Shanling M3X Digital Audio Player Review


Shanling's latest portable budget digital audio player is the M3X and it comes with a price tag of $339 USD and features an android-based system, 3.5mm and 4.4mm balanced circuitry, and a nice 4.2 inch touchscreen display. This review will take a quick look through the various features of the player and see how it performs.

Before I go deeper, I'd like to thank Linsoul for providing this review sample of the player. They carry the Shanling M3X, as well as other Shanling products on their main website at http://www.linsoul.com as well as on Amazon.

https://www.linsoul.com/collections/all/products/shanling-m3x


The M3X is a smaller and budget version of Shanling's flagship M8 product. It features a similar design style to many of their new Android-based products, and houses a pair of the latest ESS DAC, the Sabre ES9219C DAC/Amp combination chipset. In addition, Shanling chose to go with a more popular Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 CPU with 2GB RAM, as well as 32 GB internal storage. Going with a more common Snapdragon SOC means it'll be pretty snappy as a music player and basic usage, and it has significantly better battery optimizations than some of the other SOC choices on other hi-res audio players.

The player also includes bluetooth transmission and receiving capabilities for many bluetooth codecs including LDAC and AptX HD. In addition to bluetooth, there is wifi streaming capability since this is an android device, as well as USB-C DAC and transport functionality.



The Design

The overall design shares much in common with other Shanling products, from the basic shape and design and the volume dial appearance and functionality (it also acts as a power button). The 4.2 inch screen has 1280 x 768 resolution, so it's not quite Full HD but it looks sharp for the small screen size. There's very little bezel on this device, which is a great thing. It means no space is left unused.

The volume dial is on the right side, while the left side features the playback buttons. The bottom of the device has a USB-C port. The top has the 3.5mm single-ended standard headphone jack, as well as the 4.4mm balanced jack. one of the things to note here, is that the female connectors here don't have a surrounding plate that I am accustomed to seeing on many other players these days, so it does look a little bit cheap here, though nothing that detracting from actual performance.

The main body is all-aluminum metal and with the front and rear panels featuring glass inserts. The front screen is is bright, but not the most vibrant I've seen. It doesn't show any signs of viewing angle issues, and does not saturate with turning or tilting the device.

In addition to this, I was also sent the Shanling leather case in blue. It reminds me of the Dignis cases with the X-design on the back with metal stripes. It's a nice case overall, and is really lightweight.



Interface

The main interface of the Shanling uses a modified version of Android 7.1.1. The device does not come with Google Play Store support, but does include ApkPure and CoolAPK market apps. You can easily install Google Play Store from one of these alternative apps, and get that going again. This is what I did and then quickly installed Play versions of Qobuz, Spotify, Tidal, and Roon Remote. 

The interface designed by Shanling does not have a typical launcher menu. Instead, all the apps are placed on one of the main screens, more similar to how Apple's iOS looks. I am not a huge fan of this, and prefer a launcher menu for cleanliness and organization. 

There is also no on-screen back or home buttons. Going back or home, requires using gestures, likes swiping up. It's not super intuitive at first, but I did get the hang of it later.

The pull down meu has quick links to wifi, bluetooth, and various audio settings. These include thigns like line out, gain level, as well as Airplay and switching between Android and "Prime" mode, which focuses on the Shanling music player only.




This music app has a standard look similar to many other players. It takes a bit of time to load the library initially, but is otherwise pretty snappy. It also has the ability to view files from Network Attached Storage (NAS) and can transfer via Wifi.

There is also a white and black theme to choose from. I prefer the dark black theme over the white one, which is more of a gray color than white.

The Shanling music app also includes a standard 10-band equalizer. I would have preferred for more control with a parametric EQ, but having EQ is better than not at all.


Sound Impressions

The M3X, in general, has a warm sound that I feel is a bit forward and intimate overall. The treble range is sweet, but does sound a tad roll-off as well. The bass area sounds like it's boosted a small amount giving the overall sound a more lush feel to it, while the mid-range is focused and present.

These impressions are mainly with driving the Hidition Viento and Unique Melody MEST MK2, and a little bit of time playing the M3X with the Sennheiser HD600.

For these three products, I did not have any issues with power. I used the two IEMs in low gain on balanced output, while I used the HD600 with 3.5mm single-ended on high gain. I had plenty of headroom in each combination.

There does sound like a little bit of a compressed sound stage and imaging is just alright, and I'm mainly comparing it to my Lotoo PAW 6000 DAP, which cost roughly 4 times as much as the Shanling M3X, so it may not be great comparison. 

From memory though, it sounds a lot more similar to my experiences with the Hiby R5, the Sony ZX-507, and the A&K SR15 in terms of general sound signature and technical ability. The ZX507 and SR15 probably best it in resolution, but only slightly. The R5 is probably the more comparable in overall technical ability, but I do feel the M3X is more engaging.

Wrap-Up

If I were to pick out the three favorite qualities of the M3X DAP, it'd probably be:
1. Great Size and Screen
2. Flexible Android capabilities
3. Really nice case

And if I had to pick the three least favorite qualities of the M3X, it'd probably be:
1. Lacks resolution and treble extension/air of higher-tier portable DAPs
2. A little too much low end emphasis for my tastes
3. The design feels a little too wide to comfortably hold in my small hands

Overall, I think the M3X is a great value for its price tag of $339. There's not a lot of competition at this price point that can offer the amount of features it has, with a large screen, and good processor, speed and battery life. It isn't my favorite for general sound performance, but it makes up for it elsewhere.

Comments

  1. I've been back and forth between this M3X and the LP6K pretty much since the M3X was announced. I know these two devices are in entirely different leagues but I did end up buying one; I just had to try it. I have to be honest, I'm pretty blown away by what Shanling has accomplished for a $339 retail pricepoint. I let it run for over 100 hours after the first listening session and it has definitely opened up and is producing very good staging, quite controlled and textured bass, excellent mids and airy treble with good detail and sparkle. I was concerned about the the Power output but with all of my IEMs (I Have No Cans) there's plenty of power on Low Gain through the balanced output and in high gain really great weight to the notes without causing any bloat, or crowding the mids and highs. It's clearly an upgrade from the even more powerful and slightly costilier M5S. I'm still intrigued by the LP6K, but having not heard it, I'm having a difficult time understanding what I'm missing out on for the $700 difference - because I'm not feeling that I'm missing much of anything with M3X. I have switched to the Hiby Music App and enabled Android Onscreen Controls - to get rid of the gesture control. I'd love you comments on how much more definition, height width, clarity and definition the LP6K offers.

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