The product was loaned to me by Musicteck for a week before its official introduction at CanJam NYC ’22. This is the First Look review to share my initial impressions. The full review will be published a bit later when I get a chance to spend more time with this DAP.
Full Updated N8ii Review was published HERE.
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 with NuTube was definitely a highlight of the design, even though some audiophiles questioned why it was only available on 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 helped with 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 important detail 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.
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 will make its debut. Thus, I will focus on what I found so far without going into my usual Comparison, Pair-up, and Wired/wireless details. Those will be included later in my full review. So, here comes my initial detailed impressions after spending a week with this new flagship DAP from Cayin.
Unboxing and Accessories.
The unboxing experience of N8ii was very similar to their C9 amplifier and Fantasy IEMs. The removable outer sleeve had a clever cutout around “8” to reveal NuTube lights from the glossy DAP picture on the box cover underneath. The actual 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.
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. A temporary prototype brown leather case was included, but I was told that the final case will have a different color leather and a different design with an open top without velcro flap cover. Please keep in mind, a few of the review pictures will feature that brown case, but it was only a prototype, and a different case will be included with production model.
Some might remember that original N8 had 4.4mm to dual XLR adapter cable, but it is not included with N8ii. 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.
As I already mentioned, I started working on the First Look review prior to Cayin release of its official spec and full design notes. Thus, this section will be finalized when I update it in my full review.
DX300, M9, DX300 MAX, N8ii, R8
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”.
The sculptured design of N8ii aluminum chassis is not your typical rectangular brick. The top is occupied by 5” OLED display with 1280×720 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 a flat glass window 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 diameter power button and 3 smaller playback (play/pause/skip) buttons below it.
The top has an interesting angled facets design as well with a cutout in the top right corner for a “golden” volume wheel with an etched design 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. 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 that same port connector. The back of N8ii looks like it has a glass panel.
Under the hood.
The new Cayin N8ii is packed with a lot of goodies under the hood. From what I understand, 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 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 like in N8. You still have a choice between Solid State and dual NuTube timbre selection, and now can enjoy both in a fully-balanced configuration. And similar to original N8, you also have fully-discrete dual output mode, either a standard P mode or high output P+ mode which boost the operation voltage of internal headphone amp to increase output power.
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 every other Android DAP 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, 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.
As Cayin just released product info/spec, I was able to confirm Bluetooth 5.0 support with all corresponding wireless protocols up to LDAC, and dual WiFi bands of 2.4G and 5G. Also, the output spec was revealed, and it is quite impressive, 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.
I also made a few very interesting observations. First of all, you do have Double-tap to wake the screen, very convenient feature that works quite well in N8ii. Also, whenever you switch modes or go between timbre or amplifier types, there is a gradual volume increase instead of a quick change which can blast your ears. And one thing that was very important to me, NuTubes are well isolated from the WiFi antenna so when I’m streaming with Tubes output selected, I never experienced any EMI interference in sound.
The following specs became available a few days ago: