Cayin i5

Rating:
3.95/5,
Tags:
  1. miceblue
    A Terrific Portable Media Player Package!
    Written by miceblue
    Published Jan 13, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Physical media controls, overall graphic user interface, smooth sound, easy-to-use, power output
    Cons - Heavy, asynchronous USB buffer, carbon fibre aesthetics (though it might just be me)
    Here are my impressions of the i5 [copied from my original post here].










    Disclaimer: I was a participant of one of the product tours for the i5, as arranged by Andykong, so a big thank you needs to be given to him for letting me join the listening tour!

    Just as the same with Cayin's iDAC-6, the i5 seems to be a top-notch product in my opinion, and I would easily recommend it to those looking for a sub-$1000 portable media player.


    Product Score Summary:
    Value: 4.5/5
    Audio Quality: 4/5
    Design: 4/5
    Battery Life: 4.5/5
    User Interface: 5/5
    Overall: 4.4/5




    [rule]
    5/5 rating

    I wanted to start off with the user interface. To me personally, the user interface of a portable media player is the #1 priority, so it is impeccable that such a device has a really usable interface both in graphical user interface and hardware.

    BAM! Enter the i5!
    No, the user interface is not perfect, but it's really darn good, and I'd consider it perfect compared to other products I've tried. Despite it running an older version of Android, it runs smoothly on the i5's hardware, which isn't a trivial detail considering other media players out there.


    Navigation is simple and intuitive in the graphical user interface. The only problem I ran across was connecting to a local WiFi network and not being able to use the Dropbox feature (it said the link was invalid).

    Using Android's quick settings by dragging your finger from the top of the screen, you have access to many useful settings, including screen brightness, WiFi, Gain, USB DAC mode, etc.. One thing I might suggest in a future firmware version is to include an option to toggle the filters of the i5 (of which there are 5), or if not filters, the general audio settings (perhaps a "More Settings" button can be added to the currently available gain options menu).

    Even the Now Playing screen is well laid out. Instead of a traditional straight-line timeline seeker for the current audio track, the timeline seeker is in a circular fashion right outside of the play/pause button. I've never seen the seeker laid out like this before, but it's easily accessible with 1-hand controls, and as a person with small hands, that is always appreciated. The playlist playback mode is controlled with an on-screen scrolling mechanism, so you don't need to keep pressing the button to change the mode if you accidentally skip past it.

    The software's volume control is also really convenient if you need to adjust the volume quickly. Just turn the physical volume knob, and adjust the volume on the screen by sliding your finger up/down.


    Speaking of the physical controls though, the i5 only has 4 buttons, and it's the only 4 buttons you'll need: FF/RW/Play-Pause/Power. Simple, easy-to-locate, have nice tactile feedback. The volume knob has a lot of resistance (while still being silky smooth in terms of operation), so it won't turn easily in your pocket unless you have tight-fitting clothing and you slide the i5 in one of those pockets.


    As an aside, although I don't think it matters much, but when I used the i5 as a USB DAC, even if I was playing 16/44.1 CD-quality files, the i5 would show 24-bits on the display.




    [rule]
    4/5 Rating [Design]
    4.5/5 Rating [Battery Life]


    ^ When the i5's screen turns off, it has this kind of retro TV shut down animation. Small things like this in the i5's graphical user interface make it noteworthy, in a good way, since nothing appears to be stock Android in the software and it makes for a unique experience for the user.


    The only really big gripe I have for the i5 is its weight. This thing is like a brick both in terms of its size and its mass. The size I don't mind too much as it fits in my pocket just fine, but the weight does feel odd. In your hand, I found the i5 to be a bit top-heavy, presumably because of the volume knob(?).

    Although I give a thumbs up to the direction of using USB C for devices, it hasn't quite been widely adopted yet, so if you lose the included USB C cable, you're likely stuck having to buy another cable. One thing I don't like about the USB DAC implementation is the asynchronous USB buffer: it seems to delay audio by 0.5-1 second when playing a regular video or audio stream, which means this device also isn't completely ideal if you're working on something that requires precise audio timing such as editing audio and/or video.

    Outside of these things, the i5 feels really rock-solid in terms of build. As mentioned before, the physical media buttons are easy to access and the volume knob's resistance makes it nice to prevent large accidental volume changes when in a pocket.

    Although this is just my opinion, I think the carbon fiber (and carbon fiber on consumer electronics in general) on the back looks a bit tacky. A pure black backing would have looked a lot nicer to me, like the Questyle QP1R (simple and sleek).


    In terms of the battery life, I never did a complete battery drain. I did manage to get around 5 hours of playback during one listening session and there was about 60% battery left before I started to charge it, so the rated 11 hours of playback seems reasonable to extrapolate, which is very reasonable.

    While I had the i5 in my pocket, the device did not become super warm when playing PCM, which is good to see. I've encountered a few portable media players that get uncomfortably warm in my pocket.




    [rule]
    Throughout the duration of my time with the i5, I spent the majority of it using it as a portable media player walking around the neighborhood or city with the Etymotic ER4-SR or OPPO PM-3. I did use it at home as a USB DAC for my STAX SRS-2170, and as a USB DAC/amp for my AKG K701 just to test out though. My favorite pairing was with, by far, the ER4-SR.

    I honestly couldn't really hear much of a difference at all between all of the available 5 digital filters that the i5 has to offer, but I did settle on the short delay sharp roll-off (this might be a minimum phase digital filter). Ironically, I settled on the same filter for my iDAC-6 review, so there's that going for it.

    I'll keep this section short and to-the-point. I've generally liked the sound of DACs featuring AKM DAC chips and the i5 is no exception. The i5 as a whole has an overall warm sound signature to it (warm upper-bass/lower-midrange, and a smooth but soft treble), which makes it ideal to be paired with brighter headphones and used for mobile listening. It has both a musical characteristic due to its warmth, but still manages to be resolving and high-fidelity.

    In terms of presentation, I thought the i5 sounded a bit congested in soundstage, but it has good instrument separation and imaging.


    Really, I couldn't pick out a specific thing that the i5 did well or bad in terms of sound. I was able to just enjoy the music without having to worry about the sound quality, which is not something that I come across very often in this industry. When using the i5 as a USB DAC, the richness and hint of warmth from the i5 made the ER4-SR sound a bit more like the ER4-XR to me, adding just a bit of that musical enjoyment to the lower frequencies of my music.

    At low-gain, 10/100 volume, the i5 had plenty of power to adequately power the ER4-SR, and no background hiss, so I don't think power is something to worry about for 99% of the people out there.




    [rule]
    4.5/5 Rating

    As a whole, I think the i5 is a near-perfect device for a portable media player. It manages to do well in many of the criteria I demand out of a media player that I would use for mobile listening sessions. Minus the weight of the i5, I really cannot think of a sub $1000 portable media player that I would recommend as a whole for the criteria above, and that is a huge accomplishment of the i5 I think. Both the sound quality and the user interface are among the best I've encountered in a portable media device, and having that all packed into one unit makes it a bargain for the MSRP.
      tomscy2000, peter123, Vartan and 3 others like this.
  2. emptymt
    Dynamically Warm and Musical
    Written by emptymt
    Published Jan 7, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Dynamic punchy bass, Smooth Sweet froward mids, Smooth treble, overall clarity, battery life, features, build, value
    Cons - 1 microSD slot, treble could be a bit too laid back on some tracks, not for bassy IEMs
    Hi everyone, Before I start the review, I would like to thank Cayin for making this awesome DAP at an affordable price, and also to @Andykong for organizing the tour.
    This review will focus on the sound quality and not so much about other aspects, so I'll make the other sections as brief as possible.
     
    INTRODUCTION
    I'm an Indonesian working as a Web Developer in Melbourne, Australia.
    Other than programming/coding, listening to music is another one of my hobby.
    When I start my headphone hobby, music listening has been a very rewarding experience for me and has helped me in many aspects of life other than music enjoyment, although, with the booming price of high end headphones/IEM, etc at the moment, it has become a bit of a heavy hit on my wallet >_<.
    Starting from almost 2 years ago I've been really hooked in metal music, and nowadays my everyday music listening always incorporate metal tracks, I guess you can call me a Metalhead but I don't know about that, I also listen to other genres occasionally.

    I don't actually listen to all kinds of music, lets say for example Classical, therefore it is important to understand that this review is based on my observation on the kinds of musics I like, and those are mainly:
    - Metal (many kinds, mainly the extreme kind, everyday anytime anywhere)
    - Rock (mostly Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Radiohead or something like it)
    - Pop (90s stuff, rarely)
    - EDM (Mostly trance and it's sub-genres)
    - Jazz (Norah Jones, Diana Krall and the likes)
    - Indonesian Song (it's basically the Indonesian version of pop or rock, guitar is used all the time, sounds natural and relaxing, however, mastering of the song is not very good, this is good to test how good a headphone/Iem handle poorly recorded material)
    - KPOP
    - JPOP and JROCK/Visual Kei, whatever you call it (mostly the older stuff)
     
    I used the Cayin I5 for about a week not including transit times everyday at work and at home on weekend, I will also make some comparisons to my Ak Jr DAP.
     
    EQUIPMENT USED FOR REVIEW/COMPARISON WITH THE DAP
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    - Shozy Stardust
    - Meze 99 Classic
    - MrSpeakers Ether Flow
    - Campfire Audio Vega (1 day only, lol not enough time)
    - Cavalli Liquid Carbon (Cayin I5 as DAC)
    - AK Jr
    - Chord Mojo
     
    PACKAGING
    the box is black with white cover with the picture of the player itself, opening the box you are greated with the player nicely guarded with thick foam at the top and the accessories at the bottom.
     
    ACCESSORIES
    my unit come with screen protectors, one with information in it explaing the buttons on the player, very nice touch here.
    USB c to usb cable
    micro usb to usb c adaptor
    Thick brown leather case
    Coaxial cable
     
    The Cayin I5
    The Build Quality is very nice, nice paint colouring for the unit with sturdy construction.
    It is a little thick, but it has excellent battery life, so i won't complain about this.
    Nice screen with good brightness to be used outdoor very easily.
     
     
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    It has carbon fibre back which is the signature of Cayin products, I personally like this since it looks premium on the device in my opinion.
     
     
    IMG_0815.jpg
    At the top of the unit you will find a volume wheel at the top right, with very good resistance to prevent un-intentional change while in your pocket. Other than that we have a 3.5mm headphine jack and line out jack.
     
     
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    At the bottom is the USB C port for charging and data transfer duties.
     
     
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    On the right, You will find 1 Micro Sd slot, play/pause button, previous and next button.
     
     
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    On the left is the power button.
    All buttons in the unit has good tactile feel and does not feel flimsy at all.
    The player itself is very responsive to touch, easy to use with snappy operations.
     
    UI & FEATURES
    At the home screen, you will find User, music, playlist(list) and search button at the top and just underneath that your navigation mode.
    There are 5 Navigation modes available:
    - Folder
    - Artist
    - Album
    - Genre
    - Tracks
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    For Artist, Album, Genre, Tracks to work, you need to scan your library first.
    I'm a big fan of Folder navigation since I like to group all my musics in folders based on my preference, so It is very good that Cayin has included this feature.
    You can then access you on-board memory or to your sdcard to play your music, there are also Dropbox, Lan and USB flash drive features however I don't usse them at all so I can't comment on their functionality.
     
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    If you swipe to the right, you have quick access to your user menu wherever you are in the player, in there you have:
    - Third party app (Thanks to android, you install your own in it)
    - Music Scan
    - Equalizer (not a fan but usefull)
    - Sleep Time (usefull to save battery life)
    - Music Setting (to set gain, filter, SPDIF out mode, gapless playback, etc)
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    - About
     
     
    Sound Quality
    The Signatures
    The Cayin I5 has a warm musical signature with smooth highs and forward mids. 
    It works very well with modern music and my favourite genre (Metal), The bass although quite a bit north of neutral never intrude the mids at all.
    The treble is laid back and smooth, sometimes too laid back in some tracks but it is fine most of the time and provides a fatigue-free listening experience.
     
    The Bass
    The Bass is big and hits hard with excellent dynamics, extension is very good but it is not the tightest bass I've heard, it has a little bloom in it but this bloom actually works very well and the bass sounds grand and satisfying to the ears.
    Despite being a little thick due to the very slight bloom, speed is maintained and has distinction between each drum hits.
    This is demonstrated very well in many Death Metal tracks especially in Brutal/Technical Death metal, double blast beat hits strong and fast with excellent rumble and distinction on each hits.
    On EDM tracks, the bass extension down to the sub-bass is well extended and does a very good job to provide a very enjoyable experience.
    I'm not a basshead but I feel that basshead will enjoy this DAP a lot due to it's excellent bass performance.
     
    The Mids
    The mids is smooth and is on the intimate side. Clarity of the mids is very good without any sibilance and just flows naturally with the music seamlessly.
    Like the bass, the mids are a little thick and lush. 
    Screaming and growling vocals in metal track are intimate and smooth (I know right, it is harsh vocals but it's smooth as well, lol). The intimacy adds to the emotion and feel of the tracks, amplifying the rage and anguish of the song without sounding veiled in any way.
    On Jazz Tracks like Norah Jones, the lushness of the DAP helps in this regard, you can feel the slight warm and raspness in her voice when she sing the lyrics and all the details of her vocals shine trough very well.
    Electric Guitar sounds very smooth while maintaining the edges and bites it needs to bring its rawness out without sounding harsh and artificial.
     
    The Treble
    The treble is again, smooth and fatigue free, it still has some spark in it but it is not a bright DAP.
    Details are there although it is a bit hard to spot this due to the excellent bass and mids being more forward by a good margin compared to it.
    This brings up a point to be asked about this DAP:
    "Is the treble too laid back?"
    For me, maybe? 
    It is true that in some of my metal tracks I have found that some cymbal hits is a bit far back in the background and you will most likely miss it if you don't listen carefully. 
    In most songs, it is still laid back however, can still be heard easily albeit still being overshadowed by the bass and mids.
    Overall the treble performance is good, however the placement could be a little too laid back for me, whether you like it or not depends on your preference though, some people is really sensitive to treble.
    Other point to consider is that the details on treble will usually get drawn out while using it on the go, even if cayin decides to make the I5 brighter and provides more details up top, it is still hard to hear eveything in a noisy transport. 
    The Soundstage, Imaging and separations
    The soundstage presentation is not very large but it is quite good, imaging is accurate and all the instruments are separated nicely and there is no congestion in the sound.
     
    Pairing
     
    Shozy Stardust earbud (hi-end earbud)
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    The tonality of the cayin blends nicely with the stardust signature, the bass hits hard and the mids are lush and very musical sounding, treble is smooth and not fatigueing, more laid back, relax listening experience, then using AK Jr.
    Sub-bass is still rolled off due to the nature of earbud since there is no seal to get a good sub-bass.
    Details in the treble still pops out here and there and is laid back so the mids being more prominent could potentially take your attention away from it, it is there if you listen to it though.
     
    Mr Speakers Ether Flow
    IMG_0797.jpg
    I'm impressed with the power that Cayin I5 provides to power ths planar, I didn't expect the unit to be powerfull enough to drive hi-end planars this well.
    Bass gets more boost with some more meat in it and brought forward a little bit, while still being tight with nice dynamics, the snap is there and still maintain the speed even on a blastbeat drum attack with death metal tracks.
    Mids is push Forward a bit and has longer decays, the pairing provides some more lushness to the mids providing a more intimate experience(the mids is usually a little bit laid back on the ether flow), details are still there.
    Treble gets toned down a bit while still having some edges and sparkles when needed, overall good treble, but the mids and bass get my attention most of the time.
    Compared to my usual setup, this pairing is good and would be happy to use the i5 in a pinch, although my usual set up (Mojo -> Liquid Carbon -> Ether Flow) still beats it handily(and it should).
     
    Meze 99 Classics
    IMG_0798.jpg
    Best pairing of the bunch IMO, very enjoyable experience.
    Bass hits hard and deep with excellent extension, the quantity is definitely north of neutral by a decent amount(combination warm headphone + warm DAP), however it does not disrupt the mids at all. Very meaty and maintains good speed for metal tracks, works very well for metal and EDM.
    The bass sounds big and grand and fills up the space just like listening to music in a hall but without the resonance.
    Mids is again got pushed forward more and is more of an intimate experience, vocal is lush and decay is a tad longer than my usual combo (AK Jr -> meze 99), however it is very musical and engaging, the edges in screaming and growling vocals is smoothened a bit by the longer decay, but there are still plenty of details to satisfy.
    Treble is smooth and laid back, cymbal hits is usually heard at the background behind the bass and mids, it never gets fatigueing (I actually feel that the bass dynamic attack is more fatigueing than the treble in the long run).
    I've concluded that in this pairing the treble is a bit too far in the background, despite that I still get the most enjoyable experience out of all the cans when using the DAP alone, still the best pairing.
     
    Campfire Audio Vega
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    I only have 1 day to use the Cayin I5 -> CA Vega and I'm not sure if the vega that I receive has been burned in or not (I think it's brand new unit as it did sound better later on on my other set-up),so I can't comment much on it. 
    Based on my first impressions on it, in my opinion, it is not the best pairing, the Vega already has a north of neutral bass that sounds big in the soundstage(Confirmed this using the AK Jr and Mojo), when you combo this with the Cayin I5 that has similar properties, what you get is super big north of neutral bass that feels a little overblown.
    Basshead may love this but I'm not a basshead so this is too much bass for me.
     
    As DAC
    IMG_0796.jpg
    When used as DAC with my Liquid Crabon with Balanced Output to MrSpeakers Ether Flow, I found that the line out functionality of the Cayin I5 still work quite well, however I need to turn the volume knob past 12 o'clock to get decent volume on my flow.
    Again the most noticeable effect of this pairing is to the treble, The treble becomes more laid back compared to my ususal mojo->LC set up, this is good for me as the Ether Flow is a tad bright and this can help a bit.
    With this set-up I don't have any concern for the treble to be too laid back on some songs. when using the Lc as Amp, the treble is not being toned down as much as using the Cayin alone.
    This got me thinking that most likely the amp section of The cayin is the main part that is responsible to that laid-back smooth treble signature.
    Onto the sound quality, It is quite good!
    The bass still hits hard and have excellent extension, with very good speed.
    The mids is still forwarded and smooth with good details on it.
    The treble is not as laid aback as when using it alone, which is good. smooth treble without sibilance and fatigue free.
    The Soundstage is the biggest improvement, it is simply bigger with better image and separation.
    Overall I'd say it is quite good to be used as DAC but there are better options, it does not sound as full and dynamics compared to my mojo when used as DAC, details also come out more on the mojo -> LC combo, so given the choice I will always use the mojo for my DAC on the LC.
     
    Comparisons
     
    AK Jr
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    The Cayin beats the AK Jr very easily in my opinion. 
    The I5's bass has better dynamics and sounds bigger with better extension and clarity, the AK Jr has more neutral bass though.
    The I5 has lusher mids that is smooth and emotional, the AK Jr is not as lush and as the i5 but has quicker decays with dryer sounding vocals.
    The treble on the I5 is more laid back and smooth, the AK Jr's treble is not as laid back but despite that details does not seem apparent and not as smooth.
    Soundstage is about the same, but due to the intimate signature of the Cayin, the Ak Jr sounds a little bigger.
     
    Chord Mojo
    IMG_0801.jpg
    Not a DAP, but why not..
    Mojo's Bass is tight, accurate and still musical but not as much in quantity compared to the Cayin I5 bloomier bass. 
    Mojo's mids expose more details and is only a little bit lush, It is smooth and not as intimate compared to the i5, the I5 goes musical all the way providing Lush intimate smooth mids but not as detailed.
    Mojo's treble is not as laid back and again is more detailed compared to the Cayin I5's laid back treble, both offers smooth treble and is not the thin analytical type.
    When used as a DAC, the mojo is a better choice due to better implemented line-out sounding fuller, dynamic and detailed with the Liquid Carbon.
     
    Summary
    In Australia, I can buy this DAP for 599 in DWI, the original retail price is 699 AUD here, and for that amount of money, the Cayin I5 definitely punch above it's weight with excellent performance in the bass and mids.
    The pairing needs some consideration as Bassy IEM will not fair well with this DAP due to it's Bass characteristics.
    For some who has the meze99 Classic and is looking for a DAP, this is the best pairing I've heard.
    It performs well when used as a DAC to desktop AMP, but there are better alternatives for that use case.
    Battery life is excellent, but charging time is slow.
      sabloke and pr0b3r like this.
  3. Army-Firedawg
    A DAP truly worth the hype
    Written by Army-Firedawg
    Published Dec 23, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Beautiful & solid build, calm & smooth sound, reads any format, wifi enabled
    Cons - Long charge time, slight learning curve, doesn't pair well with sensitive c/iems
       20161223_165750.jpg
     
     
     This has been a product that I’ve been wanting to try out ever since fellow Head-fier @nmatheis spoke so highly of it; so a couple months ago when I was offered an opportunity at a review, I quickly accepted. So thank you to Cayin for allowing me to spend some time with one of your prestigious products.

     
     
    I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.
        I'm a 25 year old firefighter, for the City of Concord North Carolina as well as the U.S. Army North Carolina National Guard. The cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.
        My interests/hobbies are power lifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.
        Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.
        My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.
    -Amp.
        -Audio-Technica
            -AT-PHA100
    -Misc. Equipment
        -Audio Purifier/Source cleaner
            -UIT PMP-354P
    -Headphones
        -Bowers & Wilkins P7
        -Meze Headphones 99 Classics
        -Empire Ears Hermes VI
        -Audio-Technica
            -ATH-W5000
            -ATH-W1000Z
            -ATH-AD1000X
        -Sennheiser HD650
        I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.
        The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.

     
    The Opening Experience
        Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.
        As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’
        This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?
     
     
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        Overall I really liked the “handshake” that Cayin provided. The box holding the i5 is presented in a way that doesn’t wow m but also doesn’t disappoint me either. The front portrays the Cayin i5 in an “action” kind of way that’s off centered with wavy lines in the back drop. I will say that this method does a great job of making the product “pop”. The back is, in my opinion, rather cluttered with quite a bit of showy ‘look what i can do ‘ jargon that largely could’ve been in a welcome pamphlet on the inside.
        Speaking of the inside, once you open the container you’re greeted by a large owner's manual & starting guide, standard stuff, that gives you a pretty good guide of all the features that are present within the Cayin i5. Directly behind that you’re presented with the i5 cleaned, polished and evenly centered. A very beautiful presentation that succeeded in giving me some serious excitement to give it a whirl.
        Finally, bringing up the rear, is inside the i5 holder and is a USB C charging cable (that hopefully becomes the new standard) & a splendidly premium coaxial cable that’s encased in a very strong fiber then to top it off with the Cayin logo printed on each termination.

     
    Construction
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    20161223_164816.jpg     20161223_164859.jpg
     
     
     
     
     
        This is an area that no matter what price point it’s in I’m always on edge. More & more & more do companies cut corners & use the absolute bare minimum they can get by with just so they can maximize their bottom line profits.Thankfully I can report that the Cayin i5 doesn’t follow this path; or if they do they sure can cover it up well.
    Just lifting the i5 out of its holder I was off put by the weight it has. It isn’t much, if any, larger than any of the other digital audio players (or DAP henceforth)  I’ve reviewed in the past but it does certainly have a weight to it. A fair bit of it is likely due to it being built from high strand aluminum with not easily seeable access points (it’s quite solid in other words).
    The top is where you’ll find the 3.5mm line out (to plug into a stereo etc…) & the 3.5mm headphone port as well as the super finessing volume knob.. The front has a 3.5” x 2” touch screen glass along with a home “button” (doesn’t actually press down so is it still technically a button?). The bottom holds the USB C charging port. The right side (while looking at the device) holds the volume & play/pause buttons as well as the claimed up to 200gb microSD card slot (while I can confirm the claimed size I have no larger cards so it may be able to take larger I however was unable to test). The left side side (while facing the device) has the power button. I certainly saved the best for last for this beauty and that’s the back. The back of the Cayin i5 is very trippy (in a good way). It has a wavy block pattern that’s covered with a glass that has the cayin logo and other information on it on top. This combination together makes for a really cool looking illusion that makes it as if the letters on the glass are floating or even drifting on waves, a really cool touch.

     
    Specifications (copied straight from the official Cayin site)
     
        
    SPECIFICATION
    Model
    i5
    Outputs
    Phone out(3.5mm)
    Color
    Gun color
    Dimension
    64 mm×126 mm×14 mm
    Net Weight
    195 g
    Headphone
    Impedance Range
    8-300Ω(recommended)
    PHONES OUT
    Power rating
    190mW+190mW(@32Ω)
    Frequency
    Response
    20-20kHz(±0.2dB,Fs=192kHz)
    5-50kHz(±1dB,Fs=192kHz
    THD+N
    0.006% (1kHz,Fs=44.1kHz;20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
    Dynamic Range
    108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
    SNR
    108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
    Output Impedance
    ≤1Ω
    Line Out                
    Output Level
    1.0V (@10kΩ)
    Frequency
    Response
    20-20kHz (±0.2dB,Fs=192kHz)
    5-50kHz (±1dB,Fs=192kHz)
    THD+N
    0.005% (1kHz,Fs=44.1kHz;20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
    Dynamic Range
    108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
    SNR
    108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
      
    USB DAC                
    USB Mode
    Asynchronized USB Audio 2.0 Class
    DSD
    Up to DSD128
    PCM
    Up to  384kHz/32Bit
    Windows
    Support(Driver required)
    MAC Osx
    Support
    iOS
    Not Support
    Android
    Not Support
      
    Power Specification                
    Battery
    4800mAh 3.8V Lithium ion polymer
    Battery duration
    ~10 HRS
    Charging time
    ~4.5 HRS (with 2A Charger, not provided)
    Charging
    Current
    ≤1500mA when charge with 2A Charger,≤500mA when charge with computer USB port
    MusicFormat(Local Storage)                
    DSF
    Native hardware decode  DSD64 and DSD128
    DFF
    Native hardware decode  DSD64 and DSD128
    SACD-ISO
    Native hardware decode  DSD64 and DSD128
    APE
    Support16-32bits, Fast/Normal /High/Extra High compression level)
    FLAC
    Up to 384kHz/32bit
    WAV
    Up to 384kHz/32bit
    AIFF
    Up to 384kHz/32bit
    ALAC
    Up to 384kHz/32bit
    WMA
    Up to 96kHz/24bit
    WMA Lossless
    Up to 96kHz/24bit
    MP2/MP3
    Up to 48kHz/16bit
    AAC
    Up to 48kHz/16bit
    OGG
    Up to 48kHz/16bit


     
    Functionality
     
        A DAP’s functionality (or ease of use) plays a big factor in how well an individual favors it. Most DAP’s are quite straight forward in their approach and can be learned all but instantly. But most other DAP’s don’t have an Android OS either. The i5 does have a little bit of a learning curve to it and at times, even after becoming familiar with it, it’ll still get to you sometimes.
        For those who familiarize themselves with modern Android flagship devices, the i5 will seem to be a bit sluggish in its response time. This also carries over to the app stores browsing & downloading speeds (to be discussed more in the features section). This isn’t a big deal at all just a small giggle I gave to myself about how spoiled I had become to have to wait an extra whopping .03 seconds (just a thrown out number I didn’t actually measure or count anything). The touchscreen removes the need for directional or control buttons so this does make circumventing the menu screens a bit easier.
    The difficult part comes when you want to select a track you want, granted there is a search bar at the top of the page that I’ve become best friends with that allows you to search for a song you’re wanting to hear but say you want to just navigate your available songs (which are even labeled as LQ, SQ, and HQ for low, standard, and high quality sound as well as DSD [direct stream digital]). To the right of the screen gives you letters and, at least for me, makes one think that you can just hit the letter and it’ll teleport you to that section of music. Unfortunately it doesn’t so you’ve got to either use the search button or scroll for however long it takes to find the song you want.
    Very few complaints aside, and honestly I believe I was just nit picking for something , I do really like how Cayin has formatted their i5. Does it have a few hiccups? Sure, as does every single DAP I’ve ever reviewed and likely ever will review. But without just nit picking it into the ground I feel they did a very good job incorporating an Android OS into a DAP format.
     
    Features
     
        Unlike most DAP’s the Cayin i5 has a whole lot more to it than just a fancy way of selecting which song in what folder to play. Oh no, for as said already, the Carin i5 is an Android OS (working on a 4.4 Kitkat update) & with that comes a plethora of extra features that the user, or at least myself, can really utilize.
        The first and coolest of which I took advantage of was the wifi connectivity. Though yes, I have a couple thousand songs at my disposal, I still very much like to stream music and hear what I don’t yet have and even better yet, listen to new music I’ve yet to discover. The google play store works just like it would if it was from your phone so you in all likely could play flappy birds on here (I didn’t actually try anything other than Pandora and Spotify I was just saying). But wifi is an area that’s been very neglected throughout the DAP world and very recently has been shown that a many of users would prefer to have it as an available option (surprise, surprise).
        Next on the list is Bluetooth. I believe this is just a byproduct of having an Android OS with wireless capabilities because, at least for me, I don’t see too many people purchasing a DAP of this caliber only to stream the music to a wireless headphone and lose what makes the Cayin great.
        The last feature that I would like to discuss is how well you can create playlists with the i5. Yes, a great deal of DAP’s have the ability to create playlists, and a many of them very well. But the ease of which I could not only create a playlist but access them really impressed me. I was able to make a playlist for working out, relaxing, and even a review playlist for when it was time to actually get down to business.
     
    Sound
     
    20161223_165750.jpg 20161223_170019.jpg
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
        Finally we’re to the musical presentation. I will be the first to admit that before I began listening to so many DAP’s I thought that these were only a medium for which one holds their music and the only difference between the models was the looks and internal dacs and amp. chip sets. And though in the technical aspect of things this is true, but how they mix and match and even tune their devices adds a very impressive color to the music that is different with each device regardless of how similar the internal components.
        As for the Cayin i5, this device really presents a calm and relaxing presentation that still focuses on detail retrieval. The i5 also definitely possesses a pairing bias that really favors certain flavors of headphones. What I mean by this is that the i5 sounded just, sublime, when paired with the Meze headphones 99 classics. I have never hear a pairing that sounded as good as these two together (well maybe the SR-009 through the Blue Hawaii but that’s a whole new price bracket), my 99 Classics completely disappeared when playing through the i5 and retrieved detail I’ve never heard before nor again on any other system. It also paired quite well with my Bowers & Wilkins P7 but not quite as well as with the Audio-Technica lineup. Nothing I played through it sounded bad (my Empire Ears Hermes VI ciem’s did have a notable and prominent amount of hiss and even a hum however), but in direct comparison there just wasn’t as much symmetry between products that aren’t really mids to mid bass focused.
        Going back to its sound characteristics, comparing them to my other two DAP’s (Hifiman Supermini & Luxury and Precision L3) these are really smooth in their presentation and attempt to expand the soundstage of the product you’re listening to but it doesn’t quite succeed. The audio sounds farther out from left to right but the artist sound much much closer (like an egg shaped stage). As where my Supermini is very slow and warm and perfect for sleeping or working out with its heightened bass range, the i5 stays fairly balanced. It most closely resembles that of my L&P L3. Now comparing those two, sonically the L3 sound is more realistic and natural and “breaths” (I’m not sure if that’s the word I’m trying to get out but it’s what jumped out at me). Now, the difference isn’t night and day but instead a tomato tahmahto (spelled intentionally to get my point) kind of thing. Both DAP’s are roughly the same price with the i5 having more features and convenience than that of the L3 having wifi capabilities but the L3 is definitely more sonically accurate and revealing and can silently handle my ciems.
        Lastly the power output is incredible on the i5. Not a single headphone I used had the slightest amount of problems being driven by the i5. Granted nothing I used is super power crazy but they still use some juice (especially the ATH’s) but even so the Cayin never stuttered or made me make any large increase in volume. Also, on that note, the volume on the Cayin i5 is what I’ve been asking for for years. It’s buttery smooth and wonderfully linear with ONE HUNDRED volume options that increment in ONE’S!!!!! What a concept I know right? But seriously, from my phone to other DAP’s no one seems to get the volume adjustments right for I can never seem to find that sweet spot ESPECIALLY when I’m trying to sleep. Please, if ANY other DAP manufacture reads this review please take after the Cayin because they have perfected this adjustment.
     
    Conclusion
     
                                                                   20161223_171026.jpg
     
        To conclude my review of the Cayin i5. The Cayin team did a truly amazing job designing their i5 digital audio player. It’s beautifully and competently made and will play any audio codec one would throw at it. The sound is very calm and a real enjoyment to listen to but definitely pairs better with headphones that are more between mids to mid bass focused. The battery life lives up to the claimed 10 hours of active listening but it does take awhile to charge so don’t expect to plug it in for a few minutes and expect to be on your way, it’s an overnight thing. It’s really a product that an owner can really make his or her own. I completely understand why @nmatheis speaks so highly of the Cayin i5, it’s certainly well earned.



     
    Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos as well as a rare comparison video I made between the Cayin i5, Luxury & Precision L3, and Hifiman Supermini. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.
     
     
      Brooko likes this.
    1. emptymt
      Nice review! The cons are accurate as I share the opinion on that.
      emptymt, Dec 23, 2016
  4. originalsnuffy
    Great Sound; Firmware not stable yet
    Written by originalsnuffy
    Published Dec 19, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Clean and open sound; non fatiguing
    Cons - Android based firmware not stable. Would prefer an easier method to get to folder structures.
    I had the pleasure of listening to the Cayin i5 as part of the midwest USA tour.  Other than being responsible for passing the item along, I did not receive any compensation or expense from the vendor and my comments are my personal observation.
     
    First of all, as a summary, I would like to say that I enjoyed listening to this device very much.   It had a clear and open sound that I think is in the same ballpark as the FIIO X7 and even the Chord Mojo when paired wtih a digital source.   Yes, I think the Mojo provides a slightly better listening experience, but at the expense of mucking about with two items to play music.  Compare that with just using one integrated device.
     
    For sound alone, I would compare the overall sound signature to the Shanling M2.  That unit has a relatively unique, open and clear sound with a slight warmth.  Midrange and treble to my ear is slighlty accentuated on that device, and I think the same applies to the Cayin.  Where that can be glorious is vocal driven music, jazz, and classical.  I think we are looking at less than a decible of emphasis, and it might be an artifact of the open sound signature.   An example of a stunning rendition was the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Apocalypse.   That is a jazz fusion work produced by the legendary George Martin (think Beatles).   You could really get immersed in the music or pick out individual instruments if wanted.  That quality is something that is shared with the the Mojo by the way.  Say, in my book if a reviewer can compare a unit to the Mojo the manufacturer is doing something very right.  I did have a recent "re-listen" to the Mojo as Howdy brought it along when he personally handed over the unit (thanks pal!).
     
    I mainly listened on my new FLC8S pair (ok I am bragging but what the heck); and also on the Tennmak Pro.  In my book , by the way, the Tennmak is quite the bargain.
     
    So of the DAP units in my possession, the FIIO X3II, Shanling M1, and Shanling M2, this unit did stand on top of the heap.  But then again, that is to be expected.   But then again the Shanling M2 has what I think is a similar sound signature so I will be OK now that the unit has been shipped back to the US distributor.
     
    Now I will move on to the unit itself.  It is a very solid piece, with solid engineering.  It plays a wide variety of sources, and does have native DSD which I apprecaite.  It also was able to act as a DAC for my iphone (using a trick USB splitter that I have that in some instances can overcome the iphone and its notorious message about DAC devices requiring too much power).  I was unable to get the OTG function to work with my PNY USB stick.  That stick works just fine in my FIIO X3II with firmware 1.4.   I just ordered a new OTG cable for USB type C by it did not arrive to be tested with this unit.
     
    I also did not test the streaming function from Spotify or Tiday or from my NAS.  Why?  Well that gets to the "beta" status of the firmware in my mind.  The unit skipped on various tracks and sometimes needed to be reset when playing music.  My sense is that the firmware is not truly stable yet.
     
    When I received the unit there was a crash.  I then reinstalled the firmware.   It is possible that I lost the default menu options at that point.   I found it hard to go directly to music menus when rebooting (which did take a bit longer than I would prefer).   It would appear that there are methods to go easily to the music menus or music folders.  ; I just never found them.  For me, the unit came up in more of a generic Android style menu and it took a few swipes to get to the folders or music menus.
     
    I did not check out the battery life carefully but did run the unit down by accident.  Perhaps I did not set up the automatic power down mode properly.  User error is one of my specialties.
     
    So would I purchase the unit?   Well, I would hold off on making a final decision until I knew the firmware was stable.  Plus, FIIO just released the X5III which seems fairly similar in feature sets and I would want to check that out.  There is also the question of the general desirability of Android as a music interface system.  If one does not mind Android, then this unit is a contender.  Of course if steaming is your bag; then one must consider is the streaming going to be done on the road?  In that case this unit would have to be tethered to a phone.   More toys to contend with in that scenario.  Perhaps an audiophile phone like the LG might be a direction to  consider if that is a need.
     
    Overall, I think Cayin has built a very nice unit.  I am fairly confident that the various bugs will be resolved.  They certainly have a nice positive presence on Head Fi forums and that is a good sign of their market commitment.
    1. BartSimpson1976
      Not sure about your issues with the UI. But after starting up it takes exactly one click to get into the folder mode. I have some small issues I would like to have resolved too, but the navigation as such is really simple imho. 
      BartSimpson1976, Dec 19, 2016
    2. originalsnuffy
      Perhaps I lost some user interface default customizations when I reloaded the firmware after a crash.  I have modified the review a bit based on your thoughts and input on the forum on this topic.
      originalsnuffy, Dec 20, 2016
  5. noobandroid
    Terrific DAP
    Written by noobandroid
    Published Dec 17, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Fast file scan, Android based, Great sound
    Cons - Slow startup, choppy wifi streams

    Intro

    The i5 in hand is a global tour unit, and has been updated to the latest version. It is based on android 4.4 and extremely toned down to the minimal runs, that supports dropbox stream and some stream / player apps from play store, but i did not test that function.
     

    Interface

    20161218_110634.jpg 20161218_110626.jpg 20161218_110614.jpg
     
    In terms of visibility, the TFT screen resolution isn't exactly sharp. Text seems a bit on the blurry side, and under direct sunlight, visibility has been quite challenging even on max brightness.Start up on the i5 is quite slow and could take around 20 - 30 seconds to jump into the main interface, which is the first image on top.
     

    Sound

    All tests are done based on Pentatonix album, which i admire for the "a Capella" ability of their 5 member group, each divided clearly on their vocal functions.
    1. Scott Hoying – baritone lead and backing vocals
    2. Mitch Grassi - tenor lead and backing vocals
    3. Kirstin Maldonado – mezzo-soprano lead and backing vocals
    4. Avi Kaplan – vocal bass, vocal percussion, bass lead and backing vocals
    5. Kevin Olusola – vocal percussion, beat boxing, backing vocals, cello
     

    Treble

    Treble on the i5 is clear and clean. Finger clicks and minor background beat boxed tips can be heard clearly. It doesn't clip although trebles blowing the rooftop off. Kirstin's high notes doesn't even irritate the ears, which might happen when the trebles are tuned way high. Totally appreciable high notes and clean trebles.
     

    Vocals

    Pentatoix... a cappella.. the true focus will be of course the vocal power of the i5, and how it can handle the separations of different vocal length of each of the members, well except maybe Avi which is the bassist and maybe Kevin who plays with treble spikes. Using the i5 I can CLEARLY hear who is singing and who is not, and they mix so well that the album is SO enjoyable to listen to. With very minor instrument interference, they really pulled off the a cappella sweetly and i can go on the whole album twice with no boredom of any sort. Unbelievable! i5 really pulled it off better than my x5ii!
     

    Bass

    This is the main star attraction of Avi. His bass vocals can go real low, and i mean REAL low, rumbling bass, right off his vocal chords. Kinda wtf, but then that's how i5 still managed to pull it off cleanly, going all the way low without any muffles.
     

    Sound stage + Separation

    For this section, since PTX is a mastered studio album, sound stage wouldn't fit the bill and so I head to Joe Bonamassa : Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks, live album from Red Roc, Wyoming.
     
    Based off the track Tiger in Your Tank, I can clearly distinguish each position of the pianist, vocal, bass guitar, background trumpets and so much more.Slight left, slight right, full front, full back, front left, front right etc etc, it's so much fun trying to understand Joe's placement of his crews on the stage and reasoning behind them, and match them to the live videos of them on stage, it pulls quite close when compared.
     
    Echoes from the cheering of the viewers can slightly soak into Joe's mic and I can sense the enjoyment of the viewers, as if I was there having a cold beer with a cowboy hat, yelling cheers, whistling and clapping for some more encores. Really fun album to listen to.
     

    Annoyances

    Yeah the sound quality is splendid, but for everything with plus, there is always the minus side of things. Besides the aforementioned visibility, the volume pot is also something i wished for improvements. Ths i5 in possession is relatively new so the scroll wheel is still stiff but I'm uncertain if scrolling durability is there, will it get loose? who knows, it might. The unit loading speed is also not the fastest. 
     
    Secondly, there is no standby hibernation like what Fiio excels at doing to their DAP. It draws quite high battery usage even left there not playing. X5ii could stay hibernated for so long, but the i5 just died in the 3rd day not playing but on active.
     
    USB type C, another thing where all cables need to sacrifice. You will have a much harder time with aftermarket cables for now, as type C still not as common as they hoped it to be.
    1. BartSimpson1976
      Everywhere this whining about USB-C. How can this much better standard be pushed if everybody continues whining that not so much cables are available yet? If just enough makers use it the cable  options will appear automaitcally. See Fiio? Presenting new X5 3rd gen and still using hopelessly outdated MicroUSB.
      And you count the volume knob negative because you don't know whether it will remain in the future? After some months I can tell you it is still the same as on day one.
      Agree to the hibernating and the startup time for the i5
      BartSimpson1976, Dec 18, 2016
    2. ngoshawk
      Good concise review. I like the comparisons of the different vocals. I'm also on the side of liking the volume pot. I like the throwback aspect to it (guess my "old school" side is coming out!:wink:).That's why we have so many on the tour! Gives wonderfully different perspectives.

      Well done, and congrats.
      ngoshawk, Dec 18, 2016
    3. noobandroid
      noobandroid, Jan 20, 2017
  6. ngoshawk
    An extremely nice DAP, it Wowed me!
    Written by ngoshawk
    Published Dec 6, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Android OS, touch screen, hi-fi sound at mid-fi $
    Cons - Quirky wifi, one sd slot, leather case slippery (on inside)
    I am lucky. Very lucky. As I listened last Sunday to the i5, not only did we have the first good (not hard, but good) freeze of the Fall, but since I had been up since just before sunrise, I was able to see the first light of day, and how the natural world changed as Sol lit up my morning. High level Cirrus clouds meant a change in weather was coming, and the winter resident as well as winter visitor bird population flew, dove, lit, fed, and generally filled my yard at various times. The migrating/residential American Robin (Turdus migratorius) filled our Hackberry tree (Celtic occidentalis) for the hard berries (which I would later that day find out had been "deposited" on two of my vehicles by the damn Starlings [Sturnus vulgaris], an apt name!...oh well); while the elusive (most of the time) Pileated Woodpecker (Hylatomus pileatus) flew through and lit upon a dying Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata ); a tree I call the Whomping Willow due to the similarity of said tree in the Harry Potter movies. I don't get to see the Pileated often enough, what with our schedule of school, home and soccer, rinse, repeat; so this was a definite treat. Drinking my fine Chiapas Coffee, I listened and watched and listened some more. The visiting Dark-eyed Juncos (both Oregonian and "Common" Junco hyamalis spp. ) filled the lower shrubbery (no not of Monty Python variety), feasting on the seeds after a long Fall migratory journey. A White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) scaled up our Pear tree (Pyrus spp.) as opposed to down like the Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) feasting on any insect lucky enough to have survived the cool weather, but torpid enough not to elude the sharp beak. A veritable organic buffet was within not only the critters length, but most definitely my viewing pleasure. And I watched some more. Song after song, artist after artist for well over two hours, only stopping the view to refill my coffee..... What a glorious day it was and it was only two hours after sunrise! This was my full scale "intro" to the i5. And I was glad. Extremely impressed right off the bat.
     

     
    Intro:
     
    When I was contacted about the possibility of the Cayin i5 tour, I realized that this would be my first non-headphone review, and I would have to rethink somewhat how the review process would proceed. Happily, the whole process worked out, and I am very happy to report that the time I had with the i5 was a success. Not a COMPLETE success, but a very, very good time was had while the unit was in my possession. I was also lucky that my time was extended due to the US Thanksgiving Holiday (and a very gracious next-in-line tour partner, ). This allowed me to do some "testing" I might not have done otherwise.
     
    I would personally like to thank @Andykong and @nmatheis for including me on the tour. It is and was an honor to be included. Andy's only request was that we provide open, honest thoughts in our review of the positives, and thoughtful critique of any shortcomings on the threads which discuss the i5. I wouldn't have it any other way, and came upon both positives and negatives in "our time together." I was also lucky enough to live close enough to @PinkyPowers, for a hand-to-hand delivery. A definite advantage in the shipping department. The only downside to that, is that my review has to follow his excellent review. We share some similar thoughts, and believe it or not, a similar writing style. Please take that as a positive, since I thoroughly enjoyed his review, and feel that "method" is an excellent way to proceed.
     
    Last, the time with the i5 afforded me the wait until my new camera arrived (old Nikon D50 gave itself up after nearly ten years of dedicated service, mostly birding and as a diehard soccer dad; thank you old friend!). So the fruition of that time awaited is you are the first to see pictures with my new set up...please be kind, I would appreciate it...
     
    Needless to say, I was kind of giddy with excitement at the prospect of reviewing something well above anything I currently own in the Head-Fi department. An excitement which grew as we neared the "exchange site" to the point where my daughter (yes on the way to her goalie practice) had to tell me to "calm down, it will be OK!" A point I took well, I might add.
     
    DSC_0002.jpg
     
     
    I immediately opened the shipping box to find the well packed unit within the product box. Quite a nice understated box, but we all know that the innards are what counts. Opening the black box to reveal the unit itself, I was quite pleased with the initial aesthetics of the Cayin. It is quite a nice looking unit. Turning the unit on, I waited for what seemed a long time (less than a minute to full power up) I admired the memes shown....most of them. I would agree in that I'm not sure what the "burn your music" meme means; but I am taking the positive route in that it means "get your music ready to play." After power up, the main menu came up, with plenty of options. I mounted my micro sd card, but noticed there was also a good amount of music already on the hard drive. I am assuming this was music loaded for the CANJAM trade show, since our unit was a demo there. The more I listened, the more I appreciated the variety included, and actually spent much more time listening to the preloaded music than from my card.
     
    DSC_0004.jpg
     
     
    I ran the i5 "naked," without the leather case for a good two days, just to get the feel of the unit. Extremely well balanced is the way I would describe the unit "heft." It is neither too heavy, nor too light. It is of good size, and can be easily held without fear of it slipping through your fingers. Easily into a pocket it will go, too. I noticed as I ran the unit the first day, downloading apps, setting up my Amazon Music and Spotify, and doing the general run-around that the unit became quite hot. I believe this is a function of the unit "running on all cylinders up a hill." I also think that the beautiful carbon-lace back is used as a heat sink to transfer said heat away from the unit. Overall, the unit is modern enough to look really very nice; while paying homage to an older Industrial Age what with the machined out areas for the power on one side and the pause/forward/reverse buttons on the other. Think the movie Bladerunner, and you get the picture. Elegant, but functional. New Age, but Medieval in character. A screen which is flush with the sides of the unit does not hurt, either. To keep the screen cleaner, I did use one of the screensavers. I hope this kept the unit aesthetically clean.
     
    DSC_0001.jpg
     
     
    I wish I could say the same about the leather case. It is quite nice, but of a lighter color, so any marks will show immediately. While this can add what we will call "patina" for a lack of better words; if I am spending this amount I would expect a choice of colors. That said, my hope is that someone will come up with an aftermarket case to quell my fears. And after limited use, I can see this case not holding the unit in place very well. The side "overhang" of the leather onto the screen is flimsy, and actually hinders access to the corners of the screen itself. An area where much is going on within many subsystems of the unit. It is nice, don't get me wrong, but I wish for something which would protect the unit better and longer. In my time, I have purposely tried to get the unit to slip (over a soft landing, and never dropped, sheesh...), and have been successful. But, most of us will be extremely careful with such a pricy unit, and would not extend such "abuse." I would be remiss if I didn't state my concerns, though.
     
    DSC_0003.jpg
     
     
    Since I have an iPhone 6+, I am long removed from an Android OS, but easily found my way around the many sub-menus and options. I was even adept enough to remember what was where! A definite plus in my advanced age. Efficient is how I would describe the menu. Nothing really hidden, but nothing really fancy about it, either. Some have stated that they wish the menu(s) had more bells and whistles. I would agree if this was a unit more like a Smartphone. But as PinkyPower stated so well, this is a DAP first and foremost and should cater to the music. By and large the i5 does this well, with only the occasional slowdown or "glitch." More on the glitches later.
     
    DSC_0008.jpg
     
    DSC_0011.jpg DSC_0012.jpg
     
     
    This is the furthest up the DAP food chain I have ever been. And if this is an indication of what lies in the mid-if region, I willingly admit I am a kid on his favorite playground. One I will openly share with all of my playmates. As my time draws to a close (Holidays are good!), several conclusions can be drawn from this excellent kit as well as some possible future improvements.
     
    I was lucky enough to spend over 40 hours listening to various headphones (Fostex T40RP MK3, Campfire Audio Nova, Tennmak Pro, Alpha & Delta D2 (very briefly, they were not good), MEE Pinnacle P1 & M6 Pro, and the VE Monk (originals and Purple+) as well as my three amps (Schiit Magni 2, Fiio A3 and Fiio E06) during the time together. I also compared the set up to my secondhand-to-me Fiio x3ii, since that is the only dedicated DAP I have currently. For online purposes, I compared my iPhone 6+ with Amazon Music and Spotify to the i5 after downloading the apps to the Cayin. Hopefully, I can shed light into the listening of some items, with which previous reviewers do not have. My line of equipment is definitely mid-if at best sprinkled generously with good quality low-fi, so I hope this will not only be valid, but helpful to those looking for a DAP first.
     
    DSC_0015.jpg
     
     
    A final listening was performed on my home system, an older Arcam AVR300, through ProAc Tablette 8's and a Paradigm 2100 sub. The ability to run the i5 on many sources and through many different scenarios is a great positive, one which I am not sure Cayin may have envisioned (based upon an in-thread conversation with Andy). Scratch that, I ran out of time for this comparison...sorry!
     
    Power up is simple, and after the memes comes to good part, the listening. And good sound it is. Whether it be from the already enclosed music (assuming this is CANJAM leftovers, as stated above).
     
    My first listening was done from my Micro SD card. It was impressive, with a warm full sound, but not as impressive as I might have thought. That change completely when I delved into the music which was "native" on the DAP. Starting with Adele's Hello, I was immediately smitten with the increase in sound quality. What was a slightly warm sound from the SD card, was a deep, rich, warm sound (to me) which belied the "other" music which I had heard only a short hour before. After investigating why this might be, I quickly determined it was due to the Sampling Rate of each song. The native music was of much higher quality, and it showed. My music was the standard 44kHtz, while the music on the i5 was of a much higher sampling rate. The difference showed.
     
    The music was more clear in sound, separation of individual instruments better, vocal parts were more very prominent, and the overall quality was just better. Now, I know I am not the most adept at digital music, but I did know and understand that the higher the bit rate, the more "true to sound" the music would be (my interpretation). To me, this meant that the i5 was less forgiving of musical quality. The goods were quite good. The worse was tolerable, but only after you re-acclimated your ears from the good. As a side point, when I compared the SD music on my Fiio x3ii, the card music sounded much better than on the i5. I'm not sure how much of that was actually real, but I did notice a difference. Both players were compared without eq, to minimize differences. The sd music just sounded better on the Fiio. Overall though, the i5 produced that warmer sound I described above. Sound stage is less than on the Fiio, though. Not by much, but a nice intimate sound can be had if the song is defined that way.
     
    DSC_0005.jpg
     
     
    Certain songs really brought the Cayin to life, so to speak; and I will admit I listened to them incessantly. Over and over I played Anne-Sophie Mutter's Zigeurnerweisen Op 20. I had heard Ms. Mutter's music before, but not to this extent. I was enthralled, mesmerized, completely taken in to the music. Enveloped and blanketed, this song threw me to a high winter mountain cabin, with snow falling upon deep already fallen snow. Fire burning, favorite wool on and single-malt in hand; I was overwhelmed with the detail, the separation, the finger plucks on the strings. It was an incredible listening experience and one which left me in awe. How can something so small produce such wonderful sounds? I will admit that this was a wonderful push into the mid-fi realm. I will also admit, that this would be worthy entrance DAP, for those that want to spend a bit more than the "budget" DAP's. A fine quality unit this is.
     
    Once past the mountain cabin, err visceral experience of the cabin; I added Eric Clapton's wonderful Pilgrimage to the listening carousel. Round and round I went, listening for the details of the back up female vocals. Clapton's rough English voice sounding fresh and vibrant. I will have to add this album to my collection, but suffice to say that this was a good song for the audition of male vocals. Full of tone, deep in reach; this song added to the already solid sound I was enjoying from the i5. Just a so solid sound, that it was as if I was adding a layer upon an already impressive sound. The Cayin responding, "Yes, I can add that good sound on top of what I have already provided you." This may seem like gushing over-syrupy praise, but this unit is not meant for that kind of praise. It is worthy of praise, but in that workman, industrial-like sage that carries over from it's shape. A solid unit, backed up with solid credentials and solid musical qualities...no matter what is thrown its way (with quality input, as I stated above regarding  my lack of quality music).
     
    DSC_0006.jpg DSC_0009.jpg
     
    Not only does the unit look good, it can back that look up with excellent sound characteristics. The same cannot be said regarding the WiFi operation. After downloading Amazon Music, and Spotify, I was mostly unable to use either. I did get one Spotify song to play, but nothing from Amazon. After researching the issues, I found out that "Error 181" is a common Android problem with Amazon Music, and possibly stems from the lack of ownership of the music you use via Amazon. Kind of an ironic "Apple-like" twist that you cannot play music on an Android which you do not own. Especially knowing that regular music downloading to an Android Smartphone is so easy. I could be completely wrong here, but my 2+ days of research found this out. As for Spotify, Andy pointed out on the Cayin impressions thread (http://www.head-fi.org/t/802382/cayin-i5-lossless-android-dap-with-akm4490-dac-supporting-32-384-pcm-64-128-dsd/2070) that some were having issues. I will not delve into that any further as it is a known issue, except to say that some surmised it was due to the home WiFi systems of some. I would concur, except that this happened in two different businesses. I did not have more time to investigate. I will leave it at that. But, the music is what the i5 is all about, and I can say that the music playing was flawless. No glitches what-so-ever.
     
    IEM/Headphone options:
     
    Normally when I write a review, I break it into usable sections such as a normal IEM review would be...how does it handle the bass/mids/treble to sound stage, etc. With the Cayin, I took a different approach, a more holistic-overall impressions approach. I then hoped to backtrack into the individuals such as how the i5 sounds with individual phones and amps. I am afforded a modicum of different amps and headphones and mentioned in-thread that I hoped my impressions would be from a more mid-fi perspective. My TOTL IEM is currently the excellent Campfire Nova. My TOTL can is the extremely satisfying Fostex T40RP Mk3. I like them both, and spent the vast majority of my time with those. I will keep amps separate for now.
     
    DSC_0016.jpg DSC_0017.jpg
     
    The pairing of i5 with Nova seems like the compliment of a fine sound system. Paired together, the two function as an incredible mid-priced unit like they would be a package happily offered by either manufacturer. The two pair extremely well together, what with the warm full sound of the CA complimenting the warmish, slightly smaller sound provided by the Cayin. This is a package I would happily live with day-to-day. Neither draws attention to itself, but provides top quality sound. Easily driven, the pairing was, too. On Dire Straits Brothers In Arms the steel guitar of Mark Knopfler just sounds fabulous. Like it would if you were in a seedy bar in New Orleans, or London. You know you shouldn't go to that kind of neighborhood, but you know you will be safe...you have the i5/Nova to protect you. The smoky room is filled with guitar rifts which please you completely. A thorough workman-like effort from a workman-like band, through workman-like units. It just works, if you haven't caught my...oh heck, you get it.
     
    I can't say the same about the pairing of i5 with either my Alpha & Delta D2's or surprisingly my Pinnacle P1's. They just weren't pleasant. Not after the Nova or T40's. Which is an acceptable trade-off. Not all IEM's were meant to be heard or work functionally with the music unit. that is one of the best and worst things of our hobby...seeing what exactly DOES work with our gear and tailoring that sound to each unit we own. Much like a home system where you don't necessarily have to own all of the same gear from speaker to head unit, that is the fun I found with the Cayin. Trying different headphones to judge what worked and what didn't added to the appeal. I will say that my Fiio x3ii is much more forgiving in this regard. But, that is OK in it's own right. I like that experimenting with headphones of the Cayin i5. Quite appealing it is.
     
    DSC_0020.jpg DSC_0019.jpg
     
    An interesting pair was had when I threw the Fostex into the mix. From my personal experience, the T40's are a hard unit to drive. No matter whether it was through my iPhone 6+, or my Fiio; an amp was very much required. And even then, it was not completely adequate sometimes. Happily that was not the case with the i5. It fairly easily drove the Fostex's on its own. No added power necessary. While I did have to push the unit to a much higher volume than with the Nova, it was still quite adequate. Tolerable is probably an insult to both units, but suffice to say that both went about their business without protest. Not quite the smoky-flavor of the Nova though. The Fostex fairly came alive through the Cayin. I can honestly say that this was the best my T40's sounded, ever. Vibrant, but not overpowering, the sound was much more forward than the Nova, but still not enough to shout at you. It's presence was felt, oh yes; but i would liken this to the quiet body builder who comes to your party (a common theme in my reviews apparently...the lush that I am...) and speaks with a quiet respectful voice. But as a result is highly regarded for not being the boisterous one. A voice listened to as the room draws down its noise. Complete, with nary a weakness the Fostex paired so well, that I now listen to it much more than I did; driving it with either my Fiio or iPhone and my A3. A new appreciation was had by me for the sound, thanks to the Cayin. Rich in tone, open in sound stage (not airy, but definitely lets you know the sound goes beyond your head) and full of package, I appreciate both a bit more due to their pairing.
     
    I did find myself EQing the Fostex more than any of my other testing phones. I added a good bass thump, and this only heightened my respect for both. Fostex's are near legendary for their need of power to drive them properly, but not once did the i5 complain. Not even with the enhanced bass. An overall quite pleasing addition to the party. The volume pot was a good bit higher (50-55 out of 100) than the Nova, but it was not outrageous, by any means.
     
    I would be remiss if I did not mention my new favorite "budget" IEM; the excellent Tennmak Pro. What a little gem this is, and paired with the Cayin was simply a joy. If I were to hand the pair to someone who knows sound, but not price, they would probably guess much higher than the actual cost. In fact on some of the review tracks I used, I preferred the Pro's to the Nova. Clapton's My Father' Eyes is an excellent example. The song seems made for the pair. Rich deep female vocals, and Clapton's aforementioned gravely voice just work. Bass that is not drowning all other out, leaving support room for the rest of the musical sound. A wonderful pair with which I used actually MORE than the Nova's. High praise indeed, one would hope.
     
    DSC_0010.jpg
     
     
    Amplified!
     
    A natural addition to the Cayin would be an amp. Not needed, but thoroughly enjoyed I used the only three I own: a Fiio e06, Fiio's A3 and Schiit's Magni2. All worked well, but some tales were told amongst the three. The e06 drove whatever phone was in the loop quite well. I toggled between all of the settings on this $20 amp, from neutral to bass enhancing to full enhancing. My favorite enhancement is the bass enhancer since some of my favorite IEM's a a smidge lacking in that department. With the Cayin though, I found myself enjoying the neutral the best. I did run the amp on full bore, or slightly less than full bore, but there was nary a complaint. not strained I was pleasantly surprised that an amp of such low budget would produce with a MUCH higher mid-fi DAP. I was able to run both the Schiit and the e06 right through the headphone jack. Strangely enough though, I had to run the A3 through the line-out; losing all control of the i5. I was not able to ascertain why. Maybe someone reading this can fill me in as to the cause.
     
    The A3 pairing was the best of the three, even though all control was through the amp, itself since I had to hook the unit through line-out.. Clean, crisp and clear the sound took what was an already good sound and made it sound (to me) better. This is probably a poor choice of comparison (my previous statement), but I would liken the addition of the A3 to the frosting one might put on chocolate brownies. Certainly not needed, but an addition you do not turn down! I did notice a brighter sound through the amp, than alone. Again, no EQing was used here save the low/high gain and bass enhancing. I did feel the sound was bright when run neutral, though. My favorite setting was on high gain and bass enhanced, especially with the Fostex. Slightly lacking in the bass department, the A3 brought in that finished-full sound sound to the T40. That final polish one adds after you have waxed your car. Even though you have gone over the car with the clean towel twice already, you always do the third run...simply because. This is how I would describe what the A3 on high gain with the bass enhanced sounds like (OK, LOOKS like in my car analogy, sheesh...), that final finish which gives the Cayin that envious glow of show-car quality.
     
    Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the Schiit pairing. Especially with the Nova. I had severe feedback when hooked together and the music was between songs. I am not sure if this was due to my cable system, the proximity of a lamp or what. I will need to isolate this, it was simply not acceptable. That said, DURING the songs, the Schiit gave a pretty good account of itself. On high or low gain though, it was extremely bright in sound. The trebles were pushed VERY far forward. Something with which I had not experienced before. Maybe it was the quality of my existing head units, but the sound became intolerable after a short listening session, regardless of the song, with the Cayin. I do not fault the i5 at all for that.
     
    DSC_0007.jpg
     
     
    Conclusion:
     
    A hearty thanks to Andy and Cayin once again for including me on the tour. The i5 is a wonderful piece of kit, holding down the mid-fi section of the market in a very solid manner. The sound alone should be enough to draw in potential customers. But when you add in third-party (there I go again!) application use, as well as the ability to stream Tidal and Spotify on WiFi you have a unit which can compete in the market very well indeed. A very good touchscreen added to boot makes the Cayin i5 a worthy addition to the stable if you can afford another. If this was to be my first purchase into the DAP world, I would gladly accept the minor quibbles I had, in trade for the top quality sound provided. And at the retail price listed it is a fairly comfortable purchase, too.
     
    Well done, Cayin you have produced a unit which brings the functionality of the modern world together with the old-world industrial-ness of the design element. A design I very much like, and give the overall rating of 4 out of 5 stars as a result.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. PinkyPowers
      Enjoyed the review. Well-done.
      PinkyPowers, Dec 6, 2016
    3. McCol
      Good review and on the whole spot on, however the issue with streaming is very unlikely to be related to home network issues.  
      My faulty unit had nothing to do with home network, tried it on other networks and on a strong 4g mobile netwprk with no improvement in the issue.  Although my unit appeared faulty it has been said in the thread that the I5 wifi is not as strong as a smartphone to help with interference, this is probably more of a cause to streaming issues rather than home networks.
      McCol, Dec 6, 2016
    4. ngoshawk
      Thanks Pinky and McCol, much appreciated. As for the Wifi issue, I only wanted to mention it, because the issue has been mentioned quite a bit in thread. Not trying to minimize it, just didn't want to beat it to death.

      Overall this is a pretty stunning unit, and I would love to own one.
      ngoshawk, Dec 6, 2016
  7. wirefriend
    Smooth, sweet mid-fi player
    Written by wirefriend
    Published Nov 27, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Nice texture, natural tonality, smooth and sweet
    Cons - Narrow soundstage, a bit muddy, buggy v2 firmware
    I have received i5 as a part of its EU tour.
     
    20161111_145813.jpg
     
     
    UI
     
    I like the design and UI a lot. It is Android 4.4 based so not the latest but will do. It also has ability to download 3rd party apps (as opposed to some other Android players like Opus #2).
    I use 3rd party apps to sync my desktop PC (iTunes) with the players I own. It copies not only song but bi-directionally syncs metadata like ratings, play count, skip count, last play time etc.
    It helps to create a dynamic playlists like "often played but not rated yet" or "highly rated but played long time ago".
    I was happy to see it working with the Cayin.
     
    The interesting part of UI is that the special music-centric launcher is used. There is no desktop. You can swipe to the left to open a menu where you can find some settings and 3rd party apps.
    Google Play works just fine when you enable the WiFi. I have not noticed any interference from WiFi so it is well shielded.
     
    The UI is very well designed but sometimes hangs. I had to restart the player from time to time. I am sure this can be improved by future firmware upgrades.
     
    Design
    It feels solid and handy. Has physical buttons which is a plus.
    The leather case I received with the Cayin protects most of it but makes the use of side buttons a bit more difficult.
     
    20161111_174341.jpg
     
     
    Sound
    I would rate it above Samsung S6 phone but below Sony ZX2, Onkyo DP-X1 and iBasso DX100. Those 3 are more expensive though.
    Cayin is smooth and warmish so may pair well with headphones you find a bit too harsh or too bright.
    Its soundstage is intimate, narrow and sometimes a bit at the back of you head. I must admit I prefer more "in front" presentation when the sound is positioned more in front of me.
    The soundstage has nice layering in terms of depth. If you carefully listen you can distinguish the layers of presentation well.
    I liked the Cayin's tonality: the instruments sound natural and you can distinguish their tone well. I would even say that in the tonality aspects it beats the ZX2.
    ZX2 wins in terms of clarity. Cayin sounds a bit muddy when put next to it.
    What kills the music aspect to me is the decompression artifacts. From time to time you can hear loud squeaks like the audio file was broken.
    I use alacs (Apple lossless format) that work well on S6, ZX2, DP-X1 and DX100.
     
    Cayin i5 vs Sony ZX2 with Denon AH-D5000
    1. i5: natural sound, soft
    2. ZX2 clearer and deeper bass
    1. Diana Krall / Peel Me a Grape: more echo / room feel on i5, more bass and clarity on ZX2 - ZX2 wins
    2. Hurvitz / Overture :i5 more naturally sounding, ZX2 drier - i5 wins
    3. Bonnie Tyler / Total Eclipse: i5 sweeter vocals, more natural instruments, ZX2 - crispier - i5 wins
    4. Pink Floyd / High Hopes: i5 more natural, warmer and smoother, ZX2 - less natural, colder, harsher but also crispier /cleaner.
      If you prefer relax and smoothness over detail and clarity i5 is your pick.
     
    Cayin i5 vs Sony ZX2 with 64 Ears A12 CIEM
    1. The Handsome Family - Far from any road: i5 a bit dull and foggy, good resolution, narrow soundstage, ZX2: much cleaner, wider soundstage, more 3D, more details, ZX2 wins
    2. The Cranberries - Zombie, i5: more natural, less clean, more intimate
    3. Florence + The Machine - What the water gave me: ZX2 nicer bass texture and instruments separation in intro, cleaner, a bit of sibilance, i5 no sibilance, a bit deeper but narrower soundstage
     
    Cayin i5 vs ZX2 with Audeze Sine
    1. Zaz - Les Passants - ZX2 crisp, good instruments separation, i5: less 3D, more in the face, a bit foggy, ZX2 wins
    2. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Please Baby - i5: narrower but deeper, more natural but less crisp - ZX2 wins
     
    Cayin i5 vs Samsung S6 with Denon AH-D5000
    1. Adele - Someone like you - S6 a bit harsh with modded D5000s. i5: deeper low tones, piano is clearer and more present, voice even more in front, more 3D, i5 is a clear winner
    2. Birdy - Skinny love - S6 is more dull and foggy, plays from distance, a bit sibilant, i5 is clearer and more present, has more 3D soundstage, and better positioning of instruments, less sibilant - i5 is a clear winner
    Cayin i5 vs Samsung S6 with 64 Ears A12 CIEM
    1. Christina Aguilera - Express - S6 has flatter presentation, but is a bit clearer and has blacker background, i5 is foggy with Low Gain, switching to High Gain improves a lot, but still the background is greyish, soundstage is better, instruments are more natural - no clear winner - depends what your sound preferences and priorities are
    2. Morcheeba - Lighten up - again S6 is a bit harsher, flatter and clearer, i5 is more relaxed, smoother, natural sounding, more 3D but a bit foggy
    Cayin i5 vs Samsung S6 with Audeze Sine
    1. Leonard Cohen - Waiting for the Miracle - i5 is natural sounding, not sibilant, warmish, more 3D but with greyish background, s6 has a bit too much of low tones which dominate the mids - i5 is clear winner
    2. Jacques Loussier - Toccata and Fugue in D Minor - i5 has nice punch, natural sound, relaxing sound, misses on ultimate clarity, s6 seems faster, shows nicer texture of low tones, has crispier high tones - it comes the cost of limited soundstage and less natural sound
     
    General comments
    1. more power than Sony ZX2 - especially with Audeze Sine outdoors
    2. occasionally hangs - restart needed (hold power off for a few secs) firmware 2.0
    3. music settings -> digital filter options: short delay slow roll off - makes sound sharper and cleaner IMO + adds some “echo” effect / room feel
    4. good battery life, but charges slowly
    5. takes up to 2 seconds to start playing
    6. alac playing problems
    7. tested with 3rd party Apps: Rocket Player and iSyncr to auto-sync PC/iTunes and the player
     
    Summary:
    If you're looking for a nice DAP which is a clear upgrade from a phone and has warm sound you should definitelly give i5 a listen.
    If you prefer natural tone of instruments over the clarity you should shoot for the Cayin i5.
      hqssui likes this.
    1. PinkyPowers
      Nice to see a comparison with the ZX2. You broke the differences down very well.
      PinkyPowers, Nov 27, 2016
  8. PinkyPowers
    The Improbable Mid-Fi Achievement - A Review of the Cayin i5
    Written by PinkyPowers
    Published Nov 20, 2016
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Outstanding value for such a package. Soothing, robust sound. Gorgeous, high-quality build. Leather case.
    Cons - One microSD slot. Unfinished firmware. A few bugs.
    i5CoverShot.jpg

    ::Disclaimer::
    Cayin agreed to let me join this review tour under two conditions. One: I must share my impressions openly and honestly, for good or ill. And Two: “For God’s sake stop sending us nude photos of yourself!”

    Life is a compromise, and here we are.

    ::The Review::
    I think this is going to be a rather short review. The sonic qualities of the Cayin tweaked my sensitive areas so well I could not find the willpower to refuse it long enough to perform tests I had no interest in. I never opened up a single app. I did not stream from Spotify or TIDAL. Hell, I didn’t even perform a full battery drain to see how long it lasted. Does this work as a USB DAC? Couldn’t tell ya! I just listened to FLAC files stored on my SD card through a variety of headphones and compared the i5 to my other DAPs.

    Oh yeah, there’s also zero un-boxing photos. Thank God for other, more professional reviewers, yes?

    Cayin’s last player, the N5, is the very example of strong, innovative aesthetics working harmoniously with function. It’s one of the most beautiful DAPs out there, and handles at the top of its class.

    The i5 is every bit the superior.

    i5Solar01.jpg

    A large, captivating volume knob is the focal point of this design. Right from the onset it speaks of grace and purpose. It turns with smooth control, and is firm enough not to move by accident. The chassis is big, but fits in the hand and pocket. The screen is flush, bright and detailed, and responds perfectly to touch commands. The hardware buttons are intuitive, placed exactly where you want them, and feel just right when depressed.

    However, I do have a major criticism of the hardware: One SD slot? FiiO made the same mistake, moving from the X5’s two slots to the X7’s one. If all you have is 32GB of on-board storage, you essentially have none. That does not count as the second SD card. If you’re only going to give us room for one microSD card, you had better give us at least 128GB of on-board storage, like the AK120ii. But since we all know that’s expensive, just give us two slots and be done with it.

    With the X7 and i5, my fears have been validated twice now. Moving to a full and open Android device diminishes the overall package. Focus on what’s important: Sound, storage, and interface. Abandon the frivolous. We don’t need Apps, WiFi, video or Bluetooth. Those things are foolish and wrong and are only useful if sound quality is not your top priority. In which case, we already have smartphones.

    A DAP should be held to narrower, yet higher expectations. It ought to be a device apart, dedicated to the singular purpose of a true hifi system in the palm of your hand.

    Okay, enough proselytizing. I swear.

    The Android UI is pretty raw-looking. I feel the software lacks much of the artistry found in the hardware. It’s all function, zero style. Which isn’t a terrible sin, but a little incongruous with just how glamorous the chassis is. Nonetheless, it isn’t too difficult to navigate the options and features here.

    Folder Browsing has an unusual bug I’ve never seen in any DAP before. It doesn’t sort numerically--alphabetically if you use brackets around the date.

    It works fine if your albums are formatted like this:
    1970 – Paranoid
    1971 – Master of Reality
    1972 – Vol. 4

    However, the Cayin gets all confused and sorts the albums randomly if you do it like this:
    [1971] Master of Reality
    [1970] Paranoid
    [1972] Vol. 4

    Most of my artists are formatted with brackets, so this “little bug” quickly became the t-Virus, and a good portion of the week saw me running from chompy zompoids.

    I spent a few days with the Cayin i5 using v1.8 of the firmware. Updating to v2.0 was frustrating. The Over-the-Air (OtA) update function did not work. There were errors connecting to Cayin’s servers. So I did it manually. The instructions on their website were spot on, save for one rather important omission which led to stress headaches. At the time I read them, the instructions did not state you must power down the unit before booting into update mode. Pretty obvious, one might think. Where the confusion lies is that you must be powered up to transfer the firmware onto the SD card. Given they are step-by-step instructions you would think the next step would be “Power Down”. Then “Boot Into Update Mode”. But no, it just says boot into update mode immediately after transferring the firmware file.

    It took me a while to figure it out. I wear this shame like a cloak, warming me against the bitter hostilities of the world.

    Firmware v2.0 delivered no obvious benefits to my usage. The sound did not change (good), and the sorting issue remains (bad). I’m sure there were a number of bug fixes, but for my limited scope of use, I noticed nothing new or different.

    As I mentioned earlier, in my negligence, I did not perform a proper battery test, but I will say it seemed to last longer than my AK120ii. That’s not hard to do, but I was happy for it, all the same.

    During my week with the i5 I noticed two or three instances where the unit shut off on itself. Once it happened when Idle Shutoff was disabled, another time while I listened to music. Never when it had any reasonable excuse to do so. So keep an eye on that.

    Okay, that about covers all the technical drudgery. Let’s move on to where this unit really shines.

    i5Solar03.jpg

    The Cayin i5 sounds amazing. It seems like it was tuned specifically for my savage disposition. Warm and smooth are the dominant traits. It presents organic, natural music, not music stripped down to raw details and shot into your ear-holes like shrapnel. It all sounds full and rich.

    The i5’s rendering is more refined than the N5. I felt the FiiO X5 Classic was ever so slightly more refined than the N5, and now the i5 easily beats the X5. That’s what I call an improvement in fives.

    Music is smoother on the i5 than it is on the X5, cleaner, and less digital-sounding. Soundstage is a bit wider, as well. There seems to be greater depth. Both are equally detailed. The i5 just creates a nicer, more honest sound.

    i501.jpg

    Now… the Astell&Kern AK120ii is still the king stallion of my stables. I’ve yet to try a DAP that beats it. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t heard one myself. The Cayin i5 does an admirable job competing against it. Far better than I expected.

    Limiting the AK to single-ended output, and using an A/B Switcher, the i5 is heard to be a little grainier/messier. The Astell&Kern is even more refined, with better coherency. Treble seemed less rolled off. It sounds just a touch more natural, the stage a touch wider. I felt a greater sense of immersion with the AK.

    Biased? Maybe. But I’d like to emphasize just how little the differences actually were. Switching between the two with split-second speed, it was often difficult to say how they differed. It took extended listening and mighty focus to mark the changes. The Cayin i5 surprised the hell out of me.

    When I switched cables and used the AK120ii’s BALANCED output, the differences became much greater. The N5 had balanced, and I expected the i5 to fix the noise issue the older sibling suffered from. Apparently Cayin could not, opting instead to remove balanced output entirely. So the AK has an unfair advantage that, when utilized, brings the potential a good pace ahead of anything the i5 is capable of.

    But enough of comparisons, yes? The simple listening of the i5 is such a pleasurable experience. I loved it off every one of my portable phones.

    i5Solar02.jpg

    None of my earphones received more Cayin-time then the Rhapsodio Solar BA10. Perhaps because the treble was tamed some by the i5, I couldn’t get enough of the Solar. I could hear just how detailed this player is. Above all, the i5 excels in musicality. Solar filled up like a balloon, delighting in such potent, uncompromised tonality. The Rhapsodio is not my current favorite IEM—that goes to the U12—but this pairing possessed a special kind of magic I found myself drawn to again and again. Solar brought out the virtues of the i5 like nothing else.

    I’ve come to think of the Audio Technica ATH-IM03 as the poor man’s Solar. Their sonic presentation shares so much in common it can be easy to forget which is which if you become distracted. Unfortunately, the IM03 is discontinued. But if you can find one, buy it. It does everything the Solar does for the i5, just a tad bit lesser. Eminently scrumptious sound!

    i5IM0302.jpg

    i5M202.jpg

    My trusty old Sennheiser Momentum 2.0s are still the only portable over-ears I own. I’ve been meaning to try some others, particularly the Meze 99 Classics, but my funds end up down other avenues. Lucky for me, the M2 is one hell of a headphone. The Cayin i5 drove them tremendously well. They sounded full and thick. Even lush! I have to EQ the AK120ii to achieve that result on these. The warm, fluid quality of the i5 works great for the Momentum, which tends to render its music loose and reckless. Charmingly so. But Cayin fills things out with more bass and keeps them in line. I could listen to the i5>M2 all day.

    This extra warmth doesn’t benefit everything, though. The 64Audio U12 with ADEL B1 Module is the greatest IEM I’ve ever heard. It’s warm, velvety, and smooth beyond compare. Pairing with the i5 felt like too much of a good thing. It sounded a little congested, a little too thick. Should I have spent much time with them together, I imagine my brain would adjust and I’d learn to love it. But during my brief test, I much preferred Solar on the i5. On the AK120ii, the U12 conquers the field. Particularly in balanced.

    i5U12.jpg

    Pinky didn’t know what to expect with Cayin’s foray into full-on Android extravaganza. My experience with FiiO’s similar turn left me underwhelmed but intrigued. Cayin fell for a number of the same pitfalls, but ultimately maintained the sense of self that separates them from the crowd. The i5 does not feel like a soulless block of circuitry with a touchscreen interface. It feels like Cayin brought the old artisan techniques into modernity, and did so with exquisite skill.

    I enjoyed the Cayin i5 so much that, should anything happen to my AK120ii, I would be VERY tempted to replace it with Cayin’s new masterpiece. Finally we have an offering from this company that sounds as good as it looks. I doff my hat to you, Cayin. Well done.

    -~::Pinky_Powers::~-

    i6backplane.jpg

    i5IM03.jpg
    1. View previous replies...
    2. BartSimpson1976
      Seems the problems with the case are solved with later production batches. Unfortunately nobody contacted the buyers of first batch where the i5 slipped out about an exchange or refund...
      BartSimpson1976, Nov 21, 2016
    3. PinkyPowers
      The case which Cayin provided me was indeed looser than I'd like. Not so loose the i5 falls out whenever you tip it upside down, but it will pull out if you so much as yank on the headphone plug. If you shake it whilst upside-down it might slip free. Now, the Astell&Kern leather is as tight and form-fitting as Trinity's pants. ...that's a Matrix reference.
      PinkyPowers, Nov 21, 2016
    4. misteral201103
      What an excellent review! All the information I would normally want, but wrapped up in the most enjoyable style of writing! Great job :xf_eek:)
      misteral201103, Nov 21, 2016
  9. Barra
    Textures and layering in stackless format
    Written by Barra
    Published Nov 8, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Sounds wonderful, full textures, great layering, doesn’t require amp, nice looking, touch screen w/nice UI
    Cons - little congested, sounds better with warmer amp, android startup time
    Disclaimer: I do not own the i5 yet with this being tour sample that was provided by Cayin. I sent this unit on to the next tour member at the end of my 7 day trial so the UI insights are from a newbie providing initial thoughts and not a seasoned Cayin UI pro. Thank you Cayin and @Andykong for including me once again as your products never fail to impress. Having said this, below is my honest opinion as always with no punches held back.
     
    This is a great little DAP for $500. It sounds wonderful direct and doesn’t require an amp like most DAPs do to get good SQ. It is right sized, easy to control with a nice touch screen UI, and has a wonderful volume control.
     

    UI

    I am just starting to learn it, and it does everything that I need, but it is not as intuitive as my AK100ii. I like the way the AK starts in the music player, the i5 starts in a dashboard. However, to get to the dashboard, you have to go through a lock screen like any Android setup requiring that extra step. The bottom line is that the i5 UI is good enough to do what it is supposed to do and is likely easily customized for those that own the unit and spend a little time. What I have never found in a DAP is instant on like an iPhone/iPad which would be wonderful.
     

    DAC/AMP

    The AK4490 is my favorite off the shelf DAC at the moment and I have been searching for the right DAP AK4490 implementation. The AK380 is crippled by its amp and even its add on amp leaving the DAP useless IMO without an external amp to use my Hidition CIEMs. So the AK4490 offerings that I am aware off is down to the Aune M2 and the i5. The i5 stomps on the Aune in build/UI, but the Aune has a better matched AMP providing a little more sound stage and better bottom end.
     
    The i5 amp is a little cold for my taste, but powerful enough that it doesn’t require an external amp to sound full and textured. This by itself is a big deal as it is not convenient to have to always carry a stack. The Aune amp also can go stackless, while sounding cold. However, I feel that the Aune amp is providing a noticeably bigger sound stage. Both the Aune and the Cayin are bested by my C&C BH2 external amp which has a noticeably richer and more controlled SQ. Where the i5 amp ran into problems was with faster more complex music where the SQ started to break down.
     

    SQ

    The i5 has the wonderful AK4490 signature with ample black space between the instruments and great layering with awesome timbre and texturing. It is the texturing that gives me the goosebumps that brings me back to the AK4490. Where the i5 lacks is in sound stage as does 99 percent of all DAPs. To me, most DAPs sound congested. The addition of my BH2 amp gives me more sound stage where I am no longer bothered, but the addition is minor. While this is no sony wm1a/z nor a LPG in SQ, it is not priced like one either at a fraction of the cost for most of the SQ. I should note that all my listening was done with a full sized HEX headphone which sounded wonderful together.
     

    Comparison to AK100ii

    Priced at 40 percent more, the AK100ii should kill the i5, right? Wrong. The AK UI was much nicer in my opinion, but the i5 was good enough. I am enjoying Tidal on my AK now after the last update, but I think there is a way to do Tidal on the i5 too – but I am not an android guy to figure it out. That being said, a DAP is all about SQ and there I think it beats my AK in all but busy passages. The AK may have a sound stage advantage though.
     

    Running Speakers

    While the i5 worked well as a DAP, even more impressive was the DAC sound running line out to my stereo to drive my speakers. Had a family music night and enjoyed the AK4490 goodness on my speaker system that drove new texturing and layering for a very fun night. The SQ is very musical and engaging. The UI made wandering through my collection easy.

     

    Final Thoughts

    The i5 has impressive SQ at its price point the puts my previous x5 and dx90 to shame and matches my more expensive AK. The form factor is pleasing and UI is nice. The only weakness for me is the AMP section which is colder than my preference and provides a little smaller sound stage than preferred. However, having an internal amp that drives HPs and CIEMs to full potential directly is a huge value. Don’t get me wrong, the i5 DAC/AMP pairing is impressive, but I am getting jaded after listening to a vast array of high end overpriced equipment that is eschewing my judgement. I think that the i5 is a solid entry at the $500 price point.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Barra
      Sorry Bart if this review came off as negative in any way as it was quite the opposite experience to me. Thought it was a fantastic DAP. Should point out that I missed explaining that it was a tour DAP, will add, and that I only had it for a week to explore. As for a UI, I appreciate the touch screen for the graphics and the ability to search my music, but most of the time, I just play a folder - like a playlist - with the screen off and hit the forward button which this player allowed me to do. The point about the AK UI was that it was brain dead simple not requiring any configuration out of the box. That being said, many of my friends are "Android people" and love android UI's for their customization capabilities and the app stores so I can appreciate the functionality. This was a first pass at the review and as you pointed out needs some tweaking - especially if it came across as a negative review.
      Barra, Nov 9, 2016
    3. Barra
      BTW, warm vs. cold - the nature of the AK4490 in my experience is to be very thick with textures that many call warm. When I say cold, I am talking about the absolute black between notes/instruments that removes the euphonics along with an elevated treble that drives that fantastic layering. I find that my personal tastes are to pair the AK4490 with a warm amp to perfect the emotion that the AK4490 lays out there for you. The internal i5 amp is fantastic all by itself, but my BH2 AMP has some sort of voodoo magic that has to be heard to be understood. Even the $3K DAPs sound better with the BH2 amp connected so this is not to be implied as a i5 issue, just a pairing observation.
      Barra, Nov 9, 2016
    4. BartSimpson1976
      @Barra Thanks, I did not find your review negative.I understand that you liked the i5 very much actually (and so do I). I only found your approach to the UI wrong.
      Compared to a lot of Chinese DAPs the i5's UI is absolutely great and intuitive. There are however, still a few minor quirks i it which have been addressed to Cayin and acknowledged by them. Warm/cold anyhow is a matter of personal preference. Maybe you should have addressed the hiss which you easily get from the i5 with sensitive IEMs. 
      Don't worry. I am not one of these fanboys who feel personally insulted if somebody says something negative about their toy! 
      BartSimpson1976, Nov 9, 2016
  10. cleg
    Good DAP with lots of unusual fetures
    Written by cleg
    Published Aug 30, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - overall sound, android, UI,wireless interfaces, battery life
    Cons - treble refinement, some buttons are to small, several features are yet to be added
    1MainPic.jpg

    Cayin can definitely organise master-classes "how to succeed on personal audio market". Of course with their experience on serious hi-fi market, taking over portable niche isn't hard, but so many other well-known companies failed there… Cayin started with really good N6, followed by excellent N5, and now they're targeting new niche with model, coded I5.

    As usual, I'd like to apologise for my english, as it's not my main language.

    This index corresponds new lineup of players, built with Android and having all related pluses. Of course, 4.4 is a pretty outdated, but it's more then enough to give user WiFi streaming, access to network storage, additional Google Play applications and so on. Android in this player hid behind nice shell, based on Hiby music, so you can actually use I5 without much Android interaction.
    2Box.jpg

    Musical hardware is pretty similar with N5: AK4490 as DAC, similar OpAmp, so sound doesn't cause any concerns. Additionally Cayin gave users nice sensor screen, stylish design and even USB-C support. Player "understand" almost all formats, including different kinds DSD, can work as USB DAC and has a nice battery.

    Price is also pretty good. Of course, $470 isn't spare change, but if we compare I5 price with competitors, we can call Cayin philanthropes.
    3Accessories.jpg

    Technical specs
    All specs can be found in official I5 tread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/802382/cayin-i5-lossless-android-dap-with-akm4490-dac-supporting-32-384-pcm-64-128-dsd

    Packaging and accessories set
    Of course, I5 is far from gorgeous N6 packaging, but it's obvious that Cayin have way lower margin for this player. Nevertheless, I5's box is really good. White outer envelope hides traditional black cardboard box with minimal polygraphy. Inside you'll find player itself, USB-C cable, few protector screens for both front and rear panels, MicroUSB to USB-C adapter and different papers.

    There are "official" case, sold separately. I've purchased it immediately, it's really stylish and protects player well.
    5WithOrion.jpg

    Design and controls
    Cayin are constantly working on design of their products, making it more and more strict. I'm really missing those bold experiments like circular display of N6, but I'm a minority here. Fortunately, I5's design is still interesting enough.

    Player's body made from metal, back side features carbon insert, on lower side is plastic lid, I think it hides antennas.

    Front panel mainly occupied with screen, which has pretty good resolution and view angles. Unfortunately, under the bright sun it loses major part of readability. Under the screen located sensor "home" button.

    On the sides of player located mechanical control buttons. On left side — on/off button, combined with screen lock, on right side — play/pause and tracks navigation and MicroSD slot. Player has 32 Gb of built-in memory and supports cards up to 200 Gb.
    6SideView.jpg

    Lower side of player contains USB C connector, upper — headphones and line out.

    Upper right side of player occupied with volume regulator, and it's a pure tactical orgasm. It's rotating slowly, but smoothly, and it's hard to resist from turning it all the time.

    As OS used Android 4.4 with custom launcher, based on HibyMusic. Main screen of I5 contains nice buttons, leading you to different music storages: internal memory, micro SD, Dropbox, LAN servers and external USB drive (yep, player supports them). When source connecter, player shows diagram with free space. Also, you can browse your media library by artist, album, and genre. For more convenience, there are separate menu with lists: recent tracks, most played ones, favourites, etc. Actually, controls are pretty good, but buttons are too small for easy control, so I hope Cayin will fix it in future updates.

    There are all necessary features: equalizer, 5 digital filters switch, sleep timer, and so on. You can install thirdparty software from Google Play, but most of this apps will play hi-res with downsampling via Android mixer.

    I5 has 1 Gb of RAM, it's pretty OK for shell itself, but not so much for additional apps. In AnTuTu I5 scores 14605 points.

    There are some nice features like network streaming and external USB drives support, they simplifies everyday tasks. Also, Cayin declared that I5 will be able to use external DACs via USB, but it will be implemented in future FW updates.

    With MeeAudio P1 as a load, on low gain and volume set to 30, I've got 10 hours and 45 minures of playback (FLAC, 44.1/16), but active screen usage will reduce this time noticeably. Charging with iPad adapter took about 4 hours and 20 minutes. Actually, life time is pretty good for such feature-packed device.

    9Knob.jpg

    Sound
    For listening, I'm sung following headphones: ZMF Omni, Meze 99 Classics, Lear LHF-AE1d, Ambient Acoustics AM10, Audio Zenith PMx2, Noble Kaiser K10AU, Campfire Audio Jupiter, Dita Audio Brass.

    I5 uses pretty similar to N5 set of OpAmps, so they have common "general" representation, but Cayin collected N5's feedback, and took it into attention, removing some of small issues from N5's sound.

    Bass in i5 is pretty deep and has moderate punch. It has good quantity, resolution is a bit lower then maximal, but lows have a nice texture. With darkened headphones, this player will be good even for bassheads.

    Mids, of course, are good, resolution, microdynamics, emotions — all is present here. Player doesn't add anything to mids, so if you like colored sound, it's not an option for you. As many AK4490 devices, I5 features digital filter switch, from all its settings I prefer "super-slow". Subjectively, I'm missing stage depth with I5, it's aobut average in sound layering, but stage width is more or less OK.

    Treble is "normal". They aren't superb in terms of general perception, they are lucking some sense of "luxury", but they have decent speed and decay.
    10InCase.jpg

    Some subjective comparisions.

    Cayin N5 Both DAPs have similar neutral sound, but N5 has some accent on upper-mids, that made sound "rougher", but on last FW it's lowered, so here N5 sounds closer to I5. Also I5 has a bit deeper bass.

    Cayin N6 N6 features more rich sound, with some hint of softness, giving more "musicality" to records, so generally, N6 sounds a step higher.

    Fiio X7 + AM Fiio offers better staging and better treble. Also, X7 has a bit better detalisation. On the other hand, I5 offers more engaging and energetic lows.

    QLS 360 QLS is rougher, it has more drive, more emotions, actually, it offers pretty different representation, and those who like 360 won't like I5 and vice-versa.

    Compatibility
    I5 is pretty universal DAP: 180 mW for 32Ω load it's more then enough for vast majority of headphones, and close to 0 output impedance makes this player good option for multi-driver IEMs. With sensitive IEMs some noise is present, but for me it's pretty quiet, so it doesn't bother me.

    Style-wise player is pretty universal, but to my ears it's the best suited for technical and complex music: classics, jazz, technical styles of metal, and so on. Player is pretty sensitive to quality of recordings, I'd say 7 points by 10 scale.

    Conclusion
    Really interesting player, having nice design, interesting features and good controls. Sound is also really OK, and affordable price is a cherry on top of I5's benefits.

    P.S. I've also made a video with initial impressions

    1. View previous replies...
    2. cleg
      @BartSimpson1976 I'm agree with your points, but it's really interesting, how perception differs. I hear noise, but for me it doesn't a critical issue, as well as gapeless. Of course, it's better when DAP doesn't have them both, but for me it's acceptable. And critical for me is a lacking of playback position memory for example.

      As for case, mine isn't tightest, but it sits pretty reliable. May be it'll stretch later, I don't know.
      cleg, Aug 30, 2016
    3. BartSimpson1976
      everybody has different priorities, that's why it is so interesting to see the different opinions. The i5 is in the top leaguewhen it comes to value for money. New firmware ETA has been announced just now, so we will see how things develop. 
      BartSimpson1976, Aug 30, 2016
    4. Mython
      You have excellent English!
      Mython, Sep 1, 2016