Soundaware M2Pro featured

Soundaware M2pro DAP Review – Serious B’ness!

Tested at $1100
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Our Score

Greetings fam. In today’s review, we’re looking at the Soundaware M2Pro Full Balanced High-Resolution DSD Professional DAP. The M2Pro is packed with high-end components and technology to provide the absolute best portable sound possible and the results are impressive to say the least.

Nanjing SOUNDAWARE Co. Ltd was founded in 2011 and is dedicated to R&D to produce high-end Hi-Fi products. They are the makers of the iconic MR1 DAP and have an extensive line of audiophile-grade integrated streaming music players and digital transports.

Soundaware official website: http://www.soundaware.net/homepage

M2Pro product page: http://www.soundaware.net/productinfo/162128.html

Pros
  • Dual Micro-SD Card Slots
  • USB Type-C port
  • Patented FPGA structure
  • Can be used as a digital transport or an external USB DAC
  • Solid, premium build
Cons
  • No protective cover included
  • No EQ
  • Basic UI

This sample was loaned to me for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.

Package and Accessories

The M2Pro box comes in a white cardboard sleeve with some images of the DAP on the front. On the back of the sleeve is a brief description of the device and some additional images. Underneath the sleeve is the box proper. The subtly textured box is light gold in colour and opens up in a wing-like fashion down the center.

Inside, the DAP is in a protective plastic bag and seated in a white foam inlay. Beneath the inlay and the provided accessories which include a Micro-SD card reader, a hard reset tool, cleaning cloth and a USB Type-C cable.

Strangely, there was no user manual or warranty card included even though I’m fairly certain I received a final production package. For such an expensive flagship product the unboxing experience is a little underwhelming. The thing that stood out to me most was the omission of any rudimentary protective case. If you’re paying this much for a DAP I doubt you want to get the chassis all scratched up. I feel there really should at least be a simple silicone case provided, such as you get with most FiiO and iBasso DAPs.

There was a misunderstanding and it turns out I did actually have a very early version of the package. The proper retail version will have an English user manual and I’m happy to say that there will also be a protective case added as well.

Build Quality and Design

The Soundaware M2Pro is a very handsome device. Weighing in at 175g the M2Pro has some heft and feels great in the hand. Its dimensions are 67mm x 124.5mm x 14.5mm. To put that into perspective it’s about the size of a modern smartphone albeit thicker or roughly the same dimensions as the iBasso DX120 but approximately 15mm taller.

The matte-finished aluminium alloy chassis was actually manufactured by a Foxconn cooperative company. Some of you might recognize the name as the Chinese mega factory that produces certain Apple products. Why am I bringing this up? Because when I hold the M2Pro in my hand it’s like holding an iPad or MacBook i.e. a beautifully crafted, premium (and perhaps overpriced) device.

On the front is a 2.4 inch Sharp PS display with a resolution of 400×360 pixels. The size of the display is a smaller than the current crop of modern DAPs that generally have more screen real estate. However, the display is crisp and clear with good colour and image quality.

On the bottom of the display, there are two capacitive buttons. The one on the left takes you back to the home screen or main menu while the button on the right takes you to the previous screen.

Below the display is a 4-way directional pad (D-pad) with a central button. This is used for navigating the menus (along with the capacitive buttons) as well as play, pause, skip track, previous track etc. It works well and has a reassuring tactile click. Just underneath the D-pad there are 2 LED’s; one indicates the device is powered on and the other lights up when the battery is charging.

Those of you with large digital music collections will appreciate the dual Micro-SD card slots that reside on the bottom of the player, along with a USB Type-C port for faster charging and better USB DAC performance. The M2Pro can theoretically support up to 2TB of storage in each slot, for a total of 4TB!

Soundaware M2Pro dual Micro-SD card slots

Towards the top of the right side of the device there are 3 buttons (from top to bottom): Power/display On/Off, Volume Up and Volume Down. Further down the right side is a pinhole-size reset button.

Power and volume buttons

Finally, on the top of the DAP are the 3 outputs (from left to right): balanced headphone out, single-ended headphone out/Coax SPDIF Interface (32kHz-192kHz DSP DOP), 3.5mm 4-core balanced line out (fixed and variable levels available).

The 3 outputs
Internals

The M2Pro uses dual Cirrus Logic CS4398 DACs which feature digital de-emphasis, half dB step-size volume control, ATAPI channel mixing and fast and slow roll off digital interpolation filters. There are more than 30 high-performance AVX high-frequency, low-impedance tantalum capacitors inside the device.

The patented FPGA internal structure is something that is usually only found in high-end desktop devices. It provides truly full-balanced holosymmetrical amplification and mono technology and allow the abandonment of coupling capacitance in favour of a complicated circuit.

Additionally, the M2Pro has a newly designed Low Pass Filter circuit to reduce the noise floor and retain more information and musicality.

Other premium parts are used even on non-critical components, which not only increases the cost but ensures the absolute best quality in the most important aspect of the DAP, which is, of course, the sound.

The rated output power is displayed in the table below. I don’t have any headphones that are particularly demanding but I can say that the M2Pro pushes the 150 Ohm Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro well past my comfortable listening level when in high gain mode.

Output power16Ω32Ω100Ω300Ω
Single-ended headphone output91mW*2140mW*245mW*215mW*2
Balanced headphone output91mW*2158mW*2168mW*259mW*2
Battery Life

The internal battery lasts around 11-14 hours when using the headphone out or 10.5 hours using high gain. When used as a digital transport (pure digital output) the M2Pro can go for over 20 hours. It takes 2-3 hours to fully charge but can charge to over 90% in just 2 hours.

As A USB DAC

This device works great as a USB DAC. I plugged it into my Windows PC and it was immediately detected and setup automatically. There is no audio delay or synchronization issues when watching video and it worked perfectly for all my normal computer related tasks. The M2Pro is definitely a massive upgrade over the computer’s default on-board audio.

UI and Functionality

The M2Pro uses a custom Linux-based UI and also has support for custom themes (at the time of this review only the default theme is available). Text is clear and legible but overall the OS looks fairly utilitarian.

M2Pro UI menu

It’s quick and responsive when navigating the menus. However, there is some lag when adjusting the volume; the value keeps changing briefly after releasing the buttons. For example, if I release the volume up button when it reaches 60, it will continue to go up to around 65-68. This can be quite frustrating but hopefully can be fixed with a firmware update. Thankfully, this is the only instance where the OS lags and for all other operations it works perfectly.

There is no album art when browsing the music library which makes it more difficult to find specific albums or artists. This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no search function either. Instead, you can browse the music library via Album, Genre or Artist. Also missing is proper playlist support. You can favourite songs and there is a “Recently Played” list but no option to create custom playlists.

Most of the common DAP settings are present, such as gain modes (low, medium, high), play modes, filter settings but there are a couple of staple features that are currently missing.

The first missing feature is gapless playback. This is something that many audiophiles demand from their DAPs but fortunately, Soundaware informs me that this will be added in a future update. Another unusual missing feature is EQ. Personally, I never use any EQ but again, this is something that many music fans expect and demand and it will be a deal-breaker for some.

The mix of capacitive and physical buttons feels a little counterintuitive. I often find myself trying to touch the screen after using the capacitive buttons and would prefer to have all of one or the other for navigating rather than a mixture of both.

Overall the user interface is okay to use but it’s a far cry from iBasso’s Mango OS or Shanling’s MTouch. Having said that though I don’t think it’s that big a deal as someone looking at buying the M2Pro is likely to be a purist who puts the sound first and UI is an afterthought. If you are one of those audio purists I have good news for you. Let’s talk about that in the sound section below shall we?

Sound

Gear used for testing was primarily the Sennheiser IE 800 S, M-Fidelity SA-50 and Meze Audio 99 Classics, all running balanced. I was blown away by the sound quality on the first listen right out of the box and as time went on it just continued to get better.

Was it a result of break-in or did my appreciation of the unit just grow with familiarity? I can’t say for sure but I know for certain that the M2Pro is one of the best sounding DAPs I’ve ever heard.

The Soundaware M2Pro has a transparent, natural, almost otherworldly sound. It has excellent detail retrieval and resolution that when matched with the right headphones creates an unforgettable experience.

For a sound that is so revealing and that doesn’t leave any details hidden, the M2Pro still feels organic and incredibly smooth. It’s a DAP that seems to squeeze out the absolute best of every transducer you connect to it and is just so engaging to listen to.

Bass notes are full-bodied and sound so lifelike yet it doesn’t feel as though they’ve been boosted or enhanced. It does seem as though the treble has some smoothing but the notes still have a solid density while their energy and timbre remain intact.

The soundstage is stonking good on this DAP. It’s expansive and roomy with great imaging and positioning. This is largely due to the M2Pro’s low noise floor and black background. It gives each individual sound space to move around and improves layering and separation.

Another thing that surprised me about the M2Pro is the quality of its single-ended output. It’s as good or very nearly as good quality as the balanced out. The balanced output supposedly has slightly more background noise but I couldn’t hear any from either one.

Pairing

Sennheiser IE 800 S: Stage is wide and expansive with good imaging. Beautiful, rich mids with forward vocals and superb detail. Smooth, crisp and airy treble and full-bodied bass that is powerful and adds warmth to the overall tonality.

M2Pro with IE 800 S

M-Fidelity SA-50: Loads of depth in the soundstage with holographic layering. Balanced sound with powerful, controlled bass. Clear vocals and great midrange resolution. Good treble extension with sparkle but still fairly relaxed and non-fatiguing.

M2Pro with SA-50

Meze 99 Classics: Rounded soundstage with good width and average depth. Meaty, textured bass with a satisfying sub-bass rumble. Slightly recessed vocals with good articulation. Solid instrument separation. Lively treble with nice timbre and density.

Acoustic Research AR-H1: Had to bump it up to middle gain for this one but there’s still plenty of headroom. This is the best DAP pairing I’ve heard for this headphone. Soundstage is not the biggest but is circular with good imaging. Bass is punchy and fast. Midrange and vocals are super clear with good note thickness and resolution. Treble is airy and light with lots of detail.

Campfire Audio Cascade: Soundstage is fairly intimate with average imaging. Bass is very aggressive and dominant. The midrange is clear and fairly neutral but sits well behind the bass. Treble is laidback and fairly distant. It has good density and is crisp but not very detailed. This pairing didn’t do much for me as things sound more congested and lost in the bass.

M2Pro with CA Cascade

Conclusion

The Soundaware M2Pro is a DAP built for audio purists. If you’re looking for big, colourful displays, bells and whistles then this isn’t the one for you. However, if you are looking for the best quality portable sound you can get then this could very well be the one.

I’ve had some profound musical experiences while listening to this DAP and thoroughly enjoyed it despite the basic nature of its UI. Physically the DAP looks and feels amazing but all that pale’s in comparison to its amazing sound quality. So, if you’re chasing the best sounding DAP and don’t mind handing over a fist full of cash then I absolutely recommend you test drive the M2Pro.

Specifications

Reader Score
[Votes: 3 Average: 4.3]
Founder of Prime Audio

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