Cayin N3 Pro Review

When Cayin announced the N3 Pro in early 2020, I was very excited for what it could be. On paper, it seemed like a cheaper and smaller N8 -- Cayin's Flagship Digital Audio Player. The N8 was extremely well-built, fast, and had a solid-state and tube amplifier mode using Korg Nu-Tubes. It was also extremely heavy, and extremely expensive! 

The N3 Pro, instead, is a lighter-weight and smaller player that fits well in my hands, and also has the ability to switch from solid-state to a discrete tube amplifier with a press of a button on the touchscreen. This player retails for $479 USD and was provided on loan directly from Cayin as part of their Head-Fi Tour group. I was the first to get my hands on it as part of this tour and was able to provide a full unboxing experience video shown below:


The N3 Pro comes equipped with a pair of AKM 4493 DACs and has the ability to play from its solid-state amps in balanced mode using 4.4mm or single-ended using 3.5mm. It also has the ability to swap to using a tube amp mode using JAN6418 matching tubes and play using the single-ended 3.5mm output only. The tube function has two filters available for different sounds which I'll discuss later.

In addition to these functions, the N3 Pro also has 2-way bluetooth and digital output using USB-C and a dedicated line output using 3.5mm. One can also use Hiby's app on a mobile device to control the player's music using HibyLink.

The User Interface is a customized Hiby OS that looks very modern and simple and has a touch button on the lower center of the front panel, that is lit with an LED ring. Just above this ring is a transparent glass display that shows the tube lit when activated, and the main screen is a 3.2 inch IPS display that is sharp and looks good.

There is a large volume knob on the right side of the player that also acts as the power and screen-off button when pressed-in. Below that are the skip and play/pause buttons. The player uses USB-C for data and charging and that is at the bottom of the player next to the phone outputs.

Finally, the player includes data cable and a single case. The first case is a simple clear TPU bumper case that protects the edges and sides of the player. The second case that came with this bundle and is available to purchase separately is a green leather case with a metal screen on the back side that looks very reminiscent of cases made by Korean brand Dignis. This case is quite nice and I love the overall look and feel of it and highly recommend it for the optional $39 USD.

Software Experience

The Cayin N3 Pro uses a customized Hiby OS which means it has the proprietary wireless remote feature, HibyLink. This feature lets you control you music and volume via your phone or tablet without having to touch your DAP once enabled.

The user interface seemed quite snappy to me, especially after upgrading to the v2.0 firmware. The main screen gives users an option to search for music by various methods such as Folder, Lists, Songs, Artist, Albums and Genre. My music collection has well-defined tags, and so I did not notice any issues with weird tag reading or any other anomalies with file display.

Album art isn't pre-cached, so it does take a second to refresh the artwork while scrolling through each menu, but it's not any longer than I've noticed on other Hiby-based player.

Swiping down from the top of the screen shows a quick-access menu similar to what you'd find on Android. Its here where you can switch from solid-state to tube and also change the tube sound from Triode to Ultra Linear. 


Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up the two settings menus. One is to control settings related to the sound/music functions like changing filters and EQ, and the other is to change system settings.

Overall usage of the UI is easy enough to use for me, and everything just works fine. I had no issues using it once I figured out the LED ring is actually a home screen button, which saved a lot of button presses to get back to the main playback display.

Sound Experience & Comparisons

The N3 Pro runs in three different modes as I've mentioned before. It also has several AKM DAC filters, but I've kept it in the "Slow" filter for the most part during this trial period. This has been the filter I found to sound the most realistic for the acoustical music I typically listen to in my experience.

Most of my listening on the Cayin N3 Pro were with the Hidition Viento-B, Unique Melody MEST, and Thieaudio Legacy 4 in-ear monitors. I spent a very short amount of time with the ZMF Verite and Denon D5200 headphones as well.

In all-cases, I find that the overall sound and character of the Cayin N3 Pro is that is a warmer than neutral audio player. Its been a while since I've had a chance to hear the N8 or the N6-II with its default amp, but I remember those both being a little warmer in their default settings, but I do feel that Cayin's house sound is a more warm and lush sound style than a flat neutral or airy signature. 

My main points of comparison in this review are with the Lotoo PAW 6000, Hiby R2, Apple USB-C Dongle, and a Topping A90 desktop amp. Of these, only the A90 is within the same price bracket as the N3 Pro, but of course, its not a portable unit. The PAW 6000 is over double the cost at $1200 USD and the R2 is a fraction of the cost at $109 USD, so these do show if the Cayin hits its price mark, below or above it in my comparisons.


With the solid-state active, I found the Cayin to have a similar general signature to the Hiby R2, which is a warmer sound signature that emphasizes the lower mid-range more. The N3 Pro sounds a little lacking in air when compared to the Lotoo PAW 6000 and Topping A90, and presents a thicker overall signature. The resolution is very good on the N3 Pro solid-state but I do find the PAW 6000 to just go slightly beyond and adds a deeper level of layering and depth that the N3 Pro doesn't dive as far down.

Tube Amp

The tube amp modes is where the N3 Pro differentiates itself from its competition at any price range. The player is equipped with a matching set of JAN 6418 mini-tubes that are suspended in the player to reduce the amount of noise from movement and shock. While it does a fantastic job at this, I do still hear the occasional hum noise randomly while idle, or electromagnetic interference from my cell phone if the phone is right next to the tubes. In most situations, though, it's generally quiet, though I would be wary with the most sensitive of IEMs. Still, it is impressive and much quieter than I would have expected of a portable tube-based amplifier device.

There are two modes when you activate the tube mode to choose from. There is also a 5 second waiting period for the tubes to warm up prior to music playing. You can continue to play music using the solid-state amp side while you wait, but there will be a short pause when switching over, so it's not seamless, and I wouldn't expect it to be either.


The first mode is the Triode mode, which is the tube amp in its purest form. This really opens up the sound and changes it up. The low end is bloomier, with an even warmer and engaging presentation. It can make bassier IEMs sound, perhaps, too much, but it is up to preferences here.

The overall sound is smoother, though I did find the treble to be a little jarring at first, but I believe that really had more to do with the tubes not fully being broken in and opening up, since this unit was brand new when I received it. I let the tube section on and playing music for hours at a time while I was doing other things to let it naturally open up and I don't sense that harshness using triode mode anymore.

This is the more pleasant of the three major options on this player, and one I would pick to use if I had to. I really liked it with the Hidition Viento-B, which is a reference monitor with a small bass shelf bump. It tames down some of the highs when using it on the solid-state mode and especially the ultra-linear mode, which I'll take about next.


Yes, Cayin put in an ultra-linear mode using it with tubes. It's an interesting and almost contradictory combination, but then again, I do this on my desktop setup often. I use my Topping A90 when I need to power my planar headphones, but use my Feliks Elise OTL Tube amp as a tube buffer pre-amp to it. This way, I get a small amount of that harmonic distortion along with the current power I need to use the planars at full efficiency. 

In the case of the N3 Pro, the ultra-linear mode seems like a filter change that makes the player have very much a neutral sound profile that brightens up the sound significantly. The change is pretty dramatic, especially if you flip back and forth between the Triode and Ultra-Linear with everything becoming leaner, brighter, and more airy, though I don't feel it sounds more forced than natural.

I am not a big fan of this mode to be honest. It loses a lot of the engaging sound of the N3 Pro and even if the tube is still running in the background, I find this makes some of my IEMs become nearly unlistenable. It does not pair well with brighter gear.

I believe they were trying to make this mode to compete with more neutral-tuned gear, but when comparing it to the Lotoo PAW 6000, I just don't think it stacks up. Cayin's N3 Pro performs much better with the warmer and intimate sound than it does with the brighter tuning.


The Cayin N3 Pro is a really nice package at $479 and it comes with a great deal of options to satisfy a lot of different tuning options and features. It doesn't do streaming apps but at least you can use your device to stream via BT directly to the player if you want to use Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, etc.

The tube portion is definitely not a gimmick and it seems to do what I'd expect a tube amp to do and that's a nice feature. It's also good that it does not have too much impact on extraneous noise such as hissing and humming. I like that all three major sound options on this player are unique to the others and that provides an option for all listening types and one should be able to find a nice pairing with most gear.

Finally, there's really nothing in this price range that competes with this unit, if you're looking at something that sounds pleasant and has nice build and feels great. Yes, it does not have Android like the iBasso DX160, but this unit runs smooth and does not have many quirks with it in its hardware or software.

Overall, this seems like a nice recommendation from me. It's probably a small step behind players double to triple its price in sound quality, but competes and exceeds players at its own price range, and I find that very appealing.