Cayin is a Chinese high-end audio electronics manufacturer best known for its full-sized amplification and source components. In recent years, though, the firm has worked to create an ever-expanding range of personal audio components, including the N5iiS digital audio player (£429 or $499) that is our review subject here.
The N5iiS is a 'smart DAP' based on a custom Android 5.1 operating system and that incorporates Wi-Fi and Bluetooth v4.0 connectivity features. Other features include a 3.5-inch LG full-colour 480 x 800 touchscreen, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of internal memory, two micro SD card slots (512GB capacity, each), a 3000mAH battery, and a DAC section based on an ESS ES9018K2M device. The ESS DAC handles PCM files to 32/384 and DSD files to DSD256 (native). Finally, the amplifier section provides a full differential amplifier circuit that supports both singled-ended (3.5mm) and balanced (four-conductor 2.5mm) headphone outputs.
The N5iiS uses high quality parts in select locations, such as polymer tantalum filter capacitors in its power supply. Battery charging is via a USB-C port, which also serves as an OTG data port and what Cayin terms a “proprietary embedded S/PDIF (coaxial) output at USB-C.” A user selectable 'Audio Only' mode turns off unnecessary player functions. Helpful detail touches include a tempered glass screen protector, premium pleather protective case, and braided USB-C cable.
The N5iiS screen display itself is delightful, but I found the player’s user interface somewhat more cumbersome than others I have experienced. For example, the Cayin requires you to log in to Google Play and then to download and install music apps you wish to use (e.g., Tidal), whereas many competing DAPs come with popular music apps pre-installed. Similarly, the Cayin’s Wi‑Fi login processes seem more convoluted than equivalent processes in competing DAPs. These two minor drawbacks notwithstanding, however, the Cayin is satisfying to use.
To evaluate the N5iiS, I used two very high performance earphones: the Campfire Audio Solaris and the Sony IER‑Z1R. Why test the Cayin with earphones selling for several multiples of the N5iiS' price? Because the Cayin’s sound quality warrants using top-shelf earphones, even though many prospective users will probably opt for less costly transducers.
In press and marketing materials, Cayin often speaks of its ‘house sound’—a concept that plainly has deep meaning for the firm. I would say the Cayin house sound combines, in roughly equal parts, qualities of natural organic warmth, clearly and incisively rendered transient and textural details, and vivid (but never overblown) dynamics that—on good recordings—convey a vibrant sense of energy and life within the music. Let me supply a musical illustration to show what I mean.
Using my two reference earphones with the N5iiS, I listened carefully to ‘For Turiya’ from Charlie Haden and Antonio Forcione’s Heartplay [Naim, 16/44.1] and just drank in the timbres of the instruments at play. Several things stood out for me. First, the deep sonorous ‘woodiness’ of Haden’s bass sounded spot on, while the sweet yet also highly articulate voice of Forcione’s guitar sounded positively luminous and three dimensional. Next, the attack and decay characteristics of both the bass and guitar were deftly rendered with precision, finesse, and a high degree of musical sensitivity. The Cayin invited me to become caught up in the launches of individual notes and then to follow them as they bloomed and gradually faded back into silence. Finally, the N5iiS enabled my high-res earphones to dig way down deep into the recording to reproduce subtle interactions between the instruments voices and the acoustics of the recording space. Put all these factors together and you have a DAP that not only sounds powerful, articulate, and refined, but also helps to bring the music alive.
In the end, the primary reason to choose the attractive and well-built Cayin N5iiS involves its sound quality, pure and simple. Thanks to its hearty, expressive, and dynamically engaging sound, the N5iiS far exceeds expectations for its price.
Type: High-resolution digital audio player
Inputs: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, playback from onboard storage, OTG/USB
Outputs: Balanced 2.5mm and unbalanced 3.5mm headphone outputs; Proprietary S/PDIF coaxial via USB-C; 2V line out
Supported file formats: PCM to 32-bit/384kHz, DSD to DSD256 (native)
Storage: 64GB internal, two Micro SD card slots
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz (± 0.2dB, Fs = 192kHz), 5 Hz–50kHz (± 1dB, Fs = 192kHz)
Distortion: 0.003% (1kHz, Fs = 44.1kHz; 20Hz–20kHz, A-Weighted)
SNR: 116dB (20Hz–20kHz, A-Weighted)
Balanced output: 250 Wpc @ 32 Ohms
Single-ended output: 150mWpc @ 32 Ohms
Battery: 3000mAh Lithium Polymer
Accessories: Braided USB type C cable, two micro SD card slot covers, tempered glass screen protector, pleather carry case.
Dimensions (H×W×D): 15.3 × 59 × 117mm
Price: £429, $499
Tel: +86 (0) 756-3828711