Our review today overs the new Shanling M0 which is a new ultra-portable touchscreen digital media player priced at a very budget-friendly $109.
Disclaimer: This is a sample sent to us in exchange for our honest opinion. Headfonics is an independent website with no affiliate links or status. We thank Shanling for this opportunity.
To read up on other Shanling products we have previously featured on Headfonics click here.
Note, that this article follows our latest scoring guidelines which you can read up on here.
I’ve never experienced a Shanling portable music player before. So, when Shanling said they wanted to send me a unit for review, I was very excited at the prospect of finally getting to bask in their house sound. The luxury DAP market is fraught with expensive, wallet-busting, and Paypal account-draining models from various other companies.
Today, we are looking at the other end of the spectrum with the budget-friendly M0. For only $109? With all those specs as well!? REALLY? Yep.
At just 1.54”, the tempered LG glass screen and overall feel of the player is highly refreshing. This is an aluminum body build and it feels dense in the hand at 39g. The screen color palette potential is stellar for being so small. Yes, the little screen looks fantastic in color depth, at least in my opinion.
This is exactly what I want in a portable player. I do not want it to feel plastic-like, or lightweight. I want that dense feeling. I want high levels of tactility and I do not want sharp, un-rounded edges.
Shanling has machine CNC’ed these in-house, apparently. So I couldn’t really be happier with the final result. It feels robust to me and also is very aesthetically pleasing in every color that is offered. I’ve opted for blue, but, they also offer black, titanium gray, red or purple as well.
They have opted for a newer gen USB-C cable, yet, also one that is fabric laced and feels of a very good build quality as well. Great stuff here for such a low price.
The M0 handles up to 32bit/384khz files in your typical array of formats that include Flac. Audiophiles, don’t worry. The M0 also offers DSD support with a max out at DSD128. Hey, guess what! My originally $800 Cowon Plenue M full-size player from just a few years ago topped out at DSD64. Goes to show what just a few short years can accomplish.
Beyond that, you get reverse-BlueTooth support. Meaning now only is 4.1 BT supported in output, but you can also stream BlueTooth audio into the M0 as well through a cell phone or tablet. It also can be used as a standard DAC for usage with a computer, using the ES9218P chip inside, which I find pretty decent considering the price of the model at $109.
I don’t want to go too into detail on the USB DAC functionality, which can be used also as a USB output for use with something like the Chord Mojo as a transport. The reason is that it is a lower-end DAC in a budget unit that is also a portable music device. I feel like that is a bonus at this price point and something to consider as extra candy.
For what is there, it sounds just fine as is. Make sure the firmware is updated though with the newer release as of 6/9/2018. If you preordered or purchased prior, odds are good your unit is using obsolete firmware.
Fantastically simple. I did not expect such a little screen to be this well thought out and easy to use.
While inside the Now Playing track, simply touching somewhere, perhaps, the top-left area with no text around it, you’ll be taken to the previous menu selection screen. Simple left and right swaps of the finger will take you from the current track to a Playlist window and more.
An add to favorites heart is on the bottom left and with a tap will add your song to the list. You can even remove tracks inside the folder view by pressing the “…” area.
The UI is very basic and very well thought out. I don’t have a single gripe about it. It simply works and is highly functional without being fancy in the slightest. True, if you track skip a lot, you will encounter some lag. I can’t expect a budget player to have the horsepower to handle constant and quick track skipping though.
I enjoy the layout of the entire UI. It is easy to read and move around in. Considering the size of the screen they had to work with, it is a wonder they were able to get things so basic and functional at the same time.
Things are vibrantly colorful and easy to read and understand. There are no weird sub-menus that don’t make sense and that do not need to be there. What is there, is very basic and that is just how I want it. I do not want clutter. Especially not with a 1.54-inch touchscreen.
Sadly, the M0 is not at all geared for bass enthusiasts and the very lacking EQ support is the biggest culprit there. For now and on this firmware, there is much to be desired. But, Shanling has assured me that more EQ improvements will be coming very soon. For now, there is a slew of presets going on and almost none of them sounded good for Bassy headphone usage.
I am a bass head. I love my bass. I simply could not find a great-sounding bass preset that handled quality and quantity very well without sounding terrible. I can, of course, get good quality and quantity in some of the presets, but nothing that suits us crazies who desire a ton of bass and well-controlled EQ functions down below.
The M0 is modest at best with quantity and, as mentioned, some of the presets warp and muddy the low end so severely that I will never in a million years use them. But, that doesn’t mean some of them aren’t good, because some are certainly good sounding. I am saddened that many of the bass-enhanced EQ presets sound really bad to my ear.
The lack of a customized user-made EQ preset of my own really limits what this player can do. But, for just over $99, this isn’t really a legitimate argument. Bass quality is good on this M0 overall. Quantity is an issue, as I find it moderately capable in quantities allotted in the lower frequencies.
The specs say it is recommended up to 300ohm and I intensely disagree with anyone recommending anything that difficult to drive for usage with this M0. It struggles with 120ohm and does not have nearly enough power to do justice to needy headphones. Stick with typical portables, 32ohm and under, maybe even up to 80Ω and you should be just fine.
Beyond that, I feel a solid drop-off in solidity factor and weakness overall. Without the juice required to get the job done on moderately inefficient headphones, I’m going to recommend something else entirely if you need that.
You will really enjoy this DAP if you strap it to an older RSA or ALO amplifier, something like the tiny Tomahawk would be an awesome combo for size needs.
Maybe, even the Pico Slim! Just be careful about tonality matching, you don’t want to pair it with a very clinical-sounding amplifier. For being so small, it is clearly set up to be used with portable-safe headphones. Don’t expect to be driving Planar’s or an HD800 with the M0.
The M0 seems to offer a moderately relaxed positioning for vocal needs. Meaning, that it doesn’t sound recessed at all, nor intimate and lively, upfront and engaging. What is there is just fine and doesn’t really engage me or dissuade me.
Some very forward headphones, such as my ESW series from Audio Technica (which offers very forward mids) seem to compensate more than well enough for me.
I prefer forward mids subjectively, so I really notice when the midrange experience is too dialed back or overly lacking forwardness in new portable players. In the case of this M0, expect a moderate placement and one that really lacks nowhere.
As for quality, I have been finding that excellent middle-tier headphones, such as my new SoundMagic HP200, sound equally stellar. The M0 is not a harsh-sounding unit, so the softer tonality of the HP200 here really becomes immensely enjoyable.
Also, my older AKG K267 TIESTO sounds similarly yummy in that regard through the M0. However, the more studio monitor-ish headphones, such as the Beyer DT240 Pro that I’ve recently reviewed, also sound plenty neutral for me, but with a slight tilt towards more subdued in physical impact and dynamic kick.
The vocal experience is what I would consider lush on this M0. It is more on the soft and easy-going side, with plenty of density potential considering the stellar $109 price tag.
Shockingly, I feel the M0’s top end to be rather elegant and gently sparkled. The theme of this product certainly isn’t aimed at purists or critical listening. I think the aim was actually for musicality, but somewhere in the moderate areas of it, at the very most.
The M0 has very soft treble sometimes and I really enjoy listening to it through my HP200 and my K267. Dynamic kick and harshness don’t seem at all a problem for me and I cannot tell you just how much that makes me happy.
Compared directly with my xDuoo Nano D3 and the Echobox Explorer DAPs, the M0 sounds much softer, more refined even sometimes, and also the more aired-out of the trio as mentioned here.
As for quality, the top end really doesn’t sound like a near $99 unit. It sounds, at least in my opinion, more like a $250 unit as standard. Perhaps, the meshing of the 9218P DAC is helping there. Perhaps not.
Honestly, I don’t care. I am just overly enthusiastic about the dynamic slam factor of the M0 being relatively modest in the best ways. It is very chill. Very relaxing and doesn’t sound grainy in the slightest. For this price, this is a bargain just for the elegantly portrayed treble end of the spectrum.
Again, I feel like the treble end that feels very gently sparkled is lending a hand to the very nice imaging that this M0 is presenting. Compared to the Nano from Xduoo, the M0 sounds noticeably larger, more aired out and of a more refined depth of field in reach. Is it an imaging titan? No. It is just good and shockingly so at the budget level.
Intimate-sounding headphones with good staging are right at home here. I wouldn’t pair with very large sounding headphones, as I can clearly hear a large dip in sizing between the M0 and my home rig, for example, when using my Fostex TH-X00. Which to those who do not know is a very large and spacious sounding headphone.
Height and width are properly set up without either feeling over or under-done. The M0 isn’t wide feeling, so the image height plays an important factor, and similarly to the Beyerdynamic T1, I feel the M0 to house a very good, intimately set up presentation as a whole.
Equal parts height and width allow for a proper “bubble” of the void you are experiencing. The literal formation of that sound void, to me, feels well balanced and lacking nowhere.
The M0 is probably the best value player I’ve ever tested. It is actually clean enough to use alongside my ESW11LTD from Audio Technica and a lot of other middle-tier headphones I enjoy on the go. But, that was where the line was drawn.
It is a great stepping stone product for the budding audiophile to route to a more expensive model if said M0 tickles their ear enough to want more. Not only does BlueTooth sound very good and retains a strong connection, but battery life at around 12-15 hours was solid as well when not playing DSD or Flac playlists.
The unit is very nicely built and has a very simple and effective UI, considering the size of the tiny screen, it is a wonder they incorporated so many bold icons in view. There is a small shuffle button on the bottom left and a track favorite on the right.
In the center, a standard track selection and play/pause. If you want to go back to a menu, hold an empty space area and it will revert to the folder list area. It is quite a bold design element to house that much on a small screen and have it all work perfectly fine.
The M0 is a great deal. I will be recommending it to anyone seeking a $109 and under DAP. It handles pretty much everything I toss at it and performed as a solid musical-sounding music source that didn’t go too far into exaggerated tonality. Great job, team Shanling. This is a keeper.
Shanling M0 Technical Specifications
- Size: 40*135*45mm
- Screen: 1.54 inch 240*240 high definition touchscreen
- Weight: about 39g
- DAC model: ESS Sabre ES9218P
- Endurance: about 15 hours (depending on the use)
- Deep standby: about 30 days
- Charging time: about 2 hours
- Battery capacity: 640mAH lithium battery
- Storage: maximum support 512G TF Card
- Output port: headset output (3.5 mm)
- Output power: [email protected] 32ohm
- Recommended earphone impedance: 8-300
- 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)