Portable Hi-Fi audio technology has reached so far that nothing seems impossible now. Having Hi-Fi audio in the palm was seems impossible even a few years ago but now its reality. Digital to Analog Converters (DAC) and Amplifiers (AMP) are the two major pillars to build a Hi-Fi audio setup which most of the serious audiophiles has cared for throughout their life. Luckily with the growing demand for personal Hi-Fi audio, modern technology somehow managed to synthesize both the DAC and AMPs so compact that it can fit inside your pocket. I have reviewed few such ultra-portable DAC AMPs before and here is another product from Audirect, which is the successor of Audirect’s old Beam. Audirect Beam 2 is the newest and premium product from Audirect and I have purchased it from my own money for review and also haven’t received any compensation/favor in exchange for this review.
Specifications of Audirect Beam 2
- Model Number – Beam 2,
- DAC Chip – ESS9281C Pro,
- Structure – Anodized Aluminum,
- Size – 7mm x 15mm x 49mm (D x W X H),
- Color – Silver, Green, Blue, Red & Orange,
- OTG Plugs – USB Type C female inbuilt,
- Analog Output – 3.5 mm and 2.5 mm balanced,
- Supported OTG Cables/Plug – Type C to Micro USB, Type C to Type C, Apple Lightning to Micro USB, USB A to USB C adapter,
- Cables Length – 12 cm,
- USB Protocol – UAC 2.0,
- MAX decoding – 32 bit/384kHz; DSD128 DOP,
- MQA – Hardware,
- SNR – ≥118dB,
- Distortion THD+N – < 0.0003%,
- Frequency Response – 20Hz-40 kHz (-0.04dB),
- Single-end output power: ≥180mW (16Ω), ≥110mW (32Ω), ≥6.6mW (600Ω)
- Balanced output power: ≥145mW (16Ω), ≥240mW (32Ω), ≥26.6mW (600Ω)
- Output Impedance – < 1 ohms,
- Rated power – 100 – 160 mA (Idle to full power),
- Compatibility – Windows, Mac OS, Android, IOS (I pad pro with Type C),
- Microphone Support – No,
- ASIO – NO,
- Drivers – No,
- Weight – 12 grams.
What’s in the Box?
- Audirect Beam 2 DAC,
- USB A to Type C cable,
- Type C to Type C cable,
- Apple Lightning to Type C cable,
- High-Res Logo Sticker
- Quick start guide.
Tested Sources with Audirect Beam 2
Windows 10 PC, Realme C2, TempoTec V1, Hiby R3.
Tested Apps with Audirect Beam 2
USB Audio Player Pro, Tidal Desktop, Audirvana plus, Hiby Music player, Foobar2000.
Tested Gears with Audirect Beam 2
TFZ My Love 3, TY Hi-Z 314 300ohm Earbud, Sennheiser HD6xx, Nature Sound NS3, Shozy Form 1.4, Magaosi K3 HD, and Shozy Form 1.1.
Product Link – Here
Audirect Beam 2 doesn’t have any driver. It’s a plug and play device. Just plug it and your phone/PC will recognize it as an audio device and then you can select it as an audio source and play music. The absence of drivers also means that Beam 2 doesn’t support ASIO but you can use WASAPI. Use WASAPI (push) for better stability with apps like Foobar2000.
There are only a few brands in the market that cares about its after-sale development. Like time to time firmware up-gradation solving various bugs faced by users from different environments. I like Auidrect’s continuous development of future firmware for their devices. Beam 2 also supports user flashable firmware and it is a very easy process. I have made a video showing how to upgrade the Audirect Beam 2 firmware which you can check. Please note that I am using the Firmware version 0401 LP for this review.
Firmware link – Here
Setup & File format Support
Audirect Beam 2 supports PCM up to 32 bit/384kHz, DSD128 DOP, and hardware-level MQA decoding.
First, install the Foobar2000 software then install the components WASAPI output support and super audio CD Decoder.
USB Audio Player Pro
When using Beam 2 with apps like USB Audio Player Pro, first plug the device in your phone, and once the app asks for exclusive access just grant it.
Presentation, Design & Build Quality
The presentation is nice. Audirect Beam 2 comes in a rectangular white box. This is the same sized box have used for Audirect’s latest Atom pro. The design of the box is clean and modern. The same blue and white theme has been applied to it too. The actual image of the device has been printed on the top of the box and all the specifications on the backside of the box. The actual device has been secured inside the box with some foam and all the accessories are kept beneath that foam cover.
Design and build quality are solid. Beam 2 has been made out of anodized aluminum and feels solid in hand. I have purchased the blue color one as Blue is my favorite color but all the other color options are good too. The device is very small even smaller and thinner than some pen drives. Size-wise it is the most compact DAC that comes with both 3.5mm and 2.5mm balanced out. Top of the device there is a semi-transparent circle holding hilidac branding which also works as the display of multicolor LED present inside the device. Both the output ports have been placed at the side of the device and the type C input port is on the top side of the device.
Accessories sets are nice and well built. All three OTG cables have been fabric braided and endpoints are gold plated. I have tested Beam 2 with micro USB devices and it worked flawlessly but sadly Audirect didn’t provide that type of type C to micro USB cable with the device.
Output power, Volume Control, Noise, and Temperatures
The output power of Audirect Beam 2 is very high. 110mW (32Ω) from single-ended and 240mW (32Ω) from balanced out is an insane amount of power for any IEM or Headphone. I have tried every IEM and Headphone I have and Beam 2 just drove them like butter. Even hard to drive 300 Ω Earbuds are louder enough around 60% volume. Please note that first reduce the volume than plug low impedance IEMs otherwise it can damage your eardrums as well as drivers.
Beam 2 doesn’t have physical hardware volume buttons but it supports hardware volume control via apps like USB Audio Player pro. So when using with PC you have to control the volume on the software level and when using dedicated software in phones both software and hardware volume can be used.
Beam 2 Indicates the current playback file bit rate by showing different colors through the transparent circle present in the front of the device.
- Blue, Green, Red color cycle – Device starts
- Red – Idle or SD audio <=48kHz
- Blue – HD Audio >48kHz
- Magenta – MQA
With all my IEMs and headphones I have never faced any background noise or distortion but the device becomes very hot just after 15 minutes of use. I have tried to contact the manufacturer, and according to them, this heating issue is normal as there are two separate amp chips inside.
The input power draw of Audirect Beam 2 is high. If your source device is equipped with a 3500mha battery then with max output, Beam can decrease 3% of battery after 30 minutes of continuous playback.
Mic & In-Line Controls and Standby mode
Audirect Beam 2 doesn’t support mic input, so you can’t use it while receiving any calls on your Smartphone. It also doesn’t support line in controls. Standby is a unique feature in this type C DAC dongles and Beam 2 also have it. If nothing is connected on the 3.5 mm port the DAC remains inactive and saves battery life.
Tracks that I have used to evaluate Audirect Beam 2 in this review.
- ‘I Miss You’ by Adele ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Chain Reaction’ by Susan Wong (MQA),
- ‘Sweet Child’ by Simply Red ( MQA),
- ‘Just Strong Enough’ by Michael McDonald (16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Your Latest Trick’ by Dire Straits (16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Running On Faith’ by Eric Clapton ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Trust in Me’ by Etta James ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘You Know I’m No Good’ by Amy Winehouse (MQA),
- ‘Victim of Love’ by Eagles ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Instant Crush’ by Daft Punk ( 16 bit 44.1 kHz),
- ‘Family Man (Extended Vocal Remix)’ by Fleetwood MAC (MQA),
- ‘Three O’Clock Blues’ by B.B. King (MQA),
- ‘Don’t You’ by Amber Rubarth (DSD 5.6 MHz),
- ‘Looking For A Home’ by Keith Greeninger & Dayan Kai (DSD 2.8 MHz).
This is the third device, I have tested so far equipped with ESS9281C Pro DAC Chip. So the sound signature is quite familiar to me. Yes factory-applied DSP could alter the sound a bit but overall the sound signature is the same. The lower frequency part in Beam 2 is Mid-bass oriented. The main emphasis on the Mid-bass rather than Sub-bass can easily be noticed. But that doesn’t mean that the sub-bass section is off, in fact with the MQA tracks Sub-bass area is quite enjoyable. On the other hand, speed is very fast and accurate which creates an overall tight and punchy bass with moderately decent IEMS. The quantity may not too much but the quality is much superior in comparison with some other DACS. Songs like ‘Instant Crush’ by Daft Punk sounding less boomy and notes are punchier.
This particular ESS chip used in Beam 2 is designed for listeners who prefer a soft natural Midrange. The Midrange is a bit softer side but the presence of texture in both lower and upper Mids is mind-blowing, more I listen, more I amaze from its presentation of sweet and mellow Mids. Without any bass bleed and warmth, the entire Midrange is fluid and soothing. The song ‘Sweet Child’ by Simply Red with Beam 2 is mesmerizing, female vocals like ‘Trust in Me’ by Etta James also equally enjoyable.
Where most of the ESS DAC chips are tilted towards the higher frequency part, ESS9281C Pro is different. The entire higher frequency part has been extended beautifully without the presence of any harshness. Instead of ESS’s well-known glare ESS9281C Pro manages to present an airy and sparkling higher frequency part. As there is no harshness at all, most of the audio gears with Beam 2 are suitable for long listening sessions. The song ‘Your Latest Trick’ by Dire Straits is one of my favorite and with Beam 2 the sprinkles of sparkle can be heard throughout the entire song.
Soundstage, Imaging, and Instrument Separation
As I have already said that I know this DAC chip very well and how much capable this chip is. In terms of reproduction of soundstage, ESS9281C Pro is a champion but somehow Beam 2’s 3.5 mm out’s reproduction of soundstage is not super wide. I can call it moderately wide. When using the balanced out of Beam 2, the soundstage is better and wider. On the other hand, as usual, the imaging is awesome. Instrument separation is also very good. While playing MQA tracks the instrument separation better and more refined.
Comparing Audirect Beam 2 with other latest portable devices is a bit difficult. Firstly from the aspect of price, Beam 2 is equal to some desktop or fully-fledged battery-powered DAC AMPs but functionally more portable than those devices. Secondly, Beam 2 is also not a type-C to 3.5 mm like adapter. So let’s see how Beam 2 stands against some of its rivals even it does not fit in their league.
Audirect Beam vs Audirect Beam 2
Audirect’s first Beam was a good perfect 99$ portable DAC AMP. Beam 2 is smaller, compact, and more advanced than the old beam. Here are some key differences between these two devices.
- Beam 2 is smaller than old Beam,
- Beam 2 is lighter and more compact,
- No hardware play/pause, Vol+/- key in Beam 2,
- Balanced 2.5 mm output available in Beam 2,
- Audirect Beam 2 is more natural sounding where the old beam is bright sound DAC,
- Beam 2 is suitable for most of the music type which old beam is not,
- Beam 2 is priced more than its predecessor too.
So overall Audirect Beam 2 is an enhanced upgrade of the old beam. The extra money you pay is justified for features like balanced out and MQA but if hardware volume buttons could have added that would be a better thing too.
Audirect Atom Pro/Zorloo Ztella vs Audirect Beam 2
In terms of Specification, price, size, sound, and features both Atom Pro and Ztella are almost the same. The same ESS9281C Pro also has been used in Beam 2 but there are two separate AMP chips present in Beam 2 which makes Beam 2 more powerful and capable of balanced out. Beam 2 is not like a type C to 3.5 mm adapter; instead, it’s like a dedicated device with better connectivity options. Sound is almost the same in all these three devices and the only improvement in instrument separation can be noticed in Beam 2. So if someone needs more power, balanced out, and wide support across the devices, he can easily spend almost double the price and get Beam 2, otherwise Atom Pro is enough.
Audirect Beam 2 is most probably the only versatile and powerful ultra-portable DAC available in the market now. It’s hard to imagine, how Audirect has managed to put every possible feature in such a tiny device. Type C input, both single-ended and balanced out, MQA, DSD playback, Great sound, and compatibility across the wide range of devices. The only issue is the price, now Beam 2 may be a bit pricey but the features it offers in a single device could justify the price easily.