UP4 a challenge – Shanling’s UP4 2022
Pros: Wireless v Wired gets closer
Refreshing choice for both IEM and Full Sized Headphones
Make any headphone a decent hands free device
Cons: Lack of native support for Hi Res and DSD
I am a wealthy man, if wealth is measured by happiness. If wealth is also defined by the number of review items I have been sent over the last decade, then yes, I may also be considered abundant with riches. This particular pocket sized product has been kindly provided by aoshida audio Not only that, but it is for sale right at this very moment and can be found precisely here That means if you are interested in finding out much it costs ($114 as of launch) and you must have it, I have put you right already and thank you for your time. If you wanna know more, and you need a blow by blow, no frills, no jargon look at this here Shanling thing, with a comparison field test between this and a budget dongle, you’ll be pleased to know you’ve arrived at the right place. I have written 100s of reviews, both of the great and the small. I treat each new arrival with the same frisson of excitement that I have always experienced in my adventures in the World of HiFi. The hunger to bring you the latest output from those who care and those who dare remains at the core of my motivation. If this disappears, so will the reviews. It would seem that, despite my having little time available to pitch to the manufacturers out there I am still supplied with a steady stream of audio to mess around with. Honestly, I do have my own stuff and would love to talk about that. This appears unlikely given how much I am constantly being sent.
About the UP4 22
The Shanling family has reinvented their alleged “best selling” UP4 with a new Dual DAC Chip, the ES9219C. Although I compare this to a budget Dac Dongle, the Jade Audio Fiio KA1, it isn’t really a dongle. Shanling have plenty of those available. The Dac Dongle carries no power itself, instead feeding from the charging port of mother, the smart or iPhone, or from the voltage of the USB port of the laptop or PC. The UP4 is a bluetooth equipped ultra portable USB Dac Amp. It is a little more versatile. It doesn’t drain your smart phone battery in the same way as a dongle. Once you have seen how good the audio from the wireless aspect is, you won’t have the worries of a cable attached to the bottom of your phone. Cables can snap, causing terminal damage to your device or your smartphone, or, worse still, to both. Better to have your phone in your pocket and your dac amp at arms length. The UP4 makes for a pretty nifty hands free device. It comes with a snap on carry clip. Attach that to the top of your t shirt, or if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it’ll be to the neck part of your coat at the moment. When a call comes through, it takes a simple press of the volume wheel and you are in a conversation. Using your headphones as the receiver and a knowles microphone as a transmitter, you have a pretty snazzy setup and don’t need to look like a cretin by holding your phone horizontally and enabling the speaker. As you can tell, this is a pet hate of mine. Not everyone wants to be distracted by a telephone call, an interaction I have always felt is a private affair. The UP4 22 carries a good bit of onboard power, for a decent amount of time. I am led to believe there is 300 hours of standby time available, which means there seems little point in switching it off. When I say versatile, I mean it. There are 2 output connections. I will talk about both. The 3.5mm is not just your typical, boring unbalanced jack. This jack will cover all of your iem needs. There are 3 output modes for the unbalanced. I was puzzled as to why so much attention had been placed on what is normally viewed as a rather unglamorous slot. I get it now. It makes perfect sense. Mode 1 – I’m gonna call that Normal mode. That is suited to your super efficient KZ/CCA/KBear/Moondrop budget iem models. Mode 2 – let us say that is high power mode. Definitely good for your hybrids and customs. Mode 3 harnesses the twin power of the dual dac chip – Shanling call it boost mode. Almost like a flux capacitor, Planar IEMs, the latest must haves for the fashion conscious, eat this power up. They love it. It is what they crave. What this boils down to is a respectable 100mW at 32 Ohms, with every sail up and the wind blowing briskly. It doesn’t stop there. The UP4 has a balanced cable. The balanced connection has just 2 modes to satisfy the needs of the user. Why less, you may ask? I ponder such things at great length, so you don’t have to. Because the UP4 is the size of a lighter there is only so much power available. There are only so many gears you can go up. That being said, normal mode in balanced is naturally catering for IEMs with the posh 2.5mm cable. I know you have some of these, and I know you’ll be itching to find out what they sound like in the UP4. In time, dear reader, in time. The high mode for 2.5mm delivers a solid 165 mW at 32 Ohms. This is a 65% difference on the 3.5mm jack, and although I am a Rocket Scientist(maybe not in this life) it doesn’t take any skills in quantum mechanics to realise that this is where your full sized headphones are going to be comfortable. I apologise if you don’t have the relevant cable because you really need to get one if you intend to use the likes of the HiFiMan Sundara with the Shanling. The unbalanced jack does not unleash the type of power that makes a full sized Planar start to work properly. A balanced jack needs a balanced cable. I have a balanced cable with a 4.4mm termination. Therefore I needed a 4.4mm to 2.5mm adapter which set me back £9 on Amazon. A full cable will cost much more unfortunately. I am forever chasing more and more cable configurations and if, like me, you find this frustrating, I sympathise. On this occasion I forgive Shanling. The investment is well worth the money. Not only do you get more power, but the sound quality goes from so so to HiFi for full sized phones.
UP4 22 in use
The advantages of Wireless are will continue to reap ourselves, the punters, improvements in sound quality as our audio engineers strive to wean us away from the direct connections we have been enjoying for the past 100 years. The Bluetooth 5 chip is a bang up to date Qualcomm CSR8675. It can play all your files in LDAC mode without so much as a s.s.s.s.sssstutter. Being that LDAC is lossless, the theory goes that there shouldn’t be too much difference between the format you start with (WAV,FLAC) and the LDAC conversion. In fact, I tried the UP4 as an OTG device using the USBC and USB Audio Player Pro and tested it against using Shanling’s own Eddict Player and Bluetooth. The results went in favour of the wireless mode, particularly noticeable being the reduced output using the OTG method. Consider myself won over by the UP4’s bluetooth. For once, convenience and practicality are combined with good sound quality, so much so, that I have not been tempted to cabilise my smartphone since the test.
Connecting up to a laptop or PC is as simple as plugging the supplied charging cable into an available USB port. The UP4 is instantly recognised. I used it on my aged but venerable 2014 Macbook Pro Retina. There were 2 findings I must convey to you. Discovery no.1 – my posh, expensive audivarna software only recognised 44.1 and 48 as available formats for the UP4. Native DSD playback, even 24 192 hi res FLAC, is not achievable from the Shanling. This bolsters my opinion that this is primarily a bluetooth dac amp. Everything plays, but is converted through the UP4’s hardware. Revelation no.2 – the extra voltage being pushed from the Macbook pushes the output of the UP4 upwards. The UP4 2022 goes significantly louder through the Macbook when compared to using my smartphone. This is good news for users of less sensitive headphones than the Sundara, and offsets some of the disappointment of the lack of format compatibility. What I’m saying is that even more headphones start to become useable if you are wanting this in your study. Not a Susvara and not an HE6, nor an AKG K1000. Be reasonable! This is tiny!
As promised, I deliver no jargon, no fills and no nonsense in my description of the sound quality. I also remember requesting your patience earlier on in this article. You need wait no longer. I compared the UP4 to the KA1 from Jade Audio, Fiio’s budget subsidiary. The KA1 is something I’ve reviewed at length before, and I liked it. It should be noticeably below the capabilities of the UP4. It is. The KA1 connects directly to your smartphone and will play MQA and DSD natively. Despite that, the UP4 sounded more alive, more full of room, with a larger, but not bloated, bass presence and enough of those tiny little details to satisfy those of you suffering from upgraditis to feel you have a temporary respite from your affliction. A HiFiMan Sundara has been my weapon of choice for the majority of my listening, and for the YouTube demo I have posted here. I tried the Moondrop Chu for the 3.5 in unbalanced normal, the Sennheiser IE800 in unbalanced high and the Dioko 7hz Timeless Crinacle Planar in boost mode. The Shlouer Tape Electrostat reassured my faith in the lush sparkle of these super duper IEMs. I managed to snag the 2.5mm version of these. I made a blind purchase of these, as I did the Crinacle’s. I have been satisfied with my instincts, and I would say that the Tape’s outperform the Crinacle Planar, which is no slouch in itself.
It never ceases to amaze me what can be thought up in the offices of so many Chinese Audio Companies. I mean, how many times can you reinvent the wheel? You have a smartphone jack to plug your earphones into. You can add a Dac dongle and improve things. The ultra portable bluetooth dac amp follows. Perhaps a Mojo 2, as a strap on? Then the desktop, then the separates, incorporating any number of boxes, for dedicated clocks, power supplies, monoblock amps. You name it. There is a market ready to receive it. The choice is bewildering, the quality questionable at times. To make things even more complicated, Shanling start throwing things like the UP4 22 at us and even the adage “cheap and cheerful” doesn’t make sense anymore. All I know is this; each of the steps up from your smartphone jack should make an improvement in your enjoyment of the music you love, the passion for our hobby is reliant on this and this alone. I am confident in stating the UP4 achieves this aim and submit this article as subjective evidence m’lud. Now…where did I put that adapter?