Cayin N5iiS Special Edition

N5iiS – the N5ii on Steroids!!!

PROS: new high-quality display, double the internal storage, double the RAM, durable stainless-steel chassis, new tantalum polymer caps, premium case is included.

CONS: limited Android experience, additional weight of SS.

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

Manufacturer website: Cayin. Available for Sale on MusicTeck.


Intro.

Life is full of surprises and challenges, and often what counts the most is how we respond to a problem, making the best of a negative situation. That’s exactly what happened when, outside of their control, Cayin was faced with a challenge of a limited availability of the touch display parts used in their original N5ii design. It halted the DAP production and caused a delay with introduction of the upcoming special edition 25th anniversary version of N5ii.

Realizing they needed a solution to move forward with manufacturing of their popular audio player, Cayin decided to introduce N5iiS stainless-steel special edition of N5ii with an all new display and other various upgrades. The core design remained the same, and I will be referring a lot to my original N5ii write up here. The focus of this review will be more on differences between these two models, as well as comparison to other ones. Now, let’s take a closer look.

Unboxing & Accessories.

Special edition release deserves an updated packaging content to make N5iiS stand out from N5ii, and Cayin enhanced the unboxing experience with a few goodies where a premium pleather case (sold previously for $30) is no longer optional and now included as a stock accessory instead of a previous silicone case. Also, replacing a basic PVC sleeve usb-c to usb cable is a more durable premium version with a braided sleeve/shielding and higher quality metal housing connectors. Tempered screen protector was already applied.

What I especially liked here is that the case was upgraded with an opening to access directly both uSD slots without taking DAP out. Not too many DAPs feature dual uSD slot, and the original N5ii was a choice for many audiophiles with a large hi-res collection who like to swap their flash cards. Being able to do that without removing a case is a big plus. Also, while protecting N5iiS from scratches and minor bumps, it is still open enough to showcase the hairline finishing of stainless steel PVD coating.

Once you take N5iiS out of the foam cutout inside of the packaging box, you are greeted with a solid build and additional weight. For me personally, the original N5ii already felt solid with its aerospace grade aluminum material. But the extra weight of cold SS chassis takes it to a whole new level.

Design.

While not obvious at first, when you have N5ii and N5iiS side-by-side you realize that a new SS version is just a touch taller and wider, despite visible display area being a little smaller. The difference is literally a few millimeters, where thickness remains at 15.3mm, while the rest is 117mm x 59mm vs previous 115mm x 57mm. And thanks to stainless steel, the weight change is more noticeable at 248g versus previous 150g.

cayin_n5iis-09

The layout of controls remains the same as in N5ii, usb-c port at the bottom, used for charging, data transfer, usb-dac functionality, and digital out through unused usb-c pins allocated for that functionality. On the left side in the upper corner you still have a power button with a long press to turn power on/off and a short press to turn display on/off. The right side has two separate uSD slots, each capable of supporting up to 400GB, and 3 hw playback control buttons (play/pause and skip forward/back) above it.

The top of the chassis hosts 2.5mm balanced TRRS headphone output and 3.5mm TRS single end headphone output shared with Line Out. To improve the conductivity and to lower the distortion, Cayin decided to switch to headphone jacks from a well-known US electronic component manufacturer – CUI. The volume wheel is still in the upper right corner, surrounded by a corner guard, accessible from the front and the back, and still with a click feedback as you turn it.

The most noticeable change here is stainless steel chassis, PVD coated to enhance the impact strength and corrosion resistance, and a new LG 3.5” IPS display, down from the original AU Optronics 3.67” screen. Before you turn the display on, it’s hard to judge the difference between the size and the quality, but once it’s on – we are talking about a night’n’day difference. The visible area of the display will be a little smaller and the resolution will be more standard 800×480 (vs 854×480 with an older display). But the rich saturated colors and the sharp image details make old display look pale in comparison, and I mean that literally. Plus, LG’s IPS screen has a wider viewing angle. The difference is especially noticeable when you are viewing artwork of the album and when you are dealing with apps.

cayin_n5iis-16

Under the hood.

The design inside the DAP remains the same with Quad Core processor, able to handle with ease PCM decoding of up to 64bit/384kHz and native DSD decoding up to DSD256, including the variety of lossless and lossy file formats. It still uses ESS9018K2M DAC and has the architecture with independent amplification path of 3.5mm and 2.5mm phone outputs. As before, you will find 3 separate active oscillators for PCM and DSD music files to accommodate different sampling frequencies. And you can enable Audio Priority Mode which disables lots of Android related processes to optimize resources with a focus only on audio playback.

So, what is new? I already mentioned newly upgraded CUI 3.5mm and 2.5mm headphone jacks. Furthermore, the RAM has been doubled to 2GB from 1GB (in N5ii) and internal storage doubled to 64GB from 32GB (in N5ii). While extra 32GB of internal storage is a drop in a bucket when dealing with high res files relative to a dual uSD for a total of 800GB max storage, doubling the RAM will have a direct impact on running Android apps and GUI interface.

While running AnTuTu Benchmark v7.1.0 test between N5ii and N5iiS, I noticed a slight bump in CPU (from 9377 to 9515) and UX (from 11625 to 11688) benchmark scores. It’s more noticeable when you put N5iiS to use where there was a little less lag between screens of default Hiby Music player and when accessing Google Play. Unlike the difference between old and new display, this wasn’t a night’n’day change, but there was some improvement.

Another big change is switching from Tantalum to Polymer-Tantalum premium audio grade quality power filter caps from Panasonic. All 8 analogue power filter caps were upgraded. On a paper they offer better conductivity and lower ac interference. In practice I went back’n’forth doing a blind test multiple times and found consistent results where I hear the background to be noticeably blacker which makes details pop up better due to a faster transient, resulting in a tighter cleaner sound.

cayin_n5iis-24

Page 2: Connections, GUI, Comparison, Pair up, and Conclusion.

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25 thoughts on “Cayin N5iiS Special Edition

  1. Given that the Fiio X5iii amp-section holds it back in this league of daps, how would x5III+A5 or Magni 3 compete sonically against the N5IIS standalone?

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    1. just tried N5iiS vs X5iii/E12A. I do hear an improvement with X5iii when using external amp, the sound is more transparent, less colored, but I still hear N5iiS with a better dynamics and layering/separation of the sound. The gap is not as big as it was before comparing to X5iii without E12A, but I do still hear an improvement in sound with N5iiS.

      Like

      1. Hey Mr. Twister, I have one last question regarding the same. Sorry for being so bothersome. For the Fiio X5III and Sennheiser HD 598 which of the two should i buy for better sound quality and power? Should I buy Fiio E12A or Schiit Magni 3? Portability is not an issue for me and Fiio A5 is just not available in my part of the world. I am looking forward to seal the deal on either amps based on your answer.

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      1. Thanks. No only single ended matters to me. I will just amp my X5iii and use it with Sennheiser hd 598. Thanks for the responses

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  2. Hi Twister6,

    I love your website and read alot of your reviews and really respect your opinion.

    Do you think the N5iiS is a good sounding dap for the price? About 440us in Hong Kong.

    I will pair it with Xelento Remote and Focal Clear/ Denon D7200

    What other DAPs do you recommend for good price to performance. I am currently using ifi Micro idsd BL with my full size and would like.a DAP for the Xelento. The iDsd is sooo good sounding and its cheap. I had Ak380 and Amp with Noble K10 before they went metal. I am looking for the most bang for the buck portable setup now.

    Please let me know.
    thanks

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    1. You mentioned Xelento Remote, does that mean you will be using it wireless or wired? If wireless, it will be OK even with your smartphone 😉 Wired, it’s a different story. Right now in this price range I find 3 good candidates, N5iiS, R6, and DX150. But each one has its strength and weakness. You need to figure out your priorities, which one is more importatnt to you. If you want the fastest android performance, it’s R6, but it has issue with 10 ohm output impedance and maybe a little brighter sound. If you want the most flexibility and don’t mind the size, DX150 has modular amp modules, you can upgrade it down the line for $200 per module, for more power, etc, but DX150 is on a bigger side and you will need to install Lurker’s custom ROM for a full android experience. N5iiS has a great sound tuning, very small (it’s the size of the original AK120ii, even looks similar inside of that pleather case), and has 4 uSD cards so you can have a total of 864GB of music, and soon there will be 512GB uSD cards, so you can expand it to over a Gig, but with N5iiS interface is not the fastest and the main GUI is based on Hiby Music player. So, figure out if you want the best android performance, the most flexible upgradeable performance, or the most compact with the most storage performance. All 3 sounds good, a little different, but good.

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      1. thanks for your reply Twister. Xelento remote is wired with the volunn control and mic for phone. I will mostly use the normal cable with DAP. I will use it mainly bedside and while i walk to work. I think I will prioritize UI smoothess, ability to be a transport to idsd through usb C out,expandable storage, display quality. I actually dont have the xelento yet. it will arrive tmr with the new black box packaging. I think i would want something light to carry and smaller but not like Shanling M0 small.

        I am just not too sure which one will better synergy with my Xelento.

        What other DAP would you recommend if we go up a level, such as DX200 level.

        Thanks

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  3. Hi Twister.. i am quite new to the iem world. Recently I bought a pairs of inear SD-5 iems and really loved it. I listen primarily on spotify with my iphone and would like to upgrade my music experience. I tried a few options on what to upgrade and here is what I found.

    1) Chord mojo + iphone + labkable lighting to microusb. copper/silver.
    2) Cayin N5iiS- hi res music.

    For the first option, I have listened a few songs on spotify with it and I am really impressed, even to the extend that I feel it sounded much better than the cayin N5iis with it’s high res music in the player. Maybe the high res music has more details but for the overall experience, I still prefer the chord mojo with my iphone.

    There wasn’t any chance to try out spotify directly from the caying N5iis because it wasn’t installed, but I doubt it will be better than the mojo.

    So I am in a dilemma now. I don’t mind getting the Cayin N5iiS because the sound was pleasant, but my heart still goes to the mojo set up. if I go for the mojo set up, I wont have the option to play high res music later one or I will have to buy a dedicated DAP to stack with it.

    Any opinion on the above story?

    btw I also tried the Fiio M Zero, M2S, Q5 and I am not impressed. Another DAC that impressed me is the centrance Mini M8, but the charger was too big, it was my laptop charger big.

    Like

    1. perhaps you prefer Mojo sound signature? Based on what I heard from others (I don’t have Mojo), it’s tuned warmer and more musical. I don’t have SD-5, but do have SD-4 and it’s brigher tuned, and doesn’t sound as good with N5iiS, so I assume it will sound better with Mojo, and perhaps SD-5 has the same signature which pair ups better with it. N5iiS is great for playing local stored files, especially if you have a lot of high res music which takes a lot of room (though 2x uSD cards). It’s OK for streaming too.

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  4. Hi. Do you really think that dx150 and n5iis heve similar sound signsture. I like the sound signature of dx150 very much especially with amp8 but i dont like the dimensions of it. Im looking for a smaller dap without loosing SQ

    Like

    1. keep in mind, that was comparison using default AMP6 w/DX150, amp8 will scale up the sound quality, it’s my favorite amp 🙂 But relatively speak, signatures are close. another thing to keep in mind, dx150 interface will be faster, while n5iiS (or n5ii) is slower but you get a smaller form factor and 2x uSD cards (512GB flash cards are starting to emerge)…

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      1. Why interface on n5iis is slower. I thought since it has 2gb ram the speed is similar(and interface on 150 is quite lagging even with Lurkers FW ).

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      2. N5ii/S interface is based on Hiby Music app with Android running in the background. Relative to N5ii, the N5iiS is faster, but I still find dx150 with lurkers fw to be more responsive.

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  5. I am trying to choose a DAP for playing locally stored files. I am looking at the N5iiS and the Opus #1s.

    I am concerned of the issue of the headphone jack that popped up in the N5ii. Do you know if the N5iiS revision fixed the issue of the headphone jack loosening up?

    Which player do you think would be a better match for the Periodic Audio Be?

    Like

    1. sorry, not familiar with Periodic iems. Regarding N5ii issue, it only affected a limited quantity of their very first production batch, awhile back. Don’t think I heard of any issues related to N5ii headphone jack after that, and N5iiS uses different jacks, and don’t think I heard of any issues either. Typically I check on head-fi, people always voice their problems in there, if there is any.

      Like

      1. Thank you Twister!

        It is good to hear that Cayin apparently rectified the problem in both models. Information seems a bit hard to come by on this matter. Your reply is not only helpful to me, but to anyone who runs a google search on the issue. Thank you.

        Many people write reviews, but I think yours stand out as especially informative. Please keep up the good work.

        Like

      2. Thank you for your kind words! Just one thing to keep in mind, while I do my best to describe and to analyze the product, I can’t physically spend as much time playing with it daily like other consumers (I’m reviewer, not a consumer). So, I also rely on head-fi where people share about their problems in corresponding threads. People are usually quiet about stuff that works, but do get vocal when there is a problem 😉 So, head-fi is a good place to check for manufacturers quality issues.

        Like

  6. Hi Twister
    Follow your Reviews for the last two years and as usual you have the best write ups .I have the Cayin N5ii and don’r really see a reason to upgrade! Agree the display is better but for me not that important after-all it is a DAP player and the sound should be priority at least for me .For that price it is the best value on the market hard to beat . I use the player for my desktop set up ,in my Car and sometimes on my main stereo set up. So far no problems and the unit performs flawless with AIF, HIGH RESOLUTION FLAC& AIF , DSD .Overall a great buy . Battery life is pretty good and two storage helps quiet a bit .

    Like

    1. The big wireless step up is when you go to LDAC bluetooth pair ups. But still, noting beats wired because it’s all about driving your headphones – in wired you are using internal DAP’s dac and amplifier, while in wireless you are using headset own built in driver.

      Like

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