Shanling EC Mini Review featured image

Shanling EC Mini Review

Today, Marcus reviews the Shanling EC Mini, which is a feature-packed compact CD player, wireless-capable DAC, and headphone amplifier. It is priced at $359.00

Disclaimer: This sample was sent to me in exchange for my honest opinion. Headfonics is an independent website with no affiliate links or status. I thank Shanling for their support.

To learn more about Shanling products we previously discussed on Headfonics click here.

Note, that this article follows our current scoring guidelines which you can read here.

Shanling EC Mini Review featured image
Shanling EC Mini Review
Summary

The Shanling EC Mini is very unique physical CD and modern digital player all rolled into one compact unit. There is nothing quite like it on the market today that has so much value at this price point.

Its lengthy list of features that should appeal to both retro lovers and modern digital audio enthusiasts alike. 

Sound Quality
8.8
Design
8.5
Features
9.3
Software
8.7
Synergy
8.8
Slide here to add your score on the gear!15 Votes
8.1
Pros
Smooth and rich sound quality.
No issues with scuffed CDs.
Incredibility versatile device beyond CD playing.
Cons
Noisy slot mechanism.
No CD Text display
Unrefined gapless playback for CDs
8.8
Award Score

I just bought 18 classic and rare 80s hard rock CDs from an online dealer in the last month to go with the 700+ I have collected over the last 3 decades, something which I have not done in a few years.

The culprit? The 2024 rebirth of the CD Player, which is largely driven by a new generation of audiophiles with a growing zest for nostalgic formats, both analog and digital.  

For the portable audiophile enthusiast, Shanling’s new EC Mini could be argued as stealing a march, especially with MOONDROP’s much-heralded DISCDREAM hitting several production roadblocks.

It’s one of the first serious portable CD players to come out in years but it’s also a lot more than just a modern ‘Discman’. It also packs a USB-DAC, wireless options, and similar to the H7 and H5 portable amps, an onboard media storage player with apps integration. 

At $359 it’s pricey for a portable CD player, but as a do-it-all transportable physical and digital format player I would say it could well be one of 2024’s bargains of the year. 

Shanling EC Mini main features
Copyright Shanling 2024

Features

So, what can the Shanling EC Mini do? First, it is a battery-powered CD player with a Philips slot-loading CD drive and a Sanyo HD860 optical laser.

It will play your standard 16BIT/44.1kHz or Red Book type as well as MQA-CDs though no SACD capability. If you want SACD then Shanling’s new SCD1.3 player will be more up your alley.

The rated playback time on the QC3.0-capable dual 18650 lithium batteries is rated at 25 hours from the MicroSD card and a maximum of 7.5 hours from the CD player.

You can also operate the EC Mini as a USB-DAC with a dual ES9219 chipset capable of up to PCM 32BIT/385kHz, native DSD256, and MQA. The USB-DAC is bidirectional so those who have OTG-capable dongles and amps can connect and use the EC Mini as your main source.

If you are a headphone or IEM user, the EC Mini is equipped with dual RT6863 opamps offering a moderate 240mW balanced and 140mW single-ended on a 32Ω load. Plenty for most IEMs and more efficient headphones.

Shanling has also thrown in a Linearin LTA8092 pre-amp and a set of SE RCA analog outputs in the rear so you can operate the EC Mini on a pre-out with variable volume control or a fixed voltage line-out to a desktop amplifier of your choice.

If that isn’t enough for you, the EC Mini also offers local media playback via a microSD card slot at the rear and a touchscreen LCD OS on the top panel. It operates similarly to the M0 Pro on how to access and play the tracks.

The cherry on top is Bluetooth. The EC Mini is wireless capable, even when playing CDs, with LDAC, SBC, and AAC compatibility and an additional aptX codec option when transmitting.

Shanling EC Mini front panel cd slot

Design

At 1.3kg and 25 x 20.5 x 5.2 cm, the EC Mini’s largish boxy form factor is more transportable than portable for me. Aesthetically, it does not have a huge amount of obvious flair either. Rather, it’s more of an executive low-profile look not too dissimilar to the bigger EM5 streamer sans gold volume attenuator.

The 2.3″ LCD touchscreen on the top panel is the eye-catcher but otherwise its regulation rectangular low-height shape is somewhere between a compact HiFi desktop version and a classic single DIN unit for cars.

I do wonder if the DIN-type shape was made in mind for easy in-car use since there are some additional anti-vibration systems combined with an in-vehicle option on the rear panel.

Certainly, the uniform shape makes it a fairly stackable component as well as a relatively easy device to move around the house or office. 

The finishing is very good with the only visible screws on the rear panel and the rest of the aluminum paneling either in a mix of matte and more reflective piano black or a silver and white alternative depending on the option you buy.

You also get a short overhang or lip on the rear panel to protect the output sockets and some additional 3M blister feet you can stick on the bottom of the EC mini if you want to keep it as a desktop unit.

Shanling EC Mini rear panel actual

I/O

There is a degree of familiarity with the rear panel of the EC Mini. Owners of the similarly priced H5 portable amp/DAC will recognize it fairly quickly though. Aside from the larger panel size and the in-vehicle mode switcher the inputs and outputs are an exact match. 

That means a set of dual RCA 2.1V rated analog outputs, two USB-C ports for charging and DAC/OTG functionality, and the microSD slot for local playback capability. The bump on the left side of the rear panel is the BT antenna with two tiny pin holes in the bottom middle for resetting and charging status.

One thing to note, the microSD slot depth is a little shallower than I was expecting resulting in a bit of the memory card sticking out rather than sitting flush with the panel.

Long-time CD player fans might wish for a few more classical connections to keep it purely as a transport such as optical or coaxial outputs which the larger CD80 alternative does offer at a similar price point. It is also missing the likes of the Cayin Mini-CD MK2’s more modern I²S output.

Shanling EC Mini with Metallica CD

Controls

The EC Mini has two sets of controls; physical buttons on the front panel and a mix of physical and touch on the top LCD panel. Neither set is independent from the other with some aspects of playback control on the front and some on the top panel.

The front panel’s physical controls are primarily related to power, volume, and playback with an additional 2 buttons beside the top panel LCD screen for moving between the CD or digital tracks depending on the mode you select. 

Just be careful on that last point. If you are using a different mode, for example, local media playback and you accidentally press the front panel stop eject button you will be switched to CD mode. That means you will lose your playback position from the local media mode and have to start again.

You can also control CD playback via the touchscreen in much the same manner as the front panel save for the eject button which is from the front panel only. It’s snappy enough compared to the physical buttons without any noticeable lag between pressing and execution.

One other observational point is the LCD screen turns off after some time by default. There is no ‘double-tap-to-wake’ option so you will have to press a button to access it so choose your button wisely.

Slot Loading

Since the EC Mini is a slot-loader you have no tray to deal with but I suspect old-timers will have a few palpitations regarding how reliable that slot loader will be over the long run.

I prefer a deep and steady tray-type mechanism so the EC Mini’s noisy slot-loading mechanism has me clenching my teeth from time to time but otherwise, it hasn’t failed to load and play a CD on me over the last 3 months.

That testing does include a rather scruffy old Dire Strait’s Brothers In Arms CD from 1986 which can test less robust optical lasers to the max. 

Shanling EC Mini Accessories

Packaging & Accessories

The Shanling EC Mini packaging is quite compact and doesn’t give off an old-time brown box HiFi vibe. Inside the blue exterior, both the player and accessories are well-protected with copious foam surrounding each. 

There isn’t a huge amount of accessories save for a USB-C to USB-C cable for USB-DAC and charging duties for those dual 18650 batteries inside the EC Mini. 

Aside from the cable, you get a large selection of leaflets including that all-important manual which I suggest you read because the EC Mini has a lot of hidden features in that software system that are not immediately obvious. 

Click on page 2 below for my sound impressions and recommended pairings.

Click on page 3 below for my selected comparisons.

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