Review: Acoustic Research M2 (ARM2) media player


The awesomeness of that dial pops up when you start using the M2, and that’s because gone is the clunkiness of a smartphone volume dial, offering up a more manual approach to audio with tiny increments on a short dial.

Turn in the volume you want with a more old school feeling and play your music, because that’s really what the M2 is good at.

In fact, once you’ve moved your files to the player either by plugging the M2 into a computer and dragging and dropping, or sticking a memory card inside and loading the files off that.

Testing the sound, you simply plug in a pair of headphones and hit play, with the audio represented beautifully provided the headphones you’ve opted for are made for great quality audio. In fact, you can’t actually hit play until a pair of headphones are plugged in, so once they’re in and you have some music on the device, you are good to go.


We tested FLAC, AIFF, and DSD through the Acoustic Research player, and all were loaded without any dramas, making it ideal for any music you have laying around provided you’ve started to collect lossless sound.

One area where we get a little surprised by the performance of the M2 media player is in the screen, and that’s because for two thousand schmackos, it’s a display that doesn’t quite live up to the price tag.

We’re not talking the sort of screen you might expect to find on a budget phone, but it still doesn’t feel as spesh, though we suspect this low end screen is here not because Acoustic Research has cheapened out, but rather because it will likely result in better battery life and lower hardware noise for the media player side of things.


“But a better screen makes for a better device,” you might say, “especially since it runs Android!”

And while we’d normally agree with you, the version of Android Acoustic Research has gone with is a little, well, different than you might otherwise see.


Perhaps the strangest thing about the Acoustic Research media player is its use of Android, because it is only here to provide an easy to use operating system for moving files to the media player.

Strangely, it’s about the most cut down version of Android we’ve ever seen, with no account access, no ability to grab apps, and nothing that makes Android, well, Android.

Simply put, Android appears to be here to make it easier to browse the device and not devise an operating system just for the point of playing back audio and moving files to and from the product.

There’s no access to Google’s Play Store, nor is there anything that would make this an Android device outside the OS existing.


Forget running anything Android typically runs here, because all you get is a basic web browser, a file explorer, a clock, a calculator, and a gallery. You don’t even get the ability to put in your web or email accounts, as Acoustic Research has ripped that well and truly out of the installation of Android found on this device.

Basically, Android is here only to let you move your files to and from the phone easily.

While that’s a noble concept and one we don’t have a problem with initially, if you have a massive file collection on your network that you’d like to access, it means you can’t install a single app to get into it, and will have to resort to moving those files by hand using a computer, which in this day of modern wireless computing is a bit of a shock.

And what if you want a better music player on Android to play those lossless music files?

If you sit in that category, we wouldn’t blame you, as the app AR has made for music playback is pretty limited and doesn’t look amazing. Heaven forbid you want to use a different media player, say PowerAmp, BlackPlayer, or AIMP, or even access Google Play Music or Spotify on the one device.

In all of those situations, you won’t be able to with the AR M2 as it is just that much locked down.

Your lockscreen isn't really a lockscreen. It's a homescreen with one widget for the music player, one for the clock, and an app drawer icon.
Your lockscreen isn’t really a lockscreen. It’s a homescreen with one widget for the music player, one for the clock, and an app drawer icon.


With Android barely being here at all, it does make the $1999 price seem a little curious, or even just something close to outrageous.

Audio quality not withstanding — and it is quite excellent — two thousand dollars is a lot of money to spend on a media player that only does one purpose, and that’s the strangest part about the Acoustic Research M2: it only serves as a media player.

For that sort of money, we’re surprised by this, and even though the specs don’t exactly scream “best in class” and there’s no phone capabilities or even a decent screen, the intentional cutting down of what Android can do is mighty surprising, and even a little shocking.

There isn’t even a bit of Bluetooth, so you have to stay wired to the device. While the insides are fairly modern, the whole package doesn’t feel like the entire thing actually comes together as a modern music player, and the reduced Android only adds to this.

In some ways, we can’t help but feel it would have been better to have a non-standard totally unusual operating system installed instead of Android, because at least then we wouldn’t feel like we were being teased or taunted with an OS that can do so much more.


Imagine if Acoustic Research allowed the M2 to function as more a media player with a great operating system than just a file transfer system. While you may end up buying a $2K media player for the playback of high-end lossless audio, access to the entirety of Google would mean you could listen to streaming audio services and properly compare the audio qualities between lossy and lossless, as well as read the news or get a different player if you’re not a fan of the one Acoustic Research has built.

And that’s just naming a couple of the things you could do if Acoustic Research had provided a little bit of flexibility.

But you can’t, not the way AR has set things up on the M2. It is merely an audio player.

Sure, it’s a pretty good audio player, and a very solid one, but its potential to be something more is lost in translation, and that makes it hard to see its two-thousand-clam price tag as totally worth it.



The high-resolution media player world is a little harder to gauge than that of the iPhone and Android phone, and that tends to come back to what buyers of these gadgets are looking for.

Simply put, they’re looking for high-end sound deserving of high-end dollars, and for that the Acoustic Research M2 media player certainly delivers. Where it fails, however, is with a price that doesn’t totally feel justified by what the media player could have done.

It could have been an amazing do-everything media player that grabbed apps, emails, and maybe took a SIM card. Or it could have been a media player that did a little more than just used Acoustic Research’s software.


But that’s all it is: a media player that does one thing and one thing only, playing music using the AR software.

That makes the ARM2 a master of one thing, which in an era of convergence is a total surprise, and closer to a shock.

If you love that philosophy and live by it, there’s a good chance you’ll be into what Acoustic Research is selling, but at $2K, we think we’ll shop around.


Value for money
Reader Rating0 Votes
Solid; Comes with a case built into the body; Upgradeable storage; Fantastic audio quality; Volume dial is beautifully retro;
Expensive; Mediocre screen (but you’re not really here for the screen, now are you?); Android is only there for file transfers, and so while you have a great mobile operating system, Acoustic Research still doesn’t let you use it;