AUDIRECT ATOM 2 Review: Lush, holographic, and Dynamic audio pleasure

PROS: Lush dynamic sound, bass weight and slam, natural full-bodied enough timbre, good macro resolution, good layering, vocal presence, more than decent amping power, energic but not agressive, low power consumption, sturdy, genius design

CONS: Not the cleanest sound, treble isn’t very sparkly and detailed, imaging lacks a bit of precision and deepness, decent amping doesn’t mean its notably more powerful than my LG V30+ phone

TONALITY: 8.5/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8/10
VERSATILITY: 8.5/10
AMPING POWER: 8/10
CONSTRUCTION: 9/10
SOUND VALUE: 8/10

INTRO


I follow Audirect company since its first BEAM release, which doesn’t impress me much. So, it’s just lately that I become quite an Audirect fanboi due to their incredible BEAM 2 dac-amp: an ultra-portable dongle with SE and (true) balanced jacks, a crazy power output of 240mw@32ohm balanced way, independent dual OPamp section and a highly dynamic sound with full-bodied tonality.
This explains why I was intrigued by the Atom2 even if it can’t be an upgrade of the BEAM2, i was very curious to hear the sound difference between a dongle that use stock ES9281C DAC against one that use it with independent dual OPamp like the BEAM2. Will it sound THAT inferior? Well, spoil alert: no, it isn’t. Its just less powerful and a bit less energic in dynamic range. Let’s see why in this review.



CONSTRUCTION&DESIGN&FONCTINALITY

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(this is the packaging, nothing to write about apart that you got a USB-C to USB adapter)


”There is no genius where there is not simplicity”
-Leo Tolstoy


Simplicity can unlock practicality potential, and this is what the Atom2 achieves with it’s all-metal T-shaped body. It’s small, feels invincibly sturdy and once it’s connected it embraces the body of your phone so you can forget about it. The fact the jack is at the side of it’s body makes it even more portable and less prompt to unwanted disconnection. If i search devils in detail, i would say the jack is a bit cheaply embedded into the metal body, and it’s made of plastic, but it doesn’t seem to affect overall durability.

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Plug and play, it get recognize by my phone automatically. For window, it seems Atom driver got automatically installed as well. Tidal too recognizes it and I can use exclusive mode to unlock it’s full potential as well as listen to MQA music if I feel like it.

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It must be noted that the Atom2 power on only if you plug a cable into it, so don’t panic if it’s not recognize before you do so.

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As stated, the Atom2 decodes up to 384khz/32bit, to achieve this, don’t forget to go in window sound setting or choose Bitperfect mode on your music player app like UAPP.



POWER OUTPUT

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It’s VERY important to understand that the stock ES9281C DAC has ”impedance adaptative power output”, and I feel lot of reviews out there don’t know you can BYPASS it using a 3.5male to female adapter cable. This way, you have FULL 2vrms power output whatever you plug a 16ohm IEM with high sensitivity or 32ohm IEM with low sensitivity.

I barely always bypass low gain because even at low volume I do feel the soundstage is more open and the dynamic more weighty and impactful. Only with very sensitive IEM i will use it’s lower output power because indeed, the Atom2 can deliver big power for it’s size!

Simply put, the Atom2 is 2 times more powerful than Apple and Samsung Dongles (about 31mw@33ohm and 1vrms instead of 2vrms). It will not drive your Planar headphones properly, neither your 150ohm earbuds but will do well for anything under 64ohm.

For example, I don’t consider the 64ohm Koss Porta pro as being the easiest to drive portable headphones and the Atom2 can make them explode of loudness if you feel like it. No distortion, clean and open with hefty punchy dynamic is the result of this nice pairing.

Now that you know you can unlock high gain for your low sensitivity IEM and Headphones, don’t be afraid to lack power for anything that is meant to be portable and doesn’t need a power amp to feed. 64mw@32ohm is plenty of power buuuuut it’s nothing impressive for a portable DAC-AMP. In fact, my LG V30+ delivers 2vrms too, making it as powerful (on sheet) and well, supposedly canceling the need of using an Atom2 as well! But it’s not that simple and the Atom2 still can deliver slightly louder sound at max volume, as well, amping isn’t everything but I will do a proper comparison of those 2 anyway later.

POWER CONSUMPTION

I do a serious battery consumption test with my phone at 100%, playing music non-stop at high volume with my Koss Porta pro hooked to the Atom2. I must admit the result surprises me a lot! After 6 hours my phone was at 50%, and after 10H it was at 10%. So depending of your phone stock battery life and the apps that you use etc, you can forget about the Atom2 power demand, which is surely inferior in consumption to using your own phone audio output.


SOUND IMPRESSIONS
(using Final A8000, UM 3DT, HZsound Hearth Mirror, Audiosense T800 and Koss PortaPro)

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TONALITY is what I would call lush neutral with slight bass and low-mid treble boost. Natural as whole, hefty in macro-dynamic, it’s a compromise between fun and mature tuning and I think it nails it very well. This is a versatile tonality that doesn’t over-boost any section, it isn’t cold nor analytical and doesn’t try to force micro-details to pop up in your face. Treble isn’t the most extended and airy but neither lacking or dark. Low, mids and highs sound full and well-sculpted in dynamic range. The bass is very well delivered, avoiding this common sub-bass roll-off that stole your precious rumble extension, it gives extra dynamic fun to the sound as well as warmth to male and female body.

RESOLUTION is very good, especially in terms of sound layers extraction which are well articulated and emphasized. The Atom2 didn’t expose lot of secrets micro-details and perhaps have some sort of ”Slow linear PCM filter” that smooth ultra highs and stole some sparkle and highs decay as well. What helps the sens of clarity is the nice transparency of sound layers as well as clean enough background.

TIMBRE is smooth, gently textured, just a hint fuzzy bright, so this isn’t the type of DAC-AMP that will boost upper mids sibilance of aggressively bright IEM.

IMAGING is good but not ultra-crisp and revealing and it will show it’s limit with very busy tracks. It’s better in layers separation than complex spatiality positioning.

NOISE FLOOR
is sure better than a phone but not perfect black. Silence isn’t 100% pure, more like 95%.

MUSICALITY
is very well done and do not overemphasize the technical aspect of the sound, it avoids a plain neutral approach to add dynamic weight to it’s tonality. It’s both accessible and versatile, with nothing distracting like uneven tone or timbre, overly bright-edgy treble boost or overly boomy bass boost. Lush, full-bodied, thumpy in dynamic, and smooth in the treble, the Atom2 takes full advantage of stock ES9281C DAC by keeping it real to its nature. Both bass and vocal (mids) lovers will enjoy its tonality, only perhaps the die-hard treble-analytical audiophile will find it not enough sharp and detailed.


COMPARISONS

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VS LG V30+(ES9218P DAC/125$ used price)

In terms of power output they deliver both 2vrms but the Atom2 can achieve slightly louder sound and notably more powerfull dynamic heft.

TONALITY of ES9218P DAC tuned by LG team is more organic and warmer, as well as flatter in the bass department and less treble extension-presence. Darker than Atom2 we can say. Both bass and treble extend in a fuller and more natural way with the Atom2.

TIMBRE is smoother, darker, less textured and less transparent.

RESOLUTION is notably inferior in detail retrieval, clarity of micro-definition, their no air or silence within the sound space so it feel hollow compared to Atom2 which extracts more sound info.

IMAGING is very flat in layers, lacking precision and space between instruments. Atom2 is more open, holographic, precise and deep.

NOISE FLOOR is higher with the V30+ and makes it sound way less clean than Atom2.

MUSICALITY lack dynamic weight and impact as well as bass extension-rumble, making the V30+ sound dull and overly laid back in dynamic and compressed in sound layers. Atom is just a hint brighter because V30+ is overly dark in the treble section, it’s sound presentation is livelier, more open in imaging-soundstage and immersive.


VS TEMPOTEC BHD (Dual CS43131 DAC/70$)

Firstly, the BHD has a 2.5mm balanced output and delivers near 2 times more amping power than the ATOM2.
It has as well volume control buttons. In terms of design, it’s less compact than the Atom.

TONALITY is more vivid neutral compared to warmer and bassier Atom2. The sub-bass of BHD feel more rolled off as well as overall bass impact and weight lighter. BHD is colder and more analytical, the treble is notably cleaner and sharper.

TIMBRE is thinner a bit more artificial with the BHD, but more transparent and less grainy than Atom2.

RESOLUTION is crisper, more transparent and detailed. Cleaner, with airier treble, but less natural and lush than Atom2.

IMAGING is more precise and spacious, making the Atom2 feel compressed in layers and lacking deepness.

NOISE FLOOR is cleaner with the BHD, so we can feel better ”silence” between instruments.

MUSICALITY is less appealing to my ears with the BHD, due to cold tonality and thin timbre as well as lean light bass.

VS AUDIRECT BEAM 2 (Dual OPamp+ES9281C DAC/140$)

OK, this is my favorite do-it-all-on-the-go dongle, especially when used balanced way, but it cost 60$ more than Atom2 so it’s not really a fair fight. Though they both use a single ES9281C DAC, the BEAM2 bypass implemented amping DAC chip with Dual OPamp for true balanced output.
Both balanced and single-ended output deliver higher amping power, 110mw@32ohm for SE and 240mw@32ohm for balanced compared vs 64mw@32ohm for the Atom2.

TONALITY is very similar, more balanced and less warm and boosted in mid-bass than Atom2.

TIMBRE is more transparent and nuanced in texture, cleaner softer. Hint thinner due to less bass warmth.

RESOLUTION is notably better, making the BEAM2 sound more open and revealing.

IMAGING is from another league here, with more precision and accuracy in instrument placement as well as clean space to dig in.

NOISE FLOOR is very similar, not completely black but micro harmonic distortion seems to stole more silence with the Atom2.

MUSICALITY is more open and immersive as well as holographic and revealing with the BEAM2, without sacrificing bass impact nor sounding cold or analytical. It’s the best of both worlds, like mixing Atom2 and BHD.


CONCLUSION

With a very practical design, the Atom2 becomes a siamese brother to your phone and makes you forget about it’s presence. With it’s sturdy metal built, it promises long durability.
Though priced at 90$ it might not be very competitive in sound value and hard to justify to buy to those owning audiophile phones like the LG V30+, V50, V60, the Atom2 compensates what it lacks in TOTL technicalities with a lush immersive and very dynamic and well-articulated musicality.
For those that we’re afraid it’s Sabre DAC will deliver a cold crisp sound in the vein of ES9018Q2M and ES9038Q2M DACS, be reassured, the Atom2 aim for naturalness instead of clinical rendering.
All in all, the Audirect Atom2 is a great DAC-AMP with a very versatile sound and decent power output, but if you need more than 64mw@32ohm, you might wanna go Audirect BEAM SE that has 2 times more power output for 10$ more.



———

PS: I wanna thanks again and again HIFIGO for sending me this review sample. As always, i’m 100% independent of mind.
You can buy the Atom2 for 90$ here:https://hifigo.com/products/audirect-atom2-mqa-hifi-portable-usb-dac-amplifier

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