Cayin N5ii

Rating:
4.66667/5,
  1. twister6
    Packed with goodies!
    Written by twister6
    Published Feb 14, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - neutral-bright tonality, balanced output, dual uSD card support, Bluetooth and WiFi support (w/Google Play installed), very compact solid design, battery life.
    Cons - limited Android experience, custom digital out cable.


    The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with my readers on Head-fi.

    Manufacturer website: Cayin, available from MusicTeck and Amazon.



    Intro.

    When I saw N5ii spec for the very first time, I was a little surprised to find it having more in common with i5 than original N5. After receiving my review unit and placing it next to N5 and i5, I thought of calling it "iN5ii" :) There is no other way for me to describe the new N5ii DAP from Cayin but to call it as a crossover between these two models, picking up a balanced output and dual uSD cards from N5 and a nearly identical Hiby GUI and customized Android 5.1 with a touch screen and a similar volume wheel from i5. Along with a sticker price of $369, Cayin packed N5ii with lots of goodies, pushing the envelope of its price/performance ratio even further.

    This new release enters a space in mid-fi market which is currently the most saturated when it comes to DAPs. It's a space where audio enthusiasts want something small and compact on the go, but with more power and more features to set it apart from entry level models (like Cayin N3) and without high expectations of summit-fi performance, something which Cayin is overdue for (how about the next flagship model?).

    I remember when Cayin told me about their original plan of keeping N-models as non-Android based, while i-models will be Android based. N5ii is a crossover between N5 and i5, which looks like a "hybrid" on paper. But does it perform like one? I spent the last month using N5ii DAP (w/2.1en firmware), and here is what I found.

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    Unboxing.

    Many companies put a lot of thought into packaging. I appreciate that, thus wanting to highlight it in my unboxing section. In case of N5ii, the outside sleeve is all black with a front featuring a glossy outline of the DAP with a focus on a volume wheel. Hi-Res Audio sticker in the lower left corner is the only touch of color in there. Flipping it on the back reveals detailed highlights of the design which is quite impressive.

    The actual storage box underneath the sleeve is all black, with a company name and audio waveform logo in silver. Once a magnetic cover is lifted, you will find a user guide in the pocket under the cover, and the DAP wedged in a secure foam cutout, right next to the storage pocket with accessories.

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    Accessories.

    Already pre-installed, N5ii has a tempered glass screen protector which is always good to have when dealing with a touch screen DAP. While film screen protectors keep scratches away, tempered glass usually shatters on direct impact, offering a real protection of the glass display.

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    You will also find a silicone protection case, a grey-ish rubbery semi-translucent case. It doesn't look too cheap or feels stretchable like some other dust/lint magnet silicone cases, and it does enhance the grip while keeping all the ports open. But it's not as premium looking as Cayin's optional "crocodile" pattern case you’ll find on Amazon or directly from MusicTeck. Yes, the case will set you back $30, but it fits like a glove, has a soft inner lining, distinct red stitching around the back, quality finish, and precise cutouts around the ports and volume wheel. Personally, I recommend upgrading to this case.

    Stock case.

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    Optional upgrade case.

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    Another optional accessory is Cayin CS-30TCR usb-C to coax cable (to connect to external DAC/amp) and Cayin CS-40TC35 (intended for 3.5mm coax input DAC/amp like Chord Mojo or Hugo 2). The cables have a quality build and extra shielding to cut the interference. Since N5ii doesn't have S/PDIF direct output, these cables are necessary if you are planning to use this DAP as a transport to drive external DAC/amp. Both cables available directly from MusicTeck.

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    You should also expect to find usb-C to usb cable for charging, data transfer, and usb-dac connection, though it was "apple" white, instead of a "traditional" black usb cable. Either way, this cable will be easy to spot among all your other usb-c and micro-usb cables, though the cable jacket felt not as solid. Also, included were 2 extra Hi-Res Audio stickers.

    Design.

    From my previous experience of reviewing N6, N5, i5, N3, and now N5ii, I find that Cayin always tries to come up with an original design which makes them stand out from the crowd of saturated DAP market. Of course, what’s under the hood should count the most, but as they say – you only get one chance to make a first impression. With non-Android DAPs you have more room and more freedom to customize controls and chassis. When you are dealing with Android based design and full touch screen interface, it leaves you with very little room for extra design elements, so you need to be more creative. In my opinion, with i5 the focus of the design was their threaded cylindrical volume knob, which is scaled down and carried over to N5ii.

    According to Cayin, N5ii is 9% smaller and 24% lighter then i5, and indeed, with dimensions of 115mm x 57mm x 15.3mm and approximately 150g in weight – it’s a very compact and pocket friendly DAP. With a very thin bezel around side and bottom edges, majority of the front panel is occupied by 3.65” touch screen. The top of the chassis above the display extends with a volume wheel in the upper right corner, guarded around the corner by chassis frame, instead of being exposed like in i5. N5ii unit had a volume wheel with a noticeable resistance and a click-feedback as you turn it with every adjustment step. Though the resistance of the wheel wasn't too tight, I still found it more comfortable to turn with 2 fingers.

    The metal part of the front chassis has a brushed aluminum anodized finish, while all the way around the sides and the top/bottom I found a sandblasted finish which gave CNC aluminum chassis an extra non-slip grip and a very pleasant to the touch feel. The back has a glass panel with a laser etched pattern underneath, which could be slippery especially when you place it on the surface, but when you hold N5ii naked in your hand, that slippery back is compensated by a non-slip sandblasted grip of side panels. But either way, using N5ii with a case is a good idea, and that optional “crocodile pattern” pleather case is pretty good and doesn’t hide the design elements of the DAP.

    Starting from the left side, you have a small aluminum power button at the top with a corresponding etched symbol. On the right side, at the top you have transport control buttons with 3 evenly spaced small aluminum buttons where you have Play/Pause in the middle and Skip Next/Prev around it. Though buttons are small, they have plenty of distance in between to make sure your fingers don’t press two at a time. Down below the right side you have 2 spring-loaded uSD slots. The bottom has multi-functional USB-C port, used for charging, data transfer, USB DAC/amp input, and Digital Out output. The top, besides a volume wheel which is accessible from the front/back, also has 2.5mm BAL headphone out and 3.5mm SE headphone output which is also shared with Line Out port.

    The front display panel also hosts a small charging LED in the upper right corner, and all the way at the bottom in the middle there is a touch “home” button which has a dual functionality of Go-Back with a single tap or Go-to-Home screen with a longer touch’n’hold.

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    Under the hood.

    N5ii packs quite a lot for a mid-fi DAP in its price range. Before looking “under the hood”, the first impression comes from its 3.65” TFT IPS touch screen display with 845x480 resolution. It’s an adequate capacitive touch screen display for navigation of N5ii GUI, viewing embedded artwork of your songs, and running various apps. Also, since it’s IPS based, it has pretty good viewing angles. Does the display crisp enough and has vibrant colors to watch a high res videos or to play demanding games? Not really. In my opinion, with its Rockchip RK3188 processor and 1G of DDR3 RMA it’s probably not a good idea to run anything too CPU/graphic intense. It has a very capable quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor with a quad-core Mali-400MP4 GPU, but it’s not intended to perform on par with your latest smartphone.

    Furthermore, in this design Cayin decided to implement ESS9018K2M DAC along with a selection of high grade TI SoundPlus Audio OpAmps, a pair of OPA1622 for Left/Right channel current to voltage conversion and 3 individual OPA1622 where one is used for single-ended amplification and other two used for balanced output amplification. The design uses separate OpAmp components to keep SE and BAL parts of the circuit isolated and optimized for the best performance. Also, to reduce the jitter when handling different sampling rates, Cayin implemented three separate precision oscillators, covering multiples of 44.1kHz, 48kHz, and DSD signals. Altogether, the hardware can handle majority of lossy or lossless formats from mp3, wma, aac, ogg, ape, alac, flac, aif, wave, and all the way to sacd-iso and decoding up to DSD256.

    While running customized Android 5.1, you get a support of BT4.1 and WiFi, and Google Play comes pre-loaded already, so you don’t need to side-load apks of your desired apps. Along with internal 32GB of storage, some of which as expected will be allocated to Android OS, continuing with a tradition of the original N5 you will get 2x uSD cards, supporting up to 400GB each. So, in theory you can have up to 832GB of storage space. More can be added through OTG USB connection, but for a portable use 2 uSD cards can offer plenty of storage, especially if you have a collection of high res FLAC/DSD files.

    Internal battery capacity is 3000mAh, which could be charged fully within 3+ hours when using 2A usb wall charger. Cayin is staying consistent with their other designs, continuing using usb-c connector. In terms of a battery performance, I was driving IE800S from BAL output at a regular listening volume level, with medium gain, and audio priority mode enabled, and the uninterrupted playback lasted 11.5 hrs. I consider this as a best-case scenario since I was playing mp3 track. Switching to high res files, at a higher gain, and with more demanding headphones will reduce the battery life, as expected.

    In terms of the actual headphone outputs, N5ii packs a punch with SE 3.5mm output rated at 150mW (32ohm load) with <0.4 ohm impedance and BAL 2.5mm output rated at 250mW (32ohm load) with <0.6 ohm impedance. 3.5mm output can also be switched to Line Out with 2V output level. Both headphone outputs have SNR spec of about 116dB-117dB, with a decent dynamic range and a black noise floor, more about it in sound analysis and pair up sections of the review.

    Last, but not least, I would like to mention Audio Priority Mode. Not exactly a hardware feature, but a very useful “shortcut” you select from Notification bar to maximize audio performance by disabling WiFi, Bluetooth, shutting down 3rd party apps, and optimizing Android OS by turning off some of the background processes. It’s almost like a hardware acceleration mode to boost audio performance of N5ii. The only concern here, selecting AP Mode also disables EQ which needs to be enabled in future fw updates.

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    Wired/wireless connections.

    Bluetooth/Wireless.

    For this test I used N5ii and my aging Galaxy Note 4 phone with Senns Momentum over-ears M2 wireless headphones. With N5ii, I was able to listen to headphones without a problem 28ft away from N5ii, while 34ft away from my Note 4 phone. When comparing the wireless sound quality between N5ii and Note 4, I hear Note 4 to have a fuller body with more bass, while N5ii sounds a little thinner in comparison. Perhaps a difference is due to a lack of aptX encoding support in N5ii.

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    Digital out.

    Using optional CS-30TCR usb-C to coax cable, I had no issues connecting N5ii to SPDIF input of that Micro iDSD BL DAC/amp. You can only use volume control on Micro iDSD, and the sound was very transparent, a typical Micro iDSD sound signature, no distortion or interference noise. I found it to be a flawless pair up with N5ii as a digital transport source.

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    Next, I tested digital out using usb-c to micro-usb cable (Shanling L2 cable), connecting N5ii to Oppo HA-2 DAC/amp. Once connected, HA-2 was recognized and the message popped up asking to allow Cayin Audio app to access USB device. Some of my cheap eBay cables didn't work, L2 is high quality and always works. And again, it was a flawless transparent pair up with N5ii as a digital transport source, and I was able to use volume control from HA-2 only.

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    Analog out.

    In this test I used N5ii Line Out to FiiO E12A (my transparent portable amp used for testing since Cayin's own C5 colors the sound a bit). When comparing N5ii PO vs LO+E12A, I hear the direct sound from N5ii to be a little brighter and more revealing vs N5ii+E12A to have a little smoother body and deeper sub-bass extension. This suggests that internal head-amp section of N5ii makes sound a little brighter and more revealing.

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    USB DAC.

    In this test I used ThinkPad T470 with Win10, and installed the latest Cayin USB Audio drivers v4.35.0. Driver install was headache free, N5ii was quickly recognized by my laptop, I found that I'm able to use a volume control from laptop and DAP, and also the sound quality was similar to standalone DAP performance.

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    GUI.

    With a modified Android 5.1 running in the background, the main interface of N5ii is Hiby audio app, thus once you boot up N5ii, it looks more like a DAP with a dedicated audio interface rather than a smartphone. You are greeted with a main page (top-most Music tab) and Folder view with options to access internal memory, micro-SD cards, or OTG storage. Next to the top Music tab, you have List with favorites, frequently and recently played songs, and playlist. Then, Private Cloud for LAN connection, and Search which brings up QERTY android keyboard (like in a smartphone). Under Music tab, you can also sort by Album, Artist, Genre, and Tracks.

    I typically use folder view as my default because I have many loose songs and not too many albums (mostly compilations). Plus, not everything is properly tagged, but when I click on Album all of them show up as a separate thumb with corresponding embedded artwork and number of tracks in the album; while single songs show up as 1-track album, and the rest is under Unknown. Clicking on Artist brings up a list with every artist, and when you click on each, it shows separate songs and albums under that artist. Clicking on Genres, bring up thumbs with common genres (most of mine under pop and dance and classic). Clicking on Tracks brings all the songs in alphanumeric order.

    Swiping notification bar down (typical Android feature), gives you a quick access to WiFi, Bluetooth, Gain setting, PO/LO (headphone vs line out for 3.5mm port), enabling Audio Priority mode, USB-C Mode (between USB, MTP, and DAC modes), Idle shutdown, and Scheduled power off. At the bottom, you can also adjust the brightness level of the screen and the screen time out, as well as being able to access the full Android Settings menu by clicking in the upper right corner Setting Icon, right next to battery indicator with an exact percentage of capacity. Those with Android phones will feel right at home, while iOS users will need to spend a little bit of time getting used to it.

    Swiping the main screen to the right, reveals more Setting options for Music scan (scan all or the specified folder), a very detailed Music Settings (gain, digital filter, DSD gain compensation, SPDIF Out, Play through folder, Start up and max volume, channel balance, breakpoint resume, gapless, album art, and lyrics display), Equalizer (10band paragraphic EQ with 31/62/125/250/500/1k/2k/4k/8k/16k bands and a few genre-specific presets), Third-party applications (Google Play store and other installed apps), Smart Cleaning (to terminate running application), Download path/manager, Sleep Time/Scheduled Power off, and About section (useful to check your fw version).

    As I mentioned already, this is not a typical open Android interface, but a Hiby audio player interface on top of Android which you need to access to get to the apps, including Google Play store. I have installed a handful of apps, such as Spotify and some games. Everything seems to be working, though I do want to note that download is not the fastest, thus I still prefer manual FW updates. I use free Spotify and found no issues with streaming, it was up and running in seconds. But as I mentioned before, we are dealing with only 1GB of RAM and not the fastest processor/GPU intended for more demanding apps. So, you got to have realistic expectations. But in general, it’s a relatively fast touch screen interface for an audio player, just don’t expect it to fly like your smartphone.

    Another thing to note, with Android support, users are tapping into 3rd party apps which can slow down or crash Android OS, something which is not under control of Cayin or Hiby. Thus, it becomes a double edge sword. Customers are asking for streaming, so manufacturers build their OS on Android platform. But that also opens a can of worms with people installing various apps which are not under control of the manufacturer and when something doesn't work, manufacturer gets blamed.

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    But one of the thing they are in control of is the main DAP interface, especially in Audio Priority Mode where apps and many background processes are disabled to optimize the performance. The main Playback screen has a clear layout with upper top half of the screen independent of selected theme, where you can see a song artwork (if one is embedded) which could be switched to lyrics view (if available with a song) or a very elegant vertical Stereo VU Meter. Underneath you have selection of controls with different loop modes (single, repeat, random, etc.), access to EQ, view the list of songs in a current playback folder, and being able to add to favorites. Also, a display of a song/artist name and playback controls with Skip Next/Prev and Play/Pause. But the layout of all these controls will vary, depending on Theme selection, a little shirt icon in the lower left corner of the artwork screen of the display.

    I do like the layout and graphics of Theme #1, the original theme from i5, but the fast-forward circular bar wasn’t as useful since my thumb covers it up without being able to see the time marker. Theme #2 is nice except that fast-forward scrub bar is right underneath of song artwork/lyrics/VU meter section where sometimes it's hard to see the actual bar. On a few occasions when fast-forwarding through a song, I end up swiping to the lyrics screen. I like Theme #3 the best except that I would like the graphics for Play and Skip buttons to be updated with something better defined because those buttons are not easy to see due to inner shadow. Of course, these are minor details, based on my personal preferences.

    My only comment here, I wish Cayin/Hiby would have the main Playback screen as their default Home view. Everything else should be accessible by going into Settings or another Menu. Otherwise, it gets a little confusing when you are greeted with a Music/Folder view (with memory/card/OTG shortcuts) every time you start N5ii.

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    Sound analysis.

    I usually find a sound signature of the DAP is easier to describe when talking about its comparison to other sources or pair up with different headphones. But you can still come to a reasonable conclusion about individual sound performance of the DAP, derived from these comparisons.

    N5ii tonality, though closer to neutral, leans more toward a brighter and a more revealing side. Don't expect a big bass impact or mids with a warmer fuller body. The sound is lean and a little on a colder side. It certainly is crisp and detailed with a wide soundstage, a nice dynamic expansion, and a sense of air between the layers of the sound. It pair ups great with neutral and warmer tuned headphones, and at the same time doesn't make brighter tuned one’s sound too harsh, though there were a few exceptions I mentioned in my pair-up analysis section of the review.

    One interesting observation I found is between 3.5mm Single Ended vs 2.5mm Balanced outputs of N5ii. When comparing these outputs, though not necessary night'n'day difference, I do hear BAL output to be a little leaner in tonality, especially in lower mids, including a little less mid-bass impact and more sparkle in treble. This difference in tonality gives you an option to fine-tune the sound which comes in handy when dealing with different sound signature headphones and trying to find the best pair up synergy.

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    Comparison.

    In the following comparisons, I put N5ii against other DAPs in similar price/performance categories. While using different IEMs for my analysis, I always try to volume match between sources.

    N5ii vs i5 - when comparing the soundstage, I hear N5ii SE to be very close to i5, but when you switch to N5ii BAL, the soundstage has a wider expansion. When comparing sound tonality, need to take SE vs BAL into consideration as well. N5ii BAL is more neutral in tonality with a leaner low end and lower mids and more revealing upper mids and airier sparkly treble when compared to a fuller body i5 with a smoother upper mids/treble where you also have a little stronger mid-bass impact. But when you compare N5ii SE to i5, N5ii is closer in tonality because it has a little more body in lower mids and a touch stronger bass impact, through it's still more revealing in upper mids and has a little more sparkle in treble. Also, N5ii background is blacker with a minimum hissing when it comes to sensitive IEMs, while i5 has more hissing. Both have identical GUI interface, touch screen, support of BT and WiFi, and access to Google Play store and apps. From hw perspective, N5ii has 2x uSD cards (vs one in i5) and a balanced output (vs only SE in i5). N5ii also has smaller footprint.

    N5ii vs N5 - based on comparison of BAL outputs, ii has a wider soundstage expansion and overall sound is more transparent, more layered, and with better dynamics. Also, ii blacker background with nearly zero hissing is a big step up from the original N5 where noise floor with sensitive iems was always an issue. In terms of overall tonality, N5ii has a more neutral leaner sound while N5 has more body and sounds smoother in tonality, also with a little less airiness in sound. While tonality improvement is a subjective thing, perhaps if you want a stronger bass impact and a smoother fuller body sound, you might prefer the original N5, but in terms of the design there is no question that N5ii is head'n'shoulders above its original predecessor where instead of small screen and all physical button and wheel navigation now you have a responsive touchscreen with external hw playback controls, a physical volume wheel, BT with wireless headphones support and WiFi with access to Google Play and various streaming apps. The footprint of N5ii is smaller and you also have 32GB of internal memory in addition to 2x uSD, while N5 only has dual uSD cards.

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    N5ii vs Opus#1S - 1S soundstage is just a tiny bit wider in comparison to N5ii; both are hiss-free and have a solid black background with a low noise floor; 1S tonality is even more neutral while N5ii has a little more body in comparison; in terms of a dynamic expansion, I hear 1S just a tiny bit better, but it's a very small gap. Both have the same internal 32GB storage and external dual uSD, and both have a balanced 2.5mm. While the sound quality is close, the biggest difference is N5ii having Bluetooth (wireless headphones connection) and WiFi with access to Play store and streaming apps. The gap between N5ii and the original Opus#1 is a lot bigger, while #1S closed the gap in sound quality, but still behind in features where N5ii has an edge.

    N5ii vs X5iii - N5ii soundstage is a little bit wider, but the first thing you notice right away is a black hiss-free background in comparison to a rather noisy and hissing background of X5iii when testing with sensitive iems. There are also differences in tonality with N5ii being more neutral, more transparent, more layered, and having a better dynamics expansion in comparison to a smoother, fuller body, more musical, and slightly more compressed in dynamics sound of X5iii. Both have the same internal storage and dual uSD expansion, volume wheel and hw playback controls, as well as support of BT/wireless and WiFi with Google Play support. Besides sound quality difference where N5ii has an upper hand, another big difference is FiiO offering a full open Android experience with a bigger higher quality display and a typical Android-smartphone type of navigation, while N5ii still has Android experience that feels as an add-on, "hidden" out of sight.

    N5ii vs M3S - Here the gap in sound quality is not too far off. While testing and comparing BAL outputs, I hear N5ii to have just slightly wider soundstage and a little better dynamic expansion. In terms of tonality, N5ii is just a little leaner while M3S has a bit fuller body, but in general they are very close. With sensitive IEMs, I hear a bit more hissing with M3S, but it's not too bad. While M3S only has one external uSD card, N5ii offers internal memory and 2 uSD cards. Both have BAL output and external hw playback controls as well as a physical volume wheel. Also, both have Bluetooth for pair up with wireless headphones, plus M3S has access to HibyLink. One big difference is N5ii having a touch screen while M3S doesn’t. Plus, N5ii supports WiFi and Android along with Google Play store which gives you access to apps, including streaming apps while M3S can only "stream" music by means of HibyLink connection to a smartphone.

    N5ii vs DX80 - It has been awhile since I used DX80, figured will be an interesting comparison with N5ii. Here, I hear N5ii having a little wider soundstage expansion and a more neutral tonality while DX80 has a little fuller body, north of neutral, with a little smoother tonality, though both have a similar presentation of sparkly airy treble. Also, N5ii has a little better dynamic expansion. With sensitive iems, there is a lot more hissing when it comes to DX80, while N5ii has a blacker background. While DX80 has a touch screen, physical playback buttons, and a dual uSD card, N5ii adds an internal memory, volume wheel, BT/wireless support, BAL out, and WiFi with Android and app support.

    N5ii vs R6 - I have been asked by a few people about this comparison, so why not. Obviously, the big difference here is output impedance where the sound will be affected if you are using some multi-BA IEMs, like, for example, U18t I was using in my sound test. It's not a showstopper since an impedance adapter, such as iEMatch, does a great job to “correct” R6, and that's what I have been using in this comparison. When you even out the output impedance ground, it makes an interesting comparison where I found tonality to be similar, including a very similar soundstage expansion and black hiss-free background. Of course, there will be some variations depending on pair up with different iems and full-size headphones, but if you add iEMatch into the equation, I found a lot of similarities in tonality and sound presentation, though R6 has a little edge in layering, separation, and transparency of the sound. Besides output impedance, the biggest difference here is Android interface where R6 feels like a smartphone with a higher quality display and a very snappy Android performance. In contrast, N5ii presents itself as DAP first and Android device with Google Play and streaming capability second, like an add-on. Also, N5ii has an advantage of a dual uSD versus a single card in R6.

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    Pair up.

    In this test I only used a medium gain setting, and noted Volume level. In the below write up, please pay attention to SE (3.5mm) vs BAL (2.5mm) since BAL has a higher gain, thus a lower volume.

    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x (open back, 470 ohm), SE v81 - very crisp detailed sound with an expanded soundstage. It took me by surprise, since I'm used to hearing a smoother sound when it comes to R70x. Here is was faster, righter, sharper, crisper. I did notice a little less sub-bass, and faster attack of mid-bass, neutral revealing mids, crisp airy treble.

    Audeze EL8C (planar magnetic), SE v70 - no metallic sheen!!! that's the first thing I look for when pairing up EL8C, the sound is crisp but there is no metallic sheen, sub-bass extends deep with a moderate rumble quantity, mid-bass is fast, lower mids are neutral, upper mids are revealing yet sound natural, and treble is crisp (a little too crisp) but not sibilant and with a good airy extension.

    Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd gen (full size tesla drivers), BAL v45 - very detailed tight fast sound with a wide/deep soundstage. Nice sub-bass rumble extension, fast mid-bass attack, well controlled articulate bass, neutral lower mids, revealing upper mids approaching micro-detailed level, crisp airy well-defined treble.

    Oppo PM3 (planar magnetic), BAL v53 - smooth detailed balanced sound with a wide soundstage expansion. Well controlled laidback bass with a nice sub-bass rumble (not too much) and slower mid-bass punch. In many pair ups, PM3 bass spills into lower mids, here it had a good control, though lower mids are still full bodied and north of neutral. Upper mids are detailed, smooth organic. Treble is well defined, not too crisp or too airy, these cans don't have the best upper end extension, but it wasn't too prematurely rolled off either. Actually, pretty good pair up since PM3s are picky.

    VE ZEN earbuds (320 ohm), SE v67 - wide/deep soundstage expansion, very balanced tuning with a sound signature that is more revealing than I'm used to with Zen. Overall sound is faster, tighter, more detailed, bass is leaner and faster, more articulate, mids are neutral, detailed, natural, treble is very well defined, crisp and airy. Overall sound is more neutral and revealing than usual.

    64 Audio U18t, BAL v33 - revealing transparent sound with a wide soundstage expansion, deep sub-bass expansion with moderate quantity rumble, fast mid-bass punch, overall a tight articulate bass, micro-detailed natural tonality mids, crisp well defined airy treble.

    64 Audio Fourte, BAL v33 - very crisp revealing sound on analytical level of detail retrieval, deep sub-bass rumble, average speed mid-bass, lean lower mids, micro-detailed upper mids, very crisp airy treble, sizzling with crunch, a bit too much in this pair up. Wide/deep soundstage.

    Sennheiser IE800S, BAL v41 - a more balanced (W-shaped) detailed sound with a deep sub-bass rumble, slower laid back mid-bass, neutral lower mids, natural detailed upper mids, crisp airy treble. Upper frequencies are a little brighter, but not harsh or sibilant. Wide soundstage with more out of your head stage expansion.

    HiFiMAN RE2000, BAL v46 - very revealing bright sound with a good soundstage width and depth. Bass has a good extension and a fast speed, but a little more neutral quantity. The same with lower mids, being very lean. Upper mids are thin and analytical, on micro-detail level. Treble is very bright and crisp and very airy. Upper mids/treble are thinner and more artificial in this pair up, sounds a little harsh.

    Campfire Audio VEGA, BAL v32 - a v-shaped sound signature with a wide soundstage expansion. Bass is very powerfully, deep, tubey, loose, not very well defined or controlled, spilling into lower mids. Upper mids are clear and detailed, pushed more back, have natural tonality. Treble is crisp, bright, a little sibilant. Not the best pair up.

    Ultimate Ears UERR, SE v42 - very neutral more revealing tonality with a wide (but not very wide) soundstage expansion. It's brighter than other pair ups. Neutral extended bass, here we are talking about quality rather than quantity, average speed, good control. Neutral lower mids, very natural detailed upper mids with improved retrieval of details, well defined clear treble, moderate amount of crisp airiness, not too much. Overall sound it a little more mid-forward, bass is more neutral than other pair ups, sub-bass rumble is rolled off here.

    Beyerdynamic Xelento, SE v36 - very balanced sound signature with a wide expanded soundstage. Bass is north of neutral, still with a nice slam and textured sub-bass rumble, but quantity is reduced in comparison to some other pair ups. Bass is very articulate, well controlled. Lower mids are neutral, upper mids/vocals are very detailed and natural. Treble is crisp and airy, with a nice natural definition.

    cayin_n5ii-45.jpg cayin_n5ii-46.jpg

    Conclusion.

    I get a lot of questions from my readers, often asking what is the best DAP. And my reply is always the same with a follow up question about their budget. Once you know your budget, the next step is to figure out your requirements, do you need touch screen or not, do you want to stream audio or OK with a playback from internal storage, how much internal storage do you need, do you care about Bluetooth pair up, what headphones are you planning to use and how much output power do you need, etc. Unlike headphones where the sound signature has a higher priority, DAP search often starts with a price and a list of features to narrow down the available choices, and then to figure out the sound and pair up synergy. That's why you hear more often about headphones recommendations, rather than DAPs, when trying to upgrade the sound quality.

    When it comes to N5ii, Cayin clearly did their homework when they introduced this $369 DAP with every feature you can imagine. I usually don't focus too much on the price of the DAP, but here it represents an impressive price/performance ratio. Touch screen - check! Internal storage and two uSD cards - check! Balanced output - check! Mechanical wheel and external hw controls - check! Compact size and decent batter life - check! Bluetooth - check! WiFi with Google Play and app support - double check! The sound quality is pretty good for a mid-fi DAP, a little more on a leaner brighter side, but it pairs up well with many iems and full size headphones.

    I know its fw is still work in progress with some bug fixes and further optimization, and Cayin is about to release their 2nd major fw update (actually, fw3.1 became available as I was finalizing this review). I'm not exactly a power user who spends many hours a day every day with a single DAP. Instead, I'm a power reviewer who multitasks with many DAPs on daily basis, and I haven't encounter any fw showstopper issues preventing me from enjoying N5ii playback. N5ii is a very versatile compact DAP to enjoy your music on the go, and it does represent and combines the best of N5 and i5 designs.
  2. PinkyPowers
    Truth, Beauty, and Greatness
    Written by PinkyPowers
    Published Jan 20, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent sound. Top-notch build. Good power. 2x card-slots. Love the size and weight.
    Cons - Still a few bugs to work out.
    N5II 08.jpg

    ~::I originally published this review on THL. Now I wish to share it with my Head-Fi fellows.::~

    ::Disclaimer::
    Cayin provided the N5ii free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

    The N5ii sells for $369.99 MSRP.
    www.Cayin.com
    www.MusicTeck.com
    Cayin on Amazon

    _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Andy Kong of Cayin bestowed upon me the great honor of beta testing their newest audio player, the 2nd Generation N5, AKA, the N5ii.

    I was thrilled, and spent quite a while with it. Found some bugs. Tinkered, toiled, and generally had a blast. But this review is of the final production unit. We’ve moved past Beta on both hardware and software. This is the N5ii. My experience should reflect yours, if you were to buy one.

    And you should. This is an outrageously good DAP.

    Unboxing 01.jpg
    Unboxing 02.jpg
    Unboxing 03.jpg
    Starting with the aesthetics, the Cayin N5ii conveys a streamlined elegance. It’s sleek, relatively small, with a handsome volume wheel secured protectively into the chassis. The buttons are simplistic, intuitive, and solid. The back plate is laser etched into a motif of endless, cascading hills.

    Back 02.jpg
    One cannot escape the Astell&Kern vibe. I owned the AK120II as my main source for well over a year, and this DAP looks and feels like an homage. Right down to the crocodile-print genuine leather case. Pinky approves! I always felt, no one quite surpassed Astell&Kern in the aesthetic department, and if anyone ever would, it would be Cayin, who has made some of my favorite devices over the years.

    Case 01.jpg
    Case 02.jpg
    Case 03.jpg
    Does the N5ii beat the AK120II in looks? Well, I like the volume wheel on the Cayin better. Not only is it more solid, but that hint of gold makes for a sexy accent. On the other hand, the AK is a little less square and symmetrical, which I fancy more. So… we’ll call this a tie.

    If you’ve spent any time with the Cayin i5, you’ll be at home with the N5ii’s custom Android OS. From Home Screen, you can swipe right for a whole slew of settings and features. And at any time you can swipe down for more standard options, such as Gain, Bluetooth and WiFi. This is also where you’ll find the icon to ferry you to System Settings. I find the Cayin Operating System to be one of the best. There are better, but there are far worse as well. This one is rather intuitive, and I’ve always liked it.

    Unlike the i5, the N5ii has no trouble with Gapless playback. It is seamless as ****. Cayin users waited, not so patiently, for a firmware update to solve the i5’s Gapless problem. No matter how they tried, the issue remained. As Andy explains it, when Cayin moved over to the Rockchip 3188, Gapless suddenly worked. No firmware fixes were needed, as it wasn’t a software issue, but a hardware one. They had no idea, and even now, probably can’t explain it entirely. That’s electronics for you: black magic and pure devilry.

    I found Bluetooth playback on my B&O H9 quite stable, with just the occasional hiccup. I never once connected to WiFi or attempted streaming. It’s not worth signing up for those services just so I can write about it in my reviews. Andy knows well where I stand on all that. No one expects Pinky to emerge from this partially fossilized husk, suddenly transformed into the Lord of Streaming. Others have already reviewed those features, and I encourage you to seek them out.

    My usage consists of playing FLAC (16bit, 24bit, 44.1-192) or DSD files from internal storage, or one of the two—count them, two!—microSD slots. And apart from the occasional software crash, resulting in the error message “The Cayin Player has stopped responding”, I’ve encountered very few troubles. And even that crash is just a button press away from solving itself. I have yet to see a hard lock, but of course, this is an Android device, so it’s bound to happen eventually.

    However, there still lingers a bug from the beta software, which can cause the touchscreen volume controls to lock and ratchet up the volume to 100 if you hit the button just as it’s about to disappear. Activating this bug requires unlucky precision and timing, and as such, few have stumbled upon it. But still, I’d recommend only using the hardware volume wheel until you know it’s fixed. Otherwise, you could hurt your ears.

    N5II & Dorado 01.jpg
    The Cayin N5ii has neutral-warm tuning, exemplifying clarity and resolution above all other conceits. The single 9018K2M SABRE DAC is implemented expertly, avoiding that cold thin sound many SABRE devices suffer from. While it’s not as warm or organic as the very best SABRE examples (Opus#2), the N5ii walks a delicate line, with a smooth yet revealing character.

    CLEAN is the first thought that comes to mind. Cayin renders so very clean. You can hear everything, and it’s all so unspoiled. Details are highlighted, but not in the aggressive way brighter gear tends towards. Here, there is simply nothing obscuring them. The clearness is profound.

    The N5ii has good body and dimensionality. You get weight and a decent sense of depth. The hint of warmth seems to come mostly from ample bass, as the treble has significant presence and is in no way lacking. Yet don’t expect a bass-monster here. The lows are capable, with strong attack, but they are not a showstopper. If anything, I’d call the mids the real star, for they are portrayed with vivid articulation and awesome transparency. It’s listening to the instruments and vocals that I am most impressed by this DAP.

    N5II & Fourte 01.jpg
    The soundstage of the new Cayin is exceptionally wide. One of the biggest I have on-hand. And it illustrates depth better than any of the lower-budget gear I’ve tried. Dynamism is remarkable, as well. This is a lively ****er and will immediately engage you. What really separates the N5ii from the pack, though, is its gift for natural, clear, high resolution audio. There are DAPs which do one or two of those three things better, but Cayin manages them all, and on a level of proficiency you have no right to expect at this price point.

    Now, you may be saying, “Fine fine fine, you longwinded ghoul, but how does it compare to X, Y, or Z?”

    Well… **** you. You’re a ghoul! And here’s how it compares, you hurtful creep:

    First, I must pit the N5ii against that which has long held the crown for Best Mid-Tier DAP… in Pinky reckoning. The Opus#1 ($289, Review HERE). And yes indeed, Cayin edges it out by the smallest margin. For the most part, I don’t consider the N5ii an upgrade to Opus. Their performance is just so goddamn close. Yet Cayin has a fingernail’s extra width in soundstage. The mids are fuller, with more body. Opus#1 comes off thinner, and sort of dry. Cayin’s treble is not as bright, and sounds smoother, more liquid, and just a tiny bit more natural. Even this feels like I’m exaggerating, as the differences are so minor. Rest assured, either device sounds incredible. However, I will give Cayin the unqualified win on build. It’s in a whole other league.

    N5II & Encore 01.jpg
    Perhaps the audio player with which folk are most eager for a comparison, is the Cayin i5 ($399, Review HERE). The i5 is much warmer and more analogue-seeming. Or you could say more “tube-like”. The bass is huge and indomitable, resulting in a fuller, meatier sound. The treble has less energy, attributing to that warm theme. However, the N5ii has the wider soundstage and the much cleaner, detail oriented presentation. I would say the N5ii is more transparent because of this, but the i5 is perhaps more musical, or engaging. Also, the i5 is significantly more powerful. Playing the rather quiet album, SESSIONS FROM THE 17TH WARD by Amber Rubarth on my HD6XX, both players on High Gain, I get good volume at 80/100 on the N5ii, and only 50/100 on the i5. Of course, that’s only on the 3.5mm single-ended output. In Balanced, the N5ii has tons more juice, though I don’t know the exact i5 equivalent.

    At $269, the Shanling M3s (Review HERE) is a great budget-friendly alternative. It shares quite a lot in common with the N5ii in terms of tuning. Still, there’s no question to my ears Cayin is the more robust device. There’s greater note weight and a more realistic portrayal of depth. The elements on the stage are just a little more three-dimensional. Oh, and the N5ii is wider-sounding.

    So what about a device that handily defeats the Cayin N5ii at its own game? Well, you’ll have to empty your pockets for that. The iBasso DX200 with AMP1 ($899) is a true upgrade to the N5ii’s mission statement of clarity and resolution. It renders clearer and sharper, yet somehow doesn’t over-do it, as it also feels more natural and real. Layering and depth are superior, and transparency is taken to a whole new level. Dynamics and punchy-ness are noticeably stronger, and the soundstage is all around bigger. But again, look at the price difference. Good luck finding something for under $600 that clearly beats Cayin.

    N5II 03.jpg
    Because the Cayin N5ii is more neutral than warm, with strong treble energy, it pairs well with most headphone profiles, but it does especially well with those of a warmer, bassier disposition.

    N5II & 99C 01.jpg
    Andy is fond of extolling the synergy of the Meze 99 Classics ($309, Review HERE) and Cayin’s players. I wholly agree. Something magical happens every time I hook these cans up to the i5, and I get a lot of that same alchemy in the N5ii>99C brew. The tonality sends shivers down my spine, never more so than with acoustic rock. It’s rich, with such mighty, rumbling bass. Vocal clarity is at a crystalline degree. Imaging and depth are addictive. Meze does a wonderful job of showcasing a player’s soundstage, revealing just how good the N5ii is. These are the headphones I use to conduct my critical A/B comparisons between DAPs, and they find a true lover in Cayin.

    The Sennheiser + Massdrop HD6XX ($200) is, as we all know, a fairly warm set of monitors, with above neutral bass. The ideal sig for this player. Now, the HD6XX is not meant for portable devices, but even so, on High Gain, they get good and loud to my ears and sound very clean and dynamic. If you run balanced (which I’m not) you’ll have even more headroom.

    N5II & IT01 01.jpg
    iBasso has blown me away with their $99 IT01 single-dynamic-driver IEM. Of course, with Tesla magnets and Graphene diaphragms, these are no ordinary DDs. The IT01 is actually a kindred spirit to the N5ii. Neutral-warm, high levels of clarity and detail, energetic and smooth. Naturally, they pair well together. The bass is strong and deep, the treble has good sparkle, and the mids are vibrant. It’s a fantastic setup that won’t break your bank.

    This holiday season, whenever I had to brave the tumult of retail, I took the Cayin N5ii and my only set of CIEMs, the Empire Ears Spartan IV ($749, Review HERE). They combine to create a pinnacle of musicality and transparency. A perfect balance is met, where naturalness and emotion swirl together in smooth liquidity. This system never feels like it’s trying. In fact, the “system” disappears, and all you have is music… music that just sounds right.

    N5II & Spartan 01.jpg
    N5II & Fourte 04.jpg
    Finally, how about I bring out the big guns? The 64Audio tia Fourté ($3,599, Review HERE) is the most revealing, transparent, and resolving earphone I’ve yet heard. It opens up the N5ii and brings it to its very limits. With Fourté, I can hear its strengths and its weaknesses. And let me tell you, there are no obvious weaknesses. I can listen to this setup and become so caught up in the perfection of it all I forget I have bigger and better DAPs on-hand. Oh yes, Fourté illustrates the virtues of those other players, but it also shows me the N5ii is a rock-hard f**king gladiator that never fails to wow.

    So what more do you need? Buy one today. If your budget is anything under $600, even $599, buy the N5ii. It is jammed full of awesome, and sounds as good, or better, than anything else in this price-range. It is currently my favorite DAP in terms of size and form, and one of the finest-looking things yet wrought by man. The Cayin N5ii is indeed the new King of Mid-Tier. They should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.

    -~::Pinky_Powers::~-

    N5II & Fourte 03.jpg

    Product Highlight

    MCU: Rockchip RK3188
    Display: 3.65” 845×480 TFT touch screen
    DAC: ESS9018K2M
    Op-Amp: OPA1622 x 3
    Storage: 32GB + TF (up to 400GBx2)
    Headphone: 3.5mm + 2.5mm (Balanced)
    Line: 3.5mm (shared)
    Digital: Coaxial, USB Audio (in/out)
    USB: Type C (2.0), charging, OTG

    System: Custom Android 5.1
    RAM: 1G DDR3
    Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz
    Bluetooth: BT4.0 (SBC)
    Battery: 3000mAH
    Duration: ~12 hours (single-ended) ~9 hours (balanced)
    Charging: ~3 hours (2.1A)
    Dimension: 115*57*15.3 (mm)
    Weight: ~150g

    Specification

    Phones Out (Single-ended)
    Power rating: 150mW+150mW (@32Ω)
    Frequency Response: 20-20kHz (±0.2dB, Fs=192kHz) 5-50kHz (±1dB, Fs=192kHz)
    THD+N: 0.002% (1kHz, Fs=44.1kHz;20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    Dynamic Range: 116dB (20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    SNR: 116dB (20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    Channel Separation: 76dB
    Output Impedance: ≤0.4Ω
    Connector: 3.5mm TRS (shared with Line Out)

    Phones Out (Balanced)
    Power rating: 250mW+250mW (@32Ω)
    Frequency Response: 20-20kHz (±0.2dB, Fs=192kHz) 5-50kHz (±1dB, Fs=192kHz)
    THD+N: 0.002% (1kHz, Fs=44.1kHz;20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    Dynamic Range: 117dB (20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    SNR: 117dB (20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    Channel Separation: 92dB
    Output Impedance: ≤0.6Ω
    Connector: 2.5mm TRRS

    Line Out
    Output Level: 2.0V (@10kΩ)
    Frequency Response: 20-20kHz (±0.2dB, Fs=192kHz) 5-50kHz (±1dB, Fs=192kHz)
    THD+N: 0.003% (1kHz, Fs=44.1kHz;20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    Dynamic Range: 116dB (20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    SNR: 116dB (20Hz-20kHz, A-Weighted)
    Channel Separation: 92dB
    Imp. matching: ≥10kΩ (suggested)
    Connector 3.5mm TRS (shared with Phone Out)

    USB Audio Output
    DSD Mode: DSD64/DSD128, DoP or D2P*
    PCM Mode: Upto 24Bit/384kHz

    S/PDIF Output
    DSD Mode: DSD64, DoP or D2P*
    PCM Mode: Upto 24Bit/192kHz convert higher resolution to 176.4kHz or 192kHz

    Recommended Headphone: impedance Range 16~200Ω (recommended)

    *D2P: DSD to PCM, always output at 24bit/88.2kHz
  3. Moonstar
    Cayin N5II; the New Hero in the Mid-Fi Arena
    Written by Moonstar
    Published Jan 5, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Beautiful design and top built quality
    Great sound
    Lots of connection options
    Third-party applications for online streaming
    Simple and nice UI
    Two Micro SD slots
    Cons - Needs some minor software optimizations to improve the speed
    Didn’t like the stock silicone case
    Cayin N5II; the New Hero in the Mid-Fi Arena

    Disclaimer:

    First of all, a big thanks to John from Cayin (Zhuhai Spark Electronic Equipment Co., Ltd ) for providing me the Cayin N5II as review sample. I am not affiliated with Cayin beyond this review and these words reflect my true, unaltered, but subjective (I am a Human) opinions about the product.


    ***All pictures with GÖKHAN AYDIN illustration are taken by myself.


    20171221_152032.jpg

    About Cayin:

    Zhuhai Spark Electronic Equipment Co., Ltd. was founded in 1993. The company is developing audio equipment and is marketing there Hi-Fi products under the name Cayin. Cayin ventured into personal audio on 2013 and launched a series of Portable Headphone products and Digital Audio Player (DAP).

    The company has developed a new i-series for lifestyle customers in personal audio and have released a desktop DAC and headphone amplifier combo iDAC-6 and iHA-6 (2015), and an Android based DAP i5 (2016).

    The Cayin N5II is the latest Android based Digital Audio Player in its product line.

    The motto of the company is “Never be the same again”.

    Official website of the Company

    Price:

    Cayin N5II is sold around 370,00 USD


    Package and Accessories:

    The device comes in a nice black card-box that gives you a nice first impression.

    20171225_235542.jpg

    The box contains the following contents;
    • Micro USB cable
    • Silicone Case
    • USB to Micro SD converter
    • User Manual Chinese/English language
    20171226_001213.jpg

    The device comes with a silicone case that is useful but not as nice looking as the leather case with crocodile pattern that is sold separately. There are also some optional accessories that are sold severalty like the Type C to RCA and the 3.5mm Coaxial Cable.

    The good thing is that the display comes with a pre-installed tempered glass protector with these times popular 2.5D arc edge profile.


    4. Design and Built quality:

    In one word, BEAUTIFUL!

    The Cayin N5II is a quite small (115*57*15.3mm) and very well made Digital Audio Player (DAP). The design language reminds me to this of the Astell&Kern AK100II that I have also used for a while.

    The chassis of the Cayin N5II is made of a CNC engraved Aerospace grade Aluminum material. The front panel has a hairline effect while the sides are sandblasted. The device is comfortable to hold in your hand and there are no sharp edges.

    20171221_165703.jpg

    The threaded volume knob on the other hand is made of stainless steel that looks very esthetical and is well protected from impacts. The volume knob is quite responsive and I had no problems to use it when the device was in my pocket.

    20171221_161652.jpg

    On the front is the 3.65 inch IPS display that has a pre-installed tempered glass screen protector with this popular 2.5D edges. The IPS display has a resolution of 480x854 pixels. The screen brightness is good in indoor conditions while the outdoor visibility is average. There is no pixilation and the color reproduction is quite good for 370 USD device, but don’t expect a Super Amoled screen with eye-catching ultra vivid colors. Btw, the screen is quite responsive.

    20171226_000659.jpg

    On top right corner is a white LED light that blinks while charging the device. On the bottom of the N5II screen is with a white circle marked touch button dedicated for home & back actions. By touching for one time it reacts as back button, while holding it for one second you can go back directly to the home screen.

    On the right side are 3 (three) physical buttons for back & play/pause & next/fast-forward. The 2 (two) Micro SD card slots are also on the same side.

    20171221_163356.jpg

    On the left side is only one button that is dedicated for power on/off and screen on/off.

    20171221_152253.jpg

    On the bottom is the multifunctional USB Type-C female connection.

    20171221_164620.jpg

    On the top of the device is the Single Ended 3.5mm (TRS) Headphone Out/Line Out connection and the 2.5mm Balanced (TRRS) headphone output.

    20171226_000252.jpg

    The backside has a nice looking pattern that looks like small seashells.

    20171221_152900.jpg

    5. Specifications:

    Here is a detailed specification of the Cayin N5II, copied straight from the official Cayin website.

    Adsız.jpg

    6. Hardware:

    a) Memory:

    The Cayin N5II has 1 GB of RAM (relative old DDR3) and 32 GB of internal storage, but approx. 8 GB of them is reserved for the Android 5.1 Lollipop OS (Operating System) that means that you have at least 24 GB free internal storage.

    As I mentioned before, there are 2 (two) Micro SD card slots with a max. supported capacity of 256GB. That means that you have 24 GB of internal and 512 GB of external (2x256 GB) storage capacity that is a very good number for a 370 USD priced Mid-fi device.

    b) DAC Section:

    Under the hood is the nowadays popular ESS9018K2M DAC chip of the company ESS Technology Incorporated, located in California. The ESS9018K2M is a 32-bit, 2-channel audio DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) targeted for audiophile-grade portable applications such as mobile phones and digital audio players like the Cayin N5II.

    The ESS9018K2M has the ESS patented 32-bit Hyperstream DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator (TDJE) that delivers a DNR of up to 127dB and THD+N of 120dB.

    ex9018k2m.jpg

    The Cayin N5II supports also a USB DAC function for external use with devices like PC, Tablet, etc.

    You can activate this function by pulling down the Top Bar and select USB DAC under USB mode.

    ess9018k2m-diagram.jpg


    c) Power Rating & Amplification (I/V & LPF + Power):

    The Cayin N5II is a quite powerful device for the size. I didn’t notice any noise or interference, while using some of my sensitive IEM’s due this review.

    The Cayin N5II has a power rating of 130mW+130mW @ 32Ohm for the 3.5mm Single Ended out and a quite high output rating of 250mW+250mW @ 32 Ohm for the 2.5mm Balanced out. The output impedance for the balance out is about 0.4 while the 3.5mm output has an output impedance of 0.6 ohm’s.

    The N5II has three (3x) Op Amps (Operational Amplifier) of the model OPA1652 made by the company Texas Instruments (TI). Two of this Op Amps are responsible for the I/V Process that is responsible to convert the current from the DAC in to an analog voltage and to filter the signal to keep out the alias frequencies. The third is dedicated for the Line Out amplification.

    They are also three (3x) TI Branded Op Amps of the model OPA1622 for LPF (Low Pass Filtering) + Power. The Low Pass filter is a filter that passes the lower frequencies and rejects those at higher frequencies. Two are for the 2.5mm Balanced out (1xOPA1622 for the right & 1xOPA1622 for the left channel) and one for the 3.5mm SE analog output.

    Here is a detailed Functional Framework of the N5II copied straight from the official Cayin website;

    config.jpg

    d) Jitter:

    The Cayin N5II has three Active Oscillators to facilitate better clock synchronization for PCM and DSD music files with different sampling frequency to ensure all paybacks are free from digital artifact.

    Jitter.jpg

    e) Connectivity:

    The Cayin N5II has digital and analog, inputs and outputs.

    1. Digital:

    The multifunctional USB Type-C digital connection can be used as digital out for the USB DAC function to connect with devices like PC, Tablet, etc.

    You have also the option to connect your Cayin N5II to a DAC like the Chord Mojo via the optional sold USB Type-C to S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) cable. The USB Type-C connection can be used also for digital-in via OTG storage.

    2. Analog:

    The Cayin N5II has a multifunctional 3.5mm (TRS) analog interface that works as headphone out and line out at the same time. The N5II has also a 2.5mm Balanced (TRRS) headphone output with higher output voltage. The N5II has according to Cayin an desktop grade line out rate a 2V that fits audio equipments with higher impedance than 10k Ohm.

    3. Wireless:

    The Cayin N5II has two connection option, Bluetooth 4.0 (no detail about aptx support) and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n with a speed of up to 2.4GHz. You can pair and connect your Bluetooth speaker or headphone/earphone with your Cayin N5II and use it as digital source.

    You can also access your music library on your Network Attached Storage (NAS) or connect to your Local Area Network (LAN) via DLNA. The download speed of the Cayin N5II is quit well and the connection range is above average.

    I think that Cayin did a good job regarding the EMI shielding, because I didn’t hear any background noise or interference caused by the Wi-Fi antenna of the N5II.

    f) Battery:

    The Cayin N5II has a 3000mAH battery under the hood that should last for 12 hours according to Cayin’s technical specs. My test results are about 10 – 10.5 hours in Audio Priority Mode with the 3.5mm Single Ended output (Volume 60 of 100), 9.5 hours with the 2.5mm Balanced out (Volume 45/100) and about 8 hours while Wi-Fi is on and using online services.

    These results are quit good for a small device with 3000mAH battery and a high power rate. The charging time takes about 3.5 – 4 hours with a 2A USB-C wall charger.


    Software and User Interface:

    The Cayin N5II has a highly customized User Interface (UI) that is based on Android OS 5.1 Lollipop. Android 5.1 Lollipop sounds a bit outdated, but it doses it job very well.

    Cayin has made a simple and easy to use UI on top of the Andoid OS and it seems to work quite well. You can update the device Firmware Over the Air (OTA) or by downloading the update file (zip. file) to your device and update the device manually by choosing it over the update menu.

    Cayin released the latest FW update on 26.December 2017 with the Firmware v2.1EN, that made the device even snappier and responsive then before.

    Here is the update link

    They are some randomly appearing minor lags & bugs (for example forecloses of the Cayin Music Player when setting other language then Chinese or English), but Cayin told me that they will release some FW updates in the near future that will solve all problems, step by step.

    a) Navigation Bar:

    The top bar/navigation bar is a real classic that all Android users know; here you can find some quick option and information’s about the device status like battery percentage or time and date.

    Here you can activate the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antenna, switch between High, Normal and Low gain or choose between Phone Out (PO) and Line Out (LO). You can also activate/deactivate the Audio Priority Mode that I will explain later.

    2017_12_24_16_32_07j.jpg

    There is also a USB Mode option to switch between DAC, Mass Storage or OTG, etc. and a button to activate the Idle Status to on and off. Here is even an option to set a Scheduled power off, the backlight brightness and a screen power of timer.

    On the top right corner is the gear icon to have a direct access in to the Android OS settings menu.


    b) Menu:

    At the home screen, you will find the Settings (gear icon), Music, List, Private Cloud and the Search button.

    The Music tab is where you can see your available storage and expandable storage options like Local Memory, TF1, TF2 and OTG. There are 5 Navigation modes available and these are Folder, Album, Artist, Genre and Tracks. But for the fist time you need to scan the device to see information’s about Album, Artist, etc.

    2017_12_27_20_58_11j.jpg

    I like to navigate over the folder view and this works flawless.

    When you touch the Gear icon you can access additional settings like Music Scan, Third-party applications, Equalizer, Music Settings etc.

    The important part for me is the Third-party applications menu, because under this tab you can find the Google Playstore application and all application you have installed over Playstore or even apps installed via .apk files.

    The fist thing I did is to register my Google Account to have access to online streaming services like Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music etc. After installation you will have easy access to all your Third-party applications under this menu. Cayin was kind and has pre-installed ES File explorer for an easy access to my .apk library.

    I don’t like to use any kind of equalizer, but if you need some fine tuning the Cayin N5II has a 10 band equalizer to do that. There are also some presents like Classic, Rock, Jazz, Pop, etc.

    Under the Music Settings menu, you can find many specific options like Gain, Digital filter, DSD gain, SPIDIF OUT, Startup Volume, Channel Balance etc.


    c) Music Application:

    The Stock Music Application is quite simple and useful. You have also 2 other themes that you can change by one touch over the theme icon if you are bored to use the stock one.

    2017_12_24_16_32_07.jpg

    On the top are some useful information’s like volume, gain type (high, normal, low), battery count, and time. When you swipe the Album Art from right to left you can see the lyrics of the current playing music file (if exist), when you swipe again it will shop up a nice looking VU-Meter.

    They are also some quick settings like play order, equalizer, playlist and add to favorite options.

    2017_12_24_16_32_07j.jpg

    d) Audio Priority Mode

    The Audio Priority Mode is an option turn off wireless connections like Wi-Fi and BT in order to avoid any noise caused by these antennas. This will also disable all unnecessary background and third-party applications, even the EQ option will be turned off to get a pure Audiophile experience.


    Equipments used for this review:

    DAP&DAC’s : Cayin N5II, Aune M2 Pro, Zishan Z2, Chord Mojo
    IEM’s : Audeze iSine20, HiFi BOY OS V3, Whizzer A15 Pro,
    Earbuds : NiceHCK Graphene, K’S 300 Samsara Edition

    Headphones : Audio-Technica ATH50M

    20171225_235635.jpg


    Albums & tracks used for this review:
    • Casey Abrams – Robot Lovers (Tidal Hi-Fi)
    • GoGo Penguien – Raven (Tidal Hi-Fi)
    • Emmanuel Pahud (Claude Debussy) – Syrinx (Apple Music)
    • Melody Gardot – Who Will Comfort Me (Flac 16bit/44kHz)
    • Aretha Franklin – I Say a Little Prayer (Apple Music)
    • Diana Krall - So Wonderful (DSF)
    • Bryan Adams – MTV Unplugged Version Album (Tidal Hi-Fi)
    • Queen – Greatest Hits Vol. II (Apple Music)
    • Otto Liebert & Luna Negra – Up Close “Album” (DSF) – Binaural Recording
    • Alboran Trio’s – Cinque Lunghissimi Minuti (Tidal Hi-Fi)
    • Megadeth – Sweating Bullets (Flac 16bit/44kHz)
    • Lazarus A.D. – The Onslaught (ALAC)
    • Opeth – Damnation (Tidal Hi-Fi)
    • Metallica - The Black Album (Flac 24bit/96Hz)
    • Lorde – Royals (Flac 24-bit/48kHz)
    • Twenty One Pilots – Fairly Local (Tidal Hi-Fi)
    • Michael Jackson - Billie Jean (DSF)
    • Yosi Horikawa – Bubbles (Flac 16bit/44kHz)

    20171223_153648.jpg

    8. Supported Audio Formats:

    These details are copied straight from the official Cayin website.

    Music Format.jpg

    10. The Sound:

    I have burn-in the device for approx. 120-125 hours before I wrote this review.

    The fist thing I have noticed is the clean and black background. Most of the players with Android OS and a Wi-Fi antenna have a noticeable noise reproduction on the background, which is not the case for the Cayin N5II.

    Tonality / Bass / Mid / Treble / Soundstage & Imagine:

    The Cayin N5II has a very dynamic and musical sound, which is just on the warm side of neutral. I should say that the attack, decay and release performance of the N5II is impressive for this price category; well done Cayin!

    20171225_235455.jpg

    The sub bass of the Cayin N5II is full of energy, has a well controlled texture, with a nice sense of speed. The low end have a noticeable punch with instruments like bass guitar and kick drums and it’s present, but not exaggerated so that it will satisfy with most music genres.

    The bass of the N5II have nice impact and great texture that blooms nicely. The best thing about the bass is that it doesn’t go out of control and don’t lose any authority even in some bass heavy tracks like Lorde’s song “Royals”.

    The midrange of the Cayin N5II sounds clean, engaging and never painful or annoying. I like the presentation of this device with acoustic tracks, because it has a nice sense of emotion. The sound of the midrange is not harsh or to dry and it sounds smooth and pleasant, without the lose of resolution and any details.

    20171226_000827.jpg

    There is also enough space between instruments so that you can hear each detail on very complex songs like GoGo Penguien’s – Raven. Male and female, vocals sounding quite realistic and lifelike to my ears, especially the performance of Melody Gardot in “Who Will Comfort Me” was very satisfying with my Audeze iSine20. Maybe some of us will prefer a more upfront vocal presentation, that is quite subjective and a matter of personal preference.

    The upper midrange performance of DAP’s with Sabre DAC chips was always problematic, but luckily Cayin did a tuning that doesn’t exceed the fine line of upper midrange issues, like sibilance, ear fatiguing and digitization.

    Sabre DAC’s sounding bright and detailed in general, but many people are complaining that some implantations do sound too digital or unnatural. The Cayin N5II has also a Sabre DAC under the hood that I have mentioned before, but while the treble range of the N5II is energetic and not rolled off, it’s by no way a super bright player that is sounding digital like some other Sabre DAC based sources.

    20171223_152707.jpg

    The treble range of the N5II is quite detailed and has a nice emphasis that results to a pretty natural sound. The upper treble extension of the Cayin N5II offers an airy and open presentation with an outstanding glimmer and detail.

    Some treble intensive instruments like Drums, Pianos or Violin’s sounding relative natural and realistic. For example; you can feel the emotion and control of the piano presentation and the control with upper treble notes in “Alboran Trio’s – Cinque Lunghissimi Minuti” that is my reference song for the any treble performance of Hi-Fi equipments.

    The soundstage of the Cayin N5II is good for a Mid-Fi device. It has a wide staging and above average depth. The binaural recorded song “Three Days Without You” of Otto Liebert & Luna Negra in the Album “Up Close” is my reference title for soundstage and imaging performance, that is well performed by Cayin N5II with an accurate and nice separation.

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    2.5mm Balanced Out Sound Performance:


    The sound difference between 3.5mm vs. 2.5mm is quite noticeable. The first difference is an even darker background. The second noticeable difference to the 3.5mm out is a wider staging and more bass impact & control. There is also more attention to micro details.


    11. Sound Comparisons with Other DAP & DAC’s:

    Vs. Aune M2 Pro (DAP):

    The Aune M2 Pro has an in-house Linux based software that is quite different then does in the Cayin N5II. The software on M2 Pro is simple but very responsive, but has only limited functionality. The N5II on the other hand is a highly customizable player with lots of feature and options, like the installation capability of third-party application like online streaming services (Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music etc.). These important features are missing on the Aune M2 Pro, which is otherwise a very easy-to-use device.

    Both players are quite powerful, while the Aune M2 Pro has the upper hand with its Class A Amplified 3.5mm Headphone Out. But the Cayin N5II has it’s own weapon, the 2.5mm balanced out that has even more power rating then those of the M2 Pro (230mW@32 Ohm for M2 Pro vs. 250mW@32ohm for N5II).

    20171226_000935.jpg

    Class A Amplifier is a good thing for power and sound quality, but is not very efficient when it comes to battery life. The M2 Pro has a total runtime of about 7 hours, while the N5II runs for more then 10 – 10.5 hours.

    They are also differences in sound output options. The Aune M2 Pro has a dedicated 3.5mm line out that works quit well, but the missing of digital out options like USB DAC, S/PDIF etc. is a real con for many users. Cayin did the right choice and added almost every type of output (optical out is missing) to this small device.

    When it comes to sound, the bass speed of the M2 Pro is a bit quicker, while the sub-bass of the N5II goes a touch deeper. Both devices have a nice vocal presentation, while Aune’s vocal sounds a little bit more intimate due the more upfront presentation.

    Instruments sounding a bit cleaner on the M2 Pro, but both have equal good texture and detail. The treble range of the M2 Pro sounds smoothed off and it has also this typical warmish presentation due the AK4490 DAC.

    The Aune M2 Pro has a wider and deeper soundstage, but the difference is very minimal.


    Vs. Chord Mojo (DAC):

    The Chor Mojo is one of my favorite transport sources. It is powerful, small and has a lots of connection options. The build quality on both is on par and both devices are made of an aluminum chassis.

    The battery life of the Mojo is around 8 Hours while the N5II has an additional runtime of 2 hours (approx. 10 Hours in total).

    Both devices have a wide variety of connection options. The Mojo has two 3.5mm analog outputs that is a nice option if you want listen to music with a second person at the same time, or want a quick comparison between two different headphones/earphones (this is good feature for reviewers), but is missing a 2.5mm balanced out. The Cayin N5II on the other hand has a 2.5mm balanced out, but has almost any type of connection feature, but is missing an optical connection option.

    20171225_235904.jpg

    The sound tuning of these two devices is quite different. The Mojo has a warmer, full bodied and musical presentation, while the Cayin N5II has a more relaxed, smooth and balanced sound signature.

    The bass of the Mojo has more impact, but is not as fast as those of the N5II. The detail level for vocal and instrument presentation is on par, but the Mojo has a more upfront presentation while the Cayin N5II sound a little bit more recessed. The Cayin N5II has more treble presence and additional clarity, while the Mojo sound more smoothed off on the top end.

    The difference in soundstage wide and depth is minimal. Both share the same size in soundstage while the Cayin N5II sounds airier then the Cord Mojo.


    12. Conclusion:

    The Cayin N5II is a very capable device with lots of features and great sound quality that is packed in a beautiful looking outfit. All of these aspects make the N5II to a great device for the money.


    13. Pos and Cons:

    + Beautiful design and top built quality
    + Great sound
    + Lots of connection options
    + Third-party applications for online streaming
    + Simple and nice UI
    + Two Micro SD slots

    - Needs some minor software optimizations to improve the speed
    - Didn’t like the stock silicone case

    For more reviews please visit my blog;
    https://moonstarreviews.wordpress.com
      harry501501, scotvl, HD800NL and 11 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Moonstar
      The detail level of the N5II is on par with the D200+. But regarding to size, weight, esthetic and functionality the Cayin N5II is the best choice in this price category that beats even higher priced players.
      Moonstar, Jan 8, 2018
      endia likes this.
    3. endia
      thanks a lot for excellent review and kindly comparison too..
      endia, Jan 8, 2018
      Moonstar likes this.
    4. Isloo
      Great review. Thanks.
      Isloo, Jan 9, 2018
      Moonstar likes this.