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Head-Fi.org › Head Gear › Portable Source Components › Digital Audio (FLAC/MP3/etc) Players (DAPs) › Shanling M3 Portable Digital Audio Player

Shanling M3 Portable Digital Audio Player

Posted

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.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), default quality

 

BACKGROUND

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.

 

 

DISCLAIMER

I was provided the Shanling M3 as a review sample as part of a U.S. + Canada Review Tour I'm coordinating.  There is no financial incentive from Shanling in writing this review.  I am in no way affiliated with Shanling, and this is my honest opinion of the M3.  I would like to thank @Shanling for giving several Head-Fi community members a chance to test drive the M3!
 
 

ABOUT ME

I'm a 43 year old father who loves music.  From electronic (Autechre, Boards of Canada) to modern/minimalist composition (John Cage, Philip Glass) to alternative rock (Flaming Lips, Radiohead) to jazz (John Coltrane and Miles Davis) to metal (Behemoth, King Diamond) to classic rock (Eagles, Rush), I listen to a wide variety of genres and artists. 
 
My portable music journey started with the venerable Sony Cassette Walkman and then progressed to portable CD players, minidisc recorders (still have my Sharp DR7), and finally on to DAPs like the Rio Karma, iRiver IHP-1xx, iPod 5.5, iPhones, and the newer crop of DAPs from Fiio and iBasso. 
 
I typically listen with IEMs from my ever-growing collection from budget to mid-fi. Less often, I grab a pair of full-size cans.  Recently, I've been listening a lot with my AKG K553 and HiFiMan HE400, as well as the Alpha & Delta AD01 and RHA T20 IEM I had in for testing.  I do have a lot of other gear, though.  You can always check my profile for a reasonably up to date gear list. 
 
As with a lot of people my age, I've got some hearing issues.  I've got mild tinnitus and suffer from allergies, which often affect hearing in my right ear.  I'll admit it, I'm not blessed with a pair of golden ears.  That said, I've been listening to portable gear for a long time and feel confident in assessing audio gear - just wanted to be transparent up front. 
 
 

REVIEW

 
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 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

FEATURES
  • Broad support for audio files including DSD
  • DAC functionality
  • Unique joystick / command dial operation
  • Hardware Bass / Treble Controls
  • SRC Upsampling


MSRP: $450

 

STREET PRICE: $360

 
 
PACKAGING
 
The M3 comes in a classy matte black hinged box with embossed writing on the lid with an outer sleeve that mimics the inner box.
 

 

 

Upon opening the hinged box, you find the M3 nestled in a foam cutout.  When you first get it, the M3 will have thin protective plastic covers over the command dial / joystick and over the screen.  The protective cover over the screen has directions for using the command dial / joystick.
 

 

 

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

 

 

 
My first reaction after opening the box was, "Wow, that command dial / joystick thing looks pretty cool.  I hope it works well!"  I'd already seen a few comparison pics with other DAPs, so I wasn't surprised when I picked it up and fond it to be a bit larger than my other DAPs.  It felt quite solid with a full metal case.  The command dial / joystick is also metal and feels like it's built to last.  No way you're going to accidentally boost the volume into ear implosion territory with that dial.  No way!
 
There was a question in the tour thread about the command dial / joystick's durability, so I shot Shanling an email.  The reply was quick, and Shanling let me know that the command dial / joystick is manufactured by Alps and is rated for 50,000 presses in each direction.  Shanling also said that they haven't received any reports of a faulty command dial / joystick yet.  With that out of the way, let's take a tour of the M3.
 
 
The top has the knurled command dial / joystick, power button, screen, and a lot of black metal casing.  The bottom has the usual information.

 

 

 

 

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 are some comparison pic with my other DAPs.
 
L-R: Shanling M3, Fiio X5, Fiio X3, iBasso DX90
 

 

 

Here's a stock photo of how it fits in your hand.  (BTW: I think they found someone with exceptionally large hands!)

 

 


 

To sum up: The M3 is solid, has a very modern, industrial appearance, and feels good in your hand.  But compared to my other DAPs, its larger size made it less pocket-friendly.  It's certainly possible, but it is a tight fit.  Of course, the most intriguing aspect from a design perspective is the command dial / joystick and lack of buttons beyond the power button.  Read on to find out how this works...
 
 

USER INTERFACE / FIRMWARE

 
User Interface (UI) can make or break your experience with any piece of technology.  In this case, the Shanling M3 makes a pretty radical departure from the physical interface most of us are used.  Let's be honest, it looks like it shouldn't work, doesn't it?  I mean, how are you supposed to navigate through the menu, music, skip tracks, and adjust volume all with that one command dial / joystick?  In practice, I found it pretty easy but admit that I did get a few tips from the reviews I referenced earlier.  
 
Ok, so how do you get around the M3?  It's all about the joystick, and all you old iRiver IHP users will feel right at home.  I know I did!  But unlike the tiny iRiver joystick, this one has some heft.  The joystick has a very solid click when you press it in any of the five directions that drive the M3's navigation (left, right, up, down, and straight in).  The knurled dial makes adjusting volume very easy.  Is it foolproof?  No.  But I'll cover that later on...
 
Here's your simplified guide to navigating the M3:
 
Power Button: Turns the M3 On / Off AND turns the screen On / Off
 
Click Up: Skip to beginning of the current track if more than 10 seconds have passed OR skip to the beginning of the previous track if less than 10 seconds have passed (same as Fiio's DAPs)
Hold Up: Rewind through track
 
Click Down: Skip to the end end of the current track
Hold Down: Fast-forward through track
 
Hold Right: Activate the Main Menu on the right side of the scree
 
Click Left: Navigate back through files
Hold Left: Activate the Quick Menu
 
Click Straight In: PLAY / PAUSE
 
Turn Dial Clockwise: Volume Up
Turn Dial Counter-Clockwise: Volume Down
 
That's basically it.  Navigating through menus and files is basically just clicking up, down, right, left to drill down and back out of the various sub-menus and to select something. I did have the occasional misfire during playback where I wanted to press straight in to pause the music but clicked up or down instead and ended up skipping tracks instead.
 
 
Here's what it looks like in practice, and if you looked over @marcusd's review on headfonics.com, you'll see that Shanling has refreshed the firmware with a much more modern-looking GUI.  Nice job, Shanling!
 
 
POWERING UP (Only takes a few seconds!)
 

 

 

MAIN MENU (HOLD RIGHT)

Top - Bottom: Now Playing, Music Center, File Directory, Play Settings, System Settings

 

 

 

SUB-MENUS 

Top L - R: Music Center + File Directory

Bottom L - R: Play Settings + System Settings

 

 

 

LEFT CLICK (File Navigation) + LEFT HOLD (Quick Menu)

 

 

 
Once you get used to it, it's really easy to navigate through the menu system.  In fact, I was a bit surprised when I found myself stumbling a bit when I moved back to my trusty X5 Classic!
 
The M3 has a screen lock feature that completely disables the command dial / joystick if you're worried about accidental clicks or volume adjustments while the M3 is in your pocket.  That's a mixed blessing, and the one time I wished there were more buttons on the M3 was when it was in my pocket!  With controls disabled, you basically have to take it out of your pocket to unlock the screen and skip tracks or adjust the volume.  With controls enabled, I got some accidental track skipping but never once had accidental volume adjustments.  This makes it feel better as a "set it and forget it" DAP where you select and album to play and throw it in an accessible location in your bag with lock screen controls enabled.  Then you can just sneak your hand in to skip tracks or adjust the volume as needed with worrying to much about accidental presses.  If only there were a few control buttons near the top of the M3 for more pocket-friendly operation.
 
Is it perfect?  Nope, it's not.  As an earlier reviewer pointed out, the main menu is a bit of a jumble with things you wouldn't use very often placed in the middle of the last instead of at the bottom.  This is confusing at first glance, but after getting used to the menu structure it begins to make sense because the M3 has wrap-around lists.  This means when you first enter a menu, you can click up to get to the bottom of the menu and start navigating up the menu.  So once you get used to where things are, it actually makes sense to put rarely used settings in the middle.  At least that's my thinking on this after using he M3 for awhile.  
 
Other gripes are a bit of lag and no Gapless, Play Through Folders, or Playlist support.  The lag isn't really any worse than my X5 Classic, bit its there nonetheless.  More important, there are no settings for Gapless or Play Through Folder playback.  What this means is you will get a very small gap between songs that should be seamless (which drives me batty!).  And there's no way to get the M3 to keep playing not the next folder after the current one is finished.  This isn't that big of a deal for me, as I tend to listen to one album at a time, but I know it's going to drive some of you out there crazy and might be a deal breaker.  The lack of Playlist support will also be a deal breaker for some of you.  Instead, you get a Favorites feature that's stuck on the M3.
 
Final gripes are that you can't skip tracks when you're navigating lists, since the Up / Down clicks are then relegated to menu navigation instead of skipping through tracks.  And I desperately wanted to be able to use the dial to quickly scroll through lists like an old school jog dial, but alas no joy!
 
Okay, I do have one last grip.  It's that darn 5800 track limit.  What is it with Chinese DAPs and a 5800 track limit?  Of course, the easy workaround is to just use the File Directory like I do on the rest of my Chinese DAPs.  The bonus in this is that you get to organize your music however you want to!
 
I've got to leave you with a positive because I do like this DAP.  Unlike most of my Chinese DAPs (and even my phone and tablet), the screen is bright enough to use in daylight conditions!
 
To sum up: No it's not perfect, but it is rock solid, pretty intuitive, and quite enjoyable to use.
 
 
BATTERY LIFE
 
I got ~10 hours at volume 20 with a little bit of fiddling around with the M3 - pretty spot on with Shanling's specs!
 
 
DAC
 
This isn't a feature I see myself using, as I typically just buy large capacity cards and listen straight out of my DAPs.  I gave it a spin for the review and found it to work flawlessly with my MacBook Pro running Yosemite and El Capitan, easily connecting to my Mac for use as a DAC at 192/24 resolution.  Easy-peasy!
 
 
THEMES
 
If you don't have album art, there are plenty of themes to choose from.
 

 

 

You can even simplify the Now Playing screen a bit if you want.

 

 

 

SOUND

 
During my time with the M3, I used a variety of headphones and IEM and listened to a wide variety of music in mostly AAC and FLAC formats.  I performed critical listening with M3 vs. my iPhone 5s + Shanling H3 DAC/Amp, my Fiio X5, and my iBasso DX90, volume matching across the three DAPs using a 1kHz test tone and the Decibel 10th iPhone app.
 
I typically switch off between my DX90 and X5, but as soon as the M3 arrived I started using it as my sole DAP and sound-wise found nothing to be lacking. It drove all of my HP / IEM well.  I used Low Gain for most of my HP and IEM, saving High Gain for my HE400 planars. 
 
 
 
I'll be completely upfront here and state that I think there are a lot of other reviewers who are much better at describing what they're hearing than me.  Please check out the reviews I referenced above for more eloquent / elaborate descriptions.  With that disclaimer out of the way, here's what I thought of the M3... 
 
Volume
  • 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

 

Soundstage

  • 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.

 

Lows

  • 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. 

 

Mids

  • 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.

 

Highs

  • 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.

 

Overall

  • 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. 

 

 
 
To sum up: Out of the dedicated DAPs I own or have tried, this is the most neutral sounding I've heard to date.  That can have its pros and cons.  On the plus side, you hear what you're supposed to be hearing.  On the negative side, if you're switching back and forth between DAPs the M3 can sound a bit flat / boring.  Get accustomed to its sound signature however, and your other DAPs might just end up sounding colored.
 
 

SUMMARY

 

PROS

  • Neutral sound signature
  • Hardware tone controls
  • Drives all of my HP / IEM well
  • Unique and attractive design
  • Solid construction
  • Intuitive navigation

 

CONS

  • 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!

Posted

Pros: Lots of different uses and applications, Plenty of power, DAC functionality, Fast and responsive user interface, Simple design that is easy to use

Cons: Bulky, Problems downloading drivers for my computer, Sound signature isn't geared for mainstream music, Durability concerns (not proven)

At the time this review was written the Shanling M3 digital audio player could be purchased on several websites. Here is Shenzhenaudio’s listing of the product on Amazon:

 

http://www.amazon.com/SHANLING-M3-Portable-Headphone-Amplifier/dp/B00W4PMV0G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442769442&sr=8-1&keywords=shanling+m3

 

Before I start this review I want to make my biases clear so you can understand how I rank this device. When it comes to DAPs, what I look for is something that accomplishes more than just being a fancy MP3 player. User interface, design, build quality, functionality, features, responsiveness and ease of use all weigh in on my ranking of a DAP.

 

What inspired me to jump on the Shanling tour bus was the specs. Just looking at the chipsets and details when reading the description to go along with a very unique scroll wheel, I really wanted to try this thing out. Here are the specs I’m talking about:

 

Specification

  • Cirrus Logic CS8422 for upsampling

  • DAC chip: Cirrus Logic CS4398

  • Power adapter:DC5V,2A/USB

  • Optical in and optical out port

  • Frequency response:20Hz~20kHz

  • THD: <0.004%

  • Nominal power:250mW @ 32Ω;16mW @ 300Ω

  • Battery charging time: 2A adapter- full charging time: approx 6H (power off), USB power charging: approx full charging time:10H (power off)

  • Battery life:more than 10H (vol 30,screen off)

  • Mode of power supply:,3600mAH rechargeable lithium polymer battery

  • Recommended impedance of earphone: 16~300Ω

  • Display: 2.4 inch (240X320)

  • Storage:built in 8G memory,external TF card supported,max 128GB

  • Dimenssion: 69×21×125.5mm

  • Net weight: approx 220g

I was given an opportunity to sample the product as part of a tour in exchange for my honest opinion and review. Thank you to Nikolaus (Nmatheis) and Shanling for the opportunity. With this being said let’s proceed.

 

The M3 came in a small and discreet black packaging with a paper outside sleeve that featured nothing more than the product name written in shiny black print. Removing the sleeve revealed the same black design and print. The box flips open to an owners manual, and when removed it reveals the device. After removing the device and the foam that the M3 was resting in, a black box was packed that contained a high quality charging cable and screen protector. The M3 comes in options of two different colors, gray or black.

 

 

 

Shanling offers very little in terms of accessories. Here is what comes in the package:

 

Accessories

  • 1 X M3 Portable Player

  • 1 X USB charging cable

  • 1 X instruction manual

The M3 charges via USB and takes a few hours to charge depending on how depleted the 3600MAH lithium ion battery is. The M3 has respectable battery life and while sampling the product I was able to go sometimes three days without needing to recharge it. The M3 has an estimated 10 hours of playback time before battery depletion.

Note: always make sure to charge your new device completely before using it for the first time. Not doing so can cause complications with the device and battery.

Initial Impressions

The M3 is not a flashy looking unit. In fact I would say it has a very simple and modest appearance (albeit a little bulky). Some have said that it resembles an oversized zippo lighter and I wouldn’t disagree with that statement. Don’t expect to turn heads or blow minds with its flashy looks. The M3 looks like it could have been modeled after the old Gameboy systems of the early nineties

The front of the unit features power button on top, along with a very unique scroll wheel and small screen.

 

The top of the M3 has a 3.5mm headphone out jack.

 

The bottom of the M3 bottom is a clever design that from left to right features a 3.5mm/SPDIF line out, a Micro USB charging/data/DAC port, a micro SD slot that reads up to 128GB and a 3.5mm/SPDIF line in. The variety of line in and line out ports makes the M3 a Swiss Army knife of sound. Simply put, there are lots of ways to use this gadget.

 

The left side of the device features, well, nothing. Here’s a picture to prove this.

 

The right side of the M3 has a little indentation towards the top which gives better ease of access to the scroll wheel.

 

Firing up the M3 for the first time opened the device to five different options. I will explain these as they are displayed from top to bottom.

Music Center

Selecting top option (Music Center) reveals five more options. You can open all of your music files, open your favorite music files (these can be chosen in playback mode), open your music by album classification, open your music by style classification (Alternative, Dance, Funk, Rock etc), or by artist classification. This is well done and incorporates options to cater to your listening preferences.

 

The second menu option was also titled as music center and had the same options. by looking at the symbols for the first two main menu folders I assume the very top option would be used for videos possibly.

The third menu option was the file browse menu, where you could choose from the internal 8GB of storage or from an installed microSD card.

 

The fourth menu option was the Play Settings menu. In this menu you will be able to adjust gain, pitch, max volume limit, default volume at power on, break point memory play, channel balance, play mode and playing surfaces.

 

The last menu options was the settings menu. This is where you can update your media library, adjust backlight time, apply a sleep timer, adjust the screen lock operation, change themes and colors, restore the device to factory settings, change the language, get product information, change the input selection, activate upsampling, upgrade firmware, and change the USB mode selection. As you can see there are a lot of options here.

 

The display of the device isn’t incredible, but works well for what it is meant for. It did seem dim and sometimes almost unreadable when using it outdoors on a sunny day. A big positive is that the M3 has theme and color settings that help customize user experience. The M3 also displays album artwork.

 

I was able to take my 32GB microSD card and plug it into the device. After a quick scan using the “Update media library” option I was able to listen to music. If you understand how DAPs work for the most part, you will be able to use this thing pretty much without the need of instructions. Just incase you are new to DAP technology, Shanling provides instructions in both Chinese and English.

I was able to play all of the music files I had on my microSD card, including DSD. This is a big bonus and feature for this device.

The user interface is very simple but also very fast and responsive. I NEVER got any kind of lag, making the M3 fun and easy to use.

The M3 is designed to be used as a portable DAP, but also has capabilities to be used as a DAC for other sources. I can confirm that the M3 worked wonderfully with my LG G3 being used as a source. Although the M3 did help boost the power of my music, making it possible to use power hungry earphones, I didn’t notice a significant upgrade in sound quality over the also installed Cirrus Logic chip of the G3. Let that be more of a testament of how great the sound quality is on the G3 has instead of a knock against the M3.  

 

Unfortunately, I can not confirm or comment on functionality with my Windows computer, as I wasn’t able to figure out a driver error that kept occurring. I have a feeling it has something to do with my recent upgrade to Windows 10. DAC functionality didn’t work on my Chromebook as well.

The scroll wheel of the M3 is both unique and a mixed bag of sorts for me. I find the design to be a break away from all other DAPs. It offers added benefits but also particular downfalls and red flags. The wheel has UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT arrow features similar to a video game controller. There is also a scroll wheel with a certain amount of play (wiggle) integrated as well. The volume is controlled by spinning the wheel clockwise, and turned down by spinning it counter clockwise. There is a click with every increase/decrease of volume. This helps to keep the volume from being boosted accidentally.

I can operate the controls with the device in my right hand and using my thumb. The M3 isn’t going to be left hand friendly from what I figure. Be aware of this all you who are southpaws. You’ll be able to use this thing, but probably not with the same ease as someone who is right handed.

A big red flag for me is the placement and durability of the scroll wheel. From what I can see, owners should be careful not to drop this thing on that particular corner of the device. I guess time will tell how long this wheel will hold up. All I can say for now is that although it seems sturdy, daily use and accidental drops will put the M3 to the test.

The screen of the M3 appears to be made of plastic that from my perspective seems as though it will be susceptible to scratches. Kudos to Shanling for providing a screen protector with the device. Still, It would have been nice to see them offer tempered glass with this product.

As for sound, the M3 offers a neutral and spacious presentation. The sound of the M3 kind of sets itself apart from other DAPs, but not in a bad way. The installed Cirrus Logic chip sounds different than the likes of the most recent popular ES9018 chipset offerings. To be honest the M3 sounds slightly colder and flatter than most of the DAPs and DACs I've heard. With this being said, the M3 has great synergy with more bassy earphones. I really like the M3 with a pair of closed headphones like the Audio Technica ATH-M50 and Soundmagic HP150. I find the M3 to work great with acoustic, live recordings, alternative, rock and symphony. The background is pretty black and I get no audible hiss from what I can hear. The M3 makes listening to bass heavy genres enjoyable, but I found it to be just a little too flat and neutral to maximize enjoyability as compared to other DAPs/DACs.

 

In low gain the M3 can be used with in-ear monitors, but be careful to not turn them up too high. I couldn’t get past ⅓ volume with most sensitive earphones before the M3 was too loud for my taste.

The M3 drives every headphone I have pretty easily. In fact, I don’t necessarily need the high gain setting to drive my Sennheiser HD600. I can turn the volume up in low gain to a volume that is more than enough for my listening pleasure. If you are considering purchasing the M3, don’t worry about if whether or not it has enough power, it does!

Improvements that could be made moving forward in my opinion would be a better application of the scroll wheel, a sharper, more resolving larger display, better driver support (I say this because of my issues with my computer) and a slimmer and more compact design. Wifi and wireless streaming from a local network would be a big bonus as well. Still, all of the upgrade suggestions aren’t necessarily a big deal. At the end of the day I can live without them and still be happy with this product.

The M3 has lots to offer the audiophile community. It is a well thought out gadget that performs solidly. For the current asking price, the M3 offers a lot of features and functions. The use of this device as both a DAP and DAC makes this a good option in its respective price range. If you are looking for a dedicated audio player that leans towards a leaner and cleaner sound, the M3 might be the one you’re after.

 

Thanks for reading and happy listening!

Posted

Pros: Neutrality, Great Build Quality, Controls, Excellent Display, Versatile Functions

Cons: Battery Charging Time.



Me: I am a 21 year old student living in a small town in India. I would like to call myself a music enthusiast, rather than an audiophile. I was inspired by music since childhood, and as the time passed, the passion of music grew in me, and that subsequently led me to join Head-Fi. Eventually, I found the pleasure of listening to music mainly by the HD600 and recently, by the seductive LCD2 headphones, and realized the true components of recorded music. I usually like to listen to Indian Classical Music along with Bollywood songs. My main listening genres include classical, vocal, instrumental, jazz and sometimes pop.


 

Intro:  Shanling is a well established, but a lesser known Chinese brand specializing in the area of OEM Manufacturing & Headphone/Power Amplifiers. Shanling started operating in 1988, has come a long way since then & currently manufactures supplies parts/products for famous western audio brands.

 

 

Shanling have a specific vision in making their products: The products should have a accurate and neutral sonic performance, quality and should have a practical operating aspect.  All their products are manufactured in their own factory in Shenzhen. The M3 DAP is the entry level DAP offering from Shanling.  The M3 uses a modern and unique styling, design, UI and aims to capture the ears of budding music enthusiasts.

 

Specifications of M3:

 

Frequency Response: 20Hz ~ 20kHz

 

Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.004%

 

Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16 ~ 300Ω

 

Output power: 250mW @ 32Ω; 16mW @ 300Ω

 

Battery charging time: About 6 hours on 5V 2A Adapter

 

Battery playback time: About 7-9 hours on general plaback

 

Power supply: Built-in lithium polymer battery 3600mAH

 

Input: Line in, USB, Optical fibre

 

Output: Line Output, Optical fibre, Headphone out

 

Memory size: Inbuilt 8GB, support external TF card upto 128GB

 

Dimensions (W × D × H): 69 × 21 × 125.5mm

 

Net weight: about 220g


 

Can M3 compete with existing mainstream DAP’s? Lets find out,

 

Packaging and Accessories: The M3 arrives packed inside a plain black cardboard box, packed inside a foam packing. Packaging is minimalistic, but nothing to complain about, considering M3’s high value aspect. But I feel atleast a storage pouch and a cleaning cloth could have been provided by Shanling.

 

 

 

List of accessories in the box, which include the following: 

 

 

USB Cable:  USB to Micro USB cable for charging and data transfer.

 

User Manual: Contains instructions to operate the M3 and other warranty information. (Unfortunately, In Mandarin language)


 

Design and Build: The M3 has a excellent overall build quality. Its design is very practical, or shall I say modern. & is easy for day-today operation without any confusion or hassle. The entire housing is made up of high quality aluminium, and is painted in matt black/silver, and is resistant to fingerprints. It is rectangular in shape with smoothened edges, the M3 fairly large in size, and just appears to be smaller in pictures. It feels fairly light when held in hand.

 

 

At the front we have a analog volume knob (which is rare to see at this price point) which includes a control Joystick, a power button with embedded indicator LED.  The circular knob present here, has a dual role of adjusting volume, along with control functions. For control functions, the M3 employs ‘joystick’ style movements to perform (up, down, left, right) as found in common DAP’s .Volume knob rotation is not smooth, but with step interval type ratchet mechanism. The knob has grips on its side for easy rotation. Power switch has a pretty great feel, and is very precise in its job. The LED is embedded right in the middle of the button, which gives it a really attractive look.

 

 

The display screen here is again large enough for comfortable viewing, and color/resolution on M3 is one of the best I have ever seen in DAP’s. It’s really good & better than most of the DAP’s. The screen is anti-reflective, resistant external lights, and colour output is very crisp and natural. On the top, there is a 3.5mm headphone out socket, and a reset hole. 3.5mm jack is a smooth operator, which is neither too tight nor too loose. The socket employs ball bearings instead of clips to avoid scratches/damage on the headphone jack. If we look at the bottom side, we can observe a micro SD card slot, a micro USB port, and a coaxial output, and one lineout, both in 3.5mm socket format. All these work without any hassle, and are of good quality.

 

 

 

On the either sides of the M3, recessed curves and recessions in the main body for a comfortable grip for hands (very much like the QA360) 

 

 


 

Sound: The M3 in has a very ‘clear’ and ‘detailed’ sonic character. ‘Accurate presentation’ is the key word. In my view, it is essential for a source to be as neutral and as accurate as possible for an optimal sound quality.

 

Burn in: The M3 audibly improves with time. Let’s say a playback of 100 hours provides few audible improvements, Bass prior to break-in is quite sterile, and eventually it becomes more in body. Mids will sound more open, airy and natural. highs become slightly more clean, soundstage will open up by a margin. DAP’s are known to slightly change their final sonic impressions by using different SD cards. In my case, I have found: Sandisk memory cards provided a slightly rich sound, whereas Lexar’s sounded audibly more detailed and analytical, so that made me choose Lexar card for M3 for best possible neutrality.

 

Driving Power: There is gain setting Low/High, which if switched, provides an high gain (ideal for demanding cans). Else, will provide a low gain (ideal for low impedance dynamic cans & IEM’s) The M3 has 60 step volume knob, which is quite accurate and precise. I hardly ever cross ‘30’ volume.  I can say, this DAP is very powerful when it comes to output power, and can drive demanding cans in low gain itself. The M3 is also audibly dead silent on any give gain and volume pot. It is also totally immune to EMF and other such disturbances.

 

Lows: are accurate, tight and refined; have a good impact. Depth & extension are really good.

 

Mids: sound very neutral, clean and airy. Mids are neither forward nor recessed, and are just about the neutral line.

 

 Highs: Very clear and detailed treble with very less grains.

 

Soundstage: Soundstage is airy, precise and circular. Depth is excellent. Instrument separation & detailing is appreciable. I really liked the way M3 picked out the details.

 

The M3 portrays music as it was recorded. The M3 is very transparent and neutral in nature. Faulty recordings are not forgiven, and are immediately picked out by the M3. I am fully satisfied by the performance given out by M3, as I firmly believe, sources should be as transparent as possible, and M3 wins in that. Due to its transparency and neutrality, M3 does not sound organic, natural or lifelike. But inturn it sounds like a very detailed & accurate high fidelity DAP.

 

The M3 can also act as a USB DAC and can give multiple outputs. Performance as DAC is also pretty good, but as expected, performance is not upto mark as compared to dedicated standalone DAC’s. The M3 can also accept input from Line in, SPDIF (hence act as amplifier/interface) I find the M3 DAP is really versatile.


 

Battery & UI:  Battery life on M3 DAP is quite decent, with about average 5-6 hours general playback. Absolutely no heat detected when charging or during playback. But charging time is quite long, (at about 6 hours) even by using a 5V 2A adapter as recommended by Shanling. User Interface is actually very modern, fast, and appealing for our eyes. The UI has all basic and convenience general features. Though there are small bugs here n there, which I believe will be solved by Shanling in upcoming days.

 

 

In M3, the control buttons are made to work by operating the joystick/volume knob. Flip it up/down/left/right, and the functions are the same up/down/left/right. The select or ‘centre’ key as we might say it, is not present in M3 DAP unlike other DAP’s. So, the implementation here is: Right key alternatively acts as play/pause, with Left key as back/menu, Up and down keys as scrolling and fast forward and rewind. Actually UI & button layout it’s pretty simple, yet very advanced functional layout, which I quite like. With M3, Shanling has definitely rolled out a very unique, modern yet practical design, which is simple to operate for everyone alike.

 

The M3 has gain setting, pitch or tone settings, and a software controlled rate upsampling. Ultimately the M3 has an edge over DAP’s to be tried in 300$.  


 

Conclusion:  I feel the M3 is a phenomenal DAP in my view. It offers an amazing neutral sound quality, and employs cutting edge design, modern UI and a very neat and easy controls. Build quality is very good, sonic presentation is neutral, transparent, detailed. It can fairly drive any cans upto 300 ohms. I can whole heartedly recommend M3 for any enthusiast who would prefer a very neutral, clean, sonic presentation. I very much prefer M3 over X5 & DX90, making M3 my favourite DAP next to QA360.

 

Pros: 

 

1) Build Quality: The M3 has a very good all-metal build. No compromise to be seen anywhere in exterior. Analogue volume control is an added bonus.

 

2) Sound quality: Sound presentation here is very neutral, transparent, detailed and spacious, very much appreciable for becoming a good source, which is the base of sonic chain. Probably the most performing DAP in 300$

 

3) Driving Power:  M3 DAP is very powerful when it comes to output power, and it can comfortably drive even power hungry cans to insanely loud volumes. Also, the noise floor is very low, and is audibly silent. Good job!

 

4) UI, Display & Controls:  This where M3 stands out from rest. M3’s display is simply one of the best I have seen DAP’s. Its vivid and deep colour presentation and low brightness capability has impressed me. UI is very much user-friendly, easy on battery, doesn’t warm up. For controls, M3 has just one joystick, from which user can operate the entire DAP. No need to lift fingers at all.

 

Cons:

 

1) Battery charging time:  Actually not really a con, Infact this issue is common with many DAP’s. The charging time (full) taken by M3 is about 6 hours. Which can be really irritating for enthusiasts who listen for a long session or while in travel.


 



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Shanling M3 Portable Digital Audio Player
Description:

Shanling M3 is a high fidelity DAP which employs cutting edge technology, design and features. This product supports MP2, MP3, WAV, WMA, APE, FLAC, AAC, AIFF, OGG and other music formats. Supports up to 192K / 24BIT sampling rate, while supporting CUE index playback, seamless playback. Using thin-film transistor LED display, effectively guarantee excellent layering, color saturation, reducing ability and a higher contrast. 2.4-inch TFT color display. The machine comes with 8G memory, TF bottom port configuration, maximum support 128G capacity expansion. USB port can be used to charge when it is USB mode , Transfer songs. When it is DAC mode ,as an external decoder. Provide optical and analog inputs and outputs can be connected to the decoder, can also be connected to the amp, which greatly enhance the sound quality Top chip: SRC chip uses CIRCUSLOGIC CS8422 chip, supports digital upconverted 24BIT / 192KHZ and D / A chip CS4398 perfect match.

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