Cayin were dropping DAPs thick and fast in 2016 and it seems they have taken that momentum with them into the new year. I must admit after loving the i5 and what it offered at such a humble price, I was secretly hoping they were working on a new mighty ‘i’ series flagship running an Android engine. Maybe that is in the works but for now, they have instead gone back to their ’N’ range, giving you a more economic way to enter the Cayin DAP realm. What I have loved about Cayin when seeing their new DAPs is that they always bring something new, regardless of the price range. After the original N6 (now reduced to £399.99) we got the N5 (£249.99) that brought with it balanced outputs, then the i5 (£399.99) that was running a creamy Android experience and now we unearth the N3 and with it we have a unique dual digital output (coaxial and USB via its C type port). It is nice that Cayin makes everything a new product in its own right, the N3 is not just a stripped down N5/6 that lacks features and content to make it cheaper. The N3 is its own entity, complete with its own allure and tricks. Oh, and to top the N3 off we have an all time low price of £149.99.
Connectivity is Key
I feel like budget DAPs are getting more spotlight these days and there biggest focus is versatility. Rarely is the focus just on how impressive they sound with your favourite earphones. The recently reviewed Hidizs AP60 opened me up to this mentality and with the N3 sharing it’s operating system, we have the same spoils on the N3. Here is a quote from my AP60 review because it is just as applicable here….
“Obviously, at a base level, it can have your earphone plug into its 3.5mm jack but beyond that, this actually gets more and more impressive. It is fully kitted out with apt-x for high-quality Bluetooth and it can be used for more than just working seamlessly with some headphones like my FIIL models or u-Jays Wireless. It can actually be used as a Bluetooth DAC, an example of this would be pairing it with my OnePlus 2 smartphone and streaming Tidal through the headphone output of the N3! There are some real neat touches with this DAP I will have to admit that.
Another real kicker for me is how much the USB-C connector can do. Like many DAPs, it has an option to be used along with your computer as a USB DAC/headphone amp, which to be honest, doesn’t excite me too much. However, what does is that the USB port can be used to output audio to an external DAC, making this a cheap and small transport for the likes of a Chord Mojo or Leckerton UHA760. That is something I do love!”
All this connectivity is done via a single 3.5mm jack (that can be switched between headphone and line out in the music settings) and a USB-C port. So it is not as cluttered as one may expect for this many features.
Cayin has actually made the USB port on this even more brilliant. With the right cables, this can actually be used as a coaxial output in addition to USB. I already own Cayin’s own CS-30TCR USB-C To Coaxial Cable so was able to put that into action right away but would have to commission an aftermarket cable company if I was to get a USB OTG lead terminated with the lesser spotted type C connector. Because I had a coaxial connection at my disposal I got a bit more experimental with what I could do and actually managed to set the system up so I was streaming Tidal from my phone and then outputting a digital signal to our loudspeaker system (Pearl Acoustics Sibelius, Caas Elysian 100 Monos, COS D1 DAC). It allowed me to sit in the comfort of my chair and control my music from my phone. Regardless of this convenience, it sounded considerably worse than simply using Roon on my iMac, with a USB output. While this is just me pratting around, it is hardly sensible. Being able to act as a BT DAC is a much more practical way to have a top quality DAP playback Tidal on the go than just being able to download the app. I say that because my data plan has unlimited download but neither our AK380 or i5 can access Tidal outside the house unless you find a WiFi hotspot. Connected to my phone my N3 has always been able to output Tidal!
Putting similarities with the AP60 behind us (for now) and we can have a look at what’s inside the DAP. AKM is the brand of choice when it comes to supplying the digital to analogue chipset but instead of the more commonly used (think AK380 & Cayin i5) AK4490EQ, we have its low voltage two-channel sibling that goes by AK4490EN (handles hi-res and DSD). Don’t blink or you’ll miss the difference. Like with the i5 we have 5 digital filters to play with. Texas Instruments cover the analogue section with an array of op amps, OPA1652s act as low pass filters and line amp while the headphone amp is the OPA1622. That provides under an ohm of output impedance and 130mw per channel at 32 ohms, considerably more than Hidizs managed. Finally, the Bluetooth silicon is the CSR8811, operating 4.0 BT with lossless transfer over APT-X.
I want to mention storage and battery life. Storage follows yet another trend in with this having no built in memory. At this price something insignificant like 32gb would be nice to bypass having to purchase a micro SD card on the get go. You can expand past what you get out the single card slot by using USB OTG storage but I am yet to be sold on the practicality of that. For battery life this gives a solid 12 hours of playback. I am happy to see players lasting longer and longer!
There is certainly correlation between size and price of a DAP. If the N3 was under a hundred quid it would surely be palm size but instead, this is a weenie bit bigger. The official size is 10 x 5.4 x 1.3 cm which fronts a 2.4 inch display. It is made predominately of aluminium but the back is coated in a pleather that helps you grip what would otherwise be like a bar of soap. That effect is lost on me though as I have taken the precaution of carrying it around in the included silicone jacket. That is slipperier than the aluminium.
Navigating the UI is done by a mixture of capacitive touch activated and physical buttons. Down the left side of the unit, we have the power switch and volume rocker while on the right we have three evenly proportioned ovals that act as forward, back and play/pause. My biggest gripe with these is the lack of an identifier for in your pocket fumbling. On the front we have a tactile circle that is your select key surrounded by 4 touch sensitive icons that give off a right buzz when you select them. I like something confirming my action but after a while I did opt to turn the vibration off
After the odd looking N6 and suave i5, the N3 looks pretty plain, especially on my black unit. You can get it in a rather funky cyan which I really wish I had received but there are a plethora of bright colour silicone sleeves you can purchase if you want to add a touch of colour to your black unit.
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