Pros – Form factor, pocketability, smooth sound quality, powerful
Cons – No case, precision when changing volume, no on-board storage
*The product was provided to me by Andrew at MusicTeck for an honest review
-MRSP: $199; (can be found for less currently @ $149.00)
The M2s is the first Shanling product that I have had the pleasure to listen to and obviously it is the first time I have reviewed one as well. I have been overall impressed by the M2s, it’s tiny size, the amount of power it delivers and the slightly warmish signature and the UI. The standard for which I hold most DAP’s to would be the A&K UI and the M2s UI is very feature rich and user friendly. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect when you purchase the Shanling M2s.
Unboxing and Accessories:
Anyone that has followed any of my reviews knows that I don’t like to spend a lot of time talking about boxes and accessories. I will include a few photos and give a brief description. The box is a rather plain black box. The front of the box has a drawn outline of the M2s unit. The outline is the actual size of the DAP that is located inside the box. The back of the box has a very brief list of the features of the player and not much else worth mentioning.
Upon opening the box lid, you will see the M2s nestled in a foam cutout and laying on top of a ribbon for easy removal. If you remove the foam cutout insert you will see a cardboard envelope(box) which holds all of the accessories.
The included accessories are a couple of sets of screen protectors, a microSD card reader, a pin to reset the device, USB-C charging cable, warranty, manual and quick start card. While this is a budget friendly DAP it still must be mentioned the obvious omission was a case. I always feel a case is a nice addition, even a silicone cheapo case, to prevent the DAP from scratching when placing it down on a table. Cases for the M2s can be purchased for around $19 and it is probably a worthwhile investment considering the back of the DAP appears to be glass. You can see the M2s case in photos throughout the review. While the case adds a little protection, especially for the back as it is softly lined, it also adds a little frustration because it makes it impossible to grab the scrolling wheel between your fingers to turn it you must roll it from the front with one finger.
Design and Build:
The M2s is a very small device. It is the most pocketable I have ever encountered since my SanDisk Clip Zip days. The small frame is really appreciated if you exercise or regularly engage in activities like long walks. Aside from the small dimensions it is also very lightweight, 100g. The DAP that I am reviewing is black but it is also available in blue or red. Despite its tiny size the build quality feels very solid and sturdy to the touch. Even though it is sturdy feeling I wouldn’t want to tempt fate and use the DAP naked as it is tiny and slippery.
The upper right side of the DAP has the power button. To turn the M2s on, press and hold (long press). The power button is also used to wake up the device, with only a brief press, when the screen turns itself off.
The right side of the unit has the scroll wheel and below the scroll wheel is a button to return you to a previous menu screen. I want to talk about the scroll wheel a little as I have mentioned in other reviews that scroll wheels can really mean the difference between a good consumer experience or a frustrating experience. The scroll wheel on the M2s is wheel built, without any looseness or play. For the most part the scroll wheel is precise. In my experience, I have found that when controlling the volume, it appears to be difficult to perform a single volume click often resulting in jumping up multiple volume notches. It loses some of its preciseness when controlling the volume. Since this is the only M2s I have used I can’t say if this is a characteristic of this specific unit or the M2s on a whole. I must also mention I am using firmware version 3.0. The scroll wheel becomes very important when you realize the screen of the M2s is not a touchscreen so you depend on the scroll wheel to cycle through and select your options, pushing the scroll wheel “enters” the selection. After using the Opus#2 for so long I have become accustomed to touching the screen to control the device and because of that I felt kind of dumb because it took me a while to adapt to the scroll wheel type of control of the M2s over the touchscreen control of the Opus#2.
The left side of the device has a reset hole a play/pause button as well as a back and forward button used to advance to the next or previous music track. Further down the left size is where you can find the microSD slot. I used a 256gb card and found the device read the card flawlessly and quickly, which is a very good thing considering there is no internal memory in the M2s. It doesn’t bother me that there is no on-board storage as I usually keep all of my music on some type of removable storage, but it certainly needs to be mentioned.
The bottom of the M2s has a USB-C slot to be used for charging as well as data transfer and a 3.5mm headphone jack which also works a line out when selected from the software settings, sorry no 2.5mm balanced output on the M2s.
I find the M2s aesthetically pleasing. It’s small size, metal frame, glass front and back all add to the appeal. Black is a sexy color but it is also a fingerprint magnet, which I guess is another great reason to buy a case.
The unit has Bluetooth and allows the user to connect headphones and cellphones without any stress. It works flawlessly and with ease in finding a Bluetooth connection and maintaining a connection. I connected the V-Moda Crossfade 2 wireless headphone, LG V30 and V-Moda Remix portable speaker. All connected easily, quickly and without issue. All connections were solid and stable and allowed for good distance for a Bluetooth device.
The cellphone pairing allows the listener to stream their favorite streaming app, from the cellphone, while keeping your wired headphones plugged in to the M2s.
One feature I would like to touch on is the HibyLink feature. To utilize HibyLink you will need to download the Hiby app to your cellphone. Once you pair the Hiby app to the to the M2s it gives you control of the M2s from your cellphone. In other words, you can keep your M2s in your pocket and use the cellphone as a sort of “remote control” for the DAP. I enjoy the fact that I can use my big touchscreen to control the M2s as opposed to the scroll wheel.
The M2s plays most of your favorite file formats including Native DSD. I put it through its paces listening to a varied selection of musical files and never had a hitch, stutter or lag while playing music, including gapless. For a lengthy rundown of the file formats the M2s plays look up in the technical section near the top of this review.
The M2s can also be used as a USB DAC. I found it had the ability to drive anything I threw at it, unfortunately my HD650 is on loan and I wasn’t able to test it.
I am not going to take an incredibly deep dive into the GUI. As I have said in previous reviews it requires too much detail and is boring for the reviewer and maybe the reader as well. For the most part I use folders to select my music. I will say the GUI provides a good consumer experience and if you have used Hiby software in the past you will feel at home. I am very simple in my wishes for a DAP, I like good control ie. awesome scroll wheel or touch screen, great sound quality and ability to drive all of my headphones and IEM’s, while exhibiting killer battery life. The M2s check all of the boxes confidently with the added bonus of a tiny footprint in your pocket, what’s not to like? For those of you that utilize an EQ it does include a 10 band EQ, personally the EQ didn’t do much for me. There are also low and high gain settings and I found low gain to be powerful enough for most of the IEM’s I connected. One other aspect to discuss is the low pass filter mode. The options available in this area are sharp, slow, short delay sharp and short delay slow. I found the short delay slow setting to be my preference. To get an idea of how the menus function please look closely at my photos embedded in the review.
Moving on to the sound:
Writing about a DAP and how it sounds can be a tricky proposition because of the many different sets of headphones and IEM’s used for testing and the large amount of A/B testing with those headphones and IEM’s and as well as how they sound in comparison with other DAP’s in my possession. It requires a lot of time and testing as well as critical listening. I also want to mention that this is the least expensive DAP I have so it really isn’t fair to compare it to the likes of an Opus#2 which is my reference DAP. Some of the other sources I have are the LG V30(quad dac), and the big brother of the M2s, the M3s.
I would say that the overall tone is slightly warm but with good clarity and resolution. It is not the most detailed sound and not the clearest, it is smoother and easier listening than it is detailed. It has a musical quality that is incredibly enjoyable. I found it to deliver well in the bass department and especially in the mid bass notes.
The treble extends nicely in relation to the signature and provides enough extension so that the slight warmth in its tonality does not overshadow the rest of the sound across the spectrum, it is not a bright player and the treble extension is not incredible but it works in relation to the overall experience. Without any treble i the top end end the characteristic of this player would change to a much more warm signature.
To my ears, the M2s does not feel congested or narrow, it is not the broadest stage or separation I have ever heard but it certainly is adequate and does not detract from the entire package. I also want to note that I have not heard hiss in any of my headphones or IEM’s making for a black sound floor.
To compare it to the M3s ($279) I would say that the overall tone is similar, very similar to the M2s, which is a good thing. It could be that they are from the same family tree. The M3s distances itself from the M2s extensively in its stage. It is noticeably deeper and wider than the M2s. Overall, the M2s is smoother in signature and the M3s is clearer with a broader stage. Also, the M3s has a balanced output which I prefer to utilize.
The LGV30 ($800, price I paid) is a cellphone but with a quad dac, Sabre ES9218P, it is one of the finest sounding cellphones I have heard. In comparison to the M2s it is brighter and has an increased clarity and a wider stage. Again, there is a massive price difference and not a fair comparison like the Opus#2.
Just because I can’t provide a description of the HD650, doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty of other fine gear to assist me in providing sound descriptions.
Meze 99 Neo – The Neo has a strong bass presence yet the mids, treble and detail are quite good, with a smooth, non-peaky signature. When pairing with the M2s, I felt the m2s exacerbated the already strong bass on some recordings. The details were present and the stage was wide but in some tracks the bass was a bit over powering. I did not expect this as the M2s is only slightly warm.
EarSonics EM10 – is a sublime paring with the M2s. It appears this is a match made in heaven. The M2s tends to bring out the weaknesses in this CIEM. The sub bass rumbles to go along with a tight mid bass. Wide stage, crisp air up top and I felt it upgraded the EM10.
Custom Art FIBAE 2 – is another sublime paring. Tight, punchy bass with a polite sub bass rumble. The mids are detailed and transparent. The treble extends well and the stereo separation and stage is wide and incredible.
64 Audio U18 – I felt when pairing with the M2s I lost some the musicality that the U18 generally provides. The treble seemed spikey, and bright. It would have thought the smooth signature would have paired well. I am not sure why but the smoothness of the M2s did not provide me with the best U18 experience. Not bad, just not optimal.
Keep in mind, there are so many variables and combinations of cables and eartips, as well as custom vs. universal that can alter your experience. So, your mileage may vary and probably will compared to my comparisons.
This is my first experience with a Shanling product. It is also the first entry level DAP I have ever reviewed, Shanling or otherwise. While I have owned other budget minded DAP’s, Fiio X3 and X5 for example I wasn’t reviewing at that time. I have to say I came away impressed with the Shanling M2s. From its long walk and exercise friendly form factor to its ability to drive all of my IEM’s and headphones and its intuitive, feature laden UI it certainly should be a consideration for a budget minded, on the go individual.
It has sexy, good looks and is well built and well designed. I do wish Shanling would have included some protection for the sexy body of the M2s but cases are available for an additional purchase, an accessory I would highly recommend.
Shanling has a winner on its hands and has certainly set the bar in the budget DAP sector. For competition’s sake I hope the other manufacturers take note. I look forward to future Shanling offerings….stay tuned…more to come.