I would like to thank Rick of Hifi Solutions in Amsterdam for providing me with the Shanling M0 for this review. No incentive was given for a favourable review, I was just asked to say something about the store. Of course! Would have done that anyway, Rick.
The reason I wanted to work with Hifi Solutions is that sometimes in this hobby it can be quite difficult to find access to demo units and advice that actually takes into consideration the preferences and the budget of the customer. When I lived in London it was surprising that the best stores were actually found outside of Central London and now that I am back living in the Netherlands it is like landing in an audiophile desert. Hifi Solutions is quite literally the only brick and mortar store I know of in the Netherlands that stocks high-end portable gear from brands such as Campfire Audio, 64 Audio, EarSonics, Effect Audio, Chord, Astell & Kern, and in this case Shanling (because interesting gear does not always have to be expensive). So, I wanted to make sure Dutch audiophiles were aware of Hifi Solutions. And of course, any audiophile visiting from abroad, because there is more to Amsterdam than the Red Light district and Coffee Shops where the term “high tea” has a wholly different meaning to it than in London.
- Dimension: 40 x 13.5 x 45 mm
- Screen: 1.54 inch, 240 x 240 touch screen
- Weight: 38 g
- DAC Model: ESS Sabre ES9218P
- Sampling rate: up to 384kHz / 32 bit, DSD 128
- Storage: up to 512GB TF card
- Battery Life time: about 15 hours
- Deep standby: 30 days
- Charging time: 2 hours
- Recommended headphone impedance: 8-300 ohms
- Output port: Headphone output (3.5 mm)
- Output power: 80mW @ 32 Ohm
- Output impedance: 0.16 Ohm
- Channel separation: 70 dB
- Frequency response: 20Hz~20kHz (-0.5 dB)
- Distortion: 0.004% (A-Weighting, Output 500mV)
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 118 dB (A-weighting)
- Ground noise: <3uV (high gain)
- Dynamic Range: >105 dB
- Price: US$109
This is a first in what I hope to be a small series of reviews with a Twist (there’s that pun again!), as it is much less about critical listening and all about real-world use for training.
I train a lot, five to six days a week, and have been doing that most of my life. For me there is a practical reason because high-intensity exercise helps me manage my ADHD and so I have to maintain the sort of training routine that is not all that far from what a professional athlete would do. In fact, I grew up with professional athletes and learned a lot from them, mostly the discipline and drive needed to keep it up year in, year out. There is a very strong psychological aspect to it and the harder you push, the more important that aspect becomes, even if your level is not quite up there with the Olympians. It is all about your own personal limits, irrespective of how you stack up against others. By the time this review goes up we will be well underway in 2019 and for many people the New Year’s resolutions will have failed already. The first few weeks in the New Year were great, new running shoes and gym outfits, getting all excited about sweat pouring over your face and then ultimately giving up because of 1001 different excuses. I have seen it many times and it is not that people are “weak” or “failures” or whatever degrading term you can think of, it is just that they have not addressed the psychological aspect that comes with building up a structural training regime, let alone building it up to the point where you can really start to push it (and that’s where the fun is).
There are many ways to deal with the psychological side of training and one of those we all know so well… Cue the music! [Insert Rocky I training video]
See, I knew you would instantly have the right tune pop up in your head! Its near universal recognition is because it resonates with us. The music recalls the images of Rocky working hard and getting to the top (of the stairs), there is an energy in it that speaks to us at a very deep psychological level, and indeed at a deep physiological level as well. It literally gets our adrenalin up and stimulates us. Even if we do nothing with it, it still primes our body for action. Music can do that. So, athletes wearing Beats on their head are not just raking in the sponsorship, they are creating a bubble for themselves where they can channel the energy of their favourite music to psych themselves up and prime their body and mind for action.
Music is a great way to help you push on when otherwise you might not have, or worse, quit trying altogether. The adrenalin (and other chemicals your body has on offer) can even help you suppress the pain of your muscles burning from the exertion. One month before I started working on this review series my doctor told me that I should prepare myself that perhaps I would never run again because of a chronic knee injury. Not only was I lucky enough that the injury was not quite so serious, the first runs I did with the Shanling M0 were my fastest in two years. The music I carried with me actually helped me overcome a fear I had built up of injuring my knee further. This fear resulted in me running too carefully, actually worsening the injury. Getting myself psyched up and full of adrenalin helped me to ignore some initial pain and lengthen my stride to become more fluid, causing less impact on the knee and making me run faster. Win-win!
Boot Camp gear requirements.
Music can be a great catalyst like that, but being an audiophile I got curious about the influence of the quality of the music. While training many details are lost because your focus is not on the music and there is other noise around. So, does it make sense to invest in better gear? My hypothesis is that it can indeed make sense, if it is aimed at the right things:
– A good quality bass to begin with, as I have had many boring and lifeless “sports earphones” in the past.
– Plenty of details coming through very clearly. Most of those will be lost, but enough of it will remain perceptible to add to the excitement of the music.
Build (both source and IEMs)
– Lightweight and very durable because it will need to withstand some abuse, especially moisture from sweat and rain.
– In case of earphones, great ergonomics to get a secure and comfortable fit.
– A vented design (like with some dynamic drivers) can help minimise pressure fluctuations while moving around.
– Thin, light cable without any microphonics, or possibly Bluetooth without bulky parts that move around more than you do yourself.
– Good battery life. Nothing worse than having to constantly charge equipment. My Garmin GPS watch lasts about a week and I cannot begin to describe my level of frustration when at the start of a training I get the dreaded “Low Battery” pop up.
– Easy controls and a smooth, fluid interface.
With this in mind, I started thinking about the first setup I would like to try. I had already found the Final E-series IEMs, which I think are absolutely great. I bought the E2000 and got to review the E4000 and E5000, which showed me that indeed better quality IEMs help to make the music more engaging even while training. The E5000 have a stiff and very microphonic cable and I can’t recommend those unless you plan to replace the cable. However, the E4000 do have a very nice cable, a great sound and a well-vented design, so I started with those. For the source I really had only one DAP in mind, the diminutive Shanling M0, which I understood to be a powerful little DAP with lots of added features.
Before moving on to the M0 I wanted to briefly touch on the E4000. I have reviewed them in full here already, but there are a few practical elements that I did not really touch on in my review and some aspects that are specific to training.
The E4000 have a vented design that is very helpful in reducing pressure fluctuations when moving around. With intensive exercise it is possible that the IEMs move around and if there is a good seal it can feel a little bit like someone is pushing and pulling a plunger against your ear. The vents on the E4000 help to mitigate this quite effectively. Of course, it also helps to use different tips. Personally, I always use silicone tips because I find foam tips to be a bit itchy, but after a run in the pouring rain I found that silicone was simply not practical, as it gets slippery when wet and that caused all manner of issues. With foam tips I have not had similar issues and actually found it more comfortable during training indoor as well.
The runs in the pouring rain and freezing cold did also allow me to subject the E4000 to a real durability test and I have to say that I am very impressed by them. They have been completely soaked in the rain and I was quite sure water entered the vents because even my ears were full of water by the time I was halfway on one of my runs. Despite it all, the E4000 kept going and although there were some minor cut outs from the mmcx connectors in the days following the runs, those only seemed temporary. In terms of durability I think the E4000 did an excellent job, although I might avoid running in rain that bad in the future, just to be on the safe side, because they are definitely not waterproof.
On to the Shanling M0…