DAC Chip: ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M, Ricore RT6863 Amp (Single)
PCM 32bit – 768khz DSD512, SNR: -121/-116dB, Power: 2 Vrms, 125mW (SE), 2.5v 195mW (BAL) 32Ω, USB Type-C Female, 3.5mm SE (Microphone: Yes) 2.5mm BAL, 54x18x9mm, 12.6g, Aluminum Chassis
LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING
- Natural and neutral timbre, with a touch of analogue tonality
- Commanding dynamics, vibrant and effortless
- Stellar, sharp imaging with excellent spatial staging
- Beautifully nuanced details retrieval. Macro and Micro
- Lush Treble, well extended and with smooth decay
- Very impactful Midbass with rich texture and decay
- Forward tilted Mids, rich texture, realistic Male/Female vocals
- Rich, lush tonality for cello, guitars, piano, and stringed instruments
- IMMENSELY powerful 2 Vrms High Gain output, effortlessly drive 96db Planar.
- Great speed and transients handling, no congestion
- Excellent sibilance resistance, always smooth
- Very solid and technically beautiful compact build
- Narrow soundstage despite being tall and with depth.
- Just a hair short of being reference grade overall, trailing the tails of PEE51 and PAW S1
- Just a tiny bit less airy to be regarded as reference grade.
- No adjustable hardware volume buttons
Shanling UA2. This is my 3rd device equipped with ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M. The first one being Cayin N6ii E02 Dual ES9038Q2M ($1300) and Topping D10s/A50s ($300). This UA2 is the most analogue and organic sounding ESS Sabre DAC that I have listened to so far. In my book, this analogue tonality scores high automatically, being analogue means it does not sound digital and dry. There’s organic feel to it with the right touch of smoothness that makes listening pleasurable. I will not hesitate to say I prefer this UA2 presentation of the 9038 sounds over N6ii and D10s, those two while great in their technical and analytical approach to the sound, lacked soul while doing it. Of course, N6ii and D10s will regain superiority when it comes to driving anything beyond 250Ω and lower than 96db of sensitivity – they both will drive anything flawlessly up to 600Ω and maintain fidelity. But my usage does not go beyond 177Ω and UA2 provided me the fidelity I adore within that range. The most pleasant surprise is how easy this UA2 drives my power-hungry Monolith M565c Magnetic Planar (69Ω, 96db) and DT990 – does not sound like it was plugged to a tiny dongle at all. If you don’t mind the narrow soundstage, this UA2 is indeed a gem to be reckoned with
17 July 2021 Update
A re-test has been conducted on this UA2 with my new FOSTEX T40RP MK3. The merciless Magnetic Planar has already claimed 2 high profile casualties (iBasso DC04 and AudioQuest DF Cobalt). With the series of critical listening done on UA2 with the insanely demanding 91db magnetic planar (Balanced 2.5mm), it was evident UA2 was able to retain coherence and fidelity despite needing up to 70/100 volume while tethered to my iPhone 7 (via ddHiFi Adapter). At those high volume UA2 was able to remain stable without any hint of stress on dynamics – no distortion, sibilance or jitters observed. Timbre was faithfully neutral (with Apodizing filters at High Gain). This impressive performance has earned UA2 an upgrade in my ranking system from 4 Stars to 4 ½.
Best Pairing: Flexible, up to 150Ω IEMs & Headphones
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