Cayin N6ii - 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)
Last edited:
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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Such a great review. The details about system/software are very much needed for a device like this. Thank you!
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Pros: sound quality
Cons: ergonomics
battery life
OS/app integration
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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.

Attachments

Pros: Great Sound, replaceable motherboards, fast and snappy operation. Exceptional build quality.
Cons: EQ not the best, cost of new motherboards.
This review of the Cayin N6ii is part of the world tour and I was given the chance to audition this player in return for an honest review. I am in no way connected with Cayin.

Lets get right into it...

Specification
  • Android OS (stripped down customized version of 8.1 Oreo)
  • Bluetooth aptX, LDAC , AAC, SRC
  • User replaceable motherboard
  • 3.5mm Line Out, 3.5mm SE, 4.4mm Pentacon Balanced outputs (T01 motherboard)
  • I2S, USB & S/PDIF digital interfaces
  • 64GB onboard ROM, single MicroSD card slot (up to 512GB)
  • Snapdragon CPU, 4GB RAM
  • 5,900mAh battery (approx. 10hr playback - motherboard dependent) & Quick Charge 3.0
  • 4.2" IPS touchscreen
  • Physical buttons for power/volume wheel/play.pause/fwd/back
  • USB C charge port
  • WiFi with OTA firmware upgrades
  • Size: 121mm H x 70mm W x 21mm D
  • Weight: 290grm
  • Price: around £999.00
In The Box

Won't go too deep here, but you get the player, screen protector, charge cable (USB C), 4.4mm to 2.5mm balanced right angle adapter, black w/red stitching leather case. Overall nice unboxing experience - content very well protected by the packaging.

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Build Quality

Exceptional. Genuinely the best build quality I have seen in any DAP to date. The motherboard slides in with no wiggle, the screw threads are well cut, the player is chunky and strong, buttons and volume wheel feel solid with good feedback, rounded edges on player body, top mounted audio outputs (THANK GOD!!!), screen size is just right for the player size, USB C at the bottom (charging at bottom and outputs at top is my preference). For me this player sets the standard in build quality

Special mention for the case, its like a beautiful Italian leather bag. The leather feels really nice in the hand and the player is protected well without getting in the way of operation (button feedback still great).

The Player


Software

I am not actually a fan of Android for DAP's but the implementation on the N6ii is very well done. The OS is very stripped down and responsive. The Play store is pre-installed which opens up the world of app's - I installed YouTube for fun and it works great.

The player comes with Cayin music app preinstalled (based on HiBy music app, also preinstalled), which is actually my preference here. I have some other apps on my mobile phone (OnkyoHF) but the Cayin app is easier to use.

Top information banner is very useful, showing volume level (actual number), audio output (bal/SE/L.O), WiFi/Bluetooth, sample rate, battery %, Time.

Top pulldown menu reveals customized options (Gain Settings, Digital Output, BAL setting, WiFi, Bluetooth, Audio Settings) specific to the N6ii, general settings and screen brightness.

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Pressing the volume wheel button once turns the screen on/off and press+hold reveals the restart/power off menu. Quite intuitive.

Searching for songs is easy within Cayin's app, although I did find the font size slightly small.

I am a BIG fan of EQ'ing to my taste. The EQ in Cayin's app is OK, but not great. You have to pull the gain right down and make small adjustments otherwise the sound can quickly become distorted. A parametric universal EQ would have been nice (e.g. Cowon & iBasso DX220) - maybe a future upgrade?

In general the screen is nice, apps load quickly and settings are easily accessed. One thing I don't like is when operating the volume wheel a volume level popup appears, masking whatever you were looking at. It goes away after a few seconds but I would prefer an option to remove this popup and show volume change in the top information banner only.

Ergonomics


Although a fairly chunky player, it fits nicely in the hand. For a right handed person all physical controls are in the perfect place. My thumb can reach the entire screen area without too much stretching and I rarely saw accidental operations. Despite its relative thickness, the N6ii + leather case fits nicely into the pocket, however I kept accidentally operating the volume wheel (even with the protective shoulders). I wonder if a future motherboard could include a physical lock slider?

Placing all audio outputs at the top, for me, is a real winner. This is very useful for using in the car, whilst lying down etc.

USB C is a welcome addition, forget getting the USB orientation wrong ever again.

Replaceable Motherboards

As a big fan of tinkering, Cayin's replaceable motherboard approach intrigues me. You essentially get a new audio train inc. DAC/AMP/Outputs with each motherboard. Physical replacement is performed by unscrewing x2 screws (screwdriver included when you buy a new motherboard) popping the old one out and inserting the new (power off before doing this).

Cayin can now release new motherboards as technology and their R&D develops, giving lots of sound options and a certain amount of future proofing in the same DAP.

The major issue is that each motherboard costs around £300 (T01 currently £289) which could put you off buying every new motherboard which comes out without auditioning first.

FYI - The Cayin tour featured the original A01 motherboard and T01 replacement motherboard.

Sound Quality

This is what you came here for. I will split it into two reviews based on the two motherboards supplied. I listened to the following songs from an SD card via the Cayin app without EQ. IEM's used were my custom JH Audio Angie with Moon Audio black dragon cable, 75% on both bass adjusters and 4.4mm pentacon.

Songs used:
  1. AC/DC - Sin City (FLAC)
  2. Black Sabbath - Children of the Sea (FLAC)
  3. Portishead - Numb (FLAC)
  4. Infected Mushroom - Heavy Weight (FLAC)
  5. Kosheen - Spies (FLAC)

Motherboard A01

  1. AC/DC - Sin City (FLAC) - Fast attack on the drums, decent bass presence but could do with a more sub bass. Mid-range quite full making vocals stand out. High end slightly rolled off which could be better to bring out the symbols.
  2. Black Sabbath - Children of the Sea (FLAC) - Midrange stands out here and the lower-mids giving force to Dio's voice. Overall composition is nice but could be extended both ends. Good soundstage on this track which I find important for Sabbath.
  3. Portishead - Numb (FLAC) - I always use this song to test bass. To my ears the bass is mostly all there but does not bring it home with impactful bass. I did try EQ'ing but could not get the bass level I was after. Female vocals sound airy and natural which is great on this track.
  4. Infected Mushroom - Heavy Weight (FLAC) - This song has a mix of everything in EDM. Sounded great with nice fast attack and nice decay on notes with some echo. It did sound a little congested when the song gets going, but nice overall composition. Medium-wide soundstage, which is fine.
  5. Kosheen - Spies (FLAC) - Probably my favorite song presentation out of the five. I think the mid-bass content here shines through and vocals cut through very well giving a very musical performance.
Verdict:

Bass: OK, not going to blow you away but it's all there - just might not bring it home.
Mids: Great mid presentation, probably the star of A01's show. Vocals sound weighty and strong, guitars sound natural.
Treble: Not extended to the stars but really nice highs which mix very well with upper mids. Vocals definitely benefit from the A01.

Overall: I would stick with the A01 if you listen to a lot of acoustic music or vocal heavy music. As I mostly listen to Rock and EDM the A01 is not my ideal sound signature and I would swap for the T01. Speaking of which....

Motherboard T01

  1. AC/DC - Sin City (FLAC) - Here we go. Extended bass and airy highs. Vocals and guitar shine through without overpowering bass/drums.
  2. Black Sabbath - Children of the Sea (FLAC) - The extra bass which seems to be there in the T01 brings this song home. Vocals and Tony's beautiful guitar riff shines through. T01 probably has slightly less attack than the A01 but the overall composition here is great. A little holographic sound here which I like.
  3. Portishead - Numb (FLAC) - Yup, bass is there. Very enjoyable and musical. Sounds a little less natural than the A01, but that's what I prefer. Femal vocals sound just as good here.
  4. Infected Mushroom - Heavy Weight (FLAC) - The extra bass brings out the energy in this track. Treble seems more extended which makes the soft ending to this song really sing.
  5. Kosheen - Spies (FLAC) - A very musical performance but with more energy than the A01.
Verdict:

Bass: Good bass for Rock and EDM - not the best I've ever heard but natural and can hit hard when required.
Mids: Quite similar mids to the A01, natural and with good weight.
Treble: Extended treble gives songs the appearance of more air and space. Nice symbol splash which is essential for rock imo.

Overall: T01 is my motherboard of preference. A01 is more natural while the T01 is more musical to my ears. Worth the upgrade imo.

Conclusion:

At £999 the N6ii has some strong competition. The N6ii with T01 motherboard gives a great natural and musical sound you can enjoy for hours. Comparing to my Cowon M2, I still prefer the Cowon's sound due to the crazy DSP. However the N6ii has pretty much the best connectivity, decent battery life (and quick charge!) and is one of the most future proofed players out there which makes the asking price seem much more reasonable. Very interested to see what motherboard options come out in the future (3 options as of writing).

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AlexCBSN
Eq is rather a software implementation, in that case there is the hiby app installed as well which can help with more finicky details, the point of having android implementation is to be able to use other software options and therefor other eq options
Pros: Rock solid build, smooth and feature packed UI, phenomenal sound
Cons: Occasionally overheats (especially when listening & charging at the same time)

A little about me

I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.

I'm a firefighter for both the civilian and military sector and the cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.

I enjoy fishing and relaxing to audio products and then reviewing them to help others decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.

Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.

My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.

Equipment used at least some point during the review
-Headphone(s)
-Bowers & Wilkins P7
-Cayin YB-04
-Empire Ears Hermes VI
-Oppo PM-1
-Misc.
-Cayin motherboard module T01

Disclaimer

I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.

The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.

The Opening Experience


Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience

Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.

As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’

This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?


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Construction

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I’m not really a Chevy fan but the old time commercial and song “Like A Rock” comes to mind when I’m holding the Cayin N6ii. Not only does this piece of art feel like a rock with its size but it also has the weight to join it. I rarely find myself saying this with DAP’s, and I adamantly do not recommend trying it, but in a worst case scenario and you were to drop the N6ii, I’ve a good feeling of confidence that the DAP would be just fine, especially if you’ve it placed inside its included, and very stylish, faux leather carrying case. Cayin built this unit to last.

As you look at the unit, you’re greeted with a very respectable 4.2” touch screen display on its front. Rotating the N6ii to its right side you’ve, from the top down, power button/ volume dial, track back button, play/pause button and the track forward button. Rotating the unit to its left side, you’ve only the micro SD card slot that, from Cayin, was tested to 512gb capacity (I’ve only up to a 200gb card to test). The bottom of the N6ii, from left to right, you’ve the I2S Type C mini HDMI port (I did not use nor test this component) and the Type C USB port. Finally on the top of the N6ii is where you’ll find the business end. The top of the N6ii is where you’ll find the replaceable motherboard that sits flush and contains, on the default A01 motherboard, from left to right, a 4.4mm balanced port, a 3.5mm unbalanced port, and a 3.5mm line-out port. The optional T01 motherboard is exactly the same except the 4.4mm balanced output is also a line-out

I’ve really nothing bad to say about how Cayin constructed their N6ii DAP, the thing’s a brute and feels every bit as premium as its $1200 price tag would suggest it should.


Features


I’ll get into the sound of the N6ii (of course) soon but don’t think for a second that just sounding great is the only thing the N6ii has going for it. Cayin stuffed this unit more than a person on a diet on Thanksgiving.

Right out of the gate Cayin made their N6ii an Android based DAP that comes equipped with 8.1 Oreo. What Android operating system would be complete without built in Wi-Fi? Exactly. Which is why Cayin included dual-band (2.4 & 5 ghz) capabilities. I greatly utilized feature this to listen to various YouTube amv’s but you know, there’s Tidal and all that other cool stuff too I guess.

For those wireless technology lovers, Cayin made the N6ii equipped with Bluetooth 4.2 and also added LDAC to ensure everything stays lossless.

Finally, and I suppose it’s the biggest and most notable feature, the N6ii has the ability to interchange its motherboards with other Cayin applicable ones (tested the default A01 and the optional T01). This is a feature that, no isn’t unique to Cayin but is a concept that is fairly rare to see and one that, to me, adds a lot of longevity to a products life because what better way to make a player sound new again than to completely change the Dac, amp and inputs? And Cayin’s implementation with their N6ii is not only simple but darned stylish. To change the motherboard out is as simple as unscrewing two screws on the back with the supplied screwdriver and using the lip on the back to carefully change out the motherboards.


Sound

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Before I start this section. It should go without saying but though I link YouTube videos when I’m giving examples, this is for convenience only. If applicable, I HIGHLY encourage you to listen to the music I’m referencing on as high a quality as possible to experience the fullest sound possible.


Here we are, arguably the most important aspect of a high end, or rather any end, Digital Audio Player, its sound. For this first bit, I will focus on the default A01 motherboard and then will switch to the optional T01 model. The first and most immediate thing I remember thinking when I first pushed play on the N6ii is hot dang, that’s impressive. The sound is that of a slightly south of neutral warmth that makes the N6ii very audiophile friendly in the neutrality department but musical enough to satisfy those filthy casuals such as myself. I fully understand that this unit is $1,200 and that is by absolutely no means, a small sum but the level of detail retrieval I got from this portable unit rivals that of my own desktop unit power supply is a different story however. A song I like to use to really check out the micro details is “Po Lazarus” by James Carter & the Prisoners. Around half way through the song, there’s a bucket that’s getting picked up and moved and it’s only quality products that you hear that but it’s only on premium and top tier products can you hear the little rocks move around inside.

Something that is difficult for me to explain but it’s the best way I can talk about with the N6ii and the A01 motherboard is just a very smooth sounding audio player. It doesn’t matter what type of music I’m listening to it’s just such an experience. To me and my ears, as I said at the beginning, the A01 is a just south of neutral sound that I could very easily see becoming a reference for many a audiophiles due to its detail retrieval and dynamic capabilities.

A note I will add for the A01, and the T01 as well, is that this unit (the N6ii) showcases its capabilities the best with iems (even hyper sensitive customs) and low powered headphones. Though they’ll power headphones like my Sennheiser HD650 & HD660 S, when you get to higher powered headphones the difference in desktop vs portable setups becomes much more apparent. The loss of dynamics and bass punch though doesn’t necessarily dissapoint (headphone dependent of course) you will definitely notice a loss of what you’re likely used to on your personal reference gear.

Moving on to the T01 motherboard module. I loved this module and immediately knew it would be my prefered module upon pushing play. The T01, whereas the A01 focuses on neutralness, takes on the musically warm approach and it does it well. Vocals immediately became more forward and the bass hit just slightly harder. Acoustic instruments such as the guitar became much more surreal sounding that I got lost in time writing this review because I just couldn’t stop enjoying my music. A perfect example is “The Last of The Mohicans” performed by Luca Stricagnoli. On the T01, the guitars resonance just becomes so much more palpable that I swore I was sitting in the room with him as he performed. Male vocals such as Johnny Cash and Trace Adkins had a lifelike body to them that you can really experience the emotion that otherwise, to me, gets lost of more neutral sounding products. Though treble isn’t lost, it is pulled back or rather rolls off sooner than the A01 sibling. I personally found no problem with this but objectively speaking you may find you missing resonances on high pitched instruments (such as symbols) making them lose their realism.



Conclusion

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In summary, I greatly enjoyed my time with the newest summit-fi DAP from Cayin. Everything I could want in a DAP is present and done exceptionally well and competently. I don’t often use DAP’s but even so I can tell that Cayin’s N6ii is something special. It’s default abilities and features already set it apart from other summit-fi DAP’s; add the ability to upgrade the motherboard and you now have a virtually future proof product that will only increase its value per dollar investment. If you’re in the market for a top tier summit-fi DAP then I urge you to give strong consideration to Cayin and their N6ii. If it’s neutrality then their default A01 will more than satisfy you. If you’re like myself and enjoy full bodied warmth, then their T01 module, though an extra $330ish, has an amazingly musical sound that all but forces you to relax and enjoy your music.






Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.
Pros: Well built, reactive hardware

Modular design

Enjoyable sound signatures
Cons: Weighty

Irritating design niggles — dropdown shade menu, locked hardware buttons
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Many thanks to Cayin for supplying this loan unit and modules for review. This was then returned to Cayin at the end of the Tour.

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Contents, Design and Operation:

A weighty book-style case with the solid matt black player on one side. On the other side, underneath the manual is a gloss black leather case with red stitch detailing, a USB A – C cable and a 4.4-2.5mm balanced adapter. The player itself is heavy but reassuringly dense. It feels like it’s been made to last (I’m looking at you, N5ii). All the ports/sockets are metal and the combined power / volume pot is ergonomic. I like the feel of this player but it sits a little heavy in my pocket. One for the desk, it seems.

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This is a modular player and comes with the A01 module as standard. The T01 module was also supplied for review. The modules unlock from the chassis via 2 T05 Torx screws at the upper back edge of the player. The module then pulls out. The T01 came in a box with a supplied screwdriver. Thoughtfully, both modules have the same output ports on the top – balanced 4.4, unbalanced 3.5 and line out 3.5. At the bottom sits the digital out and USB C ports. On the left-hand side is the microSD port. This is exposed through the case for access. Beneath the multifunction pot on the right are 3 buttons for play/pause and track select.

The Cayin powers up quickly and moves through the barely skinned Android software at a pace — thanks to the Snapdragon 425 SoC, which is used in mid-range mobile phones and very well suited to the task. I turned off all the graphical transitions in Developer mode to keep things snappy. The dropdown shade has the usual icons – gain, output, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and audio settings. This shade is configurable, but I could not find an icon for Airplane mode — that has to be done through the normal settings menu.

Installed as standard is Hiby Music and the Cayin version of that player with slimmed down options. This has a lot of granular options for play mode, Replay Gain, USB audio and so on. Useful if you want that stuff, but perfectly ignorable if not. I use the player offline only – no streaming, USB or Bluetooth DAC mode. I like to keep it simple.

I was very apprehensive about using the Hiby Music based apps as my previous experience of them with the N5ii was unpleasant to say the least, due to poor hardware response and unhelpful UI, particularly when it came to creating and managing playlists. The UI is still far too crowded, with multiple buttons configured to do a lot of overlapping things. I still cannot get it to enqueue tracks properly. There should be one button to add to a playlist, rather than stepping through 2 menus. In the end I left it alone and played my test list on random. I didn’t download any other player because I wanted to see if things had improved. I don’t feel that they have, particularly. I would suggest downloading your preferred player instead.

For parts of the review I had to be mobile and that meant putting the N6ii in my pocket. Not too much of a problem but I came up against an odd design flaw – I could not use the hardware buttons unless the screen was on – i.e. I had to press the volume pot in before they would work. I could not find a menu or option anywhere to change this behaviour.

Wireless firmware update was a relatively painless procedure but it took multiple tries to get the Cayin to hold onto my wireless network – it would keep dropping it as soon as it locked on. I do not know what changed but eventually it stabilised. I updated to 1.18EN for this review. Within the Audio settings drop down are the most useful toggles – PCM and DSD antialiasing settings, digital out, gain, line out and volume compensation. The 4.2” IPS screen is bright and colourful with no latency or edge drop out. The back button at the bottom edge of the screen is permanently lit as a confident white circle.

Review settings and materiel:

High gain, PCM sharp roll off, DSD FIR3.
A01 and T01 modules.
iBasso DX228
Empire Ears Studio Reference, Noble Tux5, Cayin YB04, Meze Rai Penta, CCA C12

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A01 Sound:

I was a little surprised by this: a warm, intimate but powerful sound, lush and effortless. It feels very…. ”vinyl”. The warmth to the entire frequency response supports and lifts the sound but doesn’t mask detail. It isn’t liquid or slurred but really enjoyable. Whilst there is power and control the soundstage is average but packed with detail and depth.
All the IEMs I used responded to this warmth and control with a comforting but pleasurable sound. No IEM sounded out of place, mismatched or dissonant.

T01 Sound:

I felt that this module was more mid/vocal centric with a wider soundstage and a more balanced response. The transients were crisper, bass drier but as detailed, vocals pushed a little wider and more neutral. Personally, I preferred this module for the music I listen to (EDM, Funk, Deep House, etc.). I will probably dust off the iBasso Amp1Mk2 module to see how it fares against the T01.

DX228 Comparison:

I’m going to be honest here - for the first few days of the test I was constantly wishing for my DX228 – its detail, power and energy. Once I let that go and settled into the N6ii sound, I really enjoyed what the Cayin was offering. I didn’t use the iBasso for 10 out of the 12 days the N6ii was in my possession. Overall, the DX228 has a wider soundstage, crisper but not sibilant transients and a greater resolution. The bass extension is probably not quite as deep as the Cayin but there is more detail.

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Conclusion:

The Cayin has won me over in the final stretch with its effortless blend of musicality, enjoyment and pace. The responsive hardware and UI, solid build and modular design are to be highly commended. If I did not own the DX228, I would consider this as a worthy but differently abled alternative.
Pros: Musical and Groovy
Great mids with incredible density
Tones
High power
Android Base
Cons: Resolution and Tranparency not among the best
Size, it's pretty big
Android Base


Cayin N6ii a demonstration model courtesy of Cayin as part of the Head-Fi tour they organized and launched early November. I could listen to it for 12 days.



Introduction

Cayin is a Chinese company well established in the world of traditional Hi-Fi for more than 25 years now. In recent years, she has become interested in nomad Hi-Fi and particularly DAPs, with gears providing very good services at the attractive prices at which they were offered.
The brand's flagship, the N8 that I had the chance to test recently, has even found its place in the DAP pantheon, next to the AK SP1000 and Sony WM1Z.
So I was looking forward to test the N6ii, the little brother, which in addition offers interchangeable DAC / Amp cards !

Are the qualities of the N6ii meeting the expectations ? That is what we will see now.

Cayin N6ii is available at 1099€ en France, 1199$ in the US with A01 DAC/Amp card.

Visual and Ergonomics

There is undeniably a family look between the N8 and N6ii, but the N6ii has adopted a sober and effective look, using the N8's knob and bevels at the bottom and right.
Equal in size, it loses 100 grams on the scale and copper buttons, which will delight discreet people.
On the other hand, it gains a larger screen, and especially access to the playstore that will delight streaming application fans, or that will allow you to install your favorite playback app in place of Cayin Music.



The Cayin Music playback software (twin brothers of Hiby Music) is very pleasant to use and makes the user experience more enjoyable than on the N8. Reactivity is better in my opinion, especially in the display of the covers.
Menus are also less complex than those of the N8, which also makes it easier to get started.
There is one thing that already made me tense on the N8. It is the fact that when you pause a song, if you press the back key to go back to the beginning of the song it will automatically restart (the same goes for the next song). A detail certainly, but one that bothers me particularly in my dayly use.

Sound

I will not compare here the differences between the outputs of each card, I did not have the time, the loan only lasting 12 days and including the YB04. But one thing is certain, with 2 different DAC/Amp cards already available (A01 and T01, an another one coming E01), 3 outputs on each one offering one line out in 3.5mm, one 3,5mm output and one 4,4mm output (which also makes line out on the T01), and some audible settings in the menus, you will be able to find the sound that suits you best according to your use.

My feedback is based on listening on the 4.4mm outputs of the DAC/Amp A01 and T01 cards (outputs I prefer), using a PW1950 cable. I was able to test the N6ii with the following IEM : Cayin YB04, InEar ProPhile 8, Itsfit Lab Fusion and Jomo Trinity.

I could also compare it with 2 DAPS, Sony WM1Z K mod Premium and Lotoo LPG.

The first thing I tested on the Cayin N6ii was the Roll Off setting in the parameters. My choice, for the 2 DAC/Amp was short delay / slow roll off. It is with this position that I find the N6ii to be both the most natural and the most lively.



A01 Module

As soon as you connect IEM to the N6ii in this configuration, you immediately notice that it is a very organic player, in the direct vein of what the N8 offers. The sound is full, dense and voluptuous and the rendering is smooth over the entire frequency response.
Tones are so beautiful. The extension at the top and bottom is average, bass is a little cottony and treble without exaggerated brilliance. The overall rather slow speed is actually focused on groove.
Finally, there are women's voices, especially a sweaty one that I associate with cabarets or jazz clubs of the 1960s.
The magic square resolution, separation, definition and transparency seems to be of good level and very balanced but do not really shine with this module.

With A01, what matters is musicality and mids.



T01 Module

With T01, the rendition changes while keeping its DNA. Musicality is still there but in a more neutral and technical way. Dynamics increase, whether in the bass or treble, impacts are heavier and drier, and it sounds airier. Low mids and mids seem a little thinner to me, and high mids more thrown out, as a result the voices move back a little towards the instruments, and the sound scene does increase in width and depth.
The whole thing gives something more airy that allows the magic square to improve on all levels, with a special mention to the separation that makes a real step upwards.

With T01, we obtain musical neutrality and technicality.



Comparison with the Sony WM1Z K mod premium 3.02

Whatever the DAC/Amp cards used, I find that the N6ii offers:
- a more intimate soundstage, higher but less wide and deep
- highs and mids less detailed and precise (T01 very close on mids)
- less controlled bass (T01 is very close)
- a sound a little more matt
- a groove and a superior musicality (A01) or equivalent (T01)
- a higher density in the mids
- an inferior magic square, perhaps apart from the separation with T01
- a higher power

Final Thoughts

After N8, Cayin strikes again. Musical and comfortable to handle, N6ii is a winner that will satisfy the fans of analog reproduction. And, icing on the cake, modular DAC/Amp cards suggests a potential improvement in rendering. This is a very good omen when you see the outcome to date.


"Resolution is the ability to individualize a voice or instrument"
"Separation is the ability to feel space between the various sound sources"
"Definition is the ability to perceive as much information as possible"
"Transparency is the ability to transcribe the nuances and subtleties of music"

My topic on Tellement Nomade here : http://www.tellementnomade.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=671123#p671123
rantng
rantng
No LPG comparison?
Pros: Very musical sounding (A01), Neutral (T01), quick UI, Good battery life
Cons: Bulky, fingerprint magnet, some hiss with sensitive iems (both modules), No parametric EQ, battery not interchangeable.
disclaimer: I was sent the Cayin N6ii and YB04 as part of the Cayin North American Review tour. Thank you to Cayin for providing the opportunity and trusting me with their gear. If you have an interest in Cayin products, more details can be found at Cayin's Website. Cayin products are sold in North America by Musicteck.



Unboxing / Packaging:

The N6ii comes in rather fancy packaging as is expected for a near flagship product. An outer silver slipcover has most of the pertinent information on the spine of the cover and an inner book-fold package has the player on left along with a name placard with the charging cable, case, and accessories hidden on the right under the manuals. The tour package also shipped with a 4.4mm male to 2.5mm female adapter for those using balanced output. My unboxing experience may be slightly different than the retail experience as I was not the first member on the tour and cannot guarantee that all was in the same spot it was originally.

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Build:

The first thing one notices when you lift the N6ii out of the packaging is the heft of the unit. It is not particularly large, with roughly the same dimensions as the Opus#1S and slightly smaller than the Khan, but weight is probably double that of the Opus unit. The shell is anodized aluminum with a glass front and rear. The Screen takes up nearly the entire front with a roughly 1.5 cm bezel at the lower edge. Controls are all on the right side of the unit with a volume wheel that also pushes in for wake/sleep/power functions and reverse, play/pause, and forward buttons. All other control is handled through touch screen apps. The left side of the player has the sd-card slot while the base has the I2s and USB type C ports. Modules are added and removed via a slot at the top of the player with two small screws holding modules in place once installed. The screw holes are visible in the 6th picture below and while the edge connector on the module is enough to hold the module in place without the screws, the extra security is nice. The fitted leather case that ships with the unit is easy to put on and take off but not loose enough to shift in use and provides good access and protection to the player. all ports and slots are exposed except for the screws to change modules and even that can be done by pushing the player about 1/2 an centimeter up in the case to expose the screws.

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Internals:

One of the biggest calling cards of the N6ii is the replaceable Modules (Audio Motherboards in Cayin speak) that allow you to upgrade your DAP rather than having to replace it when a newer chip comes out. The N6ii separates the functions into operating components which are in the core unit, and audio components, which are on a removable daughter card. For now, we will look at what is in the base unit with the modules getting their own discussion a bit farther down the page. The core of the N6ii is a Snapdragon Quad Core processor (listed by CPU Z as an ARM Cortex-A53 at 1.4gHz) with 4gb of RAM and 64gb (51 usable) of storage capacity. Initially the N6ii shipped with Android 8.1 (oreo) but an upgrade to a later version is promised once fully tested and the N6ii does support OTA upgrades so updating to the latest version is a fairly straight forward operation. Google play is supported and is unlocked to allow load of just about anything the end user would like and with the internals following qualcomm's reference design, most applications will work on the N6ii unless they require the phone radios to operate correctly. The Screen is a 4.68 inch (768x1280) touch enabled model and sports a good clear picture at 319 dpi. Wifi supports both 2.4 and 5gHz bands and worked well on both bands in my testing. Bluetooth is listed as 4.2 with an advanced Hi-Res Codec and supports AptX and LDAC for connections up to 96kHz. Rounding out the base module, the N6ii has a micro-SD card slot and USB-C port for input and supports use of OTG for external hard drive or flash drive content. I tested the micro-sd card slot with 400 and 512gb cards and had no issue with either. As a kudo to the N6ii even with a near full 512gb card, library load and refresh times were very good. Much faster than some competitive models. As outputs, the USB port can also be used for USB output to an external DAC or as an S/PDIF output and the N6ii also has an I2S output in the form of a mini HDMI port for Audio out. The N6ii also uses custom software called Direct Transport Audio to bypass the android components that normally re-sample audio during playback. And now, onto the modules.



Modules:

There have been some DAPs and DAC/Amps recently with modular amplifiers, but the N6ii takes it a step further and modularizes the entire audio chain. From digital input via the card connector at the base of the module, to output jacks at the top, all the decode and amplify functions are housed on these audio daughter cards. The only other DAP I am aware of that has this feature is the little known Xuelin H8 which takes it a step further yet with 4 distinct slots for Dac, amp, link, and LPF cards. At present two modules for the N6ii are available with others promised to arrive at later dates. To change modules, turn off the player, remove the two screws at the upper rear, and then lift the current module out of the slot. When seating a new module, gentle pressure will be needed, but force should not be used. Seat the module fully, replace the screws, then power on the unit. Changing modules with the power on is not recommended. Your current options are either the A01 (AKM based) or the T01 (Ti Based). These two are quite similar in some respects, and glaringly different in others. Both sport four OPA1622 Op-amps as the amplifier portion of the circuit so offer similar output power, but the A01 with its AK4497EQ chip uses digital volume control while the T01 and its dual Ti1792A dac chips rely on a pair of Burr Brown PGA2311A analog volume controls. The A01 supports PCM up to (and including) 32/384 while the T01 tops out at 24/192. Both support DSD256. The other major difference is in efficiency. The 1792A has been around a lot of years and is not nearly as efficient as the newer 4497 chip. The Burr brown controller chips also add to the battery consumption of the T01 so the end result is a module that has roughly the same output power as the A01 at a cost of roughly 1/2 the battery life. I found the real life battery expectancy to hover around 13 hours on the A01 and closer to 7 on the T01. If you love the sound dual mono 1792A's provide, it may be that the T01 is the call for you. For those looking for longer battery life or higher bit rates, the A01 is the better choice.

As of today (12/6) Cayin has released a 3rd module for the N6ii dubbed the E01. This new model is based on the ESS9038Pro DAC chip using 4 channels each for left and right outputs. Amplification is provided by a new circuit that uses discrete components rather than off the shelf op-amps like the A01 and T01 modules. The E01 also offers the user the ability to switch between true class A amplification (for absolute sound quality) and class AB amplification for improved battery life. I look forward to an opportunity to try out the new E01 module at some future date.

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Controls/UI:

This is a tough section to write as the N6ii gives the user a lot of freedom to use the app of their choice. The tour unit shipped with Cayin's application as well as the Hiby Music App. I added Neutron and USB Audio Player pro and had no issued with the controls working properly on all the software versions tried. Android is nearly completely unlocked (sans developer options) so options to tweak the UI to your liking abound.

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Connectivity:

The N6ii supports dual band wifi and I had no trouble connecting to office and home networks with one exception. One office network has an open network that then redirects to a terms and conditions page before allowing users out. The N6ii failed to display the splash page when connected and even manually opening a browser failed to bring up the splash. If you have to use this kind of wireless system in your environment, you may want to try an N6ii out before purchasing it to make sure it will work for you. Once connected, I had no trouble streaming spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz via their respective apps.

Bluetooth support includes AptX and LDAC support and was extremely straight forward to use. Pairing went as expected via the settings menu and once connected I found the N6ii had a range of roughly 30 feet from device to endpoint before signal began to break up. I found that a single interior wall did not defeat the connection most of the time, but a 2nd interior wall almost always caused complete disconnection. Once back in range, re-connection was automatic and all that was necessary was a quick push of the play button to be back on track.



Battery Life:

I discussed the battery life some in the module discussion, but it warrants some additional conversation. The unit ships with a 5900 mAh cell that provides roughly 13 hours of battery life using the A01 module with the 3.5mm headphone out. I found Bluetooth decreased that time mildly as it lasted more like 12 hours than 13 when bluetooth was enabled. Wifi was similar in that it cost roughly an hour's life to have streaming enabled. The biggest power drain is the screen though, the more screen time you have, the less time the battery will last. If you completely disable the screen sleep function and set brightness at 75%, the N6ii lasts more like 6 hours on a full charge (A01 module). As you can see from the notes, battery life will be very dependent on usage patterns and reports of battery life even among reviewers have varied considerably as a result.



Sound Quality:

I found both the modules of the N6ii to sound extremely good, but was particularly impressed with the A01 module. Typically, I have found the Velvet Series AK chips to be slightly smoothed over and while very forgiving, they don't wring out the detail of some other competitors. This is not so much the case with the N6ii as the A01 produced very good detail with only the slightest hint of that smoothing I mentioned. Bass is well extended with good rumble when called upon and plenty of power when needed, mids have just a slight hint of additional warmth and a very mild push of the upper mids/lower treble forward to enhance vocals. The A01 retains some of its forgiving nature of the AK chips making it a good pairing with earphones that lean slightly to the bright side where they might become harsh with a more bright sounding DAP. Highs are well detailed and extension seems to be limited only by the earphone choice. I did find one small difference in the balanced and single ended outputs (and I volume matched them to be sure) and that was the balanced output has slightly less lower treble push than the single ended counterpart. Not sure why this would be true based on the circuit diagrams, but time and again, I found the single ended to have slightly more vocal presence with female vocals than its balanced counterpart. I found the A01 to be a good all-around card and it would be my choice for a daily user with the YB04 or Re2000S (balanced).

Comparitively, the T01 card is more detailed, but slightly drier and thinner sounding when compared to the A01. I had initially worried about the potential for channel imbalance with the analog volume controls (especially at low volumes) but the T01 seems to be very well matched in this respect and any imbalance was small enough to be ignored. Bass is fast with good detail and slightly better timbre than the A01 card while mids are slightly thinner comparatively. Highs continue the trend with good detail and transparency, but slightly less body than the A01 counterpart. Those who like a more clinical sounding DAC will prefer the T01 card as I think it is a more accurate presentation, if not quite as musical as the A01.

I did note some slight noise when using sensitive iems with the N6ii. The iFi-match solved this and brought the noise floor back to jet black.





Comparisons:

Ibasso DX200 -

The iBasso DX200 and 220 are probably the most direct competitors to the N6ii with their removable modules and android operating system. The 200 originally shipped with android 6 but has since been updated to Oreo. I found the N6ii to be quicker than the DX200 which is likely the larger amount of ram in the N6ii. Feature sets are similar as both support wifi and Bluetooth, USB Dac, OTG connections etc. Both players sport open android environments so the choice of player is largely up to the end user. The default players (mango for iBasso) and Cayin's branded player on N6ii are roughly comperable although I will admit I find the DX200 slightly easier to navigate. The DX200 has a fixed ESS9028pro dac system and modules that allow the end user to change amps. If memory serves there are now 9 available for the DX series which gives you more options than presently available for the N6ii, but with the fixed DAC, it is overall a bit less future proofed. To my ear, the DX200 with the default amp module is a bit lower noise for sensitive IEMs and a bit closer to neutral than the A01. The T01 module is very close to what the stock DX200 provides as far as sound signature. Both are very solid efforts and both provide some modularity, but the N6ii takes it a step further than the DX200 (and even DX220 for that matter) and for those worried about future upgrade, the N6ii has more headroom.

Sony WM1a -

These two have almost nothing in common but the price. The WM1A is not modular but does offer an upgrade path as it uses a programmable processor instead of a dedicated DAC chip. The N6ii with the A01 is warmer and smoother while the WM1A is a bit brighter, better detailed, and more transparent. With the T01 module, the N6ii is much closer in signature to the WM1A, but still a bit less bright and maybe slightly less detailed in the treble (those two are awfully tough to separate). UI is easier on the WM1A but also extremely limited by comparison to the N6ii as if you don't like the stock options on the Sony, you are out of luck as it is a locked environment. Feature sets are nearly comparable although the Wifi is a generation newer chipset on the N6ii. Again hard to argue that any of these DAPs are bad, but the N6ii is certainly more versatile than the Sony, and for those most interested in musicality, the A01 module delivers while the Sony sounds a bit sterile by comparison.

DethonRay DTR1 -

At first glance these two have almost nothing in common. The DTR1 is half the price of the N6ii, doesn't offer wifi, bluetooth, or android, and is 1/2 the size and weight of the N6ii. What both do have is more dynamic range than expected and similar tonality when the T01 module is used. Put simply, the N6ii outclasses the DTR1 with its larger higher resolution screen, faster, more feature rich UI, and connectivity options, but doesn't manage to distance itself from the DTR1 in sound quality. I found the low gain setting on the DTR1 is a bit blacker than on the N6ii when using sensitive IEMs, and the high gain is quite comparable on both (when comparing the single ended outputs). The balanced output on the N6ii is more potent than the DTR1 and for those looking at running full sized, hard to drive over-ears, the N6ii will offer a bit more power with roughly the same battery life as the DTR1 when using the T01 module or a lot more battery life if the A01 module is employed. The E01 promises even more available power, but that remains to be seen at this date. Dissimilar devices with similar sound signatures is the best description here.



Thoughts / Conclusions:

I have mixed emotions about the N6ii. The interchangeable modules appeal to my sense of frugality, but then I question, how long a 1.4ghz ARM processor is going to be able to continue to provide adequate performance as improved android versions release? Version 10 (current release) already lists 4gb ram as the absolute minimum, and middle of the road cellphones currently sport A73 processors at 2.2 and 2.4ghz comparatively. It is quite likely that the base unit will become the limiting factor in the equation rather than the modules. If like Ibasso, the next generation of Cayin player utilizes the same modules, that will help alleviate some of that concern as it will allow the preservation of some of the initial investment. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, I will choose instead to base my conclusions on the DAP as it stands today.

As a stand-alone unit, the N6ii is impressive, Build quality is solid and the case is well designed to protect the unit. UI is quick, simple to use, and easy to upgrade. Feature set is rich allowing multiple use cases from digital transport for a home system, to usb dac for a pc, to pocket DAP for music on the go. Sound quality on both the tested modules is very good, but different enough to provide users a chance to customize sound. The A01 provides great musicality with extended battery life while the T01 provides a near neutral signature with good detail and transparency. There is a lot to like about the N6ii even if purchased with a single module with no intention of ever adding another. It competes well with other units at the price point and even a few a bit above it. If I were purchasing the N6ii today, I'd opt for the T01 module, but honestly would encourage users to wait for the E01 to become available and audition it as well as it promises even more flexibility and perhaps the best sound yet.
iron2k
iron2k
Which firmware did you have in WM1A???
Wiljen
Wiljen
3.02 factory firmware.
Pros: Very musical sounding (A01)
Neutral (T01)
Android 8.1 + Play Store
Amazing step up in detail
Ports
Motherboard options
Cons: Sensitive IEMs/headphones can hear noise
Heavy for portable use
Cayin N6II Review
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Accessories:

It comes with a leather cases, a pretty sturdy braided cable USB 3 cable, Cayin’s 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter, and a glass screen protector. It comes with a preinstalled screen protector already on too. Packaging wise it seems to very much fit the general style of Cayin like the YB04 box. It comes with a A01 motherboard but there is also an option to buy the T01 motherboard.

Ports:

It comes with a line out, a 3.5mm jack, a 4.4mm balanced headphone jack which is also a line out. SPDIF out through USB-C which is also the charging port, a IIS out via mini HDMI and a micro SD card port allowing use of SDHC and SHXC up to 512GB.

Build Quality:

The moment I first had it, I noticed that it was very sturdy, and hefty. As well as all these features you have really make me wish I could just replace my smartphone with this. The volume knob is very clicky when turning it and acts as well as a clicky power on and off button. It also has a rewind/previous song, pause/play and forward/next song button that are both equally as nice of feel.
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General use:

My experience with the N6II Mk2 at home was amazing as it offered such amazing sound quality, often emphasizing and everything my SDAC-B and Atoms can already do and surpassing it. It is somewhat portable, but for me as someone who finds that smartphones are getting too big and I can’t even fit most in my pockets. The N6II Mk2 wasn’t the most portable friendly player I’ve seen. It is a bit too heavy, and it can get a bit warm which might cause issues in the summertime although I'm completely happy to have it in the winter now. The case does a good job of making the heat mostly nonexistent to touch though. Generally, I felt like I needed to bring a bag and leave the N6II there if I wanted to have my hands free to do anything else. Maybe if there was some sort of arm strap for DAPs, I might like it more for outside use while still having my hands free.

Interface Experience:

For the most part I found it to be adequate and snappy enough for a SD 425. It doesn’t have that same snappy experience as something like my LG v20 or even an S8 I also have at home. But for a DAP I don’t think you really need the fastest experience. The music player doesn’t lag at all and it greatly benefits using something energy efficient for more play time.

Sound quality:

A01:
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The A01 easily was my favorite of the two motherboards you can get with the N6II. It has a very warm, full body sound. I originally thought my s-dac balanced and atoms were warm, but this takes it to another level. The YB04 greatly benefited from this as I thought it was a bit on the brighter side a bit. The sound not only sounds very warm and relaxing, I feel as if they really take the YB04 to another level in all categories such as micro detail all around, clarity and just how immersive the YB04 can be. I did also notice that the A01 really seemed to soften the mids a bit in a good way. The YB04 greatly benefited from this as I found it a bit too forward in the upper midrange. I wasn’t much of a person that believed dacs/amps have drastic changes in sound, but this experience really opened my eyes. I had no trouble driving any of my headphones here with the HD 800, HD 580 and DT 990 250 ohms being my hardest to drive. I only had to use low gain at 40/100 volume at most.

T01:
20191204_104303.jpg
My experience with the T01 was great as well as it offered a somewhat similar level of detail, clarity and immersiveness. Although I found the A01 to be a bit more immersive with the soundstage and imaging just a bit better on it. The mids with the YB04 just felt a bit too forward for my preference and wasn't my favorite pairing. The bass sort of takes on a more neutral feel with the YB04 similar to how my atoms and sdac felt. The T01 I felt better to be paired with the HD 580/650 I have. From ears, they both felt similar levels of power they can both push out.

Both motherboards really make the YB04 a much more capable IEM, with these pairings I sort of find it to be surpassing the RE2000 in technicalities. Even the Bass texture on these seem to have gotten better to compare to the RE2000 but not quite there but it got closer. The only issue I have with this pairing is that the YB04 paired on these motherboards seem to have some noise. It’s not unlistenable like my LG v20 was but it is noticeable. My JDS atoms being pretty much completely clean and is a cheap alternative if you just want something noise free, but you are losing so much detail in comparison to the N6II Mk2 with either the A01 or T01. My HD 800 also exhibited some noise as well but no where near as the level as the YB04. All my other headphones like the HD 580, 650 and 595 seemed to not have this issue.

I also noticed some popping noise in between songs that namely have a different bit, or sample rate and to a much lesser extent the bitrate. This happened on the A01 and T01. For example, switching from a song that is 16bit 44khz with a bit rate of 600 kbps to a 24bit 192khz 6000kbps would yield the loudest pop. It was evident at first in the T01 and the A01 although I am noticing it isn’t as loud right now while I am writing. I am possibly guessing a buildup of heat can make it louder, but I am not completely sure. It didn’t make a difference if it was locally on the device or through a micro SD card. Also only really used the Cayin Music app.

In comparison to my LG v20 it doesn’t really seem to have this issue, but it may be because it just downscales all my music to a similar bit/sample rate.

Bluetooth:

To me I am not a huge fan of Bluetooth. I still very much prefer wired options as my experience with tws earbuds has been hissy/noisy messes. Using the Bluetooth on the N6II Mk2 I noticed that is it SO much cleaner than my LG v20 included BT. It makes my cheap TWS earbuds listenable to which I was surprised they can sound anywhere near good. They pair also easily in comparison to the LG v20 taking much longer than it needs to.

Cayin Music App:

I never really used any other apps besides Foobar2000 or the included app on my LG v20, but the Cayin Music App was decent. I didn’t really have any issues with the interface at all and it was pretty feature packed and all I needed was included. The equalizer on it was alright from my experience, it wasn’t as clean of an EQ as it is on the PC but on the go it works fine. As well as the included Replay Gain due to my tracks being variably different in their gains worked well. I can't really have any complaints about it as it never caused any issues.

Screen:
The viewing angles are great on it and I don’t see any issues with it. The screen being a little small if you ever want to browse the web but, it’s fine for a music player majority of the time case. Colors also seem to be represented accurately as well.

Power on time:

For this test I used the YB04 at 18/100 on low gain and the HD 800 at 40/100 on low gain as well as the Cayin Music App. The screen was set to 50/100 as well with wifi and BT turned off.

On a continuous basis of nonstop FLACs playing at 16bit 44khz to 24bit 192khz I found myself having about 8.5 hours of use on the YB04 and 7 hours of use on the HD 800.
Charging back to 50% took me about 1 hour and to 100% about 3 hours in total.

Random thoughts:


Using the Cayin N6II Mk2 I did find it the volume knob to be a little too sensitive. I usually find myself accidentally turning up or down the volume knob. I think maybe it might be better to have a button for volume. While the N6II Mk2 is quite feature packed I think it would be amazing if the battery on it could be user replaceable. For the most part it lasts pretty much a whole workday for me but eventually batteries do lose their charge. Although I do like the clicky power on and off button a double tap to wake on screen I feel would be a great addition to the N6II Mk2. The device itself is also very prone to get fingerprints, mostly on the screen and back part.

Also found these really cool Hi-Res Audio stickers with the manual.
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Would I buy it?

It is on the pricier side of what I can afford right now. But from my experience it was amazing to see what it could do and how much it can make the YB04 stand out. Basically takes everything it does well and brings it to another level. The only other issues I might have with this is pairing it with a sensitive IEM, and the possibility of having the battery loss of its charge in the long term. If I had the money, I think it would be a compelling offer on its features, and musical sound to get it, although my experience in the DAP market is limited.

Thanks to Andykong and Cayin for supplying the N6ii A01 + T01 and YB04. Really appreciated it and was a fun experience.
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Cat Music
Cat Music
Is it the best DAP you've had in sound quality? or do you have another one?
M
Miru
Hey sorry about the late reply. I do not think I have enough experience to call it the best in sound quality. I am pretty new in the DAP game. But it's enjoyable especially with the A01 since I prefer a warmer sound, it felt like it gave more decay in the bass and more body to the mids which I liked as well.
Pros: Nice screen, excellent build quality, good software implementation, a full android with google play, clever modular design, warm and musical sound (A01) or clear and airy (T01)
Cons: Price, modular card price, bugs with SD card, bulky and heavy, some hiss on very sensitive IEMs, EMI when using it near a phone
_DSF4636.jpg

Preface:

For the last half a year I was looking for a good DAP, mostly to use a desk set up at work but also for everyday use. At first, I purchased a Fiio M11, even though it was good I still lacked the google play support especially being a USB audio player pro user. When the N6ii I decided to jump on that wagon and never even with a few hiccups I've not regretted it. I also happened to have been sent a second unit by AndyKong which allowed me to compare both A01 and T01 cards in quick A/B testing.

Packaging & Accessories:
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Yet again a very nice and clean packaging from Cayin, when you open the box you know that you are indeed looking at a premium product.
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Accessories are pretty simple, a well-made leather case, thick USB cable for charging, 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter and a glass screen protector (not pictured). I think accessories are quite good, the only thing I'm missing is a charger, I think at this price range it should've been included. It comes pre-installed with a gel screen protector, however, due to the fit in the case this protector has lasted 3 days with my normal use after which it started peeling off in multiple places. The included glass screen protector is also flat when the screen is slightly curved, this makes for a protector that doesn't adhere properly.

Build & Design:
From the start the device feels extremely well built, the weight, glass and metal remind me of flagship phones. The screen is fairly bright with good viewing angles, and 768x1280 resolution is more than enough to use the device and not feel like it's outdated. The whole unity, while being bulky still fits well in the hand and the case provides a nice grip and a little bit of protection from general wear and tear (even though I doubt it would save it from a drop onto a hard surface). The volume knob has some clickiness to it and doesn't move loosely.
The provided 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapter is well built and quite practical due to being right-angled.
The cable is thick, well sleeved and in general really good quality.

General use:
As I've had this player for a couple of months my experience has been very positive. Compared to most DAPs I have used it feels significantly faster, opening apps, changing music, scrubbing through tracks, everything is way more responsive than other players. In that regards, I have absolutely no issues with it.
Few issues I've encountered. When the device is new, it comes with a lot of google play services and google play store permissions disabled, this causes a very high battery drain by the system, only way to fix that for me was to give those permissions. Sometimes when using the volume wheel the volume will not change, so you may have to rotate a few more clicks than you'd expect.
After the permission change was applied the battery life was pretty similar to advertised, between 12-14h of listening depending on files and whether I used the screen a lot or not.

Sound:
_DSF4628.jpg _DSF4629.jpg
A01:

This was the card that came with my original device, which makes me a bit more familiar with it. Best way to describe the sound is musical and smooth. The extension is there, but the treble does have a more mellow and smooth feel to it while keeping all the detail. It pairs extremely well with my CA Andromeda, I'd go as far as saying it's my favourite source for those. Stage wise, it feels natural, without extending too far width-wise and due to a bit smoother treble, it's not as deep as some. In general, the sound gains a good deal of richness, giving vocals a bit more weight and making them stand out.

T01:
This card reminds me of older Cayin sound, it's brighter and leaner. But what it loses in the richness it gains in feeling more effortless and airier. The stage is narrower but gains a bit more depth with better instrument separation. This was better paired with warm IEMs as something like Cayin YB04 felt quite a bit too bright with this card. I felt this card did well on music which focuses on small sound queues or multiple acoustic instruments playing at once where the extra separation helped with picking up the mix.

Conclusion:
I wholeheartedly recommend the N6ii, even though the price is quite steep it delivers on all fronts, from snappy performance, solid build and decent accessories to flexibility in the sound based on multiple sound cards. This last part should only get better as new cards get released and everyone may be able to find something for themselves.
Great job on this one Cayin.
Pros: Transparent sound, Very Dynamic, Large and in charge Soundstage, Long Battery Life, Magnificent Build Quality, Custom Android OS (8.1), Google Play Store Pre-Installed, Interchangeable Audio Motherboards, Top-Tier functionality, Excellent Hardware, Large Battery Capacity.
Cons: A bit heavy, bulky.
Cayin N6II Review


“The Holographic Principle”

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Introduction:

As I grow older and nearing my 30s, I look back to acknowledge that I have listened to many songs and soundtracks. I have also noticed that while my taste in music has matured somewhat, I still listen to some of the earlier styles of musical preferences. Along with that, my brain had experienced some types of frequency fluctuations. I often remember that to recall the sounds I experience with the tools I use every day. This is my first DAP review on Head-Fi, so it may not be very impressive.



DISCLAIMER:

This review is strictly done because of the Cayin Audio Tour. Thank you Andy Kong for selecting me to experience the entire Portable Cayin Set.

Let us begin.

Accessories:

The Cayin N6II comes with a very sturdy and well designed protective case. The case has a nice blend of black leather with red threads to keep the case intact. The case fits like a glove. It complements the curves of the N6II quite well. The N6II also comes with a thick Type-C USB Cable. This cable is perhaps the best-looking cable I have ever seen for a DAP. It has a velcro latch on the cable to it bundled neatly and the connectors are golden. Most likely for better conductivity. The last accessory the N6II comes with is a 2.5mm to 4.4mm aux adapter. The adapter is slim and has a low profile. Mainly because the adapter is a right angle adapter. It’s also very sturdy and I am not concerned about it for constant use. There are also extra screen protectors that come with the N6II.

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Specifications:





Cayin N6II Circuitry.jpg

The Cayin N6II isn’t holding back its punches, in terms of hardware. For today’s DAP standards, this is certainly above typical DAP specs for hardware, and the customized software sure can keep up. It's fast and convenient for those high-quality music lovers.


Cayin N6II Hardware and Software Goodies and Capabilities:



  • The N6II has a User Replaceable Audio Motherboard

  • The A01 Audio Motherboard has an AK4497EQ 32 Bit DAC

  • Playback up to 32Bit/384kHz and DSD256 (A01)

  • 4.4mm Balanced Phone Output (A01)

  • 3.5mm/4.4mm Line Out

  • DTA (Bypass SRC) Meaning Always Hi-Res

  • 3 Digital Interface I2S, USB, S/PDIF

  • EMCP Internal Storage (64GB) and External Storage of 512GB (Tested) (Micro SD and OTG).

  • Dual-Band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz and 5GHz)

  • Hi-Res Bluetooth Audio (AAC, aptX, and LDAC)

  • HiByLink Remote Control

  • Snapdragon CPU with 4GB of RAM

  • Customized Oreo OS

  • Streaming and 3rd Party App Support

  • 768 X 1280 IPS Touch Screen

  • A 5,900 mah Li-Ion Battery w/14 Hrs of Playback w/QC 3.0 (Quick Charge 3.0)
I should note that the A01 Audio Motherboard is sold with the N6II and is already installed within the N6II. The Cayin T01 Audio Motherboard is sold separately.


Build Quality/Design:


The N6II feels heavy when holding it, but it feels incredibly sturdy. It’s insanely durable mainly due to the material it’s made out of. The housing of the DAP itself feels like it’s made out of aluminum. The N6II feels incredibly smooth and a bit slippery. This is probably why Cayin had provided a protective case. What surprises me most is the design for the power button of the N6II. The volume wheel on the upper right-hand side of the DAP is also a power button. I find that very convenient, but a bit annoying when taking it out of my pocket because the can easily increase or decrease by accident. The Volume Wheel also functions as Standby On/Off. (EDIT: I was told that the first N6II firmware solves this problem by making the volume wheel inactive when the screen is off).

Below the Volume Wheel are the Rewind/Previous, Play/Pause, and Fast Forward/Next buttons. These button commands can be changed in the Audio Settings, with the exception of Play/Pause. The volume wheel makes a small clicking sound when it’s being rotated. It feels firm, but not too firm and strikes a good balance of volume control. As for the A01 Audio Motherboard, it blends in well in the back of the N6II. The 4.4mm Balanced Output, 3.5mm Output, and 3.5mm Line Out are all located on the top of the N6II. I had already uploaded an instructional video of swapping the Audio Motherboards. One other bit of information that I should mention. The back of the N6II has a beautiful glass back that has its logo at the center top and the DAP’s power output and company information on the bottom. One more thing, the Digital Output (I2S and S/PDIF) are located at the bottom of the N6II, with the Micro SD slot located on the bottom left side of the device.

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Cayin T01 Audio Motherboard Unboxing and Swap:


Battery Performance:

I’m gonna quickly mention that the N6II has a strong point here. I have done a test on the performance of the N6II for battery performance and heat production. I had connected my Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO (250 Ohm) to the N6II (3.5mm) on High Gain (VOL: 50/100). I had also looped Boston’s Album “Boston” (DSD 2.8 MHz) for 4 hours. The battery started at 93% and dropped to 57% at the end of the test. The heat was minimal. I would say it was around 80*F, but I don’t have a device thermometer. Although I have very good experience in temperature detection. That doesn’t count in this case. The DAP stayed slightly warm at room temperature. This is impressive because the 5,900 mah Li-Ion battery is being used properly. With this very large capacity battery, there’s no need to charge your DAP frequently. Best of all, the N6II is QC 3.0 compliant. It usually takes 1.25 hours to fully charge the N6II from 50% to 100% with the provided USB-C Cable.

Cayin N6II Functionality:

I have recorded a couple of videos about the functionality of the N6II. I might have left a few details out, but most of the details are there. I'll upload them soon.

EDIT: Here's Part 1 of 2. I'm struggling to upload Part 2.


Sound Performance:

Sound Tracks used:

“Down by the Riverside” by Noah Wall (FLAC 24 bit/96 kHz)

"Danny Boy" by Three's Company (FLAC 24 bit/96 kHz)

GAIN: LOW VOL: 55 (YB04)/ 75 (ULTRASONE SIGNATURE STUDIO)

Cayin N6II (Paired with Cayin YB04 and Ultrasone Signature Studio) w/A01 (3.5mm):

The pairing between the N6II and YB04/Ultrasone Signature Studio had created a unique and memorable experience. I would say that the N6II (A01) configuration provides a slightly warm, transparent, accurate, and refined sound. When I was listening to "Danny Boy" by Three's Company, it was like being in a black void. Nothing but perpetual darkness. It felt a bit warm too. Then suddenly, I hear a bass guitar to my left strumming up something emotional. Then after that, I hear an Alto Saxophone to my left. Then the cymbals in the back in the middle. I felt like I was in the middle of these three musicians. It felt like I part of the audience. It seemed so real. Then I realized that once the track was over, I wasn't actually there, but for a moment I was captivated.

Cayin N6II (Paired with Cayin YB04) w/A01 (4.4mm):

I used the Hi-Res Sampler songs from HDTracks to observe the capabilities of the Cayin N6II. It did not disappoint. I felt like I got lost in the music. There are even greater channel separation and better dynamics. The imaging and cues are almost pinpoint accurate. The noise floor almost virtually non-existent. I listened to “Down by the Riverside” by Noah Wall (FLAC 24 bit/96 kHz) and the stage was so transparent. The atmosphere seemed warm, given the A01's AK4497EQ DAC. I didn’t even have to close my eyes and it felt like I was floating. I felt like I was front stage and listening to her sing with the guitarist on the far left and far-right. Along with the backup singers directly behind her. This experience made me smile and I felt ecstatic.


Conclusion:

This N6II is my opinion is considered to be a highly valuable DAP. Despite it being a bit on the heavy side and a bit bulky. It's great with the spatial rendering of sound and it can fully utilize the hardware from within to present masterful sound characteristics. Not only that, the N6II has great software, excellent functionality, and top-tier hardware. Cayin's slogan "Never be the same" is spot on. After this experience, I see Digital Audio Players in a whole new light. If you are looking for a DAP that provides slightly warm, captivatingly transparent and detailed sound, along with excellent battery life and great software for $1,300, this is the DAP I would highly recommend.
FunctionalDoc
FunctionalDoc
Nice detailed review for your first time for sure. What is name of the music player software you are using ? Have USB Audio Pro(UAPP) and how does it compare to the one you mention ?

Which board did you like best A01 or the T01 ?
Niyologist
Niyologist
I used the Cayin Music App. In comparison to the UAPP, it's much easier to use.
Pros: Very musical tonality, Nice detail for a warm player, Fairly nice build quality.
Cons: Might be too large or not as portable for some
Intro

Cayin is one of my favorite brands in making amps, dacs and portable players. My experience with Cayin starts from 2014—my first flagship portable player N6. Later, I owned Cayin I5, portable dac C5, and off course my personal favorite HA300 tube amp. In a way, I am one of a few Cayin fans who has witnessed the revolution of Cayin’s tuning ideology.

Back to the date, Cayin N6 to me was a crystal clear but cold and sharp reference machine. I5 on the other hand was an extremely warm, meaty but a little muddy player. However, both of them have a great inviting mid-range, at that point, the mid-range was the only remnant that maintained my faith on Cayin. Until last year, I tried and immediately bought HA300. That was a heavenly moment, HA300 gives all my headphones the sound I exactly want (I can’t stop myself every time talking about HA300, but that will be another review coming soon). Also, on that day, I noticed the revolution is done. Today, Cayin’s sound is very refined, smooth and elegant. It is a now a stable and comfortable sound instead of wandering between ice and flame.

This year I purchased N6ii without hesitation, as for the confidence to Cayin and as a salute to N6 that has served for 5 years.

Finally, thanks to Musicteck for the great shopping experience as always.

Packaging and Accessories

Cayin N6ii comes with a giant box, the player, type-C cable, 2.5mm(f) to 4.4mm(m) adapter and instruction handbook were lying in there quietly and safely. There is nothing special about the packaging or accessories, nice and handy.
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Build Quality

Cayin is always superb in this section. Each part is very solid built onto the player. There are no wobble parts or rattles at all. Juncture are tight and smooth. The only problem I have with the design or build is it is a little big/thick for me.

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Sound Tests Equipment

Headphones: 64 Audio A18t (BA, reference tuning, slight U) &

Tia Forte (BD, slight V shape, treble concentrated),

JH Audio Layla (BA, flat with bass concentrated),

Rhines Stage 7 (BA, warm mid concentrated),

Ultrasone Tribute 7(portable cans, V shape, slightly power consuming in comparison)

Cables: 1960s 4 wires 2.5mm (A18t)

Plussound Tri-copper 4 wires 2.5mm (TF)

Plussound Tri-copper 4 wires 3.5mm(T7)

TWag V3 8 wires 2.5mm (Layla)

TWag V3 4 wires 3.5mm (for A18t, TF and S7, for single-end PO test)

Other Players: AK SP1000m, Hiby R6, Echobox Explorer

Records: Brian Culbertson—Live from the Inside (Funk, Smooth Jazz, test for EQ balance, micro-dynamic, separation and more)

Erra –Neon (Metalcore, test for speed, separation and control)

Hans Zimmer – Mountains (OST, test for soundstage and macro-dynamic)

Céline Dion— My Heart Will Go On (Pop? , test for female vocal)

Kane Brown—Heaven (Country, test for male vocal)

Don’t be critical on me for my vocal records selections, I’m a drummer so I really don’t care about vocal that much lol.

Bass:

The music I used to test bass is called “so good” from the album “Live from Inside” by Brian Culbertson. In the middle of this song, there is a bass(instrument) solo performed by Lamar Jones. That part is ideal to test bass clarity, response speed and overall bass quality.

N6ii is able to present every note very clean and with power. I was literally shaking my body when Lamar is slapping. When he was the doing the walking bass part, N6ii was able to present overtone the very well. I found the bass from N6ii is very lively and reaches very deep, it is not the cleanest bass I have heard but it is clean enough. Compare with my other players, N6ii’s bass is significantly more bodied with more weight and color. Overall, I will give it a 9/10.

Mid:

Mid is my favorite part of N6ii just like all Cayin’s device it is sweet, inviting and refine. Meanwhile, I found Cayin actually improved their mid which is already outstanding.

I used “Get It On” and “All About You” also from “Live from the Inside” to test instrumental parts of mid-range, and those 2 vocal songs for vocal portion.

In the “Get It On” there is a brass winds trio (tenor sax, trombone and trumpet) in the middle section which covers from lower mid to upper mid. N6ii is really good in separating each other when they are playing altogether, I can clearly get each instrument and the layer it is serving. The saxophone really stands out when N6ii was playing this entire album. No matter tenor sax or bari sax, no matter fast or slow, N6ii is able to give them a warm cozy feel, I was completely drowned by those attractive winds sounds. “All About You” is all about the interaction between piano and tenor saxophone. Although the piano part is not as beautiful as brass winds, it is still very enjoyable. Due to the overall warm signature of N6ii, piano sounds a little artificial to me.

As for vocals, especially these two singers, I think N6ii did a perfect job. Its powerful lower mid can hold Kane Brown’s sound nicely. The solid clarity performance in the mid-range allows me to get any detail from Kane Brown’s unique voice line. The warm signature of N6ii at here played a very important rule when I was listening to Céline Dion, the little extra thickness has made Céline Dion’s voice livelier.

I would like to describe the mid from N6ii as warm, lively and attractive. Overall, I will give it a 9.5/10.

Treble

The treble from N6ii is on the darker side. The treble notes from trumpet, piano and cymbals are a little thicker than my preference. However, the treble from treble from N6ii is extremely smooth, even smoother than my sp1000m. After about 1-hour listening, I actually think the slightly darkness on treble is actually a good thing. It makes the overall sound from N6ii more coherent and musical. With more listening goes on, I feel myself really fell in love with N6ii’s treble, it reminds me a lot of Audeze LCD series headphones.

Indeed, the treble from N6ii is dark, but in my opinion, it is in a good way. If I only pick out the treble from N6ii without considering other frequencies I will probably give it an 8/10, but on the whole “music” standpoint, I will give it a solid 9/10.

Dynamic & Speed

Dynamic basically describes how your device reflect the sound from none to loud, speed reflect the sound from slow to fast. Personally, I like to combine these two concepts together and review. Because often time these two concepts decide whether the device sounds “vivid” or not.

Drum and strings are two great indicating instruments when measuring these two concepts.

I usually focus on drum tracks when testing micro-dynamic. Drummers always play in different volume in a song or even in a bar of music. N6ii is able to pick up those tiny little changes pretty clearly when I was listening to drum solos. However, when I listen to “Mountains” the macro-dynamic of N6ii wasn’t very impressive. The volume changes of strings group were not that significant when compare to the sp1000m especially. It is a little bit rigid in some regard.

Similarly, in speed section, due to the nice clarity in bass region, it can present a clear imagine even when double bass drums are really fast. But for some fast metal guitar riffs N6ii sounds a little vague to me, which in comparison sp1000m did a lot better.

Therefore, in this section I would probably only give it a 7/10. N6ii still sounds very lively it has clearly more fluctuates than player like R6. I can notice there are changes in volume and speed, but just not significant enough to say it is beautiful (just imagine Dwayne Johnson dances like Michael Jackson).

Soundstage

The soundstage of N6ii is about average, again, not as outstanding as its EQ balance. It is significantly better than R6 and similar intro to mid-range players, but it is also not as large as sp1000m.

In the similar price range, I recently tried Colorfly U8 and R6pro for a very short period of time. I would say N6ii falls in between of these two players, slightly smaller than U8 and larger than R6pro. N6ii is spacy enough for most genres, but probably not for OST and classic.

I would give sound stage a 7.5/10.

Additional Information about Pairing

N6ii is very versatile in terms of pairing IEMs. It is very powerful, and I have to say it drives Tribute 7 better than sp1000m. I also find that it is quite BA friendly, all pure BA IEMs I tested are pretty good on N6ii, especially A18t, there are seems some magics. A18t sounds very musical on N6ii which is hard to believe (A18t was never a musical IEMs to me). The Tia Forte is not very good on N6ii. N6ii has such a power to drag the treble of TF down a little bit. However, TF was trying to push the treble back to where it was. In result, the treble of this pair usually located at a very weird region. I had the same issue with A18t and sp1000m.

I cannot detect any background noise from these pairs, but I do feel the background is not as dark as sp1000m.

(End of sound tests.)


Operating System & Others

The operating system is really clean and smooth. It is pretty close to Hiby’s player. Google Play Store is pre-installed. The download speed is actually faster than R6 when downloading Apps. It cost me 1 second or even less to download Tidal! The in-App download speed is faster than sp1000m too. I think that is because it has a better Wi-Fi signal receiver. I placed my router in my living room, I got full signal on Samsung S10, 85% on N6ii, approximately 75-70% on R6, a little less on sp1000m.

For battery, I haven’t used a full cycle, but I played it overnight, it still has 38% when I woke up, so I would say at least 12 hours should be no problem. I haven’t taken it outdoor, so I don’t now how hot it can go to, for indoor use the heat is not a problem (I did read some review says it is a little bit hot when use outdoor in summer).

I haven’t experienced any system failure. The screen is very smooth, nothing like dx200. I do have one lag when it was updating system and I was downloading music from Tidal and listening to local music. There was about 3 minutes lag, after the system was updated everything works just fine.

Summary

I think N6ii is a great release from Cayin. It keeps all the good traditions of Cayin, reliable build quality, mature and refined tuning. At 1k price range which is probably one of the most competitive battlegrounds in the portable player market, I believe N6ii has enough good features to stand out from others. I also believe Cayin will release some amps that can improve some current downside in sound. As for now, I’m kind of regretting paying double price purchased sp1000m. N6ii is good enough for me to enjoy the music while walking to wherever I want.
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Pros: natural musical tonality, modular DAC/amp design, Snapdragon CPU w/4GB RAM, fast Android interface, 4.4mm BAL Headphone and Line Out, 5900mAh battery with extended playback time.
Cons: price, additional cost of new DAC/amp cards.


The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with my readers on head-fi.

Manufacturer website: Cayin. Available for sale on MusicTeck.


Intro.

Another DAP, another review? Well, maybe not just another DAP. Cayin decided to do something different to make their product stand out from the crowd. I have been using the word “crowd” a lot lately because DAP field is crowded (more like overcrowded) with lots of new releases. And on top of that, it's hard to miss a wide price gap between flagships where the price is no longer the indicator of DAP's superiority.

So, how do you stand out from the crowd where even mid-fi audio players use premium AKM and ESS DAC chips? Of course, we all know that it's not about what you use but how you implement it, and that comes from years of design experience. But the audiophile enthusiasts constantly demand more, driving manufacturer to push the envelope further. Thus, Cayin decided to up their game and to introduce a DAP with a modular design where you can replace the whole audio motherboard which hosts a DAC and an amp.

While typically a replaceable amp module (just like an external amp) affects the coloring of the sound, the idea behind N6ii audio motherboard is to let you replace a combo of DAC and amp in order to change the signature of the DAP. Hopefully when the next audio motherboard card becomes available, I will be able to test this sound change. But in a meantime, after spending a month with N6ii, let me take a closer look at this new Cayin DAP with its default A01 card.

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Unboxing and Accessories.

As expected, and seen in many Cayin releases, they put some extra effort into creating a premium packaging with a cool unboxing experience.

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Also, Cayin included quality usb-c data/charging cable, tempered glass screen protector, 2.5mm (female) to 4.4mm (male) right angled short adaptor (the same as in N8), a very detailed printed manual booklet, and a leather case. Btw, leather case has a nice secure tight fit, but not exactly the same high quality as Dignis or MITER cases which I hope to see one day for N6ii.

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The case.

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Design.

Once out of the box, the first impression was how solid N6ii felt in my hand. The main front focus is around 4.2" IPS (768x1280 resolution) screen, and overall dimensions are relatively compact at 121x70x21mm, though it is thicker than some other DAPs due to a bigger battery and assuming a sliding mechanism for internal audio motherboard. It's not too heavy, but you do feel a nice heft of its 290g. With a smooth sandblasted CNC aluminum chassis and glass back, I would strongly recommend keeping it in the included leather case to enhance the grip.

The display placement is asymmetric with a thin left and top bezel and extended beveled right and bottom bezel. Under the visible portion of the display screen you have an outlined soft HOME button (tap for Back, hold for Home screen) which also has a breathing light LED circle when charging. Left side of chassis toward the bottom has spring-loaded micro SD card slot, tested and confirmed by Cayin to work with the latest 512GB cards, while internal storage is 64GB. At the bottom you have I2S digital port (mini HDMI Type-C to interconnect with compatible devices), USB port for charging, data transfer, and a digital transport interface, including S/PDIF coax cable connection when using Cayin custom USB-C cable (common with other Cayin DAPs).

Right side of the DAP has hardware playback buttons with Play/Pause in the middle and Skip above and below it. Toward the upper right corner, you will find a Volume wheel with protective guards allowing access to the front and the back of the wheel. The volume wheel is easy to control with a thumb or an index finger, has a soft click feedback as you rotate it, a little mushy, and sometimes requiring two clicks to change a volume by a step (per review sample I received). It also has Push-button functionality as a Power button where you short press to turn the display on/off and long press to turn the power on or to bring up Android pop up for shutdown. The guards around the wheel protect it from accidental pressing when in the pocket. Overall, I find it very convenient and efficient to be able to control volume and display/power with a single button, using only a thumb.

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Under the hood.

The top of the DAP hosts a replaceable Audio Motherboard card with 4.4mm BAL headphone port (530mW @32ohm, 1.2ohm OI, 121dB SNR) which can be selected as Line Out or Phone Out. Next to it is 3.5mm SE headphone port (245mW @32ohm, 0.6ohm OI, 119dB SNR), and a separate 3.5mm Line Out port. Each Line Out level can be adjusted. On the back at the top, there are 2 small screws which hold the Audio Motherboard in. The default stock A01 card comes with AK4497EQ 32bit DAC, quad OPA1622 op-amps, and other miscellaneous components. The rest of the common circuit is on the printed wiring board inside the main chassis, including low jitter clocks (covering 3 fundamental frequencies) and DSP FPGA dedicated to DSD/PCM signal processing with a support of many popular lossy and lossless formats up to PCM 32bit/384kHz and DSD256.

Thanks to Snapdragon 425 CPU and 4GB of RAM, the Android Oreo (8.1) performance is very fast, pretty much identical to Hiby R6Pro, including implementation of DTA (direct transport audio optimization to bypass SRC sample rate conversion of stock Android) which ensures playback from all the apps without re-sampling. Along with optimized Android OS, you will also get pre-installed Google Play, HibyMusic app, and Cayin's own Music app based on modified HibyMusic. With Google Play you can download any app, and within minutes I was streaming Spotify and playing YT videos. Furthermore, you will find support of 2.4G/5G dual WiFi bands and Bluetooth 4.2 with LDAC, aptX, and AAC, enabling the use of N6ii as a wireless BT DAC. Not the latest BT, but as long as LDAC is supported, I’m OK with it. HibyLink Remote control is supported as well.

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I already mentioned that N6ii accommodates a bigger battery, 5900 mAh, which is quite impressive for an average size DAP. For me personally, the battery performance of N6ii is one of its strongest Pros. With WiFi off, playing 320kbps mp3s from 3.5mm SE output in mid gain, I was able to get close to 14hrs of advertised playback time. Switching to 4.4mm BAL output in mid gain while playing hi-res lossless FLAC files, I was getting over 12.5hrs of playback time. The standby time with WiFi and screen off was impressive as well, but once WiFi is enabled it drains a little faster, as expected from Android device with all its background processes. Furthermore, there is a support for Quick Charge QC3.0 (with appropriate charger) where you can expect to reach the full capacity in about 2hrs.

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Sound Analysis.

I analyzed N6ii sound using various earphones/headphones, such as U18t, Solaris, T5p 2nd gen, and Empyrean while playing a variety of my favorite test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ariana Grande "Break up with your girlfriend", Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Robin Schultz “Oh child”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”.

Please keep in mind, the sound I’m describing below is how I hear my specific earphones and headphones paired up with N6ii during the testing.

I did collect sound impressions straight out of the box, then after about 3 days of continuous playback, and later after a few more days while running battery tests. I usually don’t preach about “burn in” effect and respect whatever people believe in, but based on my personal experience with N6ii I noticed the sound changing from more neutral to slightly warmer, getting fuller and more organic in body with treble taming down. Throughout this listening process, I was going back'n'forth with a few other DAPs, using them as my point of comparison reference.

Using IEMs/headphones mentioned above, I'm hearing N6ii as having a smoother tonality with a fuller body, especially in lower mids, and a less aggressive, more natural musical sound. It has a deeper, slightly elevated bass response which is a bit relaxed with a slower attack, natural more organic mids, and also smoother and more natural treble. In comparison to a number of other DAPs, the extra body in lower mids and tamer treble sparkle was quite noticeable, giving N6ii a more natural tonality even with a few of the songs where I typically hear a brighter leaner sound. As a result, instruments and vocals have a rich natural timbre.

It has pretty good dynamics (vertical expansion of the sound), but I hear slightly less air between the layers since treble is more natural (less sparkly). Also, I hear a clean transient response of the note on/off transition from the black background, but the speed of how fast details pop out of the blackness was a little more relaxed, perhaps even a bit laidback. I spent quite some time comparing it to other DAPs, and I hear the sound of N6ii to be less aggressive, a little more relaxed, more analog, less digital.

The soundstage is wide, but not exaggerated. It's not the widest I heard, and that of course will depend on earphones/headphones, recording material, your hearing, etc. But it was on par with many other flagships, having a natural realistic width and relatively accurate imaging with convincing placement of instruments and vocals. Of course, as already mentioned, a lot of this will be dictated by technical performance of your earphones and headphones, but I wanted to mention that N6ii as a source shouldn't be a limiting factor here.

After the recent v1.15 fw update, I hear the sound to be nearly the same, just with a touch more transparency in mids which creates a slightly brighter perception of the sound. Obviously, I can’t do a real time side-by-side a/b comparison.

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Pair up.

Regardless if you are planning to use it with IEMs or full size headphones, I found N6ii to pair up well with everything.

64 Audio U18t – wide expanded soundstage with an average depth, bringing you a little closer to the stage. Punchy fast bass, very articulate, layered, and well controlled. Neutral lower mids with a touch of extra body to give the sound a more natural tonality. Clear, detailed upper mids/vocals with a more revealing characteristics, but not too bright. Crisp well controlled extended treble without any harsh lower treble peaks.

64 Audio Fourte Noir – very wide soundstage with a more intimate depth, bringing vocals closer to you. Bass has a deep extension with a meaty sub-bass rumble, and mid-bass has a strong slightly elevated punch, overall bass slams hard here. Lower mids are thicker, with a fuller body, giving the sound and the vocals a more natural organic tonality. Upper mids are clear and detailed, not as revealing, but more natural. Treble is crisp, well controlled, natural without any harsh peaks.

Campfire Audio Andromeda – wide soundstage expansion with a little more out-of-your-head depth. Bass is a little laid back with a slower attack and a bit longer decay, more typical of DD performance, but still with a decent control with nothing spilling into lower mids. Lower mids a little on a thicker fuller body side, but not congested or muddy, instead giving a more natural laidback tonality to mids. Upper mids are clear, detailed, also more organic, smoother. Treble is well controlled, with a nice sparkle, not too crisp, no harsh peaks, detected zero sibilance in lower treble. When idling or at a very low volume level, I do hear some “waterfall” hissing, typical of lower sensitivity Andro performance, but when volume is raised, it’s not audible.

Campfire Audio Solaris – very wide soundstage with a great depth, giving the sound a more holographic soundstage expansion. Bass goes low with a deep rumble and hits hard with a punchy fast mid-bass. Bass is well controlled, articulate, nicely layered. Lower mids are closer to neutral, though they do have a little more body, giving the sound a natural organic detailed tonality. Upper mids have great retrieval of details, not analytical, but quite revealing in a natural way. Treble is crisp, airy, and with a nice sparkle, but not harsh or spikey; no traces of sibilance was found. Really enjoyed this pair up, Solaris really shines here with a natural resolving sound, serious analog bass slam, and crisp treble details. When idling or at a very low volume level, the “waterfall” hissing level is stronger than Andro, but hardly noticeable with volume up.

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Empire Ears Legend X – wide soundstage expansion with an average depth. Bass slams very hard in this pair up, goes deep, and mid-bass hits hard, making the bass a bit overwhelming, booming, and not as well controlled; would definitely benefit from some trimming with EQ. Lower mids are warm and on a thicker side, a bit overshadowed by the booming bass. Upper mids are pushed more back, natural and detailed, but you need to shift your focus away from the bass to hear vocals better. Treble is crisp and well defined, comes through crystal clear, and along with the bass gives LX a more v-shaped signature. I wasn’t too crazy about this pair up, but that’s my personal bias since I find LX bass a bit overwhelming for my taste, and N6ii sound sig enhances its slam even more.

Sennheiser IE800s – wide soundstage expansion with more out of your head depth. Overall sound is more v-shaped with a smoother less aggressive bass which goes deep with a noticeable rumble and has a laid back slower mid-bass punch. Lower mids are north of neutral, with a fuller body, but nothing muddy or congested. Upper mids/vocals are clear, natural, more on a revealing side, but unfortunately pushed a little more back, especially with more staging depth which pushes them further in space. Treble is crisp, airy, snappy, not harsh but still with crisp details.

Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd gen – wide soundstage expansion with more depth in this pair up. Bass has a deep low-end extension but closer to neutral rumble, and mid-bass is fast and punchy; don’t recall bass of T5p2 being that fast in other pair ups. Lower mids are closer to neutral, with a nice touch of natural body, and upper mids/vocals are clear, detailed, on a brighter more revealing side. Treble is bright and crisp, very revealing, with a few peaks that can get harsh in poorly recorded song. Overall sound was a bit brighter than I expected.

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Meze Empyrean – wide open soundstage with more out of your head depth. Great low-end extension with a slightly north of neutral rumble and a fast well controlled mid-bass punch. Bass is very nicely layered and quite articulate. Lower mids are closer to neutral, maintaining a natural body with upper mids/vocals being also natural, layered, with a great retrieval of details. Treble is crisp, airy, extended, well controlled, without any offending peaks. The overall sound is well balanced, natural, open, and quite resolving.

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Comparison.

Every audio player has its own Pros and Cons, and you will have to figure out which ones are at the top of your priority list when deciding on your next DAP. The notes below focus more on the sound characteristics, and I was using 64 Audio U18t for monitoring, volume matched in every comparison. But when comparing the rest, keep in mind N6ii battery life, full open Android OS with access to Google Play, dual band WiFi, Bluetooth w/LDAC and aptX, 4.4mm BAL output and it’s power rating.

N6ii vs iBasso DX220 (w/amp8 & amp9) - DX228 soundstage is a little wider; doesn’t mean N6ii staging is narrow, just under my test conditions I hear DX228 having a little edge. N6ii sound has fuller body (especially in lower mids), smoother more musical tonality, with deeper sub-bass and a little more relaxed (slower attack) mid-bass impact, more organic mids, and smoother treble response in comparison to a more transparent, more neutral sound of DX228 with a faster, tighter bass, more revealing less colored mids, and a touch more sparkle in treble. When compared to DX220 w/amp9, I still hear soundstage of DX229 being a little wider, and now having a fuller body which brings it closer to N6ii performance. I actually hear a lot of similarities in sound between N6ii and DX229, but DX229 bass has a little deeper sub-bass rumble, and lower mids have a touch fuller body, making its overall sound a little smoother and warmer in comparison to N6ii.

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N6ii vs Lotoo PAW Gold Touch (LPGT) - similar soundstage width. N6ii tonality has a fuller warmer more natural body (especially in lower mids) vs LGPT being more transparent, brighter, leaner. Both have a deep low end extension, but N6ii bass has a little more impact, the bass (N6ii) sounds more analog with a slower attack and longer decay vs LPGT having a tighter faster bass. N6ii mids/vocals are thicker, warmer, more organic, while LPGT is brighter and more revealing. Also, LPGT treble is crisper and airier.

N6ii vs Cowon Plenue L - very similar soundstage width. There are a lot of similarities in tonality and sound presentation between these two DAPs. Both have a deeper, more relaxed low end with a more analog flavor. Both have a fuller body more natural mids, though I'm hearing N6ii sounding just a touch warmer and fuller. But one noticeable difference is in treble, where N6ii presents treble in a smoother, more organic way, while PL has a brighter, crisper, more extended treble.

N6ii vs A&K SP1000 SS - N6ii soundstage is a touch wider than SPK, under my test conditions. The sound signatures are closer in tonality, being more natural, more musical, not as revealing, but there are some subtle differences. SPK bass is a little faster while N6ii bass is a little more relaxed, with more analog texture. Lower mids in N6ii have a little more body, actually reminding me a lot of SPKM Gold tonality (or SPK CU), especially in lower mids, while SPK SS is a little more neutral in comparison. Also, I find that SPK SS has a little more sparkle in treble.

N6ii vs Sony WM1Z - N6ii soundstage is a touch wider than 1Z, under my test conditions. N6ii sound is a little more organic with a fuller body, while 1Z is a little more neutral. Both have a very similar bass extension and impact, and to my ears the bass in both has a touch of analog texture. But I do hear the bass attack a little faster in 1Z. Mids are a little leaner, more neutral in 1Z, while N6ii has a little warmer, smoother presentation of mids. Also, 1Z treble is a little crisper, brighter, slightly more elevated.

N6ii vs Hiby R6Pro - I hear a lot of overall similarities between these two DAPs. Soundstage expansion has a similar width, maybe with N6ii being just a touch wider. Both have a similar bass extension and bass impact, except N6ii sounds a touch more relaxed, while R6Pro is a little faster. Both have fuller body lower mids and more natural upper mids, but N6ii is a little smoother and more organic, takes just an edge off R6Pro. Also, treble is a little smoother and a touch less crisp in N6ii, giving it a little more natural tonality. One difference I did notice, N6ii has a slightly better sound dynamics with improved layering and separation of sounds. I mentioned this in a few other recent DAP comparisons; it doesn’t mean that R6Pro is congested/compressed, just that I find other DAPs to have a slight edge over it.

N6ii vs Cayin N5iiS - N6ii has a wider soundstage, a little smoother tonality, slightly more body in mids, and a little less sparkle in treble. Also, N6ii has a superior technical performance with better dynamics, and improved layering and separation of sounds. I wouldn’t say exactly night’n’day difference, but you can clearly hear the performance of N6ii being superior over N5iiS.

N6ii vs Cayin N6 - N6ii has a wider soundstage. There is a difference in tonality with N6ii being warmer, smoother, more laidback, while N6 being brighter, crisper, more revealing. N6ii has more sub-bass rumble, better extension, fuller body in lower mids, and smoother treble, while N6 sound has a faster bass, leaner mids, and crisper treble. It’s hard to believe how much this DAP evolved in 4.5 years from N6 to N6ii.

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Conclusion.

Every time I receive a new DAP for review, the first question I hear from my readers “which DAP sounds better?” The problem is while the price gap is still pretty wide, the sound performance among flagship level DAPs starting to get closer. One of the more noticeable differences is in tonality which will affect the pair up synergy with your favorite IEMs or full size headphones.

While testing N6ii, I found its sound to be different from many of my other DAPs, offering a smoother and more musical tonality, with more analog texture, slightly laidback presentation, and fuller body with a touch less treble sparkle. It makes no sense to describe it as the best or the better, when in reality it’s different and unique, and will be up to a personal sound preference.

What I can objectively say, N6ii has a fast processor with a snappy Android performance and access to Google Play to download your favorite streaming and other entertainment apps. It has a rather impressive battery life, and it features a more reliable 4.4mm BAL headphone output with 530mW of power (@32 ohm load), which also doubles as a balanced Line Output. It has a good design ergonomics, and I especially like the convenience of volume wheel and a power button combination (like in A&K DAPs). And last, but certainly not least, is the main selling point of N6ii modular design where you can replace its DAC/amp combo to update the sound signature.

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gazzington
gazzington
How close to the n8 Sound is It?
twister6
twister6
@gazzington : Sorry, I only had N8 on loan for review last year. It has been too long to go by memory; I can only comment on side by side a/b comparison.
gazzington
gazzington
I have an n8 and the n6ii now. The n8 is better but the n6ii is great for out and about. Cayin are in rude health. Soundwise, they are number one for me now
Pros: Organic and emotionally engaging tonality, snappy intuitive Android interface, minimal lag, Google Play app included stock, battery life, responsive and effective EQ, hefty but reasonably portable
Cons: It's a bit of a brick, not cheap, not as portable as some, screen attracts fingerprints easily
Like a Finger Pointing Away to the Moon-- My Quest for the Perfect DAP

First off let me say that I am somewhat new to the world of high-end portable audio and as such I probably lack the experience, perception and vocabulary to do a really thorough review. That said I have been passionate about great sound my whole life and I know what I like. In that spirit I will share a bit of my journey through the audio world in an attempt to describe and do justice to this amazing music player.

It all began for me earlier this year when I picked up a pair of Campfire Audio Atlas IEMs and a Fiio M9. The Atlas totally blew me away with their massive sound, thunderous low end and crisp, sparkling highs. The M9 is a great sounding player and belongs on the "cooler" more analytic side of the spectrum. In this regard it was a great match for the naturally robust and powerful sound of the Atlas which was held in check by the subdued tonality of the player. As luck would have it (or tragedy if you talk to my wallet) I had an opportunity to demo the Campfire Audio Solaris and fell in love with them (the full story is recounted in my showcase review of that IEM). As it turned out, while great for the Atlas, the more balanced and "polite" presentation of the Solaris didn't come through as well on the M9. Detail retrieval and sound quality was excellent but the cooler more reference tonality coupled with Solaris' comparative lack of bass emphasis left a little to be desired. It didn't help the EQ on the M9 is absolutely useless...and thus I began searching for a better player to complement my IEMs.

In terms of tonality DAPs tend to fall somewhere on a spectrum with neutral, reference, and cooler sounding players on one end and warm, musical and more organic sounding players on the other. After a lot of reading and research I came to the conclusion that my preferences were more on the latter end of things and with that I ended up replacing my Fiio M9 with a Sony ZX300. The ZX300 is an amazing player full of that 'je ne sais quoi' almost sexiness that characterizes the best Sony products. The interface is slick, intuitive and fast, the battery life is amazing, the player is eminently portable and most importantly the sound has a slightly warm, organic presentation that is clear and clean. Furthermore the ZX300 has a decent EQ and capacity for tweaking sound. Ultimately it was a clear step above the M9 in terms of synergy with the balanced and musical majesty of Solaris. My only qualms with the sound presentation of the ZX300 were that often (especially on older tracks) the presentation seemed slightly veiled, making it difficult to become fully immersed in the music; the higher frequencies tended to be a big fatiguing during longer listening sessions at times; and lastly there was some degree of hiss present (though not enough to really be distracting). For all I knew at the time this was more due to the tuning of Solaris than anything so I trudged on and, whether due to burn-in or my own psychology I eventually got over this and fully embraced the sound of the ZX300.

If sound quality was the only factor I would probably have been totally content with the Sony player however the thing that eventually drove me nuts about it was its playlist functionality. In a word-- it sucks. I love to keep a favorites list going and quickly throw together playlists on the fly-- both of these things are impossible in Sony's ecosystem. At first I shrugged it off but got more and more irritating-- to the point that I eventually started browsing the marketplaces on Head-Fi and reading everything I could on up and coming DAPs. While all that was happening I had a chance to demo both a Questyle QP2R and Cowon Plenue R. Both had their strengths but were not for me. The Questyle in particular sounded amazing but it's user interface (both physically and software wise) were so frustrating that if I had to rely on it as my daily player I probably would have smashed it to pieces by now.

(For those who are still with me and haven't given up while shaking your heads wondering why, this far into a review of the N6ii I haven't even mentioned it yet-- be patient, I'm getting there.)

I came to realize that, for my needs and preferences, a quality DAP embodies a number of factors-- usability, battery life, playlist functionality, functional EQ and, most importantly, an organic and musical tonality and, as long as it's my main IEM, compatibility with Solaris (which for my tastes implies a DAP with a warmish and natural presentation with non-fatiguing highs). With that in mind I set out researching the latest slew of releases by Fiio, Ibasso, Astell & Kern and Cayin. A&K was out for me because at this time I'm more-or-less committed to 4.4mm balanced and they're still stubbornly relying exclusively on 2.5. Fiio was out because, based on what I'd read, I saw no reason to suspect that the presentation of the M11 would be dramatically different from the M9 in terms of overall tonality. Furthermore, I also read that, in a lot of ways the DX220, at least in its stock configuration, is close to the M11. This coupled with some early reviews I'd read describing its sound and battery life lead me to pull the trigger on the Cayin N6ii and, spoiler alert, I'm only two days in but am prepared to say that it embodies everything I've been looking for in a DAP, plus a few things didn't know I was looking for.

First off I wanna give props to Andrew and Musicteck for their impeccable service. All my questions were answered and the device was shipped to me promptly and arrived in record time. First impressions of the device-- it is unequivocally a brick. It's a little thicker and longer than a pack of cards and the device packs some serious heft. I'm not sure I'd want to bring it on an airplane for fear security would worry about my capacity to club someone out with it. While not the most portable, I would be (and have been) comfortable carrying it around my house, on shopping trips, on short trips about town. Where it might not work is for when I go biking, running, hiking, or on longer excursions as the impact of my exertion and the weight of the player would probably pull my pants off. In any case I am probably going to keep my ZX300 on hand for those purposes and it suits them perfectly. The N6ii feels great in the hand and can be operated with one hand very comfortably. The controls are intuitive and the screen is sufficiently responsive. One of the advantages of Android based DAPs is the ability to choose a music player that suits your needs. I have played around with Hiby Music, Neutron, Jet Player and Cayin's own app. On the whole at this point I am preferring the Cayin app-- the interface works well for me, it's easy to use and does everything I want it to. An added note the player comes with a nice leather protective case-- something I deem an essential for players at this level.

Charging this thing is fairly easy as it is quick charge compatible-- it's nice to go back to USB C after dealing with (and worrying about losing) Sony's proprietary cable for the last few months. The battery life is decent. Based on reading around the average for flagship DAPs seems to hover around 8 hours. It's too soon to say unequivocally at this point but extrapolating from my current usage I seem to be burning about 8% per hour with occasional (<10 min/hour) of screen time while listening to FLAC files on high gain with the EQ activated and WIFI off-- which should net me about 12 hours playback total. Not bad at all. On my first night with the device I turned off WIFI and bluetooth and, after 7 hours overnight I awoke to find the battery had dropped about 15% while idling. On the second night, with WIFI and bluetooth off I also unplugged my earphones and when I woke up the battery life hadn't dropped at all-- so maybe having the earphones plugged in keeps something in the device active. Perhaps future firmware updates will address this.

Now is where things get good-- the sound quality. An obvious caveat here is that when describing the sound quality of a DAP it's hard to know where to draw the line between whether you're really describing the qualities of the DAP, your earphones, or the synergy between the two...so take this as you will and, of course, YMMV. The sound of this DAP is robust and muscular and, I would say, leans slightly to the warm side. The whole presentation has a richness and weight that I haven't heard in other players. I would definitely describe it as analogue and organic-- it's got a density but at the same time plenty of air with everything having room to breathe. The EQ on this player is very effective-- my Solaris responded very well on all frequencies-- more so than on any other player I have tried. There are many people who deny that, after a certain point, increases in power make any difference or who claim that people who spend over $1000 on a DAP are just rubes jerking themselves with snake oil. Truth be told prior to hearing this DAP I had almost completed my application form for the club of people who don't think there's a significant difference or improvement in sound quality as you move up the power and price chain. My experiences with the N6ii have wholesale converted me in the opposite direction. The Solaris is very easy to drive but its 10mm dynamic driver responds very well to EQ. Now, that's not to say that the differences are huge, that diminishing returns aren't a thing, or that everyone will feel the same way with the same experiences-- but for me the past two days with this device have been a revelation and I am wholly satisfied with the money I have spent.

So what places the N6ii in an echelon above the Sony ZX300 for me?

Firstly the hiss is greatly diminished and this has lead to an increase in detail coming to the fore but much more importantly is that the slight veil I had experienced through the ZX300 on many tracks is wholly gone. Forgive the analogy but the best way I can describe this is to compare the difference between using condoms and not. It's still possible to have an amazing and beautiful experience with them but as long as even a slight barrier is present it prevents a total and complete connection. When you remove said barrier the level of intimacy and depth of connection you feel gets magnified in ways that can have a profound emotional impact. I've never felt this connected and in touch with my music before-- even with older and less ideal recordings. Everything just feels like it's right there around you. I've been sitting here listening to music while trying to write this review and so often I've been pulled away from writing because the sound coming out of my Solaris through the N6ii is so enveloping and engging that it captures all my attention. I feel fully immersed and one with the musical space and not simply a spectator to it.

I can say with all honestly that I never really understood what the terms "emotional" and "musical" with respect to sound signatures meant until I heard the Solaris through the N6ii. This player is a perfect complement to the natural honesty and balanced tuning of the Solaris. I listened to a high res version of "Horse With No Name" and it brought forth a wave of emotion greater than I'd ever felt listening to that song before. A/Bing for a bit it felt that, on many tracks, my ZX300 indeed seems almost veiled and lifeless in comparison. Separation, imaging and holography-- already exemplary on Solaris-- are greatly improved, which leads to an increased perception of air, detail and soundstage. Couple that with the weighty and thick signature of the N6ii and you have winning combo. Extension is great on both ends, the low end is tastefully enhanced, mids are robust and the top end is presented in an engaging and non-fatiguing way...and yet none of this is really the point. I can imagine players that are better extended, that retrieve more details, that are more neutral and analytical-- but they still wouldn't capture the charm and beauty of the "Cayin sound" which seems to me to be the capacity to present the music as an organic, musical and engaging whole. If I had to sum it up in two words I would quote the late, great Bruce Lee and say that the essence of the N6ii is "Emotional Content".

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(Will add more images as I get around to taking them.)
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