Aune M1S: one of the most transparent DAPs I have heard, and only $249

Pros: It sounds amazing: black background, excellent dynamics, accurate and spacious stage, brilliant tonal accuracy; good line-out function; 2.5mm balanced out; 3 gain levels; excellent power output; intuitive control scheme; build quality; price

Cons: No tag based browsing even though it reads tags, CUE based gapless (annoying), no EQ, no standalone DAC, no USB OTG, buttons can be finicky on press location, chunky feel

aune-m1s-glassmonkey

Acknowledgment

This review unit was provided to me in exchange for my honest opinion by Penon Audio.

Introduction

I’m a regular watcher and poster on HeadFi’s Facebook page and when I saw Penon Audio announce that they had the M1S available for presale, and when I saw the stats for $249 in what I thought would be a small player, I was more than intrigued. I had to hear it. Penon Audio graciously made this happen.

Penon Audio is a store based out of Hong Kong that sells gear worldwide. They’ve been around for just a few years (established in 2013) but get quite a bit of mentions on HeadFi. This is probably due to their reasonable prices, good inventory and worldwide shipping.

Aune Audio is the HiFi brand of As Ao Lai Er Technology, below is what Aune’s website has to say about their brand:

Quote:

As Ao Lai Er Technology’s high quality HiFi brand, Aune has been devoted to developing and producing desktop, portable and car audio products. Founded in the year of 2004, Ao Lai Er owns the largest Chinese audio technology website – HIFIDIY.NET and high end audio brand TITANS. HIFIDIY.NET has 700 thousand members. It’s always been a platform for the most advanced HiFi technology communications and practice. We gained lots of experience from the long-term accumulation, and have released hundreds of kits and parts from independent R&D, which are well received around the world! Aune team is a group of audiophiles who only pursue the best. We use our products in daily life and we love each and every one of them! Superb sound is Aune’s goal; great user experience and satisfaction is what Aune pursues. We are striving to make Aune one of the world’s famous audio brands in the future!

Useability: Form & Function

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The Aune M1S comes in a simple box with two screen protectors and a USB cable as accessories. The packaging is non-descript and not memorable in any way. Neither screen protector is applied to the device. In my opinion, all manufacturers should apply a screen protector if they are going to include one. Most electronic manufacturing facilities are dust free, which is something that most homes cannot claim. Anyone who’s applied a screen protector knows how much of an advantage that is. I feel sorry for anyone who lives in a completely dust free home, as it probably means a neurotic lives in the house.

It still may be better than my house. At least it would be sparkly clean.

Physical characteristics

The M1S is a pretty solid brick with six edges. I personally don’t mind the edges, but other folks will be scrambling for one of their not included silicone cases. Penon Audio has them for ten bucks a pop—in three colours even.

The player is a bit long for my tastes. It is longer than the Cayin i5, and probably just about every other DAP out there. The width and thickness give it a big candy bar form factor, but I’ve never had a candy bar with this kind of girth. If they can reduce the length on future players, that would be awesome, but I have a feeling the form has something to do with the insanely low distortion on this thing. The distortion and dynamic range on the M1S are better than those on the M2Pro, their much more expensive offering. That player is a bit chunky too.

Overall the profile is utilitarian in aesthetic with little to make it look particularly appealing. This player just gets down to business.

The ‘wheel’ in the middle is not a wheel at all. It has five buttons. The centre button is the standard OK button, whilst the other buttons have multiple functions, including the standard playback controls and adding tracks to favourites (the M1S version of playlist) and changing the digital filter. I didn’t play much with digital filter as I’ve found that I generally prefer slow roll-off filters on previous DAPs I’ve listened to.

The centre button plays or pauses tracks during playback and selects menu items when not controlling playback. The left and right buttons are for skipping and reversing tracks. They also allow fast-forward and rewind by holding down. I found that my unit has very specific engagement points for the buttons. I need to press dead centre to get them to work right, so make sure you are doing that before you think you have malfunctions. I only had problems with the left and right buttons, top and bottom were fine. Short presses on the top button change the repeat/shuffle modes. Shuffle and repeat are tied to folders. Options include shuffle folder, repeat one (has disk in left part of icon), repeat folder, and no repeat (has x in bottom left of icon). Tapping the bottom button stops playback. Just like an old CD player, it loses your place in the track when you press stop. Holding down the top button will add a track to favourites, whilst holding down the bottom will change digital filters. Above the ‘wheel’ there are two buttons, with obvious use and universal symbols. The left one takes you to the main menu and the right takes you back one screen. Volume and power buttons on the right side are straight forward. I found myself wishing I had some controls on the left side, but I imagine the circuit design didn’t allow it.

I tested the line-out in comparison to my LH Labs Geek Pulse X-Infinity DAC. I could not tell the difference when switching in between the two with volume matching done by ear. That is damn impressive. It should be noted that the LH Labs gear and the Aune M1S share the same DAC chip, but I didn’t expect the Aune to go toe-to-toe with the X-Infinity and do as well as it did.

With regards to some measurables, I get about 10-11 hours battery life and charge times are around 3 hours. Time to scan my music library on my 200GB microSD card is under 1 minute.

Operating System

As shown above, the controls are fairly intuitive—they also include instructions with the player. The menu system is pretty straightforward. Left and right will scroll options, as will up and down. When in the settings menu pressing the centre button changes the option you are currently on.

The OS is minimal, but functional. The screen lays out everything in black and white with a touch of brown-grey tones. The screen is capable of colour, as indicated by the bright green battery charging emblem, but they haven’t deployed much of it in the interface. I’m perfectly fine with this, as the Spartan image of the OS fits the player well. The OS is really quick to navigate. When going through folders or settings options you can go down or up one entry at a time with the down button or up button, or advance to the next page or previous page with right and left.

Volume and remaining battery power are clearly displayed at the top of the screen while track information and track progress follow as you read down the screen. The file name is displayed as whatever you’ve left it. My Positive Feedback DSD Sampler has Pos~1 for every track. :/ I have most of my files in folders but I do have one lonely file sitting by itself in the root folder with no album name in the file name. When I went to play this file it knew artist and album, so the player is reading tags, but it is using them only minimally. I suggest that Aune should add tag-based browsing if possible, as it is something I really love and I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think that Aune could take some lead from the HiFiMan SuperMini on having a simple interface but with full tag browsing for artist, album, and genre. Folder based browsing is fast and foolproof (nothing goes wrong with folder names), but tag browsing is usually a nicer organisation.

There is no EQ on the M1S, so those who like to tweak will not be happy. I like a player that is dead to rights neutral, and the Aune M1S gives me that. I tweak with headphones. Other things you won’t find, a digital line-out port, USB-DAC functionality, USB-OTG, WiFi, Bluetooth, or any other fancy bits. The M1S is all about its core function, playing music as honestly as possible and thinks that all other things a DAC might do are unimportant. Now let Paula Abdul out of that music box looking thing.

Anyone looking for this to be their only DAP/DAC should move along, this player won’t fill your needs. I’m lucky to have a variety of DAPs and DACs, so the lack of USB DAC function isn’t a conversation ender for me.

Audio quality

In a word: stellar. The Aune M1S has a spacious, crystal clear sound with no particular emphasis to any part of the frequency spectrum. It is detailed, with impeccable timing. It has excellent extension in bass and treble and makes every reasonable headphone I’ve thrown at it sound wonderful. If you want your portable gear to sound it’s best, the M1S is a good choice. The M1S didn’t do terribly well when I hooked up an HD600 to it, but it wasn’t an utter failure. The HD600 is kind of my stress test on DAPs. I’ve only had two DAPs do what I would consider adequate on the HD600, the HiFiMAN SuperMini and the Echobox Explorer. Many portable DACs fail to do adequately with the HD600, including the Chord Mojo. I hope to try the Shanling M5 in the future with the HD600, but that hasn’t happened yet.

I did try the Aune M1S with the new 150Ω, 89 sensitivity RHA CL1, and the M1S powers it beautifully. The M1S really shined with my neutral headphones, the UERR and the Noble K10E. When I start listening, it is truly difficult to stop.

I’ve tried a lot of DAPs and DAC/Amps. The Aune M1S is one of the best sounding and only costs $249. The price to performance ratio is just crazy talk.

As usual, I did volume matched comparisons between players. For my methodology, you can read pretty much any of my reviews in the last six months. Briefly, I match using an SPL meter and white noise. I use a coupler for IEMs that I’ve made out of toilet roll cores and packing tape—cheap but functional. For full size headphones I press the foam ball that came with it into the cup and try to be steady. My methods are imperfect, but fairly consistent.

Comparisons

Cayin i5

The M1S has a similar tonality to the i5. On Pink Floyd – On the Run, the two players are very similar in presentation of stage, but the i5 has a bit better definition on the train announcement near the beginning of the track and in general. Stage height is a little better on the M1S. On Pink Floyd – Time, the clocks are more in your face and instrument separation is greater, the stage is also wider and deeper. The drums are bigger and bolder through the i5, there may be a little lift in this frequency range as the drums are further back in the stage on the M1S compared to the i5. Both have good full sounds to the drums, but the i5 is fuller in single-ended. When switched to balanced mode, the M1S pulls ahead with bigger stage and better definition.

The Aune M1S, like the i5 doesn’t hiss with the Noble K10E. With the Noble K10E and some good old Surfer Rosa highlights, Where is My Mind, the Aune M1S has a touch more subtlety with the restrained almost hiding male almost echo muttering backing vocals, but it doesn’t have quite the same amplitude on the ethereal female vocals. It climbs, but not quite to the height of the i5. The stage is significantly wider and a bit deeper on the M1S. Both sound amazing.

The Aune M1S has a similar library scan speed, but doesn’t have any frills in the OS. Both players have excellent volume controls, but the feel of the i5 control is much more premium. Both have distortionless volume adjustment. I narrowly prefer the sound of the M1S and like that it has a 2.5mm balanced jack, but every other comparison goes to the i5. The i5 has USB DAC functionality, tag based browsing, Bluetooth, WiFi, the Google Play store, and many more features. The M1S is a top notch audio player, that is all.

HiFiMAN SuperMini

The soundstage on the SuperMini isn’t the match of the M1S or the i5 in size, but it is just as well defined as either. The OS on the SuperMini doesn’t compete with the i5, but easily bests the M1S. The SuperMini doesn’t have adjustable gain and has one of the worst volume controls I’ve ever seen on a DAP, 32 steps is bad—it’s iPhone volume levels bad. It does drive the HD600 well, which, to my surprise, the i5 does pretty well too. The Aune M1S doesn’t drive the HD600 as good as the SuperMini. It sounds a bit thin and sharp as the bass on the HD600 recesses a bit without the power to push it forward, but the sound is clean and clear. The SuperMini drives the HD600 more fully and with a bigger sound stage.

With the Noble K10E, the SuperMini hisses, like many DAPs. It also has a more muted sound and a smaller stage than its two primary competitors in the i5 and the M1S. Because of a little bit of veiling the dude-quiet vocals don’t pop out from hiding as much. The amplitude of the female vocal doesn’t reach the aeries of the i5 or the M1S. Again, you can’t make the Noble K10E sound bad in my experience, but the SuperMini wasn’t competitive versus the i5 or M1S here.

Specifications

Specifications
Price $249
DAC chip ESS SABRE ES9018K2M
Output power 3.5mm: 110mW @ 32Ω; 2.5mm (balanced) 180mW @ 32Ω
Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise 0.00027%
Dynamic Range (DNR) 120dB
Noise 2.52 uVrms
Max Output Level 1.92 Vrms
Outputs 3.5mm headphone out, 2.5mm (balanced) headphone out
Headphone impedance recommendation 8Ω – 600Ω
Display 2.4” IPS
Battery ~11hr life
Format support PCM 44.1-384kHz (16, 24, 32 bit); DSD64-DSD128 (single to double DSD); APE 16/44.1; MP3; ALAC; AAC
Dimensions 126 x 55 x 14.8mm
Weight 147g

Conclusions

I’ve had the privilege of listening to and reviewing a lot of DAPs and DACs, none has impressed me quite as much as the Aune M1S. The Aune M1S is my new reference DAP. It is a sonic marvel at $249, with sound that is better than most DAPs on the market, including the current toast of the town, the Cayin i5. The Aune M1S has truly special clarity with a background as black as the inside of a singularity. The soundstage is wide and deep with above average height. The price of the M1S makes it a no-brainer for anyone who doesn’t care about anything but audio quality. Aune M1S will be joining me for my upcoming reviews of the UERR, Noble K10E and the Empire Ears/Effect Audio Arthur.

9 thoughts on “Aune M1S: one of the most transparent DAPs I have heard, and only $249

Add yours

  1. I’ve listened to the Aune M1s extensively with the Noble Kaiser Encore and it does not hiss at all. The background is completely silent with all headphones I’ve tried and there is no distortion in the bass frequencies, so while I’m not sure what the impedance is, it has never been a problem. I think the exact output impedance is a red herring. It doesn’t really matter, as the sound is clear and accurate. Since this review, I’ve had the opportunity to compare to more DAPs and it’s output is still super clean in comparison to all of comers.

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  2. im asking simply because it’s sounds dull through my im03. so i guess the output impedance is quite high for aune m1s

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    1. I really don’t think so. The Aune M1s has no audible distortion in the bass, which is what happens to the Kaiser Encore when playing through an impedance mismatch. The IMO3 has a 34ohm impedance. The Kaiser Encore is below this (impedance not listed by Noble, but under 30ohm, I would guess under 20). The UERR has an impedance around 25ohms, and I’ve tested with numerous other headphones in the 16ohm range. The M1s shouldn’t have any problems with impedance mismatches.

      I would generally consider the M1s a touch bright, not dull. Perchance are you a quiet listener? There are two versions of the firmware, one with more aggressive linear volume control (gets loud quicker), and one with more gradual volume increase. For quiet listeners, the less aggressive firmware will sound better as the amp is playing at it’s ideal level.

      I’ve never noted anything dull about the M1s sound. Try the firmware change and see if it fixes your issue, if it doesn’t, I would try other headphones, and try to suss out the problem in other ways. That way when you contact Aune, or whomever you bought it from, you have enough to go on to give them an idea of what may be causing the problem. Best of luck!

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