iFi’s fantastically-named iCan Phantom headphone amplifier has been unveiled and promises to be one of the most versatile and sophisticated models the high-end British manufacturer has ever released from what we've seen.
The new headphone amp will, says iFi, deliver “a truly exceptional headphone experience – exquisitely tailored to the requirements of the listener”. It’s also capable of performing as a hi-fi preamp, so your headphones and speakers can be combined into a single audio system if you so choose.
Like the Pro iCAN, the iCan Phantom incorporates two separate input stages – one valve/tube-based and the other solid state – which can be switched between in real time depending on your mood, the music being played and the different types of headphones and speakers that are connected. According to iFi, the solid-state stage is best for pace and immediacy, while the Tube mode adds fluidity and a sense of dynamics. Finally the Tube+ option emphasises warmer tones for acoustic and vocal styles.
The Phantom’s PureWavePRO balanced circuit configuration, meanwhile, should offer purer sound. iFi’s so-called “True Differential Balanced” design means channels are split, with each one featuring two separate signals of equal level but opposing polarity and four separate amp circuits, a more complex arrangement that iFi promises pays significant sonic dividends.
There s plenty of headphone inputs on offer, with 4-pin balanced, 3-pin balanced, 4.4mm balanced, 6.33m positive phase, 6.3mm inverted phase and classic 3.5mm all available. Source inputs come courtesy of a balanced XLR input and three RCA inputs, with one balanced XLR output and one RCA output. Headphone outputs for electrostatics come via a single 5-pin normal bias and one 5-pin custom bias output.
Settings are adjustable for the Phantom, so you can pick your preferences beyond the choice of solid-state or valve-based input stages. Adjustable gain has three settings of 0dB, 9dB and 18dB, while IEMatch is available for high-sensitivity in-ear buds. The XBass analogue processing enhances low frequencies for adding more bass, whereas XSpace analogue processing delivers a wider, deeper soundstage.
The most intriguing aspect of the Phantom is its treatment of voltages for electrostatic devices. iFi’s iESL energiser technology should ensure that every headphone type is catered for, but what if you own electrostatic headphones? The iCan Phantom’s really clever feature is the implementation of colour-coded cards which offer variable voltages between 500V and 640V, a smart solution that impressed us when we tried it at High End Munich 2023.
You can’t simply use a conventional headphone amp with electrostatic headphones because the voltages required to drive them are much higher, meaning a separate energiser is needed with the right voltage to correlate to your chosen model. The Phantom’s cards, all with different set voltage values, prevent you from accidentally choosing the wrong level and damaging your precious headphones, with values written clearly on each one.
The iCan Phantom is the first iFi product to incorporate iFi’s Nexus module, which combines with an app to provide a connected control system. The Nexus app allows you to use your Android or iOS as a remote control, with further features to be added later down the line. The app will display things like diagnostic info, performance monitoring and downloading upload files, and once more devices are incorporated into the system, you can control those via the on-board app as well.
We were able to get a hands-on look at the brand-new design of the Phantom, with iFi forming the new amp to give the appearance of two units in one dual-level formation. The top of the Phantom features a rather nice smoked glass panel which reveals the amp’s inner circuitry and audio valves.
Measuring 256 x 120 x 185mm with a silver top layer and black bottom level, the enclosure is crafted from aluminium, with the bottom layer offering cable connections and the top layer featuring a circular OLED display and smooth control dials. It won’t be for everyone, but there’s no denying how striking that design is in the flesh.
The iCAN Phantom is available from selected retailers for an RRP of £3749 / $3749 (AU$ price TBC). Pre-orders are available now, with iFi expecting stock to arrive at the end of June 2023.
Read our review of the award-winning iFi Zen DAC V2
Read our review of the Stax SR-L700 Mk2 / SRM-700T electrostatic headphones