iFi iCAN Phantom - The Rolls-Royce of Headphone Amplifiers
iFi's iCAN Phantom headphone amplifier promises supernatural flexibility and spirited performance.
iFi's iCAN Phantom was unveiled at High End Munich 2023, and the British-based company is rightly excited about this new flagship model thanks to it boasting “sophisticated technology, an unrivalled specification and remarkable versatility”. From our introduction to it at the Munich show, there is much to like for head-fi fans here. Meanwhile, iFi states it is the “Rolls-Royce of headphone amplifiers”, hence borrowing the 'Phantom' name and two-tone finished bodywork from the esteemed automotive brand.
Promising “a truly exceptional headphone experience – exquisitely tailored to the requirements of the listener”, the iCAN Phantom not only incorporates two separate input stages - one valve, one solid state - à la Pro iCAN, it can also work as a hi-fi preamp, so your headphones and speakers can be combined into a single audio system if you so choose. Furthermore, thanks to iFi's iESL energiser technology, the iCAN Phantom caters for a wide array of electrostatic cans in a rather novel way.
Crafted from aluminium and measuring 256 x 120 x 185mm, the silver top layer features a circular OLED display and control dials. Meanwhile, the black bottom level offers cable connections. The removable smoked glass top panel gives access to the tubes while providing a portal to its inner workings. It certainly has presence.
CLASS A VALVE & SOLID STATE
The Phantom is an analogue amp, so there is no DAC onboard, but around the rear, you'll find a set of balanced XLR inputs and three pairs of RCA inputs for sources, with balanced XLR output and one RCA output.
Depending on your requirements, you can switch between the General Electric 5670 tubes and J-FET solid-state Class A stages on the fly. iFi recommends the solid-state stage for pace and immediacy, while the Tube mode adds fluidity and a sense of dynamics. Additionally, the Tube+ option emphasises warmer tones for acoustic and vocal styles. These bear out during our short time with the unit. Finally, the iCAN Phantom can also accept 6922 valves via the included adapter should you want to try a different flavour.
iFi states that this headphone amplifier can deliver more than 15,000mW from its balanced outputs and more than 5,760mW from its single-ended outputs into 16 ohms. In terms of voltage, it can supply more than 27V into a 600-ohm load; when it comes to electrostatic headphones, it delivers up to 640V.
Furthermore, the Phantom offers three gain settings of 0dB, 9dB and 18dB, while IEMatch takes care of high-sensitivity in-ear buds. The popular XBass analogue processing enhances low frequencies for more bass, and XSpace analogue processing promises to present a more expansive soundstage.
Meanwhile, the Phantom's PureWavePRO balanced circuit configuration is touted as “a righteous path to audio excellence”. iFi's “True Differential Balanced” design means the left and right channels are fully split, each featuring two separate signals of equal level but opposing polarity and four individual amp circuits. According to iFi, this complex arrangement pays significant “sonic dividends”.
In a bid to ensure that the iCAN Phantom will be the only head amp you'll need, iFi has kitted it out with an array of connectivity options, including 4-pin balanced, 3-pin balanced, 4.4mm balanced, 6.33m positive phase, 6.3mm inverted phase and the must-have 3.5mm port. In addition, Electrostatics are offered a single 5-pin normal bias and one 5-pin custom bias output.
ALL ELECTROSTATICS WELCOME
This brings us to the iCAN Phantom's party piece. iFi's iESL energiser technology not only ensures electrostatic compatibility but also promises to elevate the performance of all driver types. However, should you be rocking electrostatic cans, the Phantom's ingenious implementation of colour-coded cards that adjusts the voltages between 500V and 640V will really tickle your fancy.
This will save you from having a separate energiser to cater to different headphone voltage requirements. Instead, simply slip in the correct corresponding voltage card ( 500V, 540V, 580V, 600V, 620V or 640V) into the slot in the front of the base section, and away you go.
Finally, the iCAN Phantom is the first to benefit from iFi's Nexus module, combining an app to provide a connected control system. The Nexus app enables you to use your mobile device as a remote control, with additional features promised to arrive later. I'm told that the app will offer diagnostic information, monitor performance and show estimated tube lifespan.
The iFi iCAN Phantom is available at an RRP of US$3,749. Pre-orders are available now, with stock scheduled to arrive at the end of June 2023.
StereoNET’s resident rock star, bass player, and gadget junkie. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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