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iFi iCAN headphone amplifier

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #2 in Desktop Amps

Posted

Pros: Versatility from IEMs to Planars, excellent body to the sound, XBass and 3D switches, quality fun sound with authority

Cons: sound could be more opened and airy, hiss at some worse quality recordings

 I do not have much experience with many gears, but here is the short story of an amateur in the hobby, how he get to the Micro iCan.

 

I used Fiio X3 first gen. to listen to music with a Schiit Vali. (And HD600) I liked the line out of the X3, as it was much cleaner, more detailed superior sound over the headphone out. However I used the headphone out sometimes if needed some extra bass. (Hardware bass eq on X3 works just via hp out, not line out. And yes, I know it is double amping.)
Anyway, as a first gen X3 owner I had the offer from Fiio to upgrade to the second one with 40% off. So I did it, as I was curious. :)
The sound of X3ii is much better than the first gen. I loved it immediately. Cleaner, more refined, more details... But with the Schiit Vali I felt, I lost some bass, as the 2nd gen X3 does not have the hardware bass eq, just the software one. Which I do not like. And anyway, the line out sound again is much more superior to the headphone out... So I enjoyed the more refined, detailed sound with the X3ii and my Vali, but I was missing some extra bass sometimes, so I started to look for solutions.
 I did not like any software eq I tried. Cause the line out on X3 is better on its own than used as a DAC or headphone out.
So I started to look for an amp with hardware bass eq. There is not too many options in this price range. I checked some portable ones, but I wanted a desktop amp. I did not want to bother with charging battery, etc. Also I think for the same price a desktop amp usually sounds better than a portable one, as you have to pay a lot for the portable size, when size does not really matter if it is a desktop amp...
 After forgetting Fiio E12A and Headstage Arrow, decided to buy the iCan.
 Did some A/B comparison with my Vali, and the iCan came out as a clear winner.


I liked my Vali, it has a great, opened, airy, natural sound. I just need some more bass sometimes... Also it often sounded 'thin' compared to the iCan. iCan has just such a rich, full sound... Amazing. There is more body and weight to the sound. I liked the openness and airiness of the Vali. Like sound existed in an infinite space, while on iCan the space is "limited", although still huge. Weird thing is, I never heard any hiss on the Vali, while on the iCan there is some hiss sometimes at certain recordings... Without the 3D and XBass functions on, iCan is not that impressive after Vali. But with these functions on, the difference is inevitable. I feel, finally I got what I wanted. A great, big, full sound with a lot of bass if needed, and for all of this you do not have to make any compromise to have worse mids or highs, or less detailed lows... All the details and the refinement of the sound stays the same, just the bass frequencies have more (quality) juice...
Highly recommended for any kind of electronic music. But even with other genres it is amazing. So lively, so full, almost touchable sound. Worth every penny.

Posted

Pros: Very musical and smooth sounding. Great XBass and 3D implementation. Gain setting is very useful.

Cons: would be cool to have internal battery and an off button

Have been listening to my new iCAN Micro for couple weeks now. Before that I use the headphone output directly out of my iDSD Micro.

 

First of all i just want to say that iDSD Micro is great. One of the best gears i have ever bought. I buy and sell headphone gears pretty often just to try different things. that's what this hobby is all about, right? iDSD Micro is one thing i think i will never let go. It is just so flexible and good looking. Not to mention that it sounds great. I don't know how iFi guys were able to pack so many great features in such a small and beautiful package and sell it for a very reasonable price. Btw, they weren't joking about using iDSD Micro to drive the mighty HE-6. I tried and it sounds pretty good for such a small device.

 

Going back to the iCAN Micro. A lot of people will ask why one would even need the iCAN if you have already got iDSD Micro which has a very capable headphone output. After adding the iCAN Micro after iDSD Micro the sound becomes sweeter and warmer. The only complaint i had with iDSD Micro before is that it could sound a bit dry from time to time, and looks like iCAN is the perfect cure for that. I think it might have something to do with its Class A circuit. I am a Class A guy. My main stereo has a set of Pass Labs XA60.5 Class A mono amps, and i also use First Watt J2 Class A amp for my desktop system. To me a class A amp (well designed of course) just sounds more musical and more effortless. It brings you closer to the music. iCAN did exactly that. I also enjoyed the 3D and Xbass feature. For 90% of the time i listen at Xbass Mid setting and 3D Max setting. I really like iFi's implementations with both as their effects are subtle.

 

I am currently using this set as my office setup. I am completely satisfied and have no intention to make any change, nor do i think that i can do any better without spending significantly more money. I highly recommend this combo to anyone who is looking for a good and flexible desktop setup as well as with some portability. (i just took this set to London for a business trip and they worked beautifully. They didn't take much space in the bag and you can use iDSD Micro on the plane. :-))

 

oh, forgot to mention that i use this set to drive my Yuin OK1 earbuds as well as Hifiman HE-560. Both were driven beautifully by this combo.

 

Eric

 

Posted

Pros: Top notch SQ + EQ, transparency.

Cons: No gain control (*see 'update'), shape of housing.

iFi Audio is a new comer in the headphone amp scene, but it does share the same bloodline as the renowned U.K. based premium audiophiles brand AMR. While AMR already has some top end gears to offer to the speaker and full rig owner, its little sister brand seems to aim toward mainly the computer based headphone user as well as minimalist audiophiles. Their current ‘Micro’ line of devices includes the iDAC (headphone amp + USB DAC with line-out), iCAN (headphone amp), iUSB Power (USB isolator), iPhono (phone preamp) and the recently released iLink (USB to S/PDIF converter). We will cover the former three here, which are priced at US$299, US$249 and US$199 respectively (*price do vary quite a bit depends on region though).

 

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Front (from left): iUSB Power, iDAC, and iCAN.

 

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Back (from left): iCAN, iDAC, and iUSB Power.

 

Spec

 

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iDAC

DAC section:

ESS Sabre ES9023 DAC chip, fully supports up to 24bit, 192kbps resolution

XMOS based USB Audio Class 2 Asynchronous solution

Signal to Noise Ratio: >111dB(A)

Dynamic Range(-60dBFs): >111dB(A)

Crosstalk: <-102dB(1KHz)

Total Harmonic Distortion(THD): <0.005%

Jitter: Below measurement limit

Frequency Response: 3Hz to 33KHz + 0.1dB/0.3dB

Output:  Line-out, RCA jacks

Headphone amp section:

Opamp: MAX9722

Output Power: >150mW (15Ω)

Output Voltage: >3.3V (>100Ω)

Signal to Noise Ratio: >97dB(A) (400mV/300R)

Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.003% (400mV/300R)

Output Impedance (Zout): <1Ω

Power Consumption: < 2.5W

Dimensions: 158(l)x68(w)x28(h)mm

Weight: 193g(0.43lbs)

Output: 3.5mm Stereo Jack

 

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iCAN

Gain stage: Fully discrete, Class A

Buffer stage: TPA6120A2

EQ: two levels selectable 3D Holographic Sound and XBass

Signal to Noise Ratio: >117dB(A)

Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0.003%(400mV/150R)

Frequency Response: 0.5Hz to 500KHz(-3dB)

Output Power: >400mW(32Ω)

Output Voltage: >5V (>600Ω)

Input Voltage: AC 100 - 240V, 50/60Hz

Power Consumption: < 4W idle, 10W max.

Dimensions: 158(l)x68(w)x28(h)mm

Weight: 216g(0.48lbs)

Input: RCA and 3.5mm stereo jacks

Output: 6.4mm stereo jacks.

 

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iUSB Power

Two USB sockets: one data and power and one power only (*for use with iFi Gemini cable)

Output Voltage: 5V±0.5%

Output Current: 1A

Output Noise: 0.1uV(0.0000001V)

High-Speed USB 2.0: 480Mbps

Input Voltage: AC 100 - 240V, 50/60Hz (Ultra Low-Noise Power Supply included)

Power Consumption: < 9W (includes powered USB device)

Dimensions: 158(l)x68(w)x28(h)mm

Weight: 195(0.43lbs)

 

Accessories and Build Quality

iDAC comes with simple user guide, some stick-on rubber feet, RCA cable and 2 feet of really good quality USB cable (A-to-B). iCAN comes with user guide, rubber feet, 6.4mm-to-3.5mm adapter, RCA cable, 3.5mm interconnecting cable, as well as a 9V power adapter. iUSB Power comes with the same 9V power adapter, rubber feet, user guide, USB cable as well as an USB-to-barrel plug cable. Oddly there is no mentioning anywhere about the function of the USB-to-barrel plug cable - but given the barrel plug has the same diameter as the 9V power adapter (which comes with both iCAN and iUSB Power) and it certainly can’t plug into itself, the reasonable assumption is that the cable is meant to plugged into the power only USB port at one end and iCAN on the other, serving as iCAN power supply – I tested it and it works just as assumed (* it might work with iPhono as well but I have no mean of testing it). Anyway, there seems to be no degradation of SQ by using iUSB Power as iCAN power supply based on brief listening. It is actually a very neat feature, especially when you are using iUSB Power to connect to iDAC then iDAC to iCAN. It helps to eliminate the need of an extra power adapter – however, it does come with a cost and we will discuss it on the next section. Another fun fact is that I can use this cable with a portable USB power bank to power up the iCAN and function almost like a portable amp – ‘almost’ because the sheer size and weight of iCAN + external battery are too much for portable use.

 

[UPDATE] From iFi: the USB-to-barrel plug is intended for Squeeze Box Touch.

 

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iDAC

 

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iCAN

 

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iUSB Power

 

Build quality is top notch. The whole Micro line use the same high quality, almost tank like aluminum housing, which is a bit too long if I am nitpicking. The real issue is that the long and narrow housing kind of limits where all the sockets can be placed. I can’t say these are the most sensible of design, but they are not terrible enough to stop me from using them. It is just that I have an urge to want to stack them up but the looping of the cable from front to back - well, isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing. Beyond that however, I can say that all three units are excellent in quality. The (top and bottom) marking on the housing really gives them a premium look and they are not cheap, easy-to-scratch paint job.

 

Gain and Hiss

Gain on both iDAC and iCAN are on the high side. No official number that I know of, but my basic measurement shows that iDAC has a gain of around +15dB, with a max output of around 4.7Vrms. The line-out is a fairly standard 1.95Vrms. For iCAN, gain is about +17dB with max output of around 6.67Vrms (*iDAC as source).

 

With such high gain, volume tends to get too loud too fast when a low impedance, high sensitivity IEM (or similar full size) is used. With Shure SE530, I can barely go pass 8 o’clock on the iDAC’s volume knob. But on such a low position, the problem of imbalance inherent in all potentiometer becomes quite apparent. At the end, I have to lower the software volume on the PC to get them to play nice together. iCAN also doesn’t fare much better as well. It would have been great if there is a gain switch on both devices. On the upside, both have plenty of power to drive high impedance headphone without a problem. This is especially true for iCAN. [UPDATE: the newer iCAN now comes with gain switch, detail see last section of the review]

 

Hiss prone IEM (i.e. Shure SE530 again) can pick up minor hissing when the volume knob is turned close to 12 o’clock. However, this shouldn’t be too big of a deal since it is almost impossible for sensitive headphone to get this loud in actual use due to the high gain. In any case, IEM user must take note if your main IEM is low impedance, high sensitivity and hiss prone – while both iDAC and iCAN will still work, they might not be the best option in practice.

 

On previous section, we talk about using iUSB Power for both iDAC and iCAN at the same time to eliminate the need of an extra power adapter, but it comes with a cost – that cost is hiss, and in quite a noticeable level too. This is likely because any benefit of isolating the USB ground from the iUSB Power is lost. So at the end, it is still better to stick to the stock power adapter.

 

ULN.jpg

 

On the topic of stock power adapter - iFi Audio seems to be especially proud of it. They call it the ‘ULN’, or Ultra Low-Noise adapter. It is based on switch mode circuit, which is traditionally considered to be much noisier* than linear circuit (*due to the ripple created by the fast switching nature of the switching circuit), but have the advantage of being inexpensive and more versatile in application. In the case of ULN adapter however, iFi Audio has taken the time to craft out an adapter of exceptionally low noise (and they have shown measurement done on various adapters with tech paper). Based on my poking around of the inner on all three models, I also notice they have put a lot of know-how into noise filtration and elimination on the power line – not just on iUSB Power, but also on iDAC and iCAN. All and all, I am pretty impressed by their attention to detail on the power section.

 

Sound Quality

RMAA measurement on both iDAC and iCAN show no issue. In fact, iCAN performance has excessed the resolution of my measuring setup so it looks pretty much perfect. While the headphone-out on iDAC doesn’t measure as well, it is still considered excellent by my standard (low noise, flat FR curve, etc). Output impedance on iDAC is too low for my measurement, which is of course a very good thing. On the iCAN, it is about 1ohm (*more on this later). Both have excellent current output into my usual 47ohm and 23.5ohm fixed load test so that’s not a problem as well.

 

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iDAC underbelly.

 

Let talk about iDAC first. The internal DAC chip is the ESS Sabre ES9023, which is the most common DAC among the ESS line-up. We have seen it on really budget USB DAC like the HiFimeDIY’s Sabre USB DAC and Stoner Audio UD100, to the more modestly priced ODAC and some really expensive DAC. On the DAC section alone, some of the more standout features of iDAC include the full 24bit, 192kbps resolution and USB asynchronous mode. These are done by employing a XMOS microcontroller with 3 reference clocks (one for USB and two for sampling rates). The USB power line also seems to be internally regulated so a little bit of ‘dirty’ USB power shouldn’t be an issue. While these are all good on paper, I have to say that these features are not something obvious to the listening. To be honest, how many can tell a good jitter from a great jitter, or a somewhat dirty USB power line from a clean USB power line? I am not sure I can. If we were to talk about just the actual sound of the line-out, it does closely resemble that of ODAC or UD100. It is not a case where you will say ‘wow, this ES9023 sounds better than the rest’. No, they all sound darn good – clean, transparent, well resolved, and those are things you can expect from any well implemented ES9023.

 

The real interesting bit about iDAC is in its headphone amp section. It uses a MAX9722, which is hardly a top range opamp. But the key is in its implementation, as it sounds good enough to give me the impression of iDAC being ‘ODAC + O2 roll into one device'. Okay, frankly speaking the headphone amp section still isn’t quite beat the O2 in overall performance, but it is really close. It carries the same flavour of top quality transparency in its sound. The only two noticeable areas that are not quite on par are: First, the overall image on the iDAC headphone amp not being quite as large and grand as O2. Second, the bass hit is a tad softer. Try to scale the O2 down 10%~15%, and that’s what you will hear on iDAC. Still, it is admirable and could even compete head-to-head with some standalone sub$150 amp on its own. I’ll call that a win for any headphone amp section built into an USB DAC. If I were a minimalist, I would have been very happy with just the iDAC alone.

 

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iCAN underbelly

 

iCAN is also an very interesting piece of gear of its own right. By looking on the inner, the ‘Class A TubeState’ section is, as far as I can tell, a fully discrete gain stage, then it employs TPA6120A2 as the buffer stage. If anything, TPA6120 has a good reputation on its sound quality and raw power, but almost always being dissed for its high output impedance. The minimum 10ohm output resistors needed for stability put TPA6120 into obvious disadvantages when it comes to low impedance headphone (*lack of electrical dampening) and even worst, low impedance multi-driver headphone with passive crossover (*coloration). But iFi is clever enough to use inductor bypassed by a small value resistor to achieve the same stability without any of the downside.

 

So how does it sound? In sum, identical to O2 – and that’s the highest possible complement I can give to any headphone amp(*for those who don’t know the O2 – it is a headphone amp designed with measurement to deliver the best possible transparency and performance to any sub 300ohm headphone). It is hard-pressed to find any difference in their sound when volume matched. The same authority, control, power, resolution and soundstage are shared between the two. There is no sound signature to speak of, as both are totally transparent and neutral in flavor. With the 30+ amps I have owned, just  a small handful of them are able to partially match O2 in overall sound quality, and only iCAN can deliver near identical performance. They are, in my opinion, true ‘reference level’ headphone amp for others to measure up to. But the story doesn’t end there – beside top-notch sound quality, iCAN has two very functional EQ as well: the 3D Holographic Sound and XBass. We will discuss more on them in the EQ section.

 

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iUSB Power underbelly.

 

Confession: it is never my intention to get the iUSB Power to use with iDAC (or iCAN) in the first place. I needed a good USB isolator for other application and iUSB Power fits the bill. So there is no expectation that it will improve the SQ of iDAC. In fact, my PC has really clean USB power so I never run into trouble with any of my USB DAC before. But since I have it, might as well use it for its original intended purpose. RMAA measurement is carried out on both iDAC’s line-out as well as on UD100, with and without the iUSB Power, plus with and without isoEarth (ground noise elimination system) engaged. Result? Well, nothing is really different between the measurements. Audibly, I also can’t detect any difference on both UD100 and iDAC line-out as well. My conclusion is, since I know I have really clean USB port in the first place, any benefit from the iUSB Power should be minimum at best. But the story didn’t end there – does iUSB Power brings any improvement to the setup? Yes, it is to the iDAC’s headphone-out. As I have said previously, iDAC headphone amp section is like a scaled down O2. With the iUSB Power however, the soft hitting bass get turn up a notch and the overall soundstage opens up, especially in the depth. It seems to take on a slightly different personality than just a ‘baby O2’. It kind of reminds me of JDS Labs’ C421-AD8620 more than O2, but it is certainly closer to the performance level of O2 than before. My guess is, since PC’s USB port is limited to 500mA while the iUSB Power can supply up to 1A, the improvement of the headphone amp section is a sign of the extra juice. The reason why neither UD100 (which only outputs line-out) nor iDAC line-out show any difference is because neither of them is designed to output current, so the extra current supply make no difference. Well, that the best theory I have anyway.

 

The big question is, does it worth getting the iUSB Power? As I have said before, I would have been very happy with just the iDAC alone. The improvement from iUSB Power is noticeable, but not quite the doubling of total price. If you are looking for the best bang for the buck, I would think iDAC alone is more than suffice. iUSB Power is the option for those who really want the best of the best at any cost. Also, as I have mentioned, iUSB Power will likely to be more beneficial to those USB DAC that has a headphone amp or meant to drive headphone directly. So if you are only using iDAC as line-out (or USB DAC like UD100, which is limited to line-out only), you might not get a clear cut result.

 

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Triple Stack (from top): iCAN, iDAC, and iUSB Power.

 

EQ

iCAN comes with two EQ: 3D Holographic Sound (3DHS) and XBass. Both have two levels of adjustments.

 

The first level of 3DHS is pretty much the same as most crossfeed implementations I have heard before (HeadRoom BitHead, Meier Audio Corda 3MOVE, FiiO E12, etc), neither better nor worst. I generally don’t find crossfeed of this type to be particularly useful or enjoyable, so I usually don’t use it. The 2nd level of 3DHS on the other hand is a completely different beast. It sounds much closer to a full 3D simulation, like a cross between SRS and BBE in a very good way. It gives a very ‘surround sound’ effect without overdoing anything or making it sounds fake. It is good enough that I first thought that it must have some kind of DSP processing involved, but it is actually all analog based, which is actually quite impressive.

 

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XBass: light and heavy boost.

 

The two levels of XBass are closer to a sub-bass boost. First level starts just under 200Hz and peaks around +7dB @ 20Hz. The 2nd level starts just under 800Hz and peaks around +9dB @ 20Hz. Both are strong at boosting sub-bass but have minimum effect over the rest of the frequency range. Overall, they perform very well.

 

Both 3DHS and XBass can be engaged at the same time with different combo. They are quite fun to play with and can be very useful to some headphone. They are really icing of the cake to the already great sounding iCAN.

 

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Size comparison: iCAN, iDAC and iUSB Power with O2 (left), FiiO E12 (right) and FireStone Auido Fireye HD (lower right).

 

…in Summery

All and all, I am quite impressed by all three iFi ‘Micro’ gears. They perform well and priced reasonably. You can probably get an ODAC + O2 combo that is a little cheaper and offer similar sound quality, but you won’t get as much features as either iDAC or iCAN. The only thing I wish to have is a gain switch on iDAC and iCAN most because I am mainly an IEM user. Too much gain makes for much lesser control over volume. Beyond that, I have no problem recommending them. iDAC is a great option as an all-in-one solution while iCAN is an fantastic headphone amp. As for iUSB Power, it is not a ‘must have’ unless you are pushing for the last few percent of the performance, but it does its job as claimed. For a relatively fresh brand, iFi has made a good name for itself with these Micro gears and proven that it has the same audiophile blood in its veil as its higher-end sibling.

 

A thank to iFi Audio for the iDAC and iCAN review unit.

 

[UPDATE June 5th, 2013]

Just received a press release from iFi that they have revised the iCAN and now it comes with gain switch for user selectable 0dB, 10dB and 20dB gain setting. Those who own an older iCAN can send their back and upgrade to the newer version with a fixed US$50 / £40 fee + shipping. The MSRP of the new version of iCAN is however the same as the old model, which is US$249. You'll need to contact the original seller / retailer for the upgrade program.

 

Must give praise to iFi for listening to their customer and implemented the gain switch at last. With the new gain switch, the iCAN is near perfect.

Posted

Pros: Good sound, sane price, drives pretty much everything you throw at it, 3D sound and XBass work well to help out otherwise deficient headphones

Cons: Not portable/battery power, could sound a touch warmer and more tubey for me

When you listen from the loudspeakers, your right ear not only hears the sound from the right loudspeaker, it hears the sound from your left loudspeaker too and the same for left. When using headphones, you right ear ONLY hears the sound from the right headphone, nothing from the left headphone and the same reverse.  That’s why the music is always inside your head when listening through headphones.  But with loudspeakers, you hear sound coming from the front and around you just like inside a concert hall. To me this is a major problems with headphones and makes me listen to them as little as possible, until recently.

At the recent National Audio Show in September I came across a refreshing new feature, the “Headzones”, even though the mostly shockingly young people hanging out there made me feel a right old fogie. I rather enjoyed having a butchers at the latest top of the line Stax Headphones, but they are still no more practical, portable or less dear than ever. The so-so sounding entry level model is already 750 squid.

I also rather fancied a dishy looking Headphone Amplifier called the SPL Phonitor.  It’s got lots of twiddley knobs and switches and those groovy meters. The guy on the Decent Audio stand was great, allowing to twiddle the knobs to my heart’s content. With all them knobs and switches set somehow right, the Phonitor was able to pull the music right out of my head, which is where it belongs. I never heard anything like it! But the price is a wee bit rich even for my salary…

Later I saw something else though, the iFi Components and especially the iCAN on Demo with a small Laptop and Sennheiser Headphones. I pulled out my own JVC’s and listened. The one good thing of Cans that I will begrudgingly admit is that you can take your Cans and have a personal demo there and then. You don’t need to take it home and set things up to see if you have a chance of liking it!

This little box did pretty much the same “out of my head” trick as the SPL Phonitor, added some bass processing that the Phonitor lacks (did good on my JVC’s) and sounded generally the bees knees and the whole little set of components included not only a DAC and an extra upgrade power supply for the DAC (like my Naim CD-Player! ). Best is they came in for a bit over halve the cost of the Phonitor and included a DAC in the bargain. I was there when I overheard a guy from an e-zine and he seemed to really like the iFi sonics.

The iCAN headphone amplifier with its “3D Sound” and “X-Bass” helps me to enjoy music from my headphones EVER so much more. I again listen to music throughout much of the day. The little stack of iFi gear on my desk has quickly become a bit of talking point in the office and I occasionally get to demonstrate what they do to a colleague. I have tested many Headphones using this Amp and have yet to find something it cannot drive.

I have used high impedance Sennheiser HD-600, low impedance Audio Technica's, HiFiman Planars and now even Micro Seiki electrostatic headphones via their "Power Source" interface box. Sometimes a hair more power would be nice, but this is rare, for all the phones I tried and most music in most situation there is Loudness to spare.

I leave the 3D Sound processing mostly on and on max. I have yet to find a set of 'cans that I like better without it. The presentation is not like listening to a band in front of you or even listening through speakers, but it is a major step in the right direction. I really miss the 3D Sound feature with my Smartphone and really wish iFi would make a smaller, battery powered portable amp with the same feature, or even better a player plugin for either Android Phones or iPhone (I'd actually buy an Apple Phone just to get 3D Sound on the go).

XBass is a lifesaver for bass-shy headphones! Where you would normally just write them off as sad, bad and criminally bass shy. Set XBass to restore the balance to "normal" and you can appreciate what these headphones do really well. With my recent Charity Shop find, the Micro Seiki MX-1 electrostatic headphones XBass makes the difference between 'cans with terrific mids and treble, very open but lacking bass and sounding think and weedy to well balanced 'cans that handle natural acoustic bass (Jazz, Classical) very well and are hard to put down. Of course, headphones that already have killer bass (e.g. HiFiman HE-500) do not need XBass and it gets turned off with these.

Overall tonality is nice and slightly warm, but to my ears a touch more "tube like" sound would not go amiss. As it stands the iCAN helped me to really re-discover and re-like Headphone listening. Nothing before it did that for me since I graduated from headphones to speakers in my teens and non of the other headphone Amp's I had a chance to test so far (Carot One Ernestolo, FIIO E17, Musiland HP-11, Naim Headline and Rega Ear) except the > 2 Grand Phonitor (not auditioned outside shows) have ever come close to giving me that enjoyment. With the Electrostatic Headphones I now have it provides some of the best and most enjoyable sound from headphones ever.

Note, I paid 249 Pound, not the 249 Dollars one pays in the US, bloody rip-off Britain - an extra 30% on top of the US price in taxes and other bollocks!

Posted

Pros: 3D sounds, bass boost, small form factor

Cons: No power switch, could use more power

There’s an amp that’s been making its rounds on Head-Fi for a while now, the iFi iCan. I’ve seen it pop up around various threads and I’ve always been curious but I never saw myself really wanting it.

 

The iCan’s 3D HolographicSound system is what intrigued me most about this amp. It’s nothing new, by any means, as it’s a ­variable crossfeed switch. It’s the execution that makes this little guy so impressive. There are three stages to the crossfeed: no crossfeed, a mild crossfeed, and a more liberal crossfeed. Per the user’s guide, iFi recommends using the first crossfeed level for recordings with “excessive” stereo effect and the second level for more flat recordings.

 

I found that which 3D setting I used depended on the source material I feeding into the iCan. For example, I had a few Ray Charles recordings where I heard no difference whatsoever with the 3D switch on or off. But then when I put on some Daft Punk each 3D step made an improvement on the soundstage. And when I had some Ellington and Coltrane playing I preferred the middle setting, as when it was fully on it felt too big and almost artificial.

 

The second switch on the iCan is a bass adjustment. Like the 3D switch it also has three different stages; no boost, a mild boost and a slightly more aggressive boost. When I was using the bass boost I found that the mild boost was the most pleasing with both my Sennheiser HD650 and MrSpeakers Mad Dogs. Since the 3D switch adds more air to the sound the bass boost is a welcomed addition.

 

For gaming I didn’t care much for the 3D switch when positional queues are critical. I could get a general location for the source of the sound but it let me down on more than one occasion while playing multiplayer shooters. That said, I did enjoy having the 3D on when playing immersive games. Playing Borderlands 2 and Skyrim it seemed to help smooth the ambient sounds when I moved and made the game more immersive. And for games like Skyrim, which are all about immersion, better sound makes a world of difference.

 

There are a couple of downsides to the iCan. The first is that there is no power switch. This is an inconvenience for me as I don't want to leave an amp sitting on all the time and I'd prefer to have a button rather than to plug/unplug the amp whenever I'm using it. It's inconvenient and could cause unnecessary strain on the power connections, possibly even permanent damage. Another drawback is the power output. For the price of the iCan, you can get amps like the Schiit Asgard 2, Matrix M-Stage, Bottlehead Crack and many more. The $250 range is pretty well catered for in the amp market. The iCan doesn’t have as much power as another amp of mine, the Aune T1; in fact it has less than half the power. But when you factor in the bass boost and the 3D switch I find the iCan more enjoyable even considering the power difference. Even so I would still love to see more power behind the signal.

 

I want to thank Chicolom for loaning out his iCan for my use. Without his loan I doubt I’d have heard one of these anywhere else on my own. And thanks to his loan I’m now considering purchasing one myself.

Posted

Pros: Excellent warm sound, Powerful, Detailed, Transparent, Black silent background, Form factor and design

Cons: I don't know why they didn't design the amp with an on/off switch, Slight interference at lowest volume

 There were many amps in 250$ range to choose from, but I liked iCAN's unique design and the shape. I don't have many headphones to do a comparison. I'm not a big fan of bass boost and 3D, but sometimes I do use bass boost on one dot position (by the way, I'd like the one dot setting to come after the direct setting). 
The bass boost works perfectly and doesn't bleed to mid range (in one dot setting). The 3D holographic effect works fine with some tracks, you have to figure out on your own. 
I'm very much pleased with this amp, if you are looking for an amp in 250$ range, do consider the iCAN micro, because it's very powerful and very smooth sounding amp.

 

 ✔ ifi audio makes Hi-Fi quality audio (or even audiophile quality) stuff for affordable prices!

Posted

Pros: Fun settings to play with, good amp for the new enthusiast looking for his/her first amp,

Cons: can sound a little hot in the treble with some headphones when 3D boost is used, slight bleed into lower mids when max bass boost is used

 

Posted

Pros: Powerful, transparent, fantastic soundstage

Cons: No power button

Let me first make it clear that I am using a demo version of the ICan, sent to me by Vince at IFi. The reason for this is that as well as being a part time audiophile, I also run a video production company and we will be working with IFi to produce some videos later this year. Vince sent me the unit to get an understanding of how their technology works. 

 

So onto the device itself... Wow! I must confess I was expecting this to be a fairly standard amp, and that the extra features (X-Bass and 3D) would be nothing more than gimmicks... I am happy to be proved very wrong. The amp itself is powerful enough to run both my IEMs (Heir 8as) and my full size cans (HD650s) without a problem. It is also transparent, which I always favour in an amp, as I don't like unnecessarily colouring the sound of my headphones.

 

The X-Bass works well, but to be honest with you, not something I use an awful lot as my 8as are bassy enough already. I do use the first setting on the HD650s though to add a touch.

 

The 3D setting... now this is the bit that impressed me! It really does expand the soundstage in a realistic manner, which I just didn't expect. I guess this is the bit I thought would be all gimmick and no substance and at best that it would add an unrealistic effect, at worst it would degrade the audio quality. Nothing could be further from the truth, to the point I now listen to most of my music with the highest setting on ;)

 

One slight omission in my opinion (and has been stated by a few others) is a power switch. I just don't like having things switched on all the time and without this the only other option is to unplug it from the mains. This is nitpicking really though and could be a consideration for an updated design later on down the road. 

 

So do I like the ICan... Err, yes! This little box of tricks has delivered way above my expectations, with some great features I just hadn't anticipated. In fact I like it so much I am now planning to buy the new nano portable version to pair with my AK120 :D

Posted

Pros: Small, Transparent but not cold/analytical, Smooth treble, RCA AND 1/8" input

Cons: No power switch, Somewhat narrow soundstage, Price could be $50 lower, Weird switch labels

This will be a short review based on maybe on 12-15 hours of use. If you think that's not long enough you can skip it.

 

I was a bit worried that this would be some cheap gimmicky toy amp because of the name. This is instead a seriously good amp! I love it.

 

  • Sounds great with ALL my headphones and does not add any major coloration to any of them. It works equally well with the HD-598, HD-650, K400, DJ100 and modded Q701. It sounded especially good with the hard to drive K400! All my headphones and music sounds as it should.
  • Sounds transparent but it's not cold/analytical/thin sounding. There is a subtle touch of warmth in there. It will be nice for even a DT-990 or SR-325is. This warmth is only noticeable on specific headphones and harder on others. I noticed it on my DJ100 and HD-650. It never ever sounds thin unless it's due to the recording.
  • The treble is well extended and not rolled off. It's much smoother than the treble of the O2 or Magni. About the same as my Headroom Micro Amp.
  • Bass is well controlled and neutral. There is no emphasis I've heard in any area.
  • Soundstage is lacking in width somewhat. With the HD-650 it's less spacious/open and airy sounding than with my O2/Micro Amp. The O2 is less warm though and has more treble sparkle (less smooth). It's possible my brain is just being fooled, but I'm pretty sure it's not. It's still pretty good and not as bad as it sounds. Nit-picking really. I got similar results on many difference sources.
  • To my ears it's a better "all-rounder" amp than the O2/Magni/Asgard/Vali/E9. It does cost more though.
  • It's the 2nd best amp i've heard. It's not as good as the Headroom Micro Amp + Astrodyne but that cost $350 new. It's the closest i've come to it's sound. The iCAN might be a tad warmer though.
  • I have an O2 for my bedroom (backup) and it's not worth upgrading to this as a backup. If I didn't have my Micro Amp I'd be using this as my main amp. It's that good!
  • I'm able to hear changes in all the sources I connect up to it. There is really no real coloration coming from the amp. Just that touch of warmth.
  • If you found the O2 too sparkly, try this (or the Micro Amp)! Is it worth the $140 price premium? Well if you nit-pick about tiny things like me, then yes. If iFi can get it down to $200 in the USA it'd be a STEAL!

Posted

Pros: Detailed, Exciting, Awesome Bass and Soundstage. Sounds much more than £225, feels like much more than £225

Cons: No on/off switch

 

 

In Audiophile world most people think then more expensive its better, iCAN proves its not always true.

iCAN is a great performing small desktop amp with amazing features at its price point of £225. Anyone who wants more bass or more space and detail from their headphones will be happy.

 

headphones used:

HD650

HD800

 

Amp used:

Graham Slee Novo £255

Graham Slee Solo SRG II £377

Lehmann Rhinelander £349

Lehmann Audio Black Cube Linear £649 good sound but compare to price 3 times as iCAN

Sennheiser HDVD-800 (but that the other story, I almost cry!!!) clear perfection!! £1499

 

Comparing to amps in the same price range and above this is a true winner.

iFi iCAN headphone amplifier
By:
Description:

Creating a one-box-fits-all-headphones amplifier was a challenge. That’s because headphones are a diverse lot. So when our engineers designed the new iCAN, they didn’t start with the amplifier; they started with the headphones. Unlike traditional headphone amplifiers, the design of the iCAN is based on the whole gamut of headphones. This atypical approach has bestowed upon the iCAN a unique ability to realise the full potential of each and every headphone. First and foremost, it was designed for the finest sound quality. With XBass you hear deeper, richer and cleaner bass. The 3D Holographic Sound system creates headphone-based music that is free-flowing rather than restricted.

Details:
DetailValue
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC

Related Media/Links:

http://www.ifi-audio.com/en/iCAN.html



Troubleshooting/Known Issues:

Does not work with Energiser XP-8000 Battery Pack, the 9-12V output is 12V and will cause protection circuitry to shut the amp off after a short time.

 

Specifications:  
Signal to Noise Ratio: >117dB(A)
Total Harmonic Distortion(THD): <0.003%(400mV/150R)
Frequency Response: 0.5Hz to 500KHz(-3dB)
Output Power: >400mW(32Ω)
Output Impedance:(Zout): <0.5Ω
Input Voltage: AC 100 - 240V, 50/60Hz
Power Consumption: < 4W idle, 10W max.
Dimensions: 158(l)x68(w)x28(h)mm
Weight: 216g(0.48lbs)

 

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