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

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The Cayin house sound is well-intact in the N3. Warm and smooth, with a goodly heft to sub freqs. It presents nice clarity and articulation. Fresh out of the box, the Cayin N3 sounded rather dull and boring. But after burn-in (which this unit certainly has had after a full tour) the dynamics have picked up nicely. Still, the overall nature of the N3 is a laid-back, easy listen. It’s a great DAP to relax to.

Treble has a slightly rolled-off, warmer tone. It’s silky and kind of thin. There’s enough, though, to shine a light on the stage, revealing decent amounts of detail. The highs help to balance out the bottom-heavy tuning, giving the elements a strong presence and clarity.

Vocals are rich and velvety, whilst possessed of healthy texture and detailing. They sit rather neutral on the stage, with good size and weight. The N3 achieves a better than average level of transparency, allowing you to easily lose yourself in the music. Resolution of the mids is quite good, and better than I would have expected. Everything is so well defined you’ll be hard pressed to feel like you’re missing out on those more expensive devices.

As I mentioned, bass is of utmost importance to the Cayin sound. It fills out the presentation with great warmth and musicality. The lows fall like a hammer, thudding, and driving the tunes with crazy power. There’s great tonality and roundness, and a fine amount of texture. The N3 hits with superb depth and weight, making this player highly enjoyable to rock out to.

Shanling’s M2s fits well into the same profile as Cayin. It sounds so bloody close to the N3 it can be hard to distinguish them. Using an A/B Line Switcher, I was able to move back and forth between these two with split-second timing, and a few disparities emerged: The Shanling’s treble is less rolled-off, giving it better clarity and transparency than the N3. The N3 sounds smoother and more laid-back. It also has a slightly wider soundstage than the M2s, and perhaps a bit deeper, too. Apart from that… good luck deciding between the two.

Now, the Cayin i5 is a much clearer win. Take everything I wrote about the N3, and add a richer, more refined sound. There is better separation of elements. The notes carry more weight and realism. There is a greater sense of depth and air, with a blacker background. The whole thing comes off more organic and resolved. i5’s bass has a bigger, meaner monster behind it, leading one to fear for their life every now and again.

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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.

22 Comments

  1. Defguy on

    Interesting review, I use the N3 with the Dorado. I use the eq to lower the 100 -200 range as well as a slight boost in the upper midrange and it seems to make a huge difference with these IEM’s

  2. Ryan on

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

    • Pinky Powers on

      I have not heard the X5 2nd Gen. But I owned the 1st Gen, and reviewed the 3rd Gen. I like the N3 over both of those.

      But I have the Shanling M3s in for review now, and I like that sound even over the Cayin N3. It has that something special that really pleases my ears.

      • Ryan on

        Hi, thanks for the reply. The M3s is almost double the price of the N3, so it is out of my budget but if N3 can compete with X5iii, I think in $150 price point nothing can beat this little beast atm.

        • Steve on

          Hi Pinky!

          I am currently in a dilemma at the moment.

          I am planning to get the Hidizs AP200 but because of the Shanling M3s, I do not know what to get.

          I like warm sounding, laid back experience.
          just a question since the m3s has been mentioned here.

          THANKS! 🙂

          • Pinky Powers on

            The M3s is kind of laid-back and very smooth, but not all that warm-sounding. It’s much closer to neutral than the N3 or X5iii. Still a ways away from what I’d call bright, though. In fact, it it may indeed contain just a hint of warmth. But I haven’t analyzed it that thoroughly yet.

            I don’t know what the Hindizs sounds like, so I can’t say which would suit you better.

            If you are worried the M3s is not warm enough, I can suggest the M2s or N3 easily.

            • Steve on

              Awesome! I will just really wait for the m3s based on the statements in headfi. Very smooth you say? Fit for my liking as I will be pairing it with the noble Sage to it.

              Thanks!

            • Steve on

              Awesome! I will just really wait for the m3s based on the statements in headfi. Very smooth you say? Fit for my liking as I will be pairing it with the noble Sage to it.

              Thanks for your help!

              • Pinky Powers on

                Your comment got me curious, and I just tried Sage with M3s. And now, I can’t quit listening. Sage sounds oh so sweet on this player.

                M3s>EA Ares II>Sage is remarkably good.

                • Steve on

                  Haha! Thats nice! Awesome! Now I really know what to buy but, …
                  ” Good things happen for those who wait”

                  Oriveti will be releasing their new product in December, same price as the sage for $600.

                  I will be waiting your review of that new product of theirs. Please do a comparison as well 🙂

                  Thanks!

  3. 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. 😉

  4. 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.

  5. 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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