A Dove Among Kestrels – A Review of the Cayin YB04

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The Cayin YB04 is a paragon of clarity and neutrality. To my ears, it comes across remarkably flat, with no frequency range stepping out to draw attention. It walks a fine line, somehow avoiding the perils of tipping into brightness and stridency. Resolution and soundstage are the priorities of the tuning, and indeed, you’ll not easily find its superior.

Treble is always the danger when you talk about neutral voicing. More often than not, it comes off harsh, glaring, or piercing. Not so with the YB04. While I would prefer a little more warmth and sweetness to the highs, Cayin succeeds at least in producing a relatively smooth upper range. There is a tiny amount of sterility or coldness to it, but not enough to ruin the experience. In fact, the tremendous air and speciousness of the tuning is an awe-inspiring achievement and something everyone should hear.

Vocals are exquisitely detailed, with supreme articulation. They stand even with the instruments, possessing perfect size and presence. A hint of warmth permeates them, but for the most part they sound naked and uncolored. As with the treble, you perceive more of that smoothness here. Capable though the YB04 is, it does not strike with excess aggression. There’s almost a laid-back quality, but I wouldn’t go that far. Instead, I’ll simply say it is neutrality done right.

Instruments have the perfect amount of edge to them. Drums have bite and electric guitars crunch deliciously. But it’s well-moderated. Things don’t become irritating or painful. Again, you see Cayin walking that line with outstanding articulation and technicality, yet only mild aggression. Acoustic instruments may not have the full warmth I’d like, but there’s enough to keep them from feeling anemic or artificial. Indeed, they sound wonderfully vivid.

My eternal complaint with “neutral” is that there’s never enough bass for my tastes. I don’t seek out basshead levels, but I do like a full low-end to give warmth and harmonics to voices and instruments. That always sounds the most natural and “real” to me. The YB04 doesn’t quite get there. It certainly has bass, though. Tight and detailed notes attack with excellent speed, providing a textured and resolving sub region. There’s just not a lot of fun to be had for degenerates like myself. For civilized, proper folk, however, the YB04 could be the most perfectly tuned IEM in the world. I’ll leave that determination up to you, of course.

What I can say is the soundstage is among the VERY best I’ve ever heard. It is so f**king wide you will think something must be wrong. But nothing is wrong. The YB04 is just awesome. Soundstage height is pretty good, too, so things don’t seem weirdly stretch-out out. Quite the contrary: this unnaturally big soundstage actually feels quite natural due to its ratios. Resolution, instrument separation, and imaging are top-tier. The YB04 wants for nothing in these areas. It is a technical performer, first and foremost, and a great choice to reveal the truth of a recording.

The Oriveti OH500 ($499, Review HERE) more closely matches my personal taste in tuning. While they are still clear and detailed, there is a more satisfying mix of low-end warmth. That said, there is no denying the YB04 surpasses it in most technical areas. It has extra clarity, greater detail retrieval, and utterly dwarfs the Oriveti in soundstage. On the other hand, the OH500 sounds more musical, with sweeter highs, fuller lows, and richer vocals. Which is better really depends on your preference and priorities. There is no wrong choice here. They’re both remarkable in their own way.

iBasso’s IT04 ($499, Review HERE) is much like the YB04 in signature and presentation. Except it fails to walk that fine line as skillfully as Cayin. The IT04 falls too much into the cold category. It is noticeably more sterile sounding, and without any real benefit. The YB04 is just as detailed and possessed of a greater soundstage. The Cayin feels bigger and airier and smoother, while the iBasso comes off thinner, drier, and less musical. These two IEMs are both aiming for neutral and resolving, but I gotta say, Cayin does it better in this case. It’s a treacherous path, neutrality, and the IT04 simply needs more bass and smoothness to traverse it properly.

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.

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