Cayin N7 Review
Cayin N7 Review
This review was made possible thanks to the tour organized by Cayin.
The Cayin N7 was loaned to me for three weeks and now is returned to the company.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the Cayin N7 is $1999 and you can order it from all authorized dealers around the world.
Cayin N7 Technical highlights
The N7 is the latest DAP from Cayin, the creator of the N8ii Flagship DAP and while the N8ii utilizes dual ROHM BD34301 D/S DAC chips, for the N7 Cayin has decided to go fully discrete.
The N7 uses a fully-discrete 1-Bit DSD DAC that converts the digital signals to analog through a resistor network series composed of 128 high-precision thin-film resistors.
A precisely implemented FPGA enhances the digital audio signal and outputs L+, L-, R+, R- digital bitstream to fully balanced decoding. DSD signals are passed through unaltered, and PCM signals are converted to a 1-Bit bitstream before it is transmitted to the DAC circuitry.
For amplification duties, the Cayin N7 features a 4-channel discrete component-based fully balanced headphone amplification circuitry.
It adopts low-noise audio grade JFET (Junction Gate Field-Effect Transistors) as differential input stage and BJT (Bipolar Junction Transistor) as the voltage amplification and output stage.
Cayin N7 features Class A and Class AB easily selectable dual-operational modes for the amp circuit.
It delivers the high-power low-noise output with special optimization for low-impedance high-sensitivity IEMs. Class A amplification requires all channels to be in near-identical gain, so they are manually matched and manually installed to the PCB before final soldering.
The Cayin N7 also features a low-noise, low-distortion electronic resistance ladder-based volume control from JRC.
The controller uses a 4-channel in one integrated controller chip that offers precise Volume adjustments and lower power consumption.
The Cayin N7 is a pure flagship-grade digital audio player that supports all-leading audio formats.
It supports high-resolution 32-bit/768kHz PCM signals along with native DSD512 audio signals. It also supports full 16x MQA unfolding. Cayin N7 also has high-resolution two-way Bluetooth connectivity with class-leading LDAC, UAT, AAC, and SBC transmission protocols.
You can read everything about the Cayin N7 here.
The Cayin N7 comes together with a heavy duty, real leather, case of yellow color, a USB-C cable, 4.4mm to 2.5mm and 3.5mm to 2.5mm audio adapters and a tempered glass screen protector.
Input and outputs
Cayin N7 features both 3.5mm and 4.4mm output ports, independent for headphone and line-out.
You can easily select whether the line output will be fixed or variable pre-out through the drop down menu.
The fixed line output is a clean, unamplified signal that bypasses the volume control.
The Cayin N7 also supports USB together with I²S (mini HDMI) and coaxial digital outputs so it is widely compatible in different desktop and portable scenarios to use it as a digital transport to an external DAC.
The coaxial output is embedded in the USB port so you have to buy a special cable that is not provided.
The Cayin N7 also supports USB DAC connection to use it with a PC.
Build quality and appearance
The chassis is made from a solid piece of CNC’d aluminum with a high quality, sand blasted, black finish.
The appearance is premium and luxurious while the body has more rounded edges in the design than the N8ii so allows for better handling.
The Cayin N7 is not that big, it measures 142×77.8×22.2mm so it is more compact than the FiiO M17 but weighing 380g is slightly heavier than the iBasso DX320 which weighs 320g despite having a larger screen.
Interface and user experience
At the top right of the chassis there is the volume knob that has a nice design and some resistance to give a tactile enough experience while adjusting the volume level.
From the menu you can configure whether it will rise by turning it left or right.
On the right side of the DAP there are the power, track skip/previous, and play/pause buttons.
On the left side is the microSD card slot for expanding the storage up to 1TB.
At the bottom there are the headphone and line out jacks together with the I²S and USB ports.
The Cayin N7 is powered by a Snapdragon 665 SoC chipset with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, running an open Android 12 OS and supports systemwide high-resolution decoding with SRC bypass.
The multitouch screen is a 5″ FHD display that has vibrant colors and is very responsive while it supports double tap to wake.
There is also the familiar Cayin home button that doubles as back key while it also serves as the sampling rate indicator.
The Cayin N7 comes with the official Google store pre-installed so you can easily download all your favorite applications.
The overall user experience is very satisfying, the Cayin N7 is very responsive and fast with a flawless and lag-free operation.
It is highly configurable and customizable, the only thing missing is an ambient light sensor for auto adjusting the contrast.
You can browse, watch videos and use all known streaming applications.
All audio related operations are easily selectable from the drop down menu, gain settings, amplifier class and line output pre or fixed adjustment.
There are no user-selectable digital filters but you can fine tune the sound with the amplifier bias adjustment which is only effective for the headphone outputs.
For music playback you can download your favorite player or use the embedded Cayin music player that concentrates on audio quality by killing all other unnecessary tasks.
The Cayin N7 also supports system-wide control via mobile with the aid of the HiByCast application.
The Cayin N7 has an enormous 9000mAh lithium battery with a carefully tuned power management system.
It supports rapid charging from 20% to 80% in about two hours but despite all the power optimization, the Cayin N7 is a power hungry beast that depletes the battery quite fast.
The actual usage time depends on various parameters like gain, volume and WiFi.
From the balanced output set at the high gain, with mixed class A and AB operation and steaming high resolution files I got about 6 to 7 hours of playback time.
The Cayin N7 gets pretty warm at class AB operation mode and hot at class A.
I wouldn’t suggest charging and playing music at the same time because the player gets really hot.
The Cayin N7 is not that powerful as the competition, the maximum rated power output is 500mW/32Ω from the 4.4mm jack when for example the iBasso DX320 can do a whole 1200mW/32Ω with the stock amp.
So don’t expect it to drive more demanding loads, they sound compressed and underpowered but you will have no problem with easier headphones like the Focal Clear Mg, the Sennheiser HD660S2 and the Meze Elite that I have used with very satisfying results.
At the same time the Cayin N7 is absolutely dead silent so it is suitable for use with very sensitive earphones.
Output impedance is 1.2Ω from the balanced output and 0.6Ω from the single ended which is good enough but not the best, the competition can get as low as 0.38Ω from the balanced output.
I was the first reviewer to receive the Cayin N7 so I burned it for a full 200 hours as I was instructed to let the capacitors and the discrete components settle down.
The Cayin N7 was tested with the Sennheiser HD660S2, the Focal Clear Mg, the Sennheiser HD8XX, the Meze Elite and the Yamaha YH-5000SE while I have also used a couple of earphones like the FiiO FDX and the Meze Rai Penta.
All headphone cables used, except for the YH-5000SE, are of pure silver made by Lavricables .
To test the line output I have used the Cayin C9 portable headphone amplifier and the EarMen ST-Amp.
The player was updated to the latest firmware v1.2 that was available when writing this review.
Non D/S modulator DACs and discrete amplifiers are usually associated with natural timbre and this is exactly what happens with the Cayin N7 which combines both of these design principles.
This is the kind of DAP that invites the listener into deep listening sessions, it is so expressive and engaging that it makes him forget about everything else.
Like when I first got it in my hands and thought, let’s hear a couple of tracks to test the performance but finally ended listening for more than 3 hours continuously.
The Cayin N7 is melodic and organic sounding while at the same time it is absolutely transparent with a mirror-like source fidelity.
The engineers have managed to combine a modern, technical performance with great timbre realism and an analogue-like character to the sound.
The timbre is natural and lifelike but the sound doesn’t get too warm and of course not muddy or mushy, the player is fast, with good timing, and it is characterized by an exceptional clarity and a superb definition throughout the whole frequency range.
The bass is tight and controlled with excellent, deep layering while the texture is not too visceral but not lean or dry either.
The Cayin N7 is dynamic and impactful, especially with easier to drive earphones, and while it is not the most powerful DAP, it still manages to sound convincingly contrasted.
The mid-range is very harmonious and resonant with plenty of colorful overtones, voices and instruments sound alive and breathing.
The Cayin N7 is tonally balanced but the upper-mids are perceived as a little pronounced and also the treble feels a little sharper than neutral, there is a bit of extra luminosity and energy that make it stand as a touch highlighted and borderline bright.
This is something though that should not be confused with the qualities of the higher frequencies which are very refined and resolving with natural decay characteristics and no loss of body weight relatively to the low end.
With the Cayin N7 you are not going to hear any pre or post ringing, there is a complete absence of digital glare and artificiality, the sound reminds more of an analogue than a digital source.
These sound qualities make the Cayin N7 the perfect DAP for people who like to listen to classical music or anything with unamplified instruments but thanks to its stellar technicalities it is also suitable for pretty much everything else making it a great all rounder source.
Listening to this latest recording of Richard Strauss, it was a revelatory experience not only because of the aforementioned sound characteristics of the player but also thanks for the immaculate recreation of the actual
It can’t be stretched enough how capable is the N7 of recreating a faithful image of the recording venue by drawing a spacious and extended soundstage with a solid center image, extremely accurate positioning and a strikingly holographic and grand relief, especially with speaker-like sounding headphones like the Meze Elite.
Class AB or A?
The two operation modes of the headphone amplifier offer some really tasteful variations to the overall sound characteristics of the player.
The class AB has a touch more clarity and definition, the sound is a bit cleaner and tight, more controlled and neutral but with a sharper, cooler treble and slightly leaner texture.
Class AB is slightly more impactful and controlled on the bass but in class A it sounds fuller, weightier and more visceral.
Class A sounds more diffuse and a little looser in the time domain while it presents better harmonic wealth and timbre realism with greater sense of holography and more natural echo.
With class A you can literally hear the violin notes bouncing in the walls and the galleries of the Cathedral in the following recording.
The line output
The line output of the Cayin N7 is awesome, the sound quality is even better than the headphone because it carries out all the above described characteristics and additionally it manages to sound even more natural and organic.
And this is because it doesn’t accentuate the upper-mids and the treble so the tonality is even more balanced and high pitched instruments sound closer to reality.
The pairing of the N7 with the Cayin C9 portable headphone amplifier is really marvelous, the natural and organic timbre of the player is combined with the tube warmth and holography, making a match made in heaven, an end-game listening experience.
Compared to the iBasso DX320 ($1600)
The iBasso DX320 is the flagship DAP of the company and supports interchangeable amp modules that allow for deeper sound customization.
The player is slightly bigger than the N7, because of the larger 6.5″ screen, but is also more lightweight.
For the comparison I used the stock AMP11 MK2s and the Focal Clear Mg that are easy to drive and a fair load for the Cayin N7 but it should be noted that the iBasso is considerably more powerful and suitable for harder to drive headphones while both players have a pitch black background.
Both players offer flagship level user experience but the Cayin N7 comes with the latest Android 12 and is a bit faster and more responsive than the DX320.
The Cayin N7 has two slightly different sounding operation modes (class A and AB) when in the iBasso DX320 you can do a deeper and more effective sound customization but you have to pay extra for the additional amp modules.
The DX320 sounds slightly fuller and more visceral in the bass, it is more impactful but not as tight and controlled, clear and layered as in the Cayin N7.
The overall sound signature on the iBasso DX320 is just slightly more neutral with less sharp treble and upper-mids.
The DX320 soundstage is more focused on the center and a bit intimate when the Cayin N7 offers a wider presentation, it is more diffuse and it has sharper imagining with more precise placement.
Clarity and transparency are on the same level and while the line output of the iBasso DX320 is good enough, the line output of the Cayin N7 is of higher sound quality.
Compared to the FiiO M17 ($1800)
The FiiO M17 is the flagship DAP of the company which has the extra feature that it can be powered by an external power adapter that bypasses the internal battery and unlocks a desktop mode with a power output as high as 3W/32Ω.
It features a 6″ screen but it is really bigger and heavier than the Cayin N7.
The FiiO M17 has no other sound customization options except for the embedded low pass filters of the DAC and a feature called second harmonic regulation which are not as effective as the dual operation modes of the Cayin N7.
Both players offer flagship level user experience but the Cayin N7 comes with the latest Android 12 OS and is slightly more responsive and faster.
Using the Focal Clear Mg to keep things fair for the N7, the sound comparison yielded the FiiO M17 as a touch leaner and drier in the overall texture but also slightly more transparent and cleaner sounding.
The M17 is definitely more impactful and dynamic in the low end but also a bit brighter and sharper in the lower and upper treble.
It is faster and more energetic with a grander and more expansive soundstage but the Cayin N7 is the best when it comes to imaging and positioning.
Additionally the N7 is a bit more organic and natural sounding with greater timbre realism and a smoother, less edgy sound presentation.
The M17 offers a competitive line output, just like the iBasso DX320, but it is really difficult to beat the supreme sound quality of the Cayin N7 line-out.
In the end
The Cayin N7 might not be the flagship DAP of the company but the performance is extremely close while certain sound qualities might be more appealing to a lot of people.
It doesn’t have the dual Nutube timbre or the ultimate transparency and refinement of the flagship but it is not that far behind while it presents the music in a very natural and organic manner with excellent timbre realism.
The Cayin N7 offers something different than the D/S based DAPs bringing a very analogue quality to the sound that is going to reward the lucky owner with many hours of pure musical bliss.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2023.
Pros: + Natural and organic sound signature
+ Complete absence of digital glare and ringing
+ Excellent transparency and clarity
+ Dual amplifier operation modes, class A and AB
+ Dead silent background
+ Expansive and holographic soundstage with supreme imaging
+ Great recreation of the recording venue
+ End game line output performance
+ USB, coaxial and I²S digital outputs
+ Fast and responsive user interface with Android 12 OS
+ Premium protective case
+ Excellent build quality
Cons: – Slightly forward treble
– Only 64GB of on board memory
– Shared coaxial output with the USB port requires an expensive adapter cable
– Not as powerful as the competition
– Gets hot during use
– Average battery duration
– Quite heavy for the size