Demand for USB dongles is heating up and getting hotter day by day. New dongles are being introduced every week. Every brand which is associated with sources trying to have a say here. And then there are some brands that have been making USB devices for a while now. One of those makers is Audirect. They have been making some interesting looking USB powered dongles. Recently they introduced their newer Beam 3 lineup which includes their flagship too, the Beam 3 plus. This USB dongle can double up as a full fledged BT module too. It uses ES9281AS DAC chip for wired decoding and a CSR8675 to decode BT audio.
Priced at $190 there aren’t many competitors for this but the cheaper Qudelix 5k and Fiio BTR 5 present the Beam 3 plus with good amount of competition.
Get one for yourself from here:
ACCESSORIES AND UNBOXING:
Just like most of the USB and BT dongles Beam 3 plus too doesn’t have anything fancy out of the box. The first thing that greets us is the module itself, stuffed in foam. Underneath are the type C to C cable and a C to A adapter to use with PC and other devices which support USB audio out. I might be demanding a bit too much but a device at this price should come with a protective case, let me tell you why in the build section.
My initial impression was very very positive. I liked the way this thing felt in the hand. At 69g Beam 3 plus is neither light nor heavy but feels really premium and solid to the hand. It has a bit of heft which gives it a sturdier feel. It has matte finished paint on the edges, both the glasses on the front and back have matte finish too. Another reason for the weight is use of metal body, I think it’s steel. On the downside, I dropped it once and the blue paint around the edges came off, a protective case would have helped big time. Why not keep the grey metal body, it will definitely be hard to keep it clean from finger prints but that has its own character, doesn’t it?
For everything else I will give this device full mark. All the buttons and switches feel sturdy and have good feedback too. On the top side we have the USB port, the BT/USB switch and microphone. At the bottom we have the 4.4mm and 3.5mm sockets. Right side has power and gain switch while the left side has the play/pause and seek/volume buttons and they function as intended.
This is where things get tricky. I was kind of baffled when I first had it in my hand. The power button didn’t turn the device on, guess why? Beam 3 plus doesn’t turn on when in USB mode.
Yes!!! These modes matter a lot here. It won’t charge in USB mode either. For both modes, one has to switch to BT mode. The built-in microphone too doesn’t work in USB mode. There is no way to extend the USB playback time, it’s a shame but it is what it is. What’s good is all the music related buttons work as intended in USB mode. I wish the Mic worked..
PAIRING AND DRIVABILITY:
Beam 3 plus has good amount of power and it pairs well with anything and everything. It didn’t find the IEMs or headphones sound colored or different than they should. I paired it with a few headphones, Sivga Robin and Fischer M12s and it was able to drive these without much problem. Don’t expect this small thing to drive full sized headphones to their best though. It struggles a bit with the AKG K612 pro, yes, this thing is hard to drive, so is the point, don’t expect this dongle to drive stuff which need a lot of power.
IEMs on the other hand are much easier for it and ohh, it’s a pleasure. Thanks to it’s colourless and neutral signature it only makes a good IEM more enjoyable working as a medium to provides the head gear with power, without interfering with their sound signature.
SPECIFICATIONS AND BATTERY:
Beam 3 plus is equipped with some of the best possible chips for both BT and DAC. The ES9281AC DAC chip is capable of decoding up to 512 DSD, 32bit and 768 kHz while the CSR8675 supports sbc / aac / aptx / aptx-HD / LDAC for the best possible audio output, both wire and wirelessly. Beam 3 plus can deliver 230mw of power at 32ohm and 27.78mW under 600 ohm loads via the 4.4mm out. Single ended out is capable of 122mw and 7mw respectively.
BT battery life is good for around 8-9 hrs (but I do feel the 1200 mah battery could have been tuned for 10+hrs of backup) don’t expect anything more. Sadly this device cannot use the battery in USB mode and my 4500 mah Phone dies in 12-13hrs, it’s decent nevertheless.
After the not so good experience with the battery situation l, SQ comes as a pleasant surprise. This is one of the most capable USB DAC I have used, if you do not want to rear a lot about how this behaves in detail, let me tell you, this is more balanced, has better end to end extension, is more neutral and colourless than the L&P W2. It doesn’t lack anywhere and doesn’t have any coloration of its own. It just simply doesn’t add anything to the IEM/headphone’s character, letting it show its own quality and character.
I did an AB between Beam 3 plus and Fiio KA3 to check if a mic or inline remote will work in USB mode (no, they don’t work with anything) and the first thing that caught my attention is the much cleaner and refined output of the Beam 3 plus. I have had reviewed a handful of USB dongles and I can easily state that this is easily the most meticulously tuned dongle. It just simply doesn’t have any flavoring. Not extra treble sparkle or fuller lower end, doesn’t try to emphasize or deflate the mids either. I will credit the AMP chip here but that’s not mentioned, in any case USB audio wise, this is a straight Ace. No jitter or splashiness, no added smoothness or extra grains is found here.
Thanks to the extra bit of power it does help IEMs expand their stage without introducing any hollow space. Layering and separation is top notch too. Since all the IEMs behaved differently it’s hard to point at one thing and say yes, this is the particular improvement we can find with this dongle.
This has to be one of the most capable BT adapters with very good power and higher detail but as usual Bluetooth audio is not as capable as the wired one. It does have the support for high resolution audio in LDAC and APTX-HD but just like every other BT device the treble region does not maintain the transparency and liveliness of the USB mode and it does struggle a bit with high speed tracks. There is little to no difference when it comes to lower and mid range performance.
MIC performance too is very good, it’s slightly on the sharper side but is good with vocal frequencies. I do wish it had a clip of some sort to put it on the shirt but it is what it is.
If you find your source or IEM to be a bit on the loose side and slightly less accurate, Beam 3 plus is here to save the day.
Dorado 2020: The way this tightens the Dorado 2020 and extracts extra bit of resolution with excellent precision is simply admirable. It brings marginally smaller bass body while retaining all the texture and definition. This pairing has a more balanced mids with excellent vocals. The treble region is lot cleaner and airy with very good layering and separation.
URD is a warm and musical sounding IEM which has a very cohesive and smoother output with a W shaped signature. Beam 3 Plus brings more precision and control over the notes bringing better accuracy to the whole spectrum. Now the W shaped signature is more balanced with smaller dip and rise. The lower end is tighter but retails all the texture and punch. Vocals are less warm and cleaner with a more precise body. Tiny bit of texture is lost though but the extra bit of precision gives it a cleaner and separated stage. Treble with the Beam 3 plus gains fair bit of energy giving the URD a more lively and transparent upper region.
SV023 is already an analytically tuned headphone which in its own is barely colored and has a slightly V shaped tuning. Beam 3 Plus does struggle a bit to drive this headphone to its full potential. It does get loud, the lower end is as good other sources, treble is cleaner and a bit livelier but the vocals suffer a bit with a compressed tonality and slightly artificial timber. The stage too feels a bit loop sided with a formation of void in the mid range space. In short, Beam 3 plus is unable to drive this full size headphone to its potential.
This pairing is a blissful affair. Beam 3 Plus controls the extra bit of brightness and aggressive presentations of the Grado with a gentle hand. SR80e’s transparency and cleanliness is barely affected here but bean 3 plus does bring a bit more refinement and texture to the vocals. Everything else remains unchanged.
vs Shanling UA5:
UA5 is a bit leaner and slightly brighter sources and dials the lows a bit down giving more presence to the treble region.
Beam 3 plus has a slightly bigger stage. Both devices have excellent sonics and dynamics. While the Beam 3 plus is more uniform with energy, UA5 is a bit more flavored.
Vs Fiio KA3:
KA3 too is an accuracy and precision based dongle but is more similar to the UA5 with its approach. KA3 has less bass volume, more treble energy and has a bit of refinement issue. While A-Bing I was stunned by the improvement in cleanliness and transparency of the Beam 3 Plus, no comparison here, this Hilidac device is leaps and bounds ahead. Beam 3 plus offers much better resolution and definition , it has improved sonics and dynamic cue placement. Has a bigger stage with better expansion in every direction too.
If you are looking for sound quality Beam 3 plus gets my stamp of approval. It sounds very good, especially the wired output id clean clear and high on resolution and definition. It has better balance and coloration compared to the Shanling UA5. It has more power than the UA5 too and has buttons to control the device.
I do wish Beam 3 Plus had access to the built-in battery in USB mode like the Qudelix 5k, I do wish the paint on this device were better, I do wish it had an app, but these are minor problems if you prefer SQ over anything else. This is a solid device for sure. My mind is ready to trade these minor hick-ups for a better SQ, it all comes down to personal preference though.
For me, Beam 3 Plus is a winner with room for improvements in the usability department.
And, I conclude this review, it was fun. Wishing you guys the best, stay safe, Cheers!!