Cayin N3 DAP, Master Quality Digital Audio Player (Black)

Average User Rating:
3.95833/5,
  1. maciux
    4.0/5,
    "Feature-packed midrange DAP"
    Pros - rich set of accessories included
    neat, simple design
    build quality
    compact size
    button layout
    screen quality
    Bluetooth transmitter/receiver module with aptX codec support
    dynamic, musical, natural tuning
    good instrument separation
    Cons - limited choice of connectors (combined headphone+line out, no separate digital out)
    non-illuminated touch buttons that are placed too close to one another
    the sound could have been more airy with better channel separation
    average battery life
    N3 is Cayin’s newest and cheapest DAC. Its specs seem very promising: AKM 4490EN DAC and two-way Bluetooth 4.0 chip with aptX codec support.

    Nowadays the category of DAPs for advanced users mainly consists of expensive and big devices with touchscreens and streaming feature. Cayin N3 is all different – it’s a smaller, more classic piece of gear with a non-touch screen. Nevertheless, it still offers plenty options like USB DAC, Bluetooth transmitter+receiver, DSD-decoding and USB Type C input. The price is also fair – 149 USD.

    Accessories
    The device is packed in a small, aesthetic, white box. The accessory set is as follows:
    ● rubber case
    ● 100 cm USB to USB-C cable
    ● silicone band to wrap around the cable
    ● screen protector
    ● user’s manual
    ● 2 pcs of Hi-Res Audio stickers

    The quality of the case is average. The material is matte and exposes the screen, the buttons and the bottom edge. The USB cable is rather stiff, but one can put a band which helps winding it up. Screen protector is already placed on the screen and there’s also a spare one in the box.

    Construction
    Cayin N3 is a bar-shaped device with rounded edges. Its housing is made of aluminum while the screen and the operating buttons are surrounded by plastic. The back of the device is lined with faux leather. N3’s dimensions are 100 mm (H) x 54 mm (W) x 13 mm (D). In general, the DAP is just a little bigger than FiiO X1 II.

    The front side is mainly occupied by a 2.4-inch non-touch screen. It’s a IPS panel with 400x360 px resolution (224 ppi). It’s colorful and the backlight is strong. Colors are fine, fonts and album covers are sharp. Viewing angles are wide enough for a DAP.

    Below the screen placed are 5 buttons. The middle one is a physical one, big and round. The other buttons are flat, touch-operated, separated by white lines which indicate charging process.

    Other buttons are arranged on sides. The right flank is filled with 3 buttons that control the playback while on the left edge there are power and volume buttons. The bottom part of the right flank has microSD reader installed and there’s also reset hole on the left edge.

    Sockets are all located on the bottom edge. There’s a 3.5mm jack/line out on the very left, USB type C port in the middle and SPDIF out on the right.

    Build quality is high. N3 is not a toy-DAP, but a serious device. Its design, though simple, is also likeable. There are two color options available: blue and matte-black, while cover cases are available in various colours.

    Ergonomics and handling
    Using a small, 0.1 kg DAP is a very pleasant experience, especially after operating bulky DAPs like iBasso DX200 each day. Cayin N3 is not as tiny as Sandisk Sansas or FiiO M3, but it’s a 100-percent portable device that would squeeze in every pocket. Ergonomics is high – thumb operates the front buttons and easily reaches the side ones. Handling is easy – arrow-buttons are used for scrolling, back button is used for returning one screen up or – when hold – to the home screen. Menu button opens additional options and shortcuts.

    Memory card slot can be easily accessed – it’s protected by just a plastic cover. Physical buttons are precise and touch buttons ‘answer’ with a vibration. Their contact area is wide, but it’s a pity that they are not illuminated. In addition to that, they are also placed too close to one another, but you can easily become accustomed to it.

    Changing between headphone and line out is done via settings. USB type C port supports USB On The Go and can also transfer digital audio signal.

    MicroSD reader supports 256 GB cards, but there’s no internal storage. N3 also works as a USB DAC. In ‘minimum latency’ mode the audio-video synchronization is proper.

    Bluetooth options are really impressive – aptX codec is supported and N3 can work both as a BT transmitter or receiver. Therefore, one can either pair N3 with earphones and with a smartphone and transfer music from Spotify or Tidal app to IEMs or cans that are connected to the Cayin.

    Even though Cayin N3 is a simple device with a simple screen, the battery life is mediocre – up to 12 hours with the screen off. Typically the device can be powered on for 8-10 hours. Charging with a 5V/2A adapter takes around 2 hours.

    Operating system
    N3’s operating system is basic and resembles the one used in non-Android FiiO’s DAPs. Home screen consists of 6 icons: library, folders, now playing, music settings, Bluetooth and general settings.

    The first section provides access to playlists, favorite tracks and library. Another section lets you browse TF card files or USB OTG device ; it can also scan these medias. ‘Now playing’ screen displays covers and useful information on the upper status bar. Music settings allow changing the gain (3 steps), replay gain, gapless, EQ (8 presets + manual mode), 5 digital filters and advanced settings of playback and volume. Bluetooth section features pairing mode with an option to disable aptX. Settings menu offers changing language, themes, USB mode, brightness and firmware update. Menu structure is logical and no options are lacking.

    Specs
    ● Asahi Kasei AKM4490EN DAC
    ● 2,4” IPS screen, 400x360px
    ● Bluetooth 4.0, aptX, Duplex function
    ● USB type C (OTG support), USB DAC (asynchronous USB Audio 2.0), SPDIF out
    ● 3-step gain, compatible with 16-200Ω headphones
    ● battery life: up to 12 hours (screen off), charging time: 2 hours (5V/2A adapter)
    ● microSD slot (up to 256 GB)
    ● dimensions: 100 x 54 x 13 mm
    ● weight: 100 g

    Sound
    Headphones/IEMs: Audeze LCD-2 (Double Helix Fusion Complement4, PlusSound X8), MrSpeakers Ether 1.1 oraz Ether C Flow (Forza AudioWorks Noir HPC mk2, DUM), Final Sonorus III, AKG K612 Pro, Focal Spirit Professional, AKG K551, Noble Audio Savant i Noble 4, Etymotic ER-4PT, Brainwavz B200
    DAC/AMPs and AMPs: Burson Conductor Virtuoso (Sabre), RHA DACAMP L1, AIM SC808, ODAC i O2, Leckerton UHA-760, Zorloo ZuperDAC
    DAPs: FiiO X5 III, iBasso DX200, iBasso DX90
    Interconnects: Forza AudioWorks Copper Series, Klotz
    Music: many genres in various formats including 24-bit and binaural tracks

    N3 was tested with v1.1 firmware.

    N3’s sound does not disappoint – it offers high dynamics and high resolution. It’s a neutral DAP, a bit warm, soft and smooth. N3 is also musical and allows for easy-listening – upper midrange or highs aren’t exhausting. The sound is also not dark, slow or distant. On the other hand, the tuning is also not ideally balanced and not very analytical. The amount of details is fine, the resolution is rather high and musicality is more important than music-analysis.

    Bass is a bit accented in its mid-range – you can’t expect tremendous transition into subbas, but it’s still fine. The lows are not enhanced, but the bass isn’t lacking either. This region is dense, well-controlled, with diversified texture. The lows aren’t dominating and don’t cover other frequency ranges. The sound isn’t also boring – the attack of the lows is good, the bass is fast and dynamic. Music is soft and engaging.

    Midrange is also smooth, soft and a bit warm. Its lower range is not very highlighted and upper regions are softened, but not rolled off. The tuning is pleasant and non-fatiguing – upper midrange isn’t rough or hissing. The sound is rather natural than neutral – it’s not very analytical, but vivid, revealing many details. Everything stays close, without sharp edges. I prefer neutrality, but N3’s naturalness is also likeable as it works seamlessly with many music genres.

    High tones are not reduced – N3’s tuning is not dark and not covered. Upper treble are audible, but soft, not harsh at all. The highs are not prone to sibilization and aren’t grainy, but remain smooth. This frequency range is not sharp either. Trebles are well-controlled, precise, not very extended and not very accented.

    Cayin N3’s tonality is impressive, but the soundstage is not. The latter is circular, with optimal size and proportions. Separation is fine, but the sound is not very airy – distances between instruments aren’t huge. The space isn’t very wide and the crosstalk is average. It’s easy to notice that there’s a single DAC only, but it’s hard to expect more at this price tag – the holographics is good for this market segment.

    Cayin N3’s line out
    The sound via line out is almost the same – it’s hard to distinguish line out and a headphone out. Leckerton UHA760 made the sound harder, less smooth. With RHA DACAMP L1 low tones were thickened and soundstage was bigger. Line out, therefore, can tune the sound or add more power. The line out is not raw, not neutral.

    Cayin N3 vs other DAPs
    N3’s quality is not on par with iBasso DX90, FiiO X5 III and far worse than iBasso DX200. But in comparison with the two first DAPs, the differences are not as huge as the price gap between them.

    Both X5 III and DX90 are neutral-sounding DAPs, while in case of N3 a pinch of warmth, smoothness and softness can be observed. FiiO’s device is brighter and offers better channel and instrument separation. Dynamics is similar, but X5 III is more airy and the resolution is higher. DX90 provides deeper, more dense bass ; midrange plus treble are also stronger. DX90 uses a dual DAC, so channel separation is improved, the distances between the instruments are bigger and the resolution is higher. N3 sounds more narrow and both channels blur into one, but it’s only noticeable when you got a better DAP to compare.

    I find Cayin N3 more interesting than FiiO X3K or X1 II. It sounds natural, not digital. X1 II is cheaper, but offers smaller soundstage and lower resolution. X3K (X3 II) is similar to N3 in terms of quality, but with different tuning: brighter, with more accented highs and less present midrange. Cayin’s sound is more pleasant with more forward mids and smooth, soft highs. Moreover, N3 is also smaller and offers Bluetooth connection with aptX support, while X3K doesn’t have BT at all.

    Cayin N3 vs headphones/IEMs
    Due to its quite high power and 3-step gain control, Cayin N3 is quite elastic regarding headphones/earphones choice. It will work fine with more-demanding headphones as well as with sensitive IEMs using Balanced Armature drivers (if they are, however, of very high sensitivity, some hiss is audible). N3 doesn’t shine paired with high-end full-size cans, but it performs well with premium portable headphones or IEMs. Nevertheless, it may not work fine with very warm or very dark headphones/earphones, but should communicate well with those neutral. A bit of synergy is required, though.

    I really like Cayin N3 + AKG K551 tandem. Upper midrange and treble are a bit softened – the sound is more smooth and soft, which I find favorable. Soundstage and instrument arrangement is impressive, dynamics is high and the sound is fast.

    Focal Spirit Professional also work well with N3 – they become more musical, engaging, with improved dynamics. The situation is worse with Final Sonorus III (but these are very specific headphones) - highs were harsh at times.

    Etymotic ER-4PT sound a bit warmer, smoother and softer, but remained very detailed and forward. With ER-4S adapter the results were also fine with precise bass, dense mids and well-controlled highs. The sound was still analytical and hi-res, but the tuning has become more natural and musical. The soundstage was, however, average, close and small.

    Noble Audio 4 featured close midrange, tight bass and rather soft highs. Softening and smoothening helped – syblization (a common issue for Noble 4) decreased. Light hiss was audible (even with the low gain), but wasn’t disturbing, even in more quiet parts of music tracks.

    Noble Audio Savant are less prone to hissing, but, because of that, their bass is also a bit too tempered. I like Savants paired with other, more neutral DAPs – with Cayin N3 they sound a bit too warm, too soft, too smooth and too calm. Such a tandem still works fine, but not as engaging as iBasso DX90 or FiiO X5 III.

    Brainwavz B200 are not a good companion either. They are dark, warm, with forward mids and when connected to the N3, they become too dark and too smooth.

    Verdict

    Cayin N3 is a very good DAP. It’s of compact size and offers many options like USB DAC and two-way Bluetooth module with aptX codec support. Handling it is easy, software is fine and the device provides quite a lot of power and pairs well with miscellaneous IEMs/headphones. The sound is great for the price tag: natural, a bit warm and smooth, with proper dynamics. N3 sounds soft, but is not boring - the sound is detailed and energetic – the music is engaging.

    Let’s not exaggerate, though. Cayin N3 won’t win with another more expensive midrange devices – it loses to FiiO X5 3rd gen and iBasso DX90. A potential buyer also needs to remember that touch buttons require getting used to and that there’s no separate line out and digital out. N3 also lacks internal storage and battery life is just average. It’s still worth the price, no doubt.

    maciux - Maciej Sas

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  2. jinxy245
    4.0/5,
    "Sonic Boom For Your Buck"
    Pros - Sound Quality, Pocketable, Features Galore
    Cons - Capacitive buttons can be annoying, No Dedicated optical/coaxial Out
    DAPs are our portable music companions. Many will rely on their smartphones for musical enjoyment on the go, but I like to have something a little better sounding, with a bit more power. On the more affordable end of the DAP spectrum, Cayin is offering the N3. Chock full of features, and a MSRP of only $149(USD), read on to find out if Cayin took a big bite out of the Law of Diminishing Returns. The Cayin N3 is on loan from Cayin for a listening tour. I receive no other compensation than my time with the unit in exchange for the review you are now reading. I’d like to thank Andy Kong & Cayin for organizing this tour, and giving us a chance to experience the N3.

    Intro

    At $149 (USD MSRP) the N3 is the lowest price DAP that Cayin offers, yet it still is fairly feature rich. Some of those features are Bluetooth (4.0 aptX), file sharing with a compatible smartphone, compatibility with some wired headphone controls, quick charging (quoted as 2 hours), USB to coaxial capability (type C to coaxial cable wire sold separately), USB DAC function, up to 256G micro SD card capable, as well as the ability to decode a plethora of file types, including native DSD256. Quite a lot for the asking price IMHO.

    Build Quality

    The build of the N3 is excellent overall with an aluminum chassis and pleather back it feels solid in the hand. It’s relatively small (10 x 5.4 x 1.3 cm) and only weighs about 100g. It’s easily transportable and fits well into an empty pocket. Everything felt solid, all buttons worked without issue. The only niggle I can find is really not the fault of Cayin. Since this unit was on tour, one of the previous members accidentally jammed an SD card into the slot, not realizing that there was a plastic ‘slot holder’ already inserted. Unfortunately, the card that came with the unit (only 4 GB) was stuck inside and was the only card I was able to use.

    Ergonomics

    I found the ergonomics fairly intuitive, with physical controls and memory card slot on the left & right sides,
    upload_2017-9-13_19-31-7.jpeg
    upload_2017-9-13_19-31-24.jpeg
    Audio & USB jack on the bottom,
    upload_2017-9-13_19-30-30.jpeg
    and nothing on the top. The front panel array has the display, a center input button surrounded by 4 capacitive buttons (they’re touch sensitive, no physical button) with defeatable haptic (vibration) feedback. Unfortunately, the capacitive arrows are the only ones that work when adjusting the menu.
    upload_2017-9-13_19-32-55.jpeg
    I found myself occasionally attempting to adjust with the arrows on the right side since I find I prefer the physical to the capacitive, but I adjusted quickly. I was happy to find that the volume can be adjusted without the screen being activated.

    Display

    The display Cayin uses is clear and bright, although somewhat fingerprint prone, though if I’m being honest, not more so than other DAPs. The N3 uses a 2.4″ 400 x 300 screen, which is a decent size, but I often found the font for the songs & artist to be difficult to read without glasses. Those with better vision will likely have no problem. The viewing angle is terrific, slightly prone to glare, and it’s dimmable to conserve battery power.

    Battery & Amp

    I found that battery power is rated somewhat generously since I got more in the neighborhood of 10 hours at a clip. Charging was close enough to the rated 2 hours for me not to take notice. The Amp has a decent amount of juice under the hood (rated at 130 mW+130 mW @32Ω), powering reasonable full size cans without complaint. The N3 did shine with all the IEMs in my collection, having a particular synergy with the Audiofly AF56, as well as my 64 Audio U6 (Adel version). It was able to power the Sennheiser HD600 to an unsafe listening volume, but it was a bit too shrill. The N3 actually fared better with my ZMF Eikon. While not the best pair, the bass was surprisingly pleasant, full & rich if a bit on the loose side. It sounded much better with my AT M40X with which I noticed nothing at all to complain of.

    Ins & outs

    One of my biggest gripes is that Cayin decided to handle just about everything through the USB interface. Other than the headphone out, the USB is the only way to connect the N3 to an external DAC/amp. I understand this is likely a cost saving measure, but personally I would have liked a dedicated coaxial out, even if there was a (reasonable) price increase. I was never able to test the Coaxial out since you need a USB to coaxial wire which was not included. Too bad, though, I really wanted to hook it up to Hugo to see what it could do.

    The Headphone out can be configured as a line out, which sets the volume to 100, however the next time you turn it on, the H/O goes back to the last volume it was set at. The only work around seems to be setting the volume at 100, which will be remembered on the next boot up. When using the N3 as an external DAC/amp, you can’t set the out as a L/O, but you can again set it to 100.

    The Bluetooth option worked as advertised. I had a little trouble initially pairing with my Samsung S7, but a quick reboot took care of that. Fidelity over Bluetooth was decent if not quite on the level of the wired options. Obviously in this mode you consume more power for transmitting, and also because you need more volume when using Bluetooth as a source.

    One of the listed features is using the N3 as a USB OTG device. You need an adapter to do this. I do have a USB coupling of sorts, but I was unable to use that successfully. Any other OTG adapter I have is for micro USB, so I can’t confirm this feature works, though it is widely reported in other reviews to be functional.

    Sound Quality

    When I’m listening to a DAP, I’m really listening for any sonic anomalies, anything that draws me’ too far out of the music’. Anything that sounds different with music I am familiar with, while using headphones/earphones I’ve also become accustom to would be a strike against it. On this front, the N3 passed easily, everything sounding as it should.

    I found the sound quality to be on par with or better than my current DAPs in this price range (which is all I currently own). The Cayin has a more lively quality than my Fiio X2(1) or my Shanling M2, but it isn’t an overly exaggerated sound. There’s also a smoothness I’m experiencing, a warmish quality rather than clinical without straying too far from neutral. Bass through treble are well represented, and I’m not hearing any roll off at either end, which is what I expect from a quality DAP. As far as I can tell SQ is identical in low or high gain, the only difference being volume, which would obviously benefit more sensitive IEMs. My most sensitive is the aforementioned U6, and I heard no noise while using the N3. I’d say as long as you’re not trying to push it too far, the N3 is a capable musical companion.

    Conclusion

    I found the N3 to be a well thought out and very capable DAP, with great sound quality (especially for the price) and a whole lot of features for the price. Sure there are a few things I’d like to change, but I can’t deny that Cayin has put out a very competent performer in the N3. If you’re in the market for an affordable, feature rich DAP with great sound and adequate power, the N3 should definitely be on your short list.

    images

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    JerseyD and zdrvr like this.
  3. bioport
    1.0/5,
    "CAYIN N3 DAP"
    Pros - -duplicates as an USB DAC
    -bright display, large enough to nicely complement cover art
    -gapless playback and precise resume feature
    Cons - -very mediocre sound quality, way below an ipod 5G or even my PC motherboard.
    After reading a lot of hype BS and wasted money, I would like to clarify things for the undecided.

    Being able to handle Ultra-Hi-Res sound files does not remotely translate to "Master" sound quality:
    While details are rendered, there is no sense of coherence. The sound is thin, not really grainy but with sharp edges. No authority on any level. It's a shame.

    Gain/impedance settings do not alter the performance on my headphones that were driven excellently by other sources (Grado PS500e, Focal Spirit One Pro). Neither had lossy vs. lossless formats any dramatic impact. Nor did my last straw: a firmware update.

    The device has very touchy, i.e. overly sensitive software buttons that are too narrowly placed resulting in a lot of cross-activation.

    Since sound is the main criterion for evaluation, I am extremely disappointed. One star can be given for some positive features, but that's it!

    The only appropriate use for this is lossy, speech-based podcasts.

    Done with Cayin.
    zdrvr likes this.
  4. noobandroid
    4.0/5,
    "Simply good"
    Pros - Good driving power for IEMs and light HPs
    Cons - USB C cant do digital out
    This N3 is from part of the tour review of Cayin, but I do reserve the right to be unbiased in this review.

    Introduction

    In the hands, the Cayin N3 is very light, much lighter than I was anticipating. The DAP grip was good thanks to the thickness of the unit though. There is only 1 slot of micro SD, which I find as a defeat compared to Fiio which has dual SD in almost all their DAP lines.

    Hands on

    The navigation of the N3 is very simplistic and straight forward, you will easily get through everything and head to where you want by just a couple clicks. Menu and functions are pretty self explanatory.

    Power and Volumes on the left, track seek and play / pause on the right, and below it is micro SD slot. USB C on the bottom together with headphone jack and thats about it. Nice and simple.

    [​IMG]

    Listening session
    IEM pairing: Noble Sage with Snugs tips, EA Ares 2+
    Music: Variety

    In an overall sense, I will illustrate my impressions in 3 sections, bass mid and highs

    Bass
    Bass wise the N3 couldnt power the bass power of some music i used, like from Beyonce which pounds a lot of low tones in songs like Diva. I only hear pops and shallow bass, but I cant blame the DAP which is of this size.

    Mids
    Mids are nice and smooth, mixture of vocals and guitar strings are well separated. You can easily feel the separation of tones in the music. I tested this on Avenged Sevenfold "The Stage" album, which I got from HDTracks. Masterings by Capitol Records i believe.

    Highs
    Highs are crispy but it doesnt overdo it, tingling sens of cymbals and high hats are heard but they do not go crashing on your face. Control is good on the N3.

    Soundstage
    Tested some orchestral tracks and I find the soundstage somewhat lacking which makes me feel this N3 is more suitable for studio albums.

    Conclusion
    Well, I didnt go into Bluetooth cause I dont have any AptX device to try with so I omit that part out, but as a low cost no bull****tery DAP, this might be worth considering, bang for the buck where it counts. Lightweight, adequately powered, straightforward UI, good enough in my books.

    If you are thinking well, Fiio has something, theX1 and I can tell you, from what I tested, they DO sound good, but there is a high amount of UI fails and performance of file scans and read speeds that make me not recommending it at the 100% rate.
  5. darmanastartes
    4.0/5,
    "Close to greatness"
    Pros - Capable amp section, good battery life, USB-C
    Cons - Apt-X only supported in transmit mode
    Cayin N3 Impressions

    Introduction:
    I was lucky enough to be selected to take part in the Cayin N3 review tour. Howlin Fester had the unit before me, and has written a very thorough review of the N3, which is located here. My own focus in these impressions is going to be less about the sonic characteristics of the N3 and more about its functionality as it applies to my particular needs.
    About Me:
    I listen mostly to heavy metal, hip hop, and electronic music, as well as movie and video game soundtracks. I value detail, clarity, and soundstage above other acoustic qualities, and generally prefer a V-shaped sound signature.

    For portable listening, I use Mee Audio P1 Pinnacle out of my smartphone or out of Fiio E6 portable amplifier. For desktop listening, I use Fostex TH-X00 out of JDS Labs The Element. I also own KZ ATE, Mixcder X5, and Archeer AH07, and have owned the V-Moda M-80, V-Moda LP2 Crossfade, Mee Audio M6, Hifiman HE-400S, and (very briefly) Phillips Fidelio X2.

    Other equipment used:

    I mostly used the Cayin N3 paired over Bluetooth with a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 Android smartphone running Nougut, using either Spotify Premium HQ streaming or 320 kbps MP3 files. I did my listening with the Mee Audio P1 Pinnacle and the Beyerdynamic DT-770 (250 ohm).


    Acessories/Build Quality:


    The N3 unit on the tour was black, and came with an installed screen protector, USB-A to USB-C cable, silicone case, and faux leather case. The screen protector was in rough shape, peeling up near the center button, but the unit otherwise looked okay, and had a good weight to it. I strongly preferred handling the N3 without the silicone case, which I felt crowded the touch buttons too much and made the unit feel less substantial by screwing up the volume to weight ratio of the player. I did not use the faux leather case during my time with the N3.

    Design/Functionality:

    I initially found the N3 difficult to use because the touch buttons were not responsive enough, but enabling the capacitive touch option solved this issue. The menu was intuitive enough to navigate quickly, though I found it interesting that the Bluetooth menu was separate from the general Settings menu. I had no issues pairing the N3 with my smartphone, but I could not get the N3 to see my Archeer AH07 Bluetooth Apt-x headset. I did not spend a lot of time on this issue, so I cannot say for certain what the cause was.

    Because my smartphone lacks a dedicated DAC, and because of widespread compatibility issues attempting to use USB DACs with Android smartphones, my primary use for the N3 was not really as a DAP but more as a remote DAC. Pairing the N3 with my smartphone allowed me to us the DAC/AMP section of the N3 instead of my smartphone while still having access to the streaming and music transport capabilities of my smartphone. Sadly, I discovered that the N3 only supports apt-x in transmitter mode, and not as a receiver, and is therefore useless for receiving lossless or hi-res music from local smartphone storage or Tidal. This is a limitation shared by the N3’s closest competitor, the Shanling M1, and is ultimately a deal-breaker for me. I don’t know if this is something Cayin could add in a future firmware update, but if it is I implore them to pursue this. That said, given that the A2DP Bluetooth protocol is sufficient for lossy streaming I feel confident in the listening that I did do.

    I really want to applaud Cayin for using USB-C on an entry level DAP. This should really be a basic expectation at this date, and it is frustrating that it is so rare. Battery life was exceptional (10-12 hours with Bluetooth on, charged in less than 2 hours).


    I generally subscribe to the philosophy that if a source device is coloring the sound, something is wrong with the source device, so I will not wax lyrically about how the N3 made such and such song sound different than with other source devices. It has also been my experience that the primary benefit of high-end amplification is to increase the maximum volume music can be played at while still having the instrumentation resolve clearly. In comparison to my own amp (JDS Labs The Element [$350]) I don’t really notice a difference until the level of something like the Cavalli Liquid Carbon ($800). The N3 ($150) is not at the level at which I expect those kind of noticeable improvements to resolution, but being a dedicated DAP, I did expect it to be able to drive higher impedance headphones better than the average smartphone, which it was able to (P1 Pinnacle [50 ohm] on low gain, DT770 [250 ohm] on medium gain).

    To conclude, I think the N3 is best suited to Android smartphone users who want to take advantage of a stronger DAC/AMP section than their phone and don’t want to deal with the compatibility headaches inherent to the Android ecosystem. I think that the value proposition of the N3 would be helped immeasurably by enabling Apt-X in receive mode. 3 1/2 stars.
    Haden2866 and gLer like this.
  6. Howlin Fester
    4.0/5,
    "Cayin N3 Review - By Howlin' Fester"
    Pros - USB Digital Out
    Cons - Line out is unusable as it is designed
    Cayin N3.
    Introduction:

    Cayin was kind enough to let me be part of the N3 review tour. I received the N3 from MShenay. He drove 3 hours to bring it to me. While he was here, we had a mini meet for about 4 hours. We had a great time visiting and listening to a bunch of different equipment.

    About Me:
    I listen to all forms of Rock and Roll. Rock, Classic Rock, Hair Metal, Heavy Metal, acoustic rock, Blues, and a small amount of reggae. Just about everything related to rock. Not really going to touch on any Jazz, Classical, electronic, pop. All of my music is 16/44 redbook ripped to FLAC level 5. I’m 48 years old and have average Middle-aged hearing. I’m not terribly sensitive to sibilance, and I apparently like a V shaped sound signature. I really enjoy the Fostex TH-900 headphones and the Trinity Hunter iem. Both are said to be fairly V shaped. But the music I listen to does not generally have a boosted bottom end.

    Unboxing:
    The unit for our tour was a black one. It came with the N3, installed screen protector, USB to UCB-C cable, silicone case, and faux leather case.

    The screen protector was already scratched up when it reached me, and cleaning would not help it out. The area right above the button was pealing up. But that is what screen protectors are for, right? The rest of the N3 looked fine. The N3 feels solid in your hands, and the leather(ish) back of the unit is a nice touch and feels good in your hands.

    Cases:
    The silicone case fits like a… well… a silicone case. Slides in easily. The silicone is smooth and dry, and doesn’t have the tacky feel that causes silicone to pick up the white dust and lint. However, it has been my experience that most silicone cases will lose that tacky dust collection after a bit and will be just fine. With the silicone case, the side buttons and micro SD (uSD) slot are covered, and the bottom headphone and USB-C connector is open.

    The faux leather case is very nice and fits the N3 like a glove. The N3 slides in with nice resistance, and stays in place. The red stitching is an elegant touch on the black material. The case is open to all buttons and uSD card.

    Powering on:
    At power on, I can see the piano keys splash screen and Cayin welcome screen. It quickly opens to the top menu. The choices are: Music Category. Music Library (File Folder navigation). Playing now. Music Setting. Bluetooth. System Setting.


    Initial listening:
    It came with 28% battery power, so I thought I would have a quick listen before I charged it. This review unit came with a 4G uSD card installed. I recognized MShenay’s test track list from our mini-meet and picked Metallica Shortest Straw to play through my Trinity Hunter iem. Volume up to 38. This is loud enough without being overwhelming. (High gain setting.)

    Metallica. I like Metallica very much. But I’m not as familiar with this song, as And Justice For all was not my favorite Metallica album. So no real surprises here. I have also heard that Metallica mixed the bass lower in the mix on this album. I hear a full, thick chugging sound of electric guitars through a Marshall stack. The solo is well presented and not overly bright.

    After Metallica, I went to the top of the list and started listening to the test tracks from the beginning. Igor Levit. Goldberg Variations on piano. Volume up to 50. The piano has a nice sound and tone. There was a time when I listened to a bit of classical, but I’m not really into solo piano classical.

    My initial thoughts are that the N3 is a very well built and solid unit. It feels good in your hands is easy to figure out and navigate. The layout of the buttons is logical and functional. So far so good. Let’s plug it in for a while.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Cayin N3 with RSA Intruder and Trinity Hunter iem.

    More Detailed Functionality:
    I copied some of my test tracks over to the N3 and charged it for a few hours. Plugged into a powered USB hub, it took about 2.5 hours to charge from 16% to 100%. Copying and charging was handled at the same time.

    I listened to a number of test tracks that I’m very familiar with. Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon (all), some Grateful Dead from Workingman’s Dead, Fleetwood Mac – Dreams from the Rumors Album, Porcupine Tree, and Steely Dan.

    One of the first things that I check is how gapless is handled. With Pink Floyd DSOTM, the gapless was handled perfectly. There were no skips, stutters, blanks, clicks or anything noticeable except music. Then I move on to check to see if it resumes music when you power it off. I am happy to report that it does. However, it took me a while to find the setting that enabled this. It is under the Music Settings section.

    One of the main reasons that I signed up for the tour is to check the Line-out capability. I listen exclusively with portable units and a line out to an external amplifier. At the time of writing, I have four portable amplifiers and two desktop amplifiers. The N3 utilizes the 1/8” (3.5mm) jack for both headphones and line out. The implementation of the line out works like this. You hit the Menu key in the top left and arrow down until you are over the headphone symbol. You select the headphone and it gives you a warning that “Using the Line Out output will result in the Volume being set to MAX. Please disconnect your headphone and connect the device to appropriate equipment.” You have to arrow left and select OK. Then your N3 is in line out mode. Level is set to max, and changing between the 3 different amplifier settings (L-M-H) is now disabled. Works just like a line out should work.

    However, when the N3 is turned off and back on again, it automatically resets to headphone out with the headphone volume as it was set previously. Now for someone like me who never uses headphone out, this was a significant concern. This would have been a deal breaker for me, except I found another feature that saved it for me. The digital out via the usb-C connection. More about that later.

    So if you are looking for this unit to use mostly or exclusively with line-out, then take heed of how it works. You will have to re-enable line out every time it is shut off or connected to a computer. Basically every time you want to use it. There is not any setting that will leave it in Line-out mode. And discussions on the N3 thread have indicated that it will remain that way as a safety feature.

    Sound take One:
    How does it sound? I listened to the N3 with my Trinity Audio Hunter iem. This is Trinity’s top of the line iem and has removable filters to help tailor the sound to how you like it. I use the gunmetal filter which give the Hunter a spacious sound with an ever so slight boost in the bottom end. But there are two levels of other filters that boost the bass even more. So this is a slight bass and fairly stable through the rest of the spectrum. But nothing too dramatic. I am also using JVC Spiral Dot tips. These tips are a wide-bore design and tend to increase the soundstage.

    While listening to my #1 go-to song, Do it again by Steely Dan. I find that the N3 presents a soundstage that is closed in and intimate. It is like a practice space with no width. When I compare the iBasso DX50/ Ray Samuels Intruder with the same song, it is like a large recording studio where you are standing in the middle with 20 feet to either side.

    I decided to give the N3 the same benefit as the DX-50. I connected the N3 Line-Out to the Intruder. The soundstage is still closed and collapsed. I continue to listen to the N3 via the headphone out with the Hunter iem.

    Headphone out:
    The sound has good bass texture. The highs are present but not overwhelming. It is a very musical DAP. I don’t hear any unwanted warmth. It has bass where needed. Hatesong by Porcupine tree starts with a deep rumbling bass line. Later guitar accents are added. All very well presented and clear. I listen to the N3 for a couple of days via the headphone out to get a good indication of how it sounds.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Cayin N3 Black (tour model) & Cayin N3 Red (mine)

    Sound Take Two:
    When I signed up for the N3 tour, I ordered a couple of small USB-C to USB-Mini connection wires. The RSA Intruder and Predator both use old-school USB-Mini connections and have internal DACs. I have never had a player that utilized the digital out, so this will be my first time trying out this function. Other than hooking the intruder up to a computer to make sure the DAC was working.

    When I hooked the N3 up to the intruder with the USB cable, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the N3 paired with the Intruder immediately. The very first thing that I was struck with was the width of the soundstage. Width was immediately increased and noticeable. It was one of those “ah-ha” moments that takes your enjoyment of this hobby up another level.

    Side story: I have been trying for a while to find soundstage and imaging. I would listen to the Chesney recordings of haircuts and only hear things moving from left to right. But not really experiencing a width to the image. I figured that this was like one of those hidden image pictures that some people look at and see immediately, and others can never see them. I assumed I was not capable of discerning soundstage width. When I plugged the N3 into the Intruder, I was immediately greeted by this soundstage. It was an absolute revelation.

    I listened to all my test tracks again. I listened to the first four Tool albums. With Tool, I have always found it difficult to separate Maynard James Keenan’s voice from the mix. It sounds like he is mixed at the same level as the guitar, bass, and drums. With the N3 to the intruder, I was able to localize Maynard’s vocals and hear a layering that I couldn’t find previously.

    I listened to Porcupine Tree’s Hatesong from Lightbulb Sun. The bass starts off deep and textured. The track has a great soundstage, and each time an instrument is added to the mix, it feels like the soundstage gets wider and wider.

    Listen to Sara K’s acoustic version of Brick House. It sounds to me like it is recorded in a studio with one microphone. You can localize each instrument in the sound field.

    The N3 digital out provided such great enjoyment to me that I was not ready to lose this capability when I had to send my N3 on after 7 days. I evaluated my options and decided to order an N3 and had it shipped in 2 days. It arrived the day before I had to send the tour unit on to the next member.

    One thing that I have to note about the N3 digital output. Currently the volume/value of the digital out is variable. This was brought to the attention of Cayin, and may be addressed in later firmware. That function does not bother me one bit. As I’m used to a variable line out on the DX50.

    I ordered a red N3 and absolutely love how it looks against the Intruder.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    L>R. Cayin N3 (bl), Cayin N3 (rd), iBasso DX50

    Conclusion:
    The Cayin N3 is a versatile DAP that will play many different types of files. And as a standalone DAP, it provides a nice sound via the headphone out. If someone is looking to use the N3 with the line out, then other options should be looked at. It does not really cut it for line out. But with Digital Out from the USB-C connector, this DAP really shines.

    For the price, the N3 was able to provide everything that I was looking for in a DAP. It’s able to give me digital transport to my Ray Samuels Intruder and Predator amps. I have to assume it will work with the Peachtree Audio USB In, and the Unison Research SH USB In. But I haven’t been able to test those yet. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t.

    I can tell that this will be replacing my iBasso DX50 as digital transport for my FLAC files from this point forward.

    Rating. On the Howlin’ Fester 5* scale.

    Sound:

    Headphone Out ***
    Line Out *
    Digital Out *****

    Functionality ****
    Navigation ***
    Speed (scanning and using) ****
    Price ****+1/2

    Overall ****

    For an overall rating of 4, I take into account the fact that I liked it enough to buy it and that it does everything that I want in the above described conditions. USB Out to DAC IN. The price to performance ratio makes it 4 Howlin Fester Stars for me.

    I would like to thank Cayin and Andy Kong for selecting me to be part of the N3 review tour. I also want to say that I did not read any other reviews prior to posting this. However, I have been reading the N3 thread actively. Hopefully this review is useful to someone.

    Rhett Orr. (Howlin’ Fester) Aug 2017
  7. Mshenay
    4.0/5,
    "The Bridge Between Worlds"
    Pros - Functionality, Clarity, Ease of Use, Intimate Imaging
    Cons - Lengthy Menu Navigation, Smaller Capacitive Touch Buttons
    Back when I was in middle school listening to music was easy. I had a CD player loaded with my favorite album at the time, Ill Communication by the Beastie Boys, and a pair of semi-open Koss TD 75's.

    I'd hope on the bus and just listen, occasionally the CD would skip when we hit a bump in the road, but it was smooth listening for the most part.

    Growing up though, I went from my CD player to an iPod Nano, then a ZUNE HD which I sold and replaced with my Hifiman HM 601 and upward an onward to 2013 when I purchased my Hifiman HM 901.

    So listening to music on the go has always been a pretty simple part of my life and I've always had one stand alone device to do it. Though these days, for many of us that's not the case. Cellular technology has made huge advancements over years, making it easier and simple to listen on the go! Spotify went mobile in 2010 offering lossy streaming quality. It was likely that most listeners where still running around 96kbs streaming with them. Which means that a dedicated player loaded with a library of CD quality music, was still the best choice. The launch of Tidal in 2014 and big improvements to cellular technology changed the industry, Hi-Fi music play back was no longer limited to a dedicated portable audio player. Mobile speeds could now support lossless streaming bit rates.

    Arriving at our present day, enjoying music on the go is still simple affair. Most people are content with their phone, but for those wanting more there are dozens of options available. Since 2015 there have been a few choice for those looking for a BlueTooth Dac/Amp. From the Sound Blaster e5 and the Shanling H3, so the N3 isn't the first product of it's kind. Even today you can find a basic BlueTooth dac/amp for around $100. Though what sets the Cayin N3 apart is that is functions as both a stand alone player and a BlueTooth compatible Dac/Amp. What Cayin has done with the N3 is offer a unique solution. Having had a chance to speak briefly with Andy Kong of Cayin, he informed me that Cayin choose to integrate with instead of choosing to compete against cellular technology.

    [​IMG]

    Priced at $150, the N3 offers a step up from the more basic portable dac/amps. It's a digital audio player, able to function by it self, with your cellular phone and with your computer! It can be purchased in the US from Amazon and the online retailer Musicteck. Aside from functionality, I'll be discussing the build quality, user interface, and sound quality over the course of this review.

    The N3's build features clean edges and well machined seams, running my fingernail across it's surface I'm hard pressed to find any gapes or weak seams. The player it light, each physical button has good tactility and resistance, the front facing touch interface works well. It took me longer than I'd like to admit to release the left and right buttons, move through the UI as well as double as forward and reverse buttons. Silly me spend 4 days thinking I had to swipe from the middle down to go left?! Thankfully, it's not that complicated. I did how ever accidentally hit the back button a few times in my attempts to move right or forward. The Cayin N3 is well built, it's neither luxuriously vain nor hastily slapped together, rather it's solid assembly sports entry level materials. A good balance of design, functionality and durability.

    [​IMG]

    My only gripe was the SD Card slot, I had no issue working it but others in my tour group had some difficulty getting a card in an out. By the time I got a hold of the unit I was able to insert an SD card without any issues. I was not how ever able to retrieve it, not a huge deal as I can still access the card from the USB C port.

    [​IMG]

    Navigating the user interface was easy, it's approachable though often a bit time intensive. It's not as robust as the open source RockBox I run on my other digital audio players, but it's also graphic based. Lines of text aren't always everyone's preference. An Cayin met a happy median with the N3's graphic interface.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Visually pleasing and self explanatory, each of the Menu's were labelled correctly. Everything read naturally an operation was seamless. No hiccups or freezes during my time with it. Each menu had numerous options, and the buttons made navigation simple. Although there were too menu's I had to work back through to get to the home screen.

    My average battery life ranged from as low as 7 hours and upwards of 9. Running the line out drew a little more power than having the headphone amp in usage. BlueTooth also drained the battery quicker than standard usage, non the less it lasted around 2-3 days.

    What I found most impressive was the power out of the headphone port, I had more headroom with the N3 than I did with Hifiman HM 601. The N3 was also blacker, providing more power with less noise. Additionally it had three gain stages, I found my self using the middle two the most. This combined with the precision of the digital volume controls made for seamless level matching at lower levels. In contrast my HM 601's analog volume wheel didn't match as well during quieter listens. An it had more noise with less power output.

    BlueTooth playback did introduce a touch of noise how ever, pair'd with my LG v20 I was easily able to adjust the volume of my music straight from my Cellular phone. The addition of noise didn't haze up the imaging as much as I'd thought, and was mostly harmless.

    An honestly, I enjoyed the BlueTooth functionality the most, I had the convince switching from my internal library of music in Neutron, to streaming from Napster Premium to falling back to the internal library on the N3. While streaming from my LG V20, I could easily adjust the volume on my phone, tweak my DSP settings and scroll through my library of music. Without having to fumble around with a cable sticking out of my device. I also like to do a little photo editing with my v20, an often times I'll rotate my screen to fit the angle I want while editing, a cumbersom task to do with a headphone cord dangling from your phone. The dynamics suffered a little, as quieter passages of music had audible noise mixed in. Still when my hands are busy I enjoy having music playing in the back ground. Even better is being able to keep the N3 and my headphones tucked away safely in my pocket with my favorite pair of headphones plugged directly into the N3. An when I'm ready to really listen to the music, I can terminate the BlueTooth connection and immediately continuing listening straight from the N3 it self.

    [​IMG]

    Over the course of my week, I listened with both my open back Superlux HD 668B and my heavily modded Audio Technica ES 10, I had no EQ and I tested both the headphone and line level out.

    Clarity is the N3's focus, placing more emphasis on ambient details and individual textures over transients and spacial information.

    You can adjust the sound signature further with a selection of digital filters. Sharp, Short Delay and Slow are the three I found made the biggest impact. Sharp offers the quickest sound and most clarity, though it's often a bit to lean. Slow sacrifices some of the clarity and speed for a more natural sound, Short Delay sits in the middle. Not as lean as Sharp but not missing as much of the clarity of Slow. I enjoyed Slow with my Superlux HD 668B and Short Delay with my Audio Technica ES10.

    Lows are quick an articulate with the N3, with more focus on the attack and decay than on the sustain or release. This makes for an exciting listen, adding additional impact to instruments like the double bass, though low notes on a piano were often too percussive, sounding a little hollow.

    [​IMG]

    Mid-range is lean, offering a clearer presentation of texture within individual instruments, though the texture can be over emphasized some times. Leading to a thinner timbre, the filters do help regulate and correct this fault in timbre a little. Depending on the track and headphone your listening with.

    Up top the N3 presents has a nice edge. A bit of a tizz to high hats and percussion, this plays nicely with a lot of the thick and dark entry level headphones, but with something more open like the Super Lux HD 688B it's a real distraction. The filters offer the most help here, switching to slow alleviated a lot of the hardness for the HD 668B. Still though I often found percussion, snare drums and tom tom drums to sometimes get lost beneath the energy of high hats and cymbals.

    Imaging is intimate and a little closed in, compared to my HM 601. However N3 is more precise within the space it offers, where as the HM 601 offers a larger more cohesive image overall. Instruments have a very exact presentation as to where their placed in relation to one another.

    The Line out is characterized by much the same qualities though improved, clarity first and foremost but with a more dynamic presentation. Highs maintain a good edge but gain a little air. This added air allowed for a snappier more precise presentation with percussion in particular. Feeding into my Pico Power I also enjoyed a more cohesive image from the N3 as well. It's very pin point imaging isn't as disjointed via the line out either.

    Finally, for those curious the sound of the Cayin N3 was noticeably better than that of my LG v20. In comparison, the V20 is bright strident and often artificial sounding. It has a very dynamic sound, but some how lacks impact and texture, a very incoherent sound signature.

    All in all the N3 presents a smartly voiced sound signature that pairs nicely with both entry and more reference tuned mid range headphones. The almost limitless functionality pair'd with a smartly built and designed package make ownership a no brainier. It isn't a luxury device, but one designed to be an important part of your mobile listening needs bridging the gap between cellular and stand alone music players to create a more enjoyable seamless experience.

    Check out the N3 Thread for a more detailed Comparison with my HM 601 and Behringer UCA 202.
    dissembled likes this.
  8. Layman1
    4.0/5,
    "Quality and Value. Every Little Helps :p"
    Pros - Stunning array of features unmatched at this price point
    Cons - Slightly warm sound presents some genres better than others. Nothing else.
    The Review:

    “La di da di, we like to party; we don't cause trouble, we don’t bother nobody”

    (technically that’s a double negative, hehe).

    A review of the Cayin N3 Digital Audio Player.
    Featuring random lyrics, partly to punctuate the moves from section to section, but mainly for my own amusement :p


    I would like to begin by thanking Andy Kong of Cayin and audiopimp extraordinaire @glassmonkey of www.audioprimate.blog for including me on this tour.


    The thread for discussion of this DAP may be found here:

    https://www.head-fi.org/f/threads/cayin-n3-hi-res-dap-with-akm4490-dac-apt-x-bluetooth-and-line-usb-coax-out-for-150.833932/


    All details regarding the build and components can be found on the other reviews of this DAP and on that thread.

    The Intro:

    "Hello, let me introduce you to the characters in the show; one says yes, one says no".

    For purposes of disclosure, I reviewed the Shanling M2s a few months back. I used that review as a something of a template for this review. This was for two reasons.

    1) I have recently had something of a sudden sea-change in my working patterns and am temporarily working 12 – 16 hours a day. So the time I intended to devote to writing my usual bespoke review has been mercilessly cut down in its prime.

    2) It transpires that I’m hearing almost the exact same differences between the N3 and my xDuoo X3 as I did between the Shanling M2s and the xDuoo X3. YMMV.

    The Pictures:
    "They give us those nice bright colours
    They give us the greens of summers
    Makes you think all the world's a sunny day
    I got a Nikon camera
    I love to take a photograph" :)

    Cayin N3 - 1.JPG Cayin N3 - 2.JPG Cayin N3 - 3.JPG

    The sound:

    “Stop! Hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what's going down”:


    I own the xDuoo X3 DAP; I’d describe it as having a transparent, neutral and reference-style sound signature. I haven’t heard any other DAPs directly in the price range of the Cayin N3 and the only other DAP’s I have to compare the N3 with would be ones at 3 – 5 times the price (Shozy Alien+ and the iBasso DX200), a calamitous mismatch on a par with Federer vs Berdych, Wimbledon 2017 :)


    So for the purposes of this review, I shall be A/B testing using the Cayin N3 (£149 approx. at time of writing) and the xDuoo X3 (£75 approx. at time of writing).

    IEM’s used will be the Spirited Away 'Haku and No-Face' style combo of the Noble Katana and the iBasso IT03.


    My favoured method of assessing any piece of audio equipment is to listen to selected tracks from a few different genres and A/B test one product vs another comparable one wherever possible.


    When compared with the X3, which has a neutral, reference-style sound signature with good detail, soundstage and clarity, I found the N3 to be slightly more warm and organic in its sound signature, perhaps a touch more closed in regards to the soundstage, although that may simply have been a perception engendered by the slightly warmer presentation.


    This sound signature is not a negative thing by any means. I think this will depend on your own personal preferences and you may of course hear it differently to how I did.
    Indeed, its sound signature worked synergistically with many of the songs, and presented them beautifully.


    I feel the N3 excels on vocal and acoustic music, jazz, blues and so on. It performs very respectably on other genres and more complex music, but in general I found I preferred a more reference-style signature and with more detail and soundstage to bring the best out of these other genres.

    The X3 has a transparent, reference sound signature, but lamentably, it is very much a bare-bones DAP; it’s worth mentioning that the X3 is bringing to the table a stripped down DAP experience. The budget has mainly gone into making it sound as good as possible, with broad/advanced functionality tellingly absent.

    So to just compare them in terms of price alone is going to be a somewhat misleading exercise.


    Conversely, the N3 has a simply staggering array of functionality.

    Other reviews go into these in detail and I am too pressed for time to list them, but simply I don’t know of any player at its price point that offers anything like the amount of functions that this extraordinary box of tricks offers!

    If you especially enjoy vocal and acoustic music, jazz, blues and so on, this player seems like it could be a good fit.

    It still performs very respectably on other genres and more complex music, but in general I found I preferred a slightly more reference-style signature with more detail and soundstage to bring the best out of these other genres. However, at no time was I left disappointed; we are talking small margins here, and as ever, your ears may hear differently to mine.

    Plus, to labour the point yet again, there is the simply mind-expanding array of features that this DAP offers :D


    The Conclusion (TL;DR):

    “Indecision clouds my vision; no one listens, because I’m somewhere in between”

    To sum up, the Cayin N3 offers outstanding value for money, a good colour screen which can display album art, an easy to use interface, playback of pretty much every audio file type including native DSD 256 playback, a plethora of functions, tiny size and a quality sound signature.


    I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give what the kids refer to as ‘mad props’ to Cayin for their attention to the little details in the packaging and accessories. Lovely packaging, a piece of micro-SD sized plastic to fill and protect the micro-SD card slot, stickers and screen protector, comprehensive user manual, USB-C cable with the Cayin logo branded on it, a smart white velcro tie for that cable, a gorgeous case, etc etc.

    Extremely commendable at any level; remarkable at this price point!


    The End of The Affair:

    Fun time is over; time to get back to the crazy work schedule >.<

    “All I am saying - it’s all insane; I just want to run away!

    My heart is beating, but then again, I took the wrong way, I drifted far away” :p

    I include below the song lyric quotation sources, for those who are wailing and gnashing their teeth - much like they did in biblical times - as they try to identify or remember them.

    This serves the twofold function of simultaneously demonstrating my compassionate nature, whilst avoiding being sued for infringement of copyright :p

    (in order of reference):
    La Di Da Di - Doug. E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew (Ft. Slick Rick)

    I Dare You - Shinedown (I love the acoustic version. I'm just saying. It's staggeringly powerful)

    Kodachrome - Simon & Garfunkel (their original 'Live in Central Park' album is an all-time favourite of mine)

    For What It's Worth - Buffalo Springfield (also sampled in Public Enemy's excellent 'He Got Game')

    Falling To Pieces - Faith No More

    Run - Club 8 (from their astonishingly good album 'Above The City')
  9. jeffhawke
    5.0/5,
    "Cayin N3 + HiByLink: the meaning of Synergy"
    Pros - Duplex Bluetooth 4.0 aptx, sound quality, form factor, amazing price/quality ratio, long battery life, amazing UI (with HiByLink)
    Cons - No balanced output (but at this price point I really should not complain); small display, capacitive touch controls need getting used to (this is utterly and super-satisfactorily resolved with HiByLink). OTG adapter not included.
    Foreword

    I was lucky enough to be selected as the first user for the N3's European Tour. I got twice as lucky because I kept the N3 way beyond the time I was supposed to send it on to the next fellow reviewer, and thus got the chance to download and test HiBy Music's beta version of HibyLink, as provided by Cayin. Thank you Andy!

    Review

    I will post no pictures as there are plenty beautiful hi-res pix already posted on the N3 thread, so no need to take up space unnecessarily.

    Unboxing

    The unboxing was pretty seamless. The packaging reflects the diminutive size of the N3, which to me is a plus. I was happy to receive in addition the black-red stitched faux-leather protective case, more elegant and pleasant to the touch than the provided silicone case. I did miss however a USB-C to coax or S-PDIF cable, or at least a USB-C to micro converter. I ordered one online but didn't get it on time. The intended use was to connect the N3 to my iFi micro iDSD BL and use it as a pure transport.

    The N3 was already 95% charged out of the box, so no need to charge.

    Setup

    After unboxing, I followed this procedure, which I recommend to any prospective user of the N3:
    1. Download and read the user manual;
    2. Download and install the latest firmware. After copying the new firmware on the SD card, I used the hard upgrade procedure, as described in the manual, which consists in holding both the Enter and the Power keys at the same time. The N3 then upgrades and reboots itself. The whole procedure is swift and seamless.
    3. Load music library;
    4. Start burning in. I let it burn in for a full initial 30 hours before starting listening to it. Amazing battery life, btw;
    5. Familiarize with the capacitive touch buttons. That was not the easiest part for me, the characters on the screen are really small, the capacitive buttons are black on black and they are not back-lit, so I had a bit of a hard time getting used to the whole thing, even though the haptic feedback helped some.
    Standalone operation

    In the beginning, i.e. before downloading and installing HiByLink beta, I used the N3 like a regular DAP, and although I was truly impressed with the sound quality of it, I must admit I fumbled quite a bit with the capacitive touch buttons and the tiny screen before getting the hang of it. After getting used to the tiny icons and lettering, I was able to browse across the different functions and through the files with relative ease, although I never quite came to terms with the capacitive, dark buttons. The UI however is pretty intuitive, and moving through the Music Library does not present any issues, allowing the user to quickly select his tracks from the different categories.

    The form factor of the N3 is definitely one of its foremost qualities: it is small and light (100grams) but feels solid and fits perfectly in one’s pocket. Build quality is very good, and I personally very much appreciated the elegant carrying case (supplied extra).

    Booting up and scanning the music library is a pretty quick operation (15 secs and between 1and 3 minutes respectively, depending on the capacity of the microSD). The N3 does not have an internal memory, however it supports microSD cards up to 256GB which, at least for my necessities, is plenty. Moreover, with the latest firmware update (v2.0), the number of music files the N3 can handle has been increased from 12’000 to 20’000 (the folks at Cayin do listen!). It can also be connected to flash or external drives, too bad the required adapter is not included.

    Battery life is excellent (about 12 hours, over 1 week in stand-by!), with a full recharging time of approx. 2 hours, very reasonable.

    There are 2 Settings menus, Music and System. The Music Settings menu offers several important features, the main ones being Gain (3 levels, Low, Medium and High), DAC digital filters (5 different ones), gapless, Line Out or Hedaphones Out (careful, selecting Line Out sets the volume automatically to 100%), S/PDIF output mode (DoP or D2P, depending on whether the coaxially connected device supports DSD or not) etc.

    Since I don’t use IEMs but only headphones I always used the Medium or High gain setting, and took advantage of the Super Slow Roll-off filter that the AKM4490 DAC chip provides, which is supposed to give out the most natural sound. To be honest, I would have had to A/B the different filter settings to try and hear an audible difference, but that was too cumbersome for me on a single N3! In any case, it sounded awesome (more on sound below). I also could not try out the S/PDIF link as I had no USB-C to coaxial or female USB-A cable to connect with my iFi micro iDSD BL.

    I didn’t use much of the System Settings menu (besides the language selection), not even for firmware upgrade, as I found the hard upgrade procedure more convenient.

    Sound

    I would like to begin by saying that I am not one to describe sound like certain so-called wine experts describe wines. To me, the best sounding equipment is that which most accurately reproduces an original recording, by adding or subtracting as little as possible to or from it in terms of coloration, noise, tonal qualities etc. Openness and soundstage are also qualities which I value highly.

    I used three different sets of headphones (I'm no fan of IEMs), a 32ohm Philips Fidelio X2, a hard to drive and heavily modded pair of Fostex TH500RP orthoplanars, and a pair of bespoke-sound Even H1, also 32ohm impedance.

    The music files used were wildly different, both in terms of genre (baroque, symphonic, jazz, rock, progressive rock, pop and new age) and resolution (aiff, flac, DSD up to 256.

    On High gain, the N3 was able to drive the somewhat impervious modded TH500RP seamlessly, on high volume of course, but sound came through crystal clear, without the slightest veil. I cannot imagine how they would sound if the N3 had a balanced output (the Fostex have a balanced cable, but I used a SE adapter).

    Natural, transparent, clear and uncoloured are the adjectives that first come to my mind when I try to describe the sound of the N3, regardless of whether I’m using one or the other headphone. Of course, the Fidelio X2 are a little more bass-heavy than the Fostex, but the fact that these characteristics of transparency, clarity and detail came across, no matter what headphones I was using, speaks volumes, at least to me, about the inherent sound quality of the N3. The implementation of the AK4490EN DAC and the three TI opamps is superb and certainly draws on Cayin’s experience with their higher-end DAPs. The fact that they have been able to implement this level of sound quality at this price point is truly remarkable.

    The best match however, given all of the above, was with the somehow underrated Even H1 headphones. These headphones, though not of the highest level as such (they are based on an inexpensive Chinese M4 shell), have the unique ability to singularly adjust 10 different frequencies for every ear to the perception level of the user, thus optimizing one’s listening experience. Being also very comfortable to wear, and with good noise isolation, I found them a great match with the N3 for mobile use. With the gain setting on Medium, I was very impressed with the overall musicality and fullness of the ensemble.

    Soundstage is also excellent, the best results in terms of headroom and openness coming with the Fidelio X2.
    Overall, the sound quality of the N3 rests at a much higher level than its price tag would suggest. I cannot stop wondering what it would sound like with more power, such as would be provided by a balanced implementation (I apologise for repeating myself, but I really believe that this would be another game changer, over and above the one described below. I would gladly pay $100 more for this).

    Best for last!

    Given the exceptional sound quality and the price attached to it one would think that this is good enough, right? No way!

    It’s the Bluetooth connectivity and the new HiByLink software that make the difference, at least to me. Remember all that has been written about the N3’s not-so-great UI? Well, you can forget all of it. By updating the N3 firmware to its 2.0 version and installing the latest HiBy Music app on your Android phone (http://en.cayin.cn/download/show?id=13513) you get the best of two worlds: a great UI as provided by the HiBy Music player on your phone, and a perfect wireless connection to the N3 via BT/aptX . Mind you: the phone does not transmit music to the N3, it only controls all the functions of the DAP remotely. The music files are on the N3 and are played by the N3, your phone’s HiBy music player is just the interface, so no quality is lost due to transmission.

    I can only somehow compare this to my current mobile setup, (Sony Xperia XA+Opus #11 DAC/amp) but only in terms of UI, small form factor and sound quality. The XA/Opus #11 combo is connected via OTG, not wirelessly, sounds great, but only has one output, no volume or any other control, for that matter. Everything is controlled through the OTG connected device.

    The N3/HiBy Music/HiByLink combination instead fulfils one of my audio dreams: a pure transport, that delivers bit perfect digital files to my desktop system while at the same time being remotely controlled through my smartphone, without any data being lost to the Bluetooth connection. Oh, and by the way: HiBy Music with HiByLink is free!

    Too bad I didn’t get to try it out because I was missing the USB-C to S/PDIF cable. But that will be corrected soon.

    Conclusions

    Everything comes to an end, and so did my leg of the Cayin N3 review tour. Needless to say, I enjoyed every moment of it, so much so that I kept the review unit at least twice as long as I was supposed to (sorry Layman1!), but I got lucky by doing so because I got to install the latest HiByLink compatible firmware, which really makes a big difference.

    Synergy is defined as “the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements”. This is certainly true in the case of the N3 plus HiBy Music/HiByLink. The combination of sound quality, form factor, great flexibility, affordability and ease of use provide arguably the best price/quality ratio in the DAP world, bar none.


    Next!
  10. ngoshawk
    4.0/5,
    "Here ye, here ye! Bluetooth quality for the masses"
    Pros - Small, affordable, easy to use Bluetooth. UI is fairly intuitive. Excellent sound characteristics on BT and SD. Ability to use as a dedicated DAC is a definite plus.
    Cons - Side buttons easy to bump, "control area" below screen needs a backlight, or you need a good memory! Nothing sound-wise.
    Cayin N3

    First, this unit should be rated at 4.5 stars, but I am unable to do that from my computer...any help would be appreciated!

    The Cayin N3 is the newest iteration of a portable DAP from Cayin, and as such, Andy Kong arranged a tour (and we were glad!!). Hoping to compare this excellent little critter to my existing small DAP, the Shanling M1, as well as the mid-fi models I own, I quickly applied.

    [​IMG]

    Andy has always been a gracious host, tirelessly working for the betterment of Cayin, and as one would expect, it paid off with the N3. To say I missed the little-DAP-that-could after it left would be an understatement. I thoroughly enjoyed my time together, and the comparison with the M1 revealed some noticeable differences, which I will get into of course. I thank Andy for arranging the tour, quickly and efficiently. I had not heard the i5, since it left my hands last fall, but from what I heard, the newest Firmware gave it a needed sonic plus. My hope was that this would peel over into the N3. From what I had read about the update, several bugs were fixed, and sonically the sound signature was brought to a slightly more neutral sound. Almost everything I read about the update was positive. And this made me happy to wait my turn.

    [​IMG]


    Initial:



    The mid-fi DAP market is full of many fine examples, too many to list here; but I have heard my share. Suffice to say, many are very, very good. The lower-priced end is pack-full with choices, too. Again many good, and some VERY good ones. Of which, I will mention the Shanling M1, not only because I own one, but I reviewed one. This little unit has flown under the radar since it came out, much the way of the Shanling M5, its big brother. Both share that “house sound” of slightly warm, engaging sound, chock full of detail and sufficient reach on both ends to keep you thoroughly occupied. I really like both the M1 and M5 for those qualities listed; but for the purposes here I will contain myself to the M1/N3 comparison, since that is the limit of my expertise in this end of the market (well, besides older iPods…).



    To finish that thought on the low-end spectrum, what a company needs to do is provide something, which sets itself apart from the herd, of course. Think of the econo-car end of the market in the US. Years ago, VW went with very high quality interiors, and fit/finish of those interiors to distinguish itself. As such, the rest of that market had to play catch-up, resulting in much better interior quality at that level where we all benefitted. Unfortunately for VW, their overall quality was still behind the Japanese/Korean contingency. In this regard, companies that want to sell their wares need to be forward thinking, such as VW was at that time…and in this regard, both Shanling and Cayin have succeeded. Incorporating (successfully, I might add) the latest Bluetooth technology, to help run the critter wirelessly; we are provided with a multitude of hook-up options regarding our soundscape.



    We can run the N3 alone, as an excellent portable DAP (and I did on my runs). One can also run the N3 in a system, using an amp/pre-amp combo or such and enjoy quality portable/home music (iFi iDSD Micro Black Label & iFi iTube2 were used, to much listening pleasure). And one can also use the Bluetooth as a connectivity tool for use as a transport. If you stream Spotify or Tidal, through your Smartphone, but loathe the quality of sound, simply turn the Bluetooth on both, allowing the DAC of the N3 (and M1) to be used for much better audio quality. A last benefit, which did come in handy and I use regularly on my M1 is that if you also have a Garmin/Fitbit-type device with Bluetooth, you can run the controls of your music through that. I often use that option while running, which avoids having to find the fast forward/reverse start/pause features of my DAP. Convenient, and much safer. I applaud both for bringing this into the affordable realm.



    And all Bluetooth connectivity sessions worked flawlessly, no matter the connection. To me, gone are the days of hit/miss Bluetooth. The connection was solid, stable and of lengthy reach. Just as other reviewers noted, I tried the distance method, and could successfully manipulate the Bluetooth connection/controls from a considerable distance within my house. And yes, one need be wary of using such in public, what with security concerns. I was not worried.


    [​IMG]




    Product details:



    After only four years in the portable DAP market, Cayin is to be commended for approaching all levels with gusto and fortitude. While the i5 did suffer initial problems, it does seem to be learned from, and the N3 suffered no such problems for me. Working without a hitch, my time was entirely too short. One week went by way too fast.



    From the Cayin website:



    http://en.cayin.cn/products_info?itemid=105

    Specs:

    Cayin N3
    Construction: Aluminum chassis and anti-slip leatherette backing
    DAC chipset: AK44900EN
    Headphone opamp: OPA1622
    Line amp: OPA1652
    Audio file formats: DSF, DIFF, SACD-ISO, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, APE, WMA, MP3, OGG
    Display: 2.4 in (6 cm) TFT 400x360 IPS screen
    Buttons: Capacitive touch
    Bluetooth version: Bluetooth 4.0 + aptX
    Headphone impedance: 16–200 ohms recommended
    Gain control: 3 gain stages: High, mid, low
    Continuous playback: 12 hrs (screen off)
    Standby: 200 hrs
    Charging time: Approx. 2 hrs (with 1.5–2A charger, not included)
    External storage: TF (up to 256 GB), USB OTG
    Output connectors: 3.5mm headphone and USB type-C
    S/PDIF output: DoP and D2P
    DoP output: DSD up to DSD64, PCM up to 24 bit/192 kHz
    Dimensions (L x W x H): 3.9 x 2.1 x 0.5 in (10 x 5.4 x 1.3 cm)
    Weight: 3.5 oz (100 g)
    Phones Out

    Power rating: 130 mW + 130 mW at 32 ohms
    Frequency response: 20 Hz–20 kHz (+/- 0.3 dB, Fs=192 kHz); 5 Hz–50 kHz (+/- 2 dB, Fs=192 kHz)
    THD+N: 0.03% (1 kHz, FS=44.1 kHz; 20 Hz–20 kHz, A-weighted)
    Dynamic range: 108 dB (20 Hz–20 kHz, A-weighted)
    SNR: 108 dB (20 Hz–20 kHz, A-weighted)
    Output impedance: ≤ 1 ohm
    Line Out

    Output level: 1.0 V at 10 kohms
    Frequency response: 20 Hz–20 kHz (+/- 0.2 dB, Fs=192 kHz); 5 Hz–50 kHz (+/- 2 dB, Fs=192 kHz)
    THD+N: 0.03% (1 kHz, FS=44.1 kHz; 20 Hz–20 kHz, A-weighted)
    Dynamic range: 108 dB (20 Hz–20 kHz, A-weighted)
    SNR: 108 dB (20 Hz–20 kHz, A-weighted)
    Coaxial Out

    Rated output level: 0.5Vp-p at 75 ohms
    Rated output impedance: 75 ohms
    USB DAC

    DSD: Up to DSD128 (native or DoP), native DSD decode at DoP mode
    PCM: Up to 192 kHz/24 bit
    Windows: Supported (Cayin USB audio driver required)
    Mac OS X: Supported (Driver not required)
    Android: Not supported
    iOS: Not supported
    USB mode: Asynchronized USB audio 2.0 class


    [​IMG]

    With a stated battery rating of 12 hours playback and 200(!) hours standby, coupled with 130mW, the N3 does provide reasonable power and long playback. Suffice to say that I was more than able to reach uncomfortable listening levels with my Unique Melody Martians, and Vibro Labs Aria. Without distortion, too. As for the claimed 12 hours listening, I was able to verify that, based upon my simple calculations over the first two days, coming up with approximately 16 hours playback time, actually. Unscientific, but worth a consideration, based upon the companies claim. In 24 hours, with approximately four hours of use (the rest mostly off), the battery had dropped from 92% (upon delivery from Pinky) to 68%. 6%/hour of play would yield approximately 16 hours. Slightly less than the loaner Shanling M1 I had of Nik’s, but better than my personal unit, which I purchased second-hand. I’m not sure what is going on there, but I would certainly like the loaner-battery-play-time!


    [​IMG]


    Functional/listening aspects:



    My initial indoctrination was quite decent, similar to Cayin i5, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I did find the capacitive buttons to be quite touchy. I could easily touch the other buttons, as they are quite sensitive. Others concurred with this assessment. That said, in hand, the N3 is easier to operate than the mini-M1, what with the lower added portion to use for a gripping point. Screen size, they seem to be identical so I did appreciate that added portion, where I am sure most of the electronic gizmos are running this little wonder. The side-buttons are simple plastic touch-switches, and are not easy to decipher in low light, as they are not lit at all. But, once you get used to which switch works whatever function you are using, it becomes somewhat intuitive. A nice addition would be a backlight to the capacitive switches, much like we have on our Smartphones, and touch screen DAPs. As for the side switches, that may add complexity and cost, so one can learn to decipher the buttons.



    Separation of sound is quite good, with a slightly forward sound, which to me pushes the sound stage forward. I really like what @ike1985 did with his head chart in his latest reviews (of which they are a worthy read, exemplary they are), so think of that and you can picture where the sound originates. Sound stage seems average at best (to me). Fore/aft is the biggest, with not much stage beyond ones head. It seems a bit higher than neutral/average in the vertical plane, too. Kind of an interesting sound stage, it is…and different than the M1. To me, the M1 provides a wider stage, but not as tall.



    With three gain settings, H/M/L easily accessible, one can quickly tailor a boost to your delight or song. Simply pushing the upper left button below the screen, and then clicking the center circular “OK” button, you change the gain level. Accordingly, you also raise the volume as well, depending upon what setting you use. Gapless play between songs from the album played flawlessly.

    [​IMG]

    *Note: this sub menu controls many additional features, which are covered in my video review.



    What with quite a fast start up, this simply leaves devices such as the FiiO x5iii in the dust. If this were a drag race, the race would be over before the FiiO had even started. Yes, the x5iii is more complicated, but that also shows how quickly the N3 starts. Power down is slightly longer. A nice Come Back Soon message appears, whenst you turn the critter off, reminiscent of our Mazda6, where upon turning the car off, a pleasant Goodbye message shows on the display. A polite saying indeed.



    Moving between screens was a familiar movement with a fairly intuitive UI. I will say that almost none of the small critters I have heard, or reviewed have that absolutely free UI, meaning that all have shortcomings. What I will say, that Cayin has thoroughly thought about this conundrum, and have tried hard to make a near-flawless interface. Moving through menus (and sub menus) is right intuitive, and efficient. Even though my doltishness showed in the video, it is much easier than that.

    [​IMG]

    From the main menu, you can access everything from playback to EQ to the system settings. Once you enter a menu, getting into the sub menu, such as the music folder, then you are presented with Cayin’s efforts to make the music easy to read. Folders such as Songs, Playlist and others present them selves easily using the forward and rewind buttons below the screen. And, once one becomes familiar with the menus and sub menus there are few problems (unlike in my video, “off screen” I was able to use the N3 flawlessly….must have been screen-fright of my hands…). I was easily able to manipulate between screens, all the while enjoying the music.



    An extremely nice feature is the long press on the “previous” button in the top right of the button area. By doing so, one is brought all the way back to the main screen for easy access to the other menus. And once a setting is changed, or folder, or whatever, a single press returns you to the song at hand (if all you did was a bit of menu browsing, instead of changing something). A very nice feature, which to me makes perfect sense.



    One can also change the time in which the “on screen” sub menu appears on the left side while a song is playing. I kept the delay short, but easily found if I scrolled down the sub menu, I could change what I wanted as needed. And thankfully, the gain aspect is at the top of the sub menu list. With two touches, you can add gain one step at a time or return to low from the high setting. So, in a situation where you need that added boost to hear your music (don’t we all?!) with two touches, you have added or lower the gain. I could see this as expressly useful in commuting situations, and when we know it can easily be changed back, that simply adds to the usefulness.

    [​IMG]

    As opposed to going through all of the other sub menus (Twister6 does it better, and why rehash greatness!), you can peruse his excellent written review, or my video. I won’t beg for watches, but…





    Bluetooth:



    As stated in my video (hint, hint…), the Bluetooth functioned perfectly. I really believe we are past the days of a non-functioning tool as Bluetooth was once considered, and I for one like the functionality of it more and more. Add in that many manufacturers are taking this technology seriously, hence the audio quality is rising at a very quick pace; and we all win.



    Using the N3 as a DAC from your Smartphone allows you to utilize the better sound quality of the N3’s system. While using the browsing capabilities of ones smartphone, whether through Spotify or Tidal, you can seamlessly tie the two together for a very good listening experience. Using my iPhone, Tidal and the N3, I was treated to a wonderful sound through my UM Martian of twenty one pilots and Kansas. With the Cayin to tidy up the sound, and the fairly good quality from Tidal, I was treated to a sound aspect, which was not possible all that long ago. To be able to spend this small (somewhat) bit to increase your sound quality immediately should be a serious consideration for those who rely upon their smartphone for music. Add in, that you also get the benefit of the SD card music, and you have successfully taken a step towards your audio-nirvana…OK, a bit over the top, but you get my drift…I hope…

    [​IMG]

    An additional added benefit is that those with a fitness device will also be able to control the music through your Smartphone and N3 using the on wrist capabilities of your device. I use this feature with my Shanling M1 and Garmin Vivoactive HR+ at least a couple of times a week. To me it is much, much safer to turn my wrist to control the music, than reaching onto my upper arm; or in my pocket where the music device may be. So, an unintended benefit to me would be the added safety factor. While this does eat into your battery of the fitness device, if you have a GPS-able device, it uses less than that. It is worth it to me, and probably the best portable feature of my M1. And thus, the N3. Those with Bluetooth capable home systems will see this benefit, too. And as I understand it, with a minimal amount, you can add a security feature to your Bluetooth listening (not on the N3 itself, but through your Smart-device). Well worth the added security in my mind.



    As for the sound through the Bluetooth connection, to my tired old ears, it was on par with the SD card listening. Maybe a bit behind, but if you have Bluetooth headphones, you could then use your native music as opposed to only streaming.





    Sound characteristics:



    There is no fighting for a spot sound-wise between bass, mids and treble. A good cooperation going on here between all three provides the listener with a very even pleasant experience. One in which you can decipher all three sections in a straightforward manner. There is no bleed of any one characteristic into another. All three play and work well together. An admirable tuning experience done by Cayin, and from what I understand similar to the updated i5 firmware sound.



    Initially, I found a better clarity of sound than the Shanling M1. To me, it was a more crisp sound, with a neutral signature to be applauded for its honest representation. Details were quite good with Dave Matthews So Damn Lucky. An impressive sound was heard, but it lacked the bass punch of the Shanling M1. A near-neutral signature with that very good clarity is how I would describe the N3. After much more listening, that clarity over the Shanling still rung true, but I did miss the better bass punch of the M1. And yes, an EQ can take care of that quite easily. As stated in my other reviews (and in my “about me” section above), I value a warmer darker signature. That said I found the N3 to be thoroughly pleasing and satisfactory. I was mighty impressed, and that rapt grew during our time together.


    [​IMG]


    Comparison tools:



    Shanling M1



    Unique Melody Martian

    Vibro Labs Aria

    Oppo PM-1

    FLC8S

    Mixcder x5



    Songs auditioned:



    Ziggy Marley- I Am Human & Dragonfly (live and album version)

    twenty one pilots- Guns for Hands, Trees, Screen, Car Radio

    Bob Marley- No Woman No Cry, Buffalo Soldier, Three Little Birds

    Stevie Ray Vaughan- Look at Little Sister (live Austin City Limits), Mary Had A Little Lamb (same), Couldn’t Stand the Weather

    Dave Matthews- So Damn Lucky, Dodo, Gravedigger

    Kansas-Dust in the Wind, Song for America, Point of Know Return







    Musical listenings (for a lack of better words…):



    Starting with Ziggy’s album version of Dragonfly, and continuing through the rest of the audition, I found the N3 to be a brilliant combination of sound, including presentation, separation, instrumentation and depth of sound. Just an overall positive characteristic rung true, no matter what was thrown the Cayin’s way. No problem, and positive vibes throughout all.



    Ziggy is one of my all time favorites, and excellent for audition purposes because of his musical variety. From his sumptuous voice and acoustic guitars (when used) he varies his songs enough to provide excellent opportunities to delve into a difference when comparing items such as the N3 & M1. From both the live version, and the studio version, those differences quickly became apparent.



    Dragonfly is such a wonderful presentation for environmental protection to start with, then add that it really is a fine song to boot, and you have a very happy medium with which one can judge sound characteristics. Using the live version, the acoustic guitars sounded not quite as deep and melodious on the N3 as the M1. But, the guitars were better separated, a characteristic, which would continue throughout the review time. From this separation, one can garner minute differences such as the pluck of a finger not heard on one device but clearly on the other. I found this to be no matter what headphone was used, too. Over and over the N3 won the clarity battle, while losing the bass depth and somewhat the depth of overall sound. As a near-neutral source, though this clarity was an exemplary trait to own; and one to cherish as you hear music at this level separated like (maybe) never before, in a critter at this price point.

    [​IMG]

    Moving from IEM to IEM, that common theme of clarity won me over. I really like the M1, but the clarity of the N3 is to be admired. Whether it is from the complicated “mess” known as Guns for Hands to the clearly defined delineation of sound in Look at Little Sister (Austin City Limits version), the N3 proved that at this low price you can certainly have a very good sound. As for that “mess” Guns for Hands, what I mean is that throughout the complexity of song from the on-stage and off-stage instruments, I never once felt as if there was a doubt exactly where those instruments were, nor were they jumbled. So for this song, the clarity meant definition of space. A proximal instrumentation, which I applauded.



    As stated in my other reviews, I am in love with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s music, holding it closest to my heart and soul for a multitude of reasons. And on the live Look at Little Sister, Austin City Limits it left no doubt. Hearing SRV’s voice clearly defined as he sung, and with almost every finger pluck, you simply had to admire how a device of this price and size could portray that sound. As an added bonus, the flawless guitar change resulting from his intense playing, which broke a string simply sings through the N3/UM Martian combo (obviously not seen on the N3, but memory serves me well, there…). Downloaded to SD card, yes, but the essence of the song remains. From his rock’n guitar riffs, which change chords after the string break, to his vocals, changing from sweet and melodic to strong and gruff and back, SRV can bring out the best and worst of almost any device. And the N3 nary shied away, groov’n with SRV together for a thoroughly wonderful sound.



    Switching to the iconic (and one of my all time favorite songs) Dust in the Wind, Kansas has the ability to make one completely humble in most of their songs. Having played at my brother-in-laws Senior Prom, the year before they went big, Kansas is probably second only to SRV in my musical soul. Steve Walsh’s sensuously ranged voice can make almost anything sound good. When you throw in Kerry Livgren’s musical creative genius you are hooked. Ballads were meant for Kansas, and Kansas should have had a much larger audience than it did... Seeing Steve Walsh handstand on a piano, while still playing and singing is a sight to behold. The N3 brought back those memories, and I was glad. Very glad. To say the diversity of music shown through well in the Cayin, should make them very proud. At one time, in my listening history, I laughed at how digital sounded…to say that it would sound better than analog to me was an insult of the highest order. I scoffed at the notion. I now humbly eat those words with my crow’s pie, bowing to the wondrous sound these digital marvels can produce. Again, I am glad. And the N3 does Kansas justice. I’m not sure what else I can say in that regard.



    Throughout the whole audition as I mentioned the N3 provided a clean, clear and mostly crisp sound, which to me yielded itself as that clarity of which I speak. With an ever-so-slight-north-of-neutral sound, I found myself actually preferring this to my usual dose of WAY north of neutral, warm sound. I guess, that my maturation of review-process is proceeding as a result. Why? Well, when one can truly appreciate a sound, which differs from their usual norm, then two things are very apparent (to me). 1. The sound is very good, indeed and, 2. My tired old ears can still make different the sound of two somewhat similar sounds. #1 goes without saying. #2 means I must be doing something right!



    The N3 need to be promoted. The N3 needs to be marketed. The N3 needs to be heard. It is an extremely satisfying low-priced DAP, which confirms how far (possibly) sound and sound capabilities have come in the last 2-3 years. To incorporate the level of Bluetooth sound and capabilities this critter has is very admirable. And when said function works seamlessly with any option thrown its way, well then the “new” technology has succeeded. This has been promoted as a new function, but my own experience with the excellent Shanling M1 shows, that it is not entirely new. But, when you think of how few devices at this price point in fact do have this capability, while providing excellent sound characteristics of its own accord, then there are two winners: the company and most assuredly us. I for one, applaud this type of R&D, and the price at which this happens. Because isn’t our selfish goal, to bring quality audio to the masses? One can hope.

    Finale:

    I want to personally thank Andy and Cayin for running this tour. It takes time, an IMMENSE amount of time, resources and the product itself. It is very gracious of those manufacturers to provide their wares for we users to dissect, good or bad. And I truly am thankful for these opportunities, for without which, we might not hear the more expert opinions and findings than I can provide here. Thank you again, Andy! It was a wonderful week, indeed.

    21 minutes of rambling and doltishness...if you dare...

    Mshenay, trellus, Andykong and 4 others like this.