This isn’t the first time Audio Pro has attempted to – ahem – link some music streaming smarts to your existing audio system. This Link 2 is the company’s latest effort and features a tidier look as well as some upgraded features in an effort to do the digital audio business.
In the time between the original Link and the new Link 2, though, it’s an idea that’s gained traction at what could reasonably be called the ‘entry-level’ of music streamer. So does the Link 2 have what it takes to stand out in what is suddenly a fairly competitive market?
The Audio Pro Link 2 is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom it’s available for £220, although prices vary across retailers – some list it as high as £270. You can pick one up in the United States for about $290, while customers in Australia will have to part with AU$480 (or something quite like it) to secure one.
We’ve recently tested the WiiM Pro Plus music streamer, and enjoyed it to the extent that we gave it a What Hi-Fi? Award for 2023. Given that the WiiM streamer sells for £219 in the U.K. (and $219 / AU$339 in the U.S. and Australia respectively), it’s obvious the Link 2 is going to have to make a strong case for itself if it’s going to justify its asking price.
Design & Build
There’s nothing wrong with small or functional in a product like this, of course, but nevertheless, it would be nice to get a little more of an impression of where your money’s gone, beyond the way the product performs. There’s not much of this with the Audio Pro Link 2, though, despite the fact that it’s perfectly competently made and finished, it looks a little cheap and feels cheaper still.
Audio Pro Link 2 tech specs
Sources Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth 4.2, Google Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Qobuz, Deezer, Amazon Music, Apple Music, vTuner, TuneIn
Network Wi-fi, Ethernet
Inputs Line-level stereo RCA, USB-A
Outputs Line-level stereo RCA, digital optical, digital coaxial
Headphone output? No
Dimensions (hwd) 3.6 x 18 x 12.6cm
It’s available in just one finish (dark grey) and at a tidy 36 x 180 x 126mm (hwd) it shouldn’t be too obtrusive on your kit rack in either visual or physical terms. The corners of the little cabinet are nicely rounded, and the capacitive touch controls on its top are sensitive and responsive. The controls available here include ‘power on/off’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’, ‘volume up/down’ and ‘play/pause’, while there are also four presets and controls for Bluetooth pairing and for scrolling through inputs. The fact that they’re in black on a dark grey background makes them a lot less legible than they might be, though. The same is true of the four LEDs on the front fascia – they indicate the selected input (wi-fi, Bluetooth, USB or line), but until you commit them to memory you’ve little chance of identifying what’s what.
You’re far better off with the Audio Pro Control app that’s free for iOS and Android. It may not be the most extensive or the most visually appealing, but you can at least see what you’re meant to be doing – and it’s very easy to integrate your music streaming service or services of choice too.
Wireless connectivity is via dual-band wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.2, while physical connections are on the rear panel. They run to stereo RCA ins and outs, an Ethernet socket, a USB-A slot, and coaxial and optical digital outputs. The line-level analogue input is particularly useful, as it allows you to hook up a source (like, say, a pre-amplified turntable) and then re-stream to other Audio Pro speakers you may have around your home.
Wireless functionality is the whole point here, of course, and, as well as (fairly ordinary) Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity with basic SBC and AAC codec compatibility, the Link 2 is also compatible with Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect and Tidal Connect. Setting up the Audio Pro in the first place is possible using Apple Home, Google Home or the Audio Pro Control app. The app also allows integration of numerous music streaming and internet radio services, including Qobuz, Apple Music, TuneIn, Amazon Music and vTuner. As far as installation and set-up are concerned, the Audio Pro Link 2 can be ready in a trice.
Details of what’s what on the inside of the Audio Pro aren’t all that forthcoming. Obviously there’s a digital-to-analogue convertor, as evidenced by the stereo RCA analogue outputs, but while the Link 2 is compatible with AAC, ALAC, FLAC, MP3 and WMA file formats, there’s no MQA support for Tidal. Similarly, the Audio Pro’s ability to wirelessly stream analogue information to other Audio Pro speakers means there’s some A-to-D conversion on board too, but there isn’t much in the way of specifics. The resolution of the internal DAC isn’t readily available either – we’ve reached out to the brand for more information and will update this review when we receive an answer.
There’s no arguing with the tonal balance or the scale of sound that’s on offer here. The Link 2 is a notably open listen – it doesn’t inhibit the soundstage of the equipment it’s paired with in the slightest, and won’t confuse it where organisation is concerned either. The spaciousness of its presentation allows even quite dense, congested recordings like I Follow You by Melody’s Echo Chamber an appreciable amount of elbow-room – the Audio Pro opens it up and ensures that every element of the song is kept at arm’s length from the others. That’s not at the expense of coherence or unity, though – the Link 2 presents the recording as a convincing whole.
And the tonal balance is enjoyable in its neutrality, too. At no point does the Audio Pro overtly stick its oar in or attempt to alter the balance of the song – it’s naturalistic in its tonality from the bottom of the frequency range to the top. Each area of the frequency range gets a nicely judged amount of emphasis, too, so the line from the bottom to the top is straight and smooth, with no areas of the frequency range understated or overplayed.
After that, though, the Link 2 starts to need just a few excuses making for it. Switching to a 16-bit/44.1kHz stream of Belle And Sebastian’s The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner reveals a slight, but definite, shortage of dynamic expression – everything that happens, according to the Audio Pro, happens at a fixed level of intensity from which it is very reluctant to deviate. And there’s a knock-on effect in the streamer’s relative lack of animation: it’s just not all that lively a listen, and sounds matter-of-fact where other, more engaged designs invest the recording with greater spirit and drive.
Along with this slight lack of passion, there are other slight shortages too. Detail levels, for example, are OK-but-nothing-special and the Link 2 isn’t the most enthusiastic when it comes to rhythms either. And this is in spite of the fact that it controls the attack and decay of bass sounds pretty well – it’s not blurring or low-frequency overhang that makes the Audio Pro an uncertain dancer.
None of these shortcomings are especially major, but they add up to a device that doesn’t sound quite as liberated or as attentive as it really should. And this is put into quite sharp relief when you hear what the very best £200-ish music streamers, such as the WiiM Pro Plus, can do…
This is a fuss-free way of bringing wireless streaming smarts to an audio system of a vintage, but the Link 2’s little deficiencies are made to sound significant by the best of its opposition.
Read our review of the WiiM Pro Plus
Also consider the step-up Cambridge Audio MXN10
Best music streamers: upgrade to a wireless system