A Secret Fire Within – A Review of the Cayin N8

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I may have described the N8 as warm and lush, but don’t let that scare you. We’re talking TOTL here, where such tonality is interwoven with supreme clarity, transparency, and resolution. Because of that, I can’t really find a monitor which pairs poorly with Cayin’s masterpiece. The balance is simply too outstanding. The unique voice of each transducer mingles with the N8 to gorgeous result.

I performed most of my listening with the ZMF Headphones Atticus ($1,099, Review HERE). While decently sensitive, they are 300Ω, and enjoy lots of power behind them. The N8 in High Power Mode and full gain, from the Nutube output, really made my set shine. Atticus sounded full and complete, lacking in no area and wanting for nothing. I couldn’t ask for a better system on the go.

The JOMO Audio Quatré (around $1,500 USD) is a joyous and versatile in-ear. Though I can’t understand why they offer tuning filters. The Balanced filter is utter perfection. The rich romanticism of Quatré is emboldened to new heights by N8’s vacuum tubes. Layering and depth, especially, are showcased to their fullest. What an immersive, musical, setup this makes. In low-gain and normal power, there is zero hiss.

How about a real bitch to drive, like the Audeze LCD-3 Fazor ($2,000)? This is a headphone I rarely throw at mobile devices, as it’s a travesty to even contemplate listening to headphones of this majesty on anything but a beefy desktop amp. But the N8 is no ordinary player. At High-Gain, and Power +, I got my Audezes sounding excellent at only 60/100 on the volume wheel. And that was playing a very quiet album, Amber Rubarth’s SESSIONS FROM THE 17TH WARD. Now, was the LCD-3 driven to its fullest? No. You will still achieve greater dynamism and refinement from something like my Audio-GD NFB-28. However, the N8 sounded so goddamn good, I must encourage the occasional back porch listening session, when no other headphone but a top-tier Planar will do.

Then, what about my most sensitive IEMs? The Noble Audio Kaiser Encore ($1,850, Review HERE)? These are bright-ish, detail oriented monitors with a tremendous soundstage and staggering resolution. The N8 feeds them all the yummy stuff, while also incorporating a goodly degree of warmth and smoothness. It’s a match made in heaven. However, even on Low Gain and low Power, there is a subtle background hiss, which is only audible when you turn the volume WAY down. Actually, I had to have it set to zero, and was only certain I heard hiss when I repeatedly paused and un-paused the track. It’s there, but only barely.

I was also able to push a little hiss out of the Meze 99 Classics ($309, Review HERE), but I had to take the N8 to extremes to do so: High Gain and P+. And this hiss was even less than with Encore on the lowest settings. So please don’t think the N8 is a noisy DAP. It’s not. It’s a POWERFUL DAP, and that power can be a bit much if you don’t ride the settings accordingly. IEMs should be on Low Gain and Low Power, and even easy to drive cans like Meze might be overwhelmed if you max out this DAP. Volume isn’t the issue. Play as loud or quiet as you like. Just set the Gain and Power to the right spot for the monitor you’re using. By the way, the 99C is phenomenal with the N8. Meze and Cayin have had a happy friendship since the i5, when people realized just how exceptional they sound together. This has continued all the way to the N8. There’s a magic that happens when the Classics meet the Nutubes, and I would love everybody to experience it.

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.

9 Comments

  1. Great review, you make me long for the N8 😛 but its price is way out there for me… since you mention DX200 and AMP8, it’s worth mentioning… the upcoming AMP9 with KORG tubes which might level the plane field, as well as a potential new flagship (DX200 Pro?) release due in April (possibly later).

    I hope more manufacturer push the enveloppe and embrace NuTubes as well, kudos to Cayin for opening the way with the N8!

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