Original article: https://www.head-fi.org/showcase/aune-m1s-32-384-dsd128-balanced-portable-music-player.22222/reviews#review-19104
Aune M1s – Balance, Detail & Value
Note: The actual rating should be 4.5/5.
Full details and specifications can be found here
Price (MSRP): U$D 250.
Available from Auneaudio store and Venture Electronics (Veclan)
The Aune M1s unit arrives in a simple hassle free box which includes the basic accessories, a USB to micro-USB cable and a pair of screen protectors. The latest package might include a silicone case too; it can also be purchased separately at the price of ~$10.
Build quality & Design:
Build quality on the Aune M1s is very solid and feels very durable. The whole chassis is made of a very sturdy and thick aluminum material, 100% CNC type (supposedly). The strong material also makes the M1s a heavy unit that might push the limits of truly portable players. The size is actually comfortable to carry around, being a larger than wider than the similar large DAPs. The finish is plain, discreet and smooth; though still has some edges towards the back panel.
On the front panel there’s the 2.4” screen, which is sharp enough but nothing fancy, just simply a 2 color one (grey/white). Just below are placed the main playback and navigation controls, ‘Home’ on left, ‘Back’ on right and the 4-pad control for ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘left’, ‘right’ and the circle ‘Ok/Enter’ button just in the middle.
On the right side, there are the power button which is also used as screen on/off, and the volume up and down just below. A small reset button in the middle and then the Micro SD slot towards the lower part. Finally, at the bottom part there’re the micro-USB slot for both charging and transferring, and the two output options, 3.5mm for both headphones and lineout and the 2.5mm balanced one. Nothing on the left and upper sides.
UI, Navigation and Firmware:
Using the M1s player is very simple. Unlike the many portable players from Chinese companies with their complex and sometimes annoying, non-friendly interface, the M1s is so comfortable and easy to use. It actually reminds a lot of the famous little Sandisk Clip Plus for is simplicity and easy going interface. With the Home button it is possible to get back to the main screen with a single click and then back to the playing screen with just pressing it again. The Back button helps to go back to the just previous screen and also to the playing screen if located at the main screen as well. Navigation through menus can be done with the up/down buttons or with the left/right to get to the previous/next page on the whole list which just makes things even faster.
The last firmware 1.06 version is very stable, never frozen or crashed so far. Not the fastest response, but cannot be called slow. On this current 1.06 release it’s possible to setup the playback controls even when the screen is off, which should help in saving the battery usage. It is also possible to select various playback options, including continuous playback to the next folders.
Supposedly, the M1s presents an extra special “sound filter” feature with 3 different tuning options. Unfortunately, it seems to work only with DSD type of files. Moreover, the ‘gapless playback’ doesn’t seem to work with every file type either. And one extra complain would be that the M1s turns off after a few minutes of pausing the music, and it cannot be setup otherwise, and it won’t resume playback when turn on again, but start from the beginning of the last played track.
PC connectivity and file transferring:
There is no internal memory on the M1s and the whole file handling is made via the micro SD card. When off and connected to the PC the player is immediately recognized as an extra memory unit (the micro SD card). Even the system upgrade is made by simply adding the firmware file to the card and then selecting the upgrade option on the player settings.
Battery life is rated around the 10 hours, which seems fairly accurate, but mainly when used on lower volume with easier to drive earphones. The M1s is a quiet DAP No hiss was noticed even with most sensitive in-ear sets (including Custom IEM), and even from the balanced output, which is slightly louder.
Volume & Power:
The volume steps go from 0 to 100. The player also features 3 gain levels, low, mid and high, that would give even a higher scale when needed for more demanding sets. There is also an interesting fact with the current 1.06 firmware version that wasn’t in the previous two; it’s possible to choose between two upgrade files, “less aggressive” and “more aggressive” volume curve, which basically mean a slower or faster volume gain between each step. Might be a useful feature depending on the headphone in use.
As for the driving power of this Aune DAP, it can handle higher impedance stuff pretty well; the VE Zen 2.0 was no challenge here, and even both Sennheiser HD600 and HD650 could be driven to a fairly effortless level, though I’d personally still recommend a decent extra amplifier for these open-back cans. The HD25 II, on the other hand, sound fantastically nice out of the M1s, a pair that usually asks for some portable amplification at least.
Technically, the sound quality out of the M1s is superb for its price. From lows to mids and up to the upper treble the M1s doesn’t stop to amaze with its fantastic level of detail, speed, accuracy and excellent dynamics. Be it a low budget earphone or a more expensive model, the M1s manages to surprise with its high gain in pure overall sound quality. Starting from the low-end it offers great depth and effortless extension down to sub-bass with a high control and accuracy that goes up to mid and upper bass notes, sounding very clean and noticeable taking down the extra mid-bass bloat out of warmer or bassier sets. It is faster and maybe a bit softer in impact, but the more aggressive nature of the DAP doesn’t sound missing in fullness and note weight. Yet, the most noticed improvements are in the speed and dynamics; listening to hybrid type IEMs is much easier out of the Aune as it tends to improve the typical (if any) drivers type incoherence issues bringing better harmony.
The midrange gets even more interesting. The clarity and detail are simply outstanding, and resolution is boosted up by a high margin. Nonetheless, the M1s still manages to maintain a delicate and more refined presentation. The instruments’ separation is excellent with better dynamics and positioning. The midrange still remains neutral, uncolored and flatter all the way up to the lower treble, while sounding simply more liquid and transparent. Voices also gain more detail, however the tonality of the DAP is slightly to the colder side of things, and thus the sweet and warmness can be missing with more mid-centered sets.
The highs gain a stronger emphasis which starts from upper mids to the whole treble itself. As such, the M1s does rate under the “bright” sounding DAPs. There is definitely extra energy and more sparkle with most of the earphones or headphones tried through the M1s, however the treble control and definition is very good, and rarely sounded harsh or more sibilant. There were some exceptions, mostly with more V-shaped sets, such as the Fiio EX1 or RHA MA750 where the sound got even more fatiguing than usual, but not annoying with other bright IEMs like the VE Duke or Sennheiser HD600 over-ear. Treble extension is superb and even more noticed than the bass extension which is already good.
The presentation is ample and the M1s is very resolving but also revealing like trying to present a more analytical sound with a very wide stage with more than average depth. The stage dimensions are not overly vast but very impressive for the price, and definitely surpass even more expensive portable players. Clarity is top notch and even the smallest the micro details are so easy to perceive. As mentioned, the tonality is more towards the cooler side, and while very liquid and dynamic, the M1s is less organic sounding than the PAW5000 or the X5 2nd Gen.. The PAW5000 wins in midrange richness and mainly in the vocals presentation with a smooth and sweeter texture. The X5, on the other hand, gives some extra weight to instruments and sound has a bit more 3D surrounding effect. They both sound ‘more musical’ than the M1s (at least in Single output), but even though, none of these pricier DAPs can match the micro detail and stage out of the Aune.
The Balanced Output
Switching to the balanced 2.5mm output on the Aune M1s brings out a very strong improvement on the whole sound quality and presentation. Basically, it starts from just getting technically better in every single aspect from extension on both ends to pure quality in each frequency with a higher refinement on the overall sound. Nonetheless, they were very good examples of what the balanced mode is capable of. While the level of detail on the single output was already impressive for this M1s player price, it simply gets even more amazing as it goes “balanced”. It may be considered even more analytical in its ability of showing every single micro detail in a much effortless way with better control, and despite being even brighter in tonality it’s still more forgiving, more delicate and resolving. The gain in dynamics is impressive as well and the higher speed and layering makes it sound even more musical in a certain way. The bass is noticeable softer in impact but tighter and better textured. The midrange feels slightly more forward but it’s more about the more open and airy sound. As expected, the right and left separation is better defined giving a wider stage effect with a more accurate image. It is also worth mentioning that the volume is higher on the balanced mode, but yet with a darker and cleaner background even from the more sensitive CIEMs. Compared to the PAW5000 2.5mm balanced output the differences are strong. The Lotoo didn’t showed much improvement on the balanced form. On a brief audition of the newest Fiio X5 3rd gen, while the balanced gain is better than with the PAW5000, it still doesn’t reach the same level of the M1s. It could be considered a pretty much flawless sound if you can get the right setup for it.
The Aune M1s is a very impressive addition to the portable audio market. While the main contenders keep adding new features like touch colorful screens, wireless Bluetooth playback, DAC option and more, the M1s has skipped all of that and simply focus on giving the best sound quality for the money. The build quality is very strong and the interface, while too simple, is very easy to handle. The firmware is very stable as well, though there’re certain features that should be fixed like the power-off timing and the gapless playback. The battery too, could still be better when compared to other players that can last around 15 hours and more on a single charge, and like the rest of the Aune players there’re no EQ options. Yet, the best part of the Aune M1s is the balanced output which rises its sound quality even much higher and gives a much better value as a simple portable player.