Shanling UP4 Bluetooth DAC and Amp Review

Shanling UP4

Shanling is one of the better known Chinese DAP makers catering to the audiophile niche market. They have had a lot of success with heir budget-friendly amplifiers and portable music players like the Shanling M2.

Recently Shanling has started to expand its product line and move into the more premium side of the market. The new Shanling UP4 we have for review today is a balanced Bluetooth DAC and amplifier meant for use by people who don’t want to commit to a full-size DAP whilst also using their high end balanced headphones without being tethered to their phones.

Packaging and accessories

The Packaging for the UP4 is extremely simple. You get a good quality cardboard box that is surrounded by a cardboard sleeve that has all the details and images of the device on the outside. It’s not premium level just a consumer and alt the price it’s more than fine for getting the DAC unit to you.

On the inside its the same old story. The UP4 is set in some dense impact foam and underneath you will find the accessories. The accessories are limited because there is only so much you can add to the package of such a simple device.

Here we have a USB 2.0 to USB-C charging cable and rather thoughtfully a protective case with a clip to keep the unit safe and allow you to wear the unit rather than just stuffing it in a pocket.

Build Quality and Design

Shanling UP4

The chassis of the UP4 is solid metal whereas the faceplates are shiny plastics. Its a good looking combo and keeps the weight on the device down whilst still giving good rigidity to the body. Its an unassuming little thing but I did think it would be slightly shallower in the body, as it is it’s a little on the chunky side.

There are only two moving parts on the UP4. The volume know on the side is smooth and has nice raised edges to allow some extra grips. The power/mode button on the top is nice and clicky but hey it’s just a button. Its nothing special but worth noting that nothing about the unit feels cheap, definitely not premium but certainly not cheap and chintzy.

To connect your headphones to the device you have two options on the top of the UP4. There is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack as well as a 2.5mm balanced output. This gives users plenty of options as we see more and more headphones shipping with balanced cables.

Next to the outputs is that power and mode button.

On the bottom of the UP4, there is a USB-C port that will allow you to use the DAC when connected to a device with the cable.

Functionality

A whole lot of the functionality of the Shanling UP4 revolves around that single button up top. When I first saw the device I was bummed that there weren’t any playback controls. However, the volume knob doubles as a secondary input and gives a total of 2 buttons. Here are some of the functions that can be performed from the volume knob:

  • Power on/ Power off – Long Press 3 seconds
  • Pairing – Long press from off for 5 seconds or until LED starts blinking
  • Play / Pause – Single quick press
  • Skip forward – double click
  • Skip back – triple-click
  • Answer calls – single click when calling incoming
  • Hang up – Single click during a call
  • Raise and lower volume – twist knob

The second input comes from the mode button on top of the DAC. With it you can control the modes of the device which are as follows.

  • Single click – show current gain (High low indicated in LED)
  • Double click – Change gain
  • Triple-click – Change the digital filter

It will take a little time to get used to it but within a day or so it becomes intuitive enough. Its certainly not as refined as having traditional skip/play buttons but it gets the job done and reduces the number of moving parts,

Pairing

To connect the UP4 to a source you have two options and during this review the both worked flawlessly. You can either plug your device in and use it as an inline DAC/Amp or you can connect via Bluetooth. Both were fast and my phone and computer instantly recognized the device and were free to use within seconds.

Sound quality

The Shanling UP4 uses dual ES9218P chips which are very highly regarded in the audio world. The Bluetooth is handled by a Qualcomm Bluetooth 5.0 chip that is capable of handling multiple codecs including hi-res formats (HWA(LHDC), LDAC, APT-X HD, APT-X, ACC, SBC).

Shanling UP4

So the hardware is there so how does it sound? Honestly, the UP4 sounds a lot like the Spectre DAC unit I reviewed last year. It’s a very clean balanced and neutral sounding unit with little to no coloration.

The difference is that the UP4 sounds great with Bluetooth and wired connections and it has plenty of power to drive most earphones and headphones to their full potential. I find that this ES chip is not prone to the cold and digital sound of previous Sabre chips and the UP4 simply comes across with a very natural.

Conclusion – Shanling UP4 review

The UP4 is a great little device for those people who have a good set of earphones or headphones yet don’t want to go down the expensive external DAP route. By using the UP4 you get all of the functionality of your phone’s software but the benefits of high-quality DAC chips.

Bluetooth is not just a novelty. I would plug my earphones into the UP4, lip it to my belt and just wander about freely without having to worry about cables and such cluttering up my pocket. The sound is very good too, surprisingly even in Bluetooth mode and for the price which has an RRP of just under $100, I think this is a great buy.

The Shanling UP4 is available to buy from Linsoul and many other online retailers.

Audiophile Onhttp://www.audiophileon.com
Audiophile On is a website dedicated to high-end audio products. With over 15 years as a reviewer, all articles are hand-written by one person to allow the comparison of products. Headphones, earphones, speakers, amplifiers, or DAC's we cover here.

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