Shanling is one of those audiophile brands that deliver killer products on the cheap. In fact, whether it’s DAPs or IEMs, the company tends to overachieve. So, I was particularly interested to try one of its newer and more budget friendly IEM models, the Shanling Sono. Selling for a modest 80 bucks, can the Sono deliver an audiophile-grade sound?
What’s in the Box?
- Shanling Sonos IEM
- Silver Plated Copper Cable 2-pin
- 3 Sizes Silicone Ear Tips, 1 Pair Flange
- Filter Set
- Zip Semi-Hard Case
Look and Feel
We couldn’t help but think of the Beyerdynamic Xelento when first seeing the shells of the Sono. Small, minimalist, and refined-looking with its hand polished cast zinc alloy housing, the Sono offers a refreshing aesthetic given all the bulbous and glitzy IEMs that saturate the market these days. They’re comfortable too, offering a good seal without feeling intrusive or tiresome. No complaints in this department.
The Sono sports a hybrid triple-driver setup, using two dynamic drivers and a balanced armature for the higher frequencies. You’ll also get a pair of tuning filters in the box: a “Balanced & Universal” filter and a “Bassy and Fun” filter, which is the default setup out of the box. I stuck with the “Bassy and Fun” filter for this review, but if you prefer a more moderate bass response, the other pair of filters may be more appropriate. The silver-plated copper cable is as solid-looking as it is pretty. The termination feels sturdy, and the connectors fit firmly but remain easy to disconnect.
|2 Dynamic, 1 Balanced Armature
|16Hz – 40kHz
The soundstage is probably one of the most impressive elements of the Sono. The imaging feels incredibly precise for this price point, with instruments being placed apart in subtle, yet well defined degrees of height and depth. And while the stereo field is not endlessly expansive, the left to right separation feels definite and well spaced out yet, nuanced in its placement. So, with all the angles covered, you get a thoroughly multidimensional experience, putting you smack center in a vibrant tapestry of sound.
Powerful and meaty, the bass really packs a punch throughout the low-end spectrum, giving just as much presence in the upper-bass as in the super visceral sub-bass frequencies. That being said, the low-end is tasteful in its generosity, avoiding overpowering the overall balance. The bass also has some great speed to it, lending a driving energy to modern genres especially. But it’s no slouch with respect to classical music either. String instruments in this range show ample texture and present a highly natural performance, even in the lower-bass frequencies.
Lush and full-bodied, the Sono reveals an all-encompassing mix. The low-mids can show a slight veil at times, but overall, the Sono presents tight and cleanly layered profile. The upper-mids have just enough energy, avoiding bringing vocals too forward, while still lending impact to snares and guitar strums/solos. And in general, despite it’s richness and slight coloring, the Sono presents a life-like and well-detailed performance.
Supper snappy and crisp, the highs bring tons of funk to fast and poppy tracks. And although the highs have nice extension, I didn’t run into any piercing treble peaks. Again, in the high-end, strings sound entirely natural and transparent. As for vocals, you can expect a breathy and nuanced performance that still maintains the richness of the lower frequencies.
Shanling has delivered again, producing an incredibly-skilled and entertaining IEM for the price. With a fantastically precise and colorful soundstage, a warm, crowd-pleasing balance and tons of speed and energy across the frequency spectrum, there’s no question that this is a fun and satiating listen. It also does justice to almost every music genre, making it highly versatile. Additionally, these IEMs just look damn elegant and far fancier than the price tag would suggest. And overall, if you’re looking for an entry-level IEM, the Sono may be one of the best-performing and most enjoyable options under $100.