We missed out on the first version of the Audioquest Dragonfly DAC, but the game-changing DAC recently saw a simultaneous price drop and upgrade. That makes it all but irresistible.
The Dragonfly concept remains the same. The Dragonfly is a USB-powered DAC, with a Type A USB connector at one end and a lone 3.5mm analogue jack at the other. It’s small; in fact, it’s little (pinky) finger, USB memory stick small. You can use this with headphones, earphones, IEMs, or with an appropriate 3.5mm-RCA cable, into a traditional audio system. If you want a little extra room between USB socket and Dragonfly, there’s an optional DragonTail female-male USB cable, and it comes supplied with a little ‘pleather’ pouch that smells faintly of sandlewood. The Dragonfly’s rubberised, none-more-black demeanour is purposeful, and offset all the more when the dragonfly logo on the top of the device lights up to denote sampling rate. The logo glows red in standby mode, green for 44.1kHz, blue for 48kHz, amber for 88.2kHz and magenta for 96kHz sampling rates. Audioquest placed the resolution ceiling at 96kHz with the original Dragonfly and chose not to pursue higher resolution files. This may not sit comfortably with audiophiles intent on playing maxed-out DSD files, but it means easier installations for a wider audience, as there’s no need for custom drivers on Windows computers (it works with Win 7 and Win 8 PCs, and even Win XP if you enjoy being hacked).
There’s not much room for insane technology inside; nevertheless, the Dragonfly manages to support two clocks for multiples of 44.1kHz and 48kHz sampling frequencies. It also features an ESS Sabre DAC chip, and a Texas Instruments 1020 USB receiver chip and Gordon Rankin’s Streamlength asynchronous USB technology. Changes in the Dragonfly 1.2 mostly involve redesigned signal paths, both in the analogue stage and between chips in the digital domain.
Dragonfly works with the host controller in the computer, rather than relying on the volume control of iTunes, J River or similar to control the Dragonfly’s 60-step attenuator built into the analogue section of the tiny DAC. The Dragonfly manuals clearly explains how to connect the DAC to a host computer and to take full advantage of the built-in attenuator, complete with instructions on using the Dragonfly as a conventional DAC with line-level outputs.