It had to be Cayin. From those who gave Head-Fi the first Android-based R2R DAP, and the first similar discrete resistor DAC/amp dongle, comes N7. This all-to-DSD flagship music player is a fitting celebration of Cayin Audio's 30th anniversary.
Built of 128 individual resistors and original DSP work carried on a FPGA, the fully-balanced, differential, 1-bit discrete DAC in N7 is proprietary Cayin through and through. Twister6 praised N7 after an initial listen.
Cayin doesn't differentiate between CD rips, Hi-Res downloads and Spotify, Tidal or Apple Music streaming. The Android 12, Google Play Store N7 converts all your normal PCM playback into DSD.
All formats are then passed as DSD through N7's precise 1-bit decode, before signal flows on to a balanced 4.4mm discrete transistor headphone amplifier biased into Class A.
Caiyin's latest innovation combines the best of digital and analog technology to emerge totally unique and apart from an increasingly mature market. N7's corporeal, physical and tangible sound is unmatched by any other DAP. [See Product Desc. For More]
N7 doesn't just sound surprisingly non-digital: it's utterly realistic and true to life. Natural and chock full of resolution, Cayin's landmark release stands apart by presenting music in a spectacular yet totally even-handed way bottom to top.
Cayin returns to Sony's Scarlet Book SACD revolution of the 1990s and elevates that conversion philosophy with modern hardware plus a proprietary DSP trick or two. N7's highlight is its 1-bit decoder, drawing inspiration from the Philips and Marantz DSD DACs of yore.
N7 converts all PCM files to octo-rate DSD first via DSP logic, while letting native DSD material flow on to the 128 discrete resistors in its fully-balanced DAC – in actuality a simple analog low-pass filter.
There's zero error at the point of conversion in a 1-bit DAC. There, Cayin relies on Pulse-Density Modulation (PDM)'s total accuracy, and sheer ease of decoding.
The pitch for DSD's 1-bit conversion is digital at its simplest and closest point to analog – level represented only either as a 1 or a 0, switching on or off. To achieve analog, the bitstream is simply low-pass filtered.
Cayin's all-to-DSD discrete DAC is accurate ... and also elegant, breakthrough and historic in personal audio. It draws inspiration from the illustrious halls of Hi-Fi, where each EMM Labs, Nagra Audio, Playback Designs and PS Audio 1-bit DAC release has been greeted with accolades and fanfare.
N7's discrete proprietary tech immediately differentiates itself from commercial DAC chips, where IC packages are often too small to perform an ideal 1-bit conversion. N7 also avoids the errors of dynamic element matching inherent to 2-6 bit delta-sigma decoders.
The delicate analog voltage waveform painstakingly decoded from DSD in N7 is precious. Cayin's R&D, invested building their own DAC, pays off as the fragile small-signal goes on to be handled by a similar discrete bipolar transistor gain stage. This design is more than up to the task of preserving the signal – mere op-amp ICs need not apply.
Instead of wasting their DAC development efforts by entrusting the analog job to commercial ICs, Cayin's labour of love continued into its discrete, differential, analog stage for common-mode rejection.
N7's driver section counts on all the benefits that come with a discrete bipolar design – low voltage noise, low open-loop gain and the resultantly lower negative feedback necessary, high slew rates and unity gain stability. This accurate linearity means that whatever entered N7's DAC as digital, comes out exactly the same in analog.
There's a reason N7 portrays elements within the soundstage with such solidity, the aural images it generates so convincingly rendered – its small signal post-conversion is of the highest quality, and inherently stable without going into oscillation caused by too much gain product. The utmost attention is paid throughout.
The results of which can be fed out as a line or pre-amp voltage to a downstream amp such as Cayin's C9 tube/solid-state hybrid portable amplifier.
The decoded analog goes through a four-channel analog volume control before reaching the Class A discrete output amp, facilitating that very special 1-bit discrete DSD decode and importantly preserving your music's true dynamic range resolution.
N7's high rails see operating voltages for its power section rise above 7 volts, the linearity of discrete transistors assured as a result. Cayin's discrete headphone amplifier can be operated in Class AB or an optimal Class A, for sonic tweaking with your favourite earphones and headphones.
Differentiating itself from even other flagships that cling to op-amp layouts seeking THX-certification but with inordinate amounts of gain and feedforward/feedback, Cayin's linearity remains excellent already in the open-loop, owing to its high operating voltages and bias.
Those ensure individual transistors are working in optimum condition. Distortion and noise are kept low, without resorting to the excessive use of negative feedback.
Cayin designed a true-balanced differential amplifier to further improve N7's linearity, and you can count on common-mode rejection at its best whenever you plug in via 4.4mm preserving its resolution.
It's an output stage that's direct-coupled to improve low-frequency performance, and N7 audibly plumbs the lowest bass depths. With the extension down low, phase reproduction in the audible human hearing range for taut, hard-hitting and life-like dynamics is excellent.
At the tip of the power stage's spear, large output transistors ensure excellent current-handling for good reason, to reap the full benefit of N7's separately regulated power supplies for analog and digital sections.
Capable of following the impedances of the Empire Ears Odin and Legend Evo down low, Cayin's 30-year tradition building amplifiers that provide actual power as proper voltage sources into halving resistances continues with N7.
You'll want to exploit all of N7's technical feats by getting as much of your music aboard. So Cayin built in the futuristic Snapdragon 665 SOC and 4GB of RAM to run Android 12 perfectly.
A 9,000mAh battery supplies up to 10 hours of use. Stream 16X Tidal MQA and full Hi-Res Lossless Apple Music at full bit and sample rates with Cayin's Direct Transport Audio OS that bypasses detrimental Android sample-rate conversion.
And voilà: there ends the list of exploits as long as Cayin's illustrious history that the discrete 1-bit DSD decoding, Class A N7 brings to market – ready to take on the next 10 years. Also look how Cayin intend to define a new era via their entire catalogue here, or view our other music players here.