Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Headphones: Final Sonorous X and D8000; Meze 99 Neo; Campfire Audio Lyra; HifiMan RE2000
DAP: Questyle QP1R, Soundaware Esther
Review component retail: €1099 black, €1'119 red

"The M2 Pro is a new flagship DAP designed mainly for IEM use. Its voicing is reminiscent of our M1pro but the overall quality is really on a level with the flagship MR1. Pricing will be ~$1'000. We will launch it at a press conference in Shanghai this Sunday."

That had been my Soundaware contact Lesley Liu. Her update hit me on July 31st. Having just reviewed their MR1/P1, A300 and D300Ref in three consecutive reviews, I'd not seen an additional new product coming down the pike. I needed to clean my rear-view mirror. I needed to aim it at Shanghai. Then I'd seen more than the nude prototype board at the Beijing Headphone Expo at right. Instead I would have also cased out the early black and blue units showgoers played with. On the new model, there was more from Lesley. "Our new M2 Pro inherits the tonal style of the M1 Pro, then optimizes the platform which we already used so successfully on the MR1 and A300: twin DACs and an FPGA outputting isolated dual-mono I²S and DSD, the latter triggering the mono DACs into DSD processing."

The show display below demonstrates the size progression of Esther M1 Pro [far left] to M2 Pro [black and blue] and MR1. The MR1 aims at a crowd who regularly combine portable with stationary setups. They want one petite DLNA + WiFi + Bluetooth source to front their serious big headphones, car and speaker systems. They multi-task their DAP into duties as streamer, fully balanced standalone USB DAC and/or SD/USB media renderer. Here the M2 Pro aims predominantly at regular mobile users. And that means IEM, not big heavy over-ear headphones or any docking duties. Of the in-ear types, I had genre representatives by Campfire Audio, Final and HifiMan to conduct a meaningful review. But 'meaningful' also had to mean sussing out whether a standard smart phone wouldn't be sufficient to do all of the usual mobile tasks and do so in only one device. Why carry around two if one does the same job just as well? My pedestrian not audiophile-approved 2017 Samsung Galaxy A5 would stand in for the type smart phone most the Irish we see out and about actually carry.  Living on the rural west coast, the €1'000 iPhone types in Dublin aren't really our neighbours. But if that's you; and if you especially bought your handy based on its sterling sound specifications... then today's review—and any others about digital audio players aka 2018's version of the original 160GB iPod—isn't really for you. You've already phoned that in; hopefully loud and clear.

Reading Lesley's spec sheet, I learnt that the M2 Pro's casing is a CNC'd aluminium-alloy shell of 67 x 124.5 x 14.5mm dimensions and 175g mass. The display is a 400x360px 2.4" affair. Dual SD card slots supporting FAT32, Exfat and NTFS formatting can theoretically store up to 2 x 2TB once such cards are available. At present, 2 x 512GB should do most users. That's vastly more than the biggest old iPod. As a USB DAC, the M2 Pro has DSD128 support once a driver is installed. Apple's .alac and .aiff files are only supported up to 48kHz. Window's .wav and .flac equivalents get the full 32/192 corporate backing. Bluetooth is via APTX and CSR. Two selectable digital filters are sharp and slow roll-off. Claimed amplitude linearity is 20Hz-20kHz ±0.2dB. THD+N is 0.0006%. S/NR is 116dB A-weighted. Color choices go black or red. And that's all she—Lesley—said just then. The rest would be for my ears to figure out. All hands on deck.

The obvious in-house comparators had to be Soundaware's earlier Esther M1 Pro. Questyle's QP1R with its infernal wheel of death aka the natty scroll wheel which long since has gone wonky would be benched. That fact alone has me much prefer Esther's hard buttons. If you can't reliably access your files because the selector misfires, it doesn't matter how good the deck might make them sound or how cool it looks doing it. And what's up with the fingerprint-mad touch-screen craze in general? It has people install plastic protectors which dumb down screen resolution and still must be cleaned. I prefer traditional hard buttons. The M2 Pro splits my bill between the hard wheel and soft 'home' and 'back' touch controls.