Vanish into the music
NEW reference-class analogue headphone amp with incorporated electrostatic energiser with advanced user interface and network-connected control system.
A new extraordinary reference
iFi’s new reference-class analogue headphone amp, the iCAN Phantom, takes the Pro iCAN, refines and enhances every element of its circuitry to further elevate its performance, incorporates technology from the Pro iESL – previously a separate component – for electrostatic headphones, and adds a new, advanced user interface and network-connected control system.
The result? A headphone amp truly worthy of its flagship status.
Exemplary build quality, sophisticated technology, an unrivalled specification and remarkable versatility, expertly engineered to drive every headphone type to its full sonic potential. From ultra-sensitive IEMs, to the finest dynamic driver and planar magnetic headphones, to the most power-hungry electrostatic designs, the iCAN Phantom delivers a truly exceptional headphone experience – exquisitely tailored to the requirements of the listener.
The iCAN Phantom also performs as a high-end preamplifier – to feed a power amp and speakers (or powered speakers) – enabling headphone and speaker listening to be combined in a single high-performance audio system.
The Rolls-Royce of flagships
The iCAN Phantom’s design gives the appearance of two units but in fact it is a single, dual-level device, the full depth of which is fully utilised by its multi-layer circuit design. Its enclosure is sturdily constructed from aluminium, with the bottom layer sporting cable connections front and back, and the top layer offering tactile controls and a colourful OLED display.
The top of the iCAN Phantom incorporates a flush-fitting smoked glass panel enabling you to see the amp’s circuitry and its glowing audio valves. Circular aluminium vents ensure the circuitry within does not overheat.
When not in use the sockets at the front or back can be hidden by a neat aluminium panel that attaches magnetically. This panel also holds the data cards for the electrostatic bias voltage settings. The iCAN Phantom also comes with an attractive, easy to use aluminium, high quality, remote control.
A tale of two input stages
The iCAN Phantom sports two input stages – one valve/tube-based, the other solid state – enabling the user to switch between the two in real time.
It is, indeed, like having three amplifiers in one, each with a different sonic presentation.
Solid-state offers pace and immediacy. Tube mode adds fluidity and a free-breathing dynamic quality. Tube+ accentuates the sonic influence of the valves, delivering a spellbinding romantic warmth that may suit, for example, acoustic and vocal musical styles.
The GE5670 valves have an expected lifespan of around 10,000 hours of use. When the time eventually comes to replace them, the iCAN Phantom’s smoked glass panel is easily removed to provide access, meaning the job can be completed in minutes. The amp is compatible also with 6922 valves.
Most headphones create sound by using dynamic (or moving coil) drivers to move air. A smaller number use planar magnetic diaphragms, which are different in form and operation, but still use magnetic fields to cause motion. At the high end of the headphone scene there is another, rare but fabulous sounding driver type – electrostatic headphones.
Electrostatic drivers need an separate energiser. The iCAN Phantom incorporates our original standalone iESL energiser technology with regular amplifier technology to make a single amplifier that can handle every headphone type with aplomb.
And all users benefit as the component quality and clever circuit design required to deliver such a high level of performance with electrostatic headphones elevates the amp’s performance with other headphone types too.
Bias voltage simplified
Electrostatic headphones have varying requirement when it comes to bias voltage.
The iCAN Phantom has two outputs for electrostatics – one set at the ‘normal’ bias voltage of 230V, the other offering variable bias voltage between 500V and 640V, selected by the user. If the wrong voltage is selected, it is possible to damage the headphones.
To make this far less likely, the iCAN Phantom has a series of data cards that specify different bias voltages (these are supplied with the amp). Simply select the card that matches the headphone’s specification and pop it in the card slot – there are cards for 500V, 540V 580V, 600V, 620V and 640V each with a handy guide on the back showing which headphone brand is compatible with that voltage.
Every connection covered
The iCAN Phantom supplies a wide array of balanced and single-ended connection options. The headphone outputs are at the front, with the source inputs and preamp outputs at the rear. Here’s a summary:
- Source inputs – 1x balanced XLR (L/R), 3x RCA (L/R)
- Headphone outputs – 1x 3-pin balanced XLR (L/R), 1x 4-pin balanced XLR, 1x 4.4mm balanced, 1x 6.3mm (positive phase), 1x 6.3mm (inverted phase) and 1x 3.5mm (includes S-Balanced technology to cut distortion by 50 per cent)
- Electrostatic headphone outputs – 1x 5-pin normal bias, 1x 5-pin custom bias
- Preamplifier outputs – 1x balanced XLR (L/R), 1x RCA (L/R)
iFi Nexus – network connected control
The iCAN Phantom is the first product to incorporate iFi Nexus, a module which combines with an app to provide a comprehensive, scalable network-connected control system.
The features that Nexus offers will grow over time. At launch, the Nexus app enables your Android or iOS device to act as a ‘super remote control’ for the iCAN Phantom, providing access to additional features not accessible via the amp’s fascia or standard remote control.
The app can display diagnostic information and allow the user to monitor the iCAN Phantom’s operational condition in real time – for example, voltages, the condition and projected life span of the vacuum tubes and so on. It can also be used to apply over-the-air updates to the iCAN Phantom’s firmware, downloading and installing update files via your home Wi-Fi network.
As the number of Nexus-compatible iFi devices grows and the app’s functionality expands, a network-connected iFi ‘ecosystem’ will develop – one app for all your requirements, like a concierge service for iFi customers. It will enable additional software-driven functionality to be delivered and shared across existing iFi devices, as well as providing a direct technical support service and even potentially an online store within the app.
The iCAN Phantom’s capacitive battery power supply, originally developed for the Pro iESL, is intrinsic to its high level of performance. Rather than relying on a mains-powered switched-mode step-up circuit, a large battery of film capacitors rated at 1,000V DC is charged and occasionally topped up using AC mains power. This ‘virtual battery pack’ delivers pure DC power, completely free from all AC and switching noise – the perfect high-voltage supply for electrostatic headphones.
Balanced circuit design has long been considered a righteous path to audio excellence in high-end amp design, but the term ‘balanced’ is used in different ways and does not always mean the same thing. The iCAN Phantom takes balanced circuit design to the extreme – fully differential from input to output, minimising noise and crosstalk in the signal path for ultimate sonic purity.
Essentially, ‘fully differential’ circuit design – or True Differential Balanced, as we call it – means that each channel (left and right) is fully separated in the circuit design, and each of these channels has two separate signals of equal level but opposite polarity (positive and negative). This requires four separate amp circuits, two for the left channel and two for the right channel – much more costly and complex to implement than single-ended circuit designs, but the sonic dividends are hugely worthwhile.
The iCAN Phantom’s True Differential Balanced circuitry is coupled to a volume control with six decks – two decks for each channel (positive and negative) with the final two decks used for monitoring the volume control operation. The motorised volume control potentiometer is custom-made by ALPS in Japan and is of exceptional quality.
The iCAN Phantom sports several unique features that set it apart from other headphone amps. One such facility is the incorporation of two input stages – one valve/tube-based, the other solid state – enabling the user to switch between the two in real time. These input stages are entirely separate, which means they can be kept short and direct for optimal purity rather than complicating the signal path (for example, by switching valves in and out of a single circuit).
The fully discrete Class A solid-state input stage uses J-FETs, while the all-valve Class A circuit features a hand-selected, computer-matched pair of General Electric 5670 tubes, a premium variant of the 6922 tube. This stage has two user-selectable modes – Tube and Tube+. The latter minimises overall loop-gain and thus negative feedback, giving a different trade-off between the tube’s natural harmonics and the transient performance.
The iCAN Phantom includes two separate Space analogue matrices, one for headphones and the other for speakers, with automatic switching between the two.
XSpace for headphones is designed to compensate for the ‘in-head localisation’ effect that can occur when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed using a pair of speakers, effectively widening the headphone soundstage to deliver a more spacious and speaker-like experience. XSpace for speakers increases the width of the apparent soundstage beyond the width dictated by speaker placement.
Both forms of XSpace feature multiple levels that may be selected according to preference or switched out of the signal path completely.
XBass is a proprietary analogue circuit and it can be engaged to enhance low frequencies, its sophistication enabling it to do so whilst maintaining bass definition and without muddying the midrange. This is useful with, for example, some open-back headphones that sound bass-light; it ‘corrects’ the bass so that the listener hears the low frequencies the artist intended. The iCAN Phantom offers three XBass steps – 10Hz, 20Hz and 40Hz – or it can be switched out of the signal path altogether.
Transformer quality is critical to sound quality, which is why the iCAN Phantom incorporates a custom-made PPCT (Pinstripe Permalloy Core Transformer). These incorporate a GOSS/Mu-Metal hybrid core and complicated multi-section winding with both vertical and horizontal sectioning, using extremely thin wire that is hand-wound with great precision. This transformer is capable of exceptionally wide bandwidth, ultra-low distortion and perfect linearity.
Three gain settings – 0dB, 9dB and 18dB – enable the amp to precisely match the connected headphones. Unity gain (0dB) is useful to ensure low noise with more sensitive headphones and IEMs, while the higher gain settings make the most of tougher headphone loads, delivering excellent dynamic headroom.
For dynamic and planar headphones and IEMs.
This proprietary iFi circuit attenuates the output to better suit high-sensitivity IEMs (in-ear monitors), removing potential background noise and increasing the usable volume range. This can be optionally applied to the 3.5mm and balanced 4.4mm outputs.
For dynamic and planar headphones and IEMs.
The iCAN Phantom is an extraordinarily powerful headphone amplifier, capable of delivering more than 15,000mW from its balanced outputs and more than 5,760mW from its single-ended outputs in a 16-ohm load. In terms of voltage, it can supply more than 27V into a 600-ohm load; when it comes to electrostatic headphones delivers up to 640V.