Today we take a look at the iFi xCAN, iFi Audio’s most recent portable headphone amplifier.
Disclaimer: The iFi xCAN is provided by iFi Audio for us to review. It goes for $ 300. Much thanks to iFi for their cooperation.
iFi Audio has released many practical and quality gear over the years. Some of them became fan favorites, especially their iDSD Series. I still see their Micro iDSD and Nano iDSD products around in my local audiophile community here. Now they’re a bit more active in the portable audio field since they’ve released the xDSD early last year and the xCAN after that.
About iFi Audio
Belonging to the group AMR (Abbingdon Music Research Group), which is one of the largest audio equipment manufacturers in UK, iFi Audio is a manufacturer of several DACs and amplifiers, as well as other accessories for computer & home audio. I already reviewed three iFi products before this review, which are the Nano iOne, the Nano iDSD Black Label and the xDSD.
iFi have a very open and charming communication which makes things a lot easier, at least it’s been the case for me. They pay attention to the products of course, but they also pay attention to make you happy. I’m pretty sure this is also the case for their actual customers. Also I would like to pay special thanks to Karina for this review sample.
You may feel confused when you look at the xDSD and the xCAN at a first glance, however things are easy to understand:
The purpose behind these two devices are different. The xDSD was designed to be a DAC/Amp solution for the people on the go. It functions exactly like a standard USB DAC device which we’re used to. It can be used with a desktop system or with a smartphone. What it can also do is -as I exclusively remarked in its own review- connect your smartphone through Bluetooth and act as a Bluetooth DAC.
You can check out its own review below:
The iFi xCAN however simply is a portable headphone amplifier. If you have a DAP but need more juice to drive your headphone, the iFi xCAN is the one to get. It has 2.5mm and 3.5mm connections for both BAL and SE applications. It delivers nice power too; 1000mW of power per channel!
Just add the xCAN to drive bigger and better headphones and boost your tunes.
You can also use the xCAN as a portable DAC/Amp, just like the xDSD. I know this sounds confusing, but you can only do it with the xCAN via Bluetooth. It supports the aptX technology as well, so you can get a really nice quality sound over Bluetooth using your phone as digital source. Otherwise, there’s no DAC function in the xCAN with USB cables and etc.
The box is a familiar one that we’re used to see from iFi. But since this is not a USB DAC the package is much less crowded: There’s a black carrying pouch, a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable for SE, and a 2.5mm to 2.5mm cable for BAL connection. The touch and close fasteners for stacking the device are here as well.
Lastly you have a USB Type C charging cable for charging the device. Yes, the xCAN supports the Type C cables instead of the old Micro USB cables. That wasn’t the case with the xDSD. However I found the included cable rather short. As a result, I’ve never used it and instead used some of my other cables which I normally use for my phone.
Design & Build
iFi came up with a quite different design language for the xDSD and xCAN devices. They look nothing like their previous iterations and it simply is a fresh renovation. In fact, they don’t look like any other device in the market either. They’re wavy, flashy, eye catching and cool. But that serious look which we like to see on iFi products is still there, just a little bit less when compared to their older models. They’re beautiful devices without any doubt though.
The body is from ridged magnesium – aluminum alloy. Back side is plastic, which is a deliberate decision for the sake of wireless usage. The device is very light thanks to the alloy chosen to build it. To be honest, it doesn’t feel like the previous iFi products regarding robustness and toughness. But considering the design choice and the target audience, I think this overall was the sensible option.
And coming in at a weight of just 127g, the xCAN packs a mighty punch without breaking a sweat.
My only complaint remains the same; the volume pot. This is also the responsible part for on/off functions. Somehow it doesn’t give a sturdy feeling like we saw with iFi’s previous offerings. Maybe it’s just me, but I wonder if they could’ve chosen another type of pot to improve that experience. It should work fine, I just want a little bit more premium feeling I guess.
As I said this device is shiny and flashy as you can see from the photos. It looks real cool, but to warn you; the body is very prone to fingerprints and smudges, like shiny smartphones these days. You might want to keep a small cloth with you to clean those up every once in a while. When clean it looks fantastic but it gets smudged easily.
On the front you have the 3.5mm and 2.5mm TRRS headphone outputs, and the volume control in the middle. It has the iFi logo in it but it also has a LED lightning in there. The light shows you the type of input when the device is opening. After that it helps to see the volume level, as it gets red when you crank up the volume too high. The volume pot also is a button to select the input type, and it also switches the device on & off.
On the right end you have LEDs indicating 3D+ and XBassII, and a settings button. The back of the device hosts the USB Type C charging port, SE and BAL inputs and the XBassII switch with 3 mods; “Bass”, “Presence” and “Bass+Presence”.
There are 2 modes exactly like the xDSD; wired and wireless. When you start up the device while pressing the volume pot, it goes on with the mode you used last time around. To change the mod, you need to press the button longer than usual on startup, and you’ll see the LED light changing its color. Blue indicates it’s on wireless, and green shows that it’s on wired mode. You need to switch the device off before changing to the mod you want to use.