Cayin C9: TOTL Portable Headphone Amplifier
Cayin was founded in 1993 and is one of the largest audio tube amplifier development and manufacturing facilities in the world. We have developed over 400 products to date, ranging from CD players to speakers, all of which provide the same high-quality benchmark, but our amplifiers have been particularly well-received within the audio community. That's why when we venture into Personal Audio back in 2013, we started with C5, a portable headphone amplifier, because amplifier is always our purest achievement.
The N8 DAP marked our milestone in Personal Audio and laid down the foundation for a flagship portable headphone amplifier. The 2018 N8 was Cayin’s first cost-no-objective product in Personal Audio, but that does not mean we can ignore the scientific (physic and electronic engineering) constraints, so by the end of the N8 R&D, we pondered: what if we can find a way to relax the physical constraints? What if when we have more space, more battery power, more room for heat dispersion, …., we know we need to apply the law of subtraction and take away some features in order to stay focused. There were several ideas on the table: C8, C8DAC, ….etc, eventually we started off with C8 and today we delivered the C9.
As the model number has implied, C9 is the top model in Cayin product lineup. When we develop N8, we decided to use “8” because that is a lucky number to Chinese and we also visualized that there might be technology advancement to DAP down the road. For C9, we didn’t need to reserve that leeway because we know the analogue engineering inside out, it’s very mature and as far as Cayin’s concern, this is our ultimate.
The C9 will be available by 20 January 2021 and the suggested retail price is US$1999. Price and date might vary because of logistic and tax consideration. Please consult your Cayin dealer for local availability and price.
Highlights of Cayin C9 Portable Headphone Amplifier
1. Choice of Timber: select between Vacuum Tube and Solid State timber on the faceplate. This is no doubt the most attractive, most discussed, and most sought after feature of C9.
- There are several portable tube headphone amplifier in the market, most of them are low power and with limited portability (microphonic effect from shock and vibration). C9 is a truly portable headphone amplifier, you can put it your backpack or hold it in your hand and walking around while listen to it.
- C9 is designed around the KORG Nutube. This is a new generation vacuum tube developed by KORG in Japan. It is a Direct Heated Triode (DHT) but KORG replaced the traditional filament by LED technologies. It offers some advantaged that makes it a very good candidate for portable audio applications (flat form factor, low power drain, generated very little heat, …), but it maintain the microphonic problem of DHT vacuum tube, so the Nutube was not widely adopted in portable application.
- Cayin N8 DAP is the first successful implementation of the Nutube in portable music player. We have developed a custom silicon housing and a spring-loaded suspension system to resolve the vibration, shock and impact, C9 has incurred the technologies from N8 (with modification). On the other hand, Cayin N8 used only one piece of Nutube so you can only listen to the Nutube with 3.5mm single-ended headphone, this is an inevitable limitation of N8 given we need to operate it as a DAP, but C9 has use a pair of Nutube so the Timber selection function is available to both single-end and balanced circuit, making C9 the first fully balanced portable tube headphone amplifier, to the best of our knowledge.
- We didn’t overlook the important of Solid State option. We designed a discrete audio circuit around two matched pair Toshiba 2SK209 JFET as the alternative to Nutube in the Timber Circuit.
2. State-of-the-Art analogue amplification: C9 is probably the most sophisticated portable headphone amplifier for both earphones and headphones in the market. Cayin firmly believe that when the amplifier excels in control and equipped with appropriate volume management, there is no such thing as over-powered. Even IEMs will perform at a different level when we have ample power. Unfortunately, from what we observed, most, if not all, high-end headphone amplifiers are designed with full size headphone in mind, portable amplifiers are mostly DAC/Amp with emphasis on the digital audio technologies. Given the rapid development of high-end IEMs in recent years, Cayin believes there is a market for ultimate portable headphone amplifier that can bring out the best of these high-end IEMs, especially when they are equipped with demanding dynamic, planar magnetic and/or EST drivers, and yet versatile enough to cover a lot of full-size headphones in portable scenarios.
- One of the very few fully Balanced portable headphone amplifier in the market
- Dual Amplification Operation (DAO): allow users to switch between Pure Class A and Class AB
- In-house developed Amplification circuit with discrete components, not IC or Op-Amp based
- Selectable High/Low gain that is widely applicable to both input modes (LINE and PRE) and all amplification operation (Class A or Class AB), offer extra 6dB headroom when needed and enhance paring with different earphones and headphones.
- High-precision and highly linear 130 steps volume control system that composes of a 4-channels ALPS potentiometer with a pair of MUSES72320 low noise, low distortion resistance ladder based stereo electronic volume.
- High Power portable headphone amplifier (4,100mW to 2,600mW per channel at 16-32 Ohm loading, and same rating for both Class A or Class AB)
- Special attention to make sure C9 can work with most, if not all, IEMs in the market satisfactory. Design a premium high power amplifier requires engineering and experience, but is attainable in general, make it enjoyable with both IEM and headphones are way more challenging.
3. Dual input mode: on top of regular LINE input mode, C9 can also operate in PRE-amp input mode (or known as pure power amplifier mode), with volume control disabled and all stages operate at full capacity.
• When operate in LINE input mode, which we presume will be the primary input mode of C9, it will receive audio signal from the line level output of DAP, DAC, or from any reliable audio source.
• The PRE-amp input mode is designed to work with variable level inputs (e.g PRE-amp or DAC with variable-level line out).
• Alternatively, if you have a DAP with high quality low distortion phone out but no line out, you can use the phone out as PRE-amp output. Switching between Line input and PRE-amp input is an unique feature, the first of its kind to the best of our knowledge.
4. Versatile input and output options: C9 supports 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced for both input and output, the amplifier will also optimize balanced inputs to single-ended headphones, and from single-end input to balanced headphones. The following interconnects are bundled in the C9 package:
- Single-ended Portable Interconnect CS-35C35 (3.5mm to 3.5mm)
- Balanced Portable Interconnect CS-44C44 (4.4mm to 4.4mm with GND)
5. Replaceable battery: the removable battery module houses 4 x Sony US18650VTC6 (3000mAh 3.7V) lithium batteries. You can charge the 18650 batteries while the battery module is attached to C9 or after you detached it from the amplifier. The battery module supports standard, PD and QC3.0 battery charging through USB-C connector.
- Users can acquire and replace the batteries conveniently to extend the battery duration when needed.
- User can acquire extra set of battery module.
- In case the original battery are run down after extensive used, user can replace the battery conveniently, making sure the C9 can serve a very long time without worrying the 500 charge cycle of lithium battery.
- Changing to different make and specification of 18650 battery might introduce small changes to the sound signature, audiophile can enjoy battery rolling as an additional tweak to their system.
FAQ and Resources
Charging and Protection Circuit
Burn in Setting
Gain Control, Volume Control and Input Sensitivity
Dual input mode: LINE input vs PRE-amp input
Powerful amplifier for sensitive IEM
Further explanation of C9 Protection Circuit
Input Sensitivity Explained
C9 Power Supply and Quick Charge Module