1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.

    Dismiss Notice

AudioQuest DragonFly Asynchronous USB DAC

  • DragonFly is an affordable and easy-to-use device that delivers far superior sound by bypassing the poor quality sound card that is built into your computer. DragonFly is a sleek, flash drive sized Digital-Audio Converter that connects to a USB jack on a Mac® or Windows® PC, turning any computer into a true high- fidelity music source.Whether you're on the go or at home, listening on ear buds or connecting your computer to a stereo system, DragonFly reveals all the emotional expression and nuance that makes your favorite music, or movies, so enjoyable. However you connect it, DragonFly simply and easily makes any computer sound better.How DragonFly Does ItThe heart of DragonFly is the 24-bit ESS SabreTM conversion chip, a high-performance solution that's typically found in better CD and Blu-ray DiscTM players. DragonFly can accept audio and music files ranging from MP3s and CD-standard 16-bit/44kHz to native 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution, regardless of music file format. If your computer's software can recognize and play a format, DragonFly will make it sound its best.However, high-quality digital-audio conversion alone isn't why DragonFly sounds great. How the audio data is transferred from the computer to DragonFly required particular attention from DragonFly's design team. Remember that digital audio is stored on computers and delivered to DragonFly as streams of 1's and 0's. Making beautiful music out of 1's and 0's isn't a case of simply getting all the music data from point A to Point B. Maintaining subtle digital timing relationships is crucial in order to be able to reconstruct the analog waveform that we hear as dialog or music.Timing errors have long been the plague of digital audio playback, never more so than in recent years as computers have been pressed into service as audio source components. DragonFly uses a very sophisticated "asynchronous*" USB audio data transfer protocol.

Recent Reviews

  1. dramophone
    good dac; soundly beats my laptop's internal dac but it has some form factor issues and i hear hiss on my iems
    Written by dramophone
    Published Oct 14, 2015
    Pros - good sound, works with usb on linux, windows, and android
    Cons - hiss on my sr-535's, only accepts 24-bit input, volume on sr-535's ranges from pretty loud to intolerable
    i've had this dac for a while and it was a major upgrade from the internal dac on my laptop.
    the imaging is much better, the bass is much more well defined, the trebles don't tear, and the mids don't cloud out the entire rest of the dynamic range.
    while there is hiss on my sr-535 iems, it isn't intolerable - it is mostly only audible when the source volume dips particularly low.
    at the lowest volume setting (zero) the audio is barely a whisper in the 535's, but kick it up one step and it is much, much louder. there isn't really any in-between and sometimes, for background listening, i would really like an in-between. beyond about 5 it's just painful.
    the other major problem with the module is the design. it sticks straight out of the usb port and having a headphone cable attached at the end of a stick causes a lot of flex that could potentially damage the port. so i had to buy a usb right-angle adapter for the device and make a metal support bracket to keep it from torquing apart my usb port in it's new orientation parallel to my laptop's chassis.
    it's nice to have the usb-otg support for android. i've used it on my phone and it sounds great but the form factor makes it a little ridiculous. it always elicits comments, "why do you need ANOTHER headphone jack on your phone?" the response to which is, of course, just because it looks the same doesn't mean it SOUNDS the same. but that doesn't make it look any less hilarious to have a giant usb stick protruding from the bottom of a phone.
    it would be nice if the device could handle 16 bit audio natively. seems like a bit of an oversight to handle several different sampling rates but decide not to implement something as simple as bit depth scaling in hardware. i'm seriously not intending to make so many puns in this review.
    even with all these gripes, i'm not dissatisfied with my purchase. it's tiny, portable, compatible with most of my devices, and it sounds great, especially for the price point.
  2. maeschba
    Spectacular sounding small device
    Written by maeschba
    Published Oct 26, 2014
    Pros - Excellent sound, no driver needed, superb build quality.
    Cons - None
    The DragonFly v1.2 sounds clearly superior to my laptop's built-in Realtek HD chip. There is no driver installation needed and I had no problems to use it on Windows, Linux, and MacOS X. The analog volume control works with the OS' volume control. With Debian Linux I experienced once that changing from the built-in sound to the DragonFly put the later on max. volume, which is ear-damaging loud... so beware.
    To my ears, the DragonFly sounds better than the X3 in USB DAC mode and far better than my laptop's built-in sound card. If you're looking for a small USB DAC that can be used with any OS, I heartly recommend you check out the DragonFly v1.2.
    PS: The 'Review Details' don't show as expected. I would rate 'Audio Quality' 10/10, 'Quality' 10/10 and 'Value' 9/10.
      yannisgk likes this.
    1. Insatiable One
      better than an X3 in DAC mode? are you sure? just curious. I use a DX90 :)
      Insatiable One, Oct 26, 2014
    2. maeschba
      I like it better, yes. The DragonFly sounds fuller to my ears. Also with 24bit/192kHz files (the DragonFly only goes up to 24bit/96kHz). The difference between the X3 and the DragonFly as USB-DAC is more like that between two hi-res DAP's (X3 & DX90). The difference between the DragonFly and the built-it Realtek HD chip like that between a hi-res DAP and a cheap mobile phone.
      maeschba, Oct 27, 2014
  3. jmsaxon69
    Outstanding value and performance in a small package
    Written by jmsaxon69
    Published May 27, 2013
    Pros - Bang for the buck
    Cons - Easy to lose?
    The only other piece I have owned that is similar is a Head Room Total Bithead. Being that the DF is MUCH smaller and does 24/96 I'd say there isn't much comparison at all as far as a computer interface goes. On the other hand the Total Bithead ran on batteries and could be used with my iPod on the go. I liked the Head Room image processing very much, why don't other manufacturers make similar systems? Is it considered a gimmick or a sham of some sort? Anyway... I am very much in the honeymoon phase with the DF and listen to 24/96 material almost exclusively through a brand new pair of Sennheiser Momentums Black which aren't even broken in yet.  So far so good!
  4. Loquah
    Amazing for the size and price
    Written by Loquah
    Published Jan 10, 2013
    Pros - Tiny, no USB cable required, great sound, easy setup and ASIO4ALL compatibility
    Cons - None that I can see
    I'll update this once I get my UM Miracles back to really put it through its paces, but the Dragonfly sounds incredible driving my BeoLab 3 (active) speakers.
    Super easy setup - literally plug and play. I'm using it with ASIO4ALL and it blows away any other USB-powered DACs I've heard. Connected to my BeoLab 3s it's easily on par with my Audio0gd NFB-5.2 in terms of soundstage and transparency.
    More to come when I can drive some IEMs and headphones with it
  5. Alexsander
    Amazing device!!!! I very happy use AQ DF!
    Written by Alexsander
    Published Oct 16, 2012
    Pros - Image, soundscape, powerfull deep bass, hight quality body
    Cons - None
    Amazing device!!!! I very happy use AQ DF![​IMG]
  6. scrypt
    People keep saying it's the size of a thumb drive. . . .
    Written by scrypt
    Published Sep 27, 2012
    Pros - "Wull, I got me a new thumb DAC and, uh, works real good, and it gots a purty blue critter on the side that somebody painted on thar. . . ."
    Cons - "I had tuh save muh hard-earned shekels tuh plunk down thar jest tuh take the dang thang home. . . ."
    But why are there no forefinger drives?  Why, why, in the name of Western Digit-Skull?
      PTom likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Digital-Pride
      Ah, I see. Thanks for the explanation.
      Digital-Pride, Sep 27, 2012
    3. suburbanite
      You can get a hand drive! AKA an external hard drive. It doesn't have a DAC or AMP, though... just memory, and what good is that?
      suburbanite, Dec 19, 2013
    4. suburbanite
      You can get a hand drive! AKA an external hard drive. It doesn't have a DAC or AMP, though... just memory, and what good is that?
      suburbanite, Dec 19, 2013
  7. TinHead88
    Great little device with refined sound
    Written by TinHead88
    Published Aug 4, 2012
    Pros - DAC quality, portability, value
    Cons - Single output
    When I was looking recently at upgrading the sound in my main listening room I researched DACs and found some useful info at head-fi so I thought I'd contribute by writing a review on what I decided to go with. I don't have a lot of history in high end audiophile investments but I know good sound when I hear it :wink:

    For reference I was using an Apogee Duet FireWire audio interface with an Arcam AVR 250 and some Orpheus Nexus 1.5 loudspeakers. The source is a Mac Mini. The Duet has now been replaced by the Dragonfly and I'm surprised how immediate the improvement was. I'm not versed in the audiophile terminology so I'll just tell it how I hear it. The first thing that jumped out at me was the better definition in the bass which I was really not expecting. I thought the slightly wooly bass was due to porting and speaker positioning which I couldn't do much about. The Dragonfly has really improved this situation making bass much more dynamic and tuneful.

    Another immediate impression was greater clarity across the whole spectrum. I could hear more details in music like the space of the reverbs used on the vocals and I could follow individual instruments much more easily even with a lot of competition from other sounds elements. There seemed to be a more defined soundstage too. I would say the Dragonfly is a little brighter sounding than the Duet but it's never harsh in the high frequencies. I think the clarity comes from the better conversion (although the Duet is highly regarded in pro audio circles). I should also add that my system probably benefitted from a more accurate expression of high frequencies as the amp speaker combo is a little on the mellow side (which I quite like). I think the Duet has been described as analog sounding by some. Don't get me wrong though, the Dragonfly is not harsh or digital or emphasised in the higher frequencies, just perhaps more accurate than warm in my opinion. Perhaps the controversial issue of burn-in will change things. I'll report back if I can determine such an effect but to be honest I'm not sure about some of the delicate intricacies that some people talk about with high end gear. There are so many factors that can influence your impression of sound at any given time.

    The headphone output didn't drive my Beyer DT 990 Pros (250 ohm) as well as the headphone output of the Arcam but I suspect there may be a lot of different outcomes with various headphones. The sound was good but a bit thinner and crisper (which is not desireable if you know the DT 990s). Then again I think the Beyers would probably pair well with a tube amp to reduce their slightly exaggerated high frequency response which always seems to become more apparent with lesser amps. They sounded really bright with the headphone output of the Duet.

    Overall I'm very happy with this little package. I'd be interested to hear comparisons to some other DACs below $700 like the Dacmagic +, Yulong D100, Bitfrost, etc . Unfortunately I don't have access to other DACs but it seems there are some enthusiasts here with experience of many DACs that will be curious. I think the Dragonfly might end up setting a new standard at the price.
    1. budget minded
      i heard the dragonfly on a PC system with a mcormack amp and i think a tube preamp on a pair of vandersteen model 5s and was surprised at just how warm and relaxed the sound was with decent imaging with the speakers 10 feet apart at that.
      i was looking for a review of the bitfrost though as i'll be needing a co-ax input, but for the price, especially if you have a PC system, the dragonfly is pretty refined sounding.
      budget minded, Jan 7, 2013
  8. Currawong
    Neat little DAC and headphone amp which is a good upgrade over onboard sound and does a decent job driving headphones.
    Written by Currawong
    Published Jun 26, 2012
    Pros - Size! Great sound. Internal analogue volume control. Drives headphones & even sensitive IEMs well. Almost no hiss at max. volume.
    Cons - No extension cable by default. Gets congested with complex music. USB power has its limits. Doesn't work with iPad camera kit.
    One could be forgiven, I reckon, of feeling that new products are just manufacturers re-inventing the wheel and that there is nothing really new under the sun in audio. Indeed at least one product I want to write about is pretty much just that -- a manufacturer's own take on portable audio and, in many respects, not a particularly unique or interesting one.
    Audioquest's Dragonfly isn't unique in a couple of aspects: It's not the very first thumb-drive-sized USB sound card and Audioquest aren't the first cable company to start making and selling digital audio gear. What makes it special (other than the funky dragonfly-shaped LED on top that changes colour depending on sample rate) is that it is designed to delivery high-quality sound and do a do a reasonable job with headphones considering it relies on USB power. This is via, among other things, via an ESS Sabre DAC and and an analogue volume control which is controlled via the computer's output volume setting.
    For something that can slip into my shirt pocket and costs a buck shy of $250 it does the one important thing we all care about: Sound good. Using my Symphones Magnums (which are similar but more resolving than most Grados) it provides a solid upgrade to the headphone out of my MacBook Pro with a very engaging and dynamic sound delivery. The downside is that it sounds a bit flat compared to more serious equipment and the soundstage compresses with complex music such as Shpongle. It was surprisingly satisfying with more relaxed music however, such as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing Beethoven's Piano Concertos 3, 4 & 5. It did have a bit of initial harshness in the treble that went away with use.
    I got out my most sensitive IEMs, the Hifiman RE-ZEROs to test for hiss. With the volume at maximum, there was only the very slightest amount of hiss, certainly not enough to be an issue in the slightest. I expect that, unless there is a detrimental effect from other laptops, that the Dragonfly wont have any issues with other, very sensitive IEMs. I also tried my Sony XBA-3s, which have a very weird impedance spike in the treble and are good for testing for linearity in the amplification. Some amps cannot handle this properly and the result is often exceedingly bright treble. There were no such issues with the Dragonfly.
    To give it a run as a DAC, I plugged in into my lab-grade Vaunix USB hub and connected it to my Stax rig. This seemed to be a bit of an improvement over the USB port of my MacBook Pro. Since the hub has better quality power this was no surprise. The resulting sound quality I'd say was about that of my Fostex HP-P1 when used in a similar fashion -- quite good and enjoyable to listen to, if not as dynamic as my main rig. Interestingly, the cost of the Fostex is about the same as that of the Dragonfly + hub.
    One popular question about this DAC is whether it will work with an iPad Camera Connection Kit, as some DACs will. Unfortunately, plugging it results in the "This device uses too much power." warning popping up, so unless one uses a hub, it's not going to work.
    Back before I joined Head-Fi I was using headphones straight out of the headphone port of whatever Mac I owned at any one time. I do wish the Dragonfly had been available, as it would have suited me perfectly. I reckon with a pair of basically good headphones, such as V-MODA M80s or one of the numerous offerings around the $200-300 mark, this would a be a great Head-Fi starter kit.


To view comments, simply sign up and become a member!