Review - Hidizs S8 Pro Robin

Review - Cayin N7

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TLDR version on YouTube: TDLR - Cayin N7

The Cayin N7 has been sent to me on loan as part of a tour organized on Head-Fi. The only requests were that each participant ship on to the following participant after 14 days and that each participant posts their impressions  on the device on Head-Fi no more than 14 days after shipping the device on to the next participant (or in my case, back to Cayin, as I am the last person on the EU tour).

The official page for the Cayin N7 can be found here: https://en.cayin.cn/features/7/15/592.html

The thread on the device can be found on Head-Fi here: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/cayin-n7-a-voyager-of-unexplored-frontier.966860/

Reviews of the device on Head-Fi can be found here: https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/cayin-n7-1-bit-dap.26376/reviews

As always, these are non-affiliate links, meaning that I do not receive anything in exchange for clicks or purchases made.


Intro… 

I don’t think Cayin need any introduction if you are someone who is contemplating a DAP that costs over 2000€. Cayin have been around for a while and are known for making high end Digital Audio Players, along with some very interesting desktop tube amplifiers and many other products.

If you don’t know anything about them and you landed on this review because you are looking for a DAP, then you might be asking why a portable music player costs so much? I know I would be!

The N7 offers a lot of technology in the DAP format, with things like 1-Bit Resistor Network DSD Decoding, dual A and AB amplifier modes, I2S connectivity, separate line and preamp outputs (both balanced and unbalanced), along with a lot of other things. Rather than me just list off a list of specifications, if you want to see all of them, just visit the page I linked above.

Why is all of this special? Well, a lot of them are not things commonly found in desktop solutions, never mind in a portable solution, so it definitely puts them in a league above many of the other contenders in the DAP game.

Does this make it a great DAP and worth the price tag it comes with? That is what I am going to address in this review, at least in my own opinion.


Build and Aesthetics…

You may have noticed that I skipped the presentation completely. That is because this review unit was shipped in a simple box to save on shipping costs, so I cannot comment on the way it is packaged or what the unboxing experience is like.

As far as build, the first and most obvious is size and weight. This is a large device. By large I mean that is is around the same dimensions as my smartphone but 3 times as thick. It is also a very heavy device, coming in at around 380 grams. It is not the heaviest (or largest) of Cayin DAPs but it is not something that I find comfortable in my pocket (I hate things in my pocket anyway) and it appeals to me more as a transportable, all-in-one, music player, than an actual portable (as in, carry on my person) device.

As far as aesthetics go, the device arrived in a beautiful leather case, with a gold/brass coloured backplate in a grille style. The case closes magnetically and has a cut out for the dial at the top, along with a cutout for its (multiple) connectors at the bottom. The right side of the case has the buttons marked on the leather along with their logos, meaning you can clearly see what each button does. 

I think the device looks great in the case, much nicer that it looks out of the case, although it is not a bad looking device without the protection. The front sports the 5” screen which takes up the majority of the real estate, with around 2cm at the bottom that has the multifunction touch screen button in the center. This touch button has a coloured ring that changes colours depending on the state of the device, which is a nice touch.

The sides are rounded black metal, making it comfortable to hold on to, even if it is a little slippy without the case. The left side has the micro SD card slot, while the right is home to the power, up, down and play buttons.

At the top of the N7 there is a nice gold coloured volume wheel that is well protected when wearing its leather jacket. Finally, the bottom is where we find the connection points. We get balanced pre/line out, unbalanced pre/line out, balanced headphone out, unbalanced headphone out, I2S, Coaxial and USB. This is quite a bit of connectivity as I said before.

While I am not really a fan of the size and weight of this device, holding it in your hand does portray the impression of having a quality device, with the leather case adding to that impression.


Functionality…

The N7 runs Android 12 on a Snapdragon 665 with 4GB of RAM. As this is an android device, coming with the Play Store installed, it will let you install most of the apps you could want/need. The 64GB internal space is not a huge amount but should be more than enough if you are wanting to use this for its intended purpose (as a music player) and are storing the local files on an external MicroSD card (accepts up to 1TB).

The system itself is pretty snappy (although I haven’t installed any apps other than those included and Tidal) and responds well to touches and navigation in general. Using the Cayin music app, it was also pretty quick to read my test SD card, reading almost 7.000 tracks in less than 5 minutes (which is better than on my phone for the same test).

I am not a huge fan of Android based DAPs as I prefer my music players to just be music players, but at least it responds well and is a rather recent version of Android (many players still use older versions), meaning it should be ok with app updates for quite some time. 

As this is an Android based device, there isn’t much need to go into the details of how to use it. If you can use a modern Android phone, you can use the UI of the N7. Gesture navigation is activated by default but this can be turned to the classic three button set up if you prefer.

The included music playing apps are Hiby Music and Cayin’s own app, which is basically the Hiby app with their own skin on it. You can of course install any music player of your choice (and you can also download the Hiby app from the Play Store to your phone if you have never used it and want to try it out).

From the drop down menu at the top, you can quickly access the gain settings, the amplifier type, switch the output from line to pre, change the DSD output specification, choose the digital output and access the audio settings. You can edit what quick accesses you want in the drop down menu, as you would with any normal Android device.

The audio settings basically give you the same options as I just listed, along with the possibility of changing channel balance, setting a max volume, inverting the volume control direction and activating/deactivating MQA decoding.

A nice feature of the N7 is that Hiby Cast is also installed, meaning that you can use your phone to control the DAP remotely. This is something that comes in very handy when using the N7 connected to desk systems hooked up to speakers etc. 

Volume is obviously controlled by the volume wheel but once you touch the wheel,the current level is displayed in numbers on the screen, with a + and - button to make single increments from the touch screen. While the numbers are displayed, you can also swipe the screen to increase or lower volume a lot quicker.

I could go on for a very long time about the functionality, after all, it is Android, but I think we should get on to the interesting part…


Sound…

One of the things I like about reviewing sources is that I get to choose what IEMs and headphones I want to use, meaning that I get to spend more time than usual with my favourite sets instead of the IEMs or headphones I am reviewing.

Over the time I have had the N7 on my desk, I have mainly been using the Svanar, the IE600, the Quintet, the Talos, the Arya v2 & Stealth, the HE1000se (which I have been listening to a lot lately) and the HD6XX (as that is always a must for source reviews).

One of the things I have noticed with the N7 is that, while it is not the most powerful of devices (500mW @32 Ohms balanced), I didn’t find that it struggled with planars. With IEMs, I had absolutely no issues and a lot of the time found myself on low gain around the 50 mark or less (my listening levels are usually pretty low, so that is something to consider for context).

In general I found the sound to seem more spacious than on many other alternatives, making things have more openness to them and improving the presentation with IEMs, which I usually find quite lacking in the soundstage department.

My first hours with the N7 were using the Svanar in the AB amplifier mode. While they sounded good and had a nice presentation to them, I did not feel that they were anything amazing. Yes, better than many of the portable options I have tried but I didn’t find myself blown away by the result. I then switched to the class A mode and… wow! Things became much more alive and, well, just a lot better in general.

That additional space is present with the AB mode but when switched to A, that extra space seems to be fuller. Things have more life and I found myself thinking that this is probably one of the best pairing I have heard with the Svanar. Bass is nicely textured but in no way unnatural and the upper ranges just have that little bit of smoothness to them that reminds me of why I love these IEMs.

With the Quintet, I found that the difference between AB and A was not as apparent. Yes, there was a slight change but not to the point I experienced with the Svanar. In general I find the Quintet to sound good with the N7 but I don’t feel the experience changes much between some of my dongles and the DAP.

With the Hifiman planars, I again found that the pairing is very good, although I have to say that I personally preferred the HE1000se to the Arya for some reason. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like the Arya with the N7 but I just found the pairing with the HE1000se to be much more exciting, maybe due to them being easier to drive than the Arya. Again, that class A mode gave the HEKse something extra that makes them sound glorious to my ears.

The HD6XX is a set of headphones that I can love or hate, depending on the source, the music, my mood and the time of day. On the day that I spent the time pairing them with the N7, I was mostly listening to female vocals and Jazz, and I have to say that, with the class A mode, this is the best portable setup I have heard with them. We have all heard about the “infinite scaling” of the HD6 series but I don’t think it is scaling per se, just that it seems to click with certain sources and the N7 in A mode is one of them. Again, to my ears, on that day, with that music. I wouldn’t say they sounded amazing in AB mode (good yes, but not amazing) and I would still prefer a tube amp for them, but for a portable device, I have to say that the pairing is very good.

I did find that I would find myself choosing a higher gain with headphones and dropping the volume level a bit to compensate. This could be totally psychological but I just felt that it seemed clearer and more open with headphones.


Conclusion…

The Cayin N7 is a DAP that offers a lot of performance in a “trans”portable package. It is not something that I would choose to carry in my pocket, nor take with me everywhere, but I do think it is something that gives you a great system that rivals a lot of desktop options in a format that you could easily take to the office or on vacation.

I find that the class A mode is fantastic, making most things sound alive and vibrant, offering a very enjoyable listening session no matter where you are. It has plenty of connectivity for it to be used in any number of systems, not just headphones. I could see this easily being the “brain” of someone's system, where they take it to the office and enjoy it all day, and then take it home in the evening or at weekends and hook it up to their main speaker systems etc.

Yes, the price is not exactly cheap, but if you compare it to many other things that you can pick up for the same price, it is on a level to compete, even with some desktop options as I said. If you were to build a desktop system with this level of connectivity and performance, you would be looking at a minimum of 500€ for the media player (if you were to use a phone that rivals this DAP), another 500€ to 1000€  (at least) for a DAC with this implementation and then another 1000€ or more for an amplifier, which may be more powerful but would not have the two AB and A modes you get here. So, with the N7, you get all of that in a “trans”portable package and for less money.

I can’t say that the AB mode is anything that I have fallen in love with. Yes, it sounds good, but not enough for me to think about running out and buying one. However, the class A mode is a different story. I find the A mode to be spectacular when you find the correct pairing.

The negative is that using it in class A does make the device run rather warm and the battery drop rather quickly but I guess everything has its price 😉


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