Cayin N8ii: the most musical DAP

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Mis à jour le 20 May 2022.

The brand’s flagship model, the Cayin N8ii is a unique DAP that allows the user to choose between vacuum tube or transistor amplification, in class A or class AB. Its promise: unbeatable modularity to adapt the sound signature and power to suit your needs and preferences. This new Cayin audio player replaces the Cayin N8, the first ever model to incorporate tube amplification at its release in 2018. It features a new DAC by ROHM for 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512 playback. It also takes advantage of the Android system with WiFi for the first time to access streaming services, in addition to music shared over the network and stored locally. Could this versatility make it the ultimate DAP of the moment?

The Cayin N8ii DAP can work with tube or transistor amplification to adapt the sound to suit the user’s preferences, the music genre or the headphones.

Cayin N8ii: packaging & accessories

The Cayin N8ii HD DAP comes in very well designed packaging with a magnetic lid that lifts off to reveal the device. The bottom part of the packaging consists of a drawer in which all the accessories are stored. These include a high-quality USB-C to USB-A cable to charge the player and transfer data, as well as two L-shaped adapters: one 2.5mm mini-jack to 4.4mm jack and one 2.5mm mini-jack to 3.5mm jack. A glass screen protector and a leather case are also included.

The Cayin N8ii HD DAP comes with a protective case, a USB-A to USB-C cable for charging and file transfers, a tempered glass screen protector, and two adapters: one 2.5mm mini-jack to 4.4mm jack and one 2.5mm mini-jack to 3.5mm jack.

Cayin N8ii: presentation

Design

The Cayin N8ii DAP has a revamped design, with a more understated and contemporary silhouette. It is built around an entirely metallic aluminum chassis, except for the rear panel which is covered with a tempered glass plate that reinforces the luxurious feel of the device. The player is slightly more massive than its predecessor, at 14cm high, 7.7cm wide and 2.5cm deep. The Cayin N8ii is also slightly heavier, weighing 442g compared to 385g. Despite this, it can fit in a large pocket, except when it is used in vacuum tube and class A mode due to the amount of heat it generates.

The Cayin N8ii DAP has a more understated and modern design than its predecessor. Its rounded edges make it pleasant to hold.

The Cayin N8ii’s new design is more ergonomic. Its softer, rounded edges and even weight distribution make it pleasant to hold. It fits more comfortably in the palm of our hand and the various controls are easily accessible. On the right-hand side, the Cayin N8ii DAP replaces its predecessor’s two large knobs with four buttons to turn the device on, start playback and change tracks. Although the player’s build is very meticulous, these buttons are somewhat loose. They are also very sensitive and we often pressed them inadvertently when holding the DAP. A mechanism to lock the controls would have been appreciated.

The right-hand side of the Cayin N8ii player features the controls to turn on the device, start playback and change tracks (previous and next track).

Lastly, a notched volume knob is situated on the top of the player. It offers very smooth and precise volume control over 100 levels.

The knob on the top of the Cayin N8ii ensures smooth and precise volume control.

The Cayin N8ii DAP’s touch screen is bigger and has a higher definition. Its panel goes from 3.2″ to 5″. Its 1280 x 720 pixels (formerly 480 x 360 pixels) display offers greater visual comfort. Without reaching the level of an OLED screen, the touch screen displays natural colors and nice contrasts. It is prone to reflections, but the high brightness allows the display to be clear and comfortable in all circumstances. Finally, navigation through the various streaming apps and the music library is smooth and just as good as the latest smartphones.

The large 5” touch screen ensures intuitive and pleasant navigation through your music library and various apps.

Tube or transistor amplification

Cayin is an expert in tube electronics design, with a multitude of reference hi-fi amplifiers such as the Cayin CS-55A KT88, Cayin CS-88A KT88 and Cayin CS-845A, as well as tube headphone amplifiers like the Cayin HA-1A MK2 and Cayin HA-6A. In 2018, with the Cayin N8, the manufacturer was the first to offer a DAP with integrated vacuum tubes. With this success, Cayin used the same principle for the second generation Cayin N8, while offering a more ambitious concept. The Cayin N8ii can be operated with either vacuum tube or transistor amplification. The tube stage now adopts a symmetrical architecture, with the integration of two Korg Nutube 6P1 vacuum tubes. The latter are miniature double triodes which offer a similar operation to a tube amplifier to enjoy a warm and natural reproduction, while heating less than traditional tubes. These two tubes are visible through a window on the left side of the player. They radiate a bright green color and highlight the elegance of the device, even in the dark.

The Cayin N8ii can use tube amplification to ensure a warm, soft and natural reproduction. The two tubes are visible on the left side of the player.

With a simple downwards swipe on the screen, you can access the quick settings of the Cayin N8ii, with the possibility to switch to transistor mode. From this menu, you can also select the type of amplification: class A to maximize the warmth and naturalness of the reproduction or class AB to gain dynamism. In addition to the gain, which can be set to one of three levels, the Cayin N8ii also features two power supply modes: the P mode (standard) and P+ mode (high power). The latter acts on the operating voltage of the amplification circuit. During our listening sessions, we preferred this P+ mode. It provided an increased dynamic, as well as a more effective delineation of the highs. However, it is only accessible in class AB with the tubes or transistors.

At the output of the vacuum tube or transistor amplifier, the Cayin N8ii player uses two headphone outputs: a balanced 4.4mm jack output (fixed or variable level) and an unbalanced 3.5mm mini-jack output (variable level). The power can reach 1200 mW into 16 ohms in balanced mode, and 720 mW into 16 ohms for the unbalanced output. Enough to power most headphones and IEMs on the market. The Cayin N8ii also has a 3.5mm mini-jack line level output to connect it to an amplifier or an external preamplifier.

With its high power output and dual balanced and unbalanced headphone outputs, the Cayin N8ii can easily power any headphones or IEMs.

Double ROHM DAC

Before the amplification, the Cayin N8ii audiophile player adopts a double ROHM DAC. The Cayin N8ii was originally intended to be fitted with an AK4499 DAC, but the AKM factory fire forced the brand to choose another option. Cayin then turned to the BD34301EKV chip from the manufacturer ROHM. Still very confidential, the brand is starting to make its entry in the audiophile world as a replacement of the AKM chips thanks to a rather similar sound signature. The double ROHM BD34301EKV DAC installed in the Cayin N8ii player constitutes the top of the range of the brand. Associated with a circuit developed to reduce jitter and ensure the right data rate, it is able to play PCM streams up to a very high resolution of 32-bit/768kHz. It also provides native conversion of DSD files up to DSD512. Regrettably, however, there is no MQA support for Tidal.

Thanks to its dual ROHM BD34301EKV DAC, the Cayin N8ii player provides optimal support for PCM streams up to 32-bit/768kHz, as well as DSD512 files.

Android and WiFi

While the first Cayin N8 used a proprietary operating system with austere ergonomics, the new Cayin N8ii works using a version of Android 9.0 specifically modified for music playback. The operating system interface is as close as possible to the Android smartphone version and provides an intuitive experience for navigating through the various pages. Thanks to WiFi and the integration of the Google Play Store, it is possible to install any mobile app, including those of online music services such as Deezer, Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz, for example.

The Android operating system with access to the Google Play Store allows you to install countless mobile applications, including those of streaming services.

In addition to streaming services, the Cayin N8ii HD DAP can access music shared over the local network (DLNA playback) or stored in its internal memory of 128GB. To accommodate a whole music library, it has a micro SD card reader on its right side that accepts cards with a maximum capacity of 1TB.

Bluetooth LDAC and UAT

In addition to its numerous headphone outputs, the Cayin N8ii can also stream music via Bluetooth to wireless headphones or IEMs. It supports the HD LDAC and UAT (Ultra Audio Transmission) codecs. The latter is not yet widely used, but it allows wireless transmission up to a resolution of 192kHz, which guarantees very high precision. Of course, SBC and AAC codecs are also supported to ensure a perfect match with any headphones or in-ear monitors. Note that the Bluetooth controller of the Cayin N8ii is bidirectional, which also allows you to wirelessly stream all your tracks on this Cayin DAP from a smartphone, tablet or computer. The compatible codecs are then identical to the transmission mode.

Power supply

The Cayin N8ii DAP is equipped with a 10,000 mAh (38 Wh) Lithium battery. The manufacturer announces a battery life of up to 11 hours with the transistors and the power supply in P mode on the unbalanced output. A figure that was slightly lower during our tests, with a loss of 10 to 15% of autonomy per hour with the volume at 30%. With the vacuum tube amp, the autonomy is slightly lower, at 10h (unbalanced) and 9h (balanced) in the P mode or 9h (unbalanced) and 8h (balanced) with the P+ power supply. The battery is recharged via the USB-C port on the bottom of the DAP. A full charge takes around 7 hours when the player is connected to the USB port of a computer (5V, 2A). However, Cayin states that the charging time can be reduced to 4?5 hours with a Quick Charge 3.0 certified charger.

The Cayin N8ii DAP can offer up to 11 hours of autonomy. It can be charged using the USB port of any device or with a 9V 2A charger for a fast charge.

Cayin N8ii: key specifications

  • Vacuum tube or transistor amplification
  • Double pair of Korg Nutube 6P1 tubes
  • Class A or class AB operation
  • Balanced and unbalanced output
  • Up to 1200mW into 16 ohms in balanced
  • 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512 compatible
  • Android with WiFi
  • Battery life of up to 11h

Cayin N8ii: listening conditions

The first time you start up the Cayin N8ii, it is as easy to configure as an Android smartphone. You enter the language and the system is immediately operational. To take advantage of the streaming services, you connect to your home WiFi network, then link your Google account to access the Google Play Store. From there, you can download all the applications you want.

For our review, we connected the Cayin N8ii DAP to the Meze Liric headphones. We listened to Hi-Res FLAC and DSD audio files stored on a micro SD card. We also installed the Qobuz app to enjoy the 24-bit/192kHz tracks available to stream on the platform, but also Spotify (MP3 at 320 Kbits) to test the DAP’s musical abilities with lower resolution files.

The Cayin N8ii player is a great match for the Meze Liric closed-back headphones for premium on-the-go listening.

Cayin N8ii: listening impressions

Tube amplification

With tube amplification, the Cayin N8ii is worthy of the most prestigious vacuum tube electronics. In this mode, we recommend allowing the DAP to warm up for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the tubes to heat up. This way, the sound will be warmer and more spacious. With Sade’s Diamond Life, the singer’s voice was soft, warm and smooth. It was incredibly natural sounding and the timbres were perfectly accurate. When configured in class AB with the P+ power supply, the vacuum tubes were particularly convincing. They impressed us by their ability to provide a soundstage that was both warm and dynamic. All frequency ranges were rendered with finesse and transparency. The listening experience was marked by a certain sense of serenity and was always pleasant, even after several hours. We were constantly invited to turn the volume to enjoy a sound rarely encountered with an audio player.

With the tube amplification, the Cayin N8ii was worthy of the most prestigious tube electronics. The restitution was warm and the timbres incredibly natural.

The tube amplification of the Cayin N8ii was suitable for all types of music. With classical music (different interpretations by Anne-Sophie Mutter), the Cayin N8ii offered a remarkably transparent and spacious soundstage. The reproduction was very extensive and benefited from a remarkable openness, allowing the instruments to breathe and express themselves freely. The Cayin N8ii effectively materialized the orchestra and the acoustics of the recording room. The total absence of background noise highlighted every nuance and allowed the most subtle details to be reproduced. The bows on the stringed instruments were powerful and melodious. The violins were agile and soared, while maintaining the lightness and softness of the tubes. Even when the acoustic message became more complex and the entire orchestra was playing, the soundstage maintained an unwavering coherence and every bit of information remained perceptible. The various instruments were always correctly positioned and delineated.

With classical music, the reproduction offered by the Cayin N8ii was very extensive and benefited from a remarkable openness, allowing the instruments to breathe and express themselves freely.

The Cayin N8ii DAP displayed great harmonic richness and unwavering balance. The midrange was silky, rich and textured. The tube amplification added smoothness, naturalness and effectively highlighted every detail in this register. The highs also benefited from the softness brought by the tubes. They soared with a disconcerting fluidity and without aggressiveness. The bass, which is often lacking in tube electronics, was full and controlled here. The Cayin N8ii showed authority in the lower end of the spectrum, with full lows. They were always natural, and were never artificially amplified. Everything was perfectly in its place.

Transistor amplification

With the transistor amplification, the Cayin N8ii offered an increase in dynamics and an even more remarkable transparency. While we had the impression of silence during the releases with the tube amp, there was a total absence of noise here. The bass became slightly stronger, with more weight and depth. The sound had a greater clarity, with beautifully light highs. The tonal balance was always flawless and every detail stood out clearly. However, while the performance was worthy of the best DAP, the transistor mode seemed colder, more surgical and slightly uninspired compared to the tube amplification. The charm and warmth of the vacuum tubes are incomparable, even when switching the transistor mode to class A.

The transistor amplification of the Cayin N8ii added extra dynamism and transparency, especially with the P+ power supply. However, the warmth and richness of the tubes were lost.

Cayin N8ii: compared to…

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP2000T: sold for €2,299, this A&K DAP also allows you to choose between tube and transistor amplification. However, the vacuum tubes are only built into the preamplification stage, offering a hybrid design. Associated with a quadruple DAC ESS, this design offers a warm and very natural sound that is a little more analytical than the Cayin N8ii. The latter is smoother, richer and softer in all frequency ranges. It’s also more versatile thanks to the integration of WiFi and Android, with access to streaming services. The A&K A&ultima SP2000T also has WiFi, but is based on the brand’s in-house operating system, with access to a smaller catalog of applications. The main streaming platforms are available, but the system is generally less smooth.

Sony NW-WM1ZM2: the flagship model of the Japanese manufacturer, this Sony DAP, sold at €3,690, rubs shoulders with the latest generation of smartphones thanks to its very large 12.7cm screen. Like the Cayin N8ii, it is equipped with the Android system and the Google Play Store to download and access numerous streaming services. Its DAC is a little less powerful, with a PCM playback at 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256, compared to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512 compatibility for the Cayin N8ii. However, the Sony NW-WM1ZM2 is more suitable for Tidal thanks to its MQA compatibility. Finally, listening to the Sony NW-WM1ZM2 reveals a greater dynamic and a more pronounced character in the bass. The Cayin N8ii is still the smoothest, warmest and most natural when used with its tube amplification.

Cayin N8ii: who is it for?

The Cayin N8ii DAP is intended for fans of the “tube” sound. It will delight the amateurs of smooth and warm sound signatures. The Cayin N8ii condenses all the advantages of a tube headphone amp into a more compact format, capable of fitting into almost any pocket. With its performance, it can be used both on the go and at home. It can easily compete with much larger desktop systems, while providing greater ease of use thanks to its portable design, numerous functions and intuitive control via its touch screen.

The Cayin N8ii DAP is ideal for enjoying the warmth and naturalness of vacuum tubes with a device that can fit in almost any pocket and follow you everywhere.

Cayin N8ii: conclusion

With the Cayin N8ii, the manufacturer renews its most popular model to make it one of the most powerful and melodious DAPs on the market. The vacuum tube amplification is the real tour de force of the Cayin N8ii, as it offers an incredibly natural reproduction, as well as a soft, warm and rich sound. It delivers a beautiful sound message that is full of details. The spectral balance is always perfect, and each tone is accurately reproduced. The transistor amplification is just as impressive, although the tubes are undoubtedly more enchanting and softer. In conclusion, the Cayin N8ii works wonders and gives you the impression of having a real hi-fi tube system in your pocket. However, we should underline the fact that the device heats up quite a lot when used in tube mode, but this is the inevitable trade-off to enjoy an incomparable musicality.

We liked:

  • The warmth of the tubes
  • The natural tones
  • The transparent soundstage
  • The modular sound

We would have liked:

  • For the buttons to have been less sensitive
  • A more compact size
  • For it to heat up less in tube mode

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