Today we have the chance to review the all-new Shanling M5S. Is it a good alternative to our usual Cayin/FiiO/HiBy trio ? Let’s find out.
This player was sent to us free of charge by Shanling directly. Its MSRP is 429 €/$ and can be found in all your usual stores.
Founded in 1988, Shanling has been developing Hi-Fi products for more than 30 years now. Their range goes from CD players to power conditioners but what we really like at Headfonia are… DAPs. Thankfully, the brand has been making DAPs for a few years now and now it’s time to review their top of the line unit: the Shanling M5S.
The Shanling DAP Series
As one of the smallest players out there, the Shanling M0 can easily be mistaken for an Apple Watch. It’s so tiny that you could use it as a watch, like the iPod Nano : 38g for a mere 40×13.5x45mm. With the correct wristband, you got a bulky smart watch or a very portable DAP, it depends what you see.
At the core of the Shanling M0, you have a SABRE 9018P chip. It’s a bit different than the usual 9018S; but the specs remains mostly the same, a good thing. The main difference between the M0 and the previous generation comes for the screen : it’s finally a touchscreen instead of the old wheel-control.
If you want to know more about the M0, you must check Berkhan’s review : “hello beastie”.
Bigger and bulkier than its smaller siblings, the Shanling M1 is also older. To be completely honest, if you want a small audiophile player, just go directly for the M0, unless you hate touchscreen.
Visually appealing, the Shanling M2S looks like a M1+. It has a classy 3″ screen displaying a nice 800 x 480 resolution and a full aluminium case, available in all kind of colors. Oh and a very nice UI. The only drawback comes from the non-touch/scroll-wheel-operated design.
Sound wise, the Shanling M2S trusts the good old AKM AK4490EQ DAC and a MUSE8920 for low pass filtering. I had one for a couple of times and if you can live with a wheel, it’s a beautiful player and overall a good sounding one too, even for today.
Take a Shanling M2S and stretch it from top to bottom and you get the Shanling M3S. From a side to side comparison, the only difference would be this black box at the bottom of the player. Same (astoundingly) good build, same scroll-wheel system, same screen size.
The difference comes on the inside, the Shanling M3S doubling almost every specs : 2x AK4490EQ DAC, 4x LPF circuit, 4x headphone amp circuits and 2x headphone outputs (single-ended and balanced).
Another nice addition is the HiBy link support, allowing the Shanling M3S to be linked to a smartphone for better control. Add a bigger battery, 4.1 Bluetooth support and you have a great player.
Find out more about he M3S from our review, linked here : “Perfectly Balanced”.
Design & Build Quality
The Shanling M5S’ fit and finish is simply exquisite. It’s so well-made you could tag an Astell&Kern logo behind without offending one of those brands (don’t do this).
The player is made of a CNC milled aluminium case, smoothly polished, anodized and tinted, sandwiched between two plates of curved glass. If you ever had an iPhone X/XS in your hand, you’ve got the idea : amazingly smooth touch and gorgeous design.
Unfortunately, like an iPhone, the Shanling M5S is one of those players you HAVE to protect with a case. Unless you’re one of those crazy/handy people who’s convinced they will never drop their phone/DAP, but better be safe than sorry.
The curved glass panels really do the tricks. And if you’re no familiar with Shanling name, I’m pretty sure you could tell your friends the M5S cost twice more than its retail price. The fact that the player had absolutely no visible screws is the cherry on top.
In this price range, I think you can’t find a player with a better finish than the Shanling M5S. The first model that could compete would be the new A&Norma SR15, but apart from that…
Like all of its siblings, the Shanling M5S has a multi-function scroll-wheel. Provided by ALPS, it’s clickable and rotating, allowing you to increase or lower the volume and turn on/off the player. The scroll wheel is made of the same metal and colour as the main body, again a seamless design.
On the left side, you have three buttons to control playback : play/pause, next song, previous song. You also have the micro-SD port, sealed with a rubber mat to avoid dust and particles from penetrating.
All the outputs/inputs are found at the bottom of the M5S :
- a USB Type-C port, dual-way to connect the Shanling to a computer and use it as a DAC/Amp, or to a DAP to make it the source.
- 1x single ended 3.5mm TRS headphone output to connect your usual headphones
- 1x balanced 2.5mm TRRS headphone output, good news for me as most of my gear hasn’t switched to the new 4.4mm, yet.
The first generation of Shanling players almost had too much out/inputs (coaxial input, for real) but the M5S is much more conservative.
Regarding the screen, the Shanling M5S leaves me perplexed. Like the M3S, the screen only uses half of the front panel, the lower part remaining black at all times. The FiiO M9 had the same design, but its sheer size left me with less concern, after all the screen size is almost identical here, for twice the length.
Still, you have to give credit where it’s deserved : in opposite of the Shanling M3S, the M5S has a touch-screen ! Finally, you can swipe through your playlists, navigate or change the settings directly from the screen. Needless to say it’s much easier to use the M5S than the previous players, all thanks to this upgrade.
The screen is a bit bigger with a 3.2” diagonal and the resolution remains at a low 320 x 480. If everything looks a bit pixelated, the contrast and brightness are fairly good and even in direct sunlight you can read what’s being displayed.
Inside the box
The Shanling M5S bundle is a bit… dire, inside the box you get :
- the Shanling M5S
- a USB-C cable
- a quick-start manual
The build-quality matches Astell&Kern, and that’s also true for the bundle. The nice leather case has to be ordered separately though, although I don’t know the price.
The review continues on Page Two, after the click HERE or by using the jump below.
I have been using the M5s since it was 1st available, about 3 months. I like its robust, slightly tube-like sound. One thing I have definitely noticed is the AK DACs seem to take a long time to fully burn in. I noticed it with the Shanling M1. After a year of using the M1 off and on (I had graduated to the M0 quickly), the M1 began to sound as good or better than the M0.
Now I notice from week to week there is a constant improvement in the beautiful sound coming from the M5s. It seems to be aging like a fine wine! There is a HyBy R6 Pro available now with a SNR of 131db. I am done collecting these beautiful players and fully content with the M5s. Still, the R6 Pro looks pretty awesome. I own the HyBy R3 and it is a lot of fun to play with the MSEB sound tuning system. Two different sounds. I would call the AK sound more natural, and the Sabre sound more crystal clear. The AK sound, the natural or velvet sound is more musically satisfying, but I enjoy both equally. Can’t explain that!
For me, Shanling hit it out of the park with the M5s, especially at the price they charge. I was looking for something to top off my collection and finally satisfy me musically. The players manufactured since around May of 2018 with the LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, most have OTA updates, they all seem to sound so much better than the players from just one year (2017) before. I really should gift many of my players from before, because I won’t listen to them. When I do, I end up packing them back up because they don’t sound like anything.
I’m still confuse whether to buy M5s or Hiby R6 Pro. In my country, it’s so difficult to have demo unit to have a hearing test 🙁
There is no scientific evidence to support the idea of “burn in” It is utter nonsense. Old analog components needed to warm up to come up to the proper operating temperature as that was where they were tuned to function correctly but that is not the case for anything digital. Even manufacturers of audio equipment have about sections calling burn in nonsense.
Little mistake, the Shanling M0 has an es9218p chip. Not 9018p.
Are you able to compare M5s to AK SR15 on SQ alone?
I had the M5s for a few days. Its a very nice Player, but i would like something more musical and less neutral. Im coming from the Pono Player and most other DAPs are not engaging enough sounding for me.
Is SR15 worth a try for me or do you have any other suggestion?
It’s different reviewers having these DAPS, so it’s difficult
Allen J. Feinberg
This is strictly a hobby for me, and I apologize for not following up on this thread. It is now 07/08/19 and I continue to be thrilled with the performance of the M5s. I misspelled HiBy a few times in my initial blurb.
I refer to the DAC chips generically and not necessarily by individual models. ESS vs Burr Brown vs AK etc. I have my own ideas about burn-in. I hear a difference over time, however, it can very well be my own ears “burning-in”, or growing accustomed to different equipment.
The equalizer plays an intricate part in tuning the M5s. I find the EQ to be very sensitive and able to yield dramatic differences. I have the M5s tuned to sound like I am listening to a stereo juke box from the 60s with the sound cleaned up by digital technology. It sounds like the biggest, clearest sounding system I have ever heard. Doesn’t sound much better than this for me!
I am interested in the Fiio M11 and also the Ibasso DX-220, but I can easily save my money because I am very pleased with the Shanling M5s.
How you compare the m5s to questyle QP1R? Is the tonality similar? Which one is technically better?
Klaus E. Werner
I got the M5s a while ago and really like its interface and its extremely resolving sound. I’m coming from a M3s and I really hear the difference.
I’m using them with the ME500 and I’m not sure if it is the right combination – highs sound a bit harsh and the V-shape is fatiguing after a while.
Now I’m looking for something more balanced and found the BGVP DM8 which seem equally resolving.
What do you think – would the DM8 fit?
Thanks in advance!