First Look: Cayin N3Pro

Cayin N3Pro

Usability

User-wise the Cayin N3Pro because of its size, touch screen and button placement, can easily be used with one hand. The menu structure we see here also isn’t new and it’s a trimmed down version of a user interface you know already.

The main home screen shows 6 main options: Folders – Playlist – Songs – Artist – Albums – Genre. The bottom of the screen shows the song playing, the file type, time.

The top swipe down menu offers: gain setting – tube mode – Triode/ultra linear – balanced PO.LO selection – DSD Output setting – BT – USB usage – Idle shutdown and the screen brightness. Very simple but it’s all you need really.

Swiping up from the bottom of the screen shows you the option to go to the full Music settings as well as the System settings.

On the main screen when playing songs, there’s also a shortcut to a popup menu with the following options: play mode – play list – favorite – Add to playlist – delete.

Firmware/OS-wise the N3Pro is more limited in the way that this isn’t the typical Android DAP which lets you download different kind of apps and run them. Here it’s all about he music, using the OS which is pre-installed on the player. You can’t install a Tidal or Spotify app, but at he same time you can use the BT DAC feature to use Tidal or so on your phone and send the signal wirelessly to the N3Pro. And of course there’s HiBy Link to control your DAP from your phone.

The OTA update function says there’s a new firmware available, but it crashes when clicking download, so we’ll have to look into that.  Apart from that everything works flawlessly and using the N3Pro is really easy.

Cayin N3Pro

Sound – First Impressions

In this first look article we’ll only be looking at the headphone outputs. The testing was done with a series of IEMs and CIEMs.

With very sensitive gear there is some noise audible but it isn’t audible at a normal listening volume. With the tube output, the left channel unfortunately makes some crackling noise and there’s a high pitched tone but it most of the times gets hidden behind the music. I hope this will disappear after more tube usage.

Sound stage-wise the Cayin N3 Pro is ok: it’s not the most extended or spacious, but the more intimate presentation is well-done. Bass extends better than the highs. Looking at detail, precision, dynamics and transparency is tough when coming from the SP2000 and L&P DAPs I normally use, but they’re actually all perfectly on par for the segment, compared to the competition, if not better (think layering and depth).

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 bigger imo, so this certainly isn’t the neutral kind of bass, more the fun kind of bass. I didn’t expect the bass layering and depth to be this good, but it is. Bass maybe isn’t the fastest but the foot-tapping factor is very high. The mids are smooth and musical and carry just enough air to get a natural presentation. The mids are sexy and the vocals blend in perfectly. The mid layering again impresses in balanced mode. The treble section is soft and very easy on the ear, but it does matches with the musical, warmer and softer approach from this 4.4mm balanced output.

Cayin N3Pro

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 still softer and very natural. The highs here also have improved clarity and I find them to have more energy. I quite like this output a lot.

The 3.5mm Tube Triode output delivers a more intimate presentation with a less extended sound and less airiness. 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, 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 soft, easygoing and lighter.

The 3.5mm Tube Ultra Linear output sounds more spacious compared to the Triode output. You get a wider sound stage, but especially a more airy, natural sound. To me the bass is a little bit bigger here, but you do get improved decay and timbre in the mids section. The vocals are more or less the same as well as the treble section.

Cayin N3Pro

Early Conclusion

Offering 4 different sound signatures from a DAP is quite special, especially at this price level. In that way Cayin has already done an excellent job. For an entry level player the price is on the higher side but you do get those 4 different signatures.

The Cayin N3Pro in regard to usability is more about going back to basics, and the user interface and options are more limited. It’s “music first” in this case, and the fact that you can listen to four different signatures proves just that. You can however still stream music using the BT DAC link feature to your phone if you really want to stream your music.

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. Though streaming still is possible.

We’ll be testing the N3Pro more in detail over the next few weeks to give you a full review as you’re used to from us. Stay tuned!

Full Specs can be found on page 3 if you want to look at them.

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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.

9 Comments

  • Reply August 24, 2020

    Kenneth Costello

    Swing and a miss. The Tidal set up sounds really wonky.

    • Reply August 24, 2020

      Lieven

      You run it on your phone and use the BT dac of the N3Pro. It’s not the easiest but it’s a solution

    • Reply September 5, 2020

      Mark

      I don’t think they’re aiming this primarily at people who stream music. It’s more for those who still like to own their own music and play it from a micro sd card. As someone who doesn’t want to deal with Android when listening to music, I’d say it’s a hit, not a miss.

    • Reply September 15, 2020

      Steve Costello

      How are you my cousin LOL agreed with the hit and miss love those tubes really compelling Factor

    • Reply September 15, 2020

      Kevin Smith

      I dunno. I’ve had headless devices & DAPs with full Android…or some amended level of it (Vorzuge amp/Mojo/Poly combo, Hiby R6 Pro, Fiio M9). I’ve recently fallen back to devices that can stream via use of your phone as I’m never without my phone in hand.

      I’ve found overtime that streaming has various sound quality limitations whether it’s a portable device, dedicated desk top rig, or 2 channel stereo…MQA’s supposedly top tier (arguably of course). I will say…streaming has definitely improved notably.

      The user interface of a DAP seems to be behind that of the experience of a smartphone…so I don’t value ‘em in that way.

      For portable needs…I’ve found…if streaming’s chief…then a phone & headphones will likely do equal measure/duty…without adding a 3rd wheel (DAP or amp).☺️

      My main rationale to carry a DAP is the ability to carry a Hi Res library file OTG (barring storage limitations). It’s a portable format…so I don’t have a real need to carry my entire PC library.

      For now…I’ve settled on the Shanling Q1 when I want to go for a jog or cycling due to its small size format. I also have the Cayin N3 Pro. It’s a swiss Army DAP of sorts…uniquely offering solid state & tube output. Hiby link is onboard as user interface for pairing with a phone. I find this superior to a Android based DAP or any UI for that matter…along with BT coupling (for playback control and streaming). It also has the latest BT codec for wireless HP pairing & DAC output….with wifi file transfer…all for under 500 bucks. I remember having a CD player Walkman…so…not too shabby.

  • Reply August 25, 2020

    Bdoro

    What about vs N3?

    • Reply August 26, 2020

      Lieven

      That’ll be in the full review!

  • Reply September 15, 2020

    Steve Costello

    so am very interested in this I love tubes was really interested in the ibasso dx160 shangling
    M6pro. Decisions decisions please help me I want Sound stage and depth Imaging

    • Reply September 15, 2020

      Lieven

      Hmm, from our first impressions, this doesn’t look like the one for you then.

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