Cayin N8ii Master Quality Digital Audio Player
Click to read the Stories about N8ii Development
Highlights of N8ii features
1. Dual DAC Architecture
The N8ii is designed around a pair of ROHM BD34301EKV 32Bit current mode DAC chipset. The DAC chipset was announced back in February 2021, a perfect timing to rescue our AKM based project. The AKM fire was one of the hardest hit to our industry and Cayin started to look for new DAC solution almost immediately. At the time of writing, this DAC chipset has never been used by any portable DAP so the N8ii might well be the first modern DAP with ROHM DAC chipset. We are aware of LUXMAN's SACD player project but we are basically working under the same time frame, our engineers have spend a lot of resource to learn, experiment and find tune the supporting system of this new DAC chipset from scratch. We are truly satisfied with the result so far, and we are looking forward to share our ROHM development with our users.
2. Fully-Balanced Dual Timbre
Our Vacuum Tube/Solid State Dual Timber feature shook the world back in May 2018. We solved the microphonic problem with innovative techniques and for the first time, facilitates choice of vacuum tube and solid state timbre in a portable DAP. Unfortunately we can only install one Nutube 6P1 in our N8, so the vacuum tube is only available to Single-end headphone output. We received loads of comment and request to make the vacuum tube timbre available to balanced output as well, and we have explained repeatedly that the Nutube 6P1 is a double Triode tube by design, it can used as left and right channel of stereo amplification, we cannot achieve true balanced amplification with only one Nutube 6P1.
Naturally, when we start our N8ii project, one of the priority requirements is to upgrade the Dual Timber feature to support balanced output. The Dual Nutube implementation in N8ii is even more challenging than C9 because we have to take care of a 5" OLED screen at the same time, so we have to be very innovative in circuit and component placement in order to accommodate everything in a compact hand-held solution.
3. Fully-discrete Dual Output Mode
This is a unique feature that only available in N8. We alter the operation voltage of headphone amplification to increase output power, handling capability and sound signature of the circuit and allow users to choose between standard P mode and High Output P+ mode through a pull down menu. We'll keep this feature in N8ii and better still, we upgraded the headphone amplification circuit to fully-discrete design. As a result of that, the P+ mode in N8ii will offers more dramatic different from the standard P mode.
This player is exactly what Cayin in known for for….balanced warm midrange via tubes. The class A/AB amp offers a great balance between warmth and detail. The cost is likely prohibitive and not the best value…for those with a lesser budget. If cost is not a factor then the N8ii should be auditioned prior to purchase. I purchased from MusicTeck.
So I have paired the N8ii up with the incredibly resolving Final Audio Sonorous X headphones (pictured)... and it just doesn't get much better than this. Between the two devices, you have a jet-black background and crystal clear music reproduction. Nearly 100% of the time with my mainly DSD collection, I use N8ii's main forte: Balanced Tube mode, P+, AB... and the sound (as my audiophile friend eloquently put it) "is simply the best portable audio quality I've ever heard".
In terms of interface and operation, I have also had zero problems. And the screen doesn't have to be high-res just to play music...so it does perfectly fine and keeps the battery in check.
Musicteck ordering, delivery and customer response has been stellar as well.
The N8ii sounds warm and lush and as a mostly Tidal user I’m finding that the operating system is smooth and glitch-free. I ordered the player one evening and it arrived the next day. I appreciate the great service provided by Musicteck
I waited a while for this latest iteration of the flagship Cayin N8 DAP. Having looked at several other DAPs on major review sites, YouTube and also auditioning a few in person, I did not want to commit to another brand. It came down to Cayin’s reputation (first to do Solid State and Korg NuTube (6P1) dual-output design, in 2018); the spec sheet also appealed to me. I wanted the option to tube-up for my Grateful Dead and Neil Young albums and to be able to retrieve every last detail from my classical music via solid-state. The Cayin N8ii has not disappointed. It is an utterly amazing DAP that has quickly worked its way into my musical heart.
First, the appearance. It is sturdy, like a small brick, and the overall 'look' is more to my taste than the original N8. I like the volume knob up top rather than on the side, and the tube illumination on left side is very sexy (purrrr). The outer case is a cool green color; I like it, and it fits snugly around the N8ii and is of quality material.
Second, the interface. This is where I was surprised. The first N8 was Unix-based; this second version is an Android 9 operating system. It runs very well, without glitches or lagging performance. Boot-up time is fast, and the apps I've downloaded are operating as designed right away. A seamless presentation for the end-user. Works like a charm so far.
Third, the sound. One man's opinion. I have not auditioned many DAPs and my last one was one of the least expensive AstellKerns from several years ago. Before that, I used iPhone. But I am an audiophile with a very good system in my apartment (that is to say, all things considered, and for its size). Having said that, the Cayin N8ii, which I have paired with ODIN by Empire Ears (Founder Edition No.90) is everything I want out of a DAP, from the standpoint of sound reproduction. I have about 75 hours on it now, and with each passing hour of burn-in time I am further convinced of the almost 'magical' qualities at my fingertips. I listen to mostly classical music, along with metal (death metal, thrash, the classics) and classic rock. Some jazz and blues. No hip-hop, pop or EDM. The human voice and piano in folk song arrangements by, say, Vaughan Williams are breathtaking in their life-like, in-the-room presence (Ralph Vaughan Williams Folk Songs Vol.1 (Albion ALBCD042, 2021). Turning to something heavier, and amplified, one of my favorite 1980s hard rock albums, Back For The Attack by Dokken (big George Lynch fan here), sounds better than I've heard it before. I choose to keep the Gain setting on 'low', just my preference. Worth noting that Warner Bros. has never remastered this title, so the late ‘80s A/D transfer leaves much to be desired. Having said that I can say that the heft brought to this one is impressive. It rocks, and I feel it.
Switching to Tube/Class A mode, the recent Grateful Dead boxed set, Listen To The River: St. Louis 1971/1972/1973, has some of the richest, creamiest live-sounding bass (and these are mere two-track stereo soundboard mixes) I have heard. The 192/24 download resolution helps a lot! Amazing to hear. Old hippie music recorded, mixed and mastered in analog, such as Neil Young, really shines in this setting. It is revelatory. Other music, such as classical, is preferable in Solid-state. Timbral accuracy is one reason why.
Rounding up this review, I feel I should say one last thing: Value. Is it worth it? $3500 is a lot of money for a so-called ‘brick’ (my affectionate term for the Cayin). My girlfriend really doesn’t get it. For me, it is definitely a justifiable purchase, although I don’t think I am willing pay more for it. I would rather fund new IEM or more music. Or a steak dinner. But for a truly niche product such as Digital Audio Player, Cayin N8ii is as good as it gets.
The N8ii UI is excellent. It's fast, the touch screen is responsive and the settings are very intuitive.
The build quality is as exquisite as you would expect from a top Cayin product. The N8ii can be used as a streaming or offline player and as a source feeding other amps, among other things. I won't go into all the functionalities here, you can find these in any good review.
Back to sound. The first thing that struck me with N8ii was how spacious and airy everything sounds with it. The stage is big and all frequencies are effortlessly rich. Sub-bass reaches deep, treble is well extended and everything in between sounds sweet. Nothing feels forced, colored or pushed forward. And this makes for a very immersive experience.
The big advantage of the embedded amp are the 4 timbre choices. You can choose between solid state or tub(ey) in class A or AB. The amp has enough juice to power any iem you can think of and a lot of headphones.
The N8ii did a great job with my Obravo Ra 21 C-Cu, MMR Thummim and Focal Utopia.
A fully fledged streaming player with full Android experience that can serve as a very capable desktop DAC and that makes any iem and most HPs sound unbelievable. On the go!
The N8ii is certainly the best overall DAP I have tried so far and my lasting impression is: the sound is so good I feel I want to have it with me whenever possible.