Customer Review

187 of 208 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very convenient, beautiful build quality, pretty good sound, October 4, 2012
This review is from: AudioQuest DragonFly USB Digital to Analog Converter (Black) Version 1.0 (Discontinued by Manufacturer) (Electronics)
Audioquest has definitely got a market winner with the Dragonfly, but I am a bit surprised at the rave reviews it gets.

The Pros:
1) Beautiful build quality (heavy metal covered with that rubbery coating)
2) Cool color change display (the logo changes color to show bit rate) is also very useful
3) Really small
4) Good volume control via computer
5) Doesn't need drivers
6) Good sound, and drives headphones quite well overall

The Cons:
1) Expensive
2) You've got a USB dongle to which you're going to attach a headphone wire....
if you plug the wire straight in and let it hang down, the USB plug is going to get sloppy sooner than later;
if you use a little USB extension cord, then that's more stuff to carry, and it isn't pocket sized any more.
3) GOOD sound, but not exceptional.

I have several DACs, in various price ranges, and I (and a few friends) found the Dragonfly "good but not exciting".
The sound is just a bit too "smooth", and the high end isn't quite as "airy" as it should be.
It doesn't make anything sound bad, and it probably will cover up a bit of the high frequency crud in poor quality recordings,
but recordings with nice clean high end sound a bit dull on the little guy, and slightly smoothed over.
Sure, it's worlds above the sound card in your computer, and better than the $39 FiiO, but let's not get carried away.
For example, the HRT HeadStreamer, not nearly as tiny, but HALF the price, sounds slightly better to me.
So, to sum up, for what it is (a really tiny DAC that sounds quite good), it's the only game in town.
If you buy it as your first DAC, you certainly won't be disappointed.....
but, if you shop around, and listen to alternatives, you CAN do better.
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Comments

Tracked by 8 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 45 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 6, 2012 2:54:16 PM PDT
Thanks for your informative review. I was on the fence about whether to try one of these, and think I will look at other budget DAC options.

Posted on Nov 25, 2012 5:50:06 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 25, 2012 5:53:16 AM PST
Joseph says:
Stereophile magazine just gave it two awards - Best Budget Component of the year and Best Computer Audio Component of the Year. If you can't get good sound out of it, you might be listening to it through sub-standard headphones.
I have the Dragonfly DAC and it is on par with my Grace Design M902 headphone amp/DAC as far as the quality of audio.
I would contact the manufacturer and try to get a replacement if I were you.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 25, 2012 3:13:43 PM PST
You're missing the point.... I didn't say that there is anything WRONG with the way the little guy sounds; it sounds just fine for a DAC in its price range - and it's quite good for a portable headphone amp. You will note that, in their original review, Stereophile said (in slightly different words) "it's a game changer.... but, of course, we aren't comparing it to REAL audiophile products here". I would agree that, when compared as "an outboard sound card", the Dragonfly is quite competitive - and better than most. Because of its convenient size it will appeal to many computer users, and will be a good deal for them. [Did you happen to notice any of the reviewers commenting that they were planning to get rid of their $2000 reference DAC and replace it with a Dragonfly? I doubt it.]

I sort of collect DACs (I also work for a company that manufactures and sells audio products, including DACs). The Dragonfly definitely sounds better than many DACs in its price range, but there are ones that cost less that sound better than it. I'm not saying that it's at all bad, just that it's highly overrated. It's a nice little $250 DAC with a GREAT marketing campaign behind it.... no more and no less.

I would rate the detail and such on the Dragonfly about equal to that on the Headstreamer, but it's rather "laid back" in sound. As such, I prefer the Headstreamer (which is half the price - but is also ten times the size). The Dragonfly is handy, and it's cute, and it sounds pretty good. It's similar sounding to the W4S Mini DAC, but not quite as good (not surprising since they both use the Sabre24). And I have several other DACs that cost a bit more than it (to a lot more) that are far better. I would say the Schiit Bifrost (which does cost a bit more and doesn't include a headphone amp) sounds a LOT better. The Emotiva XDA-1 (a full sized component, now discontinued, and clearanced at $200, sounded slightly better as well). If your Grace M902 doesn't sound a lot better than the Dragonfly (I haven't heard one, but they have a pretty good reputation) , then you spent WAY too much money on it :)

The Dragonfly is a brilliant piece of industrial design, and a decent little DAC - just don't get carried away.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 4, 2012 9:20:14 PM PST
MJCovher says:
I've been considering buying the Audioquest Dragonfly for use with my aged Stax SR-7 electrostatic headphones "earspeakers". Can you advise me regarding the most appropriate DAC for my situation. I happen to have a B&K ST-140 amp available to drive the Stax headphones and I think the Dragonfly can be used to pre-amplify the signal going to the amp ... I'm not sure about this though. You mention the Headstreamer, Schiit Bifrost, Emotiva XDA-1 - I am open to suggestions. I'll be using it on a Windows7 PC so the small size of the Dragonfly is not a selling point. Have you heard the NuForce Icon HDP headphone amp/DAC? I appreciate your input.

Posted on Feb 14, 2013 9:56:04 AM PST
As to your con of the USB port getting sloppy... that is why they made this. AudioQuest DragonTail USB 2.0 Extender

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 3:34:06 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2013 3:39:53 PM PST
Hmmmm. I had a NuForce uDac and, to be honest, I didn't think it sounded very good at all (but maybe the Icon is better?) In that price range, I would go with the Headstreamer; if you want to go up a bit, at the $400 point, I will recommend the Emotive XDA-2 (the XDA-1 is gone); it has a bunch of nice features, and sounds quite good, but it is a bit pricier at $399 {note that I work for Emo so I am a bit biased}. Either way, make sure that you get a DAC with a good, preferably analog, volume control since you are planning to connect it to a power amp, and so will be using the volume control on the DAC. (The Bifrost doesn't have a volume control, alas; the Headstreamer does have a nice analog volume control that is controlled by the computer's volume setting - which is rather elegant.)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 3:44:24 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2013 3:44:44 PM PST
re The Dragontail

Indeed, but my point was that part of the appeal of the DF is its diminutive size. If you need to use it with a wire, then it isn't as tiny as all that; which makes the size less of a big deal (sic). Yes, it's still small, but not AS small. (To me, it's kind of like those tiny little boxes that turn out to need a wall wart bigger than they are.) Actually, I'm sort of impressed that they priced the 'tail reasonably.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2013 11:36:11 PM PST
bobster says:
ok so let me see if I have this correct... there's a device I can plug into my computer and improve the quality of sound on my crappy sounding mp3 files?? I have a beefy NAD and was going to pass on getting a pair of Martin Logan's simply because all my music is on MP3 and I thought it would be a waste... I used to use SACD some years ago but since gave that up... I just started looking around for a practical solution to my dilemma and saw this review. seems a good DAC might bring my computer audio files atleast to a listenable level with my audio gear. Any comments would be appreciated. thanks guys - this has been a real eye opener. YAY!!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 1, 2013 7:27:24 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 1, 2013 7:29:44 PM PST
Errrrr, no.

The DAC is the part that converts the digital file into analog audio.
The DACs inside most computers (and sound cards) aren't very good.
This LIMITS the audio quality you can get out of them.

This means that, IF you're playing a good quality sound file (like a ripped CD or a hi-res audio file), and have good equipment to listen through, an outboard DAC will make it sound much better than the DAC in the computer.

However, if you are starting with something like an MP3 file, which is already "quality limited" to some degree or another, all a better DAC will do is allow it to sound as good as it possibly can. Since the DAC in most computers is pretty bad, an external one can make even some MP3 files sound a bit better, but most of them are so bad that nothing is going to help them. (In fact, if the file is really bad, all a better DAC will do is help you hear, precisely and beautifully, how bad it really is.)

A great DAC will NOT make a bad quality sound file (or stream) magically sound good. However, you may be surprised how much better a good quality sound file can sound with the right equipment. The Dragonfly is almost certainly a LOT better (noticeably) than the DAC inside most computers.

Now, the Dragonfly also includes a decent headphone amp, and THAT may make even a bad file sound a little bit better (because the headphone amps in most computers are even more awful than the DACs, and a better headphone amp will probably improve the quality of even poor quality MP3 files at least a little). But, of course, that only holds true if you're listening with headphones.

Again, there are certainly better, but the Dragonfly isn't bad.

Sadly, however, the way those MP3 files were made so nice and small was by throwing away a lot of the music, and it is gone for good.

Posted on Apr 24, 2013 11:57:08 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2013 12:04:01 PM PDT
Highstream says:
I've burned in and been listening through Emotiva airmotiv 4s to the Audioengine D1, microStreamer and Dragonfly lately, and just added a Micromega MyDac to the list, though it's too early to say anything definite. I don't know what I'll end up with, but I like the DF for one thing above all: it sounds like music. That's a big deal to me.

Compare it to the microStreamer, which is getting kudos for being more detailed and transparent than the DF. Who doesn't want detailed and transparent, etc.? The problem that bugged me from first listen is musically the Streamer's sound is consistently dry, and that's *not* tonally accurate (ask a musician). Of course, it's easy to be drawn into the breathiness of singers and instruments and depth and breadth of a soundstage, while missing that they don't sound like real singers and instruments do. That dryness, I've since read, is HRT's house sound. OTOH, the DF is getting knocked for not being as detailed, and for its forward, attacking style with a bit of a hard edge that makes longer listening sessions fatiguing. I can't speak to the headphone experience, but I don't hear it with the DFs on the airmotiv's. But then, I replaced the speakers' stock fuses with Supremes, which offered a really huge all around improvement - smoothness, staging, transparency, accuracy, etc. - including cutting that speakers' forwardness and bit of edge. Which suggests to me that the DF and forward sounding devices are probably not a good match.
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