iFi audio Pro iCAN Signature

adydula

Headphoneus Supremus
iFi iCan Pro Signature Experience
Pros: Small Foot print
Solid state + Tube amp
Flexible
State of the art
Powerful
Multiple inputs and outputs
Extremely versatile
Cons: Price
High Gain Issue
I have been doing this headphone stuff for the past 10+ years fairly seriously. I am no youngster anymore and my hearing isn’t what it used to be but still for my age it’s pretty decent...up t 15khz still. I love music and hearing it reproduced well.... I want to listen with transducers and gear that makes me smile and often gives me the illusion of being there.

Gear that allows me to look into a recording and tell how well it was recorded, how well the musicians performed. Being able to hear the room, auditorium or open-air venue....

Being a purist, I have always wanted the least amount of stuff in the reproduction chain and coming from the analog vinyl world, to the cassette, then cd and now digital ripping and streaming world. In each transition there was a trust factor to be overcome.... what was good, what was bad, and was this a step up in the quest for the "perfect" hi-f sound. Speakers or headphones.

In the last 10 years headphones and ancillary equipment have come a long way. But I always wanted the least amount of stuff, connections and cables.... When the FLAC lossless format arrived on the scene I took the digital plunge and ripped all my CD's...spending hours getting the settings correct to have "perfect" rips....

Now I sit here with this iFi "stuff". Very complex, many choices far from simple. But its time.

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The iFi Pro DSD was obtained a few months ago before the Signature was announced and it really opened my "ears" to how well a good dac design could go in marching towards audio perfection. I sold my gold standard dac due to the arrival of the Pro DSD. Done. The Pro DSD is a perfect match for its sibling amp…a nice balanced connection and we are done looking for a better dac.

The I was tempted to try the iCan Pro, but could not find one new at a decent price and the rumor mill was telling me to wait something was coming...and here it is the iFi Pro Signature series. So, the new iCAN Pro amp has been here for a week now. Having reviewed and owned 30 + amps in the past few years it didn’t take long to figure out this is a marvelous little amp.

I used to do the traditional "review" specs, feeds and speeds but now look at these devices in a more subjective light....and think of these more as an "experience" than a review.

So here is my “experience” with the iFi ICan Pro Signature amp....

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First getting the thing out of the box was a chore! it’s a double boxed deal with the amp in one enclosure and the nice little iFi Elite power supply in another with both being wrapped in an overall wrapper. Then taking them out and unboxing took some time...seeing the little smiling "thank you" symbol was nice...."your welcome".... iFi.

Once out I took the time to read the manual, yes, I am experienced enough to cable up and power on...but this new toy has lots of selections and it’s good to take the time to read the manual....

In the package is a new remote with NO battery.... IMO Hey iFi for the cost throw in a battery please...I don’t care about any excuse about a battery being dangerous or getting old in the package...these things sell like hot cakes so please throw in a 3-volt battery!

The new remote works with this older PRO DSD dac for volume. I don’t use the PRO DSD for streaming so the other buttons do not work for me. They might with the phone app? iFi can chime in here. But the volume for both the older unit and the new amp work ok, this is good enough for me. Also, the older remote works with the new amp for volume as well.

The size of the new amp is pretty much the same size of the older stuff. Same aesthetics, same wavy enclosure, same style knobs and switches. Same vacuum tube lights or leds. The signature has this "gold" signature metal nameplate in the lower middle front and the selection and volume knobs have a gold circular surround...some don’t like this but it’s not gaudy at all when you have it in front of you.... Actually, now that I have it here in front of me it’s a really nice touch. One negative thing for my vanity is the brushed front plate is much "shinier" than the older Pro units. Same type of thing some us Schiit amp owners used to complain about. iFi should have done a better job here IMO. Again, a nit.

Several words describe the new amp: Versatility, Performance, Flexible, High-Tech, Powerful, Clean, Neutral, Transparent, and Expensive. Yes expensive.

I could have easily forgone the cost of many amps etc. and just gone out and bought this type of amp. But I would not have the experience in actually telling how well amps across the board worked with my musical tastes and headphones etc....a long journey but I would do it all over again.

Let’s talk versatility/flexibility. Inputs: Balanced via 3 pin xlr, (3) RCA unbalanced inputs (three different dacs coming in potentially!). Outputs: Balanced line out via 3 pin xlr, RCA unbalanced out, DC loop out. On the front you have the iFi LOGO that changes color and on and blinking for the various modes. A large input selector knob, good feel to it. A Xbass Correction system selector with three selections and OFF. Several headphone output sockets.... Balanced 4 pin, the older left/right 3 pin xlr and SE via these as well for the 1/4 " phone plugs. 4.4 mm pentacom and a smaller 3. 5mm.....you got connectivity in spades!

Let’s talk performance/ power: SN >147 dB (A) balanced and SN >137 dB (A), THD pretty much down in the three digits down area...i.e. .0025% (example).... way down in the mud...the SE THD spec for TUBE + mode is the least at <= 0.07%...for a tube amp...well. Power: MORE THAN ENOUGH! 14 watts/4.8 watts Balanced vs SE. at 16 ohms. At no times with my Final Audio D8000 Pros and Sennheiser HD 650's could I even come close to using the power this amp can produce.... not even close. Warnings in the manual tell you to be careful especially using the Xbass correction system.... You can fry stuff if your not careful. I would hope folks spending this kind of money on "pro" stuff would be well aware of these things!! Read the manual please!

Let’s talk High-Tech. Well there is a lot here to talk about.... first this fancy Xbass Correction thing. iFi states it’s an analog signal processing thing 'ASP" vs a digital signal processing "DSP" thing. Tailored to correct the bass deficiency in a headphone or speaker and help achieve the desired level. Not the traditional bass boost thing we are used to. There is a 10hz, 20 hz and 40 hz selection and OFF. The maximum boost is 12db. Its described in the manual. For me with good recording and good headphones it’s not necessary. But I did play with it with my HD 650's with the 10 Hz setting and it did add a very nice increase in the low end and made the HD 650's have a really nice low-end response. Subtle but noticeable and there.... The 10, 20 and 40 hz correspond to headphones or speakers missing bass below 40hz, 80 hz and 160 hz...so depending on your headphones and what’s in the recording the settings you can play with and see if it helps or not.... When used it doesn’t seem to affect the overall sound quality...not like some more "gimmicky" bass boost circuits.

More Tech: A solid state J-Fet fully discrete Class A amp, a tube amp with 2 NOS GE 5670s that are well matched with the J-Fets circuitry switched out and the amp is a Class A valve amp, and add to this a Tube + mode where the negative feedback is reduced and the even harmonics are allowed to shine giving you that nice "tubey" sound....

More Tech: 3D Holographic Circuitry with three choices: 30 Degree, 60 deg and 90 deg selections. 30 degree is supposed to simulate a narrow loudspeaker placement like your computer speakers, the 60-degree selection is supposed to simulate the traditional textbook speaker placement (the old equilateral triangle setup) and the 90 deg selection is supposed to simulate a wide speaker placement which many 2 ch audiophiles like for a wide soundstage. iFi states this is not a typical cross feed arrangement implemented via a DSP but theirs emulates a speaker sound field without excessive reverb. IMO it does work...how well ...YMMV. For me several LIVE recordings made significant differences in the presentation....I was wowed with Live Dire Straits and some early Eagles Live at the LA Forum recording....was a very good experience here....for other recordings it wasn’t a vast improvement or difference.....the neat thing here is you can almost instantly try any of these setting and see for yourself.....it’s actually kind of fun being able to do this, even for a purist! LOL. I listened to the Byrd’s Greatest Hits from the 60's with the 90 deg selection and it was quite enjoyable and fun! I could turn this on and not tell you and you could not tell until you switched it off....it can be really good for some older tunes. The circuit is smart enough to detect using headphones or speakers and internally adjusting for the differences in transducers. Amazing stuff.

More Tech: It comes with an external iFi Elite Power Brick....Not going to go into this but the claim is better cleaner, less noisy power.... read more on iFi’ s site. A really nice professional looking, heavy and solidly built wall-wart of sorts.

So how does it sound, or really IMO and amplifier should NOT sound, it should be the old "straight wire with gain" device. But like all things the subjective side creeps in and our brains tell us they do sound abit different from each other.... your brain will have to tell you how much if any and is this real or not. I am down to 6 major amps in house and they do indeed have differing flavors. From neutral and transparent to slightly warmer and less transparent, more musical. Depending on my mood and music I often select one of these amps and change out to experience these often hard to detect differences. I believe the iFi amp is a direct coupled amp, no caps in the output to affect the tonality. It’s really a very clean, neutral amp, just ever so slightly warm.... using the tube mode. The SS amp is very clean, open and transparent...pretty close to being a perfect amp. Seriously. I could easily be happy with this amp. Easily.

The amount of raw power available allows for tremendous fast transients to shock you at times. With the Final Audio D8000 Pros I am often taken aback at the powerful, accurate sound that comes across using this amp. It also makes the lower cost HD 650 absolutely sparkle, with bass that I never thought these Sennheiser’s could produce. I only use the low gain setting to date, I did try the middle gain but way too much for 60-ohm cans and even for 300-ohm cans for me......I like loud but I like my hearing to be intact for a few more years as well!! Warning to youngsters DONT play music LOUD for LONG periods of TIME!! :>)

When using the SE output vs, the Balanced I do not hear a real discernable difference in sound quality overall. The only difference I hear is in the higher amplitude that using the balanced output provides vs the SE output at the same volume setting. This may be a good thing depending on the sensitivity of your cans, using a lower power output to get the volume control more in the “sweet” spot.

Having a Pro DSD and iCAN Pro amp, the (2) units add a “ton” of versatility and allow you to try many different settings and this can open your “ears” to music in different ways….really fun to explore the many setting these two can provide.

The highest positive comment I could give an amp is that it allows what’s coming in to be exactly what comes out of the amp...allowing me to hear what the source sounds like both the music and in the digital world the "dac". This amp will allow you to hear it all if you have a headphone that has very good resolving attributes. The icing on the cake here with the iFi ICAN Pro Signature amp it does what I just described but adds a few things that do affect the sound, spatially with the 3D magic circuitry and helping deficient transducers on the low end without messing up the overall tonality of the music.

Are there other amps that are good? Yes. Some cost less some even cost more. But at this price point the iFi new Signature amp is a winner and should last you a lifetime. The tubes in the box are said to be rejuvenated and should last for a long, long time...well I grew up with tubes and they don’t last forever so we shall see on this point.

The only other kind of negative thing is for a unit at this price level a 12-month warranty is a bit "skimpy" to me...with folks like Schiit giving a 5yr warranty on their mid and high-end stuff I think iFi should step up to the plate and offer a better warranty. What say you iFi???

The final question is often "Would you buy this again"...the answer in this short time is "Yes".
adydula
adydula
I use it most everyday. The Pro DSD dac and its multibit Burr Brown implementation is indeed very well done to my ears. The versatility having three inputs via RCA and one balanced set makes comparing dacs easy here....One thing I forgot to mention in my "experience" is the way the unit sits on a desk. The flat greyish "rubberized/plastic" pad on the bottom IMO has a "technical" purpose, but the units small size makes it susceptible to movement when plugging and unplugging headphones. The mounting racks iFi sells is the solution from them, but IMO aesthetically its quite the site....and its not inexpensive either. I will add some sorbethane feet to mine to get it up 3/4" off the desk for ventilation and cooling. I have mine side by side but do move them around depending on what testing I am doing.
ngoshawk
ngoshawk
I made a Lego rack from my kids sets…😎
adydula
adydula
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