Remember to ask them for a 5.5mm x 2.1 mm connector if you order one. I will confirm in a few days if it works or not with the iCAN.
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Had my roommate lend me this amp yesterday (he uses it with my old HD598).
It sounded fine just fine with my HD600. On its default settings it's basically identical to my STX and fiio e9, and expectedly so. We didn't do any blind testing but there was no real need to. They sound alike, there's not much more to say as far as I am concerned. Whatever minor differences there are that I didn't notice I couldn't really care any less about. It's great, because the STX and fiio e9 are my tried and true points of reference and I don't really believe you can substantially improve on them in terms of sound quality.
Serious differences are there however between the 598 and the 600, and between disabling and enabling 3D. The 600 sounds way better than the 598, with and without 3D, but that didn't really surprise me. I would swear those 3D settings are some kind of dolby headphone implementation though. Using any of the tree settings sounds uncannily similar to corresponding settings on the STX's dolby. Called my roommate over and he noticed it as well. We didn't try the bass settings (he says he also never uses it so I didn't bother). Anyway, I do appreciate the 3D and feel it is a nice addition.
I have a HD650 but didn't bother testing it too. In all honesty, the entire head fi thing is just not that interesting to me anymore now that cheap, high tech devices like the fiio e9k, o2 and xonar stx offer true hifi solutions for headphone listening and an experiment with tube amps last year left me totally disillusioned with tubes in its entirety. Which is a great thing for my wallet and mind ofcourse, but it has left me indifferent towards testing stuff and more oriented towards just plugging in and forgetting about it.
The Ican with its reasonable price and design is such a device that you can just plug in and forget about. Fine amp, it's a good product where you can ask yourself if the extra bucks (compared to other well performing amps) are worth the features. There's a good chance they might be.
In this thread there is a great explanation of why the x-Bass boost affects the sound even on songs that do not have notes that nominally are extremely low frequency:
It seems there are always some low frequencies present in higher tones. Not a lot, but they are there.
My external battery pack came today. After waiting patiently for the first charge to complete, I finally hooked it up and it works great. It does just what I hoped to the sound....taking away a bit of noise that gave a slight edge to the music even with the Tera player and ESW9s which are both very smooth. There is a greater ease and relaxation to the music and the tone sounds more natural and pure...especially with female vocals. The difference is slight, but it is definitely there. The AC power supply that comes with the iCAN is supposedly a good one, but if I crank the volume all of the way with the music paused, there is definitely less noise when using the battery.
So not only do I get a transportable system, but the sound is sweeter and less fatiguing. Good all around.
I will report back any more observations including a sense of how long the battery lasts. (Again it is this one with the extra 5.5mm x 2.1 mm connector: http://www.bixpower.com/BAT-BX948-p/bat-bx948.htm )
Here are some pictures of my now "transportable" iCAN. I am still looking for better loking straps to hold the whole thing together, so please excuse the rubber bands. And my camera's auto focus is not working well so please excuse the slight fuzziness of the shots.
The little black box on top of the iCAN in some of the pics is my Altmann Tera Player. The whole rig is sounding awesome with my ESW9s and I just traded for a pair of K702s that I will be trying when they arrive.
I have got to add that the improvement in sound with the battery is not actually slight. There is definitely an ease and smoother naturalness to the music without any AC power. This is the clearest sound yet out of the iCAN and yet there is no edginess or fatigue even with the 3D effect on.
I have been running it for 4-5 hours and the indicator lights still say there is over 50% charge. A nice feature of this battery is that there is a little test button and 4 LEDs that tell you the state of charge. And since it is not really a very portable setup, I will be very glad if I get 8-10 hours of use. I am rarely away from an outlet that long. And by the way, the battery comes with its own AC charger as well as a 12 volt charger for the car. Again, just be sure to request the 5.5 mm x 2.1 mm plug as the ones that come with the battery do not fit. Bix Power included it for me at no charge.
I understand your idea that adding bass can make for a more visceral experience. The thing is that I don't view headphone listening in that way; for me personally music through headphones needs to be smooth, non fatiguing and consistenly pleasing. This is ofcourse also reflected in the kind of music I listen to. I have experienced what adding bass can do and can't do and I have made piece with the belief that for me personally, it is not desirable after a certain point. I do however sincerely appreciate your effort to bring to my attention something that you thought I was unaware of.
I understand your idea that adding bass can make for a more visceral experience. The thing is that I don't view headphone listening in that way; for me personally music through headphones needs to be smooth, non fatiguing and consistenly pleasing. This is ofcourse also reflected in the kind of music I listen to. I have experienced what adding bass can do and can't do and I have made piece with the belief that for me personally, it is not desirable after a certain point. I do however sincerely appreciate your attempt to bring to my attention something that you thought I was unaware of.
That's great if you know what works for you. I find the lower setting on the bass boost is subtle enough that it just fills in the lowest frequencies which are missing on my ESW9 headphones without becoming an overbearing presence or messing up the mids, but that is just my preference for sound. You still might find the other post interesting about how there are low frequency sounds in music that has no notes that nominally go that low:
It suggests to me that the most natural sound would include the almost subliminal levels of extremely low bass that are present in live music. But since no headphone is truly perfect at recreating a live sound, then in the end we all are finding the sound that we enjoy listening to the most. I also have moved more and more to a smoother, less fatiguing sound. The battery really helped in this regard.
I also find however that I like a little variety in the sound of my system. With the iCAN, instead of having several different headphones to get different sounds, I can just flick a switch when I am in the mood for more or less bass, or more or less air and space. And even without the special effects the iCAN offers, it is as you said a fine sounding amp.
I finally got a hold of a pair of AKG K702 headphones today, and I am loving them with the iCAN. They are wonderfully clear and clean sounding. , but the most striking thing is the scale of the music. Everything seems life size. A piano sounds like a big piano, not a miniature piano inside my head. I think maybe this lifelike quality to the size of the instruments is what Bedlam_Inside was talking about when he mentions the scale of the music when he reviewed these headphones in his shootout using the iCAN: http://www.head-fi.org/t/648968/a-headphone-shootout-from-a-speaker-listener-testing-eight-headphones-from-80-to-1-200/75#post_9210326
Also they really benefit from the x-Bass boost on my iCAN amp. I do not think I would like them at all without some help in the bass, but I was listening with the boost on the higher level and that made for a warmer, more balanced sound. Maybe still a little bright and hyper-detailed, but I like that especially as a contrast to my AT ESW9s which are pretty warm and smooth. These are the first headphones that I think I might leave the bass boost up on the higher setting most of the time. Usually, the lower amount of boost is just right, but these phones seem to be able to benefit from even more. They may not be fully broken in as these phones are known to need 300 hours or more and the pair I bought only has about 100 hours on them. Maybe the highs will calm down just a bit and the bass fill in some more, but in the meantime they still sound great with the bass boost on high.
Overall, another great pairing with the iCAN.
EDIT added: Either the phones are breaking in or my ears are getting used to them, but now I am mostly using the lower level of bass boost. I would say these phones are more touchy in that I find from song to song, I either like the 3D effect or find it a bit bright. Maybe some more break-in of the phones or my ears will change this also, but fortunately these K702s have a nice spacious soundstage even without the 3D effect on the iCAN. In contrast, the ESW9s are pretty much set it and forget it with the lower level bass boost and three dot 3D setting.
I have had some more time with the K702s. I am finding they already have a wide spacious sound and so do not need the 3D effect. Also they do not need any boost in the high frequencies so they really sound better without the 3D. In fact they can sound a bit artificial with the 3D effect on some songs. It is the first time I have heard that with the iCAN and any of the headphones I have tried.
Overall, I still find the ESW9s are the best sound yet with the iCAN. They have a natural and full-bodied tone that I enjoy more than the somewhat dry and analytical sound of the K702s, although the K702s have an amazing sense of space. Fortunately the ESW9s catch up quite a bit in the space department with the 3D effect engaged.
And someone over on the Tera Player thread suggested adding a 75 ohm resistor to the ESW9s like the ones used with Ety ER4Ps as described here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/ETYMOTIC-ER4P-TO-ER4S-RESISTOR-ADAPTOR-3-5MM-PLUG-/290372905689
I happened to have one sitting around and tried it out. It works with the ESW9s like a very subtle tone control that slightly reduces the highs and smooths out the sound. It works great with the 3D effect on the iCAN. I get all of the added goodness of the wider soundstage and more spacious feel without having any edge of too much brightness. The sound with the ESW9s is just that much better with the 75 ohm adapter, and the iCAN has plenty of power to drive the extra impedance.
Awhile back I put my AKG Q701 headphone into cold storage in hopes of finding a competent amp that could bring more control and life to them. As much as I liked my ALO RX MKIII-B mobile amp it just wasn't cutting it with my Q701. Weeks later my Q701 is on my head and I'm rocking to my tunes on the Q's while being driven by the iFi-Audio iCAN Micro Amp. I came across this little amp by pure chance when a fellow head-fier messaged me asking to trade his first generation iCAN amp for my pair of Ortofon e-Q7 IEM's. After doing some real quick research and reading some rather lofty reviews I quickly concluded that this little amp might be worth taking a chance on. I immediately finalized the trade and sent my Ortofon IEM's off and waited for the proverbial bird to land in my mailbox. A week later the iCAN arrived and I would not be disappointed.
For such a small form factor this little amp packs some real grunt with a power output of 400mW(32Ω). If that wasn't enough the iCAN boasts some very interesting features such as a dual setting bass boost and a dual setting 3D holographic sound enhancer. Another thing that struck me about the iCAN when I first received it is although it's not an Apple certified product it's incredibly Apple like from it's white packaging down to it's minimalist brushed aluminum chassis
With all enhancements turned off the sound of this little amp impresses. It's strongest suit, clarity and reverb in just the right places. Although sounding just a smidgen on the warm side of neutral the iCAN brings out the inner micro details in the music all the while getting out of the way and letting the headphone do what it does best. What I mean by this statement is this amp is not a colored amp and what you hear isn't the iCAN but instead the tuning of the gear you choose to connect it to. End result, the iCAN is what I've come to call a puritan amp in that it displays both the good and bad attributes of the headphone it's driving and little else. It's puritan nature aside, the iCAN is far from what can be called boring and rewards the listener with two enhancements designed to help fine tune the gear he/she is listening to.
First off lets discuss the bass boost function. The iCAN has a two setting bass boost function. If you're listening to a slightly bass anemic can hitting the iCAN's first bass boost setting you'll get a slight bass boost of maybe 2 to 3 db. Personally, with my Q701 I find the first bass boost position is the sweet spot for me. Lets say though you're a hardcore bass head who craves bass and the cans you own sound way to polite on the low end. With the iCAN's bass boost set at maximum the listener is rewarded with a whopping 9 or 10 db boost in the low end. Not exactly my cup of tea when listening to some genres but I have to admit it's quite fun when I'm listening to trance or hard house.The impressive part is although boosted 9 db's the iCAN somehow seems to be able to keep the mids passably clean for such a drastic low end boost.
The 3D sound enhancement, for me, is rather fascinating. On my Q701 I usually don't bother with this setting and leave it on flat. What I'm noticing with this setting is when it's turned on to the third position two things are happening. First of all the spacial cues are being messed with and moved into different positions around my head. Second of all the high frequencies become boosted slightly. The end result, instruments seem to have more air in between them thereby creating an added sense of expanded sound stage. When the setting is wound back to position two the exact opposite is happening. The highs seem to become rolled off and smoothed over and spacial cues once again are moved so that the listener thinks the sound stage has shrunk. I guess this setting could come in handy for music that suffers from hard left/right panning or overly unnatural instrument separation. I'm guessing this feature is some sort of fancy crossfeed coupled with a treble booster but I could be wrong.
Overall I'm very happy with this amp and have absolutely no problem recommending it to the masses. At just under 250 USD this little micro amp brings a lot to the table that pricier amps fail to deliver. As such, the iCAN may have just saved my Q701 from the online for sale forums or the modders chopping block. Excellent amp for it's MSRP.
As you might be able to tell from the pictures, it is not really pocket sized....except maybe some cargo pants with really big pockets, although I am not sure how the connecting wires would take to being shoved inside a pocket. It would easily fit in a backpack. Mostly I just like being able to pick it up and take it in another room or outside with me.
Strange as it may sound, even here around the house I have also been sometimes just using my Tera player by itself. The sound is not as good as out of the iCAN, but it is still a very good sound. I am actually thinking of selling everything and just keeping the Tera and my ESW9s. Not because the iCAN sound is lacking anything, but I just may be ready to simplify in a big way. There is something to be said for having a system that fits in your pocket, and sometimes change is good for its own sake.