Cayin N5ii

Packed with goodies!

PROS: neutral-bright tonality, balanced output, dual uSD card support, Bluetooth and WiFi support (w/Google Play installed), very compact solid design, battery life.

CONS: limited Android experience, custom digital out cable.

The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.

Manufacturer website: Cayin, for sale on MusicTeck and Amazon.


Intro.

When I saw N5ii spec for the very first time, I was a little surprised to find it having more in common with i5 than original N5. After receiving my review unit and placing it next to N5 and i5, I thought of calling it “iN5ii” 🙂 There is no other way for me to describe the new N5ii DAP from Cayin but to call it as a crossover between these two models, picking up a balanced output and dual uSD cards from N5 and a nearly identical Hiby GUI and customized Android 5.1 with a touch screen and a similar volume wheel from i5. Along with a sticker price of $369, Cayin packed N5ii with lots of goodies, pushing the envelope of its price/performance ratio even further.

This new release enters a space in mid-fi market which is currently the most saturated when it comes to DAPs. It’s a space where audio enthusiasts want something small and compact on the go, but with more power and more features to set it apart from entry level models (like Cayin N3) and without high expectations of summit-fi performance, something which Cayin is overdue for (how about the next flagship model?).

I remember when Cayin told me about their original plan of keeping N-models as non-Android based, while i-models will be Android based. N5ii is a crossover between N5 and i5, which looks like a “hybrid” on paper. But does it perform like one? I spent the last month using N5ii DAP (w/2.1en firmware), and here is what I found.

Unboxing.

Many companies put a lot of thought into packaging. I appreciate that, thus wanting to highlight it in my unboxing section. In case of N5ii, the outside sleeve is all black with a front featuring a glossy outline of the DAP with a focus on a volume wheel. Hi-Res Audio sticker in the lower left corner is the only touch of color in there. Flipping it on the back reveals detailed highlights of the design which is quite impressive.

The actual storage box underneath the sleeve is all black, with a company name and audio waveform logo in silver. Once a magnetic cover is lifted, you will find a user guide in the pocket under the cover, and the DAP wedged in a secure foam cutout, right next to the storage pocket with accessories.

Accessories.

Already pre-installed, N5ii has a tempered glass screen protector which is always good to have when dealing with a touch screen DAP. While film screen protectors keep scratches away, tempered glass usually shatters on direct impact, offering a real protection of the glass display.

You will also find a silicone protection case, a grey-ish rubbery semi-translucent case. It doesn’t look too cheap or feels stretchable like some other dust/lint magnet silicone cases, and it does enhance the grip while keeping all the ports open. But it’s not as premium looking as Cayin’s optional “crocodile” pattern case you’ll find on Amazon or directly from MusicTeck. Yes, the case will set you back $30, but it fits like a glove, has a soft inner lining, distinct red stitching around the back, quality finish, and precise cutouts around the ports and volume wheel. Personally, I recommend upgrading to this case.

Stock case.

Optional upgrade case.

Another optional accessory is Cayin CS-30TCR usb-C to coax cable (to connect to external DAC/amp) and Cayin CS-40TC35 (intended for 3.5mm coax input DAC/amp like Chord Mojo or Hugo 2). The cables have a quality build and extra shielding to cut the interference. Since N5ii doesn’t have S/PDIF direct output, these cables are necessary if you are planning to use this DAP as a transport to drive external DAC/amp. Both cables available directly from MusicTeck.

You should also expect to find usb-C to usb cable for charging, data transfer, and usb-dac connection, though it was “apple” white, instead of a “traditional” black usb cable. Either way, this cable will be easy to spot among all your other usb-c and micro-usb cables, though the cable jacket felt not as solid. Also, included were 2 extra Hi-Res Audio stickers.

Design.

From my previous experience of reviewing N6, N5, i5, N3, and now N5ii, I find that Cayin always tries to come up with an original design which makes them stand out from the crowd of saturated DAP market. Of course, what’s under the hood should count the most, but as they say – you only get one chance to make a first impression. With non-Android DAPs you have more room and more freedom to customize controls and chassis. When you are dealing with Android based design and full touch screen interface, it leaves you with very little room for extra design elements, so you need to be more creative. In my opinion, with i5 the focus of the design was their threaded cylindrical volume knob, which is scaled down and carried over to N5ii.

According to Cayin, N5ii is 9% smaller and 24% lighter then i5, and indeed, with dimensions of 115mm x 57mm x 15.3mm and approximately 150g in weight – it’s a very compact and pocket friendly DAP. With a very thin bezel around side and bottom edges, majority of the front panel is occupied by 3.65” touch screen. The top of the chassis above the display extends with a volume wheel in the upper right corner, guarded around the corner by chassis frame, instead of being exposed like in i5. N5ii unit had a volume wheel with a noticeable resistance and a click-feedback as you turn it with every adjustment step. Though the resistance of the wheel wasn’t too tight, I still found it more comfortable to turn with 2 fingers.

The metal part of the front chassis has a brushed aluminum anodized finish, while all the way around the sides and the top/bottom I found a sandblasted finish which gave CNC aluminum chassis an extra non-slip grip and a very pleasant to the touch feel. The back has a glass panel with a laser etched pattern underneath, which could be slippery especially when you place it on the surface, but when you hold N5ii naked in your hand, that slippery back is compensated by a non-slip sandblasted grip of side panels. But either way, using N5ii with a case is a good idea, and that optional “crocodile pattern” pleather case is pretty good and doesn’t hide the design elements of the DAP.

Starting from the left side, you have a small aluminum power button at the top with a corresponding etched symbol. On the right side, at the top you have transport control buttons with 3 evenly spaced small aluminum buttons where you have Play/Pause in the middle and Skip Next/Prev around it. Though buttons are small, they have plenty of distance in between to make sure your fingers don’t press two at a time. Down below the right side you have 2 spring-loaded uSD slots. The bottom has multi-functional USB-C port, used for charging, data transfer, USB DAC/amp input, and Digital Out output. The top, besides a volume wheel which is accessible from the front/back, also has 2.5mm BAL headphone out and 3.5mm SE headphone output which is also shared with Line Out port.

The front display panel also hosts a small charging LED in the upper right corner, and all the way at the bottom in the middle there is a touch “home” button which has a dual functionality of Go-Back with a single tap or Go-to-Home screen with a longer touch’n’hold.

Page 2: Under the hood, Wired/Wireless Connections, and GUI.

Page 3: Sound analysis, Comparison, Pair up, and Conclusion.

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53 thoughts on “Cayin N5ii

  1. Hey, thanks for review. Have you tried n5ii with Pinnacle p1? To me, it was very harsh, very unpleasant pairing (only tried with SE though). Also, very interesting how pairing wiil be with ibasso it01.

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      1. Hey Mr. Twister, I have a question. How does N5II in (bal mode) compare with an old Fiio X7 (single ended). Is it better to buy a newer player with balanced mode as opposed to buying an older, 3.5mm player of a more expensive league?

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      2. Old X7 was a nice try, but I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you can get one dirt cheap and use it as a transport with an external dac/amp or external portable amp. Plus, they never resolved some of the firmware issue, just moved on to x7ii. I think prices on x7ii came down, including used ones. It’s certainly their best DAP to date, and don’t even bother with x5iii either.

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    1. IT01 pair up is golden! Warm smooth bass, nice impact, mids and treble are relatively balanced, though overall signature is more toward L-shaped. Mids/treble are detailed, natural, not harsh at all, and treble has a nice level of natural sparkle. Not too smooth or rolled off. definitely non-fatigue.

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      1. Hi,
        I have read a few things about the underwhelming amp-section inside the Fiio X5III. In your opinion does adding an amp like a Cayin C5 or Schiit Fulla 2 to the X5iii’s line out bring out a drastic improvement in sound quality. Or is the Cayin N5ii alone better than X5III+amp. My headphone set up is Sennheiser HD 598 and I don’t use single ended.

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      2. you want your dap stack to be portable, no cross fulla 2 out. C5 is a great amp, and yes it will improve X5iii sound, and it will be noticeable. N5ii is great, though probably, though probably won’t overtake x5iii+C5, and keep in mind since Cayin replaced it already with N5iiS, oriignal new N5ii is cheaper now (seen it on MusicTeck discounted already).

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    1. You should, just like I used N5ii as a transport to drive HA-2, and I’m sure it can drive C5DAC or any other usb DAC/amp. The problem is to find the right cable. I used before cheap eBay usb-c to micro usb cables, as well as micro-usb to micro-usb with usb-c adapter – and some didn’t work. That shanling L2 cable did the trick.

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      1. Thank you.
        I live in India where the prices for N5II are still high so I will in sometime just upgrade to the X5iii and Cayin C5 hoping the combination sounds better than N5II standalone.

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  2. Shanling L2 is a different type of cable. For IFI Micro IDSD, or IFI Nano, usb type-c male to usb female cable is needed. There are some cables on Amazon one of which is made by Anker. Which one would you prefer for type-c to female USB cable?

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    1. Sorry, wasn’t familiar with Nano, thought maybe, unlike, Micro it’s more portable with micro USB digital input. For Micro I used cayin coax cable. For nano, try that anker cable, these guys always build quality cables. I just don’t recommend using cable+adapter, but a direct short cable (usb-c to USB a female) in theory should work. Please, reply back once you try it.

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  3. Alex, thanks for another great review and especially DX80 comparison. Guess they’re also in the same league, just different tonality.

    Also, do you plan Opus #1S review? Is it close to DX80 soundwise?

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    1. Opus #1 vs #1s are so identical in design, I will have a very short comparison write up. Plus, in this N5ii review and comparisons you can extrapolate how they compare. In tonality it will be close but there is a big difference with opus#1s having blacker background and higher SNR in comparison to dx80. All that improves resolution and transparency of the sound.

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      1. this is really off-topic since it’s under N5ii review :), but in terms of DX80 vs Opus#1S – #1S has wider soundstage (noticeably wider), blacker background, less hissing (with sensitive iems), but overall tonality is similar.

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      2. Sorry for an off-topic 🙂 Speaking of N5-II, it’s really impressive how pocketable it is. Just around 150g and 10+ hrs working time – that is great! Not sure if it’s possible to transfer files wirelessly, but in any case both convenience and feature set are very nice.

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  4. Great review, as usual!

    I currently use a DX80 with Westone W60s. I tried the N5ii at CanJam last weekend and was pretty blown away. It seemed more accurate and detailed than my DX80. I actually thought it was a “summit-fi” DAP and was pretty surprised when I learned of the price! Did you happen to listen to it with W60s? I’m curious if you thought they were a good pairing.

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    1. Would have been funny if we were there at the same time in Cayin’s room (on Saturday). I wanted to check out all those full size cans with my DAPs, while Andy had only cables terminated for his amps 😦 But anyway. You are right, DX80 is smoother and less resolving in comparison to N5ii, so your perception of W60 is correct. Btw, did you check out Westone table? W80 or UMPro50v2? We can continue Westone discussion on head-fi in W80 or W-series thread, if you wish.

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  5. Hi!

    could you please compare it with The AK120II +Andromeda and U4SE in sound quality terms?
    Is more transportable than the AK120II??

    Very good review as usual!!👍👍

    Regards ✌️

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    1. N5ii and AK120ii are identical in size, and from a distance look nearly alike. In terms of sound quality, ak120ii is warmer and smoother, so both Andro and U4SE will be more musical, more natural/organic, while N5ii will change the sound to be more revealing, more detailed.

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    1. don’t use M1s, just collecting dust. The sound is warmer/smoother in M1s, more neutral/revealing in N5ii. But with everything else, N5ii is head and shoulders above M1s in terms of functionality, storage, usability, etc. So, definitely an upgrade.

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      1. Thanks for the reply. That’s interesting, I’m not too sure whether we’re talking about the same M1s, am talking about the Aune M1s, which to me doesn’t sound warm at all to begin with.

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      2. i meant it relative to N5ii, just to give you an idea. if you read my M3s review I posted a week ago, I went into comparison of M1s, opus#1, x5ii, n3, good for a relative comparison.

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    1. Many manufacturers use such plastic jacks so it doesn’t make contact with metal chassis of the DAP to pick up noise/static. The only issue I’m aware of, an early batch when N5ii was released had a few units where 2.5mm jack wasn’t soldered good enough and it went inside when headphone jack was pushed in. I’m pretty sure they took care of that problem. Haven’t seen any recent complains on HF.

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  6. Hey Twister,
    Thanks for your time with reviews
    was going through your reviews
    Help me please I’m not sure what to buy M3s or N5ii or any other suggestion you have
    my budget is between 400-500 US$ and could you also suggest nice balanced IEMs around 250$

    Thank you
    Rvy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. too many daps, and they are all good, with their pros and cons. Try to figure what is your requirements, do you need steaming? how much storage? do you care about touch screen or not? bluetooth wireless headphones? do you need extra power to drive demanding headphones (thus a need for balanced output)? Once you figure out your requirements, it iwll be a lot easier to narrow down the dap choice. In that price range they all sound good, not outstanding like flagship WM1Z or SP1000, but just good 🙂 At the price range of iems you are looking for (under $300), you can get a nice EN700Pro or IT03 or even IT01. You can actually get both EN700Pro and IT01 for $250. EN700Pro is a good all-rounder, IT01 and IT03 are more fun. Read into my reviews as well.

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  7. I am very much interested in a buying a Cayin N5 ii, but I would like to get clarification about two features.
    (I am sorry) I am an Apple addict and I was so far using iPod Classic devices; I loved them but the last one died recently and I am not interested i switching to iPod touch, because I use iPhone devices and they are just not suitable as music players.
    My questions are :
    1) I there an easy way to synchronise the Cayin N5ii with an iTunes library ?
    2) it is possible to stream from the Cayin N5ii to an AirPort device ? All my speaker and HiFi devices are AirPlay compatible and I would like to be able to steam music wireless from my normal player.

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    1. I’m the total opposite of you, having zero experience with iOS, only Android devices 😉 With syncing iTunes, unless there is some kind of an app in Google play store to do that, the answer is no. As a matter of fact, many of my readers have to use Commander One program to copy files from Mac to Android daps because otherwise they are not always recognized when connected to Mac. AirPort is part of a specific wireless protocol which needs a hw to support it, so no in this regard as well.

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      1. Thank you for your quick feedback.

        It is possible the export Tunes libraries to android devices. I ever had an Android phone and I managed to move manually my files and playlists, but it was not easy at all, because I had frequent errors interrupting the copy of files to the SD card. I had to start over and it took ages until I managed to copy my entire library (about 110 Go). Therefore it someone could advise an effective script or app to automatise the process, I would be grateful…

        Regarding AirPlay, there are apps allowing to stream from Android devices to AirPlay speakers, e.g. Streambels, Allcast or Allstream. But here again, I would appreciate users feedback that such solutions actually work with a Cayin N5ii. On my Android phone I used DoubleTwist, and it was fine, because this music player app allows to steam music to AirPlay. However, on the Cayin, I want to use the native player application because I am sceptical that a third part player app would take all the advantages of the audiophile hardware architecture… Therefore I need confirmation that apps such as Streambels, Allcast or Allstream work.

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      2. this is a case where I know so little about the subject – you are more of an expert than me 🙂 and I can probably use your reply as a reference when people ask me about MAC compatibility 😉 If you have some experience with Android phones, you will be familiar with N5ii, though it’s slower than a typical android phone (not the fastest processor and not as much RAM). If you want a true android DAP experience, go with Hiby R6, though keep in mind you will probably need iEMatch adapter.

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  8. Thank you for your answers. Your reviews are great. I will try to identify another user forum to get feedback from a mac user who adopted the Cayin N5ii. All the best.

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  9. Nice review, thanks!
    I’m looking for a <400$ DAP to pair up mostly with my Pinnacle P1 and occasionnaly with my AKG K712 pro and Beyerdynamic Custom Studio. From what I read in your review, N5ii could be a bit too harsh and cold with the Pinnacle P1… I am also considering the Shanling M3s, do you think it could be a better pairing than the N5ii with the Pinnacle P1? Which DAP (around 400-500$) do you think could be a sure bet with the P1?

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    1. yes, M3s will be better since it has a warmer tonality, but don’t be surprised if you will have to tweak the EQ for P1. Years ago when I firsr tested it, I was OK with its revealing sound, now it’s too harsh to my ears, have to use foam eartips or tweak EQ to smooth out the top end.

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  10. Ok, thanks!
    So, do you think it would be better for me to go for the M2s instead of M3s, considering that the M2s is a tad warmer… Is the M2s is a big downgrade in terms of power, soundstage and layering from M3s?

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    1. M2s is a downgrade in sound quality (compared to M3s) and also it has high output impedance, so if down the road you will get lower impedance multi BAs – their sound will be off.

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  11. I use the Player with AKG Y 50 all around the sound is balanced and open, lots of details revealed
    Second in line Sound Magic E50S pretty good considering what they cost on certain music they sound better then the AKG guess no surprise as each headphone has +and — however when using the NAD VISO 50 the player really shine/great soundstage and separation plenty of bass with the right music .This player is quiet revealing and one must considering the quality of Music used (recording ) .I do have some very old CD’S WHICH WERE NOT RECORDED WELL AND THE PLAYER IS BRUTAL HONEST WITH THAT “kind of it is what it is “. Before I used DX I basso 50 that was not as revealing as the Cayin Player more smooth kind of pleasing .I listen to the Pioneer and Onkyo both of them sounded to Digital to my ears . I think for this Price The Cayin is a great player and has all the extras one can ask for .Yes I know they are many other more expensive so called better sounding player but aim not sure if you pay 3 times more that you get 3 times better sounding Music?

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    1. That’s why it’s called “diminishing returns”, you don’t guaranteed to double the quality just because you paid double the price 😉 If you are happy, that’s all that matters!

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      1. Thanks for you’re reply .It seems some time people are intimidate by label/brands ? As I worked in the hospitality industry I notice when we had blind wine tasting people choose the wine they liked and many times it was the lower costing wines .I know it is a bit of the topic but I found similar comparison in the Audio industry .Would be nice if they would have more blind hearing sessions ! Aim a life long Audio guy (over 50 years ) and it is a never ending story ! You absolutely right you have to like it that what counts !

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  12. Hello Twister,

    Can the device charge itself across CS 30TCR Type-C to RCA Coaxial digital Cable from the output device ? I’m thinking of to buy this expensive cable using Cayin as a standalone digital source for a Vincent SV-237MK2, but can I charge Cayin from the amp via the cable ? (Actually 3.5mm analog jack is used as line out to amp and USB for charging)

    Thank you for your help

    Like

    1. Pair up is OK, but it can get a little bright in lower treble, all depends on your ear sensitivity. This pair up works better with a stock cable. If you have silver or silver plated cables, it could get a bit harsh (to my ears, due to 7k peak).

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      1. Actually is use N5ii with Velvet V2 in Balanced with NA Silver Lune Cable and i not have problem with treble but with S-em9 maybe Eros II cable will be better.

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