Cayin i5

General Information

Android based Master Quality Digital Audio Player

The i5 is a fully customized Android based DAP with WiFi and BT connectivity, support Dropbox cloud music and file sharing via DLNA.

The international version of i5 has Google Play pre-installed, and user can installed audio-related applications such as online streaming and alternative music players to i5 conveniently.

The audio performance of i5 maintained the overall Cayin sound signature, it is a perfect balanced among resolution, powerful, control and musicality for the target audience.

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Pros: Build quality, output power, sound quality, formats supported, connectivity options, overall value
Cons: Older Android which is not really optimised for 3rd party apps, mediocre battery management, no replay-gain, gapless not 100% working, stuttering with Tidal. apparently no more fw updates.
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Picture are default 1200 x 800 resolution - click (photos in tables) to view larger images.

INTRODUCTION

DAPs or Digital Audio Players are pretty hard to review (in my humble opinion anyway). Everyone wants to know about the sound – how is the sound stage, is it bassy, bright, noisy, clean background? Unfortunately I've found the differences in sound between DAPs are often very minute, and more about tonality than anything else. The real differences (to me) are usually in the features, the power and battery life and the ease of use.

So if you're looking for a review which raves about the minutiae of sound, and expounds about the smallest of nuances, you'd possibly be better to skip this one and skip to one of the more subjective reviewers. If however you'd like to know my impression of the i5, the features it has (and what its missing), the overall usability, and what I like and/or get frustrated by – then please pull up a chair, and lets get to know this DAP together.


ABOUT CAYIN

Cayin is a registered brand of the Zhuhai Spark Electronic Equipment Co., Ltd. The company was founded in 1993 (celebrating a big anniversary next year), and their main focus up until 2013 was on HiFi products including CD players, tube amplifiers and speakers. Some of their range is truly gorgeous too – if you get the time, browse their website (the tube amps in particular look wonderful!). In 2013 Cayin started branching out into portable and personal audio, and have released a string of products which have been met with critical acclaim, especially for their sonic ability. To date they have produced more than 400 products.

I always like to let the company's words speak for themselves – and in Cayin's case this comes from their Facebook site:

“While our products carry a distinctive cultural connotation and span over a very wide price range, we are devoted to developing the best sounding audio equipment at competitive prices.

Cayin pays attention to detail because we believe this is what it takes to reproduce music naturally. We might have a different agenda or employ different technologies for different products, but ultimately, we serve only one purpose: to move our audience with hi-fidelity.

We deliver music diligently, and we are prepared to go a long way for that. With Cayin, your music will never be the same again.”

In closing I'd also like to mention Cayin's rep on Head-Fi, Andy Kong, who has been truly diligent on the website – always helpful, and ready to act as a conduit between the community here and their engineers.


DISCLAIMER

The Cayin i5 was provided to me as part of a review tour. At the completion of the review, the i5 will be returned to Andy (along with my thanks for being allowed to spend time with the unit). I do not make any financial gain from this review – it is has been written simply as my way of providing feedback both to the Head-Fi community and also Cayin themselves.

I have now had the Cayin i5 for around 6 months (my apologies Andy). The retail price at time of review is USD 380-400 (Amazon), but has been around the $450-$470 mark.


PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)

I'm a 50 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (mostly now from the FiiO X7ii and iPhone SE) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD800S, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, MS Pro and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and it has mainly been with my own personally owned IEMs - the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and LZ Big Dipper. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present – although needs updating) is listed in my Head-Fi profile.

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not overly treble sensitive, and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.

I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be skeptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables (unless it was volume or impedance related), and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 50, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays). My usual listening level is around 65-75 dB.

For the purposes of this review - I've used the Cayin i5 in combination with many different earphones and tested most of the functions I am able to. This does not include some applications like DLNA or OTG – which I can neither test properly, nor am I interested in. We'll touch very briefly on streaming, but again it won't be an area I'll spend a lot of time on, simply because I simply use the Cayin i5 predominantly as a player. I have prior experience with entry level Sony's (very early models), then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, iPhone4, iPod Touch G4, iPhone 5S, HSA Studio V3, FiiO X5, X1, X3ii, X5ii, X7, X1ii, X7ii, X3iii, iPhone SE, Cayin N3, and the L&P LP5, L5 Pro, and L3.

This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.


WHAT I PERSONALLY LOOK FOR IN A DAP

I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I really look for in a new DAP.
  • Clean, neutral signature – but with body (not thin)
  • Good build quality
  • Reasonable battery life – at least 8-10 hours
  • Easy to use interface
  • Able to drive both low impedance and (within reason) higher impedance cans without additional amping.
  • Value for money
  • Enough storage to hold either my favourite albums in red-book, or my whole library in a reasonably high resolution lossy format (for me – aac256)
  • Gapless playback
  • Reasonable EQ
  • Bluetooth/Wireless if available
Did I get all of this with the Cayin i5, and more importantly how did it compare to equivalent DAPs in similar price ranges? We'll take a look and as we go, I'll refer to this list. We'll also make a comparison to other DAPs later in the review.


THE REVIEW

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

The Cayin i5 arrived in a box and lid, with a printed retail sleeve. The sleeve has a photo of the i5 on the front and details of the main features on the rear. The box measures ~ 183 x 116 x 53mm, and has two compartments – one for the i5 and one for the accessories.

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Retail boxInner boxFull accessory package
The total accessory package includes:
  • One USB to USB-C data and charging cable
  • One USB-C to coaxial cable
  • One micro USB to USB-C adapter
  • One leather case
  • Three screen protectors
  • User manual and warranty
  • The Cayin i5
The case is quite nice but a little loose fitting and the sides cover the edge of the screen (making scrolling the right side a little difficult, and the buttons a little too deep to be easily accessed). Its a decent case overall though as long as you're careful not to tip it.

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Charging and USB-C to Coax cablesi5 in provided caseButtons are recessed
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
(From Cayin's website and packaging), and I've included the FiiO X5iii specs as well as a comparison.
ModelCayin i5X5 3rd Gen
Approx current price$399 USD$399 USD
Dimensions~ 126 x 64 x 16 mm~ 114 x 66 x 15 mm
Weight195 g186 g
DSD SupportDSD64/128DSD64/128
Lossless PCM SupportAPE, ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMAAPE, ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMA
Lossy SupportMP3, AAC, WMA, OGGMP3, AAC, WMA, OGG
Use as external DACYesYes
Battery4800 mAh3400 mAh
Play time~11hr SE~10hr SE, 8hr bal
DAC ChipAK4490AK4490x2
Main amp chipOPA1652+BUF634OPA426x2
SNR (H/O)≥108 dB (A-weighted)≥115 dB (A-weighted)
THD+N (H/O)<0.006%<0.003% (32Ω/1kHz)
Balanced?NoYes 2.5mm
Output to 16ohm (SE/BAL)Not stated 480 mW / 400 mW
Output to 32ohm (SE/BAL)190 mW per channel250 mW / 240 mW
Output to 300ohm (SE/BAL)Not stated28 mW / 26 mW
H/O Impedance (SE/Bal)<1.0Ω<1.0Ω / <3.0Ω
Line Out?YesYes
Digital Out?YesYes
Internal Storage32 Gb32 Gb
External Storage200 Gb stated, but suspect can go higher512 Gb (256x2)
Screen3.97in IPS TFT 480x8003.97in IPS TFT 480x800
OSAndroid 4.4Android 5.1
RAM1 Gb1 Gb
WirelessBluetooth and WiFiBluetooth and WiFi
BUILD AND DESIGN

I really like the overall build of the i5. Because it is a touch interface, and also requires some hefty internal components to address both power and battery, a DAP of this sort is always going to need to be somewhat “slab” like in build, but Cayin have addressed this with their own style. The device is CNC'd from an aluminum alloy and the back plate looks to be gorilla glass over carbon fibre. It really is quite striking. In overall size and weight it sits pretty much between the FiiO X5iii and FiiO X7. The chassis has rounded corners and beveled edges, and somehow manages to feel reassuringly weighty, without feeling overly chunky.

The front is dominated by the 4inch TFT IPS capacitive touchscreen, with part of this being a touch “home” button. At the left hand side is a single on/off button, while on the right are the play/pause and forward/back buttons. Below these is the single micro sdxc slot. At the bottom is the USB-C slot for data transfer, DAC use, OTG use, digital out and charging. To be honest I'm not 100% sure of how I feel about the change to USB-C. At this point in time I don't have a lot of USB3 devices, and it has been a pain sometimes if the battery is out and I don't have the charging cable (I always carry a USB to micro-USB cable). I guess this format/standard is going to become more prevalent, so probably a smart (if bold) move on Cayin's part. At the top is the analog line-out and headphone out 3.5mm sockets, and the analog pot. The pot is resistive rather than stepped, so there is a reassuring firmness to the control. The downside is that it does take a little more effort to move the wheel than a stepped based design.


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Left side – on/off buttonBottom – USB-C socketRight side – play controls
I do find that the actual design lends itself more to left than right handed use (one handed) using the hardware controls, and this frees up my right hand for the touch controls. The hardware buttons give nice tactile feedback, and my only complaint is that the case is a bit bulky (making the buttons quite recessed), so can be slightly difficult to use with the case intact.

The 4inch touch screen is vivid and clear. It has a wide viewing angle (almost 180 deg), and as far as on-screen smudging goes, actually seems better than the X5iii. Low light visibility is excellent, but with full sunlight (like most touch screen devices), you have to shade the device for any decent viewing legibility. For the most part the touch screen is reasonably responsive. However occasionally the older OS and 1 Gb of RAM do seem to combine (usually when there is a bit of background processing going on) to create some lag. Its not any better or worse than the X5iii in this regard though, and on the whole is quite responsive.

Internally the Cayin i5 sports a quad core Cortex A7 1.2 GHz processor along with a dual-core GPU, 1 Gb of on-board RAM and 32 Gb internal flash storage memory. DAC / decoding functionality is the job of the single 32 bit AK4490EQ DAC chip, allowing both DSD decoding up to DSD128, and PCM up to 32/384. Volume control comes via Burr-Brown PGA2311 analog volume chip, and the AD712 OP amp is used as a low pass filter, along with the OPA1652 for power. The OPA1652 then uses two BuF634 buffers to boost current.


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Top – hp and line-out sockets + vol controlRear – carbon fibre lookClassy looking DAP
BATTERY
The i5 is powered by a 3.8V 4800 mAh Li-polymer battery which provides approximately 10-11 hours play time using the 3.5mm single-ended head-phone output with my LZ Big Dipper IEMs. In my tests this was achievable using IEMs with the screen mostly off, and the DAP set to play continuously. This obviously does not reflect real-world usage, so expect less if you're constantly using the screen, or using apps that may have a higher draw on the battery. For my personal use (single-ended) I can easily get 8-9 hours out of a fully charged battery with normal use, and this has been sufficient for day to day use.

Charging time typically is about 4 hours using a 2a charger, and considerably more if just using the USB port on my desktop, so considerably slower than the X5iii on both counts. You can also play and charge at the same time if using a portable battery pack.


POWER OUTPUT
Cayin's output specs show 190 mW per channel into 32 ohms, but unfortunately don't give a whole lot of data on their power output into other loads. I figured the best way was simply to test some real devices and measure the SPL, and also a subjective test. For each test, I used the excellently mastered new track “The Same Asylum As Before” from Steven Wilson's new album “To The Bone” - mainly because it was the same track as I used for the X5ii when I reviewed it, so it gave me some good comparative data. For each test, I aimed to get to my average preferred listening level of 65-75dB with peaks well under 85 dB. For this I used my trusty calibrated SPL meter.

First up was FiiO's own 28 ohm, 106 dB/mW sensitivity F9 IEM. It is an easy load to drive and reflects an average load for everyday use. 27/100 on the i5 was sitting me easily within my preferred sonic range on low gain – so plenty of head-room.

Next up was HiFiMan's flagship RE2000 IEM at 60ohm and 103 dB/mW sensitivity. This represents a load with higher impedance and lower sensitivity, and surprisingly only requires ~32/100 to reach the same listening volume. Again plenty of head-room, and the RE2000 on the i5 sounds wonderful.

This time a harder load and an ear-bud as well. VE's flagship Zen2 is an incredible sounding ear-bud which while relatively sensitive at 108 dB/mW, has a much higher impedance of 320 ohm. This was much harder to measure, and I don't know if I got this completely accurate, but 37-39/100 reached my ideal listening level and again I could detect no issues with the i5's amplification sounding weak.

Lets move to full sized headphones. This time I used the SPL meter again, and simply measured at the outer ear. First up was the Alessandro MS-Pro at a nominal impedance of 32 ohm and SPL of 98 dB (1V). Around 28/100 was a comfortable listening level and once again hitting my ideal volume level. The MS Pro and i5 was a really good match too.

Up next was Sennheisers HD630VB at 23 ohm and 114 dB SPL. Again the i5 had no issues with essentially what is a portable headphone, and 30/100 on the pot easily drove to my normal listening levels . Again the pairing was really good – but unfortunately the HD630VBs controls did not work with the i5 (they do with the X7, X7ii, X5iii and my I-devices).

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Final test – and this time lets step beyond the likely and try something a lot will consider slightly ridiculous (I don't). The HD800S is 300 ohm and 108 dB/mW. Its my real test as I sometimes like to move around the house with these headphones so for me it is a realistic test. Again pleasantly surprised by the i5 because ~43/100 on low gain was hitting my preferred listening level, and this combo sounded really good.

So all in all the i5 appears to be quite a powerhouse with very good power output at higher impedances, and IMO actually performs better than the X5iii in this area. And to check that I wasn't simply deluding myself, I also checked the HD800S with FiiO's A5 headphone amp. It is quite neutral, and can output 150 mW into a 300 ohm load. I've used it before with the HD800S and it has very much impressed me as a portable device. So once I'd found my ideal listening level, I simply used test tones to replicate the same volume with the A5, then switched between the two. The HD800S did not sound superior with the A5 and I'd be quite happy simply using the i5 by itself.


WIRELESS CAPABILITY / PERFORMANCE
The Cayin i5 comes with both Bluetooth 4.0 and 2.4 kHz Wifi capability. Performance on both seems pretty good. The Wifi receiver is not as good as my iPhone. I'm sitting in my study, the router is around 8-10 meters away, but through two walls. My iPhone SE is showing full bars, the i5 is about 75-80%. Connection is solid and stable, and perfectly good for streaming or downloading apps or updates. The iPhone is slightly quicker. So the i5 is good – but not perfect.

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The Bluetooth connectivity was excellent with my FiiL Diva Bluetooth headset. Connection was straight forward – easily recognised and paired. And I can actually install the Android FiiL+ app (by manually installing the downloaded apk), however the app ran like treacle, and I couldn't get it to properly pair or recognise the Diva. So access to the advanced features of the head-set curtailed (the X5iii and X7ii both manage it OK), however this could easily be simply the older Android version limitations. I can use all the headset's other features including volume and track control, and can easily get to 20m (it starts breaking up beyond that).

Next up was FiiO's BTR1 Bluetooth unit. Connection was easy, and the volume controls worked well and could be used for next and previous. Unfortunately the play/pause button did not work, and the range was only about 7m before it started cutting out. To be fair, the iPhone range wasn't much better, although at least all the controls worked.

So I think Bluetooth gets a good pass mark – not perfect, but definitely above average if you have the right device to pair.


UI AND USABILITY
The UI is standard Android and I'm not going to cover all the standard features (battery meters etc), and concentrate instead on Cayin’s integration with their Hiby Music app.

Once you get past the opening animation, you arrive at the “home” screen which is essentially a single page with 4 visible blocks or sections for file locations and connectivity, and one hidden (scroll down). These include internal and external storage, Dropbox and LAN connectivity, and USB flash drive (OTG). Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to test other connectivity and pretty much stayed with music on the phone, and also a brief stint with Tidal when I had an account. Along the top third of the screen are the usual “folder”, “music”, “album”, “artist”, “genre” and “track” choices. Each take you to their respective areas – the album one gives you album art, but the artist choice just shows icons (X5iii uses the album art for these two which is quite nice). The “genre” choice is really weird giving 8 icons, but only showing singe word genre choices (eg if I have “Rock, Pop” as a genre choice it doesn't show up in either). It allows access all other genres in a separate hidden list you get to by scrolling up. Most other DAPs do something similar – so I've already resigned myself to the fact that I'm going to have to simplify my genre tags to actually have something useful. The track list is alphanumeric and based on song title (nice), and perfect for setting up a shuffled list.

Also at the top of the screen is a “list” section which gives access to play-lists, frequently played tracks, recently played tracks, and anything you've tagged as a favourite. The two other options at the top are a search bar and “person” icon which allows access to the Hiby settings, equaliser, library scanning and also 3rd party apps.

The now playing screen (tapping the now playing bar at the bottom) brings up large album art. Swiping this gives access to lyrics and also a VU meter. Below the album art are icons for play mode (slide to change), equaliser access (sort of), play-list access and adding to play-list or favoufavourites. Other than that you have the song title, and artist but no album info, and a touch play/pause and forward/back on-screen buttons. Around the play/pause button is an orange progress bar which can be used to scrub forward or back.

Hiding in the top corner is a 3 dot icon which when pressed gives you the option to delete the track, or list its properties.

The EQ options are a mixture of good and bad. Lets get the bad out of the way first. The button on the now playing screen gives me access to the presets, but nothing else. It doesn't bring up the actual EQ screen and doesn't give an option to turn it off once engaged. In order to actually get to the EQ you have to use 3 clicks to access it from the Hiby menu – someone wasn't thinking when they put this together. FiiO's is one click. When you get to the EQ screen, it is very similar to FiiO's 10 band EQ. There are presets, and a custom option (but you can customise all the presets, and there is a reset button to return them to their original state). There is a 24 dB swing (-12 / +12) which allows plenty of room for tweaking and 10 bands. The layout is the same as FiiO's with 5 sliders shown on screen at a time, so you have to slide left and right rather than having them all on the screen together. The good news is that the entire 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency display is shown on the entire screen, so this does help when you've inadvertently hit the wrong slider. The thing I love with the Hiby implementation is that each band shows the adjustment (in dB) that you've used. No guess work. Nice!


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Home screenAlbum viewArtist viewGenre View SongView
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Frequently playedNow playingVU MeterAccess to settings Equaliser
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3rd party appsHiby Music settingsHiby Music settingsStd Android settings Std Android settings
Third party apps are accessible from the Hiby type slide menu, and Google App store is installed. I originally had Tidal on here, but it had the same issues as FiiO's (stuttering). Neutron installed fine and works well, but I have noticed that using third party apps often makes the i5 very laggy and slow. Its obviously optimised for the Hiby interface, and you take your chances with anything else.

Rather than bore you silly with descriptions of all the screens and options, I've simply photographed them, and this should give you the main gist of some of the things which are available. So lets look a little closer at some of the features the i5 offers.[/SIZE]

OTHER FEATURES

The Good
  • EQ – while its difficult to get to, the EQ itself is pretty good with a +12/-15 dB range, and pretty easy to use with the actual adjustments shown on the graph.
  • Quick scanning – it's lightning fast compared to the FiiO devices I have. Less than a minute scan 6800 tracks. Slightly longer to write the index though. Impressive.
  • Boot time – it's generally pretty quick, about 40 secs from first screen light up to having access to the menu system. Thats not bad for an Android based DAP.
  • Connectivity – cloud or external connectivity (LAN, Dropbox, OTG) has been really well thought out. Although I don't use it, general feedback has been positive.
  • The digital out (with included HQ USB-C to coax cable) worked brilliantly with the iFi iDSD, and was a great pairing, especially with both the HD600 and HD800S.

The OK
  • Gapless – Its implemented reasonably well. Using FLAC files, there is the very faintest micro-gap. Using AAC files the gap is practically unnoticeable – although there is occasionally some truncation between two tracks. Good but not perfect.
  • DAC – in DAC mode you'll need a driver loaded for Windows use, but its OOTB for me with Linux. Works pretty well, although there is some lag with video – both in Windows and Linux. Playing around with sample rate can alleviate this.
  • Stability – although some of the features aren't as well thought out, and the UI isn't as intuitive as I'd prefer, the stability has generally been pretty good, and I've had less crashes than on the likes of the FiiO X5iii. The obvious counter to this is the X5iii is still being updated, features refined etc
  • USB digital out – I've had success with the Cozoy Takt (sounded pretty good too, I must admit), FiiO's Q1 and also their diminutive K1. But support is very much hit and miss – the FiiO Q1ii was a no-go, ans was my IMS HVA. Nice to know that some devices work well though – and for this, Neutron is a must.

The Issues
  • Battery drain – appears normal during use (especially with the default Cayin music app). But if you've stopped the music, and not switched it off, expect a similar sort of battery drain to actual use. I was charged at 100% last night, spent about 2 hours listening, then stopped the music. On waking this morning, the battery was at 30%. Yep – somehow 50% drain over the space of 6 hours. If you're not using it – switch it off. FiiO implements this a LOT better.
  • 3rd party apps - I use Neutron a lot mainly because of its DSP functions and ability to use 3D spacialisation (widen the sound stage). 3rd party apps on the i5 tend to run much slower on the i5 than the likes of the X5iii, and they also seem to be quite battery intensive (shaving 2-3 hours off the normal battery life).
  • Update support – The i5 seems to be at the limit of its support (in terms of updates with Cayin). This isn't a conscious choice from Cayin – but more limitations of the older SoC and software system. It still means that we're stuck with the current firmware limitations.
  • Streaming – this doesn't affect me so much, and it seems to be typical of a lot of Android based DAPs. Apps like Tidal stutter. Its not a massive issue – but enough that it gets annoying. If you're a mostly Tidal user, I'd recommend using a phone and DAC/amp combo instead.
  • Standard external play-lists – not sure what is up with this, but I keep getting “I/O errors”. The same list will play on any of the FiiO's – it is a simple m3u8 play-list file. I could probably work it out, and I suspect it might need to have absolute references – but it should work OOTB, and I don't have the time or inclination to work out a solution.
  • Replay-gain - there is none

SOUND QUALITY & COMPARISONS

The following is what I subjectively hear from the Cayin i5. Some of you may find this section a little limited, so I’ll give you some insight into the way I’ve changed my opinion on how to describe the sound with any competently made DAC, DAP or amplifier. The problem with trying to break the sonics down to bass, mids and treble is that DAP / DAC / amp is designed (or should be designed) to be essentially flat across the frequency spectrum. If it has enhanced bass, then isn’t it adding colouration that should come from the headphones or EQ or recording? Likewise, I won’t comment a lot on sound-stage, as this is primarily a by-product of the actual recording, or the transducers you’re using.

So how do I go about describing it? Well my gear isn't great for measuring DAPs – the SNR and THD readings will be below the noise floor of my cheap soundcard. So for now we'll assume that the i5 measures relatively flat – and I say relatively because most of the higher end DAPs do have an intentional roll-off in the DAC section to warm the overall tonality. So what I will do is comment on overall tonality and resolution, and also expand further when comparing the Cayin i5 to some of the other DAPs I have experience with.

For the record – on most tracks, the volume on i5 was adjusted to give me an average SPL around 65-75 dB. Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list https://www.head-fi.org/f/articles/brookos-test-tracks.17556/. When I tested side-by-side with other DAPs I used test tones, and an SPL meter to volume match. I used the same track, and had the players set up so I could rapid switch. Testing was performed with my Alclair Curve (being one of the most neutral monitors I have).


Cayin i5 General Tonality

This is actually an easy one – because the Cayin i5 is (for me anyway) very similar in overall tonality to the FiiO X5iii. It could be described as being a little on the warm side – but I'd prefer to refer to it as rich and smooth. Like the X5iii, the Cayin i5 has very good resolution, and like the X5iii there is a deepness and smoothness and fullness of overall tone which very much reminds me of my old Audio-gd NFB-12. Where the i5 differs from some other DAPs I own is that the tonality is silky smooth – no sign of harshness or glare. I've never really noticed the glare on other DAPs before, but when comparing side-by-side, the Cayin i5 (like the X5iii) just seems to have a smoothness which is perfect for easy listening. So what about something a little more neutral to double check my findings? For this, my other DAP to check was the X7ii with AM3A amp. In direct comparison the X7ii appears a little leaner, a little cleaner and a little more resolving.

Resolution / Detail / Clarity
Clarity and resolution is excellent on this DAP, its just not as brutally apparent as some of the other audio devices I have. I've gone over my test tracks many times with the i5 now, and it is not missing any of the detail or resolution of my other “more linear sounding” DAPs or DAC/amps. It just has a different presentation of that detail. When playing Floyd's “Money”, all the nuances from the cash registers are present – they just don't have that edge to them. In “Sultans of Swing” I can still hear the clicks when Withers taps his drumsticks together, but there isn't that extra heat or emphasis. What I hear is more organic and perhaps more tonally pleasing.


Soundstage / Imaging
Why is this section even here? The perception of sound-stage in a DAP is a result of the music you listen to (the recording) and the transducers you use. The DAP has virtually nothing to do with it, as long as it has decent crosstalk measurements, and there is no DSP involved. For the record, I volume matched the Cayin i5 and X5iii (same DAC sections), and tested my binaural tracks. Both sounded pretty much the same. And whether you use the Alclair Curve or the UM ME.1 Planar IEM, the perceived sound-stage width/depth was the same on both devices, and only influenced by the actual transducer being used. The one good thing with the i5is that you can use Neutron's DSP settings to widen the perceived stage. The only issue is that Neutron is a little laggy with the i5.


Cayin i5 vs FiiO X5ii
9936062_l.jpg
The X5 2nd gen (X5ii) is very close in size physically to the Cayin i5. The i5 has a single SDXC slot, while the X5ii's is dual, but the i5 has the benefit of onboard memory while X5ii has none. Both can play most high-res formats (including DSD), and both have similar output options (coax, line and headphone outs). Both also have similar battery life.

The i5's advantages come with it's wireless connectivity options, touch screen, separate wheel for volume control, and more feature options via the Android interface (apps etc) along with a better screen resolution. Power output seems slightly in favour of the i5. The X5ii does have one advantage (feature wise) compared to the i5 and that is working replay gain (although again Neutron covers this). Both also have a reasonable search function.

Sonically these two are quite close in both tonality and resolution. The i5 is slightly smoother but its definitely not any warmer. The X5ii sounds slightly more vivid, and actually sounds a little cleaner (again its that very slight smoothing that the i5 brings).

As far as value goes, it is very hard to beat the X5ii as a straight music player – especially with the dual slots and the current price of around USD 250 (Amazon). It has very mature firmware now and is quite stable. Of course the advantages of the i5 still remain with its Android UI, features, and wireless connectivity. Those looking for a simple music player are possibly better considering an X5ii. If Bluetooth or wireless are a must though – especially for LAN or NAS connectivity, the i5 will deliver a richer and smoother tonality plus the connectivity features.


Cayin i5 vs FiiO X5iii
9936064_l.jpg
This is probably the natural comparison most will make. In terms of size, the two are very similar with the Cayin being slightly longer. The Cayin has more driving power, and can handle the HD800S quite well – where the FiiO X5iii is probably at its limits. The X5iii has balanced mode, but it really is power limited (does not offer extra voltage).

The i5 UI is slightly more stable (less prone to crash), and things like scanning are very fast (quicker than X5iii). The UI itself can be a bit easier at times to follow than FiiOs and other times more complex (getting to EQ requires more steps), but on the whole both are comparable. The i5 uses an older Android 4 version where the FiiO is Android 5. Wireless performance on both is comparable – however neither have as good wireless connectivity as my iPhone. Bluetooth range and stability is slightly better on the Cayin i5, but both are good for portable use with a headset. I am able to install 3rd party apps like Neutron and Tidal on both – but the X5iii seems slightly more stable with 3rd party apps. Both can be used as an external DAC, and I had no issues with either (after installing drivers) on a Windows 10 PC. For general ease of use and comparing the default Pure Music (X5iii) to Hiby (i5), my personal preference would be toward the X5iii – it is more feature rich. The i5 also has the tendency to drain the battery quicker (it really needs a decent sleep mode).

Sonically the two are extremely close and I guess this is the result of the same DAC hardware (AK 4490). I spent a lot of time going between the two and when volume matched, I'd say they sound practically identical – I can't tell them apart in a blind test. At first I thought that there might have been a little more extension with the i5, but when I got my wife to help me blind swap I was completely baffled over which was which (more evidence of sighted bias at play). Both sound fantastic with a rich and smooth tonality that I personally find really relaxing.

In terms of overall preference, its a bit of a tough one for me. The price now on both units is pretty close – you can pick up either for ~ USD$400. Both have their strong points. I don't tend to need 2 micro SDXC slots (I use aac256 on my portables anyway, so storage is never an issue). The X5iii balanced connection offers no obvious benefits. I do like the extra power of the Cayin i5, but equally like the versatility of the X5iii's slightly more modern OS. Both have their individual personalities, neither is perfect, but the comparison is really close – and I would really be happy with either.


Cayin i5 vs FiiOX7 (original)
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This one should be interesting. The original X7 was FiiO's original flagship DAP. It used to retail at around the $650 mark but nowadays can be found at $360-450. The X7 is larger, mainly due to it's interchangeable amp section. You get button controls for volume rather than the i5's wheel (and I much prefer the i5 for this). Both have single sdxc slots, 32 Gb internal memory and similar features in terms of wireless connectivity. The biggest difference with the X7 is the Android version (slightly more modern 5 vs 4) and the ability to change amp modules. By doing this you have additional control over both tonality and also power (with the AM5 high power module being able to drive many high impedance cans including the HD800S.

Sonically the difference (in terns of resolution) is not huge, but the X7 with AM3 module is noticeably more linear, and appears cleaner because of the more neutral tonality. The i5 in comparison has that slightly smoother rich tonality which people will either love (find it musical) or dislike (citing it as warm). This is not a night and day, and really comes down to preference. While I prefer the slightly better volume control on the i5 and also the added power (without using amp modules), with the price between the two so close, again it is a difficult choice.


Cayin i5 vs FiiOX7ii
9936066_l.jpg
This one is more interesting. The X7ii is if course the update to FiiO's flagship DAP. Its only been out a few months, and already has a big following. The X7ii is again larger, mainly due to it's interchangeable amp section. But the design of the X7ii now borrows heavily from the X5iii, and includes dual expansion slots, the volume wheel, and the updated software (including Viper incorporated into the default player). The X7ii adds access to the 5GHz band for wireless, has access to balanced output (with the more traditional extra power output). It can also utilise not only the new (default) AM3A amp module, but also any of the previous ones. It also has 2 Gb onboard RAM and 64 Gb internal memory. The UI is a lot more stable and a lot smoother than the i5.

Sonically there are no large differences in resolution, but the tonality difference is noticeable, and its a repeat of past comparison with the X7. The Sabre DAC of the X7ii is noticeably more neutral and appears cleaner because of it. The Cayin i5 again has that slightly smoother rich tonality – but I can get that with the X7ii simply by adding a module like the AM5 or even AM2A. There is a big difference between the i5 and X7ii in price (and especially if you are going to have extra modules), but this time (for me anyway) the features justify the difference in price – and despite the extra cost the X7ii is the clear cut winner for me.


VALUE

So how do I see the overall value of the Cayin i5? Quite simply, it reaches that overall performance which still has me recommending it at its current price point. In the current $350-$450 range it sits as a solid performer, able to power both IEMs and most full sized headphones. It does have its issues, but they do not detract from what is a pretty good feature set for the price.

CAYIN i5 – SUMMARY

My thanks to Cayin (especially Andy) for allowing me time with the i5. I've really enjoyed getting to know this DAP, and spending a lot more time with it (at the end of the tour) has allowed me insights I don't think I would have had if I'd been trying to write a review over 7-10 days.

The Cayin i5 is a very well presented DAP with excellent build and some really good hardware design features (especially the volume wheel), and just a few minor (IMO) design fails (limited RAM, and at the limit of upgrade life). It feels great in the hand, has good implementation of both Bluetooth and Wireless, and the touchscreen seems quite responsive when in the Hiby app. Power output is more than sufficient for IEMs and portable devices, and also for higher impedance headphones such as my HD600 and HD800S.

In terms of UI and features, the Cayin i5 has many of the features of most modern DAPs, but is limited by both the RAM (apps outside the Cayin default app can be laggy), and is missing functionality like replay-gain. The UI is easy to follow and relatively stable, although like most Android devices I've seen, has its good days and bad. For my personal use, I've had the occasional crash – but overall the fw has been relatively stable (YMMV depending on usage). Probably the one major annoyance I have is the lack of a sleep mode (when not playing). The number of times I've gone to use it and had a battery warning of less than 5% has been frustrating. This is one DAP you want to turn off completely between uses.

Sonically (and this is subjective) the Cayin i5 has a rich and smooth tonality which I know many will call “warmish”. It has no issues with resolution or clarity, and I personally really like the overall signature from the AK4490 DAC. So far it has ticked many of my personal boxes in what I look for in a DAP, and at the price of $400 I personally find that in terms of tonality, features, usability and performance – it is up there in terms of overall value.

I've tried to apply a more objective measurement table (rough attempt below) which I will try to refine over time. Using this new measurement, the Cayin i5 get a pretty sold 7/10 from me. Possible immediate improvements would include better case, more ram, better battery management, fully working features like reply-gain and gapless, and more internal and external storage.

Again – thanks to Cayin and Andy for providing me with the i5 for review. I'll be genuinely sad to see it go.


Scoring Chart
DAPCayin i5 (out of 10)
My ScoreOut Of WeightingWeighted Score
Accessories7105.00%0.35
Build9105.00%0.45
Design7105.00%0.35
UI (Default)71015.00%1.05
Output Power61010.00%0.90
Storage (Int & Ext)71010.00%0.60
Sound Quality81015.00%1.20
Battery Performance6105.00%0.30
Other Features
Replay Gain0102.50%0.00
Equaliser8105.00%0.40
Supported Formats10102.50%0.25
Gapless6105.00%0.30
Connectivity8102.50%0.20
3rd Party Apps4102.50%0.10
Value81010.00%0.8
TOTALS103150100.00%7.250

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daduy

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Good sound and build quality, Allow streaming service such as google play music, can be used as USB DAC out of computer, built in 32gig storage.
Cons: Bit bulky and heavy, performance is a bit slow and sluggish
Disclaimer
 
I got this unit as part of New Zealand tour arranged by @Brooko & @Andykong, thank you very much for including me in this tour :)
 
Introduction
 
I am just another music fans in this world, I love listening to music, and that made me stumble into head-fi around 10 years ago when looking for the best way to listen to my music. I am not in anyway an audiophile, heck not even close, so please forgive any lack of details in my review. Most importantly this is my personal impression on the unit, most likely i heard things differently than you, my ears, my preferences, my brain :)
 
I've listened to Cayin i5 for about 2 weeks when travelling to/from office and in the office as well.
 
Music preferences
 
My music preferences is mostly instrumental, whether it's Classical, Jazz, Celtic, New Age, etc. I also enjoy music with vocal on them, but my playlist is mostly instrumental. I would say around 80/20 mix.
 
Example of the music I listen (not limited to):
- Acoustic Alchemy
- Tony McManus, Soig Siberil
- Hawaiian Slack Key guitars
- Fusion Jazz (Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Fourplay, Special EFX, you get the idea)
- Akira Jimbo, Tetsuo Sakurai, Casiopea
- Incognito
- Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi, Musica Antiqua Koln, Rolf Lislevand
- Yoko Kanno
- Madonna
 
Sound signature preference
 
Hmm...not sure what my pref is, I enjoy Fostex TH-600 very much, It's one of the best headphone I've heard, so that make me a fan of U or V shaped sound signature.
 
Having said that I also enjoy ZMF Blackwood which have mid-centric sound sig compare to the TH-600, so I guess I am flexible :)
 
My typical listening gear is: Asus Xonar STU -> Parasound Zamp v.3 -> ZMF Blackwood
 
When travelling I usually use MEE P1 straight out of DAP/Phone.
 
Build Quality
 
The Cayin i5 is CNC'ed from aerospace aluminum alloy and I can confirm they feel solid in your hand.
 
It is an Android based music player, and it got 4" touch screen, so imagine holding 4" smartphone in your hand, however I find them to be a bit thick, maybe double the thickness of my LG V10 phone. They both also shared very similar weight.
 
Interface
 
Cayin work together with Hiby to create a quite simple and easy to use interface to access your music. I am not going to focus too much on this section, if you're familiar with operating your smartphone I doubt you will have issue with using the built in music player.
 
Since the i5 is built on Android, and they were pre-installed with google play, you can in theory install your favorite music player if the built-in program doesn't suit you. I am happy to report that google play music is working fine out of the box and that's a big plus for me as I use them heavily to stream my music.
 
Unfortunately I can't help to notice that performance when using google music player is a bit slow/sluggish compare to the built-in music player. I suppose this is understandable as i5 only packed 1gig of RAM and not exactly running the latest snapdragon processor. Just bear in mind that they were optimized for the built-in music player and don't expect to play angry bird on them (maybe you can, I didn't try :)
 
As a DAP, the i5 has another handy feature up it's sleeve, you can use it as a DAC! I tried this using my linux computer and it work without any issue.
 
So you pretty much have a DAP that probably can do all the thing that you asked for, feature wise it's hard to beat the i5.
 
Sound Quality
 
Ok the most important part for me, sound quality, so how do they sound? I would say they sound neutral, balanced and transparent. The i5 keep a good balance between being detailed and musical at the same time, they are not too laid back and not too forward as well.
 
The i5 is powerful enough to make my ZMF Blackwood sings, and they can go very loud, however I find that the amp is not as powerful and dynamic compare to desktop amp, in my case I tried using the line out from i5 to parasound zamp and can't help to hear more dynamic and life from the blackwood.
 
Comparison
 
Comparison mostly done using ZMF Blackwood and focused on sound quality
 
i5 vs LG V10
 
The LG V10 is no slacker in the sound department, carrying a ES9018 DAC, and to my surprise they both sounds very similar if not exactly the same. Ok I suppose it's impossible for them to sound the same, however the differences is very subtle that I am not sure if It's an actual difference or just my imagination. Bottom line from what I can hear, they have similar sound signature and quality to them, which make the LG V10 a good alternative for i5. Having said that, i5 offer more features and can handle DSD natively.
 
Hifiman Supermini vs Cayin i5
 
Similar experience with V10 here, i5 and supermini share similar sound signature, however the Supermini managed to deliver a slightly more airy, refined, extended treble and deeper bass compare to i5. However i5 got some nice EQ and obviously far more features than the Supermini. I suppose they are quite different product and it's not an apple to apple comparison.
 
Summary
 
In a way, Cayin i5 is a remarkable device, they sound good, and probably have all the features you need in a DAP, heck you can even use it as a DAC, so in theory if you are a big fan of their sound signature you don't need anything else. It will serve as your portable DAP, desktop DAC, amp, everything!
 
Unfortunately nothing is perfect, and I have two small problem with them:
1. They are bit bulky and heavy
2. It's not better than my LG V10 (sound wise, but can go louder that V10)
 
I still see i5 mainly as a DAP, so the problem above become a bit of issue for me, I don't want to carry 2 big devices, and if I can't hear any difference with my existing phone, why would I need them?
 
While it's not for me, I am sure other people will find them great and I won't argue that they are a great DAP packed with good features.
 

twister6

twister6 Reviews
Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: neutral musical tonality, decent output power to drive many headphones, streaming support, gorgeous design (that volume wheel), battery life.
Cons: hissing with sensitive iems, single microSD, interface could be smoother.

The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.  The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with all my readers on Head-fi.
 
Manufacturer website:  Cayin, for sale on MusicTeck and Amazon.
 
*click on images to expand

 
Intro.
 
I used to consider saturation of DAP market as a good thing.  After all, competition should benefit consumers and challenge manufacturers to introduce more innovations to stand out from the crowd.  But too much “saturation” can have a negative effect.  Today, DAP market resembles smartphones, and even worse.  Seems that every few months there is yet another release, and the focus shifted from improving audio quality to adding more features, resulting in compromises.  I'm sure many manufacturers feel frustrated too, but I think it affects even more the consumers who spend months researching and comparing, ready to pull the trigger, and then something new is announced and you are back to square one.
 
I was excited last year when Cayin announced their upcoming i5 DAP, and appreciated their honestly when the release was delayed to fix wifi interference problem.  Having tested and reviewed C5, N6, and N5 in the past, I always held Cayin in high regard and found them to have solid releases with unique design and great sound quality.  As a matter of fact, ever since I received i5, about 4+ months ago, I have featured it in most of my headphones and DAP reviews as a source and for comparison.  Unfortunately, while waiting for more fw updates and under a flood of other review samples (and a few things in my personal life, as many have probably noticed I slowed down with reviews), I never got to write a full i5 review and now deeply regret it.  There are no excuses, though this is not going to be my usual long review, but rather a shorter version (by my standards, since it has a limited comparison and pair-up).  I felt like going back to review i5 helped me rediscover this DAP (and its standing among other mid-fi performers) and it deserves another ray of spotlight, so here we go!
 
Unboxing & Accessories.
 
Like their previous products, the packaging is not too flashy but still has a very informative presentation with a bold image of i5 on the front (focusing on that unique volume wheel) and the list of key features/devices on the back to give you a quick design overview.
 
cayin_i5-22.jpg cayin_i5-23.jpg
cayin_i5-24.jpg cayin_i5-25.jpg
cayin_i5-26.jpg cayin_i5-27.jpg
 
Accessories include USB-C to USB data/charging cable (yes, i5 broke the mold and moved to USB-C), the micro-usb to USB-C adapter (to be able to utilize all your current micro-USB cables at home), screen protectors for the front and the back, and the user guide with a warranty card.  I also received their original leather case (probably pleather) that offers a basic scratch protection, though after a while it felt a bit loose so I had to mod it with a few sticky notes under the cover on the back to "fix" that.
 
Later, Cayin released two optional accessories, a high-quality USB-C to Coax cable (a beautifully crafted premium cable with a braided clothe sleeve, high quality branded connectors, and a cool storage gift box).  They also made available another more premium leather/pleather case; this one had a tighter fit (no more accidental nip-slip out of the case), a higher quality better touch material, and a distinct red stitching finish.
 
Perhaps the new case is not of the same caliber as $60 Dignis, but for $25 it’s an excellent solution to protect your i5 from scratches and to enhance the grip when you are on the go.
 
New case in comparison to the original one:
 
cayin_i5_case-01.jpg cayin_i5_case-02.jpg
cayin_i5_case-03.jpg cayin_i5_case-04.jpg
cayin_i5_case-05.jpg cayin_i5_case-06.jpg
cayin_i5_case-07.jpg cayin_i5_case-08.jpg
cayin_i5_case-09.jpg cayin_i5_case-10.jpg
cayin_i5_case-11.jpg cayin_i5_case-12.jpg
cayin_i5_case-13.jpg
 
USB-C to Coax cable (optional):
 
cayin_i5_coax-01.jpg cayin_i5_coax-02.jpg
cayin_i5_coax-03.jpg cayin_i5_coax-04.jpg
cayin_i5_coax-05.jpg cayin_i5_coax-06.jpg
cayin_i5_coax-07.jpg cayin_i5_coax-08.jpg
cayin_i5_coax-09.jpg cayin_i5_coax-10.jpg
 
Design.
 
Some Android based DAPs with a large touch screen fall into a trap of looking too smartphone-generic.  Thus, different manufacturers are trying to spice up the design with beveled or non-symmetric edges or the addition of analog volume control wheel.  Cayin decided to stand out from the crowd with its own unique wheel design in the upper right corner of the unit.  The wheel feels very solid and has enough friction where you will need two fingers to turn it, the only time when I feel like I need to use two hands for operation.  It’s not super tight, but just enough resistance so you don’t accidentally bump the volume when i5 is in your pocket.
 
The metal frame of the DAP is CNC machined from aerospace aluminum alloy, with a front of i5 covered by a glass with a touch screen display (3.97”), including “home” touch button at the bottom, and the back having a traditional Cayin carbon fiber plate.  The unit itself has dimensions of about 126x64x14mm with approximately 196g in weight – feels very solid and comfortable in your hand with a bit of heft, but I still prefer to keep it inside the case since metal frame and carbon fiber back can get slippery.
 
The sides of i5 are elegantly carved with sexy lines where you can find on the left in the upper corner a power button, and on the right in the upper corner transport buttons (separate skip next/prev next to each other and next to them a play/pause).  On the right at the bottom you will find micro-SD card slot (listed as “up to 200GB” but should be supporting 256GB since it was introduced later).  The bottom of the DAP has USB-C port to charge, transfer data, connect coax cable, and for usb-OTG storage connection (still looking for a small usb-c otg thumb drive).
 
Keeping up with a cylindrical design of the volume pot in the upper right corner, the top of i5 follows the same rounded edge shape which blends in with a volume wheel.  At the top, you will also find 3.5mm headphone jack.  Unlike N5, i5 offers only single ended headphone port.  Next to it is the Line Out output to bring out output of its AK4490 DAC to external amp connection.  I gotta admit, with a symmetric positioning of identically looking 3.5mm jacks, I had to pay careful attention not to plug in headphones into LO.  Perhaps, a little port dust plug is a good solution in this situation.
 
Other key hardware design features under the hood, in addition to AK4490 DAC carried over from N5 design, are 32GB of internal flash memory, 1GB of RAM, quad-core Cortex A7 processor, 4800 mAh battery (giving around 10hrs of playback time), and support of Bluetooth and WiFi under Android 4.4 OS (optimized by Hiby who collaborated with Cayin on this design).  With a selection of quality op-amps and buffers, i5 is designed to drive about 190mW of power per channel with 32ohm load - plenty of power even for some demanding headphones (no issues driving my planar magnetic PM3, EL8C, or 470 ohm R70x).  While <1ohm output impedance is a good news for multi-BA IEMs, but keep in mind that hissing will be noticeable with sensitive IEMs.
 
cayin_i5-01.jpg cayin_i5-02.jpg
cayin_i5-03.jpg cayin_i5-04.jpg
cayin_i5-05.jpg cayin_i5-06.jpg
cayin_i5-07.jpg cayin_i5-08.jpg
cayin_i5-09.jpg
 
GUI.
 
Unlike some other Android based DAPs with audio app running on top of a regular Android OS, here Cayin along with Hiby took a different approach with "Android" being on top of the audio app.  Once you boot up i5, it looks like a typical DAP with a dedicated audio interface.  You are greeted with a main music page Folder view with options to access internal memory, micro-SD card, and "Cloud" with either Dropbox or LAN connections.  You can also switch to Album, Artist, Genre, and Tracks view.  Or click on List view to see your Favorites, Frequently Played, Recently Played, and Playlist.  There is also an option to do a full search which brings up QERTY android keyboard (just like in a smartphone).
 
Swiping notification bar down (typical Android feature), you get a quick access to WiFi, Bluetooth, Gain setting, USB Mode (keep in mind, i5 can operate as USB DAC too), Idle shutdown, and Scheduled power off.  Here, you can also adjust the brightness level of the screen and the screen time out, as well as being able to access the full Android Settings menu by clicking on the upper right corner Icon.  People with Android phones will feel here just like at home, iOS users will need to spend a little bit of time getting used to it.
 
Swiping the main screen to the right, reveals more Setting options for Music scan (scan all or the specified folder), Equalizer (10band paragraphic EQ with 31/62/125/250/500/1k/2k/4k/8k/16k bands and a few genre-specific presets), Sleep Time, and more expanded Music Setting with gain, digital filter, DSD gain compensation, SPDIF Out, Play through folder, Start up and max volume, channel balance, breakpoint resume, gapless, album art, and lyrics display.
 
So, where are the Android apps?!?  You will find it in a secluded section under Third-Party applications which opens a new screen with installed apps, including Google Play store.  For a better management of the memory (only 1GB of available RAM after all), Advanced Task Killer is already pre-installed and built into the bottom of the screen for a fast access.  I have installed a small handful of apps, such as Spotify and a few games.  Everything seems to be working as expected, though I do want to note that download is on a slow side (especially when you downloading OTA fw updates).  I have free Spotify and found no issues with streaming.  Cayin already mentioned about a known issue with Tidal streaming which is not entirely under their control, and now waiting for a final resolution.
 
Unfortunately, that is a problem with Android support.  Now, your users are tapping into the 3rd party apps which can slow down or crash Android OS, something which is not under control of Cayin.  Thus, it becomes a double edge sword.  Customers are asking for streaming, so manufacturer builds their OS on Android platform.  But that also opens a can of worms with people installing various apps which are not under control of the manufacturer (Cayin).  When something doesn't work, people blame the manufacturer who has nothing to do with this since they are not developers of the app.
 
The only thing they are in control of is the main DAP interface and the Playback screen which has been designed with a collaboration of Hiby, a company which has a lot of experience in audio apps and writing audio drivers to bypass Android SRC (sample rate conversion where OS down-samples audio files as a common denominator to all other apps accessing the audio).  The main Playback screen has a very clear layout with upper top half of the screen occupied by a song artwork (if one is available) which could be switched to lyrics view (if embedded with a song) or a very elegant Stereo VU Meter.  Underneath you have selection of different loop modes (single, repeat, random, etc.), shortcut to access EQ, view the list of songs in a current playback folder, and being able to add to favorites. 
 
Below is a display of a song/artist name and playback controls with Skip Next/Prev on the sides a Play/Pause in the middle of a circle with a playback time marker.  Interestingly, to scrub through the track, so you can fast forward to a specific time in the song, you must touch and glide your finger around the circle edge.  It's a neat graphic feature, but also a bit awkward since as you moving the finger you partially blocking the circle where the time marker is located.  I wish there would have been an alternative layout to have a straight fast forward scrub bar.  Also, as a general comment, the touch interface is not super responsive, and I sense a bit of a lag.
 
cayin_i5-12.jpg cayin_i5-10.jpg
cayin_i5-13.jpg cayin_i5-11.jpg
 
Sound analysis.
 
If you look at the design architecture of i5, it’s clear that Cayin didn’t intend it to be too far off the non-Android N5 version.  The way I see it, the intent of i5 design was to give N5 streaming capability by converting it to Android-based DAP.  In this conversion process, i5 lost second micro-SD card and balanced output, but gained touch screen interface, WiFi and BT, and of course that gorgeous volume wheel.  I also believe there was a different opamp introduced in the design, which slightly affected the tonality and extension at the top end, but overall we are still dealing with a very balanced sound that oozes with natural, musical, neutral tonality, slightly titled toward the warmer side.  If you are familiar with N5, don’t expect drastic changes, and I will go over them in my Comparison section where I will look at Cayin family of N5, N6, and i5.
 
I know everybody has a different reference points when trying to describe sound signature of a DAP.  It’s not an easy task because headphones own sound signature plays a big role in this equation.  I went through many different IEMs and full size cans, covering different sound signatures, and arrived to one common conclusion.  The neutral, natural tonality of i5 pairs up great with most of them.  The only pair up I wasn’t happy about was with sensitive IEMs (like Zeus) where I find hissing to be a bit distracting.  I hope in their next N-series design, Cayin can find a better compromise in terms of background hiss level.  With i-series, they got too much other mainstream consumer stuff on their plate, but audiophile focused N-series would benefit greatly if the hissing with sensitive IEMs is reduced.
 
cayin_i5-21.jpg
 
Of course, using external portable amp can solve this problem, or you can just turn i5 into a digital transport and drive your external DAC/amp.  The pair up with Micro iDSD was fantastic, very transparent clean sound which I enjoyed with all my IEMs and full size cans, and thanks to built-in IEMatch, I don’t have to worry about hissing.
 
Also, don’t forget that you have Bluetooth Wireless support which only depends on wireless encoding of the audio and the quality of your headphones decoding circuit.  Though aptX is not supported, lately I have noticed that many higher end wireless headphones use their own DSP sound enhancement where sometimes it’s hard to even tell a difference between aptX and non-aptX.  This difference is more audible with cheaper wireless headphones that use lower grade chipsets that limit bandwidth.
 
cayin_i5_coax-11.jpg cayin_i5_coax-12.jpg
 
Comparison.
 
When I was reviewing N5, many people wanted to know how it compares to their flagship N6.  Obviously, with introduction of i5, people are curious how it compares to its N5 sibling and if it’s considered to be an upgrade or side grade.  I will cover below sound comparison of i5 to N5 and N6.  As far as i5 vs N5 goes, in my opinion it’s a side-grade where you need to figure out if you want streaming and Bluetooth support and OK with less storage, or if you want more storage (dual microSD) and balanced HO port.  In more details:
 
i5 vs N5 – both have a very similar sound signature and tonality, resolution and transparency, including layering of the sound and soundstage expansion.  The only noticeable difference is that i5 sounds a bit smoother at the top end.  We are not talking about warmer or less resolving sound but I have tested these with a few sibilant test tracks which sound more pronounced on N5 but have smoother upper peaks on i5.  Also, I prefer touch screen interface controls over mechanical wheel in this case.
 
i5 vs N6 – this comparison is very similar to how I heard N5 vs N6, where N6 has a brighter tonality with a more revealing sound which gets closer to analytical retrieval of details.  N6 sound also has more transparency and airiness, while i5 sound is smoother, a little warmer, and with more body in comparison.  At the same time, I hear i5 to have a wider soundstage than N6.  Both DAPs have a resolving sound, just a difference in tonality and transparency.  Also, despite flagship status, N6 is starting to feel a bit outdated, and in need of a refresh.
 
cayin_i5-14.jpg cayin_i5-15.jpg
 
Next comparison could be perceived as a bit “controversial”.  With a recent introduction of FiiO’s X5 3rd gen, not sure if it's still a collaboration with Hiby, many people turned to a new shiny toy, forgetting about their lost “hero”.  Both are great DAPs with their own strengths and weaknesses, and targeted at the same consumer audience who want a compact design with a decent audio quality and streaming capability.  So, let’s take a closer look.
 
i5 vs X5iii – in comparison, i5 has a little wider soundstage, while the staging depth is the same in both.  The bass in i5 is more layered with a better articulation, while X5iii bass sounds a little more one dimensional in comparison.  Both have a very similar bass extension and impact.  Upper mids in i5 are a little brighter and more revealing, including treble having more sparkle and airiness, while X5iii is a little smoother and more organic, including a little smoother treble.  I think that’s one of the biggest differences between these two DAPs, where i5 has an edge in sound quality due to a better upper end extension and more airiness which expands the dynamics of the sound, while X5iii sounds a little flatter in comparison.
 
My testing was done comparing Single Ended 3.5mm outputs, volume matched, between these DAPs.  When comparing i5 to X5iii BAL HO, I hear an improvement in sound where X5iii is a little more dynamic now, but still doesn't reach i5 level.  Also, both have a very noticeable hissing with sensitive IEMs (like Zeus), though i5 is a little stronger and with a higher pitch sound.
 
When it comes to a design, i5 has a more premium solid look, but X5iii has a more practical and a more comfortable one handed operation since playback controls and volume wheel are on the same side and the volume wheel is a lot easier to turn.  Also, despite having the same 32GB of internal storage, X5iii has two microSD slots.
 
In terms of GUI design and interface, X5iii offers a more smartphone-like experience which is smoother when dealing with Google Play store and apps, while in case of i5 the Android apps feel like a hidden add-on.  That’s one of the biggest differences, where X5iii feels like Android OS with FiiO music app on top of it, while i5 feels more like an audio DAP with a limited Android access to allow apps on top of it.  It's a very different experience that could attract different users.  If you are into audio streaming and apps and need more storage, X5iii will suite your needs better.  If you just want access to streaming apps and your focus is on better audio quality, i5 has a definitive edge here.  Keep in mind, i5 has a single AK4490 DAC while X5iii has two AK4490 DACs, and it's a good example that more DACs doesn't mean a better sound quality.
 
cayin_i5-16.jpg cayin_i5-17.jpg
cayin_i5-18.jpg cayin_i5-19.jpg
 
Conclusion.
 
With headphones, they stay longer in demand, and some even become classics.  Once you put headphones on your consideration list, you can revisit it 6-12 months later and still find it relevant.  With DAPs, especially Android-based, the momentum is right before the releases and maybe 2-3 months afterwards, until something new is announced for release.  There is too much progress in a field of DAC chips, storage options, Android releases, different flavors of hw controls, and updates in various standards (like Bluetooth).  Plus, when you are dealing with app support, your hardware and OS version can become obsolete and not-supported in a short future.  It’s a risk for a manufacturer when they step out of audiophile-centered design with a better longevity, and step into a more mainstream consumer design where you must keep up with the latest trends that change every 4-6 months.
 
Personally, I don’t use streaming as much, but do recognize it has a huge selling factor for many consumers.  I do appreciate Cayin’s approach to bring audio player functionality to the front, and Android app support to the background which suites my needs, but maybe not others.  It was their first attempt to test Android waters, and I hope it won’t be their last.  As a matter of fact, I hope for the touch screen interface to appear in their N-series flagship release, because mechanical and button scroll controls feel rather outdated today.  Regarding i5, I still think it’s relevant despite other competitive releases, and perhaps with future updates Cayin team can optimize it further to make operation smoother since it still has some lag.  In terms of audio, it sounds as good as their N5 mid-fi DAP, and you have plenty of power and a great pair up synergy with a wide range of IEMs and full size headphones.  Maybe, it’s not a new kid on the block, but Cayin i5 is still a relevant choice when you are looking for a great sounding DAP with a bold solid design and support for WiFi streaming and wireless Bluetooth, all under $500.
Hawaiibadboy
Hawaiibadboy
I think the i5 is claustrophobic compared to X5iii. I also think the X5iii is better than the double the cost DX200. Using Pink Floyd - DSotM and Sony EX1000 IEM. We disagree completely about everything but like you said, if everybody liked the same thing this site would be boring and 1 company would rule them all. That definitely would not be good. Monopoly is a fun boardgame but it isn't good for the consumer market.
BartSimpson1976
BartSimpson1976
which FW was installed at time of review? The hissing has been significantly reduced since FW 2.0. Still hoping that some FW quirks could be ironed out with next FW since 2.0 was focussing mainly on USB DAC function and FW 2.2 rook care of USB audio out. So now they concentrate on the sorting issue, the tag reading and some other smaller issues.
twister6
twister6
@BartSimpson1976 fw2.0
 
@Hawaiibadboy : yep, I agree, x5iii will have a more straight forward Android interface, while i5 focus is far from that typical Android interface (completely customized).  Oh, and I'm glad at least we agree on something :wink:  HF is enjoyable because everybody brings something unique to the table, and it's more fun when we can discuss it in civilized way, even agreeing to disagree!!!  Cheers mate!!!

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