Shanling has a wide range of products for music lovers. Even their products have a wide range of prices to choose from. But ‘Portable USB DAC’ is a category where there were no products from Shanling yet. Now we all know how these ultra-portable USB DACs have become a trend in 2020. So why there are no such devices from Shanling, I don’t know. Thankfully 2020 is not over yet and Shanling just came up with two such devices, their UA1 and UA2. Where Shanling UA1 is their entry-level portable USB DAC, UA2 is the flagship. Shanling UA1 has become available for purchase just a few days ago too. I would like to thank Shanling for allowing me to test UA1 by sending one unit for review. So let‘s see what Shanling has to offer in this product category.
Specifications of Shanling UA1
- Model Number – UA1,
- Structure – Anodized Aluminum & OFC Cable,
- OTG Plugs – Type C USB 2.0,
- USB Protocol – UAC1.0/ 2.0,
- Input – Type C, USB A (With Adapter),
- Analog Output – 3.5 mm,
- DAC Chip – ESS ES9218P,
- THD+N – 0.001% @ 32 ohms,
- Dynamic Range – 119dB @ 32 ohms,
- SNR – 119 dB @ 32 ohms,
- Channel Separation – 77dB @ 32 ohms,
- Output Power – 1.6V @ 32 ohms (80mW @ 32 ohms),
- Output Impedance – <0.5 ohms,
- Frequency Response – 20 Hz to 20 kHz (-0.5dB),
- MAX Decoding – PCM 384 kHz/32 bit, DSD 256 (Native),
- Weight – 9 grams,
- Dimensions – 39 x 15 x 9 mm,
- Compatibility – Windows, Mac OS, Android, IOS (I pad pro with Type C).
Product Page – Here.
What’s in the Box?
- UA1 USB DAC,
- USB A Male to Type C female Adapter,
- Quick start guide & Warranty card.
To showcase the presentation, I have made an unboxing video which you can watch below. The presentation of Shanling UA1 is simple and elegant. Thanks again Shanling, for using small packaging plus not wasting paper and resources.
Design & Build Quality
Design and build quality are nice. First of all, though the device in pictures seems to be a big piece of hardware but it is a very small and lightweight item. This is the first DAC that I have, comes with matt black finish and I am loving for its color and finish. The body is made out of anodized aluminum and the unconventional shape of the metal housing is also unique. The connecting cable is thick, fabric braided, and not stiff. All the brandings have been done on the metal housing and both the Type-C plug and 3.5 mm plugs are also good in quality. It would have better if those plugs were gold plated.
UA1 weighs only 9 grams but still feels solid in hand. I must say it is a very well build device. Now Shanling UA1 follows the design principle of a portable USB DAC having all the circuitry and the Type-C plug in two different housings and a cable connects them. Now I do prefer this type of design because these types of portable Type-C DACs don’t have the possibility of damaging the phone’s Type-C port as most of the weight is distributed far from the phone’s Type-C port. So overall design and build quality wise UA1 is good and can last long in daily rough usage.
Shanling UA1 also has a status indicator light near the 3.5mm port. It lights up Green after plugging and keep breathing. The LED remains static when any media is playing, so now you don’t have to get confused about either your UA1 is working or not.
UA1 doesn’t need any driver to work with the host devices as It is a plug-and-play device. As soon as you plug the device with the source, it works like a charm. Like after plugging it with my android phone, USB Audio Player Pro detects it as USB DAC and works perfectly. In Windows 10 computer, UA1 also works without any driver but you can also install the specific drivers to enjoy ASIO with the programs like Foobar2000. DSD256 files are also playing without any problem after installing the drivers and FOO DSD ASIO driver.
Driver Link – Here.
Firmware and Standby
Till now Shanling UA1 doesn’t have user flashable firmware upgrades but maybe in the future, it can. The good thing is like other portable USB Type C DACs, UA1supports the standby feature. If nothing is connected in the 3.5 mm port the device remains in standby mode which helps to reduce battery usage when the device is not in use.
Tested Sources with Shanling UA1
Windows 10 PC, Realme C2, Hiby R3.
Tested Gears with Shanling UA1
Sennheiser HD6XX, ISN Audio D02, BGVP DN2, Magaosi K3 HD, Fearless Audio Crystal Pearl.
Tested Applications with Shanling UA1
USB Audio Player Pro, Foobar2000, Shanling Music.
Output power and Noise
The output power of Shanling UA1 is high but mostly suitable for IEMs and not so demanding headphones. Strangely with PC, the output power is much higher than mobile devices and even can run 250 ohms headphones easily (Not full potential). Almost zero background noise while using sensitive IEMs. Fun fact, the hardware and output power specifications are the same as Shanling Q1’s digital audio player, so by spending only 45$ you getting the sound of a 100$ product.
Power Draw and Heating
Though the power draw figures are not mentioned in the specification sheet, it is very small. I like UA1’s efficiency. Taking so much less power, giving out very good output. From a phone equipped with a 3000mhA battery, you can expect 2% of battery drain after using UA1 for 30minutes. After usage of one hour, UA1 warms up a bit but not too much to worry about.
Hardware Volume control and Mic/in-line control
Shanling UA1 supports internal hardware volume control via applications like USB audio player pro and Shanling Music App. But it doesn’t have a Mic and in-line control support.
Shanling Music App Control
One very interesting feature Shanling UA1 has is, you can control a few important internal settings of the DAC by using Shanling’s own Music App. Now I was aware of the Shanling Music App but never used it. For this review, I have started using the app and liking it overall. As a free app, it offers a good interface, lots of features, and good sound quality. The app is polished and not buggy at all. Surprisingly it can detect MQA tracks and sort High-Res files from storage. I know it’s not as good as USB Audio Player Pro but as a free app, it has many useful features especially for Shanling device holders.
Back to Shanling UA1; using the Shanling Music App you can adjust the internal hardware volume, apply digital filters, change the gain setting, and also adjust channel imbalance. If I am not wrong, no other such device has this type of feature. Good job Shanling.
App Link – Here.
When comes to sound, Shanling UA1 like other Shanling products again surprised me with its conventional ‘Shanling Sound’. Good to see that Shanling’s consistency of using the same tuning across their devices. Like other entry-level Shanling products, UA1 shares the same tuning which is close to neutral with a touch of warmth and non-harsh sparkling treble. This type of tuning is suitable for most of the music genres and has good synergy with a wide range of headphones / IEMs. Now, let’s describe the sound further.
UA1 could be a device from Shanling where the quantity of bass is more than their other budget offerings. The entire lower frequency part has been presented linearly. No specific boost is there; both the sub-bass and mid-bass remain adequately prominent. The quality of the bass is here needs appreciation and the quantity of the bass is enough in most cases. Overall the Bass is tight, punchy, and well-controlled. The speed is fast and decay is good. With my Fearless audio Crystal Pearl; songs like ‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson sounding as good as it should be. And I never felt bass is lacking anywhere.
As always a clean and natural midrange has been presented through Shanling UA1. Due to the well-controlled lower frequency part, no bass bleed is there. No particular emphasis on either Upper-Mids or Lower-Mids and both male and female vocals sounding pleasing. Although being so natural sounding, the emotional factor is still there and the vocals never felt dry. The timbre is good and the separation between vocals and instruments is also good but I have seen better in Shanling‘s higher-priced products. In songs like ‘Just Strong Enough’ by Michael McDonald you can feel the texture and weight of the voice while playing through UA1.
When comes to the higher frequency part, Shanling has always done a commendable job with ESS chips. With good extension and without any harshness I am getting airy and spacious highs with clarity and definition. Just a few days ago I have reviewed the Shanling UP4; if I compare the particular treble part of both UP4 and UA1, I can proudly say UA1 doing its job better. UA1 is rendering micro details exceptionally well too. For example, while playing songs like ‘Englishman in New York’ by Sting, I can feel the energy and spark without any harshness and the air between instruments is there.
Soundstage and Imaging
The added soundstage of Shanling UA1 is wide but not too wide. If your IEM is already capable of producing good soundstage then UA1 is not going to steal anything from that. But Imaging is very good with UA1. You can easily point out the placement of instruments and singers. For example, while playing songs like ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac I can easily notice the placement of string instruments on my right side, drum on the center, and the rest coming from my left side.
In this ‘Portable Type-C DAC’ category, there are so many products from different brands, and comparing one with all others would be a huge and difficult job. In this particular time, a large number of readers may have an interest in reading a comparison between Shanling UA1 and iBasso DC03. I have bought DC03 almost 3 weeks ago but due to the pandemic, my unit is still in transit so I have not to privilege to do such a comparison. So I am comparing Shanling UA1 with DD hifi TC35, which I reviewed a few months ago.
DD TC35B vs. Shanling UA1
Both devices have different form factors. TC35B is a very small device and both the Type-C plug and all circuitry paced inside a small enclosure where Shanling UA1 is a big device with a different design principle. Now it depends on the buyer’s preference, what kind of design he likes. I don’t have a problem with any of those designs, but UA1’s design is better because there is no risk of accidental damage to the phone’s Type-C port while using UA1.
DD TC35B uses a Realtech ALC where Shanling UA1 uses a proper ESS DAC chip. Sound-wise Shanling UA1 has many advantages too. UA1 can provide better Bass extension, crispier Mids, and sparkling treble. Though Shanling UA1 is priced 5$ higher than TC35B but spending an extra 5$ worth it. One advantage TC35B has over UA1 is, TC35B supports in-inline control and Microphone which UA1 doesn’t have. UA1 is purely a device for music listening.
There is no doubt that the Shanling UA1 is a good-sounding, well-built, and affordable device but I think Shanling is late in this game so competition is very tough now. If Shanling would have released it at end of 2019 then it could be a massive hit. Competition is tough is because every day a new cheaper such as DAC is coming to the market. Nowadays users mostly follow the hype, not the sound, but if the sound is your priority and you want a good sounding portable Type-C DAC under 50$ then Shanling UA1 is a far better solution than its competitors.