A review of the Cayin player N8 — severe vacuum tube audiophile

The Cayin company last year celebrated the 25th anniversary in the market and in honor of this event they decided to release some “ultimate” device, to show the whole gained experience. One such product became the flagship of Cayin player N8, about which we’ll talk.


After the first photos, reviews about this model proved to be quite controversial, unusual design liked by everyone. However, after the start of sales and the appearance of the player in the personal audio salons around the world, reviews have dramatically changed the tone, it became clear that the main component of the player — namely, the sound turned out. The company’s engineers decided not to produce the highest advanced device they set an almost unthinkable task: to make a portable audio player with tube output, the benefit of the company Korg introduced its micro lamp NuTube. To achieve this goal we had to solve many complex problems, starting with a special attachment that protects the lamp from vibration and shock, and ending with a clever heat dissipation system needed to vacuum devices. I think not a spoiler to say that these tasks they were able to solve, so the N8 users can choose between “tube” and “tube” amplifier. Of course, this works only for normal output, so as to place in the housing 4 of the lamp to operate balance would be unrealistic.

The price tag for all this luxury, of course, turned out considerable, somewhere 3300 dollars plus or minus adjustment for local taxes and fees, but when it stopped audiophile price?

Specifications

  • DAC: 2 × AK4497EQ
  • LPF: 2 X MUSES02
  • Gain: 2 × Korg NuTube 6P1 or 4 × OPX1622
  • Volume control: PGA2311UA
  • Screen: 3.2″ IPS, 480 × 360, touchscreen
  • Wireless interfaces: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 (SBC, aptX, LDAC)
  • Battery: 7000 mAh, 3.7 V
  • Full charge time: ~ 6 h. conventional charger, ~4.5 hours with QuickCharge
  • Working time: from 7 to 9.5 hours depending on mode
  • Built-in memory: 128 GB
  • External memory: MicroSD
  • Inputs: USB-C charging, USB OTG, USB Audio and output a digital signal via coax
  • Outputs: 3.5 mm nauchnikov, 3.5 mm line-in, 4.4 mm naushnikov balanced output, combined with linear, I2S
  • Formats supported: DSD, DIFF, SACD ISO, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, APE, WMA, MP3, AAC, OGG
  • Dimensions: 128 mm × 70 mm × 21 mm
  • Weight: 380 gr.

Normal exit

  • Frequency range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.2 dB)
  • Total harmonic distortion+noise: 0.0008%
  • Dynamic range: 118 dB
  • The ratio signal/noise: 120dB
  • Channel separation: 75 dB
  • Output impedance: ≤0.6 Ω
  • Output power (max): 400 mW @ 32Ω, 50 mW @ 300Ω

Balanced output

  • Frequency range: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.2 dB)
  • Total harmonic distortion+noise: 0.0006%
  • Dynamic range: 120 dB
  • The ratio signal-to-noise ratio: 122 dB
  • Channel separation: 110 dB
  • Output impedance: ≤1.2 Ω
  • Output power (max): 750 mW @ 32Ω, 200 mW @ 300Ω

Packing and delivery

Of all the players of the “big three” that Cayin is a record for the size of the package, the product managers decided not to save on external primernosti. The player is sold in large box of cubic shape, on top of which is worn more thin “dust cover” silver. Open the main box on the diagonal, immediately revealing to the gaze of an impatient buyer the device itself. As we continue to unpack, it becomes clear that before us also the owner of the absolute record and set of accessories. In the box you will find:

  • leather case
  • protective glass on screen
  • quality USB-cable
  • adapter 4.4 mm output to two trejdingovyh XLR connector for use with balanced line output
  • adapter to connect headphones with 2.5 mm balanced plug
  • two USB-C adapter to output a digital signal on coax (RCA and 3.5 mm jacks)
  • a couple of stickers HighRes


Exactly the delivery does Cayin N8 leading candidate for the analogue or digital transport for the stationary system.

Design and management

This item has caused everyone (including me) and a maximum right after the announcement. To be honest, the photo player looked odd but in person, it turned out that he has his own special charm. Cayin N8 is sufficiently large, and all sizes, I would not call it a pocket device, of course, if we’re not talking about the pockets of his jacket. While his body of polished steel looks interesting. I would say about the indestructibility of the device, but not sure that any fall will not affect the rear panel made from curved Gorilla Glass, so testing for durability should hold and use the complete case. It is nice that the rear panel has an oleophobic coating, so fingerprints are almost never collects.

Of course, most of the copies in the virtual debate was broken around two of the handles on the right surface, or rather, around their gold. Live proved that they aren’t so shiny, and to cope with their problems well. The top “Twister” is responsible for the volume, and clicking a includes turns off the player. The bottom works like a joystick, switching tracks when moving up and down, switches the playback and puts it on pause. The only real claim to these controls that I have left is their little “wandering” and shared the ease of clicking once led to spontaneous inclusion of the player in my backpack.

The rest of the controls are placed on different sides of the player. On top put the outputs: 3.5 mm line-in the same “nauchnikov” and balanced Pentaconn, which may be by naushnikov output and balanced line output option. Perhaps that began the transition to 4.4 mm exit in the role of “balance” I like it and mechanically more reliable, and the large contact area does not hurt anyone. Also the advantages include the ability to make a “real” balanced line output, which, by the way, and have used Cayin.

On the underside there is a place for the vent holes (I have forgotten what it is to other players), slots for memory cards (built-in 128 GB is good, but still never enough), I2S output format MicroHDMI and USB-C connector. Last, as always Cayin, universal charging, operation of the DAC, the output audio to external DACs that work with USB OTG disks and even the display of “numbers” on the coax — all player can. Speaking of charging, the battery of the player is just huge, 7000 mA/h, but due to the high capacity records for work time “eight” beats. It varies widely from 9 hours on normal output in “normal” mode power to about 6 hours in balanced output mode HIGH2. Fully charging the battery duhanina normal charger takes a little over 6 hours, fortunately, the player supports QuickCharge, allowing for a couple of hours to recharge it from 20 to 80 percent, or 4 hours 40 minutes to charge from “zero to hundred”.

Most of the front panel covers the screen. It’s not as impressive as other players of this segment is “only” 3.2 inches, but its goals quite well: viewing angles and color reproduction is normal, the stock of brightness for work in the sun is (even though to cover the screen with your palm may have), clicks are counted normally. Because of the relatively small size of the display, the frame around him, unable to shake the delicate taste of the fans of the frameless design, but we are a severe audiophile, not prone to such sentiments and is ready to move from the needle SuperAMOLED screens on the player with tube output. Especially given the fact that the Cayin designers made a treacherous step: directly beneath the display is a small window through which after switching on the lamp output, you can see a mystical light installed in the player NuTube. Sljunootdelitelnye under the window is a triangular button with colored led indicator. The indicator shows the expected resolution playable files, shame the red and yellow colors those who do not listen HighRes, button with a short press returns to the playback screen, the long — displays the main menu. By the way, if the led you get bored, you can turn it off in settings.

Probably not going to summarize the results of this section, no accounting for tastes, but me the player after a close acquaintance rather pleased than not that he looks that solid, let the vintage audio device, not the pretty platform of a smartphone.

Firmware

Though the player on the website and called Cayin OS, it is clear that the development once again worked HiBy: function HiBy Link speaks for itself, and the rest of the firmware similar to what we saw in the players Cayin to-Android era. As you’ve probably guessed, the operating system from Google player no. The good news for the haters, bad for fans of streaming. However, regarding the latter, Cayin said that in their opinion, streaming services you can listen from your smartphone, transferring them to the player at LDAC, good it works for the N8 to both sides quite well.

In General, the firmware is familiar and mastered in just a couple of minutes. Immediately after inclusion, we find ourselves on the menu screen, on top there are buttons on the media library, under them — information about the current track with the opportunity to go to the playback screen. Library familiar: folders, playlists, artists, albums, all songs in a crowd and genres. Different styles has random icons, so watch metal with a cocktail glass, and jazz with a violin — quite funny. In the rest of the library works as expected, there is a delete operation and adding to playlists (including group), more or less normal processed non-Latin. The library update could be livelier, but very slow it is also not called.

Screen play no surprises carries: close-up shows the album art, playback controls, swipe left-right allows to see the text if it is written in the tags, or info about the track. There is a button to call the contextual menu: the playback order, deleting tracks, adding to playlist.

On the home screen swipe work. Gesture from the top edge down to open quick settings, there are mainly different switches sound: lamp/OC, gain, power and so on. Immediately available to adjust brightness of the screen to view information about the player.

Swipe up from the bottom, you will receive two settings buttons: music and system. No particular surprises here, on both counts. In the music settings changing the playback order, memorizing volume and the position of the current track when you turn off the playback mode without pause, digital filter and other associated with sound settings. In system settings is the management of Bluetooth and WiFi, timers, shutdown, firmware update, choose which buttons work when you lock the screen, language selection. Russian language is available, but localization suffers from some roughness. As you probably guessed, the use of Wi-Fi here is limited solely by the firmware update.

In General, the firmware is stable and functional, for all the use You N8 any major problems with it I have not found.

Sound

To listen to the device used the following headphones: iBasso IT04, Meze Empyrean, Audio Zenith PMx2, Noble Kaiser Encore, Campfire Audio Andromeda and Solaris, the Unique Melody Mason V3, HUM Pristine and others.

Create a player in Cayin approached seriously, and decided to realize its not like the other “tops” sound. As a result, they get the player, relying on emotions at any cost, sometimes even a little bit at the expense of neutrality. It is understood that with this player, you get three options for sound. Balanced output sounds like 3.5 mm in the “solid-state”, the main difference is more power (and consequent background noise) and slightly wider scene. Interesting situation with 3.5 mm output, which is realized for tube amplification, not available for the balanced connector. Switches the sound option via the menu of lamp “starts” with a five-second delay required to output the operating mode.

The difference between “lamp” and “operativnikam” not huge, but quite noticeable. If the default N8 offers emotional, stressed dynamic sound with a focus on microdataset, NuTube doing exactly what is expected of bulbs: soften the sound, clean up a little aggression on VSC and pitch warmer. In General, the “normal” version of the sound I like, and the description below will focus on it, but somewhere in the 10-15% music (mostly for some reason the jazz and the Blues) benefit from the introduction tube of the regime.

Don’t even know whether to talk about “vile” things like resolution and detail, the player is clearly up to its top status and that the parameters of the problems he has. Perhaps not even going for that much focus.

The bass perfectly captures the texture, has excellent dynamics, depth and energy. Cayin N8 barely adds weight to LF, because of this low frequency instruments sometimes seem to be extended a little forward. The player, naturally, “bushenyi” well, but bass served “convex”, providing not only an excellent basis for the melody, but also delighting the listener with impressive strikes and thunder. Of course, all tools are just as pleased with a nice physicality and monumentality, the control of the bass allows it to make a good show.

At medium frequencies there is a small “sacrifice” of microdialysate in favor of macrodynamic. Of course, with the contrast at N8 all is well, simply because of the underlying emotion and the General “scale” feeding mid, small details go unnoticed by the listener. However, some subsidence of small parts does not prevent the player to play naturally and with a good transfer of the nuances inherent in the recording. Although, of course, his horse — tracks, not taking the technique and emotion, licentiousness and boldness. Imaginary scene Cayin N8 is building good depth close to the maximum and sometimes the player even artificially increases, the width slightly less than the maximum, but also one of the world’s largest portable.

Treble close to perfect, with one small exception. Is the upper part of the range is what separates the top of the device, so to her I am better than everything else (unless, of course, we are talking about flagships). Of course, there’s a lovely length, good detail and wonderful, pleasing to the ear, the layering (in other words — the ability of the source to share verhnechusovskie overtone rich timbral instruments). Of course, the tweeters sound very natural, with excellent damping, and the only drawback which, perhaps, would not be worth mentioning if it were not for flagmen, it is abbreviated fronts of attack that adds “up” to some shred of aggression. However, I would venture to suggest that this is done on purpose, it fits the basic outline of the flow of the player.

As for comparisons, this time, a review be without them. Cayin N8 is better than players more affordable segments. The same Lotoo Paw Gold (not touch) version of similar pitch, but slightly inferior in the same macro-dynamics, so to paint the difference with more affordable devices makes no sense. The other two members of the “big three” in the face SP1000 and LPGT offer a different concept of sound, with less emphasis of emotion and a little more natural, so there point in further comparison will not be much.

Compatibility

As you know, power to the player is enough for almost anything, including tight isodisomy. As for sensitive headphones and well worth a listen with a non-balanced output to avoid background noise, such is the price paid for power. Player better to choose a more neutral-sounding model, but it is a matter of personal preference.

Stylistically versatile player, although, of course, on an emotional genres, from vocals to “strand” did he show himself fully. However, this is more related to the subjective choice of the owner. The recording quality N8 as sensitive as any top, I would say that on a 10-point scale of “being a bully” he deserves somewhere in the 9.

Traditionally, a few tracks as example

Dream Theater — This is the Life of Progressive metal is always a challenge for the player. On the one hand, you have to play skillfully, with another — emotionally. But, of course, this is the perfect task for You N8, which is a bit stressing emotions brings the drama of this track on the ultimate level.

Röyksopp — In Space As it is often the last time the arm began to come across these Northern genius of electronic music, perhaps it’s a sign? If only to understand what. Another track that’s perfect hero of today’s review: slightly accentuated bass combined with a great stage give the effect of immersion and the atmosphere of the record.

Steven Wilson — The Day Before You Came is Gorgeous, simply gorgeous cover. Stephen turned a brilliant lyric disco thing into a delicate rock ballad, filled with a kind of indescribable melancholy. “Eight” in tube mode perfectly complements the minimalist design of the track, adding guitar vivacity, and vocals — with a hint of naturalness.

Insights

Cayin did not just a top player, they implemented their own vision of what should be uncompromising portable audio source. As with any striking product, the result will not please 100% of the audience, but those who are able to really evaluate the large-scale approach to the creation of gadgets — can not remain indifferent, especially if to this is added the love to emotional feeding.

Buy Cayin N8

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