Who Knew Big Bird Was A GOAT?
Photos coming soon.
Up for review today is the Cayin N7 – which I have officially dubbed “BIG BIRD!” I received this Digital Audio Player (DAP) from Musicteck (shop.musicteck.com) with a discount in exchange for a review. As always, this in no way impacts how I review things, and I will still sarcastically call out things I dislike – so it is surprising that Musicteck keeps letting me review things. If you’d like to buy one from them, you can get in here: https://shop.musicteck.com/products/cayin-n7-pure-1-bit-android-based-digital-audio-player. Now, on with Big Bird’s review!
Build Quality / Design / Specs (18/20):
Oh yeahhhh, the build quality is excellent on the black aluminum body and the gold-colored pieces also feel very sturdy and well-made. The rounded edges are perfect for holding and the buttons have a nice satisfying tactility/clickiness without being too hard to push. No, it doesn’t have the SP3K’s War Machine Suit, made from a rare endangered species of robots that only live on the moon. But, it’s also not a fingerprint magnet, or as heavy either.
The design is also better. The volume knob sits on top and does nothing other than spin, no clicking, no accidental presses, and it’s protected from accidentally turning it and blowing your ears out. On the right side, you have 4 very easy-to-use buttons, an on/off button, a back button, a play/stop button, and a forward button. The only design downside for me is that the charging port and outputs are on the same side of the DAP. That means that I can’t charge it and listen to it at the same time on my desk because my charge cable is in front of me and IEM cables aren’t very long. There’s almost every output you could ever need – 4.4mm balanced, 3.5mm unbalanced, I2S, USB C, COAX, Line Out, and Pre Out. The only thing it’s missing is the 2.5mm balanced, which almost no one uses because they can snap easily – oh, and it comes with adapters for 2.5mm, so you’re covered. Oh, and there’s a glow-y button! Under the screen, there’s a tiny round button that glows the color of your file format being used. It also serves as the back button when the screen is on and tapping it will take you back (not home) on each press. It’s very nice and much easier to see than the SP3K’s light, which never seemed to work. This one works correctly.
The specs are…extensive. There’s the Snapdragon 665 giving it quick processing power with Android 12 and 4GB of RAM. There’s 64 GB of memory built-in for storage. It has a 5” screen, a 9000mAH battery, DSD512 support, MQA, a de-jitter clock, dual amps with class A and class A/B modes, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, dual femtosecond oscillators, a 1-bit resistor network DAC to compete with R2R, and more. It also outputs 500mW @ 32 Ohms on balances and 250mW @ 32 Ohms on unbalanced. A lot of companies release their power numbers @ 16 Ohms so that their numbers look bigger. I can say that I can power the TXGEars Serratus, a 300 Ohm set of earbuds on high gain at around 50% power. So, for IEMs at least, there’s plenty of power. If you’d like to send me your Susvara to test, let me know, but the N7 also drives all of the full-size headphones I have as well.
Very nice. This comes with everything I expect a DAC to come with, and then some. When you open the box, it’s a great experience with the DAP on the top layer and accessories beneath. The DAP comes wrapped in plastic wrap to keep it clean and the back has a screen protector. Oddly the front doesn’t as far as I can tell, which was a surprise, but when you slide the DAP into the case, which has metal cooling vets on the back, you get the reason for the back protector to prevent scratching the really cool back. The case is easily the one thing I can say I don’t like about this player. Not because it’s not a good case – it’s excellent – it covers all the things, including the front screen, and the buttons are covered but have tactile symbols on the case to make it easy to find and press them. I also love the metal heat dissipation metal on the back, which adds another splash of gosh coloration. It’s just…that it’s REALLY yellow. If it was black, with the gold metal and gold knob, it would have looked a LOT better. Yellow is definitely not a color I’d ever pick for something to come in. Green, yes; Blue, yes; Black, obviously – but not yellow. Make a yellow case available separately for people who enjoy the color, but don’t make it the included color. However, it’s VERY hard to lose – so there’s that. At least it comes with a case (looking at you Shanling) and the case protects the front screen to some extent (hoping I don’t scratch it.)
The N7 comes with a USB C cable to charge with and two 2.4mm adapters to let you use a 2.5mm cable with either the 4.4mm balanced OR the 3.5mm unbalanced jacks – WOW, totally unnecessary, but welcome. Why anyone would need to plug a 2.5mm into a 3.5mm output is beyond me, but still, the accessories are on point. And no, I’m not taking points off because I hate yellow, but because the front screen might be unprotected and it doesn’t say anywhere it’s Sapphire glass or whatever. So slightly scary.
Software / Setup / Ease of Use (20/20):
YESSSS – love me some stock Android 12. As a music streamer, being able to download the normal Tidal app, log in, and just use it without any heartache – it’s the pinnacle of DAP use for me. For those of you who like to load files on an SD card, that’s an option as well and the Cayin music app works just as well as the A&K music app for internal files. I didn’t even have to update anything when I got the DAP – it all just worked as soon as I turned it on. It automatically MQAs and it just WORKS. Nice. Zero complaints here.
Performance / Sound (18/20):
The battery life on the medium gain is decent, not amazing, but decent. I can drive most IEMs on medium around 40-50% volume. The battery is slightly better than the M6 Ultra, and even better than the SP3K with the amp set to A/B mode. So 8-10 hours or so. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the Class A amp and the A/B amp – so I’d keep it on A/B for battery life unless you REALLY need/like the Class A amp. These won’t get anywhere near the Shanling M3 Ultra’s battery power, but it’d be weird if they did. As previously mentioned, I had no issues powering any of my IEMs, including the 1-of-1 Elysium BASS edition, which is very power-hungry – or the TGXEars Serratus which has an impedance of 300 Ohms. So, yeah, good performance.
I’ll just come out and say it – this is the best-sounding DAP I’ve listened to, even over the SP3K. It doesn’t have the detail the SP3K has necessarily, but it has a really rich, warm sound without any of the sharpness the SP3K had. I personally prefer it over the SP3K, but YMMV as always. The HiBy RS8 sounds extremely similar to the N7, possibly a little more detailed, but not by much – and it costs $1,300 more. It still has the N7’s warm, rich sound quality to it that makes headphones purr. It is also built like a tank, weighs quite a bit more, is even thicker than the N7, and can be connected to the HiBy dock and used as a desktop system. So if you want a similar sound, don’t mind all the negatives and added cost, and want the ability to have your DAP play sound from your computer in addition to being on-the-go capable – then get the RS8. Otherwise, get the N7 for a cheaper, lighter, more portable option without the docking ability.
Using my normal test tracks playlist with the Elysium BASS Edition (EBE) shows off how good this DAP sounds. The bass from “I’m Good (Blue)” has a ton of impact (ha, I know…with an Elysium) and teh sub-bass is super clear and has excellent reverb without drowning out the crisp mids and vocals. I love that I can hear the sub-bass wind-up on this song with this combo – a detail that’s actually pretty rare. The RS8 has a little less impact and sub-bass here, but I can still hear the windup for the sub-bass and the mids are still excellent.
“I Am a Stone” has deep bass strings in the background, though the EBE almost pushes that bass too far into the mids. Still, the mids come through strongly and the vocals are absolutely beautiful with depth and complexity I can’t always get from this song. I have to turn the RS8 on mid-gain up a little more than the N7 on mid-gain, but that’s pretty unimportant. Again, less bass on the RS8, which is my preference on this song and the reason I test with it. The mids sound just about the same.
“The Fall” has tons of highs detail I can’t always here in the intro and the dirty guitars sound fantastic and not muddy at all on the EBE through the N7. The vocals are pretty far to the front, even on the chorus, and the bass guitar can be clearly heard. Excellent representation. The HiBy actually presents the highs less clearly than the N7 on this song in addition to the decreased bass. The N7 really brings out the cymbals in the intro. The RS8 feels more mids focused, which is not a bad thing at all, but both do an excellent job with the mids.
“Code Name Vivaldi” sounds Good on the N7, very detailed and expansive with good separation, but it doesn’t have the impact the RS8 has on this song. The RS8 sounds really deep with a ton of body from the intro bass throughout the rest of the song – it almost overwhelms the EBE here (again, haha, Elysium with a ton of bass.) The RS8 has more emotion on this classical track, other classical tracks may vary.
The soundstage sounds great as well, but imaging and soundstage often come from really good IEMs as well, so not a surprise since the EBE is one of my favorite IEMs. Overall, a great representation from both the N7 and RS8.
Comparisons / Price (17/20):
This is really where the N7 excels. See above for sound comparisons to the RS8. It provides near TOTL performance for 1-2k less. It has been described as a baby LP6 (which costs 2x as much.) It very nearly reaches the performance of TOTL DAPs like the SP3K, RS8, and LP6, but for quite a bit cheaper. It also has the best UI I’ve encountered while still being pretty light and portable. At the same time, it sounds better than the Shanling M6 Ultra and the iBasso DX240. Whether or not it’s worth twice as much as those is up to you, but for me, I’d keep the n7 over either one – it’s more detailed with a better sound and a great UI. The N7 manages to carve its own niche place in the market between the under $1k and over $3k where it’s better than the under $1k and close to the over $3k. That’s impressive and it’s well-priced in the $2k range.
I don’t like sounding like a fanboy – it’s really not in my personality. However, the N7 is just really a great product. It has the best UI I’ve encountered (slightly better than the M6U and RS8), excellent sound (close to the RS8 and better than the M6U), great packaging and accessories (akin to the DX240), and a really great/functional heat dissipation case that is the ugliest mustard yellow ever. Still, Big bird will go down as one of my highest-rated DAPs ever and as close to perfect as I’ve seen – so far.
Wolfhawk’s Rating: 91/100