Audioquest’s instruction booklet in the Dragonfly box should be used as a ‘how to do it’ template for rival manufacturers. Nothing is ever perfect, but when the criticisms come down to fonts and sizes, rather than glaring howlers, it’s clear Audioquest is on to something good. If you follow the set-up pages, and visit the Audioquest computer audio guide pages recommended on the company’s website, you are almost guaranteed to get the best sound possible from your Dragonfly without some hard-core tweaking that would be outside the remit for the typical customer of a sub-£150 DAC.
Setting aside sound quality for now, the full package is as well-designed as the literature and other manufacturers really should take note. Packed in a solid card box, with a gatefold front in the manner of all Audioquest cables, this is as colourful as it is informative, and the foam protective packaging and accompanying ‘case candy’ (manual, warranty mailer, pouch) all add to the impression that this is not some fly-by-night brand. While this might be old news to wizened old audiophiles who’ve been round the block a few times, when it comes to USB, the company has to play in a new market, and that market has no knowledge of Audioquest’s history or repute.
This old-market/new-market spanning property of the Dragonfly is its biggest strength, and biggest potential stumbling block. Those new to the whole audio world will plug the Dragonfly into the side of their laptop, plug their headphones into the Dragonfly and fall for the full-bodied sound and dismiss the on-board headphone socket as sounding thin and screechy by comparison. They might not use the same terminology, but will notice and approve of the greater sense of air around the instruments in the midrange and treble. They will notice how legato music flows effortlessly from note to note, yet when the music becomes staccato, it starts and stops with military band precision. They will probably play something with a lot of bass, and find a lot to like about the Dragonfly.
It might not change their musical life, but they will find they use the little DAC with increasing frequency, and actively seek out times when they can kick back and enjoy sounds a little better through their computer. They may well even take the opportunity to invest in a halfway decent 3.5mm-RCA cable (given the provenance, possibly one from one of Audioquest’s lines) and enjoy the same full, rich sound through their audio system, and notice the increased stage width and sense of stereo separation between instruments on a 3D stage, when compared to the on-board DAC. On balance, unless they are trying to drive beastly headphone loads they may well conclude, the £129 paid for the Dragonfly v1.2 was money well spent.
Then there’s the older market, the group who have been round the hi-fi block a few times. Still reeling from the Dragonfly not supporting formats they may have little or no interest in (but like the idea of), they will carp on about how it’s not as good as some £5,000 DAC from the past that no one, aside from the audiophile and the designer, has ever heard. Then, in the remote possibility they actually listen to the thing, they might grumble that doesn’t have the etched, stinging treble they like, now that their high frequency hearing is just a memory. Finally, although it makes a more open and better balanced sound than its predecessor, the change from v1.0 to v1.2 (and the significant price drop) isn’t big enough to represent a paradigm shift, and can they have their old ball back, please. Stuff like that.