With the demise of the 3.5mm headphone jack on so many new smartphones, the popularity of portable, discreet audio solutions (DAC/amps) has increased dramatically. As these devices become smaller and more affordable, more people are turning to them to enhance the audio on their laptops and tablets as well. In this review, I’m exploring the hiliDAC Audirect Beam 2 Hi-Res portable headphone amplifier. The Beam 2 has a 3.5mm single-ended output, a 2.5mm balanced output and has native MQA support.
Disclaimer:This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Audirect hiliDAC Beam 2 Review
Ease of use
Doesn’t get as hot as other similar devices
2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm SE outputs
Dynamic, resolving audio quality
No hardware control buttons
Drains source battery
Package and Accessories
Audirect hiliDAC Beam 2
Lightning to TYPE-C short cable
TYPE-C to TYPE-C short cable
USB TYPE-A to TYPE-C short data cable
Quick start guide
Design & Functionality
Like most dongle-style DAC/amps, the hiliDAC Beam 2 is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It’s roughly the same size as a common USB flash drive. measuring just 49x15x6.8mm and weighing in at a mere 12g. It’s a simple plug and play device, so there is no need to install drivers: just plug it in and you’re ready to go.
On the front of the unit is a Hi-Res Audio certification label plus a circular hiliDAC logo. This logo lights up when you power up the device and changes colour depending on the bitrate. The colours and associated formats are as follows:
red for SD audio
blue for HD audio
magenta for MQA audio
On top of the device is the USB Type-C port for power and data transfer. The Beam 2 doesn’t have its own power supply so it draws power from the source. Both the single-ended 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm headphone outputs are situated on the right side of the device.
There are no hardware controls on the Beam 2 so volume and playback are adjusted from the source. The included cables are all fabric braided with gold-plated terminations and appear to be good quality.
Internally, the Beam 2 has an ESS ES9281C PRO chip featuring the HyperStream II QUAD DAC. It supports up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD128 as well as MQA. The output power from the balanced jack is an impressive 240mW at 32 ohms which is enough for most earphones and efficient full-size headphones.
Firmware Used For Testing
Before testing, I updated the firmware to version: 0411 (available HERE).
Whether you’re a fan of Sabre DAC chips or not might sway your opinion on the sound of the Beam 2. Personally, I like them because some of my favourite units (like the Shanling Q1) have Sabre DACs. I find they tend to have good end to end extension, excellent instrument separation and detail retrieval. Naturally, this also depends a great deal on the earphones or headphones you’re using and some combinations might find better synergy than others.
Beam 2 has a nice, full low end. Bass notes have weight and authority, reaching well down into the sub-bass region. With some IEMs like the CCA CA16, I was blown away by the deep reach of the bass which delivered some real skull shaking results.
The midrange is transparent and resolving but at the same time, it’s very smooth and almost as if it’s slightly feathered. Instrument separation is impressive and the amount of detail here will have you finding minute sounds that you haven’t heard before when listening straight from your laptop or phone.
The hiliDAC Beam 2’s treble has sparkle and crispness. I can’t detect any trace of the so-called “Sabre glare” that people love to mention every time a Sabre DAC is discussed. The treble is transparent, vivid and very detailed but there is no harshness or additional brightness added by the Beam 2. It’s a precise treble that teems with detail and airiness.
Tin Hifi P1: The hiliDAC Beam 2 had no trouble pushing the notoriously hard to drive P1. It sounded clear, highly resolving and full-bodied. The bass really came alive and the Beam 2 responded with fullness and impact. I was listening at under 50% volume on my laptop and still had plenty of headroom.
Hifiman Sundara: This is a really nice combo and the Sundara sound great with the hiliDAC Beam 2. The bass is full and very tidily controlled. Resolution in the midrange is abounding and vocals are forward but genial and intoxicating. This pairing reminds me again why I like the Sundara so much. However, with this combo on my iPhone 11, I had the volume almost maxed out with very little headroom to spare (from the 3.5mm single-ended output).
Cozoy TAKT C
The TAKT C and Beam 2 both have a similar sound signature. That makes sense since both use Sabre DACs (TAKT C -> 9018Q2C / Beam 2 -> ES9281C PRO). Where the main differences are is in the chassis and functionality. TAKT C has playback and volume control buttons where the Beam 2 has none.
Another difference is the TAKT C body gets a fair bit hotter than the Beam 2. The difference I hear in the sound is the Beam 2 has a wider soundstage and slightly fuller bass response. Choosing the better device is a difficult task because both have distinct advantages.
On one hand, TAKT C has physical playback controls which are really handy. The Beam2, on the other hand, has the additional 2.5mm balanced output making it more versatile in terms of pairing options.
Well, I must say that the Auridrect hiliDAC Beam 2 has a really nice sound. I love how it’s so easy to use with its plug and play functionality and it’s powerful enough to drive any earphones with ease. I also like the generous interconnects provided so you can use it with all your devices right out of the box.
What I didn’t like so much was the battery drain when using it with my phone. Having said that, if you only use earphones for a short time while commuting to and from work etc. then it probably wouldn’t bother you. Personally, I would prefer to use the Beam 2 with my laptop and in fact, it will be joining the Cozoy TAKT-C in my office drawer because I know that 2.5mm output will come in handy often.