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Cayin Spark C5 DAC Portable USB DAC + Headphone Amplifier

Rating:
4.08333/5,
  1. nmatheis
    Cayin C5 DAC: Taking the Cayin C5 to the next level…
    Written by nmatheis
    Published Jul 12, 2015
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Sounds great. Attractive design. Multi-use audio tool. Powerful amp section.
    Cons - A bit too much power for IEM. Gold on gold writing not easy to read. Build is good but not stellar.
    IMG_2177.jpg
     
    INTRODUCTION
    Let’s cut to the chase, I’m a former Cayin C5 owner.  I loved the sound signature but found it’s amp section to be ridiculously over-powered on the low gain setting.  I could barely turn the volume knob before I felt like my eardrums might implode.  Not good.  Not good at all.  But that sound signature was oh so nice…
     
    So when I heard Cayin was releasing a new iteration of the C5 with a built-in DAC that was supposed to be more IEM-friendly, it caught my attention.  When I heard Cayin was looking for reviewers, I immediately responded.  If Cayin could keep the sound signature of the original C5 amp with a less powerful low gain setting for better compatibility with IEMs AND add in a good DAC, well now.  That might be a good competitor for my dedicated DAPs!
     
    Read on to find out whether or not the C5 met my expectations…
     
    ABOUT ME
    I'm a 43 year old music lover who listens to a wide variety of genres and artists (but mostly electronic, metal, and modern composition these days). As with a lot of people my age, I've got some hearing issues - some upper frequency loss and mild tinnitus. 
     
    My portable music journey started with the venerable Sony Cassette Walkman and then progressed to portable CD players, minidisc recorders, and finally on to DAPs like the Rio Karma, iRiver IHP-120, iPod, iPhone, and the newer crop of DAPs from Fiio and iBasso. 
     
    My headphone journey started with Sony MDR e888 and Eggos back in my minidisc days. I moved on to full-size Beyerdynamic and Ultrasone cans and Shure E2 and E3 IEM. Those all served me well for quite some time. Then I rediscovered Head-Fi, and my poor wallet...
     
     
    SPECS
    Follow this LINK for full specifications and more information at Cayin's C5 DAC product page.
     
     
    PACKAGING & ACCESSORIES
    As cotnijoe mentioned in his review, the C5 DAC arrived in nuclear bomb proof packaging.  Seriously, I’ve never received a package that had so much packing tape and then onion layers of corrugated cardboard hand-cut to snugly fit over the C5 DAC’s box.  Wow, just wow!!!
     
    The actual C5 DAC is packaged quite simply and elegantly with very eco-friendly materials (except a small amount of foam and a small plastic baggie).
     
    IMG_2154.jpg
     
    IMG_2155.jpg
     
     
    Accessories include a soft grey pouch, stacking bands, a short 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, a short micro usb to micro usb cable, and a long micro usb to usb cable.
     
    IMG_2160.jpg
     
     
    The only thing I needed to get up and running that wasn’t provided was an Apple Lightning Camera Connection Kit cable, and it’s certainly not on Cayin to provide one of those for us Apple fans.
     
    IMG_2180.jpg
     
     
     
    BUILD & ERGONOMICS
    The C5 DAC is made of two aluminum pieces which fit over a plastic frame with a plastic end cap and plastic switches.  The aluminum plates are an attractive finely-textured champagne gold which looks like vintage hifi equipment.  The build is pretty solid with a couple exceptions.  Ergonomics are pretty well thought out, but there is room for improvement there, too.
     
    Let’s start with the front of the C5 DAC.  Here we see the plastic front cap, which covers the front of the C5 DAC as shown in pictures below.  While it feels solidly attached, it does seem like it would be the first thing to pop off for break if the C5 DAC were dropped.  The volume knob is white plastic with knurled metal which matches the case - a nice touch.  It turns smoothly and has good resistance when turning without being too hard to turn.  There are small numbers that go from OFF to 9 painted on the white plastic, making it easy to set the C5 DAC to your preferred volume without much fiddling around - another nice touch.  Just to the left of the volume know, we see the LED which indicates that the C5 DAC is turned on. In the middle is the line-out jack.  To the far left is the headphone-out jack.  Both jacks are embedded in a plastic block covered by the plastic cap.  Besides the questionable plastic cap, everything seems pretty good on the front.
     
    IMG_2159.jpg
     
     
    On the back, we see the power in micro usb receptacle on the right, the 3-level power level and charging indicator LEDs just to right of middle, the nice solid DAC / AUX switch in the middle, the DAC micro usb receptacle just left of middle, and finally the coaxial-out jack on the far left.  The white text on black background is highly legible.  Everything here seems well thought out and solid with one exception.  The manual states that you shouldn’t try to charge the C5 DAC while it’s being used as a DAC to prevent damage.  It would have been much more user-friendly to implement internal circuitry which prevented this instead of relying on the user to remember.  I for one would think that charging while being used as a DAC would be a no-brainer feature and would have a hard time remembering not to do this.
     
    IMG_2156.jpg
     
     
    On the left side of the C5 DAC, we find the other fiddly bits - the wobbly gain and bass switches.  There is a much, much better switch on the back of the C5 DAC.  It may not be as flash as the triangular gain and bass switches Cayin used here, but I’d be much happier if the same more solid yet less flash switches were used throughout.  Another complaint is the gold on gold text Cayin used under the gain and bass switches.  This makes it quite hard to read in suboptimal lighting conditions.
     
    IMG_2157.jpg
     
     
    Left side.  Nothing here.  Moving right along…
     
    IMG_2158.jpg
     
     
    How big is the C5 DAC?  Here are a couple comparison pics with my iPhone, Fiio X5, and the Shanling H3 (another DAC/Amp I’m testing).
     
    IMG_2163.jpg
     
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    There were a few very minor build issues with the C5 DAC I received.  They didn’t compromise the unit’s integrity in any way, but at this price point I’d expect a bit better…
     
    IMG_2175.jpg
     
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    SOUND
    I’m the first to admit that describing sound isn’t an easy thing to do, so I’ll try to describe this as clearly and concisely as possible without waxing eloquent about subtle nuances that only the highly-trained ear will hear.  If you’re looking for that, there will be other reviews that meet your needs.  With that said, my listening was done with three goals in mind: 
    • How competitive is the C5 DAC vs. my iPhone 5s?
    • How competitive is the C5 DAC + my iPhone 5s vs. my main DAP, the Fiio X5?
    • How competitive is the C5 DAC + my iPhone 5s vs. the Shanling H3 + my iPhone 5s?
     
    I mostly used my HiFiMan HE400, SoundMagic H150, and TPEOS Altone200 during my time with the C5 DAC.  Listening with the full-size cans was volume matched with a 1kHz test tone.  A200 was matched by ear. 
     
    C5 DAC vs. iPhone 5s
    1. C5 DAC has significantly more holographic soundstage
    2. C5 DAC has a warmer sound signature
    3. C5 DAC has more impactful bass
    4. C5 DAC has more shimmer up top
     
    C5 DAC + iPhone 5s vs. X5
    1. C5 DAC has s slightly more holographic soundstage
    2. C5 DAC has slightly less impactful bass
    3. C5 DAC has warmer mids
    4. C5 DAC is more shimmery yet less aggressive up top
     
    C5 DAC + iPhone 5s vs. Shanling H3 + iPhone
    1. C5 DAC has less holographic soundstage
    2. C5 DAC has warmer sound signature
    3. C5 DAC has less impactful, slower bass response
    4. C5 DAC has warmer mids
    5. C5 DAC is less shimmery up top
     
    To sum up, the C5 DAC has a warm, natural sound that doesn’t lack detail.  Despite being on the warm side, it has a nice soundstage which is one of the characteristics that originally drew me to the Cayin C5 amp. The sound signature is great for long, relaxed listening sessions without being at all boring.  If I could pinpoint one area for improvement it would be to tighten up the bass a bit.  In comparison to the Fiio X5 and Shanling H3, the C5 DAC’s bass felt a smidge sloppy.
     
    The bass boost was something I just couldn’t get used to with he original C5 amp.  I felt it was too broad spectrum, bleeding into the upper bass and lower mids making the sound signature overly warm and boomy.  Now that I’ve played around with a bit more, I can see its usefulness with cooler HP or IEM.  I turned it on with my Altone200, and it warmed them up nicely.  With HP or IEM that are already warm, I wouldn’t touch the bass boost.
     
    Other factors impacting listening enjoyment were a slight bit of channel imbalance and EMI.  The channel imbalance was at very low listening levels.  The actual levels I encountered channel imbalance at were lower than I’d actually listen, so this didn’t negatively impact my enjoyment but of course your mileage may vary.  I did encounter EMI when my iPhone was fetching data.  It was pretty quiet but still present.  Better shielding would’ve been appreciated from a device being targeted to smartphone users.
     
    I don’t find myself sensitive to hiss and didn’t encounter it with he C5 DAC with the HP / IEM I used.
     
     
    POWER
    Power is certainly one of the words that comes to mind when I think of the original Cayin C5 amp.  As I mentioned above, I felt its low gain setting was overpowered which led to a very small usable range on the volume knob with IEM.  It was a shame, as I really liked the C5 amp’s sound signature.  In the C5 DAC announcement thread, Cayin’s representative said the C5 DAC would be more IEM-friendly.  So, how did it fare?
     
    Just a reminder that the highest volume setting is 9.
     
    Usable volume range on low gain with IEM and easy to drive HP
    IMG_2191.jpg
     
     
    Usable volume range on low gain with HE400 planar HP
    IMG_2190.jpg
     
     
    To be honest, I was quite disappointed in the usable volume range on low gain for IEM and easy to drive HP.  It’s a good thing the volume knob is well-protected because if it the volume were bumped up beyond the settings I showed above, I’d be afraid for my ears.  With my HE400, I was expecting to use the high gain setting.  I tried that and found I could only use the same volume range I showed in the first set of pictures for IEM on low gain (2-3), so I switched to low gain and got much more reasonable results (2-6).  I’d love it if I could use IEM on low gain and be able to use 2-6 on the volume knob, too.   Please Cayin, please make the low gain setting much less powerful!
     
     
    BATTERY LIFE
    My main criteria for success here was whether it would outlast my iPhone, and it did that handily!
     
     
    COMPUTER DAC
    I really don’t see myself using this feature much, as I don’t typically find myself tied to a computer.  I did test it out with my MacBook Pro, however, and found it worked flawlessly including being perfectly in synch with movies.  Setup was a breeze - just remember to not only select the Cayin C5 as the output but also to go into Audio MIDI Setup and set the maximum output resolution for the C5 DAC if you plan on listening to hi-res recordings.  The only ding I can think of here is that the C5 DAC doesn’t support super hi-res recordings.  The Shanling H3 I’m testing support much higher hi-res recordings including DSD.  However, I’m not a hi-res fanatic, so this didn’t impact my enjoyment at all.
     
     
    SUMMARY
    As I mentioned in the introduction, I was interested in testing out the Cayin C5 DAC for a few reasons.  
     
    • I wanted to see if it retained the sound signature that made the original C5 amp special.  CHECK!
    • I wanted to see if it fared favorably against other portable gear I owned or was testing. CHECK!
    • I wanted to see if it solved the issues I had with the original C5 amp.  Well, that was a bit of a mixed-bag, honestly.
     
    The Cayin C5 DAC is powerful, attractive DAC/Amp with great sound quality.  Its warm, natural sound signature makes it good for longer listening sessions.  The added bit of sparkle up top and good soundstage keeps it from getting boring.  It’s not too big and has good battery life, so it makes a great addition to your smartphone to significantly improve sound quality.  It also pairs nicely with dedicated DAPs to change the sonic flavor.  The main detractor for me is that Cayin again made low gain far too powerful for IEM and easy to drive HP.  Despite the overwhelming positive attributes the C5 DAC has, this one thing really makes me waver but of course that’s my use case and your mileage may vary. 
     
    Despite any niggles if you’re using a smartphone without using an amp or DAC, please give the C5 DAC some serious consideration - especially if you use harder to drive cans.  It will significantly improve your listening experience!
     
    Thanks again to Cayin for providing the opportunity to give the C5 DAC a listen.  It’s quite the engaging little DAC/Amp, and I already miss its sound signature.  I look forward to hearing more great products from Cayin in the future.  Just remember to lower that low gain setting!
    1. View previous replies...
    2. earfonia
      Awesome review! Well done! Thanks!
      Agree with the low gain that is still too high and the warm sonic signature!
      earfonia, Sep 23, 2015
    3. Onny Izwan
      used it with my Klipsch X7i and I didn't find any issue with the gain setting being overbearing. But hey -- great review, dude!
      Onny Izwan, Jul 19, 2016
    4. intramorph
      i appreciate the review.can you please let me know if the DAC actually works with iPhone or was it just the AMP. Thanks 
      intramorph, Nov 21, 2016
  2. money4me247
    Energetic Vivid Dac/Amplifier from Cayin Offers a Flashy Design & Thoughtful Bundle at an Affordable Price
    Written by money4me247
    Published Jul 22, 2015
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Very detailed high energy sound with great note separation, well-done bass boost, long lasting battery, coax out, thoughtful accessories
    Cons - Cannot charge while being used as a dac so not suitable for desktop usage, battery indicator only shows 3 levels, long recharge time
    Cayin C5DAC Review
     
    2015-07-2213.31.24.jpg
     
    1. These impressions are based on the C5DAC review unit provided by Cayin with their head-fi reviewer tour. Thread Link HERE.
    1. Extensively tested over a period of one week with extensive real-world usage in portable situations
    2. My first review unit had some technical issues, but Cayin’s customer service was extremely helpful in assisting me. I would like to thank John from Cayin (@Cayin) for his individual attention and assistance throughout.
    3. I stopped following the C5DAC thread after receiving my review unit and did not read any other reviews to prevent my thoughts from being biased.
    4. Source used include Spotify Premium, Tidal Hi-fi, Pandora (just for fun to find some new testing music) and an assortment of FLAC files
    5. Primary current chain is the Schiit Bifrost Uber > Schiit Lyr 2 > HE-1000 beta
    6. My full gear profile is available HERE.
    7. This is an unpaid and uncensored review covering my own personal subjective thoughts and opinions. I am NOT a professional reviewer. As always, I hope this is an enjoyable and informative read, and remember YMMV!
     
    Intro: Founded in 1993, Zhuhai Spark Electronics Equipment Company is a high-end audio equipment manufacturer based in Guangdong, China. They release their own gear under the Cayin brand name. Well-versed in amplifier design, they have a large product line-up ranging for a few hundred dollars to the $1,000+ price point.
     
    Their newest product is the Cayin C5DAC, which is based on their popular C5 standalone portable amplifier. The C5 portable amplifier is very popular in among the head-fi community and is currently available for ~$160 from Amazon. This review covers a C5DAC review unit sent by Cayin for their reviewer tour on head-fi (Thread Link HERE).
     
    Tech: The Cayin C5DAC is a portable digital analog convertor with a solid state amplifier released at the MSRP of $215. It can function as a standalone amplifier through its line-out or dac/amp combination through USB out either via the 3.5mm headphone jack or coax out connection. Using the TI Burr Brown PCM1795 dac, it supports up to 96 kHz sampling rate and 24 bit depth decoding. Its amp driver is the TI Burr Brown BUF634U. Works with PC as well as some Android devices that support OTG and iOS devices with the Apple USB camera adapter (not included). Cayin states the C5DAC uses an op amp circuit with a buffer design and high quality parts such as TI headphone power driver IC, WIMA capacitors, and ALPS potentiometer.
     
    Official Specifications: (copied from Cayin’s website)
    Frequency Response:20Hz-70kHz(±1dB)
    Sensitivity:≤600mV (Gain: H)
    Total Harmonic Distortion: ≤0.02% (1kHz)
    Battery: 3700mAh / 3.7V
    Power Rating: 300mW + 300mW (32Ω load)
    SNR: ≥101dB (A-weighted)
    Charge Limit Voltage: 4.2V
    Battery Life: ~19 hours (AUX input, 32Ω load)
                      ~9 hours (USB input, 32Ω load)
    Charging Time: ~4.5 hours (with 2A Charger, power down)
    Dimensions: 136x63x15mm
    Weight: 185g
     
    Packaging: Very nicely presented, though I do not weigh packaging in my reviews.
     
    2015-06-2516.38.16.jpg     2015-07-0618.58.32.jpg
     
    2015-07-2213.47.18.jpg     2015-07-0618.59.44.jpg
     
     
    Build Quality & Design: Outfitted with a golden metal casing, the Cayin C5DAC feels quite solid and hefty in hand. It does feature quite a bit of plastic in its build. Build quality does not appear to be lacking. The C5DAC exudes a very luxurious styling due to its color choice.
     
    2015-07-2214.23.56.jpg
    Front Side of the C5DAC
     
    The top of the C5DAC has an orange indicator light to show on/off status, 3.5mm line-in, and 3.5mm headphone out. There is a translucent black plastic casing at the top of the device that houses the volume knob. This design choice is nice as it makes it quite difficult to accidentally turn the volume knob. There is a little cutout to make it easier to read the volume knob settings (which ranges from OFF to 1 through 9). This allows for pretty precise volume settings that can be easily remembered for different source devices and headphone combinations. With my source device’s volume is maxed out, I found that I generally do not need to go beyond 5/9 on low gain or 4.5/9 on high gain. Anything higher is too loud for me.
     
    2015-07-2214.25.56.jpg
    Top of the C5DAC
     
    2015-07-2215.21.59.jpg
    Close-up of the Volume Knob of the C5DAC
     
    The bottom of the device has the coax out, micro usb port for dac usage, round toggle switch for dac or amp/charging mode, L to H battery icon, and the charging micro usb port. The separation of the dac micro usb port and the charging port with a toggle switch means the device cannot operate as a dac while charging, making it less suitable as a desktop dac. The device can still function as a standalone amplifier in charging mode.
     
    2015-07-2213.26.42.jpg
    Bottom of the C5DAC
     
    Three little orange dot indicator lights on the bottom right of the front side of the amplifier show the battery life remaining. These dots are always on if the device is switched on, which makes for a quick easy way to check whether the device is on or off. When charging, one of the lights blinks constantly even if the device is switched off. The position of the blinking light demonstrates the level of charge on the device as it moves from left to right. The light does not appear to stop blinking after the 4.5 hour estimated charge time provided by Cayin, but does eventually stop blinking when fully charged. Generally takes at least 5 hours for the lights to stop blinking. If the device is immediately unplugged and replugged in when fully charged, the lights will begin blinking again over an extended period of time, which may make it difficult to tell when the unit is really fully charged. There is a thoughtful inclusion of a reset button on the bottom of the back side in case any issues occur with the unit. A thin non-metal object (such as a toothpick) is required to press this button.
     
    2015-07-2213.50.11.jpg       2015-07-2214.24.37.jpg
     
    The low/high gain switch and bass boost switch are on the top right hand side of the device. Toggling the switches downwards activates the bass boost and high gain (which seems counterintuitive at first, but easy to get used to). The small discrete triangle-shaped switches are very easy to feel without looking (though it is difficult to tell which setting is toggled just by feel). They also click into place very securely and I have no concerns about accidentally moving the switches even when sliding into tighter fitting pockets.
     
    2015-07-2214.25.00.jpg
    Right Side of the C5DAC
     
    The bass boost feature is quite interesting. For some headphones (particularly IEMs), it is actually a bit difficult to hear any significant difference with it toggled on. For other headphones, it provides a subtle, clean boost in the very low frequency region that does not bleed into the midrange at all. Its effect is much more subtle and refined than I am used to from bass boost features. To my ears, the effect is more pronounced in the sub-bass region with less noticeable impact on the midbass from my listening tests. There is a slight increase in the impact and punch of the majority of percussive sounds, but still quite similar sounding on both settings. The more noticeable change is there is more sub-bass presence with additional rumble and reverb in the background around each note. I do personally find it to be a tastefully done and subtle bass boost that I personally find very enjoyable.
     
    I do recommend trying the C5DAC with a bass boost (especially with open-back neutral or brighter headphones). With headphones that already have a hint of darkness or extra bass emphasis (many closed headphones or the HD650/HE-400/LCD-X), the usage of the bass boost is too much for my tastes. Despite normally eschewing bass boost features, I actually do prefer having the Cayin C5DAC’s bass boost toggled on for many of my headphones as I find that sound signature is more suitable for my tastes (though also dependent on the genre of music I am listening to).
     
    My Measurements: (Official specs in the above section)
    My measured dimensions: 136mm x 67mm x 14mm (wider but thinner than official dimensions)
    My measured weight: 179g (lighter than official weight)
     
    Weight Comparison to some competitors: (manufacturer's official weights)
    Fiio E17k: 110 grams
    JDS Labs C5D: 119 grams (4.2 oz)
    Oppo HA-2: 175 grams
    Cayin C5DAC: 185 grams
     
    Size Comparison against some relevant competitors: (manufacturer's official dimensions)
    JDS Labs C5D: 99.5 x 61.5 x 14 mm
    Fiio E17k: 104.1 x 62.2 x 12.8 mm
    Cayin C5DAC: 136 x 62 x 15mm
    Oppo HA-2: 136 x 68 x 12 mm
     
    Battery Life: I did leave the device playing overnight as an amplifier driving the Mr. Speakers Ethers (23 ohms) with its volume maxed out, bass boost on, and high gain with some intermittent pausing and some settings back and forth changes from 9:34 pm to 3:22 pm which closely matches the official ~18 hour battery life estimate. The battery life of this device is excellent for a portable external component and stands out compared to other market offerings. From my daily usage, I never ran out of juice if I left the house with a fully charged device and I often used the device multiple days in a row prior to recharging.  I do want to note that I experienced some intermittent dropping out while the device was being used as a dac/amp at very low power levels, so I would still recommend daily recharging. Charge time from a fully dead unit often takes more than 5 hours for the battery indicator to stop blinking to indicate full charge.
     
    Battery Life Comparisons against closest relevant competitors:
    JDS Labs: ~6-8 hours (unspecified usage)
    Oppo HA-2: ~13 hours (as amplifier only)
    Fiio E17K: ~15 hours (unspecified usage)
    Cayin C5DAC: ~18 hours (as amplifier only)
     
    Pros in Design: Aesthetically pleasing design, luxurious premium feel, well-implemented bass boost feature, coax out option, reset button, very nice standalone amplifier, nice volume pot, well designed switches that will not accidentally move, battery life
    Cons in Design: Battery indicator pretty vague with only three levels to show charge, seems a bit unreliable in indicating when charging is complete, a bit heftier than other competitors, dac mode and charging mode are exclusive so cannot function as a dac while being charged, some plastic components used in construction, black translucent plastic may possibly pick up scratches
    Things of Note: The unique champagne gold styling is subject to individual taste
     
    Accessories: This is where the Cayin C5Dac really shines compared to competitors. They include all the accessories you could possibly want with such a device.
    1. (x1) USB 2.0 to micro USB cable (for charging and computer dac usage, ~3 feet cable length)
    2. (x1) 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable (for amp usage, dual right angles, ~3.5 inch cable length)
    3. (x1) Micro USB to Micro USB cable (for portable dac usage, flat wire with ~2.5 inch cable length)
    4. (x1) 3.5mm to coaxial cable (~1 ⅜  inch cable length)
    5. (x2) blue rubber bands
    6. (x1) grey carrying pouch
    7. (x4) clear small sticker rubber feet (It is the square sticker with cut-outs in image below, I did not use these as it is a review unit)
     
    2015-07-2213.33.53.jpg
     
    The flat micro-usb cable and right angled 3.5mm cable is a thoughtful choice for people desiring a tidier cables in their portable stack. The carrying pouch is a nice extra that is not often included for external dac/amps. Extremely considerate move by Cayin that I hope other companies emulate.
     
    Portable Usage: It achieves a similar form factor and weight compared to other amplifier/dac combination competing in this product category. It is a bit on the heavier side of the scale compared to some of its closest competitors in form factor and price point. The device is very well optimized for portable usage from my real life testing. I would actually recommend only using this device in portable settings as it cannot charge while acting as a dac for a desktop chain. For consumers looking for a portable dac/amplifier that can also function as part of their desktop chain, consider other options. Do note that the styling of the C5DAC is very flashy and will attract attention.
     
    2015-07-2214.29.59.jpg
    Connected to the iPhone 4S in standalone amplifier mode
     
    Sound Quality:
    1. Primary test set-up: PC > Cayin C5DAC dac/amp > Combination of FLAC files, Tidal HiFi lossless, Pandora, and Spotify Premium Ogg Vorbis (no esoteric cables used)
    2. Also tested the Cayin’s standalone amplifier with the Nexus 7 tablet
    3. Primary headphones used for testing include: AKG K7xx, Oppo PM-3, Hifiman HE-560, Mr. Speaker Ether, and Hifiman HE-1000
    1. I consider all these headphones to be within the range of acceptable neutral-orientated headphones good for testing source equipment and revealing enough to pick up on subtle nuances.
    2. Reliably identifying sonic characteristics of external components can be quite difficult as headphones have a much greater impact on the resulting sound signature heard out of the chain. The headphones I chose to use have a variety of different presentational styles, which allows me to isolate what effects are due to the headphones and what is contributed by the source gear.
    1. Please use this resource for the definitions of the audiophile terms I am using: http://www.head-fi.org/a/describing-sound-a-glossary
     
    I would describe the C5DAC to offer a well-balanced neutral-orientated clinical presentation with a transparent sound signature with subtle addition of warm undertones but a primarily brighter tonality. I do personally feel that it is a very capable and solid device. The sonic characteristics that I describe below are compared against straight from my new PC (Asus X99 motherboard’s onboard Realtek audio chip, unspecified built-in high-fidelity audio op-amp, and dedicated EMI shielding) and against unamplified through my Nexus 7 tablet.
     
    Treble Tuning: I view the treble tuning as the C5DAC’s greatest strength (though the treble tuning is dependant on personal preference). I do actually feel the treble is brighter than my preferred sound signature, but it is a very well-done bright treble response. Treble tuning is not as smooth with some subtle but notable peaks to my ears, but very strategically placed to improve clarity and definition of the sound. I felt that there was some emphasis at the 6-9kHz region which helps with definition and clarity, but also makes the sound quality unforgiving of poor source files. Sibilant tracks or overly bright masters can be problematic. This also gives the C5DAC a very crisp tonality to notes and an extra sense of airiness. There also appears to be an overall subtle emphasis in the 1kHz to 4 kHz region of the upper mid and lower treble response from my listening testing. The lack of any peaks in the 4 kHz to 6 kHz presence range responsible for intimacy gives a very spacious feeling to the overall sound, which I personally greatly enjoy. There is a sharp focus with a vigorous sense of underlying treble energy which makes it a very engaging and dynamic presentation.
     
    Mid-range Tuning: Very spacious feel to the upper mid range with great definition to the edges of notes. I would say that the upper midrange is more highlighted for a relatively sharper and brighter sound on the C5DAC over competitors that emphasis the lower midrange more for a fuller thicker sound. This tuning choice is still overall quite linear and balanced to my ears, just a differing midrange presentation that I am accustomed too. There is a sense of abruptness and sharp definition to the edges of notes with slightly thinner body compared to other external source components I typically use. This also translates into very detail-orientated presentation of the music rather than a more organic lush textural focus on with blending of notes. The edges of notes stand out to me particularly well in the mid-range on the C5DAC. The various positional and separation cues of different instruments are notably easy to appreciate. The consonants have a harder edge to them, but creates a very brilliantly vivid expression to vocals. The midrange is very striking and energetic with its upper mid focus.
     
    Bass Tuning: When using as a standalone amplifier, there is a very subtle increase in detectable warmth to its sound signature to my ears compared to unamplified Nexus 7. Minimal coloration in the bass response. Not as hard-hitting impactful midbass compared to some of my other gear, but very tight and well-defined bass notes. Sub-bass presence is not as emphasized or present either without the bass boost functionality turned on. Less reverberation without any extra rumble and no additional chesty feeling to notes. Small addition in the fullness to the body of individual notes compared to direct from my PC. There was a more noticeable  amount of fullness and warmth observed when using the Nexus 7 as my source. Still I would categorize this device to offer a thinner presentation to the body of the notes in the bass response compared to my other main external component set-ups, but this presentation style provides the perception of extremely stellar note separation. No bloat or muddiness in the bass at all. The C5DAC delivers bass when present in the source track, but does not really provide that much additional richness or coloration to the bass response. I would categorize the bass presentation to be more “cool” with a “drier” reverberation.
     
    Other Sonic Attributes: Improvements in soundstage and imaging is noticeable when adding this device to your set-up. Better resolution of micro-details and textural shifts is also detectable. The greatest sound quality strength of the C5DAC (imo) is its note spacing and instrument separation. It offers great definition and clarity to individual notes and I found could often distinctly hear the various shades of detail at the edges of the notes with its crisp clean presentation. Speed is excellent with clear focus on the attack of notes with a hard snappy delivery. There is no smoothing or lingering on the decay of notes which can translate into a more abrupt feel to the music, but also provides a very sharp insight into each individual nuance of the music. I would liken the Cayin C5DAC’s overall presentation, performance, and sound signature to be quite similar to somewhere in between the AKG Q701 and HE-560 (though of course to a lesser degree as headphones have a much more dramatic impact on sound changes). The C5DAC is a very high energy performer that I view to illustrate an very entertaining analytical/clinical presentation style.
     
    From my personal testing, I found that the tad bit of additional relative brightness of the C5DAC to be attributable to its dac implementation. Using the C5DAC as a standalone amplifier sounds relatively warmer. Both presentations are quite clean, so I think it just depends on personal preference which style is preferred. This does add a bit of versatility for matching components and finding a sweet spot for different headphone pairings.
     
    2015-07-2214.28.57.jpg
    Connected to the Nexus 7 in dac/amp mode
     
    I primarily use a similar list of test tracks for all my testing for all my reviews (please browse my other reviews for a full list of music I like to run as test tracks).  
    Genres I enjoy include Alternative, Classical (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, Orchestral, Modern), Electronic/EDM (Dubstep, Hardstyle, House, Techno, Trance, Trap), Female Vocals, Folk, Hip Hop/Rap, Indie, Jazz, Metal, Pop, R&B, Rock, Solo Piano (Classical, Modern, New Age), and Soundtrack
     
    Some notable new fun tracks I’ve been listening to quite extensively recently include the Whiplash Soundtrack, “Songs I Can’t Listen To” by Neon Trees, cello music by The Piano Guys, “Our Story” and other electronic music by Mako, “Can’t Feel My Face” and other R&B by the Weekend, “Thinking Out Loud” and other male vocals from Ed Sheeren, “Lone Ranger” and other female vocals from Rachel Platten, “Ripetide” and other indie from Vance Joy, “Undercover” and other female vocals from Zara Larsson, new piano music from the Haiku album by Doug Hammer, “Dreams” and other new male vocals from Beck. I've been having fun discovering new music through Pandora mixes & Spotify curated playlists such as Fresh EDM and RapCaviar.
     
    Direct DAC/Amplifier Comparisons:
    1. Did side-by-side volume-matched comparisons of the performance of each dac/amplifier against the C5DAC using the PM-3 and HE-1000.
    2. I choose those two headphones as the C5DAC is primarily for portable applications so the closed portable PM-3 would be the headphones I would realistically use the most often with this device and I feel that the HE-1000 is my most resolving headphones that makes it easiest to hear source component differences.
    3. Please remember these are my own personal subjective impressions. YMMV!!!
     
     
     
     
    Some quick thoughts against some other relevant options I’ve owned:
    These are some quick thoughts on amplifier/dac combinations not currently in my possession, but that I am extensively familiar with (at least a month of possession within the past 3 months). Please do take some of these impressions with a grain of salt as they are not direct side-by-side comparisons.
     
     
     
     
    Headphone Pairings with the Cayin C5Dac:
     
    I could not fit my full brief impressions of the C5DAC pairing with each of my headphones, so I added an addendum HERE for brief thoughts on each of my headphones with the C5DAC. Any headphone sound signature impressions are just my personal thoughts of where they fall relatively to my personal ideal of a hypothetical flat 'neutral' line (which no headphone currently achieves). YMMV, so I think this section is more useful as a relative comparison point for your own impressions.
     
    Overall thoughts on headphone pairings: I’ve found that the the Cayin C5DAC does add a subtle bit of an additional brightness and energy to the sound signature of my headphones. The difference in warmth is not as detectable with the majority of my headphones unless using the bass boost. Does offer traditional benefits of adding external source components with tighter note separation and spacing being the most easily noticeable improvement. I can see this being a very good pairing for more laid-back headphones such as the Sennheiser HD600/HD650.
     
    Value Judgement:
     
    With a MSRP price point of $215, the Cayin C5DAC sits right above the entry-level budget orientated options that typically fall below $150 and right below the price point of the more luxurious entries that typically start from $250+. While the C5DAC does not offer the highest performance:price ratio (which is held by the feature-laden budget entry offerings from Fiio and Creative), the C5DAC does offer a very good performance and build quality:price ratio, using a bit more premium parts and adding a more premium style and look. A very good value option for buyers looking for a bit more premium option.
     
    The features that make the Cayin C5DAC more unique compared to competitors are below:
    1) Optical Out (very rare for portable dac/amplifiers to have this feature, to my knowledge only the Creative E5 and Fiio E17 have this feature in the sub-$300 category)
    2) Bass Boost Feature (more common feature, but not universally found among dac/amps)
    3) Analog volume potentiometer (usually found in most portable dac/amps, but not found on the majority of USB-style dac/amp devices)
     
    The C5DAC does require separate camera adapter/kit connector cables for iOS, which is more common than not among the current market offerings (with only the Cozoy Astrapi and Oppo HA-2 having that feature at the sub-$500 price point to my current knowledge).
     
    Some pertinent features that are provided by competitors not found on the C5DAC that might be relative interest for audiophiles include charging while in DAC mode, mobile power bank features, dual headphone output jacks, and DSD support. Charging in DAC mode is pretty universally common among portable dac/amp devices. The other features are only found on certain options.
     
    Key: Red = Cayin C5DAC, Green = dac only, Purple = built-in USB connector staying flash-drive sized, Blue = styled like the USB-stick options but slightly larger (built-in usb connector or no internal battery), Black = larger shape (possible has internal battery), bolded are options I’ve compared against in my review
     
    HiFimeDIY Sabre Android DAC ONLY, no amp ($30)
    HiFimeDIY Sabre U2 DAC ONLY, NO no amp ($57)
    Stoner Acoustics UD120 DAC ONLY, no amp ($69)
    Schiit Fulla (MSRP $79, not well suited for portable usage but as analog volume pot)
    Fiio E07k Andes ($89 on Amazon - MSRP $99.95)
    Cozoy Astrapi ($129.99, does not require any additional adapter cables for iOS or Android)
    Creative Sound Blaster E3 ($129.99 MSRP)
    Fiio E17k Alpen 2 ($139.99 on Amazon - MSRP $249.99)
    Audioengine D3 ($149 on Amazon; MSRP $189)
    Audioquest Dragonfly v1.2 ($149 MSRP)
    Meridian Explorer (first generation: $149 on Amazon, MSRP $299)
    Fiio E18 Kunlun ($159 on Amazon - MSRP $299.95)
    HRT Music Streamer III ($165.95 on Amazon; MSRP $200)
    Audioengine D1 ($169 on Amazon, geared more for desktop usage)
    HRT Microstreamer ($169.95 on Amazon, MSRP $190)
    LH Geek Out 450 (currently sold out, used at $175, MSRP unknown)
    Creative Sound Blaster E5 ($199.99)
    Leckerton UHA-4 ($199)
    LH Geek Out 1000 ( $199 on Amazon)
    Cayin C5DAC (MSRP $215)
    Beyerdynamic A200p ($219.99 on Amazon, MSRP $349; unique small box shape)
    JDS Labs C5D ($249)
    HRT Music Streamer II+ ($249 on Amazon; MSRP $349)
    HRT Music Streamer Pro ($269.99 on Amazon; MSRP: $499)
    Leckerton UHA-6S MKII ($279)
    LH Geek Out 100 (MSRP $289, more for IEMs)
    Meridian Explorer 2 ($299)
    Oppo HA-2 ($299, no adapter cables required for iOS or Android)
    Sony PHA-1A ($299)
    Resonessence Herus ($350)
    HRT Music Streamer HD (379.95 on Amazon, MSRP $499)
    Leckerton UHA760 ($399)
    Resonessence Herus+ ($425)
    Fostex HP-P1 ($449 on Amazon, MSRP $799)
    Sony PHA-2 ($449.99 on Amazon, MSRP $599.99)
    iFi Audio micro iDSD ($499)
    CEntrance Mini-M8 ($599.99)
    Meridian Director ($599)
    Centrance HiFi-M8 ($699)
    ***If there are any other notable competitors that I forgot to mention that you think should be added, feel free to PM me & I will update my review***
     
    Its most similar direct competitor (imo from a price-point standpoint that shares a similar form factor) is the JDS C5D portable dac/amplifier (a completely different device that just happens to shares a similar name) at $249.99. Less expensive budget orientated options for a similar form factor and very feature-laden approach would be the offerings from Fiio that can found between the $80-$160ish price point or Creative Sound Blaster line-up that fall from $130-$200. The main premium competitor in my mind would be the Oppo HA-2 at $299.
     
    For me personally, I do find that portable external combination devices over the $300 price point does appear to be bit overkill and too expensive for the average audiophile unless you frequently use a portable set-up or desire a high-end dedicated portable set-up. With constant advancements in dac technology, I do personally feel that it is not wise to spend too much on a portable external source equipment as the money can be better invested in the quality of your headphones for a more dramatically appreciable sonic upgrade. I think price point and feature set should be the main considerations when choosing the right device for you as differences in sound quality with external components are often difficult to distinguish without extensive direct comparisons.
     
    My Overall Scoring: (as the side bar reflects averages)
    Audio Quality: 8/10
    Design: 8/10
    Quality: 8/10
    Value: 9/10
    Overall: 8/10
     
    Do note that I personally strongly feel that transducers (aka headphones) contribute to the majority of the sound quality improvements, so I always recommend to allocate budget accordingly. So I personally would recommend upgrading your headphones/IEMs until you find one you really love and no longer want to upgrade any further prior to investing too heavily into external components. It’s been my personal experience that the higher up in the price ladder I climb for external components, there is an exponential increase in cost for smaller and smaller sonic improvements. Realistically speaking, it is usually not really “worth” it to spend too much money on external components as many claims of sonic improvement are often exaggerated. The first jump from no external components to adding a dac/amp will be the largest and will generally only offer subtle refinements rather than extremely drastic changes if tuned towards a transparent neutral presentation. I really only estimate a 5-15% appreciable sonic change from external components additions. There are subtle variations between components but more along the lines of personal preference which one will suit you the best. Price point does not always correlate to a better fit for your personal preferences and the rest of your gear. I hope my comparative reviewing style with extensive direct comparisons and price point analysis of relevant competitors is helpful for your search on what fits you the best. I do not like to make statements about what is the “best” in this hobby as I have discovered through my audiophile journey that personal preference of sound signature can vary widely. As always, please do try to demo yourself if possible.
     
    Conclusion:
     
    Armed with with a vivid energetic treble, articulate midrange, and tight bass with a very spacious sound and excellent note spacing,  the Cayin C5D provides a very well-tuned bright and analytical presentation with extremely high energy, precise hard attack, and crisp focus on the edges of notes.
     
    Its greatest sonic strength is its precision and clean focus on the edges of the notes, contributing to especially notable note spacing and instrument separation. This also provides very high resolution of micro-detail and textural detail, abrupt and hard attack, and a well-defined soundstage and good imaging capabilities. Best tuned frequency region in my opinion is easily its treble response with a very crispy and airy feeling complimented by sharpened definition and clarity.
     
    Most notable consideration with sound is that when used as a dac/amplifier, the C5DAC lacks warmth, richness, and a liquid smoothness compared to my other setups, presenting a high energy, hyper-detail-focused, edgy clinical style. Personal preference and tastes will play a role in how suitable this device is for you.
     
    The greatest unique features of the C5DAC is the well-refined bass boost and optical out function. Its ~18 hour long battery life is quite exceptional compared to competitors, and can often last multiple days for my typical portable usage prior to requiring recharging. The most notable flaw with the device is the inability for simultaneous dac usage while charging the device. This strictly limits its usability as part of a dedicated desktop chain. I would not recommend this device for audiophiles looking for a single device to use for both portable and desktop usage, but rather I would recommend the C5DAC as a complimentary dedicated portable-usage-only external dac/amplifier combination.
     
    I do think that its amplifier is extremely quite well implemented providing very clean and transparent sound with a nice very subtle addition of warmth. The dac implementation leans on the brighter side of my own personal preferences, but is very well done for those who enjoy that sort of sonic presentation. Not a dramatic sonic signature change, but significantly perceptible tweaking of the sound due to very strategic and thoughtful tuning. Very solid pairing option for warm and neutral headphones from my point of view, but works especially well with crispy airy neutral presentations such as the HE-560 and AKG K7xx if you particularly enjoy the high treble energy style and clinical detail-focused presentations. The variation in sound signature between usage as a standalone amplifier and dac/amplifier does provide some additional versatility when matching components to tune your headphones sound signature.
     
    I would recommend considering this device if looking for an affordable all-in-one external dac/amp device for dedicated portable usage only. While not the most affordable option out there, it offers very nice premium finishing and features at very good value, giving it a very solid performance:price ratio.
     
    2015-07-2215.16.10.jpg
     
    Offical Product Link: http://en.cayin.cn/product_view.asp?id=791
    Head-fi C5DAC Discussion Thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/768094/new-portable-cayin-spark-c5-dac-amp-released-may-2015
    Head-fi C5DAC Review Tour Thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/769731/cayin-c5dac-usb-dac-headphone-amplifier-world-tour-reviewers-wanted
      Bananiq, earfonia, D Rob and 4 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. puppyfi
      Great review. Very helpful comparison too. :thumbsup:
      puppyfi, Aug 1, 2015
    3. Onny Izwan
      Complete review. Thank you for doing the hard work for us. Thank you.
      Onny Izwan, Jul 19, 2016
    4. heavyarms
      I own this unit and I am able to charge while using it. Has there been a revision?  The charging LED blinks and my computer does detect the device.
      heavyarms, Jan 8, 2017
  3. Baycode
    Audiophile's Survival Tool !
    Written by Baycode
    Published Aug 11, 2015
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Great sound quality and power, versatile, no EMI, no POP&Click sounds, no Hiss with most iem's, can play while charging, can even charge your phone!
    Cons - Overpowered for high sensitivity iems/HP’s, some heat production, no USB 3.0 support
    As an Audiophile; if you're left alone on a desolate island and if you are asked to bring only one device (to connect to your phone and HP)
    which DAC/AMP would you bring with you? My answer is simple. Read-on and you'll understand why [​IMG]
     
    _BAY3999.jpg
     
    What is Cayin C5DAC (Aka the Spark)?:
    Zhuhai Spark Electronics Equipment Company (producer of Cayin branded DAC and AMPs) is an experienced and well established hifi equipment manufacturer from Guangdong/China. Cayin C5DAC is the Zhuhai Spark's recent DAC/AMP offering (now you know where the Spark name of this DAC is coming from :wink:. It is a Digital Audio Convertor (DAC) and an Amplificator (AMP) built under an aluminum shell. Besides these features C5DAC can be used as an external battery backup to charge tour Phone or Tablet. But you’ll need genuine Apple USB camera adapter for IOS devices (not included in the package). According to the specs Cayin C5DAC supposed to work with; IOS and Android (OTG Function) system devices as well as PC/Laptop. Cayin C5DAC supports: 24Bit/96khz sampling, very low total harmonic distortion (THD+N: 0.02% @1khz),  signal to noise ratio 101dB (A-weighted). C5DAC bears an 3700 mAh (3.7V) built-in rechargeable battery. Output power of the unit is rated at 300mW + 300mW (32ohm load). Battery life on the specs says that 19 hours when used as an AMP and 9hours when used as a DAC (under 32ohm load). Also, 4.5h for charging time.
     
    A little about me:
    My age is 42 (as of this writing). I have 24 years of background in listening to music with quality headphones (I don't count the crappy equipment non-serious period) and I am a member of head-fi since 2004. I prefer neutral, natural (organic) and detailed sound with a huge sound-stage and good imaging. I am not bass or treble head. I can never tolerate sibilance and/or fatiguing highs. From new age to classicals, hard rock to pop, instrumental to electronic I enjoy diverse kinds of music types. For further, please check my profile.
     
    Availability:
    C5DAC can be obtained from various sellers for 215 USD (period).
    Here is a reliable seller: http://penonaudio.com/Cayin-C5DAC
     
    Equipments Used as a "Source" for This Review:
    I have received Cayin C5DAC (Spark) directly from Cayin as a “review tour sample” and the unit is going to be passed to the next reviewer in UK. There were a few lucky people selected for the World review tour of the C5DAC and only 2 persons were selected from the European part of the World to review this new device (HeadFi members @Baycode (me) from Turkey and @Ra97oR from UK). I haven't received anything from Cayin other than the C5DAC. I am in no way affiliated with Cayin and this review is my honest opinion of their new DAC/AMP.
     
    For this C5DAC review I have used 3 different sources and deeply tested the C5DAC with my:
    LG G3 (D855) Mobile Phone, Samsung Galaxy TabS 8.4" Tablet and a PC.
     
    Note: My first C5DAC review unit had charging problems and couldn't stream Spotify properly from my tablet. So Cayin was kind enough to send me another unit.
     
    HP/IEMs Used with C5DAC:
    Havi B3P1, Sony MH1C (thanks to my friend @peter123 ), Meelectronics AI-M6, KZ ACME, Sennheiser PX100ii, Koss PortaPro (75ohm resistor and Kramer modded, Canare recabled), Koss KSC-35 (75ohm resistor and Kramer modded, Mogami recabled), Beyerdynamic DT150 (Brainwavz Pleather Earpads), Philips Fidelio X2 (Stock Cable), AKG K7XX (Audio Minor Pure Silver cable), AKG K340 Electrostatic-Dynamic Headphone, Fostex T50RP Orthodynamic Headphone (modded, recabled with Mogami).
     
    Unboxing:
    My review unit came in a double wrapped cardboard. The units original box was resting under these cardboard layers, so it was non-damaged during shipping.
     
    Cayin used recycled cardboard (possibly) without any ink/paint. I like the raw-environmental friendly approach for the box design. There was a paper belt on the middle of the box which bears the Cayin C5DAC color photograph (on the below). Whole box is covered with a transparent vacuum nylon (below, first photo).
     
    _BAY3936.jpg
     
     
    _BAY3937.jpg
    Box front view
     
    _BAY3939.jpg
    Box back view
     
    _BAY3941.jpg
    Inside of the box
     
    _BAY3943.jpg
    Mmmm, under those recycled cardboard what a sexy looking DAC/AMP!
     
    _BAY3947.jpg
    Very appropriate amount of accessories including 2 blue silicone bands, 4 silicone adhesive foots (white square on the above photo), 
    1 digital/coaxial cable, 1 short microUSB to microUSB cable, 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo interconnect cable (for amp),
    one long USB to microUSB cable for charge and PC/Laptop connection, a carrying pouch and a user manual in
    English (on the below photo). I certainly prefer Velcro attachment over the silicone bands though...
     
    _BAY3949.jpg
    This pouch can prevent your C5DAC to get scratched. I wanted see a Cayin letter (also) on it but no chance...
     
    _BAY3963.jpg
    C5DAC front view
     
    _BAY3966.jpg
    C5DAC side view (high/low gain and bass boost switches)
     
    _BAY3980.jpg
    C5DAC side view zoomed to show the high/low gain and bass boost switch better
     
    _BAY3970.jpg
    C5DAC bottom view (coax out, microUSB port for DAC, doubles as a battery backup charging out port,
    on the far right is the Power in microUSB port)
     
    _BAY3972.jpg
    There is a "reset" button hole in case everything gets wrong with the DAC/AMP. I never
    used this feature
     
    _BAY3976.jpg
    Volume pot back view (protected under a plastic cap which is covering all the TOP part of the unit).
    It is possible to apply some force and remove this semi-transparent cap easily
     
    _BAY3977.jpg
    Volume pot front view, the groove there serves as a window and indicator of the volume setting.
    Volume indications are from "off" position to number 9 (max)
     
     
    C5DAC Package and Included Accessories:
    1. C5DAC AMP
    2. USB Charging Cable
    3. 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable
    4. 1 pair of rubber bands
    5. USB 2.0 to Micro USB short cable
    6. 3.5mm to coaxial cable
    7. 4 adhesive silicone foots (small but important detail: these will prevent your unit to get scratched while stacking with a phone or while resting on a surface)
     
    Compatability with Jack Types:
    C5DAC headphone out (HO) is compatible with standard 3.5mm stereo jacks. But you can get sound even if your 3.5mm jack is balanced type (4 pole connector, tested with KZ ACME) or have a built in Mic (again 4 pole connector, tested with Sony MH1C). But you won’t be able to communicate through the Microphone of the headset. And HO out is not designed to give a real balanced sound (as far as I know).
     
     
    Mobile Phone and Tablet Tests:
    I have compared headphone out (HO) of the LG G3 (D855, 32GB + 64GB MicroSD Card, Android Lollipop 5.0 - 3.4.0) with the C5DAC Headphone out.
     
    All the testing done (covering tablet and PC tests as well) at low gain and bass boost off (unless notified).
     
    To my ears C5DAC has: airier sound, slightly wider soundstage, slightly more vivid sound, slightly more separation and layering, slightly better defined bass.  Other than these both of the devices sound qualities are "very close" rather than being different. After the Lollipop update LG G3 headphone out became something really special to my ears. For anyone interested, LG G3 uses Cirrus Logic DAC chips. Sound quality difference did not warrant me to use the C5DAC "on the go" with my iem's, especially in the noisy environments. For quiet places and for critical listening (especially with full sized HP's) I would prefer to use C5DAC with my phone.
     
    Before pairing the C5DAC with your phone, you may want to stack the C5DAC with your phone. So what's the solution of the Cayin?: 2 cheap looking blue silicone bands!
    I will show and explain you why not to use these bands with your smartphones (YMMW).
     
    _DSC6011.jpg
    These included blue silicone bands neither look good, nor matches the elegant look of the C5DAC!
    I never prefer these bands for any device. I wanted to show you how cheap it looks. It also interferes with the
    touchscreen menu in a bad way...
     
    _DSC5969.jpg

    So I prefer to use 3M circular self adhesive Velcro coins
     
    _DSC5970.jpg
    First I stick the more stiff hair bearing velcro coins on the C5DAC. Then I place the softer
    coins on the top of their mating parts leaving the adhesive part to be stacked on the back of my phone
    case.
     
    _DSC5971.jpg
    Then I align and push the C5DAC on the back of my phone
     
    _DSC5972.jpg
    Ok, as you see the other circular Velcro coins are sticked to the back of my phone case [​IMG]
     
    _DSC5998.jpg
    When you remove the C5DAC you'll see that the Velcro coins (softer ones)  are left on
    the back of the phone case (or cover)
     
    _DSC5973.jpg
    Top view
     
    _DSC5974.jpg
    Stacking done, microUSB cable attached. Ready to rock [​IMG] Looks very clean too!
     
    _DSC5976.jpg
    My screen is mine! No bands to interfere!
     
    _DSC5977.jpg
     
    _DSC5978.jpg
    Bottom view
     
    _DSC5979.jpg
    Cayin, you should consider including 2 different length microUSB cables. The included one is
    short for non-stack operation and long for a stacked operation. I want to see one shorter
    U shaped or 90 degree microUSB cable and a better quality, slightly longer microUSB to microUSB
    cable. Yes, these may purchased later, but why not include? Cheap accessories but happy customers, right?
    Also, I never saw my U shaped design in any store or internet... (below image).
    90 degree angle jack "5cm long cable" is also a good alternative...
     

    This is my design of a microUSB to microUSB stack cable (made using photoshop).
     
     
    Alternatively you may try a 90 degree microUSB to microUSB  cable from e-bay: http://www.ebay.com/itm/301228419677?_trksid=p2060353.m1438.l2649&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT
     
     
    _DSC5980-Edit.jpg
    Also, I advise the guys at the Cayin to re-design the microUSB port on the bottom of the DAC unit and move it on the center -for the future models.
    This is may be not a big problem but you know, nearly every mobile phone/tablet on the market today has the
    microUSB port on their bottom-center. Also the included microUSB cable quality looks/feels cheap.
    It protrudes from the DAC bottom and doesn't look safe (although it never get out accidentally). But it sits
    well on the bottom of a LG G3. Another complaint: One of the microUSB jack head direction have to be reversed.
    If I do not want to reverse it (without making a twisting action on the cable) I have to attach the DAC in a reverse
    position, leaving the volume pot readout slot and battery level indicator leds between the phone and the C5DAC.
    This problem can be remedied by making a twisting action on the microUSB cable but I was afraid of tearing
    (or stressing the cable). Little design faults on a cheap accessory caused some problems... 
    Ok I am cutting the complaints here because it can be remedied and not on a deal-breaking level...
     
    _DSC5983.jpg
    Top of the unit when the volume knob twisted and the unit turned on. This little led tells you that
    C5DAC is ready to rock your headphones... Left hole is headphone out, right is the audio-in for the AMP section
    (you need to use 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo interconnect if you like to use the unit as an AMP alone)
     
    _DSC5984.jpg
    The little space held in between the phone and the C5DAC also serves as an air/ventilation space.
    You can separate the phone and the DAC anytime you want. Velcro is safe for this kinds of applications.
    Alternatively you may use 3M DualLock for this stacking purposes...
     
    _DSC6026.jpg
     
    I have used my Samsung Galaxy TabS 8.4" (loaded with Samsung 64GB microSD card, upgraded to the Android Lollipop) for tablet test.
     
    It will be cumbersome to write down sound differences for each of these so I prefer to write my general impressions of the sound which is reflected through all the equipments I have used. I provided specific information for some of these hp's/iem's in my writing as well...
     
    C5DACK7XXX2.jpg
     
    _BAY4076.jpg
     
    _BAY4079.jpg
     
    I did many trials with C5DAC for tablet tests... When Philips Fidelio X2 is connected with C5DAC through this setup, Peter Gabriel “My Body is a Cage” bass hits with more authority, and with better definition compared to the TabS headphone out (HO). But while listening to the first 10 seconds from the Zaz “Les Passants”, X2 brought the highs on to the ear-fatiguing level through C5DAC. For this track, high regions were less gritty through TabS HO. I feel that the C5DAC slightly accentuated everything compared to the TabS HO. With C5DAC attached, I hear slightly better defined: highs, bass, details, soundstage and also slightly more vivid sound in general. This may result in either a good or bad way. If your headphone or the recording has a “not so good treble emphasis” and in general has a high region which can be called close to “sibilance” C5DAC may accentuate these features. For most genres (especially instrumental, new age and Jazz) I prefer C5DAC over the TabS HO. When a more power demanding headphone such as AKG K340 (400ohm) is paired with C5DAC, the difference between the HO of the TabS and C5DAC became more clear.
     
    PC/Laptop Sound Tests and Comparisons With Some Other Portable DAC's:
     
    _DSC6019.jpg
    Compare the size with other DAC's on the test
     
    When connected with PC, I have compared Cozoy Astrapi, GO720 (0.47OHM headphone out of GO were used) and C5DAC. When K7XX used as a headphone,  Grogery Porter “Water Under Bridges” sounded with more liquid high region through Astrapi, where C5DAC  sounded slightly more clear and vivid with a slightly better soundstage. GO720 sounded in between the two giving a more balanced sound in general. When I play the Kronos Quartet “Tusen Tankar”, again C5DAC delivered better clarity, instrument separation and an almost holographic soundstage compared to Astrapi. Astrapi delivered slightly (a hair only) smoother highs region. IMO the only better thing that Astrapi does over the C5DAC is that. Also I needed to almost max the sound from the computer in order to reach a good listening level with Astrapi (when K7XX plugged as a HP), where the volume level between 3-4 was appropirate for C5DAC (computer and player software maxed). OK so where the GO720 sits in this comparison? It sits in between the Astrapi and C5DAC. General sound characteristics of the GO720 is like a love child between the two (impressions through K7XX). Smooth highs region, warmer sound, good instrument separation and clarity. But for the soundstage C5DAC is slightly better than both (IMO). For the clarity par GO720 and C5DAC goes to to toe. C5DAC wins on the hissing department over both of the other DAC's. Especially when the 32ohm Fidelio X2 or AI-M6 is paired with the mentioned other DAC's, hissing becomes a problem. With the C5DAC you can hardly hear that background noise, though the unit doesn't have a completely black background as well...
     
    When playing Miles Davis “Stella by Starlight” untill the 50sec part everything went very good with C5DAC. Right at the 50th sec that trumpet octave and volume raised in the track and the sound became unbearable with the C5DAC for me. GO720 and Astrapi were slightly better for this track part. Especially for this song I prefer GO720 over the other 2 DAC’s.
     
    Probably by the help of the the airy sound and slightly boosted lower treble (and slightly less present midbass -Compared to the other DAC's on my Lab-), C5DAC soundstage percieved very wide. I have to say that to my ears it is the best DAC/AMP for soundstage. If I compare it  to the DAC/AMP’s like Cozoy Astrapi and GO720 it is slightly wider. Compared to the LG G3 headphone out, again it is wider. Soundstage depth is not on par with its width though...
     
    Sound is dynamic, slightly vivid and with good punch. Because of the treble response –with some certain recordings- I couldn’t enjoy the C5DAC as I enjoy them with either Astrapi or GO720 (both sounded slightly smoother and more refined for their treble). But while reading these, please remember that I am a treble sensitive person. And differences are not big. Slightly means here: A hair thick.
     
    C5DAC has better seperation-layering and a hair more detail retrieval compared to Astrapi. GO720 sounds smoother and with slightly less soundstage (only by a very small margin). For overall sound it is a tie between GO720 and C5DAC to my ears and with my gears. For purely on sonic performance I still think that GO720 still got the edge (by a small margin). The second runner will be C5DAC and the third runner will be Astrapi. But if I put size scale on the table Astrapi with its incredible small footprint and lightweight will take the lead. For system compatibility Astrapi again takes the lead.
     
    _BAY4058.jpg
     
     
     
     
    Wrapping the Things Up:
    I know it is not easy to evaluate such different devices. They all share a common thing as being a DAC/AMP, but you can’t use the amp section of the Astrapi and GO720 separately (when needed) like the C5DAC. C5DAC serves as a DAC/AMP, AMP and DAC (If you use the coaxial out you have the option to use the DAC section alone). And as being a self battery operated device C5DAC didn’t attempt to consume your phone battery. Besides this it can charge your Tablet/Phone if needed!
     
    Ok, here we go, Wrapping the things for the C5DAC as a DAC/AMP [​IMG]
     
    General Sound Quality:
    GO720=C5DAC>Astrapi
     
    Soundstage:
    C5DAC≥GO720≥Astrapi
     
    Airier Sound:
    C5DAC>GO720≥Astrapi
     
    Warmness (warmer sounding DAC takes the lead):
    GO720≥Astrapi≥C5DAC
     
    Portability (size, weight; lighter, smaller is better)
    Astrapi>GO720>C5DAC
     
    Battery/Power Needs (Consuming battery of the source-Phone/Tablet; *Self battery device will always consume less)
    GO720>Astrapi>C5DAC*
     
    Heat Production (Less heating device takes the lead, temperature of the devices measured under controlled room conditions at 25oC and are mean values, for max values check the text)
    Astrapi (28 oC) > C5DAC (32 oC) > GO720 (42 oC)
     
    EMI interference
    C5DAC=GO720=Astrapi
     
    Accessories
    C5DAC>Astrapi>GO720
     
    Decoding Capability:
    GO720 (up to DSD) > C5DAC (up to 24/96) > Astrapi (up to 16/44.1)
     
    Price (Cheaper one takes the lead)
    Astrapi>C5DAC>GO720
     
    Value for Money
    No winners!!! Each to their own!!!
     
     
    Cayin C5DAc When Used As An AMP:
    I did compare the C5DAC's AMP section to my Topping NX1 and ShelbrookAudio MiniHead Signature which have similarities. Shelbrook also have ALPS volume pot, WIMA HiFi capacitors, metal film resistors and most importantly 2 BB634 opamps.
     
    I have used 1kHz test tone to volume match the 3 amps (volume matched at a comfortable and loud enough level for me which was 72 dB during the “test/review” period).
    While listening to the Jason McGuire “Bulerias”, I sense more space with C5DAC. But the highs are on the limit for starting an earfatigue for me when the C5DAC amp section is paired with a K7XX.
    When I compare the other amps, Shelbrook MiniHead Signature delivered the most smooth highs, but the smallest soundstage. I can’t say it is small when I listen through it -only-, but when I compare it to the other two amps, it is... This feature delivers more "intimate" listening experience though... And when this amp is paired with K7XX, I love the sound of this pairing most.
     
    C5DAC's AMP section has plenty of power even at low gain. Because of this, I hate to say that it is not very suitable to use with high sensitivity iems. But this also applies to the Astrapi and GO720. The Alps volume pot is very high quality. But moving from 2-4 the volume rises too much. Icould never use pass the number 4. AMP section is unnecessarily powerful (IMO, YMMW with different headphones). Using the Low Gain doesn't help either. I never need to use the high-gain. Also bass boost option was not implemented correctly. It mainly boosts the midbass (perceived as midbass but boosting is done on the whole spectrum by the device. But human hearing is not linear as well, so we need some more subbass boost rather than the midbass boost).
     
    As you lower the volume sound stays balanced for each side of the earphones unless you reach a place around the number “1” (the lowest value before off position on the volume pot).  Around volume level 1 sound seems to be slightly louder on the left side. But I am not sure anyone would ever use such a low volume. So not a deal-breaker…
    C5DAC has an airy sound which is especially derived from the treble energy (IMO). But this definition is not complete if I mention the general sound signature to be balanced and detailed with a good amount of bass. I like the separation of the instruments "most" with the C5DAC.
     
    For sibilance tests I have listened Armik “For Your Eyes” song and used K7XX as a monitoring headphone. Again the cymbals has a crystal clear presence with the bordering line treble energy (which may result in sibilance if overly done). Hopefully C5DAC never reached the level of sibilance treble energy with this song and headphone. C5DAC's AMP was definitely the most airy sounding amp and has slightly more treble energy out of three amps.
     
    Rod Stewart “Have I Told You Lately” track sounds with a huge soundstage with C5DAC's AMP. Sound was so airy and sound details were delivered so well that you feel the large stage in front of you. Switching to the Shellbrook amp gave me a smaller soundstage with slightly more midbass presence and slightly smoother treble. I liked both signature for what they deliver. One is airy/huge, the other one is smoother and more intimate. Topping NX1 sound signature falled in between the C5DAC and Shellbrook Mini Head Signature AMP's. Again I feel that the Midbass is slightly less present on the C5DAC.
     
    Because of its signature C5DAC matched extremely well with slightly bassier and less bright headphones in my Lab, like PortaPro (and KSC-35, same drivers though…).
     
    I also liked the X2 pairing. K7XX was good, DT150 was great so as the T50RP. C5DAC has more than enough power for everything I plug on to it!
     
     
    AMP Section Wrap-Up:
     
    For Pairing With K7XX
    MiniHead Signature>C5DAC>NX1
     
    For Pairing With PortaPro (KSC-35), PX100ii
    C5DAC> NX1≥MiniHead Signature
     
    For Pairing With Havi B3P1
    C5DAC>NX1≥MiniHeadSignature
     
    Most Refined Sounding Amp
    MiniHead Signature≥C5DAC>NX1
     
    Most Vivid Sounding AMP
    C5DAC>NX1>MiniHead Signature
     
    Best Layering (AMP)
    C5DAC>Mini Head Signature>NX1
     
    Best Details (AMP)
    C5DAC≥Mini Head Signature≥NX1
     
     
    Break Down and Evaluation of Some Factors:
     
     
    Value for Money:
    I think that the C5DAC has a very good value for the money at the current price (215 USD). IMO, it is worth. But a discounted price would be welcomed by the community [​IMG]
    Think of an unit that has DAC/AMP feature, DAC can be separately used if connection is made through Coax out. AMP can be used separately. Unit can serve as an external battery back-up. So what are you going to ask for more; Cayin to include a detachable iem, a led flashlight, an integrated pocket knife and a lighter to the body of the DAC!? Is it going to be the ultimate survival tool for an Audiophile? Cmon... [​IMG]
     

    Love Factor:
    This term is new in head-fi (I prefer to use it). "Love factor" is very "personal taste" dependent and one should take care of this factor as a grain of salt (but if you ask me it's the most important factor). This factor summarizes my liking of sound quality, comfort/ergonomics, durability, features, aesthetics, etc. Love factor levels are: Poor, Moderate, High.

    So "love factor" for the C5DAC is high for me!

     

    Burn-In (brain/device):

    I had a chance to test one burned and one out of the box units side by side. The problematic device doesn't hold the charge properly and doesn't stream Spotify accuretly from my TabS. So I have contacted Cayin and they send me another C5DAC. I have to say that the difference between the two units were very very little. The pre-burned unit sounded slightly better giving slightly more details, separation and also the soundstage seemed to be a hair larger. From this comparison I can safely say that the C5DAC may need at least 10-15 h of burn-in to sound at its best.

     

    EMI and Heating: 

    I didn't notice any electromagnetic interference (EMI) during the review period of 14 days when I used the C5DAC connected with my LG G3. IMO, EMI shielding is excellent for this DAC/AMP!

     

    I have measured the temperature with a calibrated IR temperature meter tool. Room temperature were measured from an aluminum object which doesn't produce heating.
     
    _DSC6037.jpg
     
    Under a temperature stabilized room condition (fixed at 25 oC) and after 1h of constant use (playing FLAC hi-res files) C5DAC can reach 35 oC (max). In contrast Astrapi can reach (max) 28 oC and GO720 can reach 45 oC (max).
     
    _DSC6036.jpg
     
    Generally C5DAC stayed at 32 oC during my tests (mean value, see the above photo). This may not seem a big issue unless you live in a hotter climate where the rise of the heat can possibly reach above 35 oC. Also if you intend to put the C5DAC in your pocket with your phone (and if you’re in a temperate to hot climate) the heat production of the C5DAC may start to annoy you after some time... But if you are in a cooler climate you may love this "slight heating" effect. Generally I didn’t see the heat production as a big issue but -IMO- buyers should be aware of it.
     
    So how about a solid state amp heat production using the same BurrBrown buffers in the C5DAC? In my tests it is nearly the same (compared with a Shelbrook Mini Head Signature, Mini Head produced 30 oC (mean value)).
     

    Battery Consumption and Charging Times:

    Since C5DAC has its own battery, I didn't notice any extra power consumption from my phone. The units own battery lasted approx for 18h when used as an AMP and lasted for approx 8h when used as a DAC. I believe these values will increase after 10 charge/discharge cycles. As a general rule (or truth) rechargeable batteries reaches their maximum charge holding capabilities after some use (fully charge/discharge cycles).

     

    When charged with an original Samsung wall charger, generally my unit reached full charge around 5 hours (stated time is 4.5h).

     

    The unit have 3 tiny orange leds on the bottom portion of the face plate and while charging these leds start to blink in order of the charge status. When fully charged, all the three leds light constantly and this means that you can remove the microUSB jack from the charging plug. I would like to see these battery status leds on the top of the unit for a future model. And 5 leds can serve better and give more precise information. The single orange led on the top of the unit can be completely removed by this way (IMO, no need for it if you put all the battery indicators on the top).

     

    Durability:

    C5DAC is made -mainly- out of aluminum. But top and bottom parts are plastic so generally it gave me the feeling that the unit is durable enough... Unfortunately 14 days of ownership is not enough to tell that the device is durable. So only the time can tell the truth...

     

    So, in general the DAC body looks and feels very robust. Unfortunately the housings aluminum plates (there are 2 main plates, one on back and one on the front) can move very little when squeezed in your hand. Not on a deal-breaking level though… But I would prefer a more solid feeling for the housing.

     

    Design: 

    I like the aesthetics of the C5DAC so much that I did some extra photo-shooting for it. The aluminum main plates and lightly painted gold color gives an elegant feeling. IMO the top plastic parts aesthetics can be improved with a better/easier volume pot read-out. The cap part plastic feels less elegant especially when viewed under proper light. It is slightly hard to read and see the symbols and writings through this plastic cap (top) part under relatively dim light conditions.

     

    On the brand name part, I absolutely love the signature of the Cayin !!! May be a brushed aluminum 3D printed or Laser etched signature can suit the device better ! I am wishing from Cayin that the future units to be thinner and slightly lighter (if possible). Other than that I had no complaints for the general size. And a Laser etched or 3D Cayin name (signature) please.

     

    Compatibility:

    C5DAC is one of the greatest devices for its compatibility. Whether you attach it to your IOS (you need to use the lightning connector kit), Android, PC or Laptop, it is recognized by the system very fast (nearly no lag) and C5DAC starts to deliver the music to your headphones.  Add the separate usability of the AMP section and DAC section to this, you are coevered for almost any applications on your audio chain. If these are not enough, C5DAC can serve as an external battery back-up for your mobile devices too!

     
    USB Support:
    I could only get C5DAC working with my computers USB 2.0 port. No support for USB 3.0 port in my experience.
     
    Hissing:
    IMO, C5DAC is generally safe to use (doesn't produce audible hiss or background noise) with the moderate to less sensitive iem's and hp's. With the high sensitivity iem's you may hear a very low level of hissing. But you really need to be in a very quiet room to hear this (and while you're not playing the music). For example with AI-M6 background hiss can be heard under the explained conditions but with all the other iem and HP's on the test didn't produce an audible hiss to my ears. I can say that the C5DAC is really safe for hiss issues but it didn't have zero -black- background. YMMW.
     
    C5DAC never produced pop or click sounds while the volume pot is turned "on" or "off". Also no disturbing sounds while attaching or removing the microUSB cable (tests done while listening through the K7XX). I like the quietness of the C5DAC very much.
     
    Remote Control and/or Microphone/Incoming-Outgoing Call Support: 
    NO! C5DAC do not support these functions directly. But you can answer a call while the C5DAC is connected (and in use) with your phone (tested only with LG G3, YMMW with other phones). But you need to use your phone mic and speaker if you don’t have a Bluetooth iem. When I connect a Brainwavz BLU-100 bluetooth iem (via the bluetooth) I can answer the calls through the BLU-100. After finishing a call I can put my headphone back on my head and continue to listen to music through it automatically (a very big surprise) !  I don’t need to disconnect the DAC from my mobile phone which is a big plus!!!
     
    Playing While Charging:
    Yes, you can either use AMP or DAC feature while charging! Thanks to separate microUSB ports and internal design. IMO this is a "must have feature" for any rechargeable battery powered DAC/AMP.
     
    Guarantee:
    As of this writing I don't have any idea/information about the guarantee.
     
    Specs (from the product page):
     
    1. Frequency Response:20Hz-70kHz(±1dB)
    2. Sensitivity:≤600mV (Gain: H)
    3. Total Harmonic Distortion: ≤0.02% (1kHz)
    4. Lithium Battery Capacity: 3700mAh / 3.7V
    5. Rated Output Power: 300mW + 300mW (32Ω load)
    6. SNR: ≥101dB (A-weighted)
    7. Charge Limit Voltage: 4.2V
    8. Battery Life: about 19 hours (AUX input, 32Ω load)
    9.                    about 9 hours (USB input, 32Ω load)
    10. Charging Time: about 4.5 hours (off state, the use of DC5V / 2A Charger)
    11. Dimensions: 136x63x15mm
    12. ALPS potentiometer (volume pot)
    13. WIMA HiFi Capacitors
    14. DAC Part Uses BurrBrown PCM1795
    15. Amp Part Uses BurrBrown BUF634 opamps (2 seprate for each channel)
    16. Weight: about 185g
     
     
     
    C5DAC Size and Weight Measurements (first value is the measured one, inside the parenthesis are the given values on the product page):
     
    _DSC6015.jpg
    Width: 68mm (vs 63mm)
     
    _DSC6016.jpg
    Height: 135mm (vs 136mm)
     
    _DSC6017.jpg
    Thickness: 15mm (vs 15mm)
     
    _DSC6020.jpg
    Compared with a credit card size
     
    _DSC6021.jpg
    Weight: 178 g  (vs 185 g)
     
     
    Final Thoughts:
     
    OK, this has been long review because of the capabilities of the device and the effort I wanted to give.
     
     
    Did I like the sound? Yes! Capabilities? Yes! Option for making calls with a Bluetooth headset? Certainly yes!
    Opportunity to use the DAC or AMP while charging the unit? Yes! The units capability of charging my phone and/or tablet? Of course yes!
     
    C5DAC may need some minor improvements in some areas like: gain switch (needs more steps, should have lower gain),
    bass boost switch (should deliver slightly less bassy sound with more emphasis on the subbass region rather than
    midbass), thickness (a thinner device is welcome), microUSB cable and port re-design (explained in the review with photos).
    But these are not issues which I can call as big. I am already happy with the C5DAC at this 14 days reviewing period.
     
    Like any device on the market there are pros and cons...
     
     
    So lets remember the question on the first line of this review: As an Audiophile, if you're left alone on a
    desolate island and if you are asked to bring only one device (to connect to your phone and HP)
    which DAC/AMP would you bring with you?  My answer is simple and easy: C5DAC [​IMG]
     
     
    Some Cayin C5DAC Photos for you, Enjoy!
     
    _BAY3982.jpg
     
    _BAY3997.jpg
     
    _BAY4000.jpg
     
    _BAY4016.jpg
     
    _BAY4023.jpg
     
    _BAY4025.jpg
     
    _BAY4047.jpg
     
    _BAY4035.jpg
     
    ...you finished? Thanks for reading/watching. I have to thank the Cayin for giving me an opportunity to review their
    great DAC/AMP: C5DAC the SPARK!
    1. View previous replies...
    2. peter123
      Sorry about the late post, didn't find time to read it in full until now. What a great work you've done here my friend, I'm impressed!
      peter123, Aug 31, 2015
    3. Baycode
      No problem Peter. Thanks for chiming in ! :)
      Baycode, Sep 1, 2015
    4. Onny Izwan
      Loved the last bit of the review. :)
      Onny Izwan, Jul 19, 2016
  4. earfonia
    Multi-platform USB DAC with powerful headphone amplifier and long battery life.
    Written by earfonia
    Published Oct 1, 2015
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Multi-platform driver-less USB operation; Powerful headphone amplifier; Very good battery life; Very soft On-Off popping noise.
    Cons - Low gain output is too high for general IEMs; No line output; No SPDIF input.
    Thanks to Cayin to organize a review tour program for Cayin C5 DAC!
    I've given around 2 weeks to use and observe the quality of the C5 DAC. Usually I would need a minimum of 1 month to do a proper review of a DAC, so I hope within the short period I would be able to cover all the the important aspects of the C5 DAC.
     
    http://en.cayin.cn/product_view.asp?id=791
     
    Some background of CAYIN model naming is explained here:
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/768094/new-portable-cayin-spark-c5-dac-amp-released-may-2015/15#post_11650004
     
    01P1130580.jpg
     
     
     

    Summary of Sound Signature:

    Neutral, slightly warm, energetic with good dynamic, especially for IEMs & easy to drive headphones.
     
     

    Summary of Features:

    1. Up to PCM 24bit / 96kHz USB DAC.
    2. Multi-platform driver-less USB operation.
    3. USB DAC + Headphone amplifier. No dedicated line output, so cannot be used as dedicated DAC without the headphone amplifier.
    4. Headphone amplifier. There is a 3.5 mm socket analog line input to use only the headphone amplifier without the DAC (AUX mode). The headphone amplifier is quite powerful and can be considered the strong feature of the C5 DAC.
    5. USB to SPDIF (electrical / coaxial) converter.
     
     

    Pros:

    1. Multi-platform driver-less USB operation.
    2. Powerful headphone amplifier.
    3. Very good battery life.
    4. Very soft On-Off popping noise.
    5. Carefully thought accessories.
     
     

    Cons:

    1. Low gain output is still too high for general IEMs.
    2. No line output.
    3. No SPDIF input.
     
     

    Suggestions for improvements:

    1. To reduce the maximum output level at low gain by half, from 2.4 Vrms to around 1.2 Vrms.
    2. Line output.
    3. SPDIF input.
    4. Full metal housing with clearer marking and text.
     
     
    02P1130582.jpg
     
     
     
     

    Sound quality

    When I tried C5 DAC for the first time, I connected an IEM, and my first impression was, 'Wow it sounds powerful!'. Probably the main sonic character to be highlighted is the sense of good driving power, especially when driving IEMs. C5 DAC drives most headphones pretty well, but when using high impedance headphones the sense of driving power was not as strong as with lower impedance headphones and IEMs. So it is not yet a replacement for a good desktop setup for high impedance headphones, but quite a powerful DAC+Amp combo for portable setup for IEMs and easy to drive headphones.
     
    03P1130585.jpg
     
     
    The headphone amplifier of C5 DAC is quite powerful and has good dynamic and driving power. When using C5 DAC as headphone amplifier, with ifi micro iDSD as DAC, I can hear some improvements, indicating that the headphone amplifier scales well with better DAC. The following is comparison of RMAA measurement of the C5 DAC as DAC+Amp combo (White), and the headphone amplifier using ifi micro iDSD as DAC with minimum phase setting (Green). We can see that the DAC output of the C5 DAC uses a sharp low pass filter that rolls off quite early before 20 kHz. While the headphone amplifier section reaches beyond 30 kHz when using a better DAC. The 30 kHz is most probably the limitation of my HRT LineStreamer+ that I use as ADC for the RMAA measurement. A good headphone amplifier usually reaches 100 kHz easily.
     
    04aDACComparison.png
     
    04bP1140016.jpg
     
     
    Overall tonality of the C5 DAC as DAC+Amp combo, I perceived as neutral with a touch of warmness. While level of clarity is good, I do prefer a little more transparency and detail resolving power like what I hear from my AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.0c and ifi micro iDSD. Tonality is a little warm, but just a little, don't expect tube warmness here. The extra warmness makes C5 DAC pairs well with neutral to bright IEMs and headphones, for less ear fatigue over long sessions. I tested C5 DAC with 1964 Ears V3, DUNU DN-2000J, Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7/LTD, Philips SHP9500, and Beyerdynamic T1, and they pair well with C5 DAC. I like especially the pairing with Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7/LTD, and I would recommend C5 DAC for ATH-MSR7 users who are looking for portable DAC+Amp.  On the other hand I do find C5 DAC sometime could sound a little boring when driving warmer headphones such as my Shure SRH1540 and Audio-Technica ARH-R70x, where extra transparency is preferred. So my recommendation for C5 DAC is to pair it with neutral to neutral-bright tonality IEMs or headphones.
     
    05P1130860.jpg
     
     
    Stereo imaging is clear and focus, with perceived presentation that is more towards close and intimate. Not congested, but not the wide and spacious type either. For comparison, ifi micro iDSD has a more spacious and holographic imaging. As for detail and clarity, it is presented in a natural way without any emphasize or de-emphasize. Though as mentioned earlier, having used to ifi iDSD micro and other desktop DACs, I do prefer slightly higher detail resolving capability and transparency than what C5 DAC offers.
     
    In summary, overall sound quality of C5 DAC is pretty good, neutral warm with very minimum noticeable coloration. The headphone amplifier sound quality seems to be a level better than the DAC section, better detail, clarity, and transparency when paired with higher quality DAC.
     
     
     
     

    Features

    06P1130576.jpg
     
     
    Overall build quality is good, but not stellar. I do prefer full metal housing without any plastic parts, but it is just personal preference. The text and signs behind the transparent brown plastic cover are difficult to read in dimly lit environment. There are 2 separate USB inputs, one for data and the other one dedicated as charging port. Although it is possible to use C5 DAC while charging, but it is not recommended to play and charge at the same time.
     
    07P1130583.jpg
    C5 DAC has about the same width and thickness as the Fiio E12DIY, only slightly longer.
     
     
    3 main functions of C5 DAC are:
    USB DAC + headphone amplifier combo.
    Standalone headphone amplifier.
    USB DAC to SPDIF (coaxial) converter.
     
    For easy multi-platform and driver-less operation, C5 DAC supports only PCM up to 24 bit - 96 kHz resolution. It is sufficient for me as my ears hardly distinguish any sonic improvement from files with higher resolution than 24/96, especially from a portable setup.
     
    Within the 2 weeks of testing, I didn't have much chance to test USB DAC compatibility with many platforms or devices. With Windows 7 and 8 everything works fine and very stable. For mobile devices, I only tested it with a few Android devices as the following:
    Samsung Galaxy S4 (SHV-E330K - Korea version) - Android 4.4.2 : Not compatible.
    Samsung Galaxy S5 (SM-G901F - Singapore version) - Android 5.0.2 : Compatible.
    Teclast TPad X89 - Android 4.4.4 : Compatible.
     
    08P1130854.jpg
     
    08bP1130835.jpg
     
     
    Short USB micro B to micro B cable is included in the accessories for connecting C5 DAC to Android smartphone or tablet. But in case longer USB micro B to micro B cable is required, this USB cable I bought from AliExpress has been proven to work for connecting USB DAC to tablet or smartphones:
    Straight Micro Male to Micro USB B
     
     

    Amplifier Gain

    There are 2 level of gain on the headphone amplifier. As we can read on other reviews of C5 DAC, common feedback for the low gain is that the low gain output is way too high for most IEMs. The maximum output voltage of the low gain output is around 2.4 Vrms (2400 millivolt rms), while common IEM listening level is only in the level of up to a few hundred millivolt rms. My listening level for my DUNU hybrids for example (DN-1000, DN-2000, & DN-2000J), is only around 100 mV rms or less. Meaning, the usable volume level for IEMs and easy to drive headphones is very limited, only between 2-3 of the volume level, from the maximum level of 9. And it is a common fact that analogue volume control performs better at medium to high volume level, and best at maximum volume. In this case, for most IEMs, we can only use the volume control at low level, the area where analogue volume control doesn't perform at their best, and suffer from moderate volume imbalance between left and right channels. At low gain, the optimum maximum output is around 1.0 to 1.5 Vrms. I strongly suggest to reduce the maximum output at low gain setting by half, to around 1.2 Vrms, to have wider usable range of the volume control.
     
    09P1130597.jpg
     
     

    Amplifier Power Output & Output Impedance

    The maximum output voltage measurement with 600 ohms load:
    Lo gain max Vrms: 2.4 V
    Hi gain max Vrms: 4.2 V
    Max output current at 15 ohms load: 2.074 / 15 = 138 mA
     
    Calculated maximum headphone amplifier power output at:
    16 ohms: 305 mW
    32 ohms: 551 mW
    300 ohms: 59 mW
    600 ohms: 29 mW
     
    Measured output impedance of the headphone amplifier is very low, at around 0.18 ohms.
     
     

    Channel Imbalance

    Measured volume channel imbalance of the demo unit is between 0.15 dB to 0.53 dB, which is good. Volume level below 2 is practically too soft and not usable, so channel imbalance at volume level 1 can practically be ignored. Channel imbalance below 0.3 dB is very good, and below 1 dB can still considered good performance for analogue volume control.
     
    Brand / Model​
    Vol. Position​
    HP Output (Vpp)​
    Imbalanced
    (dB)​
    Left​
    Right​
    Cayin C5 DAC
    Headphone Out
    Low Gain
    1​
    0.015​
    0.014​
    0.60​
    2​
    0.063​
    0.067​
    0.53​
    3​
    0.408​
    0.432​
    0.50​
    4​
    1.680​
    1.740​
    0.30​
    5​
    3.120​
    3.200​
    0.22​
    7​
    6.080​
    6.200​
    0.17​
    9​
    6.800​
    6.920​
    0.15​

     
     

    Noise

    On-Off popping noise is very soft on C5 DAC, simply ignore-able. This is for me is very important especially for portable device. Noise floor or background hiss noise if volume dependent. At low volume, below 4, hiss noise is very low and ignore-able even for sensitive IEMs. But as volume goes up, when playing silent, hiss noise is becoming louder and more audible. But even playing music at volume level 3, it is already quite loud for sensitive IEMs, so hiss noise at higher volume is practically not relevant for sensitive IEMs. While headphones are less sensitive to hiss noise, so even at higher volume, practically I didn't have any issue from background hiss noise.
     
    My noise measurement for sensitive IEM is at volume level around 100 mV rms, because in average when using sensitive IEMs, my listening level is less than 100 mV. First I played a 0 dBFS 100 Hz Sine wave, and then adjust the volume and measure the headphone output until the output is measured approximately 100 mV. 33 ohms load is used as dummy load for the amplifier. Stop the Sine wave then play silent track. Observe the headphone output using digital oscilloscope, to observe the average value of the noise floor. From my observation, at 100 mV output, C5 DAC headphone output noise floor at low gain is less than 4 mV rms, which low and will be hardly audible even using sensitive IEM such as 1964 Ears V3. Starting from 6 mV rms and above, noise floor will start to be audible on sensitive IEMs.
     
    10CayinC5DACHOLowGain.png
     
     

    Temperature

    Working temperature is generally only up to the level of warm and C5 DAC never gets hot like my Centrance DACport and LH Geek Out 450. I tested once in a warm environment in Singapore, where room temperature was measured 31.5 degree Celsius, after more than an hour of continuous playing, C5 DAC case temperature only reached a maximum of 38.8 degree Celsius. In a cooler air-conditioned room, it only gets mildly warm. So, practically no heat issue with C5 DAC.
     
     

    Battery

    According to Cayin, battery life in USB DAC mode is around 9 hours, and around 19 hours in standalone headphone amplifier mode (AUX mode), driving 32 ohms load. I didn't measure the AUX mode, only the USB DAC mode. Continuous playback in USB DAC mode, driving full size headphone ATH-MSR7LTD (35 ohms) at low gain, volume level at 3, the battery last for 9.5 hours. Battery life performance of C5 DAC is really good. But to use the battery until it is totally empty is not recommended. And when the battery is almost flat, C5 DAC relay toggles between on and off intermittently. I suggest for the next version of C5 DAC or other models to use Schmitt trigger circuit for the relay, to avoid the relay toggles intermittently when battery is reaching its minimum operating voltage. 
    Some measurement of battery charging using 2A USB charger:
    Measured maximum charging current capacity: 3400 mAh (5.1 volt charging voltage)
    Measured maximum charging current using 2A USB charger: 1.08 Ampere
    Maximum charging time: 5 hours
     
    11P1130992.jpg
     
     
    Please take note that the maximum charging current capacity is measured on 5 volt charging voltage and not directly related to battery maximum current capacity, because the battery voltage is lower at around 3.7 volt. The right calculation should be in Watt, with some power loss on the charging circuit. Without knowing the efficiency rate of the charging circuit there is no way to accurately calculate the real battery capacity. From what I observe, the battery life is very good, and I think Cayin specification is accurate.
     
     

    Bass Boost

    The bass enhancement feature is pretty well done. The +6 dB bass boost area is wide, so it adds body to the midrange as well. The bass boost is not particularly boosting only some narrow area of the bass, but more like adding fullness and body to the whole tonality. The bass boost sounds quite natural and not artificial sounding like some other bass boost implementation. I guess the bass boost is done using analogue circuit rather than digital DSP, It sounds so natural that when listening to Philips SHP9500 and Beyerdynamic T1 headphones, I prefer to turn on the bass boost most of the time, to make vocal sounds fuller and bass has more body. Below is the RMAA measurement comparing bass boost off and bass boost on.
     
    12BassBoostFrequencyResponse.png
     
     
     
     
    At this price category, I would say C5 DAC is a good performer. Not really at the level of a giant killer, but quality per price ratio is pretty good. C5 DAC is recommended for those looking for a portable USB DAC with powerful headphone amplifier to drive neutral to neutral-bright headphones.
     
    13P1130598.jpg
     
     
     
     
     
     

    Equipment used in this review:


     
     
    Headphones:
    Audio-Technica ATH-R70x
    Audio-Technica MSR7LTD
    Beyerdynamic T 1
    Philips SHP9500
    Shure SRH1540
     
    Earphones / IEMs:
    1964 Ears V3
    DUNU DN-2000
    DUNU DN-2000J
    Jomo4
     
    DACs, ADC, & Headphone Amplifiers:
    AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.0c
    Fiio E12DIY
    HRT LineStreamer +
    ifi micro iDSD
     
    Computer & Player:
    DIY Desktop PC: Gigabyte GA-H77-D3H-MVP motherboard, Intel i7-3770, 16 GB RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit SP1.
    foobar2000 v1.3.3
     
    Measurement Instrument & Application:
    Owon VDS3102 Digital Storage Oscilloscope
     
     
     

    Some recordings used in this review:


    1. hakushondaimao
      Agreed on driving neutral to bright headphones well. I think that's the sweet spot for both C5DAC and C5.
      hakushondaimao, Oct 1, 2015
    2. Onny Izwan
      good review. thank you! :)
      Onny Izwan, Jul 19, 2016
  5. Hisoundfi
    A portable digital powerhouse. The Cayin C5DAC portable DAC and Amplifier
    Written by Hisoundfi
    Published Aug 29, 2015
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Tons of power, Very impressive sound with powerful low end and great separation and detail, Works for Android, PC and IOS
    Cons - Too much power in low gain for sensitive earphones, Finicky occasional loss of connection with DAC function
    At the time this review was written the Cayin C5DAC was on sale at Penon Audio for $215.00 USD. Here is a link to their listing:
    20150822_143818.jpg
     
    http://penonaudio.com/Cayin-C5DAC?search=cayin%20c5dac
     
    Here is a link to Cayin's web page which displays all that the C5DAC has to offer:
     
    http://en.cayin.cn/product_view.asp?id=791
     
    I have several portable rigs, but there is one that is special to me. It is my combination of Sony F806 Walkman and Cayin C5 amplifier. Simply put, it’s the best sounding portable source I have. A large part of this has to do with the C5 amplifier. Regardless of what source I plugged into my C5, it seemed to have some kind of “awesomifier” that gave my music an extra kick in the pants and makes it sound flat out better.
     
    The Cayin C5 is the real deal, and when I heard that Cayin was releasing the C5DAC I was super excited to try it. I would like to thank Cayin for the opportunity to review their product.
    DSC_0009.jpg
     
    If I had to sum this review up into one sentence, I would say that the C5DAC is nothing more and nothing less than the C5 but with added DAC functionality. That is a really good thing! Please read more and find out why.
     
    The C5DAC is a product that just makes sense. The C5 was a hit in the audiophile community, why not make a DAC version of the same product? Cayin didn't make a new product here, they made an already great product even greater.
     
    The C5DAC came in pretty much the same packaging as the original. There was a paper ring with a picture and description printed on it that when removed revealed a tan box that held the unit.
    20150829_175005.jpg
     
    Specification

    1. Frequency Response:20Hz-70kHz(±1dB)
    2. Sensitivity:≤600mV (Gain: H)
    3. Total Harmonic Distortion: ≤0.02% (1kHz)
    4. Lithium Battery Capacity: 3700mAh / 3.7V
    5. Rated Output Power: 300mW + 300mW (32Ω load)
    6. SNR: ≥101dB (A-weighted)
    7. Charge Limit Voltage: 4.2V
    8. Battery Life: about 19 hours (AUX input, 32Ω load)
    9.                   about 9 hours (USB input, 32Ω load)
    10. Charging Time: about 4.5 hours (off state, the use of DC5V / 2A Charger)
    11. Dimensions: 136x63x15mm
    12. Weight: about 185g

     
    Opening the package I was greeted with the unit wrapped in a cloth sleeve. Removing the device and foam it was resting in revealed the accessories.
     
    Package

    1. C5DAC AMP
    2. USB Charging Cable
    3. 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable
    4. 1 pair of rubber bands
    5. USB 2.0 to Micro USB cable
    6. 3.5mm to coaxial cable

    20150829_175242.jpg
     
    The C5DAC is identical to the C5 with the only difference being the bottom panel and switch for the analog and DAC function. Just like the original C5, the C5DAC offers a charging port to be used for charging the source you are using.

     
    Cayin states that the C5DAC can be used for up to 18 hours (via the auxiliary port) before needing to be recharged. What I found was that I could go through an entire day of using it on and off and never needed to recharge the battery until the day is over. That is pretty much all most people will need. One thing to note is that the C5DAC does need quite a bit of time to recharge. It takes more time to charge than the average smartphone or DAC/amplifier this size.

     
    The unit comes with two switches on the side. One is a High/Low gain switch that can be used to drive different impedance headphones. I find both to have quite a bit of power. In fact, if there is anything I could fault this device for, it would be that the low gain setting has too much power for  some  of my less power hungry headphones and in-ear monitors. I get a hiss from them in low gain. The volume dial is pretty touchy with more sensitive gear as well.

    20150829_171002.jpg
     
    The other switch on the side of the device is a bass boost that in my opinion works pretty well. However, I prefer the C5DAC bass without the boost, as it already supplies plenty of punch and rumble without it.

     
    The top of the device sports a 3.5mm line input and a 3.5mm headphone output. There is a analog volume pot that features an Alps Potentiometer. The dial feels very solid and works well. The top of the unit is covered in a translucent smoke colored plastic piece that I would say is the biggest design flaw of the device. It doesn’t seem to match the classiness and sophistication of the rest of the design. I would have like to seen black or champagne colored material used for this so it matches the rest of product's theme.

    20150829_171204.jpg
     
    20150829_170950.jpg
     
    The bottom of the C5DAC has a black matte panel that has two Micro USB ports. One port is a PWR IN port used for charging the unit. The other is a multi use port with a switch that changes the device from a DAC input to a combination that accesses the top Auxiliary input and the Micro USB port’s Charging output. In this mode the C5DAC can be used to charge your cell phone or portable DAP. To the left of this port is there is a 3.5mm digital coax output. Close to the bottom there is a battery status indicator that is pretty elementary in terms of displaying battery charge status. There are three orange lights that display the battery status. The more lights that are lit, the more battery juice you have left. When charging the device, the orange lights will flash to show that the device is charging. Once the device is fully charged, all three lights will be lit and not flashing. One thing to note, just like the C5 the C5DAC does create a little bit of heat when charging when in use, especially if you are keeping it in your pocket while using it. Be aware that this is normal.

    20150829_171116.jpg
     
    20150829_171043.jpg
     
    The C5DAC is a plug and play device. My Windows computer occasionally had issues communicating with the device when it was plugged into my four port USB hub. I usually don’t have any issues with this and my other DACs. I did find out that plugging it straight into my computer and bypassing the four port hub, the problems were fixed. With my LG G3 I had no problems.

    Hi8T4PSmSz7WnsyJjdihckzfEag10MLPw5sXdj9ZOm0.jpg
     
    The C5DAC sound is awesome, period. The sound is powerful, slightly holographic and with great separation. Treble is crisp without being over the top. The C5DAC drives anything you need it to. that is great considering you can drive the most demanding full size cans with it when connected to my LG G3 in a portable rig configuration. I brought the Cayin C5 to a recent Head-Fi meet and was able to go from station to station with my LG G3 and C5DAC and sample every headphone there was with ease. This thing basically operates like some larger desktop DAC/Amplifiers and is in portable form. This is why I feel the C5DAC is an epic piece of gear. I was driving planars, power hungry dynamics, and IEMs all from this one portable device. The last Head-Fi meet I went to, the C5DAC worked as both a part of my portable and desktop rig, and I didn’t feel like anything was missing, or like I needed anything more than this. Pretty impressive I must say! Just about everyone I have try this device is impressed with the power output and sound quality.

     

    DSC_0010.jpg
     
    The C5DAC delivers great sound with lots of power. Just like the original C5, it’s the most powerful and best sounding portable amplifier I’ve heard to date. While the C5DAC is an improvement over the original C5, I wouldn’t say that everyone who already owns the C5 should run out and get the C5DAC and have both. If you really enjoyed the C5 and wish they added DAC functionality, your wish has been granted.

     
    I would highly recommend this to someone who doesn’t have either and wants to purchase their first Cayin portable amp. It’s the latest version with the most features and versatility.

    DSC_0009.jpg
     
    At their current asking price, the C5DAC is a great buy. The versatility, power and ease of use currently puts them at the forefront for someone in the market for a portable DAC/Amp.

     
    Thanks for reading and happy listening!

    1. View previous replies...
    2. hakushondaimao
      Great review and pics, Vince. Seems like we had similar impressions. I need a new camera...
      hakushondaimao, Sep 5, 2015
    3. Hisoundfi
      Haha, @hakushondaimao I just bought my wife a camera for our anniversary. I might have to borrow it from time to time for reviews...
      Hisoundfi, Sep 15, 2015
    4. Fatguy007
      Can you use any phone as an audio file source or are there some compatibility issues?
      Fatguy007, Mar 10, 2017
  6. Cotnijoe
    Cayin C5 DAC: Bringing Good Sound to Your Smartphone at a Good Price
    Written by Cotnijoe
    Published Jun 29, 2015
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Well-Designed Portability, Good Sound
    Cons - Unimpressive Build Quality, Weaker DAC Section
    Introduction:
    Cayin is a Chinese company that has recently made quite a splash in the portable audio world with some of their very nice and budget friendly portable gear. The C5 amplifier has gained quite a bit of popularity and their N6 DAP is considered by many to be one of the best mid-tier DAPs currently available on the market.
     
    Cayin’s most recently release is their new portable DAC/amp – the C5 DAC. While its looks are almost identical to the C5 amplifier, Cayin has noted that not only does the C5 DAC have the added functionality of performing as a DAC, the amplifier section has also been retuned. Cayin’s MSRP for the C5 DAC is supposedly 259.00 USD, I’ve seen them selling for 215.00 USD from retailers, so I’m not completely sure what the deal on pricing is, but Cayin did note that the price differs depending on the region you’re in.
     
    I was lucky to be one of the people in North America to be selected for the North American leg of the C5 DAC tour that Cayin set up. I had the C5 DAC with me for two weeks to listen, evaluate and offer my opinions on the product with the least amount of bias possible. A big shout out and thank you to Cayin for setting up this tour and to give me the opportunity to try my first Cayin product! I am not affiliated with Cayin in any way and will do my best to give as objective of a review as I possibly can.
     
    Packaging and Accessories:
    The C5 DAC arrived at my door very well packaged and very well protected … … and by that I mean… VERY well protected. Very. Upon opening the first cardboard box, I was greeted with another cardboard box. Except this one was guarded by saran wrap and tape. After spending a solid 10 minutes trying to get past the layers of saran wrap to the best of my ability (in my attempt to preserve the unboxing experience for the reviewers after me), I cut open the second box. Inside, I finally reached the actual packaging of the C5 DAC. The box is a sturdy, clean and simple box with the Cayin logo on it. Overall, the actual packaging itself is very simplistic but very nice. The contents inside the box were well presented and well organized. However, I would love for Cayin to maybe take it easy a little bit in terms of protecting their product. The layers and layers of cardboard and saran wrap that someone has to go through in order to reach the final product is a bit over the top. The good news is that there’s no way in hell you’re C5 DAC is going to get damaged on its way to you (assuming you order it directly from Cayin that is).
     
    When it comes to the content that comes with the C5 DAC, I can say there is plenty. Cayin includes a lot of interconnect cables that will likely cover all your connecting needs (with the exception of a CCK to connect to an iDevice). I spent most of my time with the C5 DAC connected to my HTC One M8 with the micro USB interconnect that Cayin provided. They certainly get the job done. In addition to the various cables, there is also a cable for charging the C5 DAC, two blue rubber bands, as well as a nice gray pouch to put the C5 DAC into for storage.
     
    IMG_0078.jpg IMG_0079.jpg
    Layers on layers of boxes to get to the C5 DAC                    The Actual Product Box - Pretty Nice
     
    IMG_0080.jpg IMG_0083.jpg
    The C5 DAC Sitting Inside                                                  Included Accessories       
     
    IMG_0084.jpg
    A Soft Carrying Case is a Nice Touch
     
    Build and Design:
    The main body of the C5 DAC consists of two metal plates that have a beautiful rose gold-like color. The rest of the amp is made of hard plastic, making the amp surprisingly light for its size. However, I can’t help but feel that the plates might not be the most scratch resistant and could wear over time. In addition, the two plates aren’t that securely in place and can shift ever so slightly, making clicking sounds if you shake the amp back and forth. I don’t think it’s something that compromises the sturdiness of the product, but it’s certainly something that can be improved upon.
     
    The other thing I’m not so convinced about the build of the C5 DAC is the black plastic covering at the top of the amp where the headphone jacks are. I’m honestly not sure why it’s there. It’s fairly soft plastic, so it’s very prone to scratches. In fact, my unit came with quite a few scratches already on the black plastic. I feel like it could have easily been replaced by something much sturdier and of higher quality. It makes the amp feel a bit cheap.
     
    Besides that, I feel that the C5 DAC is a well-built product. The various jacks and ports for connections are all sturdy and the volume knob, while made of plastic, gets the job done nicely. I only wished that some of the plastic parts could have been replaced with some higher quality material.
     
    In terms of the design of the C5 DAC, I think it’s fantastic. Cayin set out to design a DAC/amp for your smartphone, and they delivered. While the C5 DAC is big, its profile is about the same size as our average smartphone, being just slightly smaller but thicker than my HTC One M8. The two make a very nice stack that, while bulky, still fits in your average man’s pockets (sorry ladies… your pockets are just too tiny…). Those that like to wear skinny jeans may have a bit more of a problem with the stack though.
     
    I’m also very happy to see that despite being designed with the smartphone in mind, the C5 DAC still has versatility to it. It also acts as a USB DAC or just as a portable amp for any other player that already has a substantially good DAC.
     
    Battery life of the C5 DAC is also quite good. Cayin advertises the battery life to be up to 18 hours, but I feel like that may be for running the C5 DAC as just an amplifier. While I never ran the battery dry, it took me about 3 hours to drain each of the 3 power indicators on the device, so I would guess that it probably lasts around 10 hours or so running as a DAC/Amp combo.
     
    I commend Cayin for designing a portable amp that is truly portable despite its size. While large, its thin profile and light weight makes it a truly portable device compared to the blockier portable amps offered by many other manufacturers. With a profile more similar to something like the Apex Glacier or Headstage Arrow series, the C5 DAC is a fantastically portable device.
     
    Last quick thing to add – the C5 DAC does get warm over time, so keeping it in your pocket during the summertime may be a bit of a nuisance.
     
    IMG_0081.jpg IMG_0082.jpg
     Back and Side View of the C5 DAC
     
    Listening Impressions:
    As Cayin designed the C5 DAC with pairing it to a smartphone in mind, most of my listening was done with the C5 DAC paired with my HTC One M8 smartphone and with my wonderful Earwerkz Supra 2. Most of the files used for listening are 320 kbps, as they conserve space in my smartphone, and music of a large variety of genres were used.
     
    EMI
    I didn’t have too many issues with getting interference from my phone, but occasionally there would be beeps that fade in and out. I never found it distracting though and I wouldn’t really press EMI to be an issue with the C5 DAC either. It does occur though.
     
    Noise Floor
    I’ve come to accept that everything will have some level of noise with my hyper sensitive Supras. Even the incredibly silent DX90 has tiny bit of hiss with the Supras. While I’ve never heard the original C5 amp, Cayin explained that the C5 DAC was designed to be more IEM-friendly. Nonetheless, like every single amp I’ve ever tried, the C5 DAC hisses with the Supras. The amount of noise is not substantial enough that it’ll be distracting in most music, but it is substantial enough that you can catch it in between songs. Besides that though, it’s not an issue, even during softer acoustic tracks. So I would say, Cayin did a good job with making the C5 DAC IEM-friendly. While I wouldn’t give the noise floor a stellar grade when paired with my Supras, it certainly gets a passing grade, which basically means that it’ll certainly not be an issue for just about any IEM on the market. Well done Cayin.
     
    Gain and Channel Imbalance
    While Cayin advertises the C5 DAC to be IEM-friendly, I did find that it gets pretty loud with my sensitive Supras. At lower volumes, there is also a bit of channel imbalance. Using my setup, I set my phone volume to slightly less than half of max, and the C5 DAC volume to between 2 and 2.5. Anything below that and the left signal disappears, and anything above that got to be too loud. So there isn’t really all that much freedom in terms of the volume setting, and if anything was to cause the volume to accidentally turn up… well… I might have to pay a visit to my audiologist then. Overall, the C5 DAC works with IEMs, but is still not optimal for them in my opinion.
     
    Sound
    I don’t think the C5 DAC is sonically the most impressive device you can find in the sub 300 dollar price range. Nonetheless, I was actually very drawn to the sound that it offers.
     
    The overall sound is quite energetic, with some nice bass punch, smooth midrange, and a fairly energetic and airy treble. Despite that, I would still categorize it as being fairly neutral with just a touch of warmth (certainly more neutral than my DX90).
     
    The bass is good, but probably left me least impressed. Bass is fairly flat with good extension, but does lack the last bit of sub bass that gives the bass some nice textures. I also found that bass impact could use just a tiny tiny bit of tightening up.
     
    Midrange of the C5 DAC is nicely detailed and accurate. I found the vocals to be very slightly forward and very well presented and natural. The upper midrange also has a little extra flare that gives the music some excitement without sounding unnatural. It gives instruments a really nice bite and texture that I personally found to be very enjoyable and fun. Instrument separation is also good and utilizes a good soundstage. However, I did find that the precision in the imaging of individual instruments isn’t the cleanest.
     
    The treble region really wowed me on first listen. Treble is nicely extended and has a very good sense of air to it that makes the sound of the C5 DAC feel very expansive. I’m a sucker for airy treble and personally don’t enjoy too thick or dark of a sound, so the C5 DAC was right up my alley and I continued to really like how it sounds. However, I did find that the treble can be a tiny bit splashy and could use some control in terms of decay.
     
    In summary, I found the sound of the C5 DAC to be very clean and natural sounding. However, I feel that it does lack a bit of overall dynamics. Paired with neutral IEMs that utilize BA drivers, which are generally also very clean sounding while lacking some ability to pack a punch in its sound, you get a very nice and clean sound that can, unfortunately, sound a little bland in comparison to other amps that offer a more colored sound. However, when paired with more colored IEMs or headphones, I think the C5 DAC can offer a very good and enjoyable sound. Being offered at 215 dollars by some of Cayin’s dealers, I think the C5 DAC is a very solid and affordable option for consumers looking for a DAC/Amp for their smartphone or computer.
     
    Comparisons
     
    Cayin C5 DAC and iBasso D14 “Bushmaster”
    The Bushmaster is iBasso’s 230 dollar return to portable DAC/Amps after discontinuing many of their previous portable products and focusing on the DAP market for a few years.
     
    In terms of build quality, I think the D14 is a good bit better. The brushed aluminum chassis of the D14 feels more substantial and more securely put together. The D14 is also made completely out of metal with the exception of a few switches and its volume knob, while quite a few parts of the C5 DAC are hard plastic.
     
    In terms of design and function, both products have its merits. Both have some minor background noise and channel imbalance issues, but the D14 hisses less. The D14 has the benefit of having a SPDIF in, allowing it to act as a DAC/Amp for products that do not have a USB line out. For example, many budget DAPs offered by iBasso or Fiio have some sort of coaxial out function, but lack a USB out. In such a situation, the D14 would allow the user to bypass both the DAC and amp section of the DAP if the user chooses, while the C5 DAC does not have that flexibility. On the other hand, the C5 DAC is slightly wider and taller than the D14, but also thinner by a good margin. This makes the C5 DAC a much more viable option for using it as an external DAC/Amp for your smartphones. Fitting both the D14 and a smartphone into one pocket is really pushing it, and honestly, no one wants to look at the bulge in your pants while you walk around. In terms of form and function, I find the C5 DAC to be a more suitable on the go device, while the D14 is very nice for plugging into your computer or players while you’re away from your home rig.
     
    While I really enjoyed the sound of the C5 DAC, I just felt that the D14 edged it out by just a bit in most aspects of sound. Detail retrieval throughout the spectrum is just a bit better on the D14, bass extension is a bit better on the D14, and the midrange of the D14 is just fantastically fluid and natural. The midrange of the D14 is cleaner with better separation, imaging, soundstaging, and has a wonderfully black background. The treble of the D14 is also a little more controlled, detailed, and smooth. The benefits of the C5 DAC over the D14 is having a less colored sound and having a nice airy sound that isn’t quite as apparent in the D14. Overall, the D14 has a richer and punchier sound than the C5 DAC.
     
    While I have a lot of praises for iBasso’s D14, I can’t undermine the C5 DAC’s capabilities either. iBasso just made a monster of a device. In terms of recommendation, I would absolutely point people in the C5 DAC’s direction if someone is looking for a more balanced sound or if someone is looking specifically for a portable DAC/Amp for their smartphone (and I would personally choose the C5 DAC over the D14 for this) or just someone who maybe doesn't quite like iBasso's house signature. While the D14 isn’t large, I just find it too thick to realistically be used as a DAC/Amp for your smartphone that you can just grab and put in your pocket. For those looking for a nice small device to use for just about any other situations though, I have to give the D14 a big recommendation.
     
    Cayin C5 DAC and iBasso DX90
    I love my DX90, and I think it demonstrate amazing value for a DAP. The DX90 has a very similar sound to the D14, as expected since both of them have the iBasso house sound of having a slightly warmer sound and having a very good and clean background. The DX90 is running firmware 2.3.0 when this comparison was done.
     
    When comparing the C5 DAC to the DX90, much of the same things apply from the comparison between the D14 and the C5 DAC. The DX90 has a warmer sound while sounding just a little bit more detailed and clean, but to a lesser extent than the D14. I do feel that the soundstage between C5 DAC and DX90 are very close, but I do feel that the DX90 is just a tiny bit wider.
     
    However, the big epiphany comes when I connect the DX90 to the C5 DAC via line out and use the C5 DAC as just an amplifier. The sound coming from that is really good. You get the nice balance and air that is present in the C5 DAC, while retaining a well-controlled and dynamic sound. Pairing the two together makes me suspect that perhaps the DAC section of the C5 DAC is the weaker point of the device, as its amp section seems to shine when it’s paired up with a different DAC. What's interesting is the PCM 1795 DAC should supposely be better than the PCM 1792 DAC that was implemented in the Cayin N6. It may just be my personal preference but it doesn't seem to me like using a supposely higher quality DAC really changed the game for the C5 DAC. Then again, the N6 is three times the price and utilizes a dual DAC design, so maybe it does make a bit of sense.
     
    IMG_0090.jpg
    C5 DAC, D14 "Bushmaster," and DX90 with My Trusty Supra 2
     
    Ending Thoughts:
    I think portable audio has come a long way in just the past few years, and it really delights me to see something like the C5 DAC offered at around the 200 dollar price point. I think the C5 DAC is a well-designed and nice looking device that accomplishes the goal it was created to do very well – upgrade the sound of a smartphone. The C5 DAC is very easy to use, very portable, and has a nice sound. I do find that the attention to detail in terms of its build quality could be improved somewhat, as it did lose some brownie points with me in this category, but the C5 DAC nonetheless demonstrates a great value for the money that you are investing in it.
      xkonfuzed, Light - Man and trellus like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. DJ XtAzY
      I noticed you said bass was fairly flat, but did you try out the bass boost feature? I didn't see you mention that in your review.
      DJ XtAzY, Jul 30, 2015
    3. Cotnijoe
      @DJ XtAzY Like many others, I wasn't a fan of the bass boost. I felt it muddied the sound a bit. I think perhaps it would have been a good idea to mention that. It completely slipped my mind!
      Cotnijoe, Jul 30, 2015
    4. heavyarms
      would you recommend the c5d with DT770 PRO 80 ohms?
      heavyarms, Dec 16, 2016
  7. The Fed
    Cayin C5- DAC - Gain For Days!
    Written by The Fed
    Published Sep 30, 2015
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Good Sonics, iOS Connectivity, Digital ins and outs
    Cons - Plastic Cap, Casework durability
    There has obviously been a number of reviews of Cayin’s C5 Dac recently, due in large part to Cayin’s recent product review tour that had its genesis here on Head-Fi. I was one of those who signed up for the tour  A.) because I was curious what a portable unit from Cayin is capable of, and B.) I am actually in the market for a new portable unit and thought that the Cayin may be worth consideration. Better than paying the cost of return shipping to Amazon again!
     
    For at least a year, I have been searching and researching portable units that could replace my workplace desktop rig. The idea being that I could listen to it at work, like I always do, without losing too much sound quality wise. However I can also throw it in my bag and take it home with me or  take it on business trips, airplanes, hotels, etc...
     
    I have invested a fair amount of time and quite a bit money trying to find a portable solution that punches in the same weight class as my desktop rig. Up until this point I have been unsuccessful. My iFi iDSD has come the closest but still falls a bit short so why not let the Cayin C5 make its case.
     
    My current desktop set up, that I am looking to replace, starts with a music library of 420 plus CDs ripped to AIFF and stored on a Glyph Studio Raid hard drive. My library is tethered to a HP Envy Laptop running JRiver 20 which busses data to a AR-T Legato USB converter feeding 1’s and 0’s to a vintage Philips DAC 960 which feeds an analog signal into an April Music Stello HP100 Mk2 headphone amp.
     
    I am aware that replacing my desktop set up with a portable unit is a tall order. It is a very potent rig and plays beautifully with both my HD800 and Audeze LCD2.
     
    But the audiophile tweaks eternal.
     
    In a perfect world, I would like to ditch the laptop/ Glyph transport and use my iPad air instead... or maybe even a new SSD powered iPad pro eh?
    Couple this transport to a portable Dac/Amp that can keep pace with and replace my Legato/ Philips/ Stello configuration and I've cut the cord... I can take my Hifi with me anywhere.
     
    Because my vision hinges on an iPad transport, iOS functionality is a must.
    Whether an OEM accomplishes this by shelling out cash to Apple for licensing or by using the USB Bus bypass lane of the Camera Connection Kit, I care not... I just need iOS connectivity. And the Cayin C5 Dac happily obliges via the CCK.
     
    But before we get too far, just in case, a little (or maybe more) background on the company.
     
    Cayin Spark states on its website that it has been in business since 1993, roughly 22 years. Personally I became aware of them only in the last 7 or so years through Stereophile and 6Moon reviews of their big brawny integrated amps. Cayin is a Chinese brand (as best I can tell), but seem to have either dedicated distribution or some division of their corporate structure parked in Germany. I could take the time to uncover what mystery here entails in the German/ Chinese connection, but it won’t affect today’s outcome. So Bygones!
     
    Being a mostly Chinese brand means the audiophile community will  often view its inherent quality and brand strength with a dose of skepticism. I can attest to this personally. While I appreciate what Cayin has done and am enamored with some of their wooden clad vintage styled products, I don’t view them as a bonafide HiFi blue blood. They've put out some very blue blood quality products, but I subjectively view them as just a little 'less than' their body of work probably warrants.
     
     Cayin seems to be combating the looming specter of being “Chi-Fi” by consistently, year after year, bringing quality products to market at relatively affordable pricing (but not too affordable!) sweeping aside many of the labels, stigmas, and criticisms that follow even some long standing Chi-Fi companies. Not to mention, they have a robust US dealer network that instills confidence and have no grey market presence.
     
    Cayin has placed multiple products on Stereophile’s annual Recommended Components list and have received accolades from reviewers throughout the industry. What is more (to me!) is that they are earning their accolades the old fashioned way. By making good gears.
     
    They are not the ever present, schmoozing audio company who seems to always be flying a banner over this audio review site or that, always sponsoring this audio event or that. And always at the fore of audio press coverage.
     
    You know the kind of company of which I speak. The darlings or insiders of the industry that always seem to be courting relationships too closely with reviewers and website administrators. They are paying sponsors at every website no matter where you turn and the audio press rewards them in kind with carte blanche coverage. Reviews, press releases, and new product announcements by industry insiders all get at least a little run with the audio press.
     
    I know, I know its conspiracy theory. The truth is that these are the rules of engagement. Review sites need these paying bannermen to keep on reviewing.
    But I don’t have to like it!
     
    So I appreciate companies who appear committed to forging their way with product performance and design strength, and not by building out a robust marketing department and brand penetration strategies.
     
    Cayin is not an insider in this regard. Case in point: I only recently found out about their, already long in the tooth, C6 amp by way of the classified section of Head-fi. People had already owned it and were rolling it out for something new and I was none the wiser. Until that point I had assumed that Cayin was devoted exclusively to large glass and gas V-8 muscle car amplifiers like the A-50T, A-88T etc... however Cayin had quietly entered the portable head-fi market and I was clueless.
     
    Their most prominent piece to me, is their retro inspired SP-10a integrated amp that has been an object of desire ever since I first laid eyes on it. My only nit being its lack of a headphone jack, which I’ve always felt would have elevated it to compete with the likes of Head-Fi end game amps like the Leben CS-300 and Luxman’s SQ-38u for roughly half the price.
     
    iFi/ AMR Audio have since tapped this gaping vacuum in market demand with their Stereo 50. Providing a valve based integrated with headphone capability and vintage feel without the painfully expensive cost of ownership that Leben and Luxman rigs require. Still, I would love to know what Cayin’s EL-34 based rig was capable of, were it properly fitted with a jack and a handful of resistors.
     
    Alas, these big motor amps are not today’s mission!
    Today’s mission is to tease out the quality, value, and functionality of Cayin’s latest portable offering, the C5-dac.
     
    So Lets Dig In:
     
    By the time the C-5 had reached me, it had already been globetrotting for a good month or two, making 4 or 5 stops before reaching my digs.
    Upon arrival I was met with a golden/ champagne colored amp of relatively thin build and about the perfect size to ride back to back with a smartphone.
     
    On top of the amp we find an original looking volume pot, analog 3.5mm line in, and 3.5mm headphone out all peaking out from behind an odd black smokey plastic cap. On the bottom there are 2 USB micro connections. One is for charging and the other is for the digital signal input. It also has a Coax digital output that is a dual mode socket that can be used with either a Coax (SPDIF) connection or a fiber optic mini Toslink. The ability to reclock incoming USB data and send it digitally via SPDIF is a major flexibility boon that allows for integration into a larger system.
     
    It is a handsome little piece of kit… I like the champagne color, but like many others have mentioned here, the smokey plastic cap covering the volume pot and two jacks is an odd design choice. It looks ungainly and detracts from the products physical presence. Also worth noting is that having traveled the world and back a couple two or three times, it was a little worse for wear. The casework had a loose quality to it that I instantly recognized as pertaining to their choice of connecting the end plates with only 2 fasteners right smack in the middle of the end plates versus the usual, more fundamentally sound and rigidity inducing 4 corners.
     
    So I had concerns about long terms durability from the word go, but I still want to hear how this thing sounds, so ignoring the casework demerit, I forged ahead.
     
    On the side of the C5 I found the coolest thing…. A Bass boost switch.
     
    I know, I know. Many audiophile puritans will scoff, roll their eyes and shake their heads with incredulity here and mumble comments of derision about signal purity but the reality is that a bass boost switch can come in handy. Depending on the headphone employed and the music being played some tone control options can add roundness, body or weight to an overly analytical, sterile or nervy tone.
     
    While I get the “signal purity” argument, the truth is that amps, dacs, headphones and any of a dozen other variables imprint their signature on the signal… for better or worse. And I have fairly often stumbled across gears that strip away romance, sweetness and sunshine for the sake of high res magnification. In these instances, being able to add a dollop of honey back into the mix would be a welcome option. And unless you are a mastering engineer or recording studio professional, music is supposed to be about pleasure, enjoyment... not analysis.
    It is better to have tone shaping available and never use it, than to need it and not have it.
     
    Just saying.
     
    So beside the bass boost switch sits another seemingly harmless switch. Though it sits nondescript and unassuming, this is not some benign little control button. This one is far more menacing and sinister than its outward appearance lets on. It is Cayin’s version of a High/Low gain switch. Or the “I’m gonna rip your driver from its surround” switch or the “I’m gonna pierce your ear drums!” switch or the “I’m going to damage your hearing” switch.
     
    Kidding (sorta)... It really isn’t that bad. But in my 3 weeks of toying around with the C5 there wasn’t a single occasion where I needed the high gain setting. That is with a Sennheiser HD800, Audeze LCD2 and Fostex T50RP in hand.
     
    It may come in handy with a brutally insensitive beast like the Hifiman HE6 but I don’t have one of those on hand to confirm. The high gain setting is far too loud for anything in my arsenal and I was barely able to get above 2 or 3 on the volume pot in high gain with both current hungry, low impedance planars and high impedance pro grade dynamics.
     
    The silver lining here is that the C5 is a somewhat rare beast in the portable amp game that can play ball with any and all full size headphones. I have on hand an ALO Audio National and an iFi Audio iDSD Micro that can both play with certain full size headphones but both have limitations.
     
    So to get the audition rolling I decided to tap my iPad air via CCK to the C5… To see how it stacks up against the field I tapped the digital line level signal from the C5 to feed my iFi iDSD micro for direct comparisons.
     
    I also stacked the C5 against my ALO National, and against the Stello/ Phillips desktop set up mentioned in the opening.
     
    So to answer the most pressing question, is the C5 good… Oh hell yes it is!
     
    As detailed above, the C5 has its drawbacks. Especially its physical design with the black smokey plastic cap, questionable casework durability and a high gain setting that is incompatible with most headphones. But sonics here are above reproach.
     
    Compared directly to the iFi iDSD the C5 plays it smoother and more relaxed. It sounds natural and free of any fatiguing extremes. If you needed a nit and were going to force a concession under duress some could argue it was too polite, but I think that’d be too stern. It is polite like a gentleman who shakes your hand warmly and looks you in the eye. Not the “I’m hiding something important from you” two faced type of polite.
     
    The iDSD hits harder with big dynamics… It punches its kick drum with a sledgehammer and a few times I almost felt dizzy from the height and weight of its stereo image when a song came rushing back to full scale after a quiet interlude. Like the vertigo you get when looking up at a very high ceiling, and you feel like you lose your feet. The C5 is no slouch but still doesn’t have the same snap and pop as the iFi.
     
    The C5 paints its musical picture with a pallet of warm golden highlights, autumn colors and sepia. It has ample body, rich tone and plenty of weight. The iFi is more brilliant… It paints in technicolor and splashes of neon… While it has big potent reserves for hard hitting dynamics its overall center of gravity may be a degree lighter than the C5. When it punches, it punches harder but doesn't have the same overall weight across the board... In layman terms the C5 would be "warm" and the iDSD "bright" 
     
    Of the two… it was the iFi that actually induced fatigue directly out of its headphone socket first. It was too much Pixar when I wanted the real world. It can do some things brilliantly and coupling its (maybe overly enthusiastic) decoder to a warmer dance partner (like the Stello HP100) is just what it needs to bring its high flying act back down to earth. The C5 doesn’t go crazy with big acrobatic aerials. It seems to be the more even handed and practical all day all night portable unit even though it doesn't give you the same breath taking moments as the iDSD.  
     
    I had not expected to like the C5 more than the iFi, so realizing we had a serious contender here, I mounted it to the DAC 960 via its coax out so it could play ball against the big rig.
     
    What I found was that the C5 seems to be made of the same elemental material as the Philips/Stello combo. It presents with the same golden slant where the iFi is more silvery. Because it doesn’t have the big coils of iron or the deep capacitor reserves available that both the Dac 960 and the Stello, It doesn’t have the same gravitational pull as the big rig. It can play just as loud, and retrieves the same detail and cast the same sunshine on everything, and hit all the same notes but it doesn’t have that same ‘big motor feel’.
     
    It’s the difference between going 100 MPH in a Turbo powered V4 and a fine tuned V8… You are going the same speed in both cars… Both cars can go faster so have more headroom on tap…. But the V8 has this deep power reserve that you can feel in the gas pedal and in the weight and way it carries you down the road. It has this gravitational MOMENTUM that translates into a deeper and more powerful sonic foundation. 
     
    The C5 is hamstrung here by design… The iFi, National, E10, and every other portable unit I’ve ever listened to suffers the same fate when going head to head with big iron and linear class A power and tower upon tower of capacitors for deep reserves. The small boxes and their battery power limit the DEPTH at which these portable boxes can play.
     
    This inordinate design difference sounds like weight… Even though the notes are the same, the tone is the same and the acoustics the same... Each note seems to spring up from a inky blackness with more gravity/ energy from the big rig and likewise the inky blackness from which the notes springs seems like its deeper, bottomless, infused with it's own energy that makes music more immersive. The depth of the stereo image deepens and players in a band play their parts with larger clearer points of separation and big black resonating spaces between them.
     
    This phenomena is the main reason I default to integrated amplifiers for listening... Like the C5 can't keep pace with the Philips/ Stello deck, so also the Stello deck pales when stacked up against my collection of integrated amps at home. 
     
    So the C5 won’t cut it as a desktop replacement kit for me, but there is still a lot to like here.
     
    It plays music naturally and without the high res gymnastics that often leave me fatigued by up sampling high res, super magnifying gears.
     
    Physically there are some issues… and hopefully Cayin will look at the issues spelled out in all these review papers and make the needed changes to casework and ditch the plastic cap. But Cayin achieves the fundamental mission of providing a very good sounding amplifier and also do the neat trick of playing welcoming partner to full size cans.
     
    My HD800 simply doesn’t like portable units. Using it with my iDSD everything is too bright and it begins to grate on my nerves relatively quickly…. Likewise the ALO National seems a touch to clean (Sterile) when coupled to the HD800 and most of the substantive stuff in music that captures our emotions and takes us on a sonic journey seems to get stripped away when playing these two partners together.
     
    The C5 however sounds just lovely with the HD800. It has enough refinement to hold up under the HD800 brutal resolution spotlight and plays well to the HD800’s strengths. And in that odd situation where music is compressed and dry and unwelcoming, the C5’s bass boost sonically enriches the signal allowing you to keep listening.
     
    So the C5 is not perfect…. But in my circumstances it sonically kicked the proverbial ass of a piece of kit that is both highly touted and regarded in the audiophile community and twice the price. What is just as important to me, it is voiced very well to offer long term listening on the go with the HD800… An option I had thought, up until now, just wasn’t out there.
     
    So between these two I think the C5 Dac sounds best out of its headphone jack. As a unit tethered to an iOS device with headphones, the C5 is a better gear. The iDSD is a more sophisticated decoder, that would be outstanding as a desktop decoder and can hold its own with dac into the $1000 mark, but as a stand alone unit connected to an iOS device using headphones. I think it gets fatiguing on a listener relatively quickly.
     
    So If you are just geeking high-res as a consumer and care as much about format, bit depth and bit rate as you do which artist and what album, then the C5 still works, but may not be the strongest choice.
     
    However if you are looking to connect flagships like the LCD2, HD800 or T1 to a portable and love listening to music, the C5 earns my highest recommendation. Sweep aside internal conflicts about its low price, and Chinese origin and quality... If it is music you crave, this one will give it to you proper.
    Consider that it is priced just north of $200 a gift… a gift that you can take to the record store and buy more music with.
     
    Peace Out!
     
    PS UPDATE: I PUT MY MONEY WHERE MY MOUTH IS AND BOUGHT A C5 DAC.
      golov17 and Oni-Wan Kenobi like this.
    1. glassmonkey
      Excellent review!
      glassmonkey, Oct 1, 2015
    2. Onny Izwan
      I am a journalist of 22 years and I am impressed by your review. Thank you.
      Onny Izwan, Jul 19, 2016
    3. The Fed
      Thanks for the kind words.
      The Fed, Jul 19, 2016
  8. chowmein83
    The Audio Swiss Army Knife
    Written by chowmein83
    Published Aug 30, 2015
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Form factor, lots of useful features, great amp section
    Cons - Not-so-great DAC section, volume control gets too loud too quickly
    Table of Contents
    • Introduction
    • Features and Ergonomics
    • Sound Quality
      • With IEMS
      • With full-size headphones
      • Comparisons to other audio gear
    • For whom is this player good for?
    • Conclusion
     
    (Before I even begin with the introduction, I want to warn the reader that my review is somewhat lengthy. So I have included a table of contents above which you can click on to jump to whichever section you want. I’ll also include a tl;dr summary at the beginning of each major section.)
     
    Introduction
     
    Tl;dr: Cayin lent me the unit for my honest opinion, and a bit of background about myself.
     
    Before I begin my review, I would like to thank the team at Cayin for letting me evaluate their C5DAC for two weeks. Cayin has not paid me whatsoever in the making of this review and is only asking for my honest opinion.
     
    A little bit about me so you know where I’m coming from: I consider myself to be a relatively inexperienced audiophile, having only taken this hobby seriously for the past 2 or 3 years. I actually began to take an interest in my headphone system with the purchase of a FiiO E7, which was already a significant step up from the onboard computer audio that I was previously listening to. The next logical upgrade from there was the FiiO E17, which I bought and appreciated but soon found it a bit lacking in sound quality after I was exposed to different headphones and audio equipment. For the next year or two, I began to steadily upgrade my desktop audio gear and headphones, the full of list of which you can see in my profile.
     
    A bit more about me: I actually haven’t owned a serious DAP (the only portable music sources I’ve used are a cheapo Sony Walkman and my smartphone) even at the time of this review – hence the relative lack of comparisons to other mobile sources. I actually also like full-sized headphones more than I do IEMs, but I do cover how well the C5DAC does with both in this review. As for what kind of music I listen to, I like a large variety including rock, pop, jazz, classical and orchestral, J-Pop and J-Rock, and C-Pop.
     
    With all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the actual review.
     
    IMGP0599.jpg
     
    Features and Ergonomics
     
    Tl;dr: The C5DAC is packed with lots of truly useful features. Build quality is also mostly good with few issues. Great form factor for pairing with smartphones. Few glitches with its operation. Subjectively good battery life, but charging takes a while.
     
    For anybody that isn’t sure, the Cayin C5DAC is a portable headphone amp/DAC combo that is designed to be used with Android devices, though it also works on personal computers and iOS devices (with the proper extra pieces for the latter).
     
    As such, it comes with multiple ways to hook up your portable (or non-portable) device to it which makes it quite useful. For example, you can choose to use it as a replacement for your Android smartphone’s headphone amp and DAC by connecting the micro-USB port of your Android device to the C5DAC’s one of two micro-USB ports (the other is used simply for charging) by using the supplied mini-to-mini USB OTG cable or with your own USB OTG cable. You can also do the same for your personal computer by using a mini-to-regular USB cable. If you just want to utilize the C5DAC’s headphone amp (if you just want your smartphone to have a louder volume than it can do by itself or if utilizing another device’s DAC), you can do that too by just connecting a 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo cable between your other device and the C5DAC’s line-in.
     
    Heck, you can even use the C5DAC as a USB-to-coaxial converter since the unit has a coax out. Though I didn’t personally use this feature myself, I can see this very handy for somebody who has lots of music stored on their smartphone or tablet or personal computer and wants it to be played through a setup which contains a DAC that may not accept USB.
     
    Basically, there’s lots of ways to use the C5DAC, which makes it quite the versatile tool. The only things that you really can’t do with the C5DAC is to hold and play music by itself (understandable, as it’s not a DAP) and that you can’t use the DAC by itself since there is no line-out (this is not a big loss, as I explain in further detail in the sound section of the review).
     
    While the C5DAC has lots of useful features, does it look and feel well in practice? Well, to begin with, build quality is mostly solid. The metal body feels nice and gives the unit some premium-feeling heft. The plastic cover on top doesn’t feel or look as nice as the rest of the body, but it’s still acceptable considering the price of the C5DAC (which I believe is somewhere around $200 USD). The volume knob also feels great, with the finely-cut notches along its side helping you to grip the knob, and generally having a good feel when being turned. However, what I didn’t like about the C5DAC physically is that the upper and lower metal body panels seem to wiggle around a little when I put a bit of force on it. It’s not a huge deal, but it doesn’t make it feel as solid as its looks suggest it to be.
     
    The size of the C5DAC is well-suited to its intended purpose of being used with mobile devices. The fact that the C5DAC is close in size in terms of length and width compared to many 4.5 to 5 inch smartphones, and how it’s only somewhat thicker than them, makes it great for stacking with such phones. I found that the C5DAC stacked well with my Sony Xperia T (4.6 inch screen), and with a HTC One M7 (4.7 inch screen), due to the C5DAC aligning almost perfectly with these phones.
     
    IMGP06282.jpg
    Thickness comparison between C5DAC (left) and HTC One M7 (right)
     ​
     ​
    IMGP06372.jpg
    How the C5DAC looks like when stacked with a HTC One M7 (without the holding bands). US quarter for size reference.
     ​
     ​
    IMGP0633.jpg
    Another shot of the C5DAC stacked to a HTC One M7, without the holding bands.
     ​
     ​
    Unfortunately, despite all the positives I’ve just said about the C5DAC, there are some drawbacks to its general usability.
     
    First, at least on my unit, I’ve noticed some oddities when switching between the headphone amp mode and the DAC mode. Basically, when I switch from the former to the latter, I notice that the C5DAC constantly emits a popping sound coming out of its headphone out. This can be resolved by simply switching the unit on and off, but it is a bit annoying.
     
    Secondly, for some reason the C5DAC at times simply refused to be recognized by the Android devices that I tested on. While the C5DAC mostly worked fine with a Sony Xperia T (on Android 4.3), a Sony Xperia Z Ultra (on Android 5.0.2), and a HTC One M7 (also on Android 5.0.2) throughout the Android interface and through the stock music players of each phone, for some reason the three phones sometimes simply wouldn’t recognize the C5DAC as an audio device. Then, for some inexplicable reason, the C5DAC would work with those phones again after a while – I could never exactly figure out why. This didn’t happen too often and was not consistent, but it was a part of my experience.
     
    Thirdly, charging times are very, very long. While I didn’t mind the battery indicator too much (although, having only three bars, it’s hard to tell how much juice you have left when only one circle lights up – are you closer to the higher end of that one circle, or the lower end?), it always felt like it took a really long time to get it charged up to the point where all three circles were lit up and no longer blinking (a full charge). It also doesn’t help that if all three circles were lit up and not blinking, and then you decided to pull it out and plug it back in to charge (maybe you forgot you already charged it to full), the third light starts to blink again for a while – which makes it harder to know whether you’ve already charged the C5DAC fully. Despite all of this, however, the C5DAC has a relatively long lasting battery – while I didn’t time my usage exactly, I was able to squeeze out several days’ worth of listening, using it for several hours each day in DAC and headphone amp mode.
     
    Sound Quality
     
    Tl;dr: Overall, the C5DAC is a pretty good sounding unit, with a great amp that is let down by a mediocre DAC section. Volume gets too loud too quickly for most IEMs and easier-to-drive headphones. Soundstage is plenty wide and decently deep. Offers an upgrade to the sound quality of the better sounding smartphones. Compares well to, but isn’t better, than desktop audio equipment for around the same price range.
     
    Now for the meat of this review. How does the Cayin C5DAC sound?
     
    Overall, I find the C5DAC to be slightly on the warmer side tonally, though I think this is more due to the DAC, which I find to be more noticeably warm in tone compared to the headphone amp, which is only slightly warm. However, this doesn’t mean that I think that the C5DAC deviates from neutrality a lot – it’s just slightly warm of neutral, which I think will be pleasing to most people.
     
    The C5DAC also tends to have somewhat of a more laid-back, somewhat non-aggressive sound. By that, I mean that vocals and notes in general aren’t pushed into your face and somewhat not punchy, kind of the opposite from what I have found with FiiO devices.
     
    Unfortunately, while the included DAC is a selling point of this device, I don’t feel that it is very good. In contrast, the amp in the C5DAC is quite good.
     
    For example, I like the soundstage on the C5DAC when used as a headphone amp/DAC combo (which I will refer to from now on as “DAC mode”). I think it’s quite wide, and has decent depth (though to me not as impressive as the width). Imaging and separation in DAC mode are also decent, since I am able to tell where different instruments are playing from within the music at the same time without feeling too much like they’ve also mashed into a single blob. However, I feel this is mostly due to the amp, which I found when paired with other DACs still presented a very large soundstage. In fact, when paired with other DACs, I felt that the amp of the C5DAC provided even better separation and imaging, with instruments becoming much less like blobs (which in the DAC mode felt like was on the verge of becoming) and thus being even easier to pinpoint where they were.
     
    Also, notes sounded a bit fuzzy, unrefined, and somewhat lacking in detail when I listened to the C5DAC in DAC mode. I think this is mostly due to the DAC, because when I paired the C5DAC’s amp with other DACs, I found that notes came through a lot more cleanly and with a lot more detail.
     
    A quick word on the bass boost found in the C5DAC – I found that it actually worked pretty well. It won’t transform something that was originally bass-light into a bass monster, but it gives a nice increase to the mid-bass (rather than sub-bass) of a headphone that may be lacking bass or a bit analytical for one’s taste. For example, I found that the bass boost seems to bump up the mid-bass of the Sennheiser HD598 just enough for a more fun sound without really affecting the mids and vocals much. Similarly, I also found that with my Etymotic ER4PT (with the adapter that converts it into an S version), it brings up the mid-bass somewhat without making it seem uncontrolled and muddying up the mids and vocals. Soundstage, separation, and imaging also did not really seem to be affected in either of those headphones.
     
    With IEMs:
    IMGP0617.jpg
     ​
    The IEMs that I listened to with the C5DAC were the Klipsch Image X10 and the Etymotic ER4PT (with the P-to-S converter, which essentially makes it an “ER4S”).
     
    The C5DAC had more than enough power to drive both of these IEMs. The strong bass of the Klipsch X10 came through cleanly and powerfully, and the large soundstage presented by the C5DAC prevented the X10’s soundstage from collapsing onto itself which can happen with certain other audio gear. The slight warmth of the C5DAC did not make the X10 too warm, with mids being not too recessed and highs still present.
     
    With the “ER4S” and its 100 ohm resistance, the C5DAC was still able to drive it without any problems. The slight warmth proved to be a good match with the analytical nature of the “ER4S”, in which mids and highs were still very present and still very much the focus but were balanced out by the slight bass increase the C5DAC added to the ER4S. The wide soundstage allowed the wide soundstage of the ER4S to come through brilliantly. The C5DAC, when used as an amp only, really allowed the details to shine on the “ER4S”, but still details were moderately plentiful when used in DAC mode due to the inherent nature of the “ER4S.”
     
    As for hiss, I could not really hear it on the X10 (with 50 ohm impedance) or the ER4PT (with 25 ohm impedance) no matter how high I cranked the volume.
     
    However, I do have to mention that the volume gets too loud too quickly on IEMs. It seems like the volume is at a very low, unlistenable level when one turns the volume knob from off to about 1.5. After that, the volume gets loud really quickly. Basically, by the time I turn to about 2.9 on the X10 and 3.5 on the “ER4S”, it’s already loud enough for me. And this is on low gain. And the maximum volume being a 9 as indicated on the volume knob. I know that I listen to music on a slightly lower level than most people, but still, I can’t imagine anybody going past the 5 mark with any IEM at all. With high gain, there is even less volume available to play with when using an IEM.
     
    With full-size headphones:
    IMGP0649.jpg
     
    The full-size headphones that I used when evaluating the C5DAC were the HiFiMAN HE-400i, Sennheiser HD598, Sennheiser HD700, and my self-modded Fostex T50RP.
     
    The slightly warm nature of the C5DAC’s sound paired well with pretty much all of my full-size headphones. The warmth went well with my more neutral headphones such as the HD598 and the 400i, and definitely made the somewhat bright HD700 less fatiguing to listen to. It also didn’t make warmer headphones such as my modded T50RP (which I purposely tuned to be a bit more bass heavy) to be too warm and suffocating in its sound.
     
    The C5DAC had no problems at all in powering most of the full-sized headphones that I used. Notes did not sound grainy at all with the exception of my T50RP, which is understandable since that is a power-hungry headphone and even then it wasn’t even extremely grainy in the sound. Bass was prominent and clean when the C5DAC was paired with all of my full-sized headphones.
    The large soundstage, and good imaging and separation of the C5DAC (even when using the DAC) really allowed the large soundstages of the HD598 and the HD700 to shine. It even allows the 400i to sound a bit less constricted, which makes for a great listening experience.
     
    Again, like with the IEMs, I found that the volume knob got too loud too quickly, even with the power-hungry T50RP. For most of these headphones I used, out of a maximum volume of 9, I was setting the volume knob at around 3.5 to 4, with me listening to the modded T50RP at about 4.5. And as with the IEMs, this was all on low gain. Even though I know that I listen to music at a lower volume than most people, I really can’t imagine many people will be able to use the full range of the volume knob on low gain when listening to full-size headphones without blowing their ears up. And that’s only on low gain.
     
    Comparisons to Other Audio Gear
     
    All comparisons here were done under volume-matching with a C-weighted SPL meter.
     
    Vs. the HTC One M7
    IMGP0639.jpg
     
    How does the C5DAC (in DAC mode) fare against the HTC One M7, which along with Apple’s iPhones are regarded as some of the better sounding smartphones that exist?
     
    Overall, the C5DAC is an improvement over the smartphone. The M7 here is actually tonally brighter, with the C5DAC being relatively warmer. For some reason though, I feel there is less “glare” and artificial brightness to the sound from the M7. The HTC One also seems to be a very tiny bit more detailed (the notes are very slightly less smeared on complex passages in music). However, the C5DAC is much more dynamic in its sound, with the contrast between the quiet and loud parts being much more distinct. The soundstage is also much wider and is somewhat deeper on the C5DAC. The C5DAC also has better separation, with instruments being less clumped together. Both drive IEMs with about the same authority, but for driving cans like the HD700 and up the C5DAC has the edge. Overall, based on my experiences here, I would say the C5DAC is an upgrade to any smartphone’s sound.
     
    Vs. the Aune T1 mk1
     
    Here, I compared the C5DAC to the Aune T1 mk1 outfitted with upgraded Amperex Orange Globe tubes.
     
    The DAC sections: I compared the DACs of the Aune T1 and the C5DAC using the C5DAC’s headphone amp. Overall, the Aune T1’s DAC is noticeable better than that of the C5DAC’s. The DAC of the Cayin unit is somehow both warmer and yet more fatiguing (has more “glare”) in its sound. The Aune T1’s DAC is also more detailed and is better able to portray texture. While the C5DAC and the Aune T1 DAC present soundstages with the same width, with the Aune T1 DAC there is more depth to the soundstage as well as better separation. Imaging is slightly more precise on the T1 DAC, although I’d say that’s due more to the T1’s better separation. There is also less flabby and “one-note” bass on the Aune T1.
     
    The amp sections: For comparing the amps between the two units, I used the Aune T1’s DAC. I would say that overall, the C5DAC has a slightly better headphone amp than the T1, which is no small feat considering the latter is a desktop product that really isn’t easily transportable (due to the large wall-wart). While the T1’s amp has the harder-hitting, deeper bass, both amps are equal in terms of well-controlled bass. Both amps also provide a similar soundstage, with width being comparable between the two amps but the C5DAC amp having slightly better depth. Separation and detail levels are about the same. This sounds like as if the two amps are evenly matched, and they mostly are, except that the C5DAC’s amp just sounds more “analog.” By that, I mean that the C5DAC’s amp is smoother but just as detailed as the T1’s amp, and sounds tonally richer and with more life.
     
    Value, and For Whom is this Player Good For?
     
    Tl;dr: The C5DAC is a good value for anybody looking for an amp/DAC combo to upgrade their mobile device or personal computer’s audio.
     
    The Cayin C5DAC should be considered by anybody who wants an upgrade to their mobile device or even personal computer’s sound, but yet doesn’t want a DAP. (This could be for a variety of reasons, including that perhaps one prefers the music player interface of their mobile device over any existing DAP, or that their main use for the C5DAC will be for their computer, and some DAPs don’t have the USB DAC functionality.) Considering all of the useful features in the C5DAC (you can use it as a amp/DAC combo, an amp only, or even as a USB-to-coax converter!) and its sound quality and its ability to drive IEMs and a decent amount of full-size headphones, the C5DAC is a good value.
     
    Conclusion
     
    Tl;dr: The C5DAC is a decently valued and useful portable amp/DAC combo that has some flaws that prevent it from reaching perfection.
     
    Overall, I feel that the C5DAC is a great portable amp/DAC combo, with generally good ergonomics and usability, good sound quality (shame about the DAC section), and lots of features that make it such a versatile and useful piece of kit.
     
    While I really like the C5DAC due to its overall usefulness as a package and thus its good value, the slight problems with its general operation (including the volume control) and its not-so-great DAC section lead me to rate it 4 stars out of 5, which is far from a bad rating.
     
    Thanks for reading my review of the C5DAC!
     
    IMGP06242.jpg
      iJay and money4me247 like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. chowmein83
      @Harley1962 Sorry for the late response, but in my opinion the C5DAC is a step up from the E17, which itself is a step up from the E7. To be honest, I think the DAC section of the C5DAC and the E17 are comparable to each other, but the C5DAC's amp is a lot better - wider and deeper soundstage, sounds more analog but yet more detailed, and is better able to handle harder-to-drive headphones. Both the E17 and C5DAC have good form factors - while the E17 is thicker, it is not as long and wide, and the C5DAC on the other hand is more slim but also longer and wider (but this lends itself to stacking well with smartphones). Both are still pretty easy to carry around though.
      chowmein83, Sep 3, 2015
    3. Harley1962
      @chowmein83 Thanks a bunch for the input. If you don't mind, I may contact you in the near future for further opinions prior to making my purchase. There are just so many choices in the "low-$200 range" for combo units, so it takes time to review all the data and comments, etc...
      Harley1962, Sep 3, 2015
    4. chowmein83
      @Harley1962 Again, sorry for the late response, but feel free to contact me with any other questions you might have (probably through PM is better).
      chowmein83, Sep 6, 2015
  9. xkonfuzed
    A Deadly Challenger in the Portable Market
    Written by xkonfuzed
    Published Jul 4, 2015
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Powerful and excellent sounding Amp section, portability, versatility, accessories and cables
    Cons - some cheap plastic in the build, mediocre DAC section, hisses with IEM's.

    Cayin C5DAC: A Deadly Challenger in the Portable Market

     
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    *Please click on the photos for the highest quality. 
     
    Oh come on. Just read the damn thing. 

    About me & Introduction

    I am a student who is a music enthusiast with a big appreciation for music and audio gear. The genres I listen to consist of, well, everything, apart from blues and country. My main priorities in Audio equipment are transparency, timbre, and musicality. When listening to music, I tend to focus on enjoying it rather than dissecting every single piece of it. I do not like listening to music in an analytical manner. I do not believe in cables. I believe in burn in. I also believe in ghosts.  
     
    Firstly, I want to thank Cayin for giving me the marvelous opportunity of reviewing their new C5DAC. I was one the chosen people to review the unit. Yes, this is a review unit. And no, this will have no effect whatsoever on my thoughts and opinions. Also, this is the first Cayin product I try.
     
    The C5DAC has an MSRP of $260, but is selling at $200 and upwards at different distributors and stores.
     
    This is a subjective review. I write down my opinions, on my music, to my own, imperfect ears. Its also good to note that I listen to music on really low volumes. Now that we got that off the way, onto the review. 
     

    Packaging

    Simply put, I had to wrestle my way into the original package the device was in. There were endless layers of protection. This is both a good and bad thing. Its good because there it is practically impossible for your unit to arrive damaged. Its bad because now I have to put everything back and ship it to the next reviewer [​IMG]
    20150701_085033_HDR.jpg
    This is only a very small part of the whole package.
     
    Then you get the actual package itself, and it is very nice. It is plain and simple but its also very functional and sturdy. I don't like the color of the package though. I would have preferred a darker color scheme.
    20150701_085124_HDR.jpg
      20150701_085450_HDR.jpg

    Specifications:

    20150704_042924_HDR.jpg
     
     

    What's inside the box?

    - The unit itself.
    - 2 rubber bands for stacking
    - A really nice protective bag
    - 3.5 to 3.5 interconnect
    - Micro USB to normal USB cable
    - Micro to Micro USB cable
    - 3.5 RCA Coaxial cable
    - User manual
     
    20150701_090327.jpg   20150701_085556_HDR.jpg
     
    As you can see, Cayin provides all the cables you need. For iDevice users, you need to get a lightening to usb hub to get the C5DAC to work. The protective bag that came with the unit is very nice. Has a nice feel to it and feels premium. The included cables are decent, but I would have preferred a thicker Micro to Micro USB cable. The one included is very thin and feels like its going to go break soon. The blue bands (or belts as Cayin calls them) are also nice. I had to stretch them out a bit so that they fit my LG G4 stacked with the C5DAC.
     

     Build Quality, Design, and Features: 

    The overall build quality of the unit is very good. It mainly consists of some sort of metal (which in some ways reminds me of plastic), brushed in a light gold color. Not my favorite color to be honest, I think the C5DAC would have looked so much sexier in red or silver. The metal feels fairly good and has a premium feel to it. However it does not give the device any heft, which makes the C5DAC end up being fairly lightweight. There's a pro and a con to this. The pro is that stacking will be a lot easier and lighter, and it makes the device that much portable. The con is that it may feel cheap at times because of the weight (or rather lack thereof). If it was heavier, it would have felt better in the hand. 
     
    The rest of the unit is made of plastic. This includes the gain switches, the top part of the unit, and the bottom where all the inputs are. I don't like the plastic that makes up the device. For a device of $260 MSRP, you would expect something a bit better. For example, my Aune T1 costs less and is built much better. 
     
    The volume knob, however, is excellent. Even though it is plastic, I found that it has a superb feel and was fairly smooth. The volume pot turns till 10, and the number is written in the knob and can be seen through the plastic covering it. I wish the digits were black or at least a dark color instead of gold, as it is sometimes hardly visible in poorly lit areas. 
     
     
    20150704_061219_HDR.jpg
     
     
     

    Is it portable?

    Yes, absolutely. Many "portable" devices on the market currently really aren't portable in any way. They are much too big and heavy, and usually are a pain to stack. Not the C5DAC though. Since it is lightweight, portability is absolutely awesome. I had no problems stacking it up with my LG G4 and going out and about. It fits the pocket perfectly and doesn't brother you much when moving. 
     
    P1040768.jpg
     
     

    Is it versatile? 

    Also a BIG yes here. the unit comes with all the input and output features you'd want. There's a switch which alternates between using the DAC+Amp and using the Amp only. So, you can use the the C5DAC as an amp only and connect it with another DAC using the line in, which is what I did using my T1. And, you can also use the DAC only and pair it up with another Amp (though i wouldn't recommend that, as i will explain later in the sound section.) I hope that made sense. 
     
    There is also a coaxial output. and 2 micro usb slots, 1 for the power and 1 for the DAC. 
     
    P1040754.jpg   P1040762.jpg
    The inputs/outputs of the C5Dac.                                             A side view of the unit. 
    P1040765.jpg   P1040766.jpg
    A very nice volume knob.                                                          The battery indicators and an overview of the device.
     
    P1040786.jpg
    The heaphone out and the line in, for connecting with another DAC.
     
    Something I was impressed with is how the device manages to physically stay cold and never get hot. Seriously, compared to my T1, the Cayin is like a freezer and the T1 is like a cooking pot thats been dipped in hell fire. Im exaggerating, of course, but you get my point. 
     
    Update: The unit does get hot, when both the DAC and Amp are used in the duration of 4 hours or more. 
     
    Something I wasn't particularly impressed with in terms of versatility is that I could not get the C5DAC to work with my PS4. This is strange because both my T1 and Sabre DAC work (even though the Sabre hisses). I would have LOVED to see it working with my PS4. This is because my console is not in the same room as my audio gear, and I have to carry my T1 (which is not portable at all) just to get to play with some decent sound. If the C5DAC had worked with the PS4, that would be a huge plus for me personally, as it would save me the trouble of carrying around the T1 everytime i want to play. This is a nitpick, but I just wanted to mention it. 
     

    Features?

    Here's the fun part: the unit has a bass boost switch [​IMG]. It also has a gain switch (duh). 
     
    I will get to how these switches affect the sound, but the functionality is superb. I really appreciate having a bass boost switch in my Amp. I am not a basshead in the very definition of that word, meaning that 90% of the time with all my music I would prefer neutral bass (and a neutral sound signature at that), but for specific headphones like the Q40 and specific genres such as electronic and rap, I like a lot of bass. And in those brief and specific times, I turn into a bass-craving machine. Here's where the bass boost function comes in. 
     
    The gain switch, well, I don't think you will ever get to use it. The Amp part in the unit packs some serious punch and I have never had to set the gain on high, not even for the HD650's. 
     
    P1040757.jpg
    The bass and gain switches. 
     

    How's the battery life?

    In a word? Decent. Cayin is advertising 19 hours with the amp only and 9 hours with the DAC+Amp. I mostly used the unit as an amp only, and although it didn't quite reach the advertised time, it was close. I'd estimate about 16 hours of usage. As for the DAC+Amp battery life, I will say its good, but I didn't keep track of how many hours it took to drain the battery accurately. Overall, decent. Nothing more, nothing less. 
     

    Sound

     

    Noise floor: 

    Here's where I was slightly disappointed. With nearly all my over and on-ear headphones, I really couldn't hear any noise at moderate listening levels. Even when I bumped the volume up, there wasn't any hiss. With my sensitive JVC HA-S500, there was a tiny bit of hiss at high volumes. However, I then plugged in my IEM's (Denon C300), and there was a noticeable amount of hiss. Now if that wasn't a problem already, I listen to music on low volumes, so the hiss is very noticeable for me especially. Once you turn the volume up, it becomes barely noticeable but when you switch tracks (if you don't have gapless playback) you will hear it. I would like to note that this is not entirely the C5DAC's fault. My Denon's hiss everywhere i plug them in to a certain extent, its just that with the Cayin, its the most noticeable. 
     

    Gain:

    Don't want to go over this too much as I haven't spent a lot of time with it, but I didn't need to use the gain settings for any of my headphones. On low gain, the C5 had sufficient power for all my cans. That said, when I turn the gain to high, I noticed the sound getting a bit more forward. The mids in particular, are slightly more forward and there is a slight hint of added midbass (or that might just be my imagination). 
     

    Bass boost: 

    Possibly one of the coolest features ever fitted to Amps, having a bass boost is a huge plus for me. With my HD650, MA900, and DT880, I ended up never having use this function. However, with my already bassy cans such as the Q40, C300, and S500, I used it almost 90% of the time. Not because the aforementioned cans lack any bass, but because with those cans, I only listen to electronic and urban-type music which has a lot bass. For those specific genres, I use the bass boost switch all the time. 
     
    The boost in the bass comes mainly in the midbass. This is excellent for Rap, Hip-Hop, and Techno, but rather mediocre with drum and bass, neurofunk, and trap, which require a lot of subbass. I cannot say the exact amount added in dB as Im not very good at that, but I can tell you this: it adds a really nice amount of punch, sometimes too much actually on already bass-heavy songs. The boost is also present in the upper bass section, giving drums, kicks, and snares a greater impact. Very enjoyable for Techno music. I'm nitpicking here, but i really wish it came with 2 bass settings. 1 for boosting the super-low, sub bass frequencies, and another for boosting the mid and upper bass. 
     

    Power: 

    This unit packs a lot of punch. A lot. From my 12ohm MA900 to my 300ohm HD650, this fed them with extreme ease. I never got the volume pot past 3 (out of 10 that is) for every single one of my headphones, HD650's included. And thats on low gain too! Ok, I know I've said this a million times by know, but its good to note that i listen to music on low volumes. So I'd imagine a normal human being to never get past 5 or 6 on the volume pot with the HD650's (a rough estimate). However, this power also comes at a cost. Its almost too powerful for IEM's. With my C300's, I had to put the volume on 3 then lower the volume from the DAC, just to get rid of the channel imbalance. Its not severe, and if its not an IEM, you definitely shouldn't worry. But, for IEM users, I'm afraid the Cayin is simply too powerful for IEMs and you will end up getting channel imbalance. Unless, of course, you do what I ended up doing (lowering the volume from the DAC, then turning up the Amp volume). 
     

    How does it sound? 

    I want to make sure I go over all aspects of the sound, so this section will be divided into many subsections. I will talk about it as an Amp only, then write about how it pairs with each of my headphones, then describe the DAC and Amp together, then compare it to other sources and DAC/Amps I own. Here we go:
     

    Amp: 

    Lets start with the Amp only. For this setup, I hooked up some RCA cables from the RCA out through the line in of C5DAC, using my Aune T1 with an Amperex 7308 tube and a GE Smokie tube. So, I was using my T1 as the DAC, and utilizing the C5DAC as an Amp only. 
     
    In terms of the overall sound signature of the Amp, I have found it to be slightly warm with a tiny bit of extra presence in the treble. 
     
    It was a very nice improvement, especially considering that the Amp in the T1 is the best of all my other Amps - but then again I don't have a lot of Amps. The main improvement came in the highs. The highs in the C5DAC's Amp were so crisp and clear, yet not NEARLY as splashy or fatiguing as the T1's built in Amp. In fact, I never realized how splashy the treble was on the T1 until I hooked it up the the C5. The amp in the T1 is already bright, and the C5DAC is a touch less bright. I still consider the Cayin to be an ever-so-slightly (emphasis on the word slightly) bright amp, but the big difference here is the quality of the highs rather than the quantity. Everything became less fatiguing and more enjoyable. One more thing, the Cayin got rid of the slight sibilance found the T1. As I said, the treble is very clean. 
     
    Moving up (or rather down) to the mids, and wow. The mids are extremely sweet here and a bit forward. Very natural sounding. Stringed instruments sound wonderful and very realistic. Vocals are a bit warmer than the T1, which is nice. The big improvement in the mids, however, happen to the male vocals. This is also partly due to the Cayin's superior bass response (will get to that later), but male vocals sound more authoritative now, and possess more weight to them. I also think the mids add to the musicality of the amp section. They are just so sweet sounding. 
     
    I found the Cayin to have a very slight midbass boost, this, as I stated above, helps male vocals shine. I can sense the added impact it brought to the music over my other amps. The bass here is tight and clean. Subbass extension is also superb. Im not the best at describing this, but with some instruments like the Piano or an acoustic guitar you can actually feel the sound rather than just hear it. It just adds a lot of emotion to said instruments, making them not only more musical, but also weightier. 
     
    Overall clarity and detail:
    The clarity here is a tiny notch above my T1. Everythings sounds slightly clearer. Detail retrieval is also very impressive. 
     
    The soundstage and imaging capabilities here are equally impressive. Imaging is most impressive, though. Paired with the HD650, which already have laser-like imaging, the experience was sublime. You could close your eyes and point at every single instrument and where the vocalist was exactly. Soundstage is also good, but wasn't that much of an improvement over the T1's amp. There is also excellent instrument separation. I never felt as if the instruments have been mushed together, they are always spaced out and within range of each other. 
     

    With my headphones:

    The amp of the C5DAC paired well with almost all my headphones. 
     

    Sennheiser HD650

    A great pairing for sure. The Senns are already famed for having magical mids, and paired with the Cayin, the vocals here are phenomenal. With the Cayin, this is a nice balance between warmth and sonic capabilities. This is an extremely musical pairing. 
     

    Beyerdynamic DT880/250

    The Beyers already paired well with the T1's amp, and here, well, they're even better. The Cayin took the edge of the highs ever so slightly and added a hint of warmth. 
     

    Sony MDR MA900

    Here's the the thing with these headphones. They are grainy. Specifically, the lower mids can sound grainy and unrealistic. On every Amp I have tried them, the grain is there, but on some amps its less noticeable than others. With the Cayin, its still grainy, but at least less noticeable than my other amps. Remember, this is the headphones fault not the amp.
    Everything apart from that, sound is outstanding to be honest.
     

    M-Audio Q40

    The least amp-finicky headphone in my collection, but I especially liked it with the Cayin because of the bass boost function. This is a great headphone for Electronic music, and with the added midbass of the bass boost, it can make for some really enjoyable times. 
     

    Denon C300

    No matter how much I tried to like this pairing, I just didn't. Firstly, there's the hiss, which as I mentioned earlier, is driving me crazy. Then there's the fact that this just doesn't pair well with the Cayin. Veiled sound. Lacking weight and depth. No me gusta. 
     
    20150702_063732_HDR.jpg   P1040777.jpg
    P1040770.jpg
     
     

    Amp Comparisons

    C5DAC's amp vs Aune T1's amp:

    Basically, everything on the C5DAC's amp is slightly better. As I mentioned earlier, the bass is tighter on the C5DAC and extends deeper. There is also more impact. In terms of overall sound signature, The Cayin is warmer with less treble energy. The T1's treble can be splashy and uncontrolled at times. The Cayin is a lot sweeter sounding, and has more body, emotion, and weight compared to the T1's amp. The mids on the Cayin are also better. Instruments sound more realistic and clearer. Overall clarity and transparency between the two is very close but the edge goes to the Cayin. Soundstage-wise, they're both the same in terms of width. However, the Cayin's soundstage has more depth to it, and is more accurate. Imaging is also a nice improvement and is easily noticeable. Imaging on the Cayin is sharper and better overall. Instrument separation is very close, but still goes to the Cayin. Overall, switching from the T1's amp to the C5DAC feels like everything is improved a slight bit, but musicality take a big leap forward. Everything sounds more musical and enjoyable on the Cayin. 
    20150705_031826_HDR.jpg
     
     

    C5DAC's amp vs FiiO E11 (MK1)

    The difference here is much bigger than that between the Cayin and the T1. You instantly feel like everything is improved quite a bit. The FiiO has a dark sound signature with loose bass and a recessed midrange. I don't like the soundstage and instrument separation of the FiiO at all. The Cayin is signifcantly better in that regard. Everything is a lot clearer. Midrange is more present, bass is tighter and faster. I feel like this isn't really a fair comparison, the Cayin is a lot better. If only I had an E12 to compare the two. 
    In terms of bass boost, the E11 offers a nice bass boost that can sometimes overpower the mids. The bass on the 2nd setting is a bit muddy and loose. The Cayin's bass boost can also sound slow and muddy, but to a much lesser degree. 
    20150705_034144_HDR.jpg
     

    C5DAC as a DAC + Amp

    *My reference here is an Aune T1 with Amperex 7308 tube; overall cost is around $225. 
     
    Here is where I was disappointed. Its not that the DAC sounded bad, but it just wan't up to par with my t1. This makes me sad because the the C5DAC has such a great Amp but the DAC is really neutering its performance. Cayin, this is my advice to you: Take the DAC section, do some witchcraft to fix it up, then sell the unit, and I guarantee it will be one of the best audio bargains for under $300. Lets get the sound. 
     
    The C5DAC had what I would describe as a slightly thin sounding DAC. Even though there was an added amount of midbass, it doesn't help with the overall sound. The overall signature here is neutral with extra presence in the highs. What disappointed me the most in the DAC is that there was something a bit "off" in the tonality. Its hard to describe, but it is missing something. It sounds unnatural and thin. Everything sounds digitalized. This is not an analogue sounding DAC/Amp whatsoever. 
     
    There is a nice amount of added midbass punch. The overall character of the bass is surprisingly decent, but its not flawless. The bass can get somewhat loose and extension isn't the greatest also.  The midrange, well here is where it gets interesting, the mids have a nasal-like quality to them which can make some instruments sound unnaturally harsh. Vocals sound digitalized, as I said earlier. You just don't get the impression that they're true to life. Highs are boosted, but unlike the amp section, its not very controlled and can get splashy sometimes. Clarity and detail are very good though, they're not as good as the DAC in the T1, but still very good. The best aspect in sound I feel is the imaging and soundstage. They are very impressive. 
     
    Is it bad souning? Not in the least. All of these aspects are hardly noticeable and one must listen closely to detect them. I still think the DAC is good sounding. Good. Nothing more, nothing less. 
     
    Is it better than an laptop's onboard soundcard or a phone's internal DAC? Yes, absolutely. But I don't feel like its as good some other DACs in its price range. 
     
    I don't know If im just spoiled by the T1's DAC, but the C5DAC can use some improvement in the DAC section. 
     

    Comparisons with other DACs and sources

    C5DAC vs Aune T1:

    The T1 just sounds nicer. Overall clarity and detail is better with the T1. The bass is tighter, and has more extension. The biggest difference is in the mids though, the T1 portrays instruments and vocals more naturally than the Cayin. Soundstage is about the same, and so is imaging. So there you go, the T1 gets the win in terms of DAC, but the Cayin slays it in the amp section. 
     

    C5DAC vs Hifimediy Sabre DAC

    Both of these are legendary for on the go, high quality sound, but the Cayin takes the cake here. Layering, imaging, soundstage - all of these, the C5DAC does it better. The Sabre sounds ever more unnatural in the mids than the C5DAC. 
    20150705_031953_HDR.jpg
     
     

    C5DAC vs LG G4 and iPad 4

    Versus the LG, there is no comparison. Be in no doubt, the Cayin is an improvement nearly everywhere, and by quite a large margin.
    Versus the iPad, hmm, similar, but the C5DAC is still better. I consider the iPad to have one of the best built-in chips of a tablet/mobile device. Its really that good. Nevertheless, the C5DAC is still a noticeable improvement. 
     

    Closing Thoughts

    Let's wrap up with list of Pros and Cons: 
     
    Pros: 
    Excellent sounding, powerful amp.
    Nice build quality (though could use some improvement in the plastics)
    PORTABLE!
    Versatile
    Comes with all the cables you'll need, and a nice protective bag.
     
    Cons:
    Mediocre DAC
    Hisses with sensitive IEMs and headphones
    Too powerful for IEMs
     
    Cayin really did hit the nail in with one. Despite its mediocre DAC, I feel like the C5DAC is an excellent unit for great sound on the go. The amp part was fabulous, and brought a lot of joy to my ears. Its a versatile DAC/Amp with nice features, and I have no problems whatsoever recommending it. The Pros really do outweigh the cons. 
     
    Good luck to Cayin with their future products, I feel like they have a lot of potential. 
     
    I spent a lot of time and effort writing this review up, so feedback will be greatly appreciated. 
      Baycode and Vartan like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. xkonfuzed
      @Baycode Thanks, appreciate the feedback :)
      xkonfuzed, Jul 5, 2015
    3. metaglot
      Thanks, very helpful!
      Is there any Dac/Amp combo or combination, either portable or not, that outclasses it at its price point?
      metaglot, Jul 9, 2015
    4. xkonfuzed
      @metaglot Appreciate the feedback. 
       
      As I mentioned above, the Aune T1 is a better sounding unit to me (the C5DAC has a better amp though). There's also the Fiio E17, which has just as good a DAC, but a much worse Amp. The Schiit M&M stack (Modi and Magni) is another great option to consider, the Modi as a DAC is better than the C5DAC, but I've never heard the Magni. 
       
      Other competitors include the Oppo HA-2 and the Fiio E18, both of which I haven't heard. 
      xkonfuzed, Jul 10, 2015
  10. hakushondaimao
    They don’t call me “Spark” for nothing!
    Written by hakushondaimao
    Published Sep 5, 2015
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Warm, detailed, addictive sound signature; impressive soundstage; power; solid DAC implementation; value
    Cons - Inconsistent design and aesthetics; lack of fine volume control with sensitive IEMs; cable overload when pairing with iPhone
    0main.jpg
     
    I first joined Head-Fi in November of 2014. At the time I owned a couple of pairs of IEM’s, and had just purchased my first DAP (Fiio X3) and over ear headphones (Sennheiser HD598). I really liked the X3 with my IEMs, but found something missing with the HD598s, especially in the bass and body. I started researching portable headphone amps – even starting a thread asking for suggestions – and had several names put forward, which through further research I whittled down to the Fiio E12A and Cayin C5.
     
    Not having any place in Calgary to try out either amp, I chose the E12A based partly on its suitability for IEMs and full-sized cans, and partly on aesthetics (I found the C5 looked a little “off” with the clear plastic end cap). While I was very happy with the E12A, I remained curious about the C5, and was impressed with the ongoing positive feedback the product received in discussion threads.
     
    1intro.jpg
     
    Fast forward a half-year, and I got the opportunity to demo the C5 at the Calgary Head-Fi meet, courtesy of Jeremy (@EmpJ) at CTC Audio. I was very impressed with the sound quality, especially with hard-driving cans like the ATH-R70x and the K7XX, and came close to purchasing one, but already had 4 other headphone amps and decided to hold off. Fast forward another couple of months, and I got the opportunity to try the “Son of C5” in the form of the C5DAC “Spark”, courtesy of a Cayin-sponsored product tour. And that brings us to the present, and this review.
     
    Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Cayin, and have not benefitted from this review opportunity (other than having the opportunity to try out an excellent piece of equipment). I was provided with the C5DAC for a limited time in exchange for my unbiased opinions.
     
    About Me
     
    Before getting into the review, a little about me. I’m 50 years old, and so probably have deficiencies in my hearing (in a recent, entirely non-scientific test I discovered I can’t really hear anything over about 15 kHz, with roll-of starting around 12 or 13 kHz, which is pretty good, I guess, for someone of my vintage). I’ve been a music lover for decades, but am still relatively new to the MidFi/HiFi/Head-Fi game; I haven’t listened to a lot of high-end equipment (yet), and am not an expert on the technical aspects of electronics or musical terminology. I have read a lot of reviews and threads on Head-Fi, and spend a lot of time on the site; as such I know what has been helpful to me in reviews and endeavor to provide what I consider useful insights to help others make decisions about items they are thinking about trying or buying.
     
    2aboutme.jpg
     
    I listen to a variety of music genres, in particular, Classical (mostly mid 1700s to mid/late 1800s), Jazz (‘50s to 70’s), Rock and some Prog-Rock (‘70s), ‘80s New Wave/Electro, and Trip Hop/Acid Jazz (90’s into 00’s). My preferred sound signature would be characterized by a good sub-bass presence, tight mid bass, and relatively linear, detailed mids and highs. I like my music quite lush and rich, but with a good level of detail. I’m not a bass-head, am not a big fan of anything too boomy, and don’t like highs that are too intense or harsh.
     
    The Review: Design and Build Quality
     
    So, without further ado, let’s dive into my impressions. The C5DAC shares the look and feel of the C5 Portable Headphone Amplifier; in fact, the two are identical in almost every way, except for the back plates (colour and plug configurations) and lettering inside the plastic front cover. The main casing of both pieces of equipment is an elegant, champagne-coloured, satin-finished metal (they now also come in black… pretty Stealthy), with plastic end pieces on the front and back with various plug-ins and switches. The metal casing envelopes top and bottom, and wraps around the sides, with a gap running down the left and right sealed in a dark, opaque plastic. The unit is surprisingly light (I measured it at 181 grams); I expected it to be heavier when I first looked at it.
     
    3design.jpg
     
    Looking at the six sides of the C5DAC we have:
    1. Top: Clean finish in champagne gold, with 3-light battery charge indicator on the back end, and the cursive word “Cayin” imprinted near the front.
    2. Bottom: Similar to the top, without the battery indicator. Item information is included, and access to the reset button is situated near the back end piece. The C5DAC comes with four silicon buttons attached; these can be used as feet, or for resting a larger DAP to avoid direct contact and scratches when stacking (Fiio X5ii and Hidizs AP100 fit very well, but Fiio X3ii was too small to stack using the feet).
    3. Left side: Small, triangular plastic Bass Boost and Gain switches. These jut out very slightly, are easy to manipulate and seem quite sturdy; however they appear a bit cheap and detract from an otherwise quite solid design.
    4. Right side: Nothing, just the plastic bar running from front to back separating the top and bottom metal sheets.
    5. Front: Uniquely shaped end piece with recessed volume control, all covered with a semi-opaque brown plastic cap. On the left part of the cap there are two plug-in points for Line In and Headphone Out (HO), and on the right there are openings on top and bottom access to the volume pot (which has ridges for easy grip). Power is controlled by the volume pot, which clicks solidly between the on and off positions. When on, a small orange light turns on next to the volume pot. The volume pot is relatively stiff, but turns smoothly; being mostly covered by the end cap, it is well protected from inadvertent turning when in a pocket or bag.
    6. Back: Here is the other business end of the unit, in black plastic (this differentiates the C5DAC from the C5 as the C5 end piece is champagne-coloured plastic).  Looking at the back end directly, from left to right we have Coax Out (for connecting to an external amp), micro USB port for DAC input from phone/laptop or charging an external device, a small switch for controlling the USB DAC/charging function, and another micro USB port for charging the C5DAC.
     
    4quality.jpg
     
    Overall I like the look of the C5DAC, but I’m not a big fan of the plastic front end-cap, or of the bass boost and gain switches. Personally I think the end cap is a bit ugly, and it seems flimsy; I was able to pop it off quite easily (though I’d prefer to keep it on as without it the end is even uglier), and I can imagine it cracking or breaking if the unit is dropped on a hard surface. As mentioned already, the bass and gain switches appear cheap and detract from an otherwise quite solid design.
     
    4.5looks.jpg
     
    Out of the box, the C5DAC comes with almost all the cables and accessories required for pretty much any set-up. There’s a grey cloth drawstring protective bag (protection from scratches, but not so much from dings or drops) and two bright blue stacking bands (why blue I’m not sure, but they certainly are distinctive). Cables include:
    1. USB to micro USB cable (for charging, and for hooking up to a laptop)
    2. Short micro USB to micro USB OTG cable (for hooking up and Android phone)
    3. Short 3.5mm to RCA Coax adaptor
    4. Short 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect cable
     
    The only thing missing for my usage preferences is the Lightning Camera Connection Kit (CCK) cable, but I know Apple is finicky about patents and who can do what with what, so this is not a huge issue. It would be nice if the protective bag was more case-like and sturdy, but it’s not such a concern that it would deter me from adding the C5DAC to my collection. And the blue bands… I’d prefer something that matches better (brown or grey), but this is not a deal breaker either.
     
    The Review: Listening Impressions
     
    And now we get to the meat and potatoes of the review. As mentioned, there are things I like and things I’m not so fond of with the design of the Spark, so this bit is ultra-important. If the sound blows me away, I’ll forgive any aesthetic or design issues.
     
    5listening.jpg
     
    As a relative neophyte in the reviewing game, I’m still not the greatest at describing what I hear in absolute terms. I’m still learning about humps, peaks and dips in frequency response and what exactly qualifies as sub- and mid-bass or lower- and upper-mids. What I am able to do more confidently is compare what I hear from two different sources, so that’s where I’ve focused my observations.
     
    1. Macbook Air with and without C5DAC: I don’t listen to my MacBook through headphones very much, and when I do it’s usually via a desktop set-up, so this test was interesting for me.  Benefits of an external DAC were clearly illustrated by the Spark. I listened to a number of tracks here, and I’d say my MacBook on it’s lonesome was at various times hollow, one-dimensional, syrupy, lacking texture and impact, polite, bleedy and lacking atmospherics. Adding the C5DAC transformed the quality of output, with sparkle, transients, twang, clarity, warmth, emotion, and expanded soundstage. I don’t think I’ll listen to music straight out of my laptop ever again!
     
    1. iPhone 5S with and without C5DAC: I only use my iPhone for music when I head out for a run, at which point “audiophile” is not my main concern. This comparison and analysis of the iPhone’s sound capabilities was thus also an interesting one for me. Hooking up this combination was a bit of a nightmare ergonomics-wise as the lightning CCK and USB interconnect was unwieldy and inelegant. If you’re looking for a pocketable (big pocket) stack, this is not it. If you’re thinking of switching phones (iPhone to Android or vice-versa), this is definitely a point in Android’s favour. That said, I found the Spark benefitted sound quality in similar fashion to what it did with my MacBook, with improved detail and dynamics, and expanded soundstage. If I’m ever forced to give up my DAPs, I’ll definitely be looking to a C5DAC (or other portable DAC) to keep my musical enjoyment levels up.
     
    1. C5DAC vs. C5: Both pieces have a very similar sound presentation, which I’ve described already as warm, dynamic and detailed, with excellent soundstage. In general listening I found little to distinguish between the two. When A/B testing, I found subtle differences, with the C5 marginally more detailed and clear and C5DAC smoother. The C5 is also very slightly more powerful than the C5DAC, though both have power to burn and drive the 470 Ohm ATH-R70x easily with room to spare. Hard to say which I prefer, so it comes down to whether or not you need a portable DAC in your rig; if your music source is a phone, I’d choose the Spark, and if a DAP, the straight C5 Amp. YMMV.
     
    1. C5DAC vs. E17K (as DAC): On Low Gain, E17K is more clear and dry up high with good micro-detail, but a touch lacking in bass, life and joy. Female vocal is thin. Soundstage has breadth, but lacks depth. C5DAC is its usual warm self, with thump, punch and energy. Female vocal has soul, rising up from the depths of the chest. Soundstage closer in, but with depth and an enveloping, cozy feel. Switching the E17K to High Gain resulted in better balance than in Low, with more punch to the low end and roundness to mids and highs, though less alive and inviting than C5DAC overall.
     
    1. C5DAC vs. Soundblaster E5 (as Amp): I could have compared these two on the DAC side of things, but wanted to play with the Spark as amp only, hence this set-up. In comparison to the E5, the Spark has punch and dynamics down low and oodles of detail in mids and highs. Soundstage here is club like, with welcoming, cozy room feel. E5 also sounds very good, though the feeling is more of a studio setting, with sound absorbed by walls rather than bounced back to the listener. Overall sound is drier, less gut-busting in the bass and smoother in the mids and highs. I liked both amps in this pairing, and would go with the E5 for a long, fatigue-free listening session, and Spark for a single-album, detail focused sit-down.
     
    In my listening I found that the Spark’s warmth matches very well with dry, more analytical headphones. I really enjoyed the combination of C5DAC with the ATH-MSR7, and with the AKG K7XX. The Spark added richness and life, especially in the low end and mids, while the MSR7 and K7XX really showed off the C5DAC’s potential in the treble.
     
    6macbook.jpg
     
    If I were to pick out the main qualities of the C5DAC, I’d say it’s warm (welcoming, enveloping), dynamic (energetic, strong sense of mood, with balance across frequencies from low to high end), detailed (nice texture, good instrumental definition), and powerful (drives even power-hungry, full sized cans), with excellent soundstage (wonderful sense of air and space, and precise positioning).
     
     
    MacBook Air vs. MacBook Air + C5DAC
     
    Norah Jones – Come Away With Me (from Come Away With Me)
    1. iTunes + MacBook + DN2KJ: Super smooth, almost sweet/syrupy sound. Vocals and instruments have very little texture. Overall sound very round, no grain. Mid forward (vocal dominates), with subdued bass (there, but veiled) and rolled off highs. Snare muted. Guitar strings sound thick, no real attack or twang.
    2. iTunes + MacBook + C5DAC (LG) + DN2KJ: Syrup gone. Piano and guitars sparkle. Transients and twang are there. Norah’s vocal has air and texture. Bass has punch and pluck. Highs have returned, with snare shimmering brightly in background. High-hat now evident. Overall warm presentation. Atmospherics superb, great space. Volume reaching overpowering levels at 3/10 (and I tend to listen loud), so not much fine loudness control.
     
    Live – **** Towne (from Throwing Copper)
    1. iTunes + MacBook + DN2KJ: Bit hollow, right from start. Smoothed over vocals and instruments. Mids pushed forward with some harshness to them, crunch and venom absent, as is textured detail. Lack of low-end and screechy mids makes this performance noisy rather than musical.
    2. iTunes + MacBook + C5DAC + DN2KJ: Crunching, energetic, warm presentation. Good instrumental definition. No harshness, with all frequencies represented well. Kowalczyk’s vocal has a throaty rasp to it, and textured energy and venom. Guitars (rhythm and lead), bass and drum lines all discernable and clear. Tom drums powerful, providing good heartbeat to song. Great left-to-right horizontal soundstage.
     
    Al Di Meola – Mediterranean Sundance (from Elegant Gypsy)
    1. iTunes + MacBook + DN2KJ: One dimensional. Polite. Again round, thick strings. No texture. Clean, but no snap to attack and decay extended, latent reverb/echo. Mid prominence, nothing up high or down low.  Sound inside head, no sense of space or atmospherics. Guitar knock drum lacks impact, super-muted, missed it until I listened intently for it.
    2. iTunes + MacBook + C5DAC + DN2KJ: Lively, warm presentation, but not syrupy. Twang and pluck of strings very real, with quick attack and clear transients, no latency to decay. Feel texture of plectrum on strings, nice gutty feel. Drum knocks clear and powerful. Distinct positioning and separation of two guitars. Spacious sound, big church feel, depth, height and width.
     
    Sade – Bullet Proof Soul (from Love Deluxe)
    1. iTunes + MacBook + DN2KJ: Good bass punch to start, bit overpowering, bleeding into lower mids. Piano and sax muted and pushed back. Lead vocal clean, pleasant, but overly syrupy; no air, no breath, no texture. Back-ups there but also subdued. Toms sound hollow and lifeless, no snap. Sound outside head, but all lumped together in front of listener.
    2. iTunes + MacBook + C5DAC + DN2KJ: Crunching sub/mid bass… missed this straight from MacBook. Quality of bass excellent, with real depth, but not overpowering. Sax wails, textured. Piano bright but realistic. Vibration and air back in Sade’s voice, back-up vocals also textured. Toms and snare lively. Spacious and atmospheric. Again warm, comfortable, enveloping.
     
    iPhone 5S vs. MacBook Air + C5DAC
     
    The Charlatans – The Only One I Know (from Some Friendly)
    1. iPhone 5S + Lightning CCK cable + USB cable + C5DAC (LG) + RHA T20 (Silver Reference Filter): Instruments well defined. Great clarity and space between notes. Airy presentation. This is not a bass-heavy recording, so not the emphasis here, but entry of bass guitar a few seconds in to the intro and little bass solo riff at 2’45” in has great quality, felt in the pit of the stomach. Mids and highs crisp and bright, particularly guitars, snare and high hat. Vocals have a smooth dreamy quality. Balance across frequencies is good. Nothing overemphasized or hidden. Again, a lack of fine volume control with range limited from 0-3/10 on the pot.
    2. iPhone 5S + RHA T20 (Silver Reference Filter): Sound bassier, but also bleedy and blended. Sound is more “in the head” and lacks air and space. Vocals more subdued, less dreamy. Guitars and drums veiled. Overall sound more monotone and lacking dynamism.
     
    Beth Hart – Might As Well Smile (from Better Than Home)
    1. iPhone 5S + Lightning CCK cable + USB cable + C5DAC (LG) + Fidue A73: Lively, crunching presentation with detail and space. Forward vocals from Hart, with raw, throaty texture, sometimes verging on but just short of sibilance. Guitars (electrics and acoustic) are crunching and bright. Bass thumps along down low, not forward but evident. High hat and cymbals shimmer. Toms subdued but evident. Echo-y vocal effects 2:00 in airy and spacious.
    2. iPhone 5S + Fidue A73: Nice enough, but loses multidimensionality without the C5DAC. Instrumental and vocal definition is okay, but sound rounder, less crisp. Spaciousness has gone, sound is more closed in. Hart’s vocal smoother. Guitars less dynamic and textured. Bass less thumpy, less evident. Would sound okay if I weren’t comparing, but now disappointing.
     
    Cayin C5DAC vs. Cayin C5
     
    Beethoven - Cello Sonata #3 (Timora Rosler, Klara Würtz)
    1. Fiio X5ii + LO + Fiio L16 + C5DAC (HG)/C5 (HG) + ATH-R70X: C5 marginally louder than C5DAC (volume set to around 3 on C5 vs. 3.5 on C5DAC for equal loudness). Didn’t find hugely noticeable differences between the two sound-wise. As before, warm sound signature. C5DAC perhaps a shade smoother and less well defined than C5, with more blending of sound and reverb/echo. Piano clearer and brighter with C5, a bit muffled with C5DAC. Cello bow-on-string texture more detailed with C5, with bowing less evident via C5DAC. Differences only really evident when going back and forth for short snippets; not noticeable in extended listening where ear attunes itself to sound signature. Power to spare considering these are 470 Ohm headphones and there’s bags of room on the pot to increase volume to ear-shattering levels.
     
    Cayin C5DAC vs. Fiio E17K
     
    Gaelle – Falling (from Transient)
    1. MacBook + iTunes + E17K (LG) + MSR7: First impression is of detail… micro-detail in upper mids and up high... and dryness. Clarity of upper mids and highs especially. Handclaps, water splashes, small tom, piano, Gaelle’s vocal, guitar are all forward, but lack atmospherics and body… Gaelle’s vocal comes from the throat, no lungs. Bass somewhat subdued, quality is there but not quantity, no real thump. Spacious feel, large space, breadth but not much depth, sound goes out but doesn’t bounce back off anything. Presentation a bit lifeless, lacking in joy (which this song usually carries with abandon).
    2. MacBook + iTunes + C5DAC (LG) + MSR7: Warm. Detail. More thump to bass and kick drum… still not overpowering, but nice punchy heartbeat. Gaelle’s vocal comes alive with detail and body… power and depth/soul from chest. Piano, guitar, claps, tom and high hat less forward, more life-like and lively. Room has gotten cozier and sound enveloping, coming back in from walls. Another good match-up of headphone and C5DAC, warmth pairing well with MSR7’s tendency to brightness.
    3. MacBook + iTunes + E17K (HG) + MSR7: Much better balance than LG, more body and punch in the low end and roundness to mids and highs. But, still less body, less alive and lifelike than C5DAC. Left feeling a bit flat.
     
    C5DAC vs. Soundblaster E5
     
    Simply Red – Sad Old Red (from Picture Book)
    1. Fiio X5ii (LO) + Fiio L16 + C5DAC (HG) + K7XX: Nice, full, gutsy bass… feel sub-bass in pit of stomach. Crisp high hat. Hucknall’s vocal throaty and textured with soulful airy quality… just a hiiiint of harshness to his top notes when he belts it. Realistic, impactful thump to kick drum, crash to cymbal. Piano clear, bright. Great balance across instruments and vocal, with nice attack and realistic decay. For the most part, nothing dominates, nothing feels emphasized or veiled. Good definition of instruments, each distinct, can place instruments and vocals position-wise, feel of a small club performance with both depth and atmosphere. Lifelike presentation, really enjoyable. A lot going on, lots to keep ears and mind occupied… vivid… “Oh look, a shiny sound!” Warmth of C5DAC matches well with dry, clean SQ of K7XX… Like this combo!
    2. Fiio X5ii (LO) + Fiio L16 + Soundblaster E5 (HG) + K7XX: Drier presentation. Bass less impactful, lacking the gut-thumping sub-bass. Quicker decay at low end. Piano, guitar and high hat less bright, rounder, less forward, but still evident and not veiled. Hucknall’s vocal smoother, bit rolled off in the higher notes (no harshness to it). Less of the club feel, more like studio… not inside the head, but less atmospherics and space, lack of depth, more intimate. Less going on than with C5DAC, less detail and distraction, less busy… better for longer listening for pure relaxation/enjoyment?

    Conclusions
     
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    If it isn’t clear by now, I really like the Spark. If you’ve tried the C5 amp and fallen in love with the warm, detailed, dynamic and welcoming Cayin “house sound,” you’ll be equally enamoured with its DAC-wielding offspring. While I have minor issues with some of the aesthetic choices taken by Cayin (Johnny Ive look away now) and would prefer more play in volume control for IEMs and less cable clutter with iDevices, I find the sound signature addictive and love Spark’s versatility. I definitely give the Cayin C5DAC two thumbs up!
      Light - Man likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Light - Man
      No rush bro - I am just curious to know if it improves the sound of the AP100.
      A good point you made about the variable line-out on the AP100 as I found the C5 amp was a bit of a beast for IEM's.
      Light - Man, Sep 7, 2015
    3. Fungus
      Why is it that the c5 dac only has 300mW + 300mW (32Ω load) with is considerately less power than the c5 stand alone amp unit at 800mW + 800mW (32Ω load)? Am I missing something? 
      Fungus, Jan 12, 2016
    4. Onny Izwan
      Thank you for those lovely, Pokemon filled photographs. And review.
      Onny Izwan, Jul 20, 2016