Shanling M8 – Sound Quality Overall
Since this player arrived at my hands, I always felt like this is an Android-powered version of the Sony WM1Z. Sure, the design of the player itself is very much like the Sony models, but the sound presentation is really close to the Walkman flagship which is now 5 years old. This is a warm, very musical, analog, and natural-sounding player.
Part 3 – First impressions of the sound quality:
The best parts however are the sound-stage and separation. The stage is wide and deep with great perception and imaging. The background is black and thanks to that it has excellent separation, hence stereo imaging. So whilst being warm and organic, it still has a great technical performance. It’s not the most refined, most transparent, or most resolving player in the market, but it comes very close and while doing that, it presents you a euphonic signature with great tonality. Prepare yourself for great tones of violin, piano, and guitar. The M8 gives excellent timbre, and it does that with effortlessness.
So the Shanling M8 becomes one of those players that have a distinctive signature with unmistakable characteristics. This actually is not a very special situation. I’ve heard many DAPs that sound distinctive with a special character so it’s not the first time. The good old AK120 comes to my mind when I think about that. However, giving a great technical performance together with a smooth and special delivery is not something you find often. That’s why I think the M8 is a special player. To me it’s a tool; one that helps you to find and reach the core of the music, one that makes you enjoy yourself, and one that reminds you that music is essential for all of our lives.
Sound Quality Details
Shanling M8 would not be everyone’s cup of tea for sure, especially for those who have warm sounding IEMs/headphones. Warm + warm is not a good match. So make sure to consider this. It matches with the reference/flat sounding gear the best. That’s not to blemish the M8 whatsoever. Even the mighty SP2000 is not for every IEM/headphone. So synergy is important.
The bass quality is especially noticeable from the first listen as it has great PRaT. The bass region has great detail and texture. It has a nicely controlled bass response but it gives its authority whenever the record calls for it. The mids are liquid and lush with great resolution and transparency. It gives you a great instrument timbre as well. The mid-range is slightly lifted and closer to the listener in a good way. The instrument realism is wonderful here and the mids are full sounding with a good body.
The treble is a bit soft but it has good detail and articulation. That might be the only thing that sets it apart from the WM1Z since it has a brighter treble region with more attack and energy. The M8 gives the treble softer but still with good energy and articulation.
The most striking performance from the M8 comes in the sound-stage and separation departments. The instrument separation is just marvelous. It’s one of those exceptional players that perform excellently in terms of stereo imaging. Everything is separated very sharply and I did not expect to hear that from such a warm sounding device. You can point out many instruments of a song from multiple directions. And it gets even better because it also has a great sound-stage performance. The stage is very wide and deep, together with excellent layering ability.
Resolution is on par with flagship player standards. Sure, there are better ones out there but I don’t want to be unfair here. For example, the SP2000, which has better resolution and transparency with a more refined presentation, costs double the price. That’s also the case for other super-flagship DAPs. So for the price, the M8 is a highly resolving player with great transparency.
Another great thing about the M8’s sound is the timbre and naturalness. Now, a lot of Android OS DAPs sound digital to my ears, especially when it comes to timbre. However, the M8 is one of the sweetest and most natural-sounding players on the market. It’s just smooth and easy-going, without trying too hard to make you “wow” with its bass or treble. It presents you with a very rich and lush sound, and it does that with good dynamism.
Lastly, I would like to add that the M8 has excellent micro-resolving ability. The tiniest details in the recordings are presented effortlessly. Having a great background performance certainly helps in that regard, which the M8 has.
The output power from Balanced is sufficient to drive most headphones including the HD800S. And, it is also very silent with sensitive IEMs. So apart from its versatility regarding the software and overall usage, it is also a versatile device when it comes to pairing with different gear. It’s truly an all-in-one device that can serve many audiophiles well.