Shanling M6 Digital Audio Player Review

Founded in 1988, Shanling are a Chinese audio brand which have a firm interest in digital audio players (DAPs). With the release of their M3 DAP which debuted in 2014, they have garnered significant interest. Coupled with their emphasis on incorporating patented technologies, Shanling have produced great all-rounders within the portable music player industry.

Their recently released Shanling M6 DAP is no exception with a full Android interface, capability for streaming and wireless playback as well as a dual AKM4995 DAC chips. Priced at $499, the M6 is competitive for what it offers and hovers around the price category of the Fiio M11 Pro, Cayin N5ii and iBasso DX160 DAPs.

The Packaging

The M6 packaging is rather reminiscent of Fiio M15 Digital Audio Player’s luminescent outer casing. Beneath this sheath, is a brown patterned box with Shanling’s signature emblem. Included within are two back boxes featuring USB Type C cables, two screen protectors, a manual, warranty card and glass protection. The only thing missing is any kind of protective casing (which given the price should ideally have been included in).

The Build & Design

The Shanling design philosophy is very cohesive and is the result of a company who do not like to cut corners. The DAP itself looks very futuristic with the casing made from a solid unibody block of aluminum surrounded by two glass sheets both on the front and back. The corners of the design evade any angular forms and are chamfered down to produce an organic curved display.  

On the right of the device, Shanling have incorporated a multi-functional scroll wheel with good tactile feedback allowing users to adjust volume levels and power on/off. The scroll wheel is a departure from the current trend to implement within the top of the device. I have found that though it is easily accessible, the wheel is more susceptible to be mis-positioned than that the one found on the PAW 6000 within the pocket.

On the left of the device, are three playback control buttons including play/pause, next and previous functions. These are found within a groove of the unibody design to allow better ergonomic control without physically looking at the buttons.

Within the bottom, Shanling have catered for every occasion with 2 balanced outputs (1 x 2.5 mm TRRS headphone output, 1 balanced 4.4 mm Pentaconn headphone output), a single-ended 3.5 mm TRS headphone output and a USB Type C port.  

The Screen

The embedded display is a 4.7-inch 720 x 1280 IPS screen which allows things to look that much sharper and more vivid. While some manufacturers have compromised on this part of their DAPs, Shanling have stuck strong with a modern screen to deliver the full Android experience. A suggested improvement could be a ‘bezel-less’ display to further bring the latest generation of DAPs to the standards of modern mobile phones. However, some may argue that this could be hard to enforce logistically.

The Internals

The Shanling M6 employs dual AKM AK4495SEQ DACs which are enhanced in performance with KDS crystal oscillators designed for improved adaptive clock precision sampling. The premium quality DAC components are a welcomed improvement to Shanling’s previous products and have even been used in their high-end two-channel audio projects.

In terms of amplification topology, Shanling have opted for two OPA1612 op-amps which used in conjunction with the AD8397 offer transparent sound with low levels of distortion. The M6 supports up to 32 bit / 768 kHz DSD 128 & DSD256 with all the usual file types supported. It incorporates 4.2 Bluetooth with bidirectional codec support (LDAC & SBC). Users also benefit from smooth streaming in the form of 2.4G/ 5G dual-frequency Wi-Fi.

The M6 can last up to 12 hours of continuous playback (from single-ended) and 9 hours (from balanced) with its large 4000 mAh battery.

User Interface

The M6 comes equipped with an Octa-core Snapdragon 430 CPU with 4G of RAM and 32G ROM. This allows the end user experience to be swift without unnecessary lag or delays. The Android OS is a familiar experience for users with the ability to multi-task and choose from a selection of apps. It is nice to see that the International Version of this DAP has included the Google Play Store from which popular apps such as Spotify, YouTube and Tidal can be downloaded.

The Shanling Music app comes as the default music player. Overall, it is very intuitive and UI-friendly allowing users to quickly select from albums and playlists.

Sound quality

The ESS Sabre glares of yesteryear generation DACs have heavily been traded for the sonic performance benefits of AKM chips. The M6 DAP is no exception to this rule without the implementation of dual AK4995 DAC chips. The resulting sound is one which is very linear across the board without the natural roll-off that some AKM chips may face. It is impressive to see the amount of detail, transparency, and resolution that the M6 DAP offers for its price. Music sounds clear and extended with no frequencies being significantly more highlighted than the other.

Despite possessing a fast and linear presentation, the M6 has excellent sub-bass extension. When called upon, tracks deliver authoritative heft while being punchy at the same time. While the mid-bass is not as rounded as that of the Lotoo PAW 6000, the lower frequencies are pleasant and possess body to deliver some smoothness to tracks.

The midrange of the Shanling M6 outputs a reference, clean and detailed sound. Notes sound vivid and lively and a departure from a relaxed presentation. This gives music more of a sense of immediacy with great amounts of micro- and macro-dynamic slam. In ‘The Best Thing’ by Mark Wilkinson, the texture of vocals are highlighted with clarity and incision. The Fiio M11 in this regard sounds slightly more mid-forward whereas the M6 boasts better air.

The treble component of the M6 is excellent; detailed, linear and extensive. It is an example of a DAP which performs above its price category with transparency, sparkle and air. For this reason, the M6 does pair well with neutral or warm sounding transducers to counterbalance the tonal signature. With brighter sounding monitors or headphones, the M6’s revealing nature is not the most laidback for extensive listening.

Overall, the M6 hosts great technical prowess with a detailed, linear and transparent sound which strives for reference. Though not as powerful as the DethonRay DTR1 or Cayin N8, the M6 can drive high sensitivity & low resistance headphones to sufficient levels with adequate headroom. For sensitive IEMs, the M6 presents a pitch-black background devoid of noise and distortion.

Comparisons

Fiio M11 Pro ($649)

The Shanling M6’s closest competitor is the Fiio M11 Pro which retails for slightly more. All-in-all, Shanling have done incredibly well to scale down costs with their implementation of dual AKM4995 DAC chips. The M6 also delivers a fuller Android experience given the Google Play Store support whereas downloading Spotify or Tidal can only be done from 3rd party APK stores on the Fiio M11 Pro. The Fiio adopts THX chips for its amplification whereas the M6 makes use of op-amps. Both have a similar clean and neutral sound with the M6 possessing a slightly smoother tonality with subtly enhanced bass. The Fiio M11 pro, on the other hand, is a tad better in deciphering micro-details though this is at the expense of marginal air and depth that the Shanling M6 projects.

Dethonray Prelude DTR1 ($599)

The Prelude is a stripped-down version of a DAP without the modern features of streaming or an Android interface. However, it delivers on sound performance while incorporating a slightly older AK4490EQ DAC chipset. Compared to the M6, the DTR1 renders better transients, dynamics and note speed. However, the DTR1 does compromise on soundstage width in the process. Both DAPs serve as complimentary to each rather than competing for the same type of sound.

Lotoo PAW 6000 ($1200)

As with the PAW 6000, the M6 has some heft towards its mid-bass frequencies. However, the PAW 6000 possesses more separation and transparency with better detail and speed. The PAW 6000 also offers a more neutral to natural presentation while the M6 is slightly more mid-forward and neutral reference focused.

Conclusion

Shanling have really stepped up with the release of the M6. Not only is the graphical user interface incredibly fast, user-friendly and feature-packed, the build & design is equally modern and cohesive. The M6 outputs a rather clean and reference sound with great tonal balance. It is also admirable that Shanling have not decided to charge a more premium price considering its use of dual AK4495 DAC and various op-amp implementation. With that said, the M6 performs at the height of the price-performance curve and it is thus an easy recommend for budding audiophiles wanting to get a slice of hi-fidelity at a more affordable price.

Specifications

  • Weight: 228g
  • System: Android 7.1
  • Audio formats: DSF 1 DF /IS0 / DXD /APE /FLAC/ WAW/ AIFF /AIF /DTS/ MP3/ WMA ACC/0GG/ALAC1MP21M4AAC3/M3U1M3UB
  • Storage: 32 GB ROM + Exteral Miro SDcard, upto 2TB
  • Codec support: Bidirectional- LDAC & SBC
  • Output power: 160mW@32ohm (Single-End Output); 350mW@32ohm (Balanced Output)
  • Dynamic range: 118 dB(unbalanced),119 dB(balanced)
  • THD+N: 0.001 %
  • Output impedance: < 1 ohm (unbalanced), < 2 ohm (balanced)
  • Wi-Fi standard: 2.4G/ 5G

Shanling M6 Digital Audio Player

$499

Buy from: Linsoul or Shanling

2 thoughts

    1. Hi Ray, it does not use thumbdrive as a music source. You can use it as a USB DAC however from a computer; it also has two-way Bluetooth (can be used as a Bluetooth DAC from a PC or can be turned into a Bluetooth amplifier with another paired device).

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