Cayin RU-6 vs Lotoo Paw S1 vs Shanling UA5 dongle impressions

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by Cellist88, Feb 8, 2022.

  1. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    glad some folks are happy with the RU6 even though it's not amazeballs as I was hoping....
    that being said, IMO - the Timeless 7hz IEM dynamics and scaling up benefits from a dongle that has a battery for power, Shanling UP5 one example. or to approach desktop quality: iFi Gryphon.
    the Gryphon is certainly larger, and some consider a "battery" as no longer a pure dongle, so will stop there.
     
  2. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I'm curious to try it with the Gryphon and compare. Big price difference though!
     
  3. scblock

    scblock Friend

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    That was a good bit of fun. I finished up the last things I wanted last night and wanted to post my impressions in a little more timely fashion than I have on the last couple of loaners. There's a lot here, so this will mostly be a giant bullet list. For the most part I used the 4.4mm balanced outputs for everything, except 2.5mm for the FiiO Q1 and 3.5mm SE for the Apple dongle.

    Loaner Gear
    • Lotoo PAW S1
    • Cayin RU6
    • Shanling UA5
    Owned Gear used for Comparison
    • FiiO Q1 MkII
    • Apple Lightning Dongle
    • Sony WM1A (Walkman One firmware, WM1Z tuning)
    Sources
    • iPhone 11 Pro (primary)
    • iPad Pro (M1, Spring 2021)
    • Framework Laptop (i5, late 2021)
    IEMs
    • Campfire Audio Andromeda
    • JVC FDX1

    TLDR Summary:

    With Andromeda: WM1A > Shanling UA5 <> Cayin RU6 > Apple Dongle <> PAW S1 > Fiio Q1 MkII

    With FDX1: WM1A> Cayin RU6 <> Shanling UA5 > Apple Dongle <> PAW S1 > Fiio Q1 MkII


    Impressions

    Lotoo PAW S1
    • Sound was slightly thin and a little on the grainy side. Felt like it leaned towards a bright presentation.
    • Some of that delta-sigma ugliness, digital nasties
    • Has a bunch of EQ/effects options but the names aren't very self-explanatory and there is no description of what they are in the documentation. They mostly sounded wrong to me and I would suggest avoiding these. Also WTF is "Dental" (see post from @dubharmonic)
    • No noise with Andromeda
    • Had a few times where it would power on but not actually connect correctly to the iPhone. Unplugging everything and trying again seemed to fix this
    • Not better than the Apple dongle. Similar overall, but maybe slightly worse
    • Volume buttons are close together while the mode button is spaced farther apart. Very good for usability without having to look at the device, but in my opinion volume up and down are backwards.
    • Overall not very interesting.

    Cayin RU6
    • Thicker sound, darker tone than the other dongles
    • No digital nasties to speak of
    • Clicking/popping on volume change and sample rate change. Not an issue for single albums or once you have volume set, but can be a little distracting on playlists with mixed sample rates
    • Fairly detailed but not the king of resolution
    • NOS sounded soft, like the edges were rounded off. Especially noticeable on acoustic guitar with some real snap on it. I preferred OS mode.
    • Bass is decent but not a lot of slam
    • Might have the most musical sound in general of the three units
    • Gets quite warm in use
    • No notable noise with Andromeda
    • Used 4.4 mm output though I understand this is not a true balanced output
    • All three buttons are evenly spaced and feel exactly the same. There's a little nub on the mode button but it doesn't stand out at all. Makes it hard to hit the right button without looking at the device.

    Shanling UA5
    • This may be an ESS device, but I found it to have fewer digital nasties and sound more "right" than the AKM based PAW S1.
    • I think for overall performance, usability, and listening enjoyment it was the best of the three units overall. Sounded best with the Andromedas. The RU6 might sound slightly nicer with the FDX1.
    • Like many ESS devices it has too many filter choices. I used the fast linear filter for listening
    • Not sure why it even has a choice between dual and single DAC modes. Is there a good reason to have this option other than to have options? I used the default dual setting.
    • The SPDIF setting is not explained in the tiny manual and only vaguely mentioned on the website. Looks like it might be compatible with the 3.5 mm to RCA coax cable I bought for my FiiO X5 III years ago but I did not test this.
    • Documentation is poor overall (common for all three units), and the website is "all text is images" garbage so I could not search for SPDIF on the page even though it's there.
    • The UA5 was the only one of these three devices to not show sample rate on the screen. Not super important but interesting
    • Used in battery mode. From what I understand this is basically used as a buffer supply for the DAC and amplifier chips to decouple a little bit from the source device
    • Definite improvement over the Apple dongle
    • No noise with Andromeda
    • Had a tendency to pop when unplugging from a device. Unplugging from a computer with IEMs in could be hearing damaging
    • Volume knob is nice, easy to change without looking at the device. Best usability of the three units.

    FiiO Q1 MkII
    • The Q1 is a battery based DAC/amp, not truly a dongle. Large by comparison
    • Noticable background fuzz with Andromeda, quiet but somewhat distracting
    • Direct volume control is nice, I kind of wish the other units were like this
    • Brittle sounding with Andromeda. Grainy highs.
    • Not better than the Apple dongle

    Apple Lightning Dongle
    • Few sins
    • With Atmos set to automatic Apple Music decided to turn that on and it was jarring. This didn't happen with the three loaner dongles. I set Atmos to off and that sorted it out.
    • Slightly grainy, slightly thin sounding with Andromeda
    • No noise with Andromeda
    • Serviceable but I would rather listen to the Walkman

    Sony WM1A, Walkman One firmware, WM1Z tuning installed
    • My favorite overall sound
    • Warmer sound (by choice with this firmware and tuning) with great detail retrieval
    • No noise with Andromeda
    • Great synergy with Andromeda
    • Excellent usability
    • Not a dongle. Huge, heavy, and expensive by comparison
    • Better used as a standalone player; I only use it as a DAC when streaming new albums (Apple Music or Qobuz) from a laptop or iPad when I'm away from home, and it's usually easier to just use Airpods in that case.
    • Doesn't want to play nice with my iPhone 11 Pro but works fine with M1 iPad Pro (USB-C)
    • Noticeable audio delay in USB DAC mode. Not an issue for music but does not work for gaming or videos.

    Other notes

    My most likely use case for a small dongle like this would be with my iPhone or iPad. Given that, I used the iPhone and Apple Music as my primary source for most of these comparisons. Apple Music was set to high resolution lossless streaming for all testing.

    In addition to the three dongles in the loaner, I did some comparisons to the Apple Lightning dongle, my old FiiO Q1 MkII, and my Sony WM1A. To keep my test playlist consistent between devices I used the iPhone for everything, except the Walkman which I used as a USB DAC from the iPad with the same playlist (it does not play nice with the iPhone for some reason). Any testing with the laptop was mostly functional, rather than a listening comparison. My main takeaway there is that any of these dongles is an improvement over the garbage headphone jack on the Framework laptop, but that sample rate changes between tracks in Linux is not a fully solved problem.

    Most of my focused listening was with Andromedas as they are what I use most of the time and are very sensitive to noise. I also used FDX1s to see how these performed with dynamic driver IEMs. Since IEMs are my use case for portable and these are my two favorite that was all I used.

    I used Apple Music so I would have a consistent playlist with the same source material including on the WM1A but what I didn't expect was that with the Atmos setting on "automatic" it would turn that on for some outputs but not others. It happened on the Apple dongle and the Walkman which really threw things off on a couple tracks before I turned that setting off (the Moving Pictures 40th anniversary Atmos mix sounds completely wrong BTW).

    As a sidebar I think it's interesting that when I bought the FiiO X5 MkIII and the FiiO Q1 MkII a few years back pretty much everyone was using 2.5mm TRRS jacks for balanced output on portable systems. The 4.4 mm Pentaconn connector Sony was using on the Walkman by contrast seemed to get a lot of "what's the point" style criticism at the time. But now these little dongles are all using that same 4.4mm connector, as are the majority of DAPs from other manufacturers. Seems like one of the few time Sony backed the successful (not just better) technology.
     
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  4. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Cayin RU6 vs Lotoo Paw S1 vs Shanling UA5 dongle shoot out

    Gear:
    (all ortho iems)
    iphone X -> dongle ->
    ->SE -> micropore tape modded Shuoer S12
    -> "balanced" -> micropore tape modded Gold Planar G12 (ortho iems)

    All of these dongles (except I don’t know about the Shanling) drain the battery from the host device unbelievably fast. I think 3x the rate of not using the dongle. My ipod touch 7g lasts 1.5-2 albums and my iphone X with 85% battery health lasts about 5-6 albums maybe.

    Neither the RU6 or the S1 could power the GL12, making them sound hazy and recessed in the midrange. They sound much much better with my Yggdrasil -> Liquid Gold X. It’s quite stark going from the dongles to the LauX, vocals are suddenly clear and present and everything is more fleshed out, more dynamic and more resolving. The S12 however, seemed to do well with both the RU6 and S1. Which is ok, the GL12 is pretty big and more of a home use iem. I use them mostly for movies or music with the LauX.

    RU6
    Design

    I hate the buttons on this dongle so much. There’s 3 buttons evenly spaced on the side and all the same shape. 2 control volume and one controls settings. You can’t just feel the side and find the volume buttons. The current buttons and long skinny shapes, why didn’t they make the volume buttons circles so it would be easy to feel out? I guess I’ll eventually memorize it, but it’s bad design. The Shanling has an actual rotating volume knob which is a million times better.

    Sound
    This is without question my favorite of the 3 dongles SQ wise. It has some special magic to it, both a bit of the R2R sound but also something more, a tube like euphonic richness that is subtle, but it’s there and makes everything sound more real, more 3 dimensional, and a bit sweet. The RU6 sounds more even than the S1, which seems to have a bit emphasized bass.

    The RU6 also sounds more resolving than the S1 with bigger soundstage.

    S1
    Design

    The buttons on this one are a little better, with the volume buttons separated a bit from the setting button. But the Shanling has an actual rotating volume knob which is a million times better.

    Sound
    This sounds more like what I expected a dongle to sound like. On the plus side, it has cleaner treble than the RU6 though it doesn’t have that magical sweetness that is there in the treble of the RU6 despite it being a bit more rough. It basically sounds more solid state, more correct, more sterile though it doesn’t sound sterile at all, just by comparison to the RU6. It is punchier sounding than the RU6 which is more relaxed and expansive. But the S1 is more closed in and sounds a bit boring by comparison. That magic is not there despite technically souding very good and in some ways technically better.

    The S1 has a bit more bass than the RU6.

    It is flatter sounding, with the RU6 having a more 3 dimensional sound

    UA5
    Ii've added UA5 impressions here after figuring out the volume issue. I think technically this night be the best of the 3 dongles, but synergy plays a big role.

    Design
    I love the design of this dongle. A physical volume knob is really nice, and it’s smaller than the RU-6. I would like to see a battery drain test on the host device. Since the RU-6 heats up, that’s wasted energy and I bet the UA5 doen’t drain as much battery from the host device. Pure specualtion though.

    Note, you have to turn up your iPhone/phone volume to max with the UA5. It doesn't do it automatically. This is the only design feature I don't like.

    Sound
    I think the UA5 is technically on par with the RU6 and it will come down to synergy. The UA5 is the more neutral dongle. Its clean but not sterile, has natural warmth but is not warm, has extended treble but it’s clean with no etch. Heck, technically the UA5 might be better. But it doesn't hav the magic R2R-tube sound of the RU6. It’s more straight forward. This isn’t a bad thing though. With the Suoer S12, which leans on the bright side, the RU6 is the clear winner, with the UA5 just sounding too bright. With the Audeze Euclid, the UA5 is the clear winner as it is kind of thick sounding with mildliy recessed mids, and the UA5 matches much better. From memory, I woud say the UA5 would be a better match for the 7hz Timeless as well, as that iem is already warm enough ans has loose bass which the UA5 would be better for.

    The RU6 does have a bigger soundstage.

    So if you have iems that lean warm, the UA5 is the better choice. If you have iems that lean bright or just a bit thin, the RU6 may be the better choice.

    ps I don’t think the UA5 drives the Euclid very well just better than the RU6, this thing is very power hungry it sounds much better out of my Liquid Gold X. I suspect a powerful amp or battery powered portable would be a better choice.

    Final Thoughts

    Both the RU6 and S1 seem to synergize really well with the S12 but not as well with the GL12, which sounds much better out of my Liquid Gold X. I think it just needs more power to sound it’s best. But the RU6 -> modded S!2 combo is really great and something I think I could actually live with happily as my only headphone (though I would of course miss my full size orthos which are much better)

    UA5
    Very well balanced, clean, transparent, natural.

    S1
    A lesser version of the above. Less natural sounding.

    RU6
    Romantic, euphonic, while still having great detail and a wider soundstage than the above

    I think the RU6 is pretty special for what it is and really exceeded my expectations for these dongles. I thought they would sound basically the same as the stock headphone out of my ipod touch 7g. But they sound noticeably better which is surprising.

    the battery drain from the host device is almost a deal breaker and something to consider before buying one of these dongles. You can’t take them out with you and listen to music all day. If I was going portable I would probably not bring the dongle. they seem more appropriate for around the house use or office use when you just want something small. I much prefer using these than a big iFI style DAC/amp which is cumbersome to use, and is constantly falling all over, or if you velcro it to your host device, it’s just a pretty large thing to pick up. the dongles just merge with the headphone cord pretty seamlessly.
     
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    Last edited: Jul 1, 2022
  5. Bina

    Bina MOT - Shanling

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    That's very strange, we have RU-6 in office and you should be getting comparable output power from UA5.

    Was volume on your iPhone set to maximum? Were you able to test it with any Android or Windows? You can send me PM and will check more on it.
     
  6. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Ok, this was the problem. The RU-6 and Lotoo both disable the iPhone's volume control and set it to maximum, changing it doesn't affect the volume coming out of the dongle, and I just assumed the UA5 was the same. The UA5 even grays out the volume slider so it looks like it's bypassed. But if you change the volume, it changes the volume through the dongle. Kind of annoying TBH. Now my iPhone volume will be set to max when I unplug the dongle and I'll have to remember to turn it back down. A bigger problem for iPod touch's but still.

    I'll try to write some impressions of the UA5.

    @Bina the UA5 got here late and so was only part of this loaner for a brief time, but iFI is sending us their new dongle, and the UA5 will go out with that and probably all the same people will sign up to hear that, so it will get heard by a bunch of people. Comparing it to the much more expensive iFI dongle isn''t as fair as the RU6 and S1 but it will be heard. Thank you so much for the loaner!

    So far I think it sounds great! But I'm on one song still...
     
  7. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Ii've added UA5 impressions to the above. I think technically this might be the best of the 3 dongles, but synergy plays a big role.

    Design
    I love the design of this dongle. A physical volume knob is really nice, and it’s smaller than the RU-6. I would like to see a battery drain test on the host device. Since the RU-6 heats up, that’s wasted energy and I bet the UA5 doen’t drain as much battery from the host device. Pure specualtion though.

    Note: you have to turn up your iPhone/phone volume to max with the UA5. It doesn't do it automatically. This is the only design feature I don't like.

    Sound
    I think the UA5 is technically on par with the RU6 and it will come down to synergy. The UA5 is the more neutral dongle. Its clean but not sterile, has natural warmth but is not warm, has extended treble but it’s clean with no etch. Heck, technically the UA5 might be better. But it doesn't hav the magic R2R-tube sound of the RU6. It’s more straight forward. This isn’t a bad thing though. With the Suoer S12, which leans on the bright side, the RU6 is the clear winner, with the UA5 just sounding too bright. With the Audeze Euclid, the UA5 is the clear winner as it is kind of thick sounding with mildliy recessed mids, and the UA5 matches much better. From memory, I woud say the UA5 would be a better match for the 7hz Timeless as well, as that iem is already warm enough ans has loose bass which the UA5 would be better for.

    The RU6 does have a bigger soundstage.

    So if you have iems that lean warm, the UA5 is the better choice. If you have iems that lean bright or just a bit thin, the RU6 may be the better choice.

    ps I don’t think the UA5 drives the Euclid very well just better than the RU6, this thing is very power hungry it sounds much better out of my Liquid Gold X. I suspect a powerful amp or battery powered portable would be a better choice.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2022
  8. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Thanks for the write up! Do you find the internal battery allows for consistent performance out of the UA5 regardless of source? One thing I didn’t like with the RU6 is that it sounded best out of a laptop, then second best off an iPad, and least best out of an iPhone. Shanling’s marketing claims with the internal battery powering the DAC it offers the same performance across all sources. Is that what you’ve found?
     
  9. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    I found it to be better out of my MBP (USB-C) too, versus iPhone/lightning, and more noticeable running balanced out. NB: this was while using it as a "pure" DAC (volume set to 100) into Freya (switching between 3.5mm to RCA and 4.4mm to XLR), 2-channel, yada yada. I haven't had access to my Dunu do-it-all IEM cable for a bit, so I'll definitely be trying out a few other combinations soon.
     
  10. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    I don’t have an iPad and I can’t get any of these dongles to work out of my MacBook Air 2020. No matter what app I play from it plays for 3 seconds then no sound. @yotacowboy suggested checking midi settings but I don’t know what to check for so have procrastinated. I just use airplay to my liquid gold x and gold planar GL-12 (another chi-fi ortho iem) for movies.

    did you find it sounded better out of an iPhone when connected to power using the dual port cck adapter?
     
  11. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    Macintosh HD --> Applications --> Utilities --> Audio Midi Setup; then once the DAC is plugged in, make sure you see it, and set sound output to be played thru the DAC, and sometimes you might need to set system notifications to be played thru it as well. Anything beyond that, I have no idea!

    Edit, also try playing with the sampling rate coming out of the MBA. I'm using Roon, and it played nicely with the RU-6, bypassing the OSX Core Audio.
     
  12. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I didn't directly A/B the RU6 straight to the iPhone versus through the powered CCK, still a big compromise if I have to have the iPhone plugged in to power to get better performance out of the attached dongle even if there is a performance bump. The hybrid battery approach is the only reason I'm really curious about the UA5.

    By "it" do you mean the RU6 or the UA5?
     
  13. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    Sorry! RU6.
     
  14. zottel

    zottel Almost "Made"

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    Just a note here, I only have the RU6 since yesterday:

    Do try NOS mode on the RU6 with external upscaling! I tested that yesterday evening on a whim, not even fancy upscaling with HQPlayer or a targeted device, just Roon upsampling set to maximum frequency (power of 2), precise, minimum phase.

    It was so good that I sat slack-jawed for half an hour and couldn't believe what I was hearing, it seemed to me like the hugest leap since I started buying good audio stuff. Very smooth and extremely detailed at the same time, the most real-life sound I had ever heard.

    I couldn't reproduce this awe today in a few short tests with no time to really feel the music, so YMMV. :) But it definitely sounds better than internal OS, and it has the additional benefit that the dongle doesn't heat up as much.

    EDIT: Listening again now, I guess I have to tone that down a bit. While it does sound great, I don’t hear the huge difference today that I heard yesterday. Hearing is strange, sometimes.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2022
  15. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    The RU6 also shows the sample rate. Just for reference.
     

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