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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.