Cayin iDAC-6 - Review tour (USA only for now), impressions, discussion

Discussion in 'Dedicated Source Components' started by project86, Feb 7, 2016.
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  1. fjrabon
    Is there any difference between pre-amp mode and Line mode other than pre-mode allows for signal attenuation through the 4490's digital volume attenuation scheme?
  2. EvenR
    I'm getting my Cayin stack today from China. Can anyone confirm that it's alright to use these products on 230v 50hz voltage?
  3. oneguy
    I could be wrong but that 10 volt difference won't matter. Have you used a multimeter to check your wall voltage and confirm it at 230v?
  4. EvenR
    Nope i haven't. I've been running it today without problems. It does get very hot, but i hear that's very normal for these units.
  5. nick1982
    Anyone had a chance to compare the idac 6 with benchmark dac2 . I know it's double the price of the idac 6 just wondered how it compares with the slightly more expensive price range . Am looking to get a dac considering idac 6 / benchmark dac2 / Mytek Brooklyn Dac.
  6. project86 Contributor
    I've had both in my system though not at the same time. I like the DAC 2 far better than the original DAC 1 - I think they fixed a lot of the problems I had with the original model. However it's still not my favorite, and I like the iDAC-6 better overall. 
    Choosing the settings that make the iDAC-6 as neutral as possible, it sounds fairly similar to the Benchmark, though perhaps still a touch less detail oriented. But in general it can match almost everything the DAC 2 can do. Which is great at times. But for the most part I end up activating the tube buffer and making the Cayin more warm, rich, and musically engaging. Which is obviously not an option on the Benchmark. If that's something you might want, at least some of the time, the Cayin is better than the Benchmark.
  7. Andykong

    Sorry for my late respond. In order to use the digital volume in AK4490, all DSD source will be converted to multi-bit PCM before decoding, in other word, the DSD material will be soft-decoded instead of native decode and remain at 1 bit all the way through. This is something we cannot avoid if we need to use the digital volume for DSD material, there is no way you can ALTER the volume of a 1-bit bitstream digitally, have to convert to multi-bid before the digital attenuation kicks in.
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.

  8. Andykong
    A quick update to my friends and customers.

    We'll have our national holiday from 1-7 October 2016, Cayin's production line, customer service and main office will resume service on 8 October 2016.

    Cayin will attend the CanJam RMAF (7-9 October 2016), for those who will attend the RMAF, drop by and say Hi, I am delighted to meet friends and customers in person.

    I'll take a week off after the RMAF and visiting my friends in LA. Will back to office on 20 October 2016.

    In other word, tomorrow will be the last minute packing up for the CanJam tour and I am behind schedule on that. Once I finished my CanJam preparation and arrived at US, I should be able to show up more often. :p

    PS. The US Tour has run into some unexpected delay, the Cayin combo should reach Springfield by Friday late afternoon, and that will be the fifth reviewer in the list. I hope more impression will comes in during my absent as I am still waiting for the feedback from the second tour reviewer.
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.

  9. MLGrado
    Pardon me if this has been covered already in thread. 
    Are you saying that in your implementation DSD does NOT bypass the internal digital filter?  
    Or, is there an option to use the DSD 'bypass' and simply send the 1 bit DSD signal directly to the output switches/analog filter?  
    I know the AK chip offers the option for both.  I am curious if the logic in the Cayin DAC allows for both, or is the DAC hardwired at all times to send DSD through the digital filter/multi-bit volume control?
  10. Andykong
    I have two announcement from Cayin that will relate to N6 DAP

    First of all, We proudly announced that our complete line of portable products (i5, N5, N6, C5, and C5DAC) have been designated as hi-res audio (HRA) products by the Japan Audio Society and we can address our products with the Hi-Res Audio logo with immediate effect. All the newly produced certified Hi-Res Audio products will carry the Hi-Res Audio logo on its package, and a Hi-Res Audio sticker will be included as standard accessories.

    The logo is a recognition of our achievement, it will not improve or change the sound quality of our equipment, so we don't believe there is a need to retrofit previous production. We shall continue to live up to our belief: to unleash the power of music, to convey the feeling of the musician, and to produce high quality audio product that is affordable and adorable.


    For detail of the Hi-Res Audio announcement, please check out the following link:

    The second announcement is related to the USB DAC function of Cayin products. Cayin has developed an Universal USB Audio Driver that will simplified and also improved the USB function of our product.

    Using DAP as external sound card to enhance the performance of your computer facility is one of the common practice among CAS users, the process is fairly straight forward if you are using Linux or OS X based computer facilities because these devices support USB Audio Class 2.0 natively. As of today, Window based system only support USB Audio Class 1.0 and to fully explore the potential of Hi-Res audio, a device drivers will be required. Depends on the system you are using and the computer skill of the users, the driver installation process can be more tedious then expected, especially after Microsoft implemented the Driver Signature Enforcement practice.


    As user experience becomes an indispensable part of a modern sound system, Cayin has taken the need of our customers seriously and developed a proprietary USB Driver for all Cayin USB-based products.

    The advantages of Cayin Universal USB Audio Driver are:
    1. The device drive can install like any regular application, there is no need to connect the audio equipment to the computer facility in advance (with exception of Windows XP system).
    2. No implication or system security adjustment is required, including driver signature enforcement
    3. Once installed all Cayin USB-based products will plug-and-play device with your Window based facilities, there is no need to switch to another driver when you change your Cayin equipment.
    4. Explore full potential of your Cayin USB-based audio equipment. For example, iDAC-6 can now operate in ASIO native mode to achieve DSD256 native decoding and i5 can now support DoP DSD128.



    the Cayin Universal USB Audio Driver is available in two versions, download the appropriate version from Cayin website (
    • Windows 7 and above (
    • Windows XP and Vista (

    Detail installation procedure is available in the driver download page of Cayin website, please check it out if you are using the USB DAC function of the N6 DAP.
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.

  11. Andykong
    Happy Thanksgiving
    We are glad to have friends and customers like you.
    Wish you all the best on this Special Day.

    NOTE: If you can't see the embedded video above, please CLICK HERE to see the video.
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.

  12. fjrabon
    This took way longer than I wanted to, but while on vacation I lost all my notes and had to start over from scratch, but here is my review:

    Pros: very dynamic, smooth analog output stage. good soundstage. good detail. lots of options for very subtle tweaking, full range of input and output options.  Can be a part of a beginning to end fully balanced system.  Pre-amp setting is useful.  Very tasteful looking.
    Cons: runs hot. Large and heavy. Lacks micro-detail of highest end R2R DACs that it will likely compete with (GuMBy or even MiMBy). Can only use solid state output stage with balanced output. Competition in the $1000 DAC range is becoming pretty intense.
    Ever since its debut, I’ve been a big fan of the AKM 4490 chip in almost every device I’ve heard it in.  The Bifrost 4490 was a great midlevel DAC, I love the m9XX and the Modi 2 Uber with 4490 is an incredible value.  So, when I saw the Cayin iDAC6, I was extremely intrigued.  First, it was the only implementation I had seen that used dual AKM 4490 chips.  Secondly, it had the option of going fully balanced, and also having the ability to choose between tube and solid state analog output stages.  
    I bought my unit from another Head-Fier used, who got his unit in one of the very first batches that were sold to the public.  He kept the amp, but after A/Bing his unit preferred his Yggdrasil to the iDAC6.  Given that Yggy is a $2000+ DAC that is generally considered the best DAC in the world, that’s not much of a slight on the iDAC6.
    Gear used:  Unless otherwise noted, most testing was done with my TorpedoIII amp and HD800 headphones, unless otherwise noted Sonarworks calibration was applied to the HD800.  Inputs used were a mix of optical, USB and USB via Schitt Wyrd USB decrappifier.  
    The iDAC6 is a pretty classic looking medium/large DAC.  It’s appointed in a matte, brushed aluminum type finish, with a chrome polished knob and three chrome function buttons.  The volume on knob had a very tasteful white LED ring around it to indicate that the device was powered on.  A very standard LCD screen indicates necessary info like sample rate, mode, level, input type, output type, etc.  The LCD is slightly angled upwards, which makes reading it a bit easier since you will normally be looking slightly down at it while adjusting it.  A very subtle white screen printed cursive Cayin logo sits unobtrusively in the top left corner.
    All in all, I would call it a very classy looking DAC that doesn’t really make any statements one way or the other looks wise.  It looks very typical of silver finished equipment.  
    While not being larger than most DACs of its class, it is quite heavy.  I have mixed feelings about this, in that it’s no worse in this regard than competitors, but I also just don’t feel like DACs need to be this big any more.  This is doubly problematic because it runs so hot.  TO me the traditional argument for DACs being this large and heavy was because they needed to be that big to properly dissipate heat.  But this DAC still runs very warm.  Not unbearable to the touch or anything, but warmer than any tube amp I’ve ever owned.  In comparison to some of the newer top quality DACs I’ve tried, the footprint is quite large.  And as noticed during the tour, shipping for this item can be insane because it weighs about 15 pounds.  That being said, the size and heft does give it a feeling of being substantial.  Overall I’d call the size and heft a mild negative.
    The iDAC6 features a full range of the normal selection of inputs and outputs to be expected of top range DACs: Inputs are: Optical TOSLINK, Coaxial TOSLINK, AES, USB Type B. Outputs are: Balanced XLR dual 3 pin, unbalanced RCA.  Output is on the higher side (2.2V RMS unbalanced, 4.4 V RMS balanced).  Input is selected by pressing the small chrome “source” button.  Output does not need to be selected, as they both are always active.  If you have amps plugged into both the balanced and unbalanced outputs, they will both receive signal from the DAC.  As far as I know there is no way to switch between them, other than simply unplugging from the output you aren’t using (or turning off the amp receiving that signal, obviously).
    On USB DSD 64 and DSD 128 are supported natively, while up to 32/384 are supported through PCM.
    Five filters that are native to the AKM 4490 chip are use selectable.  This was very interesting to me, because although I’ve had several DACs that use this chip, this is the first time I’ve had one that just used AKM’s filters unchanged.  The Grace m9XX only uses 4 filters, and as best as I can tell they’re slightly altered versions of the 4 AKM filters.  The Schitt products that use the AKM4490 do not allow the user to select the filter, and seem to use the Slow filter always.  The f filters are: Super Slow Roll Off, Short Delay Slow Roll Off, Slow Roll Off, Short Delay Sharp Roll Off, and Sharp Roll Off.  Here is a picture that AKM has released describing them:
    This picture somewhat exaggerates the differences between the filters, which can be quite subtle.  Unlike the filters on the Grace m9XX, they are a bit more noticeable here.  I found slow roll off to be the best sounding, and unless otherwise noted, the rest of this review will be written about the sound with this filter employed.  Much of choosing the right filter will be based upon the music you listen to and your downstream amplifier, as one of the primary functions of these filters are to deal with issues in aliasing distortion and intermodulation distortion that can arise with some music in some setups.  This isn’t really the place to go into a ton of detail about how the filters work, but I will just say that most sources seem to agree that slow roll off is the best setting if you aren’t having issues elsewhere in your chain with IM or aliasing distortion.  The different filters can be switched by pressing in the large rotary knob.
    In addition to the five filters, the iDAC6 also allows you to choose between solid state and tube output stages ****IF YOU ARE USING THE UNBALANCED RCA OUTPUTS****.  Make sure you are clear on that.  If you are using the balanced outputs, you are limited to the tube output stage.  When plugged into the RCA unbalanced output, you can switch between tube and transistor output by hitting the “timbre” small chrome button.  If you do this when plugged into the balanced output the iDAC6 will always output from the tube stage.  Even if the LCD says “transistor” if you are plugged into the balanced output you are getting the tube output stage.  Because of this, the tube stage is always on whenever the iDAC6 is on.  Even if you are running it in transistor mode through the RCA output, the tube output stage is still running.
    The iDAC6 also allows you to alternate between two operation modes: pre-amp and line out mode.  The differences are thus: line out mode allows for the playing of DSD natively and pre-amp mode allows you to adjust the unit’s output level digitally via the AKM4490’s built in 32 bit digital volume attenuator.  If you want native DSD, you must use the line out mode, as pre-amp forces everything to go to PCM, since it needs to be PCM in order to do the digital processing that the volume control uses. 
    So, now that the thorough description of the look and features, on to the meat of the review. 
    The first thing I notice about the sound of this DAC, is the “heft” of its output, especially in the bottom end.  Comparing it to other DACs I own, with a given amp, it has very clearly the most punch and impact of anything I’ve ever tried.  I believe this comes from the output stage, rather than the chip/conversion stage.  The Grace m9XX, when run as a DAC only into my TorpedoIII is nowhere near as punchy as the iDAC6 through the RCA output is into the same amp with the same headphones.  As both of these utilize the same AKM4490 chip (albeit with the iDAC6 sporting two of them), I don’t think this can be a tonal characteristic of the chip.  It is even punchier than the Bifrost 4490, which is known for being a punchy DAC.  It just has an effortless sense of power when powering through transients.  At times, in certain setups, with certain headphones, it can sound almost “hard.”  This is especially evident when comparing it to the Modi Multibit, which has a sort of softness of sound to its output.  If you are trying to get a bit more “oomph” in your chain, this may very well be the DAC for you.  But if you have a super punchy amp and headphone, it may border on being too much.  There were times with the TorpedoIII and HD800 (both very punchy the way I have them setup) that the setup was so dynamic, that it was like it almost overwhelmed my ear and I was unable to hear detail in transients.  It’s not that the detail wasn’t there, I don’t think, it was that the setup was just too much for my ear.  It could be a bit fatiguing in this setup.  This held for both the tube and transistor output, although I think the transistor output was a bit less so, especially on bass transients.  The iDAC6 in tube mode could really produce some absolutely thunderous kick drums, for example, when paired with a punchy amp and a very lively headphone.  
    With an HD650 though, this characteristic really shook off the Sennheiser veil, almost more than I’ve ever heard an amp doing.  Normally we think of needing just the right amp for the HD650 to come alive, but pairing it with the iDAC6 allowed some amps that I normally wouldn’t think of as being a good match with the HD650 to really shine.  The HiFiMan Edition X also really benefitted from this, as it’s characteristic “soft” sound was woken up just a bit, and while it retained its tonal character, it was a bit more lively and less “soft” sounding.  With the THX00, bass was even more addictively fun.  Drums sounded like thunder.
    The second thing I noticed about the sound of the iDAC6 is a sense of easy spaciousness.  I wouldn’t say it sounds airy in the way that some Delta Sigma DACs can sound like you’re in a large, cold auditorium.  It often sounded like you were in a large room, but during summer.  I never felt claustrophobic, but I didn’t get a sense of airy spaciousness either.  Again, this characteristic held for both output types, but was most evident with tube output.  Soundstage was both a touch wider and deeper than other AKM4490 based DACs I’ve tried (m9XX, Bifrost4490, Modi 2 Uber 4490).  It doesn’t compete with the Yggdrasil, GuMBy or even MiMBy in terms of spaciousness, but acquits itself very well in that regard int he world of top end Delta Sigma DACs.  I never found myself wanting for soundstage with this DAC, but I have heard larger.  Imaging accuracy was excellent.  Separation was excellent.  It reacted well to when I turned on GoodHertz CanOpener for my crossfeed needs.  I have heard DACs that screw up the HRTF functions that CanOpener applies, somehow.  
    Micro-detail was very good, but not truly class leading.  To me, this is where even the best Delta-Sigma falls short of R2R DACs.  They, at some point, seem to have to make a tradeoff between harsh and brittle tone or smoothing over some micro-detail.  While the Yggy, GuMBy and even MiMBy could preserve detail without having to be harsh, it seems the iDAC6 had to make this choice and opted for smoothness.  If this choice has to be made, it is certainly my preference that it go in the direction Cayin/AKM chose, which was smoother.  I abhor many of the Sabre based DAC that attack your sensibilities with brittle faux micro-detail.  It’s like many Delta Sigma DACs, because they’re missing some of that micro-detail pretend its there by making the tone harsh.  It’s sort of like when a photographer missed focus by an inch or two, and artificially over-sharpened in photoshop to make up for it.  The AKM4490 based DACs instead just smooth it out and make it sound great.  This has been a characteristic of every AKM4490 based DAC I’ve ever heard.  If anything the iDAC6 has the best micro-detail of any AKM4490 based DAC.  But there are DACs that are a bit better in this regard.  An example of how this plays out, is that you can hear tiny differences in the character of the reverb on some tracks with the R2R DACs, that were just a bit smoothed over with the iDAC6.  Now, this difference in detail is subtle.  I couldn’t even pick it out on an HD650, HE400i or Grado SR225e.  But on my HD800 it was there.
    On the question of tube output vs. transistor:
    To me, the feature that will garner the most headlines and confusion about this DAC is the tube output stage vs transistor.  There aren’t a whole lot of tube output stage DACs out there, and I don’t know of any that also let you choose transistor output stage.  To me, the tube output stage almost always sounded slightly better.  It lacked a certain edginess in transients that transistor had.  While the transistor output measures as having less THD, one of the things I’ve learned over the years in audio is that total amount of THD is less important than how that distortion breaks down.  The transistor output seems to have most of its THD located randomly in “harsh” high order harmonics.  The tube output stage (which operates *after* the transistor stage and acts more as a tube buffer) adds just a touch of low order harmonic distortion, which has the effect of smoothing the harsh edginess, just a bit.  I slightly prefer the tube output most of the time.  Think of it like this DAC basically has something like an iFi micro iTube built in.  As this costs $329 on its own, it’s quite a coup to have it built in and switchable.  In systems with no tube stage anywhere in the signal path I always preferred tube output stage.  But even in systems that had tubes otherwise in the signal path (TorpedoIII, for example) I still generally preferred the tube stage output, though I was able to appreciate the transistor output on some recordings a bit more.
    Comparing to other DACs I either own or significantly demoed:
    Grace m9XX: iDAC6 does everything the m9XX does except crossfeed just a little bit better.  For anybody who is familiar with the way the m9XX sounds, think of the iDAC6 as like an m9XX on steroids.  A bit more spacious (I believe due to operating two AKM4490s in dual mono mode), a bit more dynamic, a bit smoother, and a bit more detailed.  They’re entirely different products, with different usages obviously, but I’ve had a lot of m9XX owner’s ask me to make the comparison.  A lot of m9XX owners who bought the m9XX as their first high quality amp/DAC might eye the iDAC6 as a potential upgrade path for a full sized desk top rig, allowing the m9XX to serve as a smaller, semi-portable secondary option.  
    Schiit GuMBy: this is the most clear tossup.  The GuMBy is a bit more detailed.  They both have similar tonalities though, leaning just a touch warm and inviting.  However, iDAC6 is more dynamic.  Bass transients (think kick drums, bass slaps, etc) have an additional weightiness to them that GuMBy lacks.  The iDAC6 hits harder, the GuMBy is a bit more detailed and spacious.  Which you prefer will depend on personal preferences and also your system.  I could absolutely see somebody with, for example, a HiFiMan HE1000 or Sennheiser HD650 based system preferring the iDAC6, to really make it hit harder and faster.  I could see somebody with an Abyss or HD800 preferring the GuMBy, not needing the additional impact, but being able to reproduce the extra detail.  It will be down to not just headphone, but also amp.  At this level, it really does come down to system synergy as much as anything.
    Schiit Yggy: Yggy is better.  It has the detail advantage that GuMBy had, but also has the additional power and impact that iDAC6 has.  Now, the Yggy isn’t as tonally versatile as the iDAC6 is, so if you’re a tinkerer, you may still prefer the iDAC6.  But if you’re simply after the best single sound possible from your DAC, the Yggy wins out.  It does everything the iDAC6 does, but adds in a bit more space and detail.  That isn’t a slam on iDAC6 is, Yggy is over twice its price.
    Overall final thoughts
    I like this DAC a lot.  I bought it.  It’s my favorite Delta Sigma based DAC I’ve ever heard, by a pretty fair margin.  I’d call it highly dynamic, very detailed, spacious and neutral with maybe the slightest hint of warmth.  While it is dynamic, the smoothness keeps it from being fatiguing, unless it’s also paired with an exceptionally punchy amp and headphone.  And even then some people may still love that sound.  With most amps, it adds an often looked for sense of punch, smoothness and warmth compared to most other DACs in its price range.
    In the end, I think the $999 price is fair.  It’s not in the land of stupendous values, like say, the Schitt Modi Multibit.  But it certainly isn’t overpriced at all, you get what you pay for and a little bit more.  I think this would be fairly priced up to about $1500-1700.  So, it’s a good deal at $999.  There isn’t another DAC at $1000 or less that I think clearly beats it.  Some DACs offer something different, but nothing that I can look at and say “this is clearly better.”  It’s not until Yggy that I can point to something and say “yeah, that’s just definitely better.”
    For me, personally, I am considering selling mine.  Not because I’m disappointed with it at all, it just sits in a weird position for *my* setup.  With my amp, it’s a touch more dynamic than I really ideally want.  The TorpedoIII amp in my system recently had an upgrade called output constant current supplies; after this upgrade, the TIII took a fairly massive leap forward in quality and became a more dynamic, harder hitting amp.  Before this upgrade the iDAC6 was ideal for my HD800 rig.  After, I wanted a tiny bit more detail, and a tiny bit less dynamicism out of my DAC.  This has me leaning towards GuMBy.  I currently have the iDAC6 in my secondary setup feeding the HiFiMan EF2C, which is a bit of an odd pairing.  My main pairing is the Schitt Modi Multibit feeding the TorpedoIII.  My long term move is likely moving the ModiMultibit to the secondary setup and side-grade moving the iDAC6 and buying a GuMBy.  I think the GuMBy’s softer, slightly more detailed profile may work better in *my* setup.  However, again, I want to stress this isn’t a want for quality, but a bit better system synergy between DAC and amp, given my headphones.  To be fair to iDAC6, I even thought Yggy was a bit too dynamic in my setup, GuMBy seemed *just right*. (thanks to Sorrdje for helping me think through this, btw).
    That all being said, I also like this DAC so much that part of me is considering keeping it, just in case my future system takes another direction, and I again want this slightly warm, very detailed and spacious, highly dynamic sound from a DAC.
  13. Andykong

    A very good review, detail, informative and full of hints and insight for someone who is looking for a DAC at this price range. I am glad that you have positioned iDAC-6 where it exactly should be, a versatile design and strong competitor in the $1K segment. Your description on the audio characteristic is very accurate and well-though out, putting the basic elements such as detail, dynamic, warm and smooth into their correct perspective. It is actually quite easy to design a DAC that is super detail, but will it be warm and smooth at the same time? Besides, more is not always better in these elements, and there isn't a standard model answer on the mixture of these elements, its all about effective compromise and synergy.

    After reading your first class report on iDAC-6, I am really looking forward to your comment on iHA-6. Let hope this will happen in near future, even in the form of a short impression.

    By the way, we have send the iDAC-6 and iHA-6 to a US audio distributor for dealership consideration, and he indeed has suggested to raise the retail price to US$1500, what a coincident. :beerchug:
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.

  14. fjrabon

    Yeah, IHA6 review will be both a bit harder and shorter. Harder because after I lost all my notes on vacation, I still owned a IDAC6 but the IHA6 had already been sent on, so I'm working off remembering what my impressions are. Shorter because my ultimate conclusion is that it was characterless. Not characterless in a bad way, but basically that the IHA6 was very close to the theoretical "wire with gain" that simply powers your headphone properly without adding much tonal character itself. So it won't take several paragraphs to describe its sound. It doesn't really have a sound of its own.

    Should be able to post it Sunday or Monday.
  15. Andykong

    Looking forward to that.

    "wire with gain" is the best comment for iHA-6, it was designed with that objective in mind. The iDAC-6 was designed to offer versatile tonal adjustment (upto 10 different settings), and the iHA-6 will handling a versatile driving requirements satisfactory. The iHA-6 must be as transparent as possible in order to let the iDAC-6 play a dominate role in the tonal setting of the system, so "wire with gain" is indeed one of our primarily design objective.
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.

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