In today’s review, I’m looking at the Shanling UA3 and UA5 dongle DACs. The UA3 features an AKM AK4493SEQ DAC chip, dual Ricore RT6863 headphone amplifiers and dedicated playback controls. It retails for $109.
The Shanling UA5 sports dual ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chips, dual RT6863 headphone amplifiers, an OLED display, independent volume control and a hybrid battery power system. The price is $235.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by Linsoul for an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Shanling UA3 and UA5 Review
These 2 dongles are among the best on the market thanks to good design and great sound.
The UA3’s body is carved from a single block of aluminium and has a matte black finish. There are 3 buttons on the top for controlling the volume and to play/pause. Internally, the UA3 is built around a brand new AKM AK4493SEQ DAC chip.
Interestingly, if you hold down the middle button for 2 seconds you can switch between software and hardware volume control, a feature I find really handy. What’s more, the button functions can be customized in the Shanling Eddict Player app. The app also gives you access to 6 different digital filters and gain settings.
Just above the 3 buttons, there’s a small LED that glows in different colours depending on the sample rate of the file currently playing. The UA3 supports up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512.
UA3 has both 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced outputs. It has some decent power too, pushing 125mW@32Ω from the single-ended output and 211mW@32Ω from the balanced output. That’s sufficient to drive just about any earphones and a wide variety of headphones.
The UA5 takes a different approach. First of all, it’s built around dual ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chips. Secondly, it forgoes the playback buttons in favour of a wheel in true Shanling style. The knurled gold wheel is used for controlling the volume and navigating the menu on the AU5’s OLED display.
The display shows useful information such as the volume level, current sample rate and file format, the gain setting and battery level. A short press of the wheel turns the display on and off while a long press activates the system menu.
Options in the settings menu are as follows:
Change between dual and single DAC modes
Battery charging: On/Off
Power: battery or USB
Digital filter setting
Screen off timer
The UA5 has its own internal 220mAh battery that’s dedicated to powering the analog audio circuit of the DACs and amplifiers. The battery offers up to 6 hours of ultra-clean power and consistent audio quality regardless of the source. Furthermore, this results in reduced power drain from the connected device. However, even if the battery has no power, you can still use the UA5 like any regular USB dongle DAC.
In terms of output power, the UA5 offers 137mW@32Ω from the 3.5mm output and 211mW@32Ω from the 4.4mm output. The UA5 can function as a coaxial SPDIF converter, enabling you to connect your smartphone to high-end home DACs or receivers.
VELVETSOUND™ is back! The UA3 is the first of Shanling’s UA series to utilize an AKM DAC. The AK4493SEQ promises low distortion and a wide dynamic range. And it delivers. Armed with dual Ricore RT6963 amplification chips, it promises high output power and signal-to-noise (SNR) ratio.
Since I don’t have any especially demanding headphones in my library, the UA3 has more than enough power to drive anything I paired with it. As is always the case with good dongle DACs, the sound quality of my laptop was elevated as soon as I connected the UA3.
This little device really revives the classic Shanling house sound. It’s slightly warm, exceptionally smooth yet still transparent and clean. There’s no doubt that the UA3 plays with the top dogs in its price range.
Whether listening to deep house, jazz or hard rock the UA3 draws you into the music. There’s such a melodic character to this dongle it transports you to a special place every time you listen.
Sitting back with Tomaso Albinoni’s “Adagio in G Minor (Arr. for Harp and Orchestra)”, it sounds grandiose, expansive and encompassing. That underlying element of warmth is still there and so is the richness in the strings. Yet the sound is airy and seems to float around my head. Each pluck of the harp strings sounds crisp and clear.
Sure, the UA3 might not have the same delicacy or sense of scale as the UA5 but at less than half the price, it comes oh so close. Fans of the classic Shanling house sound will be delighted with this one.
The Shanling UA5 is one of the best-looking dongles on the market. How fitting then, that it has a sonic character to match. Like the UA3, the UA5 has an element of warmth to its sound but it’s more delicate and adds extra intricacy to its presentation.
Serve it a more upbeat recording, however, and the UA5 will gladly show you its bolder side. The opening notes of Mogwai’s “Drive the Nail” leave no doubt about UA5’s bass extension as the bass begins to hum and rumble in my ears. The guitars and percussion extend well out in front and to the left and right allowing plenty of space for the busier segments of the song.
A FLAC version of Doja Cat’s “Woman” gets the UA5 in party mode, allowing it to showcase its mastery of rhythm. The midrange comes through delightfully forward and expressive as the sultry vocals croon away. The UA5 effortlessly packs the percussion, bass and vocals into a cohesive bundle that gets my feet tapping every time.
The Shanling UA3 and UA5 are both excellent dongle DACs in their own right. The UA5 is hands down one of the best dongle DACs I’ve ever heard and the UA3 is among the top in its price range. Whether you’re looking for an entry-level device or one that can go head to head with the best, these Shanling DACs should be on your radar.
Input:1x USB-C Outputs: 1x Single-ended Jack 3.5mm, 1x Balanced Jack 4.4mm DAC Chip: AKM AK4493SEQ DAC Amplification chip: Dual Ricore RT6963 Output power: Up to 211mW @ 32 Ohm Supported sampling rates: PCM up to 32bit 768kHz, DSD up to DSD512 OS Compatibility: Android, Windows, Mac, iOS UAC Support: UAC 2.0, UAC 1.0
Input:1x USB-C Outputs: 1x Single-ended Jack 3.5mm, 1x Balanced Jack 4.4mm DAC Chip: 2x ESS ES9038Q2M Amplification chip: Dual Ricore RT6963 Output power: Up to 211mW @ 32 Ohm Supported sampling rates: PCM up to 32bit 768kHz, DSD up to DSD512 OS Compatibility: Android, Windows, Mac, iOS UAC Support: UAC 2.0, UAC 1.0