Cayin N8 - DAP - Official Thread

Nice point. I hardly ever see anything about RF rejection these days, in which we have many small radio sources. Back years ago there were fewer, but generally more powerful sources of RFI.

It’s been a while since I had a noisy dimmer switch in the house, or leaks from MSW spark plug wire from a car in the garage.

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Not-Quite 2-Week Update:

I am just back from a not-quite-a-week long trip to Nashville, on which the N8. tagged along.

It is extremely rare for me to take such a large/heavy device with me unless I’m traveling alone and for longer periods (when I’ll typically have a laptop and carry the Chord Hugo 2), but I have been enjoying the N8 enough that I didn’t want to leave it at home.

During that time, I’ve a had a few additional thoughts on the thing …

No more “tube noise”

At no point in the last five days or so did I encounter another instance of the “tube noise” or “radio interference” that I mentioned above. I am fairly sure it is a moot issue outside of very RF-hostily environments.

Tube Microphonics

Sitting on the tray-table on my outbound flight, in the midst of some theme-park level turbulence, over the mid-west, and at a point where I thought both I, and my wife, might wind up wearing my Scotch, the N8 exhibited no discernible tube-ringing/microphonics.

I imagine being in a pocket, or in a car (unless doing an off-road event), would exhibit rather less actual motion/mpact, so from a practical perspective, this is a non-issue.

At the same time, deliberately trying to excite such microphonics (which simply come across as tube-ringing) is a bit easier than I first thought, and takes a bit longer to decay. Still not an issue, and much better than the undamped “NuTube Hybrid” amps I built, but not quite as unresponsive as I first thought.

Battery Life

This has landed pretty much in the ~9 hour region, using FLAC material, and driving the tia Fourté via a mix of 3.5mm SE tube and 4.4mm balanced solid-state outputs.

Stability

No crashes/freezes/slow-downs or stuttering in almost two full weeks of fairly heavy usage. This is with essentially full-internal memory (2 GB free) and a full 512 GB microSDXC card installed.

Album Art

The N8 is a bit fussy in this regard. Some albums/tracks that have their embedded art show up just fine in Audirvana, Roon, the A&K players or the Sony WM1Z don’t always show up on the N8. It isn’t down to the resolution or size of the embedded images, nor the format (the Sony players won’t show images unless they’re in baseline-encoding).

Also, if you use the quick “alphabetic” scroll function, no album art shows up once you’ve scrolled. I thought it might just be delayed or “back-filling”, but it never seems to show up. But if you scroll progressively to that album, or use folder-browsing to get there, it does, so it’s not about the individual albums/image data.

A minor, cosmetic issue, and the only players I’ve never had ANY issue with for album art are the A&K units … those always seem to be able to display it no matter what.

Sound

Addictive and state-of-the-(portable)-art.

While there are some other solid-state devices I’ve heard that are in the same class (minor differences that would come down to personal preferences), such as the Sony WM1Z and A&K SP1000M, the addition of the “tube” mode, really sets the N8 apart.

Low-level dissection of technicalities will be saved for my formal review, but this is a desktop-class listening experience, with multiple available signatures, and is currently unique in that respect.

To quote Mr. Bueller … “If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up” …

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So … “money where my mouth is” time …

I just pulled the trigger on adding the Cayin N8 to my personal gear collection.

I purchased it from headphones.com, who now seem to be an official Cayin dealer, as they originally loaned me this unit for review; so many thanks to @taronlissimore and @andrew!!

Yes, it has a couple of minor software quirks … both of which are 100% cosmetic (and one of those may be fixable just with updating a few album-art entries), it’s big, and heavy, doesn’t work particularly conveniently with iOS devices, and has no on-device streaming, but it is, currently, the best sounding DAP I’ve heard.

Getting a similar presentation to the N8 in it’s “tube mode” elsewhere would require pairing a SOTA DAP (A&K SP1000*, Lotoo Paw Gold, Sony WM1Z etc.) with either a Woo WA8 or an ALO CDM - both of which result in a much bigger, heavier, and far less convenient package.

Anyway, I’m sold … and I’m off to go sit on the deck and lose myself between the N8, tia Fourté and ZMF Vérité …

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Are you going to compile this stream of consciousness into a blog article on the main site? Would make a very unique and interesting article and there is not very much info on this specific DAP out there as far as I know.

Luckily this is a portable unit and you didn’t put this in your checked luggage. It probably would have tipped the scale and forced you to pay money. :smiley:

I’ve seen some impressions of the KANN Cube and its supposedly bigger but lighter than this unit.

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I’ll be doing a full review of the N8 (among other DAPs).

I am also contemplating making an experimental “stream of consciousness” post for some future reviews (initial post on the main site, link to the appropriate SoC thread, final follow-up summary on the main page later).

Given how behind I am with various reviews (some I’ve wanted to finish since late last year), it’s tempting to do a couple of main-site posts that just link to a series of SoC-threads (DAPs wouldn’t be a bad place to start, since I’ve got stuff in play there for the N8, SP1000M, SR15 and the QP2R) …

Have to think about it a little more, but that’s where I am leaning … if only to get more timely commentary on newer products.

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Storage (USB Disk Mode)

The Cayin N8, when put in USB storage mode, mounts as a standard class-compliant USB storage device. This means that, unlike the A&K players (which mount as Android MTP devices), you do not need additional utility software to load content on to it if you’re running on macOS.

Plug it in, select USB storage mode, and off you go.

The internal storage mounts as one device, and if you have a card installed it mounts as a separate drive (make sure you safely eject them both before disconnecting the unit from your computer).

Actual data transfer performance is more a consideration of the micro SDXC card you are using, due to the N8’s USB-C (USB 3) connection. The 512 GB micro SDXC cards I’m using see a transfer rate of about 90MB/s when mounted in the N8 (that’s about as fast as they go), and transfers to the internal memory on the N8 manages about 35 MB/s.

Other Thoughts …

  • Now that I’ve pulled the trigger on the Brass Black unit … that Stainless Steel version suddenly looks even prettier than it did before* … and it’s making me want A&K to put out an SP2000M in copper …

  • My Sony WM1Z is currently sulking in the corner … fantastic player, but it got to be too much of a pain to take anywhere and if it’s “transportable only” use then the N8 edges out the Sony for sound and does interesting (to me) things the Sony can’t (and the things the Sony can do that the N8 can’t don’t really matter in that context).

  • The N8 is a viable desktop source, with the ability to be easily transported and/or used on the go. More so than any the other players I’ve tried (in terms of sound) and only really rivaled by the high-end DAPs that have native desktop docking options in terms of convenience.


*No, I’m not going to buy a stainless N8 as well - and aesthetically I do prefer the Black Brass - but they’re both very pretty and I can see it being a tough choice for another 299 of you …

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Random Waffle/Listening

While doing a couple of final tweaks to my Stellia review, I’ve been indulging running the N8 with a variety of quirkier headphones. And since the N8 is likely to be the catalyst for me selling my Sony WM1Z, and these are the only two devices I have with native 4.4mm balanced-output, I figured I’d give Sony’s MDR-Z1R a run with the Cayin unit.

The MDR-Z1R is an odd-ball headphone and something of a guilty-pleasure listen. They’re gorgeously built, super-comfortable, very light, easy to wear at length, yield very good to excellent attenuation and leakage performance, but with a decidedly (really “too”) warm signature, an often loose and bloomy (even bloated) bottom end, some top-end zing and a general weird tonality, they have really only paired well with the WM1Z (via the balanced output, and in high-gain mode) unless EQ is applied.

For whatever reason it comes off much better with the WM1Z even when compared to much more powerful and capable source/amplifier chains.

With the N8 in medium-gain mode, and on standard power output (“P” mode), the Z1Rs actually sound better with the Cayin unit via it’s balanced solid-state output than they do with the WM1Z. In high-power mode (“P2+”), oddly enough, the bass gets out of control and actually distorts in places - which is likely down to the “P2+” mode being intended for higher-impedance (voltage-hungry cans) and may be trading voltage drive for current capacity.

I was thinking I would be selling the MDR-Z1R with the WM1Z, but now I’m not so sure …


Edit: Switched to driving the MDR-Z1R via the single-ended tube-mode output (still in medium-gain and “P” mode).

The N8 is doing just as good a job here with the Sony cans as it was in solid-state/balanced mode. Clearly the tube-stage has ample output-current. Which is pretty much in keeping the Pete Millet NuTube Hybrid’s I’ve built, but nice to see (or hear) nonetheless.

On medium gain, “P” output mode, I’m at “60” on the volume setting and it’s as loud as I’d ever care to listen on the Z1Rs, and the level of control is excellent (even taming some of the bass-bloat of the Sony’s).

And the added tube harmonics/euphonics make this pairing an even more compelling listen.

ZMF Eikon’s are up next …

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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.

Absolutely fantastic!


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.

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At this rate I might not have to do much more than post a summary and some links to this thread when I review the N8 … but I said I’d run it with the ZMF Eikon so I did …


Cayin N8 w/ ZMF Eikon (Padauk)

I have the N8 in high-gain and P+ (“High 2”) output mode (intended for higher-impedance cans; the Eikon’s are nominally 300 ohms @ 98 dB SPL/mW), using the single-ended tube-mode output.

The result is rich, sonorous, dynamic, detailed, resolving with thoroughly satisfying bass, pure-liquid mids and a buttery-smooth top-end … in other words … entirely delicious.

I am probably here for the night …


I do have to turn the volume up to close to maximum here to get to seriously loud levels with quieter tracks (still above safe levels for protracted listening), but even then the result is composed, controlled and doesn’t sound strained at all.

Interestingly, with bass-heavy material in this configuration, each major bass-hit yields a visible change the brightness of the two tube grids. This doesn’t seem to have any effect on the sound, but it’s the first time I’ve noticed that.

Switching to balanced output mode gives more headroom and is enough to take the Eikon’s far beyond any level I am willing to subject my ears to - even momentarily.

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How does this do as a desktop DAC? Can/should it be connected via USB to a PC, or would bluetooth actually be better? I’m considering jumping to this since it’s marginally more transportable than the RME ADI-2 DAC that I’ve slowly become too lazy to take to work on a daily basis.

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It’s very nice as a desktop DAC.

There are two line-outs on the unit - one single ended (dedicated 3.5mm connection) and one balanced (shared with the 4.4mm headphone output). The balanced output supports shielded and unshielded XLR connections (since the 4.4mm standard has 5 connections), and the unit comes with a nicely made 4.4mm to balanced XLR adapter.

It sounds better via USB than it does via Bluetooth, even using LDAC. Playing the same tracks from the unit’s local storage off its internal battery vs. via a computer in USB DAC mode sounds indistinguishable to me - regardless if I then listen from the internal headphone output or via line-out into the Phonitor X. So the USB input has been well implemented.

From a raw-sound perspective I think it beats out the RME unit, even just used as a USB DAC and via line-out. I think it also outdoes the Hugo 2 (unless it’s fed by the M-Scaler). In fact the only DACs I have around to compare directly to at the moment that it doesn’t beat out are the DAVE and the Linn units. I’ll get a chance to compare it to things like the iFi Pro iDSD, Matrix X Sabre Pro (MQA) and other similarly-targeted units shortly.

Note that my standard caveats about the level of audible difference between competent DACs still applies, and that specific reviews exaggerate these differences. If the N8 was a 100/100 performer, the ADI-2 DAC wold be in the 95-96/100 region. And this is more noticeable in longer listening than in quick A/B comparisons.

The headphone output on the N8 is better sounding than the RME (though the N8 is less powerful) and even the RME’s IEM output, which doesn’t exhibit the same, modest, sense of dynamic compression as the main one, doesn’t sound as nice as the N8, to me. Though to be honest, most of the time I’m listening to the N8 I’m in tube-mode, which definitely adds color (and yields a better stage too).

Ergonomically, using it as a desktop DAC via USB means having cables attached to both the top and bottom of the unit. This is less than ideal for me, though turning the unit sideways sorts that out for the most part. You don’t need to interact with the thing in this mode at all, either (it’s perfectly well behaved), since volume-control etc. is disabled in line-out mode.

The EQ function IS available in USB DAC mode, but it is not nearly as convenient as that function on the RME unit. For one, if there’s a way to have your own presets I can’t find it (there are built-in presets you can select from, which a future firmware could certainly let you over write).

If you do a custom EQ, then it’s either on or off. And the EQ is purely “graphic” rather than parametric, with 10 bands (3 Hz, 62 Hz, 125 Hz, 250 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 2 kHz, 4 kHz, 8 kHz and 16 kHz, with a cut/boost range from -12 dB to +12 dB and with automatic volume level-adjustment so you don’t cause digital clipping here).

No loudness or crossfeed functions (again, could be done in software, but there has been no mention that such things are coming). And of course, no spectrum display or any of the “pro” features you get with the RME.

Though you could, of course, buy another ADI-2 DAC, and an amp (if you don’t like the built-in output), and leave it at work, for much less than this thing costs, even used!

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The macOS version of Audirvana 3.5.9 (this is the new branch/version, i.e. 3.5.x, with the updated UX etc.) appears to have added a bug when feeding the N8 in USB DAC mode.

If you set Audirvana to use “Integer Mode” with the N8, music will repeat a cycle of playing for a few seconds and then drop out for a few seconds.

This was not the case with the previous build of Audirvana. Roon works just fine in “Integer Mode” with the N8 on the same machine, cable, material etc. So I am assuming it’s a new bug in Audirvana with some DACs.

Unfortunately “Integer Mode” is a global setting, so if you turn it off for the N8 it’ll be off for your other devices as well. And since “Integer Mode” is working fine with some other units, like the RME ADI-2 DAC, via Audirvana, it’s a bit of a pain to have to keep checking/flipping it.

Only an issue for me on a laptop when I’m not home, as I just use Roon for everything when I am. Just mentioning it in case someone runs into it and can’t figure it out.

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HiBy Link

A variety of DAPs using the HiBy software/operating system support something called “Hiby Link”, which is a smart-device application/protocol that lets you control a supporting DAP from your phone (via Bluetooth).

In theory it’s faster and more flexible than the built-in interface on the DAP, since a typical smart-device (phone) has far more horsepower than any DAP I’m currently aware of.

The Cayin N8 supports HiBy Link … and I finally got around to giving it a try.

Think of it as an interface to your DAP. It’s faster and smoother than the on-device UX (depending on what you run the app on, of course). And it seems to work quite well, for the basic functions. But it is clearly still a work in progress as, at least on iOS and with the N8, it does not show any album-art in Album, Song or Artist views. Instead, you get a very pixelated, low-resolution, image for an actual playing album or track, but in “browse mode” (which is much more fluid than on the N8 unit itself), it’s just simple icons.

I am told this will change and that actual album art will replace the standard icons, as the application is still under development. Will be pretty cool if that happens, but as it is, while it’s fluid, fast and functional, it’s a lot less satisfying than seeing album-art as you browse what’s on the player.

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New Toy Syndrome?

That’s definitely NOT what’s going on here.

I remain completely enamored with the Cayin N8. I’ve yet to have “new toy syndrome” keep me interested in anything beyond a few days, maybe a week at the most.

I start an album on this thing … and rarely move until it’s done. Often staying put as several more play. That’s usually the preserve of my favorite headphones with my big, desktop, rig.

Love it.

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STOP IT!!! I don’t like DAPs!!! I don’t have a use case for them… and they probably don’t have the Black and copper model available anymore… :wink:

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I agree, I keep looking at this DAP and drooling over it, even though it costs more than my daily driver (car)!!

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It’s a thing of beauty and something that I shall probably never even see let alone own. But it’s good to aspire to something. It would be boring if we had everything we wanted. Or would it???

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That could be a good scientific project. If you could all collectively fund me so I can buy everything I want, I will let you know if I get bored.

(All in the name of science of course!!)

:smile:

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There may still be one in our warehouse… who knows?

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Stop it!!! :wink:
@taronlissimore I would probably pick up the Focal Stelia first lol… I still need to sell off a couple of my headphones and gear I don’t use…

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