xDuoo Link2 Bal

ywheng89

100+ Head-Fier
Xduoo Link2 Bal Review
Pros: Musical Sounding
Powerful
Study design and build
Detachable cable design
Good price performance ratio
Cons: Might be a little warm for some people (Preference)
Power consumption is on a higher side (My observation)
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Intro
Xduoo is no stranger to the audiophile community in the dac/amp scene. They offer various dac/amps ranging from budget range all the way to high end’s range. The Link2Bal that I have with me today is the successor to Link2. I have not heard of Link2 before so I can't really comment on that. Based on the specifications, it seems Link2Bal is considered as a major upgrade over the OG LInk2.


Specifications
  • DAC: CS43131*2
  • Output power: 3.5mm: 125mW@32ohm / 4.4mm: 270mW@32ohm
  • Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
  • SNR: 123dB
  • Sample rate: Up to PCM 32bit/384kHz and DSD256

IEM/Headphone used for testing
  • Unique Melody 2HT (4.4)
  • Effect Audio Axiom (4.4)
  • Grado SR125X (3.5)
  • FAudio Major (3.5)


Build/Features
Build quality of Link2Bal is good. In fact it doesn’t look cheap, it is not supposed to for its asking price, both front and back are glass, a fingerprint magnet and prone to scratches.

Type C port on the dongle itself, so you can swap cables around, iOS’s cable, or type C, Physical volume control button + and -, and also the red button which plays/pause your song. Link2Bal came with the type c to lightning cable, so it doesn't matter if you are on iOS or Android or even Windows or Mac, you’re covered, plug it in and you’re good to go.

It has got both 3.5 SE and 4.4 Bal output, so put those adapters aside and just plug it in. It also has two power modes, namely normal and turbo, which I presumed to be normal/high gain, USB mode’s switch is also included as well, very useful if you want to connect Link2Bal to an older device, you can easily switch it to UAC1.0.

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Sound Impression (Normal Gain Mode connected to Windows 11 Laptop)
The first thing that came to my mind when listening via Link2Bal is how musical it is. The tonality of it it's just different from the Tempotec E44 which I also reviewed recently. Tempote E44 shares the same dual dac chip as Link2Bal as well, with weaker amplification.

Link2Bal’s tonality is tilting towards the warmer side of the spectrum, not overly warm, but warm enough for me to define it as musical, coupled with thick note weight, it really sings when it’s paired with the right IEM/Headphone.

Bass
  • Bass is slightly slower on the Link2Bal, but that doesn’t mean they can’t keep up with fast tracks. The slightly slower bass contributed to Link2Bal’s overall musical tonality which I personally enjoyed very much
  • Bass is slightly boosted to my ears, not so much that it ruined the overall experience

Mids
  • Mids are smooth and plenty of details in this range
  • String instruments sounded very natural to my ears,
  • Both male and female vocal has got good texture to it, they definitely don’t sound dry

Treble
  • Treble rendition on Link2Bal is slightly energetic, however, it depends on your pairing with the IEM/Headphones, listening to it with Effect Audio’s Axiom exhibited smooth and non peaky highs
  • Detail retrieval on micro details seems to be average to me, as the upper treble is slightly rolled off to my ears, hence contributing to the warm tonality that i mentioned earlier

Pairings
  • Grado SR125X : Listening to Sinne Eeg’s We’ve just Begun via this combo, it is very musical and euphony. It is as if I am present with the artist. Grado SR125x being an open back headphone, and also quite energetic one, when paired with Link2Bal, the experience is very different, the bass on the 125x is slightly boosted, the treble is slightly tamed(I never had issue with Grado’s high, in fact i love em), yet retaining the details. However the micro detail does lose out a bit due to the added warmth.
  • Unique Melody’s 2HT : Listening to the same track with 2HT, the difference is entirely different, 2HT by itself is very airy and the spatial presentation is big, coupled with Link2Bal, it kind of boosted the soundstage of 2HT even more. Holographic kind of experience. This pairing personally synergizes the most to me(Subjective, your mileage might vary based on your preference.)
  • Faudio Major : Major paired with Link2Bal synergized quite well, Major has got some peaky treble and it can be tiring to listen to for some tracks. Paired with Link2Bal, the high does tame down slightly and adds body to the treble. Mids are slightly forward but not intrusive and the upper mids have got a little bit more body to it. Soundstage is wide and tall
  • Effect Audio Axiom : Axiom on its own is already very musical and detailed. Pairing it with Link2Bal is not that suitable, at least for me. It added a little more thump on the Axiom, which on its own is already warm and thumpy. Axiom has got a very good soundstage and imaging when paired with the right source, however, Link2Bal is not it as it made Axiom’s soundstage slightly more forward, sounding a little lacking in terms of width, imaging is still good. Personally I don't prefer this pairing as it thickens the overall note weight which I personally find is already sufficient with other pairing

Power Consumption on Mobile (iPhone 12 Mini)
  • Please take note that i do not have any professional measurements tool to measure the power consumption rate on the device, it is solely based on my observation and my estimation
  • Going from 100%, i played several songs via Apple Music and most of the tracks are 24-96 or 16-44, on either 4.4 or 3.5, normal gain
  • Each track running around 4 minutes +-, draining almost one percent for each track, It does drain quite a bit of power compared to Apple’s Lightning Dongle
  • Do take note that even though iPhone 12 Mini’s battery capacity itself is not big, but Link2Bal itself does consume quite a bit of power

Additional Note
  • Powering Link2Bal via laptop’s USB 3.0 port, it received even more power compared to my mobile’s lightning port, it is as if running normal mode on high gain without turning the switch to high gain, if you get what i mean
  • More dynamic and musical sounding

Final Thoughts
Xduoo’s Link2Bal is a power dongle solution for audiophiles who are always on the move seeking quality sound output as well as sufficient power to drive their headphone/IEM. Link2Bal is a musical sounding dongle dac/amp yet retaining above average detail retrieval capability, not to mention that it is also very easy to pair with any IEM/Headphone for the musical experience, of course this is based on what i have tried and tested, your experience might vary based on your own gears.

It is very easy for me to recommend this dongle to anyone who is looking for a musical sounding dongle dac/amp. However, this dongle is not for you if you are looking for a clean and energetic sound as Link2Bal is not that.

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*big thanks to ShezhenAudio as always for sending this over for the purpose of reviewing it. Despite the sample not costing me anything, I am in no way influenced by them to produce this review. All thoughts are of my own.

Head over to their site if you’re interested in grabbing a pair
*non affiliated

Link2Bal
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NymPHONOmaniac

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: -Densely rich, musical and open sound
-Very powerfull amping power for it’s size
-Gain switch, play-pause and volume control buton
-Sturdy high quality all metal+glass construction
-Stable current output that doesn’t distort even at max volume
-lush timbre that isn’t typical of this DAC model implementation
-Care free plug and play
-Price value
Cons: -Add warmth to bass that affect definition
-Not cleanest noise floor for sensitive IEM
-Can loose precision in imaging with busy tracks
-Not class leading in resolution and technicalities
TONALITY: 8.5/10
TECHNICALITIES: 8/10
AMPING POWER PORTABILITY: 9/10
CONSTRUCTION-DESIGN: 9/10
SOUND VALUE: 8.5/10


Xduoo is well know for their DAP like the Xduoo X3II or X20 and their DAC-AMP like the XD-05+, but they aren’t new to dongle world with their Link HD and Link2 ultra portable DAC-AMP latest offering.
Today I will review their newest dongle, the Link2 BAL which use dual cirrus CS43131 dac chip amped by independant texas instrument OPamp LM27762. This dongle promise very high amping power, delivering up to 270mw@32ohm with it’s 4.4mm balanced output.
Let’s see in this review if the Link2 BAL is just about power or if it can be seen as a cheaper and better alternative to entry level and mid tier DAP.




CONSTRUCTION-DESIGN​

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Firstly, the packaging while minimal in presentation have everything you need for full android and IOS compatibility, it include both USB-C to USB-C and lightning cable as well as USB-C to USB adaptor, which is very welcome. Cables seem of very decent quality as well.

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I’m very impress by the crafmanship of LINK2, it have a mix of industrial and elegant look with it’s CNC metal body stick in between 2 double sided glass. It feel very sturdy and durable. Their no plastic part, the buton and switch being metal too and well construct. It have a bit of reassuring weight to it too. The body isn’t easy to scratch since mine fall on the ground multiple time without scar at they end. Why did it fall? Because while this double-sided glass is very durable it is very slippy too, and tend to move by it’s own on a table or a book which yes can be annoying.

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Another good thing about is thick sturdy body is that it doesn’t get hot even after hour of use.

In term of phone battery consumption, if you use Balanced at high volume it will sure inflict more on phone battery otherwise it’s similar to Audirect BEAM2 and Tempotec E44.

SOUND IMPRESSIONS​

SPATIAL PRESENTATION:
I would summarize the spatiality as tall and wide with a rounded deepness that isn’t crisp and airy in it’s accuracy. The LINK2 tend to make music and instrument bigger than nature, with a grand sound projection that resonate a bit like horn woofer pluged to an high end vintage amp, if you can portrait this in your mind.

IMAGING:
Precision and accuracy are a bit lacking in proper clean definition and crisp separation, but euphonic timbre that blur sound image contour a bit still have enough transparency to deliver an organic sens of layering, where sounds layers mix their contrast togheter instead of being static, clinical and highly well define in their presence. This make you more immerse in a macroscopic richness, instead of keeping you distant with a clean view. When big bass occur, it will inflict on positioning clarity too.

TONALITY:
This isn’t a 100% neutral DAC-AMP since the independant amping section did add a bit of warmth and analogish euphony (romantic harmonic distortion in mid bass&lower mids section). Bass feel slightly boosted and tend to be part of mid range instead of well separated, whatever the IEM I use with LINK2, it add this mid bass ”sirup” that thickhen timbre of the CS43131 DAC which is know for being lean when used with it’s internal amplifier chip. When I say warm, it doesn’t mean the LINK2 is lacking in details or texture, in fact, it’s very nuanced in both but everything seem to have a ”presence gain” that favorize relief and density of sound over the picturing of every single ”sound pixel” it can have.

DYNAMIC RANGE & AMPING POWER:
This is where the amping power and well implemented mix of balanced dual DAC with powerfull high output texas instrument OPamp LM27762 show it’s DAC-AMP cocktail magic, not only by delivering a tremendous amout of power up to 4vrms or 270mw@32ohm balanced way, but by adding dynamic weight and openess amplitude too. This sure is part of ”bigger than nature” holographic sound presentation it offer, as well as hint of extra timbre density.
In the other hand, it did inflict on accuracy with complex busy track, especially at high gain, since the energic expression of isntrument will tend to mix more their sustain resonance. That’s something to add, attack is more about lead weight that snap and impact brilliance and long resonance, not that an acoustic guitar will sound off at all, not just very delicate and airy, excited in expressive presence.

About the amping power, balanced is about 2 times more powerfull (4vrms vs 2vrms) and have a hint less black noise floor. As said, the OPamp used is very impressive and stable in power output, so I was surpise to be able to drive properly my Hifiman Sundara and get a full bodied sound with plenty of dynamic heft, without any distortion due to amping struggle. This is the very first ultra portable DAC-AMP to achieve this since my Audirect BEAM2 can’t be push at max volume without distortion issue.
Simply put, while amping isn’t THX clean, it doesn’t hiss or go muddy and can drive anything with high or low sensitivity up to 300ohm without issue.

About high sensivity low impendance IEM, again, the LINK2 surprise use with a rather smooth and open sound free of extreme hiss or distortion, my Audiosense T800 tend to have bass distortion with amping that have too high impedance, this isn’t the case with this one and at low gain you can only hear minimal background noise and hiss, but still, this confirm it isn’t perfectly clean sounding DAC-AMP, a little like the Xduoo XD05+ in that regard.

OTHER TECHNICAL ASPECT:
Attack sustain and release isn’t the type that creat fast snap and long natural decay, decay is tight and bit fuzzy. Attack lead is all about weight more than perfectly well define impact. Transparency is a hint blurry, yet like a transparent fog, which add a sens of timbre lushness. Attack timing is good but show it’s limit in very complex and fast busy track where you will struggle to extract every percussions individually even with an high end IEM like Final A8000. Bass have notable harmonic distortion that can be pleasant since it add warmth. Upper treble seem to roll off a bit, affecting brilliance and sparkle as well as micro-details retreival.

SUBJECTIVE ENJOYMENT:
This dongle is very musical and easy to love, the fact it tend to thicken timbre and smooth peaky edge of IEM is a big plus that make it’s tonality highly versatile. Since day one i’m charm by the tonality of Link2 and doesn’t get tired of it even after more than one month of daily use. In fact, i would love to have a DAP that sound as rich, open and weighty in dynamic. This isn’t your typical CS43131 DAC sound, it isn’t thin and light in bass at all, sure the warmth might not be for everyone since it affect a bit limitation of critical listening, but the fact this isn’t an analytical sounding dongle is a plus in term of laid back musicality that you can get lost for hours and hours. As well, it’s not a dark sounding dongle, you have plenty of sound layers to dig in even if overall tonality is more homogeneous and thick than highly diversify in dynamic amplitudes. Cohesion is natural, nothing seem forced and you never feel out of the music, your a part of it, physically and emotionally.


PAIRING​

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While I would not suggest this DAC-AMP for extremely sensitive IEM, it sure is a good matching with near everything I throw at it due to it’s pleasant versatile tonality and generous power output.

It tend to add meat to timbre, heft and warmth to bass slam and lushness to the mids, while softing the upper treble a bit and brilliance-sparkly-spike of IEM and Headphones I use. So, to me it doesn’t magnify resolution but dynamism of attack and tonal balance as well as adding relief to vocal and isntrument presence.

With my FINAL A8000, it rounded the bass as a whole, multipling sensation of weight and slam, as well it seem vocal are softer and more natural and treble less crisp and analytical. I love this mix alot even if it affect some technical parameter of the A8K like it’s pristine transparency and attack snap and speed.

With Audiosense T800, it’s like mixing to similar tonality, since timbre is a bit dense and fuzzy with T800 it stole air and crispness, affecting negatively clarity of imaging and bass separation, since T800 is already boosted in mid bass boom. Here, i prefer the old Tempotec HD PRO that use a single CS43131.

With Hisenior T2U, this is another superb pairing that ”heal” BA timbre by softening its ”metallic vibrancy” and adding density. Mid bass here gain in weight and roundness, which is very welcome. T2U become sweeter and fuller bodied as a whole.

With an earbud like NiceHCK EB2S, the result is again very charming. Thicker timbre, bit of extra bass punch and extra spatial wideness-tallness, but not deepness.

COMPARISONS​

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VS TEMPOTEC E44 (90$)

E44
DAC=Dual cirrus CS43131
Power output= 175mw@32ohm 4.4bal
SNR=130db

LINK2 BAL
DAC=Dual CS43131
AMP CHIP=LM27762
Power output=275mw@32ohm 4.4Bal 125mw Se
SNR=127db

These are a bit similar in tonal balance, not timbre nor spatiality presentation since BAL is more open, wide and tall. The independant amp section did inflict greatly to overall sound ,adding hint of warmth and density to individual instrument without affecting negatively the resolution.

Still, E44 feel more cold-clean, with an edge in definition that is more evident in busy messy music passage where BAL will have more harmonic distortion and blurry micro details. E44 hacve deeper spatiality and more precise instrument placement in a more restrain spatiality. Silence feel cleaner as well as background noise lower.

Something surprising too, is how the bass differ with those 2, BAL being notably weightier warmer and more beefy in slam due to extra sub bass presence. Sub bass have more density, rumble and mid bass is a bit less vivid in tight punch, less well separated from mids tooa nd more prompt to mix and thicken tonality.

To go back about timbre, which is biggest difference between those 2 after power output, E44 is thinner with greater transparency, a bit more polished less textured-grainy than BAL, vocal are a bit more lush, euphonic and appealing with BAL but not as well cleanly extracted in presence.

It’s evident to me that LINK2 BAL is more about amping power upgrade than proper sound quality upgrade, since its really more about timbre and slightly warmer more analogish tonality which can be usefull for brighter IEM or power hungry ones like the Final A8000 I use, but still, if you plan to only use balanced output on it, im not sure you need this extra 100mw the extra amping section deliver. Why? Because it had hint of harmonic distortion, which will inflict technical performance in term of attack sustain, snap and overall resolution. We are in tonality subjectivity for this case. Some will swear that BAL is better when in fact they find musicality more charming, thats all. Oh, and i check the SNR after this comparison….interesting isn’t it that E44 is better in that regard?

VS TRI TK2 (dual ES9038q2m+A-B dual amping)

TK2 having different dual DAC and amping architecture, it will surely sound different. But biggest difference here is in term of size and amping power which is near five times higher at 1250mw@32ohm with TK2, as well, it is battery powered.

The TK2 deliver as much output single ended than BAL, so let’s just say it kick out of water the Xduoo in that regard, as well, amping section seem cleaner and to have perhaps lower impedance. Still, unlike the Xduoo, it doesn’t have proper gain switch but A+B amping mode being unlock apss certain volume level, which is a limitation. In that regard as well as portability, the Xduoo have the upper hands here.

Now for the sound, tonal balance is perhaps a bit similar in the sens TK2 have a slight extra bass heft too in mid bass section, but it doesn’t warm as much the mids and have better separation and cleaner definition making the bass more transparent yet textured too. Resolution and imaging go to TK2 as well as transparency as stated, timbre is more organic and just a hint less dense, especially in vocal section and mids which feel leaner in dynamic. Biggest difference is in treble presentation and extension, the TK2 have more snap and natural resonance-decay and higher level of micro details. Xduoo is lusher, warmer, thicker as a whole in tonality too, less refined and revealing, less liquid and smooth too.

VS TEMPOTEC HD V (60$)

Both compared with SE output.

SE output of HD V=95mw@32ohm
SE of LINK 2 BAL=125mw@32ohm
(using the Final A8000 for reference IEM that can dig all details and imperfection of any audio source)

These aren’t similar at all, the XDUOO sound more open, warmish, holographic with more sub bass presence (surely due to extra power and/or independant amp not sure). This bass is a bit warmer yet cleaner-organic and less saturated thicken with texture or THD.

Don’t be fool though, HD V is no slouch and deliver higher level of details and sound info, the dynamic seem move varied in amplitude too, bass is tigher more punchy, overall resolution less analogish.

Wider spatial presentation of LINK2 make it more immersive, less intimate vision if we can say. But for rock and stuffs that need more bite, extra energy and texture of HD V is more appropriate.

Timbre wise, the LINK2 is smoother-lusher especially in mid range, vocal having a less energic yet more appealing presence.

Technically, and this will perhaps be polemical, but the HD V seem superior, with complex ****ed up track, amount of sounds layers are better separated and define, details doesnt get mix up or prompt to harmonic distortion and sub bass doesnt mix up neither, attack is sharper-snappier yet less resonant and spacious.

I’m surprise to come to this conclusion myself in fact. Will perhaps change my mind once i test balanced output of LINK2.

Anyway, here, with HD V we have another big winner in term of supreme sound value, while sound benefit is not as high with LINK2 BAL, it’s sure there for superior versatility both in musicality and power output. As well, construction fo both is very good, but LINK2 BAL have control button, another big plus, and seem even more sturdy in the sens it will not get side scratch like the HD V will surely do due to its mirror finish side.

Both are Keeper for me. But you’ll see, TEMPOTEC HD V will grow in hype and praise, perhaps as high as their best seller HD PRO in the past.

VS FIIO KA3 (80$-ES9038q2m DAC+dual RT6863D amps)

Here we have near opposite tonality, the KA3 being notably brighter, crisper and more analytical, whith thinner dryer timbre and lighter bass with sub bass roll off. While amping power is suppose to be near the same with 240mw@32ohm for the KA3, it doesn’t translate in same sound openess and loudness, as well, with the Sundara KA3 will make distortion at max volume which isn’t the case for the Link2.
Technically, imaging is crisper and more accurate with KA3, so i will use this one for music production and mastering instead of less accurate Link2.
For music listening and enjoyment, their not a single doubt Link2 is more appealing and natural, spatiality is less compressed, way more open and tall, though a bit less clean and deep than KA3.

CONCLUSION​

The Xduoo LINK2 BAL is an excellent dongle DAC-AMP that could put to shame lot of DAP in 300$ price range. It happen to me often that my mind wish it to be a DAP, since the musicality is so appealing and amping power perfect for versatile portable use. The sound presentation is bigger than life, with an appealing densely open holographic sound with a hint of analog warmth to it. This is a dongle made to magnify musicality instead of sharp technicalities and resolution without never feeling it lack in sound info or dynamic nuances.
If your an audiophile that favorise musicality and emotionality of a sound device and aren’t obsess about last word in higher resolution and accuracy, the Xduoo Link2 Bal is sure a DAC-AMP that doesn’t sound clinical, overly lean or analytical and to me, this is how we should enjoy music: by being immerse in it’s rich cohesive musicality that embrace us and make us part of it’s universe, not distant and forced to critic every cold details it may hide.
The Xduoo Link2 BAL is a keeper. Highly recommended!

———-

PS: I wanna thanks Hifigo for this review sample after I manifest my high interest to try it. I’m not affiliated with this audio distributor and will never do compromise in my sound impressions to please them.
You can buy the Xduoo Link2 BAL for 134$ here:
https://hifigo.com/products/link2-bal

for more honnest add free reviews, give a look here and subscribe to keep independant sound impressions alive:
https://nobsaudiophile.com/
NymPHONOmaniac
NymPHONOmaniac
@Krucoz im very happy you enjoy it bro, my love for this dongle isn't short lived and i will keep it forever. best CS43131 implementation i heard yet, they sure nail highly immersive musicality presentation. if i compare it to the excellent Questyle M15, spatiality is sure more vast, more it goes, more i thin amping section is even more important than DAC section. these 2 dongle are prime example of that.
JeanPaul Petrosyan
JeanPaul Petrosyan
Great review! I'm looking forward towards reading your impressions on the xDuoo Poke 2. I'm not eager for dongles, but very interested in that kind of devices, as I believe that a stable independent source of power is of great importance in audio. A source independent volume control with decent precision is also a "must have" feature for me. Have been eyeing the TRI TK2 for quite some time now, but I have more trust towards xDuoo as a brand that has already established itself very well, especially with their more recent products.
NymPHONOmaniac
NymPHONOmaniac
@JeanPaul Petrosyan thanks, its my next review on the way....tonaly wise its near polar opposite to Link2 Bal....lean crisp neutral with vivid yet effortless details. im not sure to ever had listen to something that high in resolution in a delicate non offensive way. it will be a very interesting review. and indeed, durability is more trustable with Xduoo, i already have issue with TK2 usb-c connection, which get loose and instable. sigh.

HansBarbarossa

100+ Head-Fier
xDuoo Link2 BAL: balance rate
Pros: Sound, convenience, power, price
Cons: A little raw software related to volume control on some devices with a fixed digital signal (I hope that the manufacturer will fix this with a firmware update)
Hi friends!

In these difficult times, we will continue to talk about what we are interested in and what we love. We think it's right.

Today we have a heading "Modestly, but with taste", which is loved by many. Lately we have seen a lot of musical "audio dongle" from the most respected brands: Lotoo, iBasso, and xDuoo has already dropped in with his miniature firstborn - Link. However, the current guest xDuoo Link2 BAL stands out among all these worthy gentlemen in that it has two outputs on board, one of which is balanced, as well as the ability to shake even extremely tight headphones!

Link2 BAL easily breaks the stereotypes about compromise DAC/amplifiers for mobile gadgets. This device was able to surprise and fascinate me, and I am sure that it can evoke similar emotions in any audiophile. But let's deal with everything in order.



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Text: Alexey Kashirskey (aka Hans Barbarossa)


Specifications

DAC Chip: CS43131 x2.
Input port: USB Type-C.
Output port: SE 3.5mm and BAL 4.4mm.
Output power 3.5mm: 125mW@32Ω.
Output power 4.4mm: 270mW@32Ω.
Frequency response: 20Hz+20kHz (±0.5dB).
THD+N output 3.5mm: 0.001% @ 1kHz.
THD+N output 4.$mm: 0.0007% @ 1kHz.
SNR output 3.5mm: 123dB.
SNR output 4.4mm: 123dB.
Crosstalk output 3.5mm: >= 77dB.
Crosstalk output 4.4mm: >= 120dB.
Support sample rate: PCM: 16-32Bit/44.1-384kHz, DSD: DSD64-256.
Weight: 28g.
Size: 63x23.5x13mm.



Appearance and kit

The xDuoo LINK2 Bal comes in a nice blue-orange box with the model name, business name "Mobile Partner" and a yellow "Hi-Res audio" badge on the front. Beneath the printed cover is a white box with the brand's silver logo "embedded" into the circuit board.



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Inside we find a “fat” kit: the gadget itself, two short connecting cables (USB type-C / USB type-C and USB-C / Lightning), an adapter from type-C to type-A and a warranty card with user instructions.

Outwardly, LINK2 Bal resembles a miniature MP3 player (it's hard to believe, but 20 years ago it was the pinnacle of mobile audiophilia). The seamless rectangular case (63 x 23.5 x 13 mm, 28 grams) in graphite color with rounded edges is made of anodized aluminum. The front and back panels are elegantly covered with two glossy 2.5D Glass plates. On the top, the brand logo and the name of the model are displayed in silver, on the bottom - quality certificates, the website address and a message about the country of origin.



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The bottom end has placed on itself two headphone jacks: a balanced 4.4 mm Pentaconn and a regular 3.5 mm. At the top end there is a type-C connector, through which a “connection” with a smartphone takes place.

There are three buttons on the right side of the device: a round red one is responsible for turning on the device (it also pauses the track being played when pressed briefly, and when pressed twice it must switch the track forward), followed by a volume rocker (+/-) divided into two keys.



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On the opposite side are two UAC 1.0/2.0 switches. UAC of the first version will be convenient for connecting various game consoles, the second one will be suitable for everything else, followed by the "Gain" (normal/turbo) toggle switch. The device is quite powerful, so I recommend initially choosing the “normal” position.



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The LINK2 Bal does not have a battery, as it is powered without problems from a sound source: a smartphone or a computer. The device does not require the installation of special drivers and in Plug & Play mode immediately starts to "be friends" with devices on any OS (Android, iOS, Windows or macOS). Personally, when connecting LINK2 Bal to my Huawei P20 Pro phone, I use the USB Audio Player PRO (UAPP) software player and Hiby Music, and when listening from a laptop, I used foobar 2000.



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The device is built on two CS43131 chips from Cirrus Logic, working in pairs. The chips are designed for low power consumption, so LINK2 Bal is not gluttonous. At the same time, its power is 125 mW / 32Ω in single-sided mode, and the balance outputs 270 mW / 32Ω, which makes it easy to cope with any in-ear and most full-size headphones.

The functionality of this baby is impressive without any reservations. Here we add high-quality assembly, stylish design and extremely outstanding technical capabilities. And now it's time to figure out what exactly in terms of sound xDuoo LINK2 BAL can offer us.


Sound Impressions

We used: 64 AUDIO A12t, Vision Ears VE8, VE7, InEar PP8 и InEar PMX, FIR Audio M5 и M4, Softears RS10, Phonon 4400 & Beyerdynamic dt 250 (250 ohm).
Digital Signal Sources: Huawei P20 Pro smartphone and ASUS Zephyrus M16 laptop.

With all the headphones/IEMs, the device played more than adequately, without experiencing any difficulties with the variety of musical genres offered to it.



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But before I move on to a detailed story about the sound of our today's guest, it is necessary to make an important clarification about the specifics of using the device itself. Volume control in the device is carried out digitally and works correctly only with smartphones, tablets and PCs. In other cases, for example, when connected to digital transport (I had xDuoo X10t II), Link2 cannot control the level of the output signal, as a result of which, without showing the necessary caution in this case, you can damage the headphones connected to it and even get problems with hearing.
Even some top players and stationary devices can envy the power of this small device, therefore, when connecting Link2, first check the volume level and the possibility of adjusting it, and only then, after making sure that everything is in order, connect your headphones to it. Well, the sound quality, as well as the work with the widest range of headphones, Link2 will not disappoint you, rest assured.



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The sound of xDuoo Link 2 can be described as well-balanced, smooth, massive, without pronounced peaks and dips, excessive aggression, distortion, and any obvious predominance and accents in one or another frequency response area. The musical picture is drawn in a neutral-warm manner, harmoniously, with a proportionate rendering of micro- and macro-nuances, with a little more emphasis on macro-dynamics.

The device draws a rather sprawling stereo panorama, correctly building the virtual sound scene both in width and in depth. It's amazing how great it turns out for such a crumb!



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The Link 2 Bal has a good tonal balance and a slightly warm tone, which is achieved through a slightly accentuated, imposing midbass.
Despite the neutral character, the device is good at conveying the emotional component of the composition. Whether it's vocal parts or string picking, everything sounds rich, large and lively, detailed and quite naturalistic. In such a comfortable, pleasant musical atmosphere, you involuntarily find yourself in the very center of musical events and follow the changing compositions further and further.



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The bass is delivered thickly, massively, without encroaching on the middle, in a thick, rounded and slightly softened form. He just lacks speed and biting, but at the same time he cannot be called slow. A slight smoothing of attacks only adds charm and musicality to the overall sound. In general, low frequencies are distinguished by a good rendering of the depth of virtual space, moderate massiveness and fairly accurate texture reproduction. The beat is thick and tight, yet not hard, it is delivered in a lively, "analogue" manner.

The mids is flat, smooth, distinct, with good detail, good resolution and even tonal balance. It is delivered smoothly, cleanly, wonderfully musical and natural. Stringed instruments sound very naturalistic, where each pinch and touch of the strings is clearly outlined. Vocal parts sound lively and moderately expressive. There is a drive here, and a game with contrasts, and good detail - and all this without unnecessary embellishments. In general, it turns out an exquisite cocktail of neutrality and emotions.

High frequencies are clear and concise. They are moderately energetic, a little restrained and at the same time clean and charming. This is an accurate, accurate and fairly comfortable manner. Quantitatively, for my taste, exactly as much as needed. This register is transmitted quite correctly, clearly, without excessive sharpness and obvious distortions. There is a gloss and charm here, but there is also a degree of simplification, which is completely acceptable for this ultra-compact format, and even in this price category. Highs obediently and efficiently contribute to the overall work, exactly matching the game of the entire frequency range.



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xDuoo Link 2 is not capricious at all to a wide variety of genres of music. He skillfully handles both instrumental music, jazz, electronics, rock music, and brutal genres. The rest is up to the choice of headphones.

Conclusion

I definitely liked the new gadget from xDuoo. He does not try to jump above his head, but within the limits set for him, he shows himself perfectly, demonstrating an excellent tonal balance, and the power he gives out is generally something amazing! Link 2 Bal is a real little hero who can compete with much more solid and expensive devices and look more than worthy in this "fight"!

This nimble and skillful DAC/amp is the perfect addition to any smartphone, tablet or laptop. At the time of writing, the suggested retail price for the xDuoo Link 2 Bal was $149. If you are a quality sound lover and use streaming services (Tidal, Deezer, Spotify, etc.) or, like me, listen to music offline the old fashioned way - Link 2 Bal is designed to give you a lot of positive emotions, as it already did me.
Poganin
Poganin
@whitedragem It doesn't work very well with my Switch, however. It produces a lot of hiss and distortion. I haven't checked compatibility with PS4, yet. I contacted XDuoo about it, but they aren't responding.
alexandros a
alexandros a
Nice detailed review @HansBarbarossa
question : is this dongle compatible with Hiby R3 dap ? (via usb type C connection ?)
i allready use with R3 iBasso DC01 2.5mm dongle witch is compatible and really improves the sound a lot there.
HansBarbarossa
HansBarbarossa
alexandros a Unfortunately I don't have Hiby R3. It seems to me that everything will work, because the software for this DAP is Hiby Music. The main thing is that this DAP can programmatically adjust the volume of Link2 BAL (I wrote about this problem in my review)

cqtek

500+ Head-Fier
HI-End Portable
Pros: Neutral sound with reference level.
- High build quality.
- Very good design, attractive and highly functional.
- Very versatile.
- Two gain modes, two USB modes, precise volume control, playback control and status LED.
- Quite powerful.
- Comes standard with a USB Type-C to Lighting cable.
Cons: It's not as powerful as the specifications indicate.
- It could be more powerful for 100Ω impedances.
Introduction

Shenzhen xDuoo Technology Co., Ltd. has long since changed its aesthetics. After creating more than 100 models and with a number of patented technologies behind it, xDuoo has acquired a distinctive design of its own, mixing the grey of the metal with the red and black of the background of some of the glass surfaces. These three elements seem to be in many of its current products. Of course, they are also in the new Link2 Bal. On the other hand, a brand that is so acclaimed for its amplifiers, needed to make a splash in a segment as tough as the dongle segment. Undoubtedly, this group of devices is possibly one of the products that have proliferated the most in recent years. There are brands that are experts, creating one new model after another, always with a different feature. Others have one or more models, iterating over time to add new features, more up-to-date DACS, even controls or more power. Xduoo wanted to present a reference device, not just a mere sound card, but something superior. To this end, it has built the Link2 Bal in an emblematic way, with all the details of its design line, with a striking red button, on a sandblasted metal body, whose faces are glazed with a dark background. Of course, there are volume controls, two outputs (SE 3.5mm and BAL 4.4mm) and something else: a USB mode control (UAC1.0, UAC2.0) and a gain selector (Normal and Turbo). Inside, xDuoo has opted for the now classic Dual DAC CS43131, along with a TI LM27762 chip capable of providing 250mA to the amplifier circuit. The rest of its features will be presented in this review.

xDuoo Link2 Bal 01_r.jpgxDuoo Link2 Bal 02_r.jpg

Specifications

  • DAC Chip: CS43131 x2.
  • Input port: USB Type-C.
  • Output port: SE 3.5mm and BAL 4.4mm.
  • Output power 3.5mm: 125mW@32Ω.
  • Output power 4.4mm: 270mW@32Ω.
  • Frequency response: 20Hz+20kHz (±0.5dB).
  • THD+N output 3.5mm: 0.001% @ 1kHz.
  • THD+N output 4.$mm: 0.0007% @ 1kHz.
  • SNR output 3.5mm: 123dB.
  • SNR output 4.4mm: 123dB.
  • Crosstalk output 3.5mm: >= 77dB.
  • Crosstalk output 4.4mm: >= 120dB.
  • Support sample rate: PCM: 16-32Bit/44.1-384kHz, DSD: DSD64-256.
  • Weight: 28g.
  • Size: 63x23.5x13mm.

xDuoo Link2 Bal 03_r.jpgxDuoo Link2 Bal 04_r.jpg

Packaging

The xDuoo Link2 Bal comes in a blue, elongated box with dimensions 145x80x34mm. The main side, if read in landscape mode, shows the model name, in large letters. The letters "Bal" are inside a large orange dot that emulates the design of the device's own red button. The rear face also reads in landscape mode. In the lower left-hand corner are the brand's markings, and in the right-hand corner are a pair of barcodes and the logos of the certifications it holds. After removing the outer cardboard, a white box with the brand logo inside a printed circuit board can be seen, all in soft grey ink. Lift the lid and the product sits in a white foam mould. Beneath which are two cables, a USB adapter and documentation. In summary, the complete contents are as follows:

  • The xDuoo Link2 Bal.
  • 1 USB Type-C to Type-C cable.
  • 1 USB Type-C to Lighting cable.
  • 1 USB Type-C to Type-A 3.0 adapter.
  • 1 instruction manual.
  • 1 warranty card.

The packaging is not far from the competition in terms of size and content. But xDuoo has managed to harmonise the external design with the product design. On the other hand, there are a couple of details that catch the eye: the inclusion of a Lighting cable, something that most of the time is a separate accessory, and a USB Type-A 3.0 adapter, when most people still use USB 2.0.

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Construction and Design

The xDuoo Link2 Bal is a beautiful piece that combines sandblasted aluminium with two layers of double-sided 2.5D glass. The entire piece has been CNC machined, there are no screws or gaskets. Its dimensions are 63x23.5x13mm and its weight is only 28g. On the main side, at the top, there is a small horizontal LED that changes colour depending on the format reproduced. On the base is the logo of the brand and the name of the model. This can be seen behind the glass, as if it were a mirror. On the back side, in landscape mode, you can read (in grey letters) the web address, where it has been manufactured and some logos of the certifications it complies with. On the left side there are two selectors: the one on the left allows you to switch between USB UAC1.0 and UAC2.0. The one on the right allows you to select the gain mode, Normal or Turbo. Near the bottom right corner is the serial number. All legends are written in white ink and, although the print is small, the indications are clear. On the other side are the volume controls, a large red button used to control playback and the Hi-Res Audio sticker. On the top edge is the USB Type-C input and on the bottom edge are the audio outputs. On the left is the balanced 4.4mm connection, whose edge is metallic and gold-plated. On the right is the 3.5mm SE connection, which has a plastic rim.
Inside, the Link2 Bal uses a Dual DAC CS43131 from Cirrus Logic. It also uses a TI LM27762 chip to guarantee a high power supply to the amplifier stage.
The design has all the key features characteristic of the current xDuoo line. It has no screws and looks like a very solid piece. It is clear that the glass panels attract fingerprints, but it is forgiven for its beauty and build quality. The playback control button, which actually works, is a real eye-catcher. In addition, the USB mode control is truly distinctive and very useful for making the product compatible with most USB connections. It's also unusual to have a gain selector on the body itself, so it's a welcome addition. On the other hand, those selectors are very well integrated into the body of the product and barely protrude, so they don't easily move around when handling the device, or putting it in your pocket. Very well thought out.

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Connectivity

The xDuoo Link2 Bal, thanks to its USB mode selector, is able to connect to a wide range of sources. It can be connected to PCs and has an ASIO driver. It can also be paired with tablets, iPhone, Android, even consoles such as the Switch. It is compatible with many music streaming platforms (Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify...). It supports a sampling rate of up to 384kHz and 32Bits deep, it can play up to DSD256. On a positive note, to connect to an iPhone, there is no need for an additional cable, because it comes with one as standard, which is unusual for its competitors.

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Operativity

The handling is somewhat more extended than a simple dongle. It has a USB mode selector, which makes it compatible with more sources. It also has a gain selector (Normal or Turbo). It has two buttons to control the volume (in Windows it allows to vary the volume in steps of two). Playback can also be controlled with the red play/pause button, which is compatible with many DAPS, including Windows players.
The operating LED indicates the sample rate, as follows:

  • Red: 48k/44.1kHz PCM
  • Blue: PCM 88.2k-384kHz
  • Green: DSD 64-256 (DOP-NATIVE)

The Link2 Bal has ASIO drivers and can be downloaded from the xduoo website:

https://www.xduoo.net/firmware-download/

It is worth remembering that it has no battery. The heat emitted is low, despite connecting it to headphones that demand a lot of power, I didn't notice that it got very hot. Very good in this respect.

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Measures

According to the specifications, the Link2 BAL is capable of delivering 270mW at 32Ω on the 4.4mm balanced output in Turbo mode. While on the SE output, it delivers 125mW at 32Ω, in Turbo mode.
This means that the balanced output is capable of over 91mA of current delivery, that magic figure that few dongles reach, approaching 3V. On the SE output, 62.5mA is delivered, giving a voltage of 2V. In reality, this is not entirely true. We will see in each corresponding section, its measurements.

No load SE

At the SE output and in Turbo mode, with no load and over the entire frequency range, a voltage of 2.1V is obtained.

xDuoo-Link2-Bal-No-Load-SE-Turbo.jpg


15 Ω SE

On the SE output and in Turbo mode, connecting a 15Ω impedance, the maximum voltage without visible distortion is 1.26V, which means a power of 110mW and 84mA.

xDuoo-Link2-Bal-015-SE-Turbo.jpg


33 Ω SE

On the SE output and in Turbo mode, connecting a 33Ω impedance, the maximum voltage without visible distortion is 1.97V, which means an approximate power of 120mW and 60mA. This value is very close to the 125mW specified and we could say that in this section, the specifications are true.

xDuoo-Link2-Bal-033-SE-Turbo.jpg


100 Ω SE

For the SE output and in Turbo mode, connecting a 100Ω impedance, the maximum voltage without visible distortion is 2.07V, which means a power of 43mW and 21mA.
As the voltage is the same as without load, the output impedance of the SE connection tends to zero. It is probably less than 1Ω.

xDuoo-Link2-Bal-100-SE-Turbo.jpg


No Load BAL

At the BAL output and in Turbo mode, with no load and over the entire frequency range, a voltage of 4.2V is obtained.

xDuoo-Link2-Bal-No-Load-BAL-Turbo.jpg


15 Ω BAL

On the BAL output and in Turbo mode, connecting a 15Ω impedance, the maximum voltage without visible distortion is 1.27V, which means a power of 110mW and 84mA. This is almost the same as the SE output. This is the maximum current delivered by the system.

xDuoo-Link2-Bal-015-BAL-Turbo.jpg


33 Ω BAL

On the BAL output and in Turbo mode, connecting a 33Ω impedance, the maximum voltage without visible distortion is 2.46V, which means a power of 180mW and 75mA. As can be seen, this is a little short of the 3V needed to reach the specified power of 270mW at 3V, with a current delivery of 91mA. If the maximum current delivered in my tests was around 84mA, I thought that with this impedance, the power would be higher. But it wasn't.
I measured the output impedance with 33Ω, at 1kHz, with an output of 1V, at high gain. At no load it gave 1.04V, while at load it gave a measurement of 1V. This implies an output impedance of 1.32Ω.

xDuoo-Link2-Bal-033-BAL-Turbo.jpg


100 Ω BAL

On the BAL output and in Turbo mode, connecting a 100Ω impedance, the maximum voltage without visible distortion is 3.67V, which means a power of 130mW and 37mA. This does not reach 4.2V at no load and is not very understandable, when the system is clearly capable of delivering more power. This may explain why it doesn't quite work to its full potential with high-impedance headphones.

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Frequency Response

The frequency response is completely flat, from 10Hz to 40kHz, with excellent linearity. In addition, the response of each channel is fully matched, there is no crosstalk. As it should be in a reference device, which also has a very low output impedance.

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Sound

The profile of the xDuoo Link2 BAL is very neutral, without a hint of darkness, with a remarkable amount of clarity and balance. You could say that its sound is unspectacular, because it is not at all gimmicky. It doesn't seek to surprise, it doesn't stand out for one characteristic more than another, unless it is for the level of fidelity. In this sense, naturalness is the basis of his profile. It has a more realistic tendency than an analytical one, without this implying a lesser degree of detail, but more of an analogue colour than a digital one.
The first impression is of a more realistic presentation, without the scenery possessing an attention-grabbing level of spectacularity, or producing a sense of music out of the head. I think that, initially, the most notable points are the cleanness of the sound and the level of fidelity that is noticeable. All of this results in a highly neutral and flat response, with no favour shown to a particular band. The second point to note, after checking the balance provided, is a rather pure sound sensation, which goes beyond an analogue perception. I tend to pair a more analogue sound towards warmth. In this case, I don't contemplate a hint of warmth in the sound of the Link2 BAL. Nor coldness, though. Rather, coolness was my initial feeling, after evaluating its sound for the first time. As a reviewer and more, as an amateur, one tries to look for that Wow! effect, after testing any audio device. However, this did not occur in my initial impressions. My thought was: I will have to spend many hours to be able to describe this sound. But, in fact, this was not the case. The Link2 BAL is very serious, a great audio device, very refined in its technical capabilities and extraordinarily clean and uncoloured. The result is a reference sound, which is aligned with a more absolute fidelity, offering, in addition, freshness and light. The freshness has to do with the speed of its attack and the lightness with its level of dynamics. It is not an energetic sound, but it is alive. There is life in the sense of movement, of speed, but it is not energetic because it doesn't feel so vigorous or muscular. It has a more restrained, measured, realistic sense of power, maintaining a natural level of power. In this way, the sense of expansion of the image, and also of the musical notes, is more fixed, not so ethereal. This characteristic means that the detail is shown in a more implicit way, without being lost in a more vain or futile propagation. But this sensation should not be confused with the generation of a more compact sound. Again, the Link2 BAL offers plenty of light, great separation and excellent resolving power. At this point, the detail feels more complete, more in tune with the music, part of its intrinsic nature, as something indissoluble. This fact results in a greater richness of nuance, a higher degree of resolution, a level of detail inherent in the sound emitted by the Link2 BAL. At first, it is not easy to notice this aspect. You get the feeling that the music must sound like this and you assume that the sound of the xDuoo is conventional. Not at all. That level of naturalness and ability to sound easy is not on a par with many dongles. Where others strive to generate a sound that stands out in some way, the Link2 BAL pushes the envelope of purity, offering naturalness and a high degree of fidelity. Without a doubt, this is a portable Hi-End device, a dongle that could be the paradigm of this website (HiEndPortable).
Digging on the side of purity and naturalness, this dongle offers a very accurate timbre, enhancing the original sound of the connected headphones. If I had to choose one source as a reference in this respect, I would definitely choose the Link2 BAL, thanks also to its tonal balance, as well as its tremendous neutrality.
Another aspect derived from this side, is the way in which the notes are finalised. As I have mentioned, there are times when with other dongles or sources, the drawing of the nuances is blurred or separated from its fundamental, giving a sensation of lack of resolution or musical volatility. In this case, this sensation is minimised to a very low level. The notes are described in a very complete way, resulting in a sound of very high resolution, in which there are no losses, neither in the details nor in the harmonics. This can also be appreciated at both ends of the audible range: in the lower range, the bass has a complex development, with a high level of dynamics, capable of offering a pronounced control and a great speed in its attack. Thus, the descriptive level of the lower range is very high, rich in texture, layering and depth.
At the other extreme, the treble remains close to the core, retaining all the power of definition without losing an iota of control. This is the way to generate a reference sound, able to shine in a way that is so simple, it seems easy. As a result, the midrange is an exhaustive exercise in naturalness, under a simple appearance, a sound that is easy, light to digest, but extremely exquisite, even lush.
In other words, the xDuoo Link2 BAL is the epitome of high fidelity.

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Comparisons

Tempotec Sonata E44


One of Tempotec's best dongles, if not the best, is the Sonata E44. Tempotec hit the nail on the head by tuning the same Dual DAC as the xDuoo Link2 BAL, the CS43131 x2. In the case of the E44, I was very struck by the great sense of separation and volatility of its sound, getting a more spectacular feel to the sound, in exchange for losing some realism, but offering a closer and more splashy perception of details. After a quick switch between the two dongles, there is a point of lightness in the xDuoo, but the vaporous feel is lost. The sound is tighter, more connected, more cohesive, the scene doesn't expand as much, nor does the detail volatilise. The feeling is clearly more natural and realistic. Three-dimensional perception is lost. Elements have a more contrasted ability of closeness, proximity, remoteness and depth in the E44. It's not that Link2 is flat, but it doesn't focus on describing depth as the E44 does. In contrast, the xDuoo presents a reference level of timbre, a higher level of neutrality and purity. This is demonstrated in the high end, where the treble is drawn more accurately and with better resolution, there is a higher level of definition that outlines the high notes in a more realistic and complete way, allowing the range to be felt more effectively. In the E44, the highs tend to separate and become more diffuse, not as well defined as in the xDuoo.
The lower range is also more concrete in the Link2, feeling quicker, with a more concise stroke and superior recovery. Meanwhile, in the E44 there is a point of greater rubberiness, a little more energetic feel, something that adds a hint of more texture to the finish, a more perceptible and evocative rough vibe. The Link2 describes the lower range in a canonical way, while the E44 is driven by a more pronounced effectivity, which gives a more spectacular feel.
In the mid-range, the xDuoo's greater capacity, both in resolution and definition, is able to bring more complexity to the sound, but in a natural and simple way. The E44, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have the ability to show as much richness in the midrange, leaving more diffuse fringes. The greater sensation of speed, the faster and more precise attack, draw more concentrated and faithful nuances in the Link2, which endows the sound with a higher degree of fidelity.
As for other non-sound issues, both dongles have volume control. Connected to Windows, the E44 has 32 steps and the Link2 50, it is clear that the xDuoo is more convenient in this respect, as the jumps are larger on the Tempotec. The xDuoo has a gain control, USB mode control and a play/pause control button. The E44 does not have any additional controls besides the volume control. The xDuoo has two outputs (SE 3.5mm and BAL 4.4mm), while the E44 can use a serial adapter, which allows it to be used as a 3.5mm output. The size of the Link2 is clearly larger, but it has no additional cables attached to its body. On the E44 the connections are outside the body, attached to separate cables. The Link2 has an LED that informs about the played format. There is no LED on the Tempotec. At the time of writing, the price of the E44 is very close to €100, while the Link2 is over €160.

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Conclusion

xDuoo has made it very easy to generate music. The feeling of the new Link2 BAL is that it goes further than other dongles, if you use fidelity level as a benchmark. There are other models that try to achieve a high degree of naturalness, neutrality and purity, but they remain at a lower level, at a point where their sound does not quite assume the level of reference that this xDuoo does. At that point, the competition becomes futile and the Link2 BAL seems to just do its job, only much better. It is at this point that this dongle becomes a benchmark, as it raises the level of playback to a point that others have not reached. And the best thing is that it achieves this without fuss, without artifice and without losing what is most important in music reproduction: high fidelity. In this sense, the xDuoo Link2 BAL crosses the barrier, becoming a clear paradigm of a portable Hi-End device, a source that exemplifies the art of reproducing music in the most simple, natural and pure way.
But the best thing is that this dongle is not just about music, it also sets itself apart from the competition with an eye-catching construction, mixing a textured aluminium chassis with two 2.5D glass plates. In addition, it has a large volume control, a play/pause button, gain control and USB mode control, as well as an LED that indicates the played format. Of course, its input is USB Type-C and it has two audio outputs: 4.4mm BAL and 3.5mm SE, both with a high power level. In this way, the device becomes a highly versatile system, with great connectivity capacity, even with consoles, as well as offering a very high operating level. In this way, the xDuoo Link2 BAL is not only a reference in terms of sound, but also assumes this level in all other areas.

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Earphones and Sources Used During Analysis

  • HiBy R3 Pro
  • Tempotec V1-A
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
  • NiceHCK Topguy
  • ISN H40
  • Rose QT9 MK2
  • BQEYZ Autumn
  • Ikko OH2
  • Ikko OH1s
  • Yanyin Aladdin
  • Dunu Titan S
  • Dunu Falcon Pro
  • TFZ Tequila Pro
  • Penon Sphere
  • Tin HiFi P2
  • NiceHCK EBX21
  • NiceHCK EB2S
  • Hessian Ansata Pro
  • Rose Martini
  • Takstar Pro 80
  • SoundMagic HP150

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Ratings

  • Construction and Design: 95
  • Packaging and Accessories: 85
  • Connectivity: 95
  • Operability: 93
  • Sound: 95
  • Quality/Price: 93

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Disclaimer

xDuoo offered me this model, in exchange for writing an honest review. I want to make it clear that all my opinions written in this review have not been conditioned by this fact, nor will I ever write anything that I do not really think or feel here. I will only write about my personal opinion in relation to the revised product.

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You can read the full review in Spanish here:

https://hiendportable.com/2022/02/27/xduoo-link2-bal-review/

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Last edited:
ruffandruff
ruffandruff
Thanks for the review mate, especially for the comparison to e44. That's been really helpful.
  • Like
Reactions: cqtek
Poganin
Poganin
Unfortunately, there is a ton of hiss when using Link2 Bal with Nintendo Switch. Makes it pretty much unusable. I haven't tried it with my PS4 yet, but I expect it'll be the same.
WilliamCruz
WilliamCruz
@cqtek any ideas of the exact output impedance values for 3.5mm when using low gain? Thanks

OspreyAndy

500+ Head-Fier
xDuoo Link2 BAL
Pros: -
- Great near analogue tonal and timbral sound, highly organic
- Faithfully neutral and uncolored
- Clean and crisp dynamics
- Reference grade technicalities
- Amazing 4 Vrms power
- Great heat management
- Great compatibility to many devices
- Good battery endurance
Cons: -
- Volume adjustment is still digitally dependent to the host
- Stock USB Cables a bit thin for my preference
- Does not seem to work too well with high impedance earbuds
- Fingerprint magnet! (on the glass faceplate)

Review Date: 13 February 2022

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SPECIFICATIONS
DAC Chip: Cirrus Logic CS43131 (Dual}
Input port: Type-C USB
Output port: 3.5mm+4.4mm
Output Power: 4 Vrms (3.5mm: 125mW@32ohm, 4.4mm: 270mW@32ohm)
Sample Rate Support: PCM: 16-32Bit /44.1-384kHz
DSD: DSD64-256
Frequency response: 20Hz~20kHz(±0.5dB)
THD+N: 0.001%1kHz (3.5 Headphone AMP), 0.0007%1kHz (4.4 Headphone AMP)
SNR: 123dB(3.5 Headphone AMP), 123dB(4.4 Headphone AMP)
Crosstalk: 3.5 Output: ≥77dB, 4.4 Output: ≥120dB
Weight: 28g
Size: 63mm23.5mm13mm

Test Equipment

Headphones:

  • FOSTEX T40RP MK3 (Magnetic Planar, 50 Ohm, 91db Sensitivity)​
  • Beyerdynamic DT880 (Dynamic Drivers, 600 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)​
IEMs:
  • Etymotic ER4SR (Single BA, 45 Ohm, 96db Sensitivity)​
  • TRN VX Pro (8 BA + 1DD Hybrid, 22 Ohm, 106db Sensitivity)​
  • TIN HiFi T3+ (Single DD, 32 Ohm, 105db Sensitivity)​
  • Shure KSE1500 (Single Electrostatic 200V, KSA1200 Energizer)​
  • Kinera Idun Golden (3BA + 1DD Hybrid, 32 Ohm, 112db Sensitivity)​
Earbuds:
  • VE Asura 3.0 FE (Single DD, 155 Ohm)​
  • VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ (Single DD, 320 Ohm)​
Sources:
  • Windows 10, Foobar 2000 (USB 3.0 Power)​
  • LG V50 ThinQ (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)​
  • Sony Xperia X Compact (UAPP USB Exclusive Mode, Bitperfect)​
  • HiBy Music Player App (USB Exclusive Mode)​
Comparative Reference DAC/Amp:
  • iFi ZEN DAC V2 + ZEN CAN Stack (15.1 Vrms)​


LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING

xDuoo Link2 BAL
, a fresh re-entry by xDuoo into the ever growing Dongle DAC/Amp scene. About the only thing that this Link2 BAL shares with the predecessor, just the name. Internally and externally it is practically a different beast with different DAC chips altogether. Nonetheless, this is one of the many that I have been waiting for. Dual Cirrus Logic with xDuoo tuning – and I like their tuning philosophies, which focuses on the balance between musicality and technicalities.

Build, Functions, Usability​

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xDuoo Link2 BAL, built like a tank. Aluminum chassis sandwiched with glass faceplates. Holding it in my hands, I truly admire the industrial look and feel. The heft inspires confidence, the ruggedness indicate this thing is built to last. It is a gadget worth owning even just by the looks. However if I must nitpick, then I would have prefer the stock USB-C cable to be a bit more thicker than it is, the heft of Link2 BAL just seemed out of proportion to the thinly twisted cable. No biggie for me as I opted to use my own USB-C cable which are much thicker and robust. On the other hand, I must applaud xDuoo for providing iOS Lightning cable too, a rarity nowadays. Which means Link2 BAL is natively capable working with iPhones. That’s a huge bonus.

The most prominent feature of Link2 BAL, on one side there’s two tactile volume adjusters placed conveniently with a huge red colored play and pause button. With regular usage daily, I have developed a fondness for these three buttons especially when used with UAPP. However the volume adjustments are not independent, which means they operate directly to alter digital volume levels on the source – this can be a hassle when used with HiBy Music Player USB Exclusive Mode since HiBy does not provision for volume adjustments while off screen. Otherwise, when used with UAPP it worked perfectly and the increment of volume steps can be refined based on UAPP settings.

On the other side, there’s two toggle switches which will allow for switching between UAC Modes. UAC 1 or UAC 2 – I find this very useful especially for wide range of compatibility element. It is quite apparent that xDuoo considered Link2 BAL ability to adapt to any host as paramount. It means Link2 can also be used on many gaming consoles which may only operate in UAC 1. I personally prefer UAC 1 for the simplicity and primarily use my own Link2 BAL on that mode as it works better with HiBy Music Player.

The other toggle switch, it is for switching between Normal or Turbo modes. Normal being normal gain and Turbo being High Gain. It is quite simple really, I will always use the Normal mode when driving highly sensitive IEMs and the Turbo modes for anything above 45 Ohm. Loudness levels difference being audible between modes.

Last but not least, there’s two ports for Audio output which is fast becoming the normal standard for compact DAC/Amps nowadays. 3.5mm Single Ended and 4.4mm BAL. The circuitry on the BAL side I believe very much similar to the implementation of TempoTec Sonata E44, another CS43131 which I liked a lot. Even better, when tested with my own Multimeter, Link2 BAL employ the use of 5th pole Common Ground similar to E44 as well. It suggests that Link2 BAL is running some sort of discrete circuit, each channel Left and Right having their own grounds, the common GND being reserved to the 5th pole of Pentaconn 4.4mm socket for hybrid usage.

Endurance wise, Link2 BAL scored a respectable 6 hours of continuous play on Sony Xperia X Compact (Android 8, 2700 mAH Battery, UAPP, driving TRN VX Pro on 4.4mm BAL, Low Gain). That is practically on par to Cayin RU6 and Lotoo PAW S2.

And here’s the most interesting bit. Link2 BAL has superb heat dissipation and management!. Despite used for long hours, I can barely feel any heat emitted. It remained cool to the touch. This is something I find very rare among tons of Dongles I have tried so far. In comparison, CEntrance DACport HD and Apogee Groove operates hot enough to fry some eggs, hahahaha.

Sound Impressions​

From the first listen, with my Etymotic ER4SR, I was immediately greeted with a sound that I regard as rich, wholesome, neutral, natural and organically realistic. Link2 BAL markedly has that near analogue timbre and tonality that I adore so very much. It is quite evident to my ears, how polished and mature dynamics presentation are – dynamic transients being fluid and effortless, a sign of proper power to drive the paired partners. On the subject of tonality, I must admit that Link2 BAL tuning is more preferable (subjective to my personal taste) to the more euphonic TempoTec Sonata E44. Both being dual CS43131. I would describe it this way, E44 has a bit more of aggression and vibrancy, less organic, more modern sound sort of tuning, Link2 BAL on the other hand, slightly more refined, smoother on attack and transients, appearing less aggressive – but it also mean Link2 BAL ended up being smoother in comparison to the crisper/energetic E44.

To complement the great tonal and timbre balance, Link2 BAL exhibited Desktop grade dynamic range presentation. No, I am not making this up out of thin air. Extensively comparing the output from my iFi ZEN Stack and Link2 BAL, I would say Link2 BAL performs 98% to that desktop stack. No joke. The depth of extensions on both end of the spectrum are practically similar. Bass being deep, Highs being realistically extended, and Mids being rich in density. Perhaps, I would admit that ultimately the ZEN Stack has an upper hand on Mids overall texture, depth and intimacy, not a surprise considering that the ZEN Stack operates up to 15.1 Vrms as opposed to Link2 BAL 4 Vrms. But for a small dongle to even traverse the territory of Desktop DAC/Amp is simply mind blowing – these sort of thing is not even achievable before this (with an exception to CEntrance DACport HD and Apogee Groove that performs on similar level, even earlier).

Going back to Link2 BAL dynamics handling. I will say that this is one hell of capable DAC/Amp. The balance of sound is nothing short of amazing. Treble, Bass and Mids all well articulated to not overshadow each other. This is one Dongle that is faithfully neutral with no hint of coloration on any frequencies. At least this is what I conclude from the pairing with the highly resolving and flat diffused field Etymotic ER4SR, or the naturally neutral Shure KSE1500 – both being my reference IEMs for determining the characteristics of the sources.

Treble is crisp, polished and smooth, exhibiting proper decays. Good amount of sparkle and shimmer, never overcooked to make it unnaturally bright, yet there’s substantial amount of Treble details to satisfy even the most discerning Treble junkies.

Bass being well balanced with great speed, never sluggish or unnaturally boosted. It all depends on the nature of the paired partners. With my Fostex T40RP MK3 and Shure KSE1500, I am hearing very satisfying Bass responses. Mid-Bass super solid and commanding, Sub-Bass audibly present with strong sensations and smooth decays. Lots of texture while at it.

Mids appeared very neutral but rich. There’s great density and texture to the presentation. This is a consistent trait I am hearing on most of my listening gears. However if I must nitpick, then I would say that I observed Link2 BAL does not seem to work that great with open backed earbuds. Both of my VE ZEN 2.0 SLQ and Asura 3.0FE sounded slightly off key, with Mids appearing somewhat hollow despite a rounded exterior. But this is an isolated case as Link2 BAL works perfectly with the rest of my gears. The general theme of Link2 BAL Mids being neutral and natural, and I love it just the way it is.

Technically, without a doubt Link2 BAL is now the new king of Soundstage alongside DACport HD. This was something that has been held by THX Onyx for quite a while. The expanse, width, depth and spaciousness of Link2 BAL soundscape is quite evident even when paired with the natively narrow sounding ER4SR. Even more obvious with TIN HiFi T3+, TRN VX Pro and Kinera Idun Golden. Link2 BAL also exhibited great prowess in spatial imaging and resolution, it is right there alongside the top dogs of #donglemadness. The staging of instruments, notes and passages are super clean and crisp – yet smooth enough to instill good sense of maturity. Details are resolved properly depending on how resolving the pairing partners are – and it should be that way, transparent as it is realistic. Despite all that, I am pleased to find out that Link2 BAL is a bit more forgiving on poor sources or Lo-Fi, unlike Ovidius B1 which can be quite finicky on those stuffs. Last but not least, Link2 BAL is assuredly excellent with speed, hugely evident when subjected to playback of complex or outright fast paced tracks – there’s no chance for things to get muddy or compressed sounding.

Driving Power​

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xDuoo Link2 BAL Vs iFi ZEN Stack Vs DACport HD
Tested on Windows 10, USB 3.0, Foobar 2000, Song: Diana Krall “The Look of Love” FLAC Lossless.

iFi ZEN Stack 4.4mm BAL (Gain 3/4)
Vol/Loudness: 10/100 (Etymotic ER4SR)
Vol/Loudness: 30/100 (Fostex T40RP MK3)
Vol/Loudness: 40/100 (Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Ohm)
Soundstage: Surprisingly not as wide as DACport HD or Link2 BAL
Headroom: Very spacious despite with less than wide Soundstage
Sound Observation:
Very forward and intimate Mids, rich dynamics density with very crisp note weight. Solid attack and decays. Close to analogue sound, very organic

CEntrance DACport HD 3.5mm SE (High Gain)
Vol/Loudness: 18/100 (Etymotic ER4SR)
Vol/Loudness: 40/100 (Fostex T40RP MK3)
Vol/Loudness: 58/100 (Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Ohm)
Soundstage: Wider than ZEN Stack by a step
Headroom: Equally spacious to ZEN Stack
Sound Observation:
Neutral placement for Mids, slightly less aggression and attack Vs ZEN Stack, smoother but crisp. More air compared to either ZEN Stack or Link2 BAL. The most analogue and organic sounding unit between the three of them.

xDuoo Link2 BAL 4.4mm BAL (High Gain)
Vol/Loudness: 12/100 (Etymotic ER4SR)
Vol/Loudness: 32/100 (Fostex T40RP MK3)
Vol/Loudness: 50/100 (Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Ohm)
Soundstage: Equally wide to DACport HD
Headroom: Equally spacious to DACport HD & ZEN Stack
Sound Observation:
Neutral placement for Mids, solid dynamics density almost comparable to ZEN Stack, crisper but slightly less smoothness Vs DACport HD. Close to analogue sound, equally organic to DACport HD & ZEN Stack

The fact is, aside from volume loudness, I find all three being very similar sounding sonic wise. The difference described only evident with critical A/B listening, and they are miniscule really. If I am to do a blind test, I would probably fail to identify which one is which, especially between ZEN Stack and Link2 BAL. However no mistaking that airy characteristics of DACport HD which makes it unique (the same sort of airiness found only on Ovidius B1). Another big surprise, both DACport HD and Link2 BAL actually performed marginally better than ZEN Stack on resolving Micro Details.

Link2 BAL 3.5mm SE vs 4.4mm BAL (Both High Gain)
(HiBy Music Player USB Exclusive Mode)
SE Vol/Loudness: 16/32
BAL Vol/Loudness: 13/32
Sound Observation:

Tested with Etymotic ER4SR, while the sonic characteristics remained similar, I can hear the BAL port being more spacious and wider sounding. Dynamics density and note weight appeared stronger too. So it is quite apparent that the 3.5mm SE is optimized for highly sensitive stuffs, something at around 32 Ohm and below, with over 100db of sensitivity.

VERDICT​

xDuoo Link2 BAL. To sum it up. I am impressed with this one hell of a Dongle. Minor cons aside, I found myself using it regularly. Articulate balance between musical and technical element being one of Link2 BAL greatest strengths. Not forgetting how powerful the 4 Vrms output is. Practically among the best with overall loudness and drive. While at it, Link2 BAL being consistent at synergizing with many partners, be it super sensitive stuffs or outright stubborn juggernauts, imparting great sonic indulgence that will not fail to make me smile. There’s a lot of things to like about this Link2 BAL, most important to me, how well executed the tuning, offering great near analogue sound that is neutrally, naturally realistic and believable. I must commend xDuoo for putting the right focus on this tuning approach, they opted not to get carried away with overcooking anything – there’s moderation and articulation in the implementation of Link2 BAL – and for that reason, it is one of my firm favorites now.

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Best Pairing: Flexible up to 600 Ohm​

#donglemadness
Last edited:
WilliamCruz
L
Lantern05
@OspreyAndy, Hi there will u even return to review these dac dongles again?
OspreyAndy
OspreyAndy
@Lantern05 Not as actively as before. I stopped #donglemadness after 122 dongles. But from time to time I will post here once I have new toys in hand
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