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To Strive For New Heights – A Review of the Shanling M3s

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!

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 shit 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.



Picture of Pinky Powers

Pinky Powers

Pinky is an artsy twat. Illustration, graphic design, writing. Yet music escapes him, and always has. He builds his own cables, and likes to explore the craftsmanship of others. He's a stabby one, also. At the first hint of annoyance, out comes the blade. I say he's compensating for something... in a big bad way. If we all try really hard as a collective, maybe we can have him put down.


9 Responses

  1. Did you have a chance to listen to Hiby R3? From a features perspective it seems to be ideal DAP for me as it is significantly smaller than both Opus#1 and M3s, offers Tidal and maybe later Spotify, seemingly a very responsive and high quality touch screen. Is it too much of a step down from M3s and Opus#1 in terms of sound quality?

    Thank you

  2. Yes. The Opus#1 is still a superior unit in some ways. Overall sound quality is a little better. Soundstage is a bit wider and deeper. Opus#1 brings more dimensionality to the vocals.

    The Opus used to be around $600 when it was new. So it is designed for a higher price/performance tier. Now that it is older, the prices have dropped significantly, it’s a crazy bargain.

  3. Hi

    Thank you for the great review. I have been considering getting a DAP for my Noble Audio Sage for sometime now and I am kind of torn between M3s and OPUS#1. I see that M3s and Sage pairs great but would OPUS#1 bring any advantages over this pairing?

  4. Hello thank you for review, it had thought to buy the Cayin n3 but seeing this breeding animal M3s I believe that he will buy it myself but I like the low ones, I wait that not me defraude.gracias.

  5. Great review! I would like to know how is the detail reproduction, instrument separation and soundstage of the Shanling M3s compared to an Astell & Kern AK70? And how is it of the AK70 compared to a Cayin N5ii? I own an AK70 and I am not sure if both would be a good upgrade for my classical music collection.

  6. Ok thank you so much. I have always enjoyed the aesthetics of your reviews. Appreciate that you have clearly stated that the M50X cannot be customized into balanced just through a wire and that it’s a matter of more complex engineering. People buy things that they don’t know about. Now that i know i will wait for the right time and the right milieu for balanced.

  7. In some cases, with some headphones, it can be as easy as a new cable. If the headphone has a jack on both cups, then its super easy.

    But the M50x does not. It uses one jack that is then wired to both drivers. And that jack is only a 3-pole. This means the L- & R- lines are tied together at the jack. Balanced is impossible, as those lines need to remain autonomous the whole way.

    Some single-wire headphones, like the Oppo PM3, use a 4-pole jack at the cup, which means you can build a balanced cable that just plugs right in, and get fully balanced audio.

    Sadly, the only way to get the M50x balanced is to open her up, remove the jack, and hardwire a new balanced cable to the internals of the headphone. I don’t recommend that, unless you know what you’re doing.

  8. Hi, i have read several reviews regarding balanced – 2.5mm headphones. I don’t know anything about the cables or the way to add a balanced cable to a standard 3.5mm headphone. I have an Audio Technica M50x and is there a way to convert the M50X to 2.5 mm setup just through a cable for players offering balanced output? Can I just buy a cable and connect it to my M50X?

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