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Cayin Spark C5 DAC Portable USB DAC + Headphone Amplifier

Rating:
4.08333/5,
  1. xkonfuzed
    A Deadly Challenger in the Portable Market
    Written by xkonfuzed
    Published Jul 4, 2015
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Powerful and excellent sounding Amp section, portability, versatility, accessories and cables
    Cons - some cheap plastic in the build, mediocre DAC section, hisses with IEM's.

    Cayin C5DAC: A Deadly Challenger in the Portable Market

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

    About me & Introduction

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

    Packaging

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

    Specifications:

    20150704_042924_HDR.jpg
     
     

    What's inside the box?

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

     Build Quality, Design, and Features: 

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

    Is it portable?

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

    Is it versatile? 

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

    Features?

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

    How's the battery life?

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

    Sound

     

    Noise floor: 

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

    Gain:

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

    Bass boost: 

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

    Power: 

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

    How does it sound? 

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

    Amp: 

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

    With my headphones:

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

    Sennheiser HD650

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

    Beyerdynamic DT880/250

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

    Sony MDR MA900

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

    M-Audio Q40

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

    Denon C300

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

    Amp Comparisons

    C5DAC's amp vs Aune T1's amp:

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

    C5DAC's amp vs FiiO E11 (MK1)

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

    C5DAC as a DAC + Amp

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

    Comparisons with other DACs and sources

    C5DAC vs Aune T1:

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

    C5DAC vs Hifimediy Sabre DAC

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

    C5DAC vs LG G4 and iPad 4

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

    Closing Thoughts

    Let's wrap up with list of Pros and Cons: 
     
    Pros: 
    Excellent sounding, powerful amp.
    Nice build quality (though could use some improvement in the plastics)
    PORTABLE!
    Versatile
    Comes with all the cables you'll need, and a nice protective bag.
     
    Cons:
    Mediocre DAC
    Hisses with sensitive IEMs and headphones
    Too powerful for IEMs
     
    Cayin really did hit the nail in with one. Despite its mediocre DAC, I feel like the C5DAC is an excellent unit for great sound on the go. The amp part was fabulous, and brought a lot of joy to my ears. Its a versatile DAC/Amp with nice features, and I have no problems whatsoever recommending it. The Pros really do outweigh the cons. 
     
    Good luck to Cayin with their future products, I feel like they have a lot of potential. 
     
    I spent a lot of time and effort writing this review up, so feedback will be greatly appreciated. 
      Baycode and Vartan like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. xkonfuzed
      @Baycode Thanks, appreciate the feedback :)
      xkonfuzed, Jul 5, 2015
    3. metaglot
      Thanks, very helpful!
      Is there any Dac/Amp combo or combination, either portable or not, that outclasses it at its price point?
      metaglot, Jul 9, 2015
    4. xkonfuzed
      @metaglot Appreciate the feedback. 
       
      As I mentioned above, the Aune T1 is a better sounding unit to me (the C5DAC has a better amp though). There's also the Fiio E17, which has just as good a DAC, but a much worse Amp. The Schiit M&M stack (Modi and Magni) is another great option to consider, the Modi as a DAC is better than the C5DAC, but I've never heard the Magni. 
       
      Other competitors include the Oppo HA-2 and the Fiio E18, both of which I haven't heard. 
      xkonfuzed, Jul 10, 2015
  2. 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
     
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    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