From the specs and rumors, I heard about this dongle my expectation gets really high. Out of the box, the W2 sounds a lot more engaging than my MacBook pro’s output.
There is more power and a more stretched-out sound stage, as well as a more vividly colored tuning that makes the vocal slightly laid back yet very livelily presented, with quite a lot of detail in the whole frequency spectrum.
The W2 is more colored, softer and richer in the bass, and slightly V-shaped when compared to the higher end Luxury & Precision players, perhaps a measure to compensate for the power constraints on USB outputs, but it is still clean and clear with enough treble extension to bring out overtones details.
With most tuning profiles and pairings the W2 still sounds fairly neutral and does not spike, and surprisingly it has enough power to let some cans go really loud without sounding veiled, thin, or distorted.
On the stock “Normal” EQ setting the W2 sounds slightly colored in the mid-lows with all IEMs, I pair with it, as a dongle it is well powered.
Switching between various USB devices the W2 is completely hiss-free. Even with very sensitive multi-BA(s), there is no sign of background hiss.
I am quite surprised when at high gain and very high volume the W2 is very quiet in the background and it doesn’t sound damped or distorted. This is possibly one of the darkest backgrounds I have heard for the asking price.
Before I made the below impressions I am let the W2 burn in for a few days with pink noise from my phone. Impressions are made with an iPhone, iPad Pro, and my desktop’s USB output direct from the motherboard.
The output is quite consistent with different sources and all devices connect to the W2 instantly, ready for playback in just 1-2 seconds, which is really handy for quick listens.
The below impressions are also made with the slow roll-off filter and mainly the normal setting as well as tune 02 profile. I would recommend trying the other equalizing options as they don’t easily distort or sound bloated even at high volume. Some of them will offer a better synergy or tonal balance that matches the characters of your IEMs.
Finally, I mainly tested on the balanced output. While the 3.5mm sounds quite satisfying and it would be safe to say it is still quite an upgrade compared to outputs on the laptop or on phones.
The bass performance is noticeably better than many dongles in the market with the higher output packed in. For most IEMs I plug into the W2 it won’t sound lacking in bass power nor sound bloated, and the bass can dive quite deep.
The tuning finds a good balance between texture and smoothness with moderately fast response speed, which works well with different genres of music.
With most IEMs the bass is full with a more expressive decay, unlike some other Luxury & Precision DAPs that are faster in attack and have a tighter lower frequency performance. On the Tune 01 mode at higher volume, it sounds softer and fuller in the mid-bass area and is generally relaxing sounding with most pairings.
The tuning goes well with folk and pop, adding a little bit more warmth and body to the vocals. To compensate for the noise in the ambiance, and at the expense of some speed, the bass is tuned to be more airy and fun sounding.
The W2 is able to deliver some good bass energy even with small cans. Putting on the SoundMAGIC Vento P55 V3.0 I got some good air and punch, yet still sounding very smooth and well-articulated into the mids without bleeding over.
Putting on the Earsonics Corsa the bass gets quite deep and full, with very decent resolving power. You can notice the W2 working better with more sensitive gears here.
If the load is higher in impedance or more bassy I recommend turning to Tune 02 that has a tighter, faster bass response and slightly more pronounced upper mids that add to the clarity. The sweet spot is at higher volume and you will detect the difference between 01 and 02 tuning profiles when pushing up the volume output.
Overall the performance including power, texture, and precision of the bass compartment is easily above average and this dongle is seriously contending DAPs with its capabilities.
The W2 sounds exceptionally natural and smooth with a small hint of warmth in the mid-range frequencies. Guitars and acoustic instruments sound dense and 3D when you tune up the volume, and there is good spacing between each element in the track so it sounds quite spacious.
There is a good separation between the slightly laid-back vocal line and the bass. Male vocals are particularly well-handled with beautiful overtones.
Female voices or lighter voices are shaped more rounded and natural, and it never gets hot even with very sharp voices. Again this works best with sensitive IEMs especially full-BA configurations and with most pairings, I am getting a nicely polished output that sounds relaxing with a decent amount of detail.
Pairing with the Corsa from Earsonics and E5000 from Final I am getting smooth and defined mids, you can hear guitar strings being picked clearly and the vocal is naturally toned.
On both IEMs female and male vocals have a good presence but aren’t too intimate nor laid back like on less sensitive earphones. Switching to Tune 01 the vocal is smoothened and more forwarded with added body and you could also use the Pop equalizing setting to bring out more mid-lows.
Testing with different genres of music I can confirm there is little distortion when applying the EQ profiles and the change in sound is quite naturally applied.
I still prefer the stock “Normal” settings as it sounds most natural but with some IEMs that are leaned or very characterized. During the daily commute and watching movies, the equalizing options would be very handy for some extra rumbles or sparkle.
With sensitive IEMs the treble is not lacking but gently rounded to give a sweet, smooth tuning. There is a little bit of lifting in the region beyond 5k to create more texture but it is nowhere peaky. There is still a little bit of “grandness” in the overtones presented that allows the W2 to work pretty well with classical tunes without sounding veiled.
With power constraints, you should not expect the W2 to sound as good as the Luxury & Precision DAPs which are very polished in the treble. Yet Luxury & Precision manages to find a tuning that works very well with various IEMs capturing a lot of detail in the overtones.
Imaging & staging
Instruments and vocals are nicely spaced and separated from the bass line, radiating a few meters apart with good definition and holding together well at high volume.
There is good width in the stage rendered so you can hear different parts of the drum set coming from different directions clearly, and it sounds very airy without any hollowness.
The staging sounds quite natural with a careful roll-off in the treble which kills all the sibilance. Along with the very quiet background, it feels like you are listening in an acoustic-treated small classroom.
Aside from that, you can hear good overtone details in the upper register. These harmonics help to create a more stereophonic and realistic listening experience for guitars and some male or darker voices.
The W2 is USB powered and these constraints put certain limits to its output. Hence a higher load may sound loosen up or too smoothened but we have DSP profiles for the rescue.
With sensitive IEMS like the Andromeda 2020 or the SE846, I am getting a tight and resolving output with the vocal line well defined. However, when it comes to higher impedance IEMs or dynamic IEMs with a more relaxing signature the Tune02 setting will help make the output more balanced and controlled and tighten up the bass response.
Nevertheless, I still like how it pairs with some dynamic IEMs, where the output is exceptionally smooth and the bass has enough punch to make it sound very engaging.
If you are a use something like the Beyerdynamic Xelento it is also recommended to give the W2 a try, this combo has excellent control and clarity on the DSP profile tuned for it. The bass punch has enough depth and detail which makes me almost forget I am listening to a dongle.
To push the test further I used the new Dethonray Tender Planar IEM I acquired recently. This IEM requires more voltage swing and yet this increased load does not stress the W2 too much. I am quite surprised that the combo is still distortion-free at very high volume, and is able to deliver extremely smooth vocals while keeping the pace in the bass.
The W2 has enough gain to sound louder than the phones and sounding very refined while being extremely smooth and holographic with vocal imaging.
The experience is similar on the Meze 99 Classics headphones. Comparing to some other dongles the W2 does really well in powering the 99 to sound quite full and energetic in the bass. Small cans users should definitely consider getting the W2 for their phones. This is, however, draining the battery faster like other dongles.
Pairing with sensitive IEMs will let you achieve a more balanced and extended response. With power-hungry IEMs, it will sound more rounded in the higher frequencies and require higher volume to reach the sweet spot.
Overall, the hardware quality is very strong on this small dongle and the DSP is the icing on the cake that pushes further its capabilities to impress.
The PAW S1 is the strongest rival that comes to mind which features similar connectivities as a dongle and is akin to the counterpart’s design concept which emphasizes the digital filters.
However, when you compare the power output you will realize the W2 is much stronger. The W2 has a lot more flexibility in pairing with different IEMs, without the need to compensate for the lack of raw power with DSP tunings.
The PAW S1 with AKM AK4377 onboard outputs [email protected] whereas the Luxury & Precision W2 offers [email protected] Aside from the clearly stronger raw power delivery, there is also more texture and resolution in its performance.
Put it simply, the W2 feels like an upgraded version of the PAW S1 in every aspect, but the drain is also quite a lot higher with the more power-hungry hardware.
Switching between the two you will easily notice quite some difference in power and timbre, where the PAW S1 sounds thinner and not as full-bodied as the W2 in the mids.
The W2 is clearly superior in power delivery, which gives it an advantage in sounding more defined and firmer with IEMs that are relatively hard to drive. At the same time, there is a fuller and more natural mid-bass performance with a better vocal presence on the W2. The key function, equalizing, is also freer from distortion and sounds more natural on the W2.
There is more flexibility on the W2 with stronger customized profiles and Tune profiles that change the base tuning on the device with just a few clicks.
If you have some very sensitive IEMs like the SE846 the performance on PAW S1 and Luxury & Precision W2 could come quite close when streaming at average quality.
The W2 can deliver better dynamics, headroom, and micro-detail for higher resolution files and more demanding loads. The staging is more resolving with instruments that have a more body, compares to the less defined PAW S1.
The PAW S1 is amazing for its price but W2 steps up the game to offer stronger DSP filters as well as power, density, and control. If you want a decent dongle for casual listening you could get the S1. However, if budget is no object and you demand a higher level of output quality, the W2 is a more advanced choice when listening critically.
Another “Swiss army knife” in my arsenal is the BTR5 which has as much portability including wireless. It is also battery powered and technically it is able to offer more power than the PAW S1 or the W2.
The BTR5 comes with dual ES9218P supports USB connection and Bluetooth connection, and is able to power IEMs quite well with 240mW output (Balanced) at 32Ω. That is slightly higher than on the Luxury & Precision W2.
When we look at the SNR measured (131dB) we can see the W2 is quite a lot higher having 10dB more room than the BTR5 with 121dB SNR, so I am expecting the W2a bit more dynamic.
The first thing I am looking into is the power and distortion at high volume from BTR5 and W2 as they measured quite similarly. Interestingly the W2 sounds slightly fuller to me probably due to its tuning and it is also packing in more micro detail in the output especially in the mid-bass region.
The BTR5 is more enhanced towards playback time so it seems to have more constraints in squeezing out power compared to the W2 that may more easily drain some phones. The W2 is also able to hold together much nicer at higher volume while the BTR5 starts to distort and introduces noise sounding bloated.
Testing with different IEMs the W2 delivers more body to the mids as well as sounding richer, denser at all times. The BTR5 has a faster mid-bass impact and a generally cleaner mid frequency
With some sensitive IEMs like the Andromeda, the W2 and BTR5 have equal control and power but the W2 is larger in staging, bigger in the bass, and sounds more refined. When the load increases with the ME700, the BTR5 struggles to sound dynamic but the W2 can still hold up and sound full and airy, also more natural in tone.
It feels like the BTR5 is optimized for playback time so if you have earbuds and IEMs that are easier to drive and if you like a cleaner tuning, the BTR5 is a great wireless option. However, if you prefer a more natural and relaxing signature, the W2 comes in handy with a decent amount of output power and definition.
At just the expense of an entry-level DAP, you get to taste advanced DSP technologies and precisely tuned sound, with a good balance between musicality and technical performance in its base tuning.
The W2 is one of the more expensive dongles ever made, but it has proven to be a solid portable output with an overwhelming amount of DSP add-ons onboard.
It may not be exaggerated to say this is a DAP killer. If you already have a fast phone and sensitive earphones, the W2 could well turn it into a mid-tier DAP that could power quite a bunch of IEMs well.
Considering it is easier to stream Tidal or other services on phones this is certainly very appealing compared to carrying another device, and the power consumption is not too devastating with a low power consumption MCU that limits the power draw.
Everything else is done well on point and DSP profiles are practical for different scenarios. At $299 this is the most comprehensively designed dongle with a sweet tuning and excellent technical capabilities, well done L&P!