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iFi iCAN Phantom Headphone Amplifier: More Thoughts…

The iFi iCAN Headphone Amplifier looks great on paper. But how does it actually work and why does it matter to headphone listeners? We explain.

iFi iCAN Phantom Headphone Amplifier Specifications Top Open

iFi Audio has come out with a lot of entry-level gear in the last few years but it would be a mistake to think of iFi Audio as a budget brand. They were originally an offshoot of AMR and brought that knowledge base to their original flagship lineup which includes the Pro iCAN, iDSD and iESL products.   

iFi Pro iCAN
iFi Pro iCAN

The iDSD was primarily a DAC and streamer with a basic head-amp included. The iCAN was a world-class headphone amplifier for dynamic and planar magnetic headphones and when paired with the iDSD gave listeners a complete high-end system in a compact and flexible design.

iFi Pro iESL
iFi Pro iESL

For those with electrostatic headphones, iFi offered the iESL which provided selectable bias voltage so users could take advantage of all their electrostatic headphones without needing different amps for differing bias voltages. 

The iESL was ahead of its time as there were far fewer electrostatic models in the market at the time of its release than are available today. That partially explains why iFi chose to integrate the best of the iCAN and iDSD in their iDSD Signature model that replaced the original products.   

iFi iDSD Signature
iFi iDSD Signature

The upside was a more powerful single unit compared to the original stack, but the downside was that electrostatic headphones required adding another amplifier as the Pro iDSD Signature did not inherit the iESL’s capabilities.     

Fast forward a few years and the electrostatic headphone market has exploded with Dan Clark Audio, Audeze, HiFiMAN, Kingsound, EnigmAcoustics, and Warwick all joining Stax and Koss that were already well entrenched.     

At the same time, planar magnetic headphones have made enormous technical gains and performance advances and consumers began to question the need for electrostatic headphones considering the cost of the available models and additional expense of a dedicated amplifier.

Considering the changing market, it made sense to do for the original iCAN and iESL what the iFi Signature had done for the original iDSD.

iFi iCAN Phantom Headphone Amplifier Front Top
iFi iCAN Phantom

Enter the iCAN Phantom

This new flagship takes the best features of the two original amplifier models and reimagines them as a headphone amplifier for every imaginable headphone. That was a bold play and one that could either give consumers a great option for everything in their collection, or fall flat by trying to be a “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

iFi has designed the Phantom to bring out the full potential of everything from sensitive IEMs, big planars, dynamic headphones, and electrostatics from nearly every maker.    

If that wasn’t enough the iCAN Phantom is also a full featured pre-amplifier so listeners can use it for both their headphones and their powered monitors or make use of the phantom as the pre-amplifier in a larger component system.   

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Add an iDSD signature and a pair of powered speakers like the JBL 4329p I recently reviewed (review coming soon) and you have a fantastic system for all your streaming and digital audio needs. 

iFi iCAN Phantom Headphone Amplifier Front
iFi iCAN Phantom Headphone Amplifier Back

The iCAN Phantom takes its name from the Rolls-Royce Silver Phantom and like it, aims to use the best materials and technology to create a functional piece of art for the discerning consumer.   

The iFi iCAN Phantom looks like two units at first with its silver top section and black lower. The top has the controls and display while the lower portion provides the outputs.  

Construction is aluminum with a removable smoked glass top with a large aluminum heat sink and vent in the center. The sides, and the top half of the back have large fins for additional cooling.  

A matching removable panel covers the lower front when not in use and also holds the bias cards (more on those below)  The unit is 10″ W x 7.5″ D x 5″ H.

iFi iCAN Phantom Headphone Amplifier with Bias Cards

Beautiful On The Inside?

As impressive as the iFi iCAN Phantom looks from an industrial design perspective, the internal layout and technology is where this product is truly more impressive.

The dual-circuit boards should catch your attention almost immediately; the layout allows the iCAN Phantom to pack both a tube and solid state input stage with the tube stage offering two different modes so listeners have three options to best mate the Phantom to a wide variety of headphones.  

The two inputs are completely distinct with no shared components so signal paths are kept short and clean. Tubes used are the GE5670 and adapters to use the 6922 are also provided.    

iFi iCAN Phantom Headphone Amplifier Top Open Circuits

The input stages both feed a fully balanced fully differential gain stage with independent volume control (custom made by ALPS for iFi) again ensuring the cleanest signal path possible.

The iCAN Phantom can output 15 watts from its balanced outputs and just shy of 6 watts via the single-ended outputs (both into 16 ohms); nobody will be able to complain that this amplifier can’t drive their headphones with that level of power.

At the opposite end of the impedance spectrum, the Phantom can deliver over 27 volts into (into 600 ohms) for electrostatic headphones; the Phantom offers both normal (230V) and pro bias with the pro port customizable for 500, 540, 580, 600, 620, or 640 Volts.

Bias is adjusted by inserting a card beneath the electrostatic output ports.

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Bias Card Diagram for iFi iCAN Phantom

All of that output power and bias voltage requires a robust power supply and the Phantom delivers with a capacitive battery power supply that was first seen in the iESL; the new power supply has been upgraded to provide clean power to the unit regardless of any dip or spike that might be lurking in your AC power.

The Phantom also introduces the iFi-Nexus which is their new network-connected control system — which is a fancy term for a control app.

That’s right — the Phantom can be controlled from your iPhone or Android tablet.

iFi was quick to let us know that the app will be updated with new features going forward and that future products will be controlled by it as well.

iFi iCAN Phantom Headphone Amplifier Rear Angle

Our review sample is already on its way to me here in the U.S. and expect a very detailed review in June. If the iFi iCAN Phantom can deliver on its very impressive technical claims — this might be a game changer for the Head-Fi space in 2023.

Learn more details and specifications from the iFi iCAN Phantom product announcement.

Pre-order now for $3,749 at Audio46 with retail stock expected to arrive June 23, 2023.

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