Shanling M9 Plus
Shanling M9 Plus
Shanling M9 Plus

Shanling M9 Plus: A classic modern flagship

The Shanling M9 Plus has already made waves in the audiophile community. With its impressive specifications, Quad DAC circuit, sleek design, enhanced sound quality, and a price tag of $2960, it has certainly caught the attention of even the most discerning enthusiasts.

Design

The player arrives in a sleek black box, detailing its main features. Inside, there’s a lovely wooden box with a lid. Not sure if everyone will appreciate the aesthetics, but I find the presentation quite appealing. It’s a nice reminder that top-notch sound quality is truly valuable.

In addition to the box, the accessory set includes a USB-C/USB-A charging cable, protective films, and an owner’s card. The branded leather case for the Shanling M9 Plus needs to be bought separately. Honestly, for the price, I was hoping to see a case, a badge, a few gold bars, or something else in the set. But let’s not dwell on that. Lately, I’ve been enjoying using my Hi-Fi players from my collection without covers for some reason. I like the tactile feel of them. However, that doesn’t excuse Shanling. At least the branded cover looks pretty decent and holds the player securely. It even has a cutout that exposes the side face for tactile contact.

The Shanling M9 Plus is a classic flagship device with a modern touch. It boasts a large screen, a sleek metal and glass design, and flawless assembly. The combination of black and gold colors instantly reminded me of older Lotoo models. The back panel, made of curved frosted glass, doesn’t attract fingerprints, while the rounded side faces, crafted from aircraft aluminum, have unique grooves that create smooth and interesting waves. Holding the player feels pleasant and comfortable, like a treat.

Compared to its predecessor, the M9, the Shanling M9 Plus has a slightly shorter body by 5 mm and weighs a bit less at 380 g. Considering its size, it feels light enough to be used on the go. However, it’s not suitable for carrying in a narrow pocket. The player has a substantial presence, resembling a canonical device in the Hi-End category. When placed next to my Astell&Kern SP3000, it appears more modest and compact. Nevertheless, it’s not as bulky as the FiiO M17 or iBasso DX320 MAX, making the Shanling flagship a standard of portability. So, it’s a win in that regard.

Aside from its luxurious 6-inch 2160×1080 touchscreen and an additional small display that shows the charge level and sample rate, the Shanling M9 Plus features flat mechanical playback control buttons. These buttons are recessed to prevent accidental presses. Personally, I find their click a bit too sharp, but they are easy to locate even without looking. The player also includes a subtle volume wheel that doubles as a start/lock button. It offers two headphone outputs – an unbalanced 3.5mm and a balanced 4.4mm, both of which deliver a linear sound experience.

Functionality

Let’s take a quick look at the technical specs of the Shanling M9 Plus. It’s clear right off the bat that this is a top-of-the-line device. It features top-of-the-line AKM AK4499EX DACs in a unique symmetrical Quad DAC setup, along with 2 units of AKM AK4191 delta-sigma modulators. Just like my SP3000. Plus, the signal resolution is even higher – PCM 32 bit/1536 kHz and DSD1024. The other components are also high-end: upgraded double independent crystal oscillators KDS versions 90.3168 MHz/98.304 MHz, I/V conversion circuit developed in-house ADA45253, independent power supply chip of the DAC section XC9519. The upgraded amplifier section with OP+BUF architecture features a combination of MUSES 8920 J-FET and BUF634. It also uses ELNA Silmic II and Panasonic tantalum capacitors.

The player outputs 4.08 V and 520 mW into 32 Ohms at standard output, and a remarkable 6 V and 1125 mW into 32 Ohms on balance. It offers three amplification modes for connecting high-impedance full-size headphones and sensitive IEMs. No background noise present.

Android 10 is open for use, featuring Wi-Fi with DLNA and AirPlay, SyncLink smartphone control via Eddict Player, the ability to install any applications, and streaming with MQA 16X. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 octa-core processor and 8 GB RAM, the firmware runs smoothly and reliably. You can switch between Android mode and the pure Prime Mode player. The only downside is the turn-on speed could be faster.

The player can function as an external DAC or digital transport, equipped with an XMOS XU316 USB chip. It also supports bidirectional Bluetooth 5.0 with codecs SBC, aptX, aptX HD, HWA, and LDAC for transmission, and SBC and LDAC for reception. With 256 GB of built-in memory and support for MicroSD cards up to 2 TB.

In terms of battery life, the Shanling M9 Plus boasts an 8350 mAh capacity. It can last up to 18 hours with an asymmetrical connection and up to 11 hours with a symmetrical connection on a single charge. The inclusion of QC3.0 fast charging is a bonus.

Sound

The main testing was carried out on headphones Focal Utopia, 64 Audio tia Fourte, Noble Audio Khan and Custom Art FIBAE 7.

 

When I first met the hero of this review in Munich, I had a feeling that Shanling had done something that would appeal to me. Now that I’ve had the chance to listen to it seriously at home, my initial impressions have been confirmed. You already know my audio preferences, so regular readers can probably guess what kind of device we’re dealing with here. But let me give you all the details.

The delivery of the Shanling M9 Plus is technical, fast, melodic, and detailed. I would even go as far as to say it’s airy and analytical. The player performs in a clear, controlled, and informative manner, effectively separating different elements and meticulously working on the smallest details. It’s a bit unusual for me to find such pronounced clarity in Shanling’s products, as most audiophiles associate the company with a more muted musicality and warm sound. However, in this case, the sound is incredibly transparent, with sparkling high frequencies, elastic strings, and impressive drums. The different parts of the music stand out with contrasting textures and well-defined contours, while the performers’ voices are soft, incredibly honest, and pure.

Once again, if we were to associate Hi-Fi devices with different elements, the Shanling M9 Plus would be the embodiment of air. It effortlessly delivers a graceful and free-flowing melody, with a sense of flexibility that seems to extend beyond the headphones. The three-dimensional soundstage adds another layer of depth to the listening experience. The player excels at positioning images with precision, creating a clear and immersive environment. Instruments not only surround you, but also have a vertical presence and even seem to be behind you. They sound large, full-bodied, and holographic, while maintaining a well-centered acoustic panorama. Privacy is also maintained when needed, making it convenient for monitoring.

Now, let’s talk about the downsides. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by the player, even though I’m not a Shanling fan. I didn’t want to let it go. However, there are a few remarks to be made. Some may find the high frequencies to be moderately sonorous, which can be tiresome for certain listeners. Additionally, there is a certain straightness and sophistication in the sound that slightly diminishes the realism. It would have been nice to have more natural nuances in the model. Also, keep in mind that there won’t be any exaggerated entertainment coloring. The characteristic Shanling velvet harmony of timbres is undoubtedly present, but it feels more restrained in this case, without an overly sweet tone. The emotions conveyed in the tracks are cheerful and casual, with the necessary dynamics and symmetry, but don’t expect extravagant fireworks. Consequently, it is more suited for those who appreciate clarity and linearity rather than die-hard fans of vintage tube sound. Personally, I would definitely add the M9 Plus to my collection. Well, who would have any doubts about that…

By using different frequencies, the bass in these headphones is powerful, controlled, and impactful. I really want to commend them for that. The bass hits quickly and sharply, with precise positioning. It’s easy to distinguish textures and details, and the subwoofer provides a vibrating response. The depth and richness of the woofers are decent, allowing for a grand and immersive experience, although the emphasis is more on intense and sudden attacks.

Moving on to the mid frequencies, they are transparent, melodious, and refined. Clarity and detail are prioritized, while maintaining an exciting coherence in the sound that prevents it from becoming dull. There is enough weight in the lower midrange, while the upper midrange sounds juicy and expressive. It’s like the sound has shed all unnecessary elements, resulting in a clean and precise delivery. Complex compositions with multiple instruments are handled with finesse and sophistication. The notes flow smoothly, and the tonal palette remains neutral. The quality of the material used is also commendable.

As for the upper frequencies, they are sparkling, bright, and vibrant. The spectrum is slightly emphasized, but even with bright headphones, it doesn’t become harsh or aggressive. The high frequencies in the M9 Plus can be both sharp and magically smooth, and the extension of the upper layers is impressive. While the variation in overtones may not be the absolute best, I didn’t encounter any significant issues with resolution.

Competitors

Who else remembers the days of AKM chip shortages? I remember listening to the Shanling M9 player a while back, and I have to say, the new M9 Plus is definitely an improvement in terms of stage, informativeness, and control. The sound is more technical and neutral compared to the warmer and heavier sound of the M9. Shanling M30 is a stationary player, so it’s not really suitable for comparison. I’ve tested it, and you can check out my review. Personally, I’m not a fan of the multibit HiBy RS8, so let’s exclude that from the comparison as well.

I really like the FiiO M17, which can be considered a semi-portable model. It features two 8-channel ESS ES9038 Pro DACs, delivering 3W of power at 32 Ohms in balanced mode. The sound is dynamic, assertive, and expressive, with a neutral and clean signature that is detailed and impactful. The instruments sound full-bodied and detailed, with slightly cooler timbres. On the other hand, the Shanling M9 Plus has a more refined and elegant sound, with a monitor-like accuracy that is still engaging. The soundstage is different between the two players, with the FiiO offering a wider stage and the Shanling providing a more vertically elongated stage. Personally, I prefer the mids and treble on the M17, while the bass, 3D imaging, and vocals shine on the M9 Plus.

Let me tell you a bit about the Cayin N8 II. Its coloration is quite noticeable, which is expected from a flagship device like this. It uses the ROHM BD34301EKV chip and has built-in KORG Nutube 6P1 tubes, giving it a warm and weighty sound with a rich range of textures. It strikes a balance between neutrality and musicality, similar to the Shanling M9 Plus, but with its own unique characteristics. I would describe the N8 II as tasty and colorful, with dynamic and clear energy that truly captivates. Surprisingly, the M9 Plus seems to be the more versatile player between the two. Can you believe it? I never thought I would say that about any Shanling player, but it’s true.

Now, let’s talk about the Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000. This player features HEXA-Audio Circuitry, which combines two separate AK4191 delta-sigma modulators for digital signal processing and four AK4499EX DACs for analog signal conversion. Its housing is made of 904L stainless steel, just like Rolex. Unlike the SP2000, the SP3000 doesn’t come with a wooden case. And speaking of Shanling M9 Plus, that’s where all the wood is now… But let’s not get distracted. When it comes to music delivery, the SP3000 has its own unique sound signature. It’s delicate, soft, and incredibly realistic. It combines technicality and analyticalness with a touch of analog warmth. I love how this player creates a harmonious acoustic picture that feels like a live performance. If you close your eyes, the immersion effect is simply incredible. Moreover, it excels at capturing the nuances, textures, and small details in the music, revealing a wealth of information.

However, the SP3000 and the Shanling flagship have a minimal difference in resolution compared to their price. This definitely gives us something to ponder. On the other hand, Astell triumphs in terms of expressiveness, layering, and definition of high frequencies. They possess a greater range of variability, plasticity, and iridescence, with a touch of nobility. The middle range is also more detailed, embossed, and restrained. Meanwhile, the M9 Plus impresses with its transparency, airiness, and fluidity of handwriting. The instruments take a stronger forefront, and the melody enchants with its seamless coherence, seamlessly incorporating subtle nuances. Additionally, it boasts a more controlled, punchy, and cohesive bass. Ultimately, the choice depends on your personal preferences.

Conclusion

A fascinating and unique model that surpasses most of its competitors. It boasts a branded design, a large screen with 2K resolution, 6 DACs, a powerful balanced output, impressive battery life, modern technologies, and beautiful sound. The price tag is undeniably high, although older players in the market now cost even more. Only I truly understand the significance of this, yes. However, the greatest advantage of the updated Shanling M9 Plus for me personally is that it defies the stereotypes associated with Shanling and takes it to the next level. Similarly, the neutral Shanling M7 also evoked a sense of tenderness in me, but now I have a new favorite. I highly recommend experiencing it firsthand, as it could become your new benchmark. At the very least, you’ll get a taste of the company’s flagship performance in this generation.

Shanling M9 Plus
Shanling M9 Plus
9.5

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