Home Amps/DACS AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt Review – OVERPRICED In 2024?

AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt Review – OVERPRICED In 2024?

Is the DragonFly Cobalt Worth A Purchase In Today's Overcrowded DAC Landscape?

by Stuart Charles Black
Published: Updated:
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Greetings mate and Welcome aboard. Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear) all over again, so…

At A Glance

Title
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter
Preview
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter
Native Resolution
Up to 24-bit/96kHz
Supported Sample Rate
44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, MQA
Chipset
ESS ES9038Q2M
Input/Output
3.5mm jack doubles as a headphone output and line out
Power Output
2.1V
Microcontroller
Microchip PIC32MX274
Headphone Amplifier
ESS Sabre 9601
Volume Control
64-Bit Digital
Prime
-
Price
$197.00
Learn More
Title
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter
Preview
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter
Native Resolution
Up to 24-bit/96kHz
Supported Sample Rate
44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, MQA
Chipset
ESS ES9038Q2M
Input/Output
3.5mm jack doubles as a headphone output and line out
Power Output
2.1V
Microcontroller
Microchip PIC32MX274
Headphone Amplifier
ESS Sabre 9601
Volume Control
64-Bit Digital
Prime
-
Price
$197.00
Learn More

AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H!

In The Box

AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC + Preamp + Headphone Amp

DragonTail USB Type-A to Type-C Adapter

Leatherette Travel Pouch

Protective End Cap

Limited 1-Year Warranty


Introduction

Recently I realized I didn’t have an actual review for this product, but did do an exhaustive back and forth with a few DACS back in 2020 and thought it would be helpful to revisit the Cobalt and perhaps double down on my previous stance towards it.

Was it worth $100 more than the DragonFly Red then?

Is it worth it now?

If it’s not, why?

By the end of this article,

you’ll know exactly whether or not you should purchase it and the reasoning behind my beliefs.

Introduction

It’s no secret that I’ve recommended the DragonFly Red the world over since I first tried one back in 2017.

I’ve owned one since 2018 and still believe it to be a great value today, even despite a barrage of new DACS flooding the market and making everything unnecessarily complicated.

Note: I have since stopped recommending the Red, so if you’re interested in why click here.

Naturally, when the Cobalt came out I was super excited to see what it was all about, but still wary since my friend Luke and I could already smell something fishy from a mile away.

After all, it’s BLUE. And what could be better than taking the blue pill?

Well, taking the red one could be bet… never mind.

Specifications

  • Native Resolution: Up To 24-bit/96kHz
  • Supported Sample Rate: Red: Standby Green: 44.1kHz Blue: 48kHz Yellow: 88.2kHz Light Blue: 96kHz Purple: MQA.
  • Output: 2.1 Vrms
  • Microcontroller: Microchip PIC32MX274
  • DAC: ESS 9038 Q2M
  • Headphone Amplifier: ESS Sabre 9601
  • Volume Control: 64-Bit Digital

DragonFly Cobalt Features

In addition to lighting up different colors according to the source, the volume is again controlled by your PC/Laptop/phone.

You may or may not like this feature, but I don’t mind it.

The difference this time around is that the Cobalt’s colors vary a bit from the original Red version:

  • Red: Standby
  • Green: 44.1kHz
  • Blue: 48kHz
  • Yellow: 88.2kHz
  • Light Blue: 96kHz
  • Purple: MQA.

Again, doesn’t matter much but should be pointed out.

Convenience

The Cobalt is small and portable, and if you can believe it it’s even smaller than the DragonFly Red with a slightly different shape/curves/contours.

The illuminations are smaller as well. These are interesting tidbits but in the long run, again, don’t matter much.

Another thing I noticed when I first compared the 2 is that the 3.5mm jack protrudes out a bit from the DAC on the newer Cobalt.

You’ll notice this in the picture above. By contrast, the Red’s jack is kind of seated in the unit.

I found this did not affect the sound as neither of them cuts out or gives me any issues.

Again you’re getting a provided leatherette case but the Cobalt also includes an OTG cable which I thought was a nice addition.

AKG K702 vs. Sennheiser HD600

Portable Power. Also pictured: Centrance DACport HD.

As A DAC

The Cobalt, like the Red, can be used as just a DAC into a separate Amplifier of your choosing.

Just make sure it has either RCA inputs or a line input.

As A Preamp

In addition to that, you can also use the Cobalt as a preamp for separate active speakers such as the Presonus Eris e3.5s.

Just purchase an RCA to mini cable and you’re set.

Pros

  • Ultra-convenient and Portable.
  • Great build even for such a small piece.
  • Remarkable sound quality.
  • Extremely versatile for such a tiny unit.

Cons

  • Price. We’ll get into that in a bit.

My Video Comparison

Here I compared the Cobalt to a few other DACS. Don’t forget to leave me some love and subscribe! <3

OTG Cable Options

AudioQuest does supply a DragonTail USB Type-A to Type-C Adapter, but if you have an older Android with a Micro USB connection, you’ll want to snag this UGREEN Micro USB 2.0 OTG Cable.

The burning question is that of value: Is the DragonFly Cobalt worth over $300?

Let’s take a look at its internals.

DAC Chip

The Cobalt houses a 9038Q2M chip which interestingly enough also appears in The Burson Playmate 2 and Hidizs S9 Pro.

This supposedly provides better sound than the Red’s 9018 chip.

But, does it really?

This is where things may get controversial, so if you’re reading this and don’t share the same opinion as me, don’t freak out about it and start banging away on your keyboard.

It’s just my opinion and not necessarily right or wrong.

I compared these 2 exhaustively for many hours and I can tell you without a doubt they sound just about 99% the same.

I used both Tidal Hi-Fi and Spotify Premium, FLAC, DSD, etc.

In other words, I used high-quality files regardless.

Now, there were a few instances where I felt like the Cobalt was a tad more refined sounding, but that could have just been my imagination and/or a placebo.

Those examples were the exception and not the rule.

Don’t get me wrong, I do prefer the sound of ESS chips over others (AKM, Burr Brown, etc.) but I don’t feel as though the Cobalt’s 9038 is worth over $100 more than the 9018 because there are no other differences between the Red and Cobalt outside of the chip implementation.

If you believe the 9038 provides a better sound, more power to you (no pun intended). I do not.

If you’d like a more in-depth sound comparison of these 2, look to the AudioQuest DragonFly Red vs. Cobalt article.

Just know that the sound of these 2 is roughly the same and I’d bet a lot of money that you wouldn’t be able to discern which is which in a blind test.

AudioQuest DragonFly Red vs. Cobalt vs. Chord Mojo

Cobalt isn’t as photogenic, but you can see how the Red kind of showing a little skin.

If I had to guess, I’d say the folks over at AudioQuest gathered around their marketing round table and said something to the effect of:

“Wow, fellas. I don’t think anyone expected the DragonFly Red to be so popular. Who’d of thought that an Amp/DAC roughly the size of a flash drive could make people soil themselves with delight? I think we really have something special on our hands. I think it’s time to make another one, only this time it’ll be blue and smaller (as it’s much easier to swallow a small blue pill), but we’ll also change the chip. Then we’ll charge $100 more for it. I guarantee you the audiophile community will lap it up.”

And lap it up they did, friends.

Most reviewers out there recommended this thing without a second thought, but time has taught us that it wasn’t worth it.

In fact, they’ve actually lowered the price by around $100 (Subject to change at any time), which goes to show that no, it wasn’t worth its initial asking price – not then, and certainly not now. 

When you also consider that the Cobalt, even at a discounted price, doesn’t even come close to being as versatile as something like a K5 Pro/K7, it should make you raise an eyebrow.

Well, mine have been raised for years now. I was telling people in 2020 how overpriced this thing was and sure enough it has finally come down.

Even if it does go back up, it will never, ever be worth $300. Not even close.

In any event,

I’ve recommended the DragonFly Red quite a bit since 2017/2018 but there’s another option that could put an end to both the Red and Cobalt.

Interested?

Learn More:

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion/review on the DragonFly Cobalt and are now better equipped to make a purchasing decision!

Would you fork over an extra $100 for it? I would love to hear your thoughts.

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

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12 comments

Neil Mitchell February 22, 2022 - 6:06 am

Awesome review Stu, it was totally wicked potatoes! I think you were pretty well spot on with your comments. I have both the Red and the Cobalt, and here’s my take. All depends on the headphone. My LCD2C needs the little bit of brightness the Red provides, as the Audeze needs that slight kick in the pants to bring some treble and excitement to the table, HOWEVER…..my HEKSE needs no more brightness or pizazz or excitement than it already is able to portray, so I find the Cobalt, being a little smoother and more liquid than the Red, tames the SE out nicely, whereas using the Red can sound a little bit shrill. I use them both, one for each headphone, and that turns out great for me. Love the site Stu, it looks just great!! Hope you have been keeping well, keep up the fantastic work!!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 23, 2022 - 3:47 pm

Haha Hey Neil!

Wicked potatoes makes their return. xD I’m actually learning how to grow them in buckets! Also would make a funny handle on Modern Warfare. What do you think? Wicked_Potatoes_5000 LOL. But thanks for the love my friend! Always great to hear from you.

Nice impressions. I’d like to actually A/B them again and see if my impressions are still the same.

What other headphones do you have at the moment, anything? I’ve been gaming a lot on Multiplayer and going to do a shootout with the headphones I have here determining which is best for directional cues/footsteps etc. I have the Arya, 400se, DEVA, 9500, K702, and I may even throw the 612 in there although it’s actually up for sale on eBay.

Hope to chat soon!

-Stu

Reply
Neil Mitchell February 25, 2022 - 9:29 pm

Stu!!
ALL modern warfare should be waged with potatoes, what an incredible idea lol!!!!! Instead of shooting someone you could just bean him in the head with a potato!!!! You’re on to something there Stu!!!
I don’t have too many headphones, I probably need more!! I have HFM HEKSE, original HE400s, Audeze LCD2C, and some Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless buds. The HEKSE has a sensitivity of 96db, which is pretty good for a full size planar so that’s why I can wander around the house with it, powered by the Cobalt.
The Arya must be pretty darn awesome for gaming eh?? Sounds like you have a good gaming headphone situation going on there!!!
Stu, how hilarious you’re growing some bucket potatoes, that is truly impressive!!!
I should partner with Wicked Headphones and they can design little brown earbuds that look like potatoes and call them “Wicked Potatoes” lol !!
I don’t know how you write about and test so much gear Stu, that’s pretty incredible in itself, but it’s all a great read and always a pleasure talking with you too, take care my friend!!!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black March 6, 2022 - 2:58 pm

Lol you could do that in Fallout 3. Remember that gun? I shot Teddy Bears out of it xD I can’t remember what it was called. Just looked it up. The Rock-It Launcher! Lmao https://fallout.fandom.com/wiki/Rock-It_Launcher

Hey man, that’s actually a really good idea. I will have to jot it down 🙂

Well, the Arya is pretty good for gaming but I need more time with it because I’m not completely sold yet. 400se wasn’t that great for FPS. DEVA is good but I need more time to really analyze it. The 9500 and K702 so far are the best for directional cues. The other day I had the 9500 on and just sat and waited for a guy. Knew exactly where he was coming from. I also run Ninja on my classes so that helps too. I despise hearing my own footsteps because it makes me paranoid.

Talk soon!

Reply
Greg Sims October 4, 2022 - 4:22 am

Liked your review. I happened to have found the Cobalt brand new for $250 on Amazon (don’t think that they’re offering that price anymore though). It also included the Dragontail Carbon adapter and the case. That said, I do think it was worth the extra $20 (the Dragontail Carbon adapter is $30). I’ve also heard that the Red worked best with the Jitterbug JMS and the Cobalt has the Jitterbug JMS technology built into it. First, heard them used with Parasound & Orchard Audio amps at a show last month and was really impressed. I use it in my audio system, not headphones, and it sounds fantastic as it gives plenty of detail, clarity, and soundstage with MQA content (which is what I use it for exclusively). I also put it up against the DAC in my AudioLab 8300CDQ using MQA content and can’t distinguish any real difference. So if Amazon puts it out again at $250 (maybe during their Amazon Days October 11-12) I’d highly recommend people take advantage of it if they’re vassillating on purchasing one.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 4, 2022 - 3:54 pm

Glad to hear your experiences went so well! Also want to thank you for pointing out that trying to distinguish differences between these types of things is a largely futile endeavor.

Reply
Alin October 11, 2022 - 1:17 pm

In 2022 in Romania you can buy the complete package with the guarantee of a new product for 217 USD; I think this price is a really fair price.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 11, 2022 - 6:03 pm

Hey man,

What’s in the complete package?

Reply
Alin October 13, 2022 - 10:30 am

The complete package means: DragonTail USB Type-A to Type-C Adapter, Leatherette Travel Pouch, Protective End Cap and 2 free months for ROON.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 13, 2022 - 2:07 pm

Yeah, that’s a pretty good deal though the cap isn’t an extra. Pouch maybe. The thing about it is that this DAC should never have been $300 to start. There’s nothing about it that’s any better than a DAC in the $100 range and that’s what my point has always been. Anyone paying that price is getting ripped off badly.

Reply
Alin October 14, 2022 - 12:12 pm

So what do you think, is $217 a price worth paying for a Cobalt?

Stuart Charles Black October 14, 2022 - 5:57 pm

I mean, it’s a good deal in the context of what we discussed, but no, I’d probably still save $100+ and get an S9 Pro which I’m actually using now. It has the same 9038Q2M chip for around $100 and sounds great.

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