Cayin N5ii

Under the hood.

N5ii packs quite a lot for a mid-fi DAP in its price range. Before looking “under the hood”, the first impression comes from its 3.65” TFT IPS touch screen display with 845×480 resolution. It’s an adequate capacitive touch screen display for navigation of N5ii GUI, viewing embedded artwork of your songs, and running various apps. Also, since it’s IPS based, it has pretty good viewing angles. Does the display crisp enough and has vibrant colors to watch a high res videos or to play demanding games? Not really. In my opinion, with its Rockchip RK3188 processor and 1G of DDR3 RMA it’s probably not a good idea to run anything too CPU/graphic intense. It has a very capable quad-core ARM Cortex A9 processor with a quad-core Mali-400MP4 GPU, but it’s not intended to perform on par with your latest smartphone.

Furthermore, in this design Cayin decided to implement ESS9018K2M DAC along with a selection of high grade TI SoundPlus Audio OpAmps, a pair of OPA1622 for Left/Right channel current to voltage conversion and 3 individual OPA1622 where one is used for single-ended amplification and other two used for balanced output amplification. The design uses separate OpAmp components to keep SE and BAL parts of the circuit isolated and optimized for the best performance. Also, to reduce the jitter when handling different sampling rates, Cayin implemented three separate precision oscillators, covering multiples of 44.1kHz, 48kHz, and DSD signals. Altogether, the hardware can handle majority of lossy or lossless formats from mp3, wma, aac, ogg, ape, alac, flac, aif, wave, and all the way to sacd-iso and decoding up to DSD256.

While running customized Android 5.1, you get a support of BT4.1 and WiFi, and Google Play comes pre-loaded already, so you don’t need to side-load apks of your desired apps. Along with internal 32GB of storage, some of which as expected will be allocated to Android OS, continuing with a tradition of the original N5 you will get 2x uSD cards, supporting up to 400GB each. So, in theory you can have up to 832GB of storage space. More can be added through OTG USB connection, but for a portable use 2 uSD cards can offer plenty of storage, especially if you have a collection of high res FLAC/DSD files.

Internal battery capacity is 3000mAh, which could be charged fully within 3+ hours when using 2A usb wall charger. Cayin is staying consistent with their other designs, continuing using usb-c connector. In terms of a battery performance, I was driving IE800S from BAL output at a regular listening volume level, with medium gain, and audio priority mode enabled, and the uninterrupted playback lasted 11.5 hrs. I consider this as a best-case scenario since I was playing mp3 track. Switching to high res files, at a higher gain, and with more demanding headphones will reduce the battery life, as expected.

In terms of the actual headphone outputs, N5ii packs a punch with SE 3.5mm output rated at 150mW (32ohm load) with <0.4 ohm impedance and BAL 2.5mm output rated at 250mW (32ohm load) with <0.6 ohm impedance. 3.5mm output can also be switched to Line Out with 2V output level. Both headphone outputs have SNR spec of about 116dB-117dB, with a decent dynamic range and a black noise floor, more about it in sound analysis and pair up sections of the review.

Last, but not least, I would like to mention Audio Priority Mode. Not exactly a hardware feature, but a very useful “shortcut” you select from Notification bar to maximize audio performance by disabling WiFi, Bluetooth, shutting down 3rd party apps, and optimizing Android OS by turning off some of the background processes. It’s almost like a hardware acceleration mode to boost audio performance of N5ii.  The only concern here, selecting AP Mode also disables EQ which needs to be enabled in future fw updates.

cayin_n5ii_block_diagram

Wired/wireless connections.

Bluetooth/Wireless.

For this test I used N5ii and my aging Galaxy Note 4 phone with Senns Momentum over-ears M2 wireless headphones. With N5ii, I was able to listen to headphones without a problem 28ft away from N5ii, while 34ft away from my Note 4 phone. When comparing the wireless sound quality between N5ii and Note 4, I hear Note 4 to have a fuller body with more bass, while N5ii sounds a little thinner in comparison. Perhaps a difference is due to a lack of aptX encoding support in N5ii.

Digital out.

Using optional CS-30TCR usb-C to coax cable, I had no issues connecting N5ii to SPDIF input of that Micro iDSD BL DAC/amp. You can only use volume control on Micro iDSD, and the sound was very transparent, a typical Micro iDSD sound signature, no distortion or interference noise. I found it to be a flawless pair up with N5ii as a digital transport source.

cayin_n5ii-39

Next, I tested digital out using usb-c to micro-usb cable (Shanling L2 cable), connecting N5ii to Oppo HA-2 DAC/amp. Once connected, HA-2 was recognized and the message popped up asking to allow Cayin Audio app to access USB device.  Some of my cheap eBay cables didn’t work, L2 is high quality and always works. And again, it was a flawless transparent pair up with N5ii as a digital transport source, and I was able to use volume control from HA-2 only.

Analog out.

In this test I used N5ii Line Out to FiiO E12A (my transparent portable amp used for testing since Cayin’s own C5 colors the sound a bit). When comparing N5ii PO vs LO+E12A, I hear the direct sound from N5ii to be a little brighter and more revealing vs N5ii+E12A to have a little smoother body and deeper sub-bass extension. This suggests that internal head-amp section of N5ii makes sound a little brighter and more revealing.

USB DAC.

In this test I used ThinkPad T470 with Win10, and installed the latest Cayin USB Audio drivers v4.35.0. Driver install was headache free, N5ii was quickly recognized by my laptop, I found that I’m able to use a volume control from laptop and DAP, and also the sound quality was similar to standalone DAP performance.

cayin_n5ii-52

GUI.

With a modified Android 5.1 running in the background, the main interface of N5ii is Hiby audio app, thus once you boot up N5ii, it looks more like a DAP with a dedicated audio interface rather than a smartphone. You are greeted with a main page (top-most Music tab) and Folder view with options to access internal memory, micro-SD cards, or OTG storage. Next to the top Music tab, you have List with favorites, frequently and recently played songs, and playlist. Then, Private Cloud for LAN connection, and Search which brings up QERTY android keyboard (like in a smartphone). Under Music tab, you can also sort by Album, Artist, Genre, and Tracks.

I typically use folder view as my default because I have many loose songs and not too many albums (mostly compilations). Plus, not everything is properly tagged, but when I click on Album all of them show up as a separate thumb with corresponding embedded artwork and number of tracks in the album; while single songs show up as 1-track album, and the rest is under Unknown. Clicking on Artist brings up a list with every artist, and when you click on each, it shows separate songs and albums under that artist. Clicking on Genres, bring up thumbs with common genres (most of mine under pop and dance and classic). Clicking on Tracks brings all the songs in alphanumeric order.

Swiping notification bar down (typical Android feature), gives you a quick access to WiFi, Bluetooth, Gain setting, PO/LO (headphone vs line out for 3.5mm port), enabling Audio Priority mode, USB-C Mode (between USB, MTP, and DAC modes), Idle shutdown, and Scheduled power off. At the bottom, you can also adjust the brightness level of the screen and the screen time out, as well as being able to access the full Android Settings menu by clicking in the upper right corner Setting Icon, right next to battery indicator with an exact percentage of capacity. Those with Android phones will feel right at home, while iOS users will need to spend a little bit of time getting used to it.

Swiping the main screen to the right, reveals more Setting options for Music scan (scan all or the specified folder), a very detailed Music Settings (gain, digital filter, DSD gain compensation, SPDIF Out, Play through folder, Start up and max volume, channel balance, breakpoint resume, gapless, album art, and lyrics display), Equalizer (10band paragraphic EQ with 31/62/125/250/500/1k/2k/4k/8k/16k bands and a few genre-specific presets), Third-party applications (Google Play store and other installed apps), Smart Cleaning (to terminate running application), Download path/manager, Sleep Time/Scheduled Power off, and About section (useful to check your fw version).

As I mentioned already, this is not a typical open Android interface, but a Hiby audio player interface on top of Android which you need to access to get to the apps, including Google Play store. I have installed a handful of apps, such as Spotify and some games. Everything seems to be working, though I do want to note that download is not the fastest, thus I still prefer manual FW updates. I use free Spotify and found no issues with streaming, it was up and running in seconds. But as I mentioned before, we are dealing with only 1GB of RAM and not the fastest processor/GPU intended for more demanding apps. So, you got to have realistic expectations. But in general, it’s a relatively fast touch screen interface for an audio player, just don’t expect it to fly like your smartphone.

Another thing to note, with Android support, users are tapping into 3rd party apps which can slow down or crash Android OS, something which is not under control of Cayin or Hiby. Thus, it becomes a double edge sword. Customers are asking for streaming, so manufacturers build their OS on Android platform. But that also opens a can of worms with people installing various apps which are not under control of the manufacturer and when something doesn’t work, manufacturer gets blamed.

But one of the thing they are in control of is the main DAP interface, especially in Audio Priority Mode where apps and many background processes are disabled to optimize the performance. The main Playback screen has a clear layout with upper top half of the screen independent of selected theme, where you can see a song artwork (if one is embedded) which could be switched to lyrics view (if available with a song) or a very elegant vertical Stereo VU Meter. Underneath you have selection of controls with different loop modes (single, repeat, random, etc.), access to EQ, view the list of songs in a current playback folder, and being able to add to favorites. Also, a display of a song/artist name and playback controls with Skip Next/Prev and Play/Pause. But the layout of all these controls will vary, depending on Theme selection, a little shirt icon in the lower left corner of the artwork screen of the display.

I do like the layout and graphics of Theme #1, the original theme from i5, but the fast-forward circular bar wasn’t as useful since my thumb covers it up without being able to see the time marker. Theme #2 is nice except that fast-forward scrub bar is right underneath of song artwork/lyrics/VU meter section where sometimes it’s hard to see the actual bar. On a few occasions when fast-forwarding through a song, I end up swiping to the lyrics screen. I like Theme #3 the best except that I would like the graphics for Play and Skip buttons to be updated with something better defined because those buttons are not easy to see due to inner shadow. Of course, these are minor details, based on my personal preferences.

My only comment here, I wish Cayin/Hiby would have the main Playback screen as their default Home view. Everything else should be accessible by going into Settings or another Menu. Otherwise, it gets a little confusing when you are greeted with a Music/Folder view (with memory/card/OTG shortcuts) every time you start N5ii.

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

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

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    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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