The Superdongles: Cayin RU7 and L&P W4

Closing thoughts   

Hand to heart, I started this review not knowing if I’d be able to fill enough pages with nice things to say about these two very different dongles. Not because they weren’t interesting, or new, or innovative. But because, in the past, dongles didn’t really light up my world. 

Dongles were always compromised in some way – and to be fair, they still are – but in Cayin’s RU7 and L&P’s W4, I believe we’re reaching a point where some of the very best IEMs are going to be right at home without a TOTL DAP or desktop stack in sight. 

That said, I purposefully didn’t compare these two miniature flagships to their larger counterparts, because it doesn’t make sense for me to do so. As far as I’m concerned, dongles give audiophiles and more casual enthusiasts alike a complement to dedicated music players and even more powerful desktop sources. They’re not a replacement for either, but instead open up new use cases for enjoying music at a higher level with more devices, in more places, and under different circumstances.  

I think you’ll agree this review was more than a mere overview. I’ve gone as deep as I could to understand what each dongle brings to the party – from their very different sound profiles and technical strengths, to their weaknesses, and their potential. 

Cayin’s RU7 continues the company’s hot streak of breaking new ground in DAC design for the dongle format, and I won’t be the first to say the all-new 1-bit DAC in the RU7 is even more impressive than the R2R DAC in its predecessor. Not only that, the new parallel amp design has proven itself with some of the hardest-to-drive IEMs I’ve ever used, and in doing so, RU7 is no longer hamstrung by piddly power output, the usual Achille’s Heel of most dongles. 

L&P’s W4, on the other hand, is every bit the technical marvel, but for different reasons. It’s new custom chipset, and regardless of what conspiracy theorists will try tell you, is a breakthrough at any scale, let alone dongle. This is one of the cleanest, most resolving sources I’ve heard, and the fact that it brings out the same qualities in the multi-kilobuck IEMs I paired with it makes it, to my mind, excellent value, even if it happens to be the most expensive dongle to date. 

Which brings us to the $64,000 question everyone always seems to ask when weighing up spending some extra hobby cash on a ‘dongle’: is it worth the price, and will I really use when I have other, better, gear already?

I can’t answer that for anyone else, but for me, it’s an unequivocal yes. Not only that, but I would probably buy both of these dongles, even if I had a DAP or two lying around, because they both offer something new, fresh, and oh so easy to use. 

For the price of a midrange DAP (or, let’s be honest, a midrange IEM cable), you can have and use two similar but different devices that do one thing really well: present your music in a fresh way, with exceptional quality. 

I’m not going to tell you which of these dongles I would buy if I could only own one, but I will tell you that it wouldn’t come down to price. Even if W4 is almost twice the price of the RU7, I’d still pick it depending on the IEMs I’d be pairing it with or, more to the point, the music I listened to. Likewise, RU7 has a sound profile that works so well with other parts of my library, and seems to be more at home with just about any IEM due to its forgiving nature. 

So circling back, I’m going to play Switzerland, remain neutral, and suggest that, if you have the budget, there’s really no need to choose between them. These are both, in every way, the Superdongles in the title, and come with my highest recommendation.         

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Guy Lerner

Guy Lerner

An avid photographer and writer 'in real life', Guy's passion for music and technology created the perfect storm for his love of portable audio. When he's not playing with the latest and greatest head-fi gear, he prefers to spend time away from the hobby with his two (almost) grown kids and wife in the breathtaking city of Cape Town, and traveling around his native South Africa.

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