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  1. Mightygrey
    A pocketful of dynamite.
    Written by Mightygrey
    Published Mar 24, 2019 at 2:39 AM
    4.5/5,
    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.

    upload_2019-3-24_17-37-5.png

    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?

    upload_2019-3-24_17-29-41.png

    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.

    upload_2019-3-24_17-27-44.png

    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!

    upload_2019-3-24_17-30-58.png

    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.

    upload_2019-3-24_17-33-4.png

    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.

    upload_2019-3-24_17-33-35.png

    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!

    upload_2019-3-24_17-35-36.png

    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.

    upload_2019-3-24_17-34-56.png

    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.
  2. rafaelo
    xCan: Better than Maldives...
    Written by rafaelo
    Published Mar 2, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - 1) Amazing sound signature
    2) powerful enough for a portable device... 6XX Here I come...
    3) Bass bass bass even without xbass
    4) Good battery life for an opamp device
    5) Balanced input - output
    6) s-balanced output
    7) The lights are less intrusive than xDSD for night listening
    8) Fine tuning of volume with the knob for sensitive headphones like Meze 99
    9) ifi renowned Bluetooth implementation - recloking signal although is not clear to me how the femto clock is implemented with the sabre DAC ship, however it sounds as it implemented beautifully...
    Cons - 1) No LDAC and APX-HD
    2) No USB input for asynchronous die hard fans like me
    3) Fingerprint magnet without any reason
    4) No super duper FPGA DAC with a crazy algorithm for an advanced placebo effect (Because in practice this humble DAC sounds amazing for the issue at hand)
    5) Still no dimming of the lights can be annoying at night listening sessions - I am putting it under the pillow
    6) Aesthetically speaking the light of the knob does not make any sense. It ends up in the same colour no matter what headphones I am using (light green). I would prefer to see different light for my 6XX and Meze 99 indicating different power requirements.
    Two years ago I have bought my first two ifi devices. The spdif ipurifier and the first version of the ione. I believe that these two devices are the best value for money that not only ifi audio can produce but also that exists in the budget audiophile world currently. However, both devices are better suited to the hifi speakers world from where I am coming from as a hobbyist.

    The arrival of our baby shifted my attention to the headphone space since I cannot use my speakers system anymore. Thus, last year I was looking with much interested two new devices from ifi, the xDSD and xCan which are more suited to headphones and more specifically to portable use, in order to accompany my new set of Meze headphones.

    IMG_20181117_105315925.jpg

    One year ago, by just reading the specs, I felt that there is no contest between xDSD and xCan. I was very underwhelmed by the xCan specs. As ifi audio is associated with the burr brown DAC chip, I felt quite disappointed by the use of a maybe old DAC sabre Chip, probably the same with my dragonfly v1.2. Moreover, there is no usb audio input and no optical input for just only 100£ less than the glorious xDSD. At that time, I thought, if I ever buy one of the two devices there is not even a chance to spare the extra 100£ and not buying the more expensive but so much richer spec xDSD device.

    IMG_20181118_122451175.jpg

    I briefly reviewed the xDSD device as part of the ifi tour and I was stunned by the audio quality. My results are posted in my related review. However, as I am very budget oriented audiophile (oxymoron) and I was really short of cash because of my summer wedding I decided that I will buy it probably at a future date. I bought an es100 instead and even that not in full price but as a part of an Amazon lighting deal. ES100 is a great device and the 72£ I paid is a very reasonable price. At that price, even if you have an xDSD or xCan, you can also afford/buy it and is worth it for different reasons. But if you can afford the xDSD then you are moving to a different league.

    As I was trying to recover my wedding expenses and buy the xDSD I received an email from ifi that I was the lucky winner of the xDSD tour. I never won anything in my life in any competition and now I realize that I won this amazing device. Before I won the xDSD, I was enjoying and most often listening my 4XX headphones with es100 which tend to have some amazing synergy together, and with a balanced cable, the es100, surprisingly enough, provide adequate power for the 4XX considering its size and cost. I was also using a little bear with a burson audio opamp which I also reviewed in this site. But as the little bear was not so convenient and as the synergy with these planars was not so good due to some technicalities that really cannot fully understand (initially the power was enough but after some listening there was a drop in power - also I couldn't use the balance cable) I ended up using es100 all the time with my 4XX. I concluded at the time that my 4XX is my endgame.

    The transition from es100 to xDSD with 4XX was not having such a dramatic effect. Yes 4XX sounds great with xDSD but the delta is not mind-blowing. But..but...as xDSD raised my 6XX from the dead my endgame was immediately changed. Falling in love with my 6XX and given the infamous scaling capabilities of this headphone, I considered to give a try to the xCan but always having low expectations of buying this device.

    As my family was on holidays at that time, enjoying the rare occasion of having some free time home alone, I requested from ifi for review both the ipurifier 3 (review coming soon) and the xCan.

    I just need to clarify here that I was in love with my burr brown DAC of my ione, which I love beyond any bound, and I am die hard fan of asynchronous usb. I personally believe that even the best Bluetooth implementation, which coming from ifi probably, is not so close in audiophile satisfaction to USB input. And to make myself clear I do not mean Immediate A/B comparisons between Bluetooth and usb. I also find hard to spot any differences from brief comparisons of the first one two tracks I quickly compare. What I mean is, that in long listening sessions the Bluetooth makes me tired, is like wanting to stop listening music whereas in usb mode I get addicted after listening hours. I found myself many times going tired next day to work because simply I could not stop listening music in proper time the day before. This is where I personally spot the big difference between Bluetooth and asynchronous usb (or even optical with spdif ipurifier). Having said that, and currently having a family and not being able to have these long listening sections anymore, I am listening Bluetooth all the time. If I could use usb input in my work I would do it but as I cannot due to security reasons, Bluetooth is always the unquestionable king of practical convenience (My android phone has a crappy usb bus and I recently bought an iPhone so I could not use usb with my phones as well).

    Therefore, the fact that xCan is missing the usb input was more an academic inconvenience than a practical one since xCan somehow, but still cannot understand how, has the same purifier technology with xDSD for reclocking the digital signal. Nevertheless, the old spec sabre DAC was bothering me but as 6XX are power hungry I was looking forward to give a listen.

    From the first moment I plugged my 6XX with a balanced cable to the xCan I had a big shock. I forgot about the old DAC sabre chip, the fact that was cheaper than the xDSD or whatever else since simply my 6XX sung like never before. The sound was addicting, the bass plentiful without using any xbass booster (actually never used any xbass with my xCan because I never need it) Defected Radio sounded glorious like never before and I did not stop dancing for a couple of hours. Yes, that's the point you can even dance with these small devices which is difficult with a super duper OTL tube amp.

    So far that was explainable as 6XX needs a lot of power so xCan in theory could compensate for any deficiency in comparison to xDSD due to the extra power. But that was only my theory because xCan drove amazingly any other headphone of mine including the very sensitive Meze 99 Classics and Neo. The bass on my beloved classics was still plentiful but better defined, I never heard my classics sung like that. My neo at the time were using the original Meze pads and sounded better than any time before. Currently, I have changed to velour Brainwavz pads and they simply sounds amazingly good punching above their weight.

    Wait a moment, this is the same DAC with dragonfly v1.2 and only Bluetooth mode how it is playing so good even with sensitive cans??? The answer is that simply I do not really know. I just have a new theory, that like my speakers system, at the end of the day, the amp is more important than the DAC given the DAC is of a decent level.

    As a last effort to avoid buying xCan (and as a cheap excuse obviously) I bought a 58X. I thought because 58X, as it is claimed fiercely in the relevant forums, is not so scalable as the 6XX so then I can use my xDSD with 58X and avoid buying the xCan. However, the same story happened again, the xCan made 58X to sing like nothing before. Although, I still love my 6XX and believe when is scaled properly is one level above 58X I never regret buying 58X. Practically speaking, as an open headphone I am using 58X all the time. Sometimes, I am using xCan + 58X with Bluetooth connection from the Amazon fire stick for watching movies through my TV and even there the cinematic experience with xCan is wow….I remember watching Sally the other time and the sound from the airplane turbines was so shockingly good and realistic. As my spdif ipurifier and iOne taught me in the past, it is sometimes on movies where I also realise the true potential of an audiophile devise.

    I am not a professional reviewer but a simple consumer so for me to buy the xCan, without a second thought as I did, while already having the xDSD signals my true opinion for this device. Paradoxically enough, given the underwhelming specs, I prefer xCan to my beloved xDSD!!!

    I have some budget iems that I used them with the xCan, without the iematch which I also reviewed in the past, and I think that for sensitive iems without iematch, xDSD is better than xCan. But as currently, I have not any iems that can compete with my headphones, I am leaving this aspect to other reviewers to further explore.

    I tried also some combinations having a stack with xDSD and xCan and also by using xCan + xDSD + ipurifier 3 + jitterbug + surface book + tidal masters for academic purposes, since for my usage I believe these combinations are impractical unless you can implement them in your desktop set up. Currently, I cannot implement them, so I did them for fun as my family was away at the moment and probably I can not do them again. Obviously, the stack sounds better than any device alone and the sound from the full combo mentioned above is mesmerising. By using this long chain, I kind of realize that for me 6XX is my endgame under ideal conditions. Ipurifier 3, surprisingly enough, improves considerably the sound quality of the xDSD but I leave the rest for my ipurifier 3 review.

    However, I have to do one important point here. The fact that the stack sounds better does not imply immediately to me that the the burr brown DAC is better than the sabre DAC of xCan. I believe that as these are still portable devices with size limitations they kind of working in a modular mode so combined together are performing always better. As xDSD + little bear with v5i + 6xx sound better than xDSD + 6xX alone does not immediately imply that the v5i opamp is better than the xDSD opamp,the same is true for the xDSD + xCan stack. It is possible but it is NOT immediate to me the conclusion that the burr brown is better than this sabre DAC. Obviously, the burr brown is doing high resolution and DSD and other tricks but in the Spotify world the difference is not clear to me. The xCan simply sounds too good given its humble pedigree.

    I could probably say that the burr brown is more smooth in comparison with the sabre DAC chip, more delicate and more refined with a lean sound. The sabre is more colourful and more fun with a thicker sound. The burr brown is like a seabass on grill with some olive oil and lemon juice accompanied with white Mediterranean wine whereas this sabre is like a juicy ribeye steak accompanied with red Californian wine.

    I like both but is the xCan amp section that gives such a grip that makes xCan so much enjoyable to me under (almost) the same level playing field i.e comparison in Bluetooth mode but balanced cable with xCan and s-balanced with xDSD.

    The biggest drawbacks for the xCan are the same with xDSD:
    1. Possible drawback: There is no LDAC for both devices and I suspect that as probably the Bluetooth chip does not support it they will never have LDAC support. This can be a big major flaw or a non issue depending on where you stand. If you have a LDAC capable device you simply do not optimise your Bluetooth signal and as these are audiophile devices this simply does not make any sense. But if, like me, you do not have any LDAC or apthd source and you will never have, this is irrelevant, does not make any difference because you will never use these advanced codecs.

    2. These two should have combined and be one device not two. xDSD probably missing the amp section and the balanced input of xCan and the xCan miss the usb input of xDSD. The optical input I really love because it upgrades my TV but I can delegate this functionality to ione. I am not fan of daps so I do not need optical in the go as some people need. But since space is in premium in these devices optical is a sacrifice that is reasonable to me. But USB is quite a miss since somehow this old sabre DAC is not bad at all and could be used with an iPhone for example on the go.

    3. Fingerprint magnet. Why the shiny part still exist I cannot completely understand. I am pretty sure that if they do it in pure matte black with orange logos it will be the prettiest device in the universe but this maybe is the plan for an upgrade and a future black edition.
    But xCan has a secret weapon that xDSD does not have. It has balanced and unbalanced inputs. And that is very important because I believe this is what can do this device to be truly upgradable.

    You can combine for example an es100 with xCan. Es100 is like a matchbox with negligible weight which can give LDAC, aptx hd or whatever needed and an amazing, I repeat amazing app that probably ifi will never develop. In that case you can have the best of both worlds, a fabulous amp section with a fabulous app and functionalities. Moreover, whatever will be discovered in the future as a format or anything else in a small device like es100 can be passed to xCan so in a sence xCan is always upgradable even if it's software is not and from other manufacturers that can provide other functionalities as well.

    In addition, the battery of xCan is very good. I was disappointed by the battery life of idsd nano and underwelmed of xdsd, I am first time really happy from the battery life of an ifi device. I am pretty sure now that because ifi devices using opamps they do sacrifice some battery power in favour of sound quality nevertheless xCan is achieving a great balance between the two.

    The opamp signature is clear by comparing both ifi devices to es100 and the little bear. How the strings and voices sound on xCan and xDSD has to do with the opamp signature. Is something that es100 struggling to achieve although as I said is a magnificent device for the money and size.

    So given the above analysis I am reaching to a conclusion that is hugely suprinsing to me. I believe that if you cannot afford to buy both then xCan is the better device of the two. If I could only have one I would go for the xCan. However, there is another money conscious alternative. You can buy both xCan and ione. Ione is the best value for money device that exists in this galaxy, maybe in the next one as well, and has all the other goodies of xdsd without the headphone amp. So xCan + ione is 300£ + 200£ = 500£ whereas the xDSD alone is 400£. For one hundred pounds more I can have both of the two worlds, burr brown ione with DSD , MQA, high resolution, optical , usb, etc for my home set up and xCan for the portable headphone setup. And this exactly is what actually I did I paid for my xCan and ione but I was lucky enough to win the xDSD which I still really love but I use xCan all the time.

    IMG_20181103_093102759.jpg

    It is clear that in my review above I used as a point of reference the xDSD. I did this because it is an excellent point of reference. It is highly praised and universally agreed that is an amazing portable device with several industry prizes. So since I am not a professional reviewer, not even a proper amateur reviewer, I cannot compare it with countless DAC devices branded or unbranded that are coming and go every day. I am comparing with an established reference point which any valid inferences can be based on. I am encountering this issue in the ione thread where someone can appear out of nowhere with a new Chinese device that supposedly can sound better. If it sounds better it sounds better, DACs come and go every day if you buy a good product in a good price at some point in time is adequate enough for me. If I pay a reasonable amount, it is fine with me the fact that it will not be probably the best DAC in the world for the next century, I can live with that. As I tend to believe, the reclocking technology, the power supply and the amp section give bigger deltas for the money than the DACs do. Therefore, the fact that I prefer xCan to xDSD put things into a perspective of how the xCan compares with the market in general.

    Finally, I conclude this review with a story from my past. I am privileged enough as my parents have a house near a beautiful Mediterranean beach which I believe is somehow underated. I remember one summer, I was swimming there where I met a foreign girl and I was quite astonished when I heard her telling me that last year she had her holidays in exotic Maldives but as she strongly believed…”this place and beach is so beautiful...it is even better than Maldives…”

    IMG_20181107_234202568.jpg
      rustyvinyl and volly like this.
    1. volly
      Loved this review, a great read! Good job!
      volly, Mar 3, 2019
      rafaelo likes this.
  3. cash1489
    Powerful Portable Amp w/ Excellent Wireless Sound
    Written by cash1489
    Published Feb 18, 2019
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Excellent Build Quality
    Great Sound Quality
    Excellent power for a portable amp
    Cons - No Apt-X HD
    This was originally posted at www.hifitrends.com.

    Judging from my research and general discussion about the xCAN, it seems like people are really confused about what it actually is. I guess part of it is the existence of the xDSD, a portable headphone amp/DAC that is more along the lines of what people have come to expect from iFi Audio.

    I mean the xCAN and xDSD look so dang similar. They both have the same wavy metal exterior with the gray cap on the end, which actually looks pretty stylish. I would have no problem pulling either one of them out at a coffee shop and plugging in my favorite cans. But they are different. To sum it up succinctly, the xDSD is a primarily a portable DAC, while the xCAN is primarily a portable headphone amp. So the xCAN has only analog inputs, to enhance the signal from digital audio player, for example, that already has a nice DAC in it, and the xDSD has only digital inputs to bring in signals from a DAP or laptop’s digital output, pass it over to the DAC chip and then on to the headphone amp.

    The funny thing is, the xCAN does have an ESS Sabre DAC in it, but the 16bit ESS DAC chip in this amp only processes the wireless signal coming in via Bluetooth when the Apt-X and AAC codecs are used. This makes sense since Apt-X and AAC both give you the equivalent of 16 bit CD-Quality sound via the wireless connection. The ESS chip is there to take the CD-quality digital signal from the Bluetooth chip and change it over to a CD-Quality analog signal for your headphone output. So I hope that clears that up, (or maybe I confused you more…) now let’s get on to the xCAN review.

    Build/Features:
    As I have come to expect from iFi, the xCAN’s fit and finish is top notch. The amp’s external shell is made mostly of a shiny magnesium-aluminium, with a small rear portion made of black hard plastic. It’s solid, yet lightweight, and as mentioned before, it has a wavy exterior that actually makes it easier to hold. The only bugaboo with the finish is that it really collects a lot of fingerprints. So if this is something that drives you crazy, you will probably want to keep a microfiber cloth nearby.

    Everything is put together to exacting standards, no loose parts or sharp edges, all the buttons also slide back and forth very smoothly, as does the volume knob. On the bottom are four small rubber feet which keep it solidly in place on a table or desk. I can always appreciate when such care is taken in assembling a product.

    As far as ergonomics are concerned, the xCAN is pretty easy to operate for the most part. On one end is the volume knob, which also functions as the power button, as well as the button to switch between analog and Bluetooth output modes. It also has a multicolored light in the middle that indicates different things at different times, such as the power state, the output mode, and the volume level by changing colors as the volume level increases. For example, Green indicates the volume range between 55 and 72 percent of volume, if you increase the volume past 72 percent the volume knob light turns yellow until you get up to 90 percent of volume.

    As you can see, the volume knob has a lot of functions, and that is probably the one issue with functionality, since it may take you a while to get the hang of all the different operations. For me, the main problem was trying to switch between analog and bluetooth modes. In order to do this, you have to start from an off position, then hold the volume knob down long enough to turn it on, then hold it down just a little longer just enough to switch the mode. But if you let up off the button for a second, you may end up turning the thing off again, then you have to start all over. But in the general scheme of things, this is a small issue since you probably won’t switch modes that often.

    The rest of the operations are pretty straight forward, with a small button to the right of volume for Bluetooth pairing, XBass II and 3D+ selection (more on those later), then a slider switch for the 3 modes of XBass II on the back side. (again more on that later...) Along with the buttons and switches, you have two headphone out jacks on the front, (one 3.5mm single ended, one 2.5mm balanced) and two input jacks on the rear (also one 3.5mm single ended, one 2.5mm balanced). Also on the rear is a USB-C charge port that charges the xCAN in about an hour with a fast charge adapter, which is sold separately. The big 2000mAh battery is rated to last 6-8 hours and from my experience that sounds about right.

    Regarding accessories, the xCAN comes with the usual complement of cables needed for operation, one 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm cable, one 2.5mm to 2.5mm balanced cable, and USB-C to USB-A cable for charging. It also comes with a velvet drawstring bag for storage, instruction manual, and warranty card.

    So this wouldn’t be an iFi product if it wasn’t chock full of features, and as usual, they are implemented well. Let’s start with the power rating, which is probably the main draw for this product. It has ratings of a 1000mw max output balanced, and 380 mW single ended, both at 32 ohms, which is not too shabby for a portable amp this size. iFi recommends headphones between 16 and 600 ohms impedance, and while I didn’t have any 600-ohm headphones on hand, it drove my 150-ohm Massdrop 58X Jubilee to uncomfortable levels at about 60 percent of volume.

    As I mentioned before, there are both balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs, so it will match up with your high-end DAP, and give them that extra power you need for those big power hungry headphones. This is also good for increasing the power of signals coming from portable DAC/AMPs like the xDSD, so you can actually pair these two together and make a powerful mini stack.

    Also as mentioned earlier, the amp has a high-quality Bluetooth receiver section, which was probably my favorite feature. I really like the ability to play my 58X Jubilee or Focal Elear wireless, all while feeling I was hearing my cans at their full potential. You don’t know how liberating this is until you try it.

    I promised more detail on the xBass II and 3D+ analogue signal processing, so here goes. Like a lot of audiophiles, I usually forego any kind of signal processing when listening to music because most of the time it sounds artificial to me, and for the most part I didn’t use it in my sound tests here. But I did want to do my due diligence, so I did listen to some music in both modes with mixed impressions.
    Starting with the 3D+ mode, which is supposed to give you the impression of a live performance, I found it was tastefully done, and didn’t sound like an echo chamber as most of these surround effects usually do. It’s pretty cool, and it actually sounded the best with live recordings, enhancing the spatial cues already present in the music. I would say this is a winner if you like that sort of thing.

    Xbass II was a mixed bag for me. It has three settings, Bass, Presence, and Bass + Presence. Bass is pretty self-explanatory meaning when you use that version of xBass II, it bumps up the low end slightly. The Presence setting refers to the Bass Presence or low midrange part of the audio spectrum, and this is boosted slightly when you select that option. Then the Bass + Presence does both. I’m not a fan of bass boost since I usually listen to warm headphones, so the bass boost usually throws off the overall balance for me. So I wasn’t crazy about the Bass or + Presence modes, but again the boost of the lows was tastefully done and not really overblown so for someone that likes just a little extra bass, this is not a bad feature.

    However, I must say I did enjoy the Presence setting since I found it added just a little bit of clarity to the low string instruments and bass overall. That was pretty nice, and I did use this from time to time when listening to music.

    Sound:
    Since one can argue that the main selling point of this amp is output power, granted along with the balanced in/out and Bluetooth, none of these actually matter unless the thing actually sounds good. And this is probably the easiest thing to write about it because it simply does. The sound is clean and easy with some of the best dynamics I’ve heard from such a small device.

    I did the majority of my testing using the Massdrop/Sennheiser HD58X Jubilee, and while these headphones are known to be very easy to drive, I find they really come into focus when you put some real power to them. The xCAN was just what the doctor ordered. All my analog testing was done using the SE in/outs since I didn’t have a 2.5mm balanced headphone cable on hand. I also turned off the 3D+ and xBASS II. I started off with the HiBy R3 as the source, playing MQA and FLAC files through the SE input connected with the included single ended cable.

    Listening to the 24/96 FLAC of “Temptation” from Freddy Cole’s “My Mood Is You” I was really pleased with the fast, natural presentation, punctuated with the deep, controlled bass. The xCAN really powered the 58X through the swirling arrangement, and nicely conveyed the interplay between Freddy and the band.

    I also played the 24/88 FLAC of “Doing It Right” from Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories”, vocals were clear, and the deep bass from the track was again rendered with great control and depth.

    I then played the same tracks with Apt-X Bluetooth from my HP Envy Laptop using J River Media Center, and probably the best thing I could say about this was I didn’t really miss anything when I switched to the wireless connection. I can’t really say it was an apple to apple comparison since the signal chains were so different, but what I can say is that I didn’t experience any less enjoyment when using Bluetooth.

    As a matter of fact, I probably enjoyed using it more since I didn’t have to fuss with wires. It was so easy to set my laptop on the desk, turn on the xCAN (provided it was already in wireless mode) and quickly connect to my laptop, where I could play Spotify or Tidal, and listen to my music on any one of my full-sized cans with excellent quality. I have to say this is a testament to the excellent Bluetooth circuitry in the amp.

    That being said, I would’ve loved to see Apt-X HD here for 24-bit wireless connection. I think it would’ve turned a home run product into a grand slam product. Hopefully, they will come out with a “Black Label” type version of this product with that functionality at some point in the future, it would be amazing. At any rate, this is not a dealbreaker since they implemented the Apt-X so well. It really sounds that good.

    Conclusion:
    Once again iFi has a winner of a device that offers great build quality, great sound, and a lot of versatility. If you are looking for a lot of power in a small package, especially with balanced in/out then definitely check out the xCAN. The excellent sounding Bluetooth functionality is icing on the cake, but some people once they hear it, may buy it just for the wireless capability.

    images

    1. xcan collage.jpg
  4. magicray1028
    iFi Audio xCan Bluetooth AMP Review
    Written by magicray1028
    Published Jan 3, 2019
    4.0/5,
    This will be my first review of a bluetooth amp / receiver in many years since using my old Sony SBH52. Function wise testing with smaller IEM , (JVC HX850s), The xCan lacks bluetooth controller functions such as play, skip, pause, microphone, and bluetooth volume control, instead it simplifies itself to purely a powerful portable Amp functions with the added luxury of both bluetooth and hardwire 3.5mm connections. Charging is done via USB C cable which may be a little harder to find lying around at a local store if you're in a pinch but the battery life is superb, didn't have to charge once in a week of 3 - 4 hour daily usage.

    Pros: Great Battery life, Excellent clear sound quality with bass booster functions to suit any music content, Audiofile quality files like AIFF and FLAC sound amazing, cool LED volume knob. Heavy and durable just the way i like it.

    Cons: Shiny metallic coating is a fingerprint magnet! The included pouch is nice but not a substitute for an actual case as it blocks all access to the volume control knob. Pressing the led center button mutes the music but doesn't pause it, No Bluetooth control functions commonly found on cheaper bluetooth adapters. USB C is a hit or miss depending on what other gear you may have, charging speed is normal but doesn't support PD or QuickCharge Functions. Could have easily doubled as a battery pack if it had reverse flow function.

    Overall A sexy and durable feeling portable amp if you're looking to drive larger cans or simply add wireless connection to a phone or media player that's missing its 3.5mm jack, a little high on the price side if you're simply looking for a bluetooth adapter and don't care too much about audio quality. Simply put this is the audiophiles dream when it comes to portables and you definitely get what you pay for if you're a purist and want to keep the fancy tricks down to a minimal in exchange for a powerful amp.
  5. Wiljen
    iFi xCAN - Big capability, Tiny package!
    Written by Wiljen
    Published Dec 28, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Extremely potent amp for its size, great bluetooth implementation, long battery life.
    Cons - Xbass controls split between front and rear face plate, fingerprint magnet.
    [​IMG]

    Some will remember, that while reviewing the Ifi xDSD I lamented the lack of an analog input so I could use the amp section with my Opus and A&K players without having to use the DAC in the xDSD. Ifi did little to tip their hand at the time but when a few months later the xCAN arrived, I knew they had already designed and were in the process of building what I was hoping for. I have been waiting rather impatiently to try one so when Lawrence sent me an email asking if I was interested I very quickly replied. I am going to break one of my own rules and give away the ending first. I got the xCAN as a loaner to review free of charge provided I took care of it and returned it to Lawrence when finished. Within 48 hours of taking it out of the box, I sent him an email saying send me the invoice you aren’t getting this one back.

    It is all too easy to get jaded as a reviewer when you see so much good gear go across your desk that it becomes pretty run of the mill. You spend time finding faults with products that most would call well above average and quite frankly it takes a lot to really surprise or excite you after doing this for a bit. I’ve resorted to listening to a set of 1st generation Beats for a day to remind myself what I could be living with. I’ve even used the earphones that came with my phone for a day. (Neither one of those tricks work by the way. I just kept asking myself why I was doing it when I knew I had my good ones in my backpack just begging to get out.) Now put my earlier comment in that context. Within 48 hours of plugging in the Ifi xCAN, I was willing to pay the invoice for it no questions asked. I didn’t even ask what the cost was. (I had a rough idea on retail price but honestly hadn’t looked it up). This is a game changer and a product I am genuinely excited about.



    [​IMG][​IMG]

    Packaging:

    The xCAN arrived in the typical slip cover style white box with all the details shown in full color as is typical of all Ifi packages I have received. The box is large enough that one expects the xCAN to be a fairly large which is not the case at all. Inside the box, the xCAN itself takes up about 1/8th of the overall space. The xCan sits on the top layer (in protective film case) with the Ifi velvet bag underneath it. Below it sits a box contains a smaller white box that hides the cables. Cables in this case are the 2.5-2.5 balanced, a 3.5-3.5 Single Ended, and a USB C charging cable. the card-style manual, and the warranty card are hiding hiding underneath the egg-crate box that holds the amp itself. The interconnects and the usb cable are all roughly 6 inches long which is a good intermediate length as the micro connectors (JDSLabs) are just barely long enough to fit when using the Opus #1S and it puts a lot of stress on the connection and would be miles too short when paired to the AK70. The USB cable seems a bit short but USB-C cables are easy to come by and again most will likely already have one around the house.





    Build:

    The first thing one will notice is the pictures don’t do the xCAN justice in most cases as they are blown up enough that one expects the xCAN to be bigger. In reality, the xCAN is roughly the same size as a pack of cigarettes or a deck of cards. The case of the xCAN is shared with the xDSD although the feet have been updated. The case is metal with a polished face plate and shell in titanium grey. The rear face plate is a matte black plastic and is about 3 times the thickness of the front plate. Ifi’s documentation says the plastic rear cap was to improve wireless performance and that it performs substantially better than the all metal cases tested. This helps explain a choice that might at first seem an odd aesthetic to some. The face plates are held in place using two star-head screws mounted on the outer edges. The device has good heft for its small size and feels extremely solid with no wobble or play in any of the connectors. The metal surfaces are very prone to finger prints and smudges so if that bothers you, you might want to have the aluminum case coated in a matte finish.



    Features:

    The xCAN is way more than just the amp section out of the xDSD, so my lamentation for an analog input on the xDSD must have seemed a bit like amateur hour to the Ifi engineering team. To really understand what the xCAN brings to the table we need to look at it as two devices, the first a wired amplifier, and the 2nd a Bluetooth DAC/Amp.

    For the first, Ifi has created a dual mono amplifier with both balanced and Single ended capability. 2.5mm balanced connectors are available for use with all sources while the 3.5mm jack supports single-ended inputs using TRS connectors in addition to iFi’s S-balanced functionality using TRRS connectors. The S-balanced function allows some of the benefits of balanced (Reduced noise and crosstalk, while still maintaining compatibility with single-ended designs. This is a pretty neat trick considering that plugging a single ended headphone into a balanced amp is often a good way to burn out the amp. To understand iFi’s s-balanced technology, read more here. It should noted that the 3.5mm input is labeled SE as it should only be used with TRS connectors unless being supplied by another iFi S-balanced product (xDSD or iCAN) as feeding the 3.5mm input from a balanced source other than S-balanced will cause damage to the unit.

    iFi has a daunting task in trying to build an amp that is both dead quiet with sensitive IEMs and has the power to push 600Ω full sized headphones to reasonable volume levels. As seen by the outputs specified below, they have brought plenty of power to the xCAN while maintaining a very good SNR and THD&N.


    xCAN Output Power:
    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)


    With that numbers listed, I think few would argue that the xCAN shouldn’t be capable of driving pretty much any headphone short of an electrostatic. The problems that kind of power generally come with are a high noise floor, lots of heat generation, and power consumption. To address these, iFi has included ifi Match technology to help lower the noise floor, the entire body of the unit acts as a heat-sink so while it gets warm it does not get hot, and the 2200 mAh lithium ion battery and battery management system does a good job of maintaining acceptable run time in spite of some pretty hearty power needs.



    The Second use case for the xCAN is as a Bluetooth DAC/AMP. This seems simple enough, add a Bluetooth circuit and just feed the output to the previously discussed amp, but here again iFi wasn’t content with the normal way of doing things. Most Bluetooth chips are designed for cellphone use and are more concerned with voice calls than audio quality so iFi set about finding a way to de-couple the processes involved. Bluetooth whether AptX or AAC depending on device type feeding the xCAN is used only as a data transport and only in the digital domain. This digital input is then fed to an ESS DAC which handles the digital to analog task and that output is then passed to the previously discussed amp circuit. Bluetooth bandwidth limits data to 16bit/48kHz at maximum but this still provides a marked step up from most system on a chip implementations. The other common problem with Bluetooth devices is pairing and re-pairing. Not to say the process is difficult, just that the fact that you have to disconnect one device and start over again in order to connect a different one makes use of the Bluetooth inconvenient at best. iFi again stepped up and implemented a memory so that the xCAN retains the information of up to 8 partner devices and switching between them is as quick as turning off one device and turning on the other. I found I could easily switch between android and iPhone while testing simply by enabling or disabling Bluetooth on each. If I turned on Bluetooth on the device that was not connected before disabling the other, the xCAN would consistently stay attached to its original partner. Once shut off, it would see the new partner and re-pair to it.



    In addition to those two major functions, the xCAN offers some ability to tune the signature to one’s liking. I have been somewhat critical of the 3D+ and XBass functions in times past as I have seen them as gross adjustments that seldom match what is actually needed to really tweak a particular pairing. This time I am going to change my tune a bit. Xbass has previously been an on/off affair on the nano and xDSD. With the xCAN, XBass gets a refresh. Now you have the option of Bass, Presence, or Both being boosted when you use the XBass function and it also seems the function is more narrowly defined than on previous iterations as the bass boost for example did almost nothing to the signature above the 150Hz mark with the bulk of its impact at or below 80Hz. The Presence region boost again centers around the mids (1-2kHz) and does little above or below it. The graph below shows the BQEYZ BQ3 with Xbass set to off (BLUE), Bass (RED) and Presence (GREEN) for comparison sake. This was created by running the Sound card output to the xcan – then to the earphone in the test rig so all samples passed through the xCAN without adjusting volume or making any other changes other than the position of the xBass switch. While not a perfect way to measure, it gives a good basic idea of how narrowly defined these new xbass filters are.

    [​IMG]



    Controls

    [​IMG]

    The rear panel of the xCAN from left to right has the USB-C power port, the Xbass II selector switch for Bass/Presence/Both (note the on/off for Xbass is on the front), the Single ended 3.5mm input and the 2.5mm balanced input at the far right.

    [​IMG]

    The front panel has the 2.5mm Balanced output, 3.5mm output the Volume dial with the multi-colored LED internal to it that represents volume level and pairing functions, followed by the XBass/3D+, Bluetooth pairing button on the far right of the case.



    All buttons are easy to use and very tactile so even with gloved hands this time of year they are easily manipulated.



    Sound

    The best thing one could say about an amp regarding its sound signature is that it lacks one and for the most part the xCAN does a great job of just that. It maintained an absolutely black noise floor with my most sensitive IEMS and turned out to be a very good pairing with the hypersensitive Magaosi K5 while still having enough power to push the He-4xx, the Fostex t50rp variants, and the Sennheiser HD700s. Admittedly the Beyer 600Ω is driven better by desktop amps but this is a deck of cards sized portable on a battery and the Beyers are still very usable when paired with it if not as well driven as using my Valhalla2.

    Interestingly, one of the IEMs that has grown on me is the Magaosi K5 which while slightly bass shy does an awful lot right. I found the combination of xBass II on Bass only and the Magaosi K5 maintained a black enough noise floor to have zero hiss (which is easily induced on these) and brought the bass just forward enough to really balance the K5. I have tried previous iterations of bass boost and always been dissatisfied with the collateral damage done by boosting that range. The xBass II function is the first time it has been narrowly defined enough to keep the mids of the K5 intact while moving the bass forward just enough to be more enjoyable. While I still think 3D+ is a bit gimmicky, I have to say the XBass is now a real tool for shaping sound. Kudos to iFi on that.

    Sound quality using the Bluetooth setup is markedly better than most other implementations I have heard to date (xDSD excepted here) and was rock solid once connected. I did find it a bit fiddly sometimes to get things connected initially but once connected I had no issues and could walk about any distance where I could maintain line of sight to the xCAN without problems. Even a single interior wall did little to defeat the connection. When multiple interior walls were encountered the signal did struggle but then again, I haven’t found a Bluetooth device that doesn’t struggle with that.



    [​IMG]



    Conclusion

    Superlatives are thrown around way too often and way too easily in this business. The words giant killer and game changer have lost all meaning as a result. That creates a problem when a product comes along that is really good as we then have to anoint it as the second coming in order to differentiate it from the rest of what we have already praised. That is the position I am left in with the xCAN and I am not as free with praise as others so I can only imagine the predicament reviewers who gave the Aune B1s a near perfect score are in. No, the xCAN won’t walk on water, no it won’t make 128k mp3s sound like the gold master, but it is a damn fine piece of gear at a price point that is very reasonable. The xCAN is the best portable amplifier I have heard to date which at last count was 30+ models including most of the rest of the iFi lineup. I already had the xDSD on my products of the year list for 2018 and now I have to admit the xCAN betters it. It isn’t often that a company manages to bottle lightning and even less so when they do it twice in a row. iFi is on to something great and I hope ifI can keep the team that produced the xDSD and xCAN together as I can’t wait to see what comes next.
      iano, Chris1975, rustyvinyl and 2 others like this.
    1. Chris1975
      Incredible review, thanks so much. Had a question, as I'm a bit confused by the distinction between S-Balanced and Balanced in the bit about the XCan's Output Power: will these be enough to drive my DT 770s on the go (from either a Fiio X3II source or Bluetooth iPhone)? My Cayin C5 amp manages on high gain, and that has a rated output power of 800mW + 800mW (32Ω load). Thanks for your review and any help with my question.
      Chris1975, Jan 4, 2019
    2. Wiljen
      I ran my DT990 600 ohm and a He4xx off the xCAN to test and it runs both reasonably well. I can't get the volume on either way above comfortable listening level, but I can get more than enough for my tastes. With things like the Sennheiser 600, 700, and AKG 550 the xCAN will absolutely blow the doors off so I don't think you'll have any issues with the DT770 even if it is the 250 Ohm version.
      Wiljen, Jan 4, 2019
      Chris1975 likes this.
  6. ngoshawk
    iFi xCAN- iCAN, uCAN, we allCAN!
    Written by ngoshawk
    Published Dec 7, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Portable.
    Affordable.
    Excellent power.
    Eminently tune-able.
    Good sound overall.
    Cons - Some connectivity issues.
    Interesting shape.
    Fingerprint monger.
    iFi xCAN- iCAN, uCAN, we allCAN!

    iFi xCAN link: https://ifi-audio.com/products/xCAN/

    [​IMG]

    I will admit this. It was almost by sheer dumb luck that I found out about the xCAN. Perusing the Head-Fi site after some time away (classes/family obligations, you know…) I found the advert on page one. I was interested because I had heard the rumblings of such a critter for some time. And I own the iFi xDSD as well, which is a regular in my rotation. I like the xDSD quite a bit, as I do the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label. The latter is part of a stack combination, which includes the xDAC2 and iTubes2 as my go to home set up. The xDSD is eminently portable and as such travels with me often.

    One aspect of which there is a bit of negative rumble surrounding the xDSD is that it lacks the true power to drive those harder-to-drive headphones to their full potential. As I do not own one of those legendary harder to drive headphones, iCANNOT honestly say yes or no to this. What iCAN say to this (see how iDID that?...) it that no matter what IEM/headphone I used with the xDSD, it just worked. I had plenty of volume (only part of the listening story); and it produced a full rich sound worthy of being included with more expensive DAC/AMPS. As I stated, it is still in my rotation when I need a portable amp.

    So, after reading the thread (which at the time was still developing) I heartily threw my hat into the ring. I contacted Lawrance, and he provided me the current xCAN, which resides in the pictures within. Service was fast (as always with iFi), the item came well protected and two short days later, I did the unboxing pictures. A benefit of having such an animal in house was that I could throw it into the chain while doing other reviews and get more impressions than I might otherwise. A nice benefit, and the use of which can be garnered across some of the current “hot” IEM’s. So, it is a win-win.

    I thank Lawrance and iFi for the chance to review the xCAN. All they ask is that I am open, honest and address them with any issues I might have, first. The last part is from my standpoint, as I do not want to erroneously post a problem, which may be the result of my utter clobbishness. Witnessed by my misinterpretation of the back functions of Presence/Bass (read the thread for the clarification).

    So, what exactly do we have and what do we get with the xCAN? Read on McDuff to find out…

    [​IMG]


    Specs:

    Inputs

    Wireless: ESS Sabre 44.1/48k 16-Bit (AAC, aptX, aptX LL and SBC)
    Wired: 3.5mm (TRS or TRRS S-Balanced*) and 2.5mm (TRRS)

    *ONLY found in iFi components such as nDSD BL. Do NOT feed using normal TRRS Balanced output sources.

    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)

    Dimensions

    95 (l) x67 (w) x19 (h) mm

    Weight

    127g (0.28 Ibs)

    Warranty period

    12 months

    [​IMG]


    Gear used/compared:

    Campfire Atlas
    Unique Melody Mentor V3
    Simgot EN 700 Pro
    BGVP DMG

    Macbook Pro/iFi xCAN
    Shanling M5
    Shanling M3s
    Questyle QP2R


    Songs used:

    Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

    Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
    Coldplay-A Message
    Coldplay-White Shadows
    Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
    Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
    twenty one pilots-Trees
    twenty one pilots-Car Radio
    twenty one pilots-Heathens
    Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
    Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
    Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
    Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
    Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
    Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
    Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

    The new twenty one pilots album, Trench-get it, listen to it, repeat step 2.

    [​IMG]


    Unboxing:



    Coming in the familiar long rectangular whit iFi box one has come to expect, there was an immediate familiarity to the xCAN. It is even the same size as the xDSD, so that makes printing and shipping easy. Included are the xCAN, a black velour carrying pouch, a micro-USB cable for charging, two (2) cables with which to hook up (one 3.5mm single-end, one 2.5mm balanced), plus the ubiquitous iFi “cheat sheet.” I have come to appreciate the sturdier paper upon which the instructions are printed as you will often look at the sheet when needing help. A business card completes the repertoire, fulfilling a simple usable box, which could have been pared down a bit more due to the size of the xCAN.

    With plenty of information on the outside of the box, you are not lacking in iFi information.


    Fit/Finish/Functions:

    The xCAN carries on the iFi tradition of a chrome finish with a black “tail-end.” I am glad there is that black back side, so one can grab on to it, when cleaning. I get the appeal of the chrome finish, but I would prefer another color option. I stated as much in my xDSD review and do so again here…give at least one more color option.


    With rounded humps, the xCAN does take on the effect of row crops in an organic garden. Tasteful and different. The xCAN also stacks quite nicely with the xDSD. One main “button” dominates the front; the power/source lighted button. Hold for two seconds, and the critter turns on. Hold longer (3-4 seconds) and you can change how the xCAN sources info (from BT or wired source). The familiar push button toggles you through the XBass+ or 3d+ functions.

    On the back there are jacks for 3.5mm SE in, 2.5mm BAL in, and USB-C charging cord. There is also XBass II, which can add “presence” to the lower-mid region as a correction much the way the XBass+ switch does to the lower-bass. You can add more bass to the lower-mids, more presence, or to both bass + presence. A nice feature for those who want a quick EQ solution.

    The xCAN is put together well and shows the care and commitment iFi shows in their portable equipment. Typical iFi ingenuity. Typical iFi quality. Typical iFi functionality.

    [​IMG]

    More Good Stuff:

    It has been said that the xDSD is the better DAC from iFi at this level, and the xCAN would be the better amp at this level. I would agree. The xCAN has a load of power to burn through all but the hardest critters. I did have trouble driving the Dekoni Blue planar headphones (highly-modded Fostex T50RP mk3), but none of my other headphones/IEM’s suffered the same fate. All that meant was that I had to rely upon my iFi Black Label for the Blue…oh darn…

    Hooking easily to the Shanling M3s either through BT or wired, the xCAN brought that needed juice to the M3s, which may have been missing. Power is nice, but uncontrolled power is ridiculous. You need not worry. The xCAN added to the wonderful tonality of the M3s nicely. With the added bass of XBass+ through the EN 700 Pro, you get a very nice rumble. Almost shaking in sound, twenty one pilots Levitate works through the drum/bass reverb sound well, making you feel that added bass. Through the CA Atlas, the sensation is even higher. Much higher. Staying with the affordable trip though, you have a very fine functioning system that is portable and all for less than $600. Many here spend that alone on a DAP or IEM, so immediately you have good value. Plus, as mentioned the xCAN scales well, so you can keep it after upgrading IEM’s or headphones.

    Providing a bit more depth of sound than the M3s solo, you get a nice 3D presentation, especially when you have the 3D+ toggled on. Well, of course you would! But, that depth of sound is there with the 3D+ toggled off. There is an almost cross-frequency sound, much like imaging would be with both XBass+ and 3D+ turned off. Add both in (my preference), and you get that extra lower floor, while providing an unencumbered view of the stars.

    [​IMG]

    Running the MBP/xCAN combo through Pine Player and the CA Atlas provides the kind of full, rich sound that one expects from floor standing speakers properly placed within your listening room. This is just a fabulously deep rumble emanating from the trio. Jumpsuit through the Atlas is pretty darn fine on its own. Through in the xCAN for that added presence and bass push, and no one should complain. At all. I write this as Winter Storm Bruce shows its full wrath on our little hamlet in the heartland. This trio right here would be sufficient for guiding you through Bruce. Powerful enough to separate the wind and snow, and with enough rumble to fight back against the bass. If that is too much bass, turn it off. Plenty of floor shaking going on in my ears.



    [​IMG]

    A true benefit of an addition to your system answers the question, “Can that additional critter add to or enhance what I have on hand?” Simply running the BT through the MBP answers that question. Switching quickly to the BGVP DMG (review coming), the sensation while decreased, yields the same result. Nice booming bass and holographic quality sound. With the ability to quickly tailor the sound (faster than changing EQ settings), the xCAN holds its place in my system. With a better amp section than the xDSD, the added power is appreciated. In typical iFi fashion, they produced an excellent critter first in the xDSD. Then followed it by incorporating more power, with slightly newer technology in the xCAN. Much like my current iFi stack, which contains the iTubes2, iDAC2, and aforementioned Black Label, iFi is producing products, which dovetail together nicely. You really do not need both the xDSD and xCAN, but it is nice to see that they work and play well together if needed. And yes, I use my iFi stack all together the majority of the time. Throw the xDSD into the mix utilizing BT, and you have an excellent combination of better DAC and better AMP than the MBP can provide. With the added benefit of being able to control volume on all three, as well as XBass+ and 3D+ on both iFi units, and you can almost imagine yourself as a personal DJ. Your ears do approve.



    [​IMG]

    Battery life has been improved a bit on the xCAN as well. My first go around, I achieved about 8 hours of solid listening. After that continuous test, I was able to consistently get about 5-7 hours, which I attributed to all of the switching done between BT/wired/IEM/headphone/etc. Not bad indeed.

    The not-so-good-stuff:

    Nothing of note really, except for some who are “concerned” with the chrome finish attracting fingerprints. It will happen. It will happen often. You will give up. You will ignore the prints and focus upon the sound. You need to let go of that “concern” for the fingerprints of the world, for they want you to listen. Throw on Morph from Trench, plug in your favorite IEM, turn the volume up, sit back and watch the blizzard go by, err time. Sorry, we are in the midst of Bruce as stated. Beautiful, and powerful all the same. Kind of like the xCAN. iFi seems to do this on a regular basis.

    OK, another small niggle…there is some short-term connectivity problem when switching between wired/BT. I had that with the xDSD, and still have it. Many times, you can simply switch between the two platforms. Sometimes it will not recognize the BT pairing. So, forget the xCAN on your source, and reconnect. This seems to be only on a few select source devices, so I would not worry too much, or consider it a deal breaker (NO WAY!!!).

    [​IMG]



    Le Grande Finale:

    So…what are we left with? Pretty much a steal if you must boil it down to one word. More versatile than my iBasso PB3 (another balanced in/balanced out amp), and with more features. I have not really talked about the balanced in/out feature as many will not use the critter that way. But if you insist…It worked. Balanced in/out worked the way one would expect. Shove a balanced source-out sound into the balanced-in of the xCAN and you can comfortably play your balanced headphones in the bal-out port on the front of the xCAN. No muss, no problem. You can even simply hook up your balanced headphones to the front, and the magic involved inside will automatically convert the sound to balanced. What voodoo is this??!! Holy smokes!

    Good stuff, indeed. So, short of the chrome (meh) and sometimes-connectivity issues, there really is not much to warrant criticism here. Someone mentioned in another review that the xCAN will default to XBass+ on when you turn it back on. That simply is not the case for the one I have. I will not debate whether that person left the XBass+ on or not, obviously if they reported it, then it did happen. The XBass+/3D+ should default to the last setting if it is a short-term turning off (I just tried it). I have noticed that after being off for a day or so, the xCAN will revert to neutral (both off), so YMMV. Either way, another minor niggle in the world of chrome-goodness.

    The iFi xCAN is a very, very good portable amp, which ticks many of the boxes people want. It is portable, small, powerful, adaptable, ability to use both SE and BAL, and sounds good. It works, it sounds good (not quite the DAC standard as the xDSD but it isn’t supposed to…) and can be hooked to pretty much anything you have in a matter of moments. There isn’t a whole lot to dislike. You should give this fine critter a long listen if you happen to be in the market for a portable SE/BAL amp.

    Special thanks to Lawrance and iFi for the continued faith, this is a good unit, which deserves the attention it is getting currently. Put on Bandito from Trenches and enjoy the sound. It will be worth it.

    [​IMG]
  7. upsguys88
    The little XCAN that CAN!
    Written by upsguys88
    Published Dec 3, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Small Size
    3.5 and 2.5 balanced ports
    LOTS O' POWER
    Quick and great sounding Bluetooth
    Great Sound Customization Options (3D+ and XBass II)
    Cons - Fingerprint magnet
    No USB input (for wired enthusiasts)
    Let me first start by saying I moved from using at home amp/dacs to using almost exclusively mobile, portable solutions for my earbuds, IEMs and headphones. In my opinion, the technology of the mobile audio world has nearly caught up with the power and sound quality of the stay at home, stationary solutions such as my LH Labs Geek Pulse infinity with the LPS4 power conditioner.

    My review will be mainly comparing the IFI XCAN with the Centrance Bluedac as my main use of the IFI XCAN is its supreme aptx bluetooth ability. I am also going to comment on the xcan's ability to compete with the uber popular Chord Mojo as it is one of the mainstays in the mobile amp/dac category.

    This review has no pictures as I feel it is redundant with all the reviews out there showing the XCAN and what comes in its package :).

    Equipment used for the review:

    Amp / Dacs:


    IFI XCAN
    Chord Mojo
    Centrance Bluedac

    Headphones:

    Sennheiser 6XX
    Audeze iSine 20
    Venture Electronics Zen Omega Edition earbuds
    Audio Technica ATH-M50x

    Music:

    Tidal (Mostly master quality streaming)

    First impressions of the XCan itself:

    1. This little guy has a TON of power. You can check the specs on the IFI website, but at 1000mw per mono channel is quite impressive considering its slim form factor and loads of options for a portable amp/dac. With my Audeze iSine 20s that crave power, this was a welcome addition for such a small device.

    2. The reconnection time of the bluetooth is very quick. After you initially (first time) connect the XCAN to your source, it will remember its connection partner and reconnect without you having to manually do so in a flash! For me, when reconnecting to my iphone SE or my Macbook air, was a mere 1-2 seconds.

    3. I can easily connect all of my balanced headphones to the XCAN. I have a number of great earbuds (VE Zen Omega, VE Zen Lite, Cypherus Audio Camp Fred 2, Shozy BK) that are terminated for either 3.5TRRS or 2.5TRRS. I have some earbuds terminated to 3.5trrs in order to connect to my LH Labs GO V2+ infinity 3.5 balanced output, with others terminated to 2.5trrs for my Centrance Bluedac balanced output. Its wonderful that I don't have to switch cables or add adapters for my 3.5trrs earbubs. I can just plug and play to get great pure balanced sound!

    4. Build quality is top notch! I really enjoy the feel of the buttons, and the smoothness of the volume control. The fact that the chassis is smooth and a bit slippery, the wave like shape of it allows for it to be held in a number of different positions without the worry of dropping out of the hand or sliding of a table. This was my favorite part, the little build in rubber feet really add a nice touch when using as a dac/amp at home.

    SOUND IMPRESSIONS:

    The XCAN sounded great on my balanced earbuds, over ear and open back. This little amp/dac was fast, clear and accurate. The bass was full, deep and quick. I listened to a variety of Hans Zimmer soundtracks (Interstellar, Inception), a number of EDM tracks from Galantis, Empire of the Sun, and Zedd, and classic rock from the Grateful Dead, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. All of the music was first listened to in the XCAN regular mode (no XBass or 3D+) and then compared with the 3D+ mode and XBass individually as well as together. Here are my impressions of those three modes of listening.

    Normal Mode (non XBass II or 3D+ modes):

    This normal mode was a great starting point for purists who want to listen to what the amp and dac can do/sound like without the aid of filters or fill-ins. I appreciated this a great deal as it provided the sound to be presented in the most direct way from the amp/dac to your ears. There was no coloring of the sound, it was not as clinical sounding as my Centrance Bludac, but it was not as warm as the Chord Mojo. I liked the sound quite a lot.

    3D+ Mode:

    This mode seemed to add a bit of airiness to the overall presentation of the music, which I used mostly during my time with the classic rock. Overall it did not make a huge difference in the music but it did add that little extra soundstage to the open back Sennheiser 6XX cans.

    XBass II Mode:

    This mode was a bit more pronounced and observable when it was used. The bass was fuller, deeper but did not cause the bass to bleed or sound muffled at all. This was a great addition to the EDM music as well as those songs that sounded a bit less bassy when used with the 6XX cans. The XBass was able to improve bass in all aspects when used through all of the tested headphones I used.

    Comparison to the Centrance Bluedac and Chord Mojo:

    The IFI XCAN has many more input options (mainly the 3.5trrs balanced) and much more power to boot. I enjoyed the combination of slightly warm, yet very fine accuracy of the sound stage and clarity. This is a wonderful middle ground amp/dac if you are looking for a very dark background with a touch of clinical/analog warmness combo. I put it right in between the Bluedac (clinical) and the Chord Mojo (warmish) sound signature. The only thing that the Bluedac does better than the XCAN is it is much lighter and the battery lasts around 20 hours of playback vs XCAN's 8 hours. In terms of the weight, it feels much lighter then the Chord Mojo which is a big plus for a bluetooth focused dac/amp (something Mojo only acquires with the addition of the expensive Poly). Honestly though, I would never need a dac/amp more than 8 hours so this is not a deal breaker by any means. If I were to take only one of these on the go, it would be the IFI XCan because of its versatility and wonderful capabilities sound wise.

    Overall Impressions:

    If you are looking for a very powerful, excellent sounding, portable dac/amp, take a serious look at the XCAN! The build quality is top notch, the sound is excellent, it is fully balanced throughout, and the battery life is great considering the amount of power it is outputting. For $299 MSRP, this little amp is a wonder considering the options you get, the excellent bluetooth sound and the power/performance ratio. The IFI XCAN is a little wonder that packs a punch and performs well above its price point. A dac/amp that is a must own for the mobile audiophile! For the Audeze iSine users out there looking for an extremely powerful amp/dac for those power hungry iems, this is it!
  8. jwbrent
    iFi Audio xCAN—A Beast of a Headphone Amplifier!
    Written by jwbrent
    Published Nov 13, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Beautifully rendered balanced sound, good sub bass performance, detailed highs without any edginess, atmospheric soundstage, balanced operation with single-ended connection
    Cons - The alloy case is a fingerprint magnet, using two headphones simultaneously may be a problem due to the narrow spacing between the outputs, XBass II defaults on when the xCAN is powered up
    xCan-header-818.jpg

    Wow! For those of you who like to scan down to the conclusions on product reviews, let me save you some time ... go buy the xCAN, it's that good—the Mojo of affordable headphone amps. For those who like the details, please read on, though, I do apologize for my lengthy review.

    iFi Audio is a British company that designs and engineers product mostly oriented towards the headphone audio market. Its sister company, AMR, began designing home audio gear in 2001, and after five years of development, released its first product in 2006 to much acclaim. The emphasis on its initial release of the 77 Series of products was to rid its components of soul robbing radio frequency/electrical noise that was commonplace in lesser gear of the day. Due to its continued success, AMR saw an opportunity in the headphone audio sphere, and iFi Audio was born in 2012.

    xcan-back.jpg

    xCAN Details

    The xCAN is a battery operated headphone amplifier, diminutive in size, and employing fully balanced circuitry as well as a proprietary "S-Balanced" circuit for single-ended (SE) headphone users. This unique design provides the benefits of balanced topology without some of the drawbacks of a typical balanced design. Additionally, the xCAN is equipped with Bluetooth with two of the most popular codecs currently available—aptX+aptX Low Latency and AAC. aptX has been around for awhile, and with its greater bandwidth, it promises near CD like resolution. AAC is a similar performing codec but oriented more towards Apple iOS products since they do not support aptX.

    The xCAN includes iFi's proprietary XBass II, the latest version of this popular feature on other iFi headphone amplifiers which when turned on augments the bass, and now also adds a presence option for the midrange frequencies. Both analogue filters can be turned on at the same time, or each independently. Also included is the 3D+ feature which is along the lines of a crossfeed circuit that expands the soundstage of a performance.

    IMG_0072.jpg

    xCAN Unboxing

    The xCAN comes nicely boxed with the unit itself protected by a soft plastic sleeve. This is important since the xCAN has a beautiful magnesium alloy case that is very shiny with a smoky hue. The rear of the case is made from a silky feeling plastic that enables the Bluetooth feature to operate at its best with a wireless signal. Included in the box is a velvet bag for the xCAN as well as three cables, a 3.5mm to 3.5mm SE cable, a 2.5mm to 2.5mm balanced cable, and a USB C cable for charging the unit. Finally, there is a cardboard instruction sheet along with two other information cards about registration and how to use the included velcro like stick-ons for attaching your source component to the xCAN. Surprisingly, on the rear of this card there is xDSD info with the firmware version and MQA compatibility, clearly not meant for the xCAN.

    IMG_0140.jpg

    Use and Performance

    Pictured above is all the gear I used in my evaluation. I'd like to take this time to thank iFi Audio for lending me an xCAN for my review. I was excited to read about this product, and I decided to do a thorough review with familiar source components and headphones so readers could get a greater sense on the xCAN's overall performance.

    IMG_0079.jpg

    PonoPlayer ($399) ⇒ xCAN ($299) ⇒ AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition ($649)

    Before I did any critical listening, I ran the xCAN for about 100 hours to ensure it was nicely burned in. Through this process, I would occasionally check the sound to hear how the xCAN was doing, and I did notice improvements in the entire frequency range, so I recommend new owners go through this procedure before making any final judgement about its performance. Finally, I did not use the analogue filters when I made my comparisons.

    I recently bought Neil Young's PonoPlayer for nostalgia's sake since I'm a long time fan going back to the 70s. How surprised I was when I realized this is a great sounding digital audio player (DAP) though its user interface leaves one a bit wanting. Too bad the company is now out of business. I initially connected the SE cable included with the xCAN, but after listening for awhile, I switched it out for the Headphone Lounge OCC Silver Type 2 Mini-Cable ($42). The improvements wrought were expected, greater midrange transparency with sparkling yet smooth trebles, well worth the modest cost.

    The AKGs are definitely my cup of tea, so that should give everyone an idea on my sound preferences. Using them with the Pono only, beginning at the bottom of the frequency range, the bass is lean sounding but defined, with a forward midrange and highly detailed trebles. Depending on the source material, the AKGs can get a bit tiresome over extended listening sessions, but with other types of music like acoustic, jazz, or classical, the Pono drives them well, albeit not as loud as I would like. Adding the xCAN in the chain brought improved bass, especially the sub bass frequencies below 60Hz. The midrange retained its forward character, but vocals were better delineated, and subtle cues like a singer's lips moving came across with ease. The trebles remained detailed, but were less edgy, smoother, and now less than perfectly recorded rock/alternative music was more engaging. AKG K702s are known for having a huge, sometimes artificial soundstage, but I like this quality a lot. With the xCAN driving them, the soundstage was even more atmospheric and immersive. What a beautiful sound!

    IMG_0080.jpg

    PonoPlayer ⇒ xCAN ⇒ Sennheiser HD 6XX ($199)

    I think everyone who is a headphile should own the Sennheiser HD 6XX (or HD 650), they really are good sounding and a great headphone to use as a reference. Some listeners are turned off by the darkish high frequencies when unamplified, but if they heard them with the xCAN, they may have different thoughts altogether. Let's start off with the trebles first—there is no veil here at all. The xCAN's detailed but smooth sounding high frequencies are a perfect match, in my view. The HD 6XX retains its reference level resolution, but the sound is more transparent, more even balanced throughout the frequency range. The purity of the midrange, perhaps the most notable aspect of the HD 6XX, is further improved coming at you like a big wet kiss from a new love, liquidy and blissful. As in the AKGs, the bass tightens and is less obscure with good dynamics. Soundstage improvements abound as well with greater separation. Add a DAP/phone/computer to this combo and you will have a killer setup without mortgaging your future.

    I should add for those who are eagle-eyed that I used a Headphone Lounge OCC Copper Type 2 Balanced Cable ($150) for this particular evaluation. iFi makes a big deal about the S-Balanced feature, and I wanted to try out the balanced output while using the SE input. Yes, you can use an SE input and still get fully balanced sound since the balanced output functions exactly as that regardless of which input you use, even Bluetooth (according to iFi).

    IMG_0087.jpg

    Astell&Kern AK240SS ($3,000) ⇒ Chord Electronics Mojo ($599) ⇒ xCAN ⇒ Sennheiser HD 6XX

    Let's change it up a bit and add some more serious hardware. I was very interested in how the xCAN compared to the Chord Mojo in driving headphones, so out came my beloved AK240SS connected via a Penon Audio Silver OTG Cable ($32) to the Mojo.

    This is why the HD 6XX is such a killer headphone: I've upped the gear and the Sennheisers readily showed off the improvements. No noise. At all. Blackness from which the music emerged showing off the finest details. Micro dynamics (low level detail that retains a sense of dynamic contrasts) clearly improves. Macro dynamics (same as above but with musical peaks), too. We now have a sound that approaches the kilobuck systems, in my view. The xCAN scales with better gear, good for upgrades down the road.

    So what about the Mojo? My understanding is Chord designed the Mojo with a warmer signature than the pre-existing Chord Hugo ($2,395) since it was designed to be used with phones, and the gritty nature of such a source device (at least back in 2014 when the Mojo was in the design stage) warranted a toned down top end to make it more listenable. The Mojo's tonal color never bothered me, but it did bother others who preferred the top end of the Hugo with its more detailed, hence, brighter presentation. Well, that's where the xCAN comes in ... the Mojo warmth is gone. In my view, the xCAN perfectly compliments the Mojo in that the upper frequencies now sound extended yet not harsh as sometimes would happen when I owned my original Hugo. The dimensionality is improved as well, as previously noted with the xCAN. For those Mojo owners who have been contemplating selling theirs to buy a used Hugo now that they're so cheap. don't do it! Buy an xCAN instead and Hugoize the sound of your Mojo, plus you get the xCAN's analogue filters the original Hugo lacked. And you save a bunch of money and hassle.

    IMG_0082.jpg

    Astell&Kern AK240SS ⇒ xCAN ⇒ Focal Utopia ($3,995)

    I love the Utopia. I love how its made, its design, and of course, its sound. Just a well balanced headphone that will always remain in my headphone inventory for those special listening sessions where I want to be swept away with the emotional message an artist conveys with their music.

    The AK240SS was loaded with hi res files and joined to the xCAN with the Headphone Lounge OCC Silver Type 2 Balanced Cable ($42). My thanks to Ted at Headphone Lounge for loaning me this cable for my review.

    The headphone cable I used is the Norne Audio Draug Silver Balanced ($420) which is made on a special order basis. The sound is fantastic, compliments the Utopia, and is better built than any other specialty cable I've owned. Highly recommended!

    I wanted to try this combo so I could compare the SE input to the balanced on the xCAN. iFi highlights its proprietary S-Balanced circuitry, how this feature provides all the benefits of a fully balanced design without the potential problem of amplifying noise due to the added gain of a truly balanced input/output stage. When I read this in the xCAN thread here on Head-Fi, I wondered why then have a balanced input/output at all? Besides marketing reasons, I then realized all my headphones are fairly easy to drive. I imagine a pair of Audezes might suck the xCAN dry if not for the balanced input/output stage.

    All the hallmarks observed earlier about the xCAN apply here as well, just notched up because of the resolving power of the Utopia. I don't own a dedicated headphone amp, never needed one, I thought. But the xCAN makes listening to the Utopia even better, especially since the xCAN is so good in the bass department where the Utopia arguably could use a bit more oomph. How can this be? How can a $300 amp work so well with a $4,000 set of headphones? I don't know how iFi does it, but that's why I began this review with a Wow!

    So after picking my tongue up off the floor, I switched the balanced silver cable with the SE version. Way more gain! That was a surprise. I would've thought a balanced input would provide greater gain than an SE input, but not here. As a result, it was very difficult to do a sound comparison because level matching such a big difference between the two inputs proved to be more of a challenge then I wanted to undertake. Suffice it to say, I find using the SE input more than satisfactory, so I'm sticking with that.

    xcan-front-right-2.jpg

    Final Thoughts

    I've written several reviews on Head-Fi, but never one as long as this one ... again, my apologies to those that have made it this far. It would have been even longer if I had included my iPhone SE/Mojo combo as I originally planned on doing, or the Astell&Kern AKR02 in ear monitor (IEM) just to see how an IEM works with the xCAN. And what about Bluetooth? Nope, not enough time since I promised to send the xCAN back to the US distributor. I'll leave IEMs and Bluetooth to the rush of reviews I'm certain will follow ...

    So, how about any niggles? Well, the magnesium alloy case is a major fingerprint magnet, and a bit difficult to clean completely. The two headphone outs are spaced closely together, so I had an issue with the AKG and Sennheiser cables connecting at the same time, not a big deal since many would use only one output at a time, but for me, not having to disconnect and connect sometimes is helpful, especially in the dark. The XBass II defaults on when powering the xCAN on, but that was only a bother because I didn't want to use this feature in my review. The included balanced cable initially didn't fit, but after I took a close look at it, I saw that the plastic spacer between the two uppermost connections on the male plug was oversized, so I took a razor blade and carefully shaved off the excess. Nothing else, really.

    Summing up, what we have here is a very attractive, highly capable, headphone amplifier. Strongly recommended, but I fear there will be some with expensive headphones whom will prejudge the xCAN feeling how can such a low priced amplifier be commensurate. In my view, it can.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Cerobinam
      Please save your apologies! Length is just a by-product of a great review :)
      Cerobinam, Nov 20, 2018
      Thatsgr8 and jwbrent like this.
    3. Chris1975
      What a great review! When you say it compliments to Mojo, do you mean down the line, i.e. as a final stage between the Mojo and headphones? Again, loved your review, thanks. V tempted by this!
      Chris1975, Dec 31, 2018
      jwbrent likes this.
    4. jwbrent
      @Chris1975, thank you for your kind words. Yes, my thought is for those whom would like better upper frequency detail, the xCAN perfectly compliments the Mojo, a killer combination, in my view.
      jwbrent, Jan 1, 2019
  9. sarfdawg
    xCAN can make anything sound great!
    Written by sarfdawg
    Published Nov 11, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Versatility, filtering, form factor, Bluetooth!
    Cons - lack of a true battery indicator and slight difficulty switching from Bluetooth to wired.
    I have been using the xCAN for just over a week, and I must say that I truly love this device.

    I will state for the record. I'm a newbie on the audiophile spectrum; so bear with me as some of my terminology may sound overly simplistic or amateurish.

    I have been testing the xCAN with the Sennheiser HD650, the Hifiman HE-400i, and (to a lesser extent) the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2.0 over ears. The following comments are not to be critiques of headphones themselves, but to be a critique of the versatility of the xCAN.

    First, with the HE-400i headphones, they can be powered by phone or computer without a dire need of an amp. However, I feel like those cans are a little bright for my taste and not quite as warm on the bass end as I'd like. That's not really a knock on the headphones as they are a lot of fun, particularly with plain ol' rock and roll. The xCAN obviously powers them easily and brings out a lot of background I've never noticed before in very familiar songs. For example, I've been listening to Sister Hazel for over 20 years, and I'm acutely aware of their sound - or at least I thought I was. The xCAN brought the background vocals forward to the point of making me smile as if I'd heard a sparkling, fresh version of the songs I'd never heard before. As I mentioned, for the bass the HE-400i are lacking, the "XBass II" button on the front, coupled with the "bass" option on the back add the "oomph" (bass only setting) I think it needs, creating a near-studio sound. As I type, I'm listening to "Look out any Window" by Bruce Hornsby and the Range, and the "presence" setting really emphasizes his vocals. Using the "bass + presence" setting really knocks this out of the park. The soundstage on the Hifiman is solid without amplification, but the xCAN again takes it to a whole different level.

    With the HD 650s, it is well documented that amplification is necessary (300 ohm), and the xCAN delivers in a big way. The already strong midrange in the Senns are more profound with the xCAN. I enjoy this with my taste of singer-songwriter music. Along with a few Bruce Hornsby songs, I use Marc Cohn's "Street of Windows" as another test song for this kind of music, and again, this song sounds beautiful in a way that I've never heard before. I feel like I'm in the front row of a stage, hearing notes that I never have heard so profoundly. If I use the "3D+" button on the front, the width of the stage is expanded without the expense of thinning the sound. The HD650 headphones already have about as much bass as I'd like in a headphone, and unlike the Hifimans, I don't need the extra bass the xCAN provides; so just going with the "3D+" setting is enough as the extra bass option is not my cup of tea with these 'phones.

    The most pleasant surprise match with the ifi xCAN is with the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless Circumaural. I love the versatility of these headphones, and the punchy bass that they provide. I'm not sure how audiophile-reference they would be considered, but they are FUN! As much fun as they are, the xCAN makes them magical. The punchy bass is emphasized, and the highs are clean and bright. I feel like the xCAN does an equally amazing job in both Bluetooth and wired settings of bringing the best of my AC/DC, Journey, Van Halen forward and giving me a sound from these headphones I've never experienced. Since the impedance is already low on these headphones, there is no need to really crank up the volume the xCAN. The clean sound is beautiful without worrying about the amplification. It is notable the with a wired or Bluetooth connection, the xCAN makes these headphones sound amazing.

    Lastly, the battery life: It seems like I read that the xCAN is rated to work for eight hours between charges. I have found that is an understatement. I know for certain that I have had it on for well over 10 hours in my office, on my home computer, and on my phone, and I have not had it die on me yet. I would like to see a little better indicator how much charge is left at any given time, but the battery's running out has been of little to no concern.

    Overall, I love the xCAN. I have a couple of minor criticisms, but I can't emphasize enough - they are minor.

    Switching from Bluetooth to wired, and vice versa, on the xCAN is a little trickier than I would like it to be. I wish it were simply a slider like the corresponding "bass" and "presence" options for "XBass II" are on the back, but that may be a bit nitpicky. It just takes a little bit to get used to. I would also have liked to have seen a USB or optical option to make it a little easier to connect to my home A/V receiver. That's not that big of a deal, and 90 percent of my usage with it are going to be either with my desktop computer or my phone.

    Speaking of using with the phone, I love the form factor. It is slightly smaller than my Essential PH-1 Android phone, and it easily fits in my pocket. I haven't tested this part out, but it appears to be a pretty durable piece of equipment, but I wouldn't want to find out the hard way. I like its sleekness, and its portability. On my wishlist, the ability to clean up not-so-great song files (.mp3 & streaming from anyone other than Tidal), drive higher impedance headphones, and fit in my pocket (Bluetooth!!!) are must. The xCAN resoundingly checks ALL of those boxes. I know that there are dozens of other reputable brands out there, but none of them fit the bill for me like the xCAN does.

    If you are in the market for a DAC/Amp, and you are looking for versatility and Bluetooth, look no further. This is your product.
      scottsays, eclein, MaceHane2 and 2 others like this.
  10. Faber65
    Engaging!!!
    Written by Faber65
    Published Nov 6, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Plenty of power, fun, form factor.
    Cons - None
    I had the opportunity to test the xCan last weekend at the CanJam in Shanghai.
    Input from the Fiio 5II and output to MrSpeakers Aeon Flow C; FLAC files, standars resolution.
    Comparing it with my iCan nano, my first impression was that the new xCan has more dynamic and it is slightly faster on the transients.
    I heard also a better sense of clarity on the details and spaciousness, even without the usage of the filter 3D.
    The sounds flows smooth and there is no harshness in its high, which it's important for long trip listening.
    To me it is more engaging than his previous sibling.

    The improved form factor is another big plus for being a portable amp.

    I was told that it will be launched in China on November 22nd, and I am counting the days.

    Once again the iFi Audio team did a great job.

    IMG_8580[1].JPG IMG_8579[1].JPG