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.
👉🏻 As mentioned in this podcast…
Shanling M3 Ultra
Wadia iPod dock
Cambridge iPod dock
Soundaware Esther M1 Pro
Singxer USB bridges
Sony Xperia 1 III