AudioQuest DragonFly Black DAC, Overview
Five years ago, AudioQuest came up with something totally unique and unexpected; a DAC and headphone amplifier inside a USB stick, the original DragonFly’s release took the world by storm. Supremely innovative, compact and simple to use, the award-winning DragonFly ushered in a new era of hi-res audio on the cheap for music lovers everywhere.
The latest version of the DragonFly Black serves as a brilliant sonic upgrade, improving on the dynamics of the previous versions and in particular offering (for the first time ever) compatibility with portable devices, namely Android and Apple devices, all this while lowering the price to below $100.
What Is A DAC?
If you’re a freshly minted audiophile, you’re probably wondering what the hell is a DAC and what does it do?
You’d be forgiven for thinking it looks just like a regular USB stick because it does. What you wouldn’t know, however, is that a DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) is a device/circuit that converts digital audio (CD files, MP3 files, etc) that can be processed by devices such as your laptop, smartphone, hi-fi stereo, etc to Analogue wave signals that can be processed by human ears (regular sound is transmitted in soundwaves which travel to our ears in a continuously varying analogue signal).
Now, in case you’re wondering, yes, every single device you use on a day to day basis has an onboard DAC. The problem is because most of these devices are built to multitask, the onboard DAC usually takes a back seat to everything else, resulting in weak, cheap circuits with poor playback, often introducing unwanted noise, and distortion.
A separate DAC has its own digital clock which is usually much more accurate than that of, say, the average PC, meaning the sound is infinitely better.
Design and Build
While the design, and build of the DragonFly Black DAC has remained constant over the years, a lot has changed inside.
For one, while the previous versions were only compatible with PCs, the latest offering works just as well with Apple or Android devices/smartphones because of the new Sabre DAC-ES9010 chip which uses 77% less power than the previous Texas Instruments chip.
The chip is capable of handling 24-bit to 96KHz resolution files, anything higher than 96KHz will be downsampled by your device first.
Sadly DSD (Direct Stream Digital) files remain incompatible.
As with the previous versions, the headphone amplifier and the analog volume controls remain, as well as the LEDs that light in different colors to show the sampling rate of the file playing, green for 44.1KHz (CD quality bit rate), blue for 48KHz, amber for 88.2.KHz and magenta for 96KHz.
To connect to your smartphone you will need an adapter, Micro-USB for Android and the camera adapter for Apple.
The DragonFly Black ships with minimal accessories, namely a plastic cap to prevent dirt getting into the USB port when it’s not in use and a leatherette pouch to carry it all in.
Why Choose the Latest DragonFly Black?
All the various improvements in addition to the already standard features on the previous versions combine to make this one of the most powerful portable DACs around.
Offering a tellingly crystal clear and tight presentation from the moment you plug it in, the DragonFly Black more than improves your audio experience, it magnifies it. You don’t even have to be an audiophile to notice the difference. It’ll smack you in the face.
With a 1.2 volt output, this DAC is built for lower power headphones.
After testing the DragonFly Black with a variety of those, including AKG’s Y50s, it’s quite clear that the level of detail in my music files is much more than I ever imagined.
The bass resonance becomes much tighter and the overall sound is clear and impeccable, distinctive even to the untrained ear.
Every instrument suddenly becomes even more pronounced, and the soundstage bright and fulfilling, transforming a solid but otherwise unspectacular range of headphones into an audiophile’s wet dream.
Admittedly not everyone is particularly worried about the overall richness of their music, as long as the quality isn’t jarringly bad, most people don’t care.
That said if you’ve read this far you’re probably one of the few who actually cares. If so, with the new and improved DragonFly Black you’ll be met with a DAC and amp that will not only whet your audiophile appetite but will infinitely satisfy that hunger.
At comparable price levels, you’re unlikely to find another DAC that’s so good and well-rounded in its performance.
The only problem for purist audiophiles would be the lack of DSD compatibility, a niche that’s still underserved.
Conversely, if you didn’t care at all about the quality of your sound, let me tell you right now, the DragonFly Black is a rewardingly ambitious DAC and amplifier that will vastly improve your audio experience in more ways than you can imagine.
It’ll get you hooked on the supposedly ‘snobby’ ways of the audiophile and believe it or not or life will be the better for it.
As always, pop your questions, or anything else by the matter, in the comments below!