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 colorful and bright interface appears. The screen on the M2X is not the last word in resolution, so it looks a little pixilated, 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, favorites, 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.
The playback options are quite rich with settings for the DAC filter, gain, gapless playback and now a 10-band equalizer 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.