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.

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.

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