Shanling UA2

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


💚PROS

  • 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

💔CONS

  • 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

VERDICT

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).

⭐⭐⭐⭐($85.00)

Best Pairing: Flexible, up to 150Ω IEMs & Headphones

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23 Comments

  1. Wanderwolf says:

    This on the Ugreen MFI? What is the major difference between the two? I don’t have a heavy driving dongle. But something to drive my entry-level IEMs and also Sennheiser 560s which I plan to buy in near future. Note: I want easy to use with my iPhone 11, so other options will be tanchjim stargate or the ddhifi TC35 pro or the audirect atom 2. Which one do you recommend best? The source will mostly be Apple Lossless and some flac offline files. The budget is constraint to less than $100

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      Any of these three, JCally JM08L, UGREEN MFi and JSAUX iOS works fine. They all uses the same Apple C101 DAC chips and behaves exactly the same. TANCHJIM STARGATE offers a bit more sparkle and resolution

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ken says:

    Hello ! Thanks for your review!
    When you write “Microphone:YES” at the top, do you mean they support in-line microphones from earphones and headsets? Because I read a post from shanling’s official account on Head-Fi, and it said microphone is not supported on UA1 or UA2.

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      Thanks for asking. I personally haven’t tested the Mic functions. The base specs are what I acquired from the specifications sheet on the web and in this case better to take the Official statement from the manufacturer as true. I will edit my notes here. Again thanks

      Like

      1. Ken Adams says:

        No problem.
        I have sent you a mail with a query regarding a dongle DAC. Please help when time permits.
        Thank you for everything!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pavankumar says:

    Hello Sir. I bought the ua2 which is yet to be delivered. Apart from the transparancy, is there any difference sonic wise using balanced outputs of both between the E44 (being neutral) and ua2 (being warm). Today I read your review on E44, I was really interested in buying it as an endgame iem dac. Do they complement each other, as in keeping both without selling the ua2 later? Thanks

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      I like the UA2. But for me personally the E44 really is superior in many ways. It has wider soundstage and stronger dynamic transients. But you have to remember that my IEMs and Headphones are mostly very demanding type which means the UA2 may not be able to 100% produce the quality I want that E44 can deliver. E44 being among the most powerful dongles out there. If you are keeping it for efficient and easy to drive IEMs, then UA2 is already quite amazing. Also, take note that UA2 is slightly warmer sounding for an ESS DAC/Amp, E44 being a Cirrus Logic DAC, it is a bit more energetic

      Like

      1. Pavankumar says:

        Thanks for your detailed response, dear sir..Iem’s I have at the moment are zex pro, blon bl03, aria, er2se, cca cra, zsn pro x, ve bie and the monk plus. In near future I’m looking forward to buy the timeless and may be the Kato or B2. Not interested in headphones. So ua2 will be more than sufficient for my needs to get me that “wow” factor? Thanks..

        Like

      2. Andy.EF says:

        Yes, I would say that UA2 is perfectly fine for your usage. It is a very solid device

        Like

  4. Pavankumar says:

    Thanks a ton Sir..you really have cleared the air!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pavankumar says:

    Sir, with the balanced output as well, do these issues persist like narrow soundstage?

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      Yes. I always use BAL port

      Like

  6. Marcin says:

    Hi Sir, which DAC would You use with Philips Fidelio X2HR? What about this UA2? Thanks,

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      Sorry I never tried Philips Fidelio X2HR so I have no idea how recommend on it. But UA2 will work fine with many IEMs

      Like

      1. Marcin says:

        Thanks. What are the best first IEMs to start with?

        Like

      2. Marcin says:

        But Philips are over-ears not iems.

        Like

      3. Andy.EF says:

        Well, that already show how clueless I am with Philips Fidelio X2HR

        Like

  7. Bond says:

    I’m a complete novice, so this question might sound dumb or whatnot… but is this dongle suitable for Moondrop Aria, Grado SR80x and Sony MDR 7506.

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      For Aria or warmer sounding unit, you should consider something like TempoTec Sonata HD PRO or iBasso DC05. Shanling UA2 may sound overly smooth on Aria

      Like

  8. Christian says:

    good afternoon, what iem would you recommend in this dongle?

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      Something like TANCHJIM OLA or Tripowin Olina

      Like

  9. Adam R. says:

    Andy, there is a recent firmware update on Shanling’s website for the UA2 (V1.92.11), that I swear makes a marked improvement to the sound. This despite the fact that the release notes would not indicate such a change (Optimized performance for more stable connection with range of smartphones and computers.) I’ve been using xDuoo Link2 Bal recently, which sounded notably better than the UA2, and upgraded the firmware not expecting to notice a difference. The two are much more neck and neck now. I’ve tested with a few headphones and can notice the improvement on all of them, and with both outputs. If you have a chance, you might check out the new firmware.

    Like

    1. Andy.EF says:

      That’s amazing. I will surely check on this, Thanks

      Like

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