Review: Shanling M1 and M2S

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The Shanling M1 and Shanling M2S digital audio players are the latest models produced by the Chinese manufacturer, making a name for itself since the 1990s thanks to the excellent quality/price ratio of its hi-fi electronics. Known primarily for its CD players and tube amplifiers, Shanling seems to be adding portable audio players to its list of specialties. The Shanling M1 and M2S are both fitted with an Asahi Kasei DAC, a model often found in high-end multichannel receivers from Onkyo and Denon.

The Shanling M1 and M2S DAPs handle all CD-quality and High Res Audio files, including DSD files. Since neither is equipped with internal memory, a microSD card is required for file storage.

These two DAPs may be connected to a computer and used in USB DAC mode. They also feature Bluetooth connectivity (to receive a signal sent by a smartphone, for example).

Thanks to the HiBy Link feature integrated into their firmware, any smartphone may be used to control the Shanling M1 and M2S.

Shanling M1 and M2S: AK4452 and AK4490 Velvet Sound converters

Let?s not forget that any DAC, no matter how powerful it claims to be, must be efficient above all. The transmission method used to send a digital audio signal to the DAC (from the DAP?s microSD card, Bluetooth emitter or USB input) is very important. In much the same way, the headphone amplifier paired with the DAC must be chosen carefully, since it has a significant effect on the final result. Shanling?s experience in this domain is essential. The Shanling M1 is equipped with the AKM AK4452 DAC, while the Shanling M2S features the flagship model, the AKM AK4490.

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The ultra-compact Shanling M1 portable audio player.

On the market since 2014, these DACs have been enthusiastically adopted by hi-fi and home theater aficionados alike. They benefit from Asahi Kasei?s Velvet Sound technology and thus  offer a smooth and warm restitution. Another distinction: both DACs have 5 different analog filters. These filters have a direct impact on the transient response, and consequently, on the energy and the precision of the restitution. These filters allow DAP manufacturers to fine-tune the restitution of each device.

Shanling?s DAPs both offer users the choice between two low-pass filters: one with a steep slope and one with a more gradual slope. Depending on personal preferences or the type of headphones used, the listener can thus choose between a sharper restitution and a mellower one.

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Two digital-to-analog converters are integrated into the Shanling M1 and M2S portable audio players.

Shanling M1 and M2S: two different headphones amplifiers

The Shanling M1 DAP is equipped with a Maxim Integrated MAX97220 headphone amplifier which provides headphones or earbuds (rated up to 32 Ohms) with up to 2 x 35 mW. Since the headphone amplifier?s output impedance is minimal (0.1 Ohm), the Shanling M1 is a good match for low-impedance headphones (8 Ohms). However, using headphones with a higher impedance rating (up to 100 Ohms) is still possible as long as their sensitivity rating is also high (> 100 dB / mW). For its part, the Shanling M2S DAP is equipped with a Texas Instruments TPA6120 headphone amplifier, paired with a MUSES8920 op amp providing up to 2 x 130 mW (32 Ohms). This elaborate configuration has clearly been chosen with hi-fi standards in mind. As a result, the M2S is more versatile and able to drive headphones with an average sensitivity rating and a high impedance rating.

In absolute terms, the MAX97220 (M1) and TPA6120 (M2S) headphone amplifiers are both excellent, with signal-to-noise ratios which ensure a very low level of background noise, even when paired with headphones with a very high sensitivity rating.

The Shanling M2 offers a superior signal-to-noise ratio which, at 108 dB compared to 105 dB, reduces the level of noise by half. To be clear, unless you?re using headphones with a sensitivity rating above 120 dB, it is impossible to hear the slightest hint of noise with either of these two DAPs.

The channel separation is 5 dB higher with the Shanling M2S: this is an important aspect which directly impacts the width of the soundstage.

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The user may choose between four themes for the Shanling M2S DAP?s user interface.

Shanling M1 and M2S: possible uses

The Shanling M1 and M2S DAPs are true Swiss Army knives. While certain more well-known manufacturers limit the functions of their DAPs to audio playback, Shanling has made the M1 and M2S capable of also serving as an external USB DAC, USB digital audio interface, Bluetooth source or even Bluetooth DAC.

Audio file playback: the Shanling M1 and M2S can handle MP3, AAC, WMA and OGG lossy audio files stored on a microSD card (256 Gb max). Lossless formats including FLAC, ALAC, APE, WAV and AIFF are handled up to 24 bits/192 kHz (32/384 for the M2S). Lastly, the DSD audio format is natively handled up to DSD256 (11.2 MHz), in the form of ISO and DFF files.

USB source: both DAPS are compatible with external USB DACs, to which they can send PCM signals up to 24 bits/192 kHz, in addition to DSD (DoP).

External USB DAC: the M1 and M2S can be connected to a computer (via a USB port) and act as an external sound card. They handle PCM signals up to 24 bits/192 kHz (32/384 for the M2S) as well as DSD.

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Each DAP is compatible with microSD cards up to 256 Gb.

Bluetooth DAC: the Shanling M1 and M2S can wirelessly transmit sound to a pair of Bluetooth headphones, Bluetooth earbuds, or true wireless headphones, as well as to a Bluetooth speaker or an amplifier equipped with a Bluetooth receiver. For compatible receivers, the aptX codec is handled, for other devices, it is the SBC codec which is used. But there is an even better solution: the M1 and M2S can receive Bluetooth audio stream transmitted by a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer, for example.

Shanling M1 and M2S: control via smartphone

Shanling has made the most of Bluetooth connectivity for its M1 and M2S DAPs. Thanks to the HiBy control app, the DAPs may be controlled with an iPhone or Android smartphone. All the user needs to do is install the HiBy Music app (iOS/Android) and pair the DAP with a smartphone once the HiBy function is activated in the DAP?s system settings. This function is very practical for on-the-go listening ? while taking public transportation, for example ? as it means you won’t have to juggle between the DAP and your smartphone.

A list of audio files, as well as their tags and album covers, are displayed in the HiBy Music app.

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The HiBy Music app may be used to control the Shanling M1 and M2S DAPs. The Android version offers the option of using an external DAC, such as the M1 or M2S, with most smartphones.
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The HiBy Link mode must be activated in order for the Shanling M1 and M2S DAPs to be controlled with a smartphone.

Shanling M1 and M2S: design

The Shanling M1 DAP?s display is very small (2.35? diagonal). It is not a touch screen; rather, four small buttons and a small, clickable, endless rotation dial allow the user to browse through the menus, set the volume and adjust playback settings. The DAP?s connectors are located along its bottom panel: microSD reader, USB-C port and 3.5 mm mini-jack input.

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The Shanling M1S player?s volume dial.
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In the center, the Shanling M1 DAP?s USB-C port.

The Shanling M2S?s display is bigger (3.15?), with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Its resolution of 800×480 pixels (300 ppp) is on par with the best smartphones. Nonetheless, it is also not a touch screen display. The Shanling M2S DAP?s controls are the same as for the M1, with 4 small buttons and a clickable potentiometer. However, the potentiometer is located on the right side and is very easy to use. A glamorous touch: the Shanling M2S DAP?s rear panel is composed of curved, scratch-resistant glass (2.5 D).

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The Shanling M2S DAP?s volume dial.

The Shanling M1 and M2S DAPs are very compact, and while this is their chief virtue, their control buttons are not very user-friendly. However, this is not a problem when a smartphone is used to control the DAPs.

Shanling M1 and M2S: essential functions

Gapless playback is enabled, in addition to a repeat and a shuffle function. Gain control is also available, which allows users whose headphones have a low sensitivity rating to listen at high volume levels. Each DAP is equipped with a 10-band graphic EQ with presets.

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The Shanling M2S DAP features a 10-band EQ.

Shanling M1 and M2S: accessories and user experience

Each DAP comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable, a USB microSD card reader, and a set of plastic screen protectors. We formatted a 64 Gb microSD card (FAT32) before adding FLAC and DSD files. The DAP automatically indexed the files. We connected Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 and Plantronics Backbeat Pro (Bluetooth aptX) headphones to assess the quality of the restitution.

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The accessories which come with the Shanling M2S DAP are the same as those included with the M1 DAP.

Shanling M1 and M2S: listening impressions

Shanling M1: the restitution is detailed and adequately expressive, with smooth and precise mids (particularly with the progressive digital filter). The soundstage is sufficiently wide regardless of the type of file being played (FLAC or DSD).

Shanling M2S: the mids, in addition to being energetic and smooth, are ?deeper? and more detailed. There is more extension in the lows, which is certainly a result of the headphone amplifier?s higher power output. In short, a better all-around performance, and a livelier and more commanding restitution.

Compared to:

FiiO X1 II: the compact model from FiiO plays it safer than the two Shanling DAPs in terms of its restitution, and it also offers less functions. The winner is obvious.

FiiO X3 III: equipped with dual Burr Brown DACs, along with one of the newest headphone amplifiers on the market, the FiiO X3 II offers a wider soundstage than either of the Shanling DAPs. Nonetheless, the mids aren’t as rich as with the Shanling M2S, and the latter offers a livelier restitution.

Sony NW-A35: the compact model from Sony is more transparent and upfront than the two Shanling DAPs. Its interface, as well as the overall user experience, are superior. The presence of an FM tuner and support for the lossless LDAC Bluetooth codec are also advantages.

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Conclusion

What we liked:

  • The resolution in the mids (M2S)
  • The Shanling M2S DAP?s efficiency and power
  • The control via smartphone with the HiBy Music app (M1 and M2S)
  • The USB DAC and Bluetooth DAC modes (M1 and M2S)
  • The battery lasting for a full day?s worth of listening (several months in standby mode)
  • The finish quality (M1 and M2S)
  • The display quality (M1 and M2S)

What we would have liked:

  • More user-friendly control buttons

For 50? more, the Shanling M2S seems to us to be a better deal than the Shanling M1. With a better display, a more secure grip, a better DAC (AK4490), a more powerful amplifier, and a lively restitution, the Shanling M2S is an excellent entry-level DAP for headphones and earbuds up to 150 Ohms. The ability to control the DAPs with a smartphone is a real asset.

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