It's been a few days now since the new Cayin N8ii DAP (Digital Audio Player) arrived here. And yet these few days were enough to usher in a new era of mobile music playback for me personally.
I tested the N8ii with the following IEMs/headphones:
- Empire Ears Odin
- Empire Ears EVO
- Oriolus Traillii
- Shozy Magma + Satin Audio Athena 8x
- Spirit Torino Radiant
Spirit Torino Valkyria
The long wait
I've been waiting for this expensive piece of technology for a long time, since it was announced in 2021 it was the most awaited piece of mobile hi-fi for me in 2022.
My expectations were high, very high, because when Cayin have released a new device, I have never been disappointed. This time, however, I wasn't so sure. With the fantastic N6ii-R01 2021, Cayin had released a mid-range DAP that even put the in-house flagship N8 in its place - and at half the price!
Will that go well?
I waited almost anxiously for the big official unveiling of the final N8 successor, the N8ii. After it became known that Cayin did not rely on R-2R as expected, which would have been expected after the N6ii-R01, but on a combination of tubes / solid state and Delta Sigma DAC, my heart slipped a bit the pants. In addition, the announcement of a new and largely unknown DAC chip (ROHM instead of AK) and the fiasco seemed inevitable.
It's finally here.
At the end of February, Cayin unveiled the new N8ii with lots of pictures and information, and I followed the corresponding Head-Fi forum day and night, where wild discussions broke out. Then finally we were allowed to order from Cayin.
Last Thursday, March 10, 2022, I finally held the brand new N8ii in my hands. I felt like a kid who got a long-awaited toy for Christmas.
Full of anticipation, the first thing I did was plug in the Empire Ears Odin. Some people who heard the N8ii and Odin at New York's CanJam 2022 reported sharp highs and upper mids. Some, in turn, spoke of the fantastic sound and that the N8ii was actually being sold far too cheaply. What was right then?
How does the N8ii sound now?
This question is not that easy to answer - although - actually it is:
The Cayin N8ii sounds the way you want it!
Confused? I was at first too, but after some trial and error I got it. The Cayin N8ii can change or adjust the sound to a large extent using various sound modes. This is made possible by combining
different sound modes.
Flexible without end
The N8ii offers the following settings that can affect the sound signature:
- Antialiasing Filter: Sharp Roll-off, Slow Roll-off
- DSD Filter: Low, Mid, High
- Dual timbre: tubes vs. solid state
- Dual amplifier operation: class A vs. class AB
- Dual output mode: P vs. P+
- Gain: High, Mid, Low
You can select each of these settings independently except for P+ in dual output mode + Class-A in dual amp operation.
That's what the sound modes do
Solid state vs. tube operation
The tube mode "smoothes" the "edges", so to speak. I don't know if I would call that "tube-like". The details are still there, but overall the sound becomes "bigger" and "fuller". The highs are still there but with rounded peaks if you know what I mean. This is certainly a more relaxed presentation than Solid State. In summary, I would say that tube mode is
about the whole piece, while solid state is about discovering individual features and nuances. The differences are very easy to spot using capable headphones and good quality music.
Class-A vs. Class-AB
This is a tough question , as I find it difficult to hear the differences clearly. At least in the current (before burn-in) state of the N8ii. If anything, the differences tend to be small and less pronounced. I think I've heard a little more difference when using the Odin than when using the Traillii. That could be due to the Odin's E-Stats versus the Trailliis' BAs being used for the highs, I don't know yet.The Class A on the Odin seemed a bit more energetic, but again the difference is very subtle. Maybe different devices will give different results...
Power Mode P vs. P+
This is the easiest to hear. The difference, at least between Traillii and Odin, is big. The P+ mode opens up the stage, pushes the instruments further apart, makes everything more three-dimensional. There is also more air and shine. The bass also has a bit more energy. Voices come forward as if the singer takes a step closer to the microphone/listener. P+ mode just intensifies everything that's there.
You can combine almost anything with anything to tailor your device to your personal taste. The only combination that doesn't work together is Class-A and P+. With the Traillii, for example, you can achieve everything from relaxed (tubes & P-Power mode) to exciting and intense (Solid State & P+ Power mode). As I write these lines, I'm listening to Hugh Laurie's "Junkers Blues" and I can let it play in the background or have my full attention on it, making it almost impossible to concentrate on the writing.
The first time
My first hearing test of the Cayin N8ii took place with the Empire Ears Odin. The Odin is usually my first choice when testing equipment because it reveals weaknesses in the connected sources and is certainly not the limiting factor. Below are my notes from this first session:
Cayin N8ii: fresh out of the box, settings: tubes, class A
- Extremely airy with fantastic resolution
- Excellent channel and instrument separation
- Very balanced frequency spectrum. I wouldn't say that any frequency is artificially boosted. Rather, the N8ii uses what is already there and fully exploits the potential of the Odin
- The bass is the best I've heard from Odin so far. Incredibly deep, voluminous and impressive.
- The midrange is warm and natural. Nothing more needs to be said.
- The treble/upper mids are beautifully detailed with no sibilance (I'm very treble sensitive and even my sibilance test songs pass without a hitch)
For me, the N8ii takes the Odin to another level. I had wished that the N8ii would be a mixture of LP P6 Pro (musicality and emotion) and LPGT-Ti (resolution, air, swing)... My wish was granted! Actually I was super tired all day because we had a bad night. I've been sitting here listening for 3 hours now.
In the coming days, I alternately tested Odin and Oriolus Traillii with the Empire Ears. Both top in-ears were fully utilized by the Cayin N8ii and, thanks to the variety of sound settings
, played perfectly with Cayin's new flagship.
The number of possible combinations to tailor the sound to one's preferences and devices makes the N8ii arguably the most versatile (flagship) DAP out there, and arguably one of the most versatile and customizable sources currently on the market are.
Android and a fast processor & enough RAM - that's never been the case with a flagship DAP!
The Cayin N8ii is therefore my new personal dream player, because it not only has all my high expectations met but even surpassed it.
With the Cayin I can fully exhaust any in-ear and drive it to peak performance and even adjust the sound to my current mood - and at the highest sound level - WOW!
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