I would like to believe that all of us are aware of Shnaling. They have been releasing products in a lot of catagories lately. They started with DAPs and now they are one of the best DAP makers in the market. They have ventured in to IEMs, BT and USB DAC/Amps.
I have previously worked on their M5s, M6 and both of these were the best sounding DAP of their time, much better at balance and value proportions than their competitors like DX120 or DX160. Even the Sony ZX300 had more colored and uneven emphasis across the spectrum.
Here I have the Shanling M3X, which fills the void between the M6 and the M2X. This $500 to $200 price bracket is the stepping stone for most of the audio enthusiasts. It is a follow up to the M3S and an upgrade to the M2X, the M3X comes with a lot on improvements. It has bigger display (4.2 vs 3.2 inches), runs on more powerful hardware and has Android 7.1 (the friendliest android version for audio) operating system. Basically M3X is a chubby mobile phone without a SIM slot. One can install Play Store and enjoy a lot of stuff on this slightly smaller display. Unlike the more expensive offerings M3X opts for a mid range DAC chip ES9219C and guess what, to provide a fully balanced output it has two of these.
All of this can be bought at $339 or 30,000rs.
Get one for yourself from here:
For Indian buyers:
ACCESSORIES & PACKAGING:-
There M6 comes in a clean and simple looking box and a few necessary accessories can be found inside it. There is a type C cable, a user manual and a warranty card rounds up the list of things out of the box. Both the screen guards are pre applied so one needs not to bother.
They like to sell their cases separately but it would have been nice if they had bundled it with a basic case.
The M3X looks like a more evolved M5S. Its metal body is flanked by curved glasses on both back and front. At the bottom one can find the Type-C port along with SD card slot. Right side houses the signature wheel which doubles as the power and wake up button, left side has three music controller buttons and the top is house to the 4.4mm and 3.5mm sockets.
With a weight of 168g the M3X is a very light weight DAP, lighter than both my mobile phones and thanks to the bigger body it feels less dense which helps with better weight distribution. With a height of just 109mm, width of 72mm and thickness of 15.9mm The M3X feels solid in the hand and is very comfortable to operate with one hand.
Nothing is mentioned about the glasses used on both the sides and I have not tried scratching them either but the pre applied protectors do help with confidence. Thanks to the use of glass the M3X will barely survive a fall even from the height of an average table so getting a case is totally a necessity.
Display: Front side of the M3X is dominated by a 4.2 inch capacitive display with HD resolution. Touch response of the display is very good, as good as mobile displays. It has acceptable sunlight legibility and I had no problem seeing the display in direct sunlight. There is a small led just below the wheel. It turns red when charging and turns blue when fully charged.
TECH SPEC and UI:-
USER INTERFACE: The M3X runs open android 7.1 and one can use playstore and APKPure app stores to install your favourite application. It is a pure android DAP with gain setting, lowpass filter modes and wireless playback quality options. In the drop down menu we have shortcut to audio setting, gain, airplay (for media servers), PO/LO option and we have an option to switch off the android mode and go into prime mode which disables the android UI and apps turning the M3X into a pure audio source. You still have access to setting, you can access wireless connections but you can’t access any other app. It is more like a launcher where the music player takes over.
Updating the Firmware is kind of tricky. There is no software upgrade option in the setting, it has to be updated from the support app or the whole firmware can be downloaded from the official website.
The Default (pre installed) music app is Shanling Player and it is not bad at all. It has UPnP and SyncLink options built into it, you can make playlists, delete tracks at your will and other basic functions include a basic graphic EQ if EQing is the need of the hour. You can always install and use your favourite music app from playstore for better control and customizable options.
SPECIFICATIONS: To handle the Android properly the M3X carries over the Snapdragon SD430 soc (octacore) from M6 but now has only 2GB of ram with 32GB of onboard storeage. Out of the 32 GB only 24.2GB are available for storage. Ram management too is very good, most of the time it has more than 1GB of RAM is available. If you want to run games on the HD display let me tell you the SD430 can run subway surfer and other low on graphics games without much trouble but don’t expect it to run PUBG or COD.
Now moving on the audio specs it uses dual ES9219C DAC chip which gets help from KDS crystal oscillators. In single ended mode the separation has improved from 65db with M5s to 75db and balanced crosstalk goes super high to 115DB.
It has “Hi-Res” certification for both wired and wireless connectivity.
The M3X has all the connectivity options as any other android device. After the usual wired connectivity you can connect it to your PC via the USB cable and use it as a DAC too (Shanling PC app needed).
The M3X has handful of wireless connectivity options. It has BT 4.2 and full array of Wi-Fi connectivity. It supports 2.4g and 5G dual frequency Wi-Fi. If you like BT you can stream and transmit high resolution music or do both at the same time. Connect the M3X with your mobile phone or TAB and you can use it as a high-res Bluetooth amplifier (Codec support: Two Way – LDAC & SBC; Transmit only – HWA LHDC, aptX HD & aptX). With support of UPnP you can connect to your media servers without carrying around your whole music library with you.
The M3X has a healthy 3200mah battery to keep the lights on and its battery life is mighty impressive. The official figure is 23hrs when you use single DAC mode with display off but the practical number with dual DAC mode was giving me more than 17-18hrs of playback time. This is very impressive considering its battery size and playback duration of its competitors. Playing videos YouTube or streaming video definitely drains the battery faster. Streaming audio do sustain better battery life of around 20hrs.
Exciting News is the SDM430 has QC 3.0 and can be topped up in around 1hour 40 mins with a 15w charger. Using a 10w charger will take around 2 hours and 30 mins.
M3X is a mid range DAP and is not the most powerful DAP in its price range either but it has 80mw with 3.5mm out in single DAC mode and 101mw in dual DAC mode. The 4.4mm has a power of 240mw. all these figures at 32ohm which is not bad at all. Yes, one cannot say that it will drive tricky IEMs and most of the headphones without any problem but does well with most of the IEMs I threw at it. It can struggle with planar and some multi BA IEMs. At 1ohm output impedance it is compatible with nearly most of the IEMs.
Sound quality, select pairing and conclusion on the next page.
I am impressed with Shanling. M5S was slightly cold and marginally less dynamic but they have improved a lot. Each brands its own flavours and they try to be more and more accurate in every aspect with each iteration and revision and that is true in this scenario. It’s an ever evolving area and the ES9219C does exactly the same, it improves in most aspects. Plenty of credit goes to Shanling for the tuning and algorithms too.
Over the M5S, M3X brings better clarity, accuracy and precision to the table. The dynamic range and sonicality are better too. It strikes a very good balance between being analytical and musical. I can lable the M3X colourless but it does have a bit of brightness with the treble instruments.
The M3X has very good bass response. The bass notes have very good texture. The excellent sub-bass extension coupled with nice body and details delivers a satisfying lower end. It is nicely voluminous with admirable accuracy. It has good amount of rumble and even the ER-4P manager to drop some pleasing bass notes. The sub-bass body and rumble are meaty and voluminous. It doesn’t restrict or stimulate the IEM for more grunt. The mid bass has a slightly voluminous body giving the lower end good amount of weight and fullness. The decay speed is snappy, it does not have the dryness and do not vanish into thin air like the Playmate. The M6 maintains natural amount of juice, closer to how is intended to be perceived. It perfectly fits someone who likes good amount of details, accuracy and precision over the heft and wooly thump. Another funny thing is, M3X simply do not let any IEM lose control, unlike the LG G7. The faster, more defined notes give the lower end very good resolution and clarity. If a more voluminous delivery is the need of the hour feel free to EQ, the response is very good. One can definitely pair with well balanced headphones like the Fischer audio M12s and enjoy the delicacies with a lot of accuracy and can be paired with something bassy to bring a bit more discipline and control.
Unlike the M6 the M3X has slightly less emphasized mid range, they gave it a bit of flavor after all. Thankfully the amount of details is intact and guess what, this mid range has a more engaging vocal region this time. The whole mid range has excellent details. It is not the harsh and humid type clarity but the calm and cool type of visibility. It slightly trades juiciness for a bit more cleanliness and dynamism. The delivery is effortless and the imaging is clean. The clarity and transparency along with natural decay speed leaves a very likable taste. Notes have slightly thinner body while finishing is without any perkiness or sharpness. The ability of details retrieval is very good. It perfectly balances the foreground and background transparency managing to bring out the micro details of the foreground without any problem. If your IEM is decent, you will not miss a single detail.
Vocals have very good clarity and definition with nice texture and details. It brings out livelier and jollier feel to the music. Let it be male or female vocals both have accurate depth and finish but favor female vocals a bit more. The upper mid range is well in line with the rest of spectrum but can feel a bit more attacking.
After coming from a livelier and vivid sounding mid range the M3X nicely maintains the eagerness. It has a very good sparkly and pace. It has a bit more attack and the finishing sharpness is very engaging. The directional cues are very good and as vivid as the M6. Notes have accurate sharpness with a slightly sparkly finishing and fun feel along with accurate body and excellent texture. The decay is on the faster side. Abundance of details is 2nd to none. The treble extension is excellent with plenty of room for cue placement. Instruments have excellent layering and separation with a lot of space and air.
The only down side of the M3X is its slightly more aggressive attack, it can put some off since it can make balanced and already bright sounding IEMs even more attacking, but if you love this attack, M3X is very enjoyable. This thing has both up and down sides. If you don’t have very bright sounding headgear this is not a thing bother about.
The stage of M3X feels very natural with expansion where the instruments have plenty of space and air between them. The instrumental density is excellent. There is no hollowness or unnecessary space in the stage. I have not experienced the ultra high end DAPs but even the likes of AK KANN doesn’t have a bigger stage than this. The distribution of space is admirably even, none of the parts of the spectrum takes unreasonable space letting the whole spectrum have their own freedom of expression and expansion. The stage is slightly taller while sacrificing a bit of depth and width but is fairly satisfying.
In general the stage size and the projection depend on the headgear. The IEM and headphone does play a huge part but the naturally expansive stage size of the M6 does add some extra dimension to the mix.
MATCHING WITH HEADGEARS:-
What is an excellent source which can’t play well with the headgears. The M6 with its excellent balance pairs very well with all type of earphones and headphones let it be single BA, multi BA or demanding ES hybrids.
With ER-4P (9/10) : (single ended)
What makes the ETY 4 micro series great is excellently exhibited by the M3X. Compared to more dry and emotionless DX160, M3X exhibits its artfulness and brings out good lower end body while maintaining the usual excellence with details. The slight brightness of the 4P is well preserved here. The pairing brings out the best out of the 4P if you enjoy the sparkle and attack. Not only it sounds more involving and resolving it leans a bit more into the analytical side. If your ER-4P needs a change of stance, M3X get more bite.
Shozy Pola39 (9.5/10) :-
The ES hybrid is a TOTL IEM with a well balanced signature and it pairs exceptionally well with the M3X. The bass is slightly tighter while having a hair better texture. The sub-bass have nice rumble and extension to it. Mid range is slightly less energetic, vocals have nice attack with plenty of texture. The instruments have excellent clarity and details. The stage size is taller but the Pola39’s natural expansion manages this effortlessly.
The Pola39 already have a tendency of being a very revealing IEM, it can expose any shortcoming of the recording or the source and the M3X helps with it. This pairing is nothing short of Excellent.
Shnaling ME700 Lite (9/10) :-
For me, this is one of the best IEM under $500 and the M3X pairing makes it even more appealing.
The slight lack of volume with the sub-bass rumble is a bit more present with the M3X than the Earmen Sparrow. It brings a bit more definition and texture to the mix too. The mid range is more or less the same but the M3X maintains excellent resolution and accuracy. The only point where the pairing feels a bit aggressive is the upper mid lower treble region. The slight bit of sharpness inherited by the ME700 Lite gets boosted by the M3X. It brings taller notes with some sharpness. Stage size is very good with this pairing.
DUNU EST112 (9/10) :-
EST 112 is an excellent IEM in its own but the only problem is the stage. But good thing is both have 4.4mm options and that improves the stage size by around 20-25%.
This pairing is impressive to say the least. The slight lack of attack from the EST112 is nicely brought up by the M3X. It brings a bit more sub-bass thump while the mid bass loses some body making it marginally more linear. The slight lack of mid forwardness is not really helped by the M3X sadly but it does not tamper with it delivering excellent transparency and clarity with a bit more texture and details. The treble region is slightly more alive than usual with a bit more cleanliness. Layering is improved too.
I will keep this short and simple.
If you are looking for a budget DAP this should be the first choice. The closest competition is the DX160 and it sounds dry and unemotional. If sound quality is not enough for you look at the battery life. At an average of above 16hrs of playback time this has some of the best battery life for an android based DAP till date. And the build quality is excellent too. It is not heavy, it doesn’t have any problems of ticking sound of internal parts or anything similar. This time around the wheel is working perfectly too.
If you needs a DAP for under $400, this should be the one to consider.