Shanling has brought us many enjoyable DAC/Amps, and IEMs, but my favorite product line from them has to be their audio players. Their M series of DAPs have been enjoyable as far as Android-based players go, with the M9 being the biggest standout so far. They recently released the M7, a replacement for the now-discontinued M8. It goes for $1,249 which is significantly lower than its flagship counterpart. Let’s see how it fares.
What You Get
Inside this neatly packed box are a couple of notable accessories. This includes a set of screen protectors and wipes, which every DAP should come with, as well as a quick start guide and USB Type C charging cable.
If you shrunk down the M9 just a bit, you have the M7. It features the same architecture as the M9, with its ridged sides and high-grade aluminum chassis, but with a 5-inch screen. This device seems a bit thicker than the M9 but everything from the screen bezels to the volume dial is structurally the same. Where the two devices start to differ is in their inputs and outputs. While the M9 featured Shanling’s swappable sockets, the M7 only gives you two headphone inputs at the top of the player, 3.5mm and 4.4mm balanced. The bottom of the player is also streamlined, with one port for USB Type C and a slot for micro-SD. In my hand, the M7 feels as natural as any player should and contains no rough edges that deter from its overall usability.
With Android 10 operation running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 CPU, the M7 boasts some serious power. This is the same CPU supported on their flagship M9 player as well, offering its capabilities for less. It has 6GB of RAM and 120GB of ROM, not including your micro-SD. For Bluetooth, the M7 supports the 5.0 version, and comes with LDAC and aptX HD CODECs, along with a wide array of others. Getting to the sound resolution, the M7 gives you hi-res audio up to 32bit/768kHz & DSD512 & MQA 16X using an ESS ES9038PRO DAC chipset.
Compared to the M9, the M7 might lack that wow factor upon your first few minutes of listening. Letting its subtler sonic details soak into you is all part of the experience, and the M7 more than delivers on that front. This is a sound signature that is less about coloration and more about how each individual element is displayed in the mix. Tonal balance and separation become the M7’s most vital asset, performing tracks with what feels like the cleanest resolution and fullest imaging.
As far as the soundstage goes, the M7 adds some suitable width and top-end height. Tracks feel taller and expand the airiness of some headphones and IEMs. This is also due to the absolutely biting treble frequencies, which receive more splash on the M7. There’s a bit of peakiness here, especially with headphones and IEMs with significant high-end frequency extension, but I would never call their response harsh. It gives the M7 a more assertive personality, with a tight grip on the highs that keeps the M7 an engaging DAP to listen to. Otherwise, the M7 features more clinical qualities in its overall timbre.
Bass frequencies have a noticeably fast transient response and retain a lot of transparent details that open up the lows to a broader range of resonance. It hits when it needs to, and showcases its detail with uncompromised clarity. The midrange is where the sound signature produces its biggest tones. There is a rich timbre here that intricately weaves through the detailed response and displays instruments and vocals in a gratifying fashion. Each individual tone is crisp and pushes many elements forward with a powerful gain. Everything sounds like it’s right there in front of you, which is what a great midrange does best.
IF you’re looking for a great DAP but can dish out the money for the top flagship players, the M7 is a great in-between. Its balanced sound signature mixed with its user-friendly Android interface makes for a great experience, and it stands out amongst other DAPs in this price range. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea as far as its treble extension goes, but the M7 still offers enough to be worthwhile.
The Shanling M7 is available at Audio46.