I like the iha-6 better than the pro ICAN for planars, but I do love the ican’s versatility. I think it’s the far more ‘complete’ option, while the iha-6 is the more specialized option.
Yeah, it looks that way. Currently have a Modius, but DACs come and go, finding the right Amp is much harder.
I’ll keep scouting for any of those 3, I think they would be suitable.
I told Zach I wasn’t a fan of the ZMF off a THX amp, and he suggested something with a higher output impedance. Taurus, iCan and IHA-6 all have that.
Oh whoa $2500 for the HA 6A that’s not bad at all
Anyways, I wrapped up my thoughts of N6ii with it’s Burr Brown TI PCM Dac and I really felt that board was one of if not the best quality out of a DAP I’ve heard. Tho I have not sat down with the new iBasso 200 series or the N8
Non the less I contribute my thoughts!
N6ii T01 - Dual PCM1792A
Frankly to my ears I’ve always enjoyed the presentation and implementation of the Texas Instruments or TI PCM Dac chips. When correctly implemented they are mostly linear with a tiny bit of “air” on the top end.
I’m happy to say I feel Cayin has perfectly nail’d the spirit and majesty of the TI PCM series of Digital Audio Converters. Linear bass reproduction, perfectly natural mid-range and a slight bit of air on the top end. Overall the envelope is to my ears perfectly balanced from the lows up through the central and upper mid-range. Technically this “air” or “airiness” is to some extent an exaggeration. However I don’t find that the top end has any emphasis on the attack but rather some exaggeration on the sustain and decay.
With bright headphones this can be a bit distracting but I much prefer even this slight exaggeration over the sluggishness of the “Velvet” Sound.
My long standing tower stack is composed of the Hifiman HM901 which itself features a dual arrangement of ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip-sets. In stock form and most implementations the Sabre DACs are mostly linear in the bottom end with an aggressive presentation in the mid range and top end.
What I love and have loved about HM 901 is it’s “vintage” High Frequency roll over filter, I typically don’t enjoy these filters but on HM 901 it removes that slightly aggressive presentation and adds helps improve mid-range tonality.
Each of the internal AMP-Cards for HM901 were disappointing, so over the years after hearing many different amps and topologies I settled on the iBasso PB2 amp with a quad of LME 49990 OP Amps with an Energizer Linear Battery Pack.
With my Sennheiser HD 600 I was hard pressed to find a real discerning difference between my existing stack and N6ii T01.
However with my Aeon Closed 2 there was better presentation of textures in sub bass frequencies with the HM901/iBasso PB2 stack. I also felt the HM901/PB2 Stack presented a more discernible and cohesive sense of space especially for tracks where large drums or heavy bass lines are present. Which I feel is related directly the amplifiers improved control over A2C.
Tonally tho I did feel at times N6ii T01 was maybe at times just a tiny bit more energetic, maybe airier but for as many tracks as N6ii T01 was better there are tracks where it was worse.
N6ii T01 Headphone Impressions
I quite simply loved N6ii T01 with my HD 600 which I run it with a balanced ZMF Atoms Copper cable.
Overall I was impressed with both it’s detail and overall staging and cohesion. Tonally quality was excellent to,
- Snappy with an even envelope
- Without sounding over-emphasized or too fast
- Easily discernible sense of weight and body, reverb in larger instruments was apparent
- Natural tonality
- Smooth but not lacking texture
- In that you could discern the literal nature of vocals - the movement of air
- Natural tonality
- But not smoothed over
Overall I felt the overall transparent quality of both HD 600 and N6ii T01 made for a complimentary system. Now some who find the slight upper mid emphasis on HD 600 offensive or unpleasant will notice N6ii T01 does not tame or remove that quality of HD 600.
In contrast the A01 and “Velvet” AKM sound does help to tame HD 600’s slight shout, but for my tastes I again felt HD 600 was slow and veiled with the A01 chip.
I’ll also add that T01 does not help with HD 600’s rolled off sub bass, tho it doesn’t draw attention to nor away from it either. Again I felt this combination as a whole was mostly transparent.
Dan Clark Audio’s new Aeon 2 Closed is one of my favorite closed backs right now, while it’s low impedance makes it some what easy to drive it’s low efficiency does hinder bass extension when amplification is not sufficient.
In the case of N6ii T01, unfortunately I did find it’s amplification to be insufficient for driving A2C at it’s full potential. There was a discernible lack of authority and definition in the sub bass especially.
Which for some tracks where I find A2C to be too bass heavy the lack of authority and power is sorta of pleasant tho the lack of detail is not a worthwhile trade off. However, I will say using the line out of N6ii T01 into my iBasso PB2 was excellent.
Cayin N6ii T01 is for me the first Digital Audio Player to fully eclipse my old HM901 stack, its user interface is quick and both it’s amplification and analog line out stages are excellent. For any one looking for a transparent portable digital audio player I highly recommend the N6ii with T01 module!
Great review. Love my Cayiin N6ii, though I don’t have the T01 Module. I may have to try it out if I can find a way.
When Cayin announced the N3 Pro in early 2020, I was very excited for what it could be. On paper, it seemed like a cheaper and smaller N8 – Cayin’s Flagship Digital Audio Player. The N8 was extremely well-built, fast, and had a solid-state and tube amplifier mode using Korg Nu-Tubes. It was also extremely heavy, and extremely expensive!
The N3 Pro, instead, is a lighter-weight and smaller player that fits well in my hands, and also has the ability to switch from solid-state to a discrete tube amplifier with a press of a button on the touchscreen. This player retails for $479 USD and was provided on loan directly from Cayin as part of their Head-Fi Tour group. I was the first to get my hands on it as part of this tour and was able to provide a full unboxing experience video shown below:
The N3 Pro comes equipped with a pair of AKM 4493 DACs and has the ability to play from its solid-state amps in balanced mode using 4.4mm or single-ended using 3.5mm. It also has the ability to swap to using a tube amp mode using JAN6418 matching tubes and play using the single-ended 3.5mm output only. The tube function has two filters available for different sounds which I’ll discuss later.
In addition to these functions, the N3 Pro also has 2-way bluetooth and digital output using USB-C and a dedicated line output using 3.5mm. One can also use Hiby’s app on a mobile device to control the player’s music using HibyLink.
The User Interface is a customized Hiby OS that looks very modern and simple and has a touch button on the lower center of the front panel, that is lit with an LED ring. Just above this ring is a transparent glass display that shows the tube lit when activated, and the main screen is a 3.2 inch IPS display that is sharp and looks good.
There is a large volume knob on the right side of the player that also acts as the power and screen-off button when pressed-in. Below that are the skip and play/pause buttons. The player uses USB-C for data and charging and that is at the bottom of the player next to the phone outputs.
Finally, the player includes data cable and a single case. The first case is a simple clear TPU bumper case that protects the edges and sides of the player. The second case that came with this bundle and is available to purchase separately is a green leather case with a metal screen on the back side that looks very reminiscent of cases made by Korean brand Dignis. This case is quite nice and I love the overall look and feel of it and highly recommend it for the optional $39 USD.
The Cayin N3 Pro uses a customized Hiby OS which means it has the proprietary wireless remote feature, HibyLink. This feature lets you control you music and volume via your phone or tablet without having to touch your DAP once enabled.
The user interface seemed quite snappy to me, especially after upgrading to the v2.0 firmware. The main screen gives users an option to search for music by various methods such as Folder, Lists, Songs, Artist, Albums and Genre. My music collection has well-defined tags, and so I did not notice any issues with weird tag reading or any other anomalies with file display.
Album art isn’t pre-cached, so it does take a second to refresh the artwork while scrolling through each menu, but it’s not any longer than I’ve noticed on other Hiby-based player.
Swiping down from the top of the screen shows a quick-access menu similar to what you’d find on Android. Its here where you can switch from solid-state to tube and also change the tube sound from Triode to Ultra Linear.
Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up the two settings menus. One is to control settings related to the sound/music functions like changing filters and EQ, and the other is to change system settings.
Overall usage of the UI is easy enough to use for me, and everything just works fine. I had no issues using it once I figured out the LED ring is actually a home screen button, which saved a lot of button presses to get back to the main playback display.
Sound Experience & Comparisons
The N3 Pro runs in three different modes as I’ve mentioned before. It also has several AKM DAC filters, but I’ve kept it in the “Slow” filter for the most part during this trial period. This has been the filter I found to sound the most realistic for the acoustical music I typically listen to in my experience.
Most of my listening on the Cayin N3 Pro were with the Hidition Viento-B, Unique Melody MEST, and Thieaudio Legacy 4 in-ear monitors. I spent a very short amount of time with the ZMF Verite and Denon D5200 headphones as well.
In all-cases, I find that the overall sound and character of the Cayin N3 Pro is that is a warmer than neutral audio player. Its been a while since I’ve had a chance to hear the N8 or the N6-II with its default amp, but I remember those both being a little warmer in their default settings, but I do feel that Cayin’s house sound is a more warm and lush sound style than a flat neutral or airy signature.
My main points of comparison in this review are with the Lotoo PAW 6000, Hiby R2, Apple USB-C Dongle, and a Topping A90 desktop amp. Of these, only the A90 is within the same price bracket as the N3 Pro, but of course, its not a portable unit. The PAW 6000 is over double the cost at $1200 USD and the R2 is a fraction of the cost at $109 USD, so these do show if the Cayin hits its price mark, below or above it in my comparisons.
With the solid-state active, I found the Cayin to have a similar general signature to the Hiby R2, which is a warmer sound signature that emphasizes the lower mid-range more. The N3 Pro sounds a little lacking in air when compared to the Lotoo PAW 6000 and Topping A90, and presents a thicker overall signature. The resolution is very good on the N3 Pro solid-state but I do find the PAW 6000 to just go slightly beyond and adds a deeper level of layering and depth that the N3 Pro doesn’t dive as far down.
The tube amp modes is where the N3 Pro differentiates itself from its competition at any price range. The player is equipped with a matching set of JAN 6418 mini-tubes that are suspended in the player to reduce the amount of noise from movement and shock. While it does a fantastic job at this, I do still hear the occasional hum noise randomly while idle, or electromagnetic interference from my cell phone if the phone is right next to the tubes. In most situations, though, it’s generally quiet, though I would be wary with the most sensitive of IEMs. Still, it is impressive and much quieter than I would have expected of a portable tube-based amplifier device.
There are two modes when you activate the tube mode to choose from. There is also a 5 second waiting period for the tubes to warm up prior to music playing. You can continue to play music using the solid-state amp side while you wait, but there will be a short pause when switching over, so it’s not seamless, and I wouldn’t expect it to be either.
The first mode is the Triode mode, which is the tube amp in its purest form. This really opens up the sound and changes it up. The low end is bloomier, with an even warmer and engaging presentation. It can make bassier IEMs sound, perhaps, too much, but it is up to preferences here.
The overall sound is smoother, though I did find the treble to be a little jarring at first, but I believe that really had more to do with the tubes not fully being broken in and opening up, since this unit was brand new when I received it. I let the tube section on and playing music for hours at a time while I was doing other things to let it naturally open up and I don’t sense that harshness using triode mode anymore.
This is the more pleasant of the three major options on this player, and one I would pick to use if I had to. I really liked it with the Hidition Viento-B, which is a reference monitor with a small bass shelf bump. It tames down some of the highs when using it on the solid-state mode and especially the ultra-linear mode, which I’ll take about next.
Yes, Cayin put in an ultra-linear mode using it with tubes. It’s an interesting and almost contradictory combination, but then again, I do this on my desktop setup often. I use my Topping A90 when I need to power my planar headphones, but use my Feliks Elise OTL Tube amp as a tube buffer pre-amp to it. This way, I get a small amount of that harmonic distortion along with the current power I need to use the planars at full efficiency.
In the case of the N3 Pro, the ultra-linear mode seems like a filter change that makes the player have very much a neutral sound profile that brightens up the sound significantly. The change is pretty dramatic, especially if you flip back and forth between the Triode and Ultra-Linear with everything becoming leaner, brighter, and more airy, though I don’t feel it sounds more forced than natural.
I am not a big fan of this mode to be honest. It loses a lot of the engaging sound of the N3 Pro and even if the tube is still running in the background, I find this makes some of my IEMs become nearly unlistenable. It does not pair well with brighter gear.
I believe they were trying to make this mode to compete with more neutral-tuned gear, but when comparing it to the Lotoo PAW 6000, I just don’t think it stacks up. Cayin’s N3 Pro performs much better with the warmer and intimate sound than it does with the brighter tuning.
The Cayin N3 Pro is a really nice package at $479 and it comes with a great deal of options to satisfy a lot of different tuning options and features. It doesn’t do streaming apps but at least you can use your device to stream via BT directly to the player if you want to use Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, etc.
The tube portion is definitely not a gimmick and it seems to do what I’d expect a tube amp to do and that’s a nice feature. It’s also good that it does not have too much impact on extraneous noise such as hissing and humming. I like that all three major sound options on this player are unique to the others and that provides an option for all listening types and one should be able to find a nice pairing with most gear.
Finally, there’s really nothing in this price range that competes with this unit, if you’re looking at something that sounds pleasant and has nice build and feels great. Yes, it does not have Android like the iBasso DX160, but this unit runs smooth and does not have many quirks with it in its hardware or software.
Overall, this seems like a nice recommendation from me. It’s probably a small step behind players double to triple its price in sound quality, but competes and exceeds players at its own price range, and I find that very appealing.
Excellent! How did it power the Verite?
It powered it fine. The Verite isnt super hard to power, but I do think Verite sounds better on a dedicated desktop amplifier.
I’ve switched on stupid mode trying to “upgrade” from my current tube amp to something like the Cayin HA-300 or HA-6a. Headphones to be driven are the VC and the HD800. I’ve seen a couple of happy HA-300 owners here - but - has anybody had the chance to listen to both amps?
Thank you for this wonderful review. I agree with everything you said. I haven’t found a device say below 1200$ that surpasses the N3pro in terms of sound quality.
I had Fiio X7II, Hiby R3 & R6, Acoustic Research AR-M2 and now have A&k SP1000M as well as all current Cayin DAPs. The N3pro is amazing. They just need to improve the usability of the device. The software side is rather basic in my opinion. If this had Android with the Hiby Player app like N6II, it would be perfect.
Moving to the iDAC-6 mk2: I’d to use a usb C port, rather than the type A. I have a rather new HP Spectre 360. B to C cables are rather rare. Also, is there any benefit to using one of the other input types the Cayin has?
I just received an N3 pro and am in the process of determining how to operate all the functions. Can someone explain how to stream off the player? I see the Bluetooth and wifi functions, not sure how to stream Tidal and Deezer. Also, manual states can insert SD (TD?) card. Recommendations on a card to order off Amazon is appreciated
I don’t have a N3 myself, but if you google it, you can see that it can’t stream Tidal and Deezer etc. That is the core reason for why I didn’t buy it.
New N6ii version out and a R2R Dac card. From the Cayin FB post:
*Cayin announced a new digital audio player N6ii-Ti (R-2R Titanium Limited Edition) today. This is a Titanium facelift version of our N6ii Replicable Audio Motherboard DAP, developed to admire our breakthrough in R-2R implementation. *
*The N6ii-Ti will pre-install our latest 24Bit Discrete R-2R R01 Audio Motherboard. This is Cayin’s first attempt to R-2R technologies. The ladder DAC circuit decodes 24Bit/384KHz PCM and supports DSD256. It is composed of 96 pieces of custom make Ultra Precision Low TCR Thin Film Resistors. The resistors are carefully selected with ±0.0001 Precision and ±10 ppm/℃ temperature coefficient of resistance. *
*The N6ii-Ti is a smart DAP that offers high quality audio playback, versatile system platform and enhanced user experience for the advanced Personal Audio users and serious music lovers. It is Android 8.1 based with Google Play pre-installed, and users can install their favorite streaming applications such as Tidal, Qobuz , Spotify, … . *
The SRP of N6ii-Ti is US$1,899.99 and will be available by June 2021. The R01 Audio Motherboard is available in black aluminum version at US$619
Thanks for the Info @Gordon_Freeman. I love my Cayiin N6ii and it’s great to see new modules being brought out by Cayiin.
Same, I really like this Dap and I am even considering getting the R2R. But $600…
Would anyone of you be so Kind to explain what R2R is and what is to be expected Sound wise😉? Thank you😀
I think generally most people would equate R2R with a smoother, less ‘sharp edged’ sound, but I’ve heard it cover a whole spectrum of sound qualities from intensely resolving to goopy K9 doodoo depending on the DAC. So, there is no expectations in practice, I would say.
Thank you for explaining.
Yes same here @Gordon_Freeman. Though as you say $600 is a bit much for me now. I will have to wait until it becomes cheaper or Taron gives me one out of the kindness of his heart. Lol. Joking aside though I would be very interested what it brings to the table so to speak.