Shanling M5s featured

Underdog – Shanling M5s Hi-Res DAP Review

Tested at $429
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Our Score

Hi guys. In today’s review, we take a look at the Shanling M5s Hi-Res music player. This is Shanling’s current flagship model DAP and it comes equipped with dual AK4493EQ DAC, Wi-Fi, two-way Bluetooth with LDAC atpX and AAC, DSD support plus an all metal and glass body. Sounds good right? Let’s check it out.

Shanling official website: http://en.shanling.com/

Pros
  • Gorgeous metal and glass body
  • Wi-Fi and two-way Bluetooth
  • Snappy, responsive user interface
  • Competitively priced

Cons
  • Protective case not included in package
  • Micro-SD card slot can be difficult to open

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

The M5s box is fairly simple in its presentation. It has an outer sleeve with an image of the player on the front, one in black and the other in titanium gold colour. On the back is a list of some of the features in multiple languages.

Beneath the sleeve is a black box with the Shanling logo on the top. Removing the lid reveals the player seated in a black foam insert. There is a smaller box which contains the braided USB Type-C cable and underneath the foam insert, you’ll find a user guide plus a warranty card.

That’s the entirety of the package and it feels a little meagre from my perspective. I would really expect to have some type of rudimentary plastic or silicone case included, even if it did increase the retail price by a few dollars I think people would appreciate having one.

*All testing for this review was done on firmware version 2.3.

Build Quality and Design

Shanling’s M5s looks fantastic but it’s the way it feels in your hand that sets it apart from other mid-tier DAPs in terms of physical build. Weighing in at 178 g and crafted from CNC aluminium, the unit has a satisfying heft and solidity when you pick it up.

Shanling M5s front and volume wheel with kb dials

In some ways, the build is similar to the Shanling M0 (review here) with its 2.5D glass display and finely machined wheel. Here though, you’ll also find a curved, tempered glass on the back of the chassis, giving it a look and feel similar to a high-end smartphone.

Curved, tempered glass back

On the front is the 3.2-inch display which is supplied by none other than LG and has a resolution of 320 x 480. The colours are vibrant and the images are clear. Like many DAPs, the screen can be difficult to see in direct sunlight but otherwise, the brightness is sufficient for outdoor use. Similar to the Sony NW-ZX300, the display only takes up about two-thirds of the front of the unit but is still large enough for easy navigation and interaction.

M5s USB port and headphone outputs

There are three physical playback buttons on the left side (fast forward, play/pause and rewind). The buttons reside in a little recessed groove so they are raised above the surface but do not protrude past the side of the player. They have a subtle but reassuring tactile click, similar to the buttons found on quality smartphones.

Also, at the bottom of the left side is the Micro-SD card slot. This has a plastic cover just like the one on the M0 and this cover can be quite tricky to open if you have short fingernails. I’d love to see a little cutout area on the cover like the Sony DAPs have to make it a bit easier to open.

M5s left side buttons and card slot cover

On the right side of the player is the volume wheel which also acts as the power button. This is the same as the wheel found on the M0 which is still working perfectly on my unit. It feels solid and secure and only protrudes a tiny bit past the edge of the chassis so it doesn’t get caught when you’re putting the player in your pocket.

Finally, on the bottom of the player is a USB Type-C port, a 3.5 mm headphone output and a 2.5 mm balanced headphone output. Overall, the M5s is extremely well-built and feels more premium physically than most other mid-tier DAPs.

Battery Life

Using the single-ended output at a moderate volume you can expect up to 17 hours of playback. If using the balanced output the battery life drops to 9-10 hours. The 3400 mAh battery takes 3-4 hours to fully charge which is quite slow.

Internals

At the heart of the M5s are dual AK4493EQ DAC chips. There’s playback support for pretty much every file type under the sun up to 32-bit, 768 kHz and DSD256. Output power is [email protected]Ω from the single-ended output and [email protected]Ω from the 2.5 mm balanced output.

There’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 with LDAC, aptX and AAC. The Wi-Fi can be used for OTA updates, DLNA and Airplay. The two-way Bluetooth can be used to receive and transmit which means you can either connect the player to your Bluetooth headphones/amplifier or you can connect with a smartphone and stream with apps like Spotify and Tidal.

M5s next to case and keyboard

User Interface and Functionality

The M5s’ UI is straightforward and simple to use. It functions much like a modern smartphone but it is not Android-based. Instead it runs on Shanling’s in-house MTouch 2.0 operating system. It only takes about 6 seconds to boot the system and land on the home screen.

The Home screen has a simple layout with 6 circular icons. Swiping from right to left takes you to consecutive screens with the same layout but different icons. One cool feature of the MTouch 2.0 OS is the ability to customize the Home screen. It’s limited but does allow you to remove unnecessary icons or rearrange them to your liking.

Most of the icons are related to music search functions, such as browsing by Artist, Composer, Folder etc. but there are 2 additional icons that take you to either the playback settings or system settings screens.

Pretty much all of the standard playback features are present and accounted for, including gapless playback, Low and Hi gain settings, breakpoint resume etc. There is an option where you can choose your theme too and there are 3 different themes available. Changing between themes the layout remains the same but you get different colours and icons.

As far as the music app goes. it functions as you would expect and a swipe down from the Now Playing screen gives you a handy shortcut to common functions such as the gain and lock button settings as well as buttons to easily turn the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off.

The UI is fast and responsive, gapless playback works perfectly and during testing, I didn’t find anything lacking whatsoever. I have heard some people complaining about the Equalizer being ineffective or not altering the sound as much as they’d like. I tested it and it seems to be working fine, although admittedly I personally never use EQ. If you need to alter the sound more than the M5s’ equalizer can do, I think you need to take a look at your headphones and not the DAP…

M5s in red leather case

Sound

I tested the M5s using a variety of headphones and in-ear monitors ranging from entry-level to high-tier items. Both single-ended and balanced outputs were tested along with my regular test tracks as well as my current music library which covers multiple styles and genres.

To my ears, the M5s has a sound signature that is close to neutral in tonality but is far from being flat or boring. On the contrary, there’s a musicality to the sound and fullness which contradicts the DAPs superb resolution and detail.

The sound is very natural and dynamic, bass notes are tight and full of texture. Try a mixture of different headphones with this DAP and you’ll be delighted to hear how it sculpts the bass uniquely with each one. The AK4493EQ’s VelvetSound TM technology is aptly named because the M5s has liquid mids that are rich and enchanting.

Excellent timbre and linear tuning make the midrange really shine. Although it doesn’t add any colour the mids have an almost tangible body but the spacing between elements stays clear at all times. The treble is a real delight too, it falls into the airy category that is smooth but never sacrifices note density. Details are abundant as is the level of the treble extension with superb layering and accuracy.

Soundstage

The stage presented by the M5s is really impressive for a mid-tier DAP. Stage width is moderate but the depth, height and layering are very good indeed. Imaging and positioning are superb and the M5s paints a clear image of where everything is within a black background. Obviously, the DAPs separation and resolution play a part here, and the M5s has those in abundance.

Pairing

Meze 99 Neo (Single-ended 26Ω)

Fast and controlled bass with good extension but tight mid-bass. Neutral and highly-resolving midrange with fast transients and good vocal articulation. Crisp and detailed treble, quite forward and energetic. Very strong positioning and good depth in the soundstage. I expected this pairing to be really good but found it a little thin sounding overall. I found switching back to low gain improved the sound a lot but still wasn’t ideal.

Hifiman Sundara (Single-ended 37Ω)

Fast, controlled bass that is full of texture and definition. Rich, clear midrange that shines above all else with accurate timbre and overall tonality. Smooth, crisp treble with solid but subtle detail retrieval. The soundstage is expansive with strong imaging and positioning. Vocals have good density and occupy centre stage. This is some great synergy in action right here.

Fearless Audio S6RUI (Balanced 20Ω)

Authoritative bass and sub-bass. Bass notes have a medium attack and fast decay making them punchy and powerful but with good control. Mids are silky smooth, very natural sounding with fast transients and good body. The treble is light and airy with a smooth presentation. The soundstage has a round shape, good depth and above average dimensions with well-defined boundaries.

Sennheiser IE800S (Balanced 16Ω)

The bass sits further back in the mix but is full of texture and carries a sense of power. Midrange notes are liquid and rich with a little thickness in the lower mids. Treble is laid back and relaxed but has fantastic timbre and realism and good definition. The overall sound is natural and cohesive. The soundstage is very wide with moderate depth. Instrument separation is good and imaging is very accurate.

M5s in hand with Shanling logo

Comparisons

Sony NW-ZX300

The Sony has a little more bass emphasis while both stay close to neutral in the midrange. I find treble to be similar with both DAPs too. In fact, these 2 share a lot of similarities in their sound signatures which is good news for the M5s considering the Sony costs a fair bit more. Even the soundstage is hard to tell apart between them, although I do find the definition and imaging a little stronger on the M5s.

Physically, these 2 DAPs are almost exactly the same size but the M5s is slightly thicker. It (the M5s) also tends to get warm during use which the ZX300 does not do. Both players have almost exactly the same display size but the M5s has larger album art on the now playing screen. Functionality is reasonably close between these players but the Sony has more sound customization options.

iBasso DX120

The DX120 adds more weight to the bass, in particular the mid-bass punch. Both DAPs have a fairly neutral midrange but the M5s is more resolving and has a better sense of rhythm. Treble is more forward on the DX120 and thus a little more aggressive in the high frequencies. The soundstage on the M5s is more expansive, most notably in depth and has a blacker background.

In terms of functionality, the two are very similar although the M5s has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The user interfaces are similar in operation if not in appearance. The DX120 has a larger active display area which allows it to use a larger text making things easier to read. The M5s build feels more premium but its higher price should be taken into consideration.

M5s DAP in hand front side

Conclusion

Well, what a surprise the Shanling M5s was to me. I was expecting a much more middling performance from this mid-tier player but it is rock solid, not only in build quality but also in the quality of its sound. The excellent user interface I was kind of expecting after having the pleasure of using the entry-level M0 but the overall experience surpassed my expectations.

The M5s is a down to earth, no BS device that seamlessly combines form and function. At heart it is a very competent and simple music player but the added Wi-Fi and Bluetooth give it a lot of versatility as well. Where will Shanling go from here? I don’t know but boy, am I excited to find out!

Specifications
  • Size: 117mm x 59mm x 16mm
  • Net weight: about 178g
  • Screen: 3.2 inch HD screen 
  • DSD playback: supported to DSD256
  • PCM playback: supported to 768kHz–32bit
  • Bluetooth: support LDAC (bothway), aptX (launcher only), AAC (bothway)
  • Wi-Fi: IEEE 802.11b/g/n 
  • support DLNA, AirPlay, OTA online update, HiFi cloud music library.
  • D/A converter: AK4493EQ x 2
  • Amplifier: AD8397 x 2
  • Gain: low gain / high gain
  • Support format: DSF, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, AIF, DTS, MP3,
  •  WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8
  • Sampling rate: 44.1kHz–384kHz
  • Output: single ended output (3.5 mm) / balanced output (2.5 mm)
  • Output power: [email protected] (3.5 mm) / [email protected] (2.5 mm)
  • Channel separation: 65dB (32 Ohm) /85dB (300 Ohm) – 3.5 mm 
  • 109dB – 2.5 mm
  • THD+N: < 0.001%
  • SNR: 121dB
  • Output impedance: ≤0.3 Ω
  • Frequency response: 20HZ~20KHz (-0.5dB)
  • External memory: supported up to 512G TF card
  • USB interface: Type-C (USB2.0)
  • Battery: lithium battery for 3400mAH
  • Playing hours: 16-17 hours (3.5 mm) 9-10 hours (2.5 mm)
  • Charging hours: 3-4 hours

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