The xDuoo Link2 Bal comes in a small blue box with some colourful text on the front. Inside the box, we find the DAC, a USB C to USB C cable, a USB C to Lightning cable, a USB C to USB A adapter and some documentation.
Weighing in at just 28g, the Link2 Bal’s CNC crafted chassis is sandblasted, oxidized and has a gun-metal grey colour. Both the front and back of the unit are covered with 2.5D glass. It feels robust and premium in the hand.
On the right side of the unit are a red playback/pause button and the volume up and down buttons. These buttons are super convenient for controlling playback and have a satisfying tactile click. They work with smartphones as well as media applications on Windows PCs.
Located on the left side are 2 switches: one selects between USB UAC2.0 and UAC1.0 modes. The UAC1.0 mode is for legacy devices that have compatibility issues with UAC2.0. The other switch is for selecting normal or turbo mode – essentially low and high gain settings.
A small LED on the front of the device lights up when it’s in use and changes colour according to the sample rate of the currently playing file. The LED is small and isn’t distracting even in low light.
Internally, the xDuoo Link2 Bal houses dual CS43131 DAC chips plus an independent TI LM27762 amp chip to achieve its impressive output power. The TI LM27762 has more than 85% efficiency, delivering a large, clean and dynamic output. Speaking of output, the Link2 Bal achieves an impressive 270W@32ohm from its 4.4mm balanced output.
Right from the first listen, the xDuoo Link2 Bal had me hooked on its sound. It surprised me with its mature, natural and dynamic sound. Link2 Bal has an effortless analogue presentation that belies the digital nature of its physical makeup.
The sound is transparent and uncoloured. While this is not unique in the realm of dongle DACs, what makes Link2 Bal special is the way it presents music in such a natural non-digital manner. Yet, nothing sounds smoothed over: it’s brimming with fidelity and clarity.
We’ve had some experience with dual CS43131 chips before in the Tempotec Sonata E44. The E44 is amazing in itself (especially in the context of price) but the way the Link2 Bal implements its dual DACs kicks things up a notch.
The Link2 Bal creates an organized, large and airy soundstage. I love the way it balances organic smoothness with precision; it’s neutral, transparent and detailed yet free of any jagged edges or digital artefacts.
Tempotec Sonata E44 ($89)
The Tempotec Sonata E44 (review here) houses the same dual CS43131 DAC chips. E44 pushes less power, managing 175mW/32ohm compared to 270mW/32ohm for the Link2 Bal’s 4.4mm balanced output.
The Sonata E44 shares some of the characteristics of the xDuoo but is a tad bolder and more upfront. In comparison, the Link2 Bal sounds smoother but with the same or slightly better level of resolution. Both have a spacious, airy soundstage.
E44 is great if you’re on a budget and predominantly use a 4.4mm cable but the xDuoo adds more versatility with its 3.5mm jack, USB and gain switches, plus the additional Play/Pause button.
Furthermore, the Sonata E44 has a fixed cable at both ends which might affect its longevity and durability. Therefore the added cost of the Link2 Bal starts to make sense.
Earmen Sparrow ($199)
The Earmen Sparrow (review here) has an ES9281Pro DAC chip. Like the Link2 Bal, it has glass panels on the front and back. Sparrow adopts a 2.5mm balanced output compared to the Link2 Bal’s 4.4mm.
The Sparrow is slightly more detailed than the xDuoo. This is mostly due to the Sparrow’s treble forwardness and extension. On the other hand, Link2 Bal is smoother in the treble but slightly less energetic up top.
For Tidal users, the Earmen Sparrow has MQA support. However, the Link2 Bal supports up to DSD256 compared to DSD128 on the Sparrow.
The xDuoo Link2 Bal delivers fantastic audio quality and high output power. Moreover, it comes with an attractive rugged chassis and onboard playback/volume controls. Combined with its uncoloured natural sound and spacious soundstage, the Link2 Bal is one of my favourite delta-sigma dongles. In fact, I like it so much it gets the PAR recommended award.