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Mackie

Review: Cayin HA-1A headamp

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The Cayin HA-1A has been introduced to this forum a few months ago but those who wish to commit in a future purchase may wish to read the following personal impressions gathered in the stock condition and after tube rolling. In no way do they serve as benchmarks and as such, the following findings are solely personal and subjective.

 

** Construction and Design **

 

Out of the box, the amp impresses with the front fascia and overall construction. The cover comes in either black or silver (mine) and the 4 feet are machined from metal compound with rubber balls at the center. I reckon the latter helps to isolate and pare mechnical feedback to the amp. There's also a peek-a-boo hole with convex glass which allows a full view of the heart of the system ie, Chinese made 12AX7, 12AU7 and a pair of Russian EL84 tubes. At the back, 2 pairs of speakers binding posts, a pair of input and output RCA plugs, impedance switching knob and IEC power socket are found. Speakers of high sensitivity (>90db) can be driven by the integrated amp direct from the speakers binding posts and provision of a set of pre-amp outputs allow the unit to function as a pre-amp too.

 

** And now, the sound.........**

 

As a former user of MF X-cansV1 + Mullard CV2492 tube roll, the stock Cayin amp struck me as having deeper soundstaging and taller height but narrower width. Also superior relative to my former X-cans are separation and imaging. On its own, the Cayin has good bass punch but lacks extension in the lower regions. Despite lacking in this aspect, mid-bass carries much definition and somewhat compensates for this weakness.

 

Treble is rather smooth, sweet and never too sibilant. If the latter rears its ugly head, it's usually inherent in the recording. There's no hint of brightness in the overall sound and in fact, I found the Cayin a tad dark when partnered with my system. There's a weakness and in fact two in the mids-highs region and these are airiness and transparency. Mids have quite a full body but warmth is left wanting.

 

**Scores and Targets**

 

Let's do a roundup on the positive aspects: Soundstaging depth and height, Separation and layering; Attack and tempo; Resolution and details.

 

Areas that need improvement are: Bass depth; Soundstaging width; Airiness; Transparency and Warmth.

 

**Tube rolls begin**

 

To cut the long story short, the sound changes more via a change in input tubes ie. 12AX7 and 12AU7 than the power output EL84 tubes. Hence, the final curtain is drawn with a change of the Chinese-made input tubes to Mullard CV4003 and CV4004; the latter being the most expensive in this process and contributes most to the resultant sound. The Russian EL84 output tubes are changed to GEs.

 

With the new tubes in place, all the aforementioned weakness are addressed. Airiness and transparency improved by leaps and bounds with better clarity and extension of the treble. Sound is no longer dark nor bright and carries just the right balance in my setup. Bass also deepens as previously absent details at the low bass region emerges and thence discernible. At first, there seems to be a slight reduction in bass punch but extensive listening suggests the hump in mid-upper bass is addressed for greater linearity. The final musical spectrum left in the wake is warmth and with the change to Mullard CV4004, one may experience too much of this goodness in their systems. A switch between Tara Labs RSC Ref gen 2 (fuller mid range) and Kimber Kable Silver Streak (leaner mids but more transparent) interconnects confirm this notion.

 

Hence, is the Cayin perfect sounding now? A definite no to this question but I can live with the amp at the current state without any displeasure much longer than its stock configuration. In this venture, the tube rolls cost me a total of S$185 and less than 30% of the Cayin's price. However, improvement yielded is of a bigger scale IMHO and definitely worth the expenditure.

 

** Latest tube rolling results **:

Herewith is my findings of Ei Yugoslavia, JJ El84s over the GEs. JJ offers more lush to vocals and a wee bit brighter over Ei. However, this does not suggests JJ is bright sounding as Ei leans a bit to the dark side and overall, I find JJ more cheerful sounding whilest Ei is more neutral in the mids with no apparent emphasis.

 

On music primarily with vocals, the JJ is more appealing because of the lush. However, looking at the entire musical spectrum, the Ei wins hands down. It has better transparency, layering and deeper bass extension than JJ. Both Ei and JJ have similar soundstaging, imaging and treble extension but the latter has a wee bit more mid-upper bass emphasis, thus, resulting in a warmer and lush sound.

 

One area I've noted with the Ei is it makes the Cayin sounds closer to a RKV akin to deep bass extension and very rounded bottom. Layering is also uncanningly similar. Needless to say, the JJ is what one might termed it as "tubey" while Ei offers a more balanced spread across the aural spectrum with a very slight tilt towards a laidback nature and in my preferred context, a clear winner over JJ and GE.

 

Although these are power tubes, the difference is pretty clear to me. JJ will partner well with Beyer DT880 which is a tad dark to offer a cheerful and enjoyable sound, especially in the mids. Ei + DT880 gives one a taste of how an Electrocompaniet EMC1 + Audio Valve RKV MK II combo sounds, ie. neutral across the band and more accomodative to all kinds of music, which is a boon to longer-term listening and appeal.

 

Both JJ and Ei cost S$36/matched pair and offers great value for money considering the improvement (subjective) yielded.

 

Ancillaries/accessories used in test:

- MF A3CD cd player

- Beyer DT880 headphones

- MAS Power Master power cord, Belden 83803 power cord, Kimber Kable Silver Streaks, Tara Labs RSC Ref Gen 2, Black Diamond Racing cones type 4, Soundcare Superspikes 2 and SID (Sound Improvement Disc).

 

Click for picture gallery

post-2-1102399165.jpg

Edited by Mackie

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nice review from one of our resident reviewer! wink.gif

the pictures are nice too!

2nd that!

 

 

Got me dooling.... where can I get this amp, and at what price?

 

Thanks

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Well done, Clarence. Avery nice, detailed review.

 

I've been busy with work lately and didn't have time to write out my review of the Cayin. Guess what? I've not touched my headphones for 2 weeks. I'm starved!

 

Iksey:

 

Getting it is troublesome cause it's only available overseas, to be more exact, China. IIRC, there's no online order available, strictly brick 'n' mortar.

 

BTW, Spark Audio (parent company of Cayin) has very good customer service. I'd tried to get the torodial transformer shield for tomcat of head-fi and eventually, Spark decided to ship it to Germany by Fedex for free.

 

Perhaps you may want to try if Spark is willing to ship over to Singapore. Free shipment however is very unlikely.

Edited by Northern Oak

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Great review on the Cayin, may be one on the RKV soon?

 

party.gif

Yes, I reckon this will be undertaken but only after I've attained the balance which I'm working on. No major quibs, just a little and cheap adjustment to maximize the partnership of EMC1 + RKV + Tara Labs RSC Air 3. Of course, pictures will be included in this forthcoming review.

Edited by Mackie

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Thanks for the compliments folks. Sad to say, this amp is not available locally albeit I was told Cayin is represented by an agent based in Paya Lebar. They don't bring in this particular product and continue as such till there's good demand for it. As it is, one can buy this amp in Taiwan/HK/China. Price varies between S$600-640 in different regions.

Edited by Mackie

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Mack: What sort of tube dampers are those?

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Naz, cheap rubber rings. The EL84s run pretty hot and an extra layer of teflon is used underneath each rubber damper. Thanks to headphonecrazy for this tip.

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Great review Mackie! laugh.gif

 

Does it have the typical "tubey" sound? As compared to the x-cans, which I'm told don't exactly very "tubey" but carry a sound more typical of a solid-state amp.

 

Erm ... sorry to ask ... what exactly is the "tubey" sound? blush.gif what to look out for? Don't exactly know blush.gif

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Actually the "tubey" signature is not a virtue but weakness owing to excessive mid-range colouration. This is my take, so tube experts out there, please don't flame me.

 

I reckon if tube gears can sound like SS without the harshness/cold and conversely, SS gears that has the lovely mids inherent in tubes but yet retain extensions on both ends are IMHO, superb!

 

Too much mid range colouration can sound overly warm and slows down PRaT.

Edited by Mackie

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Naz, cheap rubber rings. The EL84s run pretty hot and an extra layer of teflon is used underneath each rubber damper. Thanks to headphonecrazy for this tip.

So it's not for damping just merely to control the excessive heat. I recall Oak had a slight problem with microphonics on the Amperex & GE tubes I sold him. Didn't have the same problem on my MG Head.

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No Naz, those are tube dampers. The extra layers of teflon around the 84s are to avoid the rubber rings from burning out. Oak's rings were charred without this protection.

 

Btw, Oak told me the Amperex no longer suffers from microphonics after burn-in process. However, one of the GE is microphonic and produces hum. This is solved by tiliting it to a certain angle in the Cayin.

Edited by Mackie

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Actually the "tubey" signature is not a virtue but weakness owing to excessive mid-range colouration. This is my take, so tube experts out there, please don't flame me.

 

I reckon if tube gears can sound like SS without the harshness/cold and conversely, SS gears that has the lovely mids inherent in tubes but yet retain extensions on both ends are IMHO, superb!

 

Too much mid range colouration can sound overly warm and slows down PRaT.

THanks Mackie for the explanation. laugh.gif

 

I'll have to try to remember that the next time I have a chance to sample a tube

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Tube rolling continues..................I've just gotten matched pairs of Ei Yugoslavia EL84 and JJ EL84 power tubes costing S$32/set. I shall post my findings on their performance over the residing GE tubes later.

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