AudioQuest Dragonfly Red USB DAC/AMP - Official Thread

audioquest

#1


This is the spot for discussing the Dragonfly Red


#2

These didn’t make sense to me when I looked at them online-- too small, USB powered. My experience with Audioquest was limited to a pair of over-priced cables that were voodoo over value. In other words-- I wasn’t expecting much.

So I was surprised to find myself ranting about these to anyone that would listen after my first listen. These are as good as any sub-$300 DAC I’ve ever heard, and it is small and usb powered! They’ve replaced the ESS-Sabre equipped desktop DAC I was using at work, and fit conviently in my Etymotics ERXR case for extraordinary listening anywhere.

Highly recommended.


#3

I agree. The DragonFly Red is my go-to portable DAC. Have you tried the DragonFly with a Jitterbug yet? That’s another product I was dubious about, but it makes a huge difference.


#4

I have not, and it doesn’t make sense in my head, but I’m certainly willing to try it out. You’ve never led me astray.


#5

It didn’t make sense in mine either. It’s an obvious difference though. We’ll have to get you one to try out.


#6

Does the Dragonfly Red truly play at 24/192? I thought it maxed out at 96kbps. Does that mean it gets re-sampled somewhere along the way if you looking to play your library of 192kbps songs?


#7

I do like this a amp lots. it actually somehow m make highs stand out more over the 3.5MM headphone jack in the iPhone, and it can drive higher than my phone too! Great amp.


#8

Hmm I’m using the Dragonfly Red for my home PC and phone DAC but never tried it in combination with the Jitterbug yet… now you’ve tempted me! The hunt for the “perfect” sound is never-ending and I have a feeling being a part of these forums is going to make my wallet feel empty and lonely :smile: but at least my ears will thank me. Ironically enough the Dragonfly Red was also one of the first purchases I made at the Headphones.com store.


#9

Wow. Jaethan saved me from a long winded post. Hit all of my points. (Thanks)


#10

What I do not understand about the Dragonfly is the amp. I have limited experience with “flea amps” but those I’ve been exposed to are not very dynamic. My Dragonfly does not share this problem.

It fits in my jeans pocket and makes listening to my iPhone a joy. What’s not to like?


#11

It’s USB interface is limited to 24/96. So for native sources (e.g. traditional PCM data) it’s limited to that playback resolution. However, the DAC chip is capable of higher resolutions (up to 32/384) as well as DSD decoding (up to 4x).

With an MQA source, and the first-unfold being done in your player (e.g. Audirvana+, TIDAL, Roon), then the renderer can take the incoming data stream (which shouldn’t be above 24/88.2) and the internal processor can resample that to 24/192 or, potentially, even higher.

But with a pure PCM (non-MQA) feed 24/96 is as high as it goes.


The Dragonfly Red has reasonable voltage swing for a unit of it’s type, has a low output impedance of 0.65 ohms and about 135mw of power into 32 ohms. It’ll pair pretty well with most high sensitivity/low impedance IEMs and cans, but doesn’t really have the voltage swing to do a properly convincing job with something like the HD650 for me.

With the Etymotic ER4-XR/SR it’s a good match (I prefer the XR slightly, despite having used the original ER4-S for over twenty years … my first purchase from the progenitor to Headphones.com, along with the Headroom Supreme amp). And it worked well with the AAW W900, Shure SE846 (probably the best match I found for it) and the Campfire Vega … though there’s some bass emphasis with those last two IEMs.

Trying it with the Campfire Andromeda, however, was a very mixed bag … the tonality of that IEM is, with the right match, superlative. For me that wound up being a sweet spot of 1.5 - 2.0 ohms output impedance, otherwise it becomes too bassy and rather incoherent. A better pairing there was with the Meridian Explorer 2.

Comparing the Dragonfly Red to the Explorer 2 … the Dragonfly Red exhibits less hiss with hiss-prone transducers than the Meridian unit … in fact it comes in about on par with Chord’s Mojo. Only the Apple lightning-to-3.5mm dongle was quieter (functionally silent).

It’s a nice little unit overall. I’d buy it again …

I’ve used it with a CCK cable out of my iPhone as well as straight out of my laptop (which worked a bit better before I only has USB-C ports on it and didn’t need a converter). Whether I use it or the Apple Lightning to 3.5mm dongle depends a lot on what I’m doing/driving …

If I’m using the Bose QC20i (just for flights) then I only use the Apple dongle, since whatever the processing in the Bose is doing tends to make the difference between that and the Dragonfly inaudible (the remaining background noise of the cabin doesn’t help). Otherwise I tend to use the Dragonfly or just bypass the wires entirely and use the Sony MDR-1000X or AirPods.

The only real issue I’ve found with it, albeit indirectly, is that the volume control under iOS can make it challenging to get a comfortable listening level with super-sensitive/efficient IEMs, and can be a bit of a gamble in terms of playing well with the volume controls in Android, but overall it’s great little unit.


#12

I have an Android phone which I use the Dragonfly Red with and to solve the volume issue I use the USB Audio Player Pro app that allows you to use “hardware audio” for volume rather than the Android OS audio settings.


#13

@Torq I noticed in your SBAF post for the DAC/AMP rating (without price being considered)

iDSD BL > GOV2+ Inf > Mojo > Explorer 2 > Dragonfly Red​

With the Dragonfly Red now being able to do MQA would the Dragonfly Red move above the Meridian 2 or do you still feel that the sound is better on the Meridian 2? I know your post was made back in 2017 (I am unsure but I think the Red might have been version 1.2 then? and now its 1.5) and I am unfamiliar with the Merdian 2 if it has been updated since then.


#14

I’d have to say I still prefer the sound of the Meridian Explorer 2 over the Dragonfly Red, even with them both on their latest, respective, firmwares.

To be fair, there is not a big technical performance difference between them. My preference here is signature based more than anything.

The Meridian handles the mid-range in a smoother and more lucid fashion than the drier sounding Dragonfly Red. Timbre is another area the Meridian also still wins out, which is of more value with music comprised of real instruments, but still something that matters to me. The AudioQuest unit has, perhaps, a slightly more “fun” rendering, but isn’t quite as honest in it’s portrayal of as broad a range of music.


The AudioQuest piece scores over the Meridian by being usefully smaller, not needing a cable with normal laptops (can’t get away form that with iOS or my MacBook or MacBook Pro though), and having a slightly quieter background. Ironically, despite having a preference for the sound of the Meridian, the Dragonfly Red sees way more actual use (due to the ability to run it with a CCK off an iPhone/iPad).

The Explorer 2 is a little more powerful, a little more musically convincing, supports 24/192 kHz input natively, has a dedicated fixed-level line-out (actually useful if you’re driving an amp - it has a quieter background), and has full hardware MQA decoding vs. the Dragonfly Red’s render-only capability.


With MQA content the Meridian Explorer 2 is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a little more coherent. That it can handle the entire decode chain and all MQA processing on the unit, without needing special accommodation from the player software/source can be useful, particularly when running off a low-powered laptop, but in real terms isn’t a big benefit - lots of portable “MQA” DACs only handle rendering after the first unfold has been done upstream (in software).

Whether MQA support for either of them is a really useful feature is another matter … and something for another thread/discussion!


#15

This rings super true for me as well. We just received a SPL Phonitor X and SPL Director this morning which equates to about $5000-$6000 in amps and DACs and we haven’t even unboxed it yet. Currently have a Dragonfly Red plugged into my MacBook Pro powering the MrSpeakers AEON Closed. Of course I am excited to run it through the SPL stack but the sheer convenience of plugging the Dragonfly in and just listening definitely makes the need to unbox the stack a little less urgent!

Haha MQA is definitely a discussion for one day. And it never fails to entertain!

That’s good to know your rankings have not changed for those particular DACs/Amps though. I will have to give the Explorer 2 a shot some day. I know you mentioned it was good with a broader spectrum of IEMs which would be nice as the Dragonfly Red with the Andromeda has a pretty terrible hiss, especially when paired with my phone. OI matching is definitely another rabbit hole to fall down.


#16

I bet that has to be something of an occupational “hazard”! Though it does speak well to the listenability of the little Dragonfly Red.

Hiss on the Meridian is worse than the Dragonfly Red, and the Andromeda definitely exacerbate this, so that particular mix is unlikely to be satisfying! Other combinations are another matter.

Indeed! And with the Andromeda the Meridian winds up exhibiting a bit more bass energy with the Andromeda than the AudioQuest unit, which seems to be partly down to signature but also down to the (small) OI difference. Andromeda seems sensitive enough to OI that even small changes there are something to pay attention to.


#17

I run a DFR off my IPAD Pro with CCK 3.0 driving my Sennheiser HD1 (Momentum 2.0). Sounds really good. Question is there a DAP that would offer better sound quality?


#18

There are quite a few DAPs that clearly outperform the Dragonfly Red. Whether the HD1 is the best headphone to exploit that fact is debatable (I had the Momentum 2.0 Wireless ANC Over-Ear when it came out, don’t know if the HD1 is literally the same or not).

The Fiio X5iii is, for me, a better performing unit, particularly in balanced-output mode. Though with IEMs it’ll yield more hiss than the Dragonfly Red. And it’s twice the price.

The Sony ZX300, WM1A and WM1Z all show the AudioQuest unit, and the FiiO gear, a clean pair of heels, but these are more expensive still, and the two more expensive units cannot currently be used as USB DACs if you ever want to use them for streaming etc.

Chord Mojo and iFi Micro iDSD Black Label (both via the same connection you’re using now) would also comfortably outperform the Dragonfly Red.

But, again, I’m not sure I’d pair those with the HD1 … and I definitely wouldn’t if it was being used with ANC enabled. I’d likely look at other headphones first … unless ANC was a must-have. Though if you’re using the ANC feature you might as well drive the headphones via Bluetooth anyway, as you’re going through the internal DAC at that point anyway.


#19

Thanks Torq

The HD1 I have is over the ear and not wireless nor does it have Noise Cancelling. I have been looking at the Sony DAPs you mentioned especially the 300 and WMA1. Good to know they would be an upgrade to the DFR and IPAD.


#20

They are the exact same. It turned out the Momentum was actually trademarked so Sennheiser had to re-brand their entire lineup. The only difference between the two is the boxes. One says HD 1, one says Momentum.

There are multiple variations of the HD 1. Over-Ear, on-ear, in-ear, wired or wireless, ANC or no ANC. Just as there was with the Momentums since they are just re-branded. You are saying that you have the Wired HD1 Over-Ear correct?

Most DAPs will offer better quality as @Torq mentioned. However, how noticeable that difference will be with your HD1s is hard to say. I’ve listened to the HD1s with the Dragonfly Red and it was pleasant for sure. There comes a point where your gear just hits its peak though and the differences in upgrading your DAC/AMP is negligible. I will admit I do like DAPs because they can be a pretty fun experience and are generally good for multitudes of different headphones.