Pros: High-quality sound with hardware EQ. Solid build. Unique design. Very stable UI. Good battery life.
Cons: Large. Lacks gapless, play through folders, and playlist support. No protective case.
A bit of information about Shanling excerpted from their Website:
Shenzhen Shanling Digital Technology Development Co., Ltd. is a joint-venture high-tech enterprise specializing in research and development, manufacture, marketing and sales of audio products. Shanling began as a developer of audio products in 1988, producing its first Hi-Fi stereo power amplifier. Since then, Shanling has grown and now manufactures a wide range of products – SACD/CD player, high fidelity solid-state and vacuum tube amplifier, advanced mini music center, tuner, audio/video amplifier, etc.
Today, we'll be looking at their first entry into the ever-expanding Chinese DAP market, the Shanling M3.
Before moving on, I'd like to point readers to two reviews that piqued my curiosity:
Both reviews captured the essence of the M3 very well and have a different point of view than I do, so please hit those reviews up for a couple different perspectives.
Here's a LINK to the dedicated M3 thread, where you can look for previous and upcoming impressions, links to firmware updates, etc.
- Frequency response: 20Hz～20kHz
- THD: <0.004%
- Nominal power: 250mW @ 32Ω; 16mW @ 300Ω
- Battery charging time: ~6 hours @ 2 amps (power off); ~10 hours (power off) via typical USB computer port
- Battery Life: >10 hours (volume 30, screen off)
- Battery: 3600mAH rechargeable lithium polymer battery
- Recommended impedance: 16 - 300Ω
- Storage: 8 GB internal storage + TF card (up to 64 GB)
- Dimension: 69 x 21 x 125.5 mm (2.7 x 0.8 x 4.9 inches)
- Net weight: ~220 grams
- Broad support for audio files including DSD
- DAC functionality
- Unique joystick / command dial operation
- Hardware Bass / Treble Controls
- SRC Upsampling
STREET PRICE: $360
Under the protective foam, you'll find a thin black cardboard box with what looks like a warranty card in Chinese, a user manual in Chinese and English, a couple screen protectors, and a USB cable for charging and data transfer. I'm glad the manual has an English section now and also that screen protectors are now included, as there were called out in the reviews I referenced above.
Surprisingly for this price point, you won't find a carry pouch or silicon case. I'd suggest Shanling at least consider a carry pouch for storage when your M3 isn't in use. Even better yet, it would be fabulous if they included their very attractive leather case with the M3. They come in black, red, and tan.
BUILD & ERGONOMICS
The left and right sides are pretty sparse, with just a shallow groove to make gripping your M3 easier.
The bottom edge of the M3 has combined Line / SPDIF In & Out ports, USB port for charging and data transfer, and the sole micro SD slot. Interestingly, this is the only DAP I have where the mSD card inserts with the writing side up and contact side down, which seems more natural to me. I'm always trying to insert them that way on my other DAPs, can get them inserted, and then have to try again with the mSD card upside down. Not so with the M3! (BTW: I added the jack plugs, since I knew I wouldn't be using those ports much).
The top edge just has the headphone jack and a reset hole (which I never had to use). In one of the previous reviews, it was noted that the headphone jack had bearings inside and wasn't the most secure connection. I didn't find this to be the case. All of the headphone plugs I inserted clicked in firmly and securely.
Here's a stock photo of how it fits in your hand. (BTW: I think they found someone with exceptionally large hands!)
USER INTERFACE / FIRMWARE
MAIN MENU (HOLD RIGHT)
Top - Bottom: Now Playing, Music Center, File Directory, Play Settings, System Settings
Top L - R: Music Center + File Directory
Bottom L - R: Play Settings + System Settings
LEFT CLICK (File Navigation) + LEFT HOLD (Quick Menu)
- 60 steps, with a bit more volume increase between steps than I'd like. I'd much prefer it to have 120 steps for finer-grained control with sensitive HP / IEM.
Driving Power with AKG K553
- M3: 21 LG, 17/18 HG
- X5: 50 LG, 38 HG
- DX90: 188 LG, 183 MG, 175 HG
Driving Power with HE400
- M3: 26 HG
- X5: 71 HG
- DX90: 207 HG
- M3 vs. H3: Comparable width. Less depth and height.
- M3 vs. X5: Comparable width and depth but taller.
- M3 vs. DX90: Less width and depth, comparable height.
- M3 vs. H3: More linear. Less impactful. More relaxed / softer.
- M3 vs. X5: More linear bass with less mid-bass bloom. More natural but less fun. Less impact / slam.
- M3 vs. DX90: Slightly more linear bass. Slightly softer / less fun. Slightly less impact / slam.
- M3 vs. H3: Similar presentation but with drier mids, conveying less emotion.
- M3 vs. X5: Drier / cooler yet more intimate miss.
- M3 vs. DX90: Again, drier / cooler yet more intimate mids.
- M3 vs. H3: Smoother / less edgy but lacking a bit of crispness.
- M3 vs. X5: Smoother, more refined high end. Less aggressive. Less prone to accentuating sibilance.
- M3 vs. DX90: Again, smoother, more refined high end. Less aggressive. Less prone to accentuating sibilance.
- M3 vs. H3: The M3 sounds quite neutral in comparison, making it easier for longer listening sessions but less exciting. H3 now feels like the fun sound signature, with more bass impact, sweeter mids, and more detailed high end.
- M3 vs. X5: M3 has more linear bass, a taller soundstage, and is detailed without sounding aggressive, giving the M3 a more neutral, natural sound signature. In comparison, the X5 has more mid-bass and a more aggressive high end, giving it a more "fun" sound signature than the M3's more refined, smooth sound signature.
- M3 vs. DX90: M3 has more linear bass, soundstage is narrower and les deep, and is detailed without sounding aggressive, giving the M3 a more neutral, natural sound signature. In comparison, the DX90 has more mid-bass and a more aggressive high end, giving it a more "fun" sound signature than the M3's more refined, smooth sound signature.
- Neutral sound signature
- Hardware tone controls
- Drives all of my HP / IEM well
- Unique and attractive design
- Solid construction
- Intuitive navigation
- On the large side / lacks pocketability
- That pesky 5800 track limit rears its ugly head yet again
- No gapless, play through folders, or playlist capabilities
- No protective case
- Lockscreen modes are all or nothing
- Volume adjustment isn't as fine-grained as my other DAPs
Thanks for taking the time to read this review and thanks again to @Shanling for providing the Head-Fi community with the chance to test drive the M3!