Audio

Shanling M0: A cheap and compact digital audio player

Portable digital audio players are a bit of a technical misnomer because while you can take these high-end devices out and about, they are, more often than not, pretty bulky and heavy.

But China-based Shanling has taken the opposite route for its smallest and cheapest high-resolution digital audio player to date, the M0.

The M0's low price tag of $129 stands out in a market flooded with players that cost much more - many easily go into thousands of dollars. But it does sacrifice power, ease of use and features to get to that low price point.

The M0 is a petite, iPod Shuffle-sized music player, which is already a huge differentiating point in a market where the term "brick-like" is thrown casually and pretty accurately.

The player has a small 1.54-inch display and looks like a smartwatch, just without the straps.

Its small size means compromising on physical buttons. There is only one physical volume dial, which doubles as a power button when you click on it.

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $129

    STORAGE: External microSD up to 512GB

    SUPPORTED FORMATS: DSD, DXD, APE, Apple Lossless, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMA lossless formats up to 384kHz/32bit

    WEIGHT: 38g

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

Navigation is done solely on-screen and, with limited display real estate, flipping through menus can be a tedious affair.

This also makes it hard to view song titles in full as they are cut off initially before they scroll sideways to show the rest of the text.

Shanling tries to make its user interface work, but it is easily the M0's weakest link. A long press on the centre of the screen takes you to the central menu, while a right swipe takes you back to the previous one. But the display can be a bit unresponsive sometimes, forcing you to try multiple times.

But if you can overlook or come to terms with slightly wonky navigation, the M0 delivers good sound, features and portability for its price.

It handles a good number of file types and its onboard ESS Sabre digital-to-analogue converter is a great chip that produces clean, clear and accurate audio playback.

It seems capable of powering most audiophile headphones with ease. For example, it drove my Sennheiser HD650 headphones to a satisfactory level where the soundstage opened up and song playback was detailed and clear.

The player also supports highresolution wireless music streaming through Bluetooth, either via the aptX codec or LDAC.

The LDAC, a codec developed by Sony, is slowly being seen outside of Sony products and the M0 is quite progressive to have that feature. Wireless connectivity is pretty solid and sound quality is more than adequate.

The M0's low price is also a little misleading because it does not come with on-board storage, so you will have to factor in the cost of a microSD card.

Despite being so cheap, I would not recommend the M0 as a first purchase for budding audiophiles. First-timers might be better off springing a little more cash for a more traditional digital audio player with an interface that is easier to navigate and which is able to power more headphones.

However, the M0 makes a great secondary player for audiophiles who want a smaller, convenient package for exercising or travelling.

The battery in the M0 is decent, lasting more than 10 hours on a single charge.

• Verdict: The Shanling M0 is a cheap, compact and portable music player that makes for a good secondary player for audiophiles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2018, with the headline 'Cheap and compact digital audio player '. Print Edition | Subscribe