Cayin C5 – Bubbly, Baby!

Disclaimer: Cayin graciously provided the C5 amplifier for the purposes of this review. The C5 goes for about 170$, and doubles as a charger for other portable equipment.

Cayin of course are a well-known name in the world of desktop and home audio. They make valve and solid state amps that pack a punch for most loudspeaker systems out there. They are handsomely designed, and well-made.

The C5 isn’t quite as high profile as their other products. But if you’ve been living anywhere but under a rock, you’ll have heard of it. And I promise you this: it deserves a good, long look; if not a buy.

Let’s get physical

After breaking the Cayin C5 out of its economical (and crumpled) cardboard insert, I sort of scoffed at the plastic brace that masks its face. Stress discoloration mars it, crunchy residue strides it; worse yet: cappy crunch looks, and feels, like a cheap substitute. Did Cayin’s designers have glass in mind? Or higher quality polyurethane? Did the management pull up their boots and say no? Too much unnecessary expenditure? If so, they screwed up. The C5 looks pretty good. But that cap does not. Nor does it feel good.

I suppose it has its uses: it does seem to guard the volume pot and in/out ports. The latter it sturdies against lateral shifts, and the former it keeps from turning ON and OFF of its own volition. I get that. But it doesn’t belong in what otherwise seems like a classy 170$ amp. Evidently, are revision corrects some of these flaws. I may never know.

And that is life when designing to a price point rather than an ideal. The C5 is a nice-looking device. A mate of mine even called it classy. He was sort of onto something. Maybe his C5 is the second version.

What Cayin nailed is the volume pot, which doubles as an ON/OFF switch. The amp’s internal circuitry makes a reassuring ‘click!’ after receiving power. Better still, there’s not a hint of ON/OFF pop through your earphones. Both clockwise and anticlockwise twists are smooth, and the pot never wobbles on its axis. It is so well engineered, that I’m thinking of calling the Germans and seeing if they need some pointers. There’s even a scale, numbered from OFF to 9, which makes it a breeze to set safe volume limits. And while it’s hidden by that ugly cap (and itself isn’t that nice looking) it is very, very well thought through.

Translucent bass and gain switches line the right flank. They do not light up, though they look like they should. And they are made of the same icky plastic seen in the cap. The rear of the C5 sports two ports: one for charging the C5, and one for charging other devices. Battery life is pretty par for the course, but could be much better. I get between 7 and 10 hours using a variety of earphones and headphones. I’ve only used it a few times to charge other devices. The main reason is I haven’t invested in a micro USB to USB A or lightning adapter. For me, it would be wasteful to do so. The only device I’ve even bothered to charge is the awesome Vinnie Rossi-modified RWAK100, which gets perfect battery life anyway. Had the out-port been USB A, I’d probably use it all the time to keep my iPhone topped up.

Let’s talk metal: the C5’s champaign chassis is as rare as it is handsome. The dark accents and canted chamfers remind me of the corridors of the Enterprise, NCC 1701-D. Case typography with a matching colour scheme is a plus. And marring it all are the plastic front and rear caps. But I think I’ve said enough about composite. I should stop. Just one more: shoe-horning it into a nice case? Chintzy.

The Performance

As Headfi’s hiss-king I’ve got to say this: the C5 shows itself pretty well. It outputs a noticeable level of background noise, which measures several times louder than the Vorzüge PURE II and Portaphile Micro. But, that noise is just about half of what the iRiver AK100 spits out, or about a third again more noise than the AK240. As far as amps go, it fits in the top 10%. Really sensitive earphones such as the Ultrasone IQ will pick out this noise. When playing music, most of the noise simply fades away. But until you’ve heard a Mezzo Hifi MSAK100, you’ll not understand the depth, detail, and sense of space a truly noiseless output can afford.

Hiss aside, the C5 performs like a champ. It is powerful, splits sound into a very wide stereo signal, and boasts very low levels of harmonic distortion. What it does wrong is two-prong:

1. L/R balance at low volumes with highly sensitive earphones is poor
2. Bass gain levels are too high, again affecting L/R balance, and sound pressure

Those aside, the C5 is a performer by any definition and receives my full recommendation for its sound quality. Now, onto the quality of that sound.

Sound and more after the jump:

Cayin C5 – Bubbly, Baby!
4 (80%) 15 votes

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

24 Comments

  • Reply December 18, 2014

    Arnold Pangilinan

    Waddayanow, I just received mine today. This review totally made more excited to use it. Just few minutes now and I will be home…

    • Reply December 18, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Enjoy!

    • Reply December 19, 2014

      ohm image

      I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts. It’s a great amp.

    • Reply December 29, 2014

      ohm image

      Still waiting for your thoughts. I hope you enjoy.

      • Reply December 29, 2014

        Arnold Pangilinan

        Oh apologies, I almost forgot. 🙂
        The first 2 days I used it with AKG Q701, I thought it was crap… Then I let it burn in for couple more days and used it with Oppo PM-2, Senn Momentum and V-moda M-100. With the M-100, I was surprised with the boomy bass. In fact, the bass was so prominent that it started to shake my head. 🙂 With the Senn Momentum, it was wonderful. Very detailed and also full. A bit warm but very musical. I like this pairing. With the Oppo PM-2, the small soundstage seemingly became bigger. The soundstage of this bad boy is the best I’ve heard from any portable amp. In fact, it probably is better that other desktop amp. It also respond differently with different DAP. With the FiiO X5, the highs are prominent and a bit uncontrolled. I like this pairing with the PM-2 because of the polite treble of the PM-2. But for my other headphones, the Hidizs AP100 is the better pairing. The highs are smooth but still detailed. I think Hidizs DAP being warm is not only due to the DAP amp. I think the DAC was also designed to be on the warm side and musical. IDK, I am not an expert on this but the characteristics or difference of X5 and AP100 remain the same when paired with the C5. So, If you have the AP100, C5 and M-100, you can try this pairing and be prepared to be rocked! 🙂 Very warm pairing. Very boomy!

        • Reply December 29, 2014

          ohm image

          Thanks for your thoughts. I love the C5/AP100 pairing, too, though I believe firmly that the AP100 needs no amp.

          • Reply December 29, 2014

            Arnold Pangilinan

            Yes, the AP100 amp is very capable but the C5 brings it to a different level in terms of soundstage and I though treble is better with the C5. I was almost always wanting a bit of treble presence with the AP100. The C5, although has still a smooth treble, brings more presence IMO.

  • Reply December 18, 2014

    Krzysztof Nowaczyk

    What sources have you used with it?

    • Reply December 19, 2014

      ohm image

      I’ve used:

      RWAK100
      iPhone 6
      iPod shuffle 1G
      Linnenberg Vivace

  • Reply December 19, 2014

    Nguyễn Công Bằng

    Will you make a review between this and ifi micro idsd ? It’s quite famous now.

    • Reply December 20, 2014

      ohm image

      Nguyễn Công Bằng: I’m sorry, but the two devices are completely different: one a DAC, one just an amp. I don’t see how they compare at all, or how I would even compare them. I also don’t have the iDSD.

  • Reply December 21, 2014

    Jort

    How does it handle the 300Ohm Sennheiser HD650?

    • Reply December 22, 2014

      Jort

      Nathan, or anyone else? Just ordered my HD650 for Christmas, how is the combi with Cayin C5 of which Nathan is so enthusiastic about?

      • Reply December 22, 2014

        Headfonia_L.

        It’s christmas and stuff, have some patience. From what I’ve read the combo is pretty good

      • Reply December 27, 2014

        ohm image

        The C5 has plenty of gain for the HD650. It’s a slightly warmer signature, so the mating of the two will either meet or not meet your preferences. Personally, I prefer to mate it with brighter headphones like the DT880. That said, it’s a great mate with warmish phones like the Master & Dynamic MH40.

  • Reply January 15, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    This or algorhythm picollo??

    • Reply January 22, 2015

      ohm image

      What sort of sound you looking for? What’s your earphone of choice? Do you value size? Give some details.

      • Reply January 23, 2015

        Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

        I need the best value for the money for my fiio x1, momentum on ear and future Fidelio x2.

  • Reply January 29, 2015

    KopiKia

    Good pairing with the Dita Answer? Can this be used as a desktop amp/dac when I’m at home?

    • Reply February 10, 2015

      ohm image

      It has good power for home, and its output is tip top. The Dita Audio runs perfectly from it. That said, you shouldn’t need an amp for the Dita unless you are running a sorely inadequate source.

      • Reply February 12, 2015

        KopiKia

        Yeah, I was planning to use it mainly as a desktop amp with occasional portable use, but then I decided that I would probably be better off looking for a dedicated desktop setup. Thanks for your response!

  • Reply October 19, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    Cayin C5 its a good pairing with X3SG?

  • Reply April 12, 2017

    Aman Kumar

    Any idea how it does with T90?

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