Pros: Smooth/Organic Tone and Timbre, Black Background, Both 2.5mm and 4.4mm Balanced Ports
Cons: Doesn’t Hit Hard in the Bass, Large in Size for a Mid-Fi DAP, Swipe Gestures not as Fluid as Smartphones
The Shanling M6 was provided free of charge by Shanling in exchange for my review
Shanling has built a reputation for themselves in the entry-level DAP market. The M0 is probably Shanling’s most popular DAP to date, as it was a novel idea to make a such a tiny DAP that could also double as a Bluetooth receiver. While I have not tried the M0, I reviewed the M2X last year, and it is one of my favourite DAPs for its highly pleasing user experience, due to its palm-friendly form factor and slick UI. The new M6 is Shanling’s first foray into Android OS. It retails for $500 and was supposedly replacing the M5S as a the new flagship, until the most recent announcement of the M6 Pro, which is the current flagship.
Packaging Contents and Accessories.
The player comes with the standard set of contents and accessories that most DAPs in this price range do. You get a USB-C cable, screen protector, a back glass protector and the standard documentation. For some reason, Shanling decided to go with a soft plastic type of screen protector, which was so finicky to put on that, I ended up destroying it in the process. I see some 3rd party protectors online, incase you end up destroying the screen protector like me. The player doesn’t come with a case, but you can pick up Shanling’s own leather case for $36. Shanling was very kind to send me the case along as always. I always prefer my electronics in a case, so I have used all my DAPs with cases. But I had to make an exception for the M6. Apart from making an already large DAP even larger, the leather case makes swipes quite difficult. So I prefer using the M6 without the leather case, while I use a point and shoot camera like case to store it.
Hardware, Software and UI.
For a mid-fi DAP, the M6 is a bit on the large side. When you make a DAP larger than the average size, it has to be justified with a large screen or a considerably better battery life or sound as good as the huge TOTL DAPs. But the M6 doesn’t do any of that, so I wish the device was bit smaller than it is. Unlike Fiio’s M11, which offers an almost edge-to-edge screen, the screen to body ratio of the M6 is probably around 60-65%. I would have preferred a shorter DAP with a more filling screen on the front. As for the battery performance, I got somewhere around 10hrs with a mixed usage between Single Ended and Balanced, which is more than acceptable. Something I want to appreciate that Shanling does is the micro-SD slot. Unlike some of the manufacturers who either leave the slot open without any protection, or use a sim-tray like mechanism, Shanling has a plastic cover that protects the slot. As far as I know, only Sony and Shanling does this and I love it.
As for the software, the M6 runs Android 7.1 Nougat. Right out of the box the device showed some stutters and lags. But after a reset, it has been responsive, fluid and smooth. And most importantly, I have not experienced any bugs. With the original firmware, Android’s traditional 3-Button navigation interface was not an option. Navigation using the Swipe Gestures and Floating Home button did not provide a pleasant experience that I would get on a good Android smartphone. This was one of the qualms on the UI side for me. But thankfully, Shanling made the traditional 3-Button option available from Firmware V3.0. After updating to this FW, the user experience was kicked up a notch as I prefer the 3-Button interface.
The Shanling music app, for some reason, just doesn’t appeal to me. There is nothing wrong with it, in fact, it works just fine and gets the job done. But having gotten used to the Hiby music app on both the Hiby R6 and my iPhone, I wanted to install it on the M6 too. The international version of the M6 does come with the Google Play Store, so you should be able to install the apps of your choice. So after a few days of using the Shanling music app, I installed the Hiby music app. In addition, I have also installed Neutron Music Player during times when I need access to Parametric EQ and also Apple Music, when I want to stream music. All these music apps have been working smoothly as expected.
Features and Extras.
The M6 comes packed with features. It sports both 2.5mm and 4.4mm Balanced ports. But it doesn’t have any dedicated Line-Out ports. I couldn’t find any info on the gain level for its Line Out but what I can for sure is, this is not desktop DAC material. To be fair, Cayin N8 is the only DAP that I know is desktop DAC material. M6 might still be good for stacking with portable amps. It can do digital out via its USB port to act as a source for an external DAC and it works as expected. Then there is Bluetooth when you want to use your wireless headphones/speakers and it works as expected. It does support LDAC, so you can take advantage of it, if your headphone/speaker supports it.