Build & Functionality8
Value For Money9.5
Our Score

The N3 is officially the fourth release in the Cayin DAP lineup and priced at $149. It is also the cheapest making Cayin’s entry level DAP and a direct competitor against the likes of the FiiO X1 gen 1 or 2 or the Shanling M1. Perhaps even (at a stretch) the Hidizs AP60, which also came out onto the market though price much lower at $80 and packing fewer features.

Coming fresh from declaring the i5 the king of mid-fi DAPs in 2016 I was actually quite surprised Cayin had another one lined up so quickly but given the price disparity between the two I am pretty sure that neither will cannibalize sales from each other.

That being said the N3 is probably one of the most feature rich DAPs at this price point and whether you acquired it through local retail channels or waiting for the rather higher profile Massdrop version in April 2017 I actually think the oft-used meme “Bang for Buck” really does apply to the N3.

What Is The Pitch?


Cayin are pitching the N3 on several levels and truth be told some of these features are very interesting indeed, at least on paper. The price point is just right for first-time upgraders or those who might, shall we say, have a slightly level of dissatisfaction on cheaper DAPs. Cayin even throws in a color variation with cyan and black just to give it a more modern appeal.

Decoding Capability

Second, the N3 packs the AK4490EN DAC chip, which is the recently released mobile version of their excellent AK4490 chip used in the mid-range i5 DAP. It is also the exact same chip in my ZTE Axon 7 mobile phone so it should pack a musical punch offering 32BIT/384Hz implementation including up to DSD256 decoding. That covers the bases for most audiophile decoding needs.


Third, the N3 can double up not just as a USB-DAC, which even at this price is no longer something unique, but also output an SPDIF signal to a receiver of your choice. Their clever use of the USB-C connections means the N3 can become the source itself and offer an alternative to a wider range of non-USB receivers out there in the market today as well as USB DACs. For audiophiles looking for a small source/transport and packing anything from a Mojo up to a dedicated receiver desktop with coaxial input – look out, you are being pitched to by Cayin.


Memory is also a big pitch on the N3. If you want a source with plenty of memory for those DSD files then N3 can handle up to 256Gb in memory plus on a single microSD. It can also offer OTG capability via USB-C for even bigger memory sticks and power-efficient hard drives.


The final feature and one that I think adds substantial value to the N3 pitch is the wireless capabilities. No, it does not have WiFi, at this price point you would need to be working on Android to get anything out of WiFi and that’s a price level up and already covered by the i5. The wireless pitch of the N3 is BT 4.0 aptX which ironically was not on the i5. The N3 rocks a duplex BT 4.0 aptX service, which for phone, desktop zeppelins, and car stereo BT receivers, offers the most competitive BT audio signal in the market today.


Materials & Design

The Cayin N3 is quite understated in design flair and certainly nothing quite as flashy as the i5 or as memorable as the N6. However, it is quite a bit smaller in size and far more pocketable than the two higher end units measuring in at just 10 x 5.4 x 1.3 cm and weighing in at just 100g making it half the weight of the i5. The term “pocketable” in terms of form factor literally applies to the N3.

Though understated in aesthetics the N3 really doesn’t skimp too much on the materials. It feels light but sturdy with a solid aluminum chassis and a soft, anti-slip pleather back which has a nice touch to it and adds to the “grip-ability” of the N3 in your hand. Both color schemes, black, and cyan come in a sandblasted finish.

Side Panels

On the left and right panels, you have physical controls and the open memory card slot with the inputs and outputs housed on the bottom panel of the N3. There are no functionality or hardware controls on the flush top panel.

Front Panel

The top is dominated by a capacitive touch control button array directly under the screen with a physical central button mostly for confirming and playback functionality. None of the buttons are back-lit sadly but the haptic feedback when you press one of them does help for confirmatory basis when operating in low light conditions. Below the capacitive buttons there is about an inch long of nothingness to rest your thumb on I guess.


The N3 uses a 2.4″ TFT 400 x 300 IPS screen which is not bad actually at this price point. Despite the size of the screen the OS never felt cramped either with the text being crisp and clear and with some good saturation in the color reproduction. It is also a class higher than the 2 inch TFT 320 x 240 LCD screen of the FiiO X1 2nd gen which is lower in resolution on paper and looks pixelated in comparison.

The viewing angle is excellent with this screen. You can dip it to almost horizontal at eye level and still read what is going on the screen. You can also adjust the backlight of the screen to conserve battery life in the settings menu. You get plenty of pop and brightness at full power, but my preference is around 50% to shorten the drain but still leave it fairly legible.

Hardware Controls


There are two sets of hardware controls for the Cayin N3 – the top capacitive buttons and the side physical traditional buttons. Both overlap on playback control but the side buttons to not interface or control the OS navigation and selection.

Capacitive Controls

Whilst it is not a touchscreen based system it does pay homage to its costlier cousins with a set of capacitive buttons just below the screen, either side of a more traditional circular hardware confirm button. You can elect to turn the haptic feedback response of these buttons on or off from the settings menu should you find them distracting.


The bottom two buttons have dual functionality with forward and back during playback and up and down/left or right actions during menu navigation.

Top Left

The top left button has a few functions to it and it is not intuitive unless you read the manual or play about with it. The first function is during playback. By pressing it you can bring up “On the go” options such as gain control, playlist control, line out and delete the track. A second option is a confirmatory action in the Music category which immediately opens up one of the categories to view the list of songs available.

Top Right

The top right button acts as a return button to allow you to navigate out of the screen you are in to a higher or previous level in the OS. It can also allow you to come out of the playback screen and browse your music selection without interruption to the current track you are listening to.

Left & Right Panel

These are the more traditional types of pressure based switches with the left housing the power/LCD screen on and off button and a volume rocker just below and on the right side your traditional playback buttons, play/pause, back and forward. These are designed specifically to allow you a measure of playback and power/volume control without having to look or interact with the front-facing capacitive buttons.

Inputs & Outputs

I/O is 100% on the bottom panel with just two interfaces, the headphone/line out analog jack and Cayin’s specifically engineered USB-C interface. I say specifically engineered because they have been able to work an SPDIF/OTG and USB-DAC interface into the one port and not even my USB-C interface on my mobile phone has that much functionality packed into it. It does make me wonder what more can be done with a single USB-C port beyond that but kudos to Cayin for stuffing that much already into a $149 DAP.

Cables, therefore, will play a bigger role with the N3. The bundled USB-C cable can be used as charging, data, and digital connection from your PC/MAC to N3 (N3 as USB DAC). You can also buy an aftermarket SPDIF short cable for using the N3 as a transport with the Mojo in a tidy little package. You can also buy Cayin’s own CS-30TCR USB-C To Coaxial Cable which is a bit longer for easier desktop interfacing as a source with SPDIF capable receivers and DAC’s such as Cayin’s own iDAC-6 desktop module.

Memory Capacity

The N3 is competitive for memory capacity and in line with both Hidizs and FiiO for their entry level memory capacity at 256GB via a single microSD as well as OTG capabilities for flash drives and powered hard drives.

Also, indirectly you can acquire “additional memory space by proxy” using the BT Duplex service. In effect, the N3 becomes a wireless DAC/Amp with potential access to just under 5Tb of space (2TB OTG N3, 2TB OTG phone, 2 x 256GB memory cards in N3 and Phone and an average of 128GB space onboard a smartphone). That is a huge reservoir of space the N3 can tap into for audio tracks.

Something to point out at this stage though is the speed of access to memory on the N3. It is actually on par with the AP60 at around 63 seconds for 2400 16BIT FLAC tracks in scanning and absolutely flattens the ponderous X1 Gen 2 Linux OS and processor memory access speeds. I think for the equivalent number of FLAC tracks you are talking around 10 minutes on the X1 2nd Gen.

Battery Life


The Cayin N3 2500mAh li-poly battery is rated at a very competitive 12 hours continuous playback and up to 200 hours standby under optimal conditions using CD quality files. Compared to the higher end models in Cayin’s range the N3 has the longest battery life.

As a point of comparison, FiiO’s Linux driven X1 2nd Gen is rated also at 12 hours on an 1800mAh 3.7v Li-Polymer Lithium battery and the Hidizs AP60 can churn out 10-12 hours on its tiny 1000mAh Lithium polymer battery though to nowhere near the level of functionality as the N3. All 3 pale into comparison with the Sony NW-35’s class leading 30 hours using FLAC. Also 8.3 days continuous standby is pretty good but it is missing FiiO’s ‘Deep Sleep’ feature which can achieve almost double standby time at near 15 days.

Charging Time

Charging time is a fairly speedy 2 hours on 1.5/2A charger or by using the supplied USB data/charging cable and Cayin do recommend at least a few cycles before the battery indicator is accurately reflecting the current charge levels on the main screen.

Usage Scenarios

12 hours is an optimal estimation by Cayin meaning CD quality files being played continuously with the LCD screen turn off throughout. It is highly likely the first cycle will also be a lot shorter as it is shipped partially charged. Button mashing, high LCD screen brightness settings and liberal use of the BT function or DSD files will drop the battery time by a few hours. My own real world numbers set closer to 10 hours but I do like a bright screen as the stock theme is quite dark both in font and background colors.




The N3 uses the latest iteration of the AKM 4990 family, the AK4990EN DAC chip. This is a 32BIT 2 channel low power consumption DAC chip specifically targeting mobile application with hi-resolution audio needs. It is also smaller with a more efficient design than the AK4490EQ chip.

Codecs & Features

The great thing about this new chip is that it retains quite a lot of features of the AK4990EQ but in a vastly reduced size and thus allowing the Cayin to shrink their DAP design to that of the N3. Decoding rates are a truly excellent 32BIT/384K (Wav and AIFF) in PCM format with DSD native decoding up to DSD256 with a very wide range of codec support including DSF, DIFF, SACD-ISO, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, APE, WMA, MP3, and OGG. Note though that FLAC decoding is a max 24BIT/192K and DSD256 files will be natively decoded on the N3 but the max output is DSD128 on DoP.

Digital Filters

The N3 AK4490EN chip also retains the five different 32-bit digital filter types, including short delay sharp roll-off and short delay slow roll-off filters, sharp roll-off filter, slow roll-off filter to preserve the phase difference and a new even slower roll-off filter. All are accessible in the settings menu on the N3.

Credits: Cayin 2017


The N3 uses an Ingenic X1000 SOC with an HBC2500A HiBy Music digital audio processor. This is a custom FPGA from HiBy Music (one of Cayin’s major backers) designed to handle the bitstream and reduce jitter before the signal enters the AK4990EN chip for decoding.

The X1000 SOC chip used in the N3 is from the same family of SOC chips used by Cayin in their  N5 and N6 models (JZ4760B) though the clocking speed is much higher at 1Ghz compared to the older JZ4760B which had a max 600Mhz clock speed. In short, the X1000 XBurst1 is a good deal faster and more powerful.


The N3 deploys an entirely Texas Instruments solution for its amping requirements, including the low pass filter and line amp (OPA1652) as well as the amp stage itself (OPA1622). Rated power output of the N3 is 130 mW + 130 mW at 32 ohm which is pretty respectable and only slightly down on the i5 which delivers 190mW+190mw (@32Ω) from its TI design that also deploys a dual BUF634 buffer.

Note the i5 also uses an OPA1652 so take note, SNR and dynamic range performance of the N3 and i5 are the exact same at 108dB though distortion figures on the N3 are not quite to the same level at 0.03% compared to the i5’s THD+N much lower 0.006% for the headphone jack output.

Accessories & Packaging

For its retail price point of $149 the N3 accessories and packaging is professional and covers most of the bases though you would hardly term it luxurious. Inside you get:

  • 1 x silicone case
  • 1 x 1m data/USB USB-C to USB-A cable
  • 2 x screen protectors (one is pre-applied)
  • 1 x warranty card and user manual

The silicone case will come in multiple colors so if you ordered black you will get a black silicone case and cyan color for the cyan colored DAP. There will be the option though to order silicone cases beyond those 2 colors with yellow, lime and red in the pipeline. Having used the silicone case for a while it is pretty durable yet flexible enough to work with the buttons underneath though the additional thickness just below the capacitive buttons can sometimes get in the way of smooth button operation but not a deal breaker.

Page 2: The N3 Software

133 Responses

  1. Danggit

    Hi. I’m new to this. I just wanna ask if the USB-C out can be used as source to a USB DAC. Thanks.

  2. Anthony

    I’ve seen a lot of DAP’s that market themselves as being able to support 256gb micro SD cards, but then only reads and displays half of the music. Will this DAP be able to read and display 200gb worth of tracks? Or will it cut me off after a certain number of files?

  3. Skymirth

    Hi! I’m currently using FLC8s with my smartphone (Oneplus 5). Do you think the N3 is worthing the price for use it in place of the Oneplus 5?

      • Skymirth

        Thanks for your answer ! I know that I can use it with my phone and it’s great ! But my question was more about the gain in terms of audio quality. Does it worth the cost juste for the audio ? I’m saying that because my phone is good for me now , but if I can have a great improvement on my music I’m going to buy it, if no, I keep my phone.

  4. Drew

    HF just want to ask your opinions.
    Since my iPod Classic met its maker due to years of use (not abused), now I am looking for its replacement.
    I don’t want those touch screen ones but the only DAP’s available in my country at the moment are Cowon Plenue D, this Cayin N3, FiiO X1 (this one I was able to test and it takes forever to read the songs on the SD Card) & FiiO X3, Hidizs AP60 and iBasso DX50.
    Which one would you prefer me buying?

  5. hifi-man

    hey nice review thanks!

    i search for dap to classical&vocal male music..what u think?

  6. Michael

    Hi! I’m a little late to the party, but I can get a Fiio X3 iii for the same price as the N3 at the moment (buying in China). Of these two, which would you recommend?

    I saw in another review that you would recommend the N3 over the X1 ii, so is the X3 iii then a clear step ahead of the N3 as the ‘next model up’ from the X1 ii?

    • Marcus

      We just signed off on the x3iii draft and whilst I do not say a huge amount about the n3 compared to the xiii as I consider them different classes I do think the N3 is better value. Acoustically the X3iii is a little smoother but the N3 is faster, better BT connectivity, cheaper and sounds great for the price point. Certainly better than the X1ii. I think the big issue I have for the X3iii is their processor and OS. The Linux platform of the X3iii is too heavy for the processor. Its faster than the X1ii for sure, but not fast enough compared to the N3. So long story short, it is not a clear step ahead performance wise.

  7. sulabh

    How do you compare it with Fiio X5ii in terms of sound.I recently sold my X5ii because its soundstage was not deep and wide enough.I prefer my clip plus over that.Do you think N3 will be a natural upgrade over clip plus?

  8. James Bartlett

    I am looking to change my DAP, have used FIIO X3ii but have just got some B&O H7 Headphones and want to make use of the BT, would you recommend the N3 as a good replacement, or maybe the FIIO X3 3rd Gen, or anything else I should look at, great revue, has helped even if you can’t get back to me.

    • Marcus

      X3rd Gen or N3 are both good but for for me the N3 is ideal if you don’t plan on using the FiiO balanced output.

      • James Bartlett

        Thank you, just one last thing, is the Sony NW-A35 worth looking at?

      • James Bartlett

        How about the Sony NW-A35, is that worth consideration?

      • Marcus

        It is and it isn’t. The digital amp inside it is good actually, really nice and quiet but the N3 is a little more resolving and musical sounding for me. Note the Sony has its own software but its alright. Great battery life.

  9. Skysurfer

    Does the N3 have gapless playback? I had the opportunity to test FiiO’s both X3 and X5 and their “gapless” feature is terrible. Not like COWON J3 wich was incredible.

  10. Nic Kallisti

    Excellent review Marcus. I was looking for a good dap for pairing with my 1MORE quad driver iems. N3 seems perfect. Do I have to buy an external micro sd card of, say, 32 GB to use as storage in the dap considering N3 don’t have on board memory?

    • Marcus

      Thanks Nic, glad you enjoyed it. You can use an SD card or you can BT link to your phone and wireless access your phone memory tracks.

  11. Ryan

    Hi Marcus, based on sound quality alone which one do you prefer n3 , x5ii, or x5iii ?

  12. Ryan

    Hi, can I pair the N3 with ha2-se via usb out ? so the N3 will be used as a transport only.

    • Marcus

      It sure can, just tested it 5 mins ago. When you turn it on you should see “audio device connected” on the N3 screen and then off you go :)

      • Ryan

        Hi, when using n3 as a transport with ha2se as dac amp, I can still adjust the volume through n3 and the h/o in n3 still produces sound when you connected a headphone. So this mean its not a bit perfect because the signal is not bypassed and go through n3 internal amplification.

  13. blazer

    which digital filter best for hard rock/extreme metal music?

    i see you have chosen sharp short delay in your music settings..would you recommend that?

    also how does the cayin n3 sound with mee audio p1 and grado headphones?!
    great review mate

    • Marcus

      I really don’t mess with the digital filters that much as the tweak is so subtle. Instead, I opt for an IEM or headphone that matches the genre or the EQ. For metal, anything with clean lower mids, vocals and sub-bass performance normally works best for my own personal preference. Need some power in the guitar chord work. Grado should be nice and easy to drive out of the N3, anything from SR80e upwards

  14. STR

    I just picked this up on Wednesday and sent it back on Thursday. My previous DAP was the Hidizs AP100 which is rated here 7.7, the N3 is rated 8.6. I disagree on your relative rating scale. While the software is superior on the N3 the AP100 is significantly better in most other areas, particularly sound quality. While the N3 is smooth sounding it lacks any semblance of soundstage – everything is flat, left to right. Separation of instruments suffers too. This makes the overall sound boring to me. The AP100 has significantly better buttons. I hate the mixture of capacitive and physical buttons on the N3. Vibrating capacitive buttons is just a bad idea on a DAP. The buttons on the sides are a very, very cheaply made plastic. The screen is smaller than the AP100 but quality is better on the N3. Another downside is the the N3 can’t play some good, harder to drive phones like my HD580. The sound is loud enough but the match suffers and the resulting sound is poor.

    • headfonics

      The scoring is contextual for a number of reasons:

      First is the price, the AP100 when it came out was more expensive than the N3, though today it may have dropped in price from the earlier SRP.

      Second is the output power which you have alluded to by pairing it with higher impedance and more demanding headphones whereas the N3 is geared more to lower impedance IEMs and easy to drive headphones. Horses for courses but the AP100 has a higher noise floor making it less flexible for a wider ange of modern earphones.

      In our review when discussing power we noted the performance gap between a better powered i5 and the N3 and pointed out that the N3 is not really designed for pure power but rather excellent sensitivity.

      The HD580 is a 300 ohm headphone so there is no way I would recommend the N3 for this headphone at just 130mW per channel on a 32 ohm load. Even the i5 at 190mw on a 32 ohm load starts to show the gap once you go up the imedance chart.

      Of course Hidizs muddy the waters by citing 2.2Vrms output power instead of a like for like as well as not mentioning the load ratings on their testing equipment ot dummy loads so there is that to contend with but it is more powerful than the N3 and a better match for headphones that are less sensitive. The N3 will always lack dynamics at that level and hence more dynamics, less flatness and better staging.

      • STR

        Please note HF that you rate matchability (as I understand your definition) for the far more limited N3 with an 8.8 while the AP100, which can easily drive a much wider range of headphones, including my HD580 and my Ety4s, as only a 7.2. Something is off there, relatively speaking.

        Also, in the tonality rating the N3 is rated 8.7 vs 8.0 on the older AP100. Tonality is hard to quantify with individual preferences varying, but the sound-staging to my ears, and to the extent it can be in headphones, is somewhat poor with the N3 and fairly good with the AP100. They are both smooth sounding and the N3 isn’t bad in any area, but I would not rate the N3 higher than the AP100 in this department.

        My search will go on for DAP replacement as my Hidizs is now somewhat disabled. Consensus indicated the i5 sounds very much like the N3 so I’m crossing this off my list. The question is finding one at a *reasonable* price which seems more difficult now than it was when I bought the Hidizs.

        I should indicate that most of my listening was done with the Focal Listen, which is very efficient to drive and was easily driven with the N3 on the medium gain setting.

      • headfonics

        Actually the AP100 is the more limiting as it’s noise levels make it a poor choice for IEMs and it supposed to be a good pairing for IEM’s. The Cayin N3 is the best at this price point with IEM’s and can drive a substantial amount of portable headphones.

        The N3 does its job, the AP100 partially does its job.

        It was not designed for high impedance headphones something I pointed out in the review.

        Again if you test any 300 Ohm headphone into a 130mw load physics will tell you you that it’s not enough power hence your perception of sound being poor. Please don’t skip that part of my previous response.

      • headfonics

        Never tried the focal listen but your original reply stated high impedance headphones so at this point I presume personal preference mixed with a desire to match higher powered headphones with a portable device. My recommendation always for this is a Mojo or a Oppo HA-2SE with your phone.

  15. sankalp kak

    Hi, Based on just the use of N3 as a standalone dac (for windows and android), which one would you prefer: N3 or audioquest dragonfly black ( I intend to use it with audio technica M40’s) and why? Thanks :)

    • headfonics

      Never tried the dragonfly but if you want just a DAC then it seems the most logical purchase – sure you won’t need a DAP also?

      • sankalp kak

        My phone has generous storage. My main concern is getting some sweet audio from my laptop and phone without burning a hole in my pocket. I can use both N3 and dragonfly black for these purposes and also for using streaming services from my phone if need to. So audio quality is the primary concern ? Apart from the Bluetooth connectivity and extra storage (which I’ll have to shell out extra douugh for) both devices provide the same functionality mostly.

      • headfonics

        Actually, with the N3 you have the additional bi-directional BT services and HiBy Link so you can use your phone’s storage to stream Bt to the N3 and vice versa which might be an advantage for your needs. Of course, if your laptop dies or your phone dies the N3 will happily take over :)

  16. Brock King

    Thanks for the answer definitely the cayin n3 has better sound than the lg v20

  17. Brock King

    The cayin n3 has better sound than the lg v20?

    Cuál tiene mejor sonido cayin n3 o lg v20

    • headfonics

      The chipsets differ with ES to the LG and AK to the N3 so your preferences may vary, however, the N3 amp is stronger than the V20’s own module.

  18. applecom1de

    Hi, I see that you compared the N2 to the AP60 rather than to the AP100. Since I am deciding between a new N2 or a mint condition AP100 which would roughly be the same price – May I ask how these two would compete? Especially soundstage-wise, separation, detail?

  19. Skysurfer

    Hi, very good review and it makes me try to get the N3. I come from a COWON D2 (from 2008-2011 when I lost it), and then COWON J3 (from 2011-2016 when the jack started to fail). I loved both for their sound signature, gapless playback and JetAudio equalizer. Woud the Cayin N3 be better?

    • headfonics

      I haven’t had a Cowon in years, well the old ones you mention of but I do have an old X7. I think the noise floor on them might be a touch too high for today’s modern highly efficient IEMs and of course they lack features like DSD playback, bi-directional BT etc. I think for the price it is an upgrade.

      • Skysurfer

        Those new features are worth the change. On the other hand, the N3 has gapless playback and a good Equalizer?

  20. Vicman

    Can this compete with the fiio x3 sound wise? Which one is warmer and thicker sounding? Thanks

    • headfonics

      The N3 is more musical and possibly warmer in the bass response.

  21. mike.mountaineer

    Hi, I’m thinking about of buying Cayin N3 or FiiO X5iii. If I can buy the X5iii at same price for N3. what would you recommend?

    • headfonics

      X5iii, if you can get the same price then it’s a bargain or the N3 is over priced.

  22. Indrajit Mishra

    I have a Cayin N3 that i want to use as usb dac on windows 10. Due to the unsigned nature of the drivers, N3 is not recognized as a DAC on windows 10. Is there any other signed usb dac driver for N3 that the window 10 permits?

  23. Lantenac

    Would recommend Cayin n3 or Shanling M2s ? I cannot decide… they are almost the same…

    • Nam Hùng

      N3 sound better(little difference, noticeable).
      M2s looks beautiful, better UI, scrolling fun.
      I bought n3 at the end :D.

  24. Mirko

    Great review! So I am buying my first DAP. I am newbie… I was ready to give out max 200-300$, but after reading this, I see Cayin really rocks for much less money. Is there ANY reason to buy Fiio x5 II for example instead of Cayin? Or for this matter any DAP that has this features for 200-300$? What do you think?
    I want to buy headphones Marshall monitor which also have apt-x. Hope they would sound good with Cayin?
    Please tell what you think,

    • headfonics

      They stopped making and supporting the X5ii so it is a dead end. It’s more neutral sounding and not as dynamic in the low end as the N3. N3 has that awesome 3 step gain, bi-directional Bt AptX, and USB OTG. What’s not to like? :)

  25. calvin

    Im really impressed with the detailed review and responsive feedback on comments.
    Im a newbie on DAP and would like to try playing it around.
    To be N3 is sound like a mp3 player (ie. ipod), and all i need is just to plug in a headphone. Am i right ?
    If yes please kindly suggest what kind of headphone is best suit with it.

    Thanks alot

    • headfonics

      The N3 is a player than playback all sort of file formats including mp3 so yes all you have to do is plug in earphones or headphones. A portable headphone with decent clarity and not too high of an impedance will play best. Earphones or IEMs would be my preferred option because of the stellar noise performance, i.e. quite low.

      • Indrajit Mishra

        I have a Cayin N3 that i want to use as usb dac on windows 10. Due to the unsigned nature of the drivers, N3 is not recognized as a DAC on windows 10. Is there any other signed usb dac driver for N3 that the window 10 allows?

      • headfonics

        Use the following steps to disable driver signature enforcement.
        Click the Start menu and select Settings.
        Click Update and Security.
        Click on Recovery.
        Click Restart now under Advanced Startup.
        Click Troubleshoot.
        Click Advanced options.
        Click Startup Settings.
        Click on Restart.

      • Indrajit Mishra

        Thanks, i have already disabled the enforcement and in that scenario the Cayin N3 runs as a dac on windows in (test mode). But are there any other drivers for n3 and windows 10?

      • headfonics

        The creators edition has the standard 2.0 baked in you could try that.

      • Indrajit Mishra

        How does the Cayin N3 compare with Astell and Kern JR sonically ?

      • headfonics

        If you have heard the i5 you will have heard the N3. A lot more gusto and aggression.

      • Indrajit Mishra

        Thanks but i didn’t understand, i wanted to know how N3 competes against AK-Jr sonically

      • headfonics

        I said with a lot more gusto and aggression meaning the N3 is more impactful.

  26. Armazéns Lopes

    Hi guys,

    Im an absolute newbie and my sole interest is musical pleasure so i would like to ask where can i understand the difference between this N3 by CAYIN and an iPod classic (for example) in terms of sound quality?

    • headfonics

      The N3 plays lossless high-quality audio files such as FLAC and DSD, even via BT. The iPod classic cannot.

      • Armazéns Lopes

        What about simply playing the same MP3 file in both devices, N3 and iPod Classic, will there be a difference in sound quality?

      • headfonics

        IN short yes, N3 should have better dynamics and a lower noise floor.

  27. Matus Kalisky

    Great review, thanks. I got the N3 yesterday. It is my first DAP which I got to use it iwth my Custom Art Music two CIEMs and they work together wery well (I can hear no hiss, though I am not expert on the topic.). I would wish for a more solid build quality, but at this price I find it perfectly fine. I am still playing around with the settings to get the most ouf of it, but it plays fantastically straight out of the box (and it arrived 92% charged, so I could start right away). So much better than my Samsung Galaxy S4 (which appears to have some issue as it hisses incredibly). I

    • headfonics

      Yes, the new low gain setting on the N3 is excellent for noise control.

  28. Harry Sihombing

    How does the N3 sounds compared to the Fiio E18 kunlun (used as DAC combo with phone) ? which one has the better soundstage?

    • headfonics

      I think the E18 has an excellent soundstage but the better resolution goes with the N3 as well as efficiency.

      • Harry Sihombing

        Just received my N3 a few days ago, and your impressions are spot on. the E18 have a bigger perceived soundstage and more V shaped sound, while the N3 is better in resolution and better forward mid. right now I’m enjoying connecting the line output of the N3 to the E18 for more or less the best of both worlds. thanks!

  29. Indrajit Mishra

    Hi, i have a question. Can you tell which is sonically better – (Fiio x1+Q1) or lone Cayin N3 ? I have an audio technica m50 x, thanks

  30. Nizam F

    Hello, How is the N3 compare to Shanling M2S. Looking for my first DAP.
    And how does the N3 pairing with Beyer C1Pro?
    Thanks and great review :)

    • headfonics

      Good question and something we will be able to answer shortly when we do the M2 review :)

      We do not have a C1PRO to be able to give you any insight sorry.

  31. Jef

    Hi, i want to ask if the N3 can act as a Bluetooth receiver from a PC/Phone source and then connected to an external dac to preamp – amp – speakers? Thanks

    • headfonics

      If you mean connect via USB-C to external DAC (wired) and receive BT signal from the source I believe this is possible.

  32. Dennis Ang

    Hi, is it advisable to have a DAP like N3 if using a BT Headphone (Bose QC35 / Sony MDR 1000x, etc)? Or better to use a wired headphone? Sound quality wise. Thanks.

    • headfonics

      Wired will always better than wireless for audio, however, aptX is available on the N3 so if your Bt cans can receive an aptX signal then you get the best signal out there.

      • Dennis Ang

        Thanks for the fast response. One more question please. If using a BT headphone, will the equalizer still work on Cayin N3 or does it have any effect on the sound sent to the BT headphone?

      • headfonics

        It is likely but I cannot confirm, at least not yet as there are no BT headphones in the office right now.

  33. Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    Cayin n3 + fiio A5 could rival the Cayin i5 and Fiio X5iii?

    • headfonics

      I think the N3 on its own is good enough as it is. Adding an A5 will certainly offer more power for hungry headphones but the N3 is better without for IEMs.

  34. DDOG

    Does it have any built in memory in to it? Or does it just purely run off SD-CARD memory?

  35. Umbu

    Any chances of comparing it to Fiio E17K? Really want to know if there’s any improvement sq wise.
    Anyway thanks for the great review, really make me wanna grab one at a local store!

    • headfonics

      Well this is presuming you are using the E17k in a stack since it is not a DAP? E17k codec capability is lower, the sound floor on both are good but the N3 has more options. Tonally the N3 is more musical sounding and a bit warmer. Also let’s not forget it does not need to be stacked and can take up to 256GB memory cards.

  36. Kris Han

    whether good if in combination with M50 x ath?
    this time I just use a note 4.
    how it compares to the sound. whether it is better?

  37. Sulbh Chopra

    How does it compares with smartphones like lg v10 and zte axon 7?

    • headfonics

      Stronger amp than either, better dynamics with harder to drive gear. Tonally the Axon 7 is quite close as I own one also but just a touch softer because of its weaker amp.

      • Sulbh Chopra

        Thanks, do you think N3 is worth buying even if you have these smartphones?

      • headfonics

        Voltage is not the same as output power – volume is one thing, being driven properly is another thing. In this case the N3 has more output power than the 7. However if you have an Axon 7 why not just buy a Mojo or portable OTG amp and stack it?

      • Sulbh Chopra

        Mojo is way out of budget and amp with phone is too clumsy.

    • headfonics

      It should be fine though you will have to change up the low gain to medium/high gain

  38. Matthew Sykes

    Any chance you’ve done a comparison with the X5ii. Great write up, and thanks!

    • headfonics

      If its tonal quality then it’s already done – just read the X5iii review where I compare it to the i5 for sound quality because the N3 is almost the exact same tonally as the i5. I think it doesn’t make sense to compare other features since the X5iii is double the price etc.

      • Matthew Sykes

        That was xii (2nd generation), but I will read your review of the x3

        FWIW, I have not found a feature set (per documentation) on the X5ii over that of the N3. Actually, with bluetooth, the N3 has more. But yes, I am curious of your take on tonal qualities, and moreso, reliability of the Fiio product.

      • headfonics

        My apologies – X5ii is more neutral than the N3 for sure.

      • Matthew Sykes

        Understood! And thanks.

        Can you comment on the x5ii’s reliability. I guess my concern is based around quite a few reports of the unreliability of the feature set. For example, one youtube reviewer claims the coax out function produces nothing, even though he has made the necessary setting change and is using the provided 4-band adapter.

        More prevalent are reports of the device running hot to the touch and batteries dying in a very short time (< year).

        I am very close to picking up the N3, but the architecture in the x5ii is awfully attractive. I have seen the x5ii sub $200 from authorized resellers, recently.

        Your input is greatly appreciate, and I hope I've not overstayed my welcome :)

      • headfonics

        Both share similar architecture and same OS so these reports are at best anecdotal. I would pick the N3, if anything remember the X5ii is last gen with a slower processor chip, and also FiiO are unlikely to be adding much in the way of new features or tweaks as they focus on their latest gen.

      • headfonics

        My pleasure, hope you get the right one for you :)

    • headfonics

      It should have no issues driving it with a low noise floor. If you are after a musical signature then it should be just fine.

  39. Swaroop Anil

    Can you please throw some light on how this pairs with the im02. I’m looking at this as my first dap.
    Thanks in advance.

    • headfonics

      Been a long time since I hear the IM02 but the pairing should be excellent given the IM02’s tight bass and sparkling highs matched with the warm to neutral N3 and its dynamic low end and natural highs.

  40. Kristian Lindecrantz

    How would you compare this to the Axon 7? I know this is a dedicated music player whilst the Axon is a phone ;) However I own the Axon and wonder what benefits I could expect.
    Great read as always!

    • headfonics

      I actually have the Axon 7 also and yup its the exact same AK4490EN chip inside. It is also a smooth musical performer as you know just the amp is not as strong in the Axon 7 as the N3 and the volume control on the jack out is quite limited with its rather large dB jumps per step. The key difference between the 2 for me is the dynamic range of the N3 – there is more pop and snap in the N3 presentation whereas the Axon 7 is a little more compressed sounding. If you want to use the Axon 7 as a pure transport that might even things up a bit.

      • abbazaba976

        Thank you for this! I LOVE the sound out of the Axon, but the volume jumps are too much for me. Also, they seemed to have mapped the I/V transform in the most non-linear place. Ugh. I purchased the N3, but was going to have it sent back when I heard it was the Axon chip. Now, I am looking forward to it. It’s the little things some times.

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