Shanling M6 Pro DAP Impressions

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by rhythmdevils, Aug 25, 2021.

  1. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Shanling M6 Pro Review

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    Comparison gear:
    Pi2AES -> Yggdrasil A2 -> 789 with Sigma 11 LPS

    iems:
    CA Andromeda 2020 and sometimes og Solaris

    Build

    This thing is a tank. It feels very high quality with aluminum sides and a very solid feel. The device has curved edges, but is a bit flattened on the edges where you hold it which makes it feel really nice in your hands. It’s a bit heavy and thick when you’re used to a phone, but there are important parts inside and I’m sure Shanling doesn’t have the engineering savvy of Apple or Samsung to cram parts in tight spaces as well. The volume knob is a nice touch, I hate touch screen volume adjustment. It turns nicely, and it also moves in small increments which is very nice for sensitive CA iems. I can get the volume exactly where I want it easily. Which is impossible on an iPhone or even my Drop 789 amp on low gain because there just isn’t enough play in the volume knob (ok, I can get the volume where I want, but it takes tiny tiny touches to the volume knob). Also nice, is that in settings you can set what level the volume goes to by default after it shuts down so it’s not always crazy loud when you turn it on by default. Nice. The only thing that is annoying is the touch screen isn’t as sensitive as good smartphones, which makes interacting with it a little more cluesy than a good smartphone. The (optional in settings) double tap to turn it on isn’t as reactive as an iPhone and the alternative is pushing the volume knob which is a little awkward and tends to change the volume when you push it. I think the touch screen could be a little more sensitive to make this easier but I’m really nit picking here. Once you get used to it, it’s fine. And I don’t think you can expect better at this price and for a DAP.

    It has 3.5mm SE and both 2.5mm and 4.4mm balanced output which is appreciated so you don’t have to buy all new cables.

    USB C charging is great of course as it’s universal

    UI

    I have a Samsung S10e for BubbleUPNP for my Pi2AES and I hate the UI. I actually like the UI on the M6 Pro. It’s simple and clear. I don’t know anything about android OS and I was able to sign into my google account and download Tidal, Amazon Music and Spotify and start listening to music very quickly. I don’t know how bluetooth works, I didn’t try it. What’s the point of a nice DAP if you’re using bluetooth? WIFI was easy to setup.

    It seems really fast. The Tidal app works smoother with less quirks than on my iPod 7th generation. There’s no lag or bugs so far at all.

    Battery Life
    A bit concerning. I went from 70% to 55% in less than an hour just now streaming Tidal. It went from 99% to 70% sitting over night off. I don’t know how long it would play streaming straight or if streaming is more battery intensive due to wifi use. I just would want a good 8 hours and this seems to be cutting it close. Don’t take this too seriously I haven’t done tests.

    Background Noise
    The M6 Pro is dead silent. My 789 even with the ridiculously expensive linear power supply still has a very faint hiss with CA iems.

    Sound

    In Brief

    Surprisingly resolving and dynamic. It really grabs iem drivers by the balls and slams hard. Dynamics sound tighter than my desktop rig (see above) but that could be because of the tonal balance (a bit bass lite). Resolution is behind but surprisingly not by that much. The tonality is a bit brittle sounding if I’m nitpicking, my desktop setup sounds more natural and organic while not loosing any control or having any bloom. The FR feels slightly thin and tipped upwards but the M6 Pro not bright at all. It’s just not a warm sounding DAP. Just slightly on the thin side of neutral and slightly bass lite. Most people will probably perceive this as "neutral". Those who like solid state amps will not notice this at all, it’s much warmer and has more body than most solid state amps but my desktop rig has noticeably more body, weight and bass than the M6 Pro. When switching back to my desktop rig I kind of breath a sigh of relief from the more natural tone and more balanced presentation. Great soundstage for such a small device, it’s not close to my desktop rig but it’s still good.

    Treble
    Very neutral. A tiny bit brighter than my desktop rig and not as smooth but basically exactly on target with great tonality. There’s plenty of air. It sounds pretty similar to my desktop rig.

    Midrange
    No major complaints. It’s a little on the cool side, my desktop rig has a warmer, more natural midrange. But the M6 Pro midrange is very natural and spot on in terms of presence. It’s not forward or recessed. The Andromeda 2020’s recessed vocals are recessed exactly where they should be, it neither fixes this or makes it worse. Generally, the midrange is very natural sounding with lots of air.

    Bass
    Punchy! This is going to be a good thing for most people with BA iems. It makes the og Solaris hit really hard I was really surprised when I first heard it. The og Solaris has slightly loose bass even on my desktop rig, but on the M6 Pro it sounds like a good full sized headphone. Punchy, layered, textured, hard hitting. But the downside is that it’s slightly bass lite. Which is probably partly why it has these positive qualities. My desktop rig has about 30% more bass. ;)

    Synergy

    Andromeda 2020
    The M6 Pro sounds really good with the Andromeda 2020. The Andromeda’s warm tone and slightly loose bass go really well with the M6 Pro. I really can’t recommend this combo enough.

    Og Solaris
    The M6 Pro frickin rocks with the og Solaris. So resolving and dynamic, it hits very hard for an iem. The bass is pure awesomeness in it’s control and slam, it can be pretty intense. The overall sound is a tiny bit thin and sterile but this is my preferences at play and also really nit picking. The og Solaris is already on the cool side just a bit IMO so this DAP doesn’t do the tonality any favors. But I think most folks will like it, it’s very clear, dynamic and resolving. I’m listening to Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love right now and it sounds really really good with the og Solaris. So much slam, tons of information, and the soundstage is excellent. Really rocks it. A bit aggressive but in a good way for most people I think. I really can’t say enough good things about the bass quality of this combo. Maybe some will want more bass, but what’s there is the best I’ve heard from an iem. (I haven’t heard the JVCs or many dynamic iems to be fair).

    I bet this DAP would slay dragons with the DROP JVC FDX01

    I don’t know about the Ara or Nair. I think I would want a slightly warmer DAP and would go for the M6. I’d hate to change the perfect tonality of the Nair.

    Use With Full Size Headphones
    I used my modded T50rp as it’s a pretty normal load, not too sensitive or inefficient. Using full size headphones, the M6 Pro showed more shortcomings compared to my Pi2AES -> Yggdrasil A2 -> SOHA1. But what do you expect? My SOHA1 is no ordinary SOHA1, it’s a unicorn with some unique parts and a somehow way over performing sound that is comparable to 1-2k amps (I’ve done the comparisons in house). The M6 Pro I think was designed and tuned for iem use, but it does a good job with fairly efficient headphones. It's still just a tiny bit thin sounding, and the treble is extended, but is a bit congested and dull and lacks shimmer. It’s really not bad at all though, I would in fact say it does a pretty damn good job. Much much better than an iPod. Its’ got good control over the drivers and good dynamics, soundstage and resolution for what it is. I think I would opt for the iFI Diabo or Micro BL (or whatever Schiit is cooking up) instead for full size headphones but they are both more expensive and lack a source.


    Final Thoughts
    I think this is an excellent DAP and I highly recommend it. It holds it’s own surprisingly well against the best iem rig money can buy. It’s not as good of course, but its not as far behind as you’d think such a small device would be. Synergy with your iems is important with this DAP. I would pair it with neutral - warm iems (how many of those exist?). That may be the biggest problem here, is that most iems are bright and don’t have a ton of warmth unless we’re talking cheap crap. Most are geared towards clarity, which this DAP will enhance. That could be a good thing or a negative depending on your goals. A negative if you’re trying to balance out an iem that’s too bright or thin. I think for me, from what I’ve heard, the M6 would be the better DAP for me due to a more natural tonality from what Shanling has said. But others will love the clarity, resolution and hard hitting dynamics of this DAP.


    Sign up for the loaner tour here!
     
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  2. Andrey

    Andrey Rando

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    Is it 21 year model with ESS dac inside or previous model with dual 4497?
     
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  3. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    ESS
     
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  4. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    yes 21 model with ESS.
     
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  5. Andrey

    Andrey Rando

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    Im thinking of getting this one or fiio m11 plus ltd which comes with dual 4497 now, there few positive reviews on both of them but unfortunately lack of direct comparisons
     
  6. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Maybe I’ll try to get a Fiio demo to review. But there is little interest in this loaner so I’m not sure there would be much interest in the Fiio loaner either. I don’t know why more people aren’t signing up to hear this.
     
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  7. Andrey

    Andrey Rando

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    Definitely interested in your comparison if it will be possible as i can't sign up for loaner, im just non US rando. Will hope you can get it for check.
     
  8. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    Source Comparison with: Shanling M3X (read thread for impressions)

    IEMs used with loaner: Campfire Audio Ara, Gaudio Nair, JVC x Drop HA-FDX1, Moondrop Starfield

    I was considering the M6 with the AKM chips before Shanling flipped to the ESS Sabre chips due to the fire in the AKM plant.

    Shanling M3X with case: $369.00
    Shanling M6 21 with case: $605.00
    Shanling M6 Pro 21 with case: $835.00

    All the DAPs above uses dual ESS Sabre chips. The higher you go, the higher the ESS Sabre chip model will be. However, there’s more to it on why there’s different pricing tiers on these different products.

    This isn’t a fair comparison, but we are comparing the Shanling M3X to Shanling M6 Pro 21. To get it out of the way, the Shanling M6 Pro 21 performs better than the Shanling M3X (it better be for the price), but feature wise they are mostly the same.
    • Both run Android 7.1
    • Both have 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone input (M6 Pro and M6 Pro 21 however has 2.5mm headphone input).
    • Both run Single and Dual DAC mode (if running balanced, Dual DAC mode always run).
    • Both DAPs sounds best in High Gain and Dual DAC mode and in 4.4mm headphone input.
    • Both have Prime Mode (Shanling Music App only) and Android Mode.
      • Android Mode you can use any app for bit-perfect playback that isn’t being affected by the Android resampling.
        • BUT BUT---If you use Roon then it will still have the issue that it will up sample everything, regardless of what the source material is and your settings.
        • The bigger screen of the M6 Pro 21 is better with Roon IMO than the M3X
    • Both have a MicroSD card slot (duh).
      • M6 Pro 21 has much bigger internal storage than M3X.
        • While this feature is cool, people are either going to stream their music with Wi-Fi or use MicroSD.
    • M6 Pro has both 2.4ghz/5.0ghz Wi-Fi, while M3X uses 2.4ghz Wi-Fi.
    • Both uses the same Bluetooth features and the same LED light colors I think depending on Bluetooth codecs.
    • M6 Pro 21 has more features like filters and other misc software items, M3X has slightly less features software that doesn’t break any performance.
    • I know I am forgetting something else….but eh.

    Design
    :

    Shanling talks about the gold volume wheel as a way to tell if the DAP you are holding is the ESS Sabre DAP version or not. It is just a plastic wheel that is colored gold, and it feels mostly the same as the black volume wheel on the M3X except the volume wheel on the M6 Pro 21 has more resistance. M6 Pro 21 feels more premium than the M3X, but the M3X doesn’t feel that cheap. M6 Pro 21 uses a curved screen, which affects the edges of course. Honestly I don’t see why they had to make it a curved screen, it’s a DAP. The screen itself is better than the M3X, but it is still a 720p screen that will be sufficient for DAP uses. The version I have is the Titanium-Gold color and it looks nice. Too bad I recommend getting the case for extra protection, which you can only get it in black or brown. Stick to the Black-Gold version if you want the case since the Titanium-Gold color IMO loses almost its full effect within a case. The MicroSD door on the M6 21 Pro feels more sturdier than the one on the M3X.

    The connectors of the M6 Pro 21 is at the bottom of the DAP, which I am not a fan at all. I really prefer the top connectors of the M3X since it makes the device so much easier to put it in your pocket without bending the cable. However, the bottom of the DAP has all the headphone inputs and your USB cable. The M3X has the 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone inputs on the top of the unit and the USB Cable/MicroSD slot at the bottom of the unit, which depending on how you look at the unit it feel like buying a based model car with a section for buttons, but there’s no buttons. The M6 Pro 21 is bigger in size than the M3X, which makes it bigger to fit in a pocket than the M3X. It isn’t bulky, but it is taller than the M3X (which the M3X is a size of a pack of cards, which is perfect for portable use).

    Design is perfectly fine, just I don’t get why you need a curved glass on a DAP and I prefer headphone inputs to be on the top of the unit, not the bottom. This is going to come down to personal preference.


    Sound:

    M6 Pro 21 is better than the M3X on sound quality, which it better be for the price increase. It is still a warm-neutral sounding DAP like the M3X, but the DAP to me has more resolution, non-plasticity treble unlike the M3X, better bass detail/extension, and more spacious mids unlike the M3X (where the M3X can be semi-compressed at times). The mids have a bias here like the other Shanling products, but the vocals go slightly forward on the M6 Pro 21. No issues with female and male vocals.

    Now, does the M6 Pro 21 really kills the M3X on performance for its MSRP? In my opinion, the answer is no. Honestly I think the M6 Pro 21 is a 10%-25% better on performance than the M3X. You can hear the difference right away when you compare both DAPs. I think due to both DAPs are from Shanling have their in-house sound so it is easier to tell the differences. If the better performance means something to you, then yeah the M6 Pro 21 is something you should consider. Personally I don’t think it is worth the price premium for more performance when the M3X mostly does the same thing feature wise for the most part (with some minor omissions).

    For IEM pairings, I still think warming sounding IEMs would work better here due to the warm-neutral sounding DAP. However, I enjoyed the CA Ara on the M6 Pro 21 for the most part except for some moments where 2k-8k was too much on some tracks. This is the only IEMs that I have to turn on some EQ time to time in order to reduce the 2k-8k for me. The CA Ara will really tell you the differences between the M3X and the M6 Pro 21. The HA-FDX1 was excellent on the M6 Pro 21 if I must say so myself.


    Software
    :

    Android 7.1 is faster on the M6 Pro 21 due to more RAM over the M3X. The screen being bigger makes things easier to see the Android interface than the M3X (but not by much). You can go into settings to adjust the Key-lock Settings, turning on Double Tap to Turn Screen On, and adjusting the Navigation model to your liking. It supports Bluetooth up to LDAC as both the source and being a Bluetooth DAC/Amp. Airplay is also sported and all that wonderful stuff. Yes, the features discussed is also on the M3X as well. Shanling Music App works just fine but still doesn’t support gapless playback, which is super lame. Use BubbleUPnP or USB Audio Player Pro for your music needs. If you care for DSD, native playback is only supported on the Shanling Music App within local storage (not UpnP, which Shanling Music App supports). If you play DSD with USB Audio Player Pro, it’ll convert to PCM. If you want to install Google Play, you have to get it from the included APKPure app, and install Google Play there. I recommend installing it first and then signing into your Google Account or else Google Play will have issues locating your paid apps. If this happens to you, I recommend sign off from your Google account and log in again.

    Shanling like their other Android DAPs uses a modded version of Android where almost all Android apps (except for Roon) will run bit-perfect audio without resampling. So if you wanna have bit-perfect Youtube audio that is still lossy, you can have it. Use Tidal or Qobuz app and play bit-perfect 24/192? You can as well.

    Battery life is great for a higher end device. Since it provides more power for even headphones, it will eat more battery life. On my loaner I can have it running for most of the day if I don’t have the screen on all the time and not running stupid crap like DSD64 and 24/192.

    However, I do have one major issue with the software….it’s Android 7.1 in 2021! Paying this much for a DAP is risky for me since I’m not too sure how long my current apps will support Android 7.1 before they will be pushed up to the next Android level. I believe apps like BubbleUPnP and USB Audio Player Pro go as low as Android 5.0, but I don’t know when they will bump the min Android version to 6 or 7. This for me makes getting the M6 Pro 21 scary for me since I’m paying over $800 for this DAP and it is hard to tell when your apps will stop working. The limited upcoming AKM Shanling M9 is on Android 10, which is prefect for long term software support. I just wished the M6 Pro 21 was on a higher running Android version for longer term software support.

    At the same time, DAPs focus is the music hardware more than the software. You don’t need a near TOTL SOC for a DAP, an older SOC will be more than sufficient for DAP usage. However, I’m having a hard time justifying a $800 DAP that is still running on Android 7.1 when the cheaper and more practical M3X is less than $400 + have most of the features of the M6 Pro 21 + fits in your pocket so much better than the M6 Pro 21. Yes, the M6 Pro 21 is better sounding, but the M3X I believe will work for 90% of SBAF folks where they just want a DAP with streaming support that doesn't cost too much + doesn’t sound like utter shit.


    Conclusion:

    The M6 Pro 21 is a great sounding DAP from Shanling, there is no question to me on this fact. But Shanling cheaper and more practical M3X for less than $400 is more recommended IMO. Maybe you can get the regular version of the M6 21 for $605.00 with the case (since it is only $200 more than the M3X). However, it is hard for someone like me to drop serious money on a DAP with a very outdated version of Android and worrying if your apps will still be supported on the device within a year. If you are planning to get this DAP for local music playback without the Wi-Fi, then I can see why people would get the M6 Pro 21. For those who want streaming, I would be careful in getting the M6 Pro 21 or wait for Shanling to start using Android 10 for their DAPs (which is going to happen sooner or later) for long term support. If you have the money + want the sound of the M6 Pro 21 + not too worried about the older version of Android...then I guess get the M6 21 Pro.
     
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    Last edited: Sep 19, 2021
  9. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    I just read that they updated the firmware for the M6
     
  10. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    They did, which I took care of the Firmware update on the loaner to v1.1. Still Android 7.1 as usual.

    From reviewing the comments on Head-Fi, there are no plans for the M6 line to be updated to at least Android 8 or 9, which is disappointing for long term software support.

    If anyone have Shanling DAPs, Firmware updates are much more faster if you just download the Firmware from Shanling's site and drag it to your internal storage. OTA is pretty slow.
     
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  11. Grattle

    Grattle Friend

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    Looks like George Castanza has some hand model competition.
     
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  12. Bob Smith8901

    Bob Smith8901 Rando

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    Any issues with the new firmware, so far?
     
  13. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    From my limited time with it, no.
     
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  14. Tchoupitoulas

    Tchoupitoulas Friend

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    Shanling M6 Pro 21 DAP Impressions

    Thank you, Shanling, SBAF, and @rhythmdevils for making this loaner tour possible. It’s a rare treat to hear this and other loaner tour gear. I count myself very, very lucky to be able to participate in these loaners, thank you.


    General Stuff
    The DAP is, for the most part, very nicely made. It’s solid but not too heavy, as DAPs go, and it’s lighter than I’d expected when I first saw its size (which itself isn’t too big). The screen is nice and clear and big enough to make navigating and typing pretty easy.

    I have two reservations about the build quality, though: the volume wheel doesn’t feel especially sturdy (I could well be worrying unnecessarily here), and the plastic cover to the SD card port seems a bit flimsy. I’d be concerned about it getting scored accidentally by a fingernail. These aren’t big enough issues to put me off getting one, and I have to be clear that I didn’t encounter any actual problem with the volume wheel.


    User Interface/Ease of Use
    Having a very snappy and highly-responsive DAP isn’t a priority for me; the M6 works perfectly well, but then I have a Sony ZX2 and an iPhone 7.

    The M6 Pro is easy to use when it comes to wifi, downloading and setting up the Qobuz app, and transferring files via SC card. After 20 minutes, though, I gave up trying to transfer files to the M6’s internal storage from my 2016 MacBook Air (Catalina, 10.15.5). I probably could have figured it out but it was easier just to use the SD card.

    A surprisingly nice feature is the attractive pre-installed album art on the Shanling, which is great since life’s too short to futz about with album covers.

    I do have two gripes about the experience of using the M6 Pro:
    1. when using the native Shanling app with sensitive IEMs, I listened to music with the volume between 5 and 20 on the M6’s scale; if left unused for a short while, though, the DAP goes to sleep, and then, when you wake it up again, it resets the volume to 29, which was ear-splittingly loud with the Andro 2020. I suppose there may be a way to change the default volume level, but I didn’t look for it.
    2. battery life is disappointingly short compared to a DAP like the AK SR25
    (I hesitate to mention one other minor annoyance, which is that the buttons on the left-hand side of the DAP, to play the previous or next track, are counterintuitive, with the bottom one advancing to the next track. I suppose it's designed for use when the DAP's in a pocket, upside-down, but then as @YMO notes, why plug in IEMs at the bottom?)


    Gear and caveats
    • I compared the M6 Pro -> Andromeda 2020 IEMs against my Mac with Audirvana or Qobuz (via USB) -> Bifrost 2 -> THX 789.
    • @rhythmdevils kindly lent me his Andromeda 2020 for the audition as mine are out on a personal loaner tour; since his IEMs came with a balanced cable with a 2.5 mm termination, I connected the Andro 2020 to the balanced XLR out of the THX 789, with an adapter cable, even though the amp was fed from the single-ended out of my BF2.
    • I didn’t do a direct comparison with my ZX2 as I didn’t have the right adapter for a 2.5 mm plug.
    • the caveats are that level matching was nigh on impossible for me and that I have suffered some hearing loss so I can’t comment about treble extension.

    Sound
    If I had to attach a label to its sound signature, listening with the dark Andro 2020, I’d call the M6 Pro 21 fairly neutral, perhaps even tilting slightly bright (or at least adding some treble emphasis). Overall, it’s a good deal brighter than my warm ZX2, and it’s slightly brighter than the BF2 -> THX 789 pairing. As a result of being less dark/more neutral with the Shanling, the Andro 2020 becomes more versatile, for me: usually, its darker presentation doesn’t work quite so well with acoustic music, particularly classical and jazz. I’ve come to think of the ZX2 -> Andro 2020 pairing as being a bit like my LCD2-Classic: great for rock music; lots of fun, excellent textures - as with guitar crunch - and not being in the least bit fatiguing. When slightly tired, I found the M6 Pro -> Andro 2020 ever so slightly fatiguing, which is rare.


    M6 Pro’s sound has several outstanding qualities that rival those of the BF2 -> THX 789:
    • the M6 Pro has superb layering, separation, and imaging
      • these may, for me, be the best qualities of the DAP, perhaps even exceeding the BF2 -> THX 789
    • very good resolution and microdetail, for a DAP
      • didn’t fare poorly when compared with the BF2 -> THX 789
      • I was surprised at how well I could hear the subtleties of individual voices in choral music, for instance
    • convincing timbre, with richly textured sound
      • I found this with woodwind, brass, and string instruments; string quartets, in particular, came across with a lovely resonant quality, and the layering and separation makes this kind of music all the more enjoyable
      • I even found the sound of harmonicas to be unusually rich
    • the additional treble emphasis not only brings up the Andro 2020 closer to a neutral sound signature, it also improves the timbre of some instruments, especially trumpets, violins, and electric guitars, among others, which benefit from having a decent amount of bite
      • acoustic guitars also have a nice sparkle
        • on the other hand, some instruments end up being too forward, as with hammond organs on some recordings
      • you can hear harps and flutes and piccolos, etc., more clearly over the sound of an orchestra than would ordinarily be possible with the Andro 2020
      • cymbals sound very good; crisp but also with a nice shimmer; to give another example of microdetail (and also of decay), you can clearly hear the ringing and then changing vibrations in the decay of cymbal hits as they trail off for a good, long time on some recordings (e.g. Junior Wells, In the Wee Wee Hours, on Hoodoo Man Blues)
    • microdynamics: I’m not sure I have a great ear for microdynamics but if you listen to small ensemble jazz recordings, you can hear the subtle differences in the weight of drum strikes
    • I’m not sure what to call it exactly but some instruments or sounds - and I’m referring here mainly to electronic music - have a snappiness and tightness to them that’s really pleasing. To put it another way, individual notes really seem to pop out of nowhere. I wonder if this has something to do with transient response? Does the M6 Pro make the attack of the Andro 2020 - which I’d describe as a bit “rounded,” usually - come across as faster and cleaner and tighter? Or is this something to do with the M6 Pro have a nicely black background? I’m not sure.

    Some very good qualities of the M6 Pro
    • the bass was perfectly satisfactory for me; it had just about enough sub-bass extension to do justice to electronic music (with the caveat that I’m using the Andromeda 2020, which is far from ideal here), and there’s enough mid-bass emphasis to make bass guitars and double basses sound realistic and satisfying (in other words, the M6 Pro complements the Andro 2020 nicely in the mid-bass)
      • the bass textures are decent; the bass response is tight and fast; strongly plucked bass guitars have the right kind of snap to them
        • the bass from the BF2 -> THX 789 was stronger and more forward
    • the overall tonal balance is excellent
      • with a few exceptions, individual instruments rarely stand out too much
    • headstage is pretty spacious, more so than with the THX 789 but less than with the ZX2 (from memory)
      • there’s decent depth to the sound
    • macrodynamics are decent, neither too soft nor especially strong

    A few things I liked less about the M6 Pro’s sound:
    • in busy, complex passages, the sound could fall apart a bit; this might have something to do with the Andromeda 2020 as much as the M6 Pro, though. (What I mean here is that when you’ve got a big brass section blasting away all at once, for instance, the individual instruments get a bit lost in the overall sound). Maybe I’m just noticing this after coming from over-ear headphones; I’ve not been listening to IEMs much recently.
    • rarely, the sound of some pieces of music comes across as slightly compressed. I’m not quite sure what causes or explains this. I think it has to do with macrodynamics, in part, and slam (i.e. how hard the bass hits sometimes), combining to blunt or dull the impact of some instruments. I heard this a couple of times with timpani and in movie soundtracks. I guess it’s something to do with the pairing with the Andromeda 2020. I wish I’d had more IEMs on hand to test the M6 Pro with.

    A couple of things I’m not sure about:

    • whether the M6 Pro has a blacker background than the BF -> THX 789. The sound seems to pop more with the Shanling; that might be a function of the sound being crisper and snappier. I’m not sure. I’d need more time (and better ears) to tell.
    • I’d like to say that the M6 Pro has excellent “clarity,” although I realize this is a controversial term. What I mean is that there’s little coloration to the sound; it comes across as quite sweet and pristine; I don’t hear much smeariness or haze. In fact, I have a classical music recording that has some haze and sheen to it, and while I could hear it clearly with the BF2 -> THX 789, it was less apparent on the M6 Pro (but still there).

    Conclusion
    My main reservations about the M6 Pro are its battery life and @YMO’s warnings about Android 7.1 (thank you for that!). Other than these concerns, there’s a great deal to like about this DAP: its tuning works well for the Andro 2020; it has superb layering, separation, and imaging; the way it renders the timbre of acoustic (and some electric) instruments is very appealing; it’s highly resolving; and it makes for an enjoyable, engrossing listen. It’s a good sign when you’re playing tried and trusted old test tracks and you get sucked into listening to the music and forget to concentrate and think critically about what you’re hearing.

    I’d need more time to tell but my sense is that this DAP gets me very, very close to my BF2 -> THX 789 setup. If anything, by the time my turn on the loaner tour was coming to an end, I’d begun to convince myself that the dull, flat, and lifeless sound of this amp with headphones bled over into IEMs when compared with the M6 Pro. I’m not sure that’s true, or if it’s a bias or a subconscious thing. But for the majority of the time I listened to the M6 Pro, I preferred its lively and energetic sound over the THX 789’s presentation.

    It was a pleasure to hear the Andro 2020 scale so well with this DAP. I wonder, though, if the M6 Pro pairs well with warmer or darker IEMs; I could see its tuning and lively sound being a problem with brighter IEMs.
     
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  15. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    This indeed is configurable through the settings: initial volume level, and time before sleep after inactivity. Also, the M6 Pro barely got 8hrs on a single charge running balanced out for me - right on the edge of "acceptable", IMO.
     
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  16. crenca

    crenca Friend

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    I have the AKM version, but I agree that this DAP is as good or close enough to any <$500 SS amp + <$500 DAC combo that I have heard, even with uber HP's such as the Utopia.
     
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  17. Soups

    Soups Sadomasochistic cat

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    First, thanks to Shanling and SBAF for the opportunity to listen to the M6 Pro 21 loaner. As an owner of the Shanling M6 (AKM) I was really interested in hearing their next step up in the price/performance bracket.

    TL;DR: The M6 Pro 21 is a step up in every way from the M6, unless you are averse to the slightly brighter tilt of ESS DACs.

    Source Comparison: Shanling M6 (before a disgruntled worker set all the Velvet™ on fire and melted down the AKM factory).

    Misc:

    Kudos to the previous reviewers that have done a great job addressing the UI, build quality, battery, general tonality, etc. I can't really improve on any of that, so I'll just skip to my experience with the...

    Synergy

    I tried the M6 Pro (via 2.5mm bal out) with my three primary headphones at the moment, which are:

    ThieAudio Monarch IEM - This is my daily IEM, and why I own any sort of DAP to begin with. I only use Qobuz here, because everything else is too much of a hassle. First, the good about this pairing. Compared to the M6, and with every track I A/B'd (on my preferred "High" power setting), I noticed a slightly wider soundstage, improved separation & micro/macro dynamics & resolution & sense of texture - especially in the lows. Not a night & day difference on any of those traits, but enough of a difference to make me seriously consider trading up since the Pro often provided a very enjoyable, dynamic listen. Now for the not-so-good. With the Monarchs, I found the Pro to be a bit too bright for my tastes with a lot of pop/rock. This generally wasn't the case for albums that I consider to be mixed/mastered well, but for the rest - such as Low's "Hey What" - I just could not make it all the way through the album before I looked for other transducers, that are a bit darker/warmer, such as the...

    HD650 - The M6 Pro 21 seems to have plenty of power to drive the HD650's well. Not superlatively well, but I actually thought this pairing sounded pretty dang good for portable, around the office/house use. I also felt like the ESS dac did a great job here countering the Sennheiser 'veil' without making the 650 sound 'off' or less mid-centric. And for reference, on the highest gain setting, which I call the "JUSTBLEED" setting, the headphones were unbearably loud at the 50% mark. The M6 doesn't sound terrible with the 650's, but the M6 Pro is just much closer to a solid desktop amplifier with above-average resolution.

    HD600 - Although I preferred the 650's with the M6 Pro, I thought it also sounded great with the 600's, which surprised me. I expected the brightness of the ESS to be a problem combined with the brighter lean of the 600's, but in the few hours I spent listening to this pairing, I didn't find myself fatigued, even with the occasional crappily mixed stuff. This made me suspect the EST drivers on the Monarch, which are much less offensive via the AKM driven M6.

    To conclude, my guess is that the M6 Pro 21 could be a great pairing with a warmer/darker tuned IEM, adding that last bit of clarity alongside excellent power and resolution. On the other hand, if your drivers are already as bright as you can handle, this DAP might push them too much in the wrong direction. And after all this, now I'm really curious to hear how the M6 Pro (AKM) compares...
     
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    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
  18. E_Schaaf

    E_Schaaf MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    Thanks for the loaner RD / Bina!

    I only got around to taking a pic as I was boxing it up:

    m6pro.jpg

    Ergo/Build: feels like a brick, wheel has a good feel, intuitive button positioning and cozy in my hand, really no complaints. Screen looks pretty nice.

    Software/UI: about as fast as my 2017 Essential Phone, maybe slightly slower. Still miles ahead of any other Android DAP I’ve used, though I haven’t used many beyond the $1k price range. Spanks my old ZX2 in terms of responsiveness. I only used it with spotify and some local files. No issues.

    Sound: I preferred single DAC mode and the sharpest digital filter. Only used on the highest gain setting. Only used 3.5mm output. Hovering around 40-50 with 100dB/mW/32ohm Supra headphone. With FDX1 (103dB/mW/16ohm), closer to 20-30.

    • Tonality/Timbre: Touch of extra midbass with an uptilting response through the midrange and highs, no issues with air and extension on either end. Slightly lean contour in general but smooth enough not to bother my ears.
      • For whatever reason, I felt the single DAC mode had less grain in the low treble and more richly textured lower midrange, so I preferred it for that reason.

      • The M6 Pro sounds like what most would consider typical well-done modern Sabre - it absolutely embarasses the Dragonfly Cobalt which also uses similar chips (Dragonfly sounds oddly stuffy, grainy, harsh and compressed in comparison). The M6 Pro is more like a technical upgrade (more spacious, more dynamic, better nuance and resolve) from the Samsung Galaxy S7 phone with a similar tonal character. I wish I could compare vs the newest Fulla...

      • There's a slightly 'glossy' timbre to the sound that I find seamlessly befitting to most modern recordings. I did sense an odd feeling of anachronism with some 40s mono jazz tracks and live recordings (which I don't listen to most of the time but cycle through for the sake of testing) - I sensed a kind of disengaging 'decluttering' effect that did no favors in terms of engagement but rather emphasized distracting recording artifacts. I think it has something to do with the slightly simplified lower midrange texture. Something about SABRE? This is a nitpick and only really noticed when compared to my desktop rig.

      • FDX1 was a bit too tonally ‘hot’ sounding in the upper midrange for me on the M6 pro, but I feel that way about FDX1 in general and found this pairing to be the best for the FDX1 of what I have around in terms of timbre and technical ability.
    • Transients: I heard the M6 pro as slightly rounded on attacks, but this was masked somewhat by the uptilting tonal response. This is hardly noticeable on IEMs, but it definitely felt subtly restrained in terms of dynamic nuance on Supra.
      • The steepest digital filter brought a bit more edge to kicks at the expense of relatively drier, grainier highs. Then again, the difference between digital filters was so small that I could easily forget which setting was active between listening sessions.

      • Dual DAC mode seemed like it slightly muted decays vs single DAC mode, without actually making attacks feel more clear and nuanced. I found Single DAC mode superior in every sonic category. Maybe it’d be different if I was using balanced out…

      • M6 Pro doesn’t slam as much as the desktop rig in terms of macrodynamics, but I found it superior to ES100, Dragonfly Cobalt, Mojo, and the assortment of built-in jacks on the laptops and phones I have laying around in pretty much every sonic category.

      • I didn’t directly A/B vs ZX2 because using ZX2 is downright laborious and a test of patience in terms of shitty Android implementation. Life’s too short. Regardless of what sonic differences there may be between ZX2 and M6 Pro, I’d undoubtedly consider the M6 Pro to be a better overall value in 2021 and FAR more user friendly. From memory, I’d say I prefer the sonics of M6 Pro regardless - it’s just a bit more vibrant and fun to listen to.
    • Staging/Imaging:
      • Not super wide, but with good depth, localization, and layering. Sounded a bit narrow and ‘small’ when I ran it with my loudspeakers, but this may be an unfair comparison vs Burl B2 Bomber and Monarchy M22B (vintage PCM63) fed via Lynx E22, and in general this is an atypical use case for a DAP.

      • Generally crisp and natural staging/imaging character. I tend not to prioritize these sonic qualities in my daily headphone listening but I was impressed and immediately noticed this strength with the M6 pro regardless of my priorities.
    That’s all for now! I think I’ll be buying one in a couple years when secondhand prices come down. In the current market I think it’s worth its asking price vs other DAPs I’ve owned or used at trade shows, but I’m a cheap bastid.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 26, 2021 at 1:19 PM

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