Cayin RU-6 vs Lotoo Paw S1 vs Shanling UA5 dongle impressions

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by Cellist88, Feb 8, 2022.

  1. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Friend

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    Cayin RU-6 vs Lotoo Paw S1 dongle impressions

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    Please post impressions from the loaner tour here thank you

    Impressions from @Cellist88 :bow:

    Thank you SBAF for letting me hear these dongles. Its great to actually be able to hear them before purchasing. Here are my thoughts after a brief listen to both dongles. I don't think any prolonged listening is going to change my opinion, so I'll happily send these out to the next person on the loaner list.

    All listening was done through either PC usb to Zen Pro, or Iphone 13 Pro to Zen Pro Balanced. I made sure to keep the dongles on until they were warm to the touch.

    Cayin RU6- The dongle has a lovely tone and R2R timbre and full bodied sound. Even if its full-bodied, it sounds very clear, and it is a very agreeable lovely sound. Really think anyone with harsh earphones, or tone whores will love it. The full bodied ness gives a 3d element to each sound, with a long sense of decay, ala Sony Zx2 in a certain way. Technical prowess is good, because it does pick up a lot of background sounds and queues. This is where I started to not like the dongle. Everything seems to congeal and sound of the same. For example a small plucking of a string while separated and staged properly, with have the same round sound and intensity as lets say a brass instrument. This lack of small tones vs bigger tones, make it fairly dynamically limited, especially microdynamics. Macrodynamics are affected too because everything seems round, and full. Also because of the roundness, transients are blunted as well. Some can see this as a welcome change to certain earphones with peaky upper-mids, but I found it lost some life(don't mistake this for clarity, because clarity is plenty good). Hotel California(Live recording), the guitar picks and each pluck is represented a bit blunted, with again having problems with specificity in size for when lets say the drums hits. The Roundness also makes songs like Daft Punk's Get Lucky sound sleepy and slow, and bloated(I guess What's HIFI would call this PRaT, but wtvr).

    This was all on Low Gain and OS setting.

    Go into NOS and you lose that nice 3d roundness and it becomes flat, making it sound more grey, and the blackground def suffers, though with the 2d ness, you might be able to pick up some more textural information ala Yggdrasil A2. I suspect NOS isn't for me.

    Plugging the RU6, to the PC did sound better, though I found it to be a tradeoff, because I feel the blackground was better with the Iphone(My thinkpad must be noiser, but hey that's how I plan on using it if I get one).

    Going to the S1, it sounded like a typical delta sigma dac. I had to put the dongle in high gain. Nothing sounded particularly wrong, but after coming from the Cayin, it sounded a bit robotic and sterile. Something is slightly off, a bit plastically and flat. Dunno if its a Cirrius Logic chip, or AKM, but definitely some sort of flat sound with slight harshness, but tamed in a weird way, leading to sterility. I may sound critical, but it isn't bad or good. A very inoffensive sound.

    At the end of the day, I will just stick with the Apple dongle. It didn't have the magnificent tone of the Cayin, but transients were zippy and the sound had more pop, the instrument size differentiation is better, and while it may not be as 3d, it actually is better at picking up small background queues in the back(This may be due to a more 2d sound). I feel the Apple Dongle doesn't have as much clarity but definitely sounds more natural(Think of like epoxy wood, vs seeing a real piece of wood...isnt as slick and clean but is more natural). I think it has a better blackground as well.

    I feel IEMs, its a fight for low noise, and while R2R has its timbre benefits, I don't feel dongling on device power bodes well. I'll be on the lookout for the next Cayin battery-dongle product in their hopefully next iteration. Who knows if @iFi audio will produce a new product that doesn't require the ieMatch for mega powered products for iem portable use.
     
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  2. dematted

    dematted Friend

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    Okay, I've had an interesting journey with this little dac (the Cayin r2r). My potential use case for this was somewhat unconventional: I've been traveling a lot due to a new teaching job, and so I've wanted something to drive my HD 650's on the go. I don't "do" IEMs, for whatever reason...none of them seem to fit into my ears. Anyways, I plugged this into my HD650 and was pretty disappointed at first. It sounded pretty digital and I could tell it wasn't driving them anywhere close to their full potential. Annoying, but not particularly surprising, as this is a $250 dongle. Out of sheer curiosity, I switched it onto NOS mode, and I had something of a hallelujah moment - no, this wasn't a particularly detailed, technical, or even well-rounded sound, but something about the size of the instrument images and the palpability of the sound appealed to me. But I could tell the amp section of this was holding it back, and I don't really think this was acceptable for my full-size headphones even for portable use. Perhaps I need to look back into IEMs...or an ESX900

    Anyways, I decided to bide my time and wait until my Elekit-8900 came in. Day of arrival, I hooked it up to it with a pair of cheap amazon basic cables. Wow! Now, I'm not going to tell you that this dac sounds particularly refined or sophisticated, but next to my Soekris 2541, it's actually a more enjoyable listen with the elekit, which tends to have a very lean, "hi-fi" sound that doesn't really do the Soekris 2541 any favors (the pairing sounds pretty sterile and over-processed even on my 650's). Images feel more visceral and fleshed out on the r2r, and though the microdynamics and staging lag a good deal behind, the actual rendering of instrument textures sounds a bit more "realistic" because of this. When I turn this into OS mode, it loses all of these advantages, and on a purely technical level (Detail, dynamics, staging, clarity, etc), it definitely doesn't punch very far above your standard $250 dac. I think the Modius would blow it out of the water in most respects, actually, especially since sound-stage and imaging is pretty much non-existent on this thing in r2r mode! I guess that's to be expected with a NOS dac, though?

    Anyways, there's something very appealing about the NOS sound to me, and this little thing gave me the opportunity to realize that. I now have an Abbas 2.3se coming thanks to this little guy. Cheers, and thanks for the loaner and opportunity to hear something a bit different :)
     
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    Last edited: Feb 14, 2022
  3. Baten

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    Well that's something I didn't expect to read on SBAF :D :D
    Good review mate, thanks.
     
  4. schnesim

    schnesim Rando

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    After I couldn't get a Cayin RU6 to work with my phone reliably I got a Fiio Q3 instead and when it comes to high sensitivity IEMs I'm a very happy camper now.
    The Q3 really isn't suited for full size headphones in terms of power but for IEMs, my lord there is so much room in the volume dial and thanks to the implementation even at whisper quiet volumes no channel imbalance whatsoever.

    Unfortunately there is still some hiss, but so was with the RU6 and my phone's headphone socket. I can live with that.
     
  5. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    Great impressions. I also tried my HD650 with my cayin (4.4 balanced cable) and was unimpressed. Felt strained, thin, and icky. Especially at my usual listening levels.

    I've been thinking however that it would be lovely with them with more power and intended to experiment with an amp, like you did, as the dac section is very lovely. Thanks for experimenting for us!
     
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  6. limesoft

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    RU6 is a very good dongle dac, might even be the nicest sounding dongle thingy I've tried. It has a pleasant mids with a very delicate decay, like a gentle wave pulsing it conveys the audio. It has meaty sub bass, no midbass bloat and is mostly reference tuned which I like. It could use a little more refinement in the treble, but it's still quite good for the money. A big plus for me is that it lacks typical ringing and plasticky timbre of many d/s dacs (you'll hear it for sure with side by side testing)

    Honestly for the money there's not much else I can recommend that can beat this dongle, I would even pick it over most full blown desktop dacs (similar pricing).

    For IEMs you don't really need much more. Between this and a Qudelix 5k (for advanced EQ tinkering and clean d/s sound when you wanna change things up) a lot of ground is covered.
     
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  7. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    This is where this silly little dongle got really interesting for me. Running NOS, 4.4mm bal out to XLR in on Freya, playing through speakers. It's astonishingly good for $250. Just a bit less technicalities compared briefly with LIM Yggdrasil, but a good bit less image specificity/depth. Seems to be par for the course with NOS R2R; image depth just disappears. Compared to A2, i'd still prefer the A2 for the soundstage fireworks. Still a very "right" sound in the midrange, tho, and silly good for the money.
     
  8. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    I kind of cheated and added my personal Helm Bolt in for this review.

    Sources: Linux Mint machine, Samsung S10+, Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max.

    8FE40478-2411-42D0-A6EF-F4D7487B2581.jpeg

    Note: my Samsung S10+ always showed 24/192 sample rate on the RU6 and the S1 no matter what file I was playing from Qobuz or other local network files. The iPhone displayed the sample rate correctly every time. My Linux Mint machine would max out at 24/48, no matter what file I was playing. So all was tested at 16/44.1.

    Helm Bolt

    ESS Sabre 9281A
    Lists output level as : “1.1 Vrms at <150 Ohms, 2 Vrms at <150 Ohms"

    This is supposed to have that fancy THX impedance matching thing. Some three oscillators or something. So make sure when you plug in the USB-C nothing is attached until the light comes on, and then plug your headphones in.

    First off, this one is more or less the same function as any dongle. Volume is handled by your device. The other two have separate volume controls on the actual units. The Bolt WILL also let you use a standard earphone + mic, which the others will not.

    These ESS chips are so weird. They have kind of a smoothness to them, and also some aggression. You know it is DS, you know it is oversampled, but yet it is a clean output. They don’t have the glare that CS chips have in the high-mids, and the grain AKM has in the low-mids. This has some clean thick lows, and overall clean output, but more narrow soundstage than the other two.

    These just kind of sounds upscaled, but they don't feel like they color the sound. Like watching a DVD in 4K. I do like its kind authoritative sound as it has some slam and quickness. I think quickness is the key here as everything just seems fast reacting, but after hearing RU6, I don’t want to go back.

    I would say if it is missing anywhere it is more or less on the separation between instruments and low-end textures. It has a slightly strained sound and up front - not so relaxed. But it performs and has all the stuff there with plenty of power. Everything sounds just thrown at you against a wall. It is kind of aggressive, but just a flat presentation. Plenty of gain for such a small item.

    Also, this got the warmest (temperature) of all three devices. It is also the smallest.


    Cayin RU6

    Discrete R2R w/NOS Mode
    [email protected]Ω - Low gain
    [email protected]Ω - High gain

    Note: Unbalanced at high gain with full volume was a full 2V output and balanced had a full 4V output. I could not test the Helm Bolt as it has a startup check with the connection. So this can easily be used as a USB DAC in a pinch.

    Yes, it seems gimmicky. This thing is discrete multibit? At the size of a small pocket knife or 9V battery? USB-C powered? Balanced output? And then NOS? Has to be a gimmick, right?

    Sound - lets get to this first

    Now this has it all. Smoothness, quickness, depth, soundstage. Low end is thick, slightly rolled off on top. No real glare to speak of or grain of any kind. Very clean, very smooth. Not quite on the level of Sokeris details…these are just 0.1 resistors, but pretty impressive sound overall.

    Going from OS to NOS is not night and day. It does not sound like a completely different DAC. Many of the same qualities are kept because - same DAC design, same amplification and what not. However, this is the quickest you can switch I have seen, and from a really cheap device. Differences are as expected - space and transients better overall. It is not like it adds anything, rather than taking away a smudgy UV filter off a camera. Everything just sounds more “in focus” with better separation and spatial cues. (the more “in focus” is NOS in case that was not clear, lol)

    Sidenote: there was one song I listened to, (I can't do it again)…where I switched from OS to NOS and it was like there was a comb filter on the guitar that suddenly was bypassed. Anyone who has EQ’d an instrument and then just bypassed it knows what I am talking about. It was like I heard the artifacts of the filter for a second.

    In the end, it reminds me of the vintage multibit chips. Very TDA1543 or PCM56 like. with clean and smooth output, low end is full, not boomy...it just might not be the most detailed presentation, but very pleasant and killer straight from a portable device to a computer. No case of digitus wrapped up in a warm blanket with clean attacks and soundstage. It really is kind of an effortless sound that has no right sounding this effortless in such a small package from a phone or tablet. Not super slammy, just very laid back, nice, and dare I say it, musical.

    Now Cayin's marketing says that oversampling "enhances the resolution". Take that for what it is. Yes, OS does increase the glare a bit in the high end, sound a bit more glassy, but it still was not near D/S levels. Soundstage does kind of go away as things did not sound as wide or have good depth or space between instruments. It never says how much oversampling (x4, x8), but given the sound, it seems it is likely more like 8x.

    The Finicky Details

    Yeah, it is bigger than a Helm Bolt. Yes, it takes more power to drive. No, it is not true balanced output. Although I did not notice much of a degradation in sound with balanced output.

    It is no secret that the RU6 tech and engineering is derived from Cayin’s R01module for their high end DAPs, like the N6ii, that also has 0.01% resistors while the RU6 has 0.1% resistors that are also 25ppm vs 10ppm on the R01 attachment. (explained simply, PPM is a measurement of drift in resistance given temperature changes…lower is better).

    There is also a stepped volume control with resistors and relays instead of volume chip. You can hear it as you hold down the volume control and after 10 steps, there is a small silence gap as it jumps to the next ladder. Very minor, but wanted to mention that volume is not 100% smooth up and down. Certainly a compromise for size.

    It is a very complex device for such a small package. Someone suggested I try swapping the op amps, and this is one board I would not fool with.

    Going back to the Helm Bolt gives me some more details that were missing, but not the same sense of space and realism. And of course loss of that pure relaxing sound. A trade-off for sure.


    Lotoo Paw S1

    AKM 74377
    [email protected]Ω - Low gain
    [email protected]Ω - High gain

    Note: in high gain with volume all the way up, this tested at 1.5V RMS output. So it will work as a USB DAC in a pinch, but not at full 2V output.

    It does not seem to have the same amount of gain as the other two. Had to set it to high gain to get nearly anything out of it with the harder to drive Soranik ION 2S’s. High gain is about the same as low gain on the RU6.

    This is very AKM. Meaning kind of bloated not well defined bass, more distant and out of focus soft mids without a whole bunch of separation, but lots of soundstage. It sounds fairly passable, even with the grainyness. The mids sound a bit recessed, but there is still a good amount of clean details on the top end without being too glary. The bass is just touch punchy in the low-mids if I had to make any complaints. Not that it is dark sounding, the highs come through more, but the low end is just not as smooth or textured.

    This is definitely smoother and less fatiguing than the Helm Bolt. However, the punchy bass may get to some. It was a better AKM implementation than my older Cayin N3, but they were fairly close. I mostly did not get along with the recessed mids and lifted mid-bass and was mostly surprised at the little amount of gain.


    The Conclusion

    Overall, for me, I can see room for both the Helm and the RU6. The Helm Bolt should be a stock replacement for any dongle. Incredible value at the price and just works and sounds great. And with most devices without a headphone jack, this is a no-brainer. Because even the headphone jack out of my Samsung S10+ is nothing special. If you want more performance soundwise, then the RU6 is a good choice. It just sounds better and smoother, but I also can’t use it with a mic, it has its own volume control with small buttons, it’s bigger, and it lacks some details in the music. Some minor convenience tradeoffs for some mutilbit and NOS goodness.

    I also did find the connection with the RU6 and the S1 more convenient with an iPhone as all that was needed is a small 4" Lightning to USB-C male cable. The Helm Bolt works great right into an Android phone with its hardwired USB-C cable, but for the iPhone requires not one, but two other things: Lightning to OTG and USB-B to USB-C adapter (which does come with the Helm Bolt). And of course us iPhone peeps will have to buy separately that Lightning to USB-C cable, but Cayin sells one that works fine.
     
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  9. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    I didn't care that much for dongles at all since I have other good enough portable stuff in my bedroom. However, seeing a R2R product for $250 before extras was interesting to my eyes. Others saying that the Cayin RU6 was super good for the price...so for me enough of my peeps heard it to give it a positive impression of the dongle. And thus I signed up for this loaner.

    To get it out of the way...the Lotto Paw S1 dongle sounded boring as fuck to my ears. I was super not interested in listening to any of my tracks on the dongle after a few minutes. Like the others say: It isn't bad but it has the stereotypical SD sound. I prefer R2R like sounds (Schiit Multibit or older R2R stuff). @Tchoupitoulas how about sell this dongle or get something else? ;)

    The Cayin RU6 (which I really wished it was called RU69, thx @Gazny) really caught me off guard on how really super duper solid it is for its $250 base price. I plug them into my Apple products, and boom it works just great. Automatically detected sample rate changes when using mConnect on iPhone/iPad and Roon with my Mac. The volume control is more than enough for IEMs. It's a dongle that is a little more thicker than others, but Cayin fitting more than one PCB board to handle R2R in a small device is bonkers. I would recommend getting the case for it since I believe it can get marks on it easy. Small OLED screen on the device to tell you volume with three buttons (two vol and one for mode/settings). Not something hard to use unless you are a dork.

    I didn't brother with Balanced Out since Cayin confirmed that this is a single ended device, and the Bal Out has an extra opamp for extra power. SE for me due to laziness. One word of warning, RU6 does pick up some EMI noise depending on how you are using the device (I got something similar on the Paw S1). It isn't really a big deal, but if you are planning to use it a lot with you phone then you might want to watch where you are putting the RU6 near the phone.

    Has NOS and OS modes...I prefer NOS but sometimes I do OS since it adds a little more sauce on some tracks. If demoing the unit just try out both modes and figure out what you like. Unit has High/Low Gain, which I use High Gain for DD IEMs and Low Gain for BA IEMs. Except for the minor EMI noise at times, RU6 is quiet with my 2020 Andros and the Gaudio Nair. Both IEMs sounds excellent on the RU6. The Nair is my most sensitive IEM I have, and I didn't detect any noise except for the random EMI noise that is minor.

    RU6 has the classic R2R sound, which for me is warmer/darker that sounds cloudy/fluffy at times. Even at times it can make musical instruments sound similar. Also the classic R2R will never win on details, but for me it wins on musically. If you prefer details, this isn't the dongle for you. But if you want to use your phone when traveling outside your apartment and you want something more casual/musical, then the RU6 IMO is the dongle for that. Almost anything I threw at at music wise sounded great to my ears. While at moments it can sound fluffy, it isn't slow sounding or anything like that. highs aren't the most detailed of the bunch, but mids comes out super nicely with a minor sub bass bump. Treble isn't plastic sounding thank goodness.

    The R2R sound really helps with more neutral sounding IEMs like the Nair, which the added sub bass bump helps and tilts the reference sounding of the Nair to a more darker and funner direction without losing its character. The JVCs FDX1 is a great match for the R2R if you hate the upper mids of the JVCs, and with plenty of power it will drive those DDs really damn well. I thought the R2R sound will make the 2020 Andros a little too dark....and that wasn't the case with my experience at all. 2020 Andros sounds great with the RU6 without making the Andros sound even darker than it should be. I really think depending on the BA IEM it will be a good fit with the RU6. I think something like the regular Moondrop Blessing 2 and the Moondrop Kato will be a perfect fit with the RU6.

    If you really need power, you will need to use a computer or an Android phone where you don't mind the dongle sucking up all of its battery. Downside with dongles that they will eat up your battery, and the RU6 really needs power in order for it to work. End of the day it is a R2R dongle. It was eating up a little more of the battery on my iPhone, but since the iPad has a much better battery it lasted longer there. On the plus side it doesn't matter if I was using my Mac or my portable devices, the RU6 just sounded good.

    I really don't need a dongle, but I'm heavily considering picking up the RU6 before Cayin stop making them in these crazy times. I might just use that when I am on the go and not bring out my Shanling M3X DAP. M3X is still a great budget DAP, but I prefer the R2R sound from the RU6.

    For $250 base price for a R2R dongle, damn its good. Not hard to get something improved over it but I think for IEM users who like this sound...this might be the only dongle you need.

    Thanks @yotacowboy for this loaner!
     
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    Last edited: Mar 11, 2022
  10. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    This was why I wanted to put this out on a loaner. The first thing that struck me about it was how natural the treble was. It's as not-plasticky, or woody, or etched, or ESS Sabre fucked as I've heard in a DAC for something under $500. Add in that it's a dongle (and yes, I even plugged it into my decrepit iPhone and ran it into my speaker rig) and it had me seriously questioning what one could get away with the RU6 as a do-most-of-it-all DAC. Looking around at my current stable of DAC thingies: BF2? i, eh, umm, maybe (likely?) not necessary. Shanling M6 Pro 21? I mean, it does a certain zing and better bass extension and definition than RU6, but there's still that plastic sound to the treble (even if much more subdued than the majority of other ESS crap I've spent time with). Yes, I know I settled with the M6 pro as a way to haul around a couple GB of music and untether from streaming services, all while having the least ESS-but-not-AKM-sleepy sound I can manage, and still play nicely with CFA IEMs, but there was little synergy using the Shanling as a source in my main speaker rig (likely something to do with impedance issues, but I never spent much time investigating...). Anyhow, i'm rambling at this point.
     
  11. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    This is rare...I like this loaner so much that I ordered my own RU6 today.
     
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  12. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    First off, I want to say thank you to @yotacowboy and @Tchoupitoulas. You guys, and many others, are what make SBAF one of the best audio forums around.

    The testing line up:
    dongles4.jpg

    The Apple dongle is the baseline. For IEMs, in most respect, its good enough. It gets the job done without screwing anything up. It's natural sounding; it's a little hint on the warm side; it's a little soft and hazy in the bass. But all in all its competent, super small and dirt cheap.

    The Hidizs S8 is the Drop THX 789 of the bunch. Not that it is as good as the Drop amp with IEMs, but that it has a similar signature/sound with IEMs. I like the 789 with all IEMs but it is particularly good with armature based or armature hybrid IEMs; so it is with the Hidizs S8 as well. It does its best to get out of the way and not influence the balanced armature sound/timbre in a direction you don't want to go. Maybe its a cumulative effect of armature distortion patterns combined with distortion patters of some dac/amps that can bring out the weirdness, IDK. I just know the Drop 789 and Hidizs S8 both measure really well and tend to let armatures sound their best to me.

    Dynamic drivers are another story. While they also sound great on these devices, they can also synergize really well with other stuff, so I was very interested in hearing the RU6 with my single dynamic driver collection.

    But before I go there, a few words about the Lotoo S1. In general, I've liked Lotoo daps in the past. They tend to have a distinct voicing (not necessarily a house sound) in couple I've tried, and I've found them to be pretty good/pleasing but dependent upon synergy. My thoughts about that haven't changed after the S1. It sounds midrange-y, comparatively, with the other 3 dongles. I could certainly understand this appealing with specific IEMs. It also was the most grainy of the dongles in treble. In isolation, there is nothing wrong with the treble but when switching between them all with the same IEM, it did seem the most grainy sounding. Also, I did pick up a little bit of hiss with the S1 and Campfire IEMs.

    The RU6 was a really mixed bag of results. Some amazing, some not so good to me. When it comes to armature based iems, I do not like NOS mode at all. It made Andromeda and Gaudio Nair sound bloated and gray down low; overall two dimensional and flat. OS mode was much better with faster transients and more defined bass notes. However it couldn't match how good those two sound with the Hidizs S8, which sounds faster, cleaner, crisper and more dynamic. When I tried the Moondrop Kato and Aune Jasper with the RU6 in NOS mode, musical magic happened. There was just this extra musical richness and body to the notes that isn't there on all the other dongles. Strangely this same magic did not happen with the Moondrop Illumination; what I heard was more akin to how the armature based sounded. Whatever it is, I would totally buy one of these things for the Kato and Jasper and any other dynamic driver IEM it may synergize with.

    Other brief notes:
    The S1 and RU6 are on the big side for dongles, which poses a little bit of an issue on the go. I know Cayin makes a case with a magnet on it to attach to iPhone MagSafe cases. I've also seen magsafe like pouches attached to phones to keep the dongle attached to the back of the phone. Something like this would be a must for me to make this truly pocketable.

    I prefer how the S1 and RU6 handle volume over the Hidizs S8. The S8 volume buttons work independently from my iPhone volume buttons. What this means is that I can be in for a huge, unpleasant surprise when the iPhone remembers the last volume combination from a much less sensitive IEM from a week ago. Plug in Andromeda and hit play without thinking...
    The S1 and RU6 only control volume by their hardware buttons. iPhone volume buttons do nothing; so I would just make a habit of turning them down before starting with a new IEM and was never surprised (except for high gain out of the box; thanks @YMO :drunk:)
     
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  13. Tchoupitoulas

    Tchoupitoulas Friend

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    Loaner Tour Impressions

    I’d like to thank @yotacowboy for kindly lending us his RU6, I very much appreciate his generosity. And thanks to @rhythmdevils for taking the time to organize these loaner tours.

    There might be a bit too much detail below - for a quicker read and a more immediate sense of my impressions, you can skip the bullet-pointed comparisons. I realize they are overly complicated but I figured they might be worth including if someone should happen to be looking for a dongle to go with certain specific IEMs.


    Gear
    • MacBook Air with Qobuz for the Lotoo Paw S1 and Cayin RU6
      • with my Sony ZX2 DAP as a point of comparison
        • I’m not sure this DAP makes for a fair comparison:
          • for one thing, the ZX2 is well-known for its great synergy with my IEMs, the Andromeda 2020 and original Solaris
          • for another, the ZX2 also makes for a bit of an apples and oranges comparison as it was, in its day, a high-end DAP
    • I also tried the Focal Clear out of all three devices and won’t comment further than the following because they were all bad
      • the Clear came across as strained, wimpy, thin, lacking bass, and bright
      • the ZX2 was surprisingly worse than the S1, which in turn was worse than the RU6, which itself did better in NOS mode than OS
      • again, none of them sounded good at all

    Caveats
    • volume matching was impossible
    • I can’t be entirely sure that the Qobuz recordings were exactly the same as those on my ZX2

    Lotoo Paw S1
    I’ve owned this for 15 months now. I got it for transportable use with my laptop and to discover new music on Qobuz. The S1 sounds appreciably worse, and less resolving, out of an iPad and, in turn, an iPhone. Generally speaking, it’s a nice enough little device in that it does little wrong. I’m reluctant to add much to the verdict by one Friend here who wrote that “it doesn’t suck” (or something to that effect).

    With my sensitive IEMs, the S1 is fairly quiet, such hiss as there is doesn’t bother me with music playing. The S1 also seems to have an output impedance that doesn’t alter significantly the signature of my Andro 2020 when compared with my Sony ZX2; the same can’t be said for the Solaris, which sounds warmer with the S1.

    What I like about S1 with the Andro 2020 and the Solaris is that it doesn’t reduce the spaciousness of their soundstages. The tuning is fairly balanced, with no oddities. Imaging and layering and separation are all decent, for the price. But as @YMO rightly points out, it’s boring.

    I have a soft spot for the silly names of the EQ presets. I don’t use them, though. I like to think the unpaid intern was having a laugh that day.


    Comparison between the S1 and ZX2 with the Andromeda 2020
    • the S1 is bassier, in terms of depth, rumble, and overall emphasis
      • the S1, as a result, has more slam (surprisingly)
    • the S1 sounds warmer
    • the ZX2 has better treble smoothness and extension
    • the ZX2 has better staging, especially when it comes to depth
      • the S1 sounds more up-front, the aural equivalent to standing too close to a TV
    • resolution is similar between them, as are macrodynamics
    • the ZX2 makes for a more engaging, pleasant listening experience

    Comparison between S1 and ZX2 with the Solaris
    • The S1 makes the Solaris warmer, and not in a good way
    • the bass is increased significantly, too much so for some kinds of music
      • the bass is also looser, less well defined, and quite muddy
      • the ZX2 has better sub-bass depth
    • the S1’s overall sound becomes stuffier as the soundstage shrinks noticeably
    • and with more of a rolled-off treble, the sound is slightly congested
      • the treble roll-off also reduces the incisiveness and bite of stringed instruments
    • unfortunately, there’s some slight glare on some tracks with the S1
    • in its favor, the S1 offers richer, more forward mids
    • the ZX2 offers better imaging
    • the ZX2 provides stronger macrodynamics
    • both handle complex musical passages about as well as each other
    • again, the S1 is dull and flat and unengaging

    S1 Conclusion
    Before hearing the RU6, the S1 struck me as a decent enough dongle, one that did little wrong. That the S1 wasn’t too far behind the ZX2 made it quite appealing. Compared to the RU6, though, the S1 is clearly a step behind.


    Cayin RU6
    The difference between the S1 and the RU6 is immediately noticeable, and in pretty much every way, the RU6 is better. It has better resolution, and it imparts a nice, pleasing warmth to the sound. I much prefer OS to NOS modes. NOS strikes me as being more run of the mill, not as appreciably better than the S1 as the OS mode is.


    Comparison between OS and NOS modes with Andro 2020 and Solaris
    • OS is bassier although its sub-bass may not be as strong as with NOS
    • OS can be overly bassy with some music; it skews the balance too far for orchestral music
    • OS is warmer, richer, and weightier, as though instruments have more body
    • It’s also wetter or more syrupy
    • OS adds a bit of emphasis somewhere in the upper mids or lower treble
    • guitars have more bite with OS, as do string instruments generally
    • NOS has a lighter sound
    • NOS is more responsive to big macrodynamic swings
    • Remember those old “loudness” buttons on Walkmans? OS is like hitting a richness button instead

    Comparison of the RU6, the ZX2, and the S1 with the Andromeda 2020

    Interestingly, the RU6’s NOS and OS modes straddle the sound of the ZX2. The NOS has less bass emphasis and sounds lighter, thinner and less richly textured than the ZX2 whereas OS sounds warmer, bassier, tonally richer and weightier than the Sony. The OS is much better but it does fundamentally alter the character of the Andromeda 2020.

    More specifically, the NOS RU6:
    • has a lighter tonal weight than the ZX2
    • has less bass depth than the ZX2
      • there’s more sub-bass with the ZX2 but the bass is tighter with the NOS RU6
      • overall, the bass of the NOS RU6 makes it seem a bit thinner or leaner and brighter than the ZX2, although I’m not sure it is in fact brighter
    • macrodynamics are about the same, perhaps with a bit more strength to the ZX2
    • the ZX2 has more bass slam, again slightly
    • the ZX2 seems more v-shaped
    • the ZX2 sounds more organic, i.e. rounded and more richly textured

    On OS mode, by contrast:
    • the RU6 is bassier and warmer
      • the bass is tighter and has better texture
    • there’s more tonal weight than the ZX2 now
    • the OS RU6’s electric guitars sound heftier, bigger, boomier, and more forward
    • the OS RU6 sounds less airy and less spacious; it comes across as a bit stuffy
      • it also presents less air and space around instruments, which makes the overall sound come across as more filled-in and warmer, as though it’s more intimate
    • the Andro 2020 sounds more ponderous from the OS RU6
    • this is a positive thing insofar as the Andro now becomes tonally richer
    • it also has a more immediate and "up front" staging
      • the Andro is less ethereal
      • I quite like this as a different flavor but it turns the Andro into something quite different from its typical sound
    • the ZX2, by contrast, is lighter, better balanced in its tuning, and not as up front and immediate in its staging
    • both are similarly resolving

    The RU6 in both modes is considerably better than the S1:
    • on both settings it’s warmer than the S1
    • both settings on the RU6 are bassier (both in terms of overall bass emphasis and depth)
    • the RU6’s staging is again closer, more immediate and “up front” - the music sounds as though it’s coming from right in front of me
    • it has much better tonality
    • it has slightly better layering and separation
    • and the RU6’s resolution is appreciably better

    The OS setting dials up these qualities and makes for a more substantial improvement over the S1:
    • it sounds wetter, gloopier, warmer, thicker
    • it’s much more richly textured and engaging
    • its bass is much stronger and rumblier
    • the OS RU6 has better separation and clarity
    • its sound is a bit more convincing and instruments are more distinct
    • on the other hand, the S1 maintains the Andromeda 2020’s lighter, more ethereal character
    • it also has better treble emphasis
    • the S1 also has better staging depth, with the music coming from further in front of me
    • switching between the two devices is like toggling between the different settings for a movie on a tv screen: the RU6 is the full screen version, the S1 the widescreen

    Comparison of the ZX2, S1, and RU6 with the Solaris
    Here the ZX2 emerges as the best, overall, of the three devices, although the RU6 still has some outstanding qualities:
    • the ZX2 has by far the best separation and imaging of the three devices
    • it also has the best staging when it comes to depth as well as width and height
    • it offers the deepest and strongest sub-bass
    • it has the fastest and tightest bass
    • the treble is smoothest and best defined out of the ZX2, and it had some lovely sparkle that was missing from the others
    • where the ZX2 fell behind is in the mids, which are richer and much more forward from the RU6
    • the S1 is far and away the worst of the three devices
      • its bass is too muddy and loose and boomy
        • this uncontrolled bass emphasis makes the sound warmer, to the point where music plods along sluggishly
      • vocals are too recessed
      • the S1’s treble is too rolled off
      • there’s not enough bite to stringed instruments, especially electric guitars
      • the holographic staging of the Solaris is lost; it’s too intimate
      • overall, it’s too flat and dull and unengaging

    The RU6 in NOS mode splits the difference between the S1 and the ZX2 with the Solaris:
    • it’s bassier than the ZX2, for instance, but the RU6’s bass is tighter and better textured than the S1
    • likewise, the RU6 doesn’t present the treble as well as the ZX2 but it’s superior to the S1
    • I’m not sure the RU6 surpasses the ZX2 at anything else

    In OS mode, however, the RU6 fares better with the Solaris than the ZX2 does for a few thngs:
    • the OS RU6 is richer, weightier tone, more body
    • it offers more bass slam
    • it has a bit more macrodynamic strength and decent impact
    • I hear longer decay to notes, which makes for a more pleasant sound in some cases
      • this quality combines nicely with the richer, more lush mids
    • still, the weightier tone can make for more of a plodding sound, one that’s not as exciting as the ZX2, which sounds nimbler, more responsive and faster
    • guitar doesn’t have the bite of the ZX2
    • the OS RU6 is much less spacious and holographic in its staging

    RU6 Conclusion

    NOS mode isn’t particularly noteworthy although it’s well worth experimenting with - in some situations it works quite nicely. OS mode is far better, adding lovely warmth, texture, and pleasing tonal richness to music. These qualities make for an pleasant, engaging listening experience. Even so, the RU6 in OS mode has some limitations, the main one being its tendency to shrink or otherwise mess with the headstage of my IEMs. It doesn’t project the sound in front of me at all; all too often, it sounded as though I were sitting in the front row of a movie theatre rather a few rows back, where I’d prefer to be.


    Overall Conclusions
    The ZX2 surpasses the qualities of the RU6 and the S1. Perhaps this is unsurprisingly given the ZX2’s famed synergy with the Andromeda 2020 and Solaris. It’s also an unfair comparison, given that the ZX2 was once a much higher-end device, if one were to judge solely from its old MSRP. Even so, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed with the RU6. Again, I do realize that expecting it to sound better than the ZX2 was probably unrealistic. My estimation of the ZX2 has grown considerably from these comparisons.

    With that being said, the RU6 is impressive for what it does in such a compact form factor and at its price point. And it does several things very well, most notably its tonal qualities, the richness of its presentation of mids, nice timbre for acoustic instruments, decent bass response, and its good resolution. It makes for quite the engaging, enjoyable listening experience. I wonder if the RU6 is more impressive with dynamic driver IEMs.

    The poor little Paw S1 emerges from the comparison quite poorly. I was aware of its limitations compared to the ZX2 but chalked them up to the nature of dongles. I now appreciate with the RU6 how much more delight can be had with a nice dongle.
     
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  14. dubharmonic

    dubharmonic Friend

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    RU6

    As a Holo Audio NOS guy, I could see myself with one of these if I were into IEMs. It’s hard to say if the DAC is a bit flat, or it’s the inherent weaknesses of powering the entire system over a USB cable into full-size headphones. For a dongle, it’s remarkable. The amp struggled with the HE1000se, which has 96dB sensitivity at 35 ohms. Running the HD800S in balanced mode was better than expected. Grados were a great fit.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Lootoo

    Constrained, compressed, it reminds me of a THX 789. Not for me. Who came up with these DSP names?

    [​IMG]
     
  15. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

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    The theme image for this impressions writeup:

    [​IMG]

    My interest in this loaner was the RU6. I didn't even listen to the other dongle.

    The question I was trying to answer: iFi Go BLU, or RU6, or both?

    With the RU6 NOS mode, there's some kind of tradeoff happening. I keep struggling with how exactly to define it. I'm clear on what the RU6 NOS mode is giving up: a sort of "micro-spaciousness"; a diffusing outward of the sound with some more information being added by the oversampling.

    But when OS mode pushes things outward, it seems like there's a loss of density. It's as if the same amount of "mass" is spread over a larger space, causing it to "thin out" or become less dense or become weaker somehow.

    Others have used the word "tonal density" or "something something timbre" to describe the NOS sound, and I think I get it now. It's like by having a somewhat "simplified" presentation of the music that is less "spread out", you gain a sort of solidity or "meatyness" or "saturation" to the sound with NOS mode.

    With speakers, this could be problematic. In that context I want every bit of soundstage depth there is to be had, and I don't know that I'd want to make the NOS tradeoff, at least the way the RU6 does it. (Quick note: I did try the RU6 as a DAC with my main speaker setup and as an AIO with a Wyrd and my HD650s. It's some single-digit percentage less good than the Modi Multibit with my speakers, and OK with the 650s but lacking the 650Magick that a better amp can unlock from them.)

    But with efficient headphones or IEMs? Screw soundstage; there's so little of it anyway!! Why not take the deal the RU6 offers and get what I find to be a very enjoyable benefit? Most of the times I'm listening to headphones I'm doing something else, so the not-crazy-dynamic, not-holographic-imaging, enough-detail-but-not-overflowing-with-microdetail presentation of the RU6 is super enjoyable. It's the White Stripes in a small, too-loud Detroit club instead of a stadium. It's Kelly Joe Phelps at the Bluebird Cafe instead of the Ryman. It's Lucinda Williams with her band of jaw-droppingly-good musicians at the Ryman instead of an outdoor stage at some blues festival.

    It's not that the RU6 has no soundstage or totally collapses things into one blob. I don't mean to say that at all. But soundstage and ultimate micro-detail vs. color does seem to be the chief tradeoff both with the RU6 and the TDA-based DAC I heard a while back. The upside is more "color" and "density" to the sound, which I really love.

    The synergy playing field is not a level one here. The strengths of the RU6 play really well with my Moondrop Katos, and less strongly with my modded Porta Pros. The Porta Pros are modded with Yaxi pads and the Parts Express headband, both of which serve to space the drivers out from my ears and move the sound away from the bassy default to a more balanced/slightly mid-centric, somewhat more ethereal sound (while greatly increasing comfort). On the whole these are good mods, but for some reason they dilute the RU6 SynergySauce. With the Katos the SynergySauce is uncut dealer grade; it makes me go "damn, I'll take seconds please!" (I'm actually thinking of a certain probably-racist Saturday Night Live fake commercial for deep-fried breakfast cereal.)

    What about vs. the iFi Go BLU?

    Go BLU wired vs. RU6 (which is always wired): Go BLU is nice and easy to use, but feels a tiny bit fussy vs. the RU6. You have to press the power button to turn the BLU on (oh, the humanity!) while the RU6 just turns on immediately as you plug it into the USB cable without any additional button-presses. By default the BLU wants to turn down the volume on the music and announce with its totally-pleasant robot voice every time it locks onto a paired Bluetooth device, and it takes an Oija-board move with two buttons to disable this. These are very small differences, really, but still.

    Go BLU wireless vs. RU6 wired: Wireless is NICE for bopping around the house doing chores, but the way I wear the BLU causes reception problems. If I'm making food or vacuuming, I'll usually have the BLU in my front jeans pocket or jacket pocket, and when I crouch down to pick something up or get food out of the fridge, my torso "smothers" the BLU and attenuates the reception enough to cause a dropout. This isn't a flaw with the BLU -- my Sony MUC neck-dongle has almost exactly the same reception quality except that it's never going to get its signal attenuated because the MUC is worn on the neck and isn't "smothered" by my body when I crouch down.

    Until I used the RU6 I didn't realize how frequently there are little dropouts or stutters here and there when using the BLU in wireless mode (LDAC and AAC codecs both suffer this). There's something nice about how this never happens with the RU6 (cause it can't -- it's wired).

    Now, TO BE FAIR, the BLU works great in wired dongle mode, except for the aforementioned fiddly stuff RE: turning it on, disabling the robot voice, etc. And both the BLU and the RU6 become a lot less "Free and easy, Lis!" with a large-ish phone riding shotgun beside them in my pocket. Ah, the travails of being a donglephile. Tiny, dongle-sized violins are playing for me.

    In OS mode, the BLU sounds better to me than the RU6. But I like the RU6 NOS sound better.

    Overall in the RU6 vs. BLU contest, the BLU probably wins on usability: nicer volume knob, has both wired and wireless capability, sounds better in OS mode than the RU6. But... there's still just something about that NOS sound. :) And if that matters and wireless isn't a must, then the RU6 wins.

    The RU6 gets warm during use. It draws some juice. But I never found that problematic. My listening sessions are not often more than an hour or two at a time, and the 5,050 mAh battery on my pseudo-DAP Android phone never went down by more than 10% during an hour or two-long listening session.

    So will I be selling the BLU and getting an RU6?

    I will be. I have already, in fact. With the Sony MUC I already have, I have something that works better for my wireless use case (again, it doesn't have better range than the BLU, it just sits in a better-for-reception location on my body). I'm looking forward to adding the unique color provided by the RU6 to my palette.
     
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  16. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    This is interesting to me, because I played with the RU6 in my speaker rig, too, before sending it out on the tour. I was comparing between Yggdrasil A2 and RU6 both running balanced in. And I get where you're coming from; the resolution above maybe ca. 6 or 8kHz with the Ru6 is a bit pulled back, and leads to a closed-in sound, but it didn't kill the deal for me, at least. The RU6 swung right along side Yggdrasil in the midbass and midrange, which to me was pretty jaw dropping (since, to me, this seems like the hardest couple octaves to get right). Timbral color and tonal evenness through the midrange was much, much more than I'd expect from a dongle. The RU6 is a solid anti-ESS sound. It's not perfect by any means, and it's a dongle, but it's not saddled with total garbage treble and mike tyson's punchout bass like about 98% of all the other ESS implementations i've heard.
     
  17. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

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    Same here. I kept thinking, "if I didn't have this Modi Multibit right here to compare, I'd never miss it (aside from missing having a dedicated speaker DAC)". In the second track on Trinity Session, there's this passage where Margo and one of her bandmates are both singing, almost doubling each other, and the MM resolves and distinguishes them a few percentage points better than the RU6. It's that sort of thing that led me to say what I did, but it's really fascinating that the RU6 holds its own against much more expensive gear.

    I ordered a RU-6, BTW. Thanks for putting this out on loaner!
     
  18. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

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    Addendum to my review:

    I ended up keeing this loaner for longer due to reasons, and listened to the Lootoo dongle. Agree with others' impressions: compressed, flat-sounding. I kept thinking to myself: "oh, this is what it sounds like if you could quantize not just rhythm, but also dynamics and tone."
     
  19. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    I didn't participate in the loaner but I did buy a RU-6 as a potential upgrade to my trusty Helm Bolt. Unfortunately I think it's quite terrible and I returned it immediately. First impressions were of a sweet honey-like coloration to the midrange and some parlour tricks like a wider-than-honest sound image with an emphasis on periphery panned sound sources. it seems to like bouncing sonic objects between the left and right channel, but none of my other sources do this and I found it distracting from the music.

    everything else was pretty much a negative. image arrangement was blurry and schizophrenic. the top octaves are very muted and have a blunted quality. the presence region is polite and smoothed over. the overall sound is dull and tends to homogenize recordings of different genres and styles into a warm accentuated soup. Transients are the biggest weakness and transient integrity seems to disappear into the nether with this DAC. electric guitars, snares, kick drums, etc. sound totally wrong and syrupy. I am exaggerating a bit, these qualities are not immediately obvious in a vacuum, and one could be fooled into thinking this is an ear-pleasing and comfortable sound, but some brief comparisons made it obvious the Cayin kills musical clarity at the expense of aural comfort. I don't like it. I guess this is the elevator music of dongles, or the dongle equivalent of ZMF headphones.

    I couldn't tell very much difference between the OS and NOS mode, except that NOS mode seemed to make the worst issues of poor transient integrity and low/high frequency definition worse. all my listening was done in high gain, USB from an aging Macbook or iPhone, using a variety of headphones (Koss, Sennheiser, Panasonic) from the 3.5mm jack. I prefer the Helm Bolt, apple dongle or headphone jack from my Macbook; despite being dimensionally flatter and less sweet they offer infinitely more honest representations of music, IMO and for my taste. I thought maybe it needed burn-in time but to be honest I have never had something show zero potential out of the box suddenly blossom into something great after break-in. plus I found this guys review where he had the same findings after two weeks, so I returned it: https://forum.hifiguides.com/t/cayin-ru6-r2r-usb-dongle/31077/26
     
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  20. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I wasn't on the loaner and haven't heard the Lootoo but since this is the defacto RU6 review thread and I've had one since launch I figured I'd post.

    I got the RU6 out of curiosity. I wanted to know what could be done with R2R tech in such a small package. Comments from one of Cayin's team on HF about compromising aspects of the device to maximize sound quality piqued my interests (I now think he's referring to the relay muting that happens with volume changes).

    When I first got it, I considered it warmed over with a mid bass hump and lack of extension at both ends. At first I went back and forth between OS and NOS and eventually settled on NOS as my preferred presentation. Something about OS just made everything feel overly sharpened and sterile. Not sure what kind of filter OS is using but I do not enjoy it.

    NOS on the other hand had this easygoing musicality to it that I found beguiling. I enjoyed it so much I was willing to look beyond what I saw as the dongle's limitations. And in some ways the warm tone and lack of high end extension suited my UM 3DTs, which have a treble peak that can be too much if the source is also bright or emphasized in that region.

    With burn in I noticed some changes. The extension opened up a bit on the ends, the tone became less warm (still warmer than neutral), and the presentation tightened up, with more detail and texture coming through. This was sounding very good with all the transducers I had at the time--UM 3DT, FDX1, ETA Gen G and ETA Mini. The ETAs are both 300 ohms but out of the balanced out of the RU6 they sounded surprisingly decent.

    For me the real a ha moment came when I got the 7Hz Timeless. The Timeless and the RU6 go together like bread and butter. They sound so good together that every time I use the combo, I wonder why I even need other gear. It's not the be all end all in terms of technicalities, but the tone, texture, and effortlessly musical presentation hits me just right. I also got some Yaxi Pads for my Porta Pros and they also have magnificent tone with the RU6, some of the best electric guitar tone I've heard frankly.

    I'm confused by the comments about wider than honest soundstage because to me the soundstage is pretty intimate, not flat like some dongles but certainly not excessively or dishonestly large. Things like pinpoint image or perfect layering aren't main my main concern in a dongle. My desktop components are going to wipe the floor with any dongle in those areas.

    I eventually became so impressed with the Cayin/Timeless/PortaPro combo that I sold my ZX300 because I stopped using it entirely. At its best, the RU6 lets me stop thinking about gear and just enjoy music, and that's a wonderful thing.
     
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