Shanling M6 21 Review

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Sound performance

 For the purpose of this review, I used the Shanling AE3 for IEM testing and the Audeze LCD-X for headphone comparison. All files were streamed from Qobuz in Hi-Res, when available, Spotify and my own catalog.

Overall signature

The Shanling M6 21, despite getting new DAC chips, sounds a lot like the older version. That said, it’s a good thing as I loved how the first M6 sounded, and the brand just tweaked a few things here and there.

Like all Shanling players, the sound signature is flat, but never dull, thanks to the wide dynamic range. And this is even truer with the M6 21, which felt even flatter than before as if the brand decided to see how far they could go. On symphonic tracks like The Mole from Hanz Zimmer, it allowed me to spot some hidden notes, even when I used the LCD-X in high-gain instead of medium.

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But, obviously, the biggest difference came from the dynamic range. ESS has always been the king of DNR with its SABRE series, and the M6 21 is there to prove it once more. Same track, same volume, same level of gain (high), and same headphone, the new M6 completely takes over the old one. Lows are getting deeper while highs reach new heights, and the more your ask from the player, the better it gets.

Out of the three M6, this one clearly is my favorite one. Sure, the M6 Pro is more refined, with better highs and pitch-black background, yet, the new M6 21 fitted me more, especially when you try electro track like Infected Mushrooms. It’s more direct, rawer.

Layering is razor-sharp and the sound stage pinpoints accurate. Head to head, the M6 21 surpass the first M6 once more, especially when you use big headphones like the Audeze or cans like Meze Empyrean. 

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Every nuance, every sensation is there, heightened by the dryness of the sound. Yet, this is not the same one found in the earlier models, the upper-highs are tamed and the low-mids sweetened. It’s still dry – much more than FiiO – but it seems like Shanling found the sweet spot between details and musicality.

Instruments are even more defined, transients are faster and the longer you listen, the more get accustomed to those uncanny moments where the voice seems to slip right behind your head. Once again, The Farewell Courtyard from Feynman, was the perfect test track to magnifies the difference between each model, and I have to confess that it was hard to choose between the M6 21 and M6 Pro.

The output power has also been improved, with three different levels of gain and I had no issue driving the Sennheiser HD800S and my Audeze LCD-X. If you intend to rock your big headphones, the M6 21 will be able to do so, if not as good as the M6 Pro. Again, stick with the balanced output, as power falls short once you get back in SE mode, even more in single-DAC mode.

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All in all, this is a very nice upgrade from the previous model. It pushes further than the previous M6, that I already loved, by polishing every good trait and gets the M6 Pro vibes, with sharp and tight sound, with a different approach, focused on dynamic and raw performances, instead of a signature. I love it

Tonality

Highs: airy and flat. The Shanling M6 21 sounds sharp and dynamic. With a good IEM, the result is nothing short of amazing, whatever the genre and style. Clearly, there aren’t many players that could match this DAP, even at higher price points. You’ll hear details unheard before, period. As usual classical music and jazz is bliss, but that’s also true with electro tracks (my favorite genre)

Good test track : Bernard’s Song – Veronique Sansson

Mids: wide soundstage, excellent definition. A definitive upgrade compared to the previous model, even if this new DAP is even more linear. If you like minimal reverb and clean transients, you’ll love the new M6 21: it leans more towards the M6 Pro, than the classic M6.

Good test track:  Obama – Dombrance

Lows: more power, lower lows. The bass of the M6 21 reached abyssal levels, much more than I’d expect! Paired with the Audeze LCD-X, I could hear the rumble of the bass, even at (very) low volume level. The player really punched me in the guts, and once more, I can definitely advise you this player… for the bass!

Good test track : The Return – Pylot

Noise: the Shanling M6 21 is absolutely dead silent in any conditions. Even when I used Spotify or took the player as a Bluetooth amp, I didn’t hear any hiss or hum. Great!

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Conclusion

The Shanling M6 21 is the same M6 we already know, albeit getting new ES9038Q2M chips. And you know what? That’s perfect!

For the third time, the brand earned my recommendation, as THE best mid-range DAP of the moment. Same classy design, updated software for better reliability and better sound performances, that gives a very balanced experience overall.

Personally, I’ve always favored ESS DAC compared to AKM, and the M6 21 strengthens my opinion: the soundstage is wider, dynamic better, and I prefer this kind of tonal signature. The only drawback? A shorter playback runtime, but with just an hour less, this isn’t a big issue.

If you want a cheaper DAP, slightly less refined but a bit less neutral, get the iBasso DX160. And if you want to go higher, get the M6 pro or FiiO M15, until it lasts!

For the rest, the Shanling M6 21 will be the perfect companion.

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Page 1: About the brand

Page 2: Design & Build Quality

Page 3: UI & Usage

Page 4: Specifications

 

4.2/5 - (139 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.

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