2.5 mm balanced or 3.5 mm unbalanced input


What model are you having issues with?: iFi xCan

Describe your issue with the most detail you can: My xCan has inputs as 2.5 mm balanced or 3.5 mm unbalanced (both females). I use an iPhone as source. Is there a lightning to 2.5mm or 3.5 mm connector I can use? Or do I use the apple to 3.5 mm female and then the male to male 3.5 mm? Can the iPhone connect through the balanced from lightning? Is the output from the iPhone digital or analog via lightning?

Similar question if I connect from my MacBook. Is there balanced output via USB? Or is there a connector from USB to 3.5 mm?

Thanks and sorry for the basic questions.


While there are a number of no-name options (most of which are not MFi approved, and may cease to function at any time with future iOS updates), the only one I’ve seen that’s from a vendor I’ve heard of is the Belkin 3.5mm Audio Cable with Lightning Connector.

That will work too; it’s a question of how many connections you want vs. total cable length.

I’m not aware of any Lightning-to-2.5mm Balanced cables/adapters.

Digital only from the Lightning port.

Which means all of these cables, and any similar adapters, contain a DAC (and most also have an amplifier), as the 2.5mm and 3.5mm connections are all analog.

If you use an external balanced DAC on a USB connection, yes.

USB Audio, which is digital, has no notion of single-ended or balanced … it’s just concerned with the data. It’s up to the device receiving that data to convert it to analog, and whether it does that in a balanced form or not.

Usually you’d just be looking at a USB “dongle” DAC. Almost all of those have 3.5mm TRS outputs. I don’t know of any balanced-output “dongle” DACs.

Depending on what headphones you’re driving, you may be better off with the iFi xDSD, as that can connect, digitally, directly to an iPhone with the simple Apple Lighting-to-USB 3 cable, is an excellent DAC with a more-than-decent headphone amp and that has both balanced and single-ended outputs.

With the xDSD you also have the option to feed it via Bluetooth from the iPhone in cases where you don’t want to deal with cables. Though running it wired is definitely preferable.

Another option, without the Bluetooth capability, would be the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label.


Thanks for the answers, Torq!!

I have an iFi xCan that I bought through Headphone.com. It has two digital inputs. One is a 3.5 mm unbalanced which I am now using to connect via an adapter from my iPhone to my Etymotics. It works quite well. Based on your suggestion, I ordered a Belkin connects to avoid the adapter.

I also found and purchased a USB Male to 2.5 mm male connector that I have not yet received/ I will try to use it to connect the MacBook to the xCan.

I am not sure if I agree or understand your comment of digital not being balanced or unbalanced. My Theta Casablanca has an AES/EBU digital input which I understand is “balanced”. So, I don’t understand then the xCan input and if it will work from the MacBook or even I I can find one for the iPhone. I am sure I can find an adaptor from lightning to USB female.

I do not intend to use Bluetooth but as my wife has a pair of Sony blootooth noise cancelling headphones, I got this model as a precaution (if she ever intends to borrow it).



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No, it doesn’t.

It has two ANALOG inputs.

The only digital “input” on the xCAN is via Bluetooth.

Using a balanced electrical connection, i.e. as AES/EBU, in the digital domain has absolutely nothing to do with getting balanced input or output from an audio perspective. All that does is give you a more robust S/PDIF (technically AES3) interface. It’s still just a bi-phase clocked bit-stream and has no knowledge, nor control, over how that data is converted to analog audio - nor any influence or relevant as to whether the analog output of the DAC (which is all that matters for the xCAN) is balanced or not.

If what you’re wanting is a way to connect the Lightning output to the AES/EBU input on your Theta, you’ll need a USB digital-to-digital converter (DDC), of which there are many options (Singxer SU-1, Schiit Eitr and many others).

You’d use the Apple Lighting to USB-3 Adapter cable to connect a USB cable to the iPhone, and then plug the other end into the DDC, and then the DDC would connect to your Theta Casablanca.

In the case of the Singxer SU-1 it has an actual AES/EBU connector on it, so you just need a AES/EBU Digital cable. With the Eitr you can either use it’s RCA-COAX S/PDIF output directly into an S/PDIF input on your Theta, or if you really want to use the AES/EBU input you’ll need to add an RCA-COAX 75 OHM to AES-EBU 110 ohm Balun (transformer) as well.

The ONLY connections you can make to the xCAN, regardless of your source, are either analog (2.5mm Bal, 3.5mm Bal or SE), or via Bluetooth. Which is why the options I listed all involve using a cable that has a built-in DAC to give you that analog output that the xCAN needs.

The short version is that the xCAN is an amplifier, which is an analog device, and the only “digital” input it can take is via Bluetooth.

If your sources are simply the iPhone and Macbook, then absent driving some very demanding headphones, and already have a DAC, you really wanted the xDSD.

From what you’re asking, I don’t see how the xCAN is useful for you unless you have analog inputs to feed it (since you say you aren’t using Bluetooth) and need more power than the xDSD can deliver into headphones.


Then I am really annoyed! I was absolutely sure I was getting a DAC/amp. Not an analog one. I don’t even know if I can return it to Headphone! Wasted money!!!


Well, it has a Bluetooth input and DAC, so technically it is a DAC/amp.

If you bought it from headphone.com recently (last 30 days), and you’ve not done anything silly - like thrown out or damaged the packaging, then you should be able to return it under their standard “30 day satisfaction guarantee”.

Either way, before deciding it’s “wasted money” you should give them a call or shoot them an e-mail.

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Headphones.com has probably the best return policy out there in this regard…you may have to pay a re-stocking fee…I wouldn’t stress it…deep breaths, and as @Torq said give them a shout about it. Take this as it is, an opportunity to have learned something. Now you know better… “and knowing is half the battle!” ~G.I.Joe


I am mad at myself! I should have been more diligent. I have everything EXCEPT the sleeve that goes around the box. Grrrr!

I used to have a bag with headroom amps connected to the optical side of a CD disc player in the (very) old days. It was once stolen in a burglary in my old house. This was my opportunity to get back travel “audiophile”.

It is just for my travel gear. My home stuff is fine, I never intended to connect the iPhone to the Casablanca. I go from my Mac via a Musical Fidelity V-Link. I just read that the new iPad Pro may be more convenient now…thanks to Torq.

We shall see what the nice people from headphone can do.