The M2X utilises AKM’s 4490EN in addition to a custom FPGA and dual independent KDS oscillators to process audio while amplification duty is handled by a TI OPA1612 + dual ADI AD8397 opamps with Panasonic capacitors. Shanling also put an emphasis on shielding with copper plating around essential components of the audio circuitry. Indeed, the M2X resists EMI interference and it produces a sound that is spacious and clean. Power output is a respectable 106mW into a 16 ohm load or 120mW through the balanced output. The M2X is noise-free like the M0, and it has a lower 1-ohm output impedance through single-ended output and 2-ohms through the balanced out that makes it an excellent choice for sensitive multi-driver IEMs.
Similar to my impression with other 4490-based sources, the M2X creates a well-balanced listen with a slight warmth and smoothness. To reiterate, the differences are not enormous but can be appreciated upon AB with other sources. I used the single-ended output for the purpose of review except where otherwise stated.
Lows extend well, lacking the last iota of kick provided by more powerful sources, but delivering ample slam and tightness for a midrange portable. Nonetheless, sub-bass sits slightly behind permitting the mid-bass more room to breathe. A slight mid-bass bump creates a warmer tone and enlarged bass notes. As such, the M2X does not have a neutral or hyper-defined low-end, but it is euphoric and musical. Decay is natural and control is impressive for the price and form factor if still producing a slightly smoother texture on most gear. Still, the M2X has does not skip over any details.
The midrange is smooth and a very slight warmth permeates from the bass. Vocals are nonetheless clear and presence is accurate. Its smoother character is derived from that low-end warmth while clarity is retained via excellent upper-midrange extension. Nonetheless, the M2X remains sufficiently dense and it has plenty of body. The result is organic, slightly full-bodied vocals while retaining a high level of transparency as the tone is not overly skewed. As lower-treble is neutral, vocal articulation is spot-on and the M2X impresses with its rich yet natural vocal presentation.
Most impressive is the M2X’s treble extension, delivering excellent resolution and detail retrieval. It isn’t quite as resolving as TOTL DAPs, of course, however, listeners are rewarded with ample detail presented in a smooth manner. Meanwhile, the background is clean and dark, providing great contrast and distinct layering. There is plenty of micro-detail present and no truncation of sparkle in the highest registers. The M2X may lack the foreground treble instrumentation texture of TOTL gear, but its sound remains highly detailed.
With very solid treble extension, the M2X has wonderful soundstage expansion for a midrange DAP. Width, in particular, is truly excellent. No, not TOTL quality, but it can extend beyond the head like a more expensive player. Depth, however, is not so flattered though it is adequate. Meanwhile, imaging is interesting, compared to my reference source, the DX220, the presentation is pushed laterally, robbing the sound of a solid centre image. Vocal positioning is slightly hazy, and though instruments are pushed wide, they are easy to locate and pinpoint. Great separation is afforded by its large soundstage despite the slight warmth of its sound.
iBasso IT01 ($100): A snappy single DD IEM and popular entry-level. The IT01 is well-serviced by the M2X, bass is well-controlled with just a little smoothness through the mid-bass. Meanwhile, sub-bass is a hair reduced which helps to balance out this IEM. Highs are well-detailed and well-bodied, but a touch smoother in the foreground. The soundstage is wide and well-separated though depth is more intimate.
Fiio FH5 ($250): The Fiio is a hybrid with a low 12ohm impedance. Signature was identical to my other low impedance sources through the single-ended output. Sub-bass extension was moderate and the sound, balanced overall. Highs were very detailed while bass became slightly cleaner as compared to my desktop setup, redeeming greater definition. Overall control and resolution were strong, delivering a punchy, concise and well-balanced sound.
Campfire Audio Andromeda ($1099): A venerable multi-BA IEM renowned for its temperamental matchability on behalf of its extreme sensitivity and low impedance. The M2X delivered an exemplary pairing here. Bass extension is moderate, but it is controlled and musical. Mids are slightly warmer which aids body, and the sound is overall, pacey and detailed. Highs are slightly smoothed which suits the Andro’s lower-treble peak. The soundstage is very open, width is excellent and depth is strong too, imaging is sharp and precise.
Hifiman Sundara ($400): A full-sized planar magnetic headphone. The Sundara actually sounded quite terrific out of the M2X. Compared to my desktop Khadas Tone Board + JDS Atom setup, it was immediately evident that the Shanling did not have the same sub-bass extension and slam, but bass was well-controlled and highs were well detailed. The desktop setup provided a generally fuller and smoother sound while the M2X was crisp but also slightly brittle. Still, a tremendous effort for a compact source. The soundstage also impressed, especially imaging and width, while depth was noticeably more intimate.
Shanling M0 ($100): Though the M0 is a mightily good hyper-portable, users are likely curious what they are stepping up to with the larger M2X. The M2X has more dimension to its sound and it generally sounds more transparent and refined. The M0 is slightly bassier down-low, while the M2X is more controlled and delivers a tighter impact. The M2X has more transparent vocals and greater upper-midrange extension where the M0 is warmer but also sounds slightly veiled by comparison. Both sound similar up top, the M0 being slightly more energetic while the M2X has better separation and greater detail retrieval. The M2X immediately has a wider soundstage, both have similar depth, but the more balanced M2X has greater separation.
Fiio M7 ($200): The M7 is a similarly sleek device, taller but slimmer. The M7 has a generally smoother sound while the M2X is slightly more engaging and textured. The Shanling has a slightly softer sub-bass, but its mid-bass has better definition. Both are similarly tuned down-low besides the sub-bass, though the M2X strikes as being more controlled and it is cleaner in terms of tone overall. The midrange presentation is also similar, the M2X is slightly clearer with better extension while the M7 is slightly warmer and denser. Up top, the M2X is more detailed and this is mostly apparent with strings that have more texture and body than the M7. The M2X has an immediately wider soundstage and superior separation.
The M2X is one of the most impressive midrange DAPs I’ve tested recently on behalf of its well-rounded design and performance. Undoubtedly, the device is a looker with build quality that belies its asking price much like the smaller M0 before it. The UI is intuitive and fluid, the device also has a high screen to body ratio than previous Shanling DAPs granting it a more modern aesthetic. The controls are intuitive and the addition of a balanced output brings real benefits to power output and, to my ear, soundstage. I am especially enamoured by this DAP’s sound; its clean background and hint of inviting warmth and smoothness that makes it perfect for long listening sessions. And yet, its presentation does not falter under scrutiny, revealing a resolving presentation with a wide soundstage. The M2X excels not on by a single merit, but the combination of many, making it an easy recommendation at its asking price.