In today’s review, I take the Shanling UP2Bluetooth Amplifier for a spin. The UP2 is an ultra-portable device with some impressive features, such as Bluetooth 5, an ESS Sabre ES9218P DAC and it can also be used as a USB DAC. So far it looks good on paper but how does it really perform? We’ll find out.
This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Shanling UP2 Review
Clean, transparent sound
USB DAC functionality
High-quality Bluetooth codecs
Robust and classy body
Currently no app support
Package and Accessories
The UP2 comes in a small, bright orange box and has an image of the device on the front. On the back of the box is a list of some of the UP2’s features plus some company information. Here’s what you’ll find inside the box:
Shanling UP2 Bluetooth amplifier
Plastic clip case
USB Type-C charging/data cable
User manual and warranty
Build Quality, Design and Functionality
What you’ll likely notice first about the Shanling UP2 is its diminutive size. This thing is tiny! It’s roughly the size of an average adult thumb and weighs in at just 26 g. It feels a lot like a modern smartphone, with glass panels on the front and back of the aluminium chassis. In fact, if you have any of the recent Shanling DAPs the UP2 will be immediately familiar, as it looks and feels just like a mini M5s or M2X.
On the front panel, there is a tiny LED indicator that flashes blue and red while in pairing mode. Once connected to a source, the LED flashes intermittently and uses different colours to display which Bluetooth codec is being used.
On the top edge is the 3.5mm headphone output and microphone. On the bottom is the USB Type-C port and on the right side is the iconic ‘Shanling wheel’. The multi-functional wheel/button is used for adjusting the volume and can be used to perform all of the UP2’s controls. It is a novel approach compared to most multi-button setups.
Here is a list of button functions:
Power on: Long press 3.5 seconds
Power off: Long press 3.5 seconds
Pairing: Long press 5 seconds while UP2 is turned off
Play/pause: Single click
Next track: Double click
Previous track: Triple click
Answer call: Single click
End call: Single click
Cancel call: Double click
At first, I thought I would miss having multiple dedicated control buttons but it turns out I’m perfectly happy using the multi-function button. For the most part, I use the UP2 for streaming Spotify so I generally only use the play/pause and next track functions (as well as the volume of course). The volume level can be controlled with either the wheel or your smartphone/DAP.
Internally, the UP2 has some impressive components. First of all, the UP2 inherits the same ESS Sabre ES9218P DAC as the Shanling M0, which supports sampling rates up to 96kHz/24 bit.
Output power is an impressive 67mW @ 32Ω which is enough to power all but the most demanding headphones. With an output impedance of just 0.25Ω, the UP2 is perfect even for low-impedance and sensitive IEMs.
In charge of Bluetooth duties is the Qualcomm CSR8675 which is capable of transmitting and receiving and supports all the latest Hi-Res Bluetooth audio codecs including LDAC/LHDC/aptX HD/aptX Low Latency/aptX/AAC and SBC.
For voice calls, the UP2 uses a Knowles SiSonic microphone which has 8th generation cVc noise cancellation technology.
USB DAC Functionality
The UP2 also works as an external USB DAC soundcard and amplifier. It’s as simple as plugging it into your laptop or computer via its USB Type-C port and it’s ready to go. I had no problems with either my Windows 10 PC or my Linux-based laptop – the UP2 was recognized immediately by both.
Battery LIfe and Bluetooth
The UP2’s 400mAh is rated for 11 hours of playback/talk time using SBC codec (slightly less for higher quality codecs) and 200 hours of deep standby time. Charging time is 2 hours. Battery life is comparable to other similar modern devices.
It should be noted that the quality of the audio will depend a lot on the audio codec being used. The UP2 sounds its best when plugged in as a USB DAC because it’s not relying on a Bluetooth signal. However, using the higher quality codecs such as LDAC, aptX and aptX HD the UP2 will quickly make you a believer in wireless audio.
The Shanling UP2 takes full advantage of its M0 heritage, resulting in amazing sound quality that would normally come only with higher tier DAPs or DACs. It has a wonderful, deep bass extension with a hint of added warmth and authority. Pair the UP2 with some capable earphones and you will certainly feel the full effects of the bass.
Midrange notes have classic Shanling transparency and resolution. They’re clear and clean with good separation and articulated vocals. The treble is slightly smoothed, taming the sharp peaks of IEMs like the Tipsy Dunmer while at the same time maintaining enough detail to keep things interesting.
Ultimately, the UP2 is a device that can magically snatch bits of data from thin air and feed them to your transducers which in turn make sounds. So feeding the UP2 with a quality codec like LDAC or aptX and connecting a great pair of earphones or headphones should be enough to keep almost anyone happy. I’ve enjoyed my time writing this immensely as I stream music using LDAC from my Shanling M5s.
Physically the BTR3 (review here) and UP2 almost identical, at least on the outside. They are virtually identical in dimensions except that the BTR3 has its clip affixed to the back and the UP2 has the wheel on its right side. Speaking of the BTR3’s clip – mine broke for no apparent reason after a short amount of time so I’m already a fan of the UP2’s removable clip case.
The BTR3 sounds darker in comparison largely thanks to its more exaggerated mid-bass and warmer lower midrange. At the other end of the scale, the BTR3’s lower midrange get a prod too, making the treble more vivid but edgier at the same time. This has the effect of making the sound more contrasty but adversely it makes the soundstage dimensions smaller.
Shanling has promised an app for the UP2 but so far nothing has materialized. On the other hand, the BTR3 works with the FiiO Music app, giving you access to EQ and a few other settings. Another thing to note here is the different locations for the headphone output – on the bottom for the BTR3 and on the top for the UP2, pick your poison. When it all boils down, these 2 devices are very close audibly and physically. If you have a preference for either brand you could safely go that route and you won’t be disappointed either way.
Radsone Earstudio ES100
The ES100 (review here) captured the hearts of many audiophiles (myself included). This little guy has so much going for it – things like superior battery life, an extremely comprehensive and functional mobile app and both 3.5mm plus 2.5mm balanced headphone outputs.
Just like the FiiO BTR3, the clip on my ES100 broke making me very sad and at the same time greatly reducing my desire to use it. Again, I feel a great appreciation for the UP2’s detachable clip case because if you do manage to somehow break it, it’s very easy to replace.
I’ve already mentioned the areas where I think the ES100 bests the competition so let’s look at some of its less desirable traits. First of all, the casing is made entirely of plastic which makes it look and feel a lot less premium. Apart from that (and the fragile attached clip), the only other downside is that it’s a little more expensive.
Audibly, these two aren’t far apart. In fact, I think the UP2 might have a little edge on sound quality unless of course, you need the extra output power of the ES100’s balanced output. The UP2 is more transparent and lets your earphones do the colouring, while the ES100 tends to add a little extra warmth and richness.
Being familiar with Shanling products, I wasn’t really surprised to discover the Shanling UP2 Bluetooth amplifier is another great sounding and high-quality device from this experienced manufacturer.
If you’re looking for a Bluetooth amplifier with a clean and neutral sound plus a powerful output and excellent build quality then the UP2 is a super easy recommendation. If you’ve heard Shanling’s M0 then you’ll know exactly why the UP2 sounds great and if you haven’t, you’ll just have to take my word for it!
Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connection up to 10m, supports: LDAC, aptX, aptX LL*, aptX HD, AAC, SBC
Using CSR8675 Bluetooth chip
One key operation, convenient for use
Built-in microphone for phone call answering
Comes with a back clip, easy to carry
Different Bluetooth code with different RGB colour indicator
Built-in 400mah rechargeable battery for 11 hours music listening with 2 hours for fully charged