I’ve been trying out a lot of great IEMs recently from new and exciting brands. Many of these names have been gaining some popularity over the past couple of weeks, including the Shanling AE3. Shanling is a manufacturer I’m fairly familiar with by now, and I’m always looking forward to what they have to deliver. Their IEMs are reasonably priced, and more often have a great sound. It’s a brand you don’t usually need to break the bank for to get a detailed sound signature or an expansive soundstage. So far in my book, they can really do no wrong. For $169 how does the AE3 shape up?
What You Get
- Shanling AE3 IEMs
- 2-pin silver-plated cable
- 3 pairs of vocal ear tips
- 3 pairs of balanced ear tips
- Leather carrying case
Look and Feel
Getting a good look at the AE3 for the first time, I couldn’t help but compare them to the DUNU SA3 immediately. Both IEMs have a similar slightly translucent blue shell, but the AE3 is definitely smaller in size. With Shanling you know you’re going to get a sharp-looking IEM, and the AE3 is no different. The front plate features a pretty design made from stabilized wood and coated in a glossy resin.
Each piece features a nice blend of different colors that makes every pair unique. Its body is 3D printed, allowing for the designers to closely achieve the ideal fit for the AE3. I found that the AE3 was similar to a lot of IEMs in its ergonomic shape, and the fit reflected that. The earphones sit comfortably in the ear, perfectly molded within their shape. For me, the AE3 proved to be a secure and pleasing fit.
Shanling supports Sonion triple balanced armatures that each have a specific purpose in delivering consistent signal flow. The bass driver is a 38D2. A vented unit with special dampening technology that aims to deliver a transparent and natural response. A 2354 mid-high driver looks to extend the treble and add details to the midrange that looks to have an easily digestible response. Each driver is repositioned to prevent unwanted interference, assuring the best clarity in the signal flow. The acoustical chamber is designed with the intention to deliver a consistent sound.
I usually like to run IEMs like the AE3 through a preferred DAC adapter in order to get the clearest sense of what the earphones sound like. The AE3 only features 26 Ohms of impedance, so putting them through a smartphone or laptop headphone connector should give you some sufficient volume.
Shanling usually makes a good impression on me with its soundstage and imaging, and the AE3 doesn’t disappoint. The overall width is quite linear but still extends far. It reaches almost to shoulder length, even if the more extreme left/right positioning loses some significant gain. This creates a concentrated and focused image that is far from boxy, but the most impactful sounds and kept in a mostly middle position.
Without much height to be engrossed in, the AE3 lacks a certain edge in its soundstage but is elevated by its elegant layering. Even busy tracks like “Rocketrocketrocketship” by The Arrogant Sons of Bitches provided their share of clean separation and inward depth. I would consider the soundstage to be on the cusp of a properly outward headspace but definitely doesn’t contain those holographic elements that make some IEM’s that more immersive.
The standout response here is the engrossing impact of the bass timbre. In the AE3, the bass slams with a deep tonality that brings out the sub-bass. It enhances the lows considerably, and the placement of it cements it as one of the main attractions of this earphone. Kick drums have the ability to pound into your skull and bass guitars can rumble your bones. You get the feeling that the balanced armature is doing its job here, and very well. For me, the best part about this response is the fact that when the lows are at their most powerful, they never come across as synthetic. Virtually all of the low frequencies have a natural resonance that makes them all the more defined.
With the midrange, the frequencies respond with a fulfilling tone. The timbre is clear and well-formed, with an added textural warmth that helps add a touch of color to the frequencies. There’s a certain solidity to the mids that result in a meaty midrange that doesn’t let up in detail. Instruments appear full and bodied, while vocals take a more dominant response that puts a showcase on their clarity and articulation.
While the lows and mids are always consistently dynamic and engaging, the highs are a bit pickier in comparison. The overall timbre is on the more relaxed side, but the level of detail is still well above average. What’s missing is that extra bit of texture and accentuation that makes and lows and mids more engrossing. The lack of height in the treble doesn’t add anything either, as the upper highs roll off before they get to show any kind of expression.
At $169, the AE3 offers a lot of great fidelity, especially if you’re looking for big bass on a budget. If you’re interested in “ChiFi” but are not so sure about the pricer models, this is a good place to start. Shanling hasn’t missed in their IEMs for me yet, and I’m looking forward to what can offer in the future.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Great sub-bass, Detailed midrange, Width, Design, Price
Cons: Picky highs
The Shanling AE3 is available at Audio 46.
See where it ranks on our ranking list here.