While the Shanling M2S is an organic and warm sounding DAP, the M3s is pretty much neutral and close to flat sounding with much better technicalities. The M3S is one of my favorites for the price range, and it made it to our recommended list successfully at the start of this year. Let’s see how the M0 performs regarding the sound.
First of all this technically is a strong device for its size. The power output is pretty good for most portable gear out there. Additionally, the output impedance is very low. It has an ESS 9218p DAC chip as well, and the noise floor is superb for its competition level. OK there’s some really low amount of hiss with very sensitive IEMs, but you probably won’t notice it most of the time.
The M0 is a linear and clean sounding DAP with an easy-to-like sound presentation. It has good quality bass and mids, and slightly laid back thick trebles. The overall presentation is on the warmer side just a notch, which gives the DAP good musicality. It’s surprisingly good for the price and performs very good pound for the money. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect from this tiny thing, but now I have a good idea of its sound. Let’s begin with the lows.
For testing, I mostly used my PEARS SH-3 reference CIEM with choosing the “Brick Wall” filter on the player, since I think it’s the best setting.
The Shanling M0 doesn’t have a bass quantity that will please the people who love deep, hard hitting lows. It instead is on the leaner side, sounding moderate with a small presence. It’s not very impactful but it’s there and it’s not hard to track. On the upper parts of the bass it’s not very bold as well, but midbass is still good enough to give the DAP a nice body, although not being present too much.
Lows don’t go very deep but it’s not bad either. There’s no full EQ to have more oomph, but I think more bass quantity and harder hits could made this player sound very busy and congested, and that type of bass could blend into the lower mid range. So I think Shanling did a nice job to give this DAP a pretty nice bass but not too much to control.
The layering and texture is not like what you would expect from DAPs that costs over 500$, but I don’t have complaints for this price. The overall quantity I think is ideal for this kind of a player, not a fun type of bass, yet realistic. The control on the mid bass part is very nice and that way the separation from the mids is good. The whole resolution of the bass is lacking compared to the more advanced DAPs, but it wasn’t a surprise to me in the first place.
To begin with, the M0 has very good mids, especially for the tonality side. This is the most impressive side of this player in my opinion. Tonality is very nice and it has good timbre, recreating very nice notes and the note size is pretty good. The mids overall sound natural and realistic, not very clear but not bloated or muddy either.
I wouldn’t say it’s neutral in mids, I would say slightly warm instead but that’s perfectly fine for me. It can also give you some fine details on instruments and transparency is very good for the price. Quantity wise they are not forward or elevated, but they don’t feel recessed to me either. Mids have good positioning and a realistic distance in the stage, which makes this DAP easy to listen to.
I found the highs of the M0 quite thick and I think this is not the most natural treble presentation. The sparkle and fine detail is missing on some occasions, making the DAP sound undetailed. The positive side is that there’s no harshness or peaks, just like the rest of the spectrum. But if you love your highs this device won’t give you the best of times.
Of course I don’t expect a high end presentation here, but just a bit more detail and extension would make this DAP even more amazing for its size. Is this a deal breaker? No, this DAP already has good qualities for its very small price, but I just wanted a little bit more in this part. Still the highs sound clean thanks to its good background blackness, and they sound separated from the mids. The articulation though is not great.
The M0 has an excellent black background. The player has good separation and transparency for that matter, and good positioning. Sound stage is of course not wide, it is pretty close and intimate instead. Also the layers between frequencies are not distinct and that’s why everything feels like just left & right. The stage depth is not on a high level because of that.
There are no noticeable hiccups or dents in its frequency presentation, although I wanted to hear a little more detail and extension up on top. I think it is still an almost flawless presentation for this price, and I don’t have much complaints for its overall performance. Resolution, transparency and tonal balance are all very good and strong. The dynamism is quite good as well, but it’s easily noticeable that better sources put a big margin in there.
Power wise it’s all good for almost any portable device, although not the same can be said for full size, demanding headphones, so be aware.
vs Shanling M2S: M2s is a very nice player but I think it became a little bit irrelevant when we have the M0. The M2s has an even warmer sound, with the same qualities at a higher price and a bigger body. It also doesn’t have a touch screen, so I think M0 is a no-brainer.
vs Shanling M3S: The M3s is one of our recommendations for DAPs. It has a neutral presentation, better staging and layering, balanced output and a bigger screen and body. This will depend on your choice of use, either an active type of use or a more audiophile-like use. The sure thing is the M3s is better in terms of pure sound performance.
vs Cayin N3: I love the Cayin N3 for its flat sound. The M0 sounds warmer and slightly fuller in the mid range. It sounds a little bit darker as well, but with a smaller staging performance. The N3 has a better treble response, with more detail and extension. I also think that the N3 has a notch better separation. But software and usage wise the M0 puts up a big difference I think.
For its very small price and footprint, very good usage and sound performance altogether, the M0 has made it to our Portable Player Recommendations. It sounds good, performs good and the amount of features were just enough to convince me to make this decision. I can’t think of an extremely small player like this which has these features in an all in one package. Maybe the upcoming Hidisz AP80 will also be impressive, but that’s Lieven’s job to analyse.
I recommend the M0 to everyone who has an active lifestyle, who has good IEMs for sport and etc. and wants to have a good sound quality from their sources.
Congrats to Shanling Audio.