CAYIN iHA-6 REVIEW

MSRP: $999 USD

  • TONAL BALANCE / NEUTRALITY 89%
  • PERFORMANCE FOR THE PRICE 96%
  • FEATURES / FUNCTIONALITY 85%
  • SOUND FIDELITY 93%
  • MUSICALITY 89%
  • BUILD QUALITY 99%

PROS

  • Very well constructed / Outstanding build quality
  • Transparent
  • Good Resolution and articulation
  • Powerful amp
  • Fast transients
  • Good control

CONS

  • Treble is north of neutral and the music can sound a little unnatural at times
  • Soundstage is mediocre

INTRO 

I previously wrote a review about the Cayin iHA6 at a time when I had heard most headphone out there but hadn’t dabbled into to many high-end solid state amps. At the time the Trafomatic Head 2 was my main amp but it is a tube amplifier and no other solid states before it did anything for me. I called it fast and neutral while slightly bright. Fast forward to now and owning one and having compared it to more solidstate amps I have a better idea of where it really sits so this is a re-review of the Cayin iHA-6.

 SPECS

Price $999.00 USD
Power SE     1100mw + 1100mW (High Current, RMS,RL=32ohms), 2200mW + 2200mW (low current, RMS, RL=32ohms)
Power Balanced

5000mW+5000mW  (High Current, RMS,RL=32ohms)

7000mW + 7000mW  (low current, RMS, RL=32ohms) 

Frequency Response 10kHz~80kHz(0.5dB)
THD+N ≤0.02% (1kh, RL=32ohms)
S/N  ≥105dB (single ended), ≥ 110dB (balanced)
Input Sensitivity  620mV (High current, High gain)
Max Output 60W

 

BUILD/DESIGN

This is not my first Cayin Desktop Amplifier. I used to own the red Cayin HA-3 spark. That sucker was solid, pretty, and heavy with a lot of power. It had a gorgeous looking design that kind of popped out on my desktop. The iHA-6 is more low profile and doesn’t take up a lot of space but is about the most dense piece of gear I have ever had here. Super solid construction with the bolts showing on the back. It is made with a two piece chassis that is a little more sharply angled than I prefer. It can put a ding or two in equipment around it if you are not careful. Otherwise the build quality is practically flawless.  The buttons are polished and add a nice aesthetic to the front of the Amplifier. The knob is big, smooth, sturdy and usually is preferred over other amps that come in to my home. It’s foot print is really small for an amp this serious and the packaging it came in is compact but unique and practical. There is no unevenness or wobbling with my unit and it has been working very well without one single issue to mention. Cayin builds great gear in general.

FUNCTIONS/FEATURES

The iHA-6 attempts to be a versatile piece of gear to use with just about any kind of headphone. It is missing a an 1/8th inch jack for iems etc but it does have a high impedance, low impedance, and balanced jack. Also you can use two 3pin XLRs and go balanced as well. The low impedance and high impedance jack work well for their appropriated uses as low impedance cans sound better from the low impedance jack and vice versa but everything sounds better balanced. If you do not plan on using this amp balanced you will not get the full story of what this amp delivers in sound quality.

The amp also has a high current and low current setting. I couldn’t tell a difference between high or low current settings unless I used the HE-6 which had more headroom on the low impedance jack but other than that it was pretty much useless.

The gain feature works well with no loss or gain of sound quality when engaged or disengaged.

The iha6 also can be used fully balanced or take sound from the single ended outputs and phase the sound to the 4pin XLR balanced output with no loss of fidelity. Switching from balanced to single ended was very easy and the differences you hear will most likely be fro Save & Exit m the DAC and not the amp.

SOUND

  • BASS EXTENSION 94%
  • BASS BALANCE 95%
  • MIDRANGE BALANCE 89%
  • TREBLE BALANCE 82%
  • TREBLE EXTENSION 96%
  • BASS CONTROL 97%
  • TONE DENSITY (BODY , OPPOSITE OF THINNESS) 81%
  • MACRO DYNAMICS (SOFTS TO LOUDS) 91%
  • MICRO DYNAMICS (SMALL GRADATIONS OF VOLUME) 90%
  • SOUND STAGE WIDTH 80%
  • SOUND STAGE DEPTH 81%
  • BLACKNESS OF BACKGROUND 87%

*please note that in the above I use the word balance instead of presence. Depending on the sound signature of the product I will use presence or balance. In this case the treble has a lot of presence  and  would be about 118% of the amount of what I consider balanced;therefore it sounds  82% accurate to me. 

 

I want to post some of my first impressions that I posted on SBAF here so you can see some comparisons with gear I had at the time. 

So I recently wrote up a review of this amp. However, I feel like it was wayyyy tooo long, wayyyy too wordy and not concise enough. And I missed out on some aspects. In short, this amp is very good for the money. I think its WOF status is very deserved.

In case anyone is interested in the amp I figured I would give a run down of my impressions of it. I am considering owning it at some point but haven’t made up my mind. With all this new gear coming out I don’t know what the freak to do.

Impressions:

Pros:

  • Resolution: I believe this amp is pretty resolving. It gives off an immediate sense of speed and clarity. The transparency is excellent for such a small hefty little amp. I could hear a good amount of microdetails. Micro dynamics are okay as well. If I only had a grand and wanted the best transparency I could get I would hop on this amp.
  • Neutrality: Pretty much as flat as it gets, There is a treble sheen to this amp that is noticeable and a flatness throughout the frequency range but I didn’t hear a lot of hard etchiness. The treble texture is open and kind of soft but very much present in balance. Sparkle- this amp does it but in a non scratchy fashion. I guess I mean the treble is refined but not super solid or glaring. It has some edge but not much scratch. The midrange is very balanced and fast. The lower mids are flat and the upper mids are present. Words like lush, euphonic, organic or warm may not apply to this amp.
  • Bass: is flat but pretty much free of bloat and extra warmth. If you are looking for an amp to firm up a headphone with weak bass keep looking unless in the case of a headphone like the Omni, sheer power helps the bass. I won’t call it lacking, just flat. If you already have a headphone that has good bass then this won’t screw it up but rather play it like it is. I actually appreciate the control this amp has. It is decently solid and can be punchy with the right headphone pairing through the balanced jack.
  • Separation: Pretty good just not on the level of my Trafomatic Head 2 amp. I never get a sense of blending but the fast sound, average tonal density, only slightly above average soundstage, and less than exceptional depth prevent me from experiencing that wonderful layering effect some other amps may offer. It is technically a capable amp for the price though. It shows here as well.
  • Price: 999 that means a used one can be even found eventually for 700 and that is a very good price.
  • Build: Who says the Chinese can’t build quality products?… You need to hold, listen, and even open this piece of gear for proof of the opposite.
  • Good with most headphones: I had little synergy issues except for the Audeze LCD2.F and it not sounding like a tube amp for the HD800S…because it def sounds solid state.
  • Power: 7W into 32 ohms

On the fence:

  • Soundstage: I guess this is due to the company it was in during my time with it. It had a decent soundstage but nothing really to boast about. Slightly round but not really wide or deep. For a solid state I feel it didn’t hold the HD800S back but it didn’t really compliment it either. The Airist Heron 5 is exceptionally wider. The Nuprime HPA-9 is slightly deeper. My TH2 is slightly wider but tons deeper. I didn’t feel boxed in by the soundstage so that is why I am on the fence about it.
  • Treble: I feel this amp is a bit bright. Cayin can be known for their sparkle. I don’t believe it is prickly but overall I would prefer it to be just a hair less in presence. Again I am on the fence about it because with a headphone like the Kennerton Vali it is very much welcomed. The HD650 however, for my tastes, didn’t need the extra presence, but soaked up the extra speed. I just feel like for the 650 it further exposed it’s graininess.

Cons:

  • Jacks: Despite it being relatively low noise and clean with sensitive headphones, and having a high impedance and low impedance jack, EVERYTHING SOUNDS BETTER BALANCED with it. The HD800S sounded okay through the high impedance jack but the other jacks seemed a bit soft in dynamics and punch. It only sounds punchy and dynamic using it balanced.
  • Layering: I’d prefer better heft of tone to compliment its decent separation. This in my opinion helps the layering because dense tones have a better time at keeping from getting blended in complex and busy music. Good separation, Deep soundstage, Heavy and solid tones = good layering. This is missing the last two aspects in my opinion. Maybe this is only because my TH2 excels in this area and may not be a good reference. Usually good tube amps do better than solid state here anyway.

oops…well looking up I didn’t expect to type as much as I did….wordy as usual and with tons of errors like most times but I believe this gives a good idea of what this amp is all about…what the heck here are some comparisons with amps that are just about as unpopular.

Brief comparisons:
Heron 5
 – 989 MSRP: The Airist is a lot wider, a lot airier even though just a little less bright. The 5 is even flatter in soundstage and worse in layering, has better midrange tonality, less resolving, less detailed, a lot less dynamic, less transparent but close. Softer and less dense bass, less bass. It is less powerful, takes up more desktop space and is not balanced.

Bonus: On Massdrop for 750 it is still a good amp for the right headphone due to its relatively good level of clarity, wide open sound, and gorgeous midrange tonality (haven’t heard a better tuned midrange as far as balance goes yet)

Nuprime HPA-9 649 MSRP: Similar soundstage, more bass, warmer lower midrange, slightly hazier separation, punchier as a single ended amp but the Cayin is just as punchy/dynamic when using it balanced. The cayin is faster, clearer, more detailed, and more powerful.

The Cayin sounds in a different league compared to the other two above despite it losing on minor things.

Trafomatic Head 2 MSRP 2500 stock tubes: Cayin is the better value since it is just as transparent compared to the TH2 with stock tubes (better tubes improve clarity) It is also a better match with hard to power planars. The bass, while less solid and hefty in tone can also have less fuzziness around it (depending on the headphones since the TH2 actually has no fuzziness with the 800S bass). The TH2 however when matched with the proper headphone pretty much bests it in every area. Especially with the HD650 the TH2 has better depth, layering, details, bass, tonality, texture, density….yadda yadda… 

BASS

The bass of the Cayin is pretty fast, decently punchy and neutral in presence. I would like just a little more density in the bass for a harder slam because the dynamics sit right where they need to for viscerality but is missing a little bit of the density since dynamics plus tonal weight determines how hard something can slam. I can throw a paper with all my might or a hammer really soft. In this case the amplifier is  throwing neither but still can hit hard enough for me to not complain. The bass is also fairly tight and lacks wooliness or bloat. It is not round or natural in decay but a little on the drier side(not reverberant) with good focus and decent texture. This amplifier has tons of control. All through out the frequency range nothing really sounds sloppy but listening to the bass makes me certain of it. 

MIDRANGE

Cayin does not have a withdrawn midrange per se but it is even handed with no noticeable dips or annoying peaks in the midrange until you move closer to the lower treble where it is a little accentuated. The transition from mids to treble is an incline. In fact from the bass up through the treble is a steady, but not overbearing incline. Voices are detailed and clear with good resolution and decent weight. While I can’t call it thin, compared to most amps I have heard it does consistently come up as the one with the least sweetness in the midband. While listening to the Cayin I do feel like I am listening to a piece of equipment rather than just relaxing into the music as it has an ever present illumination that lights up a song a little bit. The lower midrange could stand to come up just a hair, the middle midrange as well. What I want to say though is that with the right headphone the Cayin iha6 can really bring something to the table. That something is a lifting of veils; a removing of thickness from headphones that sound a little too weighed down. Now you may take these descriptions and exaggerate them to think that the Cayin is a thin and boring amplifier in the midrange. That is not what I am saying as real life vs what you read take on different bearings. The iha-6 is Audiophile neutral and not Professional neutral. It still keeps with in the bounds of realism but definitely bears the hallmarks of a solid state amplifier and it captures what audiophiles usually look for in solidstate land very well.  

TREBLE

Treble is clear. Very clear but not grating or really edgy. There is a graininess to the sound of this amplifier that is slightly detectable but forgivable for the most part. It is not liquid clean. The treble can be called glaring by someone but that adjective reminded me of a focused but broad peak in the treble spectrum. When your eyes see a glare its more like a concentration of light at a certain point. The Cayin is rather like a more broad and evenly spread out light across the whole treble and even from the upper midrange up.   Neither is the treble dense and solid but the transients are fast and articulate. I have heard splashier amplifiers for sure and the Cayin when cranked exhibits good control over all drivers from the lows to the highs and from dynamics to orthos. I would like a little more of an analog sound and again just a little more body but the Cayin doesn’t do too bad here for its price and in fact, unless you include the Jotunheim, I bet you cant find an amplifier as good as this one for used market value. Especially not one nearly as powerful. 

PERFORMANCE

The soundstage of the Cayin amplifier is a round one. Not flat, okay depth, okay width, good imaging, great separation, and okay layering. It is very clear as far as transparency goes. The resolution is very good as well. Microdynamics are good for a solid state amplifier as well as Macrodynamics. The amplifier used in balanced mode is just as dynamic as anything around its price if not more. I actually think the Cayin iHA6 has very good dynamics overall in micro and macro levels. What is the stand out feature to me is how the transients behave.  As mentioned before the transients of this amplifier are quick, focused, and very controlled. If you have a sloppy sounding headphone and it doesn’t sound controlled on the iHA6 then you can pretty much just either deal with it or pass the headphone along in a For Sale add.

Very few amps I have heard are as clear and fast as this one but an area that I have heard others rise above (also in price) is refinement. The Cayin is not dirty per se and is a clean sounding amp at first through 50th take but the SPL, Pro, and Jotunheim are a little cleaner. Listen though, if I can give a little bit of advice I would prompt you to remember that some of the totl headphones that most popular now also are not super clean. Relatively speaking the HE-6 is an exceptionally clean headphone and Hifiman still hasn’t made one cleaner, yet its not the most preferred headphone and is a bit polarizing. I just use that example so you do not read too much into it but I hear a Little more grain from this amplifier than the aforementioned  which are exceptionally clean in background but are still not as fast as the iHA6. The Airist Heron 5 measures clean but it sounded more grainy than the cayin iHA-6 and less controlled and dynamic. That also goes to show that Mfg measurements don’t tell the whole story either. I will do a full comparison later but an amplifier (HP-1)that is priced above it and that is built upon clean measurements does sound slightly more refined in texture but the details are blurred, and it is less articulate and separated than the iHA6 as well. Nothing beats hearing gear for yourself. 

PAIRINGS 

ZMF ORI 

 

Excellent pairing here. However, the Omnis have a tendency to sound a bit forward in the upper midrange all while placing the vocal a little distant in position. Well, the Cayin has a slight tendency to make the upper midrange prominence of the Omni more noticeable. Where the paring excels is in the bass performance and speed. The Omni needs a lot of power for the bass to pick up in speed, and also not just power but the bass of the gear feeding it needs to be relatively quick and precise. The IHA6  deliver on those fronts without leaving any scraps behind.  Also this pairing really opens up the Omni to show how technically capable it really is. Since the Omnis have plenty of tonal weight the overall richness of timbre with this combination is as lifelike as I have heard them, albeit with the aforementioned upper midrange boost. Listening to the Omnis through the balanced out of the iHA6 and the Nuprime is night and day. Furthermore I find it a much better pairing than the Airist Audio Heron 5 which has a smoother treble, and wider soundstage but is less detailed, has even less tonal weight, and much less punchy. The Heron had a preferable balance from mids to highs but the textures seemed to disappear  when going to it from the IHA6.  

 

Kennerton Vali 

 

The Kennerton Vali is an excellent sounding headphone on most fronts. It is pretty fast but has a little bit of extra decay so though an amp a little slower than the IHA-6 would work fine, it still needs to not not add any extra decay and be quite precise. A dry amp will actually work fine with this headphone. Dry simply means no extra decay or that the decay is unnaturally cut short and there is some trimming to be done with the Vali. The Vali has a tunefully pleasurable amount of bass that can be held back by other amps and the IHA-6’s tightness plays favourably for the Vali. The Cayin  helps Valis image more precisely and doesn’t hinder the soundstage, yet doesn’t really stretch it out either. The Kennerton will never become fatiguing no matter what amp you use but the Cayin helps bring its dark tonality a little closer to accuracy. This pairing is exceptional. I like the Jotunheim but it would make the depth of the Vali a little flat. For that reason the iha6 would be preferred unequivocally. 

 

HD800S 

The pairing of the iHA6 and 800S is not my idea of ideal by any stretch of my imagination. While I admit that running it balanced brought better dynamics, the iHA6 did not provide enough body or fullness to keep the 800S from sounding unnaturally thin. The speed was appreciated and also the fact that the 800 has soundstage to pair was by no means what made the pairing not ideal. These are both tuned to what I consider is Audiophlle or Stereophile neutral where seasoned ears like to hear all of the fast transients and details highlighted… Not my cup of tea. 

 

 

CONCLUSION

%

While some of other amplifiers that have landed on my desk after first hearing the Cayin are a little warmer and some are cleaner, the Cayin holds its value up extremely well and all of them cost much more for barely any gains. Sure 999 is expensive but the iHA-6 set a bar for me when I first heard it and to this day that bar is considered pretty high. Price to performance is what it should be. It’s not an amazing deal but it is a very justified 999. I have listed it for sale and pulled back so many times. Other gear hasn’t lasted this long in my stable. The Cayin earns its keep here over and over again.

 

 

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