Recently, there’s been an increase in the number of affordable options for DAC dongles made for smartphones. With the complete elimination of the headphone jack on most devices, certain brands have gotten creative and used this idea to improve your sound quality for everyday use. We’ve looked at a good amount of USB-C adapters for Android users, but not many options are available for iPhone. They certainly exist, but it’s rare to see them in the same quantity. This brings us to the Audirect Atom 2, a lightning DAC for only $79.99. Is it a must for iPhone users?
One of the main characteristics that immediately stands out when looking at the Atom 2 is its simple block design. There is no cable, making it less of a dongle and more of an adapter. What’s nice about this build is how friendly it is to use with protective cases. I use a thick case for my phone, and the Atom 2 was able to work with it well, giving me no issue with its connection.
Looking at the Atom 2 for the first time I started to have reservations about how well it would fare with different cases, but the chassis includes a ridge that makes sure the lightning port breaks through properly. Otherwise, the Atom 2 features a fine glossy aesthetic and looks good when attached to your phone. Its size is perfect, as it doesn’t get in the way of how you’d naturally use your phone. The phone can still lay flat while the Atom is attached. Lastly, the face of the device includes an LED indicator that tells you which format you’re currently listening to.
Inside of this small device is an ESS chipset that is used to decode many audio formats. It supports up to PCM/DXD 32bit 768kHz in addition to an independent operational amplifier chip and an advanced crystal oscillator. With this system, Audirect aims to bring a level of fidelity to an inexpensive peripheral. With that in mind, MQA is supported on the Atom 2 acting as a renderer. The LED lights help indicate the format you’re currently listening to.
Red: 44.1/48kHz PCM
Blue: 88kHz-384kHz PCM
Green: 705kHz-768kHz PCM
White: DSD Native
The Atom 2 has a few different characteristics depending on the timbre of your headphones/earphones. At its very best the Atom 2 makes certain sound elements a bit more vibrant and full. Its midrange takes a bit of a forward positioning compared to other bands of frequency, especially the low-mids which supply a solid amount of warmth. Using the Campfire Honeydew, the mids are a lot more clear for a very bassy IEM. For a dark sound signature, the Atom 2 will provide some thicker textures, but won’t make the sound appear bloated, due to its focused mids. It made the Honeydew a much more layered listening experience, giving you better clarity with an even more impactful low end.
For me, the biggest letdown is the smoother treble response. In some cases, a brighter, more piercing treble might be a bit more digestible using the Atom 2, but for the IEMs I tested, there was a considerable level of fidelity missing. The height of the image was a bit cut off, and frequencies lacked a tail end that gives sounds that proper finish. This was prevalent when listening to the Gems OH1s from Ikko, where the shimmering, crisp highs were reduced and smoothed out.
The earphones lost some of their best attributes, taking away their level of shine. Much of this can be forgiven if you immerse yourself in the DAC’s much wider soundstage. Listening to the Moondrop Aria I feel for its level of spaciousness all over again. The sounds have even more room to articulate details and textures while presenting a slightly more expanded horizontal stereo field.
When it comes to the sound signature of this DAC, I found my response was more mixed than I had hoped. However, that doesn’t outweigh some of the great things it does for its price. Its got a more than solid build while granting you warm textures and wider imaging. Compared to your typical lighting adapter, the Atom 2 is going to offer you a lot more already. Although I took issue with its limited treble response, the Atom 2 is still a great option for those looking to get a bit more fidelity from your typical iPhone connection.
Pros and Cons
- Wide imaging
- Warm textures
- Unique look
- Versatile build
- Detailed midrange
- MQA Support
- Reduced treble
The Audirect Atom 2 is available from Linsoul.