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The Best Sounding DragonFly Ever
DragonFly Red is one of two brand new AudioQuest DragonFly ultra-compact DACs with built-in headphone amps and fixed output for preamps or AV receivers. It is by far the best sounding DragonFly that AudioQuest has ever built, and that's saying a lot, since previous-model DragonFlys have appeared on numerous audiophile magazine "Best Of" lists.
The high output (2.1 volts) DragonFly Red drives almost all headphones, including power-hungry models, and features a 32-bit ESS 9016 DAC with minimum-phase filter and stunning bit-perfect digital volume control. It plays all music files from MP3 to high-res. And even though DragonFly Red delivers much better sound than any other DragonFly ever made, yet it's priced way below the original DragonFly (v1.0).
Hard to believe! It's been almost four years since the original DragonFly (v1.0) changed the world's concept of what a DAC could and should be. At only $249, but with expensive component-quality performance, DragonFly was hailed around the world as the perfect introduction to the pleasures of high-performance audio.
A year and half later, DragonFly rocked the audio world again when AudioQuest introduced the updated v1.2 for only $149. The sound was simply a little cleaner, a little better controlled, more relaxed, and unequivocally better overall. And, the new price helped bring better-sounding music to even more people.
Two Smartphone-compatible DragonFly Models
Now AudioQuest is truly pleased to introduce two dramatic steps forward with two new DragonFlys that offer unprecedented audio quality and even higher performance-to-cost ratios. And (drum roll, please) they work with Apple and Android phones!
Yes, that last point is a biggie. From the day that the original DragonFly came out, AudioQuest received requests for a DragonFly-quality DAC to use with smartphones. Finally, thanks to newly available parts, the power draw is now well within what any phone will authorize.
AudioQuest has been busy for years making this new generation of DragonFlys possible. The company worked alongside Microchip Technology to develop a new high-performance, full-speed USB microcontroller (a DAC's input processor) that delivers improved signal-to-noise ratio and significantly lower power consumption. Drawing 77% less current than the DragonFly v1.2's microcontroller, the new Microchip MX microcontroller enables true compatibility with Apple and Android smart- phones and tablets. For use with Apple iOS devices, Apple's Lightning-to-USB Camera Adaptor is required; for use with Android devices, a Made for Android (OTG) adaptor, such as our DragonTail USB Adaptor For Android Devices, is required.
Superior Design and Implementation
AudioQuest hesitates to brag about specific electronic parts in the DragonFlys because the implementation of those parts is as crucial as their quality. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that DACs with the same microcontroller or primary processor all sound alike! Depending on the circuit design, control of noise, power supply regulation, quality of the many passive parts, etc., a supposedly 'lesser' DAC chip can easily outperform a 'better' DAC chip in a different DAC.
Also, as with cameras and their previous race to have more pixels than the other guy, playing the numbers game can distract and deceive. While the DAC chips in both the Black and Red DragonFlys have great capability, AudioQuest chose to limit DragonFly Red and Black processing to 24-bit/96kHz. This makes using the DragonFlys as simple as it's always been, fully compatible with PCs, etc., without having to download and install new drivers. Though maybe more importantly, faster processing can mean more noise, so while playing 24/192 files with some of the best component DACs does offer sonic advantages, many DACs actually sound better when the computer down-samples a 24/192 file to 24/96 before sending the data to the DAC.
The point is that AudioQuest plays a music-quality game first and foremost. DragonFlys are designed to be the-best-they-can-be Emotional Transpor- tation for your music, whether Spotify, YouTube videos, Tidal, ripped CDs, or state-of-the-art Hi-Res files.
Back to Bragging About Internals
The new DragonFly models incorporate improved 32-bit ESS Sabre DAC chips. DragonFly Black uses the 9010. DragonFly Red uses the higher-performance 9016. Both chips employ minimum-phase filtering for naturally detailed, more authentic sound.
While DragonFly Black offers the same high-quality headphone amp and analog volume control found in the DragonFly 1.2, DragonFly Red includes the latest ESS headphone amp and a bit-perfect digital volume control that resides on the 9016 DAC chip itself. This sophisticated implementation ensures maximum fidelity, dynamic contrast, and signal-to-noise ratio.
Those of you who remember how AudioQuest boasted about the DragonFly v1.0 and v1.2 having an analog volume control might now be going "huh?" Good question! It's a matter of capabilities. The earlier DragonFlys and the Black feature an analog volume control because that's a better-sounding approach than most digital volume controls, which cut off bits in order to reduce the volume. However, when a digital volume control, as in the new DragonFly Red, doesn't compromise the signal, doesn't reduce finesse and subtlety and low-level detail, then a bit-perfect digital volume control is superior. Once more, it's not about a particular part or sample rate or buzz word; it's about honoring the quality of the resulting sound above all else.
Different Models, Different Output Power
DragonFly Black outputs 1.2 volts, which is enough power to capably drive all preamplifier input circuits and all reasonably efficient headphones. Meanwhile, with its higher 2.1-volt output, DragonFly Red is compatible with an even wider range of headphones, including power-hungry, low-efficiency models. For reference, DragonFly 1.0 and 1.2 featured 1.8-volt output.
The difference in maximum output between DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red is essentially irrelevant with AudioQuest's NightHawk headphones, as they can be easily driven by either model. But Red's higher output is an important advantage with some of the more inefficient headphones on the market. However, the difference in sound quality between the two new models is always meaningful, and it is important whether feeding headphones or the Aux input of an audio system.
At the same volume, Red has much more "torque," "grip," and "muscle" than Black. Red simply sounds cleaner and clearer overall, enabling a larger soundstage with each instrument or voice more nearly in its own space. But Black is still a revelation, and you will not be disappointed with its huge performance for the price.
More Good News
The new DragonFlys are software upgradeable through complementary Windows and OS X desktop applications. As new developments arise in music player applications, streaming protocols, or other associated software, DragonFly users will be able to incorporate those updates into their existing devices.
In summation, DragonFly Black offers better sound than any previous DragonFly for less money than any previous DragonFly. DragonFly Red delivers much better sound at an unbelievably low price that's way below the price tag of the original DragonFly (v1.0). Both models are compatible with smartphones. How much good news can you stand!
DragonFly Red Features
"The Red drove the Audeze LCD-4 headphones adequately, although at the maximum output level the volume was slightly lower than I would like for some music. The Red also improves on the Black with significantly greater smoothness, ease, and warmth. In my desktop system and through headphones, the Red upped the ante in every sonic criterion. On the wonderful Gerry Mulligan album Lonesome Boulevard, the Red conveyed the warmth and body of Mulligan’s baritone sax. The terrific piano playing (by a young Bill Charlap) was also better served by the Red, with cleaner attacks, more realistic timbre, and a greater sense of air Equipment Report AudioQuest DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red DACs around the instrument. The Red is also more dynamic, with greater impact on drums and a more lively and upbeat rendering."
With the DragonFly, AudioQuest has created a simple and affordable path into the high end for a new generation of listeners, as well as the perfect product for an audiophile’s personal audio system."
- Robert Harley, The Absolute Sound, High-End Audio Buyer’s Guide 2017