To Be or not to USB; that is the question.
Although I still play lots of CDs, and some vinyl, I now have a laptop with iTunes and Spotify Premium. So, being able to play the laptop through my hi-fi is absolutely essential.
The Shanling H1.1 has inputs for CD (co-axial or optical, sampling at 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, or 192kHz), USB2.0, and an input for an iPod/iPhone. There are sets of balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) analogue outputs, plus a 6.3mm (1/4in) headphone socket. The unit is simple to operate, and straightforward to use. Typically Shanling, both build quality and finish are excellent. Speaking personally, I really like the Full Metal jacket construction and those sexy rounded sides! The unit ships with a CD that contains the drivers your computer will need to work with the H1.1. Analogue outputs level is 2V for the RCA (unbalanced) sockets and 4v for the XLR (balanced) sockets.
Disclosure time: my latest CD player is a Shanling. Having a tube output stage, the Shanling CD-500 delivers a sound that’s crisp and lucid, yet rich and velvety, with a warm well-balanced tonal quality. At the same time, it’s not too ‘tube’; you’re not faced with an overly-warm presentation.
Substituting the solid-state Shanling H1.1 DAC for the CD-500’s tube output, the sound immediately seemed a touch tighter, leaner, and more crisply-defined. The bottom end was firmer, and had a bit more ‘kick’ on things like bass drums and low bass guitar notes. The CD-500 sounded airier and slightly more spacious, but the H1.1 wasn’t exactly thin or harsh.
The DAC definitely sounded a bit more immediate, with crisper transients and added attack. But the upper frequencies remained impressively clean and superbly integrated. Indeed, in some ways I slightly preferred it. In a sense I was slightly disappointed the CD-500 had been ‘ousted’ so soon after I got it. But it wasn’t a ‘night and day’ difference; each had its merits.
If your amplifier offers the option of balanced analogue inputs, it’s worth investing in cables able to use the H1.1’s XLR outputs. You’ll get a bigger more dynamic sound, with increased depth and scale. And while a good set of XLR terminated balanced cables can be a bit pricey, the sonic difference should be worthwhile.
Indeed, if your existing CD player has single-ended outputs, but your amplifier has balanced inputs, the sonic improvement offered by ‘balanced’ operation would by make the purchase of an H1.1 worthwhile. But even single-ended, the H1.1 sounds very good; crisp, clean, and very dynamic.
It seems to have excellent timing, making the music sound cohesive and purposeful. Clarity is excellent, and the presentation is clear without seeming clinical. Comparing results from the H1.1 to the in-built DAC in the CP800 proved interesting. By rights the CP800’s DAC should win – if only because it provides the cleanest, shortest, purest signal path.
Listening via the H1.1 involves an analogue output stage, plus a set of analogue interconnects. You’ve also got to consider the quality of the digital cable connecting the DAC to the CD player. In terms of sheer sonic purity, the direct digital connection to the CP800’s DAC does have the edge. It delivers a very neutral truthful sort of sound – nothing added, nothing taken away. The H1.1 makes the music sound a tad more characterful. There’s perhaps a slight loss of purity compared to Direct, but it’s nothing too noticeable. Via the H1.1, the sound seems a touch deeper and richer, with greater density and weight. It’s maybe a wee bit ‘busier’ and less transparent in the sense of each strand being kept separate, but clarity remains very good.
Costing around £600, the H1.1 offers excellent value. It’s very solidly made, and looks great. Sometimes you see a product and fall in love with the way it looks and feels. That pretty much sums up how I felt about the H1.1 as soon as I unboxed it; I was immediately smitten. The fact that it sounded great almost came as something of a bonus!
Partner an H1.1 with almost any integrated CD player that’s (say) five or more years old, and it’ll almost definitely produce an improvement in sound quality. The additional USB and iPod inputs will allow you to connect other digital sources as desired, adding value to the package. As I said earlier, as soon as I saw it I was smitten. I think you will be too!
Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz (±0.2dB)
Unbalanced out put level: 2V
Balanced output level: 4V
Power consumption: 9W
Dimensions (WxDxH): 23 x 37.4 x 8.8cm
UK distributor: Real Hi-Fi
Tel: +44(0)1257 473175
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