The firm footing delivered by the X-Can provides the perfect underpinning to the easy, open mid-band. Melody instruments and voices have a solidity, presence and immediacy that gives musical performances a direct, communicative quality, a sense of purpose and intent that makes listening a primary activity; there’s no using a system as aural wallpaper with the X-Can in circuit. This grabs the signal by the scruff of the neck, allowing the music to grab you with equal force. The top end is clean and pretty extended, adding just enough air to the depth and scale delivered by the combination of solidity and transparency across the rest of the range. As a result, soundstaging is remarkably natural, impressive and uncluttered, adding still further to the musical appeal.
Of course, the X-can isn’t perfect; far from it – but then isn’t everything? In this case the flaws are to do with a diminution of textures and micro-dynamic detail (although this doesn’t affect the immediacy) and a lack of core warmth, that rob voices and instruments of some colour and musical shape. There’s a big-boned, ruggedness to the sound that favours energy and presence over the finest subtleties of musical technique, the whole of the song as opposed to its elements. In part, that’s down to the sheer integrity with which the musical picture hangs together, but it also reflects that ultra resolution isn’t on the menu here – at least not as long as the X-Can relies on a plug-top supply. But the really impressive thing is that, once you take the requisite care, this little box does so much that’s musically right and virtually nothing that’s obstructive or destructive in the process. It puts the music firmly first and in doing so steps out of the limelight, allowing you to enjoy the music rather than the system.
Writing this (and listening to the X-Can) it’s easy to forget, a constant task to remind myself, that this thing only costs £350. That’s three hundred and fifty of our increasingly worthless monetary exchange units! Currently it’s playing in a system in which not one single element costs less than ten times that except for the feet it’s sitting on, and they cost nearly as much as the X-Can – and it’s right at home. Is it a limiting factor? No way. Could I live with what I’m listening to? No problem whatsoever – because it does the important things right, and it does them so well and so unobtrusively that you’ll be looking for something very serious indeed (and probably seriously expensive too) to offer a significant musical advantage.
The X-Can V8 isn’t a universal panacea. It offers limited inputs; it’s less than elegant in application and has no remote control (it’s £350 for God’s sake). But in a world where musically competent preamps are few and far between, it doesn’t just offer more music than you ever thought possible for the money, it will set your system firmly on the path to high-end musical performance, because once you’ve lived with this you won’t tolerate anything less.
Musical Fidelity’s Anthony Michaelson is nothing if not an old and wily member of the audio manufacturing community. He knows exactly what he’s got here. He also knows that adding a few extra inputs and a rear mounted pre-amp output would remove the objections to the X-Can’s quirky eccentricities, aberrations that only arise from its spectacularly successful misapplication. Add a remote control and it would be almost mainstream. But it would be more expensive too and therein lies the rub. As it stands, the X-can V8 represents a slightly weird, musically wonderful and astonishingly successful route to musical nirvana. It also offers the key to unlocking the musical performance buried in so many systems by inadequate preamplification or passive controllers. Get it while you can; sit back and enjoy the music; wait for the inevitable slew of external upgrades and aftermarket mods. And while you are waiting (and wondering whether those upgrades are actually worthwhile or even necessary) you can bask in that special, smug selfsatisfaction that comes from the sure knowledge that you’ve invested in, and are enjoying, that rarest of all musical commodities, the genuine audio bargain. The X-Can V8 doesn’t just do what it says on the tin, it goes way, way beyond that – and in the process, its affordable price, USB input and stellar musical delivery promises to introduce a whole new audience to the wonder of highend sound. (Some of whom might be under the mistaken impression they’re already there!)
Type: Hybrid headphone amplifier
– and part-time high-end
Valve Complement: 2x ECC88
Inputs: 1x line-level (RCA/phono)
Outputs: 2x stereo 1/4” jack
1x line-level (fixed –
Dimensions (WxHxD): 180 x 88 x 240mm
Musical Fidelity Ltd
Tel. (44)(0)20 8900 2866