Up w/the sound…an “Encreasement,” it is…

Pros: Small-USB-size, an “Encreasement” of sound, simple to use (for Apple products), good push in sound, adequate power

Cons: Glass smudges, too many competitors, a bit overpriced compared to competition, a bit “lumpy” in sound

UP with the Encasement of Sound!

When I heard the Shanling UP, I was perplexed. I had read many a comment espousing the virtues of the Audioquest Dragonfly Black (DFB), and especially the Red (DFR). People were making these tiny little wonders sound like the second coming, of well…you know. Kind of like the (pretty much warranted) hype surrounding the Chord Mojo. Sometimes the hype is real, and warranted. A device comes along that really does take us by storm. One, which works to not only enhance what we listen to but also allow us the freedom to use across many platforms. This I think is the true appeal of such devices. I have always had a place in my heart, and persona for multi-use devices…witness the Leatherman tool. This device took the portable tool world by storm (not that the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife did not, but you really needed the ALL OUT knife to fully appreciate it, and I still do, mine), when it came out and competitors soon realized they must jump on and compete or be left behind.

Does one “need” more than a single multi-tool? Does one need more than a single amp…

But it is the Leatherman with which my school bag becomes a smidge heavier. And I am OK with that; for I know the multitude of times I need a tool of that device. My colleagues often borrow it. I am OK with that, too. The UP may be such a similar device, over time; and should the accolades warrant, that would be OK too. I approached my time knowing a bit about such devices. Mainly only what I have read about the Mojo or DFR. But that was enough to pique my interest. And it was a good time listening, too.

Lightning/USB cable/FLC8S…an excellent combo

Build/Specs:

Simple, small, straightforward, like a flash drive.

Four cables: USB to USB-C, USB-C to Lightning, C-C, USB-2 to C.

So small! $150…plug and play.

2D glass on one side, matte finish plastic on the others.

A compatibility switch for Android devices.

As Fleasbaby says, “Sexy Shanling logo” on the front.

Supports-DSD, 64 FS, 128 FS

Ouput-65mW @ 32Ω

A good sized box, and four different cables highlight the accessories

Sound/Gear used:

FLC8S

Audioquest Nighthawk

MacBook Pro

iPhone 6+

YouTube

Tidal streaming

Native iTunes music

Onkyo HF iOS music app

Sound off the bat:

  • The UP boosts the mids, and they are definitely pushed forward. Not sure if it is better, as in enhanced, or just increased…
  • Lumpy volume control…BIG jumps between notches on both iPhone 6+ and MacBook Pro…annoying…I came to find out that most battery-free DAC/Amps fall into this category; so I live with it. And that is OK.

The FLC Technology FLC8S IEM sounds almost made for the UP. A well-rounded IEM, the myriad of options presented with the FLC8S, match the versatility of the UP. A good match it was, too. Since I like to find a sound, and leave it that way, I left my FLC’s with the Gray/Red/Gunmetal filters for the best bass. It does not disappoint me, either. This is the combo, which gave me the forward pushed mids at the get go…almost that “HEY! I’m over here, let’s play!” push. It is not unacceptable, as this type of device will do that. Think of it as a “gain switch,” and you will understand. As I stated, this type of device is new to me. Again, I do not find it unacceptable. I’m beginning to see the versatility (Leatherman!) of this type of DAC/Amp.

The size of a flash drive, it is small

Not quite the same loudness/push of sound with my Audioquest Nighthawks on YouTube and my MBP, as opposed to the FLC’s…still quite acceptable, just not the push forward as much as through my 6+. The Nighthawks do not seems to benefit as much, either. I know in my initial comments, I stated that the NH works just fine, and it does; but not quite the synergy as the IEM of choice. Maybe I am on to something…maybe this really is meant to be a portable solution, a jack of all trades portable solution. One, which you can find that perfect combo and take it with you.

When I went between YouTube on Firefox and Sling, I had to unplug from the MBP, and plug it back in again…like a soft “reset.” I even switched between the HiBy feature and internal speakers toggle in the open “Sound Preferences” window. Different sound files? That said, Tidal works flawlessly, unencumbered by the change of songs. Me thinks the problem is going between videos.

That HUGE lump though…I have gotten used to it, and I hear it is common with small DAC/DAPS such as this. Still annoying. That lump in the mids can make bass too heavy on some songs, especially through my 6+. I found no such overt push through the MBP, though.

I had a very different sound between the 6+ (Amazon Music and internal storage music) and the MBP on YouTube. The 6+ seems to have a “deeper” sound, with a darker tone to it. Not sure if this is due to the mid-push, but I do like the sound. This seems almost contrary to my previous findings with YouTube and other tested equipment. A sound, which I liked very much with the Focal Elear/ampsandsounds Kenzie combo. We are talking about a difference of approximately five times the price, though. And very different paths. Not really a fair comparison, so we will leave it at that.

Someone said on the thread (@fleasbaby), that he liked the iPhone sound better than his computer…initially I was not sure… yet after my week, I concur. I simply get a more “voluminous” sound from my 6+, than the MBP. Don’t get me wrong, the MBP is stellar in its presentation together with the UP, I just like the 6+ better. This does play well with what Shanling intends for the use.

Oooohhh….shiny! And a print magnet. But still quite nice at which to look.

Deeper/Final thoughts:

To compare the UP to the DFR is almost unfair. Costing more, and more powerful, the UP was fighting an Uphill battle from the get go. But when hooked to a Smartphone (which is actually more its forte), the UP CAN hold its own. Happily I was quite happy with the combo of 6+ and UP. In fact I liked it better than my MBP combo. There was no lag in songs, no stopping, no stop/start…it simply worked. That said, could something such as this replace a dedicated DAP, such as their own excellent M5, or the new wonders on the block, the Cayin i5 or FiiO x5iii? Most probably not. But that is an unfair comparison. The UP is not meant for that, its virtues lie in the better sound it can provide your iOS or Android. THAT is where the DAPs cannot compete (besides $).

Without a hitch, Tidal performed well through the combo.

This is an easy “enrichment” of sound, but worth the $150?…I initially mentioned that I did not know whether this would be an enhancement of sound, or simply an increase in sound volume. I think that after my time with this unit, it is an “encreasement.” WHAT?! What in the world is that?! What say you, you Plains-stater?!

Well, it is the best way I can describe what I FEEL to be the benefit…The mids are pushed forward (on some songs VERY forward), while bass is increased in any headphone I used. The bass through the FLC’s is truly magnificent. It was already good, but with the UP, I get that extra bit of OOMPH, that meanness of grumble. One that while small means business. This would be like that small kid, who when you look at him (or her) you think “150lb weakling.” Then, when they speak (or growl), you know that you better not rumble…or you will tumble. You feel that they have done that to others, and I for one, don’t want to be their next stumble! So, I gladly accept what the UP gives to me, with that cautious reservation of not having heard others in this same vein.

Dwarfed, but do not let that fool you!

I am thankful for the opportunity to try this fantastic little stick…it has opened another avenue of Head-Fi sound to me. This does give me real pause when considering a small DAC/AMP. But, is this something I cannot get from an amp alone? Of course it is, but to have the ability to bypass a “mediocre” DAC in a Smartphone for $150, may be the ticket. I can definitely see the appeal in such devices as this and the Dragonfly Red. But, without more testing, and sampling I am loath to add another amp/type device.

Call me jaded by the plethora of choices we have, but I guess now that I have taken the step forward, I am more cautious with purchases such as this. Many people will use the UP and use it well, it is quite versatile and I get it. I’m just not sure if this is for me….yet…

It is like Twenty One Pilots song, Car Radio…I am at a crossroads for sound…I have replaced gear, sold gear, drooled over gear, loathed gear, reviewed gear, borrowed gear, and purchased gear…but there still seems to be a hole. A slot, which I think needs filling. A slot, which I think needs filling with something else. A slot, which I think might be fulfilled with something such as the UP, to take me for that Ride. A slot, which I think may need another piece of kit, so that I do not have to listen into that damn hole. That silence of sound, which obviously NEEDS TO BE FILLED by something…or does it. Maybe I am destined to sit in silence, pondering with that jet-black noiseless void offered by the UP, whenst it becomes a distant memory.

Then I hear Guns for Hands, and I am lost again…sigh…What have we gotten ourselves into, I think as I close the box…

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