Sound Impressions

Tonal Presentation

The N3 is a full bodied smooth sounding DAP with a warm to neutral tonal presentation.  Much like the i5, it has a planted low end, a rich almost euphoric mid-range with a forward vocal presence as well as a reasonably relaxed but articulate treble performance.

Unlike the N5, the N3 has a softer, slightly smoother attack or leading edge to its notes producing instead a more natural sound that I find quite endearing and easy to listen to. Detail retrieval on the N3 is actually very good. It is not the controlled analytical type of player though so it is articulate and clear but not exacting.


Bass is impactful with good texture and plenty of body as well as an audibly decent sub-bass rumble. I definitely like the PRaT and energy the N3 bass performance brings to the table. Unlike say the Hidizs AP60 though it does not have an overly boosted mid-bass so it avoids sounding bloated or poorly defined and stays reasonably coherent despite its lively character.


Mids on the N3 are more spacious and open sounding and much like the i5 there it a little bit of mid-range 1-3k emphasis pushing forward vocals and injecting a better sense of space around them. Instrumental separation is reasonably accurate and exhibiting a smooth and natural sounding timbre. If anything, the timbre errs more to the euphoric side with a slight dominance of even harmonics underpinned by solid instrument fundamentals.


Again, the N3 takes the same approach to its treble performance as the i5, electing to go smooth and natural instead of anything too sharp or with too much sparkle. It has a slightly laid back quality to it but there is nothing syrupy or overly roll off.

Those looking for a touch more energy or aggression though might prefer the N5’s more strident and sharper treble signature but if you are coming from the i5 this is going to be a very familiar tonal quality.



Low Gain Is Lower

For those i5 fans who found that the lowest gain setting on the i5 carried just a bit too much power for sensitive IEMs, the N3 may be the right choice instead. The N3’s low gain setting is now 5-6dB lower than the i5 low gain setting. The existing low gain setting of the i5 is now labeled as the medium gain setting on the N3.

3 Choice Of Gain

With the inclusion of an even higher high gain setting, that means you now have the choice of 3 gains settings on the N3 which makes it the most efficient DAP from Cayin to date for IEMs. Add to that the lower overall power output and similar performance out of the DAC in terms of dynamic range and SNR (108dB) and you also have the lowest noise floor on any Cayin DAP I have tested thus far.


IEMs such as the Andromeda, SE846 and the VE6XC, 3 fairly sensitive IEMs, all exhibited impressively low noise levels on the new low gain setting. The inclusion of a mute relay in the design also puts a complete block on noise from the N3 when no playback is activated. Now it won’t give me an absolutely black background like the digital amp of the Sony A35, but compared to the N5 and even the i5 the N3 is quieter.


The additional power (190mW at 32 ohms) of the i5 only really begins to make its mark once you start working with headphones, and even at that, less efficient headphones. Planar headphones such as the LCD-2 did well out of both DAPs but the N3 voltage levels on high gain were already 30-40 steps higher (digital volume steps) than the i5 high gain which was in cruise mode in comparison.

Relatively the same scenario played out on dynamic headphones such as the fairly portable closed back K872 32-ohm flagship. Again, both could pull off a satisfactory presentation but the i5 had much more in reserve if needed and was a good 20 steps lower on its digital volume in high gain. The more demanding the headphone the greater the gap in terms of volume and being driven well between the two DAPs.

Select Comparisons

Cayin N5 & i5

$399 & $499


On paper, the N3 does a pretty good job keeping up to or at least close to the mid-fi Cayin DAPs. The only area where the two higher end models really pull away from the N3 is the power figures with the i5 at 190mW+190mw (@32Ω), the N5 even higher at 200mW+200mW(@32Ω)compared to the N3’s lower 130 mW+130 mW (@32Ω). Technically the N3 is the least powerful of the three and the least likely to be the best pick for demanding headphone use.


On the flip side though its lower power rating makes the N3 a much more suitable choice for a lot of IEM’s over the other two. One of the consistent issues with the N5 and to some extent the i5 was the level of noise generated on the super-efficient BA designs, for example, Shure SE846 and Campfire Audio Andromeda. Now the i5 firmware revisions have brought that down considerably but for the N5 it is still there, especially with balanced output.

The N3 on the other hand still throws out the same dynamic range and SNR numbers (108dB) as both of the mid-fi DAPs but the lower power rating and 3-way adjustable gain makes this the best performer for noise with the likes of the Andromeda.


Whilst the i5 is on a higher plain with regard to features and connectivity due to its expansive Android platform, the N3 actually has the slightly better set of OS features than the N5 or N6. We can probably put that one down to the passage of time and the evolution of technology since the N5 and N6 first came out.

The N3’s inclusion of the aptX BT module and the USB-C port is a big advantage over the older DAPs and allows a much wider range of modern connectivity beyond the USB-DAC feature. Would you believe that the i5 does not have aptX? That is a feather in the N3’s cap for sure.

Naturally, if you want the full range of features the i5 is the complete solution with Android, Wifi, app capability and its excellent touchscreen and Hiby Music customization DAP platform. The N3 cannot come close to that both in terms of features and depth and ease of use.



The N3 and the i5 have a near identical tonal presentation on efficient IEMs. Both have a robust and snappy low-end, a clear but smooth mid-range with a slightly forward vocal presence and a relaxed but articulate treble performance.

The only difference I found between both presentations, and it is a subtle one, is the level of power and dynamic range the i5 can deliver from its superior amp. That means a marginally higher noise floor on the i5 over the N3 on the Andromeda and SE846 but on far less efficient setups you will be hard pressed to spot the higher noise floor on the i5.

If you are thinking of driving a full-sized headphone or want a modern touch sensitive connected DAP then the i5 is the superior choice. That additional power will retain its dynamic response better than the N3 but at the IEM level, this is one heck of a close call.


All this means bad news for the older N5. Its calling card is the superior power to both with the balanced output. If you are rocking a 2.5mm TRRS terminated headphone adapter then that 300mW into 32 ohms will drive a bit harder though with a much higher noise level than either the i5 or the N3. Even unbalanced is not completely silent either with both the N3 and i5 coming in that bit lower.

With both the i5 and N3 showing almost the exact same tonal balance it does also mean the N5’s sharper edged attack driven tonal quality is the least desirable of the three DAPs. The i5 and the N3 just sound that bit more natural, particularly when percussion and higher pitched vocals kick in on clean tracks whereas the N5 can get just a little sharper and fatiguing.

FiiO X1 Gen 2



The N3 is much more powerful on paper than the X1 2nd Gen. The X1 has a rated ≥ 70 mW (@32 Ω) compared to the N3’s 130 mW+130 mW (@32Ω). That is near double the potential power on tap in favor of the N3.


However, the kicker is the X1 2nd Gen is actually noisier with detectable hiss with super-efficient IEM’s. The N3 has a much blacker background with a zero noise floor on my most efficient IEMs. This is despite the X1 having a similar dynamic range and a better SNR rating of 115dB compared to the 108dB of the N3.


Older Processor

The processor of the X1 2nd Gen is the old Ingenics  JZ4760B and the move from its older SOC coding to a newer Linux platform really pulls down the speed and response time of the X1 2nd Gen. It was a bold move but a faster processor chip is needed to execute the vision. The N3 feels snappier, has a more powerful newer Ingenics chip in it and sticks to the older SOC platform which uses less memory and thus much easier to work with.

No AptX

The ironic thing is the switch to Linux means the X1 BT is not aptX capable whereas the N3 staying on the older SOC got aptX compatibility. Both can offer duplex BT by the way which is a great feature but the quality of audio signal will be better on the N3 if the wireless source can transmit aptX BT.

Wheel or Buttons?

One thing I will say though is the X1 touch wheel navigation and button system is a little easier to work with over the N3 capacitive touch button system. The N3 system does feel a bit more tedious to continually have to keep clicking or touching a button over and over again to go through a folder with a ton of files whereas the FiiO wheel is far faster. If the OS of the X1 was as snappy as the N3 I may have preferred the touch wheel over the N3 capacitive button implementation.


The X1 is the more neutral of the two with a slightly cleaner presentation, particularly in its treble response, but it also comes across a little flatter and less engaging by comparison. Most noticeably vocals and bass on the N3 sounded a little richer and thicker than the X1 with slightly more sub-bass presence. When pushed, the N3 yielded better depth and stronger bass fundamentals over the X1. This is not a huge night and day difference because both actually are quite reasonably balanced but for me, the PRaT and musicality favors the N3 over the X1.

Hidizs AP60




Specs wise the AP60 is surprisingly well-equipped for a $90 budget DAP of this size. It packs the same Ingenics X1000 SOC processor as the N3 and also uses the same custom designed SOC software as the N3. The theme and aesthetics of the OS might be different but the workflow and options are much the same on both DAPs. This means the AP60 is equally speedy and stable and can scan the same 2400 tracks in almost the exact same time as the N3 in side by side testing with same microSD cards. That is impressive.


Like the N3 the AP60 also supports duplex BT with dual transmission as well as offering Bt 4.0 aptX out and receive aptX 4.0 in. The AK4452vn DAC chip is also an AKM chip though slightly lower in the chip family than the AK4490EN with a maximum decoding output rate of 24BIT/192K.

Like the N3 it can work USB-DAC as well as OTG via micro-USB and can accommodate 256GB memory cards. Battery performance on both the N3 and AP60 is similar at 10-12 hours though the AP60 has a much smaller 1000mAh battery in its tiny body

Power & Noise

Is specs are to believed then the AP60’s Achilles’s heel is its output power. On paper, Hidizs have rated the AP60 at a rather puny 35mW@32 ohm which means it’s got about 1/4 of the output power at 32 ohms loaded compared to the N3.

Dynamic range is 3-4dB lower than the N3 though SNR is similar at 109dB but Hidizs does not state if this is a loaded or unloaded rating. Cayin’s ratings are all measured as loaded on 32 ohms. The AP60 seems to be more suited as an IEM DAP with those numbers and yet it exhibits more noise than the N3 on efficient IEMs making the N3 the better choice for IEMs.


Tonally no contest. Of course, the AP60 is almost half the price so I am not surprised. The AP60 is nowhere near as competent as the N3. The N3 contextually is more balanced, resolving and open sounding in comparison. The AP60 has as more pronounced and warmed low-end compared to the linear sounding N3 however it lacks a bit of definition and puts the rest of the spectrum somewhat behind in terms of presence.

Mids lack detail in comparison, sounding smoothed over compared to the better layering and instrumental separation of the N3. Vocals are clearer, better defined with more detail on the N3. Treble is also pretty far back and that is probably more to do with the boosted warm mid-bass performance than any inherent laid back treble signature.

If you can dial back the bass boost and EQ the treble a little you have a fairly pleasant and forgiving signature that for $80 is more about the sum of the parts and what it can do than tonal strengths. It sort of reminds me of the FiiO M3 a little only with more features. The N3, on the other hand, is the real deal in terms of audio performance at the budget level.

Sony NW-A35


The A35 is Sony’s new entry level DAP released towards the end of last year and draws from some of the design and technology on their flagship NW-WM1A. It is both touch and physical control (right panel buttons) using a stylized proprietary OS from Sony with 16Gb onboard memory and capacity for up to 256GB via a microSD memory card slot.


It is also BT capable but the BT is their own proprietary LDAC technology that on paper will deliver about 3 times the quality compared to aptX. The only problem with that is compatibility with aptX more widespread right now than LDAC compatible devices and I do not have one to hand to test it out.

Battery Life

The N35 also has a whopping 22-45 hour battery life depending on the resolution of your files and usage of the unit. Sony believes 22 hours is possible with DSD and up to 45 hours with MP3 128k. I suspect somewhere in the middle around 30 hours (FLAC measurements) is the ideal benchmark but still, that is 3 times more than the duration of the N3. Sony has a history of churning out DAPs with excellent battery life and the A35 is no different.

FM Radio

Other unique features on the Sony not on the N3 include an FM Radio which I adore being rather old school and NFC. Both have digital filters but the N3 has a few more up its sleeve compared to the Sony which has only 2; slow and sharp.

Oh Sony!

Of course, being Sony there are some irritations. The continued use of the proprietary connector cable makes using the A35 as a system component more awkward than the N3 which uses a universal USB-C connection. To acquire a replacement you have to pay a lot more. To get digital audio out from the Sony you have to buy a specific cable and that costs a lot more also. As far as I am aware USB-DAC from the PC is not possible with the Sony, unlike the N3.


The amp on the N35 is actually very weak at just 35mW into 16 ohms. Whilst Cayin have not released a loaded rating for 16 ohms in their spec sheet it is safe to say the N3 definitely has a more powerful output with its 130mW into a 32 ohms rating. On paper that suggests the A35 will struggle for anything really beyond IEMs and portable efficient headphones 32 ohms and lower.


On efficient IEMs the A35 also has a blacker background and lower noise level during playback but this difference is only really detectable on efficient IEM. Sony’s digital amp is an excellent performer for noise once it kicks in and is something the N3’s analog amp would struggle to best. You will hear more noise from the Sony though when the digital amp is not in use (no music) and the N3 is quieter in that respect. There could well be a mute relay implementation that kicks in on the N3 when playback stops to get that level of silence.


Without Sony’s Clear Audio+ technology the A35 is the slightly more neutral and linear of the two in terms of tonal presentation. Both have a relatively warm sheen but the N3 exhibits slightly more warmth and body as well as a more natural sounding timbre than the A35. In contrast, the A35 has the cleaner of the two presentations but with a thinner note which gives an impression of better clarity and separation as well as more treble articulation and sparkle.

With Clear Audio+ these are two very different tonal presentations with the A35 offering a more u-shaped or even v-shaped dark to neutral tonal presentation compared to the N3’s musical warmer and more balanced signature.

The N3 is the smoother of the two with a richer more forward mid-range and in particular and more prominent vocal presence. The Clear Audio+ really puts more emphasis on its low-end mid-bass impact and pushes forward the treble whilst retaining decent extension. In contrast, the vocal performance is more distant and recessed and far less engaging. A such the N3 strikes a more intimate tone than the more standoff A35 with Clear Audio+ activated in terms of staging and vocal/instrumental positioning.

Our Verdict

There are very few, if any, DAPs at this price range that can do what the N3 can do in terms of audio quality and BT connectivity. Admittedly Cayin has had to strip out quite a lot from the i5 level to get down to this price point. Gone is a touch screen, gone is wi-fi connectivity and all that entails in terms of streaming and apps and gone is the zippy non-linear OS. In its place, you have a scaled down but speedy non-touch SOC driven OS with great BT capability in a much more compact and portable form factor with excellent build quality.


Users of the N5 and N6 will be very familiar with the linear navigation system, so also people migrating from another entry level DAP such as the AP60 and FiiO X1 2nd Gen. Yes, the capacitive touch buttons can be a bit of a chore and the haptic feedback is something that I switched off almost immediately but apart from that it works quite nicely particularly when used as a BT wireless DAC/Amp which I just love for streaming from my mobile phone.

For Improvement

Areas that could be improved? The tagging drill down in the Music category could be tightened up to show a better drill down organization though this is a recurring theme with this type of OS across many different DAPs. The genre category still has a flat list of songs, it needs an artist and album organization feature if the song list is too long.

Rapid tapping of the capacitive buttons can also lead to a bottleneck in corresponding actions on the OS rather than a smooth event upon each tap. The silicone case’s finishing point below these buttons also can lead to inaccurate “hits” when attempting to press them. And finally, yes, a lovely leather case would be ideal as an optional extra at some point.

Tonal Excellence

I am also extremely impressed with the capability of the N3 in terms of audio quality when compared to the i5 and its nearest competitors at the entry level. It retains quite a lot, if not most, of the tonal qualities of the i5 but at the same time, it lowers the noise floor with its new gain settings to make it an ideal pairing for IEMs.

This is a musical DAP but with a relatively balanced but fuller sounding presentation than the X1 2nd Gen and the cheaper bloated sounding AP60 from Hidizs. It can’t quite match the zero noise floor of the Sony digital amps but it comes pretty darn close. I would go as far as to say that this should be your first choice DAP for IEMs if audio is your sole concern and don’t mind the lack of Wifi and touch-based screen interfacing.

Where to buy in the US

Technical Specifications

  • 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 400×360 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
  • DSD output mode: DoP and D2P
  • PCM output: S/PDIF upto 24Bit/192kH, USB Audio Out same as native playback (upto 32Bit/384kHz)
  • DoP output: S/PDIF support DSD64, USB Audio Out support DSD64 and DSD128
  • 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 K ohms
  • 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


  • DSD: Up to DSD128 (native or DoP), native DSD decoding in 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


  • USB cord
  • Silicone case (black with black model, blue with blue model)

111 Responses

  1. 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.

  2. Ryan

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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 :)

  7. Brock King

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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?

  14. 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.

  15. 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? :)

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. DDOG

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

  26. 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.

  27. 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?

  28. 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

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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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