Review – Shanling M5S :

Sound performance

For the purpose of this review, I used my Onkyo IE-C3 for IEM testing and the Sennheiser HD-800 for headphone comparison. All files were FLAC 16/44 or FLAC 96/24 from Qobuz, be it in USB DAC mode or pure player mode. Streaming comes from Spotify in “exceptional” mode and is sent directly though Airplay.

Overall signature

Straight out the box, the Shanling M5S is one of the driest players I tried these last months. The first time I thought my ears were defective and I lost the bass driver.

But, track after track, I/it retrieved the bass. It’s amazingly flat and unless you ever heard monitor speakers, it’s hard to describe how tight they feel. Every nuance or sensation is perfectly transcribed but the natural rumbling I’m used to is almost non-existent.

It took me no less than a full album to get my hearing accustomed, even more with classical music. A good track to test was “Aulos” from Vladimir Cauchemar – Orchestre lamoureux version, beginning pianissimo and rising steadily to a massive fortissimo.

And this is where the Shanling M5S outshines its direct competitors : dynamics. Soundstage isn’t especially larger than other players, but once you begin to upper the volume you can distinguish subtle nuances previously unheard. Separation is excellent and above all, the player never differs from its neutral path.

Compared to the FiiO X5iii, found at the same price, the FiiO seemed more engaging and less natural. The M5S offers more detail at the same volume, you can really feel it when the drummer hits his drum, as if you couldn’t hear the skin going back and forth before.

The output power in balanced mode is enough to drive my Sennheiser HD800. If the numbers were not clear enough, the test proved it : with the Shanling M5S stick to the balanced headphone output. It’s wider, by large, more dynamic and the transitions are far more accurate. In fact, unless you REALLY have no other way, always use the balanced output on this player.

Tonality

Highs : neutral and pleasant. Even if the Shanling M5S feels dry, that doesn’t mean the treble is taking the lead. Instead, the DAP seems to be a bit shy in this range and if you like sparkles, you should look elsewhere. Everything is damn straight and no frequencies overlap each other. A trumpet sounds like a trumpet, a violin like a violin, that’s a fact.

Mids : flat (again). Nothing fancy either, Shanling knows their work and if you like to hear micro-details, this is the one you should consider in this price range. Vocals are great without any sibilance and I could hear some reverberation previously unheard on lower-tier DAPs. I still prefer the more engaging sound of the FiiO M9, but if you like flat-sounding DAP, take the  M5S.

Lows : tight and accurate. If the bass is tight, it may trouble some of you by their dryness. Unfortunately even if you play with the EQ, that will not change. Personally, once you tasted it, it’s hard to listen to anything else. I had a hard time moving from “planar-tight-bass” to ‘boombox-wobbly-lovely” bass, and vice-versa. My advice : get two players, a M5S for neutral listening and everything else for the fun.

Noise : at low volumes there is a faint noise with highly-sensitive IEMs, but 99% of us won’t hear it.

Conclusion

A polarizing DAP, that’s what the Shanling M5S is. The splendid build quality alone is a vast accomplishment on its own, if you don’t take in to account othe low-resolution screen. The DAP is enjoyable on various levels :the fast UI and a straightforward and beautiful design.

The UI is nice and robust, even if the screen doesn’t do it justice. It can be plugged to a smartphone through WiFi or Bluetooth for even more versatility and most of all : it works all the time.

It’s a neutral sounding DAP and even on complex tracks it’s never lost. Strangely, for a newcomer in the audiophile world, this would be my first choice. This way, you can “clean” your ears and find what type of sound you like before getting a higher tier player.

A great player in my opinion, even if not for everyone.

Review – Shanling M5S :
3.4 (67.5%) 16 votes

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A nerdy guy with a passion for audio and gadgets, he likes to combine his DAC and his swiss knife. Even after more than 10 years of experience, Nanotechnos still collects all gear he gets, even his first MPMAN MP3 player. He likes spreadsheets, technical specs and all this amazing(ly boring) numbers. But most of all, he loves music: electro, classical, dubstep, Debussy : the daily playlist.

    5 Comments

    • Reply February 6, 2019

      Allen Feinberg

      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.

      • Reply February 6, 2019

        Nema

        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 🙁

    • Reply February 6, 2019

      Pierre Blasco

      Little mistake, the Shanling M0 has an es9218p chip. Not 9018p.

    • Reply February 27, 2019

      maira

      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?

      • Reply February 28, 2019

        Lieven

        It’s different reviewers having these DAPS, so it’s difficult

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