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Oustanding Chinese Headphone Amp: Cayin (Spark) HA-1A [Review] - Page 2

post #16 of 80
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Len
Neither the Cayin or Bada are SETs from what I can tell. The Cayin can run EL-84 pentodes in triode mode, much like the Cary SLI-80 can run KT-88 in triode. Neither amp is SET though. I haven't heard the Cayin (it's really classy and beautiful looking for sure!), but I also have never heard a pentode wired in triode sound remotely close to a true directly heated triode tube.
Actually, I am a little confused myself.
Can SET topology also refer to a pentode wired in single-ended, triode mode?
Well, it is single-ended and operates in triode mode...
Or should it be called single-ended pseudo-triode or something?
post #17 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferbose
Actually, I am a little confused myself.
Can SET topology also refer to a pentode wired in single-ended, triode mode?
Well, it is single-ended and operates in triode mode...
Or should it be called single-ended pseudo-triode or something?
Hehe. Ya, it's really more of a semantic issue then anything else. You wouldn't be technically wrong to call a single-ended circuit with a pentode wired in triode a SET, but it really doesn't sound or behave exactly like a true DHT-based SET. I apologize if I'm nitpicky, but my intention is simply to inform people a singled ended DHT sounds significantly different then a single ended pentode wired as a triode. My apologies about my previous Cary SLI-80 analogy; That amp will be push pull regardless whether you run it in triode or ultralinear. The Cayin is much more akin to SETs then the Cary.

FWIW, in the amps I've owned with switchable ultralinear to triode circuits, I've always preferred the triode setting. It simply sounds more transparent, full, and "alive."
post #18 of 80
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Len
Cary SLI-80...That amp will be push pull regardless whether you run it in triode or ultralinear. The Cayin is much more akin to SETs then the Cary.
Push-pull can be complicated as well. There is class A and class AB push-pull. If power pentodes are used they can be in pentode, ultralinear or triode mode.

I think an ideal amp for K1000 would be, in theory, SET based on direct-heated triode, output-transformerless, and designed for a 120 ohm load. I only read about one such offering from ASL, but that does not seem to be the be-all, end-all amp either. In fact some people think the cheapo T-amp can sound just as good. RKV is push-pull, not even single-ended (I think, never heard one), and yet many people seem to love it with K1000.

I love to try amps with different circuit topologies, but it is hard to differentiate between different vs better. It depends a lot on personal preference, system synergy and music, IMHO. I don't think any technology is the best, just different like ice cream flavors. The same swiss chocolate flavor can differ a lot from one shop to another. There is good chocolate vs bad chocolate just like there is good push-pull (or SET, or op-amp) vs poor push-pull (or SET, or op-amp), IMHO anyway. Got to hear single ended DHT amp someday, though.
post #19 of 80
Thread Starter 
Back to the topic, there are two published reviews of Cayin HA-1A, both in Hong-Kong audio press. If you can read Chinese, you might be interested:
1. http://www.ks-hifi.com/artical/artic...artical033.htm
2. http://www.ks-hifi.com/artical/artic...artical034.htm

Both reviews are written on the Hong-Kong version of HA-1A, which may or may not be the same as my unit. Typical of audio presses in Chinese language (China, Hong-Kong, Taiwan), the reviewers give the unit high praise without offering much of a perspective. Both reviewers only tried HD600 and did not mention self-noise problem with low impedance cans. They offer no comparison to other headphone amps. The second review mentioned that he used HD600 with Nagra PL-P pre-amp's headphone jack, and could not get enough juice. He susequently liked Cayin over PL-P for driving HD600. The second review also mentioned that one can use lower impedance settings on the Cayin to drive high impedance cans, and the sonic character becomes a somewhat different--I concur with this observation.
post #20 of 80
hi all,

I've been using the Cayin HA-1A for well over 2 years and I've posted a review here, probably 2 years back. You'll probably be able to search for it.

As for the noise that Ferbose is hearing on low-impedance cans, that's something that I didnt' hear on my low-impedance pair of cans. I'm using the Amperex Bugle Boy EL84, Amperex Orange Globe 12AU7 and Mullard ECC83.
post #21 of 80
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Northern Oak
As for the noise that Ferbose is hearing on low-impedance cans, that's something that I didnt' hear on my low-impedance pair of cans. I'm using the Amperex Bugle Boy EL84, Amperex Orange Globe 12AU7 and Mullard ECC83.
Interesting, the noise I hear is a hiss, sort of like tape hiss on older recordings. If you try a really senstive portable headphone like PX100 or one of your earbuds, do you hear dead silence when there is no music playing? With no signal input, it is easy to hear background noise just by repeated plugging and unplugging of headphones.
post #22 of 80
The Philips HP900 is the only pair of low-impedance cans I have and I don't remember hearing any audible hissing noise from the HA-1A using the current tubes. I do have some spare JJ and Ei EL84s so perhaps I can try it later.

It is, however, common to hear hissing noise when using low-impedance cans but I'm uncertain if that's due to the highly sensitive low-impedance cans or the DC offset voltage at the headphone out or a combination of both.
post #23 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferbose
Interesting, the noise I hear is a hiss, sort of like tape hiss on older recordings. If you try a really senstive portable headphone like PX100 or one of your earbuds, do you hear dead silence when there is no music playing? With no signal input, it is easy to hear background noise just by repeated plugging and unplugging of headphones.
Could be impedance related (not sensitivity related though), could be related to the high frequncy extension of the headphone used (this is a sensitivity issue of the HP), or more likely, a tube related problem that interacts with HP impedance.

I assume you have a good earth ground from Cayin to wall to electric company supply.
post #24 of 80

Limited Cayin products available in the US!

I was reading the latest issue of the Absolute Sound and saw an ad for Cayin products put out by Acoustic Sounds. I got all excited and visited their website, but only saw a few full blown tube amps/integrated amps listed on their site. Unfortunately, this headphone amp was not listed. Maybe if enough of us write them to inquire about this headphone, they'll consider distributing it.
post #25 of 80
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by gundam91
I was reading the latest issue of the Absolute Sound and saw an ad for Cayin products put out by Acoustic Sounds. I got all excited and visited their website, but only saw a few full blown tube amps/integrated amps listed on their site. Unfortunately, this headphone amp was not listed. Maybe if enough of us write them to inquire about this headphone, they'll consider distributing it.
I once contacted Spark Audio, and they said they can't directly ship to US because they have a distributor.
Spark Audio gave me this info about their distributor in US:

VAS INDUSTRIES
P O BOX 328,HOLMDEL NJ 07733
TELE: 1-732-921-8911
EMAIL: VASAUDIO@COMCAST.NET
3 Cornwallis Drive,Holmdel New Jersey 07733,U.S.A
attn: Steve vas168@comcast.net
Tel:1-732-921-8911,Fax: 1-732-332-1808
Email: lpmusic69@yahoo.com

I have never contacted this ditributor, because I ended up buying mine used in the US.
But this may be useful for anyone looking for a new HA-1A.
post #26 of 80
Hey Ferbose, outstanding review you've got there.

Guess what....after reading your review, i went out to get one for myself too.

Alright, my mini review is coming right up below. I am not that good with writing and reviews, so i hope to piggyback on your thread so that in future readers can have a good and varied reference. Hope you do not mind at all and not seemed to be "thread-crashing".
post #27 of 80
Alright, I actually have long known this amp from reading the local headphone forum (www.sgheadphones.net) but in the end I’ve got myself a used Melos SHA-1. I have more disposable income now so…. Ha!


Anyway, for those who are interested in getting one for himself while he’s in Singapore, you can do so from Precision Audio which is located on the first storey of “The Adelphi” Shopping Centre, which is accessible by City Hall MRT Station....all locations are very near to Orchard Road and Chinatown. If you are a photographic and computer enthusiast, I am sure the prices over at Peninsula Plaza/Peninsula Hotel Shopping Centre and Funan Centre is lower than most countries (low tax here also, 5% only and it’s refundable at the airport…if you can afford to queue up that is…haha). Here’s a map : http://www.streetdirectory.com.sg/si...evel=6?292,281

Price of the HA-1A including taxes and credit-card charge absorbed : S$650, or about USD360. Dealer agent is good enough to give me a 2-month One-to-One shop exhchange warranty, backed by 1-year warranty from the main distributor (Ban Leong Enterprises).
The dealer is a very friendly person and provides excellent aftersales service.

A little introduction :
Source : Marantz DV6400. Decent and Safe source which has not many flaws, outstanding price-performance ratio, even though it’s discontinued now (paid only USD240 new beginning of this year)

Cables : DIY 0.75m of Van Den Hul D102 III Hybrid

Headphone in test : HD650

Amps : Melos SHA-1 rolled with Mullard E88CC CV2492, internal wiring changed to Van Den Hul SCS-16 wiring (supposed to be top-end in the lineup), wired directly from RCA jacks to PCB, skipping 3-way selector switch.
Cayin HA-1A rolled with Mullard ECC83, Tesla E802CC and 2 x JJ EL84
(Actually I started off with a Earmax + HD600 about 9 years ago….i know its bad combi if you wanna blast, rolled it with high-end Mullard and Siemens NOS tubes but that still failed to bring it to the quality I wanted…. It’s in cold storage now anyway after I got the SHA-1. Very cute little amp though, and it’s reliable enough to be still working now)

Music : main test disc is Analogue Production’s Breaking Silence from Janis Ian. Some classical stuff from Deutsche Grammaphone SACDs (particularly Anne Sophie Mutter), vocal stuff from Chesky SACDs, good CDs like Jazz at the Pawnshop etc…….
Linkin Park, Ferry Corsten and some trance stuff for fun… heh
Declaration : I do not have golden ears. I have been to hifi shops and I do not hear a single difference when people switched between a $500 power cord and a normal $2 cord. I do not hear the difference when you put coins on cables, plugs, equipment. I listen to music, I care more about the music, I choose to collect more music that’s why I have about 600 discs and so little equipment. So I guess the difference I hear here could be pretty significant for others.

I have been burning in the setup/tubes for about 18-hours now and finally got down to seriously listen to it. Anyway, the stock Chinese and Russian tubes suck big time when I first plugged in the system. Haha…..no reason to even want to waste time and burn them in.

I shall not write a full detailed review but I shall just write out the most significant differences and impressions.

First things first, aesthetics and built. This is quite a well-built amp. Solid front aluminum face-place, a knuckle test indicate that it’s pretty solid. The chassis cover is the usual computer chassis stuff, but it’s the thick stuff and not those hollow covers on the mainstream Cambridge Audio, Rotel, Marantz equipment. I’d say more solid than my Melos SHA-1.
Of course this is still tube stuff, so don’t try to abuse it when moving around. You will not get this kind of built from USD350 stuff from Marantz, Denon, Rotel etc…. never seen it. RCA plugs and speaker lugs are of of good quality. When opening up the unit, I found that my unit is the latest version 4 (?) one…. My toroid transformer is shielded, and the LED in the tubes section is orange in colour and not blue as found in some of other versions. Personally, I find orange to be better suited for the tubes compared to blue.

Secondly, this thing runs pretty hot. The huge chassis can buffer a lot of the heat until about 1 hour later where the top part gets warm to touch. My digital thermometer indicated a temp of about 55 deg C, so it’s even hotter inside. But it’s hot here, night time temperatures hover around 27 deg C, so this could be a non-issue for temperate countries like the US. Specs indicated 60W, and I guess most of this gets wasted as heat.

Thirdly, I couldn’t really hear a significant difference between the ultralinear and triode mode. Can’t pinpoint anything, but maybe the ultralinear is more “Exciting” to hear? Music sounds every slightly more punchy? Triode is more relaxing? Anyway, there is one significant difference, that is the triode mode has a noise floor that is lower, as in the hiss is much less. You will hear the hiss when no music is playing, and in ultralinear mode that is quite objectionable….so it could be an issue for low-volume music. Triode mode is quite ok. There is a very so slight hum when no music is playing, but there is no issue even for a low-volume track because this is very low in level (note pls : my version has a shielded toriod transformer and not the exposed one).

Fourthly, my tubes are slightly microphonic. A fingernail rap test on the chassis indicate the problem to be on the left channel. Left JJ EL34? Not sure…to be experimented. Not an issue too, my SHA-1 is even more microphonic. For headphones listening, this is not a problem, compared to speaker listening.


Fifth. Now the interesting part, the sound. Starting from the bass, I am not sure to say whether it’s the SHA-1 that is lower extension in the bass or that the HA-1A has a more pronounced presence in the mid and high bass, I guess I’d go for the latter. It could be the tubes in the HA-1A. I went for the Mullard ECC83 instead of the Mullard CV4004 because I heard from 2 reliable sources that the CV4004 is quite warmish (besides CV4004 is 4 times costlier). If this is really true, then the CV4004 may not be suitable if you are not after a warm sound. Compared to the SHA-1, the HA-1A is definitely warmer and has more presence in the upper bass, lower mids. More than enough for my vocal CDs.

Another quite noticeable difference is the SHA-1 has slightly better punch, or what they call transients? The guitar plucks have more presence and I can pick them out individually better. I am not sure what guys call this, but I could pick out individual instruments better on the SHA-1 too. This is the only area(s) which the SHA-1 that I found to be more enjoyable for me. (remember – for me, your mileage may vary)

The SHA-1 has better extension in the high treble. The HA-1A has got more of it in the mid and lower treble. I found both to be palatable for me, not much preference for either, I can live with both.

Now, very important thing here, which do I prefer? Seriously it could be due to the new and different sound, but I find that the HA-1A presented the music as a whole rather than in a “High-Fidelity” way. I do not own a lot of equipment and of course I have zero musical talent, but in these 15 years of music listening I’d prefer music first, equipment and hobby second. I find that the SHA-1 is pretty good, the overall presentation is that it is a very clean, detailed and “hifi” way of playing music. I am not good with audiophile terms, so in a nutshell it’s enjoyable in a hifi way.

A short side-track. I have listened to the Stax SR-4040 and at first I was bowled over by the immense details. Every fingernail pluck is heard clearly, and at first I was very impressed. Deep bass extension is actually very good. After 2 hours, I was still deciding if I should buy it… But I decided against it because it is not my cup of tea, it is too hifi and too sterile, it focuses too much on instrument individuality and whacks your face with much with this. I could not sit back and enjoy the show. This is not what music is about.

For the HA-1A, it portrays the music as a whole. So in essence this is the complete opposite feeling from the SR-4040. Everything gels together ok, the presentation is very palatable for me. I could feel more of the texture of the music. It’s very difficult to explain, and definitely everyone’s mileage would differ. The Senn HD650 has been said to be a dark headphone, but partnered with the HA-1A, no way, it’s not dark.

Ok, that’s my info. Conclusion is that for a first amp, this is pretty safe and if you can get it for below USD400, it’s really very good. If you can check out the internals, I am sure there is enough space for component upgrades, and the good DIY guys can definitely modify this beauty as they have done so for the SHA-1 and turn it into an excellent piece of audio equipment.
post #28 of 80
Thread Starter 
2100, thank you for your excellent review, I pretty much agree with all your observations.
The fact that you prefer HA-1A musically over Melos SHA-1 and Earmax (both very reputable) is very encouraging news.
My unit has shielded transformer and orange LED just like yours, so I guess it is the same version.
post #29 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferbose
My unit has shielded transformer and orange LED just like yours, so I guess it is the same version.
Yup, it's only the labelling is different. Yours has the Cayin front label, mine is Spark. Believe Cayin is for foreign export markets.

Ferbose, actually, my preference for the HA-1A over the Melos SHA-1 is probably because it matches my HD650. It made the phones sound so much more natural, the presentation on the SHA-1 is a fair bit darker.

In view of your K-1000 experience and on my HD650, it may very well match the sonic signature of the K-501 nicely too.

I am currently using the Mullard E88CC CV2492 on the SHA-1. In the past, i was actually using the excellent Siemens E88CC on the SHA-1 which has even more treble extension and very very good resolution, but it made the sound even darker and more clinical, and the bass was a bit leaner. As you can see, i like a full-bodied and musical sound.

I am sure if the HA-1A were more easily accessible, it will be modified by head-fiers to be even better, the components/transformer department is quite neat and easily accessible.
post #30 of 80
Well written, well done review, Ferbose. The amp certainly is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. I hope I get to hear the Cayin at a meet, someday.

BTW- Acousticsounds has been advertising their other products in Stereophile. This month, their products are on page 161.
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