Now without further ado, let’s get rolling, shall we?
I’ve been wanting to get my hands on a DragonFly Cobalt for quite some time.
Every year, my local Audio Advice in Raleigh, N.C. holds what they call “Music Matters”, a small audio get together showcasing different companies and the new products that they have coming out.
I’ve met some really cool people there including my friend Luke Wagoner. I also see some of the same reps, including the one from AudioQuest who was super excited about the Cobalt. Like, really, really excited. He told us that it was a marked improvement over the Red and sounded even better. At that point, I still had not demoed one (Oct. 2019) but was itching to compare it to the Red and see if the hype was warranted.
Outside of his impressions, Luke’s impressions, as well as another of my subscribers on YouTube, I haven’t read any reviews, watched any content, or asked anyone their opinion on the Cobalt. Even despite the fact that I’m 100% immersed in the audiophile world nearly 24/7, I wanted this shootout/comparison to be as unbiased as possible.
I realize that in this day and age, that’s almost impossible, but again: I haven’t researched any opinions, and anything that I may have heard from others wasn’t sought after. With a product as highly anticipated as the Cobalt, it became fairly difficult NOT to hear at least something in passing about it.
But I digress.
I own a DragonFly Red, I’m demoing a Cobalt now, I have spent a few months with the DACport HD, and I’ve also tried the Chord Mojo on a few different occasions (for console gaming and music). I have a very good idea of how the 4 sound in relation to each other.
So, is the Cobalt better than the Red? Is it worth the extra $100? How does the Mojo stack up? What about the ugly duckling DACport HD?
We’ll completely dissect all of these questions and more from A-Z. By the time you’re finished reading this, you should A) Be fairly exhausted, B) Be laughing, and C) Have an excellent idea of which Amp/DAC is the most worthy of your hard-earned dollar. This guide will attempt to answer any and all questions you may have!
In one of my other shootouts, I compared the DragonFly with that of a standard USB flash drive. That isn’t incorrect, but it had been a while since I actually held a Flash Drive in my hand.
For this comparison, I thought I’d whip out the old storage stick to compare. Lo and behold, the Fly is actually quite a bit heavier, at least it feels like it is.
I’ve always loved how a Red feels in my hand. It doesn’t come across as cheap by any measure, while a Cruzer Micro 4GB does. Keep in mind that the DragonFly is indeed an Amplifier and DAC rolled into an absolutely minuscule package, so there’s that. Related:What is a USB DAC? The Cruzer simply stores a small amount of information and isn’t called upon to convert digital information into analog sound.
The point is that the Red is built very well.
The Cobalt is too! The main difference between the 2 is that the Cobalt is smaller (some claim even more portable), and weighs a bit less.
Look, both fit into your pocket. Who cares. To me it’s a marketing tactic:
“Look! It’s even smaller! You can take it anywhere! And when we say anywhere, we mean .. ANYWHERE.”
Lol. Yes, the Cobalt has a smaller form factor and bears a sleeker, more elegant-looking profile. Are we runway modeling, or listening to music? It’s a DAC made out of inanimate objects for F’s sake, not Anna Kournikova.
That said, I still actually prefer the look of the DragonFly Red, but that’s just me.
The Cobalt is shorter in height, and also slimmer in width. Both the DragonFly logo and LED illumination of said Cobalt are smaller as well.
Both have the “aq” on the bottom in lowercase letters, but the Red version has a sort of grip/protrusion jutting outward. The Cobalt does not. Instead, the top of the Cobalt slopes in a gentle downward trajectory, resembling that of an extremely shallow hill. If you turn it and look from the side you can see it. It’s rounded off toward the base, while the Red is squared. The Red however isn’t a square, which we’ll find out more about later. 😛
The FragonDly Red by contrast is also very boxy looking, similar to the relationship between the FiiO K3 vs. E10K. One looks more industrial, while the other looks more sleek and modernized. The Cobalt is very futuristic looking and curvy.
One small issue I had with the Cobalt is that of its 3.5mm jack and USB male end that plugs into your PC.
Both feel a tad too jiggly for my liking, similar to Jiggly Puff.
If you look at the 3.5mm jack on the Cobalt, it protrudes slightly outside of the unit itself. You can move it around with your finger. I’m not really sure how I feel about that, though it hasn’t affected the sound any.
By contrast, the DragonFly Red’s 3.5mm jack is depressed a bit inside the unit itself, and doesn’t move at all. I much prefer this configuration.
The other issue is that of the USB male end. Again, on the Cobalt it kind of wiggles around a bit too much for my liking.
The good news is that it fits much more flush into the USB port on my Lenovo X1 Extreme.
The DragonFly Red by contrast kind of sticks out a little. Still, no effect on sound with either so I suppose it’s not really a big deal. What I do like better with the Cobalt is that it doesn’t hang down as my Red does. It fits flush, but also sticks out straight rather than sagging. Still, with a headphone plugged into either DAC, it will hang a bit. No effect on the sound, but again: something to keep in mind.
Both come with a leather-looking sleeve to put in while you’re on the go, but the Cobalt also comes with the Dragon Tail adapter for your phone. It is Type-C, so if you have a phone with Micro USB, you’ll need an adapter like this one.
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 as I do. It also comes available in Type-C. 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).
Let’s now take a look at how the DACport HD stacks up!
CEntrance DACport HD
Asynchronous USB: Yes
Support: Up to 32-bit/384kHz
The DACport by contrast is a bit heavier, but also a bit larger in stature.
It resembles a slightly bulkier BIC lighter, with its rounded off corner and conveniently placed volume rotary dial. Neither the Cobalt nor Red have a volume dial on them. You’ll simply use your laptop/PC’s controls.
The DACport also has a 3.5mm jack, but I was personally having issues with the sound cutting out. Confirmed: it is the jack itself.
I’ve tried it with various different headphones and I’m having problems with all of them. At first, I thought it was the HE4XX’s jack, but both the Sennheiser HD600’s and AKG K702’s have been giving me fits. I’m not sure if inToit Reviews was having the same issue. I also had an issue with a simple 3.5mm interconnect from the DACport HD into the Bravo Ocean, so I’m 100% certain it’s a faulty jack.
On the side of the DACport, you’ll find a gain switch. I find it necessary to keep it on high gain most of the time for a couple of reasons.
It requires a toothpick, paperclip, or something similar to switch from high gain to low (or vice versa). The switch is depressed inside the unit.
I found that I need all of the power supplied by the DACport with headphones like the K702, HD600, and HE4XX.
I don’t fault CEntrance for configuring the unit in this way. It prevents damage to the switch while in your pocket or on the go, and it also prevents blowing your eardrums out if you accidentally tick the gain on at full volume.
Asynchronous USB: Yes
Support: Up to 32-bit/768kHz
The Mojo is quite a bit heftier than either the Cobalt, Red, or DACport, coming in at a solid 180g.
The DragonFly Cobalt is the lightest at 19g.
The DragonFly Red is a bit heavier at 23g.
The DACport HD is a bit heavier than that at 36g.
The Mojo is the heaviest at 180g.
Aside from that, the Mojo and DACport HD do have some extra features to speak of.
What I like about the Cobalt and Red is that they have the illuminated logo that displays different LED colors depending on the source file. Both are also MQA enabled with Tidal, but make sure that you set them to Exclusive mode inside the program or the colors will not change.
To do so is simple:
Head up to the very top left of the screen and you’ll see 3 small bars/lines.
Click and go to File > Settings.
Now you’re inside the Matrix. Just kidding.
Click the Streaming Tab.
Scroll down until you see “Sound Output.” First, make sure it’s on either the Cobalt or Red (Whichever you’re using). The cool thing about both is that they don’t require drivers. Simply plug and play!
Right next to Sound Output you’ll see “More Settings.” Click that.
Tick the switch to enable exclusive mode.
Now you’re all set! The colors will change according to the source file. Let’s take a look:
Purple: MQA. Give me some of that purple!
Light Blue: 96kHz
So as you can see, they changed the colors around a little.
Outside of that, there aren’t any other real “features” to speak of. AudioQuest almost exclusively relies on the sound of the DragonFly itself to deliver you an engaging and beautiful experience. No bass boost. No gain.
That said, either Cobalt or Red can be used as solely a DAC into a separate Amp. Right now I’m using the DF Red with a 3.5mm interconnect into the Bravo Audio Ocean. It sounds marvelous!
As mentioned above, the CEntrance does have a gain switch, and it also functions as just a DAC via its line in/out.
The Mojo is a bit different in that it has an Optical Input (can be used for Console Gaming), 2 sets of 3.5mm headphone jacks, and a coaxial input as well as 2 micro USB slots. One is for charging and the other is for listening. Keep in mind you can listen and charge it at the same time.
Instead of having a rotary volume dial like the DACport, the Mojo opts to utilize small rolling globes that you essentially press. One increases volume, the other decreases it. The third volume globe is the power button and also represents the source file according to color. This time there’s an even wider array of colors due to the Mojo being able to support up to 32-bit/768kHz files. I’ve read some people b*tching and complaining about it, but it’s really not that difficult to grasp if you’re educated above a second-grade level. 🙂
Let’s take a peek.
Hold down the power button globe ball thingy for 2 seconds. After this, the Mojo will turn on, and the volume globes will also display colors. The unit should be recognized by your PC almost instantaneously. Once it is, find it in your Control Panel’s Sound section. It should say “Chord Async USB 44.1kHz – 768kHz.” Right-click and set it as your default device!
Take note of the different colors on the power button and what they refer to.
When you’re playing back music, the power button globe will display many colors depending on the sample rate of the song in question. Learn more:Bit Depth vs. Sample Rate!
Red= 44.1kHz. Orange = 48. Yellow = 88.2 Green = 96. Light Blue = 176. Dark Blue = 192. Light Purple = 352. Purple = 384. Plum = 768. Light Plum = DSD.
Take note of the volume colors.
The volume buttons also change colors depending on how loud or quiet you’re listening to it. The pattern seems to mimic the above pattern for sample rate upon intense examination.
With that out of the way, what about Ergonomics? What can you expect with regard to power output and the like?
Ergonomics & Power Output
The DragonFly Red and Cobalt provide 2.1V of power across the board. With this much juice, you’ll never have to worry. Both will drive most headphones to more than acceptable listening levels. I’ve never had an issue with anything I’ve come across, ranging from any HiFiMan (400i/400S/4XX/Ananda/Sundara) to the Sennheiser HD600, 650, 6XX, to an AKG K702, K240, and really anything in between.
The DACport provides 775mW of total power, touting the ability to drive 600 Ohm headphones as well.
Output Power @ 1kHz – 600Ω 35mW
Output Power @ 1kHz – 8Ω 720mW
As you can see, you won’t lack power with any of these. They all provide more than enough in the majority of cases and match up well with 99% of headphones.
What about the most important part, the sound? Hold onto your butts folks, because sh** is about to get real.
I did some extensive back and forth with the DragonFly Red and Cobalt, and I have some news that you may or may not like.
The sound of both is roughly the same.
I know it’s hard to swallow like you’re at the dentist, but we’re going to take the Red pill today (no pun intended). Do you see? The Blue Pill is the Cobalt. It’s a comfortable lie. It’s what you take when you want to convince yourself that the extra money you spent was justified.
The DragonFly Red is the Red pill. It’s the uncomfortable truth of realizing that all of this sh** is overrated and we’re living in the Matrix.
I did an extensive back and forth with quite a few MQA albums inside Tidal, and I can assure you that the differences are almost non-existent. In fact, I went back and forth for the entire duration of the Grateful Deads’ “Terrapin Station” in real-time, trying to discern a difference. That’s over 16 minutes of switching DACs fast, rewinding to double-check the Timbre of the drums, the overall expansiveness of the sound, vocal inflections, resolution, detail, expansiveness, etc., etc. (insert snobby audiophile term here ____ ). Like Dynamism. What HIFI? likes to use that one a lot. Wow. Many Dynamism. Such Audiophile. Please stop.
There was hardly anything to speak of. If there are any differences, they’re minuscule and in a blind test won’t even be discernible to 99% of people. That’s as close to a fact as there is my friend. Go ahead, challenge me on it. You’ll lose BUSTER.
To me, the release of the Cobalt was more marketing and hype than it was substance. In my opinion, all of the accolades it’s gotten were the direct result of reputation.
“It’s an AudioQuest product. It must be good! We must help market it immediately! You know people love dem there shiny new objects!”
Well, that’s not untrue. The Cobalt does sound good, but: what exactly about it is better? It has an updated 9038Q2M DAC Chip. Cool. The older Red had a 9016ESS and the old old Black had a 9010. So … what? Should that make me believe it’s better? Because technically, it may be, but in practice, it’s not.
That said, don’t get me wrong – I love the sound of both. As musical devices for new listeners looking for an upgrade from their crappy motherboard/phone DAC, they are fantastic. It’s just that the Cobalt isn’t worth the extra $100. Not by a long shot.
The sound of both you ask? It’s a cross between warm and detailed. It isn’t completely neutral, nor is it over the top warm like your grandma’s freshly baked cookies.
It kind of sits in the middle.
If there is a difference between these 2, I only perceived it during the very first track, “Estimated Prophet”, off of the aforementioned Terrapin Station.
From my notes:
“The vocal inflection of Hunter’s voice (meant to say Bob Weir*) seemed more revealing through the Cobalt vs. Red. At 33 seconds, the decay of his voice seemed to be better and more fully fleshed out. The overall resolution on the Cobalt does seem slightly improved. It’s especially apparent with vocals. You can hear more subtlety going on in the mix.”
Notice I said “seemed” twice for a reason without really even being consciously aware while I was writing.
Also, keep in mind it was the first track, and my very first time listening to the Cobalt. A couple of things could have happened:
My brain expected a more expensive product to sound better, and thus it compensated by believing it actually did sound better (when in reality it probably didn’t).
After that initial high and wow factor wore off, my brain became acclimated to the new stimulus, and all further comparisons therein yielded the same overall impression: That they sound basically identical.
As mentioned earlier, in a blind test 99% of people won’t be able to discern a difference. I fully believe that. I also plan on trying it out on my unsuspecting dad.
He knows nothing about these products, isn’t an audiophile, and listens to music almost exclusively through speakers. He’s the perfect guinea pig for this experiment. Stay tuned for that as well.
What about the CEntrance DACport HD? Does it sound better than either the Cobalt or Red?
In fact, the sound is extremely similar to both the Red and Cobalt. Neither of the 3 is better than the other. It’s all in your mind, and more about the perception of the brand, product, etc. than any real tangible sound differences. You want to believe it sounds better, so your brain conjures up reasons to support that conclusion. It’s simple psychology.
The problem with DACs is not that they aren’t important. Rather, in the hierarchy of importance, they are a distant fourth. People like to make a mountain out of a molehill when deciding on one, and that issue has only become magnified as time passes on and more companies throw their products into the ever-growing cesspool at large. This only serves to confuse the F out of your average homie who just wants to listen to music and AAAAHAHSGDLKDSUl!!!!ke$$&!$*(@^&!!$#(%@#(*)#%#^!!!!!!!!!
^This is what the average person looks like when they’re researching audio equipment.
The fact of the matter is that you’re not going to give a damn about which one you go with when you sit down and actually listen to music. At least I hope you’re not. If you do, you have serious issues and need help.
“Wahh, the strings on Beethoven’s fourth symphony in B. minor Op. 5 don’t sound syrupy enough!! I need a better DAC! Wahh! *cries*
It’s like that spoiled little girl on Willy Wonka who turned out to be a bad egg. She ended up falling down the chute. Good. Riddance.
The average person doesn’t have 7+ Amps & DACs around at their disposal to go back and forth with. I do, but that doesn’t make me special.
It just means I write about it and expose the truth, but my goal has always been to help. If there’s a cheaper DAC that does the same thing, I’d rather you just purchase that and be done with it (i.e. never buy one ever again, because DACs are stupid and overrated). This type of crap is going to ruin audio. It’s cancer and must be stopped.
Whew. That felt nice.
One last thing: Anyone who writes or makes videos drooling over the Cobalt as if it’s the second coming of Jesus, is shilling for your cash. And I’m out. Mic drop. Lol.
Rant aside, what about the Mojo? Does it sound better than the other 3?
This is where things get a bit dicey, because in my opinion, yes. It does sound better. So disregard all of the above memes. Sorta. No, don’t. They’re funny.
The Mojo, along with the Bryston BHA-1 are 2 amps that do stand out amongst the crowd per my own experience. Both are the best that I have personally heard, but it’s still only my opinion and doesn’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things. Why do you ask? Because DACs are stupid, and we’re but a grain of sand in the entire scope of the universe. So who cares.
The sound of the Mojo is fluid, lush, and liquid sounding, with gobs of detail to boot. It’s the type of sound that will be immediately mind-blowing to not only a newcomer just starting out, but perhaps also a more experienced enthusiast looking to garner the title of “Audiophile Snob.”
On the subject of the Audiophile Snob title, It’s definitely something to strive for. So make sure that when you give your opinion on social media, it comes off as douchey as humanely possible. Everyone should know that you’re right. So be loud and proud about it! Take no prisoners! Show those fake Audiophiles that you. mean. business. Go all James Scott Farrin on that ass. Don’t hold back. Your voice deserves to be heard, no matter how arrogant it sounds.
Everything about the Mojo presents music to you in a more realistic, fleshed-out way. Decay and sustain of instruments and vocals are better, the resolution is a bit better, with overall intimacy and warmth feeling more immediate and closer to you. Listening with a Mojo is almost like the artist is speaking directly in front of you at times.
If the Cobalt and Red sat in a middle ground between warmth and detail, the Mojo leans more toward warmth, while still retaining all of the same detail. Really, it’s a match made in heaven.
An example of a song that provided that sort of illusory, live vocal quality was Ekali & Medasin’s “Forever.” As soon as her vocals started, I felt like she was sort of in front of my face, ready to give me a kiss. 🙂 It’s an experience that hasn’t been matched since, along with my story of Led Zeppelin’s Over the Hills and Far Away (with the Bryston and 400i), which I’m sure my friends and followers are really sick of hearing about. 😀
With that, both the Mojo and DACport HD do run a bit warm/hot. That may factor into your decision and it may not. It just depends. For me, it doesn’t really matter and I don’t care. If you’re traveling a lot with the DAC in your pocket, it may. Keep that in mind before purchase.
All of these DACs are very transportable and mobile. The Mojo after all does stand for Mobile Joy. I mostly associate it with Austin Powers though, for obvious reasons.
“Do I make you horny baby? Do I? Do I make you RANDY baby?!?!”
With that said, what’s the final word here? Which of these should you go with?
I would say if it’s between the DragonFly Cobalt and Red, go with the Red and don’t think twice. You’re not missing out on anything you’d get with the Cobalt. So in other words, support AudioQuest, but don’t give them more money than necessary.
If it’s between the Cobalt and CEntrance DACport HD, go with the DACport HD. At around $150 it’s a much better value, and some would say sounds better. Do I think it sounds better than either the Cobalt or Red? No. But it’s still generally cheaper than a Red.
In no way shape or form is a Cobalt worth $150 more than the DACport. Not even close. Any sound differences are less than minuscule, and again, probably won’t be discernible in a blind test.
That said, people who think the DACport has better clarity are likely only hearing volume discrepancies. Remember that you have to make sure the volume is equal on both or there will be inevitable errors in your brain’s calculation.
If it’s between the DragonFly Red or DACport HD, go with whatever is cheaper at the time. Generally, the DragonFly Red runs around $200 but has been known to go on sale from time to time. If you’re the sort of bloke who likes having a gain switch and prefers a volume rotary knob on your joint, the DACport is an easy recommendation.
If it’s between the DragonFly Cobalt/Red or Mojo, I like the Mojo. It has since come down in price, but can be fairly finicky and temperamental.
Still, it’s the best as far as pure sound is concerned, and I would rather have it over the other 2. That said, the great thing about the Dragonflies is that they’re extremely reliable and super convenient to use. There are no driver downloads, they don’t run hot, and they don’t give me any headaches whatsoever. I plug them in and I’m listening to music within seconds.
If it’s between the Mojo or DACport HD, again, I like the Mojo.
If you need a DAC for console gaming as well, the Mojo is the only one here that will work. I’ve tried all of the others and the sound will either:
Won’t work at all as in the case with the DACport HD.
Not get loud enough, as in the case with the Cobalt and Red.
The reason is that an Amp/DAC requires more power from the PS4 through the USB slot than the PS4 is willing to provide. An optical cable is what the console prefers, and is best practice for any Amp/DAC you plan on using that does indeed come with an Optical input.
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.