The Universe on the Head of a Needle – A Review of the Cayin N3


Cayin provided the N3 free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

The N3 sells for $149.96 MSRP
N3 on Amazon, available in three colors

When Cayin reached out to see if I wanted to be one of the first to get my hands on the N3, I said I wasn’t really interested. At this price point, I’ve never been especially impressed by what I heard, and I didn’t fancy taking on the obligation of reviewing something I’d rather not be listening to.

In the end, I agreed to take it in for a month, see if I even wanted to review it, and then send it on to the first of the North American review tour participants. If I liked it, I’d take it back at the end of the tour and do a Pinky Review.

I apologize for the lateness of this article. It was delayed for a long, long time at the last stop of the tour. But Pinky has it back now, and indeed I liked it enough to WANT to write about it.

So let’s get into that.

I like Cayin products. A lot. Right from the aesthetics, down to their sonic traits. I hope to one day get my hands on some of the desktop amps, as I am quite impressed with their DAPs. I was a big fan of the N5, and an even bigger fan of the i5, which you see in so many of my reviews. Their latest portable player is their smallest and cheapest yet.

The Cayin N3. Let’s be honest, it’s not much to look at. It possesses none of the striking aesthetics of their other products. You could chalk this up to not having much physical real estate to work with, due to how tiny the N3 is, but I was a little disappointed, nonetheless. With the exception of the leather backing. That’s pretty cool. I don’t know if I’ve seen that before. At the very least, you cannot call the player ugly. It does have a kind of sleekness which could be described as attractive. It may not be as unique as the N5, or as dead sexy as the i5, but it’s simplistic and nice enough.

The N3 is also very, very light. Noticeably more so than even the Shanling M2s, which is quite a lot smaller.

I do not love the capacitive touch buttons on the front. They can be fiendishly finicky, resulting in wrong or accidental presses. They require a level of caution you just don’t want to maintain while casually listening to music. Fortunately, the mechanical buttons on either side of the device work perfectly.

The UI is simple and easy to navigate, with no bugs I’ve encountered, using the latest firmware.

Like with the Shanling M2s, the Cayin N3 is tiny, inexpensive, and feature rich… to an insane degree. There is only one microSD slot and no internal storage, but quite a lot of driving power exists within, as well as native DSD, Apt-X Bluetooth streaming, and the marvelous ability to receive BT input. I’ve had no trouble connecting the N3 to the B&O H9, or the Klipsch X12 BT Neckband. Likewise, my Galaxy S6 paired easily to the Cayin, allowing me to steam from Smartphone to DAP.

Of course, the M2s wins out for me, because it has a volume wheel. You all know my obsession with those.

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About Author

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.


  1. Juan Luis on

    How many hours need to burn in? My unit feels lacks in bass and dynamics… I have mine since yesterday.

    • Pinky Powers on

      I can’t say. When mine was burning it, I just left it on, running pink noise through some IEMs for a week or so straight. I didn’t stop it, and listen every day to check. So you may not need to run it that long, but I can’t say for sure.

      If I were you, I’d just use it normally during the day, and at night, put it on the charger, playing your music. Then start using it again the next day. Repeat as necessary. Should start to sound better before too long.

      As you can imagine, there’s plenty of debate over the validity of burn-in. All I can do is share my own experiences, and hope it helps.

      • Juan Luis on

        Thanks for sharing your experience. I think it sounds very clean and detailed but it makes me anxious that the bass is so soft. The iphone 5s feel like it hits harder. And the headphones I have are Urbanite and Oriveti Basic (Bass monsters). We will see what happens in the next few days.

      • Juan Luis on

        Ok, now I’m listening to a great dynamics. The bass now hits hard and spreads much more. Definitely the burn in on this device yes it is necessary. Thanks!

        • Pinky Powers on

          How many hours do you think you put on it?

          • Juan Luis on

            In total it was around 16 to 20 hours. It improved the dynamics, extension and power of the bass. Now if I consider myself a believer of burn in.

    • Pinky Powers on

      And thank you for always being such a fine fellow, Mat. We still haven’t done that DAP swap. 😉

  2. Juan Luis Quiroz on

    How quiet is this pairing? Considering that the New Primacy is quite sensitive …

    • Pinky Powers on

      A nice quiet background. No audible noise floor, to my ears, at least.

  3. John Lee on

    Got to love Mr Powers..
    2 years ago didn’t know what a DAC was, now he writes fluent “audiophile” with all the flowery prose that one comes to expect. 😉😊
    All complete bollocks of course, these DAPs all sound pretty much the same, everything else is expectation bias and placebo, but Pinky manages to extract his opinion based on price as so often happens, and keeps audiophiles entertained with his seemingly educated waffling.
    Good stuff!

    • Pinky Powers on

      Closer to 4 years now. 😉

      Thanks for reading!

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