Ok, so you just bought a GREAT pair of headphones, but they don’t sound quite as impressive when plugged into the headphone jack of your receiver, iPad, or iPod as they did in the store’s rig. Maybe what you need is a dedicated headphone amplifier. Musical Fidelity’s V-CAN II was created to replace wimpy “courtesy” headphone connections with something more robust. It was designed to deal with the real-world demands of headphones playing music at “realistic” levels. And the best news is that it’s priced under $200.
Audio highlights: The Musical Fidelity V-CAN II is a headphone amplifier, pure and simple. It is not a source switcher or multi-user headphone listening station. It accepts one pair of analog RCA inputs and has one pair of analog RCA outputs. The front panel has a small volume knob and two headphone connections, one for standard ¼” plugs and the other for a mini-plug. Both can be used simultaneously, but since the same volume knob controls both output jacks, headphones of widely differing sensitivities may not work well together.
With its 5-ohm output impedance, the V-CAN II should be capable of driving most headphones with complete success. Only a few extremely low impedance in-ear-monitors may want something beefier, but the V-CAN II worked well with all the headphones and earphones in my arsenal.
In terms of styling, the V-CAN II is pretty modest. It’s a smallish silver-finished box that measures approximately 3 ¾’ by 6 “ by 1 ½”. Compared to the original V-CAN, which was in a similarly sized black box, the V-CAN II is a step forward, but not by much. It’s also light and can be easily pushed and pulled around by cables. I put a VPI brick on top of the review sample to keep it in place.
Musical Fidelity intentionally avoids publishing much in the way of technical details about the inner workings of their products, but from what I can glean, the V-CAN II uses a better all-discrete device analog output stage that has a lower noise floor than the previous version.
Even with highly efficient earbud type headphones, such as the Etymotic P-4, the V-CAN II conveys an impression of effortless power coupled with a suave delivery. Regardless of whether I used large studio headphones, such as the AKG K-701 or custom in-ears like the Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors, the V-CAN II always had more than adequate gain and the capacity to drive the phones well past my personal high-volume comfort zone.
Although their presentation is radically different from speakers, headphones do create an “image.” The width, depth, image specificity, and overall solidity of a headphone’s image depends on both the headphone itself and the amplifier driving it. The V-CAN II certainly holds up its side of the equation. With every headphone and earbud I tried the V-CAN II created an image that had excellent specificity and focus.
With a slightly warmish harmonic balance that favors the lower midrange, the V-CAN II could be described as a “friendly” sounding headphone amplifier. Even with the AKG K701 headphones, which can be harsh in the upper midrange and lower treble through some headphone amps, there was no evidence of harmonic spotlighting or over emphasis. With mellower headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD-600s, the V-CAN IIs sounded a trifle slower and richer, but with no loss of detail or upper frequency air.
Compared with the headphone amplifier in the April Music Eximus DAC/Pre ($3195), the V-CAN II performed admirably. The Eximus had slightly more inner detail, but the V-CAN II equaled the Eximus in bass response and top end extension. Both imaged precisely, with the Eximus delivering a bit greater solidity and edge definition, but only by a bit.
Recently I’ve been listening to a recording I made of the acoustic-gangsta-jazz band Deadly Gentlemen in a one-room schoolhouse in Salina, CO. It’s the musical equivalent of a Frisco Speedball. The 192/24 version gets right to the point with pinpoint imaging and the kind of wide dynamic swings that you only get with acoustic music. Regardless of the DAC, be it the April Music Eximus DP1 or the Wyred4Sound Dac II, the V-CAN II handled the dynamic contrasts without any strain or added electronic grain.