The original Cayin N3 used the AK4490 chipset, which is/was incredibly popular. I still love listening to the N3 because of its musicality, but it can’t really compete with the newer chipset in the N3Pro. With the N3 you don’t get the clarity and precision you get now, but it does have a spacious, airy and very musical presentation. The N3 to me has bigger bass and sub bass, as well as more forward vocals. The depth and layering here is impressive, but isn’t as precise, detailed and clean sounding. The presentation is a bit more messy as the separation isn’t really good compared to nowadays’ standards. Back then the N3 was a killer, but technology has evolved a lot.
The Cayin N6ii of course is very different as it has changeable audio motherboards and they allow you to tune the sound with different DAC and AMP “chips”. The N6ii also lets you install any app you want and that makes streaming very easy compared to the N3Pro. Basically the N6ii is miles ahead of the N3Pro in all areas regarding usability and versatility. It’s also a lot more expensive, so that’s quite normal ($1,119). I normally wouldn’t even compare the N3Pro to a DAP in this price class, but it is its big brother.
Sound wise the E02 equipped N6ii, as I mentioned earlier in this review, is playing in a different league. The precision, speed, clarity, detail rendering, depth, layering, etc, it’s all better and more impressive. Going back to the N3Pro with a top level IEM such as the Elysium is quite hard, but that’s normal. For almost 3 times the N3Pro’s price, it’s supposed to be a lot better.
The Luxury&Precision L3 DAP goes for only $299 USD and to me is one of the N3Pro’s competitors. The L3 is another “back to basics” DAP, and it actually is less versatile than the N3Pro. Sound-wise the L3 still is an incredible player. You get a fuller sound from bass to treble, and it’s presented in a warmer, softer but very musical way. The L3 is wider sounding and it sounds very natural. All of the LP DAPs are famous for their timbre and decay, and it’s no different with the L3.
The sound is quite different from that of the N3pro. The N3Pro’s is more neutral and energetic, where the L3 is rather warm and soft to the ears. The bass section is bigger and bass comes in with more impact. The treble section is a lot softer and it doesn’t extend as well. Like with the N3PRO, the magic is in the mids. The sound signatures of both DAPs is quite different and therefor they are complementary DAPs. Which one you’ll like more depends on how you prefer your music to sound.
For an entry level player the price is on the higher side but you do get those 4 different sound signatures. Offering a multitude of sound signatures from a DAP is quite special and something we see more and more. At this price level however, it’s remarkable. Kudos to Cayin for also trickling down the tube tech to their lower DAP model.
Versatility-wise, as we explained, the Cayin N3Pro scores really well. Cayin with the N3Pro at the same time goes back to basics: the user interface and options are more limited and installing other applications is a no-go here. It’s all about “music first” with the N3Pro and the fact that you can listen to four different signatures proves just that.
At this level and in this segment, the Cayin N3Pro does stand out when looking at its approach to sound. Of course if you want a full Android experience where you can download apps directly to the player, this isn’t the DAP for you. You can however still stream music from your favorite provider using your phone and the N3Pro’s regular BT DAC function.
All-in-all I quite like the newest Cayin. The N3Pro is compact, looks nice and is easy to work with. The N3Pro is very versatile and you have many different connections options to choose from. Sound-wise you don’t get one, but four different sound signatures. For the price it’s selling for you get a really nice DAP, it’s that simple.
The only reason I can see to not buy the N3Pro, is if you’re into streaming and you don’t want to use your phone in combination with the DAP. But that’s about it.