The removal of the headphone jack was a catastrophic event for enthusiasts who used their smartphones for music listening. They were either forced to switch to wireless audio or purchase dongles just to use wired headphones or IEMs. However, this event has given birth to the high-res dongle-sized USB Type-C DAC/Amp, which has vastly improved the quality of smartphone audio.
Today, most audiophile companies are constantly upping their game and are trying to release the best possible high-res USB Type-C dongle. But one company that has caught our attention is Hilidac.
Their latest product, the Audirect Beam 2SE, promises to bring a high-res MQA ready dongle that can power headphones up to 300-ohms. And the best part is that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
In this review, we will be putting the Beam 2SE through its purchases and find out if it’s a product that outperforms its asking price. Keep on scrolling to find out more.
The review unit was provided by Shenzhenaudio. We would like to thank them for their support and for making this review possible. However, this does not influence our review in any way. Everything written here is my honest opinion.
Hilidac Audirect Beam 2SE Review
Packaging and Accessories
The Hilidac Beam 2SE has a simple but well-thought-out packaging. It comes in a black box with a red Audirect logo on the front, and the specs are listed at the back. There’s no box art here, which I think makes the whole package look cleaner.
Once opened, you are immediately greeted with a user manual along with the Beam 2SE’s main body. Underneath that compartment is the rest of the accessories. The presentation is quite premium which helps give the Beam 2SE a great first impression.
As for the accessories, the Beam 2SE comes with a bunch of different USB cables. You get a USB Type-C to Type-C cable for Android devices, a USB Type-C to Lightning cable for iOS devices, and a USB Type-C to Type-A converter. These accessories allow you to connect to almost any device without purchasing any external adapters, so kudos to Hilidac for that.
- USB Type-C to Type-C cable
- USB Type-C cable to Lightning cable
- USB Type-C to Type-A converter
Design and Build Quality
The Beam 2SE is an incredibly well-built unit. The main body has an all-metal construction that feels very solid. It also has some nice heft to it which ensures that it is made with quality materials.
I initially thought that the heavier design would put more pressure on the USB cable, especially when using your smartphone in landscape orientation when watching videos. While using it this way is a bit awkward, I did not find any issues on the cable even after several months of use.
And speaking of the cable, the two options that you get out of the box is well-built. Both cables are braided, and the USB portion has a metal housing.
And even if you did encounter any issues with the cable, you can easily replace it with an aftermarket option. This highly increases the life span of the Beam 2SE since traditional smartphone dongles are pretty much dead if anything happens to the USB cable. It also makes the Beam 2SE future proof since you can theoretically adapt future connection types.
Going back to the main unit, the Beam 2SE’s main body has a single LED light on the front and side of the unit. There is also a button on the side which we will be further discussing in the driving power section.
One thing that I disliked about Hilidac’s previous products is the excessive text and branding on the device. But this time around, the Beam 2SE is significantly cleaner compared to its older brothers. The only visible text is the Audirect branding, the model name, and the company’s website.
Overall, the Beam 2SE doesn’t feel like a cheap product for budget consumers. Everything about it is solid. The design and build are already enough to make the Beam 2SE an easy recommendation. But of course, let us tackle its feature set and sound performance to find out if the Beam 2SE is just as good on the inside.
Features and Sound Performance
Tested with: Fostex/Fitear TE100, Ultimate Ears UE6 Pro, BGVP DM8, KBear Believe, Sennheiser HD660S, Haromicdyne Zeus
The Audirect Beam 2SE’s internals is just as attractive as its design and build. At its core is the single ES9281C PRO DAC chip with Hyperstream II Quad DAC that provides independent operation for the left and right channels. The op-amp implementation is also rated to power headphones up to 600-ohms, which is very impressive both for its small size and its price point.
Additionally, the Beam 2SE supports the full unfolding of MQA. This is a feature that is generally reserved for higher-end DAPs and DAC/Amps. This makes the Beam 2SE an amazing value-oriented product.
So with how amazing its spec sheet is, how does the Beam 2SE perform in the real world? To quickly summarize it, the Beam 2SE does not disappoint.
Right off the bat, I noticed that the Beam 2SE produced a detailed sound that was leaning towards the bright end of the spectrum. It still maintained good accuracy, especially when compared to my other sources. But its subtle emphasis on the details on the higher registers is appreciated as it makes this a more revealing source.
One subtle thing that I enjoyed while using the Beam 2SE is that the volume slowly fades from 0 to the current volume instead of immediately blasting you with the current volume. This gives your ears time to adjust and prevent any potential damage if you accidentally set your volume too high.
The only possible critique that I could give it is that it doesn’t sound as spacious as the more expensive iFi Nano iDSD BL or my Fiio M11 DAP. This was evident when using headphones such as the Sennheiser HD660S and Harmonicdyne Zeus or IEMs such as the Fostex TE100. But, of course, that is to be expected given its price point.
Compared to other USB Type-C DAC/Amps, I highly preferred the sound coming out of the Beam 2SE. I would even recommend the Beam 2SE over most DAPs in the sub 200 USD price point.
The only thing that is missing is a balanced output. Most of my IEMs either use a 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced connection, so I find it a bit of a hassle to bring additional adapters during quick trips. This feature is, of course, available on Hilidac’s more expensive offerings.
In terms of its driving power, the Beam 2SE pretty much handled most of my IEMs with ease. It was even capable of driving the KBear Believe, which we have cited as a source-dependent IEM that needed a dedicated amplifier in our review.
It also handled full-sized headphones such as the 150-ohm Sennheiser HD660S and the 64-ohm Harmonicdyne Zeus pretty well. While both headphones managed to achieve a listenable volume, the tighter stage was easily noticeable. But again, I don’t have any problems with this since both headphones still performed well.
One thing that I’d like to mention is that the Beam 2SE has three gain modes available. These three can be easily accessible using the single button on the side. While I highly appreciate this feature, I didn’t find the low and mid-gain modes to be particularly useful.
Heat and Battery Consumption
Most dongle type DAC/Amps that we have tested produced heat while running. This is pretty normal since my other portable desktop and portable equipment did the same.
The Beam 2SE is no different. It does get hot to the touch even after a few songs. However, I wouldn’t say that this is an issue, and I have not encountered any problems during my 2-month test period. The battery drain was also noticeable but not a big deal. Using the Beam 2SE while I was outside didn’t kill my smartphone’s battery life. I would say that the Beam 2SE’s battery drain is fairly similar to my other dongle type DAC/Amps.
The TC35B is one of our favorite DAC/Amps because of its unique form factor and great sound quality. It manages to check all the boxes and is an unbeatable package in the budget price point.
Compared to the TC35B, the Beam 2SE is significantly larger. This makes sense since it is packing a lot more tech inside. This makes the Beam 2SE harder to fit in smaller carrying cases. It also makes the Beam 2SE more awkward to use while watching videos.
But when it comes to the sound quality, the Beam 2SE is significantly better than the TC35B. It is more spacious and detailed thanks to its better DAC chip. It also synergizes better with higher-end IEMs. And of course, it has MQA support that works on both desktop and mobile devices.
Unless you are specifically looking for an ultra-portable option, we highly suggest going for the Beam 2SE. And if you already own the TC35B, the Beam 2SE is a worthy upgrade. Find out more in our full review.
The ddHiFi TC44B is another one of our favorite USB Type-C DAC/Amps. It isn’t a direct competitor to the Beam 2SE since it only offers balanced outputs. But this becomes a very interesting conversation if you own balanced cables.
The Beam 2SE has a slightly better build compared to the TC44B. Its full metal build and detachable cable give me more confidence in its reliability. However, the TC44B isn’t far off in terms of build and hasn’t given me any problems during my testing period.
The internals on both dongles is different. The TC35B has a single ES9281C PRO DAC chip, while the TC44B has a dual Cirrus CS43131 DAC chip. Both are great performers, and the better-sounding option comes down to personal preference.
I personally preferred the more highlighted mids on the TC44B while using the Harmonicdyne Zeus with a 4.4 balanced connection. However, the Beam 2SE wasn’t far off and also synergized very well with the Zeus.
But if MQA capability is important to you, we highly suggest going for the Beam 2SE. You can purchase either a 2.5 to 3.5 converter or a 4.4 to 3.5 converter for your balanced cables.
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Overall, this little DAC/Amp has managed to exceed my expectations. It’s built well and performs well when paired with my favorite headphones and IEMs. It does have some minor design quirks, such as the usability of its adjustable gain levels, but I highly enjoyed the overall package.
If you are looking for the most full-featured dongle-sized DAC/Amp with excellent sound performance, we highly suggest going for the Audirect Beam 2SE. This small wonder is guaranteed to instantly improve your smartphone or laptop setup.
- Output Power: ≥115mW(1692)≥ 120mW(32Q)≥ .6.8mW(6009)
- Frequency response: 20Hz -40kHz (-0.18dB)
- Distortion + noise (THD+N): 0.0003%
- PCM sampling rate: PCM/DXD 16 32bit, 32kHz .384kHz
- DSD specification: up to DOP128
- Internal resistance <1Ω
- MQA: Perform MQA rendering, which will provide the final expansion of the MQA file
- Output port: 3.5mm
- Input interface: Type-C
- Body: 53x15X10mm
- Net weight: 23g
Albums Used For Testing
- Milet – Who I am
- Babymetal – Legend Metal Galaxy
- Mamamoo – Travel
- Periphery- Periphery 3 and 4
- Blackpink – The Album
- Final Fantasy VII Acoustic Arrangements
- Square Enix Jazz- Final Fantasy VII At Billboard Live Tokyo
- Sawano Hiroyuki – Best of Vocal Works
- Yorushika – Plagiarism
- Intervals – Circadian
Stephen is a musician, cinematographer, and headphone enthusiast who is passionate about reviewing audio equipment. He has been playing guitar for at least a decade, which introduced him to professional recording equipment such as headphones and in-ear monitors. With the help of reviews and online content, he was able to learn the ins and outs of the hobby. His goal is to give back to the community by providing quality content to help others enjoy the beautiful (and expensive) world of audio.
Favorite Headphones: Sennheiser HD660s