Cayin N6 PCM1792A chip DSD lossless music player - Reviews
Pros: good imaging, wide soundstage, good extension both up and down, tight bass
Cons: slightly thin treble, a bit too large and heavy, only one microsd slot
since there are a number of other reviews describing this dap, its layout, ui, etc, i will confine myself to some observations about sq and relative value.
 
my main points of comparison are the ibasso dx90- the first dap i got, and the questyle qp1r- the last dap i got.  the n6 was in between in every sense:
 
1. bass - it was only after i listened to the n6 that i realized that the dx90 bass was somewhat loose and bloated.  the n6 has a tightly controlled bass with rich tone and deep extension.
 
2. mids- solid mids, in no way recessed, with rich tone.
 
3. treble- i am a little dissatisfied with the n6's treble.  it has good extension but is thin and lacks much texture.  this was made clear to me when i got the qp1r, which has a richer treble.
 
4. soundstage- i agree with those who describe the n6's soundstage as very wide but not very deep.
 
5. imaging- the n6 provides terrific placement of each source.  there is a sense of air around each instrument, as if there is a space surrounding each instrument as a kind of frame.  this is in contrast with both the dx90 and the qp1r.  the dx90 sounds a bit congested when a/b'd with the n6.  the qp1r doesn't have that air framing each source.  it is not congested, but it is as if the sound exactly fills the space.
 
6. value- the dx90 is solid value at $400.  at times the n6 is available for $500 - see the price graph at camelcamelcamel dot com.  if you want the n6 at that price you can set a price alarm there.  that's how i bought mine, and i think that for $500 the n6 is an even greater value than the dx90.  this assumes you don't mind the bigger form factor, the heavier weight, and the ability to swap batteries.  the qp1r has the best sq, but costs $900.  there are people in the qp1 thread saying that they perceive the qp1r as having better sq than than the ak240.  but if you're shopping in the high end realms of the 901s, the ak240, and the lotoo paw gold, then you're probably not even reading this review, but if you are you should consider the qp1r.  if, otoh, you are comparing daps in the dx90 price range relative to the n6 at $500, remember that the n6 gives you terrific sound with enormous bang for the buck.   if you are comparing the dx90 @400 to the n6 at the $600 it usually sells for, then it's more a value judgement.  the n6 definitely has the better sq but is 50% more expensive.  
Pros: Sound, timbre, very 'classy' presentation, build, crazy admirable design, output power.
Cons: UI is becoming dated, slightly slow to navigate, battery life.
 
     
 
        cayinn6fixpic.jpg
 
 
 
 
 
Around 6 months ago on Head-fi forums I was greeted by a Cayin representative after enquiring about touring their recently popular Cayin N6 audiophile player. The guys from Cayin are some of the friendliest, helpful people active on Head-fi forums I’ve come across and agreed to send the Cayin for our Australian tour.
 
Cayin N6 features dual PCM1792A DAC chips, compatible with both PSM and DSD operation. It uses a Texas Instrument PGA231 volume chip to cater for all situations. When I first saw Cayin N6 on Head-fi I think many people took a step back at its unique yet a little ‘freaky’ looking design.
 
 
Pricing: $600 USD (roughly)
 
Available on Amazon.com and selected retailers.
 
 
 
 
 
Specifications:
 
 
Headphone Out
Maximum Output Power​
 ​
220mW +220 mW @ 32 Ω Load
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)​
 ​
≤ 0.005%
Dynamic Range​
 ​
110dB
Signal-to-Noise Ration (SNR)​
 ​
109dB
Output Impedance​
 ​
0.26 Ω
Line Out
Maximum Output Power​
 ​
1.7V @ 10 kΩ Load
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)​
 ​
0.004%
Dynamic Range​
 ​
110dB
Signal-to-Noise Ration (SNR)​
 ​
109dB
 ​
 ​
 
Coaxial
Rated Power Output​
 ​
0.5V @ 75 Ω Load (1V No Load)
Output Impedance 
 ​
75ohms
 ​
 ​
 
Other Specs
Maximum Sampling Rate​
 ​
24Bit/192KHz
Format Support​
 ​
MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV (24Bit 192kHz), FLAC (24Bit 192kHz),
CUE (Need to combine WAV, FLAC and APE whole track files)
Battery​
 ​
5600mAh 3.7V Li-Po
Weight​
 ​
225g
 
 
Packaging:
 
The product arrives in a nicely dressed 'flip top' box, with a professional presentation, that feeling you really get satisfaction, opening something of great value and prestige. Excellent presentation of delivery and appearence for your money.
 
IMG_1459.jpg
 
 
You’re given some nice accessories, one of which is a key chain and a nice looking card reader, a touch of 'class'
 
 
 
The accessories included are:
 
  1. Micro USB Charge / Data Cable
  2. Coax adapter
  3. USB Stick (with drivers)
  4. Screen protector
  5. Manual and paperwork (including warranty card)
  6. Metal keychain
  7. Silicon Protection Case
 
 IMG_1478.jpg
 
 
 
 
The Cayin N6 is a bizarre looking player, I’ve read people describe it as a portable DVD player, a porthole to ‘outer space’ and several other strange terms. It has a solid weighty build that contains a carbon fiber back plate and aircraft grade aluminum casing which makes it quite a hefty unit, apparently the material is used to absorb some of the heat produced when Cayin’s in operation. (which can become warm)
 
IMG_1452.jpg
 
 
IMG_1453.jpg
 
The button layout is not common on any other audiophile players I’m aware of, you have your selection buttons on the front, a jog wheel on the side which you can use to scroll and select volume under certain circumstances, the jog wheel also presses ‘in’ so you can make a selection or entry.
 
On top of you the unit you have your headphone out, line out, coax out and power button, everything in place more in line with your everyday player. On the bottom there is a micro sd card slot (up to 128gb) and your micro USB port for charging and data transfer, finally on the right hand (top) side your volume up/down buttons. The screen with its round window also plays some tricks as the actual viewing screen inside is ‘square’ not round as the casing had you believe.
 
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User Interface (UI):
 
The interface on Cayin N6 seems familiar, there are many options in the setting menu I’ve seen on FiiO players, especially some of the system settings and music settings. Due to button operation and ‘one click’ sequence its not the fasted player to move around and there can be a short delay when trying to move with hast. Overall the user experience is more than suitable and far above many a player I’ve used in the past. There’s something about using N6  with its appearance and entity you forgive the quirks around navigating and come to love the player in its full form.(most of the time)
 
When you switch the player on you’re greeted by a circular home screen which has quite a few options to choose from, the layout is unique compared to many players because you rotate a small record around and around to make your selection.
 
These selections are:
 
  1. Playing now
  2. Music Library
  3. Music Category
  4. System settings
  5. Music settings
 
 
 
IMG_1468.jpg
 
 
Battery Life:
 
With such a strong amp section inside Cayin something has to give and that’s the run times which are apparently around 7-8 hours, even though N6 uses a 5600mAh battery it needs to supply much of the juice to run its internals, this also lends towards the 225grams weight of the unit. I haven’t completed full battery tests but the unit will get you through most of the day and the battery level shows an accurate ‘percentage on screen’ kind of like you see on Android smartphones so you will know exactly what you’re looking at.
 
DAC Capabilities:
 
While I haven’t tried the DAC feature myself Cayin can connect to your laptop or PC and be used as an outboard soundcard, this seems to be a great selling feature on many players these days.  You change a setting in the menu and select your USB mode, either to ‘DAC’ or ‘USB’. Personally, I don’t listen at the computer, while the feature is welcome I really don’t require such things. For me, an audiophile  player is for portability, listening to music ‘on the go’.
 
Folder browsing / selecting music.
 
You can select your files two ways using N6, you can use the old school method (which I use) selecting single folders from the directory, or you can scan your card working on tag format, (artist, album, genre, songs, recently played songs,). For me, I really don’t use these features for tag browsing, but again it’s a big selling point for many players in 2015 and onwards so definitely welcome.
 
 
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Sound Quality:
 
 
Headphones / IEMs used:
 
  1. Fidue A83
  2. Tralucent 1Plus2
  3. Etymotic ER4S
  4. Grado 325e
 
Files used:
 
  1. 16/44 FLAC
 
 
Time to put those dual PCM PCM1792A DAC chips to work. The sound of Cayin is well refined and quite detailed, its especially capable in resolution and creating a great level of dynamics. Areas like the black space behind the music are apparent and easily ‘felt’ as they’re heard. Many players will have some hissing with low impedance IEMs, though the Cayin is dead silent for me. Technically the player is overly confident in separation and layering around the soundstage. Its little things like these technical aspects which create the greatness you’ll find in N6’s sound performance.
 
 
The bass is tight (quite tight) and well textured, it especially makes my iBasso DX90’s bass sound loose and lacking control, I’ll say much of this comes down to the strong amp section inside Cayin N6, its especially holding that tight refinement and bass control.  Moving onto the mid-range the tonality is just a little bright (just a little) which creates a great sense of clarity yet the note weight is neither thick nore thin. Very good balance inside the mid-range weight in correspondence with bass / treble.
 
One of the main areas to mention about the Cayin is its classy timbre and presentation, the entire sound while uncoloured makes instruments sound very ‘professional’ or grown up, a mature mans portable bliss. Its this area which wins me over with the N6, playing some live Michel Jonasz tracks the entire atmosphere in combination with the timbre makes it sound extremely ‘classy’. I don’t hear this sound from all players, but a few products come to mind like Tralucent’s DacAmp One.
 
One area I don’t hear quite like others is the soundstage width, its reported by many to be very wide and expansive, while I hear a decent width stage its not the most expansive I’ve heard. Using an IEM like my hyrbid Tralucent 1Plus2 its staging is usually extremely wide with many of my players, yet with the Cayin I don’t hear the width its capable of. Its in no way a deal breaker, just something which doesn’t line up for me among all the impressions and reviews.
 
 
Conclusion:
 
I feel what Cayin have produced is a highly capable player in terms of sound quality (highly capable), they have one of the craziest designers I’ve ever come across and admire them for it. However, there are a few things which hold Cayin N6 back from being the portable player it could be. The weight is considerably heavy for true portability or being pocket-friendly and the user interface is becoming a little dated for 2015. There are many touch screen audiophile players on the market now surfacing almost weekly, with the likes of stiff competition I really hope Cayin can delve into the touch screen interface with their future products or they may get left behind. Maybe they like this approach which I totally understand though people are all about ease of use these days and its something like this which could be the deciding factor between choosing player A or B. With that said ,the Cayin N6 is a highly capable sounding unit well worth its cost in parts, materails and internals used, also sound quality. The individual will need to decide if its for them and their application.
 
 
I’d like to thank Cayin for allowing the Australian tour to go ahead.
They’re some of the nicest people I’ve come across on Head-fi and enjoy seeing them remain active here.
 
 
 

DJScope
DJScope
Great review man! Well done!
H20Fidelity
H20Fidelity
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Pros: Very good sound performance, USB DAC function, premium feel and look, lot of power
Cons: Big & heavy, gets hot, slow UI
Firstly, I'd like to thank H20Fidelity for including me on this product tour of the Cayin N6. I've had a little over a week with the Cayin N6, which is nowhere near the time to fully evaluate gear of this calibre, but I'll do my best to give it justice. Please take everything I say with a grain of salt.

 

 

 

Introduction

I've audition a fair few different DAPs in the past year or so and mostly every player seems to bring something unique to the table. The Cayin N6 is no exception. First impressions are very important, and the N6 is really stunning from the get go. From the quality of the packaging materials, to the presentation and the build quality of the N6 itself, it is all very premium giving you a very satisfying unboxing experience. Unfortunately where player's downfall lies is the execution of the user interface and it's somewhat slouchy and slow nature. I don't know if it is the CPU or the optimisation of the operating system, it is one aspect that made my time with the N6 not so pleasant. Though not is all lost, as the N6 really steps up to the plate where it matters most. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A little about the Cayin N6

More info at http://penonaudio.com/Cayin-N6
 
 
Headphone Out​
Maximum Output Power​
 ​
220mW +220 mW @ 32 Ω Load
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)​
 ​
≤ 0.005%
Dynamic Range​
 ​
110dB
Signal-to-Noise Ration (SNR)​
 ​
109dB
Output Impedance​
 ​
0.26 Ω
Line Out​
Maximum Output Power​
 ​
1.7V @ 10 kΩ Load
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)​
 ​
0.004%
Dynamic Range​
 ​
110dB
Signal-to-Noise Ration (SNR)​
 ​
109dB
 ​
 ​
 
Coaxial​
Rated Power Output​
 ​
0.5V @ 75 Ω Load (1V No Load)
Output Impedance​
 ​
75ohm
 ​
 ​
 
Other Specs
Maximum Sampling Rate​
 ​
24Bit/192KHz
Format Support​
 ​
MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV (24Bit 192kHz), FLAC (24Bit 192kHz),
CUE (Need to combine WAV, FLAC and APE whole track files)
Battery​
 ​
5600mAh 3.7V Li-Po
Weight​
 ​
225g
 ​
 

Packaging & Accessories

The Cayin N6 comes in a very nicely presented box. You can tell that Cayin has gone through a lot of effort to give the N6 the dignity it deserves. Very nice hard cardboard and velvety material, and beautiful pallet of colours gives it a soft yet elegant presentation. To save you from reading a bunch of mumbo jumbo, please have a look at the photos because in my opinion, these words cannot describe how nice the packaging is, and keep in mind that it looks and feels much nicer in person.
 

Accessories that come in the box are:

  1. Micro-USB cable.
  2. A 2 pole 3.5mm (1/8") TRRS to RCA coax adapter for Digital SPDIF.
  3. A very nice carbon fibre print keyring
  4. A USB stick with drivers
  5. A screen protector.
  6. Documents & reading material: Quick start guide; A card with button layout, and other info; warranty card.
 
A couple of line out cables would be nice at this price range, more specifically, a 3.5mm to 3.5mm and a pair of RCA cables would've have been really welcomed.
 

Design & Build

The design of the N6 is a bit of a hate it or love it situation. I'm a bit of both, but mostly I love the design. Aluminium top with a nice acrylic carbon fibre printed back is very appealing to me, and it is pure eye candy. The meeting of the acrylic at the back leaves a really sharp edge, one that could mean the end of the nice finish if you were to accidentally drop it onto hard ground. As well as it is so sharp to the touch that I find my self sometimes being very careful not to cut myself with it, though this is mostly a subconcious reaction as I don't think it's sharp enough to cut skin.
The screen and button layout is a bit of a miss for me. I think the whole round screen idea is a bit of an eye sore and in my humble opinion unnecesarilly too big, which spills out to the edges of the unit and makes it even wider, which the unit is already REALLY big. The screen is also very reflective and somewhat dim makes for visibility is the sun pretty poor.
The button layout was also very hard to get used to and I still struggle to memorise it to this day. To me, this would be a bit of a deal breaker on it's own.
Up = back; Down = forward; Left = back; Right = play/pause. Very unconventional.
 
I'd also like to mention that this unit get's really hot. In one listening session I had where I listened to it for almost 5 hours straight it got very hot in my back pocket, to the point where I had to take it out before it branded my a** forever. 
 

User Interface

The operating system looks very suspiciously similar to FiiO's. Not sure if this is an open source system that they use and share or one is copying the other, I don't know. What I do know is that it is one of the better user friendly systems around, especially when the system uses a scroll wheel. The N6 has somewhat a scroll wheel on the left side, but it is not good enough to jog through hundreds of songs. I found myself taking a long time to search through my catalogue to pick a specific track and ended up just defaulting to forever using shuffle all and be done with it. This is further exasperated me by the fact that everything you do has a lag or delay to it, including just picking a song to play or going through the menu. I do hope that this is just a software optimisation issue. Going through all the menus felt like a chore to me.
 

Battery Life

The battery in the N6 is humongous and for good reason. The N6 is a power hungry behemoth. Battery drains quite fast and I think the longest non-stop listening time I got with the N6 was around 4-5 hours before it was down to around 20-30% which is where I would charge it. Charging it through a normal USB port takes forever and if you can, I'd suggest you use a tablet charger; something with more than 1A of current. 
 

Input & Output Interface

I found that the N6 works extremely well as a DAC. It is extremely easy to setup, and drivers can be found either on the provided USB or online. The line out is also very clean. I did not get the chance to try the COAX unfortunately.
 

Equaliser

The N6 has a 10 band EQ which works surprisingly well. I didn't play around with it much as the headphone output is actually pretty transparent as it is. But when I did test it the frequencies reacted accordingly without noticeable noise and distortion. 
 

Power

The Cayin N6 has more than enough power to drive all my headphones and earphones to good listening volumes and more, and with good authority. Bass never felt sloppy at all, and I was pleased with the way it handled itself.
 

Sound

This is the part that matters the most. The Cayin N6 is one of the most detailed and cohesive sounding DAPs that I've previously auditioned. The way it delivers the sound is very accurate and with composure. Bass frequencies delve deep and had consistent speed and coherency to as low as my headphones can go. The mid ranges felt lively and, for the most part, accurate and full with a bit of warmth and glow. Treble response was smooth and detailed with extreme accuracy and speed without getting edgy or digital. 
 
 

Ratings

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Conclusion

The Cayin N6 is one of the best sounding DAPs that I have had the pleasure to audition. This should've been an experience to cherish, but instead I was constantly annoyed by the very slow user experience that I got instead. I do hope that the devs at Cayin fix this responsiveness issue, and if they do, they will surely solidify the N6 as one of the best out there in the category.
 
I'd like to add that the N6 will get a solid 4.5 stars if the devs sort out the lag issue.
 
Cheers!
 
 
Pros: Sound quality, craftsmanship, nice design
Cons: bulky, a little user unfriendly
 
Intro
 
I am a long time lurker who occasionally pops in to say hi in a few of the forums but stays up to date on all things headphone. I have been aware of the Cayin N6 for a while now and was always attracted to the round face and keen to get a listen to it. I was approached by H2Ofidelity to be a part of a Cayin Australian tour for which I am extremely grateful and the condition of the tour is to write this review which you are now reading. I hope you find it helpful J
I will compare the unit in my review to my little portable stack, the Sony NWZ-A15 with LO to a Topping NX-1 and for the comparisons I will use my Grado sr325e and Aurisonics Rockets (chalk, meet cheese).
 
Packaging
 
The packaging feels pretty premium and sumptuous. It leaves me feeling like I have bought a classy pen, a high quality watch or something else of significant value. It protects the unit very well, and although it doesn’t hold much onoging value, it makes me feel a little special.
 
PA020398.jpg
 
 
Build
 
The build is solid, maybe a little chunky.
PA020402.jpg
 
The carbon weave back and metal body are nicely finished in with the unique screen.
 
PA020408.jpg
 
The only thing that seems a little off is the feel of the buttons on the front of the unit. The scroll wheel on the side is nice, but the front buttons feel a little light and cheap compared to the otherwise premium feel of the unit.
 
The unit does feel big. I was initially quite put off by this until I remembered my old Sony Walkman, then the nostalgia crept in and in comparison to that memory I began to feel fond of this brick as it took me back to a simpler time (no, not simpler in any way with tapes in retrospect). It is still reasonably pocketable but when you compare it to my Sony a15 it does seem pretty hefty (I really should have taken a side by side... *sigh* what an amateur). I guess the question is whether the heft will pay off in other areas. 
 
Interface
 
The display is set in a large circular glass section but is actually quite a small portion of that area. The initial menu is circular and navigable by both the front up and down buttons and the side scroll wheel. The left and right front buttons act as select and back buttons. This pattern isn’t indicated so took me a little time to figure out and I still find myself pressing the wrong thing and wondering why, to be honest a little quibble as after a reasonable amount of time solely using a single DAP I imagine it would become second nature.
Menus and sub menus are easy enough to go through and to summarise I would say that the whole interface package reaches the lofty heights of ‘reasonably inoffensive’. Comparing to something like the A15 which seems to gather a fair amount of praise for simplicity and navigability I found it sometimes frustrating, but I found everything I needed it responded to my inputs and nothing went drastically wrong.
 
Sound
To evaluate sound, I have listened to each headphone volume matched by ear to compare the DAP’s.
 
SR325e
 
Andy McKee – Art of Motion – Guitar seems to have more treble texture and detail, the shimmer of the note, the texture of the decay all seem to be a little more vivid. Almost crystalline, painting a visual picture, it is like the difference between seeing the surface of the water reflecting as opposed to then noticing that there is a slight oil slick on the water that refracts a slight rainbow just on the edge of your vision… both are real, one just has a little more hue…
 
Taytay – Welcome to New York – Slightly wider soundstage in the intro, more shimmer and shine on the treble which actually to my ear interrupts a little of the ability to just immerse in the song and enjoy her voice, it brings it out a little harsher than I would prefer, the a15/nx1 combo gives her voice a little more tone and smoothness. She actually sounds a little more distant in the mix which surprises me. I can definitely isolate sounds, instruments and samples easier but I am not sure that it is greatly adding to my enjoyment of the song. I can see why people prefer warmer sounding phones/sources for pop, it already has so much detail. A simpler source actually helps bring the whole thing together a little more. Listening to the song through, I can imagine getting used to the enjoyment of the detail this pushes out.
 
Agnes Obel – Aventine – Once again, that slightly more spaced sound stage brings everything into a little more focus. I am getting a little bit more of a digital feel from the n6 where it brings the cello into such sharp relief that I feel a little too much like I am holding a microphone right up to it rather than sitting in a room listening to it. Oddly, I think the n6 brings something beautiful out of her voice. Maybe it is that it is already so smooth that the intense detail brings a little more texture to it and you can hear more of the air in her voice that gives it a little bit more throatiness and clarity in the overall mix which is really pleasant as opposed to the a15/nx1 which settles on the warmth and smoothness of her voice and don’t bring you the same level of texture.
 
Snarky Puppy – Binky – DETAILS EVERYWHERE!!!! The snick of the high-hat, the percussion everywhere around me… nice punchy kick peddle, electric guitar pings in from the side, every instrument in their own space. The a15/nx1 has everything there but presents it all slightly closer as a rhythm section behind the melody there are fewer WOW, where did that come from moments or times where it forces you to marvel at a particular musician’s skill. One little side effect of that is that when it slips into the sweet bridge of the song, the melody isn’t front and centre which means that I lose a bit of that gut connected emotion with the song that I have found in the a15/nx1 combo.
 
ROCKETS
 
Radiohead – I Might be Wrong – Everything is just slightly cleaner across the board with a little more space, air and width. It is like there is a slightly woollier sound with the a15/nx1, maybe not woollier, just a little more intimate.
 
James Blake – Limit to your Love – Air, more air, just more space in the room. The gentle reverb of his voice floats out into limitless space. The a15 dies earlier, like the hall is big, but not as big. The click on the Cayin has a crisp edge to it that is dulled on the a15. At around 3.00mins the cymbals come in gently in the background. They shimmer into the effortless space with the cayin, on the a15 it is the same as the voice, they die down just that little bit earlier and the sense of space just doesn’t have the same expansiveness.
 
 
Conclusion
 
I could take either DAP but with the rockets but I would definitely give the edge to the Cayin as the rockets have a level of intimacy and warmth in the mids already so the cleaner edge allows you to pick out the detail just that little better and it all sounds so lovely. I would definitely recommend the Cayin with a warmer headphone. To me, there is no doubt that the Cayin is a higher quality sound, a wider image with a cleanness to the whole sound and presentation. You can really pick up a whole ‘nutha level of detail with it. With the brighter sr325e, I am not sure that I like it over my A15 as much and with the q701 I found the sound to be preferable on the A15 as it takes the edge off the sound.
 
I would say that it is analogous to the difference when you first watch a blue ray movie. It is almost hyper-real. I find myself hitting the Uncanny Valley effect where my mind starts to reject what it is seeing rather than getting lost in the story. I see into the details rather than being immersed into the movie, my mind becomes distinctly aware of the unreality. After a time that feeling dies down and I can accept the new normal. It is a similar feeling here. All very fun!
 
All in all, if I were looking to upgrade my DAP this would be a serious contender. It is a nice package and I really could see myself buying this in the future. 
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Pros: Beautiful and premium looking, expansive headstage, clarity and detail, heaps of power!
Cons: Quite bulky and heavy for portable use, non-scratch resistant screen, UI lacks responsiveness

 
Introduction
 
I've been on the look out for a great sounding DAP that can drive power demanding full-size headphones in preparation for the inevitable upgrade down the line. One must admit that once you're in this hobby, there's nowhere else to go but UPgrade. Then I was invited to the Cayin N6 Australian tour... such great timing! Cayin has been noticed for past few months in the head-fi community; thanks to their beautiful amp called the Cayin C5. Since then, Cayin has released a bunch of portable audio gear worthy of an audience. Not only do these products look good or premium, they also perform exceedingly well for their target markets. I firmly believe that Cayin has a bright future in this industry because they take pride in their work and it shows in every product that they release. 
 
 
DESIGN and BUILD QUALITY
 
I'm a supporter of simplistic design and while the N6 is far from my personal preference, I do find it likeable because it's a fresh take on DAP design. But I must admit that I don't have a vast experience in various kinds of digital audio players. If I were to compare the N6 to the ones I've owned, tried, or tested, this player can definitely compete in terms of build quality. The stunning carbon fiber back plate is not only a joy to look at but also helps maintain sturdiness without adding significant weight. Granted the N6 is a bit hefty for a portable player, I can appreciate the choice in materials. It could've been a lot heavier had Cayin chosen the wrong materials. The main body is well coated and it doesn't seem to scratch easily. The buttons, ports, knob, and jacks are well made. The circular bezel around the screen is gorgeous... balances out the overall design making it look more aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. The button layout is well implemented but it does take a bit of time to get used to. Personally it took me about a day's usage to fully adapt to Cayin's layout. Overall, a beautiful and mechanically sound device! My only nit-pick is the screen because it doesn't seem to be sapphire crystal, gorilla glass, or at least scratch resistant. Fortunately, Cayin was kind enough to provide a screen protector which easily solves my gripe.
 
 
USER INTERFACE
 
Similar to all the niche players I've tried and tested, the N6 has a basic implementation. Even a kid can get around the menu easily and to me that is a positive thing. There are no surprises here that can put the N6 in a special category. Anyone will be able to use this player efficiently after a couple of days practice. In terms of the UI's responsiveness, I do find it a bit slow and I hope this can be improved with a simple firmware upgrade. Otherwise, Cayin will have to upgrade some of the hardware components to keep up with the best in the market because there's already quite a few out there that can outperform the Cayin.
 
 
SOUND
 
I find the Cayin N6 sound to be grand in terms of its presentation. It's larger, more spacious than the iPod touch 5th Gen and FiiO X3 2nd Gen. Bass is solid and clean which is satisfying to hear even at lower volume. Mids is full, lush, and engaging... nothing really to write home about because it really just sounds right. Treble seems to have a bit of a lift or should I say an emphasis in terms of energy resulting to added clarity/detail. This can be good or bad depending on the sound signature of the headphones used. But then again, it's a similar case with any other DAP and setup. It really boils down to synergy and one will have to go through trial and error before attaining that desired sound. Personally, I prefer using the N6 with full sized open headphones like the Fidelio X2. Because of the "grand" presentation, it enhances all the good traits of an open pair of headphones. Aside from that, there's enough power in the N6 to drive most headphones in the market. 
 
As for IEMs, I tried the DN2000j with Cayin N6 and the pairing is good when listening at low volume. There's a slight hiss but it's barely noticeable and irrelevant once music is played. There is one disadvantage with this pairing and that's the emphasis in treble. Not just on the N6 but more on the DN2000j. So, if you listen at high volumes the result can be too much in terms of treble energy. I also tried the Brainwavz R3 with the N6 and the result is perfect. Again, I can't stress enough the importance of synergy when using the N6. Once synergy is met, the result is magnificently grand.
 
 
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Conclusion
 
With Cayin's entry in the high-res DAP market, I can truly say that the N6 is worth a listen. While I may not recommend this for portable use because of its size and weight; it is definitely a beauty that can turn heads and appreciated for its build quality and premium feel. Though the User Interface may still need fine tuning to improve responsiveness, the sound performance is amongst the best I've heard. I highly recommend warm or neutral sounding headphones to pair with the N6. The slight emphasis in the treble region may be too much for bright sounding headphones. Synergy is the key here, once this key requirement is met the optimal sound quality is easily achieved. Such a shame that I don't have premium and power hungry headphones at the moment... it would've been nice to test how the N6 performs which I'm sure this Cayin product can pass with flying colours!
 
Special thanks to Cayin and @H20Fidelity for inviting me to this tour.
Pros: Very balanced and refined sound
Cons: Maybe lacking some emotion, only when compared to the best though.
I'm listening to the N6 with Ultrasone IQ Pro.
 
On to the sound, it does sound very good, very effortless, airy, balanced, honestly nothing is lacking from a technical standpoint, many daps I'e heard I could come up with several faults with easily, but N6 really has less faults than the majority of dap I've heard, in fact the N6 only has one fault in it's sound imo, which is quite an achievement.
 
How N6 compares to other dap's in a nutshell:
 
DX90 (fw2.3) has a bit more heft to the sound than N6 (fw3) which has a lighter touch but details are easier heard and sound stage is bigger. N6 sounds more controlled but DX90 might convey energy a little better. Imo The win goes to N6 in nearly all areas.
 
Hum- has a deeper sound stage, but less coherence compared to N6, while N6 has wider airier sound stage. On hum the vocals are authoritative and clean, the bass is controlled but still hit's hard. Overall hum has more heft than N6, like DX90, but a more forward signature than DX90, hum has good tonality in it's vocals. The treble of hum sounds a little splashy compared to the N6 which has absolute control. Overall I feel the N6 is technically better than hum in every way, except maybe vocal tonality.
 
P90SD- has the most different sound out of all these daps, a centered sound stage where sounds bloom outward, I would wager most would not like it for this reason. But, the bass is the most rounded and controlled, yet the most 'solid' out of all these daps. The mids are not as open compared to the very flat N6, but at the same time the timbre is spot on from the P90SD, while the N6 sounds fine in isolation, it doesn't match the timbre of P90SD. The treble is same deal as the mids. In isolation the P90SD sounds fairly balanced though. The hardest part to put into word about P90SD is it's "timing", it exudes groove and funk, I personally think this has to do with superior audio processing (aka timing of I2S signal being sent to dac), the P90SD is the best I've heard in regards to conveying proper timing which conveys energy and emotions through the music.
 
Conclusion:
N6 has a very desirable balanced airy sound that exudes technical capability, It is simply the most balanced sound I've ever heard without sounding boring, and is also one of the most open sound stages I've heard, only Sony S-Master daps can compete with this level of openness. N6 has a much more enticing sound than the X5ii I previously tested. I would like to own N6 personally, but I would probably not buy the N6 purely because of it's low usability, the UI lags very similar to X5ii, and it feels awkward in hand, I don't like using the N6 much, but I'm sure many can tolerate it, I need lightening quick UI to be able to like a dap personally. The N6 is worth it's cost imo just for it's sound, but if it had good usability it would be a must buy. I will say that the N6 equals the P90SD but both have trade-offs, the N6 is probably the better all rounder from the HO due to it's extreme balance and openness, while P90SD needs specific pairings to shine through, but when you find them, they will be phenomenal and better than N6 as the P90SD has unmatched bass, timbre, texture, timing.
I do feel N6 is clearly better than mid-range daps such as, X5ii, DX90, Hum, F887, etc.
 
 
SAM_0361.jpg
SAM_0363.jpg
 
 
Digital out review:
I was listening from the Digital out of N6 through my home dac, NAD M51 and Fostex studio monitors, it never ceases to amaze me how dap's sound different to each other through their digital out's, it represent's an area which many people don't pay much attention to despite it's major effect on the rest of the audio chain, aka the audio processing and signal being sent to the dac is somewhat represented by the digital out performance just as the line out performance is somewhat representing the dac's performance + audio processing.
 
The N6 has a very airy and balanced sound through the digital out, I can instantly tell that the N6 is very refined in sound. My reference quality in digital out's is my P90SD, it has a much louder digital out than the N6, not sure how this works, but I need to substantially turn up the volume of the NAD M51 with the N6, by 10dB versus the P90SD. P90SD has a 'meatier' sound, while N6 is softer and refined, with the N6 you can clearly hear all the detail, it surpasses digital out of DX90 for example, in pretty much all aspects, but with the P90SD it's like you can almost taste and 'feel' the texture, rather than just hear it, if that makes sense 
 The N6 does have a bigger sound stage, but I feel the P90SD is better in aspects that are hard to describe relating to 'groove' and 'feel', the P90SD get's me dancing, or get's me emotional, the N6 doesn't do this for me.
 
Let me re-iterate that I feel the N6 digital out to be very technically competent, it is better than sources like DX90, X5ii, where you can instantly hear where there could be improvements, N6 is on same level as P90SD from a sound quality perspective, but the only things missing are the things that are hard to put into words that I was talking about before.
 
Bottom line, I feel like the N6 digital out performance is on par with P90SD from a technical standpoint, and surpasses DX90 and other midrange daps, but it's sound just doesn't get me emotionally involved like P90SD. It might come down to preference and pairing in the end.
Pros: Incredible detail, wide soundstage, power, good price point for the value
Cons: Too much detail (!), somewhat artificial sounding, no "soul" musically.

Cayin N6 Audiophile DAP Lossless Music Player
 
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Note:  I was able to test drive the N6 when it was making its way through the West Coast tour of the United States recently.  I did not purchase it, so this review is based on a short-term testing cycle, not a long-term ownership experience.  Thanks again to hakushondaimao and to EmpJ of CTC Audio for making this tour happen. 
 
Packaging is excellent.  My wife even commented on that when she saw the box and its contents.  The device itself looks and feels quite substantial (it is not a lightweight), and build quality/attention to detail seem to be first class.  The controls are not immediately intuitive, but a quick perusal of the directions sorted them out quickly.  The GUI is easy to see and understand. 
 
I had some initial problems with my tour unit when it first arrived.  I had inserted a 64gb MicroSDCard of mine in it, loaded with my music, and run a music scan.  All of my music showed up, but every time I attempted to play a song the device emitted a loud pop in my iems and then did a power off/power on reset.  Checking the power display, it showed 40+% power.  Re-reading the directions, it was clear I was operating it correctly.   I even switched iems to be sure it wasn’t a plug issue.  I did get it to play two songs, but then it began to reset again. 
 
I decided to charge it fully, and let it do so for an hour or more.  In the meantime, I downloaded the most up-to-date firmware from the Cayin site.  After a full charge, I loaded up the firmware update and ran it, then went into settings and set the device up.  At that point it worked flawlessly.  I can only assume that the power indicator was not reading correctly, and that the device was resetting due to lack of power.  That or perhaps because the device was at a lower firmware there was a problem there.  I posted this on the tour pm we are communicating on and was told by the person who had it before me that he had somewhat the same problem, but that the device settled down and worked after a while.  Also, be aware that this was the second tour unit to experience this issue (the first was recalled halfway through the tour and replaced with the unit I tested).  The first unit had a problem with the headphone out, which was believed to be causing the issue.  However, in reading the Head-Fi thread on the N6, I don’t see people posting about this. 
 
In any event, the device was now working flawlessly.  I used both my Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors and my Fidue A83s in my testing.  I used the standard cable with each.  The device was set up with no EQ and Digital Filter was set to Slow. 
 
When I first listened to it, before the firmware update, the device sounded incredibly bright and holographic through my UERMs.  Instrument and vocal placement was distinct, the soundstage was quite wide, and the upper trebles were detailed to the point where I felt that within an hour I would be fatigued.  Bass was strong, mids were clean, but it sounded quite artificial.
 
After the firmware update the sound was much improved (to my ears).  While placement was lessened, the over-brightness was gone and it felt much smoother.  The soundstage remained wide.  With my UERMs the sound was quite pleasing, although to my ears it was a bit digital.  The level of detail was phenomenal.  This was before I began to a/b with my Pono, based entirely on simply listening to a variety of songs on the N6.
 
I ran through a number of tracks with both the UERMs and the A83s, going from the N6 to my Pono or vice versa.  I started and stopped tracks before swapping devices.  I also rolled back the tracks and played the same sections over again.  I attempted to match volumes as closely as possible by ear.  Visually, both devices used about the same amount of power for my listening levels based on their volume indicators.  
 
What I heard was interesting.  The N6 has a very clean, detailed and almost glasslike sound.  All instruments and vocals seem distinct and separate from the others.  The level of detail was amazing.  The bass was strong when it was there in the track, the mids were strong and clear, the trebles were not overly bright but very distinct.  To my ears it sounded very digital.  When I would move to the Pono and play the same exact section of music at the same volume the sound was not as overtly clear, not as precisely detailed.  There was interaction between instruments and vocals, frequencies were reverberating and mixing that I did not hear with the N6.  There was much more timbre with the Pono.  The bass felt stronger, the mids seemed about the same but again not as detailed, and the trebles were not quite as bright.  But what the Pono had was a feeling of musicality.  It was anything but digital.  It sounded like music being made by people.  The N6 sounded like music assembled on a computer.  Maybe it is a matter of analogue sounding vs. digital sounding. 
 
Having had an iBasso DX50, a Colorfly C3, a  Fiio X5 and a Fiio X1, I would say that the N6 (which is obviously more expensive than all of them) sounded clearer to my ears.  Even though I appreciated the incredible amount of detail in the N6, it was too immaculate and too impersonal for my tastes, especially when compared to my Pono.   
 
I also a/b’d using my UERM by swapping out my single-ended cable for my balanced cable.  It just made the differences even more apparent.  The Pono took on even more timbre and musicality.  I didn’t try this with my Fidue (I can run it balanced as well) but I assume the same would hold true with it. 
 
For testing I chose music I listen to often.  I have relatively narrow tastes compared to some here.  I used Steely Dan Gaucho in 24/96, Steely Dan Aja in DSD and 16/44, Donald Fagan Nightfly in DSD, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds in DSD, Thomas Dolby Best Of in 16/44, The Beatles Abbey Road and Past Masters 2 in 24/44, The Band The Band  in 24/192, The Band Stage Fright in DSD, Joni Mitchell Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm in 16/44, Bob Dylan Blonde On Blonde in 24/88, Paul Simon Hits in 16/44, Peter Gabriel 1 (Car) in DSD, Stevie Wonder Music Of My Mind in 16/44, Talking Heads Little Creatures in 24/96, Traffic Heaven Is In Your Mind and Traffic in 16/44, Van Morrison The Best Of in 16/44, Brian Wilson No Pier Pressure in 16/44, and Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks Orange Crate Art in 16/44.
 
Some of the above sounded better or worse to my ears.  Paul Simon’s Me And Julio sounded really artificial on the N6 (this was the worst track I heard), even though it sounded fine on the Pono.   Most of The Beatles songs sounded fairly similar on both devices (these were from the 2009 remasters in 24 bit, a very nice set with very good sound).   Mostly it was the feeling of relative thinness from lack of timbre that bothered me with the N6.  Even though there was plenty of bass, there was no real resonance.  Sort of a crystalline sound, not brittle but impersonal.  But, again, the level of detail was impressive.  I was able to hear everything distinctly in each track. 
 
Would I recommend the N6.  Sure.  It’s a good device, well made, that delivers an incredible level of detail, separation and soundstage at a good price point.  Will I buy one?  No.  It doesn’t suit my sound signature.  Might it have had a different response to different kinds of music that I didn’t play on it?  Possibly.  I’ll leave that to other reviewers. 
 
 

olddude
olddude
I listened on 3.1
Caruryn
Caruryn
The N6 is leaning on the warm side with fw v3 and v3.1.It was bright up to v2 , less musical and somewhat cold and unemotional with the wrong iem up to v2,something that me and others commented on the thread.The N6 is a very picky dap when it comes to iems,a revelation with my ie800,just good with the se846(still better than dx90 in key areas like soundstage,clarity),needs a lush tone iem to bring its best.
 
Appreciate the honest and accurate review.
Ripvanlink
Ripvanlink
hmm, wonder how it would sound with my K10! Anybody try it?
Pros: Sturdy Build, Good Screen Resolution, Usable UI, Clean Sound
Cons: Gets Very Warm, Larger Size
Introduction:
I received the Cayin N6 as a tour unit that was generously provided by CTC Audio. CTC Audio focuses on making brands that aren’t as accessible in North America, mostly from Asia, available. Jeremy, CTC’s rep here on Head-Fi, has been a great help throughout the tour, as there was a bit of a hiccup when the original tour unit pooped out on us. I had the review unit for a week to audition and I’ve posted the results of my week with the N6 here.
 
Quick note: I completely forgot to take pictures of the N6 unit during the week I had with it. Because of that, this will be a pictureless review, and I apologize for the lack of colors in this review.
 
Packaging and Accessories:
The nice packaging of the N6 certainly has a wow factor to it. Taking off the exterior, the box opens up like a jewelry box with the N6 beautifully displayed inside. The padding has a nice velour feel to it and everything is very well organized within the padded inside. The presentation of the N6 certainly makes it look like a valuable luxury good – which it is, of course!
 
In terms of the accessories, the N6 comes with all the basic goods you need to have it running. Included is a 3.5mm to RCA coaxial cable, silicon case, screen protector, SD card adaptor, carbon fiber keychain. I think one of the previous members of the N6 tour may have accidentally taken the USB cable as it’s missing from the packaging.
 
I still don’t understand why manufacturers insist on giving a silicon case. It’s a lint magnet, and for a device that’s on the larger side, like the N6, the silicon case makes it difficult to move the N6 in and out of the pocket. While I think the SD adaptor and keychain are a nice touch, I don’t see the point of them. 99% of the time, you’ll be connecting the N6 directly to the computer to access the micro SD card. The only time you would need the adaptor is if the USB cable is missing somehow. So honestly, I would rather Cayin take the SD adaptor and keychain out, and upgrade the silicon case to something that not awful. Even something plastic or pleather would do. What’s the point of the gorgeous carbon fiber backside of the N6 if you’re just covering it up with silicon?
 
Build and Design:
The N6 is a beautifully designed and solidly built device. I think the entire exterior is made of aluminum metal and the screen is made of a strong and scratch glass. The back, of course, is covered with the beautiful carbon fiber finish.
 
I honestly cannot imagine anyone complaining about the build quality of the N6. It feels sturdy, has a good heft to its weight, and has responsive and solid buttons as well.
 
One complaint about the design of the N6 that many people have voiced their concern is its size. It’s definitely on the larger size. I don’t really see it as that much of a concern though for men. With the race for bigger screens on smartphones these days, the size of the N6 is honestly comparable to your average smartphone – only downside of the N6 being that it’s significantly thicker than your average smartphone. So while it’s a large device, I never had any issues with fitting it in my pocket even when I wear skinny jeans.
 
Another issue I’ve found with the N6 is that it gets hot. Keeping it in my pocket, I can feel it radiating a significant amount of heat after 10 or 15 minutes. It’s not enough to burn you or anything but it’s pretty uncomfortable, especially during the summer.
 
The battery life of the N6 I found to be around 7 or 8 hours when using my IEMs. The sad reality is that while many will criticize that for being fairly poor battery life, the battery life is pretty average compared to other DAPs. The N6 lasts me the day on a single charge, so I’d say it’s passable. It’ll be an issue once you start putting international flights into consideration though. I’m still waiting for a solid sounding DAP with a great battery life. Unfortunately the N6 isn’t that, but battery life isn’t poor on it either – by today’s standards at least.
 
UI and Functionality:
I’ll try to keep things short here as I feel that there wasn’t much that surprised me with the UI of the N6. Rather than explaining what every button does, I’ll simply put forth my opinion of the UI.
 
I think the N6 UI works, is well thought out, but still have room for improvement. All the functions you’d expect are there – EQ, shuffle, favorites list, etc. and all of them work. Navigating with the four buttons is also quite intuitive. My only wish for navigating the N6 is to have a faster way to scroll through all my music. I only have 1500 songs or so on my micro SD card, and that alone already takes forever to scroll through. The scroll wheel scrolls through the files and clicking the scroll wheel selects it. The up and down button also scroll through the song, while the right button selects the file. Considering the fact that the scroll wheel’s click is already a select button, I think the right button also having the same function is redundant. I would have loved to see the right button be a fast scroll function of some sort where it scrolls down maybe 10 or 15 at a time, just to speed things up.
 
Something else to note is that the resolution of the screen is really good for a high-end DAP. I’m not sure if the N6 competes with the offerings from Astell & Kern in this regard as I’ve had no experience with their products, it’s definitely better than what you get from Fiio or iBasso.
 
In terms of what the N6 can do, the N6 is quite a versatile beast. With a USB input, coax out, line out, as well as headphone out, the N6 is able to do quite a lot. It can act as a soundcard for your computer, as a source, as a DAC, or as an all-in-one player. The N6 covers quite a lot of bases for you audio needs and I think having that versatility is a great thing to have and could potentially save some money down the road as well.
 
Listening Impressions:
Background Noise
The N6 joins the iBasso DX90 as the quietest DAP I’ve had the pleasure of testing thanks to its low output impedance. With my Supra 2, which is incredibly sensitive, the N6 produces very little background hiss. Use your sensitive IEMs with confidence friend!
 
Sound Impressions
Having previously spent some time with the Cayin C5DAC, I definitely hear the Cayin house sound in the N6. The sound is quite linear with a bit of warmth in the lower end as well as a very nice and airy top end that offers a natural and pleasing listening experience. For my sound impressions, I used the N6 as a standalone DAP with my Noble Audio Savant as the earphone.
 
Relatively speaking, I think the N6 has the most neutral bass presentation of the mid-tier DAPs. It’s clean and well extended in comparison to the bass of the DX90, which is a good bit thicker and richer in comparison. The N6 also has better low end texture and detail but doesn’t quite have the impact and thump that other DAPs in the relative price range has. The N6 is tuned more for accuracy, but I never found it too lean or boring. On the contrary, the cleaner and faster bass was quite a welcoming quality to my ears, as it makes other DAPs sound a little muddy in the low end.
 
Midrange continues the trend of accuracy. The mids are neutral with just a slight hint of warmth to it. Accuracy and detail are, again, a bit of a step above the current offerings from Fiio and iBasso. I personally do feel, however, that midrange of the N6 lacks a little bit in dynamics and energy that makes instruments and vocals pop to life, making the midrange presentation neutral, accurate, but maybe just a tad flat. I also found that vocals with the N6 tend to be just a tad more distant, which could also be one of the reasons that I feel that the midrange isn’t quite as engaging.
 
The treble has a good sparkle to it with a great sense of air – one of the points I really enjoyed about the C5DAC that I’m glad is also present in the N6. The treble is more tamed and well controlled than the treble from the C5DAC, which I found could be a bit unnatural and splashy, and has better texture and resolution as well in comparison and is one of the strong points of the N6.
 
The soundstage of the N6 is wide and feels expansive, but lacks a little in depth especially in comparison to the width that N6 is able to present. Imaging on the N6 is also quite good, but I think still has room for improvement, as I feel that things to clutter up a little as the music gets more complex. The N6 is still a step ahead in terms of soundstage compared to other DAPs in the same price though. The sheer sense of openness that the N6 offers is really quite a treat and makes the N6 sound very natural.
 
Overall, I find the N6 to be faithful to the recording and headphones you’re using. While certainly not dead neutral, the N6 doesn’t color the sound too much. The N6 brings a very good resolution and an expansive soundstage to the realm of true portability. Yes, you can get better sound when you strap on a DAC or amplifier to a DAP, but for something that is truly pocketable and doesn’t require rubber bands, the N6 offers very impressive performance and at a price that’s relatively sane and reasonable (well, sort of?).
 
Comparison
 
Cayin N6 and iBasso DX90 + D14 “Bushmaster”
The beast of a DAC/Amp that is the D14 has been what I’ve been using since I received it and up to the point of this review. I use the DX90 simply as the source, while using both the DAC and Amp of the D14, so this is really more of an N6 and D14 comparison than it is an N6 and DX90 comparison. I feel that the N6 is better than the DX90 in almost all regards, being more detailed, accurate, natural, and having a more open sound with a larger soundstage. I was quite happy with how much better the N6 is relative to the DX90, and I think the extra 250 USD or so of the N6 is justified and worth it. Now back to the D14.
 
The D14 offers a slightly richer and colored sound compared to the N6. This is really the iBasso house sound versus the Cayin house sound at work. The D14 bass has more punch and more subbass presence, while the treble is smoother with a slight roll off, making the N6 sound more airy and open.
 
While having more punch in the bass, the bass isn’t really all that much more accentuated than the N6, and still remains very neutral and clean. I feel that bass texture is slightly better with the D14 thanks to its slightly more present subbass.
 
I think the midrange of the two are quite similar. Both remain fairly neutral, but the D14 is slightly warmer and slightly more forward. On the other hand, the N6 sounded more accurate and a little more detailed than the D14, as the D14 is a little smoother in the mids.
 
Treble detail is also better on the N6, and the sense of air that the N6 possess is simply fantastic. However, I find the control and decay of the D14 to be more organic sounding and overall more enjoyable to my ears.
 
I think comparing the soundstage and imaging of the D14 to the N6 really shows why the D14 is such an amazing device at its 230 USD price point. The N6 has a more open sound with a wider soundstage that is certainly impressive compared to other DAPs, but the D14 has a sense of three-dimensionality with fantastically precise imaging that I don’t think even the N6 can quite match.
 
Ending Thoughts:
The Cayin N6 is one of the best performing DAPs I’ve had the pleasure of auditioning. While it’s relatively large, I think it’s still of reasonable size to call it portable compared to something like the Aurender Flow, which is really more under the category of transportable than anything else. I had no trouble fitting the N6 in any pocket I had. What’s really great about the N6 is that it offers a usable UI and very good sound in a solidly built device that’s honestly not unreasonably big in comparison to other DAPs. I think the N6’s sound is honestly very close (if not better in some cases) to most portable stacks you can buy at 600 USD, while almost certainly being much more portable than the stack. The N6 is an easy recommendation for someone looking for a new DAP who has the money for it. Big thumbs up to Cayin for making a very solid product!
 
PS: Again, apologies for the lack of pictures!
Caruryn
Caruryn
Very in depth review and i agree about the soundstage being  wide and expansive but lacking in depth making the  sound kinda flat.It is clearly a step up vs dx90 in terms of clarity,soundstage,bass texture, control and detail in complex passages with a lot of organs where dx90 stumbles a bit losing coherency.Treble is a toss up with dx90  2.2.0 fw but not with previous fw where they lacked smoothness and were  harsh lurker fw included with some pairings(ie800).The n6 is also more airy and hi fi sounding being also more balanced.Was the fw used the latest (3.0) which gives a more warm tone? 
Pros: Sound Quality, Silent Background with IEMs, Lots of Technical Firepower
Cons: Runs Warm, User Interface Needs Work, Big Unit
Disclaimer
 
I see the other reviewers make mention that they received the Cayin N6 as provided by the nice people at CTC Audio North America with whom I've bought stuff and received great service. They only ask for my honest opinion and I've got a long history as a professional journalist, newspaper and magazine editor so I'm inclined to speak my mind. This makes this particular review more difficult than most because  there's aspects of the Cayin 6 I didn't like but lots I did.
 
About me
 
I'm 66, retired and over the last five years or so I've been enjoying better and better audio as my equipment list grew and my wallet depleted. In addition I've also been a very active federally licensed Amateur Radio operator so I've listened to a lot of stuff via headphones over the years. I build kits and listen to radios and I've got more headphones than shoes. These days I love to listen to well produced music and I loathe stuff that sounds bad.
 
As for equipment I started with a Fiio E11 for my Netflicks movies on my IPad and went on to buy an E-17 and E-09K combo. Went to my local audiofile store in Toronto to buy a small DAC for my MacBook Pro and came home with a Fostex HP-a8c. Went back a few days later to buy better headphones than my elderly Sennheiser 590s and Grado 60s and became the happy owner of Audezes's LCD-X headphones. Went back a few days later to by a cheap DAP and came home with an Astell and Kern AK-100 II plus the Fiio E-10K Olympus 2 which is what I wanted to being with.
 
Somebody put the Momentum's on-ears on sale here in Canada for just over $100 and got a set plus I always wanted a Fostex T-50RPs (which are amazing. It's immediately obvious what others hear in them and also why they get modified so often) and when they were offered for $99 I grabbed them too.
 
Throw in Shure's 535 in-ears and the simply amazing T-Peos D200-Ns which at $39 are the best buy in audio ever plus modded Sennheiser 439s and that's about it until the next delivery shows up.....I spoke too soon...the mail arrived I can now include a set of Dunu Titan 1s (which sound terrific. Big sound stage and authoritative bass..and a lot of it...a lot) and a set of T-Peos Baguette (lots of definition and not so much bass but I've yet to take the time to wiggle them around in my ears to experiment with the fit). They need more volume than the Titans but overall both are very impressive.)
 
I've got to grow another set of ears.
 
Cayin 6 Impressions
 
The first Cayin 6 delivered to me as part of the tour was reported by others to be running warm. It was. On Friday it was warm. Restarting on Saturday it was hot and then no audio. Now I'm not an engineer and I'm not about to open the case of a loaner unit but I suspect the audio output section failed. As this is an early (or perhaps even pre-production) unit I'm not overly concerned about an overheating failure. It could be anything and early production failures in the Amateur Radio world just like the audiophile world aren't uncommon. 
 
So the first unit was returned and a second Cayin 6 arrived and I've been playing it for hours at a time and it is getting barely warm. Now barely warm isn't as good as running dead cold but it's way better than running hot especially when it comes to solid state devices as compared to tubes which always run hot. I'm really pushing the Cayin 6 with the Titan 1s. WARNING Will Robinson...don't use this combination with Talking Heads turned up loud. It will blow your mind and maybe your ears. Extremely impressive sound. I'll speak more about this as we go.
 
If you go to CTC Audio's webpage you can read all about the technical specifications of the Cayin 6. Most of the technical talk is way beyond me as I'm still learning (and being retired I can cheerfully read about this stuff online for hours and hours) but the Cayin 6 looks to me like it will handle just about any format you throw at it plus the Cayin 6 is also a DAC as well as a DAP. That's pretty nice.
 
Now I don't do packaging and boxing comments but I will say the presentation box that holds the unit is pretty nice and all arrived safely after being subjected to the vulgarities of our postal delivery system.
 
What I Didn't Like
 
I'm not usually so blunt but I really didn't like the user interface...at all.  Compared to the Fiio X3 second generation that I reviewed a month or so ago, the Cayin 6's user interface is just plain weird. I can sort of get it to work now after three days of playing with the controls but it's not been fun. It's possible I just don't get it but the control on the left side of the unit which is a combination of scroll dial than can be pressed in plus the four-way button controller on the front of unit just seem inscrutable to me. 
 
Now you're mileage may vary. User interfaces are very very personal. I run software-define Amateur Radio transceivers and a lot of the old Sparky's can't stand the "no knob" interface. They can't get used to moving a mouse around to tune around the band.
 
It's the same here. You might just love the Cayin 6 interface and write me off as some old foggy who can't figure out a simple multi-button interface. Fair enough but I didn't have a good time.
 
Something else that concerned me was a tendency for the unit to turn off if the headphones were unplugged while music was playing. Happened all weekend long and now it's not happening at all. I don't know...it could be me but the Fiio X3 left me with the impression I could shoot it and it would still keep trying to play great music. The Cayin 6...well not so much but then again the replacement unit has never failed to deliver where it counts.
 
I'm getting used to the size of the Cayin 6 but unlike the Fiio it won't fit in a shirt pocket. Of course neither will the AK. The look of the Cayin 6 with its big round window is starting to grow on me. I didn't like it at first but based on what I'm going to say below about the sound, a little getting used to the look isn't a big deal.
 
One other issue surfaced when I plugged in the Momentums. The Cayin 6 couldn't get around the IPhone controller on the Momentums. The AK didn't have an issue with the Momentums but I couldn't get them to work on the Cayin 6. I could get a burst of music but as soon as I let go of the control button the music stopped. Not good.
 
What I Liked...A Lot
 
I can stream my ITunes library wirelessly to my Astell and Kern. This allows me to take my micro-SD card and put it into the Cayin 6 and then pull up the same song from ITunes on the computer and stream it to the AK-100 II. This allows for immediate A to B comparison between the Cayin 6 and the AK-100 II using a variety of headphones and in-ear monitors.
 
I sampled a whole lot of different music and different musicians and there is a difference between how the Cayin 6 and the AK-100 II reproduce the same music. The problem is I can't articulate what that difference might be. In quick A-B test I slightly preferred the sound of the AK but at $900 out of my pocket there just might be an economic's bias here. In extended time with either unit I ended up loving what I was hearing after about five minutes of listening.
 
The Cayin 6 is a superb sounding DAP. Big sound stage with tons of detail and the ability to handle a huge dynamic range in sound it's a joy to listen to for hours on end. It loves to drive my Shure 535s and Titan 1s to new levels of perfection.
 
I like to use Bob Marley's Legend album to test out the right and left balance and the Cayin 6 loves Bob about as much as I do. It's like you're right up on stage with Bob. You can hear his voice echoing slightly off the studio walls. On the live version of No Woman No Cry your back in Jamaica. It's a hot night and the crowd is singing with the band and you're there in that "great future where you can forget your past". Wonderful reproduction by the Cayin 6.
 
The Trinity Sessions by the Cowboy Junkies was recorded back in 1988 using one microphone in a couple of days inside Toronto's old Church of the Holy Trinity. Featuring sister Margo Timmin's laid back haunting vocals it's a great test for any solid state DAP. In "Mining For Gold" you should be able to hear the sound of the amplification hissing slightly in the background and in Misguided Angel you can hear the sounds echoing off the church walls and ceiling.
 
Considered by some (myself included) as one of the best groups to ever come out of Canada, the Cayin 6 with a decent set of in-ears makes for a very intimate experience that's not to missed when listening to the Cowboy Junkies.
 
The Cayin 6 really really likes my in-ears and the Grado 60s but struggles a bit with the Audeze LCD-X which appreciate an external amp. It's not overly noticeable until you start to really drive them with something like Talking Heads and then the Picollo amp helps sort out all the music that's flowing out of the LCD-Xs.
 
Finally one last thing I liked about the Cayin 6 is you can actually read the screen outdoors. Now you're still going to have to shade the screen but at least you can read it unlike some other LCD screens that can only be read indoors.
 
So where are we with the Cayin 6?
 
At $600 I think a lot of folks are going to love their Cayin 6s. The interface is something you can get used to in time and the larger size just means there's more good stuff inside :) Sure there are cheaper units but honestly I can't think they're going to sound better than the Cayin 6. And as for the more expensive units? Well if there is a difference (as per the AK-100 II) it's pretty subtle and not worth an extra $300 in cost IMHO. 
Hawaiibadboy
Hawaiibadboy
First review of the unit that sounds rationale. Don't think you said "wet" or "dry" or a buncha other stuff that means nothing to the average shopper which makes up ..oh...most of the buyers (after the audiophile first adopters come through).
swannie007
swannie007
Great review and one I can relate to without all the audiophile mumbo jumbo that I can't understand. I would call this the "everyman" review, and that is a good thing. I am close to your age(just a few years younger) and I'm afraid all the fancy jargon leaves me cold and bewildered so I truly appreciate your style of description and writing. Oh by the way, just downloaded some Cowboy Junkies and loving it! Thanks for everything and cheers from Oz. Swine.
swannie007
swannie007
Stupid auto correct, should be Swannie NOT swine!!
Pros: Sound Quality, Headphone Driving Power, Very low noise with IEMs, Native DSD Support, Design, Build Quality
Cons: Battery life, User Interface Quirks, Large DAP, Only One mSD Slot
Disclaimer
 
The Cayin N6 was provided to me as part of the CTC Audio North American tour in exchange for my impressions and honest opinion on the device. It has left my possession and is on to the next reviewers. I am in no way affiliated with Cayin or CTC Audio and do not own the Cayin N6. I'd like to thank Cayin and CTC Audio for providing the opportunity to review the N6. This review is based entirely on my impressions and your impressions may be different.
 
About Me
 
I am an audio enthusiast in my mid forties and have enjoyed listening to music since my youth with vinyl, cassettes, and later CDs and digital files. I listen to wide variety of music from a perspective of losing myself to the experience. At times I like to be transported to different states of mind or emotion in the case of classical and OST recordings. Other times I go to the venue in the case of live recordings, binaural+, or studio sessions. Some times I just like to rock out. Every time, however, I want the clearest and most natural representation of the music that I can afford. If the track has thumping bass I want to hear it. If the track is complex with many instruments I want to hear each one. I listen critically often but also appreciate timbre and musicality. 
 
I've used Sony Walkman cassette players, mini disc players, Sansa Clip+, iPod classics, iPhones etc., over the years as my portable devices, and have 'grown up' with headphones in my ears and players at my side. My first digital high resolution player was the FiiO X3 first generation. My current player is the first generation FiiO X5 and I enjoy it for it's revealing and honest presentation of the music, and it's flexibility to integrate with the rest of my gear. This review will be mostly in comparison to the X5 with different headphones and amplifiers currently in my possession.

Cayin N6 General information
 
1. DSD playback and DSD native output.
2. Separate crystals for 44.1 kHz PCM, 48kHz PCM and DSD to reduce the crosstalk from the clock signal and decrease jitter.
3. Support high performance Asynchronous USB Audio 2.0.
4. Dual PCM1792A DAC chips from Texas Instruments are used for highest sound quality. Each chip for each channel converts the digital signal to analog signal.
5. MCU can judge from the playback situation and give order to setup PCM1792A at its best listening situation. PCM1792A can work in both PCM and DSD operation state. It can switch between different modes and realize DSD native decoding and playback.
6. Volume control takes high performance volume chip PGA2311 from Texas Instrument.
7. N6 comes with three output ports: headphone out, line out and coaxial digital output.
Apart from connecting directly to headphones, you can also connect it to other DACs and amps.
8. Dual BUF634 with a driving capacity of 250mA are used for headphone drive.
9. Separate power supply circuit for the Digital and Analogue ciruict.
10. Precise I/V conversion circuit, low pass filter circuit and high performance amplification circuit.
11. Build in battery with capacity of 3.7V 5600mAh.
12. 8GB internal storage with one extera TF card slot.
 

Specifications
 
Headphone Out:
 
Power Rating 220mW+220mW (@32Ω)
Frequency Response - 20Hz~20KHz±0.2dB - 5H~50KHz±1dB
THD + N - 0.005% (20Hz~20kHz,A-Weighted)
Dynamic Range - 110dB (20Hz~20kHz,A-Weighted)
SNR - 109dB (20Hz~20kHz,A-Weighted)
Output Impedance - < 0.26Ω

Line Out:
 
Output level - 1.7V (@10kΩ)
Frequency response - 20~20kHz±0.2dB - 5Hz~50kHz±1dB
THD + Noise - 0.004% (20Hz~20kHz,A-Weighted)
Dynamic Range - 110dB (20Hz~20kHz,A-Weighted)
SNR - 109dB (20Hz~20kHz,A-Weighted)

Coaxial Out:
 
Output level - 0.5V (@ 75Ω) - 1.0V (Unloaded)
Output Impedance - 75Ω
Other specifications:
Display 2.4” 400*360 IPS
Data transmission USB2.0
 
Outputs:
 
Phone out(3.5mm)
Line out(3.5mm)
Coaxial Digital Out(3.5mm)
 
Miscellaneous:
 
Player dimension - 126*72*19.7 (mm)
Package size - 208*163*47 (mm)
Net Weight ~ 225g
Package weight (Player and Accessories ) ~ 635g
Battery - 5600mAh 3.7V Lithium polymer
Memory card - MicroSD-TF (Up to 128G, not provided) - supports FAT32, FAT16, NTFS, exFAT
Firmware upgrade - Upgrade via TF card
Battery duration ~ 7hrs
Charging time ~ 4hrs (with 2A charger, not privided)
 
 

The Packaging
 
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The N6 comes in a fairly simple box yet it feels very classy. I like that there aren't flashy graphics all over the packaging and just a simple outline of the player.
 
 

In the Box
 
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- USB cable
- Coaxial cable (3.5mm to RCA)
- USB Micro SD adaptor
- Silicone Case
- Stainless steel and carbon fiber Keychain
- User Manual
- Warranty Card
 
 
Hardware Look and Feel
 
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Compared to to the X5, iPhone 5s, iPod Classic 120gb.
 
As a physical device the first thing I have to say is that the N6 is very appealing. The combination of right angles, bevels, curves, and materials hits just the right spot for me. I realize the appreciation for the physical shape is entirely subjective, but to these eyes it has a certain je ne sais quoi about it. I really like the departure from cold rectangular buttons on the front of the device in the ever increasing crowd of new DAPs. It reminds me of a 60's Sci-Fi gadget and for that I love it. On the more practical side I would say the unit is a bit on the large side but not enough to cause me any issue, you need space to fit quality hardware!!
 
 
BackFullResize.jpg     BackCloseResize.jpg
I have a thing for Carbon Fibre and it looks very nice on the N6.
 
The main chassis is made of aluminum with a circular glass covering the screen and a glossy carbon fibre back. I love the carbon fibre and, like the AK240, it compliments the metal front and sides very well. Again, it adds a certain something to the look of the DAP. In the hand it feels solid and the build quality is top notch.
 
The screen is a 400x360 resolution screen and is bright and vibrant. My only comment on the screen is when compared to the X5 which uses a screen with the same size and resolution (is it the same screen?). When looking at the two units side by side the N6 screen is a little more washed out with a slight white balance shift to the cooler light spectrum (blue). The FiiO screen is much more accurate in neutral colour representation and comes closer to the ideal D6500 white balance (warmer) and has more contrast. See below.
 
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IMG_1412Resize.jpg
X5 screen with a custom theme on the top. N6 screen on the bottom.
Notice how the album art is placed differently in each DAP.
 
The N6 screen is also set to be brighter than the X5. At it's lowest brightness setting the N6 is clearly brighter. It's a nice screen to use and has good sharpness and viewing angles. The square screen seems to disappear and is barely noticeable when the N6 screen is off. The Cayin name above the screen is another small touch that really adds to the beauty of this DAP. 
 
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The beautiful spectral colour shift in the Cayin text is difficult
to capture in photographs.
 
 
 
Hardware Usability
 
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The unique scroll dial.
 
Interaction with the N6 is a combination of buttons and a unique scroll dial located on the left side of the screen. You can use the dial to scroll through song lists and menus and it can be pressed to select the item you are on in the menus. It is one of three buttons you can operate when the screen is off where it acts as the Pause/Play button. It also has the duty of bringing up the shortcut menu in the Now Playing screen when pressed. The dial is a handy and convenient feature that takes some getting used to but is rather enjoyable once you get the hang of it. The dial isn't loose and yet it isn't too tight either.
 
 
VolumeResize.jpg
Simple Volume control on the side.
 
On the other side of the unit is the Volume Down/Up buttons that also skip Forward/Back when the screen is off. A short press will lower/raise the volume one increment while a long press will skip Forward/Back. 
 
 
FrontButtonsResize.jpg
Uniquely shaped buttons on the front.
 
The front of the N6 has a four way control scheme using unique 'infinity' shaped left/right buttons, and semi-circular down/up buttons. Like the scroll dial the down/up buttons on the front navigate down/up in the menus. The down/up buttons also act as the next/previous buttons in the Now Playing screen. The right button selects and toggles menu items and acts as the Play/Pause button in the Now Playing screen when the screen is active. The left button takes you back a level from a menu item.
 
 
Beauty_04Resize.jpg
 
On the top is the power button and output jacks. Besides powering the device on/off with a long press it's also used to toggle the screen on and off. 
 
 
 
Inputs and Outputs and Storage
 
OutputJacks02Resize.jpg
 
I like the approach Cayin has taken with the three separate jacks for Headphone Out, Line Out, and Coaxial SPDIF digital out.
 
- Headphone Out uses the powerful BTL amplification built in to the N6.
 
- Line Out bypasses the internal headphone amplifier and sends the stereo signal from the Dual DACs to an outboard amplifier.
 
- Coaxial SPDIF outputs the decoded digital signal to use an external DAC to handle the digital to analogue conversion.
 
 
BottomResize.jpg
Unfortunately the N6 has only one mSD slot.
 
On the bottom of the unit you'll find the micro USB jack and the mSD slot. The USB jack is used for charging as well as transferring data and also when using the N6 as a USB DAC from a computer.
 
The battery life of the unit is rated at seven hours and I found this to be about what I was getting playing a variety of redbook CD 16bit/44.1kHz files to high resolution 24bit/192kHz files. I find the unit gets fairly warm (warmer than the X5), even when not playing music. Battery life feels quite short compared to other devices I've used and I hope Cayin is able to increase it somewhat with new firmware. Being realistic though I doubt there are huge gains to be had here.
 
The mSD slot supports the current 128gb cards on the market and I had no trouble using the Sandisk 128gb FAT32 formatted card straight out of my FiiO X5. Scanning music from the card seemed on par with the X5, that is to say pretty snappy considering the amount of files. I was also able to upgrade the firmware from 1.1 to 2.0 using this card with music files on it so no worries there.
 
There is 8gb of internal storage built in to the device that contains the Windows USB DAC driver and user manuals. It's nice to be able to put some music on the N6 and get started right away but you're going to want to pick up a higher capacity card to take advantage of the high resolution playback of the device if you have more than just a couple of albums.
 

Software Usability (UI)
 
N6startup02.jpg     N6PowerOff.jpg
Startup and power off screens.
 
Just like the FiiO X5 the Cayin N6 uses a proprietary interface designed specifically for the player - The main theme of the N6 is based on a vinyl record album. This is no Apple UI but it gets the job done and I have no real complaints here, just a couple minor annoyances. 
 
The first is the way the interface seems to encourage me to have to move my hand around the device to operate it. For example, in the Now Playing screen you can not push in the scroll dial on the side to pause the music. You need to move over to the front face right button to Play/Pause. I would swap the function mapping of these buttons to make it more intuitive and keep Play/Pause consistent when the screen is on or off. Conversely you can not use the front face down/up buttons to scroll through the lists of songs in the Now Playing screen so you need to move over to the scroll dial for that. It's not a deal breaker for me but certainly not as convenient as the X5 scroll wheel and buttons that are all on the front face of the device (besides volume and power) with easy access using one hand. 
Boot time is fairly quick at around 10 seconds though it's slightly slower than the X5.
 
I had no issues playing a variety of music files from mp3 320kbps, aac 256kbps, to 16/44.1 lossless FLAC and ALAC, and high resolution ALAC up to 24/192.
 
IMG_1389Resize.jpg   IMG_1390Resize.jpg
The N6 has a 10 band EQ that adjusts in increments of 1db. It would be nice to have finer control over each frequency volume adjustment but the EQ works well otherwise. Another minor annoyance is the adjustment of the EQ bands seems overly complicated with the required finger dance on the device needed to adjust a slider and I'd like to see Cayin address this in a future update.
 
Gapless playback worked without a hitch for me and I did not notice any transitions in the tracks of an album such as Pink Floyd's The Wall, or Hans Zimmer's OST The Dark Knight Rises.
 
 
Menu pics
 
Menus starting with Now Playing and moving clockwise in the Main Menu.
 
 
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As you can see there is a lot of information in the Now Playing screen.
There is also access to a shortcut menu by pressing the scroll dial.
 
 
IMG_1398Resize.jpg   IMG_1403Resize.jpg   IMG_1404Resize.jpg
The Playback Settings offer a lot of options for music playback. I didn't notice much difference between the Sharp and Slow digital filter.
 
 
IMG_1399Resize.jpg   IMG_1405Resize.jpg
The System Settings menu has the standard items to set in a DAP.
 
 
IMG_1400Resize.jpg   IMG_1406Resize.jpg
The Categories menu has the standard categories to help find your music.
 
 
IMG_1401Resize.jpg   IMG_1418Resize.jpg   IMG_1416Resize.jpg
The Music Library menu is where you update your library for categories and where you browse the storage media.
From here you also add or remove your Favourites. Odd that it isn't found in the Categories menu.
 
As you can see in the pics the menus in the N6 give a lot of control over how you set up and listen to your DAP.
 
 
N6 DAC section
 
The N6 uses a dual DAC architecture with two top of the line Texas Instruments 1792A DAC chips and Cayin has done a terrific job with the implementation. Using three Crystal Oscillators for multiples of 44.1kHz, 48kHz and DSD there is little to no digital distortion/smearing (jitter) that I can detect with my most revealing headphones/IEMs. Using a DAC for each channel in the stereo output to the amplifier section helps keep the signal clean while at the same time helps to ensure that no detail is missed when converting the digital signal to analogue. They are able to utilize more DAC resources per channel and the difference may be slight, but certainly appreciated when the rest of the audio chain can keep up. The DAC section can deal with DSD high resolution formats DSD128 and DSD64 natively and DXD, as well as up to high resolution 24bit/192kHz for lossless PCM ALAC, FLAC, WAV, APE  formats, and lossy PCM MP3, AAC, WMA formats.
 
To use the N6 as a USB DAC you'll need to install the provided drivers for Windows. For Mac users no drivers are required for the USB DAC functionality.
 

N6 Amplifier section
 
Cayin has taken the BTL amplification approach to take advantage of the dual DAC architecture in the N6. What is BTL amplification? Technically it's short for Bridge-Tied Loads. In simple terms its implementation is to take the output from the dual DACs and bridge them together for a stereo output and gives outstanding channel separation with very little crosstalk. It also doubles the voltage swing for great dynamics in the music. The loudest and quietest parts of the music are able to be played with very little distortion. The headphone output impedance is a respectable 0.26 Ohm so it should play nice with low impedance balanced armature IEMs.
 
Enough about the techno-babble. In short the N6 amplifier section is powerful with a very low noise floor. It can drive both my LCD-2 and my JH Angie IEM with good enough power for the LCD and little to no hiss for the Angie. This is very impressive. 
 
It has a more powerful amp section than the X5. After volume matching both units (to the best that I can) the N6 volume is set at 23/100 (23% of the total) and X5 volume is set at 42/120 (35% of the total) with the JH Angie IEM, that's a 15% difference! I see no reason why you'd need to strap an external amp to the N6 unless you prefer the sound signature of the external amp, have pretty difficult to drive headphones, or really like a feature like bass boost or crossfeed. The amp section is very well implemented.
 
 
Cayin N6 Overall Sound
 
When describing the sound of a player there are many factors to consider - from the files being used and how they were mastered, the headphones being used, the volume one is using, the output chosen (headphone out, line out, coaxial out) and the other gear in the chain. Also, the perspective one is coming from I feel is of great importance. If a user has never heard a very detailed and analytical source they might find the N6 to be too bright and analytical, or too revealing of the flaws in poorly mastered music. On the other hand if coming from a perspective of highly revealing source gear and quality masters one may find the N6 to be too organic and not analytical enough.
 
I'll be describing the signature of the N6 from the use of generally well mastered music with a range of headphones with different sound signatures in my collection. One last note before I begin with describing the sound. If you don't like the sound signature of your headphones the N6 will not magically change them in to something else. These are my findings and your mileage may vary.
 
In a nutshell the Cayin N6 is a very detailed and musical portable player that is able to pull out minute details while at the same time sounding spacious and musical. This is not easy to accomplish to be sure. It's a slightly warmer DAP than the X5 but in no way would I say that takes away from the overall clarity of the presentation. It`s simply nice to have some warmth in the music and this helps take it away from being cold and analytical. Makes it natural. The soundstage is also very large with the N6, borderline holographic. It doesn`t cross that line thankfully and presents music with some nice depth and width which helps with the sense of space in the track. Instruments are rendered with good timbre and you can hear the nuances come through fairly easily. With the right headphones it`s easy to get a sense of imaging from the N6 to place the instruments within the soundstage.
 
 
Sound Comparison to FiiO X5
 
X5_Size.jpg
 
The first thing I noticed was a slight recess in the upper mid range compared to the X5. Given that I've been using the X5 for over a year it may just be my perspective  (there's that word again) but this recess makes it sound slightly less detailed and less forward than the X5. For example, When listening to Tears In Heaven from Eric Clapton's Unplugged album I can hear the reverberations from the guitar strings more easily on the X5 and the bell that rings in the track sounds a litter more prominent on the X5 than on the N6. Then again the difference in upper mids presentation may also be what gives the N6 a more natural organic sound than the X5. 
 
Besides the slight difference in upper mids I'd say the sound signature of both these DAPs is very close with the N6 edging out the X5 in dynamics and timbre. The treble in the N6 is more natural to me than on the X5. It has a better sense of air and is slightly less grainy with a larger soudstage. These differences aren't huge but can make an overall better impression in the long run. For the sticker price I'd have a hard time deciding between the two. Especially given FiiO's more mature UI and I prefer it's button layout, but on a sound quality standpoint I'd choose the N6.
 
At the end of the day I'd say the differences are X5 can be compared to, not in absolute but relative terms, an analytical solid state amplifier and the N6 can be compared to a quality (not dark) tube amplifier with a more organic flavour and larger soundstage that's still very revealing of all the details in the music. Again, relatively speaking.
 
 
Headphone Pairings
 
To be honest I don't believe that a certain headphones must be paired with a certain piece of gear or a certain genre. I believe in synergy with gear, sure, but if you don't like your headphone you should move on to a different set rather than wrestle with gear to compensate, or use an EQ.
 
TestHeadphonesResize.jpg
 
 
Tpeos-Altone 350 [Volume 35/100, low gain] - The Altone 350 was included as a part of the N6 tour and I felt obliged to give them a listen. To be honest they weren’t to my liking and I found the bass to be much too elevated and loose. The bass bled in to the mids and the mids felt recessed. The treble was also too hot in my opinion, think V shape sound to the max. It was hard for me to get a sense of what the the N6 brings to the mix given the amount of coloration from the Altone 350. Overall I found the X5 to pair better with these earphones as it at least flattened out the sound a little. 

Vmoda M-100 [Volume 40/100, low gain] - The N6 helps the bass heavy (though somewhat detailed bass) M-100 a little with the sense of space. Overall though the M-100 has so much bass that without an equalizer I prefer not to listen to it. On the N6 I dialed the 30Hz-63Hz range down by -6db, 125Hz down by -5db, 250 Hz down by -4db, and 500Hz down by -3 db. This helped quite a bit to balance the these headphones closer to my LCD-2 with regard to the frequency balance, and the EQ worked well.
 
AKG K550 [Volume 40/100, low gain] - These headphones can sound a bit hot in the treble but the lower bass has a good kick to them and can punch hard when the music calls for it. I  found the K550 quite enjoyable from the N6 with its treble detail and extra soundstage, which enhances the excellent soundstage on the K550 (for a closed headphone). The only caveat is there are slightly recessed mids with this headphone which the N6 doesn't help much with. Overall a great match and a fun listen.
 
Audeze LCD-2 non fazor [Volume 75/100, low gain] - The fact that these planar dynamic headphones can be driven from the N6 without using high gain and without raising the volume too much is surprising to me. The N6 increased the sense of air and provides a good enough source for the LCD-2. It's not a match made in heaven though. The dynamics are somewhat crippled and it sounds a bit hollow to me compared to my desktop gear, or even a powerful portable amp. This is expected though. Still you can use the N6 with the LCD-2 to drive it to good volumes when in a pinch. High gain was not much different except for needing to lower the volume to keep the listening level the same.
 
Audeze LCD-XC [Volume 45/100, low gain] - The LCD-XC is a different animal than the LCD-2. It's much more efficient and has much faster drivers with more detail retrieval. The N6 paired very well with the XC and the more organic presentation from the N6 helped with the elevated upper mids and treble on the XC. The combination is extremely enjoyable to listen to and the punch from the bass, clear mids and treble with N6 sounded the best out of everything I tried it with. Of course we are talking about some serious headphones but the N6 wasn't ashamed to feed them what they wanted. Great dynamics and an open soundstage.
 
JH Audio Angie Universal IEM [Volume 23/100, low gain] - The N6 to the Angie was a revelation. There is so much detail retrieval on tap with every small nuance being thrown out for the Angie to reproduce, and yet it still had a wide soundstage. I found that no frequency was fighting with each other to be heard. This is a very close second in my tests and it would be number one if the bass could extend as low as the LCD-XC. I heard no real hiss from the N6 using the somewhat sensitive Angie (17 Ohm resistance and 117db sensitivity @ 1kHz).
 
Overall difference from the X5 with these headphones is the X5 has a more forward presentation and more clinical sound, flatter, more closed in. The same qualities of the headphone shine through but with less timbre and dynamics. Less musicality. This gives me a perception of a slightly more detailed presentation from the X5 but not as enjoyable.
 

Line out to Oppo HA-1
 
LO_OppoResize.jpg
 
For these tests I used the LCD-XC with the single ended output from the HA-1 and also compared the line out from the X5, no EQ on either player. The Line Level Output from the N6 is a respectable 1.7 volts.
 
Cayin N6 Line Out to the HA-1 was fantastic. The Dual DAC architecture compared well with the HA-1's built in ESS9018 DAC for detail retrieval, if not slightly behind. The N6 DACs had more separation and was nice and punchy. The leading edge of the notes had a great impact and the decay was tight and controlled. All the detail in the music is there and there seemed to be a greater sense of space. 
 
FiiO X5 Line Out to the HA-1 sounded more clinical, more dry. I preferred the N6 Line Out.
 
Coaxial Digital Out to HA-1
 
Given that coaxial output simply bypasses the internal DAC on each player and sends the decoded digital signal to an external DAC this is an area where I don't expect any difference, and all I can say is I was surprised!! The N6 came through as more dynamic and revealing than the X5. Is it the three Oscillators in the N6? Is it the signal path? Is it the decoding of the music files? I have no idea, but my ears tell me that the N6 was tighter, faster, slightly louder, less boomy than the X5 coaxial digital out. Really surprised here. Are the differences night and day? NO, not at all, but they are there.
 
 
Line Out to FiiO e12 [bass boost off]
 
LO_Oppo_02Resize.jpg
I know, the N6 isn't hooked up to the e12 but I forgot to take a pic of that!
 
From the e12 I used the LCD-XC, no EQ from either player.
 
The e12 flattened the soundstage and music was presented in a much dryer fashion than the N6 headphone out. Clearly the amplifier implementation in the N6 is made to take advantage of the dual DAC architecture. Once again, all the details are there but with less space in the music, less separation and less 'oomph' using the e12. It seems FiiO has a much dryer presentation overall and the Cayin presentation has more life.
 
X5 Line Out to e12 sounds very similar to the X5's headphone out. The e12 adds the required power for difficult to drive headphones and has slightly less grain than the X5 headphone out, but overall the similarities are obvious. Once again, given the more clinical signature of the e12 it felt not as organic as the N6 pairing yet slightly more revealing, more detailed. 
 
 
 
Final Thoughts
 
I've been quite happy with the X5 for the time I've had with it and given the use of the same DAC in the N6 and the overall similar power ratings I didn't expect there to be much audible difference between the two DAPs. I was wrong. Sure, they have a similar sound signatures but the magic happens in the nuances. With better dynamics, more punch, and a larger soundstage the N6 is clearly ahead of the X5 to me. These details bring out a more organic musicality in the N6 that the first generation X5 doesn't have. The user experience isn't as mature as with the X5 but from following the N6 forum on Head-Fi I'm sure that improvements are coming.
 
Would I purchase one? If I didn't already have the X5 and based exclusively on the sound quality, yes, in heart beat. However, with less battery life, a less mature UI and it's price being almost twice as much as the X5 the decision becomes more difficult. Also with the new X5 II coming soon (which I will be reviewing) the decision becomes even more difficult.
 
If you don't already have a high resolution Digital Audio Player and are looking for top of the line audio reproduction on the go, or even as a source integrated with the rest of your audio system, the Cayin N6 is a great buy in the mid to upper tier of players on the market. The sound this player can reproduce is nothing short of stunning.
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Beauty_01ResizeCrop.jpg
 
 

 
Photos taken with Canon 7D,
custom white balance, manual focus, polarizing filter,
and iPhone 5s.
 
 
Small note on Custom Themes
 
I've been active in creating custom themes for the X5 and have been quite happy with the results. Cayin has expressed that they may allow custom theme modification in the future at which time I may not be able to resist picking one up. In my opinion it would go a long way to helping the usability of the device, not that its terrible as it is now.
HenHarrier
HenHarrier
Great review. My N6 arrived yesterday (excellent service, by the way, from EA Audio via EBay and a good price for any UK head-fiers reading this) - and I love it. I've no other recent DAPs to compare it with as I've been using an old Sony NWZ A816 for years (after selling off thousands of pounds of Naim equipment when I lost my job), but even with 320kbps Mp3s the N6 is incredibly musical and tight. It looks and feels wonderful and is really well made. The UI takes a little time to get used to (the Sony was very basic of course) but it becomes second nature quite quickly (the jog wheel is beautifully integrated and perfect for small volume changes). I have to admit when I first tried it I was ready to send it back - bass was superb, but the trebles were ear-stripping: it was set to high gain and sharp though and that's not good with the RHA MA750s I'm using at the moment. However, once I'd got the settings to my personal liking and given myself a few hours to get used to the new 'sound' (I need to 'burn in') I'm absolutely hooked. Can't stop listening to the thing - which is good as it's not cheap (for me, anyway)! I'm hoping now to hear it with the Sennheiser ie800s which have been mentioned several times as perfect partners. Would I recommend it? Who am I to do that, but FWIW I think the team at @Cayin have done a fantastic job and I'm a very happy chappy right now!
x RELIC x
x RELIC x
x RELIC x
x RELIC x
@HenHarrier, glad you're liking it! I may just pick one up in the near future
Pros: Gorgeous, crystal-clear sound; powerful, high quality internal amplification; unique design; superb build quality
Cons: Big – not what you’d call "pocket-friendly"; player gets quite warm during play; less than ideal battery life; finicky about 'phones
4.jpg
 
Before I get into my review, some disclosure: I received a free loaner unit as part of a mini North American tour, set up and sponsored by @EmpJ of CTC Audio. I got to keep the unit for a week, during which I used it fairly extensively, before sending it on to the next tour member. I am not personally affiliated with CTC Audio, I did not have to pay for the loaner unit (only to forward it to the next reviewer), and unfortunately I was not able to to keep it long term.
 
In my review I did comparisons using the X3 2nd generation (referred to as X3ii in this review), with and without the JDS Labs O2 headphone amplifier. Headphones used included several IEMs (Havi B3 Pro 1, Noble 6 and the new T-Peos Altone 350) and over-ear cans (Sennheiser HD650 and Audio Technica ATH-R70x). All of the above equipment is my own, paid for by me (with the exception of the Altone 350, which was provided as part of the N6 tour, and the HD650 which is also a loaner).
 
About Me
 
Before getting into the review, a little about me. I’m 50 years old, and so probably have deficiencies in my hearing (in a recent, entirely non-scientific test I discovered I can’t really hear anything over about 15 kHz, with roll-of starting around 12 or 13 kHz, which is actually pretty good for someone of my vintage). I’ve been a music lover for decades, but am still relatively new to the MidFi/HiFi/Head-Fi game; I haven’t listened to a lot of high end equipment, and am not an expert on the technical aspects of electronics or musical terminology. I have read a lot of reviews and threads on Head-Fi, and spend a lot of time on the site; as such I know what has been helpful to me in reviews and endeavor to provide what I consider useful insight to help others make decisions about items they might want to try or buy.
 
I listen to a variety of music genres, in particular, Classical (mostly mid 1700s to mid/late 1800s), Jazz (late ‘50s to early 70’s), Rock and some Prog-Rock (‘70s), ‘80s New Wave/Electro, and Trip Hop/Acid Jazz (90’s into 00’s). My preferred sound signature would be characterized by a good sub-bass presence, tight mid bass, and relatively linear, detailed mids and highs. I like my music quite lush and rich, but with a good level of detail. I’m not a bass-head, am not a big fan of anything too boomy, and don’t like highs that are too intense or harsh.
 
The Review
 
Look and Feel
 
The N6 is a unique looking DAP. One friend said it made him think of a Phaser or some other instrument from Star Trek. Someone else said it reminded them of the movie Gattaca. Personally I think it’s a little bit Gattaca, a little bit Star Trek, a little bit 2001, and a little bit front-loading washing machine. That said, I love the look!
 
The unibody metal design is gorgeous, with great detail and precision in placement and alignment of all buttons and plugs. The glass-covered, carbon fibre back has a very refined, classy look. The unit is not heavy, but it has good heft and feels solid and robust. The N6 is large for a portable DAP, and not exactly what I would call “pocket-friendly.”
 
1Unbox.jpg
 
Presentation box.
 
2content.jpg
 
What's in the box? SPDIF RCA Coax adaptor, Micro USB card, key chain, USB Micro SD adaptor, the N6.
 
3.jpg
 
View from bottom: MicroSD card slot, reset button, USB. Main buttons on face of unit are back button on left, play/pause on right, and rewind/ffwd top and bottom.
 
5.jpg
 
Jog dial and select on the left side of the unit.
 
6.jpg
 
Power button, coax out, headphone out and line out across the top of the unit.
 
7.jpg
 
Volume control on right side.
 
8.jpg
 
Do I look like a washing machine in this case?
 
9.jpg
 
Silicon back is pure class.
 
10Stack.jpg
 
Should you wish to stack (and why would you for portable use?), this is how the N6 compares in size to the Fiio E12A.
 
11Case.jpg
 
The N6 fits perfectly in a Pelican Micro 1020 case.
 
12Display.jpg
 
Display: With the large, washing-machine-window look, one might expect an equally vast display; however, it is a smallish square that doesn’t even touch the edges of the circular display area (see above). Display quality is quite good, with album art clear and colour representation quite accurate, if a little subdued.
 
UI and ergonomics: The UI takes a little getting used to, but is easy once you know what is in which menus and how to navigate them back and forth. I found everything pretty intuitive to pick up, but changing settings on the EQ was confusing, and I’m still not 100% sure what I did to make adjustments (though I did muddle through).
 
Jog wheel, buttons: The jog wheel works extremely well, with for the most part one click on the wheel resulting in one move on display menus and adjustments. The only issue I had was a lag between some jog movements or button presses and the expected result on the player. Something to adjust to, I suppose.
 
Battery: I never ran the battery down, but also never used it that long between charges. My longest listening session was about 3.5 hours, with some stopping and starting and using up power via the display. In that time I ran the N6 down to 54% remaining on the battery, so my estimate tells me we’re looking at around 7 hours for a full charge. Not awful, but nothing stellar, either.
 
Heat: After playing music on the N6 for some time in an extended listening session, it gets quite warm. Not burn-your-fingers hot, but warm. That might be nice if carrying the N6 in a jacket pocket in winter, but not so great in warmer seasons. Then again, I can't really see pocketing the N6 with summer clothing as the unit is not really sized appropriately. Anyway, we digress. Just know that the N6 gets warm.
 
Listening Tests
 
I divided my listening into comparisons (looking for differences between the N6 and another piece or pieces of equipment) and general listening (choosing a song and listening through it several times and trying to pick out details in the music that indicate a quality or deficiency in the player). I realize that comparing the N6 to the Fiio X3ii is a bit like comparing apples to oranges as the N6 is almost three times the price of the X3ii. That said, if someone with an X3 is thinking of upgrading to something more expensive, they’ll want to know what they’re getting, so maybe the comparison isn’t so wacky after all.
 
I didn’t test the DAC features of the N6 as it’s not what I typically use a DAP for, and didn’t perform any measurements of inputs or outputs. Again, not my thing.
 
Comparison 1: Fiio X3ii vs. Cayin N6, with Havi B3 Pro 1 (Spinfit ear tips)
X3ii (High Gain, EQ off, Volume 110/120)
N6 (Low Gain, EQ off, Volume 64/100)
Track: Beethoven – Cello Sonata No. 3 (played by Timora Rosler and Klara Würtz)
 
  1. N6: Cello sonatas are my favourite chamber music. I feel they are a great test of sonic qualities as one can focus on an instrument at a time. With the N6, the cello is divinely textured, with full rumbling and resonant bass and sweet, textured mids and highs. In parts of this piece the cello is plucked, with quick attack and controlled decay. The piano is a touch subdued compared to the cello, when the two are playing together. When the cello rests, notes on both the right and left hands of the piano are well defined, with no bleed even within faster passages. In energetic passages involving both cello and piano, there is some blending of notes in the upper mids. Overall the tone is neither full nor dry, but body is lovely. Sound comes from both the strings, and the bodies of the instruments, so it’s a bit like hearing 4 players rather than just two. Staging is spacious, which the Havi is known for. Instrument positioning is good with cello front left and piano behind and slightly right.
  2. X3ii: I volume-matched by ear, going back and forth using my testing switcher until sound difference was indiscernible between the two players. For equivalent body and loudness, X3ii is pushed to almost max volume, while N6 pootles along happily on low gain. X3 puts out a nice sound here, but there is comparatively little body to the music, and those 3rd and 4th “instruments” are missing. The players feel further away, and sound is veiled. Clarity and detail are still good, but the piece lacks energy, and that feeling of being absorbed in the music is missing.
  3. The N6 and Havis (which are very tough IEMs to drive well) sounded wonderful together. A hit!
 
Havi1.jpg
 
Comparison 2: Fiio X3ii + JDS Labs O2 vs. Cayin N6, with Sennheiser HD650
X3ii via Line Out to O2 Amp (High Gain, Volume 3.5/10)
N6 (Low Gain, EQ off, Volume 64/100)
Track: Duke Jordan – Deacon Joe (from Flight to Jordan)
 
  1. X3ii+O2 vs. N6: No comparison really required. These two sound virtually identical, so I won’t regale you with how beautifully sweet and textured Dizzy Reece’s trumpet and Stanley Turrentine’s sax are. I won’t tell you about Duke’s soft touch on the piano, and the lovely tones he produces with his right hand. Won’t even go into the quality of the background bass and drums, subdued but ever-present. No, the take-away here is that there’s virtually nothing to discern these two source/amp combinations. As in, I could not pick out ONE clear or not so clear difference between any of the instruments, in tone, texture, timbre. Nothing. The ONLY thing that MIGHT be there is a hint, ever so subtle, of very slightly less overall body with the N6… and by slightly less I mean miniscule. Oh, and perhaps… just perhaps… the bass in the background is a shade more resonant with the X3ii/O2 combo. So, what this tells me is the N6 has the equivalent of an O2 amp in it, which my experience tells me is a very good amp, both for sound and power. Interesting. Very interesting.
  2. One thing that is clear (to me anyway) is that the HD650 and N6 are a match made in heaven. They work well together, the N6 seeming to boost the treble end of the 650, and the Senn livening up the bass and mids for the Cayin. The pairing is a definite hit!
 
General Listening
 
Listening 1: Cayin N6 with Audio Technica ATH-R70x (High Gain, EQ off, Volume 60/100)
Track: Blue Mitchell – Graffiti Blues (from Grafitti Blues)
 
  1. This track is from Blue Mitchell’s foray into a more funky blues sound in the mid 70s. To me this is the most successful of several similar albums made around this time. Trumpet beautifully detailed and smooth, with a good lilting, rhythmic quality. Bass goes deep and is relatively controlled, though could stand to be a bit more punchy. Electric guitar is sparkly without being piercing, with good quality of tone, and so non-fatiguing. Harmonica has lots of funky detail and some texture (ever so slightly smoothed over). Rhythm guitar and piano in the background (recessed, part of soundstage in recording, I assume). Instrument placement from left to right easily discernible, and have a sense of front to back as well.
  2. R70x with good bass presence and natural sound across frequencies seems a good match for the more analytical N6. The two sound signatures temper each other, resulting in a very pleasant, detailed, laid back presentation. The N6 had no trouble driving this 470 ohm headphone, with bags of room so spare for someone who wants to completely fry their ears. This pairing is a hit!
 
Listening 2: Cayin N6 with Noble 6 IEM (Low Gain, EQ off, Volume 30/100)
Track: Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It (from The Colour of Spring)
 
  1. A good, solid mid-80s electro-Brit-pop album.  Rich and lush soundscape, with good energy and bass and clearly defined instruments. With the Noble, the track is a bit subdued. Bass attack is good, with fast decay, but extension is poor with bass and kick drums being a bit wooden. Mark Hollis’ vocal is clean and smooth, but something is missing. Toms, guitars and piano are overly dry, and lacking nuance and sparkle.
  2. The Noble 6 seems not the greatest match for the N6. Both DAP and IEM are on the analytical, linear side, so both match better either way with a partner that has some warmth, natural acoustics and punch. This time the pairing is a miss.
 
Noble6.jpg
 
Listening 3: Fiio X3ii vs. Cayin N6, with T-Peos Altone 350 (with Spinfit tips) 
N6 (Low Gain, EQ on “Custom” setting with bass dialed down, Volume 50/100)
Track: Steely Dan – Gaucho (from Gaucho)
 
  1. From previous listening, I know the Altone 350 is a quite boomy headphone, but with good detail through mids and treble. With EQ off, boominess was too much, so I turned on EQ, set it to “Custom,” and dialled down the bass at 31 Hz (3 dB), 63 Hz (2 dB) and 125 Hz (1 dB). This gave a much more balanced sound than with EQ off, but still with a lovely combination of warmth and detail. Bass presence is good with nice attack and controlled decay. Quality of mids is fantastic for the most part. Sax has great texture and great plaintiveness. Snare and toms have a nice crash to them. Fagen’s vocal is airy and throaty and back-up singers also come through nicely. Treble extension is lovely with good micro detail. The only real issue I found was that there was some bleed between the different mid sources when they are in unison in the later, more energetic parts of the song.
  2. For all that the Altone tends to be boomy, it pairs well with the dryness of the N6 when controlled with EQ. For some, EQ is bothersome, and others feel EQ alters the way the music was “intended,” and is thus to be avoided. Listeners in either of those camps might want to avoid this combination, but for those who’re happy to use EQ to control the sound sig, this combination works. A qualified hit.
 
Altone350.jpg
 
Conclusions
 
Based purely on sound, I’d rather have the N6 than the X3ii. There’s a clean-ness, clarity and realism about the sound and expansiveness of sound stage that surpasses the X3ii hands down. Also, the N6 has significantly more and higher quality amplification, making it more versatile as a stand-alone unit with power-hungry headphones. That said, other elements weigh in the X3ii’s favour, particularly size and, in my opinion anyway, user interface and navigation.
 
Another consideration with the N6 is what you pair it with, as my limited experience with the player tells me it is finicky about phones. Team it with a warmer, fuller sounding headphone or IEM and you'll have a great listening experience; choose something less vibrant and you may not enjoy yourself so much.
 
Would I purchase an N6? I’m still on the fence. It really is a lovely piece of kit, and I could definitely see having one as my DAP/source for home and/or office. At the same time I’m trying to decide whether the increased quality is worth the three-fold price. Would I recommend an N6? Certainly, if affordability is not an issue, or you have a more seasoned, audiophile ear (and aren’t concerned about size or battery life), I would whole-heartedly encourage you to add this one to your collection. I leave that up to you.
peareye
peareye
I think your ears are still working well!  ...or my ears work just like yours!!!!
 
I liked the X3 gen. II but I don't think I can go back now after experiencing the N6...great review...
jk47
jk47
very good, well written and information packed review.  thank you.  i especially appreciated your description of your own hearing and the music you like - i wish there were space in every post, perhaps in the signature, to specify what music each writer prefers.
 
one question: you compare the o2 on HIGH gain to the n6 on LOW gain.  did you try the n6 on high gain for a comparison?  the volume settings would likely have been more comparable that way, too.
hakushondaimao
hakushondaimao
@Netforce: Thanks, you're gonna love it if you get one.
@peareye: I know what you mean. "A mind expanded by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions."
@jk47: Thanks for the comment. I agree about the hearing and music preference descriptions, and think a little section for it in a reviewer signature would be useful. I always appreciate other reviewers who give similar info, which is why I do it now, too.
As for the O2 gain setting, that was just pure carelessness. I volume matched, did my listening,and then checked settings after for my write-up. Makes the N6 amplification even more impressive that it matched the O2 so well!
Pros: Quality Build & Sound, UI, Neutralish, Amp Not Needed
Cons: Battery Life could be longer, Large, Gets warm

Cayin N6
 
Pros-quality build & sound, UI, neutralish, amp not needed
 
Cons-battery life could be longer, large, gets warm
 
Settings- low gain, soft, no eq.
 
 
Note: I had an opportunity to demo this player as part of a
         Tour. It has since been passed along to the next
         member of the tour.
 
 
         From the beginning, I liked what I saw. The packaging reminded me
of the boxing that better watches come in. When I opened the box, the player
did remind me of a fine watch or jewelry – kind of shiny & solid. It felt larger and
heavier than the usual players I had been used to such as the fiio x3 and x5.
Even the Cayin logo etched beneath the glass had a mutli-colored finish that changed
colors when the player was tilted back and forth! The box also contained a basic usb cord,
a small mini to co-axial cable and a key chain (usb stick?).
 
         It took several hours to fully charge and it was ready to go. I transferred over my
micro sD card from the Fiio, updated the media library and hit play. I let it warm up for
about an hour. Most of what I listened to was in 320kb mp3 format.
 
         I used a pair of Final Audio Design Heaven V iems. The Heaven V has a clear sound
with a slightly forward mid range but not at the expense of the exteme frequencies.
The soundstage grew wider and deeper than what I had been used to. I listened to
“Private Investigator” by Dire Straits and noticed a quiet background which is really appreciated
for all the quiet passages in this song…so easy to follow the acoustic guitar or xylophone or even
the footsteps! I also notice there wasn’t any hiss with the Heaven V which has a sensitivity of 112db.
After listening to Art Garfunkel’s “99 Miles fromLA”, I realized two things: the soundstage was being
presented as whole and not just left and right channels that didn’t mesh properly and that I was listening
to the music more than listening to the equipment!
 
         The Cayin N6 brought out the best of any vocals or acoustics I played. Classical didn’t quite match
up as well. It didn’t sound conjested; it just didn’t sounding involving enough to let you into the music.
I think the match was just a little too thin. A pair of thicker sounding Heaven VI’s would probably have
matched up perfectly.
 
         I thought this would be the perfect time to switch over to the headphones. Out came the Denon D5000’s.
These are a darker and thicker sounding headphone with ample bass and a rolled off high end.
I hit play and, WOW! Synergy!
 
         There was this clarity and balance I had never thought was possible. The sounstage grew, the high end
stretched out and the bass was:  Controlled! I have owned these for many years and have never, ever heard
them sound anything like this. Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” was captivating, energetic and toe-tapping.
 
         Now here’s an eye opening moment I think we all have experienced. When I played a live version of Foghat’s
“I Just Wanna Make Love to You”, I didn’t even recognize the song. I had to stop and look down at the player
…and I still couldn’t believe it. Now I mean this in the best way possible. It was like someone dropped a better version
onto my sD card without me knowing it! Played it loud and forgot where I was for a while…thought I was back in
those “Dazed and Confused” days of high school! The Cayin was plenty loud at a setting of 40 out of 100 so an
external amp is really not needed here.
 
         Conclusion: Sound and Performance accomplished.
 
         As with all things, there were some quirks. It is larger and heavier than most daps currently available.
It’s easy to carry around in a jacket pocket but your pants better be snug if you’re going to carry in your back pocket.
Oh, and it does get quite warm after about an hour. I’m not sure but It could be operating in class A like a regular amp.
This would be great in the winter but not so much in the summer!
 
         I found the menu easy to decipher and use. Although the screen was smallish, it was very clear. I found I rarely
used the wheel function as the buttons were more than ample and very logically placed.
 
         I also used it as a usb/dac with my Macbook Pro and the music player, “Cog”…a simple but analogue sounding
free download software. It performed well but not quite as well as just using the player alone.
 
         I even tried the line out in the Subaru Outback. The sound was strong, clear and controlled. I have a feeling it
would perform about the same through the home stereo.
 
         In my opinion, it is definitely the current leader of the mid-priced pack of dap players and very well priced at
$600.00 us dollars. And I have already made up my mind: I am buying one!
        
 
         


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peareye
peareye
If I only auditioned it with the Heaven V, I would agree but when I heard the Denon D5000 with it, it was more than enough
to overcome the quirks! ...and selling stuff to pay bills always hurts!
Light - Man
Light - Man
Good review!
peareye
peareye
Appreciated, Light-Man. This one fun player.
Pros: great sound, nice price, interesting design and materials,
Cons: battery life could be better
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I've spent about a month with Cayin N6 DAP, and I'd like to share my thoughts about it. There is few really great reviews of this DAP, so I won't repeat them again, describing it's box, accessories set, controls, design, etc. You can easily find it in related tread and other reviews.

I'd like to try to share my impressions of using N6.

It's not hard to notice, that Cayin spent lot of time designing package, nice terracotta color, silver prints, it looks really stylish. Also nice is accessories set, besides player you'll get spare screen protectors, silicon case, USB and coax. cables, MicroSD card reader and even key ring with design similar to N6.

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Design is really unusual. Carbon back of N6 is nice, I hope it won't became scratched, like metal players does. It's catchy, but it's very comfortable in terms of UX: DAP can be easily managed by one hand, despite it's size. Clicking wheel on the left side is easy to use with index finger, but you also can control player, using buttons on front panel.

Screen is very nice, probably one of the best, available in chinese players: great resolution, as well as view angles. UI of 1.0 version used too tiny fonts, but it was quickly fixed by updating to 1.1, so now I can say that player's interface is close to perfection. Everything is grouped logically and almost all features are present. Only thing that is lacking now, is idle shutdown timer, but Cayin promised that it will come shortly, meanwhile N6 utilises deep sleep option to save battery power when it's not in use.

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I like that N6 plays almost everything. It handles all formats, including DFF and SACD ISO, I'm not a big fan of DSD, but it's always better to have some feature than not to have.

Inside, N6 is very-very well designed: two separate PCM1792 DACs, 3 TXCOs, sophisticated BTL amp, PGA2311 for volume control, everything is built to offer no-compromise sound. Battery life became a payoff for that. N6 uses really big 5600 mA/h battery, but it gives him about 7 hours of playback. It's not bad, but also it's far from perfect. I hope Cayin will manage to improve this in future software updates.

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Most interesting aspect every player is sound. N6 gives perfect balance of resolution and musicality. Its sound is detailed, extremely well controlled, but not cold or analytically dry. Bass have great extension and control, it's punchy and well textured. On few tracks from my collection I missed bass quantity a bit, but it war really rare. Mids are natural and highly resolving, so N6 capable of creating really good sound stage both in width and in depth. Vocals are lively, and all instruments preserve their unique character. Highs are also balanced (at least to my taste), not too much, not too few, they have great resolution and controlled perfectly.

N6 closes rival is QLS QA360, also interesting DAP with lots of unique features, but if compared sound-wise, QLS have even more spacious stage and a little more lows, while N6 is more natural to my ears and sounds more musical.

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I even prefer N6 over my HiFiMan 901 with modified balance card. 901 costs almost 2 times more, but sometimes it's sound signature is too aggressive. Also 901 is more bulky and have constant problems with volume regulator. So, I prefer more gentle sounding of N6 most of times.

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Player can work as asynchronous USB DAC, so you can enjoy it's superior sound with your Mac or PC, it's also a great feature.

P.S. I've made a small video, showing N6 in use. As usual, sorry for my english :)

[VIDEO]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eN-QHOJewJQ[/VIDEO]
beeman
beeman
hi Cleg  could you let us know how the cayin sounds in comparison to the aune m1? I would really like to know about sq
cleg
cleg
@beeman N6 is a step forward in terms of details, speed and naturalness
beeman
beeman
thanks for letting me know. I think i will go with the m1 anyway and use the dac card. I like the idea of changing the dac card
Pros: Very detailed sound, supports every audio format including DSD w/hardware decoding, beautiful design and excellent build quality
Cons: a bit on a large size, battery life
Before I start my review, I would like to Thank Cayin for providing me with a review sample of their new flagship N6 DAP which is currently available on Amazon and from other retailers like Penon or CTCAudio.
 
A lot of people think that upgrading headphones to a more expensive/multi-driver version can improve a sound quality without realizing how much impact a hardware source "plays" in order to take their sound experience to the next level.  As some make a leap from using their smartphones or budget audio players to a dedicated quality DAP (digital audio player), you re-discover your headphones all over again and realize what you have been missing.  Things can get quickly out of control when we are in search of perfection, don't have access to audition and to compare audio gear, and make assumptions that high quality audio hardware has to come at a premium price.  Today I would like to share with you about a new flagship N6 DAP from Cayin that shatters these typical stereotypes while delivering a true high definition audio which sets itself above all mid-fi contenders and aims to challenge a more expensive hi-fi competition.  Here is what I found.
 
I have reviewed Cayin C5 portable amplifier in the past and stayed in touch with Cayin team to quickly realize how much they are obsessed with sound quality and design details as well as customer support.  Even when N6 was ready for prime time closer to the end of the last year, they still took their time to perfect everything, including a first test run limited to a small group of local pro-audio users just to get more feedback.  All this hard work really paid off, and when N6 was ready for an official release and I finally received my production quality review sample - it already felt like a mature product with a polished hardware and a stable firmware.  But everything starts with unboxing.
 
There is definitely a WOW! factor once you hold N6 box in your hands.  They made it very clear you are dealing with a premium product in a premium box.  You are not going to find any high res pictures on the outer sleeve, only a hand sketch of the product with some hints of its sexy curves.  There is also a very minimum description of main functions and features, mostly referencing types of devices and supported formats with no further description, I guess trying to keep user in suspense.  With outer sleeve off and the main box out and open, you are presented with premium "jewelry" box display setting of N6.  Out of the box underneath a form fitted tray with N6, you'll find all the included accessories in another partitioned tray. 
 
To be honest, for such a fancy box and premium flagship product, I expected to see more accessories.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s on par with other DAPs I have reviewed in the past, but would have been nice to see something like a leather holster or a travel case or maybe to include 2A wall adapter.  Still, there were plenty of goodies to go around.  You have a quality usb to micro-usb cable, coax adapter, micro-usb to usb card reader, and two sets of round screen protectors with one already being applied to N6.  One bonus that I actually found impressive was a keychain with the same carbon fiber finish as featured on the back of N6 – fancy!  Also included was a silicone protection skin, but it wasn’t in the box but rather in the packaging envelope.  I know it’s a shame to hide N6 curves under the “skin”, but it’s a smart way to protect it from scratches.
 
Unboxing and Accessories pictures.
 
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Looking at N6 DAP, the first thing you notice is a rather unique round display - a centerpiece of the design.  Just like with their C5 portable amp that stood out from a crowd, N6 makes a very bold statement even before you turn it on and plug in your headphones.  Even though display looks round, the active part of it is 2.4" IPS square screen with a high contrast and excellent visibility under any condition.  With display off, it's hard even to distinguish the square part of the screen, thus you have an illusion of a round display.  On the left side of the display like a watch crown you have a thumb control navigation wheel to assist in scrolling and also with a spring-loaded push action to click/select/enter.  I found this scrolling wheel to have an excellent tactile response and to be of a great assistance when scrolling through either a long playlist or adjusting volume or just going through menus.  It's not really necessary for navigation of N6 since all these functionalities could be done with other buttons, but still comes in very handy and blends in well with a round screen display.
 
Below the display, you have 4 control buttons in a very unique shape.  When it comes to N6 DAP, it looks like Cayin wasn't just creating a functional audio player with a great sound, but also making a piece of art.  In theory, these are your typical multifunctional 4 directional buttons with up and down list scrolling or track skip or fast forward/back, and left and right buttons for going back in navigation or selection or play/pause.  It takes a little bit to get used to controls, but after a while using these becomes a second nature.  I also think a custom shape of these buttons plays a very important role in a flow of navigation and controls as your finger slides across them.
 
You will also find a more traditional buttons, such as volume up/down in the upper right corner on the side, and a power button on the top.  With a screen off, volume buttons do control volume with a single click and skip track with a long press.  Also, scrolling wheel controls play/pause with a push when screen is off - a very intuitive control you can access without even looking at the player.  At the top, you also have three 3.5mm ports for Line Out (LO), Headphone Out (HO), and Coaxial cable Out (CO).  To eliminate confusion, I did cut off HO cover flap in silicone case so I knew right away where to plug in headphones.  At the bottom you have micro SD card slot, a reset pinhole, a tiny led light pinhole, and micro-usb port.  The body of the case is made out of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy and feels very solid in your hand.  The back of N6 has a real carbon fiber finish.
 
Design detail pictures.
 
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As impressive as it looks outside, inside of N6 you will find a true audio powerhouse.  Everything from dual core processor, powerful enough to support native DSD hardware decoding as well as other formats up to 24bit/192kHz resolution with MP3/WAV/FLAC/OGG/APE/ALAC/AAC/WMA/M4A and even CUE, to 8GB of internal memory and microSD card supporting up to 128GB size.  You also have a very impressive array of internal chips with top performance dual PCM1792A DACs arranged to process left and right channel separately to control high definition of a sound and a width of soundstage separation.  There is also a dedicated high performance PGA2311 volume control chip, and even 3 different TCXO crystal oscillators to meet low jitter clock requirements.  Power is provided by a high capacity 5600 mAh lithium battery which does a great job of supplying enough juice for up to 7-8 hours of continuous playback.  For a piece of audio equipment with so many power hungry ICs, this is actually not a bad performance.  Also, Cayin is constantly working on battery life optimization, especially in standby mode, so perhaps with some future firmware upgrades they might even be able to improve a total playback time.
 
Another important spec worth mentioning is the HO and LO output performance where HO is rated at 220mW+220mW w/32ohm load and super low output impedance of 0.26ohm, and LO rated at 1.7V of output power.  I had no issues driving any of my IEMs or open/closed back full size headphones, and even in low gain setting had a volume at only 30%.  Even with low sensitivity headphones I never exceeded 50% of volume level.  With high sensitivity headphones, I didn't hear any hissing and found background to be solid black.  But in general, if you need to drive power hungry high impedance full size headphones, you can always pair up N6 with another member of Cayin family - C5 portable amp.
 
Furthermore, besides being a standalone digital audio player, N6 also functions as an asynchronous USB DAC which you can connect to your laptop or computer to turn N6 into an external sound card.  One thing you need to know, the internal memory of N6 has a zip file with all the necessary drivers to setup the connection.  Once installation is complete, moving forward it’s a simple plug'n'play operation as long as you have DAC mode enabled in your System setting of N6.
 
Even with so much electronics and a large battery, N6 still feels pocket friendly and not that heavy.  For a comparison, I put N6 next to X5, both wearing a silicone case, and found N6 to be 248g with 128mm x 70mm x 20mm dimensions, and X5 to be 218g with 118mm x 70mm x 16mm dimensions.
 
Pictures of N6 next to C5 and X5.
 
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It is a little bit taller and thicker in comparison to X5, but overall weight felt the same and inside of the pocket N6 was actually a lot easier to operate "blind" with fast access to play/pause, skip, and volume controls.
 
Before I get into a sound of Cayin N6, the next topic I would like to discuss is GUI interface.  Of course the sound characteristic is the most important factor, but a poorly designed controls and user interface can ruin your experience of enjoying the music even if it sounds great.  I already mentioned about how much I like buttons/wheel controls of N6, and the same positive experience extended to graphic user interface as well.  When you hold the power button to turn it on, you are greeted with a round vinyl-disc main interface resembling a turn table.  In there, you have 5 main menu choices of Playing Now (which goes to your current playing song), Music Library (where you have an option to update the library, to view Local memory content, and removable card content), Music Category (were everything is sorted by My Favorite, Recent Played Songs, Albums, Artists, Genre, and a list of All Songs), System Setting, and Music Setting.  Playing Now and Music Library is self explanatory, while in Music Category you have My Favorite based on a quick playlist you can create by tagging songs as Favorite, and the rest of the menu choices with songs sorted based on the ID tags of your music files.
 
Music setting has an extensive selection of options with Gain setting (low and high), Digital Filter (added in fw1.1 where you have SHARP and SLOW with a subtle change of sound attack, my personal preference being SHARP), DSD gain compensation, EQ setting (10 band EQ with 8 presets and a separate Customizable option). Play mode (to cover different repeat modes), Breakpoint resume, Gapless playback (after fw1.1 it's nearly perfect!!!), Max Volume limit setting, Startup Volume, Startup volume value, Balance control (L/R), Album art (display on/off), and Lyrics (display on/off).  In a System setting you have Language selection, USB Mode (usb connection to read and to transfer files or USB DAC setting as external soundcard), Backlight time, Brightness setting, Schedule Power off (enable/disable), Schedule Power off time (this will turn off N6 after a preset time; Sleep time option is coming in the next firmware update), Reset (to factory setting), About the Player (which has model and firmware number, as well as local and microSD card total and remaining free memory capacity).  Also, within "About the Player", you can skip pages from the main screen to see a very comprehensive electronic manual of the N6 with all the controls and functionality description.
 
GUI and Setting pictures (based on FW1.0).
 
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Uh, so here comes a sound, and the first word out of my mouth was: WOW!!!  To be honest, I personally don’t care about what DAC or volume IC or processor is being used in the design.  It’s irrelevant because you can pick’n’choose the best available audio components and still mess up the signal flow, the circuit design, the layout of the board, etc.  I look at every DAP as a black box, evaluating it on a sound quality, control usability, and GUI.  In my opinion, Cayin N6 delivered a nearly perfect score in every single of these categories.
 
Reviewing sound quality of a DAP is not an easy task.  What you hearing is not a direct “sound” of the audio player but rather a sound delivered by headphones according to their sound signature.  So a better evaluation of a DAP is by referencing it to other sources for comparison.  I have a number of DAPs in my collection, such as FiiO X1 and X5, HiFiMAN HM700, Hidizs AP100, and more budget oriented audio players from xDuoo, Sandisk, Ruizu, and also my Galaxy Note 4.  If I pick the best source out of this bunch, which happens to be X5, and even after pairing it up with either of my favorite portable amps, C5 and E12A, I still can’t get anything closer to a near perfection reference sound I get from HO of N6.  Yes, that good!!!
 
N6 sound is very detailed, transparent, and musical, with an organic tonality, close to reference quality without being cold or analytical.  It has an excellent separation and layering of instruments with a wide and deep airy soundstage.  Relative to headphones in my collection, there is no hissing or background noise (though I don’t have SE846 to confirm which always comes up as being over-sensitive), and I found it to have a black background.  In comparison, the level of detail retrieval from N6 is on a much higher scale than X5, and the soundstage presentation is significantly better as well.  As a matter of fact, the soundstage directly from N6 will remind you a lot of C5 paired up with X5.  And that is a beauty of N6 where you don’t need to pair it up with any external portable amps to improve the sound quality or staging unless you want to experiment with coloring of your sound by introducing other amps.  I paired up N6 with E12A, but found it handicapping the soundstage width and depth.  Pair up of N6 with C5 is great if you really need to drive a demanding high impedance cans, but comparing N6 HO in low gain to N6+C5 (in low gain as well) – sound tonality was almost identical to my ears, and the only benefit was a slight improvement in width and depth of soundstage.
 
This brings me to how well N6 pairs up with different headphones.  In this analysis, I found it more beneficial to compare every pair of headphones to see how it sounds on N6 vs X5.  Also, please keep in mind, X5 is one fantastic DAP and it costs $270 less than N6.  This is like a relative comparison.  But my point is that value of N6 is highly justifiable considering sound quality improvement without a need to use external amps and special LO cables.
 
UM Pro 50:
N6 - richer bass texture, better 3D positioning/imaging, better dynamics, sound is more organic/analog, a little smoother/musical.
X5 - sound is flatter, a little more digital in comparison.
 
CRK10:
N6 - sound is more airy, staging a bit deeper, improved bass texture, sound has more body.
X5 – sound has less sparkle, a bit narrower staging.
 
A83:
N6 - amazing bass texture, super wide/airy sound, smoother upper mids/treble.
X5 - reduced soundstage, less sparkle in upper frequencies.
 
DITA Answer:
N6 - higher level of detail retrieval, sound is more airy, improved soundstage.
X5 - sound is a bit flatter and not as organic.
 
IM03
N6 - sound has richer texture, more natural, smoother, improved staging.
X5 - sound is a bit flatter, not as dynamic.
 
Titan 1
N6 - sound has more sparkle, wider soundstage.
X5 - sound is smoother and warmer, a bit narrower.
 
VSD3
N6 - bass texture is richer and more detailed, wider staging, more airy sound.
X5 - sound is flatter, less dynamic, and a bit harsher.
 
 
In conclusion, next to my other audio players and amps Cayin N6 DAP is without a doubt TOTL audio equipment.  Of course a question begs to be asked how it compares to AK120 II or AK240 II, and perhaps in a near future I might be able to answer this.  But N6 is still 1/2 the price of the cheaper AK120 II, and that needs to be factored in.  Do I think N6 represents an absolute perfection?  Well, it has a sound signature which is near a sound perfection to my ears, and I got used to and enjoying its controls very much.  But based on the size and the weight, it’s not exactly super portable or a pocket friendly for everyone’s taste.  Plus, I wish battery life would be a few more hours longer.  I know Cayin is working hard on firmware optimization, and they have done an amazing job delivering a very stable FW1.0 followed by FW1.1 only a month later with a lot of improvements.  So I hope they can do some magic to squeeze even more out of their battery life.  But even as it stands, this digital audio player represents an amazing value with a true hi-def sound performance.  I never really listened to DSD audio files until I got N6 where it plays these without skipping a beat with a sound quality that took my breath away.  I no longer need an external amp to improve my soundstage presentation or to add that extra juice to make my bass sizzle with layers of texture – N6 internal DAC/amp is top class!  I no longer have to reach out for a dedicated USB DAC to enjoy listening to hi-def audio from my laptop – flexibility of N6 design covers that.  There are too many benefits to list and I can go on, but the bottom line is that Cayin delivered a remarkable hi-def audio player and set a new price bar which is quite affordable considering spending the same amount of money on mid-fi DAPs, LO cables, and external amps without even reaching 100% level of N6.  Very impressive considering this is Cayin’s very first portable DAP release!  Can’t wait to see what they’re going to come up with next!
Wyd4
Wyd4
Nice review.

With regard to the sd card.
What formats does it support?

Exfat? Fat32?

I just ordered mine
twister6
twister6
@Wyd4 : using it with Fat32 (the card straight from my X5).
HenHarrier
HenHarrier
@twister6 - ordered an N6 on the strength of this review (should arrive next few days) - made up my mind for me, so thanks! A noobs question - what brand/speed of micro sd card do you recommend or will any do just fine?
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