Review: Shanling M0

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The Shanling M0 mini digital audio player is certified Hi-Res Audio, is compatible with high-capacity memory cards and also includes a DAC and high-quality headphone amplifier. And that isn’t all, the Shanling DAP has an integrated two-way Bluetooth controller compatible with the aptX and LDAC codecs. It can even be used as a DAC with a smartphone…  We had the opportunity to try it out.

Test Shanling M0
The Shanling M0 mini DAP is only 4cm by 4cm.

An affordable product doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. For thirty years now, Shanling has offered affordable high quality electronics. Though their range of portable music players is more recent, their portable products benefit from the experience the brand has acquired designing DACs or tube CD players for example. For Shanling, the science of sound is very real.

Shanling M0: design

Measuring only 4x4cm, the Shanling M0 is the smallest DAP on the market. Its chassis is made entirely from brushed aluminum and comes in an array of colors (black, blue, red, purple…). The color touchscreen, designed by LG, is 4cm in diagonal and works as a navigating interface, all it takes is a horizontal swipe. The only physical button is used to control the volume and to turn the device on and off. The microSD slot, hidden by a rubber flap, is compatible with cards boasting a maximum capacity of 512GB, enough to store thousands of CD or HD quality albums.

Test Shanling M0
The Shanling M0 DAP’s 3.5 mm mini-jack output and USB C port.

Shanling M0: intuitive interface

The Shanling M0 has multiple homepages, each with their own icon: My Music, Now Playing, Playback Settings, Files and System.

The playback settings give access to around a dozen equalization settings, 8 digital conversion filters – something never seen before with a device at this price – and even gapless playback.

The audio files copied onto the memory card are automatically indexed and sorted by artist, album or date added.

Test Shanling M0
The Shanling M0 portable music player and Yamaha EPH-100 in-ear headphones.

Shanling M0: next-generation components

The Shanling M0 digital audio player has its miniaturized components to thank for its compact size, starting with the digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and headphone amp, which in reality are combined in the same chip. In practice, it’s actually an ESS SABRE ES9218P SoC (System on a chip). In addition to its compact size, this DAC and headphone amp combo has the advantage of being perfectly integrated.

Shanling didn’t need to worry about pairing the DAC and amp; ESS Technology built them to work together.

Consequently, the Shanling M0 boasts a signal-to-noise ratio of 118 dB! It’s very simple: during our test with the Yamaha EPH-100 earphones, we couldn’t hear any background noise at all. The headphone amp is rated at 2 x 80 mW into 32 Ohms, which allows it to drive almost all in-ear headphones and the vast majority of hi-fi headphones.

Shanling M0: supported audio files

Thanks to its converter, the Shanling M0 portable audio player is capable of handling PCM audio files up to 32 bits and 384 kHz, and even 5,6 MHz DSD files, or in other words, ultra high definition files. A plethora of formats are supported: FLAC, ALAC, DSD (.DSF and .ISO), MP3, AAC and even Dolby Digital and DTS.

Shanling M0: multifunctional USB port

The Shanling M0 portable music player’s type C USB port has multiple functions. It may be used to recharge the player’s battery, with the included cable, as well as performing copying procedures to or from the installed microSD card. The player can be used as an external USB DAC. The point of this is to use the player’s conversion qualities and amplifier to replace the headphone output on a computer or smartphone, which are often of very poor quality. Lastly, the Shanling M0 can be connected to the digital USB input of an external DAC or, if it’s equipped with a USB input, to an amplifier. This way, it can be used as a source for hi-fi systems with the sole constraint of adding a separate power supply for the DAC.

Test Shanling M0
The Shanling M0 in USB DAC mode and connected to a computer.

Shanling M0: two-way Bluetooth

The Shanling M0 features a wireless Bluetooth controller capable of transmitting music to Bluetooth headphones, speakers and amps for example. The controller can also receive music from a portable music player, a computer or a TV. So as not to spoil the experience, Shanling has integrated SBC (universal), AAC (iPhone) aptX (high quality) and LDAC (CD and HD quality) transmission technologies. You simply can’t do any better than that. Only SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs can be received, which opens up the possibility of lossless transmission from all recent Android smartphones (version 8 and up), as well as from Sony smartphones and portable music players.

Shanling M0: listening impressions

We listened to the Shanling M0 portable music player with Yamaha EPH-100 in-ear headphones and with the Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth headphones (line and Bluetooth aptX connections). Our files were in FLAC and DSD format. Let’s not beat around the bush: the sound quality is quite simply excellent and it’s very difficult to find fault with the M0. Its restitution is characterized by a remarkable dynamic range, which doesn’t get compressed at high volume. There is therefore a permanent sense of space, with strong lateralization. The lows are characterized by their energy and by the sustain of bass guitar notes. Mids are smooth and highs are refined. The Shanling M0’s battery life allows at least 10 hours of listening at a rather high volume. It’s difficult not to like this mini portable music player.

Shanling M0: compared to…

Shanling M1 and Shanling M2S: For 50€ more, the M1 has a bigger screen and an AKM AK4452 DAC that doesn’t necessarily offer better results than the M0’s ESS Sabre. Moreover, the M0’s headphone amp is more powerful. The audible differences aren’t breathtaking, either.

FiiO X1 II: The FiiO X1’s analytic capabilities aren’t as impressive as the Shanling M0’s. The M0 also comes out on top thanks to its two-way Bluetooth compatible with both aptX and LDAC codecs.

Hidisz AP60: This portable music player packs a punch and remains a very good choice if you are looking for an entry level DAP, but it is surpassed by the coherence of the Shanling M0’s ESS Tech DAC and headphone amp combo.

Shanling M0: conclusion

This mini portable music player benefits from the technological advances made by ESS Tech, who now offer a chip that harmoniously combines a DAC and headphone amp. The Shanling M0’s sound is excellent and unless you use headphones that are very difficult to drive (< 100 dB and > 150 Ohms), it’s a great investment at an affordable price. Its Bluetooth aptX / LDAC controller and its external USB DAC mode are significant assets.

What we liked:

  • The melodious and detailed sound
  • The aptX and LDAC Bluetooth
  • The external USB DAC mode

What we would have liked:

  • A more reactive touchscreen
Test Shanling M0
The Shanling M0 portable music player with the Yamaha EPH-100 in-ear headphones and the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headphones.

 

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