For analyzing the sound of the M8 I used a wide variety of IEMs, such as the DITA Audio Dream XLS, FiR Audio M4, Vision Ears VE5, 64 Audio Tia Trio and Campfire Audio Ara. I primarily used the balanced 4.4mm and 2.5mm sockets and Shanling’s own ‘Shanling Music’ app, as well as the Idagio Premium+ (lossless) streaming service. For music I used a very wide variety such as jazz, EDM and rock, but I also used the M8 extensively as a source for reviews in my ‘Masters of Classical Music’ series.
The big question with a high-end DAP like this is of course always: How does it sound? At its price point you can expect the sound to be very good and I think the M8 actually sounds well beyond “very good”. The M8 has outstanding sound quality, both in terms of tonality and technical ability. Shanling claim “reference class performance” with a “smooth, pleasing and slightly warmer sound” and that is exactly how I would describe it.
The M8 is a highly transparent DAP that presents notes in a very natural way without any articulation in order to increase perceived details. It instead very accurately renders textures and details, which gives the M8 a very pleasing, yet impressive sound. It is slightly warmer, but only a hint I would say, without harming clarity and it offers a very large stage. For my classical music review series I specifically used the M8 with the FiR M4 (with DITA Audio Oslo) because of how it pushed the M4’s stage to incredible proportions while also taming some of the brightness the M4 have.
I have seen a lot of comments about the bass and one could be mistaken for taking the M8 as some sort of “bass head king”, but it isn’t. The bass in my opinion is not exaggerated, rather it is a very high quality analogue type bass with incredible texture and detail, and great extension. I adored the pairing with the 64 Audio Trio (with PlusSound Exo GPS), which was spectacular for its bass. In the midrange the M8 is very natural sounding with a slightly thicker note. It became quite clear early on that the M8 has a particular talent for rendering instruments such as violins, but when I paired the Vision Ears VE5 (with Effect Audio Lionheart) I was also very impressed by its vocal performance, which pushed the VE5’s vocal to even greater heights with outstanding clarity and density. The treble is extended and very smooth, which helped tone down the M4 a little while maintaining both air and sparkle. Something that also came back with the Trio, which sparkled beautifully in my opinion.
As the M8 is a very powerful DAP there is of course the invariable question concerning noise level (hiss). I tested this with the Empire Ears Phantom (with Eletech Plato) and the even more sensitive Campfire Audio Ara and both stayed perfectly clean. So I think it is safe to say that noise is not an issue with the M8, even with very sensitive IEMs.
When I reviewed it, I called the Lotoo PAW6000 the quintessential pure music DAP and it offers a very different proposition from the Android-based M8. The PAW6000 has a proprietary UI, does not have apps or even proper WiFi for that matter. Because of its simpler system, the PAW6000 boots up considerably faster and I personally find the UI much more intuitive to use compared to the Shanling Music app. The PAW6000 also has one of the very best PMEQs out there and offers a lot of versatility even though it is a pure music DAP. Basically, everything it does, it does extremely well. It is smaller in size with an outstanding build quality very similar to the M8. The M8 is a lot bigger and heavier, but also offers an outstanding quality screen that the PAW6000 can’t match.
In terms of sound both offer a very high-quality sound, as you can expect at this price point. The PAW6000 offers a deep black background that is something of Lotoo’s trademark feature and I personally love how vividly notes contrast against that background. It also has a slight hint of note articulation that brings a some added excitement and energy. The M8 by comparison does not quite have that deep black background and the notes do not have the articulation. Rather than that excitement and energy, the M8 has notes that feel more complete, more natural. This results in a more transparent note and here the M8 really shines. Initially it might not feel as detailed as the PAW6000, but eventually textures and details start to come through in spades. The bass is more textured, detailed and feels more realistic, where the bass of the PAW6000 feels punchy, yet dark and relatively flat by comparison. The PAW6000 is just not quite as natural. The midrange also feels more organic and alive with the M8 than with the PAW6000, although the latter still have the high contrast by vividly painting its notes against that deep black background. The treble also feels more natural than that of the PAW6000, which has the articulation that gives especially strings a bit more bite.
As a reviewer I always try to be descriptive, share my opinion with some restraint and try to avoid bias as much as possible. Here though I will state a very clear bias I have because I think it adds something important. I am hopelessly biased in favor of Lotoo. I love the brand’s philosophy and I love the PAW6000, which has been my go-to DAP for all my reviews ever since I got it. The million-dollar question thus is, can the M8 win me over against such bias? And yes, I think I can safely say that it has done so. There are some practical issues I have with the M8. It is very big, doesn’t start up as fast, I am not a big fan of Android-based DAPs, the Shanling Music app is not as refined and intuitive as Lotoo’s UI and I really miss having a 3.5mm SE out alongside the balanced out, but other than that the M8 has won me over completely. I love the sound quality, I have discovered the convenience of streaming, the interchangeable sockets are also super convenient to have and the criticisms I mentioned before are actually very minor compared to the overall refinement and quality of the M8.