Hiby Music Back Again
The Graphic User Interface (GUI) is once again powered by HiBy Music. The same guys who made the amazing interface for the i5 and also power a lot of the Chinese music players. I first ran into the HiBy experience on the Shanling M3, then again on the Cayin N5 and most recently on this and the Hidizs AP60. I was actually talking to Marcus Downey from Headfonics about how far this interface has come with this latest implementation. It used to feel basic and be a stripped back experience but with this and the AP60, it is a fully fledged package that is fast and responsive.
The other nice touch about HiBy Music is while there is no doubt that this is designed by the same people as those who designed the AP60, it still has its own individuality. Cayin has elected for an icon on the home screen for both “Now Playing” and “Bluetooth” which I liked and I was pleased that “Music Category” was the first up for selection. While I am thankful once again that your music is broken down by metadata, I was disappointed that the first three options were ‘playlist’, ‘songs’ and ‘my favourite’. You have to actually scroll past ‘recently played’ to get to the options we want being ‘album’, ‘artist’ and ‘genre’. All that’s next for HiBy to add is a search function!
When Josh and I reviewed the N5 one of our biggest complaints was the excessive noise floor. In fact, I watch myself chirping on and on about how this product category is all about its performance with IEMs yet most make too much noise. The N3 does not suffer from such problems. I mean Campfire’s Andromeda does pick up some noise but that’s one of its specialities. You also will get zero noise when you are not playing music, like you wouldn’t even know you have it plugged in. I should add you have 3 levels of gain to play with. I generally tended to prefer low gain with the super sensitive models, medium on your average IEMs and then I scarcely opted for high when I did play around with some full sized headphones. The low gain is very low but that I am a fan of because I like to be able to have them finer volume adjustments available. It certainly doesn’t have the power of the balanced output of the N5 but I have never been someone who sought out my HD800’s to be driven by a DAP.
The second box it ticks is one that the often mentioned AP60 did not and that is in sounding better than your run of the mill smartphone. Your latest iPhone or Android based phone don’t actually sound too bad these days and while it is great DAPs are getting cheaper, it is important they actually sound better than what you already have on you.
Cayin has stuck to their guns here and made another DAP that is musical, bodied and with a warmth to its sound. Like in all departments it has its own intricacies and differences to the other players, most notably a bit less speed and a generally softer approach. I think it nails what you would want at this price point. It is a little more fun than technical but still has qualities you desire in a dedicated player such as the small details. It all starts with this funky bass. It has some bloom and focus to it and sits up front ever so slightly. It will thicken up your more neutral IEMs and just play into the hands of the already warm or V shaped! Perhaps it could show off a little more distinction between notes on bassier tracks but that would be my biggest complaint, perhaps with the entire sound spectrum.
The midrange is smooth and rich, taking on some air in the upper ranges and blending superbly into the bass in the lower areas. While perfectly balanced, its soft aura gives it a slightly more reserved vibe. A quick disclaimer for what I have already said regarding sound and whats to follow but these are all small quirks. It doesn’t lean heavy in any particular way so when I say reserved don’t expect recessed mids, if you get my gist. The bit that will probably spoil you is how it still manages to separate instruments and convey clarity way above what I have come to expect at this sort of budget price. It means you can successfully plug in top tier earphones and not completely miss something 20x the price. While it doesn’t have the complete dynamic ability of the i5, resolution of the AK240SS or clarity of the HiSoundAudio S6 (all vastly more expensive players) it has no stand out flaws. The midrange is textured profoundly, the sound clear and the frequency response extended.
The treble retains the same presentation as the midrange. A little easy going but generally at one with everything before it. I would say it brings out a slightly airy surround and this play nicely with the decent soundstage the N3 can put out.
I will say that by far the best signal I got out of this was when it accessed music via an SD card. While I loved the fact that I could stream Tidal through a Bluetooth connection to my phone, the sound went to this stuffy, bloated, warm sound that just sounded a world apart from if that same track was loaded up to my micro SD.
If Hidizs’s AP60 got halfway in giving you the whole package, being a great transport but not sounding great with earphones, Cayin goes the rest of the way. It is a delightful little product with a great and usable feature set, with or without wires and its sound is truthfully approaching that of the more expensive Cayin products. I love that Cayin is able to bring something new with every release and while personally, I am more smitten by the i5’s more luxurious UI, because of how much the N3 can do, it may actually seduce you over much more expensive DAPs and I really don’t think you would be disappointed. That is Great Value if you ask me!