Cayin iDAC-6

General Information

Design Features

Independent power supply to digital circuit and analogue circuit, left/right channell of digital circuit, DAC circuit and analogue circuit are powered by independent power supply system, reduce power interference among different circuit, and make sure all components will have clean power all the time.

Employ state-of-the-art high resolution USB Audio technology, will accept andl decode Hi-res digital audio bitstream through USB interface, a centerpiece of a high-end CAS playback system.

Supports DoP (DSD over PCM) on Coaxial digital input, decode DSD at 1 bitl (require front end digital equipment supports DoP output on Coaxial)

Versatile to fit different needs, user can select RCA (single-ended) or XLRl (balanced) output for their needs, and the RCA output provides choice of transistor or vacuum tube output for different sound signature.

Output can be configured as Line out or Pre-out (with volume control), can fit intol different systems easily.

Deploy OLED display screen for first class visual effect.

Fashionable design, compact and minimal, can easily blend into SOHO orl household environment.



Technical Highlight

Incorporated two pieces of AK4490 DAC chipset from AKM, and each chipset willl work for a single channel. This is a genuine balanced DAC circuit with 4 channel active LPF that will fully explore the potential of the two DAC chipset.

Built-in 5 digital filter at your choice.

Deploy dedicated, high quality Op-Amp for Low Pass Filter circuit.

Deploy 4 pieces of 6N1B vacuum tube at buffer stage, appealing and good for day-long listening.

Built-in Phase selection to ensure perfect playback.

Extensive Mute protection and noise control, minimize pulse noise when Powerl on/off, and noise generated at changing of operational stages such as UNLOCK.

Solid chassis with aluminum alloy and sand blast finishing, can eliminate exteriorl interference effectively.



Specification

Output Level Line Out RCA:2.2V RMS BAL:4.4V RMS

Pre Out RCA:2.2V RMS (Max.) BAL:4.4V RMS (Max.)

Frequency Respond 20Hz~30kHz (±0.5dB,Fs=192kHz)

THD+N Tube: ≤0.8% (Fs=192kHz)

Transistor: ≤0.004% (Fs=192kHz)

S/N Tube: ≥105dB (A-weighted)

Transistor: ≥110dB (A-weighted)

USB capability DSD: support DSD64 DSD128

PCM: support upto 32Bit/384kHz

AES/EBU, Coaxial, Optical capability PCM: support upto 24Bit/192kHz

Max. Power Consumption 30W

Dimension 240mm x 252mm x 69mm (WxDxH)

Weight Approx. 3.8kg

Latest reviews

fjrabon

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: very dynamic, smooth tube output stage. good soundstage. good detail. lots of options for very subtle tweaking
Cons: runs hot. Large and heavy. Lacks micro-detail of highest end R2R DACs Can only use transistor output on RCA output
Ever since its debut, I’ve been a big fan of the AKM 4490 chip in almost every device I’ve heard it in.  The Bifrost 4490 was a great midlevel DAC, I love the m9XX and the Modi 2 Uber with 4490 is an incredible value.  So, when I saw the Cayin iDAC6, I was extremely intrigued.  First, it was the only implementation I had seen that used dual AKM 4490 chips.  Secondly, it had the option of going fully balanced, and also having the ability to choose between tube and solid state analog output stages.  
 
I bought my unit from another Head-Fier used, who got his unit in one of the very first batches that were sold to the public.  He kept the amp, but after A/Bing his unit preferred his Yggdrasil to the iDAC6.  Given that Yggy is a $2000+ DAC that is generally considered the best DAC in the world, that’s not much of a slight on the iDAC6.
 
Gear used:  Unless otherwise noted, most testing was done with my TorpedoIII amp and HD800 headphones, unless otherwise noted Sonarworks calibration was applied to the HD800.  Inputs used were a mix of optical, USB and USB via Schitt Wyrd USB decrappifier.  
 
Looks:
 
The iDAC6 is a pretty classic looking medium/large DAC.  It’s appointed in a matte, brushed aluminum type finish, with a chrome polished knob and three chrome function buttons.  The volume on knob had a very tasteful white LED ring around it to indicate that the device was powered on.  A very standard LCD screen indicates necessary info like sample rate, mode, level, input type, output type, etc.  The LCD is slightly angled upwards, which makes reading it a bit easier since you will normally be looking slightly down at it while adjusting it.  A very subtle white screen printed cursive Cayin logo sits unobtrusively in the top left corner.
 
All in all, I would call it a very classy looking DAC that doesn’t really make any statements one way or the other looks wise.  It looks very typical of silver finished equipment.  
 
While not being larger than most DACs of its class, it is quite heavy.  I have mixed feelings about this, in that it’s no worse in this regard than competitors, but I also just don’t feel like DACs need to be this big any more.  This is doubly problematic because it runs so hot.  TO me the traditional argument for DACs being this large and heavy was because they needed to be that big to properly dissipate heat.  But this DAC still runs very warm.  Not unbearable to the touch or anything, but warmer than any tube amp I’ve ever owned.  In comparison to some of the newer top quality DACs I’ve tried, the footprint is quite large.  And as noticed during the tour, shipping for this item can be insane because it weighs about 15 pounds.  That being said, the size and heft does give it a feeling of being substantial.  Overall I’d call the size and heft a mild negative.
 
Features:
 
The iDAC6 features a full range of the normal selection of inputs and outputs to be expected of top range DACs: Inputs are: Optical TOSLINK, Coaxial TOSLINK, AES, USB Type B. Outputs are: Balanced XLR dual 3 pin, unbalanced RCA.  Output is on the higher side (2.2V RMS unbalanced, 4.4 V RMS balanced).  Input is selected by pressing the small chrome “source” button.  Output does not need to be selected, as they both are always active.  If you have amps plugged into both the balanced and unbalanced outputs, they will both receive signal from the DAC.  As far as I know there is no way to switch between them, other than simply unplugging from the output you aren’t using (or turning off the amp receiving that signal, obviously).
 
On USB DSD 64 and DSD 128 are supported natively, while up to 32/384 are supported through PCM.
 
Five filters that are native to the AKM 4490 chip are use selectable.  This was very interesting to me, because although I’ve had several DACs that use this chip, this is the first time I’ve had one that just used AKM’s filters unchanged.  The Grace m9XX only uses 4 filters, and as best as I can tell they’re slightly altered versions of the 4 AKM filters.  The Schitt products that use the AKM4490 do not allow the user to select the filter, and seem to use the Slow filter always.  The f filters are: Super Slow Roll Off, Short Delay Slow Roll Off, Slow Roll Off, Short Delay Sharp Roll Off, and Sharp Roll Off.  Here is a picture that AKM has released describing them:
 

 
This picture somewhat exaggerates the differences between the filters, which can be quite subtle.  Unlike the filters on the Grace m9XX, they are a bit more noticeable here.  I found slow roll off to be the best sounding, and unless otherwise noted, the rest of this review will be written about the sound with this filter employed.  Much of choosing the right filter will be based upon the music you listen to and your downstream amplifier, as one of the primary functions of these filters are to deal with issues in aliasing distortion and intermodulation distortion that can arise with some music in some setups.  This isn’t really the place to go into a ton of detail about how the filters work, but I will just say that most sources seem to agree that slow roll off is the best setting if you aren’t having issues elsewhere in your chain with IM or aliasing distortion.  The different filters can be switched by pressing in the large rotary knob.
 
In addition to the five filters, the iDAC6 also allows you to choose between solid state and tube output stages ****IF YOU ARE USING THE UNBALANCED RCA OUTPUTS****.  Make sure you are clear on that.  If you are using the balanced outputs, you are limited to the tube output stage.  When plugged into the RCA unbalanced output, you can switch between tube and transistor output by hitting the “timbre” small chrome button.  If you do this when plugged into the balanced output the iDAC6 will always output from the tube stage.  Even if the LCD says “transistor” if you are plugged into the balanced output you are getting the tube output stage.  Because of this, the tube stage is always on whenever the iDAC6 is on.  Even if you are running it in transistor mode through the RCA output, the tube output stage is still running.
 
The iDAC6 also allows you to alternate between two operation modes: pre-amp and line out mode.  The differences are thus: line out mode allows for the playing of DSD natively and pre-amp mode allows you to adjust the unit’s output level digitally via the AKM4490’s built in 32 bit digital volume attenuator.  If you want native DSD, you must use the line out mode, as pre-amp forces everything to go to PCM, since it needs to be PCM in order to do the digital processing that the volume control uses. 
 
So, now that the thorough description of the look and features, on to the meat of the review. 
 
Sound: 
 
The first thing I notice about the sound of this DAC, is the “heft” of its output, especially in the bottom end.  Comparing it to other DACs I own, with a given amp, it has very clearly the most punch and impact of anything I’ve ever tried.  I believe this comes from the output stage, rather than the chip/conversion stage.  The Grace m9XX, when run as a DAC only into my TorpedoIII is nowhere near as punchy as the iDAC6 through the RCA output is into the same amp with the same headphones.  As both of these utilize the same AKM4490 chip (albeit with the iDAC6 sporting two of them), I don’t think this can be a tonal characteristic of the chip.  It is even punchier than the Bifrost 4490, which is known for being a punchy DAC.  It just has an effortless sense of power when powering through transients.  At times, in certain setups, with certain headphones, it can sound almost “hard.”  This is especially evident when comparing it to the Modi Multibit, which has a sort of softness of sound to its output.  If you are trying to get a bit more “oomph” in your chain, this may very well be the DAC for you.  But if you have a super punchy amp and headphone, it may border on being too much.  There were times with the TorpedoIII and HD800 (both very punchy the way I have them setup) that the setup was so dynamic, that it was like it almost overwhelmed my ear and I was unable to hear detail in transients.  It’s not that the detail wasn’t there, I don’t think, it was that the setup was just too much for my ear.  It could be a bit fatiguing in this setup.  This held for both the tube and transistor output, although I think the transistor output was a bit less so, especially on bass transients.  The iDAC6 in tube mode could really produce some absolutely thunderous kick drums, for example, when paired with a punchy amp and a very lively headphone.  
 
With an HD650 though, this characteristic really shook off the Sennheiser veil, almost more than I’ve ever heard an amp doing.  Normally we think of needing just the right amp for the HD650 to come alive, but pairing it with the iDAC6 allowed some amps that I normally wouldn’t think of as being a good match with the HD650 to really shine.  The HiFiMan Edition X also really benefitted from this, as it’s characteristic “soft” sound was woken up just a bit, and while it retained its tonal character, it was a bit more lively and less “soft” sounding.  With the THX00, bass was even more addictively fun.  Drums sounded like thunder.
 
The second thing I noticed about the sound of the iDAC6 is a sense of easy spaciousness.  I wouldn’t say it sounds airy in the way that some Delta Sigma DACs can sound like you’re in a large, cold auditorium.  It often sounded like you were in a large room, but during summer.  I never felt claustrophobic, but I didn’t get a sense of airy spaciousness either.  Again, this characteristic held for both output types, but was most evident with tube output.  Soundstage was both a touch wider and deeper than other AKM4490 based DACs I’ve tried (m9XX, Bifrost4490, Modi 2 Uber 4490).  It doesn’t compete with the Yggdrasil, GuMBy or even MiMBy in terms of spaciousness, but acquits itself very well in that regard int he world of top end Delta Sigma DACs.  I never found myself wanting for soundstage with this DAC, but I have heard larger.  Imaging accuracy was excellent.  Separation was excellent.  It reacted well to when I turned on GoodHertz CanOpener for my crossfeed needs.  I have heard DACs that screw up the HRTF functions that CanOpener applies, somehow.  
 
Micro-detail was very good, but not truly class leading.  To me, this is where even the best Delta-Sigma falls short of R2R DACs.  They, at some point, seem to have to make a tradeoff between harsh and brittle tone or smoothing over some micro-detail.  While the Yggy, GuMBy and even MiMBy could preserve detail without having to be harsh, it seems the iDAC6 had to make this choice and opted for smoothness.  If this choice has to be made, it is certainly my preference that it go in the direction Cayin/AKM chose, which was smoother.  I abhor many of the Sabre based DAC that attack your sensibilities with brittle faux micro-detail.  It’s like many Delta Sigma DACs, because they’re missing some of that micro-detail pretend its there by making the tone harsh.  It’s sort of like when a photographer missed focus by an inch or two, and artificially over-sharpened in photoshop to make up for it.  The AKM4490 based DACs instead just smooth it out and make it sound great.  This has been a characteristic of every AKM4490 based DAC I’ve ever heard.  If anything the iDAC6 has the best micro-detail of any AKM4490 based DAC.  But there are DACs that are a bit better in this regard.  An example of how this plays out, is that you can hear tiny differences in the character of the reverb on some tracks with the R2R DACs, that were just a bit smoothed over with the iDAC6.  Now, this difference in detail is subtle.  I couldn’t even pick it out on an HD650, HE400i or Grado SR225e.  But on my HD800 it was there.
 
On the question of tube output vs. transistor:
 
To me, the feature that will garner the most headlines and confusion about this DAC is the tube output stage vs transistor.  There aren’t a whole lot of tube output stage DACs out there, and I don’t know of any that also let you choose transistor output stage.  To me, the tube output stage almost always sounded slightly better.  It lacked a certain edginess in transients that transistor had.  While the transistor output measures as having less THD, one of the things I’ve learned over the years in audio is that total amount of THD is less important than how that distortion breaks down.  The transistor output seems to have most of its THD located randomly in “harsh” high order harmonics.  The tube output stage (which operates *after* the transistor stage and acts more as a tube buffer) adds just a touch of low order harmonic distortion, which has the effect of smoothing the harsh edginess, just a bit.  I slightly prefer the tube output most of the time.  Think of it like this DAC basically has something like an iFi micro iTube built in.  As this costs $329 on its own, it’s quite a coup to have it built in and switchable.  In systems with no tube stage anywhere in the signal path I always preferred tube output stage.  But even in systems that had tubes otherwise in the signal path (TorpedoIII, for example) I still generally preferred the tube stage output, though I was able to appreciate the transistor output on some recordings a bit more.
 
 
Comparing to other DACs I either own or significantly demoed:
 
Grace m9XX: iDAC6 does everything the m9XX does except crossfeed just a little bit better.  For anybody who is familiar with the way the m9XX sounds, think of the iDAC6 as like an m9XX on steroids.  A bit more spacious (I believe due to operating two AKM4490s in dual mono mode), a bit more dynamic, a bit smoother, and a bit more detailed.  They’re entirely different products, with different usages obviously, but I’ve had a lot of m9XX owner’s ask me to make the comparison.  A lot of m9XX owners who bought the m9XX as their first high quality amp/DAC might eye the iDAC6 as a potential upgrade path for a full sized desk top rig, allowing the m9XX to serve as a smaller, semi-portable secondary option.  
 
Schiit GuMBy: this is the most clear tossup.  The GuMBy is a bit more detailed.  They both have similar tonalities though, leaning just a touch warm and inviting.  However, iDAC6 is more dynamic.  Bass transients (think kick drums, bass slaps, etc) have an additional weightiness to them that GuMBy lacks.  The iDAC6 hits harder, the GuMBy is a bit more detailed and spacious.  Which you prefer will depend on personal preferences and also your system.  I could absolutely see somebody with, for example, a HiFiMan HE1000 or Sennheiser HD650 based system preferring the iDAC6, to really make it hit harder and faster.  I could see somebody with an Abyss or HD800 preferring the GuMBy, not needing the additional impact, but being able to reproduce the extra detail.  It will be down to not just headphone, but also amp.  At this level, it really does come down to system synergy as much as anything.
 
Schiit Yggy: Yggy is better.  It has the detail advantage that GuMBy had, but also has the additional power and impact that iDAC6 has.  Now, the Yggy isn’t as tonally versatile as the iDAC6 is, so if you’re a tinkerer, you may still prefer the iDAC6.  But if you’re simply after the best single sound possible from your DAC, the Yggy wins out.  It does everything the iDAC6 does, but adds in a bit more space and detail.  That isn’t a slam on iDAC6 is, Yggy is over twice its price.
 
Overall final thoughts
 
I like this DAC a lot.  I bought it.  It’s my favorite Delta Sigma based DAC I’ve ever heard, by a pretty fair margin.  I’d call it highly dynamic, very detailed, spacious and neutral with maybe the slightest hint of warmth.  While it is dynamic, the smoothness keeps it from being fatiguing, unless it’s also paired with an exceptionally punchy amp and headphone.  And even then some people may still love that sound.  With most amps, it adds an often looked for sense of punch, smoothness and warmth compared to most other DACs in its price range.
 
In the end, I think the $999 price is fair.  It’s not in the land of stupendous values, like say, the Schitt Modi Multibit.  But it certainly isn’t overpriced at all, you get what you pay for and a little bit more.  I think this would be fairly priced up to about $1500-1700.  So, it’s a good deal at $999.  There isn’t another DAC at $1000 or less that I think clearly beats it.  Some DACs offer something different, but nothing that I can look at and say “this is clearly better.”  It’s not until Yggy that I can point to something and say “yeah, that’s just definitely better.”
 
For me, personally, I am considering selling mine.  Not because I’m disappointed with it at all, it just sits in a weird position for *my* setup.  With my amp, it’s a touch more dynamic than I really ideally want.  The TorpedoIII amp in my system recently had an upgrade called output constant current supplies; after this upgrade, the TIII took a fairly massive leap forward in quality and became a more dynamic, harder hitting amp.  Before this upgrade the iDAC6 was ideal for my HD800 rig.  After, I wanted a tiny bit more detail, and a tiny bit less dynamicism out of my DAC.  This has me leaning towards GuMBy.  I currently have the iDAC6 in my secondary setup feeding the HiFiMan EF2C, which is a bit of an odd pairing.  My main pairing is the Schitt Modi Multibit feeding the TorpedoIII.  My long term move is likely moving the ModiMultibit to the secondary setup and side-grade moving the iDAC6 and buying a GuMBy.  I think the GuMBy’s softer, slightly more detailed profile may work better in *my* setup.  However, again, I want to stress this isn’t a want for quality, but a bit better system synergy between DAC and amp, given my headphones.  To be fair to iDAC6, I even thought Yggy was a bit too dynamic in my setup, GuMBy seemed *just right*. (thanks to Sorrdje for helping me think through this, btw).
 
That all being said, I also like this DAC so much that part of me is considering keeping it, just in case my future system takes another direction, and I again want this slightly warm, very detailed and spacious, highly dynamic sound from a DAC.
Sonic Defender
Sonic Defender
That was a useful and interesting review, makes me feel that I have heard the iDAC6.
Brooklyn70
Brooklyn70
How well do you think it will pair with the schiit mjolnir 2 and the jotunheim

EvenR

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Unique flexibility in sound settings, Great detail retrieval, Almost unmatched build quality, display, volume knob and inputs.
Cons: Sounds best when warmed up (if using tube setting)
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When i first got the Cayin iHA-6 and iDAC-6 combo and paired it with my HD800S, i wasn't too thrilled. Compared to my previous HDVD800, there was more detail present from the dac, but it came with some extra brightness and a general sense of being a bit overemphatic. It sounds thin, the soundstage is small and the treble is not well-integrated in the mix when starting from cold.
 
It's now a month later i'd the units have around 100 hours on them. What i find now, after regular use and long listening sessions, is that the combo warms up and peaks 6 hours in.
 
The difference in sound quality after the dac tubes have completely warmed up, is nothing short of amazing and revelatory. It's like a flower blooming and revealing it's inner essence. It truly shows you what this Cayin stack is all about. All it requires is a bit of patience.
 
After 6 hours the tubes provide the warmth and depth that makes the music full, natural and liquid. The soundstage opens up and positioning is improved and very convincing. The overall tone is buttery smooth natural with slam and dynamism and detailed highs, which are held in an iron grip and kept it in a straight line. The whole presentation is extremely balanced and i can't point to any sharp edges or any dullness. It's simply alive and groovy. 
 
I've previously owned the original HD800 the HDVD800, but then switched over to this setup. Even with the HD800S, i felt that i might need another headphone to compliment it. I don't have the need anymore. After discovering my setups full potential, it has made my HD800S a genre master. Something i thought i'd never say about this line of headphones.
 
This is the only setup i've been satisfied with over the years. It's my end game.
 
Nevertheless i'm in a financial situation where i have to sell it, since i'm moving out. I'll definitely pick up something similar when i'm settled in my new home. There's no way i'm going to have any setup without a pair of HD800S at least. 
 
I'm not saying the Cayin's are the only good option for your HD800/S, as there are certainly others, but at it's price, i consider this an exceptional value with high end performance.
 
It's no wonder that Cayin chose the HD800, when shooting pictures of their stack, as they both look and sound great together.
 
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Dillan

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Sturdy and compact build, feature rich, sleek appeal
Cons: DAC is only tube using balanced connection, no remote

Cayin iDac-6 and iHA-6

A story of a beautiful duo and my honeymoon with them​
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Prequel

 
Let me rewind just a tad before we begin. I am one of many who interminably chase the "perfect" sound. Saying that might make it easy to understand how joyful I get when trying out new products. I always keep my radar on for a resonating blip of new gear and new manufacturers. I have progressively had my eye on Cayin as a company and with their unique DAP designs, friendly staff and great reputation - How could you not!? Cayin is a Chinese company really pushing for the western market and who's to blame them? My only experience with Cayin's products before now was a quick listen to their Spark N5 portable audio device which really impressed me. I actually owned a much more expensive DAP at the time and I truly thought the N5 was much better for much less money. Ever since this moment, Cayin has transitioned to the back of my head and nestled there until my thirst was somewhat satisfied with their new desktop duo. Cayin was kind enough to send me their iDAC-6 and iHA-6 for a listening period to review. After some listening sessions I will wistfully return both products.
 
 

Initial Impressions

 
So right out of the box, I picked up the DAC which felt very robust and satisfying in the hands. A compact device with a sleek, modern and professional look. It feels heavy in the hand despite being small, which can be credited to the premium metals in the design. Running my fingers across the three option buttons in the center give a rather loose feeling, but nothing significant. The large knob on the right front panel has a black center and looks to be a nice matching metal and plastic addition to control volume and menu options. The headphone amp was right underneath in the box and pulling it out was almost an identical experience. Premium feel and matching color scheme and build material. A slightly more populated front panel with not 1, not 2, but 4 headphone outputs. Although these are two separate products, Cayin's marketing and even the products themselves simply yell "dynamic duo". It's a very stackable and compact arrangement of gear which look superb on a desk while not taking up much real estate, which I believe was the whole concept behind their creation in the first place. This also led me to combine my review instead of separating them, but as you'll see later on.. You can still enjoy these siblings individually as well. 
 
 

Technology & Design

 
Cayin iDac-6: A particularly unique DA converter is the iDac-6. Right from the beginning I was very interested in this desktop device for many reasons. The most obvious reason being, like the iHA-6: a small form factor and quiet but pleasing appearance. The standout attribute for the iDac however is the integration of tubes. Tubes glorious tubes! Before we jump into that lets go over the specs:
 
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As you can see, this DAC is fairly impressive from a technical standpoint. To be fair however, I will say that it is increasingly more common to see great specs from much cheaper devices these days. It isn't rare at all to find dual dac chips slapped on a PCB with low distortion, DSD compatibility and a few gimmick features. Essentially that is exactly what is going on with Cayin's iDac, but with a few more unexpected bonuses such as a user selectable tube stage option (on the fly) and a few other things that slightly set it apart. The chips used are the AK4490 which is a very good chip capable of beautiful sounding native 2x DSD as well as up to 32bit/384khz PCM.
 
Having owned many DACs in the past, I have a lot to compare the iDac to (both from memory and in person). The thing I like most about both of these products are their size. I think this is the smallest high end DAC that I have had the pleasure of using. It is really appealing for people who listen to music at work or on a desk at home as the small footprint barely uses any space. It looks very nice without standing out and can plug right into your laptop - while coworkers or family members gaze in envy. I should also mention that I like to use Linux as my operating system on my computers and one thing I will thank Cayin for is its compatibility. Usually it is always "plug and play" with most products, but recently I have run into problems with a DAC not being compatible - so it is worth mentioning that the iDAC-6 works flawlessly with Ubuntu and Linux Mint.
 
The iDAC-6 has RCA outputs as well as 3 pin balanced outputs. Standard USB type B port, coax, AES and optical for your inputs.
 
One feature I would have liked to see here is a power-save option. Although the four 6N16B tubes integrated in the DAC have a long-lasting 10,000 hour lifespan.. I would like the peace of mind knowing I could offer a more optimized and energy efficient quality of usage. I tend to do most of my listening at night and I have fallen asleep more than once while leaving one of my tube amps turned on. It's just a bad feeling, no matter how insignificant the overall affects are. My McIntosh MHA100 actually has this feature built in and it is a pure solid state device. I like knowing that if I fall asleep or forgetfully walk away that my headphones and amp won't be constantly running for hours or days. For the record, you can easily turn this off on the MHA100, which you may want to do if you were looking to burn in a new pair of headphones.
 
Overall the specs are great and the implementation of the quad tubes make for a uniquely magical fully balanced machine.
 
Cayin iHA-6: Here is what I could find for the specs on the iHA-6. It should be noted that it is really hard to find any official documentation regarding these two products. It looks like they haven't yet been added to Cayin's official website yet and I guess them being so new contributes to the lack of information online.
 
 
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Another case of expectedly pleasing and common specifications. Low distortion and a frequency range well beyond our hearing capabilities. I like the fact that you can choose to have a lower or higher gain setting. This amplifier will certainly give you the juice needed for power hungry headphones being 7W @ 32 ohms as well as accommodate the more efficient headphones or in-ears. The design, just like the DAC, is sturdy and premium. A sandblasted metal housing (which should also help with EMI resistance) surrounds the inner workings. The iHA-6 gives the option of balanced or unbalanced, but the jump from an output impedance of 10 ohms (low) to 120 ohms (high) is slightly off-putting. Coming from a McIntosh MHA100, I had the luxury of 6 different options for matching the power perfectly with what I was using. My Grado RS2e for instance is somewhere in between the two settings of Cayin's amplifier and I felt a little uncomfortable using either low or high. The balanced output however is a much better story. I found myself using it almost exclusively in balanced mode using my LCD-4's and boy did it power them pleasingly. Balanced has a mere .3 ohm output impedance which really makes it perfect for almost anything.
 
 
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Conclusion: The overall technology and design did not leave me feeling like it lacked anything in particular and in fact I felt a little pleasantly surprised. I love the modern aesthetics and the hybrid tube design in the DAC is especially neat. Both make for a fully balanced solution in a small form factor with more power and features than you'll know what to do with. The only thing I would like to see from a design standpoint is perhaps sturdier feeling knobs and buttons and technology-wise I think a power save option would be a nice extra bonus. Perhaps having better impedance matching would be nice, but honestly my RS2e and even a few of my IEMs sounded just fine with the right volume. Pretty, potent and plentiful.. thats the name of the game with these two. I think Cayin did a good job making these look good and filling a niche in the market. I had some gripes, but to be honest both devices have more features and options than most of their comparable counterparts. I think anyone would be proud to display these two atop their desk or rack.
 
 

Sound & Pricing

 
Sound: Let me start off by explaining a few important things. I am definitely an objectivist and one of those guys who blind tests before making any outstanding judgment or recommendations. To me, a DAC is certainly one of the last things I would look for when upgrading my sound. I even have trouble distinguishing most amplifiers, especially those which are solid state. That is not to say I have bad hearing either - my ears test rather well and I can usually hear hiss/distortion extremely easily (especially with IEMs). This quality is stressed even more when paired with the fact that both the iDAC-6 and iHA-6 have a very neutral and uncolored sound. I do however think they perform exactly how they should in the fact that they let the music speak for itself. There is no crazy distortion or internal DSP going on with these devices although you do have the option for a handful of filters on the iDAC, as well as a tube stage. If I am being honest though, the tubes were a slight disappointment. When swapping back and forth using an RCA connection (again the only way to do both tube and SS), it was extremely difficult to notice the difference - and this was with me swapping them myself! When doing it blindly I especially had trouble recognizing the filters and tube stage affects on sound. This can be considered a good thing to a lot of people though. If you just want a very transparent and accurate sound signature out of your gear then this is exactly what you want. When listening to my LCD-4's I noticed very good synergy. I think the LCD-4 is a pretty warm headphone and paired with the neutral and open sound of Cayins amp/dac combination I found myself really enjoying the results. The total lack of coloration with the tubes sort of begs the question though. What is the point? I know most people would want to buy a hybrid DAC for the slight musical distortion, but it was extremely hard for me to hear much if any of that at all. These impressions aren't to sound too critical however, because I did do some interesting comparisons and mismatching which left me actually pretty satisfied.
 
 
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LCD-4: With the combination of both of Cayin's offerings I thought the sound was very good actually. I definitely have used these LCD-4's with some world class components and I didn't feel like I needed "more" of anything. I found them driven quite well using the four pin balanced connection and even used the HIGH level of single ended configuration with satisfaction. The only time I felt them needing more juice was when I experimented with the LOW port, which obviously isn't meant to drive power hungry planars. The bass was nice and punchy, mids were accurate and detailed and the highs were crisp. If I used some imagination I could call the signature slightly cold, as you expect that warm enveloping sound from the tube stage, but you never really got that. However, because these Audezes already give you a very laid back sound to begin with, I thought the pairing was just fine.
 
RS2e: I really love my Grado RS2e. It really is a great sidekick for the LCD-4 in that they have a differentiating sound and at different price points. Listening to the duo with my pair of Grados was another positive experience. Gregory Porters latest album really had me respecting these little devices more and more. With the RS2e's I did feel like I heard a little more of the lushness seeping into the midrange on the tube setting. The bass seemed slightly more euphonic than I had remembered it being and the midrange was very impressive. I tended to use the LOW single ended option with these headphones and I did have to turn the nob up slightly more than you'd expect, but it definitely drove them as loud as I would want them and still with decent headroom. I liked this combo a lot.
 
Compared to McIntosh MHA100: So comparing to my main setup, the difference was pretty clear. Now I will say that the MHA100 retails for about double the price of these two, so the comparisons are to be taken with a grain of salt. The MHA100 is a solid state amplifier that sounds like one of the most "tube sounding" solid state offerings I have ever heard. I think McIntosh really used some heavy filtering and tweaking, because this device sounds nowhere near neutral or cold. I happen to love this amp/dac combination from McIntosh a lot and for many different reasons. When swapping to the Cayin units I immediately missed a few things.. The bass gain option, the darker sound and the powersave feature. I think the features on the MHA100 outshine Cayin completely here and I haven't even mentioned the proprietary analogue crossfeed that give a speaker-like representation with the MHA100. Looking at purely the sound I will say both are different, but good. If you happen to prefer an uncolored, unmodified amplifier and just want a great, detailed and accurate sound then I would definitely look at the iHA-6. It sounds very much how a high end solid state amplifier should sound.. comparable to something like the Auralic Taurus or even Schiit's Ragnarok. I found myself grabbing my darker sounding headphones when listening to the Cayin duo and my brighter Grados with the McIntosh. The solid state amplifier coupled with the tube DAC create a sort of detailed musicality that really bring my headphones to life. It is sort of ironic how a tube DAC sounds a lot less warm than the solid state MHA100, but that is what I have found through the comparisons. I would only say that the unique features in the MHA100 outshine Cayins offerings, but the sound itself were almost equally enjoyable and impressive albeit slightly different.
 
Compared to LH Labs Vi Dac Infinity: I actually pretty much enjoyed both of these the same, if maybe the Cayin duo more. Both amplifiers can power just about everything I throw at them with pretty impressive headroom. The Vi Dac is again about double the price, but sound-wise I believe it is very easily in the same league as both the iHA-6 and iDAC-6. If anything I think the filters and tubestage options on the iDAC made it a lot more impressive. I certainly found the filters almost inaudibly different, but they were slight enough to make things interesting. Features in general wasn't even a contest as the Cayin combination have many more options and outputs. I should mention the size as well, because the Vi Dac Infinity definitely isn't something you can just slap on top of a desk easily. It takes up a lot of space and looks slightly out of place amongst non high end audio components. You can stack Cayin's combo right on top of almost anywhere and the subtle but sleek appeal serves as a very versatile complementation. The sound is very similar and both have fully balanced architecture. The only real difference is the variation of DAC chips as I believe the Vi DAC uses reference Sabre chips. My few select DSD files also played natively on both devices as well. I think I would recommend saving your coins for something else and going for the Cayin units if it were a choice between these two. Really great stuff from Cayin!
 
Cayin iDAC-6 with MHA100: As I am one to mix and match and try new things - it was inevitable that I tried pairing some of my components with their gorgeous Chinese counterparts. I think the best experience I had with reviewing these devices was when I paired Cayin's DAC with my McIntosh MHA100. The sound was great and I got amazing options combining the two together which made for a really nice experience.
 
 
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The ever so slight lushness of the tubes seemed to be a little more apparent when combined with the McIntosh as the pairing made both sound a little warmer and more enjoyable than I had remembered. Having several different filters and gain on the iDAC, along with the tube and solid state options made for some really nice experimentations. The MHA100 has bass boost options of up to +12dB at 40hz and an analogue crossfeed that make for a ton of fun with Cayins DAC. At the end of the day I much preferred this combination and it made me really consider getting the iDAC for myself to go in my system permanently.
 
Price: The price of both the iHA-6 and iDAC-6 are about $1000 USD each. I think both of these products fill a very specific niche in the market and the prices kind of ride the line between high end and mid-fi. I think these devices aren't overpriced for the performance and craftsmanship offered, but I think Cayin would have sold a lot more units if the price tag was slightly shrunken down. Overall you definitely get what you pay for and I think the pricing is probably more than fair.
 
 

Closing Thoughts

 
I really enjoyed my time with both the iDAC-6 and the iHA-6. The best situation for someone to buy these is if they have limited desk space or don't want huge devices getting in the way.. all while gaining a modern stylish look of audio products with excellent sound quality and a few niche bonuses such as a quad tube DAC. I didn't mention before that these little offerings pair well with a broad selection of IEMs too. My Kaiser K10's especially were driven correctly and sounded as perfect as they ever had. I only very faintly heard a whisper of hiss-like distortion due to the sensitivity of the K10's, which is completely expected. These are very versatile, sound just as good as much more expensive equipment and I think anyone would be proud to have these in their inventory. Well done Cayin!
 
 
 
 
-Writing and review by Dillan-
-Photography by Regan Hulvey-
EvenR
EvenR
Isn't the dac only tube when using balanced and not solid state? This is my understanding from reading several other reviews.
Dillan
Dillan
Yep! Thanks I had it reversed.
Ethereal Sound
Ethereal Sound
Very nice review. Just wondering if this is still worth a buy in 2019 at a price of $630. I currently have a LH LHLabs Geek Pulse Sfi and was wondering if this would be a nice step up.

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