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Shanling Q1 Review - The most charming of DAPs

Shanling Q1 Review - A Most Charming of DAPs

Not too long ago the Shanling launched the Q1, an entry level digital audio player. After a successful Kickstarter campaign the first batch models have finally made their way into the hands of pre-orders customers. This Q1 stands somewhere in between Shanling’s lineup of the M2s/x and the M0 players.

Upon inspection, the Q1 appears to be a small device such as the M0, but in reality it is noticeably larger especially in hand. We are quite fond of the Q1’s style; it manages to be as stylish as Activo’s CT10 in every way, but with a flair of a charming retro design that matches the aesthetic of their MTW100 true wireless headphones, a smooth and colorful metal body headphones that feels very premium in hand.
Shanling Q1 DAP-2

Like many of Shanling’s players you will find the essential volume knob on the right side for finer volume control. The knob feels incredibly satisfying to turn. Shanling has always done a fantastic job making sure their input hardware feels trustworthy and tactile, and the same could be said for the forward, backward, and pause buttons on the right side.

Shanling Q1 DAP-3

Unlike the Activo CT10 and Shanling M2x, the Q1 does not feature Wifi hardware. It is a dedicated file player DAP, however, what you gain from not having wireless streaming is superior battery life. Compared to the M2X, with over twice the battery capacity and only 10 hours of playback, the Q1 is advertised as having 21 hours of continuous playback with a deep standby of 20 days. In our tests playing 16bit FLAC files at 50% volume & display off  - over the course of 12 hours the battery got down to 50%, assuming that battery drain is linear that puts us well over Shanling’s specifications.

With a respectable power output of 80mW at 32Ω, the Shanling Q1 is able to drive most lower impedance headphones without too much trouble. Shanling states that it can drive devices from 8Ω all the way up to 300Ω, though it's unlikely you will be comfortably plugging in devices with an impedance of 300Ω into this player. We did find that it had a fairly manageable noise floor, much more minimal hissing even compared to many other players above this price range.

User Interface & Experience 
The UI is Shanling’s own MTouch OS. Compared to the experience on the Shanling M0, the larger 2.7” display makes the touch interface much easier to swipe and control. It has a super fast bootup and an intuitive interface. Swiping down from the top gives you access to key audio controls such as the EQ, Maxing PO, Low/High Gain, Bluetooth, and USB Transfer/DAC Mode. The EQ settings are fairly easy to set; It comes with 7 presets that can be overwritten and 3 additional custom EQ profiles. On some higher-end DAPs I’ve found that the digital filters made very little of a difference, but it was surprising to hear how audible the differences were with the filters on a player in this price range.

Filter options include:

- Linear Fast
- Linear Slow
- Minimum Fast
- Minimum Slow (This was the most natural for me)
- Apodizing Fast
- Apodizing Slow
- Corrected Minimum Fast
- Brick Wall

The display is also fairly bright and will work in most outdoor environments, however, viewing angles and resolution aren’t spectacular. Measuring in at about 199 ppi and 360 x 400 pixels you can’t really expect much more for a DAP in this price range. When viewing brighter album covers from the side angles the image becomes rather saturated, though as stated previously, that is pretty much to be expected.

Shanling Q1 -4Some minor improvements could still be made to the UI: 
- Access to display based volume control as well as swiping up to access the home menu like most mobile devices today, rather than the unnatural swipe from the left.
- The EQ page also needs a back button since swiping out of it can cause accidental adjustments.

We’re hoping that Shanling seeks to amend these in future software updates.  

Shanling Q1 -5

At the heart of the device is an ESS Amp with ES9218P DAC that can decode Hi-res 32-bit/384kHz PCM & DSD 64/128 files. (USB DAC Mode will only do 24-bit/192kHz) It uses the Bluetooth 4.2 standard instead of 5.x with support for LDAC, AAC, SBC, and APTX codecs as well as 2 way BT connectivity, essentially allowing you to turn any headphone or speaker into a Bluetooth device. The Q1 also serves as a hi-fidelity USB DAC for a laptop, desktop, or mobile device by plugging in directly to the USB-C port. Charging time was measured to just under 2 hours from drained. Like any proper dedicated music player, it has a Micro SD card slot (allows for cards up to 2TB) that can be hidden underneath the included silicone case to prevent it from accidentally popping out during use.

Supported playback formats include APE, FLAC, ALAC, WMA, AAC, OGG, MP3, OPUS, WAV, AIFF, DSF, and DIFF.

Shanling Q1 - 6

As it stands the Q1 retails for $120, only $10 more than the Shanling M0, and that’s an additional $10 well spent. Compared to the M0 it has a more refined, neutral and cleaner sound, better display, UI, ergonomics, and overall experience. We found that it was able to adequately bring out the soundstage and expected details of many of the headphones & IEMs we had on hand.

Shanling Q1 - 7

The shanling Q1 makes for a fantastic on the go DAP for any audiophile. It’s small, compact, and has a long battery life, providing more power and better sound quality than nearly every phone on the market.

Our Conclusion: It’s a great bang for the buck entry-level DAP that performs well above its price range.

If you wish to learn more about the Shanling Q1 you can visit the Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shanlingaudio/shanling-q1-retro-styled-portable-hi-fi-music-player
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