Cayin N5II; the New Hero in the Mid-Fi Arena
Zhuhai Spark Electronic Equipment Co., Ltd. was founded in 1993. The company is developing audio equipment and is marketing there Hi-Fi products under the name Cayin. Cayin ventured into personal audio on 2013 and launched a series of Portable Headphone products and Digital Audio Player (DAP).
The company has developed a new i-series for lifestyle customers in personal audio and have released a desktop DAC and headphone amplifier combo iDAC-6 and iHA-6 (2015), and an Android based DAP i5 (2016).
The Cayin N5II is the latest Android based Digital Audio Player in its product line.
The motto of the company is “Never be the same again”.
First of all, a big thanks to John from Cayin(Zhuhai Spark Electronic Equipment Co., Ltd ) for providing me the Cayin N5II as review sample. I am not affiliated with Cayin beyond this review and these words reflect my true, unaltered, but subjective (I am a Human) opinions about the product.
***All pictures with GÖKHAN AYDIN illustration are taken by myself.
Cayin N5II is sold around 370,00 USD
Package and Accessories:
The device comes in a nice black card-box that gives you a nice first impression.
The box contains the following contents;
- Micro USB cable
- Silicone Case
- USB to Micro SD converter
- User Manual Chinese/English language
The device comes with a silicone case that is useful but not as nice looking as the leather case with crocodile pattern that is sold separately. There are also some optional accessories that are sold severalty like the Type C to RCA and the 3.5mm Coaxial Cable.
The good thing is that the display comes with a pre-installed tempered glass protector with these times popular 2.5D arc edge profile.
4. Design and Built quality:
In one word, BEAUTIFUL!
The Cayin N5II is a quite small (115*57*15.3mm) and very well made Digital Audio Player (DAP). The design language reminds me to this of the Astell&Kern AK100II that I have also used for a while.
The chassis of the Cayin N5II is made of a CNC engraved Aerospace grade Aluminum material. The front panel has a hairline effect while the sides are sandblasted. The device is comfortable to hold in your hand and there are no sharp edges.
The threaded volume knob on the other hand is made of stainless steel that looks very esthetical and is well protected from impacts. The volume knob is quite responsive and I had no problems to use it when the device was in my pocket.
On the front is the 3.65 inch IPS display that has a pre-installed tempered glass screen protector with this popular 2.5D edges. The IPS display has a resolution of 480×854 pixels. The screen brightness is good in indoor conditions while the outdoor visibility is average. There is no pixilation and the color reproduction is quite good for 370 USD device, but don’t expect a Super Amoled screen with eye-catching ultra vivid colors. Btw, the screen is quite responsive.
On top right corner is a white LED light that blinks while charging the device. On the bottom of the N5II screen is with a white circle marked touch button dedicated for home & back actions. By touching for one time it reacts as back button, while holding it for one second you can go back directly to the home screen.
On the right side are 3 (three) physical buttons for back & play/pause & next/fast-forward. The 2 (two) Micro SD card slots are also on the same side.
On the left side is only one button that is dedicated for power on/off and screen on/off.
On the bottom is the multifunctional USB Type-C female connection.
On the top of the device is the Single Ended 3.5mm (TRS) Headphone Out/Line Out connection and the 2.5mm Balanced (TRRS) headphone output.
The backside has a nice looking pattern that looks like small seashells.
Here is a detailed specification of the Cayin N5II, copied straight from the official Cayin website.
The Cayin N5II has 1 GB of RAM (relative old DDR3) and 32 GB of internal storage, but approx. 8 GB of them is reserved for the Android 5.1 Lollipop OS (Operating System) that means that you have at least 24 GB free internal storage.
As I mentioned before, there are 2 (two) Micro SD card slots with a max. supported capacity of 256GB. That means that you have 24 GB of internal and 512 GB of external (2×256 GB) storage capacity that is a very good number for a 370 USD priced Mid-fi device.
b) DAC Section:
Under the hood is the nowadays popularESS9018K2M DAC chip of the company ESS Technology Incorporated, located in California. The ESS9018K2M is a 32-bit, 2-channel audio DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) targeted for audiophile-grade portable applications such as mobile phones and digital audio players like the Cayin N5II.
The ESS9018K2M has the ESS patented 32-bit Hyperstream DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator (TDJE) that delivers a DNR of up to 127dB and THD+N of 120dB.
The Cayin N5II supports also a USB DAC function for external use with devices like PC, Tablet, etc.
You can activate this function by pulling down the Top Bar and select USB DAC under USB mode.
c) Power Rating & Amplification (I/V & LPF + Power):
The Cayin N5II is a quite powerful device for the size. I didn’t notice any noise or interference, while using some of my sensitive IEM’s due this review.
The Cayin N5II has a power rating of 130mW+130mW @ 32Ohm for the 3.5mm Single Ended out and a quite high output rating of 250mW+250mW @ 32 Ohm for the 2.5mm Balanced out. The output impedance for the balance out is about 0.4 while the 3.5mm output has an output impedance of 0.6 ohm’s.
The N5II has three (3x) Op Amps (Operational Amplifier) of the model OPA1652 made by the company Texas Instruments (TI). Two of this Op Amps are responsible for the I/V Process that is responsible to convert the current from the DAC in to an analog voltage and to filter the signal to keep out the alias frequencies. The third is dedicated for the Line Out amplification.
They are also three (3x) TI Branded Op Amps of the model OPA1622 for LPF (Low Pass Filtering) + Power. The Low Pass filter is a filter that passes the lower frequencies and rejects those at higher frequencies. Two are for the 2.5mm Balanced out (1xOPA1622 for the right & 1xOPA1622 for the left channel) and one for the 3.5mm SE analog output.
Here is a detailed Functional Framework of the N5II copied straight from the official Cayinwebsite;
The Cayin N5II has three Active Oscillators to facilitate better clock synchronization for PCM and DSD music files with different sampling frequency to ensure all paybacks are free from digital artifact.
The Cayin N5II has three Active Oscillators to facilitate better clock synchronization for PCM and DSD music files with different sampling frequency to ensure all paybacks are free from digital artifact.
The Cayin N5II has digital and analog, inputs and outputs.
The multifunctional USB Type-C digital connection can be used as digital out for the USB DAC function to connect with devices like PC, Tablet, etc.
You have also the option to connect your Cayin N5II to a DAC like the Chord Mojo via the optional sold USB Type-C to S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format) cable. The USB Type-C connection can be used also for digital-in via OTG storage.
The Cayin N5II has a multifunctional 3.5mm (TRS) analog interface that works as headphone out and line out at the same time. The N5II has also a 2.5mm Balanced (TRRS) headphone output with higher output voltage. The N5II has according to Cayin an desktop grade line out rate a 2V that fits audio equipments with higher impedance than 10k Ohm.
The Cayin N5II has two connection option, Bluetooth 4.0 (no detail about aptx support) and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n with a speed of up to 2.4GHz. You can pair and connect your Bluetooth speaker or headphone/earphone with your Cayin N5II and use it as digital source.
You can also access your music library on your Network Attached Storage (NAS) or connect to your Local Area Network (LAN) via DLNA. The download speed of the Cayin N5II is quit well and the connection range is above average.
I think that Cayin did a good job regarding the EMI shielding, because I didn’t hear any background noise or interference caused by the Wi-Fi antenna of the N5II.
The Cayin N5II has a 3000mAH battery under the hood that should last for 12 hours according to Cayin’s technical specs. My test results are about 10 – 10.5 hours in Audio Priority Mode with the 3.5mm Single Ended output (Volume 60 of 100), 9.5 hours with the 2.5mm Balanced out (Volume 45/100) and about 8 hours while Wi-Fi is on and using online services.
These results are quit good for a small device with 3000mAH battery and a high power rate. The charging time takes about 3.5 – 4 hours with a 2A USB-C wall charger.
Software and User Interface:
The Cayin N5II has a highly customized User Interface (UI) that is based on Android OS 5.1 Lollipop. Android 5.1 Lollipop sounds a bit outdated, but it doses it job very well.
Cayin has made a simple and easy to use UI on top of the Andoid OS and it seems to work quite well. You can update the device Firmware Over the Air (OTA) or by downloading the update file (zip. file) to your device and update the device manually by choosing it over the update menu.
Cayin released the latest FW update on 26.December 2017 with the Firmware v2.1EN, that made the device even snappier and responsive then before.
They are some randomly appearing minor lags & bugs (for example forecloses of the Cayin Music Player when setting other language then Chinese or English), but Cayin told me that they will release some FW updates in the near future that will solve all problems, step by step.
a) Navigation Bar:
The top bar/navigation bar is a real classic that all Android users know; here you can find some quick option and information’s about the device status like battery percentage or time and date.
Here you can activate the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antenna, switch between High, Normal and Low gain or choose between Phone Out (PO) and Line Out (LO). You can also activate/deactivate the Audio Priority Mode that I will explain later.
There is also a USB Mode option to switch between DAC, Mass Storage or OTG, etc. and a button to activate the Idle Status to on and off. Here is even an option to set a Scheduled power off, the backlight brightness and a screen power of timer.
On the top right corner is the gear icon to have a direct access in to the Android OS settings menu.
At the home screen, you will find the Settings (gear icon), Music, List, Private Cloud and the Search button.
The Music tab is where you can see your available storage and expandable storage options like Local Memory, TF1, TF2 and OTG. There are 5 Navigation modes available and these are Folder, Album, Artist, Genre and Tracks. But for the fist time you need to scan the device to see information’s about Album, Artist, etc.
I like to navigate over the folder view and this works flawless.
When you touch the Gear icon you can access additional settings like Music Scan, Third-party applications, Equalizer, Music Settings etc.
The important part for me is the Third-party applications menu, because under this tab you can find the Google Playstore application and all application you have installed over Playstore or even apps installed via .apk files.
The fist thing I did is to register my Google Account to have access to online streaming services like Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music etc. After installation you will have easy access to all your Third-party applications under this menu. Cayin was kind and has pre-installed ES File explorer for an easy access to my .apk library.
I don’t like to use any kind of equalizer, but if you need some fine tuning the Cayin N5II has a 10 band equalizer to do that. There are also some presents like Classic, Rock, Jazz, Pop, etc.
Under the Music Settings menu, you can find many specific options like Gain, Digital filter, DSD gain, SPIDIF OUT, Startup Volume, Channel Balance etc.
c) Music Application:
The Stock Music Application is quite simple and useful. You have also 2 other themes that you can change by one touch over the theme icon if you are bored to use the stock one.
On the top are some useful information’s like volume, gain type (high, normal, low), battery count, and time. When you swipe the Album Art from right to left you can see the lyrics of the current playing music file (if exist), when you swipe again it will shop up a nice looking VU-Meter.
They are also some quick settings like play order, equalizer, playlist and add to favorite options.
d) Audio Priority Mode
The Audio Priority Mode is an option turn off wireless connections like Wi-Fi and BT in order to avoid any noise caused by these antennas. This will also disable all unnecessary background and third-party applications, even the EQ option will be turned off to get a pure Audiophile experience.
Equipments used for this review:
DAP&DAC’s : Cayin N5II, Aune M2 Pro, Zishan Z2, Chord Mojo
IEM’s : Audeze iSine20, HiFi BOY OS V3, Whizzer A15 Pro,
Earbuds : NiceHCK Graphene, K’S 300 Samsara Edition
Headphones : Audio-Technica ATH50M
Albums & tracks used for this review:
- Casey Abrams – Robot Lovers (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- GoGo Penguien – Raven (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- Emmanuel Pahud (Claude Debussy) – Syrinx (Apple Music)
- Melody Gardot – Who Will Comfort Me (Flac 16bit/44kHz)
- Aretha Franklin – I Say a Little Prayer (Apple Music)
- Diana Krall – So Wonderful (DSF)
- Bryan Adams – MTV Unplugged Version Album (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- Queen – Greatest Hits Vol. II (Apple Music)
- Otto Liebert & Luna Negra – Up Close “Album” (DSF) – Binaural Recording
- Alboran Trio’s – Cinque Lunghissimi Minuti (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- Megadeth – Sweating Bullets (Flac 16bit/44kHz)
- Lazarus A.D. – The Onslaught (ALAC)
- Opeth – Damnation (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- Metallica – The Black Album (Flac 24bit/96Hz)
- Lorde – Royals (Flac 24-bit/48kHz)
- Twenty One Pilots – Fairly Local (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- Michael Jackson – Billie Jean (DSF)
- Yosi Horikawa – Bubbles (Flac 16bit/44kHz)
8. Supported Audio Formats:
These details are copied straight from the officialCayin website.
10. The Sound:
I have burn-in the device for approx. 120-125 hours before I wrote this review.
The fist thing I have noticed is the clean and black background. Most of the players with Android OS and a Wi-Fi antenna have a noticeable noise reproduction on the background, which is not the case for the Cayin N5II.
Tonality / Bass / Mid / Treble / Soundstage & Imagine:
The Cayin N5II has a very dynamic and musical sound, which is just on the warm side of neutral. I should say that the attack, decay and release performance of the N5II is impressive for this price category; well done Cayin!
The sub bass of the Cayin N5II is full of energy, has a well controlled texture, with a nice sense of speed. The low end have a noticeable punch with instruments like bass guitar and kick drums and it’s present, but not exaggerated so that it will satisfy with most music genres.
The bass of the N5II have nice impact and great texture that blooms nicely. The best thing about the bass is that it doesn’t go out of control and don’t lose any authority even in some bass heavy tracks like Lorde’s song “Royals”.
The midrange of the Cayin N5II sounds clean, engaging and never painful or annoying. I like the presentation of this device with acoustic tracks, because it has a nice sense of emotion. The sound of the midrange is not harsh or to dry and it sounds smooth and pleasant, without the lose of resolution and any details.
There is also enough space between instruments so that you can hear each detail on very complex songs like GoGo Penguien’s – Raven. Male and female, vocals sounding quite realistic and lifelike to my ears, especially the performance of Melody Gardot in “Who Will Comfort Me” was very satisfying with my Audeze iSine20. Maybe some of us will prefer a more upfront vocal presentation, that is quite subjective and a matter of personal preference.
The upper midrange performance of DAP’s with Sabre DAC chips was always problematic, but luckily Cayin did a tuning that doesn’t exceed the fine line of upper midrange issues, like sibilance, ear fatiguing and digitization.
Sabre DAC’s sounding bright and detailed in general, but many people are complaining that some implantations do sound too digital or unnatural. The Cayin N5II has also a Sabre DAC under the hood that I have mentioned before, but while the treble range of the N5II is energetic and not rolled off, it’s by no way a super bright player that is sounding digital like some other Sabre DAC based sources.
The treble range of the N5II is quite detailed and has a nice emphasis that results to a pretty natural sound. The upper treble extension of the Cayin N5II offers an airy and open presentation with an outstanding glimmer and detail.
Some treble intensive instruments like Drums, Pianos or Violin’s sounding relative natural and realistic. For example; you can feel the emotion and control of the piano presentation and the control with upper treble notes in “Alboran Trio’s – Cinque Lunghissimi Minuti” that is my reference song for the any treble performance of Hi-Fi equipments.
The soundstage of the Cayin N5II is good for a Mid-Fi device. It has a wide staging and above average depth. The binaural recorded song “Three Days Without You” of Otto Liebert & Luna Negra in the Album “Up Close” is my reference title for soundstage and imaging performance, that is well performed by Cayin N5II with an accurate and nice separation.
2.5mm Balanced Out Sound Performance:
The sound difference between 3.5mm vs. 2.5mm is quite noticeable. The first difference is an even darker background. The second noticeable difference to the 3.5mm out is a wider staging and more bass impact & control. There is also more attention to micro details.
11. Sound Comparisons with Other DAP & DAC’s:
Vs. Aune M2 Pro (DAP):
The Aune M2 Pro has an in-house Linux based software that is quite different then does in the Cayin N5II. The software on M2 Pro is simple but very responsive, but has only limited functionality. The N5II on the other hand is a highly customizable player with lots of feature and options, like the installation capability of third-party application like online streaming services (Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music etc.). These important features are missing on the Aune M2 Pro, which is otherwise a very easy-to-use device.
Both players are quite powerful, while the Aune M2 Pro has the upper hand with its Class A Amplified 3.5mm Headphone Out. But the Cayin N5II has it’s own weapon, the 2.5mm balanced out that has even more power rating then those of the M2 Pro (230mW@32 Ohm for M2 Pro vs. 250mW@32ohm for N5II).
Class A Amplifier is a good thing for power and sound quality, but is not very efficient when it comes to battery life. The M2 Pro has a total runtime of about 7 hours, while the N5II runs for more then 10 – 10.5 hours.
They are also differences in sound output options. The Aune M2 Pro has a dedicated 3.5mm line out that works quit well, but the missing of digital out options like USB DAC, S/PDIF etc. is a real con for many users. Cayin did the right choice and added almost every type of output (optical out is missing) to this small device.
When it comes to sound, the bass speed of the M2 Pro is a bit quicker, while the sub-bass of the N5II goes a touch deeper. Both devices have a nice vocal presentation, while Aune’s vocal sounds a little bit more intimate due the more upfront presentation.
Instruments sounding a bit cleaner on the M2 Pro, but both have equal good texture and detail. The treble range of the M2 Pro sounds smoothed off and it has also this typical warmish presentation due the AK4490 DAC.
The Aune M2 Pro has a wider and deeper soundstage, but the difference is very minimal.
Vs. Chord Mojo (DAC):
The Chor Mojo is one of my favorite transport sources. It is powerful, small and has a lots of connection options. The build quality on both is on par and both devices are made of an aluminum chassis.
The battery life of the Mojo is around 8 Hours while the N5II has an additional runtime of 2 hours (approx. 10 Hours in total).
Both devices have a wide variety of connection options. The Mojo has two 3.5mm analog outputs that is a nice option if you want listen to music with a second person at the same time, or want a quick comparison between two different headphones/earphones (this is good feature for reviewers), but is missing a 2.5mm balanced out. The Cayin N5II on the other hand has a 2.5mm balanced out, but has almost any type of connection feature, but is missing an optical connection option.
The sound tuning of these two devices is quite different. The Mojo has a warmer, full bodied and musical presentation, while the Cayin N5II has a more relaxed, smooth and balanced sound signature.
The bass of the Mojo has more impact, but is not as fast as those of the N5II. The detail level for vocal and instrument presentation is on par, but the Mojo has a more upfront presentation while the Cayin N5II sound a little bit more recessed. The Cayin N5II has more treble presence and additional clarity, while the Mojo sound more smoothed off on the top end.
The difference in soundstage wide and depth is minimal. Both share the same size in soundstage while the Cayin N5II sounds airier then the Cord Mojo.
The Cayin N5II is a very capable device with lots of features and great sound quality that is packed in a beautiful looking outfit. All of these aspects make the N5II to a great device for the money.
13. Pos and Cons:
+ Beautiful design and top built quality
+ Great sound
+ Lots of connection options
+ Third-party applications for online streaming
+ Simple and nice UI
+ Two Micro SD slots
– Needs some minor software optimizations to improve the speed
– Didn’t like the stock silicone case