Cayin N8ii

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.

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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.

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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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Page 3 – Comparison.
Page 4 – Pair up with Headphones and IEMs.
Page 5 – Wired/Wireless Connections and Conclusion.

14 thoughts on “Cayin N8ii

  1. Thanks for this great review!

    I received my N8ii today. I got it with a tempered glass protective screen (sticker displaying the note: ‘1 – BACK’). However I don’t know if this protective screen should be applied on the front or the back of the N8ii.

    On the front of my N8ii, I get a packing film with the following note ‘Screen Protector Applied. Remove packing film before use’. Moreover, I get on the back another sticker displaying the note ‘Step 2 – Please peel of this mask after application completed’.

    I’m a bit lost. What steps should I follow ? In which order ? Where should be applied the available tempered glass protective screen ? Back or Front ?

    Thanks for your help.

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    1. Hi Frankie, just did the comparison. N8ii soundstage is a little bit wider and more holographic. N8 expands wide to the L/R, but I hear N8ii to push it a little wider and to wrap around you. For example, in N8 I hear cymbal spreading wide, while the same track on N8ii has cymbals wide and behind me. Also, playing the same track in high gain, P+, SS while using Traillii, I hear in pair up with N8 a more elevated bass and mids/vocals a bit warmer and pushed slightly to the back, while with N8ii bass and mids/vocals are more balanced, bringing the presentation of vocals more forward and pulling bass a little bit back. Treble is similar.

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      1. Thanks Alex. Interesting, so a stronger bass out of the N8. I heard same briefly and did not feel the N8 ii was much of an improvement on the N8 sound-wise. The interface was a tremendous improvement.

        Were you comparing to a brass/black N8 or the stainless steel version? The stainless version is a bit warmer ( I have the BB). I also wonder if the new Sony or new LP might be special. Cannot wait for your impressions of them when available. Tks.

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      2. I borrowed N8 SS version for this comparison. And the difference between solid state outputs of these daps is more noticeable than Tube outputs. Probably a good idea to update my review with notes about it. I should be getting new WM1ZM2 Sony for review soon. From what people are saying, it has a smoother tonality and slower Android performance, so curious to check it out.

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  2. Hi Alex
    I was wondering how would U18s synergies with the N8ii, for pops and vocals, which do you think have a better synergy N8ii, P6 Pro or WM1ZM2. Thanks.

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    1. U18s is a warmer tuned IEM, and I think it will pair up better with N8ii due to its more revealing/brighter tonality. P6 Pro and M2 will be great, but P6 Pro has a fuller body sound and M2 has a warmer tonality. If you want to bring out more “emotions” in the vocals, M2 will be a good pair up. If you want to bring out more micro-details – go with N8ii. P6 Pro is a great dap, but lagging behind due to its playback only functionality with a super minimalistic interface. M2 Android performance is not as fast as N8ii but still decent.

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      1. Thx Alex, tried it for 2 hrs today and made my purchase decision, N8ii is indeed a Dap with a lot of potentials!

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  3. Hi Twister,

    I always read your review prior to purchase any DAPs that i used to owned such as SR25, Sony WM1a Kann Alpha, Sony WM1aM2, Cayin N3 pro and recently acquired SP2K.

    I wish to read a review on Sony WM1AM2 sound analysis when pairing with multi iems and against other DAPs. However, i found none of the review other than outer physical and underhood of the Sony DAP.

    I used to owned the Sony WM1A mark 1 and mark 2. The mark 1 was modded with MrWalkman firmware. The sound was really great. But i am a bit disappointed of how the WM1a mark 2 sound. Probably, its only to my ears. I don’t know about others who owned the same DAP since i can’t found any technical sound review.

    Perhaps, you could do a review on Sony WM1aM2 and WM1zM2 one day. Really eager to read your review on both DAPs.

    Sorry for my poor english.

    Thank you

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    1. Hi Kidol, I got WM1ZM2 here with me, probably will start working on the review in a few weeks. It’s a great sounding dap, natural analog tonality once effects are enabled. My only concern is slow android performance due to older processor. I don’t have access to WM1AM2, thus can’t compare it to 1ZM2 to let you know if extra price worth the upgrade.

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