AudioQuest Dragonfly v1.2 USB Digital-Audio Converter
Input: USB Audio Class 1.0
Output: 3.5mm jack
Dimensions (H x W x D): approximately .5 x .75 x 2.25 in.
Weight: a little more than a dragonfly
Availability: online through Authorized Dealers
A Dragonfly Killer?
AudioQuest's original Dragonfly DAC (see review) seems to have inspired a number of similar products while igniting the whole 'micro-DAC' market. And for good reason. The original Dragonfly was small, portable, easy to use with hi-fi or headphones, and it sounded good. Putting it on AudioStream's Greatest Bits list was a no-brainer. Kicking it off of that list is also a no-brainer because AudioQuest have gone and done it. They've come out with a Dragonfly killer.
The Dragonfly v1.2 differs from the original in a few ways. Here's what AudioQuest has to say, "Among the improvements, the circuitry between the DAC chip and the analog output stage has been refined to create a more direct signal path, leading to even greater transparency and immediacy. Also, the DAC’s power supply has been fortified, which gives the sound more 'grip' and even greater dynamic contrast."
What has remained the same is the Dragonfly's USB thumb drive-sized form factor as it is nearly identical to the original from the outside. As with the original Dragonfly, v1.2 maxes out at 24/96 which means no drivers are required for PC or Mac users. The USB input and 3.5mm mini jack output, analog volume control, the translucent dragonfly built into its body that changes color depending on the sample rate; 44.1kHz (Green), 48kHz (Blue), 88.2kHz (Amber), 96kHz (Magenta), and the use of Gordon Rankin's Sreamlength technology for its asynchronous USB implementation are all carried over in the new v1.2. Again Gordon's involvement with v1.2 was not limited to simply providing this code rather it extended into the overall design process as well.
Musical data is passed from your computer to a Texas Instruments TAS1020 USB receiver chip which contains the Streamlength code and then on to a 24-bit ESS Sabre™ conversion chip via I²S. The Dragonfly is USB bus-powered and I used the AudioQuest Victoria 3.5mm to RCA cable ($295/1m) from their Bridges & Falls line to connect to my Pass INT-30A and ADAM A3X.
Since the Dragonfly includes software-controlled analog volume, you use your computer's system volume, or if your media player software controls the system volume you can use it too, for adjusting output level via the Dragonfly. I used the Dragonfly with Pure Music, Audirvana, and JRiver Media Center and all three worked without a hitch.
The Zen of Dragonfly
I listened to the Dragonfly v1.2 in my desktop system and my main system on and off for a few weeks and it was immediately apparent that the new Dragonfly is one smooth customer. There was a very nice non-etched full-bodied feel to the music and a softness to the sound picture that struck me as natural sounding as opposed to a harder more processed feel. It was easy to listen to and easy to like the little Dragonfly v1.2 for extended listening sessions.
I compared the v1.2 to the original Dragonfly and it sounds to me as if most of my criticisms of the original were addressed by v1.2's changes. Here are some of the things I said about the old Dragonfly, "Above all else, I find the DragonFly has struck a nice balance between what it does well—resolution, pace, and micro detail—and what it does not do quit as well—texture, tone, air and ease." Air and ease are now part of the Dragonfly package and it also sounds more weighty and tonally rich compared to the older version. This tips the overal balance from a slightly tipped up sound to a more rich and to my ears a deeper more rewarding sound. There's still a very nice sense of resolution and micro detail but the focus has moved away from these sonic elements towards a more balanced and musical presentation. I also find the new v1.2 to sound better at higher volumes, avoiding the hardness that crept into the old Dragonfly when pushed toward 11.
As with the recently reviewed Schiit Loki (see review), the Dragonfly v1.2 presents an interesting dilema of sorts from a reviewing perspective in that since it does so many things right, its becomes a matter of degree when it comes to comparing it to more costly competitors. While other DACs can handle higher resolutions and DSD, if these things are not important to you then the Dragonfly v1.2 has a lot to offer in terms of musical enjoyment. While I've heard richer and more engaging PCM-only DACs like the more expensive Halide DAC HD (see review), and take into account the Halide includes both USB and RCA cables but does not include a volume control or headphone output and is limited to 24/96 like the Dragonfly, they all cost more than the Dragonfly which leaves me with nothing but a solid recommendation for the Dragonfly v1.2 especially if you're looking for a clear step up from the sound of your computer playing up to 24/96 music through your hi-f, powered speakers, and/or headphones.
Since the Dragonfly costs the same as the Schiit Loki, I compared the two using my PC which has the SOtM tX-USBexp card on permanent installation (see review). This is admittedly like comparing apples and oranges in that the Loki is a DSD-only DAC and the Dragonfly a PCM-only DAC as well as the Dragonfly's added headphone amp capability and smaller more portable form factor. The way I figure it let's just simplify this whole thing and say we're in the mood for some fruit (where fruit = music). In other words with the Schiit playing back PCM source files as DSD and the AudioQuest playing back PCM source files only, how do they compare?
The Dragonfly sounds smoother, more relaxed, and more full bodied where the Loki sounds more lit up in comparison which in this case can be heard as a good or bad thing depending on your system and preferences. In my setup and for my ears it added some excitement and extra sparkle but in terms of an overall winner, I can certainly see how some people may prefer the Dragonfly over the Schiit and vice versa especially seeing how they are two different kinds of products. It seems obvious but I'll say it anyway, if you're interested in exploring DSD, the Loki is the way to go but if not and your PCM requirements max out at 24/96, the Dragonfly has more of the rich burnished glow sound that I find works well over extended listening sessions.
The Dragonfly Is Dead, Long Live the Dragonfly (v1.2)
AudioQuest has managed to do something no other company has yet accomplished on AudioStream which is to swat their own product off our Greatest Bits list by delivering what strikes me as a more natural and all around simply better-sounding DAC with the Dragonfly v1.2 and they've done so for $100 less than the price of the original.
Also on hand and in use during the Dragonfly v1.2 review: AudioQuest Dragonfly, Halide DAC HD, Schiit Loki