Review: Shanling M3S – Perfectly Balanced

Shanling M3s

SOUND

Shanling M3s has two of the famous AK4490 DACs, two MUSE8920 LPF (low-pass filter) chips together with 2 AD8397 AMPs. As you can see this is a fully balanced circuit. The balanced sound will be evaluated in the last part of the review so keep reading.

Shanling M3s is surely surprising to hear. It in my opinion is one of the best DAPs you can buy for the money (in terms of pure sound).

All in all, the M3s has a neutral trait, providing good air and balanced reproduction across the range. It’s nothing like the M2s in terms of character. They’re at the opposite sides. The M2s is warm and organic and the M3s is flatter, much closer to neutral and its openness can be felt easily compared to its little brother. I should say the M3s is the typical audiophile tuned DAP.

BASS

Lows on the M3s are more linear than with the M2s and are more controlled. So as a result, the bass is tighter, better layered and it has more resolution overall. It’s sharp, has very good decay and the recovery is very very good for this price. The M2s has a little bit more sub bass down low but overall the M3s simply gives better lows in a technical perspective.

Sure it’s not a bassy source like what we saw from HiBy R6 (single ended), but I think it’s pleasing for most music genres out there, maybe expect some bassy techno trance music. So it’s not very generous in terms of quantity but certainly great from the qualitative bass standpoint.

Shanling M3s

Shanling M3s

The emphasized part is the midbass, and it again prevails over the M2s easily, regarding separation. There’s no bleeding to the lower mids which is very good. So as a whole, I found the bass presentation of Shanling M3s parallel to Sony WM1A’s. It’s not rumbling, it doesn’t reach very low but the resolution, separation, layering and overall controlled presentation makes me a happy listener. No excessive midbass or subbass. The WM1A gives a performance which is a couple of levels above of course, but they have a similar character.

MIDS

As a result of the bass’ character, the M3s sounds very clean and resolving in the middle part. In fact, I found the mids excellent and sounding above the price range. Plug in an average IEM and you won’t separate this player from some DAPs that cost 3 times the price. Of course you’ll differentiate the sound with pricier gear but the point is, mids sound incredibly balanced, resolving and without any excessive coloration. It just sounds so right to my ears.

Tonality is great, vocals are definitive but not too much in front. Instruments have good resolution and timbre. Tonal balance is very coherent overall. Finding this neutrality and tonal accuracy is not easy in the market and I think Shanling managed to succeed in that. Still I think it has a shadowy warm touch to it, preventing it to sound cold. So mid are not dry, there’s still just a little bit coloration and musicality. But of course this is dependent of your IEMs/headphones as well.

TREBLE

Treble is just another part which sounds highly separated, resolving and in-line. Articulation and extension are both very good and I absolutely can’t say anything negative for this price level. It surely can challenge many DAPs in or above the price range. Listening to the cymbals in Jazz recordings, such as the legendary Kind of Blue, is definitely a joy with the M3s.

Shanling M3s

Shanling M3s

Another good part is the control. The M3s is not aggressive, although being more open and airy when compared to the M2s and some other DAPs in the price range. Yet, that will partly depend on your setup. If you pair it with open and bright IEMs, then you can hear some edgy cymbals but other than that, the M3s is usually very very controlled.

TECHNICAL

The Shanling M3s has an impressive sound stage. In my experience it’s hard to hear this wide staging in sub-300$ category. But the M3s impresses in this part, creating a very wide stage for the price. Depth-wise things are not as impressive as the width, and I ascribe that to having a linear bass response. Stereo imaging is great and left & right balance is very nice. The device separates the elements effortlessly and it has a nice clean, dark background for you to pick the instruments, vocals and other things in the sound.

Resolution is absolutely nice and impressive with all the songs I’ve played. I can’t criticize anything about it here. Even so, the dynamism is not on a high level, given the rather low bass quantity and overall neutral sound reproduction, but transparency is very good. Maybe the trebles and lows could’ve had a little more energy but I’m starting to nitpick here, I should not forget the price.

Shanling M3s

Shanling M3s

Noise floor is perfect as far as I’m concerned. I couldn’t hear any hiss with my IEMs. That is of course a crucial thing for the technical parts of the sound. Output impedance is around 0.6 ohms so no issues there.

In terms of power, it packs a little more juice than the M2s, thanks to the balanced output. The power is more than enough for many IEMs to me, so driving some full size cans shouldn’t be an issue. Do note that reaching the full potential of full size headphones is of course not just about power.

Go to PAGE 3 for matching, comparisons and summary

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A lover of personal audio from Turkey, Berkhan always seeks the perfection. He chooses a simplistic expression of sound at all times, and tries to keep his photography enthusiasm at the same level with audio. Sometimes photography wins, and sometimes his love for music takes him over and he puts that camera aside.

55 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.

  • Reply April 29, 2018

    Pavol

    Hi Berkhan
    Sorry, maybe i disturb you with my question /maybe you had already somewhere answered for similar thing/. I think between Cayin N5ii and this Shanling M3S. But i didin´t hear any one. I´m owner of Colorfly C4 PRO, and with love use earphones Audiotechnika ATH-AD900 and ATH-ES88. I realy like their soundstage, sound, presentation, clarity. Do you can, if you have some real exerience with C4 PRO, compare these two players with him please? I want little bit upgrade with sound, and definitely with UI, futures. Need line out, and maybe some wireless conectivity. Thanks for your patience and answer….

    • Reply April 30, 2018

      Berkhan

      Hi Pavol,

      No, not disturbing at all.

      Colorfly C4 is an old DAP, but still sounds very very good so neither M3s or N5ii will be a clear upgrade for you in terms of sound quality if you ask me.

      But if you want to utilize the UI and features like Wi-Fi etc., then I’d recommend the Cayin N5ii. But like I said, it’d be an upgrade in terms of usefulness and features, not an upgrade in terms of pure sound quality.

      • Reply April 30, 2018

        Pavol

        Hi Berkhan. Thanks for fast answer. I like my C4, even is old. When i first time saw him, from this moment i can´t slept, until buy them…even for high price..:) Sound as well. With some songs tear drops coming out. Just UI, you know, is realy basic, it´s big player, and battery life low. Any way, if soud of C4 is still beter than these two DAP, i will thing more. What i realy miss on C4 is line out – can´t swich him with my hifi, and possibility for biger SD card. I have to think more…or beter/more expensive portable DAP, or beter/more expensive earphones, or… Btw, last question – you have a tested C10 as well. Inside him is almost same DAC and AMP. What about comparation between these two player from one brand – C4 vs C10? Thanks…

        • Reply May 1, 2018

          Berkhan

          Unfortunately I never tested the C10.

          About switching to another DAP again; Yeah, I think you should go for higher level DAPs.

          Why don’t you check out my DAP Score Chart at Head Fi? Here it is: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/dap-score-chart.874423/

          • Reply May 2, 2018

            Pavol

            OK, thanks…don´t worry about C10. And thanks for the link on the score chart. I check it now, they are a lot DAP, but off course no everyone. With some one i´m surprised, with other no. Thanks. PS: go for higher level DAP´s…from C4pro, it have to be realy jump, i think..:)

  • Reply May 10, 2018

    Hannes

    Hey,
    Thanks for the review! As you’ve paired them with in ears only, I wonder how it performs on more demanding over ears?
    I’m looking to replace my fiio X5 II as the headphone jack keeps breaking. Guess the M3S could be a good option, but I wonder if it can drive my primarily used beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro.

    • Reply May 11, 2018

      Berkhan

      Hi,

      Thank you too.

      It drives my Sennheiser HD600 S to a certain level (150 ohm).

      So yeah, it can drive but since the DT1770 is 250ohms, it would be harder so the ideal circumstance is to drive it with a dedicated amplifier.

      • Reply May 16, 2018

        Hannes

        Hey,
        Thanks for the quick reply. Already thought so, as 250 ohm isn’t that easy to drive. Yet the X5ii can handle them pretty well.
        I also thought of getting the X3iii paired with the A5 amp.
        I’d rather have only one device, but didn’t find anything else in the sub 400€ range. I know there are some good players running Android, but I really, really don’t want Android on such a device.

        • Reply May 17, 2018

          Berkhan

          M3s is better than those FiiO DAPs you mentioned.

  • Reply May 13, 2018

    Andre

    Hi Berkhan,

    Thanks as always for the excellent and detailed review. One question – You mention that the sound quality over Bluetooth is not great, which is a pity because I am looking for a budget DAP to use with my new Sennheiser Momentum M2 IEBT in-ears while I am commuting, which I do a lot (as well as with my AKG Q701s when I am not commuting). Is there a better budget option for Bluetooth sound quality? I was looking at these or the Cayin N3.

    I appreciate your time!

    Andre

    • Reply May 24, 2018

      Alex Cheung

      I own a M3s and Momentum Over-the-ear Wireless. Unfortunately M3s is not able to connect it through bluetooth. I’ve posted technical inquiry to Shanling and they replied that the bluetooth connection issue with Sennheiser is still not fixed.

      Hope it helps on your purchase decision.

  • Reply May 14, 2018

    Berkhan

    What I mentioned was actually the Bluetooth connection from my smartphone. You can use streaming services on your phone and send the audio to the DAP and listen to with wired headphones. Unfortunately I’ve never listened to it with bluetooth headphones, therefore I can’t comment on that.

  • Reply May 14, 2018

    Andre

    Sorry I misunderstood your comment, many thanks for the reply.

  • Reply May 19, 2018

    Peter

    Yes, gapless works at 100% to be turned on in the menu. It has many settings. I am very satisfied with the SHANLING M3s. Shanling M3s-Yamaha A1-Quadral Montan mk3.

  • Reply May 25, 2018

    Craig

    Your review is great and was one of the chief inspirations for buying the DAP. However I am encountering a number of issues with the player. Perhaps its my lack of technological savvy, but I would say about 60% of the albums I download–generally single album, hi-res files do not appear on my device.A large number appear in an “unknown album” category. When I access that “unknown album” category and those “missing” albums appear in scrambled order, tracks out of sequence and albums mixing with other albums. Perhaps it’s the issue of classical music metadata funkiness, but it’s quite frustrating. Particularly frustrating because when the Shanling plays the hi-res files that do appear, it sounds glorious. Pity, kind of a tease for me.

  • Reply September 11, 2018

    Ele Espinosa

    I’m using a set of FiiO F9 Pro earphones. Using the 3.5mm cable, I can’t used the inline controls. Does anyone here know why not?

    • Reply September 14, 2018

      Berkhan

      AFAIK, smartphones can use the inline controls, not Digital Audio Players.

  • Reply September 14, 2018

    B John Shipe

    I am very interested in the M3s. I own the M1 and have been pleased with it. Does the M3s support m3u playlists? If so, how is the relative path name set up for each song entry?

  • Reply January 13, 2019

    Daniel

    Hey guys I’ve had an Xduoo X3 for ages and I was eying the mark II, however I found this one on massdrop and wonder if anyone with a bit of knowledge on the internals could give me some pointers on how they compare.

    Thanks!

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