Cayin provided the N8 on loan for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.
Ah, Cayin. I’ve been a fan of theirs since I tested the original N5. The more I’ve seen, the more I’ve held, the more I’ve used… Cayin continues to impress. Their innovations and designs are remarkable, even among such mighty competition.
Upon hearing of the development of a true price-no-object DAP, Pinky quaked with anticipation. Considering what they accomplished with the current generation of mid-tier in the N5ii, fear and awe ravaged me as I imagined the possibilities.
Then, my god in heaven, news came out of the Vacuum Tube implementation. The rest is history. I knew we toiled in an age of wonder, and that Cayin had developed something properly unique.
F**k! Let’s dive in, shall we?
Well the thing is huge, and heavy and sturdy. Exactly what I’d expect, and precisely what I’d want in a device of this import. There’s a big goddamn volume wheel, and an equally big… knob? Yeah, I’d call that a knob. It’s the mechanical means to move up and down the track list when you wish not to power on the screen. The knobs and wheels feel solid, with precise action.
Speaking of the screen. It’s gorgeous! A 3.2” IPS at 480×360 by LG. The reproduction of hue and contrast is among the best I’ve seen. While it may not be cutting-edge resolution, this is more than enough for a dedicated music player. The IPS gets the job done with much charm.
A triangle sits just beneath the screen. This servers as a home button, and is also the only way I’ve found to get cover art to display full screen. (Thanks Lynn for pointing that out!) Depending on the bit-rate of the file playing, the light behind the triangle could be any of a multitude of colors. But if you’re in Tube Mode, the triangle goes dark. Perhaps in order to conserve power?
The UI is clean, streamlined, and intuitive. Cayin’s software has evolved nicely over the years, and this is the finest iteration yet. I’ve met no bugs in standard use.
USB Type-C is the main connection, but there’s also S/PDIF and I²S if you’re feeling mischievous.
The N8 gives you the choice of 4.4mm TRRRS Balanced, and 3.5mm TRS single-ended. But here’s the kicker! If you want Balanced, and thus, the full power capability of the N8, then you are stuck with Solid State components. Those Nutubes are implemented into the Single-Ended output only. However, even that’s a choice. You can turn off the Tubes from the drop-down menu and go SS out of the 3.5mm if you desire.
So what exactly are these Nutubes? They are Cayin’s solution to indulging their Vacuum Tube fancies in the portable arena. The KORG Dual-Channel Triode Nutube 6P1, and Cayin’s own suspension innovation for eliminating microphonics is the breakthrough collaboration that really sets this DAP apart.
Love it or hate it, nobody can accuse Cayin of stagnation.
There are a shit-ton of features, including USB DAC, HiBy Link, WiFi, LDAC Duplex Bluetooth, and probably some that I’m missing. Normally I decry an abundance of features, fearing a manufacturer splitting their focus on nonsense, and compromising audio quality in the process. But Cayin seems to have directed all these technologies to the singular goal of audio. Receiving, transmitting, and controlling audio, and at the highest possible quality.
I don’t know. I find it hard to criticize a thing which appears to make no compromises.