A new extraordinary reference
A new extraordinary reference emerges in the world of headphone amplifiers with the introduction of the iCAN Phantom by iFi. This reference-class analogue headphone amp takes the already impressive Pro iCAN and pushes the boundaries of performance even further. Every aspect of its circuitry has been refined and enhanced, resulting in an unparalleled sonic experience. But the iCAN Phantom doesn't stop there—it incorporates technology from the Pro iESL, a separate component designed for electrostatic headphones, seamlessly integrating it into its design. Additionally, it boasts a new and advanced user interface along with a network-connected control system.
The Rolls Royce of flagships
Crafted with exemplary build quality, the iCAN Phantom combines sophisticated technology, an unrivalled specification, and remarkable versatility, all expertly engineered to maximize the potential of every headphone type. From ultra-sensitive IEMs to the finest dynamic driver and planar magnetic headphones, and even power-hungry electrostatic designs, this amplifier ensures an exceptional listening experience tailored to the unique preferences of each listener.
In addition to its headphone amplification capabilities, the iCAN Phantom also serves as a high-end preamplifier, allowing users to combine headphone and speaker listening into a single high-performance audio system. It seamlessly bridges the gap between personal and traditional listening setups, providing an all-encompassing audio solution.
The iCAN Phantom's design is reminiscent of two separate units but is, in fact, a single dual-level device that utilizes its full depth through a multi-layer circuit design. Its sturdy aluminum enclosure features cable connections on the bottom layer, while the top layer houses tactile controls and a vibrant OLED display. The top of the unit incorporates a flush-fitting smoked glass panel that offers a glimpse into the amp's circuitry and showcases the glowing audio valves. To ensure optimal performance, circular aluminum vents prevent overheating of the internal circuitry.
A tale of two input stages
One of the standout features of the iCAN Phantom is its dual input stages—one valve/tube-based and the other solid-state. This unique design allows users to switch between the two in real time, effectively providing three amplifiers in one, each with its own sonic presentation. The solid-state stage delivers pace and immediacy, while the tube mode adds fluidity and a dynamic quality with a free-breathing character. The tube+ mode further accentuates the influence of the valves, resulting in a captivatingly warm sound that complements acoustic and vocal music genres, among others.
The iCAN Phantom utilizes GE5670 valves, which boast an expected lifespan of approximately 10,000 hours of use. When the time comes to replace them, the smoked glass panel on the amp can be easily removed, allowing for quick and hassle-free valve replacement. The amp is also compatible with 6922 valves, offering users flexibility in customizing their sound.
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
One of the iCAN Phantom's notable features is its compatibility with electrostatic headphones. While most headphones use dynamic or planar magnetic drivers, electrostatic headphones require a separate energizer. The iCAN Phantom incorporates iFi's original standalone iESL energizer technology, merging it with regular amplifier technology to create a single amplifier capable of handling every headphone type with exceptional performance. The component quality and intelligent circuit design required for electrostatic headphones elevate the amp's performance with other headphone types as well, benefiting all users.
To simplify the bias voltage selection process for electrostatic headphones, the iCAN Phantom features two outputs—one set at the standard bias voltage of 230V and the other offering variable bias voltage between 500V and 640V, which can be selected by the user. The amp includes a series of data cards that specify different bias voltages, ensuring the correct voltage is chosen to prevent damage to the headphones. These cards, available with the amp, provide options for 500V, 540V, 580V, 600V
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 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.
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).
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.