Shanling UA3 Review

Shanling UA3 Portable USB DAC & AMP – Sound

 

The UA3 carries the essentials of Shanling’s house sound. It offers a warm, rich, and textured sound signature with adequate balance throughout the spectrum. It is not a reference or analytical sounding device and it does saturate the signature of whatever gear you pair it with, but for audiophiles who enjoy the slight warmth without technical capability being affected negatively, this device is a great option to consider.

It sounds smooth, forgiving, and rich while staying controlled and away from the “hot” parts of the frequency palette, such as the upper mids and the treble. I have tried various earphones and headphones with the UA3 and while it does not offer a huge driving power, it is perfectly suitable for the cans in my inventory (Deva, 58X, 660sHE-R9). It has a quiet background and there was no hissing with even sensitive IEMs such as the 8-ohm Yanyin Canon. Let’s take a closer look.

Low

The bass reproduction of the UA3 is textured and rounded with a good amount of sub-extension for the price. The bass feels full with a nice weight to it. It stays smooth no matter the genre and is able to carry a good amount of detail. It offers good PRaT, especially with capable in-ear monitors and headphones. Impact-wise it is impressive as well, it punches hard and deep when the track asks for it. It is quite enjoyable to listen to electronic genres with the UA3.

Mid

The midrange of the UA3 is smooth, articulate, and feels effortless. Upper-midrange is perfectly controlled with no sibilance or unwanted sharpness but compared to its rivals, the reproduction of upper-mid-based instruments feels a tad recessed. Cymbals follow the rest of the instruments from a step back, which may be a good or bad thing, depending on your personal preference.

The UA3 is not the DAC you’d choose for your mastering needs as it offers a relatively colored, saturated signature that is more forgiving towards badly mastered tracks on your library. The vocals have good authority and presence on the stage. Both female and male vocals sound smooth yet detailed and that is I believe, one of the finest traits of the UA3.

High

The UA3’s treble sounds smooth and offers good detail for the price. The treble tonality is good and the extension is controlled. Despite being slightly recessed, the UA3 offers a good amount of air and a sense of effortlessness in the presentation, which is quite good. The signature remains clean, free-of harshness/sharpness. Those with treble sensitivity will like how the UA3 manages to maintain the detail and clarity without having a forward treble.

Technical Capability

While the UA3 does not offer a huge staging, it is capable of accurately projecting the positioning of the instruments and vocals. The imaging and layering are great, especially in this price range. There is a good amount of air between the instruments and the sense of depth is great. PRaT-wise it does not feel particularly fast or slow and scales very well with capable monitors. The control of the UA3 is felt throughout the spectrum, the unit does not allow even extremely linear or thin-sounding IEMs to hurt the tonal balance, which is great.

Comparison

vs. Moondrop Dawn 4.4mm ($79 USD)

The Dawn is a lower-priced portable DAC & AMP dongle from Moondrop. It features Cirrus Logic’s CS43131 DACs in dual configuration and a balanced amp architecture. In my opinion, it is one of the most successful DAC & AMPs on the market along with E1DA’s 9038 series. Power-wise, both of the units offer similar numbers and during testing, I’ve verified that. The Dawn does not come with buttons and does not have a USB 1.0 switching feature. The UA3 draws less current so it’ll deplete the battery slower than the Dawn.

Let’s talk sound. The Dawn is more detail-prone, thanks to a flatter, less saturated signature. The UA3 is smoother and has more bass presence with better sub-extension. It is basically a trade. If you choose UA3 as your posion, you get to listen to a smoother, rounder yet almost equally resolving signature. If you choose Dawn as your poison, you’ll get a flatter, more revealing, airier, and more spacious signature. This is case-dependent, as both of the units are quite viable choices. To me, with ThieAudio Wraith headphones, I prefer the UA3 as it offers better, tighter low reproduction than the Dawn.

With Shozy’s Magma IEMs, I prefer Dawn as it is more revealing and the Magma needs that extra extension in the treble. As an Audiophile, I am always striving for good tonal balance, and gear synergy is one of the most important aspects of this hobby so select according to your cans/IEMs. You can’t really go wrong with either.

vs. Shanling UA5 ($235 USD)

I’m guessing you want to know more about where the extra $126 goes when upgrading from UA3 to UA5. Let’s dive in. The UA5 is the current flagship of the UA series. It utilizes ESS Technology’s dual ES9038Q2M flagship mobile chips. It features a small screen, an integrated battery, and hardware volume control via a physical knob. Size-wise both of the units are similar with UA5 being slightly taller. The material quality of both of the devices is great.

The UA5 is a more advanced UA3. It still shows characteristics of Shanling’s house sound but it has better detail retrieval, higher resolution, and more accurate tonality compared to the UA3. The UA5 has better treble extension, better upper mid extension, and offers slightly higher power.

It is a direct and definite upgrade to the UA3 and if you don’t have a DAP or any other source, I recommend getting the UA5 as it can tackle some of the higher-priced DAPs. You still have the rich, smooth sound signature but with a much better technical capability.

Last Words

First of all, it is very pleasing to see AKM back on the field. It’s also very impressive that Shanling quickly implemented the new AK4493SEQ chip and managed to design a great-sounding alternative to the world of dongles.

The UA3’s smooth and rich signature surely will please many audiophiles who enjoy a more rounded approach to sound. The UA3 is forgiving and a capable unit, which makes it a good all-rounder. I recommend trying it out as it is one of the great options around the hundred dollars mark.

Page 1: Shanling, Shanling UA3, Packaging & Accessories, Specs, Design & Build Quality, Features & Technology

Page 2: Sound, Low, Mid, High, Technical Performance, Comparisons, Last Words

4.5/5 - (249 votes)

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Long time Tech Enthusiast, an ambitious petrol-head, Yagiz likes his gadgets and always finds new ways into the tinkerer's world. He tries to improve anything and everything he gets his hands onto. Loves an occasional shine on the rocks.

1 Comment

  • Reply September 27, 2022

    mario

    Although LDOs and jitter clocks are included on the audio PCB, Shanling notes that the volume cannot be adjusted mechanically.

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