Review: Cayin N3Pro

Cayin N3Pro

Versatility

 

Using the N3PRO as a DAC also is very easy, certainly if you already have the Cayin Asio drivers installed. The N3Pro pops up directly in ROON, and I have no experienced any hiccups using the N3PRO as DAC

Using the “Line Out” function is also very easy. Just swipe down the top meu, and click the top right icon. Extra points for Cayin as they’re displaying a warning when switching from PO to the LO in 4.4 mode. I’m sure we’ve all made this mistake before and imo all DAP companies should include this warning. Of course this warning is only shown when you’re using the balanced output, as the LO shares the same connector. When using the 3.5mm single ended output, there’s no warning as it’s a different connection/socket. Anyway, It’s easy to connect your external amplifier using the 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs.

HiBy link with my OnePlus 6 smartphone works flawlessly as expected. Just turn on BT on both devices, activate HiBy Link on the N3Pro and on your phone with HiBy Music, and done. No need anymore to take the N3Pro out of your pocket.

BlueTooth audio also works like a charm and hooking up my Beyerdynamic Xelento Wireless was a piece of cake. While Cayin offers the best possible wireless quality, I do still prefer using a cabled IEM. Also, you logically can’t use the tube output in BT mode.

Hook a DAC to the N3Pro using USB-C, like the TR-AMP or Hugo2 (via USB-C to USB-C/Coax), and the N3Pro automatically switches to the Digital output. It’s very easy using the Cayin N3Pro as a transport only.

Cayin N3Pro

Sound – General

To enjoy the tube flavoured sound, you need to listen to your ear- and headphones using the single ended 3.5mm connection. The tube output is not available in balanced mode, using the 4.4mm output.

With very sensitive gear there is some slight noise audible but it isn’t audible at normal listening volumes. With the tube output, as I already reported in the preview, the left channel for me makes some crackling noises until the tubes are optimally warmed up. The high pitched tone on the right side (also in tube mode) is still there but it most of the times gets hidden behind the music. I hoped this would have disappeared after more tube burn-in, but so far it’s still there. Again, at normal listening volumes, this isn’t audible so it’s not something to worry about.

Sound stage-wise the Cayin N3Pro delivers as expected. It’s not the most extended or spacious sounding DAP, but the more intimate presentation is very well-done. With a very good amount of air and good separation (mids), your music sounds natural and effortless. I really like the N3Pro’s left-right balance, stereo imaging and 3-dimensionality (positioning). It’s a joy to listen to with good recordings.

The bass for me extends better than the highs do but you don’t get the feeling you’re missing out on something. The N3Pro’s detail retrieval, precision, dynamics and transparency are really good for the price. For me the N3Pro especially shines in the mids where the airiness, detail and layering is at it’s best. There of course still is quite a gap in SQ compared to the more expensive, high end DAPs such as the N6ii, N8, HiBy R8, AK SP2000 and L&P DAPs, but that’s normal.

For me the N3Pro’s sound quality is more than good for the price and Cayin doesn’t have to fear the competition (especially for its dimensionality + layering and depth in the mids). Don’t forget that the Cayin N3Pro also gives you the options between solid state and a double tube flavour. None of its direct competitors offer that, so you can easily say the N3PRO is ahead of its direct competitors.

Sound – Single Ended vs Balanced

The 4.4mm balanced output is full sounding and you from bottom to top get good body, punch and impact. Bass goes low and even the sub bass is impressive (of course depending on the IEM in use). Bass levels are a little bigger imo, so this certainly isn’t the neutral kind of bass, more the fun kind of bass. The bass layering and depth to me is good. Bass maybe isn’t the fastest but the foot-tapping factor is very high. The mids are smooth and musical and they carry enough air to get a natural presentation. The mids are sexy and the vocals blend in perfectly. The mid layering impresses in balanced mode. The treble section is soft and easy on the ear, but it does match with the musical, softer and dare I say warmer presentation from this 4.4mm balanced output.

The 3.5mm Solid State output is more neutral compared to the balanced once. You get a tighter, faster sound with lighter body. The clarity here is improved and the smoothness and warmth isn’t as present. Bass here is lighter in body and impact. It doesn’t reach as low as the balanced output, and the layering is less obvious but it’s more civilized. The mids also lose a bit of the smoothness and warmth, and they sound cleaner and more transparent. The vocals are natural but lose a bit of the softness, making them sound more digital. The highs here also have improved clarity and I find them to have more energy.

Depending on the music I’m listening to and the IEM I am using I switch between these solid state outputs. For Jazz and vocally strong music I in example prefer the balanced output, while I for dance and retro house go with the single ended output. They both are different and they have their own strengths and that’s what makes this Cayin N3Pro so cool: you get different flavors. Personally I most often find myself listening to the 4.4mm balanced output and the 3.5mm Ultra linear tube output.

Cayin N3Pro

Sound – Tubes (Ultra linear vs Triode)

You can switch between the tube’s Ultra linear and Triode setting with the click of a button. It’s fast and it makes it easy to compare both signatures and to switch flavors when a different type of music pops up on your playlist. So what really is the difference between both tube outputs? Let’s find out.

The 3.5mm Tube Triode output delivers a more intimate presentation with a less extended sound and less airyness. It’s all a bit more compact and tight. I do love the higher mid energy and more present vocals with this output. Bass is tight and somewhat lighter but still has good punch and impact. The N3Pro is perfectly in control of the bass and it never becomes too much. The mids are more narrow but have that extra bit of energy and precision, focus. The treble section is tubishly soft but not too much. Treble is easygoing and lighter.

The 3.5mm Tube Ultra Linear output sounds more spacious compared to the Triode output. You get a wider sound stage and a more airy presentation, but especially a more natural and higher end sound. To me the bass is a little bit bigger here in volume. The treble section is softer compared to the Triode output, but it sounds more natural and easier on the ear. In general the UL output brings spaciousness and improved decay and timbre, especially in the mids section, but not only there. The result is a really good sound quality with a high level of musicality.

Between both of the tube outputs, the UL one is the one that gets most airtime with me. For me personally it has the most engaging and musical tuning. The timbre, layering, decay and stereo imaging are the very best here.

Comparisons and more on the third page of the article. Click here.

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

2 Comments

  • Reply November 11, 2020

    beep

    Extremely Heavy Treble and Mids. So much you cannot enjoy your music. It is not natural with tube quality but just heavy sound. Gets me fatigued extremely fast. Sound is not that good as it is too heavy. Also the treble is blunted so you do not get good extension at all. Shocked how terrible the sound is for this DAP. Paperweight at $479.00. Will be returning as have to pay the restocking fee.

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