Review: Cayin N5ii – The Killer

Comparisons

 

We’ll split up this part in two chapters: Cayin and non-Cayin (Fiio & Astell&Kern). The direct comparisons were done using the Westone ES80 CIEM which is very revealing

Cayin N3: Cayin’s entry DAP is great but it is very basic built DAP that hardware and usability wise is completely different from the N5ii. The N3 is a great source for the Mojo and its own sound signature is very clear and clean, with somewhat lighter body. While they both work with different chip-sets, I do find the Cayin touch to be present. The big differences for me between both DAPs can be found in the detail level, extension and the layering. The N3’s vocals sound more forward and they’re more natural sounding on the N5ii. The musical delivery from the N5ii is more natural and effortless yet bigger, where the N3 has something more aggressive and thinner to its sound reproduction. The N3 still is a great DAP for its price and while it sounds cleaner, the N5ii simply has a higher quality rendering with more detail, deeper bass, better layering, etc.

Cayin N5: What a long way the new N5ii has come. From an old non-touch OS to an elaborated Android implementation. I always disliked “working” the old N5 and I still do today. Sound wise the first thing you will notice is how silent the new N5ii compared to the original. The new N5ii has a smoother and more natural signature compared to the original where the mids where thinner and the voices were more upfront. The N5 always had this sharpness in its sound and that’s completely gone in this revision. The N5ii has more timbre, better layering and is further extended. It just sounds more natural and balanced.

Cayin i5: The i5 user interface looks a lot like that of the N5ii but that last one has some more option. Versatility and user wise these DAPs are very much alike but the new N5ii is the easiest to use. Its jacket fits better, the volume dial is smoother and the smaller and lighter N5ii just is easier to work in your hand. The screen on the i5 is somewhat nicer though as the N5ii’s screen has a more blue color. Sound wise I find the i5 to have a noisier background but the i5 still sounds really good. To me the N5ii and i5 are very close to each other and the biggest different is in the mids (layering) and the vocals. The voices are a tad softer from the N5ii where they have a sharper edge from the i5, making them sound more forward. In general I also find the N5ii is the better balanced one, where the i5 has the tendency to put the upper mids and treble more upfront. But these are very close to each other, there’s no night and day difference.

Fiio X5iii ($399): I love the Fiio’s form factor but both DAPs are a pleasure to work with. You can see here as well that the screen of the N5ii has a more blue-ish presentation. The X5iii has the noisier background but that won’t surprise anyone anymore. I especially find the extension (depth and with) of the N5ii to be better and to me the bass and treble section has the best range on the N5ii. I also feel the Cayin has the edge over the X5iii for what detail retrieval is concerned and the delivery of the N5ii is even more natural than that of the X5iii.

Fiio X7ii ($649): The X7.2 with the AM3A module to me still is the best sounding Fiio DAP up to date, it’s also Fiio’s TOTL DAP. The Cayin N5ii is roughly half the price and you basically can do everything the X7.2 can, if not more. They’re both easy to work with, feel good in the hand and are nicely built. The Fiio again has the better screen, there’s no doubt about that. The X7.2 is the most silent Fiio DAP, even from the balanced output. Sound-wise the X7.2 for me still is a level up from the N5ii but the Cayin isn’t far behind. The X7.2 has that typical audiophile tuning many of you call reference: neutral, detailed, extended, very clear and clean, fast and tight. The overall sound of the X7.2 has less body compared to the N5ii, and you get better depth (and width) with great layering. The Cayin’s bass is a bit bigger and you’ll also get thicker mids. While both sound very clean, the Fiio scores best on clarity. Technically, the Fiio X7.2 is the best of both DAPs but I can see many preferring the meatier presentation of the N5ii. At the same time the X7.2 lets you change the sound by installing a different amplification module. (The AM modules are available at an extra cost).

Astell&Kern AK70 ($499): Both of these DAPs look and feel absolutely great and they’re a pleasure to work with. The N5ii is fully customizable while the AK of course isn’t. In that regard the N5ii has the edge over the AK70 but that last one does have AK connect and it’s a lot smaller. Both units flawlessly connect to my NAS drives over DLNA but the AK lets me control it from my phone, making it a lot easier to use. Software- wise between these two it really depends on what you’re looking for, but they both have characteristics going for them. Sound wise the AK70’s presentation is more spacious and airy but it sounds somewhat darker than the N5ii with less tight, slower and more mid bass. Voices on the N5ii sound a bit sharper and more forward compared to the more relaxed AK70. Treble is softer to the ears on the AK. Both of these DAPs are very close to each other and here – compared to the Fiio X7.2 – it depends more on your personal preference than it does on pure quality.

Astell&Kern AK70ii ($699): I’m fully aware that everyone wants to compare the Cayin N5ii to the 2nd revision of the AK70. The AK70 won our DAP of the year award last year but unfortunately Astell&Kern didn’t manage to get us a sample in time for this review. So as soon as it arrives and has been burned in, I’ll be adding some comparisons to AK’s latest in this spot.

Conclusion

I’ve loved the Cayin N5ii right from the beginning. It has a beautiful design, top build quality, customizable interface, extreme versatility and it’s easy to use. If that isn’t enough for you than its sound signature will win you right over.

With the N5ii, Cayin has managed to deliver a $369USD DAP that looks, feels and performs like a high-end DAP double or more its price. Yes, a few things still need to be sorted out with the next firmware updates, but once that’s done the Cayin N5ii simply is a killer DAP in this price segment that kind of makes it difficult for the competition to live up to it.

The Cayin N5ii immediately goes in our Recommended/Buyer Guide as it’s a great piece of gear. For the $369USD price it’s going for, I can’t think of any other DAP that performs better in the price bracket and even quite a bit up. “Award material?” I hear you whisper? Yes, possibly, but we’re not there yet.

Double thumbs up to Cayin and Andy though, extremely well done.

Full specs can be found on the last page of this article

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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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