It’s great to see another dongle that comes with both USB-C and Lightning cables so iPhone users aren’t left out in the cold. There are only a select few brands (like xDuoo) that offer both in the box.
Not only that but the quality of the data cables is very good. They’re built strongly with a mixture of silver and copper wire and a clear TPU sheath.
DAC chip: ES9838Q2M
Headphone outputs: 3.5mm + 4.4mm
M3’s curved chassis has a unique design and feels great in the hand. It’s got some real heft to it, giving it a premium feel. It weighs in at 50g, so it’s heavier than most dongles but it’s manageable.
On the top of the device, there are 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone outputs. On the right side, there’s a single white LED and a multi-function button. The single button can be used to adjust the volume, switch between normal and Line Out modes and select the digital filter setting.
There is a total of 60 volume steps, giving you precise level control. The volume level is independent of the source which is my preferred type. It means making adjustments only affects the volume on the device and not the source. In addition, the M3 has a power-off volume memory function so it will remember what level you set it at.
There are a total of 7 digital filters to choose from. You can cycle through filter modes by holding the volume down button. You can determine the filter mode by observing how many times the LED flashes.
Holding the button down in the centre switches between normal and Line Out modes. The Line Out mode is useful when you want to use the M3 in your car or with active speakers etc.
The M3 hosts an ES9838Q2M DAC chip which supports up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256. It also uses an independent ES9603Q opamp to maximise performance. I wasn’t able to find any information regarding the M3’s output power but it didn’t have any trouble driving my 250Ω Beyerdynamic DT990 Pros.
Rather than use the DACs built-in amp stage, the M3 utilizes an ES9603Q opamp for added performance. In conjunction with the 7 digital filters, the M3 creates its own unique sonic character.
Here’s a list of available filters:
1. Fast Roll-Off, Linear Phase Filter
2. Slow Roll-Off, Linear Phase Filter
3. Apodizing, Fast Roll-Off, Linear Phase Filter
4. Fast Roll-Off, Minimum Phase Filter
5. Slow Roll-Off, Minimum Phase Filter
6. Hybrid, Fast Roll-OFF, Minimum Phase Filter
7. Brickwall Filter
Although I usually struggle to hear any difference between such filters, I felt more drawn to filter 2. To my ears, it offered the most spacious and detailed sound.
It sounds more transparent compared to the slew of recent CS43131 DACs I’ve tested recently. The M3 has a clean, pristine sound that brings out every minute detail. But it does so without adding any sharpness or sacrificing any musicality.
Bass notes are tight and fast but all of the sub-bass extension is there. Even with full-sized headphones, the M3 delivers a full bass experience without reservation.
I found the M3’s midrange to be exceptionally clear. It’s especially good for acoustic guitars and orchestral strings. Paired with some clean IEMs like the Letshuoer S12, the M3 is a delight for orchestral music. It creates a wide and airy stage with excellent spacing and separation.
The treble is precise and crisp. Leading edges of instruments are firm without compromising on rhythm or flow. Upper harmonics are light and airy yet have a palpable density.
There’s a good sense of scale to the soundstage, particularly the width of the stage. The M3 does a great job of capturing the ambience of orchestral works in every detail. Even with a budget IEM like the Tin HiFi T3 Plus, this little dongle impresses with its grandeur and dynamics.
xDuoo Link2 Bal
The xDuoo Link2 Bal (review here) is priced the same as the M3. It’s a little smaller and not as heavy as the M3 but both have good build quality.
Link2 Bal sounds more grounded and robust while the M3 is more delicate and precise. The Link2 Bal delivers a warmer tone with softer notes while the M3 has more contrast mixed with air.
The xDuoo’s stage has more depth compared to the M3 which creates a wider space. Imaging on both devices is similar albeit subtly different in presentation; the Link2 Bal has better forward layering whereas the M3 is more expansive.
Muse HiFi M3 Verdict
The Muse HiFi M3 is a welcome newcomer in the crowded dongle DAC scene. Starting with its solid build and onboard controls, discrete volume and power-off volume memory, it’s coming out of the gate strong. In addition, the M3 is one of the rare dongles that provides a Lightning cable in the box, making it a good choice for iPhone owners.
Its powerful yet delicate sound is ideal for warmer headphones and is especially good for orchestral and acoustic music. If imaging, soundstage and precision are important factors for you, then you should definitely consider picking up the M3.