For this review, I chose to pair the Shanling UA1 with the AE3. Those have been my in my bag for a few months now and, like the DAC, I always find someplace to keep them, wherever I go.
To connect my iPhone, I used the ddHiFi TC28i, instead of the CCK from Apple.
Out of the box, the UA1 immediately reminded me of the previous generation DAP sound signature.
Not only does it share the exact same DAC, but it also shares the same sound signature. Although, it’s definitely not as powerful as prior devices, and you’ll mostly use it with IEMs or less demanding headphones.
As promised in the product sheet, the UA1 absolutely dead silent, even with super sensitive IEMs like my Onkyo IE-C3. I tried various sources and every time, I was pleased to hear the same pitch-black background
The soundstage is good, there are no real caveats and if the bass seemed a bit thin, it’s still a good improvement compared to Apple’s dongle, for example. Even more, if you feed this DAC with high-rate files like Tidal, Qobuz, or Amazon Musics, where you’ll definitely feel the difference.
Out of curiosity, I plugged my Audeze LCD-1 and the UA1 was able to push the drivers far beyond what I expected. It’s not deafening loud, but compared to the TC35i for example, you can hear a good improvement.
Long story short: it works well with sensitive IEM/CIEM, and if you want to use a headphone, favors mellow ones like the Meze.
Highs: dry cleaning. The Shanling UA1 offers a good level of resolution and scales up easily with Hi-Res files. There is a good level of air combined with low distortion, even at high volume, and through all my listening, I could feel the usual Sabre touch, even if more discrete,
Mids: open and forward. Vocals and acoustic tracks were and an easy job for the UA1 even more once paired with a good IEM. The soundstage seemed wide enough on my Onkyo and I was surprised by how well it matched with the Shanling AE3.
Lows:slightly recessed. The UA1 struggled to reach the lowest notes and sub rumble, with my LCD-1. The power output isn’t enough to push the drivers hard enough, even if it can get pretty loud. With my IE-C3 and AE3 however, I didn’t encounter this issue and was able to get enough lows to meet my needs. Hurray
The Shanling UA1is a nice little DAC, capable of great lengths once paired with a good IEM. Sound quality is good, as is the build quality, and the conception design makes it the perfect companion for your smartphone.
It won’t replace your Dragonfly, Eagle or Hi-mDAC, if you’re seeking a true audiophile experience on the go. But, if you want a cheap/sturdy solution, that allows you to use your hi-res streaming subscription, this is a good option.