If you jumped into an audiophile’s time machine and went back about a year and a half (to late 2016), you might have seen and heard two compact yet very impressive new components from Cayin Audio. The first would have been the fully balanced iHA-6 solid-state headphone amplifier and second would have been its sibling, fully balanced iDAC-6 hybrid solid-state/valve high resolution DAC. In the US, each of these components sold for $699, which is an interesting price point. In the world of high-end audio, $699 is a price expensive enough for a component to be taken seriously, yet also accessible enough for it to be considered affordable (or at least relatively affordable). At the time and ever since, I have had brief opportunities to hear both the Cayin i-Series amp and DAC at various tradeshows and came away with generally positive impressions, but as we all know shows are perhaps not the best environments in which to do in-depth performance assessments of unfamiliar audio products.
I recently got the chance to try out the iHA-6 and iDAC-6 in my own home and using my own suite of reference headphones. Along the way, a third Cayin i-Series component joined the group: the iDAP-6 digital audio player, which acts as a streamer/server/digital player that in essence turn Cayin’s i-Series power trio into a fully self-contained high-end personal audio music system. Just add the headphones or earphones of your choice and you’re good to go! This review will provide an introduction to each of the three Cayin i-Series models and then provide commentary on how they perform together.
All three i-Series models feature slightly wider than half rack-width (240mm wide) chassis that sport thick-walled, satin finished silver aluminium chassis, which share a tightly coordinated design theme. It’s obvious, both from having seen various Cayin displays at shows and from also having seen numerous photos of the components in use together, that Cayin intends the component to be stackable—typically with the amp on the bottom, the DAC in the middle, and the DAP on top (probably to allow clearance for the DAP’s rear panel-mounted WiFi/Bluetooth antenna). In any event, the fit, finish, and visually apparent build quality of the components—not to mention greater than 3kg weight per piece—makes them look and feel far more costly than they actually are.
The iHA-6 is a balanced solid-state headphone amplifier that provides both balanced and single-ended analogue inputs, and two sets each of balanced and single-ended headphone outputs. In fact, there are two single ended 6.35mm headphone jacks, one optimised for low impedance headphones and the other for high(er) impedance headphones. There is also a Left/Right pair of balanced three-pin XLR headphone jacks (for headphones such as the Abyss AB-1266 Phi Edition CC, that have separate left/right signal cables, each terminated with three-pin XLR plugs) plus a balanced four-pin XLR headphone jack.
Faceplate controls are blessedly simple and straightforward; there is a large illuminated on/off switch, and also three smaller illuminated push-button switches: one for input selection, one to engage or disengage high current mode, and one to select either high or low master gain. The only other faceplate control is a large volume control knob connected to a premium grade ALPS four-channel rotary potentiometer. Cayin describes the amplifier circuit as a “quadruple amplifier with full discrete components and full-balanced design.” Expanding on this theme Cayin adds that the circuit uses “Toshiba audio-grade (K246) FETs in a differential input circuit and a “push-pull amplification design with ultra-low on-resistance (HUF 76633) power MOSFETs at the power amplification stage.” The result is a muscular (maximum output is 2 × 7000mW @ 32 Ohms in balanced mode), wide bandwidth (10Hz–80kHz), low distortion (≤ 0.02%), and low noise (S/N ≥110dB) headphone amp that can drive virtually any load and that won’t break the bank in terms of price.