Shanling is known both for its high-quality in-ear monitors as well as its renowned DACs and audio players. Their newest Portable DAC and follow-up to their popular UA2, the UA5, was just released and is already receiving rave reviews. At $235, it isn't cheap, especially when it comes to portable DACs. Today I'm going to test if the UA5 is an essential tool for any on-the-go audiophile or if it's an over-bloated headphone adaptor.
What’s in the Box
- Shanling UA5 Portable DAC
- USB Adaptor
- USB-C Cable
- User Guide
Look and Feel
The Shanling UA5 is the best sounding lighter you'll ever own. This thing is incredibly portable and very intuitive to control, with only a single gold dial controlling all functionality. The dial can be pushed in to access other functions, and only amounts to 3 total commands (long press, short press, turn). The long-press can be used to enter or exit the settings menu. When in the settings menu, a short press cycles to the next option and the dial adjusts the value. In standby, the dial adjusts volume and a short press turns the screen on and off, very simple and hassle-free. The UA5 both looks and functions in a very simple yet elegant manner.
For such a small DAC, the UA5 has a ton of features. It has a 6hr battery life, which you have the option of charging when connected to a host, running off its internal battery, or hybrid mode which allows both. It has two Ricore RT6863 amplifiers which serve as a natural pairing for the ESS DAC chips, assuring proper drive to your headphones. The UA5 has both 3.5mm and 4.4mm SPDIF outputs and connects to the host via USB-C. While the USB-C is handy, it didn't come with a lightning adaptor, which might be alienating to iPhone users. The UA5 also has a control app, Shanling's Edditct Player App, which allows for even more customization options.
Eddict Player App
The UA5's parent app, Eddict Player, is not so much a customization software for the UA5; doing that is easy enough with the DAC's built-in controls. Instead, Eddict Player is a hub for your music and Shanling devices. You can sync your libraries and use it to play your tracks, similar to iTunes, but with the added benefit of features like EQ, custom library scans, and Shanling's signature lossless playback sound.
Equipment used for the test:
- Moondrop Blessing 2 In-Ear Monitors
- iPhone 11
- FiiO LT-LT1 USB-C to Lightning Adaptor
The Soundstage on the UA5 is robust and highly mix-accurate. I felt no real liberties taken, just the mix as it was intended. I thought the imaging sounded clear and provided a good amount of space, compared to not using a DAC which can sometimes lead to spatial cluttering. The UA5 has a soundstage that feels both accurate and appealing.
The Frequency Spectrum
Throughout the frequency spectrum, the UA5 sound incredibly clear and responsive. Every part of the spectrum is represented clearly and evenly, with little accentuation. I can tell Shanling wanted a more studio-accurate, pristine sound for the UA5, and they succeeded. At times it felt a bit too pristine, and I would have liked some more warmth in the lows rather than the surgical precision, but that comes down to taste, and the UA5 does surgical precision incredibly well.
Portable DACs are a gamble that many dismiss as unnecessary. While I never considered myself on either side of the debate before, I can say now that the UA5 has left a remarkable impression on me. Portable DACs are great for anybody who wants to be on the go without sacrificing sound quality, and the UA5 is one of the most impressive portable DACs I've seen. While the sound character might sound a bit more digital than I'm used to, it still sounds great and brings every detail to the forefront. I can't wait to see what Shanling does after this.
You can buy the Shanling UA5 here