Shanling M0-The little DAP that could

Shanling M0-The little DAP that could
Written by ngoshawk
Published A moment ago

Pros – Ultra-portable.
AFFORDABLE.
Touchscreen.
UI-friendly, and simple.
Good Shanling sound, slightly north of neutral.
AFFORDABLE.

Cons – Might be a bit small for some.
Slippery if not in case.
Lacks 2.5/4/4 jack (oh well…).
Not enough power for some

Shanling M0-the little DAP that could.

Sometimes opportunity knocks on the door as they say. Other times it subtly stands by the side, expecting you to see, yet you walk right on by without site or thought. Lastly, sometimes opportunity comes at you like a freight train where you either grab hold or get run over. The opportunity to audition the M0 came at me the third way. I was honored to be considered by Shanling for a look, but cautious as well, because this is kind of a job interview of sorts. One can rightly assume that the reviewer-game is wrought with carnage of well-meaning people, who get run over. Or with “reviewers” who often create that carnage, and hence cautious approach by companies who value their product above all and not only want open honest reviews, but to protect their product as well. It is here, that I fully appreciate the company model in which Shanling espouses. Their products are good. Very, VERY good and I will openly admit I am already a fan. I own the M1, M3s and an older M5, which was my indoctrination into the “higher order” of DAPs. I use all of them, and they make it into my review queue as often as possible. The M3s is my go-to for working out. My M1, while deposed as the burner for IEM’s, also makes it in when comparing DAP’s of the “more economical” variety, because it is a standard by which I still judge others at that price point (personal opinion, so deal with it). Last, the M5…oh my, the M5. Simple, straightforward bearer of flagship moniker; my heart still flutters upon listen. I often squirrel off late at night under darkness to listen. I do this for fear of being found out, for I would have to explain to my love, why I love another so…quite embarrassing it would be.

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So, you can see that I like the Shanling house sound. On the warmer side, with rich, detailed note, excellent battery and simplicity of use; the Shanling brand has taken me in, and grabbed me right before smashing me to bits, because they understand. They understand what it means to be in love with your music, and save you, lest you be flattened. And that would rightly be an embarrassing quandary to explain to my better half…

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I wrote the above while Los Lonely Boys song Orale emanated from the M0 and the MEE Audio M6 Pro Generation 2. To say I was happy would be an understatement. The sound, which came forth was good and rich of detail. Deep of bass reach (not superbly deep, but for this price, excellent), present and tolerant treble note and mids, which are just forward enough to keep your interest. This was a good set up, especially when one notes it can be had for less than 2 Bens. I am amazed at what one can get for less and less these days. I am hooked, and it is a good thing.

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Followed by Ziggy’s Make Some Music, and one could rightly claim you have reached what does not need to be crossed. You stand at that divide, but feel no need to cross, for you see the view presented, and are quite happy and satisfied to have reached this point. While others may go forth, and you do not fault them for this; you are quite satisfied to have reached here. You take in that intoxicating view, and it is good.

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You also realize that while not powerful, the M0 has enough power to rattle your ears. Often many people are drawn into discussion regarding “how much power does it have?” And, I believe that is the wrong way to go about discussing this. By the specs, the M0 is almost anemic of power. But, once you hook in your favorite pair of IEMs’, there is sufficient power to drive most. I did run the testing on high-gain most of the time, and to reach sufficiently loud levels where it could hurt did take some effort, reaching 60 on the scale. That said, to me there was sufficient power for all but the hungriest.

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I want to thank Frantesik and Shanling for the opportunity to review the M0. All that we agreed upon was that the review be open and honest. We would have this no other way. As this was a loaner to be forwarded to another, I did treat the M0 as if it was a gift; in fact, better than if the M0 was my own. Suffice to say I treated the red critter well, and careful.

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Specs (from Musicteck):

  • Specification size: 40*135*45mm
  • Screen: 1.54 inch 240*240 high definition touch screen
  • 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)

You will notice that many of the above specs are based upon European measurements or specifications. That said, they do apply to the rest of the world as a guide.

Songs used:

Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

REM-Losing My Religion
Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

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Comparison equipment:

MEE M6 Pro Gen2
UM Mentor V3
Meze 11Neo
64Audio U8
Campfire Audio Jupiter
KZ AS10

Shanling M1
Shanling M3s
Shanling M5
Questyle QP2R
Aune M1s

Unboxing:

The Shanling M0 comes in a typical small box from Shanling, utilizing as much space as they could, while still being stylish. Included accessories are par for the course: USB-C cable, instruction manual, and warranty card. Also included in the loan unit were a plastic belt clip (held VERY well and a nice addition), and a KILLER red pleather case. The M0 does come in many colors, which is a nice departure from black, and ummm…black.

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Build quality/UI:

Finish on the red version looks almost rough metallic. That is until you feel the unit, then it is smooth. With an almost industrial-like look, the critter is pretty simple. A scroll wheel on the right, which operates on/off by long presses and rotates for volume (most of the time 2-numbers at a time). The top is rounded more on the right side, ala other Shanling DAPs. A nice touch to the past. The left side is dominated by a plastic cover over the single micro SD slot. A bit hard to unseat (good!), the top side of that plastic cover rotates to reveal the SD slot. Simple and straightforward. The bottom has the micro-USB port and single 3.5mm jack. That’s it. Simple and easy to operate. I like it. Plus, a single push of the scroll wheel wakes the unit for further instructions.

Once turned on and in operational mode, the menus remind me of a simpler inexpensive DAP. Basic to a fault, but functional well beyond those looks. Once inside each menu though, there is a plethora of options. About the only thing lacking is a customizable EQ setting. There are enough to satisfy most wants, though. And if not, then maybe you should re-evaluate your listening preferences. Plus, when the screen is off, you can set a function of double-press the wheel and play/pause of the song results. Very handy when you need to talk or answer your phone. This can be done successfully from one’s pocket. Nifty, indeed but not novel.

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I found the UI to function smoothly, with little lag and there was good ease of operation. A feature I really like is a long press on the top of the screen from pretty much any mode. By doing so, you return to the “front page” where you can access all features. A long press there takes you back from whence you came as well. At least back to the “play” widget, with but one more touch that returns you to the current song playing. Swiping to the right, will also return you one screen back at a time. A nice feature. For the price, this is a highly functional unit, with many features you may not expect, such as the long press and other options. And yes, I do know that most DAP’s today have a long press, which returns you to the home area, or close. Again, for the price it works, and it is functional. Typical Shanling in my book, it simply works.

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As others have described the functions of the various screens and features, I shan’t bore you with a regurgitation of the various options. I will provide a video link, below for my “multi-faceted” video, which goes over such features in detail.

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Initial listen:

Suffice to say, that upon arrival the M0 vaulted to my DAP of choice while reviewing other items. As such, I was struck immediately at how small it truly is. For comparison, see the side by side with the GIGANTIC M1s, and HUMONGOUS M3s. While I jest a bit, the M0 is truly pocketable and extremely functional within its shell. I was mightily impressed. It also looks devilishly wonderful in red. And I do mean, RED. The pleather case, which came with it is even red. Also included is a belt clip for use on runs or walking much like a pedometer. Very nice, indeed.

But the sound! You all shout. Get to the good stuff, you dolt!!! Well, all righty, then! Be polite.

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Let me say this up front. I went in expecting that typical warm Shanling sound, and I was not disappointed. Having preconceptions here does not taint what I heard, it confirms it. And I’m OK with that. Make no mistake, though. It is a good solid sound belying the price range. So many DAP’s of today espouse a “good” sound, but when compared to items within their same range, fall short or more aptly flat on their face. The M0 does not. It can justify its place in the sub-$120 range, pushing wannabes out of the way with the politeness of a Kingsman. Polite, but with a purpose. One might say I was impressed, and one would be right.

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Delving deeper:

Knowing what you might get beforehand can be a good or a bad thing. Good because you know of the virtues presented, since you may have prior experience with the company. Bad, because you may have certain expectations, which might not be met. That familiarity can breed doubt and despair by the readers. Doubt that the reviewer might simply be a fanboy. Despair, because the pocketbook of our readers IS dependent upon what we write sometimes. Throw in the companies stake, and we are under pressure.

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Well…you need not worry. At all. The Shanling sound is there. The Shanling reliability is there. The Shanling build is there. And, the Shanling passes. With flying colors. Actually, it comes in some flying colors as well. So, what makes the Shanling so good, and full of those luscious colors? That Shanling house sound.

Some prefer a more analytical sound, or more neutral in other words. Sometimes those are thrown around together, and here in the description I am thinking of, that would be apt. Think FiiO x5iii, and that would be somewhat analytical and neutral to me. At least in comparison to my Shanling collection. Those would all have a warmer signature, and the M0 does as well. Just not as much as the others. It is a bit more mainstream to me, but still good. Oh, so good. To me, I think Shanling wanted to appeal to a broader base of listeners, as they had their hardcore fans covered with the other models.

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There is adequate power for most IEM’s, though it may be a bit short for those hard to drive units. I found the M0 to have plenty of power for those with which I paired. I did have to raise the volume when plugging in the AAW-Shozy Hibiki Mk2, but not the KZ-AS10. Nor with the MEE M6 Pro, Gen2. So, for most the M0 is plenty adequate power-wise.

And what might that power provide? A good reach of bass on songs such as Damian Marley’s Everybody Wants To Be Somebody. There is plenty there, and it reaches pretty deep. Again, this would be IEM-dependent, but fair to say that the M0 provides a good part of that.

A nice feature, which I turned on immediately was the double click on the scroll wheel. This allowed the user to play/pause as mentioned so that one could hear a conversation or answer your phone, etc. A nice touch, and yes available on other DAP’s as well. What is nice here though, is that the scroll wheel protrudes, making the function of the play/pause even easier.

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Detail of song is present in most song offerings. Using Damian Marley’s Living It Up, you can clearly hear the layers of music, separated quite well. This is a good song with which to differentiate layering, detail, bass and any possible congestion. The M0 came through the car-wash test with flying colors. You can clearly hear the percussion support instruments while the bass guitar dominates the sub-bass line. Throw in Damian’s penetrating voice and the lounge-like support of keyboard, and you have a thoroughly happy nod-your-head song. One aspect, which could be a bit better would be the separation of vocals, when singing the support line. I had a harder time differentiating individual singers, but this could be down to my upper end loss of hearing. It is still quite good.

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This is furthered by Annie Lennox’s sumptuous voice on Love Is A Stranger. Talk about obsession…oh my goodness. The range of her voice is an excellent “tool” for discerning female vocal and the critter being tested. Again, the M0/M6 Pro G2 combo exonerated itself quite well. Her voice, though…oh my. Throughout the test, I found the M0 to represent vocals honestly and without artificiality. I currently have another unit on hand, and I cannot say the same of it. So, for the price, the M0 does an admirable job, indeed.

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Comparo dujour:

When one compares anything to another of the same ilk, you are walking a fine tightrope to begin. There will always be those that defend their choices like an affront to their family heritage. While others will look on quizzically at the choices you make. Yet others will nod in agreement or with the understanding that by comparing we are doing a service. A service so that you may make that informed choice. That said, if one does not like what we recommend that is life. Personal choices abound and doing one’s own research is tantamount to a solid purchase. Here is where my hope is that some small part can be the result of the verbiage listed below.

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Shanling M0 ($109) v Shanling M1 ($129):

A natural comparison to the older brother begets many similarities of family lineage. Both share that squat squarish, roundy-edge shape, which has become synonymous with Shanling’s offerings. Little brother has one big advantage though…a touchscreen. Plus, the scroll wheel has been redesigned on the M0 as well. It is now more rotating knob as opposed to wheel. Still Shanling, but less so in my humble opinion. There were early issues with that rotating wheel on the M1 as well, which were taken care of by Shanling, so good for them.

When it comes to sound, the M1 moves a bit up the food chain as one would expect. With a tighter, deeper reach of bass we begin to fully experience the Shanling house sound. Luscious mids come through such as on Lyle Lovett’s Bears, one of my all-time favorite songs. His voice and that wonderful Mandolin run the trifecta with the National steel guitar perfectly. A taught drum sound finishes the deal. This song is good no matter what. And here, the M1 provides more depth and fuller sound. Where the M0 is a fun almost energetic sound, the M1 defines the beginnings of maturity.

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Shanling M0 ($109) v Shanling M3s ($279):

To some, the M3s was what started the resurgence or revolution at Shanling. The fine M2s came before, but the M3s raised the bar for the entry-level-mid-fi range. I can remember listening to both the M2s (borrowed) and the M3s (tour model, then I purchased one) side-by-side. Even with my ears, I could feel a better sense of detail from the M3s, and more warmth. To me this was as close to the M5 as Shanling had come. It is still my go-to workout DAP, fitting perfectly into a Smartphone arm band. With good power, and good battery life, I happily use it to judge others at this price. Through in single-end and balanced-end outputs and you have a killer DAP for less than $300. I absolutely love the warmth that emanates from the M3s. I was sold the minute I heard it. I was lucky enough to have another brand on hand during that tour, at a higher price point, and kept coming back to the M3s. With 2-way BT and HiBy on deck, you could feed through your Smartphone using the excellent DAC portion of the M3s. A nice feature, which is carried over into the M0. Again, using Bears, that maturity further develops. There is an almost thumping quality of bass in the M3s.This is one of the facets, which drew me into the purchase of the M3s. That good reach of bass, while also defining what a Shanling would sound like at the upper end of what I might call the “low-fi” price. Low-fi in price only, certainly not quality of sound. Where the M3s provide succulent treble and the “S’s” of Lyle’s voice sound sweet and sublime; on the M0 there is a bit of sibilance. Not sibilance really, but an overly brilliant sound. Enough to where I listened again and again to define that sound. I do believe that is a result of where the M0 might be utilized…on the go, where outside noise could drown out the upper end. Maybe I don’t know of what I am talking about, either. A distinct possibility, but I hear what I hear.

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Shanling M0 ($109) v Aune M1s ($240ish):

A pure music player, which I had previously auditioned (at the M1-level), I found myself on the receiving end of a winner. The Aune came my way by a giveaway, but knowing how much I liked a borrowed M1, I anticipated it for the simple fact that the Aune does one thing and one thing well…play music. Don’t go looking for WIFI, or BT, or dual micro-SD slots. Don’t go looking for a UI, which is state of the art Linux or Android. No, the Aune is meant for one thing…to play your music. And in this regard when considering music alone, bests even the M3s in my humble opinion. More detail than a critter has a right to promote at this price, the M1s is one fine player, which fell upon hard times due to the steamrolling of features that other better-known players and companies crammed into their DAP’s. You want BT? SURE! WIFI? YOU BET! Touchscreen/scrolling screen/wheels? DARN STRAIGHT! No, this might be the forgotten DAP of our time, and that is a shame for based upon pure sound, I rate it near the top in this price. And yes, that would be in my limited experience but enough to warrant a good judge of abilities/sounds.

The Aune has a more analytical sound, without the bass reach of the aforementioned Shanling’s. And you know what? That is OK. Dare I say “reference,” lest I get hammered; but an apt description might be pure and clean. There is a cleanliness to the sound, which smacks of wide open spaces on a crystal-clear blue-sky day. Nary a cloud in sight, your view is unencumbered. And that is well and good. With less sibilance up top, the upper frequencies ring truer through the M1s than the M0. And it should. Especially when one notes the challenger is a dedicated music player.

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Finale:

There really isn’t much more that can be said about this wonderful little critter (especially on the back of existing reviews). Finishing with Bob and Bad Card seems appropriate, since there really isn’t a bad card involved with the Shanling M0. Suffice to say, if I was in the market for a small portable DAP, which can be used not only at the gym, or out in active situations, but at home relaxing as well; this would be at the top of my want list. Especially for the price.

Yes, I am a fan of Shanling already. I stated that above…many times. To me that does not allow blind obsession and accolades for anything thrown my way. Indeed, I consider it just the opposite. As Ziggy sang the live version of ABC from his wonderful Live From Soho album), I tapped the keys. I tapped my feet. I nodded my head and scribbled some more. As such, knowing what Shanling has wrought or rung from its other DAP’s, my expectations were most likely higher than those who have not the experience. And as such I was not disappointed. This is a very fine little DAP that should take serious consideration when looking at the ultra-portable DAP segment. Especially with a good functional touchscreen. I can find little to fault, except maybe it is TOO small, and not quite powerful enough. Turning Joe Satriani’s excellent Goodbye Supernova to 70/100 on high gain, was plenty adequate for me. That said if one wants to drive your headphones to ear-shattering volumes, you are probably not looking at this type of critter anyway. It can get plenty loud, but some always want more…

I want to thank Shanling for the loan of this excellent little critter known as the M0. It met my expectations and is the next logical successor to the M1 at this highly-affordable price point. Were I in the market for replacing my smallest portable, this would be on the way to me right now. That is the highest regard I can personally give…spending my own hard-earned dollars on it.

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