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In this article we’re looking at the brand new Cayin N8 DAP from the Chinese Cayin Audio.
Disclaimer: Cayin has been covered many times on Headfonia already. The Cayin N8 was sent to us on loan for this review. It will be returned to Cayin or sent to someone else after this review.
Cayin is a premium Chinese high end audio brand (since 1993) and their focus has mostly been on dedicated HiFi equipment, covering every chain in the music reproduction path, from CD player to speaker, but the essence is no doubt their tube amplifiers. Their equipment ranges from around US$100 to just below US$10,000 per item, covering the needs of different requirements and budgets. Cayin has built over 400 products up to date and lately Cayin has been focusing on the portable market as well with successful units such as the N3, N5, N5ii, N5iiS, N6, i5 portable players and the C5 portable amplifier. Now Cayin is back with the N8, a Cayin OS operated TOTL DAP with a tube output. How awesome is that!. It’s Cayin’s aim at the DAP top and with the N8 they hope to compete against the AK SP1000, Sony WM1Z and some of the other high end DAPs. At first view the N8 certainly has some exceptional characteristics to compete with the best and after this review we’ll know if they have managed to enter the high end DAP segment successfully or not.
This isn’t the first review of the Cayin N8 and so I won’t go into all the small details as those have been covered before. Let’s stay focused on what’s really important but it still is quite a comprehensive review. Why? Cause the design and features part in a DAP is important and because a flagship player has and should have many features.
Up to now Cayin has been incredibly string in the portable player market and they over the years have gathered many awards for their entry level and mid-fi DAPs. Cayin really owed it to themselves and their loyal customers to take that step up to the high-end segment and if you’ve been following Cayin, you know how meticulous they are when it comes to delivering great value for money. That in theory can only lead to on heck of a high end DAP and so we and every consumer on the high end market expect a whole lot from this TOTL N8 DAP.
Of course the Cayin N8 has a dedicated product page and you can find it here: http://en.cayin.cn/products_info?itemid=115
The Cayin N8 – being a TOTL DAP – doesn’t come cheap and the N8 comes with a hefty price tag of around $3.3K USD ~ €3.4K Euro making it a money no-object DAP. It’s also one of the most expensive units looking at the other high-end DAPs but at the same time you get something the other companies can’t or don’t offer: a tube driven portable output. And that Korg tube really is a USP only the Cayin DAP has, impressive!
The N8 also shouldn’t be looked at as just a DAP, in fact it can also be seen as part of your high end desktop / HiFi system as the N8 fits in perfectly looking at its inputs, outputs and the accessories set it comes with. While I do use the SP1000 at home in combination with my amps, it’s only the first time I really have the feeling that the DAP was created with this – being part of the home system- in mind. Another USP for Cayin imo.
In this review we’re looking at the N8 with the V2.0 firmware, the latest one available. The most important “change” with this update is the introduction of LDAC support in both transmitter (Tx) and receiver (Rx) mode. For those of you not familiar with LDAC, Cayin has made a specific LDAC page and you can find that right here: http://en.cayin.cn/download/show?id=13562
The N8 – A closer look (Inside, looks and a lot more)
First of all the box it comes in. Do boxes matter? No not really, but when you’re buying a mid-fi and certainly a hi-fi unit with your hard earned money, you expect quality from beginning to ending, from the box to the accessories to the material used. Everything is important. I am pleased to report that Cayin seems to feel the same and the N8 comes delivered in a beautiful, big, well built square box with different levels. The only other brand I rate as highly in this regard is Astell&Kern and this time Cayin has nothing to be ashamed about. A great box that you will want to keep, but it will take up quite the storage space. And that’s the only bad thing I can say about it.
The N8 unit/body itself of course is made from stainless steel with a PVD-coating and it comes with 24K gold plated brass control dials. The N8’s screen comes with the obligatory gorilla curved glass. The screen is an IPS 3.2” (480 x 360) and it of course has touch sensitivity. Size-wise the screen, for a TOTL player isn’t he biggest, the AK SP1000 in example come with a 5″ 720×1280 screen but there’s a reason for Cayin’s choice and it’s a good one. The reason is the placement of the Korg tube which is situated right below the screen. The nice thing is that you can see the tube light up but it does limit the screen size. It perfectly does what it’s supposed to do but we’re used to bigger screens nowadays. At the same time Astell&Kern has also launched a mini SP10000M so maybe the screen sizes just were getting too big to be portable.
The Cayin N8 measures 21 x 70 x 128mm and weighs an impressive 380g, it’s not small or light but it does come with a custom fit Corning Gorilla 3 (AF and DLC coating) curved glass back panel
A high end unit needs to be perfect and perfect it is in both material quality and build quality. The finish of the N8 is perfect and the only thing I can comment on build quality-wise is the feel of the power/volume and the next/previous/pause button. These buttons have a double function and they feel a bit loose so I hope it’ll last in the long run. Maybe my feeling is wrong, let’s hope so.
Design & Lay-Out
Perhaps the most controversial thing about the N8 is its design. It’s very different from the kind of design I personally prefer but for others it is the most stunning device on the market. It’s a personal thing but for me it will never win the price of the prettiest DAP. It’s a bit too bling bling kitchy for my taste.
Design usability-wise the N8 is perfect and easy to work with, even with one hand. And of course the ideal lay-out is to thank for that. On the front of the unit you have the 3.2” inch screen, the Korg tube right below and the main home button closest to the bottom. That button also incorporates a LED that will change color depending on the sampling frequency of your file. It’s a bit like what Chord and a lot of other companies are doing nowadays but it’s clear, obvious and it works great. I like this part of the design.
On top of the unit you from left to right find the balanced 4.4mm Line-Out and Headphone output. This is only one output but you can select the wanted output via the menu. Next to the balanced output you have the 3.5mm single ended output which is the output for both the solid state as well as the tube output. Again, you can set it by selecting the wanted output in the slide down top menu. Next to that on the right you have the 3.5 mm line out.
On the right side on top you have the power button which also serves as volume control and below that is the next/previous/pause button. On the bottom of the player you find all the digital connections (USB-C and I²S) and the MicroSD slot in the middle.
The design is simple and it works, so again here Cayin scores good points.
As most of the TOTL DAPs, the N8 comes with 128GB of internal storage. You can also use a single MicroSD card but it accepts cards up to 512GB. You can further extend the storage through USB OTG storage, though that’s not something I tend to use. Unfortunately the N8 doesn’t do DLNA directly (we’ll get back to that later), so this OTG option at the same time is a very welcome and necessary option with the N8 if you ask me.
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