Today we’re going to be checking out the new Shanling M3X! It’s selling for $339 USD.
Disclaimer: Shanling sent us the M3X for the purpose of this review. I only covered the import taxes and fees. All thoughts and experiences with the product are naturally my own.
Founded in 1988, Shanling has been developing Hi-Fi products for more than 30 years now. From high-end CD players to classy tube-amps, the brand made a name thanks to great craftsmanship and top-of-the-line performances.
These past years, the brand also developed a complete range of portable players and IEMs. Just a few days ago we reviewed the Shanling M6 Pro 21, a great DAP in our opinion. Today we’ll be reviewing their new budget offering, the M3X. Additionally, you can find all of our Shanling reviews here.
Shanling M3X Android Hi-Res Portable Player
Shanling designed the M3X as a scaled-down version of their flagship M8, to be a more practical and smaller player, with only a 4.2-inch touch screen. This makes it 25% smaller and lighter than their M6 and M6 Pro players.
The Shanling M3X packs a lot of good features for its price. It utilizes the Snapdragon 430 SoC with 2 gigabytes of RAM. Additionally, it is the first Hi-Res player to use the new ESS Sabre ES9219C chip. Shanling is using these chips in dual DAC configuration to offer a balanced 4.4mm output for better sound and more power. The device can decode PCM up to 32-bit 384kHz and DSD up to 256. Additionally, the device features x16 MQA unfolding, for all the fans of the Master Quality albums. The highlights include the long battery as well, M3X will stand out with its superb battery life, offering up to 23 hours of playback on a single charge.
Combining all of these with the open Android 7.1, you have limitless options and have unlimited access to streaming apps. There is a lot to talk about so let’s get to the review!
Packaging & Accessories
The Shanling M3X comes in a simple and elegant package. The outer cover is white and has all the details printed around the box. The inner package is covered with a gorgeous shade of blue that matches one of the protective cases of M3X and it looks very chic.
If you go ahead and open it, you are immediately welcomed by the player itself. You will notice how small and compact it is, right away. Under the section where the player is located, you will see a compartment that holds the accessories and booklets. You only get a USB-C charging cable, a couple of instruction manuals, and two spare screen protectors with the device. The spare protector films can also be used on the back glass panel, as the front and back share the same proportions. If you want further protection for the device, Shanling sells the beautiful blue protective case for an extra $30 USD. It also has a black color variant.
Design & Build Quality
The overall design of the M3X follows Shanling’s soft and elegant design language. Rounded corners, glossy glass back panel, notched and round volume potentiometer, indeed a classic Shanling. I personally like everything from Shanling’s design team and I think it is quite impressive that there is certain design integrity between all the devices that a company manufactures. It is no easy feat and should be appreciated in my book.
Back to the device, the M3X is a compact and light device, measuring 109mm x 72mm x 15.9mm and 168g. As for the layout, both the unbalanced and balanced outs are located on the top of the device and the USB-C charging port is located on the bottom along with the SD-card slot. On the left side of the device, there are three navigation buttons. Via those, you can skip tracks and pause or resume the playback. On the right side of the device, there is a volume pot that can be pressed on. It acts as a power button and looks very elegant with the notched design. Under the volume pot, there is a single LED that lets you know about the power status. It is really easy to use the device with one hand and it seamlessly fits into my jean pockets.
The screen is bright and sharp with a 1280×768 resolution and 356 PPI. The screen has a protector that is pre-applied in the factory so you won’t be bothered with that. The overall build quality of the device is really good, buttons do not wobble and sockets feel tight and rigid. Overall, the M3X offers a great experience for the user.
Interface & Stability
The M3X features an open Android 7.1 OS and you can download and install any APK you want. The Google Play Store application is not pre-installed but you can download it from the pre-installed APKPure application and use it without any problems. All the apps you installed on the Android of the M3X will be processed by AGLO and they will bypass the Androids SRC. Shanling has developed and optimized the Android of the M3X to correctly process music and bypass the OS’s default limitations. AGLO technology correctly processes music from apps to avoid degradation.
The ”AGLO” stands for Android Global Lossless Output. This is very important because Android has put audiophiles in some trouble at its early stages where 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 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 thanks to the work of Shanling’s skilled engineers. Of course, this means that any app that you can install on M3X will benefit from the integrated DACs to the full extent.
Apart from that, the device has 2 gigabytes of RAM and this may come as a red flag to some of you, hardware junkies. However, it is safe to say that the RAM is quite sufficient because this is a special and optimized version of Android. The operation is fast and smooth, without any stutter. Applications like Tidal work seamlessly without any system delay. The UI experience is simple and straightforward. Gesture-based control looks and feels great and it is quite easy to learn how to use it. You can also toggle on the virtual buttons if you like, but I like the gestures as they offer a cleaner look into the UI. There is also 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 app without any interruptions.
The review continues on Page Two, after the click HERE or by using the jump below.
Page 2: Features, OTA Firmware Updates, MQA, LDAC, USB DAC, Storage, Power
Page 3: Sound Signature, Balanced vs. Unbalanced, Low, Mid, High, Technical Performance, Pairings, Last Words