Today we in this two page article, review the $235 USD Shanling UA5 portable USB DAC/AMP dongle.
Disclaimer: We were sent the UA5 USB DAC/AMP for this review, free of charge. I only covered the customs fees & taxes. As always, I am here to share my honest opinion with you.
Founded in 1988, Shanling has been developing Hi-Fi products for more than 30 years now. From high-end CD players to classy tube amps, the brand made a name thanks to great craftsmanship and top-of-the-line performances. The brand also developed a complete range of portable players, IEMs, and wireless devices. You can check our previous Shanling reviews here. Shanling produces successful products in many fields, thanks to both material quality and well-implemented technology. Today we’re going to take a look at the Shanling UA5.
Shanling’s newest DAC/AMP dongle, the UA5. In this article, we will evaluate the sound performance, build quality, and usage of the UA5 and try to cover all the other details. Nowadays, we see that the costs of DAPs are steadily increasing and we are witnessing that audiophiles who are looking for affordable and good-quality source devices are turning to USB DAC/AMPs and their number is increasing every passing day. Let’s get to the review, without further ado.
Shanling names the series of portable DAC/AMPs they designed, the UA series. There are currently 3 products available. The UA1, UA2, and UA5. The UA1 and UA2 are simpler, more straightforward products compared to the UA5. The Shanling UA5 is Shanling’s first USB DAC to come with a standalone hardware volume control, a hybrid battery mode, SPDIF, and an integrated display. Furthermore, Shanling did squeeze many good-quality components inside a tiny chassis.
The UA5 comes with dual ESS ES9038Q2M DACs and two dedicated Ricore RE6863 op-amps. The UA5 comes with the new Hybrid Battery Power Mode. When you enable the hybrid battery power mode from the device menu, the DACs and amplifiers will be using the clean power from the built-in 220mAh battery, instead of the shared current from the phone. Also, the UA5 is the first USB DAC from Shanling to come with a built-in Monochromatic 1.44-inch OLED display. The screen makes navigating much easier and faster while providing info during music playback to the user. The UA5 has a few more tricks under the sleeve, but let’s save those for the next paragraphs. Now, I would recommend taking a look at this impressive list of highlights and specs.
Specifications & Highlights
Dual ESS9038Q2M DAC Chips
Dual Ricore RE6863 OP Amps
Hybrid Power Mode (220mAh Battery)
3.5mm SPDIF Support
Monochromatic 1.44-inch OLED display
Anodized Aluminum Chassis
UAC 1.0 & 2.0 Support
32-bit/384kHz, DSD512 Support
3.5mm SE & 4.4mm BAL HPOs
SE 137 mW @32Ω | BAL 211 mW @32Ω
Packaging & Accessories
The UA5 comes in a small flat box. The box has a black semi-gloss finish. In the middle, the design scheme of the UA5 is depicted as an outline. The lines of the diagram have some kind of chromatic coating and glow rainbow colors under the light. I have to say that I find the box design very simple yet elegant and I absolutely love it. The back of the box has specs and highlights of the unit and a barcode containing the unique serial of the product. When we open the box, we see a stylish foam compartment.
This compartment houses the product and a small USB-C to USB-A adapter. When we look just below, we see the USB-C to USB-C copper interconnect cable and a couple of manuals. That’s everything the unit comes with.
Design & Build Quality
If you have used Shanling products before, you may have noticed that Shanling has a design language. We see some lines of this design language in the UA5 as well. For example, it is possible to encounter the rounded edges of Shanling DAPs in the UA5 as well. The device is of the ideal size and takes up as much space as a cigarette lighter. The weight of the device is only 29 grams. The black, anodized finish highlights the gold-colored horizontal volume wheel. The volume wheel has an embossed design and has great tactile feedback. Overall, the device has a sleek design and feels premium.
The screen of the device is a monochrome OLED display and it gives us various information such as sample rate, active mode of the device, and volume level. It also makes it easy to navigate through the menus. There are 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone jacks on the top of the device. The USB-C connector is located at the bottom of the device. While I was checking out the design details of the device, I also noticed that the 4.4mm Pentaconn HP socket is gold plated, but the 3.5mm port has a plastic housing. We observed this design choice in a few more popular devices. It seems that the 3.5mm socket isn’t getting much love these days.
I really liked the design of the device and the quality of the materials used. I haven’t come across any CNC imperfection or assembly issues. I think Shanling has done a pretty good job with this product. It is quite impressive that there are no stickers anywhere on the device and that even the HiRes emblem is engraved on aluminum. Shanling has also designed several different cases for the UA5 and it is stated on their website that they are sold separately, but I have seen them included in the price at a few well-known retailers.
Shanling sent me the gray case and it has a texture that looks pretty cool. The stitching of the case is perfect and the PU leather they used feels very premium in hand. The cover has a pattern similar to cow-print, and parts of it glow when the light hits it. The case thickens the unit a little but provides good protection against scratches and drops.
Features & Technology
In this paragraph, we will take a closer look at the device from a technical point of view. We see that the ES9038Q2M, which is used in many desktop and portable products, is used in the device. This DAC is undoubtedly one of the most popular DACs of 2021-22. UA5 has 2 of these DACs. On the amp floor, a relatively unknown op-amp named RT6863 by Ricore is used. Capable of delivering 211mW to a 32-ohm load, the device offers similar power to its rivals. We see various LDOs and filtering equipment on the audio PCB. Interestingly, there is also a battery with a capacity of 220 mAh inside the UA5. What you need to know here is that the device cannot be powered by this battery alone. The sole reason for this battery’s existence is to supply clean power to the DAC & AMP chips.
When you turn on the “Hybrid Battery” mode from the device’s internal menu, the battery activates and starts supplying power to the DAC and AMP chips. This battery charges itself automatically when you turn the Hybrid Power off. You also have the option to charge the battery with a wall adapter. The battery provides up to 6h of clean power, with a full charge. When the battery depletes, UA5 switches off the Hybrid Power mode and automatically enables charging. The 220mAh battery can be charged under 30 minutes. Note that there is no downtime between the modes, you don’t wait for the battery or anything like that. You just lose the clean power, the device switches to normal mode and continues to operate. Additionally, the UA5 is UAC 1.0 and 2.0 compatible.
That means you can use it with your hand consoles such as Nintendo’s Switch or older devices that need UAC 1.0. One another interesting feature of the UA5 is the SPDIF support. The 3.5mm port comes with SPDIF capability. The device comes with a top-of-the-line USB controller and can decode DSD512. 32-bit 384kHz is supported and I use UAPP to get over the Android’s SRC. The device utilization is seamless and quick, we will talk more about it in the next chapter.
The review continues on Page Two, after the click here or by using the jump below.
Page 1: Shanling, Shanling UA5, Packaging & Accessories, Specs, Design & Build Quality, User Experience & Controls
Page 2: User Experience & Controls, Sound Signature, Low, Mid, High, Technical Performance, Comparisons, Last Words