By : Theo @ Samma3a
The packaging for the M0 is somewhat similar to what we saw for the M2s, but it is a bit better designed. The outer-sleeve is printed in full colour and proudly shows off the various colour options available.
Removing the outer-sleeve and lifting the lid on the all-black pain packaging reveals the absolutely tiny little M0 surrounded by some protective foam that has a layer of velvet-like material.
The M0 really doesn’t come with much included. There are no protective covers or cases, but we do at least get a nice USB Type-C cable for charging and data transfer. But really, other than that, nada!
Although, at this price-point, I think this is still acceptable.
There’s no denying it – Shanling makes some of the sleekest-looking device out there. They’re well-built and have genuinely attractive designs. What I really appreciate about their design is that they’re doing their own thing. Whereas FiiO’s more recent designs are very obviously inspired by the likes of Astell&Kern, Shanling is more original. If we look at both the M2s and the M3s, we can definitely see a very similar design language used on the M0. However, there are 2 major differences here. The first is the size. Seriously, you pretty much need a macro lens to take pictures and video of this device. It’s much smaller than any of Shanling’s other devices, and it’s most likely the smallest hi-res capable player to date. Even if we compare it to FiiO’s smallest player, the M3, Shanling took things to a whole new level here. But what I found interesting is that, even though the M0 is also super lightweight, again possibly the lightest there is at a mere 33g, but it still doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy. It’s as though it still has a nice relative density when holding it.
Then the other difference is the we are seeing a first for Shanling, and that’s with reference to a touch display. The M1, M2s and M3s all relied on a multifunctional dial to adjust volume and interact with the UI, but the M0 does away with the need to use any hardware controls for the UI. We still do get a dial, but this is used mainly to adjust the volume and as a power button, but can also be assigned to act as a play/pause or skip button.
On the left side is a rubber flap which is used to hide the SD-card slot. Due to the size of the M0, it is being marketed as being a bit sport-friendly, and so the protective flap is simply used to add a pit of protection against moisture and dust, but it by no means makes it water or even splash-proof. Perhaps if Shanling opted to use a sim-tray kind of solution like FiiO did for some of the devices, then that would’ve added a bit of refinement to the design of the M0, but it’s not too bad.
Along the bottom edge is the Type-C port and a 3.5mm single-ended output. Within the UI there is an option to switch the headphone output to lineout, but I’m not sure if this is a true lineout or if it just sets the volume to maximum.
Overall I’d say that Shanling did a really fine job with the design. We’re seeing a nice little mix of edges and curves and it sits really comfortably in the hand. The smooth metallic finish also adds to that pleasing in-the-hand feeling.
One thing I have to say about Shanling is that they manage to stuff so much functionality into their devices. When they brought out the M2s I felt that it probably packed the most bang-for-buck value of all the portable players out there due to all the features it had. The M0 pretty much takes nearly all of what the M2s had to offer and then squeezes it into a seemingly impossibly small body. We’re getting numerous Bluetooth formats including AptX and even LDAC, then there’s also support for DSD files and being able to both output the digital signal via the Type-C port to an external DAC device as well as being able to connect the M0 to your computer and then use the M0 as an external sound card. Really, for the casual listener, you’re not going to need more than the M0. It just does so much.
For its size, the battery-life is pretty good, although quite a bit shorter than what is stated by Shanling. It’s unclear under what conditions Shanling managed to get up to 15 hours of continuous playback, but under my usual battery test of playing a couple of 96kHz/24-bit files into the Pinnacle P1 as the load I got barely over 8 hours and 30 minutes. That’s around half of what I got from the FiiO M7. But still, for the size, and considering the amount of power that it’s capable of delivering, it’s not that bad.
However, if we get into the more serious side of things, and in particular when considering larger library collections, then we start to see some more important limitations.
The UI is yet another first for Shanling. This is not just because of the touch interface, but also because this is a UI that they’ve designed and developed by themselves. Where Shanling’s previous devices used software that was developed by Hiby, this new in-house OS is called M-Touch. As far as I can tell, this is the way that Shanling is going forward, and so we’ll probably see most if not all of their future devices using this same OS.
So, how does the UI actually work? Well, for the most part, it’s actually not bad at all. There definitely are areas that need improving and other areas that I feel need a total overhaul, but for what it is it’s a very fine first attempt by Shanling.
As is the case with all new operating systems, there are always going to be some teething problems, so let’s take a look at the basic layout and operation of the OS and along the way we’ll discuss some issues.
Starting off from the main home launcher, here we have a set of large icons that are arranged horizontally. The categories (or rather main menu options) that we get are the same as we’ve seen on the M1, M2s, M3s, and numerous FiiO devices, and are called Now Playing, My Music, Folders, Playback, and System. Now Playing obviously takes you to the main playback screen, whereas My Music is where you can browse through your collection via tags, and Folders is for browsing your music as it is stored on the microSD card. The Playback and Settings options have to do with various playback settings and system settings. While we’re talking about the Playback Settings I should mention that the M0 does have the ability to apple an EQ, but you’re stuck with just a couple of preset EQs as there doesn’t seem to be a way to edit them nor is there the option to create your own custom EQ. So, if you like to EQ, then the M0 probably isn’t going to be the device for you, at least not for the time being. Perhaps with a future software update we’ll see Shanling enable this.
Getting back to the menu structure – all of the secondary menu screens are organized in the same way in the form of lists. Here’s where we start to see the first limitation with both the design of the UI as well as a side effect of the device’s miniature dimensions. When using such a small display there’s a very fine balance that has to be kept with how much info can be shown on the screen whilst still keeping things legible. With the way Shanling has arranged things, we can see no more than 4 items listed at any time.Things certainly are very legible, but I can’t help but feel that there is a fair amount of wasted space here. For example, when we look at any of the menu options, the first thing we see for each listed item is a colourful icon. It looks nice, but is it really needed? It takes up space, space that would be far better utilised to enable more characters to be shown. In terms of text length, at most we’d be able to see about 20 characters. This issue becomes even more apparent when browsing through either the folders or via tracks as there is an additional 3-dot icon to the far right of each listed item. Tapping on this item allows you to add the item to a playlist, to favourites, or to delete the item. This item is necessary due to the way Shanling have assigned various UI gestures.
Now, usually, you’d access these types of options by pressing and holding on the selected item, but in the case of the M0, doing that will let you jump to the main launcher instead. So really, this 3-dot icon seems to be the only way Shanling could’ve added these additional options.
Getting back to the issue of text, Shanling did address this somewhat by allowing you to quickly swipe left on a listed item, in which case it will then scroll the rest of the text along. This certainly works, but it’s merely a band-aid. Better use of screen real-estate would still work much better. While we’re talking about this swiping gesture, a quick swipe right will let you jump back to the previous menu option. Now, I specifically say that this is a quick swipe gesture, because that’s exactly what you need to do. If you try to swipe slowly the device won’t register it correctly.
Ok, that deals with horizontal swiping; when it comes to vertical swiping you need to be a bit more careful.
As mentioned, because of the small screen size you can only display a few number of menu items at a time. So, obviously, to see more items, you need to scroll along. However, if you scroll too quickly it’ll jump into an accelerated scroll and you’ll suddenly find yourself much further up or down the list than what you might have wanted. This seemingly ultra-sensitive vertical scrolling coupled with the small screen size can make navigating large libraries a bit cumbersome. That, to me, is the biggest flaw of the M0, and why I feel it’s best suited for small music collections.
It’s all good and well to have the capability to use very large capacity storage cards and to be able to output the digital signal to external devices, but if the UI is designed in such a way as to make it a bit tricky to navigate, then those additional features might not end up being used by the user.
Another stand-out feature of the M0 is its Bluetooth capability. At this price-point, I don’t know if there is any other player that can sport compatibility with AptX and LDAC. Heck, even other players costing much more often lack Bluetooth entirely, so the M0 shows off how value packed it is once again. The actual Bluetooth performance is a bit of a mixed bag. In an unobstructed setting the M0 can easily attain the advertised 10m range. Again, for such a small and affordable device, this is great. But, perhaps due to the size constraint, when we start introducing obstacle (even just your own body), then the range can drop dramatically, in some cases down to just a metre or two.
Of course, when it comes to the sound of a player, it’s only natural to be perhaps a bit worried about how such a small device will perform. But as I’ve said what feels like a million times before, the outright difference in sound quality between all of these portable players is so small, and I say that in particular reference to the scale and types of differences you’d hear between headphones. Headphones really can make an honest hand on heart night and day difference, but the sonic differences between players tend to be way smaller than that. So, for the M0, how does it perform? Well, it’s pretty good, although it does seem to lean on the brighter side of the spectrum, and this is most often revealed by the fact that cymbals tend to come across as sounding a little splashy.
When I compare the sound of the M0 to my Micro iDSD Black Label (my reference device), the M0 feels a bit more congested and lacks a bit of finesse. Of course, I don’t expect the M0 to be able to compete with something like the iDSD, but it’s still important to have reference point.
So what about some other players? Can the M0 stack up to the bulkier kids?
Unfortunately I don’t have the M1, so the M2s would have to do in terms of seeing where the M0 lies within Shanling’s line-up.
Compared to the M2s, the M0’s inherent slightly brighter character is still apparent, and the M2s seems a bit smoother. Although, that smoothness might be due to the comparatively warmer signature of the M2s. When comparing the 2 devices I selected the minimum phase filter for both, so I don’t think that smoothness would be due to any sort of roll-off in the upper registers.
OK, so now we move on to some of FiiO’s devices. When we consider the price alone, of course the M7 does cost double what the M0 does, but both of these devices are the latest offerings from the respective manufacturers, and I’m sure there will be at least a few people out there that would consider getting either one of these devices. In terms of the sound, I’d have to give it to the M7. The FiiO has a smoother, more refined signature. Overall, it just sounds more effortless. One particular difference I found was when listening to fast-paced rock, where the M7 just sounded fuller, as though it had a bit more heft to offer in the sound.
So, in terms of price, this is more of an equal battle. The X1ii is the older device, but when it was released it came with the same price-tag as that of the M0.
Of course, newer doesn’t always mean better, but in this case I think it does. Compared to the M0, the X1ii has a certain “flatness” to the sound. I don’t mean that in terms of the frequency response, but rather that it just feels less engaging, perhaps even boring? But speaking of the frequency response, the X1ii sounds rolled off. Now, I know that I’ve already said that the M0 sounds inherently brighter, and so the X1ii will naturally sound more rolled-off in comparison anyways, but the FiiO seems even more rolled-off than what it should. It lacks those upper details, and as a result can sound what I can only describe as being a bit blurry.
There’s no doubt about it, if we consider either sheer bang-for-buck or the amount of value relative to the footprint of a device, there isn’t a single portable player out there than can touch the M0. As of right now, as far as I know, the M0 is the smallest player currently available. Technically the 4th Gen iPod Shuffle is roughly a 3rd of the size of the M0, but I don’t think that’s still being manufactured, and besides, it doesn’t have anywhere close to the amount of features that the M0 has.
In this tiny device we are getting a touch screen, external storage support for up to half a terabyte of data, both USB input and USB output capability, as well as support for practically every Bluetooth audio format out there. Depending on where you buy the M0, it’ll cost you somewhere in the region of around $100 to $130. Heck, even if you find it for $150 I’d still say it’s a bargain.
Ok, no, the M0 doesn’t have an amazing sound, but at this price and in such a small package, would it even be reasonable to expect it to sound amazing? Even if it doesn’t sound amazing, it still sounds very respectable. I don’t think the M0 is intended for critical listening sessions anyways, it’s simply a tiny, light-weight, and ultra-portable solution which will work perfectly for on-the-go situations like at the gym or on your morning run. But again, if you’re just listening to your music for the sake of listening to music, then that slightly brighter signature is probably not something that’ll bother you. Heck, if we consider the price-point I think the vast majority of people who would end up buying the M0 aren’t exactly gonna have super high quality headphones or IEMs anyways. But, if you are more of an audiophile and you do want to enjoy more critical listening sessions, then you could just easily hook the M0 up to something like the Mojo or iDSD Black Label.
I must admit that I do wish the M0 had better battery-life, but again, considering the size of the device, 8 and a half hours isn’t particularly bad.
For me, the biggest down-side is the size when we consider the impact it has on using the touch-display. I really wouldn’t recommend the M0 for large music libraries. Unless Shanling can come up with some improvements to the navigation, then I’d say that the M0 is better suited to smaller collections. Browsing large collections is totally possible, it’s just not quite the same experience as it is on a device that has a larger display with more room to show items.
Even if Shanling just start with displaying more items on the screen and utilising the available space more efficiently, that’ll already help with the user experience when using the device.
But, overall, I think the M0 is a phenomenal device for both its size and price, and I think if you’re not a super serious audiophile and you don’t have or want to be carrying around a gigantic music library, then the M0 is a superb choice.