Review: Cayin i5 DAP – The Do It All

Comparisons

The very good Fiio X7 on paper should have the best DAC inside and I do feel the X7 shows more detail than the i5 through the headphone and LO. Of course the X7 works with the different AM amplification modules so it’s more versatile than the i5 is. You can choose the AM module(s) that fits your musical signature most and on top of that they have a module with a balanced 2.5mm output. The X7 do is a few hundred USD more expensive though. I do find the i5 to have the biggest bass and mid body and it is sometimes is more musical than the X7, depending on the AM module chosen.

Astell&Kern’s AK70 is a great DAP and we’ve told you that on several occasions already. While I think the AK is also based on Android it is not as flexible and versatile as the i5 is. It doesn’t just load any software you like such as Qobuz or Spotify. The AK70 UI is perfect on the other hand: easy to use, bug free but limited. The AK70 does have a balanced headphone output and it is more silent than the i5. Sound wise I think the more expensive AK70 wins on technicalities. The AK70 manages to deliver the detail and clearness while not losing the musicality and good body, and that’s what makes it so great. The i5 doesn’t quite get to the same sound level but it is the most “modifiable” DAP of both because of the Android version used.

The Luxury & Precision L5PRO is another great (and more expensive) DAP but it still has issues with the User Interface. Sound wise it is more refined than the i5 with the same body and musicality. The L5PRO isn’t user friendly at all though and the i5 is miles ahead in that area. If you want the full package, the i5 is the only logic choice. The L3/L3PRO also are excellent sounding players closer to the price of the i5, but like the i5 they can’t keep up with the UI and user friendliness. If you only care about good sound than the L&P DAPs are certainly worth checking out.

cayin-i5_6

Compared to its little brother, the cheaper Cayin N5, there is a clear improvement as I said earlier: more detail, bigger/deeper sound stage, more spacious presentation with better separation, etc. The i5 sounds more relaxed but in a good way. It also has it much easier to play DSD files and the i5 UI is sublime compared to the N5, even though it still isn’t as perfect as the AK UI.

Synergy

The power test to start with: the HD800 at 300Ohm. While the Cayin i5 manages to sound loud enough I do find it to sound better on high gain. The result is acceptable but the HD800 can do so much more. The easy to drive planar technology HE-400S from Hifiman is a full bodied headphone but it isn’t the fastest sounding. The Cayin i5 drives it well with punchy weighty bass and rich mids, the top end though is rather soft. The Audeze LCD-XC pleasantly surprised me straight out of the i5 with excellent bass, dynamic rich mids and energetic treble. Bad source quality files really sound horrible though. The “new” full sized headphone I like most straight from the i5 though is the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home. Good bass, rich mids, lively treble and all that in a smooth and musical way. I can listen to this the whole day long. Another good combo was with the Fidelio line-up: both the X2 and L2 sound good but the X2’s bass and darkness sometimes gets a little too much for me. The L2 sounds really good on the other hand. Headphones like the HD25 and T51P also sound excellent. The i5 does have a lot of power but that doesn’t necessarily makes all headphones sound great and it pretty much are the easier to drive headphones that sound best, with the 250Ohm Amiron being the exception to the rule.

I do have to admit I used more inear monitors with the i5 and in general I enjoyed all of these a whole lot more compared to the full sized headphones.

The unique and marvelous oBravo EAMT-1A plays very well straight from the i5. The 1A’s bass might be the best universal bass on the market and the EAMT-1A sounds spacious, detail, powerful and musical. A really great combo. The oBravo review is scheduled for publication next week. The RHA T10 ($189) with the reference filter installed sounds really good as well. Bass does have more than neutral body and it isn’t the tightest but all the detail is there with rich slightly recessed mids and energetic treble. Great value for its price. Their T20 ($239) also sounds best on the reference filter but here you get tighter and more precise bass with a little less body. Mids are more to the front and the treble still is dynamic and very lively. The T20 is an excellent sounding and fitting IEM I should listen more to. For the price it certainly is very impressive.

cayin-i5_8

The $799 CypherLabs Austru has 4 drivers and a bass switch and it sounds very fast and clean. Bass isn’t the punchiest or biggest bodied but the Austru has a neutral presentation. The Fidue A91, with the balanced to 3.5mm non balanced adapter has quickly become one of my favorite universal IEMs. With its four drivers it sounds fast, musical and precise. It has really good punchy bass and a soft presentation but it still has good speed and attack while being detailed and musical. Its price is around $899 so that’s more than the i5, but it’s an excellent combo. The German Inear StageDiver SD4 is another of my fav universal inears and it is the best combination of the universal IEMs so far. Tight and layered bass, deep and rich spacious mids. Excellent separation and energetic, dynamic treble. Stunning but €679.

With the custom 8.2 from CustomArt and the Samba from Jomo Audio the i5 also performed really well end it’s safe to say the i5 simply is sublime for inear monitors. It doesn’t matter to the i5 if it are Balanced Armatures or dynamic drivers or even how many of those are in there. The i5 does it all, and how.

Conclusion

The I5 isn’t the perfect DAP yet, there still are some little bugs, the USB OTG function doesn’t work yet and the i5 can be a little noisy with extremely sensitive gear. On the other hand it has an excellent user interface, regular firmware updates and great sound. For only $499 you get a well working and excellent sounding DAP that to me works best with inears of all kind.

If you don’t want to spend over $500 on a DAP you have found the DAP you’re looking for. It’s not only a DAP but it is a top quality “desktop” DAC as well and it has a huge number of sound outputs so you can use it with other DACs should you want to do so. The user interface is excellent, it allows 3rd party apps without issue, it’s streams music perfectly and it plays great with IEMs. Can it get any better in this price class?

cayin-i5_7

Full Specs

Headphone Output:

Power rating: 190mW+190mw (@32Ω)

Frequency Response: 20-20kHz(±0.2dB,Fs=192kHz) 5-50kHz(±1dB,Fs=192kHz)

THD+N: 0.006% (1kHz,Fs=44.1kHz,20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)

Dynamic Range: 108dB (20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)

SNR: 108dB (20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)

Output Impedance:≤1Ω

Line Out:

Output Level: 1.0V (@10kΩ)

Frequency Response: 20-20kHz (±0.2dB,Fs=192kHz) 5-50kHz (±1dB,Fs=192kHz)

THD+N: 0.005% (1kHz,Fs=44.1kHz,20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)

Dynamic Range: 108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)

SNR: 108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)

 

Music Format:

DSF: Native hardware decode DSD64 and DSD128

DFF: Native hardware decode DSD64 and DSD128

SACD-ISO: Native hardware decode DSD64 and DSD128

APE: Support16-32bits, Fast/Normal /High/Extra High compression level)

FLAC: Up to 384 kHz/32bit

WAV: Up to 384 kHz/32bit

AIFF: Up to 384 kHz/32bit

ALAC: Up to 384 kHz/32bit

WMA: Up to 96 kHz/24bit

WMA Lossless: Up to 96 kHz/24bit

MP2/MP3: Up to 48 kHz/16bit

AAC: Up to 48 kHz/16bit

OGG: Up to 48 kHz/16bit

 

USB decoding (DAC):

USB Mode: A synchronized USB Audio 2.0 Class

DSD: Up to DSD128

PCM: Up to  384kHz/32Bit

Windows: Supported (Driver required)

MAC OsX: Supported

iOS: Not Supported

Android: Not Supported

 

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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