When I first saw the Shanling M0, I thought the model name was something of a joke. No company would use zero as a model number. However, now that I’ve got the M0 sitting on my review desk, I get it: this tiny player takes up almost no space, and weighs next to nothing. But at $109, what kind of sound quality can one expect from this discreet DAP?
The M0 comes in a small box that holds the player, a charging cable, and a user manual I didn’t feel compelled to look at.
Because right out of the box, this tiny player feels incredibly intuitive. Controls are as minimalist as the player itself. A combination volume wheel/power button on the right side of the player handles everything but playback.
Once powered on, the small screen jumps to life. While not exactly “snappy”, the performance can still be considered relatively quick for a budget hi-res player.
And the Shanling definitely has the hi-res sound down. Supporting FLAC, ALAC, and even DSD, the internals retain the fidelity you would expect from these sources. Unlike some other budget players I’ve tested, there’s never a point where the sound doesn’t seem full and accurate.
Add on to this DAC functionality, and two-way Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity, and you’ve got a pretty potent combo at hand.
Rich and rewarding, the sound on the Shanling M0 offers a surprising degree of quality. Stacked up against my current mobile listening setup – an iPhone 7 and FiiO Q5 – this tiny player offers about 95% of the sound. Even with a pair of good budget earphones, the sound remains impressive.
On tracks like ACDC’s Highway to Hell, bass impact registers precise and forceful, punctuating the low end. Contrasting and articulate, the sound only gets better in the mids, maintaining a sense of fidelity I have grown to expect from any player that claims to be high-res.
In the high end, the M0 offers a particularly mesmerizing listening experience, thanks to its Sabre ESS DAC. Fellow reviewers have told me before that the Sabres offer better high-frequency accuracy and after listening to the M0, I am bound to agree with them. High-heavy tracks like Pink’s Whatever You Want sound smooth but still sharp, and vocals ring out with a characteristic clarity and real gusto.
In terms of soundstage, the M0 seems pretty competent. Distortion is nowhere to be heard, and compression only rears its head when using the player in Bluetooth mode. Otherwise, the sound remains clear with excellent separation. While my earphones may have suffered by design, using a pair of trusty Grado headphones reveals the M0 to be more than capable of offering impressive, mind-drowning soundstage.
From cheap $50 earphones to my $550 Grado GH4’s, this tiny player offers an impressive sound. But what about higher-impedance cans? Even with something like the 150-ohm Sennheiser HD660, the sound remains decent, with the M0 capable of driving higher-impedance headphones at decent volume. Of course, there’s still a tipping point, and cans like the Beyer DT 1990/1770 may prove too hungry to drive at 250 ohms.
As mentioned above, pretty much any hi-res file type can be used with the Shanling. All of my listening sessions were done with FLAC/ALAC files, though I can only imagine how sweet this little player sounds with DSD. Compatibility for micro-SD cards extends up to 512 GB, though you could probably slap a 1 TB card in here if you had access (and the cash!) necessary to acquire one.
Part of the wonder bestowed on my listening sessions and overall impressions probably stems from the M0’s lilliputian form factor. It’s difficult to believe that a DAP smaller than a Zippo Lighter could be so powerful and sound so fine.
Of course, the Shanling M0 is a far cry from higher-end DAP’s like those from Sony or Astell&Kern. But for a durable little gadget that delivers the audio goods, it’s hard not to fall in love with this tiny titan.
The Shanling M0 offers an interesting prospect, being inexpensive yet packing the necessary innards to deliver truly good audio quality. As such, there’s little to compare to it. Forget FiiO at this price, and forget those no-name companies littering Amazon or AliExpress. It’s clear that for $109, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better sound in a more impressive package.
However, if you’re in the market for an entry-level player and are open to spending up to $200 or $300, I would recommend the FiiO M7 and M9, respectively. For the increase in price, you can expect a snappier operating system that seems just a little more tailored. While the M7 offers local music playback from the player or card – as well as an FM tuner – the M9 offers a more premium experience and the ability to use 3rd party apps like Spotify and Tidal. Like the Shanling M0, the FiiO M9 can also be used as a DAC (and with arguably better results).
The Shanling M0 may be small, but it packs a big punch and offers enormous value for your dollar. At $109, this ultra-portable DAP sounds like a dream and handles surprisingly well. The fact that it earned the JAS Hi-Res certification only adds to its aura. Our take? Snag one of these players if you’re on a budget or just want the most portable player possible.
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