About the iFi Audio Pro iCAN
iFi Audio's flagship headphone amp brings the power
I auditioned the powerful iFi Pro iCan headphone amp at CanJam NYC, part of a high-end stack of gear that the British audio experts had on display.
iFi Audio's flagship headphone amp brings the power
The first time I saw the iFi Audio Pro iCAN headphone amp in person, I had to wade through a crowd of people. At CanJam NYC 2019, personal audio enthusiasts were lined up deep at the iFi booth to hear this powerhouse in action. And there were plenty of high-end headphones on hand. Many top audiophile headphone companies had loaned iFi their latest and greatest wares, knowing the products would sound their best when driven by the Pro iCAN.
That's because this versatile amp features a bunch of balanced and unbalanced connections and serves up a LOT of power. Up to 14,000mW in balanced mode to be exact. That's enough to drive even the most power-hungry, high-impedance headphones out there.
Tube or solid-state amp? You choose.
It's an age-old amplifier debate: solid-state vs vacuum tubes. Each type of amp has its own distinct sonic footprint, and it really boils down to personal preference. Some want the clarity and detail that solid-state circuitry provides, while others dig the extra warmth and emotion that are often associated with tubes. And some of us change our mind every time we sit down to listen to music!
This is one of the few combination headphone amps I've ever seen that lets you choose between using solid-state circuitry or vaccum tubes. And iFi isn't just adding some sort of fake tube effect or processing. This amp uses two "new, old stock" (NOS) GE 5670 vacuum tubes inside — classic, reliable audio tubes originally developed for the military.
The top of the well-built Pro iCAN amp gives you a glimpse of the GE 5670 vacuum tubes under the hood.
There are three operation modes in all: "Solid-state," "Tube," and "Tube+" modes. The third uses the tube input stage, but special circuitry helps reduce feedback. When you're in a tube type of mood, just let them warm up for about 15 minutes and they'll be ready to play.
Works well with all types of headphones
The role of an amplifier is not always to deliver the most power, but to provide just the right amount of power for your headphones or speakers to perform their best. Audio guru and former Crutchfield writer Dave Bar once told me that it's like having a car engine with plenty of horsepower under the hood. "Even if you never drive 200 miles per hour," he said, "you might all of a sudden need some extra 'get-up and go' when you merge onto the highway."
Or in the case of headphones, you need them to handle large sonic peaks in your favorite songs with effortless grace. The Pro iCAN has a three-position gain switch on the front panel, so you can properly match up the power with your headphone impedance. Also, the two 3.5mm minijack outputs have been optimized for highly sensitive headphones, like in-ear monitors (IEMs).
PSA: turn it down before you turn it up
Here's a pro tip: always turn the knob to the lowest gain setting and lower the volume when you connect new headphones. That will help prevent this workhorse from overpowering your headphone drivers. Plus it can help protect your ears.
And I'll admit I get a kick out of adjusting that large Alps Electric volume dial. It gives you precise volume control and has an old-school, satisfying feel.
Built to perform
This heavy-duty amplifier fits in well with iFi Audio's other high-end desktop components, like the Pro iDSD digital-to-analog converter (DAC). iFi gear is always well-built and packed with sophisticated circuitry to deliver the sonic goods. The Pro iCAN's all-metal frame and chassis help keep vibrations at a minimum, while the isolation base keeps it sturdy and stable. That solid foundation is created by a "quad-damped" design that sandwiches layers of materials together to absorb unwanted resonance.
The Pro iCAN's back panel features a plethora of connections.
The back-panel ins and outs
The back panel of the Pro iCAN features balanced XLR and three sets of unbalanced RCA audio inputs for connecting music sources or other gear (like aforementioned Pro iDSD DAC). You'll also find ways to pass audio signal out of the Pro iCAN back there. There are unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs for connecting a wide range of power amplifiers, and a proprietary connector for the iFi Pro iESL electrostatic headphone energizer (sold separately).
Several headphone outputs
The front panel offers several different balanced and unbalanced headphone outputs. In the center, you'll find an XLR 4-pin balanced output. To the left and right of that, there are combination outputs with both XLR 3-pin and 1/4" outputs. They can be used for balanced headphone connections, or to power two headphones with unbalanced 1/4" plugs simultaneously. (Use the right 1/4" jack if you're just listening to a single set of headphones.)
There are a number of balanced and unbalanced headphone outputs on the front.
Below, there are two 3.5mm mini outputs for both balanced and unbalanced connections. iFi ensures all the connections sound clean with what they call "S-balanced" headphone amp technology. Their dual-mono circuitry keeps the left and right audio channels separate for as long as possible to avoid cross-talk and distortion.
- compact all-metal chassis and panels minimize resonance for clean playback
- quad-damped isolation base mount provides solid foundation and absorbs vibrations
- complements other iFi Audio gear like the iFi PRO iDSD digital-to-analog converter (DAC)
- high-performance fully-balanced drive headphone amplifier with front-panel volume control
- combination solid-state and vacuum tube amplifier
- includes two "new, old stock" (NOS) GE 5670 vacuum tubes
- power output up to 14,000mW in balanced mode (up to 4,800mW in unbalanced mode)
Audio performance features:
- select from three operating modes: "Solid-state," "Tube," and "Tube+"
- Tube+ mode uses tube input stage, but reduces negative feedback
- three-position gain switch to match impedance (0dB, 9dB, or 18dB)
- Alps Electric motorized rotary volume dial for precise volume control
- outboard "iPower Plus" power supply for clean, substantial power
- separated and shielded from audio circuitry to avoid interference
- preamp mode with balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs for connection to an outboard power amp or self-amplified speakers
- "S-balanced" headphone amplification for unbalanced outputs
- iFi's dual-mono circuitry helps reduce crosstalk between the left and right audio channel
- sound control processing: XBass® (for boosting bass) and/or 3D Holographic® (for expanding soundfield)
- two 3.5mm mini headphone outputs optimized for sensitive headphones (like in-ear monitors) by iFi's proprietary iEMatch technology
- one set of balanced stereo XLR inputs
- three sets of unbalanced stereo RCA inputs
- one set of balanced stereo XLR audio outputs
- one set of unbalanced stereo RCA audio outputs
- DC power loop out and proprietary connector for add-on iFi Pro iESL electrostatic headphone energizer (sold separately)
Front-panel headphones outputs:
- one set of combination XLR/TRS 1/4" outputs
- balanced left and right XLR 3-pin outputs
- pair of 1/4" outputs for two unbalanced headphone connections, or a single balanced connection (using a custom cable)
- use the right 1/4" jack for a single set of headphones
- one balanced XLR 4-pin output
- one unbalanced TRS 3.5mm output
- one balanced TRRS 3.5mm output
Other info & specs:
- compatible with headphones with 16-600 ohms impedance
- frequency response: 0.5-500,000 Hz (-3 dB)
- solid-state THD: 0.0015% (balanced) 0.005% (unbalanced)
- tube THD: 0.002% (balanced) 0.005% (unbalanced)
- signal-to-noise ratio: >147dB (balanced) >137dB (unbalanced)
- 7-5/8"W x 2-1/2"H x 8-1/2"D
- weight: 4.3 lbs.
- warranty: 1 year
- Our 60-day money-back guarantee
- MFR # 301002
What's in the box:
- DAC/headphone amplifier
- Wireless remote control
- CR2025 battery (installed in remote)
- AC adapter with 5' DC output cord (DC output: 15V 4A)
- 5' AC cord (IEC 3-prong plug)
- 21" RCA cable (male stereo RCA plugs on both ends)
- User Manual
- Warranty card
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More details on the iFi Audio Pro iCAN
Overview: The Pro iCAN is iFi Audio's top-of-the-line headphone amplifier and pre-amplifier. It can drive any set of headphones, from sensitive in-ear monitors to hard-to-drive high impedance headphones. The Pro iCAN offers balanced and unbalanced inputs and outputs, and multiple headphone connections. The Pro iCAN is equipped with dual vacuum tubes for exceptional sound quality.
NOS GE5670: The Pro iCAN features two U.S.-made General Electric NOS GE5670 vacuum tubes. The tubes come from new old stock, and undergo a special rejuvenation process. The tube circuit is designed to give you many years of enjoyment. A convex dome is positioned on the top panel just above the tubes, to allow you to view the orange glow from the vacuum tubes.
Operation Modes: The Pro iCAN is one of the first devices that lets you enjoy the sound of Solid-State circuitry and Tubes in a single package. Some components employ a Tube "effect" within a conventional solid-state design. The Solid-State setting may make some recordings sound more lively for some headphones or speakers, while the Tube options will sound more luxurious. You should select the mode that sounds best to you for that particular selection or moment. There is a brief warm-up period when operating in Tube or Tube+ mode. After an extended period of operation in Solid-State Mode, the tubes will switch off. A 3-way switch on the front panel lets you choose from the following Operation Modes:
- Solid-State Mode: The device employs a pure solid-state circuit using J-FET transistors, with fully-discrete Class A performance.
- Tube Mode: The two NOS GE5670 tubes are engaged, and the J-FET circuits are bypassed, to give you an all-valve Class A operation.
- Tube+ Mode: The Tube+ position reduces overall loop-gain and minimizes negative feedback. This mode produces more of the tubes' natural harmonics, resulting in an even more luxurious sound.
S-Balanced: iFi Audio's exclusive S-Balanced technology lets you enjoy the benefits of a balanced connection in single-ended headphones.
Gain: The Pro iCan has a 3-way front panel switch to adjust the gain. You can select 0dB, 9dB, or 18dB. The unit can output more than 10V in the Single-Ended mode and 20V in Balanced Mode.
XBass: The XBass Bass Correction System is an analog signal processing circuitry that surpasses Digital Signal Processing at correcting low frequency deficiencies. It is not a simple tone or loudness control. There are three levels of XBass that you can choose from, using the small rotary dial on the front panel:
- Off: XBass is disabled, allowing you to enjoy "direct" sound.
- 10Hz: for headphones and loudspeakers missing only the very lowest bass (below 40Hz).
- 20Hz: for headphones and loudspeakers missing some bass (below 80Hz).
- 40Hz: for headphones and loudspeakers missing substantial bass, including some mid-bass (below 160Hz).
Inputs: The iFi Audio Pro iCAN features three unbalanced and one balanced input on the rear panel. The unbalanced inputs are labeled 1, 2, and 3, and have stereo RCA jacks. The balanced input features separate left and right XLR-3 jacks. You can select any of the inputs using the large rotary knob on the front panel.
Headphone Outputs: The Pro iCAN offers connections for a wide variety of headphones, including balanced and single-ended (unbalanced). The available headphone connections include the following:
- 2 XLR Combo: 2 combination jacks that can accept either XLR 3-pin or 1/4" (6.3mm) plugs. You can connect left and right balanced XLR-3, or left and right balanced 1/4" headphone plugs. You can also connect unbalanced headphones with a 1/4" plug using the right combo jack for one pair (or both jacks for two separate single-ended headphones).
- 3.5mm Single-Ended: One 3.5mm (1/8") TRS headphone jack is provided for unbalanced headphones. This headphone jack has built-in iEMatch, which matches the output to high-sensitivity headphones.
- 3.5mm Balanced: One 3.5mm (1/8") TRRS balanced headphone jack is provided. This headphone jack also has built-in iEMatch, matching the output to high-sensitivity headphones.
- XLR 4-pin Balanced: One XLR 4-pin balanced headphone jack is provided.
Line Outputs: In addition to the headphone outputs, the unit offers a balanced line output (with XLR-3 jacks) and an unbalanced line output (with RCA jacks). Even if single-ended (unbalanced) RCA inputs are used with the balanced outputs, the Pro iCAN will still operate in fully-balanced mode for best sound quality.
- Note: The line outputs are not switched off if headphones are connected. The Pro iCAN should be used as a preamplifier OR a headphone amplifier. Mixed use is not recommended.
3D Holographic: Pro iCAN offers separate Analog Signal Processing matrix circuits for the Headphone outputs and the Line Outputs:
- 3D Holographic for Headphones: The vast majority (greater than 95%) of recordings are made for listening with loudspeakers. This has a negative impact when listening with headphones. 3D Holographic for Headphones eliminates the "in-head localization" that can cause listening fatigue or even a little nausea, and simulates the sound originating beyond your head. You can choose from the following modes:
- 30° Loudspeaker Angle: simulates a narrow loudspeaker placement (such as computer or car speakers). It can also improve early stereo recordings or recordings that have been artificially enhanced for spaciousness.
- 60° Loudspeaker Angle: simulates traditional loudspeaker placement in the "textbook" equilateral triangle.
- 90° Loudspeaker Angle: simulates the wide loudspeaker placement favored by some audiophiles. It can also enhance recordings that lack spaciousness.
- Off: 3D Holographic is disabled, allowing you to listen to the "direct" sound.
- 3D Holographic for Loudspeakers: This matrix is applied to the line outputs and helps to correct the fundamental spacial distortion found in many stereo recordings. It can also widen the soundstage, placing it beyond the actual physical location of the speakers. There are three modes:
- +: This mode corrects the spatial distortion caused by the recording, mixing, and mastering processes, restoring the original width of the soundstage. This should be the default setting for speakers that are optimally placed for imaging.
- 30°+: This mode adds approximately 30° to the apparent width of the soundstage to enhance narrow speaker placement.
- 60°+: This mode adds approximately 60° to the apparent width of the soundstage to simulate the wide speaker placement preferred by some audiophiles
- Off: 3D Holographic is disabled, allowing you to listen to the "direct" sound.
Isolation Base Mount: The Pro iCAN features a 6-3/8" x 4-1/2" quad-damped isolation base mount to protect the internal components and circuitry from harmful vibration and electromagnetic interference. The four-layer base pad features dual layers of elastomers (silicone layer and copolymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate) and a dual layer of metal alloy (aluminum alloy layer and ferrous alloy layer, finished with a special honeycomb coating).
Power Supply: The Pro iCAN is powered by the included iPower Plus 15-volt DC power supply. The Pro iCAN uses double-conversion power supplies that reject power supply noise and interference. The iPower Plus is bettery and cleaner than battery and aftermarket linear power supplies.
DC Loop-out: An additional DC barrel-type socket is provided to use with Pro iCAN add-ons.
ESL-Link: A special HDMI connector is provided for use with the optional iFi Electrostatic Module. You should not connect any other device to this port.
- Frequency Response: 0.5 Hz to 500 kHz (-3dB)
- Gain: 0dB, 9dB, 18dB (selectable)
- Total Harmonic Distortion (THD):
- Solid-State: <= 0.0015% (balanced); <= 0.005% (single-ended)
- Tube: <= 0.002% (balanced); <= 0.005% (single-ended)
- Tube+: <= 0.012% (balanced); <= 0.2% (single-ended)
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio: >147 dBA (balanced); >137dBA (single-ended)
- Output Power (16 ohms): >14,000mW (balanced); >4,800mW (single-ended)
- Output Voltage (600 ohms): >23V (balanced); >11.5V (single-ended)
- Input Voltage (Pro iCAN): DC 9V / 6.7A to DC 18V / 3.35A
- Input Voltage (iPower Plus): AC 85-265V, 50/60Hz
- Power Consumption: <= 22W idle, 50W max.
- Dimensions: Width 8.383", Height 2.524", Depth 7.6875"
- Weight: 4 pounds 4.7 ounces