Cayin N8ii

mvvRAZ

Headphoneus Supremus
Best sound there is or ever was in a DAP, at a price
Pros: Incredible tonal balance
Technical ability and texture like no other
Great look and design
Cons: Awful usability if you want portable
Runs very hot
Plug on bottom - pocket nightmare fuel
Long overdue, but as promised my N8II review!

As I've always done with DAPs, I will be reviewing sound and portability. I've run Tidal and SD cards on the N8II. I don't really use any of the fancy features and options, I buy the brick, put the tube hybrid option on, and get to listening. For convenience sake, the review will be split into sound and usability. Usability mainly concerns how convient it is to use at home and on the go, including battery life, charging and so on.

1. Sound

This is what has made the N8II obscenely popular Imo. Tube DAPs and amplifiers tend to include too much coloring for my preference. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I personally much prefer that the IEMs introduce the coloration, while the DAP simply enables them to perform at their best and adds a small touch of its own.

The N8II is exactly that. If you are buying it for the tube sound, and hope for a WARM "filter" for your IEMs, you might as well skip this one. Both the SP2000T and the OG N8 do that better. Or well, better isn't the word, since the N8II flat out refuses to do that, it isn't even competing for that sound

In terms of signature, I'd personally classify it as neutral-bright. It provides a small treble boost, as well as a tighter, and faster bass response, in a shape that I'd classify as a U or very mild V. Its speed and technical ability are the defining qualities, with a massive, deep and holographic staging, dynamics like no other and surgical separation.

The "tube" component, to me, is expressed in the dynamics and timber/texture. While the sound is anything but thick, the texture it provides is incredible. The bass and midrange are able to almost "tickle" your ears with how rounded and detailed they are, and the pitch-black background only helps them stand out more.

The beauty of what the N8II does Imo, is in that it gives you full freedom. The SP2000T for example takes a bright IEM, and forces it to be warm. It takes a warm IEM, and forces it to be even warmer. The N8II lets the IEM make the decision of whether it will be bright or warm - it simply makes it better.

I personally like more neutral signatures, so for the most part I take slightly warm IEMs, and pair them with the N8II to get back to neutral. The Kr5 and Xe6 both absolutely excelled with it, as did everything else I plugged into it, but those two really stood out.

2. Usability

My own rating of 4/5 of the N8II almost feels unfair to me considering I am yet to hear a DAP sound this good, but here is the justification for it - if you are looking to get something that is borderline portable, the N8II is an awful choice. I'm not looking to do extreme sports with the N8II by my side, but if a DAP drives me crazy while taking it for a simple walk, something's off.

The first and foremost problem is the plugs being on the bottom. I believe the justification for that is that people mostly use it on their desks - even then though, I don't see the point of the N8II having the plugs on the bottom. To me that feels like one of those really clunky laptops that put the 3.5 jack at the back and you have to get up and go on an exploration just to find where to plug it in. It feels even worse when you're digging through the depths of your pocket and you're trying to adjust the sound - more than a few people have thought I'm feeling myself up as I'm walking around.

The second that I wasn't a big fan of is the battery charging. Battery life is okay, around 9 hours would be a rough estimate without activating all the GIGA BOOSTS - just regular power mode aimed at driving easy IEMs. The charging however - it is just stupid slow. I've tried a variety of chargers and plugs I had at home, including my laptop's charger, but the fast charging seems to require some very specific ones. I didn't bother finding any on Amazon, I guess that's also my mistake.

WIthout fast charging it takes ages, I basically had to leave it overnight to charge it to full.

On a less resolvable issue, the heat. I guess that just comes with tubes, is the heat. It's basically unusable in summer outside. Trust me I tried and I'm pretty sure I burned my leg in the process.

Power is great, you can drive just about anything in it, including stuff like the Meze Elite. For obvious reasons, I haven't tried something like the 1266TC since that just nopes out of anything even remotely portable.

3. A comparison and a conclusion

I think one comparison is particularly relevant to the N8II - the LPGT. They are both similarly neutral, similar battery lives, but with the key differences being that the N8II pulls ahead on sound, and the LPGT pulls ahead a bit on convenience.

I'd personally classify the N8II as a direct upgrade on the LPGT, and a great middle ground between the tonality of the LPGT and the LPGT Ti.

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All in all, I can't not recommend the N8II. It simply sounds too good to pass up if you're willing to spend the money. I'd only really note that you should consider it "transportable" much more so than actually portable. It isn't the most convenient brick out there.
Skyediver
Skyediver
I feel you on all fronts. I think what keeps me happy with the N8ii is I’m not using it in true, walk around portability mode much. More settled in somewhere kinda thing. Appreciate you highlighting the troubles with that specific use case.
1
111MilesToGo
Excellent review. I do fully agree with the ”sound“ part. It‘s a great DAP when you have acquired a knowledge of which timbre and amplification settings to choose, depending on genre and recording characteristics as well as on the IEM/headphone at hand.

Can‘t comment on the ”usability“ part in more detail. Mine does not get too hot (with e.g. IE 900). Haven’t taken my N8ii for a walk outside yet; it’s perfect for listening in a leisure seating or at the desk. As you said yourself, your experience with charging is not representative - it works fine and fast when one uses a proper QC 3.0 charger and the Cayin supplied USB-A to C cable.

Thanks for your review, in particular as it provides a balanced view on the sound.
E
EdgarBear
Hi I found your review very accurate, I have heard the n8ii about 2 months ago at a friends home, and I am proud owner of the SP2K, I love my Ak dap, but to be honest the Cayiin sounds better, it is not very wide in sound stage , but very musical , mellow, powerful and dynamic, sound is very organic and holographic , I loved it, the issue for me was the usability , I mean it’s just darn too big!
After having this internal conflict yesterday I just bought it , my Cayiin n8ii is on its way, listen it is incredible in sound, amazing

I own about 12 iem, recent purchases were the VE phonix and EE odin and evo so does the kublai khan , so I bought n8ii cause it does make iems better

Alexzander

100+ Head-Fier
Cayin N8ii provide great solid state amplification while things are a bit tricky with tubes
Pros: + Very clear ultimately detailed sound with great separation and soundstage depth
+ Versatility of power and amplifications modes along with tube flavour option
+ Long battery life
+ Beautiful design aesthetics
Cons: - Tuning is a bit cold with a bit more than needed mids and mid bass taken out
- Tube flavour won’t be everyones cup of a tea
- Soundstage is not the widest and could be very narrow in some modes
- Warm in solid state and ultra hot with tubes and pure class A amplification
- Display is underwhelming in screen size, resolution and quality
Hello everybody!

Today I’ll be reviewing Cayin N8ii and comparing it with iBasso DX320 (using Amp 11.2s, 12, 13), Astell & Kern SP2000 and FiiO M17.
I’ll mostly focus on sound quality otherwise we all risk falling asleep.
Oriolus Traillii with stock specially tuned PW Audio 1960 cable and Rognir Planars (bass version, non-perforated pads) would be used to to describe my sound impressions. I’ll be mostly using Tidal official app to compare the DAPs.
I listen to all the genres of the music both well and poorly recorded but mostly to Western Electronics, Pop, Rock and Metal.
As a regular disclaimer - all equipment was bought using my own funds and I have zero affiliation with any of the manufacturers mentioned.

Let’s start!

Look & Feel

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N8ii chassis look gorgeous. It’s big window in the middle of the left side of the DAP provides you a nice view on a pair of NuTubes which could nicely glow in the dark once you activate them. Volume knob with its engraving looks luxurious and classy - not overly shouty or tasteless. Aluminium black finish goes well with the rest of N8ii exterior.
Battery life is quite long and the only thing that mismatches a DAP of such price is it’s screen. It’s both small, having overly warm tonal balance and big sized pixels that could be easily seen with a naked eye. Touch screen also doesn’t often work as expected in nuances though they are not critical.
You can operate this DAP with one hand while it’s still a bit bulky and something like SP2K or DX320 would be still easier to use.

Solid State Sound

Without any exaggeration I’m hearing an extremely detailed sound using Cayin N8ii with P+/AB modes activated. Every micro transient is there along with the tiniest of the details. I believe this is the first thing that would be brought into one’s attention once N8ii starts playing music.
Just this fact alone brings this DAP to the top TOTL level - I’m really amused straightaway by such technicalities.
You can hear a very clear and controlled sound reproduction.
The soundstage is not wide but its not too narrow using P+/AB modes while being a very deep one.
The timbre is neutral-cold to my taste and I perceive it like a very honest although it’s not the best allrounder - more on that later.
The separation is great: you get powerful and tight sub bass, strong but not overly brought into attention bass, clearly distinguishing mids and kind of even pronounced highs which help to keep the overall picture focused.
While the more time you listen to N8ii the more you understand that part of it’s soundstage depth and overall clarity is achieved by pushing back parts of the mids and mid bass. I do feel that there is too much of a good thing here as it influence vocals reproduction. They are a tad too distant and lack body by a very small fraction with male vocals suffering the most.
Also highs won’t be forgiving so if record has some piercing or hot passages you’ll definitely hear them.
Reducing P+ mode to a P one will pull out a noticeable amount of both dynamics and dynamic range also narrowing the stage. Switching from AB class amplification to pure A class flattens the stage depth, sound textures and transients further while also not widening the stage.
Oriolus Traillii are known to have great over-ear headphone like soundstage width but in P/A mode it becomes way too small. Everything including vocals become placed so close providing uncomfortable feelings for me.
As for Rognir while you can drive them to a satisfactory level using P+/AB I still feel that there is not enough power supplied to drive them to their full potential as they lack dynamics a bit. Switching to P/A will deliver you a real claustrophobic experience.
So in my opinion N8ii is suited to drive IEMs and some non-demanding dynamic headphones rather than planars.

Tubes Sound

Let me put it straightaway - tubes in Cayin N8ii is something that I’m puzzled with and let me explain why, but first of all let’s see what happens when you activate them.
So once those four green lights pop up you can hear that background becomes less black, soundstage depth flattens a bit, some parts of lower mids and highs become less apparent while other part of upper highs becomes more.
Also bass and sub bass soften a bit, overall sound becomes a tad smoother and receives those well known tubes textures flavor, while not that much of it. I can hear a little to almost none warmth injected and in terms of harmonics it reminds me setting a value of 20 on a Hiby RS6 harmonics controller.
In P/A modes N8ii becomes very hot, so I won’t be risking putting it into a pocket. Also in P/A depth flattens furthermore so in some tracks I get a very strange feeling that singer vocals are born right in the middle of my brain - like it’s me singing when I’m not actually singing.
I don’t enjoy it at all and that’s on Traillii! With Rognir this became even worse.
So why I’m puzzled with tubes if there are no issues for me with them in P+/AB?
The reason is that I can’t find a single track where I would prefer N8ii tubes over SS mode.
And balanced tubes are being one of the main part of the unique selling point of N8ii also justifying it’s price.
I know that some people like to apply tubes to old or badly recorded tracks or some just prefer tubes with their gear on N8ii but that’s just not my case. Such a surprise!
I do feel that if either tubes only add their flavor to sound textures or provide a more significantly different signature there is a higher chance that I would be using them.

Solid State Comparisons

SP2000


Despite being recently discounted SP2K still remains the top flagship DAP of Astell & Kern.
It’s soundstage is wider than Cayin’s N8ii while not having such big depth. SP2K tuning is on the neutral-warm side and I find it a more pleasant and natural allrounder. I would say that SP2K provides a true rich HiFi pleasant sound whatever it means.
You can hear that mids and mid bass are not recessed in any ways delivering you very rich sound in those areas including both male and female vocals. Also highs are never too hot or overly piercing unless you listen to some extreme recordings. Both DAPs have great bass and sub bass as well as dynamics and dynamic range.
In terms of details I’ll give a slight edge to N8ii as on some tracks you can hear micro transients and details better.
Noise floor is higher on SP2K though it can easily drive both IEMs and planars like Rognir or DCA Noire.

M17

FiiO flagship DAP is amazing on how it is able to combine top ESS chips detailed sound with musical smoothness and clarity.
Again it’s soundstage is much wider than N8ii and in DC mode it has spectacular and more natural depth.
In terms of tuning M17 is more flat one with a bit less sub bass and linear mids. It also does not accentuate any part of highs but you can also hear some sibilance as on N8ii sometimes if the recording is up to it.
As for details it’s a tie here while I do prefer N8ii textures reproduction over M17 smoothness. M17 is winner in DC mode in dynamics and it can also drive more hard IEMs and headphones obviously due to it.

DX320 Amp 11.2s

There is a drama saga ongoing with DX320 stock amp due to firmware updates changing sound. As I can see most people prefer original sound with more tight and deep sub bass with more engaging mids and without artificial extreme layering and strangely accentuated highs. Upcoming newest software should solve those issues but let’s see.
Timbre-wise Amp 11.2s is unique as it gives you a special liquid sound. Something in the middle between solid state, R2R and typical tube signature.
Soundstage is significantly wider than on N8ii with good but not so big depth - it varies depending on the firmware also.
As for details and dynamics I think it’s a tie here and more a matter of preference of how things are being reproduced. If you want crystal clarity and tightness then go for N8ii. If you want that unique liquid sound - DX320 Amp 11.2s is all yours.
DX320 can drive both IEMS and not demanding planars but in case of Rognir I’ll still prefer M17 and SP2K rather than Amp 11.2s due to better synergy in clarity.

DX320 Amp 12

This was an unexpected pairing that surprised me positively as originally I bought Amp 12 just to test its true line out. It turned out to be a very good math to listen to IEMs and headphones even without further modding. Amp 12 does not have such a total black background as N8ii or Amp 11.2s but has a tuning reminding me of SP2K. Of course Amp 12 and SP2K differ in details with Amp12 having a bit more focus on mid bass and less micro contrasts applied on the frequency range but still it is a very pleasant natural sounding a bit warm and pleasant amp module.
Stage again is not that deep but much wider than on Cayin’s creation and it can drive both my IEMs and planars.
In terms of details and dynamics it’s again a tie in my opinion while you have to apply some burn-in into Amp 12 as out of the box it could sound a little bit diffused.
In my opinion Amp 12 is a better all rounder than N8ii if we are talking about solid state amplification.

Tubes Comparisons

DX320 Amp 13


Amp 13 supply two different tubes flavors through it’s left and right phones outputs respectively. Left PO is a crystal clear one with great separation and very light, euphonic sound. Sub bass is great and tight, but part of mid bass and lower highs are recessed in order to achieve such signature.
Right PO is a more balanced one with a hybrid-like sound without drastic dips or accentuations except for some part of the mids brought very forward. Sometimes this results in instruments playing just around you and not in front of you. So you might get a feeling that you are on the stage rather than sitting among spectators.
Sub bass on right PO is a bit less strong than on left one and is comparable with Cayin’s by it’s quantity with tubes turned on.
Nothing is overly smoothed on both POs, you can start hearing any smoothness only starting from mids and below. And it’s very delicate.
Both POs are very detailed and doesn’t fall behind N8ii while left PO will put out some some portion of details out due to being very airy and vocal centric in mids.
Soundstage is much wider with Amp 13 and with good depth - which is comparable to N8ii in tubes mode this time.
Which tube flavor to chose between Amp 13 options and N8ii is a pure matter of preference here as they all differ significantly between each other.
I enjoy Amp 13 left PO most.

Conclusion

Cayin N8ii is a great DAP to use with IEMs or non-demanding headphones with top class solid state amplification. It will suit you well if you value soundstage depth over its width and don’t mind a neutral-cold timbre with a tad pushed back vocals.
If you are looking for a tube flavor I encourage you to be both cautious and brave 🙂 If it is possible go and have a listen to different DAPs including iBasso DX320 with Amp 13 along with tubes implementation on N8ii which also sound quite unique.
If by any chance Cayin release say N7 without tubes and overheating but with the same solid state section I feel that I would be eager to exchange my N8ii for it.
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Alexzander
And yeah - I was testing Amp 12 with the latest firmware available
M
McCol
Great review @Alexzander

I don't agree on all your points especially around the sound from the tubes but that's the thing with reviews they are based on our own personal preferences and other kit etc etc.

Your comparison with the DX320 is much the same as i found them however I did find the N8ii to be an overall better performer based purely on my ear/headphones and music taste.
I don't find the heat an issue either, the days if me walking around any dap in my pocket are gone really, I'm not sure I'd take either the dx320 or n8ii out in my pocket!
A
Alexzander
Thanks @McCol !

I totally agree with you that in the end of the day it all comes down to both personal preferences and synergy with your equipment. Or just your current mood 🙂
I’ve decided to keep both N8ii and DX320 as they provide very different sound.
As for the pocket thing - I still do take my DAPs with me sometimes on long walks or while travelling in countries with different climate, so that’s also an important point for me.

AEIOU9

100+ Head-Fier
Excellent package, top choice in current DAP market!
Pros: Overall sound quality, AMP flexibility (SS and NuTube), high quality device with nearly perfect build quality - screen & smooth operation due to 660 SoC, size for what is offered
Cons: Price
For those who want the picture in a few crisp bullets:

  • Overall sound signature is neutral with the flexible AMP selection influencing if the sound signature stays neutral or leans to the warm end of neutral
  • Nutubes do warm up the sound but will fall short of a true tube AMP (comparing against my WA7 3rd generation)
  • Excellent technical capabilities – lots of detail retrieval and a huge soundstage
  • Smooth user experience due to solid SOC choice and good firmware, great screen
  • Well built with good battery life (~8-9 hours)
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For those continuing on, I did my review using the following equipment:

  • Aroma Jewel w/ EA Centurion Cable
  • UM Le Jardin w/ PWA Meet Again Cable
  • ZMF VO w/ ZMF 2K Copper Cable
  • Only utilized balanced output
  • I maintained the P+ mode and class AB AMP for all my listening
Screenshot 2022-06-12 171535.png


Device + User Experience

Let’s start with the device itself, the N8ii is a well-constructed piece of electronic equipment that does almost everything right with a couple of exceptions. Starting with the good, you can tell the N8II is made with premium materials and the manufacturing process + QA is solid.

The N8ii has an excellent screen for those who will use their DAP to stream any video or for anyone who just wants a quality screen while they are scrolling through their music library or streaming service of choice. Cayin has notably improved the WiFi receiver in the N8ii, the N6ii TI was terrible on my network and kept dropping the signal while streaming. I ultimately had to sell the N6ii TI because it was so bad, but I’m pleased to announce that on the same network gear, I have 0 problems with the N8ii. Lastly, Cayin has a very stable set of firmware and chose a strong performing SoC, for me and my uses it just works, 0 issues. The hardware and software combination here just leave you with a smooth and trouble free user experience.

Size-wise, while the body is not ultra-portable, it is portable and something you could slip in your pocket, unless you are rocking skinny jeans 😊. For what Cayin is packing in here, I think they did a great job fitting everything into this form factor. For my use case, I view this as a pro but if you prize portability and size above all, the N8ii might not be right for you.

Accessories wise, Cayin provides a reasonable bundle of cables, adapters and a nice case. Meets expectations for a high-end DAP at this price range.

Now onto the opportunity areas! First, I will say these are minor nitpicks and both pertain to the volume knob. I don’t think these design decisions should sway anyone from buying this DAP. Aesthetically, I would have preferred something that wasn’t gold and didn’t have the funky design engraved into it. Mechanically, I wish there was a little more resistance and no “clicking” from turn to turn. For me, the ideal solution would have been a smaller, non-gold version of the DX300MAX knob with the same feel when using it.

Listening Impressions

As stated in the “executive summary” this is a DAP that dabbles in the neutralish range. For those looking for something very warm, it might be worth exploring the new Sony flagship (basing that on others’ impressions). For those not in this camp, I think the N8ii hits a very good sweet spot as it brings out tons of detail in recordings, a very wide and 3-dimensional soundstage, and the ability to tweak the presentation between straight neutral to warmish neutral because of the two AMP offerings.

In SS mode, here are the key things I heard across my test tracks:

  • Soundstage is larger and more 3-dimensional
  • Bass is tighter and “crisper”
  • Treble is a bit more extended
  • Slightly better detail retrieval across the mids and treble range
In tube mode, here are the key things I heard across my test tracks:

  • Technicalities take a small hit relative to SS mode but are still impressive and not lacking on an absolute basis
  • Bass is a bit more “bombastic” and fun
  • Pleasant natural tonality for mid and treble frequencies
While I won’t detail out the P/P+ and class A/AB differences (others have done that better already 😊), I did play with them, they are noticeable and I think it is amazing that Cayin was able to fit so much configurable hardware into a portable device of this size…pretty awesome!

For those with headphones, I tested my ZMF VOs (300 ohm) and was able to drive them properly with plenty of headroom left (medium gain, ~55 volume). Not sure how that will scale up with harder to drive gear like a Susvara, but I suspect many headphones will play nicely with the N8ii.

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While I have owned and tried many DAPs, I do not keep multiple DAPs so I can’t give fair comparisons against other DAPs as those are going largely off memory. I can comment that I don’t have any regret or desire to track down my prior DAPs including the elusive DX300MAX TI.

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
The Timbre Master
Pros: + Extremely natural and convincing timbre
+ Very musical and engaging
+ Excellent technicalities and transparency
+ Holographic soundstage
+ Powerful for a DAP
+ Solid state and tube output timbre
+ Class AB and A operation mode
+ Dual voltage output mode
+ Balanced and single ended unamplified line outputs
+ I²S mini HDMI digital output
+ Fast and lag free user experience
+ Good battery duration
+ Excellent build quality
Cons: - No dedicated USB type C port or a DC input for charging
- Rather small screen for the size
- Quite bulky and heavyweight
- Very expensive
The N8ii was kindly loaned to me by Cayin, the unit is now returned and I didn't receive monetary or any other kind of compensation for writing this review.
The price is $3499 and you can order it from all authorized dealers around the world.

Cayin N8ii

DAPs are getting better and better, companies are focusing on the higher end of the market rather than mid priced models while budget DAPs are becoming obsolete as being replaced by the USB DAC dongles.
One of the latest flagships is the eye watering expensive Cayin N8ii, a master quality digital audio player, the successor to the N8.
In order to keep the review short and easy to read, i will be skipping the detailed technical specifications that can be found at Cayin website.

Technical highlights

The Cayin N8ii is the first audio player to feature the brand new BD34301EKV chipset by RHOM in a dual configuration and balanced architecture.
Each chip is operated in mono mode which maximizes its performance.
Two low pass antialiasing filters are available for PCM and three for DSD.
Cayin is synonymous with tubes so it doesn't come as a surprise that the N8ii has a fully balanced vacuum tube timbre circuit through two pieces of KORG Nutube 6P1 double triodes carefully matched and tested for low noise.
An innovative suspension installation is used together with shock - absorption techniques for minimizing the microphonic effect during use.
The user can choose between the vacuum tube or the solid state timbre at his will.
Both timbres can be operated either in class AB or class A mode.
The timbres are used at the pre-amplification stage while the main head-amp is a 4-channels fully discrete circuit with low noise audio grade JFET and BJT.
The amplifier has a dual output mode that regulates the operational voltage to offer two distinctive outputs and this is a novelty that shouldn't be confused with the gain setting.
P is the standard while P+ is the high output mode that increases handling power up to 1200mW/16Ω from the balanced output.
The P+ mode is not available in class A operation mode.

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Inputs/Outputs

The N8ii has two phone outputs, one 3.5mm single ended and another 4.4mm balanced.
The latter can be configured as an unamplified balanced line output while there is also a dedicated 3.5mm line output.
The digital interface includes a USB type C port that is used for transport and USB DAC duties.
This is also the charging port so you cannot charge and use it at the same time.
A second USB type C port or a dedicated DC input, like found in the FiiO M17, should have been very useful.
The Cayin N8ii is one of the rare DAPs in the market to include a I²S mini HDMI output.
S/PDIF output is also available via a special USB cable that is not included.

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Bluetooth connectivity

The Cayin N8ii has a Bluetooth 5.0 transceiver that supports LDAC, AAC, UAT, UAT TWS and SBC.
You can also use your smartphone as a remote control via the HiByLink.

Build quality and appearance

The N8ii is made from precisely CNC machined aluminium alloy and gorilla glass with a fine sandblasted finish.
Build quality is just excellent while the appearance is luxurious thanks to the combination of the total black color, the golden volume wheel and the visible Nutubes at the left side of the chassis.
The design is minimalistic but a little aggressive with too many corners and sharp edges.
The N8ii is rather bulky and quite heavy, measuring 147x77.5x25mm and weighing about 443g, but still not as big and heavy as the FiiO M17.

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Accessories

The N8ii comes well packed in tray cardboard box which includes a good quality USB cable, 4.4mm to 2.5mm(F) and 3.5mm to 2.5mm(F) adapters and a luxurious protective case.
The case is made from real leather and has a metal grill on the back to enhance heat dissipation.

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User experience

Before operation I installed the latest firmware available at that time but since then Cayin rolled a couple more firmware updates that addressed a few minor issues and enhanced performance.
The N8ii is powered by a powerful 64-bit Qualcomm snapdragon 660 processor aided by 6GB of DDR4 ram.
The unit runs a customized Android 9.0 with Google Play pre-installed so you can download all your favorite applications.
Furthermore the N8ii supports Direct Transport Audio (DTA) that enables all installed audio applications to bypass SRC for bit-perfect playback.
User experience was smooth and lag free without any freezing.
I use my DAPs exclusively for music listening but I have also done some internet browsing to test the performance which proved very satisfactory.
WiFi reception is strong and reliable.
I downloaded Qobuz and Tidal while I also played local files from the micro SD card via the pre-installed HiBy music player.
The unit has 128GB of internal memory and supports one card up to 1TB while you can do direct playback from a USB OTG storage.
Operation is done through the touch screen but you can also use the handy hardware buttons, to play/pause and skip tracks.
A multi-color smart glowing home button acts as the sampling rate indicator during payback and also doubles as home/back button during routine operations.
The 5" OLED screen is not very large considering the actual size of the N8ii but it gets the job done and it has some nice and vibrant colors with good contrast and although the resolution is limited to 720p it doesn't really matter as it saves some battery.
The unit gets quite warm after a while, especially in the tube mode, but not too hot to handle.
I haven't experimented with various aftermarket power hubs and never charged during playback so I cannot comment about heating issues under this circumstances.
Audio operation is very simple and straight forward as you can configure almost everything from the drop down menu.
You can choose the desired timbre, the amplifier class, the output mode and gain setting while you have to dig a little deeper inside the menus to select between the two antialiasing filters.

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Battery duration

The N8ii has an enormous 10000mAh lithium battery with clever power management.
In real life this translates into a surprisingly excellent battery duration which reaches about 8 hours of continuous playback from the balanced output while streaming over WiFi and with the tube mode always engaged.
A pretty spectacular performance considering all the advanced electronics running inside the DAP.

Associated gear

In order to form a comprehensive view of the N8ii audio performance I have used various earphones and headphones both balanced and single ended.
Notable examples include the Meze Audio Elite and Liric, Focal Clear Mg, Sennheiser HD8XX, HiFiMan Arya V3, Unique Melody MEXT, FiiO FDX and Meze Rai Penta.
The review sample had more than 150 hours of use so I skipped the usual burning process.

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Power output

Power output should be considered more than sufficient, all full sized headphones were driven quite well without the need to reach more than 80% of the full volume setting.
Switching to P+ amplifier mode raises the voltage swing making the N8ii an even better match for full sized headphones especially the higher Z ones.
Thus said, in direct comparison with the FiiO M17, the latter sounded more effortless and authoritative when used with the DC mode.
The internal noise floor is as low as inaudible and the N8ii is dead silent even in tube mode so it can be used with your sensitive earphones.

Listening impressions

Solid state Class AB

This combination is the most linear and transparent so it should be considered as the reference configuration.
The Cayin N8ii is as precise, transparent and technically accomplished as it should be expected from a modern era, flagship, digital audio player.
Uncompromised extension to both ends of the frequency spectrum, absence of unnecessary coloring or added character during the digital conversion, exemplary detail retrieval and resolution, crystalline clarity, fast transients and great dynamic antithesis make for a very convincing and true to the source sound reproduction.
At the same time the N8ii manages to sound utterly musical and engaging with great emotional expression and the most lifelike timbre.
The player is highly accurate and technical but without sounding artificial, analytical or fake, digital imprint is very low and you have to be very attentive in order to spot the slightest treble artifacts.
The DAC itself is not that different from the ES9038PRO and the key point that makes the difference should be considered the cleverly designed pre and power amplifier stages that counterbalance the extreme technicalities by adding the musical character with the natural flavor.
Bass is punchy, tight, fast, well defined and layered with great impact while it stays visceral and full bodied.
This is not a dry sounding player, the mid-range has a lush quality to its texture while treble is equally intense without becoming skinny.
The sound is very coherent so nothing sounds detached or out of place, all frequencies blend harmoniously together in the most natural way.
The default mode soundstage feels well expanded with good depth layering and precise imaging while the overall presentation is holographic and on the grander scale.

Honestly speaking, if it was only for the solid state class AB mode, the N8ii should still be a masterclass level player with a performance to match.
This mode is a true all rounder while it is the most technical without sacrificing in sheer enjoyment.
Listening to solo piano music was a very enjoyable and realistic experience but I couldn't help noticing a couple of metallic traces here and there and the lack of endgame harmonic saturation.

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Thankfully the N8ii had a few more aces under its sleeve to fine tune the sound and cater for different music tastes, including mine.

Class A

Switching to solid state class A and the sound become just a little more rich and saturated, notes gained in presence and weight while upper mids and treble sounded more natural.
At the same time technicalities remained almost unaffected, some transparency was lost, transients sounded a little smoother and slower while decay timing relaxed a bit.
Differences were subtle but for a classic music lover made an appreciated difference for the better adding a touch more sentiment, a hint of warmness, leaning the sound signature towards a more refined and natural texture.
Then there was more.

Tube timbre

As excellent sounding is the N8ii in solid state mode, the tube timbre is what sets it apart from the competition and while some people are not into tubes and might like to stick with the solid state mode, for the others the Nutubes are where the magic lies.
Returning to the previous musical example with the solo piano, switching to tube mode class AB made for the most convincing and lifelike presentation.
Timbre became even more natural and close to reality, the grand piano sounded harmoniously rich with great tonal integrity and the most saturated overtones.
The slightest digital glare previously present just vanished, upper treble became extremely smooth and natural while mid-range gained in lushness with a singing quality to its texture.
The player sounded cohesive and micro details became more nuanced and blended.
Images appeared larger and three dimensional making for a more convincing soundstage with deeper ambience communication.
If there was a give away compared to the solid state that was mainly some loss in clarity, transparency and overall control, the slightest bloomines to the bass and the softer attack but in the end all the technicalities were still present albeit in a lesser degree.
In tube mode class AB offered better synergy than class A but your mileage may vary and you are welcomed to experiment in order to find your favorite combination.

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With the Meze Elite the Cayin N8ii offered great timbre and sound synergy making for a musical experience larger than life, especially suited to classical music.
And although it was evident that the N8ii wasn't pushing the Elite to their upper limits, the experience was still so intoxicating that I couldn't resist listening to a whole Beethoven symphony cycle.

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Compared to the FiiO M17

The M17 is almost half the price of the Cayin N8ii and while it doesn't offer the same versatility when it comes to timbre variety, it has the advantage of the DC mode that transforms it into a competitive desktop device.
In this mode it has the edge into effortlessly driving more demanding headphones not only in absolute volume level but most importantly in headroom and authority regarding bass slam, overall control and dynamics.
The M17 is more bold and powerful with slightly better technical fidelity that gives it the edge when it comes to transparency and raw dynamics while at the same time it is not that less musical sounding than the Cayin N8ii in solid state class AB mode.
But when switching to the other timbre modes then the N8ii takes the lead in musicality and naturalness as it sounds fuller, warmer, more lush and not as dry with more convincing timbre and closer to reality.
Considering all the above plus the size and price differences the buyer is called to judge and carefully pick his poison.
(It seems that I forgot to shoot a picture of the N8ii together with the M17)

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In the end

Well nothing more left to add here than simply summarizing the pretty obvious.
The Cayin N8ii is an excellent sounding player with a masterclass level of sound quality without any sonic negatives.
It is as great as you could possibly imagine and with so many sound timbres it is very difficult not to find your favorite one.
If you can handle the price and don't mind the size and the weight then the Cayin N8ii is as good as it gets for a modern era flagship digital audio player.

Test playlist

Copyright - Petros Laskis 2022.
Last edited:
whitedragem
whitedragem
thankyou for identifying digital output options; the I2S (via hdmi), and that if I am charging, I lose ability to do digital output..

as a FiiO m11+ user, I like using the 3.5mm port for coax digital output (runs for 60 hours per charge), when I use USB digital output, I often have to stop music playback to charge, and this has led towards +ve consideration as to the m17 (and the wealth of jacks including ‘full sized’ ports for interfacing with home kit.
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whitedragem
whitedragem
what many consumers forget when looking at modern electronics is ‘miniturization costs top $’; would have loved that comparison photo as many readers would have had that ‘ker-plunk’ moment of recognising just how insanely clever the engineering is that has gone towards this beautiful piece of kit (like shock/suspension for the tube board).

Ichos, per usual, thankyou for a superb write-up; identifying the subtle sonic characteristics (and the plethora of options) available for output modes,..
truly classical (edit: oops "orchestral") is the hardest genre to recreate, so your ackowleding praise towards this player is given in your accolades stating that this is THE DAP for ’high end sound’.

No doubt the m17 has power and ‘home amp’ capabilities, but size DOES matter, and the true feats of excellence involved to give this much in a compact size is outstanding effort; one of those moments I am proud to be apart of the human race reading about accomplishments like this.
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Ichos
Ichos
Thank you very much for your comments.
You are absolutely right , it is expensive but for a good reason, it is truly difficult to miniaturize high end electronics and Cayin has succeeded with the N8ii.
Cayin makes the ultimate tube DAP, but at a price.
Pros: Excellent, slightly warm sound with great bass delivery. Full Android. Good performance from both SE and balanced outputs.
Cons: Heavy and bulky. Cost.


I recall seeing the original N8 at one of the Tokyo FUJIYAAVIC headphone festivals some years ago. I thought that it looked pretty crazy. Listening with it, I quickly realised, upon hearing that slight “ping” that you get with such things, that it had a Korg Nutube inside.

Like many DAPs from China, it was somewhat low on features — no full Android or streaming, but only basic music playback. It was clearly for the hardcore listeners who cared about sound quality over everything else.

For people such as myself, being able to use Qobuz and other than the built-in player is important, as much of my music listening is managed via playlists of music I’ve discovered online, so it was a welcome announcement to hear that its replacement would have regular Android installed, albeit version 9.

The reason for Android 9 in particular is that the N8ii uses Hiby Music’s DTA system, that allows bit-perfect playback from software other than the built-in music player (though, at the time of writing, of all the software I tried, Roon alone would attempt to re-sample, rather than output bit-perfect, a problem it had on Android in general).

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Externally, the N8ii drops a lot of the bling of the original and limits the gold colouring to the volume knob and socket surrounds. Input and output are all at the bottom, with 2-way USB, a 4.4mm and 3.5mm headphone outputs, 3.5mm line out, and an I2S digital output. S/PDIF output is also available via a special USB cable. 2.5mm output is possible via an included adaptor. Like previous Cayin players, unused pins in the USB-C connector are used for S/PDIF. Below the external controls, a single micro SD card slot is provided.

On the opposing side to the controls resides the one key feature to the N8ii: Two side-mounted Kore Nutubes. For the uninitiated, the Korg Nutube uses a modern version of vacuum tube display tech, but for audio use. Behaving like a regular single-ended triode tube, the Nutube doesn’t require the high voltages or a large heater current to run, but can be powered from a regular battery, exemplified by Korg’s own DIY amplifier which uses a single Nutube and runs of 2 1.5V AA batteries.

The lower power requirements allows the Nutube to be used in portable gear, the limitation being that they are physically quite large. Cayin, faced with finding a way to put two in a DAP, alongside a screen, battery and everything else, ended up putting them sideways. There was no way that the N8ii wasn’t going to end up being thick, so why not put them where they can be seen easily?

As far as noise goes, I didn’t hear any of the tube pinging that was occasionally slightly audible in the original N8, even if I tapped the chassis while the tubes were engaged.

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Since tubes of any kind, new or old, do not last forever, the player will shut them off a few seconds after playback is paused or they are not selected for output. Engaging them during playback via the Android pull-down menu will show a 5-second countdown during which they are pre-heated before being seamlessly engaged, with no pause in the music.

The tubes themselves are rated for 30,000 hours of use, which should be more than plenty for the lifetime of the player.
Like some of the R6ii player modules, and the C9 amp, the N8ii includes options for Class A or AB output. However, the N8ii includes a “Power Plus” (P+) mode in Class AB, which increases the output current for full-sized headphones. This mode is only compatible with Class AB operation due to the amount of current draw required.

As well as the dedicated 3.5mm line output, the 4.4mm socket can be set to “LO” or line output mode. Both line outs use separate, dedicated circuits optimised for that purpose, rather than the headphone amplifier.

Both the line out and discrete headphone amplifier circuits have three gain settings, in headphone mode increasing output, and in line-out mode decreasing it. The highest of the line out settings is a standard 2V (SE) and 4V (balanced) set-up, with medium and low dropping those voltage for equipment that requires it.
The headphone amplifier offers up to 1200 mW at 16 Ohms, and 720 mW at 32 Ohms (in P+ mode) enough to comfortably drive full-sized headphones. Quoting a post by Z_Showmaster (a distributor of Cayin products):

P/P+ adjusts operating voltage, bumping the voltage rails up. It is not a gain control – when you toggle P/P+, there is no increase to listening volume or loudness. Large dynamics become more confidently reproduced with P+, versus the softer, sweeter take that P gives you. You’ll be able to switch between the two modes for synergy with different IEMs and particularly headphones.
In single-ended mode, P+ swings go up to seven volts. The N8ii is a bridge-tied load player, and positive and negative phases both function as output. This in particular benefits the balanced P+ implementation to double in voltage swing, and go over 10 volts for a very confident presentation with bigger headphones.
Just remember, P/P+ is not a gain/loudness control. N8ii has a dedicated gain control for L, M and H.
4.4PO P: ±4.7V, 4.4PO P+: ±5.7V as rails. As a BTL player, both hot and cold output, we double swing to 9.4V on P, and 11.4V on P+. The C9 has +/-8.7V and that total upto 17.4V swing.

Most notably is the change in the N8ii from AKM to dual ROHM DACs. This had me very curious as to what subtle qualities these converters would infuse the sound with.

For convenience, I most often ran the N8ii as a DAC, using the USB input from an iFi Zen Stream, using Roon (which avoided the issue of bit-perfect playback which the Android version of Roon seems to have at present, as despite the bit-perfect DTA system, Roon forces output to to only 44.1/48kHz).
Plugging in USB when the N8ii is set to enable DAC mode by default results in an overlay that prevents access to everything, including the pull-down settings menu. I found that if I pulled it all the way down before plugging the USB cable in, it would stay there, and I was still able to change all the main settings.
-

One of the best aspects of the upgrade to Android 9 is the move to similar Snapdragon 660-based hardware that you can find in the Hiby R6 2020 and FiiO M11 Plus. That means a fast-booting, snappy user interface on a larger, 1280×720 screen that will work with Youtube and multiple apps.
While I wouldn’t choose to multi-task on a device that I had bought for dedicated music use, at least you aren’t limited to using one function at a time, or just one music player.

In terms of software, the N8ii I received had the Hiby Music Player front and centre, with Cayin’s own variation (which has some of the Hiby-specific features removed) also included. As the Google Play store is installed, it is easy to download and install some of the common streaming apps, though I had to side-load Qobuz to use it, as the Play Store doesn’t show apps that aren’t listed as compatible with a device.

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Listening Impressions​

My general impression of the N8ii, sonically, was that it has a fairly “meaty” sound, with subtle changes depending on whether tube mode is engaged or not. The Korg Nutubes, as with the C9 amplifier, give a slightly more “musical” sound, which feels slightly wider and more characterful.

Without the tubes, the sound is a bit sharper and more even. Likewise, disengaging P+ mode while the DCA Stealths were plugged in seemed to weaken the bass a little, giving the feel of a slightly more “airy” sound. Most interestingly, I couldn’t discern a large difference at all between Class A and AB modes, likely because I was using IEMs most of the time, and Class AB mode may still not have been outputting enough power to slide out of Class A.

Lately I’ve been listening with the flagship IEMs from Audio Dream in Brazil, made by one of the supporters of my Youtube channel. With a dynamic driver and multiple Sonion EST drivers, they are pretty demanding, even for IEMs. Unfortunately I’d forgotten to ask that he sent a cable with a 4.4mm connector, so I had to make do with a 3.5mm one.

This gave me the opportunity to evaluate the performance of the single-ended output, however. In that, I was very pleased. Interestingly, I thought I could notice a slight difference between Class A and AB modes, with a touch more dynamics from the latter. More noticeable, however, was P versus P+ mode, which caused the sound to open up more, most noticeably in the treble.

I think it would have made more sense to just have a single option of Class A and P mode, and Class AB P+ mode for the greater dynamics.

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Select IEM Impressions​

With the Campfire Audio Solaris (original) and a FiiO LC-RE cable, there was both fantastic punch in the bass, the N8ii making the most use of the dynamic driver. The warmer sound balances resulted in a nice full sound.

I thought I’d see how this translated with Final’s A8000. Initially, Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams was a bit piercing with the brighter IEMs. But Fair Weather from Other Lives off their Rituals album had the N8ii providing a pleasantly spacious sound with great bass in solid state mode.

Switching between P and P+ mode, the A8000 seems to become brighter with the greater power, and the overall sound felt a bit less refined, even if it did seem wider and more open, it came across as more forced.

It was tube mode at this point that added a touch more musicality, if the bright treble of the A8000s suggested that a bit of refinement was lost in the process.
Sofi Tukker’s Hey Lion, one of my bass delivery staples, was delivered with fantastic punch regardless of mode, and plenty of detail and nuance of the sound.
Switching to Ben Howard, I Forget Where We Were, there is a deep, low bass note that comes up occasionally in this track, and it was impressive how well that deep rumble came through.

Overall, I was most impressed at how the N8ii managed to deliver each part of the track — each instrument, on its own as it should be.


Comparisons With Other Products​

At $3,499 USD it is right up there, competing squarely with the best from Astell&Kern, Chord, and is a fair bit more expensive than FiiO’s gigantic M17.
In generally terms, once you get above $1000 in the DAP world, you get decent full-size headphone driving ability. Above $2000 the value becomes debatable, with exotic components the norm — none the less in the N8ii.

The king of portable audio is arguably the Chord Hugo 2 and 2go combination. What you don’t get in having a screen is an insane degree of computing power programmed with the culmination of over 30 years of research, and enough output to drive even very sensitive speakers. Likewise a purity of sound that is in complete contrast to most tube-based designs.

Not surprisingly, the laws of physics wins out here, and the Hugo 2 and 2go combination gave yet more space and detail to the music, rather like how the Hugo TT2 does in comparison to the Hugo 2. The nuances of the waves at the opening of Follow Me Home by Dire Straights were readily more apparent, and the whole song, played back through the DCA Stealth with the “green” filter engaged, spread out all around my head.
The Hugo 2 also delivered the music in a way that I felt more emotionally inside me.

Still, I didn’t feel that the N8ii was put to shame. Like I sometimes prefer the more “solid” sound of the Hugo 2 to the TT2, especially listening to less well-recorded and mastered music, in a similar way, I appreciate the meaty sound from the N8ii, especially with the dynamics in P+ mode.

FiiO’s M17, not entirely unlike Chord, aims for technical fidelity primarily, exemplified by the choice of a THX 889-based amplifier. Interestingly, though it has ESS-based DACs, it delivers the sound so cleanly and smoothly, that I had not been aware, I would have guessed that they were AKM4499s!

Rather than the meaty sound of the N8ii, the M17 is smooth and more even, rather like what you get from a Topping D90 DAC hooked up to a THX amp. It has the added advantage of a desktop mode, enabled by connecting an included 12V power supply.

Not only does desktop mode give the M17 a boost in much the same way that the N8ii is boosted by P+ mode — the bass on headphones such as the DCA Stealth and other planar dynamic headphones filling out more, but, most importantly it gives the M17 a louder maximum volume for full-sized headphones. This was quite noticeable with the low-sensitivity, and subsequently difficult-to-drive DCA Stealth, which sounded weakened on the N8ii, compared to the greater dynamic delivery from the M17
As a desktop solution, the M17 is superior, though being the size and weight of 3-4 iPhone 12 Pro Max phones, is not something you’d really want to try and carry around as much place on a table somewhere.

However, for overall musicality, and taking that with you, the N8ii is slightly nicer, the warmer, meatier and more mellow sound. Musical depth and nuance was slightly better with the N8ii, the fantastic bass distinct from the clear mid-range, and each aspect of the sound presented more individually than with the M17, which tended to give all music the same tonality. That leaves the M17 being better for full-sized headphones when used as as desktop device, and the N8ii being the more musically satisfying with IEMs, and the Hugo 2 being the best of both in many respects.

Unfortunately I couldn’t compare it with the N6ii I had here previously as it was required by another reviewer. I did manage to briefly compare it with the C9. The C9 has both a more distinct change with the tube mode engaged, as well as between the Class A and Class AB modes. I didn’t find it added any significant benefit over the N8ii’s headphone driving ability, and with IEMs is entirely redundant, the N8ii providing essentially the same level of performance.

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Conclusion​

Overall, I reckon that Cayin fans will really love what they’ve managed to achieve with the N8ii. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of N6ii and C9 owners switch to the N8ii. The main negative is that it is quite a heavy device for carrying around. If the N8ii synergises best with your IEMs and listening tastes, and you must have a top DAP, it can be a fantastic “end game” portable device. However, if you’re willing to give up a feature or convenience or two, as well as only a bit of sound quality, there are other products which are arguably better value. The N8ii is for people who must have the best DAP of its kind, regardless of the cost.

This review, with gallery, can also be found on hear.audio.

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reddog
reddog
A great, informative review. It makes me want to find some desolate cross roads and fork over my soul or find someone needing a kidney lol.

twister6

twister6 Reviews
Headphoneus Supremus
Beyond of “everything but the kitchen sink”
Pros: Solid State and Dual NuTube timbre selection, fully balanced discrete amp design with Class A and Class AB modes, P+ high output power mode, solid build, lots of digital and analog outputs, super-fast performance with Android 9 and 660 SoC.
Cons: price, size/weight, DAP can get toasty depending on the sound config.


Intro.

It has been over three years since the original Cayin N8 release back in October of 2018, the first portable audio player with Solid State and Korg NuTube (6P1) dual output design. For those who are not familiar, NuTube is a double triode tube which implements vacuum fluorescent display technology in a compact low power design that operates similar to traditional triode vacuum tubes. N8 had a lot of other cool features, but the dual output including NuTube was definitely the highlight of the design, even though some audiophiles questioned why it was only available from 3.5mm output without realizing that if you want to have a truly balanced architecture, you need to have 2x 6P1 modules, similar to Cayin’s C9 portable amplifier.

The non-Android nature of N8 played a big role in the longevity of that release, but sooner or later you have to move on to the next gen which Cayin has been working on for a while now. According to Andy Kong, Cayin even had to restart the design due to DAC availability issues after AKM factory fire, forcing them to search for a new flagship DAC. Plus, when N8ii model name was announced, some missed the significance of “ii” suffix, assuming it stands for “mk2”. It certainly does, but there is also another clue associated with it. Cayin always uses “i” with their Android DAPs, and N8ii model name was a dead giveaway of next gen N8 joining the list of their previously released Android-based i5, N5ii and N6ii audio players.

I started working on my First Look write up prior to the availability of N8ii spec and design details and had a very short time with this DAP before it went back to Musicteck in preparation for CanJam NYC show where it made its debut. Thus, my initial First Look review didn’t have the complete design description and was missing my usual Comparison, Pair-up, and Wired/wireless details. After the show, I received the official review unit and spent a month with this new flagship DAP from Cayin. Here is my Full Review of N8ii, and I hope any open questions from the First Look have been answered in this updated write up.

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Unboxing and Accessories.

The unboxing experience of N8ii is very similar to their C9 amplifier and Fantasy IEMs. The removable outer sleeve in the final packaging doesn’t have the same cutout around “8” like it had in pre-production packaging, but the rest is all the same, including a glossy DAP picture on the box cover underneath. That giftbox quality packaging box had a split magnetic top cover to reveal a non-removable foam insert with a secure cutout for N8ii and another magnetic side door for a sliding tray with accessories. In a gap between these magnetic covers, there is a metal tab with N8ii model number. Besides having a premium presentation, I also found it to be very convenient to access the accessories without digging through or removing layers inside of the storage box.

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Included was a premium quality usb-c to usb-A charging/data cable, L-shaped 2.5mm to 4.4mm and 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapters, and tempered glass screen protector. A film screen protector was already applied to the back. While my First Look review mentioned a brown prototype case, the final version of N8ii arrived with a teal/bluish color leather case. According to Cayin, it uses a premium Italian leather, and utilizes a metal grille on the back for enhanced heat dissipation and airflow. This particular case has a fully open top where N8ii slides in, open bottom to give access to all the ports, split window on the left side for NuTubes, and covered hw playback buttons and micro-SD slot on the right side.

The case I received fits N8ii like a glove, tightly and securely wrapping around the DAP. I have read comments on head-fi with some people finding the case to be a bit loose. Not sure if some of the units from the first production batch had a looser fit, but I can only speak for the one I received which I found to be just perfect.

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Also, some might remember that original N8 had 4.4mm to dual XLR adapter cable, but it is not included with N8ii anymore. Back when N8 was released in 2018, such breakout cable was rare, and Cayin decided to make a custom one. Today, there are many cable adapters in different price brackets, and Cayin decided it is unnecessary to include it with N8ii.

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Design.

This section carriers over from my First Look review. I found it doesn’t require any additional info.

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N8ii vs N8

Relative to the original N8, the exterior of N8ii has been completely redesigned. With dimensions of 147mm x 77.5mm x 25mm and the weight of around 442g, this DAP is on a bigger and thicker side, but I still find it to be portable rather than transportable. It is definitely thicker than your average flagship DAP, and one of the reasons for that was upright position of two NuTube modules. Everybody wants to see a pair of NuTube green “eyes”, and to accommodate that, Cayin has both modules upright, on the left side, facing outside through the glass “window”.

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The sculptured design of N8ii aluminum chassis is not your typical rectangular brick. The front is occupied by 5” OLED display with 1280x720 resolution, surprisingly lower than some of the other flagship DAPs with large display, though not an issue to display album artwork in vibrant colors. Below the display you also have multi-function soft touch home/back button for navigation. The left side has two angled facets with flat glass windows in the middle to showcase the glow of NuTube modules. Right side closer to the bottom has spring-loaded microSD card slot for storage expansion, and 4 round buttons at the top – a larger power button and 3 smaller playback (play/pause/skip) buttons below it.

The top has an interesting, angled-facet design as well, including a cutout in the top right corner for a “golden” volume wheel with an etched artwork that reminded me a bit of LPGT. The volume wheel is open at the top and has easy access from the front and the back. At the bottom, you have a shared 4.4mm PO and LO outputs and dedicated 3.5mm PO and 3.5mm LO ports. To the right in the corner, you have usb-c port for charging, data, usb audio in, embedded SPDIF, and digital-out functionality, and I2S port for connection to other desktop equipment with the same port connector. The back of N8ii looks like it has a glass panel.

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Under the hood.

The new Cayin N8ii is packed with a lot of top-grade goodies under the hood. From what I heard, the original idea was to have dual AK4499 DACs, but after AKM fire the plans have changed and Cayin decided to explore other DACs outside of AKM, ESS, and CS. N8ii features a high-end ROHM BD34301 32bit/768kHz (DSD512 supported as well, and MQA certification is coming soon) current mode DAC chipset from their MUS-IC series, being the first portable DAP to introduce it. Another addition to the design was using dual NuTube 6P1 (double triode tube) module, instead of a single one like in N8. You still can select between Solid State and dual NuTube timbre, and now can also enjoy both in a fully-balanced configuration. And similar to original N8, you also have either standard P or high output power P+ mode which boost the operation voltage of internal headphone amp to increase the output power. The new addition to the design is its fully discrete headphone amp being balanced now and having Class A and AB amplifier modes like in C9.

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Cayin already had a lot of experience with NuTube implementation in their N8 and C9 products. Similar to those designs, N8ii uses flexible printed circuit (FPC) and custom-built shock-absorption silicon housing to hold, to damp, and to minimize shock transmission, and to eliminate microphonics as you move around with N8ii. And to isolate and to prevent interference, they designed compartmentalized CNC aluminum chassis with a vertical-hanged suspension pin to mount the NuTube and its silicone housing securely.

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The dual output mode, P and P+, actually regulates operational voltage of amplification circuit where P+ will boost it up which has a noticeable effect on sound signature. It’s not the same as gain control, you still get L, M, H gain, but with P+ the output voltage scales up higher. And the dual amplifier operation mode gives you a choice to switch between Class A and Class AB modes of discrete amplification circuit, adjusting the bias point which also results in a noticeable sound change of the output.

Furthermore, N8ii is no longer playback only DAP like the original Unix-based N8. Now, N8ii is running a highly optimized Android 9 OS and using Snapdragon 660 SoC along with 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB eMMC internal solid storage. If you want to expand the storage, you can use microSD card. The open Android OS, courtesy of Hiby, uses DTA architecture which bypasses Android SRC to make sure audio, regardless of local or streaming playback, is not down-sampled. The 3D Benchmark performance of Android 9 OS in N8ii has the highest score (191572) I have seen in comparison to other Android DAPs on the market. I’m using AnTuTu v8.4.3 test app, while revised AnTuTu v9.x recalculates this score to be over 200000. But it is not just a benchmark score, in practice the DAP feels very fast and responsive.

The battery has high capacity, 10,000 mAh (3.8V), assuming the same battery as Hiby R8, which I also suspect as being baseline Android platform for N8ii design. In my battery test, while being in P mode, Tube output, Class AB amplifier, medium gain, and using BAL output, I was able to get a little over 9hrs of playback time. Switching from Tubes to Solid State can give you even more playback time, to reach closer to 10hrs. And thanks to support of QC3.0 (and PD2/3), you can charge N8ii faster. Just please be aware, when you are playing and charging at the same time, especially in more demanding Class A (less efficient) mode with Tubes (higher current) selected and leather case on (less air cooling), N8ii will get warm and can trigger overprotection shutdown if internal temperature crosses 50degC threshold.

Implemented was also Bluetooth 5.0 with a support of all common wireless protocols up to LDAC, and dual WiFi with 2.4G and 5G bands. The output spec is impressive as well, where 4.4mm BAL output (1.2ohm output impedance) gives you 750mW @32ohm in P+ high output mode, and 3.5mm SE output (0.6ohm output impedance) gives you 480mW @32ohm in P+ high output mode. But it’s not always about power numbers. For example, switching to P+ can give you a more noticeable sound improvement than using another DAP with a higher output power.

During my testing I made a few interesting observations. First of all, you do have Double-tap option to wake the screen, very convenient feature that works quite well in N8ii. Also, whenever you switch modes or go between SS/Tubes or amplifier types, there is a gradual volume increase instead of a quick change to make sure you don’t blast your ears. And one thing that was very important to me, thanks to compartmentalization and isolation of NuTubes from WiFi antenna, when I’m streaming with Tubes output selected, I never experienced any EMI interference.

Sound Analysis – Overall.

The sound analysis of N8ii was done using Oriolus Traillii, playing a selection of test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Dua Lipa “Love again”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. I had about 150hrs of burn in time before I started analyzing N8ii.

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I prefer to describe the DAP sound based on the comparison to other DAPs and pair ups with different IEMs/headphones since the DAP by itself doesn’t have a “sound”. What we hear is how the sound characteristic of a source shapes the sound signature of connected IEMs/headphones or the difference in sound relative to other sources using the same pair of IEMs/headphones. As a result, this section of the review usually summarizes what I find in the follow up Comparison and Pair-up sections. Of course, this is my subjective opinion, describing how I hear it.

I found the tuning of N8ii to be more transparent and to have a natural revealing tonality. The difference in timbre setting between Solid State and NuTubes will have the effect on mids and vocals from more revealing and dryer (SS) to smoother and more natural (Tubes). But overall, it has neutral sound with a balanced signature leaning toward natural revealing tonality with expanded vertical dynamics (both micro and macro), black background (very quiet noise floor), and relatively fast and clean transient response of notes with details popping out of the blackness, even when it comes to sensitive iems.

The Tube mode gives instruments and vocals more body, more texture, richer timbre, while still keeping the sound quite resolving, layered, and with impressive retrieval of details. Those who are familiar with the original N8 or C9 amp, know that NuTube is not your traditional “tube” that colors the sound. NuTube’s double triode tubes are rich in texture, not coloring or saturation. But still, when you switch from Tube to Solid State, you can sense more transparency and less coloring in sound.

Soundstage is big, especially from balanced output, expanding in all 3 directions, making the sound very spacious and open. Also, impressive 3D holographic imaging with a very precise and accurate placement of instruments and vocals in most of my IEMs and headphones.

4.4mm vs 3.5mm.

The only noticeable difference I hear is in soundstage width, spreading wider (Left/Right) when connected to balanced output. Also, BAL has more power, thus SE needs a few more volume clicks to match it. Otherwise, tonality, sound sig, and overall technical performance were nearly the same.

Hissing test.

N8ii is relatively quiet with Solaris 2020, passing my Agness Obel "The Curse" first 30sec test without a problem. I tried it with P/P+, SS and Tubes, and Class A/AB (in P mode). There was just a slight background waterfall hissing in high gain, but nothing in middle or low gain.

EMI/RFI interference.

Tried a few extended listening sessions streaming Amazon Music HD and Tidal, and even with my S22 phone next to N8ii I haven't noticed any EMI interference.

Sound Analysis – SS/Tube, Class A/AB, P-mode.

Please keep in mind that in P-mode (regular output), you have a choice of either SS or Tubes output and can switch between Class A or Class AB amplifier type. In P+ mode (higher voltage output), you also have a choice between SS or Tubes, but can only select Class AB amplifier. So, between P and P+, Solid Sate and Tubes, Class A and Class AB, not to mention 3 levels of gain on top of that, you have a lot of different combinations to try with your IEMs and headphones. To give you a better idea what you can expect, I partitioned my testing as following. Also, please keep in mind, while I find changes noticeable, nothing is night-and-day drastic.

The P mode Class A to AB comparison applies to both SS and Tubes timbre settings. Switching between Class A and AB is like going from a smoother and slightly more laidback and relaxed analog sound to a faster, snappier, and with a blacker background Analog/Digital hybrid sound. The difference in tonality is noticeable due to speed/attack change in the sound where in Class A - bass has a slower attack with less punch, mids are smoother, more relaxed, with a little more analog warmth, treble has a bit less sparkle, and in Class AB - bass has a faster attack with more punch and improved articulation, mids are more resolving, and have blacker background, treble has more sparkle and airiness.

In P mode Class AB, when switching from SS to Tubes, there is a clear distinction of the sound gaining more body and smoother analog texture in mids/vocals. As a result, in SS timbre setting the sound is dryer, has more precision and control, and faster transient of notes popping out of the black background. Switching to Tubes makes mids/vocals wetter, smoother, even a touch warmer while still keeping the same high resolution and retrieval of details. The technical performance doesn't change as much, but the coloring of the mids becomes more apparent.

In P+ mode Class AB when switching from SS to Tubes, I hear the same changes as I noted above in my comparison while testing in P mode.

After a number of extended listening sessions, I found that in P mode with SS timbre I preferred Class A setting which gave me a perfect combination of faster sound with higher resolution and smoother analog coloring. But, when I was in P mode with Tube timbre, I enjoyed more Class AB amplifier setting to give the sound more punch, to improve the layering, and to add more sparkle to the upper frequencies.

In P+ mode, since Class AB was the only amplifier option, choosing SS or Tubes will depend on pair up synergy with IEMs I was using. For me personally, warmer smoother IEMs paired up better with SS while brighter or neutral tuned IEMs had a better synergy with Tubes.

Also, switching between P and P+ to boost the output voltage/power, had a different effect depending on your IEMs or headphones. For example, when listening to BA/EST iems (like Traillii), it didn't make as much difference to my ears. But when I switched to hybrids with DD/BA/EST drivers (like Jewel), the bass punch had more authority, better articulation, and a tighter sound. This effect was even more noticeable when I used demanding headphones like my 470ohm open back ATH-R70x. The boost in performance of R70x when I switched to P+ was quite impressive, including a better articulation of bass notes, more clarity and blacker background in mids, and some expansion in soundstage. Also, I noticed same changes with Meze Audio Empyrean.

Overall, P+ with Tubes and Class AB was my favorite setting with most of my IEMs and headphones, but I also enjoyed Solid State with P+/AB. I think the choice will be based not just on pair up synergy, but also the preference of tonality. Either one offers a unique finetuning of the sound and makes you feel like a mad audio-scientist, experimenting with different settings.

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Comparison (Line Out test).

In this comparison section I’m going to cover 2 specific test scenarios. In each one I was using Traillii w/First Times cable, volume matched.

Test 1: N8ii PO (P+ mode, Tubes, Class AB, 4.4mm BAL) vs N8ii LO (4.4mm) + Cayin C9 (Tubes, Class AB, 4.4mm BAL)

This was a very interesting and important comparison because I'm sure many will have a question if N8ii internal dual NuTube amp is similar to C9. In this particular testing with Traillii, I'm only switching between internal N8ii dual NuTubes and external C9 dual NuTubes. To my surprise they don't sound exactly the same. N8ii PO has more weight in bass, especially sub-bass, and smoother upper mids. In comparison, N8ii LO w/C9 has a bit less sub-bass rumble and slightly more forward and brighter mids. And not only with IEMs, but also with headphones, I found the change to be consistent. Also, the soundstage expansion and imaging were nearly the same in this comparison.

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Test 2: N8ii PO (P+ mode, Solid State, Class AB, 4.4mm BAL) vs N8ii LO (4.4mm) + Romi Audio BX2 (Solid State, 4.4mm)

BX2 is a very transparent solid state Class A amplifier which I often use to evaluate the DAC “sound” from LO of the DAP. The reason I was curious about this comparison is because I already know the effect of NuTubes inside of N8ii relative to switching from Solid State. But I also wanted to find out the effect of SS inside of N8ii on top of its ROHM DACs. What I found is that N8ii internal SS amplifier is quite transparent as well. Maybe just a touch smoother in upper mids when compared to LO+BX2, but it wasn't too far off. It also made me realize that ROHM BD34301 DAC is not too far off in comparison to AK4499, though probably being even more transparent and resolving.

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Comparison (vs other DAPs).

This section was missing in my First Look analysis, and of course I got hundreds of questions with suggestions what I should compare. I was using Traillii and Jewel in this testing, volume matched in every comparison. Also, please keep in mind, I’m only focusing on sound comparison. Each DAP has its unique functionality. Some are Android based and can load any streaming app. Others are audio playback only and can be connected to your smartphone wired/wireless to be used as DAC/amp for streaming.

N8ii (P+/Tube/AB, 4.4mm) vs Cayin N8 (P+/Tube, 3.5mm) - N8ii soundstage expansion is wider in comparison to N8. N8 soundstage is spread L/R wide, but N8ii wraps the sound around you, putting you right in the middle of that holographic expansion. N8ii background is also blacker which gives its sound more speed and precision, but at the same time takes away a bit of that warmth and that mildly veil background blanket that gives N8 a more analog tonality. Switching N8ii to P/Class A gives the sound more smoothness, bringing it closer to N8. In general, I don't find the difference between these DAPs to be night and day. Yes, you can hear N8 being a bit smoother and warmer in mids while N8ii has more precision, more speed, and more of natural transparency. The sound of N8ii is still less digital and more analog, but it has a bit less coloring in comparison to N8.

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N8ii (P+/Tube/SS/AB) vs Shanling M9 - With N8ii in SS output, the sound performance of M9 and N8ii is very similar, from technical performance of the soundstage expansion to layering and separation of the sounds. But with SS output, N8ii tonality is a just a little bit more revealing in comparison to a bit more warmth in M9, especially mids/vocals. But once you switch N8ii to Tubes, and then play around with Class A vs AB, the N8ii now sounds smoother and with a bit fuller body in mids when compared to M9. Based on this, M9 tonality is somewhere between SS and Tubes of N8ii.

N8ii (P+/SS/Tubes) vs Sony WM1Z - N8ii soundstage is a bit wider; the bass impact is very similar, though I hear WM1Z to have a little more emphasis on mid-bass while N8ii has a bit more emphasis on sub-bass. The difference in tonality I'm hearing is WM1Z being a little brighter in upper mids and treble, while N8ii (both ss/tubes) is a little smoother and more organic in upper frequencies in comparison to WM1Z. And this holds true even when enabling Vinyl Processor effect on WM1Z. But what I find interesting, while N8ii sounds a bit smoother, it has a higher perception of resolution in comparison to WM1Z which has brighter upper frequencies. You also do have to keep in mind, WM1Z is underpowered.

N8ii (P+/Tube/AB) vs Cayin N6ii w/E02 (LO) + C9 (Tube/AB) - This was probably one of the most popular comparisons requests I have received, or I should say, the 2nd most popular because I don't have A02 LO card. First of all, soundstage is a perfect match here, both being wide and holographic. When it comes to sound, there is a noticeable difference in this comparison. With my pair of Traillii, the bass with N8ii has more punch and deeper sub-bass rumble, scaling up with more weight in comparison to slightly more polite bass with E02/C9. Mids tonality is different as well, with N8ii having more body, a little more coloring, and overall warmer timbre. In comparison, E02/C9 has more transparency and a little less coloring, less warmth for sure. And the same with treble, E02/C9 has more sparkle while N8ii treble is smoother, still well defined and with a nice crunch, but relative to E02/C9, N8ii treble is smoother and more laid back.

N8ii (P+/Tube/AB) vs Cayin N6ii w/T01 (LO) + BX2 – Another request someone posted, asking for comparison. N8ii soundstage expands wider. Both have a warmer tonality, but besides the "warmth", N8ii has a smoother and more layered sound, while T01+BX2 makes the sound a bit raw, more forward/aggressive, and a bit compressed to my ears. I'm using the original BX2 which is very transparent and has too much gain.

N8ii (P+/SS/AB) vs A&K SP2000 - I went back and forth dozens of times and also compared it in a blind test. With the exception of N8ii having a bit wider soundstage and a little more rumble in sub-bass, these are nearly identical in sound when N8ii is in Solid State. When switching N8ii to Tubes, I hear more weight in N8ii bass and mids gaining more body and tonality being warmer. In solid state the difference is quite subtle.

N8ii (P+/Tube/AB) vs L&P P6 Pro - This comparison was another surprise, and it took me over a dozen of times going back and forth, comparing these two. The soundstage is nearly identical, maybe with N8ii being a touch wider, but it is hard to notice. The tonality is very close when N8ii is switched to Tubes mode; perhaps P6 Pro is just a little bit warmer in mids, but that's about it. Overall, nearly the same technical performance with a dynamic layered sound that comes very close when comparing these two DAPs.

N8ii (P+/SS/AB) vs Lotoo LPGT - This comparison is not too far off either. I do hear soundstage being a little wider with N8ii. Also, N8ii, especially in P+ mode, has stronger bass punch. But when it comes to tonality and technical performance, LPGT and N8ii Solid State are very close. When Tubes are selected, the performance gap widens since N8ii gains more textured sub-bass rumble and more body/warmth in mids. But in Solid State, it's a closer match.

N8ii (P+/SS/AB) vs iBasso DX300 MAX SS - Both have a very wide holographic soundstage, finally a perfect match! They also have a similar technical performance with an excellent layering and separation of instruments and vocals. But tonality is a bit different. Starting with a bass while using Traillii, I hear more sub-bass with N8ii and stronger mid-bass punch with 3Max. 3Max mids are brighter, while N8ii has fuller body with a more natural and still revealing tonality. And the same with treble, 3Max has a little more sparkle while N8ii has a more natural definition of the treble.

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Pair up.

In this section of my review, I will go over how various earphones and headphones pair up and how they sound with N8ii. I used P+ and Class AB and Middle Gain in each pair up, and will note Volume level (V#), and compare SS vs Tube. These are brief notes to give you a basic idea.

Pair up with Headphones.

Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
(V66) – This pair is a perfect example of demonstrating the power of P+ boost when dealing with demanding headphones such as these 470ohm open back cans. Regardless of setting, the soundstage expansion is super wide open and 3D holographic even though I only have and use 3.5mm SE cable with these. Sound signature is very balanced, and tonality is natural and revealing. Not bright or brittle, but revealing, natural, and micro-detailed, something I don’t usually say when describing R70x; don’t think I ever used “micro-detailed” in any other R70x pair up descriptions. The bass performance is excellent, with a deep sub-bass rumble and a slightly laidback mid-bass punch. The weight of the bass in this pair up is in sub-bass, and a bit slower attack of mid-bass make the bass more natural and fuller. Mids have a natural body, clear, detailed, layered, with a perfect balance of musicality and micro-detail level of technicality. Treble is clear and detailed, and airy, with a little extra sparkle. When switching from P to P+, it literally expands the dynamics of the sound, like inflating a ball, where the sound’s vertical dynamics expands, layering improves, soundstage perception improves, and overall sound becomes more energetic and exciting. Switching to Tube adds a little texture to the mids, a nice finishing touch.

MEZE Audio Empyrean (V44) - I hear a very wide-open soundstage with an excellent holographic imaging. Sound signature is balanced, and tonality is rather natural, transparent, revealing, not as colored as in a number of other pair ups. Bass has a deep extension with excellent textured rumble and a good mid-bass punch. Again, more weight is shifted toward the deep sub-bass while mid-bass is rounded, giving the overall bass a more laidback presentation. Lower mids have good amount of body, a little warmer, while upper mids have more focus here, bringing more attention to the vocals and extracting more micro-details. Great layering of the sound in mids, not every source can bring this out in Empyrean. Treble is clear and detailed, has a little extra crunch but nothing harsh or splashy. Good airy extension. P+ improves the dynamics, very noticeable “boost” where after hearing it you can’t go back to P. Tubes or no Tubes, it still sounds great, and I’m still undecided. I feel like SS gives mids a more even tuning and faster speed which I did enjoy more.

Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (V39) - Another great pair up with an excellent soundstage expansion in all 3 direction and 3D holographic imaging. This was another example where P+ is necessary to scale up the sound dynamics and the soundstage expansion to its highest level. The sound is balanced W-shaped with a velvety deep sub-bass rumble, more rounded mid-bass punch. The overall weight of the bass leans more toward sub-bass. Lower mids were north of neutral, with a good amount of body and natural warmth, giving upper mids more clarity, transparency, and micro-details. Vocals came out clear, detailed, even a little brighter. There is a bit of a contrast between warmer deeper bass and brighter more revealing upper mids. Treble also has plenty of clarity, details, and natural sparkle, good airy extension. Well, I’m sure some would expect me to say that I preferred Tubes output in this pair up, but it turned out that it was the opposite. I actually preferred Solid State output. Tubes made lower mids a bit thicker to my ears, creating a bigger contract between lower and upper mids. Turning Tubes off evened out the tonality in mids, noticeable, especially with vocals. The point here, experiment with different settings.

I actually enjoyed all 3 pairs up, and as I already mentioned, found P+ to be the absolutely necessity here.

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Pair up with IEMs.

Oriolus Traillii
w/Chiron (V34) - Wide open soundstage with 3D imaging. Sound signature is perfectly balanced, overall tonality is natural and a bit more revealing. Bass goes deep, with both elevated rumble and stronger mid-bass impact. Mids are natural in tonality, with plenty of body in lower mids and organic detailed tonality in upper mids, quite resolving and revealing. Treble is clear and detailed, has extra sparkle and crunch in mid treble. SS gives Traillii a little brighter tonality in mids, while Tubes give more weight to low end, more body to the lower mids, and make upper mids a little smoother and even a bit warmer. I preferred Tubes mode with Traillii.

Aroma Jewel w/FT (V34) - The soundstage is wide open and expanded in all 3 directions with holographic imaging. Sound signature is balanced as well, while tonality is more neutral with a slightly more mid-forward revealing presentation of the sound. Bass goes deep, with a textured sub-bass rumble and a punchy mid-bass; the bass is tight and articulate. Lower mids are leaner which gives upper mids more transparency, less coloring, making them more revealing but not too bright. Treble is crisp and detailed, not splashy or harsh. Jewel does have a little extra resolution in treble, but it still keeps sound natural. Also, as expected, switching to Tubes gives mids smoother and more natural tonality which I preferred in this pair up.

EE Odin (V29) – For those who are interested, there is definitely no hissing in this pair up. Pitch black background with zero hissing in any gain. I was curious to try P/P+ setting, and quickly realized that P+ is a must have here, adding more weight, more impact, deeper rumble, and still keeping the bass tight and articulate. Mids are leaner, more revealing, layered, micro-detailed, but not bright and not too forward, the overall sound signature is still well balanced. Treble is crisp, clear, detailed, more revealing and yet, still well controlled and without any sign of splashiness. The soundstage is also big, expanded, holographic. Improvement in bass with P+ was impressive. Not a huge difference switching to Tubes, but it does take a bit of an edge of the brightness.

FiR Audio XE6 (V31) – A huge holographic soundstage expansion. A mildly U-shaped signature with a powerful speaker like analog bass, thanks to XE6 kinetic bass drivers, natural revealing mids and vocals which are a bit recessed, and crisp detailed treble. The XE6 kinetic bass truly benefits here from P+ setting which gives it more energy and improves articulation. Also, zero hiss, regardless of the gain or power mode setting. Tubes modes didn’t make a big difference here since XE6 tuning is warmer and smoother to begin with. But still, because of XE6 tonality, this was a perfect pair up to bring out more details and sound transparency using Solid State instead of Tubes.

Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 (V22) – Since this is Campfire Audio iem, the first question will be, does it hiss? The background is pitch black, and I don’t hear any hiss at all. The soundstage is big, with an overall sound being holographic and quite expanded. Also, the sound sig is balanced, while the tonality is brighter and more revealing. Bass has a good sub-bass rumble with a fast well controlled punch. Bass doesn't have a lot of weight, but it is for sure above neutral and unmistakably DD quality. Mids are revealing, colder in tonality even when Tubes are switched on. Surprisingly, I don’t hear any sibilance in lower treble. It is still very energetic, but the treble is not too elevated and not that fatigue. I did enjoy switching to Tubes mode, just to take an edge of its colder tonality. But the biggest improvement here was switching to P so I can enable Class A mode, and that added more body to the tuning, making it a bit more natural.

UM Mest MKII (V31) - Big holographic soundstage expansion in this pair up. Typical of Mest MKII, I found U-shaped sound signature with a deep analog quality dynamic bass where I hear more emphasis on sub-bass rumble which adds extra weight to the low end. Lower mids are neutral, giving more transparency to the sound, making upper mids more revealing and colder in tonality. Treble is bright, crisp, airy. Going between SS and Tubes helps to bring up mids a little more forward (with Tubes) by adding more body to the lower mids and slightly boosting the presence of upper mids. Doesn’t change much the treble, it is still a bit hot. I was OK with this pair up, though not very thrilled.

VE EXT (V38) – EXT does need a bit of a power boost, so I started with high gain, but quickly switched back to Medium since in high gain the upper mids and lower treble were a bit too hot. Soundstage is very big in this pair up, expanding wide and deep, along with 3D holographic imaging. Sound sig is slightly U-shaped with a bit extra emphasis on bass and treble. Bass is quite powerful in this pair up, going deep with elevated rumble and hitting hard with a very strong punch. Mids have a good balance of lower mids natural body and upper mids clarity, resolution, and details. But mids are a bit reserved and not as forward as I found EXT in some other pair ups. Treble is crisp and airy, clear and detailed. Switching to Tubes only took a bit of an edge from the brightness. I wasn’t too crazy about this pair up because I felt like mids/vocals lost some of its natural tonality and were slightly recessed.

Overall, I enjoyed pair up with most of my IEMs and was very pleased with the amount of finetuning options offered by N8ii to find a perfect pair up synergy. But to my surprise, Mest MKII treble was a bit hot and VE EXT lost some of its natural magic in mids. But Traillii, Jewel, Odin, and XE6 were shinning in this pair up.

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Other Wired/Wireless connections.

In this section of the review, I will go over various wired and wireless connections I tested and verified with N8ii.

Digital usb-c out

I tested this interface using Cayin RU6 usb-dac which got recognized right away. I was using HibyMusic with Exclusive HQ USB audio access enabled, USB Audio Performance mode On, and USB Audio volume locked so it is set to the max. This way, Volume was controlled only from RU6. Sampling rate was displayed correctly. One interesting observation here, when comparing RU6 sound connected to my S22 vs N8ii, with the same cable, playing the same song, and with the same pair of iems, N8ii/RU6 has a slightly better layering and improved dynamics. I have no idea how to explain this, but I went a dozen of times, back and forth, and always came back to the same conclusion.

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Coax out

With an optional Cayin usb-c to coax cable, you can turn N8ii into an audio source/transport. Just plug it in, connect to external DAC/amp, and it works right away. I was using micro iDSD BL and everything was recognized without a problem or the need to enable anything in settings. And in this test with micro iDSD BL the sound was even better with Coax than digital out.

Line Out

Once connected to external amplifier, volume can't be controlled from N8ii, only from external amplifier.

These tests have been covered already in previous Comparison (LO test) section.

USB DAC

When connected to my Win10 laptop, in notification area of N8ii, when you swipe it down, I had to go to Android System message for USB connection and select USB preference for Audio In (usb power) or Audio In (no usb power), depending on if you connecting to a smartphone and don't want to drain its battery. N8ii was recognized right away, volume could be controlled from either laptop or N8ii. The sound using N8ii as usb dac was identical to listening with N8ii standalone.

Bluetooth Wireless

You have 2 modes of Wireless Bluetooth operation, Tx and Rx.

BT Rx - Select Bluetooth Audio in and search and pair up with N8ii from your smartphone. Enable LDAC on a smartphone and start streaming from smartphone while using N8ii as a wireless BT DAC. Volume is controlled from both, my smartphone and N8ii. Also, correct protocol (LDAC) was shown on N8ii.

BT Tx – Paired up N8ii with WH2 TWS earphones within seconds. Found it to work across 25ft of open space, full remote control from TWS earpieces. Within paired earphones setting, I selected HD audio, assuming it was referring to LDAC. Volume could be controlled from N8ii. The sound was as good as when paired up with my S22, but the BT distance was shorter.

Conclusion.

It is clear that Cayin took their original N8 DAP to a whole new level in this next gen N8ii release. The core of the design with a dual Solid State/NuTube principle is still there, now fully balanced and featuring a dual NuTube 6P1 accessible from 4.4mm BAL output. It still features a fully-discrete Dual Output power mode with P (standard) and P+ (high voltage) outputs, and adds Class A and AB amp modes (A/AB in P, and AB only in P+) found in C9. The playback-only Unix platform has been upgraded to Android 9 with Snapdragon 660 SoC and 6GB of RAM – one of the fastest Android DAP performances I have encountered based on my AnTuTu 3D benchmark tests. And the misfortune of AKM factory fire led to a discovery of a new high-end ROHM 32bit current mode DAC, available for the first time in a portable audio player, the same DAC that recently appeared in $16.5k Luxman D-10X SACD desktop player.

I was also pleased to see the updated exterior design with a more traditional playback control buttons instead of jog-dial like in original N8. The placement of both NuTube modules on the left facing outside is very clever, keeping it compartmentalized and isolated from the rest of the circuit and still visible to the user. But the most impressive part was how much tech Cayin packed under the hood of N8ii while still being able to keep it relatively portable. And, with all the additions to the design, including a pair of hi-end ROHM DACs, additional NuTube module, and other new components associated with switching to Android platform, the price of N8ii went up by only a few hundred dollars in comparison to the original N8. Of course, it’s great to have all this tech under the hood, but at the end of the day it also has to sound good.

N8ii doesn’t have a typical Tube sound, nor does it sound lean. The sound is revealing and micro detailed without being bright or harsh and has the unique ability to finetune the pair up synergy, going from either being transparent to tastefully colored. You have the ability to switch between Solid State or Tubes/Solid State (Tubes are either enabled or disabled to give extra texture to the mids), Class A or Class AB amp mode (Class A is where you get that smooth laidback sound characteristics), and extra voltage boost going from P to P+ (doing wonders to the dynamics of DD drivers). Considering all these available tuning options, you have access to multiple tools to finetune N8ii sound to perfection in pair up with different IEMs and headphones. And that what makes it unique and stand out from the crowd.
twister6
twister6
@jieranli sorry, i only use it as USB dac for music listening (on rare occasions), never for watching movies, thus never had a chance to observe latency between audio/video sync.
Scarlets Eyes
Scarlets Eyes
If I understand RU6 sound exactly as N8ii. This N8ii would not be a scam ?
twister6
twister6
@Scarlets Eyes where did you read that RU6 dongle sounds exactly the same as N8ii dap? Is this from your own experience or did you read it somewhere else?

armstrj2

1000+ Head-Fier
N8ii - Power, Details and Options!
Pros: - Many options to customise the sound
- Cyrstal clear and detailed sound
- High-quality design and build quality
- Small footprint considering all the features
- Tubes!
- Silent background
- Enough power to drive a wide range of IEMs and headphones
- Line Out
Cons: - The number of options may be too much for some
- Top tier pricing (but I did expect it to be worse!)

Intro​

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I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the Cayin N8ii was one of the most anticipated product launches of the year. Having owned the N6ii and C9, the opportunity to own a device that combined the best of those two devices into one was too hard to pass over so I picked one up from Musicteck and have been using it as my main source since to see how it performed.

Cayin have gone all-in with the N8ii with the attitude of giving the user all the options they may desire, even if that is at the cost of heat or battery life.

I’m not going to bore you by listing all of the specs, here again, these are just my thoughts on the device after using it for some time. All of the specs and detailed explanations of each main feature are available or are linked to from the first page of the official thread here.

Design​

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The industrial design of metal, straight lines and sharp cut edges really appeals to me. The N8ii is a substantial device with around the same footprint as an iPhone 13. At 25mm thick and 442g it is somewhat less pocketable though. The Shanling M9 has a larger footprint but in hand, it feels like there is a lot of empty space inside its body whereas the N8ii feels like it is densely packed.

All of the ports sit at the bottom of the device, which if you are like me and do most of your listening at a desk, is ideal. If you intend to use the N8ii out and about though, the fact that the volume dial and headphone jack are on opposite ends will cause an issue when the device is in your pocket. It is not possible for Cayin to please everyone but for my use case, I prefer the jacks to be on the bottom, so the cables are under no stress.

Along the right side of the device, you have a Micro SD card slot, the player control buttons and the on/off button. The top of the device has the elaborately engraved volume dial and down the left-hand side of course is the sci-fi esque window with the 4 green LEDs of the Korg Tubes looking out at you.

The screen is a 5” OLED with a resolution of 1280 x 720px. Clearly, modern smartphones have a far higher resolution screen but for a device that will most likely live most of its life with its screen off, it is perfectly acceptable. Fewer pixels to be pushed means fewer resources being consumed. However, if you are planning on watching a lot of hi-res videos on your device then this would be something to keep in mind.

Even though it is quite chunky overall, I still find it easy to hold and one-handed use is possible as the weight is balanced across the device, so it never feels like it is going to slip out of your hand.

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Android​

The device ships with Android 9 and is powered by a Snapdragon 660 CPU along with 6GB of RAM. The device is snappy to use with no lags and apps opening quickly. It feels as quick to use as most modern smartphones and you don’t feel like you are taking a step backwards when using it, as can be the case with some DAPs.

The device also ships with the Google Play Store installed so there is no need for third-party app stores or workarounds.

I believe the reason the N8ii doesn’t ship with a more modern version of Android is to do with being able to bypass the limited internal Android audio and have high-res audio available system-wide, no matter what app you are using. While I understand people’s concerns about apps not being updated for older versions of Android, it is rare that you would see support for this recent a version of Android being withdrawn by app makers. Most apps should still be supported long after the N8ii has had its day in the sun, and it is possible Cayin may update to a newer version of Android in the future.

Battery and Charging​

The battery in the N8ii has a capacity of 10,000mAh. It can charge, with a QC3 compatible charger, from 0 to 80% in about 2 hours and to full in around 4. On average I am seeing about 8 hours of use before I need to charge and that is mainly using streaming apps. You should be able to push this further with local files and Wi-Fi turned off.

If you have been paying any type of attention to the N8ii thread you will know that there have been some charging related teething issues.

Like the C9 before it, the N8ii can get quite hot when in use and if you choose to charge it while using it the temperatures can rise to a point where a thermal cut off occurs and charging is stopped as a safety measure. I noticed this happening once in the first couple of days but since then I have either only charged it when not using it or charged on a stand with a built-in fan when I do need to use it at the same time.

With such a big battery, even with quick charging, it takes quite a while longer than what we are used to with smartphones to charge fully. You also need to make sure you are using a quick charge compatible charger which isn’t always easy to identify.

After the first few days of getting used to it, and understanding what it can and can’t do, it hasn’t been an issue for me. The N8ii’s charge time and battery life are in line with other similarly sized DAPs.

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Options​

This is really where the N8ii differentiates itself from other DAPs. There are many different ways to adjust the sound that is produced making it much more likely you can find some combination that will work well with your IEMs. Unlike with the N6ii for example, where hardware had to be swapped in and out to change the sound, everything is available from the pull-down menu in Android so you can almost instantly compare the different options.

A brief overview of the options available:
  • H/M/L Gain
  • P & P+ modes
  • Tube or Solid-State Timbre
  • Class A or Class AB amplification
The majority of these options can be selected together but there are some exclusions due to heat or power drain such as P+ mode will only work with Class AB amplification.

The effect each of these options has on the sound has increased with burn-in of the device but it is also dependent on the gear you are using and what you find is that it can be more pronounced or more subtle accordingly.

The Gain settings perform as you would expect and for all IEMs I have tested there has been ample power available to drive them all with quite a bit of headroom available on top for even the most demanding.

Switching between P and P+ modes probably has the most impact on sound out of all of the options. It will really come down to personal taste and what music you are listening to for which you prefer but for the most part, bar with a few high energy tracks, I used P+ nearly all the time.

“P+” adds a sense of energy to whatever you are listening to. The soundstage widens and music fills it. Notes become more impactful, and everything feels more alive. Conversely, in “P” mode, everything is more relaxed, more reference sounding and suited to genres where you want to appreciate finer details.

Tubes and Solid-State are another one that comes down to taste and genre. When I had the Cayin C9 I used to pretty much default to SS and Class AB for synthesised music and Tubes with Class A for real instrument music, with a few exceptions for fine-tuning a specific IEM. The effect that the Tubes option on N8ii has on music is somewhat different so it hasn’t been such a linear choice compared to the C9.

On N8ii selecting Solid State produces a cleaner, more digital sound with shorter note decay. There is no colour added. As a result, imaging and layering are often improved and everything can sound more exact. Depending on the IEM this can work well with certain genres but as I mentioned above, it is not as clear cut as with the C9 and it’s a case of needing to experiment on the N8ii to find what works best. That often means changing settings between genres with the same IEM and indeed using a completely different selection of options when you listen to the same music with a different IEM.

The debate over what exactly a “Tube” sound is or is not, is not something I am going to get into here. I had very realistic expectations of what impact the Korg Tubes would have coming from a place of owning the C9 previously. I would describe it as having another tuning flavour available to you, that in no way will make the impact of a desktop tube set-up, but which will with the right IEM pairing produce excellent results.

As with most of the options, I can easily see how someone who just had just a brief listen or demo in a shop may dismiss the impact any of these have but with a little bit more time to find combinations that really click, you begin to really see the value of having those tubes and it is something I instantly miss when swapping to other DAPs now.

When you select the Tubes mode, it takes a few seconds for them to heat up before switching over to them. At a basic level, this mode rounds some of the edges and adds a touch of warmth (or at least it comes off that way) but with the right IEM pairing, it produces a more analogue, more tactile and often euphonic sound which just drags you into music and engages in a way that Solid State just can’t. I will go more into this when discussing IEM pairings below.

The differences between Class A and Class AB to my ears have been minimal. I found the difference to be more noticeable with C9. Maybe with different gear, it is more noticeable but so far, I have mainly used Class AB due to the ability to use P+ mode.

Not everyone will want or utilise so much choice so it’s important to keep this in mind. There were times, such as when demoing a lot of IEMs in one session, where so many options meant that for each new IEM I tried, I would have to cycle through all of the options to find which I liked. The benefit here is of course that you do have those options available to you to fine-tune your experience, but I can see how some will prefer to just plug in their IEMs and hit play without worrying about which setting may be best suited.

Sound​

On to the important part. How does N8ii make your gear sound? In my time with N8ii if I was to distil things down to one line, I would say it makes great IEMs sound better. While the differences between it and other sources I have tried are often smaller than you would think, it is capable of moments of magic where you find a track and combination of settings that just clicks and the results are fantastic.

While there was a lot of anticipation to find out how the new ROHM chips would affect the sound, to my ears it is a continuation of what many will have been used to with the higher end AKM DACs. This isn’t a completely new sound or direction, it feels quite familiar.

The N8ii produces a powerful, detailed sound with an incredibly black background. I haven’t got any overly sensitive IEMs on hand to try but all the ones I have connected have been silent with no hiss detected.

My listening thoughts on a selection of tracks are below and are focussed on the IEMs I felt people would be most interested in. All listening was done using Tidal via UAPP and with the highest quality version of the track available.

Traillii (Stock Cable)​

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Take On Me (MTV Unplugged) - a-ha [Gain: M/ P+/ SS/ AB Vol 33]

I often use this track to test IEMs as it is odd in the fact that I first heard this track when I saw the video for it and as it’s a live recording the video shows you the dimensions of the room and where the performers were positioned.

As a result, it provides a very good reference to judge how accurately the stage and positioning are being recreated.

With the settings above it feels like I have a front-row seat with the performers positioned the same as in reality. Switching to the Tube mode improves the vocals and they become more lifelike, but they also take a step forward and feel a little on top of you.

“P+” mode keeps the intensity of the notes enough so that they are not lost behind the vocals. Piano keystrokes are clearly defined as is the sound of the guitar strings being manipulated. Swapping to “P” mode, the recording sounds flat and distant.

In My Heart – Moby [Gain: M/ P+/ Tube/ AB Vol 35]

There’s a lot going on in this track to balance and it’s a good example of the different listening experiences that can be provided by the N8ii.

The vocals, drums and piano that the track starts with are all very detailed with P+ mode on. It feels like you could nearly reach out and touch them with the sense of realism that is created. As the more orchestral sounding music enters at around 0:51, in Tube mode the sound feels encompassing. It’s melodic and you get a sense of feeling through perceived vibrations. Switching to Solid State produces a very clear version of the track but it loses the engagement and tactility the Tube mode adds.

Come Together (2019 Mix) - The Beatles [Gain: M/ P+/ Tube/ AB Vol 36]

This track is enjoyable with many combinations of settings, but I have listed my favourite above. In P and Solid State, the sound is clear and accurate, but the music feels like it is being played a few rows ahead of where you are. Switching to P+ and Tubes, the drums, guitar, bass and vocals each have a defined place in a 3D space around you. Notes linger longer and there is an almost grittiness to the electric guitar effect.

For me, the best parts of the instruments and vocals are amplified with the Tubes enabled and it just makes you want to keep listening. It gets much closer to feeling like you are listening to a live performance rather than a reproduction.

XE6 (Khanyayo Cardas Clear cable)​

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Don’t You Worry Child – Swedish House Mafia (Gain: M/ P+/ Tube/ AB Vol 30)

This track shows off what XE6 is capable of when paired with N8ii. The whole presentation is huge and intense. This track is equally enjoyable using Tubes or Solid State, it will just come down to personal taste. Solid State adds some air and pushes the stage even wider while the Tube mode creates a more enveloping and euphonic tone.

When the track drops at 1:07, the intensity increases but each individual element remains clearly defined and easy to listen to.

Titanium – David Guetta (Gain: M/ P+/ Tube/ AB Vol 29)

With some sources, the higher intensity parts of this track have you reaching for the volume dial to turn it down, so I include it here to highlight how well N8ii handles busy tracks.

With the Tubes turned on, the opening of the track is vivid and the vocals intimate. As the track builds the vocals move back to be in line with the rest of the mix. The transitions from quieter to louder parts of the tracks are smooth and it never becomes too much or jarring.

Solid State adds a little edge to things. The drums hit a little harder, vocals are a little cooler but there is more sparkle. Subtle changes no doubt, but nice to have the option.

Harvester of Sorrow – Metallica (Gain: M/ P+/ Tube/ AB Vol 30)

A completely different direction to that last two tracks but Harvester of Sorrow just brings the best out of XE6 and the Tubes in N8ii. The electric guitars have an analogue tone and note weight that you can feel through the kinetic driver of the XE6.

Vocals are warmer and closer than with Solid State and you get the sense of being in the recording studio with them from the combination of the more realistic tone of the instruments and tactility the kinetic driver adds.

These combinations and experiences really stand out. It adds something extra to the experience and it is what makes you come back to listen to more.

Elysian X (Liquid Links Venom cable)​

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Blinding Lights (Joris Voorn Remix) – Alex Kennon, Joris Voorn (Gain: H/ P+/ Tube/ AB Vol 41)

This track was equally as good on XE6 with N8ii, but the mid-bass can be a touch too much.

With the Elysian X, selecting Tubes provides a great balance between intensity and control. Bass hits hard enough but is never too much.

The track is melodic, and you feel closely immersed in the music. Switching to Solid State, there is much more of a thud from the mid-bass and the stage is pushed further left and right. There are also more details but the track loses a little magic that the Tubes bring.

We Come 1 – Faithless (Gain: H/ P+/ SS/ AB Vol 39)

As the track has vocals, I’d usually lean towards using Tubes but with the Elysian X, Solid State and P+ really bring out the best in it. With Solid State, the vocals are less warm, but they are clearer and fit better with the whole track. Solid State adds some air but overall, it makes the small details in the track much easier to pick out. No one part of the track overpowers the other, but everything has a great impact when needed.

One of the standout things with N8ii is how it allows the higher tier IEMs to create a detailed soundstage around you and even when tracks become more intense, the individual parts are not lost and remain easily identifiable, even as tracks crescendo.

Keep Control – Sono (Gain: H/ P+/ Tube/ AB Vol 41)

The track opens with a lot of sounds and effects which have the feeling of coming at you from all angles. You also get a great sense of these sounds travelling through space and echoing.

I prefer Tubes here as the constant hum in the background is more intense and vocals move closer. Tubes also brings out a little more sub-bass with some of the effects and it makes for a more engaging listen.

The common theme throughout most of my listening is that Tubes adds a more analogue and tactile nature to the sound that often makes it more engaging to listen to. It also adds a sense of realism to the music which is more relatable to live music than digital recordings.

vs Shanling M9​

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As I own both DAPs it has been interesting to read the opinions of people on both devices. A common theme has been that M9 adds bass impact and warmth while N8ii is detailed and uncoloured. For me, at least in some settings combinations, they are more similar than different.

In use the M9 is a larger device to hold, it has a larger, higher-resolution screen and feels lighter in the hand. Both devices are fast to use, have a similar UI and similar battery life.

The main differentiator with the N8ii is the scope to change the sound via the different options available.

To compare the two devices, I used an Oriolus Audio Selector which is a handy device that allows you to feed up to three sources into one set of IEMs and then switch between them instantly via button selectors. Once you volume match each source you can then get an instant comparison between the two devices and it takes your memory out of the equation which I find is usually pretty unreliable.

With the M9 in headphone mode and the N8ii in P+/ SS/ AB, the sound is about as close to identical as my ears can pick out. With many tracks, there is no way I could pick out which was which in a blind test.

When tube mode is selected on the N8ii there is a clearer difference between the two with the M9 sounding airier and slightly more detailed while the N8ii has more bass impact and a heavier note weight.

There isn’t a gulf between these devices. Sound quality is on par with the real differences coming by way of the choices available to adjust the sound to your taste on the N8ii.

Line Out​

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The N8ii offers a true line out function which is selectable from the pull-down menu. In the audio settings, you can also select L/M/H gain settings for the output.

I often read a lot of talk about whether high-end DAPs such as the N8ii really “need” to be connected to an external amp. First and foremost, for me, I prefer when DAPs include this as it gives you the option to connect to a more expensive home or desktop system, but it also gives you some more options for fine-tuning the sound or your experience with an IEM.

To test out the line out, I have been using the recently arrived Aroma A100TB amp and power supply. This combination has produced some really interesting results with some of my IEMs and this is where the value in the line out function lies for me. Do any of the IEMs “need” an external amp to sound good with N8ii? No, absolutely not, they sound great paired with N8ii on its own but the ability to add an amp into the chain has given me more options which are in addition to the ones already available on N8ii.

It can be a rabbit hole that some may not want to go down, but for me to have the options to further expand the capabilities of the N8ii is a welcome addition and it adds to my enjoyment being able to explore that further.

The line out from N8ii is clean and powerful with the low gain setting being more than enough for even the more power-hungry IEMs I have. Paired with the Aroma amp the sound is crystal clear with a silent background.

The one downside of the line out is that the Tubes option is not available. I believe this is down to some hardware restrictions.

Conclusion​

The Cayin N8ii is a tour de force of options in a portable package. It’s capable of producing a detailed and powerful sound with a silent background and some stunning results.

Cayin have done about as good as you can to provide the number of features, they have while balancing heat, power consumption and still managing to ship a reasonably small device.

Its Solid State performance is as good as any DAP I have tried to date and the Tubes option gives you another flavour of tuning from the same device. If you can appreciate and make use of everything that the N8ii can offer, then it is well worth checking out.
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NoleRock1996
Great review! May I ask if you have compared the android mode and prime mode? If so, is there difference in terms of sound signature? Many thanks!

Whitigir

Member of the Trade: Portable Modder
The N8ii!! Any audiophile WetDream
Pros: Dual Korg tubes!! Possibly one of the very best Tonal balances for a digital portable player! True Line out 4.4/3.5
Cons: No tubes for Line out, picky on charger, and easily get warm or hot depends on modes. Lacks of customer supports
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Cayin has made their name known in the portable players market since the release of N8, which was the first portable DAP that ever utilized Korg tube, and that shook up the industry a bit. Back then, I was also excited about this release, but when I had the chance to try it out, My impressions were that the N8 was warm, and the Tube was limited at single ended only. Additionally, the design was not as appealing either. So back then by comparison, the players that grabbed me was NW-WM1Z, DX200Titanium, DMP-Z1.



Living in the technological advances age, and modern time, these products are advancing fast, and we have come to the points that many of the new players are being released after one another, and if you keep on buying each and every one by the releases, you would end up either bankrupting yourself, or starving your family, or both. Especially with the current Covid situations. It isn’t easy to target one and swipe your plastic.

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But why did I mentioned about the fast advancements of these portable products ? Well, because everything nowadays are digitals, so this hobby is enjoying the similar pace as smartphones and PC industry, with many brands, and shiny new products. But do they really bring the differences ? In my honest opinion, they do bring advancements, but their advancements are not just DAC alone, more like together with amplifier, power supplies, and other practicalities such as UI and SOC or Operating system...etc.. But, portable are limited by the form factor and the battery packs as the power source, and that forced me to look into the power output, like many others, and then the amplification and their marketing slides. It really comes to the point that I am telling myself, DAC doesn’t matter much, it is all about the amplification stages and power supplies.



From here, I have chosen then C9 as an external amplifier, the M30 as a semi-transportable, the Dx220Max/Dx300Max. Were they good ? Yes! And with advanced amplifiers, power supplies, both the Maxes will deserve a spot in your collection, or to give it a try before you move on to other products. Because for a hobbyist, the journey is what making it worthwhile right ?

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Having owned both of the Max and currently keeping the Dx220Max with other stuff, I really had no desires to buy new portable players. Especially when I also have the Shanling M30 that has the Dual Korg tubes, yet mounting on the sides as well, with Line out and being modular and so on....why do I look for a new portable ? I actually don’t. Because, after all the years of different players, desktop DAC, and other forms of digital such as DAT, listening to Vynil, and or conversion offline, also reading about digital music engineering’s and so on. I have came to the point that even Andy as a sale rep from Cayin and other brands would agree, that DAC don’t matter much, but rather it is the amplifiers. But, that was the past, which is before the release of the Cayin N8ii.



So, Why am I here holding the N8ii ? And previously was so excited for the N8ii ? Anxiously waiting the shipping notifications ? But more over, why do I write and compile this review ?



My N8ii was purchased from Musicteck, as a return customer I do have some loyalty discounts, and not obligated to write any reviews, and for the willingness to work with customers, I will always rate Andrew and Musicteck to be the top tier dealer from USA. Please read on, if you would like to find out more. If you think that my disclosures about my loyalty discount will bother you, then don’t bother.

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The features that intrigued me was the fact that it is “Portable” and with “Balanced Korg tubes”. How did it fit ? That was my question that popped in my mind. Yes, that marketing slides and “leaks” about the ROHM newest DAC chips were not much of an exciting factor anyways. From being a tinkerer, I do know this chip back in the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, being a newly developed flagship DAC chips. Back then, the AKM/ESS were dominating in the industry. After all, they only carry different signatures, which can be tuned and tweaked or matched with the amplifier to get the final performances. Yet, once again, the amplifier means a lot more or so I thought. Not only that, when speaking of Sigma-Delta, there are a better ways to listen to digital music. That is to apply the sigma-delta conversion with a PC using program that do DSD conversion such as AUIconverter and HQplayerPro...etc... just like different DAC, each program has it own signatures, and you pick your poison. The technical advantage are that they are processed by the computer that play no sound and not on time sensitive to convert the song with less or the same duration Than that of the sound track duration. So less errors, and at the cost of storage. So, it only leaves room for the amplifier to be the most important factor in the chain anyways. Yes, with that presumption, the thought of ROHM chips escaped my mind as a Marketing point, which happened again, and again by using DAC chips as a sale points.



The more I look at the N8ii form factor, the Korg tubes peaking out the window, the more I am attracted. Such playful angular designs that is masculine, yet gently rounded edges, sophisticated, and not going to give you a nasty cut like Astel&Kern. Thick like a brick, but noticeably shorter than the Iphone Pro, and at 400 Gr or so, it is pocketable. However, is also the thinnest and most compact designs ever for sporting Dual Korg tubes inside. Also much Easier to hold in the palm due to the excellent balances in weight distributions. I realized that since the DMP Z1, a lot of makers is making DAP with Gold volume knob now. The N8ii gold knob and its beautiful textures is giving the overall design a nice appealing factor! It is just an attractive giant, that even if the sound performances offers nothing really exciting to me, then I will just appreciate it designs as eyes candy for a while, just as long as it has no sound performances “flaws”. Those “flaws” could be Distored Bass or sibilant trebles. Giving a quick email to Musicteck, I was fast to secure a unit even before the CanjamNYC happened and during the time that Musicteck had to be so busy preparing. Sitting at home and waiting for the N8ii, reading the excitements from Canjam, and the earlier impressions of the N8ii, a lot of it sounded like hypes and people getting too excited with a new girlfriend ..... uhm, new player. However, a couple friends whom I trusted and shared a lot with my preferences just reported that the N8ii has the tendency to be “sibilant”. I almost canceled my preorder, or I did, and yet was convinced that it would fit my preferences well. So, did I say the journey is what worth it ? So experiencing it myself would be a must! Definitely.
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I am sitting here, writing this review, because the N8ii deserves to be known, and to be had.



Fore words and Notes: from the simply drop down menu, you have most of all the features easily accessible. Digital filters as an option, we only have 2 kind, slow or sharp roll off, and there are 3 others DSD filters low-mid-high. I do prefer sharp roll off and DSD-low. However, these 2 have very subtle effects. Sharp roll off will have more bites in the textures but less aggressiveness where as slow roll off is a little more gentle around the textures but more aggressive sparkles. Also the P mode will be even more picky and unforgiving than P+ mode (must scale different by gears used, I use ier-Z1R). Ultimately what I found is that loud volume with Low gain, SS, Class AB, P, Slow roll off is a very picky mode, it can easily overwhelm with trebles sharpness, glares, sibilants as in oppose of High gain, tubes, AB, P+, sharp roll off is better in the over all, and recommended. Another thing I also notice is that the N8ii is not only transparent, but also is hyper detailed, it is recommended for lower volume listeners rather than louder, and then once again, the level of details and being forgiving will scale and perform differently with different gears attached. This is the first time I hear my ier-Z1R to be unforgiving and hyper detailed but the HD800S performs beautifully (I take that multi drivers in ears may have problems if you listen loud). Burn-in is very important, you will have the excellent performances out of the box, and after 20 hours it will be aggressive, and this will carry on until 150 hours before it can settle back for a well burn in and we’ll performing as just out of the box. The N8ii Could also be unforgiving depends on different circumstances as I will try to cover it as much as I can



My early impression out of the box were mainly looking into those distorted bass and trebles sheens, sibilants. Quickly verified it with “wanna be starting something 24/96” and “Iron Maiden Senjutsu 24/96”. I am happy that it doesn’t have such traits. However, I was grabbed by the ability to express the Full mid spectrum, packed of details and vivid resolutions. If previously I thought Shanling M8, M30 were able to achieve a very full mid, then the N8ii is even better due to it transparency and dynamic expressions. I just sat there and listened for longer, and longer. I realized that the ROHM DAC chips are special. The sound signatures is a combinations of both of the most sought after, AKM and Sabres and even more. AKM has that analog textures, but overall is warmer and earlier roll off on upper highs, where as ESS is overall brighter with upper glares in trade off for clarity, which recently is improved with the newer generations of Pro series. This ROHM has AKM textures, but with better clarity and almost similar to ESS, but no glare, no ringing, and most importantly it has no specific sound signatures, it conveys the genres as is with a touch of analog liquidity and fluidity in Korg tubes mode together with beautiful bloom and decay, while being a bit faster, more neutral in Solid States. However, even with Solid states, I can not call the N8ii for being analytical. Testing solid states together with DSD files, my conclusion is that the amplifications and analog tuning were done exquisitely to achieve this level of neutrality, details, transparency, but still remaining musically smooth, a very nice balancing. As far as my experiences, all digital devices have it own sound signatures, but it isn’t the case with N8ii. The only word I can use is transparency, and even that can not express enough the performances of the N8ii.



Normally, when the devices have it own signatures, it is constrained toward a few specific genres that it would do wonderful in the while leaving out some others. The N8ii is able to render “Iron Maiden” musicality to JS Bach concertos natural timbres, and bringing both opposite genres to be enjoyable. This is sophisticated, very complex. It is like I am enjoying my LP collections, because only LP were previously able to allow me to enjoy all genres. I have long lost faith into any digital products that would be able to be so transparent and yet providing analog textures, even if any systems can be just a little closer to the LP system, then it would be my dream devices. For that quest, I sought out DAT, NOS DAC, R2R, building my own PC, tinkering with different ideas, yet I gave up, and arrived at that repeating conclusion “DAC doesn’t matter as much as amplifier”. Most of the time, giving digital systems a nice touches of warmth will bring forth that analog results, and with different touches to amplifications, one can give the system a nice touches to be different, enough to satisfy one’s preferences. Such is the case of the DMP Z1, a little warmth of AKM signatures, a very little touch of recessed mid, with exotic components, a more powerful amplifier the DMP Z1 achieved it status of being one of the most sophisticated digital player, unfortunately not portable enough.
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Well, here, I am stunned at the ability to be so analog, so vivid, pristine details, great clarity and pitch black background, with no emphasizes into the textures, or sound signatures, and yet the Dynamic prowess is also jaw droppings. I have never heard the punchiness and feeling it as I am now with the N8ii. The transparency in order to represent the instruments unique acoustic housing resonances (not only the Decay, but the resonances and reverberations of the instruments housing from within), and the uniqueness of each instruments are here presenting like an LP playing, vividly, that one can not be confused between each instruments, and with closed eyes, simply listening into it, be able to follow each instruments, without having to focus. The Dynamic, the energy intensity, I am able to feel it, dare saying it that I feel it even better than the original LP of Thriller vs FLAC. I have never thought that it would be possible. I was always told that Digital has higher dynamic range, lower floor noises. But for the level of dynamic delivery, I have yet to witness anything that is closer to an LP, let alone having to surpass it ? I looked up the ROHM data sheets, and it is an current output design. The other chips recently with this design natively were AK4499EQ, which I had the pleasures of owning, it was also very dynamic and with powerful output, the Dx300Max Ti, but I didn’t stay with it long enough. After all, I don’t think I prefer AKM by much ? But with ROHM and N8ii, I crave for it. The next step is to observes the ROHM chips and the Low Pass Filters by Cayin alone from the True Line Out feature!

I turned on my TU-8900 built and customized for my own preferences, the Western Electric 300B, happily laying on the couch waiting for it to warm up the typical 30 minutes with Korg tubes and N8ii. When everything is set up. I quickly compared the DSD512 of “wanna be starting something”, and it 24/96, the original LP, and the reprinted LP.

The DSD512 by AUIConverter did wonderfully well, I was not able to tell the differences between the 3 options of DSD filters featured by the N8ii, but I picked “high” just for the fun of it. The overall presentation is with large soundstage, somewhat analytical and digital aka thinner timbres and too fast decays that is losing it tonality realism (please take notes that the analytical here is a result of the DSD conversions and not the N8ii sound signatures). The 24/96 is with fuller mid, harder slam in each notes and timbres, the realism and analog like feelings is right there, next to the original LP but it does slam harder that I can feel each flicking, tapping. Especially the track “the lady of my life”, the guitars intensity and the drum tap can clearly be picked up. This is the result of the ROHM and Cayin LPF implementations

What is a better way to render back the emotions and intentions than showing the pace and intensity ? Not only the N8ii was able to show case the intensity, the paces, but also the macro and micro dynamic, the detailed textures, but also able to render back the instruments housing resonances, acoustic bass, guitars and grand pianos have never sounded so realistic, especially when using Korg Tubes, where as Solid states will offer a nice and neutral signatures in comparison to the tubes.

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I enjoy a variety of genres, with Metal being the genres that I enjoy the least, but somehow with the N8ii, I am able to understand the portray of the music being conveyed. Beside that, I can observe each E.guitarist, the resonances, and other instruments such as keyboards, drums, cymbals....etc. Now, most of the genres is with Vocals. The one thing that I also enjoy with the N8ii a lot is Vocal. Highly textures, with excellent throat energy, and highly detailed textures. But here is where it is a little tricky, in bad recording, Especially with Low and Mid gain (this is true for Line out as well), the vocal may be sibilants and harsh with those “S, Z, T, X”, but with an excellent recordings, the N8ii will greatly reward the vocal like no other players I have had previously. I can easily pick out the air controls, the lips/tongue movements. Needless to say, with this level of pristinely detailed clarity, the N8ii has the tendency to be hot and unforgiving. When the player is physically cold to the touch, it can even easily be harsh when turned on and hit play. It takes about 25-30 minutes to fully shows all of it potentials, or when the player is physically warmed to the touch, then it is the best time to listen to the N8ii. It isn’t that it needs 25-30 minutes to sound good, it just gets distinctively better after 25-30 minutes warmed up. If it was good, it became better, and if it was awesome then it would become....double awesome !



In my opinion, the N8ii has a fully detailed mid, while being very well controlled, and still packed of full and thick density energy even the kinetic energy would show. Mentioning the M8/M30 earlier in references, Shanling M8/30 have this full mid and thick density, but on the N8ii the energy is more and the mid is fuller, more vivid, more energetic with both of them to be more forgiving than the N8ii on bad recordings. In the while the N8ii does not have that induced Warmth, which I would say that it is AKM house sound. Noticeably Vocal is Pristine clear, But at the same time is also very well balanced.



Continuing into upper mid and high, the upper mid of the N8ii is very vivid with excellent resolutions, the clarity is top notch across the whole bandwidth, which is able to represent a huge soundstage with great holographic and precise imaging, each instruments clearly show itself in a fixed position by itself , the spaces that it is staying within, and the air around it, together with the house resonances of itself. Soundstage will scale exactly the way it should be, by the output power and the paired gears. Using the HD800S, I can easily confirm this holography and staging is a little less than Dx220Max, while using true line out from both, the N8ii clearly has a more accurate staging/imaging/textures/dynamic. So it is safe to say that the N8ii limitations is output power. But is it noticeably so ? IMO, there is no other portable that can drive HD800S with such beautiful tubes performances, so in this front, the N8ii is leading and pioneering.



The precision of N8ii detail retrievals is also one of it specialty. In not so well recordings, the N8ii can have hot-and harsh upper mid, or even sizzling high. But could I fault the N8ii for it being hot-harsh-sizzling ? Absolutely not, the N8ii while helping to bring joy and new life into my collections, even some recordings that I thought was not so good (in preferences of genres) are now all coming out alive, and realistic, while some of it will have hot and harsh upper mid or highs. If any devices that is able to depicts which albums in my collections were absolutely bad from the recordings, then the N8ii will be the most unforgiving one, which greatly reward good recording and heavily punishing the bad one. Especially if you often listening to a louder volume. It also helped me to understand that with some touches of colorations here and there by the analog amplification tuning, with the DAC, and specific aims, the bad recordings could be enjoyable as shown with other devices, but that is in no way to call such devices to be neutral or transparent, for example the DMP Z1, Shanling M8 and M30 are all tuned this way. Don’t take me wrong, Sony and Shanling has amazing tuning ability, with great products. But the N8ii is very different, beside the terms of being Neutral and Transparent, I think they can’t even completely explain the performances of the N8ii either. I would like to call it for being the most Honest digital player that I have owned by far. It could be the ROHM or Cayin, or both, but in my experiences with different pieces of equipments, the N8ii has no additional colorations, the typical digital like feelings from most of Sigma Delta, which is the result of Aliasing, dithering order, and modulations, which emphasizes a certain bandwidths and makes up the different sound signatures of different DAC chips by far.

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For example, Cirrus chip is overly warm in mid bass, lower mid, and lower trebles, rolled off earlier in upper extensions, and the Mid is also fuller than both Sabres and AKM. The AKM usually lacks at lower mid and thicker upper mid, the Sabres is lacking it throughout, and with Sabres focusing on clarity, quicker decay which doesn’t show enough of the acoustic housing resonances of an instruments as well, together with being brighter and hence also known for that famous glares. The ROHM inside the N8ii somehow doesn’t show that it has any ringing issues, or aliasing issues at all. If I could just award it to be the best Sigma Delta chip, then I would. I am just no sure if it was Cayin developments and engineering, the implementations or it is the chips. I will be able to tell better when I get to hear more of this ROHM chips. One thing is for sure, that the N8ii is the best digital player/source (line out) in both tonal balances and Dynamic prowess, I have heard that is so honest and transparent, and I have heard most of digital topology from sigma delta, to NOS of resistor ladder or R2R, or offline modulating and converting. Such as a result, I am now able to enjoy Metal genres even more than I ever did, together with all of the other genres. Soon, I will have to start collecting more Metal. The tonal balances shows the level of realism even more with Korg tubes. When paying attentions to tonal balances, there will be a different between solid state and Korg tube, with solid states being cleaner and more decisive where as the tubes will be with better density, bloom and tubey. Korg tubes is super clean, with great dynamic, even more tubes like than C9, better punchiness and clarity than Shanling M30, while being cleaner than both. It is worth mentioning that I love soundstage and holography, but with the tonal balances of the N8ii, even though it doesn’t have as much driving power as I would like to extract the soundstage depth and width of the full-size HD800s in comparison to the desktop amplifier, or slightly less than the Cayin C9/220-300Max, I still enjoy the N8ii greatly with hd800S. Though, it has an excellent matching in synergies and driving ability to drive Sony IER-Z1R to be amazing. There are only 3 players that i came across to be able to make IER Z1R to sing up, and the DMP Z1 isn’t one of them because warmth and warmth can be cumulative, rather it is the Cayin C9, N8II -Dx300Max
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The Bass performances. I will call it for being Authenticly realistic, which I am sure will satisfy a lot of people. I am not a bass head, and I wouldn’t call the N8ii anything of being Bassy or bloomy or warm or emphasizing for any part of it. The Bass on the N8ii is simply Stunningly Amazing, even more so when using Korg Tubes and Class AB. The Bass is the one distinction between Solid States and Tubes on the N8ii, but regardless, the Bass is just amazing with deep, powerful, articulated, punching with authority, yet beautifully blooming with Korg tubes. The drum, or Bass housing resonances is driving me insane, it even shows the acoustic room resonances on top of that, together with the spaces and the reverberations clearly for example Pomplamoose recordings. The combinations of deep bass, impactful, controls, dense, together with the acoustic resonances are just a bliss to listen to all genres. Because they all suddenly feel Real! Solid states tuning has a tad less bloom, fluidity, also a tad better in clarity, but both SS/Tubes are all superbly tuned. Class A is also less blooming or impactful as Class AB. But that is probably based on your gears and what you pair it with. I prefer class AB most of the time. Not only that, but the P+ features will only be enabled with AB.



Trebles is highly addictive with great density, airiness, and excellent extensions. One thing I do notice is that by using Cayin/HIBY Apps, the mids and trebles do retrieve even more details and forward mid than Neutron player, this will even further pushing the N8ii to be not so forgiving on bad recordings. Neutron players do have the mid a little more recessed in comparison, and the trebles is a little more attenuated. If you do have problems due to the recordings and gears paired with N8ii, I highly recommend Neutron player. Also another note is that with Line Out features, the Low and Mid gain, somehow do have a different signatures than High gain. I can observe similarly as between Playback apps.



The N8ii is packed full of features such as Power to Power + mode, which raises the amplifier voltage rails a bit further, with 3 Gain level L-M-H, Dual class amplifications of A/AB, True Line out by both balanced/single ended with gain level only accessible in the sound setting menu (not the drop down menu gains, and also do notice that korg tubes are not features in line out mode). Then finally, the Korg tube balanced phones output only. The ability to render the imaging, with detailed textures, superbly clean background, be able to capture the intensity and paces, while being musical with Korg tubes or highly detailed and more neutral with solid state, but mostly the tonal balances like none that I have heard from previous digital systems from desktop to portable alike. It is safe to say that the N8ii is the best Digital Portable Audio Player that I have had the pleasure of owning by far at this very moment. If the only down side is the weak rated output for your needs to drive full size headphones ? With it level of LO performances, you will just find more love for the N8ii with a great desktop amplifier. Even if you down vote the N8ii for it rated output as said, I am afraid that you wouldn’t be able to satisfy even with external Portable amplifiers at all...and in the case that you are, then the output power from the N8ii and Korg tubes alone will surely be satisfying. My final words to Cayin is that “thank you Cayin! I love what you have achieved with N8ii, and in this fierce market with competitions in all aspects, you have proven that you are very innovative, enthusiastic, and reasonable. You have my gratitude and respect”



More Korg tubes impressions: Between the N8ii and the M30, the M30 Korg tubes with AM1 modules is obviously inferior in clarity, details retrieval and layerings, which also hibder the soundstage on the M30 to be a lot more narrow Vs it SS, which the N8ii doesn’t have to face it. With the release of the new more powerful AM2, it has improved a lot more in Korg tubes, larger staging with better resolving ability and better dynamic, but the warmth in the overall tonal balances and inner resolutions is still inferior to the N8ii. Overall, the N8ii has an amazing level of clarity, crisp and pristine details with better soundstages and transparency overall, together with the realism from the amazing acoustic housing resonances by the new ROHM together with the odd harmonics and superbly clean background by Cayin implementations. IMO, the N8ii is the best portable player with Korg implementations yet. Please do not be mislead when people say the N8ii isn’t Tubey enough….it isn’t Tubey enough when you are used with the lower level of tubes design, but it is amazingly Tubey as comparable to other summit fi tubes amplifiers. The N8ii Korg tubes is what my desktop amp and Western Electric 300B Sounds like.



Conclusions: I don’t say this often, but if you considering and weighing options, do put the N8ii on the top of your list. It is a marvelous piece of modern technologies, compact, beautiful and with a performances that will melt a lot of hearts.

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Attentions to every details:
The analog circuitry of the N8II is downright the most attentive design and tuning from Cayin. I am saying this not without proof and experiences. From my own DIY of building Amplifier, modifying DAP, and other stuff, I am very confident to tell you so. But that is not the point, the point here is that the Tuning is so exquisite that from even the volume controls, the ability to playback with full details, timbres, dynamic even at the lowest volume, the subtle yet discernible differences from Tubes/SS. Most of all is that Timbres Balances that I kept saying, full, transparent, musical, well balanced and pristine.

Perhaps they are the results of Cayin wonderful engineering’s on DAC implementations, and the tuning experiences coming from their decades long of building tubes amplifiers. Cayin knows and realize so much that “feedback and Non feedback” are 2 very different topology, and even going as far as to realize that Desktop users are loving Non Feedback systems, where as Portable players audiophiles typically love the Feedback system.

Cayin doesnt just stop there, and while many careless folks could be saying that “all great amplifiers and correctly engineered should sound the same”....Cayin fully realizes that not only “feedback” is playing a role Vs “Non feedback”, but also realize that the differences between the approach of “feedback factors” between tubes VS Solid States are very different, and that too much feedback for SS will not sound analog and liquid enough where as with Tubes, and too little feedbacks will result in Sluggish and muddy transients….well… because engineering is about what works best, and in trade off for what ? So, Cayin made sure that they tuned their very best to both of the circuitry. That whether one is choosing to use SS or Tubes, they will always get the best of performances from each design. However, in doing so, compromises have to happen, and so Cayin had to choose to rather enforce this quality and it performances for the output then trading off the Tubes timbres line out. Perhaps, if one love having tubes line out, there is N8 OG and Shanling M30.

However, with this implementations and carefully implementing the designs with performances in mind, and mostly the attentions toward dual Korg tubes, the result is obvious for anyone using IEMS, and or with experiences and keen ears. IMO, the tubes implementations on the N8ii is more tube like than the C9, and also is of a much better quality. Did I say that it sounds like a proper high end 300B system ? Speaking of which, Cayin has great 300B amplifiers as well. Pictured is my DIY 300B amplifier with all the upgrades that I can :wink:. So please, when someone is telling you that N8ii doesn’t sound like a real tubes, please inquire them a little further and ask them what is their most preferred kind of tubes signatures ? Because even among them tubes, different tubes will have different signatures. I do love 300B a lot, and hence I am totally in for N8ii Dual tubes. Together with the transparent, detailed, pristine tonal balances, and liquidity, musicality, the N8ii wins my heart.

Heats generations: yes, with all of that being cramped, again, I can not stretch enough that the N8ii will heat up. However, for such a wonderful player, it has all the rights to do so. You can easily enjoy it at the least of 2 hours before it gets too hot when you have it out in the open. While sitting at your desk, May want to consider having it out in the open. I don’t recommend charging and playing simultaneously. Just listen to it for 5-6 hours if you want to, and then quick charge it for about a couples hours before you go at it again. When staying inside your pocket, I recommend that you run it with SS, P mode, and Class AB. Also, slip in that protective case, so that it at least has some air running through from the bottom of the case.
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Practicality: given that it comes out of the box with Android 9.0 and Google store installed, you don’t need to do anything extra beside downloading your own favorite streaming or music apps. Boot loader is also unlocked for further tinkering if you are into it.

Korg tubes will not turn on unless plugs are detected.

Battery will stop charging when the chassis is warm to the touch, and it happens easily when using the provided leather case. Also, IPad or Apple 30W+ chargers will provide quick charge to the player, or QC 3.0 compatible charger.

Each time Tubes are used, the player generate extra heating, and will be warmed up easily. It isn’t recommended to have it inside the case and plugged in the charger during Tubes operations. I recommend to have it out of the case, and put on a well ventilated areas during tubes operations.

For burn in or continuously listening with charger plugged in, please use Hgain/SS/P+/AB for best results. Even so, don’t have it inside the case or the pocket either as it will heat up easily as well. To operate it as cool as you can, run it with Lgain/SS/P/AB (your mileages May vary, I don’t find L gain and P mode to be that enjoyable)



Charging and heating scenarios :

The N8ii has a very well thought and lay out for heat dissipations. The Dual ROHM chips are a very powerful and demanding DAC chips, and there are dual Korg tubes. Cayin carved out a block of Solid Alumiun as a chassis, and carefully designed so that the 2 DAC chips will be laying against the Chassis as the main cooling mechanism or heat sink for itself. Everything that made up the N8ii are a heat monster. Let’s just look at Snapdragon 660, discrete amplifiers and ROHM Current output DAC chips. This was why even with a hefty 10,000mAh battery, the player is rated at only 10 hours playback by balanced output, during Class AB, P and solid state conditions. It is also the coolest operational conditions in which you can safely pocket the N8ii to go on a bike trips or walking inside your sport wears just fine. It will warm up a bit, but just as long as it is exposed to cool air with adequate air flows, the N8ii is very cool to the touch, certainly is a lot cooler than SP2K and M8.
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The problems may arise when you are having these 3 conditions: Inside the stock case, Tubes mode and charging!



Due to the Chassis being so efficient at dissipating the generated heat, the player will heat up quiet a bit, with all of the powerful components within a small chassis as mentioned. Anything that can restrict this dissipation factors, will hinder the operations of the N8ii, even if the body only feel warm about 41C, the internal components are generating higher than 45C which triggers the protection mechanism (you absolutely don’t want to see fire from a 10,000mAh pack). A lot of users and including me, did encounter the non charging, and slow charging, draining off the battery, heat accumulated issues. Because as I mentioned, staying inside the case, you are essentially trapping up the heat and restricting airflow, dissipation factors. You can do this easily by taking it out of the case and laying a top of a cool granite counter top other cool surfaces. Even just by taking it out of the case and setting it on top of the case will help. But if you want to have it done properly, a cool aluminum block like this will do a wonderful job
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You can charge + play back at the same time, despite the heavy operational conditions of tubes/classAB/P+ and H-gain. If you properly dissipating the generated heat away from the N8ii!!! Essentially and mainly the Back of the player. Just lay it a top of a heat sink or a cool surface, with QC 3.0 charger and you will be safe to continuously playing+charging all day long

Recommended charger is Apple 30W+ and or Anker QC 3.0 with 30W+
Sometimes your stock Cayin usb cables may not charge rapidly. You will need to swap cables around. Quick charge will have LED to rapidly throbbing VS normal charging which is slower.

Having your pies and eating it too


with Android 9.0 at the time of it releases, and with a new firmware updated right away. Cayin is not lagging behind to support it flagship on firmware and working out the bugs and the ugliness. Needless to remind you that no newly released products is perfect from the get Go, it is just a matter of how timely do the makers support it. Also by be android, we can fully enjoying the “root” and further customize our experiences, such as JamesDSP....Viper!...etc... you know it!

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Additional features : External DAC, or Digital transport.

You can use the N8ii as an external DAC with the option to and or not to Charge while in use. Please make sure to turn off the USB (not to charge feature) after use, because you can forgot it, which would lead to “non charging issues”. It took me a couple time to factory reset before I realized it

under this mode, you will need the Host, or the devices that is sending digital music signals toward your devices to be OTG (with the dongle or whatever), and then Data port on the N8II. In case you are using IPad Pro, or any other devices that has USB-C, you will need USB type C-OTG connected on that device, and another USB Type C data connected to your N8ii. This cables is directional

If you want to use N8ii as a Host, aka Digital out devices into External DAC. You will need USB Type C-OTG connected to N8ii, and then Type B connected to desktop DAC. The Type C-OTG is not commonly used. In case you need high quality cables, you will have no choice but to go for USB Micro OTG and use an adapter into type C.

Even among the USB-Host or as Digital transport, the N8ii holds it ground as my most favorite one. It has the greatest bass depth and extensions with great reverberations, and textures fidelity.

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Finally, hearing is believing, the above impressions and review are from my own experiences and preferences from different references perspectives. It may not float your boat, but one thing I am sure of is that as an enthusiast, you will not regret giving it a listen and hear it for yourself

Lacks of customer supports: unlike Sony, FiiO, Ibasso, Cayin doesn’t really welcome the inquiry to request for spare parts. Furthermore, Cayin has a very strong statement that any modifications to the unit hardware/firmware wise will void warranty and all supports. This is completely different than a statement of “we will still provide supports as long as it is within our scope of services”. Therefore “not selling spare parts” + refuse all supports when modified even when it is within the scope of services and from the customers expenses, both of these reasons proved that Cayin only cares about selling products, and not really into customer supports afterwards, where as the other companies do. If you can accept it, then the N8ii is an amazing player, but if you can not, then look elsewhere, just like I did
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szore
szore
Epic review! Are gonna modify this one too? :smile_cat:
Whitigir
Whitigir
already did with Android rooted :), reassigned audio app cpu cores. For hardware wise ? Possibly not. Love it as is
Nostoi
Nostoi
Love the plot twist at the end of this review. :astonished:

bigbeans

1000+ Head-Fier
N8ii, a step in a new direction
Pros: Excellent technicalities, TOTL neutral reference Android DAP
P+ mode can add incredible versatility for your IEMs
Provides enough power for even some over ear headphones
Nimble Android experience with Google Play out of the box
Cons: Class A vs Class AB differences hard to discern
More transportable than portable
Heat management leaves room for improvement
Preface
Cayin (Zhuhai Spark Electronic Equipment Co., Ltd) founded in 1993 is one of a few entrants in the personal audio space with extensive background in two channel audio. After building a steady following with their tube amplifiers, Cayin expanded its reach to personal audio with products ranging from digital audio players (DAPs) to headphone amplifiers and even in ear monitors (IEMs). Even in such crowded spaces, Cayin surprises their users with steady stream of innovations. From modular N6ii DAP (with R2R module) to launching the N8 as the first portable tube flagship class DAP and more recently the C9, a portable balanced tube headphone amplifier. With each new product release, Cayin further refines its approach to sound and showcases their core values of innovation and delivering value to customers.

Introduction
Today, we will be covering the N8ii, the second release in the N8 family. The original N8 shocked the world the first flagship implementation of KORG Nu-Tube in a DAP. The convenience of a tube amplification system enclosed in a DAP was a marvel and many users took to the N8’s unique and pleasurable sound, including myself. During development of N8ii, Cayin collected feedback from N8 users to help guide development of N8ii. Among the feedback collected, the most desired feature improvement was to upgrade the unbalanced KORG Tube circuit to a true balanced tube amplification circuit. Taking their learnings with N6ii and feedback from N8, Cayin set out to develop a N8 successor which can address users’ needs and requirements in rapidly evolving market.

A New Platform (Android+ROHM)
In the DAP world, Android or Non-Android is a matter of philosophies. Some folks prefer the purist experience, where software obsolescence isn’t a possibility. Others prefer built in streaming ability and an access to a wide array of functions that only Android DAPs can support. Cayin has assessed the market and determined Android provides their users great enough value to incorporate it into their flagship DAP. Cayin has adopted the Snapdragon 660 platform with plentiful 6GB of RAM, indicating Cayin expects N8ii to hold the line as a flagship for several years. As someone who’s used nearly every Android flagship DAP, DAPs which adopt Snapdragon 660 provide a nimble, stable experience which works well with nearly every music related app from UAPP to Apple Music and even YouTube. Users should not be concerned about Snapdragon 660’s performances in the context of an audiophile music player. Cayin has shipped N8ii with Android 9, a step back from the competition (Shanling M9, Sony WM1ZM2) which currently support Android 10 and Android 11 respectively. This is not due to a limitation of Snapdragon 660, but rather a limitation placed by Cayin. Cayin’s DTA technology works to bypass Android’s down sampling (SRC bypass) and keep audio in the lossless domain, however DTA is only supported by Android 9 currently. As Google has retired Android 9 in fall of 2021, it would be beneficial if Cayin could provide guidance for future Android 10/11 support. As of N8ii’s initial release, you can expect to use nearly any music app without issue but looking several years into the future, it becomes unclear which apps/features may no longer be supported on Android 9.

The specifications and development story of N8ii have been covered in detail by @Andykong. If you are interested in learning further detail about N8ii such as Nu-Tube design, amplifications and ROHM DAC please see the posts below. I highly recommend giving these posts a read:

Digital Audio Design with ROHM BD34301EKV
Balanced Vacuum Tube Amplification in DAP with 2x Nutube 6P1
Discrete headphone amplifier with DAO (Class A/AB) and DOM (P/P+)

Industrial Design and Ergonomics
If the N8 was a splashy statement to the world showcasing unique design aesthetics, the N8ii is a story of refinement and practicality. N8ii is one of the larger DAPs on the market and blurs the boundary between ‘portable audio player’ and ‘transportable audio player’. N8ii’s hallmark design feature is the side windows where the user can be treated to a view of the glowing dual Nu Tubes. This unique side mounted Nu-Tube design was crucial to allow a dual tube specification to fit in a mobile device such as the N8ii.

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Display
The display is 1280*720. While this is a lower resolution display compared to the competition, I view this is as benefit. As N8ii doesn’t need to process high resolution graphics, this saves on CPU utilization/battery life and aids the N8ii to remain performant throughout its life cycle. The display is a vivid OLED and displays album artwork beautifully.

Below the screen is a RGB LED which will display a certain color corresponding to the bit rate of the music being played. Personally, I do not care for such features, and I am happy to find an option to turn off this light entirely. Thank you Cayin for thinking of this small touch :)

Knobs and Buttons
Cayin learned some lessons from the original N8, particularly the volume potentiometer and media control wheel. These input mechanisms often felt ‘mushy’ and not well-defined during operation. In some instances, these knobs were prone to failure. N8 users including myself had to send in my original N8 for repair due to issues with the input wheels. Furthermore, the original N8 depended on metal spacers that needed to be stickied on to the device for compatibility with official Dignis leather case. Cayin has learned from this design misstep, and with N8ii they have created one of the best volume potentiometers I’ve ever used on a DAP. This wheel clicks nicely and is exacting in actuation. Volume adjustment is assisted by a 4 channel JNC NJW1195A chip more info. Adjusting volume is a joy and feels satisfying with each experience. The side buttons click firmly and do not require excess pressure for actuation. Cayin has executed wonderfully on the learnings from the previous N8 and created buttons and knobs which feel at home for a TOTL device.

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Ports
Towards the bottom of N8ii are the headphone and digital interface ports. To accommodate external amplifiers Cayin incorporates high quality LO stages so a user can connect N8ii to their line of tube amplifiers. Sporting both a 3.5mm and 4.4mm LO, the user has flexibility to use N8ii with balanced or unbalanced amplifiers. Please note, even though the 4.4mm port is shared as a PO, Cayin has designed a separate LO circuit for 4.4mm so the user is not at a disadvantage with either LO configuration used. I2S is supported via PS Audio’s specification, so finding compatible cables shouldn’t be challenging.

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Sound
General Tonality
  • Neutral/transparent sound, a departure from Cayin previous house signature
  • Scales IEM technicalities without adding flavor
N8ii is characterized by its neutrality, crystal clear resolution, and its ability to reveal the best technicalities I’ve heard from my IEMs. For the most part, the player will act ‘invisible’ with the gear you pair it with and scale up performances accordingly. Do not expect N8ii to layer any character to an IEM. If you find an IEM bright, the N8ii will render it bright. The treble is a little uncontrolled at times depending on the IEM and can have a ‘jagged’ character. The soundstage is possibly the widest I’ve experienced from a portable DAP and complements wider stage IEMs such as Elysian X well. N8ii provides the underpinnings an ‘audiophile’ sound and deserves the TOTL moniker touted in the marketing campaigns. Given N8ii’s transparent sound profile combined with ‘supercharge’ P + mode, I could see N8ii being used to evaluate gear technicalities for comparative assessments.

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SS Timbre
  • Cleaner signature profile, veering into clinical
  • Treble can be sharp
With SS timbre engaged, the treble has the most sparkle and can have a ‘jagged’ or sharper presentation at times. For those who desire a more clinical sound signature, the SS Timbre will deliver. This signature leans more neutral than the C9 SS mode and may surprise avid Cayin fans. Some IEMs such as Elysian X do not benefit from this mode, as I found this synergy to push into the fatiguing area (Metropolis.EXE). My preferences fall into the ‘warm’ signature, so listening to SS Timbre at first gave me the impression of N8ii adding a zing in the treble. Over time however, I found N8ii is simply presenting the IEM as it is without any ‘character’ or coloration added. This presentation works to the advantage of IEMs such as Aroma Audio Jewel where the slight undertone of warmth in Jewel is preserved and not overemphasized as I found on DMP Z1. Another pairing I particularly enjoyed was XE6. N8ii's strengths of wide soundstage, crisp presentation and neutral characteristic complements XE6's warmer presentation and provided a synergy superior to the one I found on DMP Z1.
When combined with P+ mode, this presents with the most fatiguing presentation on N8ii, however the synergy depends on the IEM and personal preferences. Those who prefer a ‘reference neutral’ Lotoo house sound may end up using SS Timbre exclusively and this is who I think N8ii is designed for. SS Timbre serves as a reminder the old Cayin house sound is left behind, replaced by a more conventional ‘hifi neutral’ presentation we’ve come to expect from Lotoo or FiiO.

Tube Timbre
  • Slight variation of N8ii’s signature, smoothens the treble for less fatiguing listen
  • Does not provide ‘classic’ warm tube sound
Cayin has chosen to implement Tubes to affect the texture of instruments and rolling the ‘jagged edges’ of the treble, rather than imbue warmth on the music. This may puzzle listeners at first, as we’ve come to expect ‘gooey, warm’ characters of tubes. This is not the case with N8ii. If one desires a neutral signature, but finds the SS Timbre too fatiguing with the IEM, Tube will ‘tame’ the presentation by smoothening the treble slightly to allow for a wider synergy. When using JH Jolene with Tube Timbre, I could tell the tube was delivering new textures with electric guitar while preserving the neutral signature and keeping treble tamed (Pearl Jam, Alive). Using Elysian X (the most accomplished IEM for treble presentation I’ve used), confirms Tube Timbre rolls off the treble harshness to allow for less fatiguing listening. After going through the SS and Tube Timbres on N8ii, I found myself using Tube Timbre almost exclusively across all my IEMs. It seems Cayin has doubled down with the new sound signature on N8ii and chose the tubes to allow a slight variation on this new house sound, rather than offer the consumer a wholly different presentation.

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P+ Mode
  • Increases engagement factor of IEM (forward sound presentation)
  • Can ‘double’ your IEM collection depending on preferences
As described by Cayin, the P+ mode boosts the voltage and increases the power output of the headphone amplifier. This will provide more headroom for the transducer you use; however I’ve found the synergistic matchup is IEM dependent. In general terms, P+ mode will bring the music (mids in particular) forward and the song will take up more of the stage (Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach, Gorillaz). This results in a more engaging presentation which can work against some IEMs which are highly energetic to begin with. For instance, Elysian X with P+ mode pushes the lower mids forward and gives a presentation akin to the Empire Ears Odin. Such a presentation isn’t to my liking as I find the bass too anemic relative to the forward mid emphasis. Some listeners may enjoy this presentation; however, I would need to take a few tabs of MDMA to fully enjoy this ‘super tweak’ version of Elysian X (particularly for Metropolis.EXE). In contrast, a delicate and relaxing sounding IEM such as Jewel benefits from P+ mode (Beneath the Mask, Persona 5). The sound is pushed up forward, resulting in a more engaging sound. P+ mode on Jewel benefits with piano solos, the added energy in the mids and smoother treble (Tube mode Class AB) and allows for a concert like experience (Chopin, Leif Ove Andsnes). P+ mode has doubled the utility of Jewel for me and it’s hard to go back to a player without P+.
In summary, P+ mode acts as a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde for your IEMs, which variant you prefer (P vs P+) is up to your preferences. Cayin has executed brilliantly on providing delivering the user added value to existing gear. By offering an engaging and more forward presentation, P+ mode practically doubles your IEM collection with the added sound variant offered. Hats off Cayin!

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Class A/AB
  • The differences in sound are challenging to detect
  • Hard to find a reason to pick one over the other
For those interested in the details of Cayin’s Dual Amplification Operation please read @AndyKong’s informative post here. To summarize, Cayin has implemented Class A and Class AB operation modes in a digital media player. Class A operations are inefficient however offer a sweeter, smoother sound which can be beneficial for simpler music such as instrument solos and vocals. Class AB offers faster dynamics across a large frequency band and tends to work better with highly dynamic music such as electronic, metal and others. In the two channel hifi world, Class A is generally favored over Class AB due to the belief Class A offers more natural and pure sound. The disadvantage to this is large inefficiencies with heat and energy consumption. In theory, a class A amp can achieve 50% efficiency with inductive output coupling or 25% with capacitive coupling. In real world, we see efficiency figures much lower than this and this is not accounting for the large amount of heat Class A amplifiers produces and we are noticing more manufactures beginning to adopt a Class AB amplification design with Class A bias. In my experience with Class A and Class AB amplifiers in two channel audio, I prefer Class A or Class A biased gear as they impart a sweeter natural tonality which complements instrumental solos and vocals. In general, Class A amplifiers lend to a specific sound signature (especially in the transients) and over time such characteristics can be identified reliably.
After many hours (over several days) of careful listening and switching between nearly all my IEMs, only the Campfire Equinox allowed me to elucidate the slight difference between Class A mode and Class AB mode on N8ii. The music was tighter in presentation (smaller stage) and sweeter, this was advantageous with simpler passages with less dynamics (24 Caprices for Violin, Julia Fischer). Class AB had a wider stage and handled dynamics better, particularly the bass presentation with EDM. Even in the case of Equinox, this was still a very subtle change and required critical listening to detect. With all other IEMs in my collection, across many genres of music the audible differences between Class A and Class AB seemed to be beyond my hearing ability. After this experience, I began questioning the value proposition of providing users a choice between Class A and Class AB and whether Cayin could have focused on delivering a different feature which delivers users more noticeable results.
Flicking back a few pages back in my journal, I found some listening notes when I evaluated C9. The differences between Class A and Class AB seemed to be more noticeable and did give me reason to switch to between modes depending on the music. With violin solos for instance, Unique Melody Mason Fabled Sound, Solid State, Class A mode provided a sweetness to the violin and a more natural transient than the corresponding Class AB mode (24 Caprices for Violin, Julia Fischer). Listening to the same music on N8ii, I was not able to appreciate these nuances between the Class A and Class AB. Granted, N8ii is a full feature Android DAP and there are some design constraints compared to a dedicated amp such as C9. Hopefully C9 owners will be able to provide their feedback on the differences between the Class modes of N8ii and C9. I am unable to provide a direct comparison, so take my opinion on this matter with a grain (or fistful) of salt. My experience of Class A vs Class AB on N8ii lead me to deliberate on the concept of ‘burden of choice’. If implementing different classes of amplifications are not reliably producing differentiated results, then why implement this technology the first place and burden the user with additional choices that may leave the customer with more questions than answers?

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Hiss Tests
I would warn Campfire Audio users that hiss is still audible even on Low Gain (P mode, 3.5mm). With other IEMs in my repertoire (4.4mm balanced), hiss was not noticeable between all the gain settings (on P mode and P+ mode).

Usability
  • More transportable than portable
  • N8ii slips out of bundled leather case when plugging in IEMs
  • Need 30W+ charger for simultaneous charge+play
Given the sheer number of components enclosed in the small space, expect this device to get quite warm during operation. Unlike DAPs from Sony or Lotoo, do not expect to use this device in a pocket or an enclosed compartment (such as fanny pack) for an extended period. This DAP requires ventilation and is best at home on a desk. As mentioned earlier, the size and weight of N8ii skirts the line of transportable and portable, but in practicality I view it as a transportable DAP. There have been reports of N8ii not being able to charge during high power operation, however this is due to using a charger less powerful than 30W and a thermal limitation (leads to protection circuit activating). If you use a more powerful charger (30W+), the N8ii will be able to draw enough power during playback. Through user feedback, it seems the thermal limitation is due to using the N8ii with the provided leather case. Without a case, N8ii can dissipate heat more effectively to enable a charging+play usage without the protection circuit activating.
An ergonomic snag I’ve discovered about the case is how it tends to slip out when you plug a connector into it. Be advised to have a finger or two braced at the top when plugging IEMs and such into N8ii. Another note, the sides of the leather case slightly bulge outward. This is likely due to the design of the player and how the case is formed. When using media control keys, you will feel a slight air gap before the buttons are clicked. After a few days of operation, I did acclimate to this, however I would like to see new cases have a snugger fit around the sides to allow more direct interaction with the media buttons.
Generally, the Android software is implemented well. Apps are quick to respond with no noticeable lag. There are some bugs however. At the time of publication, there is a ‘swipe to unlock’ bug which kicks me into the app drawer selection mode every time I unlock my N8ii. This is quite annoying, and I hope Cayin addresses this with a software update. Double tap to wake screen feature is slow to activate and hopefully can be optimized in an update as well.

Conclusion
The N8ii is a bold departure from Cayins previous DAP house sound. Supporting full Android, different timbres, different Class amplification modes and competent LO’s, it seems Cayin threw the kitchen sink at this project. Undeterred by AKM chip shortage, they turned to ROHM and created a new reference class sound However in doing so, they lost the romantic sound of the N8. This is not a pro or a con, merely a preference in sound. Some prefer a neutral sound signature, while others (including myself) prefer a warmer/richer sound profile.
I appreciate what Cayin has done with N8ii. Heat issues aside, the P+ mode injects new energy into IEMs, allowing you to extract more value and joy out of existing gear. As this hobby is becoming more expensive, getting new joy out of existing gear by simply flicking a (virtual) switch is quite valuable.

To those considering N8ii, I suggest to view N8ii not as an iteration of N8 but as a completely new DAP. I feel N8ii should have been released as N9, as the difference in sound signatures between N8 and N8ii is significant. I appreciate N8ii’s technical ability, reference level sound quality and P+ mode. While practicality of portability and differences between Class A/AB leave some room for improvement, N8ii lives up to the promise of being a TOTL Android DAP with reference level technicalities. While the sound signature isn’t for me, I can recommend it for those looking for a neutral-sound TOTL Android DAP. Taking price into consideration however, if you don’t need an all-in-one solution like a DAP and prefer a neutral-high resolution presentation N8ii goes for, then I would dare to say a Hugo2+2Go could serve your needs better.


Music used during evaluation:







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BlueA
BlueA
Really appreciate the main points resume for each domain and the transparency of the personal appreciation of the author. This offers a very appreciable view the product!
S
stephensaiko
Very useful review, thank you very much! I also own the Aroma Jewel, and currently is using the AK SE200 -> Aroma A100TB+P100 -> Aroma Jewel. I am feeling the need to upgrade on the SE200 and hence tried the Cayin N8ii today. Your review really hits the point, the technicality is excellent and it doesn't add too much color. Like you said, it can be a great thing but it may also lack a little bit of character. If you don't mind sharing, which DAP do you think matches well with the Jewel? Appreciate any insights. Thanks in advance!
bigbeans
bigbeans

rev92

Reviewer at Ear Fidelity
Cayin N8ii
Pros: Balanced tube output!
Class A/B or Class A Amplification
Android 9
Great screen
Perfect Built Quality
Impressive project in and out
Fantastic technical performance
Lovely timbre
It sounds as natural as it gets
Pairs great with a lot of different IEMs/Headphones
Not that much more expensive than the N8
Masterclass musicality
Cons: Big and expensive (worth it though)

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Introduction​

Let me start this review by saying something: DAPs are quite interesting in the current audio market. They surely feel somewhat like relics of the past, something that is not functional enough to be perceived as “attractive” in 2022.

See, everybody has a smartphone nowadays, everyone has internet access, and with that, we’ve got basically all music ever created available for us in seconds. If you care about audio quality and you simply can’t stand the audio quality of your phone, just buy a dongle or an external mobile DAC/AMP and call it a day…right?

Well, not so quick. Functionality has a lot of different names and it’s perceived differently by different people. I just turned 30, so I’m still a relatively young guy, but I grew up in the era of CDs, radio, cassettes, etc. It created an appreciation for disconnecting yourself from the world when you’re listening to music. When it comes to music and audio, I’m rather an old-fashioned guy. I like vinyl, got my turntable setup in a completely different place than my PC and “testing gear station”. I planned it that way, because I wanted to split these two places, with Vinyl being my ZEN, chill place to just focus on whatever I’m listening to.

Here comes the funny part – MP3players of the past, I’m talking about the first iPods, ZEN players, etc were literally revolutionary back then. All this music in your pocket, no CDs, battery-operated – Woah, so cool. A lot has changed over these years. Right now, in 2022 I see these mp3 players as a more “traditional” approach to personal audio. Okay, okay…you can still use Tidal with it and literally turn it into a smartphone without GSM. But, you don’t have to do it. You can just simply upload your favorite albums onto it, disconnect from the world, push play and not give a damn about the whole world (which especially during the last few days sounds great doesn’t it?).

Yes, I’m a fan of DAPs, I don’t like dongles. With the latter, I always feel like I’m listening to music through the device that gets my attention. Hence I’ve been really enjoying my time with the N8ii over the last weeks, having it on my bedside table. Every day, before going to sleep, I just listen to music to chill, to remain sane and calm in these crazy times. My phone is charging out of my reach, and all I’m getting is music, no notifications, nothing to bother me.

Of course, you can do it with every single DAP in the world, but here comes the most important thing about our industry – the sound quality. The Cayin N8ii is priced at $3499, so it surely should sound fantastic, but we’ll get there.

Here’s my personal take on the DAPs in general, let’s dive into the N8ii itself and see how it performs.

Packaging​

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Cayin has been pretty consistent in terms of unboxing experience over the past few years. Nothing to really write a book about, it’s rather clean, simple, and quite pleasant.

The N8ii however is their new flagship, a top-of-the-top audio device, so it surely requires something extra, doesn’t it?
While I wouldn’t call the unboxing experience of the N8ii luxurious, fascinating, or revolutionary, I like some smart ideas that have been implemented.
The box is pretty standard when it comes to its construction, but I absolutely adore its design. Take a look at the photo above, you see that “8” cutout in the top part, showing the balanced tubes feature that highlights the name N8? It’s really cool, I like a smart design choice like this.

Back to earth though. The overall unboxing experience is pretty simple and modest. Other than the DAP itself, you’re getting a USB cable and two adapters (2.5mm -> 3.5mm, and 2.5mm -> 4.4mm). There also will be a case in the retail packaging, but the N8ii I got here is an early unit and it does not have it, hence I can’t say anything about it. It is good that there will be a case in the box though, you’ll need it to protect this precious piece of metal.

Have in mind that this is an early unit so the retail packaging is slightly different in terms of its design.

Build Quality​

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The build quality. Cayin has really mastered it, for me, this is the TOP manufacturer when it comes to the build and finishing of their products. Every single product that they’ve released in the last few years, the HA-300, Fantasy IEM, N6ii…all these products are built to last and finished with the greatest precision.
Nothing has changed here, the N8ii is a pure masterclass when it comes to physical construction and finishing. From the first moment, you feel this is a serious device, with no shortcuts, no bad choices.

First of all, the N8ii is a big player. Not huge, it is still nowhere close to the Fiio M17 or Astell&Kern Kann Cube, but it is nowhere close to the likes of Cayin N3 Pro or Lotoo DAPs. Actually, I was expecting it to be even bigger than it really is, so this is a good thing.

What’s important to note though, is that Cayin really squeezed a lot in that device. Balanced KORG tube architecture, two ROHM BD34301EKV chips, Class-A amplification, powerful specs, a 5-inch screen…it’s a lot, and I’m really impressed that they managed to fit all of it in such a “tiny” body.

The whole unit is built of tempered glass and aluminum. It feels very solid and dense in the hand, with every surface being finished to perfection. The only thing I’m not crazy about it is the back of the device. Take a look at the latest Fiio M11 Plus ESS with its beautiful back-plate design. In comparison, the N8ii looks bland and just not really interesting. Oh, and the amount of branding on the backplate, it’s just too much. We’re talking about a $3499 DAP, minimalism is elegant and polished, this is far from that. Cayin N8ii would have been enough, at least for the big and highly visible stuff, the rest of the information could have been much smaller and less visible.

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Okay, I complained a bit, now into good things. The volume knob is just beautiful, it has that beautiful and stylish finish that adds a lot of character to the device. Operating it is a blast as well, it just feels comfortable and easy to use. The left side of the N8ii has a glass panel that shows the KORG tubes in action (when you actually use them), and it’s a great touch. When I first saw renders of the N8ii I was pretty curious where will they put the tubes so that you can see them. My guess was at the back panel, but luckily this side view is much better.

The bottom part of the device is not flat, so forget about the N8ii standing on its own. It has a 4.4mm balanced output, a 3.5mm output, a dedicated 3.5mm line-out, a USB-C port, and a mini HDMI connector serving as I2s output. Basically, all you need, and I’m happy to see manufacturers ditching the 2.5mm once and for all – it’s about time.

The right side is where your buttons are located, as well as a single micro-sd slot. Speaking of buttons, there’s a power button, next, previous, and play buttons, so this is pretty self-explanatory.

Last but not least, the front. It is mainly covered by this huge, 5inch 720p screen. The resolution seems laughably low as for 2022, but it is actually a good choice. Fewer pixels = less processing power = better battery life. Why would you need more pixels in a DAP, are you going to watch movies on it? If yes…then I don’t even know how I can comment on it. Oh, I know…get a TV.

Back to the screen. It is an AMOLED screen, which is a great choice. Amoled screens are proven to give a better battery life while being superior in terms of display quality to IPS. The screen on the N8ii that I have in here has a significant red tilt to it, to the point where there’s literally no pure black, it’s always red-ish. This is probably due to the fact that this is a very early production unit, so I can’t comment if this is an issue of this particular unit. However, apart from that red-ish tilt, the screen in the N8ii is a blast – vibrant, bright, crisp with great contrast. For a DAP, this is way more than enough…and then some. Good job Cayin.

Tech​

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I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again…Cayin really squeezed a lot in the N8ii.
First of all, it is built around two ROHM BD34301EKV DAC chips. This is a rather new kid on the block, now being used more and more, because you know…AKM fire and stuff. Cayin N8ii is actually the worlds-first portable audio device using these chips.

The new ROHM DAC is a powerful beast. Clocking at -130dB SNR and -115dB THD, it is a bit behind ES9038PRO, but honestly, those numbers are still better than the rest of the analog circuits will be able to deliver anyways. Few decibels here don’t change anything, this is one of the best specs around. Compatibility is great, it will chew through PCM up to 768kHz and DSD 22,4 MHz. Later we will see how it translates into sound, but it’s good to have something besides AKM and Sabre.
To support these TOTL DAC chips, Cayin needed TOTL support, so they have employed two extremely low phase noise (-100dBc) Femtosecond Crystal Oscillators to ensure high precision low jitter digital playback.

Now onto the most impressive thing about the whole device. Cayin is THE company when it comes to revolutionising tubes in portable audio. First, they implemented a KORG Nutube 6P1 in their original N8 back in 2018, but because they could only fit one of it inside…it was single-ended or nothing. We all knew that Cayin wouldn’t quit unless they somehow fix that, and they just did it. The main priority of the N8ii project was to include a balanced output with tubes, and it just blows my mind that they succeeded. Here’s how it was accomplished:

“The Dual Nutube implementation in N8ii is even more challenging than C9 because of limited space and form factor. There is not enough room to lay the two Nutube flat like N8 and C9 because we need to accommodate a bigger screen for Android implementation. We can’t lay it flat on the bottom panel either because that will reduce the space available for battery. Finally we started the process all over again and developed mechanical shock absorption and damping system to install the Nutube vertically. The new installation system involves:
  • Compartmentalized CNC Aluminum chassis to create an isolated, fully damped chamber for Nutube installation
  • Flexible Printed Circuit (FPC) to minimize shock transmission
  • Custom Built Shock-absorption Silicon Housing to hold and damp the Nutube
  • Vertical-hanged Suspension Pin to mount the Nutube and Silicon Housing into the designated chamber securely
Having a dedicated chamber to isolate the Nutube from the main PCB is a head start in dealing with microphonic and anti-interference. We are surprised by the final result of this new design, it works like a charm and we are confident that the N8ii can cover our daily activities effectively.”

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This is beyond impressive. The Cayin N3 Pro has been praised and loved by me from the first day of owning it (still using it a lot), and it was mainly due to its revolutionary and innovative approach. With the N8ii, Cayin goes a step further, and for that, they have my huge respect. In the world where the majority of DAPs start to look similar to each other and it all comes to personal preferences, Cayin took a different route and they give us something new, fresh, and innovative. Kudos for that.
The N8ii has two amplification modes – Class A/B and Class A, with both of them having a standard and high power mode as well. The volume control is covered by Premium grade resistor ladder electronic volume control from JRC.

When it comes to the operating system, the N8ii uses Android 9.0 which is “Streaming Ready”. I’ve used Tidal on it and it works like a dream. The smoothness of the entire OS is ensured by Snapdragon 660 CPU with 6G DDR4 RAM. The N8ii runs smooth and snappy, like a 2022 device should. Nothing to complain here at all.

Sound​

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At the end of the day, all of those endless hours put into designing and engineering the N8ii were meant to create a TOTL type of sound quality. The newest flagship by Cayin has a lot of different flavors to it, whether you’ll be using a Solid-State and Class AB mode, or you’ll go all-in with its balanced tube output with Class A amplification. In this review, I’ll focus mainly on the latter, as this is THE thing that is the most impressive about the new N8ii.

However, this review is going to be different than all the others on Ear Fidelity. I won’t be splitting the sound impressions into parts, as it wouldn’t have made justice for this DAP. This is a masterclass enjoyment piece of audio that sounds so coherent, natural, and just true, that there’s no other way than to describe it as a whole. I’ll get emotional, so I hope it won’t bother you.

So, let’s start by asking one question – does it sound THAT good? Yes, it does. The N8ii has that timbre to it that is just impossible not to fall in love with. But, it’s not a “tube” sound, to be honest, it feels like a perfect mix of Solid-State detail, air, separation with that beautiful timbre and tonality of the State Of Art tube amplifiers.
Because of that, the N8ii has a magnificent speed and clarity to it, absolutely top level. The N3 Pro in Tube mode is a very musical and smooth-sounding DAP, but when it comes to raw technical performance, it isn’t class-leading. With the N8ii, Cayin just took no prisoners, giving us a true “best of both worlds” type of experience.
The separation, resolution, and coherency were the first things that got my attention when listening to the N8ii for the first time. I remember listening to all of my test songs to get a glimpse of how good it was when it comes to the raw performance.

A song called “Bubbles” by Yosi Horikawa is one of these songs, when you really need that resolution and speed of the sound to get a feeling that it sounds nearly impossibly clean. Every single “bubble” is separated from everything else, you feel like you’re listening to tens of little balls falling to the floor at once, and you’re able to focus on every single one with zero trouble. This sounds so crisp and detailed on the N8ii, that I don’t get the same feeling with my Susvara plugged into Ferrum OOR, it’s that ridiculously crisp.
What’s important though – it never sounds harsh, forced, or in-your-face. Every single texture and slight dynamics variation is presented in a natural yet highly involving way that lets you just dig into it for real and be left with nothing else than excitement.

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Another song that is my “technical” demo is “Keith Don’t Go” by Nils Lofgren, specifically from his album Acoustic Live. This song has been mentioned by me over and over again, I’m curious if you’ve tried it by now. Personally speaking, for me, this is the best-sounding recording that I’ve ever listened to. The amount of little details and the way that Nils’ acoustic guitar sounds is just out of this world. This is one of those songs that sound good on almost every audio system, but for it to sound great you need a beast of a system. When you pair the N8ii with something like Unique Melody MEST you get such an incredible level of insight into this recording that you just want to keep going (been there, done that). From the sound of fingers touching the fretboard to distant audience noises, everything is present in a lifelike manner, but it’s never forced to the foreground. It sounds balanced, yet highly textured and tonally marvelous. Nils’ voice vibrates, it’s sweet and coherent at the same time, it doesn’t sound sticky like you might be used to with many tube amplifiers. Here, the magic happens in tonality and the overall timbre of the sound, without sacrificing TOTL separation and resolution. Brilliant.

Enough of demo songs though, let’s get into real music. The first step, of course (you know me), is a song called “A Thousand Shards of Heaven” by Lunatic Soul. This is all about Mariusz’s voice, that sweet, romantic, smooth, and hypnotizing voice that I fell in love with many years ago. This is the first song that I’m playing on all new audio devices I get in my hands, as the first and most important test. If this vocal sounds good to me, the device gets my attention, and if it doesn’t sound good…well, you know where I’m going with that.
So, The Cayin N8ii in my hand, my custom Fir Audio M5 in my ears, pushing play, oh, where was I? Oh, I was supposed to dive into it and see if the N8ii sounds good right? So…I’ve listened to the entire album, without thinking about it too much. This is where it became clear to me – this is how this album is supposed to sound like, nothing less, nothing more. Dynamic, soft, warm, fast, accurate with such a calming manner that you simply dig into it and you won’t stop. This album is called “Fractured” and it’s about losing the ones you love. Mariusz states that this is by far the most emotional and personal piece of music he ever created, so you can be sure there are a lot of emotions included in this music. What makes it a masterpiece though is that there’s also a lot of electronics and little aspect that makes the entire album a wild ride with your chest wide open and your heart bleeding. The Cayin N8ii handles that hugely emotional piece of music with such excellence, that it is actually hard for me to describe. It sounds real, it sounds beautiful, calming. I’ve seen Mariusz numerous times, I’ve spoken with him face to face, I know how does he really sound like…and the Cayin N8ii is the closest I’ve heard yet.

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Let’s get into “You All Look The Same To Me” by the British Trip-Hop legends – Archive. This is also a highly emotional album with electronic music added to the mix. The first song of the album, “Again” is my nr.1 song ever. This is what I call a masterpiece.
There are a lot of different flavors and constant changes of pace on this album, and the N8ii handles it all perfectly. Thanks to its beautifully emotional yet superbly technical sound, everything feels like you can reach out and grab it. You’re tossed into a mix of different emotions, flavors, and textures. While this album is not a mastering wonder, you never get a feeling that it doesn’t sound good, there’s no harshness or dryness to it. The N8ii does a great job of balancing the sound, making even mediocre masterings shine.

Last but not least, “The Wall” by the best band in history – Pink Floyd. This is one of the most powerful albums ever created, and it sounds exactly like this on the N8ii.
Here comes that huge dynamic slam, kick, and raw power of the sound, and it makes The Wall a spectacle just like it was meant to be. From the very beginning of “In The Flesh?” the aspects that hit you the most are the attack, huge dynamic range, and incredibly natural timbre. The N8ii has a very neat capability of creating a huge sound, just like you’re listening to a big boy stereo setup.
Next up, is the song called “Vera“, this song always gives me an emotional breakdown. The vocal is such forward, rich, and vibrant that it sounds absolutely mesmerizing. The tubes really do their magic in this kind of recording, where you have a vocalist very close to the mic, taking all the stage for himself. Lastly, the legend itself, “Comfortably Numb“. This song sounds dense, rich, and powerful on the N8ii, and the ability to reproduce Gilmour’s guitar solo is one of the best I’ve ever heard. This guy poured his soul onto the fretboard, and it’s not an easy task for an audio device to truly reproduce it, yet the N8ii does it without breaking a single sweat. This is what you get with such amazing engineering – a TOTL technical performance, with musicality to die for. I can’t describe it in any other way.

Comparisons​


Fiio M17

The battle of two flagships that are vastly different in terms of the size and the tech sitting inside. The M17 is the new definition of chunky, with the N8ii feeling small and portable in comparison.
I’ll skip the trivia, it’s all there in the products descriptions. Let’s get straight into the sound.
The M17 is probably the most powerful sounding DAP that I’ve ever heard. It is a stationary system in a (trans)portable body. Thanks to that, the amount of body, slam, and dynamic range is just mind-boggling. The N8ii definitely sounds more calm, relaxed, and cultured. It has its strengths in that lovely timbre and absurd detail retrieval, while the M17 is a true powerhouse of a DAP.
Luckily for Cayin, the difference in the price of these two devices also show in the sound quality. The N8ii is just more natural, more nuanced, and definitely more touching. It’s a master of musicality when the M17 is more about that huge scale of the dynamic range.
While listening to electronic music, both DAPs are doing exceptional, offering a truly high-end sound performance. However, the moment a natural instrument or vocals get into the mix, the N8ii takes a huge lead immediately. The way it reproduces everything natural is so true and magical, that the M17 sounds quite ordinary in comparison.
While I would call the Fiio flagship a big armored truck, the new Cayin N8ii is a Rolls Royce – I can get to my destination in both, but I’d much rather go with the Rollce, open a bottle of fine Scotch and simply enjoy the ride like there was no tomorrow.

Cayin N6ii (R01)

The N6ii with R01 motherboard is one of the most popular choices for everybody looking for a lush and smooth sound. It offers great value and flexibility since you can just change the motherboard at any time and get totally different results instantly.
The N8ii however has it in stock, all you have to do is just go to the menu and change the amplification or swap the tubes for some SS action.
The R01 is an r2r motherboard though, so it feels natural for me to compare it to the tube mode of the N8ii with Class-A amplification.
The difference is way bigger than I expected. The R01 N6ii sounds slow and lacking in definition in comparison to its new brother. The N8ii offers a much higher sense of realism to the sound, mainly due to its better dynamic range, excellent control over the bass, and separation and detail that are in a completely different league.
I would say that the biggest problem of the R01 is its bass response, which is a bit sloppy and slow, while the N8ii sounds powerful and perfectly controlled. The vocal representation feels somewhat similar at first, but after a few seconds, you’ll start to hear that the R01 is veiled and slightly too thick in comparison. The N8ii sounds like a TOTL R2R DAC, even though it’s a Delta-Sigma construction. Actually, it sounds more R2R than the R01, which is quite ridiculous.

Pairing​

Fir Audio M5

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The Cayin N8ii + Fir Audio M5 combo is just striking. They both are highly emotional and smooth sounding, and if you combine them you’ll get such beautiful timbre and fantastic physicality of the sound, that it’s going to be really hard to stop listening (I’m doing it right now and it’s 3 AM, so yeah, trust me on this).
I would describe both the M5 and the N8ii as romantic and rich sounding with fantastic technical capabilities. This is a pairing for vocal and rock fanatics. I always say, that the ’70s and ’80s rock is a piece of music for romantic souls, and this is probably as good as it gets if you’re into that.

Unique Melody MEST

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This setup is a different story. I’ve always said that the MEST is an incredibly fun-sounding IEM with TOTL technicalities. Now, when you pair it with the musicality of the N8ii and the refinement of the Erua TAWA you’re getting a sound that is just complete. This is the best I’ve heard when it comes to portable audio, this is the best setup that I’ve ever tried. Everything, the detail, the clarity, the timbre, the dynamics, staging, imaging…I won’t bother describing it. It’s the best I’ve heard, that’ll be it.

Final A8000

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The Cayin N8ii is a wonderful pairing with the A8000. If you ever felt that the A8000 is just a touch too extreme or slightly too technical/bright sounding for your taste, this is a DAP for you.
While it retains the amazing technical performance of the Final Audio Flagship, it adds that richness and smoothness to the entire frequency response that just turns the A8000 into a beast. The physicality and crispiness are on the highest level, while the fun-oriented nature of the A8000 will give you the speed and clarity to truly appreciate the technical capability of this player. A great combo.

Campfire Audio Solaris 2020

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The N8ii is the first DAP that made me think that the Solaris 2020 is slightly underperforming when it comes to technical capabilities in 2022. It just sounds so much better with MEST, that the Solaris 2020 just sounds as it’s not really worthy of its flagship status anymore.
I’m not saying that the Solaris 2020 is a bad IEM, absolutely not, I still use it quite often, every time I’m craving for that wet and fluid midrange, but it’s just not the best pairing with the N8ii.
It sounds somewhat too mellow and too smooth in the midrange area, while not giving you enough detail to truly appreciate the N8ii. If you’re going to pull the trigger on the N8ii, get MEST instead of the Solaris 2020. If you’d be leaning more towards something like Lotoo Paw Gold Touch, the Solaris 2020 could be a better choice then, mainly due to it’s romantic and unique sound signature.

Hifiman HE1000se

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It’s not all about IEMs though, as the N8ii pairs great with various over-ear headphones as well. The HE1000se by Hifiman is a technical monster with incredible speed and clarity, and the N8ii pairs up wonderfully with it.
It has enough juice to make them sing at their full potential, but it also does something else – it balances it out just a bit. The 1000se might come up as too aggressive or simply too technically impressive for many people, because of its unforgiving character.
The beautiful timbre and romantic soul of the N8ii make them sound absolutely spectacular, giving them that natural warmth and richness. Don’t worry about the power – it has way more than enough to unleash the full potential of the 1000se.

Meze ELITE

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The Meze ELITE (review coming soon) took my heart by storm. From day one it became my most used pair of headphones, and it pairs up brilliantly with the N8ii.
The Elite is a very natural and forgiving sounding headphone, and the N8ii just adds to that. The sound of this combo is detailed, airy, and wonderfully polished. You can listen to this sound for hours and hours and you won’t ever get tired of it.
This is the type of sound that is so natural and smooth that you’ll be going for good-quality recordings to truly appreciate it. The Elite does not need a ton of power, and the N8ii has plenty enough.

Summary​

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Cayin N8ii is just a masterclass of a DAP. Its impressive and innovative technology meets a natural, romantic, and rich sound to create the best DAP that I’ve ever listened to. It is highly flexible with its different sound flavors, but the Tube + Class A is a game-changer. The build quality and overall feel is what you should expect of a luxury product, and for all of that, the N8ii get’s my highest recommendation.

Highly Recommended.


Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
  • Headphones – Fir Audio M5, Unique Melody MEST, MEXT, Campfire Audio Solaris 2020, Effect Audio Axiom, Final A8000, Hifiman He1000se, Final D8000 Pro, Meze Elite, Audeze LCD-X 2021
  • Sources– Fiio M11 Plus LTD, Cayin N3 Pro, Cayin N6ii R01, Fiio M17, EarMen Tradutto + Ferrum OOR
I would like to thank Cayin for lending me the N8ii for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and I wasn’t influenced by anybody. I will be sending the N8ii back after this review goes live (sadly).
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NewEve
NewEve
The N8ii is the first DAP that made me think that the Solaris 2020 is slightly underperforming when it comes to technical capabilities in 2022. It just sounds so much better with MEST, that the Solaris 2020 just sounds as it’s not really worthy of its flagship status anymore.
I’m not saying that the Solaris 2020 is a bad IEM, absolutely not, I still use it quite often, every time I’m craving for that wet and fluid midrange, but it’s just not the best pairing with the N8ii.
I was of the same opinion until I tried the Solaris 2020 with a PlusSound Gold-Plated Copper cable — if you have the opportunity, give it a shot :wink:
pkcpga
pkcpga
Definitely agree the tube plus class A is a game changer, my current favorite combo.
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BlueA
BlueA
Thank you very much for this very extensive review. A lot of work in there.
Having Android 9 is an evolution but I would not have it in the Bonus but Malus as other constructors offers Android 11 like Sony. But I get it's an evolution from previous model. Regards.

PS/ My fav quote "open a bottle of fine Scotch ..." says it all :D
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