When it's gone, it's gone ⏳ - Shanling M3X Limited Edition Review
Limited no. 1243/1500
Author: Bryan Liew (Bry Audio Reviews)
The Shanling M3X Limited Edition needs no introduction. It is a $430usd Android-based DAP that is made in collaboration with MOONDROP and Tanchjim. The trio has tuned this limited edition M3X to provide a new warmer sound output with a darker background and better control. They have also mentioned that its tuning will work best with Tanchjim and Moondrop's IEMs.
The unboxing experience here has been nothing be spectacular. The M3X Limited comes with a big white box with both Moondrop and Tanchjim's mascots in front. Once opened, I am presented with a custom white leather case, a few custom art pieces, a USB cable, a user manual, and lastly, the M3X Limited itself.
There will only be a total of 1500 units of these made, with only 500 units available for the international market. So if you are looking to pick one up, better act quick before it is too late :)
*This review is split into 3 parts: Non-Audio Opinions, Sound, and Sound Configuration Settings. If all you care about is sound, please skip part 1 and go straight to part 2.
Part 1 - Non-Audio Opinions
As mentioned above, if you’re not interested in the following, you can skip straight to Part 2 for my sound impressions. However, I'll keep this part very short as I'll only cover things that matter.
- What's inside?: Dual ES9219C DAC/Amp from ESS Sabre + Panasonic tantalum capacitors. The non-limited M3X uses "special large-capacity tantalum capacitors" instead.
- Battery Life: Easily 17 - 20 hours of playback time per charge with Dual DAC on. Really impressed with the battery here. Shanling advertised it as having 23 hours with Single DAC and 20 hours with Dual DAC. Pretty spot on IMO.
- Performance: is good. The interface is snappy and responsive. It is rocking an 8 core Snapdragon 430 with 2GB ram.
- Buttons: 4 in total - power button (also as the volume wheel), next track, play/pause, previous track. Pretty ergonomic and well placed, especially for right-handers. However, I would prefer it if the play/pause button is textured/dented. Textured buttons makes it easier to eyeball without looking. First-world problems, I know. But hey, it is worth mentioning.
- Portability: And as for the ergonomics and portability of the M3X Limited, I would say that it is pretty good. It is decently sized, easily pocketable, and I have no problems handling it with one hand with my small Asian-sized hands.
- Features: 16x MQA unfolding, Bluetooth both ways, AirPlay, Wifi… You name it, the M3X Limited has it. However, I find that the WiFi here takes a bit longer than expected to connect to 5Ghz Wifi bands. Do keep that in mind as I find it annoying at times.
- Design: As Yumu Songonce said, "the M3X limited edition is more than just a DAP; It is an art piece". The design here is beautiful, with custom number engraving at the side (mine is limited no. 1243/1500! ). Its build is pretty solid too. So no complaints.
Part 2 - Sound
*Disclaimer: This review is done using Dual DAC Mode on + linear-phase lowpass filter. Check out Part 3 to see why this matters.
- To put it simply, the M3X Limited is a warm-neutral sounding DAP with a focus on adding fullness and thickness to the mids. I would describe it as being a resolving and musical-sounding DAP with fast snappy transients, open soundstage, full-sounding mids, and good detail retrieval.
- The bass here sounds snappy, full, well-textured, and detailed. It has a bit of added weight and warmth to it to make it sound fuller and more engaging. It is also capable of going deep down into the sub-bass regions without any notable early roll-offs. A big plus for me as I initially expected it to roll off a bit earlier, but it did not. However, the bass here isn't your thick, punchy, dominant bass that some might expect from a fun sounding source. It is actually leaning more towards the neutral and resolving side. Do keep in mind that the bass here is by no means lean or neutral. As mentioned above, it has a slight warmth colouration, making it sound fuller.
- The Midrange is the star of the show here. Just like the bass, it has a slight warmth colouration, which in return gives the mids a more forward and fuller presentation. If I were to describe how the midrange here sounds, I would describe it as being full, forward, open, and weighty. The added warmth and fullness do push vocals forward, making them sound more forward and intimate. Do not mistake the vocal intimacy here as having a small soundstage though, as the soundstage here is pretty wide. More on the soundstage later.
- It terms of detail retrieval, as expected from a DAP with Dual ES9219C DAC, the M3X Limited is no slouch. As mentioned above, I find the M3X to be a pretty resolving sounding DAP. With Dual DAC Mode ON, I was able to pick up on tiny nuances and plenty of microdetails easily without cranking up the volume.
- In terms of upper midrange, I find the upper midrange here to be pretty tamed and smooth with zero sibilance or edginess. No typical "upper mids glare" that I find present on most of Shanling's products.
- As for the treble, I would describe it as being detailed, airy, and snappy. It is well extended with great "treble air qualities". Just like most of Shanling's sources, the treble is never bright sounding. In M3X Limited's case, it is never bright, fatiguing, edgy, or dry sounding. You will have no issues pairing bright-sounding gears with the m3x limited.
- As for the soundstage, it is wide and tall with good depth and layering. I would describe the soundstage here as being somewhat like a hall. I am a sucker for soundstages that are tall and deep, and the M3X Limited definitely delivers here.
- In terms of imaging, it is also clean and precise with great image separation. Thanks to the well rounded and wide soundstage presentation, pinpointing where instruments are coming from is, imo, almost effortless. Pair this with the M3X Limited's ability to resolve details and you are in for a treat.
- Pairs perfect with Harman-tuned IEMs or any IEMs with laidback vocals / thinner mids. The added weightiness and fullness in the mids works really well here. IMO, the Shanling M3X Limited pairs perfect with Moondrop Blessing 2: Dusk. Pairing the M3X Limited with my Moondrop Blessing 2: Dusk just sounds like these two are seriously made for each other. They weren't joking when they said they tuned the M3X Limited specially for Moondrop/Tanchjim's IEMs huh?
- Bass could be thicker and punchier.
- Treble could be a tad bit sparklier.
- Full and forward midrange presentation might be fatiguing for some after long listening sessions.
- Mids colouration could make thick sounding gears sound too thick. (potential "fix" in Part 3. See "Lowpass filters comparison")
- Upper mids might be too laid-back/shy for some. (potential "fix" in Part 3. See "Lowpass filters comparison")
- Dynamics could be a bit better. (High gain mode helps with the dynamic issue, but not without introducing some cons. See Part 3- "Low gain vs High gain mode" for more info)
- Requires burn-in. Sounds bloated OOTB. I recommend at least 3 days (or 15 charge cycles).
- Limited to only 1500 units worldwide. When it's gone, it's gone.
Part 3 - Sound Configuration Settings
Here is where I describe the sound differences between different outputs, lowpass filters, gain modes, and DAC modes.
1. LOWPASS FILTERS COMPARISON (LINEAR PHASE FAST ROLL-OFF VS APODIZING PHASE FAST ROLL-OFF):
- I find the linear phase filter to sound more natural, with fuller bass and better timbral characteristics.
- Apodizing seems to give vocals and upper mids a slight edge, making notes sound somewhat edgy? This in return takes away a bit of the timbral characteristics, making notes sound dryer. However, the bass is leaner and less "bloaty" now. If you find your M3X Limited to be too warm to your liking or lacking some upper mids energy, switch to Apodizing filter.
2. DUAL DAC MODE VS SINGLE DAC MODE:
- With Dual DAC on, you get better detail retrieval, better separation, more resolution, crispier notes.
- Single DAC mode is smoother and more relaxing sounding. It isn't as resolving nor is it as detailed as dual DAC mode, but I can see myself using Single DAC mode on days when I want better battery life or a smoother sounding experience.
3. SE VS BALANCED:
- Balanced out gives you better instrument separation, better layering, better soundstage depth, and more power.
- Recommended to use Balanced out with the M3X Limited.
4. LOW GAIN VS HIGH GAIN MODE:
- Low gain sounds more relaxed, open, balanced, with mids that are more forward.
- High gain seems to give the M3X Limited a slight V-shaped tonality. Bass becomes punchier and more dominant. Upper midrange are slightly pushed forward, and mids/lower mids are slight recessed. I find high gain mode to sound more dynamic and tighter overall, but soundstage seems to be tighter and smaller.
PART 4 - In Conclusion
I think what Shanling x Moondrop x Tanchjim did here is great. They took the original M3X, which is deemed "the best $300usd DAP" by many, retune it, and make it even better. Yes, it is slightly warmer. Yes, it is slightly more coloured. But this colouration is what gives it that musicality that the original M3X needs, making the M3X Limited a musical yet resolving sounding DAP.
In my opinion, if you are looking for a DAP that is warm-neutral, with full forward mids, snappy bass, and airy treble, the Shanling M3X Limited Edition should definitely be considered.
Remember, there are only 1500 units available (only 500 available for the international market). So act fast before it is all gone!
Link to purchase (non-affiliated):