Review: iFi Audio xCAN – It Can

iFi xCAN

Sound

 

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.

Bass

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.

Mids

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.

Treble

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.

iFi xCAN

iFi xCAN

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.

Technical Performance

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.

Balanced Output

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.

iFi xCAN

iFi xCAN

Wireless Mode

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.

DSP Effects

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.

Conclusion

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.

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A keen audiophile and hobby photographer, Berkhan is after absolute perfection. Whether it is a full frame camera or a custom in-ear, his standpoint persists the same. He tries to keep his photography enthusiasm at the same level with audio. Sometimes photography wins, sometimes his love for music takes him over and he puts that camera aside. Simplistic expressions of sound in his reviews is the way to go for him. He enjoys a fine single malt along with his favourite Jazz recordings.

21 Comments

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    David Sharpe

    so as far as Bluetooth use goes does it sound better than the AK XB-10 ? on AAC since I am stuck with a company iphone

    • Reply March 26, 2019

      Berkhan

      I’ve never used the AK XB-10 so sorry.

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    Nick Pouchkareff

    These IEMs from AAW would get the most ouf of the ESS DAC in my new LG G7 phone.

  • Reply March 24, 2019

    Trippy Mandala

    This iFi xCAN, iFi audio is amazing. Will you please tell me about it’s availability in India? Want to have one.

    • Reply March 26, 2019

      Berkhan

      I don’t have an idea about that. Check amazon

  • Reply March 26, 2019

    Shikha

    Hello. That was a nice article and quite informative as well. This review was very useful for my purchase. Thanks a Ton

  • This iFi xCAN, iFi audio is amazing. Will you please tell me about it’s availability in India? Want to have one.

  • Reply January 9, 2020

    Mark Jones

    Hi,Can you give me an idea of the cables running between the WM1a and the xCAN? I have a WM1a,a little extra juice may well be a good thing.Many thanks!

    • Reply January 10, 2020

      Berkhan

      It’s simply a 2.5mm to 2.5mm cable which is included in the box. I plugged one end to the iBasso 4.4mm adapter for BAL output.

  • Reply January 30, 2020

    Mark Jones

    Thanks!

  • Reply March 30, 2020

    xoxiax

    Hi Headfonia friends, i have a very unique question for you, one that i haven’t found answered after hours of search around internet, forgotten manuscripts or even the deepest areas of the deep web.

    I just received my Audeze Lcd2 classic and, as i expected, with my sony zx300 through their balanced output the headphones sound fine but far from it’s full potential. I want a portable amp for them and right now i’m thinking about buying the ifi xcan, but i’ve also found for sale second hand Cypher Labs Duet and Vorzuge Duo for the same price as a new xcan.

    However, there’s no single comparison between them as they belong to different periods of human evolution. So, as you have the three on your list, i’d love to know your impressions about them, specially thinking about using them with the Audezes (but not only). ¿Does a very good amp from 2019 improve an excellent amp from 2016 or 2014 or humanity’s economical, political and cultural regression during this period has affected also technologies?

    Thank you very much in advance, you are my last hope!

    • Reply March 30, 2020

      Berkhan

      Hello 🙂

      Vorzuge amps are very very good. I recommend getting it over the xCAN. I don’t know about the Cyper Labs Duet though, I’ve never listened to it.

      Can you describe how your setup will be? Tomorrow we will publish a new DAC/Amp review and it’s very good for the price.

  • Reply March 30, 2020

    xoxiax

    Thanks, that was fast!

    My setup would be Sony zx300+amp+ audeze lcd2. I also have Sennheiser ie800, flares pro 2hd ad dali io6. I suppose that all of them could also benefit with better amplification, although my perception is that the find enough power on the sony zx300.

    My use of the LCD2 is strictly domestic, but i want it portable in any case because i like to move around the house with my music. Apart from working situations, i don’t conceive myself sitting on a desktop chained to my amp. That’s why i’d love to find the closest experience to good stationary amp in a compact and portable fit.

    300 euros was my initial budget, and i’d rather not to exceed it. I find the lcd2, deliiously “musical” but rather dark, so a bit of air to their sound would be welcomed.

    Thanks again!

    • Reply March 31, 2020

      Berkhan

      Is your ZX300 Japanese version or European? Because on the EU version there’s a volume cap. You can uncap the device for more volume.

      • Reply March 31, 2020

        xoxiax

        Good point. It’s uncapped. However i’d say that the problem is not about volume but air, separation, soundstage, layering… As i said it’s not a bad option, but i think that a more authoritative power behind could make it sound better also at lower volumes. But i’m not an expert… am i wrong?

        Will i perceive a clear improvement with any of the models i mentioned (or others that you could recommend me)? Or with the balanced output or the Sony i’ve already entered in the diminishing returns area where investments won’t be so noticeable as i’m expecting?

        Thanks again for your answers!

        • Reply March 31, 2020

          Berkhan

          I suggest you to get the Earmen TR-Amp. We have just reviewed it today and it entered to our recommended list.

          Also check out our Amp and DAC/Amp recommendation lists.

          But I strongly recommend the Earmen amp.

        • Reply March 31, 2020

          Berkhan

          But if you can get the Vorzuge amp with a good price that’s also a great option.

          • Reply April 3, 2020

            xoxiax

            Thanks again, thank you for all your answers!!!

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