Shanling UA2 Review: Compact Smartphone DAC Amplifier with Great Sound
By: Alex Chub | 09.12.2021, 10:12
Shanling UA2 - "pocket" DAC amplifier that will allow you to get excellent sound from any smartphone, and even a laptop. That being said, it supports music playback up to impressive 32bit / 768kHz PCM and DSD512, and has decent power output and 2.5mm balanced output in addition to the standard 3.5mm. Shanling UA2 is compact, easy to use and has an additional proprietary application for more flexible customization. And for all its merits, it is cheaper than most budget hi-fi players. Although from the point of view of convenience, this is an individual question: it is more comfortable for someone to use a separate device for music. Of the minor complaints, one can single out only the absence of a Lightning cable in the kit: iPhone owners will have to buy it separately. Shanling UA2 price starts at 2850 UAH for the black version. A Chrome Limited reviewer will cost a little more.
4 reasons to buy Shanling UA2:
excellent driving sound;
convenient design and ease of use;
impressive power output, support for PCM 32 bit / 768 kHz and DSD512;
compact size and pleasant appearance.
one reason not to buy Shanling UA2:
for the iPhone, the cable or adapter will have to be purchased separately.
Shanling UA2 comes in a compact black cardboard box with a magnet lid. Inside - the DAC itself, a removable short cable with Type-C connectors on both sides 10 cm long, an adapter to USB Type-A, documentation and a pair of Hi-Res Audio stickers. So that people around you probably understand how much you love high-quality sound.
What does Shanling UA2 look like?
All such portable DACs / amplifiers are popularly called "whistles". And not in vain, there is something in common both in form and in size. Shanling UA2 has a very compact size, which is slightly smaller than a standard lighter. And made entirely of metal. There is a more practical black option. A version of Chrome has arrived to us. It looks cool and rich, but it leaves prints instantly. And the scratches, I suspect, too.
On one side there is the Hi-Res Audio designation, model name and brief specifications.
At one of the ends there are two exits. Standard 3.5 mm and balanced 2.5 mm, between which there is an LED indicator that glows in different colors depending on the current operating mode.
On the opposite side there is a Type-C connector for connecting a cable. A good design solution, thanks to which the cable can be replaced. Yes, and instead of the complete one with Type-C connectors on each side, connect the option with Lightning to work with the iPhone.
Shanling UA2's only control is located on the side edge. This is the Mode button. It is designed to switch to the mode of connection to the Nintendo Switch (yes, the manufacturer itself focuses on this possibility) or smartphones with old versions of Android without USB Audio Class 2.0 support.
The cable is made with high quality. With metal connectors and fabric braiding, it feels durable. It has a length of 10 cm, which is sufficient for portable use.
Shanling UA2 is very compact and lightweight: 54x12x9 mm, 12.6 g, so it will not be inconvenient in your pocket.
How convenient is it to use?
Shanling UA2's work is very simple. From PC - Plug and Play: connect to USB and select audio devices from the list. In any case, this scheme works in Windows 10, I suppose there should be no problems with a Mac either. For direct signal transmission to the DAC without the intervention of Windows tools, it is worth installing ASIO drivers with official site...
With Android - a similar situation: connect the Shanling UA2 to Type-C, connect the headphones to the DAC - you're done. But for a full-fledged work, it is worth installing a proprietary application. But there are as many as three available: just a player, Shanling Controller (for Bluetooth devices) and Eddict Player, which we need. Why complicate things so much? It's a good question. In any case, the application has a built-in player, access to network resources, NAS and so on. But we need a USB Control item. It contains the Shanling UA2 settings. In particular, gain level, balance, volume limit and digital filter selection. By the way, third-party applications can also work with the DAC, such as Onkyo HF Player, with the help of which it was possible to dig out information confirming the DAC support up to 768 kHz (last screenshot):
This is where the features of use end. It remains to add that the DAC is powered from the source. And, accordingly, the smartphone will sit down faster if you listen to music for a long time. But the consumption depends very much on the volume and amplification level, so it is difficult to name any exact figures. During operation, Shanling UA2 heats up, but the heating is minimal. The DAC gets slightly warm, no more.
How good does Shanling UA2 sound?
To begin with, a few words about the filling and the stated capabilities. The digital-to-analog converter ESS Saber ES9038Q2M is responsible for the sound. And for amplification is responsible a separate Ricore RT6863 chip that was developed for use in conjunction with ESS DACs. Shanling UA2 can handle PCM material up to 32 bit / 768 kHz and DSD up to DSD512. Which is impressive considering the size of the DAC. The only question is expediency: it is extremely difficult to find materials in this quality, and still it is more expedient to listen to them on more serious equipment. We used the Shanling UA2 with Campfire Audio Polaris (1st generation), OPPO PM-3, FiiO F9 and Shure SE315 headphones. Shanling UA2's exhaust is also very impressive: 195 mW into 32 ohms (balanced output) and 125 mW @ 32 ohms (3.5 mm standard output). So there is a power reserve.
Shanling has a rather characteristic sound presentation, which is also true for Shanling UA2. With Shanling UP4, there was an opportunity to compare and the overall mood is really similar. Shanling focuses not on analytics and extreme detail, but on musicality, integrity, density and fascination of sound. By the frequencies, there are no obvious tint or raised pieces of the frequency range. Low frequencies are very weighty, massive, at the same time biting and detailed, with a very pleasant attack. There are enough of them to get a dense, holistic sound, including sub-bass. At the same time, they sound natural, do not climb into the territory of the middle frequencies and do not seem to be lifted up. The mid-range sounds very natural and musical. This is especially true for live instruments and vocals. At the same time, everything is in perfect order with detail, up to small attenuation and microdynamics. The tools do not mix, in a heap, are located in their places. The imaginary scene is average, both in depth and width. Although it is worth remembering that this is very dependent on the headphones. The upper frequencies are very slightly smoothed out for the sake of high-frequency fobs and generally comfortable sound. The upper frequencies do not cut on the ears, there are no sibilants. But this does not mean that there are few high frequencies or they suffer from poor elaboration and detail. With that, everything is in order and they add the necessary "air" to the sound. The sound of the DAC turned out to be very pleasant, emotional and driving. And without any genre preferences: both jazz and various heavy styles of music sound good, as well as simple electronics. In general, if you want to get good sound from your smartphone at a relatively low cost, then Shanling UA2 is a very interesting option. It is very likely that budget hi-fi players will gradually give way to similar DACs and Bluetooth receivers.
In the dry residue. Three things to know about Shanling UA2:
Shanling UA2 is a compact wired DAC amplifier with standard 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm jacks.
Works with both smartphones and PCs.
Equipped with DAC ESS Saber ES9038Q2M, an additional amplifier and has a great driving sound.
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