Here is how N7 pairs up with some IEMs and headphones. In each pair up I noted the volume (V) setting. All were connected using 4.4mm BAL and tested in high gain and Class AB.
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x (V53) – These 470ohm open back cans are usually not as easy to drive, here I set the volume to 53 with no issues and plenty of headroom. The soundstage is wide, but I do hear just a little more depth/height in comparison to width, though imaging is still 3D holographic. Sound signature is perfectly balanced; tonality is on a warmer side, being smooth and organic. There is no lack of retrieval of details, despite a warmer tonality with a smoother yet still clear presentation of the sound. The bass performance is good, with a deep sub-bass texture and softer relaxed mid-bass punch. Mids are very natural, organic, detailed, with a good resolution and slightly forward presentation. Treble is also clear and detailed, natural, with decent amount of sparkle and extension.
MEZE Audio Empyrean (V40) – I hear a wide-open soundstage with an excellent holographic imaging, the sound extending further out, more out of your head. Here, the soundstage has more depth/height than width. Sound signature is closer to balanced, and the tonality is warm, natural, very smooth and organic. Bass has a softer sub-bass rumble and a rounded mid-bass punch. You can still feel and hear the bass, but the weight of the bass notes is closer to neutral. Lower mids are a bit north of neutral, adding more body to the sound, while upper mids are smooth and warm, with a slightly pulled back presentation. The mids are very organic and that makes vocals sound rather smooth and a bit congested due to layering and separation of the sounds blending in together. Treble is clear and detailed, has a little extra crunch but nothing harsh or splashy.
Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (V35) – Excellent soundstage expansion in all 3 directions, along with 3D holographic imaging. The sound is relatively balanced, natural, and unlike other two headphones, actually a bit more revealing here. The tonality is leaning more toward natural-revealing side with less coloring. Bass has a deep textured sub-bass rumble and tight punchy mid-bass. The weight of bass notes is distributed evenly between sub- and mid-bass. Lower mids are closer to neutral, maybe just a touch north of it, and have a natural amount of body, while upper mids have more clarity, transparency, still natural, but more revealing in comparison to other pair ups. Vocals came out clear, and detailed, thanks to a great separation and layering of the sounds. Treble also has plenty of clarity, details, and natural sparkle with a good airy extension.
Overall, the pair up with headphones was impressive since the sound was natural and still detailed. I especially enjoyed R70x and T5p 2nd pair ups, straight from the DAP and without a need for an external amp.
UM Mentor Multiverse (V26) – Right away you are surrounded by a very wide soundstage, even more width than depth, creating a more oval-shaped soundstage. Moving on to the sound, I found MM in this pair up to have a natural revealing tonality with a balanced W-shaped sound signature. The natural part of the tonality comes from the fullness of the relaxed bass and the extra body in lower mids along with a natural detailed upper mids, while the revealing part is due to mid-treble emphasis that gives the sound more clarity and higher resolution with improvement in retrieval of details. I tried switching to Class A which added more body to the sound and made upper frequencies smoother, though it also made soundstage a touch narrower. Either Class A or Class AB works in this pair up.
Oriolus Traillii (V28) – Wide soundstage with 3D imaging, though I do hear more depth/height than width. Sound signature is perfectly balanced, overall tonality is natural, clear, detailed, but still more on a smoother side. Bass goes down deep, with elevated textured rumble and softer rounded mid-bass impact. Bass has a softer impact with more focus on sub-bass. Mids are very clean and natural, with plenty of body in lower mids and organic detailed tonality in upper mids, quite natural and detailed. Treble is clear and detailed, has extra sparkle and crunch in mid treble. This pair up maintains a natural clear tonality and even helps to bring out upper mids/vocals a little more forward.
Aroma Jewel w/FT (V31) – The soundstage is wide with holographic imaging, though I do hear more depth/height than width. Sound signature is balanced as well, while tonality is natural, clear, with a revealing presentation of the sound in upper mids. Bass goes deep, with a textured sub-bass rumble and a punchy mid-bass; the bass is tight and articulate. Lower mids are a bit north of neutral, adding a little extra body to the sound. Upper mids are natural revealing, not too bright, but with excellent retrieval of details. Treble is crisp and detailed, still natural, and well controlled.
Empire Ears Odin (V27) – I can confirm a pitch-black background with zero hissing, especially in high gain. The soundstage here is big, and the imaging is holographic. Bass extends deep with a textured rumble and mid-bass having a stronger tighter punch. The bass is not as elevated, but still packs a nice punch, speed, and articulation. Lower mids are neutral, a bit more toward the leaner side, while upper mids are natural, revealing, very detailed, and nicely layered, though a bit dry. Treble is crisp, clear, detailed, natural-revealing and yet, without any sign of splashiness. The overall sound is leaner and more revealing, but still maintains a natural tonality.
FirAudio RN6 (V27) – A big holographic soundstage expansion, quite wide and deep, maybe with a little more depth/height. The sound sig is on a borderline of L-shaped and W-shaped, mids are still forward, natural, detailed, despite a powerful speaker like analog bass, thanks to RN6 kinetic bass drivers, and treble is natural and a bit reserved here, more on a smoother side. One interesting observation here, the mids really benefited from switching to Class A amplifier, matching the same analog texture you will hear with its kinetic bass. Class AB was fine, but to my ears, bass and mids were blending in better when I switched to Class A.
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 (V17) – With these being Campfire Audio iems, the first question is always, does it hiss? Yes, there is background waterfall type of hissing, but only noticeable in quiet passages of the song or when you have a simple 1-2 instrument arrangement. Otherwise, I had to drop the volume to a very low level to hear this hissing. The soundstage is wide, with an overall imaging being quite holographic. The sound sig is closer to balanced, while the tonality is neutral revealing with a bit of a natural warmth. Bass has a deep sub-bass rumble and a fast well controlled punch, though the weight of the bass is not elevated, more on a softer side. Mids are natural, clear, detailed. I don’t hear any sibilance in treble. It is still energetic with a nice natural crunch, but the treble is not elevated or fatigue.
Every iem I tried paired up great with N7, no complaints here.
Besides being a portable DAP, you can expand N7 functionality as a transport to drive external DAC/amp, to use external AMP, or to turn the DAP into wired/wireless usb DAC. And of course, you don’t have to be limited to wired headphones, and can take advantage of Wireless Bluetooth connection.
I tested N7 BT Tx with Hiby WH2 TWS, confirmed operation within 45ft in open space. HD UAT codec support was recognized, and I was able to pair up using it as default hi-res codec. Also, confirmed full remote control of the playback from WH2. The stability of the connection, covered distance, and sound quality was no different than using my Galaxy S22 phone.
N7 also has BT Receiver mode which turns this DAP into a wireless DAC/amp. Simply go into Bluetooth menu, click on Bluetooth Audio Input, and search for N7 from your smartphone. When paired up, make sure in BT setting on your phone you click on gear setting icon next to N7 and select LDAC.
USB Audio Out.
I tested and verified this one with various popular USB DAC dongles, such as RU6, S2, and W2, and found it to work without a problem. Similar to HibyMusic config on my Galaxy S22, I had Exclusive HQ USB audio access enabled and selected USB Audio Performance mode. When any of the USB DAC dongles were connected, N7 asked to allow access to that device, which you must OK. Volume adjustment was directly from the dongle rather than N7, and the sound quality was no different than when connecting these dongles to my Galaxy S22 phone.
I verified this operation using my ThinkPad T480s laptop running Win10 Pro. Once connected, swipe down Notification bar on N7 and tap on USB Preferences, then select either Audio in (USB charge) or Audio in (no charge) to enter USB DAC mode. From USB DAC screen you have access to change audio settings and enable Bluetooth. No drivers required, Win10 recognized the DAP without a problem, and N7 was selected in Windows Audio Setting. Volume could be adjusted from Laptop and from N7. Sound is the same either playing directly from N7 or playing the same song from laptop with N7 connected as USB DAC.
One thing to note, the difference between Audio in with USB charging enabled or disabled is in how much current N7 will draw from your source. Connected to your laptop it doesn’t matter, but it becomes a bigger issue using N7 as a wired USB DAC connected to your smartphone while draining your phone’s battery. Charging “disabled” doesn’t mean it will only use internal N7 battery. Instead, it means that it will use a fraction of the current drawn from your phone, so you don’t discharge your smartphone battery as fast.
Another thing to note, I didn’t install any drivers, everything worked as is. No issues listening to music, but when playing YT there is an audio lag. When you install Cayin drivers and open their Control Panel, you can change the buffer to a smaller size to reduce this lag.
With an optional usb-c to coax cable, you can turn N7 into an audio source/transport. I’m surprised their typical usb/coax cable wasn’t included, maybe there is not as much demand for it or maybe Cayin trying to set N7 apart from N8ii where it is included. But, with a cable, just plug it in, connect to external DAC/amp, and it works right away. I was using iFi micro iDSD BL and everything was recognized without a problem or the need to enable anything in Settings. Volume was only adjustable from micro iDSD, not N7.
N7 has automatic detection when Line Out is connected, then sets the N7 volume to Max 100 so you can only adjust the volume from external amplifier. I did my testing with Cayin C9 amp, and already covered this pair up in Comparison section of the review, so no need to repeat myself. And of course, you have the option for either using external amplifier controlling the volume from the amp or switching to pre-amp mode where amplifier is at max volume while you are adjusting the input from N7.
I was a bit surprised when N7 was announced 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 doesn’t last forever and 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. 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 to process DSDs directly, while also automatically up-sampling to DSD512 all PCM files prior to sending it to the DAC.
N7 has been my daily DAP source for the last few months, often used at my desk while streaming Amazon HD and Tidal. It pairs up great with all my IEMs without heavy coloring of the sound and while still delivering a natural detailed tonality with a huge soundstage expansion. And 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. So, in my book it delivers a flagship level performance.