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iFi iCAN headphone amplifier

  1. blankdisc
    iCAN is a keeper. Paired with iDSD Micro you have got a winner combo. Highly recommended!!!
    Written by blankdisc
    Published Mar 26, 2015
    Pros - Very musical and smooth sounding. Great XBass and 3D implementation. Gain setting is very useful.
    Cons - would be cool to have internal battery and an off button
    Have been listening to my new iCAN Micro for couple weeks now. Before that I use the headphone output directly out of my iDSD Micro.
    First of all i just want to say that iDSD Micro is great. One of the best gears i have ever bought. I buy and sell headphone gears pretty often just to try different things. that's what this hobby is all about, right? iDSD Micro is one thing i think i will never let go. It is just so flexible and good looking. Not to mention that it sounds great. I don't know how iFi guys were able to pack so many great features in such a small and beautiful package and sell it for a very reasonable price. Btw, they weren't joking about using iDSD Micro to drive the mighty HE-6. I tried and it sounds pretty good for such a small device.
    Going back to the iCAN Micro. A lot of people will ask why one would even need the iCAN if you have already got iDSD Micro which has a very capable headphone output. After adding the iCAN Micro after iDSD Micro the sound becomes sweeter and warmer. The only complaint i had with iDSD Micro before is that it could sound a bit dry from time to time, and looks like iCAN is the perfect cure for that. I think it might have something to do with its Class A circuit. I am a Class A guy. My main stereo has a set of Pass Labs XA60.5 Class A mono amps, and i also use First Watt J2 Class A amp for my desktop system. To me a class A amp (well designed of course) just sounds more musical and more effortless. It brings you closer to the music. iCAN did exactly that. I also enjoyed the 3D and Xbass feature. For 90% of the time i listen at Xbass Mid setting and 3D Max setting. I really like iFi's implementations with both as their effects are subtle.
    I am currently using this set as my office setup. I am completely satisfied and have no intention to make any change, nor do i think that i can do any better without spending significantly more money. I highly recommend this combo to anyone who is looking for a good and flexible desktop setup as well as with some portability. (i just took this set to London for a business trip and they worked beautifully. They didn't take much space in the bag and you can use iDSD Micro on the plane. :))
    oh, forgot to mention that i use this set to drive my Yuin OK1 earbuds as well as Hifiman HE-560. Both were driven beautifully by this combo.

      Music Path likes this.
    1. earfonia
      Agree! iCan micro is the cure for the dry sounding iDSD micro headphone output.
      Nice review! Thanks!
      earfonia, Mar 28, 2015
  2. Vartan
    My short review :)
    Written by Vartan
    Published Aug 15, 2014
    Pros - Excellent warm sound, Powerful, Detailed, Transparent, Black silent background, Form factor and design
    Cons - I don't know why they didn't design the amp with an on/off switch, Slight interference at lowest volume
     There were many amps in 250$ range to choose from, but I liked iCAN's unique design and the shape. I don't have many headphones to do a comparison. I'm not a big fan of bass boost and 3D, but sometimes I do use bass boost on one dot position (by the way, I'd like the one dot setting to come after the direct setting). 
    The bass boost works perfectly and doesn't bleed to mid range (in one dot setting). The 3D holographic effect works fine with some tracks, you have to figure out on your own. 
    I'm very much pleased with this amp, if you are looking for an amp in 250$ range, do consider the iCAN micro, because it's very powerful and very smooth sounding amp. securedownload.jpg
     ✔ ifi audio makes Hi-Fi quality audio (or even audiophile quality) stuff for affordable prices!
      Wilashort likes this.
  3. CraftyClown
    A cracking little amp, with some fantastic extra features
    Written by CraftyClown
    Published Jan 16, 2014
    Pros - Powerful, transparent, fantastic soundstage
    Cons - No power button
    Let me first make it clear that I am using a demo version of the ICan, sent to me by Vince at IFi. The reason for this is that as well as being a part time audiophile, I also run a video production company and we will be working with IFi to produce some videos later this year. Vince sent me the unit to get an understanding of how their technology works. 
    So onto the device itself... Wow! I must confess I was expecting this to be a fairly standard amp, and that the extra features (X-Bass and 3D) would be nothing more than gimmicks... I am happy to be proved very wrong. The amp itself is powerful enough to run both my IEMs (Heir 8as) and my full size cans (HD650s) without a problem. It is also transparent, which I always favour in an amp, as I don't like unnecessarily colouring the sound of my headphones.
    The X-Bass works well, but to be honest with you, not something I use an awful lot as my 8as are bassy enough already. I do use the first setting on the HD650s though to add a touch.
    The 3D setting... now this is the bit that impressed me! It really does expand the soundstage in a realistic manner, which I just didn't expect. I guess this is the bit I thought would be all gimmick and no substance and at best that it would add an unrealistic effect, at worst it would degrade the audio quality. Nothing could be further from the truth, to the point I now listen to most of my music with the highest setting on :wink:
    One slight omission in my opinion (and has been stated by a few others) is a power switch. I just don't like having things switched on all the time and without this the only other option is to unplug it from the mains. This is nitpicking really though and could be a consideration for an updated design later on down the road. 
    So do I like the ICan... Err, yes! This little box of tricks has delivered way above my expectations, with some great features I just hadn't anticipated. In fact I like it so much I am now planning to buy the new nano portable version to pair with my AK120 :D
      Wilashort likes this.
  4. hrene
    Amazing detailed amp!!!
    Written by hrene
    Published Jul 14, 2013
    Pros - Detailed, Exciting, Awesome Bass and Soundstage. Sounds much more than £225, feels like much more than £225
    Cons - No on/off switch
    In Audiophile world most people think then more expensive its better, iCAN proves its not always true.
    iCAN is a great performing small desktop amp with amazing features at its price point of £225. Anyone who wants more bass or more space and detail from their headphones will be happy.
    headphones used:
    Amp used:
    Graham Slee Novo £255
    Graham Slee Solo SRG II £377
    Lehmann Rhinelander £349
    Lehmann Audio Black Cube Linear £649 good sound but compare to price 3 times as iCAN
    Sennheiser HDVD-800 (but that the other story, I almost cry!!!) clear perfection!! £1499
    Comparing to amps in the same price range and above this is a true winner.
  5. ClieOS
    Excellent sound, power, authority, and a well implemtened EQ system
    Written by ClieOS
    Published May 29, 2013
    Pros - Top notch SQ + EQ, transparency.
    Cons - No gain control (*see 'update'), shape of housing.
    iFi Audio is a new comer in the headphone amp scene, but it does share the same bloodline as the renowned U.K. based premium audiophiles brand AMR. While AMR already has some top end gears to offer to the speaker and full rig owner, its little sister brand seems to aim toward mainly the computer based headphone user as well as minimalist audiophiles. Their current ‘Micro’ line of devices includes the iDAC (headphone amp + USB DAC with line-out), iCAN (headphone amp), iUSB Power (USB isolator), iPhono (phone preamp) and the recently released iLink (USB to S/PDIF converter). We will cover the former three here, which are priced at US$299, US$249 and US$199 respectively (*price do vary quite a bit depends on region though).
    Front (from left): iUSB Power, iDAC, and iCAN.
    Back (from left): iCAN, iDAC, and iUSB Power.
    DAC section:
    ESS Sabre ES9023 DAC chip, fully supports up to 24bit, 192kbps resolution
    XMOS based USB Audio Class 2 Asynchronous solution
    Signal to Noise Ratio: >111dB(A)
    Dynamic Range(-60dBFs): >111dB(A)
    Crosstalk: <-102dB(1KHz)
    Total Harmonic Distortion(THD): <0.005%
    Jitter: Below measurement limit
    Frequency Response: 3Hz to 33KHz + 0.1dB/0.3dB
    Output:  Line-out, RCA jacks
    Headphone amp section:
    Opamp: MAX9722
    Output Power: >150mW (15Ω)
    Output Voltage: >3.3V (>100Ω)
    Signal to Noise Ratio: >97dB(A) (400mV/300R)
    Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.003% (400mV/300R)
    Output Impedance (Zout): <1Ω
    Power Consumption: < 2.5W
    Dimensions: 158(l)x68(w)x28(h)mm
    Weight: 193g(0.43lbs)
    Output: 3.5mm Stereo Jack
    Gain stage: Fully discrete, Class A
    Buffer stage: TPA6120A2
    EQ: two levels selectable 3D Holographic Sound and XBass
    Signal to Noise Ratio: >117dB(A)
    Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0.003%(400mV/150R)
    Frequency Response: 0.5Hz to 500KHz(-3dB)
    Output Power: >400mW(32Ω)
    Output Voltage: >5V (>600Ω)
    Input Voltage: AC 100 - 240V, 50/60Hz
    Power Consumption: < 4W idle, 10W max.
    Dimensions: 158(l)x68(w)x28(h)mm
    Weight: 216g(0.48lbs)
    Input: RCA and 3.5mm stereo jacks
    Output: 6.4mm stereo jacks.
    iUSB Power
    Two USB sockets: one data and power and one power only (*for use with iFi Gemini cable)
    Output Voltage: 5V±0.5%
    Output Current: 1A
    Output Noise: 0.1uV(0.0000001V)
    High-Speed USB 2.0: 480Mbps
    Input Voltage: AC 100 - 240V, 50/60Hz (Ultra Low-Noise Power Supply included)
    Power Consumption: < 9W (includes powered USB device)
    Dimensions: 158(l)x68(w)x28(h)mm
    Weight: 195(0.43lbs)
    Accessories and Build Quality
    iDAC comes with simple user guide, some stick-on rubber feet, RCA cable and 2 feet of really good quality USB cable (A-to-B). iCAN comes with user guide, rubber feet, 6.4mm-to-3.5mm adapter, RCA cable, 3.5mm interconnecting cable, as well as a 9V power adapter. iUSB Power comes with the same 9V power adapter, rubber feet, user guide, USB cable as well as an USB-to-barrel plug cable. Oddly there is no mentioning anywhere about the function of the USB-to-barrel plug cable - but given the barrel plug has the same diameter as the 9V power adapter (which comes with both iCAN and iUSB Power) and it certainly can’t plug into itself, the reasonable assumption is that the cable is meant to plugged into the power only USB port at one end and iCAN on the other, serving as iCAN power supply – I tested it and it works just as assumed (* it might work with iPhono as well but I have no mean of testing it). Anyway, there seems to be no degradation of SQ by using iUSB Power as iCAN power supply based on brief listening. It is actually a very neat feature, especially when you are using iUSB Power to connect to iDAC then iDAC to iCAN. It helps to eliminate the need of an extra power adapter – however, it does come with a cost and we will discuss it on the next section. Another fun fact is that I can use this cable with a portable USB power bank to power up the iCAN and function almost like a portable amp – ‘almost’ because the sheer size and weight of iCAN + external battery are too much for portable use.
    [UPDATE] From iFi: the USB-to-barrel plug is intended for Squeeze Box Touch.
    iUSB Power
    Build quality is top notch. The whole Micro line use the same high quality, almost tank like aluminum housing, which is a bit too long if I am nitpicking. The real issue is that the long and narrow housing kind of limits where all the sockets can be placed. I can’t say these are the most sensible of design, but they are not terrible enough to stop me from using them. It is just that I have an urge to want to stack them up but the looping of the cable from front to back - well, isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing. Beyond that however, I can say that all three units are excellent in quality. The (top and bottom) marking on the housing really gives them a premium look and they are not cheap, easy-to-scratch paint job.
    Gain and Hiss
    Gain on both iDAC and iCAN are on the high side. No official number that I know of, but my basic measurement shows that iDAC has a gain of around +15dB, with a max output of around 4.7Vrms. The line-out is a fairly standard 1.95Vrms. For iCAN, gain is about +17dB with max output of around 6.67Vrms (*iDAC as source).
    With such high gain, volume tends to get too loud too fast when a low impedance, high sensitivity IEM (or similar full size) is used. With Shure SE530, I can barely go pass 8 o’clock on the iDAC’s volume knob. But on such a low position, the problem of imbalance inherent in all potentiometer becomes quite apparent. At the end, I have to lower the software volume on the PC to get them to play nice together. iCAN also doesn’t fare much better as well. It would have been great if there is a gain switch on both devices. On the upside, both have plenty of power to drive high impedance headphone without a problem. This is especially true for iCAN. [UPDATE: the newer iCAN now comes with gain switch, detail see last section of the review]
    Hiss prone IEM (i.e. Shure SE530 again) can pick up minor hissing when the volume knob is turned close to 12 o’clock. However, this shouldn’t be too big of a deal since it is almost impossible for sensitive headphone to get this loud in actual use due to the high gain. In any case, IEM user must take note if your main IEM is low impedance, high sensitivity and hiss prone – while both iDAC and iCAN will still work, they might not be the best option in practice.
    On previous section, we talk about using iUSB Power for both iDAC and iCAN at the same time to eliminate the need of an extra power adapter, but it comes with a cost – that cost is hiss, and in quite a noticeable level too. This is likely because any benefit of isolating the USB ground from the iUSB Power is lost. So at the end, it is still better to stick to the stock power adapter.
    On the topic of stock power adapter - iFi Audio seems to be especially proud of it. They call it the ‘ULN’, or Ultra Low-Noise adapter. It is based on switch mode circuit, which is traditionally considered to be much noisier* than linear circuit (*due to the ripple created by the fast switching nature of the switching circuit), but have the advantage of being inexpensive and more versatile in application. In the case of ULN adapter however, iFi Audio has taken the time to craft out an adapter of exceptionally low noise (and they have shown measurement done on various adapters with tech paper). Based on my poking around of the inner on all three models, I also notice they have put a lot of know-how into noise filtration and elimination on the power line – not just on iUSB Power, but also on iDAC and iCAN. All and all, I am pretty impressed by their attention to detail on the power section.
    Sound Quality
    RMAA measurement on both iDAC and iCAN show no issue. In fact, iCAN performance has excessed the resolution of my measuring setup so it looks pretty much perfect. While the headphone-out on iDAC doesn’t measure as well, it is still considered excellent by my standard (low noise, flat FR curve, etc). Output impedance on iDAC is too low for my measurement, which is of course a very good thing. On the iCAN, it is about 1ohm (*more on this later). Both have excellent current output into my usual 47ohm and 23.5ohm fixed load test so that’s not a problem as well.
    iDAC underbelly.
    Let talk about iDAC first. The internal DAC chip is the ESS Sabre ES9023, which is the most common DAC among the ESS line-up. We have seen it on really budget USB DAC like the HiFimeDIY’s Sabre USB DAC and Stoner Audio UD100, to the more modestly priced ODAC and some really expensive DAC. On the DAC section alone, some of the more standout features of iDAC include the full 24bit, 192kbps resolution and USB asynchronous mode. These are done by employing a XMOS microcontroller with 3 reference clocks (one for USB and two for sampling rates). The USB power line also seems to be internally regulated so a little bit of ‘dirty’ USB power shouldn’t be an issue. While these are all good on paper, I have to say that these features are not something obvious to the listening. To be honest, how many can tell a good jitter from a great jitter, or a somewhat dirty USB power line from a clean USB power line? I am not sure I can. If we were to talk about just the actual sound of the line-out, it does closely resemble that of ODAC or UD100. It is not a case where you will say ‘wow, this ES9023 sounds better than the rest’. No, they all sound darn good – clean, transparent, well resolved, and those are things you can expect from any well implemented ES9023.
    The real interesting bit about iDAC is in its headphone amp section. It uses a MAX9722, which is hardly a top range opamp. But the key is in its implementation, as it sounds good enough to give me the impression of iDAC being ‘ODAC + O2 roll into one device'. Okay, frankly speaking the headphone amp section still isn’t quite beat the O2 in overall performance, but it is really close. It carries the same flavour of top quality transparency in its sound. The only two noticeable areas that are not quite on par are: First, the overall image on the iDAC headphone amp not being quite as large and grand as O2. Second, the bass hit is a tad softer. Try to scale the O2 down 10%~15%, and that’s what you will hear on iDAC. Still, it is admirable and could even compete head-to-head with some standalone sub$150 amp on its own. I’ll call that a win for any headphone amp section built into an USB DAC. If I were a minimalist, I would have been very happy with just the iDAC alone.
    iCAN underbelly
    iCAN is also an very interesting piece of gear of its own right. By looking on the inner, the ‘Class A TubeState’ section is, as far as I can tell, a fully discrete gain stage, then it employs TPA6120A2 as the buffer stage. If anything, TPA6120 has a good reputation on its sound quality and raw power, but almost always being dissed for its high output impedance. The minimum 10ohm output resistors needed for stability put TPA6120 into obvious disadvantages when it comes to low impedance headphone (*lack of electrical dampening) and even worst, low impedance multi-driver headphone with passive crossover (*coloration). But iFi is clever enough to use inductor bypassed by a small value resistor to achieve the same stability without any of the downside.
    So how does it sound? In sum, identical to O2 – and that’s the highest possible complement I can give to any headphone amp(*for those who don’t know the O2 – it is a headphone amp designed with measurement to deliver the best possible transparency and performance to any sub 300ohm headphone). It is hard-pressed to find any difference in their sound when volume matched. The same authority, control, power, resolution and soundstage are shared between the two. There is no sound signature to speak of, as both are totally transparent and neutral in flavor. With the 30+ amps I have owned, just  a small handful of them are able to partially match O2 in overall sound quality, and only iCAN can deliver near identical performance. They are, in my opinion, true ‘reference level’ headphone amp for others to measure up to. But the story doesn’t end there – beside top-notch sound quality, iCAN has two very functional EQ as well: the 3D Holographic Sound and XBass. We will discuss more on them in the EQ section.
    iUSB Power underbelly.
    Confession: it is never my intention to get the iUSB Power to use with iDAC (or iCAN) in the first place. I needed a good USB isolator for other application and iUSB Power fits the bill. So there is no expectation that it will improve the SQ of iDAC. In fact, my PC has really clean USB power so I never run into trouble with any of my USB DAC before. But since I have it, might as well use it for its original intended purpose. RMAA measurement is carried out on both iDAC’s line-out as well as on UD100, with and without the iUSB Power, plus with and without isoEarth (ground noise elimination system) engaged. Result? Well, nothing is really different between the measurements. Audibly, I also can’t detect any difference on both UD100 and iDAC line-out as well. My conclusion is, since I know I have really clean USB port in the first place, any benefit from the iUSB Power should be minimum at best. But the story didn’t end there – does iUSB Power brings any improvement to the setup? Yes, it is to the iDAC’s headphone-out. As I have said previously, iDAC headphone amp section is like a scaled down O2. With the iUSB Power however, the soft hitting bass get turn up a notch and the overall soundstage opens up, especially in the depth. It seems to take on a slightly different personality than just a ‘baby O2’. It kind of reminds me of JDS Labs’ C421-AD8620 more than O2, but it is certainly closer to the performance level of O2 than before. My guess is, since PC’s USB port is limited to 500mA while the iUSB Power can supply up to 1A, the improvement of the headphone amp section is a sign of the extra juice. The reason why neither UD100 (which only outputs line-out) nor iDAC line-out show any difference is because neither of them is designed to output current, so the extra current supply make no difference. Well, that the best theory I have anyway.
    The big question is, does it worth getting the iUSB Power? As I have said before, I would have been very happy with just the iDAC alone. The improvement from iUSB Power is noticeable, but not quite the doubling of total price. If you are looking for the best bang for the buck, I would think iDAC alone is more than suffice. iUSB Power is the option for those who really want the best of the best at any cost. Also, as I have mentioned, iUSB Power will likely to be more beneficial to those USB DAC that has a headphone amp or meant to drive headphone directly. So if you are only using iDAC as line-out (or USB DAC like UD100, which is limited to line-out only), you might not get a clear cut result.
    Triple Stack (from top): iCAN, iDAC, and iUSB Power.
    iCAN comes with two EQ: 3D Holographic Sound (3DHS) and XBass. Both have two levels of adjustments.
    The first level of 3DHS is pretty much the same as most crossfeed implementations I have heard before (HeadRoom BitHead, Meier Audio Corda 3MOVE, FiiO E12, etc), neither better nor worst. I generally don’t find crossfeed of this type to be particularly useful or enjoyable, so I usually don’t use it. The 2nd level of 3DHS on the other hand is a completely different beast. It sounds much closer to a full 3D simulation, like a cross between SRS and BBE in a very good way. It gives a very ‘surround sound’ effect without overdoing anything or making it sounds fake. It is good enough that I first thought that it must have some kind of DSP processing involved, but it is actually all analog based, which is actually quite impressive.
    XBass: light and heavy boost.
    The two levels of XBass are closer to a sub-bass boost. First level starts just under 200Hz and peaks around +7dB @ 20Hz. The 2nd level starts just under 800Hz and peaks around +9dB @ 20Hz. Both are strong at boosting sub-bass but have minimum effect over the rest of the frequency range. Overall, they perform very well.
    Both 3DHS and XBass can be engaged at the same time with different combo. They are quite fun to play with and can be very useful to some headphone. They are really icing of the cake to the already great sounding iCAN.
    Size comparison: iCAN, iDAC and iUSB Power with O2 (left), FiiO E12 (right) and FireStone Auido Fireye HD (lower right).
    …in Summery
    All and all, I am quite impressed by all three iFi ‘Micro’ gears. They perform well and priced reasonably. You can probably get an ODAC + O2 combo that is a little cheaper and offer similar sound quality, but you won’t get as much features as either iDAC or iCAN. The only thing I wish to have is a gain switch on iDAC and iCAN most because I am mainly an IEM user. Too much gain makes for much lesser control over volume. Beyond that, I have no problem recommending them. iDAC is a great option as an all-in-one solution while iCAN is an fantastic headphone amp. As for iUSB Power, it is not a ‘must have’ unless you are pushing for the last few percent of the performance, but it does its job as claimed. For a relatively fresh brand, iFi has made a good name for itself with these Micro gears and proven that it has the same audiophile blood in its veil as its higher-end sibling.
    A thank to iFi Audio for the iDAC and iCAN review unit.
    [UPDATE June 5th, 2013]
    Just received a press release from iFi that they have revised the iCAN and now it comes with gain switch for user selectable 0dB, 10dB and 20dB gain setting. Those who own an older iCAN can send their back and upgrade to the newer version with a fixed US$50 / £40 fee + shipping. The MSRP of the new version of iCAN is however the same as the old model, which is US$249. You'll need to contact the original seller / retailer for the upgrade program.
    Must give praise to iFi for listening to their customer and implemented the gain switch at last. With the new gain switch, the iCAN is near perfect.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. pb8185
      Great review! Although I saw that ifi recently came out with the ifi idsd micro, which seems to be both idac and ican rolled up into one with a much more powerful amp section. Hope you will get a review unit and give us some impressions.
      pb8185, Aug 29, 2014
    3. ClieOS
      Definitely, I'll be reviewing the micro iDSD as well.
      ClieOS, Aug 29, 2014
    4. jaco61
      Thanks for the review - well done
      I have an Ifi iCan micro since some days and it plays my old AKG K401 very well (I almost wanted to sell them...glad I didn't :wink:
      jaco61, Apr 8, 2017
  6. Quadpatch
    A Headphone Amplifier that's great
    Written by Quadpatch
    Published May 8, 2013
    Pros - Transparent, Detailed, Exciting, Awesome Bass and Soundstage / Imaging Controls, Interesting Design
    Cons - No on/off switch, a little fiddly with sensitive headphones, order of tone controls could be a little more intuitive
    This review was pasted from my blog: http://noblehifi.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/ifi-ican-review.html

    Disclaimer: A big thank you to Ifi for loaning me the iCan for this review!

    Before I talk a little bit about the iCan, let me first address the company behind it. iFi-audio have a small, yet intriguing line of stylish electronics, aimed at computer audio and using technology licensed from Abbingdon Music Research. They make a point of environmentally friendly materials and packaging (which is always nice). Their tag line: "Small in size, big on performance" seems pretty spot on, boasting "Class A analogue circuitry, no DSP and ‘Bit Perfect’ signals throughout" for their entire line-up (where it's relevant). 

    In case you didn't know or hadn't guessed the iCan is a headphone amplifier. It costs £225 and is powered by a low-noise 9v power supply that provides 400mW of output power (@32 Ohms). Although there are no batteries inside the iCan Ifi are working separate on a battery unit to go with it. Audio inputs should cover most people's needs, with one 3.5mm audio jack and two RCAs. On the front you get a full size (6.35mm) headphone output only, which is my personal preference. It has a (S-NR) Signal to Noise Ratio of 117dB and a (THD) Total Harmonic Distortion of 0.003%. 

    OK now for the really fun Stuff - The iCan has two switches (next to the volume dial), these control low frequency (XBass) and soundstage (3D). There are no destructive DSP (Digital Sound Processing) effects in use here. This really interested me because I do sometimes play with EQ (which is destructive) to make my headphones sound better with certain music.


    The above image shows the bottom of the iCan, it neatly lays out the six options for it's sound controls and what music that they might suit. I thought this was a nice touch. It exemplifies the companies reasoning behind the sound controls and maks this a very versatile amplifier. Acknowledging the differences between headphones & music while offering the ability to manipulate that to the user's preference is a brave move since some audio enthusiasts shun this kind of control. 


    I am really impressed by the sound of the iCan! Ignoring the sound controls for a moment, I found the iCan's sonic attributes to be very nicely balanced. It has an impressive authority to the low frequencies without feeling bloated, there's a nice feeling of delicacy to the detail and a smoothness which brings very little fatigue. There is a great sense of air and detail and an abundance of power on tap, in fact everything that I could hope for from a headphone amplifier of this price is here. There are no nasty surprises in the signature and a great deal of excitement.

    If you find yourself looking for a different sound signature now and then, be it more weight to the low end or some control over the soundstage, then I urge you to take a good long look at the iCan. Adding extra weight to the low frequencies is nice touch even if you are pretty happy with the overall sound quality of your headphones. With a well balanced headphone I like the sound controls off when listening to most music, but switching to some Electronic music with heavy bass often makes me want to make that bass a bit more accentuated and normally I would look for a different headphone at that point. The beauty of the iCan is that it can bend a headphone to suit both needs, with no destructive EQ adjustment, just the flick of a switch and no need to take your headphones off. Of course this is doubly impressive if you only have the one pair of headphones. 

    The 3D setting is similarly interesting, the high holographic setting widens the stereo imaging effect quite noticeably (on most tracks), claiming best comparability with Classical, Jazz and Rock. This setting also made the high frequencies a bit brighter and more harsh with some tracks. This wasn't overly annoying, but in the odd case that it wasn't welcome a small volume reduction seemed alleviate the annoyance without ruining the experience. The low holographic setting is supposed to work better with most modern music. Although it's an interesting effect I have yet to find a good genre and/or headphone to appreciate this with as much as the high setting.

    Power wise the iCan is very well endowed. I was recently very impressed by the Schiit Magni by just how well it can drive demanding headphones and the iCan is just as good, possible a little more impressive actually and that's really saying something. The only down side to this is that on a headphone like the Sennheiser Momentum only the first couple degrees of turn are needed to drive the headphone to loud levels. This was a little fiddly at times, but I could still always find the desired volume position so it wasn't terrible. 


    I decided to forego the usual list of music tracks to help explain how the amplifier affect the headphone's overall sound. There are a couple of reasons for this, firstly talking about specific  tracks took the focus away from the headphone's general signature. The second reason was an over-abundance of variables. In fact I want to keep the variables to a minimum, especially with this amp, I could compare the iCan connected to some smartphones and various DACs, but once I start talking about different headphones and then introduce the iCan's sound controls as well the possibilities and conclusions become pretty overwhelming. So for the bulk of this review I will stick to describing the iCan while using one good DAC.

    Despite not wanting to focus on it, I did try the iCan with a few different DACs. I started with the Arcam rPAC, played a little with the Arcam rLink, then moved to the Audiolab M-DAC and finally settled on the the Schiit Modi. The rPAC's DAC does not compare well to the Modi here, perhaps because the rPAC is already paired with an amp, or perhaps the synergy of that amp with it's own DAC makes more sense. The Audiolab M-DAC didn't make such economic sense as a combo, I can't see why you would pay all that money for a combined DAC and headphone amp only to bypass it's amp. The main reason why I didn't choose it though is that it just didn't sound as good as the Modi and I don't mean just relative to it's price. I think the ES9018 Sabre DAC pushes many headphone amps in the  wrong direction for headphones, for me it's just a bit too harsh, it over-emphasises unpleasant details and lacks smoothness. I was very impressed by the Modi and bought it straight after I reviewed it.


    The Sennheiser HD650 gave a beautifully clean presentation, with all the sound controls off of course. The amplification was so neutral in fact that it made me long for the slightly better balanced HD600 (slightly less plump in the bass) over the HD650, but it wasn't a dissapointing match with the iCan. Using the bass enhancements with the HD650 was very fun with Dubstep and other heavy Electronic music for a while, but it did get fatiguing eventually. Plus this bass boost came in handy for emphasizing movies and soundtracks so it wasn't completely . The 3D 

    I just got the new SoundMAGIC HP200 so really put it through it's paces with the iCan. Despite it getting the least use out of the sound controls it does sound really wonderful here. It's possibly the closest sound quality and signature to the HD650 and for it's price is an absolute steal. With most of the HD650's strong points and a little more excitement I can see some even preferring this over the classic Sennheiser, but I still just prefer the latter because it suits soundtracks a little better and that is my music listening staple. Either of these headphones make a great combination with the iCan, with or without the sound controls.

    When I started to fully realize the potential of the iCan's sound controls I ran to get the AKG Q701. These headphones have been left on my shelf for too long, only occasionally coming out for a review. I always knew there was something special about this headphone's sound, with it's clarity and flat response. I just couldn't quite appreciate the signature because of an extreme lack of bass body. I was hoping that the bass boost would make these headphones sound a lot more fun and wasn't disappointed!

    The Denon AH-D7000 was a very interesting unit to test here. It has a very powerful sub bass and to use the bass controls with this headphone bordered on the ridiculous, but I can see some people absolutely loving this. The D7000 is still one of my favourite headphones (for the price I bought it for), although it's rather difficult to find now I still like mentioning it because there are some other similar sounding headphones out there that are still available (like the Denon D7100 or Fostex TH600 / TH900). After a bit of experience with the D7000 I have found it a little demanding of good quality amplification. While connecting them to the iCan they really made me smile and not just because of the crazy bass setting, in fact I mostly had the bass control off with the D7000. With all the controls off it was a really impressive sound and the 3D setting on high I noticed a huge difference, it was extremely impressive with some music!


        BUILD + DESIGN
    Ifi Audio make a striking looking chassis, especially considering they have followed such a common design principle (essentially a tube with front and rear bolted panels), a la HRT, Audinst, Epiphany etc. All of Ifi's models share this same design too, which acts as a strong brand identity, but also looks to give a nicely stackable shape. This makes a lot of sense when you look at the possibilities of their catalogue, you could effectively stack up to three Ifi models together (USB Power - USB DAC - Headphone Amplifier). 

    The volume dial is solid and smooth, which is very much appreciated given that there's so much power available here, the more sensitive headphones can get loud with only a few degrees of turn, but I never had any problems controlling them to the desired volume. The sound control switches are also solid and provide a very satisfying click. Their positioning is a little confusing however. The '3D' switch being off in the middle, 'Bass' being off at the top. Then there's the fact that maximum bass is on the first position and the slight bass boost is on the bottom, that's odd, but off and maximum were the settings I used most, so it kind of makes sense when you get used to it. The effects of the 3D switches seem more progressively placed and having off (or normal) in the middle means that you'll usually be only moving it one position. With this theory it would have made more sense to put the Bass's off position in the middle also, but this is a pretty minor niggle. 

    With the amplifier being class A it seems a little odd that there is no power switch here, so if you are not using it you will most likely be yanking the power cable out all the time. Being a rather glaring omission, given the circumstances I wonder if having a power switch would have introduced some kind of compromise into the circuitry that Ifi just didn't want to make. That being the case I'm fine with it also, quality audio never comes easy.


    The iCan is a tough, well styled chassis with a nice volume dial and solid connections. Although I was a little dubious about the sound controls before I'd heard them, they are very well implemented and don't impact the final sound quality much (if at all). They not only fine-tune your headphones in general, but can be used to get the best from various genres of music and for me this was worth it's weight in gold!

    Even with these enhanced abilities turned off the iCan's sound is powerful, engaging, delicate, spacious and smooth. I would highly recommend the iCan to anyone on the hunt for a headphone amplifier, even if you have more to spend. Very highly recommended!


    Desktop PC, Dell Vosto Laptop, Audiolab M-DAC, Schiit Modi, Arcam rPAC, Arcam rLink, Denon AH-D7000, Sennheiser HD650, SoundMAGIC HP200, Sennheiser Momentum, AKG Q701
    1. hodgjy
      How is the 3D effect when using the Q701s? The Q701s already have a very large soundstage, and I was wondering what the 3D effect did to it. Thanks.
      hodgjy, Jun 12, 2013
  7. Nirmalanow
    iCAN Amp Review: A New Amp that Gives You More: More Bass, More Soundstage and More Detail
    Written by Nirmalanow
    Published Mar 7, 2013
    Pros - Great sound. Amazing extra features
    Cons - None.
    Brief Summary: To get right to the point, the iCAN amp by iFi is a great performing small desktop amp with amazing features at its price point of $249. Anyone who wants more bass or more soundstage, space and detail from their headphones might find this affordable amp to be the answer to their prayers. The included "X-Bass" and "3D" features of this amp offer an effective bass boost and soundstage/detail enhancement that literally take the sound to a whole new dimension, while the overall sound of the amp itself is detailed, powerful and smooth.
    Read the entire review here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/654405/ican-amp-review-a-new-amp-that-gives-you-more-more-bass-more-soundstage-and-more-detail
  8. Dadracer
    iCAN micro SE (Special Edition) UPDATE
    Written by Dadracer
    Published Dec 18, 2015
    Pros - Improved sound at each end of the spectrum Better separation of images
    Cons - Need to add another layer to the iRack
    Hi there this is by way of an initial impression only as I'm supposed to be putting up our Christmas tree but instead I am listening to music!!! UPDATE is down in the last paragraphs below.
    Anyhow I got the chance to borrow a new iCAN micro SE from those kind ifi Audio folks to add into my desk top ifi based computer system and to see how it compares with the amp section of my pre existing micro iDSD.
    The system now stands at elderly Toshiba laptop to ifi Mercury to iPurifier2 to iUSB power to Gemini cables to micro iDSD to iCAN micro SE to Sennheiser HD700s.
    As I understand it the key differences between the iCAN and iCAN SE are upgraded components and refining of the Xbass and 3D controls. I don't have the full specification sheet for the SE but it is my belief it will be effectively the same as that of the iCAN itself which is on the ifi audio web site here http://ifi-audio.com/portfolio-view/micro-ican/
    I have not heard the iCAN so can't comment on any differences but I have compared the iCAN SE and amp section of the iDSD.   
    Listened to a range of music as follows
    Aretha, Chain of fools
    James Bay, Chaos & the calm
    Dusty, In Memphis
    Eagles, Hotel California
    Keb Mo', Keb Mo'
    Leon Bridges, Coming Home
    Lou, Transformer
    Rickie Lee Jones, RLJ
    but most of all Gregory Porters Liquid Spirit which is just delightful.
    Anyhow and most importantly was there a difference? Let me preface this by saying I was a bit biased going into this as I was hoping that the difference would be minimal and I would not need to reach for my credit card (especially at this time of the year when its feeling worn out).
    Sadly I hear the difference and it is not tiny but neither is it massive. It feels like there is more top and bottom. Even with the Xbass and 3D set to direct I can hear a more extended bass and a clearer treble. The bass adds some foundation and warmth over the iDSD. Adding in one spot of Xbass is more than enough for me. If you really love bass then the full fat three spot Xbass might suit you and it still doesn't sound flabby but just feels too bass centric for me. The choice is yours but my preference was one spot max.
    At the other end it feels like cymbals are more realistic sounding. There is no harshness as far as I can tell or sibilance but just a clarity which is quite compelling. There does not appear to be any affect on the mid band from these extensions in bass and treble.....which is not what you might expect.  
    Now the 3D was a bit surprising in that the sound stage did not seem to be changed but the individual instruments and vocals were better defined.........does that make sense? I am not sure I can explain it better but I will add more thoughts once I spend more time on it. I could not hear a great deal of difference on the various 3D settings so stuck with direct as the HD700s are not short on imaging themselves, so maybe there would be more variation on other headphones. I will take my other headphones from my main vinyl centric system and try them and see if I can hear a difference.
    So that's all right now and I remain conflicted. The addition of the iCAN SE is an improvement in the areas I have mentioned above but adds more gear to my stack and I am currently under embargo ahead of the festive period.
    Ok now that the festive period is over and everyone has gone back to work and/or home I have had the chance to try 2 new things with the iCAN micro SE which I still have on loan from the lovely ifi Audio folks.
    The first was a simple swap of headphones from HD700 to HD800, and not only is the ICAN SE able to drive them but it does so very well indeed and opened up another level in terms of sound quality most apparent at each end of the audio spectrum and also very noticeably in terms of sound stage presentation but more to do with the definition of individual performers or instruments.
    So that then led to the final challenge of putting the iCAN micro SE up against my main system headphone amplifier the Auralic Taurus mk2. This is also a class A solid state headphone amp but can also be run in balanced mode. It is however approximately 4 times the price of the iCAN and so I was expecting a significant difference.
    Well in fact while there is a difference it took me more time than I expected and several swap overs of amps to confirm what I was hearing. The sound balance it very close and if the Auralic was more extended it was only a fractional thing. The biggest differential was in the sound stage. I tried a small number of recordings which I am familiar with and made the comparison several times and even then it was not a vast gulf in performance. To be as fair as possible I was using the Auralic in SE mode to make it more a like for like so the Auralic in balanced mode yields a better still performance.
    On a rough scale of performance versus cost I would have to say that the iCAN gets to 85-90% of the overall sound quality of the Auralic (in SE mode) which is far closer than I had expected and maybe its actually closer still but I don't want to admit it given the four times price difference!!!
    In any event if you are thinking that the iCAN micro SE is not a serious headphone amplifier as it is too inexpensive then think again.........no really. If on the other hand you are starting out then this is a scorchingly good amp for the money and will make the best of any headphones you are likely to be starting out with.
    More later when I am recovered from this shock..........
      Koolpep and Hawaiibadboy like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. canali
      very interested...has anyone had the chance to compare it with the mapletree audio design 'ear plus purist' headphone tube amp?
      canali, Jan 16, 2016
    3. humzebra
      How to get Special Edition?
      humzebra, Feb 3, 2016
    4. Promenadeplatz
      Is it driven by 9V DC as well as the iCan Micro?
      Promenadeplatz, Mar 5, 2016
  9. AxelCloris
    A fun, small form amp
    Written by AxelCloris
    Published Jan 3, 2014
    Pros - 3D sounds, bass boost, small form factor
    Cons - No power switch, could use more power
    There’s an amp that’s been making its rounds on Head-Fi for a while now, the iFi iCan. I’ve seen it pop up around various threads and I’ve always been curious but I never saw myself really wanting it.
    The iCan’s 3D HolographicSound system is what intrigued me most about this amp. It’s nothing new, by any means, as it’s a ­variable crossfeed switch. It’s the execution that makes this little guy so impressive. There are three stages to the crossfeed: no crossfeed, a mild crossfeed, and a more liberal crossfeed. Per the user’s guide, iFi recommends using the first crossfeed level for recordings with “excessive” stereo effect and the second level for more flat recordings.
    I found that which 3D setting I used depended on the source material I feeding into the iCan. For example, I had a few Ray Charles recordings where I heard no difference whatsoever with the 3D switch on or off. But then when I put on some Daft Punk each 3D step made an improvement on the soundstage. And when I had some Ellington and Coltrane playing I preferred the middle setting, as when it was fully on it felt too big and almost artificial.
    The second switch on the iCan is a bass adjustment. Like the 3D switch it also has three different stages; no boost, a mild boost and a slightly more aggressive boost. When I was using the bass boost I found that the mild boost was the most pleasing with both my Sennheiser HD650 and MrSpeakers Mad Dogs. Since the 3D switch adds more air to the sound the bass boost is a welcomed addition.
    For gaming I didn’t care much for the 3D switch when positional queues are critical. I could get a general location for the source of the sound but it let me down on more than one occasion while playing multiplayer shooters. That said, I did enjoy having the 3D on when playing immersive games. Playing Borderlands 2 and Skyrim it seemed to help smooth the ambient sounds when I moved and made the game more immersive. And for games like Skyrim, which are all about immersion, better sound makes a world of difference.
    There are a couple of downsides to the iCan. The first is that there is no power switch. This is an inconvenience for me as I don't want to leave an amp sitting on all the time and I'd prefer to have a button rather than to plug/unplug the amp whenever I'm using it. It's inconvenient and could cause unnecessary strain on the power connections, possibly even permanent damage. Another drawback is the power output. For the price of the iCan, you can get amps like the Schiit Asgard 2, Matrix M-Stage, Bottlehead Crack and many more. The $250 range is pretty well catered for in the amp market. The iCan doesn’t have as much power as another amp of mine, the Aune T1; in fact it has less than half the power. But when you factor in the bass boost and the 3D switch I find the iCan more enjoyable even considering the power difference. Even so I would still love to see more power behind the signal.
    I want to thank Chicolom for loaning out his iCan for my use. Without his loan I doubt I’d have heard one of these anywhere else on my own. And thanks to his loan I’m now considering purchasing one myself.
    1. Army-Firedawg
      Good quick review, though over 26,000 views, without anyone leaving a comment! Little bit overdue, these quick summaries are a good change up over all the super long reviews often seen. 
      Army-Firedawg, Aug 24, 2015
  10. tdockweiler
    Near perfect and good with everything
    Written by tdockweiler
    Published Dec 11, 2013
    Pros - Small, Transparent but not cold/analytical, Smooth treble, RCA AND 1/8" input
    Cons - No power switch, Somewhat narrow soundstage, Price could be $50 lower, Weird switch labels
    This will be a short review based on maybe on 12-15 hours of use. If you think that's not long enough you can skip it.
    I was a bit worried that this would be some cheap gimmicky toy amp because of the name. This is instead a seriously good amp! I love it.
    1. Sounds great with ALL my headphones and does not add any major coloration to any of them. It works equally well with the HD-598, HD-650, K400, DJ100 and modded Q701. It sounded especially good with the hard to drive K400! All my headphones and music sounds as it should.
    2. Sounds transparent but it's not cold/analytical/thin sounding. There is a subtle touch of warmth in there. It will be nice for even a DT-990 or SR-325is. This warmth is only noticeable on specific headphones and harder on others. I noticed it on my DJ100 and HD-650. It never ever sounds thin unless it's due to the recording.
    3. The treble is well extended and not rolled off. It's much smoother than the treble of the O2 or Magni. About the same as my Headroom Micro Amp.
    4. Bass is well controlled and neutral. There is no emphasis I've heard in any area.
    5. Soundstage is lacking in width somewhat. With the HD-650 it's less spacious/open and airy sounding than with my O2/Micro Amp. The O2 is less warm though and has more treble sparkle (less smooth). It's possible my brain is just being fooled, but I'm pretty sure it's not. It's still pretty good and not as bad as it sounds. Nit-picking really. I got similar results on many difference sources.
    6. To my ears it's a better "all-rounder" amp than the O2/Magni/Asgard/Vali/E9. It does cost more though.
    7. It's the 2nd best amp i've heard. It's not as good as the Headroom Micro Amp + Astrodyne but that cost $350 new. It's the closest i've come to it's sound. The iCAN might be a tad warmer though.
    8. I have an O2 for my bedroom (backup) and it's not worth upgrading to this as a backup. If I didn't have my Micro Amp I'd be using this as my main amp. It's that good!
    9. I'm able to hear changes in all the sources I connect up to it. There is really no real coloration coming from the amp. Just that touch of warmth.
    10. If you found the O2 too sparkly, try this (or the Micro Amp)! Is it worth the $140 price premium? Well if you nit-pick about tiny things like me, then yes. If iFi can get it down to $200 in the USA it'd be a STEAL!