Shanling M6 and Shanling Q1 review: two DAPs that offer a consistently detailed and balanced sound

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The Shanling Q1 and Shanling M6 DAPs are the latest models from the Chinese manufacturer. These DAPs are sold for €199 and €499 respectively, are certified Hi-Res Audio and support PCM streams up to 32-bit/384kHz for the Q1 and 32-bit/768kHz for the M6, as well as DSD files. They are equipped with an aptX and LDAC Bluetooth module and can be used as a USB DAC. The Shanling M6 is more versatile as it integrates WiFi and the Android operating system, providing access to many online music services. It also boasts a varied range of connectors with three headphone outputs: 3.5mm unbalanced, 4.4mm balanced and 2.2mm balanced. The Shanling Q1 is more compact and can only read music stored on a micro SD card or played via a computer (DAC USB mode). It also has a single 3.5mm unbalanced headphone output. 

The M6 and Q1 are the latest models from Shanling. They are Hi-Res Audio certified and promise excellent audio performance.

Shanling M6 and Q1: the brand

Founded in 1988, Shanling initially made a name for itself in the Asian market with its high-precision spectrum equalizers. In 1992 the brand launched its first amplifier, the Shanling A-938, a stereo model capable of delivering up to 2 x 100 watts that incorporates the manufacturer’s iconic EQ9200A equalizer. Over the following years, Shanling developed many high-performance electronics, notably CD/SACD players, hi-fi amplifiers and FM tuners, but also home theater systems, with 5.1 and 7.1 channel receivers. 

In 2015, high resolution digital music became more accessible and started to become the norm for audiophiles. Consequently, Shanling decided to make this quality accessible to as many people as possible by offering DAPs with unbeatable value for money. The company’s first model was the Shanling M2, a DAP equipped with a 32-bit/192kHz and DSD compatible Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC and 8GB of internal memory that could be extended to 128GB using a micro SD card.

Released in 2015, the Shanling M2 was Shanling’s first DAP.

The Shanling M2’s success was immediate and fast-tracked the manufacturer to the forefront of the international scene. Building on this success, Shanling updated its range in 2016 with the Shanling M5 (Asahi Kasei AK4490 DAC, 32-bit/384kHz compatible, USB DAC mode) and ultra compact Shanling M1 DAPs. These models were a big hit.

Released in 2016, the Shanling M1 DAP provided the foundation for the Shanling Q1 that we are reviewing today.

Today, the Chinese brand’s expertise is illustrated in the successors of these best-selling models: the manufacturer’s entry-level Shanling M0 DAP and the flagship Shanling M6 Pro. The subjects of this test, the Shanling Q1 and Shanling M6, are the intermediate models in the range.

Shanling M6 and Q1: packaging and accessories

The Shanling M6 and Shanling Q1 both have luxurious and minimalist packaging that almost looks like that of an Apple product. The packaging consists of a hard cardboard box that is slipped inside a cardboard sleeve. When the box is opened, the first thing you see is the DAP, securely protected and wedged into a piece of thick packing foam. Both DAPs come with a USB B to USB C cable for charging and using the USB DAC mode, as well as a quick start guide.

The Shanling Q1 also comes with a protective case in soft silicone. This case covers the sides and back of the player. It also protrudes slightly around the sides to protect the screen in case the device falls. The Shanling M6 doesn’t come with a case, but optional leather cases are available from the manufacturer.

Shanling M6 and Q1: design

The Shanling Q1 DAP’s silhouette is very similar to that of the Shanling M0. With a width of only 7cm and a weight of 136g, it is one of the most compact players on the market. It is designed to be taken everywhere, discreetly hidden away in a pocket or a bag. The Shanling Q1’s chassis is made entirely of brushed aluminum and comes in several different colors. On the front of the DAP is a 2.7” color touchscreen. You can navigate by simply swiping sideways. Like the Shanling M0, the Q1 features a control knob on the side for the volume and to turn the DAP on and off. However, this model also has three buttons to change tracks (previous/next track), pause and play the music. These three buttons are particularly sensitive and it isn’t rare to unintentionally skip tracks while getting used to the DAP. Lastly, the micro SD port that is hidden under a rubber cover can support memory cards up to 2TB. Enough to store thousands of CD and HD quality albums.

The Shanling M6 isn’t as compact (71 x 135 x 17mm and 228g) and is more in line with the Shanling M2X and Shanling M5 DAPs. The back features an elegant tempered glass panel. The sides are made of aluminum and are rounded to optimize ergonomics. The Shanling M6 is very pleasant to handle and the controls are all easily accessible using one hand. These controls are identical to those on the Q1, with a large control knob for controlling the volume, turning the DAP on and off and putting it into sleep mode, as well as three buttons to control playback (play/pause, previous/next track).

Everything else is controlled using the 4.7” LCD touchscreen. The latter has a tempered glass coating to which an oil-repellent and anti-smear surface treatment has been applied. It is very bright and nicely contrasted, with no less than 16 million colors. However, like many DAP screens, the display is shiny which can lead to a mirror-like effect in bright environments.

The Shanling M6 DAP’s screen acts like a mirror in bright environments.

Shanling M6 and Q1: DAC and amplification

These two Shanling DAPs are certified Hi-Res Audio. The Shanling Q1 features an ESS Sabre ES9218P chip that serves as both a converter and a headphone amplifier. It supports PCM streams up to 32-bit/384kHz and a vast range of files: FLAC, WAV, ALAC, WMA, APE, etc., as well as DSD files up to DSD128. Once converted, the signal is amplified by the same chip, reducing the signal path and thus the risk of introducing distortion. This amplifier is capable of delivering a very high output power of 80mW into 32 ohms. Thanks to its 3.5mm unbalanced mini-jack output, the Shanling DAP can be paired with the vast majority of earphones and headphones on the market that have a relatively low impedance or high sensitivity rating.

The Shanling Q1 is equipped with a 3.5mm mini-jack headphone output and a USB-C port for charging and to use the USB DAC mode.

The Shanling M6 DAP has a more complex design that uses a dual AK4495SEQ DAC to process each channel of the stereo stream separately. This model supports PCM streams up to 32-bit/768kHz via the same file types as the Shanling Q1. It also supports DSD files up to DSD 256. Both of the Shanling M6’s DACs are paired with a low-noise KDS crystal oscillator and filtering performed by an FGPA chip that uses an algorithm specifically developed by Shanling. 

The Asian manufacturer has also taken great care in designing the Shanling M6’s amplification stage. It uses two ADI AD8397 amplifiers to power the balanced outputs with an extremely low noise level. A third AD8397 type amplifier is dedicated to powering the unbalanced output to take full advantage of the dual DAC’s potential. At the output of these amplifiers, the Shanling M6 features three headphone outputs: one 2.5mm balanced output, one 4.4mm balanced output and one 3.5 unbalanced output. The output power for the balanced outputs is set at 350mW into 32 ohms and 160mW into 32 ohms for the unbalanced output, which is enough to drive the vast majority of headphones and earphones on the market.

The Shanling M6 DAP features three headphone outputs: a 2.5mm balanced output, a 4.4mm balanced output and a 3.5 unbalanced output.

Shanling M6 and Q1: aptX and LDAC Bluetooth

The Shanling M6 and Q1 DAPs are equipped with a Bluetooth module to wirelessly stream music to Bluetooth headphones, Bluetooth earphones, True Wireless earphones or even a Bluetooth speaker. The aptX and LDAC codecs are supported in order to ensure high quality wireless transmission with compatible sources. A feature proudly advertised by the Shanling M6 with its Hi-Res Audio Wireless certification. Naturally, the classic SBC and AAC codecs are also supported to ensure compatibility with all Bluetooth devices. Conveniently, the Shanling M6 and Shanling Q1’s Bluetooth modules are bidirectional, allowing you to stream music to the DAPs from a smartphone, tablet or computer. Apple users (iPhone, iPod, iPad and Mac) can also stream to the Shanling M6 using AirPlay.

The Shanling M6 DAP is certified Hi-Res Audio Wireless to ensure high quality transmission and reception with compatible sources.

Shanling M6 and Q1: operating system

The Shanling Q1 uses the proprietary MTouch OS. extremely streamlined, this system provides fairly smooth and fast navigation when using the player’s various features. By default, it displays the media player in which you simply need to swipe left and right to access your playlists, artists, albums, folders, etc. Quick access to the different settings is available when you swipe down. This then displays a menu where you can activate Bluetooth, or modify the EQ curves and the gain amongst other things.

By default, the Shanling Q1 DAP displays the media player in which you simply need to swipe left and right to access your playlists, artists, albums, folders, etc.

The Shanling M6 DAP is more exhaustive as it uses the Android operating system (version 7.1 at the time of writing). This version was specifically modified for audiophile grade performance. In order to avoid any playback or sampling problems, the audio streams are sent directly to the dual DAC, without any intervention from the OS. Paired with a WiFi chip, this system also has the advantage of being able to play music shared over the local network (DLNA playback) and lets you install the apps of many online music services such as Qobuz, Tidal, Deezer and Spotify. Thanks to the powerful Qualcomm Octa-core Snapdragon 430 processor, navigation is very smooth with this menu. Swiping left lets you access Shanling’s default music player and swiping right displays the various apps, notably the “Via” app catalog.

The Shanling M6’s Android operating system allows you to install many apps, like the Qobuz app shown in the photo.

Shanling M6 and Q1: power supply

The Shanling Q1 features a rechargeable battery with a capacity of 1100mAh and a maximum battery life of 21 hours. The Shanling M6 has a 4000mAh battery that offers 12 hours of playback with the unbalanced output and 9 hours with the balanced output. The batteries of both DAPs are charged by connecting the included USB-C cable to a powered USB port or a mains/USB charger.

The Shanling M6 and Shanling Q1 are charged using a USB-C port. This port can also be used for the USB DAC mode.

Shanling M6 and Q1: listening conditions

To test the Shanling M6 and Shanling Q1 DAPs, we paired them with the Final Sonorous VI headphones, a closed-back model with an impedance of 8 ohms, as well as the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home headphones, a 250-ohm open-back model. These two headphones were connected to the DAPs’ 3.5mm unbalanced output. We listened to Flac and DSD Hi-Res audio files stored on a micro SD card.

For our review of the Shanling M6, we enjoyed our Qobuz (HiFi Sublime+ subscription) and Spotify (MP3 streaming, 320 kbps) playlists by using the respective apps after connecting the player to the WiFi network. We also tested the USB audio DAC mode of these DAPs with a Mac computer and the included USB cable. With the Mac, the players were automatically detected once the USB DAC mode was activated in the settings. We were then able to listen to WAV and DSD files stored on the computer using the Audirvana app.

Shanling M6 and Q1: listening impressions

Shanling Q1 

We began our double review by testing the Shanling Q1 mini DAP. Despite its compact size, the player’s performance was impressive and rivalled that of bigger models. With Stan Getz and Luiz Bonfa’s track Jazz Samba Encore!, the Shanling Q1 provided a beautifully spacious soundstage. The different instruments were well positioned and properly delineated. Every harmonic variation was nicely reproduced, with dense lows, smooth mids and aerial highs, and without any harshness. The sound was rhythmed, with good dynamics when the gain was set to high. By default, the latter is set to low, which tends to compress the dynamics, especially at high volume.

With the Shanling Q1, each harmonic variation was nicely reproduced, with dense lows, smooth mids and aerial highs, and without any harshness.

Shanling M6 

The Shanling M6 had a very similar soundstage to its smaller counterpart, but provided significantly more detail and precision. The soundstage was wider and deeper, and the instruments were even more precisely positioned. The lows were tighter and deeper. The attacks were powerful with superior dynamics, but like the Q1, it was necessary to set the gain to high for the best performance. With the gain set to low, the sound was flatter and softer. The Shanling M6 proved to be versatile and managed to reproduce every musical range with great control and balance. The Shanling M6 was also more accurate when reproducing vocals, which were more centered and textured. However, the player tended to heat up after a few hours of use, which can be uncomfortable in the summer when it is in your pocket.

The Shanling M6 provided significantly more detail and precision.

Shanling M6 and Q1: compared to…

FiiO M5: the FiiO M5 is the Shanling Q1’s main rival. It is even more compact (45.3 x 42 x 13.7mm and 38g), making it even easier to carry. However, this is at the detriment of the screen, which is almost twice as small and less responsive than that of the Q1. Other than that, the FiiO M5 uses an Asahi Kasei AK4377 DAC compatible with PCM audio files up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD128 files that it handles natively. Its much lower output power (24mW into 32 ohms compared to 80mW with the Shanling Q1) makes it suitable for headphones and earphones with a very low impedance and a high sensitivity rating.

FiiO M11: FiiO’s best-seller, the M11 is an Android DAP equipped with a dual AK4493EQ DAC compatible with PCM files up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD 256 files. In order to store these heavy files, it integrates two micro SD cards, bringing the available internal memory to 4TB, which is twice as much as the Shanling M6. Its amplification is more powerful, with an output power of 550mW into 32 ohms for the balanced output, compared to 350mW for the Shanling M6. Regarding sound, the FiiO M11 offers broader dynamics and more spaciousness. 

Sold at the same price, the FiiO M11 offers better dynamics and spaciousness.

Shanling M6 Pro: the pro version of the Shanling M6 uses a new dual AK4497 DAC as well as a new amplification stage composed of 8 chips. This setup provides a much higher capacity, with a maximum output power of 600mW into 32 ohms with the balanced output, which is almost double that of the classic Shanling M6. This makes it more suitable for powering headphones with a high impedance. This design also allows the Shanling M6 Pro to provide an even more accurate reproduction. Other than that, the various features and connectors are the same. 

Shanling M6 and Q1: conclusion

With the Shanling M6 and Q1, the Asian manufacturer offers two DAPs with great value for money. The compact size of the Shanling Q1 makes it ideal for audiophiles looking for a compact system that can be easily carried around in a pocket, without compromising on sound quality. The Shanling M6 is designed to power more demanding headphones and earphones. It also offers many other features thanks to its Android operating system and WiFi connectivity. Overall, both DAPs provide a very similar sound, with a consistently detailed and balanced restitution. That said, the Shanling M6 is a little more dynamic and precise than the smaller model.

What we liked

  • The compact size of the Q1
  • The features of the M6
  • The balanced sound of both DAPs
  • The USB DAC mode of both DAPs
  • The compatibility of both DAPs with aptX and LDAC

What we would have liked

  • For the Q1 to have had an Android OS
  • Less glare on the screen of both DAPs
  • For the chassis of the M6 not to have heated up as much

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Traductrice et rédactrice avec des goûts très éclectiques en matière de musique et de cinéma. Lorsque je ne suis pas au travail, vous pouvez me retrouver en train de regarder “Lost in Translation” de Sofia Coppola pour la centième fois, ou d’écouter un disque de David Bowie, Kate Bush, Joy Division ou Daft Punk sur ma platine Rega Planar 1. Étant d’origine britannique, je suis également adepte de séries à l’humour absurde comme Monty Python’s Flying Circus et The Mighty Boosh !

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