A Beast of a discrete nature.
The product was loaned to me by Musicteck for a short period of time before its official introduction at CanJam NYC ’23. This is the First Look review to share my initial impressions. The full review will be published a bit later when I get the official review sample and have a chance to spend more time with this DAP.
Manufacturer website: Cayin. Available for sale from a number of authorized on-line retailers like Musicteck.
Intro / Preamble.
CanJam NYC ’23 is right around the corner and it feels like déjà vu all over again. Exactly a year ago I was fortunate enough to audition and to share my first impressions of Cayin N8ii right before its introduction at ’22 CanJam show. Fast forward one year and I’m working on First Look write up of Cayin N7 DAP which going to be introduced at ’23 CanJam show.
I can’t even imagine what DAP manufacturers are going through during their planning of new products. The market is saturated, the lines between entry and mid-fi or mid-fi and summit-fi are getting blurred, the prices are going up and customers demand justification, and manufacturers are under a pressure to come up with something new and original to distinguish their product from others. It’s quite a challenge, and some manufacturers just go with a flow of refreshes with updated DACs and Android OS. Cayin, on the other hand, is always trying to push the envelope with something different.
N8ii introduced us to new hi-end DACs by ROHM and the first portable DAP with dual NuTube and Solid-State architecture, among other things including Class A and AB fully discrete balanced amp design. It is still one of the top flagship DAPs. Their mid-fi N6ii extended its lifecycle thanks to a modular design and introduction of different DAC/amp cards, like Line Out/Pre-amp (A02) for use with their C9 portable amp and R-2R discrete resistor DAC (R01). Where do you go from there? Apparently, they decided to fill in the gap between N6ii and N8ii with N7, which btw no longer uses “ii” suffix to indicate it’s an Android DAP.
I spent a short time with this audio player, just enough to analyze its sounds and to compare it to other Cayin siblings. Once I have the official review sample, I will take my time to put together a more detailed write up with my usual comparison and pair-up examples. But for now, I hope you enjoy this brief introduction of Cayin’s latest N7 DAP release.
Unboxing and Accessories.
The product was packaged in a smaller size compact box, with N7 sitting securely inside. Included were extra screen protector, usb cable for data and charging, 2 right-angle adapters (2.5mm to 3.5mm and 2.5mm to 4.4mm), and a leather case.
The yellow color leather case has a tight fit with N7 sliding from the top and magnetic flap keeping it secure inside. At the bottom you have a generous cutout for all the ports, and the top has cutouts for the volume wheel. Playback buttons are covered on the right side and the case has easy to feel indentations to access those buttons. The micro-SD slot is covered on the left side and you will have to take the DAP out of the case to remove the card. The back of the case has metal grill inserts like in N8ii case, designed with an intention of improved air circulation.
Once I have the official review product, I will post unboxing pictures. For now, enjoy the close up of N7 dressed in the leather case.
Design, inside and out.
When I started this write up, I only had a few key product specifications without too many intimate design details.
I always start this section of the review by talking about what is in the heart of the design, the type/model of Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) selected by manufacturer. While traditional Delta-Sigma modulation options are still very popular, talking about “traditional” AKM and ESS DACs, lately we have seen more releases with discrete R-2R DACs which usually generate a lot of buzz. As soon as I heard about N7 having a discrete resistor 1-bit direct DSD DAC which I’m not too familiar with, I thought maybe it’s going to be something like a discrete R-2R DAC. But it is a different.
I’m still researching about the design of 1-bit DSD DAC and hope to learn more when Cayin going to publish their official product page. I did read that 1-bit DSD DAC doesn’t oversample PCM which helps to rid of ringing artifacts and other distortions. Also, unlike R-2R where you need precision resistors with a tighter tolerance, the discrete resistor value deviation in 1-bit DSD DAC doesn’t cause non-linear distortion. And the important part of this DAC design is noise shaping through analog filtering to push noise out of the audible range.
Cayin is not reinventing the wheel here, 1-bit DSD DACs have been used in higher end CD/DVD audio players, but I personally never came across another portable DAP with implementation of this DAC architecture yet. Of course, at the end of the day what matters is the sound and the pair up synergy with your IEMs/headphones. But nevertheless, I think it is great to see a manufacturer pushing the envelopes with new designs instead of just going with a flow of incremental upgrades.
So, in the heart of N7 you will find a fully balanced discrete resistor 1-bit direct DSD DAC which processes DSDs directly without conversion. Also, it converts and up-samples incoming PCM data to DSD512 in Audio Bridge pre-processing prior to sending it to DSD DAC where it gets managed directly. This discrete DAC is followed by a discrete BJT low-pass filter and a discrete 4-ch fully balanced amp design with selectable Class A or Class AB mode. We are talking about fully discrete analog balanced path, only volume control is 4-ch electronic and you also have a custom FPGA to clean up the clock to rid of jitter, among other things.
On a digital side we have Snapdragon 665 SoC running customized Android 12, using 4GB of RAM, and with 64GB of internal storage and microSD card expansion. This Cayin DAP will also have 2.4G/5G dual band wifi and Bluetooth 5.0 (with LDAC, AAC, SBC support). If I’m not mistaken, AptX/HD is pending certification and hopefully will be available soon. Digital interface has USB audio in and out, and you get I2S bus for direct connection to some of the desktop equipment supporting this interface, plus you get SPDIF Coax through usb-c, similar to other Cayin DAPs.
It comes with a massive 9000mAh 3.8V battery and considering all discrete design component, you get about 8.5-9hr of playback from balanced output which I confirmed in my testing (4.4mm output, high gain, Class AB). As expected, the playback time will decrease when you switch to less efficient Class A. N7 does get toasty during playback, but not on the same level as N8ii. Also, N7 does support PD2.0 fast charging.
In terms of exterior design, it’s just a little shorter and slimmer than N8ii, with N7 being 142mm x 77.8mm x 22.2mm and the weight of 380g. The chassis are sandblasted CNC aluminum and have 5” hi-res (1080×1920) display on the front and multi-color smart LED below it to show the playback sampling rate. The golden volume wheel is on top, like in N8ii, power button and playback control buttons on the right side, and spring-loaded micro-SD card slot on the left side. At the bottom you have I2S and USB type-c ports, and separate 3.5mm and 4.4mm PO along with 3.5mm and 4.4mm Line Out which can also be switched to Pre-amp output.
Those familiar with Cayin C9 amp will know that it accepts both Line out and Pre-amp inputs, making N7 a perfect companion for external amp by providing a clean analog signal while bypassing internal head-amp. With C9, when LO is selected, you control the volume from the amp. And when Pre-amp is selected, C9 is at its max volume while you control it by adjusting the pre-amplification input from N7. The output power spec indicates 3.5mm PO output with 250mW (@32ohm) and 4.4mm PO output with 500mW (@32ohm).
And last, but not leasht, we are talking about fully open Android 12 with pre-installed Google Play store and access to all the streaming apps, some of which I tested without a problem. For example, Tidal runs with full MQA 16x unfolding.
Page 2 – Sound analysis, Comparison, and Conclusion.
12 thoughts on “First Look: Cayin N7”
Thank you, but I don’t see anymore a VS Dx320 (amp or not)
Can you do it please?
you probably seen in my first look review, I only spent a few days with N7, don’t have it anymore. When I have it back for a full review, i will have more comparison and pair up examples.
Thank you. I hope it could be done
In fact, many people say the DX320 is near the N8II, perhaps the N7 with the DX320 intend to duplicate…
Using the same dac gives you a similar baseline sound characteristics. Then, amp section shapes it further, either if it is solid state or NuTube and then class A or AB on top of that.
I would say the N7 would sound “the same” (level) as the DX320…
You can’t assume anything until you try it, and for this comparison I would use amp14 with DX320, plus gotta keep pair up synergy with your iems in mind.
Do you feel that the detail retrieval is equal to that of the n8ii?
dynamics and resolution is not too far off. Retrieval of details on N8ii is on a higher level since it extracts more microdetails.
Thanks! It is always an exciting time to be an audiophile. Or is that expensive? It is always an expensive time to be an audiophile?
It’s both. There is a saying how people are greeted on head-fi “welcome to Head-fi site, sorry about your wallet” 😀
Has the sound as much as realism as the N8ii or the SP3000 ?
Keep in mind, only a few days of listening and I’m still waiting to get sp3k back (that was previously on loan as well). With an exception of sp3k having a blacker background, they certainly do share a more natural overall “realism” in sound due to a smoother rendition of treble. N8ii can go either way since you have a choice of either dual NuTube or solid state timbre and class A or AB on top of that.