Review: Cayin N5ii – The Killer

N5ii Sound

 

Most of the time I’m listening to custom BA-driven IEMs and the balanced output certainly is my favorite on the N5ii. This is one of the best/most quiet 2.5mm outputs on the market now and none of the DAPs in this (and double the) price class are this quiet even with the most sensitive gear.

I keep repeating myself, but the balanced 2.5mm output will give you: more power, better separation, a wider sound stage, a higher detail level and certainly better dynamics. When I have a balanced port available I only very hardly use the 3.5mm output unless I have no other choice. Most of my cables are terminated in 2.5 and I use an Effect audio adapter if needed.

The Cayin N5ii definitely is a full bodied player and that is the case for the bass, mids and treble. When I say full bodied that doesn’t mean there’s too much bass or that the mids are overly thick, just so we’re clear on that. In this regard the N5ii is linear from low to highs and the sound is balanced. As said the N5ii has a completely black, noise free, background and it’s a pleasure to (not) hear that. The clarity level of the N5ii is pretty good but it’s not as clean sounding as say the 10 times more expensive AK SP1000, no one will find that weird either. The overall tuning is to the more neutral side, but as said with good body throughout. The delivery is smooth and soft without exaggerating either of these.

Especially when using the 2.5mm output you get great dynamics and a lovely sound stage. The width of the sound stage is really good (at this price level) and while the depth is good too, it isn’t as impressive as the width. What you do get with the N5II is great layering and to me this is one of the strongest points of the player. Especially the mids sound sublime but more on that in a bit. There’s a good amount of space between the elements and the presentation is spacious enough to give the overall impression of an open sound. You music will not be centered between your ears, and I would never label the N5ii as intimate sounding, yet at the same time you don’t get the out of your head experience you do with players such as the Sony WM1Z and SP1000. But again, that’s very normal.

Other great characteristics of the N5ii are its dynamic character and positive energy level. For a DAP in this class I personally find both of these out of this world. Cayin has managed to get the mix of detail retrieval, speed and dynamics just right and the result in an extremely engaging and musical sound signature.

The Classics

Bass has great impact and is always present. While bass never is overly present or overpowering, it is always there. Bass goes deep when needed but it doesn’t go down really low. Bass has good layering but I find the layering of the mids to be better. Bass has good speed though and you get an energetic and punchy presentation. Bass isn’t the tightest ever but it is nowhere near loose, it simply is very good and enjoyable for both bass lovers and haters.

The mids probably are my favorite part even though I really like the bass section too. To me the mids are rich in detail and they have the best layering. Mids flow perfectly from the bass and make the N5ii an very musical player. The mix of spaciousness and separation is just right and combined with the lovely timbre, you get mids to die for.

The treble section was tuned like the bass section in the way that it’s easy to like by everyone. There’s enough air and detail for the treble fans but it at the same time has a smooth delivery and “non-peaky” presentation for those who like softer treble.

The whole mix simply works very nicely together and it makes the Cayin N5ii such a pleasure to listen to. Ever since it arrived, it’s the only DAP I’ve been using on the go and in the office. It hasn’t made it to my night stand setup but there I have the AK380, WM1Z and SP1000 to cover my needs.

Non-headphone outputs

It shows that Cayin invested time developing the Line Out-function. I myself have been pairing it mostly with my Lehmann Drachenfels and Audiovalve Solaris amplifier and the N5ii with its 2V line-out, delivers a detailed, non-forced, smooth sound from the Line Out. It’s just very easy to match up with your desktop components and it sounds so effortless, unlike with some other DAPs.

In order to use the Cayin N5ii as DAC you need to install a driver for Windows (4.11 version). Do note that the N5ii has been configured for optimal sound reproduction. That means there is a delay with the sound when watching videos or playing games. Of course you can modify this setting but do take this into account when you first hook it up. The Cayin N5ii gets recognized by Roon without any issue and to me the N5ii is more than just a back-up DAC. If you don’t have the room or budget for a desktop DAC, I’m convinced you can perfectly live with and enjoy the N5ii’s DAC instead.

Of course you can hook up your Cayin N5ii to your Mojo or Hugo2 using the optional USB-C to Coax 3.5mm cable as shown in the picture. Everyone loves the Mojo and so do we. Hooking up your Mojo to the N5ii with this cable is as easy as it can be, just click them in and that’s all. This combination certainly sounds very good but now you of course have the Mojo’s sound signature. So if you really only need a good source for the Mojo, you might want to look into the cheaper Cayin N3. But the N5ii and Mojo combo works smoothly, and a lot of people will be very happy to read that.

As the digital USB-C to Micro USB function isn’t available yet, I cannot comment on this connection. As soon as a firmware update opens up the USB to USB-function, the impression will be added here.

Click HERE to go to the last page of the review with the comparisons

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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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