Ultra AKM magic?
PROS: Build quality, attractive design, fast UI, excellent stock Shanling player, very musical, slightly warm tonality with very tasteful colour that AKM DACs are popular for, no-BS DAP with minimal quirks.
CONS: Form factor on the larger side, old Android 10 OS, 1080p screen not as rich or vibrant.
Founded in 1988, Shanling began to develop audio products and launched their first Hi-Fi stereo amplifier in the same year. Shanling has launched new products every year since then and has obtained a series of patented technology qualifications, such as SONY LDAC, Bluetooth BQB, Japanese Audio Association Hi-Res, Microsoft’s HDCD, Dolby Laboratories’ Dolby Digital, DTS and DVD, SACD, CD patent licenses and many more. For over 30 years, Shanling’s employees kept integrity, innovation, team spirit and hard work in mind. Today Shanling’s HQ is located in Shenzhen while their factory is in Dongguang. Shanling is a high-tech company combining R&D, production, processing and sales of products, including Hi-Res portable music players, portable amplifiers, Hi-Fi headphones, SACD/CD players, Hi-Fi amplifiers, power conditioners and many other Hi-Fi products.
Official Website – Shanling M6 Ultra
- Snapdragon 665 CPU.
- DAC: AKM AK4493SEQ.
- Analog circuit: OPA1612+OPA2211+LTA8092+BUF634A.
- Output Power: 240mW@32Ω(3.5mm), 720mW@32Ω(4.4mm).
- Output Impedance: Less than 1Ω.
- Battery capacity: 5650mAh.
- Battery life: Up to 13.5hours in single-ended mode and 9 hours in balanced mode.
- Android Global Lossless Output system.
- MQA 16x Unfolding.
- Open Android 10 OS.
- Dual headphone output(3.5mm Single-Ended+4.4mm Balanced).
- 4GB RAM | 64GB internal storage.
- MicroSD card slot.
- 5” Full HD display.
- Quick charge 3.0 support.
Design and User Interface.
Case – The leather case does not come stock in the package but you can buy it separately for $35.
Shanling Player Main Interface – The main music library is classified under multiple categories (shown in Picture 3) and you can use a combination of gestures or arrow keys to navigate the menu.
External buttons and outputs –
- Top – 4.4mm BAL PO | 3.5mm PO
- Bottom – Micro SD card slot and charging port
- Left – Buttons for Previous, Play and Next
- Right – Volume Wheel/Power Button
Sound – M6U has a very musical, warm-ish, coloured sound signature with a slightly boosted mid-bass presentation, slightly fuller lower-midrange, slight emphasis over neutral around 4-5kHz in the upper-midrange that highlights instrument crispness and definition, fairly neutral lower-treble and slightly smoothened upper-treble presentation. M6U prioritises tasteful colour over absolute neutrality and I find it complimenting and pairing best with IEMs/headphones that are slightly on the brighter side, ones that have a leaner than neutral lower-midrange, stuff that could use a slight push in bass or upper-midrange forwardness or ones that could use some smoothening of brighter upper-treble peaks.
Technical Performance – Because of slightly fuller lower-midrange than neutral, M6U sounds a bit more intimate than something more neutral like the DX240 but is still able to present quite an immersive, holographic experience when paired with the right transducer that has those qualities and is capable of portraying M6U’s technical performance well – stuff like DCA + DROP Aeon Closed X, Audeze LCD-XC 2021, Sennheiser HD800S, Symphonium Helios, CustomArt F7U & F5, etc. M6U has very good imaging and layering. Left to right separation and soundstage isn’t the best in its segment as DX240 takes the lead there but it’s still quite impressive for what it does and the kind of warmer signature it has in comparison.
Power – M6 Ultra has very good juice to power hungry headphones and IEMs. It easily powers headphones like DCA Aeon Closed X, Audeze LCD-X/XC 2021, iBasso SR3 as well as power hungry headphones like the Sennheiser HD6XX.
Battery Life – I averaged around 12 hours using a variety of file formats and some screen time with SE output and around 7-8 hours with the Balanced output.
Pair-up impressions with IEMs.
Note – All of these impressions were written using the 4.4mm BAL output.
Softears RSV – This pairing makes for a highly musical combo. RSV’s bass is quite well done and the bass presentation is a pleasure to listen in this combo. The lower-midrange fullness gets a bit much for me but would be perfect for people who like a north of neutral fuller lower-midrange presentation. M6U does highlight the lower-treble performance really well but I wish it did the same with upper-treble since RSV is warmer in upper-treble too. Soundstage is very clean, though not the widest or most open compared to RSV’s pairing with some other DAPs or compared to other IEM combos. I hear RSV’s imaging being better paired with M6U compared to my phone and laptop’s DACs.
Symphonium Helios – I really like this pairing. Helios has a very nice musical, bass boosted take on a reference-ish signature and I hear M6U pairing with it really nicely. It highlights Helios’ excellent bass shelf with good dynamism, midrange sounds very natural and treble feels very balanced but the thing that impressed me most was Helios’ holographic soundstage with very good layering and strong imaging in this pairing.
CustomArt FIBAE 5 UIEM – I really like this pairing and is one of my favourites to listen to tracks with good bass playing and rock bands like Linkin Park, Vertical Horizon, Alter Bridge, Breakin Benjamin, etc. It has a very nice balance and M6U presents F5’s bass boosted fun bass presentation really well. Nice, warm lower-midrange with good sparkle up top that sounds a bit more natural as M6U takes a bit of the edge off the planar sizzle. Very good layering with a wide holographic soundstage that extends beyond the ear level.
CustomArt FIBAE 7U UIEM – I like this pairing quite a lot. M6U tames a bit of F7U’s upper-treble peak and makes for a slightly warmer, more natural listen. M6U adds some warmth down low and highlights its otherwise more neutral bass presentation really nicely. Soundstage is holographic with width moving behind the ear level. Overall, a very well balanced combo with high musicality.
64 Audio U12t – Not my favourite pairing. It makes for a smoother listen than I like as M6U has boosts in the same mid-bass and lower-midrange region where U12t already has boosts. So, it makes U12t warmer and fuller sounding than I like. M6U also smoothens U12t’s upper-treble peak, which further contributes to the smoothness. Both U12t and M6U’s mid-bass and lower-midrange boosts add up to create slight veil that I hear reducing the overall detail retrieval and layering ability, which I hear being better with a more neutral source. Left to right separation isn’t as clear as I’d like but the soundstage boundaries extend wide and depth is quite impressive too, though not as wide and deep as I heard in some other combos in this pairing section.
Softears RS10 CIEM – This is a good pairing but my only complaint is that the upper-treble feels a bit smoothened as RS10 already has a fairly smooth upper-treble response. I particularly like the bass performance and soundstage presentation in this pairing. Width boundaries are wide and depth feels deep too. There is good depth layering but left to right separation isn’t the best compared to RS10’s pairing with cleaner sounding DAPs like the DX240. This combo has particularly good instrument placement and imaging.
Pair-up impressions with Headphones.
DROP + DCA Aeon Closed X – This is a very good combo. I find M6U filling the gaps in Closed X’s signature quite well. It adds in some lower-midrange fullness and warmth down low to make up for Closed X’s slightly leaner tonality. Bass performance gets a bit of boost too, which is very welcome. I like the slight push M6U provides in the upper-midrange and also tames Closed X’s upper-treble brightness. Soundstage is open and spacious with very good imaging – very good for a Closed Back combo.
Audeze LCD-XC 2021 – This is a very good combo too and I feel M6U complementing XC’s signature very well, just like DCA Closed X’s. XC’s bass performance gets a boost and I find M6U complementing XC’s slightly leaner tonality very well by adding some lower-midrange warmth and body. XC’s upper-treble brightness also sounds more even with M6U. Soundstage is very open and spacious for a Closed-back, cleaner and more open than some open-backs too. I quite like the balance between warmth and left to right separation. Generally when a sources increases warmth/lower-midrange fullness, things start to sound muddy and more intimate but the balance here between the two locks in very well.
Sennheiser HD6XX – Even though M6U powers the power hungry HD6XX easily, I’m no the biggest fan of this combo. I like HD6XX with reference style clean sounding DAPs that can clean up the mid-bass veil. Even though I hear M6U presenting the upper-midrange richly, the slight mid-bass boost and lower-midrange fullness doesn’t work as nicely. I prefer HD6XX’s pairing with a cleaner DAP like DX240 more.
iBasso DX240 with Amp1MK3.
ESS 9038 Pro | Snapdragon 660 | 4GB RAM | 64GB Internal Memory | BAL:878mW (32Ω) | SE: 281mW (32Ω)
Hardware wise, both are very well built DAPs but DX240 has a higher quality 1080p screen with more attractive and vibrant colours and contrast. DX240 is also much easier to hold in the hand and navigate because of its more compact size. M6U has the newer Snapdragon 665 SoC whereas DX240 has the 660. On the other hand, DX240 has the relatively newer Android 11 OS and M6U has Android 10. But otherwise, both are fast DAPs with no perceivable lag or any other quirks in daily usage. DX240 modular amp tech does make it more versatile as you can swap out the amp modules and the different amp modules do add a slightly different flavour to the original DX240 sound, which is a great option to have.
Sound wise, DX240 is a more neutral reference DAP that come across brighter when comparison to AKM based DAPs like M6U or even the Lotoo PAW600. But I personally find DX240 cleaner and more even across the frequency spectrum. It has a more neutral bass presentation whereas I hear M6U having a slight boost in the bass region. M6U has a slightly warmer and fuller than neutral lower-midrange whereas DX240 has a cleaner and more neutral lower-midrange presentation. DX240 is cleaner with its upper-midrange presentation whereas M6U has very slightly more presence in the 4-5kHz region in comparison. Both have fairly neutral lower-treble but I hear M6U smoothening the upper-treble slightly. DX240 has the better treble extension of the two. Both have good imaging but DX240 has wider width boundaries with better left to right separation, better detail retrieval as well as depth layering.
A choice between the two will come down to these points –
- If you like a slightly warmer source – M6U
- If you like a cleaner, more neutral source – DX240
- If you like a very clean and neutral midrange presentation – DX240
- A slightly boosted bass and fuller lower-midrange presentation – M6U
- Wider soundstage with better left to right separation – DX240
- Slightly intimate soundstage with a fuller bodied character – M6U
- Better perception of detail retrieval – DX240
- Better treble extension – DX240
- Option to switch out modular amp and experiment with slightly different flavours – DX240
M6U is a highly musical DAP that complements my favourite DAP in this price segment, the iBasso DX240, very well! It presents a very good coloured sound alternative to the DX240’s more neutral signature. M6U has a slightly warmer signature with slightly boosted mid-bass, a north of neutral fuller lower-midrange character and slightly smoothened upper-treble response. It sure is a versatile source that doesn’t drive any of its colour to the extreme to be a problem but compliments neutral and neutral-bright IEMs and headphones the best in my opinion. Overall, it’s a fun to use DAP with a large 1080p screen and I’m particularly fond of the Shanling player that has an excellent, very attractive, no-BS user interface. M6U does have some cons, like the slightly older OS (Android 10), the 1080p screen not being as vibrant as some other DAPs in this price segment, a non-modular design and a form factor that’s a bit on the larger side but I think its pros of tastefully tuned sound performance that presents the warm tone of AKM DACs very well outweighs the cons by a large margin. So, for that reason, I highly recommend checking out the M6U if you’re looking for a warm-ish source that has tasteful colour and high levels of musicality.
Gear used for testing and review.
- IEMs – Softears RS10 CIEM & RSV, 64 Audio U12t, Custom Art FIBAE 7U & 5 and Symphonium Audio Helios.
- Headphones – Audeze LCD-XC 2021, Sennheiser HD 6XX and DROP + DCA Aeon Closed X.
- DAPs – iBasso DX240
Artists I like and listen to.
- Rock – Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Switchfoot, Imagine Dragons, Daughtry, Green Day, MuteMath, X Ambassadors, Dave Matthews Band, Vertical Horizon, Our Lady Peace, Lifehouse, Fall Out Boy, Breaking Benjamin, Muse, ACDC, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Biffy Clyro, I Am Giant, Normandie, Paramore, Slash & Guns N Roses, 3 Doors Down.
- Pop Rock – John Mayer, Coldplay, Paul McCartney, James Bay, Hunter Hayes, Niall Horan, Keith Urban, The Bros Landreth, Bryan Adams.
- Progressive Rock/Metal – Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, Karnivool, Tool, Dead Letter Circus, Periphery, Lamb of God.
- Pop/Soft Rock – Ed Sheeran, Adele, Taylor Swift, OneRepublic, The Script, Gavin James, Magic Man, Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Dua Lipa, The Weeknd, Oasis, Panic! At the Disco, TwentyOne Pilots.
- EDM – Chainsmokers, Zedd.