UNBOXED: Reviewing the iFi xCAN Portable Headphone Amp
All of a sudden, we seem to be on a bit of a headphone amp reviewing spree. The latest entrant into the discussion here is the dealer—a $299 gorgeous piece of equipment that takes portable (and affordable) amplification to a whole new level.
Simply put, this is a device that’s designed with the mobile music enthusiast in mind. iFi created a product that is slim and light in its profile and packed with technology that makes it a joy to use when on the go. The xCAN is essentially a revised and slimmed down version of iFi’s iDSD “portable” amp. Checking in at half the size of the iDSD, the xCAN ends up being a lot easier for the user to carry around. And it’s improved battery life—iFi claims between 12-18 hours depending on a number of different variables—provides you with more than enough listening time. That’s boosted by the fact that the xCAN has its own internal battery, which charges via USB-C. That means the amp doesn’t draw power from the user’s smartphone or other playback device.
Similar to the iDSD, the xCAN ships with a Bluetooth input—something I know traditional audiophiles are likely to scoff at, but it’s really worth giving this thing a chance as it left me more than impressed. The amp delivers CD-quality audio thanks to Bluetooth via AAC, aptX, and aptX LL, along with a little “added iFi magic.”
Perhaps one of the best possible pitches a retailer could make for a device like the iFi xCAN is it’s position as a savior for the traditional wired headphone. As smartphone makers continue to kill the headphone jack, music and movie enthusiasts stuck with all of those wired headphones are left scrambling for answers for their on-the-go audio. And while headphone dongles can help, why not take advantage of your phone’s Bluetooth capabilities while improving the sound that’s pumped through your cans? That’s not to call the xCAN a $299 smartphone dongle, but if you’re going to put anything between your headphones and your media device—be it a smartphone, TV, or tablet—at least let it be one that can enhance the listening experience.
Not that it needs to be argued further, but integrating Bluetooth into the device is really just a fantastic nod by iFi to the modern-day listener. It means those dollars being shoveled to Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Netflix, YouTube Music/Premium or any other streaming media service can be enjoyed and enhanced while on the go.
And don’t let the petite size of the xCAN fool you. This is a powerful product that sports a dual-mono headphone amp that can support 1,000mW of power per channel, which can get the most out of both 32ohm through to 600ohm headphones. iFi also packed in their S-Balanced technology, which helps the amp drive both single-ended and balanced headphones, as well as their 3D+ and XBass II systems, which help to deliver a more natural sound.
If there’s anything not to like about the xCAN is the metallic coating of the device. Though it looks brilliant out of the box, the surface is super susceptible to finger prints, and it can scratch easily if not stored properly, which may explain the cloth pouch it ships with. Additionally, the plastic dial leaves a little to be desired. It just doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of the design of this product, and can take a bit of getting used to as you use it to navigate the interface.
When you get down to it, the xCAN performs as advertised, living up to that Hi-Res Audio logo that’s slapped on the side of the device. It’s not the most feature rich headphone amp we’ve seen, but it’s strong enough and versatile enough to earn an easy recommendation.