This introduction will be short: I saw a relatively affordable, seemingly well-made DAP with tubes. That’s pretty much it, really. And despite the fact that I recently found, bought and reviewed Astell & Kern’s SR25 which is the DAP I rated the highest so far, the N3 Pro was too alluring to ignore.
Cayin N3 Pro / Firmware: 1.0 – EQ: none / Music app used: Stock – Official site
Headphones & IEMS
Grado Labs RS2e with G-cush, 3.5mm, Single-ended
Campfire Audio Andromeda Special Edition: Gold (silicone tips, medium) with stock Smoky Litz Cable, 3.5mm, Single-ended
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Never Going Back Again / Quality: 24-Bit 96.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Iron Maiden, Fear Of The Dark, Fear Of The Dark / Quality: 24-Bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Joni Mitchell, Blue, California / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Nina Simone, Pastel Blues, Sinnerman (Live In New York/1965) / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here, Wish You Were Here / Quality: DSD / SACD
Plüm, You’re the one, You’re the one / Quality: 16 bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds Of Silence, Anji / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Stevie Wonder, Talking Book, Superstition (Album Version) / Quality: 24-Bit 192.0 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Various Artists, Atlantic Jazz: Soul, Comin’ Home Baby (LP Version) / Quality: 16 bit 44.1 kHz – Stereo, FLAC
Since I ended-up disappointed with A&K’s SP1000M, especially in terms of price/performance, I was curious how well would perform a DAP in this price range with an AKM DAC.
I was pleasantly surprised as I found it to be as articulate as what I remembered hearing from the SP1000M — particularly how clear the mids / vocals are without being too dry. The tube modes most definitively bring something, something many people would pay a lot for. And that’s in Triode mode. In UltraLinear mode, this blows away pretty much all DAPs I had and is noticeably better than A&K’s SR25 side by side. In line out with my Schiit Vali 2 tube amp, I could also hear more details than with the SR25.
Cayin definitively struck a very nice balance with their choice of DAC and tube modes. While at first, my personal favourite was the UltraLinear mode, the Triode mode most definitively has its place when you want to relax a bit more while still getting that tube sound.
As a whole, I find the entire frequency range to be more organic and natural which conveys more emotions — something I admittedly just love.
The UI is spot-on and easy to use. External buttons are well laid-out, logic to operate “blind” and the overall build quality of the DAP is on par with A&K’s — the volume wheel is even better as far as I’m concerned.
I’m still waiting for Dignis to release a leather case for it as I don’t like the official green one with which the DAP was released. The included transparent case is a useful touch albeit it doesn’t do justice to the DAP’s looks.
Cayin’s N3 Pro is easily the best price/performance I heard in a DAP for a while. For a DAP which can’t stream, I would struggle to recommend anything else, unless you’re not into the emotions conveyed by tubes.