Shanling UA1 is a USB-C dongle with an ES9218P chip in a compact body. It is priced at 45 USD.
Sound quality for the price
It’s a 45 USD device, so don’t expect anything extraordinary when it comes to the packaging. It is pretty simple and get’s the job done. Essentially, you’re getting the UA1, a USB-A adapter, and paperology. Absolutely nothing to complain about, the box looks modern, it’s small and secure enough.
In terms of the build quality, there’s nothing to nitpick either. The DAC section is made of aluminum, the cable feels playable and sturdy simultaneously, and the USB C plug is stiff and holds onto the phone with ease.
Thanks to that, it’s pretty comfortable and secure, as you simply plug it into your smartphone, put it into your pants, and you’re good to go. I haven’t had a single problem with the connection, and I’ve used this little bud for quite some time on the go.
The UA1 is equipped with the Sabre ES9218P chip, and it supports up to PCM 32/384 and DSD256.
It’s a plug-and-play type of device, both with Android and Windows. Just plug this bad boi into whatever you want and enjoy – I truly believe it’s how it’s supposed to be.
Rating this kind of device’s sound quality is tricky, as there’s not much you can compare it to actually. We’re living in an era of jack-less smartphones, and that kind of dongle is pretty much necessary to enjoy any music on our IEMs.
Regardless, we can judge it somehow, the most important being – does it actually sound better than a jack output in my Poco X3? Well…it does. Much, much better.
Ever since I switched from my Galaxy S8+ to Poco X3, I was sentenced for its underwhelming audio quality.
Usually, I use my Cayin N3Pro on the go and one of my many stationary devices while in-home, but since it’s been freezing for the last couple of weeks here in Poland, I prefer to just use my phone and IEMs of choice.
Shanling UA1 has been truly salutary during this time. Its sound quality exceeds the jack output of my Poco X3 by miles, providing much fuller and better-controlled bass, more natural midrange, and shiny treble, while the X3 sounded…well, pretty much dead.
The bass is pretty neutral, well-controlled, and not boosted. It didn’t pair exceptionally well with my Lime Ears Aether R or the CFA Ara since their bass is pretty much neutral and could lack fun…which it did with the UA1. Luckily, while I’m outside, I mainly use the Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 with that marvelous bass response, and the result was spot-on. While taking public transportation, I tend to listen to more modern stuff – Juice Wrld, Post Malone, or some metal like Sylosis. UA1 gave me a full-bodied, linear, and controlled bass, which was fun and well-articulated.
The midrange is neutral, simple as that. It’s not warm, but it doesn’t sound artificial and cold at the same time. Vocals have a decent body and extension, but the timbre is a bit lacking. Nonetheless, for its size and low price, it’s more than acceptable. Listening to Mariusz Duda from Lunatic Sould, I could hear a slight discoloration of his voice, lacking sweetness and warmth.
Treble is always a tough job for such a budget, portable DAC. I’m yet to hear the quality treble response in this kind of a device. Shanling UA1 is not ground-breaking in this regard, but it ain’t bad. It provides a decent amount of air and details, but it tends to sound a little harsh due to the lack of control of multi-ba drivers, I suppose. Anyhow, it was still miles ahead of my Poco X3, which was just harsh and bad. In that comparison, the UA1 sounded well-defined, slightly rounded, and the resolution was pretty good.
Overall, it’s not a good pair for my Campfire Audio Ara, as they need more body and refinement to sound their best. Lime Ears Aether R was better, but definitely with the bass-switch turned on, as it gave me a little bit more rumble in the bass. Campfire Dorado 2020 and Vega 2020 sounded great with the UA1, as the IEMs themselves are very fun and forward sounding, and Shanling just gave them a pretty good signal, and it hasn’t interrupted, which is the most important in this kind of device.
If you’re looking for a USB type C dongle that is well-made, comfortable, and sounds good on a budget, then the Shanling UA1 is a great choice. If your smartphone jack output is bad, or it simply doesn’t have it, think no more – it’s a very good audio buddy for you to carry around.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Campfire Audio Dorado 2020, Vega 2020, Ara, Lime Ears Aether R
- Sources– Poco X3