Cayin provided the N5ii free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.
Andy Kong of Cayin bestowed upon me the great honor of beta testing their newest audio player, the 2nd Generation N5, AKA, the N5ii.
I was thrilled, and spent quite a while with it. Found some bugs. Tinkered, toiled, and generally had a blast. But this review is of the final production unit. We’ve moved past Beta on both hardware and software. This is the N5ii. My experience should reflect yours, if you were to buy one.
And you should. This is an outrageously good DAP.
Starting with the aesthetics, the Cayin N5ii conveys a streamlined elegance. It’s sleek, relatively small, with a handsome volume wheel secured protectively into the chassis. The buttons are simplistic, intuitive, and solid. The back plate is laser etched into a motif of endless, cascading hills.
One cannot escape the Astell&Kern vibe. I owned the AK120II as my main source for well over a year, and this DAP looks and feels like an homage. Right down to the crocodile-print genuine leather case. Pinky approves! I always felt, no one quite surpassed Astell&Kern in the aesthetic department, and if anyone ever would, it would be Cayin, who has made some of my favorite devices over the years.
Does the N5ii beat the AK120II in looks? Well, I like the volume wheel on the Cayin better. Not only is it more solid, but that hint of gold makes for a sexy accent. On the other hand, the AK is a little less square and symmetrical, which I fancy more. So… we’ll call this a tie.
If you’ve spent any time with the Cayin i5, you’ll be at home with the N5ii’s custom Android OS. From Home Screen, you can swipe right for a whole slew of settings and features. And at any time you can swipe down for more standard options, such as Gain, Bluetooth and WiFi. This is also where you’ll find the icon to ferry you to System Settings. I find the Cayin Operating System to be one of the best. There are better, but there are far worse as well. This one is rather intuitive, and I’ve always liked it.
Unlike the i5, the N5ii has no trouble with Gapless playback. It is seamless as f**k. Cayin users waited, not so patiently, for a firmware update to solve the i5’s Gapless problem. No matter how they tried, the issue remained. As Andy explains it, when Cayin moved over to the Rockship 3188, Gapless suddenly worked. No firmware fixes were needed, as it wasn’t a software issue, but a hardware one. They had no idea, and even now, probably can’t explain it entirely. That’s electronics for you: black magic and pure devilry.
I found Bluetooth playback on my B&O H9 quite stable, with just the occasional hiccup. I never once connected to WiFi or attempted streaming. It’s not worth signing up for those services just so I can write about it in my reviews. Andy knows well where I stand on all that. No one expects Pinky to emerge from this partially fossilized husk, suddenly transformed into the Lord of Streaming. Others have already reviewed those features, and I encourage you to seek them out.
My usage consists of playing FLAC (16bit, 24bit, 44.1-192) or DSD files from internal storage, or one of the two—count them, two!—microSD slots. And apart from the occasional software crash, resulting in the error message “The Cayin Player has stopped responding”, I’ve encountered very few troubles. And even that crash is just a button press away from solving itself. I have yet to see a hard lock, but of course, this is an Android device, so it’s bound to happen eventually.
However, there still lingers a bug from the beta software, which can cause the touchscreen volume controls to lock and ratchet up the volume to 100 if you hit the button just as it’s about to disappear. Activating this bug requires unlucky precision and timing, and as such, few have stumbled upon it. But still, I’d recommend only using the hardware volume wheel until you know it’s fixed. Otherwise, you could hurt your ears.