Shanling M2s AK4490EQ Mini Bluetooth DSD256 HiFi Lossless Music Player

General Information

With the Shanling M2s, we set a new goal - to break the past. "Make a difference to let the change come" As the design motto of M2s runs through all aspects of the whole machine, our designers and engineers hope to show their new views on the player by portraying the details of the product. Want to create a new user experience on this extra featured and lightweight machine, which requires that each factor be re-conceived on a traditional basis to achieve a refreshing look and an unexpected sound quality. In the design we use a double-sided 2.5D glass with all-metal integrated arc-shaped body of the combination of the front of the machine with a 3-inch Retina display, showing excellent, the overall value is even better. The new design of the wheel is still used in Japan imported ALPS potentiometer, in operation with the fuselage on the left side of the three physical buttons, each of your operations are like playing a beautiful handicrafts, smooth operation so that you put it down The Compared to the previous generation M2 length reduced by about 20%, the volume is about 70% of M2, the volume is reduced but the life is still tough, can support up to 9 hours of continuous playback, the depth of standby time has reached about 300 hours.
Shanling M2s.jpg

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Pros: 3 sizes, designs, and price ranges to cover all use cases from casual to hard-core. All are great sounding, with tons of features and good battery life.
Cons: Cases obstruct changing SD cards
only a single card slot even on high-end M3s model.


I would like to thank Shanling for setting up the review tour for their 3 most commonly seen DAP models and for including me on the tour. I have owned 2 of the three in the past but never had them all in hand at the same time.


First let’s take a moment to look at the things these models all have in common before delving into the unique qualities of each.


Construction is solid with metal sides and high gloss glass backs each opposite a full-sized display. The screen has an outer black bezel that frames it all the way round but does a good job of disappearing when the player is powered off on the M2 and M3s. On the m1, the frame is more easily seen. Some of the buttons are in the same place on all three models. On the left side, forward and reverse are present although they are separated by a play/pause on the M2s and M3s that is not present on the M1. The M1 also has a return button on the left above the forward/reverse buttons. All three have scroll wheels on the right with the M2s and M3s having the return button immediately below the wheel. The M1 has the power button below the wheel while the M2s and M3s have the power button on the top at the righthand side. The bottom of all the units have the 3.5mm port and the USB-C port. On the M1 the SD Card slot is at the bottom while the SD slot on the M2s and M3s is on the left-hand side about ¾ of the way toward the bottom of the player.




M3s Top (Same as M2s)




Bottom View (Blue M1, Silver M2s, Red M3s)



Left Side View




Right Side View​


A couple of things I will note that I would like to see updated on future models.


1.) All of the cases obscure the SD card slot so it is impossible to change cards without removing the case. With only having a single slot, it would be nice to at least make the slot accessible without having to go remove the case.




2.) On the M1, pushing the wheel inward works as the play/pause function. Giving the user the option to set the push-in on the toggle wheel to be the play/pause function on the M2s and M3s would make pocket use much more feasible as the leather case obscures the actual play/pause button to a degree that makes pocket use more difficult. This is not really bad on the m2s although there is no tactile way to be certain which button you are pressing without finding the others to reference its position. The problem is particularly pronounced on the M3s where the case covers the buttons and removes nearly all tactile reference to which button is which.



And now for something completely different....


While the three DAPs share a similar physical construction and the same UI, they are really not targeted to the same audiences and the question of which is best is going to depend largely on use case.


The littlest Shanling (for now):


The M1 is the smallest, lightest DAP in the Shanling stable and is aimed at the ipod Nano/shuffle market of gym dwellers, runners, and hikers/outdoor types. The size and weight of this unit is roughly ½ that of the larger two players. It comes with a strap for wearing the unit on an arm and the case doubles as a belt clip. The shortcomings of the M1 are intended trade-offs in order to achieve this size/weight ratio. With all portable players, battery life is a key issue and the smaller the unit, the larger the issue becomes. The M1 sports a 950mAh battery which when measured on my discharge tester was nearly exactly as specified. With such a small power reserve to work from, the M1 must be as efficient as possible and does a good job of divvying out power in a way to make the unit last nearly 8 hours on a charge if the display is only used sporadically and Bluetooth is disabled. Using Bluetooth does decrease the longevity of the battery to closer to 7 hours which is still very good. Output is good with low impedance/high sensitivity earphones, but as impedance rises or efficiency drops, the M1 becomes less and less useful. The specs list output as 35mW@32ohm which means that anything over 32ohm is probably going to feel underpowered when run off the M1.


Use cases for the M1


Put simply, if you are looking for a DAP you can slip in a pocket and forget, the M1 is for you. If you are a backpacker or hiker and are concerned about weight but want to take your music with you, the M1 and a pair of iems makes for a ¼ pound combo.


Fir use at the Gym, while running, or while out pursuing other outdoor activities, the M1 is an extremely compact package that makes it nearly perfect.


If you intend to use Bluetooth headphones, the M1 also makes a great choice since it’s size and battery life make it fantastic for dropping in a pocket and heading out for the day.


For non-head-fi types, the M1 makes a good first dap as the limitations (lack of full DSD support, and limited output power) are not likely to come into play with most consumer level headphones or common mp3/Aac files.


If none of these options are your use-case, read on.


The other end of the Rainbow – The M3s.


If the M1 is a the cut all corners to save weight and cut size gym use model, the M3s is the no-holds barred audiophile model. Sporting dual DAC chips and OPamps, 32/384 resolution, DSD 256 support with an 11.2mhz clock for DSD, balanced output, and specs to be proud of for both distortion and SNR, the only things the M3s seems to have in common with the M0 are a similar set of physical controls, and a familiar UI. About the only feature distinctly lacking on the M3s is support for Dual micro-SD cards which is commonly found in players at this price point. (Even Shanling’s flagship M5 does not have dual card support and actually says it is limited to 128gb card size although personal experience suggests otherwise.)


The M3s aims squarely at the likes of the Opus #1s, the Fiio X7ii, the Cayin N5ii, Cowon Plenue P, the pioneer/Onkyo DAP, and the AK 70. To say the market is crowded at this price point is an understatement, so how does one compete? For some (Opus) the answer is to focus on one aspect and make it the best it can be. For most others, it is to pack absolutely as many features as possible into the box and hope that one of those features is the thing that tips the scale in their favor. The M3s takes the later road and packs, Bi-directional Bluetooth with all the bells and whistles (Apt-X), HibyLink so the player can be remotely controlled, USB DAC mode for use connected to a computer or phone, digital filters in addition to a customizable EQ, along with the previously mentioned dual mono signal paths and both single ended and balanced outputs.


In order to run all this circuitry, the M3s steps up to a 2600mAh battery which measures 2430mAh on my discharge test. This is enough to provide a full day’s use (12 hours on single ended, nearly 10 hours using Bluetooth, and 7.5 hours using balanced output). By all accounts, this is among the best in class as it outlasted the Plenue, Opus, and Cayin N5 on single ended playback and bettered the Opus and AK on balanced. The only players that bettered the battery life of the M3s in my tests were those with a single DAC chip and it certainly seems reasonable that when you have ½ the circuitry to power, you should be able to make the battery last longer.


The sound of the m3s is very good but shows some of the natural leanings of the DAC chip used. In recent years AK’s premium line has been called the “Velvet Sound” series and I think that is a good description of it. The AK4490 is very musical at the expense of masking some of the micro-detail. The M3s has good bass extension with slightly forward bass that extends into the mid-bass range, mids are thinner than the bass and highs are again slightly forward. Treble extension, while good, is not quite as well extended or controlled as the Opus #1s. The good news is the M3s is capable of excellent reproduction when fed good source material and still be forgiving of poor sources. Considering the fact that many will pair the M3s with streaming audio sources (Tidal, Spotify) this makes a good compromise. The downside of the M3s tuning is, smooth musical rendering can hide detail which is most evident in the already slightly thin mids.


The next thing to look at with the M3s is which earphones to pair it with. The Output power of the M3s is nearly 4x that of the M1 in singled ended mode (35mW vs 130mW) and nearly double that again when using balanced (230mW) (All of these ratings are at 32ohm). I had no trouble driving headphones up to 150ohm using the single ended output and was able to drive some 600ohm Beyer’s using the balanced out. At 600ohm, you are not going to get very much volume out of the M3s to be sure, but not many people use 600ohm headphones while on the go anyway. When paired with either iems or portable headphones, the m3s has no trouble getting volumes to realistic listening levels with plenty of headroom to really crank the volume for those who want to rock out.


Use Cases for the M3s:


1.) Looking for portable DAP for DSD (up to and including DSD256) or 32/384 playback, this is one of the few that has the specs to really handle it while still retaining enough output power to run larger headphones.


2.) If you are looking for a dap that offers the ability to tether your phone and stream music from your favorite services, the M3s offers both Bluetooth and wired options.


3.) If you want to be able to use your DAP as a transport for an external DAC (either Bluetooth or Line out) or if you want to do the opposite and use the M3s as a DAC for you USB capable source, you have both options.


4.) If you are looking for a DAP with balanced output to offer additional power to higher impedance or lower sensitivity earphones that need that bit of extra push the M3s offers balanced output with enough power to run hungry cans and enough battery to last a full workday.





Middle Ground – the M2s


Some people will have read to this point and realized that at different times of day, they fit into both the M1 and the M3s use case. While you could always purchase both if your budget will allow, there is another option that while a compromise, gives you most of the features of both the m1 and the M3s in a single device.


The M2s is exactly in between the M1 and M3s in dimensions and very close to the midway point in weight although it leans more toward the m3s in feature set and battery capacity. The M2s uses the same chip as the M3s but instead of using one per channel, the M2s uses a single 4490 to handle both channels thus saving 50% of the circuitry. This allows for a 1800mAh battery while maintaining an 8-hour battery life. The M2s shares the ability to use it as a DAC with your USB source, or as a source for your USB DAC. It will also tether to a phone via Bluetooth and allow the use of your favorite streaming sources. Output power is the same as the Single-ended output of the m3s. The M2s does not have the balanced output of its bigger brother but for many that will be a non-event as most headphones come wired for single-ended. The M2s has more than enough output power for most in-ears and portable headphones up to 150ohm. Above 150ohm, the output begins to drop in volume and while still usable, it will be limited. Above 300ohms, the m2s begins to struggle to produce enough volume to be listenable. A lot will depend on how efficient the headphone or earphone used is, but it is worth noting that for high impedance/low sensitivity cans, one should try the m2s first before assuming it will have adequate power to run your cans at a comfortable listening level.


Use Cases for the M2:


1.) If you have a need for a DAP with good sound quality for use with Single Ended earphones.


2.) If you want to stream media from your phone and let the DAP do the work of decoding and save your phones battery.


3.) If you want a DAP you can use as a source with USB DACs or if you want to use your DAP as the USB DAC with another USB source.




Conclusions:


I had mixed emotions about the M2s as this was the one of the three players I hadn’t owned previously. My thinking going into this review was: I questioned whether the $79 price difference between the M2s and M3s was enough to be worth losing the 2nd DAC and the balanced output. After using both players for 10 days, I can say conclusively that I made the right decision for me by purchasing the M3s. On the other hand, if you have a limited budget, the M2s makes a very good all-around player with a lot of capability and premium build quality. The $200 DAP market has gotten very competitive and while I can’t say the m2s is the only player one should consider, I can certainly say it deserves a spot amongst the top 3 I have had the opportunity to try at or near the $200 price point.


I could find a reason to buy all three of the Shanling Players and actually have purchased 2 of the 3 already. The M1 is about perfect for a pocket player when combined with any easy to drive IEM. For a combined price of sub-$200 for the M1, the case and something like the KZ-Zsr it would make a good gift idea for those new to audio. This combination may well end up in a few stockings come this winter. For my office DAP, I could be happy with either of the larger two depending on budget constraints. At the top end, the M3s is competitive with the sound quality of the likes of the Opus #1s, the AK70, and the Cowon Plenue which puts it in very good company.


While the three players may not be interchangeable and some fit specific uses better than others, it is hard to imagine a use case for which one of the three is not a top-flight competitor. Knowing that even as I type this Shanling has introduced and even smaller and touch screen M0, I can only surmise that the next generation of DAPs from Shanling will likely all incorporate the changes found in the M0 in the next generation of their higher-end products and continue to improve an already very solid line. If you haven’t yet, you should check out Shanling, chances are pretty good they build something that will make you smile.




CHIPS and DIP (Sockets that is). (Notes an DAC Families)


I spent some time AB testing the M3s vs some other DAPs in the same general price range. It seems that three chip families define the market at this price point; The Sabre series (9018/9023/9028), the Cirrus Logic (4398 and 43198), and the AK (4490,4490EQ,4495). All three families are very capable and while I think that implementation is far more important in the overall sound produced by the DAP than which chip is used, chip families due tend to have a house sound or tuning that tends to be visible in most of the products sporting the chip. I want to admit right up front, input quality, input processing, clock quality, and analog stages have a lot to do with sound and implementation is more critical than which chip is used in creating a quality product. Those other components may either enhance or mask the natural tendencies of the DAC making it harder to pick out which family is in use but with more samples of products with each chip, certain qualities do begin to show through.


AK (4490)– Good bass extension but slightly forward bass that extends into the mid-bass range, thinner mids, followed by slightly forward highs. Treble extension, while good, is not quite as well extended or controlled as the Sabre line. AK calls the line the Velvet Sound and I think this is a good description as when I think of velvet, I think smooth. The AKM series in general produces a very musical signature and is more forgiving of source material than either of the other families. The downside of the AKM tuning is, smooth musical rendering can hide detail and does especially when it is combined with the slightly thinned mids. For me, as a devote of blues-rock, guitar detail is all important and the AKM can sometimes mask it.


Sabre (9023) – Very accurate and clinical at the expense of being the most digital sounding of the three. If AK went for the “Velvet” signature, Sabre went with “technical”. Where AK went with natural, almost tube sounding filters, the Sabre series went for absolute precision sometimes at the expense of musicality. The Sabre series tends to have the brightest sound of the three families partially because it also has the best treble extension of the three (at times by a pronounced margin). The lows and mids of the Sabre series tend to be closer to neutral than the AKM series and slightly thinner.


Cirrus Logic (43198)– The CS chips tend to be a little closer to the Sabre than the AK in that they are slightly bass light with neutral mids and well extended highs. They are a bit thicker and fuller than the Sabre while still maintaining a clean sound and more detail than present in the AK chip. The CS provides a balance between the other two chips that offers some of the technical micro-detail of the Sabre while maintaining some of the musicality and natural tonality of the AK.


Again, these are the ramblings of an old fool so your mileage may vary.
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Pros: Incredibly versatile functionality
Cons: No Bluetooth AAC support and clunky Line Out mode
TL/DR: Best in class

Intro

As this is my first review, the background segment seems like the most pertinent in order to judge credibility, so here goes. (no pressure, no pressure) OK...

I've played music since I was a little kid (but almost all of it self-taught, so not the most technical) and my weapon of choice (since my late teenage years) is the (acoustic) guitar. So my musical tastes have centred around that instrument for the longest time. So when somebody asks me 'What kind of music do you like?' I'd be like 'Anything with guitar, mate' and heavily influenced by what I'm playing at the time. So this would basically cover everything except EDM, hip hop etc. though I'm partial to a bit of quality 90s hip hop, which shows my age but I digress...

My first venture into this world was the Fiio E7 and the Westone UM2. They were both great but the E7 died after a very good innings and the UM2 was rendered unusable when I started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and discovered what cauliflower ears were! Since then, I've been cornered off to the circumaural section of this forum. My DAP genealogy would be:

IPod 5.5g (deceased)
Fiio x3 1st gen (flogged off)
Fiio x3 2nd gen (thinking of selling)
XDuoo x3 (retuned)
Shanling M1 (flogged off)
Onkyo Granbeat (keeping for now)
Shanling M2s (obviously)
Chord Mojo (although not strictly a DAP at all)

My current headphone stable:

Hifiman HE-400i

AKG K712

Sennheiser HD380 pro (w/ Ablet sheepskin ear pads)

(Koss Porta Pro)


I will mostly be comparing this to the Shanling M1 (it’s little brother) and the Fiio X3ii (it’s direct competitor, prior to the release of X3iii) as I believe it to be the fairest reference point. Comparing it to anything else I own/used would be an ‘apples to oranges’ type of situation. I did wait at least six months to review this because I wanted to be sure to make the distinction between liveable minor little niggles and actual annoyances. Also, with a lot of these products, the software takes time to mature and a lot of the initial gripes will have been ironed out with firmware updates. With FW3.1 update, a lot of the niggles have been ironed out – so well done Shanling. So let’s get on with the show, starting with….


Sound


Unfortunately, I had already sold the M1 by the time this model was released so I couldn’t make a direct comparison but if memory serves, it is in line with the house sound from Shanling. A touch on the warm side but nothing drastic (obviously). A laid back sound that’s very easy on the ears, perfect for casual listening on the go. The X3ii is a little colder in comparison – but I’m splitting hairs here. Not much in it but when pushed for a difference, that’s what I’ll say. Given that it’s a small, portable device and my ‘out and about’ headphones (HD380) have a bias towards bass, sonically, the X3ii is a better match but that’s only with MY headphones. Your mileage will probably vary greatly. Again, splitting hairs. They’re not bad with either the K712 or HE-400i and I have absolutely no problems or issues with it, but I have the Mojo and my desktop rig for those cans so to me, analysing the pairings would be a bit of a wasted exercise.


Form Factor


Although it is larger than the M1, I think it’s only larger in one dimension – length. This is all going from memory (sorry, I can’t be bothered the look it up) but the thickness and width seems to be same or very similar. It is noticeably smaller than the X3ii and settles in the pocket that much better. But more importantly, it stacks with the Mojo beautifully. Better than either the M1 or the X3ii. This really is the weapon of choice when it comes to pairing with the almighty Mojo as a stack.


Ergonomically, it is an improvement over the M1, in my opinion. I’m sure a lot of you will disagree with me, but I prefer this sticky-outy dial on the side to the one found on the rounded corner of the M1 – Particularly when pressing ‘select’. I feel more assurance when pressing the M2s dial, that it won’t jog the dial during the press. Having said that, it is a little awkward to actually jog the dial when using one-handed. It really isn’t an issue once you figure out you hand placement. I guess it also helps that I have quite dainty hands. The additional size also helps it settle into the hand a little better than the M1. Square really isn’t a comfortable shape to hold. The proprietary ‘leather’ case helps against accidental input on the dial since the dial ‘sticks out less’ but the cut-outs for the buttons on the left were very cramped and was very difficult to press without very careful angling of the fingers. But it’s nothing a little dremel-ing couldn’t fix!


Obviously, the large iPod-style ‘click wheel’ of the X3ii is a far superior navigation system that has been tried and tested for well over a decade (thank you Apple) compared to the little jog dial on the side found on the M2s, but when adding the screen size into the consideration, it all becomes a little more complex. Having had enough time to really live with it, I think I prefer the (much) larger screen over the larger click-wheel. The jog dial really isn’t the issue I first imagined it would be. Again, it might just be because I have small hands. The X3ii is also a noticeably larger and heavier device. I believe that the size and weight (i.e. portability) is a very important factor to consider for a PORTABLE device. In this department, M2s wins hands down.


Functionality


What can I say, there’s not a lot this little bad boy can’t do! The features list on this thing is staggering. To begin with, the screen on this device is gorgeous. Apart from the fact that it’s not a touchscreen, it really is on par with decent smartphones. Even the small text is clearly visible without pixilation and the album art is better represented than most dedicated DAPs out there. Certainly the best I’ve seen in this bracket. It handles all the formats I could throw at it. Admittedly, most of what I have is either FLAC, ALAC or AAC with a few DSDs so it’s pretty bog standard. I did try Vorbis and (more recently) Opus for a bubble and can confirm that it works. USB works for both TX and RX (Transport and External DAC) and works without a hitch. On Windows, with the relevant driver installed, it works on both ASIO and WASAPI without issues. Although it probably deserves to be mentioned that at the start of playback, there is a little blank before the sound kicks in so you do miss out on the first second or so of music but unlike the Mojo, it won’t happen every time you change tracks so you can rewind again if you really want to hear that 1st second.


It probably works best as a transport and stacks with the Chord Mojo beautifully. I’m sure the little elves at Shanling had the Mojo in mind when deciding on the dimensions and button placement of the M2s. The controls of the M2s is still very much accessible when stacked and having that lovely screen facing you with the glow of the Mojo’s globes softly filling the background gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. The later addition of HibyLink was an added bonus. It opened up the door to a whole new level of convenience.


It also has full OTG support, meaning you can extend the storage beyond the one MicroSD slot provided on the side with just about any medium of storage via USB. I can confirm that both my 512GB memory stick (yes, you read that right) and my 2TB HDD (with Y splitter for extra power) are recognised by the M2s and can play music from them with no issues. This is a feature that had very limited support from Fiio for the X3ii and later dropped all together, much to my dismay.


As an experiment when bored, I hooked up the M2s to a powered USB hub with the Mojo and my music library (an external HDD) and it worked surprisingly well. I was able to access my entire music collection through the Mojo without the use of a computer or a network. If only HibyLink had access to OTG, this would render Foobar2000 pretty much redundant (not really) if its only use was for playback. One can only wish.


HibyLink was a surprise feature I was not expecting when I first bought the device. It was an additional feature that was introduced in one of the many firmware updates. It allows the interface to be controlled by your smartphone (or tablet) via Bluetooth connection and allows extra features like playlist creation. Unfortunately, the official iOS version is a little ropey but is fairly robust on the Android version. As mentioned earlier, does not allow access to OTG. Hopefully this will be rectified by Hiby soon.


The Bluetooth also works as a transmitter and receiver. Unfortunately, as a receiver, it only accepts SBC. I understand it to be a hardware limitation and seems in line with similar products. It can transmit AptX no problem to any compatible headphones or receiver. The real caveat here is that there is no native AAC support via Bluetooth. It has been confirmed by Shanling so it’s official. There is AptX so it’s not a deal breaker but since all my lossy files are AAC, it would have been nice. Very nice. Oh well, such is life…


The Line Out mode can be enabled from the settings menu but I never use it for the fear of blowing my ears off when I plug the headphones back in. This is the only true gripe I have with this device and is where the Fiio Xii has a true edge over the M2s. The X3ii has a dedicated Line Out port as opposed to the M2s that shares the Headphone 3.5mm socket for its Line Out. It wouldn’t be so bad if the Line Out mode was disabled once 3.5mm jack was unplugged to potentially save your ears and/or sensitive IEMs. Maybe in a future FW update… Also, AFAIK the Line Out function here is just the volume set to full power, and not bypassing the amp section. This is yet to be confirmed by Shanling.



Conclusion



Shanling really has outdone themselves on this one. It’s the best in class in my opinion – at the time of writing, of course. No other DAP in its price range compares in terms of value, functionality, ease of use and aesthetics. The main problem I have with this DAP is the fact that it can do SO much, that I start to expect it to do everything. I have to remind myself that this is a small, budget DAP that’s under £200. If it had AAC support for Bluetooth and OTG for HibyLink, this thing would be perfect. But I guess it’s my fault for seeking perfection from such a device. Shame on me.
Pros: Nice build, small and lightweight, great battery and memory capacity, very neutral sound, respectably powerful, type c connector.
Cons: Selector knob needs a sensitivity adjustment, unable to quickly scroll from i.e. A straight to i.e. R,

Of the three DAP’s I received as a part of this tour, the M2s is the one I was personally most excited about. You see, two years ago I was actually able to review the original M2 model so I’m quite interested to see what Shanling has changed.


A little about me

I would like to say that first and foremost I am NOT an “audiophile” but rather an audio enthusiast. I listen to music to enjoy it. Do I prefer a lossless source? Yes, of course. But I can still be very happy streaming from Pandora or even my YouTube “My Mix” playlist. I also prefer equipment that sounds the best to me personally regardless of what frequency response it has or rather or not it's “sonically accurate” and I always have and shall continue to encourage others to do the same.

I'm a 26 year old firefighter, for the City of Concord, North Carolina as well as the U.S. Army North Carolina National Guard. The cliché of wanting to do this since I was born couldn't be more present with me. I've worked hard over the last several years to earn this position and now it's time for me to work even harder to keep it.

My interests/hobbies are powerlifting, fishing and relaxing to audio products and reviewing them to help other decide on what products would work for them. Few things make me as an audio enthusiast/review feel more accomplished than when someone tells me that I helped them find the type of sound they've always been looking for.

Now, the sound signature I personally favor is a relaxing, warm and sensual sound that just drifts me away in the emotional experience of the music being performed. Yes, accuracy is still important but I will happily sacrifice some of that if I'm presented with a clean, warm sound that can wisp me away into an experience that makes me yearn for more.

My ideal signature are that of respectably forward mids and upper bass range with the bass being controlled but with some slight decay. I like my treble to have nice extension and detail reveal with a smooth roll off up top as to not become harsh in the least. Examples of products that have given me chills and keep giving me the yearning for more feels are the (in no particular order) Bowers & Wilkins P7, Oppo PM-1/2, Empire Ears Hermes VI & Zeus XIV, Audeze LCD-XC, Meze Headphones 99 Classics.

Equipment used at least some point during the review

-Combi

-iFi Nano iDSD Black Label

-Headphones

-Beyerdynamic

-T1

-Amiron Home

Disclaimer

I am by no means sponsored by this company or any of its affiliates. They were kind enough to send me a product for an arranged amount of time in exchange for my honest opinion. I am making no monetary compensation for this review.

The following is my take on the product being reviewed. It is to be taken “with a grain of salt” per say and as I always tell people, it is YOUR opinion that matters. So regardless of my take or view on said product, I highly recommend you listen to it yourself and gauge your own opinion.



The Opening Experience

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Why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience

Please allow me to explain why I feel so strongly about the initial unboxing experience with a product. Maybe it’s due to my southern roots in the hills of eastern Kentucky, but I’ve always been raised under the pretense of when you introduce yourself to someone for the first time you present yourself with confidence, class, character, pride, and competence. You greet the other person with a true warm smile, eye contact and a firm handshake. Anything less or short implies to other person that you either don’t care about them, are too full of yourself, too busy to be bothered by the likes of them, or worse, just generally disrespectful.

As a consumer, I take this same belief to when I open a new product. Why? Because think about it this way. How else can a company introduce themselves to their customers? How do they present their products? Are they packaged with pride and presented in such a way that makes the listener eager to listen to them? Or maybe they’re just wrapped up and placed in an available space. How about the box itself? Is it bogged down with jargon that says look at this, look what I can do. I’m better than anything on the market and here’s why read this and check out that. Or, is the package clean, simplistic and classy? As if saying to the customer ‘Good day, pleasure to meet your acquaintance. Please give me a listen and allow me to show you what I can do and allow my actions to speak louder than my words.’

This is why I feel so strongly about the initial presentation of a product, and I feel it’s truly a shame more people don’t. But with all that aside, let’s discuss how this products introduced itself shall we?



The handshake I received from the Shanling M2 was pretty nice I will say. Shanling kept the packaging beautifully simple, and IMO, professional. The front only shows an outline of the M2s DAP while the sides only have the Shanling name or their logo. The back does have what I feel is an unnecessary bit of writing that could’ve been placed on the inside pamphlet but I do understand why they feel they needed to add it, and even still, Shanling put the writing in a classy way that really gives the viewer a feeling of premium quality.

As you open the box you’re greeted with a brief manual and the Shanling M2s DAP presented centered and recessed inside a cut out foam. This is the same as the original M2 as well as their M3s DAP and I really personally enjoy this consistency, it let’s me know what to expect with them. Under the dap’s holder is the type C charging cable, owners manual and warranty guide, and two sets of screen protectors.

A fairly straight forward unboxing but one that I really respect, especially for a DAP in this price range (+-$200). So for what it’s worth, well done Shanling, I feel like you’ve given me a firm handshake and respect and appreciate me as a customer.


Construction

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The build quality of the M2s is very nice. Shanling has maintained the aluminum body they had on the original M2 but instead of the carbon fiber back it’s now a glass casing over the back. I’m impartial to this change. I liked the carbon fiber look of the original but the new glassy back looks just as nice.

The overall construction of the M2s is very similar to that of its bigger brother the M3s. The power button is on the top of the unit and as you look to the left side you’ll find the track previous, play/pause, track forward, and the micro SD card slot that hold up to 256gb. The right side has the selector rotator knob as well as the go back button. And the bottom has the type C charging port and a 3.5mm aux port.



Features



Shanling has definitely stepped up their game with the M2s. The M2s has bluetooth 4 w/ apt. X which allows you do connect the M2s to wireless speakers, headphones, etc… and with the HiBy Link Wireless (and connected application) you can control the M2s completely with your phone. This sounds like a really cool feature and to disclaim I did not personally try this feature, but I also personally don’t feel it’s a really needed feature either. I can just as easily pull out the M2s as I can my phone. A feature it does possess that I do really enjoy is the ability for it do be utilized as a USB interface for an external combi unit (amp/dac).


Sound


Again I find the Shanling M2s being consistent with the rest of its line up (sub M5 only due to me not yet being able to listen to is during my time of writing this review). The M2s has a very neutral sound that, to my ears, didn’t offer any coloration to the audio being played. And this little guy can power pretty strong headphones. As I’m writing this I’m listening to the Beyerdynamic T1 second generation and it’s powering it fairly nicely (in terms of volume it’s able to drive it well above what I find comfortable listening levels) but it also handles lower impedance headphones perfectly fine as well (I was unable to test my super sensitive Empire Ears ciems but do the M2s not offering a 2.5mm balanced port [not an issue for me though]).

I do still find the UI a little bothersome. From my original review, my biggest quarrel was that if you’re browsing through your music and say you want a song in the S’ you can’t quite remember the name or the artist but you’ll know it when you see it, it takes quite a long time to scroll all the way down to the letter you’re wanting. I can’t put much blame on Shanling though because this is an annoyance I have with MANY other dap’s, even of MUCH higher price points.

Ending on a high note. Like the more expensive M3s, the M2s also has a wonderful amount of volume control settings. As I said in my M3s review, when I’m getting myself in the sleep mood, my ears get much more sensitive and I can hardly listen to much on anything but a speaker because my phone by itself just can’t go low enough which is unfortunate because I’d rather listen with c/iems as to not wake up my wife as well. Thankfully the M2s answers this issue I have and I’m able to turn this down to the perfect level of softness and still maintain all the detail it gives at higher volumes.


Conclusion

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*......There's always a piece of Phoenix fur...always*

My final thoughts on the $200(ish) Shanling M2s is that for its price, it’s a great DAP. There’s ample amount of features and its build quality is on par with products costing much more, including in its own family. It can respectively drive every headphone I’ve tried with it as loudly, or as softly, as I’d want it to go. Yes there’s some more headphone potential off of a desktop setup or amp with more power output but for its consumer friendly price, I think Shanling did a fantastic job with their M2s.






Also, make sure to check out my unboxing and review videos. They’re pretty awesome AND you getta put a face to the Army-Firedawg name. If this review helped you out at all please hit that thumbs up button for it really helps me out a lot. Till next time my friends, stay safe.

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