Cayin N6ii

General Information

Cayin N6ii
  • User Replaceable Audio Motherboard consists of DAC and analogue amplification circuit
  • Direct Transport Audio (DTA) bypassing Android SRC, resampling free playback from all applications
  • Fully Customized Android 8.1 with Google Play pre-installed, support popular streaming service such as Tidal and Spotify,
  • Remote control by your mobile phone through HiByLink
  • Comprehensive digital output option: I2S (mini HDMI), USB Audio, and S/PDIF
  • Dual Band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 with Hi-Res Codec (aptX and LDAC) upto 96kHz
  • Audio Motherboard A01
  • DAC with AK4497EQ, the new generation premium 32-bit DAC based DAC chipset
  • Native decode DSD up to 11.2MHz (DSD256), PCM up to 32bit/384kHz
  • Fully balanced design with parallel headphone amplification, deliver hefty power to 3.5mm and 4.4mm phone out
  • User adjustable 4.4mm and 3.5mm line out output level
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Latest reviews

Pros: 1. Excellent resolution on both highs and lows
2. Very good at Micro-detailing
3. Great Dynamics
4. Pairs well with a wide variety of iems
Cons: 1. It can cause a considerable amount of sibilance with sibilant iems.
Cayin E01 Dacamp module for N6ii - Impressions

I would like to mention in the beginning itself, that this is my own E01 module, which was purchased from

https://hifigo.com/products/cayin-e01-motherboard-dac-amp-modulefor-n6ii-digital-audio-player-dap

It's been more than a month since I got it, and I have really been enjoying the E01 module with my iems. It forms a brilliant synergy with the u12t through Labkable Takumi 2 cables! Couldn't have asked for more really! Will get on to my impressions of this impressive beast now.

I have been a A01 user and it's synergy with Solaris (with Pico power as an amp and iemtach) is something that has really curbed my itch to try different DAPs. Those mids are literally to die for imo. And its slam on the bass and impact on kicks was good enough to keep me interested. So when the E01 was announced, I was quite excited since the A01 didn't pair well with my warmer sounding u12t. So once the E01 was paired with the u12t, I just almost immediately fell in love with the chain through Takumi 2 cable (I really don't like the stock cable that comes in with u12t, it's really limiting the potential of u12t by making it sound closed and crappy).

The rest of the review is using u12t through Takumi 2 in class AB mode of the amp in E01. I am unable to use my VE BIE iem since it isn't with me so solaris (using class A mode) and u12t are the only iems that I have been able to try with this module for now.

Sensitivity

I have used E01 on high gain on class A mode with Solaris without iematch and it didn't hiss at all. So I don't think noise/hissing will be problem when pairing with sensitive iems.

Staging, Imaging, Separation and Overall tonality

Expansive, precise are probably the words to perfectly define it. The stage is huge, which really expands the powers of u12t and Solaris to another level. Holography as well as depth is excellent along with precise imaging and separation, helping me with identifying and pinpointing the instruments quite easily even in complex passages. In spite of all these achievements, it does sound cohesive and nothing really sounds out of place. Overall the A/B mode sounds quite neutral while the A mode sounds a touch warmer. The timbre on the chain is beautiful, natural and the overall sound is quite engaging.

Bass

The bass texture on both Solaris and u12t is taken to another level really. The slam is very much present along with great extension in the low ends. Especially with solaris, it does feel like it really goes very low. It produces just insane level of texture on both u12t and Solaris, esp u12t. E01 manages to maintain a fine balance between both quantity and quality and is a clear winner for me. Compared to A01, the bass does sound a little leaner but never does it sound unnatural, so transitioning from A01 to E01 wasn't an issue at all.

Mids

Ah, richly textured, detailed. Couldn't have asked for more. Vocals just sound lively on this module. A01 definitely felt richer when paired with Solaris, but seemed to lack details ever so slightly compared to E01. I prefer E01 for the beautiful balance it strikes between detailing and tonal richness. An amazing job done here again by Cayin.

Treble

Now this is the only region which gets a little tricky for me. While there is absolutely no sibilance with u12t, there is some with Solaris, esp on bad recordings, which wasn't much of an issue for me with the A01 module, which was quite forgiving that way. Hence my deduction that sibilant iems may not pair well on these. The sibilance appears to be pronounced when used in class AB mode on E01, so switching to A mode helps. But strangely, sibilance doesn't seem to be a major issue on well recorded tracks to me. Overall,the extensions are great, neatly presented without the typical badly implemented Sabre glare that I am used to. The pairing of u12t with E01 is absolutely stunning in the treble region, crisp, clear with lots of air and details. Neither too wet sounding nor too thin or glassy. Sounds perfect to me!

Differences b/w class A and class A/B mode

The class A, I presume, should be a great pairing for infusing some musicality in the chain, which was quite evident from its pairing with Solaris, while it made the u12t sound somewhat thicker, which I didn't prefer really. It sounds slightly warmer, tonally slightly thicker than A/B mode. But the A/B is simply brilliant for warmer iems, has more air and sounds slightly expansive to me compared to class A, and is an absolutely brilliant pairing for u12t (guess I have written it so many times now). Dynamics are great on this module, and the level of micro detailing is also terrific on both the modes. In short, neutral sounding to slightly brighter iems may sound better on class A mode while warmer ones may pair well on the A/B mode.
Finally, they power both my iems pretty well and it sounds squeaky clean, but I am yet to try these with hungrier headphones and can comment on that later in an edit to this write-up.

Differences between A01 and E01 class A mode with solaris

E01 sounds quite relaxed compared to A01 which was somewhat at your face. A01 sounded warmer or richer/lusher, but with somewhat smaller stage, while E01 appears to be vast and airy in comparison. Details and micro details seem to coming out better in E01 and end to end extension seemed slightly better as well. Also A01 lasts about 13-14 hours for me in high gain mode, while the E01 lasts about 7-8 hours on class A mode and between 9-10 hours on A/B mode.

Overall, this is a brilliant dacamp module which will satisfy a variety of iems imo. An absolute winner from Cayin, this one just increases my faith in this company. I just hope Cayin comes with better and better stuff to cure my itch!

Cheers,
Vishy

Attachments

R
RipVanWinkle1989
Thank you for the insights! I'm going for E01 + Takumi 2+ U12t as well!
V
Visveswaran Umashankar
Hehe, I am sure you will love the combo! 😊
Pros: Build quality befitting the price-tag.
- Mostly Stock Android 8.1 with full Play Store support
- Swappable motherboards open up many possibilites
- Overall excellent sound quality with ample output power, esp with the E01 motherboard
Cons: Poor battery life with the E01/T01 motherboards exacerbated by standby battery drain
- Archaic SD425 CPU is neither frugal nor performant
- Several bugs in the OS; very aggressive background process management renders 4GB of RAM useless
- Curious design choices with certain missing attention to detail; trigger-happy playback buttons
- High price of new motherboards
Cayin N6 Mk. II Review: Of Peculiarities and Pleasures

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Cayin knows their stuff. Unlike many recent Chinese brands, they have been around for quite a while. They’ve been focusing on the portable market recently, and the N6 Mk. ii is their latest offering (which is a successor to the original N6).

The new model ditches the awkward look of the original and settles for a more traditional candybar style. Meanwhile, it also brings in an Android-based UI/UX, offers a properly modular ecosystem with swappable motherboards that change the entire DAC/Amp circuitry along with the available outputs, and bumps the price accordingly because of course.

Cayin was kind enough to send me the N6 Mk. 2 as part of the review tour (courtesy of Andy Kong), and it retails for ~1500 euros here in Germany. There are currently three motherboards available: A01, T01, and E01.

Yeah, that’s quite a steep price of admission, but does the sound quality live up to it? Let’s find out.

N.B. All relevant specs are here. Don’t wanna bore y’all with walls of numbers.

Note: the ratings given will be subjective to the price tier. Definitely the expectations from a $15 IEM won’t be the same as a $150 one, and that’s the approach taken while assigning scores. Cayin sent me the N6 Mk. 2 as part of a review tour kindly organized by Andy Kong. Disclaimer
IEMs/Headphones used: Final E5000/E4000/E3000/E1000, Cayin YB-04, Tin T4, IMR R1 Zenith, MeeAudio Pinnacle P1, Audeze iSine10, JVC FX700, Sennheiser IE40 Pro, Sennheiser HD650

Accessories:
Many seem to demand a premium unboxing experience when it comes to flagship/Top-of-the-Line product, and they do have a fair point: if you are spending a premium, you should expect a special treat.
Cayin takes care of that rather well.
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The box itself is quite big and heavy and has dense foam-padding inside to protect the device. You get all the necessities: a type-C charging cable, a leatherette case with red stitching (pretty cool in person), a 2.5mm-4.4mm balanced adapter, some plastic screen protectors (not a fan of those myself, looks cheap and gets smudgy after a while) along with a tempered one, and finally loads of paperwork for you to admire.

I can’t seem to think any other major omissions, and while the accessories are not of exceptionally high quality (the tempered glass protector doesn’t cover the entire display) they do the job just fine.
4/5
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Build: Now this is of prime importance. For such a high price tag, you expect impeccable build — and fortunately Cayin delivers, for the most part. The whole device feels very dense, premium, *enter words synonymous to luxury*. Both the front and back of the device is covered by tempered glass (I guess this is not the premium Corning Glass, which is a bummer) and this ensures RF transparency. Unfortunately, I found the applied oleophobic coating to be inadequate as the device started to get smudgy real quick without the screen protector, which you should be using anyways due to the top display being slightly curved and lifted off of the side-rails (thus making it more vulnerable to face-down drops).

At this point, I should mention that the sand-blasted finish that Cayin opted for is absolutely awesome. It feels great in the hand and adds some character to the otherwise (subjectively) boring design.

On the right side you get all the buttons: a circular volume dial flanked by ridges to avoid accidental activation (which doesn’t work well, as we shall see soon), and it also doubles as a lock/power switch (activated via pressing inwards).

Then, you get the row of forward/play-pause/backward buttons. On the left side, you get the solitary micro-SD slot. I can already hear groans of those who prefer two SD card slots, so tough luck mates. The bottom of the device houses the type-C (thankfully!) port and the I2S (Inter-IC Sound) port, which is rarely seen on DAPs. I am myself dubious about the usefulness of this but since it’s there… no harm done? More info on I2S here.
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One thing to note on the back is the two Torx T5 screws on the top left/right corners. These can be taken out to pull the motherboard out of the device (by pressing against the small ridge). Do make sure to turn the device off before doing so to avoid possible bricking/other issues.
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Finally, we get to the top — and here are all those nifty output jacks, or jack if you are using the E01 motherboard (spoiler: my favorite one of the bunch).
While I like the overall build quality and port selections, I have a few qualms with overall attention to detail, which you expect in such a flagship. The bezels around the display, for one, are asymmetric, and it triggers my OCD right away.

Then there is the motherboard swapping mechanism. It is not the most user-friendly as the motherboard doesn’t slide on any rails and it’s basically very stiff overall. The T01 motherboard can be easily removed via attaching a headphone jack and then pulling against the jack itself, but the E01 motherboard doesn’t offer such hack and you have to struggle to get it out. This stiffness somewhat mars the otherwise excellently executed modularity aspect of the device. Perhaps a spring-loaded/assisted mechanism could have had helped here, but obviously that would make the inner design more complicated.
4.5/5
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Display: The display at 4.2" and 1280*768 pixels won’t blow you away if you are using a mid-range smartphone, but considering the DAPs of yesteryear this is a major improvement. It’s IPS, got decent viewing angles, has very good sunlight legibility and also has a pretty dim minimum brightness as to not blind you while using in the dark. The pixel density of 355ppi is enough for most I’d say (it’s above what Apple used to tout as Retina for those keeping count) and while the colors seem a bit washed out — this is a marked improvement. There is a small circular dot beneath the display that acts as a home-button/back key combo of sorts. It also houses a white LED that breathes while charging.

My biggest peeve here: those bezels on the side. It irks me every time I notice them in the daylight. Perhaps I’m too used to the ever-shrinking bezels of the smartphones, but I still think the DAP manufacturers can use better screens on their flagships products, esp AMOLED displays might provide some benefit with battery life as long as dark mode is used throughout.
4/5

Handling:
At ~290gm, the N6 Mk. 2 will make its presence known — be it in your pocket or in the palms of your hand. The smaller footprint (compared to most smartphones nowadays) somewhat helps in handling, though it is counterbalanced by the 22mm thickness which reminds me of the good ol’ Nokia phones:
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That thickness is required it seems with the modular motherboards and everything, so I won’t be too picky about that. There are other bones to pick, as it stands, with the prime culprit being those playback control button cluster on the right side. They are too trigger-happy and gets pressed randomly (esp when inside the case). Due to the weight of the device, you may often put pressure on the buttons during general handling and as a result it becomes rather annoying.

Fortunately, you can turn them off when the device is locked via Settings (Settings -> Lockscreen Button Settings -> Play/next/prev -> Turn off). This, however, is a poor solution since one of the reasons why many enjoy using their DAPs is that button trio.

Another issue is the volume wheel that scrolls often when, again, trying to pull them out of the pocket. They are fine while using the device in hand. However, I have turned off both these buttons while the device is locked to preserve my sanity.
At least the buttons are clicky with good feedback and the volume wheel has satisfyingly crisp steps.

Finally, the positioning of the headphone out. Putting it on top means that the wear adds extra strain on the port while handling the device, and also a readjustment of grip is mandatory every time you pull it out of the pocket. Minor issue, but these niggles add over time.
3.5/5
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UI/Responsiveness: Welcome to Android, everyone! Which means, welcome to all its flexibility, functions and the pain-points it brings along. Cayin is using Android 8.1 which would be unacceptable on any phone in 2020 but since it’s a DAP — all is well. /s

First up: boot times. It takes about 22 seconds to go from cold boot to fully mounting the SD card and being ready to go. This is not too bad by any means given there is a paltry Snapdragon 425 CPU here along with 4GB of RAM (my LG G7 for example takes ~15s to boot up, running an SD845). This, however, doesn’t bode well to those who prefer to turn the DAP off when not using it and turning it on again to conserve battery. This is part of the trade-off of running Android though and one I guess many won’t mind.

Next up: navigation, and this is where I encountered the first hurdle. Cayin apparently wants you to go with “one-button navigation” with the small circle at the bottom acting as a home/back button combo. A short press takes you back one level, and a long press takes you back home.

Simple, innit?

Not really.

Because to go into multitasking view, guess what, you have to swipe up from the bottom edge. This inconsistency leads to a somewhat jarring experience for those who’ve been using Android for a while with the traditional navigational cluster. The button is also placed awkwardly around the bottom edge of the front with a large blank space between itself and the display and that definitely spoils the aesthetic somewhat.

Fortunately Cayin allowed full access to Google Play Store services by default (unlike certain other manufacturers) and it works as expected. I could easily log in to my Google account, install Tidal and call it a day. It also comes with HiBy Music preinstalled which many seem to prefer. And that’s about it. No bloatware (though that odd browser named Via is a potential candidate) and mostly stock-ish build of Android apart from some curious omissions (no search function in Settings, for example).

The overall operation is mostly smooth, but issues crop up every now and then. Despite having such large amount of RAM, apps often disappear/relaunch due to aggressive background task management (likely employed to conserve battery, still a giant pain). There is an odd bug where the Settings app crashes every time you try to turn on/off the battery saver. At times, playing a track would often skip the first second of the track (likely due to limited buffer). The volume dial freezes and doesn’t show the overlay when the Cayin Music app is opening. The Cayin Music app also doesn’t stop playback if you pull out the headphone jack. Tidal takes a while to sort itself out every now and then with random lags in the UI. I really wish Cayin used a better processor instead of the SD425, something like SD636 would have increased the overall fluidity many folds.
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Being a software developer myself, these niggling issues especially bother me and points to a general lack of QA/Usability testing. I hope Cayin takes the software as seriously as take the audio because consumers nowadays aren’t as forgiving anymore, and irritating bugs can make an otherwise excellent product less-than-ideal.
3.5/5

Connectivity:
You get the much needed Wi-FI (dual-band ac, of course) and Bluetooth (sadly of the 4.2 variety and not 5.0). Reception is decent, and BT range is satisfactory and supports LDAC. There’s type-C and S/PDIF and the aforementioned I2S. All bases are covered and unless you really need 4G/cellular support for some reason this is kind of as complete as it gets (barring BT 5.0).
4.5/5
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Battery Life: Prima facie, one would expect N6 II to have great battery life given the mammoth ~6000mAh battery. That’s almost twice as much as most smartphones and, on paper, should see you throw at least half a week.

Reality is different, sadly. First up, the standby batter drain is quite odd as the phone seemingly drains battery even when turned off. Secondly, during regular operation, depending on the motherboard, the battery can go flat within 6–7 hrs of playback.

If you want the best battery life, you gotta stick to the A01 motherboard as both the (sonically superior, IMO) T01 and E01 motherboards suck the juice faster than a honey-bee. Typically you should last around 3 days on a charge if you listen to music/stream them online via Tidal/Spotify on the A01. The T01 is the worst of the bunch from my experience, with the older design chipset being a total power-hog and I had to run to the charger barely a day and half later. The E01 fared slightly better and you might get an additional hour of playback’s worth, but even then it’s mostly around the 7–8 hours of playback mark.

The battery also takes quite a while to charge due to the massive battery. It apparently supports Quick Charge 3.0 as per Cayin, but AFAIK the SD425 supported only QC 2.0. Either way, there is some form of Quick Charging so I can’t complain, albeit it still takes ages to get to 100% and something akin to Xiaomi or Oppo/OnePlus’ ultra-fast charging tech would likely be needed in similar future products.

Granted, the E01 is running a desktop DAC chip (ESS 9038Pro) and also operating in discrete class-A (switching to the A/B mode improves battery life by a further hour and half or so). Still, that doesn’t explain the standby battery drain and overall poor standby power management. For such a massive battery, this is a disappointing performer.
3/5
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Amp Modules: We gotta talk about them amp modules.

The A01 is running the AK4497EQ chipset, the T01 is using a dual PCM1792A (similar to the original N6) and the E01 has the highest specced DAC-chip of them all: the ESS9038Pro.

Each module comes with a T5 screwdriver to help in unmounting the old motherboard and installing the new one. The motherboard themselves only go in one way, so no option to mess up the direction. They use a connector that’s eerily similar to the Mini PCI-E connectors of the old.
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Each motherboard also comes with their own set of output array and reconstruction filter settings. The T01, running the oldest chipset, has the least amount of reconstruction filter options, while the E01 has too many of them to keep count of. A01 is in somewhat the middle of the road in terms of options. The E01 lacks balanced out, while both the A01 and T01 has a 4.4mm balanced out (that has more output power and apparently better “separation”, though I couldn’t quite hear any improvement on that regard).

I initially decided not to try and describe the “sound” of each motherboard because frankly, it’s quite impossible (for me at least) to “remember” the sonic characteristics of each of them as just swapping the motherboard itself takes at least a few minutes. Auditory memory is hardly reliable and thus I decided to go with the highest specced motherboard — the E01. Even then, since it might feel like a “cop out” to some, I’d try to rummage through some notes I made about each motherboard:
- A01 didn’t sound anything special, frankly, so it was out after 10 minutes or so.
- T01 had a bit more “energetic” signature, and was the most fun to listen to.
- E01 had the “smoothest” signature of them all, and I love myself some class-A goodness (it might not sound any different but well, I just like the fact that it’s class-A). It’s also got a bit of warmth to the overall signature, and pairs well with any IEM, be it warm or analytical sounding.

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Sound Quality: Now, finally, about the sound.

Motherboard used: E01
Filter used: Apodizing
Gain: High

Most of the critical listening was done with the HD650.

The first thing you notice with these is the lack of hiss. Even with my most sensitive IEM (JVC FX700) I could barely hear a very faint white noise when pushing the volume up very high. Job well done, Cayin, though for that price — it better be well done!

Next up is the quality of the mid-range rendition. I am very particular about vocals and Cayin doesn’t disappoint. No oddities in the vocal texture/breathing and everything sounds as it should, though there is a certain emphasis on the mid-range that’s difficult to miss. Instrument separation is good, but doesn’t stand out like certain desktop setups. The best thing about its sound though is how addictive it gets with the E01 motherboard after a while. It’s also not too revealing of poorly mastered tracks, which might or might not be a good thing depending on your preference and associated gears.

Frankly, if you are going by measurements alone, the N6 Mk. II gets trounced by the likes of iBasso DX160. However, that player doesn’t quite sound as enjoyable as the N6ii does with the E01/T01 motherboard. Dynamics are on a different level on the Cayin and I believe that’s what Cayin focused the most on while tuning this one.

Despite all this, you might feel disappointed with the lack of good PEQ support, or lack of any DSP effects like JetEffects (Cowon got that one absolutely nailed down). If you want to change the sonic profile, aside from swapping out the entire motherboard you’re straight outta luck, and that’s a massive bummer.
4.5/5 (deducted 0.5 due to the measurements and EQ functionalities not being up to the mark)
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Amp Performance: The amp performance varies depending upon which motherboard you install.

And then it also depends on the app you’re using. Talk about oddities.

On the stock music player, the amp seems to have a higher/full gain, while on other apps like Tidal/YT Music the amp gain is reduced. I don’t know why this behavior is there as apparently Cayin bypasses the resampling of stock Android audio pipeline via something they call Direct Transport Audio (DTA). Nonetheless, it’s yet another peculiarity to add to the growing list.

The volume scale is out of 100, which is good. I don’t get the point of 120/140 volume steps for the most part, so kudos Cayin. Using the HD650, on the stock player, I need about 62/100 to get to good listening volumes. This value reaches to ~72 on Tidal/YT Music. On the Final E5000, I need ~45 on the stock player, while ~55 steps seem to take care of it in Tidal. It’s quite annoying really to have to switch volumes the moment you switch apps and something I hope Cayin sorts out in a future FW upgrade.

If you need more power, the balanced output on A01/T01 will cater you better, even though those as well fall short of driving power-hungry planars perfectly. Stuff like HE4XX will run just fine, but more inefficient planar designs won’t reach their full potential. For such a portable device, however, I guess I can’t really complain with the power output here. It’s not exceptional, but it’s plenty for the most part.
4/5
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Select Comparisons:

vs LG G7:
The very first thing I personally like to check — if a DAP in question significantly outperforms my portable on-the-go solution, the LG G7. The G7 lacks in output power when paired with low-impedance loads due to LG’s decision to “dynamically” adjust the output voltage, which is an absolute bummer. Ah well…

In terms of overall operation and handling, G7 is miles ahead of any DAP in the world, and that’s applicable to any mid/high-end smartphone I guess. However, we are here for the absolute sound quality, and N6ii delivers in spades on that front. Even very power hungry low-impedance low-sensitivity IEMs like the Final E5000 runs with plenty of volume left in store.

While running the HD650, the output power gap was reduced as LG turned on its “high impedance mode”, but even then the N6ii had better low-end extension. In terms of absolute sound quality, the N6ii is on a different league altogether for sure. Whether or not that is worth five times the asking price of G7 is something you gotta decide for yourself.

vs Questyle QP1R: The QP1R is my personal go-to DAP for daily use, and is one of the few DAPs with class-A amplification built-in. It uses an older chipset, however, being almost four years old. I personally like the design on the QP1R more, and there are reasons for that. The volume knob is nearly impossible to activate accidentally, and it’s build even better than the Cayin in a sense with the Gorilla glass panels on the back and front (instead of regular tempered glass on the Cayin) being “embossed” into the aluminium casing itself. However, the navigation and overall operation is archaic and cumbersome compared to the far more modern N6ii. It also lacks the Balanced output (A01) and A/B amplification mode switching (E01) of the Cayin DAP, along with the modularity aspect.

In terms of sound, the E01 motherboard has more output power than the QP1R, though it’s not as huge a difference as it shows on the specs. Both can drive low sensitivity IEMs or high impedance headphones like the HD650 to satisfying volumes and plenty of bass punch. What they can’t do, however, is deal with inefficient planars, at least not that well. Sound signature is largely similar on them, and the slight differences I noticed at times may be attributed to the slightly higher output impedance on the N6ii (0.15ohm vs 0.6ohm). Sonically, both are very similar when volume matched in class-A. In A/B mode the Cayin has more energetic albeit a tad unrefined signature, so it’s the class-A mode that I cared about.

In short, the N6ii seems like a natural upgrade to the QP1R. As Questyle has stuck with their awkward-at-best navigation system even on the latest QPM, the N6ii will offer a viable upgrade path to those who want to use Tidal and such services without losing the sound quality of the Questyle player(s).

vs Yulong Canary: Now, it’s time to compare with a desktop DAC/Amp combo. It’s a bit unfair comparison because they are very different classes of products, but I tried to find out either way how well a DAP can keep up with a desktop solution.

As it turned out — quite well tbh. The Canary obviously has much higher output power and it seemed to have a bit better separation overall, but the N6ii strikes back with a much lower output impedance, the choice of numerous reconstruction filters, and switchable amp modes.

So yes, the N6ii won’t replace your desktop system, but it will allow you to have much of the same experience while on the go.

[ I unfortunately couldn’t secure a demo unit of Fiio M15 before the review period was up, so I couldn’t post that impression. I will update here as soon as I get the M15 in hand and compare it to the QP1R (since QP1R and N6ii has many similarities in sound) ]

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Conclusion

In the end, the N6ii faces all the trials and tribulations any flagship device faces, and is accursed by the fruitless exercise of chasing perfection. So, Cayin focused on the sound tuning, and while this is not a benchmark champ, I can’t quite find any faults with it sound signature, no matter which IEM/Headphone I throw at it. Barring a few notoriously difficult to drive headphones — this will make your gears sound as well as they are capable of with more than enough volume. The switchable motherboards also bring lots of possibilities. Not to mention: the stellar build quality.

While I can’t fault N6ii in the sound and build department, the rest of it is bland at best. The design isn’t unique and with the asymmetrical bezels and home button placement this is far from a benchmark-setter. Some may scoff at just one microSD slot (though 500GB+ SD cards are available), while others like me might have issues with the trigger-happy playback button cluster/headphone out location.

The biggest issue might arise with the battery and the OS though. Also, using a rather old 28nm(!) node obviously doesn’t help with power management. A much newer SoC e.g. SD636 would not only have made the DAP much faster while operating, but also have cut down the power draw by quite a margin.

Despite all the caveats, I crave for the N6ii. It doesn’t check all the boxes, but it checks the most important one — sound quality.

The N6 Mk 2 gets a cautious recommendation, and will likely suit them who are willing to pay the price for one of the best sounding portable devices out there. If you are too much concerned about the surrounding issues though, the overall high-end DAP market will likely disappoint you. Most of them have more or less finicky, bug-ridden, or downright limited software and curious design choices that hurt usability. Perhaps one day DAP manufacturers will take a leaf out of mobile manufacturer’s playbook, but until then, this will remain a thorny territory.

#Recommended (but do take the cons into consideration)
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mwhals
mwhals
You mentioned N6ii with E01 was similar in sound to the QP1R, which I own. Do you know how A01 sounds compared to the QP1R? I am looking for a better UI dap.
Rockwell75
Rockwell75
@mwhals I owned the QP2R for a bit last year and ultimately sold it because I found the UI (among other things) too clunky. The sound was top tier though and it wasn't until I picked up the E01 for my n6ii that I felt I finally had something that could compete with the QP2R sound wise. The A01 has more of a mid-bass emphasis and (to my ears) isn't quite as resolving or well extended up top as the E01 is.
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kmmbd
kmmbd
@mwhals yes, the N6ii was very similar to QP1R and had a bit more output power. It would be a good upgrade IMO. The battery life will be similarly poor on both though (~8 hours of playback time) so there's that.
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Pros: sound quality
Cons: ergonomics
battery life
OS/app integration
Cayin N6 MKII-9.jpg

As has been tradition for some of the sites I run, the below text is a verbatim version of the original review, which can be found at the link below this paragraph. At that link more illustrative photos can also be found.

ohmage to the Cayin N6ii

That review has also been turned into the following YouTube video:


And now for the review text.

Review begin:

Disclaimer: Cayin Japan kindly loaned me the N6MKII for the purposes of this review, an RMAA article, and more.

I’ve had the N6MKII since late October last year. In quick succession I tore apart its boxes and took a handful of purdy photos of it. But software problems (my end, not Cayin’s), kept me from doing much testing. (Apologies to both Cayin and to those next in the review queue.) Those issues are long gone.

Despite the delays, I am readay to say what I was ready to say from day one: that the N6MKII is beautifully made, nicely branded, but not for me. I say this not because it is too big; I say this because it is too complicated; I say this because its battery life is poor. I say this because I’m a mid-range guy and the N6MKII obviously aims higher than that.

Not sound

The N6MKII’s biggest problem is lithium-ic. Even when shut off, its battery drains in less than a week. Playing back music, its battery drains in (less lthan fifteen hours), but add browsing, fiddling with various controls, and album swapping, and that number quickly dips below ten hours. Considering its power, that isn’t bad. Typically, however, the DAPs and other audio gear I use, can, under the most demanding use, keep up a steady fifteen hours. To be fair, many TOTL DAPs similarly fare, but to be fairer, getting through a modern work day and the commute home on a single charge should be par. My most used audio devices are MD recorders, none of which gets worse than 15 hours of battery playback, some of which get more than 20. And then there are my Cowon Plenue DAPs, each running for more than a day. Even Onkyo’s DP-S1 gets at least twenty hours.

The N6MKII’s second biggest problem is robotic. Under the bonnet resides a robust Android OS that can play any file type you want, connects to the Google Play Store, and browses both media and the web just like a smartphone. The problem is that the N6MKII is neither as smart, nor as fast as your typical Google or Sony Android phone. The latest iPod touch is much more deeply integrated. Jumps from music, to web browsers, and other apps, are smoother, and uniformity between apps gels. (Show photos and album artwork.)

Certain Android touches: swipe down access to audio and other settings, a robust files system, better lock screen controls, are superior to iOS’s abstruse OS sandbox. Regarding volume controls, Cayin read my mail. 100 discrete steps? Touch-defeatable volume screen? Plus/minus controls? Utility over looks? Dayum. Add to that combination controls for attenuation/mains, and Bob’s your uncle.

Minor victories aside, the N6MKII is still a boat. Across its top are: a stereo line out (SPDIF combo output), 3,5mm stereo, and a 4,4mm TRRRS balanced output. Both its headphone outputs are among the most powerful I’ve ever used. Along its right side are a combination attenuator/mains dial, tracking back, play/pause, and tracking forward controls. Along the bottom edge are a USB-C and i2S port. The latter is pretty novel in DAPs. I have only ever used them in home DACs.

The entire thing is buttoned up really well into a single block of milled aluminium. Its seams are perfect. Its edges are kind. And, while I don’t like its stylistic flourishes, I have to admit that Cayin’s grasp of gentle branding is refreshing. The attenuator hides between two protective horns and isn’t easily riddled one way or another. Its tracking controls, however, are. I accidentally hit them ever time I pick it up. Thankfully, they can be disabled in the settings app.

To me, the N6MKII is a boat. And it handles like one. Because it arrays its outputs across the top, it tips forward, forces you to hit the attenuator and/or navigation buttons, and catches on things when used in and out of the pocket. Heck, even in the hand, cables running from the top are unwieldy.

It comes with a nice leather case. That case protects all the necessaries, but makes it hard to access the swipe down menu. Ho hum.

Cayin offer a small but good range of after-market amp modules for the N6MKII, each of which is powerful and catered to a certain type of listener and use case. Each is also punctuated by commensurately differentiated performance curves, measurable, or otherwise.

It also features modern Bluetooth, though, probably due to antennae design, one that can’t hold a candle to a smartphone. For instance, using AirPods Pro, which, on a sunny day, can get a solid 60 metres away from an iPhone, get only twenty metres from the N6MKII.

Sound

The N6MKII just about nails gapless playback. When forced, errors are minor. Better, they seldom appear. This means no more cue sheets, or other workarounds. Live music, trance sets I love, and good number of studio and classical albums will be happy.

You won’t find too many DAPs that hiss less than this bad boy. As far as I can tell, they sit between an iPhone SE and an AK380, both of which are practically noiseless.

The Cayin Music app, and its associated settings, are impressive. A total of seven DAC-level PCM antialiasing filter settings )Sharp Roll-off, Slow Roll-off, Short Delay Sharp Roll-off, Short Delay Slow Roll-off, Super Sharp Roll-off, Super Slow Roll-ff, and Low Dispersion Short Delay) work wonders to de-digitalise or re-digitise certain music. My favourite of course is is the Super Slow Roll-off. It de-peaks the top end of my favourite earphones, and otherwise comfies up harsh music.

With the exception of Burson’s Fun, the N6MKII easily outstrips every desktop audio amp and DAC I own or have owned for output power. Of course, Fun is as crazily overpowered as Rise of Skywalker’s Creamy Sheeve. As hardware tests bear out, the N6MKII also sends ample current to earphones, headphones, and lines out, ensuring music totally free of frequency fluctuations.

It also means that, regardless the load, stereo signals are kept truly discrete. In fact, the N6MKII remains among a handful of mid and high end DAPs I’ve used that treats harsh loads as complete stereo afterthoughts. Yes, an Earsonics SM2 presents a higher stereo load effect than a DT880/600. But, that effect is basically Even Stephen from 20Hz to 20.000Hz. And the same goes for every load I’ve tested. Such control is truly inspiring. But it leaves me wishing for low-level controls over crossfeed. Why? Because, while I love headphones, I much prefer listening to music through a decent 2,1 system where both channels feed into both of my ears.

Even in sharp roll-off form, the N6MKII sports an undefeatable low-pass filter. It starts its slow descent from 10.000Hz and continues to 20.000Hz, where it measures -1dB on my system. Yes, it is totally inaudible, but because someone is bound to mention it, I thought I’d sound the bell first.

Even spitting volume levels that far exceed typical thresholds for pain, the N6MKII is able to output over -90dB of stereo separation into an Earsonics SM2. Of course, at normal listening levels, that number drops down. But -90dB is nothing to scoff at. In fact, no measurement the N6MKII returns is worthy of anything but respect.

That said, the N6MKII isn’t a measurement king. It’s more about power and feel than absolute signal sanitisation. The way stereo fades to the sides makes vocals float to the front. Gentle reverb and soft, muscular tremble really, really brings out tender emotion and feel from female vocals.

The other thing I think the NK6II totally nails is low-frequency stereo. Texture resolution down there is good to great, but stereo reverb and wide-set gradations force attention to the centre, whilst gently extruding the most important details from the periphery. Combine this with a good super slow low pass filter and your peaky Audio Technica CK10s are as soft-edged and beautiful as any high-end earphone out there.

Apart from output power, all of that can be passed downstream via the optical output to a DAC or MD recorder of your choice. That means, SPDIF’d through the N6MKII to your favourite MD recorder, you basically get a different/better master of your favourite albums. Dayum.

End Words

I dislike the N6MKII’s stylistic flourishes. I dislike the location of its navigation buttons. I dislike its implementation of Android. I wish it got better battery life. In short, Cayin have a long way to go where design meets utility. Still, they managed to treat the human to a clean base-10 volume scale, fast UI, and a good screen. The N6MKII is built and finished as good as any TOTL DAP out there. Better yet, it sounds truly amazing. No, it doesn’t measure as well some high-end DAPs (or, for that matter, a few lower end DAPs), but with the right DAC filter applied, what comes through is truly breathtaking. And, the N6MKII is powerful enough for your 600Ω Beyerdynamics and is good enough for a number of voltage-hungry planars out there.

Impressive.

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I bought an N6ii recently and absolutely love the sound. It is an improvement above my Chord Mojo and Dragonfly Red. The Chord Mojo almost sounds thin and artificial. It is amazing how much layering this player unravels. The Mojo almost sounds two dimensional when compared to N6ii.

However, not everything was rainbows and sunshine though. I hit a few hiccups initially though. The unit refused to start up and also refused to charge on random occaisions. I had to factory reset the unit to resolve these issue. So far I haven't seen this issue again.
Apart from that I am quite happy with the player.
I am heavy user of Tidal offline and this player handles the Tidal offline files like charm. The preinstalled Google play store is a blessing.
I have also used it as a source to feed my Vioelectric V200 headphone amplifier to power a pair of LCD2.2s. The sound is just mesmerizing and bring a smile and tear to me everytime I listen to my music library.
These drives the KEF LS50 wireless speakers also quite fine. The improvement over Mojo is quite evident.

I use the 3.5mm dedicated line output and was wondering if the 4.4mm balanced output used as line output will take the sound quality to the next level? I have a few high quality RCA cables which I am planning to modify to terminate to a 4.4mm jack at one end.
 
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