Shanling M9

Other Wired/Wireless connections.

In this section of the review, I will go over various wired and wireless connections I tested and verified with M9.

Digital usb-c out

I tested this interface using a new Shanling UA5 usb dac dongle which got recognized right away.  I was using Shanling own music audio app, and set M9 volume to the max. This way, Volume was controlled only from UA5, but in theory you can control the volume from either M9 or UA5.  Sampling rate was displayed correctly.  One interesting observation here, when comparing UA5 sound connected to my S22 vs M9, with the same cable, playing the same song, and with the same pair of iems, M9/UA5 has a better layering and improved vertical dynamics.  I have no idea how to explain this, but I went a dozen of times, back and forth, and always came back to the same conclusion.

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Line Out

Once connected to external amplifier and LO is selected from notification bar shortcuts, volume can’t be controlled from M9, only from external amplifier (if it has volume control).  I tested LO output with Cayin C9 and Romi Audio BX2.  In either pair ups I didn’t hear any clipping or distortion.  As expected, BX2 gave me more transparency, very clean sound delivering the tonality of AK4499 dac output without any coloration.  C9 gave me more coloration and smoother tonality, though I found BX2 soundstage to be more expanded in width when compared to C9.

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USB DAC

When connected to my Win10 laptop, in notification area of M9, once you swipe it down, I had to select USB Mode to be “usb dac”.  M9 was recognized right away, and I was able to control volume from either laptop or M9.  The sound using M9 as usb dac with my laptop was identical to listening with M9 standalone.

Bluetooth Wireless

You have 2 modes of Wireless Bluetooth operation, Tx and Rx.

BT Rx – You need to turn on Bluetooth and select Bluetooth Amp mode in the same setting screen, then search and pair up with M9 from your smartphone.  Enable LDAC on a smartphone and start streaming from smartphone while using M9 as a wireless BT DAC.  Volume was controlled from both, my S22 smartphone and M9.  Also, correct protocol (LDAC) was shown on M9.

BT Tx – Paired up M9 with Hiby WH2 TWS earphones within seconds.  Found it to work across 28ft of open space, full remote control from TWS earpieces.  Within paired earphones setting on M9 there was no switch to enable LDAC, but when I went into Developer Options menu, I was able to confirm LDAC codec being used.  Volume could be controlled from M9.  The sound was as good as when being paired up with my S22, but the BT distance was shorter in comparison to my smartphone.

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Conclusion.

Sometimes, audiophiles get so focused on hardware specs, they miss the big picture.  When M9 was announced, I heard from some people they don’t see the point of this upgrade considering it has the same DAC and amplifier design as in M8.  Perhaps, if you don’t care about Android experience with a faster user interface, this holds true.  But in my opinion, Android 7.1 and older Snapdragon SoC was holding Shanling DAPs back.  You can have the best tuned system in the world with a fully optimized OS, but you are still at the mercy of 3rd party app developers who constantly push updates optimized for the later OS and the faster hardware.  M9 release is a BIG deal for Shanling because they finally took a BIG leap forward to introduce the next gen platform.

And it’s not just the next gen with Android 10 and Snapdragon 665, which btw is a good stepping stone for a future Android 11 upgrade if Shanling decides to, but also a lot of other noteworthy improvements.  Having dual AK4499EQ and the same Amp architecture doesn’t mean the sound will remain the same.  While M8 was well known for its warm analog sound, it had a bit of a limitation in pair up synergy with some IEMs.  M9 addressed it by finetuning upper frequencies to bring higher resolution and to improve the retrieval of details, making its compatibility more universal across different IEMs/headphones.  Then, doubling the power of SE output also improves its pair up compatibility with more demanding headphones so you don’t have to upgrade the cable to balanced, especially if cable is not removable.

There is a laundry list of other improvements, too many to list in the Conclusion.  Basically, Shanling captured all the best of M8 and took it to the next level, literally, inside out.  One thing I do have to note, this release of M9 came equipped with the original flagship AK4499 DACs, and once they use up the remaining stock of these discontinued DACs (everybody is familiar with AKM factory fire and the outcome of it), M9 will be refreshed with another DAC, turning this into a bittersweet release.  But considering Shanling’s house tuning with a more natural organic tonality, I have no doubt the refresh will be heading in the same direction.  At the same time, the original M9 is still available for sale, still going strong, and still one of the top available DAP performers.

18 thoughts on “Shanling M9

  1. I think the price difference between the M9 and M8 does not seem to be justified according to the gap mentionned, maybe is due to its limited edition (500 units with AK DAC’s)…
    The price positionning is too high and the 500 units worldwide were not sold so easily, hopefully the next ones with another DAC will be cheaper or will have a bigger Gap comparing to the M8 I love.

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    1. Not sure how to justify price increase, but they did step it up in this release. And they also just released $1.2k M7 with ES9039pro dac and similar look scaled down chassis.

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      1. The iBasso DX320 will be a very serious competitor against the M9 and may reach a close level of the N8ii at a very compete price offer, even with an extra Amp cost…

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  2. TBH I understand that the price level for this type and level of device can partially be explained by the development & material costs (during Corona) versus the potential sales volume … In that sense I do not find the M9 to be worse or (much) better than the N8ii. They both are firmly placed at TOTL level …

    It will be interesting however if iBasso is able to bring out a device that will compete at that same TOTL level for a lower price. In that case one might wonder what iBasso does better than Cayin of Shanling.

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    1. A lot of factors goes into people choosing one model over the other. Some of my readers tell me they are loyal to a brand and will buy no matter what 🙂 IMHO, besides improvements in spec and performance, the build quality of M9 also scaled up. But again, it’s great to have all these options in different price ranges!

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      1. Not only the build quality .. TBH compared with the N8ii’s clunkyness (no offense and fully respecting the N8ii’s musical prowess) the M9 looks as if Marty McFly brought it back from the future … Sexy as hell … (although in the end that’s a matter of taste I guess 🙂

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  3. Alex, thanks for the as always elaborated review and could you please comment shortly, how R01 and LPGT stand vs M9?

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    1. Not too far off, but I find M9 to be a little more revealing at the top, extracting more details, while other two in many pair ups maintain smoother upper frequencies.

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    1. why hm800 review? It’s not released yet, just a tiny fpga based r2r dac they are using in $150 bluetooth adapter for their headphones and will have in a separate dongle package (under hm800) I tested at canjam nyc. But, it’s not a DAP or related to a dap 😉 It’s just a simple dongle.

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    1. I know what this is and I talked about it in my CanJam NYC report. It’s a dongle, and I will review it when Hifiman US will have it in stock to send for review, they don’t have it yet. If you have any questions, contact me on Head-fi or FB, please. This is the comments section after M9 Review 😉

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  4. I think beside this Shanling M9, and iBasso DX320, the Fiio M17 should get attention and review here.
    It would be great comparation.

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    1. I agree, M17 should be used for comparison, but FiiO blacklisted me since 2017 when I compared X7ii vs DX200 in my review and found iBasso dap to sound better. I have contacted FiiO many times, they are the only DAP company in the world that doesn’t want to send me their flagship DAPs. DX320 and WM1ZM2 will be my next reviews.

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