Growing up being born in the early 2000s, few devices captured my interest more than the Apple iPod. I fondly recall clocking hundreds of hours on the nifty devices from a humble iPod Shuffle (a birthday present from a generous friend) to an iPod Nano 7th generation (the most expensive iPod that a twelve year old me could afford). But unlike many of today’s devices, the iPod had one purpose: listening to music. It’s not hard to see why the format of these simple, honest devices holds a special place in the heart of many listeners even if the format’s long-since been deprecated for multi-faceted devices like the iPhone.
Enter Chinese DAP (digital audio player) manufacturer, Shanling, and the brand’s M0 series. As a hopeless romantic of the iPod, the M0 was one of my first DAPs, and it has now been superseded by the Shanling M0 Pro. The M0 Pro remains one of the most compact DAPs on the market with a touch screen; in many respects, it’s reminiscent of the beloved iPod Nano 6th generation. Let’s take a closer look at whether the M0 Pro captures some of that old magic.
This unit was provided for review by Shanling. The M0 Pro can be purchased here on Amazon. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
The M0 Pro’s compact design is a boon to listeners short on space. At a mere 1.82” (L) x 1.79” (W) x 0.7” (H) even with the case, it’ll easily fit into pockets for listening on the go. Conveniently, all the device’s ports are at the bottom of the device, from the micro-SD card slot, the USB-C connector, to the 3.5mm output. The build quality of the device is solid, although I do have reservations about the plastic tab cover for the micro-SD card slot. The plastic is slightly whitened at the indentation for the hinge which makes me curious about the longevity; an aluminum tab cover would have been more pragmatic.
On the upper right hand side of the device is the single manual button, a wheel. It has two functions; pressing like a standard button turns on/off the device, and turning the wheel controls volume. The best way of describing the wheel’s tactility when being turned is that it has “soft” clicks. There is no play or fiddle to the wheel when pressed on the sides (this is a good thing), but you might find yourself disappointed if you were hoping for a wheel with more auditory feedback. Personally, I don’t have any qualms with this wheel.
The M0 Pro’s case (sold separately) is a friction-fit, so the top of the case is left slightly exposed. It allows access to all the ports easily and there is a slight indentation on both sides to facilitate a more ergonomic grip. Overall, I find this to be a pretty nifty case - worth the extra $15 - although I wish it included a clip. It’s possible that aftermarket cases might eventually come out with this useful feature. The other gripe I have with the case (but more of an inherent issue with cases) is that the lip makes navigating the screen a tad more difficult.
Speaking of which, the screen of the M0 Pro is surprisingly decent for its small size. You’ll see some pixels if you look up close, and it’s not going to compare to the quality of an Apple Watch, but bear in mind that DAP manufacturers are working within a niche. For a DAP, it’s pretty cool seeing full-color album artwork and having granularity over a screen so small.
While I didn’t straight-up test the battery life, I’d throw caution to the wind that the stated numbers (14 hours) are likely inflated or a generous best-case scenario. Battery life will also depend heavily on whether listeners are using the Bluetooth mode and how much they’re turning on the screen. For my listening patterns (usually a couple hours at a time over several days), though, I didn’t really have any complaints.
The music player of the M0 Pro is pretty standard with modes for shuffle, repeat, and list playback. However, as the M0 Pro’s screen is so tiny, there is no search function and you’re relegated to scrolling through alpha-numerical lists to find your tracks. If you’re someone with a larger music library, I would highly recommend taking advantage of playlists! Like most DAPs, the instruction manual for the M0 Pro is nebulous at best when it comes to this feature. Navigating to the Playlists section of My Music, my advice is to hit the “plus” icon to generate a new, empty playlist. This will create a new playlist path on the micro-SD card. Use this folder to drag-and-drop your own playlists (I used M3U playlists generated from foobar2000) and import them in Playlists.
There are three slidable views in the music player: one displays the album artwork, a second displays song information, and the third view is pretty useless. It contains the text “LIfe is short,Play more” on every single song. While this may be the company’s slogan, it’s awfully tacky in my opinion (and this isn’t helped by the missing space after the comma). I seem to recall this being on the original M0 too, and it really needs to go.
Leaving aside the core player, the M0 Pro has some supporting features like its ability to function as a Bluetooth DAC/Amp. While no substitute for true TWS listening, Bluetooth DAC/Amps can be useful for freeing up your hands while controlling playback from another device. I found this feature to work without any hiccups; the M0 Pro acts as the “main” volume control, so you’ll want to max the volume on your other device.
One of my favorite benefits of using my iPhone to listen to music is the sleep timer in the Clock app. In lieu of setting an alarm, you can simply have music stop playing - this is fantastic if you’re someone who dozes off to music. Unfortunately, the sleep timer on the M0 Pro isn’t quite as convenient. It lacks granularity (you can only set values of 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, or 3 hours) and it will completely shut off the device instead of just stopping playback.
As for other things that could be improved upon? I wish there was a way to adjust playback without turning on the screen. A common example on many other DAPs is using taps on the power button (e.g., one tap for play/pause, two taps for skip forward, and three taps for skip backward). In my opinion, this is a missed opportunity with the M0 Pro which would really elevate the user experience. With such a small device, the less listeners have to use the screen the better (and listeners concerned about battery life certainly wouldn’t complain either).
Listening on the M0 Pro was done using lossless files and my 64 Audio U4s due to its linear impedance curve. I also enjoy using this IEM due to its excellent extension past 10kHz which is where I tend to hear the most difference between sources. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I find that these differences are quite subtle and I would not hesitate to chalk them up to being more than mere placebo.
My usual baseline is the Apple Lightning to 3.5mm dongle which I perceive as having a slight mid-bass tilt, a thicker, more forward midrange, and then a generally downwards-sloping treble response, especially past 10kHz. This contributes to a smoothed over, inoffensive presentation. By contrast, I found the M0 Pro to be slightly thinner in the midrange and with more energy in the mid-treble to upper-treble regions. This lent it to some extra bite and a slightly crisper, more detailed presentation. Basically, I think it sounds better than the Apple dongle, but not considerably (and yes, the same could be said for most all sources).
The Bottom Line
At $130 USD, the Shanlin M0 Pro is not cheap and it’s clearly not the most refined product either. But considering context is important in any review too. And in the context of offering something that the market is sorely lacking (a DAP this small), I’d say the M0 Pro is as close as it gets.
It’s also worth noting that the M0 Pro is not really falling short in terms of hardware; it’s the software department that could use some work. The benefit of software, of course, is that updates can be pushed to further improve the user experience. The popular Bluetooth DAC/Amp, the Qudelix 5K, is a prime example. The device has won the hearts of the community because of its incredibly good software integration and the manufacturer’s updates which have continuously increased its value proposition. That’s exactly what I think Shanling has an opportunity to do with the M0 Pro, and I’m eager to see where they take the device.