The Audirect Beam 3 Plus is a Bluetooth DAC/Amplifier. It has an ES9281AC DAC chip and supports up to 32bit / 768kH, DSD512 and MQA rendering. It’s priced at $189 (black) or $199 (blue).
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by Shenzhen Audio for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
*Update: I recently took my Beam 3 Plus out of the box to compare with another device but it had swollen and the case burst apart. I don’t know if it was the battery swelling or just the glue came undone but I couldn’t get it back together and ended up throwing it in the trash.
Audirect Beam 3
Package and Accessories
The Beam 3 Plus’ box is minimalistic inside and out. Inside the box, you’ll find the Audirect Beam 3 Plus, a USB-C cable and a USB adapter. It would be nice to see a basic plastic case with a clip included.
I love the Beam 3 Plus’ physical design. It comes in either black or blue. The front and rear sides have a matte glass cover. These covers make the device feel premium in the hand but even better – they are completely resistant to fingerprints.
On the top of the unit, there is a built-in microphone for making calls, a switch to select USB or DAC mode and a USB-C port. At the other end are the 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced outputs.
The right side has 2 buttons: one is the power button and the other is for cycling through the low, middle and high gain modes. A small LED on the front indicates which mode is active (green = low / orange = middle / red = high).
On the right side, there are the playback and volume control buttons. A short press on the top button increases the volume and a long press goes to the previous track. The play/pause button is in the middle. A short press on the bottom button decreases the volume and a long press goes to the next track. Western users will probably question the next/previous; it would seem more logical to have the volume + button associated with the next track function but it’s something that you get used to in a short time.
In charge of the Bluetooth connection is a Qualcomm CSR8675 chip. The Beam 3 Plus product specs don’t specify which Bluetooth version is present but I assume it’s 5.0 or 5.2. Supported wireless audio codecs include SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD and LDAC.
At the heart of the device is an ES9281AC DAC chip. The DAC supports up to 32bit / 768kHz, DSD512 and MQA decoding. The output power is ≧ 141mW from the 3.5mm output and ≧ 230mW from the 4.4mm balanced output.
I/O and Connectivity
The Beam 3 Plus can be used as a Bluetooth amplifier or as a USB DAC. Pairing via Bluetooth is easy and the connection proved to be stable throughout my testing. Using the device as a USB DAC is as simple as plugging it in and flicking the red switch to DAC mode. No additional drivers are needed for Windows or Mac.
The Beam 3 Plus has a close to neutral sound with a hint of added warmth. It has excellent bass extension and delivers a full-bodied and punchy low end. The sound of the Beam 3 Plus is transparent but never clinical and uncoloured without being dull.
Instruments and vocals have a natural note size and float within a black background. The Beam 3 Plus is emotive and dynamic and sounds so much clearer than my laptop’s built-in soundcard. This is true whether I’m playing hi-res music files, streaming Spotify premium or watching YouTube.
Transients are crisp but notes have enough roundness left so that they sound natural and lifelike. The soundstage is wide and spacious. The Beam 3 Plus reproduces music with excellent clarity but it still displays a strong sense of rhythm and groove.
Although the Beam 3 Plus might be lacking the features that some of its competitors have, it won’t disappoint you with its fluid timing and expressive dynamic range. Whether it’s a symphony lulling you into bliss or the grungy, gritty growl of an electric guitar, the Beam 3 Plus makes it sound great.
Compared to the UP5 (review here), the Beam 3 Plus has an updated ES9281AC DAC chip but the UP5 has dual ES9219C DAC chips. When it comes to features, the Shanling UP5 is clearly ahead; it has an OLED screen that shows battery, volume and codec information and it has app support.
Furthermore, the UP5 has a car mode, single and dual DAC modes, digital filter modes, EQ and support for both UAC2.0 and UAC1.0. Lastly, the Shanling has an additional 2.5mm output. Considering all that and the fact that the UP5 is cheaper, the argument for the Beam 3 Plus doesn’t seem very compelling.
In terms of sound, the UP5 sounds leaner in its presentation. It’s not as full in the bass but is a tad more transparent. The Beam 3 Plus sounds less analytical and more musical. Both units have good staging and instrument separation.
My only real complaints have nothing to do with the sound quality of the Audirect Beam 3 Plus, only the lack of an auto power-off function and any audible cues. Not having an auto-off function is the big one for me – it just seems like such an obvious oversight. However, for those who are looking for a more simplified experience, the Beam 3 Plus has an excellent sonic character that will bring your headphones or IEMs to life.
- Bluetooth chip: Qualcomm CSR8675
- Decoder chip: ES9281AC
- Input: TYPE-C
- Output: 3.5mm single-ended and 4.4mm balanced
- Frequency response: 0.032dB @ 20Hz 40kHz
- Output power:
- 4.4mm: ≧ 230mW (32Ω)
- 3.5mm: ≧ 122mW (32Ω)
- SNR: -118dB
- DSD: Supports up to DSD512
- Sampling rate: Maximum 32bit / 768kH
- THD + N: 0.0003%
- Weight: 69 g
- Length, width, height: 75mm x 39mm x 12mm
- Accessories: USB adapter, TYPEC to TYPEC cable
- Price: $189