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Podcast: Shanling M3 Ultra review

  • The basics of Shanling’s M3 Ultra portable audio player are as follows: a 4.2″ 1280 × 768px touchscreen display gives us access to an Android 10 operating system that permits library navigation, audio file selection and playback. A pair of ESS ES9019C DAC chips then decode the audio file to feed twin Ricore RT6863 op-amps that push up to 260mW into 32 Ohms from a 4.4mm balanced socket or just over half that into 32 Ohms from the nearby 3.5mm single-ended output. The whole thing is powered by a 3500mAh battery for up to 20 hours of music listening between charges. Just add headphones.

    But wait: Shanling has customised Google’s operating system with its own ‘Android Global Lossless Output’ (AGLO) signal routing in order to bypass the 48kHz SRC that would otherwise rob us of bit-perfect playback. AGLO works for files spun from a microSD card inserted into the player’s rear end and third-party streaming apps like Spotify and Tidal.

    Don’t expect flagship smartphone smoothness when clicking around the M3 Ultra’s interface: the internal Snapdragon 665 processing platform and its 3GB of associated RAM result in price-commensurate compromises to GUI responsiveness. It’s not slow but it’s not super snappy. Elsewhere, there’s little to complain about at the M3 Ultra’s €479 asking price — unless you demand gapless playback from Shanling’s app when playing files from a microSD card.

    Shanling sent one M3 Ultra to me in Germany (which I then took on a plane to Portugal) and one to Srajan in Ireland for a tag team podcast review in which we look at the M3 Ultra from two very different angles. I used it as a portable audio player out in the street – as most folk might – but Srajan’s wi-fi allergy meant he reframed the M3 Ultra as a home-based file server/streamer with surprisingly positive results.

    With 3TB of FLAC stashed on an HDD, I’m still not down with my music choices being limited to all that a lower-capacity microSD card can hold; hence my preference for streaming apps like Plexamp and Roon ARC that can phone home to turn that 3TB HDD into a private streaming service. But Srajan’s deployment of a USB bridge between the Shanling (operating as a local file player) and a DAC I think is an inspired move.

    Listen via SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn or the embedded player below:

    👉🏻 As mentioned in this podcast…

    Shanling M3 Ultra

    iPod history

    Wadia iPod dock

    Cambridge iPod dock

    Shanling EM7

    Soundaware Esther M1 Pro

    Singxer USB bridges

    Sony NW-ZX1

    Sony NW-ZX2

    Roon ARC


    Helm Bolt

    Zorloo Ztella

    iBasso DX300

    Astell&Kern SP2000

    Sony Xperia 1 III

    Sony NW-A306

    FiiO R7

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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