iFi Pro iCan Balanced Headphone Amp / Preamplifier
Sometimes all you need to do to suss out an audio component is look at the front faceplate. The features that the manufacturer envisioned for the device can tell you a lot about what they find important and what they’re trying to bring to the table.
I was emphatically sold on iFi Audio as an amazing David vs. Goliath hifi story by a loyal PS Audio customer calling in on the phone when I was retail sales manager for the brand.
He was emphatic that the designers behind this equipment were the cream of the crop, and that the (in his words) unfortunately low prices of the iFi gear meant that most folks with the coin and the ear didn’t take the brand seriously.
Well I’m taking this iFi Pro iCan tube / solid state headphone amplifier and preamplifier very seriously.
I mean, my goodness — it’s a tube-based balanced preamplifier for less than $1000 (just guessing at our eventual price)… for this feature set for the price, can you do better?
I didn’t need to fire up this gem to know that iFi means business. Looking at the bass boost, it has a uniquely selectable shelf filter and offers 10Hz as a pole frequency as well as 20 and 40. Obviously a shelf EQ change results in a rise above the pole frequency, determined by the shape of the slope. But some of that bass boost is going to leak up, which is why I’m loving this 10Hz boost feature.
Like, reeeally loving it. This boost kicks ass! Even on a set of planars like what Mr. Headphones* offers, or any from the Audeze fleet.
Readers of this blog might remember that I adore a good crossfeeed circuit in a headphone amp, and this one has a very nice approach, with 3 options of intensity. I found the three to be not dissimilar from each other, the last two with very subtle differences. I would imagine that depends on the headphones used. I found all of them to be musical and natural sounding.
My favorite part of this tweaky device is the output stage flexibility. iFi gives you the option to totally eliminate the tube section and go full solid state, or you can use the tube section but lower the negative feedback for better transients (at the expense of slightly increasing benign low order harmonics).
All settings and all options seem to sound great, in subtly different ways. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think you can do much better at the price point to find a balanced DAC and balanced head amp with this feature set.
In the words of my PS Audio customer, “What are iFi thinking with these prices?”
They were probably thinking about you and me! Go check out this gem today.
* or whatever his name is… just kidding Dan! We adore Mr. Speakers headphones here at TMR.