A while ago I took a look at the Shanling M8 and found it to be a perfectly able audiophile device. It stood against strong competition like the higher-end Astell & Kern devices. Admittedly, these are still pretty niche devices that might not appeal to even dedicated audiophiles. The steep pricing makes these devices quite the commitment, no matter how good they may appear to be. Even the mid-tier options can be pricy, but also a bit less of a gamble. This is where the Shanling M6 Pro 21 comes in. An upgraded model from its former iteration, the M6 Pro 21 bolsters improved tech and sound quality for $799. Is this a device you can rely on?
What You Get
- Shanling M6 Pro 21
- USB-C cable
- Glass protection
- Quick-start manual
- Silicon pads
If you’re familiar with Shanling DAPs, the M6 Pro 21 consists of a similar look. The device finds a good combination of weight and comfort, as the player is easy to hold like any current smartphone. The 4.7-inch screen is nice, but the bezzles at the top and bottom are quite large. With a tempered glass screen, the M6 Pro 21 feels great to swipe on, even with a screen protector. An aluminum chassis makes up the outside of the device, with playback buttons and an SD card slot on the left side, and a volume pot on the right. On the bottom of the M6 you’ll see a USB type C connector, and three headphone input options, 3.5mm, 2.5mm, and 4.4mm.
Inside of the M6 Pro 21 is a dual ESS Sabre ES9068AS with a new OPA2211 amplifier circuit. These are already significant improvements over the former M6 model. Other improvements include an improved battery life of up to 16 hours, 64 GB of RAM, and MQA support. This new chipset works better together, giving you more noise reduction and a more precise clock.
Features and UI
There’s a lot to delve into with the M6 Pro’s software and interface. Jumping into is like most DAPs and smart devices at this point. The interaction is smooth and it generally feels nice to navigate. It uses an open Android system powered by a Snapdragon 430 CPU. For most of my listening, I mainly used a micro SD card full of lossless tracks, to which the M6 Pro 21 supports up to 2TB. You can scan the files within the Shanling music app, which supplies a good amount of features on its own. You’ll find your way through the music app quite easily, sorting your tracks by artist, album, and genre. Further exploring will get you to the EQ which has plenty of presets. Swiping down from the top will show you a pull-down menu with even more features. Here you can switch to DAC mode, activate Bluetooth, access settings, and switch gain control.
With DAPs it’s most important to get an accurate sense of imaging, and the M6 Pro 21 achieves this in strides. One of the sound signature biggest attributes is its exceptionally transparent positioning, placing elements evenly across the stereo field. You get a good sense of separation, with layers appearing backward and forward as well as left to right. This gives the music more room to breathe within their respective positions. Nothing feels exaggerated either. Instead, the sounds have a natural output within its larger sound field. I also appreciated the added height to the soundstage immensely. Sound elements like vocals can appear raised above certain instrumental, making for a clearer, and more immersive mix.
At its best the M6 Pro 21 outputs a smooth, textured bass that has a tight resonance. There’s some added heft to these frequencies, with richer details that express a much fuller response. The transients also attack significantly quicker, creating more accentuated tones for a more immediately engaging sound signature. I found there to be a lot more of a fun factor here, especially in IEMs with more neutral bass timbres. The M6 Pro lifted that response just enough to bring out a more elevated low-end.
There are some crisp qualities to the timbre, but its spacious qualities are more limited. I found that the tonality had less reach than the bass, but was still clean and mostly full. Of course, its greatest asset is the upper midrange, where details are a lot more emphasized. It makes for a much more striking response. Vocals shine here, emanating with a colorful texture that gives the sound signature a nice finishing touch.
The treble presents a well-shaped tone that is affected the most at higher gain settings. At low gain mode, the high frequencies were balanced with a touch of brightness to sweeten some of the timbre. Mid and high-gain settings really boost those specific frequencies, bringing the tone more to the front of the mix. It doesn’t fall too much into piercing or any hash feel, but the treble definitely becomes a lot more prominent. No matter which gain setting the M6 Pro 21 is at, the highs still remain exceptionally clear and transparent throughout the sound signature.
For the price point, there’s so much to enjoy from the M6 Pro 21. It just feels great to use, as the interface is smooth and user-friendly. You get plenty of options as you do with most Shanling products, as well as a heightened sound quality thanks to its great build and high-end tech. I appreciated the reference level response from its sound signature, bringing clarity and articulation to many selections of music. Good DAPs for less than a thousand are few and far between, but the M6 Pro 21 proves itself as a worthwhile model in its range.
The Shanling M6 Pro 21 is available at Audio46.