Original article: https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/aune-m1s-32-384-dsd128-balanced-portable-music-player.22222/reviews#review-19544
Hi to all fellow Head-Fi'ers!
I am here to write my impressions about Aune's (still) popular high resolution audio player M1S. I should state that the player was provided to me with confidence by Aune free of charge in exchange of my honest opinion.
So I'll try to do my best on that.
It's been quite a while since M1S was released, and I will try to add some comparisons with some recent strong competitors of M1S (like Sony A35 Walkman and Fiio X3 3rd Gen.) as of December 2017.
This is a frequently reviewed player on Head-Fi, so I'll try not to repeat the highly accessible info about M1S (that other reviewers already mentioned); rather I'll focus more on its most highlighted feature :
But first things first. My setup :
I used M1S with as many headphones and IEM's to reach an overall evaluation of its sound performance. In the listening tests I used Grado HF-1, PS500e, Sony Mdr-1abt, Sony Z1R, Audio Technica MSR-7, Hifiman Edition S, Hifiman RE400 and RE600, 1More Triple Driver, Custom Art Fibae 1 & 2 and Mee Audio Pinnacle P1.
(Due to their bright nature, I first thought that M1S would not sound good with Grado's, yet the only cans in the group that did not match well with M1S had been the Audio Technica MSR-7 and MeeAudio Pinnacle P1 duo. Both presented an overly prevalent treble with M1S. )
Design, Build and Use
Let me go over the design, build, ergonomics and usability briefly.
Aune M1S has an aluminium chassis and it feels quite sturdy. My sample came with two screen protectors. Besides, silicon cases of three colours were added.
The screen is glass (not plastic) and the side buttons are accessible / usable in pocket.
The 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended ports are placed on the bottom (as I prefer), and they seem to be made of high quality.
I especially liked their grip which prevents easy rotation of headphone jacks and in turn contributing to the durability of them.
The build quality is decent for the price of $249.
One point of criticism I have is about the design of the center buttons. The one in the middle is for play / pause and it has a circular, scroll-like one around it. However, as well as being wonky and making strange sounds during use, this circular button has no scrolling function and is actually a D-pad with four buttons for up-down and left-right.
As well as being an unnecessary complication (and a deceiving one) it degrades the usability of the player in pocket on the go.
I think it would have been simpler and better if Aune design team placed four independent buttons for D-pad.
Concerning use, this is probably the fastest booting DAP I've ever seen. After pressing the on / off button at the right side, it takes like 3 to 4 seconds for you to get to the main menu screen.
Initially after boot, there is a slight lag after pressing the play button until the playback starts, but other than that operation is instant.
The user interface is highly simple (that is also one of the reasons why it is so fast), but it does the job, and it goes well with a minimalist DAP like M1S.
I am also quite happy to say that I've experienced like zero crashes in user interface during three months of use.
Sometimes simplicity is bliss.
Here are the options in the simple the menu of M1S :
One thing I didn't like about in M1S' menu is the gain switch(ing) of the player.
Aune M1S has 3 levels of gain as low / mid / high, selectable through software from the main menu. That's alright.
However, in case you have sensitive ears and also use sensitive cans (especially low impendance / high sensitivity IEM's), one should be careful when switching gain, since the jump between those gain steps is instant and you can go from "low" to "high" with one press of a button, and that jump in output may be problematic for some.
The output of M1S is not that powerful even in balanced mode (2 x 180mW @ 32 ohm), however it might have been better if Aune implemented a volume limit system when switching gain. (A good example is on Sony WM series Walkmans in which volume is lowered to half when you switch gain.)
I believe Aune can add something like that in the next firmware or in the successor models of M1S.
During use M1S gets quite warm, even in low gain. However, it does not become "hot" and I didn't find that warmth as disturbing even in a hot Turkish summer.
As many have noted, M1S has no equalizer & sound enhancements whatsoever. For modifying the sound of the player (in case of need), there are the three built-in filters of the ES9018K2M DAC.
The filter "FAST" has the most dynamic, airy and extended presentation. However, for the likes of people who may find it a little bit aggressive, there are "SLOW" and "MP" filters which smoothen up the upper frequencies a bit.
I should state that these filters do not alter the base sound of M1S dramatically.
So you should use M1S with a headphone / IEM that would match the sonic characteristic of the player, as it offers virtually no options of altering its sound. I'll talk more about this in the sound section below.
This is one of the primary limitations of this player.
(Note : I don't have a headphone with balanced 2.5mm plug at the moment, so I made my listening over the standard 3.5 mm jack. I'll update my impressions after I get one. Balanced performance of M1S is highly praised by listeners, so I'm curious.)
- Generally (and very superficially) speaking, two mainstream approaches to the tuning of digital audio players are being followed in the market.
One that is warmer and more fun-oriented (hi Sony and Fiio!) tuning and the other being less colored / more sterile or analytical sounding.
Ibasso DX90 or Hifiman's HM901U can be considered two nice examples of the latter approach.
In terms of sound signature, I might say Aune M1S can be considered closer to the second camp.
The sound M1S produces can be said to be neutral with very little coloration or warmth. Due to that, it is possible that some might find the player as a bit cold sounding.
It has a quite even balance across the spectrum with a little elevation in the treble region.
So it is possible that some may find M1S a tad bit bright due to that peak.
Besides, there is no mid-bass emphasis on the sound of M1s (which is more or less present on many of the DAPs to a degree). Because of that and the slight treble elevation, some may find M1S slightly bass-light (Though I am not one of them).
Other than that, I didn't notice any particular emphasis on any part of base / mid or high frequencies.
M1S has a relatively flat and balanced sound presentation.
Deep with decent impact, clean and very fast.
Without any exaggeration, I can say that Aune M1S has one of the tightest bass I've ever seen in a portable player.
It hits quite hard and decays in a short time.
I've even been able to get some decent "kick" from my relatively bass-light Grado's.
However, as I've said above, because of the flat-like bass presentation of M1S (that does not show any mid-bass emphasis), it may feel slightly bass-light with some headphones.
I am not very fond of using equalizer, but it would be nice if the player has some bass boost option for ones that seek more prominent bass.
I believe even a rudimentary one (like the very lovely hardware bass equalizer in Fiio X3 1st Gen.) would have added some more value to the player.
Very clean and transparent, textured, well separated.
I can easily say that in the transparency department, M1S can rival even some flagship daps that cost more than a grand.
The instruments are placed nicely in the horizontal X-axis creating an enfolding image. I didn't feel any recession or harshness in mids.
Thanks to the decent layering, it was especially enjoyable for me to listen to the keyboards in the back of the vocals and main instruments in pop / rock music records.
Well done, nice job again in here.
Slightly elevated, airy, extended, dynamic, precise with some sharpness and decent attack (typical for an ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DAC) and interestingly at the same time having some smoothness to it.
Despite having some prevalent treble, I didn't hear any harshness or hotness in the treble presentation of M1S.
In terms of signature, it resembles the one of Ibasso DX90 (which I rate highly in technical capability). They share the same Sabre DAC chip (though DX90 has two of those), yet these two have some differences in presentation.
DX90 has a slight V-shape signature with laid-back mids whereas the mids of M1S are more forward, clearer and more transparent. Apart from that, soundstage of M1S is also wider than that of DX90, producing a more intense and roomy presentation with a more enfolding stereo image.
And strangely (in a beautiful way), M1S has less of the "Sabre glare" in its sound, making it an easier DAP to listen compared to DX90.
Both have very similar treble character, yet DX90 virtually show no smoothness in the upper frequencies, producing a sound more open to cause fatigue due to it's sharp treble.
M1S on the other hand, while retaining the detailed, airy, highly dynamic and precise treble performance of DX90, also has some smoothness to it's sound preventing it from sounding "too aggressive".
Aune engineers must have done some nice tuning here.
Soundstage and Imaging
One more strong point for the player.
I should state again that these impressions are from the 3.5 mm single-ended output of the player, but even at that condition, the stage of M1S is excellent for it's price point.
It is wide from left to right, and also it has some depth together with a very decent performance on layering.
Imaging has good accuracy and it is positively affected by the amount of air between the instruments.
The staging of the player is widely said to improve through balanced, and I will update my findings after I get a 2.5 mm balanced cable for my phones.
Shortly : M1S has a moderately powerful amplifier section.
It produces 110 mW @ 32 ohm single-ended, and 180 mW @ 32 ohm through balanced.
M1S would probably drive your phones to a highly satisfactory level provided that they have low impedance & high sensitivity.
But within these numbers, do not expect M1S to feed enough juice for, say a Sennheiser HD6XX.
M1S has a beautiful black background. I wish that I had the chance to try it with some sensitive IEMs, but among the ones I used, M1S presented a pitch-black background. So you can trust its really high SNR ratio in that.
In fact in some cans, I felt that it even introduced less hiss to the recording than the already quite silent, Top-Of-The-Line Sony WM1A which costs $1100.
I usually reached around 10 hours of use on mixed 16 & 24 bit flac files on mid and high gain. So it lives up to the specs stated by Aune.
At the moment, I have Sony A35 and Fiio X3 3rd Gen. in my hands besides Aune M1s. So I gave some A / B listening to these daps.
In terms of sound, the biggest difference between the trio is the sound signature.
M1S is, as I've said before, the less-coloured sounding of the three whereas A35 has slight warmth in its sound, and X3 Mark III is the warmest sounding of the group.
Compared to A35, M1S has more airy and crisp treble, better dynamics, clearer overall sound and a blacker background.
It also offers slightly faster operation, balanced output and thus a more powerful amplifier.
The sound quality of M1S has some edge over that of A35 via single-ended connection, and I assume that the difference would grow bigger in favor of M1S through balanced.
On the other side, A35 has its own strenghts.
It has a very small footprint with a good and a more sophisticated user interface compared to M1S and more than double the battery life on one charge.
And despite being inferior in sound in terms of technical capabilities, A35 presents a slightly more organic timbre than that of M1S, which can also be tailored to one's needs via a nice equalizer and sound enhancements.
A35 can also send wireless signal to Bluetooth devices like headphones, speakers etc.
It is rumoured by some listeners for the newer A45 to be better sounding than A35, and I will post here my findings after I got a Sony A45 Walkman.
Fiio X3 3rd Generation is the latest product coming from Fiio's first digital audio player line of X3 released four years ago. The product was lent to me with confidence by Fiio. So I would like to thank them also from here.
I'll be posting a full review of Fiio X3 Mark III in a short while here on Head-Fi.
X3 3rd Gen. has a pretty more coloured and warmer sound compared to the more neutral and analytical sound of M1S.
In comparison of the two daps both from their 3.5 mm single-ended out, M1S again has the slight edge in terms of technical capabilities, resolution and extension in both ends.
However, X3 III also presents nice staging, detail, separation over a balanced sound signature. Yet, its top end is more smoothened up compared to M1S, which makes X3 an ideal player for long listening sessions.
X3 1st Generation of 2013 was way too polite in the upper registers when it was released, thus it was definitely a non-ideal player for music with high dynamic content (like rock and metal). And I thought that was a flaw.
X3 3rd Gen. that I'm holding in my hands right now still continues that Fiio "politeness" in sound, but I can say that it can also rock when it needs to rock.
What it doesn't have is the aggressive bite and sparkle of M1S in the treble section.
So I think that's a matter of choice.
So the usability of M1S is better than X3 III probably thanks to its simple menu system.
It has been nearly a year after M1S' release in the beginning of 2017.
However, I believe M1S is still a strong competitor for the price of $249, in terms of its sound, balanced out option and fluid usability.
And I think a listener who prefers the less coloured, more neutral and "studio-like" sound signature compared to the warmer and more coloured one would still be delighted by the performance M1S offers.
It has its limitations (and it may not be the most "handsome" player indeed ), yet as a "music player" it is definitely a credit to the Aune brand.
Good job Aune!