AudioQuest Dragonfly v1.2 USB Digital-Audio Converter

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter/Headphone Amplifier
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
Price: $149.00
Website: www.audioquest.com

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.

Dragonflies

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.



Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Dragonfly v1.2 review: AudioQuest Dragonfly, Halide DAC HD, Schiit Loki

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COMMENTS
CG's picture

Very nice.

I *wish* there was a version that could plug directly into an iOS device.  I know the hurdles with that, Lightning interface and all, but one can wish, right?

mward's picture

So this hasn't gotten much publicity, but under iOS 7 you can now use USB DACs with an iPhone or iPod Touch (in addition to the iPad, which has worked for some time) via Apple's Camera Connection Kit (dock version) or Lightning to USB Camera Adapter. 

If the DAC draws more than 100 mA (the DragonFly does), it must have its own power source, such as a powered USB hub. I've tested the DragonFly with a powered USB hub and iPhone and iPad and it works great. 

Notably, the power draw for HRT's microStreamer is (barely) under 100 mA, so it will work with no hub. I don't know of any other vanilla USB amps that do this. 

Also notably, Astell & Kern's new DAC is directly iOS compatible, but I haven't tried it yet. 

deckeda's picture

This is good information. Way back when all the hoopla around the Camera Connection Kit and Benchmark's discovery that it allowed the iPad to do heroic things via a Home Sharing stream, I could never find any info about about iPhone capability.

And now we learn this was a software limitation the whole time? Interesting.

I did however briefly own a Pure I-20 dock/DAC (self powered) more than a year ago and attempted to use it with my Camera Connection Kit and original iPad, streaming via Home Sharing, without success.

mward's picture

It walways seemed like a curious omission. There was actually a briefy period of time during one of the previous iOS betas when USB devices worked with the CCK. I think it was iOS 5—it may have even been advertised as a feature. Then it was removed in the later betas. So it appears to have been a software limitration, though perhaps there was a technical reason it was pulled—too much resource usage or some such. 

Anwyay, it works now, and I've found it very handy. Not sure why your I-20 wouldn't have worked. There's a helpful thread on Head-Fi about which DACs have been tested with the iPad: 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/507559/list-of-dacs-that-work-with-ipad

labjr's picture

I wonder why they didn't upgrade the sample rates to at least 192khz if not DSD, provide a driver and keep the same price?  Times have changed since the original Dragonfly came out. New Android phones are supporting 192Khz.

My prediction: They sell far less of this version, even considering the lower price.

CG's picture

Gosh, are you certain about that?  A quick tour of HD Tracks didn't turn up all that many 176 or 192 KHz offerings.  Are there other sites with more mainstream music that offers 176+ KHz downloads?  

The difference between mp3 files at a low sample rate and standard CD performance is fairly dramatic.  Especially through an external DAC.  After that, I'm not sure the difference from jumping to 176+ KHz sampling rates is something that would make you go "Whoa!" when listening through comparably priced headphones.  At least not enough to change buying decisions.

Not needing to install drivers for Windows use would seem to be a higher priority.

(Full disclosure, since I got pooped on for not doing this once before...  I am the majority owner in Audioquest as well as the largest shareholder in a Microsoft.  That might affect my opinion of all this.)

(OK...  The above was a whopper.  But, hey - this is the Internet!)

jhwalker's picture

There are an *awful* lot of them available these days - DSD, as well.

I personally own 32 192k albums, 4 176k albums, and 41 DSD albums, and I certainly would not consider myself a heavy duty collector.  I've purchased maybe 1% of the available content.

384k + DSD128 (at least) is my minimum requirement for new hardware.  I own the original Dragonfly, but would not consider the 1.2 version in 2013 / 2014.

labjr's picture

Since most home DACs go beyond 96 khz, anyone who buys music for home use would likely have some 192 material by now. If they buy a DAC for portable use they'd want to be able to play it on the go.  Even if it's just one file, they'd likely be considering something else and planning for more 192 material in the future.

mward's picture

In reply to CG (sorry, thought I had hit the "reply" button): 

ML's insightful summary of this version's sonic improvements aside, I don't think this was intended to be a major update to the product. If AudioQuest intends to add 192 or DSD support, I suspect it would have to be something more akin to a complete redesign. 

I've used a bunch of comparable DACs. The DragonFly was competitive at $250, and at $150 I think it's the best value in the "micro DAC" market. When the Light Harmonic Geek comes out, then the DragonFly may have some more serious competition in the sub-$300 bracket. 

Aerocraft67's picture

Fair enough to offer a $150 DAC that doesn't handle sample rates higher than 96 kHz. I think you still need to get into $300 DACs before you get 192 kHz capability. Still a modest sum, but double the price of the new Dragonfly. Even then, you might argue, are you really doing 192 kHz justice with a $300 DAC?

The price and performance description of this new Dragonfly suggests a quite worthy entry-level device, both as an upgrade over, say, a laptop DAC, and a substantial savings over the step-up option. Or a great travel DAC, and quite the stocking-stuffer. I don't think it needs to compete with 192 kHz equipment at $150, but nor is it an endgame DAC. It does provide HRT's Microstreamer some competition.

Although the redbook CD catalog dwarfs > 96 kHz offerings, there's plenty out there to spend a bundle on, and it tends to include the canonical stuff you might seek out first. And while investing in > 96 kHz recordings probably won't yield a jaw-dropping sound quality upgrade, it does provide some future-proofing of the music collection (just ask anyone into computer audio that ripped their CD collection in a lossy format).

Personally, although I still buy the occasional one-hit wonder from iTunes at 256 kbps, and I still bulk up my collection depth with used CD purchases and rips, the "serious" investments in my core musical interests are > 96 kHz when available, never mind that I'm not fully realizing that investment with my entry-level audiophile kit. Although I might regret not making the jump to DSD down the road...

howardk's picture

Hi Michael,

Nice review.  Do you also plan to review the Resonessence Herus DAC?  It has a similar form factor as the DragonFly and is a bit more expensive ($350), but it handles PCM up to 352.8kHz, as well as DSD64 & DSD128.  It looks really interesting.

Thanks,

HowardK

Stephen Scharf's picture

Michael,

I just "upgraded" to the new 1.2 version of the Dragonfly, and I completely concur with your assessments. In particular, I note a richer, more musical, sweeter and smoother presentation, with enhanced depth and spaciousness. 

Really nice! Well done Gordon and Audioquest! 

Best,

Stephen 

buck5000's picture

I added the dragonfly 1.2 to a mid-fi system to replace the internal soundcard on an old windows xp tower, and the results are clearly audible. The computer feeds an old Yamaha receiver and Lantek amp which drive Cerwin-Vega speakers(mid-fi for sure) and the source music files are exclusively lossy mp3's and m4a's running thru iTunes. I was hoping for some sort of improvement, but wasn't prepared for how large that improvement would be, even at low background-listening levels. It produces a sense of listening to real instruments and separates them in the mix in a way I didn't think possible from lossy files. It's easily the best 150 dollars a person can spend on upgrading a basic computer audio system!

Wubsoofer's picture
Bought my AudioQuest Dragonfly from Hifigear after the price drop. I listen to a lot of music on headphones through my PC at work so it's discrete size and phenomenal quality were perfect for my situation. Just slip it in my pocket at closing time, go home and return to my DAC V1 from Naim - while it's obviously not as good as the Naim, it's ideal for semi-on-the-go situations :P
suso's picture

Hi, I was wondering how you connected Dragonfly to ADAMs. Obviously, you used 3.5mm to RCA cable, but I'm not sure if you connected both RCA jacks to one monitor and used stereo link to other or did you connect each RCA end to each monitor (do they even spread enough?).

If first option is the case, which probably is, is it reasonable to buy such a high end cable or should I be satisfied with AudioQuest Evergreen, for instance. Which cable do you use for stereo link (if you use it of course)?

Thanks for the answers and keep up the good work, I really love your site!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
And connected to the right speaker and used the included Stereolink cable to connect right to left. While I have not tried the Evergreen I'd imagine it will work just fine.

Thanks!

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