In this review we take a close look at the Cayin HA-3A. It’s Cayin Audio’s new tube headphone desktop amplifier selling for $1,599 USD.
Disclaimer: Cayin is not related to Headfonia in any way. The HA-3A was sent to me to be featured on Headfonia.com and doesn’t need to be returned as far as I know.
Cayin was founded in 1993 (2023 is 30th anniversary of Cayin) and it is a premium Chinese high end audio brand. 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. Cayin has developed over 500 products to date, and they have received over 70 awards.
“We deliver music diligently, and we are prepared to go a long way for that.”
Lately Cayin has strongly been focusing on the portable market as well with successful units such as the N5ii, the N3, the N6II, the C9, the RU6 and the reference N8(II). If you’re still interested in finding out more about the Chinese company, then you can do so here.
The last Cayin unit we reviewed was the RU6 DAC/AMP dongle, which features the super popular R2R DAC technology. Today however, we’re looking at something completely different, the Cayin HA-3A desktop tube amplifier.
Let’s get started
Early August, we received the HA-3A as the very first non-Chinese publication. It’s one of the first ten production units that were built from the initial batch. It’s been officially announced by Cayin on August 15.
The HA-3A fills the gap in Cayin’s product line-up between the HA-1AMK2 ($799) and the almighty HA-6A ($2,499 USD).
The Cayin HA-3A shares the same design as HA-6A and HA-300MK2. The HA-3A incurred a lot of amplification technologies from its bigger brothers, it is a very compact design with a footprint roughly the size of an A4 sheet. More on that later!
The Cayin HA-3A’s price is estimated to be $1,599 USD.
HA-3A – Main Features
The Cayin HA-3A’s dedicated web page can be found here, it’s only been online since last week.
The Cayin Ha-3A is a transformer coupled, fully vacuum tube driven headphone amplifier with a small footprint. Cayin states it’s about the size of an A4 paper, but it’s a little bigger than that. Oh, and it’s very heavy amp for such a little device.
The HA-3A uses two 6V6 output tubes, two 12AU7/ECC82 driver tubes and one single 22DE4 rectifier tube. The HA-3A has two analogue inputs: balanced XLR and single ended RCA. The outputs are: 4-Pin XLR balanced, 4.4mm balanced, and 6.35 single-ended. The amplifier offers 3 impedance settings (Low, Mid, High) and it is available in black (and later a silver) version. Our version, as you can see in the pictures, is the black one.
One of Cayin’s distinctive R&D objectives with the HA-3A is to deliver the best quality within certain limitations. The HA-3A is not aiming at “driving” the most difficult headphones on the market such as the Susvara, HE-6(SE) and the HEDDphone. As a result, the HA-3A is relatively low-powered when compared to its siblings such as the HA1AMK2, the HA-6A, and the HA-300MK2. However – according to Cayin – the audio performance will be closer to its bigger brothers when working within this design limitation.
It’s important to explain that the Cayin HA-3A desktop tube amplifier is not a fully balanced one from input to output. The HA-3A’s 4.4mm and XLR-4 phone outputs are balanced driven, however. The Cayin HA-3A shares the same signal processing concept as the HA-6A and the HA-300MK2. The tube amplification circuit is single-ended, but the headphone outputs are balanced driven through a pair of output transformers. For those who are unfamiliar with the function of the output transformers and how they convert the single-ended output from power output tubes (the 6V6 in this case case) to balanced phone outputs, please check out this discussion here to learn more about it.
HA-3A Tube Galore
The Cayin HA-3A uses 5 tubes in total: 2 for the input, 2 for the output and 1 as rectifier.
For the input tubes, Cayin has opted for the famous and often used 12AU7/ECC82 tube types. As output tube, Cayin opted for a 6V6 tube, often seen in guitar amplifiers. The rectifier tube is a 22DE4 tube which is less common.
The 12AU7 tube was introduced back in 1947 and it is a dual triode tube, it’s also known in Europe under its ECC82 name and there are many tube equivalents for this tube type. Think: 95-126-01 – CC82E – 13D8 – B749 – 6067 – CV4003 – CV491- M8136. You can learn more about 12AU7 tubes here. You can get new production 12AU7 tubes for very little money (under $20), and they’re quite good. The (much) better NOS tubes are more expensive, and prices can go up quite high. I have many amplifiers that use this tube type and as such I have built up a nice collection of different plate types ECC82 tubes from Brimar, Mazda, RCA, WestingHouse and many more.
The 6V6 is a beam-power tetrode vacuum tube. The first of this family of tubes to be introduced was the 6V6G by Ken-Rad Tube & Lamp Corporation in late 1936. Equivalents for 6V6 are: VT-107 – CV510 – 6V6G – 6V6GT – 6V6_DDR – CV511 – GT6V6 – OSW3106 and VT-107A. You can learn more about 6V6 tubes here and here. 6V6 tubes aren’t very expensive and you can get them either newly built (under $25 USD) or NOS ($35 and up). This is my first 6V6 amplifier, so I didn’t have any fancy tubes for it yet. That’s why I ordered a nice set of NOS Mullard CV511 and JAN CNU 6C6GT.
Last but not least is the 22DE4 rectifier tube. It’s a Half-Wave Rectifier Diode Tube of the glass-octal type and it is identical to 6DE4 and 17DE4 but has different heaterratings. These tubes are not the easiest to find but they are quite cheap, even for NOS tubes (under $10 USD). You can find out more about this tube type here. I didn’t get any replacements for the rectifier tube.
The stock tubes that come with Batch 1 of the Cayin HA-3A are JJ tubes for both the input and driver tubes. The stock 22DE4 was a NOS RCA tube. The reason why I mention Batch 1, is because it’s not sure yet that the second production batch will come with JJ tubes, as there could be production delays forcing Cayin to look elsewhere. We will see.
In the part on sound later in this article, we will cover the sonic differences between the stock/new production JJ tubes and the NOS tubes I ordered for this amplifier.
The review continues on the second page. Click here or use the jumps below.