iFi Audio stunned me from the very first time that I saw local distributor E1-AKG posted info regarding their products line-up in our local forum. Why? Because the line-up is really special,and for me they are really innovative and offer line-up that is really important and useful in everyone setup,and those often been forgotten,such as iUSB and iDAC. I am actually interested to know more on the other products in the line-up,but start from the iCAN,I feel nothing but impressed from head to toe,what iFI have been produced here,at least iCAN (I have not yet experienced with iDAC and iUSB),is really astounding.
Sincerely thanks for Vincent from iFi to provide me this unit of iCAN to accomplish this review. I will be concentrate on the sound/audio performance in this write up.
Description,Packaging and Outlook
iFi website has stated the specification and description of the iCAN clearly. And this is what Vincent told me:
iFi pronounced i and Fi - so “interactive fidelity”
1. The analogue sections of the iFi gear (iDAC, iCAN and iPHONO) all run Class A (which is quite unusual at this price point.
2. They are directly coupled (and a bit more) so there are no output coupling capacitors
Our philosophy is that we do 95% of the hard graft and leave the last 5% for the customer to choose – audio is subjective after all.
- Each user has different headphones
- Each user may have multiple headphones
So the XBass is to all fine adjustment of the headphone to suit.
Recordings are largely created for speakers, not headphones, hence the “in your head” aural sensation
The 3D Hologographic Sound System is not ‘just crossfeed”. We are quite meticulous about understanding the sound reproduction process. So we understand how recordings are made and how the human ear ‘hears’. The 3D is a way to redress the recording to suit listening “in the ear”.
Last but not least, our technology comes from AMR and they make US$5,000 to US$15,000 high-end audio equipment.
----------Vincent from iFi Audio
iCAN come with a trendy,clean and simple box. The box reminded me some kind of fruit phone's packaging box. While the packaging box is quite good,opened up and the accessories included are also impressive,a Ultra Low Noise Ac/DC adapter (this unit is no ordinary adapter that you might find,this is a truly low noise and high quality Ac/Dc adapter according to iFi),RCA (Female to male) cable,3.5mm cable (Male to Male) and some sheet,impressive and well done! I should have mentioned that iCAN accept 3.5mm inline and RCA jack.
From the price perspective, I don't think iCAN is a expensive headphone amplifier. All right,I do earn hard money but please consider this headphone amplifier is designed together/by AMR, the accessories included in the package, and the build quality of this amplifier is excellent,solid and built like tank.
The volume knob,and the toggle switch are all constructed by high quality and robust material, the design is simple and straight forward. I have some minor compain though,the volume knob is a little bit stiff to turn and the marking of XBass/3D level is not same and clear (I have to look closely to see,but I have get used to this after some short time,but I think this can be corrected by next product,first stage of XBass is 'off',but first stage of 3D is 'strongest',this is quite confusing at first,and I am wondered why they design iCAN toggle switch position like this),but these are all small problem,and nothing to do with audio performance of iCAN. I have 98% to like the iCAN,and only 2% to dislike.
I have paired Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 250 Ohm, Focal Spirit One,Creative Aurvana Live!, Goldring DR150,Shure SE425 along with Yu Long D100II Dac section and Stoner Acoustic UD100 DAC. Connected through Monster RCA cable.
Now lets moved into the more fun and most important section of the iCAN.
I know that some of you are getting really itchy to know how this beast sound,iCAN has some of the very good sound quality. Let me elaborate more below.
As I have already mentioned and maybe you have already know,iCAN has bass boost feature,which iFi named them 'XBass',well,this is a good and favourable feature. If you have followed my review,you must already know that I am a big fan of the bass boost function,I am not a basshead,also I hate those bass boost simply cut too much treble response or any closed sound signature,but for those bass boost that just boost the bass and give you good frequency response for mid and high,I am glad to tell you that iCAN bass boost is the kind that fits my and most of us liking.
When I paired the Focal Spirit One with iCAN particularly,the bass impact and depth of the bass is remarkably good,it shakes my head with or without turning on the 'XBass' features,the bass is clear and whole spectrum is just nice,you won't get bloated or too much bass when the 'XBass' features are turned off,what you will get is clear and good presentation of bass. Turning on the bass boost features,it turn my world around and became a bass monster.
Afraid of recessed or bad treble response from iCAN? No worries! Treble is good and sparkly, I paired it with Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro250 ohm,played 鸭子拌咀 by chinese master 阎学敏，the response is good,with good sense of detail and response,not recessed at all. But this is not the best pairing for this song,I paired it with Goldring DR150 and this pairing give me much better and revealing treble. In short,high frequency and treble response is really good,added some warmth and richness to the music,blessed with enjoyable music experience.
I double confirmed this by playing Milestone (The Fred Hersch Trio Plays),the high frequency and treble is there with good presentation,it is never too much. Played 'The Fred Hersch Trio Plays' album,and I am immersed in the music.
iCAN do give me some rich sound,this will be a great pairing if you have a thin sounding headphone just like DR150,make DR150 a truly enjoyable headphone than I thought it was really is.
Smooth,rich and up-front sound
Yes, from what I have listened, I do think that sound signature of iCAN is smooth,rich and up-front,iCAN can be a naughty and fun headphone amp if you slip your hand to the 'XBass' toggle button,without turning 'XBass' on,the sound is already enjoyable and bass has already in good presentation. Also,iCAN is clean sounding with good speed.
So I played Patriot Games album by James Horner,I have been attacked by deep and robust bass,and surround by the fast pace music. Especially the forth tracks,the hits.
This is a feature that appeared on the iCAN,done very nice and I do heard some expansion in soundstage when I switched it on. But strangely,I do think that switch it off I can get better soundstage than turning it on,and I do get some audible noise when I turn it on,but nothing significant.
I am one of the guy that appreciate simplicity,so most of the time I just turned it off.
Wait!! How is the midrange and soundstage performance??
Vocal is forward,not those will split right in your face,but vocal definitely has good presentation. Guitar sounded nicely as well,midrange performed nicely. I don;t find any of the frequency spectrum is boosted (When you switched off the 'XBass' feature). Really I have no complain for the performance of the iCAN as a desktop amp.
Soundstage wise,tested with some live recording (Hell Freezes Over and Jack Cheung Live concert) along with Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 250 Ohm,it has some average width but decent ambience,the ambience is there,sound stage is quite good,positioning and imaging wise,is good. Instrument separation is great,when i played 'Paganini for Two' ,I can listen to each of the instrument clearly.
When I played 'The Cleveland Orchestra Pierre Boulez - Strawinski - Petrouchka Le Sacre du Printemps',each of the instrument get thier position and play with clarity.
Vivere Album by Andrea Bocelli played with emotion and expressive,vocal is great. Vocal has enough of air and space.
The Pairing and Synergy
i thought this will be only a great paired for thin sounding headphone,but I am wrong as ICAN has gave me some really good and enjoyable music along with Creative Aurvana Live! and Focal Spirit One,which those two are quite thick and rich sounding
What I don't like
Well, they are good. But personally think that it lack some kind of spacious and width,I think that if iCAN can improve on this,this will be the top quality desktop amp. No,don't get me wrong, they are good in this section,but it can be better,for the price, I have no complain though. I just hope that it can be better.
Nothing being created in this world come without shortcomings,so iCAN has shortcomings as well,don't look this with a magnifying glass,but just a note. iCAN might not be the most revealing and biggest,widest,open soundstage amp. it is good,but not the best,I do hope music can flow more free.
Also,might be great for some,but personally I do think that we should have some gain control on iCAN,it is TOO POWERFUL for portable amp and most of the iem I threw at it. Even with the 250 ohm Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro, I don't have to turn the volume to 50%,35% of the maximum volum give me above listening volume.
All of the 'flaws' I stated here not really the flaw,with the price,it is easily forgivable.
I don't have headphone amp with me now,except iCAN,most of my item have been sent out to my friends and lend them. But when I compared iFi iCAN with YuLong Audio D100 II internal amp,iCAN has somewhat obvious more up front sound than my D100 II,I can't say which is better,but iCAN has more refine and warmer presentation. To be fair,D100 II's headphone amplifier section is just a bonus,the DAC is already worth how much it sell.
And when I compared to Bravo Audio's Rock,which personally I haven't found love with,iCAN obviously is better. Refine and smooth,with good impact also insightful.
I can add in few to compare,but pointless as iCAN has some kind of up-front and forward sound,which is very energetic. Meanwhile,I found the sound signature is really favourable.
AMR have respectable experience in design audiophile stuffs,and iCAN didn't come with disappointment. It is good and up to my expectation,I thought the Class A performance might make it very hot after sometimes of use,but reality prove me that I am just worry too much,it do get hotter when I use it,but nothing really big deal.
While I am actually like how iFi iCAN sounded,I am respect even more with iFi's spirit,they aimed to produce better sound for desktop,computer might be our next trend in audio world,every track of mine is in lossless digital files format,and iDAC,iUSB and iCAN in this entry,I can clearly see that iFi has created some stuffs that is great,especially they emphasised on what other manufacturer often forgot or refuse to give,such as the ultra low noise AC/DC adapter (and come with adapter that fit your country wall plug standard),also RCA and 3.5mm cable. The cable is nothing of the exotic material,but it is a bonus that iFi do including these cable to consumer,for starting,price of a good cable might burn some consumer's ass.
I am agreed that iCAN might not be a budget headphone amplifier,but it is worth the money in my opinion,in Malaysia it only cost RM1050 (330 USD),and our well known Malaysia and Singapore distributor have long time a good supplier,I am not worry on the back-up service. iFi do have some responsive and good customer service,and I hope they will keep this up,also produce better products in future.
The reason I love this headphone amplifier is simple though,good sound with good look.