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 designsprimarily 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 resurfacein 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 spacedefinitely keep an eye out for their upcoming Android-based DAPbut 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 spacewe'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.