X-Cans (Version 1) Upgrade

The capacitor upgrade in my X-Can V2 brought about superb sonic improvements but how would a similar upgrade fare in the original X-Cans?   I was contacted by a fellow HeadFier, who had read about my upgrade at   http://www.head-fi.org/  Nigel owned a 6 year old X-Can and asked if the upgrade would bring about the same effects to his amp.  I offered to perform the upgrade free of charge in an attempt to answer the question!

Nigel e-mailed the X-Cans parts list and I, in turn, converted them to RS order numbers and ordered up the components. Nigel's X-cans and the parts arrived within an hour of each other so it was soldering irons to the ready! We had both agreed that it would be prudent to replace the stock Op amps with Burr Brown OPA2134's while I was under the bonnet. These Op Amps are known to perform well in the X-Cans and are regarded as much better quality than the Philips 5532's that come with the X-can.

Parts (Updated)

6 x 35V 1000uF Panasonic FC
2 x 16V 1000uF Panasonic FC
2 x 35V 470uF Panasonic FC
2 x 16V 100uF Panasonic FC
8 x 16V 10uF Panasonic FC
4 x 35V 100uF Panasonic FC
2 x Burr Brown 2134PA Op Amps 

Parts / upgrade available from me. Please contact me to check Availability / Price           

Tools and equipment required

25 watt soldering iron
Solder (your choice but I used silver solder)
De-soldering braid (some people prefer to use a pump but I find braid a lot better)
Pair of snips
Toothbrush (for cleaning the board after soldering)
Isopropyl alcohol (dip toothbrush in and clean board with isopropyl)
Philips screwdriver
Hex key (to open X-Can up)

Armed with the components and tools it's now simply a case of desoldering the components and replacing them with the new ones. When desoldering a component, place the braid on a joint and apply heat from the soldering iron until the braid soaks the solder up (usually a few seconds) DO NOT leave the soldering iron on a joint for more than say 6 seconds or you could lift the track!

I prefer to desolder a component and then immediately replace it with the new component. This saves on a lot of confusion in the long run! Before desoldering a capacitor be sure to note the polarity, the negative terminal of a capacitor is easy to identify as it has a coloured band running down the negative side of the capacitor... the shortest lead also denotes the negative side. Fortunately, the X-Cans PCB is marked + / - for the capacitors so it is pretty easy to ensure correct polarity.

Start work on the upper board first and try to fit the caps neatly.

Then get to work on the lower board.. note the new op amps in place.


Caution!!! Op Amps are very sensitive to both heat and static. Before soldering in an op amp ensure you are wearing an anti static armband (if you don't have an anti static armband then lift the op amps with a pair of rubber gripped long nose pliers and gently drop them into their locating sockets) There is a small V shaped notch on the top of the op amp, be sure the notch is in the same place as the original op amp or your amp will sound very strange indeed!

Both boards completed

Completed capacitor and Op-amp upgrade.

Another View

Time to listen!



Any electronic equipment takes time to "burn in" and it's particularly so with capacitors as they have to "form" for anything up to 500 hours before they will perform to their best. I, unfortunately, only had Neils amp over the weekend so didn't get the opportunity to listen to it fully burnt in. Nigel, I am sure, will write a short review in due course which I'll upload.

From what I heard, after a short 30 hour burn in, was much the same as I'd heard with the X-Can V2 upgrade. Gone was that slight "graininess" replaced with an open, involving and smooth valve like sound. The bass, which was pretty ploddy before, was now faster and deeper. Bags more detail all round.............

The rest, as they say, I shall leave to Nigel. It's his amp and I want to let you know what he thinks....

Nigel's Review:

Source Components:

Rega Planet 2000 CD player
Linn Sondek turntable

Headphone Amplifier:

Musical Fidelity X-Cans mk1 (with Mullard E88CC valves, OPA2134pa Op amps & Upgraded caps.

Power Supply:

Musical Fidelity X-PSU Power Supply


Sennheiser HD600 with Cardas cable.

Upgrade summary:

Personally speaking, headphone listening is a compromise. I prefer to listen to loudspeakers but having a young family the domestic situation dictates I spend a lot of time wearing the 'phones. I was thinking about changing the X-Cans for something more upmarket, possibly a Naim Headline or the headphone amp from craftsman Paul Hynes. But, you know the score, you don't want to spend a lot of money for something sounding only marginally better.

I was fortunate to read Mike's postings on numerous headphone forums. His quest for better sounding components & skill with a soldering iron were all the reasons I needed to pack my old X-Cans up to sunny Scotland, convinced on their return, they would be sounding better.

On powering the rejuvenated X-Cans back up, then leaving for ten minutes I thought I'd take a little peak. First impressions were of better bass definition. You could clearly define the fingerwork on Tom Barney's bass guitar playing as featured on 'Gaslighting Abbie' from Steely Dan's marvellous "Two Against Nature." So far so good but I wasn't all that impressed. The differences weren't of night & day magnitude. However, we all know about judging on first appearances & thankfully this is one story that has a happy ending. After leaving the amp on all week the sound has really opened up. More detail, even better bass tunes. The ability to make drums sound like drums & cymbals shine & shimmer, not the usual cardboard box & pieces of paper sound. It would be very interesting to compare this amp with the Naim Headline now. Also, less fatiguing when having a good session in the cans. For a small expenditure, my quality of music listening has been improved & isn't that what it's all about?

How do you quantify an improvement though? Well, I suspect many enthusiasts run a similar set up to mine & have made, or are contemplating making so called upgrades.

My three changes to the stock equipment would be rated as follows:

Mullard valves an improvement rating of  1.5 cost £30

Cardas cable upgrade rating   1.5 cost £100 (excluding postage)

Capacitor & op amps rating   2.0 cost £50

Nigel (Liverpool)

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