Truthear SHIO Review
Truthear SHIO Review
Obliterating the competition
Pros: + Fantastic sounding with a musical and organic character
+ Great transparency and technicalities
+ Natural and realistic timbre
+ Limited digital glare and artificiality
+ Both 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone outputs
+ Silent and noise free
+ Full scale 4V output with two gain settings
+ 60 steps hardware volume control with physical buttons
+ Power efficient
+ Premium looking
+ Good quality cable
+ Lightweight and compact sized
Cons: – Competition can sound more resolving and detailed
– No accompanying application
– The LED will not display sampling rate
– No MQA decoding for those who care
– A USB type C – A adapter is not included
– The stitching line of the leather lining doesn’t look firmly glued
The review sample was kindly provided by Shenzhen Audio, free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the Truthear SHIO is $69.99 and you can order it from Shenzhen Audio.
This is my first experience with Truthear, another manufacturer from China who is mainly distributed by Shenzhen Audio and has released three in-ear monitors and a DAC dongle.
The Truthear SHIO is a compact sized USB DAC dongle with a detachable USB type-C cable and dual headphone outputs, a 3.5mm single ended and a 4.4mm balanced one.
The SHIO features two pieces of the CS43198 DAC chip by Cirrus Logic and can handle PCM up to 32bit/768kHz and DSD256 but will not decode MQA.
The balanced architecture results in a high power output, 2V RMS for the 3.5mm output and 4V RMS for the balanced or roughly 150mWx2/32Ω and 55mWx2/300Ω.
The Truthear SHIO has two gain settings, low and high, for better matching with various earphones.
You can select the gain by simultaneously pressing the tiny hardware volume control buttons that are located at the side of the chassis.
The LED will light red for the low and green for the high gain.
There are two firmwares for installing in the Truthear SHIO, one for a regular sync-system volume control and the other for hardware internal volume mode with 60 steps of independent volume adjustment.
No need to say that the second is the better and the one I have exclusively used during my time with the SHIO.
Build quality and appearance
The Truthear SHIO is compact sized, measuring 54x20x14mm and maybe the most lightweight dongle with both 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs as it weights 17g only.
It is made from lightweight aluminum alloy with sandblasting and anodized treatment, the main body is covered by high grade, black painted, leather that adds a luxurious feeling and a unique appearance.
Build quality is very good but I am concerned about whether the leather texture will deteriorate after time and if the leather cover will get unglued at the seam line.
SHIO comes with only one short USB type C-C cable which is made from high quality oxygen free copper in a multi-core geometry and has a nylon mesh covering.
A USB type C to A converter is missing and for iOS you have to buy a separate cable or a suitable adapter.
Power output and noise floor
The unit was left playing music for more than 50 hours before listening evaluation.
I have used various earphones like the FiiO FA7S, FH15 and the Penon Vortex with balanced and unbalanced plugs.
The balanced output is undeniably the better one and should be preferred when possible but the 3.5mm is still excellent sounding retaining all the sound characteristics minus some loss in overall technicalities and dynamics.
The Truthear SHIO is powerful enough to run sensitive headphones like the Sennheiser HD660S or the Focal Clear Mg while it is power efficient and will not deplete the battery of the host device too fast.
The internal noise floor is pretty inaudible and I haven’t experienced any EMI issues.
The SHIO is absolutely fantastic sounding with a neutral and balanced tuning but moreover with an analogue and organic sound signature that is rarely found at this price point.
The technicalities are also very good, the sound is transparent and true to the source material without any induced coloring, signal deterioration or frequency response deviations from the device itself.
The SHIO is full bodied and weighty sounding for the whole frequency range and not only in the bass so the sound texture is homogeneous and even from the top to the bottom.
The bass is extended, tight and controlled with good layering and very satisfying definition while it is also very dynamic and impactful, especially from the balanced output.
Pair the SHIO with a bass shaking earphone, like the FiiO FH9 and be prepared for some hard hitting moments full of a shuttering low end.
The mid-range clarity is great, the SHIO is articulated and refined but what stands out the most is the natural timbre and the realism of the presentation.
Voices and solo instruments sound delightful and lifelike, lush and mildly warm with plenty of colorful overtones and great harmonic wealth.
The same kind of naturalness applies to the treble which is smooth and easy to the ear but without missing in extension and resolution.
The notes sound rounded and weighty without rough edges and sharpness with plenty of air around them and a natural decay over time.
The SHIO is fast and energetic but not too much as to sound hasty and analytical, there is a gentleness to the overall presentation, the sound is diffused and organic but you wouldn’t call it as lacking in detail retrieval, bite and sparkle.
What is really striking is the almost complete absence of digital glare, I don’t know what filter they are using but the timbre is surprisingly analogue and lacking in artificiality.
The SHIO can tackle all sorts of music, from popular hits to the most demanding classical music works like Shostakovich’s 15th symphony.
It is not only that the whole symphony orchestra sounded full bodied, realistic, tonally balanced and dynamic but moreover the SHIO was able to draw a quite large and expanded soundstage with a solid center image, satisfying positioning accuracy and holographic properties.
Compared to the iBasso DC03 Pro ($69)
The iBasso DC03 Pro has the same asking price as the Truthear SHIO and is also using two pieces of the CS43131 DAC chip which is supposedly the same as the CS43198.
The difference is that it has only one single ended output that is limited to 98mW@32Ω (2Vrms@300Ω, 1.77Vrms@32Ω) but in exchange it is slightly more thin and lightweight.
The DC03 Pro is also compatible with the iBasso UAC application which allows the user to select the output gain and among the 5 available low pass filters.
With the DC03 Pro it is obligatory to use the UAC application for your selections to take effect since they are not stored in the memory of the unit when the SHIO will remember the last gain setting.
The DC03 Pro is fantastic sounding thanks to its natural, balanced and musical sound signature that is not devoid of technicalities.
And while someone would expect these two to sound almost identical the truth is that they have a couple of differences.
The DC03 Pro is slightly more clean and transparent and maybe a touch more refined and defined but on the other hand, SHIO has the slightest leading edge in musicality and engagement.
It is more communicative, it offers better sentimental involvement with the music, the sound of the SHIO is fuller and more organic, smoother and a touch more analogue-like, the timbre is natural and the overall presentation leans closer to realism.
Compared to the Moondrop Dawn ($69)
Another great USB DAC dongle with the same price and dual CS43131 DAC chips but this time the Moondrop Dawn is with a balanced only output, a barrel shaped chassis, non removable cable and without hardware buttons.
Thankfully you can use the Moondrop LINK application to select the output gain and your favorite low pass filter.
These two DACs are almost identical sounding, the Moondrop would be my recommendation if someone asked for a very musical and technically competent USB DAC dongle.
Well, until now, because the truth is that SHIO offers the same type of sound signature, if not slightly better, but it presents a better overall value because it has dual headphone outputs, it is more luxurious looking and has hardware buttons for controlling the volume and selecting the gain.
In the end
The Truthear SHIO is absolutely fantastic sounding with a very musical and organic sound character not devoid of technicalities.
It is also lightweight and compact, featuring dual headphone outputs, hardware volume buttons, detachable cable and a premium appearance.
The Truthear SHIO is undeniably great and maybe the best sub $100 USB DAC dongle.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2023.