Delivered from France to Italy in less than 24 hours (via UPS, with surcharge), it's a sturdy, beautifully built, very good sounding device, just like you expect from the pictures and the specs. But it’s a device for very patient people.
There is a quick start guide which gives you barely the essentials. In order to use the EM5 properly, much better off relying on the builder website.
Once turned on, and set the wi-fi connection, I immediately started an online software update… Which took at least 30 minutes. Then I need to factory reset the EM5, as per Shanling instructions. Again, few minutes. Then I had to understand the way the UI works, and it was not a matter of seconds, even for a reasonably skilled Hi-Fi user. Then I downloaded a couple of apps and started listening hi-res from Apple Music and Amazon. Cool!
But not enough. When I finally connected my HFM Sundara to the single ended output via the provided 6.35mm adaptor I could only listen just one channel very badly! Oh shit, I thought I had to resend back the Chinese box to Audiophonics!
But, before getting into the panic, I tried another 6.3 mm adaptor jack and I finally started listening. But this was at least one hour and a half after unboxing the device.
Wow! I was finally able to enjoy my music. Well, not exactly. I immediately realized that to properly move my 37 ohm Sundara, I needed to set at least high setting or, even better, turbo setting… Mmmmmh. Not enough power if you go single ended with a planar HP.
In the meantime, the glass top of the box was becoming crowded of fingerprints, my eyes were getting tired to read the micro characters on the small screen and I was starting to run off my patience.
However, after another half an hour I was finally able to connect my Samsung S22 to the device via the Eddict app and I started to discover how it is nice to command the EM5 remotely… As long as the app get stuck and you need to reboot it, or to reboout the device, or to reboot both… (And also the BT connection wasn’t a matter of seconds, wth several tries before getting it done)
It was late at night, when I decided to start over my relationship with the Shanling the day after.
The morning after, calmed down, I delicately turned on the device and… Something went wrong, as I could only listen at minimum volume and the power knob didn’t work. What’s the problem? Just reboot the device and start it over.
This time, I connected my HP via a 4.4 pentaconn jack balanced cable. I set the gain to high, I selected an hi resolution track on Apple Music and I started listening. I paid particular attention in using the Eddict app kindly and slowly, in order not to offend it because, as I said, it’s very susceptible.
Finally, the sound started to flow the way it was intended. Delicate, smooth, transparent, in a word, very hi-fi and I started to be happy of my purchase. The Shanling has an energetic sound signature that I could define slightly warm and relaxing, but not lazy at all. I liked especially the old-school AKM DAC chip implementation, which sounds cheerful and somehow refined, which makes the EM5 different and more ear friendly that the widely used ESS Sabre chips, which, to me, are too clinical and a bit cold sounding.
Ok. In order to make the long story short: the device is not bug free, the software still needs several improvements, the factory quality control should be extended to the accessories, the amp power is sufficient but you may need an external amp for high impedance difficult headphones, the look is gorgeus and, finally, the sound is nothing less than pure pleasure for music lovers.
And I love the Vu-meters option. But bear in mind that it only works when you play local files and you cannot get it if you play streaming or you are using the EM5 to decode and amp external digital sources.
It’s worth 850 bucks? I don’t know. But I like this staff a lot.