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AudioQuest Dragonfly Red – Diminutive Super Star » Adventures in Hifi Audio

Back in 2012 AudioQuest of Irvine, Calafornia, USA, traditionally a cable manufacturer, launched something that when upon a time would simply have been unattainable, a classy digital to analogue converter, headphone amplifier in a package deal solely barely greater than a USB reminiscence stick (1). That product was referred to as the DragonFly Black, now in a more moderen model, which took the audio world by storm, and set a brand new bench mark for what was attainable, from such a small item.  As in all things audio, bench marks are somewhat of a movable feast and AudioQuest pushed the envelope further in the form of the DragonFly Red – the subject of this assessment. The DragonFly Black and Red are each Gordon Rankin, of Wavelegth Audio designs.


The Dragonfly Red has various key specification enhancements over the Dragonfly Black to account for this bench mark pushing improvement.

Increased output – Direct-Coupled, High output — With a mixture of power, magnificence, and finesse, DF Red delivers higher general influence, momentum, and grip than both DF 1.2 or DF Black, whereas also surpassing their wonderful senses of touch, texture, and nuance. As well as, Red’s excessive (2.1v) output signifies that it could possibly simply drive the widest range of headphones. When used as a line-level system (volume set to 100%), DF Red’s 2.1 volts present enough power to drive all preamplifier, built-in amplifier, or receiver inputs.

Improved DAC – Like the ESS 9010, the 32-bit ESS 9016 makes use of a classy minimum-phase digital filter to offer extra naturally detailed and dynamic music, however surpasses the 9010 in general performance. DAC CHIP ESS 9023 24-Bit ESS 9010 32-Bit E

Greater Spec digital output – DragonFly Red employs a 64-bit, bit-perfect digital volume management that resides inside the DAC chip itself—a chic and complicated implementation that ensures most constancy, dynamic distinction, and signal-to-noise ratio. With DragonFly Red related to a PC or cellular system, adjusting the host’s system quantity management will, by way of proxy, control the DragonFly Red’s onboard volume.’

Just like the DragonFly Black the gadget is capable of coping with up to 24 Bit to 96 khz information, but not 192 khz natively, although it’ll down rez such information. Current software upgrades (obtainable as I write this evaluation) embrace an MQA improve. I’m not qualified to discuss MQA, having zero experience with this new format, subsequently the positives and the negatives being raised by some in the audio group, should wait until one other evaluation, mine or someone else’s to explore that facet of the DragonFly Red’s performance.

For myself I feel will probably be a long time earlier than I embrace a brand new format like MQA, I nonetheless haven’t tried  file based mostly DSD, the one DSD being that found in SACD bodily discs. Like MQA I additionally assume it is going to be awhile earlier than I attempt file based mostly DSD, in saying that I do very very similar to and price how SACDs sound.


I was nicely aware of the DragonFly Black, having read a couple of critiques, and vaguely conscious of the DragonFly Red so when one came up for sale (together with the required Apple adapter), after some research I felt it fitted the invoice for giving me away of listening to an iPad Mini by way of headphones and thus I bought it. Great plans for doing a full evaluation once I came again from the holiday, motivated by enjoying it whereas on that vacation, have been swept away by other issues. As they say higher late than by no means, so listed here are my ideas on a most fascinating gadget.

DragonFly Red

The DragonFly Red comes in a pleasant box, with a protecting slip case and full set of directions to be used, and mine with a code for RUNE. I don’t run RUNE, my choice is JRiver, and that’s all you get in the packaging.


Audioquest promote numerous equipment to help with numerous set ups, so I bought a JitterBug, and stereo mini jack to two RCAs for the assessment. The JitterBug (2) helps scale back noise on the computers USB sockets and the stero mini jack to two RCA plugs would permit me to hook the DragonFly Red up to my reference system with the cables of my selection.


Also for the evaluate I used a Lotus Polestar USB interconnect, Wireworld Starlight Silver USB cable, an iFi Audio iPower, the aforementioned Apple USB adapter, and a pair of Apple headphones, although these have been deserted pretty shortly in favour of a lot better headphones.



I used a Sony Windows 7 laptop and an HP Windows eight.1 laptop as sources, the Sony with inner storage and the HP with a 3TB exterior exhausting drive. The Sony was used in a desk prime set up and the HP as a part of my front room reference system.

Front room system: Balanced Audio Know-how VK300 Se built-in amplifier, Anthony Gallo Reference 3.1 speakers. Signal cabling was Atlas Mavros as was the speaker cable. Mains cables have been TCI Boa Constrictor. Gear tables have been Audiophile Base and Goal B5.


Headphones: Apple in ear sort, Sennheiser PX30, Sennheiser HD560 Ovation, and Grado GS1000

An iFi iPower was also used, as was a Lotus Polestar USB cable, WireWorld Starlight, Audio Quest Jitter Bug and an Audio Quest stereo mini jack to 2 RCA adapter.


For this assessment I principally used tracks from 24 Bit, 88.2 Grasp Information from Lifeless Can Dance. In the primary I listened to the following albums:

Into The Labyrinth




Inside the Realm of a Dying Sun

dead can dance

I also listened to music from the next albums as properly, a mixture of MP3 and 24 Bit 96khz and 24 Bit 192 khz Information.

Alannah Myles – Rocking Horse


Daft Punk – Random Entry Reminiscences

Random_Access_Memories (1)

Casino Royale – OST

casino royale


The methodology for this assessment I was decided to keep as simple as potential, so straight forward comparisons and a few longer listening periods, however nothing too difficult.


The primary part of the evaluate was carried out at my work desk, the place I do all my internet surfing, evaluation writing, and my Sony Vio was the source. Initial listening was completed with the DragonFly attached by way of direct connection to the laptop USB output, after which with a JitterBug plugged into the unused USB beside the DragonFly, then the DragonFly Red plugged into the JitterBug, then plugged into a Lotus Polestar USB and eventually an iFiAudio iPower.

The second half was carried out with a easy kitchen system -Onkyo CD/Tuner/Amplifier all in one- and the living room arrange, with the DragonFly Red hooked as much as each by way of a stereo mini jack to two RCA jacks adapter, and because it turned out AudioQuest make one, I obtained one and used it for the evaluation. These specific configurations me so much, as I needed to see simply how good the DragonFly Red can be, hooked as much as a  finances regular stereo system, and in a excessive end built-in amplifier and speaker combination, fairly than just headphones + pc, which I think will probably be principally used with in the marketplace.


As I stated above this assessment has taken quite a bit longer to do than initially meant and because of that I’ve used the DragonFly Red as a part of my each day life over no less than a yr, much longer than I usually get when a manufacturer, or distributor loan is the supply of the product. During this time the DragonFly Red has been used in a computer and Ipad arrange with headphones for YouTube video and music, and in addition as a part of a computer Skype headphone set up. In those aplications no matter I was listening to or watching it introduced a lot enjoyment to that have which solely using the output of the computer or IPad alone would not have. Lets be frank very few pc sources alone have an honest audio output and something that helps in that regard ought to be very welcome.

When using JRiver because the server + inner or external music fliles the DragonFly Red was a stunning system to make use of and none of the headphones I used with it have been troubled at all by the units output stage, all pushed nicely, with no obvious shortcomings. I have not executed a comparison with the DragonFly Black, but one facet of enchancment with the Red was its output degree/driving capability, so I think some headphones have been lower than a succesful match in the past.


Music was open and detailed with a nice soundstage, the in head effect various and appeared to mirror the selection of headphones used. The lesser headphones producing a extra in head presentation, with the Sennheiser HD560 and Grado GS1000 pushing the soundstage outdoors the top.

Tonal stability was on common simply to the warmer aspect of impartial with a properly extended bass, open midrange and non fatiquing treble.  The tracks I listened to off the Lifeless Can Dance albums all sounded very good and sometimes I had to remind myself relating to the nature of the gadget I used to be using, shaking my head at just how unimaginable it was contemplating its measurement.


Using the DragonFly Red hooked up to both the Ifi Audio USB power or the cheaper choice of the Audio Quest Jitter Bug, quite than just the USB out of the computer supply introduced apparent advantages to the quality of music copy and mixing the two, perhaps overkill to some, additionally pushed the envelope a bit additional.  Doing so opened up the soundstage slightly and finer details in the music have been simpler to hear, the ubiqitous cleaning of the soiled home windows analogy applying to the addition of the facility filters.

Kitchen System


In the course of the assessment period I obtained a nice example of an Onkyo CR-315 DAB CD/Tuner/Amplifier system for the kitchen, a thrift store score, the audio system of which I replaced with my long owned ProAc Super Tablets, these specific speakers courting back to the very early occasions I obtained into correct HiFi gear.


The DragonFly Red was hooked up to an iPad Pro by way of an Apple USB digital camera adapter, the AudioQuest stereo jack adapter and a set of interconnects I had to hand. Listening to varied YouTube sourced music tracks, regardless of the low decision of YouTube as a source for music was pleasant enjoyable, and nicely well worth the effort of doing. Definitely it might supply better sound quality if a streaming, or file player at excessive resloution had been used, but for a kitchen set up with lower than best set up circumstances the DragonFly Red provided a serious upgrade on sound, means above utilizing the iPad Pro by itself.


Dwelling Room System.


I’m going to enter a bit extra element here relating to my listening impressions of the DragonFly Red used in a extra coventional means, as most DACs are, hooked right into a separates system however first an fascinating step into what wonderful buyer care ought to be.

011_550x412While doing a bit preparation for this part of the evaluate an accident with my system occured. I used to be pulling a lead out of a bit of kit, which proved a lot tighter than I assumed, and in my efforts to tug it out my fist hit the again of the amplifier with a good bit of drive. A couple of minutes after this occurring I realised I had damaged one of the plugs on my Atlas Mavros speaker cable. An e-mail sent to Atlas in Scotland resulted in a fast reply from Kevin Kelly, and I arranged with him to return the cable for a restore. By the top of the week I had my repaired speaker cable back. I was very impressed with this degree of customer care, notably as my Atlas cables are long out of warranty.  Again on monitor I began listening to the Audio Quest DragonFly Red by way of my front room system.


I made a decision intially to casually take heed to a number of the music information hooked as much as the HP laptop computer I exploit for pc audio in the living room system and after a short while my fingers stopped on the iPad control app on the Alannah Myles monitor ‘One World Our Times’ off Rocking Horse.

011_550x412I sat back to take heed to this slice of melodic rock and there was good drive to the monitor, nice pace and respectable levels of seperation and element current. General excellent for music reproduced from an MP3 file. Nevertheless as I listened more it turned obvious that while the left to proper sound stage extended past the audio system there was a scarcity of image depth. Now this might have been right down to the nature of the file, MP3, or it may need been my system displaying up a deficency in the DragonFly Red. Further listening can be needed.


Switching to ‘Oh Dear’ (3072Kpbs) by Alyn Cusker, from the album Lyn’s Une had rather more depth of image, separation and element. Drums, bass and guitar interplay was properly deliniated however the monitor still displayed a slight flatness and lack of depth in comparison with how it normally sounds by way of my different admitedly far more costly DACs. The sax on the monitor, had nice body and prime finish however it lacked a degree of that 3D actuality that the file of this SACD often has. In saying that this music was a lot better than the MP3 monitor I had beforehand listened to.

014_550x412Subsequent up was Lifeless Can Dance’s ‘The Carnival is Over’ (2548Kbps) from Into the Labyrinth. All the elements have been there, and it was musically fulfilling however like the tracks before had a flater soundstage than normal, missing the dimensionality I am used to, nevertheless it was still good, excellent considering that a DAC the dimensions of a pen drive was the supply. At the finish of the monitor Brendan Perry’s spoken voice lacked the standard physique and dimensionality and was extra homogenised inside the fading music and acoustic.  Shifting on to the monitor ‘Bird’ it lacked a number of the typical beautiful 3 dimensional soundstage and imagery, nevertheless it was still good, simply lacking the traditional cavernous stroll in soundstage depth I am used to. The hen sounds, and instrument separation was nonetheless good just throughout a much less deep soundscape to regular.

‘How fortunate the Man’, was very fulfilling, but as with the other tracks simply lacking the depth of picture I used to be used to. There was an excellent spread left to proper and a few depth of picture, but despite the great seperation of devices, Bredan Perry’s haunting vocals and the swirling synths the music was missing some of its typical magic.


Switching subsequent to the late, The Absolute Sounds, Harry Pearson’s reference album On line casino Royale OST (5488Kbps) by Burt Bacharach, monitor ‘The Look of Love’ sounded superbly sensual and wonderful however as with other tracks, despite the 24 Bit 192 Khz nature of the master still had the flatness evident on other tracks, although much less so. The theme sounded pretty with no harshness on the massed brass devices, with very good separation of the devices, however it was still missing.

019_550x412As I sat and considered this I listened to a different MP3 file, Daft Punks, Radom Access Reminiscences (320Kpbs), the monitor ‘Giorgio’ by Moroder which was tonally wealthy, with excellent drive and nicely separated devices inside a large soundstage.

At occasions like this its straightforward to overlook how compromised MP3 is because the music sounded very nice and I was enjoying it, but right from the start Moroder’s spoken words lacked dimension and the monitor lacked the air of the CD or vinyl.

Using my Mystra DAC or the AMR DP777 DAC there was no comparison as both outperformed the DragonFly Red, and by an enormous margin. Nevertheless the DragonFly Red still sounded exceptionally good, and made fulfilling music. Nevertheless by listening to those DACs a thought entered my head, and I questioned if it was that source of power that had compromised some features of the efficiency, used direct from the computer USB output music lacked a degree of tonal weight and density and the afore mentioned soundstage depth.

To take a look at this thought I employed an iFi Audio iPower with an Audio Quest Jitter Bug in an adjoining unused USB and with the iFi and JitterBug in place, this mix definitely addressed a few of the depth points. As such if the arrange permits it I might urge the consumer to use an AudioQuest JitterBug and an iFi Audio USB energy.

In contrast though to my reference DACs, music still lacked a level of tonal weight and density and the afore mentioned soundstage depth, correctly as these DACs are vastly greater and massively costlier, and while I know my criticism of the DragonFly Red sounds dangerous I urge the reader to maintain in thoughts the uniqueness of the AudioQuest proposition, a USB Pen Drive sized DAC, and while acquiring its energy from the computer (the music and audio can also be taken from the USB output) might properly have compromised some points of the performance, make no mistake it is still a tremendous product.

Regardless of how the DragonFly Red is powered, or the shortage of depth I heard in the soundstage, it is nonetheless a shocking product and was and is a joy to make use of.



Perhaps I was being unfair relating to utilizing the DragonFly Red in a high end system, which could be considered outdoors its normal consolation zone, but I needed to see simply precisely what it might and couldn’t do, and the Red aquitted itself properly. Who would have thought, that so much might be packed into such a small area, and sound so good.  As I take a look at the AudioQuest DragonFly Red, weigh it in my hand, flip its shiny pink body time and again, I’m gob smacked by just what this tiny product can do, diminutive in measurement, modest value, and but really it punches nicely above its weight in terms of soundquality, in its part of the market, and I say all that despite the negatives I wrote above.

003_550x412Used as meant with headphones, related to an iPad, iPhone or comparable its excellent, exceptionally good, a implausible area saving option to increase the soundquality of any pc or iPad and in a less high finish system of more modest decision as a standard DAC, any brief comings in picture depth and detail decision being a lot less apparent. Nevertheless right here is the thing, the superb thing, this product made very pleasant music inside my excessive finish system, ridiculously good music for what it’s.

Indeed who might have imagined or believed such was attainable, properly in 2018 it is, and if you wish to push the DragonFly Red’s efficiency envelope, just add an AudioQuest Jitter Bug or 2, and iFi Audio iPower.

Extremely Advisable.


AudioQuest Dragonfly Red

Retail Worth – £170

Supply of loan – enduser/reviewer Bought.


    • USB Stick-Sized Digital-to-Analog Converter
    • Performs all music information: MP3 to high-res
    • Suitable with Apple and Windows PCs, as well as iOS and Android cellular units (requires Apple Digital camera Adapter or Made for Android/OTG adaptor)
    • Drives headphones immediately
    • Fastened output feeds preamp or AV receiver
    • Asynchronous switch ensures digital timing integrity
    • Excessive output (2.1 volts) drives virtually all headphones, together with power-hungry fashions
    • 32-bit ESS 9016 DAC with minimum-phase filter
    • Bit-perfect digital quantity management
    • 12mm (h) x 19mm (w) x 62mm (l)
    • Moveable, USB-powered digital-to-analog converters. Sampling rates supported: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96kHz. Digital input: USB Sort A, male plug (hardwired). Analog output: three-conductor, three.5mm telephone jack. Most output voltages: RMS; DragonFly Red (v1.0), 2.1V RMS.

Manufacturer: AudioQuest, 2621 White Street, Irvine, CA 92614. Tel: (949) 585-0111. Net:

(1) (12mm (h) x 19mm (w) x 62mm (l)

(2) AudioQuest say this concerning the JitterBug:

‘The Problem: All computing devices—laptops, smartphones, Network Attached Storage devices (NAS drives), media servers, etc.—inherently generate a significant amount of noise and parasitic resonances. Additionally, computers contribute a considerable amount of RFI and EMI pollution onto the signal paths—all of which can easily find its way onto your USB cables and into your audio system. This noise and interference has many negative effects. Noise-compromised digital circuitry increases jitter and packet errors, resulting in distortion that causes a comparatively flat and irritating sound. Noise-compromised analog circuitry also damages the sound’s depth,
heat and determination.

The Answer: JitterBug’s dual-circuitry measurably reduces unwanted noise currents and parasitic resonances. It additionally reduces jitter and packet errors (in some instances, packet errors are utterly eradicated).

The End result: Clearer and extra compelling sound, music, dialog, and so forth. A greater audio experience.’


‘Reduces the noise and ringing that plague both the data and power lines of USB ports. Measurably reduces jitter, unwanted noise currents, and parasitic resonances. Packet errors are sometimes eliminated completely. Improves dynamic contrast, warmth, and resolution.’


© Text and Pictures Copyright 2018 Adventures in Excessive Fidelity Audio. Besides album sleeves/producers photographs. Copyright resides with these house owners.

NB No half or portion of this text could also be reproduced or quoted without written permission.