iFi Audio xCAN

General Information

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Inputs
Wireless ESS Sabre 44.1/48k 16-Bit (AAC and aptX)
Wired 3.5mm and 2.5mm
No USB audio input

Max Output S-Balanced > 3.8V / 45 mW (@ 300 Ohm)
> 3.5V / 380 mW (@ 32 Ohm)
> 3.1V / 600 mW (@ 16 Ohm

Balanced > 7.6V / 90 mW (@ 600 Ohm)
> 7.2V / 800 mW (@ 64 Ohm)
> 5.7V / 1,000 mW (@ 32 Ohm)

THD & N S-Balanced < 0.005% (@ 100 mW/1.26V 16 Ohm)
Balanced < 0.006% (@ 360 mW/2.4V 16 Ohm)

SNR S-Balanced > 121dBA (@ 3.8V)
Balanced >120dBA (@ 7.6V)

Recommended HP Impedance 16~600 Ohm

Max. Input S-Balanced 3V RMS
Balanced 6V RMS

Gain -95dB to +18dB adjustable in 114 1dB steps (using volume control)

Frequency Response < 2Hz – > 200kHz (-3dB)

Playback Time > 8 hours (charging via USB port)
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Pros: + Constreuction quality is top notch
+ Newer xBass II even better than older xBass
+ Excellent overall detail, dynamics and punch
+ Has Bluetooth
+ Good overall value
Cons: - Battery Life not that great if you're using hard to drive headphones / IEMs
- Smudge / fingerprints prone
- Not practical for portability if not using Bluetooth

More Powah - iFi xCan Amplifier Review



All jokes connected to the xCan name were made already, so I went with something more organic this time around... iFi xCan is an Amplifier designed by iFi, which also features a Bluetooth Module, but which requires to be fed signal from an external DAC (basically receives a Line Out Signal from another device). With a Price Point of about 300 USD, the main competitors I will be comparing it to are iFi xDSD which is priced at 400 USD, FiiO M11, which is priced at 450 USD, and xDuoo XD-10, which is priced at 250 USD.




Introduction


iFi is a well known name with the music loving crowds, be it for their creativity, friendly image, or for their sometimes crazy products, like their power strips and signal cleaners. This being said, they are known to be reliable, they fix their products, even their older ones, and they are one of the companies you should never be afraid to purchase from, and instead, one of the companies I recommend the most if you need good support.

It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with iFi, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by iFi or anyone else. I'd like to thank iFi for providing the sample for the review. This review reflects my personal experience with iFi xCan. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in iFi xCan find their next music companion.



About me


https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/about.html



Packaging


First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:





I don't even know why I still write something here, since pics are usually self-explanatory, and unless the product is a flagship, I think I'll just reduce the length of the parts of the review that really aren't necessary. Well, now to judge xCan, iFi was pretty forward-thinking and included a few things with it, things which I forgot to take a photo of actually, making me a bit of a klutz.

The package includes


A carrying pouch
Velcro attachment strips
3.5 mm male-to-male AUX cable
2.5 mm male-to-male balanced AUX cable
1 Usb-C charging cable


The package is complete enough for any needs, and I don't think there's anything I could say is missing and which I would require.



What to look in when purchasing a high-end DAC/AMP


https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/what-to-lookl.html



Technical Specifications






Build Quality/Aesthetics/UI/Firmware


At first glance, the build quality and design, Aesthetics and everything makes it really hard to tell the new xCan apart from the xDSD, and well, that is true. They have pretty much the same chassis, and I would expect both to be plagued by the same issues, like some people reporting that xDSD is prone to fingerprints.



The new parts and the improvements over xDSD can be found in the amplification stage of the xCan, where it has quite a different approach than the bigger brother.

Now, if I was to call the issues here, the xCan actually has a DAC chip inside, but it is meant to decode only the signal from the Bluetooth receiver, basically meaning that you can't feed it digital signal, even though in theory it has the necessary parts for it. While I like the addition of bluetooth to what would otherwise be a very traditional Analogue Amplifier, I do think that adding a digital input would have been a good idea, even though it would have crossed the road into xDSD's design.

Where xDSD could deliver a 500 mW into a 16 OHM load, xCan can deliver a 600mW into a 32 OHM load, in unbalanced mode. If you dare to use the balanced output, you'll even see a full watt into a 32 OHM load, making xCan one of the strongest portables, and considerably stronger than most DAPs available today, especially those in the 300 USD - 500 USD price range.


There is a Balanced input, in case you have a source with a Balanced Line Out, so you have full Balanced Amplification stage. This being said, the availability of anything with a Balanced Line Out is really scarce at this moment.

The 3D+ and the x-Bass features from the other iFi products are also implemented in the xCan, and since I tend to use both usually, I am happy iFi still includes those, each works really well with certain headphones or IEMs. For example, with Sundara, I engage the x-Bass almost always, while with Verum One I engage the 3D+ often.

The x-Bass II thingy offers three settings, one for Bass, one for Presence and one for Bass + Presence. What those are, is basically, one gives you real bass, 80 Hz and lower, and that is the bass. The presence gives you a thicker sound, and generally enhances the 80 Hz - 250 Hz area, making the sound warmer and thicker. The Bass + Presence increases both.




The addition of a Type-C charging port is pretty nice, and the battery life of the xCan is about 18 hours on wired mode and 12 on wireless, as quoted by iFi. Those are for when using the unit at about 50% volume and with pretty power-efficient IEMs, as I would say that the 12 Hours on wireless is okay for IEMs, but when using it wired with something like Sundara, and at high volumes, you would get closer to 10 hours of battery life. I used the xCan considerably more in wired mode than in bluetooth mode, because the sound quality is considerably better with metal music, and bluetooth, although it offers APT-X, you can still hear the bluetooth compression if you know where to look, meaning that unless you need to go bluetooth, going wired will sound better.

Fun thing about its battery though, is that you can leave it always on, as a desktop AMP, and it won't degrade the battery life quite that fast because iFi imbues their products with a battery protection feature that prolongs the battery life regardless of the usage scenario.

All in all, the xCan is a feature-rich unit with tons of bells and whistles, and not exactly a typical Analogue Amplifier, but instead something a bit more interesting.



Sound Quality

The sound quality of the xCan is very similar to the xDSD, although superior and an improvement in most ways. The first thing you notice is that it is more quiet with hissy and very sensitive IEMs, and that you can describe the xCan as a pretty neutral-ish sounding AMP, with a pretty tight and punchy bottom end, a clear top end with better extension than all of the BL line DAC/AMPs, with a rich and organic midrange, and with a good amount of dynamics. For this review, I have used iBasso DX220 and X7mkii as DACs, si their Line Outs, and I have used Single Ended modes only to be able to make fair comparisons and assessments against other products that do not have a balanced mode (most of the direct competitors not having a Balanced Output).



The bass is considerably more tight and punchy than iFi Nano Black Label, for example, and although the iNano BL is more warm, the definition and punch itself, as well as the general low reach is better on the xCan. Engaging the xBass feature will slow down the bass a bit, but provides larger body and a warmer sound, meaning that you can use more bright and sparkly sounding headphones / IEMs without having to worry about a dry or too flat sound.

In the midrange you can hear an organic tilt, as the voices are slightly forward, and engaging the xBass feature only may be a poor idea, as it may dull and thicken the sound a bit much, compared to engaging both the xbass and the 3D features at the same time, which although will push the midrange in the background a bit, will contrast everything better. If you like a more mid-focused approach, engaging neither of the 3D or the xBass features is your best bet.

The treble tends to be pretty sparkly already, but if that wasn't enough, you can always engage the 3D sound thingy and you'll get a wider soundstage with a more forward treble, so a more sparkly overall sound. This is a pleasing addition to my ears, and I almost always keep both the 3D sound thingy and the XBass turned on, as a more V-shaped sound has better contrast and is more impressive, which works quite well with metal and rock music, but also with Vocaloid and J-Rock / J-Pop.

Overall, another impressive feature of xCan was that it was able to drive the HIFIMAN Arya, which is a fairly strong headphone, and did so pretty effortlessly. The dynamics were top notch, and so is the overall definition and details, making xCan a pretty strong portable, and desktop AMP.



Potable Usage


Now, here's a place where I don't think xCan is quite excellent. Most DAC/AMP units have an explanation why you'd want to take them portably, but with xCan, you need to have a pretty potent DAP to have a good DAC signal to feed it, and want to use it portably, and using an all-iFi setup portably is a pretty poor idea, since you really don't want to stack xDSD and xCan and a transport, portably.



Furthermore, the input is on the back, while the output is on the front, meaning that you need to clear both sides of the unit to pocket it. This makes xCan more transportable than a true portable AMP unit.

The bright side though, is that if you're content with the sonic quality of the Bluetooth connection, you won't have issues using xCan portably, and you can even hide it in a pocket or backpack, the bluetooth connection is rock solid, and you don't have to worry about dropped signal and such. Plus, the battery life is quite long like this as well, unless you're driving hard-to-drive headphones, which I assume most people won't do portably.



Comparisons

There are lots of products that should be compared to xDSD in terms of ability, but for today, iFi xDSD (400 USD), xDuuo XD10 Poke (250 USD), and FiiO M9 (450 USD) will be today's enemies for iFi xCan




iFi xCan vs FiiO M9 - FiiO M9 is a magical device because it has pretty much everything, including the price point to be a sweet deal. This being said, I think that compared to xCan, the xCan has WAY more driving power, more control and more punch / impact sonically. This is great actually,because you can use M9 as the DAC and strap on xCAN to it, and have a stack there, and take advantage of the best of both worlds.

iFi xCan vs iFi xDSD - I feel like this entire review has been a full on comparison between the xDSD and the xCan, but let's go over a few things again. The most important differences are that xDSD has a DAC inside and you can feed it a digital signal, the xCAN has both a balanced and unbalanced out, xCAN has way more driving power, and has the newer xBass implementation, where you can choose where the bass adds to. The xDSD is the simpler device to use, with a less intricate transport, but if you have a DAP that already has a good line-out and want just an Amplifier, or if you don't mind using bluetooth, the xCan is the better choice.

iFi xCan vs xDuoo XD10 Poke - Okay, so DX10 poke is quite a bit less expensive than xCan, but has both a DAC and an AMP in that price, and also a Bass Boost function. So why would you go with xCan? Well, one reason would be power, another reason would be bluetooth, then there's the fact that XD10 Poke can sound a bit digital-ish, where xCan will be more organic in the midrange and less bright without the bass turned on. There's also the lower noise floor which is attractive, but if you're low on cash, I can surely recommend XD10 Poke as easily now as when I initially reviewed it.



Pairing


For the pairing part of this review, I chose Campfire Atlas, Verum One, and Final Audio E5000. Makes me wonder if iFi will be planning on making IEMs or Headphones later on to be honest, but I have not written this in this review, nor do I possess knowledge about such a plan.



iFi xCan + Campfire Atlas - I can say from the start that all of the pairings are with smooth and dark-ish sounding IEMs / headphones, because I really like that xCan has that 3D feature that can bump some sparkle and life in the top end, and the fun part is that this is not even its forte, but rather the xBass is really well implemented. Even so, I spent a lot more time looking into how to make my darker and smoother stuff sound more lively. With Atlas, this isn't the case actually, and I like the xCan best at its default state without either the xBass or the 3D features turned on, just its main sound works really well with Atlas, that black background and everything making Atlas sound quite nicely.

iFi xCan + Verum One - With Verum One, I always liked how easy it was to drive, yet how well it scaled with good amplifiers and sources. xCan is no exception, and I feel that they make a great pair together, especially if you want to engage the 3D soundstage feature and give Verum One a bump to sound wider, more open and more sparkly in the top end, where it is quite smooth by default.

iFi xCan + Final E5000 - With E5000, the fact that you have enough power sure is welcome, because the E5000 eats so much power, it is crazy. Furthermore, with E5000, you have the possibility of either giving it even more bass, although I highly doubt you'd want that, but instead you can make it sound more sparkly and even wider and even more open, by engaging the 3D feature.



Value and Conclusion


It has been a lot of fun reviewing the xCan, but what about its value and price? Well, priced at 300 USD, and having a similar performance to xDSD, or rather even better on the amplifier part, and having a Bluetooth module, the xCan surely is a good purchase, good value and overall can't complain one bit about its value.



The build quality is pretty great, as long as you don't mind a few smudges and fingerprints. Furthermore, there is a new x-Bass which is even more customizable than the first, making the xCan even more versatile than the xDSD, sonically, and the 3D soundstage feature is as helpful as always. The only thing that's missing is a DAC and a digital input, but you have Bluetooth if you want to go that way, and the xCan has balanced inputs and balanced outputs, making it pretty darn great.

The sound is iFi's magical touch, with a pretty neutral-ish approach, an organic midrange, clear and punchy bass, sparkly top end, and with the x-Bass 2 and the 3D+ features, you can customise it to your liking as much as you want.



At the end of this review, if you're looking for a pretty versatile amplifier, that you can use as a desktop unit, and as a portable one as well, one that has Bluetooth and well-implemented analogue effects, like the x-Bass II and the 3D soundstage feature, and which has a fairly good battery life, good driving power, and both a Single Ended input and output, you should totally check out iFi's xCan Amplifier!



Product Link (no affiliate links)


https://ifi-audio.com/products/xcan/



Full Playlist used for this review

While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.



Youtube Playlist


https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_cjBXGmwSHSdGcwuc_bKbBDGHL4QvYBu



Tidal Playlist


https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b



Song List

Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date

Eskimo Callboy - Frances
Incubus - Summer Romance
Electric Six - Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir
Breaking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us
Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom - Song Pong
Attack Attack - Kissed A Girl
Doctor P - Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate - Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD - Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop
Crow'sclaw - Loudness War
Eminem - Rap God
Stromae - Humain À L'eau
Sonata Arctica - My Selene
Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back
Metallica - Fuel
Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable
Masa Works - Golden Japang
REOL - Luvoratorrrrry
Dope - Addiction
Korn - Word Up!
Papa Roach - ... To be Loved
Fever The Ghost - Source
Fall Out Boy - Immortals
Green Day - Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge
A static Lullaby - Toxic
Royal Republic - Addictive
Astronautalis - The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans - My Love
Skillet - What I Believe
Man With A Mission - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei - Mirror
Mojo Juju - Must Be Desire
Falling Up - Falling In Love
Manafest - Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela - Paris
Zomboy - Lights Out
Muse - Resistance
T.A.T.U &amp; Rammstein - Mosaku
Grey Daze - Anything, Anything
Katy Perry - Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 - Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy - Killer Instinct
Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
Sirenia - Lithium And A Lover
Saving Abel - Addicted
Hollywood Undead - Levitate
The Offspring - Special Delivery
Escape The Fate - Smooth
Samsara Blues Experiment - One With The Universe
Dope - Rebel Yell
Crazy Town - Butterfly
Silverstein - My Heroine
Memphis May Fire - Not Over Yet


I hope my review is helpful to you!

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Contact me!











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jeffhawke
jeffhawke
Just got myself an ex-demo, at a fantastic low price. Waiting for it to arrive and be paired to my LG V30 as portable setup.
Dobrescu George
Dobrescu George
Pros: Outstanding sound from Bluetooth
Good, clean audio from amp section
Able to drive almost any portable headphones
Cons: The finish shows fingerprints
No easy way to cycle back and forward through audio tracks without phone/source device
iFi Audio xCAN Portable Headphone Amplifier
DSC_5436 small.jpg
I’ve taken longer with this review than I’ve taken with any other to date, and it’s for good reasons. (Though I’ve enjoyed the extended listening time because of it.)

But first, for those of you who just want to know if I consider it a worthy buy without caring about the “why”, then, “Yes”. I consider the xCAN to be a very worthwhile travel companion for people both commuting/traveling and those who just need a solid mid-Fi portable audio solution with an extremely reasonable footprint for the performance and features offered.

That said; I will now go into the “why”.

A couple of years ago, I reviewed the iFi micro iDSD. And that portable DAC/Amp completely surpassed what I considered possible for a portable DAC and amplifier to be capable of near-desktop-class power output! The features offered (“3D”, “XBass”, “IEMatch”, “Polarity Match”, etc..) were completely beyond anything that I had ever auditioned. So needless to say, I ran right out and immediately bought one that day.

This winter, iFi approached me to review the xCAN, which I wasn’t expecting to be surprised by after using their new xDSD, which among other things, shrinks the size of the iDSD, and adds Bluetooth connectivity. So a new headphone amplifier with Bluetooth connectivity initially left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. However, once I started to put iFi’s xCAN amplifier through its paces, I realized that I had sold their new offering woefully-short.
Simply put, the xCAN not only enables you to listen to your music while untethered but augments the convenience by providing you with the ability to listen to your music via balanced audio as well. Yes, I have other balanced audio sources and even a tiny portable ES100 from Radsone that I use regularly. But none of them can power my more demanding headphones on the road/in the air like the xCAN is able to.

Truly “portable” at only 131 grams, the xCAN provides mobile audio with a 2200mAh battery which is rated up to eight hours, (I averaged a bit over six hours as I was regularly testing it with more demanding headphones.) But the best features to me personally, are the xCAN’s balanced (2.5mm TRRS) and single-ended (3.5mm TRS) inputs and outputs.
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Traveling with your phone is great and relatively “transparent” since most people now carry their phones with them 24/7. But if you want to step-up your audio experience beyond “low bit-rate” music streaming services and MP3, then getting more power into your hi-res capable headphones than the typical smartphone can muster is a great way to do so. Enter the xCAN.

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Now, while I still LOVE my micro iDSD, calling it “portable” is a bit of a stretch. (It's better described as "travel sized".) It DOES operate on battery power, but its long, metal chassis stays in my laptop bag on the plane as there usually isn’t room for it anywhere else, and it certainly doesn’t fit in a pocket unless I’m bundled up in a coat. However, the xCAN is about half the length of my micro iDSD, and noticeably thinner as well. And thanks to its Bluetooth connectivity, (Which remembers up to eight devices!) I don’t even need to have cables running into my laptop bag anymore. An added bonus is the xCAN’s support for AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency codecs, the latter of which is perfect for syncing audio to videos I often watch on my phone, laptop​
or tablets.
DSC_5437 small.jpg

MANY thanks to Lawrance and all the amazing people over at iFi for making this review unit available to me! I had the opportunity to evaluate "real life" usage of the xCAN on both short and long flights, (5 hours in the air as well as airport time.) cab rides, train trips, and shuttle commutes. In EVERY way, the xCAN performed like a champ. Plenty of power for iems and Bose Quiet Comfort 25 headphones (Wired connection), lots of battery longevity, and great ease of use without the need to have my phone attached! (A great convenience when a call comes in and you don't have to hold up a bunch of inter-connected devices just to hold a business conversation.)

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LOOKS

The xCAN sports a matte, anodized finish. The controls are also fairly straight-forward - A huge, rotating knob adjusts the volume and also doubles as the “POWER” and “mode” selector. A long-press of the button powers on the xCAN, initially lighting the button up in the color of the selected mode. The two modes being: (GREEN light) “Analog” mode, (You connect to your audio source via an included interconnect cable.) and (BLUE light) “Bluetooth” mode, which pairs with your phone or other Bluetooth-capable media device wirelessly. Short-pressing the button will toggle mute on and off while rotating the knob will change the knob’s color to indicate the color of volume level. (Approx. 100 volume steps, with colors ranging from blue to red to indicate volume of -101dB to +12dB).
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An XBass II 3-way selector switch on the rear of the unit allows you to toggle between “Bass”, “Presence”, and both “Bass” and “Presence” settings. Lastly, a “Settings/Bluetooth” multifunction button doubles as a Bluetooth pairing/phonecall HOLD control and a quick way to toggle between “3D+”, “XBass II+”, “Both enabled”, and “None enabled” settings.


CONTENTS

The xCAN ships with both balanced and single-ended interconnect cables and a USB A-to-C charging cable. Also included is a simple, soft, velvet-like carry bag to help keep those darn fingerprints off your shiny-new amplifier.


POWER

iFi reports the xCAN’s power output to be up to 1W into 32 ohms in balanced mode, and 380 mW into the same load in S-Balanced (single-ended mode), with a THD+N measurement of .005% and .006% respectively and an SNR of about 120 dBA. Now even though these ratings show the xCAN to be clearly less powerful than my iDSD micro, I found it to be more than powerful enough for even my power-hungriest full-sized headphones.

The xCAN drove Sennheiser HD650s, & 800s, as well as my Beyerdynamic T1 ver. 2 cans well beyond “too loud” before hitting maximum volume. While at the other end of the spectrum, my most sensitive IEMs gifted me with nothing but inky-black silence when no signal was being transmitted.
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SOUND

Neutral - So far as I can tell, when all “effects” are disabled, the xCAN brings nothing to the sound. It just makes it louder. Odd as it sounds, I like this. When I’m comparing headphones, the last thing I want is to try and “compensate” for my source. Near as I can tell, the source is what you hear. Now when you want to have “fun”, then there’s the assortment of “Presence”, “3D+”, and “XBass II+” to play with in order to sculpt-in your preferences concerning soundstage, airiness, and “thump” so that you can just kick back and listen to your songs the way that you want to hear them. While I’d need truly claustrophobia-inducing small sound-stage headphones to convince me to use “3D+”, it’s nice that it’s there when needed. But the “XBass II+” feature gets used quite often with my leaner bass headphones when I want to balance them out a bit for relaxation rather than analysis. (I’m looking at you, you belovedly-clinical Etymotic ER4SRs!)


CONNECTIONS

I tested both the xCAN’s balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs, and I heard nothing but extremely clean sound. I was amazed to find that the xCAN sounds virtually as good in Bluetooth mode as it does when fed signal via cables! To be clear, I wasn’t 100% sure that I could reliably tell the difference between the two...

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CONFIGURATIONS
1) Bluetooth connection: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 - TIDAL streaming service (“MASTER” quality)

2) Unbalanced connection: iBasso DX90/OPUS #1s/Lenovo A12 Android Tablet/Dell Inspiron 5675 (Windows 10/Foobar 2000/Tidal (“MASTER” quality)/ JRiver Media Center 24) - FLAC 96kHz/24-bit, DSD 2.8MHz

3) Balanced connection: OPUS #1s - FLAC 96kHz/24-bit, DSD 2.8MHz

Headphones:
Inexpensive:
Sennheiser CX300 II, Koss Porta Pros, UE Super.Fi 3s, Tin Audio T3
Mid Range:
Sennheiser HD-650, JVC HA-SZ2000, AKG 545, AKG 550, Kanas Pro, BGVP DMGs, One More Quad drivers
Higher end:
Beyerdynamics T1 ver. 2, Sennheiser HD-650 & HD-800, and Etymotic ER4XRs/ER4SRs

PREFERED CONFIG
Opus #1s -> balanced-in to iFi xCAN -> balanced cable to Kanas Pros (for mobile/on the go) and balanced cable to Beyerdynamic T1 ver. 2 in a hotel room/office
Kanas Pros Rotated.jpg

Reward: Hotel Room Relaxation Time!!
Pros: - Desktop levels of power in a pocketable format; able to drive demanding cans with ease
- Fully-balanced topology
- Aptx Bluetooth a nice bonus
- Useful, if somewhat blunt EQ functionality
Cons: - Not much really, but...
- Diminutive size and less-than ideal volume-pot make desktop use slightly difficult
- Lack of wired DAC functionality and limited desktop convenience make it somewhat of a niche use-case proposition
So what's the deal with this thing?
At a first glance, we have another small, shiny hip-flask-esque-DAC/amp-thingy from prolific British manufacturer iFi, hot on the heels of their absurdly-talented and identical-looking xDSD DAC/Amp.

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A casual observer could be forgiven for not spotting the difference between the xCAN and the xDSD, and also for failing to understand why both devices need to exist in the same universe. Coming in at $299 USD versus the $399 of the xDSD, it's not intended to replace its (slightly) older stablemate, which begs the question - what's this thing for?

The obvious differences between the two aren't a fair indicator of the intended role that the xCAN is designed to fulfil. Having said that, let's take a look at what sets apart the xCAN compared to the xDSD.
  • No wired/USB DAC functionality
  • USB-C charging (instead of USB-micro)
  • 2.5mm balanced headphone-out in a addition to a 3.5mm single-ended headphone-out
  • 2.5mm balanced + 3.5mm single-ended analogue-in
  • Similar ‘3D+’ and ‘XBass II’ switches on the front, plus additional ‘Bass’ ‘Presence’ and ‘Bass + Presence’ toggles on the back
  • Similar Bluetooth connectivity and able to connect via Qualcomm's higher-performing Aptx codex (in addition to AAC)
So while you might think it's an xDSD minus the DAC functionality, you'd actually be missing the "pitch" of the xCAN: its talents lay (mainly) in the analogue domain - it's a headphone amp. An amp, just a tiny one, and a bloody powerful one at that - up to 1 watt (balanced-only) @ 32 ohms. It’s best to think of Bluetooth as a nice-to-have "party trick". But in fact, the xCAN has so much more versatility by virtue of having it. Imagine (for example) if your Magni 3, or Bottlehead Crack came Bluetooth connectivity (how handy would that be!)?

I was keen to put the xCAN to the test, and answer two main questions I had going into this review:
  1. Is it worth choosing the xCAN over its xDSD stablemate?
  2. Can a portable amplifier replace a dedicated desktop one, by virtue of its versatility?
Anyhow let’s have a run-through a few ins and outs of the new xCAN, and see how it stacks-up after it spent time performing both home and away duties with a number of different headphones and IEMs.


How’s it put together?
Identically to the xDSD, to give you the short version. A deck-of-cards-sized, premium-feeling little unit that’ll happily sit in a shirt pocket, jeans pocket, or just about anywhere really. It’s polished-chrome finish is extremely prone to smudging and fingerprints (making it a right P.I.T.A to photograph…), but overall gives off a vibe of well-engineered, quality manufacturing. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder - I don’t particularly find it to be as well-designed as the Chord Mojo (IMHO), but neither do I find the xCAN to be awful to look at. Let’s just say it looks ‘purposeful’, and feels built to last. It's the sound that counts...right?

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How’s the user experience?
Those of you who aren’t fans of leafing-through instructions manuals (including yours truly) will probably get stumped figuring-out the nuances of how to make this thing ‘go’. The rotary volume-dial (more on this later) is also the on/off switch; and also responsible for switching between Bluetooth and analogue modes. Holding it down will result with it lighting-up with either a blue (wireless), or green (wired) hue - hold down for another couple of seconds and it’ll switch from one mode to the next.

The colours on the volume-dial also change colour according the volume-level. There wheel spins infinitely rather than having a ‘low’ or ‘high’ point, and because I wasn’t really able to remember what volume equaled what approximate level, I was sometime *slightly* nervous about what sound-pressure level when switching-on. It’s best (as always) to apply caution and lower when changing sources or headphones.

iFi claims a battery-life of up to 18 hours on a single charge in analogue-mode, and 12 when using Bluetooth. I used the xCAN on a couple of flights and extended business trips without recharging, and although I wasn’t setting-out to measure battery life, I never once got around to actually exhausting it (only once did I manage to make the battery indicator on the back turn red = low). So iFi’s claims are probably well-grounded.


Bluetooth
When Bluetooth mode is selected the volume-pot light will blink until it’s paired with a source. I had the xCAN connected to my Samsung Galaxy S9+ in a matter of seconds, with developer-mode confirming that the xCAN was indeed receiving Aptx-quality 1’s and 0’s being fed from a mix of Tidal and on-board FLAC files. The xCAN quickly become my public transport / commuter ‘go-to’ choice - the convenience of having no wires going into my phone meant I was able to keep it handy while the xCAN sat in my pocket. Plus, the transparent-sounding (to my ears) quality of the sound meant there are virtually no compromises while listening on-the-go via Aptx Bluetooth with the xCAN.

The convenience of Bluetooth with the xCAN proved to be so useful, that I often found myself leaving the xCAN switched-on long after arriving at work, or back at home rather than opting for my more ‘permanent’ desktop options at either end.

Being a high quality Bluetooth ‘receiver’ I also spent a quite a bit of time using the xCAN for watching films and TV. The xCAN paired easily with my LG TV, so I was able to enjoy some killer wireless sound while my partner was asleep. Watching Blade Runner 2049 - or, should I say *listening* to the incredible sound mix plus Hans Zimmer’s score with the Sennheiser HD800s plus the xCAN from the comfort of my couch was pretty bloody awesome.

To my surprise I found that I actually logged most time with the xCAN gaming with my XBOX One. Rather than plugging wired headphones into my two-channel receiver to use while gaming, I paired the xCAN with Sennheiser’s BTT100 Bluetooth transmitter, which uses low-latency Aptx for a (near) lag-free experience. Being able to receive virtual Dolby 7.1, and game with my favourite audiophile headphones (my Grado GH1’s with the G-Cush pads are terrific for long gaming-sessions) was yet another ‘TICK’ on the growing list of uses for the increasingly-versatile xCAN.

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Wired
In analogue-mode, it’s a much shorter story. Plug a line-level source into the back of the xCAN - either 2.5mm balanced, or 3.5mm single-ended, and off you go. The xCAN tangoed with a number of sources I had at my disposal, including my Nakamichi MB8 CD player, phone, laptop, and fittingly - with its more digitally-adept brother - behold the xCAN/xDSD stack!

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With the xDSD performing wired DAC-duties, the xCAN then took over the amplification stage, giving a bit more of a ‘nudge’ to my 300-ohm ZMF Eikons and Sennheiser HD580s. I will point-out that while it’s great the iFi have moved with the times since the xDSD was launched and decided to give the xCAN USB-c over micro-USB (as featured on the xDSD), having to use a mix of both charging peripherals was a bit of a hassle.

Stacking with DAPs is a fairly straightforward affair - link either the supplied 2.5mm or 3.5mm short cable to your player of choice, and voila. My “DAP” happens to be a 2004-vintage Gen 4 iPod photo (I still can’t believe that an iPod can be considered “vintage”…) that I’ve pimped with a new battery and 400gb micro-SD card for storage. While not the most svelte of mobile solutions, it’s still a fairly convenient way of accessing a ton of lossless music on-the-go, and with the (still) unbeatable UI of that classic iPod click-wheel.

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Being a true analogue amplifier, I put the xCAN through its paces on the most analogue (and, dare I say, “best”) of sources: vinyl. A simple-case of connecting the xCAN to the RCA-outs on my Schiit Audio Mani phono pre-amplifier meant that this little portable wonder spent a lot more time than I would have anticipated parked on my table top while I spun LP after LP on my Rega Planar 2. Not something that the xDSD, Mojo, or many other options in this category or price-range are able to do. Bravo.

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That flush volume-wheel does have a couple of draw-backs. Its ‘teeth’ are liable to catching on fabric or clothing, meaning it can unexpectedly change volume while on the go. Similarly, when sitting flat on a surface, it can have a bit of ‘friction’ on the surface below it, so doesn’t spin as easily or accurately as I’d prefer in a standalone desktop unit with a nice, tactile volume pot. Aside from this minor quibble, it otherwise performs near flawlessly as a desktop unit - its four rubber feet give reasonable grip on most surfaces, and only the heaviest of headphone cables (*COUGH* Grado *COUGH*) will drag it around.

So how does it perform?
Power. The raison d ‘être for the xCAN is to power adequately what other things cannot: Your phone. Your DAP. Your laptop. You catch my drift. And iFi gave the xCAN a healthy does of it - a claimed 1000 milliwatts per channel at 32 ohms when running balanced from a dual-mono ‘Cyberdrive’ amplifier-stage. iFi claim it’s suitable for headphones between 32 ohms and 600 ohms. I tested the xCAN with a whole range of cans from the 13 ohm Mr Speakers Aeon Flow (Open), right up to the 600 ohm Beyerdynamic DT880. I also paired it with:
  • Grado GH1
  • Sennheiser HD580 + HD650 (via 2.5mm balanced)
  • ZMF Eikon
  • Meze 99 Classic
  • Beyerdynamic DT1770
  • Beyerdynamic DT880
  • Sennheiser HD800s
I wanted to understand whether this diminutive device could comfortably power full-sized cans, and in doing so - answer whether a xCAN could theoretically be the only headphone amplifier you might ever need.

So how did it go? It never broke a sweat.

A solid-state headphone amplifier needs to do two things well, in my opinion, to do its job properly: 1) adequately power a transducer, and 2) do so without changing the frequency response of the transducer, or adding distortion. The little xCAN managed to power everything I threw at it with ease, and with a comfortably-low output impedance (< 1 ohm) there was no funny-business when it came to bass reproduction in the lower-Z headphones; and the HD650’s were able to reproduce bass with authority, and detailed treble without a ‘veil’ that some feel can creep-in without adequate juice.

In anticipation of this review, I found an affordable Sennheiser HD6XX-compatible 2.5mm cable which was a treat to use with the xCAN. iFi haven't published the exact output @ 300-ohms for the balanced output, but I'm guessing it's somewhere between 90mW (@600 ohm) and 800mW (@64 ohm). Being able to take my (fairly) hard-to-drive HD580 and HD650s along with me to work, knowing I'd be able to extract maximum performance out of them without having to lug a tube-amp with me was nice!

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EQ + effects
But wait-up a second…how about all those other little buttons and lights? A combination of button-presses can add a combination of 3 x sound “tweaks” into the equation:
  • 3d+ opens up your music to give you the spaciousness of a live-concert atmosphere.” - I’m not entirely sure exactly what happens from a technical standpoint when this mode is selected, but on some tracks, with some headphones, I could hear a slight change in regards to imaging in the treble. I think it might be enabling some kind of cross-feed blending the L/R stereo feed into the other channel slightly), but I could be wrong. All the same, I left it off for the most part.
  • XBass ® analogue bass correction system corrects headphone/speaker bass response to deliver a more natural sound to the midrange frequencies.” - this setting felt like it added a 4-5db boost around the 80-150Hz mark, more noticeable on some headphones than others - on the DT1770’s it seemed to have a more pronounced effect, adding a more visceral punch to the lower couple of octaves, but at the cost of some slight muddiness. Again, I tended to not use it too much aside from testing it.
  • Lastly, when “XBass II” is selected, the user can opt to engage ‘Bass’, ‘Presence’, or ‘Bass and Presence’. ‘Bass’ appears to be the default setting, and ‘Presence’ adds a very noticeable lift in the upper mid-range frequency. On more forward-sounding cans (like the Grado GH1) it can come across about ‘honky’ or tinny-sounding; but on darker, or more relaxed-sounding cans like the Aeon Flow, it did add a bit more energy and emphasis on vocals and guitars.
So while they’re not the most precise EQ tools, the fact that they’re offered at all on a small amplifier at all is a nice feature - and no doubt some users will find the ability to fiddle with the frequency-response of their headphones useful and enjoyable.

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So what's the verdict?
The tough question is whether to choose the xCAN, or the xDSD. If you plan on using a lot of wired listening and need a brilliant portable DAC with respectable amplifier performance, get the xDSD. If you already have a DAC, are comfortable with using Bluetooth as a primary source, or need a serious wallop of power for your hard-to-drive cans, get the xCAN.

As someone who had both devices on-hand during this review period, I tended to reach for the xCAN more. The added flexibility of 2.5mm balanced, and the fact that it could easily drive every pair of headphones at my disposal meant that there were fewer compromises in the end. I also believe that the convenience of Bluetooth in non-critical listening environments (like commuting, or in the workplace) outweighs the nearly non-audible benefits of a wired DAC.

So, would I go and sell my desktop units? Well, not really. Sure, the xCAN can do a lot of things well with the added-bonus of rocking a portable footprint, but at the end of the day it doesn’t have the same usability of a desktop unit. But…if you’re looking for a versatile and affordable first amplifier, or a portable amplifier that’ll easily come along for the trip and do a sterling job of powering just about any set of headphones on the planet at the other end, you won’t be disappointed with the iFi xCAN.

Comments

I have the Xdsd , do it make sense to get the xcan ? the xdsd have 3.5SE/BAL while Xcan have the 3.5SE and 2.5BAL. .
this what i can see the main differences are . what else?
 
I have the Xdsd , do it make sense to get the xcan ? the xdsd have 3.5SE/BAL while Xcan have the 3.5SE and 2.5BAL. .
this what i can see the main differences are . what else?
According to iFi, the xCAN is a better sounding headphone amp than what is used in the xDSD. As to how much better, I haven’t read anything yet that quantifies the difference.
 
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