Audio, Reviews

Audioquest DragonFly 1.2 DAC test

The Audioquest Dragonfly 1.2 is an improved version of the original Dragonfly. According to Audioquest it among the improvements, the circuitry between the DAC chip and the analog output stage has been refined to create a more direct signal path, leading to even greater transparency and immediacy. Also, the DAC’s power supply has been fortified, which gives the sound more ‘grip’ and even greater dynamic contrast. I compared the new Dragonfly with the original and this is what I found.

The Dragonfly is still based on a 24-bit ESS Sabre DAC chip. DragonFly accepts audio and music files ranging from MP3s and CD-standard 16-bit/44kHz to native 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution, regardless of music file format. Co-engineered by Gordon Rankin, the Dragonfly uses Rankin’s Streamlength asynchronous USB protocol and incorporates a Burr-Brown headphone amp with a 64-step analogue volume control.

Dragonfly DAC

Rankin’s protocol is special in that it allows to handle jitter well. A USB DAC can operate in adaptive mode, which relies on the computer’s USB-bus clock, which usually is inefficient. It can also operate in asynchronous mode, which allows the DAC’s clock to command the timing of the digital audio transfer. Rankin, who pioneered the asynchronous mode for Wavelength Audio, is said to have designed the Dragonfly circuitry for AudioQuest.

In addition, the Dragonfly has two internal clocks optimised for two sets of sampling rates. It can thus handle four sampling rates in all, and its LED glows in a different colour for each one. When the DragonFly glows magenta, you know it’s sampling at 96 kHz. Amber is for 88.2 kHz, blue for 48, green for 44.1, and red for standby.

I tested with my Sennheiser HD650. The new Dragonfly offers an even smoother listening experience than its predecessor. My classical music collection sounded full-bodied and rich but natural as opposed to the bit harder and edgier sound produced by the original Dragonfly. The Dragonfly 1.2 shouldn’t wear you out when listening for longer periods of time.

The new version has still as much resolution and detail as the original Dragonfly, but the new version is a bit more transparent as well as keeping short bass explosions (like from a kettle drum that is immediately muffled by the soloist) short and crisp. Having said all that, the improvements over the original are in my opinion marginal. It must have been very hard for Audioquest to improve on the first version and keep the price as low as €149 in the process.

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