In this test, I was using EE Odin and 64 Audio Nio to listen/compare between N3Pro and other DAPs, volume matched. Each of these DAPs, besides a difference in tonality and pair up synergy, has its own Pros/Cons, all of which should be taken into consideration depending on your preference.
N3Pro vs iBasso DX160 – starting with a soundstage, when comparing N3Pro SS vs DX, the DX is wider, but when switching to N3Pro Tubes the soundstage is the same as DX, even a touch wider in N3Pro. With tonality, depending on pair up, DX is a little brighter and leaner in mids, while N3Pro has more body and stronger and tighter bass impact with both SS and Tubes outputs. With Tubes, TR mode of N3Pro gives sound slightly warmer and smoother tonality with a slower speed, while UL still sounds smooth but with more speed and articulation. Also, keep in mind, DX is Android DAP with direct app support.
N3Pro vs Shanling M5s – with soundstage, when comparing N3Pro SS vs M5s, N3Pro is a touch wider, but when switching to Tubes timbre, the width improvement in N3Pro is a lot more noticeable. With tonality, M5s is a warmer and smoother sounding DAP, so it actually has a tonality closer to N3Pro Tubes, while N3Pro SS sounds a little brighter. Both have a strong bass impact, but N3Pro yields a deeper sub-bass rumble in various pair ups I tried. Another interesting observation, the vertical dynamics of N3Pro SS is similar to M5s, but Tubes output of N3Pro improves the dynamics, making the sound more expanded and layered.
N3Pro vs Dethonray DTR1 – soundstage of N3Pro Tube and DTR1 are on the same level, having wide expansion, while N3Pro SS is a little bit narrower. With tonality, both N3Pro Tubes and SS have a smoother tonality in comparison to more revealing brighter sound of DTR1. Also, both tubes/ss outputs of N3Pro have stronger and faster bass impact in comparison to more neutral DTR1. When it comes to a technical performance comparison, DTR1 and N3Pro tube (UL) have more in common with a dynamic layered sound which has the edge over N3Pro SS. Another thing to keep in mind when comparing Pros/Cons, DTR1 has a non-touch screen.
N3Pro vs Lotoo PAW6000 – in this comparison I found LP6k to be somewhere in a middle, between N3Pro Tubes and SS when it comes to soundstage. LP6k soundstage is wider than N3Pro SS, but not on the same level as N3Pro Tubes. With tonality, LP6k is smoother and closer to N3Pro Tubes, though not exactly as textured. Also, LP6k bass is softer in impact and not as fast as N3Pro Tubes/SS. With technical performance, when it comes to layering/separation/dynamics LP6k has an edge over N3Pro SS, but N3Pro Tubes comes closer to it.
N3Pro vs Cowon Plenue R2 – this is another interesting comparison since I find PR2 to have a performance somewhere in between of N3Pro Tubes and SS as well. With a soundstage, N3Pro Tubes is definitely the widest in comparison. Plenue R2 is a little be narrower but still wider than N3Pro SS. With a tonality, I also noticed how PR2 is a little bit smoother, having fuller body when compared to N3Pro SS, but it is not quite there when it comes to comparison with N3Pro Tubes. And I also noticed how in many pair ups PR2 bass has as much sub-bass rumble as N3Pro, but when it comes to mid-bass punch PR2 is a little softer and slower. Technical performance, such as layering/separation of sounds in PR2 is nearly identical to N3Pro SS, while N3Pro Tubes is superior in comparison.
In this section of the review I will go over various wired and wireless connections I tested and verified with N3Pro.
Digital usb-c out
You can use N3Pro as a digital transport which I verified connected to iFi micro iDSD BL using usb-c OTG cable. I was able to adjust the volume from N3Pro and iDSD. The sound was typical of micro iDSD BL signature with a natural smooth tonality.
You can also use N3Pro as a transport connected to iFi micro iDSD BL using Cayin CS-30TCR Type-C to coax cable. In that connection, volume can only be adjusted from iDSD. The sound tonality was a little brighter, soundstage was wider, and I was able to hear more air between the layers. For me personally, I enjoyed COAX out better than USB-C with N3Pro.
Connected to Romi Audio BX2 amplifier, the sound tonality of N3Pro 4.4mm BAL Line Out, the output which is shared with phone out, is a touch warmer relative to N3Pro direct 4.4mm SS Phone out. The sound quality of N3Pro 3.5mm SE Line Out, the clean unamplified dedicated line out, is a little warmer as well when compared to 3.5mm SE Phone out. In both cases, BX2 does improve the soundstage expansion and I also hear some improvement in dynamics. Based on these two tests and considering how transparent BX2 is, I can draw the conclusion that Line Out (output of DAC) is warmer, while internal SS amp ckt brightens it up a bit. Of course, Tubes output is a different story.
N3Pro was recognized right away on my Win10 ThinkPad T480s without the need to install any drivers. I was able to adjust the volume from laptop and from N3Pro. N3Pro connected as USB DAC sounds nearly identical as playing the same file directly from N3Pro.
Bluetooth Tx – tested with Hiby WH3 TWS, working 30ft away without a problem, and it sounds the same as paired up with other wireless sources. The support of different codecs makes you appreciate the difference in quality as you step through them. Also, you can control playback directly from wireless earphones/headphones.
Bluetooth Rx – Paired up with my Galaxy S9 smartphone, using HibyMusic with UAT option enabled, N3Pro was connected using UAT codec and works flawless as a wireless DAC/amp paired up with my phone as a wireless transport. If UAT disabled in HibyMusic, wireless connection switches to LDAC. The sound quality was nearly identical to playing directly from N3Pro.
HibyLink allows pair up of N3Pro with your smartphone running HibyMusic app to use it as a remote control/display of the DAP. This is not a Bluetooth pair up to stream music, as some are mistaken. You enable HibyLink under Bluetooth control on N3Pro and enable it on your smartphone in HibyMusic and then search for N3Pro to pair up from a phone. This way you can keep N3Pro in your pocket or backpack with headphones connected, and control the playback and volume of the DAP straight from your phone.
Relative to other DAPs in Cayin’s current lineup, N6ii and N8, N3Pro is considered to be entry level, but there is absolutely nothing entry about it. I do understand that Cayin narrowed down their DAP product line to N3Pro, N6ii, and N8, where “ii” indicates Android audio player, and two others are not. But each player is packed with so many unique features that I’m having a hard time putting a label on them. There is no question flagship N8 will be superior in every aspect, but if you want to get a taste of a pocket DAP with Tubes, N3Pro is a scaled down version of N8 that will surprise a lot of people, especially those who still think BAL output is superior to SE.
Besides having a similar display and identical OS/GUI, this Nate Jr (as in N8 Jr) follows the same design architecture with selectable Solid State and Tubes timbre outputs, and its Tubes output has 2 unique operational modes, Triode and Ultralinear. It’s not an Android DAP where you can install and run apps from, but its hi-res Wireless connection allows pair up with your smartphone to use it as a wireless DAC/amp to stream apps. Overall, N3Pro packs a list of impressive features, but in my opinion, Tubes output is still the main attraction of this $479 DAP which makes it stand out from the crowd because you will not find another audio player with Tubes to compete with N3Pro in this price bracket.