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AudioQuest DragonFly

Plug-in USB digital-to-analog converter/headphone amplifier

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  • AudioQuest DragonFly

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  • AudioQuest DragonFly

    Plugged into a laptop computer

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Item #: 703DRGNFLY
 

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Our take on the AudioQuest DragonFly

by Dave Bar
AudioQuest

This little DAC's cute as a bug

AudioQuest's DragonFly DAC is so tiny you'll want to take it with you everywhere to enjoy superior sound quality from your computer. About the size of a typical USB flash drive, the DragonFly simply plugs into any open USB port on your PC or Mac®, installing itself automatically in just seconds. From there it takes over the audio processing function of your computer's sound card, replacing it with an audiophile-grade 24-bit ESS Sabre™ conversion chip — the kind often found in better CD and Blu-ray players — and turning your computer into a true high-fidelity music source. You'll instantly experience greater detail, clarity, and impact as the DragonFly transforms your digital files into warm, organic sound.

Asynchronous USB means better sound from your computer

The standard USB connections on most computers pose a serious limitation to sound quality. That's because while you're trying to listen to music, your PC is busy performing virus scans, data backup, and other background tasks that may take priority over your tunes, causing it to alter the data rate to suit its own needs. Unfortunately, this situation results in timing errors within the digital data stream — known as "jitter" — that adversely affects sound quality. Jitter can make your music sound harsh and edgy, and smear subtle details.

The DragonFly solves this problem by reaching out to your computer through the USB interface, and instructing it to relinquish control of the data stream timing. In its place, the DAC inserts its own separate, or asynchronous, clock to precisely control the timing of the data rate, reducing jitter to the vanishing point. And since not all audio content is encoded at the same sample rate, the DragonFly uses two discrete onboard clocks to optimize itself for different types of audio files or streams, for even greater timing precision You'll hear a stunning improvement in low-level ambient detail along with a wider, deeper soundstage.

Praise for the AudioQuest DragonFly from The Absolute Sound

"How can you not absolutely love an asynchronous USB DAC packed with audiophile-grade design elements in the form factor of a USB stick that costs $249? The variable output level allows you to drive headphones or a power amplifier directly from its 3.5mm stereo mini-jack output. Amazingly, the DragonFly features an ESS Sabre DAC, analog-domain volume adjustment, and separate clocks for different sampling frequencies for better sound. With a remarkably sophisticated and relaxed presentation, it excels at conveying dynamics and drive. A brilliant product."

The Absolute Sound 2013 Editors' Choice Awards: DACs under $1000


Enjoy high-res USB audio

Along with all the sonic benefits the DragonFly provides for your compressed and CD-quality music files, it also decodes high-resolution data streams with up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution, so you can enjoy better-than-CD audio quality. If you download high-res music files from HDtracks and other audiophile sources, this DAC will ensure that you hear them in all their glory. The dragonfly-shaped logo on the DAC's exterior even lights up and changes color to verify the resolution of the incoming signal.

Connections and controls

Plug your headphones directly into the DragonFly's stereo mini audio output jack for high-energy private listening. You can also use an optional stereo mini-to-mini cable or mini-to-RCA adapter to feed a line-level signal to a pair of powered speakers, power amplifier, or receiver for more robust, room-filling sound. The mini-jack output can be set to either fixed or variable line-level out. And although it's digitally operated from your computer screen, AudioQuest gave the DragonFly a high-resolution analog volume control to avoid the reduction in resolution and sound quality that plagues many digital volume controls. Plus, the DAC's analog circuits are direct-coupled from the Sabre converter chip's output, avoiding the need for any sonically degrading components in the signal path.

All of these refinements add up to music with a natural solidity and clarity that sounds dramatically better than what you would hear from your computer on its own.


See more info on this item

Highlights:

  • 24-bit/96kHz ESS Sabre™ digital-to-analog conversion chip
  • tiny "USB flash drive" type design plugs directly into a computer's USB port
  • powered by USB connection — no need for external power supply
  • asynchronous USB Class 1 data transfer using Streamlength™ protocol for reduced timing jitter and better sound
  • 3.5mm stereo minijack provides:
    • headphone output (minimum 12 ohm headphone impedance recommended)
    • variable line-level output for driving powered speakers or power amp
    • fixed line-level output for connecting preamp or receiver
  • 64-position analog volume control (digitally controlled using your computer)
  • incoming sample rate LED indicator for 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, and 96kHz sampling rates
  • input bit depth: 16 bits, 24 bits
  • dual master clocks used to minimize jitter
  • direct-coupled audio circuitry from DAC chip through analog output driver and volume control for cleaner sound
  • durable metal construction with rubberized coating
  • output voltage: 2 Vrms
  • drawstring storage pouch included
  • no cables included
  • compatible with Mac® OS X Mountain Lion, Lion, & Snow Leopard
  • compatible with Windows® XP, 7, & 8
  • DragonFly is currently incompatible with Windows Vista operating system
  • 3/4"W x 1/2"H x 2-1/2"D
  • warranty: 1 year
  • Our 60-day money-back guarantee

Hands-on research from the Crutchfield Labs (what are the Labs?)

Product Research
What's in the box?

Download owner's manual

  • USB digital-to-analog converter
  • Protection cap (installed)
  • Storage pouch
  • Instruction Booklet
  • Warranty/Registration Card

Our Product Research Team

At Crutchfield, you'll get detailed, accurate information that's hard to find elsewhere. That's because we have our own in-house Product Research team — they open the box, verify contents, check the owner's manual, and record dimensions, features and specs. We stay on top of new products and technologies to help people make informed choices.

Features

Overview: The AudioQuest DragonFly is a USB digital-to-analog converter that delivers far superior sound by bypassing the poor quality sound card that is built into most computers. DragonFly is a sleek, flash-drive sized DAC that connects to a USB (type-A) jack on a Mac computer or Windows  PC, turning any computer into a true high-fidelity music source. Its 3.5mm port is designed specifically to connect to an external audio system such as headphones, powered desktop speakers, or your audio/video system.

Note: DragonFly is compatible with Mac OS X Mountain Lion, Lion, & Snow Leopard. DragonFly is also compatible with Windows 8, 7, and XP. Currently, DragonFly is incompatible with Windows Vista and RT (as of 6/12/2013).

24-Bit ESS Sabre DAC: At the heart of DragonFly is a 24-bit ESS Sabre DAC chip, a high-performance solution that's typically found in higher-end CD and Blu-ray players. DragonFly can accept audio and music files ranging from MP3s (128/256/320kbps) and CD-standard 16-bit/44kHz to native 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution, regardless of music file format. DragonFly will accept almost any audio you want to play on your computer and make it sound dramatically better, whether your listening pleasure is iTunes or streaming music services such as Mog, Spotify, or Pandora.

Asynchronous USB: Timing errors such as "jitter" have long been the plague of digital audio playback; never more so than in recent years as computers have been pressed into service as audio source components. DragonFly uses a very sophisticated "asynchronous" USB audio data transfer protocol. Rather than sharing crucial audio "data clocking" functions with the computer, DragonFly alone commands the timing of the audio data transfer, dramatically reducing digital timing errors.

Two Clocks: Not all audio content is encoded at the same native resolution or "sample rate". DragonFly uses two discrete onboard "clocks" so that the math algorithms used to convert the digital audio data to analog are always optimized for the native sample rate (up to 24-bit/96kHz) of the audio file or stream being played. This ensures the least amount of mathematical manipulation to the native audio data, which results in fewer errors and better sound.

Compatible Sampling Frequencies: DragonFly will play music or audio data at 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, or 96kHz. However, for the best sonic results the computer should be configured so that it sends music and audio data to DragonFly that matches the "native rate" of the music. For example, since all CDs and music files purchased from iTunes are at a 44.1kHz sample rate, for many people 44.1kHz will be the best sample rate since this is the "native rate" of most digital music. Choosing a higher sample rate will convert your native music and audio data using mathematical approximations that can potentially decrease the sound quality. Conversely, if you have purchased high-resolution music files (96kHz), such as those available from HDtracks.com, configuring your computer for 44.1kHz (or any other lower sample rate) will cause the computer to down-sample your music to a lower resolution. When possible, always configure the computer to output the native sample rate of the music you are listening to.

Note: If you have purchased a file that has a higher sample rate than 96kHz you need to configure your computer to send DragonFly audio data at a resolution no greater than 96kHz, and for the best performance the sample rate you choose should be exactly half the sample rate of the file you're playing. For example, if you purchased a 24-bit/176.4kHz file 88.2kHz should be selected, whereas if you purchased a 24/192kHz file 96kHz should be selected. Directly divisible sample rates prevent the computer from doing sonically degrading, complex math in its conversions and allows DragonFly to sound its best.

High-Resolution Analog Volume Control: DragonFly's high-resolution analog volume control carries out the instructions in the analog domain for the best sound quality. When the music player's (Windows Media/iTunes/etc.) volume is set to maximum and the computer's main volume control is used, DragonFly's onboard 64-position analog-domain volume control is able to preserve full resolution and maximum sound quality.

Direct Coupled Analog Circuits: DragonFly's analog circuits are direct-coupled from the ESS converter chip's output, avoiding the need for any extraneous, sonically degrading components in the signal path.

3.5mm Output: DragonFly's 3.5mm minijack connector can drive a variety of devices or systems depending on how it's connected and used.

  • Headphone Out: DragonFly is versatile enough to drive virtually any headphone on the market today. DragonFly can drive any headphone from 10-ohm impedance on up. DragonFly has enough output to drive even the lowest efficiency headphones.
  • Variable Out: DragonFly can be used in "variable" output mode with computer-controlled analog volume control when connected directly to powered speakers or a power amplifier.
  • Fixed Out: Connecting to a traditional preamplifier or AV receiver, DragonFly can be set to a "fixed" output mode by turning the volume to maximum, allowing it to behave like a CD or Blu-ray player.

 LED Indicator: A smart LED indicator behind the dragonfly icon shows the resolution of the incoming signal - 44.1kHz (green), 48kHz (blue), 88.2kHz (yellow), and 96kHz (white).

 

Product reviews from the Crutchfield Labs (what are the Labs?)

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Quick impressions from the Lab

Comment by Ralph Graves Staff Writer - Creative,

Amazing improvement in sound quality

Written by Ralph Graves, Staff Writer - Creative, on 9/12/2012 11:47:00 AM

I regularly use a digital-to-analog converter (DACs) when I'm playing music from my laptop and listening with headphones. Still, I was skeptical that something as small as the DragonFly could perform as well as my stand-alone DAC.

Well, it did. I cycled through a number of musical genres on my computer, listening with a pair of high-performance headphones. For each selection I first listened with the headphones plugged into the computer's headphone jack. I tried the headphones connected to the DragonFly, which was plugged into the computer's USB port.

Without exception, the music sounded better through the DragonFly. Even listening to Pandora® Internet radio, the music sounded much more spacious through the Dragonfly. I also heard more detail, especially in the high and low ends. The music seemed more fully formed, somehow.

My laptop is my portable music library. My headphones are my portable speaker. The DragonFly is a portable DAC that completes the system.

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AudioQuest DragonFly Reviews

Average Customer Review:

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4 out of 5

Nice Little Unit

Written By Septemous, NYC on Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
Really a cute little piece of audio gear. Just makes things sound better. And looks good doing it :)

Have it hooked to AudioQuest a5's and Audivarna - sounds excellent!
Pros:
Sound, Size, Look
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5 out of 5

Simple Upgrade for Stellar sound

Written By James, Denver, CO on Thursday, October 10, 2013
 
If you use your laptop (or any computer for that matter) as a music hub, this DAC is a must-have. Whether using it to pump music through a stereo or headphones, the Dragonfly brings out a warm, balanced tone with impeccable detail. Jitter inherent to digital music is nearly completely gone. Even listening to highly compressed MP3 format songs, the improvement was dramatic. Lossless formats benefit the most from this so get your hands on some FLAC or WAV versions of your favorite music. A compact Sabre DAC for $200?! Can't go wrong with this one. Note: Most computers have to be told to route audio through this, usually just through the sound output setting. VLC also needs to be set to output through USB.
Pros:
Easy to use; same size as a flash drive; Detailed, rich sound; Outstanding asynchronous digital decoding
Cons:
Sticks out quite a ways from the computer; Won't decode DSD
3 out of 3 people found this helpful
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4 out of 5

DragonFly

Written By HopHead, Grayslake, IL on Saturday, October 05, 2013
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
I wanted something smaller than the NuForce uDAC-2 for my lap top. This fits the bill. About the size of a thumb drive and no interconnect needed. Subjectively, it sounds better than the NuForce too. Unfortunately, it does not support DSD playback. At $200 a good value for the money none the less.
Pros:
Small size, good sound.
Cons:
No DSD playback.
2 out of 2 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

AudioQuest DragonFly

Written By Bob S, Port Republic, VA on Sunday, May 12, 2013
 
Works just as described. It has introduced me to the world of 24 Bit computer audio and I love it! The leather storage/carrying case was a nice little extra. If you're using full-size headphones, I recommend also getting the AudioQuest "DragonTail" USB extender to relieve any stress and weight your headphone's plug and 1/8"-to1/4" adapter may be putting on your computer's USB port.
Pros:
Sounds Great! Reasonably priced. Color-changing DragonFly image ensures correct sampling rate is being sent to the headphones.
Cons:
Absolutely none!
5 out of 5 people found this helpful
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4 out of 5

Great Value

Written By MountZ, Campbell, California on Wednesday, April 17, 2013
 
Audioquest's Dragonfly ($249) hits the mark for ease of use and instantaneous upgrade of sound. The only thing that beats the dragonfly is Meridian's Explorer ($299) which gets 5 stars from me. If your on a budget for an asynchronous DAC - The Dragonfly is the one for you.
Pros:
Ease of Use, immediate upgrade from your computer's sound card,
Cons:
Little buggy, can get noisy from being too close to the computer USB slot.
4 out of 4 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

Audiophile Necessity

Written By Don S., Mulege, B.C.S., MX on Thursday, March 28, 2013
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
Not only does the Dragonfly work with well with my headphones......but, as advertised, the quality of my listening experience using my stereo receiver and connected speakers has also improved dramatically. I have already recommended the Dragonfly to a number of audiophile friends.
Pros:
size, ease of installation and use.
Cons:
none
4 out of 4 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

AudioQuest Dragonfly

Written By Richard S., Potomac Maryland on Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
This simple little device has transformed my listening experience. With plugging in this little box between my computer and my stereo, I now have the sound quality, channel separation, and musical clarity you would have expected if I had spent a small fortune on my audio equipment. This is a GREAT product. I highly recommend it.
Pros:
Everything about the Dragonfly is great! A child could install it, it needs no maintenance, and for the price, the transformation in your stereo's sound is well worth it!
Cons:
None, that I can see.
3 out of 3 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

Don't let the size fool you. The DragonFly is absolutely phenomenal!

Written By Tom, Roanoke, VA on Monday, March 04, 2013
 
Prepare to be astounded.

The Audioquest DragonFly is a small form factor USB, 24/96 DAC about the size of an average USB thumb drive, and the sound it produces is absolutely phenomenal. In fact, It's positioned to outclass many other DAC's out there in excess of $1,000 dollars. If you 're looking for a wonderfully compact, easy to operate, and great sounding amp for your low impedance headphones (such as the Grado 325i's) this is absolutely your best bet.

Upon my first listen, I immediately noticed the visceral impact it had on the sound. It greatly improved the soundstage and stereo imaging of my Grado 325i's, and produced punchy, smooth, and refined bass. The mid's were brought into much greater focus and and presence. Additionally, it seemed to improve the resolution of higher frequency sounds without causing them to become overly bright.

The moment I realized that I purchased something special came upon listening to Boards of Canada's "Pete Standing Alone" from "Music Has the Right to Children". The initial kick of the bass startled me. The punch, followed by the detail and overall resolution of the sound literally startled me. Prepare to fall in love with your music collection again, including songs that you've listened to hundreds of times. The DragonFly shows an incredible amount of detail for the price!

The device is compatible with Mac OS X, as well as Windows XP and 7 PC's, and the setup is as simple as plug and play.
Pros:
- A Sabre DAC for under $300.00 dollars? YES PLEASE! - Amazing, portable form factor. - Clean, detailed highs, a nearly liquid midrange, and punchy, visceral bass. - Greatly improved sound quality from highly compressed sources, and pristine sound quality from lossless formats. - Color indicator light on the DAC indicates the resolution of the file being decoded. - It's very revealing. Prepare to notice gobs of previously unheard detail and nuance within your music collection.
Cons:
- Prepare for a four to 5 inch extension sticking out from the side of your laptop. This assumes you're using a full sized 1/4 inch headphone jack with an adapter. I highly recommend purchasing a small USB extension dongle. This will prevent it from sticking out like an eyesore.
5 out of 5 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

SUPER PRODUCT!!!

Written By Jeff, Carmel, New York on Wednesday, February 20, 2013
 
This Is the best product I have ever purchased!! It transforms the music, making It much more open and 3 dimentional. I couldn`t believe the difference In sound It made. I rarely write reviews, but this deserves It! I would suggest everybody try this!! It Is a superb product!!
Pros:
Easy to Install. Great for a headphones. Makes music come alive!! TRY IT!!! For the money, you can`t buy anything close to the sound this creates!!
Cons:
Needs to be upgrated, so you can use It on Windows 8.
1 out of 2 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

Audioquest Dragonfly USB DAC

Written By SherryW, Las Cruces, NM on Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
I purchased the Dragonfly to use with my HP desktop computer primarily, as well as an HP laptop. I was looking for something that would improve the overall sound quality of my 7,000+ digital music files that range from high resolution FLAC files to standard mp3 files and the Dragonfly did not disappoint. It is truly "plug and play" and when connected to my desktop speakers - 5 year old Harman Kardon 2.1 Soundstick IIs - I noticed an immediate difference. The HK Soundstick II speakers are excellent PC speakers to start with, but as with most digital music files, there is a loss of warmth, a narrowing of the sound stage, and a kind of "flatness" to the sound. This has changed with the Dragonfly. I can now hear details that previously seemed missing or at the very least, weak. Having played in a symphony orchestra for a number of years, I am now hearing some of the nuances that were missing without the Dragonfly - one can literally hear and feel the vibrato of a bassoon or oboe reed as a solo passage starts, vocals are much clearer, mid-range and basses are also much clearer and warmer. There is a huge difference with my high resolution FLAC files also - I literally feel like I am in an acoustically perfect concert hall or sitting in the middle of a symphony orchestra surrounded by warm, balanced, sound.

I have also used the Dragonfly with new Sennheiser HD598 headphones and again, it did not disappoint - this combination also produced an amazing improvement in sound.
Pros:
Easy to set up. Incredible improvement in sound quality for digital files in all formats. Compact size and sturdy design. Works beautifully with iTunes, JRiver, and VCL media players (I've used it with all 3 programs)
Cons:
As a general FYI, according to the documentation and the Audioquest web site, the Dragonfly currently will not work with PCs running Windows Vista.
6 out of 6 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

AudioQuest DragonFly

Written By Anonymous, seattle wa on Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
simple to use
2 out of 8 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

When 'Thin' is not in

Written By Virtual_James, Charlotte, NC on Tuesday, November 20, 2012
 
I am not an audiophile, however, it does not take one to realize the benefits from Dragonfly. In my first listening experience it was incredibly apparent that what I had been listening to on my PC was not at all the best I could have gotten out of her headphone jack. Not even close as proven by Dragonfly. Thin, enemic,flat, tiring, morphed instantly into FULL, DETAILED, and LIVELY. When my listening session was over, I made a concious decision to delete anything not in high resolution as now I want to hear as much as possible. Dragonfly makes listening to computer audio fun again.
Pros:
Helps bring much more resolution to your ears. Changes color to give a visual on what sample rate you are listening to.
Cons:
Sticks out of the PC as much as most thumb drives. Wish there were a way to get it closer to the side of the PC.
5 out of 5 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

Blows pc audio cards out of the water

Written By Don, DFW,, TX on Sunday, October 28, 2012
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
I am using the Dragonfly to replace a Lynx audio card. It provides dramatically improved audio detail and space compared to the Lynx and all other audio cards that I have used in the past especially on Windows 7 and later. The detail and the tonality of voices is very noticeably better. It also seems better that an external DAC that cost 10 times its price (but, it must be said is several years old).
Pros:
Hardware and software (it uses standard Windows drivers) is trivial.
Cons:
The audio quality can be considerably degraded by any neatby network and video cables. It is necessary to insure that such cabling is kept well clear of the device.
3 out of 3 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

Wow

Written By Magmoto, Atlanta Ga. on Friday, August 31, 2012
 
I am very impressed. My wife was using some nice PSB headphones on her laptop. She thought that was as good as it got. I plugged this into a USB port and in a minute had her listening to the same music with the dragonfly. She loved the sound. It is very user friendly, you know when the unit is working when the dragonfly glows green(pretty cool). When I listened to it I could def hear a strong low freq response. The mids came out clearer. When you get to hear parts of a song that you haven't heard before you know you are getting refined and clearer music. I decided to try it out on my home Audio system by bypassing the DAC in my receiver. It performed very well. I just used a headphone jack wire into RCA. Tried it on our Mac mini as well as a laptop PC. No problems with set up or hardware issues in either case.

Overall. Great sound. Well made. Great for headphones. Just make sure you have a USB out and you are good to go. Very good for audio systems using computer audio files as well.
Pros:
Great sound, pc and Mac compatible. Easy set up and use. Better then most I have heard and as good as some higher end DAC's
Cons:
Hard to find anything wrong. Great value
7 out of 7 people found this helpful
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5 out of 5

Groundbreaking product for Computer Audio

Written By SammamishWashington, sammamish, washington on Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Crutchfield Customer Review (What's this?)
 
Auditioning the product for about a week with my MacPro laptop, Audioengine 5, Pure Music Software and various hi definition 96kHz/24 bit albums stored on a remote hard drive.

Difference is night and day. Listening was a struggle before the Dragonfly because of harshness, poor imaging and lack of detail. Installed the Dragonfly (about 3 minutes) and the music opened up immediately with more detail especially the highs. Try Melody Gardot 's The Absence from HD tracks, you will be amazed by the dynamics and details. Before i knew it, i was listening for 2 hours without any fatigue. It felt like a completely different set up!

This is groundbreaking because of the ease and relatively low cost to achieve audiophile level music from your computer. Highly recommended!
Pros:
Ease of installation. Low cost. Immediate improvement. You do not need to be an audiophile to recognize the difference. It will be immediate to you especially on high definition digital tracks. The color on the dragon fly changes to reflect the bit rate of the file. This is very cool and useful. Very inexpensive and easy way to dive into computer audiophile. Analog volume which allows you to control volume on the keyboard. Crutchfield satisfaction guarantees makes this a keeper.
Cons:
I am not a headphone guy so i cannot comment on performance.
22 out of 23 people found this helpful
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Add accessories for the AudioQuest DragonFly

Use a high-quality mini-to-mini or mini-to-RCA cable to connect your DragonFly DAC to an audio system. See all categories & accessories

AudioQuest Evergreen Stereo mini-to-mini cable with 3.5mm plugs (0.6 meter/2 feet)
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AudioQuest Evergreen Stereo mini-to-RCA adapter cable (0.6 meter/2 feet)
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Your Price: $31.99
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AudioQuest Golden Gate Stereo mini-to-RCA adapter cable (0.6 meter/2 feet)
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AudioQuest Big Sur Stereo mini-to-RCA adapter cable (0.6 meter/2 feet)
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AudioQuest Sydney Stereo mini-to-RCA adapter cable (0.6 meter/2 feet)
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For a more in-depth review and enhanced detailed information on the AudioQuest DragonFly, please visit the Crutchfield website product page (/ISEO-rccbcspd/p_703DRGNFLY/AudioQuest-DragonFly.html ).