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.
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.
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.
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.
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.