cayin is a tube amplifier manufacturer of some 22 years worth of experience who decided to dive into the DAP arena. While this may seem like an unusual departure from their main product line, it is a natural progression from their entry into personal audio a little over a decade ago with the HA-1A Heaphone Amplifier/Pre-amp/Amplifier (2006). Their latest offering, the i5, may be the most versatile portable player to date; it certainly is in my experience.
Cayin is a premium Chinese high end audio brand (since 1993) and their focus has mostly been on dedicated HiFi equipment, covering every chain in the music reproduction path, from CD player to speaker, but the essence is no doubt their tube amplifiers. Their equipment ranges from around US$100 to just below US$10,000 per item, covering the needs of different requirements and budgets. Lately Cayin has been focusing on the portable market as well with successful units such as the N5 and N6 portable players and the C5 portable amplifier. Now Cayin is back with the i5, an Android based DAP with extreme versatility.
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!
The last two Cayin DAP’s we reviewed, the N6 and the N5 were solid traditional style non-touch based media players that, initially with the N6, went straight for the audiophile market and then, subsequently, with the N5, went for a more musical broader appeal. The introduction of the AK4490 DAC into Cayin’s portable products and its fine tuning for a bombastic musical experience on the N5 went down quite well, not to mention the competitive sub-$400 price.