Weighing in at just 62g, the Audirect Beam 4 is a compact and lightweight device. To provide some perspective, it’s only slightly larger than your average car fob. The device features a sleek faceted surface adorned with three small LED indicators. The top LED illuminates when the unit is powered on or charging. Just below it, the gain LED changes colours to represent different gain modes: green for low, amber for medium, and red for high. Lastly, the third LED emits a range of colours that correspond to the current sample rate.
On the right side of the device, you’ll find the power button and the gain mode button, offering easy access and control. The left side is home to three playback control buttons, allowing you to adjust the volume, play or pause your music, and skip or rewind tracks with a simple press.
In addition, it’s worth noting that the Beam 4 also boasts a built-in microphone, enabling you to make calls when connected to your phone. Overall, the device feels solid and durable, and I think it looks pretty slick.
Internals & Power
Underneath its exterior, the Beam 4 houses an ESS9281 AC PRO DAC chip, which supports up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512. Furthermore, the Beam 4 is fully compatible with Apple lossless and MQA files, ensuring high-quality playback across a variety of formats. To provide a stable and reliable power supply, the device is equipped with a robust 1200mAh battery, guaranteeing optimal performance and unwavering stability.
When it comes to power output, the Beam 4 is no slouch. Its 4.4mm balanced jack delivers an impressive 230mW, while the 3.5mm single-ended output provides a substantial 122mW. This level of power is more than sufficient to drive any in-ear monitors (IEMs) and is capable of handling all but the most demanding headphones.
While I haven’t always commended Audirect products for their usability, I have always enjoyed their sound. The Beam 4, in particular, boasts a delightful tonal quality, featuring a subtle yet noticeable emphasis in the low frequencies that can best be described as a neutral-warm tuning.
This portable device not only offers a captivating and musical experience but also excels in its technical performance. Notably, the Beam 4 showcases remarkable staging and imaging capabilities, a characteristic known to be a strength of Sabre DACs.
The bass of the Beam 4 exhibits a satisfying sense of depth and richness, accompanied by tight and punchy notes. While it leans slightly towards warmth, it avoids becoming overly thick or slow. The midrange is fluid and lifelike, presenting vocals in a natural manner. As for the treble, it maintains a crisp and articulate quality that remains pleasing to the ear.
Impressively, the Beam 4 truly shines in its staging and layering abilities. It offers remarkable depth to the soundstage, which is further enhanced when paired with high-quality in-ear monitors like the Westone MACH 60. In fact, I would confidently state that the Beam 4 rivals the performance of my similarly-priced desktop DACs.
The disparity between the Beam 4 and the built-in soundcard of my laptop is striking. Not only does the Beam 4 deliver a more pleasing tonal character, but its staging capabilities also far surpass those of my laptop’s sound card.
Billie Marten’s “Mice” showcases an exquisite display of vocals, drawing the listener in with an intimate and captivating performance. The vocals are artfully articulated, with natural warmth and a rich fullness.
As the song unfolds, the soundscapes extend beyond the boundaries of the central image, enveloping the listener with sounds emanating from both the far left and right. Notably, the Beam 4 goes beyond mere left-right placement, creating a three-dimensional experience where sounds even emerge from behind the vocals themselves.
One of the remarkable qualities of the Beam 4 is its ability to maintain distinct separation between each instrument, effortlessly carving out clean spaces with an abundance of clarity. This pristine clarity is further enhanced by the device’s ability to provide a black background, allowing each instrument to shine with its unique presence.
Earmen Colibri ($330)
Both of these devices feature the same ES9281 PRO DAC chip and file support, including MQA. The Colibri (read the review) has a higher power output of 280mW compared to 230mW on the Beam 4.
In regard to features, I appreciate the full playback controls on the Beam 4 compared to the Colibri (which only provides volume control). Furthermore, the Beam 4’s extra gain mode ensures finer volume control and compatibility with a wider range of IEMs and headphones. It’s also worth noting the Beam 4 only requires a single USB-C port for charging and data whereas the Colibri needs 2.
There are a couple more noteworthy facts here. First, the Beam 4 offers hardware-level volume control whereas the Colibri only does software volume control. If given the choice, I personally would take hardware-level volume control every time. Second, the Beam 4 has more longevity in terms of battery life.
But let us talk of the sound now. Remember both of these DACs have the same ES9281 Pro chip. To my ears, the Colibri has a crisper sound with improved instrument separation and a wider soundstage. That is the main difference because, in regard to tonality, they are both very similar.
The Colibri somehow manages to deliver a higher level of fidelity. Mind you, you need to pay roughly $100 more for that slight increase in fidelity but I know the hardcore audiophiles that are reading this will likely be willing to pay that extra bit to achieve the best result. However, those of you who are more thrifty will get almost the same level of performance at a lower cost.
xDuoo XP-2Bal ($169)
The xDuoo XP-2Bal costs considerably less than the Beam 4 but it comes with a lower-tier ES9018K2M DAC chip. It also has a much larger form factor and requires 2 USB-C ports.
However, the XP-2Bal adds a lot of extra features that are absent on the Beam 4, most notably, an actual volume knob and Hi-Res Bluetooth connectivity. Furthermore, the XP-2Bal has a significantly higher output power of 320mW @ 32Ω vs the 230mW on the Beam 4.
In terms of audio quality, the XP-2Bal is slightly behind the Beam 4 (in wired mode). The Beam 4 has more distinct instrument separation and a slightly wider stage. However, the XP-2Bal has that highly desirable Bluetooth connectivity and much higher output power.
At the end of the day, both of these devices offer a fantastic listening experience and it really comes down to the form factor and features that you prefer.
In conclusion, the Audirect Beam 4 DAC and Headphone Amplifier delivers outstanding sound quality with a neutral-warm tuning and subtle low-frequency boost. Its staging and imaging capabilities are excellent for a DAC in this price range, creating immersive three-dimensional soundscapes.
I think the Beam 4 is the ideal solution for anyone who wants something they can use both on the desktop and on the go. It will vastly improve the sound of your laptop or tablet and works great with phones too. With single-ended and balanced outputs, full playback controls and 3 gain modes paired with great sound, the Beam 4 is easy to recommend.