Stereocheck Reviews:
shanling m1s
shanling m1s
shanling m1s

Shanling M1s: Lives up to its hype

shanling m1s
8.5

Today, I’m putting the budget-friendly Shanling M1s to the test. It’s garnered a lot of buzz for revolutionizing its category with its debut. Many have praised it as a groundbreaking device. Its ultraportable design, comprehensive feature set, and reasonable price of $260 position it as a strong contender in its market. I’m inclined to suggest this newcomer to peers seeking a more wallet-friendly alternative to the Shanling M3 Ultra, yet desiring superior audio quality compared to the Shanling M0 Pro. This was a gap I felt needed filling. However, we’ll see if this model truly lives up to its hype.

Visual impressions

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The package that arrives is quintessentially Shanling, bright and adorned with the brand’s iconic slogan, a sentiment that has recently resonated deeply with our audiophile community: “Life is short, play more”. Within the box, aside from the player itself, the contents are Spartan: a USB-C to USB-A charging cable and a screen protector. There’s no case included, but given the price point, my expectations were managed accordingly.

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Moving on to the design, the Shanling M1s impresses with its compact form factor. It seems we had almost forgotten that a high-resolution player should, ideally, be as portable as possible for on-the-go listening. This is a stark contrast to my bulky Astell&Kern SP3000 or the behemoth FiiO M17. The M1s nails the concept of a portable audio player with its mere 106g weight. Crafted from glass and aluminum, its design features tapered edges and boasts excellent build quality. It’s a joy to handle—a small, attractive, and neatly designed square. I found it immensely satisfying to use, much like the vintage Shanling Q1, its conceptual forebear. However, the M1s has now earned its place as a new favorite in this category for me.

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The Shanling M1s features a 2.8-inch touch display with a resolution of 640×480. While it’s sufficient for basic operations, don’t expect to use this device for movie-watching. Its small screen size prioritizes the player’s compactness. However, the touchscreen is responsive, and there’s an option to adjust the screen orientation in the settings, which is a nice touch. Additionally, the device incorporates a wheel for power and screen lock, alongside flat, physical buttons for pausing and switching tracks. Uniquely, these controls are positioned on the front panel rather than the sides, which is common in most devices. Personally, I find this design choice to be more experimental than practical.

Functionality

 

The Shanling M1s boasts impressive specs, incorporating the renowned ESS ES9038Q2M DAC, supporting high-resolution audio up to PCM 32 bit/768 kHz and DSD512. Its audio processing is powered by precision Japanese KDS dual-band crystal oscillators, and it employs Shanling’s custom FPGA architecture for optimized performance. For amplification, it features dual independent Ricore RT6863 headphone amplifiers, delivering 144 mW at 32 Ohms through the standard output and 245 mW at 32 Ohms through the balanced 4.4 mm output. This makes the M1s more suited to in-ear monitors (IEMs) rather than driving demanding full-size headphones, as there is no background noise to detract from the listening experience. Remarkably, both outputs can also function as line outs.

Unlike many of its contemporaries, the Shanling M1s runs on its own MTouch 2.0 operating system, steering clear of Android. This OS, however, is robust enough for most needs, offering Wi-Fi, MQA support for high-quality streaming, bidirectional Bluetooth 5.0 with a comprehensive codec support including AAC, aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, and LDAC, and capabilities for use as an external DAC or digital transport. It also supports DLNA and Airplay. Thanks to the tri-core Ingenic X2000 processor, the device’s operation is smooth and responsive.

For those who find the small screen and unusual button placement a bit cumbersome, the M1s introduces the SyncLink function, allowing for smartphone control via the Eddict Music app. Although the player lacks built-in memory, it compensates with a MicroSD card slot supporting up to 2 TB of storage. So, while it doesn’t cover every conceivable feature, it adeptly fulfills the core demands of its users.

Regarding battery life, the M1s is equipped with a 2100 mAh battery, offering up to 14.5 hours of playback with wired connections and up to 26 hours via Bluetooth. In practice, these figures hold true even under moderate use, leaving no room for complaint. This device isn’t just ultraportable; it’s impressively enduring, too.

Sound

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Basic testing was done on 64 Audio tia Fourte, Noble Khan, Campfire Audio Bonneville, Kinera Imperial Nanna 2.0 Pro and Dunu DK-3001 Pro headphones.

The M1s stands out with its charismatic sound. While it may not offer the ultimate in naturalness or resolution, it excels in its niche. This affordable player captivates with its unique and intriguing performance, a significant achievement in itself, complemented by a degree of technical prowess that sets it apart from mainstream devices.

Its sound signature is dynamic, lively, and detailed, offering a particularly remarkable handling of vocals. The M1s brings out emotions, honesty, and a richness in vocal performances rarely heard in budget devices, creating a vivid, lifelike experience. Its ability to deliver a solid punch, with agile bass and precise rhythm and tempo management, showcases its energetic coherence, making it ideal for on-the-go listening. The device masterfully handles shifts in acoustic scenes, moving seamlessly from intimate settings to grand soundscapes.

The M1s also impresses with its informativeness and clarity, adding excitement without overpowering or distorting the music. Its transparency and the dark background it maintains allow for a dynamic and holographic presentation of parts across a wide dynamic range.

This player is versatile, handling a wide range of genres without being overly critical of the source quality, striking a balanced overall setup. While it may not satisfy those seeking the utmost in audiophile precision, it offers tremendous value for those on a budget.

In terms of frequency response, the bass is assertive and textured, providing a solid foundation without overwhelming. The mid-frequencies are articulate and vibrant, with Shanling’s signature richness and clarity, ensuring that vocals and instruments shine. The soundstage, while not record-setting, is spacious and engaging. High frequencies are crisp and detailed, maintaining energy without harshness, although they simplify at the upper extremes and may introduce distortion at higher volumes.

Competitors

The entry-level segment of the Hi-Fi player market is notably sparse, likely due to the soaring popularity of mobile DACs, which come in a plethora of styles and configurations. The trade-offs between standalone players and DACs are clear: while a DAC with an amplifier might offer a more compact solution, a dedicated player doesn’t deplete smartphone battery life, can host an extensive media library, provides distinct functionalities, and usually delivers higher power output. Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on individual needs and preferences.

However, it’s worth evaluating the Shanling M1s on its own merits, beyond simple comparisons. It should be considered for its unique sound signature that stands distinct from others. Despite being larger than the more diminutive DACs—which can resemble tiny adapters—the M1s still boasts a compact form factor. Yet, what truly sets it apart is its musicality.

When comparing the M1s to its sibling, the Shanling M0 Pro, there are noticeable differences in soundstage size and resolution. The M0 Pro presents a more neutral, yet still punchy and fast sound, but it doesn’t quite match the M1s in terms of expressiveness, informativeness, or clarity, with a tendency towards simplification at the fringes of its range.

Moving up the budget scale, the Shanling M3 Ultra steps into the realm of Android players, offering a broader array of features, increased power, and, consequently, a larger size. Though its design might appeal to some, its sound profile—a weighty, slightly dark, and embossed texture that exudes a warm, natural, analog softness—may not resonate with everyone. In contrast, the M1s delivers a less textured and voluminous output but compensates with a more sonorous, vibrant, expressive, and dynamic performance.

Choosing between these options depends on one’s sound preferences and how they plan to use the device. The Shanling M1s, with its unique sound signature and portability, offers an interesting option for those valuing a distinctive musical experience in a compact player.

Conclusion

The Shanling M1s represents a harmonious blend of delightful audio performance, compact design, up-to-date technologies, the inclusion of a balanced 4.4 mm output, remarkable battery life, and an attractive price point. It’s a versatile device that functions as a Hi-Fi player, streamer, digital source, Bluetooth receiver, and sound card, all rolled into one. While the absence of built-in storage and a somewhat limited power output might be seen as drawbacks, this device genuinely delivers value for its price. It earns my full endorsement for anyone seeking advice on selecting a budget-friendly, feature-packed audio device.

shanling m1s
Shanling M1s
8.5
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