Over our most recent Alert Level 4, I had the pleasure of playing with Shanling Audio's M30 Modular DAC / Streamer. The M30 is a fairly unique product in that it's a modular, touch screen, desktop streamer. It come pre loaded with 5 modules - the touch screen digital player itself, the DAC, a Headphone amplifier, a Tube headphone amplifier, and a battery module.
My first thought as I unboxed the M30 was how well built it was. The presentation was very impressive, with it's fancy carrying case, a small suite of tools and a suction cup for removing the Player module. Powering it up was straightforward, as you would expect - press and hold the volume control, which, aside from the touch screen, is the only control input on the device.
"The presentation was very impressive, with it's fancy carrying case, a small suite of tools and a suction cup for removing the Player module."
The M30 has a very usable touch screen interface, and is very straightforward to use. It's based on android so it's very self explanatory. The only quirk was once you went into the system menu to setup the WiFi Connection, I couldn't figure out how to get back to the main screen. Because the M30 doesn't have any hardware buttons - the one you would normally use to go 'home' on android - it took me a minute. I eventually noticed the slightly discolored spot on the screen, which turns out to be a 'home' button. The location of the button changes depending on what screen you are on, so it doesn't overlap any of the other options, with the exception to the keyboard, which I noticed when signing in to Tidal.
The Tidal interface was as you would expect if you've used Tidal, but because of the short, wide format of the touch screen the transport buttons were a little small. Still, the interface is easy to use and seemed to respond well.
But how does it sound?
My first thought was that the M30 is a very powerful headphone amplifier. There was no shortage of power to drive the PM2s, and it seemed to perform well across the volume range. I did compare it to my HA-1, which is tailored for the PM1 and PM2, and the M30 sounded a bit more lively, and with a bit more depth to the sound stage. It felt like it had heaps of headroom, and never struggled. I switched on the Tube circuit to have a play. Tubes took 5 seconds to switch to, as of course they had to warm up. After the switch, the amp did sound a bit warmer, so it's certainly not a subtle change, but I found it a bit dull. Perhaps that was my headphones - the Oppo PM2 Headphones are a bit dark anyway.
The player goes to 'sleep' after a couple of seconds, and requires you to push the volume control before it will respond to any inputs. At first I didn't realize that you needed to push the button and was confused as to why the volume wasn't changing. Once I pushed the button though the screen woke up and the volume changed easily.
All in all, in my brief play with the player, it's very impressive. It feels weighty and substantial, the interface is clean and works well, and it sounds great. It does demand it's own space though, as it's not really stack-able. You also need to be able to get to the right side, as the volume control is a bit recessed, so using the right side of the control seems to work a bit better.
Overall, it's a very unique and very impressive. I can't wait to see what Shanling does with the modular abilities. As it stands, I would highly recommend having a play with it if you get a chance.