Shanling, as a brand doesn’t need a further introduction in the audiophile community. Their range of products has been serving every need of audiophiles for a long time. Either it’s a Hi-Res digital audio player or some high-quality IEMs, Shanling made it for us. Now what I like about Shanling products is their consistency of in-house design and sound signature. Their product lineup is also well planned and perfectly fits users’ requirements too. For example, they only have two Bluetooth receivers/ DAC rather than 5 or 6. Shanling UP2 for entry-level and Shanling UP4 for serious power users.
For listening, I have always relied on wired mode playback from DAC and DAPs but recently due to traveling I had to choose a Bluetooth DAC. As most of the Smartphone and Bluetooth DACs now support LDAC connection so there is no excuse not to use Bluetooth DAC, so I picked up the Shanling UP4 recently.
Please note that I have bought it from my hard-earned cash and didn’t receive any compensation from the brand in exchange for this review. Now let’s discuss my thoughts on UP4.
Specifications of Shanling UP4
- DAC Chip – Two ESS9218P,
- Structure – 2.5 D Glass & Anodized Aluminum,
- Size – 60mm x 36mm x 13mm (L x W X H),
- OTG Plugs/ Charging – USB Type C female inbuilt,
- Analog Output – 3.5 mm and 2.5 mm balanced,
- On-device Volume Control/Device controls – yes,
- Bluetooth Chip – Qualcomm CSR8675,
- Supported Codec – LDAC, HWA(LHDC), apteX HD, apteX Low Latency, apteX, ACC, SBC,
- Bluetooth Version – 5.0,
- Bluetooth Range – 10 meters,
- Input Power – 5V/500 mA,
- Charging Time – 2 Hours,
- Battery – 550 mAh,
- Battery Life – 15H (Single-ended), 10H (Balanced), 300H (Standby),
- SNR – ≥120dB single-ended and balanced,
- Distortion THD+N – < 0.0003% LDAC,
- Single-end output power – ≥71mW @ 32Ω (Single-ended), ≥91mW @ 32Ω (Single-ended, Dual-DAC mode),
- Balanced output power – ≥160mW @ 32Ω (Balanced out, high-gain),
- Microphone Support – Yes (Knowles SiSonic),
- Status Led – Yes multicolor,
- NFC –Yes,
- USB DAC – Yes,
- Gain Mode/ Filters – Yes,
- ASIO Driver – NO, Weight – 40 grams with the plastic clip.
What’s in the Box?
- Shanling UP4,
- Plastic case cum shirt clip,
- Type C to USB A cable,
- Warranty paper &Quick start guide.
Tested Sources with Shanling UP4
Windows 10 Laptop, Realme C2.
Tested Apps with Shanling UP4
USB Audio Player Pro, Foobar2000.
Tested Gears with Shanling UP4
BQEYZ Spring 2, KBEAR KS2, Magaosi K3 HD, iBasso IT00, HD58X.
Product Page – Here
Purchase Link – Here
To showcase the presentation, I have made an unboxing video which you can watch below. A big shout-out to Shanling for using a small box and not wasting paper that much.
Design & Build Quality
Design and build quality are good. UP4 has been made out of a combination of anodized aluminum and 2.5D Glass which gave it structural strength and a nice look. 2.5D Glass on the front and back giving UP4 a seamless look. The size of the unit is neither too small nor too bulky; it perfectly fits in the palm of my hand (Medium) and feels solid in hand.
Like all other Shanling products, UP4 also has the rotary multi-function volume control wheel on its right side. The multifunctional rotary wheel is smooth yet has a resistance that allows users to feel the volume steps while rotating.
The output ports and mode buttons are present on the top of the device and perfectly placed for convenient usage. The Type C input port has been placed bottom of the device. NFC tag and multicolor status LED are present below the front glass. The microphone hole also has been placed on top of the device for better sound access. So overall design-wise, UP 4 doesn’t have any dispute.
Accessories sets are nice and well built. The cover cum plastic shirt clip is good in quality but the clip is not spring-mechanized which can break, if not handled properly. The braided charging cable is also very good in quality.
Device Control and Status LED
There are only two buttons on the device to control UP4. The mode button and the multifunction rotary wheel. The wheel also works as a multi-click button and has been programmed to do most of the major functions. The mode button also has multiple functions. The front multicolor LED is also programmed to indicate multiple statuses of the device.
Now due to such multi-function usage for the very first time, you may feel a bit confused to operate the device but after some time those functions and led status becomes very familiar. Some of the common buttons and LED functions are.
- Press and hold for 3 seconds – Device On and Blue light flashes 3 times, then it remains in standby mode if not paired and the Blue LED flashes once every 5 sec.
- Hold for 3 seconds – Device Off and Red light stay on for 2 sec.
- Press and hold for 5 seconds – Device enters into pairing mode and red and blue LED flashes alternately.
- Double Click – Next track/ Refuse call/ Switch ongoing call audio from UP4 to phone.
- Triple Click – Previous track.
- Single Click – Play/Pause/Answering the call.
- Single Click – AMP gain mode.
- Double Click – Switch AMP gain mode.
- Press and Hold – Switch Digital filters.
Bluetooth Connection, NFC & Range
Shanling UP4 comes with Qualcomm’s latest CSR8675 chip which is basically a Bluetooth 5.0 chip and also has all the latest and most of the Bluetooth codecs including apteX HD and LDAC. Connecting UP4 with smartphones and laptops via Bluetooth is a matter of seconds. As soon as the host device’s Bluetooth is turned on, UP4 appears in the available device list and pairs quickly. Once paired successfully, UP4 automatically connects with the first device whenever turned on. Now UP4 also supports two devices simultaneously so connecting it from my smartphone and laptop is way convenient.
As UP4 also has NFC, smartphones with NFC can connect with UP4 even without searching the nearby devices. The range and stability are also good. Though the specification mentioned range is 10m, but sometimes it even extended to 12-13m if used in an open area. The connection is very strong and I never faced any connection drop issue.
All Bluetooth devices do have latency but when using UP4 in LDAC connection, the latency is so little that very hard to notice.
Shanlign UP4 also has a voice prompt like other Bluetooth devices. Common voice prompts can be heard during power on, successful connection, and power off.
Shanling has an App to control the UP4 device from Android and IOS devices. I have an android phone so I have installed it from Google play store and the App’s current version is 1.2.0. Now with the help of the App, you can do some basic setting changes in your device like EQ, gain setting, or setting filets. Now after using the App, I can say it is a very basic App and doesn’t have any super beneficial benefit except firmware upgrade, which is a bit difficult from a PC.
Battery & Charging
A 550 mAh battery is inside UP4 which Shanling claim takes 2 h for charging. After charging it a few times with my 5V 1A charger it always fully charged itself exactly within 2h and a couple of minutes. Now for the playback battery backup, I have used a 16 ohms earphone in single-ended mode and 32 ohms earphones in balanced mode with an LDAC connection. So here is the exact battery life I got from UP4.
- Load – 16 Ω, Connection – LDAC, Mode – Single-ended (3.5mm), Gain – Low, Playback time – 13.5 H
- Same Load- 16 Ω, Connection – LDAC, Mode – Single-ended (3.5mm), Gain – High, Playback time – 12 H
- Same Load – 16 Ω, Connection – LDAC, Mode – Single-ended (3.5mm), Gain – Dual DAC, Playback time – 11 H
- Load – 32 Ω, Connection – LDAC, Mode – Balanced (2.5mm), Gain – Low, Playback time – 9.5 H
- Same Load – 32 Ω, Connection – LDAC, Mode – Balanced (2.5mm), Gain – High, Playback time – 9 H
Output power and Noise
The output power figures of Shanling UP4 are quite interesting for such a little Bluetooth receiver. 91mW @ 32Ω max from 3.5mm and 160mW @ 32Ω from 2.5mm balanced out is enough to drive almost all the IEM and some non-power hungry headphones. For all my IEMs and headphones UP4 never crossed 80% of its total volume. The best thing is, there is no noticeable background noise present while using low impedance IEMs.
As per Shanling, they have used Knowles SiSonic microphone (placed on top of the device). Now I don’t have any knowledge about that specific applied technology but I can tell after using UP4 that the microphone quality is very good and captures crisp and clear voices. The best thing is, now I don’t have to buy a microphone cable for my IEMs, with UP4 all of my IEM and headphones can be used to answer calls while listening to music.
Shanling UP4 supports user flashable Firmware upgrade. You can do it by installing the Shanling Controller app in android/IOS or by downloading the firmware file on your PC. Follow the below link for a detailed guide to upgrading the firmware. The current version is 1.3 and this review has been done after upgrading to V1.3.
Firmware link – Here
I had started this review by saying that I like Shanling due to their consistency of design and in house sound signature. Sound is subjective, so when a brand holds the same kind of tuning in most of their devices it becomes clear for a buyer to decide either he should buy a product from a certain brand or not. Now I had Shanling M0, M2X, MW100 before, and I was pretty much familiar with Shanling’s sound signature. So after trying I can say, Shanling didn’t disappoint me this time too.
Before starting the sound analysis; I should mention that to get the best out of UP4 you must have to use either Dual DAC mode (Single Ended) or balanced mode. The overall sound signature of UP4 is close to neutral and the main focus on resolution and detail retrieval. Overall an uncolored sound is what you can expect from UP4.
The lower frequency part has been presented linearly, neither too boosted nor totally off. Both the sub-bass and mid-bass remains adequately prominent with a punch. The harmony between Sub-bass and Mid-bass is extraordinary. Overall the Bass is tight and well- behaved. The quality and quantity of bass are enough to do justice with bass-heavy tracks. The speed is fast and decay is perfect. Songs like ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ by Daft Punk sounding very good and I can feel rumble too.
Neutral sounding audio gears often produce a thin and artificial midrange. But Shanling UP4 is still able to produce a sweet transparent midrange. No particular emphasis on either Upper-mids or Lower-mids and both male and female vocals sounding natural. The timbre is good and the separation between vocals and instruments is perfect. Songs like ‘Three O’Clock Blues’ by Eric Clapton & B.B. King sounding fresh and engaging.
ESS’s old DAC chips were very notorious when comes to highs. But their recent chips don’t have such glares in the higher frequency area. UP4 has been using two ESS9218P chips and producing extended highs. Now as soon as I say extended, that doesn’t mean harsh-sounding. UP4 is producing airy and spacious highs with clarity and definition. With already treble boosted IEM you may feel the harshness a bit but other than that nothing to worry about with UP4.
Soundstage and Instrument Separation
Though producing good imaginary stage and instrument separation depends on your earphone/headphone but DACs do have some role in it. After using Shanling UP4 I can say that; you can enjoy great soundstage and instrument separation if your IEM is capable enough. UP4 straightforwardly doing its job in this area.
After the latest firmware update, Shanling UP4 also can be used as a USB DAC with your phone or PC. No separate driver is required for PC. But as no OTG cable has been provided in the box, you may have to buy a third-party one. I am using the DDhifi cable and UP4 working as a USB DAC with my phone. Sadly as a USB DAC, it is only limited to 16bit 48KHz. As a USB DAC, UP4 sounding a bit better than wireless mode too.
The obvious comparison with Shanling UP4 is Fiio BTR5. Both the devices have almost similar specifications and support the same range of Bluetooth codecs. Now I have purchased UP4, there is no point buying another same kind of device. But thankfully two of my friends have BTR5 which I borrowed to do this comparison. So here are some
Fiio BTR5 vs Shanling UP4
There is a price difference between these devices. Depending on the region UP4 is 10-15$ cheaper than BTR5.
Design & Build
Both the devices have the same design principle. Glass on the front and back with a metal structure. Both have 2.5mm, 3.5mm, and USB type C port. BTR5 is taller and slimmer where UP4 is short and wide. The only design difference they have, BTR5 has a tiny display and some extra operational buttons that UP4 doesn’t have. Instead, UP4 has a multifunction rotary wheel, mode button and multicolor status LED. Build wise UP4 feels more solid in hand.
UP4 and BTR5 come with almost the same accessories set. The shirt clip/Cover of BTR5 is good in quality but the USB cable is short and weak where UP4’s shirt clip/Cover is not so solid but the supplied USB cable is long and strong.
Display or LED
BTR5 has a small screen to show battery percentage, codec, and volume figures which UP4 does using a multicolor LED. Now having a display is helpful but only when it is placed on the desk. It doesn’t have any benefit when BTR5 hanging from your shirt. Now UP4’s LED status is a bit confusing and needs some time to memorize which could be annoying for some people.
To control the BTR5, there are several buttons present where in UP4 only two buttons. Now having separate control buttons are really useful but the multipurpose rotary wheel also performs well in most of the cases. Like if the UP4 is in my pocket and I want to increase or decrease the volume, I just have to rotate it but in BTR5, it’s a bit difficult task.
I have to admit that the Fiio control app is much more mature and can do a lot of work where the Shanling Control app is very basic. Hope Shanling will add more features to the app in the future.
Battery life in a portable battery-powered device is the main factor and for this particular reason I have chosen UP4 rather than BTR5. BTR5 takes around 1.6-1.7 hours to fully charge itself where UP4 need always 2 hours. But when comes to battery backup, UP4 is a way ahead. In ideal condition (LDAC+FLAC +High Gain) BTR5 lasts only 7 hours in an unbalanced connection and around 6 hours in a balanced connection. Shanling UP4 on the other hand can give 11 hours (Unbalanced) and 9 hours (Balanced) of battery backup.
Sound and Output power
In practical day to day life both the devices sound identical. With critical listening, BTR5 sounds a bit warmer and than UP4. Again when comes to resolution and detail retrieval UP4 is much more capable here. Soundstage production of BTR5 is a bit better but Imaging is superior in UP4. Fiio BTR5’s single-ended output is not at all powerful but UP4 in dual DAC mode can do a better job. As per figures in balanced mode, BTR5 has more power than UP4 but practically the gap is not so huge.
As a USB DAC Fiio BTR5 works better than UP4. BTR5 has specific ASIO drivers and also supports 32-bit decoding but UP4 is limited up to 16bit.
So to me, it is a tie between BTR5 and UP4. Buyers have to decide either they want the superb battery life of Shanling UP4 or the flexible USB DAC function of BTR5.
After using Shanling UP4 intensely for more than 1 month, it’s hard to find any flaw in it. It solves every purpose it’s designed for. Extremely good battery life, neutral tuning with the rich midrange, and exceptionally detailed sound. Once you have it, it would become an essential audio gear to you as it has done with me.