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iFi audio Pro iCAN

Rating:
4.4375/5,
Tags:
  1. ModMax
    This Beauty is a Beast - an iFi Pro iCAN USA Tour Review
    Written by ModMax
    Published Jan 3, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Build Quality, Aesthetics, Sound Quality, Versatility, Fully Balanced, Black Background
    Cons - Tends to slide easily on desktop (minor quibble)
    INTRODUCTION

    Disclaimer:  As part of the Pro iCAN USA Tour group, iFi provided me a demo unit for a brief time in exchange for my opinion.  My thanks to iFi Audio for this unique opportunity.
     
    BUILD & SPECS

    One word for the build:  Impeccable. 
     
    Like all of the other iFi Audio products I've come across, the Pro iCAN is built with longevity in mind.  It is definitely heavier than it looks.  Upon first glance at its front and back panels, it may also come across as overwhelmingly complicated.  However, after a quick review of the user manual, all of the connectors, knobs, and switches begin to make sense and operation is fairly simple and straightforward.  It also helps that I previously owned the iFi Micro iDSD.
     
    As far as the specs go, I am always amazed at how much tech iFi is able to thoughtfully fit within their products.  For detailed specs, I won't regurgitate that information here since it is readily, and more accurately available on iFi Audio's Pro iCAN web page.  Plus, the page is well designed and provides an excellent overview of the versatility of this all-in-one.
     
    Note:  This section is where I planned to post pictures I took of the amp and accessories, however, my camera's memory card has been "misplaced".  Until I find it, the reader can enjoy the fantastic pictures taken by other reviewers of the Pro iCAN.  Honestly, some of these Head-Fi reviewers take damn nice photos!
     
    SOUND

    Headphones used for this review included Focal Elear, Mr Speakers Ether C v1.1, Focal Sphear, and Noble Savant Universal IEM Wizard Edition.  Throughout my time with the Pro iCAN, I mostly reached for the Focal Elear headphones.  Maybe it was the intimate soundstage of the Elear's, but something just seemed to "click" between this pairing.  I was also able to more easily discern the sound quality differences between the various modes of the Pro iCAN using the Elear's. 
     
    Before going on, I do want to mention that I am highly impressed with the black background conveyed by this amp while auditioning with my Focal Sphear and Noble Savant IEMs.
     
    3D/XBASS
    I only used the 3D/XBass features when watching movies with the Pro iCAN.  For music, I kept these features OFF as my preference.  Your mileage may vary, especially dependent on your source material and equipment chain which may benefit from these enhancements.  I can say they are very beneficial when watching movies making the experience much more engaging.
     
    BALANCED VS SINGLE-ENDED
    Go balanced if you can.  Bass had more punch, Mids were richer, and Treble had more sparkle.  Single-ended is no slouch here, but the balanced output just seemed to make my music more enjoyable.  I tended to get "lost" more often when listening via balanced vs single-ended.
     
    SS/TUBE/TUBE+
    To me, the audible differences between the SS and TUBE modes were notable.  However, I could not hear any notable difference between TUBE and TUBE+.  I don't know, maybe my gear (or ear) limitations are to blame.  The SS mode was the fastest of the three, as to be expected.  Its tonality reminded me of my iFi Micro iDSD, though I felt the Pro iCAN had an edge in detail and dynamics.  If you like the sound of the iFi Micro iDSD, then you will love the sound of the Pro iCAN's SS mode.  Switching from SS to TUBE/TUBE+ modes, the overall soundstage and dynamics remained the same, however, the low-end and mid-range became fuller, rounder and richer in tonality with a longer decay.  The treble, to me, remained largely unchanged.  This was a very pleasant experience with the Focal Elear headphones, especially on tracks (and on days) when the Elear's hit a little too hard and fast.  Overall, the sound quality of this amp is superb and allowed me to more easily immerse myself in the music.
     
    FINAL WORDS

    Another great product from iFi Audio that I'm sure will be a hit, especially with current or previous iFi owner's looking for an upgrade.  Given its versatility and ample power, some may consider this amp overkill for their needs.  I consider the Pro iCAN a solid choice to future-proof one's audio needs, especially given the quality and robustness of the build.  I very much enjoyed my time with the Pro iCAN and I am sure those lucky enough to own one will too.
      Fastnbulbous, bimmer100 and BarDash like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. abvolt
      Excellent I've been looking at getting this amp, Thanks..
      abvolt, Jan 6, 2017
    3. TigzStudio
      1699.00 is the retail
      TigzStudio, Jan 7, 2017
    4. BarDash
      Thanks for the review, I've had this amp for over a month now and really love it! Although it does slide around a little on the desktop, Lol.
      BarDash, Jan 9, 2017
  2. grizzlybeast
    The little amp that Can
    Written by grizzlybeast
    Published Nov 12, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Tons of power, very clean and deep. Black background, analog sound with good body.
    Cons - May not be best for very dark headphones.

     ​

     ​
    Sih5ZzJ.png

    iFi audio Pro iCan Review


     
     
    Intro
     I am part of a loaner tour that iCan has put together and am thankful to finally get to hear it. 
    This is a very good piece of gear. I am impressed. 
     
     
    DSC_0812-.jpg
     
     
    Set up:
    Imac>Focusrite Rednet3 via AES>Metrum Pavane balanced>iFi iCan Pro

     

    Specs

    1. 0dB, 9dB and 18dB user-selectable
    2. Frequency Response:    0.5Hz to 500kHz(-3dB)
    3. Total Harmonic Distortion (THD, Balanced/Single-Ended):    
    4.               Balanced          SE
    *Solid-State:     ≤0.0015%      ≤0.005%
    Tube:                ≤0.002%        ≤0.005%
    Tube+:              ≤0.012%        ≤0.2%
    1. Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR, Balanced/Single-Ended):    >147dB(A) / > 137dB(A)
    2. Output Power (16Ω, Balanced/Single-Ended):    >14,000mW / >4,800mW
    3. Output Voltage (600Ω, Balanced/Single-Ended):    >23V / >11.5V
    4. Input Voltage (Pro iCAN):    DC 9V/6.7A – 18V/3.35A
    5. Input Voltage (iPower Plus):    AC 85 – 265V, 50/60Hz
    6. Power Consumption:    ≤ 22W idle, 50W max.
    7. Dimensions:    213(l) x 192.5(w) x 63.3(h) mm
    8. Weight:    1.93kg (4.3lbs)
    9. Test conditions:
    10. Gain = 0dB, 0.775V(0dBu) with 300 Ohm load unless stated otherwise
    11. SNR Balanced re 23V, SNR SE re. 11.5V    

    Build

    DSC_0050.jpg DSC_0239.jpg
     
    This little beast is quite small but is thoroughly and  thoughtfully designed with tons of little details. Something this expensive shouldn’t be showing bolts all over the place if its going for a modern look and the iCan is a clean and smooth piece of equipment that a beauty to behold.
     
     
    The dial is smooth with with it’s resistance to ease of turn ratios nicely balanced.  No matter the gain settings I faced no issues trying to dial in my ideal volume. I must confess an epic fail. I did not try the remote. I had opened the Pro iCan and left the remote inside of the box thinking I would try it later and totally forgot it. 
     
     
    DSC_0144_Fotor.jpg
    Quad-Damped Isolation Base Mount
    Underneath the amplifier is a rubber or silicone pad that is used instead of traditional feet. What a welcomed change of practice since I imagine it to not only provide isolation but also prevents scraping or rub marks on surfaces.  Ingenious really! I will mention that since the amp is small it will slide a little when trying to plug a headphone in. You have to use two hands. 
     
     
    DSC_0143_.jpg
     
    If someone were to want to compare DAC's at the twist of a knob you could easily do so. With the iCan you have three different single ended inputs as well as balanced inputs, balanced and single ended outputs and more. I don't think they can fit one more input or output on this amp. If they could have I am sure it would be there. It even has out put for an electrostatic amp to hook up to it. 
     
     

    Functions
     
     
     

    Single ended

    Still more than enough power to drive my HE-6 to normal listening levels and the tonal aspects of the amp work very well with it but the sound quality takes a hit. If you try to go too loud the protection circuitry will kick in. The hit in sound quality is evident with the 650 and my Pioneer HRM-7 as well. 

     

    Balanced

    Do trust the specs with this amplifier. It sounds cleaner, deeper, and more dynamic from the balanced jack.
     
     
     
     
    DSC_0243.jpg
    XBass 
    This amplifier has a lot of features and not all of them work when trying to drive the HE-6 at moderate levels. When attempting to bass boost the HE-6 while on the third level of gain the amplifier turned red and then shut off. 
     
    Yes… I did attempt to bass boost the HE-6 while it was at a moderate listening level on high gain. I emailed the ifi rep and his response was as follows.  
     
    “The iCAN Pro is best considered like a racing car. It does not have most fluffy consumer system safeties. So it will allow you to combine settings (e.g. high gain, high volume setting, high bass boost added to a high 3D setting) that will cause a crash. Except in the iCAN Pro the protection circuitry will shut it off at the edge of crashing to avoid damage to either the Amp or Headphone. So take the foot of the gas and it will start up again.”
     
    Turning the HE-6 to medium gain and the bass boost to 40hz and the amp turned off after half way through a song. But turning the amp to high gain with the bass boost at an average listening level had no issues. The bass boost sounds really good. Nice and solid with a bit of bloom added like you would expect but distortion seems minimal. 
     
    The tube function must be used responsibly with the HE-6 as well as the added level of harmonic distortion can make the amp clip a little earlier. Now I will let you know that I listen fairly loud for my first few songs usually and then later settle in for the rest of the session at a lower volume. I am the guy at the meets that turns it up from the previous person usually listening before me but then I turn the pot down for the rest of my listening. At my normal listening levels I can engage the tube function, 40hz bass boost, and high gain with no issues at all. 
     
    Other headphones had no hiccups and proved to be one of the best bass boost implementations I have heard. Nope no digital signal processing here... this is how it should be done! 
     
     
     

    Tubes

    Since the amp itself doesn’t have the tonality to pierce through the 650 veil in solid state mode I didn’t enjoy it with the Senn. With the HE-6 it was a help in the needing to remedy the bright treble of the HiFiman but it makes the wonderful clarity of the 6 take a hit as is expected since tubes simply add 'useful' distortion. I became addicted to the super clear sound of the combination without tubes but and in this case though it dropped the level of transparency a bit with 'Tube+' , 'tube' mode made a slight difference but maintained most of the transparency while still providing a noticeably rounder treble. It doesn't change the overall nature of the amplifier but is a welcomed option. For the best results it is recommended to use the lowest gain setting. Unfortunately I can't use the lowest gain setting with my HD6XX to sound right, nor my HE-6 and my  modded Pioneer does not benefit from tubes except to help smooth out some of its graininess. 
     
     
    DSC_0242.jpg
    3D
    It doesn't sound like the soundstage is actually wider when you listen for width but the center image seems pushed back and more speaker like. When engaged dynamics seem to take a hit as well as bass quantity (not quality). Vocals sound a little more hollow but overall still have a really good timbre with the exception of the upper midrange sounding a bit tingy or sharp. If you turn the knob all the way these negative aspects worsen.  Hi hats become a bit more tizzy and sibilants/ consonants  sound more stressed while the body of the voice takes a hit. The plus is that there is no extra reverb or lingering sound waves that make the music more cavernous. All of the technical aspects of clarity, resolution, detail and speed remain intact. So though it loses a bit of punchiness, overall fidelity is maintained. If you find the negative effects mentioned above to be bothersome you can select a lower setting. 
     
    It did help make the 650 sound less congested and made it a little more competitive with my Trafomatic head 2. The He-6 got a bit too sharp for easy listening. With the HE-6 I used the 30/+(the first setting) with good results but overall found it unnecessary. I wish I would have had the Kennerton Vali on hand because that headphone would have actually benefitted from this option. 
     

     

    Sound

    DSC_000vff.jpg
    Bass
     
    The bass is solid with a balanced amount of presence. It has a very very slight bloom with good texture. Bass slam is satisfactory and macro dynamics are easy to perceive in the low band.  It has grip and control with good depth and detail. I personally won’t call it elevated or boosted but it does seem to have a very little bit more presence than those here present I have compared it to.  Bass quantity is very reminiscent of the Nuprime HPA-9. There is no extra mid-upper bass warmth but it is linear and uniform. Those seeking an amp that provide adequate slam will find the Pro sufficient especially with the bass boost engaged. It is acceptably tight but is more natural than clinical.  My initial impressions on the bass with the 650 in SE left somethings wanting. When used in balanced the bass is much better on my modded 6XX but still not as tight as I have heard it. 
     

    Midrange

    The midrange is simply analog. I really like the bass of the iCan pro because its detailed and present with good punch but the midrange is what seems to draw the most attention to itself. It has what sounds to my ears as a warmth from the lower midrange to midrange proper without ever sounding muddy. The upper midrange is not withdrawn per se but it doesn’t sound accentuated. Tones resonate with a realistic strength and purity that justify its asking price. While this may not lift the breathe of the vocals high enough to make them sound like they project as convincingly as my TH2 which provides better harmonics, it does capture realism of tone and fullness of body exceptionally well. Body this amp has to spare without ever sounding too slow or syrupy. Textures are not smoothed over and instruments are a little sweet in timbre. I would be lying if I said that the iFi Pro doesn’t have a bit of sweetness to it and a welcomed dose of flattery. It is not flat or sterile by any means and is very tactful at displaying its musicality because this complimentary midrange fullness is not with the addition of any extra decay or soft tubey attacks. The sound is musical but accurate and insightful. Pianos, xylophones, strings, guitars, cellos sound as real as ever.  In fact even if I don’t end up buying this amp I have a new standard now as to how much realism I should be expecting at this level. If I had to make a gripe about the midrange it would be that I would like a little more upper midrange presence and harmonics to balance out the lower to midrange section for better linearity but as is the midrange is charming. 
     

    Treble

    The textures in the treble are crisp and solid without ever sounding splashy and the resolution throughout the whole frequency range is excellent. The details are all there but I would venture to say that this amp is a little more serene in the treble. It is non fatiguing and relatively insightful at the same time. It takes on a more ‘down-to-earth’ than aerial ambience.   The tuning seems deliberate as to show the audio world that you do not need to artificially boost the treble for high quality sound. While I appreciate this, it may be a departure from the screeching, lit up tunings of more sparkly gear. You would think that the tube engaged would be dark and the amp would be bright but its not so.
     
    Compared to the Airist heron this amp will sound similarly balanced in the treble but less airy and extended and a whole lot more grounded in foundation. I often find my memory recalling the Heron because it has the best tonality of just about any amp I have heard to date but its lack of depth, dynamics, and bass slam held it back. The pro is sharper, more resolute, better separated and has much better density of tone than most amps so though the treble is not accentuated it always sounds organic, and realistic without any of that digital hash. Actually, in overall balance, this amp reminds me most of the Nuprime HPA-9 but in a whole other league of technical ability and realism. 
     

    Performance

    The Pro is a very clean sounding amp with good transients and realistic decay. Its depths are utterly aphotic and sounds emerge from below with clarity, body, and individuality. Separation is excellent but could stand to be assisted by a wider soundstage. Layering (which is  a consequence of body, separation, and depth) is very good. Textures are there as well. The tuning can make certain recordings sound a little more weighed down and saturated but the precision and holography keeps things from sounding (sorry to repeat myself) cluttered and thick. While not super fast, the Pro has some zip to it as well. 
     

    Comparisons 

    I am tempted to make a reference to the Nuprime HPA-9. The pro is better by all accounts but the the Pro is pretty much like a Numprime HPA-9 on steroids. They both have much in common. Punchy bass, full mids, smooth treble, good body. Only the Nuprime is not as powerful, is slower, not as clean, nor as clear or as articulate but within its price tier holds its own. 
     
     
    zCxzxv.jpg
     
    Vs Trafomatic Head 2 w/ 75 HG Reflektors NOS 6922 tubes.
     
    1. Instruments sound more free flowing and eloquent on the Trafomatic Head 2.
    2. Instruments seem to rise and decay with more intensity on the TH2
    3. Details are close but resolution seems negligibly better on the iCan Pro
    4. The vocals sometimes sound a bit too weighed down on the pro in comparison; just a little too heavy in the lower to middle midrange and they place the vocalist closer to you than the TH2 does. 
    5. Tones have more density  and body on the iCan and that is saying a lot because in my home the TH2 usually has more body compared to other amps and is far from thin. It is here that the ifi amp gains back grounds in realism. 
    6. Soundstage is very easily wider on the TH2. This is regardless of headphone and even with the HE-6. Its not even close... even with the 3D engaged. When the 3D is engaged the pro can come closer but the center image sounds more hollow than the TH2 and more peaky in the upper midrange. 
    7. Soundstage depth seems tied but the fact that the Pro is deep and has a much blacker background makes it seem better layered. 
    8. Even with higher impedance headphones the Pro has a heavier bass but the TH2 makes those headphones sound more dynamic and natural.
    9. Treble presence goes to the TH2 as well as airiness. I have never appreciated the TH2 in this aspect and really thought it to be only average but it handily bests the Pro. 
    10. Clarity barely goes to the ifi amp and it took a few days to come to this conclusion. I feel the Pro makes instruments resonate more strongly and even though the TH2 is very clear its sounds aren’t nearly as clean as the Pro overall. The trafomatic is a tube amp and when the "tube+' option is engaged on the Pro the TH2 takes the win but in solid state mode the Pro is ever so modestly clearer.  
     
     
    Vs Schiit Jotunheim
    So why compare a 399 amp to a 1699 one? Because the Schiit Jotunheim disrupts  all expectations of price to performance. However, in almost literally every area the Jotunheim shows a weakness the Ican Pro shines. 
     
    1. Soundstage depth goes to the Pro without dispute.
    2. Microdynamics go to the Pro.
    3. Nuance goes to the Pro. 
    4. Refinement goes to the Pro.
    5. Blackness of background goes to the Pro over any amp I have heard bottom line. However that instant perception of clarity we listen for in the first few moments of plugging our headphones into an amp is actually more instantly apparent on the Jotunheim because of the treble presence and its clean nature.  After a few songs it becomes apparent that the Pro is more refined, cleaner, and clearer. The Jotunheim has very low distortion, even lower than much more expensive amps but not the iCan.
    6. The lower midrange sounds more rich and wholesome on the Pro while the upper midrange to lower treble is more pronounced on the Jotunheim for better vocal harmonics.
    7. The bass is cleaner and a little tighter on the Jotunheim regardless of headphone.  
    8. Stage width may even go to the Jotunheim as the Pro lacks a bit of width but its barely discernible when comparing and could sound that way because the Jotunheim has very little depth. If it were not for my bias towards black backgrounds and depth of soundstage the Jotunheim would be my pick for the 650. However, to those less biased I would actually say the Jotunheim is the better pairing because it lifts the veil better and controls the bass a tad better. 
    9. The Jotuheim cannot properly handle the 6. It can get it loud but its a splashy, trebly mess of uncomfortable listening. The Pro is much better at taking on such a beast.
    10. Bass slam is stronger on the Pro as well as macro dynamics but only by a hair. 
     
     
     
     
     
    DSC_0190.jpg
    Vs Cayin iHA6
     As far as balance goes the Cayin is very similar to the Jotunheim.
    1. Bass quantity goes to the Ican pro
    2. Bass control is mostly equal but slightly less boomy on the cayin. 
    3. The pro is a much cleaner sounding amp but is a lot darker in comparison. The iHA-6 has enough power to drive the 6 well but like the Jotunheim the treble is a bit too much and the pairing is not ideal for my tastes. 
    4. The iHA-6 sounds thinner than the Pro but is more airy and has better sparkle and overall would sound more linear apart from being more bright than I personally consider truly neutral. My idea of neutral treble lies somewhere in between the two. 
    5. Layering and depth is much better on the Pro and it sounds more holographic overall while the iHA-6 sounds more flat.
    6. I felt that when I compared the iHA-6 directly to the Airist Heron 5 that the iHA-6 when used balanced was more dynamic than the Heron but had a relatively small soundstage in comparison. Also that the Heron had better tonality but worse technicalities besides soundstage. The pro would sound stronger in the midrange than the Heron and less open but a lot better layered and realistic. 
    7. The Pro has a more realistic and full midrange than the iHA-6 and is more musical all while being a little better overall in performance. 
     ​

    Pairings 

     
    DSC_0232.jpg
    Pro and the HD6XX (modded)
    Ifi's flagship amp controls the 6XX bass decently when used balanced. The 650 suffers no harm from the midrange warmth of the Pro but the veil is not lifted. The holography and soundstage depth is easily perceivable with the 650 as is the low distortion. Bass boosts, 3d, are fun with the Senn but the tube option is a little less desirable since it increases the ‘veil’ effect of the 650. The Sennheiser doesn’t sound slow but becomes richly musical; just less open than with my tube amp and the Jotuhheim. 
     
     
     
    DSC_0216.jpg
    Pro and the HE-6 (modded)
    This is a match made in heaven…well almost. The 6 largely benefits from how the iCan is tuned. Also, the 6 doesn’t suffer in the ways that it usually does when being under amped (treble sharpness, lack of dynamics, weak bass). The he-6 has been better served in the bass department by some speaker amps I have heard and I have heard the 6 slam harder but I still find the 6 to have body and decent dynamics through the ifi iCan Pro. The treble is still bright, after all its an HE-6, but the sharpness gives way to better articulation and a more controlled and enjoyable treble. On high gain the the HE-6 has more than enough power and I can’t go past 12 o’clock before cringing. The Pro does better with lower impedance headphones and the 6 is a testament to that as it sounds adequately fast, very clear, controlled, and holographic.  Were I to choose a desktop headphone amplifier for the sole purpose of driving the 6 I would most likely pick the Pro over the vast majority of dedicated solid state headphone amps. Compared to my Trafomatic the Pro still sells the 6 a little short on soundstage width but I find my modded HE-6 to have more than enough soundstage on the Pro. The low distortion of the 6 as well as the clean black background of the iCan Pro make an excellent way of hearing music as clean and as clear as the high standards of most audiophiles can demand. This pairing will be rewarded by a clean and balanced DAC.
     
     
     
     
    DSC_0226.jpg
     
    Pro and my modded Pioneer HRM-7
    It may not hurt to mention that my Pioneer HRM-7 has gone through several modifications, has been tested with many different amps, and has been in my stable for quite some time. When I got my Pavane DAC it was all I had and I easily noticed the difference of the Metrum in my system.  It has been the reason for me not missing much when I sell a headphone because it can suffice(for short a short time). Well with the  Pro the bass can be tight and punchy and the lower impedance of my HRM-7 worked much better with the pro than even the 50 ohm setting of my TH2 when it came to dynamics and speed.  On a few rare songs I still prefer the TH2 pairing  because of the tonality and spaciousness that seems to help headphones of this type sound more open. More often I prefer how the Pro grips the HRM-7 and drives it with better authority for more potency and articulation. The midrange warmth of the Pro helps with the HRM-7's  deficiency in the midband. I listen to a lot of old school hip hop and some of those recordings were… well downright low quality. The bass boost on the Pro and muscular sound of my bass modded 7 makes for the most fun I have had in a while, a little over the top but hey whatever…thats what I like sometimes. 

     

    CONCLUSION

    DSC_0001_Fotor.jpg
     ​
     
    This little thing is a BEAST. Its got a lot of muscle, a lot of articulation and definition with a clarity and black background that few amps pull off. I have read previous reviews  of this amp and some of the negative reviewers must be tricked by the ‘more treble=more-fi’ foolishness. There is nothing wrong with bright equipment and it has its purpose but it doesn't equal high quality. Developers are pulling away from that ideology now and ifi is ahead of the curve in regards to the need of a turn around. More and more people are coming to expect balanced treble and natural mids as well as inner detail.
     
    Initially I was very apprehensive about a small amp like this packed full of features being able to deliver true sound quality. My gimmick flag went up. But since I heard the ifi Micro SE I knew they could deliver sound quality. I wasn’t expecting this much inner clarity but am pleasantly surprised. This sets a new standard for me in a few ways. 
     
    Will I purchase one… I don’t know but its now on my shortlist between only two other amps. I have scratched quite a few off and this is now number 2 on that list.  The Pro is an end game amplifier with its own flavor. Just don’t look at the features as its main attraction or detraction from what it is at it's core. An excellent solid state amp. The rest are bonus features and cherries on top. If you audition gear before you buy it… do yourself a favor and give this one a listen. 
     

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    1. View previous replies...
    2. reddog
      One great information review. I really enjoyed reading the review and think the amp sounds like a great find.
      reddog, Nov 16, 2016
    3. drwlf
      Lovely review, thanks for your work!
      drwlf, Nov 22, 2016
    4. Mojo777
      Very nice review. Anyone compare it tot the OPPO HA-1?
      Mojo777, Jan 7, 2017
  3. ostewart
    Master of all, from IEM's to HE-6 it does them all brilliantly
    Written by ostewart
    Published Oct 26, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Sound, Features, Build Quality
    Cons - It slides around on your desk
    Firstly I would like to thank iFi Audio for the loan unit for review, I have been using it for about 3 weeks and as always I will try to write an honest review.
     
    Gear Used:
    Dell XPS 15 / Marantz CD5400 / Audio Opus #2 > Matrix Quattro II DAC > XLR Out > Pro iCan
    Headphones: Hifiman HE-500 (4-Pin XLR Balanced) / AAW Nebula 2 IEM’s / Fostex TH-500rp
     
    [​IMG]
     
     
    Tech Specs:
    Very comprehensive list on their website: http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/pro-ican/
    MSRP: £1495
     

    Packaging, Accessories and Build quality:
    The packaging is similar to other iFi offerings just bigger, it is white, with actual size pictures on the side, and product info and specs on the back. Once you remove the outer sleeve you are greeted by a thick car box, which holds the amp in place well during transit, and underneath you will find the accessories. I really like the simple yet effective packaging, it doesn’t look cheap or cluttered. iFi is embossed in silver on the ends of the box, a classy touch in my opinion.
     
    Accessory wise you get a pair of RCA interconnects and a remote control which controls the volume only, you also get a very good user manual. Nothing else is needed to complete the package.
     
    Build quality is on par with other offerings, an impeccable finish on the amp itself all laid out in a very symmetrical manner. It is not the best looking amp, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in features, I like the more understated look. All inputs and outputs are built to a very good standard, the volume knob is very smooth to operate and the switches are tight so you won’t accidentally increase the gain for example. On the top of the amp there are holes which help keep it cool and lets you see a little of what is inside, there is also a small window through which you can see the GE valves. The only thing I would like improved would be the bottom, it has a big rubberised patch, but I find the amp is a little light and still moves quite easily on a desk, so you have to hold it tight when plugging anything in. I think soft rubber feet on each corner may have been better.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Features:
    This amp is packed full of features, and I don’t quite know where to start.
    Input wise you get 3 sets of unbalanced RCA inputs, and a set of balanced XLR inputs, the input is selected with the big knob on the left hand side of the amp.
     
    You also get a set of XLR outputs and a pair of RCA outputs, so you can use this as a pre-amp.
     
    On the front you have the source select knob, next to this there is a smaller knob which controls the Xbass boost, then you have a jack/XLR combi socket for normal stereo 6.3mm unbalanced output or as the L balanced channel (jack or 3-pin XLR). 
     
    In the middle you have a balanced 4 pin XLR socket, and next to this you have another jack/XLR combi socket for normal stereo unbalanced 6.3mm jack or as the R balanced channel (jack or 3-pin XLR). The next small knob is the 3D sound switch, then the volume knob.
     
    Underneath these there is another layer, with the mode select (solid state, tube, tube+), normal unbalanced 3.5mm output, a balanced 4-pole 3.5mm output and then the gain switch (0dB, 9dB, 18dB).
     
    [​IMG]
     
    As you can see it is packed full of features but they are easy to find and get used to their placement on the amp.
     
    So more about the Xbass, it is not a traditional bass boost, all analogue circuitry and it provides a minimum of 12dB boost at 10/20/40Hz (selectable). It works well in combination with the 3D sound and also for leaner headphones. It is not a big increase, and doesn’t muddy the sound, and obviously will affect different headphones differently. I personally didn’t find myself using it when using Tube or Tube+ with the HE-500, but if I engage the 3D sound at 60 (solid state) I used the 20Hz boost to fill the sound out a little.
     
    The 3D sound settings are also an interesting feature, I can’t really explain it so read on their website: http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/pro-ican/
     
    What I can say is that it is subtle but makes a difference, it takes a while for your ears to get used to the sound but is does become a little more like speakers, the centre image is more focused. Using the more extreme settings on headphones does make them sound a little leaner which is where the Xbass comes in handy. The main difference is when you switch the 3D settings off and the sound just sounds a little odd and panned right and left in comparison, also the sound is slightly less fatiguing with the 3D engaged.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Now on to the main part, unfortunately I don’t have any other high end amps to compare this to, but I will try to describe this amp as best as possible.
     
    Lets start off with running it in SS mode, this is a very reference amp with no added flavour. This does mean it will show up any flaws in your music and also source, so I recommend pairing it with a good DAC. I am running it balanced from my Matrix Quattro II DAC, and I have not needed to increase the gain at all with the HE-500’s, and the volume knob is sat around the 9o’clock position.
     
    This amp handles everything with ease, never a hint of strain or harshness, it really brings out the best in the HE-500, you get the deep controlled bass that lesser amps cannot provide, but also the soundstage improves. Not artificially but one things the HE-500 lacked a little is width, which this adds, the layering is also superb. On some brighter headphones some people may find this a little fatiguing as it doesn’t take anything away from the highs, so be careful with bad recordings. But when paired with good headphones and good recordings it will let you hear every nuance and bring you sonic satisfaction.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Now lets change it to the Tube mode, like this you get a richer sound, more body and it just sounds fuller. This works wonders on the slightly brighter headphones out there, or just those who want that smoothness of tubes but without sacrificing fine detail. I find the tube mode better for just sitting back and enjoying my music, the good thing about the tubes in this is that they don’t alter the overall clear sound of the amp, they just add a touch of warmth and body.
     
    So what about the Tube+ mode? Well with this sounds a little grainier than the Tube mode, and fuller too, but it sounds ever so slightly closer in presentation (the soundstage isn’t quite as wide) the differences are not huge between Tube and Tube+, and it will depend largely on the headphones you have and on your preferences. I find Tube+ to be a little richer in tone, and a little grainier, whereas the normal Tube mode offers the added richness I like with the HE-500.
     
    [​IMG]
     
    Conclusion: I don’t even know where to start, this is a feature packed amp that has an understated look but does not disappoint on the sound front. A few people have thought this amp is jack of all trades, master of none, but in my opinion iFi have made the perfect all in one amp for all headphones and have not failed in any area. Whether you want reference sound from the SS mode, or a richer sound from the Tube mode you have it all in one neat package. Add to that the possibility of using it as a pre-amp, and being fully balanced throughout and you have a very impressive array of features for the money.
     
    The price looks high, but if you factor in buying a good solid state amp, and a good valve amp, you are looking at the same price if not more, and most likely they won’t be able to drive pretty much every headphone on the market.
    I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Pro iCan, and I wish it could stay in my permanent collection, it just works so well with anything you throw at it and has the perfect form factor too.
     
    Sound Perfection Rating: 10/10 (You won’t find this amount of power and features on another amp in this, or any other price range, and sonically this amp exceeds all expectations)
  4. Turrican2
    Like the Micro iCan, but much, much more so
    Written by Turrican2
    Published Aug 29, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Covers most peoples input/output requirements. Bags of power!. Has lots and lots of buttons and features, extremely configurable.
    Cons - Remote control is a bit 'cheap' and sometimes doesn't respond well. Maybe too much configuration for some? (stretching here....)
    Firstly, many thanks to iFi for the loan of this amp. I am not affiliated with iFi, just a regular Head-Fi addict to happens to be lucky enough to get loan units now and again from the generous iFi team.  As I've had this for a few weeks now it's time to jot down some brief thoughts and observations.

    Up until very recently, my main desktop rig consisted of iFi Micro iCan, Micro iDAC and Micro iTube housed nicely in the iRack.  I've been using this for a couple of years to drive my HE500s (now sold), AKG K3003 and laterally my Beyerdynamic T1 Gen 2 so I'm familiar with the iFi sound.  These days I own the HUGO and Beyerdynamic A2 as my desktop rig and Lotoo PAW5000 with Mojo as my portable setup..
     
     
    Package

    The iCan Pro comes in the same type of packaging as the other iFi gear, just larger! so same great unboxing experience and enough accessories to get you going.  The unit itself is satisfyingly weighty and looks to be very well made.  I like the size and design quite a bit, everything is machined well, no rough spots and you immediately get the impression this thing is built to last. This amp also has some power, 14,000 mW @ 16 Ohms!  Also included in the package is a faitly basic remote which is not really the quality I'm used to compared to the Beyerdynamic A2's remote but it'll do the job.  If you plan to use the remote a lot you might be a little dissapointed as I found it didn't always respond if it's not in perfect line of sight but YMMV. The volume knob itself on the iCan feels luxurious and smooth, no worries there!
     
     
    Front Panel

    On the front you have an array of outputs, single ended 3.5mm, Balanced 3.5mm, Balanced 4-pin xlr and twin single-ended 6.35mm sockets, so plenty of options.
    There is a large input selector on the left (mirroring the Volume knob in the right). The amp accomodates 3 analogue inputs and a balanced input.
    Also on the front are what really sets this amp apart from others, knobs to tweak in the form of XBass and 3D settings. These are extremely well implemented on this amp, quite subtle but effective.  If you have a neurtal source or bright cans, the XBass can provide a nice balance to the audio. It jumps in 3 increments, 10, 20 or 40 Hz depending on how much you need.  Similarly the 3D has 3 'stages' depending on your preference.  Similar to my experience of the iCan (which has a 2 stage 3D switch) I found for accoustic tracks it works noticably better at bringing the audio to the forefront (like speakers) but it doesn't always work so well with other tracks, in fact it makes some tracks sound 'off', you need to experiment but when it works I like it a lot.
    There are also 2 slider switches on the front:
    - Gain - 0db, 9db or 18db.  I personally found 0db to be fine with the T1 (600ohms).
    - AMP selector switch  - Here you can select purely solid state amp, the tube stage or Tube+ mode which is a bit of a hybrid mode.  As I am used to the iTube and iCan in combination this is great to see. In my experience the iTube does not provide an immediate wow factor, but if I remove it from the chain, my enjoyment of the music appears to lessen.  It's difficult to quantify but noticeable to me never-the-less.  For this reason I chose to use the Tube+ output the most.
     
    paw5k.jpg
    iCan Pro feeding the Beyerdynamic T1 Gen 2 using the 4-Pin XLR Balanced output.  Source is Lotoo PAW5000 and Mojo.
     
     
    Rear Panel
     
    Here you will find everything you need:
    L + R Balanced 3-Pin XLR female input
    3 x RCA Stereo inputs
    L + R Balanced 3-Pin XLR Male output
    1 x RCA Stereo output
    Energiser output for 'stats (sorry no more info on this).
    Power Passthrough ( I assume for the energiser module?)
     
     
    Form Factor

    This unit is a good size for desktop needs, fairly shalow and not too wide.  It's actually almost identical in width and height to the Beyerdynamic A2 amp, less deep however:
     
    IMG_20160819_191352.jpg
     
    IMG_20160819_191359.jpg
     
    Sound
     

    The first time I used the iCan (and most amount of time I spent with it) I had it paired with a Chord Hugo connected to my Gaming PC.  I also had a Jitterbug in the chain to attempt to compensate for USB noise.

    Immediately I felt at home.  This has the familiar sound I am used to with the Micro iCan/iTube only much, much more so.  Sound stage is a little fuller and it really drives the T1's well. I would never call the sound I acheived from the 'Micro' set-up 'thin', but this is a ritcher sound with more weight and more space.  I'd love to try some HE-6 on this, I have a feeling it would do them justice. After some time listening I settled upon my desired xBass setting , 20Hz, this seemed to sound about right with the T1/Hugo combo.  I tend to keep the 3D off until I know I need it (accoustic mainly). 
     
    I think the Beyerdynamic A2, to my ears has a slightly more detailed presentation and more 'real' bass tonality but I'm being super critical here, there is nothing wrong with either of these aspects on the iCan Pro.  It's really nice. The problem with comparing this with most other amps is the you can make a big or small difference to the sound just by tweaking some dials.  On the A2, aside from Gain control, you get what it offers, period. If you want to add flavour or change the presentation you need to add a warmer DAC or a Tube stage.  With the iCan it's almost too configurable, too tempting to keep pressing stuff! which can distract from the ultimate goal here, enjoying the music.  Maybe it's just me but I found it hard to stop playing with it, I guess that urge would lessen the longer I used it.

    If I didn't already have a top shelf amp, this would be on my shipping list.  Even though it's expensive, if you think about all the technology and configurability this brings to the table in one unit, it's pretty much in the right place.

    Thanks again to iFi for the loan, it was a great few weeks.  I would recommend this amp if it's within your budget. Very flexible, well designed and great sounding amplifier capable of driving hungry Cans or sensitive IEMs.
    1. smial1966
      Nice review Phil. Glad to hear that your A2 bests the iFi in some areas. :wink:
      smial1966, Aug 30, 2016
    2. Turrican2
      Thanks Andy, with my headphones, yes but the iCan is a splendid amp for sure.
      Turrican2, Aug 30, 2016
  5. thatonenoob
    [PMR Reviews] iFi Pro iCAN
    Written by thatonenoob
    Published Jul 21, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Excellent Sound, Build Quality
    Cons - Slides Around, Remote
    iFi Pro iCAN

    An Impressive Flagship Contender  



    Untitled_Panorama1.jpg
     
    INTRODUCTION

    iFi's Bid To Define A "Flagship Amplifier"​

    The Pro iCAN. An understated name for a product that politely seeks to be the alpha and omega of flagship headphone amplifiers.   The fully packed, bright red PCB is illustrative; according to iFi there is simply “no more ‘real estate’ left to develop” on the Pro iCAN.  Consider it an embodiment of the iFi philosophy.  One will not find a slick webpage for the Pro iCAN –instead be prepared to be confronted with a smorgasbord of tech and hardware specifications. Making a return at the top of the page is the rounded rectangle proclaiming the glorious 14,000 mW output power rating of the amplifier.  It’s all very impressive, in a uniquely iFi way. 
     
    It’s no secret that the Pro iCAN has been cooking for quite some time.  Well, at least one of the various iterations of the device. The development history of the iFi Pro devices (including the sister iDSD Pro) can be found in bits and pieces on the 87-page long thread here.  A more recent, dedicated thread for the Pro iCAN can also be found here.  Going through the pages, I realized just how much effort and time had gone into designing the Pro series.  In fact, the iDSD Pro went through an almost complete redesign in its still continuing development.  It’s a testament to just how far the iFi team will go to get it right.  There’s a lot of ground to cover in this review, and we’d better get started.  
     
    Disclaimer
    The iFi Pro iCAN was provided by iFi through Stereo for the purposes of this review.  I have now had it on loan for close to 3 weeks.  I am neither a paid affiliate nor an employee of iFi.  I’d like to thank the iFi team for this opportunity, and for answering my various questions.  In addition, I’d like to offer a shout out to @HiFiChris and @ClieOS, who both respectively helped aid my understanding of the finer points of RMAA measurements, especially the implications of its non-absolute nature and the scaling tendencies of the program.  It’s been a great experience with many things learnt. The Pro iCAN is truly an immense product –and one of the reasons why it took comparatively longer for me to get this review out was because there were simply so many features and combinations to test, and I didn’t want to formulate a representative opinion without first attaining a certain level of familiarity with the amp.  Thanks for reading folks, and I hope that at least some of y’all will find this helpful and/or meaningful.  Can also find it on my blog here.
     
    PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

    Fairly standard stuff.  The iFi Pro iCAN comes in nice matte box with a high quality photo on the front.  Opening it up, one sees the amplifier packed nicely into medium density foam.  It's nice to see that there is also foam on the box cover, and that the amplifier is fairly well shielded against the trials and tribulations of general shipping. included accessories are fairly straight forward:
    1. RCA Interconnects
    2. Power Supply
    3. iFi+ Native DSD Free Albums
    4. User Guide
     
    _D701321.jpg
     ​
    BUILD AND DESIGN

    One would be hard pressed to find an amplifier that captures the spirit of utilitarian practicality better than the Pro iCAN.  The first thing that struck me out of the box – the amplifier was pretty darned heavy.  Okay, maybe not as heavy as the Feliks Audio Espressivo sitting next to it, but a heck of a lot heavier than the Micro iCAN.  Think Rocky Balboa vs Ivan Drago.  The design of the amp is immediately striking –the wavy top surface collides with the concentric arcs around an off-centered magnified viewing window. It’s something that looks like it came straight out of my old multivariable calculus textbook.   My only gripe is that the front panel has not been machined to match the cross section of the “waves” on the side panels.  It’s a small detail.

     
    The front panel is symmetrical and absolutely packed with knobs and switches.  It’s hectic –and yet it all makes sense.  On the far left is input selection, followed by the XBass selection (off, 10Hz, 20Hz, 40Hz).  Directly underneath the XBass selection is the amplification mode switch (SS, Tube, Tube+).  In the center are a total of 5 headphone output options. For balanced outputs there are 2 x XLR 3-Pin, 2 x 6.3 mm TRS (iFi’s Single-Ended Compatible system), 1 x XLR 4-Pin, 1 x 3.5 mm TRRS (AK style).  For single-ended outputs, there are 2 x 6.3 mm TRS (XLR 3-Pin doubles up), and a 3.5 mm TRS.  On the far right is the volume pot, and on its left is the 3D Holographic selection (off, 30/+, 60/30+, 90/60+), with the gain switch right below it.   The back panel of the iFi Pro iCAN houses an equally impressive number of input and output options.  There’s a balanced input, 3 x unbalanced inputs (RCA), a balanced line output, and an unbalanced line output.  In addition, there is also a DC Loop-Out and a connector for iFi’s Electrostatic Add-On Module (for Stax users).
     
    _D701420.jpg
     
    The Quad-Damped Isolation Base Mount seriously had way more engineering in it than I had expected.  It features a 4-layer sandwich comprised of dual layer elastomers (fancy talk for a polymer with elastic properties, i.e. a rubber-like material) and a dual-layer of metal alloys.  Specific details about the composition of these layers can be more easily found on the iFi Pro iCAN user-manual.   However, I second an observation brought up by @Koolpep his respective review of the amplifier.  This brick slides around far too easily. Heavy weight and low friction on a smooth desktop surface are not necessarily the best characteristics to have together, especially not in an expensive flagship amplifier.
     
    Starting up the amp is fairly simple.  There's various glowing colors, and a protection circuit will be activated if something were to go seriously wrong. Glaring issues – none, except the remote control for the volume pot.  This bothers me.  Now, I’ve used Beyerdynamic’s flagship amp, which I believe has a solid implementation of the remote control idea.  The iFi Pro iCAN on the other hand has some issues.  For example, it takes me close to 15-16 separate clicks to traverse 18 degrees on the volume pot.  That’s about 75 – 80 separate clicks to traverse from 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock!  In case you’re wondering, holding down the button doesn’t do much either.  Now I’m not sure if this is because the remote is for fine-tuning, but this isn’t workable by any stretch of the imagination. I do believe that other users have reported similar issues with their units, and I hope that this will be resolved soon.  As a final note –this amp runs hot (not that this should be surprising).  

     

    TECH AND SPECIFICATIONS

    The iFi Pro iCAN is filled with a fair bit of technology.  Let’s start with the balanced capabilities of the amplifier. I’ll preface this by saying that for this review, I did not have any balanced headphones to run the Pro iCAN with. My Fostex TH-900, Audio Technica R70x and Beyerdynamic T1 are all currently wired for single-ended use. That said, I’ve gotten excellent results out of the single-ended output on the iFi Pro iCAN (more on that later), and if experience is anything to go by, the balanced will be just as good, if not better than the single ended option.  Returning to the matter of balanced circuitry, iFi is quick to point out that they have implemented a “true differential balanced” system for the Pro iCAN.  That is to say, there is no combining of signals into a single-ended path post amplification, and then splitting again for the output.  Instead, the Pro iCAN maintains two separate signal paths from end-to-end.  It’s a straightforward implementation that keeps fidelity in mind.
     
    Untitled_Panorama2.jpg
     
    At the heart of the iFi Pro iCAN is the ability to switch between the tube/ solid-state modes almost instantly.  Granted, prolonged use in solid-state mode will cause the amplifier to turn off the tubes to prolong operational life. One of the questions that I had was regarding what had changed between the Micro iCAN and the Pro iCAN from a technical perspective.  Like one concerned member brought up (and I paraphrase), it wouldn’t have been okay for a Micro iCAN to be combined with an iTube and put into a fancier enclosure.  Rest assured, no such thing occurred. The tech guys at iFi explained that the Pro iCAN is a ground-up, fully discrete design.  The Micro iCAN on the other hand utilizes a discrete gain-stage followed by a monolithic IC as a current buffer.  Passive components are shared, but that’s where the similarities end. From a sonic perspective, the difference is fairly obvious (more on that later).   The tube of choice employed in the iFi iCAN is the GE 5670.  Its implementation is also unique in the sense that there are two-individual input circuits for solid-state and tube operation.  But it’s no gimmick.  This isn’t a two-for-one that achieves nothing overall.  Consider it a refinement of operation.  Also returning are the XBass and 3D functions, which I’d like to cover in greater depth in the sound section of the review.
     
    Now for some basic RMAA results. RMAA results are only as good as the equipment used to perform the tests, and there has been a decent amount of coverage on its limitations and weaknesses.  Consider it as a broad proof-reading of published technical specifications.  And in this sense, the iCAN achieves, checking out fairly comfortably given the limitations of my rig. THD was 0.0048% and IDM + Noise at 0.013 %. Currently, I am utilizing an Asus Xonar U7 external sound card (line-in mode).  The ADC is a Cirrus Logic CS5361-KZZ that is capable of 24/192 w/ a 114 dB dynamic range.  It uses a 5th order MBT Delta-Sigma Modulator, and attains low levels of noise and distortion.  For those curious, the DAC is the equally capable CS4398-CZZ.  At any rate I’ll get to it below.
     
    Specifications: 
    Gain:0dB, 9dB and 18dB user-selectable
    Frequency Response:0.5Hz to 500kHz(-3dB)
    Total Harmonic Distortion (THD, Balanced/Single-Ended):
     BalancedSE
    Solid-State:≤0.0015%≤0.005%
    Tube:≤0.002%≤0.005%
    Tube+:≤0.012%≤0.2%

    Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR, Balanced/Single-Ended):>147dB(A) / > 137dB(A)
    Output Power (16Ω, Balanced/Single-Ended):>14,000mW / >4,800mW
    Output Voltage (600Ω, Balanced/Single-Ended):>23V / >11.5V
    Input Voltage (Pro iCAN):DC 9V/6.7A – 18V/3.35A
    Input Voltage (iPower Plus):AC 85 – 265V, 50/60Hz
    Power Consumption:≤ 22W idle, 50W max.
    Dimensions:213(l) x 192.5(w) x 63.3(h) mm
    Weight:1.93kg (4.3lbs)
    Test conditions:
    Gain = 0dB, 0.775V(0dBu) with 300 Ohm load unless stated otherwise
    SNR Balanced re 23V, SNR SE re. 11.5V

     
    SSFRResponse.png
    Solid-State FR (No Boost, No 3D, Gain 9 dB)
     ​
    BassCombinedFinal.png
    XBass FR
     ​
    Extree.png
    Solid-State, Tube, Tube Plus Compared (Scaling Pushed to Extremes, No Meaningful Discernible Difference)
     ​
    SOUND

    The Pro iCAN is a subtle and perceptive amp in my mind. It’s powerful, and yet humble in its sonic presentation. Why do I say this?  The Pro iCAN is a resolving and clean sounding amp, one that prefers to be authentic rather than dramatic in its presentation of sound.  Switching between the solid-state and tube modes, you never get the sense that you’re listening to three different amplifiers.  In my listening experience, the changes were more often than not, subtle.  And this is a very good thing.  It indicts a strong sense of sonic direction, that the team at iFi knew just how they wanted their amp to sound.  The feature set, while extensive (XBass, 3D, etc.), always complements the Pro iCAN in an intuitive manner, and represents why they cannot be discounted as gimmicks. 
     
    The XBass functionality has returned in both 10, 20, and 40 Hz options.  It relies on analog signal processing (no DSP), and provides a minimum 12 dB boost at the previously stated levels (see RMAA results).  It is a clean boost that depending on the level can add a slight to moderate emphasis at subbass levels.  It’s well-executed, and can make some tracks significantly more fun to listen to. 
     
    The 3D Holographic System (also no DSP) makes a return as well on the Pro iCAN, and is even better implemented than before.  In a retrospective comparison, the Pro iCAN’s implementation makes that of the Micro iCAN look a tad unrefined and even a bit brash.  The 30˚ Loudspeaker Angle simulates narrow loudspeaker placement, and it really works on some of the crazier stereo recordings.  Running ACJ’s Stone Flower, I found that it worked decently to tame the rather extreme placement of instruments (my right ear is ever thankful).  The 60˚ Loudspeaker Angle is meant to simulate an equilateral triangle placement and I often found that it was a good center ground to listen at.  The 90˚ Loudspeaker Angle is quite impressive.  While listening to the Vangelis’ Antarctica OST on this setting, I encountered an overwhelming spatiality that made for an awesome experience.  Of course, it won’t be suitable for all recordings, and one shouldn't expect it to do so either.
     
    _D701414.jpg
     
    What follows are my general observations on the differences between the Pro iCAN’s various operation modes.  To start, the perceived difference between the SS and Tube modes was less immediately obvious than between the Tube+ mode. The Tube+ mode reduces negative feedback, and thus allows the musical even order harmonics that play nicely on tubes to take precedence.  Naturally, there is a corresponding increase in distortion.  I think that it is important to note that you will not encounter any major roll-off on either end of the frequency spectrum while using the Pro iCAN in both of its tube modes (see RMAA).  The SS mode was obviously the cleanest, and represented an excellent mix of dynamics and resolution.  It is speedy and responsive, and sounded excellent.  Compared to the Micro iCAN, it sounds much more refined, airy, and generally more transparent.  Consider this to be the pinnacle of the “iFi sound”.  Switching over to the Tube state, the tonality more or less remains the same.  There is a weightier bass and a slightly increased mid-range presence.  The way I’d describe this increase in presence is as if the “shadows” of sounds had increased in size (a little abstract I suppose).  In other words, the sound space had been “filled up”. The Tube Plus mode was interesting.  It’s perhaps the “tubiest" of the three states.  It’s a luxurious, smooth sound that still maintains the resolution and soundstage performance of the prior two settings. In a bit of a wildcard match up, I threw the Feliks Audio Espressivo into the mix.  I feel that the latter has excellent synergy with the T1, and I was interested to hear how it would fare against a much more expensive Pro iCAN.  This is where I felt the iCAN could have used a slightly more dramatic presentation.  Compared to the Espressivo, the iCAN sounded at times a bit too smooth and even restrained.  Granted, it wins squarely on technical performance and soundstage/ imaging, but the result isn’t quite as powerful sounding as the Espressivo.  I recognize that there is a need to stay within certain sonic boundaries (and I mentioned this as a strength at the start of this section), but there is a lingering feeling that just a bit more shine could’ve been added.  Overall, I loved the SS and Tube modes, and occasionally did enjoy dipping into the Tube+.
     
    Now are some of my thoughts on how the Pro iCAN performed with a selection of tracks.
     
    Orchestral - Princess Mononoke OST (Joe Hisaishi)
    The Pro iCAN did stunningly on this.  The sound is very big, and the lower frequencies have great presence and physical impact.  The highs are not in the least bit limited and it feels like I've managed to hit the limit of my T1's vertical soundstaging capability.  Trombones are brought to life with an excellent portrayal of the instrument's ability to sound incredibly metallic and dramatic when played at forte. Similarly, the traditional Japanese Koto never lost its place in the mix with the help of the Pro iCAN's detail retrieval/ separation.  I found presentation to be mostly on par between the three modes with slight variances in line with my original impressions above.
     
    Bossa Nova/ Jazz - So Nice (Wanda Sa)
    The bass line is very tight, and well-controlled with just enough quantity. Wanda Sa's voice is nicely textured, and contrasts well with the rest of the band.  I did not enjoy this on Tube+ as much though. The lower frequencies, while being quite lush, almost felt a tad too bloomy.  The slight edge on the instrumentals, especially the plucking on the bass, was lost and it demonstrated an instance where the Tube+ didn't do as great as I'd have hoped for.  
     
    Chill-Out/ Downtempo - International Flight (David Snell, Thievery Corporation)
    This is a congested track if not properly handled.  There are simply a lot of instruments playing at once.  However, the Pro iCAN navigated it brilliantly. Between the drums and the harp, the Pro iCAN simply breezed through the track, keeping the bassline at a comfortable distance and placing just the right amount of emphasis on the harp.  The one thing I did note was that in SS mode, the harp tended to get a slight bit peaky, especially on the T1.  But apart from that , it was a great showing from the Pro iCAN.
     
    Pop - Goodbye Stranger (Super Tramp)
    Hey, you can't beat some cheesy pop from the 1970s/80s.  The wonderful synth tracks were well executed, and the vocals felt clean and clear amidst the Wurlitzer Piano, electric/ bass guitars, keyboards, and percussion.  The one thing that I did note was that the sound in SS wasn't as euphonic as I would've liked, but switching into the Tube modes fixed this.  It wasn't a huge difference, but it helped "push" the Pro iCAN nicely in a direction that I wanted it to go while still maintaining its base performance/ core sound signature.
     
    FINAL THOUGHTS

    This is a great amplifier.  I really don't have much else to say, except that if you enjoyed iFi's previous offerings, this will definitely be a hit with you.  It's got a clean, resolving, and technically excellent signature which can be adjusted ever so slightly with a myriad options, ranging from a simple bass enhancement (XBass) to completely changing the core operation of the amplifier from solid state to tubes.  And speaking of XBass, the traditional iFi set of features has returned in this new amplifier in a refined and upgraded form. As a flagship, the iCAN Pro has got just about everything that I'd expect and hope for, and if you put aside its remote control issues and its tendencies to slide around, you have a real winner.  Congrats iFi!
     
    Untitled_Panorama3.jpg
      earfonia, peter123, Hisoundfi and 3 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. dpump
      I understand your dilemma of having so many irons in the fire. Not sure from reading your intro but It seems you got the amp from a dealer? If that is correct, they should probably have provided you with balanced phones to use. None the less, you did a great job with what you had. I'm in the same boat as you being retired and on a meager fixed income. I think the iCAN Pro would be endgame for me, but it's way out of my budget. I sure would like to try it though to see if it would be all I would want.
      dpump, Jul 21, 2016
    3. thesheik137
      nice review (and measumerents!) , but what types of headphones and IEMs (if any) did you use to test this equipment and what were the differences? that would be good to know, thanks
      thesheik137, Jul 22, 2016
    4. h1f1add1cted
      @thesheik137 He wrote in the review about his used gear: "...Fostex TH-900, Audio Technica R70x and Beyerdynamic T1 are all currently wired for single-ended use..."
      h1f1add1cted, Jul 22, 2016
  6. Koolpep
    One amp to rule them all - 14,000mW dual mode amp
    Written by Koolpep
    Published May 31, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Drives EVERYthing, from HE-6 to IEMs, plenty of connections, customizable sound, fully balanced, incredible sound quality
    Cons - slides around flat surfaces
    REVIEW: ifi Pro iCAN
     
    Equipment used:
    Headphones: Sennheiser HD800S, Hifiman Edition X, Hifiman HE-560, AKG K7XX, Audeze LCD-2f, Sennheiser Momentum, HD-650, Oppo PM-2, PM-3, Aurisonics ASG 2.5, Noble K10U, LZ-A3, plenty of other IEMs.
     
    All images are full-size and can be clicked and seen full screen.
     
    DSC01537.jpg  
     
     
    The HD800S leans heavily on the Pro iCAN below:
      DSC01541.jpg
     
     
     
     
    Music used:
    From Röyksopp to Amber Rubarth, Diana Krall to Apoptygma Berzerk, Tom Jones to Sphongle, Yello to Camouflage, mostly FLACs 24/96 or 16/44.1 - some mp3 320kbps, some AAC 256kbps
    Depending on headphone high or low gain - no EQ
     
    Disclaimer: samma3a.com and @Mazen4samma3a provided me with a demo unit of the ifi Pro iCAN. I am not affiliated with ifi or Samma3a.com Though I really highly appreciate what samma3a is doing for the audiophiles in the region!! Thank you so much for letting me test and review this amazing amp. I do own the iUSB2, iDSD nano and iDSD micro from ifi. 
     
    TL;DR
     
    Conclusion: I called the ifi iDSD micro the Swiss Army Knife of portable/desktop DAC/amps. The Pro iCan is that times 1,000 in the desktop amp range. Versatile, tube-sound, solid state sound, tube+ sound, power to drive an HE-6 and highly sensitive 8 Ohm IEMs, fully balanced mode, connectors for ANYthing. And a sound quality that you usually have to pay at least double the amount for. I so want this amp. This amp is pure endgame material. There is no reason to own anything else. If you can afford this beauty.
     
     
    Now, the longer version:
     
    Packaging & Accessories
     
    As usual - clever packed by ifi with all essentials in the box. Power supply (iPower Plus) the amp it self, a remote, manual, warrantee card and a set of cable (RCA cable).
     
     
     
    Technical Highlights
     
    Balanced headphone amplifier. Two system amplification stage, one tubes, one pure class A solid state. 2 GE 5670 new old stock tubes are the heart of the tube stage, ultra low noise, J-Fets are the core of the solid state stage.
     
    Ouput: 
    14,000mW @16Ω (peak, constant 4,800mW) 
    240mW @600Ω
    Dynamic Range: > 117 dB
    THD: <0.003%
    Analogue processing: X-Bass in 3 levels, 3D Sound in 3 levels
    Gain: 0dB, 9dB, 18dB
     
    Headphone outputs:
    3.5mm single ended
    3.5mm balanced
    6.35mm single ended
    3 pin XLR balanced (left and right) right connector works as well as single ended 6.35mm)
    4 pin XLR balanced
     
    DSC01506.jpg
     
     
    Outputs:
    balanced 3pin XLR (left /right)
    RCA output - single ended
     
    Inputs:
    3 x RCA single ended in
    3 pin XLR balanced input
     
    DSC01535.jpg       DSC01536.jpg
     
     
    Sound effects:
    X-Bass in 3 levels (OFF, 10Hz, 20Hz, 40Hz)
    3D Sound in 3 levels (OFF, 30, 60, 90 headphones)
     
    DSC01531.jpg   DSC01529.jpg
     
     
     
    Usability and Build Quality
     
    Build quality is great. every knob feels solid and every dial is weighty and smooth. The volume knob is motorized and can be operated via remote (I didn’t have the remote for the test though).
     
    The iCan has a special power supply unit that is of the ultra low noise variant. You can’t fault ifi on their power supplies, they are always amazingly clean. Another add-on part for this amplifier will be the Electrostatic Headphone Energizer. A separate box that can be connected to the Pro iCan that delivers up to 1,700V Peak - with Bias selectable for Stax, HiFi/Pro, Sennheiser and other manufacturers. It’s not yet clear when it’s coming.
     
    The switches and knobs from left to right:
     
    • Power button:
      Press it and the iCan starts the boot up procedure. Relays click, laser needle stitched logos light up and change color, once in operating temperature, depending on mode (solid state or tube) the light changes and let’s you know it’s ready.
    • Input selector:
      Large dial on the left. The same size as the volume knob on the opposite side. Choose between 3 analogue inputs and balanced input.
    • Bass selector:
      Switches the XBass from OFF to 10Hz,20HZ,40Hz - increases the bass response of headphones or speakers to your liking purely in the analogue domain.
    • Amp mode switch:
      3 mode switch that selects solid state operating mode of the amp, tube mode or a tube+ mode.
    • Headphone outputs:
      3.5mm single ended, balanced, 6.35mm single ended, 3pin XLR and 4pin XLR
    • 3D selector knob:
      Selects the analog 3D/soundstage enhancement effect in 3 levels plus OFF
    • Gain stage selector switch:
      0dB, 9dB and 18dB selector.
    • Volume knob:
      motorized knob turn it to change the volume.
     
      DSC01527.jpg     DSC01497.jpg
     
     
     
     
    Build Quality
     
    The enclosure is aluminum - it feels great to the touch - Interesting cutouts that let the lights of the LEDs and tubes shine through the housing as well as ensure the device has enough heat escape ports. It does get quite hot in operation.
     
    Everything feels solid and nice - however my only real negative with this amp is: it’s too light. Yes, I really mean it. You cannot plug in a XLR or even a normal headphone without making sure you hold the amp with your other hand. It has a large antiskit rubber pad on the bottom of it but thanks to it’s really low weight it happily moves around very easily. A small pull from a headphone cable and it moves. I believe this amp should be at least 1kg heavier. It’s meant for desktop use, so really shouldn’t slither along like a snake. But that is it. That’s all of my criticism. 
     
    DSC01547.jpg
    Bottom anti-skid rubber could be stickier....
     
    Sound Quality Comparisons & Usage
     
    General
     
    Using the Pro iCan
     
    For an amp that is as powerful as the iCan Pro - it’s important that it’s save. You can switch everything while the amp in in operation without causing anything to break. Changing the gain, makes some relays tick and before the new gain engages you have a few seconds to react to your input before your ears might get blasted with too much power :wink: 
     
    Switching from solid state to tube mode, creates a small break of 20-30 seconds until the tubes have reached operating temperature. When switching from tube mode to solid state mode the tubes don’t immediately switch off - they stay on for some time longer, to not expose the tubes to many on/off cycles. Only when not used in a longer period do the tubes switch off. Every other command is done immediate and you hear the result.
     
    DSC01538.jpg    
     
     
    Sound quality
     
    Overall: how did they mix detail, smoothness, rich and satisfying sound, with precise imaging and soundstage?
     
    Solid state mode:
    Detailed, neutral and balanced solid state mode. Plenty of power to even drive the most demanding headphones. I was quite impressed that this little thing can drive the HE-6 well and loud. In general Hifimans seems to sound better to me in this mode while Sennheiser and Audezes sounded better in tube mode. 
     
    Tube mode:
    In tube mode you get that addictive bottom end. Just recently I declared that the WA8 from Woo audio drove my T90 best ever. Now I have to announce that my LCD-2 never sounded better than on this ifi amp in tube mode. Brilliant mids, lovely bass, the way Audezes should sound. Confirmed on LCD-3 - just magical. slightly warmer sound in general with a tad treble (but not detail) roll-off. Silky smooth, sound. Like velvet. 
     
    DSC01500.jpg
     
     
    Hybrid mode:
    Sort of best of both worlds. You have the highs form solid state with the bottom end of the tubes - a slightly silkier version of solid-state alone - a wining combo.
     
    In all modes the iCan Pro drives IEMs as well when connected via 3.5mm plug. I also connected plenty of headphones at the same time - the iCAN didn't break a sweat.
     
    EDIT: I previously called this mode: hybrid mode. That was wrong. It's tube+ mode - not a hybrid mode. ifi describes this like that:
    We are tube lovers and we appreciate sometimes there is a need for even more tube-like sound, there are two tube settings – Tube and Tube+. The Tube+ position reduces overall loop-gain and thus negative feedback to the minimum. This gives a different trade-off between the tube’s natural harmonics and the transient performance.
     
    DSC01546.jpg   
     
     
    Conclusion & Issues
     
    DSC01542.jpg
     
     
    Having just reviewed the WA-8 and found it to be one of the best sounding amps, I have yet another absolute hit product to report on. The crazy thing is that this time we have an amp that costs about the same - offers crazy amounts of peak power (up to 14,000mW peak and more than 4,800mW constant) - so it can drive even the most demanding planar magnetic headphones with ease. It also offers 3.5mm outputs with IEM match technology so you can run sensitive IEMs from it without hiss. This amp is a technological marvel. It’s well put together and sounds just brilliant. 
     
    It also saves you a lot of money as you have a tube amp, a class A solid state amp and a hybrid amp in one. you can drive everything from IEMs to Planars (and with an add-on in the future even electrostatic headphones).
     
    Here is a tear down video I found: https://youtu.be/qla2KXNXfdw
     
    Take a look at the design and how well the PCBs are designed. The lovely tubes in it….it’s a joy to look at such a well put together amplifier in such a small housing.
     
    ifi came out to assault the “state of the art” and to my ears - they fully succeeded. It’s an amp that can seriously push any kind of headphones to its limits. 
     
    One very welcomed consequence from using this amp: Having heard my headphones with this amp: PM-2, HE-560, LCD-2f etc. made me appreciate them even more. I thought I am ready to move to TOTL (top of the line) headphones, like the Edition X or HD800S. Now I know there is still so much life in my current headphones and so many areas I haven't yet explored - I should rather keep them and listen a few months or years longer with an endgame amp like this one. And an endgame amp this amp is (of course, my humble opinion for my humble setup and budget) . I am pretty sure there is not much in the same price range (and probably double the price) that comes close. And if it comes close sound quality wise, it won’t offer the versatility. 
     
    As an alternative and if you don’t have really hard to drive headphones, or you don't need balanced outputs, the WA-8 is in the same price range and also sounds sublime, has a smaller footprint but lacks the versatility and future proofing to a certain extent.
     
    Rating: Full 5 stars (would give it 7 if possible).
     
    THANKS to www.samma3a.com and @Mazen4samma3a for the review loaner! So sad to see it go back :frowning2: This is my new dream amp (again).
    1. View previous replies...
    2. punit
      As usual great job Koolpep.I have spent quality time with this amp (had a loaner for a few days) & I agree fully with this review. It really surprised me with HE 6. This is a TOTL amp.
      punit, Jun 7, 2016
    3. obsidyen
      Great review as always, German precision. :) I really want to try this amp.
      obsidyen, Jun 15, 2016
    4. cjs001
      Damn, wish it had come with speaker level output for passive speakers.
      cjs001, Jul 2, 2016