Cayin have always intrigued me, their approach to portable audio isn't about sound quality alone, far from. Their designs are some of the most unique and peculiar on the market. Not only have their designs separated themselves from competition, they detach themselves from MP3 players as we've come to understand them. Last year when we toured Cayin N6 the casing was described by my friends with some entertaining titles.
I will say Cayin N6 wasn't my preferred design for a flagship player, it was quite heavy, a little 'clicky clacky' on the push button controls and cumbersome on the go. All that changed when I laid eyes on their mid-tier model Cayin N5, only impressing me further once I held N5 in the palm of my hand. On top of the design Cayin managed to pack this little player to the brim with features. Everything from USB 3.0 port, dual micro sd card slots, coax out, line out, huge file support, respectable resolution screen. The pocket-sized player even supports 2.5mm balanced headphone out if you wish to use it. All for a respectable price of around $345 USD.
Phones Out (Bal）:
- Power rating: 300mW+300mW（@32Ω）
- Frequency Response: 20-20kHz（±0.2dB，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）
Phones Out (Single End):
- Power rating: 200mW+200mW（@32Ω）
- Frequency Response: 20-20kHz（±0.2dB，Fs=192kHz）
- THD+N: 0.006% （1kHz时，Fs=44.1kHz；20Hz-20kHz，A-Weighted）
- Dynamic Range: 108dB （20Hz-20kHz，A-Weighted）
- SNR: 108dB （20Hz-20kHz，A-Weighted）
- Output Impedance; 0.26Ω
- Output Level: 2.0V （@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）
- 4200mAh 3.7V Lithium polymer, can play 9 HRS
- Charging: 3 HRS (with 2A Charger, not provided)
- Charging Current: <=1500mA when charge with 2A Charger,<=500mA when charge with computer USB port
- Recommended Headphone impedance Range: 16-300Ω（recommended）
- Dimension: 11.1 x 6.4 x 1.64(cm)
- Net Weight: 195g
Music Format (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: Up to 192kHz/24Bit（Support Fast and Normal compression only）
- FLAC: Up to 192kHz/24Bit
- WAV: Up to 192kHz/24Bit
- AIFF: Up to 192kHz/24Bit
- ALAC: Support
- WMA: Support
- AAC: Support
- Mp3: Support
- USB Mode: A synchronized USB Audio 2.0 Class
- DSD: Support DoP (DSD64)
- PCM: Up to 192kHz/24Bit
- Windows: Support (Driver required)
- MAC OSx: Support
- iOS: Not support
- Android: Not support
- Cayin N5 Music Player
- USB cable
- 3.5mm audio cable
- Silicone case
(add specs from penon audio here)
Price / Availability:
Penon Audio, Amazon and selected retailers.
On arrival the boxing is quite plan Jane from first look. I have a black relativity thick cardboard box with a nice texture, the words 'Cayin' can be seen in the upper left corner. On the back of the box however, is an assortment of information including the AKM AK4490 DAC used, PGA2311 volume chip, there are some other highlighted features such as the 2.5mm balanced headphone out, USB 3.0 and ability to support two micro sd cards. Total weight of the package comes in at 195grams.
Once removing the lid (which wasn't exactly effortless) the first thing you'll see is the player itself recessed into an insert. A piece of ribbon laying behind the player lets you pull upwards to release N5 from its holding facility. I'll say so far the presentation is quite attractive, sometimes these subtle formulas talk class in themselves. Once you lift the player out you'll find another cardboard insert below with your accessories and extra goodies.
- x1 Silicon Case
- x1 User manual
- x1 USB 3.0 data/charge cable (flat)
- x1 Quick start card
- x1 3.5mm coax to female RCA cable
- Quality control pass sticker
When I look at the accessories there's something about them, something shows a higher quality than I usually experience. The silicon case appears high-grade material, the USB 3.0 cable thick flat and durable, even the user manual has been laminated in glossy finish. Its things like this add up to the quality Cayin shoot for even at mid-tier level. The manual is well laid out in English explaining most of the players functions. Cayin went the distance in presenting the package displaying they actually 'care' which is a welcomed aspect compared to some others in the portable audio market.
Design / Build:
At this section its 10/10 stars, if one thing appeals to me more besides N5's features its the design. Like mentioned in the introduction it appears Cayin have some of the most daring physical designers working for them. From the all metal casing, vents engraved along the side, the large respectable resolution screen, everything about the design makes N5 appear almost like an artifact you discovered deep inside an ancient pyramid. Its a real head turner, a conversation piece that may even leave people curious what the unit actually is when first showing them.
The back of the unit has a carbon fibre plate, the words Cayin in gold running writing on top. Its not far from the appealing look of an Astell & Kern player but much, much cheaper. Its not only the looks, when you hold the unit in your hand it has a little weight which adds to its quality. Kind of like holding an expensive watch or rare treasure and I love it.
Areas like the buttons are chrome finish, the scroll wheel embedded with finger grip notches firm to click, its just leaks quality everywhere and I can't express anymore how I admire the design of N5.
Let's have a quick walk around the player:
From an off state the player takes roughly 10 seconds booting to the main menu. The first you'll see is a musical backdrop and some round icons spreading across some strings. At the top of the screen there's an icon bar showing the volume level, gain mode, your main menu selection, EQ status and battery percentage. So nice to see more players integrating the battery level in percentage readouts, not only very accurate, looks great as well in the corner of your screen.
The main menu options are:
- Music category (genre, artist, album etc)
- Music library (folder browsing / select each card slot)
- Now playing screen
- Music settings
- System settings
In this section you're able to adjust settings like gain mode, play mode, switching between line out or headphone out, gapless, EQ. Unlike several other players I've reviewed Cayin really deck out the music settings with several features, some you may use daily, others adjust once and be done with it. None the less its these adjustments that make a player very flexible to a number of users.
The available music settings are:
- Gain setting (Ldb / Hdb)
- Digital filter (several options)
- DSD gain compensate
- SPDIF out (DSD64) (D2P / DoP)
- Equalizer (custom presets / 10 band adjustable sliders)
- Play mode (normal / repeat, repeat 1, shuffle)
- Output selection (phone / line out)
- Breakpoint resume (off / on)
- Gapless (off / on)
- Max volume (set limit)
- Start up volume (memory / custom)
- Set up Start up volume (set limit)
- Balance (L/R – 10 steps each way)
- Album art (of / on)
- Lyric (off / on)
In this section you'll find features like language selection, theme selection, folder operation, switching between USB and DAC mode. Once again Cayin not letting anything leak through the cracks people might need. Sometimes I find it amazing how all these single features can be implemented into a player then function seamlessly without any confrontation between each other.
System settings available are:
- Language (several options)
- Theme selection (different colours)
- USB mode (DAC / USB)
- Backlight time (30 seconds / 40 minutes)
- Screen brightness (6 settings low/high)
- Folder operation (off /on)
- Enable hibernation (off / on)
- Idle shutdown (off / on)
- Idle shutdown time (5minutes / 120 minutes)
- Scheduled power off (off / on)
- Format TF card
Now Playing screen:
At the heart of the unit is the now playing screen where you'll see your album art displayed with a great resolution screen for its class taking up most of the real estate. The track title, time duration, volume level, play mode, gain mode everything you need to enjoy the unit without glancing to far away. When you combine the design we spoke about coming from an ancient time then throw the modernization of a great colour screen with current album art you form something really special. Old meets new, design meets technology, all give the player a certain character.
Getting around the unit consists of using the scroll wheel and buttons along the side of the player. Basically, the scroll wheel can be used for moving up and down the menu options or you can simply use the buttons on the front of the unit also. The scroll wheel has a center button which makes your selections. I find moving around the unit requires two hands for most parts especially when navigating through the menus and your music folders but its actually quite enjoyable. The scroll wheel clicks firmly with each small rotation, the buttons have solid amount of resistance, it works quite well, a continuation of the design aspect.
There are other settings that change their mode when the screen is asleep, for example, long pressing the volume buttons will change tracks, single presses will change the volume in small increments so it doesn't get caught going up too loud in your pocket. Lots of little safety measures taken to expand the functionality and make the user experience a firm selling point.
Battery Life / Output Power:
N5 is spec'd out to reach a respectable 9 hours, using 16/44 FLAC I had no problems reaching those amounts, even more depending how heavily you use the unit, your file format and the amount of screen on time you use. I think anything under 8 hours is looking a little brim in today's age though N5 manages a neat little readout display in percentage and never feels like you're a slave to the power point. For myself I probably charge the unit once every 2-3 days.
The output power is rated at 200mW+200m @ 32ohms which is more than you'll need with any of the low impedance IEMs on the market. I'd say N5 will do well with most full-size headphones as well. During my time using IEMs I've never flicked the unit into high-gain and never ventured past 50 percent volume. Its a real little powerhouse made for the masses and should do well with just about anything (within reason) you throw at it.
In-ear monitors used:
- Tralucent 1Plus2
- Tralucent Ref.1
- Shozy Zero
- Aurisonics ASG-2
- Echobox Finder X1
- 16/44 FLAC (all files)
N5's overall tonality is on the 'slightly' warm side of neutral, it can sound a little smooth around the mid-range and treble regions. While the treble is never absent I do hear a little lacking extension or a laid back presence. Areas like the low-end have solid punch with great extension, the bass always ready for action if your genre/albums are in request. One area that stands out on the lows is the texture and detail being quite nice, there's enough clarity to make your earphones sound full and warm if their signature is tuned that way. When you reach the mid-range the timbre has a certain house sound I've heard from Cayin's N6 player, its quite unique and classy giving the player its own personality. Quite an addictive house sound you don't want to shift away from.
Areas like refinement, separation are good even being a little ahead of iBasso DX80. When it comes to resolution and mid-range detail there are sufficient amounts for the price range but its the only area I feel N5 may hold back over the iBasso, DX80 is just is a little more revealing. Its easy for me to say I would take Cayin N5 over FiiO X3II if offered the choice as the detail is surpassing that level and N5 isn't as warm as the FiiO units I've owned/heard which I don't particularly enjoy.
Soundstage is decent although not extremely wide, layering is sufficient on the left/right channels. While these areas are more then present the sections may be compromised being a mid-tier player. Overall you're not missing terribly much from the next level up in players but a little more stage width would have been welcomed for my Tralucent IEMs which push the limits of width for an in-ear monitor. While the Tralucent IEMs may not have reached their performance ceiling I had particularly good results pairing N5 with the dynamic driver based Shozy Zero earphones. The two provided an excellent amount of detail and dynamics which became my favorite earphone for N5.
Summing up, N5 is more than capable for the price and especially for an everyday all rounder who wants to lessen listening fatigue. The way the mid-range and treble presents themselves with that slight smoothness and relaxation allows many hours of listening without becoming tired. Players like iBasso DX90 are very revealing highly strung units but there is always the price of your ears needing a rest after an hour or two. I believe Cayin tuned N5 for the long haul, the all day listeners and this shows with their end result.
From the design, features, settings, Cayin completely nailed it. Not only have they produced one of the more unique looking players on the market at a respectable price point, they've hammered the functionality and usability down to a tea showing a functional practically bug free player can be accomplished if the market and companies put dedication to it. While other companies were moving into touch screens Cayin produced what I call a 'true audiophile' DAP. It looks good, sounds good and shows testament to the roots of audiophile character.
When we talk about the sound N5 plucks many of the right strings, while it isn't the most detailed unit I've heard in this category N5 successfully accomplishes what it was designed too, that long listening experience. While I do prefer a slightly more revealing sound I am not taking any points off because technically N5 is quite strong, the timbre, house sound all equate to something quite special and will appeal to several portable audio hobbyist. For me, just having the unit in my house, on my desk when not in use is almost like gazing over at a sentimental piece, one I suspect with age won't appear any older.
I'd like to thank Cayin for sending the sample and its been a really fun, enjoyable experience reviewing Cayin N5. Its a pleasure to use on a daily basis, I can easily, easily recommend N5 to anyone out there looking for a great player among this populated portable audio market.