Shanling M3s Digital Audio Player

General Information

Main features:

  • Fully balanced audio circuit based on dual AK4490EN DAC, followed with dual MUSE8920 and dual AD8397 headphone amps.
  • Low output impedance, to assure best compatibility with senstiive multidriver IEMs - 0.3 ohm on single ended and 0.6 ohm on balanced output
  • Support of DSD256 and PCM up to 32/384
  • Multifunctional USB C port, allowing M3s to be used both as external DAC with your computer or smarthphone, or as USB transport for external DAC. (best matched with our L2 USB cable)
  • Bluetooth 4.1 with apt-X support
  • Compatible with HiBy Link feature, control everything from your smartphone over bluetooth
  • Comfortable size at 113 x 53 x 14.5 mm, reasonable weight at 135 g
  • 3 inch retina screen with 480*800 resolution (300 PPI), newly with Oleophobic coating to reduce finger prints
  • Improved battery life with over 13 hours on single charge (balanced output reduces batttery life to 8 hours)
  • Standby/hybernation/deep sleep mode
  • Beatiful construction from two 2.5D glass panels and aluminum frame
  • Available in three colours - Black, titanium grey and royal blue
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Latest reviews


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: M3s in balanced is great value.
Cons: M3s is just a good DAP single ended.
This will only be about sound. They were all great in use and that ground has been covered. You'll need to be patient for the M3s portion or just skip ahead.

M1: Cheap and cheerful. It's a warmish, smooth player but not lacking in color. It doesn't reach in as far as better players but at this size and price is a very enjoyable listen. I (my daughter's now) own an old AK100 MkII ( the low output impedance version) which would still cost significantly more used. It's still a better player with a similar tonality but has better prat separation and delineation. It should and it's a pre Android model which I like. Doesn't change the fact that the M1 is a VG value and great package with better sonics than most need. I listened to wav files from Rebook to 24/192 for comparisons and with lower res content, much of differences described in this review would be minimized or moot.

M2s: This player has similar quality overall to the AK100mkII. A slightly leaner take and that's a good thing as that AK is a little warm. The M2s clears out a little better but the AK is a hair more together. I would have a tough time choosing between them with the appropriate earphones. Win/win here. I still like that the AK has 2 sd slots and a lower output impedance so I wouldn't switch but I also prefer this AK to later entry level AKs. At around $200 the Shanling is a great buy if compatibility is good. I also have an AK120 with the resistor bypass mod. I still prefer it to the M2s but again, it will cost about twice as much used.

M3s: This one was obviously made to be used balanced. I'm being a bit more critical here as it's the top unit. Single ended, it's dynamic but a slightly flat and the highs could be a bit more refined, not for a player at this price but on an absolute scale but that changes when going balanced. Balanced transforms this player into something that beats the modded AK120 in most ways. In balanced mode, the highs are smoothed yet present, everything is more open, delineated, focused with added space between notes and has very good depth. These qualities are now all better than the AK120. The only thing the AK still does better is PRAT which is a big deal for me but I would have a hard time giving up what the M3s can do balanced. I suspect 9 of 10 folks would choose the balanced M3s. It's a lot of player for the price and highly recommended. Single ended, I'd still go with the AK120 but there's no reason to not take advantage of the balanced option here. To get a fair comparison of balanced, I bought a 2nd cable of the type I already use and re-terminated the plug end to a 2.5 trrs. No adapters or different cable. I burned it in single ended before re-terminating as I don't have any other balanced DAPs.

How do these compare to my QP1r? They don't overall but they don't need to compare to what I consider to be the cream of the $1k DAP crop.
Thanks for the great review!

Just wanted to share that has m3s cases on sale for a little over $5, shipping to US close to $11, all colors (or should I say colours)


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: 3 sizes, designs, and price ranges to cover all use cases from casual to hard-core. All are great sounding, with tons of features and good battery life.
Cons: Cases obstruct changing SD cards
only a single card slot even on high-end M3s model.

I would like to thank Shanling for setting up the review tour for their 3 most commonly seen DAP models and for including me on the tour. I have owned 2 of the three in the past but never had them all in hand at the same time.

First let’s take a moment to look at the things these models all have in common before delving into the unique qualities of each.

Construction is solid with metal sides and high gloss glass backs each opposite a full-sized display. The screen has an outer black bezel that frames it all the way round but does a good job of disappearing when the player is powered off on the M2 and M3s. On the m1, the frame is more easily seen. Some of the buttons are in the same place on all three models. On the left side, forward and reverse are present although they are separated by a play/pause on the M2s and M3s that is not present on the M1. The M1 also has a return button on the left above the forward/reverse buttons. All three have scroll wheels on the right with the M2s and M3s having the return button immediately below the wheel. The M1 has the power button below the wheel while the M2s and M3s have the power button on the top at the righthand side. The bottom of all the units have the 3.5mm port and the USB-C port. On the M1 the SD Card slot is at the bottom while the SD slot on the M2s and M3s is on the left-hand side about ¾ of the way toward the bottom of the player.

M3s Top (Same as M2s)

Bottom View (Blue M1, Silver M2s, Red M3s)

Left Side View

Right Side View​

A couple of things I will note that I would like to see updated on future models.

1.) All of the cases obscure the SD card slot so it is impossible to change cards without removing the case. With only having a single slot, it would be nice to at least make the slot accessible without having to go remove the case.

2.) On the M1, pushing the wheel inward works as the play/pause function. Giving the user the option to set the push-in on the toggle wheel to be the play/pause function on the M2s and M3s would make pocket use much more feasible as the leather case obscures the actual play/pause button to a degree that makes pocket use more difficult. This is not really bad on the m2s although there is no tactile way to be certain which button you are pressing without finding the others to reference its position. The problem is particularly pronounced on the M3s where the case covers the buttons and removes nearly all tactile reference to which button is which.

And now for something completely different....

While the three DAPs share a similar physical construction and the same UI, they are really not targeted to the same audiences and the question of which is best is going to depend largely on use case.

The littlest Shanling (for now):

The M1 is the smallest, lightest DAP in the Shanling stable and is aimed at the ipod Nano/shuffle market of gym dwellers, runners, and hikers/outdoor types. The size and weight of this unit is roughly ½ that of the larger two players. It comes with a strap for wearing the unit on an arm and the case doubles as a belt clip. The shortcomings of the M1 are intended trade-offs in order to achieve this size/weight ratio. With all portable players, battery life is a key issue and the smaller the unit, the larger the issue becomes. The M1 sports a 950mAh battery which when measured on my discharge tester was nearly exactly as specified. With such a small power reserve to work from, the M1 must be as efficient as possible and does a good job of divvying out power in a way to make the unit last nearly 8 hours on a charge if the display is only used sporadically and Bluetooth is disabled. Using Bluetooth does decrease the longevity of the battery to closer to 7 hours which is still very good. Output is good with low impedance/high sensitivity earphones, but as impedance rises or efficiency drops, the M1 becomes less and less useful. The specs list output as 35mW@32ohm which means that anything over 32ohm is probably going to feel underpowered when run off the M1.

Use cases for the M1

Put simply, if you are looking for a DAP you can slip in a pocket and forget, the M1 is for you. If you are a backpacker or hiker and are concerned about weight but want to take your music with you, the M1 and a pair of iems makes for a ¼ pound combo.

Fir use at the Gym, while running, or while out pursuing other outdoor activities, the M1 is an extremely compact package that makes it nearly perfect.

If you intend to use Bluetooth headphones, the M1 also makes a great choice since it’s size and battery life make it fantastic for dropping in a pocket and heading out for the day.

For non-head-fi types, the M1 makes a good first dap as the limitations (lack of full DSD support, and limited output power) are not likely to come into play with most consumer level headphones or common mp3/Aac files.

If none of these options are your use-case, read on.

The other end of the Rainbow – The M3s.

If the M1 is a the cut all corners to save weight and cut size gym use model, the M3s is the no-holds barred audiophile model. Sporting dual DAC chips and OPamps, 32/384 resolution, DSD 256 support with an 11.2mhz clock for DSD, balanced output, and specs to be proud of for both distortion and SNR, the only things the M3s seems to have in common with the M0 are a similar set of physical controls, and a familiar UI. About the only feature distinctly lacking on the M3s is support for Dual micro-SD cards which is commonly found in players at this price point. (Even Shanling’s flagship M5 does not have dual card support and actually says it is limited to 128gb card size although personal experience suggests otherwise.)

The M3s aims squarely at the likes of the Opus #1s, the Fiio X7ii, the Cayin N5ii, Cowon Plenue P, the pioneer/Onkyo DAP, and the AK 70. To say the market is crowded at this price point is an understatement, so how does one compete? For some (Opus) the answer is to focus on one aspect and make it the best it can be. For most others, it is to pack absolutely as many features as possible into the box and hope that one of those features is the thing that tips the scale in their favor. The M3s takes the later road and packs, Bi-directional Bluetooth with all the bells and whistles (Apt-X), HibyLink so the player can be remotely controlled, USB DAC mode for use connected to a computer or phone, digital filters in addition to a customizable EQ, along with the previously mentioned dual mono signal paths and both single ended and balanced outputs.

In order to run all this circuitry, the M3s steps up to a 2600mAh battery which measures 2430mAh on my discharge test. This is enough to provide a full day’s use (12 hours on single ended, nearly 10 hours using Bluetooth, and 7.5 hours using balanced output). By all accounts, this is among the best in class as it outlasted the Plenue, Opus, and Cayin N5 on single ended playback and bettered the Opus and AK on balanced. The only players that bettered the battery life of the M3s in my tests were those with a single DAC chip and it certainly seems reasonable that when you have ½ the circuitry to power, you should be able to make the battery last longer.

The sound of the m3s is very good but shows some of the natural leanings of the DAC chip used. In recent years AK’s premium line has been called the “Velvet Sound” series and I think that is a good description of it. The AK4490 is very musical at the expense of masking some of the micro-detail. The M3s has good bass extension with slightly forward bass that extends into the mid-bass range, mids are thinner than the bass and highs are again slightly forward. Treble extension, while good, is not quite as well extended or controlled as the Opus #1s. The good news is the M3s is capable of excellent reproduction when fed good source material and still be forgiving of poor sources. Considering the fact that many will pair the M3s with streaming audio sources (Tidal, Spotify) this makes a good compromise. The downside of the M3s tuning is, smooth musical rendering can hide detail which is most evident in the already slightly thin mids.

The next thing to look at with the M3s is which earphones to pair it with. The Output power of the M3s is nearly 4x that of the M1 in singled ended mode (35mW vs 130mW) and nearly double that again when using balanced (230mW) (All of these ratings are at 32ohm). I had no trouble driving headphones up to 150ohm using the single ended output and was able to drive some 600ohm Beyer’s using the balanced out. At 600ohm, you are not going to get very much volume out of the M3s to be sure, but not many people use 600ohm headphones while on the go anyway. When paired with either iems or portable headphones, the m3s has no trouble getting volumes to realistic listening levels with plenty of headroom to really crank the volume for those who want to rock out.

Use Cases for the M3s:

1.) Looking for portable DAP for DSD (up to and including DSD256) or 32/384 playback, this is one of the few that has the specs to really handle it while still retaining enough output power to run larger headphones.

2.) If you are looking for a dap that offers the ability to tether your phone and stream music from your favorite services, the M3s offers both Bluetooth and wired options.

3.) If you want to be able to use your DAP as a transport for an external DAC (either Bluetooth or Line out) or if you want to do the opposite and use the M3s as a DAC for you USB capable source, you have both options.

4.) If you are looking for a DAP with balanced output to offer additional power to higher impedance or lower sensitivity earphones that need that bit of extra push the M3s offers balanced output with enough power to run hungry cans and enough battery to last a full workday.

Middle Ground – the M2s

Some people will have read to this point and realized that at different times of day, they fit into both the M1 and the M3s use case. While you could always purchase both if your budget will allow, there is another option that while a compromise, gives you most of the features of both the m1 and the M3s in a single device.

The M2s is exactly in between the M1 and M3s in dimensions and very close to the midway point in weight although it leans more toward the m3s in feature set and battery capacity. The M2s uses the same chip as the M3s but instead of using one per channel, the M2s uses a single 4490 to handle both channels thus saving 50% of the circuitry. This allows for a 1800mAh battery while maintaining an 8-hour battery life. The M2s shares the ability to use it as a DAC with your USB source, or as a source for your USB DAC. It will also tether to a phone via Bluetooth and allow the use of your favorite streaming sources. Output power is the same as the Single-ended output of the m3s. The M2s does not have the balanced output of its bigger brother but for many that will be a non-event as most headphones come wired for single-ended. The M2s has more than enough output power for most in-ears and portable headphones up to 150ohm. Above 150ohm, the output begins to drop in volume and while still usable, it will be limited. Above 300ohms, the m2s begins to struggle to produce enough volume to be listenable. A lot will depend on how efficient the headphone or earphone used is, but it is worth noting that for high impedance/low sensitivity cans, one should try the m2s first before assuming it will have adequate power to run your cans at a comfortable listening level.

Use Cases for the M2:

1.) If you have a need for a DAP with good sound quality for use with Single Ended earphones.

2.) If you want to stream media from your phone and let the DAP do the work of decoding and save your phones battery.

3.) If you want a DAP you can use as a source with USB DACs or if you want to use your DAP as the USB DAC with another USB source.


I had mixed emotions about the M2s as this was the one of the three players I hadn’t owned previously. My thinking going into this review was: I questioned whether the $79 price difference between the M2s and M3s was enough to be worth losing the 2nd DAC and the balanced output. After using both players for 10 days, I can say conclusively that I made the right decision for me by purchasing the M3s. On the other hand, if you have a limited budget, the M2s makes a very good all-around player with a lot of capability and premium build quality. The $200 DAP market has gotten very competitive and while I can’t say the m2s is the only player one should consider, I can certainly say it deserves a spot amongst the top 3 I have had the opportunity to try at or near the $200 price point.

I could find a reason to buy all three of the Shanling Players and actually have purchased 2 of the 3 already. The M1 is about perfect for a pocket player when combined with any easy to drive IEM. For a combined price of sub-$200 for the M1, the case and something like the KZ-Zsr it would make a good gift idea for those new to audio. This combination may well end up in a few stockings come this winter. For my office DAP, I could be happy with either of the larger two depending on budget constraints. At the top end, the M3s is competitive with the sound quality of the likes of the Opus #1s, the AK70, and the Cowon Plenue which puts it in very good company.

While the three players may not be interchangeable and some fit specific uses better than others, it is hard to imagine a use case for which one of the three is not a top-flight competitor. Knowing that even as I type this Shanling has introduced and even smaller and touch screen M0, I can only surmise that the next generation of DAPs from Shanling will likely all incorporate the changes found in the M0 in the next generation of their higher-end products and continue to improve an already very solid line. If you haven’t yet, you should check out Shanling, chances are pretty good they build something that will make you smile.

CHIPS and DIP (Sockets that is). (Notes an DAC Families)

I spent some time AB testing the M3s vs some other DAPs in the same general price range. It seems that three chip families define the market at this price point; The Sabre series (9018/9023/9028), the Cirrus Logic (4398 and 43198), and the AK (4490,4490EQ,4495). All three families are very capable and while I think that implementation is far more important in the overall sound produced by the DAP than which chip is used, chip families due tend to have a house sound or tuning that tends to be visible in most of the products sporting the chip. I want to admit right up front, input quality, input processing, clock quality, and analog stages have a lot to do with sound and implementation is more critical than which chip is used in creating a quality product. Those other components may either enhance or mask the natural tendencies of the DAC making it harder to pick out which family is in use but with more samples of products with each chip, certain qualities do begin to show through.

AK (4490)– Good bass extension but slightly forward bass that extends into the mid-bass range, thinner mids, followed by slightly forward highs. Treble extension, while good, is not quite as well extended or controlled as the Sabre line. AK calls the line the Velvet Sound and I think this is a good description as when I think of velvet, I think smooth. The AKM series in general produces a very musical signature and is more forgiving of source material than either of the other families. The downside of the AKM tuning is, smooth musical rendering can hide detail and does especially when it is combined with the slightly thinned mids. For me, as a devote of blues-rock, guitar detail is all important and the AKM can sometimes mask it.

Sabre (9023) – Very accurate and clinical at the expense of being the most digital sounding of the three. If AK went for the “Velvet” signature, Sabre went with “technical”. Where AK went with natural, almost tube sounding filters, the Sabre series went for absolute precision sometimes at the expense of musicality. The Sabre series tends to have the brightest sound of the three families partially because it also has the best treble extension of the three (at times by a pronounced margin). The lows and mids of the Sabre series tend to be closer to neutral than the AKM series and slightly thinner.

Cirrus Logic (43198)– The CS chips tend to be a little closer to the Sabre than the AK in that they are slightly bass light with neutral mids and well extended highs. They are a bit thicker and fuller than the Sabre while still maintaining a clean sound and more detail than present in the AK chip. The CS provides a balance between the other two chips that offers some of the technical micro-detail of the Sabre while maintaining some of the musicality and natural tonality of the AK.

Again, these are the ramblings of an old fool so your mileage may vary.
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Just one thing, Shanling players don't use any plastic on construction of body. Frame is aluminium and both front and back are glass panels.
My apologies, I have corrected the error.
Very detailed review, I appreciated the many comparisons!

Just wanted to share that has m3s cases on sale for a little over $5, shipping to US close to $11, all colors (or should I say colours)


twister6 Reviews
Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: neutral-smooth tonality, balanced output, 2-way Bluetooth with HibyLink support, very compact solid design, battery life.
Cons: no internal storage and only a single uSD, glass display that begs to be touch screen.

The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with my readers on Head-fi.

Manufacturer website: Shanling, available for sale on MusicTeck and Amazon.


While being familiar with Shanling M2s DAP (reviewed here), the first thought that went through my mind when I saw M3s was “OMG, they stretched M2s!!!” I don’t think I have seen another manufacturer with 2 different models that have so much exterior design resemblance. But if you think about it, Shanling put a lot of effort into M2s design and ergonomics, and M3s is just a souped-up M2s with a noticeably better spec. Thus, without fixing what ain’t broke, they only extended the length (from 85mm to 113mm) while keeping the rest similar, to allocate more room for additional components.

In this new, or in theory updated design from the original M3, Shanling put their 30 years of experience in audio business to come up with a budget friendly very compact audio player that packs a lot of features and takes very little room in your pocket. I’m not gonna sound like a broken record and repeat again about market being saturated with mid-fi models, though I guess I just did :) So, let’s find out if Shanling was successful in their magic trick, and that extra 28mm of length paid off to take M2s to a whole new M3s level.



M3s arrived in a compact packaging box wrapped in a white sleeve with a clear picture of the DAP, unlike a more mysterious outline of chassis in M2s packaging box. The back of the box had a brief list of main features, giving you an idea of what to expect, though the list was a bit hard to read.

With a sleeve and a cover off, you get a closeup of M3s inside of a secure foam cutout. From the first look, you just want to slide your finger across its smooth glass surface. Yes, it’s easy to get a wrong impression thinking it has a touch screen because of the smooth front edge-to-edge glass with a small wheel on the right side. With M3s out, underneath you will find a selection of various accessories I'm going to talk about next.

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Here you will find 2 sets of screen protectors, considering M3s has a glass surface on the front and the back. Also, a warranty and a manual, along with a quick start guide. Furthermore, you will find a microSD card USB reader, a reset push pin which also doubles as a 3.5mm headphone jack dust cover, and USB-C charging/data cable. More and more manufacturers are switching to a new USB-C standard, so an extra USB-C cable never hurts. Also, an extra Hi-Res sticker was included. Keep in mind, there is one already in the lower left corner on top of the glass display, so remember to peel it off before applying a new screen protector.

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The only thing missing was the case. I mean, the case is available in 4 different colors, though it's optional and cost only $15. This is a very nice soft pleather case which I found to be a must for M3s. A slick shape and a smooth glass back makes this DAP slippery in your hand. The case improves the grip and protects the glass on the back, thanks to a soft material on the inside. The case covers hw playback buttons and return button under the volume wheel (imprinted so you can feel it with your finger), and covers uSD slot to protect it from dust and accidental card pop-out. The ports at the bottom are open, though I wish there would be a bigger opening of the balanced output port to accommodate larger plugs. The other comment, I also wish the cutout around the volume wheel would be a little more open for an easier access, though having a wheel half-covered protects it when in a pocket.

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Another optional accessory which I recommend is Shanling L2 cable. The usb-c to micro-usb cable is necessary to connect M3s as a digital transport to external DAC/amp, and this cable will work with many other DAPs for the same purpose as well. Similar cables are available on eBay and amazon, but some of them are poor quality, many eBay cables don’t even work. This L2 cable has a very durable build with braided silver-plated copper conductors, right angled gold plated micro-usb connector, and 304 steel usb-c connector. At $25 a pop, I think this cable is a good investment to use with Shanling and Cayin daps, among others.

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M3s as a transport driving HA-2 w/L2:

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M3s has a slick candy bar shape, very pocket friendly, measuring only 113mm x 53mm x 14.5mm with a weight of about 135g. It’s literally a scaled-up version of M2s, only longer in length. The DAP comes in 4 colors, black, blue, grey, and red. It feels very solid in your hand, though it does feel a little slippery with a glass back cover on top of the aluminum shell. The front of the DAP is also covered in glass, giving you an impression of a touch screen, though it’s not. The actual visible Retina screen area of the display is 3 inches, but the front glass extends beyond that, covering edge to edge.

The top of M3s has a power button, with a typical long press to power on/off and short press to turn screen on/off. To turn the unit on, just listen for a relay click when pressing and holding the power button. Left side has reset pinhole, followed by 3 hw playback control buttons with Play/Pause in the middle and Skip Next/Prev buttons on each side. MicroSD card slot is toward the bottom of the left side, supporting up to 256GB (and probably the latest 400GB as well) which is the only storage due to no internal flash memory.

At the bottom, you have USB-C port which is used for charging, data transfer, as well as USB DAC input and Digital output. Next is 3.5mm headphone output which can also be selected to function as Line Out from within Settings menu, and all the way to the right is 2.5mm balanced output. Right side at the top has a small wheel which is used for scrolling and navigation through the menus and selections. The wheel has a very precise control with a nice click action you can feel, easy to operate with a thumb, though still with enough resistance not to be loose. The wheel itself also doubles as a click button when you press on it, with a nice tactile feedback. Below the wheel is a small return button, to take you out of the current screen, like an escape button.

Overall, it’s a very nice-looking DAP, with a comfortable compact footprint, and a very efficient ergonomics of the controls enabling easy one-handed operation, though with a case on you need to find a comfortable angle to turn the volume wheel with your thumb.

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Under the hood.

As mentioned already, you will find HD Retina screen with 3” display at 480x800 pixels 300PPI resolution. There is also a glass on the back of the DAP, leaving an all-metal CNC frame with a sandblasted coating surrounding the top/bottom and the sides of it. Another unique element carried over from M2s design is Japan imported ALPS multi-function wheel with a rating of 500,000 presses and 100,000 turns.

Despite its relatively small footprint, M3s is packed with a lot of features, which is a noticeable upgrade from M2s. Now it features a dual AKM AK4490EQ DAC, along with an optimized balanced design with 4-way LPF circuit (using two MUSE8920 opamps) and a 4-way amp circuit (using two AD8397 opamps). The design also features high accuracy dual crystal oscillators, 4 Panasonic FC audio capacitors and 4 Panasonic polymer tantalum capacitors, and two OMRON relays providing a circuit protection for single-ended and balanced outputs.

And speaking of outputs and headphone amp, the single-ended 3.5mm output is still rated at 130mW into 32ohm load, while balanced 2.5mm output now boosts the power to 230mW into 32ohm load, damn good for a small DAP. Also, Shanling took their customer feedback very seriously about output impedance, and now both outputs are under 1 ohm.

With all this hardware under the hood, M3s is capable to support hardware decoding of DSD256, PCM384kHz / 32bit support include: MP3, WAV, WMA, FLAC, AAC, ALAC, APE, ISO, DSF, DFF and other lossless audio formats, plus a support of cue, m3u, msu8. Just keep in mind, DSD is supported in wired connection mode with headphones plugged in. When you switch to Bluetooth wireless headphones, DSD files are not supported due to bandwidth limitation, which makes sense.

As part of Bluetooth wireless connection, you get two-way BT4.1 with AptX codec support. This is Duplex BT mode where you can pair up M3s with BT wireless headphones or pair up M3s with your Smartphone or another DAP supporting BT to act as a wireless Bluetooth DAC. This could come very handy to stream Spotify or Tidal from your Smartphone, transmitting it wireless to your DAP. Or, you can use Hiby audio app with HibyLink to control your M3s remotely.

As I mentioned already, no internal storage is available, but you can use microSD card up to 256GB, and I suspect the latest 400GB should be supported as well. Last, but not least, the internal 2600 mAh lithium battery will give you close to 13 hours of playback with mp3/flac files at an average listening volume. Listening to DSD files or with BT enabled will reduce the battery life, as expected. Also, full charging takes a little over 3 hours with 5V/2A charger.


When you start M3s, identical to M2s, you are greeted with a familiar Menu selection, something you have seen in many other non-Android DAPs by FiiO, Cayin, and Shanling. No surprises here since Hiby fw/sw is behind this release, which mean that many will feel like at home navigating through M3s menus. Starting from the top, Now Playing will bring you the currently playing track, and My Music helps you sort by recent plays, open all, list of tagged My Favorites, as well as Album, Genre, Artist, or the Playlist. File Browser takes you to microSD card or OTG expansion storage, where you navigate by directories (my personal preferred way). As mentioned before, navigation is easy and under control using a scrolling wheel and pushing it to select the song or the settings.

Play Setting has an extensive selection of options with Maximum volume limit and Default volume setting, Resume mode (off, or by Location in a song or the Track itself), Gapless Playback or Fade in/out (both working quite well), 10 Band EQ with +/- 6 dB adjustment and different genre specific presets or a custom EQ setting. You also get 2 levels of gain setting, Low pass filter mode (sharp, slow, short delay sharp, and short delay slow, per AKM DAC setting), Gain replay, Channel Balance, Play Mode, and Folder skip on playback (on/off).

In System Setting you have a lot more options, including different ways to update the music, Bluetooth menu/setting, Backlight setting, auto-shutdown and sleep timer, different options for Screen locked operation (where you select which hw button function to enable), resume play, a few different Themes, Clock setting (always visible in notification bar and in the lock screen), USB mode (DAC or usb data), DSD output mode, HO/LO output selection, Language, About M3s, Restore factory settings, and System update (fw).

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The main Playback screen will have the clock (can be turned off), volume level, and battery status in notification bar (notification bar is visible from every screen). Then, you have a large area of the screen dedicated to artwork of the song, if available, and at the bottom you can see info about the song format, the file index number from the directory or folder, the time scroll/scrub bar with a current time position and a total track time, the Song/Artist name, and Play mode on the left side or Favorite "heart" indicator on the right side. While in Playback screen, press'n'hold Volume wheel brings up a shortcut menu with Play Mode, Add to Playlist (either My favorites or a Custom playlist), Play and System settings shortcuts (per description above), and Delete file option. Also, press'n'hold of Return button in Playback screen takes you to the main "front page" menu.

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Overall, all the menus and settings are easy to navigate, self-explanatory, with lots of options, and a fast learning curve even for those who are not familiar with Shanling, FiiO, or Cayin DAPs.

Sound analysis.

To my ears M3s has a neutral full body clear detailed sound with a smooth tonality tilted a little more toward the warmer side. A few years back, DAPs used to have a more differentiated tonality which made it more challenging to pair them up with different sig headphones. Now, more manufacturers tune their DAPs to have a more neutral tonality, with a tilt toward brighter or warmer side, giving a user an option to color the sound further with either external dac/amp or different signature headphones. In my opinion, it’s always better to start with a closer to neutral baseline sound and then to go from there.

I was also pleased that Shanling now features a low output impedance, making their DAP friendlier in pair ups with different multi-BA and hybrid IEMs. As a result, I found no issues affecting the sound like I have heard it with M2s. I tested M3s with many IEMs (from low to higher impedance) and a handful of full size (from planar magnetic to some more demanding higher impedance open backs, like R70x) and found this DAP to have a great bass extension, full body lower mids, clear, detailed, smooth, organic upper mids, and a treble with a nice level of sparkle. Keep in mind, you will hear a sound variation depending on headphones sound signature, but these observations above are the “common denominator” of what I hear between all headphones I used for testing.

Also, I found M3s to have a good dynamics expansion, the sound never felt compressed or congested, and it has a wide soundstage with a moderate depth that doesn’t expand too far out of your head, giving you a more elliptical space around you.

Furthermore, when comparing M3s single-ended vs BAL output, I can certainly confirm a higher power, noticeable by about 7 volume clicks which I had to crank up when switching to SE. Also, I found BAL soundstage to extend wider, as well as BAL output having a touch more sparkle in treble.



In the following comparison between Shanling M3s and other DAPs, I made sure to specify if it was done using SE (3.5mm output) or BAL (2.5mm output). As usual, I try to volume match between DAPs when doing a comparison, and try different pairs of IEMs and full size to find common trends in sound analysis.

M3s vs M2s (SE) - M3s has a more revealing, slightly brighter tonality while M2s sounds smoother. M3s sound is more dynamic and due to a more revealing (brighter tonality) I also hear it to have better layering and separation. The perception of M3s soundstage is a little wider, but it could also be due to more sparkle and airiness in the upper frequencies. Another noticeable difference is M3s having a tighter sound with a blacker background, suggesting an improved SNR (confirmed 115dB M3s vs 108dB M2s). In terms of the functionality, they are identical. With a design and performance, M3s has under an ohm output impedance, additional higher power balanced output, and bigger battery with improved playback time performance. Of course, price difference should be taken into consideration, and perhaps some of the advantage of M3s are not necessary if you are looking for the smallest DAP or the smallest digital transport.

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M3s vs Cayin N3 (SE) - Well, I can't tell them apart, everything from a tonality to a soundstage expansion, and layering/separation of the sound is nearly identical. Furthermore, these have a nearly identical functionality, down to no internal storage with only uSD expansion, a very similar Hiby sw/fw, external hw control buttons, and two-way Bluetooth with HibyLink support. The deciding factor here will be a price difference with N3 being $130 cheaper, while M3s having a balanced output with a higher power to drive more demanding headphones.

M3s vs FiiO X5iii (BAL) - M3s has a wider soundstage, more revealing transparent sound with a brighter crisper tonality, and blacker background. X5iii is smoother, warmer, not as layered or transparent. Other than that, M3s only has one external uSD card while X5iii has internal 32GB storage and dual uSD card expansion. Also, M3s only has 2way Bluetooth and HibyLink support, while X5iii has Bluetooth and WiFi support with Google Play to enable streaming. Again, price difference should be taken into consideration as well.

M3s vs Aune M1S (BAL) - Both have a wide soundstage, transparent sound with excellent retrieval of details. When it comes to tonality, M1S is a little smoother, warmer, and more musical, while M3s is more neutral in comparison. Both don't have internal storage, only uSD expansion. M1S is playback only device, while M3s adds 2-way Bluetooth and HibyLink support.

M3s vs theBit Opus#1 (BAL) - Very similar soundstage expansion, similar level of transparency and detail retrieval, M3s tonality is a little more neutral and more natural, in comparison to #1 having a little more mid-bass impact and brighter treble. #1 has internal storage and dual uSD while M3s only has uSD expansion. As a bonus, M3s adds 2-way Bluetooth and HibyLink, while #1 doesn't have anything extra up their sleeve.

M3s vs L&P L3 Pro (BAL) - very similar soundstage expansion, similar level of transparency and detail retrieval, also very similar tonality from mids to treble, but L3Pro has more mid-bass impact and a bit smoother lower treble. Also, both have a single uSD card expansion, while L3 also has 32GB of internal memory. Even though L3 has a touch screen, you can only tap on it, can’t swipe it, while M3s uses a wheel and buttons for navigation. Also, L3 is audio playback only device while M3s adds 2-way Bluetooth and HibyLink support to pair up with a smartphone and wireless headphones.

M3s vs Cayin N5ii (BAL) - I hear N5ii to have just slightly wider soundstage and a little better dynamic expansion. In terms of tonality, N5ii is a little leaner while M3S has a fuller body, but in general they are not too far off. While M3s only has one external uSD card, N5ii offers internal memory and 2 uSD cards. Both have BAL output and external hw playback controls as well as a physical volume wheel. Also, both have Bluetooth for pair up with wireless headphones, plus M3s has access to HibyLink. One big difference, N5ii has is a touch screen while M3s doesn’t. Plus, N5ii supports WiFi and Android along with Google Play store which gives you access to apps, while M3s can only "stream" music by means of two-way Bluetooth with a HibyLink connection from a smartphone to control M3s.



First, I would like to give Shanling a pat on the back for listening to their customers when it comes to output impedance. It’s not a showstopper, can be fixed with iEMatch dongle, and you can read my M2s review to find out more details. But the fact that Shanling listened to their customers and improved their headphone amp section to ensure low output impedance is a big plus. I personally found M3s to be a rather noticeable step up from M2s. Perhaps it looks almost the same from outside, except longer, has a similar OS, single uSD, two-way Bluetooth and HibyLink support, but going up with dual AK4490 DAC, balanced 2.5mm output with a higher output power, improved battery performance, and improved sound performance is more than enough justify M3s as an upgrade from M2s.

Perhaps M3s doesn’t have a touch screen and it’s not Android based with app support to stream audio. But there seems to be still many audio enthusiasts who are fine with buttons and navigation wheels, preferring a design with a smaller footprint. In the last few years Shanling made a name for themselves with M1 and M2s, as two very compact pocket friendly DAPs. Now, they took it up another notch by updating the design to be more competitive on audio performance level with other mid-fi DAPs, and I think they succeeded. They are facing a stiff competition, though they do have a few tricks up their sleeve with a balanced output, high power, two-way Bluetooth, and HibyLink, and a very competitive pricing. So, make sure to take all these Pros and Cons into consideration when you are deciding on your next pocket friendly DAP.


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