Audirect Atom2 Lightning MQA Dac Amp Combo Review: Don’t Listen To Apple Music Lossless Without It!

Audirect Atom2 MQA Portable USB DAC Amplifier

$79.99
Audirect Atom2 MQA Portable USB DAC Amplifier
9.3

Build

10.0/10

Features

9.0/10

Sound

9.0/10

What We Dig

  • Sleek Beautiful Design
  • Decent Power
  • Detailed Open Sound

What To Think About

  • May Need More Juice For Power Hungry Cans

The Low Down

The Audirect Atom2 Lightning is a lightweight DAC/Amp combo with a lightning connector for iPhones. It connects directly to the bottom of the phone so you can avoid floppy dongles, and it has decent power for driving full-sized headphones. For a $79 DAC/Amp the sound is extraordinarily smooth, detailed and expansive. If you’re looking for a way to play hi-res music files on your Apple phone, then the Atom2 will be hard to beat for the price. By the way, you can also get it with a USB-C connector

Disclaimer: The Atom2 was sent to us by Hifigo.com in exchange for an honest review. It doesn’t need to be returned. Thanks to them for making this review possible.

About the reviewer: My opinion comes from 20+ years of experience with Hi-Fi gear, including an extended stretch in the consumer electronics industry. I’ve undertaken extensive listening in professional and personal settings. I have experience with hundreds of speakers, amps, and headphones. This background lets me provide a nuanced impression of the product both on its own and in comparison to the rest of the market. I will not review a product I haven’t listened to for many hours, and I will always provide picture proof of my work.

Build/Features

As I said in a recent article, I believe the addition of Lossless/Hi-Res tracks to Apple Music will vastly increase the amount of DAC/Amp combos with Apple’s Lightning Connector.

In the few weeks since their Lossless catalog went live, I feel there’s already more focus on Lighting DACs at the retail level, and offerings have increased.

One such offering is the $79 Audirect Atom2 Lightning Dac/Amp Combo, a small aluminum box that plugs right into the Lightning Port on the bottom of your iPhone (they also have a USB-C version, BTW).

Since it sits flush to the bottom of the phone and doesn’t need an additional adapter like the USB-C DACs, it makes for a clean setup when moving around.

This tiny device weighs only 18g and does MQA rendering, Native conversion of DSD up to 512, and PCM up to 32-Bit/768kHz. All of this is made possible due to an advanced low-noise ESS ES9218 DAC chip.

Interestingly enough, a lot of the online information regarding Atom2 says it can “fully decode” an MQA file, but that’s deceiving.

Technically it can fully decode MQA, but only after a software decoder like the TIDAL app does the first unfold. That makes it an MQA renderer not a full decoder like the new ZEN DAC V2.

Full decoders also “authenticate” MQA Studio tracks and the Atom2 does not (more on that here). That said, there are few portable DACs that can do this, so its not the end of the world.

The Atom2 has a single-ended 3.5mm connection on the side for analog audio output, and an LED light on the top with six colors to designate file/type or bitrate.

For PCM bitrates, it glows red for 44.1/48kHz, Blue for 88kHz-384kHz, and Green for 705kHz-768kHz. Then it glows Yellow for DoP, White for DSD native, and Magenta for MQA.

As you can see, this system gives you a good idea of what kind of file you’re dealing with, unlike some DACs that only provide two or three indications between all file types.

Output power is really good for such a compact device. It’s rated at 30mW into 16Ohms, 62mW into 32Ohms, and 7mW into 600Ohms which puts it well in the upper half of portable DAC/Amp combos in terms of power.

The Atom2 has plenty enough juice to run some of the more sensitive Planar Headphones like the Hifiman SUNDARA, and it will drive the majority of dynamic driver headphones to ear-splitting levels.

It even did a decent job running the Mr. Speakers AEON Flow Closed, which is not the easiest headphone to drive. However, I had to turn the DAC/Amp up to about 80% of max volume to get them to listening level.

Listening To The Atom2 MQA Dac Amp

For testing, I plugged the Atom2 Dac into the bottom of my iPhone XR and played some MQA tracks from the TIDAL app. I also listened to some Hi-Res Lossless files via Apple Music (Free Trial Here).

As far as headphones were concerned, I used two, one open back and one closed. The open back model was the $349 Hifiman SUNDARA, considered by many to be the best budget headphone on the market, and the closed back model was the new $149 SIVGA SV021, probably the best budget closed back headphone right now.

Listening to the MQA stream of “Ledisi Sings Nina”, a new Nina Simone tribute recorded live with the Metropole Orkest, the Atom2 did an excellent job of presenting both detail and dynamics. The quiet and loud parts were pretty clearly deliniated, and the percussion was deep and articulate.

On the song “Four Women”, the drums were rich, vocals were crisp and natural, and the strings were expansive. Soundstage and imaging were also really good due to the Atom2’s quality separation of elements within the mix.

When I listened to Blues For Whitefish Lake, 1975 by Charlie Parr, the sound was quite open and speakerlike over the SUNDARA, extending way out beyond the cups.

Really for $79 it’s hard to believe how rich and spacious the sound is. Besides that, they also did a really good job of avoiding the hardness associated with budget dac amps, especially ESS based models. At one point in time, edginess was a given at this price, you would just pick a headphone that wasn’t bright to compensate. No issues with that here.

To be honest, it’s really hard for me to find an issue with this DAC/Amp.

You could get a touch more power, separation, and a balanced output with the $85 Shanling UA2 (add more for the lighting cable), but the difference in sound quality wouldn’t be leaps and bounds past what you get on the Atom2. Plus, you would lose MQA if you care about that.

Also some may like the slightly warmer sound of the Atom2 over the UA2 which doesn’t have the same fullness on the bottom end.

If you spend another $100 on the THX Onyx (plus more for the Lightning adapter), you’ll get substantially more power, separation and depth over the Atom2, but I actually liked the warmth/smoothness of the latter over the THX DAC/Amp, which sounded a little sterile and edgy in comparison. That said, you could alleviate this with headphone choice and EQ if you choose.

Another thing to keep in mind is the Atom2 doesn’t need a cable, so it’s much easier to carry around and use. Carrying around a bunch of dongles and adapters is no fun.

The Wrap Up

The warm, rich, detailed sound of the Audirect Atom2 Lightning, along with its ergonomics makes it a great companion for your iPhone. It’s lightweight, powerful, and decodes just about every Hi-Res format including MQA, Native DSD, and 32-bit PCM. It’s a great value for the price, and unless you’re trying to drive a pair of extra power hungry Planar cans, this Dac/Amp combo is a no-brainer! Highly Recommended!

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