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Shanling UA5 : The best you can get

INTRO:

If you know me, you must know that I am a huge supporter of Shanling ever since I got their yesteryear’s flagship DAP M5S. M5s was excellent with fantastic control and musical tuning. They followed it up with the M6 and it was the detail oriented DAP that got critical acclamation from both reviewers and users. The M3X is the budget kind and I don’t think there is anything better than the M3X under $400. I have reviewed their dongles too. The UA1 was one of the most musical dongles and I still think it is the best dongle for introduction to music on budget. They released the UA2 but I did get that. What I do have here with me is their flagship dongle DAC/Amp, Shanling UA5. First thing first, this dingle looks awesome. Houses a one of the most capable DAC chip in ESS 9038Q2M and has a display of its own.

UA5 comes in two colors, black gold and Red gold, is priced at $235 and goes head on against the L&P W2 and Paw S2. I will be comparing it with Fiio KA3 and Tri TK-2 in this review.

Read about it here:

https://en.shanling.com/product/415

Get one from this link:

For Indian buyers:

UNBOXING AND ACCESSORIES:

Just like most of the dongles UA5 too has simple set of accessories and the unboxing experience is straightforward. Simple box with the dongle and USB A adapter are placed upfront while the USB cable and some documents are placed under a paper cover. This is basically what we get with all the dongles but something like a carry case makes good amount of sense at this price.

BUILD QUALITY:

I have to mention, UA5 is not the smallest dongle in the market, in fact it is on the bigger side with a length of 68mm, width of 27mm and depth of 13.5mm. Shanling hasn’t explicitly mentioned but it’s safe to guess that UA5’s outer jacket is made out of metal and it feels robust to the hand. Both 3.5mm and 4.4mm jacks are sturdy and don’t have loose feel to them. Unlike older Shanling USB devices US5 has a few other things showoff. The bright gold wheel is the first thing take catches everyone’s eyes. It looks fantastic and has multipurpose use too. Another functional addition is the 1.4inch OLED display.

SPECIFICATIONS AND OPERATION:

Now now.. This dongle is loaded with stuff. Let’s start with the internals. It has dual 9038Q2M DACs for a fully balanced experience and these DACs have their own Ricore RT6863 amps delivering 211mw of balanced and 137mw of single ended power. It can decode 786 kHz, 32 bit and DSD upto 512x. This is good enough for most of the IEMs. But guess what, none of this is the USP of this dongle. UA5 has a trick under its belt. It has a built in 220mah battery for a hybrid power setup. If placed in this hybrid mode this battery will power the DAC and AMP for a cleaner output. Once the battery drop to 20% it goes back to USB power. Keep in mind that the battery life isn’t ground breaking, it can do 6hrs with single ended and 3hrs with balanced but this is a very good feature to have. This easily extends the battery life the source for couple of hrs. I can easily extract around 15hrs from my Redmi Note 10 pro. One can install the controller app to change settings from mobile devices.

Unlike most other dongles, UA5 can be used with consoles without any problem. Using it with PC is a piece of cake, Windows need drivers but MAC doesn’t. It can do SPDIF with the 3.5mm jack (needs compatible TRRS cable) too.

Here is my walkthrough video of the UA5.

SOUND QUALITY:

I have been using this as my primary source and I can state that UA5 is one of the most capable USB dongle DAC/Amp I have ever heard, considerably better than the L&P W1. Equipped with two ESS9038Q2M it has one of the cleanest and details and can take on budget DAPs with ease. It doesn’t try to tamper with the sound by adding extra warmth or thickness, keeping notes much closer to reality. Unlike the Fiio KA3 it doesn’t introduce extra energy for finishing definition but relies on its stage size and technical abilities to bring forth the natural attack and vivid presentation. It has one of the most neutral tonalities with a bit of tilt towards slightly less voluminous notes. This gives the UA5 a much more cleaner and precise feel. If you want a bit more musical feeling, choose the “slow roll off” filter for a bit more poise and weight across the spectrum. This slowness doesn’t affect the height or accuracy but it brings more body while reducing the dry feeling.

Bass:

UA5 has a tighter lower end without any bloating and muddiness. If paired it with a bassy IEM, UA5 will tame its anxiety and agitation, bringing better control and accuracy. It does not add anything of its own here but does restrict the IEM from being loose or wooly. It controls the decay speed too, making the notes less heavy and quicker. UA5 has a well defined lower end, very good details with excellent texture. Sub-bass extension is very good while the mid bass is a bit more voluminous with a punchy feeling giving the lower end required amount of body. Upper bass is nicely controlled without loosing any detail or definition.

Mid range:

Mid range is where the clarity is exceptional, pick any instrument, they all exhibit class leading definition and clarity. Its separation and layering is better than both W2 and TK2. The whole mid range has clean and precise feel to them. Yes, the body could have been a bit fuller but UA5 trades slight bit of volume and cohesion for higher quality accuracy and details. It’s nowhere near being sibilant or shouty but those who prefer smoother notes might find this slightly less musical and soothing but those who prefer precision will love this. Vocals too are precise, male vocals don’t lose texture or throaty feel and are aptly fuller. UA5’s marginally tighter notes help the female vocals with top notch resolution and definition.

Highs:

The problem with the good sounding L &P W1 was its lack of definition and energy at the treble region. UA5 takes care of this with a well balanced, sparkly and lively treble region, the extension is superlative too. UA5 very good transparency with micro details and airiness to enjoy the highs. It doesn’t have any piercing or uncomfortable attack, there is no discomfort but if you feel it’s a bit on the aggressive side, pick the slow roll off filter. Layering and separation is top notch with excellent transparency.

STAGE AND IMAGING:

UA5 is very good with its stage expansion. It has a well rounded stage with an excellent X-axis width and very good height. Z-axis depth is above average too. Imaging is something this little DAC/Amp excels at so much so that it has the best imaging and accuracy from a dongle. All the instruments have excellent positioning with very good air between them. UA5 has very good dynamics and the stage can flex a bit to accommodate extra bit of sonics. Instrument distribution is very good without any hollow or busier feeling at any point.

PAIRING WITH IEMS:

I have used this as my primary source and I can testify that this dongle pairs really well with most of the IEMs unless you just simply don’t want any treble energy. I used it with 64audio Duo, Fiio FH9 and many more IEMs and it doesn’t push them to any extreme what so ever. UA5 don’t lack anywhere but I will recommend it to those who would like to have a bit more treble energy with their slightly dull and boring sounding head gear or enjoys treble in general over those who want a more musical output. One can definitely use slow roll off filter for a bit more musical and slightly fuller notes.

COMPARISONS:

VS Fiio KA3:

VS Tri TK2:

CONCLUSION:

Shanling Audio UA5 is the best sounding USB powered dongle I have heard. If you want the best details and end to end extension, UA5 is the best option. Let it be resolution, definition, accuracy or precision, UA5 delivers like a champ and that too without any jitter or unrefined feeling. It has in body control and has the advantage of hybrid power option too. But does it feel a bit over priced? Kind of, especially when the FiiO KA3 is not far from what the UA5 offers, detail wise. Yes, UA5 has its advantage thanks to its refinement and a more mature, balanced and cleaner output but the price is nearly 3 times more too.

Go for the UA5 if you want nothing but the best. There is nothing that beats the US5 when it comes to details and clarity. If you do not want the balance, and want a warmer output, wait for the UA3 maybe.

Enjoy your music!! Have a good time, enjoy!!

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Suman Sourav Meher

Suman Sourav Meher

My humble audiophile journey started in 2010, when I was in college, where I fell in love with the elements, nuances, and variations of this mesmerizing world. The ability of tiny earphones to recreate amazing sounds made my bad days tolerable and good days better! Now I am a full-time audiophile with a preference for musical tracks, especially vocals and engaging ones. I must admit I am addicted, but not to drugs or alcohol, but to earphones. Come join me as I share my experiences, bad or good, and let’s have some fun!

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