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

The headphones I use for most of my comparisons are the Meze 99 Classics ($309). I love them for their balance of warmth and clarity, with a soundstage grand enough to scale with better devices. Their transparency is such that I can hear the subtlest of changes from source to source. The Cayin N3 sounded especially beautiful with them. Its rolled-off treble was countered by Meze’s strong, energetic highs. The N3’s powerful low-end filled out the 99C in a most engaging and delicious manner. Meze is dynamic as all hell, which plays well with Cayin’s relaxed nature. Together, they make for a truly lovely couple I could listen to all day.

Empire Ears Spartan IV ($749) sounds pretty good on the N3, but I’ll admit, I do feel it’s not up to snuff. Spartan is capable of so much more resolution and transparency. Hearing it bottlenecked like this makes me long to switch pack to the Opus#2. Still, the richness and warmth of the N3 works nicely with Spartan, which is a supremely neutral IEM. Sadly, the N3 struggles with too many of Spartan’s greatest strengths, such as depth and layering. These IEM’s require a bit more DAP to sound right.

Campfire Audio’s Dorado ($999) hybrid IEM is a bassy warmth monster. So ideally you’d want to pair this with the most neutral, clear source possible. A “Too much of a good thing” sort of dilemma. However, while the N3 does add too much warmth and bass, it still manages to be wonderfully fun. The vocals get a little drowned out by all that low-end, but they are audible enough to make out every lyric. Dorado has a wonderful, large soundstage, which N3 cramps a bit. But since these IEMs are not known for great resolution, you don’t miss that by going with a budget DAP like this. Ultimately, this is a seriously engaging, powerful, pairing, though not a very technically proficient one.

The Oriveti New Primacy ($299) is a lovely choice for the Cayin N3. Like Dorado, NP is a hybrid, with one hell of a bassline. Its vocals are clearer, though, being a creature of greater balance. The N3 brings more warmth than is needed, but it’s not as overwhelming as with Dorado. They produce a non-fatiguing, highly musical sound that will prove difficult to beat at this price.

At 80/100 volume, on High Gain, my Sennheiser/Massdrop HD6XX ($200) reaches a nice loud listening level. Too loud on some albums. And it sounds pretty good! The music has a hearty, full quality. Warmth imbues it, while rendering a lovely, detailed mid range. Playing native DSD classical on my Senns from such a small device is a joyous notion. I could see myself listening to this setup in a pinch, and having a goddamn splendid time.

So… the Cayin N3. Quite right! I like it! DAPs sure have come a long way in a few years. This crazy little f**ker is one hell of thing, at a silly-low price. It competes like a boss with the Shanling M2s. And at $50 less. Between the two players, it’s a hard decision. They do everything the other does, and more or less at the same level. It really comes down to preference. Do you want the smoother, more laid-back tuning with the wider soundstage, or the clearer, more transparent option? It’s up to you. There are no losers here.


The Cayin N3:

Model N3 Outputs 3.5mm Headphone and USB Type-C
Color Cyan Dimension 54 mm×100 mm×13 mm
Net Weight 100 g Bluetooth BT4.0 with apt-X for wireless transmission
Display Screen 2.4”at 400×360 Exteral Storage TF×1(upto 256GB)
Charging Time ~2HRS(with 1.5-2A Charger,not provided) Bttery Duration Around 12 hours (screen off)
Power rating 130mW+130mW(@32Ω) Frequency Response



THD+N 0.03% (1kHz,Fs=44.1kHz;20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted) Dynamic Range 108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
SNR 108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted) Output Impedance ≤1Ω
Line Out
Output Level 1.0V (@10kΩ) Frequency

20-20kHz (±0.2dB,Fs=192kHz)

5-50kHz (±2dB,Fs=192kHz)

THD+N 0.03% (1kHz,Fs=44.1kHz;20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted) Dynamic Range 108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
SNR 108dB(20Hz-20kHz,A-Weighted)
Coaxial Out
Rated Output Leve 0.5Vp-p (@75Ω) Rated Output Impedance  75Ω
USB Mode Asynchronized USB Audio 2.0 Class DSD Up to DSD128(Native or Dop)
PCM Up to 192kHz/24bit Windows Support (Driver required)
MAC Osx Support iOS Not Support
Android Not Support




Pinky Powers

Pinky Powers

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.


30 Responses

  1. Hi.

    When making connection between cayin n3 and pc desktop with windows 7 (cayin as dac), cayins window display shows “44 khz 24 bits”, but flac archive from pc is 192 khz 24 bits, why?

  2. I know this is a long dead chat, but you mention the N3 with the H9’s and I was wondering what your experience was like with that configuration. Trying to find my first and probably for a long time only DAP and the N3 seems very capable.


  3. I think that burn in of headphones is nonsense, never mind daps. The bass sounds THE same since first hour, but after several hours your brain got used to n3’s sound signature. That’s all

  4. That’s a complicated matter. I’ll try to explain:

    The X5III (going from memory) is clearly the more capable DAP. It renders fuller, and has better depth. It feels and sounds more robust and refined.

    However, my main complaint with the X5III is still present, even in this comparison. The dynamics are very low and the soundstage is rather small, and there simply isn’t a lot of air or atmosphere.

    The Cayin N3 also doesn’t have a great soundstage, or very much air. But it does seem to be more dynamic, which goes a long way in my book.

    The reason I’m impressed by the N3 and disappointing by the X5III is because of price:performance ratio. The N3 sounds pretty damn good for the price, whereas the X5III does not.

  5. In your estimate is the N3 better than X5III sonically? I am asking because x5iii costs much more and is a dual dac

  6. 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

  7. 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 🙂


  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.


  11. 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.

  12. 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! 🙂

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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!

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