If you expect the N3 to sound like the little brother of the N5, N6 or i5 than you couldn’t be more wrong as it sounds extremely good for its price and it’s “position” in Cayin’s line-up. As mentioned before this little gem uses the same DAC chipset as the i5 and that was an excellent choice.
The Cayin N3 has good body overall (but not exaggerated) and it sounds very detailed with great separation. Sound is detailed and the wide and depth is really good. The sound stage the N3 gives you is good as well and everything sounds airy and energetic, yet correct and musical. The N3 also is very clean and clear sounding with a signature that is close to neutral. The bass might be elevated a little bit but not too much. As with all Cayin DAPs the musicality factor is very important and when you listen to the N3, you’ll be tapping your foot in no time
Another thing I like about the Cayin N3 is how quiet it is. It, with my most sensitive monitors, is even more quiet than the N5 and i5 and a whole bunch of other DAPs in my collection. No, it still isn’t perfectly silent like say an AK70 but it’s close and the noise levels do not bother me at all while music is playing, something that wasn’t always the case with the other Cayin audio players.
Like I said, the bass might be a little bigger in volume but not that much (like the AP 60 in example). Bass is tight, fast and clean with good detail. The N3 goes low but you don’t get the really deep bass rumble that much. Bass doesn’t run in to the mids which is very good and the only comment I can make about the bass is how it could be a little more layered. I’m repeating myself, but at this price level, bass actually is very good.
The mids are spacious and detailed with voices that perfectly fit in, even though thery’re just a tiny bit more upfront but not overly so. The mids are natural and musical while keeping the same “body” and detail level of the bass. Mids again are clean and precise and the result is an airy, easy to listen to, musical presentation that has it all. The mids are very engaging and bass and mids flow perfectly together. I find the N3’s treble to be energetic and lively and while it isn’t the furthest extended, I really like it a lot. Treble is spacious and detailed with a bit of sharpness I can appreciate. It at the same time is dynamic, musical, energetic yet musical and treble fits perfectly with how the bass and mids sound.
The result is a coherent sounding DAP that sounds detailed, energetic and clear. I didn’t expect the Cayin N3 to sound this wonderful but it – looking at sound – positively surprised me in all possible ways. In short: Oh I like it a lot.
The Hidisz AP60 might be the the Cayin N3’s biggest competitor and a lot of people have been asking to compare both. The Hidizs DAP is even smaller size wise and while it also has that light plastic feel, I do prefer its finish over that of the N3. I think Hidizs calls this the car paint finish and I have to admit the blue color I chose actually looks stunning. Firmware wise both players are using Hiby so the menu structure is very comparable. Button-wise the AP60 also uses front panel touch sensitive buttons but it is missing the next previous and play/pause buttons the N3 has on the side. Sure you can set the volume buttons on the left to switch tracks when the screen is locked but that means you still have to unlock the player to change the sound level, something that I find to be rather annoying when using the AP60 in shuffle mode. The Hidizs goes for only $87.99. Sound wise the AP60 has bigger body with a bass that has more impact. It’s a warmer and smoother sounding player but that’s not necessarily something bad. In fact I love using it with dance music and les bass heavy inears such as the Etymotic ER4-series. The AP60 simply is less neutral sounding and it isn’t as spacious as the really good N3. Both are good players, but technically I personally find the N3 to score best.
The Fiio X1.2 is another entry level high resolution DAP but it is heavier and feels more solid than the Cayin N3. Usability wise Fiio opted for the scroll wheel which almost no one seems to like anymore. The N3, even though it isn’t the perfect DAP to play with, is a whole lot more user friendly than the Fiio with. Power wise the N3 has the X1.2 beat but with normal inears you won’t notice that too much. The N3 is the more modern one of both offering better BlueTooth and connectivity options. Sound wise the Fiio is a little more noisy compared to the very silent N3. I quite like the X1.2’s sound signature and they’re not miles apart but the X1.2 to me has less detail and depth. The N3 is more spacious where the N3 sounds more concentrated. I prefer the N3’s bass and mids over those of the 99$ Fiio X1.2 but in all fairness the Fiio certainly isn’t bad at all. It’s more like the Hidisz AP60 but with a cleaner and closer to neutral presentation.
The first things that strike me when switching to the Cayin N5 we reviewed exactly one year ago, are that treble is a lot softer, the pace is slower and that the sound is warmer and less energetic. Especially the missing energy and very soft treble, impact the N5’s bigger and warmer sound. The N5’s build quality however is a lot better as the materials used are of a whole other level. Power-wise the N5 of course also leaves the N3 behind and it as a result is easier to use with full sized headphones. The N5 does offer a 2.5mm balanced output but the N5 overall sounds more noisy with sensitive IEMs. The N3 offers BT 4.0 apt-X and has a USB-C port and it is a more modern DAP, the N5 player is getting old and it is starting to show.
Compared to the Cayin i5 – which we all liked – the little N3 is quite far apart for what build quality, connectivity and usability are concerned. The i5 is running Android and as a result is customizable. It can work with 3rd party apps where the N3 is limited to the Hiby player. The i5 was already using the USB-C connection and we see it re-implemented in the N3 with all its advantages such as fast charging/data transfer/USB OTG/etc. Sound wise the N3 is actually pretty close to the I5 and that’s logic (as it uses the same DAC chip) yet amazing. The i5 does sound more powerful and in control but they both display the same energy, detail, spaciousness and dynamics. The i5 has an easier job driving full sized headphones but as a result it also is more noisy than the N3 when using sensitive IEMs. Finding out that the N3 sound wise is so close to the much more expensive i5, puts a smile on my face.
I especially have been enjoying the N3 as a USB-DAC with my DELL Laptop. The AK4490EN is an excellent chip and the N3 has more than enough power on low gain to drive the SoundWarrior SW-HP20 I’ve been using at the office. Installing the Cayin driver is easy and with Roon and the Asio driver you get a bit perfect sound as described in the previous section. I haven’t tried using the N3 as DAC for my phone or any other DAP but I have used the USB to coax cable to hook it up to the Mojo to.
Everyone keeps asking me three questions when they see this picture:
- where did you get this cable? Well, I got this was a gift but it was bought from Taobao where it -as far as I know – isn’t available anymore. It can however be bought from MusicTeck in the USA.
- Why are you using USB-C to coax and not micro USB? The reason simply is that I prefer the coaxial input of the Mojo (and Hugo) as I find it to have bigger body and a more analog presentation. Another cable I used was the official USB-C to RCA coax cable from Cayin itself. Connecting the N3 to my Violectric V850 was a piece of cake.
- Why are you using the Mojo as a DAC with the N3? Who on earth is going to use his N3 like that? The N3 is a lot cheaper and yes not everyone who has an N3 can afford a Mojo but at the same time a lot of Mojo owners are just looking for a nice, small and well performing transport. And that’s exactly where the N3 comes in: you’ll have a great sounding desktop quality setup for on the go with a little footprint.
The Cayin N3 of course offers a Line-Out function to an external amplifier but I have to admit I haven’t extensively tested this as I simply didn’t feel the need for a portable amp. The N3 has more than enough power to drive all my (C)IEMs and portable/easy to drive headphones but if you do feel the need for an external amplifier I suggest getting a really good one like the Cypher Labs Picollo or the ALO Rx.
Earphone synergy wise, I’ve tried all kinds of IEMs with the N3, from the $5 KZ ATR to the +$4000 Obravo EAMT-1A and I can’t really say I prefer one over the other with this DAP. From bass heavier gear like the Westone W60 to the musical Radius W n°4 and the flat and neutral Etymotic ER4-series, they all simply sound good.
The N3 sounds great and it really is a killer DAP for an excellent price. Sure it might not be the world’s sexiest looking little DAP but it sound wise surely outperforms its $149 price level. Looking at its navigation, the N3, with the Hiby player software, is more “back to basics” but connectivity- and sound wise this little DAP really rocks. The Cayin N3 for sure is the recommended buy in the sub $150USD category.
Firmware1.1 features the following updates of which n°5 and 6 to me are the most important ones:
- Add new ReplayGain function to normalize the output level of different recording, making sure the volume output will maintain at minimum difference.
- Add two set of UI themes, users can now select their preferred theme from System setup menu
- Support multi-channel WAV format
- Allow user to terminate Bluetooth scanning by the Return key.
- Set volume to maximum and disable volume control when N3 DSD output was set to DoP mode, and N3 is in digital output operation (S/PDIF and USB Audio). When the player falls back to other operation mode (PO/LO), system will reset volume back to previous setting and enable volume control again.
- Enhance file selection mechanism of shuffling playback mode
|Phones Out||Power rating||130mW+130mW (@32Ω)|
|Dynamic Range||108dB, (20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)|
|Line Out||Output Level||1.0V (@10kΩ)|
|Dynamic Range||108dB (20Hz-20kHz，A-Weighted)|
|Coaxial Out||Output Level||0.5Vp-p（@75Ω）|
|USB DAC||USB Mode||Asynchronized USB Audio 2.0 Class|
|DSD||Up to DSD128 (Native, DoP, D2P)|
|PCM||Up to 24Bit/192kHz|
|Windows||Support (Driver required)|
|Battery||Capacity||2500mAh 3.8V Lithium ion polymer|
|Charging time||～2HRS (with 1.5-2A Charger, not provided)|
|≤1500mA when charge with 2A Charger，|
≤500mA when charge with computer USB port
|Gain Control||3 stages: L, M, H|
|DSD output mode||DoP and D2P|
|PCM output||S/PDIF upto 24Bit/192kH, USB Audio Out same as native playback (upto 32Bit/384kHz)|
|DoP output:||S/PDIF support DSD64, USB Audio Out support DSD64 and DSD128|
Music Format Supported
|DFF||Yes||2.8MHz||11.2MHz||1 bit (DST not supported)|
|SACD-ISO||Yes||2.8MHz||11.2MHz||1 bit (DST not supported)|
|WAV||Yes||8kHz||384kHz||16-, 20-, 24- and 32-bit|
|AIFF||Yes||8kHz||384kHz||16-, 20-, 24- and 32-bit|
|FLAC||Yes||8kHz||192kHz||16-, 20-, and 24-bit|
|ALAC||Yes||8kHz||192kHz||16-, 20-, and 24-bit|
|APE||Fast||Yes||8kHz||192kHz||16-, 20-, and 24-bit|
|Normal||Yes||8kHz||192kHz||16-, 20-, and 24-bit|
|High||Yes||8kHz||192kHz||16-, 20-, and 24-bit|
|Extra High||Yes||8kHz||96kHz||16-, 20-, and 24-bit|
|WMA Lossless||Yes||8kHz||96kHz||16-, 20-, and 24-bit|
|WMA||Yes||8kHz||96kHz||16-, 24- and 32-bit|
(All music format does not support 64kHz sampling frequency)