Originally published 12/14/17.
- 12/29/19. Article cleanup.
- 2/17/22. Article Revisit.
- 7/21/22. Article/Recommendation update.
Aloha friend and Welcome aboard!!
Before we get into the Audioquest Dragonfly Red Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
You’ve come to the right place!!
Today we’ll take another look at the DragonFly Red and find out if it’s still worth a purchase in 2022.
It’s been a top recommendation of mine for a few years now, and I wanted to see if it holds up among the current oversaturated DAC market and if not, what should you be targeting instead?
By the end of this article, you should know everything it’s capable of and if it’s right for you.
Table of Contents
Click to navigate the review!
The DragonFly: A Deeper Look
Video Comparison with DragonFly Black
Thoughts From Stu’s Notepad
The Dragonfly: A Deeper Look
On the surface, the name Dragonfly given to a portable Amp/DAC as small as this seems fairly straightforward. It’s lightweight, extremely portable, and can literally go anywhere much like a real Dragonfly.
When I first wrote this article, I didn’t give it much of a second thought. But as I was creating the graphic for the article months later, I became interested in the backstory of the insect itself. It turns out that these somewhat erratic creatures are extremely fascinating upon further examination.
Let’s take a gander.
You may recognize the predator Dragonfly as almost an afterthought, even though it’s been around for about 300 million years! Whenever I see them during the summer they always have this tendency of darting around aimlessly (so it seems), and because they don’t pose a threat and never bother others, I just sort of ignore them. They’re really peaceful as well. One even landed on my lap while I was at the pool and I wasn’t scared at all. And no, it wasn’t the one pictured to the right. How could you even insinuate that I would harm a Dragonfly! Lol.
But really, imagine that, an insect that doesn’t bother you. Wow. What a concept. I wish Bumblebees and Wasps would take note. Lol.
What’s incredible about a Dragonfly is the fact that it can move at speeds of 45 mph, hover, fly backward like a hummingbird, fly straight up, straight down, and side to side.
Uh, I guess humans are pretty cool too. We can attempt to walk in a straight line after being pulled over by the cops. Lol. What’s even more impressive is that it can do all these things while only flapping its wings 30 times per minute. For perspective’s sake, a Mosquito must flap 600 times and a Housefly 1000 times!
The beautiful Dragonfly also showcases iridescent, opaque wings that reveal what’s called Structural Coloration: The ability to reflect many different colors as the angle or view of illumination changes.
Though we see them as flying insects, only a small portion of this time (a few days to a few weeks) is spent in the air. The majority of their 6-7 month lifespan occurs as larvae (or nymph) in the freshwater regions.
Its metamorphosis takes form when the larva comes out of the water to hang from the bank or some sort of stem while enjoying the warm sunshine and eventually turning into an adult Dragonfly. Before it can take flight, its wings have to dry; in this state it’s referred to as the Latin word teneral, meaning tender, soft, or delicate.
Many “tenerals” in this critical stage die out due to strong force winds, boats, other predators, and even other larvae! How sinister is that? A soon-to-be Dragonfly can be taken out by a larva in its infancy. Mind blown. Call it not-so-friendly fire.
Though the Dragonfly in flight is a formidable predator, it must constantly be on the lookout for other predators like birds, lizards, frogs, fish, and more. Because of these dangers, the Dragonfly is naturally well equipped with 360-degree vision, extremely agile flight, and a fast speed as discussed earlier. That’s God’s handy work!
Unfortunately, the mature Dragonfly’s life is short-lived, only surviving for a maximum of 6-7 months in ideal conditions, and sometimes as little as just a few weeks!
If there were ever a creature to live in the moment, it’s the Dragonfly. Let that be a lesson to us as humans. We tend to live in the past or future a lot of the time, always worried about our “plans” and constantly looking ahead for better days. Even worse, some of us can’t stop reflecting on past mistakes and what we could have done better. The fact is that it’s hard to live in the here and now, but it is possible.
Life is but a fleeting moment, so let’s make the best of it by being grateful for what we do have, and loving ourselves right where we are.
Audioquest DragonFly Red
- Price: Check Amazon | Check eBay!
- Input: USB
- Output: Headphone, 2.1 volts
- Dimensions: 12 mm x 19 mm x 82 mm
- Resolution: Up to 24-bit / 96 kHz
- MicroController: Microchip PIC32MX
- DAC Chip: ESS 9016 32-bit
- Volume Control: Digital: 64-bit Bit Perfect Volume Control
I knew before even demoing this baby that it was going to sound good. What I didn’t realize is just how good it really is. As far as value and price to performance, I would almost rank it ahead of both the Oppo HA-2 and a Chord Mojo. Why?
Because it’s about the size of a Tic-Tac.
Okay maybe not that small, but you get the idea. 😛 You can literally take it anywhere! You can also pair it with your phone, but an OTG cable is needed. More on that later.
If the sound of your laptop’s internal Soundcard sucks (most do), and you don’t feel like investing in a desktop solution, but still want to experience what an Amp/DAC combo is all about, I would buy this almost instantly without hesitation.
What makes it so valuable is the fact that it will improve the resolution and clarity of almost any song via its powerful Digital to Analog Converter. How the heck can something so small be so amazing? We’ll delve into that in a bit. First, learn more about how your PC processes sound: Bit Depth vs. Sample Rate.
A DAC’s primary function is to convert the 1’s and 0’s (digital data) from your computer, phone, mobile device, etc., into sound that you can understand (analog). If you’re screaming obscene rap lyrics into your mic, your computer understands it in a binary way and doesn’t judge you. 😛
But if the DAC is crap, then the sound is no good. My old Lenovo T510’s internal soundcard was trash and also didn’t get loud enough.
A solution like the Dragonfly Red provides a quick fix by not only amplifying the sound to a listenable level but making the quality of the conversion itself better in the process.
Dragonfly Red Features
What’s neat about the Dragonfly is its ability to light up in different colors according to the source file. This is done via a 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
The other cool thing about the DragonFly is that as soon as you plug it in its volume is controlled by your laptop. You may or may not like this feature, but I personally don’t mind it.
One of the best aspects of this device is its ability to go anywhere at any time. I personally hate traveling with a lot of excess, and the DragonFly makes it possible to quickly pack up and leave without worrying about wires, power cables, etc.
The provided leatherette case protects the DragonFly from getting damaged, giving you peace of mind on the commute.
As A DAC
Perhaps the DragonFly’s best feature, and one that prevents me from selling it, is that its 3.5mm jack doubles as not only the headphone out but also a line out.
I can’t tell you how many times the Red has come in handy when I quickly need a DAC to pair with a separate amp that has line-in or RCA inputs.
Because I review so many products, I keep the Fly on my desktop since it’s versatile in that regard and I always have a DAC around. This prevents me from getting caught with my pants down as the DragonFly can pair with almost anything.
As A Preamp
- Ultra-convenient and Portable.
- Great build even for such a small piece.
- Remarkable sound quality.
- Extremely versatile for such a tiny unit.
My Video Comparison
Here I compared the Red to a few other DACS. Don’t forget to leave me some love and subscribe! <3
Click to see the DragonFly Red!
DragonFly Red goes to the beach
Thoughts from Stu’s notepad
So as promised, it is possible to use the Dragonfly Red with your phone, and you have a few options at your disposal:
- For Android – The Audioquest Dragon Tail or this Anker USB-C to USB 3.1, which is cheaper, gets better reviews and seems more flexible.
- Older Androids – If you have an older phone like me (Galaxy S5), this UGREEN Micro USB 2.0 OTG Cable will do the trick.
- For Apple – The Apple MK0W2AM/A Lightning To USB Camera Adapter will work.
- If you need more room for the DAC: Audioquest Dragon Tail USB Extender.
If you’re on a MAC, the USB ports on the back may fare better as far as sound quality goes. The ports on the side are said to be not as good and may result in a slight degradation in quality.
As for why such a small piece of equipment can sound so amazing? The secret lies in its 32-bit ESS 9016 chip, which provides a more realistic sound and an upgrade from the Dragonfly Black’s 32-bit ESS 9010 chip. Related: The Best DAC Chip In Headphone Audio
Also, its 2.1V output provides more power for higher-end audiophile-type headphones with poor efficiency. What is Sensitivity in Headphones? For instance, the Dragonfly powers my Sennheiser HD 600 with relative ease, something I was completely taken aback by when first demoing this unit.
The Dragonfly Red provides a portable, convenient, and highly effective solution for your desire to obtain great sound.
Its price-to-performance ratio is astounding, its sound is something I’ve harped on as being superior to many other DACS over the years, and it’s built extremely well despite being so small. Add to that it’s incredibly versatile for a unit the size of a flash drive and you’ll always have a use for it in the studio.
I first demoed it in 2017, owned one since 2018, and don’t plan on ever selling it. Even at its asking price of roughly $200, I still think it’s a great value and one piece of gear that I will likely always recommend in some capacity.
2022 & Beyond Update
Well, I’ve recommended the Red for quite a number of years and I still think it’s a solid option, but there may be a better value on the horizon. Something cheaper that houses the same DAC chip that the overpriced Cobalt uses and one that’s also cheaper than a DragonFly Red.
Interested in learning more about it?
Well that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Audioquest DragonFly Review.
What do you think about this piece? Is it worth the investment? Let me know!!
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Let me know in the comments below or Contact me!! I would love to hear from you.
Until then, all the best and God bless…