Features & UI
The Shanling M3 Ultra runs on a customized version of Android 10, providing a familiar user experience for Android users. The OS is open so you can download and install any APK your heart desires. The device comes with a pre-installed suite of apps, including a custom music player, a custom browser, and a file manager. Additionally, the APK stores are pre-installed on the M3U, unlike the M3X. There are three store apps to download APKs from, including the Google Play Store. Of course, you have the option to install APKs that you find online, as well.
We have given some information about AGLO subsystem, above. For further clarification, please refer to the following paragraph.
The ”AGLO” stands for Android Global Lossless Output. This is very important because Android has put audiophiles in some trouble in its early stages when it did some kind of resampling that applied to all apps, so you could not benefit from the DACs fully. Android phones had DACs that were limited to 48khz or 96 at most, so that was not a problem for the daily user but of course we, the audiophile bunch suffered from this. Native and bit-perfect playback was necessary to increase the dynamic range of Android-based players and most importantly, their 3rd apps. Tidal, Qobuz, and similar high-fidelity-focused apps needed to utilize DACs to their full extent. AGLO system enables that exactly, up to DAC’s limitations, which are, in this case, up to 32bit-384kHz. AGLO is optimized for bit-perfect audio, and it completely bypasses Android’s limitations and SRC. Of course, this means that any app that you can install on M3U will benefit from the integrated DACs to the fullest extent.
The M3 Ultra’s user interface is quite simple and easy to use. The main menu is organized and intuitive, with large icons that make it easy to access your music, settings, and applications. The touchscreen is sensitive, but don’t expect a mid-tier Android smartphone kind of responsiveness and fluidity. The M3X’s custom Android 7 ran slightly smoother in comparison. The M3U is similar to A&K DAPs in this regard.
The M3U offers three ways of navigation and these can be changed via the general tab under the settings menu. Swipe-gesture mode is the default one and as an individual belonging to a generation accustomed to gesture controls, I did not have much difficulty. When you swipe up from the bottom center of the screen, you access the home page. When you do this more slowly, you can instantly see the open applications in the background. You can close them or switch between them using this gesture. The second mode is the Floating-box mode, keen iOS users already know this little dot as the ”Assistive Touch”.
This is a basic version of that same feature. This moveable semi-transparent dot can be tapped on to go to the previous page or long-pressed to go to the main screen. It is basically a digital home button. The last method is the usual virtual buttons that are located at the bottom of the screen. There are three buttons here. The home button is the main button in the center of the nav bar that returns you to the home screen. The back button allows you to navigate back to the previous screen or action. The recent apps button (square) shows a list of recently used apps, allowing you to switch between them quickly. That’s pretty much all there is, navigation-wise.
Let’s talk about the Audio settings sub-menu. In this menu, there are various settings where you can change DAC filters, output type, default volume level, gain, and Bluetooth codec priority. The device remembers the set values and the menu is quite easy to access via long press into any audio element that can be found on the notification slide menu. The player’s firmware is regularly updated, with new features and bug fixes released by Shanling. I am on firmware V1.1 and I haven’t run into any bugs other than the Qobuz APP crashing. I installed Qobuz 5.4.1 and I have been using it since then without any problem. The M3U’s OS is stable.
The M3 Ultra comes with an improved wireless module and I noticed the improvement as soon as I compared it to the M3X. The M3U offers faster speed and is more reliable, especially whilst streaming 24-192 tracks from Qobuz. The Qualcomm WCN3980 module under the M3U’s hood supports both 2.4/5 GHz wireless bands. Furthermore, the M3U supports Bluetooth 5.0 and it can act both as a receiver and transmitter. It supports LDAC, AptX HD, AptX, and SBC in transmitter mode. The receiver mode only supports LDAC and SBC. On a side note, I saw the option to activate LHDC HWA codec support inside the Shanling Player app, but could not test it due to the LHDC codec being quite exclusive.
There is a mode present in the DAP that is called the Prime Mode. It terminates all the other processes and 3rd party apps of the Android and lets you use the Shanling Music App without any interruptions. It can be accessed through the notifications slider menu.
Combining ESS’ power-efficient SoC ES9219C with a 3500mAh battery resulted in M3U offering good battery life, especially via single-ended HPO. In single-dac mode, via 3.5mm socket, the M3U can provide up to 20h of continuous music playback. Going dual DAC & BAL decreases it to around 14h. It is up to you to decide whether the lower SQ is worth it for the extra 6-7h of battery life. I personally will stick with the BAL as the SQ difference is not small with my gear.
Either way, the M3U’s battery life is great. I can get around 12-13h of Qobuz use, which is great in my book. Using local files and no Wi-Fi lets you reach the claimed numbers easily. As mentioned earlier, M3U supports QC3.0 18W fast charging, so you can quickly top up the battery when you’re on the go. It takes around 1,5h to fully charge it with my 25w Anker charger.
Shanling Music App
The Shanling Music app is a music player app developed by Shanling for its digital audio players. The app is available for download on the Google Play Store and although available with a wide range of android phones, it is primarily designed to work with Shanling’s digital audio players.
The Shanling Music app offers a user-friendly interface that allows you to browse and play your local music collection easily. The app supports a wide range of audio formats, including hi-res formats like DSD and FLAC. Since the M3U supports PCM 32bit/384kHz and DSD256 decoding, you get to enjoy the M3U’s internal engine to the max.
You can also create playlists, search for songs, and sort your music by artist, album, or genre. The app has SyncLink, NAS, and DLNA support. Additionally, the M3U is Airplay-capable. The app has a built-in EQ but I am not a fan of any EQ other than FPGA-based alternatives. If you want to use EQ system-wide, I recommend PowerAmp EQ. I use it with TWS earphones. Overall the app is nice. If you’re looking for an alternative, Neutron and, PowerAmp Players are worth checking out. On a side note, the app does not support gapless playback, yet.
The Shanling M3U comes with a pre-installed application called Support. It has a purple icon and it is easy to find since the DAP comes without any bloatware. In this application, you can update the M3U’s software wirelessly. However, Shanling’s servers are located in CN so they are slow. You can find the drive link with the latest firmware/software on Shanling’s official website. You can then copy the file inside the M3U and do a local update instead. It took me 3 minutes in total. It is much better than waiting 20+ minutes for the server. The regular updates ensure the device works as intended and Shanling’s engineering team pushes bug-fix updates quite regularly.
The review continues on Page Three, after the click HERE or by using the jump below.
Page 1: Shanling, M3 Ultra, Packaging & Accessories, Design & Build Quality
Page 2: Features & UI, Battery Life, Shanling Music App, Firmware Updates
Page 3: Sound Signature, Low, Mid, High, Technical Capability, Comparison, Last Words
Why no comparison to the recently reviewed Hiby R6 III? Seem similar, at least in price.
Good question! It’s actually because different reviewers did both reviews, so it’s not possible at this stage, sorry