12/30/19. Article cleanup, added some images. Added Table of Contents.
1/16/20. Added bit about Asynchronous USB.
1/28/20. Cleaned up Notepad section and replaced the old Dragon Tail recommendation with iFi’s better adapter.
3/3/20. Added Cobalt link.
2,253 word post, approx 4 min. read
Greetings comrade and Welcome aboard!!
Here are the best reasons to get a DragonFly Red over a Black!
More Power. The DragonFly Red provides 2.1V vs. only 1.2 for the Black. The Red version provides plenty for the majority of headphones you may come in contact with. You won’t have to upgrade down the road like you would if you decided to purchase the Black version.
Better Sound. The DragonFly Red’s sound is more refined, more detailed, and more organic. It has a warm tilt to it but is still incredibly detailed and musical. It’s a piece of kit that everyone will enjoy, from the average consumer to the seasoned audiophile. See what others are saying!
Before we get into the official AudioQuest Dragonfly Black vs. Red comparison, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this review
Today I will outline the AudioQuest Dragonfly Black and compare it to the Red version towards the end. 🙂 Also contained in this article will be the various other generations that are part of the line.
For as long as I can remember, the audio coming straight out of a computer or laptop has always sucked. Lol. For whatever reason, PC manufacturers seem to always neglect this very important aspect of a computer: IT’S SOUND.
Yes, a computers primary job as far as sound isn’t to knock your socks off, but it’s still an important component to any device. Think about how often you’re listening to music or playing a game through your PC. It’s a lot! Sadly, this aspect of the experience has been neglected for a long time, and to this day continues to be.
The good news is that companies like Samsung and Apple are making an effort to improve the quality of the internal DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) in most mobile devices, but AudioQuest has taken it a step further. What is a USB DAC?
Enter the Dragonfly.
Audioquest DragonFly v1.0 = First Generation. Distinguished by a Black 3.5mm plug.
Audioquest DragonFly v1.2 = Second Generation. Distinguished by a Gray 3.5mm plug.
Audioquest DragonFly Black v1.5 = Third Generation.Gray colored 3.5mm plug.
Audioquest DragonFly Red = Third Generation.Black 3.5mm plug.
Audioquest DragonFlyCobalt = Fourth Generation. I have not gotten a chance to demo this one, but will update the article once I do!
Let’s take a look at the Red version, as it’s the one you’ll probably want to invest in first.
Type: Digital to Analog Converter + Headphone Amplifier.
Output: 3.5mm jack.
Maximum Output Voltage: 2.1V
Maximum Input Signal: 96kHz/24-bit.
Dimensions: 19mm x 12mm x 62mm
Asynchronous USB: Yes.
The Dragonfly Red allows you to bypass the poor on-board sound of your laptop or PC. It also can be used with your phone or mobile device, but you will need some sort of adapter. More on that later!
AudioQuest brilliantly created a device that bridges the gap between the audiophile and your average consumer. It just screams convenience. At about the size of a typical USB thumb drive, you can literally take it anywhere.
Plug it into a USB port on your computer, wait for roughly 20 seconds, and you’re all set. I’ve never had an easier time with driver device software. After it’s ready to go, head on over to Sound, and look for the Dragonfly. Right click and “Set as default Device.”
The fun begins when you plug in your headphones, as this baby will render you speechless. I just had to smile knowing how bad my laptops internal sound card is. Being able to bypass the headache of buying a bulkier Amp/DAC combo is truly priceless.
I can’t get over the sound of the Dragonfly. It’s crisp, alive, loud, detailed, and leaves me with a warm feeling all over. I used to have to jack the volume up on my laptop just to hear anything. Now I only have to turn it up just a few notches and it’s already plenty loud. How designer Gordon Rankin was able to get something this small to sound so big is beyond me.
Like the CEntrance DACport HD, it also utilizes Asynchronous USB, which basically reduces timing errors (Jitter) during playback. This is ensured by making sure that the DAC is pulling the data from the source (in a much more streamlined manner), rather than the source (your phone for instance) pushing it through.
Convenient. Just plug and play.
Good build and materials. Doesn’t feel cheap.
Attractive, sleek, sexy.
Portable. Take it anywhere.
My Video Comparison & Shootout
Here I did an in-depth A/B comparison of the Black & Red version, as well as a Shootout between the FiiO E10K, DragonFly Red, and HA-2! Don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe to my growing channel. Any support is much appreciated! 🙂
Click to see the DragonFly Red! Didn’t get a chance to take pictures with the black yet. It’s the same thing except less power. 🙂
DragonFly Red goes to the beach
So who benefits?
Who this DAC benefits?
Everyone. If you have a pair of headphones that don’t sound good out of your laptop, you may go with the Black version. My recommendation fro you would be to just save for the Red because you won’t have to upgrade down the road should you level up your headphones. The Red version also uses that upgraded 9016 ESS DAC Chip. Be mindful that the black version won’t do as well with higher impedance cans like the HD600/800, etc. More on that in the Similarities and Differences section. 🙂
The cool thing about the Dragonfly is it’s ability to light up in different colors according to file size playback. This is done via 1mm LED inside the device that illuminates the logo on the outside.
Green = 44.1 kHz
Blue = 48 kHz
Amber = 88.2 kHz
Magenta = 96 kHz
If you plan to use any of the Dragonfly models with a phone, you’ll need an adapter.
For Android – iFi Audio’s OTG cable is much better than the original Dragon Tail, So I’m recommending it if you have an Android with Micro. There’s also one available for Type-C that you can click on in the same link. This Anker USB-C to USB 3.1 is also great if you have an Android with Type-C (It’s a bit cheaper but still gets really good reviews).
Both the Black (v1.5), and Red employ the 4 light sample rate code.
Both have the LED feature.
Both have 24bit/96kHz resolution, which bypasses the need for separate drivers. The only issue here is that a lot of people (myself included) have music files that far surpass these limitations. It doesn’t take away from the overall sound however.
The Dragonfly Red has a 32 bit ESS 9016 chip while the Black version has the 32 bit ESS 9010 chip. This basically provides a more realistic sound for each, but the Red is improved over the Black. Both have minimum phase digital filtering.
The Dragonfly Black has a 1.2V output while the Dragonfly Red has a 2.1V output. The difference is that the Red version will work for more expensive audiophile type headphones (with a lower sensitivity) like my beloved Sennheiser HD600, while the Black version will work for most headphones, but not the pricier models. See: Sennheiser HD600 Review.Also:What is Sensitivity in Headphones?
The Blackversion sounds more enjoyable and has a “bigger” sound, while the Red has a more audiophile type of sound: it’s more elegant and there’s less clutter/artifacts in the mix. There’s more nuance and detail with the Red version. It’s able to provide a clearer, smoother, more accurate overall image of the soundscape.
The casing on the Redhas a glossier, more elegant finish than the Black.
Check out what Robert Harley at Absolute Sound had to say about the differences.
But as good as the DragonFly Black is, I think that most TAS readers looking in this category will opt for the Red. Yes, it’s that much better and worth double the price. This is particularly true if you have difficult-to-drive headphones; the Red’s more robust output amplifier (2.1V vs. the Black’s 1.2V) has greater dynamic swings and more solid bass. The Red drove the Audeze LCD-4 headphones adequately, although at the maximum output level the volume was slightly lower than I would like for some music. The Red also improves on the Black with significantly greater smoothness, ease, and warmth. In my desktop system and through headphones, the Red upped the ante in every sonic criterion. On the wonderful Gerry Mulligan album Lonesome Boulevard, the Red conveyed the warmth and body of Mulligan’s baritone sax. The terrific piano playing (by a young Bill Charlap) was also better served by the Red, with cleaner attacks, more realistic timbre, and a greater sense of air around the instrument. The Red is also more dynamic, with greater impact on drums and a more lively and upbeat rendering. Robert Harley, Absolute Sound
These are exactly my thoughts regarding the Red version. It just has an incredible sense of instrument timbre, realistic presentation of the music, and an overall warm smoothness (but still with an incredible amount of raw detail). It’s truly an upgrade in every sense of the word. What is Timbre? Paired with a Sennheiser HD 650? Forget about it. One of the best pairings you can make.
The microchip micro-controller present in the AudioQuest Dragonfly Black 1.5 doesn’t draw as much current as the chip from v1.2 (Texas Instruments chip). So it’s easier on your phone, as it won’t suck the battery life nearly as fast (AudioQuest says 77% less current).
The v1.2 has better dynamics, detail, and clarity than the original v1.0.
The v1.5 (Black) is more balanced sounding than the v1.2.
The v1.5 (Black) has better mid-range clarity than the v1.2.
The v1.5 (Black) has a better Soundstage than the v1.2, with a clearer image of the artists, instrumentalists, and singers in question. What is Soundstage?
The v1.5 (Black) is livelier sounding than the v1.2.
The v1.5 (Black) has a tighter bass than the v1.2, which is more bloated and flabby sounding by comparison.
The v1.2’s bass sounds leaner than the original v1.0, which came across as a bit fuller but also more loose.
The v1.2 overall sounds cleaner, with more clarity than the original v1.0.
So what’s the final word?
Recommendation & Final Word
The DragonFly red is the perfect solution that bridges the gap between audiophile and consumer. I’ve demoed one on many occasions, and now own one. It seemingly sounds better and better the more I listen with it. It also sounds great with everything I paired it with: From the 63 Ohm Sony MDR V6, to the Audio Technica ATH M40x, to the 300 Ohm HD600, to my AKG K702, a HIFIMAN HEXX, the list goes on. It’s the most powerful DAC in this series, and is like having a mini headphone amp in the palm of your hand. You just can’t go wrong with it. It transformed all of my music and will do the same for you.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.