The Shanling M0 is tuned neutral-warm, where clarity and detail mingle with smooth musicality. Strong dynamics give the player good energy, and the low-end kicks nice and hard. There’s cleanliness to the image, which aids transparency and separation. Treble extends well, and is capable of sparkle with the right monitor. A decent amount of vibrancy gives the notes pop.
With lower-tier, budget players, you always lack a certain weight and authority to the render. It’s very difficult to explain. It’s like a kind of solidity, or tangibility. The M0 follows this pattern. It isn’t weak, but it isn’t whole, either. If you need a solider experience, you’ll need to spend more.
Likewise, soundstage width and depth suffers in the budget realm. Especially depth. On good mid-tier equipment you can identify an increase in layering and the dimensional quality of elements. Things start to feel more real and rounded. Sadly, the M0 is strictly budget tier in these matters. It sounds rather flat, and will not wow you with its left-to-right reach.
Of course, one must remember, we are talking only $109. If that is all you have to spend on your first DAP, I would say the M0 is a fine choice. Shanling created a fun device. I’ve taken it out on errands many times, and when you’re not critically listening, the M0 has more than enough “quality” to sustain one’s groove.
The Shanling M3s ($279, Review HERE) is the first upgrade I’d recommend. Skip the M2s. The M0 is close enough to its performance that it just isn’t worth it. Save your money and go for the M3s. Compared to the M0, the M3s is much cleaner sounding, with far superior refinement. There’s less grain, more control, and a blacker background. Soundstage is also significantly improved. Unfortunately, it looks like I need to retire my M3s, as the nav wheel has begun bugging out on me, and it’s virtually unmanageable. Rest in Pease, little gem.
If you happen find the Cayin N5ii ($300, Review HERE) at anywhere near the price of the M3s, buy it instead. Now that it’s discontinued in favor of the N5iiS, you may indeed come across such a deal. I consider the N5ii an upgrade over the M3s. They share the same clean, clear, super smooth and neutral performance, yet Cayin has the irrefutable edge in soundstage and dimensionality. This is also where you’ll really notice that thicker, meatier render I mentioned of the mid-range DAPs.