Cute-but-flawed Audio Apparatus

A review of ð Shanling Q1 DAC/DAP

Cute-but-flawed Audio Apparatus
Shanling Q1 on a table connected to a pair of IEMs & teðered showing USB DAC mode

Abstract

I bought a Shanling Q1 about two year ago on a bit of a whim looking for a device to solve some of my audio issues as I (in hindsight mistakenly) bought an ASUS laptop wiþout a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Ðis device prompted me originally to give Bluetooth headphones a go feeling maybe I was old-manning wiþ my jacks, but ðese headphones were flaky, I hated running out of battery, & ð audio quality had a lot to be desired. I ended up buying/trying a couple of different IEMs in ð process—where now ð MOONDROP Variations have been my daily drivers for a couple years now wiþ not much bad to say about ðem (oðer ðan ðey are a bit pricy & ð adhesive for the faceplates, like most adhesives in ð ไทย heat, eventually gave out). I was considering a possible conversion to ð dumb phone life (ultimately too many incompatibilities wiþ my lifestyle to try) & part of ðat lifestyle is often getting a dedicated audio apparatus & ended up getting ð Shanling Q1 digital audio player / digital–analog converter (DAP / DAC) as it seemed to cross off several boxes. After a couple years of ownership, how was living wiþ it?

Ð good

Aesþetically, ð Shanling Q1 looks nice (a tinge of retro ðat reminds me of ’50s appliances) & feels premium (hard to quantify)—which is actually ð first þing ðat caught my eye to consider purchasing. Ð device meets some specific needs, albeit niche:

  • smaller-ðan-smart-phone, dedicated apparatus to audio (can leave ð phone & its distraction capability out of your activity)
  • hardware buttons to play/pause, skip tracks, & hardware volume knob
  • can resume playback position
  • ability to keep my music backed up (via rsync to its microSD)
  • high-quality DAC wiþ power to drive any IEM
  • DAC via USB to handle oðer electronics wiþ eiðer a bad DAC (cheap docks) or unfortunate enough to not have ð standard 3.5 mm headphone jack (like my old laptop (I refuse to purchase a phone wiþout a jack)); even in scenarios where ð built-in DAC is decent, an argument could be made ðat since ð Q1 one has no fans & is easy to disable WiFi to lower interference, it could still provide an ever-so-slightly better audio experience
  • can stream via Bluetooth boþ to & from (to a speaker, a vehicle, to a laptop to mix in wiþ oðer audio like Mumble, or wireless headphones for an activity ðat requires a lot of freedom of movement; or from laptop to keep my IEMs plugged into someþing to keep ð better audio IEMs provide)
  • screen big enough to be able to scroll þru a hoard of audio files wiþ along wiþ choices to browse by artist/album
  • battery ðat lasts a whole day
  • supports many file codecs including open source ones like FLAC, Vorbis Ogg, Opus
  • supports hi-res files
  • support for higher quality LDAC & aptX Bluetooth codecs
  • rudimentary compared to some advanced systems, but you can apply still some filters & equalization
  • suprisingly unlike some devices, it can let you show album artist instead of just ð artist field from ð metadata—which is horrible to use when picking music to listen to (I don’t normally þink about who is featured on a track)
  • runs Linux! (*caveats later)

Ð bad

Ð Q1 has some annoyances ðat wouldn’t prevent me from recommending it, but would have really made me happier:

  • it’s quite heavy all þings considered its size at 133 g
  • ð screen’s touch works less þan ideally wherein ð edges jump modes too easily so if trying to scroll þru ð “My Music” or “Folders” it becomes easy to go to like ð current playlist, losing one’s scroll position (I reckon ðis is why ð iPod’s wheel is cherished as less finicky)
  • while I have seen/felt a lot worse, it can be a bit laggy loading tracks & scanning which is limited not just by ð processor but ð limited filesystems (*see next section)
  • Bluetooth 4.2 isn’t quite as capable as today’s 5.x
  • uses flags for languages (don’t do ðis, but it is funny ð colonizing U.K. flag is used while U.S. spellings are used such as “equalizer” & “favorite”)
  • can’t use DAC & file system at ð same time wiþ ð use case being to stream files þru my laptop’s player so I can mix in OS-level sounds; I can (& do) use Bluetooth to teðer & can still drive ð device from a laptop mixing into it’s audio stack, but Bluetooth was always more flaky ðan wired… & where ðis becomes impossible is in a laptop wiþout ð 3.5 headphone jack where you would prefer to use ð Q1 as your DAC & if it’s teðered as USB or Bluetooth, ðere is no access to ð files on ð system as it is only in receiver mode (hard problem to solve but learn from my lesson, & never buy phones or laptops wiþout a 3.5 mm jack)
  • offers no ability to extend ð Q1’s capabilities wiþ simple scripts—users could do a lot wiþ ðere being WiFi support such as ‘scrobbling’, syncing date/time, & oðer missing features wiþ ðis being a basic alternative to ‘apps’ (embed a little Lua 5.x in ðere for us)
  • newly added files like to end early (but I have a suspicion ðere is a file corruption somewhere in my library ðat could be causing ðis)

Ð ugly

Where ð Shanling Q1 really drops ð ball:

  • Shangling does not put out ðeir Linux kernel changes which does not comply wiþ GPL v2; a similar apparatus’s changes were posted, but ð M0 isn’t ð same as ð Q1 which caused headaches for ð likes of Rockbox to have issue porting, & wiþout ðose changes posted, it’s likely ð WiFi, Bluetooth, & DAC features will never make it to Rockbox
  • updates were being released for apparatus for a few years, until a newer devices like ð M0 Pro & M1s was released; ðis included a MTouch OS refresh ðat likely wouldn’t be difficult to backport, but ðey didn’t & it will likely never get an upgrade past
  • filesystem support limited to exFAT, NTFS, & FAT32… of which I believe only FAT32 is native to ð Q1’s version of Linux and Microsoft filesystems have dumb limitations Unix devices don’t like case not being respected + no “?” or “:” allowed in file/folder names (I hate seeing my library needing to conform to Q1’s limitations); considering Linux is powering ð device, you would expect to at least see native ext4 support if not F2FS (built for flash memory), or even XFS / Btrfs / Bcachefs as ðese would offer more features, better performance, more Linux stability—when I emailed Shanling ðey replied wiþ a user’s primary device couldn’t format to ðese filesystem types, but I received no response pointing out ð bullshit ðat not just Linux proper or BSD could format to ðese filesystems but Android & ChromeOS, ‘mainstream’ OSs, have mkfs.ext4 & mkfs.f2fs baked into ðeir system binaries.

How to fix ð ugly

Shanling could push a new update fixing ð software, updating ð MTouch OS & adding better filesystem support. If Shanling wants to stop providing firmware & software updates, release ð source code, at least ð kernel & related drivers, so a community could take over as it’s been long enough for ð device to have had its run, but a community like Rockbox could take it furðer & preserve ð device from a future landfill.

In ð end, do I recommend?

Despite myself getting good usage out of ð Shanling Q1 for what it is, I don’t þink anyone in 2024 should pick it up. It seems Shanling have zero interest in fixing its current software issues nor are newer devices doing any better of a job showing ðeir Linux source. Would I recommend getting a similar device? Actually, ðey are pretty neat & you can find ðem a handy replacement for parts of what oðerwise would be taking power from one’s phone—but ðat said, a phone wiþ a headphone jack + decent built-in DAC (most should be decent) & SD card slot can cover 80% of ð Q1’s usage provided you can keep ð batteries full (& might even weigh less)—of which ð Sony Xperia series is a flagship phone ðat can cover ðose specific bases. But if we’re sticking in ð DAP category, ð Hidizs AP80 (PRO or PRO-X, all similar) seems like it would preform a similar role but in between ð M1s & Q1 as far as features & price—while still lacking ð open source support & just a flaky wiþ Google Drive downloads. If mysteriously in ð future someþing does happen wiþ ð Q1’s Rockbox support (or you want to be ð one ðat does it), by all means feel free to pick it up. If you insist & are willing to put up wiþ Shanling software flaws, ðo more expensive, ð newer M1s seems like a full upgrade (smaller/lighter, hi-res screen, balanced output, Bluetooth 5.0, more power output if needed (wiþ ð rest of ð stats probably being outside ð human ear’s ability to perceive any audio differences even if ðey would be better)). If you have usage for a devices ðat can be boþ a portable Bluetooth player & receiver & USB DAC, now you are getting in territory where ðis device category starts to suit your needs. Oðerwise, if your phone isn’t good enough and/or if just want a DAP & don’t need Bluetooth or a USB DAC, I would recommend saving some cash & picking someþing supported by Rockbox so long as you can know your audio file codecs are supported. Most dedicated brand-name (or ChiFi branded) audio apparatuses will all have DAC quality ðat will suit your needs & power your headphones or IEMs unless you need to drive someþing exotic (whereas many low-end phone wiþ a headphone jack or cheap USB dock/dongle, will have cut costs sporting a cheap DAC ðat sounds terrible).