The Cayin N5 sounds good for its price and it’s one of the better sounding players in the mid-fi segment. The N5 keeps it relatively neutral but always has a musical presentation. In single ended mode the N5 sounds a bit warmer than in balanced mode. In SE mode, you get a more concentrated sound where separation and air aren’t the strongest. In balanced most the sound is more spacious and it opens up with better separation, wide and depth.
The general level of detail is good, it’s what you can expect for a player of this price and level. It won’t make your jaw drop but you won’t be missing out on anything either. Bass has good body, goes deep and its tightness is good but it doesn’t have the best of layering. The mids are dynamic and musical but sound more concentrated in single ended mode. Treble is correct but has a very smooth delivery. Because of its soft presentation treble might feel a bit missing for the more treble focused listener.
The N5 isn’t the most silent DAP with sensitive IEMs and with my monitors that is mostly noticeable in balanced mode. Nathan probably would not like it as the noise floor clearly is audible on very silent passages, yet once the music is playing it gets harder to notice. The N5 is a player more for the listener looking for musical enjoyment and less for the critical and analytical audiophile. I admit that might be something you have read about the N5 before. This Cayin is great for on the go and I have used it a lot over the last months.
Sound vs the others
A lot of DAPs are in the N5’s price range but those who come in to mind first are the brand new Luxury & Precision L3, the Fiio X3SG and X5SG and iBasso’s latest the DX80.
Fiio’s X5SG is a very good player and it has the best navigation wheel of all the Fiio’s. Its sound is more detailed and it has a clearer and lighter presentation compared to the N5. The X5SG is more to the analytical side where the N5 clearly is going to the musical side. Both are very good players but it depends on how you like your music to sound. The N5 to my ears outperforms Fiio’s X3SG, while the Fiio certainly isn’t a bad player it isn’t as good as the X5SG is. As a result it also isn’t as good as the N5. The X3 is balder and warmer sounding and sounds even more concentrated than the N5. The big advantage the N5 has over both these Fiio’s is that it offers both a balanced and a single ended output. The X7 which sound wise clearly is a level up from the N5 is the only Fiio DAP offering a balanced output (once that AM module is available) but it is a lot more expensive as well.
Luxury & Precision’s L3 DAP is the N5’s biggest competitor. It costs about the same, has both a balanced and single ended output and shares a carbon back plate but it has an internal 16GB memory (yet only one SD slot). The L3 weighs less and is the prettier of both DAPs. The L3 also is quieter than the N5 is and to my ears its depth and wide is a little bit better. The L3 has a touch screen and a more modern user interface and it is easier to “work” when used during screen lock mode. L3’s sound is cleaner and more clear as well and with the better detail level it just might be the number one in this mid-fi DAP segment.
Another competitor is iBasso’s latest DX80. The DX90 – which has been discontinued – to me still is iBasso’s best DAP. It had great value for money and it sounded especially good with the Lurker mod we reviewed here. For some reason a lot of people are expecting the new DX80 to best the DX90 but that isn’t logic to me. First of all, the model name suggests so and second, the DX90 was more expensive. That being said the DX80 is a nice mid-fi player that does remind me of the N5’s sound signature but it doesn’t have a balanced output and the firmware/user interface isn’t the best.
The Cayin N5 has enough power to drive as good as all the earphones on the market and the easier to drive full sized headphone will be driven without any problems. For harder to drive headphones like the Sennheisers, planars and Beyerdynamics you will need external amplification but that often is the case with these DAPs. The Luxury & Precision L5Pro might pull it off as it is one of the most powerful in my collection, but even the AKs need an external amplifier and there’s no shame in that.
The Cayin N5 is a very enjoyable and musical DAP. It might not be the very best portable player for what detail, depth and width is concerned but with its full body and seducing sound it wins over a lot of hearts. That being said, in its own league with the DAPs mentioned above, the N5 as a mid-fi DAP performs quite well and it can easily take on most of the competition. You either love or hate the looks and it maybe could have been a little lighter but I personally quite like the N5. For $319USD you get more than what you pay for. I look forward to their new toy, I hope it’ll be just as good and even a little better.
Full Specs after the click