Review: Shanling M3S – Perfectly Balanced

Shanling M3s
Disclaimer: Just like with the M2S, Shanling M3s was sent as a review sample from Shanling directly. Thank you guys for working together with HFN.

INTRO

The “Tiny Musical Wonder” M2S review was posted on Headfonia around 5 months ago. Since then, Shanling released the Shanling M3s with an identical design but with more advanced features in terms of sound reproduction. I’ll try to reflect the device’s performance truthfully as much as I can.

DESIGN & BUILD

The Shanling M3S is exactly the same with M2S in terms of design. The only difference is that the M3S is longer by 27,4 mm. The thickness and width is the same one to one. The screens also share the exact same dimensions. So I’ll repeat; I really dig this compact and sexy looking, slick design from Shanling. Despite being longer, the M3s in my opinion is still very very pocketable compared to most DAPs.

Same story goes for build quality as well. The aluminum frame feels premium and the 2.5D glasses add a sleek finish to the body, so the device feels very complete, one piece and sturdy. The audio jacks are solid and secure, aluminum is pretty resistant to small dents and the glass doesn’t scratch easily. Only question in my mind is the durability of the volume pot. I heard things about the pot detaching from the body or simply failing with the M2S in the long term. Since all navigation is done by the wheel, of course it would be under heavy use so be aware. Only time will tell.

Even so, my sister uses the M2s daily and the wheel is perfectly fine until now. Also keep in mind that 2.5D glass is more prone to crack, if you drop the device on its corners accidentally.

Shanling M3s

Shanling M3s

USER EXPERIENCE

Just like the M2s, the design is ergonomic and the device is very comfortable to hold with rounded edges and a small form factor. The same 3 buttons are there on the left side for controlling playback. The power button is on the top, which is not an area that I prefer, but it’s not a big problem really.

On the bottom you have the 3.5mm standard output together with the 2.5mm balanced output – which is an addition to the M2s – and the USB Type-C port. Note that the 3.5mm output also works as Line-Out.

The wheel navigation is not extremely easy to get used to at first, but after some time you adapt to the device. It has 2 functions: scrolling up and down, and entering by pushing it as a button. And of course on the playback screen, you set the volume with it. Therefore it’s not difficult by any means.

But if I were Shanling, I would consider adding a touchscreen with the next offering, by designing a wider and a bigger screen. Touchscreen wouldn’t make sense with a screen of this size, but if they make a 4” screen then it would be possible to make the screen touch sensitive. Volume wheel navigation is not bad but when you consider the lifespan of the wheel in particular, I think it’s not the most ideal system. And it’s also not practical with the case Shanling provides. The case prevents you to use the wheel comfortably.

Just like the M2s, the device can work as a Bluetooth DAC. So you can play your music files from your phone wirelessly. That way you can use streaming services on your phone, put the player in your pocket with your IEMs/Headphones plugged, and listen to your streamed music through high quality DACs and amp circuit. But to be honest, the sound quality imo is not the best with Bluetooth.

Shanling M3s

Shanling M3s

SOFTWARE

Software wise it’s again exactly the same with the M2S. I’ll quote my own thoughts about the software from the M2S review here:

“The UI is pretty and polished overall. It took around 35 seconds to update the library of around 1000 songs. Quite fast. And the overall experience is very fluid too. Just like the build and design, the software is smooth and solid. It has every kind of feature you can ask for in today’s standards. In addition to the form factor and beautiful UI, it can act as a USB DAC, has good amount of power to drive many phones, has a microSD slot that can take up to 256GB and it has a Native DSD playback!”

The original firmware version was a little buggy but thankfully Shanling released the 1.2 version and fixed all the issues from 1.00. Check out the addressed issues HERE.

M3s has the Apt-X Bluetooth support by the way, which is nice.

VIDEO

Our hardcore Headfonia followers should remember my video post about the M3s for Watch It Wednesday. Here’s the video again, just in case you’ve missed it:

HIBY LINK

Shanling M3s supports the HiBy Link feature through Bluetooth. That means when you download and install the HiBy Music software to your phone, you can remotely control your M3s without even touching it. That’s pretty awesome and useful. This is also added for Shanling M1 and M2s.

This is the list of what you can do with HiBy Link:

  • 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
  • View details of played files
  • Share currently played song’s info over other apps(for now supporting Chinese apps like Wechat, QQ, Weiboo)

Check out this Head Fi thread for how to install and how to use it.

Go to PAGE 2 for sound impressions

Review: Shanling M3S – Perfectly Balanced
3.9 (78.95%) 38 votes

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As a lover of personal audio, Berkhan always seeks perfection in his reviews. He chooses a simplistic expression of sound at all times, and tries to maintain his photography enthusiasm at the same level with audio. Sometimes the photography wins, and sometimes his love for music takes him over and he puts that camera aside. Either way, he will always do his best.

34 Comments

  • Reply January 4, 2018

    Dam

    Hey
    Nice review. I own the m2s paired with CA orion. I’m pleased with this setup except a little blank noise. Playing with gain reduces this problem a bit, but it’s still here especially during silences… Do you think upgrading to the m3s would be better? In another hand I fear that the Orion won’t be a good match with the m3s sound sig?

    • Reply January 4, 2018

      Berkhan

      Hi,

      I’ve never listened to the Orion, but I can say there’s a big difference between M2s and M3s. You should go for the upgrade.

    • Reply March 8, 2018

      Lain

      m3s is very good,I hold one last year,the blank noise controls very well,you can hardly ever heard that——if your ear is ill,haha.I love it!

  • Reply January 4, 2018

    Nico

    Thank you very much for this very useful and detailed review. I have on question regarding Gapless Playback:

    I’m listening to a lot of Live Albums, so this feature is crucial to me. Currently, I own the FiiO X3 Mark III, but Gapless Playback doesn’t work on this DAP very well and is mostly broken. Is it working flawlessly with the Shanling M3s and does ist make a different if my music is MP3, FLAC or any other format? I haven’t upgraded all of my music to FLAC yet, so I still have a lot of MP3 albums.

    Thank you very much in advance for your help!

    • Reply January 5, 2018

      Cris

      Gapless playback works well on M3s, I use it for both live albums or albums that connects several songs together and it’s seamless transition. I suggest you to audition M3s at the closest distributor.

      • Reply January 5, 2018

        Berkhan

        Hi, thank you too!

        As Cris said, gapless works fine.

      • Reply January 6, 2018

        Nico

        Thank you so much for your reply and your helpful answer. I’m glad to hear Gapless Playback is working fine. I guess I’ll order the M3s, it sounds like this is the DAP I was looking for for a long time.

  • Reply January 5, 2018

    Cris

    Gapless playback works well on M3s, I use it for both live albums or albums that connects several songs together and it’s seamless transition. I suggest you to audition M3s at the closest distributor.

  • Reply January 6, 2018

    Dan

    Any comparisons to the Cayin N5ii?

    • Reply January 7, 2018

      Berkhan

      Not yet 🙂

      When I listen to the Cayin, I can say a few things.

  • Reply January 11, 2018

    Nico

    I just got my M3s today and I love it a lot. It sounds great, it feels nice, the UI is fast (so is scanning my media library) and Gapless Playback works without any issues. Thank you so much to everyone for helping me out.

    I’ve only encountered one problem so far: The M3s doesn’t seem to handle albums with multiple CDs very well, at least when the format is MP3. The track order seems to be random with tracks from CD1 and CD2 mixed randomly. But the workaround is to use the file browser for now, so it’s not that big a deal for me. I’ve sent Shanling a mail with all the details and hope they can release a new Firmware update that fixes that problem.

    Besides this, I am very happy with my M3s. I was really frustrated by my FiiO X3 Mark III because of all the Software bugs, but the M3s just works out of the box. Thanks again for this great review and for helping me making a purchase decision!

    • Reply January 15, 2018

      Berkhan

      Glad to hear you like it. Enjoy your DAP!

    • Reply March 8, 2018

      Lain

      you can use file browser to play a album in each folder,and close folder skip,or you can use softwear like foobar to add album message,that will help m3s recognise CD albums.

  • Reply February 7, 2018

    Jim

    Anyone having problems with the M3s stuttering horribly (I mean to the point where it’s unlistenable) on DSD files? I have exactly 1 album of DSD content, and I was excited to try it out on the Shanling. But it’s not working.

    • Reply February 8, 2018

      Berkhan

      I had no issue listening to DSD albums.

  • Reply February 11, 2018

    Lionel

    Thx for the comparison coverage in your review, now i got more pictures about shanling m3s. But i’m still eager to know if shanling m3s is sound much better (putting spec and features aside) than fiio x5ii/second gen which also a neutral sounding DAP?

    • Reply February 12, 2018

      Berkhan

      Thanks for reading.

      Based on my previous experiences with the original FiiO X5 and my knowledge about the MK2 not being very different from the MK1, I would say the M3s is the better sounding DAP.

  • Reply February 13, 2018

    Dr.Ali

    Great review. I enjoyed while I was reading. Could you simply compare M3s with Cayin N5ii, Sony ZX2 or another DAPs?

    I like natural sound, without dynamic character. I don’t like bright sound like you. I don’t like bassi I like nice, natural and power mids and trebles.

    I think I will buy Fiio FH1 with M3s.

    What do you thing about this? Could you make a suggestion?

    Thank you…

    • Reply February 13, 2018

      Berkhan

      ZX2 would be overkill for FH1. I suggest you either M3s or Cayin N5ii. I think the M3s would pair very good. But if you like to have streaming then the N5ii is the option.

  • Reply February 13, 2018

    Dr.Ali

    Did you suggest Balance Cable. Which one if you suggest balance cable?

    • Reply March 9, 2018

      Berkhan

      There are lots of balanced cables out there, you should search the web.

  • Reply February 20, 2018

    Juan Carlos

    Hello I am charmed with it your review, but I have doubts between the cayin n3 and the Shanling M3s, I like the music with many details but also that they have a bit of low and it is entertained and I am not sure of which buying

    • Reply February 20, 2018

      Berkhan

      Thank you.

      Easy answer: The M3s is way better.

  • Reply February 20, 2018

    Juan Carlos

    If but you tell that the M3s does not have many low and my I like the low ones, it them will miss in the M3s

    • Reply February 20, 2018

      Berkhan

      M3s is not bassy yes, but Cayin N3 is even worse in terms of bass. There’s no comparison between them, M3s is simply on a higher level.

  • Reply February 21, 2018

    Juan Carlos

    Ok muchas gracias, creo que me lo comprare porque por ese precio no hay nada mejor.un saludo.

  • Reply February 22, 2018

    Juan Carlos

    With that it generated musically of does he handle better?

  • Reply March 8, 2018

    Ricky

    I own a Portaphile 627x Amp, Sennheiser IE80 and HD600. Will the M3s be a good pair with Portaphile 627x?

    • Reply March 9, 2018

      Berkhan

      I don’t know about the 627x so I can’t comment. For HD600 it would better to use a desktop setup with a dedicated desktop amp.

  • Reply April 15, 2018

    David

    I really appreciate the clarity of your reviews; you’ve helped me decide to upgrade from an iPod to the M3S.

    I’ve been considering Beyer DT770/32ohms or DT880/32ohms to replace my 1More MK801s assuming they won’t live up to the M3S. Can you suggest a couple decent ~200 USD over-ear headphones to pair with the M3S for classical, jazz and vocal? I’m looking for detailed and accurate natural/neutral sound across the spectrum. Thanks.

    • Reply April 16, 2018

      Berkhan

      Thank you.

      Are you looking open or closed?

      DT770 32ohm is a great headphone and would pair very well with the m3s. DT880’s would pair very nice as well and they’re good for classical & jazz, but they’re open back.

      • Reply April 17, 2018

        David

        I like closed, but want to get the benefit of the M3S soundstage, so I’m willing to accept some outside noise intrusion with semi- or open phones if the sound quality and soundstage are noticeably better, hence my initial thought of either the DT770 or DT880. Perhaps you can suggest a warmish pairing that you think would suit my listening habits of classical, jazz and vocal and leverage the M3S strengths?

        Thanks again for the input.

        • Reply April 17, 2018

          Berkhan

          Beyers are not warm headphones. You can look at the Fidelio X2 for that, or maybe the new Sennheiser HD660s would be good with a slightly warm sound.

    • Reply April 16, 2018

      dale thorn

      The MK801 has a very strong bass, at least as much as the v-moda M100 or LP series. The Beyer bass is better, more detailed, but sounds a lot different from the 1More.

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