DAC Chip: ESS Sabre ES9281C PRO (Single + Dual Opamps)
PCM 32bit-384khz MQA, SNR: -118db, Power: 208mW 32Ω, 4.4mm BAL (Microphone: NO), Female USB-C, 12g Aluminum Chassis
Listening Equipment: Etymotic ER4SR, ER2XR, Shure KSE1500, TIN HiFi P1, Monolith M565C, FOSTEX T40RP MK3
LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING
- Pristine crisp and clean neutral flat timbre with uncolored tonality
- Superbly controlled dynamics, full bodied with polished airy presentation
- Reference grade Micro and Macro details handling, great transparency
- Balanced Mids with smooth textures and definition, natural toned Male/Female vocals
- Crisp and smooth Treble decays with great extensions
- Commanding Mid-Bass, tightly controlled, fast with crisp decays.
- Deep Sub-Bass seismic response with smooth decays.
- Crisp and vivid guitars, piano, percussions (chimes, bells) and drums and taps
- Properly sized soundstage width with good depth and placement
- Great holographic spatial imaging with succinct placement/layers
- Amazing speed and dexterity on complex passages and transients
- Super clean background, zero floor noises
- Clean layers and well-defined separation lines
- Drives Magnetic Planars at 55/100 volume, desktop fidelity grade.
- Forgiving on Lo-Fi and lower quality sources (despite being transparent)
- No hardware volume adjuster
- Hard access to gain switch, you need a needle to poke it.
- Not as powerful as iBasso DC04 (I am nitpicking here)
- Runs a little hotter on High Gain mode
- Power hungry on the host (similar to PEE51, B1, E1DA, DC04 & S9 Pro)
- Only available in 4.4mm Balanced Pentaconn configuration
hiliDAC Audirect BEAM 2S. This is without a doubt the most refined and polished ES9281C PRO dongle I have heard so far. I spent a lot of time on this unit, using it regularly between my Ovidius B1 (servicing ER4SR/ER2XR) and DC04 (servicing Tin HiFi P1/Monolith M565c). To date I have tested 5 different dongles with ES9281C chipset, this BEAM 2S is the most powerful of them all with the 4.4mm balanced port (high gain). A step more powerful than the Questyle M12 and equally placed with PEE51/B1. iBasso DC04 remained the most powerful. I described this BEAM 2S as polished because I am hearing such finesse in the timbre that exhibited great coherence and discipline – in contrast the M12, BEAM 2SE, HiBy FC3 and Atom2 (all using ES9281C) would appear as overly sparkly and bright. The tuning for BEAM 2S offers a delicate balance between technicality and musicality. It is organic enough to not sound dry. Among all the ES9281C, it is also the most stable and consistent no matter where you plug it to. The M12 and Atom 2 will not like it being paired with the older iteration of USB 2.0, however this BEAM 2S wouldn’t mind.
With reference grade sound quality, intricate technical-organic balance, great driving power, outstanding stability, exemplary flexibility, and stellar synergy – it was not difficult for me to grade this BEAM 2S a 4½ Stars rating.
PS: Stellar flexibility between iOS and Android/PC with just an easy swap of the included cables
16 July 2021 Update:
Now that I have a FOSTEX T40RP MK3 in hands, this BEAM 2S was subjected to an exhaustive re-tests while running on USB 2.0 power from my iPhone 7 (via ddHiFi adapter). Despite needing 70/100 of volume to drive the 91db Magnetic Planar, admirably BEAM 2S was able to retain timbre coherence and stability with no indication of micro jitters or distortions – everything remained crisp and smooth. Fidelity was retained and the sound was full bodied. As such, BEAM 2S has retained the spot on the 4 stars segment.
Best Pairing: Anything up to 250Ω or above 94db sensitivity.
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