1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.

    Dismiss Notice

Cayin Spark C5 DAC Portable USB DAC + Headphone Amplifier

Rating:
4.08333/5,
  1. Netforce
    The wonderfully versatile and fantastic sounding Amp+DAC~
    Written by Netforce
    Published Aug 5, 2015
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Amp sound quality, Powerful amp, Versatile, Bass Boost
    Cons - Mixed DAC sound quality, Too powerful for most IEMs, Clunky for desktop use
    Introduction!
    Right off the bat I would like to give a shout out Cayin for letting me be a part of the Cayin C5DAC tour, thanks guys and gals!
    Some info about me is that I would generally call myself someone who listens to lots of different genres and with many different headphones. I love myself some metal but at the same time EDM and lots of other types of music. Check my profile for me info about what I listen to regularly and the gear I have. For this review I listened to a whole range of my music library and through many different headphones.
     
    What’s in the box?
    Because this is a tour unit that I got my hands on I am not the first person to have the C5DAC but all is well as the previous person in the tour took great care of the unit!
    First and foremost what are we getting in this box:
    1. Soft grey velvet pouch to carry the C5DAC in
    2. 2 Blue rubber bands
    3. 1 Right angle to right angle interconnect
    4. Small micro usb to micro usb cable
    5. Long usb to micro usb cable
    6. 3.5mm to coaxial cable
     
    Cayin has included quite a nice selection of accessories and all worked quite well for me. I didn’t use the accessories all too much with my time with the C5DAC as I preferred to use my cables but didn’t really hear much difference between my cables and the included so all is well.
     
    How does it work?
    On the top of the unit we have a volume knob that goes from 0-9 with 0 being off and likely 9 being ear shattering loud. We got a 3.5mm headphone in and headphone out so fairly standard affair there.
     
    On the side we got 2 switches of a bass boost switch and a gain switch for high and low.
     
    On bottom we got some interesting stuff. First on the bottom left we got a Coaxial out, a micro usb in for the DAC, a switch for switching between the sources from either the DAC in or the headphone in, and another micro usb in for charging the unit.
     
    On the front we get Cayin and on the bottom we get 3 leds indicating battery life.
     
    On the back we got Cayin again, model info and some other assorted words, and finally a reset button for when things go wrong and need a little reset.
     
    For the most part here we get the fairly standard stuff like most amps and at the same few neater things from the DAC part.
     
    How is the build quality?
    The build I feel in most part is quite nice. A lovely metal case for most of the unit and a solid feeling volume knob. There is a few things that isn’t too solid feeling though. The metal is a tad loose feeling and can move just slightly. The top of the unit has glossy and matte plastic bit that is rather loose feeling and aesthetically I am not too crazy about.
     
    How easy is it to use?
    With the C5DAC all one needs to do is just set it to DAC and then plug into a USB port. Simple and quick, after a few seconds everything was smooth sailing. Didn’t have an issue with getting the DAC feature to work on windows 7 or 8. On my Galaxy S5 through the included micro usb to micro usb cable I got the DAC to work with my apps on lollipop. I tried plugging into my Playstation 4 but even though the system recognized there was a DAC plugged in I was not able to hear any sound through the amp.
     
    On DAC mode in windows the volume is fixed, changing it doesn’t have an effect minus muting. On Android the volume was not fixed and could be adjusted.
     
    I had a few issues with the DAC if I unplugged the USB cable while still on DAC mode. On my Galaxy S5 simply turning off and on the unit did not always resolve the issue and would result in a few apps spazzing out. Tad weird and could never really properly troubleshoot the issue. On my desktop or laptop I had similar issues when unplugging the unit and would have to restart the C5DAC or my computer to get the DAC mode working again.
     
    Because the Cayin C5DAC is a rather portable design, using the unit at my desktop or laptop was rather clunky. The volume knob wasn’t in a very convenient place to access or that big. To use it at my computer and to change the volume I would have had to lift the whole unit to change volume.
     
    What does it sound like?
    Onto the most important for me, the sound quality. And this is certainly where the C5DAC shines for me.
     
    IEM Hiss:
    Starting with the amp just like the regular Cayin C5 the amp has a tad of a noise floor with sensitive IEMs and hisses on a number of my IEMs. For me I noticed on hiss on my Noble 4 and Ostry Kc06a but didn’t notice any hiss on my Havi B3 Pro 1 or my Hifiman ES100 earbuds.
     
    Sound:
    Sound signature wise I would call the C5DAC on the neutral side. I didn’t distinctly notice anything extremely exaggerated or at the same time recessed. It is a tad tricky to evaluate the DAC section but in rather contrast to my other DACs and sources I would say I noticed I would prefer the DAC of my Dragonfly V1.0 over the DAC in the C5DAC. I noticed between switching between DAC mode and AUX going Dragonfly>C5 amp the Dragonfly had more refinement in the bass and was tighter in the low end. And the Dragonfly extended better in the treble with various headphones I tested.
     
    IEM Nitpicks:
    A rather common nitpick I have seen with the Cayin C5 and the C5DAC was that the amp was rather not exactly the best for IEMs as they had too much power. I would echo this sentiment and in my experience with sensitive IEMs like the Noble 4 I would have to lower the volume of the DAC when using the C5DAC on my phone. On the desktop with fixed volume on DAC mode the unit was a bit too loud for my ears. In most cases if I wanted to use the unit on my desktop or laptop my setup would be Dragonfly>C5 in AUX mode and turn down the volume in windows to be compatible with IEMs.
     
    Gain Switch:
    The C5DAC as mentioned before has a Gain switch that one can toggle between low and high. For me and my most difficult to drive headphones, the Hifiman He-500 I personally hovered at around 3 on the volume knob on low gain. The amp is certainly no slouch in any sense in terms of power and it can likely power most headphones without issue.
     
    Bass Switch:
    Another switch that I absolutely loved was the bass switch on the C5DAC. To me without the bass switch off the sound is very clean and clear. Bass is impactful enough for me. With the bass switch on the sound would take on a darker and warmer sound with plenty of bass. On the Noble 4 with the bass switch on I noticed some creep into the lower mids with the increase in bass and clarity did take a hit as a result but it did make the Noble 4 a whole lot of fun. My favorite headphones without a doubt to play with the bass switch was definitely the Hifiman He-400 and the He-500. The he-400 and its already exaggerated bass got bumped to the next level of bass quantity. The bass switch is a definite plus for bassheads looking for a most clean extra bump of bass into their headphones.
     
    Planar Headphones and Objective 2 Comparison:
    For planars the C5DAC truly excels at powering my Hifimans. Bass really comes alive with the C5DAC much more so than on the O2. The O2 for beefy power hungry planars I feel rather mixed about and kinda don’t feel like they are driven to their true potential. The O2 are very well and clear but just a tad too dry in comparison to the C5DAC. The C5DAC in comparison sounds much more like the complete planar package from driving thick planar bass, to delivering on clear mids and treble, and has better separation and clarity than the O2. The C5DAC is the real deal!
     
    Conclusion:
    So wrapping up in my experience with amp/dacs in the price range I would by far say the Cayin C5DAC is the one of the best bang for buck all in one packages out there.
    Positives:
    1. Amp Sound Quality
    2. Very Powerful Amp
    3. Versatile
    4. Bass Boost
    Negatives:
    1. DAC Decent Sound Quality
    2. Too Powerful For IEMs
    3. Clunky For Desktop Use
     
    At the price of the Cayin C5DAC being around a competitive $215 price point I would definitely recommend it! It sounds absolutely fantastic and works superb for portable use~

  2. 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
     
    8conclusion.jpg
     
    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
  3. doublea71
    Inner Beauty: Cayin's C5 Portable Amp/DAC
    Written by doublea71
    Published Aug 16, 2015
    3.5/5,
    Pros - Ease of use, sounds quite nice, bass boost has some gonads, battery life, can handle a range of headphones reasonably well
    Cons - Build quality not on par with the sound it pumps out, only goes up to 24/96, design has a lot of room for improvement
    The Cayin C5 Spark Portable Amp/DAC: Inner Beauty
     
    Cayin has been making its presence known on head-fi with some well-received portable offerings in the past couple of years, and they were kind enough to set up a tour for a bunch of us, so I'd like to tip my hat to them for being gracious in doing so. I had the C5 Spark Amp/DAC for a couple of weeks as part of the tour, and received no compensation whatsoever.
     
    Before I get into the meat and potatoes of it all, let me give you some context so you know a bit more about me and how I went about this:
     
    About me:
     
    I wouldn't say I have golden ears, nor do I have tons of experience with portable amps and dacs - I'm closer to the typical newcomer when it comes to this particular type of gear, in all honesty. I listen to a good variety of music, but my tastes have mellowed over the years and I find myself gravitating towards singer/songwriters and acoustic jazz, but I've never given up on my first love, which is classic rock (in smaller doses these days). The listening experience I'm after is a combination of an inky-black background, distinct separation between instruments and voices, and gobs of detail throughout the entire frequency range without ever approaching fatigue. I guess you could say I want it all, or at least a good portion of it.
     
     
     
    Headphones used:
     
    1. UM Miracles
    2. Aurisonics Rockets
    3. RHA T20 (Tour unit)
    4. VSonic GR07
    5. Mr. Speakers Mad Dogs 3.2
     
     
    Sources used:
     
    1. Samsung Galaxy S5
    2. Cowon J3
    3. Laptop with Foobar 2000
    4. Fiio E17
     
     
    Music used:
     
    1. War - The World Is A Ghetto (HDTracks - 24/96) 
    2. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Art Blakey! Jazz Messengers! (HDTracks 24/96)
    3. Beck - Sea Change 24/96 (downsampled from 24/192, from PonoWorld Music Store)
    4. Elton John - Tumbleweed Connection 16/44
    5. Steve Swallow Trio - The New Standard 16/44
    6. Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender 16/44
    7. Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy 24/96 (2014 Remaster by Jimmy Page)
    8. David Crosby - If Only I Could Remember My Name...16/44
    9. Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems (HDTracks 24/96)
     
     
     
     
     
    Some data that you may or may not find useful (from Cayin's website: http://en.cayin.cn/product_view.asp?id=791)
     ​
    C5Specs.png
     
     
     
                                                                       And.....the box: Simple, understated, kind of elegant.
     ​
    IMG_1827.jpg
     
    What's in the box?
     ​
    IMG_1838.jpg

           Obviously it doesn't come with a phone and RHA T20s, but you do get:
     
    1. electric blue rubber bands for stacking (I think they should be transparent and tinted to match the cap that goes over the volume wheel)
    2. owner's manual
    3. micro-usb to micro-usb for connecting to a device
    4. a 3.5mm to 3.5mm connector
    5. micro-usb to regular usb for charging/using with computer
    6. a soft, grey pouch for storage (will only prevent scratches, but can probably hold the C5 stacked with a smartphone)
    7. a 3.5mm RCA Coaxial cable
     
    Some more pictures of the unit itself and comments on the design and build quality:
     ​
    IMG_1832.jpg
    The volume wheel has a good tactile feel to it, but I can't say I like the tinted plastic
    cover on the end - it just seems like it's destined to pop off over time. I would much rather
    have a solid metal chassis like the Fiio E17 since it's for portable use.
     ​
     ​
    IMG_1834.jpg
    It looks nice from afar, but the closer it gets, the harder it is to overlook certain design
    choices made by Cayin. I do like the champagne-colored satin finish, though.
     ​
     ​
    IMG_1835.jpg
    Another qualm I have with the design is the seam which runs the length of it on both
    sides (the black strip that runs from end to end) - there was a bit of movement when I
    gave it a slight squeeze with my thumb against the seam. I don't know why they didn't
    go with a 1-piece design here. Also, the metal edge of the case at the end here in this
    photo (the border that is a couple of millimeters larger than the black end-piece) is a bit
    too sharp for my taste. You're not going to get cut or anything, but it's another detail
    that is lacking in the fit and finish department. 
     ​
     ​
    IMG_1836.jpg
    Pretty easy to figure out where things are, but I'm not sure that the micro usb port is in
    the best place - I think it's a bit too far from center for my S5, but I'm not sure if that is
    an industry standard location on smartphones nowadays. The battery light protector
    sticks out a bit - I'd prefer it flush with the chassis. I have to say it looks rather sterile -
    not a hint of the style they're going for on the body.
     ​
     ​
    IMG_1837.jpg
    I know I'm repeating myself, but the tinted cap that doesn't strike me as being robust enough for the long haul.
    It reminds me of the inexpensive plastic helmets that most people wear when they're commuting around
    Saigon - yes, it looks like a helmet, but if it should ever meet the road in the event of a
    mishap, the road wins every time.
     ​
     ​
    IMG_1831.jpg
    The bass boost and gain switches - at least they are fairly flush with the body and
    unlikely to snag on anything. I didn't have any problem with them, but there's still
    the issue of consistency in terms of aesthetics. We have black, generic plastic and
    a lovely, champagne-hued satin finish on the body. This doesn't excite me at $200+...
     ​
     ​
    Now that I've gotten my criticisms out of the way, it worked flawlessly and did not fall apart or anything of the sort. It could just be....better - it has the build quality of something in the $100 range in my opinion. I expect much more for something that retails for $220 (on Amazon as of 8/16).
     
    Sound Quality (with comparisons to the Fiio E17):
     
    In a nutshell: The differences between the C5 and the E17 are not massive. What I heard was more micro-detail retrieval, better instrument separation, and a larger sound stage from the C5, but not so much that I was gob-smacked. It's noticeable, but not earth-shattering. Certainly enough to make me reach for the C5 if given a choice. Keep in mind that the Fiio uses the Wolfson WM8740 DAC chip, while the C5 uses the TI PCM1795. Bass and mids from the C5 and E17 were nearly indistinguishable to my ears. Additional details were most noticeable in the highs, but once in awhile there would be a bit of glare with certain recordings. This was most obvious with Beck's Sea Change (from Pono's Music Store), but this was an exception - I think this is in the recording itself - I've heard a version from MFSL which is more laid back and smoother than this version, and that glare was present with the E17, just to a lesser degree. The Fiio unit is indeed a bit warmer and more laid-back sounding, good in its own right. The Cayin has a more energetic/engaging sound: a straight shot of espresso to Fiio's flat white (it's late and I love coffee).
     
    I didn't have any bad pairings with any of my headphones - they all sounded as they normally do, so that leads me to believe the C5 doesn't color the sound much at all, with perhaps the highs being the only exception with certain recordings. I think it's a good sounding DAC for its price, but is it best in class? Time will tell...I may have to get a hold of an E18.
     
    The C5's amp has a bit more power, too, so it should fare marginally better with harder-to-drive cans, and had no problems driving the Mad Dogs on high gain. The Fiio is a bit warmer-sounding overall, but again, not by much. That being said, the C5's natural rival is not the E17 (or the newer E17K), but the E18 (for the sake of keeping it Cayin vs. Fiio). They tick many of the same boxes, but I haven't heard it before, so I can't comment on it (hopefully someone will be able to do this comparison soon, perhaps myself). 
     
     
     
     
    Functionality:
     
    The Spark does feature a bass boost switch and it does work fairly well. Now, mind you, you're not going to be suddenly blessed with the tightest, deepest bass you've ever heard, but I think the average user will like it - I would call it "fun" bass, for lack of a better word. Those with a penchant for the low-end will appreciate it. To the right of the bass boost switch is the gain switch - two levels of gain are provided. I found myself not using it with my iems simply because it wasn't necessary - they're all easy to drive, so it was only necessary when I was using my Mad Dogs. I've read some people mention that there was a bit of hiss with their iems, but I could only detect the slightest bit of hiss with low gain in use. I could not notice it at all once the music was playing, so I think it handles our little friends just fine. And then again, my ears are about 44 years old and have been to some LOUD shows, so there's a chance that I don't hear as well as other tour participants.
     
    One thing that I can't do with the E17 is plug it into my smartphone and play high-res music - all you can do is use the Fiio's amp in this situation. The Spark played the high-res stuff without a hitch - there wasn't anything for me to fiddle with. It just worked, and the higher bit rate was confirmed in my S5's player (I just use the stock player - I know, shame on me, right?). Unfortunately, it doesn't charge while being used as an amp/dac for a computer. Advantage: E17.
     
    The difference between the S5 alone and the S5+C5 was much greater than the difference between the C5 and the E17. Everything was more spacious, and details were being brought to the forefront that were otherwise hard to notice with the stock player. Just about every aspect of the listening experience was noticeably better, so for smartphone users looking for better sound, the C5 delivers. I don't know how long this will be true since I'm under the impression (and I could be wrong about this) that more smartphone manufacturers are using better dac chips - perhaps down the road only an amp will be necessary. All speculations aside, I think its sound quality, whether being used with a smartphone or as an amp/dac with a computer, hits the target for its price point. I was pretty satisfied when I was listening to my test tracks, so well done, Cayin.
     
    I never used the coax out on the C5, so I'll leave it to others to comment on its performance. The E17 does have an s/pdif out which allows it to ramp up to 24/192, but again, this is a feature I haven't had a need to use. It is an option, so again, the E17 shows that it has a level of versatility that is pretty close to the C5. Some may be left with the impression that they could have done better as far as bit rate compatibility is concerned for $200+, especially since we're now seeing 24/192 and DSD become almost common place. If you feel that you can hear a difference between 24/96 and 24/192 (I can't), then I guess you have some thinking to do.
     
    Final Thoughts and Recommendations:
     
    Although it is a good-sounding device (for its price) with a solid offering of features, I'm worried that the overall package will leave some wanting more in such a competitive price bracket. There's a lot to like on the inside, but let's face it: looks matter. Don't believe me? The "pictures of your portable rig" has about 2.3 million page views, and at least one person soils themselves whenever Noble posts new pictures on their thread.
     
    What I think Cayin ought to do if they make version 2.0:
     
    Number One: Improve the chassis: it doesn't have a solid feel compared to the E17 and there's too much plastic that I'm afraid will eventually break off. Lose the seam on the sides - if it needs to be 2 pieces, I'd hazard to guess there's a better way to ensure a tighter fit than this. There are edges that should not be felt, and that tinted cap over the volume wheel is either going to crack or get knocked off one of these days (remember, some of us are klutzes). If you could combine this retro look with top-notch fit and finish, it would be a much more appealing product overall. 
     
    Number Two: Go beyond 24/96. Take a look around and you'll see a lot of competitors doing just that in this price range. Perhaps you think that there's no difference between 24/96 and higher bit rates (you may be right), but guess what? A lot of your customers do! 
     
    Number Three: Make the style more cohesive from top to bottom. Lose the blue rubber bands and make the black end pieces on the unit consistent with the appearance of the rest of the unit - that part of the C5 couldn't look more generic and out of place. Also, look into where most the most popular smartphones put their micro usb port and do the same on the C5. I know Apple's lightning port is right in the center...
     
    Thanks again to Cayin for including me on the tour and I look forward to their future offerings - I think they're going to continue to grow in the portable market and help push the envelope for the benefit of audio nerds around the world.
      money4me247 likes this.
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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

     
    use1.jpg
     
     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    *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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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