For the purpose of this review, I used my Onkyo IE-C3 for IEM testing and the Hifiman Arya for headphone comparison. All files were streamed from Qobuz in Hi-Res, when available, Spotify and my own catalog.
The Shanling M6 is real “tour de force”: it’s the same dry and chasing sound, but elevated at a whole new dimension.
Shanling players have always been linear, flat as monitor speakers but neither boring. This is still true with the M6. If Cowon always boasts how good their player can be for music recorders, I think Shanling could give them a run for the money.
Dynamic is top-notch, layering is razor-sharp and the sound stage pinpoints accurate. When plugged in through a balanced output, it’s sometimes uncanny to hear those voices coming from the back of your head, when the track uses too much pan-effect.
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 feels much more potent. It’s still dry – much more than FiiO – but clearly Shanling perfected its score and sweetened the whole set.
Instruments are neatly defined, transients are fast and the longer you listen the more get accustomed to those uncanny moments where the voice seems to slip right behind your head. Money from Pink Floyd is the perfect test-track to figure out what I meant by that: the first seconds’ ping-pong between left and right, and with my Onkyo IEM, you get dizzy in an instant.
The output power is surprisingly good. If you intend to rock your big headphone, chances are the M6 will be able to do so. I plugged the Sennheiser HD800S and the Hifiman Arya, and if the Sennheiser will not deafen me, the Arya could get very loud. Again, stick with the balanced output, as power falls short once you get back in SE mode.
All in all, this is -at the moment- the best Shanling player the brand ever released. It’s also the best choice for those who like dry sound, in the opposite of the mellow one you get with the FiiO M11, or the high-pitched SR15 from Astell&Kern.
Highs: airy and flat. This is no surprise, the Shanling M6 is on the sharp side. Details and micro-details could be overwhelming, if not for the fast transients and sharp attacks. Even higher tier players would have a hard time competing with this player, on this section: you’ll hear details unheard before, period. As a matter of fact, classical music and jazz is a bliss.
Mids: flat but smooth. As I said, voices can be uncanny sometimes, as the soundstage shifts at the back of your head. It’s very much like the Cowon Plenue 2, with a very very slight bump on the upper mids, just enough to give voices more depth and body. A definitive upgrade compared to the previous Shanling M5S.
Lows: tight and deep. The bass of the M6 reached much lower than expected. It’s not flamboyant, but when you push the volume up, you can easily hear those discrete rumbles in the background. Head to head with the M5S again, the difference is subtle but real. It’s more impactful, more realistic and overall more natural.
Noise: the Shanling M6 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!
Finally, Shanling has completed the circle and gifted us a fully-fledged flagship player, for cheap. The M6 carries all the good traits found onto the previous models – exquisite finish, good battery life, clean and dynamic sound – into a case befitting its ambitions.
The new screen, combined with a real Android experience makes for a wholly better experience. UI is snappy, the design is superb and most of all, sound quality is excellent. It’s more neutral than its direct competitors, yet always entertaining. In short: it sounds as good as it looks.
Obviously, the Shanling M6 goes directly to my recommendation list and should be an alternative to the FiiO M11. If the M6 sounds slightly better in my opinion, it lacks the dual-slot found in the FiiO player, but that’s a personal choice.