Shanling M2s £190
FOR Good detail; decent dynamics, rhythm and bass AGAINST No internal storage; unexciting sound Apple’s decision to discontinue the ipod Nano left many people looking for an alternative media player. After all, there’s still a decent demand for something small in stature to fit easily into your bag or pocket, but that also provides a superior sound to your common or garden smartphone. As far as pricing goes, that little gap in the market is precisely where the Shanling M2s finds itself sitting – but does it meet that goal?
An easy fit in a pocket
Looking a bit like a cigarette lighter, the M2s is a neat little package. It has a reassuring heft to it and, at approximately half the size of the average smartphone, it takes up an encouragingly small space in a jacket or back pocket.
You move through its navigation screens using the dial on the side, pressing inwards to ‘click’ on songs, albums and settings. It’s surprisingly quick to use, although those with larger hands might find it a bit fiddly.
Getting your music onto the M2s is a different matter. It doesn’t have any internal memory, and while it can support up to 256GB of external storage through a Microsd card, that’s still an extra thing you need to buy.
The M2s can play up to 24-bit/192khz and DSD256 resolutions through its ESS9016 digital-to-analogue converter. Shanling says that its 1800MAH battery will get you nine hours of listening time.
With aptx Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, you can stream ‘Cd-like’ (16-bit/44.1khz) resolution music from the M2s to wireless speakers, but its cord-cutting capabilities don’t stop there. You can also connect your smartphone to it via a dedicated app, to control playback and volume if you’re in another room, or if it’s stuck at the bottom of your bag.
But when you actually get it playing, the M2s’ sound quality is a little disappointing – even for such an affordable piece of kit. It’s a decent enough performance, but there’s still some way to go before it generates the excitement necessary to recommend it properly.
Its insight is its most attractive feature, but, still, it could do with some finetuning. The naturally harsh and aggressive vocals of Run the Jewel’s Run
the Jewels, and the plosive, alliterative delivery in the middle of the song, is insightful enough that you get a sense of how the rappers are almost spitting out the lyrics. On 36” Chain, the arcade-like sound effects have a good layering to them as well, but it doesn’t sound quite as sparky as we’d like.
A sense of time and space
Moving on to something decidedly more upbeat, Electric Light Orchestra’s Turn
To Stone, the bouncing piano that introduces the song and the popping keyboard riffs that keep the momentum going are conveyed relatively well by the M2s. It’s not going to inspire you to jump out of your chair and dance, but it makes a good attempt at capturing the kind of energy and pizzazz the band is known for.
Its timing is decent, as it avoids tripping over some of the rapid harmonies, and it’s reasonably spacious. There’s enough room for each instrument to flourish, without having them sound disconnected from the rest of the performers.
Ultimately, though, it’s lacking in solidity, unable to deliver a really powerful, punchy performance. Playing the Eagles’ Hotel California, the forceful drums that kick the song into action come across hollow and loose.
But is it enough?
While the M2s doesn’t have a bad sound, we don’t find it exciting enough to fully warrant spending the money – there’s just not enough of an improvement in quality to justify carrying around a second player.
Those looking for a good, portable, dedicated music player might want to think about saving a little more cash, and going for one of the other players here.
It feels a bit as though we’ve tested the Onkyo DP S1 before. The player is incredibly similar to the recently released Pioneer XDP 30R. It’s fairly easy to see why: Pioneer sold its AV division to Onkyo in 2014, so each brand has put its own spin on a similar design theme.
But just because something looks the same doesn’t mean it will sound the same. The DP S1 has a few – albeit slight – differences that give this player its own individual flavour.
Cosmetic changes, and more
On the surface, it appears to be cosmetic changes that set the DP S1 apart. The lock button, which stops its touchscreen being activated, is circular not square, and the screen fonts are slightly different.
At the bottom of its face etched details reveal some of the player’s specifications: 16GB of storage (which can be increased to 416GB via two Microsd card slots,) support for 32-bit/192khz and DSD128 music files, and twin SABRE ES9018C2M digital-to-analogue converters.
There are also two headphone jacks, one 2.5mm for balanced operation, which has the potential for better performance, and one for the more common 3.5mm connection.
Searching for a searchbar
Using the player can be tricky. Its 2.4in touchscreen is smaller than most so, although it responds adequately, it can be challenging to input email addresses and passwords when logging in to the two streaming services offered – Tidal and Deezer. (Tunein internet radio is also available.)
One feature that’s missing is a searchbar. We can forgive its omission on players controlled by physical buttons, but if you have a lot of music on your player it can be a lengthy process to scroll through all your artists or albums.
Some will get around that by using the app that lets you control the player from your phone – but if both are sitting in your pocket, it’s not necessarily any faster.
We think the DP S1 has a more refined sound than that of the Pioneer XDP 30R. While we wouldn’t say that its performance is significantly improved, there are tangible changes. It’s like having a familiar meal, but someone’s altered the usual seasoning.
The main difference is that the Onkyo is more spacious, with greater fluidity in the way it handles dynamics. Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (#2 In C Minor), rises and falls with slightly more elegance than on the Pioneer. The strings are whipped into controlled bursts at the start, but there’s clear delineation between where the notes begin and end.
There’s no internal memory at all on the Shanling, so you will have to budget a little more for a Microsd card