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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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