Cayin N5ii

Rating:
4.35714/5,
  1. noobandroid
    Good portability
    Written by noobandroid
    Published May 19, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Lightweight, good sound and build, Decent OS
    Cons - driving power, OS glitches at times
    I'll be straightforward with the review, despite i had a week of ownership, I had not the time to actually have an in depth tryout, too busy in life.

    Layout


    The DAP is quite easy to navigate and just upon unboxing, I can already figure out what buttons are at where and the positions of the IO. Just have a look at the images, I dont need to explain, just look at it
    20180516_084108.jpg 20180518_223352.jpg 20180518_223402.jpg 20180518_223418.jpg

    So you can guess which is for what right? good. Thats all for layout.

    OS

    The OS is generally functional as an offline player, thats how i tried mine. I dont quite believe in streaming as a "quality" audio on a dap. Transition between interfaces are smooth, read speed of indexing is good on my 200GB, doesnt take ages to index. I used the DAP in audio priority mode only, which is no eq influence or software interruptions to the audio.

    Treble
    The high notes is quite sharp and crispy. Good high extensions where you can hear the drum sets crashing down but does not irritate the ears.

    Vocals
    Vocals is the sweet dough of the DAP. You can hear the forwardness of the singer which is quite important and necessary as it's the core of any music. Lead vocal and back vocals are separated quite well and at times could fool people with the layering.


    Bass
    Bass slam isnt very heavy, but the notes are clearly noted and does pops when it comes into focus. It does somehow lack the super low notes, those that brings the gloomy feelings to the music type. It just cant go that low, and lays flat at a point.

    Driving ability
    I was going adventurous and tried it with a couple of items i have, and particularly the LCD-2C. On the noble audio sage, it's all good and flowery, but on the 2c, it just couldnt push it to authority. In comparison, on my AR-M2, on the 3.5mm too, the sage picks up a whole lot of noise floor, hearing the device amp powering up, buzzing and hissing all the way, but it can drive the 2C really well.

    As brother andykong pointed out, it's a choice of power and noise, they are both mutually exclusive, and i kinda agree on that. The N5 does have a lower noise floor but lack power for some headphones. M2 is noisy AF but can power high end cans.

    So, is this dap considerable as an option? Well, to be frank, I had tried a couple DAPs before, as reviews mostly, so thats a week on each, the N5ii does come in mine at times, considering how easy is it to use, and with the good sound quality and versatility, I say its a buy.
  2. darmanastartes
    One track DAP
    Written by darmanastartes
    Published May 16, 2018
    3.0/5,
    Pros - Sound quality, balanced output, build quality, USB-C
    Cons - Effectively unusable as a USB DAC, broken Bluetooth DAC functionality, no Hibylink
    Introduction/Disclaimer:

    I recently took part in the Cayin N5ii review tour. I had 10 days with the player before shipping it at my own expense to the next reviewer. I am not being compensated by Cayin for writing this piece or being pressured to come to a pre-determined conclusion. This review can also be read at my blog here.

    [​IMG]
    About Me:

    I listen mostly to heavy metal, hip hop, and electronic music, as well as movie and video game soundtracks. I value detail, resolution, and separation above other acoustic qualities, and generally prefer a V-shaped sound signature.

    The headphones in my possession at the time of the review included:

    Campfire Audio Polaris, Mee Audio Pinnacle P1, Mee Audio Pinnacle P2, VE Monk Espresso, E-MU Teak, KZ ATE, Mixcder X5, and Archeer AH07

    I primarily used the N5ii with the Polaris and the Pinnacle P1, through both the SE and balanced outputs.

    When I review DAPs, I prioritize ease of use and functionality above raw sound quality.

    [​IMG]
    Source files and other equipment used:

    I used 44.1kHz/16 Bits FLAC on a 128GB SD card for most of my listening. I also installed Spotify on the Cayin N5ii during my time with it. I used the Cayin N5ii as a USB DAC with PCs running Windows 10 to play Spotify HQ streaming and 44.1kHz/16 Bits FLAC.

    [​IMG]
    Accessories/Build Quality:

    The box I received contained the N5ii player, a USB-C to 3.5mm line-out cable, a USB-C to USB-A cable, a plastic case for the N5ii, and a separate box with a faux-leather N5ii case. The plastic case had an unpleasant, abrasive texture. I could only stand to use the N5ii in this case for the first few days, after which I went without a case. I am not a fan of the snakeskin texture used on the faux-leather case, which looks tacky and ruins the visual appeal of the player. Both cases included in the review package obstruct the SD card ports on the player. The N5ii itself is an exceptionally attractive DAP, displaying a similar aesthetic to Cayin’s high-end desktop amplifiers and DACs, all brushed aluminum and a textured stainless steel volume knob. It feels substantial and heavy-duty in the hand.

    [​IMG]
    Design/Functionality:

    The N5ii has 2 SD card slots, though during my time with it I only used one of them. The N5ii also uses a USB-C connection, which is thankfully becoming more common among DAPs. It has physical keys for fast-forward, pause, and rewind on the right hand side and a power button on the left. The N5ii has a single hardware touch key for the “back” navigation function. The front panel has a small charging LED in the upper right corner which blinks while charging and is solid when completely charged.

    After adding my Google account to the player so that I could install third party apps from the Play store, I discovered that there was no way to remove my Google account from the device without a factory reset. This may not be an issue for permanent owners but was a problem for me considering I needed to send the device to subsequent reviewers.

    There is no pre-installed web browser, but there is a pre-installed file browser, and sideloading third party apps from the SD card was simple and painless. Wifi range was poor.

    The keyboard would frequently register long-presses incorrectly. In general the player’s navigation performance was laggy and sluggish. That said, SD card scanning was quick and CUE support was the best of any DAP I’ve used.

    The player traveled well in the pocket, thanks to the recessed physical volume knob. Battery life is comparable to other DAPs I have used, in the neighborhood of 8–10 hours.

    Unsurprisingly, the N5ii did not work as a USB DAC with my Xiaomi Redmi Note 4, adding to my list of problematic experiences with DAP-Android compatibility. More unfortunate and confusing was the absence of HibyLink functionality using Bluetooth, something the cheaper Cayin N3 handled without issue. Furthermore, the advertised Bluetooth DAC function did not work with either my Android phone or my Windows laptop, both of which saw the N5ii as a call device rather than a DAC. Finally, the N5ii required drivers to be used as a USB DAC with Windows PCs, something cheaper DACs I have reviewed did not require. Even with these drivers installed there was audible crackling when the N5ii was used as a USB DAC with Windows PCs, crackling that seemed worse when using the balanced output.

    [​IMG]
    Sound

    I generally subscribe to the philosophy that if a source device is coloring the sound, something is wrong with the source device. My time with the Cayin N5ii challenged this standpoint. The sound on the N5ii was bright in comparison to other source devices I have reviewed. The N5ii is exceptionally resolving, with incredible instrument separation, especially on the balanced output. I came away from my time with the N5ii feeling that the balanced output on this player was distinctly better in terms of technicalities than the SE output. However, it was also noisier than some of the Shanling players I have used in terms of hiss when paired with the Campfire Audio Polaris. I used the Cayin N5ii exclusively with the sharp roll-off digital filter.

    [​IMG]
    Summary

    The Cayin N5ii is a slightly bright DAP with superb technicalities. As a standalone DAP it is exceptional. However, it is outclassed in terms of functionality by cheaper alternatives, both from competitors and from Cayin itself. I hope that updated firmware and Windows drivers can solve some of the issues I had with general performance and DAC functionality.
  3. Mshenay
    Spring King of Mid Fi Analog & Digital Transports
    Written by Mshenay
    Published May 4, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Clean Sound, Digital Filters, Android Support, Streaming Support, Digital Connectivity, Analog Connectivity Options,
    Cons - Input/Output Jacks could be sturdier
    Portable audio has always been on my radar. Back when I first assembled my desktop system my immediate next step was to replicate that level of quality in a portable system. An what I found is that I typically had to spend twice as much to get equivalent quality and often far less power. But that was almost 4 years ago. These days more and more companies are implementing high powered output via balanced amp typologies into their devices! Meaning that getting desktop reference quality audio on the go is becoming easier and easier, without needing the expensive and cumbersome stack-able towers of yesteryear!

    Seeing as how I focused on entry level products in the winter months, for this review I'll be featuring a wider variety of mid-range products both individually and in comparison to my existing gear!As this was my focus for the spring season, I will also be starting my summer adventures by diving into modern Top Of the Line Digital Audio players.

    For listening tests on mid range equipment & comparisons I used my AKG K701 single ended and my Modded Audio Technica ES10 balanced. I find that each of these headphones is more neutral than anything, with the K701 being a little brighter up top and the ES 10 being a little darker up top.

    For our first look at more modern Digital Audio Players utilizing truly top of the line topology designs, my track list remains unchanged but I'll be switching between my HD 800, LCD 2 and modded Audio Technica ES10 with a few special guest appearances too!

    I volume match each device/out with pink noise and my SPL Meter and I listened to about 3 tracks with each headphone and device. An you can refresh yourself on my current playlist by clicking here.

    Let's start with a quick refresh on my 2017 product standards consisting of the;
    • LH Labs Geek Out V2+ for my Mid-Range Reference
    • Shanling M2S for my entry level Reference
    • Hifiman HM901 Line Out to my;
      • HeadAmp PicoPowerSingle Ended Amp
      • iBasso PB2 Balanced Amp
        • As my Top of the Line Portable System
    You may also recall that I adopted the Shanling M3s & Aune B1s as a mid range reference as well, while I still feel that system holds it's spot on my list I did not have it in home for this review. Moving forward however I will.

    For this review I'll be starting on Mid-Range devices as this is where I spent the majority of my listening time this Spring, next we will be transitioning to a quick recap of some entry level favorites from my listening back in the Winter months. Finally before talking about my plans for the Summer I'll be disclosing my Favorite Mid-Range Portable for the Spring!

    After which we'll switch gears and start with my first look, listen & review of a modern Flagship DAP, as during the Summer of 2018 I'll be focusing more on Top of the Line Portable Products!

    [​IMG]

    We will start with the Cayin N5 Mk2ii which launched in late 2017 and is the third generation of the N Series players and the next step up from their N3 which I reviewed and lauded for it's plethora of digital features earlier last year. Priced at $369.99 from MusicTek via Amazon and built around a dual ESS 9018mk2 DAC Chipset and equipped with both a slow and sharp roll off filter in addition to both analog and digital line out options plus an Android 5.1 GUI. The N5ii offers a highly competitive set of features at this price point, it'll even function wireless as a Dac/Amp with your smart phone via BluTooth!

    [​IMG]

    Overall the sound signature of this device is on the leaner side of neutral with exceptional low end texture and tautness, the digital filters do make slight changes to the presentation.
    • Sharp-Roll off is;
      • More aggressive
      • Slightly brighter up top
      • Leaner Mid Range
      • Emphasized macro dynamics and macro detail
      • Exceptionally precise imaging but slightly disjointed
    • Slow-Roll off is;
      • Ever so slightly laid back
      • Smoother Up top
        • With no loss in texture
      • Slightly wetter and more resolved in the mid range
        • With a slight emphasis on micro detail
      • De-emphasizes ambient noise
      • More balanced with macro and micro dynamic changes/shifts
      • More cohesive imaging with a slight lack of precision compared to Sharp-Roll off
    Overall I felt the N5ii performed best with the Slow-Roll Off filter and a more neutral or lean sounding headphone, as it retained a very taut low end but become much more natural in the mid range and top end! How ever with darker and/or more laid back headphones the Sharp-Roll Off filter works better.

    [​IMG]

    In terms of sound quality compared to the Fiio Q5 I found the N5ii advantages are that it is;
    • Supremely consistent
      • Marginal difference in the quality of the balanced and Single Ended Output
        • Balanced was simply a high powered output there for the loads that needed it
      • No change in quality depending on file format
    • Neutral Presentation
      • Offering two digital filters to tailor the mid to high frequency tonal balance to your tastes
      • Consistently taut low end regardless of filter choice
      • Never presented any kind of hazy or stuffiness
    • Exceptional Resolve
      • Presenting more micro detail overall
      • consisting presenting more vivid micro and macro dynamics overall
    In terms of tonality the N5ii presented;
    • Drums
      • With slightly less body but more impact and definition.
        • So the size and mass of a timpani was more apparent
    • Bass Guitars
      • With noticeably more punch
      • Better texture/resolve of the strings themselves
        • So harmonic content added from fretting was more vivid
        • Slight tapping or percussive sounds from fretting where also more evidant
        • Finally the slight metallic twang of the metal strings were more vivid
      • Less BODY but more power
        • Lower notes were not quite as brooding or dark but,
        • They were felt more forcefully with the N5ii
        • So EDM was funner and more enjoyable with the Q5 but most natural/electric instrument based music was just more resolving/better with the N5ii
    • Guitars [Acoustic & Electric]
      • Slightly Drier
        • But with improved clarity and more vivid harmonic content
        • Again fretting was more vivid
        • The texture of how the musician plays or strums each string is clearer
      • Harder
        • With a more defined envelope overall
    So forth an so on, just in general I found the Q5 to be rather lack luster... it's acceptably neutral but more or less kinda soft with the USB input. An the USB input is how I primary use a DAC/Amp.

    [​IMG]

    Compared to the Shanling M3S the Cayin N5ii was in an entirely different league! Quite literally everything is improved, the User Interface has more power and options plus I think it's even easier to use. The sound quality from both the 3.5mm and 2.5mm outputs were better. The N5ii also supports more digital output options so the only reason I see to recommend the M3S is if you plan to use the Line Out. As the line out of each was... not as drastically different.

    Specifically the with my K702 and Pico Power in hand I found theN5ii Line out differs in that;
    [​IMG]
    • The Slow and Sharp Roll Off Filters attenuate the Top End
    • Where as the M3S filters are Low Pass and attenuate how the Bottom End is Presented
    Overall though in every instance the N5ii has a tauter more natural and detailed low end. The only potential benefit to the M3S is it's lack of Android, as I understand that some of you simply have NO desire to own an Android based Digital Audio Player.

    So again, if your budget is constrained to something under $300 or your HATE Android based Graphic Interfaces, than yes the M3S is quite good. But if you don't mind Android and can stretch your budget an extra $90 you'll find the N5ii is really a better product overall.

    [​IMG]

    What surprised me the most during my time with the N5ii was how well it compared again'st my Geek Out V2+, though the two do share a similar DAC Chipset and digital filter suite. I did find that hardware aside, the inclusion of digital filters on both helped each to adapt to the music. In some cases the Sharp Roll Off Filter on the N5ii helped better define the audible image of music that is already mastered very "naturally." An in other cases the Blue Filter of the Geek Out V2+ would do much the same, present a slightly less natural tonal balance in exchange for a more defined audible image. Also each had a high frequency roll off filter that created a more natural sounding, slightly less aggressive and more defined sound with brighter/leaner headphones.

    But not considering the digital filters impact I found;
    • The N5ii's singled ended output was simply;
      • cleaner
        • the trailing end of each and every note played by a guitarist is more vivid
      • more natural
        • brass horns retain a nice bite without ever being too metallic
      • more resolved
        • a blacker background allows micro and macro detail to become more apparent
      • more nuanced
        • precision in the placement of sounds within a space are more tangible
          • Like the sound of the crowd in a live recording
      • Just plain better
    • The balanced performance of the N5ii was consistently behind that of the Geek Out V2+ in that it lacked;
      • Nuance and resolve overall
        • Again, while tonal balance imaging cohesion and precision are comparable the Geek Out v2+ was almost always more resolving of micro detail overall
      • Each how ever presented Micro and Macro details with a fairly similar level of resolve
    • How ever when more power was needed for harder to drive loads the N5ii Balanced output was a step up from the Single Ended Output
    [​IMG]

    Now I also compared the Line Out of the N5ii to the balanced out of the Geek Out V2+ and while I found using my HeadAmp Pico Power helped close the gap in detail, the Geek Out V2+ was still better. How ever I did notice with the Line Out the N5ii was in every instance more defined, more powerful and just simply better at presenting low frequency information!

    So while listening to my live rip of Hotel California & the N5ii I noticed;
    • More power on the trailing notes of the big drum as it came to rest after each hit
    • Cleaner translation of fret noise/action on the bass lines
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    So in my final days with it I really found my self personally torn between having the N5ii Singled Ended Line Out with my Pico Power and ES10 operating single ended or just running the ES10 Fully balanced out of my Geek Out V2+. For some genres of music I would rather have that better low end detail and for others I valued a slightly more resolved mid to top end presentation.

    While the balanced output is better WHEN the power it adds is needed, in terms of sheer value the singled ended output of the N5ii by it self was what stuck with me the most! I'm used to the madness of my Portable Audio Towers, but for many of you they elegance and simplicity of a truly high performance single box solution is what'll you'll reach for most!

    [​IMG]

    Fiio's Q5 is a portable DAC/Amp featuring a dual AK 4490EN Chipset and a focus on wireless connectivity via BluTooth. Priced at $349 via Amazon, the Q5 also has a module Amp design with a dedicated 3.5mm sigle ended line out, dedicated digital Coax/Optical input and both 3.5mm single ended and 2.5mm fully balanced output for the headphone amp section.

    In terms of sound quality, I found it's USB Performance to be some what stuffy or hazy sounding. I listened to a variety of different DAC/Amps with my Cell/PC, using the same cables, tracks and software suites. An each time the Q5 just sounded stuffy.

    Overall it's performance was most impressive with Optical Input from my iRiver H140. Thus I continued to listen and my my assessment of it with this input, despite Optical being a usually sub-par digital input VS USB.

    While I didn't listen to it with Bluetooth I found many of my subscribers were impressed with it's BluTooth Quality. Non the less with a hard wired optical in I found the Q5 to be;
    • Fairly Neutral
      • Tonality did change slightly depending on the file format
      • At times it was very natural
      • Other times it was a bit hard and rougher sounding
    • Having a thicker full low end
    • Fairly Smooth on the Top
    • Quite cohesive with good precision
    So if you happen to own an older Digital Audio Player like the ole school iRiver Models the Q5 is a great way to use their Optical output and breath life back into them! I in-fact really enjoyed the pairing of the Q5 with my own iRiver H140. I had a Source with lot's of storage and a quick Graphic Interface and a DAC/Amp that I could pair it with so I got the best out of both devices!

    [​IMG]

    I also enjoyed the Q5 with my wife's iPhone. It's included iPhone friendly Case was super convenient, so in terms of pure convenience for iPhone users the Q5 is un-matched!

    [​IMG]

    Additionally I have to say the unique iPhone Case for the Q5 was the easiest portable solution to carry. As the phone retained full functionality with the DAC/Amp tucked neatly away behind it.

    Still overall based on my experience with both inputs, I felt that with USB the Q5 was not competitive there are other products that sounds better or equivalent for much less. Optical though was really very impressive for some reasons, sadly though optical isn't a convenient nor common input/output method much these days. So overall I can't really recommend this product, unless your an Optical User.

    Finally, you may notice I didn't feature my HD 800 in any of these portable systems. In each it either sounded less than ideal or just couldn't get up to volume. I still feel that the Aune B1S with any good Digital Audio Player is hands down one of the best portable amps in the mid range price point for driving leaner headphones like the HD 800!
    [​IMG]

    Next though let's do a quick recap on some of my favorite entry level devices.

    [​IMG]

    An pictured above are still my two favorite products in the under $200 price point.

    The Shanling M2s for it's;
    • Easy to master single handed operation
    • Phenomenal Analog output
    And the iFi iDSD Nano Black Label for its;
    • Assortment of Hard Line Connections
      • Line Out
      • Pseudo Balanced Via 3.5mm TRRS
      • IE Match Port for super sensitive earphones/iems
    • Spacious & Airy Presentation
    • Adjustable tonal balance via the Measure & Listen Filters
    But overall out of everything I've heard since the Winter of 2017 and up to the Spring of 2018 I have to say it's the Cayin N5ii that's impressed me most! So if your exploring portable Audio Solutions this spring I cannot recommend the N5ii enough! Price aside it's performance was phenomenal, but when you consider that it's just $370 as of this writing! It easily blows the competition out of the water, truly a high fidelity jack of all trades player combing the excellent suite of digital options I appreciated about the N3 with an exceptional analog output stage.

    [​IMG]


    An with some relevant experience in Mid Range portables I'm happy to say it's time I dip my feet into the waters of Flagships!

    The last time I purchased a player I went for a flagship, so I felt that before I start reviewing them again I should be familiar with at least some of what's out there for those of you who want a little more bang for you buck.



    But moving forward I'll be focusing less on value, convenience and ease of ownership and more on end game fidelity.



    Without further ado let's dive into the Questyle QP2R!

    [​IMG]

    Packing is modest and it does the job, also a thank you to Todd The Vinyl Junkie for setting up this QP2R Tour!



    So some background on the Questyle Dap, unlike traditional circuits, Questyle opt for Current Mode amplification. In short if my understanding is correct, the Voltage levels are fixed and the current is what amplifies. Unlike a traditional amp design in which the Current is Fixed and the Voltage is what's amplified, either way it operates in a pure Class A "current mode." The Questyle website has more information for those inclined!



    Another unique feature of the amp is the Bias Control, again when the amp's under a heavy load setting the Class A Current Mode Bias to High helps to eliminate high frequency harmonic distortion. An most of you know that excessive distortion translates to noise, so any time we can reduce added distortion there are audible benefits assuming the load is "heavy" enough. Either way for my listening purposes I kept it set to High always. As a result battery life has been a little less than what's quoted but nothing too unmanageable.



    Seeing as this is my first foray into Top of the Line Digital Audio Players I tested this one again'st quite a few of my own home systems and headphones!



    How ever I only listened to the QP2R with it's 3.5mm Single End and 2.5mm Balanced Out. I didn't test it as a USB Driver Dac Amp nor did I use the Line Out Settings... but I think you need the HiFi Hub to get that feature... which I'm not a fan of. With the HiFi Hub the total cost of the unit creeps upwards of $1700, and while price isn't my concerns it's the very stationary and cumbersome nature of the Hub and the price increase I don't like. I got portable for well portability! Having a built in LineOut without any additional bulk means a lot to ME and those who will be using this as both an analog and digital source. Non the less though, at it's $1300 price point functioning purely as a standalone Digital Audio Player I do have to admit it's performance is stellar! Well worth the asking price.

    [​IMG]



    I found that with my HD 800 and the 2.5mm balanced output the QP2R had;



    • Exceptional naturalness in the mid range
      • Listening to Epica's The Divine Conspiracy I heard details in Simone and her husbands voice I'd not heard before!
    • Exceptionally low noise
      • Or it presented a very black sound
        • Silence was inky and this lack of noise again lead to exceptional resolve
    • Textured but smooth response
      • The overall lack of distortion really yields a smoother well resolved sound in both the mid range and upper end
        • No lack of detail or extension in the mids and up top, rather slightly more detail than I was expecting with no added harshness or grain
      • Fatigue free listening
    • Fairly Soft Low End
      • Sufficient definition and texture, but slightly lacking in solidity and power
        • Kick drums lacked that "KICK" and an aggressive bass guitar riff was a little smeared
        • Cellos and Painos had beautiful timbre, tone and texture but again electrical instruments and percussion were slightly soft
    • Lack of Headroom
      • With my most dynamic tracks I was only able to get an average of 83 dBs about 4 less than what I prefer to listen to [87 dBs averaged]


    [​IMG]

    I also ran the Audeze MX 4 balanced out with an OCC Copper Cable from the 2.5mm on the QP2R, I found it to be;



    • Clean, Clear but could extend a little deeper
      • Good power and slam with exceptional texture!
        • Here is where I found the High Bias to make a noticeable differance
      • Electric Bass Guitar riffs were dynamic, punchy with good bitw
      • Kick drums had IMPACT
      • An larger drums like the Timpani had a powerful heavy but slightly hollow sound as I expect them to
      • Though some of the deepest notes were slightly withdrawn
    • Energetic Up Top
      • Had just enough clarity and presance
      • Percussion was snappy and never harsh
    • Natural Mid Range
      • Again beautiful smooth but textured mid range
        • Harmonic content resolves nicely, beautiful release on guitars, vocals and stringed wood body instruments
        • Vocals have a nice little bit of added sweetness to them
    • Intimate still but spacious
      • Precision is acceptable but cohesiveness and clarity in resolving complexly layered content is evident
    With some a little more efficient I felt the QP2R really shined, it's natural and smooth but still dynamic and detailed presentation came through better with the Gain set to medium or lower and with more efficient current hungry planars than more voltage hungry dynamics like the HD 800 which often couldn't quite get to reference listening levels nor maintain a solid low end.





    Ultimately though, with two different loads I deemed the QP2R to always present;

    • An exceptionally low noise floor
      • Inky black background
        • So much so that there were some details presented to me by the QP2R that I'd not heard before out of my own home system!
          • An upon level matching I did in-fact identify such details in my home system but the slight addition of added noise made said details fall just shy of my notice in previous listening sessions
    • Exceptionally low distortion
      • Allowing for incredible resolve with no added fatigue or harshness
      • Both Micro Detail and transients were exceptionally vivid
      • With no lack of dynamics
    • Natural Timbre and tonality
      • Again both the fundamental and harmonic content of instruments and vocalists alike were always crystal clear
    • Optimized for more Efficient Loads
      • Often running out of steam with more voltage hungry loads
      • Often losing some extension on the very deepest reaches with quieter tracks
    So simply put, Questyle's newest reference digital audio player does everything we'd want it to! In my case it replicated and sometimes exceeded the quality of my own home system! It's only faults lie in a slight lack of power overall and definition down low.



    Switching to my home system some of what's gained or clearer in the mid range and up becomes some what less vivid but there's added vividness and clarity down low. So again, I'm impressed given how small the unit is that it keeps paces with my current reference system.



    Non the less, let's get into more specifics on how the QP2R compared to my other systems! Both portable and desktop.



    Starting with my my Singled Ended and Mid Range Portables



    [​IMG]



    With my Modded ES10 the QP2R;



    • Simply out classed the Singled Ended Shanling M3S & Aune B1S system completely with it's own 3.5mm Single Ended output
    • Simply out classed my Geek Out V2+ with it's own 2.5mm Balanced Output
    Which I was a little shocked by, as my Geek Out v2+ gave the Hugo 2 [USB\] a run for it's money, in this comparison the QP2R showed no mercy and clearly beat the Geek Out V2+



    How ever with my Single Ended HM901/HeadAmp Pico Power system I found that;

    • The HM901/HeadAmp Pico Power System was overall better
      • Had a more linear response
        • Powerful and taut low bass
        • Very Clean slightly drier mid range
        • Better Top end extension
    • Where as the QP2R fell a bit behind
      • It wasn't any quiter or blacker
      • Had a slight forwardness in the mid range that's apparent with this super sensitive OnEar
      • Had a slight over-emphasize on ambient noise
        • Not so much mechanical noises but stuff like floor board creaking
        • In a sense these details were more vivid but overly so
      • Just fell short of drawing me into the music
        • Technically it wasn't up to par with the HM901/PicoPower System
        • An the Timbre was as inviting as the with HM901/PicoPower System
    So that kinda threw me for a loop! As it would seem the QP2R handles what I would consider moderately difficult loads best. As with the sensitive ES10 and the Difficult to Drice LCD 2 PreFazor it didn't wow me like it did with the MX4 and HD 800.



    [​IMG]



    Speaking of the Pre Fazor LCD 2, output from the QP2R



    • Again out classes the Geek Out v2+ in terms of technicalities
      • However the tonality and timbre were noticeable drier and kinda shouty?!
    • So Your preference tonally may dictate how much you appreciate the improved technicalities
    However compared to my HM901/PB2 System the QP2R falls a little short every where but the bass ironicaly;
    • Tonality is noticeable drier
      • An some how less natural than the Hm901/PB2 System
    • Background noise is reduced
      • So micro detail is sometimes better but odd tonality often skews some transients
    • Ambient noise is exaggerated
      • Again the normally the LCD 2 is quite dark, but for some odd reasons with the QP2R it's noticeably brighter
      • Macro Dynamics are also some what exaggerated at the expense of micro dynamics
    • Bass is quite textured however
      • I'm assuming it's because of the slightly more difficult load requirements of the current hungry Pre Fazor,
    All in all I'm finding that I prefer my PreFazor LCD 2 on both of my ESS Sabre portables that have the high Frequency roll off digital filters.




    So all in all I feel that with more modern offerings the QP2R would do well, with loads that are more standard. As the ES 10 is hyper efficient and the LCD 2 PreFazor on the opposite end of the spectrum. So cans like the LCD 2F would pair very well with the QP2R as would things like the DT 880/1990 and Hifiman HE 560. Though let's move upwards to other TOTL systems in my home!

    [​IMG]



    Staring with the HD 800 vs the HM901 & iBasso PB2 System



    Before we go further you should know my iBasso PB2 is modified with;

    • LME 49990 High Performance OpAmps
    • High Current Buffers
    • Dedicated Portable Power Supply Unit
      • The internal battery has been removed and all power is kept at a stable & Constant 16V
    Non the less, compared to this portable system with the HD 800 I found the;

    • Bass
      • Tauter and more defined with HM901/PB2 System
        • Namely big timpani drums maintained a great sense of impact and weight, while balancing the hollow resonant trails that follow each strike
      • Kick Drums hit harder, faster and had a cleaner envelope overall
    • Mid Range
      • Quite dry on the HM901/PB2 System
        • At times this was an advantage especially with Epica
          • Where beautifully warm wood bodied classical instruments are over laid with heavily distorted guitars
        • Though at times it was a disadvantage
          • Such as with Rebecca Pigeon's Spanish Harlem where the timbre of each instrument was slightly drier than reality
      • Wetter but no less defined with the Q2PR
        • With Heavy Metal the added wetness some times detracted from the aggressiveness of the track as a whole
        • But with softer acoustic pieces the presentation was more natural with no "dryness"
    • Top End
      • Each unit had it's own advantages and disadvantageous
        • The HM901/PB2 system had clearly better top end extension which resulted in a better sense of pace & rhythm and time especially in percussion but it could also be fatiguing depending on the mastering
        • The QP2R was smoother up top, so while it didn't always have that vibrant sense of presence, rhythm and time it was never fatiguing
      • Resolve/Imaging
        • Volume matched each had no clear advantage over the other, how ever the increased headroom of the PB2 System allowed for "reference" listening levels at which slightly more resolve/imaging precision is possible due to a more even tonal perception
    Now compared to my Reference SET Tube Amp the QP2R;

    • Only had the advantage of a blacker background
      • Some detail in the mid range and up was more apparent but there was a lack of control and extension on the lowest registers of the audible spectrum
    • More or less replicated and matched the cohesiveness and overall precision in imaging
    • More or less replicated or matched my Desktop Amps sense of presence and tactility
      • Except in the lows
      • My Desktop Amp consistently presented a more detailed more controlled low end
    • Struggled to provide sufficient headroom
      • Again with tracks that had exceptional dynamic range the QP2R was not able to bring these tracks up to at least 87 dBs on average
    But overall with my HD 800 I can say for the vast majority of my collection the QP2R made for an excellent single box solution for some of you it's added simplicity and blacker background may be preferential over having a bulkier portable system with slightly more noise but sufficient head room and more controlled lows.



    In either case Questyle certainly designed this product to very exceptionally match a desktop system on the go!



    [​IMG]

    Moving to the MX4, with the HM901/PB2 System I noticed;

    • Bass
      • Tighter more and more controlled over all
        • So big drums had more power
        • Kick drums had more impact
        • An large stringed instruments had a slightly more resolved or more audible fret action
    • Mids
      • Mid-range quality on each was fairly similar
        • The QP2R was a smidge wetter and more natural so with a drier master or set of instruments it sounded more Natural
        • Where as the HM901/PB2 System was drier so with a wetter master, or a set of instruments with a lot of harmonic content THIS system sounded more natural
    • Highs
      • With the QP2R system the MX4 did lose some vibrancy up top
      • Where as the HM901/PB2 System was no less smooth but more vibrant
        • I feel this has to do with the rougher presentation of the HM901 System combined with it's own HF Roll Off Filter allowing the texture of slight over emphasis to be present without the fatigue
    • Resolve/Imaging
      • The QP2R did take a slight edge forward in overall resolve because of it's blacker output
      • However the more defined low end with the HM901/PB2 System did help to retain better precision in imaging
    Now comparing the QP2R to my own Reference Hybrid Tube Amp

    • Bass
      • Again better power and extension
    • Mids
      • Now this is where things get interesting as;
        • The QP2R is equally natural but presents a slightly clearer more defined envelope
          • Allowing for the texture of stringed instruments
          • The unique vibrato of a vocalists
          • The unique harmonic decay/release of guitars
          • An other micro detail present in the mid range was a bit more resolved
        • My Project Ember II with a Classic Grade Psvanne CBT 181-T Mk2 was;
          • Fuller but not as detailed... period
    • Highs
      • Again the QP2R was;
        • Clearer with a sharper attack
      • Where as the Ember II was;
        • A little smoother without as much emphasis on the leading edge
    • Resolve/Imaging
      • Now dynamics are were the QP2R falls slightly behind the Ember II as;
        • The Ember II more clearly resolved micro and macro dynamics
        • An in many cases the Ember II was able to very realistically build to a crescendo
      • Where as the QP2R was;
        • Sharper but a tad over enthusiastic at times
        • Struggles with an accurate presentation of Pace, Rhythm and Time
        • Failed to draw me into any passage of music that gradually builds tension through changes in volume
      • However overall detail and precision in imaging was fairly similar between each
        • Again the QP2R has a blacker background
          • But doesn't seem to respond as quickly to the demands of busier passages of music
        • Where as the Ember II is a bit nosier
          • but handles changes in amplification needs more linearly, how ever add noise kinda nullifies some of the advantageous it has here
    [​IMG]


    All in all I'm quite impressed with the QP2R, while I found it's lacking in some digital convinces as a purely analog digital audio player it's excellent! Seeing as I personally prefer my DAPs run purely offline and exclusively in the analog domain I feel that the QP2R is totally deserving of it's flagship status! I've always been a dedicated DAP & Line Out To Portable Amp guy but with the MX4 and Questyle's excellent on board current mode topology I could happily accept this as my end game reference portable!
    1. View previous replies...
    2. niron
      Great review. Would you recommend getting the N5ii over the IFI xDSD with a Fiio X5?
      niron, May 6, 2018
    3. RASeymour
      Thanks for the notes on the roll off choices. I must have read a half dozen reviews and none of them explained the differences as well (if at all).
      Now if someone could tell me what the "Smart Cleaning" function actually does.
      I do like this player, esp. with Ety 4XR (not so much with FiiO F9 PRO - too harsh).
      RASeymour, May 8, 2018
    4. seanwee
      Yeah I didn't like the pesky F9 pros too, the normal F9s had better and more natural tuning.

      Anyways, the smart cleaning function is like a kill apps/clear ram function. Holding down the play/pause button will do a similar thing but it will also stop the music.
      seanwee, May 8, 2018
      Mshenay likes this.
  4. Wiljen
    Cayin refines the N5 and creates a masterwork!
    Written by Wiljen
    Published Apr 17, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Fantastic Sound quality and build quality, UI is intuitive and easy to use, 3rd party app install is simple and straight forward, good streaming options, Dual card slots
    Cons - OS still in need of some performance tweaks, both cases obstruct sd-card slots, silicone case is a throw away.
    My first experience with Cayin DAPs was with the N3; I liked it so much there are now three in the family as my daughter, wife, and I all have them. Mine is my on-the-go player, my wife’s is her office companion, and my daughter’s gets used as her primary audio device. With my love of the little Cayin, when Andy announced a review tour for the next generation big brother the N5ii, I had my paperwork filed before the ink had set on his original post. As good as the little Cayin is, could Andy and company work the same magic again? (Spoiler: They can and they did!)

    It shouldn’t shock anyone that Cayin is making really solid portable equipment. The company started back in 1993 making tube amps that are still highly regarded, then they progressed into digital source gear to complement their amplifiers. In recent years, they have decided to add a second focus, portable gear. The C5 portable amplifier takes a lot of lessons learned on the desktop and presents them in a very usable portable package, likewise the N3, 5, and 6 along with the i5 portable players have taken what Cayin learned building high end Dacs, and made a very competent line of portable players.

    Before I started this review, I got my hands on a first generation N5 for comparison and spent a couple weeks listening. Turns out I probably shouldn’t have as the expectation that they have anything in common is unfounded. They both have 2.5 and 3.5mm outputs and both have 2 Micro-sd card slots, other similarities are few and far between as Cayin has improved or just flat out redesigned just about everything on the player. For that reason, if you have an N5, do not discount the N5ii as a minor upgrade, it isn’t.

    So without further ado, let’s get into it.

    Unboxing

    The player arrived via DHL in the normal yellow and red envelope. The box itself is a low profile, square book-opening style in solid black with the logo and image embossed on the surface. Classy and understated and not altogether atypical of Cayin. With the flap open, the N5ii sits on the left with accessories hiding under a flap on the right. A quick start guide is attached for ready reference when getting started.

    boxfront.jpg boxrear.jpg

    The accessory kit is basic but covers most of what is needed. A silicone cover, and a USB-c to USB-A charging cable (white 3 foot) are all that is hiding beneath the cover. It is worth noting that a glass screen protector and plastic backside protector come mounted to the unit out of the box so while not listed in the accessory kit they are present.

    boxinternal.jpg contents.jpg

    The review unit also shipped with a leather case that is considerably thicker and more protective than the silicone that ships with the unit. I am not a huge fan of the faux crocodile hide finish but the case is a big enough step above the silicone that I would still recommend purchasing it with the DAP.

    Cases.jpg


    Build

    The N5ii is a handsome unit with matte gray, brushed aluminum, sides and top plate (above the screen). The rear has the look of jeweled metal

    back.jpg

    while the buttons and scroll wheel are all polished stainless steel. The screen is roughly 4 x 2 inches with a slight bezel around it that is darker than the background when the unit is on. (the Shanling m3s has a similar bezel but does a good job of color matching the screen background to hide it).

    The heft of the unit is more than expected when you look at its size and hints at the quality of components used. It feels very solid and very durable.

    The front sports the screen with and LED in the upper right corner of the screen for power on indicator and the scroll wheel at upper right above the screen. It looks very much like its big brother the i5 in this regard.

    front.jpg
    The top of the player has balanced and single ended outputs

    top.jpg

    while the bottom has a USB-C charge port and two small stainless screws for access to the internals via the back plate.

    bottom.jpg


    The left side of the player has only a single button (power) even with the top edge of the display.

    left.jpg

    The right side of the player is the busiest with three buttons starting at the top edge of the display in descending order they are forward, play/pause, and back. Below the buttons are two micro-sd slots, which had no problem reading 200 or 256gb cards when tested.
    right.jpg



    (As a side note, both cases obstruct access to the SD card slots, which is a personal pet peeve of mine).
    casesside.jpg

    The player also sports 32gb of internal memory but this is shared memory with roughly 8gb used for android out of the box and installing applications and android updates will need to use additional memory over time so realistically, it has roughly 16gb of usable storage for music internally.


    Internals

    Several internals deserve discussion and since Cayin published full specs and schematics, it makes it easy to do so.

    1.) The N5ii now has distinct amplification circuits for the balanced,single ended and line outputs. No more shared design with a buffer ala Fiio. Remember that while some will argue that volume matching will eliminate the differences in Single-ended and balanced output, that assumes both use the same hardware and paths and in this case that isn’t true so some differences in the two do exist even when volume matched. Since the Lineout uses a different op-amp, there are some differences in Sound between line out and either of the other outputs.

    2.) Clocking – The N5ii uses three different oscillators to set the clock speed in order to reduce jitter. The Shanling M3s and Opus #1s both use two to do the same job so at least in theory the N5ii has the advantage.

    3.) Battery – at a true 3000mAh, the N5ii sports one of the best battery capacities in the class and as easily able to get 9 hours on audio-priority mode using the balanced output.

    4.) DAC Chips used is Sabre 9018K2m low powered chip. These make a good trade off as they are less power hungry than their big brothers while still maintaining the ability to produce good detail. They share the Sabre family traits of being clean almost clinical with good extension at both ends.

    5.) The Line out path pairs the Sabre with the OPA 1652 which provides good power and detail at the expense of a slight increase in noise floor, where the single ended output and the balanced use OPA 1622 op amps to do the lifting (1 for single ended and 1 per channel when using balanced).

    6.) Quad-core Rockchip CPU. While nothing special in the overall android market, the chip is certainly capable and provides enough power to get good UI responsiveness in what can be called a complicated Operating system.

    7.) Connectivity – the N5ii has 802.11 b/g/n support (no channel 14) as well as Bluetooth 4.0 Support. No details are listed on support for Apt-X and I could not get the Apt-X active to show on my phone when paired to the device.


    UI / Navigation

    Blind Navigation: First, let’s look at in pocket use. The buttons provide all the needed controls, forward, back, play/pause, and volume adjust without needing any visibility to accomplish and all work with the screen turned off to conserve battery. The one caveat, is that changes to volume made via the scroll are finer grained than changed made using the display so for large volume changes it may be easier to use the on-screen control and then use the scroll for fine adjustments.

    The N5ii has a ton of features; streaming from several different sources (I tried tidal and Spotify), DNLA support (I used my Nas to play files over wifi directly through the N5ii), use as a USB dac, use as a source for another dac, and use as an android device, in addition to the most central function of playback of recorded files from local storage. When considering the length of this list of options, it would be easy to surmise that the operating system must be fairly complex. The good news is, the operation of the N5ii is broken down into bite sized pieces and is very straight forward so each function can be accessed quickly and with little hassle. The UI is Hiby based so those familiar with the i5 or Hiby 6 player or even the hiby player on other android devices will recognize most of the layout.

    For those of us that use the player for its most basic function, turn on the player, select a language, set the date and time, and insert your sd card. With a swipe across the screen from the left, the menu is exposed the top line of which is music scan.

    MainMenu.jpg musicScan.jpg


    The N5ii did a good job of scanning large cards quickly and even an 8000 song list was loaded within a few minutes.

    Once scanned, tapping the right edge of the screen collapses the menu and gives you a statistics page that is very helpful as seen below.

    stats.jpg

    At the top edge of the stats screen, you can see the music/list/private cloud options and then a secondary menu below that depending on which of the three top options are selected. For simple music playback, click music, then either track, folder,genre, etc… and select the track or playlist of choice. Random is turned on and off from the “Whats playing now” screen which is a bit different than some players.

    front.jpg

    The “whats playing now” screen can be accessed by tapping the bottom of the menu or you can play or pause directly from controls on the right bottom. The circle at the bottom of the screen will return you to the main statistics screen from the playback display.

    Swiping down from the top of the screen opens the controls screen.

    controls.jpg


    On the main screen you can enable or disable wifi, Bluetooth, equalizer, change between line out and headphone out for the 3.5mm jack, change the gain, enable audio priority mode, and adjust USB mode. Screen brightness can also be altered at the bottom of this menu.

    Tapping the gear at the top of the controls screen opens a settings menu which exposes pretty much every customization that can be done on the player.

    settings.jpg

    While I don’t think it necessary to go through every function and document the menus (the manual does a fine job of this), I will say that every function I wanted to try was within 4 clicks from the main menu. While the N5ii is certainly a complicated device with a lot of features, I am happy to report that the navigation is intuitive and well thought out.

    If there is a criticism to be leveled against the UI it is that it is sometimes less responsive than others. I think this may well be correctable in software and with the bug fixes I have witnessed in the firmware updates to the N3, I am confident that the software of the N5ii will continue to improve as time goes on. It’s good now, but with a few tweaks it could be a bit better.

    Notes on Android

    The N5ii falls somewhere between the Android we see on Fiio that looks like a standard phone interface with an add-on audio app and the Opus #1s that buries the Android interface so thoroughly you can’t find it without a degree in software engineering. Cayin does a good job of skinning android in a way to make this very obviously a music player while at the same time exposing enough of the basic interface to allow users to add 3rd party apps if wanted. For those using it solely as a DAP, the audio priority Mode gives you the ability to adjust the performance to be more focused toward the task at hand and improve battery slightly by disabling unneeded features.

    Sound

    The N5ii has two filters (Sharp and slow), three gain levels, and a customizable EQ, so finding the sound you like best may require a bit of tinkering. I like the sharp filter but this is purely personal preference (It should be noted though that my thoughts on sound are colored by that preference as I used the medium gain, sharp filter, and no EQ to do all my listening for this review).

    I found that the 3 outputs of the N5ii all have their own unique elements. The 2 volt line out trades a bit of noise floor for higher output power, while the single ended and balanced outs were pitch black even with the Magaosi k5 which has a reputation for being overly sensitive.

    I could honestly use the line out on the N5ii to replace my current Hi-fi transport and DAC and probably would never miss either. The line out function was clearly not an afterthought as it is on so many portable devices.

    The sound signature is balanced with no element jumping out in front of anything else. I found no major recesses or voids in the sound and was impressed with the level of detail present. The sabre family has a reputation for being a bit clinical in nature and Cayin has done a good job of masking that tendency and creating a player that is more musical than sterile. The sound is still very clean but lacks that clinical nature present in lesser implementations.

    Sound stage is large but is perhaps a bit wider than deep especially on single-ended playback. The balanced seems to gain back a bit of depth and presents a nearly spherical soundstage.

    Instrument separation and layering are fantastic and on par with the Opus #1s which to date has been the best sounding DAP in my budget.

    Dynamics are good but better on the balanced output than on the single ended.

    In the overall, the N5ii creates a coherent sound signature where all the elements work together to produce a near neutral canvas for the artists to paint their masterpieces on.

    Comparions
    Comparisons.jpg

    I have had an embarrassment of riches lately with the Shanling m1, m2s, and M3s players, Astell & Kern AK70 MkII, and Fiio X5iii crossing my desk in addition to my own personal Cayin N3, Opus #1s, and Pioneer XDP-300R.

    The ones that draw the closest comparisons to the N5ii in price and performance are the Shanling m3s, the Opus #1s, the AK70Mk2, the Pioneer, and the Fiio X5iii so lets look at those.


    Shanling M3s
    Nearly identical in size weight is slightly greater on N5ii
    Dual AK4490 DAC chips

    Plus (+)
    AptX support
    Long Battery life (beat the N5ii by over 30 minutes in balanced playback)
    Minus(-)
    Screen not as well done as N5ii (some screens have a lot empty space at bottom rather than using entire screen).
    Hiby SOC os instead of full android
    Single micro-Sd card slot


    This pairing is a tougher call than some to pick the winner. The two have good feature parity, similar battery life, and both have good sound quality The N5ii has a more spacious soundstage and better extension albeit only by a slight margin. For me, instruments sound more natural on the N5ii than on the M3s and for that reason my vote goes to the N5ii as the winner even though its price point is enough higher than the M3s that some won’t see the value in this choice.

    Opus #1s
    Height nearly identical but Opus is wider by over a centimeter and heavier.
    Dual CL43198 DAC Chips

    Plus (+)
    Larger Soundstage
    More neutral tonality than N5ii

    Minus (-)
    Dedicated player – lacks streaming and Bluetooth
    Battery life less than N5ii by better than an hour in balanced playback


    For anyone who intends to stream anything, the N5ii is the clear winner as it packs wifi and Bluetooth that the Opus #1s does not. For those who want a simple DAP where sound quality trumps all else, the #1s is still the mark to beat although the N5ii comes darn close.

    AK70 Mk2
    Slightly shorter but wider than n5ii and roughly equal weight.
    CS 4398 DAC Chips (dual)

    Plus(+)
    AptX and AptX HD support
    Best in class sound quality

    Minus(-)
    MQA not supported
    Lousy battery life (4 hours)
    Single Micro-SD card Slot
    OS Lags at times


    If your only goal is sound quality, the AK70 Mk2 is still right at the top of the list. Having said that, for nearly double the cost of the N5ii and sporting ½ the battery life of the N5ii, the AK70 mk2 isnt far enough above the N5ii to justify the price. Cayin has proved that the mighty Astell & Kern is within striking distance and at the current rate of improvements in the Cayin product line, I thoroughly expect that the next generation N6 will be the device to knock the AK out of the top spot on the chart.


    XDP-300R
    Dual Sabre 9018k2m
    Plus(+)
    AptX support
    Wifi b/g/n/AC support
    MQA Support
    Google Play Support
    Minus(-)
    Lower output power (especially balanced)
    Data entry is atrocious
    Search functions very limited


    The Pioneer is another top of the line DAP when it comes to sound quality. The Pioneer also sports AC wifi support and AptX support that the N5ii lacks. The downside to the XDP-300R is that it has lower output power than the n5ii in order to extend battery life. If android is tweaked and all unnecessary services are disabled, the XDP can get 7-8 hours of battery life but without tweaks life is more like 4.5-5 hours. The UI is almost as intuitive as the N5ii but the search functions are limited and input via the on screen keyboard just plain sucks. For sound, it is nearly a dead heat, for UI – the N5ii wins.

    X5iii
    Players are roughly the same height but width of the Fiio is wider by nearly a centimeter and weight is slightly heavier on the Fiio.
    Dual AK4490
    Plus(+)
    Larger display
    AptX support
    Full android environment
    Minus(-)
    Noise floor much higher (background hiss)
    Treble forward sound signature (lower treble given extra boost)
    Detail not as good as N5ii
    Output power nowhere near as good as n5ii

    I could write more about the negatives of the X5iii in this comparison but this is quite simply a matter of being outclassed in about every possible way. The sound quality of the X5iii is not as good in any measure when compared to the N5ii. Having said that, why continue to beat a dead horse.


    Conclusion.

    You would be hard pressed to find a DAP that performs substantially better than the N5ii in any measurable category without spending twice the $369 street price of the N5ii. I found the N5ii to be at least as good as the AK70 Mk2 and Pioneer XDP-300R both of which cost substantially more. The only DAP that came close in price and sound was the Opus #1s and it lacks pretty much all the functionality the N5ii brings with it. If the Opus were to incorporate the things it would have to in order to achieve feature parity, it would cost twice as much and likely have a higher noise floor due to interference from the Wifi or Bluetooth radios. The N5ii is easily the best all-around DAP I have tried to date in the sub-$1000 class. (I was lucky enough to try an AK380 and OMG, I didn’t know something could sound that good).

    If you are in the market for a DAP, consider the N5ii. Notice I didn’t say in the $350 price range as the qualification simply isn’t necessary. Regardless of your price range, the N5ii deserves your consideration – it’s just that good!
    1. seanwee
      Great review with lots of comparisons :) . We need more like this :D

      I did notice a few minor mistakes in your review though.

      The N5ii only uses a single ess9018k2m, not two.
      Theres a typo saying that the N5ii uses the (three) different oscillators.
      seanwee, Apr 29, 2018
    2. Wiljen
      good catch - fixed both.
      Wiljen, Apr 29, 2018
      seanwee likes this.
  5. 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.

    cayin_n5ii-10.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-01.jpg cayin_n5ii-02.jpg cayin_n5ii-03.jpg cayin_n5ii-04.jpg cayin_n5ii-05.jpg cayin_n5ii-06.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-07.jpg cayin_n5ii-08.jpg cayin_n5ii-09.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-11.jpg cayin_n5ii-12.jpg cayin_n5ii-13.jpg

    Optional upgrade case.

    cayin_n5ii-17.jpg cayin_n5ii-18.jpg cayin_n5ii-19.jpg cayin_n5ii-20.jpg cayin_n5ii-21.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-14.jpg cayin_n5ii-15.jpg cayin_n5ii-16.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-22.jpg cayin_n5ii-23.jpg cayin_n5ii-24.jpg cayin_n5ii-25.jpg cayin_n5ii-26.jpg cayin_n5ii-27.jpg cayin_n5ii-28.jpg cayin_n5ii-29.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii_block_diagram.png

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-50.jpg cayin_n5ii-51.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-39.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-40.jpg cayin_n5ii-41.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-42.jpg cayin_n5ii-43.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-52.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-30.jpg cayin_n5ii-31.jpg cayin_n5ii-35.jpg cayin_n5ii-36.jpg cayin_n5ii-37.jpg cayin_n5ii-38.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-32.jpg cayin_n5ii-33.jpg cayin_n5ii-34.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-44.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-47.jpg cayin_n5ii-48.jpg

    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.

    cayin_n5ii-49.jpg

    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.
  6. 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
  7. 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.

    20171223_153606.jpg

    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

    This review was originally posted on "Moonstar Reviews" :
    https://moonstarreviews.net
    1. View previous replies...
    2. endia
      thanks a lot for excellent review and kindly comparison too..
      endia, Jan 8, 2018
      Moonstar likes this.
    3. Isloo
      Great review. Thanks.
      Isloo, Jan 9, 2018
      Moonstar likes this.
    4. koiloco
      deleted...wrong review...
      koiloco, May 4, 2018