iFi Audio xDSD and xCAN Review Page 2

Concerning the 3D+ settings, which have feature on some other iFi gear, I don’t believe the implementation has changed too drastically here. My opinions are likewise lukewarm about it. I found it a little more amenable than what I recall of my experience with older iFi products, but I’m still hearing some odd phasey-ness that I can’t quite pin down. It almost sounds like certain frequency bands are suffering mild polarity inversion. That said, I’ve been working on a survey of head-tracking, crossfeed and spatialization implementations lately, so I’ve been a bit picky. Use this feature if you like it, and turn it off if you don’t. Simple enough.

I’ve covered sound first as I believe that’s really what most of us are interested in. I don’t usually quibble too much about ergonomics, unless they’re particularly atrocious or exceptionally good. In this case, I had a bit of a head scratching experience. This may be personal bias, as I’m accustomed to audio engineering gear where there are BIG knobs on everything that do obvious things and sometimes even have neon lights and arrows designed to idiot-proof them. By contrast, the manual for the xDSD and xCAN is pretty much required reading. Click in the front volume control and the color changes – click and hold or press it and it will cycle through various colors indicating different modes, such as pairing, volume control, USB input, standby, etc. To say it was all a bit confusing at first would probably be giving me too much credit.

Thankfully the manual is smartly written and very clear, and I was able to sort things out without too much trouble once I sat down with it for a bit. I’ll chalk most of this up to my being a luddite, but seriously, make sure you download the pdf manual from the iFi website.

Another small complaint is that, although there is a grippy rubber front piece, the unit itself is quite slick and fingerprint prone. This didn’t bother me in use, but if you tend to put things in nylon jacket pockets often, be warned that it may move around a bit. In desktop use I didn’t have much problem at all.

iFi also sent along one of their OTG cables – these are designed to make connecting to an android phone easier. I did indeed find this cable quite useful, and ran into none of the finicky port management issues I normally do with some other solutions. I didn’t have any other cables on hand to compare, but I did like the sound a bit better when wired up vs. over Bluetooth. Imaging was a bit tighter and overall sound was cleaner and more lively.

Speaking of portable use, I was a bit skeptical. I mostly use Audeze Mobius headphones wirelessly for travel nowadays and appreciate their function as a high-quality Bluetooth device. I was a little loathe to go back to separate devices and wires. I’m happy to say that in this case, it wasn’t a bother at all from a cable standpoint. The connection is only as annoying as your headphone cable. I really was pleasantly surprised by how good the sound quality, battery life and ease of use were on both units. Unfortunately, I never fully acclimatized to switching between my phone for music control and the unit for volume and processing control. I think partially I’ve gotten used to using my phone as the all-in-one control station (read: I’ve become an audiophile normie when travelling) but also because I had to keep track of a multi-function button and a touchscreen simultaneously. It wasn’t unworkable, just a little more of a hassle than I’ve gotten used to. I’m sure those who regularly travel with audiophile fanny packs and rubber-banded electronics should have no problem.

In conclusion, I think these are both capable units. Despite a few reservations, I think they simplify cable management immensely and sound excellent with the right headphones. I do wonder if the logical conclusion to the whole Bluetooth issues is just better Bluetooth headphones, but I have to admit I did get better sound quality with a good pair of closed backs and this unit than I did with just my Mobius. I still can’t shake just how much more easy true wireless is, and it’s likely what I’ll continue to use going forward. In terms of price, I would recommend the xCAN over the xDSD. Unless you really need the USB input, which to me isn’t worth the 100 dollar premium. Plus, if I were looking for a miniature DAC to use with a CD player or computer, I would probably pick one of the non x-series iFi units anyways, just for the features. From where I’m sitting the better amp and lower price of the xCAN is the better value for the intended Bluetooth travel use case for this unit.

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COMMENTS
Booker's picture

I’ve been thinking about picking up an xCAN lately, good to read more impressions of it.

One thing; when you say:
“Yes, the xDSD uses slightly nicer conversion chips and the xDSD has cleaner, higher power amplification specs, but this really was a difference I only noticed” I think the 2nd xDSD in that sentence is supposed to be xCAN?

Grover Neville's picture

yes, sorry! Fixed. Thanks for the correction.

Bansaku's picture

There were several mistakes that you made. Besides the aforementioned " Yes, the xDSD uses slightly nicer conversion chips and the xDSD has cleaner, higher power amplification specs... ", the xCAN is not a DAC, it is an amplifier through and through. Also, both units sport a USB micro-B connection for power, NOT a USB Type-C.

Grover Neville's picture

Hi There, I did indeed correct the mistake you mentioned, sorry about that. However, according to the units sitting in front of me right now and the iFi manual, they in fact have a USB-C charging port (I clarified this) and the xCAN does have a DAC. I also clarified this - it is an ESS SABRE DAC. Thanks for the correction though, appreciate it.

Bansaku's picture

iFi must have changed the specs after a very early production run; Mine sure as heck do not have USB-C, and the your pictures clearly show a micro-B interface. Not surprising though as a lot, and I mean A LOT of people complained about a standard micro-B, stating that " USB-C and fast charging is the way to go because it's current year! ". As for my comment on the xCAN not being a DAC, sure, it does have an ESS Sabre chip, but that is for Bluetooth as is has to produce the audio somehow, but that does not make the device a "DAC", at least in the purist sense. iFi markets the xCAN as an amplifier, and a replacement to the iCAN.

Grover Neville's picture

Yes, but since the unit can only be used digitally via bluetooth, then my take is that it does have a DAC. Obviously its meant more as an amp, which is why I tried to emphasize that in my review. My take is that a DAC is a DAC, whether it has a proper wired connection or not. However, yes, it is mostly an amp. iFi's current marketing copy had not been released at the time I was doing this review, so I had to do a fair amount of back-and-forth emailing with them and scraping their website for info.

Mightygrey's picture

ACtually...

The xCAN uses an ESS Sabre DAC to handle D/A conversion for Bluetooth.

The xCAN features a USB-C connection (I'm listening to one right now), while the xDSD feature micro-USB. And as an owner of both, it's mighty annoying.

Grover Neville's picture

Correction forthcoming. I don't throw these things out will-nilly - I went through the materials on the website for iFi extensively before sending the review to Rafe. Not perfect, and I'll be sure to triple check things next time, but there was just a boatload to cover from a pure i/o and feature set standpoint, so apologies for missing a thing or two.

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