For those of us who love high-quality audio performance, wherever we are, a digital audio player (DAP) remains the best choice for listening to audiophile sound on the go. Compared to a smartphone, these specially designed digital music players offer connection for wired headphones as well as Bluetooth streaming for people who really don’t like being connected to their music player.
I recently spent some time with a Shanling M6 DAP, a high-end player that uses a customized version of the Android 7.1 operating system to give music lovers an interface similar to an Android smartphone. However, if you were expecting to see an Android system that can be updated through the Google Play Store, think again. M6 users are tied to periodic system updates released at Shanling’s discretion, which could be a problem if the company abandons support and development for the M6.
The beauty of the Android system is that it allows the installation of music streaming apps like TIDAL, Qobuz and Spotify. There is 32 GB of on-board memory with 4 GB occupied by the Android operating system. The rest of the space is up to you. It’s a place to store apps, photos, downloaded music, or whatever else you want to keep on the M6. Charging the player with music is just a matter of connecting the M6 to a computer and dragging music files from the computer to the device.
Shanling did a brilliant job machining the M6’s matte black metal case. It’s absolutely exquisite and the front of the M6 is dominated by a 4.7-inch 720 x 1280 dpi touchscreen. The back of the M6 is also made of glass, which gives the device a high-quality feel. Weighing 228g, the M6 has enough weight to fit comfortably in the hand. I would have liked to see an anchor point to attach a wrist strap as I’m not sure the M6 would survive a fall on hard ground. However, a luxury leather case is available as an option.
The left side of the M6 case features a sculpted groove punctuated by three round buttons to control the music. Next to the trio of buttons, there is a plastic cover that protects an opening to accommodate a MicroSD card with a capacity of up to 2TB. This is where you can store a library of Hi digital music files. -Res if you don’t stream music.
On the right side of the M6 there is another sculpted groove and a recessed volume knob that doubles as the M6’s power switch. Based on the M6, there are no less than three audio outputs: a 2.5mm balanced jack, a classic 3.5mm unbalanced jack, plus a 4.4 Pentaconn balanced output. There is also a USB-C port which is bi-directional, meaning the M6 can be used as an external DAC to connect to an audio system. This USB-C port is also the input for charging the M6’s 4000mAh rechargeable battery which provides up to 12 hours of continuous play time before needing to be recharged.
Inside the M6 is an eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 processor with 4GB of RAM and a few 4495SEQ chips, which are custom DACs made by AKM. The circuit uses high-end Japanese Silmic II capacitors and Panasonic Tantalum-Polymer capacitors. The audio signal is delivered by two AD8397 amplifiers and there is no doubt that this is an incredibly high quality DAP and Shanling has not skimped on the components at all. In terms of basic software, the M6 has the Shanling’s Play app which is the perfect player to access music stored on internal memory or on a MicroSD card.
The Sharp IPS oleophobic LED display increases fingerprints and displays album art in up to 16 million beautifully rich colors. To browse music or pause a track, you can use the three side buttons or use the touchscreen. It works quite well, there is even a mode that can be selected to use the Shanling app as a skin on the Android system. This is ideal if you only listen to downloaded or ripped music, but if you have a Qobuz or TIDAL subscription, you have the option to download apps and enjoy high-quality streaming. I tried downloading the BBC Sounds app to be able to stream BBC Radio programs, but Android 7.0 wouldn’t allow it. I could only download the old version of the BBC iPlayer Radio. This could be because the M6 does not have the ability to configure the player for UK language and location and it might not allow downloading of geo-locked apps outside of the home area.
A downside of the Android 7.1 system is that there is no support for the high-quality AAC audio codec, but there is support for Qualcomm’s apt-X HD Bluetooth codecs and Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth codecs. You can see which codec is in use by looking at the little LED light just above the volume knob. This will change color depending on the bluetooth codec used. There is also two-way Bluetooth support built into the M6, which means you can stream music wirelessly to a pair of Bluetooth headphones, or you can stream music from a smartphone or tablet to the M6. To stream music or download files, the M6 supports 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz Wi-Fi.
The sound produced by the Shanling M6 is super smooth. This is a very high quality music player that reproduces a fabulously full frequency response. I tested the M6 using a very expensive pair of T + A Solitaire P headphones using a 4.4mm balanced Pentaconn connector. The result was perfect. The M6 had enough power to run the planar-magnetic Solitaire Ps, and these headphones revealed just how capable the M6 is.
Verdict: The Shanling M6 is an extremely capable DAP and sports a beautiful color touchscreen which is a pleasure to use. The player feels so well made and he balances himself beautifully in the hand. The sound quality of the M6 is as good as anything on the market at this price point. However, the slightly dated Android system and the odd mix between Android and Shanling’s music app gives the M6 a rather rambling feel to use. On the plus side, there’s everything you could want for headphone outputs, and the M6 has enough power to drive almost any pair of headphones or earphones. The M6 is a great kit but is not the most usable player if you are used to an iOS device or a player from Astell & Kern or Onkyo / Pioneer. Still, the sound quality is impeccable and worth listening to if music is your passion.
Price : $ 499.99 / £ 499.99 / € 499.99
More information: shanlingaudio.com or buy information here and on Amazon
- Screen: 4.7 inches 720 x 1280 ppi Sharp IPS
- Weight: 228g
- Dimensions: 71 x 17.5 x 133.5 mm
- System: Android 7.1
- Audio formats: DSF, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, AIF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4A, AC3, M3U, M3U8
- Resolution: 32 bit 768 kHz, DSD 128 (hardware) DSD 256 (software)
- Switchable gain: high and low
- Storage: 32GB internal memory and MicroSD support up to 2TB
- DAC: AKM AK4495SEQ
- Sound controls: 10-band graphic equalizer
- Bluetooth: version 4.2
- Bluetooth codecs: LDAC / SBC (receive) HWA LHDC / apt-X HD / apt-X (transmit)
- Battery: 4000 mAh
- Maximum play time: 12 hours