Shanling M3s Digital Audio Player

Rating:
4.2/5,
Tags:
  1. PinkyPowers
    To Strive For New Heights
    Written by PinkyPowers
    Published Dec 13, 2017
    5.0/5,
    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.::~

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

    The M3s sells for $279.00
    www.Shanling.com
    www.MusicTeck.com
    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!

    Boxes.jpg
    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 **** 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 f**k! 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.

    M3 & Fourte 01.jpg
    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!

    -~::Pinky_Powers::~-

    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)

    images

    1. M3 & Fourte 03.jpg
  2. EagleWings
    A Swiss Army Knife of DAPs
    Written by EagleWings
    Published Dec 20, 2017
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound Quality, Stage, Separation, Transparency, Build, Battery, Features
    Cons - No Dedicated Volume Control, Unpleasant Experience Using the Turn Wheel
    ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:
    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.

    INTRODUCTION:

    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.

    Cover.jpg

    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.

    SCREEN, SOFTWARE & GUI: (9/10)
    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.

    TURN WHEEL & BUTTONS: (6/10)
    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.

    Black.jpg

    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.

    HISS & DRIVING POWER: (9/10)
    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.

    withheadphone.jpg

    FEATURES:

    EQUALIZER:

    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.

    WIRELESS FEATURES:
    BLUETOOTH:
    (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.

    WIRED:
    USB DAC:
    (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.
    DIGITAL-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.

    withiem.jpg

    COMPARISON:
    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

    IMG_8458.jpg

    PAIRINGS:
    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.

    CONCLUSION:
    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.
  3. Army-Firedawg
    Nice option for entry level dap's
    Written by Army-Firedawg
    Published Feb 7, 2018
    3.0/5,
    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

    -Combi.

    -iFi Nano iDSD Black Label

    -Headphones

    -Empire Ears Hermes VI

    -Beyerdynamic

    -Amiron Home

    -T1 second generation

    Disclaimer

    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

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    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.


    Construction

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    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.





    Features


    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.



    Sound

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    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.



    Conclusion

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    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.
  4. subguy812
    The Bigger Brother
    Written by subguy812
    Published Feb 7, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Clarity and transparency, sexy design, neutral
    Cons - Scroll wheel
    Shanling M3s
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    M3s

    Purchase Here: MusicTeck (currently a case is included)

    Manufacturer Website: Shanling

    Also for sale here: Shanling M3S

    A Little Technical Stuff:
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    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
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    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.
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    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.
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    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.
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    *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:

    https://www.head-fi.org/threads/sha...t-hiby-link-usb-out-fw-1-2-out.859241/page-87

    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.
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    Connectivity:

    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.

    UI:

    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?
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    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.
    20171108_070637.jpg
    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.

    images

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      ngoshawk and Dsnuts like this.
  5. kp297
    Brilliant DAP for Any New Audiophile!
    Written by kp297
    Published Feb 10, 2018
    4.0/5,
    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.

    Preface
    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.

    Introduction
    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.

    Conclusion
    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: http://www.shanling.com/Product/Detail?id=676ee710720c4f54940ee2e0c70d33ed


    K3003i Specs: https://www.akg.com/Headphones/Earbuds/K3003I_.html


    iSine 10 Specs: https://www.audeze.com/products/isine-series/isine10-ear-headphone