Cayin iDAC-6 and iHA-6: A Dynamic Duo

Cayin was among the very first Chinese brands to become somewhat well known in my neck of the woods. And interestingly enough, some of their first major exposure came from a June 2006 Stereophile review of their HA-1A headphone amp, back when the headphone market was quite a bit less prominent. The HA-1A earned a recommendation as a Stereophile Class B component and hung around for 6 years before dropping off the list. That's a very strong run which not many components can claim, though I admit a lack of competition may be partially to blame in this case.

During the following years the company became heavily engaged in OEM and ODM work for brands all over the world, as well as marketing many of their own Cayin-branded designs—primarily tube based with a few exceptions. I myself had a great experience with their A-55T tube integrated which served me well for years in a second system. My opinion at the time was that Cayin made solid gear, perhaps not the most flashy but certainly on par with many domestic brands, and for a decent amount less money.

Despite some fairly significant buzz in that first decade of the 21st century, Cayin seemed to take a lower profile for a while, at least from my perspective which is based on the North American scene. Only recently did they resurface—in the personal audio market of all places. I favorably reviewed their N6 portable player last year and it remains one of my top choices anywhere near its price range.

Cayin is moving forward with several new models in the portable space—definitely keep an eye out for their upcoming Android-based DAP—but the focus here lies with their new desktop kit. With it, Cayin aims to achieve something close to reference performance without breaking the bank or gobbling up all your desk space. And, as you'll see, there's surprisingly little compromise involved.

The focus of this review is the Cayin iDAC-6 D/A converter and "matching" iHA-6 headphone amplifier. I use quotes there because despite these components being obviously complementary, there's really nothing saying you can't (or shouldn't) use them individually if you so desire. At $999 each, these two straddle some sort of line...I'm sure some would call them "affordable" while others would balk at that price as being way out of reach. Personally I think it's actually a somewhat interesting space—we've got plenty of affordable gear in the sub-$500 range, and lots of all-out-statement type pieces with huge price tags, but not as much in between those two extremes.

Let's see how Cayin compares with some existing favorites, and if they manage to earn another recommendation like they did way back in 2006.

Cayin - Zhuhai Spark Electronic Equipment Co., LTD
9 Lianfa Rd, Shuanglin Zone,
Liangang Industrial Park, Zhuhai City
Guangdong Province, China

tony's picture

Hello Mr Grandberg,

There seems to be a rather intense interest in Tube Rolling now-a-days.

Your reviewing one of these little headphone amps ( along with a box of Tubes ) would make for some fascinating journalism.

I suppose, then, that you'd be reviewing the hobby of Tube Rolling as well as one of the Amps that has the capability.

I could point at the Polish Felikes, the Woo, the various Schiit Amps, the Garage1217, the Bottlehead stuff ( that Tyll built and seems to love ).

The Garage1217 postings on Head-fi read like each triode gives the amplification a unique sound quality, almost like buying a whole different amp.

Apparently the Felikes is the latest "HOT" item.

Betcha someone would "loan" you an Amp and a box of Tubes.

Thanks for all your insight, being featured on Innerfidelty is a resume builder.

Maybe Tyll will show you how to do Video Reviews that folks with an iPhone will & can watch, it's the next big thing.

Tony in Michigan

ps. Stoddard just went on another Rant about the Newport Show

John Grandberg's picture
Cayin has just the thing in the upcoming HA-1A mk2. It's got a pair of 12AU7's driving EL84's along with the somewhat unusual (at least in my experience) 12DT5 for rectification. Very easy to roll tubes - I've got one here and have been rather enjoying myself, though I leave the 12DT5 alone for now. With the right tubes the amp is very competitive, superior in my opinion to the Woo stuff for example. I'll have more to say about it down the road.
tony's picture

Geez, Sam Telig had one of these things, back in 2006. It's been around for a loooooooong time now. How'd we miss it?

Even has a couple of Watts for speakers, ( first watt will give 86db. on a pair of Pro-Ac Tabletts).

Nice find John, good work!


Tony in Michigan

ps. the darn thing even has a impedance matching selector for headphones.

I wonder what the mk2 feature set will be? I'll be following along.

R-Val22's picture

I have been looking at the Sennheiser HDVD800, but after reading your review you have piqued my interest. I cannot find a dealer for the Cayin however, Could you help? And would you choose the Cayin over the Sennheiser for the HD800-S and HD700s?

John Grandberg's picture

I'm told Cayin is working on getting more local distributors (I'm assuming here that you live in North America like me) but for now there's one in Canada that has a shipment of this new stuff on the way:

I don't particularly care for the HDVD800 and I'd much rather choose the Cayin stack - or any number of other combos - for the money.

tony's picture

I heard the HDVD800 driving the HD600 & HD800, at a headphone meet, I very much liked it. It has a DAC that can't be bypassed, ( no way to put an EQ between the Amp and DAC (which I need to do for my elderly hearing tapering off above 8kz.)

At the very same meet I heard a Valhalla 2 ( tubed up with super Russian tubes ) I should've bought that Amp but never got around to it.

If I don't get around to Tube Rolling I'll simply stay with the Asgard 2, for the money, it's Gold.

Tony in Michigan

R-Val22's picture

I want a balanced out so if I was to go Schiit It would be the Mjolnir2/Gungnir Multibit, but tube rolling would be a whole new hobby

tony's picture

I think you are right, tube rolling has near limitless possibilities for the exploring of sound quality.

Tony in Michigan

R-Val22's picture

What that include the Mjolnir 2/Gungnir Multibit?

John Grandberg's picture
Haven't heard those newer ones yet. I definitely like the Cayin more than original Mjolnir and Gungnir though.
tony's picture

It looks like the Pound is dropping to 1985 lows, making British gear more affordable for buyers paying with US Dollars.

Mojo buyers win.

Tony in Michigan

John Grandberg's picture
...if prices reflect the drop right away or not. Not long ago, the Dollar was doing well against the Euro, the Violectric USA distributor gave a 15% discount to account for that (still in place at the moment). Yet most imported gear remained the same price. I guess if a distributor bought high and is sitting on a mountain of gear, they don't want to sell low. Which is where small "direct to customer" situations work out better.
tony's picture

Guys like TTVJ could buy up mucho Vinyl Gear ( as in Michell Gyrodecks ) as well as LS like the LS3/5a and the like. Brit prices haven't been this low since the mid 1980s.

Gotta have "Cash on the Barrel head" to work this but it can be verrrrry profitable.

Tony in Michigan

ps. I think I'm paying .50 cents per pound wt. to container Air ship from England to DTW ( Michigan ) , J.V.Carr clears the stuff thru Customs. ( I stopped doing Audio Stuff 30 years ago, I ship Car stuff )

R-Val22's picture

Hi Mr. Granderg,I contacted audionaton and bought the Cayin combo. I have both a Win 7 and Win 10 computer and I'm having a problem installing the drivers for the dac. I followed some recommendations that were made on a thread on Head-fi and posted my current situation on there as well, but I'm hoping someone can help me out on this problem. I'm burning up not being able to hear them.

John Grandberg's picture

I missed this comment until today. I'm not sure what to suggest - I have 2 Windows machines (8.1 and 10) both working fine with the supplied drivers, as well as a MacBook and a Linux device from Aurender. All of mine work fine with no issues.

The only thing I can think to do is make sure you remove all older USB drivers. That has caused me some grief in the past when I didn't realize I had something else already installed from a different device. Or perhaps you already got it sorted by now? Again, sorry for the delay.

norsemen's picture

It was a great review to read John!

Iha-6 hasn't been listed on WoF yet. Will WoF be updated soon?

pcdvd's picture

Hi, John.
Can you please compare iDAC-6 + iHA-6 and DAC-10H?