Shanling UA1 Pro

DAC Chip: ESS Sabre ES9219C
PCM 32bit-384khz DSD256, SNR: -119, Power: 80 mW 1.6 Vrms, 3.5mm SE (Microphone: Yes), Metal Chassis & OFC Cable


LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING


💚PROS

  • Clear & clean neutral flat timbre, slightly metallic bright
  • Well controlled dynamics presentation
  • Great Macro and Micro details retrieval
  • Balanced Mids, clean textures & definition, natural vocals
  • Treble is crisp, slightly bright & great extensions
  • Smooth, solid Mid-Bass, crisp decays
  • Crisp neutral toned guitars, piano, percussions
  • Average sized soundstage width and breadth
  • Good spatial imaging with proper placement/layers
  • Great speed for complex passages and transients
  • Great tuneability with Eddict Player (Filters & Gain)
  • Impressive driving power to drive FOSTEX T4RP MK4

💔CONS

  • Metallic, non analogue timbre, Typical Sabre brightness
  • Volume adjustment increment gap a bit too wide
  • Exhibit some tendencies to sound compressed on complex songs
  • Weak Sub-Bass responses
  • No volume adjuster
  • Heats up a bit driving demanding IEMs/HPs

VERDICT

Shanling UA1 Pro. While the older Shanling UA1 was designated as “safe tuned” Dongle, the Pro version took a step ahead and embrace some risks to inject some X factor into it. Which to my ears, sounded so very ESS sounding similar to the likes of HiBy FC3, Audirect BEAM 2SE and Zorloo Ztella. It is markedly brighter, faster and technically more competent than the original UA1.

However staying to native ESS tuning also means this particular dongle will sound metallic and digital-ish especially when paired with Diffused Field Neutral devices like Etymotic ER4SR and VE Duke. Even on my FOSTEX T40RP MK3 it has that ESS upper register shimmer that is dry and unnaturally bright.

What is impressive about this UA1 Pro, driving power seems to have improved doubly compared to the older variant. The normally stubborn T40RP MK3 Magnetic Planar sounded great with wholesome dynamics. I was able to observe well extended dynamic range despite the upper registers sounding a bit artificial. Mid-Bass has enough meat and presence to make it exciting, just Sub-Bass being a bit less audible and practically almost unheard with both the ER4SR and VE Duke.

Things gets a lot better with warmer pairing. SeeAudio Bravery and TForce Yuan Li exhibited a more balanced sound which edge closer to some organic nuances. I was impressed with the Macro and Micro detail capabilities with these two when paired with the UA1 Pro, which to my ears are on par with the higher tiered Dongles I have tested so far.

However, the Cons that bothered me the most was how wide the jump between volume levels even when used with HiBy Music player. Most of the time I was forced to crank down one notch with the Bravery and Yuan Li otherwise they will get shouty and borderline sibilant. This is somewhat disappointing because some ultra compact and budget Dongles like CX-Pro/Abigail/Avani does it better on this aspect. And then ultimately the emphasis on “bright modern sound” as normally exhibited by native ESS tuning which is hard for me to appreciate.

For the entirety of this review I have opted to use the stock settings at High Gain:

As shown in Shanling Eddict Player

⭐⭐⭐⭐ ($40.00)

Best Pairing: Warm sounding partners

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