Today we are talking about an absolute Swiss army knife of an amplifier, the iFi Audio Pro iCAN. Not only does this amp sound great, it can do pretty much….everything!
iFi Audio is a British company that was founded in 2012. It is a subsidiary of AMR Audio, which has a long history of making stereo equipment. iFi has always struck me as a company that focuses more on headphone and personal audio, but that does seem to be changing lately, and they are branching out into other areas (see the iFi “Aurora” all in one for an example of this.) Their products are innovative, and seem to prioritise functionality as well as sonic performance.
The “Pro” line up launched with Pro iCAN that we are talking about today, but has since seen the introduction of the iESL (for electrostatic headphones) and the Pro iDSD DAC (which I will be talking about in a new review in a few days, another great bit of gear.)
The Pro iCAN, which I will just refer to as the iCAN from here on out, is a small desktop sized amplifier. It features, not one, but two true tube modes, as well as a fully solid state mode. Talk about flexibility! You can switch between these modes on the fly with a flip of the switch, and it takes about 5 seconds for each mode to engage. The iCAN also features the best implementation I have heard of iFi’s “XBass” feature, as well as their take on crossfeed, the “3D” feature. I didn’t use the “3D” feature too often, but it does work well on some tracks, and the “XBass” feature is a tasteful boost at three different levels. I think it really depends on the headphones you are using when it comes to determining which of these levels and features you will want to use, and of course, your personal preference will play a role as well.
The iCAN is a bit of a mini powerhouse, it doesn’t take up much space, but it puts out 14,000mw at peak output levels, and with its 3 gain settings, can run everything from sensitive IEMs, to the Hifiman Susvara and HE6. Not many amps can boast such flexibility. Now, if you try to listen at enthusiastic levels, with both the “XBass” and “3D” features on with the Susvara or HE6, the amp will likely go into protection mode as it is starting to struggle, but apart from that it will have no troubles driving them.
I think the iCAN has a similar sound signature across its three output modes, SS, Tube, and Tube +. The two tube modes are noticeably different from the SS mode, but they seem to maintain a similar sound signature and are not warm and gooey as some people expect tubes to be. The two tube modes seem to round off the edges of notes and make things a bit easier to listen to, but it will really depend on your headphones and preferences as to which mode you will prefer. I ended up using Tube mode with my Abyss, but SS mode with the Susvara. With something like the Focal Utopia, I could see Tube mode being used, and with the ZMF Eikon, maybe SS mode. The flexibility the iCAN offers, again, is tremendous.
I would describe the Pro iCAN as a fairly neutral sounding amp, perhaps leaning to colder and clinical at times, but not in a bad way, its just not a warm, fuzzy, and thick sounding amp.
The iCANs technical performance was quite impressive, from dynamic swings to detail rendering. It perhaps doesn’t make the Susvara and hard to drive headphones slam as hard as a speaker amp, but it has no troubles powering them, and does more than an acceptable job at bringing out the positive qualities of said headphones.
I tried comparing the iCAN to my iDSD Black Label, which is also made by iFi. The Micro iDSD BL is a fantastic transportable all in one unit, I really love it. However, perhaps it is not fair to compare it to a standalone desktop amp, but as both units are made by iFi I gave it a shot. As an amp only, the Pro iCAN, apart from being what seemed like infinitely more powerful, was more detailed and neutral sounding. The Micro iDSD seemed to have a tiny bit bloom that the Pro iCAN did not, as well as less detail. I still hold the Micro iDSD BL in very high regard as a transportable all in one, but its amp section was indeed beaten quite handily by its big brother. No surprises there I suppose.
iFi Audio has come up true Swiss army knife of an amp with the Pro iCAN, and it really doesn’t do anything wrong! It can power sensitive IEMs without hiss, it can power most of the hardest to drive headphones on the market, it has bass enhancement and crossed implementations, and is both a SS *and* tube amp. I think it sounds fantastic, especially for the sale prices I have seen it available at on occasion (about $1299USD, and about $1000USD used.) I have even seen one unit sell for $850USD! At these prices, this amp is not only an excellent recommendation, but is a very solid value compared to some of the other options on the market.
The iFi Pro iCAN gets a very thorough recommendation from me, especially if you are looking for “one amp to rule them all.” I could see this amp being a reviewers dream come true, as it is so truly flexible. Great job and congratulations to the team at iFi for creating such a stand out product. I really enjoyed my time with the Pro iCAN, and to this day, consider purchasing one on occasion, even though I don’t truly need it!
Thanks for taking the time to read this review.