I analyzed N7 sound performance using UM Mentor Multiverse and Aroma Jewel while playing a variety of my usual 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”, Bob Marley “Jamming”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. The DAP arrived with some burn in hours on it, and I kept it on playback loop for a few more days. Also, I analyzed the sound after the final fw1.0 update.
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 it sounds through connected IEMs/headphones or the difference in sound relative to source comparison using the same pair of IEMs/headphones. This is my subjective opinion, describing how I hear it while analyzing the sound of N7 and how it compares to other DAPs.
Relative to IEMs I tested with, I hear N7 to have a big 3D soundstage with holographic imaging, probably one of the biggest soundstage expansions I heard from a balanced output. Also, it has a natural resolving tonality with hardly any coloring. Bass stands out with a deeper rumble and a tighter mid-bass impact, a typical bass performance of many Cayin DAPs especially when it comes to the depth and the texture of the rumble. Mids are more natural without being “more” colored, and the same goes for treble.
I think treble rendition is what makes N7 stand out. In comparison to other DAPs, N7 has a very natural and still quite detailed treble which helps with resolution and sound layering. It does lose a bit of a sparkle in favor of smoother peaks, but unlike some other daps, it doesn’t roll off the treble or adds coloring to upper frequencies. At the same time, if you are dealing with IEMs that have a hotter lower/mid-treble response, N7 takes the edge off without compromising the resolution.
When switching between Class A and Class AB, Class A adds more weight to the bass and more body to the lower mids. It works great with IEMs that have more neutral bass, but I personally preferred to keep it in Class AB, especially since N7 will generate less heat and the battery will last longer.
I know that some of the latest DAPs offer higher output power, and now when someone sees “500mW” they panic if it will be enough. As an example, while in High Gain and from 4.4mm balanced output, UM Mentor Multiverse and Aroma Jewel didn’t need more than 30/100 in volume to sound their best. And when I switched to Meze Audio Empyrean planar magnetic headphones, it sounded fine at 44/100. Trying a more demanding pair of cans with N7, my ATH R70x with its 99dB sensitivity and 470ohm impedance did quite well at 60/100 volume setting.
This testing was done using Jewel and MM, volume matched in every comparison. In my description notes below, LG/HG refers to gain setting and AB is amplifier type. And I was using balanced output only. In my First Look review and due to a limited time I spent with N7, I only focusing on N8ii, N6ii, and C9 testing and comparison. When time comes for a full review, I will have more DAPs in the mix.
N7 (HG, AB) vs N8ii (HG, AB, Tube, P+) – N7 soundstage expansion is a bit wider. Tonality between these two is slightly different. Their bass response is similar, both DAPs have a deeper rumble and more articulate bass characteristics. With mids, especially when you focus on female vocals, you get a little thinner and more revealing tonality with N8ii while N7 adds more texture and body without compromising on retrieval of details. Treble presentation is also slightly different, with N8ii having more airy sparkle and N7 having a more natural textured extension without losing micro-details. If you want more shimmer in your cymbals, N8ii will get you there, but if you like more natural tonality while still keeping upper frequency details, N7 does a great job.
You do need to be realistic, N8ii is still top of the line DAP and N7 not going to replace it. N8ii is a true flagship with a great flexibility of many sound-shaping options. But there are some pair ups where no matter what you try, it’s hard to get the treble under control without coloring the sound. Here, N7 can give upper frequencies a more natural tonality without exaggerated coloring. Also, both DAPs have a very fast performance.
N7 (HG, AB) vs N6ii (R01 card, HG) – N7 soundstage expansion is a bit wider. Tonality does have some variation, but it’s mostly in treble. Bass response between these two is very similar, Cayin daps always stand out with a deeper sub-bass rumble and a tighter mid-bass impact. Mids are not too far off either, having a more natural organic tonality, but N7 treble is a little smoother which gives its vocals more organic texture, while N6ii w/R01 treble has a bit more crunch which gives vocals a bit colder tonality. You wouldn’t even think about it listening by itself to N6ii, but it becomes more apparent when you are comparing it to N7 which just sounds more natural. Also, N6ii with its slower processor and older Android OS does feel dated in comparison to a faster performance of N7.
N7 (HG, AB) vs N7 + C9 (LG, Tube, AB) – with N7 LO going into C9, you adjust the volume from C9, and the tonality becomes very close to N8ii. The bass and the mids are still close to N7 original tonality, but the treble now gains more sparkle and more air. One interesting observation, I always enjoyed adding C9 to DAPs to improve the soundstage expansion, while here it doesn’t improve it as much because N7 by itself has a huge staging. Switching N7 and C9 to Pre mode sets C9 at max gain with N7 controlling pre-amp input. In this pair up the imaging gets even bigger, and mids and treble are a little brighter and a touch colder. If you need more power, adding C9 is a great solution while still keeping your setup transportable.
I was a bit surprised to find out about N7 because I thought we will see a new N6ii release next. Perhaps we will see it one day because having a modular design is a great idea to keep your device relevant for a longer time. But, just like any other Android based DAP, everything moves forward, driven by new OS releases and faster processors to support it. So, even a modular design becomes dated.
The new N7 DAP positions itself between N6ii and N8ii with features like a discrete DAC, similar to R01 card which is independent of delta-sigma chips or a dedicated clean Line Out and Pre-amp outputs like in A02 card. You also get a discrete fully balanced amplifier with a selectable Class A and Class AB like in N8ii, and a huge soundstage expansion with a holographic imaging which I always attribute to amp design. And on top of that, we have something different, a 1-bit discrete resistor DSD DAC which has a natural resolving analog tonality and the ability for direct processing of DSDs, including PCMs which get up-sampled to DSD512 prior to sending it to the DAC.
I’m looking forward spending more time with new Cayin N7 DAP, to see how it will pair up with my IEMs and headphones and how it compares to other DAPs I have access to. But one thing I can see even from a short time I spent with it, while N7 is positioned to be between N6ii and N8ii, based on its functionality, design, and sound performance it is closer to summit-fi level of N8ii rather than mid-fi level of N6ii.
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.