Cayin continued their partnership with Hiby Music, and N8 interface has an all new updated look. Please keep in mind, this custom software was optimized for maximum audio performance and it’s not Android based. Also, I like covering details of the interface and settings because I get asked many questions about supported features, and sometimes I don’t have DAP in front of me (or the battery needs to be charged), or in case with N8 it will have to be sent back after the review and I won’t have future access to it.
The new N8 GUI is split into two main screens to simplify the navigation and operation. The so-called Home screen has a clear layout when browsing songs by Folders (to access your local storage, micro SD card, or attached USB OTG storage, as well as scanning the music), Classify List (Recently played songs, tagged My Favorites, or custom Playlist), Songs (every song in alphabetical order), Artist (every artist in alphabetical order), Albums (all albums in alphabetical list), and Genres (based on id3 tag). Underneath of browsing section, you have an area for the currently played song with an artwork thumb (if one is embedded), name of the artist/song, file type and remaining time, and Play/Pause button. You can skip the song by swiping left/right. By tapping on the song or pressing Triangular Home button, you can get to Playback screen. To return to Home screen, just press and hold Home button.
In Playback screen you have a more expanded view of embedded artwork if one is available. If not, Cayin has their own picture artwork. The artwork could be swiped to the right to display detailed song info or to the left to display lyrics (if embedded). Above artwork you also have brief info about the file type and in the upper right corner 3-dots shortcut to bring up a menu with play mode selection, current playlist (by default shows songs in the current folder), tagging as my favorite, adding to a playlist, or deleting the file. Underneath the artwork, you have a scroll bar to fast forward/back through the song and current time position vs total song duration. Below it you will find a song name, touch buttons to skip the track and play/pause button. The screen and controls are very clear and easy to read.
The Notification bar displays all the relevant info at a glance, including small icons showing volume level, playback and play mode, gain setting, digital output setting, EQ, and a battery status with a percentage. When you swipe Notification bar down you have a set of 8 shortcuts to choose the Gain (low, med, high), enable/disable Tube (when using 3.5mm output), switch between STD or HIGH2 outputs, Headphone or Line Out selection of balanced output, Enable replay gain, switch USB mode (data or usb DAC), digital output selection (S/PDIF or I2S), and DSD output (D2P, DoP, or Native). Every shortcut has a clear label and a graphic icon for an easy identification when it’s enabled or disabled. Underneath of the shortcuts you have brightness control slider and selection of Music Setting, System Setting, and About. About gives you a model number, local and micro SD storage info, fw version, and WLAN/MAC address and OTA.
Music Setting brings up a comprehensive menu with Play Mode (order, single repeat, random, list repeat), DSD output (D2P, DoP, or Native), DSD gain compensation (up to +6dB), breakpoint resume (off, song, or location), Gapless on/off, max volume, startup volume, Crossfade on/off, L/R Balance, PCM digital filter (sharp or slow – surprisingly not all AKM filters are available), EQ (10band with +/-12dB custom adjustment, 8 genre specific presets which could be modified), Plays through folders and albums option, and displaying album art option.
System Settings starts with WiFi on/off, Bluetooth on/off (including HibyLink on/off and aptX on/off), Language selection, Font Size (small, middle, big), Backlight time, Lock screen (very useful to enable/disable), Key Lock on/off and Key Lock setting (with individual controls of Volume, Play/Pause, and Up/Down skip – each one can be enabled/disabled separately), Led on/off (for triangular home button), Idle shutdown and time, Scheduled power off and time, Reset, and System upgrade.
With every menu choice under Music and System setting, the available options are displayed in a pop-up window at the bottom of the screen with a clear graphics and easy to read text, so you know exactly what you are selecting. I found the GUI to be organized in a very logical way, everything is easy to find and self-explanatory, and the most important – you have text and graphic icons, so everything is easy to id. Also, navigation is relative fast, I didn’t notice any lag.
Within weeks of its release, Cayin already had fw1.1 update available, and at the time of writing this review fw1.2 should be just around the corner. Just like with any initial fw release, nothing is 100% perfect, but based on my experience with previous Cayin DAPs they do listen to customer feedback and pay close attention to bug reports. Based on my testing of the initial fw1.0 and follow up fw1.1 update, it already felt like a mature firmware, I didn’t experience any crashes, and it already has most of the promised features.