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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.

12 Comments

  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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