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iCAN Amp Review: A New Amp that Gives You More: More Bass, More Soundstage and More Detail - Page 2

post #16 of 380

Hi,

Quote:

Originally Posted by Nirmalanow View Post
 

If you read further down in the headphone thread, he adds a review of the K701 using this amp: http://www.head-fi.org/t/648968/a-headphone-shootout-from-a-speaker-listener-testing-eight-headphones-from-80-to-1-200/45#post_9158684

 

In addition I am getting a pair of K702s, so I will be adding my own impressions to this thread.

 

If I may chime in (love that iCAN review incidentally) if the K702 are essentially the same as K701 sound wise, then I have to say that I yet to hear much I personally like better than iCAN & K701. It is an addictive combo.

 

It goes straight past your brain and makes you want to get up and shake it! The only thing that would do me better is if someone makes a pair of Stax that sound as solid, flat and robust in the bass and go as loud as the HiFiman HE-500 or I hear something better in actual 'cans - until then I'm still "borrowing" the 701's of John (yeah, fat chance I'll let them go any time soon).

Cheerio Rich

post #17 of 380
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by bedlam inside View Post

Hi,

 

If I may chime in (love that iCAN review incidentally) if the K702 are essentially the same as K701 sound wise, then I have to say that I yet to hear much I personally like better than iCAN & K701. It is an addictive combo.

 

It goes straight past your brain and makes you want to get up and shake it! The only thing that would do me better is if someone makes a pair of Stax that sound as solid, flat and robust in the bass and go as loud as the HiFiman HE-500 or I hear something better in actual 'cans - until then I'm still "borrowing" the 701's of John (yeah, fat chance I'll let them go any time soon).

Cheerio Rich


That is great to know. I look forward to hearing them soon!

post #18 of 380
Thread Starter 

I added some articles to the second post in this thread that are from iFi's facebooks page. They explain some more about the features of the iCAN. Here are the links again:

 

Article about the power supply for the iCAN: http://www.facebook.com/notes/ifi-audio/ifi-audio-ultra-low-noise-acdc-adapter/483150281720719

Article about the X-Bass feature: http://www.facebook.com/notes/ifi-audio/xbass-totally-addicted-to-bass/467554343280313

Article about the 3D Holographic sound: http://www.facebook.com/notes/ifi-audio/what-is-3d-holographic-sound/465871956781885

post #19 of 380

Is this company based in France? popcorn.gif

post #20 of 380
Thread Starter 

I have had some more time with the Beyer T1s and the iCAN, and it is making me appreciate the lower ("one dot") setting on the 3D effects switch. I was intrigued that Vincent from iFi said he mostly listened to this setting, as on the HD650s it is kind of soft and muted although the music is nicely focused and unified. But the T1s tend to be very bright to my ears with already pretty good soundstage so the high end boost and space infusion of the "three dot" upper setting is simply too much on a lot of music. So I spent some time with the switch down on the one dot setting and found that with this very different effect, the T1s became very easy to listen to. The upper setting is a bit like the Ferrari in my car metaphor: tremendous potential but a bit finicky and difficult to get the most out of it. The lower setting is more like a big luxury sedan that you can just relax and enjoy. Still a nice taut and powerful ride, but a lot of comfort and ease also. The Ferrari can be incredibly stimulating and fun, but not necessarily something you want to spend days and days of driving with.

 

So the T1s with the full on 3D effect work best with simple ensemble music (say 1-4 musicians) where the added space and detail creates that spooky real sense of the sound being in the room. With more complicated music or with music that already has a lot of room ambience in the original recording, the sound gets a little scattered. And with overly bright recordings the sound gets a little too edgy. But then I just reach over and switch to the one dot setting and everything calms down and is much more forgiving. Again it is a sound you could listen to for hours. The little bit of crossfeed makes it much easier on your brain to just take in the flow of the music and not have to work so hard at keeping everything sorted.

 

In contrast the HD650s seem to need that injection of adrenaline and space that the three dot setting provides. Otherwise they can seem kind of thick and heavy. So with these phones, it is much more of a set it and forget it proposition. Mostly I just leave the switch up in the three dot position and listen from there. Only very occasionally does a song come on that has me wanting to tone things down a bit and now I go to the one dot setting for my dose of relaxation.

 

Instead of just one sound signature, I seem to like a lot of variety of sounds, which typically means reaching for a different set of headphones. But with this amp, I can just flick a switch when I get restless and experience a new gestalt to the music instantly.


Edited by Nirmalanow - 3/8/13 at 12:08pm
post #21 of 380
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by putente View Post

Is this company based in France? popcorn.gif


they are in the UK

post #22 of 380
Thread Starter 

Here is a very long review of a pair of Stax headphones that includes a very comprehensive description of soundstage in headphones:
http://www.head-fi.org/t/40313/stax-sr-007-omega-ii-a-review-after-4-years-of-ownership

Probably explains a lot of what makes the 3D Holographic feature do what it does.

post #23 of 380
Thread Starter 

I just heard from iFi that they might be creating some music samples so people could hear the 3D effect online. I guess there are some technical hurdles to overcome, but if these samples become available, I will link to them on this thread.

post #24 of 380

Thanks for the informative and smooth review Nirmalanow.

 

This amp may be just what I am looking for for my headphones (predominantly HD650).  I was a little disappointed to see that they didn't add a pair of preamp outputs to the back, as those same bass boost and sound field options might be interesting to try in the speaker realm.  Although I did recently read an interesting article explaining that the requirements for a preamp are not the same as for a headphone amp, so to do it right then it would have to be a larger more expensive unit probably... but there you have it.

post #25 of 380
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by runswithaliens View Post

Thanks for the informative and smooth review Nirmalanow.

 

This amp may be just what I am looking for for my headphones (predominantly HD650).  I was a little disappointed to see that they didn't add a pair of preamp outputs to the back, as those same bass boost and sound field options might be interesting to try in the speaker realm.  Although I did recently read an interesting article explaining that the requirements for a preamp are not the same as for a headphone amp, so to do it right then it would have to be a larger more expensive unit probably... but there you have it.


Yes, it is hard to find everything in one amp....especially for $249.

post #26 of 380
Thread Starter 

Well, the heart won out over the head and I just sold the Beyer T1s. I just find the combination of the iCAN and the HD650s to be so warm and full bodied. The T1s were probably better technically, but they did not convey as much emotion for me. And with the T1, I was always fiddling with the 3D switch for each song, while with the HD650s I can just leave it on the three dot setting and get lost in the music. The sound is somehow lively and engaging without being fatiguing. I am loving it!

post #27 of 380
Quote:
Originally Posted by runswithaliens View Post

This amp may be just what I am looking for for my headphones (predominantly HD650).  I was a little disappointed to see that they didn't add a pair of preamp outputs to the back, as those same bass boost and sound field options might be interesting to try in the speaker realm.  Although I did recently read an interesting article explaining that the requirements for a preamp are not the same as for a headphone amp, so to do it right then it would have to be a larger more expensive unit probably... but there you have it.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nirmalanow View Post


Yes, it is hard to find everything in one amp....especially for $249.

 

One way to look at it is that for $250 to spend on a good headamp, you get either the nifty sound enhancements or you get the preamp out, corresponding to the iCAN and Asgard 2, respectively. I opted for the latter and a set of near-field monitors, reasoning that the headphone limitations that iCAN is trying to solve might better be resolved by simply investing in speakers. Although that does at least double the investment, so purely for headphone listening without the need for selectable gain and preamp outs, iCAN is the better bet, assuming the baseline amp performance is sound with both, which I think is a reasonable assumption with these two amps. That said, I wouldn't rule out adding iCAN to the arsenal just for fun when I have another $250 to blow on audio equipment. 

post #28 of 380
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aerocraft67 View Post

One way to look at it is that for $250 to spend on a good headamp, you get either the nifty sound enhancements or you get the preamp out, corresponding to the iCAN and Asgard 2, respectively. I opted for the latter and a set of near-field monitors, reasoning that the headphone limitations that iCAN is trying to solve might better be resolved by simply investing in speakers. Although that does at least double the investment, so purely for headphone listening without the need for selectable gain and preamp outs, iCAN is the better bet, assuming the baseline amp performance is sound with both, which I think is a reasonable assumption with these two amps. That said, I wouldn't rule out adding iCAN to the arsenal just for fun when I have another $250 to blow on audio equipment. 

The other factor that is hard to pin down is the synergy with your other equipment. I sometimes think that instead of reviewing individual components, we should all review complete systems including everything from source to headphone. In the middle of my review, I got my new Altmann Tera Player, and while everything I said in the review applied before and after this new addition, still the Tera took everything to a whole new level. There is something about the warmth and tone of this little DAP that when matched with the iCAN and the HD650s results in a very special sound. I guess that is why people often say "your mileage may vary" on here. It is hard to predict how each source and/or amp will perform with each new headphone you try.

 

And personally I am focusing on maximizing SQ with a pure headphone system. It seems you can get high quality sound for much less money than with speakers, and since my wife and I have very different tastes in music, headphones give me much more domestic bliss also. smile.gif

post #29 of 380

Howdy:

 

 

I'd like to chime in with a few impressions and opinions on the iCAN.  I mostly agree with Nirmalanow but there's some other stuff that a prospective purchaser might like to know.

 

Just some background:  I listen to CDs and LPs exclusively, no real listening via computer and no high rez so I'm real old school.  I have WooAudio WA6,  Headroom Total Airhead (battery only) and DIY class A headphone amps.  My cans are a BeyerDynamic DT660, Grado 325i, woodied cups and large bowls, and a recently acquired HiFiMan HE-4.  A BeyerDynamic DT880 (600 ohms) is going to be up for sale shortly. 

 

I paid $266 including shipping from Georgia to Texas.  It was nicely packed.  Once unpacked, I did struggle a bit with the wrap-around packaging of the unit's box.  In frustration, I just tore the packaging apart.  Should I ever re-sell the unit, that item will not be part of the sale, lol.

 

The build quality is quite impressive at any price.  It feels solid and heavy, there is no wasted space, it means the business.

 

I would characterize the sound of the amp in the "direct modes" as very competent, nice and airy, there's no doubt that this is a solid state amp in that it seems neutral and clean.  A friend built me a solid state class A headphone amp years ago and recently updated it with an alps volume control and a low/high gain switch.  The two are very much like each other in sound.  A comparison between the iCAN and the Woo points up some expected differences.  The Woo sounds rounder and warmer, more enveloping, a little more bass, euphonic, just more pleasing.  One aspect that surprised me was the Woo was able to exhibit layering front to back that the ICAN could not, as in the soloist standing in front of the band/orchestra and being separate from them.   One must take into consideration that the Woo, with stock tubes, retails at $620 plus shipping and with the fancy tubes, totals out at $797.  The differences between the two amps are not vast but I noticed them right away.  The iCAN, however, has a build quality very similar to the Woo and that is high praise.

 

Some observations about the operation of the iCAN:

 

The unit is very small, portable like, which makes everything on the unit even smaller.  The volume control is a bit stiff and there is not much range of volume settings available.  With the 660, a very efficient 32 ohm can, 9 o'clock is really loud.  Likewise, with the 325i, 9:30 is about maxed out.  The 600 ohm 880 goes to about 10 o'clock and the much more inefficient HE-4 maxes out at around 11, and, no, not THAT eleven.  With the stiffness of the control coupled with the limited range of motion for comfortable listening, getting just the right level is a challenge.  FWIW, this is one of my pet peeves with most volume controls, they never use the range of motion that should be available.  I think part of that stems from the manufacturer wanting to impress the potential buyer with how little adjustment it takes to play really loud.  This usually provokes the naive belief that the unit is so powerful you can only turn if up a little bit to get really loud.  Oh, well, in this instance, the iCan is no different than most other amps.  But, speaking of power, it had no trouble powering any of my cans, even the notorious planar magnetic.  

 

The lettering on the unit is, consequently due to its small size, tiny.  I pretty much have to memorize the positions of the Xbass and 3D switches in order to operate them.  I don't use can amps as desktop amps which means I'm probably ten feet from my units.  The other problem is that they are positioned counter intuitively.  I would like the three position switches to function similarly but the Xbass is, from top to bottom, direct/three dots/one dot.  The 3D switch is three dots/direct/one dot.  I keep the provided cheat sheet handy so I can check that I have the switches in the positions I desire.  I'm not sure why the manufacturer designed it like that.  BTW, the unit is "on" all the time until and if you unplug it from the wall.  It never gets more than slightly warm to the touch (good) and the wall wart is a purposely low noise unit (also good).  BTW, I've had the unit plugged in 24/7 for over two weeks so it "should" be burned in by now.  I've had no reason to use the rear mini-jack so I won't comment on it.

 

Back to the sound:

 

I like both the Xbass and the 3D capabilities.  With the Xbass switch in the one dot position, this seems about right for the bass shy Grados, three dots can be a bit much unless you want to have too much fun.  The 660 has basically a neutral mid bass (unlike the Grados) and can benefit from the three dots much more.  The HE-4 doesn't need a bass boost (smile).  With the 3D switch in the wide (three dot) position, it's really a bit much with the Grados.  Remember, I have the G-Cushions which already widen the soundstage.  The 660, a closed headphone with superior isolation but with a surprisingly good soundstage, does benefit from the widening.  The HE-4 I find a little restricted as to soundstage width so it benefits as well.  The other feature of the 3D position seems to increase the volume slightly and there also seems to be a brightening in the upper midrange.  This is a good thing on the HE-4 (for me) but can be too much on the 660 and 325i, both being rather bright cans to begiin with.  The one dot position of the 3D switch is a mystery to me.  As an old timer, I remember FM stereo tuners with a blend switch.  It was used to reduce separation in high frequencies which made noisy signals more listenable.  That's what the one dot sounds like and very similar to the crossfeed circuit in the Total Airhead.  Frankly, it makes the sound duller.  I don't like this position so I don't use it.  The reviewer seems to think that reducing the separation enables the listener to sort out complicated music easier.  I would opine just the opposite.  Jamming music together does not make the individual parts easier to hear, it makes it harder.  All IMHO, of course.

 

I'm not a big "graphs" fan when it comes to headphones .  I've seen too many headphone graphs that, in my opinion, don't match up with my ears.  But amps are different.  I would love to see some frequency response graphs on these two switches/positions.  The Xbass is not a typical bass control where most of the boost occurs around 100Hz.  It sounds more like a 50Hz boost and this is good because it doesn't muddy up the mid-bass.  The 3D three dot position does sound like it's affecting the frequency response and I'm curious to see what that would look like.  The real mystery of the 3D, however, is that I hear, as does the original reviewer, the soundstage spread out left and right.  Very interesting and worthwhile on the right can.

 

I'm not a writer (no sh*t) and this is my first (kind of) review.  Nirmalanow is a very good writer, organizes his thought well and covers a lot of ground.  I just wanted to give a little less of a fan-boy look at and listen to, this good and interesting headphone amp.  I think it's certainly worth the money (I bought it before I heard it) and I'll probably be keeping it.  Folks with cans that are less bright than mine, and that would be many, will benefit from this amp even more than I have.  As the reviewer points out, most cans do lack that bottom octave of bass that gives us so much satisfaction when we hear it on loudspeakers and/or subs.  I also think that, in general, closed cans can benefit from the 3D effect by widening the soundstage not to mention those open cans that can(!) seem a little closed in.  I think the iCAN is a winner and I hope this gives prospective buyers an even better idea of what they might be purchasing.

 

Chow.   

post #30 of 380

How do you think the ican will pair up with some M-Audio Q40's, these being a very bass heavy can, would the bass boost be overkill with them?

 

All ready an iusbpower owner and over the moon with the quality of this unit..

 

Great review Nirmalanow btw..

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