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Received my Cayin HA-1A - initial impressions

post #1 of 52
Thread Starter 
I ordered this amp from Todd (TTVJ) on Tuesday and got it in today. The box that arrived was pretty hefty, but the specs on the amp say it's 15 lbs so I wasn't surprised.

This amp hasn't been talked about much here so I want to list the reasons why I got this one over anything else. Since April I've looked at every single tube amp in existence under $1000 - there were several close calls but I hesitated on many. Considered everything between the Little Dot II and Singlepower's MPX3 - including the Woo Audio 3, Laconic EC-01, Antique Sound Labs models, you name it, if it was under $1K I looked at it. So why did I end up with the Cayin?

1 - It has a sealed enclosure. I know most amps leave the tubes exposed but I've never liked the idea because of dust - how do you "clean" tubes that have dust on them?
2 - It was extremely affordable (heh, for me anyway). $683 shipped (UPS Ground) from TTVJ until July 31st!
3 - It has a boxy form factor. Irregular form factors are difficult for me to work with - difficult to place.
4 - It looked easily transportable. Which is important because I foresee taking this amp to various meets.
5 - It looks damn sexay! Tell me that "porthole" view isn't amazing! I'm a firm believer that equipment should look as good as it sounds!

As for the sound, well...there is only ONE thing I can say about it right now.

IT'S BRAIN-MELTING

Forget about an eargasm, it's way beyond that! As soon as I started it up with the Arcam, Signal Cable Silver Analog, and K701, I don't even know what happened. I started physically reacting to the music! I didn't even know that was possible! I kid you not I was shaking! Shivering! Tears almost came to my eyes! It was like an out of body experience! The sound so real and full, the soundstage so wide, the virtual airspace so open! Without question it crushes the 3 other amps I have into dust like it's the T-800's foot crushing that human skull in the opening of T2.

I found the synergy excellent, it let the liveliness of the Arcam shine through and even put some life into the K701! I'm still in shock after 4 hours!

I couldn't even critically listen for the first couple hours, still can't even. All I want to do is just listen to the music and be swept up in it! I've never had this kind of reaction, it's incredible!

I'll post much more on the sound tomorrow but for now want to mention 3 things: (1) the unit gets pretty hot. After a while even the front panel gets noticeably hot to the touch! (2) It has LOADS of power, way more than enough for my headphones! The impedance selector on the back is just that - no one should kid themselves that it might be just a pseudo gain switch, because it's not. It really does just adjust current based on the impedance range selected. (3) I would not recommend removing the enclosure for ANY reason (tube rolling excepted of course). It was extremely difficult to put back on, I had to get assistance from a friend to help squeeze and hold it back in place so I could even begin to re-insert the screws.

I took a bunch of pics but because of the Photo Gallery's wonkiness I had to just put up a Web page on my Web space. Here's the link!

http://www.planetdescent.com/lyris/ha1a.html

Higher-res versions of the pics on the Web page are available in this ZIP: cayin_lg.zip (897 KB)

Please do not embed the pics from my Web page in this thread, I'll have to delete them off the Web space if you do!

Overall I'm extremely pleased with the amp, it's everything I hoped for! I would've gladly paid $1K or more for this level of sound quality!
post #2 of 52
Please post more impressions as you go along.

And on a minor point, I think that you'll be pleasantly surprised that the K701s can scale up really well with each upgrade in equipment.
post #3 of 52
I would like to know if your unit produces any background hiss with a more sensitive headphone like Grado.
Mine used to produce pretty loud hiss with SR225, but now I use some low-noise tubes (GE JAN 5751, Japanese 12AU7, Japanese EL84) and the hiss is very low level, like tape hiss heard on remastered CDs.

Triode mode driving K1000 gives me a pure tone that is pure magic, as of today. Tomorow I will A/B it against HE90/ES-1 and tell you if I still think so highly of HA-1A/K1000.
post #4 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferbose
Tomorow I will A/B it against HE90/ES-1 and tell you if I still think so highly of HA-1A/K1000.
Oh, what the hell? Are you and Min having a mini-meet? I could wait until the big meet in August, but if he doesn't end up going, I'm going to be a sad panda.

Edit: Oh wait, I forgot that Tyll said he might bring the HE90 to the big meet. I have a backup. I need to hear these headphones at least once.

And congrats on the Cayin HA-1A, Asr.
post #5 of 52
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferbose
I would like to know if your unit produces any background hiss with a more sensitive headphone like Grado.
Mine used to produce pretty loud hiss with SR225, but now I use some low-noise tubes (GE JAN 5751, Japanese 12AU7, Japanese EL84) and the hiss is very low level, like tape hiss heard on remastered CDs.

Triode mode driving K1000 gives me a pure tone that is pure magic, as of today. Tomorow I will A/B it against HE90/ES-1 and tell you if I still think so highly of HA-1A/K1000.
Wow I didn't know Grado cans were only 32 Ohms. The only headphone I have that's rated that low is the ATH-ES5, but I left it at work. Sorry, going to have to get back to you on this on Monday. Unless my AD2K comes in Saturday, but I kinda doubt that.
post #6 of 52
Good news ASR! I was hoping that the Cayin would sound good, cause, I sure like the looks, form factor. ( I have too many things competing for space on my desk.) How does it sound with the Dt880's? hd600's?
post #7 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Borat
Oh, what the hell? Are you and Min having a mini-meet? I could wait until the big meet in August, but if he doesn't end up going, I'm going to be a sad panda.

Edit: Oh wait, I forgot that Tyll said he might bring the HE90 to the big meet. I have a backup. I need to hear these headphones at least once.

And congrats on the Cayin HA-1A, Asr.
D*rn right I am having a micromeet, on the hottest day of the year, too.

Let me say this, for classical, even HE90/ES-1 can't beat K1000/HA-1A.

HE90 is not as magical as people say it is. It works really well with all kinds of music and really shines with pop music. It is not the best in everything. I even wonder if it is the best in anything. But is very balanced and refined no matter what you throw at it. I acknowledge that it is the best overall headphone in the world. But if one has heard K1000, K701, Omerga II, R10, UE-10 Pro, PS-1, GX-1000, HD-6x0, DT880 and the like, then nothing about HE90 should surprise you that much.
post #8 of 52
Thread Starter 
I'm listening to it with my DT880 right now.

Amazingly, it helps the DT880 give some control over layer separation. It's nowhere close to what the K701 does by itself, but it's a noticeable improvement over my solid-state amps.

It smooths out the overall frequency balance so it's more balanced instead of on the bright side. It also tames the highs a bit, but doesn't take away from the DT880's natural resolution abilities. There's still an edge of harshness somewhere though, from somewhere in the sibilance range. It doesn't make them more sibilant, just a little poky around the edge. There's a slight grain to the sound as well.

So it's not quite as good a pairing with the DT880 as the K701, I'm a little disappointed. Hopefully there's something I can do to fix that though.

As an aside, what's the difference between Triode and Ultralinear modes? It's on Ultralinear right now, should I switch it to Triode?

The amp still manages to give me shivers down the spine with the DT880 though...this is scary good!
post #9 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr
As for the sound, well...there is only ONE thing I can say about it right now.

IT'S BRAIN-MELTING

Forget about an eargasm, it's way beyond that! As soon as I started it up with the Arcam, Signal Cable Silver Analog, and K701, I don't even know what happened. I started physically reacting to the music! I didn't even know that was possible! I kid you not I was shaking! Shivering! Tears almost came to my eyes! It was like an out of body experience! The sound so real and full, the soundstage so wide, the virtual airspace so open!
and
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr
As an aside, what's the difference between Triode and Ultralinear modes? It's on Ultralinear right now, should I switch it to Triode?
careful, you may not survive!
post #10 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr
As an aside, what's the difference between Triode and Ultralinear modes? It's on Ultralinear right now, should I switch it to Triode?
EL84 can be used in three modes: Triode, Ultralinear and Pentode.
Triode has purer tone. Pentode has more resolution and better bass.
Ultralinear, in my limited experience, gets the worse of both worlds.
Use Ultralinear to drive speakers on HA-1A, but for headphone listening I strongly recommend Triode mode.
post #11 of 52
Congratulations on your amp purchase - it sounds great. Any impressions from your Senn 600?
This amp is available in Japan for about 46,000 right now, which seems like a steal of a deal to me. However, it's 100V. Does anyone know if using a transformer would degrade the sound significantly? I ask because I'll eventually be moving back to Canada and I'd probably need to use a transformer with it. Also, does anyone know of an online source for the owner's manual? I assume the one I would get here is in Japanese.
Please keep those impressions coming. I'm right on the verge of picking this amp up myself.
post #12 of 52
Thread Starter 
Listening with the HD600 now.

I haven't clocked in much listening time with the HD600 since I got it. But as far as I can tell, the Cayin tightens up the bass (it's somewhat disjointed and not completely under control on my solid-state amps) and takes away a great deal of the much-ranted-about "Sennheiser veil" or "darkness," whichever you want to call it. I always suspected this so-called veil was due to the headphones being underpowered and it looks like that's the case (for the most part anyway). The Cayin certainly doesn't transform the HD600 into a bright headphone (now that would really be something!) but it gives the sound a better balance and a more natural presentation.
post #13 of 52
I wander why they marked up so much. It's really cheap in China. Zhaolu is more honest in their pricing I think.

Just scanning erji.net and HA-1 is only so so based on some reviews, citing bloated, tuby, lacking detail, and not a good fit for HD600. The international version might be different so I will wait a bit longer for more impressions from more people

LMAO..really tells me stereo can't review headphone amps ...
post #14 of 52
Quote:
Originally Posted by chesebert
Just scanning erji.net and HA-1 is only so so based on some reviews, citing bloated, tuby, lacking detail, and not a good fit for HD600. The international version might be different so I will wait a bit longer for more impressions from more people
I recall last year at a meet several people heard HA-1A driving HD650 side-by-side with RSA Raptor, using an instant switch box built by Ray himself. Everyone thought the difference was extremely small, as Raptor sounds ever slightly more detailed. Also at that meet, A/B with SinglePower PPX showed that PPX is "relatively" bloated, tubey and lacking detail. If what you quoted is real, there is definitely a difference between domestic and export versions.
post #15 of 52
Asr, thanks for the impressions. I have the HD650, and maybe it's just me, but I've yet to hear this "veil" everyone is talking about, or if I do hear it I certainly don't find it objectionable. That's with a GS-1, BTW. But I've really been wanting to try some tubey goodness, and the Cayin seems to be the best option for me here in Japan, taking into account exchange rates, shipping costs, and all that.
Have you had a chance to hook any speakers up to it? The versatility of this amp blows me away.
And just to add to the discussion, I would certainly hope a nice tube amp like this would sound "tubey." Who wouldn't?
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