The mighty 6-inch 2K screen enhances this experience even further. I know, a DAP doesn’t need to have a 2K screen at all, but when you use the M9 and see the album covers at that resolution and colour quality, it’s not easy to return to other DAPs. The lifted appearance of the screen also boosts the experience. Shanling calls this design a “floating screen”. The screen is mounted a bit above the actual chassis with lifted chassis edges.
Speaking of the screens, the new secondary screen is a really cool touch in my opinion. Especially when setting up the volume it’s helpful to see the actual level on it. You don’t have to open the whole display to see the value. When playing songs, the small screen shows the sample rate the whole time. I think it provides nice usability together with a cool design touch. You can turn it off or change its settings in the settings menu.
Going back to the 2K display, I need to say this once again: As a guy who never cared about DAP screens at all, I’m very impressed by this glorious 2K panel.
The UI is mostly vanilla Android 10. The upgrade in the software department ensures long time app support, in this case streaming and audio applications. My experience with the software has been bug-free, smooth and flawless. I recommend updating your system version to 1.4 once you get the player. Users reported crashes with the Tidal app on Head-Fi. For this, Shanling advises not to update the Google Play Store app from the V28.8.17 version. The latest version (V28.9.12) looks incompatible at this time. You can download the latest stable Play Store here. I mostly use the Qobuz service and I haven’t had any problems at all.
Shanling’s official music app stays the same with exact same features and UI as the M8 and previous Shanling players. So no surprises there. The one criticism about Shanling player is the gapless ability and unfortunately, it’s still not present. Otherwise, the app has every possible feature that you need so I’m not going to dive into them one by one.
But one feature I like is the “SyncLink”. When you connect to the player with Bluetooth, you can open the “Eddict Player” application on your phone and control your DAP. This of course is only applicable when you’re in the Shanling music app. You can’t do this with streaming apps and others. Be aware that your album covers don’t appear on your phone on the “now playing” screen.
Sound Quality Overall
Now the other aspects are done with, we can focus on the sound output. The Shanling M8 is still a wonderful player and I still recommend it if you can find it at a bargain. However, the M9 takes the M8’s sound and refines it to be incredibly balanced and wide. To be honest, I was expecting this model to be an update in terms of software, design and hardware (CPU and RAM), and I expected to hear a similar sound. I was wrong.
The M9’s sound is like a perfected M8. The mids are cleaner, the stage is wider, layering is better, bass performance has been improved and the player doesn’t sound as warm as the M8. It has better texture and fidelity, with better definition and transparency in mids and treble. This I think is one of the best DAPs you can find in the market right now.
Sound Quality Details
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, which are at a higher level than the M8, and also similar to the best such as SP2000. The M8 has a lifted and closer mid-range but the M9 is more balanced in that regard. The definition and delivery are equal across all regions. The instrument realism is wonderful here and the mids are full sounding with a good body.
The treble was a bit soft in the M8 but that is improved as well with great detail and articulation in the M9. That was one of the things that set apart the M8 from the WM1Z, but the M9 is much closer if not on the same level. It has a brighter treble region than the M8 with more attack, crispness and energy. The M8 gives the treble softer, but the M9 has better delivery and resolution here.
A Worthy Flagship
I always felt like the M8 is an Android-powered version of the Sony WM1Z. The M9 is also like that but in a more refined and balanced way. The player sounds extremely smooth and non-fatiguing, but at the same time, it has excellent resolution and dynamism, with great definition. It’s also not that much warm when compared to the M8, instead, it performs similarly good across all ranges. For instance, the M8 is a great DAP for pure bass performance, but the rest of the spectrum is not as clean and transparent sounding as the M9. The M9 performs at the same level with great consistency from bass to treble.
The sound-stage and separation are fantastic, even more so than the M8. The stage is very wide and deep with great imaging. The background is black and thanks to that it has excellent separation, hence stereo imaging. However, the M9 has an even more improved layering performance which is the star of the show here. Complex recordings are absolutely no problem for the M9 as it handles them beautifully and separates and layers the song even to the small details. Especially the mid-range is quite impressive here. The vocals and instruments are exceptionally clean and transparent, significantly separated from other ranges.
Significant Improvement Over M8
When I reviewed the M8 I remarked that ”it’s not the most refined, most transparent, or most resolving player in the market”. That’s exactly what Shanling improved here. When I listen to the M9, I can easily make that sentence for it. It’s one of the most refined, most transparent, and most resolving players in the market. The delivery and the definition of the notes, their thickness (which is just right), and the timbre are all fantastic.
So the Shanling M9 is easily one of the best right now in my opinion. It has that soft and smooth nature with excellent layering and separation. It provides a very relaxed music experience with high-level technicalities. Giving a great technical performance together with a smooth and special delivery is not something you find often. That’s why I think the M9 is a special player. It makes you enjoy yourself, creates a deep, wide and layered musical experience.