Other Wired/Wireless connections.
In this section of the review, I will go over various wired and wireless connections I tested and verified with N8ii.
Digital usb-c out
I tested this interface using Cayin RU6 usb-dac which got recognized right away. I was using HibyMusic with Exclusive HQ USB audio access enabled, USB Audio Performance mode On, and USB Audio volume locked so it is set to the max. This way, Volume was controlled only from RU6. Sampling rate was displayed correctly. One interesting observation here, when comparing RU6 sound connected to my S22 vs N8ii, with the same cable, playing the same song, and with the same pair of iems, N8ii/RU6 has a slightly better layering and improved dynamics. I have no idea how to explain this, but I went a dozen of times, back and forth, and always came back to the same conclusion.
With an optional Cayin usb-c to coax cable, you can turn N8ii into an audio source/transport. Just plug it in, connect to external DAC/amp, and it works right away. I was using micro iDSD BL and everything was recognized without a problem or the need to enable anything in settings. And in this test with micro iDSD BL the sound was even better with Coax than digital out.
Once connected to external amplifier, volume can’t be controlled from N8ii, only from external amplifier.
These tests have been covered already in previous Comparison (LO test) section.
When connected to my Win10 laptop, in notification area of N8ii, when you swipe it down, I had to go to Android System message for USB connection and select USB preference for Audio In (usb power) or Audio In (no usb power), depending on if you connecting to a smartphone and don’t want to drain its battery. N8ii was recognized right away, volume could be controlled from either laptop or N8ii. The sound using N8ii as usb dac was identical to listening with N8ii standalone.
You have 2 modes of Wireless Bluetooth operation, Tx and Rx.
BT Rx – Select Bluetooth Audio in and search and pair up with N8ii from your smartphone. Enable LDAC on a smartphone and start streaming from smartphone while using N8ii as a wireless BT DAC. Volume is controlled from both, my smartphone and N8ii. Also, correct protocol (LDAC) was shown on N8ii.
BT Tx – Paired up N8ii with WH2 TWS earphones within seconds. Found it to work across 25ft of open space, full remote control from TWS earpieces. Within paired earphones setting, I selected HD audio, assuming it was referring to LDAC. Volume could be controlled from N8ii. The sound was as good as when paired up with my S22, but the BT distance was shorter.
It is clear that Cayin took their original N8 DAP to a whole new level in this next gen N8ii release. The core of the design with a dual Solid State/NuTube principle is still there, now fully balanced and featuring a dual NuTube 6P1 accessible from 4.4mm BAL output. It still features a fully-discrete Dual Output power mode with P (standard) and P+ (high voltage) outputs, and adds Class A and AB amp modes (A/AB in P, and AB only in P+) found in C9. The playback-only Unix platform has been upgraded to Android 9 with Snapdragon 660 SoC and 6GB of RAM – one of the fastest Android DAP performances I have encountered based on my AnTuTu 3D benchmark tests. And the misfortune of AKM factory fire led to a discovery of a new high-end ROHM 32bit current mode DAC, available for the first time in a portable audio player, the same DAC that recently appeared in $16.5k Luxman D-10X SACD desktop player.
I was also pleased to see the updated exterior design with a more traditional playback control buttons instead of jog-dial like in original N8. The placement of both NuTube modules on the left facing outside is very clever, keeping it compartmentalized and isolated from the rest of the circuit and still visible to the user. But the most impressive part was how much tech Cayin packed under the hood of N8ii while still being able to keep it relatively portable. And, with all the additions to the design, including a pair of hi-end ROHM DACs, additional NuTube module, and other new components associated with switching to Android platform, the price of N8ii went up by only a few hundred dollars in comparison to the original N8. Of course, it’s great to have all this tech under the hood, but at the end of the day it also has to sound good.
N8ii doesn’t have a typical Tube sound, nor does it sound lean. The sound is revealing and micro detailed without being bright or harsh and has the unique ability to finetune the pair up synergy, going from either being transparent to tastefully colored. You have the ability to switch between Solid State or Tubes/Solid State (Tubes are either enabled or disabled to give extra texture to the mids), Class A or Class AB amp mode (Class A is where you get that smooth laidback sound characteristics), and extra voltage boost going from P to P+ (doing wonders to the dynamics of DD drivers). Considering all these available tuning options, you have access to multiple tools to finetune N8ii sound to perfection in pair up with different IEMs and headphones. And that what makes it unique and stand out from the crowd.