Disclaimer: Cayin Audio sent us the Cayin N3 for review free of charge. The unit doesn’t need to be returned and Cayin isn’t a site advertiser.
Cayin is a premium Chinese high end audio brand (since 1993) and their focus mostly was 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 under US$100 to just below US$10,000 per item, covering the needs of different requirements and budgets. Lately Cayin has been strongly focusing on the portable market as well with successful units such as the N5, N6 and i5 portable players and the C5 portable amplifier. Now Cayin is back with the N3, a Linux based mini DAP.
The N3 is the little brother in Cayin’s line-up, it’s a completely new DAP which is available for around $149.99USD on Amazon and it is Cayin’s 4th DAP already. Something I noticed right away when I launched the N3 for the first time is that Cayin is no longer using the “Burn your music” moto. The New N3 now features a “Never be the same again” message when booting and it simply says “Come back soon” when you’re shutting the N3 down.
Of course there is a huge and very active Cayin N3 thread on Head-Fi. If there’s anything you want to know or ask about the N3, it for sure is the place to go. Andy, who is Cayin’s Marketing Director, follows the thread and he’s there helping as much as he can. His dedication is admirable. Talking about Andy, we also featured him on our “Fav album of” series a few months ago, you can find it by clicking here: http://www.headfonia.com/blog-the-fav-album-of-cayin/ .
The N3: Inside, Looks and more
This section again is going to be very comprehensive as there is so much to say about the new N3 DAP. The N3 has a solid aluminium chassis with a soft, anti-slip pleather back. While the chassis is aluminum it does feel to the more plastic side, especially when comparing it to the other Cayin DAPs. Of course the size of the player also contributes to this feel. The N3 is small measuring 100 x 54 x 13mm and it weighs only 100g. Of course with the $149 price this entry level N3 is going for, the materials used are not as high level as on the N6 or i5 just to name two other Cayin DAPs. On the other side the N3 does seem well built and even though the side buttons are made out of plastic, I think the player could take a beating. Unlike with their other DAPs, the N3 comes with a silicone case and not a leather one. I haven’t been using the silicone case as I quite like seeing and feeling the pleather back of the N3. This N3 is all about the music though. It’s back to basics but with a High Res sticker label. (it even comes with extra stickers!)
The N3 is available in black or cyan and it comes with a matching silicone case (other colors are available). The 2.4” screen on the N3 (400 x 360) is small but good; all the needed information is clearly shown on the screen and that’s something that wasn’t really the case with their N5 “Ribbed for your pleasure” DAP. Viewing angles and sharpness are good as well. The little N2 comes with a triple gain control which is awesome, although I haven’t felt the need to switch to medium and high gain just let after a few weeks of use.
Unlike some of its competitors, the Cayin N3 does feature Bluetooth v4.0 with apt-X. The N3 can, also be used as a Wireless DAC/AMP when connected by BT. Some even use it as a controller for their phone streaming TIDAL over BT to the N3. The N3 offers USB OTG and it of course can serve as USB-DAC for your computer or mobile device (24/192 and DSD64/128). The USB-C out serves both as USB out and Coaxial out. More on this later in the “usability” part of this article.
Lay-out & feel
The N3 perfectly fits your hand and the buttons are situated in such a way that it can be controlled by using just one hand. At the same time that means you can accidentally push some other buttons – it also was the case with the Fiio X5iii which we reviewed a few weeks ago – but once you get used to where you should put your fingers, that no longer is an issue. I personally think the design is very basic and to me the Cayin N3 is functionality over design. While I really love the back of the player, the front side and its overall design isn’t what I would call “Sexy” (unlike the X5iii or AK DAPs which I love). I find the cyan version of the N3 a whole lot prettier than the black version we received. But taste of course is a personal thing.
On the right side of the N3 you find the Play/pause, Next and Previous button. What annoys me a little bit with these buttons is that the “next song” button is the top one instead of the lowest one. With most of the players it is the other way round, so this takes some getting used to. The Micro-USB slot is also located on this side of the player, at the bottom. On the bottom side of the player you from right to left have the USB-C port and the 3.5mm output which serves both as headphone output as well as the line out. The USB-C port serves both as digital USB out as well as Coaxial out (You’ll need a special cable to use it like that). Like the i5, the N3 doesn’t offer a balanced output.
On the left side of the unit you’ll find the power button on top and the double volume button below. The buttons left and right stick a little bit out of the case and they are easy to push (even though they are and feel plasticky). The front panel has a series of capacitive touch buttons that slightly vibrate when pushed upon. There is a next, previous back, select and quick menu button which are all fairly close together. If you have thick fingers that might be a little annoying but I haven’t had any issues with them yet this way. The only thing keeps happening to me is that I accidentally push one of them when the screen hasn’t locked yet. The 2.4” screen itself is easy to read but it is not a touch screen. The brightness level of the screen is more than sufficient.
The back of the unit is made out of pleather and it looks and feels really nice. The Cayin logo is beautifully printed on top while all the certification labels and more are printed in white near the bottom of the unit. On top of the unit there is nothing at all and. The N3 looks pretty basic but it’s well build even though the materials aren’t the finest.
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