The Cayin N3 is a high resolution entry level DAP and for only $149 some sacrifices had to be made. The N3 doesn’t come with any internal available memory and it features only one Micro-SD slot. As a result you might not be able to carry your full library with you on just one card but in this range that is all very normal. The N3 does allow connecting an external disk drive by USB to the player, so if you don’t care about carrying around an extra unit, you’ll have all the music you’ll need. I haven’t tested that myself though. Unlike the i5 the N3 doesn’t directly connect to your network storage systems and it doesn’t allow you to install 3rd party software such as Tidal. There is a workaround to this however as you can stream Tidal over BT from your phone but more on that later on in this article.
The N3 basically can be connected by BlueTooth to serve as a DAC/AMP for your other units. Scanning your MicroSD card goes reasonably fast and going through a 200gb card doesn’t takes dozens of minutes like on the DX80 or Fiio X5iii using the Fiio music player.
Cayin claims around 12 hours of playback and 200h standby on one charge of the 2500mA battery. I have to say I am pleasantly surprised with the Cayin N3’s battery life and I was able to use it for a very long time without charging it again. If you’re in need of juice however the N3 charges within two hours when connected to a 2V charger. Battery life might not be as impressive as some of the competition but those DAPs hardly offer what the Cayin N3 offers. Battery life of course does depend on the use of BlueTooth, Screen Brightness, file types played, etc.
All in all I am happy with the battery life the Cayin N3 offers as it for sure is above my 8h limit by quite the stretch.
The Cayin i5 is a Linux based DAP with an integrated Hiby player. The N3 uses the following internal structure to deliver you a top quality sound:
As you can see the N5 next to the X1000 CPU, uses the popular AK4490 chip for decoding sound, allowing native DSD up to DSD128 and PCM up to 384kHz/32Bit and as good as all available file types. This is the exact same chip which the Cayin i5 DAP is using and I am very happy to see such a chip being implemented in an entry level DAP. The i5 used the AD712 and OPA1652 (with dual buffer) for filtering and amping the signal but Cayin for the N3 chose to use the OPA1652 for filtering and the Line Amp and the OPA1622 as headphone amp .
The Cayin N3 comes packed with BlueTooth 4.0 apt-X but it doesn’t offer a Wifi connection, as a result the firmware updates will have to be doing manually by copying it to the unit.
Being an entry level DAP, the N3 doesn’t come packed with tons of accessories. For $149USD you get:
- a silicone case,
- an extra screen protector (one is pre-applied),
- a USB-C to A charging cable with a cable tie,
- a warranty card,
- a user manual,
- some extra yellow High Res stickers everyone seems to like
If anything I would like to have seen a mini leather case but it’s perfectly acceptable that isn’t there. IT would have been a very nice extra though.
The Cayin N3 is a lot more than just a little entry DAP and it can be in so many different ways. This, next to how it sounds, is an important reason why the N3 is such a killer DAP. First of all it is a DAP and like all DAPs nowadays you can hook it up to your pc by using the supplied cable. The N3 will then serve as external storage or as a more than good USB DAC. In windows some drivers need to be installed but all that is very easy.
When you don’t want to use the headphone output you can use the LO on the bottom of the N3 and hook it up to an external amplifier using a standard 3.5mm cable. If you want the Cayin N3 to put out a digital signal you will have to use the USB-C output. When you have the correct cables you can use the N3’s USB-C output to transfer a digital signal by USB to another DAC (such as the Mojo) or you can use a USB-C to coaxial cable. Digital output options are DoP and D2P. A lot of people- myself included – have been using the N3 with the Chord Electronics Mojo and the combo sounds really good. I myself prefer using the coaxial input of the Mojo as I find the sound to be fuller and more analog sounding.
If that still isn’t enough, you can connect the N3 to another device by BT and it will let the N3 serve as a DAC/Amp unit. I’ve been using it like that with my Samsung S6 phone, where I stream Tidal over BT from the phone. Just connect both devices by BT, launch Tidal on your phone and you’ll have all the music you need, straight from the N3. I never use my phone itself for listening to music to, so for me this is a perfect solution. But it gets even better as you can leave your phone in your pocket and use the N3 controls to control your phone. Skipping tracks is no issue.
I could complain and say the Cayin N3 doesn’t have a balanced 2.5mm output but at this price level, no one expects it too, either.
Booting up the N3 takes only a few seconds and it very quickly is “good to go” on Firmware 1.0 (FW1.1 available on April 6th). Cayin has a tradition of using Hiby software for the music playback and it is no different with the N3. Once you’re playing a track the screen will show you the listening volume, gain level, filter used, battery level and play type. Of course the N3 displays the album art and lyrics when available. Next to that the screen will show you the position of the track, the track name, file type and bit rate/depth.
The main menu has six options: System Settings / BT / Music settings / No Playing / Library / Music Category. The system settings menu offers the following: Language / Theme / USB mode / Capacative Touch sensing / Backlight time / Brightness / Folder operation / idle shutdown / Schedules power off / Sleep timer / About / reset / System upgrade.
The Music settings are: Gain / DSD gain compensation / EQ / Digital Filter / Play mode / Output selection / S/PDIF / Breakpoint resume / gapless / max volume / Startup volume / Balance / Lyrics / Album Art. The EQ menu will take you to a 10-band EQ menu where you can either choose between a bunch of preconfigured settings or you can set a custom one yourself.
Once you’ve done your settings it is extremely easy to operate the Cayin N3. The menus and options are very clear and even if it’s your first DAP you won’t have any issues using the player. When you’re in the now playing screen you can also push the touch button on th top left of the front panel which will make the quick menu appear.
So far the player hasn’t hung up on me a single time and there are only a couple of things I can complain about. It doesn’t seem to be able to show certain special characters like “é” on the screen and the selection of songs in shuffle mode is not random enough. Unlike with the i5 and a lot of other DAPs, it isn’t possible to read out the full tag of the song you’re playing. If you’re used to working with swiping Android DAPs such as the Fiio X7 or the Cayin i5 you will miss a lot of swiping functions and looking at it like that, the N3 is back to basics like in the good old days. The thing I miss most is a search function but I didn’t expect a DAP in this range to have one either.
When the player is in your pocket it is also very easy to use without looking at it, using the side buttons of the player. Compared to the Hidizs AP60 the Cayin N3 has a lot more buttons, but it is easier to use.
Overall I am very happy with how the Cayin N3 handles. There still are some points where it can be improved like the playlists and library management– check out the Head-Fi thread for all the details – but in general it’s all logic and well implemented.
Click HERE to go the the part on Sound on the 3rd page, or use the jump below