Cayin CS-100A tube integrated amplifier Review
It seems that the level after which the inscription on the label “Made in China” has already ceased to have any emotional impact on a person. Further, we could tell that even bitten apples – the idols of millions – are also made in China.
But today is a slightly different case: this amplifier is not only made in China, but also comes from the Middle Kingdom. “Designed and made in China” – surely someday these words on the label will stop embarrassing anyone. But let’s go directly to the hero of today’s review – this is the Cayin CS-100A amplifier based on EL34 tubes.
Cayin brand products have been popular for a long time, although by modern standards it is still quite young – it was founded in 1993. But we know at what pace scientific and technological progress in a country that has become a haven for the production and assembly of the vast majority of modern technology in all directions. So in this case, most likely, a year can be counted as two. Especially considering the fact that Cayin is a brand of a subsidiary of the state aerospace corporation, created specifically for the development of Hi-fi and High-end in its home market.
There were many different things in Cayin story: amplifiers, DACs, power supplies. We are sure that you are aware of what the Cayin N6 and its successor Cayin N6-2 are. These portable Hi-Res players were very popular in their day – and still are.
Now the brand is doing well: they have their own full cycle factory. There they wind up the transformers, and the amplifiers are manually assembled.
First of all, you will be greeted by a cage almost the entire width of the amplifier, which simply protects a huge number of lamps from the outside world. Or the world from lamps.
The lamps at the Cayin CS-100A are a whole microdistrict. Both large and small and medium. Honestly, you can get confused. So keep a list: one 6SN7; two 12AU7EH; two more 12BH7EHs and, finally, in the output stage – eight EL34 pentodes!
In keeping with the best tube traditions, the same amplifier can be purchased with other tubes. Or buy lamps separately and replace them – instead of EL34, the installation of KT88 is provided. If you do decide to do this experiment, do not forget to flip the toggle switch on the back panel to the appropriate position.
Behind the lamp block, the cage is guarded by three transformer housings. The central one is the feeding torus, and on the sides it is propped up by two outlet W-shaped ones. Their casings, like the entire upper panel under the lamps, are decorated in a color rare for Hi-Fi, which is very close to blue and generously filled with a metallic effect: this depth was achieved by painting in as many as six layers. And the inscriptions on the top panels of the transformers warn that quality is high here, and nothing else.
Cayin offers two color options for the CS-100A: silver and black. But in fact, only the color of the front panel changes. In our subjective opinion, the device looks more harmonious with the black panel.
The front panel of the CS-100A is made of anodized aluminum, which is literally replete with all kinds of toggle switches and indicators. The Alps potentiometer and the input switch are clear and familiar to everyone. Miniature diodes to indicate the selected input and operating mode are quite a good solution. But here are four toggle switches for work with bias current adjustment are simply amazing.
Between the lamps there is a window with an arrow indicator for monitoring the level of currents, and on the sides of the case there are four more recessed screws with which you can pass the time by adjusting the currents.
Perhaps for fans of tube technology, this procedure is akin to tuning a tonearm with vinyl drivers. If so, then all questions are removed. Of course, the Cayin CS-100A could also automatically adjust the currents for the lamps. But that’s a completely different story.
Cayin engineers got to the point with commutation. Although there is not a lot of commutation here, and there are no balanced inputs, there are three line inputs, one input for feeding the signal directly to the amplifier and output to the subwoofer.
The Pre-In input feeds the signal directly to the power amplifier – this feature is very useful for integration into a home theater, and for connecting to various sources that already have their own pre-amplifier.
And the Cayin CS-100A also has terminals for connecting speakers with an impedance of 4 Ohms and 8 Ohms. If you look into the circuitry, then you can find everything that Chinese engineers are capable of with access to the most modern technologies.
For starters – there is a so-called “soft start”, which will protect your lamps from the negative effects of high currents at the time of start. A very useful feature that will delay the adjustment of the bias currents for as long as possible.
Cayin claims that the entire circuit is implemented at a high level: almost everywhere – wall-mounted installation with silver conductors and only high-quality capacitors and resistors made of carbon film.
The Cayin CS-100A only hesitated a little after turning it on, but very quickly came into working order and, with a click of the relay, let it know that it was ready to go. Remote control is made very high quality. Everywhere there is metal, even on the buttons, and milled ends. Such a remote control is really pleasant to hold in your hands.
The remote control has the most necessary minimum of functions: change the volume, select another input, and you can also select the operating mode of the amplifier. Triode or ultra-linear – each of these modes has its own personal indicator on the front panel, and its own personal sound. It’s like having two different DACs in the system with the ability to change the sound using the remote.
We can completely forget about the reason why we lit the lamps. Therefore, at the first stages of listening, the triode and ultralinear modes were switched until their genre was identified.
But before this huge secret is revealed, we need to briefly say about the other components of our system: the universal source Arcam CDS50 and Monitor Audio Gold 100 shelf speakers.
In the case of the Cayin CS-100A on EL34 lamps, genres had to be chosen for each of its modes of operation. In triode mode, the lamps really shine with a softer and more calm light, on the verge of the shadows of which you can find myriads of shades. This sound is very similar to what you would expect from tube technology.
However, this sound cannot be called “dark” or “muddy”. Rather, it is the neutral-light side, which has retained the pleasant openwork of additional harmonics.
However, we arrived at this light with a good rhythm: a neutral light delivery does not mean that there is no bass at all. Even with the not-so-bass Monitor Audio Gold 100, this tube integrated circuit successfully deflected your doubts about its lower register capabilities. In short – jazz, any vocals, sometimes classics, blues and everything related to these styles is very interesting to listen to in the triode mode.
“Let It Take You” by Goldfrapp is not the most audiophile recording and the genre is not clear at all. But the soloist’s vocals this time found some kind of loophole to new sensations. Fabulous!
“Ultra-linear mode” sounds very pretentious! But in fact, there is no pathos there, but only hard rock. The Cayin CS-100A, loaded with EL34 tubes, began breaking stereotypes with Metallica’s “All Nightmare Long”. Fans of such music will confirm that this is not the easiest track, which is too tough for even many transistor amplifiers.
Here the ultra-linear mode showed what punch, resolution and speed are! Of course, there is no point in hoping that the Cayin CS-100A will make a transistor integrated circuit in these parameters, sharpened for the rate of fire. But as a complement and opposite to the emotional triode mode – hardly anyone expected it to be so cool.
For a different speakers, we wanted to change the repertoire: with such floor speakers, Bruce Wayne himself ordered to listen to the soundtracks from the movie “Joker”. And here something went wrong – there was not enough gloom and, as a result, the atmosphere of what was happening. It is clear that a neutral-light source in a company with the same amplifier and acoustics is unlikely to plunge you into darkness.
Finally, let there be something special. For example, “Strong” from the London Grammar. And wow, something went wrong again. While searching for the Joker’s darkness and atmosphere, we did not see at all that the “UL” indicator on the front panel of the Cayin CS-100A was on – the ultra-linear mode was turned on. Immediately pressing a button on the remote control corrected the situation: triode mode – “ON”, and the listener literally melted into the chair.
The Cayin CS-100A has a special skill that it seems to have inherited from the indigenous Chinese engineers: in a sophisticated and delicate sound with the press of a button, you can wake up the storm. And it’s just as easy to calm it down. You begin to feel like a master of the elements, who is subject to any changes – according to your mood.
Based on the results of testing the Cayin CS-100A, one can forgive both the classic uncomplicated design and the slightly strange color of the top panel. Because the sound that CS-100A gives the listener is a direct path to the pleasure of music.
|Model||CS-100A||Power Output||50W+50W (Triode)80W+80W (Ultra-linear)|
|Frequency Response||8Hz～75kHz (-3dB)||THD||1%(1kHz)|
|Power Supply||Custom made Torroidal||Power Consumption||<480w|
|S/N Ratio||92dB||Input Sensitivity||450mV (Integrated)|
|Dimension||420 × 200 × 394 mm(W×D×H)||Net Weight||30kg|
|Output Impedance||4Ω，8Ω||Input Impedance||100KΩ|
|Tube||1 x 6SN7, 2 x 12BH7EH, 2 x 12AU7EH, 8 x KT88/EL34||Input Terminals||Line 1, Line 2, Line 3, Pre-In|