iFi Micro iCan Headphone Amplifier - Power to the People

Launch SRP: S$339

Performance - Part 1

Performance - MP3 Testing

The first stop on our performance testing routine is our MP3 testing suite. As mentioned during our test setup, we tried the iFi Micro iCan by itself and with the iDAC. We will be comparing the difference between the performance of the Sennheiser HD700 and the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro running with the Audinst HUD-mx1 amplifier with DAC (our reference) against the same headphones powered by the iFi Micro iCan and iDAC.

Track 1 - Melt My Heart To Stone

By itself the Sennheiser HD700 reproduces Melt My Heart To Stone with a warm tone and good clean highs. The reverb effects of the song come through brilliantly well and the track has a good stereo soundstage. The Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro on the other hand was much warmer than the HD700. We also found the mids and the lower frequencies to somewhat overpower the trebles and highs. With the iFi Micro iCan thrown into the mix however, the performance of both the headphones improves noticeably. The first thing that comes into greater prominence when using the HD700 with the iCan is improved transient response. This is something that is to be expected from a good Class A amplifier and points to the quality of the iCan. Adele’s voice sounded more lifelike and took center stage with both the headphones at our disposal.

  • Engaging the XBass features resulted in the tone of both headphones becoming warmer. On the "Single Dot" setting the Sennheiser HD700 actually represents the deeper single note bass lines with heavier presence, which might be to the liking of particular users. The Custom One Pro however is bass heavy to begin with, so even the "Single Dot" setting for XBass makes the lower frequencies overpower the rest of the mix. Switching to the "Three Dot" setting is out of the question when paired with the Custom One Pro. But with the HD700 you can switch on the "Three Dot” setting and still somewhat remain within the realm of neutrality.
     
  • The 3D Holographic Sound option does help to expand stereo sound to a more surround-like audio, but since Melt My Heart To Stone has a strong central channel arrangement to begin with this feature does not realize its potential in this track and you can safely disengage it.
     

Track 2 - Hotel California

Carrying on, we shifted to the live acoustic version of Hotel California by The Eagles. If there was ever a testimonial to the benefits of having a Class A amplifier (like the iFi Micro iCan) paired with your high end headphones (like the HD700) it was this track. The Sennheiser headphone performs admirably on its own without any enhancements. The effect of changing the amplifier to an iFi was like switching on a light in a dark room. Thanks to the amped up transient response, the sound from the HD700 displays a wider range of color and subtler tonal characteristics than when the headphones were used with the Audinst amplifier. The acoustic, finger-picked guitar work shines through and really impresses. Using the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro with the iCan, the headphone sounds a tad bit brighter.

  • Our personal preference for the track was "Single Dot" setting for both "XBass" and "3D Holographic Sound". The former adds more oomph to the percussion instruments of the track while the latter really helps the live hall performance aspect of the track come through. With the "Three Dot" setting however, we experienced some banding of the audio. Rather than hearing the track as one homogeneous mix, the bass, mids and trebles felt disparate and separate.
     

Track 3 - Sail On Soothsayer

Sail On Soothsayer is an extremely difficult track to navigate. The Sennheiser HD700 did a good job with the song thanks to its proficiency in rendering the sharp attack of the lead guitar lines, while the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro handled the crunching distortion rhythm guitars well. Both headphones however played back the mix with a strong central channel which meant that the harsh tones of the track eventually started to grate the listener’s senses. This situation however is perfect for rectification by the iFi Micro iCan amplifier.

  • We switched the "3D Holographic Sound" to its maximum "Three Dot" setting for a wider, more atmospheric sound that also mitigated the intrinsic harshness of the Buckethead composition.
  • However, we would recommend keeping XBass on "Direct" mode. On any of the XBass audio adjustment settings, the lower frequencies were too unruly on the bass heavy Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro while it overpowered the rest of the audio spectrum with the HD700 as well.
     

Track 4 - Elements of Life

Our last MP3 track is DJ Tiesto’s Elements Of Life. The Sennheiser HD700 on its own without any audio enhancements excels by reproducing the nuances of the track and staying true to the overall mix. The song is also right up the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro’s alley due to its excellent imaging and powerful lower range. One would assume that the "Three Dot" setting for both XBass and 3D Holographic Sound would be perfect for this song.

  • For XBass alone, the "Three Dot" setting helps to extend the lower frequencies of both the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro and the Sennheiser HD700.
  • Similarly the 3D Holographic Sound feature at "Three Dot" setting makes the ambient track have even greater directionality.
  • But when you combine both of these enhancement options at maximum settings, it resulted in subpar audio. For example, the the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro came out extremely undefined and the low registers sounded quite loose. Audio for the Sennheiser HD700 sounded a bit better, but that's due to the overall quality of the product as opposed to the proficiency of the amplifier.

This brings us to an important conclusion which prospective buyers should take note of.
 

Note on Flick Switch Audio Enhancement Features and Scorecard Roundup

Both the Xbass and 3D Holographic Sound enhancement features are not gimmicky and actually serve an important function. You can use both options to eke out extra performance from your headphones based on the individual characteristics of the song you are listening to. However, you should only pick one for optimal performance. Users have to choose either bass or soundstage enhancements, since both at the same time often resulted in muddled audio from our trials. Then again, if your headphones require correction for both the low frequencies and soundstage, you should definitely look into getting yourself a better pair of cans.

MP3 Test Track Scorecard
Headphones Sennheiser HD700 Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro
Audio Track / Amplifier Audinst HUD-mx1 iFi Micro iCan Audinst HUD-mx1 iFi Micro iCan
Melt My Heart To Stone 9.0 9.5 8.0 8.0
Hotel California 9.5 10.0 8.0 8.5
Sail On Soothsayer 9.0 9.5 7.5 8.0
Elements of Life 9.0 9.5 8.5 9.0
8.5
Design
7.5
Performance
8.5
Features
9
Value
9
The Good
Great power and amplification
Excellent set of features
Very affordable
The Bad
Unimpressive aesthetics
Unwieldy dimensions
Non mirrored flick switch settings