For the purpose of this review, I used the Beyerdynamic DT900 Pro X, the Nostalgia Audio Camelot, and the all-new FiiO FF5. All files were streamed from Spotify and Apple Music, in Hi-Res when available, and my own catalog.
Without much of a surprise, the Shanling H7 offers one of the best performance I heard on a portable DAC. And so, whatever the source – even if Bluetooth was a bit below USB and direct storage.
Gorgeous lows, astounding voices, clear highs, everything sounded amazing right off the bat and paired with the Meze 109 Pro, the result was superb. And if on paper, the Q7 should take the lead, with superior (theoretical) numbers, in real-life conditions I found the H7 keener to my ears, especially when paired with my usual set of headphones – namely: the DT900 Pro X, Audeze LCD-X and now the Meze 109 Pro.
And, that’s true whether you use the 4.4mm output, or the classic 3.5mm / 6.35mm regular one. Sure, the TRRS plug is nice, with LOTS of power and fantastic channel separation, but the classic TRS – if not as good – surprised me with solid, powerful, lows, even in low gain, low volume.
However, if you really want to get the most out of your Shaling H7, definitely favor the 4.4mm output. With every headphone I tried, Audeze LCD-X, Sennheiser HD800S, Meze Empyrean, I was completely engulfed by the sound. Truly, it’s astonishing to think that nowadays, a DAC/AMP the size of a pocket battery, can confidently drive those massive cans, and display zero to no distortion at high volume. Even my old HiFiman HE-6, I got more sound pressure than I’d ever expected, even if the FiiO Q7 still win the power battle hands down, thanks to its super-high gain mode.
Paired with more “regular” headsets, like the Beyerdynamic DT900 Pro X and Sennheiser HD800S, with the TRS port, the DAC remained unfazed, exposing natural, poised mids, and I could easily pinpoint each instrument, or vocalist, in the space. Texture, layering, soundstage, overall finesse, everything is enhanced to a supreme degree, enlightening even micro-details I was previously unaware of. And if I still prefer the ESS sound signature, AKM has those marvelous mid-highs, that keep on improving year after years
In fact, if the Q7 should remain the professional DAC for sound engineers, the H7, on the other hand, could be an astute substitute for an old high-end sedentary DAC, like my Cayin DAC-6 for example. Heavy fare never gave the H7 any trouble, whether it was electro, jazz, classical, or even rock tracks, and, even compared with the Chord Mojo 2, at the end of the day, I’d still prefer the H7.
And, if Shanling only offers three levels of gain (low/mid/high) those were able to fit every type of headset/IEM I own. Personally, I mostly switched between low and mid as the low level proved to be sufficient with almost all of my IEMs, and the mid enough for all of my headphones. A feat on its own already but, on top of that, the DAC delivers one of the cleanest, blackest soundstage I ever heard on a DAC, only beaten to the spot by the Tempotec Variations V6, beating the Shanling by a hair’s breadth on this aspect.
And, after a few week of listening, the DAC/AMP outmatched all and every device I own in this price range and above, battling with the FiiO Q7 for the title of the best portable DAC/Amp, below the $1000 price fact. Moreover, with the RCA output, the H7 was able to challenge many of my desktop gear, like my HiFiman EF400, or even my SMSL DO200+HO200 setup – and the frontier between desktop and portable was blurred more than once.
All in all, the delicate finesse of the AKM DAC, combined with large power reserve and flawless linearity, delivered the high-end experience you’d expect from a real desktop DAC/Amp, at half that price, unbeatable!
Long story short, a true TOTL, through and through, again!
Highs: gorgeous. Once more, AKM is just flexing here, and the H7 outputs one of the best upper range I had the chance to listen to, in this price range.. It’s always on point, magically accurate, and, even at low or super high volume, the DAC was able to output a lot of information, pretty much like the Chord Mojo II – the other gem. Amazing!
Mids: fast transients, majestic soundstage. Voices have always been good on Shanling devices, and the H7 takes that to new heights. This is especially true with big cans and high-end IEM, who love its large power reserve, but even paired with my cheap-but-fantastic DT900 Pro X. I love it!
Lows: almost perfect. The Texas Instruments amps are lovely but, truth be told, I prefer the THX-AAA which go even deeper in this sonic range. While I was listening at Flight of the Cosmic Hippo, the H7 achieved an impeccable performance, but didn’t reach the level of awesomeness I heard on the Q7. It’s superb, but not as much as the FiiO – almost!
Tracks : Way down we go – Kaleo
Noise and power
Noise: nothing to say, it’s dead silent, and my hypersensitive Onkyo could not spot anything, even with Bluetooth turned on. Of course, the higher the gain, the higher the noise, but I couldn’t discern more than a faint, faint, breeze when put in turbo mode. EMI shielding did a great job and I never encountered any parasites or any real buzz during my listening.
Power: gigantic power, Shanling offers three different levels of gain for its DAV. If low was already powerful enough to drive my DT900 Pro-X, the mid-level was the one I used for 90% of my headphones, even with the Audeze LCD-X. Obviously, if you want to drive cans like Sennheiser flagship, you can raise to high, or go balanced.
Line out: for those who need one, the Line-out is simply wondrous. With a full-sized RCA port, I could connect my speakers without any adapter and got a true, pre-amp free, line-out. A true Swiss knife, for audiophiles.
Mark my words: with the H7 Shanling provides us one, if not the, best sub $1,000 portable DAC/AMPs.
Sound performance is exquisite, and the versatility is almost unrivalled. It’s both a DAC, a DAC/AMP, AND even a DAP! And, if not as powerful as the FiiO Q7, it’s also twice as light, making it infinitely easier to carry on a daily basis.
Pair it with a good set of headphones (Meze or Beyer) or some nice IEMs (those yummy GE800) and you’ll be set up for years! A no-brainer, outperforming almost every DAC/Amp available at the time of writing, giving you the perfect setup on a go!
So yes, this DAC/AMP goes directly in our recommendation list, and if you’re out for a TOTL on the cheap, you should definitely try this one first, or at least add it to your list.
- Great sound thanks to AKM AK4499EX chip
- Excellent versatility with more features that you’ll ever need
- TOTL DAC/Amp for a premium price only
- only 10h of playback, or 8h in balanced mode
- still a bit bulky to be really called “nomad”
How would this compare to the ifi Diablo?
No comparisons? How does it perform against other portable DACs like Gryphon, Mojo 2…
Hi there. Do i need to charge it prior to using it connected to my laptop? Or is charge not needed when connected via usbc on my laptop?