iFi devices don’t disappoint in the sound department and my expectations were no different this time around. The xCAN surely can drive many IEMs and headphones with its powerful output, but let’s take a look at the actual sound quality.
Amplifier Mode – Single Ended
These impressions were taken with the device’s normal amplification mode. I used my PEARS SH-3 custom monitor for listening. The DSP effects were closed.
The iFi xCAN provides a very clean and tight bass response with a fast decay and good control. The impact is not big and the rumble is not too much, but the hits are very precise and the recovery is at a very good level. It doesn’t reach very deep but overall the bass is pretty much tidy.
The resolution of the bass is quite good and you also get a good kick. But the focus here is on the midbass section. Don’t expect a big subbass presence. The xCAN aims to give a clean and fast sound with good clarity, so a big bass response was not the goal I suppose. Still, you can get more bass quantity and rumble with the DSP effects, but I will get to that part later on.
Just like the xDSD, the iFi xCAN gives crips mids and it’s overall pretty much the same presentation. There’s good richness and harmony once again, with an organic approach and good tonality. Note size is good and the vocals/instruments have a natural tone. So I can comfortably say I liked what the xCAN gives in the mid region.
Transparency-wise things aren’t perfect but for the price it’s quite good. Especially vocals have a very smooth and romantic tone, and I think that wouldn’t be the case if the transparency was off the charts. There’s a very thin veil over them, but that’s the very thing that provides that musicality and romantic quality. Mids are also quite resolving and they have good detail.
In terms of highs the xCAN doesn’t put too much flavor into the source’s own character. Once again things are very clean and crisp here. There’s no aggressiveness in this section just like with the xDSD, but there’s good accentuation. However things could’ve been better in terms of extension and that was also the case with the xDSD. It’s OK but things are not amazing or fascinating in this particular area.
Cymbals have nice positioning and they’re well separated from the mid section, but on fast tracks I can say the articulation isn’t perfect, but that wasn’t surprising given the price bracket. Quantity-wise the xCAN controls everything very well and doesn’t let anything to be too aggressive. Hence you get an overall coherent presentation from bass to the treble.
Once again it’s very similar to the xDSD. Sound stage is not exceptional and it’s somewhat a little bit congested. Especially a little more width would’ve been very nice in this area. Other than staging, the resolution is very good but the transparency is not at the utmost level, which is not unexpected. For the price though, it’s absolutely fine and I can’t complain. Especially on the mid region things get really enjoyable in terms of details and resolution.
Separation is strong, even though the stage is somewhat congested sometimes. It manages to put the right elements to their right places and for that stereo imaging is good. Background is mostly black and it has a good stereo image.
The power output is very strong and it drives my HD660S easily. I also tried it with the other members of the HD6-series, the HD800s and the HD820 and all managed to get to a sufficient level in terms of volume. Surely it’s not the best setup for headphones like that, but in terms of mere volume it’s more than sufficient. So the amp stage is impressive for power. Noise floor is not dead silent but you’ll need to use sensitive IEMs to notice that.
I switched between BAL and SE modes back and forth to hear if there’s any difference. This test was done with the M-Fidelity SA50.
The BAL output gives a little bit bigger sound stage and a more extended treble response to my ears. In addition to that, the overall sound is more refined and there’s more space between the elements of a song, so I heard an improved separation and stereo image. I recommend the 2.5mm BAL mode of the xCAN, if your DAP has the BAL setup of course.
As I remarked on the first page, the xCAN can be used as a DAC only in Bluetooth mode. Again, the performance of the wireless mode is really great and that makes this little device extremely practical. The Bluetooth range is very good and the connection is constant. I haven’t had any connection issues. So BT performance is exactly the same as the xDSD.
Furthermore, I found the sound quality of the xCAN better than the xDSD with the wireless mode. Especially in the bass section the xCAN gave me a tighter and more controlled bass response with better decay. The rest of the spectrum were similar between the two devices.
The XBass II feature provides a boost in the subbass region and you hear more rumble down low. The presence setting boosts the mid and treble region and the presentation in that area becomes more in your face and upfront. When you use the switch with the Bass+Presence mod, you get the subbass rumble, boosted mids & treble, all at the same time. This is a nice option for the people who like to play with these kinds of sound effects.
The 3D+ widens the stage but feels quite artificial so I did not like the sound with that being switched on. But of course some users can find this setting beneficial.
iFi Audio delivered another great device with the iFi xCAN. This is an option for the folks who don’t need the DAC section of the xDSD. Actually when I received the xDSD last year, I thought that device would make it as a standalone portable amplifier because of its form factor and lightness. A couple of months later iFi announced the xCAN as their new portable amp.
The iFi xCAN provides you a big power, a BAL setup for your BAL system, a great BT DAC/Amp performance with good quality, very nice build quality and a design which is very portable and light. As a result, I think it deserves a spot on our Best Amplifiers List in the portable category. Congratulations to iFi Audio.