Ever since Astell & Kern hit it big with their original AK100, the Digital Audio Player (DAP) market went into overdrive. Companies with all sorts of audio backgrounds showed their hand at the game, from classic HiFi companies such as Cayin, more consumer known brands such as Onkyo and Pioneer and even brands such as thebit who started out with sat-navs! Honestly we have just not been able to keep up with them all and while we have looked at a few of the top end options such as the AK380 and Lotoo Paw Gold, Josh and I thought it was time to scratch the surface with some other brands at the cheaper price points. By no means have we got them all, oh no that would be madness but we have got 4 rather interesting models to go head to head. We are going to break down the DAPs into pieces and individually assess their abilities in what we think are the most important areas. It’s going to be a long ride but hopefully it will show both ourselves and you where the current DAP market is, what are the problems, what are the strengths and most importantly, make it easier to pick the right one for you.

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The Models

I think it is important that we get a background and overview of the 4 products we plan on shooting out, lets run through in price order.

We first of all have the Cayin N5, the cheapest of the bunch but one that in terms of specs deserves as much attention as the others and certainly deserved to be in the mix with the more expensive competitors. Cayin are one of your more traditional HiFi companies based in China. Looking through their portfolio you will see some glorious tube amplifiers and wooden encased CD players but like a lot of speaker related companies, they have seen the light which is portable audio. Starting off with the extremely well acclaimed C5 portable amp, they moved to the N6 as their first DAP which I have off good authority from my friend and owner over at Headfonics (Marcus Downey) is an impressive product. The N5 is their second attempt at a Digital Music Player and also a cheaper one than the N6 that seems to remain as flagship. The price in the UK is £249 from Advanced MP3 Players who I know to be solid but is £10 cheaper from EGlobal UK who is an unknown to me.

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Next up is the iBasso DX80. iBasso have always been a portable audio company (also from China) and the Android based DX100 was one of the first audiophile centred DAPs along with HiFiMANs original models and the Colorably C4, way before the AK100 come into existence. More recently they have had the DX50 and DX90 but this is their first model in a while, perhaps a little taster for the up coming DX200, their first true flagship since the DX100 all that time ago. The DX80 goes for £289 through Advanced MP3 Players and again is cheaper from EGlobal, this time by £20.

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We then have a third entry from China with Aune’s M2 Pro. Now this is easily the most confusing model and the circumstances behind my review sample make it even more so. Basically Aune released their M2 DAP in 3 incarnations. There is the standard M2, the M2 Pro and the M2S. Starting at $349 the price increases $150 to the pro and then $300 to the S. The Pro has better clocking and the S has the Pros upgrades and a better PCB structure.  While the standard and Pro are only available in Black and Silver, the S comes in blue. My unit is certainly blue and it also is branded S on the back of the unit. The confusing part is that the S design was not finalised when my sample was sent so internally it is a Pro.  So I will review it as the Pro but in the pictures you will be seeing the S. The Pro is $499 which translates to roughly £350. That would be buying it through the Aune Online Store. I also found it on EGlobal UK for £329.

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Lastly we have a brand new player from Korea in thebit Opus #1. This is going to be the most expensive of the bunch at $600 which would be roughly £400 but with no retailer in the UK you could be scorched on import duties as well, which would make it even more expensive. thebit as I mentioned earlier have a background in all sorts of products but seem to be really pushing the Opus Audio branding which comes with a new site and a promise of a lot of new models. It is also certain that these guys are inspired by Korean country mate Astell & Kern based on appearance of design and even the use of the Master Quality Sound tag AK went with from the start. Now we have the models lets turn the page and get started with the features on offer.

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Page 2 will cover Features

Page 3 is UI

Page 4 is Build 

Page 5 is IEM Performance

Page 6 is Headphone Driving Ability

Page 7 is Sound Quality

Page 8 is Our Summary

Sonny Trigg
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  • Michael Gunin

    Thanks for such a detailed and well-thought comparison. May I ask which IEMs you’d recommend to pair with N5?

    • Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed it. First of all I would say an IEM that is not super sensitive as the N5 is a little hiss prone. Once we are past that if you would like a recommendation then a price range would be great in helping me give you a few models to look at.

      In terms of sound signature it depends what you want as the end result. Because of the more fun signature of the DAP if you like the sound of that, then a fun sounding IEM will pair nicely. If you want to try and balance the sound you could get a leaner, dryer and more aggressive IEM with a faster bass and then this may plumpen the sound a bit. Due to its signature it is much easier to pair with compared to say the Opus with its thinner brighter sound, that was more picky.

      • Michael Gunin

        I see, thanks. Still choosing at $100-300 price range and a smooth, non-sibilant sound for jazz, soul, funk, classical. Dunu Titan 3, Echobox Finder and Trinity Atlas were among the options you’ve recommended me via PM, also considering Oriveti Primacy and Lear LHF-AE1d. I have DX50 as a source and think of N5/N6 as a possible upgrade, also ATH-ESW9 is in my stock already.

        • Oh sorry Michael, I did not put 2 and 2 together and realise we had talked over PM! All of them 3 IEM I recommended actually suit the Cayin nicely. I have the Lear coming very soon as well so look out for a review on that. The Cayin N5 IMO is certainly an upgrade over the DX50, sadly I have not heard the N6, but have it on good ground it is more analytical and neutral than the N5, which is a little warmer and more fun. I would put funds to a new IEM first though and do the DAP upgrade later.

          • Michael Gunin

            Yep, I guess you are often asked for advice which is reasonable 🙂 Also Dunu-2000 you’ve recommended as I remember now. So, will look forward for your review of Lear since the model is really interesting. And, will save funds for IEMs first and (as you recommend) only after that will proceed with upgrading the DAP.

            BTW, any advice for some portable closed-back upgrade to ATH-ESW9? I’m thinking of Oppo PM3 and 2nd gen of Momentum as my top ideas.

          • I don’t know the ESW9 to well but for closed portables we just got through the Meze Classics 99 and Jays U-Jays. Meze seem ok but the U-Jays are currently blowing us away. Josh is handling the review on both of them but I have listened to both and would happily recommend the Jays. They sound good and are an all round solid package on top of that! Also if you have a DAP with some power the ZMF Master Model is always a safe bet, great planar sound, a bit on the fun side but sadly a little inefficient.

          • Michael Gunin

            Oh, thanks – didn’t consider any of these, will read more. And, some final thought: would you recommend N5 over Shanling M3/M2?

          • Yes we will have reviews of the jays and Meze soon enough. Yes I would, I prefer N5 has an all around player and in sound.

          • Michael Gunin

            Terrific. Will wait patiently, u-Jays do look!

          • Stuart Macgregor

            The Aune m2 has fantastic sq as good as the mojo and thats the basic player,oh and it has digital out(soon)

          • It does indeed sound fantastic. They are going to add a digital output? That would have to be a new model, I dont see how they could over firmware unless they just did not finish it in time for release and circuitry is already there?

  • baby turtle

    Cayin N5 does have line out.
    It’s combined with SE headphones output.
    You can choose which one to use via player settings.
    As for digital filters, Cayin N5 has 5 of them.
    http://cdn.head-fi.org/1/1c/1ccacf8d_img_keyFeatures_01.gif
    Just FYI
    Thanks for comparison. Nice work!

    • Yes I am aware of the line out option on the Cayin but like what the AK models have, it is not true as it still will go through the amp section of the device. A separate jack is needed for it to be straight from the DAC and unaltered, thats not to say I had problems with the Cayin Line Out option. Also my bad for the typo on the filter options, cheers for pointing that out (will go amend now) and that chart is nice, I had never seen it.

  • Clarence

    The opus sounds very musical to me, neutral with a tad warmness, not analytical at all.
    The bummer is not be able to use Tidal.

  • Luke Lee

    Hi, really enjoyed this detailed comparison. May I ask what type of ciem will pair with the opus #1 do you recommend?

  • Luke Lee

    Hi, really enjoyed this detailed comparison. May I ask what type of ciem to pair with the opus #1 do you recommend?

    • It depends what kind of sound you are after of course….

      The opus isn’t so far devoid from neutral that it warrants any crazy sonic changes from that of the earphone, obviously the opus signature will have an effect but it’s not going to make a bassy earphone like the Heir 8.A thin and reference class. I think it is a good place to start and let the signature of a CIEM do the talking so what sound are you after in a CIEM, then we can go from there!

      • Luke Lee

        I see thanks. The type of sound I’m after is warm,fun and detailed signature. I’m currently using aaw a3h pro with the opus and looking to upgrade my ciem in the future.

  • MR A RAHMAN

    Hi thanks for a very comprehensive review.i have a Aune m2 pro what headphones do u think would pair best
    I am after a fast fluid bass and lower bass
    Regards Ateeq

    • It really depends on how much you are wiling to spend. I guess you want headphones that go over your ears but what is your budget and do you want portability or open back?

      • MR A RAHMAN

        Hi i want to spend about 200 pound or cheaper but the main thing true to the original sound just like hearing the low and mid base .open back is fine i also use the Aune b1 headphone amp .have u had any experience with it .
        My current headphone is sony
        MDR-1A
        Regards Ateeq

  • Karol Kędzierski

    All the things written about the dx80 are actually crap. Is exactly the opposite way. The bass is well articulated, with full body and really nice extend. “The mid range continues the same way and I just struggle to enjoy what the DX80 offers, it feels so vague in every sense, I just don’t get what they have gone for here” — what?? The mids are actually the hero of dx80. Having the same DACs as the AK120II and AK240 it really sounds similar. The mids are forward and dominant, really defined, clear, and airy with great separation of instruments for this price range. The trebbles are actually a bit laid back, so it makes the dx80 warmer sounding DAP but even then, they are sparkling and detailed enough. Maybe u didnt have good pair up with headphones. I listened to dx80 with Pinnacles P1 (fantastic clear sound, great soundstage, very natural sounding, but lacking in subbas, no hiss at all), Sennheiser IE80 (enormous soundstage, even too big, deep but overflowing bass, too high level of hiss for me) and over ear headphones- Bang Olufsen H6 – amazing pairing, great soundstage for closed back headphones, superb defined bass, great female vocals.