Acoustic Research M2 Review – Android on Steroids
Acoustic Research is one of those old names which has been connected with the world of hi-fi for some 63 years now, although it has changed hands a few times since. Responsible for quite a few innovations over the years, can this brand offer anything new to music fans in 2015? Fully equipped with Wi-Fi capability, the AR-M2 can work with streaming services such as Spotify; so now we’re not limited to the tracks we have stored on our players.
Design and appearance
The M2 is a relatively large and weighty player, with the front side almost completely composed of glass; a fair amount of which is the touchscreen (62mm x 110mm to be exact). The back of the player is bevelled and it settles in the hand well. Its angular form and dark glass screen is reminiscent of a 1980s coffee table, but only a little one.
Given the M2 is an android-based player, there’s a fair amount of customisation possible – there’s no bloatware or anything to get in the way, but users can always add items they wish to use. Spotify was installed without a problem, for instance.
Other than the touchscreen, there are 4 buttons on the side for track control and power on/off and a volume wheel on the top. Outputs are limited to headphones and line-level output. There’s a little sliding door for micro SD cards if the internal 64Gb isn’t enough for your music collection, and of course a slot at the bottom for connecting to a computer via USB.
The player can be ‘locked’ for when it’s playing whilst in a pocket or bag; however the buttons on the side still function so there may be some issues there. The volume control wheel on the top is still sensitive when the M2 is locked so again, care is needed.
The player was taken outside on one of the brightest days we have in the UK (we do get bright days) and with the settings adjusted for maximum screen brightness, the screen was clearly legible. The only problem is the fingerprints on the vast expanse of screen which are also clear to see.
The Dac within, a Burr-Brown PCM1794A offers up to 24-bit/192kHz playback and supported formats include DSD, WAV, AIFF, FLAC and ALAC.
Being Android-based, streaming services such as Spotify can be installed on the AR-M2 for use over local wifi networks, making this player more useful still.
Durability & build quality
As alluded to above, the M2 is solidly built and gives the impression of something which will last for a good few years. The back does have a hollow ring to it when tapped with a fingernail, but it doesn’t feel hollow or flex with pressure.
The M2 will be fine in a trouser pocket, but tight trousers might not react too well. Bend over and you might gore yourself – the design is strong and unyielding! The M2 comes with a velvety pouch for protection – ostensibly for the player itself, but it might help avoid the odd nick or scratch elsewhere too.
The buttons on the side of the unit for play controls can be operated even when the unit has gone into standby/hold mode, so fishing the AR-M2 out of a pocket may cause an unintended change of track. Also, the volume control can be operated while in this state. Although it’s firm, it’s loose enough to be operated by material brushing against it in the tight confines of a pocket or bag.
There’s no question about the power available within the AR-M2; with a HiFiMAN HE-6 attached, volume gets up to a respectable level – even a little too loud for sustained listening, depending on the genre. Likewise with the Audeze LCD-3.
With IEMs such as the Dita Answer (Truth Edition), the AR-M2 is in its element with well controlled bass, excellent space and detail in the midrange, and a rich airiness which brings the best out of both the music and the earphones.
Within the supplied AR player app, EQ settings are possible with many genre-based presets but there’s a limit to the control possible with the rudimentary 5 band on there. This can always change with future updates, however the unadulterated sound of the AR-M2 is perfect.
Fast, responsive touchscreen
Large internal memory
Can run apps such as Spotify
Side buttons can be pressed while unit is on ‘hold’
Volume control can be accidentally operated
The Acoustic Research M2 (or AR-M2) is a fantastic sounding player which is well worthy of a position at its price point. Holding it gives the impression that it’s a serious bit of kit, despite all the fun it gives. It has enough power to drive all commonly used headphones well; even 600 ohm cans with sensitivity below 90dB. The large internal memory and the adaptability offered by the Android-based operating system make this a very nice pocketful, although a large one. It’s definitely one for a jacket pocket or bag.
Please take a look at our video review below for more details.