Review: Cayin N5ii – The Killer

N5ii Inside & Looks & a lot more

 

Build Quality, Lay-out

The new Cayin N5ii is 9% smaller and 24% lighter than their i5 DAP and to me that’s very important. While the i5 is a great player, it – to me – doesn’t feel the best in the hand, and the new N5ii really does. When I saw the N5ii for the first time, the DAP that came into mind was the Astell&Kern AK120ii. That was a great DAP and it looked very sexy, and I can say just the same about this new Cayin N5ii: it’s beautiful.

While we never really complained or had anything bad to say about the Cayin DAP build quality, I do find the new N5ii to be the prettiest and best built one so far. The frame/case is perfectly finished and has no sharp edges. The volume control – while not as sexy as the AK one – has a good grip, turns smoothly and feels great. The 3.65inch screen (480 x 854 TFT IPS) of course has touch controls (new on N5-series) and it sits perfectly flush in the aluminum case. While it’s a quality screen, I prefer that of the i5 and Fiio X5iii as they’re more realistic. The edges of tempered glass protector does show a little but I’ll happily accept that. Right under the screen you – like with several AK DAPs) have a “Hidden Home” / Back button and that’s about it, In its optional leather case the N5ii looks so beautiful.

In the left side of the player we have the power button and nothing else. On the right side you’ll find the following buttons from the top down: Back / Pause&Play / Forward. Both of the MicroSD slots are located under these three buttons. The bottom side only has the USB-C connector that serves both for charging and OTG storage connection as well as the Digital Output (USB/Coax). On top of the unit you on the left side have the balanced 2.5 and single ended 3.5 headphone output. The 3.5mm output also serves as Line Out (switchable via the menu)

Memory

High resolution music has never been more popular and Cayin perfectly understands that their buyers need a lot of storage for that. The Cayin N5ii comes with 32GB of internal memory and two MicroSD-slots, each accepting cards up to 400GB (confirmed). If that still isn’t enough for you, you can also hook up external storage over USB with the USB-C connection. That’s a lot of memory for a player of this price level and we can only applaud the Cayin design team for this.

Battery

On the inside there’s a 3000mAH battery that in theory delivers 12h of playback time. Because of the USB-C connector it can also recharge in only 3.5h. Over the weeks of testing, the battery lifetime has not let me down but in practice about 10 hours seem more realistic to me. Of course that does depend on the bitrate of your files, your screen and BT usage, etc.

A modern DAP in my eyes should at least deliver 10 hours of “play”, and this fully touch screen operated DAP delivers just that. While there certainly are players out there with longer lasting batteries, these very often are a lot more expensive.

Internals

Cayin is one of the few companies on the market that fully show the internal structure of their players. For this N5ii, as mentioned earlier, Cayin has chosen to use the well-known ESS9018K2M DAC chip.

As you can see in the below overview, the N5ii is running completely independent amplification paths for the single ended 3.5mm output/LO and the balanced 2.5mm output. For the analog Line Out, Cayin has chosen to use the OPA1652 and they have integrated a Quad-core Processor that offers an intuitive user experience and extraordinary digital audio capability, supports DST and DTS encoded format. Because of the three active oscillators, the N5ii also has extreme low jitter.

 

Accessories

While the Cayin N5ii only goes for $369, this is the point where it is less impressive. For the money you only get a very basic silicone case, a USB to USB-C charging cable and a products-guide. I do feel it’s lacking here a little as there are no extra screen protector, leather case or anything. These “accessories” however are all optional.

It’s clear that Cayin preferred investing their money in the hard- and software instead of the accessories and in the end I think we all prefer that, but the standard package, accessory-wise, is rather basic. The beautiful leather case (see pics), USBC to Coax RCA adapter and the USBC to Coax 3.5mm adapter are all available for purchase.

The story continues on Page three of this review, after the click here

The story continues on Page three of this review, after the click here

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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.

64 Comments

  • Reply December 12, 2017

    Charles Rievone

    Which Lastfm scrobbler app did you use that works with the stock Cayin player app?

    • Reply December 16, 2017

      Lieven

      • Reply March 22, 2018

        Indrajit

        Hey Mr. Lieven, I have a question. How does N5II in (bal mode) compare with an old Fiio X7 (single ended). Is it better to buy a newer player with balanced mode as opposed to buying an older, 3.5mm player of a more expensive league?

        • Reply March 22, 2018

          Lieven

          It will depend on the AM module used in the X7. It also depends on the IEM used and its driveability. I’m a big fan of balanced outputs, but why don’t you just buy a balanced module for the X7?

  • Reply December 12, 2017

    Edward

    Can you also make a comparison to the Shanling M3s?

    • Reply December 16, 2017

      Lieven

      Different reviewers

    • Reply March 22, 2018

      Indrajit

      Thanks, I was wondering what happens if a bal output of one price league competes with SE output of a once flagship league. Moving from se to bal output needs an entirely different setup with plugs and headphones, I live in India, where there doesn’t yet seem to be a market for turning 3.5 into bal

  • Reply December 13, 2017

    Carlos

    Great review Lieven. I have been looking for a dap that matches or resembles the Luxury & precision L5pro sound. Are we talking about something similar here or am I asking too much from a mid-tier dap? ¿should I look somewhere else? Thanks

    • Reply December 16, 2017

      Lieven

      The L&P sound still is special, sorry 🙂

  • Reply December 13, 2017

    Luke

    Totally agree that Cayin need to implement the ability to use the 2.5mm socket with Tidal – please listen Andy/Cayin. Great review thank you.

    • Reply December 16, 2017

      Lieven

      Thank you. they will do that I was told.

  • Reply December 13, 2017

    Rob

    Does the player has a limitation on the number of files that can be played?

  • Reply December 13, 2017

    Rob

    Can you also make a comparison to the Aune M1s?

    • Reply December 13, 2017

      Rob

      Soundquality wise!

    • Reply December 16, 2017

      Lieven

      I don’t have that one, sorry

  • Reply December 14, 2017

    Danny

    Does it support aptx?

  • Reply December 14, 2017

    Michael

    How is the detail reproduction and the instrument separation of the N5ii compared to the AK70?

    • Reply December 16, 2017

      Lieven

      As said they’re at the same level concerning the detail and separation.

  • Reply December 18, 2017

    Ortega

    Hi Lieven
    Can you also make a comparison to the Pioneer XDP-300R?

  • Reply December 18, 2017

    Bots

    Good quality review, as always. Cheers!

  • Reply December 21, 2017

    Irvin

    where can I download the windows driver so I can use it as a DAC also, there is none on their website thanks

    • Reply January 19, 2018

      Lieven

      the Cayin site is a good start.

  • Reply December 21, 2017

    Elric

    Good review and sooo good dap, i’ve got it and for me N5ii is just a amazing NSK ( Natural Sound Killer ).

  • Reply December 26, 2017

    Tim

    Hi – I wonder if anyone can help. The updating FW instructions are a little unclear on the CAYIN website – The instructions on the Cayin website say:

    1. Download firmware upgrade package from Cayin website, you should receive a compressed document N5MK2-ota-XXXX.zip
    2. Copy the UNCOMPRESSED firmware upgrade package to the root directory of internal storage or TF card of N5ii.

    But if I uncompress/unzip the file on my computer I get a folder called:

    N5MK2-ota-2.1en

    This big folder contains a lot of other folders and files. Do I need to transfer the whole big folder or a smaller file/folder from inside?

    Also, number 5 in the instructions says:

    5. You can move up and down to select xxxxx.zip via volume or previous/next buttons and press power button to activate the upgrade process.

    This is confusing because the earlier instructions (point 1) says I have to uncompress the zip file before installing – so I don’t understand how I can install a zip file If I have been told to uncompress it first. Anyone tried updating and could offer some guidance.

  • Reply December 26, 2017

    Lieven

    1. Do NOT uncompress the zip file. Put in the root.
    2. Shut down
    3. Reboot with going to the boot menu by pushing power and the down button at the same time
    4. Then use the buttons to navigate and power to select.

    It’s fairly easy

  • Reply December 26, 2017

    Scott Peterson

    Would this be an upgrade to my AK120 Titan other than streaming?

  • Reply December 26, 2017

    Scott Peterson

    Also, any comparison with the hiby R6?

    • Reply January 19, 2018

      Lieven

      not in my possession, sorry.

  • Reply December 31, 2017

    Tim

    Hi,

    How would you rate treble extension against the Bit Opus 1?

    • Reply January 19, 2018

      Lieven

      Don’t have that one, sorry.

  • Reply January 6, 2018

    Michael Gunin

    May I please ask you t compare N5-II to iBasso DX80 in terms of SQ?

    • Reply January 19, 2018

      Lieven

      no offense but the DX80 sucks so much I didn’t even review it. It’s the King of noise and slow UI.

  • Reply January 12, 2018

    Pierre

    Hi Lieven,
    Many thanks for this great review!
    Do you think the N5II will sound well with a HE-400i or do I need an extra (portable) amp?
    Also, which one would you recommend between the Hiby R6 and the N5II?

    • Reply January 19, 2018

      Lieven

      No you’re good without amp. I don’t have the R6, sorry.

  • Reply January 19, 2018

    Larry

    Hi Lieven, I own the Sennheiser 800S. Do you recommend using an external amp with the N5II to do the 800S justice and if the answer is yes, what amp do you think would be a good synergy? Thanks

    • Reply January 19, 2018

      Lieven

      I do recommend an amp. Something like the Crack to start. It depends on your budget though.

  • Reply January 29, 2018

    Victor

    Hi Lieven.

    Great review for Cayin N5ii
    I have Question :
    Would this be an great upgrade from ak100 1st generation? Focusing on sound quality.
    I like natural and clear sound.

    Thanks.

    • Reply January 29, 2018

      Lieven

      if it’s pure SQ you want, I still recommend the X7ii over it.

      • Reply January 29, 2018

        Victor

        But regarding the price to performance. Is cayin n5ii still good choice to upgrade from ak100 mk1? Is it noticable improvement from ak100 to N5ii?
        Using same 3.5mm output.

        Last time I try X5 3rd gen. But I’m still love my ak100 over it. Ak100 feels more natural for me compared to X5 3rd gen.

        Thanks

        • Reply January 29, 2018

          Lieven

          How about X5II?

          • Reply January 29, 2018

            Victor

            I never heard the X5 II. My friends have X5 II and they said it have problem with the OS.
            Previously i have the X5 1st gen. After that i change to AK100. For me X5 1st to AK100 is totaly different in term of SQ. AK is more fluid and natural.
            My choices for upgrade right now are
            Cayin N5II
            AK70
            After i read your review that ak70 and N5II are similar, than i’m interested with this new cayin.

            Would you recommend to upgrade my AK100 which is quite old, to this new Cayin N5II? The price is reasonable and it also have some additional feature.

  • Reply January 30, 2018

    Brian

    How do you think the N5ii sounds compared to the Opus #1? I have the Opus and think it sounds decent with ATH-M50’s and 1More Quad IEMs.

    What about both of those vs a Mojo?

    My taste in sound is a v-shape…more bass and high treble with less mids.

  • Reply February 4, 2018

    Roberto

    Where can I find the user manual in English as in their website can only find the one in Chinese language.

  • Reply February 6, 2018

    Tim

    Hi,

    Thanks for your excellent review. The comparison with the x7ii was very useful.

    Could I ask, though, about your thoughts, regarding sound quality versus the older FIRST generation X7 (with AM2 amp module). The older X7 is often available at quite a discount on-line. Side by side, what would be your preference sound-wise: 1st generation X7 + AM2 amp module or Cayin N5ii?

    Hope you can help – as I have found some good X7 deals on-line so would like to see if I should snap it up :-).

    All the best,

    Tim

    • Reply February 7, 2018

      Lieven

      Tim,

      when it comes down to sound the X7 is more refined than the Cayin. But when it comes to usability, the Cayin > Fiio. so that’s a tough one. I personally never seem to pick up the X7, but I do use the N5ii

  • Reply February 20, 2018

    Tim

    Hi There,

    Thanks for your advice. I can also see a lot of 2nd hand IBasso Dx90 units around – would you say that the Cayin N5ii is a step-up soundwise from the DX9?

    Based purely on sound only which one do you think is superior for you?

  • Reply April 5, 2018

    Bert

    Hi thanks for review and congratulations.
    Do you think Cayin N5II sounds better than Chord Mojo ? Or what DAP (with big storage) could be sounds better than Chord Mojo ? (because its easier to take DAP and hear music than plug DAC into PC+launch PC+ launch Foobar + set-up good mode usb-direct, etc.)
    Thanks in advance.
    Best regards.

  • Reply April 5, 2018

    oliwek

    Bert, you probably should look at iBasso DX200, or with less budget at Hiby R6 (of course this has only sense with qualitative headphones or CIEMs, or else you should begin to upgrade from there).
    The problem is also a question of synergy with said or said source (device and also recording), and said or said headphones, I’m afraid 🙂

    • Reply April 5, 2018

      Bert

      Thank you for your opinion. I have Chord Mojo and it is fantastic but less practical than a DAP. That is why i’m questioning to resell the DAC.

  • Reply April 13, 2018

    Juan Luis

    Hi Lieven,

    This time that the N5 has only 2 digital filters, which was the best for you?

    • Reply April 16, 2018

      Lieven

      always the one with the sharp and/or fast roll off

  • Reply October 23, 2018

    Loganaden Balakrishna VEERAPEN

    Hello Lieven,
    The N5ii is $270 right now on Massdrop! What are your thoughts?
    I have recently backed the AP80 and waiting delivery for November. Unfortunately my wife won’t let me order another DAP. Am I losing a lot sound quality wise?

    • Reply October 23, 2018

      Lieven

      N5ii or the newer N5iis? Still a great DAP and very versatile with streaming options

  • […] Cayin has been focusing on the portable market as well with successful units such as the N3, N5, N5ii, N5iis, N6, i5 portable players and the C5 portable amplifier. Now Cayin is back with the N8, a […]

  • Reply December 23, 2018

    Alberto Novella

    I am in the same situation. Now the N5 ii is for 280$ but I have read some bad reviews of its laggish interface, bad quality screen and problems with streaming with Tidal. Is the N5 ii better souning than Fiio M9? Or the shangling m5s?
    Any other options compared with the cayin?
    Thank for your advices!

  • Reply March 15, 2019

    Michael Hobart

    I recently got a Nrii through a Massdrop offering. I was quite pleased with the appearance, sound, and versatility of the unit. However, not long after the 30 day Massdrop warranty had passed, the lower half of the LCD display started flickering. It has progressively gotten worse, and now is dark most of the time. The touchscreen features continue to work so long as you remember the locations. Now, today, the balanced headphone output appears to have sipped functioning. The single-ended output works fine. So far. I have not received any reply from Cayin as o where I can get the unit repaired:-(. The sound quality is great, but at this time I cannot recommend it with these quality issues.

  • Reply March 16, 2019

    Michael Hobart

    Apparently, all the N5ii only needed a reboot to re-enable the balanced headphone output. If there was a message to that effect, it had appeared on the lower, blacked out portion of the LCD display. So I must modify my initial comment accordingly. I still need to get that problem fixed. I had not mentioned that the Cayin site has clear instructions on how to upgrade the firmware, though I had to follow their suggestion to download the update to my computer, then transfer the file to the cayin. Haring to have the Cayin download the update directly did not seem to work. The cayin site also generates a warning message via several different browsers, but I never had any problems, perhaps because I use my Mac and have anti-virus/anti-malware installed.

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