AudioQuest Dragonfly Black USB DAC/AMP - Official Thread

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#1

This is the spot for discussing the AudioQuest Dragonfly Black.


AudioQuest Dragonfly Black DAC/Amp - Review & Impressions Index
#2

I used to own a DF Black before I gifted it to a friend along with my HD 598 SE. I remember thinking it was pretty good but not necessarily noticeably better than the output on my MacBook Air (which is admittedly quite good for an on-board laptop solution).

I think Archimago’s Review really sums it up nicely. The DF Black is a convenient, pretty nice sounding piece of equipment that can provide a decent upgrade from crappy on-board audio but really doesn’t measure that well and is probably redundant if you already have a quality source (like an iPhone 6) and don’t need the extra power or lower output impedance of the DF.


#3

Oddly enough I just finished a review of the thing myself.

My takeaway from some extensive listening, with a fairly broad array of headphones, is that it’s quite a bit more capable than the native outputs on even the latest MacBook/Pro models. Not perfect by any means (the treble is a little uncouth, once it gets close to its power limits things fall apart quickly and it seems to like 48 kHz native material better than 44.1 kHz), but it’ll drive full-size cans better than either, and way better than most phones.

Getting the best out of it just requires considerate pairing of transducers.

And given the lack of a headphone output on any iPhone newer than the 6, which is getting pretty long in the tooth now, it’s a much better option, quality and capability wise, than the $9 Apple Dongle.

At some point in the not so distant future I’ll do a comparison with it to the Red, the FiiO i1, and some other similar units, including the lightning dongle.


#4

I have the DFB as part of my “poor man’s rig.” I find that it greatly improves the output from the iPhone 7 and helps my MBP late-2013 output.

I’m using it with Sennheiser HD25’s and Grado SR60’s. Both sound better with the DFB than without. Next week, I’ll be testing it with my Massdrop-Sennheiser HD58x headphones (they should arrive this weekend).

As an example of a poor man rig, the DFB plus the Grado SR60’s is under $200. For me anyway, it’s a good but an inexpensive entry into the hobby.


#5

It’s interesting, based on comments I’ve seen on Reddit, I suspect that the MacBook Air (which is what I use) has a noticeably better headphone output than the MBP. Sadly I don’t have an MBP to which to compare it.


#6

It’s quite possible.

There’s a lot more going on in the latest MacBook Pro’s than in the Air, which provides a multitude of additional sources for potential noise and other issues. Though it improves on the current MacBook too, in my opinion at least, which skips things like the touch-bar and other potential complications present in the Pro.

I could dig out my fiancé’s 2013 era MacBook Air and compare to that I suppose.

What I do know for sure, for my listening, is that with almost all of the multi-driver BA IEMs I’ve heard, none of the MacBook (Air, Pro, whatever) have been a good match. Far too many issues there with tonal shifts due to OI/I mismatches - and generally severe enough to make me not want to bother.


#7

Yeah, my opinions on my MBA output are based largely on over-ear headphones. Other than my QT2, I’ve never actually used any multi-driver BA IEMs, and I never use the QT2 from my MBA. Truth be told, I hardly ever use anything except bluetooth headphones with my MBA :slight_smile:


#8

I misspoke. My MBP is MID 2013. I’ve read that the DAC improved in the next model. It may be that the Air had that improvement.

Maybe another Apple fan boy can clarify.


#9

I own a Dragonfly Black, which I use with a Jitterbug. That said, I wonder if I should start calling it a Damselfly, judging by the picture on Audioquest’s box.


#10

The Jitterbug is an interesting little thing. I have one sitting here, which I’ll get around to doing a review on in the near future, along side the iFi iSilencer 3.0.

I’ve got one Jitterbug permanently installed on a loaded Dell 7600 series workstation in the office, and it seems to make a genuine, and easily discernible, difference there (I am fairly convinced that machine has the noisiest USB ports possible).

At home, my experience has been different - if there’s an audible benefit to the Jitterbug in my main rig then I’m not hearing it. But my power and sources here are MUCH cleaner than in the office. That I hear differences in one rig vs. another means something is going on. Whether the iSilencer does anything audible in this rig is currently up for question (haven’t opened it yet).

I shall have to post before/after measurements with each in my home rig, just in case they show differences that I am not detecting through simple listening.


#11

I find that the jitterbug makes an audible difference when I come out of my iPhone 6+. I’m not so sure I can hear a difference when I use it with the Mac Mini (2014).

The mini has a pretty good digital setup on its own.


#12

I shall have to add a before/after comparison with my iPhone, as it never occurred to me to try it with that setup. Mostly because battery-powered devices are usually a lot quieter (noise-wise) than stuff running an SMPS from an AC supply.

BUT, thinking about it more, the iPhone is chock full of active radios, so who knows?!


Out of morbid interest, what are you driving with the Dragonfly Black?


#13

The usual setup for relaxed listening is iPhone6+, Apple camera Card (even with power, difference is minimal) Jitterbug, Dragonfly Black into the new Headroom Standard driving the Hifiman HE-560s.

If I don’t have the Hifiman 560’s out, then it’s most often direct from the Black into the Grado SR-60, or 1More Triple Drivers, or occasionally my old Sennheiser HD-580s, which the Black seems to drive reasonably well.


#14

@Torq, I’ve got a few questions that you probably have the expertise to answer. I spend a fair amount of time in our spare room where the computers live. It’s where I’m writing from now. It’s also where put the Stax tube amp as wiring and space inside my entertainment center is a nightmare requiring that I take the back panel off. . .

So presently, I have a Windows laptop, about 4 years old with a Realtek High Definition Audio card - has TOSlink out, seems to support up to 192/24, and a 2014 Mac Mini in my workstation area. The Stax tube amp is connected to the Mac Mini via the Dragonfly Black as it seems like the amp wants the added volume (compared to the headphone out). I guess I could always plug a headphone amplifier into the Mac Mini headphone out. (The Mac manual says this is also a line out, but I don’t see any control panel setting that lets me switch it)

SO I’M THINKING, MAYBE I’LL KEEP THIS setup for a little while. But I don’t have STREAMING AUDIO up here, except for Apple Music. Oh, and I have a SONOS bridge connected to the router right here, and Sonos Play:3s and a Sonos SUB also in the room. (Sonos Connect is downstairs attached to the main system, and there’s a single Play:1 in the kitchen).

So I’m thinking about maybe getting TIDAL or another streaming service. One with at least 44.1/16 quality.

Would TIDAL just work with the internal Mac Mini DAC and force me to amplify the headphone out a bit? Or would it leverage the Dragonfly Black?

Any thoughts here would be useful.

Finally, my inclination is to use the Mac hardware and not the PC. The Mac is much quieter. I think I need to replace the fan in the PC.


#15

TIDAL will play through the system output, which you select from Sound Preferences panel:

image

If I had a Dragonfly Black, it would show up in that list and I would just select it, at which point TIDAL would play through the Dragonfly.

Seems like a reasonable idea. If you care about optical out, I believe that the Mac Mini actually has an optical out inside of it’s 3.5mm jack (which is a combo analog/digital unit), you just need a Mini TOSLINK plug to use it.


#16

The TIDAL client, on both Mac and PCs, will let you choose to output directly to any audio device on the system (it’s under “Settings | Streaming | Sound | Sound Output” in the TIDAL application).

This is useful if you only want your music to go to the Dragonfly Black (or any other DAC) but not system sounds. It’s also useful when you have virtual sound-cards installed that you don’t want handling all of your system audio.

You can, of course, also do it via the System Output as @pwjazz describes above.

There’s nothing to switch. The 3.5mm output on a Mac Mini is both a TOSLINK output and a variable-level line/headphone output. You don’t need to do anything to “switch it”. Audio directed to the “Digital Out” will drive that connection in TOSLINK mode, and the “Internal Speakers” setting will drive it as headphone/line-out.

All of the streaming services will output 16/44.1 data. I expect you mean lossless 16/44.1 output - i.e. in FLAC (or ALAC) format that hasn’t been lossily compressed using MP3, AAC or OGG/Vorbis. In which case, TIDAL premium will do that (the cheaper TIDAL tier is still lossy).


If you have a local library of files, multiple devices, and want to combine that local library seamlessly with TIDAL content, give the Roon trial a go … makes for a much better overall experience AND it can talk to your Sonos devices as well as your computers and portable units.


#17

Thank you @pwjazz and @Torq. I’m often less clear at 2 AM after having spent a few hours reading garble on the Internet.

Yes, I know there is an optical out buried in the Mac Mini.

I also know that the Mac Mini sound panel pops up with devices based on what is connected. Right now, the Dragonfly shows up. When I insert a headphone into the headphone jack, a headphone shows up. When I put a cable with a headphone jack on one side and RCA attached to the STAX amp, then predictably the headphone selection also appears in the Mac sound panel.

I am looking for a bit more clean gain from the headphone out. That’s why I’m using the Dragonfly Black - headphone out on the Mac will drive the STAX amp, but more gain would help. I like to use the Dragonfly Black other places, and would consider getting another DAC, or adding a little amplification to the headphone out if another DAC would not benefit me (possibly considering MQA).

My confusion was that the manual calls it a headphone out / line out. I’m used to line out not being simply a variable headphone out. There does not appear to be something that “switches” that, but it may not be a factor in digital controls anyway. I have the old school dislike of running anything at 100% gain.

@Torq answers my unasked question about Roon. If using Roon will let me output to Sonos also, that’s great. It wasn’t clear online if Roon was working properly with Sonos yet.

I also understand about TIDAL “HiFi” being able to do lossless 16/44.1 output. That’s important.

Reading online, I still have confusion about content in MQA format. I have reservations about proprietary licensing schemes.

1.) Will Roon let me output to Sonos if the track is MQA formatted?

2.) Does MQA interfere with other software, for example if I wish use E.A.R.S./miniDSP to apply an EQ profile to headphones? (I’m not there yet, but I might be someday)

3.) Is the internal Mac Mini DAC fine for MQA, or is there a benefit to using a different, external, USB or optically connected DAC?

I think that’s enough questions for now. I may have to let the answers kick around in their stalls for a while until I decide to act.


#18

The short version is, “don’t worry about it”.

MQA encoded content will play back on essentially any DAC/device without requiring special software, hardware or settings. It just gets treated as normal PCM content (the same as a CD)*. You don’t get any of the “alleged benefits” of MQA doing it this way, but the file will definitely play properly and doesn’t have any special restrictions on it (there is no DRM or copy-protection at this level).

Yes.

It will just play like a non-MQA track.

As long as the EQ is done AFTER the MQA decoding there is no conflict. If you do the EQ before the MQA decoding (e.g. you’re using an MQA enabled DAC but software EQ or volume control) then while the music will still play fine, it will just be handled as standard PCM and the “alleged benefits” of MQA will not be in effect.

Both the TIDAL client and Roon can do the first decoding stage of MQA (in software). Which gives some of the benefits of the encoding on non-MQA enabled hardware. This works for any DAC, including the one built into the Mac Mini.

Using an external DAC that does either full MQA decoding (e.g. Meridian Explorer 2) or just MQA rendering (like the Dragonfly Black), with either TIDAL or Roon will get you the “full MQA experience”.


There isn’t much content on TIDAL that is ONLY available in MQA, so if you’d rather skip it you can generally get the same tracks/albums without it anyway (there’s lots of MQA content on TIDAL but it’s still a very small part of the overall library).

And there’s a setting in the TIDAL client that will ensure you NEVER get MQA content if you don’t want it.


*MQA content, played on a non-MQA chain, will lose three-bits of dynamic range potential vs. that of raw, simple, PCM content - but most contemporary music doesn’t use even the remaining 13 bits (a lot of modern pop/rock has been dynamically squashed down to 4 or 5 effective bits).


#19

So now I have the Dragonfly Black semi-permanently sitting plugged into the Mac Mini. The question becomes, what do I use to plug into my iPhone with camera card? Another Black? A Red?

What $250 or under USB mini/micro DAC would you all suggest?


#20

What do you drive from your iPhone?