Cayin jumped in to the digital audio player back in 2015 with their N series models the N5 and N6. While these models were very reputable, it was the i5 in 2016 that really skyrocketed their name to one that you quickly relate to when it comes to the topic of DAPs. The i5 got a glowing review from us here at Inearspace and also racked up award after award with all the other esteemed portable audio publications. While they have been a serious player in this market player since the beginning of 2015 they have not been over the top with new product releases like some of their competitors. 2017 for the most part saw only one release, the N3, a budget option that I very much enjoyed and it was only in the real late stages of the year that they announced one more model, a successor to one of their originals… the N5ii.
While I think this 2 years is a completely justified time frame to release a new iteration of a product anyway, the N5ii really can’t be related to the N5 beyond the naming scheme. It is a completely new product sharing much more similarities with the pricier i5. So why is it named the N5? Well, my only guess is because it will be replacing the original in their portfolio, offering a vastly improved and more modern approach in the same budget. This means that if you are in the budget for the N5 and liked the feature set, you can now get a wayyyy better product instead… touch wood! The N5ii goes for £299 in the UK and can be picked up in the states for $369.99 from MusicTeck.
i5 x N5 =
While the i5 was and still is priced a little more expensive than the N5 (and this newer iteration) in bringing in this more modern, android approach, we have lost some of the features that made the N5 so glorious at its price point. The N5ii has something to say about that as it has the same epic connectivity and more than the original N5 and it also has the eye catching aesthetics and android OS that made the i5 such as a huge success story. Basically this the lovechild of two amazing products and somehow costs less than £300. Half of me is puzzled, the other half is just grateful it exists!
Based solely on looks this DAP heavily reminds me of the AK120II, it shares that big forehead and beautiful CNC aerospace aluminum chassis. Add in the £20 leather case option and its even closer to the legacy Astell & Kern product but as to how conscious and effort this was I don’t know, I’d say it’s a coincidence. It is very much like a smaller i5 but I honestly think the small changes go a long way in making this look better. To start with I prefer the new colour and super shiny backplate. They also added a protective cage to the volume pot, in a Lotoo-esque way which for whatever reason just seems to pique my attention more than the naked i5 pot. Finally you have less glaring edges like the sharper, less rounded corners, make it look so much more clean cut. On top of that – of course smaller is great, size is a huge factor on a “PORTABLE” player. Again it should be stressed that the N5ii has not been released to compete with the i5, but I don’t think that can be avoided.
I should take a small moment to talk jut a little more about the pot as its gorgeous. It actually is made of stainless steel, contrasting the chassis’s aluminum just wonderfully with a bit of extra weight to it. Operation is stepped with a satisfying click and maybe due to the guard I just never find myself changing the volume by accident.
You probably know I am not one to waste time in reviews so I will direct you to my i5 review to ready more on the android based operating system and user interface that this has.
It is almost identical to that of the i5 but with this being a year newer, we get some finer updates that create and even more pleasant experience. Running Android 5.1 you may think that in itself is dated but this is such a heavily customized skin it feels oh so modern. The most obvious new features I have noticed would be the ability to quickly switch between three music playback screens via a little t-shirt button and an “audio priority mode” in the drop down menu. The idea with this is that it shuts off things like WiFI and Bluetooth and anything else that could play a part in downgrading the sound quality, sounds like an audiophiles dream. I noticed an immediate change in sound and have left it on. Only downside is that I can’t stream tidal in this mode. Another minor change but one that has really aided me is that this now can read SACD ISOs, most DAPs just spit them out and I have so many SACD rips that I just don’t have the time to convert them all into DAP edible formats, making this help me explore so much more of my music library.
The OS is controlled by a Rockchip RK3188 that has a quad core processor. While I wouldn’t say it was lightning fast by modern smartphone standards I think as far as a DAP is concerned this does the job flawlessly. The dual action home button does exactly as you would hope and via the combination of 4 solid buttons lining the sides, you can do any task with absolute ease.
Moving on from the UI and one of the big reasons I loved the N5 so much compared to its competitors was that it just done so much as a DAP, it really was the peoples product, giving almost everything someone would ask for in a DAP, could they pick something. For me the standout features were dual micro SD card slots and a 2.5mm balanced output. When they announced the i5 i was in two minds, while I loved so much of what could do, I was sad to find that it only featured a single SD slot and had just a single ended output. Not to worry though as these features have been brought right back, with two SD cards (each one can handle up to 400gb) adding to the 32gb of onboard memory and balanced output actually making this more powerful than the i5 (250mW balanced/130mW single ended). On top of that have other great specs such as a 12 hour battery life from just a 3.5 hours charge!
I should really finish off this section with some talk of accessories. Both those that come with this DAP and ones that can be purchased additionally. Included in the initial package we have both a cable to charge the N5 as well as some protective gear. To add to the lifespan of the product you get both tempered glass screen protectors and a silicone jacket. These tempered glass covers are amazing, I have them on my phone and if you have a really bad drop, they smash, but your screen doesn’t! While it is nice you get an included case you may like me want something a little snazzier and for £20 you can get the very AKish crocodile pattern case, it’s a worthwhile investment. Lastly you can also additionally buy some cables that really add to the versatility of the device. The N5ii has a Type C USB port and Cayin have made Type C to RCA and 3.5mm Coaxial connectors. I got the RCA one with the i5 and mentioned it there and got the 3.5mm with this, perfect for if you planned on using it with something like the Chord Mojo!
Along with these coaxial cables you can use this as more than just a DAP. It can directly power a range of headphones, even some harder to drive options with its balanced output. Then you have a dedicated line out mode should you want to use it with a portable headphone amp or even your car stereo. Then you can use it as a digital source, either via bluetooth, USB or coaxial and finally use it as a USB DAC with an external source such as a computer! Talk about versatility huh!
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