DAP Killers?

When I travel, I travel with music. And my iPhone. And my MacBook Pro. For a while now, I've been carrying along my PonoPlayer for most of the music part, but I find myself, once settled into my hotel room, looking around Tidal on my MacBook for the new. But the PonoPlayer doesn't...stream. It just serves. The PonoPlayer also requires that I pack its charging cable and wall adapter and it, itself, which is not really a big deal; like carrying a Toblerone candy bar in your bag along with a Twizzler and Chunky.

What if I could turn my iPhone into a 24/96-capable server and streamer serving a really good-sounding headphone amp/DAC by adding the Apple Camera Connection Kit ($29) and the new AudioQuest DragonFly Black 1.5 ($99) or Red ($199) now that they draw Apple-friendly current? Would my love of less (and more) win out?

We shall see but the fact that when I land and settle I can plug the same 'Fly into may MacBook turning it into a lovely server and streamer serving the 'Fly's headphone amp/DAC sure seems seamless.

notung's picture

I use Oppo HA-2 with Onkyo HF player in my iPhone 6 and I play ANY format including DSD. Besides, the HA-2 can even charge your iPhone battery,
at $299 is a no brainer.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
For people who are not interested in audiophile formats, and for whom $200 isn't a no brainer, I would suggest the Black is a...brainier?
Exh1l3d_0n3's picture

The HA-2 is a great DAC/Amp. I regret sending mine back.

lestes's picture

Arcam came out with a great case/AMP for the iPhone 6 (only). If I ever upgrade from the 5s I like their solution. However, the Dragonfly is a great alternative! It's just too hard for me to get motivated for carrying anything but a phone a trip.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...do you ever pack a pack of stick chewing gum?


Dewey2's picture

This looks like a great idea, however a lot of reviews on the camera kit cable suggest that it's unreliable. Any issues so far?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...likes to chew on cables so in my experience, every cable is unreliable ;-)

On a more serious note, it's too soon for me to speak to the CCK's reliability. I will note that cable reliability has a lot to do with how it's treated.

johndarko's picture

I'd also add that the weakest link in this playback chain *is* the cheapest/easiest to replace: $29 CCK from the Apple Store vs. a $900 phone or a $99/$199 DragonFly.

otaku's picture

I bought an el-cheapo USB OTG cable and use Neutron MP to send 24/96 from my Amazon Kindle Fire ($50) to my Dragonfly + Jitterbug, and the sound is breathtaking. It works without a USB power cable, but I use one anyway to save battery life on the Kindle.

Vincent Kars's picture
Michael Lavorgna's picture

I already own an iPhone and would not replace it.

karateisland's picture

I'm dying to hear your thoughts on these two guys. I'm in the market for a portable solution (mostly to plug into a laptop and my Oppo PM3s), and haven't heard much about the red yet. No rush but... I'm waiting on your verdict to decide if it's worth it!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'd also recommend keeping an eye on my friend John Darko's site. Here's his review of the Black:

Go anywhere with AudioQuest’s DragonFly Black

audiofool's picture

zero enthusiasm after trying using portable USB DAC's with iPhone6 Show me an audiophile quality bluetooth enabled portable headphone amp and I'll start to get excited

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...your lack of enthusiasm ;-)
johndarko's picture

I too would love to see a Bluetooth DAC/amp that sounds as good as the AQ dongles that hard-wire lossless audio *without* the hit of transmission codec compression.

johndarko's picture
audiofool's picture

I see Sennheiser has a bluetooth Momentum wireless headset, will have to give it a listen.

deckeda's picture

Due to all the forces working against good portable sound, including the car's (or subway's, or airliner's, or ...) noisy environment(s), I'm this close to letting iTunes convert to AAC before it syncs to my iPhone.

I noticed the Noble supports AAC and think this aspect could be huge for iPhone users since it represents a way to get the file into the BT domain without the additional (and unnecessary!) lossy transcode that aptX is. I'll never understand the appeal of aptX since for everyone that already listens to lossy music it just puts it through the grinder again. The only reason it "sounds better" is because the baseline BT profile is akin to using a broken AM radio with a missing antenna.

Love the idea that apps and dongles can squeeze legit hi res from an iDevice, but going to the other end, of wireless that still sounds decent, is a super-strong draw as well. I'd like to read more about people's experiences with AAC and BT.

BradleyP's picture

Other than higher res formats and DSD, neither of which I get excited about, the one advantage I can still see with a DAP is storage. Phones fill up quickly with images and videos. Is it possible to hook up portable external storage and a 'Fly? That would be a DAP killer for all but the geekiest.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...with 128GB of storage. While I've never tried any, you can also add a wireless hard drive (up to 2TB).
CraigS's picture

My DIY car server - WD MyPassport wireless HDD (1TB) > iPad mini > Apple Camera Connector > powered USB Hub > USB/SPDIF > Audison processor and amps. Works great up to 24/96. I've tried quite a few wireless HDD's, and I like the WD MyPassport the best for two very important reasons - it powers up fast and it does not re-index the files every time it powers up (which can take hours with a big collection on the Seagate wireless HDD). FWIW and definitely not a complaint - My Apple CCK gave me problems after about two years.

johndarko's picture

Yes, storage IS the limiting factor in a scenario where a) a second phone-sized device is no longer required and - consequently - b) $$$ are saved.

As always, the customer decides what is right for him/her.

otaku's picture

The Kindle has a microSD slot. I have a 128GB card in there, with over 2,000 CD-quality-and-up (mostly up) tracks.

Exh1l3d_0n3's picture

I use an older Galaxy Note 3 with a Cambridge DacMagic XS and it works great. Drives my Oppo PM-3 headphones quite well.

MilesFerg's picture

Is this true? I looked on Amazon and the references to USB seem to imply a laptop. What do you use to connect to the Note 3? Do you have to do anything to bypass the Note's DAC? In my office I use an old Adcom amp to Boston Acoustics speakers with the headphone output from my note as the DAC and pre-amp.

Exh1l3d_0n3's picture

You can order from eBay the proper cable. It is a "OTG" MicroUSB to MicroUSB cable. I use Onkyo HF player and I'm off in the running. It powers all my headphones to the "too loud" mark. Then again, I'm using the following headphones:

* Heir Audio 4.A
* Sennheiser PX200-II
* Philips SHP9500
* Oppo PM-3
* HiFiMan HE-400i
* Fostex TH-X00 Purple Heart (on order)

The most important part is the OTG to MicroUSB cable. Then again, you do realize that the Galaxy Note 3 (and beyond I believe decode 24/192 natively). So, a possible Cmoy, E5 or similar amp only might get you where you want for under $40.

Hugo450r's picture

Micheal, the honesty of your approach has surprised me before, but this time I'm shocked.

Firstly I'm thinking this guy must be a bit crazy to risk angering advertisers.

Secondly I'm thinking this guy must be a bit crazy to love both the expensive stuff and the cheap stuff simultaneously.

Either way I suspect you're a bit crazy and I love it. This is the most exciting audio site I know of. I'm always excited ( and a bit scared ) to log on and see what you're going to throw at me this time.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Thank you for the kind words.

mtymous1's picture

What I see is Apple squeezing a few more $$$ for an "Apple Certified" cable that converts their proprietary interface to one that is more conventional and widely used.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I see a $29 cable that allows me to attach a USB DAC, like the DragonFlys.

But a picture being worth a 1,000 words sure is a good deal!


mtymous1's picture

Man, you just *BLEED* Apple-flavored Kool-Aid, dontcha?

Clearly, it's unjust to compare the features -- and functionality -- between a smartphone and a DAP, so for grins let's just tally the upfront hardware costs to play digital music on the iPhone pictured.

$849 for 128GB iPhone 6s (where not all of the 128GB non-removable memory is available for just music)
$29 for the "Apple certified" cable (in annoying white)
$99 to $199 for a Red or Black Dragonfly

Total upfront hardware cost for three pieces: $977 - $1,077
(Man, that's the same pricing stratosphere as the Sony NW-ZX2BLK Hi-Res Walkman.)

...or you could get a Fiio X5/X7, HiFiMan HM-series player, etc. (I trust AudisoStream readership is well-aware of such single-unit DAPs.)

Speaking of Fiio/Sony/HiFiMan, why aren't there any DAPs in the Greatest Bits list? Actually, I don't even see a category for them. (Please point me in the right direction if I've overlooked them on this site.)

I know AudioStream doesn't do measurements, but it would be nice to compare findings between a so-called "DAP Killer" and a few real DAPs.


Michael Lavorgna's picture
Phones are tools needed to perform tasks. So are computers. I buy the tools that best suit my needs.

The Fiio/Sony/HFiMan are not smartphones. If I could spend $130 or so to turn them into smartphones, that might be of interest. To me.

I do not typically review DAPs since that is the purview of InnerFidelity and Stereophile. So you won't see a category for them on AudioStream. The Dragonflys are obviously not DAPs.

mtymous1's picture

During the becoming-obsolete-contract and carrier-subsidy days, no one paid that much up front. Am merely restating the "pay in full" quote of $849 for the 6s with 128GB:

(Am willing to bet AudioStream readership has no interest in "2-year contracts vs. pay-in-full" spiels, hence the total upfront hardware costs for all three pieces.)

We all get that most mainstream smartphones can already function as a DAP, but to get better music enjoyment from them, you've proposed a nifty +$130 solution candidate. What strikes me is that you also suggest that this solution is the end of the DAP. If (big *IF*) music is first, I couldn't (respectfully) disagree more. While I'm personally unaware of any +$130 methods to mod a DAP into a smartphone, there are PLENTY of other solutions that feature the DAP and a music-first approach.

As one simple example, consider the Fiio X5 (2nd gen) which supports APE, FLAC, ALAC, WMA, WAV, native DSD64/128, and SACD ISOs. It also has coaxial digital output and 2 SD card slots. Like the Dragonfly, it can also be used as a USB digital converter/headphone amp with your computer. I could go on and on about how much more it does for music than your $1K "DAP Killer," but whatever - the point is that it does a helluva lot for music enjoyment and only costs ~$340 (on Amazon). Subtract that from the $977 - $1,077 total, and there is plenty of coin left over for a smartphone. PLENTY. (If you fancy yourself a current Android, it is likely to natively support FLAC without any external assistance - hardware OR software.)

(Side note: Speaking of DSD, am curious as to why you would promote this "DAP killer" over a player that supports DSD and/or can function as an external USB DAC/amp. Again, am assuming music-first.)

Oh, and "one more thing..."

When AAPL removes the 3.5mm jack, I do think the Lightning phone + cable + Dragonfly approach will be an ingenious solution for those unwilling to give up their favorite headphones.


Michael Lavorgna's picture
...beyond the title, I explain why this interests me. For people who already own an iPhone, and I think we can agree there are lots of them, who would like to improve its sound quality as a DAP, you can do so for $130. You can also use the DragonFly to improve the sound coming out of your computer.

Sure there are DAPs you can buy that support higher resolutions and DSD but they are not 'phones. You'll also see the "?" in the title which, to my mind, provides enough wiggle room for people like you who feel differently.

johndarko's picture

Yes, the Fiio X5 is nice sounding unit. As are many sounding DAPs. And I've no doubt many people will continue to carry them around and enjoy them.

However, many, many people refuse a second phone-sized device. The DFly Red/Black mean that a DAP is no longer mandatory in getting really good sound (that is, better than one's phone) whilst on the go.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Paul E.'s picture

I take the subway from time to time and have my iPhone on my belt to enjoy my music for 45 minutes and thinking if had the Apple connector and the Dragonfly all on the Iphone, commuters would think I have a banana in my pocket or worse. Good concept maybe AQ needs to make a Dragonfly specifically for that type of a connector

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...or are you just kinda happy to see me?
Dewey2's picture

I've ordered the Dragonfly Black and the Apple connector for my iPhone 6. Spending a ridiculous amount of time on the NYC subway with some guy's backpack jammed into my kidney, i'm looking for the best possible musical experience. I'm also looking to have only one device and if it allows me to read the Times, I'm happy.

Dewey2's picture

I ordered a Black from Music Direct and they tell me they are backordered and won't be shipping until July.

Lacas's picture

I am using an iFI iDSD Nano with an AIAIAI TMA-1 Studio Young Guru Edition.
Could you compare the new Dragonflys to the iFI iDSD Nano? Is it worth chose the Red over the Black solely based on SQ differences? How good is the soundstage and separation of the new Dragonflys?

rcoleman1963's picture

Sold my Dragonfly v1.2 to get this portable DAC: www.encore-av.com/main/products/mdsd-detail. Totally pleased. Perfect travel companion to my iPhone 6, iPad Air 2, MacBook Air and Windows PC.

austinpop's picture


Have you seen the new Apple Lightning to USB 3.0 Camera Adapter? See:

My one concern with the CCK/AQ Black/Red approach was the drain of the battery on a long flight.

But I just got Apple's new Lightning to USB 3.0 Camera Adapter, and it's brilliant, because now you can charge your phone while doing the regular CCK stuff.

The best part is that I am finding that my Ayre Codex DAC, that doesn't play nice with my iPhone 6s and the regular CCK, works happily with the same iPhone 6s connected through the Apple Lightning to USB 3.0 Camera Adapter when it's also connected to power.

Check it out.

Longbluesquid's picture

I also own an Oppo ha2. But I'm considering a dragonfly black or red haven't decided which do you prefer? Also Tidal is heaven.