I analyzed 3Max sound using Traillii, IT07, and T5p 2nd while playing a variety of my favorite test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Alan Walker “Darkside”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Dua Lipa “Love again”, Counting Crows “Big yellow taxi”, Bob Marley “Jamming”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”. As recommended by manufacturer, I let 3Max burn in for 200hrs using the provided balanced burn-in cable before I started sound analysis.
I prefer to describe the DAP sound based on the comparison to other DAPs and pair ups with different IEMs/headphones since the DAP by itself doesn’t have a “sound”. What we hear is how it sounds through connected IEMs/headphones or the difference in sound relative to other sources using the same pair of IEMs/headphones. As a result, this section of the review usually summarizes what I find in the follow up Comparison and Pair-up sections. Of course, this is my subjective opinion, describing how I hear it.
As I often say, tuning of many flagship DAPs is usually focused on neutral tonality with a variation of going toward a warmer or a brighter side. 3Max has a more reference sound and stands out with super resolving sound tuning (hi-res to the MAX), color-free transparency, just with a little more revealing brighter tonality, especially when it comes to mids. In many pair ups I tried, I found bass response to be great, though just a touch less elevated than in 2Max. Mids/vocals always sounded natural, micro-detailed, more revealing. Treble was extended, detailed, and natural in majority of pair ups. Nothing too exaggerated.
The technical performance is similar to 2Max, very layered and dynamic, the background is black, with details popping out from the darkness creating a fast transient response of note on/off. And just like with 2Max, the soundstage expansion and imaging were nearly on 3D holographic level. Of course, if your IEMs have a narrow soundstage turning to begin with, don’t expect miracles, but otherwise, 3Max pushes the soundstage width, depth, and height to the limit.
Standard vs Ultimate mode.
I hear a noticeable change in soundstage expansion, being wider in Ultimate mode. Also, I can hear a blacker background with corresponding improvement in vertical dynamics when Ultimate mode is enabled. I know you lose a bit of battery life when Ultimate is on, but it well worth it, and I didn’t even bother switching it off.
3.5mm (SE) vs 4.4mm (BAL).
The tonality and the sound signature are nearly identical. There is a difference in soundstage expansion with BAL output being wider relative to SE. Also, BAL has a higher output power, so, while using the same pair of IEMs I had to adjust the volume going between these ports. But otherwise, performance is very similar.
Mango App vs Mango OS sound.
Some might expect that regardless of dual OS we are still dealing with the same set of hardware and the sound should be identical, but I found some differences. To my ears, Mango app/Android sounds a little more revealing, and with a bigger and more expanded soundstage and a blacker background. While playing the same song in Mango OS, I hear the sound to be a little smoother and a bit more intimate due to a slightly narrower width in soundstage. I’m sure for many the deciding factor will be either Mango OS with audio only playback or Android OS with streaming capability, but for others it could also provide a choice depending on pair up synergy with their IEMs and headphones.
Digital filters are part of the DAC (AK4499) design, and 3Max offers you 6 choices:
- D1 (sharp roll-off filter)
- D2 (slow roll-off filter)
- D3 (short delay sharp roll-off filter)
- D4 (short delay slow roll-off filter)
- D5 (super slow roll-off filter)
- D6 (low dispersion short delay filter)
I spent a long time going back and forth between these filters, but hardly got any right in a blind testing after my initial notes. The changes in sound I hear are very small, just a little bit of variation in intensity of sub-bass rumble, a bit of changes when it comes to lower mids body, and some minor variation in sharpness of treble. I personally preferred D3 because to my ears it gave the sound the most natural tonality. Or, I could be just splitting hairs. But either way, I have no impressions to share here because changes were too subtle to my ears.
In this section of my review, I will go over how various earphones and headphones pair up and sound with 3Max SS. In each pair up I noted the connection (SE or BAL), Gain (I set to either High Gain or Low Gain), Digital volume, and Analog volume (knob position). Ultimate Mode was always on. Please keep in mind, these are brief analysis notes to give you the basic idea.
Pair up with Headphones.
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x (SE, HG, Digital 100, Analog at 2 o’clock) – R70x are open back 470ohm headphones and they do need to be pushed harder to drive them to full potential which 3Max did without a problem with plenty of analog volume headroom. The soundstage is very open, but surprisingly wasn’t 3D holographic, and also, I don’t have 4.4mm BAL cable for R70x, and SE output is not as wide as BAL. Overall tonality is very natural and transparent. Mid-bass is not overemphasized, has a good moderate punch and sub-bass does go a little deeper. Mids/vocals are very transparent (not much coloring), detailed, and still sound quite natural to my ears. In some pair up R70x vocals can get warm, but not here. Treble also has a nice natural clear sparkle.
MEZE Audio Empyrean (BAL, LG, Digital 100, Analog 10 o’clock) – another pair of open back, and these planar magnetic headphones do sound very open with nearly holographic imaging. The sound sig is balanced, fast, very clean and clear. I hear a deeper sub-bass rumble but at a rather moderate quantity, and mid-bass punch was fast and articulate; overall bass is just north of neutral, not as elevated. Mids/vocals have a natural, detailed, transparent tonality with just a little bit of thickness in lower mids to give them natural texture. Treble is crisp and airy, not harsh or bright. Overall, I hear a very clean detailed sound, the overall tonality is transparent, though there is a touch of warms in lower mids.
Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd (BAL, LG, Digital 100, Analog 10 o’clock) – despite these being closed back, soundstage was very open and exceptionally wide. The sound is very clear and detailed, with tonality being more revealing and a little brighter. Bass has a deep textured rumble; mid-bass has a decent fast punch. Mids/vocals are natural, transparent, and a little more revealing in upper mids, but not too bright. The treble is crisp and airy, doesn’t sound harsh, but it is a little brighter. In this pair up, again, I felt like mids very shining and less colored.
Pair up with IEMs.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 (BAL, LG, Digital 80, Analog 9 o’clock) – wide soundstage expansion, balanced sound sig with a little more emphasis on mids, but overall, the tonality is very even. The bass is above neutral with a decent extension and noticeable mid-bass punch. Mids/vocals are the main focus of this pair up, being clear, detailed, natural, layered. Treble is crisp and has extra sparkle, good upper end extension with plenty of air, not too harsh. Considering that CFA iems hiss with everything, I was surprised how quiet they were with 3Max. You do get a very faint waterfall hissing going into Med and High gain, but at Low gain and with digital volume down to 80, I couldn’t hear any hissing.
Empire Ears Odin (BAL, LG, Digital 80, Analog 10 o’clock) – holographic soundstage expansion, deep sub-bass with a tight mid-bass punch, above neutral bass quantity. Mids are very detailed, layered, natural, and treble is also crisp and natural. Really enjoyed this pair up, especially hearing the extra depth of sub-bass rumble and added naturalness of EST treble. With hissing, it is dead quiet.
Empire Ears Legend X and EVO (BAL, LG, Digital 100, Analog 9 o’clock) – before I permanently switch to EVO, I wanted to bring back LX in this pair up. With a neutral-revealing nature of 3Max, the biggest benefit of pair up with LX is how mids become more detailed and even have a little more forward presentation. We are still dealing with L-shaped sound sig and a heavy bass slam and sparkly treble, but mids have more clarity and a little more forward now. On the other hand, EVO is on a whole different level with a tighter and more articulate bass, leaner lower mids and more detail and leaner upper mids, and natural detailed treble.
64 Audio U18s (BAL, LG, Digital 80, Analog 11 o’clock) – wide soundstage with the sound slightly out of your head. Was using M20 module to bring more bass impact. In this pair up I hear a warm smooth tonality with a deep analog bass, smooth warm detailed mids, and natural treble sparkle. Very smooth natural sound with a punchy bass.
Oriolus Traillii (BAL, LG, Digital 80, Analog 10 o’clock) – holographic soundstage with 3D imaging, very balanced signature with a natural detailed tonality, deep sub-bass rumble, tight articulate mid-bass punch, natural, layered, detailed vocals, and natural well defined crisp treble. Traillii shines in every pair up, 3Max wasn’t exception, yielding a great combination of natural detailed tonality. But in this pair up, the sound was a little more revealing.
iBasso IT07 (BAL, LG, Digital 80, Analog 10 o’clock) – holographic soundstage, deep dynamic bass impact with a textured elevated sub-bass, smooth natural detailed mids, clear natural treble sparkle. Very clear, transparent, natural sound with a tight and punchy bass and deep sub-bass. Definitely, bass was the shining star here.