I don’t usually duplicate posts … but I’m going to make an exception here …
Cayin N8 + 64 Audio tia Fourté
This is a fairly extreme setup, particularly for portable use, not just due to the size/weight of the N8 but also because it’s pushing past $8,000 by the time you factor in a large, fast, storage card and suitable cables for the tia Fourté.
At this end of the market a good portion of what differentiates merely “excellent” from “left in resplendent awe” in a system, for me, is down to how many breath-taking or spine-tingling moments something gives me. If it can’t elicit a tear, cause my breath to catch, nor raise the hairs on the back of my neck, with my favorite, and most emotive, performers, song, albums and concerts, then at this level I have no use for it.
Now, to be sure, I have $500 desktop setups that can drive such emotional and physical responses too. Maybe not as often, nor necessarily in as pronounced a fashion, and perhaps not with as many pieces, but they can certainly do it. The Modi 3 -> Vali 2 -> HD6XX stack will do it pretty reliably with Jessye Norman’s portrayal of Carmen, or Elaine Paige’s “Florence” in “Nobody’s Side” (Chess). But, say, Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” (Musical) is another, more challenging, matter.
The N8/tia Fourté combination makes that entire production (War of the Worlds!) as other-worldly as the invaders Well’s original work portrays must have seemed when it was first published. It’s downright spooky in places, adrenaline-pumping and mournful in others, and entirely unsettling with the vocalized exultations of the Martian’s cries in “Dead London”.
As I’ve said elsewhere, this is desktop-class performance. Serious desktop gear at that.
As a pure-DAC the N8 comfortably beats out the RME ADI-2 DAC, which is one of my favorite AKM-based units and something I consider a “reference” class component. And driving IEMs the N8 is still ahead, even given the superlative IEM output on the RME unit.
When I was traveling at length, with lots of listening time, I would take my Sony WM1Z as a transport, have it feed the Chord Hugo 2, and drive the Zeus XR(A) or tia Fourté. That was the best portable audio I’d heard. The simpler, more compact, and as it happens less expensive, Cayin N8/tia Fourté pairing bests that.
In fact I like the raw output of the N8 better than the Hugo 2 unless it is being fed from the M-Scaler (which is definitely not portable).
I thought perhaps it would only be in tube mode that the N8 affected me so much. And it’s true that it seems to elicit more emotion, or at least does so more rapidly, in that mode (which may be expectation bias), but in balanced solid-state mode it isn’t much different there.
I like the N8 much more with the 64 Audio flagships than I do with any other IEM I’ve tried them with (including the functionally neutral Zeus XRA).
All in all, the N8/tia Fourté is just a fabulous pairing … and in tube-mode it is unfailingly seductive, and is one of the best examples of synergy I’ve come across in the high-end market.
As we’ve been planning to spend the next decade (or so) engaged in extensive travel, including months-to-years-long stints living in a variety of countries (not all of which are that technologically advanced), I have to say I’ve had some “anxiety” about what I was going to do music-wise.
Lots of the places/durations would realistically prohibit having my primary rig available, and even the much-more-compact ADI-2 DAC/Phonitor X and a couple of pairs of full-size cans would be pushing it.
While I can enjoy music with relatively modest setups (portably the A&K SR15 w/ BGVP DMG are a lovely, and capable, combination), I have become rather spoiled with things like the DAVE, Woo WA234 and ZMF and Focal cans.
I am no longer concerned …
The N8/tia Fourté combination is more than good enough for me not to spend more time thinking about it. It might not quite reach the technical peaks of my best gear, but it’s close enough that, when the music is playing, I don’t really care.