armstrj2

1000+ Head-Fier
Cayin N7 Review
Pros: - Price
- Sound quality and timbre
- Great build quality
- Dedicated line out
- Case included
Cons: - Size and weight
- Battery life for some
- Charge time
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The Cayin N7 caught most of us by surprise. Most people were expecting a successor to the N6ii with its swappable motherboards. Instead, much like they did with N8ii, Cayin headed in a new direction bringing out an entirely new type of device to the portable market.

For me, the N7 arrived at an interesting time as I had started transitioning away from delta sigma-based DAPs and found myself using desktop R2R systems for my music enjoyment. While devices like the Hiby RS8 were certainly of interest, its price and the initial reports of teething issues caused me to pause and I had basically decided to make no further DAP purchases.

Enter the N7 to turn all those plans on their head. While not exactly being given away, the pricing of the N7 vs other top-of-the-line devices made it a much easier purchasing decision, and I ended up picking one up from MusicTeck. I’ve been using the N7 as my on-the-go source since, and what follows are my impressions after about two months of use.

Like with any review, my impressions below are just my experience with the device, listening with my IEMs and, more importantly, my ears. They are subjective, so treat them as such! If you don’t agree with them, that is perfectly ok, but I hope my thoughts may help someone considering buying the N7.

What’s in the Box​

Cayin’s packaging is always high quality, and the N7 is no exception. Opening the box, you are presented with the device, and once you have removed it, underneath, there is a case, some 2.5mm balanced and single-ended adapters, a USB-C cable, a manual and some screen protectors.

The included case is thankfully a much better design than the one that came bundled with the N8ii. It has a flap at the top to keep the device from being ejected every time you pick it up!! The mustard colour won’t be for everyone though and I do have some concerns with how it may wear or discolour over time. So far though, it has survived my laptop bag and my grubby hands without showing it. However, it ends up, it is nice to get a decent case included at this price point.

Specs Overview​

  • Discrete fully-balanced 1-Bit Resistor Network “DSD” DAC
  • Discrete fully-balanced Low Pass Filter with BJT driver
  • Discrete fully-balanced Headphone Amplifier with JFET input stage and BJT amplification.
  • FPGA/Audio Bridge to re-shape, de-jitter and transcode/oversample PCM to DSD512
  • Dual Amplification Mode (Choice of Class A/Class AB)
  • High Quality “unamplified” single-ended and balanced Line Out
  • Unique variable-voltage single-ended and balanced Pre Out
  • 4-ch resistor ladder electronic controlled analog volume from JRC
  • Decode DSD512 natively; support PCM up to 32bit/768kHzk; 16x MQA decoder
  • Headphone Outputs: 3.5mm Single Ended and 4.4mm Balanced
  • Shared Line and Pre Output: 3.5mm Single Ended and 4.4mm Balanced
  • Digital Interface: USB In, USB Out, Coaxial Output, I2S Output.
  • Snapdragon 665 CPU, 4G RAM, 64G Internal, 1xTF card (up to 1TB)
  • Android 12 with Google Play preinstalled, streaming ready
  • DTA bypass Android SRC, Hi-Res playback to all applications
  • Dual Band Wifi: 2.4G/5G.
  • 9000mAh Battery with a duration of 6 to 10 hours.
  • 5" TFT multi-point touch screen.

There is no doubt a lot in the Cayin N7 that people won’t be familiar with or even understand. Cayin have done an excellent job creating detailed posts explaining all of the main features of the device. I have linked them below and they can be found in the main N7 thread here. Cayin always publishes vast amounts of details about their devices and it is a great resource if you are interested in gaining a more in-depth understanding of the tech used inside it and how it works.

Unexplored Frontier in DAP, a discrete fully-balanced design
Pure 1-Bit “DSD” DAC Explained
Discrete LPF Circuit Explained
How to use HiByCast
Fully Balanced Discrete Class A/AB Headphone Amplifier in N7
N7 Analog Connectivity

Design​

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Size-wise, the N7 probably sits between mid-range and totl DAPs. The device measures 142 x 77.8 x 22.2mm and weighs in at 380g. While there isn’t too much out of the ordinary in the chunky candy bar design, the rounded sides and smaller size make the N7 so much easier to handle and carry around compared to the sharp edges of the N8ii. I didn’t really consider the N8ii a portable device, but the N7 sits just at the limit of what I would consider pocketable.

All of the ports sit at the bottom of the device. There are LO & PO, 4.4mm and 3.5mm connections, along with a USB-C port and an I2S port that uses a mini HDMI connection. The volume dial sits at the top of the device, and as someone who listens mainly at the desk, this is my preferred arrangement. For those who plan to use the device on the go, not having the outputs on the same end as the volume dial will undoubtedly cause frustrations. It’s impossible to keep everyone happy here, so it is not really a negative of the device.

The power button, along with the standard player controls, sit on the righthand side of the device and the MicroSD card slot sits on the left.

Most of the front of the device is taken up by the 5” screen with a Home button sitting on the bottom bezel. There are no other buttons for control, and navigation in Android is done via screen gestures outside of the home button, which also acts as a back button when tapped once.

While I don’t have the N8ii here to compare directly, the quality of the screen seems about the same from memory. It’s detailed, has good colours, and it will be possible to watch high-quality videos if that is your thing, but for me, the screen is turned off the majority of the time, so it isn’t something I spend too much time worrying about as long as there is a decent level of resolution for album art.

While I like using DAPs naked, devices like the N7 really need to be kept in their cases to prevent scratching or bumps. The case included fits well, and the hardware buttons are very easy to locate and use while the device is in its case. It is also easy to swipe down on the screen for the Android notification tray, something that was infuriating to do with the case that came with the N8ii. These are simple things, but it makes a big difference to your user experience with the device.

The N7 comes with a 9000mAh battery which can be fast charged. Using the balanced jack, I am averaging around 7 to 8 hours from it, but how you use the device will clearly have an impact. I have been a lot happier with the battery life for my use case vs what I experienced with N8ii. Something N7 does share with N8ii though is a long charge time. The battery is quite large, so even with fast charging you are looking at 3 to 4 hours to charge fully.

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Android​


It is hard to avoid Android if you would like a device that can stream. There are very few alternatives out there right now that don’t come with their own issues. When it comes to Android, the Cayin N7 comes s with a very sleek and clean version of Android which, during all my testing, has never got in the way or been a source of any type of issues.

The N7 comes preinstalled with the Play Store so there is no need for third-party stores or any other stress related to trying to install apps.

Compared to N8ii, this is a newer and faster version of Android and it is evident in use. Not that N8ii was sluggish or anything like that, but this version of Android feels better.

I installed Apple Music, Tidal, SoundCloud, UAPP and a few other audio apps without any issues. Everything has just worked out of the box. I haven’t done any stress tests or benchmarks as I don’t think anyone really cares about the arbitrary numbers those tests produce as long as the device is quick to use and album art and tracks load quickly.

Cayin have released a number of firmware updates since the device launched addressing some bugs and so on, and all of these have gone smoothly without any issues to report. Overall, the device works very well, and I have yet to experience any issues related to the operating system.

Sound​

I have listened to, owned or demoed pretty much everything Cayin has released in the last number of years. I can’t say I have always loved what they have released, but I have certainly appreciated it, and in the case of something like the N8ii, got many, many hours of enjoyment from it.

While I am an engineer and love the ins and outs of the technology behind what we listen to, I can’t claim to know what the difference is between 1-bit architecture devices and R2R beyond what I can only describe as an overview. I have, however, owned a number of 1-bit devices down through the years and currently own a 1-bit Gustard R26 desktop DAC which I was very keen to compare to the N7.

While the engineer in me can get caught up in frivolous conversations about the tech, at the end of the day the only thing that counts is how something sounds in this hobby. Cayin deserves great credit in my book for doing something different, but when you stick your neck out and do something different, it better be good.

I think the pricing of the N7 places it behind the N8ii but I do wonder if it had a higher price, where would people place it? I think it is great that the price was kept “reasonable” but the price still infers what level something is at. If N8ii is the TOTL device then N7 will no doubt be seen as the inferior device. Not the “better value” device.

After the AKM fire, many companies were forced into the hands of ESS. Coming from AKM-powered devices that were often quite warm and rich leaning, it was quite hard to love ESS-based devices, even those that deployed warm op-amps to try to negate the differences. The ROMH DACs that were present in the N8ii were probably the best attempt at capturing the best of both camps. Anyone that has heard the N8ii knows what it excels at, but it can be a device that pushes parts of the frequency range too far and it is often described as “bright”, as a result.

With the AKM factory now producing a new generation of DACs, it would be easy to revert back to choosing one of the different flavours of AKM DACs now available. Thankfully, Cayin has chosen a different path, one I feel is pretty brave considering the fact it would have been easy just to choose an off-the-shelf option.

However you describe the tech that is in the N7, there is no doubt to my ears that it has an R2R-like timbre. While it isn’t quintessential R2R, if I was asked to blind test it, I would describe it as R2R with an elevation in treble. I think many who like that aspect of delta-sigma DACs will enjoy with the N7. It is not as “bright” as the N8iii, nor is it as technical, but it offers a much more analog and smooth-sounding signature while still delivering great detail.

Over the last couple of months of testing, I have found the N7 to be a very versatile device. When listened to at low volumes, I find the sound signature to be detailed but very smooth, and it is very easy to listen to as a result.

I spend a large part of my work day basically listening in the background. I have IEMs in my ears mainly to block out ambient noise and help me focus. It needs to be background music, and if it becomes any more engaging, the music would distract me from work, and I’d get nothing done! With the N7 at low volumes, it ticks this box perfectly. It produces a detailed and satisfying signature which keeps in its lane and doesn’t distract.

While at low volumes and gain, it is a reasonably sedate device, when you crank things up, it becomes an engaging device that has an exceptionally wide soundstage, with an impactful and textured bass and, overall, a device that sits among the best devices in its price range right now.

The sound signature leans warm once the volume or gain it up. Polite before but definitely warm after. That may not be for everyone, but for those that enjoy R2R timbre and appreciate what that brings, it is an excellent device, considering its price.

It is not warm for the sake of being warm, it is a characteristic and it is coupled with plenty of detail and refinement, something devices like the Cayin N6ii R01, Hiby RS6 or RS2 lack. I like all of these devices in their own way, but N7 is a step above for me.

Before the device was burned in, it would be easy to describe things as a little flat. There was a very clear difference in the tone and technical abilities of the device as it developed with more hours. So it is worth keeping this in mind if you are demoing the device. It also needs some time to warm up every day before it sounds at its best.

Class A vs Class AB​

The differences between Class A and Class AB are subtle much more clearly noticeable than they were with N8ii. Class A has a more analog tone to my ears. Vocals become smoother and the edges are rounded a little. Class AB has a more delta sigma type signature with sharper, faster notes and a wider soundstage which is quite noticeable when listening to electronic music.

For the most part, with natural music I have preferred listening using Class A but prefer Class AB when listening to anything electronic/ synthesised. Class A drains the battery slightly faster but not to the point of it being prohibitive to use.

Sound with IEMs​

Noble Audio Ragnar​

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N7 with Ragnar is an excellent pairing. N7 adds a little warmth to the mix and smoothens some of the intensity Ragnar can bring in the treble region while still allowing it to shine. Vocals sound clear, detailed and very natural. In addition to the tonal benefits, N7 also creates a huge, 3D soundstage with Ragnar which stretches far in every direction.

Fir Audio XE6​

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A warm leaning source with a warm IEM produces a result you would probably expect but that’s not to say it isn’t good. Similarly to Ragnar, N7 helps to create a really impressive soundstage with a great sense of grandeur. Class AB produces the best results with XE6 for the electronic genres I listen to with it. It sharpens everything a little and allows XE6’s superb treble to cut through the warmth of the bass. A coloured combination for sure, but very enjoyable and technically impressive.

Line Out​

If you want that performance to take another step up again you can pair the N7 with an external amp.

The N7 has both 4.4mm and 3.5mm dedicated lineouts. For most people, this will probably go unused but for the few of us in the community who enjoy using external amps in a chain with our IEMs, the dedicated hardware Cayin has included in the N7 for this is a welcome addition.

I have owned many of the 4.4mm input portable amps that are available, and I am currently putting the Astell and Kern AK PA10 through burn-in so have used that to try out the LO on N7.

So how does N7 perform in line out? I’ll start with the negatives. It is not completely silent. I use a Topping A90D every day for my IEMs and it is absolutely silent with any IEM but when I swap to N7 with the A&K amp, there is some noise. That noise is not there with 3.5mm connections and it also isn’t there with 4.4mm when I use different sources with the A&K amp.

Now does that noise present a problem in general listening? Absolutely not. It is unnoticeable to me when the music starts but I do not have sensitive IEMs and maybe not the ears to isolate it from music, but some people are super sensitive to noise so I have highlighted what I found.

When it comes to sound quality, N7 is superb in line-out mode. I absolutely love how it sounds with the A&K amp. The sound is full and rich, and the soundstage is immense. If you are happy to add another device to the chain, it can produce a very enjoyable listen.

I have seen comments about the amp stage of the N7 being weak. For sure, things will improve if you add a dedicated amp, but I feel the amp stage of the N7 is very much in line with its price. I have owned most of the DAPs in this price range, and there is nothing that exceeds the quality of N7 for me in this bracket. Simply, you will have to pay more if you want better.

I’ve been very impressed with the line-out quality of the N7 during all of my testing to date, and I tend to use N7 a lot with the AK amp. It isn’t the case that N7 needs an external amp, but it’s nice to have the dedicated LO, so you have more options available to you.

USB C Out/ I2S Out​


Digital outs are a secondary feature for me and not the main reason I would buy a DAP, but you do have an expectancy of quality with them, considering this is an expensive device.

I tried the USB-C port and the I2S port on N7 to connect to the USB and I2S inputs on my Gustard R26. It is always hard to say with any certainty if there is much of a difference between any of these options as you have to allow for switching cables and selecting another input on the receiver, but I can say that N7 with both USB C out and I2S out are both excellent quality and I have zero issues to report with either so if you wanted to use N7 as a source for your desktop equipment, it performs well. Both ports sounded the same to me, but as I mentioned, it is hard to directly compare without relying on memory.

Select Comparisons​

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I am not going to get into comparing delta-sigma to resister ladder DACs here. I think if you are reading this, there is something about the timbre a device like N7 produces that ticks a box for you.

I purchased the Hiby RS2 DAP sometime back when it was available for less than 400 euros. It is a source that often gets overlooked due to its price and the fact it can’t stream, but I immediately thought it would be very interesting to compare it to N7 to see what the extra 1600 euros got you, other than streaming.

As I mentioned above, I also have a Gustard R26 R2R DAC here, which is my standard that all sources, such as N7, get compared against. It is 1-bit R2R architecture and one of the finest sources I have listened to.

Hiby RS2​

My RS2 has many hundred hours of use clocked up at this stage. I use it regularly around the house or out and about when I want a light source in my pocket. For sure, it is not the best source you will encounter, but it is very good value for its price. It is unashamedly warm and coloured but in a tasteful way. You don’t get distracted by its colour, but you know it’s adding it. When it was new, it had a narrow stage but with more use, that opened up to be as big as most other sources.

When I compare RS2 to N7, it really comes down to the IEM I am using for which source I prefer more. With something like the Noble Audio Ragnar, which is at the very top level when it comes to detail retrieval, listening with RS2 adds a nice amount of warmth and while it is not as technical as the N7, Ragnar has so much on offer when it comes to its technicals that the difference between N7 and RS2 isn’t so clear. That is not to say that the differences are not there; they are, but if I played a track on Ragnar with RS2 for you and then swapped to N7 as the source, what you would pick as the winner would come down to what you valued more. N7 is clearly more refined with better technicals but RS2 can produce a fun and enjoyable sound that makes it compete in its own way.

Gustard R26​

The Gustard R26 is an exceptional device. It is very well-priced, and I have yet to come across anything in the mobile realm that competes with it for my tastes.

To keep things fair, I compared the N7 paired with the A&K amp in line out as the Gustard R26 was connected to the Topping A90D amplifier.

The A90D is by no means the best amp on the market, but it is completely silent with IEMs and not priced in the tiers where it would be unfair to compare.

The R26 produces an incredibly refined and detailed sound with a vast, 3D soundstage, and it is here in its technical abilities and refinement that it really stands out. When it comes to timbre, both devices share similarities, but the N7 comes across as warmer. Bass notes are a little looser and slower with N7, and this is apparent when you compare the two directly.

When it comes to details, N7 isn’t quite at the same level, but it gets very close. When I am listening to N7 casually though, and not back-to-back comparing, I don’t feel like it comes up short in the detail department. It is very good at its price, and N7 brings many other positives to the table.

Conclusion​

I loved the N8ii when I owned it but it really had its flaws when it came to battery life and portability. If I was just to compare the N8ii and N7 on these two fronts, the N7 would come out ahead. It has good battery life. It is relatively light and portable. It can stream and has a nice Android interface if that’s your thing. If it’s not, it keeps out of your way with no real negatives to report. It is priced incredibly competitively when you take everything I’ve mentioned above into account.

If you want an R2R-like timbre and also want Android for streaming, your options are limited and even more so if you are on a budget. The Cayin N7 is an excellent device in its price bracket and well worth checking out.

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drftr
drftr
"Before the device was burned in, it would be easy to describe things as a little flat. There was a very clear difference in the tone and technical abilities of the device as it developed with more hours. So it is worth keeping this in mind if you are demoing the device."

Tnx for writing this. I demoed N7 when it was barely available in Singapore and noted "lacks a little in tonal richness" which, I think, would be totally explained by the above. Perhaps shops should only demo gear that has been playing a good 100 hrs, no matter whether they or the listener "believe" in it or not. This was clearly a missed chance.

drftr
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wolfstar76

1000+ Head-Fier
Cayin N7 ($1,995) is your best all-rounder DAP
Pros: TOTL build quality
TOTL resolution and details
Uncolored sound while still very musical
One of the latest Android versions of all DAPs around
Both Cayin and Hiby Music Player with lots of control options
Both Class AB and A options
Very comfortable size
Cons: Not as portable in term of weight
Need more power for hard-to-drive full size headphones
Only one color available for the free case
Battery life not stellar, especially in class A mode
DAP can be very warm in your pocket after a long listening session
Cayin N7 ($1995) is your best all-rounder DAP for IEMs and most of the headphones. If I had to pick only one DAP and leave the hobby, right now, the choice would be Cayin N7.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional reviewer and I received and demoed a loaner Cayin N7 as part of the North American N7 tour. However, I did not and will not receive any incentive or discount because of this review. I am here to provide my honest and truthful impression of this wonder DAP.

Background and Technology

I owned Cayin’s excellent RU6 R2R USB dac/amp. The little dongle is amazingly powerful and sometimes makes me wonder if RU6’s performance rivals or even exceeds my R2R DAP Hiby RS2? I immediately jumped to the opportunity once I heard about the N7 tour since I am particularly interested in N7 because of Cayin’s pioneering work in 1-bit fully discrete design.

Unlike continuous-time Delta Sigma DAC, there are different types of discrete DAC technology: R2R DAC, such as in Hiby RS8 or Luxury & Precision LP; 1 bit DSD is FPGA based and was usually used in desktop system until Cayin introduced N7.

Since I am not an expert in audio technology, I will let the website from Cayin do the job explaining the designing innovations in N7. But I can tell you that technology indeed brings something that is completely new to me in my listening experience.

Cayin N7 Official Description

Purposively designed micro-miniaturized 1-bit
DAC circuit from fully discrete components
• Discrete 1-Bit DAC: convert digital signal to
analogue signal through a resistor network
composed of 128 pcs (4 x32) high precision
Thin Film Resistors
• FPGA: Enhance digital audio signal and output
L+, L-, R+, R- digital bitstream for fully balanced
decoding.
• Audio Bridge: pass-through DSD unaltered,
convert PCM to 1 bit bitstream before transmits
to DAC circuit
• Power Supply: Sophisticated low-noise
highly-isolated supply circuit to support different
functions of digital and analog processing separately

Cayin 1.jpg


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What's Inside the Box:

Besides the N7 player, you will get a free case (as in picture below), 4.4mm to 2.5mm (F) Adapter, 3.5mm to 2.5mm (F) Adapter, USB-C Cable, Temper Glass Screen Protector, and User Manual in box. However, I wish one of the two adapters could be XLR to 4.4mm (F) adapter for full size headphones.

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Interface and Control

There are tons of options for you to adjust the setting, mostly notably is the availability of both class AB and class A mode. Personally I don't find those two differs significantly enough for me to have a preference when listening to IEMs. You may want to choose AB mode to conserve battery life if like me you don't find the small differences are worthwhile.

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For default music players, N7 includes both Cayin and Hiby music. For me, I find Hiby music to be much, much better, both in term of sound quality and the level of control you may have. It is interesting to notice that Hiby actually starts its business as a software developer for other music player manufacturers while Cayin is more focusing on hardware and has much widely range of products, such as Cayin's impressive Tube amplifiers.

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Sound Impression

Before I got my hands on Cayin N7, I was expecting a similar sound signature as from R2R DACs, such as Hiby RS8. I was completely wrong. Not only the technology is not that similar, but also the sound signature is very different, in a unique way.

Bass: After days of intensive listening, I must say the bass is one of the most impressive parts of the N7. In the beginning, I immediately found out that the bass from N7 is very clean and high quality but not as impactful as RS2 or some other DAPs. However, this initial impression gradually changed as I found out that the bass from N7 is more correct instead of being artificially boosted. When the bass is called for, N7’s bass is visceral and extremely impactful, and it makes a bass-head like me smile like a baby. What differentiates the bass from N7 from other DAPs is the texture and the details of the bass, N7 simply won’t just boost bass to satisfy the listeners with quantity.

Mids: If bass is the foundation of the music, then Mids is the heart and the body of the music. The Mids from N7 simply demonstrates the true quality of what N7 can do: clean, correct, and with very natural timbre. I will use Sony IER-Z1R as an example to let you know what N7 can do to the Mids since most people will agree that Z1R’s only weakness is its recessed Mids. However, I can tell you that when you pair Z1R with N7, magic will happen and Z1R becomes an impeccable TOTL IEM with no weakness.

Treble: All I can say is that N7 has very nice control of treble with no fatiguing while still gives you all the details.

Sound Stage and Imaging: N7 reminds me of the first time I used HQPlayer 4 desktop software on my PC to listen to music. For every IEM I tried, the sound stage is extended in all directions. The imaging is also precise and sharp. For my overall listening experience, the improvement in sound stage and imaging is one of the most important factors that I fall in love with Cayin N7.

Resolution and separation: I now can clearly hear many details that I was not previously noticed before (compared to my WM1A or RS2). Instrument separation is also improved with N7 with more layers and layer separation.

While I dislike any IEM or DAP that is being purely referenced, that is, being analytical but without any character, Cayin N7 is the first DAP that I feel like what I heard is just so correct but still so enjoyable.

Compared to Sony NW-WM1A, N7 is very clearly one cut above WM1A in almost every single category, from more balanced tonality, better bass quality and control, much better Mids (in some way lift some V shaped IEMs such as Z1R to next level), higher resolution, much larger sound stage, better instrument/vocal separation, sharper imaging, to more natural timbre.

When compared to R2R DAPs, such as RS2 and RS8, while RS8 is slightly more musical and has thicker note weights, N7 has an edge that just being more precise and cleaner.

Compared to DAPs with Delta Sigma DAC chips (which are most of all DAPs), N7 is just more musical (not R2R type of analogue, but a different type of natural timbre that is different from cold and metallic digital sounding).

I know many people described the sound signature of N7 as a child from the marriage of Delta Sigma and R2R. But I just don’t find this best describe N7’s characteristic since N7 is not exactly the middle ground between cold analytic and warm/rounded analogous. Lack of better words, I would use pleasantly correct to describe what I am hearing from N7.

Pairing:

I spent most of my listening time pairing Cayin N7 with Sony IER-Z1R and I found this paring is magic. I also tried different other IEMs and I can tell you that without excpetion N7 lift the performance of every single IEM I tried up to another level.

For full-size headphones, I usually never tried any DAP as I used my desktop gears exclusively for them. This is in part that my collection of full-size headphones are all either very power thirsty, such as Hifiman HE6SE v2, or with high impedance, such as ZMF Atrium open. This time, I tried my ZMF Atrium open with Cayin N7 with class A mode. I was surprised that N7 can drive Atrium with ease. However, even though the volume is there and I really enjoyed listening to Atrium from N7, I still just found something is missing compared to my desktop setup with a tube amp. Hifiman HE6SE v2 is one of the most hard to drive headphones around, especially in term of the current it needs. I tried HE6SE on class A mode and I have to turn volume all the way to 100% to achieve the volume I like. Again, N7 can drive HE6SE, just barely, and you can definitely enjoy the music in that way. However, if you return to desktop setup suitable for HE6SE, you will notice that N7 cannot deliver the full potential, especially in term of bass. But I can safely say that if you have more regular headphones that do not require huge amount of power to drive and with low impedance, Cayin N7 will be a great source as well.

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For pairing with IEMs, I cannot think any DAP that would beat N7 if you only want one DAP for all types of IEMs. Some pairing of DAPs and IEMs may have special magic but may not work for other IEMs. In the case of N7, it is not only a safe bet if you are not sure about the synergy given its uncolored sound signature, but also a pretty good one as N7 is musical enough.

Battery performance is very good but not stellar. I have noticed that the battery will drop from 95% to 70% after a two-hour non-stop listening session in class A mode. It is good since you are most likely to take N7 out for an entire day without worrying about battery life. However, if you forget to charge it by the end of the day, you may be in trouble the next day if you need long-term listening again.

Another potential issue is for those who will bring N7 out on a hot summer day. It will become warm, and after a long time, warm enough to feel uncomfortable in your pocket. Since I spent most of my time with N7 in pleasantly cold weather in California, it does not bother me at all.

To sum up: Cayin N7 is the only DAP I would recommend unconditionally to anyone who want to pick just one DAP that works for any IEMs with any genre of music. The reason is straightforward: Cayin N7 is one of the most resolving DAPs that also has one of the most uncolored natural soundings while still being very musical.
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drftr
drftr
But man, that case...

drftr
wolfstar76
wolfstar76
I agree, not a nice looking case.

Ckro

100+ Head-Fier
The DAP that may pull me back to DAP
Pros: - Top notch neutral sound quality (a must for me)
- Multiple capacities (LO, streaming, USB dac, digital out etc.)
- Great build quality and beautiful leather case included
- Fast UI
- VERY good q/p ratio vs. competition
Cons: - Missing a few stock accessories (would have loved to see a 4.4mm <=> double XLR cable to benefit from the analog LO, rather than the stock adapters)
- Had a few bugs over 2 weeks of intensive use
- Quite a big and heavy DAP (fit in my DD Hifi and IFI cases but without any room left for iems...)
Disclaimer :
The N7 DAP unit I had was a free loan unit from Cayin Audio. I have to pass the unit to the next reviewer after my 2weeks review period. Thanks Cayin for organizing the review tour and getting me onboard !


This will be a rather short text as many reviews are already available and they all go into a very good level of details regarding the structure of the N7. So I will focus on what struck me the most when reviewing this DAP.

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To be honest, I've been out of the DAP game for a while now. I've had quite a frenetic period for DAPs, a few years ago: WM1A, Ibasso DX200, DX200 Max, AK240, QLS QA361, LPGT, LPG Diana, Hiby R8 to name a few. I sold my R8 nearly one year ago and never went back to DAP. I use a small Fiio BTR7 with my iems (U12T and Fiio FH9) when I'm at work or when I travel as the listening conditions are usually not ideal and the BTR7 already does a wonderful job.
At home, I switch to a QLS QA390 or on my desktop setup (Bifrost 2/64 and SW51) and it ticks all the boxes for me.
So after nearly one year, I convinced myself that I did not need a DAP eventually. I tried a few ones in the meantime but never really felt the need to go back to DAP.

This was before I had the N7 for review, as I now find myself really wanting to get my own unit following the Cayin tour.

How so ? Well the N7 comes packed with a lot of good arguments for me:
- of course top notch sound quality. The N7 has quite a neutral sound signature which is exactly what I'm looking for in DAP. My desktop setup is warmer with the SW51 and the N7 provides better precision and snappier bass.PXL_20230512_011550556.jpg
- a lot of I/O that makes the N7 a very versatile DAP. On top of a standalone player I could use it as a USB DAC/amp at work from my laptop, as digital source with my Schiit Bifrost and as analogue source with my Genelec active speakers,

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- I love the build quality and the stock case, Cayin did a wonderful job. Also, the UI is pretty fast and I have had 0 frustration in terms of navigation on Tidal etc.
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- the price is not entirely dissuasive vs. the competition where any new top DAP is in the 3 to 5 kUSD range

In terms of sound quality, I found the N7 to be really excellent and the comparison with my BTR7 has been a bit cruel for the dongle. Very dynamic, excellent bass response to handle my U12T perfectly and with the right level of richness in the mids to make the sound enjoyable without falling into a warm signature, where the BTR7 is much more dry in comparison. Technically, the scene is rather large with a good level of depth. It was not as exceptional as the sound that I get from my Bifrost but not very far and with better precision vs. the SW51.
To be noted: I had a few bugs with the N7 where I had to reboot the unit. Once because the USB DAC mode wouldn't play any music, or sometimes the MQA wouldnt work, or the screen would freeze for no reason and the DAP would reboot automatically. However, this was still acceptable from my point of view as I listened for the DAP maybe 5/6 hours a day for 14 consecutive days and had 5 or 6 bugs over the 2 weeks, so not a real issue.

A few things could be improved for an even better experience with the N7:
- except for the stock case, I found the stock accessories quite deceiving for the price tag. The stock adapters are not really useful nowadays and a 4.4mm to XLR connectors interconnect would have made much more sense to me as the LO is really excellent and this kind of cables are rarer than the traditional 4.4mm to 2.5mm and 3.5mm to 2.5mm audio adapters.
- I didnt find the the two amplification modes (A and AB) so different in terms of sound signature. The DAP get hot much faster in Class A mode but apart from that I hardly noticed any difference and I'm pretty sure that I wouldnt be able to find which amp mode is used in a blind test. So I did all my listening in AB mode eventually.
- the DAP is quite big (142*77.8*22.2 mm), really reminds me of the R8 in that sense (143*81*20 mm). So it hardly fits in my DD Hifi or my Ifi Audio case which is a bit annoying (no room left for iems and cables)

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Anyway, this was overall a really great experience and I thank Cayin again for giving me the opportunity to review the N7. At the end of the 2 weeks, I now find myself wanting a N7 of my own as it gave me much more listening pleasure than the BTR7 at work and would definitely fill a gap at home (e.g. when I move from one room to another). It's also very versatile which is always nice to have.
This N7 may be the one to pull me back to DAPs eventually !

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ngoshawk

Headphoneus Supremus
Cayin N7 ($1995): The “near-flagship” carries tricks up its yellow sleeve...
Pros: Cayin build
Cayin sound-wonderfully musical
Options abound
Mids sing wonderfully
Android 12.1
Ability to download your music apps
Cons: Cost
Might be too neutral for some
May not be powerful enough without an external amp
Limited internal memory
Cayin N7 ($1995): The “near-flagship” carries tricks up its yellow sleeve...

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Cayin N7

Intro: This sample is part of a North American tour. Andy Kong contacted me to see if I was interested, and of course I said yes. After my time, this unit will be sent to the next reviewer in line. My words for good or ill are mine only, with no affiliate connection what-so-ever.

I have a soft spot for Cayin DAP’s & portable headphone amplifiers. One of my current go-to DAP’s is still the venerable N6ii, running the E01 motherboard. I also have the A01 & T01, but prefer the E01 for its sound, which favors my tastes. I did find this odd, since it only comes in 3.5mm se connectivity. I have not tried the E02, nor do I plan to. My other go-to is an “older” Shanling M6 Pro. I have loved the Shanling “house-sound” since the original M5, which I still own. That said, I will bring in my TOTL neutral DAP, the older Questyle QP2R as well. To me it may just be the finest unencumbered sound out there, new or old. I do also have the Astell & Kern ACRO CA1000, and use it heavily as a DAP and streamer in my office two-channel system, so I will try to provide some comparative aspects there as well.

Over the course of my two weeks, I was able to get over 50 hours of listening. Some longer days, some shorter. I tried to accommodate all listening options as well. Others will have had more time to do that with their personal units.

The N7 retails for a cool $2k, so it is not cheap by any means. Plus, in this day of streamers taking center stage, does one truly need this item? You will have to be the judge of that. Slotted just below the N8i, but with some newer technology, the N7 is different enough not to step on the toes of its older sibling.

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Specs:

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Gear Used/Tested:

Cayin N6ii (E01)
Questyle QP2R
A&K ACRO CA 1000

Letshuoer Cadenza 12
B&W Px8
BQEYZ Winter
Audeze LCD3


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Songs:

Mostly Qobuz & Tidal favorites list (everything from Jazz to U2 to David Grisman)


Unboxing:

Few nail the unboxing aspect every time. Focal comes to mind as one that does, having just finished a review of the excellent Stellia (eCoustics & Head-Fi), which does tend to set the unboxing bar. Cayin has always had nice unboxing experiences as well, but with a bit less bravado. More subtle, but still full of “oooo” moments.

Where others provide overly large boxes, Cayin uses efficiency to protect their wares. The N7 is a prime example of this, coming in a box more fit for a decent pair of IEM’s, except for the quality. The back is laden in gold foil, with black lettering of the specs and important information. Lifting the black rough patterned lid like a nice box of chocolates, you find a black paperboard pouch over with the Cayin mantra of “Never be the Same Again,” in gold. The contents of that pouch are plentiful including the screen protectors with an extra for the back, a very thorough instruction manual, the inspection card and two “HiRes” stickers. Under the pouch is the paperboard covered hard foam insert, which contains the N7. Pulling the insert and N7 out, you find the other accessories including two right angle jacks for 2.5bal to 3.5se and 2.5bal to 4.4bal. All connection options for your headphones are covered with the included jacks, except 6.35mm se.

Directly underneath the N7 lies another box, which contains the superb yellow Dignis case. Dignis is renowned for top quality cases, and this is no different (this one opening on the top, complete with magnetic clasp). The back of the case carries the familiar Cayin triangular shapes, complete with “slots” to see the geo-patterned back of the N7. This case is top notch, and I had no issues with using any of the buttons as some have mentioned on the Head-Fi thread. Tactility was excellent with no erroneous touches or wobbles. Also included in that extra box is a very sturdy USB-C to USB-C charging cable. This can be used for OTG use as well, I believe.

Straightforward, simple yet elegant.


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Build/Technology/Function:

*Individual app usage will be detailed below, as well as technological functions/advancements.

Two years ago, I was privy to the excellent Cayin C9 Nutube headphone amplifier. I mentioned that had I the need for a single amplifier, the C9 might very well be it. Some on the threads have stated that they use the combination of the N7 and C9 together, and are thoroughly satisfied. While I agree, the cost of the pair runs right at $4k USD, and I would hope the user is happy. That said, the combination can be used for pretty much anything with the right combination of connections, replacing your two channel systems if needed. BT of course make running powered speakers a breeze as well.

The C9 had impeccable build qualities as does my N6ii. I have gone months without using the N6ii, to come back and note that the battery had drained only 5-10% when powered off (which is normal, but still wonderful to note. Updates are still had, which is excellent support from Cayin. And yes, still being in production certainly helps (Titanium version). The N7 follows these with exemplary build quality as well. I failed to remember that the actual unit was black (with midnight-blue geometric shapes accented on the back) and not yellow due to the excellent case. Slightly smaller than my iPhone 13 Pro Max, but markedly heavier to me, the N7 is not a small critter by any means. I would also recommend the case for everything, except when changing the single SD card (up to 1TB), because with the curved sides it is slippery.

The 5” screen takes up a good portion of the front, as it should. But good working edges are to be had all the way around. I remember the smartphone craze of “borderless” designs, and find the amount given to the edge on the N7 to be quite good, and allows functionality without accidentally changing something.

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The gold accented volume knob on top showcases a pattern similar to a Native American sandpainting, and sits well protected, much like the N6ii, but not on the side. Actual movements of the knob were one for one, with no phantom movements, either. The left side holds a single micro-SD card slot, while the right holds the business items, including the usual on/off power bottom (at the top and larger) followed by FF, play/pause, and REW. A sleek, simple design, with easy functionality.

The bottom of the N7 is a veritable functions paradise, not unlike the C9. Some have mentioned that it takes a bit of getting used to the location of all inputs/outputs, but this is not dissimilar to iFi and some of their older wares. The two gold-lined jacks on the bottom right are for the 3.5mm se & 4.4mm bal headphone connections. The bottom left is for use as either a pre-amp or line-out, such as into the C9 or another amplifier. Both 3.5mm se and 4.4mm bal are included again. Under the Pre-Amp/LO options lies an I2S connection for digital use, and to the right of that the USB-C port for either charging or digital use as well such as a DAC from your computer. Digital Coax can be used as well. This is where the potential use for streaming into your two-channel system can come about, which seems to be more the norm these days.

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Technology:

As noted in the picture above, the N7 comes with many improvements in technology from previous Cayin DAP’s, but are done without making the others superfluous. Of note first, is that the N7 is a fully discrete model, technology-wise. This means that no unwanted electrical passovers can ruin the flow from one part to the next. Isolation keeps unwanted energy from impeding the audio signal quality. We see this in fine home 2-channel systems, which allows the individual parts to function without interference from other parts. More manufacturers are turning to this design philosophy for the portable market as well. I applaud Cayin for doing this, even if the cost rises a bit to cover the tech involved. The discrete 1-Bit DAC converts digital signals to analogue through a resistor network composed of 128 pcs (4 x32) of high precision thin film resistors and, as quoted by Andy Kong, “a pure DSD DAC, that is designed to natively decode DSD format efficiently.”

Based off of the highly acclaimed Philips TDA1547, 1-bit is a dedicated Switch Capacitor Network chipset using technology from CD players. This technology is still in use in high-end Marantz CD players as an example, which lends further credence to the tech.

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From Andy’s excellent explanation behind the tech involved:

“While reviewers and users appreciate 1-bit DAC technologies as natural, smooth, and realistic when compare to their analog experience in the practical world, they are inevitably not as popular as their PCM counterparts. The not-so-impressive measurements have hesitated a lot of vendors to devote their resources to 1-bit DAC. In addition, the existing solutions are far too bulky and consumed too much power for personal audio, so we didn’t have any 1-Bit DSD DAC implementation for DAP or even transportable DAC/Amp. To introduce 1-Bit DAC to our portable users, Cayin designs a micro-miniaturized 1-bit DAC circuit from fully discrete components:

  1. DSP Pre-processing: Enhance digital audio signal and output L+, L-, R+, and R- digital bitstream for fully balanced decoding.
  2. Audio Bridge: pass-through DSD unaltered, convert PCM to 1-bit bitstream before transmits to DAC circuit
  3. Discrete 1-Bit DAC: convert digital signal to analog signal through a resistor network composed of 128 pcs (4 x32) high precision Thin Film Resistors
  4. Power Supply: Sophisticated low-noise highly-isolated supply circuit to support different functions of digital and analog processing separately

As mentioned previously, 1-bit DAC is very sensitive to the integrity of the incoming digital signals, we have to perform a series of DSP pre-processing including re-clock, de-jitter, and noise shaping. The resulting bit-stream will then be passed to Audio Bridge where all incoming signals will be organized before feeding to the DAC circuit. If the incoming signal is DSD, then it will be pass-through without any conversion. If the incoming signal is PCM, it will be transcoded and upsampled to DSD512. Theoretically, FPGA is a good fit for this job, but the FPGA we adopted for N7 cannot handle (1) and (2) above simultaneously, we need to off-load either (1) or (2) to other options, and after numerous studies and experiments, we decided to add a single chip SRC (Sample Rate Converter). With this design, DSD playback will remain purely software-based DSP in (1) and (2), while PCM playback will go through the single chip SRC plus software DSP in FPGA/MCU.”
(https://www.head-fi.org/threads/cay...xplored-frontier.966860/page-24#post-17422765)

The major knock on 1-bit seems to be that it provides the listener with a more laidback, smooth presentation of the sound, versus R2R technology, which purports to be more “mastering-like” in sound. Frankly, I don’t care as long as the critter sounds good to me.

To me, discrete technology is the next logical step in isolating any unwanted electrical interference, and worth the extra cost. Woo Audio has done it with their superb tube amplifiers for a good while, having a whole separate power source. I liken this to when many manufacturers went to purposefully-designed sound chambers in developing their in-ear monitors. Having a consistent chamber, which reproduces sound allows the chamber to be used across multiple models, or between custom & non-custom models. On a larger scale, this is no different than when Japanese cars (and VW) moved to single or a small number of platforms & engines to cut cost in the long run, while still having the ability to develop many different models. Discrete technology allows for any potential sound impurities or outside interference to be isolated or removed as a result.

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Many manufacturers are moving towards dual band WIFI as well, giving the user options and in some instances, the 2.4gHz can be a more stable interface (or at least another option). I have found that the lower rate does present issues with some streaming platforms, but having the option is a good idea. I have Starlink at our cabin up north in the boonies, and my solar panel interface (and Arlo cameras) runs strictly off of the 2.4gHz option, so I can use the 5.0gHz for my audio/streaming/computer uses delight. Having the choice is good. Running BT 5.0 on the N7, while not the most current application, still affords excellent connectivity to all devices I tried, and without issue. The ability to run LDAC as well as AAC, UAT & SBC (2-way), gives the user the latest options for sound quality.

The N7 can also run either Class-A amplification, or Class-AB amplification. It used to be that Class-A was meant for high dollar items only, and kind of the Holy Grail of audio component systems. A status symbol, but with the goods to back it up. Many current budget systems run either AB or Class-D amplification, for the cost savings. My current office unit, the versatile Yamaha A-S301 (yes budget, but it meets my needs) is a Class-D. The Shanling M6 Pro DAP can run either A or AB as well. While the N7 is not to be considered in the affordable bracket, it shows that many manufacturers are moving to incorporate both A & AB for consumers. This is a win-win. Hand mounting of the amplification units is done, after matching each channel gain-wise as close as possible. Thus, Cayin insures the parts function as a whole, without distraction, or error.

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While the amplification is solid state, the user can still hook the N7 up to the C9, for that NuTube sound, which gives you the ability to tailor your sound, and the many options available between the two. Hence the mere fact that the combination could be all you need in a small apartment (complete with powered speakers).

Quoting Andy again, “The discrete amp circuit of N7 offers Dual Amplification Operation (DAO), a feature that allows users to configure the HeadAmp circuit in class A or class AB and deliver different audio experiences.

Both Class A and Class AB headphone amplification circuits can eliminate the crossover distortion of the output stage satisfactorily, but they perform differently with regard to their harmonic distortion and intermodulation distortion. The difference mainly occurred in the distribution and weight of various harmonic distortions. Even if we are using the same circuit, like N7 or N8ii, changing the operation mode from Class A to Class AB, or vice versa, will deliver a different sound signature and minor deviation in sound quality.

In fact, there is not much difference between the total harmonic distortion (THD) and transient intermodulation distortion of the two Amplification Operation Modes of N7 HeadAmp, but the distribution and weight of each harmonic distortion in different modes are different. With Class A, the proportion of even-order harmonics such as the 2nd and 4th orders are increased, and the proportion of odd-order harmonics such as the 3rd and 5th order is decreased, and that explained why Class A and Class AB sound slightly different when you compare them in a critical audition.”
(https://www.head-fi.org/threads/cay...xplored-frontier.966860/page-49#post-17462035)

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While the two solid state amplifiers run on the same circuitry, isolating them in the discrete circuitry allows for each to play a part in the sound, independent of the other and without bother from outside (other parts) sources. Many do feel that pure Class-A, while sounding closer to the mastering of the music source, providing a less powerful amp as a result but a smoother signature (but use more power). Class-AB thus provides more power and a different sound (but uses less). Depending upon who you talk to, this can be good or bad. Class-A does take more (battery) power to run, and thus there are listening length differences between A & AB. Cayin has worked to minimize that discrepancy, starting with the C9. To me, this is an insignificant portion of the user experience as some songs demand AB, while other such as jazz (to me) prefer pure Class-A. Class-AB tends to provide a somewhat more dynamic signature to me, and Class-A a slightly warmer and richer, but without becoming drippy or too molasses-like. I switch between the two regularly on my M6 Pro, and did so here as well. The picture below describes what we should hear from the N7.

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As per most devices as well, the round lighted button on the bottom shows the format playing by color from red to green to blue to magenta. This is the typical format for users, so familiarity should be easy.

Functions:

Running a customized Android 12.1, with Snapdragon 665, you get the latest snappiest OS for the N7 as well. That said, my N6ii still runs Android 8.1 and functions well. It did take me a bit to familiarize myself with the dropdown menu accessed by swiping down from the top. I do like that there are larger panels for each function on the N7, instead of the thin line item of previous iterations. Access to all usable functions is there, and you can even drag them about for a more personalized option. Other items can be added from the menu, listed below those tiles already present by clicking on the “pencil” to enter edit mode.

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As noted above, I had no issues with the excellent case mounted, and tactile feel of all buttons was excellent. There was no “gap” between the case and button, the feeling was snug and secure, but not overly so. The one disadvantage to me is that the micro-SD card cannot be accessed unless the case is off. No bother really, since most of us have music on one card or stream from the device.

I was able to easily log into my Google Play account and download Qobuz, Tidal and the B&W app for use with the Px8’s in the testing. Functioning between apps was fairly quick, but there was some delay once inside both Tidal and Qobuz. This could easily have been the WIFI connection where I was as well. On my home network, the apps functioned as expected, and without much delay. There is also plenty of space to download all of your music apps, and I highly suggest you include your dedicated headphone apps, such as I did with the B&W for fully functionality of the headphones in use.

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Sound:

After a long intro, what follows is my sound interpretations based upon the different listening options presented in the N7.

Summary:

The sound emanating from the N7 is as I expected, and hoped. Dynamic, full of energy and vibrancy when called upon, while technically quite proficient on both streaming platforms and internal use (including micro-SD card). This ranks up there with the best DAP’s I have heard, including the vaunted Astell & Kern ACRO CA1000. While not as technically proficient as the CA1000, the sound coming forth was rich, vibrant and accurate, based upon the many options available to the user for fine tuning to your tastes. While not cheap, this shows that DAPs are not dead, and hopefully can still be a huge part of the musical choices presented to us.

moar:

Listening to Ahmad Jamal’s Live version of “Poinciana” I am struck by the succinctness of each piano strike. Accurate and detailed, the supporting upright bass and drums fill the necessary gaps superbly. Timbre is accurate and detailed, providing me with a firsthand account like the front row. Moving to Lenny Kravit’s seminal song, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” his voice is piercing, but delightful. S-sounds and upper notes are tight, and reach up into the limits of my tolerance. Yet, I still find myself reaching to turn the gold volume know UP, such is the musical experience from the song on Qobuz. Class-A here presents a more-forward signature, with cymbal strikes becoming more prominent and detailed. Class-AB sound fuller, but with less detail and clarity to me. On Class-A, that S-sound from his voice sounds more natural to me, and I leave Class-A on for forthcoming songs. Switching to Tidal for the same song, I find that Qobuz emits a warmer signature on the song than Tidal. I like both music applications and can see the continued use of both, even with the MQA debacle. FLAC is on the way for Tidal, so that seems to be a moot point.

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Using the drop down menu to change amplification settings is a breeze, and you can truly change the sound song-by-song, or even within songs. A nice feature to have readily available. On Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning,” I switched back to Class-AB, since to me the drum strikes were too prominent. To me, this song demands a warmer, richer signature (even though I preferred Class-AB here...) to fully engulf my senses in the immersive effect of death and destruction of our planet. A fitting song, less than a week after Earth Day.

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Courtesy of the internet

Switching between Tidal and Qobuz, I did find the user interface for Tidal to be more accurate and usable. Tidal continuously showed song progress and time played and left on each song. Qobuz had trouble showing time left on songs. Mind you, this is a minor quibble, and not Cayin’s faults. Many of you won’t care that the time left shows 0:00, but I like knowing. Tactility of Tidal was slightly better as well to me. Those of you with Android phones or DAP’s most likely already know of these limitations.

Coincidentally, the Midnight Oil song listed above sounded better to me on Class-A in Tidal, but Class-AB in Qobuz. Make of that what you want, but having the ability to change on the fly definitely makes this nice to have (and this could be my preference to a warmer, richer sound...). Conversely Nat King Cole’s “L.O.V.E.” sounded better on Class-AB in Tidal to me, but Class-A in Qobuz. I find his pulsating voice can bother my upper end intolerance, and as a result, having the ability to change is a definite positive.

Using the excellent Letshuoer Cadenza 12, I find the combination exquisite. Considering the total cost, it should be. But synergy plays into many combinations and here this duo plays together nicely on the see-saw of audio.

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Courtesy of the internet


Connection on BT was seamless, and Using the B&W Px8 allowed me to add another device without issue. While wearing, the connection was easy, and the voice told me confidently, “Second device connected.” Hence, I could easily switch between my phone and the N7 without issue. I found that while I appreciated the quick, seamless connection of the B&W, the sound quality was markedly behind the Cadenza 12, as it should be. While not unpleasant, I was jaded by the quality of the Letshuoer, something I thought would never happen after the Tape IEM. It is good to see the company changing directions and correcting mistakes. A review of them is forthcoming.

Had I listened to the Px8 first, I would be (and really am...) thoroughly satisfied. The combination is very, very good, but without downloading the app* (I have not yet), you lose some options, such as tailoring the ANC. You are stuck with ANC on, or off and Transparency. One annoying aspect of use with the Px8, was that after about 10 minutes, the volume dropped markedly. I can only assume this is the Px8 safeguard volume adjustment. Without the app, I could not defeat that. When pulling down the dropdown menus, the volume dropped as well. I will as a result download the app, along with the Sony app for use with the WH-1000XM5.

*With the app installed, the volume drop was defeated, but without any input from myself. It was magic in other words...

Connection to the Sony WH-1000XM5 was easy as well, once I turned BT off on my phone. Once done, connection was entered easily. Mind you, this was a quick check before bed, and hence more explanation will be had below. The Sony sounded quite good as well, and in some instances, I favor it over the Px8 for wireless headphone use.

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What I am finding is that the N7 scales well with whatever listening device you use. But and here is the kicker, that scaling effect can jade you moving from a high-quality IEM such as the Cadenza, to lower-priced but thoroughly satisfying wireless headphones such as the Px8 or WH-1000XM5. Be prepared to allow yourself time to acclimate to each listening tool before making judgment.

When listening to my favorite DAP (portable), the Shanling M6 Pro in comparison, I am presented with a warm, rich signature; with enough detail to keep me interested. On pure sound though, the A&K CA1000 wins hands down to me plus, the ability to incorporate it into a 2-channel system as a streamer makes it a winner. With the Cayin N7 though, the ability to enhance the staging quality (think placement within the cubic space) and imaging complexity of the headphones & IEM’s I used, is also delivered with a very natural tonality. To me, it mimics the M6 Pro in this regard, but more so. I have a soft spot for the Shanling “house sound,” and the N7 is the closest I have come to equaling that signature I love. The ability to drive whatever I threw its way makes the N7 extremely versatile as well. Some have mentioned that it may lack the power to truly drive harder headphones, but I found no issue with my Audeze LCD-3’s.

Excellent soundstage came about across pretty much any IEM or headphone I threw its way, limited only on BT to me and the aforementioned B&W and Sony models. Class-A sounds superb on the Cadenza 12 and the LCD-3’s, almost equally well; except for the sound signature differences of course. That dynamic range of detail and clarity within most listening devices affords the N7 the ability to present an expansive soundstage no matter the device or music. But, with good authority and note weight; and that quality mentioned above. Timbre is rich, but without coloring the sound too much, and to me enhances that spaciousness of soundstage. To me this would be a “just right” soundstage. Not too big, not too small, just about equally present in all dimensions allowing the instruments to be placed accurately and in a supportive manner across the song. It is that expanse, which allows the notes good detail and weight, where a larger stage might yield notes of too thin a character; with too much air between those notes.

th

Courtesy of the internet

Pairing the N7 with the “pedestrian” BQEYZ Winter allowed me to showcase the N7 working effortlessly with IEMs of all price points. Jazz from Qobuz through the duo sounded crisp and clean, with a solid bass line supporting whatever I sent its way, from “Sonny Side Up,” to Dexter Gordon’s “Three O’clock In The Morning.” I was not left wanting with this duo, and could happily pair them for whatever I saw fit.

Some have mentioned that adding an external amplifier made for a fuller sounding signature, with harder to drive headphones. In other words, to fully drive a headphone. To test this, I paired the N7 with the excellent EarMen Angel using the 4.4bal LO, and my Audeze LCD-3 as the listening source. The music was divine, with the Angel not countering the somewhat warm, rich character of the N7; something I appreciated. I cannot really say if there was more or less detail, only that the extra power from the Angel afforded me to fully drive the LCD-3 with ease, and give the notes a bit better weight to them. Your experience will of course differ most likely depending upon what you pair the N7 with, but many have had good results with the equally excellent C9. It seems Cayin knew what they were doing when they gave us these options.

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finale:

My time comes to an end. I have given the N7 50+ hours of my time over the two weeks, prying, probing, changing, listening, and finally settling in with some commonalities, regardless of what music I played. My preference for Class-A over Class-AB was not to be had, since a simple flip for each song afforded me a good, solid listening experience, song-dependent. Some I preferred Class-A. Some Class-AB. I can easily do this on my Shanling M6 Pro, including bringing in dual DAC’s as needed. It seems manufacturers are taking this into consideration, by giving the user more options with each upgrade.

Comparing the N7 to the N6ii seems a bit superfluous, unless you are looking to upgrade. In that regard, I will not make the choice for you. There are many options to tailor the N6ii to your tastes, what with the multiple motherboards, but you are stuck with Android 8.1. The N7’s Android 12 is miles ahead in terms of functionality and use. It works better (as an upgrade should), but is not entirely unfamiliar to those who use the Android platform. As such, you will appreciate the newer OS, but I posit that should not be the reason for the upgrade.

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1-bit is another upgrade, which will allow you to isolate your sound from input to output without degradation. Fully-discrete technology is overdue, and I welcome this, even if it drives the cost up a bit. Those with better ears can be the judge as to whether that is worth their cost. In my two-channel system, I can tell the difference with the black background. The black background follows on portable use as well, but as for auditory benefits, better ears can judge.

So, we are left with a “near” flagship DAP, from one of the most respected companies out there. Along with Astell & Kern, and FiiO (iBasso & HiBy as well), Cayin seems to be telling us, we are not going to give up on the DAP, and you should not either. From their flagships to their lower models, you get extremely good performance and units, which will be with us for a good long time. You can easily hook this into your two-channel system as well, taking a bite out of the streaming technology. And in that regard, the N7 is leagues ahead of pretty much everything out there that cost less, or possibly even a bit more. I find that by adding the A&K ACRO CA1000 into my two-channel as a streamer, I am completely satiated with the sound, knowing that there isn’t a streamer this side of $4k that compares. I would put the N7 in that same sphere, and not just for the streaming. The sound, and ability to change settings to your heart’s desire make this a serious contender in the ultra-DAP level. You should consider it if you like Cayin products. You should consider it if you like FiiO or A&K or iBasso products as well. But I will not spend your money for you and you must decide whether that cost is worth it.

I appreciate Andy & Cayin including me on this tour, between Will and myself, we have a great appreciation for the marque, and for the N7. It really is an astounding product, and if you are in the market at this price, please give it a comparison with the others. It will be worth the effort.

Cheers.

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Last edited:
ngoshawk
ngoshawk
Much appreciated!

Cheers.
superkalou
superkalou
Great DAP ! Thanks for the Review 👍
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ngoshawk
ngoshawk
Thank you! Have a great day.😎

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
Join the "resistance"
Pros: + Natural and organic sound signature
+ Complete absence of digital glare and ringing
+ Excellent transparency and clarity
+ Dual amplifier operation modes, class A and AB
+ Dead silent background
+ Expansive and holographic soundstage with supreme imaging
+ Great recreation of the recording venue
+ End game line output performance
+ USB, coaxial and I²S digital outputs
+ Fast and responsive user interface with Android 12 OS
+ Premium protective case
+ Excellent build quality
Cons: - Slightly forward treble
- Only 64GB of on board memory
- Shared coaxial output with the USB port requires an expensive adapter cable
- Not as powerful as the competition
- Gets hot during use
- Average battery duration
- Quite heavy for the size
This review was made possible thanks to the tour organized by Cayin.
The Cayin N7 was loaned to me for three weeks and now is returned to the company.
I didn't receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don't use affiliate links.
The price of the Cayin N7 is $1999 and you can order it from all authorized dealers around the world.

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Cayin N7 Technical highlights

The N7 is the latest DAP from Cayin, the creator N8ii Flagship DAP that I have already reviewed here
And while the N8ii utilizes dual ROHM BD34301 D/S DAC chips, for the N7 Cayin has decided to go fully discrete.
The N7 uses a fully-discrete 1-Bit DSD DAC that converts the digital signals to analog through a resistor network series composed of 128 high-precision thin-film resistors.
A precisely implemented FPGA enhances the digital audio signal and outputs L+, L-, R+, R- digital bitstream to fully balanced decoding. DSD signals are passed through unaltered, and PCM signals are converted to a 1-Bit bitstream before it is transmitted to the DAC circuitry.

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For amplification duties, the Cayin N7 features a 4-channel discrete component-based fully balanced headphone amplification circuitry.
It adopts low-noise audio grade JFET (Junction Gate Field-Effect Transistors) as differential input stage and BJT (Bipolar Junction Transistor) as the voltage amplification and output stage.
Cayin N7 features Class A and Class AB easily selectable dual-operational modes for the amp circuit.
It delivers the high-power low-noise output with special optimization for low-impedance high-sensitivity IEMs. Class A amplification requires all channels to be in near-identical gain, so they are manually matched and manually installed to the PCB before final soldering.
The Cayin N7 also features a low-noise, low-distortion electronic resistance ladder-based volume control from JRC.
The controller uses a 4-channel in one integrated controller chip that offers precise Volume adjustments and lower power consumption.

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The Cayin N7 is a pure flagship-grade digital audio player that supports all-leading audio formats.
It supports high-resolution 32-bit/768kHz PCM signals along with native DSD512 audio signals. It also supports full 16x MQA unfolding. Cayin N7 also has high-resolution two-way Bluetooth connectivity with class-leading LDAC, UAT, AAC, and SBC transmission protocols.
You can read everything about the Cayin N7 here.

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Accessories

The Cayin N7 comes together with a heavy duty, real leather, case of yellow color, a USB-C cable, 4.4mm to 2.5mm and 3.5mm to 2.5mm audio adapters and a tempered glass screen protector.

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Input and outputs

Cayin N7 features both 3.5mm and 4.4mm output ports, independent for headphone and line-out.
You can easily select whether the line output will be fixed or variable pre-out through the drop down menu.
The fixed line output is a clean, unamplified signal that bypasses the volume control.
The Cayin N7 also supports USB together with I²S (mini HDMI) and coaxial digital outputs so it is widely compatible in different desktop and portable scenarios to use it as a digital transport to an external DAC.
The coaxial output is embedded in the USB port so you have to buy a special cable that is not provided.
The Cayin N7 also supports USB DAC connection to use it with a PC.

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Build quality and appearance

The chassis is made from a solid piece of CNC'd aluminum with a high quality, sand blasted, black finish.
The appearance is premium and luxurious while the body has more rounded edges in the design than the N8ii so allows for better handling.
The Cayin N7 is not that big, it measures 142x77.8x22.2mm so it is more compact than the FiiO M17 but weighing 380g is slightly heavier than the iBasso DX320 which weighs 320g despite having a larger screen.

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Interface and user experience

At the top right of the chassis there is the volume knob that has a nice design and some resistance to give a tactile enough experience while adjusting the volume level.
From the menu you can configure whether it will rise by turning it left or right.
On the right side of the DAP there are the power, track skip/previous, and play/pause buttons.
On the left side is the microSD card slot for expanding the storage up to 1TB.
At the bottom there are the headphone and line out jacks together with the I²S and USB ports.

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The Cayin N7 is powered by a Snapdragon 665 SoC chipset with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, running an open Android 12 OS and supports systemwide high-resolution decoding with SRC bypass.
The multitouch screen is a 5" FHD display that has vibrant colors and is very responsive while it supports double tap to wake.
There is also the familiar Cayin home button that doubles as back key while it also serves as the sampling rate indicator.
The Cayin N7 comes with the official Google store pre-installed so you can easily download all your favorite applications.
The overall user experience is very satisfying, the Cayin N7 is very responsive and fast with a flawless and lag-free operation.
It is highly configurable and customizable, the only thing missing is an ambient light sensor for auto adjusting the contrast.
You can browse, watch videos and use all known streaming applications.
All audio related operations are easily selectable from the drop down menu, gain settings, amplifier class and line output pre or fixed adjustment.
There are no user-selectable digital filters but you can fine tune the sound with the amplifier bias adjustment which is only effective for the headphone outputs.
For music playback you can download your favorite player or use the embedded Cayin music player that concentrates on audio quality by killing all other unnecessary tasks.
The Cayin N7 also supports system-wide control via mobile with the aid of the HiByCast application.

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Battery duration

The Cayin N7 has an enormous 9000mAh lithium battery with a carefully tuned power management system.
It supports rapid charging from 20% to 80% in about two hours but despite all the power optimization, the Cayin N7 is a power hungry beast that depletes the battery quite fast.
The actual usage time depends on various parameters like gain, volume and WiFi.
From the balanced output set at the high gain, with mixed class A and AB operation and steaming high resolution files I got about 6 to 7 hours of playback time.
The Cayin N7 gets pretty warm at class AB operation mode and hot at class A.
I wouldn't suggest charging and playing music at the same time because the player gets really hot.

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Power output

The Cayin N7 is not that powerful as the competition, the maximum rated power output is 500mW/32Ω from the 4.4mm jack when for example the iBasso DX320 can do a whole 1200mW/32Ω with the stock amp.
So don't expect it to drive more demanding loads, they sound compressed and underpowered but you will have no problem with easier headphones like the Focal Clear Mg, the Sennheiser HD660S2 and the Meze Elite that I have used with very satisfying results.
At the same time the Cayin N7 is absolutely dead silent so it is suitable for use with very sensitive earphones.
Output impedance is 1.2Ω from the balanced output and 0.6Ω from the single ended which is good enough but not the best, the competition can get as low as 0.38Ω from the balanced output.

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Associated gear

I was the first reviewer to receive the Cayin N7 so I burned it for a full 200 hours as I was instructed to let the capacitors and the discrete components settle down.
The Cayin N7 was tested with the Sennheiser HD660S2, the Focal Clear Mg, the Sennheiser HD8XX, the Meze Elite and the Yamaha YH-5000SE while I have also used a couple of earphones like the FiiO FDX and the Meze Rai Penta.
All headphone cables used, except for the YH-5000SE, are of pure silver made by Lavricables.
To test the line output I have used the Cayin C9 portable headphone amplifier and the EarMen ST-Amp.
The player was updated to the latest firmware v1.2 that was available when writing this review.

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Listening impressions

Non D/S modulator DACs and discrete amplifiers are usually associated with natural timbre and this is exactly what happens with the Cayin N7 which combines both of these design principles.
This is the kind of DAP that invites the listener into deep listening sessions, it is so expressive and engaging that it makes him forget about everything else.
Like when I first got it in my hands and thought, let's hear a couple of tracks to test the performance but finally ended listening for more than 3 hours continuously.
The Cayin N7 is melodic and organic sounding while at the same time it is absolutely transparent with a mirror-like source fidelity.
The engineers have managed to combine a modern, technical performance with great timbre realism and an analogue-like character to the sound.
The timbre is natural and lifelike but the sound doesn't get too warm and of course not muddy or mushy, the player is fast, with good timing, and it is characterized by an exceptional clarity and a superb definition throughout the whole frequency range.

The bass is tight and controlled with excellent, deep layering while the texture is not too visceral but not lean or dry either.
The Cayin N7 is dynamic and impactful, especially with easier to drive earphones, and while it is not the most powerful DAP, it still manages to sound convincingly contrasted.
The mid-range is very harmonious and resonant with plenty of colorful overtones, voices and instruments sound alive and breathing.
The Cayin N7 is tonally balanced but the upper-mids are perceived as a little pronounced and also the treble feels a little sharper than neutral, there is a bit of extra luminosity and energy that make it stand as a touch highlighted and borderline bright.
This is something though that should not be confused with the qualities of the higher frequencies which are very refined and resolving with natural decay characteristics and no loss of body weight relatively to the low end.
With the Cayin N7 you are not going to hear any pre or post ringing, there is a complete absence of digital glare and artificiality, the sound reminds more of an analogue than a digital source.
These sound qualities make the Cayin N7 the perfect DAP for people who like to listen to classical music or anything with unamplified instruments but thanks to its stellar technicalities it is also suitable for pretty much everything else making it a great all rounder source.
Listening to this latest recording of Richard Strauss, it was a revelatory experience not only because of the aforementioned sound characteristics of the player but also thanks for the immaculate recreation of the actual
recording venue.

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It can't be stretched enough how capable is the N7 of recreating a faithful image of the recording venue by drawing a spacious and extended soundstage with a solid center image, extremely accurate positioning and a strikingly holographic and grand relief, especially with speaker-like sounding headphones like the Meze Elite.

Class AB or A?

The two operation modes of the headphone amplifier offer some really tasteful variations to the overall sound characteristics of the player.
The class AB has a touch more clarity and definition, the sound is a bit cleaner and tight, more controlled and neutral but with a sharper, cooler treble and slightly leaner texture.
Class AB is slightly more impactful and controlled on the bass but in class A it sounds fuller, weightier and more visceral.
Class A sounds more diffuse and a little looser in the time domain while it presents better harmonic wealth and timbre realism with greater sense of holography and more natural echo.
With class A you can literally hear the violin notes bouncing in the walls and the galleries of the Cathedral in the following recording.

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The line output

The line output of the Cayin N7 is awesome, the sound quality is even better than the headphone because it carries out all the above described characteristics and additionally it manages to sound even more natural and organic.
And this is because it doesn't accentuate the upper-mids and the treble so the tonality is even more balanced and high pitched instruments sound closer to reality.

The pairing of the N7 with the Cayin C9 portable headphone amplifier is really marvelous, the natural and organic timbre of the player is combined with the tube warmth and holography, making a match made in heaven, an end-game listening experience.

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Compared to the iBasso DX320 ($1600)

The iBasso DX320 is the flagship DAP of the company and supports interchangeable amp modules that allow for deeper sound customization.
The player is slightly bigger than the N7, because of the larger 6.5" screen, but is also more lightweight.
For the comparison I used the stock AMP11 MK2s and the Focal Clear Mg that are easy to drive and a fair load for the Cayin N7 but it should be noted that the iBasso is considerably more powerful and suitable for harder to drive headphones while both players have a pitch black background.
Both players offer flagship level user experience but the Cayin N7 comes with the latest Android 12 and is a bit faster and more responsive than the DX320.
The Cayin N7 has two slightly different sounding operation modes (class A and AB) when in the iBasso DX320 you can do a deeper and more effective sound customization but you have to pay extra for the additional amp modules.

The DX320 sounds slightly fuller and more visceral in the bass, it is more impactful but not as tight and controlled, clear and layered as in the Cayin N7.
The overall sound signature on the iBasso DX320 is just slightly more neutral with less sharp treble and upper-mids.
The DX320 soundstage is more focused on the center and a bit intimate when the Cayin N7 offers a wider presentation, it is more diffuse and it has sharper imagining with more precise placement.
Clarity and transparency are on the same level and while the line output of the iBasso DX320 is good enough, the line output of the Cayin N7 is of higher sound quality.

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Compared to the FiiO M17 ($1800)

The FiiO M17 is the flagship DAP of the company which has the extra feature that it can be powered by an external power adapter that bypasses the internal battery and unlocks a desktop mode with a power output as high as 3W/32Ω.
It features a 6" screen but it is really bigger and heavier than the Cayin N7.
The FiiO M17 has no other sound customization options except for the embedded low pass filters of the DAC and a feature called second harmonic regulation which are not as effective as the dual operation modes of the Cayin N7.
Both players offer flagship level user experience but the Cayin N7 comes with the latest Android 12 OS and is slightly more responsive and faster.

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Using the Focal Clear Mg to keep things fair for the N7, the sound comparison yielded the FiiO M17 as a touch leaner and drier in the overall texture but also slightly more transparent and cleaner sounding.
The M17 is definitely more impactful and dynamic in the low end but also a bit brighter and sharper in the lower and upper treble.
It is faster and more energetic with a grander and more expansive soundstage but the Cayin N7 is the best when it comes to imaging and positioning.
Additionally the N7 is a bit more organic and natural sounding with greater timbre realism and a smoother, less edgy sound presentation.
The M17 offers a competitive line output, just like the iBasso DX320, but it is really difficult to beat the supreme sound quality of the Cayin N7 line-out.
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In the end

The Cayin N7 might not be the flagship DAP of the company but the performance is extremely close while certain sound qualities might be more appealing to a lot of people.
It doesn't have the dual Nutube timbre or the ultimate transparency and refinement of the flagship but it is not that far behind while it presents the music in a very natural and organic manner with excellent timbre realism.
The Cayin N7 offers something different than the D/S based DAPs bringing a very analogue quality to the sound that is going to reward the lucky owner with many hours of pure musical bliss.
Test playlist

Copyright - Petros Laskis 2023.
Last edited:
Ichos
Ichos
@drftr

Thank you for your comments.
I don't think that the N7 is lacking in impact and control especially with easy to drive earphones like yours.
And please consider that the N7 must be fully burned in order to sound impactful and controlled.
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superkalou
superkalou
Very interesting this comparison with the DX320 I own.

In addition to the beautiful material to test it: thank you for this Review and curious to know how it compares with Hiby's Flagship...
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Ichos
Ichos
Hello, thank you for reading.
Unfortunately I can't compare to the Hiby flagship because I never had the chance to test it.

jjb3

100+ Head-Fier
Cayin N7 - exceptional sound with some frustrations
Pros: Lively musical presentation
Very well controlled bass
Extreme soundstage and imaging
Excellent build quality
Cons: Add ons cost extra (dust cover for unused outputs)
Headphone outputs on bottom of device (but you can flip the screen, though not ideal)
Confusing marketing materials related to DSD conversion
Software issues with using as an external DAC
UPDATE: I managed to determined that the issue causing the intermittent disconnection of the N7 from my PC when used as an external DAC was the USB-C cable that Cayin included with the device. Using different USB-C cables I was able to get the device functioning as an external DAC. However, it is somewhat glitchy as the option to disable USB charging when used as a DAC does not work, and the charging continues even when that option is selected. I have updated to 4.5 stars, with the .5 star deduction for the included cable issue and not being able to disable USB charging.

I received a discounted Cayin N7 from MusicTeck in exchange for agreeing to provide a detailed, honest review of the device. I was already considering the device before I purchased it from them.

My experience with MusicTeck was great from start to finish; I received near immediate responses to questions, shipping was extremely quick, and I found their website to be easy to navigate and have some really high end products.

OVERVIEW

Overall, I am very pleased with the N7 and would recommend it to anyone looking for a well-made DAP that has a fun sound, exceptional bass and mids, but may not mind some software frustrations when trying to use the device as an external DAC. For me, that is not a significant issue, but I deducted a star because it may be an issue for some, particularly since it is supposed to have that functionality. Otherwise, I did not deduct points for the other “Cons” noted above, and only note them for your consideration.

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TANGIBLES

The Cayin N7 comes with a yellow leather case (the marketing materials refer to it as orange, but it is in fact yellow), a hefty USB C charging cable, a tempered glass screen protector, a pre-applied protector for the back of the unit, and a 3.5 to 2.5mm female adapter and a 4.4 to 2.5mm female adapter. If you want the sea green leather case (referred to in the marketing materials as blue) you need to pay an additional $89.00, and for dust covers for the unused 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs you need to pay an additional $14.99. I found the dust covers more useful than the female adapters and would have preferred those were included. Regardless, they are a nice touch, and plug the unused jacks. I do not mind the yellow case. I actually really like the gold accents on the volume knob, jacks, and back of the leather case.

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The unit itself feels very solid in hand, and its rounded edges make it feel soft despite its heft. I only use it with the case, which seems to be a decent quality leather. The leather case has a magnetic closure, which is sturdy and allows for access to the volume control. Though the output jacks are at the bottom of the device, you can flip the screen vertically and this allows you to run the cords from the "top" of the device. This is somewhat frustrating because the home screen button then takes up space at the "top" of the device, which seems awkward, but it is better than having the headphone cord run out of the bottom of the device, which seems more awkward if lying down while listening.

The user interface is Android 12, which is very fast and very user friendly if you are already familiar with Android’s OS. What I found particularly useful was the drop down menu accessible from the home screen that allows for changing the amplifier type from A to AB (the overall difference between the two being that I perceive AB to push the mids forward and add some detail, which A relaxes the presentation), the output selection, and other sound-related settings.

Though I am fairly skilled in setting up computer audio, I must say that I am presently disappointed in the ability to use the Cayin N7 as an external DAC because it keeps disconnecting itself from my computer. I downloaded the required USB driver, confirmed that it was installed, and used the installed taskbar application as instructed to check the device status. Intermittently, the device shows as not available. I have tried to have the device identified within Audirvana, within Qobuz, and just as a Windows output device, and continue to get the same result. My device manager reports that the device was requested to install, though the device shows as installed as evidenced by the application noting the device being connected, but then it intermittently disconnects according to both device manager and the application (as well as within Audirvana and Qobuz). For this reason and frustration, I am deducting a star. I will continue to tinker and reach out to support as needed, and will update if appropriate.

INTANGIBLES

The sound of the Cayin N7 is robust and tends to a livelier, fuller presentation than both the Mojo 2 and iBasso DX240, though not as dynamic as the Hugo TT2. Previously, my go-to portable device was the Mojo 2, as I found it to have great clarity and a level of musicality that I felt was a good balance. I tend toward the analytical sound, and usually find there is a tradeoff between good detail retrieval and musicality. However, the Cayin N7 caused me to sell my DX240 and Mojo 2, as it struck the balance so well that I no longer found the Mojo 2 necessary, having previously felt the need to pair the Mojo 2 with my DX240 in order to get the desired balance. With the N7 I found great detail retrieval and clarity, yet a very full and fun sound. It was not as good as the TT2, but that is probably not a fair comparison. It was better at musicality and dynamics than both the Mojo 2 and Hugo 2, however.

What I first noticed with the N7 was the immense soundstage and exceptional imaging. At first, I reviewed using both my SE846 and IE900, and heard sounds outside of my head and could easily pick out instrument placement across a very broad stage. I found it even better than when using my full size HD800S, which are known for an already wide soundstage. I then used my Noble Kadence IEMs, which have a narrow soundstage. I found the soundstage respectable with the Kadence, though not as wide and surprising as the N7 created with the SE846 and IE900.


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Bass

With the N7 I felt that there was excellent control over the bass, regardless of whether using IEMs or the HD800S. I never felt that it sounded like it did not have a grip on the bass, whereas with the DX240 I felt it seemed to have loose control at times. The HD800S demonstrated solid depth and weighty notes, and what I found most exceptional was the bass from the Kadence, which is considered a reference monitor. I would not say that the N7 is warm or dark, but I would say that it provides great bass extension and control, which adds to the sense of richness of its sound.

Mids

I found the presentation of the mids to be on par with the bass presentation. I felt as though I was listening to a larger system than the small device sitting on my desk, regardless of which IEM I was using. In fact, the fullness of the sound – which I attribute to the bass and mids – was so impressive that I found myself preferring my SE846 over my IE900, whereas with both the DX240 and Mojo 2 I much preferred the IE900 for their fuller, dynamic driver sound. The N7 was able to add a weight to the SE846 such that it became a much richer listen, while still preserving detail retrieval and clarity.

Treble

I am typically sensitive to treble, but I felt that the N7 didn’t do anything offensive with it. I found it well extended. Take this with appropriate weight because the IEMs I used and the HD800S all have good extension as well. In short, nothing put me off about the treble, nor did it particularly impress me.

Last Gripe

My last gripe with the N7 is that it appears that the advertised DSD 1-bit conversion may only be realized when stored music is played through the onboard player. In playing streaming music through UAPP it seemed that the upsample feature on UAPP only recognized the internal DAC of the N7 as capable of 192 khz. When the device was connected to my computer, it recognized the DAC as capable of 768 khz and DSD. Previously, when using my Mojo 2 with UAPP through the DX240, UAPP recognized the Mojo 2 as capable of outputting 768 khz. After some digging on the settings on the N7, the best I could determine was that the DSD settings were only available in the Cayin onboard app, which does not allow streaming. I had assumed based on the marketing materials that the N7 converts all music, whether stored or streaming, to DSD. That does not appear to be the case as near as I can determine. Regardless, it still sounds great.
Last edited:
Andykong
Andykong
N7 converts all incoming bitstream to 1-Bit DSD format before decoding, including streaming. We employ a 1-bit discrete resistor network DAC in N7, this DAC circuit is incapable of decoding PCM bitstream directly, all PCM bitstream, including streaming content or USB Audio input, will go through transcoding and upsampling to DSD512 before decoding.
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jjb3
jjb3
This is helpful, thank you. Any idea why UAPP would show as 192 kHz if the stream was being upsampled by UAPP if the device upsamples to DSD? I realize upsampling through software would result in resampling but used UAPP in an effort to determine if the stream was upsampled by the device to DSD. I would have thought it would have shown up sampling to the device maximum, not 192 kHz.

Fabian Bautista

New Head-Fier
Cayin N7, a true marvel
Pros: Natural timbre on all instruments.
Wide and deep soundstage.
Superb imaging.
Bold expression on all frequencies.
Cons: Not a colored sound, but if you are looking for a neutral DAP, this could be a little warm.
Power is only enough for IEMs.
Cayin N7
This is my first Cayin device, and what an experience!
I must to say that my preferences are DAPs and IEMs.

In my collection are Astell&Kern SP2000 Cu, Kann Alpha, FiiO M17 and Shanling M8.
Astell SP2000 was my favorite player…

On IEMs side, Empire Ears Odin, Legend Evo (sold), Sony IER-Z1R, Campfire Andromeda, 64 Audio Fourté, QDC Anole VX and Kinera Nanna.
My favorite is Odin 🧙🏻‍♂️… since Cayin N7, even more.

Also important to say, I love jazz! 🎷 Almost 90% of my Flac Hi Res and DSD collection is on this genre.
Cayin N7 is so unique DAP. It’s beautiful, and well designed, with useful buttons and volume wheel. SP2000 wins on industrial design and materials, but N7 stands strong.
But the important thing, how it sounds?

A M A Z I N G ! !

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The sound has a strong personality, it’s bold, powerful, highly detailed and with a superb imaging.

But the fist aspect that catches attention, is the natural timbre of instruments and a huge soundstage, wide and deep. Even with Odin, an IEM that doesn’t posses a wide stage.

Bass.

N7 has a strong bass expression, it’s well balanced on all frequencies with high levels of detail. Counter-bass artists like Christian McBride provides a lot of nuances on his improvisations. N7 posses the ability to shows every aspect on McBrides explorations. The rip of strings are powerful and natural, an analogue feeling.

N7 push Odin boundaries to another level, with more body on bass and mids.

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Mids.

On mids, N7 preserves the natural feeling of each instrument timbre, it’s not a melted mid experience as A&K, but quite enjoyable. All the details are there, ready to fly thru your favorite IEM. Piano 🎹sounds delicious, as an example, DSD album Midnight Sugar from Yamamoto Trio has a lifelike expression on each piano note.

Also, flamenco guitar’s are a revelation on N7, beautiful acoustic feeling, so natural. Réquiem from Vicente Amigo can transport you to another dimension with a variety of guitars and voices plenty of texture, both, female and male.

About DSD tracks, doesn’t need special volume compensation and sound superb. N7 design is impressive on DSD files.

Highs.

Highs are extended and controlled, N7 can mitigate that crazy horse called Fourté from 64 Audio. No problem here, highs extend away in a very enjoyable experience.

Not so airy but you get body on cymbals. Also you can enjoy all the energy of Miles Davis or Christian Scott trumpets 🎺 , a little bit rounded but without losing information.
N7 it’s a true marvel, great user experience with streaming service as Qobuz preserving his unique sound signature.

It’s hard to say that N7 is superior than A&K SP2000, I prefer to declare they are different.

Paired with EE Odin, N7 without doubt it’s the choice for me. You can feel all the energy from jazz improvisations, truly dynamic and expressive.

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Wrapping up, N7 it’s a wonderful experience, if you love that sense of analogue sound, I highly recommend this new Cayin adventure.
Fabian Bautista
Fabian Bautista
If you like Ru6, I think you'll love N7. It's a beautiful natural analogue sound.
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Answerfish
Answerfish
I pulled the trigger on it today from Musick Tech. Im looking foward to pairing it with my C9 as well as my Aroma TB100.
J
jlawso13
Great review! But maybe a slight disagreement. The N7 powers my 300 Ohm ZMFs with ease and headroom to spare. They're not super hungry, but they take a fair bit of juice to drive them. As for the Odin, I agree... Fantastic pairing and truly opens it up.

Wolfhawk46

1000+ Head-Fier
Who Knew Big Bird Was A GOAT?
Pros: Software/UI
Sound Quality
Weight
Build Quality
Price
Cons: Yellow
N7 Front.jpg


Original Logo Small.png

Overview:

Photos coming soon.

Up for review today is the Cayin N7 – which I have officially dubbed “BIG BIRD!” I received this Digital Audio Player (DAP) from Musicteck (https://shop.musicteck.com/) with a discount in exchange for a review. As always, this in no way impacts how I review things, and I will still sarcastically call out things I dislike – so it is surprising that Musicteck keeps letting me review things. If you’d like to buy one from them, you can get in here: https://shop.musicteck.com/products/cayin-n7-pure-1-bit-android-based-digital-audio-player. Now, on with Big Bird’s review!

N7 Open Box.jpg


Build Quality / Design / Specs (18/20):

Oh yeahhhh, the build quality is excellent on the black aluminum body and the gold-colored pieces also feel very sturdy and well-made. The rounded edges are perfect for holding and the buttons have a nice satisfying tactility/clickiness without being too hard to push. No, it doesn’t have the SP3K’s War Machine Suit, made from a rare endangered species of robots that only live on the moon. But, it’s also not a fingerprint magnet, or as heavy either.

The design is also better. The volume knob sits on top and does nothing other than spin, no clicking, no accidental presses, and it’s protected from accidentally turning it and blowing your ears out. On the right side, you have 4 very easy-to-use buttons, an on/off button, a back button, a play/stop button, and a forward button. The only design downside for me is that the charging port and outputs are on the same side of the DAP. That means that I can’t charge it and listen to it at the same time on my desk because my charge cable is in front of me and IEM cables aren’t very long. There’s almost every output you could ever need – 4.4mm balanced, 3.5mm unbalanced, I2S, USB C, COAX, Line Out, and Pre Out. The only thing it’s missing is the 2.5mm balanced, which almost no one uses because they can snap easily – oh, and it comes with adapters for 2.5mm, so you’re covered. Oh, and there’s a glow-y button! Under the screen, there’s a tiny round button that glows the color of your file format being used. It also serves as the back button when the screen is on and tapping it will take you back (not home) on each press. It’s very nice and much easier to see than the SP3K’s light, which never seemed to work. This one works correctly.

The specs are…extensive. There’s the Snapdragon 665 giving it quick processing power with Android 12 and 4GB of RAM. There’s 64 GB of memory built-in for storage. It has a 5” screen, a 9000mAH battery, DSD512 support, MQA, a de-jitter clock, dual amps with class A and class A/B modes, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, dual femtosecond oscillators, a 1-bit resistor network DAC to compete with R2R, and more. It also outputs 500mW @ 32 Ohms on balances and 250mW @ 32 Ohms on unbalanced. A lot of companies release their power numbers @ 16 Ohms so that their numbers look bigger. I can say that I can power the TXGEars Serratus, a 300 Ohm set of earbuds on high gain at around 50% power. So, for IEMs at least, there’s plenty of power. If you’d like to send me your Susvara to test, let me know, but the N7 also drives all of the full-size headphones I have as well.

N7 Box.jpg


Accessories (18/20):

Very nice. This comes with everything I expect a DAC to come with, and then some. When you open the box, it’s a great experience with the DAP on the top layer and accessories beneath. The DAP comes wrapped in plastic wrap to keep it clean and the back has a screen protector. Oddly the front doesn’t as far as I can tell, which was a surprise, but when you slide the DAP into the case, which has metal cooling vets on the back, you get the reason for the back protector to prevent scratching the really cool back. The case is easily the one thing I can say I don’t like about this player. Not because it’s not a good case – it’s excellent – it covers all the things, including the front screen, and the buttons are covered but have tactile symbols on the case to make it easy to find and press them. I also love the metal heat dissipation metal on the back, which adds another splash of gosh coloration. It’s just…that it’s REALLY yellow. If it was black, with the gold metal and gold knob, it would have looked a LOT better. Yellow is definitely not a color I’d ever pick for something to come in. Green, yes; Blue, yes; Black, obviously – but not yellow. Make a yellow case available separately for people who enjoy the color, but don’t make it the included color. However, it’s VERY hard to lose – so there’s that. At least it comes with a case (looking at you Shanling) and the case protects the front screen to some extent (hoping I don’t scratch it.)

The N7 comes with a USB C cable to charge with and two 2.4mm adapters to let you use a 2.5mm cable with either the 4.4mm balanced OR the 3.5mm unbalanced jacks – WOW, totally unnecessary, but welcome. Why anyone would need to plug a 2.5mm into a 3.5mm output is beyond me, but still, the accessories are on point. And no, I’m not taking points off because I hate yellow, but because the front screen might be unprotected and it doesn’t say anywhere it’s Sapphire glass or whatever. So slightly scary.

N7 Buttons.jpg


Software / Setup / Ease of Use (20/20):

YESSSS – love me some stock Android 12. As a music streamer, being able to download the normal Tidal app, log in, and just use it without any heartache – it’s the pinnacle of DAP use for me. For those of you who like to load files on an SD card, that’s an option as well and the Cayin music app works just as well as the A&K music app for internal files. I didn’t even have to update anything when I got the DAP – it all just worked as soon as I turned it on. It automatically MQAs and it just WORKS. Nice. Zero complaints here.

N7 SD.jpg


Performance / Sound (18/20):

The battery life on the medium gain is decent, not amazing, but decent. I can drive most IEMs on medium around 40-50% volume. The battery is slightly better than the M6 Ultra, and even better than the SP3K with the amp set to A/B mode. So 8-10 hours or so. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the Class A amp and the A/B amp – so I’d keep it on A/B for battery life unless you REALLY need/like the Class A amp. These won’t get anywhere near the Shanling M3 Ultra’s battery power, but it’d be weird if they did. As previously mentioned, I had no issues powering any of my IEMs, including the 1-of-1 Elysium BASS edition, which is very power-hungry – or the TGXEars Serratus which has an impedance of 300 Ohms. So, yeah, good performance.

I’ll just come out and say it – this is the best-sounding DAP I’ve listened to, even over the SP3K. It doesn’t have the detail the SP3K has necessarily, but it has a really rich, warm sound without any of the sharpness the SP3K had. I personally prefer it over the SP3K, but YMMV as always. The HiBy RS8 sounds extremely similar to the N7, possibly a little more detailed, but not by much – and it costs $1,300 more. It still has the N7’s warm, rich sound quality to it that makes headphones purr. It is also built like a tank, weighs quite a bit more, is even thicker than the N7, and can be connected to the HiBy dock and used as a desktop system. So if you want a similar sound, don’t mind all the negatives and added cost, and want the ability to have your DAP play sound from your computer in addition to being on-the-go capable – then get the RS8. Otherwise, get the N7 for a cheaper, lighter, more portable option without the docking ability.

Using my normal test tracks playlist with the Elysium BASS Edition (EBE) shows off how good this DAP sounds. The bass from "I'm Good (Blue)" has a ton of impact (ha, I know...with an Elysium) and teh sub-bass is super clear and has excellent reverb without drowning out the crisp mids and vocals. I love that I can hear the sub-bass wind-up on this song with this combo - a detail that's actually pretty rare. The RS8 has a little less impact and sub-bass here, but I can still hear the windup for the sub-bass and the mids are still excellent.

"I Am a Stone" has deep bass strings in the background, though the EBE almost pushes that bass too far into the mids. Still, the mids come through strongly and the vocals are absolutely beautiful with depth and complexity I can't always get from this song. I have to turn the RS8 on mid-gain up a little more than the N7 on mid-gain, but that's pretty unimportant. Again, less bass on the RS8, which is my preference on this song and the reason I test with it. The mids sound just about the same.

"The Fall" has tons of highs detail I can't always here in the intro and the dirty guitars sound fantastic and not muddy at all on the EBE through the N7. The vocals are pretty far to the front, even on the chorus, and the bass guitar can be clearly heard. Excellent representation. The HiBy actually presents the highs less clearly than the N7 on this song in addition to the decreased bass. The N7 really brings out the cymbals in the intro. The RS8 feels more mids focused, which is not a bad thing at all, but both do an excellent job with the mids.

"Code Name Vivaldi" sounds Good on the N7, very detailed and expansive with good separation, but it doesn't have the impact the RS8 has on this song. The RS8 sounds really deep with a ton of body from the intro bass throughout the rest of the song - it almost overwhelms the EBE here (again, haha, Elysium with a ton of bass.) The RS8 has more emotion on this classical track, other classical tracks may vary.

The soundstage sounds great as well, but imaging and soundstage often come from really good IEMs as well, so not a surprise since the EBE is one of my favorite IEMs. Overall, a great representation from both the N7 and RS8.

N7 Jacks.jpg


Comparisons / Price (17/20):
This is really where the N7 excels. See above for sound comparisons to the RS8. It provides near TOTL performance for 1-2k less. It has been described as a baby LP6 (which costs 2x as much.) It very nearly reaches the performance of TOTL DAPs like the SP3K, RS8, and LP6, but for quite a bit cheaper. It also has the best UI I’ve encountered while still being pretty light and portable. At the same time, it sounds better than the Shanling M6 Ultra and the iBasso DX240. Whether or not it’s worth twice as much as those is up to you, but for me, I’d keep the n7 over either one – it’s more detailed with a better sound and a great UI. The N7 manages to carve its own niche place in the market between the under $1k and over $3k where it’s better than the under $1k and close to the over $3k. That’s impressive and it’s well-priced in the $2k range.

N7 Knob.jpg


Conclusion:

I don’t like sounding like a fanboy – it’s really not in my personality. However, the N7 is just really a great product. It has the best UI I’ve encountered (slightly better than the M6U and RS8), excellent sound (close to the RS8 and better than the M6U), great packaging and accessories (akin to the DX240), and a really great/functional heat dissipation case that is the ugliest mustard yellow ever. Still, Big bird will go down as one of my highest-rated DAPs ever and as close to perfect as I’ve seen – so far.

Wolfhawk’s Rating: 91/100

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o0genesis0o
o0genesis0o
Alright, it’s indeed yellow. The knob at the top is sexy though.
J
jwheat09
So, in comparison to the other DAPs you have had in your possession, is this one you could see yourself keeping as a daily driver long term? Sounds like it will be great.
Wolfhawk46
Wolfhawk46
Yes, and I still prefer it to my RS8, but the RS8 does stuff the N7 can't.
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