Review: Cayin N5ii – The Killer

Usability / UI

 

The new Cayin design lays good in the hand and it’s extremely easy to use. Even when used blind with the player in your pocket. Before you get to that point however, you’ll have to use the touch screen to set up the player the way you want and to select your play list. All that however is extremely easy, and scanning your SD-cards goes really fast. Cayin has taken the Android implementation of the i5 DAP and as a result working with this new N5ii is extremely easy. But even if you’re not familiar yet with this Android version, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

The N5ii has a very clear menu-structure. The horizontal menus will let you select your music, while the vertical menu is more for your settings and preferences. Next to that there also is the swipe down Android menu that allows you to control the unit itself (not the software). I won’t go into detail about the different screens and options as these are straightforward and easy to use, but this is the main structure:

1. Status Bar

At the top of the screen, display the battery reading and volume information etc.

2. Quick Playback Bar

At the bottom of the screen, display playback information

3. Application Menu

Pull out when swipe from left (edge) to right, third party applications and music setting.

4. Pull Down Menu

Pull down from top to bottom, a phase-in design, the first section is the Notification Center, pull down again, you’ll arrive at the Quick Setup Menu, and when you click at the gear pm top right, you’ll enter System Menu.

Of course the Cayin N5ii plays through folders and does gapless without issues.

Some things I do want to quickly touch are:

1. Audio Priority Mode (AP mode)

Like Fiio, Cayin has a mode where you turn off WiFi and BT in order to get the very best musical quality possible. In this mode you can use the 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm single ended output. That does mean that for now you can’t use any streaming apps in this mode. The N5ii automatically switches to AP mode the moment you connect a 2.5mm player. You can of course activate the AP mode as well by manually selecting it in the drop down screen menu. In AP mode, the EQ setting will be disabled as well just so you know.

So this is a bit of a downside and I have strongly suggested Cayin to rectify this in an upcoming Firmware update. And from then on you’ll be able to use your 2.5mm terminated earphones in combination with Tidal and Spotify, etc.

2. Customizable screen

Once you’re playing a track, the DAP will switch to the typical “play screen” we know from the i5. The nice thing here is that you can actually change the bottom (button) lay-out of this screen by pressing the little t-shirt in the middle of the screen on the left. Cayin has implemented 3 different play-back screens and by touching the “hidden” button you switch between the regular screen and two variations on that theme. I myself tend to use the second (or middle) lay-out as I find it easier to skip ahead in songs. Anyway, it’s a nice option to have.

3. Artwork, Lyrics or VU-meters

The top part of the screen is also customizable but then again most of the Android DAPs nowadays are (just look at Fiio). For the top screen you can chose between the regular art work, the lyrics or the VU-Meters. I myself tend to turn off the screen once I start listening, but the VU-meters always are nice. Do note that the VU-meters only work with multi-bi formats such as PCM, DSD is not supported.

Usability-wise, the Cayin N5ii comes very close to be the perfect DAP, however some people might say it isn’t the fastest DAP reactivity-wise. I have to admit that some DAPs in my collection have a quicker response time, but all those players are a lot more expensive as well. For the price, the N5ii is a very normal behaving and reacting DAP. There are far less reactive DAPs in my collection and to be honest, the reactivity hasn’t bothered in me in any way. There is only little thing that does bother me though: the N5ii perfectly remembers the last track you were playing and the position in this track, but when you press play the song will start from zero seconds. It’s not very important but I do feel it’s worth a mention.

Versatility

Cayin – like with storage – knows what audiophiles nowadays find important and just like the i5, the N5ii is an incredibly versatile DAP. Here’s a quick overview:

  1. A 2.5mm balanced headphone output
  2. A 3.5mm single ended headphone output
  3. A 3.5mm 2V Line Out. Because of this you get a smooth and non-forced sound when the LO is used with audio equipment with an input impedance higher than 10k Ohm
  4. Wifi
  5. BlueTooth 4.0
  6. USB to S/PDIF Digital output over USB. For the USB to S/PDIF, Cayin has embedded the native S/PDIF bit stream to the redundant pin of the Type-C connector, so there is no conversion involved. This adapter cable can be bought from Cayin. See later.
  7. USB OTG. You will soon be able to hook up your favorite DAC (such as the Mojo) directly to the N5ii by using the USB OTG function 5USB-C to Micro USB). For this you of course also need a specific cable.
  8. OTG input (extra storage can be directly hooked up to the N5ii. A converter cable might be needed)
  9. USB DAC (after installation of the latest driver)
  10. The N5ii has no issues finding my NAS drives and streaming music from then. The only downside here is that the N5ii doesn’t have a remote control function like AK Connect. That means you can’t hook up the DAP to your speaker setup and control it over your phone. Cayin has informed me there are no plans in this direction for that at this time.
  11. I have tested and used Spotify and Tidal all the time and you can even save the Tidal tracks locally.
  12. If needed there’s a 10-band EQ available. You can either ruse one of the nine presets or set it yourself. Do note the EQ doesn’t work when Audio Priority Mode is activated.

And all that for only $369, if that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is anymore.

The part on Sound starts on the next page! Click HERE

The part on Sound starts on the next page! 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.

65 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.

  • Reply December 9, 2019

    Simon

    Hello,

    i am interested in buying the N5ii aka N5 mkII and have noticed your remark in the review about how it has issues to keep up when movies or games are being played (maybe it only refers to the “audiophile mode” or how Cayin calls it.
    You would help me much if you could get your hands on the N5 mkII, install the latest drivers from the official Cayin site (drivers to be found under “support”) and give it a go.
    I would like to be able to use the Cayin for DAC duties (out to tube amp) and it needs to operatare flawlessly when playing movies and gaming via USB (asynchronous mode, with drivers installed if needed). I hope there are not any kind of lags or sound drop outs.
    As of today, Windows 10 has USB Audio 2.0 already implemented so is there any need to a dedicated driver provided by the manufacturer to get the most out of the DAP/DAC? Asynchronous USB mode should work at the highest bitrate and sample rate when you only rely on the implemented Windows USB Audio 2.0 driver. Or is the situation more complicated and a dedicated/special manufacturer driver still needed to unleash best performance of your audio device (generally asking, not only regarding the Cayin N5 mkII).
    Oh, i noticed Cayin has also updated the firmware recently in case your N5 is not up to date.

    Thanks for your replay in advance. Would help me much!

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