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.
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.
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.
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.