Shanling M8 Audio Player Review

Recently I took a look at Shanling’s ME700 IEMs. It was the first review I have done for the Chinese manufacturer, and now I get to delve into what they’re really known for, their digital audio players. The M8 is Shanling’s flagship player that uses an Android operating system, as well as a plethora of features, old and new. This device will set you $1,659, quite the sum of money for a music player, but Shanling is known to deliver. These types of high-end players are sort of the “final stage’ of portable audiophile systems, so let’s see if the M8 can earn that accolade. 

DAP contents

What You Get

What a package. Shanling always has a nice presentation for their products, with their silver glossy boxes, but removing that box reveals a hardwood case that took me by surprise. The craftsmanship here is flawless, and I could easily see myself using this case for regular storage outside of the M8. Inside we have a fold-up box containing various screen protectors, a user guide, and a USB Type C cable. Apart from the device itself is a small leather buttoned pouch containing a few key items. The M8 features interchangeable headphone sockets, and this pouch contains the three input options, 2.5mm, 3.5mm pro, 4.4mm, and the tool that is used to remove each socket. 

Audio Player in hand

Build

The M8 is an extremely solid device that feels great in the hand. It has a noticeable bit of weight to it, but the aluminum material of the main chassis is smooth and well-fitting. If I had a slight gripe it’s that when I first laid hands on the M8 it was freezing cold because it had been sitting in a frigid environment for a bit. It’s not a major concern, but it’s something to look out for when you first receive them. The five-inch screen is big enough to house a variety of options and feels great to touch and swipe.

In terms of buttons, the M8 is actually quite limited, however, this isn’t to its detriment. The removable sockets are a great way to keep the device looking clean, and doesn’t intimidate the user with all of its options. To switch out sockets, you’ll need to use the tool provided to you to pull out the slot and push in the new one. There isn’t a substantial response, like a click, to assure you the piece is in properly, but you’ll know when the socket is where it should be. On the player, you have three side buttons for play/pause and skipping tracks, while on the other side you have your signature volume dial, which is per usual for these types of high-resolution playback machines. It’s smaller than some but responds with a nice click. Then there’s the bottom of the M8 which contains your USB-C connector and micro-SD slot. 

audio player removable connectors

Design 

Shanling incorporates many different components to achieve an appropriate flagship standard. The M8 will run its Android OS with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 octa-core processor with 4GB of RAM. Combined with 64GB of storage, the M8 should run a smooth, lag-free system, with all your apps operating at top performance. The amplifier is taken from Shanling’s M6 Pro model but given superior measurements and I/V conversion stage for better optimization for the M8. This also means more power, with 840mW for balanced, and 260mW unbalanced. 

Along with a more powerful amp, the M8 also contains a strong DAC as well. Fitted with dual AKM AK4499EQ, Shanling aims to deliver a warmer sonic output. This is a high-class DAC chip that supports 32bit/768kHz with native DSD512.

DAP settings

Bluetooth 

Shanling’s M8 supports Bluetooth 5.0 for a stable connection and low latency. It utilizes a variety of CODECs, transmitting LDAC, LHDC, aptXHD, and SBC, and receiving LDAC, LHDC, aptXHD, aptX LL, aptX, AAC, and SBC.

Audio player USB C DAC

Battery Life

This DAP presents a considerably beefy battery life that supplies the M8 with the appropriate power for a demanding high-resolution audio player. You get a substantial 7000mAh battery for 14 hours of single-ended play and 9 hours of balanced play. 

DAP home screen

User Interface

If you’re familiar with the latest Android OS, then you should have no issues getting around the M8’s menus and features. The main display comes in a high-resolution with a sharp composition. Shanling’s music player is simple to sort through, choosing between different albums, artists, and playlists easily. Pulling down the menu from the top you’ll be able to select audio settings and play with different settings such as filter modes, and switch between high and low gains. Back in the Shanling music player, you can access their digital EQ. You can choose between 9 different presets and 6 filters, or you can customize your sound exactly how you want to with their graphic EQ style faders that can boost or attenuate a certain fundamental frequency. Shanling gives you a lot of options here and is all around a smooth system that’s very versatile for their audiophile userbase.

DAP with IEMs

Sound Quality

To test the many sonic elements of the M8, I went through a few different headphones and IEMs to get a good sense of how fidelity is held up. I tested the M8 with the Kinera Freya, Queen of Audio Mojito, and Avantone pro-Planar. I used this selection with a variety of playback options. Most of the time I settled with a selection of albums that played at Redbook CD quality, but I also wanted to hear how the DAC held up, so I switched between the two often. 

Kinera Freya

I’ve been itching to get back to these beauties for a while now, and the M8 seemed to be the perfect fit for them almost immediately. The Freya responded much more dynamically on the M8, balancing the output with a variety of options, such as the gain controls in the menu which helped out a lot when listening to softer classical and jazz tracks. Selections from the Akira soundtrack felt a lot more full and natural, giving the instruments and effects a lot more depth. The soundstage on the Freya is already great, but on the M8, the layering becomes a lot more technical. You might not get that true airy sensation, but everything will sound as crisp as it should. 

Shanling ME700

When I initially reviewed the Shanling ME700 IEMs I never got to try out its 4.4mm adapter that it so generously offered. I swapped out the 3.5mm socket for the 4.4mm on the M8 and switched on DAC mode, where I was able to stream at 48kHz with 32bits. The balanced connection was impeccable, and it was hard to go back after testing this pairing. Throwing on the Fellowship of the Rings soundtrack told me everything I needed to know about how incredible the ME700 sounded using the M8. I experienced excellent separation and immersion, with the most detailed response possible on any IEM I’ve tried. The M8 makes this all possible with its impressive DAC chip and the full realization of the audio spectrum. The highs retrieve the most detailed frequency information, with an audible hiss being present in some tracks. The stage also expands, giving depth to the mids and lows and widening the space for superior articulation. 

Avantone Pro Planar

I just had to try one of my favorite new planars with the M8. Bob Marley was what I needed next in my testing routine, so I threw on Legend and let the Avantone wisp me away with its amazing crisp response. Paired with the M8, the Avantones seemed to possess a much more solid, accurate sound signature that solidified the placement of aural elements for a better reference. The best performance I got here was when switching on turbo gain, which provided the planar with a comfortable gain allowing for some ample headroom. The mids were especially spacious here and revealed more subtle details on the M8.

Summary

Shanling’s M8 is quite the audiophile device. This DAP contains some powerful hardware and boasts a performance to match. The removable sockets are a more than welcome innovation for audio players of this kind, and while it might not be appealing to some, I definitely found it interesting. Some might not want to worry about switching out sockets, and you’ll be out of luck if you end up losing one, but it makes for a sleeker appearance. This is one of the best looking DAPs around with its beautiful 5-inch screen and strong chassis. Most of the user interface is simple and easy to operate especially if you’re familiar with Android OS. The highlight of the M8 for me was getting to use the 4.4mm connector that showcased some of the best resolutions on the M8. The $1659 price point might be a dealbreaker, but for an endgame audio player, it stands prominently next to other high-end brands like Astell and Kern. If the M8 ends up being your endgame DAP, you won’t be disappointed. 

Pros and Cons

Pros: Solid build, headphone sockets, high-end DAC, user friendly

Cons: Price  

The Shanling M8 is available at Audio 46.

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