Shanling UA5 USB DAC/AMP Review
Shanling UA5 USB DAC/AMP Review
Shanling was founded in 1988 in China and began to develop audio products and launched their first Hi-Fi stereo amplifier in the same year. Shanling is a high-tech company combining R&D, production, processing and sales of products, including Hi-Res portable music players, portable DAC/Amplifiers, Hi-Fi headphones/In-Ear Monitors, SACD/CD players, Hi-Fi amplifiers, power conditioners and many other Hi-Fi products.
The UA5 is the latest member and the flagship model of the Ultra Portable USB (dongle) DAC/Amplifier segment of the company and comes with some interesting features such like Dual ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M flagship grade DAC’s and dedicated 2x Ricore RE6863 amplifier. Moreover, it offers both 3.5mm SE + 4.4mm Balanced analog and SPDIF digital output, a 1.44-inch Monochromatic OLED Display and is also the first portable DAC/AMP dongle on the market with a build-in lithium battery that allows it to run in a special “Hybrid Power” mode to increase the sound performance.
I would like to thank Shanling for providing me the UA5 review sample. I am not affiliated with Shanling beyond this review and these words reflect my true and unaltered, opinions about the product.
Price & Availability:
The actual price of the Shanling UA5 is 235.00 US$. More information’s can be found under the link below;
Package and Accessories:
The Shanling UA5 came in a small square shaped black box with a fancy illustration of the product on the top surface.
Inside the box are the following items/accessories;
- 1 x Shanling UA5 Ultra Portable USB DAC/Amplifier
- 1 x USB Type-C to USB Type-C OTG Cable
- 1 x USB Type-C to USB A adapter
- 1 x Print Material (Quick Start Guide Warranty card)
Shanling offers very fancy leather case that comes inside a separate box for free together with the UA5. You can choose the color while placing your order. The case is available in 3 different color options which are black, grey and brown.
The case that came with my UA5 sample unit is in grey and looks very stylish.
The surface of the case has a “nubuck” like finish, which is soft and fancy.
Design, Buttons and Build Quality:
The Shanling UA5 is a stellar looking Ultra Portable USB DAC/Amplifier that is available in two different color options, one red and one in black color like my review unit.
It’s a solid device that gives you immediately the impression that you hold something very premium in your hand. Moreover, it is pretty lightweight with just 29 grams and has a quite compact size with dimensions of 68x27x13.5mm.
On the front of the UA5 are some bandings and a Monochromatic 1.44-inch OLED display, which gives you access to multiple settings directly on the UA5, without need any additional APP (Application) or mobile phone/tablet.
The main menu on the display gives you useful information’s about the current code, volume, gain setting, and battery status.
At right surface of the UA5 is the stylish looking “Multi Functional Wheel” that has a nice finish in gold color, which acts as a Volume, Navigation and Confirmation tool.
The surface of the “Multi Functional Wheel” has a milled surface for a better sense of grip and control. You can access sub menus by long press (2 seconds) the “Multi Functional Wheel”, which are settings like Gain, DAC Filter, Screen Orientation, Time Out, etc.
On the top of the UP are the Analog outputs, which are the 3.5mm Single Ended (TRS), 4.4mm Pentaconn Balanced (TRRRS) interfaces.
At the bottom of the device is the USB Type-C port that works for charging and digital sound input purposes and a small LED status indicator.
At the rear surface of the UA5 are some product related brandings, the Hi-Res Audio Logo and some technical detail & industrial certifications (CE, CCC, etc.).
- Model : UA5
- DAC Chips : 2x ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M
- OPAMP : 2x Ricore RE6863
- Output Ports : 3.5mm Single Ended, 4.4mm Balanced
- Hi-RES Support : 32 Bit/ 768kHz & DSD512 (USB) / 24 bit/ 192kHz (SPDIF 3.55mm)
- Digital Filter : 7 DF Option
- Battery : 220 mAh
- Battery Life : 6 Hours for 3.5mm SE, 3 Hours for 4.4mm Balanced
- Output Power 3.5mm : 2.1V @32Ω (137mW)
- Output Power 4.4mm : 2.6V @32Ω (211mW)
- Output Impedance : 0.8 Ω (Single Ended) / 1.6 Ω (Balanced)
- Frequency Response : 20Hz-50kHz (-0.5dB)
- SNR : 121dB (Single Ended) / 116dB (Balanced)
- Channel Separation : 77dB @32Ω (Single Ended) / 110dB @32Ω (Balanced)
- THD+N : 0.0005% @ 32Ω (A-Weight@1V)
- Dimensions : 68mm x 27mm x 13.5mm.
- Weight : 29 grams
Hardware and Functionality:
The Shanling UA5 is a small but versatile USB DAC/Amplifier that is equipped with some powerful hardware specs such like 2x ES9038Q2M DAC Chips, 2x RT6863Amplifiers, Digital SPDF out, In-House Developed FPGA and many more that I will now show in depth for you.
DAC (Digital to Analog Converter):
The Shanling UA5 is equipped with 2x ES9038Q2M flagship grade DAC’s (Digital to Analog Converters) of the company ESS Technology. The 9038Q2M comes with ESS patented 32-bit HyperStream® architecture, which offers a decent THD+N, Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR), Dynamic Range and Crosstalk performance.
It delivers a SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio) of 121dB over both the 3.5mm Single Ended and 116dB from the 4.4mm Balanced (TRRRS) output @32Ω (A-weighted). The Total Harmonic Distortion (THD+N) is 0.0005% over both outputs.
The ES9038Q2M DAC Chip inside the Shanling UA5 handles up to 32-bit 768kHz PCM and Native DSD512 data in master or slave timing modes. Custom sound signature is supported via a Digital Filter (DF) with 7 presets.
Connectivity (Input/Output) / Amplification / Hissing:
The Shanling UA5 is equipped with both 3.5mm Single Ended (TRS) and 4.4mm Pentaconn Balanced (TRRRS) outputs. The UA5 offers a truly balanced audio architecture, which means that each channel is driven separately from the other with its own DAC and amplifier.
The Shanling UA5 is equipped with 2x Ricore RT6863 amplifiers. The 3.5mm Single Ended headphone out is capable to deliver an output power of 137mW @32Ω (2.1V), while the 4.4mm Balanced headphone out offers 211mW @32Ω (2.6V) that is quite impressive for such a small device.
The Shanling UA5 offers two gain options which are Low & High gain that can be easily selected over the “Multi Functional Wheel”.
The both the 3.5mm Single Ended and the 4.4mm (TRRRS) Balanced output do show a pretty clean background with almost zero hissing.
The Shanling UA5 is compatible with almost any type of source including Android, Windows, Mac, Apple iOS devices without to install any driver (Windows 8/10/11) and even your Nintendo Switch. Shanling offers a compatibility mode for gaming devices like the Switch that can be activated by holding the “Multi Functional Wheel” down while connecting it to the device to switch the UA5 to the UAC1.0 mode.
The 3.5mm output of the UA5 works also as SPDFI Coaxial output, but you need a 3.5mm TRRS cable to use this function.
Hybrid Battery Powering System:
When enabled, certain sections of UA5 will still be running on USB power, like USB Controller and FPGA. But the crucial parts of DAC and amplifier will instead use a cleaner power from the battery 220 mAh, which offers a battery life of about 6 Hours over the 3.5mm SE out and 3 Hours for 4.4mm Balanced headphone output.
The Hybrid Set-Up is helpful in three scenarios:
- Consistent analog performance and noise floor, independent from the quality of USB power of the connected device.
- Reduced power drain from the connected device, which can be crucial when running it with Smartphone.
- Reduced power demand allows for a compatibility with certain devices that are normally unable to provide enough power for USB DAC/Amps.
UA5 is capable of running in a standard USB Powered mode, in which the battery is completely disconnected and all sections of UA5 runs out of USB power. UA5 will automatically switch to this mode when the battery runs too low.
List of Features:
- Monochromatic 1.44-inch OLED display, giving access to multiple settings directly on the UA5, without any need for an app on the phone.
- Volume wheel for an independent volume control. Also serving as a menu navigation.
- 3.5mm Single-ended and 4.4mm Balanced outputs.
- Possible to switch between full USB Power and Hybrid Battery Power mode. In Hybrid mode, DACs and amplifiers are using clean power from the build-in 220 mAh battery.
- Fully balanced circuit with two ESS ES9038Q2M DACs and two dedicated Ricore RE6863 amplifiers.
- Digital SPDIF coax output through 3.5mm connector.
- Compatible with Android, Windows, Mac and iOS. Special lightning cable needed for use with iOS.
- UAC2.0 and UAC1.0 mode compatible, for use with a Nintendo Switch and other gaming systems or older devices.
- Hi-Res support up to 32bit / 768khz and DSD512
- Output power 137 mW @ 32 Ohm SE // 211 mW @ 32 Ohm Balanced.
- USB-C Connector. USB-C to USB-C cable and adapter to USB-A included in the packaging.
- Available in black or red anodized aluminum.
Equipments used for this review:
- Devices : Shanling UA5, Lotoo PAW S1
- IEM’s : Shanling ME700 Lite, FiiO FD7, Oriveti OV800, HiBy Crystal6
- Headphones : iBasso SR2, SIVGA Phoenix
Albums & tracks used for this review:
- Adele – My Little Love (Spotify)
- Randy Crawford – On Day I Will Fly Away (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Hayley Westenra – Odyssey Album (Dezzer HiFi)
- Dionne Warwick – Walk On By (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Sarah McLachlan – Angel (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
- Sertap Erener – Aşk (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Edith Piaf – Non Je Ne Regrette Rien (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Diana Krall – So Wonderful (DSF)
- Aretha Franklin – I Say A Little Payer (Flac 24bit/96kHz)
- David Bowie – Heroes (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
- Elton John – Rocket Man ((Flac 24bit/96kHz)
- Barry White – Just The Way You Are (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
- Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Sting – Englishman in New York – (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
- Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight (Flac 24bit/96kHz)
- B.B. King – Riding With The King (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- Dave Gahan – Kingdom (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- U2 – Sunday Bloody Sunday (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Bro Safari, UFO! – Drama (Deezer HiFi)
- Armin Van Buuren – Vini Vici (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Really Slow Motion – Deadwood (Deezer HiFi)
- Massive Attack – Angel (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
- Lorde – Royal (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
- Toutant – Rebirth (Deezer HiFi)
- Gogo Penguin – Raven (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
- Portishead – It Could Be Sweet (Spotify)
- Charly Antolini – Duwadjuwandadu (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
- Michael Jackson – Billie Jean (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
- Ferit Odman – Look, Stop & Listen (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
- Chopin – Nocturn No. 20 In C-Sharp Minor (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Fazıl Say – Nazım Oratoryosu (Live) (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Vivaldi – Le QuarttroStagioni “The Four Season” (Deezer HiFi)
- Otto Liebert& Luna Negra – The River (Flac 24bit/192kHz)
- Lunatic Soul – The Passage (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Deftones – My Own Summer (Shove it) (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Photek – The Hiden Camera (Spotify)
- Muse – Hysteria (Flac 24bit/48kHz)
- Metallica – Sad but True (Flac 24bit/96kHz)
- Opeth – Windowpane (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Megadeth – Sweating Bullets (Tidal Hi-Fi)
- Rush – YYZ (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Rush – Leave That Thing Alone (Flac 16bit/44.1kHz)
- Slayer – Angel of Death (Spotify)s
- Liquid Tension Experiment 2 – Acid Rain (Spotify)
- Yosi Horikawa – Bubbles (Spotify)
The Shanling UA5 is an Ultra Portable DAC/Amplifier with a pretty neutral tonality and balanced frequency response that delivers plenty of details thanks to its well implemented Dual ES9038Q2M DAC Chip in harmony with many other important hardware components.
The bass of the UA5 sounds clean and shows a good sense of authority with almost any earphone/headphone I have paired. The midrange on the other hand is reproduced with a decent level of transparency and resolution, while the treble area offers an above average clarity and extension.
Please note that my review below is mainly based to my sound impressions over the 4.4mm Balanced (TRRRS) output hooked to the HiBy RS6. I have used IEM’s & Headphones like the Shanling ME700 Lite, Oriveti OV800, HiBy Crystal6, FiiO FD7, iBasso SR2 and SIVGA Phoenix. This review has been written after a burn-in period of about 60 hours.
Bass / Midrange / Treble / Soundstage:
The lower frequency region of the Shanling UA5 stands out with its level of resolution and the sense of authority and dynamism that has been offered, while listen to IEM’s like the Shanling ME700 Lite, Oriveti OV800 and FiiO FD7 or headphones like the iBasso SR2 and SIVGA Phoenix.The subbass depth, intensity and control songs like Massive Attack’s “Angle”, Lorde’s “Royals” or Portishead’s “It Could Be Sweet” is on a decent level.
The Shanling UA5 has a pretty linear and close to neutral midbass response with very low amount of coloration. It sounds fast, clean and detailed with any IEM and Headphone that I have listen with it. Especially the sense of separation and control is admirable.
The bass speed from percussion instruments up to drums and guitars was decent especially with the FiO FD7, while the percussion instruments like bass drums or snare drums do satisfy in terms of dynamism. My only citric could come to the tonality which could be a tad warmer, which was normally a base character of previous Shanling products.
The midrange is one of the highlights of the Shanling UA5 especially in terms of clarity and resolution. The midrange of the UA5 shows tad warmer than neutral tonality and a highly transparent character with great sense of airiness and dynamism. It has not the warmest or fullest midrange tuning, but also doesn’t sound too dry or sterile.
The lower midrange region shows an average sense of depth and intensity, which could have created a tad more body. However, this area stands out with is clarity and resolution like the rest of the midrange. Male vocals and instruments such like electro guitars, cellos and trumpets are shown with a moderate level of depth and body, while rendering of micro details is simply outstanding.
Female vocals on the other hand are transparent, airy and quite detailed, especially for a device at this price range. Instruments like guitars are slightly bright and are shown with a decent level of extension, while violin and side flutes are bright and stirring thanks to the well adjusted upper midrange tuning.
The Shanling UA5 offers a pretty dynamic, detailed and well extending upper midrange presentation with decent grade of technicality that will surprise you for a device at this size and price level. The upper midrange transitions are in general fairly controlled and doesn’t shows any remarkable negative conditions such as over sharpness/brightness, especially if you pair the UA5 with a good earphones/headphones like the Shanling ME700 Lite, iBasso IT07 or iBasso SR2, while the HiBy Crystal6 that has a sharp upper midrange response doesn’t show the same decent synergy.
The treble range is another highlight of the Shanling UA5 that shows a performance that is above its price range in terms of clarity, micro detail retrieval, separation and extension. The brightness and tonality of this area depends highly on the character of your IEM/Headphone. IEM’s and Headphones that do have warmer and smoother treble character do shows a better synergy compared to already bright and treble focused (somewhat sharp & shouty) ones.
The treble range of the Shanling UA5 offers a pretty airy and spacious atmosphere when I do listen to songs from Chopin’s Nocturne’s up to Gogo Penguin’s fast an and complex passages. Treble intensive instruments like hi-hats are distinctive and are presented with a pretty successful level of extension, while crash and ride cymbals do sound quite clear and controlled when I listen to the UA5 with the FiiO FD7, Shanling ME700 Lite or iBasso IT07. However, it doesn’t pair that well with IEM’s like the HiBy Crystal6, which has fairly sharp and peaky treble character.
The Shanling UA5 has pretty spacious and airy soundstage atmosphere that is supported with a nicely dark background. This creates ideal conditions for fairly precise separation and placement of instruments and vocals. The soundstage shows an above average sense of wideness, while the depth of the stage is it shows slightly less depth.
Shanling UA5 versus Lotoo PAW S1:
The Lotoo PAW S1 is a warmish sounding DAC/AMP dongle with a full bodied and pretty musical presentation. The Shanling UA5 on the other hand offers more neutral tonality and less coloration form the lows up to the highs.
The subbass region of both devices is successful in term of depth and authority, while the UA5 offers better level of clarity in this area. The midbass region of the PAW S1 shows more body and impact, the tonality is also warmer compared to those of the UA5. The Shanling UA5 on the other hand follows a more natural and linear midbass response with better sense of dynamism, layering, clarity and overall resolution.
The Shanling UA5 has a more dynamic, transparent and detailed midrange presentation with higher sense of airiness and clarity, while the Lotoo PAW S1 follows a warmer tonality and a somewhat musical overall midrange character. The lower midrange of the PAW S1 shows slightly more body and depth that is especially audible when I listen to male vocals and strings like guitars or violas. The UA5 on the other hand, has a more pronounced, better extending and detailed upper midrange presentation, which makes it superior in terms of naturalness, realism and resolution of female vocal and instruments.
The Lotoo PAW S1 shows a smoother and more relaxed upper midrange and treble presentation compared to the Shanling UA5, which sounds more energetic and detailed. The treble region of the UA5 is able to create a higher sense of airiness and sparkle, while the treble presentation of the PAW S1 is warmer, bolder and slightly more musical in its tonality.
When it comes to the soundstage performance I can say that the Shanling UA5 has a cleaner and darker background which makes it more successful in terms of instrument separation, positioning and imaging. The soundstage of the UA5 offers a better sense f wideness, while the depth of the stage is pretty similar on both devices.
The Shanling UA5 is a great example that shows how far USB DAC/Amplifier in form of dongles has come in the past few years, both in terms of sound and hardware capabilities. The UA5 highly impressed with its neutral, clean, detailed and technically very capable sound reproduction. Moreover, the dongle offers a quite attractive design, solid build quality and features a very useful OLED screen, Multifunctional Wheel and a build-in battery that works great, especially on the go. All in all, the UA5 is a decent device for does, which don’t want to carry a full sized player, but also won’t give any compromises in terms of sound performance and usability.
Pos and Cons:
- + Neutral & Transparent Presentation
- + Overall Resolution from the Lows to the Highs
- + Technicality
- + Clean Background ideal for Sensitive IEM’s
- + OLED Screen, Multifunctional Wheel, Build-In Battery
- + Both 3.5mm SE & 4.4mm Balanced Outputs
- + Plenty of Output Power
- – Scales Better with not so Bright Earphones/Headphones
- – Maybe not your cup of tea if you prefer a warmer & fuller sound signature
- – No Apple Lightning Cable included to the standard package
Thank you for the Read!