The sound of the M6 can be characterised as somewhere between neutral-warm and neutral-smooth. Meaning, the overall sound is quite neutral with a hint of warmth and smoothness, which results in a pleasing, analog-ish timbre. Also very good is the presentation, as it throws a large soundstage with a dark background. The detail retrieval is good for a smooth sounding DAP, so do not expect analytical levels of details. This makes the M6 a forgiving DAP. Another pleasant surprise to me was, when I was comparing this against the Hiby R6, R6 had some digital glare to its notes, while the M6 was free of this. This once again contributes to the very pleasant timbre on the M6. I really cannot think of any outright cons in terms of sound quality for a $500 DAP. But if I have to nitpick, I would have liked it if it hit more harder in the bass like the Hiby R6.
Shanling M6 vs Hiby R6:
Before going into the actual sound quality, let’s talk about 2 issues of the Hiby R6, that would make the Shanling M6 an automatic choice. The first is the 10 Ohm Output Impedance of the R6, which makes the DAP non-ideal for multi-BA IEMs, unless you are planning on only using IEMs with flat impedance tech like Custom-Art’s FIBAE or 64Audio’s LID. The second is the poor WiFi performance of the R6. Unless or other wise you are sitting very close to a WiFi router, the signal is going to be so poor that, you won’t be able to have a decent WiFi connection to stream music. So if low Output Impedance and good WiFI is necessary, for you, it is not even a competition. M6 is the clear winner.
As for sound, the 2 devices are very close in performance and characteristics except for a couple of differences. Both have a neutral-warmish sound with a large soundstage. Next to the R6, M6 sounds a tad mid-centric. This might be due to the fact that R6 slams harder in the bass and has a touch of digital glare in the treble. But the digital glare itself doesn’t manifest itself as brightness. It’s just something you notice, when you compare these 2 devices side-by-side. R6 also displays just a bit more authority in the macro-dynamics. Other wise with these devices are not that far off in sound characteristics.
Shanling M6 vs M2X:
Before moving on to sound, I want to say, how much I still love the M2X for its usability. M2X is a bare-bone music player to play local files and comes with a Tidal client for streaming music on Tidal. Where as the M6 is a full-fledged Android music player that let’s you do a lot more things.
As for the sound, M6 sounds a bit more dynamic and more refined/nuanced. While M6 may not hit hard in the bass, it definitely hits harder than the M2X. M6 also throws a larger stage and has a blacker background with better overall resolution. So you get overall more texture and details in the bass and mids than the M2X. M6 is also more full-bodied than the M2X and doesn’t exhibit any softness that M2X does at times. The tone is almost similar on the 2 devices, but the timbre is slightly better and more realistic on the M6. M6 is definitely the better sounding of the 2 without a doubt and in a way can be described as a direct upgrade.
Shanling M6 vs iPhone Dongle:
iPhone dongle is not to be underestimated. A lot of times I listen to my IEMs right out of the iPhone dongle and never have I felt that the sound was disappointing. The dongle has a stronger and fatter bass, but isn’t as clean and nuanced as the M6. The dongle also exhibits a bit of brightness in the treble, while the M6 is perfectly linear and yet retrieves more details than the dongle due to its better resolving capability. M6 also provides a slightly more realistic mid-range timbre, although the warmth and the body of the mid-range notes seem to be in the same ball park. M6 also outdoes the dongle in soundstage, separation and layering, making it a clear winner in the non-tonal aspects.
Driving Power and Hiss.
The M6 has more than enough power for all IEMs out there and should be able to drive easy-to-drive Planarmagnetic HPs and low-impedance HPs. And it goes without saying that, for power-hungry Planars and high-impedance dynamics, you are not going to get the best out of a DAP like the M6. As for hiss, M6 is very silent with IEMs in general and may have an indiscernible hiss with highly sensitive IEMs.
Having a neutralish sound makes the M6 a fairly versatile player for IEMs of various signatures and all genres. If you already have a smooth and laidback sounding IEM and are expecting to add some energy to it, M6 is probably not going to offer that. Also this is not a very analytical sounding, hyper-detailed player. On the other hand, if you have a very aggressive IEM and are looking for a source to tone down the energy just a tiny bit, M6 just might be the player.
While Shanling now has a new flagship, the M6 Pro, it costs $250 over the M6, which puts the Pro in a different price bracket. To me, the M6 is still relevant as it makes for an excellent $500 DAP. While it didn’t dethrone the M2X for user friendliness, it was a clear step-up in sonic capabilities. I think it is a well rounded DAP for $500 that sounds very well and offers a lot of versatility given the Android OS and other features. So if you are looking for a $500 DAP with a warmish, smoothish sound, Android UI with music streaming capability, I will highly recommend the Shanling M6.