Shanling UA1 Portable DAC Review – Small But Exceptionally Good

Shanling UA1 DAC 1

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Current testing methodology is v1.2

Release Date
13 November 2020
Weight
‎40 g
Size
9.8 x 8.6 x 2.6 cm

The Shanling UA1 is a highly compact and portable DAC from the Shanling Digital Techno.

DAC stands for “digital-to-analog converter” and these devices are designed to enhance the quality of audio for headphones and earphones by converting it into an analog signal.

Shanling as a company has been making Hi-Fi products since 1988, from CD players to classy tube amplifiers to audio players and IEMs. Their consistent innovation and dedication have hoisted them as a prominent brand in their 30 long years in the industry.

The UA1 is one of their budget products. At $45, it’s highly regarded in the audio community and you’ll find out why in this detailed review.

Editor’s Pick

Shanling UA1 Portable DAC-Amplifier

A small gem that enhances the listening experience.

5/5
Price Range: $
Brand: Shanling
Shanling UA1 DAC Label

TL:DR;

The Shanling UA1 is a DAC that’s cute in size but big in power.

It’s rated at 80mW at 32ohms and has a very clean noise floor and it can power just about any earphone, even power-hungry and planar ones.

It’s reported by other users that it can power higher impedance headphones like the Sennheiser HD600 but with difficulty in doing so.

Overall, I enjoy using the UA1 for just about anything. I love its signature, which is a balanced one that’s slightly boosted on the low end.

Its warm, organic tonality, coupled with its amazing detail retrieval, makes it one of the best DAC dongles for its price range.

The Specs

  • Output Power:  1.6V@32Ω (80mW@32Ω)
  • Frequency Range:  20Hz-50kHz (-0.5dB)
  • Dynamic Range:  119dB@32Ω
  • Signal-to-Noise:  119dB@32Ω
  • Compatibility:  Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch

What’s in the Box?

  • Shanling UA1 DAC dongle
  • USB C to A converter

Stuff I like

  • Warm and organic tonality
  • Clarity
  • Good staging and dynamic range
  • Great detail retrieval

Stuff I like less

  • None at this price point

Comparable products to consider

FiiO KA1
FiiO KA1

The KA1 is a tidy little package that punches out some decent sound

First Impressions

The Shanling UA1 was something I got back when I started dipping my toes in the audio hobby. 

It was relatively cheaper than anything I knew back then and since Shanling was a company I already knew about, I decided to get the UA1 over other options. 

When I used it for the first time, I realized I didn’t have to turn up the volume as much to hear instruments or details better. The detail retrieval was drastically improved, but since I was using a Samsung phone with an average audio chip, that was clearly to be expected. 

Still, I’ve found that the chip on my Samsung A13 sounded better than my old Samsung A03 and despite that, the sound still managed to morph into something astronomically better. 

Shanling UA1 DAC - Size
Portable so you can use it whenever you need | Make Life Click

Using it on a laptop yielded the same reaction but I was completely blown away when I plugged it into my digital audio player (DAP). 

The soundstage was wider, the decay on the notes sounded more natural and the treble was still detailed but it became airier. 

It was a fantastic experience unlocking that secret thing DAC dongles do with DAPs. 

Build Quality

The build of the Shanling UA1 is superb. It comes in a black design with the brand name in pale gold writing.

Its body is made of metal and the cable is of high-purity copper that’s shielded. The joints on the wire are secured with a very sturdy silicone guard. 

I also like the feel of the USB C termination, when it’s plugged into any kind of port. 

They also included a USB converter, so you can use the UA1 with your laptop or computer. It’s compatible with a lot of operating systems. 

You can use it on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. It even works with the Nintendo Switch, which I’ve enjoyed playing on with dapped-up audio quality. 

Power

With its chip, the Shanling UA can supply 80mW at 32ohms. 

It can power any kind of earphone, even those that demand a lot of power, including even planar ones. For such a small device, that’s some good amplification. 

Other users say it can power an HD600 but it still has difficulty in doing so. And no kidding, the HD600 is rated at a whopping 300 ohms. It’s a high-impedance headphone. 

Shanling UA1 Portable DAC
With a cloth cover to protect the cable from breaking | Make Life Click

Of course, if you want good power with great portability, you won’t be looking to charge up some heavy-hitting high-impedance headphones. 

The best experience I got was when I used the Shanling UA1 o a very capable audio player. A year after getting the UA1, I bought a DAP, which is the Shanling M3X. I plugged the UA1 in it out of curiosity.

The soundstage of my DAP increased by twice its size and the decay became more noticeably natural and sweet. 

I discovered that pairing the M3X with the UA1 and a very warm earphone gave me the best results as the sound became brighter and more detailed. Doing this balances out the warmth while giving more shimmer and air. 

It’s worth noting that this experience is exclusive to the M3X and doesn’t happen when I’m listening to my phone or laptop. 

I’ve still yet to learn how this phenomenon works, but my overall theory is that the UA1’s digital output on its USB C bypasses the Shanling M3X’s DAC while retaining use over its amplifier in the signal path. This directly amplifies the UA1’s technicalities like its staging, making it perform better. 

Shanling UA1 DAC and USB Adaptor
USB C to A converter to connect to a lot of devices | Make Life Click

Sound Quality

The signature of the Shanling UA1 is a balanced neutral signature with a slight bass boost. 

It renders bass well, and in my experience, it elevates the boominess of the sub-bass and the dynamism of the mid-bass. 

The midrange is slightly forward to my hearing but not so much that it grabs the spotlight. It sounds loose and natural, plus it has a melodic focus to it. 

The treble is bright but smooth and doesn’t have peaks. 

Overall, the UA1 sounds very balanced and musical to listen to. The transient response is fairly speedy and has good timbral elements to it. 

As I mentioned in the beginning, you don’t have to turn the volume up so much with the UA1. This is partly because of its powerful ESS ES9218P chip. It’s also because it increases the dynamic range of the sound. 

Bass 

The bass on the Shanling UA1 isn’t majorly boosted, if only slightly boosted. 

Its representation of the bass is lush and warm with great oomph and dynamism. I find that compared to a de facto phone setup, the UA1 provides a powerful low-end with good texture and speed.

Shanling UA1 DAC - Felixibility
Flexible cable | Make Life CLick

I like how the signature is neutral but still musical and I believe that the tuning of the bass plays a great part in this.

Midrange

The midrange, I think, is the Shanling UA1’s central element, brought forward if only by a little. 

I feel like Shanling is good at tuning things to a certain degree if only to influence a minute experience. 

The vocals sound very intimate and come off with great clarity and cleanliness. The lower midrange sounds full-bodied and rich while the upper midrange brings a lot of energy and brightness without sounding sibilant. 

Treble

The treble of the Shanling UA1 is splashy and has good air to it. 

Its staging has great width and depth to it, rendering a super sense of layers to the soundscape. The treble is bright but doesn’t incur the wrath of the sibilance gods. 

In my book, it checks most, if not all, of the boxes I want for a treble response. The timbre and the decay of the transients are also done very well. 

Conclusion

All in all, if you look at the Shanling UA1 from a tuning standpoint, it’s hard not to be allured to it. 

It’s cohesive, musical, articulate, and bright, plus it has great detail retrieval and amplification. Its noise floor is completely pitch-black and has never been victim to interference even when the devices in use are around a strong current due to charging. 

The UA1 is an instant upgrade to any phone and that’s a guarantee – unless you’re using the LG one with quad DACs. 

Shanling UA1 DAC and headphone jack
Shanling UA1 and 3.5mm jack | Make Life Click

If you’re struggling to hear the minute nuances in your music and you want more details, the UA1 will come through.

If you’ve grown tired of blasting your ears with more than 80dB of volume just to hear your music better and you want a more dynamic range, the UA1 will also come through. 

If you are a fan of clarity but prioritize musicality over a sterile and over-analytical signature, then the UA1 will come through. 

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS ONE?
Shanling UA1 Portable DAC

In my opinion, everyone should own a small DAC dongle. I often find myself in a sour fit when the music I listen to just sounds dull especially when I know it doesn’t sound like that in actuality. 

A lot of listeners don’t know how Hi-Fi sounds and they’d end up being satisfied with just about anything that makes sound. 

If you’re thinking about dipping your toes in the audio hobby, getting the Shanling UA1 is the best way to spend as little as possible while getting a lot in return.

Shanling UA1 DAC - Felixibility
Shanling UA1 Shanling UA1 Portable DAC
Sound Quality
Build Quality
Value for money
5

Gavin is a college student who has a lot going on. From collecting IEMs and modding mechanical keyboards, to different hobbies like digital drawing, music mastering and cooking. It is safe to say he is a complete multi-faceted geek (and he's kinda cool too)

This post was last updated on 2024-05-28 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.


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