Review: Cayin i5 DAP – The Do It All

Internals

 

The Cayin i5 is an Android 4.4 based with a Hiby based player. The advantage of Android is that the i5 allows you to download and install third party aps such as Tidal, Spotify, etc.

The i5 uses the following internal structure to deliver you a top quality sound:

cayin-i5_4

As you can see the i5 uses the popular AK4490 chip for decoding sound, allowing native DSD up to DSD128 and PCM up to 384kHz/32Bit and as good as all available file types. The Burr Brown PGA2311 is in charge of volume control while the AD712 and OPA1652 (with dual buffer) are in charge of filtering and amping the signal. The IC is a 4-core 1.2GHz Cortex A7+2-core GPU and the i5 packs 1GB of RAM and 4GB eMMC(for music playing). Next to that it has 32GB ROM .

The Cayin i5 logically comes packed with BlueTooth and Wifi, allowing Over The Air (OTA) updates of its firmware wherever you are. (even though it depends on where you are)

Accessories

The i5 comes packed with a type C to USB data cable, a type C to micro USB adapter, 3 x Screen savers (one pre-installed), a back panel protector which I haven’t used, a quick user guide, warranty card and a QC certificate. We did receive the leather pouch with the player but it seems it isn’t included in the normal consumer package although I think everyone received one.

cayin-i5_cable_2

A few months after we received the Cayin i5, we also received one official and one non-official cable for the i5. The official cable is a USB-C to Coax cable and it is called the CS-30TCR USB-C. It is one meter long and comes in a very pretty box and is very well built for only $59.90. It’s ideal to use with your desktop DAC or portable DAC such as the Chord Hugo. In that last case the length might be an issue though. The second cable we received wasn’t officially sent by Cayin but it was a gift from Andy. It’s a short USB-C to Coax 3.5mm cable for use with the extremely popular Chord Mojo.

cayin-i5_3

Usability

Booting up the i5 (on FW2.0) takes about 40! seconds on average starting from the moment the screen lights up. During that time it first displays the “Salute to hifi burn your music” message and later the beautiful orange Cayin logo.

Once the Cayin i5 has booted up and is ready to go, it is extremely easy to operate. Like the Fiio X7, the Android interface is very clear, structured and you don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to figure out what option is under each menus. I do have to admit that the i5 has crashed on me a couple of times, more so than the X7 for that matter, but still at a very acceptable frequency.

The main User Interface is very clear and in Music\Folder mode offers you the choice between the internal memory, the SD-card, LAN or Cloud storage. It also shows you how many free space there is on the internal memory and the SD-card. Instead of using the folder menu you can directly go to the full overview of Albums, Artists, Genre or Tracks. In the List menu, you have the choice between your Favorites, Frequently played tracks, Recently played tracks and Playlists. If that isn’t enough, you can just use the search function in the top right corner. The only thing I’m really missing here is the option where you select tracks based on the quality of the source file (like AK does). The bottom of the screen always shows the actual song that is playing, if there’s any.

cayin-i5_2

By hitting the tiny man figure (top left corner) the menu swipes in from the left, offering you the choice between Third-party apps, Music scan, EQ and a whole bunch of settings. The EQ has a 10-band setting should you be interested in EQ’ing (I never do). Some other options are Gapless, Play through Folders, breakpoint Resume, Digital filter options and the Gain Setting.

If you’re in the now playing menu, you can easily access the play order (shuffle, repeat, etc), EQ, Lists and Add to Favorite. The screens of choice you can look at are: Album Art, Lyrics and VU Meter. There’s a circle at the bottom where you can play/pause your music and fast forward to a certain part of the song. This picture shows it more clearly.

Graphically this is really well done but using it is a little harder, especially if you have sausage fingers. Several people have reported a bug where music doesn’t start at zero but I wasn’t able to reproduce this. EDIT- This bug has been fixed. The only bugs I did find is/was that the software has issues displaying certain characters in Chinese. I did my duty and reported this to Cayin months ago, but even now on FW 2.0 I still see this happening. The other issue was that parts of the deeper down menus where still in Chinese, but that has been fixed as far as I can tell. The 3rd issue I reported to Cayin isn’t really an issue per say, but I asked them if it was possible to not hide the properties menu under the 3 dots that take also you to the Delete option. Unfortunately this couldn’t be done and seeing the file quality is something I miss, especially as this is so easy with the AK players.

All the other options can be accessed like on any Android design: by swiping the top down. That’s also where you switch between USB and DAC mode. Using the Cayin i5 as DAC is very easy once you’ve installed the Cayin driver. Too bad the volume can’t be changed in DAC mode when the player’s screen is locked. Cayin has released a Universal USB audio driver that works for all Cayin USB based products, and users can install this without tweaking their system such as turn off the driver signature enforcement.

cayin-i5_9

As soon as you start using the 3.5mm LO (1Vrms only), the headphone output disconnects automatically. Using the USB-C out to coaxial is very easy and you just have to choose if you want to transmit DOP or D2P. When you shut down the Cayin i5 (after a double confirmation) it only takes a few seconds to shut down the device while it is displaying a “Come back soon” logo.

Overall I am very happy with how the Cayin i5 handles. There still are some points where it can be improved but it’s been easy and a pleasure working with the i5: it’s all so logic and well implemented.

I5 Sound

My Cayin i5 is on the latest version of the FirmWare: 2.0. This is the version in which the i5 can be used as DAC by installing the universal Cayin DAC driver.

In short the i5 sound wise is an upgrade from the N5 but the key characteristics still are there: good body, musicality and fun. It’s an upgrade in the way that it has a little more detail everywhere, that it’s a little more spacious sounding with a bigger soundstage and that it sounds more relaxed. The i5 seems to do it all so easily compared to the N5. One of the things I don’t like listening to the N5 is how noisy it is with sensitive inears. There definitely is an improvement regarding that in the i5 but the most sensitive monitors will still be noisy, yet in a lesser degree.

The i5 has full bodied and punchy bass with rich sounding (also full bodied) mids and treble that’s a little on the softer and easygoing side. Vocal presence – like in lots of new gear – is a little more forward. The listening experience is still musical and fun but at the same time there’s enough detail, resolution and clarity as well, it’s a dynamic sound and all that delivered in an effortless way. Its sound stage is good but not the widest or deepest yet really good for the price level (and better than the N5).

cayin-i5_1

The i5 has a lot of power and I hardly ever had the need to switch it to the high gain setting. While the i5 does playback through folders, the gapless – like on almost all DAPs – isn’t fully gapless. They did however improve the random/shuffle logarithm and the i5 is no longer (or less anyway) playing the same tracks over and over again. I also like the fact that you in shuffle mode can switch back to the previously played song without shuffle choosing another one. The Line Out is great into any amp (I mostly used the Alo Audio CV5) and the Coaxial output sounds very good on the Mojo and Hugo from Chord (In my personal opinion both these devices sound best with a coaxial input). More on that in one of the next chapters.

Comparisons, head- & earphones, Conclusion and Specs on the last page HERE

3.8/5 - (43 votes)

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

14 Comments

  • Reply December 13, 2016

    Swaroop

    Would you recommend this over the Fiio X7? I currently have an AK Jr and I am planning to upgrade. I am having a tough time deciding between i5 and the X7.

  • Reply December 13, 2016

    Lieven

    X7 has the advantage of the AM Modules. UI is comparable

    • Reply January 10, 2017

      Ateeq

      I have had both fiio x7 and i5 ,I like the sound from i5 a lot more ,rich mids
      good bass a good dap ,x7 is good on paper but still sounds to robotic .
      regards Ateeq

  • Reply January 17, 2017

    Gilang

    I’m torn between the i5, Dx80 and Cowon’s Plenue D. which one would you recommend?

    • Reply January 17, 2017

      Lieven

      I5, as it’s the most versatile and Android.

  • Reply March 9, 2017

    Patrick Murray

    Was wondering if the Cayin i5 would be suggested for IEM use, I currently have the new flagship from Audiofly, the AF-1120, 6ba driver IEM rated at 10ohm impedance, and wanted to know if this neutral and balanced IEM would be usable with the caying i5 without any issues in hiss and distortion? Thank you in advance

    • Reply March 9, 2017

      Lieven

      Send it to me and I’ll tell you 😉

  • Reply May 9, 2017

    rey

    how does i5 compare to pioneer xdp100? thanks

  • Reply July 7, 2017

    mark reed

    Would Westone W40 get hiss, they are a bit higher, think 30-32ohm.

    thanks

  • Reply July 14, 2017

    Brad

    Hi Lieven, If you run to an external amp through line out on the i5, would you still get hiss with sensitive IEMs or could that be counteracted by the amp (I’m using a Tralucent T1 if you’re familiar). Thanks….it ticks every box apart from sensitive IEMs.

  • Reply July 27, 2017

    Jonathan

    Has anyone compared the Cayin i5 with the Sony NW-ZX2? I know the ZX2 is much more expensive but they have come down in price quite a bit on the used market. Thanks!

  • Reply August 10, 2017

    mark reed

    I have the Cayin I5 and just got LCD-2f.

    Now to me it sounds amazing, but I keep seeing people saying LCD-2 could do with power to make them happy, but wonder if anyone with better knowhow, knows if Cayin I5 drives them as intended.

    I mean will a dac/amp standalone make a world of difference, or does the Cayin I5 do a good enough job (to me it does)

    Dont want to be missing out, but at the sametime, dont want to spend money if the gain is very small.

  • Reply November 18, 2017

    Whinney Antony

    Where can I get that usb c to coax 3.5mm cable? Please!!!!

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