Shanling UA3 USB DAC-AMP Review

The UA3 is the 4th portable USB DAC-AMP in Shanling’s UA line after UA5. And it’s the first with an AKM DAC chip inside. After the fire at AKM’s factory in 2020, in early 2022 AKM relaunched their new line of DACs and Shanling immediately started working on new designs, diving into the possibilities of this updated generation of DACs. UA3 is the first of these designs, utilising a freshly released AK4493SEQ DAC, for the first time bringing the sound of AKM into their UA line of portable DAC/AMPs. The AK4493SEQ DAC is a premium DAC that utilizes AKM’s VELVET SOUND™ technology. Shanling also used the older version of AK4493 in their flagship desktop DAC-AMP streamer the EM5.

 

Shanling UA3 builds upon the popular UA2 but takes over some features from the UA5. The balanced output is now using a 4.4mm connector, Shanling added hardware buttons for volume or playback control and the power output was improved to match the UA5 (210mW @ 320hm).

 

Using their latest USB DAC power management advancements, Shanling optimised the UA3 to draw significantly less power from the connected smartphone, with 60% less power consumption in standby mode and 40% less in playback mode. This low-power mode provides improved battery life for the smartphone.

UA3 comes with a premium-quality copper USB-C to USB-C cable and a good-quality black leather case.

UA3 also supports USB audio 1.0 mode like UA2 and UA5. This mode ensures compatibility with a wider range of devices like gaming systems. To enable the UAC1.0 mode you need to push the middle play/pause button while connecting the UA3.

With Shanling’s Eddict Player app, the user has full control over the UA3. Allowing access to 6 kinds of digital filters; gain setting, button setting customization and low power mode. These settings are not available on the iOS platform.

UA3 can directly control both the volume of its DAC and the volume of the connected device supporting both hardware and software volume control modes. To switch between the modes you simply press the middle play/pause button for two seconds. But you can’t skip tracks with the volume controls, you can assign the keys to do that in the Eddict App but you need to choose between the two, volume control or track control. Wish it supported both at least in software volume control mode. Maybe later with a firmware upgrade.

UA3 is precisely crafted from a single block of aluminium, with a smooth matte finish, and is extremely light at just 20.5g, but bulkier compared to UA2 with dimensions of 60 x 25 x 13mm (watch the video to see them side by side and compared to TC44C and RU6).

Sampling Rate Indictor

  • Blue: 44.1 / 48 kHz
  • Green’ 88.2 / 96 kHz
  • Yellow’ 176.4 / 192 kHz
  • Purple: 352/384 / 705 / 768 kHz
  • White: D5D64 / 128 / 256 / 512
  • Red: UAC 1.0 Mode

What’s in the box

Specs

  • Brand new AKM AK4493SEQ DAC
  • Dual Ricore RT6963 Headphone amplifier
  • Hardware Volume Control
  • 3.5mm Single-ended & 4.4mm Balanced Outputs
  • Standby Mode
  • Compatible with Android, Windows, Mac and iOS
  • UAC2.0 and UAC1.0 modes, compatible for use with Nintendo Switch and other gaming systems or older devices.
  • Hi-Res support up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD512
  • Compatible with Eddict Player app

Single-ended Output:

  • Output Power: 2V @ 320hm ( 125mW @ 320hm )
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 40kHz ( -0.7dB )
  • THD+N: 0.0004% @ 320hm ( A-Weighting @ 1V )
  • Dynamic Range: 119dB @ 320hm ( A-Weighting )
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 119dB @ 320hm ( A-Weighting )
  • Channel Separation: 80dB @ 320hm
  • Output Impedance: <0.40

4.4mm Balanced Output

  • Output Power: 2.6V @ 320hm ( 210mW @ 320hm )
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 40kHz ( -0.7dB )
  • THD+N: 0.0003% @ 320hm ( A-Weighting @ 1V )
  • Dynamic Range: 120dB @ 320hm ( A-Weighting )
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 120dB @ 320hm ( A-Weighting )
  • Channel Separation: 110dB @ 320hm
  • Output Impedance: <0.80

Price: 109$

I would like to thank Shanling for providing me with the review sample of Shanling UA3  (no affiliate link).

AKM vs ESS vs R2R ve Cirrus Logic

Sound

A few songs into the first listening session the UA3 sounded better than I could possibly hope for a device of this price. I reviewed the Cayin RU6 lately and was quite surprised how close in tonality these two are. When compared to RU6 the UA3 is harder to pull apart, also having a nigh-identical timbre.

Instruments are neatly defined, transients are fast and the longer you listen the more get accustomed to those uncanny moments where the voice seems to slip right behind your head.Money” from Pink Floyd is the perfect test track to figure out what I mean by that. The first seconds’ ping-pong between left and right, and with my TRN BAX IEM, you get dizzy in an instant.

Lows are tight and deep. The bass of the UA3 reached much lower than expected. The bassline is deep and meaty, but also well-controlled and with a good sense of rhythm. When you push the volume up, you can easily hear those discrete rumbles in the background. It’s impactful, more realistic and overall more natural.

Mids are flat but smooth. Tones residing in the midrange are crisp and uncoloured, with plenty of texture to be heard in both vocals and all the instruments. With a very very slight bump on the upper mids, just enough to give voices more depth and body. A definitive upgrade compared to the previous Shanling UA2. UA3 sorts out the instrument and vocal tracks into clearly defined spaces on the sound stage in terms of both width and depth, and presents utterly realistic acoustic guitars.

Recessed hardware keys are hard to feel with the fingertip sometimes

The UA3 certainly impressed me with its clarity, well-organised and vivid imaging, and overall sense of organic and likeable sound. This kind of clarity and precision lands a hand to really good instrument separation. The vocals are very present in the dead centre, with guitar strings having crisp and energetic edges as well as long tone decay and room echoes.

Highs are airy and flat. Are well extended and again superbly clean. Details and micro-details could be overwhelming, if not for the fast transients and sharp attacks. Listening to classical music and jazz is a bliss. The Shanling UA3 is absolutely dead silent in any conditions. Even with poor recordings, I didn’t hear any hiss or hum.

Dynamic is top-notch, layering is razor-sharp and the sound stage pinpoints are accurate. Every nuance, every sensation is there. Surfing through both slow and fast-paced tracks or watching Youtube videos, I haven’t found any audio material that doesn’t sound great with the UA3. Sound-stage is presented in a forward manner. UA3 is capable of placing an exceptionally wide image. The soundstage extends well too. 

Sum-Up

When I was testing the UA3 I forgot that I was listening to it. This only happens if the gear you are using pulls you into the music and the music takes you deeper into your memories. The UA3 reminds you of the old analogue days with its dynamic, realistic and technically brilliant sound. On the practical use side, the hardware volume keys, which also support software mode, and having DAC controls over an App help the UA3 to pull out itself from the crowd and set a good position on the frontline even with bigger brothers. Truly deserves AKM’s “Velvet Sound” slogan.