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Screen: 3 inch IPS HD resolution display (480 * 800) Audio format: DSF, DFF, ISO, APE, FLAC,...

Shanling M5 hifi lossless DSD portable player (Grey)

Rating:
4/5,
  • Screen: 3 inch IPS HD resolution display (480 * 800) Audio format: DSF, DFF, ISO, APE, FLAC, ALAC, WMA, AAC, OGG, MP3, WAV, AIFF Sampling rate: 44.1kHz-192kHz Output Level: 1.3Vrms D / A converter chip: AK4490 Amp chip: a voltage amplifier chip AD8610, the current amplifier chip BUF634 Low-pass filter chip: JRC MUSES8920 Decoding: supports 384kHz / 32bit USB: USB Micoro-N (data transfer and charging (MAC and PC)) Output: Headphone output (3.5 mm), line / coaxial output (3.5 mm) Output power: 300mW @ 32ohm / 20mW @ 300ohm Output Impedance: 0.18ohm Dynamic range: 110dB Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz (-0.2dB) Distortion: 105dB Time jitter: 30ps (Typ) Reference clock jitter: 200 fs External Storage: support 128G TF card Capacity: 3400mAH lithium battery Battery life: about 9 hours Support system: Windows XP, Windows7,8,10 (32 / 64bit), MAC OSX10.7 or update the system Size: 57 * 13.8 * 120mm Weight: about 135G Packing Accessories: Instructions * 1 Warranty card * 1 USB cable * 1 Coaxial cable *1 Card Reader*1 Protective film * 2

Recent Reviews

  1. Jackpot77
    Sleek, smooth and seriously powerful - Shanling's new mid-fi contender
    Written by Jackpot77
    Published Sep 15, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Smooth and musical sound, ergonomic design and great build quality, good detail and great internal amp
    Cons - UI is smooth but basic, only one SD card slot, battery life could be longer
    20160914_121316_HDR.jpg
     
    Shanling M5 – initial impressions
     
    I first heard the Shanling M5 at Canjam London (2016), where the Shanling team had a stand showing their current product lineup. After a brief chat with one of their team (who I later found out was the designer!) and some listening time through a pair of Beyerdynamic T5P and my own set of Fidue A83s, I was impressed enough to buy one of the demo units off the team at the end of the day. I had not heard much about Shanling up until that point, but the quality of the goods and the enthusiasm of the team convinced me it was a gamble worth taking.
     
    About me: newly minted audiophile, late 30s, long time music fan and aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day on my commute to work – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Recently started converting my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Spotify or Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. My ideal tuning for most IEMs and headphones tends towards a musical and slightly dark presentation, although I am not treble sensitive in general. Please take all views expressed below with a pinch of salt – all my reviews are a work in progress based on my own perceptions and personal preferences, and your own ears may tell you a different story.
     
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    Tech specs
    1. Screen: 3 inch IPS HD resolution display (480X800)
    2. Audio format: DSF, DFF, ISO, APE, FLAC, ALAC, WMA, AAC, OGG, MP3, WAV, AIFF
    3. Sampling rate: 44.1kHZ-192kHZ
    4. Output Level: 1.3VrmS
    5. D / A converter chip: AK4490
    6. Amp chip: a voltage amplifier chip AO86lO, current amplifier chip BUF634
    7. Low-pass filter chip: JRC MUSES8920
    8. Decoding: maximum support 384 kHz / 32bit
    9. USB: USB Micro-B [data transfer and charging (MAC and PC)]
    10. Output ports: headphone output (3.5mm), Line / coaxial output (3.5mm)
    11. Output Power: 300mw @ 32ohm / 20mw @ 300ohm
    12. Dynamic range: 110-20kHz (-0.2dB)
    13. Distortion: <0.003%
    14. SNR:> 105dB
    15. Clock Jitter: 30ps (Typ)
    16. Reference clock jitter: 200fs
    17. External Storage: Maximum support 128G TF card
    18. Battery: 3400mAH lithium battery
    19. Life time: 9-10 hours
    20. Support System: Windows XP, Windows7, 8, 10 (32 / 64bit), MAC OS X 10.7 upwards
    21. Dimensions: 57 X 13.8X120mm
    22. Weight: 135g
     
    20160914_121338_HDR.jpg
     
    Unboxing / package contents
     
    The M5 is currently priced at $499, so sits firmly in the “middle tier” of current DAP technology cost-wise. The packaging reflects this, with a simple yet sophisticated cardboard package with a picture of the player on the front along with some discreet product branding, along with a few product specs along the sides in both Chinese and English, and another picture of the back of the player on the rear. Opening the box, you are presented with a jet black presentation box in thicker cardboard, with a solitary Shanling logo in embossed silver in the middle of the lid. Opening the box, the player is sat in a black surround inside, with a removable partition underneath containing the remainder of the accessories (co-axial cable, standard USB charging cable, USB card reader and the product warranty and manuals. Not an excessive load-out, but the included accessories look high class, and are well made and finished, adding to the premium feel of the product nicely. It is worth noting that when purchased online from some stores, the $30 official Shanling fitted leather case will also be included. Overall, a simple and elegant presentation which places the M5 nicely in the mind as a higher class piece of gear.
     
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    Build quality and ergonomics
     
    The M5 is on the smaller size for current DAPs (thing like the Sony A25 and the Sansa Clip notwithstanding), with a form factor reminiscent in size to an old iPhone 4, just double the thickness. It fits nicely in the hand and the pocket, and feels suitably heavy, conveying a good sense of solidity through the brushed aluminium body and nicely bevelled edges. About 75% of the front of the player is taken up with a 310ppi “retina class” IPS screen – it is sadly not a touchscreen, but does provide plenty of space for album art and track listings when using the proprietary Shanling UI. Breaking up the all-metal theme, the back of the player is covered with a carbon-fibre effect panel, with the Shanling logo and various certifications and product specs overlaid in dark grey on top. The overall impression is one of understated elegance – less in your face and “designer” than the Opus#1, but still a well designed and industrial piece of tech that sits nicely in the hand or pocket.
     
    Another unusual design aspect is the rounded top right hand corner – apart from breaking up the brick-like lines of the player, it also follows the shape of the main control wheel that drives all interaction with the player. The wheel is derived from a Japanese ALPS camera control wheel, and looks like a futuristic replacement to the original iPod control wheel, just on a much smaller scale. The usual player controls (forward, backwards, play/pause and menu/back up) are all there in the places you would expect, and the wheel itself has a nice textured ring around the outer which is used for scrolling through the on screen options and lists. In use, the position of the wheel rests naturally under my thumb when I am holding the player in my right hand, so feels very ergonomic in use, and does allow for easy navigation of the player and control menus one-handed, which can be more tricky on larger DAPs or touchscreen interfaces. The wheel itself feels smooth in motion, and seems pretty durable. In terms of other buttons, there is a silver power button along the left hand side of the frame, and a slot at the bottom of the left hand side for a micro-SD card (maximum “official” supported card size is 128Gb, but I have been using a full 200Gb card with no problems). The top of the player has a 3.5mm headphone out port, and a line-out/coax out port sat alongside it. One nice touch is the inclusion of a rubber “bung” to block whichever port is not currently in use, to avoid the build up of dust and debris in the unused socket. It’s a small thing, but shows the attention to detail that has obviously been lavished on this player, and is definitely a nice touch other manufacturers should consider.
     
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    Interface and usability
     
    The M5 runs on a proprietary UI, with a simplistic but reasonably fully featured interface which makes the DAP one of the easier I have used to operate. On bootup (which takes about 4-5 seconds from cold), the player launches into the main menu screen, which has a series of options in a hemispherical arc down the right hand side of the screen. Scrolling on the wheel moves between the options, and clicking the central button on the control wheel allows you to drop down a level in to the menu. The “back up” button on the wheel will allow you to pull back up a menu stage at any point as well, so all in all, a reasonably simple control method.
     
    The actual functionality of the DAP is reasonably well developed, with options to control whether the line-out port outputs LO or Co-ax output, if the buttons work when the screen is powered down, if a USB connection automatically fires up the onboard DAC (the M5 can be used as a standalone DAC with a PC or USB-OTG enabled device) alongside the usual screen timeout options and other related items.
    There is also a sub-menu for Audio settings, which allows you to toggle gapless playback, the gain setting (low or high), the inbuilt 10-band EQ or channel balance. Overall, most aspects of the interface can be tweaked, and it is a very stable and mature implementation of a basic UI (my unit was running v 1.2). There is room for some improvement as detailed below, but overall, this is a very easy to use DAP that allows even the most technophobic user to navigate around with relative ease.
     
    On-screen navigation on the “Now Playing” screen is also reasonably simple using the wheel – scrolling the wheel turns the volume up or down, the directional arrows move you back and forward between tracks and a long press on the central button pops up a context-sensitive menu offering the option to add the track to the playlist or browse via Artist/Album etc., as well as delete the track in question. Again, nothing too flashy, but a simple and effective way of shoehorning extra functionality into the main interface is a useful manner.
     
    One point to note about the Linux-based UI is the absolute rock-solid stability of the player – in multiple weeks of use, the player hasn’t crashed or stuttered once, no matter what has been going on inside. This is a good example of a UI that has been properly tested, and feels very “premium” in that respect compared to the buggy and crash-prone UI on other DAPs I have used.
     
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    Suggested improvements for the UI
     
    While is it a quick and seamless user experience, there are certainly a few suggestions I would make to the M5 team for future upgrades:
    ·       Increase the time-out window before the screen “snaps back” to the “Now Playing” window (which it will do if left alone for more than a few seconds). When scrolling between options in the Play or System Settings menus, it can be frustrating to take your eyes off the screen for a second and find yourself back on the track screen, having to navigate your way back through various submenus to get back to where you were. Nothing drastic is required, just maybe boosting the delay to around the 30 second mark from the current 10 second setting.
    ·       Allow onboard playlist generation – the only way I can find top do this is via the Now Playing screen “pop up” menu.
    ·       Implement a search function or alphabetised skipping in the main “Folder Menu” or “Artist / Album” screens. If you have a large SD card full of music (about 170Gb in my case), scrolling all the way through from A each time can get a bit tiring when you are looking for an artist in the middle of the alphabet. In fairness, scrolling the wheel at a medium pace does seem to fire the cursor through the list pretty quickly, but it can quickly become frustrating when you shoot past the artist or album you want for the 100th time.
    ·       Improve indexing speed for large SD cards – like most DAPs, the player seems to take a while to consume large amounts of library data for the first time, and struggled a little when I initially popped in a fully loaded 200Gb SD card. On my smaller 64Gb cards, the indexing was about on par with other players I have used, but if some manufacturers can get this task done in a minute or two, why can’t all of them (just my opinion)? It isn't a major issue if you mainly use folder browsing (like I generally do), but is definitely a nice to have.
     
    20160914_122043_HDR.jpg
     
    Sound quality
     
    Test gear:
    IEMs – Vibro Labs Aria, Fidue A83, Trinity Vyrus
    Headphones - Audioquest Nighthawks, Soundmagic P55 Vento (2nd Gen), Focal Spirit Professional
    Main test tracks (mainly 320kbps MP3 or FLAC)
    Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B. / Wasting Time
    Blackberry Smoke – The Whipporwill (album)
    Slash – Shadow Life / Bad Rain (my reference tracks for bass impact and attack, guitar “crunch”)
    Slash & Beth Hart – Mother Maria (vocal tone)
    Sister Hazel – Hello, It’s Me (bass quantity and quality)
    Richie Kotzen – Come On Free (bass tone)
    Elvis – various
    Leon Bridges – Coming Home (album)
    Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (album) / Tron (various versions)
    Rodrigo y Gabriela – various
    Mavis Staples – Livin’ On A High Note
    Don Broco – Automatic
    Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
     
    20160911_203818.jpg
     
     
    General impressions on the sound signature
     
    On initial listen to the Shanling player, there is nothing that immediately jumps out and grabs you. Soundstage? Yeah, nice and wide, but not “plains of the Sahara” huge. Detail? Pretty impressive when called for, but the player doesn’t force every wheeze of the backing singer’s head cold down your earholes on each song. Tonality? Warm and smooth, like some softly melting butter. What really grabs you (when you realise), is how well these all mix together to give a musical presentation that is very easy to get lost in, like an old comfy chair. On more than one occasion I have found myself losing hours listening to albums I know inside out, just because the sound is so rich and inviting, like a bath full of liquid chocolate. There is a clean musicality to the sound that stays just on the right side of warm without getting too thick, keeping the detail in the mix nicely without making anything too emphasised or harsh, and playing very nicely with less well-mastered/recorded tracks.
     
    In terms of overall tonality, the player itself is very mildy coloured to my ears, with a slightly north of neutral sound which has just a dash more emphasis than flat in the mid to low bass region. This slight lift gives a nice tinge of warmth to the overall sound without forcing anything too drastic into the mix, playing very nicely with dynamic driver and hybrid IEMs to produce a full but still speedy bass foundation. The rest of the soundscape is reasonably neutral sounding, with a slight emphasis on the area containing vocals (more female than male to my ears), which brings them ever so slightly more forwarding the mix than my other players at a similar volume level. As with all things at this sort of level, the differences are small rather than glaring, but the overall sound does seem to suit vocals pretty nicely.  Treble is smooth and detailed (a difficult blend to get right, but Shanling have done well here), with a good mix between detail and sharpness and a silky smooth overall tone. This is a DAP that plays well with treble-heavy gear (I tested it out using some of the treble razor filters on my Trinity in-ears and the Soundmagic P55 Vento I am currently demo-ing), keeping the presentation from getting too thin and screamy while still keeping the detail levels high.
     
    Soundstage is good but not great, with the slight tint of warmth pulling the further extremes of the sound back towards the listener. Given the resolution and clarity it can provide, it never “closes in” the sound too much on anything I have tried with it, but would certainly not be described by me as a massively spacious sound (with my gear, at least). As with anything, the DAP or source merely provides the fuel for the IEMs or headphones you hook up to them to play the music, so this DAP won’t magically smooth out some of the rougher “gems” in your collection or push music outside your head where the IEM you are using is firmly anchored between your eyeballs, but with reasonably transparent gear, it will provide a smooth and enjoyable sound and make the most of your electronic music collection without too much fuss.
     
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    Background noise / output power
     
    Hooking the M5 up to my Vibro Labs Aria (currently the most “hiss-prone” IEM I currently own), the blackness of the output is apparent. Unless my hearing is finally going completely south after one too many loud rock concerts, I can hear no discernible hiss when the player is idling, or when music is being played. In terms of power, the amp section of the M5 was able to comfortably drive my IEMs with maximum headroom on the low-gain setting, and take the Nighthawks and Focal Spirit Pros for a similar ride on the High Gain setting – the NH are actually pretty easy to drive, but take advantage of the extra juice pretty well in terms of dynamics and overall sound “depth”. The 300mW output power on the specs seems to be pretty accurate – I don’t have any specifically hard to drive gear or super high-end over ears, but with these, I was able to drive everything I own louder than I could listen to, with a good sense of punch and dynamics in the process. In fact, I found the Aria actually responded well to the High Gain setting, with the M5 still having plenty of fine control in terms of actual volume. For those of you with “black hole” cans that need a small nuclear battery to power them like the HD600/650 or a high end planar, an external amp may still be useful, but for any low to mid impedance setups, the M5 has more than enough power to drive them well in my opinion.
     
    The actual volume allows for quite fine control, with 120 digital steps from absolute silence to head-meltingly loud – most of my listening has been done between 50 and 65 on low gain, and 45 – 65 on high gain. As I listen to my music reasonably loud, this is a pretty impressive outing for something so compact, and highlights what can be done in terms of DAP output power without terminally compromising the battery life (Sony, take note – the A25 has stellar battery life, but the European version struggles to drive Miss Daisy without a beefy amp attached).
     
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    Storage and format support
     
    The M5 does not come with any internal storage, but does allow micro-SD cards up to 200Gb (confirmed by Shanling in the M5 thread). There is only one card slot, but this should provide reasonable capacity for most portable music collections unless they are 100% DSD. The Shanling is well served on the main music filetypes currently on market, able to play all the usual lossy and lossless suspects, including DSD. The firmware is upgradeable, so there is hopefully scope to add things like MQA in the future if needed as well, although this has not been indicated officially by Shanling.
     
    Comparisons
     
    Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (using Neutron Player) – this has been my “daily driver” for music playback up until the other week, when it was unceremoniously replaced by the LG G5 with HiFi Plus add-on. As stated in my comparison with the Opus #1 DAP on another recent review, I have been very happy with the sound output through my current gear, as it has a capable dual-DAC setup and half decent volume capabilities if you can get the non-European version. It also comes extremely close to my old Sony NWZ-A15 walkman in terms of baseline sound quality, with only the additional digital sound processing tweaks on the Walkman differentiating between them, so is a pretty good performer in the mobile bracket. That being said, in direct comparison, the M5 gives a warmer but more detailed sound overall, with a greater feeling of depth and substance to the music and a slightly more organic feel. The difference isn’t drastic, but noticeable nonetheless. There is a fullness and definition to the sound that brings it a little more into three dimensions than the more sterile and flat sound of the Z3C when compared side by side – as mentioned, the Sony handset has been more than capable for me running the Neutron Player software, so this is only something that is noticeable when comparing against a slightly higher performing DAP like the M5. Battery life goes to the Sony hands down – there aren’t many DAPs that aren’t manufactured by the battery genies over at the Sony factory that can compete against a device that can run 25 hours straight on HiRes tracks without falling over. Another area where the Z3C scores a win is on the interface – the benefits of sporting a full Android OS and the customisable players and front end make it a far more flexible and intuitive player to use, compared to the functional but more specific UI on the Shanling. Overall, for sound, the beautifully rounded yet detailed sound of the M5 is a clear (if small) step up the audio food chain, but if you aren’t looking for the last word in clarity or musicality and favour battery life and UI over pure sound and driving capability, the Z3C may still have something to offer.
     
    Soundaware M1 Pro – I have currently got this DAP as part of a UK tour by Soundaware, so have not had much chance to pit it directly against the M5. The impressions below are based on a few days comparative listening between the two devices, so should be treated as more of an overall perception rather than a hard and fast statement of fact. In terms of build, the Soundaware is a solid metal build like the M5, but lags behind the clean lines and solid feeling build, presenting itself as more of an “early 90s” styled device, with a smaller screen (also non-touch) and a layout of button which is vaguely reminiscent of an old-school Nintendo Gameboy. The pricing between the two models is similar, with the Soundaware going for between $50 and $100 more on the stores I have checked at the moment. With regards to sound, both DAPs are reasonably evenly matched, with the Soundaware providing a slightly leaner overall sound, with more emphasis on the separation between instruments and overall detail. Neither player sounds overly dry or analytical, but the Soundaware gives a little more edge to my Multi-BA and hybrid IEMs, at the expense of a little bass in the lower end. Discussing this with another head-fi’er recently, he mentioned that the output impedance of the Soundaware player is quite high, which will most likely explain the drying out of the sound with the Aria (a 4-BA setup with fairly low impedance). At this level, both players are technically excellent, with the leanness I experienced in the sound comparing the Soundaware to the Shanling contributing to a perception of increased detail retrieval, even if that wasn’t actually the case. On the flip side, the Shanling provides a warmer and more intimate sound, suiting acoustic and live music slightly better to my ears. With regards to driving power, the internal amp in the M5 seems to be able to handle far more power output than the M1 Pro, being able to run most of my inventory at half power on low gain, compared to the Soundaware, which has had to be kicked into High Gain and pushed up to about 80% to get a full sound out of at least one of the over-ear headphones I tried it with. Another area where the Shanling clearly pulls ahead is UI – while the Soundaware shares most of the same tricks (different gain settings, USB DAC functionality etc), the interface they use is very much in line with the external appearance of the player: robust, clunky and developed in the late 90s. In contrast, the Linux-based GUI on the Shanling feels more functional and responsive, and is more stable than the Soundaware, which has crashed a few times since I have had it, compared to the M5’s blemish free record so far. One final differentiator in favour of the M5 is the inclusion of a 10 band EQ, which the Soundaware player lacks. For the price, both are accomplished players, so if the UI and looks aren’t a consideration, then the choice will come down to whether you own a lot of low-OI headphones and are a fan of a leaner and more spacious presentation compared to the more intimate warmth of the M5.
     
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    Overall conclusion
     
    Not being blessed with a huge library of comparison gear or the “golden ears” to appreciate it, trying to be objective about DAPs in this sort of price bracket is difficult. It can be like trying to pick your favourite steak in a restaurant – every now and again, a fillet comes along that is clearly a slice above the rest, but for everything else, it is as much about how the food is seasoned and presented as the actual cut of meat underneath which determines how much you will enjoy it. That is as appropriate an analogy as I can think of to describe the M5 – the underlying DAC chip is a well-respected performer (the AK4490) in this price bracket, and the chassis, amp power and usable UI all contribute to an overall sound that is musical, detailed and enjoyable. This isn’t a revelation in terms of sound in the same way that a $1000 IEM can sound compared to a set of $100 buds, but when listened to side by side with today’s generation of phone player and first-tier audiophile DAPs, there is a small but noticeable uptick in resolution, driving power and musicality that allows you to sink just a little further into the music. In the long term, I would wonder how the non-touch based UI will fare as most mid-fi manufacturers seem to be adopting touch screen android based interfaces, but on a purely sound based level, this is a very good performer for the price, and with the added bonus of not having to carry an amp stack around for most cans and the ability to use it as a USB DAC (sadly, not tested due to my current computer set up), this is a very capable and good sounding player for the current price. I can’t award it the full complement of 5 stars as there are a few things that would help (search functionality in the selection screens, less time before the menus time out etc), but for the price, this is certainly a DAP worth considering if you get the chance.
    1. dw1narso
      how could this review missed from the radar :)....
      good story telling... Jackpot77...
      dw1narso, Nov 4, 2016
    2. sledgeharvy
      Very good review. Since owning it, I've come to love how stable it truly is. The DX80 is suffering from battery issues due to the android os it naturally presents it's self to. Perhaps something we should keep in mind when reviewing these devices! Myself included.
      sledgeharvy, Mar 4, 2018
      harry501501 likes this.
    3. hieple193
      I quite like my Walkman A55, good sound, smooth UI and amazing battery. Overall its stable. But i considering M5 for another experience. Your review help me a lot. Thanks
      hieple193, May 9, 2019

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