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.