AudioQuest - DragonFly Red USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier
- 32-Bit SABRE DAC
- 2.1v Output Drives Almost Any Headphones
- Works With Apple and Android devices when paired with a simple adapter
- Plays everything from MP3s to 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution files
- This versatile DAC improves everything – detail, transparency, immediacy, richness, tone
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|Item Dimensions||2.36 x 0.79 x 1.18 in||2 x 5.9 x 8.1 in||9.2 x 7.6 x 2.8 in||0.44 x 9.06 x 0.44 in||2 x 0.3 x 2 in||5 x 3 x 2 in|
Stupendous-Sounding AudioQuest DragonFly Red USB DAC/Headphone Amp Decodes MQA, Has 32-Bit SABRE DAC, Drives Almost Any Headphones, Works with Apple and Android Playing music on your computer, laptop, stereo, smartphone, tablet, or powered speakers becomes exponentially better, more authoritative, and stunningly lifelike with the groundbreaking AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC/headphone amplifier . Among the most exciting audio products in recent memory – and named The Absolute Sound 's Product of the Year Award (Budget Component), Stereophile 's Product of the Year (Digital Component and Budget Component) What Hi-Fi 's Product of the Year (USB DAC), and Computer Audiophile 's DAC of the Year – DragonFly Red sets new benchmarks for how much performance, portability, and flexibility is possible from an asynchronous USB DAC. Offering tremendously enhanced sound, higher value, and significantly lower power consumption than the original award-winning DragonFly for a lower price, DragonFly Red even works with Apple and Android phones and tablets when paired with a simple adapter. Most importantly, this versatile DAC improves everything – detail, transparency, immediacy, richness, tone – associated with your music. MQA decoding ability, ideal for TIDAL listeners, is also part of its feature set. And Red plays everything from MP3s to 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution files with spectacular simplicity and ease of use. Lest we forget, it doubles as a serious headphone amplifier and comes with our 100% Money-Back Satisfaction Guarantee . “In my desktop system and through headphones, the Red upped the ante in every sonic criterion.” —Robert Harley, The Absolute Sound "DragonFly Red and Black are the finest examples of everyman hi-fi to ever grace these pages. Their value quotients explode the dial." – John Darko, DigitalAudioReview
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In the DAC/AMP world I've already gone through the Fiio Q1 (was fine, but didn't really do much for me) and the OPPO HA-2 (looked super slick -- made everything louder -- but ultimately was too harsh/sterile in the treble dept). I've lusted over the Chord Mojo for quite some time and would love to listen to it. I have no doubt it sounds great! But my fear is that it won't sound "$600 great" to me (see point #2 above). And then I stumbled across the Darko review of this new Red just a few weeks ago and knew I had to try it.
I'm playing it through an iPhone 5s connected via the Apple CCK (using Onkyo HF Player), an iPod Touch 6th Gen (through Korg's iAudioGate) and also through my Macbook Air (using Roon). Set-up is super duper quick and intuitive. Audioquest did a really nice job in including a detailed booklet written for the layperson, telling you everything you'd need to know (and why, which is sort of cool in the audio world -- too many companies treat you like you've already got a Master's Degree in HiFi Audio). Extra bonus: Audioquest ALSO threw in a nice travel pouch + a coupon voucher to HDtracks + a 60-day complimentary trial to Roon (this is super nice, as the trial period from Roon themselves is just 14 days). If you haven't read up on Roon I'd highly recommend it --- it allows you to play higher res tracks on your Mac computer...it's a lot more fun/intuitive/exploratory than the native iTunes player...it integrates with Tidal...and it absolutely makes your music sound better. Same thing with Onkyo HF Player for your iPhone.
At any rate, let's cut to the chase. How does the Red sound? Quite good -- IF (1) you have good headphones, and (2) you're taking advantage of better sources (like the players I described above). If you don't do any of that, it will make your music sound louder but not necessarily a lot better. I'm using HIFIMAN HE400s, which are great reviewed/open style/planar magnetic headphones. They're efficient already so don't necessarily need an amp, but most everything sounds better with an amp. Anyway, if you're curious how exactly the sound improves with the Red, here's my best way to explain it: more full, and more realistic. Picture a comb -- imagine that this is a visual representation of your music without a DAC/AMP. Now, imagine that all those tiny spaces between the teeth of the comb get filled in -- this is the DAC/AMP going to work. It feels like it fills in gaps/missing info/details you didn't realize were there, so overall everything sounds a little louder/clearer/lusher/more realistic/more enjoyable. There's more bottom end to kick drums...more "plucking" you can sense on guitars and bass notes...more snap on snare drums...and little things like hi-hat cymbals suddenly sound real, vs a digital copy of what's real (if that makes sense). Also, there's more separation between instruments, creating the "space" that you read about, so it feels like you're in the studio surrounded by musicians rather than just being presented a wall of sound. I did an A/B test of a rock song I'm familiar with, listening to identical sections with and without the Red. Without, I found that the bass guitar disappears into the drums...sometimes you'd hear it, and sometimes you wouldn't (would just be sort of muddy). But with the red, there is a distinct bass guitar playing alongside a distinct drummer playing.
Don't get me wrong -- the overall effect is not a massive night/day difference that bowls you over -- so don't go in expecting that or you'll be disappointed. Instead, if you take the time to get good copies of music + good headphones + good sources, then you WILL take notice of the improvement and enjoy the positive contributions the Dragonfly brings and you'll want to listen to more of your music. Also, geeky cool thing that's actually helpful: the dragon on the device glows and changes colors, to tell you what sample rate your music is.
BOTTOM LINE: Sound is superb. Value is great. The care they put into the booklet + add-ins are nice surprises. Convenience is top notch. And the fact that it is pretty future-proof (they designed it to accommodate firmware updates) is great. If any of the above describes your philosophy, I think you'll really enjoy it.
UPDATE 1 MONTH LATER: I was going to be eternally curious about the CHORD Mojo, so I went ahead and decided to audition that as well. I spent about a week with it, and my 100% honest-to-goodness takeaway was: I personally could not hear an audible difference between the DragonFly Red and the Mojo. They both make my music sound better, but neither one is better at making it sound better (to my ears, anyway).
I'm sure there are measurements or tests or something that prove Mojo "wins"...but I couldn't pick up on it. I have no clue if that's because there IS no discernible difference between the two, or my equipment isn't good enough to reveal that difference (although I use Hifiman HE-400s, Westone W30 and Audeze Sine, all of which is a far cry from entry level gear) or my ears just aren't "golden" enough to tell. Who knows - I'm sure others swear they can tell one from the other. At any rate, Mojo definitely sounded great....but so does Red. And Red is 1/3 the cost, firmware upgradeable, much more discreet/portable and never requires charging (I already had one annoying instance where I sat down to listen to music, but Mojo's battery died 10 minutes later and had to be recharged for 3 hours). Thus, I returned Mojo and am keeping the Red.
I bought the DragonFly to use as a headphone amp/DAC for use with my iPhone / Shure 535's while on the go. I stream Tidal lossless (CD Quality) and sometimes Spotify. Without the DragonFly, the sound sounds good over iPhone / Shure, but there is graininess across the spectrum - instruments lose their juiciness, the sound is a bit compressed and the music gets tiring after 30-60 minutes. Enter the Dragonfly, and the music sounds clear, emotional, juicy, transparent - and I can forget about the annoying graininess, and enjoy music for upto 5-6 hours at a time (on a recent long haul flight).
The Dragonfly is the perfect portable DAC. It's small and plays from your back-pocket hooked into your phone. Does not require extra batteries - does not drain your phone battery and tips the sound quality of your portable system over to the audiophile side. It does NOT sound like a MOJO DAC, which elevates the music to an even more nuanced / finer accuracy and realism - but it doesn't matter - because the Mojo doesn't fit in your back-pocket.
I recommend this device reservedly to anyone with high-end headphones costing over $400. For anyone with headphones less than $400, save your cash and buy better headphones - they will make a bigger difference. But hook a pair of great headphones straight into an iphone without a DragonFly and be warned, you are missing out!
Is it good value for money? YES! I am lucky to own a pair of open Grado PS500e (astounding headphones). I also use a Mojo DAC (at home) and I occasionally listen to my headphones over a Brooklyn DAC which is also hooked to a $10,000 stereo. I have a good point of reference in terms of what a good audio component should sound like, and at what point spending money on sound has diminishing returns. The Dragonfly represents incredible value as a portable headphone DAC/Amp. I have never spent $200 on an audio component that gave me so much enjoyment.
Is it better than X,Y,Z? It doesn't matter. It sounds better than you'll ever need for music on the go - you'll need to be critically listening to tell the difference between this and a $2000 DAC on in-ear headphones - and you can't carry a $2000 DAC with you. So what's more important is how practical it is vs it's competitors - and what does it cost. My advice is - buy this one. It is the benchmark of portable headphone DACs, you won't miss the $50, and you will not have an upgrade itch because you bought the best.
Note 1: Many people buy this device as a stereo DAC - I haven't bothered trying it on my stereo because I will never use it as such.
Note 2: I haven't compared this extensively against the Mojo. During 1 hour of comparing it against my Mojo at a store, when played back to back I found the Mojo to be significantly more realistic on my favourite songs - but I never missed the Mojo when I travelled for 10 days abroad listening to the Dragonfly. Instead I was liberated from cables and from charging yet another device. At home, the Mojo is the amp of choice.
Note 3: The entire review is based on my experience with the Shure SE535 headphones. I have not done extensive listening with the PS500e Grados'. The Grado's might be more revealing to the DragonFly's short-comings vs the Mojo. Again that doesn't bother me because the Grado's are "open air" and that doesn't work outdoors - so the comparison is pointless.