Country of Origin


M3 Ultra

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, LHY Audio SW-8 network switch, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe [on review]; Active filter: icOn Gradient Box; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos, Enleum AMP-23R, Goldmund/Job 225; Headamp: Cen.Grand Silver Fox; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox3awf + sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Qualio IQ; Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Furutech RTP-6 on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioner; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D300Ref SD transport, Denafrips Terminator +; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro + 80Hz active filter; Amplifier: Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: MonAcoustics SuperMon Mini, Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF, Akiko Audio Corelli Corundum; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; Headamp/DAC: iFi iDSD Pro Signature;  Headphones: Final D-8000; Active speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Active DSP speakers: Fram Midi 120
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail: €469

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The return of the king. Today it's not Peter Jackson's climactic final movie of the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Today is about resurrecting the iPod with its spinning hard disk which once ruled the Dark Ages like sinister Saruman in his tall tower. It was a game changer whose sonics for stationary audiophile systems left much to be desired. Modifying it is how one Vinnie Rossi started his hifi career. Then Wadia's wizards designed a dock which extracted the iPod's digital signal to undergo their own conversion to analog far beyond Apple's chip. Equivalent docks from Cambridge, Onkyo, Pro-Ject and Pure Audio followed. Except for Wadia's, I owned at least one each. I found the idea of a digital library that could front sundry systems by hopping from dock to dock before going walkabout in the Great Outdoors compelling. In 2023, the iPod's descendants all run microSD or full-size card memory up to 2TB then output digital via USB and/or coax/optical. We can dock the dock. But… if we can stream wireless off the cloud to advanced fully active speakers like Buchardt's A700, why would we even want to resurrect the ancient iPod dock and, yawn, run The Mummy Part V?

I don't know about we just me. Like Saruman, I live in my own tower. I wouldn't call it ivory though it separates me from the vast majority all the same. The chief reason is physical aversion to WiFi as an uncomfortable leach/mush feel on my brain. My wife gets actual migraines. A second reason is my artistic background as first conservatory-trained musician now online content creator. I dislike the notion of streaming music which pays a pittance to the performers. I much prefer to buy their work. It used to be CD, today it's Redbook or hi-res files. Either way I own the music I want to hear. Whether the cloud rains or goes on a dry spell because of an Internet failure or artist pulling their music, I can access my files at any time; and without permanent Big Brother surveillance. Outright ownership rather than subscription access and a dislike of online surveillance build more height to my isolation tower. Like our WiFi allergy, the average music consumer doesn't share, understand or worry about any of these things. They simply set the stage for the would-be king's return.

We rent not own and never had dwellings with in-wall RJ45 wiring throughout. To distribute Internet access always meant hardwired industrial CAT8a wiring from a provider's router/modem to various computers like octopus tentacles. On our current ground floor the longest such spur is 30m of Ethernet cable which routes along floorboards across the hallway under a throw rug. You appreciate why none snake up the stairs to the second floor. So our upstairs systems rely on CD, DVD or USB media. A large 3TB library of local files on my main system's music iMac means I needn't duplicate it all upstairs. There already a 128GB microSD card is more than sufficient. I can easily add/delete files as I get bored; or swap cards. No need for a fancy music-dedicated laptop with mega SSD. Having painted you the picture of our anti-WiFi tower, now you grok the appeal of Shanling's M3 Ultra 'converted' to local music hub. I say 'converted' since most people will see it as a modern iPod so earbuds, tunes on the go and instant cloud access. There's simply no legitimate audiophile reason why the M3 Ultra couldn't instead/also be used as a hardwired digital server fronting a quite elite stationary system. A shown, my upstairs signal path beginning with the M3 Ultra right next to the listening chair continues across a 2m USB-C cable from Forza Audioworks to a Soundaware D300Ref USB bridge on ultra-cap power. That forwards digital data via 6m AES/EBU, BNC or I²S over HDMI/RJ45 to a premium DAC on a HifiStay rack between the speakers. When I wrote this, said DAC was a Cen.Grand DSDAC 1.0 Deluxe review loaner. The resident DAC is a Denafrips Terminator Plus. Once analog, the signal hit a Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature preamp with Elrog ER50 direct-heated triodes, then an icOn 4th-order 80Hz active xover. Its high pass connected to an Enleum AMP-23R driving MonAcoustics SuperMon Mini monitors, its low pass drove a Dynaudio 18S subwoofer.

If you've been thinking along while reading, you're already fully onboard with my minimum-coin notion. In this use we don't want a costlier Shanling brick or equivalent with more battery reserves and higher analog output voltage/current to power burlier beastlier headphones. We don't do any of that. All we do is spit out USB data to bypass the device's analog output stage and attenuator. That's the lowest possible battery-drain mode especially with the display blanked out. You'll have days worth of listening before needing a recharge. So our focus for an ideal hand-held battery-powered music server is on its graphic interface, OS and processor speed whereby we access our stored music library. Our Shanling never exits the digital domain. Why pay for a beefier analog output stage?