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 Nexis – network connected control
The iCAN Phantom is the first product to incorporate iFi Nexis, a module which combines with an app to provide a comprehensive, scalable network-connected control system.
The features that Nexis offers will grow over time. At launch, the Nexis 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 Nexis-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.
Electrostatic headphones incorporate an electrically charged diaphragm placed between two conductive plates or electrodes; whilst dynamic and planar headphones tend to deliver stronger bass response, nothing can beat the open sound-staging and magical high frequencies of a top-quality electrostatic design.
For many headphone users there is a significant drawback – electrostatic drivers have extremely high impedance, which means they need specialised amplifiers to boost the voltage of the audio signal far, far higher than that required by other headphone types whilst also dropping the current of the signal to safe levels. One way of doing this is to add a separate unit called an electrostatic ‘energiser’ to a ‘regular’ amplifier; this is the approach we took with its previous-generation Pro Series but this time we’ decided to make a single amplifier that can handle every headphone type with aplomb.