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AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC

67% Positive Reviews
Rated #52 in Amp/DACs

Posted

Pros: neutral tonality; detailed; smooth; clean; clear; very good resolution; great sense of space and ambience; very good sound localization and dynamics

Cons: could use a bit more bass impact but not really lacking here, just neutral

Below is a review and comparison against a few other USB DAC/AMPs in the same price range.  Review pasted from a post I made in the Sennheiser HD 598 Impressions thread.

 

 

I've had my 598s for a few months now, and have been using them mostly with my iphone 6 and the E10K.  I've never been all that impressed with the E10K.  I think my iphone 6 sounds better.  Anyway, the E10K, I guess is decent for what it is and its price, but nothing about it really stands out as anything more than "decent" in terms of sound quality.  My primary reason for wanting to upgrade was that I think the E10K sounds a bit bright overall and a bit sharp at times in vocals, and lacks bass punch.  The bass boost helps with punch but sounds a bit muddy.  Vocals can sound a bit grainy at times.

 

So in comes the Dragonfly 1.2.  Blows the E10K away in every aspect, except for maybe volume.  I actually compared the Dragonfly 1.2 against a few other usb dac/amps (ibasso d-zero mk2, audioengine D3, cambridge audio dacmagic XS, and Meridian Explorer).  The Dragonfly 1.2 sounds better than all of them overall, with a noticeably higher level of accuracy and refinement to the sound.  Here's a  breakdown of what I liked and didn't like about each:

 

Audioquest Dragonfly (DF) 1.2:  Tested at 24/96 mode with Spotify 320Kbps files.  Excels in all aspects of the music.  Very neutral, clean, crisp, and smooth sound, top to bottom.  Very good resolution and accuracy.  Wide, spacious, 3 dimensional sound.  Very good detail but never harsh and always smooth.  Very good localization of sounds within the soundstage.  Very good dynamics, soft to loud.  Very good transparency.  Beautiful layering to the sound.  You hear everything, nothing is lost, and sounds just flow naturally into and out of the soundscape.  The only negative, and I'm nitpicking here, is that it could use a bit more bass impact for modern bass-driven, rhythmic genres like EDM, metal, and hip-hop.  It has a good neutral bass with some impact, but considering the 598s bass is light to neutral, it's not the best choice for those that listen to these types of genres.  Then again, neither are the 598s, so really I think the dragonfly has a very neutral and accurate bass, and any lack of bass drive or rhythm is more a fault of the 598s than the dragonfly, IMO.

 

When testing, I don't have a sequence of songs I listen to.  I just go with whatever I feel like, but I tend to pick songs I'm very familiar with and vary the songs between different genres to get a broad picture of the equipment's abilities.  When I plugged in the dragonfly, I was so excited to hear what it sounded like that I just hit play on the first song on the screen.  It was a slower Ed Sheeran song, with his vocals featured and of course guitar.  The vocals really stood out.  Airy, transparent, as if he was singing right in front of my face.  Don't recall Ed's vocals ever sounding this good before.  Janis Joplin, Woodstock Experience, was a showcase of not only her vocals, but the spacious and wide soundstage.  The Dragonfly 1.2 does a superb job of reproducing the ambience and nuances of the recording.  The more I listened to the DF, the more it revealed how excellent of a DAC it is, and the more I appreciated what it could do.  Percussion instruments especially come through with impact and accuracy.  High hats and cymbals sound more realistic than any other DAC/AMP I've heard.

 

Audioengine D3:  Tested at 24/96 mode with Spotify 320Kbps files.  I fell in love with this DAC/AMP right away, primarily because I was looking for more bass and less brightness than the E10K, and the D3 has the most fun and rhythmic presentation of all I tried.  The bass on the D3 really stands out in terms of impact and it's fairly tight overall.  It changed the character of the 598s from a headphone that's better for slower music to one that's actually fun to listen to with faster, bass-driven music like EDM and hip-hop.  The juicy bass also improves the experience with classic rock and other genres as well.  I spent a good hour and half just listening to various tracks for the pure fun of it.

 

That being said, the D3 loses out in many other aspects of the musical presentation.  For one, its organic, warm, bassy tonality, comes at the expense of some detail, resolution, and transparency.  Some sounds get lost in the music.  Treble is far too relaxed.  Dynamics are poor (sounds are compressed into almost the same volume).  Soundstage is rather small and compressed as well.  Surprisingly, vocals on some tracks don't sound as smooth as the DF 1.2, and have a certain edge to them.  So other than the fun, bassy, rhythmic factor, the D3 has less going for it than most of the other DAC/AMPs I tried.

 

Meridian Explorer:  Tested at 24/192 mode with Spotify 320 Kbps files.  The Explorer sounded very good overall.  I would rank it 2nd behind the DF in overall sound quality.  It's a bit smoother and less detailed than the DF in the treble, and maybe has a tiny bit more bass impact.  The 2 are fairly close sounding.  However, the DF excels at all the things I mentioned above in its review.  The Explorer seems to have just a bit less of everything else, but still very good in its own right.  Also, considering it's about 2.5 times larger than the DF, I was expecting a more powerful amplifier, but surprisingly, it was the weakest amp of the bunch.  Had to have it at 50-60% for moderately loud volume, whereas the DF would be around 30-40% for the same volume level.  So very good sound quality overall, but doesn't impress like the DF does.

 

Cambridge Audio DACmagic XS:  Tested at 24/192 mode with Spotify 320 Kbps files.  Has a very good, clean, smooth sound to it.  However, nothing about this DAC/AMP really stood out or impressed.  Everything was good, but not great.  Bass impact was just okay.  Treble didn't shine.  Resolution was just average.  Soundstage was not immersive  Vocals were pretty good, smooth and full.  Again, other than a nice, clean, smooth sound, nothing about the musical presentation really stood out or impressed.  For that reason, this was the DAC/AMP I listened to the least.  I prefer the sound of my iphone 6 over this, but probably prefer the XS over the E10K.

 

iBasso D-Zero MK2:  Tested at 24/96 and 16/44.1 modes with Spotify 320 Kbps and iphone 6 (as AMP only).  So this is a full blown portable headphone amp and dac with battery, unlike the simple inline USB dac/amps above.  Obviously, this one had the most power, volume, and drive.  In terms of SQ, it sounded very good and organic when used as only an amp connected to headphone jack of my iphone 6.  You could really crank the volume and feel the rhythm and drive of the music, and the vocals had a weighty full sound to them.  This was actually my 2nd favorite listening experience behind the Dragonfly connected to PC.  The Explorer had the 2nd best overall sound quality from the PC, but the D-zero connected to the iphone 6 was the 2nd best overall sound experience, primarily due to the rhythm, drive, and full, rich, organic sound.  I still prefer the detail, resolution, spaciousness, and accuracy of the Dragonfly, overall.

 

The real test of the D-zero came when I used both its amp and dac, plugged into my PC.  Initially, I had set the mode to 24/96.  I listened to some 90s EDM tunes and immediately noticed that the music sounded too bright.  There is a wide range of the treble that is accentuated over that of the mids and bass.  The D-zero also had pretty good bass impact, but it's overshadowed by the brightness.  I found myself cranking the volume to feel that good bass a bit, but then things sounded too bright, and I found myself lowering the volume which lead to not feeling the bass as much.  Some songs even sounded a bit harsh.  Of all dacs, this was the one that lead to listening fatigue rather quickly.  Changing the mode to 16/44.1 for music seemed to lessen the brightness a bit, but it was still obviously too bright.  Still, the brightness isn't terribly excessive, and I can see some folks with less sensitivity to high frequencies, or ones using warmer or darker sounding headphones, actually enjoy this amp/dac very much.  The brightness does lift a veil off of the 598s and increases transparency.  I particularly enjoyed it when watching movies as I heard little details in the background that I didn't hear with other dac/amps.  Overall, I think the Dragonfly is a much better DAC, while the D-zero is a much better amplifier.

 

In conclusion, the Dragonfly 1.2 is the best dac/amp combo I've tried yet under $150 (current prices).  It excels in virtually all aspects of the musical presentation, whereas the others had more shortcomings, or had not much about them that really stood out.  I highly recommend if you're looking for a small portable, usb dac/amp for use with a computer, that you definitely at least try the Dragonfly 1.2 with any others you're considering

Posted

Pros: small form factor, great build quality, LED sample rate indicator, clear smooth sound signature

Cons: a bit pricy considering some competition, not a robust usb otg support (though, not intended by design)

Before I start my review, I would like to Thank AudioQuest for providing me with a review sample of their product in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

No matter how much I enjoy listening to music from a portable DAP or a smartphone, laptop is still a very important part of my personal entertainment, and I'm not giving up on it especially since nothing can substitute for me a physical keyboard!  Unfortunately, my laptop audio performance is subpar which becomes painfully noticeable whenever I use premium headphones trying to play higher res audio.  It's a common problem recognized by a number of manufacturers with their own USB DAC/amp solutions in a form of a small external usb device used like an external audio card.  In the past few months I had an opportunity to review a number of such products, but after every review I have been asked to compare it to Dragonfly - a portable device that started its journey almost 3 years ago and paved a way for a lot of other similar products.  Now, over a year after their hardware update to v1.2, I got an opportunity to review this friendly insect and would like to share with you about its infectious soundbite!

 

Starting with a packaging, the first thing you notice is a colorful image of dragonfly on the cover.  I typically don’t analyze a product name since often it’s a boring mixture of letters and number, but I actually found it here to be rather unique.  Furthermore, I think it was brilliant how their projected this image even further by having a custom shaped “dragonfly” led with changing colors corresponding to a sample rate (more about it later).  I found a read around the box to be quite educational to learn about the product description, capabilities and features.  Basically, you can familiarize yourself with DragonFly USB DAC even before taking it out.

 

Out of the box, you will find a dense foam tray with a cutout for the Dragonfly DAC and the included leather case.  Typically I would find a case for usb-stick size device to be an add-on filler, but here it looked and felt like a premium accessory which I’m definitely planning to use moving forward with this USB DAC.  I know, this is only a small pocket case, but the level of details with a neat stitching around it and stamped dragonfly logo with a model and a company name was very impressive.  Plus, it will protect soft touch finish of the DAC when not in use.  Another must-have accessory worth mentioning is DragonTail 4” usb extender.  This is NOT included with DragonFly and has to be purchased separately, but I really hope that moving forward AudioQuest will consider adding it as a bonus with their DAC (considering competitive pricing of other similar products).

 

DragonTail is not just an accessory for convenience.  DragonFly itself comes with a built-in full size usb connector (covered with protective dust cap) which requires you plugging it into your laptop/PC/Mac, etc.  Often due to adjacent usb ports or location on the back, it’s not always convenient to have a device plugged in directly, so extension helps mitigate this problem.  At the same time you have to remember that AudioQuest is a well known company that also makes top quality digital and audio cables.  A cable is a conductor with multiple wires where a proper isolation of power and data lines while keeping it further away from a noisy motherboard of your laptop will improve signal integrity and EMI interference.  The effect could be subtle, but keep in mind there is a good reason why bringing out audio digitally from your laptop to process analog part externally yields cleaner audio signal.  Thus, I would strongly recommend getting DragonTail as an accessory to DragonFly.  Plus, if not paying attention, it’s easy to disengage DragonFly by accident from your host usb socket if you pull on headphone chord by mistake.  With USB extension cable you have more flexibility if you pull on a chord by accident.

 

Unboxing and accessories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first impression you get when holding DragonFly in your hand is how much it resembles an ordinary USB stick.  It has very similar dimensions with full size usb connector on one end (and a traditional dust cap), and 3.5mm headphone jack on the other end.  The build is very solid and has a little bit of weight to it, definitely feels sturdy.  By feeling a slightly colder surface, I'm pretty sure the shell is made out of aluminum or some lightweight alloy, and it has a soft touch rubbery finish similar to ThinkPad laptops (perfect match for me since I only use ThinkPads).  Also, right in the middle of the module there is an emblem of a dragonfly with DragonFly name above it.  What is really cool, the emblem is a hidden led in a shape of a dragonfly that lights up in different colors to reflect sample rate of your source: 44.1kHz (green), 48kHz (blue), 88.2kHz (amber), 96kHz (magenta).

 

 Design details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One might wonder, what can you possibly pack inside of such a small footprint?  Well, apparently you can stuff it with ESS Sabre DAC, analog volume control (controlled through computer with 60-position resolution), and analog output buffer section.  Furthermore, it supports asynchronous Class 1 USB data transfer using some proprietary protocol which enhances performance of digital audio.  Personally, I prefer to make my final judgment of a sound quality based on what I hear with my own ears rather than fancy design terminology, but I was still impressed that AudioQuest provided details of the design unlike some other companies that prefer to keep it as a "black box".

 

Connection to my laptop was flawless, and after initial "pair up" of installing/checking all the necessary Windows drivers, it worked in a true instantaneous plug'n'play fashion with the last volume setting being recalled upon each plug in.  I don't have any high impedance headphones to confirm, but with most of my IEMs and headphones I didn't have to raise volume higher than 1/4 of the way, but you can pump it pretty loud with a linear performance and no distortion.  One unique feature of DragonFly is that you can enjoy variable volume output while adjusting the level through your audio player and/or computer system.  But once you set the output of both audio player and computer to a maximum level, you can feed it directly to external portable amp or desktop preamp/AV receiver.  It wasn't clear to me if internal amp gets disabled at maximum volume output, acting like a typical LO, but I assume the intention of that was to avoid double amping.

 

Connected to laptop.

 

 

 

 

 

One feature that is not advertised as part of DragonFly spec is their compatibility with smartphones.  The original intent of DragonFly design was to provide a pure USB DAC functionality, but with support of USB OTG connectivity offered by so many smartphones - it begs to give it a try, which is exactly what I did with my Galaxy Note 4.  There are a lot of variables in this equitation, depending on DAC and power requirements of DragonFly as well as USB OTG support of your phone, and eventually I was able to get it to work but only while using USB Audio Player Pro app (free demo available from Google Play).  It was truly a joyful moment to get it to work with my phone, but results will vary (and might not always work) with different phones and Android OS versions.  Considering an expected improved support of USB Audio with the latest Android 5.x (Lollipop), I'm looking forward to test it again once the official updates start to roll out for Note 4 on Verizon (I prefer to stay stock, rather than rooted).  But in general, USB OTG feature is not fully supported by DragonFly v1.2.

 

With Note 4.

 

 

 

After this introduction of design features and functionality, the only remaining question is how does it sound and if it provides any improvement over the HO of laptop/PC?  Without even a slight hesitation in my answer - the sound improvement over my laptop headphone output is definitely noticeable.  Everything from an improved texture of the bass to a full body of mids and crispier treble shows a big step up from my stock laptop sound.  In more details, bass extends down to a warm texture of sub-bass and adds a more aggressive mid- bass punch to drive low end with more authority.  Lower mids get thicker with more body and improvement in tonality, especially making both male and female vocals more organic.  Upper mids are clear and detailed, but still smooth and warm.   Treble gets a better extension, but remains smooth and not offensive for extended listening.  Soundstage gets a little bit more airy with improved depth, definitely above average, while width remains just average.  Sound remains smooth and balanced, a little more on a warm side but still with plenty of detail retrieval.  It's not exactly bright/analytical, but still very detailed with a nice balance across entire spectrum.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC and actually found it to pair up nicely with many of my neutral and brighter sound sig IEMs/headphones.  As I mentioned in my intro, I had a chance to review quite a few different USB DACs, and in general found some subtle audio differences with sound among them being either relatively brighter or darker/smoother and some variations in a level of soundstage width/depth or the amount of power they can pump out.  But often a final decision comes down to a difference in extra features and build/design preferences.  Nothing is 100% perfect, but some offer more robust compatibility with smart devices while others more features like dedicated volume knob or gain switch.  I can't judge improvement of DragonFly v1.0 vs v1.2 since I never tested the original one, but I can tell you with certainty this latest release from AudioQuest really stands out with a smooth/warm-ish and detailed sound signature and a rather unique design which going to capture attention with its compact footprint and clever sample rate dragonfly led indicator.  I also think its build quality and size is perfect for traveling, including that really cool leather storage sleeve.  Sound improvement is always subjective when comparing to the original HO of your laptop/PC, and you also have to consider a synergy with your particular set of headphones, but I definitely recommend giving DragonFly USB DAC a try to check it out how it works in your setup!

Posted

Pros: Looks nice, Slight difference in sound

Cons: Expensive, Difference in sound is hardly noticeable.

I paid around $120 for this device and felt pretty underwhelmed by it's performance.

 

At work, i use a bog standard dell pc with an on board sound card (which one would presume is not of great quality). When i plugged in the DragonFly - I noticed a slight (and i mean ever so slight) difference in sound but I could not tell if that was a good thing or not. It certainly sounded a little different, but did it sound better? I'm not so sure.

 

I have a variety of different headphones:

 

HiFiMan RE-400

Sennheiser hd 25

HiSound-Audio Crystal

 

And to my ears i could not hear a noticeable difference in sound quality. I compared the device to my Macbook Pro and (in my opinion) the Macbook actually sounds slightly better (the sound stage is wider and the bass is punchier).

 

I wanted to like the Dragonfly - it's well made and looks nice plugged into my computer. However for the price it was just not worth it. Spending the money on some improved headphones would have been more worth while.

 

I cannot recommend this device based on my experience. Would be great to hear the thoughts of others if they have owned this device.

Posted

Pros: Detail

Cons: Crackling, Sibilance

First all, my main source of music is Youtube videos because lately I think that video and music have evolved into a multimedia performance and I really enjoy very much the video experience as a whole. The previous statement implies that I have little or no control into how the music stream is encoded, compressed or whether I can get bit-pure music, which I cannot and thus I am not interested in.

 

This review then is based solely on listening tests as to the fitness of this device for the above scenario.

 

As for the test, as soon as I plugged the Dragonfly, I compared the sound to the headphone output on my PC, things looked more crisp and detailed, but I did not notice much difference. I tried the DragonFly with three cans: Sennheiser 280 PRO, Sony MDR-7506 and AKG-K501. Upon listening got more detail and the 280PRO as well as the MDR-7506 seemed to work well, but the K-501 mid-range became just too revealing of artifacts, still musical but just weird artifacts.

 

Next I plugged behind the DragonFly a tiny Bravo Audio V1 tube amplifier. Things got much better in that I got a sweeter sound and the bass became more rolled, but still punchy when needed. So, mostly the tube stage improved things.

 

I then left the combo PC+DragonFly+Bravo V1+K-501 running unattended for about a week continuously. During the long run I would occasionally pick up the cans, to check the sound. A couple of times I would find a very messy bass sound, full of crackling and distortion. I tried fixing it via volume tweaking, but the only fix I could find was to unplug the DragonFly, plug it back in and keep going. This way I would get back a cleaner sound. I am in no position to understand whether the root cause was the Dragonfly, but the smell seems to point to it.

 

After a couple of weeks I decided to switch my configuration from the PC to a Macbook Retina I have. I first tried Macbook+DragonFly+Bravo V1+K-501 and things worked well, no surprises, but at this point I was becoming a bit allergic to constant ear fatigue I was having with the setup. So, I decided to swap things in and out.

 

In the end, I simply removed the DragonFly from the setup, such that I would have Macbook+Bravo V1+K-501. The resulting setup, greatly removed most of the bad effects I was hearing, like unclean bass, crackling and sibilance. This simpler setup yielded a much more musical sound to my ears and something where my listening sessions would last at least twice as long before incurring in ear fatigue.

 

So, my conclusions were: 1) The Macbook seems to have a much better on-board DAC than my PC. 2) The Macbook DAC is more musical than the DragonFly, so no need for it.

 

I decided to return the device as I cannot stand a session longer than 5 minutes with it at this point.

Posted

Pros: Price to performance ratio, SQ, Form Factor, Simplicity of Use

Cons: Digititis, Ringing

Review Setup

 

AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC

 

Schiit VALHALLA 2 amp

 

Grado Labs GS1000e headphones

 

Tributaries 2YP-MFF Y cable

 

AudioQuest Golden Gate interconnects

 

 

The DragonFly is a good match with the Valhalla 2, this DAC lives up to the hype surrounding it. I must admit I had my doubts about the DragonFly but don't let the small form factor thumb stick looks fool you go out and get one but keep the receipt. I don't like the DragonFly as a standalone DAC/AMP the sound has a ringing in my ear kind of digititis signature. Match the DragonFly to the "exceptionally accurate, neutral, and resolving, without being strident or etched" kind of amp like the Valhalla 2 and Ride, captain ride, Upon your mystery ship, Be amazed at the friends, You have here on your trip. The synergy is a Lit-Up sound, this combo is euphonic and vivid to my ear in a way the helps trigger an emotional connection. My Decware Zen Head amp paired with the DragonFly sound is not as Lit-Up or Hot, the sound is cooler and the euphoria factor falls but the technicalities of the sound are better and more balanced.  

AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC
Description:

AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2: Now With Even Better Sound, Just as Easy to Use, Plus It's More Affordable! Plug the DragonFly 1.2 Directly Into Your Laptop and Listen Through Your Headphones, Run a Mini-to-RCA Cable from the AudioQuest DragonFly to Your Stereo System and Hear Your Music Come to Life, or Connect the DragonFly 1.2 to Any Powered Desktop Speakers for Incredible Sound Quality While You Work The AudioQuest DragonFly 1.2: Winner of Product of the Year Awards from Almost Every High-End Audio Magazine in the World! "I can think of no more recommendable product in digital audio." - Art Dudley, Stereophile The new DragonFly added the color, texture, body, and soul that the older model missed...the v1.2 added a richer, more colorful midband, improved spatial abilities, and a greater sense of ease. Cool stuff!" - Stephen Mejias, Stereophile, March 2014 The audiophile community is buzzing about the new AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2. This tiny USB Digital-to-Analog Converter now features upgraded circuitry. Just like v1.0, Dragonfly v1.2 connects to the USB jack on any Mac- or Windows-based computer and delivers vastly superior sound quality. Stuffed with state-of-the-art features, DragonFly provides unbeatable sound quality. Dragonfly v1.2 has a more direct signal path, yielding huge dividends in transparency and immediacy. The power supply has also been reworked, now more efficient and powerful, DragonFly v1.2 has superior "grip" and even greater dynamic contrast. It's also extremely affordable and incredibly portable. Still incredibly easy to use, DragonFly installs quickly and pain-free. You could be listening to better audio in minutes, put a DragonFly v1.2 in your system and upgrade your listening experience. "The Dragonfly Is dead, long live the Dragonfly v1.2. AudioQuest has managed to do something no other company has yet accomplished which is to swat their own product off our Greatest Bits list by delivering what

Details:
DetailValue
BindingElectronics
BrandAudioquest
EAN0092592083462
FeatureConnects directly to headphones, powered speakers or an amplifier for stunning audio User-selectable for either a Variable or a Fixed output Sophisticated Asynchronous USB Audio Data Transfer 24-bit/96kHz capability 64-position analog volume control
LabelAUDIOQUEST
ManufacturerAUDIOQUEST
Model15660
MPN15660
PublisherAUDIOQUEST
StudioAUDIOQUEST
TitleAUDIOQUEST - DRAGONFLY V1.2 USB DAC
UPC092592083462
Item Height0 inches
Item Length0 inches
Item Width0 inches
Package Height1.1 inches
Package Length9.06 inches
Package Weight0.35 pounds
Package Width6.38 inches
PackageQuantity1
PartNumber15660
ProductGroupCE
ProductTypeNameCE_ACCESSORY
UPCList - UPCListElement092592083462
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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