Shanling M0 Review – Versatile, Capable, Affordable

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Pros –

Excellent build and design, Fast yet feature-rich UI, Clean sound with wide soundstage, Extremely low output impedance, Zero hiss, Awesome value!

Cons –

No user configurable eQ, Screen tearing, Questionable battery life with Bluetooth enabled, No in-line remote support

Verdict –

With an excellent form-factor, quality audio hardware and affordable price, the M0 is versatile, capable and simply a bargain.


Introduction –

Shanling are an audio manufacturer that date back to 1988 with a rich heritage of audio amplifier design. More recently, they reached international fame with their portable audio players that sports unique designs and a focus on superb sound quality. Their more recent devices have made a huge stride forward, assuming a very sleek form factor with the same quality internals.

The Shanling Audio M0 exemplifies this, generating huge interest with its affordable $110 USD asking price and hyper-compact design. Running a proprietary touchscreen interface, Shanling fill the active-lifestyle MP3 player niche very nicely, however, with a slew of audio-related features and some very quality hardware inside, it appeals to enthusiasts too. After months of daily use, here are my detailed impressions.

You can read more about the M0 on Shaling’s website here.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Shanling very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the M0 for the purpose of review. I also purchased another M0 at full-price as a gift as I enjoyed the DAP so much. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving my review unit free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

 

Accessories –

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The M0 is well-packaged, but fairly bare-bones in terms of accessories, this is to be expected given the price. Included is a manual, warranty papers and a very nice braided USB type-C cable.

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Shanling don’t provide any earbuds or a case, though a leather flip case and clip case are available aftermarket. They have also just released some in-house developed in-ear earphones.

 

Design –

The M0’s defining trait is its size. Measuring in at just 4 x 4.5 x 1.5cm, the M0 is absolutely tiny and roughly similar in size to a 6th generation iPod Nano. Despite this, it feels very solid due to a unibody aluminium construction and tactile matte finish. It sports a 1.54″ LG touchscreen with reasonable bezels and curved glass that feeds seamlessly into the similarly sculpted housing. This provides a terrific swiping experience that makes it feel as if there’s a little more screen real-estate than there actually is. Particularly impressive is the aluminium volume wheel. All of these design touches genuinely enhance the user experience and certainly wouldn’t be cheap to manufacture, it’s an impressive feat at such an affordable price.

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In use, I found the player fairly easy to hold and very well finished with rounded edges and smooth corners. Amusingly, due to its lightweight, the attached headphone cable almost acts like a lanyard in case of accidental drops. Due to its size, the M0 has a fairly basic control setup with only a single volume wheel/power-button on the top right. The button can be configured to operate another function via a double click, however, no other media controls are present here. Despite being so minute, I found the wheel to function very well, with defined clicks and a concise button feel. Still, as it protrudes from the housing, accidental pocket presses can be an issue.

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The left hand side houses the micro-sd card slot. It’s covered by a plastic flap that lies flush with the side housing when closed, very nice. Interestingly, the flap has a rubber grommet which should add some ingress protection; these hyper-portable DAPs are usually used for exercise and this small addition demonstrates the thought that went into the M0’s design. At the bottom is the headphone jack that, of note, does not support remote commands. It’s also great to see Shanling adopt USB Type-C which is reversible and more reliable than micro-USB. The M0 may be cheap and compact, however, it’s clear that this is a very well-considered and well-realised device!

 

Usage –

The M0’s size isn’t a novelty but a strength, especially for consumers who use their DAP in conjunction with a smartphone or those looking for something that won’t weight them down during active use. The M0 excels in the pocket where it almost disappears, and it easily slides into the most space constrained compartment within running shorts. With Bluetooth receiver capability, the M0 is a great augmentation for users of headphone jack-less smartphones. Connected over LDAC, I found the M0 to offer superior sound quality to some dedicated receivers with zero hiss or noise, ample volume and, of course, a low output-impedance perfect for multi-driver IEMs.

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As an Android user, my phone immediately connected to the M0 via LDAC which yielded a noticeable increase in high-frequency extension and detail over SBC. I was able to confirm this by toggling high-quality audio on and off on my phone. Another notable feature includes the M0’s superb connection strength, maintaining an uninterrupted connection with my phone even on a crowded peak-hour city train (where most BT devices suffer). Shanling claim 15hrs of battery life which is pretty impressive all considered. I did notice that figure to take a considerable hit when functioning as a BT receiver where I achieved anywhere between 8-10hrs, I would suggest that those wanting to squeeze the absolute maximum longevity out of the M0 turn off Bluetooth. The M0 also provides a positive experience when it comes to the screen, which has fairly mediocre contrast and quick washout off-angle, but strong maximum brightness. This makes it easily usable outdoors without having to shield the screen from the sun.

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One thing to note is some screen tearing when navigating the home menu. Shanling state that this may be fixed in an upcoming update, however, the fix relies on the manufacturer of the display so it is not promised. Still, it’s more of a minor annoyance, not an experience breaking issue. Otherwise, the M0’s USB type-C port is very versatile supporting audio out to an external DAC such as a Chord Mojo in addition to digital input enabling the M0 to function as a USB DAC. The M0 functioned perfectly with both my Windows laptop but did not work with my Android phone. As a source, the M0 will drive un-powered external DACs such as the Cozoy Takt Pro, however, those without in-built volume control will default to maximum volume. Otherwise, powered DACs such as the Fiio Q5 work perfectly making this a fine, inexpensive transport DAP.

 

Software –

The M0 provides a surprisingly responsive user interface that isn’t especially smooth, with frame skips here and there, but can easily be considered fast. This wasn’t always the case, however, as the initial firmware that shipped with the M0 was very sluggish; each wipe and touch was accompanied by half a second of hesitation and touches sometimes failed to register. Shortly after, Shanling released the 2.0 update that made a world of difference, all users should upgrade ASAP. In addition to bug fixes, the update hugely improved UI speed in addition to supporting LDAC and AAC in BT received mode. The UI still isn’t as smooth as an Apple or Sony player, but touch lag is almost eliminated entirely and taps feel very responsive. I would now classify the M0 as one of the faster proprietary OS DAPs I’ve used and gladly use it on a daily basis.

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I should also note that I didn’t experience any significant freezing or issues during my testing on the 2.0 update and later, on 2.1. My only notable issue was a single instance where the DAP froze in BT received mode, however, this was easily solved with a reboot. This is especially impressive as the M0’s software is very capable in terms of features with wide audio settings and configurability. Upon power on, the user is greeted with a simple icon based UI with clean labelling. There are 5 icons that open the music library, a folder-based browser, audio settings, system settings and a shortcut to the now playing screen.

The system settings are quite extensive, enabling users to update their music library (which is quite fast compared to most DAPs), toggle/pair Bluetooth both ways and choose desired codec, adjust screen brightness, screen-off timer, clock, theme, language and system update. There are also sliders to toggle between USB storage and DAC mode a volume lock when the screen is off, a line-out toggle and configurable double-click gesture. Users will find the audio settings just as comprehensive, with a user-defined max volume, resume mode, gap-less, huge selection of eQ settings (but no user defined option unfortunately) in addition to filters, channel balance and play mode. The player also supports replay gain and DSD. Altogether, this is a capable hyper-portable that’s a delight to use.

Next Page: Sound, Comparisons & Verdict

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and full-time student, Ryan's audio origins and enduring interests lie within all aspects of portable audio. An ongoing desire to bring quality audio to the regular reader underpins his reviewer ethos as he seeks to bring a new perspective on the cutting edge and budget dredge alike.

1 Comment

  1. Sam on

    Thanks for the review! I have a few questions.

    1. Under ‘usage’ section, you said “The M0 functioned perfectly with both my Windows laptop but did not work with my Android phone.” which is contradicting, could you clarify what you meant?

    2. As someone who is looking for a cheap but good dap to use as a bluetooth receiver for my samsung s8 phone, will the m0 suit my needs? Are there any differences in sound quality between playing music directly from the m0 and playing music from my s8 to the m0 via ldac? How drastic were the differences in sound quality between your phone and the m0? I’m coming from the ifi nano idsd bl which, although small, isn’t small enough for me to consider portable.

    3. Does updating the software require having a micro sd card? As I will only use the m0 as a bluetooth receiver, I will not need a micro sd card to store my music, so I am concerned if I will need to purchase a micro sd card just for software updates.

    4. Will the m0 play well with a mid-centric iem? I am largely looking to preserve the iem’s signature. A little added mid/sub bass is fine and treble should be inoffensive.

    Looking forward to your response, thanks in advance and great review!

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