Easy to fall in love with
Shanling has left no stones unturned with the M6, it has all the features one can ask for. Its sound quality is fantastic, the display and UI is very good and has all the popular connectivity options one can ask for. The Shanling M6 is easily one of the best DAP for under $500.
How do we really review a source? Isn’t it supposed to be the reference type? The colourless, flat sounding, having true to the nature tonality and timber with no modulation or harmonic interference? Sadly these things can’t be replicated in real life, all electronic devices have their own flavours but they try to be more and more accurate in every aspect with each iteration and revision. It’s an ever evolving area and the AK4495 does exactly the same to the AK4493, it improves in all aspects. Plenty of credit goes to Shanling for the tuning and algorithms too.
Shanling players are known for their accuracy and slightly dry sound signature but compared to the Plenue R I found the M5s to be lush and musical, the bass was slightly boosted and notes were not as aggressive. The M6 with its AK4495 improves a lot on the shortcomings of the M5s.
It brings better clarity, accuracy and precision to the table. The dynamic range and sonicality are considerably better with the M6. It strikes a very good balance between being analytical and musical. It has around 20% more power with both balanced and SE output. The sound signature is colourless with no emphasis to any part of the spectrum. Where the M5s was slightly mellow the M6 has more accurate and true to the nature timber and tonality.
I have a handful of encounters with variety of sources, both desktop and portable type. I recently worked on Burson Playmate which is a desktop amp with the TOTL ESS chip but to be honest I was slightly disappointed by its lack to treble expansion, just an example of how an all perfect acts can fall short with a slightly underwhelming aspect of a certain area.
The M6 has very good bass response. The bass notes have very good texture. The excellent sub-bass extension coupled with nice body and details delivers a satisfying lower end. It is not flat by any stretch of imagination while maintaining admirable accuracy. It has good amount of rumble and even the ER-4P manager to drop some pleasing bass notes. The sub-bass body and rumble are meaty and voluminous. It doesn’t restrict or stimulate the IEM for more grunt. The mid bass is fairly linear with the sub-bass when it comes to energy or emphasis. The mid bass has a slightly voluminous body giving the lower end good amount of weight and fullness. The decay speed is snappy, it does not have the dryness and vanish into thin air type of speed of the Playmate. The M6 maintains natural amount of juice, much closer to how is intended to be perceived. It perfectly fits someone who likes plenty of details, accuracy and precision over the heft and wooly thump. The precision of the M6 doesn’t have much room for bloating or wooliness unless the earphone is the bass-head type. The faster, more defined notes give the lower end very good resolution and clarity. If a more voluminous delivery is the need of the hour feel free to EQ, the response is very good. One can definitely pair with well balanced headphones like the Fischer audio M12s and enjoy the delicacies with a lot of accuracy and can be paired with something bassy to bring a bit more discipline and control.
The M6 aims for accuracy and good amount precision and it reflects. It doesn’t lack any where, it has a well balanced lower end without and compromises, one can definitely nitpick like the default sound is not very voluminous or thumpy but then it will be deviating from its path.
The M6 has a very clean and transparent mid range. It is not the harsh humid type clarity but the calm and cool type of visibility. It just delivers some of best clarity and details without obsessing over them. It has good amount of juiciness and musicality. It doesn’t have excess bite or attack to exhibit extra definition of clarity, what it has is the composure to have excellent details and transparency without taking things to the edge. The delivery is effortless and the imaging is precise and clean. The clarity and transparency along with natural decay speed leaves a very likable taste. Notes have accurate body, finishing is without any peakiness or sharpness. The ability of details retrieval is very good. It perfectly balances the foreground and background transparency. It manages to bring out the micro details without over exposing the main act. If your headphone is decent you will not miss a single detail. Paring the M6 with anything, it will play nice.
Vocals have very good clarity and definition with excellent texture and details. It brings out the natural nuance and melodic gestures effortlessly. Let it be male or female vocals both have accurate depth and finish. Male vocals have the natural throatiness and female vocals have pleasing sharpness. The upper mid range has excellent balance when it comes to energy. The transparency and clarity is as good as the entire spectrum. Notes do not have unnecessary sharpness with a satisfying finishing to them. The balance is excellent. With the M6 it is not easy to come across sibilance unless the headgear has it.
After coming from excellent lower frequencies one cannot expect anything less than excellence and the M6 doesn’t disappoint. The treble region is the same case as the mid range, the balance of details, transparency and clarity is admireable. It has a very involving feel to it with good energy and spark. The directional cues are excellent and as vivid as it can get (in this price bracket). Notes have accurate sharpness with an inoffensive finishing and musical feel along with accurate body and excellent texture to them. The decay is true to the nature. Abundance of details is 2nd to none. The treble extension is excellent with plenty of room for cue placement. Instruments have excellent layering and separation with a lot of space and air.
The only down side of the M6 lies with a slight bit of unnatural dampness with the treble region with the single ended output, notes have a little bit of gloominess to them when compared the exceptionally accurate, considerably drier and sharper sounding Plenue R’s treble region (The curious case can be found at pairing with Pola39). This thing has both up and down sides. On the up side it takes off any kind of unnecessary energy and the natural tuning of M6 keeps any type of spikes out of the equation. On the down side it slightly brushes off a hint of attack or in other words sharpness and forwardness. If you don’t have dull sounding headgear this is not a thing bother about.
When listening to the M6 I was wondering what if the Playmate had the similar stage distribution and expansion. Hard to imagine a portable DAP bettering a desktop DAC/AMP. The stage feels very natural with expansion where the instruments have plenty of space and air between them. The instrumental density is excellent. There is no hollowness or unnecessary space in the stage. I have not experienced the ultra high end DAPs but even the likes of AK KANN doesn’t have a bigger stage than this. The distribution of space is admirably even, none of the parts of the spectrum takes unreasonable space letting the whole spectrum have their own freedom of expression and expansion. The stage expansion feels very natural with fantastic width, height and depth. The M6 maintains outstanding layering and separation.
In general the stage size and the projection depend on the headgear. The IEM and headphone does play a huge part but the naturally expansive stage size of the M6 does add some extra dimension to the mix.