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AudioQuest DragonFly

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

15 Reviews

Item # 703DRGNFLY

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Overview

Our take on the AudioQuest DragonFly

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.

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.


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!

Septemous, NYC

What's in the Box:

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

Product 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
Reviews

AudioQuest DragonFly Reviews

Average Customer Review(s):

(15 Reviews)
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Product Research

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).

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When Crutchfield designer Erica learned that one of her roommates would be moving, she decided to take the opportunity to set up a home office. She wanted a clean

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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