When I first heard about the Shanling M0 DAP (Digital Audio Player) I was naturally intrigued: it is a DAP after all and I nerd out over this stuff. When I learned how small it was and that it had a touchscreen I thought it would be a clumsy little thing trying to grab attention with gimmicks. But I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong!
Shanling has basically made a full-on, full-featured DAP, thrown in bidirectional Bluetooth and shrunk it to the size of a matchbox. Oh yeah, they made it sound good too. Let’s take a closer look.
Size: 40*135*45mm Screen: 1.54 inch 240*240 high definition touchscreen Weight: about 33g DAC model: ESS Sabre ES9218P Endurance: about 15 hours (depending on the use) Deep standby: about 30 days (depending on the situation) Charging time: about 2 hours (depending on the use) Battery capacity: 640mAH lithium battery Storage: maximum support 512G TF Card (to buy) Output port: headset output (3.5 mm) Output power: 80mw@ 32 Europe Output impedance: 0.16 Europe Channel separation degree: 70dB Recommended earphone impedance: 8-300 Europe Frequency effect: 20HZ~20KHz (-0.5dB) Distortion: 0.004% (A-Weighting, output 500mV) Signal to noise ratio: 118dB (A-Weighting) Bottom noise: <3uV (HIGH GAIN)
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Package and Accessories
Shanling has gone for a bright and colourful presentation with the M0 box. There’s a white cardboard sleeve with some coloured stripes and an image of the M0 in all the available colours.
Beneath the sleeve, we find the box proper: a simple black box with the Shanling logo on the top. Lifting off the lid reveals the M0 nestled in a black foam insert with a little fabric pull tab coming out from under the player.
There’s another small box here that holds the braided USB-C cable. Underneath all this is a small user manual and warranty card. Although it’s a fairly basic bundle the way it’s presented and the first glimpses of the player had me thinking that maybe this thing isn’t a gimmick after all.
Build Quality and Design
Once you get your hands on the M0 you know right away that it is not a toy. The solidity and craftsmanship speak for themselves. Suddenly I wanted to get the photos done post-haste and plug an IEM into this bad boy.
On the surface, the Shanling M0 is simple but elegant. When it comes to physical features there are only a few to mention. It weighs just 33g which is insane considering the functionality it has but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
On the front of the unit is the beautiful 1.54-inch curved glass touchscreen from LG. The left and right edges are rounded on the front and back making it easy and comfortable to grip. All four corners are also rounded with the top right one has a more accentuated curve.
On the right side is the classic wheel found on many of Shanling’s devices. This wheel controls the power on/off and volume but can also be setup for a single action using a double click: I use it for stop/start playback. It’s also used to turn the display on and off. The wheel is quite small but has a smooth action and is fairly easy to manipulate even with large hands.
Down at the bottom are the USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone output. There is a plastic gasket on the left side of the unit covering the Micro SD card slot which supports cards up to an amazing 512GB capacity.
User Interface (UI) and Usability
All testing was done with firmware version 2.1. The latest version at the time of writing is 2.2.
Right from the jump, you’ll find that the M0’s UI is fast and slick. The colourful boot screen lets you know right away that the display is bright and clear. Boot and shutdown times are better than average too.
Navigating through the various menus and screens is easy and intuitive. Shanling’s software developers really know how to design a functional operating system.
The only real drawback I could find was the truncated text on some of the menus, especially when browsing through album and song lists. I feel that the icons to the left of the text take up too much space and would really love to see them behind the text instead; whether this is possible or not with the M0’s hardware I don’t know.
Using the touchscreen is easy although performing some actions might be tricky for those with large fingers. Swiping left, right, up and down results in things happening without any input lag. It really is an excellent implementation of the technology.
All of the core DAP functions are present in the M0; nothing has been left out despite its minuscule size. In fact, this tiny player has more features and options than many full-sized DAPs.
Flawless gapless playback and break-point resume are implemented along with Low and Hi gain modes. There are several preset EQs available with plans for a customizable EQ to come in a future firmware update. Different filter settings, play modes, folder skip; you name it, it’s there.
As if all that isn’t enough, it even has a whole bunch of different UI themes, allowing you to choose your preferred colours and look. I could go on but I’ll just say that the Shanling M0 puts even some TOTL DAPs to shame in terms of UI and usability.
USB DAC Function
Yes, it does this too. The M0 can be used as an external DAC for PCs, laptops and tablets. Simply plug in via the USB-C cable and you’re good to go. It’s a super easy way to upgrade the built-in sound of your other personal devices.
This is a huge bonus for a device as tiny as the M0. You can use this feature to wirelessly transmit music to Bluetooth headphones or wireless receiver, such as the iFi nano iOne (review here). Alternatively, you can stream music from your smartphone to the M0. This is especially good for streaming services like Spotify or Tidal and I found myself using it this way a lot. The quality and range of the Bluetooth connection are superb and there are several Hi-Res codecs supported, such as aptX HD and LDAC.
I don’t know how it’s even possible but the M0 is rated for 15 hours of music playback or deep standby for 30 days. I have tested the first claim and it is right on the money. To get that much use from a single charge is a mighty achievement, especially when you take into consideration the quality of the sound and the output power.
As if I wasn’t already impressed with the M0, hearing it for the first time was the icing on the cake. This is not your average budget DAP sound at all. My immediate impression was of a fairly neutral sound with a touch of warmth but what surprised me most was how resolving the sound is in the context of its rich presentation.
At the heart of the Shanling M0’s sound is the ESS ES9218P chip with its 32-bit Sabre Quad DAC. This is the same chip found in the highly regarded LG V30 smartphone. The integrated amp supports up to 2.0Vrms output and reduces the board space used by the audio subsystem which is obviously important in a device such as the M0.
Of course, it doesn’t reach the level of control or finesse as my Sony NW-ZX300 or Acoustic Research AR-M20 but it gets ridiculously close to the latter in some areas. Believe it or not, this is the first Shanling DAP I’ve heard and if this is indicative or their house sound I can totally see why people regard their products so highly.
It’s difficult to compare the M0 with other DAPs because there simply aren’t a lot that offer the same features in a similar footprint or size. However, there are a couple I will look at in comparison here.
The ATC HDA-DP20 ($240 review here) is a tank of a DAP. It’s extremely heavy and solidly built. With its dual WM8740 DACs it sounds airier and has a larger, wider soundstage. Its bass is less pronounced but just as authoritative and the sound is more refined than the M0. The treble on the DP20 is a little bit cleaner as well. But for those extras, you’re paying over double the price of the M0 and losing a great deal of portability in the process. Not to mention the DP20 doesn’t have Bluetooth.
Benjie’s T6 ($49 review here) comes fairly close in size and features but falls short of the Shanling M0 in almost every way. The M0 has more extensive settings and options, a far superior build quality and a cleaner, more detailed sound. Considering its price though, the T6 is an excellent little starter DAP that offers bi-directional Bluetooth, gapless playback and a snappy UI. However, the Shanling M0 is in another league entirely.
This time around I’m giving the Meze 99 Classics a rest and instead airing the equally impressive Meze 99 Neo ($249 review here). And what a great combo these 2 items make! The Neo’s textured bass is really nicely weighted and feels powerful but still allows all the silky goodness of its midrange to shine through. The Shanling M0 shows good depth in the soundstage here with the Neo’s treble sounding airy, open and crisp. This is a truly simple and great value audiophile rig that holds its own against much more expensive setups.
Upping the ante (and the price) I plugged in the superlative Campfire Audio Cascade ($799 review here). The Cascade actually feels more mellow with this pairing. There’s enough volume (I didn’t go over 60/100) but that aggressive and awe-inspiring bass that the Cascade is known for lacks some of its usual punch. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it does make the sound a bit more balanced but the overall effect is a reduction of the visceral rawness the Cascade is capable of.
The BGVP DMG $139 review here) + Shanling M0 combination is a balls-to-the-wall fun-fest. The DMG’s intensely thick bass is present and accounted for but so is the magic of its separation and layering. Add to that the crisp, airy treble and this is another affordable combination that would leave many uninformed audiophiles scratching their head in wonder at the quality sound you can get for less than $250.
Another great match for the M0 is the Tin Audio T2 ($49 review here). The T2 is a lean sounding IEM with fast transients and expansive soundstage. The M0 has the bass extension to offset that leanness and give body to the T2’s sound. Similarly, the treble extension is there too, allowing the T2 to maintain its renowned stage without sounding too bright or unforgiving.
Sometimes I get a product that I can’t help gushing over and this is one of them. From the moment I first powered it on, I have adored this tiny DAP. Not only is the Shanling M0 a triumph of human ingenuity and modern engineering but it also oozes with charm and character.
With its diminutive pocket-friendly size and optional clip case there’s no excuse to not take it everywhere (except maybe swimming.) If you’re looking for an entry-level DAP the M0 gets my most fervent recommendation.