In this article we check out all of the different Cayin Audio Motherboards for the N6ii Portable Player which we have received, including the brand new R01.
Disclaimer: The Cayin N6ii Audio Motherboards were sent to us in exchange for our honest opinion. They don’t need to be returned to Cayin.
Cayin is a premium Chinese high end audio brand (since 1993) and their focus has mostly been on dedicated HiFi equipment, covering every chain in the music reproduction path, from CD players to speakers, but the essence is no doubt their tube amplifiers. Their equipment ranges from around US$100 to just below US$10,000 per item, covering the needs of different requirements and budgets. Lately Cayin has strongly been focusing on the portable market as well with successful units such as the N5ii, the N3, the N6II and the reference N8.
The Cayin N6ii DAP is their portable player which works with interchangeable Audio Motherboards. You can find the full review of the Cayin N6ii DAP right here: https://www.headfonia.com/cayin-n6ii-review/
The Cayin N6ii with its price tag of around $1,199 clearly is positioned in the higher end segment. Cayin is one of the first companies to launch a DAP in which you can change DAC and AMP modules. Sure we’ve seen interchangeable AMP cards before with Fiio, Hifiman and iBasso to name a few, but changing both the AMP and DAC? That’s special!
The Audio Motherboards aren’t cheap though, and they go for between $299 and $619 USD a piece.
So far Cayin has released six different modules. For all the specs check out the dedicated web pages linked below:
The N6ii is called the Master Quality Digital Audio Player and the original version came with Audio Motherboard A01. It was Cayin’s first Audio Motherboard and is sports the AK 4497EQx1 DAC chip. This is the same DAC chip as Astell&Kern’s SP1000 is using, as well as Cayin’s own N8 flagship. The A1 has a 3.5mm Line-Out, a 3.5mm single ended output and a balanced 4.4mm balanced output. The A01 can be bought for $299 USD. You can find out all about the A1 here: https://en.cayin.cn/products_info?itemid=119
The second Audio Motherboard version is the T01 and it consists of a DAC and analogue amplification circuit. It features Dual PCM1792A DAC chips that can hardware decode DSD up to DSD256 and PCM up to 24Bit/192kHz. It has a digitally controlled analogue volume and features a fully balanced design with parallel headphone amplification, using 4.4mm and 3.5mm outputs as well as a 3.5mm Line-Out. The T01 goes for $339 USD. You can find out all about this module here : https://en.cayin.cn/products_info?itemid=122
The third Audio Motherboard with discrete components architecture is the E01 and it features a single ESS ES9038PRO DAC Chipset. The E01 only has a 3.5mm output but it has a dual amp operation mode: Pure Class A and Class AB, instantly switchable via the menu. The E01 sets you back $419 USD. You can find out all about the E01 right here: https://en.cayin.cn/products_info?itemid=125
The fourth Audio Motherboard is the E02 and it has 4.4mm balanced headphone output which also is a Line-Out. The E02 sports the dual ES9038EQ mobile DAC chips and a class AB discrete amplifier with a higher output. You can find the E02’s dedicated page here: https://en.cayin.cn/products_info?itemid=130. The E02 sells for $419 USD.
The fifth Motherboard released was the A02, but we didn’t get this for review. You can find out all about it here, but basically it sports dual AK4497EQ chips working in mono mode. The board has a Line Out, a Pre Out for both the 3.5MM and 4.4mm outputs. It provides 2 distinctive sets of LPFs – DSD LPF & PCM LPF. Users can switch through the pull-down menu. the A02 board sells for $419 USD.
The sixth (and last?) motherboard – also the one we’re looking at in this update – is the R01 and it’s an exciting one as it features a 24bit discrete R-2R resistive ladder network built from 96 individual, precisely matched resistors. The dedicated product page can be found here and it contains all the information you want to know about Cayin’s R2R implementation. The R01 sports a Digital Audio Bridge and Oversampling Filter, a high quality low noise high current LDO and it supports up to 24/384 in PCM or DSD256 decoding. It’s Cayin’s high performing board for the N6ii and that very much shows in how it sounds.
The card over at MusicTeck is selling for $619 USD, making it the most expensive board for the N6ii. With the balanced output provides up to 430mW and the single-ended 3.5mm port up to 240mW@ 32 ohms. This board was actually launched together with the titanium version of the N6ii, which is selling for around $1.899 USD. Of this limited version only 600 units will be produced.
A lot of DAPS after a year or 2 are no longer relevant because of the quickly changing tech and its capabilities, but Cayin was smart and with the use of the mother boards it has kept the player relevant for a long time. As a matter of fact, it might be only now that the Cayin N6ii is showing its best form. Keep reading.
If you haven’t collected the N6ii motherboards yet, you might have a difficult time sourcing all of them and the second hand market probably is your best shot. The brand new R01 of course is still available. For now that is.
Audio Motherboard Sound
You get a musically tuned N6ii with the perfect blend of neutrality and warmth. The N6II doesn’t sound overly warm and neither does it sound neutral but it delivers the best of both worlds. You get a good level of detail with great clarity delivered in a clean and smoother way.
The N6ii & A01 combo sounds full bodied from bottom to top and you get a nice impact and sense of fulness at each frequency. The sound stage is good but it isn’t the widest and deepest, and because of the closer presentation in regards to spaciousness and air, the delivery is more intimate. An inside your head presentation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the N6ii and A01 prove exactly that: it’s fun, musical and engaging, yet it’s not the technically strongest. Dynamics, separation and speed are good but the layering with this module is not as pronounced, except in balanced mode where this is more apparent.
The bass section has good body and a nice kick. Bass goes down low when needed and shows a good amount of detail but the fine detail and layering aren’t the most impressive with this motherboard, unless you switch to the balanced output. The mids are also full bodied and flow perfectly from the bass. The mids are smooth, natural and very musical. The spaciousness and airiness is the best in the mids and that combined with the excellent vocals make the midrange the highlight of this Motherboard.
The treble is energetic but not the furthest extended or most detailed/layered. It however provides more than enough detail and energy to create the sparkling, exciting contrast with the player’s low end.
The remaining Audio Motherboards are reviewed on the next pages, click here or use the jumps below