Truth, Beauty, and Greatness – A Review of the Cayin N5ii

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::Disclaimer::
Cayin provided the N5ii free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

The N5ii sells for $369.99 MSRP.
www.Cayin.com
www.MusicTeck.com
Cayin on Amazon


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.

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.

27 Comments

  1. Juan Luis Quiroz on

    Hi Pinky,

    The N5ii would make a good match with the 99 Neo?

    • Pinky Powers on

      Oh yes. Because of Neo’s deep warmth, it plays beautifully with the N5ii’s clear, detailed output.

      • Juan Luis Quiroz on

        Oh, is good to know. I was already looking for a replacement for the N3 I use.

  2. Ajay Marrott on

    Hos does the N5II compare to the Opus #1s?

    • Pinky Powers on

      It compares well.

      • Ajay Marrott on

        Are they on equal footing or do prefer one over the other?

      • INDRAJIT on

        Hey, on the recent market of Audio players bringing in the 2.5mm(Bal), is there a way to simply buy a cable(male 2.5mm to 3.5mm female) for traditional headphones and use it with the 2.5mm output? I have an Audio Technica M50X and there are some cables that claim to turn M50x into balanced sound. There is a lack of such cables or even balanced headphones in a country like India and so i was wondering that if there is no way to convert M50x into balanced with a simple cable then how does a N5ii in (Bal mode) compare sonically with a Fiio X7 1st gen in (single ended) mode?

        • Pinky Powers on

          For the most part, any headphone that uses a L and R connector that goes into each earcup can use a balanced cable.

          If the headphone is designed so that only one side is plugged in at a time, then a cable cannot turn those headphone balanced. They must be modified so that the Negative L and R pathways remain separate.

          There are a few rare examples of a headphone using one-sided earcup connection, but that jack is a 4-pole. Meaning +L -L +R -R are all on their own pathways. These CAN use a balanced cable.

          From what I know of the M50X, they would need to be modified, since they share ground.

          Plugged a balanced cable into a single-ended headphone can damage your amp, and is highly inadvisable. You’re basically shorting two live lines together. 🙂

          • Indrajit on

            Hi, how does N5II compare with Fiio x5iii based on purely sound quality especially with single ended?

            • Pinky Powers on

              I was never a fan of the X5iii sound quality. I found it dull and severely lacking dynamics.

              So I can’t help but recommend the N5ii. It’s superior in every way, sound-wise. And in most other ways, too. 😉

              • Indrajit on

                Hi
                I have a Fiio X5iii and a Sennheiser HD598. Regarding the underwhelming amp-section inside the X5iii I have a question. How does the Fiio X5III+A5 compare with a standalone Cayin N5ii? I don’t use balanced, only single-ended. I am in a situation where I can either buy a Fiio A5 for the X5iii or get rid of the Fiio and instead get a Cayin N5ii for single ended? Which of the either scenario can bring me better sonic results with the Sennheiser HD598?

  3. Tim on

    Hi,

    Thanks for your advice. I’ve managed to get my hands on a 2nd hand OPUS 1 Dap. Great sound indeed. But one curious thing I’ve discovered is that unlike all my other DAPS – it’s not able to split cue files – so all my cue file albums play as one long track now 🙁 ….wonder if you’ve had the same experience?

    I can see why you like the sound though 🙂

    • Pinky Powers on

      Congratulations on the awesome purchase.

      I haven’t noticed this CUE issue. But I only load albums already broken up into their individual songs, so I wouldn’t see this anyway. Sorry.

      • Brian on

        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.

  4. Victor on

    Hi Pinky,

    Great review. Really interesting when you hear with Tia Fourte and you said there is no obvious weakness of this N5ii. This player seems be the beast at its price range.

    What do you think if i’m upgrade AK100 1st gen to N5ii? Would it be great improvement?
    I use noble savant for my iem.

    Thanks

    • Pinky Powers on

      I would not seek an upgrade to a DAP by looking at one that is far less than even half its original price. That is not a reasonable mentality to have. lol.

  5. Tim on

    Hi,

    Thanks for your excellent review. One query – based purely on sound quality alone, and no other considerations, would you consider this new N5ii Dap or Cayin’s flagship N6 to have superior audio chops – for your tastes?

    • Pinky Powers on

      Tim,

      I have not heard the N6. I suspect it may still sound better, but based on how much DAP tech has progressed over the last two years, that may not be true anymore.

      However, the N6 is not long for this world. Cayin already has plans to replace it. But no word yet on when that will happen.

      Personally, if I were shopping in that price range, I’d buy the Opus#3. Even without auditioning it. I’ve had nothing but love for #1, #2 and now #1S. I would buy the #3 without any hesitation or fear.

  6. Zack on

    Hiby R6 review coming up soon? I would like to know how it compares to Cayin N5ii.

    • Pinky Powers on

      I have no contacts with Hiby, so I’m not sure if or when I’ll get my hands on the R6.

  7. Elric on

    I have it and use it with Noble Sage and Eros II, This is music i want to hear, great sound, great review.

  8. Scott Thouvenin on

    Hi pinky, great review and I’m going to pick one of these up and compare it with my current zx300. I just want to know what the iems were on the second page first picture? They look of gold or brass coloured and look tiny, which I like.

    Thanks again, a real concise review, with humour and wit 😉

  9. Csaba on

    Enjoyable writing – as always. Can’t resist – ordered one right now. Really curious with the Meze 99 Classic (I’ll show my balanced cable project soon (without 3D printed part) ).
    Nice color match Fourté – Symbio 🙂

    • Pinky Powers on

      Oh, that sounds marvelous. You need a webpage with a proper store, Csaba. Keep me posted, though. I’m a fan.

      Good job on the N5II buy. You’ll love it.

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