And the elephant said...

… to the naked man, can you really breathe through that thing?

In the year I was born, SF writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated his famous three laws including "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". I thought of both Clarke and the elephant when I began working on Shanling's new M3 Ultra. It exemplifies the magic of miniaturization—micro SD cards capable of up to 2TB—then adds the magic of modern hi-rez touchscreens, fast processors and made-in-China pricing. And the way I use it, you really can breathe through that thing. This warrants certain instructions. Inhale deeply. Now hold your breath. Remember Apple's iconic iPod? Never mind, you're no elephant. Your memory is far shorter. Here goes then. At the time Wadia was one of the biggest names in ambitious digital. They may even have been first to author a digital iPod dock. Others were from Onkyo, Pro-Ject and Cambridge Audio. I had at least one each of the latter. Like Wadia I grokked the appeal of a battery-powered digital mini transport that could move from system to system and even leave the house for mobile headfi'ing.

Eventually the wheels in the big apple turned to cremate the iPod. Other makers picked up the slack. Voilà, the so-called DAP was borne. More wheels turned. Suddenly smartphones did everything except make us smarter; but included headfi. More wheels turned. Now cellphones began to drop 3.5mm plugs. Like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the age of the DAP or at least dongle DAC might experience a rebirth? That question marks present time. It's where we're at right now. Unlike Nostradamus, my crystal ball is cloudy. We'll have to wait and see.

But we mustn't wait about reviving Wadia's iPod dock of yore, now without any moving bits. If like our household a WiFi allergy or plain common sense reject microwave transmitters in the home, hardwiring IT appliances becomes one of Arthur C. Clarke's laws. If your room is of standard size, it won't be wider than 6m. With the listening chair in the middle and a small side table next to it, a 2-3m USB cable will reach the sidewall where you'll have a cost-effective USB bridge like a Singxer SU-2/SU-6; or a DAC with USB. In my case it's a Soundaware D300Ref bridge. Via 6m CAT8a, it forwards reclocked I²S over RJ45 to a Denafrips Terminator Plus DAC on the main rack between the speakers. The M3 Ultra sits on a generic smartphone stand to elevate and angle just so. Because it's right next to my chair, I need no remote. Its touchscreen gives me quick access to all loaded music whilst showing cover art. Should I eventually tire of the selection, I'll drag'n'drop new music to this or another SD card. I can also pocket the Shanling and its collapsible stand to set up on my desktop and feed an iFi iDSD Pro Signature DAC. Should I travel again, I have a compact headfi companion. Primarily though, my upstairs speaker system now breathes through the petite Shanling M3 Ultra with the lungs and trunk of a fully grown elephant: "Since you can't breathe through that thing, can you at least grab or lift something up with it?" Embarrassed silence.

If you don't think that for €469 doing it all is indistinguishable from magic, you've grown far too blasé and calloused for my little editorial today. Time to exhale and ponder more important things; like whether to install the toilet paper roll to unspool front or back.