Shanling M3s Digital Audio Player


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.


500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Beautiful design, good UI, powerful and quiet outputs, Bluetooth and USB DAC functionality, HibyLink, USB-C
Cons: Android compatibility quirks, gets warm during use, questionable value of balanced output
Shanling DAP Impressions



I was selected to be part of the Shanling Hi-Res Portable Players Review Tour. I had 10 days with the M1, M2s and M3s before shipping them to the next reviewer. I am not being compensated for writing this review or pressured to come to a predetermined conclusion. This review will focus on the M3s, but I will include comparisons to the other two devices throughout.

About Me:
I listen mostly to heavy metal, hip hop, and electronic music, as well as movie and video game soundtracks. I value detail, clarity, and soundstage above other acoustic qualities, and generally prefer a V-shaped sound signature.

The headphones currently in my possession include:

Campfire Audio Polaris, Mee Audio Pinnacle P1, Mee Audio Pinnacle P2, VE Monk Espresso, E-MU Teak, KZ ATE, Mixcder X5, Sony MDR-ZX100, and Archeer AH07

Source files and other equipment used:

I used 44.1kHz/16 Bits FLAC on a 128GB SD card for most of my listening. I have used the Shanling M3s as both a Bluetooth DAC and a USB DAC with a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 smartphone running an Android Oreo custom rom to play Spotify HQ streaming. The Redmi Note 4 was also used to control playback on the M3s using Hibylink. I have also used the Shanling M3s as a USB DAC with PCs running Windows 10 to play Spotify HQ streaming and both redbook and Hi-Res FLAC files.

Acessories/Build Quality:

The M3s unit on the tour was a striking red color, and came with an installed screen protector, USB-A to USB-C cable, two screen protectors for both the front and the back glass, a user manual, a warranty information booklet, a quick start guide, a reset pin, and a Hi-Res sticker. A faux leather case and a braided Micro-USB to USB-C cable were also included in separate boxes. The M3s is the heaviest DAP I’ve handled, coming in at around 110 grams according to my kitchen scale I did not use the included case during my time with the M3s.


Like its siblings, the M3s is a beautiful device. The M3s replicates the design of the M2s but extends the body about 2 and a half cm, moving the navigation wheel and back button slightly down the side of the body. The 3.5mm SE jack is moved slightly inwards across the bottom of the device to make room for a 2.5mm balanced jack closer to the bottom right corner of the bottom of the device. The M3s retains the 2.5D glass on the front and back and the curved upper right-hand corner of the M1 and M2s, and the texturing on the navigation/volume knob from the M2s. The one fault of the design is the screen. It is painfully obvious that the M3s uses the same screen as the M2s, which leaves a huge amount of unused space below the screen on the M3s’ extended body. This does not affect the functionality of the device negatively but is a disappointing concession to economics given how beautiful every other aspect of the design is. On the other hand, I have to commend Shanling for using USB-C on all three devices. This should really be a basic expectation at this date, and it is frustrating that it is so rare.

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I generally found the Shanling devices easy to use. On both the M2s and M3s, there is a power button on the top of the device, a clickable navigation wheel and a back button on the right-hand side, and rewind, pause/play, and fast forward buttons on the left-hand side. The headphone outputs and the USB-C charge/sync ports are on the bottom, and the SD card slot is on the left-hand side below the playback controls. On the M1, the SD card slot and the USB-C charge/sync port are both on the bottom, and there is a clickable scroll disc on the back that is used for navigation and volume control. The power button is on the right-hand side, and the back, rewind, and fast-forward buttons are on the left.

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On the M2s and M3s, I liked that the navigation/volume button and the back button are on the same side of the device, and that playback controls are on the other. This was one area of the M1 which I never got completely used to. On the M1, the back button is the topmost of three buttons on the left hand side of the device, above the fast-forward and rewind buttons, while the power button is on the right hand side. I would have preferred a power button on the top like the M2s and M3s, perhaps on the left side of the top instead of the right to accommodate the navigation wheel, or instead for the navigation wheel to double as a power button with an extended long press, and with the back button on the right-hand side and playback controls on the left. I did not necessarily miss having a centered pause button on the M1, but even having the back button centered between the fast-forward and rewind buttons would have been an improvement for me.

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The Shanling devices boot up in less than 10 seconds, and UI is fluid and responsive on all of them. I did not have issues with lagging menus using any of them. However, when resuming playback on the M3s after startup, there is a lengthy pause of several seconds before the music actually kicks back in. Additionally, the first few seconds of playback on the first song played after the device boots up are cut off.

Like the other Chinese DAPs I have used recently, the Shanling devices can be navigated either through a file browser or through a music library. The Shanling devices read most of my CUE sheets without issue but did not recognize certain albums even while reading track titles and artists correctly.

The devices have two menu sets: play settings and system settings.The play settings include: maximum volume limit (20-100 at intervals of 20), default volume (memory or 20-100 at intervals of 20), resume mode (off, track, and location), gapless playback (on/off), fade in and fade out (on/off), EQ, gain setting (low/high), lowpass filter mode, gain replay (off, track, album), channel balance, play mode (list, repeat track, shuffle, repeat all), and folder skip (on/off).

I did not use EQ while listening with the Shanling devices, and I did not experiment with the lowpass filter mode settings. I do appreciate that Shanling gives users the option to do so, but I kept the M1 on “sharp” and the M3s and the M2s on “short delay sharp” over the course of my time with them. The M1 has two filter settings: sharp and slow, and the M2s and M3s both have sharp, slow, short delay sharp, and short delay slow settings.

The system settings that appear on all three devices include: update music automatically (on/off), update music immediately, Bluetooth settings, backlight brightness (5 levels), backlight timer (off, 10-40s at intervals of 10), auto-standby (off, 1m, 3m, 5m, 10m), sleep timer (off, 15m, 30m, 1hr, 2hr), screen-locked operation (off, volume adjustment only, track navigation only, all unlocked), automatically resume playing (off, 8s, 15s, 30s, 60s), themes (4 themes), clock (off/12hr/24hr), clock set, USB mode (MTP/USB DAC), DSD output mode (D2P, DoP, native), language, about device, restore factory settings, system update.

I appreciated that the M3s and its siblings give the user an option to turn off automatic library updating upon insertion of SD cards. I typically use folder navigation, and automatic library updating is a waste of time for me. This is one of the big usability advantages of the Shanling units over the Hidizs AP60II in my personal possession. My one quibble with the menus is that I think the line-out function should be more clearly labelled. Currently, the line-out function on the M2s and M3s is controlled by a switch called “Output options” in system settings, with the two settings being LO and PO. When I first used the device, I thought this setting controlled gain, and accidently turned on the Line-out function. The resulting volume blast was highly unpleasant. I consider myself savvy when it comes to user-interfaces, so it is possible that other users might be similarly confused by this.

Because my smartphone lacks a dedicated DAC, the USB and Bluetooth DAC functionality of a DAP is important to me. Unfortunately, widespread compatibility issues exist attempting to use USB DACs with Android smartphones. The Shanling devices did not work as USB DACs with my smartphone using a Monoprice Micro-USB to USB-C OTG cable, or the braided cable included in the review package. My phone would display a dialog giving options for charging, MTP transfer, PTP transfer, and MIDI output (picture included in gallery). However, they did work as USB DACs using the included USB-C to USB-A charge/sync cable connected to a USB OTG Y cable, though the Shanling devices charged from my phone when connected in this way, prohibiting extensive use. The Shanling devices were usable as Bluetooth DACs, though they were limited to the SBC protocol in receiver mode, as verified through the developer settings on my phone as well as logcat output. This is fine for streaming Spotify HQ, but streaming anything with a higher bitrate is pointless, including Tidal or any lossless or Hi-Res files stored on the transmitting device. The Shanling devices can also be used to transmit over Bluetooth using Apt-X, which I tested using my Apt-X enabled Archeer AH07 headphones.

I had no issues using the Shanling devices as USB DACs with my Windows PCs. When connected, they were immediately recognized by my PC and set as the default audio output. While in use as a USB DAC, the Shanling devices will display the sample rate and bit depth being used. As with the AP60II I reviewed recently, the M3s and M2s default to an output of 32kHz/32 Bits when connected to my PCs, which is easily changed. The M1 defaulted to 32kHz/24 Bits. The devices appear to support a maximum sampling rate of 192kHz. Options appear in Windows for up to 384kHz in both 32 Bits and 24 Bits, but these do not output sound. The devices does not appear to output at 16 Bits at all, with the lowest sampling rate option being 44.1kHz/24 Bits, which is a potential issue for bitperfect purists. I had no issues with stuttering or static with any of the devices.

The Shanling devices also support HibyLink functionality using the HibyMusic app, supporting both folder and category navigation. This allows the user to control playback from their linked smartphone.

I did not carefully measure battery life during my time with the Shanling devices. However, they all charged very quickly after full battery depletion.


I generally subscribe to the philosophy that if a source device is coloring the sound, something is wrong with the source device, so I will not present an extensive discussion of frequency response changes. To my ears, the Shanling devices output sound clearly and accurately. That said, the Shanling devices have very clean outputs. With the M3s, there was noticeably less hissing during the quieter sections of songs with my sensitive Campfire Audio Polaris hybrid IEMs than compared with my smartphone or the Hidizs AP60II.

I did test both the single ended and balanced outputs of the M3s. This is my second experience with a balanced setup, the first being my time with the Fiio Q1 MkII, and I have to say that I don't know what all the fuss is about. I could not hear any appreciate difference in tonality or soundstage when using the balanced output as compared to the single ended output. Though the balanced output does offer more power compared to the single ended output, the single ended output on the M3s is no slouch. With the single-ended output I had plenty of headroom on the high-gain setting even with the 50 ohm P1 Pinnacle. I wish manufacturers would focus their efforts on building powerful and clean single-ended outputs instead of chasing the balanced output trend, especially because both of the balanced setups I have used have shared a significant drawback: heat. The M3s became very warm when using the balanced output, not quite to the point of unpleasantness, but almost there. The Fiio Q1 MkII exhibited similar tendencies.

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Closing words

The Shanling devices offer impressive design, ease of use, and functionality at reasonable prices. While the M3s is impressive, I would agree with Shanling’s assertion that the M2s is probably the best value of the three, especially given that most of the M3s' price increase over the M2s is probably due to the balanced output. I liked the M1 the least because of its button placement/design. I am hopeful that the next generation of Shanling DAPs will use a chip capable of Apt-X/Apt-X HD in receiver mode, which would mitigate the continued and likely unavoidable compatibility issues with Android devices.


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Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Sound, form and force
Cons: no touch screen or wifi
Shanling M3s Review
- Expatinjapan

Shanling M3s with Campfire Audio Vega and Astral Acoustics Taurus cable.

Before the Shanling M3s was released another of their products was doing the rounds rather quite successfully. The Shanling M1.
The Shanling M1 has developed a following and a celebrated history as a decent wee player and also as an excellent source to such dac/amps as the Mojo etc.

I myself haven`t had the opportunity to really try one out, but Ta-ke at Head pie has reviewed it:

and impressions have been shared by shared by Mimouille:

My curiosity was piqued already way before the Shanling M3s was released or even announced.

Superb and stunning lines. The Shanling M3s with iBasso IT01

Unboxing and build

Clean cut outer packaging with a solid core inside.

First glimpse. So shiny, like an audiophile jewel.

A word to the wise Smurfs

Specs and stuff

USB-C cable

Covers shields of glory! For front and back.

Exquisite and almost delicious

Navigation buttons. Scroll and enter, small for go back.

2.5mm Balanced, 3.5mm SE/Line out and USB-C for charging and data transfer.

Main on/off power button. Reset. Usual play/pause, Forward and back buttons.
Micro SD card port not shown.

Shanling M3s with Campfire Audio Vega and Astral Acoustics Taurus balanced cable.


M3s portable music player

Features via Penon audio:
Shanling M3s DSD256 AK4490 Bluetooth 4.1 Apt-X Portable Lossless Music Player

A new form to fully meet the wireless and balance era

-Balanced output and unbalanced output.
-2.5mm balanced interface connects with balanced headphones to provide more powerful drive, a full-balanced circuit to bring a wider sound field and more accurate positioning.
Dual DAC, 4-way LPF circuit, 4-way amp circuit, true full-balanced output
-Dual output, well designed optimized circuit
-Using two AK4490 as DAC chips
-Two MUSE8920 chips as low-pass filter chips
-The part of headphone amp is divided into two AD8397, regardless of cost, sophisticated materials, only for seeking more excellent voice performance.
Dual crystal oscillator (KDS ~ DSB series)
-H24.5OD727 and H22.5OD726 two crystals use the sound source with different sampling rate respectively.
-Provide clock frequency, the use of Japan's large vacuum imported crystal oscillator.
-High accuracy, effectively reduce the phase distortion
FC Capacitor (Panasonic)
-4 Panasonic FC audio capacitors plus 4 Panasonic polymer tantalum capacitors are used for amp power supply filtering.
-Polymer Tantalum Capacitors (Panasonic)
-4 Panasonic polymer tantalum capacitors are used for DAC power supply filter, with excellent electrical performance, low ESR
Omron relay
-Two OMRON relays provide circuit protection for single-ended and balanced output respectively, pure physical disconnection and suction, relative to the silent chip, no effect on the output
New Hiby Link function
-Open the Hibylink function, make the phone become M3s bluetooth remote control
-Don't need to take out the player can complete all operations, wireless and convenient
-One touch and connect, remote control playback, adjust the volume by yourself, beautiful endless
Two-way 4.1 Bluetooth, support Apt-X Bluetooth protocol
-Two-way Bluetooth, you can send Bluetooth signals, you can also receive Bluetooth signals
Rounded transition, fine design language, giving you a better sense of gripping
-Aluminum alloy frame and the front and rear 2.5D tempered glass panel converge together, fine body size, one hand grip more ergonomics, bring a good hand feel experience.
HD Retina screen
-3 inch 480 * 800 pixels 300PPI
Dredge oil pollution, less fingerprints
-Using mobile phone level coating process, dredge oil and water
Two-way USB Type-C interface
-Connect the computer can be as an external decoder
Support USB digital output function
-Support DSD Native / Dop / D2p output mode
-Can be connected to decode amp, then can be used as a digital turntable
Sony Hi-Res standard certification
-M3s through the Japanese Hi-Res certification, a high degree of restoring audio, to bring you a more realistic listening experience
Big driving, low noise
-The main chip through excellent packaging shield, optimize the power circuit design, maintain a large drive and meanwhile reducing low noise.
Support playback a variety of lossless format
-Support for hard decoding DSD256, PCM384kHz / 32bit support include: MP3, WAV, WMA, FLAC, AAC, ALAC, APE, ISO, DSF, DFF and other lossless audio formats, support cue, m3u, msu8
Special operation wheel
-Japan imported ALPS surface exquisite masonry bumpy texture
-Can press 500,000 times, can turn 100,000 times
Excellent life time (specific life time according to the different environment will be slightly different)
-Unbalanced interface: 13 hours
-Balance interface: 8 hours
20 days deep standby
-Ready to use at any time, no need to set, no need to shut down
Precise CNC, to create all-metal frame
-Integral form curved body, the surface uses sandblasting process, to give your gripping a new experience.
PO / LO integration
-Can "Line out" connect with external amp

Shanling M3S and Jomo audio 6R

Size: 113 × 53 × 14.5mm
Weight: about 135g
Power supply (adapter): DC5V, 2A / Type-C USB interface
Charging time: about 2.5H (off state)
Life time: about 13 hours (headphone output); about 8 hours (balance headphone output)
Battery capacity: 2600mA
Storage: external TF card, the maximum capacity to support 256GB
USB: Type-C (USB2.0)
Headphone output (3.5mm)
Output power: 130mW (32Ω / THD + N <1%)
Frequency response: 20Hz ~ 20kHz (-0.15dB)
Signal to noise ratio: ≥115dB (A-Weighting)
Output impedance: <0.3Ω
Channel separation: > 75dB
Distortion + Noise: 0.0015%
Balanced headphone output (2.5mm)
Output power: ≥230mW (32Ω / THD + N <1%)
Frequency response: 20Hz ~ 20kHz (-0.15dB)
Signal to noise ratio: ≥115dB (A-Weighting)
Output impedance: <0.6Ω
Channel separation: > 102dB
Distortion + Noise: 0.0015%
Some additional information about functionality etc from the Shanling website:

As a source for a DAC/AMP

The Shanling M3s connected easily and immediately to the Hidisz DH1000

Shanling L2 Cable - Type-C to micro USB audio cable

via Penon audio:
Thick gold-plated Micro USB connector: audio input (decoder)
304 steel TYPE-C connector: audio output (Such as mobile phones, players, etc.)
Engineering plastic shell after injection molding, polishing, sandblasting, grinding and other processes to focus on details, superb technology
Gold-plated USB plug, Plug use parts to thick gold- plated, the transmission of audio, from the surface of gold through, no doping impurity is the best
Japan Furukawa silver-plated cable
Each high-purity copper-silver cable is composed of 4 strands of wire, each with 7 cores, each core contains 26 silver outer cores, and the shield layer is made of silver-plated shielding
Brand name: Shanling USB decoding cable
Type: TYPE-C to micro USB
Standard: 10 ± 1CM
Material: high purity copper silver-plated
Wire diameter: single core 30AW

Shanling M3s and Astrotec Lyra 150 ohm earbuds using the single ended port


The Shanling M3s was tested with a variety of earphones and FLAC.

The Shanling M3s is a pleasant surprise within the modern hallowed halls of hi-res touchscreen wifi enabled streaming android daps.
Taking a more no frills approach with a simple yet effective UI the Shanling M3s leaves one to concentrate wholly on the sound aspect.

Utilizing AK chips in SE and balanced outputs the M3S exhibits the general signature one has become accustomed to when listening to the AK4490 and other similar DAC chips.

A full bodied rich sound, detailed, smooth with silky vocals and a decent width and average depth.

The Shanling M3S is no stranger to this familiar sound signature and seems to embrace it, with fast bass, a rich oozing middle section and silky vocals that float just above the music, the highs aren`t extended as is common with the AK chips, but like the vocals simmer just above the mid section. The bass serving as a platter for the rest to ride upon without encroaching upon the overall effect.

I found instrument separation, clarity and resolution to be good with a variety of file sizes and genres.
Coherency is great, although I thought a few times it could be better in places. But the majority of listening was a satisfying experience.

The sound sound stage when using the Andromeda was fairly wide but isnt as far reaching as it can be when paired with other high end daps, but that is to be expected. Regardless the sound stage is wide, with a good amount of depth.

When used as a source for a higher tier dac/amp the M3S connects easily and allows it self to be utilized easily with the resulting effect being dependent on the quality of the dac/amp at the end of the delivery.

The sound is neutral focussed with a touch of warm mids and a healthy under lay of bass, vocals are strong yet just above the music, treble isn't a defining feature of the sound signature but is pleasingly present.

The sound is definitive mid fi in a low fi package.

Shanling M3s, Campfire Audio Cascade with ALO Audio Continental V5 and interconnect. For fun.

Whilst the M3S does have enough juice to power most middle level headphones, If using the balanced port one can eke out a bit more power.



Shanling M3s and Kinera Limited Edition earbuds

User interface

The Shanling user face is quite intuitive and easy to use.
Utilizing a multi functional wheel for scrolling and entering, and a smaller button to go back.
Admittedly with a bevy of Android touch screen devices around me I would often pick up the Shanling M3s and tap tap at the screen for while before realizing what I was doing. Cue sad trombones and face palms.

As you can see the screen has good resolution and the menu can be clearly seen.

Firmware updates, Driver downloads and User Manual links

User manual and Driver downloads:

The Shanling M3s is an excellent player or source. Its lightweight and robust body make it simple to use on the go for a variety of uses, either as a stand alone player or as a source to an external dac/amp.

Its simple button enter, and button back UI with the enter button also doubling as a scroll wheel keeps navigation easy and smooth.

The sound is clear and isnt lacking in its smaller form.

The Shanling M3s veers away from the popular Android touch screen with wifi and bells and whistles approach, yet retains a modicum of usability by having a decent enough screen to provide ample visual cues as to where one is and what one is doing.

The price will be attractive to many looking for a player that concentrates more on the sound alone aspect.

Having single ended and balanced jack ports will be a plus for many.
Noise floor is generally low.

The low output impedance is favorable for multi driver IEMs.

There is no internal storage, but most people no doubt that purchase this dap will have a few micro SD cards lying around for easy insertion.

The Hiby UI will be familiar to many.

The Shanling M3s easily connects to an external dac/amp making it an excellent choice for a low cost source to more higher tier dac/amp of your choice.

The sound overall is quite acceptable, good resolution with a variety of file sizes and genres.
I thought at times the coherency could be better in places, the sound sound stage when using the Andromeda was fairly wide but isnt as far reaching as it can be, separation is decent.

The sound is mid focussed with healthy under lay of bass, vocals are strong yet just above the music, treble isn't a defining feature of the sound signature.

It has great control, coherency being a defining feature.

The Shanling M3s is a neutral dap, with a wee bit of warmth to the mids, but is fairly linear overall.

Although simple in form and UI, its internals and the resulting complexity is enough to please the general and advanced user. That paired with its usefulness as an excellent source makes the M3s a budget bargain. A jewel within the womb awaiting its chance to explore new audiophile worlds.

Shanling M3s and Campfire Audio Andromeda Balanced out.

Thank you to Shanling for sending Head pie the Shanling M3s for review


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Gapless Playback
Long Battery Life (13 hrs)
Feels wonderful in the hand
Snappy OS
Great Screen
USB DAC mode
Cons: Scroll Wheel
Leather Case Design Flaw
My full review, overall rating is 7.5/10.

TLDR: I’m a car guy, so I’ll use a car analogy. M3s is like a Toyota Avalon, damn good value (compared to spending twice as much for similar Lexus), with a great build as well. However, there are a few quirks, but if you can get past those, you will love this.

Let me preface this by saying I am just entering the world of ‘audiophile’. Until recently, my most used pair of ‘headphones’ were AirPods. Not to say AirPods are a bad product, but it’s ultimately a compromise of audio fidelity in lieu of convenience.

For many years, music has just been something I put on in the background to enhance an activity (exercising, studying, partying etc). It wasn’t until I heard a member of Daft Punk describe the sheer amount of work that went into ‘Get Lucky’ did I begin to delve into this area. Around this time, my father acquired his first hifi setup (WA8 Duo+HE560), and he was showing me the ropes of all the essentials (Herbie Hancock, Sting, Coltrane, Queen), music I ordinarily would not listen to. After spending hours listening to classics (and my modern favorites) on my fathers system, needless to say, I was hooked. Fast forward a few years later, and here I am presenting a review of my first DAP and hifi headphones. c'est la vie.

As we all know, the audiophile world can be likened to gambling. We all like to think our next BIG purchase will be ‘end game’ and stop us from future spending. But this is an illusion. As a student, I needed a DAP which had adequate hardware to prevent the temptation of upgrading, but also embraced a cost conscious price. Enter the world of Chi-Fi (chinese hifi), featuring companies such as iBasso, Shanling, FiiO, Cayin and others. Most of the products offered had a great feature set such as USB DAC mode, decent screen, extensive file support etc. However I noticed Shanling’s new S products had a design which outclassed them all, and runs a responsive OS to boot. Additional points that Shanling is an active participant on HeadFi, with great a customer service team that answers any questions/issues fairly well (unlike cough *Fiio* cough). Seeing as the M3s was released last fall, and features impressive internals for the price, I took the plunge.

Industrial Design and Engineering (7/10)
What can I say, the build is fantastic! It’s an aluminum frame sandwiched by tempered glass. Shanling definitely took some cues from the iPhone 5, but this is ok! It feels wonderful to hold, and can fit comfortably in any pocket. Be proud Shanling! Your design team is great, while the engineering team…dropped the ball (or scroll wheel).

The scroll wheel is the main device to navigate across the interface, so this needs to be as robust as the OS. With the M3s while the OS is snappy and smooth, the scroll wheel holds back the experience from being truly enjoyable. Shanling has rated the wheel at 100k turns and 500k ‘clicks’ and apparently uses Japanese ALPS technology. However, despite all this, it doesn’t dissuade my feelings of uncertainty when using it. Each scroll actuation feels mushy, and the interaction between the wheel and the software is a glaring issue. For example, when scrolling down, 1 turn should equate to scrolling down 1 item. This is not the case. Sometimes it’s 1:1 but after one ‘turn’, the ratio quickly becomes 1:4, and scrolling becomes a mini-game. After a few sessions of using the M3s, scrolling becomes almost predictable, and I can generally scroll to what I want with two adjustments. But even though this is a minor annoyance, it’s puzzling how a mechanism so inept and imprecise got through the design process. Shanling is aware of this issue, and hopefully they will address this in the M5s.

UI/Interface (7/10)
The Shanling M3s eschews the bloat of Android for a custom Linux based OS. The consequence of this is a fast and responsive experience. If you check out HeadFi, many in the Chi-Fi community laud Shanling’s OS as the fastest and best in the world of Chi-Fi players. I haven’t had the opportunity to use players from other companies, but from what I’ve seen on from other reviewers, you can expect this to be more responsive than an Android based Fiio for example. The downside of not being Android based, is the lack of streaming app support (Tidal, Deezer etc). Some see the lack of Android as a positive or negative. On one hand, no apps, on the other hand, you won’t be distracted from apps/email/notifications. I would recommend the HibyR6 if you are in the need of Android. Users have the option of changing themes from the ones Shanling ships with the device, to ones other M3s users create. At the time of this writing there are only a handful of user created themes, but it’s good Shanling has provided users the tool to create them. The default purple theme is good enough for me.

A sticking point, whenever you disconnect the M3s from a computer, the M3s needs to rebuild the music library each time (takes about 1 min for a large library), a minor annoyance.
***EDIT A fellow Head Fiier (Howlin Fester) pointed out this is a feature enabled by default, I have since disabled it via system settings and has not been an issue since.

A pleasant feature of the M3s is it’s support of Hiby Link. Hiby Link allows you to control the M3s remotely using Bluetooth via your smartphone. At a passing glance, this doesn’t sound useful, however when traveling on the train or bus, it becomes a great convenience feature. Instead of being forced to use scroll wheel interface when on the move, I can use the Hiby App. This results in immediate and satisfying music selection, and I found myself using it even during home listening sessions. Of course, the Hiby app is in dire need of a make over, support the resolution of the new iPhone X model, and also needs full English support but the functionality itself is solid.

Sound (8/10)
When listened to my first song “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach”, I took notice of a complete new layer of the song. There is a sub bass note which begins 15 seconds into the song, and lasts throughout the song. This new song layer elevated my appreciation of an all time favorite, and introduced me to the strong point of the chipset system used in the M3s (AK4490EN DAC). The M3s excels in separation. Every instrument has plenty of room to breathe. When comparing Takako Mamiya’s Love Trip on the iPhone 5 to the M3s, the bass and mids were in full force on the M3s, it’s as if new energy was poured into the song. The iPhone 5, sounded weak in comparison.

M3s doesn’t add anything unnecessary to the music, I would describe it as neutral. If you use a bright headphone (eg K3003i), it will be bright. If you use a warmer IE800, music will sound warm. M3s aims for a clinical presentation for accurate sound, and it definitely delivers. The highest volume I used was 66 at low gain for a quiet classical recording, and many Head Fi’rs report these can drive 650’s well. Nothing to complain about, but if I ever hear a Dave/Hugo2/Yggy for reference I’ll be sure to publish my thoughts comparing to the M3s.

In summary, the M3s is an outstanding device and challenges the Chi-Fi market in a bold fashion. The simple OS, articulate sound presentation, and wonderful craftsmanship add up to a strong addition to the Shanling family of devices. Even as an app junkie, you won’t see me clamoring for Android to be added for future revisions. Shanling made the right choice here, I just wish they used that better judgement with the scroll wheel. If you can look past this, and prefer a non-Android player, you may not need another DAP until you’re prepared to spend the money for a Lotoo Paw Gold. I wonder how will Shanling followup with the M5s? I’m excited for what the future holds.

Features I Liked
  • Gapless Playback
  • Long Battery Life (13 hrs)
  • Feels wonderful in the hand
  • Snappy OS
  • Great Screen
  • USB DAC mode
Features That Needs Work
  • Scroll Wheel
  • Leather Case Design Flaw

M3s Specs:

K3003i Specs:

iSine 10 Specs:


Reviewer: Audio Rabbit Hole
Pros: Clarity and transparency, sexy design, neutral
Cons: Scroll wheel
Shanling M3s

Purchase Here: MusicTeck (currently a case is included)

Manufacturer Website: Shanling

Also for sale here: Shanling M3S

A Little Technical Stuff:
Shanling M3s

-MRSP: $279; case is included on MusicTeck website

The M3s is the bigger brother to the Shanling M2s. I reviewed the M2s and really enjoyed it’s size, build quality, power and warmish sound. There is a certain excitement to review it’s bigger brother and see if the apple falls far from the family tree or if they share sound similarities. The big brother, the M3s is taller in stature which gives the illusion it is a thinner player, but both units are the same width. The similarities between the two begin to widen at this point. One has a warmer personality and the other is more neutral in it’s personality. Kind of reminds me of the differences between my brothers and myself. I am impressed with both DAP’s from all aspects and will leave it up to your discretion as to which Shanling may suit your purposes and tastes more. Let’s take a look at what you can expect when spending your hard-earned money.

A Little Marketing Hype:
  • 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 sensitive multi-driver 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 smartphone, 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 battery life to 8 hours)
  • Standby/hibernation/deep sleep mode
  • Beautiful construction from two 2.5D glass panels and aluminum frame
  • Available in three colors - Black, titanium grey and royal blue
  • Supporting format: MP3、WAV、WMA、FLAC、AAC、ALAC、APE、IOS、DSF、DFF、cue、m3u、m3uSampling rate: 44.1kHz--384kHz
Unboxing and Accessories:

As is usual with my reviews I will include a few photos and give a brief description, but you can see for yourself what is included with your purchase from the photos. The sleeve surrounding the box has a photo of the M3s on the front and some of the features listed on the back. The sleeve surrounds a black box which holds the M3s and all of the pack-ins.

Upon opening the box lid, you will see the M3s nestled in a foam cutout and laying on top of a ribbon for easy removal. If you remove the foam cutout insert you will see an enclosure which holds all of the accessories, very similar to the M2s.
The included accessories are a couple of sets of screen protectors, a microSD card reader, a pin to reset the device, USB-C charging cable, warranty, manual and quick start card. As appears to be a trend with Shanling there is no case included with the purchase of the M3s. I truly wish the companies producing DAP’s would include some type of protection, even a silicon case to avoid scratches when placing your player on the table would be nice. The leather case, sold separately, is $15 and is actually pretty nice. It allows easy access to the scroll wheel and all of the ports. Purchasing a case is recommended as the device is super sleek and sexy and slippery to the touch. Glass front, glass back and a slippery frame sounds a lot like a recipe for heartbreak or you can just buy a case and have a bit more insurance.
Design and Build:

As mentioned above, the M3s is a very sleek looking device. Compared to it’s little brother, M2s, it is the same width but taller, which gives an illusion it is slenderer. It is comfortable in your pocket and is extremely lightweight so it doesn’t weigh you down while you go out and about. It weighs in at 137g while the M2s weighs in right at 100g. While the device is taller than the M2s, which is 85.6mm the M3s is 113mm, the actual viewing size of the screen is the same in both units, my assumption is that the M3s needs the additional length to help house the 2.5mm balanced output amongst other things. The DAP that I am reviewing is a cool looking cobalt color that Shanling calls Royal Blue, I really like the color. The M3s can also be purchased in Midnight Black, Titanium Gray, and as a Christmas special they released a Red version.
*Some portions of the review regarding the layout and connectivity of the unit will be taken from the M2s review as they are identical in many regards, my apologies but there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

The aluminum frame has a nice top class feel, albeit slippery. The upper right side of the DAP has the power button. To turn the M3s on, press and hold (long press). The power button is also used to wake up the device, with only a brief press, when the screen turns itself off.
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The right side of the unit has the scroll wheel and below the scroll wheel is a button to return you to a previous menu screen. The scroll wheel on the M3s is well built, without any looseness or play. The sensitivity of the scroll wheel is iffy. Sometimes it registers one turn and other times two. In my experience, the scroll wheel is very important in function because the screen of the M3s is not a touchscreen. You depend on the scroll wheel to cycle through and select your options, pushing the scroll wheel “enters” the selection. I would really like to see Shanling migrate to a touchscreen format. Not all users report sensitivity issues with the scroll wheel but I know I found myself backing up or moving forward one more selection after I turned the wheel to what I thought I was selecting.

There have been some reported mechanical issues with the scroll wheel, please see the link below:

I have not had any mechnical issues with the scroll wheel on either the M2s or the M3s. Shanling has appeared to be very communicative with the potential “issue” that some users are having. While these types of things can be an inconvenience, when a company stands behind their product it is only an inconvenience and it doesn’t diminish all of the good that this DAP brings to the listener. As stated above it may be another reason to support touch screen models in future releases.

The left side of the device has a reset hole a play/pause button as well as a back and forward button used to advance to the next or previous music track. Further down the left size is where you can find the microSD slot. The largest microSD card I tested was a 256gb card and found the device read the card flawlessly and quickly. I need to mention that there is no internal memory so you will have to use a microSD for storage. This doesn’t bother me as I usually keep all of my music on some type of removable storage, but it certainly needs to be mentioned so you can make arrangements for a card that will store your music catalog.

The bottom of the M3s has a USB-C slot to be used for charging as well as data transfer and a 3.5mm headphone jack which also works a line out when selected from the software settings and unlike it’s little brother this has a 2.5mm balanced output.

The unit has Bluetooth and allows the user to connect headphones and cellphones without any stress. It works flawlessly and with ease in finding and maintaining a Bluetooth connection. I successfully connected to multiple devices and all connected easily, quickly and without issue. All connections were solid and stable and allowed for good distance before crackling.

The cellphone pairing allows the listener to stream their favorite streaming app, from the cellphone, while keeping your wired headphones plugged in to the M3s the same as with the M2s.

The M3s, like the M2s has the HibyLink feature. To utilize HibyLink you will need to download the Hiby app to your cellphone. Once you pair the Hiby app to the to the M3s it gives you control of the M3s using your cellphone. To make this clearer, you can keep DAP in your pocket and use the cellphone as a sort of “remote control” for the DAP. Some the things listed that HibyLink can do are control playback and volume, browse through folders, albums, artists, genres and songs loaded on your Shanling player, add songs into your playlists, edit playlists, use search function to quickly find and view details of played files.
The M3s plays most of your favorite file formats including Native DSD. I put it through its paces listening to a varied selection of musical files and never had a hitch, stutter or lag while playing music, including gapless. For a lengthy rundown of the file formats the M3s plays look up in the technical section near the top of this review. The M3s can also be used as a USB DAC.

I found the M3s has the ability to drive any IEM I threw at it, with a black noise floor for the most part, if there was any hiss you certainly couldn’t hear it with the music playing. I attempted to drive my HD650 as well as my Aeon Flow Open and the M3s could drive them but to no surprise it required some serious volume.


The UI of the M3s is another area that is similar to the little brother M2s so I am not going to rehash the GUI. For the most part I use folders to select my music. I will say the GUI in the Shanling players provides a good, bug free, consumer experience and if you have used Hiby software in the past you will feel at home. I will include some photos below of the UI so you can get the idea. For those of you that utilize an EQ it does include a 10 band EQ. There are also low and high gain settings and I found low gain to be powerful enough for most of the IEM’s I connected, but many times I left the unit on high for easy switching between IEM’s and headphones. One other aspect to discuss is the low pass filter mode. The options available in this area are sharp, slow, short delay sharp and short delay slow. I found the short delay slow setting to be my preference. To get an idea of how the menus function please look closely at my photos embedded in the review.
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Moving on to the sound:

If you asked me to use a couple of words to describe the Shanling M3s, I would say clear and clean, transparent and neutral. Okay that was more than a couple of words but those are the ones that came into my mind as I write this. It is smooth like it’s younger brother but the signature is very different and they go about achieving their positive results and smoothness differently. The M2s has a warm smoothness and the M3s, while clear and clean has a rather smooth treble that is not harsh or fatiguing. I found it a very good pairing with the IE800s and it’s DD bass and smooth treble. I feel the M3s would be a really good pairing for any warm IEM’s or headphones you may have in your collection, unfortunately I don’t really have the warm signatures that I have in the past to test the device with.

Where the M2s and the M3s have the widest gap in their sound similarities is with the stage. The stage with the M3s is very large. It’s notes have air and transparency as well as above average width and height in the stage however it is an average depth. Overall, I think the stage and clarity are the showstoppers here. With so much clarity you can visualize the placement of the instruments on the stage and it certainly is never congested. Male and female vocals do not sound thin they sound rich, full and indeed vibrant. It has a musical quality that is incredibly enjoyable and not dry or stale.

I found that the true character of the IEM or headphone will be allowed to be showcased as opposed to any additional coloration from the DAP, thus defining it as neutral. In essence, if you are listening to a bright IEM and are expecting the M3s to add warmth that more than likely isn’t going to happen. It is rare to find a DAP that has the transparency and clarity of the M3s without presenting itself thin or even hollow sounding.

How does this DAP stack up to some of the others in my possession?
In comparison compare it to the M2s ($199) I would say that the overall tone is of a Shanling house sound. Specifically, the M2s is warmer and more congested in it’s stage when compared to the M3s. The sound of the M3s is more polished and refined overall with better treble extension.

The LGV30 ($800, price I paid) and it’s quad dac, have quite a few similarities to their tone. Both have an increased clarity and a wide stage as well as wonderful extended treble. I would say the two sources are more alike than different in their delivery, with the LG V30 being a touch fuller in body.

Differences between the Opus #1S abound. The #1S is more of a warmish tone, with a rich, full texture. The M3s is more transparent and has a touch more clarity. Not to say the Opus#1s is not clear, because the details are certainly evident.

As far as sublime pairings with the M3s I feel there are many safe bets. My favorite pairings I have in my possesion would be with IE800s and the Custom Art Harmony 8.2. The DD of the IE800s deliver a sublime bass with scads of layering and texture. The overall smooth treble and tone of the Sennheiser pairs so well with the clarity and transparency of the M3s.

The CA Harmony 8.2 is a wonderful warm IEM with delicious amounts of bass that is wonderfully layered with the M3s. The treble of the 8.2 is also smooth and overall the M3s pairing is listenable for extended sessions as it is never fatiguing.

Zeus XR was not a pairing I can recommend. I love the Zeus and I love the M3s but the extended treble of both the Zeus and the M3s kind of overloaded me. While it wasn’t harsh or strident it did cause fatigue after only a short session.
As far as my full-sized headphones are concerned I felt that the HD6XX was a wonderful pairing and while it took quite a bit of volume for my old, tired ears, once I hiked the volume it was a wonderful paring which showcased everything that has been lauded time and time again about the Sennheiser HD650 or HD6XX.

In Closing:

The M3s and M2s are brothers, they have a similar Shanling house sound and both approach the same goal from different angles. The M3s easily pairs with so many different IEM’s and headphones. It is exceptional at delivering clarity and transparency without adding any color. The M3s is more neutral by nature and thus the reason it pairs so easily and effectively. If you are already setup in the 2.5mm ecosystem you will be able to utilize your cables and of course you can utilize a single ended output(3.5mm).

There have been some noted scroll wheel issues, sensitivity as well as mechanical, but Shanling has recognized the mechanical issues and said if you have issues return it to your retailer or to them directly. Personally, I have had no mechanical issues and this wouldn’t dissuade me in the least from purchasing the Shanling, but I feel I need to mention this.

The UI is virtually bug free and I never have to reboot the device to stop any gremlins. It uses USB-C as well as will take at least a 256gb microSD card, I don’t have a 400gb to test.

This is the second Shanling device I have had the pleasure to review. The M3s comes in at under $300 and at that price is quite the sound masterpiece. Shanling is on to something here and I look forward to hearing some of their TOTL offerings.


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1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Lightweight, slim design, 2.5mm balanced aux port, very neutral sound, battery life
Cons: Scroll knob/button needs sensitivity adjustments, when using a combi (dac/amp) you MUST ensure that the M3s has converted back to LO mode or else you'll be blasted at full power.

I’ve been lucky enough over the last couple years I’ve been reviewing audio products to be able to listen and be introduced to various audio products and companies from around the world. One in particular has been making a fairly big wave in the forums and that’s the company Shanling. I’ve previously had the honors of reviewing their M2 DAP and found myself to be really rather fond of it, so when they approved me for their M3s tour I was quite happy to say the least. So my friends at Shanling, thank you for another opportunity to review one of your products. But with all the pleasantries and introductions aside, let’s jump on into the review of the M3s shall we?

A little about me

I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.

I'm a 26 year old firefighter, for the City of Concord, North Carolina as well as the U.S. Army North Carolina National Guard. The cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.

My interests/hobbies are powerlifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.

Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.

My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.

Equipment used at least some point during the review


-iFi Nano iDSD Black Label


-Empire Ears Hermes VI


-Amiron Home

-T1 second generation


I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.

The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.

The Opening Experience


Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience

Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.

As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’

This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?

The opening experience to the Shanling M3s is pretty typical of other DAP’’s within this price point. The box itself is really nice quality but, to me, does have way too much writing and marketing on the box. I understand why companies feel they need to do this, especially in this price point, but I like to see products that are more simplistic in their showcase. The front has a picture of the M3s with the Shanling name on the sides. The back has its technical features written in several different languages which imo is what made it feel too weighed down with writing and jargon. Now underneath the outer sheath before you get to the M3s is a really stylish black box with only Shanling and its log written on the box.

As you open the package you’re greeted with a basic instruction manual placed right on top of the very stylish Shanling M3s DAP. Shanling took great care in making their M3s present itself centered, and as well as protected, being placed inside a recessed hard foam. Pulling the M3s outside its sheath the holster can also be removed to reveal another cardboard box which contains the type C charging cable, which I hope starts becoming the new standard much faster, the warranty and startup guide, and 2 sets of screen protectors. Included with the tour was a matching red leather case that I’m not positive comes with the unit if purchased, however on the website it does list the case in the same tab and I didn’t see any mention of it being sold separately.



The build quality is also fairly consistent with other DAP’s in this price point. For those who’ve watched my unboxing video of the M3s (linked below if not) you’ll see that I thought that the material was a premium plastic. I was mistaken because Shanling actually uses a glass and aluminum mix, which explains its silky smoothness. The DAP itself is pretty straight forward as far as its features go.

The top is where you’ll find the power button, that only takes a few seconds to completely turn on/off. The left of the unit is where you’ll find, and going from the top of the unit down, the track previous, play/pause, track forward, and a microSD card slot that can hold up to a 256gb card but Shanling has stated that it can handle a 400gb microSD card without any issues. The right of the unit hold the volume knob/choice selector knob/select button, as well as the go back button. The knob is a nice feature but I found it to be a bit too sensitive. More often than not I’d want to just move a folder or two and would often overshoot it both getting to it and again trying to back back up to it. I wish there was a setting to lower the sensitivity of the know a little. The bottom of the M3s is when you’ll find the type C charging port, 3.5mm single ended output, and 2.5mm balanced output. I’m glad to see this offer both ports. Balanced headphones and c/iems are becoming more and more common and having DAP’s without a balanced port is a no go.


The Shanling M3s is in all honesty a pretty straight forward digital audio player. One cool thing though is that it does have Bluetooth and in addition to that, a feature called HiBy Link Wireless Control. And what this does is that, with the addition of a downloaded app, you can control your M3s from your phone. So in other words, with your phone you can change the tracks etc… without having to take the M3s out of your pocket, book bag, etc… Now, do disclaim, I never tried this feature during my time with this unit. But at the same time, I have no problem taking the DAP out of my pocket to change the tracks etc… though I will say doing it on the phone will likely be quicker than using the selector knob but I personally just seen it as unnecessary.

Another feature that I REALLY like in the M3s is that it can be paired with a portable combi unit (amp/dac). For example, the unit I used was an iFi Nano iDSD Black Label that they were kind enough to send me for the Carolina CanFest meet. Granted, I didn’t use this combination much at all because my time with the M3s is limited and I need to be reviewing it. But plugging in the unit caused the M3s to immediately switch over to PO (port out) mode and now all volume control and sound processing was being handled by the external unit. Now, an issue that arose fairly consistent with me was when I unplugged the combi unit and plugged in a pair of headphones. For some reason the M3s would often not register the detachment of the unit completely and thus would play the headphones plugged into the port at MAX volume and the volume control wouldn’t work until I unplugged and replugged several times. Thankfully this hasn’t happened with my sensitive c/iems (which I only used a couple times when reviewing this unit due to this uncertainty). I asked Shanling about this and they said that “It's not automatic, once you change it, it stays in that mode(headphone out our line out) until changed again.” Which corresponded with me having to manually change it.

Though that’s a fair annoyance it is easily remedied by manually checking the output settings when you unplug the connected device. And I strongly recommend you do this if you plan on using a sensitive c/iem afterwards.



So the purpose of using a DAP over your phone is that it’s supposed to be an definitive increase in musical quality and with modern day phones, well, some of them, putting a lot of focus on providing stellar audio quality which leaves the DAP market fighting to keep up. In the case with the Shanling M3s, at a cost roughly somewhere between $280-300 they did a fairly respectable job. The M3s most certainly handles harder to drive headphones that my LG V20 does, and much quieter. The overall sound of the M3s is pretty darned neutral without any bias towards a given spectrum that I could personally make out.

The first thing I tried through the M3s was my Empire Ears Hermes VI ciems that are running balanced from a Effect Audio Eres II cable. Many of you likely are aware by now of just how sensitive Empire Ears products are. Being ran balanced supposedly helps as well with minimizing the audible hiss so even more credit to the M3s for offering the balanced port, however there still possesses some slight hum when the Hermes VI is plugged in. This is completely eliminated when music is being played so it’s overall not that big a thing I guess. Something that I REALLY enjoy that the Shanling M3s has is the very finite volume control. When it’s late at night and I’m wanting to drift asleep I like to listen to music but my ears get very sensitive so I listen to things really quiet when completely eliminates me using my phone. The M3s however I have more than enough selection and finesse in my volume control that I never feel like the sound is too loud.

While listening to the M3s music is presented, as said earlier, very neutral and as recorded it seems. A drawback that I’ve noticed is that treble doesn’t have the same resolution as other DAP’s I’ve tried. The first song I noticed this was in the song “Lift Me Up” by Five Finger Death Punch. The symbols in the background of the music were notably harder to hear, as in if I didn’t know they were there I would completely have missed them. This experience stayed consistent during my time with the unit. The M3s still plays treble fine, don’t get me wrong, but the finite micro details I felt doesn’t shine through near as much.



My final thoughts on the Shanling M3s is that it’s a good DAP. For those just getting into the audio hobby and just can’t swing getting into the $400 DAP category the M3s is a pretty good choice. It offered both balanced and unbalanced (2.5mm and 3.5mm ports respectively) output which would suite those upgrading as well. The battery life is outstanding as is its ability to drive surprisingly hungry headphones. There’s some drawbacks with it sure but that’s the same as every other DAP I’ve tried to some extent.

Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.


Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Sound Quality, Stage, Separation, Transparency, Build, Battery, Features
Cons: No Dedicated Volume Control, Unpleasant Experience Using the Turn Wheel
I would like to thank Andrew from MusicTeck for sending me the M3S for review. I would also like to thank Frankie from Shanling for reaching out to me and helping me with some of the questions I had on the device.


M3S is Shanling's entry level DAP in the $300 tier. Unlike the first generation M3 which was on the bulky side, M3S is a complete overhaul in terms of design and functionality. The M3S comes in a sleek streamlined body packed with plenty of features.


HARDWARE: (10/10)
The all-black design of the Black version of the M3S looks nothing short of stunning. The build feels solid and the quality of the finish around the device is top notch. The place where the screen meets the body and the posts, all look flawless. The shape of the device is rather distinct due to it being almost twice in height than its width. But that doesn’t stop the device from feeling comfortable in the palm. The fact that the device has a narrow device has 2 advantages. One, It makes it easy to pocket it and remove it and two, people with small palm would find it comfortable to handle the device. I did not measure the battery precisely. But based on some rough estimation, I was getting around 11-13Hrs on SE. I do not own any Balanced Cables. So couldn’t test the battery span on BAL.

The screen once again is very brilliant and bright enough to be used outdoors. The software is very reminiscent of my Fiio X3ii, which is minimal but reliable and stable. For someone new to this device, may take a couple of days to remember where the options are located. It is a very straight forward and an easy to use UI. I did not notice any lags or slowing down.

Interacting with the device using the turn wheel was my only critic about the device. While the turn wheel works flawlessly without skipping or overshooting, there are 3 aspects about it which don’t really support the otherwise wonderful UI.

1. It doubles as a volume control as well as the navigation tool. It acts as the volume control on the Now Playing screen and when the screen is turned off. While you are in the menu options and file browse, the turn wheel acts as the navigation wheel as well as the selector. One downside to this is, you can’t adjust volume when you are not in the Now Playing screen. The short cut is to hit the power button to turn the screen off and then you can adjust the volume.

2. Size and Location: While I don’t see most users complaining about using the turn wheel, my experience with using the turn wheel in conjunction with the back button located on the side was not exactly a plant experience. I much prefer the large scroll wheel on my Fiio X3ii or the D-Pad on my Paw Gold.

3. The buttons are easy to access without the case. With the case on, it can take a little getting used to get the Front Skip, Play/Pause and Back Skip buttons correct. So using the buttons in conjunction with the wheel can make the interaction with the device a little complex.


SOUND: (9/10)
As I do not have a Balanced cable, all my testing was done on Single Ended. I was hoping to acquire a Balanced cable, but then I realized there are people who wouldn’t want to invest in additional cables or the balanced ecosystem. And so I decided to do the review in SE only. The good news is, the device sounds impressive even on Single Ended.

M3S sound presentation can be described as neutral. It is not just neutral in its tone and signature, but also in its note body and placement. As a result the device doesn’t carry any coloration and does not impose a character on the sound. What stands out about the device is its stage and instrument separation. In my experience with entry level DAPs until now, the improvement in stage and separation over a smartphone is difficult to discern. But M3S was a surprise. In addition, the well separated instruments maintain good timbre, especially the instruments on the side stage, which can often lose focus in devices with large soundstage. Such is not the case here.

The linear nature of its tuning reflects in all parts of its signature. So the bass on the M3S does not lean towards sub nor mid bass. But it balances out both well resulting in good bass tone. The best words to describe its bass hits are tight and controlled. As a result there is no warmth bleeding into the presentation. The device could use a touch more power in the bass section to have better dynamics. But I am really splitting hairs with that sentence, as it should not be misinterpreted as the device sounding soft, because it is not.

The midrange is once again very linear without any warm or bright coloration from the lower or upper bass respectively. And so the device presents a transparent midrange with very good instrument timbre. While the timbre of vocals is equally good, the device doesn’t have that last bit of weight in the vocals. Once again splitting hairs here, as it shouldn’t be taken too literally as the vocals are really well articulated. The treble again is neutral with good extension and does not have any brightness or glaring character. Although it should be noted that, because the device is void of warmth, pairing a bright earphone or headphone with the M3S can bring out the brightness more evidently. But if you are using a neutral or a warm sounding pair of phone, M3S is quite forgiving for the most part.

The stage the M3S presents is wide and spacious. It is wider than deep. The depth may not be a stand out aspect, button start noticing the depth when you go back and forth between your smartphone. The separation is quite effortless while maintaining a focussed presentation. The space between the instruments are dark enough to lock the instruments in place for a good imaging. Although a touch more height in the stage could have helped. I may be demanding too much there. But that is only because the device impresses you with its sound. And all this just on Single Ended. From what I have read, going balanced would give you certain welcomes instruments such as a slightly larger stage, improved separation and transparency.

My Sennheiser IE80 is my tool for determining hiss on sources, as it hisses with noisy sources but not necessarily with powerful sources. On the M3S there is almost no hiss. I say almost because, if you have a very sensitive ear, you may be able to hear an almost inaudible hiss in a completely silent room. Else, the device is completely silent.

As for the driving power, I tried driving the HD800S and HD6XX on High Gain. M3S drove the HPs without any problem. I was around 40-45/80 on the volume setting. Sure they would scale up on a desktop amp. But the HP did not by any chance sound underwhelming or lacking power. I couldn’t test the devices driving power with any of the full-size Planar Magnetics, as I do not own any.




M3S has the conventional 10 band EQ. Each band can be adjusted between +6dB and -6dB. The device offers 8 presets that could be customized. In addition, there is one more custom EQ setting. In my testing the EQ on the M3S is very effective. It would have been nice if the adjustment went beyond 6dB on both directions. But 6 dB is not too bad when the EQ is effective enough.

(Reliability: 9/10)
Bluetooth playback on bluetooth headphones or speakers is quite straight forward and works seamlessly. I did not use it a lot, but during the short times I used it, I did not experience any connection drops.
Step 1:
Turn on your Bluetooth device (headphone or speaker) and put it on discoverable mode.
Step 2:
Go to System Settings > Bluetooth. Turn the Bluetooth On and search for the bluetooth drive and pair and you should be good to go.
HiBy: (Reliability and Intuitiveness: 9/10, Sound Quality: 9/10)
HiBy allows you to control the music on your M3S wirelessly from your smartphone. There were one or 2 times when I tried to click around the app, the app quit unexpectedly. Also, sometimes I experienced some noise from RF/EMI interference. Turning the HiBy Off killed the noise immediately.
Step 1:
On your M3S go to System Settings > Bluetooth. Turn Bluetooth as well as HiBy to On.
Step 2:
On your smartphone, turn Bluetooth On. Install the HiByLink app form the PlayStore or Appstore. Open the app and click on the HiBy icon (4th icon on top of the screen for iOS). Now turn the Hiby On. You smartphone should list all discoverable bluetooth devices. Choose M3S from the list. Now click on the Music icon on the top to view the music available on the M3S. There is a bit of a latency when browsing through music. But the player responds immediately when you press Play, Pause or Skip.
WIRELESS STREAMING/DAC: (Reliability: 7/10, Sound Quality: 6/10)
This is no different than pairing your bluetooth headphone or speaker with your smartphone. Except, this time the M3S is on the receiving end. This allows you to stream music you have on your phone or PC wirelessly over to the M3S. While this sounds like an interesting feature, the sound quality is not really great. But it is to be expected given the low bit-rate, digital-data-stream sent from the smartphone to the M3S.
Step 1:
On your M3S, go to System Settings > Bluetooth and turn bluetooth On
Step 2:
On your Smartphone, turn bluetooth On and find the M3S from the list of available devices and establish a connection. If the pairing is successful, the screen on the M3S displays a big Bluetooth logo. Now you could play music from any app on your smartphone and it will be streamed to the M3S.

(Score: 10/10)
Worked seamless with my MacBook. MacBook does not require any driver. Windows PC may require driver installation for the PC to recognize M3S. Make sure the USB setting on the M3S is set to DAC mode.
LINE OUT: (Score: 9/10)
The Line Out function works as expected and flawlessly. It is a fixed line-out though. It would have been nice if it was variable Line-Out.
This is something I was not able to test. But the device can act as digital transport and output a digital signal via its USB-C port.


M3S vs Fiio X3ii:

X3ii and M3S have a similar OS and UI in terms of menu options and navigation. One of the weakness of the X3ii is its dull display that can be hard to view in outdoors. M3S’ display is more brilliant and offers better visibility even outdoors. Despite the better screen, the user experience of M3S is bogged down by its turn wheel. Fiio is considerably better in terms of user experience, because the giant scroll wheel on the front is easier to use and plus, it has dedicated buttons for volume control. In terms of power, the difference between the 2 devices is not much on the SE of M3S. But the M3S should be a bit more powerful in Balanced. Both are silent devices when it comes to hiss as I hear little to no hiss on both of them.

In terms of sound, they sound very similar in their tone, signature and note structure. The differences mainly lie in the technicalities. M3S sounds more resolved and transparent giving raise to better timbre realism and timbre. M3S’ stage is wider and cleaner with better instrument separation and layering.

UI and UX: X3ii – 9; M3S – 7
Features: X3ii – 8; M3S – 9
Sound: X3ii – 8; M3S – 9

M3S vs iPhone 6:
Comparing the operation, UI and UX of iphone and M3S may not be fair as it would be apples to oranges comparison. In terms of sound, M3S offers a better overall sound quality over the iPhone. iPhone sounds warmer and thicker in comparison to the more neutral presentation of the M3S. iPhone has an enhanced low end resulting in the bass having a greater impact but lacking definition and tightness of M3S’ bass. M3S is more transparent and resolving in the mid-range, which is evident from the more realistic tone and timbre. M3S sounds slightly brighter in comparison due to it having more energy on the upper-midrange. But that is only because the iPhone has a smoother upper-mid-range. M3S’ treble is better articulated and more detailed compared to iPhone’s treble. Despite having a more detailed treble, M3S is just as smooth as the iPhone, because of which both are equally forgiving. M3S really pulls ahead in the soundstage department presenting a very spacious and wide stage compared to iPhone’s stage. Also noticeable is M3S’ ability to portray slightly better depth than the iPhone 6.

Sound: iPhone 6 – 7.5, M3S – 9


Being a neutral sounding device it is not partial to any particular genre of music nor headphones of any signature. Although I would advise caution against paying with bright phones as the brightness can stand out due to the lack of warmth. So it all comes down to one’s personal taste. I personally prefer some warmth and weight in the mid-range and some power in the bass. But then, I also know people who prefer a slightly lean signature. M3S sound presentation sits right in between and so it should play pretty well with all genres and most headphones/IEMs.

M3S offers an impressive sound and tons of features in a tiny beautiful package, almost like a swiss army knife. The sound quality is a clear step-up over a smartphone and plenty of power that could drive 300 Ohm Sennheiser headphones. My only gripe with the device is trying to use the turn wheel, to navigate through the menu, because of which I am taking away half-star. If you are in the market for a neutral sounding DAP, with good sound quality and plenty of features, M3S will do more than just meeting your needs and exceeding your expectations.


Reviewer: The Headphone List
Pros: Sound quality. Build. Size. Volume Wheel. Features.
Cons: Nothing of any great consequence.
M3 01.jpg

~::I originally published this review on THL. Now I wish to share it with my Head-Fi fellows. Enjoy.::~

Shanling provided the M3s free of charge for the purpose of my honest review, for good or ill.

The M3s sells for $279.00
M3s on Amazon


Shanling was all sorts of kind to good Pinky and sent over their new player, the M3s. I reviewed the M2s not too long ago, finding much awesome within its tiny frame, and I was eager to see what they came up with next.

So thank you for the opportunity, Shanling. Cheers!

M3 & M2.jpg
The M3s is bigger than the M2s. Taller, for sure. Yet considering just how itty biddy the M2s is, that’s not saying much. Rest assured, this thing is far from large. The M3s is easily one of the slimmest, low-profile DAPs I’ve tested. Not to mention light weight.

The M3’s frame is wrought of a solid block of aluminum. Aluminum is also used for the buttons and back plate. Basically the whole thing, save the screen, which is glass. Despite this, the M3s is still vulnerable to Electro Magnetic Interference. If you have your smartphone within a few inches of this DAP, you will pick up patterned noise. In my experience, when a DAP is encased in metal, the shell becomes a Faraday Cage, blocking stray signals from reaching the internal components. With a plastic case, well… This interference is only really noticeable when the music stops, or gets good and quiet, but it’s there. So when I’m at my desk, I just move my phone a few feet away, and the EMI goes away.

I don’t consider this a mark against Shanling, since my favorite mid-tier DAP, the Opus#1, suffered this same issue. And I recommended the crap out of that player to anyone with a budget under $800. But again, that DAP was encased in plastic. What I’m saying is: it’s not a deal-breaker, but something you ought to be aware of.

Shanling’s M3s continues the company’s principle mission of bringing volume wheels to the masses. A noble goal I celebrate with abandon. There is no internal storage, so all such capacity is determined by the single microSD slot and however much you shove in there. M3s sports both 3.5mm single-ended output and 2.5mm balanced output, which sounds especially nice. This DAP, like the M2s, uses USB Type-C connection for power and interfacing with a Computer.

The software UI is simplistic and intuitive and as easy to navigate as you can hope for without the aid of a touchscreen. The volume wheel also works as a scroll wheel, which can be pressed to select items you’ve highlighted. You can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth for all your streaming needs, and HiByLink allows you to control the DAP from your phone… which is really cool. Pairing up with Bluetooth headphones is a cinch; I had no trouble maintaining a connection to my Klipsch X12 Neckband. Then of course, there is the basic USB DAC function. Can’t say I tested that… but I hear it works. Fingers crossed!

Shanling included with my package their lovely leather case. I have not used it much, since the hole for balanced output is not wide enough for some of my 2.5mm plugs. I got so frustrated with it I threw the case in a drawer and never touched it again. The same sort of thing happened with their M2s case, only it was the volume wheel that became useless. Again, I threw the case in a drawer and forgot about it. Because of this, my Shanling DAPs are a little banged up. You will see, here and there, some scruffs and scratches. Don’t be alarmed. It’s fine by me, although it doesn’t exactly make for pretty pictures.

M3 02.jpg
The Shanling M3s is about two main conceits: Clarity, and smoothness. What struck me first was just how fluid the sonics were, without relying on warmth to achieve it. Because the M3s is not very warm at all. In fact, it’s really quite neutral. And it uses this tuning to further its second agenda of immensely clean, transparent audio. The overall tone is airy and light, but the M3s is not without serious richness.

There is impressive refinement and maturity to this player. The rough edges are sanded smooth. All signs of digititis are cleared up. We’ve stepped beyond budget performance, and things like depth and layering are on full display. The M3s does an admirable job of giving you a vivid image of the elements, where the singer takes on proper dimensions and is sharply defined. Vocals have weight and truth to them and sound very much like they’re in the room with you.

Dynamics are strong enough that the M3s never gets dull or anything less than engaging. However, it is going for a smoother, more laid-back sound. Aggression is not in its character. It walks the line between energy and smoothness like a champion. The M3s creates a profoundly transparent sound, where the “device” disappears and all that’s left is the music. It’s natural, conveying more of those overtones and atmospheric effects than you get in lower tier products. The space/venue is rendered well. The background is good and black with most headphones, though super sensitive IEMs may pick up some very low-level hiss only noticed when the music is not playing.

Soundstage is quite big, capable of giving you great width and height, and moderate depth. Depending a lot on the headphones of course. Yet I’m pleased to say, it delivers a grander hall than most DAPs I’ve tested. Combine that with the excellent imaging and layering, and a real gift for high resolution rendering, and you have all the ingredients for a tremendously lifelike performance.

M3 back.jpg
All that is fine and good, right? But it’s hard to parse my heinous gibberish without solid context. So here are some pertinent comparisons with which to plague your conscience:

The Shanling M2s ($199) is really very close in tuning. When I first heard the M3s, I was sure it was brighter than the M2s. But after conducting an A/B test, using a line switcher for immediate changes, I found them nearly identical in tone. The M3s may have slightly better treble extension, however. Where it really struts its stuff is in soundstage, being noticeably larger. Also, it creates a greater sense of depth and three dimensional form. The M2s comes off rather flat in comparison. The M3s is more organic, with lingering notes and fuller overtones. Energy is a bit more in-your-face with the M2s. Finally, the M2s is rougher and less smooth, sounding a tiny bit more “digital”.

Cayin’s N3 ($149) is indeed warmer. The treble is a little rolled off, and the bass is enhanced. It achieves its smoothness the easy way, whereas the M3s does so by rendering with finer skill. Soundstage on the M3s is wider and deeper. The image is clearer and more vivid. The N3 feels kind of dull in comparison. Once again, the M3s outclasses with a holographic presentation, causing the N3 to sound utterly 2D. They are both kind of laid-back in dynamics, but compensate for it in different ways: The N3 throws a party with slamming bass. While the M3s thrills you with crystalline treble and transparency. Here also the M3s fills in those empty spaces left by Cayin with more complete harmonic overtones, resulting in greater realism and musicality.

The new Cayin, the soon-to-be-released N5II, is inarguably an upgrade. The price is yet to be set, but it should be around $400. And it sounds like it. The tuning is very much in line with Shanling, aiming for neutral with maybe just a hint of warmth. Performance wise, though, it is a step up. It’s a more dynamic, punchy mother******, while being just as smooth and refined. Clarity and transparency is increased in the N5II, taking things to a whole new level. It resolves at a higher degree, with blacker backgrounds, greater depth, and cleaner separation of elements. While the M3s is good at dimensionality, the N5II is better, illustrating a more compelling, holographic hall. And finally, yes, the soundstage on the N5II is a touch wider. So it’s an upgrade, but one you’ll have to pay for.

Because the Shanling M3s is neutral, with a light emphasis on treble, it pairs well with the most gear. The one thing you ought to be wary of, and this is only if you’re extremely sensitive to high frequencies, is brighter headphones and IEMs. Combining treble-bright monitors with this player might push things over the edge for you. The M3s is not a bright-sounding DAP… at least not to my ears. It simply has a little extra energy in the treble. What’s the difference? I’m not exactly sure. It’s sort of a “you know it when you hear it” kind of thing. I’ve heard bright sources. This doesn’t come off like that. Others may disagree. It’s up to you.

M3 & 99C 01.jpg
Meze’s 99 Classics ($309) is one of those potentially troubling pairings. The 99C is a warm headphone, with serious bass presence, yet its highs are on the brighter side. If your sensitivity is extreme, these may be too much for you. I, however, find them to sound absolutely amazing with Shanling’s player. After only a minute, the extra treble moved to the background of my conscious, and I was swept up in a flood of richness and layered transparency. These headphones have a nice wide soundstage, and the M3s gives them what they need to sound genuinely big.

M3 & Spartan 01.jpg

Spartan IV by Empire Ears ($749) makes a perfect couple with the M3s. This is an exceptionally well-balanced IEM and really benefits from Shanling’s clear, crystalline production. I felt the M2s didn’t quite live up to Spartan’s potential, but the M3s really does. These are neutral, transparent IEMs with a neutral, transparent DAP. Spartan showcases the M3s’ talent for portraying layers, that being one of its own strengths. They feed their goodness into each other. It’s pure sex.

The highest praise I can heap upon the Shanling M3s is when I plug in the 64Audio tia Fourté ($3,599) I don’t feel as though I’m slumming it. The M3s>Balanced out>EA Leonidas>Fourté is utterly glorious. These IEMs are on the brighter side of the treble spectrum, and yet this system works so well together. It’s spacious, clean, deep and layered, and transparent as ***! Way to go Shanling!

M3 & Fourte 04.jpg
The cable in this photo is not Leonidas, but Thor II… in case some were confused.

M3 & T-X0 01.jpg
The Fostex + Massdrop T-X0 ($149) pushes the M3s to its limits. These might be the least efficient cans I own. Nonetheless, at 85/100 on High Gain, playing a quieter album, I get these damn things pretty loud. The T-X0 is crazy warm… even dark. And the M3s does all in its power to bring in the light and air. It fights for vocal clarity and detail, and achieves it more or less. The pairing works well together if you like mad lushness and warmth without restraint. You will also learn whole new notions of sonic smoothness.

If you want a more balanced headphone, but still warm and bassy and easy on the highs, I personally love the AudioQuest NightOwl ($699). With the Shanling M3s, this setup is liquid. So chocolaty and velvet. The soundstage is quite wide, and there is incredible depth. Shanling’s cleanliness, blackness, and ability to separate the elements, allows NO to show off its high levels of technical performance. The one thing I wish for is a little more punch to the sound. The M3s’ laid-back demeanor makes NO seem very, very relaxed. Which might be exactly what you’re looking for.

M3 & NO 01.jpg
How about affordable IEMs? Wouldn’t that be something! The Oriveti New Primacy ($299) is a well-balanced, warmish monitor. It isn’t very bright, but has good clarity. The M3s increases air and light, while NP has fun with its bad-ass bass driver. It makes for a really nice audiophile setup on a budget.

M3 & NP 01.jpg
M3 & Sage 01.jpg
A personal favorite of mine is the M3s feeding the Noble Audio Sage ($599). Throw in the Effect Audio Ares II cable, and you have one of the very best systems for airy, fluid, and musical audio… without going bankrupt. Detail retrieval is not on Front Street here. Richness, smoothness, and clearness is. The M3s adds treble energy where needed, and Ares II opens Sage up, bringing out the best of its inherent virtues, like bass and vocal clarity. The balance is breathtaking.

By far the worst IEM to pair with Shanling’s M3s is the HiFiMAN RE800 ($699). These things have hot treble on any DAP, but on Shanling… sweet ****! Most music and genres will become fatiguing on this setup. Unless your tolerance is well beyond mine. Brighter music, with aggressive drums and electric guitars, are downright painful. Only acoustic and binaural music sounds even enough for long listening sessions. It fact, it can sound truly amazing and lifelike. But unless that is the only music you play, I would consider looking at a different monitor for this source.

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The Shanling M3s is a superb player, packed full of features, and sounds amazing. It’s small, light, and really just the perfect thing for on-the-go use. I did not expect this level of quality from this price range. Balanced output that performs better than some of the bigger and badder players? The M3s sounds so good I don’t find myself itching to get back to my more expensive gear. That says a lot. I shall herald this a resounding success. The Shanling M3s just became my chief recommendation for the under $300 mark. Buy one today!


The Shanling M3s:
Dimension: 113mm×53mm×14.5mm
Net weight: about 135g
Screen: 3 inches Retina screen
DSD playback:DSD256DAC: supported up to 384kHz–32bit
Bluetooth: 4.1 with APT-X
D/A converter: AK4490×2
Amplifier: AD8397×2
Gain: high gain/low gain
Supporting format: MP3、WAV、WMA、FLAC、AAC、ALAC、APE、IOS、DSF、DFF、cue、m3u、m3u
Sampling rate: 44.1kHz–384kHz
Output: Single ended output (3.5 mm) balanced output (2.5 mm)
Output power: 130mW@32ohm(3.5 mm) 230mW@32ohm(2.5 mm)
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz(-0.15dB)
THD+N: 0.0015%(A-weighting,outputing 500mV)
SNR: >115dB(A-weighting )
Output impedance: <=0.3Ω
Channel separation: >102dB
External memory: supported up to 256G TF card
Capacity: 2600mAH lithium battery
USB interface :Type-C(USB2.0)
Playing hours: about 13 hours(3.5 mm) 8 hours(2.5 mm)


  • M3 & Fourte 03.jpg
    M3 & Fourte 03.jpg
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