AUDIRECT BEAM REVIEW

September16, 2016 Apple announced their iphone 7 without a headphone jack; but why? Because they have the ‘Courage ‘to do so. Wireless innovations knocking our doors and we still thinking about a headphone jack, the immediate answer for a missing headphone jack was Bluetooth headphones/Earphones.

We all know the cause /effect theory but one thing to remember, a single cause can give birth many effects or I call them possibilities. One such possibility was ‘portable HI-FI ‘in palm of your hand. Popularity of type ‘C’ port strengthened that possibility and an ‘Ultra portable HI-FI ‘is here branded as Audirect Beam.

Beam is the successor of Wistle DAC AMP from Audirect and I would like to thank Penonaudio for providing me a unit for review. In this review I have tried to cast my honest opinion on this ultra portable DAC AMP. One more thing, my review unit was supplied to me before Beam passed the High-Res certification so no high res sticker in my unit. At the time of writing this review Beam already successfully passed the High-Res certification. 

Specifications of Audirect Beam

  • Output Power
  • 114dB TND+N, 2Vrms into 600 Ohms,
  • 108dB THD+N, 49mW into 32Ohms 1.1Vrms,
  • Frequency response: 20-30000Hz (-0.15dB),
  • Distortion: 0.0004%,
  • S/N ratio: +125dB SNR, +120dB DNR,
  • Input supports PCM: PCM 16-32bit, 32-384 KHz,
  • Input supports DSD: DoP64, DoP128, Native DSD64/128/256,
  • D/A Chip: ES9118 SABRE HiFi SoC,
  • I.R. <1O,
  • Amplifier Chips: ES9118,
  • Input port: USB-C,
  • Output Port: 3.5mm,
  • Size (L/W/H):52x14x6mm,
  • Weight: 12g

Box Content 

  • Beam Dac Amp,
  • Type-C to type-c cable,
  • Lightning cable to Type-C ,
  • Type-C to USB cable,
  • Instructions manual.

Buying Link – https://penonaudio.com/audirect-beam-usb-dac.html

Source 

Beam can be used with almost any device (Phone, Tab, PC, and Laptop) available out there. For my testing I have used my Iphone SE, Samsung J7*, Pocophone f1, Windows 10 PC + Foobar and it worked flawlessly. For PC Audirect mentioned, Beam needs a specific driver (Link) but strangely it recognized by my windows 10 Pro PC immediately without any driver. Still I am using the drivers to use its ASIO mode. For mobile phones Beam successfully detected by Hiby Music App and working smoothly.

*To Pair with Samsung J7 (Any other micro USB equipped Phone) I have used Fiio Cl06 cable (Buying Link – here). It is strange that Audirect didn’t supplied the micro USB to type C OTG cable but its working fine in practical situation with a third party cable.

Setups for Audirect Beam

To use Beam with mobile devices it doesn’t need any further setup, just plug and play. In case of PC/Laptop, you may have to install the mentioned drivers and after completing the installation process, Beam should appear as (hili-DAC (HS)) in your system’s sound device list. Best thing is that Beam support Bit Perfect mode and DSD Native. To setup it in Foobar please install the components like (foo dsd asio proxy) and follow the instructions *)

Foobar – File – Preferences – Output (Select ASIO : foo_dsd_asio from drop down) – ASIO – Double click on foo_dsd_asio and select Bravo HD from drop down or keep the parameters as its showing in the pics and Apply then Ok .

To use Beam with mobile devices it doesn’t need any further setup, just plug and play. In case of PC/Laptop, you may have to install the mentioned drivers and after completing the installation process, Beam should appear as (hili-DAC (HS)) in your system’s sound device list. Best thing is that Beam support Bit Perfect mode and DSD Native. To setup it in Foobar please install the components like (foo dsd asio proxy) and follow the instructions *)

Foobar Setting

Foobar – File – Preferences – Output (Select ASIO : foo_dsd_asio from drop down) – ASIO – Double click on foo_dsd_asio and select Bravo HD from drop down or keep the parameters as its showing in the pics and Apply then Ok .

Tracks/ Albums used in this review

  • Adele – 21
  • Adele – 25
  • Bob Marley & The Wailers – Kaya (40th Anniversary Edition)
  • Eagles – Hotel California (40th Anniversary Expanded Edition)
  • Eric Clapton – Unplugged (1992)
  • Don Henley – I Can’t Stand Still
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  • Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
  • Ed Sheeran – ÷ (Deluxe)
  • Nina Simone – The Best Of Nina Simone
  • The Beatles – Abbey Road (Remastered)
  • Michael McDonald – Wide Open
  • Michael Jackson – Thriller

IEMs used with Beam in this review

Ibasso it01, BQEYZ KB100, Geek Wold GK3, Fiio FH1.

Audirect Beam

Presentation, Design & Build Quality & Internals of Audirect Beam

Audirect Beam’s unboxing experience is straight forward. It comes in a 130x145x21 (HxWxD) white book type box. Design is minimalist and you can see the device through the cut out from the front of the box even before unboxing. All the specifications mentioned backside of the box. 

Box opens after pulling a magnetic side fold and opens look like a book. Inside box, Beam device is secured in its own cavity and all the accessories, instructions manual in another small box. Everything is secured well inside the boxes. For such a little 55 Cm x 15 cm device the box is a bit big but when spending 99$ you can expect at least a decent size box like that.

Inside the Accessories box there are 3 short cables and an instructions manual.

Audirect Beam

Design

Audirect Beam is available in four colors now (Grey, Golden, Green, Blue) and I have received the green one. The whole body is made out of two solid piece of Aluminum which also works like a heat distributor while using it for long terms but never noticed any high heating issue with my unit.

Sharp edges and overall matt finish paint giving it a stylish and modern look. Front side of the device Audirect Logo, Beam branding, Volume +, Volume –, play/pause, PCM/DSD marking, hole for led lights are there. Back side we can see 4 black screws, warranty void sticker, printed Specs and Id number.

Top side USB type c port, bottom side 3.5 mm audio out port and left side single multi function control button is present. Use of type C port is a fantastic idea because type C port is next future.

Type C port also allows easy cable swap, high current supply and many future proof connectivity options. All of the 14 cm cable ends are gold plated and the cables are made out of silver plated OFC. So it’s clear that Beam is well designed, solid and stylish. Only missing thing, Beam is not waterproof. 

For internal designs it’s only mentioned that Beam is using ESS Sabre ES9118 DAC chip. For better
understanding of that particular DAC chip and its feature you can visit ESS’s website here and there is a disassemble video of Beam in YouTube which is linked here

Sound

Before proceeding to the sound analysis part here are some points I would like to mention.

  • Don’t expect an ultra portable device to sound like a desktop class or bulky battery powered device.
  • Measurements and graphs can’t bring the real time experience every time.
  • Don’t use force volume setting in Tidal app.
  • While playing DSD through Foobar you can’t control the volume in application.
  • Play/ Pause works with only Apps or Windows Player.
  • While using volume plus and minus a two step jump is noticed and the volume increase /decrease effect only applies to source. Keep volume 100% in your device and adjust it inside the application.
  • There is no background noise or hiss when playing or sitting it idle even with very sensitive IEMS.
Audirect Beam

Bass

Early ESS SABRE DACs has a tendency towards Neutral kind of sound and Beam is also not an exception. Lower frequency in Beam is not that prominent. Bass is fast accurate but a bit less in quantity though quality is good enough. Bass is punchy and not over powering, sub-bass extension is above the average and enough for a music lover. One thing is clear that bass is not muddy at all and renders good amount of energy in tracks.

While listening tracks like ‘Thriller’ or ‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson or ‘Instant Crush’ by Daft Punk you can immediately notice that the bass not that high but transition and control is actually very good. I am not a bass head; I like natural sound signature with a touch of warmth, and Beam is quite enjoyable for me. After pairing Beam with BQEYZ KB100 I immediately noticed that the synergy is actually pretty good and fun to listen.

Mids

When Beam first introduced itself, one of my friends from Singapore told me that Beam is good only in its treble region but after using it for more than 3 months myself I can clearly say Mids section in Beam is also very good. Mid range is neutral and transparent, relatively clean and detail retrieval is fantastic.

Upper mid range is well extended and no harshness is there. Male and female vocals are crisp. My entire music collection is vocals and Beam managed to put a smile in my face, while listening my favorite tracks.

The entire album ‘Wide Open’ by Michael McDonald with Beam sounded very good. Background instruments like acoustic guitars, piano and saxophone sounded crisp and energetic. 

Treble

Lower frequency is the strongest part of Beam. You can say it’s the ‘Sabre Glare’ but the glare is not that high in Beam. Treble part is not that forwarded and not fatigue for long listening at all. Treble part is airy and packed with good amount of energy. Both quality and quantity is there and very good for metal and electronics music.

When paired with Geek Wold Gk3, the combination just worked like a charm. So if the treble part is bothering you very much then just hook it up with your boring iems and see the results. The entire album ‘Kaya (40th Anniversary Edition)’ by Bob Marley is very much enjoyable with Beam.

Audirect Beam

Soundstage/ Instrument Separation 

Soundstage and instrument separation always depends on paired IEM or headphones. Describing soundstage and instrument separation of a DAC/AMP is a bit difficult because it scales according your headphone and earphone. I have used my old IEMs with all other sources earlier and while using the same earphone with Beam it’s clear that soundstage is not that wider side but capable of maintaining the airy stage, in simple words it’s above average. Instrument separation is actually very good. It performed very well with complex tracks which is unbelievable for such a small device.

Comparison
Hidizs Sonta II Dongle DAC vs Audirect Beam

The purpose of all this portable DAC AMPs is same but sound wise and function wise they are not so same. Apple started this DONGLE game and eventually tons of dongles available right now. Even few phone manufacturers providing an OEM type C to 3.5 mm dongle with their flagship phones in 2019 and they are just garbage.

For around 30$ Hidizs Sonta II is a decent one. Built quality may be not superb but sonically it’s decent. It can also provide good amount of power and bit perfect decoding. In comparison with Beam, Sontata II can produce deeper bass. But mid section is not that resolving like Beam.

Beam is also superior when comparing the detail retrieval capabilities. Function wise it’s nowhere near Beam. No physical control, only type C connector and no sampling indicator. Sonata II is too noisy where Beam is totally silent even with sensitive IEMS. So for 30$ it may be a good device but Audirect Beam is much superior.

Audioquest Dragonfly Black vs Audirect Beam

I am using my Audioquest Dragonfly Black for almost 1.5 years and it’s really a great portable device. Yes it’s almost 150$ and lacks lots of features that Beam offers still being a 99$ device. Sonically Dragonfly Black is tuned keeping in mind the lower frequencies. Lower frequencies are quite good but a bit slow. Beam’s lower frequency response is much more balanced with good speed.

Mid-range in Beam is natural where in Dragonfly Black, it’s thick and lush. Treble section is well extended in Beam where in Dragonfly Black it’s overall controlled. If you want better details from you IEM/Headphones, Beam is a better option. Again in terms of connectivity and support, Beam is way ahead. Dragonfly Black manufactured only for PC/Laptops, using it with IOS and Android devices is painful. Lack of volume control and play pause is also a drawback of Audioquest Dragonfly Black.

Audirect Beam

Conclusion

For such a small device Audirect Beam packed with tons of useful features. From vast connectivity to superior sound, Beam worth its price and when portability is your top priority Beam is the only option available.

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