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iFi iCAN Phantom

iFi iCAN Phantom

It’s your call

Tube or transistor? Spacious imaging or tonal precision? Straightforward or relaxing euphony? How often are we faced with these questions? And how nice when you can simply give “yes” as an answer.

iFi iCAN Phantom

Ever since the first audio component saw the light of day that differed from existing devices in terms of sound, we have been faced with the dilemma of asking what it should sound like when we buy it. Because the truth, whatever that may be, is of course offered by all manufacturers, each in their own way, which is usually difficult to argue against. Some stick to measured performance, others also trust their ears, still others trust only their ears, and yet another faction leaves objectivity behind completely and proclaims that their components will allow you to understand the composer. Since I can’t ask Mr. Mozart and Mr. Bach, I find it difficult to contradict them – as much as I am tempted to do so. But after this little digression, let’s get back on track …

In this case, it is expressly not about who might be right about what, but only about the question of how we should deal with our tastes and wishes when making an upcoming purchase decision. All too often – and I have felt this way more than once – we allow ourselves to be talked into things. Friends, dealers and test magazines tell us how we should listen to music and influence our purchasing decisions. However, once the smoke has cleared and we’re sitting alone in the music listening room with our new purchase, we’re the only ones who should be happy with it. Then it’ll become clear if we have served ourselves or some trendsetter with our purchase, wondering where we’ve sunk all that money with a bleak look at the acoustic element between the speakers.

iFi iCAN Phantom

It’s when we admit to ourselves that we are not always in the same mood and therefore don’t always listen in the same way that it gets really complicated. So it gets worse and worse. One solution to this is called a “secondary system”. It’s not for nothing that I have setups in several rooms that sound very different. However, this requires a certain amount of effort in terms of financial input, space requirements and the partner’s forbearance. iFi Audio now offers a far more elegant solution with the iCAN Phantom headphone amplifier. Well, this colleague isn’t a bargain either, but he can answer every possible question about buying new headphones with a very relaxed yes.

A first look at the Phantom leads to mixed reactions. Its design is definitely polarizing. I heard pretty much everything ranging from “cool” to “hideous”. Once the external power supply unit, which powers the internal battery, is stowed away behind the rack, we can continue. The front offers more connections and adjustment options than I have ever seen before.

iFi iCAN Phantom

The two large rotary knobs for input selection and volume dominate. So far, so normal. In between, however, things really get going: a small switch allows the gain to be adjusted in steps of nine decibels, and on the other side there is a small toggle switch that makes the Phantom so unique. Here you can choose between different input stages (you read that right) and thus decide whether a tight transistor stage, a rather warm tube circuit or a very charming tube stage called “Tube+” takes over the work and thus basically steers the sound in different directions right from the start. Furthermore, as with the SPL amplifiers familiar from the studio sector, the room impression can be modified in four stages using a crossfeed circuit. Depending on the recording, this can either do nothing at all or it can make everything fall into place. In any case, you also have a choice here, and the number of “unlistenable” albums on the shelf will be greatly reduced. One function that I was less interested in is called “xBass” and produces exactly that: a lot of bass. At least it’s still well-textured, and you can choose between three different frequencies at which the boost should take place. I can imagine that some overproduced pop albums from the 80s could benefit from this. My shelves didn’t contain anything that would have needed this kind of help. My daughter, however, was more than thrilled with it on a recent Taylor Swift album.

iFi iCAN Phantom

Connectivity-wise, there is everything you could dream of. Headphones can be connected via the usual jacks, in 3.5 and 4.4 millimeter versions as well as balanced connections. Electrostats can be operated via four or five-pin sockets. The rear panel offers balanced and unbalanced inputs as well as – and this is where it gets even more exciting – a proper preamp output, again offering both XLR and RCA sockets. The Phantom can therefore also be used as a veritable preamplifier. Hidden behind a small magnetic plate are six SD-like cards that can be used to precisely adjust the bias voltage for the connected electrostats. This may seem awkward at first, but it’s actually quite smart, as it means you can’t accidentally adjust the values and damage the headphones. In terms of sound, the iFi Phantom is very difficult to get to grips with. The many setting options, which can be combined with each other, open up such an incredible number of fundamentally different sound signatures that it is almost impossible to talk about a single sound. In general, it can be said that all of the circuits are very solid and clean, a great deal of expertise has been applied here.

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In transistor mode, for example, I hear a live recording of a Rossini opera in a very clear and cleanly outlined way. The singers are meticulously separated from each other on the stage, the orchestra in front of them is precisely illuminated right through to the rear desks. When I switch to “Tube”, almost everything changes. The stage becomes wider, but above all much deeper. The singers can no longer be localized as clearly, but they occupy more space. The voices now come out of the diaphragms a little meatier, the minimal loss of articulation is bearable. Switched to “Tube+”, the picture intensifies. Everything becomes golden, charming, wide, beautiful. So beautiful.

When I then play Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in this setting, honey flows out of the headphones. Even my Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro forget their Prussian attitude here and beguile themselves with their sudden charm.

iFi iCAN Phantom

So is the iCAN Phantom the ideal headphone amplifier for everyone? Certainly not. Because if you have found your favorite headphones, listening taste, music style and don’t care about electrostats, you can get away cheaper elsewhere, because you simply don’t need the many talents of the Phantom. For everyone else: This is where the Phantom is in its element, because it allows you to play at the highest level without having to commit yourself – and this is something many of us have been waiting for for a very long time! And the sales department is talking loudly about a new amplifier in the class below, which won’t be able to handle electrostats, but will do everything else in the usual competent manner and probably at a significantly lower price.

But even so, I have never experienced a headphone amplifier like the Phantom. Top-notch sound, outstanding features. And it gives its buyer almost infinite freedom.

iFi iCAN Phantom

Accompanying Equipment

Turntable: Transrotor Apollon TMD with SME 5, SME 3012 and others | Cartridges: Clearaudio Talisman and Stradivari V2, Ortofon Vienna and Jubilee, Denon DL-103 | CD-Player: Mark Levinson No. 390S | DAC: Merging Technologies | Preamplifier: Crane Song Avocet | Power amplifier: Digital power amplifier based on ICE Power, Accuphase P-4200 | Integrated amplifier: Lavardin IT | Loudspeakers: Spendor Classic 3/5, Wilson Audio Sasha DAW | Cables: Vovox and others

Headphone amplifier iFi Audio iCAN Phantom

Concept: analog headphone amplifier with adjustable gain | Inputs: 3 x RCA, 1 x XLR | Analog outputs: 1 x RCA, 1 x XLR | Headphone outputs: 3.5 mm jack, 3-pin XLR, 4-pin XLR, 4.4 mm Pentaconn, 6.3 mm jack (positive phase), 6.3 mm jack (negative phase), 5-pin normal bias, 5-pin custom bias | Gain: 0 dB, 9 dB and 18 dB | Frequency response: 0.5 Hz to 500 kHz (-3 dB) | THD & N balanced/unbalanced: transistor ≤ 0.0015 %/≤ 0.007 %, tube ≤ 0.002 %/≤ 0.006 %, tube+ ≤ 0.012 %/≤ 0.2 % | SNR balanced/unbalanced: < 145 dB (A)/< 130 dB (A) | Output power balanced/unbalanced: > 15 000 mW (@16 Ω)/> 5760 mW (@16 Ω) | Input voltage: DC 12 V/4 A or 15 V/3 A | Power consumption: < 27 W, max. 75 W | Dimensions (W/H/D): 26/19/12 cm | Weight: 4.2 kg | Warranty period: 2 years | Price: around € 3750

WOD Audio

Westendstraße 1a

61130 Nidderau
Phone +49 06187 900077


The stated retail price of the reviewed device is valid as of the time of the review and is subject to change.