Shanling M2X - Reviews
Pros: + Ergonomics
+ Build Quality
+ 2TB microSD card Support
+ Vibrant, Bright Display
+ Dynamic, Punchy Sound with Spalshy treble that compliments all darker and smoother souding IEMs
Cons: - Not enough power for hard to drive headphones
- Media Library update is a bit slow
Sweety IEM-Driver Player - Shanling M2X DAP Review



Priced at about 220 USD, Shanling M2x is one of the most interesting entry-level DAPs of the moment, having been released a few months ago, but still being relevant to the market, and having a bit of a competition from FiiO M7 (200 USD), FiiO M6 (150 USD), and xDuoo X20 (200 USD).




Introduction


Shanling is a luxury company from China, known for their high-end DAC/AMPs, and for other fancy products, but who have recently entered the DAP (Digital Audio Player) market, and who have taken everyone by surprise, by providing high-quality, affordable, and stable products that everyone came to love for their features and portability. Shanling has a good warranty support, but to get the best results and speed, you should always purchase from your local sellers. Shanling provides good support for their products, and they are a trustworthy company, having proven themselves again and again through time.

It should be noted that I have no affiliation with Shanling, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. I'd like to thank Shanling for providing the sample for the review. This review reflects my personal experience with Shanling M2X. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Shanling M2X find their next music companion.



About me


https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/about.html



Packaging

First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:












The package for M2X doesn't include quite that much extra, but it does come with a USB Type-C cable, which is quite good in quality, and it also comes with a Red Leather case, at least the variant I have, which is the red color.

Overall, you don't get a lot of extras, but you get all the basics needed for using M2X.



What to look in when purchasing a high-end DAP


https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/what-to-lookl.html



Technical Specifications





Build Quality/Aesthetics/UI/Firmware


The build quality of M2X is quite great, and not only good, but it is actually one of the most ergonomic DAPs in the market as of the moment of writing this review. This information alone doesn't offer enough to know whether everything is good, but I always go for an ergonomic device above build quality and aesthetics, because, at the end of the day, you'll probably price more how well something sits in your hand, than how something looks.

In this sense, M2X has both a good build quality, but also excellent ergonomics, with all its rounded edges, yet with a slippery-free metallic finish edges. The back is also made of glass, but works well for the ergonomics of M2X.







The front of the Player has a 3.2" Display, one that's considerably larger than the one M0 had, and which I found to be a bit on the small side. The entire body of M2X is a bit thicker than most mini DAPs like FiiO M6. The fact that it is a bit thicker works well with its other dimensions, and I can comfortably carry it around and use it, since I have a better grip than if it was much smaller. The right side has a volume wheel which also acts as the on/off button if you push it, and the left side has the forward, backward, play/pause buttons, and the microSD slot which is protected by a little lid. The microSD slot supports microSD cards up to 2 TB, so you can take your entire library of music with you, and with M2X supporting Tidal as well, you don't have to worry if you're into Streaming recently, it will still do an amazing job. On the bottom of M2X you can find the USB Type-C port, the 2.5mm Balanced output, and the 3.5mm Single Ended output.


Although Shanling includes a case with their M2X, I didn't feel the need to use it, but you should always have some kind of protector on both the front and the back, as even a small pebble that's made of a durity higher than the glass on the display could scratch or shatter it (this applies to every single portable device out there).

Since I have M0 around, I can say for sure that M2X is better made and it works better with my hands, and although the shape and ergonomics of M2X look similar to M0, M2X is actually much closer in design and sonic architecture to their M5S, having a single AK4490EN DAC chip, and an OPA1612 Filter, with dual AD8397 OP-AMPs.

The power output from the Single Ended output is not quite that high, being rated at 180mW into a 16 OHM impedance, which will be enough for IEMs and most portable headphones, but it isn't quite enough for larger headphones and for hard-to-drive ones, like HIFIMAN Sundara, for example. On the other hand, there is no hissing, and there is no noise coming from the single ended output, and even with IEMs like Campfire Atlas, I can hear none. The Balanced output doesn't offer much better driving power either, being rated at 212mW at 16 OHM, and M2X is generally made for IEMs rather than headphones.

The OS or operating system on M2X is named MTouch, and it is pretty smooth and intuitive, having given me almost zero bugs so far. The display on M2X is a tad pixelated, but it has plenty of color and brightness and works well for outdoors usage in bright daylight.




Updating the music library on M2x takes a lot of time, even for more modest collections, but once the process is done, the player itself runs pretty smoothly and without hiccups. M2x has support for Tidal, which is the main Streaming app it supports, but it also has support for Airplay and Bluetooth, so you don't have to worry that it won't be connected enough.

Another interesting point about M2X is the USB DAC support, which means that you can use it as your main sound card, but you'd have to keep in mind that you're mainly going to use it with IEMs rather than headphones.


Overall, M2X is a feature-rich DAP from Shanling, which supports Tidal, is very ergonomic, and has a good build quality, and a smooth OS, along with AirPlay and Bluetooth making it a really good choice as a portable DAP.



Sound Quality

The sound of M2X has been a subject of discussion ever since it has been launched, as it has been critically acclaimed for its sonic performance, and although it is small and mainly drives IEMs and very portable headphones, the way it does drive them has impressed lots to this date.



The sound can be described as mostly neutral, but very punchy, having a slightly brighter tonality than what I'd call dead neutral with a strong taste for detail, also having a very sweet midrange, and a pretty fair amount of bass depth and impact.

The bass is one of the least focus points with M2X, and it is generally quick and punchy, and it has good punch, but it doesn't make itself remarked by anything else, compared to some of the warmer DAPs, even like M0. On the other hand, the depth and control are really good even for a DAP in its price range, and you never feel the bass lacking unless you're a basshead, situation in which you can add some more bass using the EQ function Shanling provided.

The midrange is where the magic starts, as M2X has a very sweet-sounding mid, and although it isn't exactly the kind of midrange that's warm or thick, the upper midrange / lower treble enhancement results in a more rich and harmonic tuning for guitars and female voices, which makes basically everything sweeter and more enjoyable when played through M2X. The soundstage is prety large, and also comes through as holographic, especially when compared to other about 200 USD priced DAPs, which tend to be more flat and less wide. This being said, the stage of M2X is more wide than it is deep.

The treble of M2X is a unique mix of awesome, as it is a bit splashy, which I enjoy, but which also has good extension and a good amount of air / clarity. On the other hand, the treble doesn't have sibilance or harshness and for most useful purposes, it is a pretty grain-free DAP, making it pretty easy to pair with a multitude of IEMs, and to sound good with a large number of musical styles.




Portable Usage


M2X is smaller than a large DAP like DX220, but it still is larger than M0 from the same company, or M6 from FiiO, both of which could be considered better for portability, if size alone was an important concern for you.



On the other hand, having Bluetooth, Tidal and Airplay on a single DAP makes M2X pretty darn sweet for a portable DAP, and although it won't have the power to drive Audeze's large headphones and most hard-to-drive headphones, it is capable of driving pretty much every IEM under the sun, making it a good portable device.

Furthermore, it is ergonomic, has a good battery life of about 8 hours, which is the same as every DAP in Today's market, at least considering its technical abilities and features. With zero EMI or interferences, and with good brightness for its display, M2X is made to outdoors usage and you'll be able to take it as your trusty companion in your travels.



Select Pairings


For the pairings part of this review, I have chosen TheCustomArt Fibae Black, FiiO FA7 and Dita Twins Fealty all of which are pretty amazing in their own right and which will put M2X to test and prove its worth. The trick to getting the best out of M2X is to pair it with warmer, thicker and fuller sounding IEMs, as it compliments them well, and usually increases their clarity and detail, speed, and allows the details to shine through.



Shanling M2X + TheCustomArt Fibae Black - TheCustomArt Fibae Black is one of the IEMs I was most impressed with, not because they had an overwhelmingly complex tech behind, as they have just one BA driver, but the magic is in how they sound and how the company optimized the acoustic chamber to work best with that one BA driver. Furthermore, M2X is fully capable of driving Fibae Black, and not just drive them, but the slightly splashy top end, and the quick, controlled bass sounds quite magical from the pairing, with a more neutral tonality that is also more revealing, providing more detail and more clarity than warmer sounding DAPs.

Shanling M2X + FiiO FA7 - FiiO FA7 was, as I named it, a magical one-trick-pony, because it had a very beautiful bass, with a thicker, warmer and fuller overall sound. Here, M2X again works very well, as it enhances the soundstage of FA7, increases the amount of speed they have, along with the overall perceived dynamics.

Shanling M2X + Dita Fealty - Dita Fealty is a proper flagship through and through and M2X is just the right DAP to pair with them. It is one of the least expensive DAPs that has the proper power and punch to drive them, and it gives them an enormous soundstage, it gives them a punchy and clear sound, but it keeps their musical midrange, while adding some sparkle up top, balancing their signature to be one of the most enjoyable ever heard.



Comparisons


The main competitors and comparison devices that I chosen to stack against M2X are FiiO M7, FiiO M6, and xDuoo X20. All of those have their own thing going on for them, but all of them are nevertheless amazing in their own right for their price point.





Shanling M2X vs FiiO M7 (220USD vs 200 USD) - When thinking of what DAPs M2X compares well to, it came to me that FiiO's M7 is priced more or less at the same price point, and that it had a pretty similar feature set, so I felt the need to include it in the comparison list. Starting with the package, they are similar, but as soon as we get to the build and especially ergonomics, they are quite different, with M2X being quite a bit more ergonomic and enjoyable to hold in hand, but also thicker, with M7 having more battery life and both having LDAC support. The sound of M7 is generally smoother, with M2X having more texture, M2X has a softer sub-bass, but has better overall definition in the midrange, more texture, and a more splashy top end. The driving power is similar, give or take, so you will be driving similar IEMs and headphones with both, but M7 has that FM Radio feature, which M2X doesn't have. On the other hand, the soundstage is wider on M2X, and has better instrument separation.

Shanling M2X vs FiiO M6 (220 USD vs 150 USD) - FiiO M6 is much more similar to M2X in terms of ergonomics, shape and design than M7 was, as where M7 was a bit edgy and had sharp corners, M6 is rounded and has better design. In terms of the package, the two are similar, and so are they in terms of apps supported and overall UI smoothness. The sound has a bit more punch and impact on M2X, and the control and overall driving power is better, so you have something to gain by investing more in M2X, but if shape and size are the most important factors to you, M6 is smaller, easier to carry around, and it is a more portable device.

Shanling M2X vs xDuoo X20 (220 USD vs 200 USD) - xDuoo X20 is one of the few DAPs that is similar in size to M2X and not actually smaller or more portable. M2X is actually a bit more ergonomic thanks to its rounded edges and smoother transitions between each part, but X20 is similarly solid. One large difference you'll notice between them after using both is that X20 has a button-only layout, while M2X is based on a touchscreen. This is a huge factor in deciding between them, as you either go with a touchscreen or with a button-only design. The sound is stronger out of X20, with considerably more driving power, more punch and more control, but in my experience it is more refined on M2X, at least a bit, and with IEMs, M2X seems to have more depth and a more holographic presentation.




Value and Conclusion


The price point of Shanling M2X, of about 220 USD is a pretty pocket-friendly one, so it inherently has good value for the build quality and the features it offers, but if you should take into account what features it has and what you need it for, as M2X is mainly made for driving IEMs rather than driving full sized headphones, and if you needed a DAP for driving headphones, maybe something like X20 from xDuoo would make a better value.



The package of M2X is pretty good, and besides the high quality Type-C USB Cable, you also get a cool-looking carrying case. Although not everyone will use it, since M2X has the build quality to not require it, I think it is a nice addition and many will appreciate having it, the quality being top notch, and the red vibrant color also being quite cool.

In terms of build quality, design and ergonomics, M2X is pretty much last word when it comes to DAPS, with a glass back, but with metallic edges that give it a good grip, rounded edges that make it very ergonomic and easy to use, and with a good OS, that allows you to use Tidal and probably other streaming apps in the future, along with a good support for EQ, and after you update the media library, offering a smooth experience in browsing your music collection.

The sonic quality is also top notch, at least if you're driving IEMs and very portable headphones and you won't feel that it struffles or that it lacks power, as it has a good punch. Good dynamics and a pretty nice slightly splashy treble, with a quick and well defined bass, and with a sweet-ish sounding midrange that compliments female voices and guitars, transforming most IEMs into a sweeter sounding version of themselves.



At the end of this review, if you're looking for a high-quality DAP, one that doesn't cost a lot, but which is portable, one that supports microSD cards up to 2TB, and one that has access to Tidal, as well as Airplay and Bluetooth, Shanling M2X checks all points, and has a smooth OS, and a good touchscreen and ergonomic shape that make it a really easy choice for those looking for a new DAP.



Full Playlist used for this review


While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.



Youtube Playlist


https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_cjBXGmwSHSdGcwuc_bKbBDGHL4QvYBu



Tidal Playlist


https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b



Song List


Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
Eskimo Callboy - Frances
Incubus - Summer Romance
Electric Six - Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir
Breaking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us
Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom - Song Pong
Attack Attack - Kissed A Girl
Doctor P - Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate - Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD - Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop
Crow'sclaw - Loudness War
Eminem - Rap God
Stromae - Humain À L'eau
Sonata Arctica - My Selene
Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back
Metallica - Fuel
Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable
Masa Works - Golden Japang
REOL - Luvoratorrrrry
Dope - Addiction
Korn - Word Up!
Papa Roach - ... To be Loved
Fever The Ghost - Source
Fall Out Boy - Immortals
Green Day - Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge
A static Lullaby - Toxic
Royal Republic - Addictive
Astronautalis - The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans - My Love
Skillet - What I Believe
Man With A Mission - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei - Mirror
Mojo Juju - Must Be Desire
Falling Up - Falling In Love
Manafest - Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela - Paris
Zomboy - Lights Out
Muse - Resistance
T.A.T.U & Rammstein - Mosaku
Grey Daze - Anything, Anything
Katy Perry - Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 - Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy - Killer Instinct
Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
Sirenia - Lithium And A Lover
Saving Abel - Addicted
Hollywood Undead - Levitate
The Offspring - Special Delivery
Escape The Fate - Smooth
Samsara Blues Experiment - One With The Universe
Dope - Rebel Yell
Crazy Town - Butterfly
Silverstein - My Heroine
Memphis May Fire - Not Over Yet


I hope my review is helpful to you!

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Contact me!











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Pros: One of the Most Pleasant DAPs in Terms of User Experience, Ergonomic, Refined UI, Sound Quality
Cons: EQ Lacks Pre-Amp Gain Adjustment
Backstory and Disclaimer:
I reviewed the Shanling M3S back in 2017 and wasn't a fan of its wheel based UI. So when Shanling released the M2X, which had a touch screen based UI, it got me interested and I personally got in touch with them, expressing my interest regarding the M2X. Shanling was kind enough to provide me an M2X free of charge in exchange for a review on Twister6.com and Head-Fi.

Review:
M2X is an entry-level to mid-range DAP from Shanling that retails for $220. For full specifications, please visit Shanling's M2X page. The device comes packaged in a typical cardboard style box that most DAPs in this price range come in these days. Shanling was kind to include a leather case for my unit, but the retail units don’t come with one and can be purchased separately for $18. The device also comes with a pre-installed screen protector. Apart from the device, there is a USB-A to USB-C cable and some documentation included in the box. I put my unit for charge for a couple of hours and powered it on to check out the UI. Unlike the wheel based UI on the M3S, which made me cringe every time I would have to use the device, the touch screen based UI of the M2X is quite intuitive and took no more than 30 mins to get comfortable with it. And most importantly, it has been a breeze to use the device. While it is no smartphone level of snappiness and smoothness, it is very much a polished UI. You interact with the screen through touch and swipe gestures. On any screen, swiping right from the left edge is the back navigation. And swiping up from the bottom edge takes you to the home page. Home page is a list of icons such as ‘All Songs’, ‘Albums’, Artists’, ‘Settings’ and etc, which you can customize based on your needs. On the bottom of the home screen, you have the ‘Now Playing’ bar, so from any screen, you could navigate to the Now Playing screen with a swipe and a touch.

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On the right hand side of the device, there is a volume wheel, which doubles as a Power/Wake button. On the left hand side, there are the Play/Pause and Skip buttons, and the micro-SD card slot. Apart from the good UI, what makes interacting with the device even more pleasant is the physical size and weight of the player. While the high-end players offer top class sound, most of those are not exactly ergonomic. So I always like to have a compact DAP around for times when convenience takes higher priority over sound quality. But that doesn’t mean I don't prioritize sound quality for such players. While I don't expect a $200 player to perform at the level of the high end DAPs, I have a couple of criteria in terms of sound performance, which I expect the player to meet, if not exceed. For example, the signature should be balanced without straying too far into warm or bright territories, and it shouldn’t have any compromises in the non-tonal aspects. The M2X definitely meets my expectations in these 2 criteria. The signature overall is balanced with a tilt towards a warm and smooth sound. The warm sound is a result of smooth treble, rather than a boosted bass, so it doesn’t have any muddiness or bloat. Some would find its extensions on either ends, not quite at the level of more expensive players. But that is me nitpicking because it doesn't have any apparent roll-off. There is sufficient body to the notes without sounding thick, which results in good transparency in the midrange. The treble, as I stated earlier, is a bit on the smoother side, so the player belongs to the forgiving camp. As an extension, don’t expect flagship level of details and resolution.

On the non-tonal aspects such as stage expansion, separation, layering and imaging, M2X performs as expected without any weaknesses or issues. But if I have to nitpick, the presentation can come across just a tad on the softer side. So people looking for a lean or bright or energetic sounding source need not apply. Overall the sound is coherent without any major flaws and definitely meets my overall expectations, and even exceeding it in a couple of aspects. When you are spending $220 on a dedicated DAP, you should expect it to perform at least on the same level as your smartphone’s HO or dongle. In comparing the M2X with my iPhone XR+dongle, I hear a blacker background, larger stage, tighter bass, better separation and transparency on the M2X. Of course the differences aren't night and day, but definitely noticeable. The real advantage of the M2X over my iPhone’s dongle is with regards to output power. Compared to the dongle, M2X outputs more power, which provides more headroom for volume adjustment when pairing with medium sensitive headphones and IEMs. For example, with my Final E5000, I am close to hitting the max volume on certain albums, when running from my iPhone dongle. Where as on the M2X, I am only little past the half mark on the same album, roughly volume matched using my ear. And switching over to the 2.5mm balanced only increases the difference as the balanced port of the M2X outputs more power than the 3.5mm SE for the same load. The Balanced port also provides a slightly larger stage and better transparency. M2X also performs admirably on the other end of the spectrum, wherein, it has a super low noise floor, which helps sensitive IEMs to not pick up hiss. My EE Phantom is a super sensitive IEM and picks up hiss very easily. On the M2X though, I only hear an almost inaudible hiss.

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As for the bells and whistles on the device, it’s more or less the same as what M3S offered, except for a couple of addition and subtraction. M2X is equipped with 2-way Bluetooth, so you can pair it with your wireless headphones, or it can act as a Bluetooth receiver to stream music from your smartphone or PC. I tested both use-cases using my Sony WH-1000XM3 and my iPhone XR. Pairing was straight forward and I did not experience any drop-outs or break-up within a reasonable distance. The device supports some of the highly preferred wireless audio protocols such as APTx and LDAC. The device is also equipped with WiFi and a Tidal client, so you can stream music directly on your M2X. I don’t have a Tidal account, so I am unable to share my thoughts on it. Please check out the M2X thread on head-fi for more info on the Tidal client on the device. The device doesn't have an FM tuner, but it’s not surprising, as most DAP in the market seems to not have one. My only issue with the device when it comes to features is the EQ. The EQ itself is more than effective. But the problem is, the device doesn’t automatically adjust the preamp gain when EQ is enabled. So when you bump up any frequency band by a few dBs, you either run into distortion or clipping. On the other hand, if you using the EQ only to knock down any bands, you shouldn’t have this problem. So apart from those, you get the other standard I/O functions like USB-DAC, Line Out and Digital Out. I would say M2X has got all your bases covered. As for the battery, I get somewhere around 9 hours and I wish it was slightly better. But I am willing to forego a bit of battery life for the device being so ergonomic and light.

Compared to the M3S, I feel the sound quality of both devices lie in the same ball park. M2X does seem to sound slightly fuller, but has softer dynamics. I am really splitting hairs here. M3S' outputs a little more power, but this shouldn't be a deciding factor between the 2, as the difference is not huge. M3S also has slightly better battery life. Feature wise, as I already mentioned both sport more or less the same features, except for the Tidal client on the M2X. As for the UI, there's no competition; M2X handily beats the M3S. Overall. I'd pick the M2X anyday over the M3S.


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Conclusion:
I would like to thank Shanling for providing the M2X for review. There are a lot of good devices in the market these days. For a device to stand out and be great, it should not only provide a pleasant experience when using it, but should make you come back for more. And M2X has been just that since I received it. For reference, I couldn’t say the same about the M3S because of its painful-to-use, wheel based UI. Given that M2X offers good sound quality, easy-to-use UI and comes with loaded with many good/useful features, it really is a complete package device. I haven’t tested any other recent DAPs in the $200 range, so I won't make statements like; ‘M2X is the best DAP in the segment”. However, having used the device for the past few weeks, and how much I enjoy using it, I highly recommend the Shanling M2X to anyone looking for a DAP in the $200-$250 price point.

Purchase Link: MusicTeck or Amazon.
Pros: Great sound, good build quality, a good selection of up-to-date features, price
Cons: UI is a little rough around the edges, only Tidal runs natively, sensitive on/off button, long library update times
Shanling M2X

Disclaimer
I would like to thank Shanling for providing me with the M2X in exchange for my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favourable review.

M2X Specifications at a glance
  • Screen: 3.2 inch touch screen with MTouch 2.0 system
  • Dimensions: 98 x 60 x 16 mm
  • Weight: 147 g
  • Memory: Single micro SD card slot
  • DAC: AKM AK4490EN
  • Amp: 2 x AD8397
  • Low-pass filter: TI OPA1612
  • Decoding: PCM up to 32bit/384kHz, DSD up to DSD256
  • Battery: 2400 mAh, fully charged in 2.5 hour
  • Playback: 10.5 hours (SE), 7.5 hours (Bal)
  • Output 3.5mm: 180mW(16Ω, high gain)/106mW(32Ω, low gain)
  • Output 2.5mm: 212mW(16Ω, high gain)/120mW(32Ω, low gain)
  • Output impedance: 1 Ohm (3.5mm), 2 Ohm (2.5mm)
  • SNR: 117 dB (3.5mm), 116 dB (2.5mm)
  • Channel separation: 70 dB (32 Ohm, 3.5mm), 107 dB (32 Ohm, 2.5mm)
  • Bluetooth 4.2, two-way connection
  • USB DAC function
  • Price: US$219

Links:
https://www.shanling.com
https://www.facebook.com/Shanling-Audio-603230783166845/
Available at MusicTeck

Preamble
Shanling is a Chinese Hi-Fi company that is well known these days for making high quality portable audio products at an affordable price point. I have had a few products of them in for review now and have been very pleased with what I have experienced. In fact, the Shanling M0 DAP has been, and still is, one of my favourite pieces of gear. I use it for training, commuting and any other time that I want great quality music with me while I do not have much more space available than the pockets of my jeans or a coat. So when the opportunity came to have a look at the M0's bigger brother, the new M2X, I was very interested in seeing how it would compare.

Unboxing
Like the M0, the M2X came in a box with a white sleeve that included some basic information on it and images of the different colour options available. It looks like the M2X has three options, black, titanium and red, whereas the M0 had a couple more with purple and blue as extra options. Removing the sleeve revealed the same classic mat black box with a glossy Shanling logo on it and it looks very nice, so no reason to change that. Popping the lid also popped out the very bright red M2X player contrasting sharply against the black background. Definitely a bit of a glamorous entrance there and although a strikingly beautiful colour red, I am not sure if I have the right personality to carry it off. That's just me being a little self-conscious, and hardly an issue as other colour options are available. Included as well was a good quality USB-C cable and a very basic manual and warranty card. It is all very similar to the M0 and as I said in my review of that one, it is precisely what I would expect at this sort of price point. Also included for the purpose of this review was a matching red pleather case that will be offered as a separate item.

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Design and build quality
I have been a big fan of the design of the M0, which I thought was really well thought out and implemented. The M2X has the same sleek type of design with a few notable changes. The screen is now a 3.2 inch touch screen and the overall size has grown to 98 x 60 x 16 mm, which is very similar to my Astell & Kern AK70 (Mk I) be it a little thicker. I find this size very good for portable use and it feels perfect when I hold it in my hand either with the case or without. The right side still has only the volume button that doubles as on/off for both the screen (single push) and the device (hold). On the left side is the micro-SD card slot, which supports up to 2TB cards that is the only memory you will have (no on-board memory). On the same side the M2X also offers three physical buttons for playback control. On the bottom the USB port and 3.5mm headphone out have been joined by a 2.5mm balanced out.

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The build quality I find really good and the way I usually measure that is by how much I feel the need to use a case. Shanling of course sent along a case and it is very nice, fits snugly and does not impede use except for the fact that the hole for the balanced out is not big enough to accommodate the plugs from my balanced cables by Effect Audio and PlusSound, two of the more popular brands of aftermarket cables. However, I have had no qualms about using the M2X without the case, which for instance is something I never liked doing with my AK70. The AK70 for some reason did not inspire the confidence I have with the M2X and that could simply be psychological, as the AK70 is very well built (mine has the dents and scrapes to prove it), but I tend to attribute it to the way the M2X is designed. The edges are nicely rounded, seams feel very smooth and it gives the impression of solidity. I still would not recommend dropping it from a roof or tossing it from a running start, but I feel it can take the type of light bumps that would occur with regular use and without babying it. It does look very nice though, so I would not be surprised if some people baby the M2X just to keep it in that pristine condition.

I said with the M0 that I thought it was an award winning-level of industrial design, and the M2X is very similar. It is a minimalist design, yet fully functional, and my only point of criticism would be that the on/off function of the volume dial is too sensitive. It is too easily pushed and responds quickly, meaning that I often accidentally turn it on while, say, removing it from its case, or turn on the screen while it is in my pocket. It seems to happen less with the M2X than the M0, but that could also be simply down to size because the M0 is so small it is very hard not to accidentally touch the dial. In the case of the M2X there is no risk though of the player accidentally turning off though, as it asks for confirmation after the off button is held for a few seconds. Still, I have had a few times where the M2X screen came on in my pocket and suddenly tracks started changing causing general confusion and mayhem in my brain.

Under the Hood
While I am comparing the M2X with the M0 a lot because I have that one around, under the hood the M2X is said by Shanling to actually be much closer to their recently introduced flagship M5S. Not sure if that is indeed the case and I do not have the M5S to compare, but that one sports dual AK4493EQ DACs, while the M2X has a single AK4490EN DAC. The M2X also uses a single OPA1612 low-pass filter, rather than dual, and both use dual AD8397 op amps. Now, I am the last to claim I have any technical know-how, I am in this hobby as a music lover first, so I will simply state the specs as I know them and let the reader be the judge here.

Power output from the Single Ended (SE) out on low gain seems modest at 106mW into 32ohm, but switching to high gain does not add a heap of power either at 180mW into 16ohm. I understand that this is an intentional choice by Shanling in order to minimise noise. Using my Empire Ears Phantom, which are quite sensitive, I can indeed confirm that those have no issue with hiss whatsoever. The M2X really is a very clean DAP in terms of noise. I do question the reasoning here though, because I just end up using high gain all the time, as the volume level barely differs and it helps with more difficult to drive IEMs. Balanced too offers only a marginal improvement in power over SE with 120mW into 32ohm and 212mW into 16ohm. Here again I have had no issues with hiss of any kind and I just leave it on high gain, making the low gain function rather superfluous. Overall though I think this is really decent for a DAP at this price point and it is great that the M2X will play well with sensitive IEMs, while having enough power for more difficult to drive IEMs.

GUI
The M2X uses Shanling's own MTouch 2.0 operating system that overall runs very smoothly and intuitively. By pressing the volume wheel for a few seconds the M2X starts up and the colourful and bright interface appears. The screen on the M2X is not the last word in resolution, so it looks a little pixelated, which is more noticeable in the pictures than in real life due to the longer exposure times I used. The main menu is divided into three screens with most of the options being different ways to view your files, lists based on songs, albums, artists, composer, recently played, recently added, frequently played, playlist, favourites, hi-res files and a folder view. Other menus are for selecting playback options and system settings. Swiping from the top down opens a quick access menu to the gain setting, WiFi, Bluetooth and screen brightness, as well as a button to the system settings. The playback menu is nice and simple with all the controls available in the main screen and swiping from right to left opens up the list of tracks playing. This M2X was running a beta firmware version that also included Tidal, something that Shanling has released through a generally available firmware update while I was just finishing this review; the M2X Firmware 2.0 that can be downloaded from their website.

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The playback options are quite rich with settings for the DAC filter, gain, gapless playback and now a 10-band equaliser with 8 pre-sets and 3 custom settings options. I played around with it a little and found it fiddly to use the sliders, as there is not a great level of control to make specific adjustments. I think here "+" and "-" buttons for small step-wise adjustments would help, but otherwise it is really nice that a DAP at this price has a 10-band custom EQ function. Well done Shanling!

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The system settings are also very rich, starting with the all important "update library" function that you need to do after inserting a (different) micro-SD card. This process is pretty slow and even with the modest library I was using of 2.5k files it took several minutes where I felt like I was back in England, brewing a 'cuppa' every time I had to do it. Larger libraries might well provide enough time for a full on high tea. So best to get a big card (it supports up to 2TB) and leave it in as much as possible. Other settings are for connections, general system settings such as the clock, brightness and button lock, as well various output modes and the all important system update function through which you can update the firmware to the latest version.

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For small movements such as swiping between the different menus I really like the smoothness and quick response of the system, but I did not quite get used to scrolling through albums. With a long list the system does not scroll smoothly, but halts the movement at some points as if it is trying to slow down how fast it scrolls. It is not great and I kept ending up scrolling past where I wanted to be because it was too fast or not getting there when I expected it because it stopped before. I think this can be further fine tuned by changing the speed of acceleration while scrolling to be a bit slower. Apart from that the general user interface is very smooth, intuitive and I have never had any issues with finding settings, as everything is in a logical place.

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One issue that only comes up intermittently is when entering details, such as logging into a WiFi network or Tidal. During this a keyboard appears that is similar to a number pad on older phones, where the same key can input different letters. This can be very tricky to use because of the responsiveness of the keys and the inconsistency in the time available for logging the letters. I found it very easy to get the wrong letters logged and with passwords this can make it a frustrating experience because you have to be really precise. Entering my WiFi password took me four or five attempts and I missed the mistakes every time, requiring me to start over again.

The MTouch 2.0 operating system is a very pleasant to use system and the issues such as mentioned above are quite minor. I think these will be ironed out over time, as Shanling even states on their website that they will keep improving it through firmware updates.

Apps/Streaming
As mentioned earlier, Shanling have now made Tidal fully functional on the M2X. For the time being that will be their main focus in terms of streaming services embedded into the M2X, as it is the one in highest demand. To still make any other service available, Shanling have included (DMR class) DLNA and AirPlay support so it is possible to stream your music using your phone. I have not yet delved into these services properly, but the fact that Shanling is making it possible to use them (Tidal natively) on a $200 DAP is a great move and makes me feel thoroughly old fashioned.

Sound
So how does the M2X sound? Really rather good actually. I have used a variety of IEMs such as the Final E4000, Custom Art FIBAE Black, Dita Fealty, 64 Audio U12t and Trio, and the Empire Ears Phantom. The music I used was a wide range with tracks from the Foo Fighters, Rolling Stones, Caro Emerald, and Agnes Obel, as well as classical music from Beethoven, Bach and Paganini, and EDM from Astronaut Ape, Carbon Based Lifeforms and Melokind.

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The M2X has a punchy sound with somewhat brighter tonality that is a bit more detail-oriented than what I would consider strictly neutral. It leans slightly towards a more revealing type of sound, but with a lot of energy. With the Final E4000 I felt I got a really nice punchy bass, clear mids and sparkly highs with an overall very dynamic feel to it, which worked great with my usual training music from Neffex. The stage is a very good size, not as big as with my AK70, but bigger than with the M0, which is good to begin with. There is some difference as well between using the SE and balanced out, with the balanced out pushing the stage a little wider and feeling a little cleaner and more dynamic overall with the harder to drive Dita Fealty (Dita's Awesome Plug is great for comparisons without the need for an adapter).

The overall impression I have of the M2X is that it is a very good quality neutral DAP with a slightly brighter tonality and excellent imaging, detail retrieval and layering. Dare I say it punches above its price point? No I daren't, but that is simply because I have nothing of the same price to compare it to. It is certainly a healthy step up from the M0 and I consider both excellent value for the sound quality they produce.

USB DAC
The M2X also functions as a USB DAC and I spent some time using it as such, but without convincing results. Connecting the M2X to my late 2011 MacBook Pro was easy, just plug-and-play, be it that I had to indicate in my MacBook's settings that I wanted to use the sound through the M2X. However, comparing the sound of the M2X as a USB DAC to the M2X directly revealed that as a USB DAC I was not getting the full performance. The bass was not as well controlled or extended, vocals sounded a bit brittle and the treble became rather tinny, clearly not what the M2X is capable of. I have not been able to identify the reason for this. Perhaps it has to do with my dated MacBook or a driver issue. Beyond that the M2X was working very well and I encountered no synchronisation issues or cut-outs like I have had with other DAPs and even dedicated DAC/Amps. If the issue was indeed due to my aging MacBook, then the M2X makes for an excellent USB DAC.

Comparison to M0
A big question of course is whether or not the M2X is a step up from its little sibling, the M0. Well, spoiler warning, it most certainly is. I already hinted that the sound of the M2X is a healthy step up and while the overall character is very similar, both are neutral, punchy sound with a slightly brighter tonality, the M2X does it better in every respect. Bass extends a little deeper, is better controlled, mids are cleaner and more airy, and the treble is better extended and a bit more natural sounding. The stage is also larger and cleaner, allowing for better imaging.

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Moreover, as a portable device I feel the M2X is more practical. The size is much more convenient, as the M0's screen can be a little too small for easy navigation and the addition of physical playback buttons and a 2.5mm balanced out are very practical. The M2X is also richly featured with various controls such as the custom EQ function and of course various connection options for streaming Tidal natively and others through pairing it with a smartphone.

I really like both DAPs, and the M2X is in every way a step up from the M0 if size is not a key factor.

Conclusions
The M2X is an affordable, richly featured DAP that delivers excellent sound quality. The UI might be a little rough around the edges here in there, but is smooth, response and intuitive to use. The sound I feel can be best described as neutral with a bit of punch and a slightly brighter tonality to make the music detailed and exciting. Build quality feels great and with a lot of up-to-date features, I think it makes for a great value DAP that is definitely worth a closer look.
alexdemaet
alexdemaet
Does the M2X support (ripped) DSD64? I ripped DSD from SACD's. I tried to play them on Shanling M0 and Fiio M6. Unfortunately the devices only played a few DSD64 music files.
Wyville
Wyville
@alexdemaet76 The M2X supports up to DSD256, although both the Shanling M0 and FiiO M6 also support up to DSD128. Not sure why some of your DSD64 files do not play.
alexdemaet
alexdemaet
Sorry, it was my mistake. I didn't set DSD recording in the RME adi 2 pro settings when I recorded vinyl. Now, everything is working fine!
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