerising dynamics and the ability to drive all manner of headphones with ease.
The ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 offers stereo RCA and 3.5mm single-ended inputs, plus a balanced 4.4mm Balanced input. There is also a 4.4mm balanced output so you can connect to power amps equipped with a balanced input.
It features a pair of headphone outputs – a 6.3mm output for headphones that have a standard single-ended connector (compatible with all headphones) and a 4.4mm Balanced output for headphones offering balanced connection.
An increasing number of high-quality headphones and in-ear monitors either come so equipped or give the option of detaching the cable and upgrading to a 4.4mm Balanced connector, and this output makes the most of them (it is particularly recommended for high-impedance headphones).
Making magic happen
The ZEN CAN Signature MZ99 works magically with the ZEN DAC Signature V2.
Although you can buy each unit separately, a ‘ZEN Signature Set’ is also available. This includes both ZEN Signature units plus a high-performance 4.4mm Balanced cable (worth £69 when purchased separately) to connect them together.
When used together, the two ZEN Signatures make an unbeatable, desktop-sized headphone system for both digital and analogue listening.
more headphone power
Most modern systems use Digital Signal Processing. DSP samples analogue sound waves into a limited set of numbers and records them. The overuse of DSP can result in an over compressed unnatural sound and the translation and reassembly of data make digital devices prone to loss of quality.
All iFi products use Analogue Signal Processing as we believe it is better suited to audio. ASP does not cause signal quality to be lost as it records waveforms as they are and produces a more natural sound.
Gain is the amount of increase in audio signal strength. Gain is often expressed in decibels (dB).
So, what is a soundstage? Imagine yourself in a small theatre, 10 rows from the front, dead centre, watching an orchestra perform on stage. Now close your eyes. This is the ‘sound stage.’
In audio speak, it is an imaginary 3D space created by the high-quality reproduction of sound in a stereo speaker system. In other words, the soundstage allows the listener to hear the placement of the orchestra vis-a-vis instruments when listening to a given piece of music.
An unbalanced headphone cable has a left + and right + wire, for each respective side. The other, the third – wire is shared by both left and right channels. As this is shared, this gives rise to undesired coupling noise which is commonly referred to as ‘crosstalk.’
A balanced cable has the same left + and right +. But it has a separate left – and right -. With totally separate wiring ‘crosstalk’ is negligible. Therefore, a balanced connection is the superior headphone wiring configuration.