(Last Updated On: January 15, 2020)

With more smartphone manufacturers removing headphone jacks and the demand for USB dongles getting higher, xDuoo decided to release the crowd-pleasing Link to provide a solution as well as a path to high resolution audio.

Thank you, Nappoler Hu from HiFiGo for sending me the xDuoo Link. The products were provided to me free of charge in exchange for my honest review and opinion.

Introduction

xDuoo is an audio gear manufacturer from China. The main focus of xDuoo is to provide professional solutions to audiophiles without burning a hole in their pockets. They produce high-quality headphone amplifiers, both solid-state and vacuum tube. Besides amplifiers, digital audio players (DAPs) are part of their expertise, too.

Beginning with the iPhone 7, a trend of 3.5mm audio jack removal in smartphones grew. With this drastic change, the need for USB dongles increases significantly.

With the increase in demand, the quality of these USB dongles has improved as well. With better parts, such as a dedicated digital to analogue converter (DAC), the sonic quality improves as compared to the conventional, built-in DACs in phones. This is a “smartphone to Hi-Res audio enablement” because higher resolution music quality can be obtained when using the dongles.

xDuoo followed in the footsteps of iBasso and iKKO Audio and released the Link. Is Link a “smartphone to Hi-Res audio enablement”? We will find out in this review!

xDuoo Link

xDuoo Link

"For those who are looking for improved sound quality for your smartphones at a reasonable price, the xDuoo Link is the dongle for you. This could be one of the most affordable options on the market that features a dedicated audio DAC chipset that can decode native DSD."

Pros:

  • »Doesn’t need to be charged
  • »Compact
  • »Classy design
  • »Smooth and natural sonic performance
  • »Volume and play/pause control on the dongle

Cons:

  • »Lack of USB Type-C to USB Type-A adaptor

Unboxing

Similar to a lot of audio accessories, the xDuoo Link comes in simple packaging. The box is in orange and black, matching the dongle itself. Besides the logo and model name, there is a “Hi-Res” audio stamp on the box. The xDuoo Link has been Hi-Res certified by the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA) and Japan Audio Society (JAS)

The “Hi-Res Audio” stamp of approval is applied to headphones with frequency response performance of 40 kHz or above.
The packaging of xDuoo Link
The packaging of xDuoo Link

The box can be opened by pulling the internal compartment out from the top of the box. The Link is well protected by foam. A USB Type-C to Type-A adaptor is not included. This could make it tough for laptop users to use the Link on their laptop.

Users are advised to read and understand the included user’s manual before using the link.
The box can be opened by pulling the compartment out from the top.
The box can be opened by pulling the compartment out from the top.
User manual and xDuoo Link
User manual and xDuoo Link

Technical Specification

  • Output Power: [email protected]
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20kHz (± 0.5dB)
  • Crosstalk ≥ 77dB
  • THD+N: 0.0018%@1kHz
  • Input Interface: USB Type-C
  • Signal to noise (S/N) ratio: 115dB
  • Output port: 3.5mm unbalanced audio jack
  • Sampling rate: PCM: 16-32bit/44.1kHz-384kHz, DSD: 1bit/2.82MHz – 11.2MHz
  • DAC chip: ESS9118EC
  • Length of USB Cable: 90mm
  • Weight: 15g

Design

The Link is around 90mm (3.5in) in size. It’s a high quality built adapter for such a reasonable price in the range of USD$50. The main DAC/Amp section is made from computer numerical control (CNC) aluminum alloy while the USB Type-C connector section is plastic. There is a small LED indicator on the main DAC/Amp section as an indication to users of a successful connection.

By using 5-axis computer numerical control (CNC) cutting mechanism, the shell produced is smooth and free of sharp edges.
xDuoo Link
xDuoo Link
Audio jack, volume control and play/pause button
Audio jack, volume control and play/pause button
USB Type-C connector
USB Type-C connector

Besides the LED indicator, there are volume control buttons and the play/pause button located on the main section. This contributes to easy navigation when your phone is in your pocket.

Pairing

I paired the Link with my LG G6 and laptop. It works flawlessly with both devices. The xDuoo Link is free from noise that could possibly be contributed to by a dirty electrical outlet. This allows me to enjoy music without distortions. The performance is sturdy, steady, and smooth.

A dirty electrical outlet is one that connects to a noisy electrical supply.
Playing MQA on Tidal with xDuoo Link connected
Playing MQA on Tidal with xDuoo Link connected

Sound

To analyze the sonic performance of the xDuoo Link, I will do a comparison with the well-received iBasso DC02, which I reviewed in 2019. Both of the devices are connected to my LG G6. The in-ear monitors (IEMs) used in this review are:

LG G6 with xDuoo Link
LG G6 with xDuoo Link
iBasso DC02 vs xDuoo Link
iBasso DC02 vs xDuoo Link
Both dongles are
Both dongles are “Hi-Res” certified.
USB Type-C
USB Type-C
xDuoo Link comes with more controls
xDuoo Link comes with more controls

Staging

xDuoo takes advantage of their experience in producing amplifiers and DAPs in designing the Link. The stage is huge – bigger than what the DC02 can provide. It offers a feeling that is close to being in a concert. I would compare listening using the DC02 to being in a recording studio or sound room; while using the Link is like listening to a live performance.

Sound Signature

The xDuoo Link has a slightly warm and smooth sound signature as compared to the iBasso DC02. The musical delivery is thicker and full-bodied. This could be contributed to by a slightly higher power output of the Link. It’s comfortable to listen to – no harshness, no sibilance.

Campfire Audio IO with xDuoo Link
Campfire Audio IO with xDuoo Link

Lows

xDuoo understands that fidelity is not the only factor in designing audio gear. Ultimately, people want to enjoy music. The Link will give you an enjoyable performance with the significant, yet well-controlled kicking bass.

The lows are attacking and decaying at a slower speed as compared to the DC02. This contributed to the slightly warm sound signature as mentioned. Although it’s slow, it’s not muddy. The resolution is well-preserved.

I actually prefer the lows delivered by the Link; it hits more naturally. The sub-bass has a bigger body and hits deeper. The stronger power output kicks the dynamic driver of my Moondrop Blessing well.

Listening to ItsFit Fusion, Moondrop Blessing with xDuoo Link
Listening to ItsFit Fusion, Moondrop Blessing with xDuoo Link

Mids

It feels like attending a concert; powerful and emotional vocals caught my attention and won my heart.

The huge headroom provides good space for the mids to perform. The mids are positioned in the center – shining in the spotlight of the stage. This prevents the vocals from being too shrill. With slight warmth injected from the slow decaying lows, vocals – especially male – sound natural and emotional. As a pop genre lover, I appreciate this warmth.

Moving to the upper mids, the warmth starts to excuse itself. The female vocals are transparent and airy with minimum coloration. Overall, the mids in xDuoo’s Link are still at the slightly warmer and smoother side compared to iBasso DC02’s crisp and clear performance.

ItsFit Fusion and xDuoo Link
ItsFit Fusion and xDuoo Link

Highs

The highs are gentle to the users’ ears. They’re smooth and refreshing like a soft breeze on your face.

One of the weaknesses in iBasso DC02 is the harsh highs. It’s too hard on my eardrums and I can’t use it for long periods of time without feeling fatigued. xDuoo respects my tolerance level and the Link is more gentle on my eardrums. The presentation here is smooth and not too bright.

The highs are well-extended and airy, free of congestion. The airy space is balanced by the warmth from the lows – preserving a decent amount of fidelity in this dongle.

xDuoo Link connected to iBasso DX220
xDuoo Link connected to iBasso DX220

Conclusion

The xDuoo Link retails for USD$45.99. It can be purchased through HiFiGo.

For those who are looking for improved sound quality for your smartphones at a reasonable price, the xDuoo Link is the dongle for you. This could be one of the most affordable options on the market that features a dedicated audio DAC chipset that can decode native DSD. Don’t be fooled by the Link’s small size; its sonic performance is worth even more than its asking price!