Quad Dong Bong Impressions: RU6 + UA5 + GO Bar + GOld Bar

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by YMO, Aug 11, 2022.

  1. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    This post is for four dongles:
    • Shanling UA5
    • Cayin RU6
    • iFI GO Bar
    • iFI GOld Bar
    I only used the Moondrop Kato DD IEM for impressions from an iPhone 13. I didn't use any other IEM or any other sources. 3.5mm output only.

    I used the Cayin USBC to Lightning Cable that came with my personal RU6 except for the GOld Bar, which I had to use its included USBC to Lightning Cable since the Cayin cable won't work with it.

    Shanling UA5: Out of the four dongles, the UA5 is my least favorite sounding wise, but my favorite on I/O and smart features. I really like the knob for volume control and to control different settings on the UA5. It is smart to have a battery setting (since UA5 has a built in battery) where you can have the UA5 run only via its battery (and not taking power from your iPhone. If you had other Shanling devices you can control DAC output to Single/Dual, Gain, SPDIF out and screen settings.

    For the sound, it sounds like my other Shanling devices I have in my bedroom (UP4 Bluetooth Amp and M3X DAC), it's neutral with minor signs of warmth. Lows are Highs are sufficient but not class leading, but the mids are solid with minor hints of brightness. Music itself has liveness but when comparing to other devices it ain't special. With that being said, it isn't a POS device and I think for most people they will be fine with the sound. It just doesn't have any "special sauce" to take it to the next level, even if I was listening to it for hours with no real major complaints. Average is most likely the word I would use as a sound summary. Still worth it if you get it for a good price but I would be careful if using neutral/bright/AZN vocal fetish BA IEMs since it might be too bright. Bright DD IEMs it might be ok but I wouldn't count on it.

    Cayin RU6: I didn't use the loaner RU6 since I got my own RU6 unit, and thus I used my own RU6 for this. I got the RU6 for its killer OG R2R sound for a good price, and I haven't been disappointed with it since. On the IO the button clicking does get a little annoying on the volume control but then again it is a R2R dongle, so it is needed for step-by-step volume control. See this post from mine for more details on the RU6 sound. Still love it after trying the loaners.

    iFi Go Bar + GOld Bar: Both Dongles will be similar in IO and sound signature, but differences if you read below. Lets get the IO out of the way, it's fully button based with no OLED/LED screen. To see what is turn on/off, the bottom of the unit uses LED lights to tell you bitrate and options on/off. I'm not a fan of this at all, but since both units don't use a screen then in theory the units will last longer since on the other units you need the screen to see what options you are adjusting. So if the screen dies out, you are semi-screwed. On the side of the unit it has buttons plus iFiMatch switch. Another button is to turn on xSpace and xBass DSP stuff, which I didn't use at all. Hold both volume buttons and you can turn on/off Turbo Mode. Turbo Mode makes a good difference on sound quality and it made the DD drivers in my Kato preform better. With that being said, it might be best to not use Turbo Mode on really sensitive IEMs.

    So the differences: Build Quality on Go Bar is standard dongle hard plastic thingy (dunno the build quality) that is better for outdoor use (but still use the included case), while the GOld Bar is in its stupid gold that get marks on it super easy is terrible to look at it. It isn't an OAFAS product, but it looks like one. Really hate the look of the GOld Bar and I would personally never get it since it looks dumb.

    Sound differences: Both have a similar sound signature: Warm-Neutralish that at least goes up a few levels above the UA5 to me, more highs info than the RU6 and more defined lows also than the RU6. The mids to me on both dongles aren't tasty to me like the RU6 (since I prefer how the OG R2R sound handles mids), but they won't lie to you and is very defined with vocals and not sounding too upfront. GOld Bar however is the better unit than the regular Go Bar, it is at least two levels up IMO than the Go Bar and I see why people really like to get their hands on the GOld Bar. I think the GOld Bar is for the serious music listener who want the best a dongle can perform without lying to you if the recording is good or bad. The RU6 on the other hand has the OG R2R sound that messes together, and I prefer that if I had to be honest. Oh yes, RU6 has more sound staging over the Bar units but not a lot more.

    Final Thoughts: None of the units sounds like shit. UA5 while being the weakest of the bunch is still a solid listen. End of the day it will come down to what type of music you are going to listen to from your source. I listen to non-audiophile type recordings on my iPhone 13 for casual listening, so the OG R2R sound of the RU6 is the better choice for me (since I am very bias). If you demand something that is more honest and can almost punch with desk setups, GOld Bar can be a good choice if you are do enough serious listening from your phone devices.





     
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    Last edited: Aug 11, 2022
  2. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    (Shitpost) Didn't read it, just rated for the photo.
     
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  3. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    I will put my final thoughts first and if you want more details, read further below:

    ifi Gold Bar- refined and smooth. slightly darker sound.
    iFi Go Bar - a little boomy, but still very nice
    Cayin RU6 - best all arounder, but maybe not quite as detailed. Very dynamic and wide.
    Shandling UA5 - Wall of sound

    Certainly my favorite is the Gold Bar, but I did not like the lower output from a phone, nor the attraction to fingerprints it has. But as far as SQ, it certainly was the highest of these. The Go Bar is a close second, just watch the boomyness on that one and somewhat softer presentation. Both the Gold and Go bar sounds so much more natural and smooth in the highs and the mids that is certainly more pleasant that the other two.

    Although the RU6 has very few sins of commission and probably more sins of omission. It does so many things well for such a simple device. However, the ifi devices are refined in every way and really show how rough around the edges this device is and probably given the price of these, the likely only actual one I would own. Solid device.




    iFi Gold Bar

    First off, I got more out of these from a computer. The volume was a bit limited from a phone.

    They have IEM Match, but on both headphones and IEM’s, I preferred just the straight out as the IEM Match felt kind of limiting and less dynamic, maybe even a bit muted.

    Not quite as liquid and big and bold as the iFi Diablo, but it is certainly warm with some upper end clarity. Lows come through quite powerful, even without XBass, and top end is clean and harsh free. Very authoritative dynamic sound and very reminiscent of the Diablo, but on a smaller scale. It certainly is warm leaning and almost scooped in the mids like many PCM DAC’s, and the top end has a certain kind of sweetness. Very low fatigue, but still plenty of details.

    This is one powerful little device. I did not know dongles could sound this good.


    iFi Go Bar

    This one is slightly softer and not quite as controlled on the low end nor as sharp and detailed as the Gold Bar. Lows are certainly a bit more overpowering. You can tell this one is slightly more congested than the Gold Bar as well and even more U-shaped than the Gold Bar.

    The biggest difference between the Go and Gold bars is that the Gold bar sounded less congested during complicated passages and everything keeps its place and shape.The Go bar seems like it is working too hard and gets things start to fight each other. Not to mention that the Go bar is a bit more “boomy” in the low end and less overall controlled and refined. The top end also was slightly hazier and did not have quite the clarity of the Gold Bar.

    On both the Xwide did not seem to be doing much. Maybe a slight enhancement, but it is still a parlor trick. If anything, it sounds like it adds just a tick of glassiness on top. The Xbass was actually kind of nice and added some nice liquid low end that was not at all overdone. This can be useful if you have tracks that might be bass shy, or maybe you want to listen at low volume and having a “loudness” kind of sound to help reduce fatigue. Neither one are big changes and you might even have one or both accidentally on and not even realize it. Very small “enhancements” to the sound.


    Cayin RU6

    Note: this was the only one of the four that would not work with the iFi supplied Apple Lightning to USB-C. The sound would go out on the speaker on the phone, but there would be no volume on the RU6. Only the little black Lightning to USB-C would work with RU6. And yes, all of them worked with the black cable with my iphone. Go figure.

    I had to look at my previous notes on this to see if I still agree. And yes I do agree that it is a quite powerful dongle with a great and musical sound and wide soundstage, but maybe not the most detailed.

    I do like how simple this device is AND the fact it remembers your last volume (something the other three don’t do). I also love the simplicity of this device. Mostly volume and a Mode button to change gain from low to high, change from OS to NOS, and change the screen timeout settings.

    As far as sound, coming from the iFi devices makes this one kind of sound neutral or even mid-centric, which I know is slightly warm. I also now hear a bit of harshness or grain in the mids, even in NOS mode. I still prefer NOS mode for sure. But the grain is still kind of there, which I think is a testament to how smooth and clean the iFi devices are.


    Shandling UA5

    The high end butane lighter design. Interesting side volume control, lol.

    Certainly the more “pasticy” sounding out of the bunch. More closed off and all the instruments seem to be made out of plastic with this kind of low end puch going on. It is also the hazyiest of all 4 of these.

    It was also the only one out of the four that responded to the volume control on the iPhone. For whatever that is worth. The other three, it did not matter.

    The sound is the flattest and least obtrusive, but also very flat and front row. The gray haze never goes away, no matter if single or dual DAC or filter chosen. I found linear sharp/fast the best (no surprise there).

    I just did not feel like I was getting enough detail or dynamics. If I had to sum up this DAC, it would be “Apple Dongle, but louder.” If you need volume, this can get loud.
     
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  4. Garns

    Garns Friend

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    Question for @YMO:

    The mids are less "tasty" on the iFi than the RU6. Is that a matter of tonality, or colouration/richness, or microdynamic nuance? I.e., are the iFi relatively "flat" by comparison or is there still plenty of microdynamic interest but just a cooler tonality or whatever?
     
  5. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    For me due to the OG R2R sound the mids on the RU6 is more richer/holographic/comforting but you have to live with details being mix in everything like an oil painting. iFi to me is less rich/holographic + more honest to source but the painting is more sharper where you can tell that yes that is a guitar playing in the far left of the stage.

    iFi wins on Microdynamics and being more honest to the sound without being dark. RU6 is for those who like the darker OG R2R sound on the go.
     
  6. Azimuth

    Azimuth FKA rtaylor76, Friend

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    I will weigh in as well. I agree with @YMO and say the mids are just richer on the RU6. The iFi devices sound a bit scooped, so I think it is more colouration. The lows and highs are just more macrodynamic on the iFi devices were on the RU6 everything is fairly even.
     
  7. Qildail

    Qildail Friend

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    I intentionally avoided looking up technical specifications or price points on any of the products before listening; so all value/price/spec evaluation was after I had wrapped up the listening session notes.

    I'm not an IEM guy, so I basically ran through the headphone stands against all four units at least for a few minutes before settling into evaluation mode. Obviously throwing every headphone I had into a detailed accounting would have taken way longer than my allotment, but all four units seemed to manage everything I threw at them: HD280, HD558, HD650, HE5XX, OG Clear, even Atrium. Eventually I landed on the HD280 (v2016) for testing, as it's probably the most flat headphone in my kit right now.

    Cayin RU6
    I didn't hear the hot mess that Marv did with his unit, at least. However, I did hear the mid details warming and smoothing referenced above. I've not been a fan of R2Rs in the low-to-mid price ranges (I've yet to hear the high-tier stuff), and the RU6 did nothing to change that opinion, for good or ill. There was nothing offensive here, but there also wasn't any real wow factor that made it stand out as the clear winner among the four to me. It did its job competently, which sounds like a backhanded compliment, but in this case is high praise given how some things here get flayed.

    With the UI/interface I wish the screen would have stayed active for a few more seconds after setting an option. It seemed to be in a bit of a hurry to turn the display back off. I'm assuming this is to preserve battery power as much as possible, but it did make for some clunky interactions when I didn't click the options fast enough to keep up. If there is an option to modify this timing, I overlooked it.

    Shandling UA5
    This one was probably the most frustrating for me, on a couple of fronts.

    This was the unit that I had the most trouble with on my iPhone 12. The phone was just not having it for some reason, regardless of cable, and I ended up back on a PC for most of this listening over USB. Eventually I got the iPhone to cooperate via an Apple USB dongle just to make sure it hadn't completely malfunctioned. That just adds one more thing to carry around to make it work, which is a strike against the concept to me.

    The sound had a cookie cutter feel to it. Part A meets Spec B, without any real promise of nuance. The very top may be a bit too sharp if your headphones run bright. I noticed it with HD280, and that is very much a "not bright" headphone sub-8Khz.

    The interface was just not intuitive to me at all. I spent a lot of time fumbling through click and roll mechanics. Given enough time I probably would have picked this up, but in the testing process it lead to a lot of mis-clicks and unintentional setting changes.

    The frustration points doubled up because I actually liked the sound overall. I came away more disappointed than anything; like a good idea or two got lost along the way somewhere and were left behind.

    iFi Go/Gold Bar
    The Gold was definitely the clearer of the two iFis. Complicated passages that went a little hazy on the Go were noticeably more detailed on the Gold. Bass was better controlled on the Gold; whereas it started to go one-note on some fast passages with the Go, especially in modern-produced rock-blues or EDM tracks with multiple bass lines.

    I was not able to find DAC specs on either unit easily. One retailer had some info about a CL implementation, but nothing in the box or on the website confirmed the technical specification. In and of itself this isn't a nefarious omission, but it's certainly a curious one.

    Despite the interface being the easiest to manage, the display label contrast on the iFi Go was poor. I kept having to go off-angle lighting to see what setting I was activating or deactivating. On the Gold, it was flat out unreadable stamped into the metal.

    I rather enjoyed the Gold from an overall listening experience, although after seeing pricing I'm not sure it is above and beyond better enough to justify its price being 50% more than the Go, and the metal stamping bit pretty much seals the deal for me. This was one instance I was glad I took notes prior to seeing the dollar amounts though.

    Final Thoughts
    It wasn't a straight up double-blind A/B-switch test setup, but spread out across the table for a few hours, this was overall a fun experiment and I enjoyed the time spent. It was also interesting to take notes on the items BEFORE seeing price or specs -- the inherent biases that I know I have get taken out of play.

    The struggle I have after reviewing the pricing and feature sets is I'm not sure I have a use case for these types of dongles at this relative value. For secondary desktop, Fulla 2/E does the job almost as well with less connectivity and interface frustrations; and for mobile aptX Bluetooth might just be "good enough" for my purposes. Maybe if I was invested in good IEMs I would have a different perspective; in which case I would lean toward the iFi Go on a balanced value-performance ratio, with an extra couple bucks thrown in for a label maker; and the RU6 as a close but distinct second.

    In the end, I got to hear some gear that I normally wouldn't consider or blind purchase, and for that I'm quite grateful. Thank you to the mods for allowing me to participate. Extra thanks to @yotacowboy for putting his own personal RU6 on the tour.
     

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