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Cayin iHA-6 - US Tour and reviews

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by project86, Feb 7, 2016.
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  1. project86 Contributor

    Cayin is a somewhat well-known audio company who traditionally specializes in desktop speaker amps, preamps, and integrated amps, plus the occasional CD player. Their lineup at any given moment tends to be rather large, with a focus on tube gear (though not exclusively). They've received quite a bit of recent praise for their N6 portable audio player as well as their C5 portable DAC/headphone amp, both of which are more well suited towards the HeadFi crowd.

    The company seems to have big plans to infiltrate the "personal audio" space more than they have in the past. To that end, the new iHA-6 headphone amp combined with the matching iDAC-6 makes for a somewhat compact setup which approaches reference level sound quality. I've got the pair in for an eventual InnerFidelity review but wanted to get some discussion going prior as the full write-up could take a while. Thus far I'm very impressed with both units.

    So what's special about the iHA-6? I'd argue it really isn't anything too unique in the grand scheme of things - just a competent, full featured headphone amp with gobs of power, and a really good looking enclosure, for what seems to be a fair price considering the performance offered. Cayin is still working out distribution in North America but the amp will end up selling for $999 (as will the matching DAC) which ain't cheap, but neither is it crazy expensive like so much new gear we see these days.

    The iHA-6 is a fully balanced, fully discrete headphone amp with a very specific focus on headphones only. That means no built-in DAC option and no preamp functionality. Earlier I called it "full featured".... how is that possible if it doesn't have these extras? I submit it's still a feature packed amp, just with a focus on headphones only. You get 1/4" single ended output jacks - one for low impedance headphones, and one for high - which double as 3-pin XLR balanced outs. There's also a separate 4-pin XLR balanced output which is what I mainly use. Inputs are RCA and XLR which are selectable via front panel button. We also get buttons for gain adjustment and current selection (low/high) to best match a variety of headphones.

    Did I mention this thing is potent? Single ended mode nets 2200mW/channel into a 32 ohm load, while balanced operation bumps that up to 7 full watts per channel. That should be more than plenty for any headphone you might possibly throw at it including the mighty HE-6. The internal design is such that the balanced output can be used even with unbalanced RCA inputs and vice-versa, without a significant sonic penalty. The 4-gang Alps potentiometer reminds us of the true balanced nature of the design. It's not the motorized version though - no remote control here, which again makes sense due to the lack of preamp outputs.

    Overall my impressions thus far are quite positive. It's a neutral sounding amp, tons of drive, no coloration (euphonic or otherwise), and really quite transparent overall. Nice wide soundstage too. Sounds great with everything from HE-6 and HE-1000 to HD800, Edition 12, K812, etc. Obviously I need a lot more listening time before can give it the full evaluation. But I'm not hearing anything to complain about thus far. And keep in mind I've been spending most of my time lately with more expensive amps: Violectric V281, Simaudio 430HA, and the Auralic Taurus. That's not bad company to be in.

    Now for some more pics, some very obviously stock photos, others very poorly done by me - it will be clear which ones are which. I'll have more thoughts and better pics as time goes by.






    And the competition on my audio rack:

    HERE is a link to my review of the DAC and amp at InnerFidelity. Do I like them? You'll have to read it and find out.

    EDIT: For those readers in North America, MusicTeck is the authorized dealer. Don't mess with others, as your warranty will suffer... and MusicTeck offers very competitive pricing anyway. The new price drop the $699 makes this an amazing value.
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2017
    grizzlybeast likes this.
  2. project86 Contributor
    I've had a few people question me about the sound signature of this thing. I guess I didn't cover it much in the first post. So far I find it having a lot in common with the Taurus mkII. Both are really transparent, true-to-source amps, and both have tons of power. The Taurus may have a tiny bit more resolving power, still trying to clarify those differences. Let me tell you though, it's a surprisingly small delta between them.
    In exchange, the Cayin seems more capable with sensitive IEMs. Again, I need to try more of my CIEMs like the Empire Ears Spartan which gives hiss on practically every amp I try... but my initial impressions of CIEM use on the Cayin are positive. Which is not a common thing when we talk about powerful amps like this. 
  3. Andykong
    Sincere thanks to John for taking the time to review the iHA-6 and we shall wait for his full review in InnerFidelity patiently. We are certain that John will offer an accurate and comprehensive view to those who are in the market for a compact desktop headphone amplifier.

    The iHA-6 is indeed very versatile, I was completely amazed when I test drive the early production unit, even when test with the more sensitive portables to the most demanding cans, the iHA-6 has never failed to serve as a workhorse in my HeadFi system. I am interested to find out what are the best headphone pairing with iHA-6 and I guess there will be numerous for us to explore.

    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
  4. project86 Contributor
    Thanks for the pic Andy - K1000 always brings back fond memories. I can say that the single-ended output works well with HD800, but balanced is even better. I finally picked up a balanced cable (Effect Audio Thor Copper 16W for those interested in such details) and the difference is quite striking - deep, DEEP low-end impact, quite satisfying, along with a very expansive soundstage. Again, SE out is very good, but balanced is exceptional on HD800. 
  5. Andykong

    Among the reference headphones we used during the development of iDAC-6/iHA-6, HD800 and T1 are the most frequently sited, and I prefer T1 over HD800 with iHA6. The interesting part is I prefer HD800 over T1 in most cases, and I own HD800 but not T1 in my personal system.

    IMHO, HD800 performs better when driven in balanced, and is sensitive to minor changes in system setup, including cables. This is a sensitive issues and I have no intention to prove what I "perceived", but I certainly spend more on HD800 headphone cables that with all my headphones added together. I am keeping Siltech and Cardas Clear after numerous trail, and I prefer Siltech on iHA-6. My regular HD800 setup is Ragnarok + Cardas Clear.

    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
  6. project86 Contributor
    I realize not many people have heard this amp (yet) so full discussion is not really possible yet. But I've been listening to it more and more, and I gotta say it's really impressive. Can't wait for more people to hear this thing. The output is staggering for such a small box.... even HE-6 is driven with an authority I've rarely heard.
    I've only ever heard HE-6 handled this well from bigger and more expensive amps - Violectric V281, Simaudio, Audio GD, etc. Nothing so compact and affordable as the Cayin.
    Single ended mode isn't impressing me as much. It's good, sure, but balanced is the real draw here. 
  7. Andykong
    Cayin will join CanJam SoCal later this Saturday (19-20 March), we'll display the IHA-6 in the event. If you are coming to CanJam, please drop by and check out the iHA-6. Trust me, you got to give it a try before you can image how far can this little headphone amplifier goes, so bring your headphones and come to Cayin booth to see if you can give the iHA 6 a hard time.


    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
  8. rigo
    I brought home the iDAC and iHA stack after CanJam.  The retail price is already a bargain in my opinion, but their booth special was a no brainer and I really had no idea when they would be available again in the US.  Unfortunately I haven't been able to have a nice long listening session yet.  Last night was the first time I took them out of the box and I was only able to get in about an hour, so these are just early impresssions. Mostly using Tidal.  I love the small footprint and the build quality.  And the power...I am not going past 10 o'clock balanced on high gain using my Senn 650s.  I wish I had a variety of phones to try out, but I am very happy right now with the soundstage and the overall ability to drive my 650s.
  9. project86 Contributor
    Nice little setup there! Small space. big power. 
    Make sure to try out a single ended cable as well, if possible. Each output has a slightly different feel due to output impedance changes (among other things). Kinda fun to have that variation even though I admit I like balanced the most in general.
  10. grizzlybeast
    brief first impressions vs my nuprime hpa-9 and soon to return heron 5
    While the nuprime has a heavier hand with stronger weight to the notes because they sound slightly more tangible, the Cayin is a little faster and with the HD800S has better bass that seems more solid, slightly more impactful and a little tighter. it could just be better at impedance for the HD800S so I will see when my other headphones get back from loan and being fixed. But this sounds slightly more neutral overall and is a hair more open, where as the 9 seems to be equal in soundstage so far, the cayin seems to sound a little more sharp and precise without getting bright, glaring or harsh. I guess I would use the word finesse maybe I dunno and thoughts can change. I would like to see how this compares to the Mjolnir or AGD popular amps but Cayin does price to performance pretty well. Anyhow.... I think the Heron has em both wooped in soundstage and vocals but it utterly fails against them in bass, tonal weight ( I really wish I know a better term because I always try to describe when I hear notes have more body and density) and punchiness. So far I am leaning towards the Cayin as the best all a rounder of the three but the nuprime is cheaper by 250usd yet it def can't power the HE6 is not fully balanced or as sexy looking. 
    omniweltall likes this.
  11. Andykong

    Very interesting comparison. What is the setting of iDAC-6 and iDAC-6?

    I used the following setting with HD800: From iDAC-6 to iHA-6, RCA, iDAC-6 Timber set to Vacuum Tube, Filter set to Slow, iHA-6 current set to Low, gain set to High, Balanced headphone output. Wonder if this setting will work with HD800S as well.

    The iDAC-6 has two output stage, but the tube output stage only works with single ended, if you are using the XLR output , the output buffer is always set to Transistor in regardless of the Timbre setting.

    The IHA-6 has phase iinverter built-in and it will convert the single ended signal to balanced mode before amplification. If you connect the IDAC-6 and iHA6 with both RCA and XLR and switch between the input at iHA-6, you probably will notice that the different not as significant.

    PS: My mistake indeed. The fact is, RCA output from iDAC-6 will work with BOTH output mode (Vacuum tube and Transistor), this is correct. XLR output from iDAC-6 will only work with ONE output mode, this is also correct, but I make the mistake that the default output mode of XLR should be VACUUM TUBE instead of TRANSISTOR, I stand corrected.

    For detail of iDAC-6 output mode, please refer to the discussion in iDAC-6 thread.
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
  12. rigo

    So just to clarify, the vacuum output should only be used single ended?
  13. Andykong

    Yes, that's correct.

    When you connect the stack in both RCA and XLR, you should be able to hear the different.
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
  14. rigo
    Okay so dac to amp single ended with vacuum output. Do headphones also have to be single ended or can they be connected balanced?
  15. Andykong

    Better Balance with headphone, otherwise you are using 50% of the iHA6 amplification only. The setting that I stated earlier is my personal preference to drive HD800, other headphone might vary. for example, when pair with LCD3, I go with XLR connection, transistor, Sharp filter, high current, high gain.
    Cayin Stay updated on Cayin at their sponsor page on Head-Fi.
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