Earlier this year Josh & I entertained as many mid-priced DAPs as we could get our hands on but as with anything these days, most of the brands we featured have moved on. None more perhaps than Cayin whose N5 we LOVED at its price point and couldn’t believe its value for money. That was £249 and while it sounded great from its balanced output, it suffered from hiss and did have that overused Chinese UI that is not exactly the most intuitive. The i5 adds a £150 to the price tag (£399 although I have found it at £349 from a store I am not familiar with) and also loses the balanced output that I and Josh become so fond of on the N5. Briefly, I was concerned as to Cayin’s game plan. From the moment I first got hands on with an i5 at the Munich High-End Show I knew concerns were futile and I was excited to the moment I received it!
Where to Start?
i5 is still not Cayin’s most expensive DAP. That flagship spot still belongs to the N6 but this is not an upgraded DAP but much more a reinvention. It was clear from the N5 and what I have read of the N6 that Cayin understand sound but it goes without saying, there is much more to a DAP than good sonics! For this reason, Cayin did not go alone for the i5 but instead teamed up with HiBy Music. These guys are known for their smartphone music app and have previously worked with many top DAP designers on their models such as Questyle, Fiio and Shanling. None of these have worked as closely as Cayin though. They have not just designed the music player for i5 but instead helped integrate a heavily skinned Android operating system! Embedded at the core is the HiBy Music Player but this is a fully functional Android device, unlike something a bit more inhibited such as Astell & Kern’s line up. Simply by having this access to Android and the Play Store there is such untapped potential that even I have not fully discovered. Now you can see what I mean by this being a completely new product in comparison to what they have done before. As we have started talking about the OS I feel like we may as well move swiftly through to talking about the user interface on this device.
On startup you have your music subheadings, starting with folders. Instantly you can see this a unique device as the folders include but are not limited to the traditional on board memory (32gb) and SD card (microSD up to 200gb). You then have the addition of Dropbox, LAN and USB Flash Drive. Dropbox is pretty straight forward, you log in to your account and go from there and LAN searches your home network for any servers or NAS drives, in my case my BMC PureMedia which I can stream music from straight to my i5. A lot to like already huh?!
Navigating beyond that with the use of the 3.97 inch touch screen and you have your music separated into the usual categories and with artwork and artist images to compliment. Further outlining this is a device for people that care about music you have little sound quality identifiers next to tracks such as DSD and HQ! It also pleases me to see an often overlooked function, the search bar which works a charm. Once music is playing it is up to you what you have to visually stimulate, be it the albums graphic, lyrics of the song or even a UV meter which has become my go to! Beyond that you can quickly pull up song properties, EQ settings (preset and custom) and other tracks from the current album.
While most control is done by the touchscreen, we do have an analogue feeling volume pot on the top right of the DAP, a power/lock button on the left-hand side and pause/play/forward/back on the opposing side. The only thing I find odd is that the pause/play button is below the forward and back buttons, instead of being in-between them like I am accustomed. You also have a touch sensitive home button below the screen which works as it would on your smartphone.
Being an Android device we have to setting interface. We can pull down from the top of the screen (a moment android users will be familiar with) to get our basic settings like toggling wifi and Bluetooth as well as being able to quickly adjust gain settings and USB mode. You can also go further into standard settings. The other option is to swipe left within the main music player interface, which is basically an app that opens on boot. When you swipe left you get music settings including the equaliser and the option to re-scan music but you also get the choice to get some third party applications. This is where this device really comes into its own for me. Not only can you download streaming services such as Tidal and Spotify, you can get apps like Roon. I am sure you could probably even download games and all that but I am not going to be the one to test that.
All in all, I love what they have done with the Android system and think it is more fleshed out and feature packed than other OS like Astell & Kerns! You would hope so as well with a quad-core ARM Cortex A7 processor under the hood!
If you read my recent totaldac d1-server review you will have noticed that also got a section for Roon and I have to admit it is my new favourite way of controlling music when at home, no matter what the system. My Roon core is my computer which has essentially made a library of all music within my local network, NAS drives, USB sticks, local files you name it. With a Roon ready server like the totaldac, it integrates perfectly with my core and playbacks music from it while controlling said music files from my computer or phone. What surprised me is that I have basically been able to convert the Cayin i5 into a Roon Ready music server, of which there are actually a scarce amount of at the moment! By downloading the Roon app not only can I use the Cayin to control music outputted on my computer or OnePlus 2 but can play music from the Roon core via the i5.
That alone is not that special as the i5 has the LAN functionality to get music from your network and playback with little hassle. The reason Roon has really skyrocketed the functionality of this device is by taking advantage of its USB C output. You see from the USB C port located on the bottom of the i5 you can connect it to either the USB input of a DAC or if you purchase Cayin’s SP/DIF cable, use the coaxial input as I have been! The 1m CS-30TCR cable comes in at $69.90 along with a fancy wooden chest and I can rest the DAP next to my Veracity Mystra DAC, in turn, which feeds my mono blocks and then just control my music from my iMacs desktop without having to reach up and fiddle on the touch screen. It becomes even more handy when leaving the DAP with the rest of my front end in a speaker environment. The only drawback is that with the USB C port busy, it will run out of charge eventually!
All in all, this is a great combination of the Android OS and decision to implement USB C!
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