Audirect Beam-Maybe all the ultra-portable dac/amp you need?

Maybe all the ultra-portable dac/amp you need?
Written by ngoshawk
Published 1 minute ago

Pros – Small.
Affordable.
Plug-n-play.
Provides a nice DAC as a replacement for your Smartphone.
Plenty of power.
Good sound quality, and again a good replacement for your Smartphone DAC.

Cons – Volume is source dependent (see writings).
Volume/play/pause all tied to one button.
Treble may not suit some (not enough, but I’m good with it).
Not much else.

Audirect Beam: Maybe all the ultra-portable dac/amp you need? $99USD

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Audirect website: http://www.audirect.cc/

I want to thank Wood Lui for his generous offer in making the Audirect Beam available for review. All of the words are mine, and all we mutually expect is an open honest review.

Chock full of details, the Beam is a really nice DAC following in the footsteps of more expensive offerings such as the Audioquest Dragonfly, and future offerings from FiiO. An extremely hard spot to be in, Audirect jumped in with both feet, and I can openly admit that the Beam is worthy of consideration in the conversation regarding the above companies. An excellent start.

Easy to use, plug and play and with the included connectors for USB-C/USB, USB-C/USB-C and USB-C/lightning, you can connect to anything short of the older USB connections. I noticed an immediate improvement when hooked to my iPhone X, bypassing the X’s DAC. Volume control was easy (but took two clicks on the Beam to register one “notch” on the X. Play/pause and moving the volume up/down did cross paths a bit and I would pause instead of raising the volume. But, with care one can easily work that out.

Hooked to my Shanling M3s, I had complete control of the DAP, with good results. Again, the issue was with the volume increments, as to raise/lower volume on the M3s one notch required seven, yes 7 up clicks on the Beam. While not entirely tiring as I simply kept the volume on the M3s right at the point of change, to raise the volume a good bit (or lower…) required either multiple clicks on the Beam or utilize the volume pot on the Shanling. Again, the sound was good, taming the somewhat warm sound of the M3s to a more neutral presence. Good stuff, indeed.

So far this is one very nice little critter!

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Specs from their website:

Beam 規格書Specifications

Using the critically acclaimed ESS patented 32-bit HyperStream® DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, the ES9118 delivers up to 125dB SNR and –114dB THD+N, a performance level that will satisfy the most demanding audio enthusiasts.

THD Compensation, Minimize distortion from external PCB components and layout

參數(Specifications)
指標(Data)

輸出功率(Output Power)
-114dB TND+N, 2Vrms into 600Ω
-108dB THD+N, 49mW into 32Ω
高達 1.1Vrms,up to 1.1Vrms

頻率響應(Frequency response)20-30000Hz(-0.15dB)

失真度(Distortion)0.0004%

信噪比(S/N ratio)+125dB SNR, +120dB DNR

支持PCM採樣頻率(input supports PCM)PCM 16-32bit, 32-384KHz

支持DSD規格(input supports DSD)DoP64, DoP128, Native DSD64/128/256

D/A轉換芯片(D/A Chips)ES9118 SABRE HiFi SoC

內阻 I.R. <1Ω

耳放芯片(Amplifier Chips)ES9118

輸入接口 (Input port) USB-C

輸出端口(Output Port) 3.5mm

長x寬x高(L W H)52x14x6mm

淨重(Weight)12g

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Songs used:

Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

REM-Losing My Religion
Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

Comparison equipment:

Advanced Sound GT3
KZ AS10
Kinera iDun
AAW-Shozy Hibiki MK2

MacBook Pro (used the most along with the M3s)
iPhone X (used the most along with the other two mentioned, so about 1/3 each)
Shanling M3s (used the most along with the MBP)
Aune M1s
QP2R

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*Most of my time was bouncing between the three in parenthesis above, but I did hook the Beam to the Aune M1s briefly for comparative purposes…and it was good. There was a point in which there were diminishing returns, and that came somewhere between the M3s and M1s. Still good, but less beneficial. I also hooked the Beam to the QP2R, but I had gone past the point of diminishing returns, so no more mention of that pair is needed (this is not a slight of the Beam, just that the QP2R is SO good).

Fit-N-Finish/Unboxing:

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Coming in a flat magnetic flapped box, you hearken back to the day when you had a see-through window to the toy of your purchase. And I felt that way as I looked at the box. Simple, straightforward, Audirect allowed the box the draws one’s attention towards the critter who held point. I like simplicity and less packaging. This fit the bill, with just a smidge too much packaging for me. But, it worked, and once inside you understand why there was that added space. The extra space was for the assortment of accessories, which are included. While not terribly much, the accessories do take up space, and that space was used to keep all the contents protected. Of that, I do approve.

Inside you remove the Beam carefully on the left, and the connectivity cables on the right. Pulling the Type-C/Type-C connection I hooked into my MacBook Pro after trying on my iPhone X to gauge a quick comparison. Tidal through my MBP provides too much bass, but at this point it was to ascertain how the critter sounded quickly with many sources.

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Finish is good, with mostly solid matching of the halves. Good tactility resulted from a slight curve on the top right side, opposite the function button/toggle; of which there is one. But that single toggle is used for play/pause and up/down on the volume. This is where the biggest limitation lies in my mind for two reasons. One, it is quite easy to hit the pause feature as one raises/lowers the volume, especially on the go. And two, with each source used the volume movement was not consistent. One notch up/down on the Beam was one on the MBP, but the Beam was almost too powerful for the MBP. On the lowest volume setting I could tolerate it but not for too long.

On the X, it was good, but two up/down pushes on the Beam equated to one notch on the X. Tolerable. Worst was the M3s, for there it took eight, yes EIGHT up/down numbers on the Shanling to equate to one volume adjustment on the Beam. In other words, for every eight numbers on the Shanling volume setting it equated to one on the Beam. Again tolerable, and I kept the adjustment to where one push up/down would trigger that raising/lowering of the volume by one notch on the Beam.

The included cables are of good quality so banging around in one’s pocket with their smartphone could be tolerated. There was very little tangle as well. Overall build, feel and intangibles are what I would expect from something that cost $100. I am satisfied.

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Critical listening:

Not having heard the Audioquest Dragonfly, I had to base my opinions off of other small dac/amps. But I feel that would be an unfair comparison for several reasons. First of course in my humble opinion would be price. The closest portable I have that comes close to this would be the iBasso PB3. And as a dedicated balanced amp, which cost over 2x the price in a different ballpark, and of different need. Second, to me is that this really isn’t a comparison about “portable” amps, but rather “micro-portable” dac/amps, which can be utilized to better one’s smartphone. And here, when considered singularly, the Beam succeeds wholeheartedly.

That said, there has been some recent ridiculous commentary on Facebook regarding how if one “wastes” money on a DAP, you are missing the point because, and I quote, “my so-and-so smartphone is better than ANY DAP I have heard. Period!” The above convo degenerated into a who drives what comparison, which essentially became who was the bigger tool…as I said, ridiculous. To each his or her own and we should never fault one for their choices. It might be our place to educate and inform; but never judge one’s choices. At least outwardly. Sheesh, indeed…

So, as I listened to the Beam on various sources, I did my best to simply compare it for what it was…a simple to use, straightforward DAC/AMP for ultra-portable use; especially with Smartphones. As such I hooked the Beam to my iPhone X, first. And sat back.

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Grabbing a single malt, pulling up Tidal Premium, hooked to the Advanced Sound Group GT3, I sat. And I listened. And I sat some more. Grabbing another single malt (that kind of day…), I popped on Aretha Franklin, for she had just passed on to that great gig in the sky. Good Lord, she was amazing. I could imagine her up there jamming with Ella, Janice, Jimmy, Stevie, Glenn, Tommy, Satchmo, Billy, JohnLee, Johnny, Frank, Bob, and Tom. Look those names up if you have to, but those are the true icons of North American music for the last century. And I am unabashedly promoting them. You could listen for days on any of them and Tidal (or Spotify) is the perfect outlet for them all with this combination.

So, listening to the sweet melodiousness of Aretha all but brought me to tears. Part of it was for her and the music; but another aspect was because of how far we have come in the last five years. To understand that in five short years, we have come to the point of inclusion where for less than one Ben Franklin you could make your smartphone a quite fine musical device is astounding. Just astounding. Yet, there are still unbelievers out there. Some would harbor that their smartphone is enough. They need not more. I would respectfully state that until you give something of this nature a try you are: A. doing a disservice to your musical tastes and listening, and B. not getting enough out of your phone. To do without is something that you should not do.

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Moar words:

So, for $99 USD what do you get? You get an eminently portable, versatile DAC/AMP, which easily hooks to any device I threw its way. And as such, the Beam does shine. I was immediately hooked upon first listen. The sound signature of my iPhone X turned from warm and slightly muddy, to warm and of a fuller nature. Detail became more prevalent. I could more easily discern the intricate notes of Coldplay’s A Message. When you can go from hearing the song, to hearing the breath taken between notes, I consider this a good sign. Santana’s Corazon Espinado sounds simply fabulous through the Beam. Better than the iPhone X yes, but you do reach a limit as to how far that improvement can go. Hooking the Beam up to something of higher level, such as the Shanling M3s can scale only so much. But going higher on the DAP food chain and you reach a point where the Beam does no good. Hooking the Beam to the QP2R, and you will actually lose benefit. This makes sense as you are hooking a $1200 DAP to a $99 DAC/AMP.

No matter what I hooked the Beam to, up to about the mid-fi price point there was a benefit to having the Beam in the chain. I consider this a triumph of technology in our time. That is about the most I can say of a device. It works, and it works well. I have said this before and I will again, it just works. Providing an even near-natural sound, with good detail retrieval, the Beam also adds a smidge to the bass response of your source. Not muddy of course, but a decent addition to the lower end. Detail becomes cleaner when using sources with suspect audio-innards, such as less expensive smartphones.

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This is a good addition to your inexpensive source because it can provide that better amount of detail, as well as broaden the sound stage a bit. With good layering and instrumentation, the added amount of detail highlights what the Beam can do and do well.

Finale:

Well, it seems that no matter what I hooked to the Beam benefitted up to a certain level. The Beam is not meant to be a world beater. It isn’t. But, it IS meant to be positive influence on your smartphone as well as more affordable DAP’s, even your PC/Mac. Even with those minor niggles regarding the volume control, I would highly recommend this as a really nice addition to your system. It isn’t very often that one can take a truly portable amp with one and not have it be the center of attention (as in I HAVE AN AMP HOOKED TO MY PHONE, DO YOU???!!!). Yes there are alternatives, but I like to think that the Beam has brought down to the truly affordable level, what a portable amp (ultra-portable) can be for those who do not want to lug around their iFi Black Label (I truly love mine…) or worry about the cost of bringing their Chord Mojo (remember it?…) along. And here is the true genius of the Beam, portable, affordable and it sounds darn good in 85% of the situations in which I used it.

I cannot think of a higher regard in which to end, the Perfect Sense as Roger Waters would say. Well done, Audirect and it has been my honor to have the Beam in house. I use it almost daily.

I again want to thank Wood Liu for showing faith in the reviewers to provide an open honest review of his product. It is good, and I think you should really give the Audirect Beam a listen if you can.

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